Aden to Zanzibar – Influences
Aden to Zanzibar, and its sequel, Two Penny Blue, (to be published in Spring 2021), are set in South Wales during the 1960s where I grew up.
It is a Wales of contrasts: the iconic Valleys of coal mines and the windswept coastline of dunes.
The village of Trebanog is at the top of the Rhondda Valley. My mother’s family had a shop there, now gone, and my earliest memories are of the kindness and love of aunties, uncles and cousins who always said I was, ‘Good as gold,’ even when I wasn’t. It was hemmed in by mountains, filling the view from every window. Life was uphill and the buses ground their way to the top at not much faster than walking pace. The rain drifted in grey sheets down to Porth and the – then – lifeless, coal polluted river at the valley bottom.
The valleys fell away toward the sea, widening and flattening to a coast of dunes running from Ogmore to Porthcawl, to Rest Bay and Pink Bay, to Sker Rocks and the almost inaccessible ten mile bleakness of Sker Beach, to the clouds of steam boiling out of the steel works at Port Talbot and, behind, the oil refinery, burning off gas from high masts like eyes in the smoke.
Under the dunes lies the buried city of Kenfig ‘…deep below the all-devouring sand which has engulfed everything but one solitary fragment of wall yet left, in cruel irony, to mark the actual spot where the clash of sword and buckler, clatter of hooves and clang of arms were heard half a thousand years ago.’* Nearby is Kenfig Pool where I picked tiny, wild strawberries with my father and, overlooking it all, is the tiny Saxon Church at Maudlam where generations of my family have been christened.
South Wales in the 1960s was gritty but sensual, sometimes full of light and high, blue skies, but with dark moods of Old Testament spirituality and fervour. Its people had wit and nobility. They were, mostly, egalitarian and classless with a code of honour and a sense of right.
The elemental challenges of industry, landscape and weather bound them together into communities.
In both novels, I wanted to explore whether this code of life would collapse under the weight of improbable virtue when confronted with a faceless menace that threatened what they held most precious: their children.
Perhaps, too, it is a lament for a time and place that may never have existed.
*The Buried City of Kenfig – Thomas Gray, 1909