I‘ll Be The Brightest Star…
The genesis of this novel is research my wife and I did in preparation of the family memoir I mentioned on the first page. Unfortunately when I was researching my father’s family history I found that, due to a messy divorce, nobody wanted to talk about that part of my heritage. After my parents were both dead I decided to assemble the few strands of information I’d been able to discover and use these as the framework for a novel to tell my father’s early story. Writing it was, of course, a pleasure but a challenge too for I had to temper the fictional parts to fit the actuality of the framework. As well as a family history this is also the story of South Wales as it changed from a rural, agricultural economy to become the powerhouse of the Industrial Revolution based on the coal lying beneath its fields. Within my family are represented the range of views and reactions to these changes. Some history lies in the census returns, but as I researched the story I discovered that in Wales even census returns are unreliable. With that caveat I was able to trace this part of my family history back to the early 1800s when one of my ancestors was probably an unmarried mother. Much of the story durring the 19th century is fiction though based accuratelt in geographical terms. That enables me to write with some certainty about the family leaving the countryside of Carmarthenshire and struggling to earn a living from farming and moving to Dowlais, now part of Merthyr Tydfil, and earning good money in the coal mines and in the iron and steel mill. In Dowlais my grandfather, already an alcoholic, compounded his problem by buying a pub. He had six children, four sons and two daughters. His oldest son, unable to find farm work and also unwilling to go down the mine, abandoned his new wife and their infant son and emigrated to New Zealand. His next oldest son borrowed the fare to emigrate to Cleveland from his mother, promising to pay it back as soon as he found work. The pub business was mortgaged and, true to his promise, he began to repay the loan. He also married and looked forward to a rosy, successful future until he contracted TB and died. His family in Wales couldn’t service the mortgage on the pub and the lender foreclosed on the business. After two voyages to South America, the third son (my father) joined the army to get an education. During his second tour of duty he married the daughter of a London publican. At the request of his new wife he took a clerical job in a solicitor’s office. His two sisters married in South Wales and experienced the depression and WW2 at first hand. Finally the youngest son succumbed to the ill-health endemic in the Valleys and died aged just 20. Despite the struggles the family faced over almost 200 years, the story is ultimately positive and uplifting.