Welcome. Please have a look and find out more about my work. The fiction is primarily based on my own experiences whilst living and working in West Africa during the 1960s and 70s; whereas the memoirs are factual accounts of my apprenticeship and later on my adventures inside secessionist Biafra. I will be posting news, extracts from each book and reviews to provide a flavour of the stories. If you like what you’ve read and wish to order any of them, they are available from a wide range of online bookshops in both paperback and e-book format – have a look at the “Ordering” section listed under “Information” at the top of the right hand column to see titles and availability. To return to this page simply click on the “African Tales” title situated at the top of every page.
Time Well Spent is the prequel to The Up-Country Man and a personal account of Ken Ryeland’s training as a motor fitter in Birmingham, where he served his apprenticeship with British Railways (London Midland Region) from 1957 to 1963. (Presented in both e-book format and paperback)
Birmingham, the veritable “Workshop of the World”, could offer a limitless variety of industrial and clerical jobs during the 1950s. Work was so plentiful in those days that it was possible to resign from one company in the morning and start work at another by lunch time on the same day. Many skilled men took advantage of this happy situation by changing jobs if they could secure an extra few pennies an hour over their current rate. Any young man wanting a job could find one easily, so when Ken Ryeland was about to leave school at the age of fifteen to venture into the world of work for the first time, he had plenty of scope. However, rather than allow his son to settle for any old job, Ken’s father was determined to guide him into something worthwhile. Young Ryeland was told by his father that he could aim for any job he liked, provided he agreed to serve a proper apprenticeship. Little did Ken realise at the time how much of an influence this wise fatherly advice would have on his future life.
Cover Photo: Bill Aldridge Collection. A fitter and his apprentice (identities unknown) removing the engine from a British Railways'(London Midland Region)Scammell Scarab, circa 1957.
An absolutely riveting book! The events in Biafra in the sixties seem like an age away, so this is real, living history. It all happened less than 50 years ago and is reliably and entertainingly recounted by the author who lived through it all. An excellent book if you were alive at the time and want an inside view of what was happening, or for younger people, who are bored by the safe, gap years of today’s litigious culture and yearn for the days of real life and death adventure.
***** (five stars)
On a hot, sultry afternoon in July 1967, a small Italian freighter eased itself away from the quay at Port Harcourt in Eastern Nigeria, or Biafra as it had become by then. On board were 800 or so expatriates who were being evacuated from Biafra to the comparative safety of Lagos in Federal Nigeria. The ship, the MV Isonzo, was the only way out of the rebel enclave as Federal Nigerian troops closed in on the township for the final assault. There were many nationalities on board including British, American, Dutch, Israeli, Japanese and Italian, all of whom had previously worked in Enugu, the regional capital, or Port Harcourt the region’s major sea port. An account of my adventures in Biafra is detailed in my memoir entitled The Up-Country Man, which is featured on this page. It’s the story of a young British engineer, (me), straight out from England, who was posted to Enugu just as the Nigerian civil war began and the book relates some of the problems and difficulties encountered by a white man living in an enclave of determined indigenous people. Roadblocks, marauding Biafran soldiers, food shortages and the secret police caused many problems for the small contingent of Europeans remaining in Enugu, not to mention the trauma of the final evacuation itself. Since the evacuation, I have only managed to make contact with one or two people who were aboard the Isonzo, or resident in Port Harcourt at the time and I would like to make contact with others if possible. Were you on that small Italian freighter? Do you know anyone who was on that ship? If so, perhaps you would be kind enough to make contact using the comments facility or by means of my e-mail address (top right hand column).
The author has a real problem at the beginning of this book and that is getting the reader to appreciate the complicated historical, social and political background that is vital to the story he is about to tell. However, once this phase of the novel is over, the story grips the reader and Ryeland’s real skills come to the fore.
The strengths of the book come from the author’s effortless command of the complex series of plots and sub-plots underpinning and driving the story. It is admirable how Ryeland balances so many balls in the air at the same time, keeping the reader keen to find out how the trick will work out in the end as the juggler finishes his final act with a flourish.
At the same time as the author is entertaining us with a multi-faceted thriller, we are being shown insights into the world of post-colonial Africa. If some of the scenes of utter corruption seem far-fetched to readers who have never experienced it, I can assure them that from my own experience of living in West Africa at the time, the picture Ryeland draws up of betrayal, sleaze, bribery and the general cheapness of human life is an accurate portrait of the times and is probably still reliable today, if news reports from the area are anything to go by. Ryeland’s Nibana may be imaginary, but the Nigeria on which it is based (and whose history it shadows so closely) really was the fraud-ridden, chaotic, divided nation of this book.
The book can be depressing at times, since with the exception of the three main heroes, everyone else in the novel is on the make or else pursuing their own political ambitions. Honest, decent men in Africa of the calibre of Bello do appear to be sadly thin on the ground. However, this trio of good men certainly arouse our approval and by this means the author ensures that the reader cares what happens to them as well as focusing our sympathies on their plight as the novel develops.
I would guess that some people might find some of the minor characters in the book to be rather two-dimensional. However, I would come to the author’s defence by noting that the kind of pompous and insensitive “cartoon” attitudes shown by the High Commissioner (for example) are in fact accurate portrayals of the public personas that those characters exhibited to the world at the time. The bar at the Ikoyi Club, in Lagos, where expatriates met to socialise, was full of such apparent “caricatures” when I frequented it as a child.
Having said all that, “The Mine” is a real page-turner. The reader will surely be anxious to find out how the various plot strands come together and who will survive the violent times in which the characters find themselves: times in which power seeking military bullies and corrupt officials covering their asses are only too willing to utilize people and then cast them aside.
Like Ryeland’s other books set in West Africa, “The Mine” is also a valuable document that records (from a largely European perspective) the reality of Africa at a vital time in its development. Historical records of the time might give readers a dry account of the facts and figures of the conflict that resulted from the first serious attempt to redraw the map of post-colonial Africa, but Ryeland’s novel gives us an insight into what it was actually like to be there among all the turmoil and chaos.
**** (4 stars)
Readers will have gathered that I spent some time in West Africa, particularly Nigeria, during the sixties, where I worked, initially as a service manager and later a branch manager, for a British company (BEWAC) dealing in Land-Rovers, Leyland trucks and buses and Massey Ferguson agricultural products. My position gave me access to all sorts of people and not least the senior officers of the police, who used Land-Rovers extensively throughout the region. The Last Bature is a policeman’s tale, but let me first explain the word “Bature” (pronounced Batuuree). It is a Hausa word and Hausa is the Lingua Franca of the northern sector of many of the countries along the West African coast and is therefore spoken widely in Northern Nigeria. It means white man, European or senior government officer. All three terms being mutually interchangeable and thus any Caucasian male official in the north of Nigeria was addressed and referred to as “Bature”. I was known as Moto Bature (Moto meaning of course Motor) and my bank manager friend was called Kudi Bature (Kudi meaning Money). Therefore, the title of the book indicates that the holder was the last white policeman in the territory. The main protagonist in my book is Senior District Police Officer, Mike Stevens who tries to avert a major catastrophe while the country, Nibana, a fictitious ex-British colony, lurches into yet another coup, which eventually leads to civil war. The character of Mike Stevens is based on a police officer that I actually knew well, and our hero in the book exhibits exactly the same attributes as the real officer. He is honest, treats everyone equally and trucks no nonsense from anyone, African or European. Indeed the first chapter of the book details a scene at the Club (A virtual oasis for Europeans in a country with a climate and culture so very different from our own) which I actually witnessed and clearly illustrates the integrity of the senior police officer I was pleased to call my friend. Like my character in the book, he was the last bature in the force and when he finally retired, it was a very sad day for the territory and for the police force too. When he left the country to return to England, the small airport building was packed with expatriates of all nationalities, together with many senior African police officers, to see him off in the traditional manner. Though he has now sadly passed away, I will never forgot my old police pal and so I used him as my hero in The Last Bature as a sign of respect and gratitude for him having been such a loyal friend.
It is now forty-eight years since the Biafran war began and to mark this tragic occurrence I have updated my memoir, The Up-Country Man: A personal account of the first one hundred days inside secessionist Biafra, to include more information. The Kindle and Smashwords e-versions have been updated too and the new print version is available from Lulu and at Amazon.
My new political thriller, entitled The Mine, (110,000 words) is now available in Kindle and paperback formats from Amazon UK, Amazon US and in all e-book formats from Smashwords. It’s also available as a paperback from Lulu .
Like all my other books it’s set in West Africa during the turbulent sixties and could be described as the sequel to The Last Bature, though it’s not necessary to have read the previous book to appreciate the new one. I do hope you find the new book to be just as absorbing and exciting as all the others. Here’s the back cover blurb to give you an idea of the story.
The Mine is a political thriller set in Nibana, an imaginary West African state, some years after gaining independence from the British in 1962. With the Eastern Region about to secede and Nibana heading for civil war, the head of state invites an archaeology professor and his team to investigate some ruins in the Northern Region. The professor’s astonishing finds initiate a chain of extraordinary events that lead to abduction. A police investigation ensues, but becomes complicated when an Eastern Bloc country is commissioned to print currency for the secessionists, and an MI6 agent, working with the police, must hinder the secession by sabotaging the currency. An abandoned mine becomes the focal point when the agent, police and archaeologists are incarcerated there and discover its secret. Murder, breathtaking corruption, river pirates and rogue army officers; Ken Ryeland manipulates these ingredients in his usual consummate way to provide an exciting political thriller.