The Drumbeats Trilogy by Julia Ibbotson

The Drumbeats Trilogy by Julia Ibbotson

I’ve recently been celebrating the publication of my Drumbeats Trilogy as one omnibus edition. The books have been available separately for some time, with the last of the trilogy, Finding Jess, coming out last August, but now they’re also all together on kindle as a box set.

Recently someone asked me: what inspires me as a writer? Well, my social media accounts and my author profiles say that my main interests are in the medieval world and the concept of time. That’s true; these certainly are the inspiration for my writing, especially currently with my latest time-slip books (A Shape on the Air and my current WIP). But there have been other sources too, for example a particular place and time, and The Drumbeats Trilogy reveals that in its evocation of Ghana.

Many years ago, I worked in Ghana, West Africa, for a while as a teacher and nurse, and I always wanted to write a book set in that country with its intriguing history and culture. I loved my time there, met loads of wonderful people, and revelled in the climate and the way of life. It took me a long time to get around to it: life intervened. Many of you will know what I mean! But finally I wrote and published The Drumbeats Trilogy, which begins and ends in that lovely endearing, interesting country. It is Jess’s story …

The first book of the trilogy, Drumbeats, begins in 1965 which I think is a fascinating period, and certainly was a dramatic time in West Africa. I enjoy the research behind my novels and it was fascinating to investigate the 1960s, a time of so much change and conflict, especially across West Africa. The protagonist, 18 year old Jess, flees a stifling family to ‘find herself’ on a gap year in Ghana, but she finds civil war, danger and tragedy as well as romance. I have tried to represent the momentous political events which happened in Ghana in 1966, as accurately as feasible, bearing in mind that these are written in the novel as they are perceived by the character of innocent, naïve teenager Jess, and in the light of a writer’s license to create drama and consistency of plot.  

The truth, from contemporary archive material, is that President Nkrumah was deposed as president of Ghana on 24th February 1966 and at 7 o’clock the announcement was made that “the armed forces, in cooperation with the police, have felt it necessary to take over the reins of power and dismiss the former President, Kwame Nkrumah, the Presidential Commission and all Ministers and to suspend the Constitution and to dissolve Parliament. This act has been necessitated by the political and economic situation in the country.” There port continued to declare that “the country is on the brink of national bankruptcy.”Only three days before, Nkrumah had passed through parliament his “socialist budget”which the announcement claimed “increases the economic burdens and hardships of the population.”

K.A.Bediako (in The Downfall of Kwame Nkrumah ) says:“it is hard to believe that such a take-over could happen in Ghana at a time when any whisper of complaint on the policies of the government was risky and could mean imprisonment without trial in a country in which security men and women maintained a band of secrecy around their identity…”(1966). Nkrumah had led Ghana to independence from British colonial rule nearly ten years before, in 1957, and became the country’s first prime minister and president. He established many huge projects in Ghana, including Akasombo Damonthe Volta River which was opened in January 1966. Opinions were divided; was he a saviour or a hero turned corrupt?

He was on a state visit to China in February 1966 when his government was overthrown in a military coup d’état led by General Kotoka and the National Liberation Council. He later hinted at a possible American complicity in ‘Dark Days in Ghana’ (1969). Some argue that this suspicion was based on false evidence originating from the KGB;others claimed that CIA documents provided evidence of the involvement of the US President in the overthrow. Who knows?

I’ve tried to reflect many of these historical events, uncertainties and fear, in my novel, Drumbeats, and also suggested the mystery of US involvement through the character of Jim, one of Kennedy’s Peace Corps medics stationed in Accra and Cape Coast.

Many of the events of that year are still shrouded in mystery. But whatever is the truth, Nkrumah never returned to Ghana alive and was exiled in Conakry, Guinea, where he died of prostate cancer in 1972. He was buried back in Ghana at the village of Nkroful, where he had been born, but his remains were subsequently re-interred in a national memorial tomb in the capital, Accra. In a turn of fate, in 2000, he was named “Africa’s man of the millennium” by listeners of the BBC World Service and the “hero of independence”. In 2009, President John Atta Mills of Ghana declared 21st September to be Founder’s Day, an annual holiday celebrating the legacy of Kwame Nkrumah and glorifying his presidency.

It was a turbulent period throughout West Africa: there were attempted coups d’état across the Sahara, for example in Mali and Upper Volta (now Burkina Fasso) and my protagonist, Jess, finds herself involved in those too.

The second in the trilogy, Walking in the Rain, moves away from Ghana, as Jess returns to England. But the theme is still dramatic and gritty, one of the pain of living with someone with mental health issues, which was inspired by someone I knew. In it, I have explored sensitive and hard-hitting issues, which I think should not be ignored as they affect so many people these days. It was difficult to write, but I hope that I’ve done so with sensitivity – but that’s for another blog.

My latest, the last of the trilogy, Finding Jess, was finally finished and published last summer. Jess is assailed by betrayal, and returns to Ghana in desperation. On Jess’s return to Ghana, times have moved on, and she finds a more settled, more modernised country in many ways, at least on the surface. It’s not so dramatic or terrifying, partly of course because Jess herself is older and wiser. The country still fascinates her but in different ways, and she still sees glimpses of the Ghana she remembers. There are some things that don’t change. The drumbeats that haunt her dreams, for example.

The Drumbeats Trilogy is a saga of love, betrayal and second chances, but, above all, ultimately it’s a feel-good story about the strength and spirit of one woman battling against the odds to rise above adversity. The strength and determination of women is always an inspiration to me as a writer.

I won’t pre-empt the ending, but I’ll just say that one of the main characters in the trilogy and the one that really wins out in the end, apart from Jess, is Ghana itself, summed up by some wonderful reviews: “feel the searing heat of Ghana burning right off the pages” and “beautifully written, conjuring up the colour and culture of the country”. I do hope my readers find as much enjoyment and inspiration in reading the books as I have in writing them. 

Get your copy of The Drumbeats Trilogy HERE!

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