On Thursday 26th May Jess de Boer visited the Contemporary Small Press at the University of Westminster in conjunction with the Institute of Modern and Contemporary Culture for the final event of her promotional book tour with Jacaranda Books in London.
Jess spoke vibrantly about her life and experiences as a bee-keeper, read from her memoir The Elephant and The Bee, responded to questions from the audience and signed copies of the book at the event, which was ‘the perfect way’ to end the London book tour.
The book, The Elephant and The Bee, has been both written and illustrated by Jess de Boer and the book design chosen by publishers Jacaranda accentuates Jess’s fun and light-hearted approach to her story with a soft cover and rounded edges, giving the book an enjoyable tactile aesthetic which enhances the pleasure of reading.
Jess spoke on a wide range of topics during the interview. When asked about her writing process Jess revealed that she had started keeping a journal during the years of her experiences and had started drafting out chapters that she hoped ‘might be funny some day’. When she made the acquaintance of a Kenyan literary agent, she sent her the chapters which were then revised and edited. After a process of a few years the book was created and subsequently acquired by Jacaranda Books for publishing. Jess has plans to write further books based on her continued experiences as a bee-keeper and her development into the field of permaculture, which will also be published by Jacaranda. On a recent visit to the Kenyan Embassy in London where the book was officially launched, Jess was encouraged to ‘write three more books’ by next year!
One of the most vivid and memorable sections of the book describes Jess’s disastrous attempt at insect farming, in which she tries to cultivate maggots as an alternative source of protein. It does not end well. However, in sharing this experience with the audience at the event, Jess spoke knowledgeably about the need to turn to alternative and sustainable sources of protein production, saying that ‘Agriprotein and insect farming are a more efficient and necessary form of protein production’. She highlighted the cultural differences that mean that some people across the world embrace this solution while others find it difficult to stomach.
In this sense, Jess’s writing has a marvelous ability to enable us to reflect on ourselves with a degree of humorous critical distance. Like when she relates her first trip to London as a teenager and the effect of the ‘bizarre breakfast of pop tarts and pink Nesquik’ with ‘the absence of wind down windows’ as she hurtles along the M25 in her uncle’s car.
Subsequent visits to London, however, including this most recent, have given her an insight into the importance of urban food production. In response to a question about London’s rooftop bee-hives, Jess said that ‘approximately 70% of the world’s population lives in urban centres; we must begin to produce food in urban centres. Urban beehives and rooftop gardens allow us to contribute to food production from cities’.
Jess is a vibrant, informative and inspirational speaker, and it was a pleasure to welcome her to the University of Westminster on behalf of the Contemporary Small Press and the IMCC.
Contemporary Small Press reviewer Becky Danks said of the event, ‘it was an inspirational evening and Jess’s genuine enthusiasm for bee keeping and for making a difference in the world makes her a great role model and spokesperson. I’m reading her book now and I think that many people could relate to her experiences, young and old.’
Interview and review by Sally-Shakti Willow: Research Assistant for the Contemporary Small Press. Images by Becky Danks.