IF you were to believe everything you read, Featherstone author Andy Evans has led a very colourful life.
As an ex-miner-turned-author, the 45-year-old spent two years researching his Bosnian grandfather’s mysterious exile for his first novel, In Search of the Displaced Persons.
But more recently, he’s been writing a loosely autobiographical work from the safety of his home on Leatham Crescent, Purston, though with a plot that defies categorisation, the topic is just as controversial.
Set in the fictional town of Castlefields in the 1970s, Andy’s second novel, When Spirits Break Free, charts the life of Billy, a socially awkward child whose mother suspects he has supernatural powers.
As he enters his teenage years and starts work at a colliery, Billy dabbles in hallucinogenics, plunging him into a world of drug-addled psychosis.
Unable to differentiate between fantasy and reality, his terrifying visions of dead miners lead to unhappy consequences.
“A lot of it’s true stories, based mainly on my life, but a lot is based on other people’s too,” said Andy.
“I had always wanted to write about a mining town. There’s not many books about miners written as a story, they’re always factual.
“Kestral for a Knave was about a young kid in a mining town and it was about his everyday life, but there’s nothing been written about children of a mining generation growing up when the coal industry was in decline.”
The plot is a complex genre-bender based heavily on Andy’s experience growing up in Featherstone’s mining community – both his father and grandfather were miners and he followed in their footsteps after school, working in Sharlston pit.
But Andy’s retrospective takes a dramatic turn with the inclusion of ghostly miners – a plot twist inspired by his personal interest in the 1973 Lofthouse disaster where a flood killed Wakefield miners working in the pit.
“The only thing in the book that’s not based on truth is based on fear. After I studied Lofthouse, I went to work and I was always waiting for a bang and the water to gush in. I had always been interested in ghost stories so that’s how that aspect came into it.”
He added: “In the 80s I lived in a haunted house on Ackworth Road – there was an old woman there – and when I was a child there were houses near Featherstone dance hall where we used to play. We would go in there and drink cider and one of the lads said he could see ghosts in there.”
Andy’s tale is certainly an innovative way of recording his memories of growing up in Featherstone, but the darker side comes in the way he explores how a community of workers suffered during the strike.
“A lot of friends went into drugs – it was the environment I grew up in,” he explained. “It was a time when jobs weren’t readily available, but if your dad worked in the pit you were guaranteed a job as soon as you left school.
“I was lucky in a way because when I was 16 I got a job straight away. A lot of my friends who didn’t get work dabbled in drugs.”
Looking back on such a tumultuous time in history, one wonders how difficult it was to weave so many strands into one very personal story.
“The most difficult bit was sorting out a rough plan because I started writing a lot of it just as memories,” said Andy, “But once I started it just flowed out, I could have written it forever.”
When Spirits Break Free is available for £9 from www.lulu.com/spotlight/brdjani and Amazon.