A magical Christmas with Lauren St John

  

A magical Christmas with Lauren St John

The Snow Angel by award-winning children's author Lauren St John will be published this Christmas by Head of Zeus' Zephr imprint. Set in Africa and the Scottish Highlands, The Snow Angel tells the story of Makena, a Kenyan girl whose dream is to climb mountains. When her life is shattered, she embarks on a quest for a place she can call home. The Snow Angel is a deeply moving novel about love, loss and slum ballet. Read on for an exclusive extract.

 


Makena took a deep breath and stepped off the edge of the crevasse.

In the glow of her headlamp, Mount Everest’s Khumbu Icefall was a beautiful nightmare: a frozen puzzle of chasms and ice towers. As the sun rose it would melt and shift, becoming more deadly still. The only thing between her and oblivion was a ladder. The first and second rungs held firm. The third wobbled beneath her boot. Terror shot through her but she forced herself on. If Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay could do it, so could she.

‘ Tafadhalii! MAKENA!’

Makena didn’t respond. Soon she’d be safe. All she had to do was put one foot in front of the—

‘What’s up with you, Makena – do you have ants in your pants? How is Gloria expected to make a success of your braids with you wriggling and writhing in the chair?’

Makena looked up from her book, eyes glazed, heart racing. Modern-day Nairobi sharpened into focus. She returned to reality with a bump, the silent snowfields of her imagination giving way to the yellow heat of Kenya’s dry season and the blast of dryers and Beyoncé. Her mother was leaning round the door of Blessings Hair & Beauty, her expression both exasperated and tender.

Makena grinned. ‘Sorry, Mama, I was in a good bit.’

Gloria tugged hard on a braid to get Makena’s attention.

‘Ouch!’

‘Any more nonsense and I’ll take out my clippers and give you a buzz cut,’ the hairdresser warned.

‘That’s fine by me,’ Makena said cheerfully. ‘Baba has a buzz cut and it’s great. It feels like moss. He says it’s very practical for climbing mountains.’

Her mother laughed. ‘Yes, but luckily all you have to worry about is getting to and from school. Do me a favour and try the braids for a few months. They suit you. If you’re not happy, Gloria can shave an image of Mount Everest on the side of your head. I won’t care.’

Makena almost jumped out of her chair. ‘Cool!’

Gloria snatched up her clippers, switching them on for added effect. Makena shrank into her chair.

Her mother rolled her eyes. ‘I’m joking, Makena. Now sit still. You’re almost done.’

‘But we’ve been here for three solid hours,’ sulked Makena. She glowered round at the packed salon, raised to sauna temperature by the press of women who came to Blessings as much for the quality of the gossip as the weaves. ‘All this time I could have been practising climbing or reading a book on abseiling. Real mountaineers don’t care about their hair.’

‘Yes, and it shows,’ her mother retorted. ‘Some of those people are only one step from the cave.’

‘Looks don’t matter when you’re climbing the Ice Window route and watching out for avalanches. Baba says the only thing that counts when he’s guiding clients up Mount Kenya is keeping his head when everyone else is losing theirs. And, of course, willpower and good lungs. That’s what I’ll be thinking about the day after tomorrow.’

Makena snapped shut her book and bounced in her seat. ‘Oh, Mama, I cannot wait. I’m afraid I might die of excitement before we ever get there.’

‘I give up!’ Gloria whipped the towel from Makena’s shoulders. ‘They don’t pay me enough for this. You can go as you are with your hair sticking up. If anyone asks what went wrong, tell them you were mowed down by an avalanche. This is the result. Don’t you dare mention Blessings Hair & Beauty. We will be ruined.’

~

Makena waited on the steps of the salon as her mother paid, adding a large tip to soothe Gloria’s nerves. The January sun was slow-cooking Kenyatta street market. Sweating customers haggled over cassava, tomatoes and barrels of smoking corn. Chickens protested from a basket on the back of a bicycle. A trader chased a goat intent on gobbling all his spinach.

On the road beyond, battered cars, listing buses and rickshaws struggled by like a ramshackle circus. Their hooting and braying assaulted Makena’s eardrums. Nairobi traffic was infamous. Not long ago there’d been an eleven-hour jam.

Gloria’s teenage daughter joined her in what passed for shade beneath the salon awning. Nadira smiled and her lips moved.

‘Excuse me?’ Makena was back on Everest with Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing in 1953. She returned to the present only reluctantly. ‘I said I liked what you were saying in there, about climbing. How you defended it and were so passionate about it. You make it sound as if the mountains are your friends.’

Makena’s mother emerged from the salon, stuffing her purse into her bag. ‘Let’s go before Gloria changes her mind and comes after you with the clippers.’

As they dodged commuters and bicycles on the rush- hour streets, Makena couldn’t stop thinking about what Nadira had said. Without knowing it, she’d summed up something Makena had felt her whole life but had never been able to put into words.

The mountains were her friends.


'I actually just read this all in one go... I adored it!... Maybe twenty pages in I was hooked. Such a beautiful story, and so sad as well.' 
 
'The Snow Angel was an absolute delight... a fantastic read for children aged 9 and above, as well as adults! I am a year 6 teacher and could see myself using this as an effective class text. Lauren St John uses vivid language to bring to life the horrors of the Nairobi slums as well as the beauty of Mt Kenya.' 
 
'This was such a beautiful and moving story... Unlike any I've read before.'
 
Early NetGalley reviews have praised Lauren St John's evocative writing and beautiful storytelling.

The Snow Angel is out in hardback and ebook 5th October 2017