Persisten bronchitis permitting, I fly out from London to Johannesburg on Tuesday to conduct on-the-spot research for Fonthill number nine, now firmly titled "FIRE ACROSS THE VELDT." This is, of course, set against the background of the second and best known Anglo-Boer War, the last of Queen Victoria's "Little Wars," although this one was certainly not so little.
The novel will be published by my new publishers Allison & Busby in January 20(hard back) with the paperback to follow in September of that year and the audio and large print versions due out somewhere in between.
As a previous blog refers, I have already begun writing the story but there comes a time when one has to visit the sites that one is describing to get the feel, the smell and the physical contours of the place to recreate it - even though it may have changed in 110 years. And that time has come for this book.
I have always tried to observe the factual chronology of my stories and I had a problem with this one. This lay in the fact that the first half of the Boer War, when the Brits took such a hiding from those "amateur soldiers," the Boer farmers, at Magersfontein, Colenso and Spion Kop, coincided with the Boxer Rebellion in China and I couldn't have Fonthill in both places.
But what seemed a problem turned into an advantage,for the second half of the conflict in South Africa, which coincided with the relief of Peking, turned out to be much more fascinating to me. As reinforcements poured into Cape Town from Britain and various parts of the Empire the tide of the conventional war turned and the Boers were defeated in set piece battles, losing their State capitals. The war seemed over and Field Marshal Roberts sailed for home, leaving General Kitchener to "tidy up."
K, however, sensed it wouldn't be that easy. The hard core of the Afrikan army took to the veldt, forming fast-moving units which lived rough and conducted guerrilla warfare against the extended British lines and outposts. Reading of Fonthill's exploits in China and knowing of his reputation as an irregular soldier, the General summons him to the Cape to help him "fight the Boers at their own game."
Fonthill can't resist the challenge. The trouble for me, however, was that the places where Fonthill and 352 Jenkins clash with the great Boer commando leaders - De Wet, Botha, Smuts et al - were mainly in remote regions of the Transvaal, the Orange Free State and the northern mountains of the Cape Colony, sites not always well described in the books of the period. So I must go and see for myself.
And if the clear air of the High Veldt doesn't defeat this lingering bronchitis, then I shall turn to drink.