Dead Man’s Gold started one very wet day as I sat amidst the ruins of the Rhosydd miners’ living quarters, located on the water shed half way between Blaenau Ffestiniog and Croesor. I read a book about the social history of the North Wales slate industry and found echoes of West African gold mines (where I worked as a geologist for a number of years). Whole mountainsides removed to feed the hungry extraction plant, a feeling of the wild west, life on the edge, get rich quick, a town dominated by powerful controlling interests, illegal mining operations, the union, the Church.
So I determined that I should write a story about a modern African mining community, but have a central character (Edryd Evans) who could sympathise with the miners, a man with a folk memory of what it was like to work for a ruthless mine owner, somebody who had family connections to “The slaughterhouse” pit in Blaenau, or to Gresford. He needed to be somebody who went fishing with his Taid and was told stories about the slate quarries and coal mines of North Wales. A man who was different from the usual western contractors in African gold mines.
The folklore of the mining industry in Wales (and Africa) is stuffed with examples of treachery where speculators from the City of London have been duped by false reports of riches, or more intriguingly where wealth has been left in the ground until the eyes of greedy investors are looking elsewhere. Dead Man’s Gold has a conspiracy to defraud at its heart, a conspiracy that has unfortunate consequences for those involved.
Every story needs a powerful plutocrat, like the Marquis of Anglesey, owner of the mineral rights in the southern Snowdonian slate mines. Not really a villain, more a greedy landowner who is keen to assert his rights over the poor miners who risk their lives every day to make him rich. In my fictional West African mine there is a rich City magnate named ‘Lucky Lomax’ who inherited his wealth down the generations, from before the abolition of the slave trade. The town in the novel is named Lomax after him, although it was originally called “Andrews”, after the man who first struck gold, then for a time it was called “Strength Through Solidarity” (after independence).
In Lomax township the houses are largely made of mud brick and corrugated iron, built without plum line or set square. Surrounding the town is jungle where live the Galamsey; African Hillbillies and illegal miners who practice Voodoo and periodically invade the mine to steal gold. A low level war rages between the mine authorities and the Galamsey that periodically erupts into full-scale hostility.
Dead Man’s Gold is not a polemic against the evils of modern global capitalism, it’s about a man struggling to find happiness in a world that is threatening to turn its back on him. Edryd Evans goes to Africa because his friend Greg has disappeared, he doesn’t go to fix a broken society or point out the true path to salvation.
Then there’s Alice, Greg’s wife, a woman Edryd might have married had ill fortune not stolen her away. She haunts his thoughts, he worries about why he’s trying to find the man who stole her away from him, is he after salvation or seeking revenge?
His investigation leads him into a world of shimmering Chimeras and trap doors where he is helped along the way by an Irish American geologist called Allen, a man who has a hundred and one versions of his past. There are coded messages in boxes with combination locks and Ed realises that he must determine their meaning if he is to make sense of Lomax Mine and its contradictions.
And then he discovers a drawing of Alice on a wooden wall in a stinking cellar. The mystery begins to unravel and leads in an entirely unsuspected direction.