I’m delighted to welcome Mendus Harris to Linda’s Book Bag today to tell us all about his writing and Dead Man’s Gold in particular. Dead Man’s Gold is the first in the Lomax Gold Mine Series and is available for purchase in paperback here.
Dead Man’s Gold
There is a small town in Ghana, W Africa which exists for no other reason than to mine gold. It was founded in the early twentieth century when a lucky strike sent people flocking to the site to find wealth and employment.
Edryd (Ed) Evans arrives from his hilltop on the Welsh Borders. He is an experienced gold exploration geologist who has spent large amounts of time in West Africa. But he is wary of returning after being kidnapped and held hostage on his previous visit. He has come because an old friend, Greg Boston, has disappeared in mysterious circumstances…
An Interview with Mendus Harris
Firstly Mendus, please could you tell me a little about yourself?
I’m a Welsh Liverpudlian, born in Scotland whose spiritual home is in Ireland. After many years working as a geologist in mining I now earn a living as a teacher. I’m married with three children and live in North Wales.
When did you first realise you were going to be a writer?
I always felt that I’d like to be a fiction writer, the urge grew progressively as I got older, when I realised that I had a story to tell. I began to write seriously seven years ago
If you hadn’t become an author, what would you have done instead as a creative outlet?
As a gold exploration consultant I was required to write the equivalent of a Master’s thesis every six weeks. Although based in cities in New Zealand, then Australia and then Canada, much of my time was spent in isolated mine or exploration camps in the Outback, Labrador Coast, Scandinavia and, of course, Africa. So in some ways being an author is a way of utilising the creativity that developed during these formative years.
How do you go about researching detail and ensuring your books are realistic?
I write using my own experiences. Dead Man’s Gold is a memoir that morphed into a work of fiction when I stitched my own recollections of working in a real African gold mine along a plot line. The more outlandish incidents have been left out, either because nobody would believe them, or because they would be misunderstood.
Which aspects of your writing do you find easiest and most difficult?
The beginning is hardest. You need to start somewhere, and I always begin writing at the beginning with the knowledge that much of it will be ditched. After the meat of the book is written, it’s time to return to the beginning and rewrite. This can be challenging, particularly when it’s a sequel and the events of the previous book have to be summarised for events in the new book to make sense.
What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?
Writing gets done when time and tiredness allow. The best times are in the morning at the weekend or a couple of hours at night once the kids are in bed.
You’re now based in North Wales. How far has location impacted on you as a writer?
It probably influenced the setting of Ed’s farmhouse. As a writer (and teacher) having a place like North Wales on my doorstep is very important. I can be in Snowdonia and climbing a hill within an hour of leaving the house. Unfortunately my own family ditched the Welsh language a generation or so ago in the mistaken belief that it was a mill stone. Once a language is lost, its not so easy to regain, like trying to put toothpaste back into the tube.
When you’re not writing, what do you like to read?
Thrillers are best. Le Carre is king, but only his Cold War novels. Stieg Larsson has been a revelation. Quirky autobiographies; Boycott’s made me laugh like a drain recently. JRR Tolkien. Science fiction up to a point, if it’s internally consistent. Dean Foster’s rendering of the Alien movies are engaging. I like to dip into social history books, recently I read a book about the North Wales slate industry. The last heavy-weight book I read was Crime and Punishment.
Do you have other interests that give you ideas for writing?
One of my greatest joys is fly fishing for trout, particularly somewhere high and remote, several hours strenuous walk from road end. My mind empties and for several hours focuses on only one thing. Afterwards, ideas appear in my head.
Dead Man’s Gold has a very stark contrasting black and gold cover. How did that image come about and what were you hoping to convey (without spoiling the plot please!)?
The book is dark. It’s about conflict, whether between geologists and engineers, Europeans and Africans, new and old religions, capitalism and organised labour…… But the lustre of gold obliterates bonds of kinships and at the same time sharpens rivalries between intractable foes. It’s impossible to represent that fabric within the simple patina of a book cover
(I’d say you’ve done so pretty well!)
Dead Man’s Gold is the first of your books featuring Edryd (Ed) Evans. How did you create his character? (I’m wondering if he’s based on you, someone you know, if you used a template or post-its, or produced an entire character profile for him etc)
Ed has a lot of me in him, but not entirely, he’s what I might have become had I not stepped aside and become a teacher. I needed somebody from a similar background so I could anticipate reactions to certain people and situations. He’s a bit of a lost boyo or a faithful old dog who has difficulty interpreting people, particularly women. Health and happiness are always just out of his reach.
If Dead Man’s Gold became a film, who would you like to play Edryd (Ed) Evans?
Ed is riven by internal conflicts, prey to the whim of powerful interests, fighting internal demons. Rhys Ifans would be good.
What can we expect from Ed in the future? (Blog readers please note there are slight spoilers in this answer from Mendus!)
In The Wolf Man Approaches Ed returns to the mine after a plea for assistance from Allen. The loose ends from Dead Man’s Gold are tied up and Ed realises that there’s more, much more, going on behind the scenes than he previously suspected. We find out a lot more about Allen and his murky past thanks to the arrival of two new characters at the mine.
In Ice Bound Ed is persuaded by Lucky Lomax, owner of the Lomax Mine, to visit the Labrador Coast in Canada. When the exploration camp is hit by a storm and all lines of communication are cut, Ed begins to realise that he’s been set up. Even in this remote place, echoes of the events at Lomax Mine continue to reverberate.
With so many countries in Africa relying on gold why did you choose Ghana in particular for your setting?
I know Ghana. I did dabble with a fictional country, mainly because people who know Ghana might think they recognise the mine in the book. But on long reflection I decided that didn’t matter, so long as I changed the name and did not use any easily recognisable characters.
As a geologist in a previous life, how easy or difficult is it to get the right balance of geological reference in your fiction?
Very difficult. In the end I’ve plumped for as little as possible, just enough to give a ring of authenticity. On the other hand, I think the use of trilobites will intrigue readers.
(Oh – I have a trilobite myself bought as a present by my husband!)
I know gold mining in Africa is fraught with danger and corruption. How much was this a motivator for your writing?
Quite a bit. Huge wealth flows out of the Lomax Mine into the hands of rich City investors and only a fraction of a percent finds its way into the pockets of ordinary people in the town. They live in conditions of squalor, in shacks next to open sewers. It’s the dichotomy between extreme wealth and extreme poverty which fuels the greed that causes corruption and dangerous working practices.
Dead Man’s Gold doesn’t shy away from the realities of life in African mining communities and I think some readers will be surprised by what they read. How far do you think it is the role of an author to educate as well as entertain?
People who like to read want to be transported from their own lives into another place, even if that place is less pleasant that their own. Life in a town surrounding an African gold mine is as detached from our own as its possible to get and still be on Earth. I think most people would see Lomax Mine and its town as a fantasy place.
If you could choose to be a character from Dead Man’s Gold, who would you be and why?
James Allen… Allen has led a charmed life. He is a man of experience who can read people. Rumours abound about his past and the Old Hands at the mine avoid him. He’s attractive because he’s an outsider, he isn’t swayed one way or the other by mere words and has enough internal resources to decide for himself.
As Dead Man’s Gold is the first in a series, how have you managed continuity and progression in your writing?
By keeping the number of characters and places to a minimum. Although the third book, “Ice Bound”, takes place outside the Lomax Mine, its setting is an island where there is only four other people. Keeping the primary POV to Ed also helps to maintain the continuity, it forces discipline.
And finally, if you had 15 words to persuade a reader that Dead Man’s Gold should be their next read, what would you say?
Life and death at an African Gold Mine written by someone who knows.
About Mendus Harris
Mendus Harris has been writing conspiracy thrillers for the last ten years. His latest books are based in a fictional gold mine named Lomax and draw on his extensive experience as an exploration geologist.Very few people appreciate how a large gold mine in Africa functions and those that do may not be keen for the truth to be told.
His writing conjures images which are redolent with the sights and sounds of West African gold mines, the characters who inhabit them and the political conflicts which can threaten to rip them apart. Here is an author who has been there and seen that and has a view on what he has experienced.