“The Al-Eden Emergency” by Susan (S.P. Moss)
The third in a series of retro-style adventure stories for 9 – 12s, inspired by the author’s Aden childhood
Flying and travel are in my blood – as the daughter of an RAF officer and an RCAF officer-turned-teacher, I visited four of the world’s continents before starting school. From 1962 – 1964, my father was stationed at RAF Steamer Point (JPS HQ Middle East), while my mother taught at Chapel Hill School. My very earliest memories are of Aden – an exotic, magical but sadly so troubled place.
Slides that were made of wood, as metal in that heat would have given your backside a nasty shock! Goats and camels wandering nonchalantly through the streets. The shark nets at Tarshyne beach. The taste of Stim pop, drunk from an ice-cold bottle.
When we returned to the UK my parents took the decision to stop the moving around – they had done plenty of that when my brother and I were little. We settled in Camberley, and my mum held the fort while my dad was posted here, there and everywhere around the country. We only got to see him at weekends, and not every weekend, either. In those distant pre-internet days, it meant making the most of what time we had together as a family. Looking back, I think I must have subconsciously soaked up my dad’s RAF ways and expressions, so that I could keep him with me at all times.
My childhood was full of books. I read avidly and wrote determinedly in between plotting to become a spy and building brother-proof camps.
Once he’d retired from flying, my dad worked as a tutor at the Staff College, Bracknell, where he ‘…wrestled to impart some respect for the English language in our future leaders of the Royal Air Force,’ as one of his colleagues put it. He’d always planned to write his memoirs, but events took another course and, armed with logbooks, sepia-tinted photos and a few addresses of old chums, I set about the task that my dad never had a chance to start.
I was fascinated by what lay behind the hours in the log books and what happened before and after the black and white snapshots. And, while I was writing he biography, my young son asked what his granddad was like. A delightful “what if” question flitted into my mind, and with it a lost world, full of danger, dirty deeds and derring-do. My publisher described it as ‘a long-forgotten beauty – not fantasy, not ancient history, but something you and I had forgotten was magic: a Britain where country roads were bright and welcoming, where cars, motorbikes and aeroplanes – not to mention their pilots – still had an aura of adventure about them.’
A delightful thought whizzed through my head: what if a 21st century boy, born into the digital age of smart phones, Google and virtual reality could meet a hero of the analogue age, and experience the adventurous world of those times? The idea for The Bother in Burmeon was born.
This race against time, with beasts, baddies and bombs around every corner, was followed by Trouble in Teutonia. This sequel – or is it a prequel? – takes place after the first book for Billy, the young hero, but before for his Grandpop. Cue all manner of time-travel conundrums.
My latest book, The Al-Eden Emergency, draws the most on my personal experience. Like the other books, it is “alternative history” for young readers, and he plot itself is pure escapism. It’s set in 1966, in a fictitious Middle Eastern port not unlike my beloved Aden, with a few scenes set in Swinging London, too. There are thrills and spills aplenty, scorpions, sharks, amazing aircraft and ancient prophecies. A sinister rebel army, kidnapping teens to fulfil its mysterious leader’s evil ambition, adds a strong note of relevance for today. As the strapline for all three books says – with apologies to L.P. Hartley – “The Past is a Dangerous Country.”
Fiction it may be, but I hope that older readers who experienced the real “Al-Eden” will sense authenticity of both time and place. I’ve used local landmarks in the story – The Crescent, Tarshyne Beach and the Tawila Tanks, among others.
Both my parents have flown west now, and all that’s physically left of our time in Aden are boxes of colour slides, a few moth-eaten camel stools and other assorted souvenirs, like my mum’s beautiful gold brooch in the shape of a jambiyah. But the memories burn strongly. Maybe my story will kindle an interest in Aden and its history amongst a new generation of UK children. And, more than anything, I hope that one day I can make a return visit to regain the paradise of my childhood. Inshallah!