Strike for a Kingdom (1959) was Menna Gallie's first published novel. Though published in the 1950s, it is set in a Welsh mining village during the "Angry Summer" of the 1926 Miners' Strike. In May 1926 the Trades Union Congress called a General Strike in support of British miners who were facing wage reductions and longer working hours. The General Strike lasted 9 days, but miners stayed out on strike for months afterwards. In a manuscript held at the National Library of Wales, Gallie writes about the reasons she chose to set her novel during the strike:
During 1926 the miners took direct action to try and improve their conditions. You will remember that in May 1926 there was a paralyzing, almost complete General Strike in Britain when the other Trade Unions came out in support of the miners demands. The background to the struggle was chronic unemployment in the country in general and the frightful conditions under which miners worked for owners who grudged every penny spend on safety precautions. The strike came to our village in the Swansea Valley and made a deep and lasting impression on me. My family were not involved in the strike, my father wasn't a miner so I felt very much out of it all, out of the feeling of solidarity which fired the area, out of the fun of it, out of the soup-kitchen where all the other children went to have their mid-day meal. This business of being left out side, of feeling that I had made no contribution to the struggle prompted me to write about my memories of it all when later on I had some leisure and the children were growing up and needing less of my direct attention. My first book, Strike for a Kingdom, is the result of all that. Menna Gallie Papers, National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth
Strike for a Kingdom takes the form of detective novel, in which the local Pit Manager is found murdered. This "whodunit" plot, focusing on a small location and bringing in a cast of characters from across the social classes, enables Gallie to provide a snapshot of a Welsh mining village during this tense moment in Welsh social history.
The novel is located in the village of "Cilhendre", a semi-fictional location based on Gallie's home village of Ystradgynlais in the Swansea Valley. Though fictionalised, the novel sets itself firmly in the real geography of Ystradgynlais, which was, at the time of the strike, home to numerous coalmines and therefore heavily dependent on this industry. In her interview with Literary Atlas, Professor Angela V. John, who knew Menna Gallie personally, discusses the author's decision to set the novel in Ystradgynlais:
Interview with Professor Angela V. John – Menna Gallie on Ystradgynlais
Menna was somebody who, throughout her life, felt very passionate about being Welsh, about coming from this particular community, and in a way, felt she knew it best, and wanted to write about it. She was a very… had a very vivid imagination and she did come back, her mother was still living in Wales. She had lived, after all, twice in Ystradgynlais; she knew the place pretty well. What better than to write about somewhere that was familiar to her, but to locate it at a time that was removed from her direct experiences and that, in a sense, gave her the opportunity to perhaps let her imagination roam a little bit and also to provide a story that had a drama attached to it because after all, the year of 1926 was an unforgettable one in Welsh industrial history.
Professor John is the author of Rocking the Boat. Welsh Women who Championed Equality 1840-1990 (Parthian, 2018).
Writing a "whodunit" story, with its focus on the investigation of numerous possible suspects, enabled Gallie to introduce us to a wide cast of characters from the village. The novel largely focuses on D.J., a miner who is also a poet and the local Justice of Peace. A 'peace-loving, quiet man' p. 6, D.J. is a respected member of the community, and his position as Justice of Peace requires him to interact with many characters. Following the death of Mr Nixon, the pit manager, he works closely with the local police, including the comic Inspector Thomas, who is mostly a figure of ridicule in the novel. But being a miner, D.J. is also a man of the people. He lives near many other unemployed miners, such as his next-door neighbour Gerwin, whose sister is mortally ill; Jess Jeffries, who "obliges" p. 11 for Mr Nixon, and Tommy Davies, a man with a seemingly permanent cough. The story also brings in a cast of supporting characters, such as the local doctor, Dr O'Grady, Mr Leyshon, the town crier, and John Nixon, the son of Mr Nixon. The novel therefore provides a snapshot of the diverse characters from across the classes that inhabit even a village as small as Cilhendre.
There are three Strike for a Kingdom plotlines to explore: