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A slight glitch on the website sales page

It’s almost inevitable that the moment you release a brand new novel, your website decides to crash and it refuses to accept sales. I don’t know who Sod was, but this law he wrote is highly frustrating.

However, all is not lost, anybody looking to buy The Long Way Home – or indeed any of my novels, can find them on amazon (especially when sold by the seller ‘Geraint Roberts’!) and ebay. Those lucky enough to live in Aberystwyth, I will deliver the order personally, as I have plenty of time on my hands following my redundancy.

In the meantime, the hood is up and puzzled expressions beneath greet the fact that the gangle rod is not connected to the condenser, making the flippy-floppy switch inert….

The Long Way Home – the sequel to By the Banks of the Rheidol

After a gap of a few years, I have published the sequel to ‘By the Banks of the Rheidol.’

The story is set ten years hence, where Dafydd has managed to secure a transfer to Aberystwyth as a fireman. Convinced he has moved on from his failed romance with Gwen, he soon finds that lingering feelings still remain.

The world has changed. It is now 1915, and Britain has been at war for a year. A conflict of emotions make Dafydd join the Army. He receives good advice, which opens up a path to the Railway Operating Division, based in Poperinge, near Ypres. Even though he does not face the dread of going ‘over the top’, he still experiences drama in both the standard and narrow gauge operations of war. There are still tragedies amid the camaraderie, that bring scars to even the toughest of men.

Gwen is still there, Gwen will always be there, perhaps… the distance caused by war adds a poignancy to their relationship. Dafydd needs to choose his path forward with care. The capricious nature of the world presents him with more challenges to overcome and resolve.

I haven’t been too communicative about the project, as I first waited for the books to arrive from the printers. This time around, I have gone it alone. This is no reflection on the excellent work that Carolyn Hodges undertook at Y Lolfa on ‘By the Banks’, but I have felt the need to take this path. I have had an excellent print run by Booksfactory, as recommended to me by the ace crime novelist Stephen Done (Inspector Vignoles railway novels).

I would particularly like to single out Gareth Jones for his hard work in producing the artwork from my various witterings and to Deborah Lea for the edit. Ted Foulds attempted to ensure my railway ramblings were operationally correct!

I am busy setting up online outlets for the sale of the book. To start with, the book is available on ebay on the following link:

As other options arise, I will update the blog with them. I am also working on an e-book option.

Thanks for reading, as always – i hope you enjoy the journey!


Family History

One of the things about history is that sometimes it throws up much better plots than you could ever think of. I have been guilty in the past of using snippets from my own family’s history. Not every time, but sometimes stories can be formed on the basis of real events.

In ‘By the Banks of the Rheidol’, Mr Brown came from the story of my uncle, William Evans, an engine driver for the Great Western Railway. Originally from Henllan, near Denbigh he learnt his trade at Wolverhampton Stafford Road shed. in that town, he met and fell for a lady, who had born a child out of wedlock. To avoid the scandal of those times, when he moved to St Blazey shed in Cornwall, he changed his surname to hers. By the time he moved to Aberystwyth, the shed knew him as Billy Brown from Cornwall.

Also, the Canadian soldier in the soon to be released ‘The Long Way Home’, has his origins in William’s brother Robert, who emigrated to Halifax, Nova Scotia and during the Great War, joined up with the Canadian Army. Initially, they were based at Kinmel Bay, near Rhyl, which was a bicycle ride from his family home!

His family was fascinating. Their father, John was a devout Christian, who found it difficult to find work due to his beliefs. In the 1901 census, he is listed as a ‘castrator’. My Nain (North Walian for grandma), refused to acknowledge this, saying ‘he improved animal stock’!

The other two sons of John Evans both became drapers. Stanley was a draper in Canden Town, who joined the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and was lost at Paschendaele in 1917. Three days after field commission to Sergeant, he successfully repelled a trench attack, but succumbed to a direct hit of an artillery shell to the bunker he was in. He is on the wall at Tyne Cot.

Hugh George Evans joined the Liverpool Regiment and survived the trenches. In late 1918, the Liverpools were being shipped to the Middle East. As Hugh had already been wounded four times, he was spared this and was transferred to the Dorsets. Where in October 1918, in a supposedly pacified area in Peronne and now 2nd lieutenant, he was shot by a sniper. His grave is in the ceremony. I am glad to have visited both cemeteries and left the newspaper reports in memoriam.

Of the sisters, Laura Evans-Williams, was a singer of note, touring with her own concert troupe. She sang the chairing song in Birkenhead, when it was won posthumously by Hedd Wyn and settled in the US. her middle sister, Eleanor Fancourt sang at the D’Oyly Carte and for a time was music director. The youngest was Elizabeth, who’s claim to fame was bearing my father, but also to be screen tested at Pinewood. Although her film career was cut short by her sisters talking her out of moving into such a sordid industry as the silver screen…

Stories abound in history, as they are human, as they are about humans. As a final example, I present a picture of a little bit of family history from the Evans household in 1819, when one branch of the family ran a farm near Barmouth. The story reads as follows:

When Richard and Eleanor lived in Tynewydd, an unscrupulous Spaniard visited Barmouth. He had coal-black eyes and hair, and when he fixed those eyes on Eleanor, she became all over a do-da, forgot all about her marriage vows, and he compelled her to submit to a fate worse than death, the sod!

His mission was ‘ a woman’s weakness is a man’s opportunity, at any rate, that is how the dark strain came into the family. Several Spanish coins were found in the slip at Maesygarnedd.

When I can afford it, I hope to visit the Natl library of Wales in Aberystwyth, where the records of the old harbour board at Barmouth are kept, and try to find what Spanish boats were there about June 1819, and search for a mention of Tynewydd and Maesygarnedd where that bleeding Spaniard who blighted Eleanor’s life, might have received hospitality.

Sad to think that when Richard was in the mountains, keeping the foxes away from his sheep, he couldn’t keep Eleanor away from the Spaniard. ‘Twas ever thus – many a man had nursed another man’s child on his knee.

The Long Way Home – By the Banks sequel. A sneak preview

It’s been over a year since ‘By the Banks of the Rheidol’ was published and the novel has been going well. Yet the story didn’t end there – how could it? I have been busy planning to release a sequel, which takes the story onwards from 1915.

Dafydd has been working as a frieman in Oswestry and secures a transfer back to his home town of Aberystwyth. He thinks it is time, although the world has changed and nothing will ever be the same again.

As we’re mostly all stuck at home, (I salute those who continue to keep the country going and fight this damned virus – we are all behind you in spirit), I thought why not have a sneak preview of what is to come. So here’s the start of …. the Long Way Home. Keep safe everyone.

Chapter 1 – The return (1915)

There was something triumphant in the train’s approach to Aberystwyth. It raced up Commins Bank before shooting round the curve into the Rheidol valley like a bagatelle and then finally speeding towards the town. A quick whistle to Llanbadarn Church, a hiss of steam acknowledging Plascrug Castle, then quickly coasting past the engine shed and the throat of the goods yard to the bustling station.

Dafydd was sure that if the engine had arms, they would have been outstretched crying;

‘Look at me! Here I am! I have returned!’

That was certainly how he felt. His time across the border at Oswestry, though enjoyable, had felt like an exile. Now he was back with something to show for it. Passed fireman and a transfer back to his hometown. The pain of the past was washed clean out of him.

Dafydd grinned in anticipation of a warm cup of coffee at his sister’s cafe. He left the platform then stopped abruptly, as the sight of a woman with curly fair hair made him miss his step. He waited to see a beautiful wide smile…

The woman turned towards him and Dafydd relaxed. It was not who he thought it was. Besides, he thought. I’m past that time. I’m mature now. Oswestry had been good to him. The wound to his heart had healed.

The small station forecourt provided limited shelter from the sun, as Dafydd made his way to the street outside. The shops had lowered their canopies to allow people to walk in the shade. Dafydd quickly took advantage of this to cool down. He walked down the street, the end appearing to touch the blue sky. Halfway along, he turned off and made for a cafe.

The smile that greeted him as he walked through the door mirrored the sunshine outside. His younger sister, Angharad, rushed forward to hug him and kiss his cheek. The assembled customers affected a genteel air of embarrassment, but this was lost on the girl as she drew him into the small cafe.

Dafydd ignored the chorus of gasps and tuts of disapproval from the customers and looked towards the proprietor of the cafe. The bushy moustache almost hid the smile, but the pleasure still shone from his eyes. A small cough preceded his welcome greeting, a legacy of the years spent mining lead in the Ceredigion Mountains, far from the shores of his native land of Italy.

‘Daveed,’ he said, his baritone voice still stumbling over the Welsh name.

‘Hello Donato,’ Dafydd said. ‘I am sorry to disturb your cafe.’

‘For why? You are always welcome. A visit?’

‘No, my friend. I have moved. Been sent down to Aber shed as passed fireman. It means I’m a fireman and I can drive unimportant trains or shunting sometimes when needed, until I learn the road and get some experience, like.’

Donato smiled. ‘I understand. You have new job, a better job. And a home perhaps? You stay with us?’

Dafydd shook his head. ‘I have lodgings already.’

‘The old lady in Trefechan? Yes, yes. She always looked out for you. Sioned is out back, go see her. We talk later. Please, go.’

Dafydd moved through to the back of the small cafe and into a parlour. Sioned looked up from the fireplace, where she was brushing the grate. She quickly got up to greet her brother, brushing her hands clean of the coal dust. Her slow warm smile matched the embrace of welcome.

‘You didn’t tell them.’ Dafydd said.

‘I thought the surprise would be worth it,’ Sioned replied. ‘I could have heard Angharad all the way to the promenade just now. You did not leave much behind?’

‘Nothing. Not much to pack. Oh, I see… Smart you are there. I got no sweetheart, if that’s what you’re thinking.’

‘Just looking out for you, bach. I’ll have you down church then, doffing your cap at the spinsters!’

Dafydd smiled and kissed her cheek. ‘I’m over her, it’s past. All done now. I have too much to look forward to dwell on back then.’

She stepped back and looked at him with a sigh, before pecking him on the cheek.

‘If you say so. Where you staying?’

‘Greenfield Street. A room in one of them new terraced houses.’

‘Not Mrs Lewis in Trefechan? She always been good to you.’ She arched her eyebrows and his shoulders collapsed at the discovery of the lie.

‘Alright, I lied, Mrs Lewis. She’s part of the past, so maybe I should be staying somewhere else then?’

‘Well, you know we can squeeze you in, if you’re stuck?’

‘Thanks, cariad. If you don’t mind, I’ll stay by the river.’

‘You Trefechan Turkeys are a law unto yourselves, Daf bach!’

‘You’re not over busy?’ Dafydd asked.

‘No, nothing the others can’t handle and young Owain is asleep also.’

She moved to the kettle and Dafydd looked on in approval. For someone six months after giving birth, his sister looked good for it, but he knew she was tired. Sioned came back with a tray containing two cups of tea and a plate of bara brith, which Dafydd gratefully accepted.

‘So, tell me what you been doing, Daf. It’s been nearly five years and we haven’t seen you up to now.’

‘I been having fun,’ Dafydd replied with a hint of a boyish grin. ‘I been taught how to fire, proper like and I been learning the roads from Whitchurch all the way to here and up the coast. I know when to talk and when to shovel. And I fired just about every kind of loco the Cambrian’s got.’

‘You and your toys,’ Sioned smiled gently.

Dafydd paused and looked at his sister’s otherwise poker face.

‘Oh alright, girl, truth is, I’m happy doing what I’m doing. It’s hard, but you can’t have it all your own way now, can you?’

There was a pause and Dafydd looked at a circling bubble on his tea.

‘I’m past her now, Sioned. Honest, I am looking forward.’

‘She hurt you so much, cariad,’ Sioned replied.

‘I was a fool, Sioned. I made her wait for me until she was on the door of the workhouse.’

‘That’s no excuse for her taking another woman’s husband to bed.’

‘Well it is when you are penniless.’

‘Aye, they have a name for that and all.’


It was Sioned’s turn to stare at her cup.

‘I’m sorry, but it changed you, Daf. You were full of spirit before and then you went in yourself. You’ve not been over here for five years. Five years, cariad! And I know you’ve been in town on trains, so don’t tell me otherwise. They say you don’t go further than the shed and keep your head down when in the station, as if you’re hiding. Don’t deny it!’

‘Alright Sioned.’

‘Dad understands you know, even though it meant he never sees you.’

‘It’s not her fault!

‘…That you don’t come here? I’m sorry, Dafydd, we’ll never agree on that score. She’s the talk of the town that one, walking round as if she owns the place. Being the lover of a rich man doesn’t put you above your station in life.’

‘Alright Sioned!’ Dafydd snapped and the noise in the parlour dropped to only the hiss and crackle of the logs on the fire.

‘I’m glad you told me you were coming,’ Sioned finally said. ‘I am still surprised you did come, but I am glad for it and all.’

‘I’m sorry, Sioned. I know you’re angry with her and I’m angry with me. I lost a lot of time worrying about it all, but it’s changed. Moving down a different path now, I am.’

‘Well if you say so, so what will you be doing now at the shed?’

Dafydd perked up with the chance to talk about his work.

‘I’ll be firing and covering driving. Mostly freight, some local passenger. Been bumped up the links a bit to cover them that’s joined up for the war. Everyone’s short of good men and now railways is a reserved occupation, I’m happy to have got the chance.’


He sighed. ‘I got to go, Sioned. I have to report to the shed and make ready.’

‘Course you have, cariad. Well, come over for Sunday and I’ll have a place set for you at lunch.’

‘I will.’

They moved out of the parlour and back to the cafe. Angharad moved to give him a quick hug and Donato nodded with a grin.

Dafydd felt the warmth of the greetings. For a moment, a wave of regret washed over him as he thought of the years he had wasted in exile. He had missed the love of his family. Then he stopped smiling. He had done what had needed to be done at the time. Now he just had to carry on and make the best of it.

He walked through the cafe and paid attention to the customers. One or two knew him or at least that he was family. Their smiles were warm and he welcomed them with a nod.

He reached the door and looked out onto the street. There was the gentle bustle of everyday life. A horse cart went by, the driver shouting a greeting to a window cleaner, pushing his barrow. Ladies window shopped, looking at fine clothes for sale, in spite of the Kaiser’s shadow over things.

Dafydd’s gaze was drawn to a lady walking down the road. He admired the way she strolled confidently down the pavement, basket under one arm. Her smile disarmed all the hostile gazes in her path, creating an impermeable wall to all who would cast scorn. He stood admiring her for a while, before his brain suddenly went numb with the shock of recognition. His hands tingled and the base of his spine went rigid.

‘Moving on, cariad,’ Sioned whispered from behind him. ‘Moving on.’

Trefechan and the Turkeys

For those who are not aware, Trefechan is the area of Aberystwyth that lies across the harbour from the town of Aberystwyth, underneath pen dinas. These days, it hosts the fire station and the marina, but is mostly residential.

For reasons that are not officially recorded, people from Trefechan have been historically called Turks or Turkeys and Trefechan itself, on occasion, Turkey Town. The reasons were not plain to me when I wrote ‘By the Banks of the Rheidol’. Indeed, Gwen is heard to say ‘They call us Turkeys, but nobody knows why.’

Ffollowing a recent conversation, some theories were put to me and I felt it would be as good a time as any to explore them, so maybe I can make up for it in the sequel!

Aberystwyth harbour was important in the time of sail and certainly before the coming of railways in 1865. The road to anywhere was long, slow, laborious and riddled with toll-booths. the capacity and speed of a cart along the bumpy hillsides of the Cambrian Mountains, made it a slow, expensive cargo option. In comparison, the holds of a sailing ship offered bulk transport of goods. Naturally, the heart of a coastal town would be around its harbour.

Aberystwyth harbour had two quaysides. The town end made a harbour wall, protecting the sea from the river Rheidol. At the end of the harbour, towards the castle, ships were once built at Rofawr. The harbour side was used by brigs and fishing boats and small steamers. Goods, including fish and passengers were loaded and unloaded, The heavier industry tended to be on the quaysides to the south of the river, which lay under Pen Dinas, up to where the Ystwyth had been diverted into the harbour at Pen-yr-Angor. Lime kilns bedecked the shor for  burning the stone to use as fertiliser. Lead ore was delivered for export and many other trades were serviced in the less built up area . Consequently the south end of the harbour was built up with heavy industry; ropemakers, foundries, breweries and smelters for a while on the hill above. As such, the area had a large amount of industrial chimneys.

The welsh word for chimney is Simnai, adopted from the english ‘chimney’ (which is in turn adopted from the French word ‘cheminee’), The word is pronounced as such that ‘ai’ is like the Scottish ‘aye’. However, industrial chimneys are taller, to take the noxious fumes out of the land and away into the higher levels of atmosphere. These are towers, the welsh word for which is ‘Tŵr‘, pronounced in English phonetics as ‘Toor’

Add to that, the Welsh word for Quay, which is ‘Cei’ (pronounced ‘Kay’) and you get Twr Cei (‘Toor Kay’). Another option is the Welsh word for field, which is ‘Cae’ (pronounced K-aye, rhyming again with the scottish Aye) Twr Cae. The theory has a very plausible ring to it.

The other theory is a Turkish ship once pulled into harbour and the exceptionally fertile sailors made their acqaintance with the local female population. It’s not impossible. My branch of my father’s family is reputed to descend from the offspring of an illicit liaison between a Spanish sailor and a Barmouth farmer’s wife. However, that was one example and for a whole town to be labelled as such, would have taken a multitude of ships or some very prolific sailors.

Talybont at the turn of the last century – a snapshot

The village of Talybont (pron. ‘Tal-uh-bont’) in Ceredigion lies eight miles North of Aberystwyth. It features in By the Banks of the Rheidol, as Dafydd lives there from 1896 to 1899. However, it has also changed dramatically since this time. The sleepy village of today is not the bustling settlement of the past.

The centre of the village is sited in a river valley. The main trunk road northwards, the A487, passes through, dropping steeply to the village green on each of the valley sides. The rivers Ceulan and Leri power through  the bottom, a description which became very apt in 2012, when severe flooding even had the incumbent Prime Minister, ‘man of the people’, David Cameron visit. (And forever endear the locals by talking about Taleebont, if you can’t even get the name right…)

As you pass through the village, you pass two rather large chapels. A third is nestled slightly off the main road. The publishing company ‘Y Lolfa’, one of Wales’ premier literary companies, work out of a building that has the word ‘Police station’ above the door. Two large pubs stand guard on the village green and the design of many of the sash windowed houses point to large shop windows of the past. Evidence of a large population. The rivers proved to be Talybont’s blessing in the industrial revolution, as it powered the local industry, but what industry was there?

The town hosted woolen mills. The last being the Leri mills, its waterwheels having provided power until as late as the 1970s. The village is surrounded by lead mines. The woodland to the South West hides the largest, Allt-y-Crib. There are remnants of mines on all the roads out of Talybont. Not only that, but many of the large mines in the surrounding area had miners who lived in Talybont – such as; Blaenceulan, Bwlch Glas, Esgair Hir, Bryn yr Afr. The more remote mines like Esgair Hir, had their workforce stay from Monday to Saturday morning in barracks before coming back to their homes and families in Talybont for a brief welcome, before returning on a Monday morning – in the latter part of the year in the dark.

At one time, Talybont boasted fifteen shops and two banks. The Agriculture surrounding the village is marked by one of the largest shows in Ceredigion. Proof that this was once a hub of North Ceredigion commerce.

Scratch beneath the surface and you find tales. The two pubs are called the Llew Ddu (Black Lion) and the Llew Gwyn (White Lion). Each was tied to one of the two powerful landowner families in the area. Patronisation was more than  likely along the loyalty lines of those who wish to keep their jobs. Both establishments happily still survive and still offer refreshment and food to us all.

The village even had its own railway, albeit briefly. The Plynlimon & Hafan tramway was a 2ft 3in gauge railway that ran from Llandre through Talybont to the Hafan quarry. Built in 1896, it never really paid its way and was abaondoned in 1899. The railway was chiefly proposed for taking stone from the quarry to port. There was a hope that it would regenerate the dormant lead mines of the area as well as capture the trade of those going to market in Aberystwyth. Sadly, the market trade never really took off and the mine regeneration happened (again , albeit briefly) after the railway had gone. The one ironic use was found by the miners using it as a level track, as they walked to their remote workplaces.

This is but a snapshot, a small description to set the scene. When you look at the places today, they bear only a slight resemblance to how they were. But if you close your eyes, and listen to the water rushing past, perhaps the smell of smoke , an engine’s whistle or the sound of a pick on rock, will reach into your imagination and you are back there.


Aberystwyth – was it different when ‘By Banks of the Rheidol’ was set?

It is very difficult not to look at the past through the tinted spectacles of the present. Society’s attitudes and expectations are always different in different eras. Morals and tolerances are certainly beyond compare. Geographic locations also change their appearance. As a great example, look at a ruined castle and think of its once grandeur and display of power. The lead mining community of Dylife, once a thousand strong, is now a small clutch of houses around the old spoil heaps and small remnants.

So how similar is Aberystwyth today from the 1890s and early 1900s? In the later industrial revolution, Aberystwyth provided a gateway for the local area’s imports and exports. It has done since the Norman castle was established there, but up until very recently, the calibre of road infrastructure has been poor as a method. Aber was more reliant on sail and latterly rail for essentials from further afield.

Thus, the harbour, now a tranquil marina and sleepy fishing port, was a bustle of activity. Sailing ships brought in many cargos, like lime to be burnt for agriculture . The kilns are still around if you look in Trefechan. Now silent in their slumber. Trefechan itself was the main working hub of town and industries sprang up there to benefit from the proximity to the harbour. Turkey (as it was called) had ropemakers, breweries and smiths. The harbour had vats for the mining companies to dump their lead ore in for shipping out. A smelter was on the slopes of Pen Dinas above it.

When sail was king, the south end of the promenade was called Rofawr. The terrace by the castle was the site of a thriving shipbuilders.The harbour  in the Aberystwyth side had the Vale of Rheidol railway running along it to take the timber and ore that had been loaded in the Rheidol valley. Adverts were still placed for those who wished to emigrate, showing the ‘Countess of Lisburne’ as the vessel for travel to the New World. One feels she took her charges to Liverpool, whence they departed on something designed for the ocean.

The railway station was also busy, with a large goods yard that is now only partly covered by a retail park. Coal was a rare commodity, as the nearest mines were over 70 miles south. Consequently coal was prohibitively expensive until the coming of the railway – which is why the mines of Mid Wales had their mechanics powered by great waterwheels. There at least was a local commodity that wasn’t difficult to find!

Across the road from the station and Goods yard was Green’s foundry, covering the whole block bar the Vale of Rheidol pub on the corner. Water again played its part – a mill stream ran the full length of Plascrug Avenue and then across the station forecourt and down Mill Street, where two water powered mills at Trefechan Bridge used the suupply before tipping the waste into the harbour. this stream is now built over, as is the tributary that runs north to Llanbadarn Road, but when the Rheidol floods, they do remind people of their presence.

Down the west side of the railway was Smithfield Road, now Park Avenue. The land here was cheap, so the new free school was built at the top and the Vale of Rheidol railway built its original terminus in what is now the car park by the football club. However, it was called Smithfield Road in tribute to the great Smithfield meat market in London. The railway and school were close to the cattle market, abattoir, a candle works and a tannery (another was at the Town clock, casting a fragrant odour down the town with a prevailing wind…). In 1900, the town football club won the Welsh cup. Not bad for a team playing next door to this aromatic group of industries. Imagine Cristiano Ronaldo playing in that environment…

This is a snapshot of a very broad subject. The book ‘Born on a perilous rock’ still holds the best record of Aber as it was. But when we read historical fiction, we have to remember to place ourselves in a semblance of how things were, not how they are today.

Over the coming weeks, I will provide a few more historical backdrops pertinent to the book, which I hope will help.

(I am talking about ‘By the Banks of the Rheidol’ at the Cletwr cafe in Taliesin on 14/11/18 at 7.3opm)

Information to follow

One of my more quainter headlines, but that is my billing at this weekend’s inaugural ‘Aberystwyth Steampunk Spectacular’.  On Sunday, I am giving a talk between 15.00 and 15.30 at the Old college on… hmm…. have we decided yet?

A historical novelist in the midst of alternative history afficionados may not be the most complete match, but a chat about  about my journey with ‘By the Banks of the Rheidol’ inspirations and creation, some readings and Q&A. Everyone’s journey is different and we all have differing influences and methods in achieving our creation. There is no right way, there is only ‘our way’.

And if there’s any time left, we can have a massed tea duel perhaps?

By the Banks of the Rheidol – a background

By the Banks of the Rheidol was released three days ago on a rainy day, worthy of this land. (but then again it was August Bank Holiday – and anyone who knows the UK, knows that is the time it is guaranteed to rain!). It is set on the threshold of the 19th and 20th century and follows a young man’s journey from running away from his home to finding a career on the narrow gauge railways of the North Ceredigion area. It also features a love interest, who promises to wait for him – and then  disappears. Life is never simple, which I suppose adds to the spice of it.

The first ideas for the story came at the start of my writing career. Following a very unsettling personal time being outsourced from one heartless financial company to a bureaucratic telecomms one, I was looking for an alternative to show I was more than just a statistic on some accountant’s balance sheet.

‘Why don’t you write a novel?’ my wife asked me. ‘After all, it was your letters that brought us together.’ I hope the reality of living me wasn’t a disappointment then, my paranoid thoughts flashed through my mind. Nope, she’s still smiling and it isn’t coupled with a manic stare, nervous tic or dribble. I must occasionally do something right…

Self deprecation aside, I started thinking. Why not? I had a stab at a novel when I was about 18 and I am that Piscean who daydreams on occasions and build up stories. No, not those kind of daydreams, careful now… It’s just a simple process of transferring the video running in my head to paper.

I decided I wanted to use the history and places that I identified with. Ceredigion and also Estonia (my wife’s land) were the immediate candidates. To focus on history that isn’t as well known as many of us would like. The area around Aberystwyth is steeped in mining and railway archaeology, forgotten by many. However, the more you dig and delve into the history, the story opens up to provide a tableau that is an excellent backdrop for a human story.

A mining family was born in my mind, working in the mine at Frongoch, near Pont Rhyd y Groes from the 1870s onwards. The mine was a big concern in the 19th Century, but dying thereafter. A fascinating ruin of a place, which formed part of an A level project for me. Now mostly wiped away, but some features still remain. Reading the human stories that I could find, it became a perfect venue for Owain, Ceri and their family.

I also wanted to use the railway history of around that time, so Owain’s son, Dafydd was born. His Dad didn’t want him to go down the mine and end up coughing up his lungs, so he started work at the mine on the surface. There he was bullied and in a final confrontation, fought back to the extent of leaving one of his tormentors unconscious. Dafydd’s Mamgu doesn’t think twice, she gives him money and tells him to run for it. This starts Dafydd’s journey in life that ends up in the railway industry.

I wanted to use the story of the obscure Plynlimon & Hafan tranway – a failed enterprise that promised much, but delivered little. Like many concerns over here, it was too little too late. Created when the mines were in decline and closed by the time they were resurgent.

I also wished to weave in the building of the Vale of Rheidol railway – an enterprise that survives to the present day, on the back of the attractions of the Devil’s Bridge falls and the stunning beauty of the journey to it, behind some able steam workhorses built in the 1920s.

It wasn’t immediately obvious how Dafydd could be  involved in all this railway history. He could start as a ganger on the Hafan tramway, but then there was a three year gap between the tramway closure and the opening of the Rheidol line, where I wanted him to have progressed to be a fireman of sorts. How was that going to work?

The answer lay in a little 2-4-0 tank engine, which was built for a Brazilian sugar farm. It never got there and was bought up by the Hafan tramway, who named it ‘Talybont‘. On the closure of the line, it was taken back by the manufacturers – Bagnall’s. It was then purchased for use by the contractors of the Rheidol line and renamed ‘Rheidol‘. Dafydd’s world becomes entangled with Rheidol and he manages to acquire an apprenticeship in Bagnall’s to cover the gap between one line’s demise and the others birth..

Rheidol was a popular engine for those who used her and those who know the history. I will ever be indebted to Eric Bottomley, for allowing us to use his painting that appears on the cover. It depicts Rheidol in the original Aberystwyth station in the early days of the line. The atmosphere is perfect for my story. I can almost smell the smoke. Look at the full version of the painting on the back cover. It is a faithful reproduction of the original set up and is brought to life by the people.

The mining family are not forgotten, their story stretched three volumes and past the end of the Frongoch mine. Neither is Dafydd’s journey forgotten from the end of this novel. Hopefully they will follow in time to complete the full saga.


By the Banks of the Rheidol is now available for sale, priced at £8.99. The Vale of Rheidol railway sells signed copies via the following link:

By the Banks of the Rheidol