Thetford grandmother's book is an Amazon bestseller

Byline: Sonya Duncan

Lina Leite has written a children's book inspired by her childhood in Africa - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Growing up in urban Johannesburg, Lina Leite would always look forward to the holidays when she would go and stay with her relatives in rural Mozambique.

Her aunt lived in Maputo, in the bush, and there she would encounter all sorts of wild animals, including crocodiles, monkeys and hyenas.

"We used to go and visit them for Christmas and Easter and summer holidays," says Lina.

"My cousin and I used to go over the river by boat to get milk from a farm on the other side and we saw crocodiles. I was from the city, but my cousin was really casual about it and just said 'keep your hands in'," she laughs.

"All the children would have fun running away from crocodiles, monkeys and, at night, hyenas. We saw lions, giraffes, hippos. I was 12,13,14 and it was really exciting for me. We were terrified but at the same time we loved it. We were all teenagers, and life was exciting.

"We swam in waterfalls. They were the most wonderful holidays, it was beautiful.

“Once the holidays were over and we returned to South Africa we used our experience to write essays and talk to the class about it."

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It's enchanting listening to Lina, who lives in Thetford, share her childhood adventures. 

They've also captivated her grandchildren Lucas and Emily who love hearing her stories - and she decided to write a book for them.

Lina has loved writing since she was at school and wrote her first book, Hydrangea Close, five years ago.

The Jungle Party, which was published in January, tells the story of a lion cub, called Lucas and an elephant, called Emily, who rely on each other when a flood hits.

It's inspired by a real-life experience.

"When it rains in Africa, it really rains and when I was visiting my aunt once there was a big flood," says Lina. "My aunt said that in two hours, three hours it will all be okay, but I never thought it was true. But, once the rain stops, it's like they pull a plug in the bath and everything is back to normal."  

Lina Leite writes every morning

Lina Leite writes every morning - Credit: Sonya Duncan

The book, which also features illustrations, hasn't just captivated her grandchildren - it made the top three of Amazon's children's jungle animal e-book chart and number eight in its children's imagination and play literature chart.

Lina, a translator, and her family moved to the UK around 30 years ago, as she and her husband felt that at that time Johannesburg was too dangerous a place in which to bring up their children.

They lived in Wiltshire for a time before settling in East Anglia where they already had friends who they knew from South Africa.

"Norfolk has got everything," says Lina. "It's beautiful and it's quiet and the weather isn't that bad. And it's got the Queen down the road at Sandringham."

The Jungle Party by Lina Leite

The Jungle Party by Lina Leite - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Although the multilingual 67-year-old still offers language lessons (as well as English and Afrikaans she speaks Portuguese, Spanish, Italian and French) and does occasional court translation work, she now writes for around four hours every morning and has five more books planned.

"I get up and start at 9am and write until about 1.30pm every day," she says.

Lina believes her disciplined writing schedule and strong work ethic has come from having had to rebuild her life.

She explains “I am proud that I have had the ability to start over from nothing, twice.

“I went from being a high-end PA and translator in South Africa to working in a supermarket in England.

“I worked nights at the supermarket, and during the day I did translations and some private language tuition – I slept for around four hours a day.

The Jungle Party is inspired by Lina Leite's childhood holidays in Mozambique

The Jungle Party is inspired by Lina Leite's childhood holidays in Mozambique - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Another source of pride is that five years ago she had the courage to publish her first book.

Hydrangea Close was written with her father in mind - he was battling cancer at the time and sadly passed away in August 2016. 

Lina describes it as "a story about love, loss, good neighbours, which I have, thankfully, and, to spice it up a bit, a murder."

It's a book with a lot of meaning to her - she has travelled to all the locations mentioned, including Central Park in New York, which she visited with her husband and Cape Town, where they spent their honeymoon and later lots of holidays with their children.

The book is called Hydrangea Close because her garden was filled with them at the time she wrote it. 

And the main character, Aidan Steel, was inspired by Aidan Turner, who won the heart of many a TV viewer as the brooding Captain Ross Poldark.

"Maybe it needs a bit more editing, but it was a book that came from my heart," says Lina.

Byline: Sonya Duncan

Lina Leite with her debut children's book, The Jungle Party. - Credit: Sonya Duncan

“Now that I am retired, I look forward to writing much more.”
And that includes a book specially requested by her granddaughter.

"In The Jungle Party I called the little elephant Emily and she told me on no uncertain terms that she is no baby elephant - so I have to write a book where she's a princess," she laughs.

For more information about The Jungle Party, which is published by PublishNation, visit Amazon and search for Lina Leite, where  Kindle and paperback versions are available.