Letters from the Colony – a historical novel set in South Africa

richard parkes author

Richard Daniel Parkes the Author

Q: Your book ‘Letters from the Colony’ is set in South Africa, but you live on the East Sussex coast of England. What is the connection?
A: I was born in South Africa but the last part of my university education was completed in England. A good deal of my working life has been spent in the United Kingdom.

Q: Can you explain briefly what the book is about?
A: The story in ‘Letters from the Colony’ hinges on the discovery of a cache of Zulu war letters. These letters spark off a journey of discovery as military historian, Owen Evans, tries to find out what happened to his soldier-relative and family all those years ago.

isandhlwana memorial monument

Isandhlwana Memorial Monument

Q: Why did you write the book; what is your connection with Isandhlwana?
A: It’s always been my intention to write about Isandhlwana. You’ve only got to visit the place, as I did, to experience the unique aura that invests it.

Q: Researching the book: how difficult was that?
A: It was a pleasure, and not difficult as the battle of Isandhlwana is legendary. Two old editions of the proceedings of the Historical Society I found in a charity shop in Winchester yielded transcripts of priceless letters written by a lancer serving under General Marshall who was later sent to bury the British dead.
Other, later, sections of the book needed research into Malay customs, viticulture, the Huguenots, the Dutch East India Company … and even gemology.
Research is illuminating and rewarding, and what you find often determines what you end up writing.

Q: Could you give a brief history of Isandhlwana?

isandhlwana battle scene

Isandhlwana Battle Scene

A: You will get a front-seat view of the battle from the first chapters of the book, but it is strange that it occupies such a seminal niche in the annals of British military history as it was a resounding defeat. In some part, that’s because it’s intimately linked to that famous defence of Rorke’s Drift just down the road, but in greater part it’s solely down to the extraordinary look and feel of the place.

Q:How would you categorise the book?
A: As Historical Fiction because, with a few necessary exceptions, the historical aspects are accurate. The fiction part is the cast of characters who inhabit the book, the historical elements providing a colourful backdrop to what I hope the reader will find a ‘cracking good read’.

Q: Which authors have you particularly liked, and have they influenced your style of writing?
A: I’m happy to re-read Noel Barber’s books anytime. His powerful sagas, often placed in exotic locations, are so attractive.  Anne Rivers Siddons’ lyrical style appeals to me enormously. She is so very adept at conjuring up the soul, and steamy atmosphere of the American deep south.
Both these authors write books with pace and verve, shying away from absolutely nothing. I hope in this book of mine, to have done a little of the same, but be warned, be ready for a ride. As one reader put it, ‘I had no idea where this book was heading … and that was great!’

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