Thursday, 2 February 2017
Searching for the Girl...
While four ships become the wartime home of the hero of my new novel, The Girl from Simon's Bay, what of the heroine, the Girl herself? Where does she call home?
She is born in 1918 in Simon's Town, the British port which hosts the Royal Navy's South Atlantic fleet. She lives in a terrace of cottages above the dockyard where her father works. When she's 21, war breaks out and changes her world - you'll have to read the book to understand why!
In the 1960s, the South African government embarked on a program of forced removals as part of their apartheid policy. Simon's Town was declared a White Group Area, and non-whites were evicted from the town and their homes were destroyed.
So... how was I to describe my heroine's early life in a community that no longer exists? While many of Simon's Town's beautifully restored Victorian buildings can still be seen, the cottages of local workers and fishermen have gone. Only fragments remain: a historic wall that marked one section of the community, a small, elegant mosque that defied demolition.
Luckily, I discovered the tiny Heritage Museum, tucked away near the dockyard, where a dedicated lady historian has created a vast archive of photographs, cuttings and memories. She was generous enough to guide me around the streets she once knew, and to conjure up life as it had been when my heroine lived there.
And here she is, holding an advance copy of The Girl from Simon's Bay, in her extraordinary museum...