A Painter in Penang by Clare Flynn
What a treat it is to be included in the tour for Clare Flynn’s @clarefly novel A Painter in Penang. The tour is arranged by the fab team at Love Books Tours @lovebooksgroup #lovebookstours – do follow the tour across social media.
Sixteen-year-old Jasmine Barrington hates everything about living in Kenya and longs to return to the island of Penang in British colonial Malaya where she was born. Expulsion from her Nairobi convent school offers a welcome escape – the chance to stay with her parents’ friends, Mary and Reggie Hyde-Underwood on their Penang rubber estate.
But this is 1948 and communist insurgents are embarking on a reign of terror in what becomes the Malayan Emergency. Jasmine unearths a shocking secret as her own life is put in danger. Throughout the turmoil, her one constant is her passion for painting.
From the international best-selling and award-winning author of The Pearl of Penang, this is a dramatic coming of age story, set against the backdrop of a tropical paradise torn apart by civil war.
JANUARY 1948, NAIROBI
Evie took another sip of mango juice and gazed towards the distant Ngong hills. Arthur had been right when he’d said all those years ago that she would love Africa. He had promised the majestic continent would seep into her bones and possess her, so that afterwards everywhere else would be a poor substitute – smaller, less significant. He’d also been right that she would sense its age, its primeval history, a land where if you were to see a dinosaur lumbering towards you it wouldn’t surprise. After only nine months living here, Evie didn’t want to be anywhere else.
She leaned back in her chair, letting the sun touch her face, bathing her skin with its dry sensuous heat. Still only ten in the morning and it was already hot. Instead of making her lethargic, the heat revitalised her, endowing her with strength and energy. Evie loved quiet moments of reflection like these when she would count her blessings and recognise that, after the years of sorrow, loss and war, she had so much to be thankful for. She’d lost her first husband after forgiving his infidelity, been forced to flee her home as the Japanese invaded Penang, endured years of loneliness, refusing to accept that Arthur, the love of her life had not survived the war. But he had and here they were.
At the edge of the paved terrace a lizard stretched out on the stone wall, basking in the morning sunshine. Evie watched its heavy-lidded eye open lazily as its tongue darted out and snagged a passing insect. Turning her head, she could see Gichinga, the houseboy, was hanging sheets out to dry, their whiteness blinding under the power of the sun. He flipped the sheets with a snapping action to get the creases out as he pegged them on the line. The name Gichinga meant firebrand, but the boy was gentle and shy, like a young deer.
The sheets flapped gently as the breeze caught them. Laundry dried in moments here, unlike in the sultry humidity when she lived in Penang, Malaya. There the heat had been oppressive, like a steam bath, and she’d had to change her clothes several times a day.
Thoughts of Penang made her think of her stepdaughter. Jasmine had loved her island birthplace in a way that Evie was only now beginning to comprehend. Here in Africa, Jasmine was like a young plant, pulled up and replanted in ground too shallow for her roots to gain purchase. She appeared to be wilting, listless and etiolated, despite the constant sunshine.
Evie’s own love affair with Kenya made it hard for her to understand what her daughter was going through. While Evie had loved Penang, her connection to East Africa was deeper, almost visceral. Living anywhere else would never come close.
Jasmine had been born in Penang, spent four years in Australia and several months in England and appeared unmoved by the majesty and vastness of Kenya.
Historical novelist Clare Flynn is a former global marketing director and business owner. She now lives in Eastbourne on the south coast of England and most of her time these days is spent writing her novels – when she’s not gazing out of her windows at the sea.
Clare is the author of eleven novels and a short story collection. Her books deal with displacement – her characters are wrenched away from their comfortable existences and forced to face new challenges – often in outposts of an empire which largely disappeared after WW2.
Her latest novel, Prisoner From Penang, was published on 17th April 2020. It is set in South East Asia during the Japanese occupation in World War Two.
Clare’s novels often feature places she knows well and she does extensive research to build the period and geographic flavour of her books. A Greater World – 1920s Australia; Kurinji Flowers – pre-Independence India; Letters from a Patchwork Quilt – nineteenth century industrial England and the USA; The Green Ribbons – the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth century in rural England, The Chalky Sea – World War II England (and Canada) and its sequels The Alien Corn and The Frozen River – post WW2 Canada. She has also published a collection of short stories – both historical and contemporary, A Fine Pair of Shoes and Other Stories.
Fluent in Italian, she loves spending time in Italy. In her spare time she likes to quilt, paint and travel as often and as widely as possible. She is an active member of the Historical Novel Society, the Romantic Novelists Association, The Society of Authors, NINC and the Alliance of Independent Authors.
Get a free copy of Clare’s exclusive short story collection, A Fine Pair of Shoes, at www.clareflynn.co.uk.