Thursday, April 3, 2014

A World He Doesn’t Understand: A Visit to South Sudan

Sometimes a writer has a book come out every year or two.  Others make it one a year.  Yet others produce more than one a year.  Our guest today has the distinction of having two books published on April 1 of this year - no joke!

Canadian author Vicki Delaney's seventh Constable Molly Smith mystery, UNDER COLD STONE (Poisoned Pen), was one of them.  The other was a novella, JUBA GOOD (Orca) - a Rapid Reads book, meaning for adult literacy.

In June, Vicki will be the Canadian guest of honor at Bloody Words, the Canadian mystery conference, in Toronto. For details:

Visit Vicki at, on Twitter @vickidelany and Facebook at She blogs about the writing life at One Woman Crime Wave (

Please welcome Vicki Delaney.


The highway from Juba to Nimule is covered in a fine red dust that makes it impossible at times to see beyond the front bumper of your car. The majority of the road is unpaved and scattered with pot holes large enough to swallow a car.  Rickety bridges with missing struts and broken railings cross dried-up river beds.  Burned out or rusted, shattered buses litter the sides of the road.  Cars, vans, and ramshackle buses, packed to overflowing with people heading to or from Uganda, stop several times on the three hour journey.  Where we wait for construction crews or mine-clearing operations to clear the way.  It’s advised to travel in a convoy of at least two cars as there’s no one to call for help if you get stuck.

Road danger

Street Scene, Juba, South Sudan

There’s nothing in the way of public restroom facilities, and one is advised not to step beyond the edge of the road. There are things that hide in the grass and, probably worse, not all areas have been cleared of mines yet. Arriving in a town, even a regional center such as Nimule, doesn’t mean there will be any facilities. This is not a trip not for the weak of bladder.

I was heading to Nimule, South Sudan, for a day’s outing to visit the National Park, hoping to see hippos or elephants.  My daughter was living in Juba, the capital of South Sudan for two years, and her many friends in the international community were quick to take me under their wing.

I was somewhat of a novelty: Not many tourists come to South Sudan.

After a bone-jarring, cough-inducing drive, and some spectacular views of the White Nile weaving between the hills, we arrived at Nimule. Trying to find the national park was an adventure in itself, but eventually we did.  Much arguing and back and forthing and hand-shaking ensued, and we were granted admittance.

Entrance to national park, Numule, South Sudan
Kayaking the White Nile

Our two-car convoy bounced down the rutted track and what, to my considerable surprise, did we see coming the other way, but a Land Cruiser loaded with police officers. And not just any police officers.
A Royal Canadian Mounted Police Constable was at the wheel. His passengers were cops from Australia, New Zealand, and Sweden. All wore their regular uniforms with a bright blue UN patch sown on the sleeve.

We stopped in the middle of the road to exchange greetings (not a lot of traffic around there).  They invited us to the UN compound for a cold drink before we headed back to Juba.

After a not very successful day in the park -- no wildlife but a nice walk through the bush (accompanied by an armed guard) to the rapids of the While Nile -- we drove into town to the UN compound.
Vicki Delany and Caroline Delany, Juba, South Sudan

I found myself firing questions at the RCMP officer. 

“I’m a mystery writer,” I said.

“We heard you were here,” he said. (Small place, the international community).

“What do you do?” I whipped out my notebook and pen, realizing that I had a fabulous idea for a book, developing right before my eyes.

I considered bringing my main protagonist Constable Molly Smith (from the series published by Poisoned Pen Press) to South Sudan, but realized very early that wouldn’t work.  The Molly Smith books are centred on a place, Trafalgar, British Columbia, and her co-workers, friends, and family are key components in each book.  Plus, the feeling I had for this book was that it had to be darker than I usually write.  South Sudan can’t be an easy place to work, and I suspect the UN police saw things that even an experienced Canadian cop would find tough to deal with.

The idea was perfect for Orca Rapid Reads. A novella, simply told, with one protagonist, one point-of-view, a single intriguing setting, and one plot well developed. 

I began Juba Good and the story of Sgt Ray Robertson, policing a world he doesn’t understand, as the plane lifted off a few days later.

I have been following developments in South Sudan since December with a sinking heart.  The first time I visited, you could feel the excitement and hope for the future.  On the second trip that optimism was gone, people were getting worried, but there was still some hope.  Juba Good ends with a feeling of optimism that, just a few months later, has become sadly outdated.

But, Sgt. Ray Robertson and I still hope things can turn around and that South Sudan will one day achieve all the potential its people are capable of.

Vicki Delaney - Thursday, for Stan


  1. So, Vicki, was there anything special about being on the White Nile? It's always been a dream of mine to canoe the whole river. It will remain a dream, methinks.

  2. At Juba the river is moving very fast. So you sorta drift. Children and villagers run down to the water to wave, which is fun but gets tiring at the end. As a Canadian not being able to just roll into the water and swim is a pain.

  3. Good to know people do care about this area. Lots of horrible things happen in various countries of Africa which we never hear about.

  4. Lots of good things, too. Barbara T. My daughter and I had a fabulous vacation in Uganda. We stayed at some amazing places there. When I talk about my travels to South Sudan, I sometimes start with pictures from Uganda, just to show that it's not all bad.

  5. Hi Vicki,
    Sorry it took me so long to check in but I feel as if your rough road along the road to Nimule gives you some idea of my back and forth between NYC and Washington DC over the past 48 hours. And yes, things lay in the bushes just out of sight along my journey as well :) Thanks for for taking time out of all you do for we PPPers to post again here on MIE. And my hat--once again--is off to your most dedicated and brave daughter. She obviously takes after mum (he said, trying to sound British).