Q&A with Jess de Boer – The Elephant and the Bee

 Beekeeper, permaculture expert and general friend of the planet, the amazing Jess de Boer, author of memoir The Elephant and the Bee, tells us at Jacaranda Books about her experiences travelling the world to find her vocation in life, the authors that have had an effect on her writing style, and her continuing efforts in the name of environmental conservation.


1. How would you describe The Elephant and the Bee in twenty words or less?

The book is a journey of re-connection with the natural world.

2. The Elephant and the Bee closely follows your own experiences from Africa to Europe and Asia – how easy/hard did you find talking about your time in other countries and cultures?

I am privileged to have had some foreign adventures in my time–there is so much to learn and see in this world and I dig any opportunity to share that with others. Writing is a passion and if you can make people smile or pause in wonder then all the better.

3. In comparison to most safari animals, the humble bee isn’t immediately considered an African creature – are there specific African varieties of bee?

There are absolutely endemic bees on this continent but the most widespread in East and Central Africa is Apis mellifera scutellata.

4. What have been the biggest difficulties in becoming a beekeeper in Africa, and how have you overcome them?

This continent has some fairly epic beekeeping tribes and traditions. Over the centuries, many traditional beekeepers have developed resistance to the sting, often harvesting from wild colonies in broad daylight with little or no clothes on at all. I am not a traditional beekeeper –in fact, I swell up like a balloon from a single sting– so I am often laughed up when I
pitch up to some far distant community and whip out my fancy white bee suit and smoker.

5. Who are your literary inspirations, and have they impacted your writing style in this book?

Gerald Durrell was my first author crush – his ability to describe nature through the eyes of a wide-eyed kid is fantastic. So many people never get the chance to touch, play or experience the wild outdoors and if I can do something similar then that would be the biggest win of them all.

I am now reading The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben and it’s an epic; his passion for trees and the lessons they have taught him oozes both humility and power – the power to educate and inform a world that has lost touch with the magic that abounds in our natural world.

6. What advice would you give any emerging authors out there?

Writing is as much about discipline as it is enjoyment. Getting started is kind of like the first few days at the gym– everyone has a dreamy vision of where they want to be but to get there takes mad effort, focus and routine. Take the time to find out what works for you and then stick at it. You will be tested!

7. Do you have any further writing projects in the pipeline?

Oh yes. Book 2 is on the way… hooray!

8. Tell us something about yourself that we don’t know, or alternatively, how would you describe yourself in twenty words or less?

I’m going to be a farmer. Not a boring farmer though – someone who drives a tractor around a monoculture field with a stick of grass in their teeth but a new aged, kick-ass human-of-the-soil type farmer… and I’m going to teach others to do the same.

9. And finally, how will you be celebrating your birthday in December? Will you be doing anything bee-centric?

I am currently working on a permaculture project up in the arid lands of northern Kenya with my team from Barefoot Solutions. By 6:30am on the big day I’ll probably be behind a wheelbarrow filled with dried camel poo; digging, planting and slowly but surely turning this yellow place green.