After Brock

Berwyn Mountains

North of Welshpool, east of Bala, south of Llangollen and west of the Shropshire town of Oswestry stand the Berwyn Mountains. They rise to 2,700 feet, and contain the tallest single-drop waterfall in England and Wales: Pistyll Rhaeadr. For five whole days, in September 2009, a youth of eighteen was lost in them. There was something like national rejoicing when, on the sixth day, the press proclaimed: ‘BERWYN DRAMA COMES TO AN END. NAT KEMPSEY ALIVE. AMAZING HELICOPTER RESCUE. NAT’S DAD SAYS: “WE DIDN’T DARE HOPE”. HEART-WARMING SCENES. PICTURES.’

But within a week, headlines were reading ‘BERWYN MYSTERY - SURPRISE DEVELOPMENTS’ followed by bold-print, eye-catching sentences like
‘IS NAT KEMPSEY TELLING THE TRUTH?’
‘WAS NAT REALLY WHERE HE CLAIMS? DOUBTS NOW GROW ABOUT BOY ONCE GIVEN UP FOR DEAD. “WE DON’T KNOW WHAT TO THINK ANY MORE!” ADMITS MUM.’ 

This is the opening of my new novel, After Brock, under contract with Seren Books of Bridgend. It began life differently from how my previous novels had done.

From the first I was fascinated by the widely covered story of Jamie Neale, a 19-year-old North London youth shortly to become a student at Bristol University, who in July 2009 disappeared in the Blue Mountains of Australia and was discovered alive and well (if exhausted and a little dehydrated) after 12 days of increasingly being presumed dead. His father had flown over from England to assist the search; his reunion with the missing boy happened only hours before he was due to fly back home. All very moving, but then disturbing other things transpired – that the family was dysfunctional, that the doting father had never known the son well (and had never been married to the mother), that doubts were growing about the veracity of Jamie’s whole story in which there were considerable inconsistencies (had he perhaps not disappeared at all?) and that the youth stood to make a good deal of money out of it all, had even secured an agent to deal with this, money the father was openly anxious to have a share in.

 

The cover for After Brock is by Powys-resident artist John Lavrin. (see picture)        

. Bishops Castle view from Town Hall

Straightway I realised the appeal to my creative imagination, but not as the story stood – let alone as it somewhat squalidly unfolded in the press. I could see the father and son (Pete and Nat Kempsey) very plainly, knew something of their backgrounds at once, and saw the key events happening near my home of Bishop’s Castle. The equivalent of the Blue Mountains would be the Berwyns to its north-west, which, for quite some while, had exercised a spell on me. Pete the father would be running a kite-shop in Bishop’s Castle (which I call Lydcastle) and is doing badly, his economic troubles compounded by the credit crunch. Nat, inspired by the Jamie Neale story, privately vows to help him – by staging a disappearance and then, after rescue, selling his story to the tabloids. But that isn’t as easy to accomplish as he imagines

There is an ironic point to the story, implicit in the book’s title. The reason Nat remains alone in the Berwyn wilderness is quite unconnected with publicity and money, and it is with reluctance that he reveals it – and then not to the whole world. It is to do with the relationship he has formed there with badgers (brock = badger).

Under previous (Labour) government badger culling was rejected as a solution for the terrible blight of bovine TB. The committee headed by Lord Krebs and the RSPCA have both since then confirmed this rejection as the right, the only decision in the circumstances, both from the humane and the practical point of view. Sadly the Coalition Government has decided otherwise. A cull has been announced for autumn 2012. This must be overturned (by peaceful means).

We have a duty to protect our wildlife, and there is every evidence – reiterated by members of the past serving committee – that the ensuing reduction of cattle disease will be minimal. The effect on our whole relationship to wild animals will, on the other hand, be quite dreadful, and badgers will suffer immeasurably, as they are not easily susceptible to shooting, and will die painfully, and disperse (with grave consequences, not least for spread of disease) in order to avoid doing so.