What a great word, ‘Scatterling’. I checked out Websters and it is not listed. Peter Davies however, is a ‘Scatterling’, and a better word to describe what happened to the white population in what was then known as Rhodesia I can not imagine. In his first foray into the literary world Peter explores the often misunderstood situation that Rhodesia faced in the 1970’s. Although Scatterlings is a work of fiction, it has its roots set in cold hard fact. I had the opportunity to chat with Peter recently about his new book The Scatterlings Of Africa, and about life in general.

Can you give our readers a little Bio about who Peter is?

As you know, I was born and brought up in Rhodesia, which is in South-Central Africa.  I spent my childhood years living with my parents deep in the bush, far from the nearest town.  My only companions in those days were black Africans, and I spoke the local, ‘Ndebele’ language as fluently as I spoke English – maybe better.  Those early times made a huge impression on me; I love the African bush, and I always got on well with my fellow African people.  This mutual understanding was good for me in later years when I worked with African colleagues in business; and when I served alongside African soldiers during the 1970s war against Mugabe’s terrorist insurgents.  Apart from during the initial training, I was only ever a part-time soldier.  But these experiences also made a big impression on me, and I have vivid memories of what happened out there…  I eventually left Africa to live in England twenty years ago, where my family and I managed to build successful lives for ourselves.  I took early retirement a few years ago to travel and to write…

Clearly Scatterlings is based on some personal experiences, what gave you the impetus to create the book?

Yes it is.  Even as a youngster I wanted to write; I enjoyed writing, and teachers commended my writing at school.  But my parents were not able to afford further education for me, so I had to find paid employment in industry instead.  My ambition to write was put on hold while I built a career in business.  It was a good move for me, but all the while I was thinking about what to write when I had the opportunity.  So when I retired, I began the process of learning a whole new trade – how to write creatively.

Scatterlings covers a very volatile period in the country that was Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). We in the west (yes I am old enough to remember this) saw a very different picture than the one you paint. To us it was simple black majority against the white ruling minority but this is not true. Can you give us a quick synopsis?

Thank you for raising that question, Simon.  I was especially impressed with your review, when I saw how you’d identified the similarities between what is happening in Afghanistan and Iraq today, and what happened in Rhodesia all those years ago.  The Rhodesian war was never just between black and white; it was between communist trained and armed black insurgents on the one side, and the majority of the population in Rhodesia, both black and white, on the other.  But even the insurgents themselves attacked in two separate groupings – partly split by tribe, but mostly between the two main external backers they had.  That’s another similarity between what happened in Rhodesia and what’s happening in the Middle East right now.

You see, in Africa the Soviet Union, and Communist China, were vying for power and influence in what they regarded – rightly – as a vast continent filled with valuable, strategic mineral resources.  We Rhodesians found ourselves attacked on two fronts; from our north-western neighbour, Zambia who harboured the Russian backed insurgents; and our north-east, through Mozambique, which was used by the Communist Chinese backed insurgents.

But part of the background is that in 1965, Rhodesia’s government had declared independence from the United Kingdom.  Radical black African politicians were not satisfied with the slow progress being made by the mainly white Rhodesian government towards universal franchise.  Their propaganda demand, was for ‘one-man-one-vote’.

Well, Rhodesians had watched this happen in all the other former colonies of Africa, and they saw that once that happened, future elections – if they took place at all – were rigged in favour of the incumbent African government.  So when the African electorate discovered that they were worse off than they had been under colonial rule, they were unable to change their African governments.  It had turned out to be a case of one-man-one-vote… once.  Mass murder, corruption and economic disaster became the norm for independent Africa.

Back in Rhodesia, the frustrated radical black politicians soon became exiles and set up external military wings; a bit like radical Muslims and Al Qaeda today.  These Rhodesian terrorist organizations were funded by the West; yet trained and armed by the Soviet Union and Communist China.  Like the modern fanatics of Islam around the world today, terrorist insurgents set about infiltrating, and trying to indoctrinate the peaceful black peasant populations of Rhodesia.  Those who did not join the ‘cause’ were intimidated, tortured and sometimes killed.  That is why I – along with many others – was a civilian soldier, and hunting terrorists in the Zambezi Valley during the 1960s and 1970s.

The puzzling thing to me was the fact that western media, governments and churches, provided moral and financial support for both these communist trained groups in their armed invasions.  I still don’t understand this, except that it seems to me the media deliberately mislead the west in these conflicts.  This seems to be happening, in a more subtle way, with Afghanistan and Iraq today.

The UN were fairly brutal with the sanctions, you mention them in Scatterlings, how bad was it?

Simon, if you remember that Rhodesia is a landlocked country, you’ll understand that sanctions could have been catastrophic – and in the end, it was sanctions that finally forced Rhodesians to submit to their communist enemy.

The problem for Rhodesia was that, despite all its other natural resources, the country has no oil, so we had to rely on imports for that vital commodity.  The British Royal Navy blockaded the port of Beira in Mozambique – Rhodesia’s only pipeline, and rail access to oil.  To begin with we had to haul supplies by road up from the border with South Africa, because there was no pipeline or railway connection between Rhodesia and South Africa.  But apart from oil, and ammunition, Rhodesia quickly became self-sufficient in most other things.  For example, we had to mothball our new diesel-electric locomotives, and bring the old coal-fired steam locomotives back into service, because we had plenty of coal resources.  And Rhodesia was known as the “breadbasket of Africa” at that time – so we traded food for oil, and ammunition with our neighbouring countries; and with our enemies, the communist bloc – also with the so-called non-aligned countries, Arab and African states. These were the only people prepared to trade with us; the west strictly observed United Nations sanctions against Rhodesia.  All those years ago, as the ‘breadbasket of Africa’, Rhodesia’s survival depended on trading its surplus food production.  Yet in recent times, many of Zimbabwe’s people have been starving because the country can no longer grow enough food for its own population.

I believe this is your first foray into the writing world, has it been a ‘fun’ experience? How long did Scatterlings take to put together? Did you have problems finding a publisher? Many people do

Yes, Scatterlings of Africa is my first work of fiction, and I loved writing it.  It has given me immense satisfaction and pleasure.  Make no mistake, it was hard work, and I suffered quite a lot of pain too.  I’m a strong minded, generally cheerful individual and don’t easily accept failure, but I occasionally felt pretty down.  There were times when I wondered if I’d ever make the grade.  I always invited comment on my work, but sometimes felt overwhelmed by it – even though it was legitimate and (mostly) well-meaning criticism.  I think you learn more from constructive criticism, and good editing than from anything else, so I still welcome it.  I commissioned a professional appraiser to give me detailed feed-back on my manuscript.  She’s a published author herself, and she gave me tremendous support and advice.  Based on her critiques, I ended up re-writing Scatterlings of Africa three times over nearly four years.

When she finally passed my manuscript – she was always complimentary about the story – I set about trying to find an agent to take it on for me.  I had many rejections; some agents praised my writing, but they said that “it wasn’t for them”.  In the end, I gave up and went to a small publisher who took it on.  But I have to do a lot of marketing myself.  That’s very time-consuming, but essential because I really believe in Scatterlings of Africa.  I’ll do whatever I can to bring it to the attention of readers.

It has been my experience that authors tend to be most successful when they draw on personal experience, and as a consequence tend to model their characters after real people, I am guessing that you are the hero, but who are the other people?

I think you’re right about personal experience – or at least specializing in something that you really know about.  In my case that’s Africa.

But the Scatterlings of Africa ‘hero’, Lieutenant Ron Cartwright, is a tougher soldier than I was, so I can’t say that he represents me.  In fact I took great care with all my characters to avoid the possibility that any of them might be confused with real people.  That’s important when you’re writing in a historically factual context.  I have at least three relatives named Ron – including my father, who passed away before I started writing the book.  I suppose my character’s physique is based on that of my father – who was an immensely tough, and slim built five foot nine ball of dynamite.  He is the only man I ever knew who could do a series of one arm press-ups, non stop; that takes incredible strength.  I’m over six feet tall, and was never as tough as him.  But I put Cartwright through many of my own military experiences, and he reacted according to the character he developed into as I wrote.  I have no idea as to how my father might have reacted in those situations.

I borrowed elements from many people I knew to build all my characters.  Because I was involved in interrogating captured terrorists, I learned something about them, and what motivated them.  So I thoroughly enjoyed writing from the viewpoint of the main antagonist – I really became the terrorist commander, Gadziwa as I wrote.  Knowing so many black African people quite intimately over the years also helped me – I felt that I could really get inside Gadziwa’s mind.

Mark Le Roux’s physique was based on a man I served in the Rhodesian Army with, and I used a little of his character too.  He was a real ladies man, but a popular bloke with us soldiers too – a man’s man.  Mark became Angela’s lover but the tough, dangerous Cartwright was never going to accept his wife having a lover.  Like all my other characters, Le Roux is unique – a carefully built character; initially given life by me, but who grew of his own accord as I posed difficulties for him.

Angie was the most difficult character for me to create.  Her appearance is based on a stunningly attractive young lady who once worked for me; but I didn’t know her well enough to be able to use any of her personality for my character.  That came from a number of other ladies I knew.  But again, Angie’s character developed as I gave her problems to face and overcome.

So all my characters are completely fictional.

I understand that you now live in England, can you tell us a little about why you selected England and a little about your life post Rhodesia.

The Belgian Congo debacle of the early 1960s convinced me – as young as I was – that I’d eventually have to leave Africa, my home continent that I loved.  Because my paternal grandfather came from the UK, England was always an option.  But I was also keen on the USA.  Then I married an English lady, so that became the deciding factor.  There was a long waiting period when we lived in South Africa – that’s another story.  But I was in senior management roles in various businesses here in England, which has given me a good life, until I took early retirement to pursue my life-long ambitions; writing and travelling.

Of course the other question, which likely has a really obvious answer is.. When and why did you decide to leave Rhodesia?

When the new Portuguese Socialist government abandoned Mozambique in 1974, I could see that Rhodesia’s strategic position would become untenable.  With the exception of a relatively small section to the south, Rhodesia, a beleaguered and landlocked country, was surrounded by hostile states.  I took my family out of Rhodesia in 1975. To my surprise, the end only came in 1980 after a stubborn, hard-fought war against terrorists lasting fifteen long years.  The Rhodesians were beaten by world politics, not by the terrorists.

My favorite question for a first time author… what are you writing next?

Ah, yes.  As you’d expect, it’s another book set in Africa, Simon.  I hope it’ll take me much less time than Scatterlings of Africa did.   After all, I’ve learned a lot about my new trade.  But although I know my subject, there’s a lot of research to do as I write.  I want my novels to be authentic, so that veterans and other experts can say ‘yes, that’s how it was; this author knows what it was like…’

Postscript: Scatterlings is available from Amazon.

Simon Barrett


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