As with previous novels, I kick-off the process with some information in the form of an interview
Q. A new novel, that was quick!
A. It seems that way, doesn’t it. However, ‘The Long Way Home’ was actually released in September. It may appear to be newer than that, but a combination of me learning the marketing process and the horrible pandemic has made it more difficult to get the message out. The new novel will be released on 31st January.
Q. Is it a continuation of the railway story told in ‘By the Banks of the Rheidol’ and ‘the Long Way Home’?
A. No, but it is related. The story is of Owain Thomas, a fourteen year old son of a lead miner. It starts with his first day underground and continues through his early years, and his rite of passage. He is the father of Dafydd Thomas, the train driver in those two novels. The story is set in 1873, when the railways were in their infancy.
Q. Where is it set?
A. The family live in Trisant, respectively South-west and North-West of Devil’s Bridge and Pontrhydygroes. The mine is nearby and called Frongoch It was one of the biggest in the Pontrhydygroes area in Victorian times.
Q. Is there much left of it?
A. The best remains can be seen on the road from Abermagwr to New Row, where the dressing mill has been partly cut into by the road. There is also the remains of a hydro electric power station, built in 1899 by the then Belgian owners. The main part of Frongoch is Private land and part of this is residential, so not a place to wander around. There are also a few dangerous holes in the ground around, even if many have been filled in.
Q. A Belgian hydro electric scheme in 1899? Was that why you chose it?
A. I did an A-level project on the place and it is one of the lead mines in the area with the most accessible history, perhaps the best. The history is fascinating, as is the working practice of the time..
Q. So no rows of terraced houses and pit wheels, like in the South Wales valleys?
A. Definitely not, a totally different kind of mining and operation. Access to the levels was by ladder, even down as far as 1000 feet underground. Coal was an expensive fuel there, so until very late on, everything was powered by water. And the folk lived in the area in scattered cottages, not in one terraced town. Frongoch did have a small terrace built, it is nothing like the long strand of houses down South.
Q. So, this was a very Welsh Wales operation?
A. Actually, the Cornish were integral to the Mid Wales metal mines. Their experience in metal mining was brought over by many Mine Captains and engineers and they brought many men with them. Frongoch had its own Methodist chapel for the Cornish.
Q. How did you come to know so much about mining?
I studied Mining Geology in Leicester University decades ago and I think that was fuelled by the dozens of abandoned workings around this area. This history was not dwelt upon in school, it was only through David Bick’s writing and Simon Hughes that I learnt more about it.
Q. Is the story all set about the mine?
A. No, I have tried to build in scenarios that bring out how the area was, the traditions, and some old tales discovered along the way.
Q. Is this a one-off book?
A. It is one of three volumes that I am looking to publish. The story will, of course, have a degree of timeline overlap with Dafydd’s railway tale. There are one or two occasions when the scene is parallel to what Dafydd experiences, but told from another side. I am especially looking forward to the third volume, where the mine dies amid conflict between Welsh and Italian workers, strikes and mysterious explosions!
Q. Is there anything else on the horizon?
A. I have been working on a prequel to ‘Forest Brothers’. This is an odd way round again, but my problem is that Forest Brothers started as a standalone novel and the prequel story (and sequel for that matter) only came into my mind after publication of Forest Brothers. I have chosen the prequel first for publication, as it answers some questions about the back story in Estonia. The sequel is in Scotland and will follow in time.
Q. What then?
A. Oh, there are always tales to tell….!!!
Q. No third novel for Dafydd?
A. Well, it’s not written yet, but I am warming to it. I would like to hear more from Dafydd and Jo myself and maybe the sisters deserve more air time!
The Turn of the Wheel is published on 31st January.