Reading about the closure of the last deep coal mine in Great Britain moved me in a way I didn't expect. When I read the headline, I thought "Thank God!," remembering all the stories I read about mining working conditions and accidents in researching Phineas Finn's and the Earl of Brentford's visit to the Pontnewydd coal mine for Phineas at Bay.
But as I read the article, I remembered the stories of the coal miners themselves; the everyday courage shown by underpaid men and, all too often boys, working under conditions we would blanch at, with death or serious physical injury a daily risk, so familiar as to go unthought of until it eventuated. I thought also of the wives and children who grew up in these environments, and whose stories are generally only ever hinted at.
My research was not of the depth to tell those stories--I was, after all, only stopping off in a fictional mine in a real Welsh mining town (as Pontnewydd then was, but is no longer). No, I used such a locale as a backdrop for an event, the catalyst of the main plot of my novel. But I'm glad that my editior pushed me further, and impelled me to go into the bowels of the mine, to try to add some flesh to the bones of my plot. Because the miners deserved more, and while I hope they all find a safer and more remunerative way of making a living, I am glad I got to delve a little into the culture of that difficult, dangerous job.
I can't regret the closing of collieries, but I regret the dispalcement of the miners, even as I hope for a better future for them and their families. And I'm glad I got to look into their lives a little bit.