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On being a writer in Wales: Lloyd Markham

19 May 2024 6 minute read
Lloyd Markham and his book Fox Bites which is published by Parthian Books

Lloyd Markham

There is a simple question that I find quite difficult to answer.

So where are you from?

You see there are four possible answers:

  • I was born in Johannesburg. So I’m from South Africa? However, I only spent the first two years of my life there before my parents moved to New Zealand and then Zimbabwe. So my connection to SA feels quite flimsy.
  • I spent most of my childhood in Zimbabwe. So I’m from Zimbabwe? However, I moved away from there when I was thirteen and have now spent far more of my life in Wales. So you could say my connection to Zimbabwe – though formative – is too distant.
  • I’ve spent most of my life in Wales. So I’m actually from here, sort of? Welsh by volume? But too many of my cultural mannerisms are so distinctly . . . un-Welsh. Doesn’t feel credible.
  • I’m naturalised as a British citizen. And Zimbabwe is a former British colony. So perhaps I’m from Britain? Like IPA. Created for export, but now enjoyed domestically. But Britain is more of a collection of places. Not a place in and of itself. So the answer ends up circling back on itself: Where in Britain are you from?

And so on.

I’m envious of people who have a simple answer to that ‘Where Are You From’ question. An origin story that isn’t up for debate.

It seems – from the outside looking in – like it makes relating to other people a lot easier. The tales you get to tell about yourself can follow more conventional structures. They don’t disintegrate into jagged fragments – each requiring their own separate convoluted explanation.

  • Mom and Dad came over to Bradford in the 1980s on his ancestral visa . . .
  • Dad got a contract to help build a radio station in Bophuthatswana . . .
  • My paternal grandfather’s family was from York. A mine foreman who made good. Ended up being sent to Ghana during the war to manage the gold mines . . .
  • Mom’s side goes back to Romania. I think? Not sure. French Huguenots? . . .
  • My parents weren’t really feeling it in New Zealand. Homesick for Zim . . .
  • The 2000 Referendum – the results of which Mugabe ignored . . .
  • Ended up in Bridgend – the radio station needed a sound engineer . . .


A recipe with too many steps. Could we not simply bake a new Lloyd from a more concise cookbook? Perhaps this white, green and red one with the dragon?

Or maybe that one over there with the triangle and an additional dash of yellow, black, and blue?

Isn’t Zimbabwe sort of just like South Africa if you ignore all the specific geographic, cultural, and historical ways that it isn’t?

As you can imagine, writing and editing author bios can be a headache.

By comparison being a writer who is unambiguously from one place seems straightforward. Though I guess no one’s identity – no matter how straightforward on the surface – is beyond being contested.

Particularly in a precarious age where we are becoming nastier, more territorial – anxious border guards looking for defectors or invaders. You’re Welsh, but are you proper Welsh? Do you speak the language? That’s not how that’s meant to be pronounced. That’s just a weird Cardiff thing. It’s like this: CR-OI-ZE. Etc.

I’m lucky to not have to deal with that. Or rather I’ve already dealt with it.


When forces beyond my control dumped me at the gates of a Bridgend comp, saying I was from Zimbabwe in my faint, ridiculous accent . . . well I might as well have said I was from Alpha Centauri.

What my family and I went through in Zimbabwe was too big, too complicated to squash into the sole rucksack I was allowed to bring on the plane. Those experiences, those stories, that cultural identity, fell apart in transit.

The hard incredulity of my teenage peers smashed them into absurd fragments. Chongololo? Jacaranda? Hyperinflation? Harare? ZANU? Nyaminyami? Mushe? Off? No. You say it weird. Like, ‘Orf.’  Orrrrrrrrf.

After a bruising few years I retreated from any claim to a cultural identity – authentic or otherwise. I resigned myself to being an alien and tried to find meaning and stability in other things – particularly writing.

Fictional town

When I wrote my first book, Bad Ideas\Chemicals, I chose to set the story in a fictional town rather than Bridgend – despite my experiences of that town inspiring it. I didn’t want anyone claiming I was trespassing.

So I built a new town around my tale. I revelled in the grotesque hyperbole this allowed. The town is full of giant beetles. Everyone is addicted to a mysterious revolting drug – I won’t spoil here the ghastly truth of what it’s made of.

And so on.

I think this geographic abstraction helped people from disparate cultural backgrounds connect with it.

Some would tell me the town was in Appalachia or the Rust Belt. Another was confident it could be a small place just outside Cairo. ‘We have towns like this too,’ was the refrain I heard over and over.


It was hard to not attempt that trick again and create a fictionalised setting for my new novel, Fox Bites. But I decided to set the novel in Zimbabwe. Not out of any desire to reclaim an estranged national identity or ‘authenticity’. In fact the opposite compelled me.

I wanted to write something that re-enacted my estrangement. The authentic becoming inauthentic. Familiarity collapsing into the absurd and horrific. The small, simple, fragile life of a child colliding with immense forces both political and cosmic.

To that end there needed to be a clear ‘authentic’ reference point. Something outside of myself – out there in the world – that my book’s Zimbabwe could be contrasted with. A bright, unforgiving light exposing the cracks and erosion and little red threads thinly connecting all the fragments.

Only then would people truly understand where I’m from.

Lloyd Markham was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. He spent his childhood in Zimbabwe before moving to and settling in south Wales at the age of thirteen. His first novel Bad Ideas\Chemicals was shortlisted for Wales Book of the Year and won a Betty Trask award. He was awarded a bursary from Literature Wales to develop his second novel Fox Bites. He likes making and listening to strange music.

Fox Bites by Lloyd Markham is published by Parthian Books and is available from bookshops.

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