Periodically, we ask one distinguished author or illustrator to write an original post that reveals insights about their process and craft. Enjoy!
Stones for my Father is a book I had been meaning to write for a long time. My mother’s family is South African and I have always wanted to explore that part of my history. I was also interested in the Anglo-Boer War. To me, it is one of the most fascinating and overlooked conflicts of the twentieth century. It was certainly one of the bloodiest of its time, claiming 22,000 British lives, as well as the lives of over 30,000 Boer men, women and children. No one knows exactly how many African lives were lost, but the number is believed to be at least 20,000.
My novel follows a 12-year-old girl through the darkest days of the war: from the sacking of her family’s farm, to a trek across the battle-scarred Transvaal, to internment in a British concentration camp. With no father and a mother who treats her cruelly, Corlie relies on her best friend, Sipho, to survive—and, later, on a Canadian soldier fighting on the side of the British.
When writing Stones for My Father (Tundra, 2011), I felt that it was important to convey the facts as accurately as possible. I spent time in South Africa to develop a strong sense of place and I immersed myself in the personal histories of the Anglo-Boer War. I stayed in the Free State, where my mother’s aunt and uncle had a farm, and I knew from then on that this was where at least part of Corlie’s story would take place.
There is an extensive photographic record of the war, which really helped me when it came to imagining Corlie’s world and the people she would encounter.
Here’s a photo of my several-times-great-uncle, Danie Theron. He was a schoolteacher who went on to be a lawyer. When the war broke out he was put in charge of organizing Boer intelligence. Because horses had to be saved for combat, he operated a military bicycle corps (hence the bicycle in the photo). His reconnaissance missions were so successful that the British placed a £1,000 reward on his head! Danie Theron was killed in action in 1900, almost two years before the war’s end.
Here are a few more images that I found especially evocative …
Three generations of Boer fighters. Image source.
“Scorched earth” in practice: a family watches its homestead go up in flames.
A German postcard depicting boys in Boer dress.
I would like to end with a sound recording from the period, which I also refer to in my book. This 1901 rendition of “Goodbye, Dolly Grey” is a deceptively jaunty melody that has come to be associated with the Anglo-Boer War. I still get goose bumps every time I hear it.
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Trilby Kent continues her blog tour tomorrow (4.28.11) here.