It all started early in 1991 with a trip to the Seychelles archives, at the time when they were still housed in a fittingly archaic building named La Bastille located just outside the capital, Victoria.
I was still living on the outer islands back then and keen to start on a writing project which would somehow make sense of all the years I had spent there and the plethora of incredible experiences I had been fortunate to savour as I lived my life of, well not quite Robinson Crusoe, but not that far removed from it either.
Soon after ascending the steps of this stark and business-like edifice and explaining the purpose of my visit, I was ushered into a room lined with boxes of record cards and invited to start my search. It was a simple archive back then and I recall that I was the only researcher that morning as I chose a desk at which to sit, my movements gently echoed by the high ceiling.
My search for interesting anecdotes of Seychelles’ relatively young history was proceeding at the slow pace research generally enjoys when I was brought one particular book I had requested to see – a book that would change everything. It was a History of the Indian Ocean and my reading of it was arrested by a section covering ‘Libertalia’, the notorious pirate republic which flourished in northern Madagascar around the turn of the 18th century, just after the international pirate community began to feel themselves squeezed by the growing might of the American navy and became dislodged from the Caribbean and forced to look for quieter territories, first in Cap Verde and then the Indian Ocean.
It was in Madagascar that they eventually settled – that massive, untamed island which had resisted any attempts by the major powers of the day to colonise it. Entire foreign armies had been decimated by fever in a string of sorry, ill-fated attempts to subdue the fourth largest island in the world and its wild, warlike inhabitants as the island continued to shrug off any attempt at subjugation.
The pirates must have been different and being a band of people presumably used to thinking on their feet, they teamed up with one of the local tribes, the Bitsimisaraka, and began to forge their notorious republic under the leader ship of two visionaries named Mission and Carracioli. Under their guidance the colony burgeoned to a point where it developed is own body of legislation, laws of inheritance and even its own language, an early form of Esperanto or Volapuk. Through its ranks at different times passed such eminent sea dogs as Irving, Teatch, White, Morgan and La Buse who would soon sail to Seychelles to conceal one of the planet’s most valuable and as yet undiscovered treasures somewhere at Bel Ombre, on Mahe, Seychelles principal island.
On Madagascar’s Ile Ste Marie it was that they made their headquarters, presumably with the consent of the local tribes who would have benefited greatly from their activities, establishing a pirate empire which was so renowned for its wealth that they were able to pay off viceroys in India and even attract American merchants into the Indian Ocean for the first time in history to trade with them on annual forays known as the ‘Great Round.’
Their ability to place spies in many Indian Ocean ports earned them rich rewards as they pillaged their way from Africa to India virtually unopposed. They developed some of the first stealth tactics, using a flotilla of rafts to surprise their prey and before long their society had evolved to a point where, some say, they might have qualified as the planet’s first communist state.
However, their run of good fortune attracted attention and soon they found themselves the target of British and French navies desperate to protect their shipping routes ans well as their much-bloodied noses. As a result of mounting pressure, the Libertalians had no alternative but to flee and it is stated that the nucleus of their community boarded a ship and left the island… but to where no one knows to this day.
The significance of their story and their eventual fate hit me, I remember, like a bolt of lightening. Why not Seychelles, which was well within reach and whose treacherous shallows and coral reefs had long provided refuge for pirates on the run? I had sailed much around the atolls of the remote archipelago, enough to know the dangers and it did not take me long to realise that this story could be fashioned into one humdinger of an historical thriller which could in effect tell two stories as one: the back story of Libertalia and a modern tale of how Libertalia actually survived until the modern day on one of the remote atolls of the Seychelles archipelago – one that I just happened to know extremely well.
And so, the idea of Kolony was born – one which would take me on research trips to London, Paris, Nairobi and, of course, Madagascar with my friend and much respected Russian journalist Nikita Kritsov, sending me fascinating material from the Moscow archives as well.
What emerged from the kitchen some 15 years later as my historical thriller, Kolony, was a long time in the writing, taking the reader on a Grand Round of its own: London; Madagascar; Singapore and Seychelles and on a helter-skelter sleigh ride of historical fact mixed with credible fiction. A real powder-keg of a book which I hope my readers will enjoy reading as much as I did its writing.