Ceri Shaw



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'Surfing Through Minefields' by Bel Roberts - A Review

user image 2014-11-25
By: Ceri Shaw
Posted in: Book Reviews

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From our interview with Bel Roberts:- " Surfing Through Minefields belongs to the hybrid genre ‘reality fiction’. I have set the story in a fictional contemporary comprehensive school in Monmouth and have researched the facts surrounding the Senghenydd Pit disaster of 1913 in such a way that the history of the event is seen from the prospective of a modern teenager and by the residents of an old people’s home who have actual mementos of the tragic event. The heroine, Lauren, is an English teenager sent to stay with her grandmother in Wales while her parents sort out their various problems." ... read more here



This is the story of a teenage girl coming to terms with her parents divorce. To complicate matters she is sent away to live in Monmouth, a small town on the Welsh border so she must also adapt to a new school and learn to make new friends a long way from her former home.

The book touches on many themes that you might expect in a teenage ''coming of age'' novel. Lauren''s early experiences with the opposite sex, school bullying and racism all form part of this well paced and lively story. In the course of a meeting with her Welsh grandmother at a convalescent home she learns that a distant relative ( her grandmothers half brother ) was a victim of the Senghenydd mining disaster on October 14th 1913. The following day at school she learns that she must pick a GCSE coursework assignment and decides that she will write on the Universal Colliery disaster and consult with her grandmother for personal recollections and details of this catastrophic event.

The rest of the book interweaves her historical research with her day to day efforts to cope with her life and circumstances in a rich and compelling narrative which will appeal to many adult readers as powerfully as it will to its intended teenage audience.

In the course of her researches Lauren unearths many interesting snippets of information from the newspapers of the time:-

"Today His Majesty King George V sent his condolences to the bereaved families of Senghenydd in The Rhymney Valley, South Wales and expressed his genuine shock at the scale of the disaster. He regretted that he could not visit the scene of the disaster immediately, as he was currently involved in the marriage celebrations of Prince Arthur of Connaught and the Duchess of Fife."

"Many of the bodies show horrific burns and other forms of mutilation but most of those awaiting identification are decomposing fast and should be laid to rest with dignity. One young boy hardly in his teens was identified by his new boots, worn for the first time on that fateful morning, another by a champagne cork, a treasured souvenir rescued from the pit owner’s garden and carried as a lucky omen."

It is clear throughout that Bel Roberts has thoroughly researched her historical subject matter and this is to be commended when you remember that the few books on the tragedy are either difficult or nearly impossible to obtain ( both W. H. Davies Ups And Downs and John H. Brown''s Valley Of The Shadow are referenced in the text )

In conclusion this is a book with the potential to delight readers of all ages. Whether you are interested in the problems confronting teenagers growing to maturity in modern society or with the details of Wales and Britains'' worst colliery disaster this book has something for you. An unreserved thumbs up and 5 star recommendation.