Behind the Scenes
The Head of Snake was based on the real historical events that led up to the end of the civil war in May 2000. The events described at the end of the book were the crucial turning point that weakened the RUF, allowed peace to be restored to Freetown, and eventually led to peace being declared in January 2002 after over a decade of civil war.
By the time I was there in 2007, it was hard to imagine that such brutality had existed such a short time before. But below the surface, you knew that everyone had borne witness to its horrors.
The Georgian Flag on Lumley beach
I was astonished to find the Georgian flag flying above a bar on Lumley beach. Perhaps left there by Sarah after her adventures in the Caucasus? According to the owners it was left by a Georgian working for the UN Peacekeepers.
By 2007, it was looking pretty ravaged by wind and tropical blight so Daniel brought in a new one on one of his visits.
Shiny New Flag and Shiny New Land Rover
This is the new flag in all its glory. Also "Bully" the Land Rover Defender when it was brand new and very shiny. This was the first car I ever owned and a trusty steed. It took me all around Sierra Leone and then on to Jordan, via Guinea, Mali, the Sahara, Morocco, Monaco, London, the Balkans, Turkey and Syria. It didn't look so shiny after all of that.
Freetown from the water
Like Sarah, my first arrival in Freetown was in a small speedboat having waded aboard after my luggage that had been held above the waves by two strong boys. The helicopters were down at the time (one had recently burst into flames) and the ferry was described by the Minister of Transport as a floating death trap. The plane was late so when we got in, it was dark. Bumping across the water in the pitch black towards the shadowy outline of the peninsula is, without doubt, the best arrival in a capital city I've ever had.
Sierra Leone is a country of contrasts and contradictions. One of the poorest countries in the world in terms of GDP but one of the richest in terms of natural resources and beauty. Its coastline is made up of pristine beaches where warm turquoise water laps the shore and vast tropical trees grow right up to the sand.
Lucy in Franco's
Extremely pale after 18 months in Beijing, I arrived in Sierra Leone on my familiarisation visit and instantly felt my soul expand. Not difficult when eating lobster on a pristine tropical beach.
Lobster at Franco's
Officially known as Florence's Resort but known to everyone as Franco's, the beachside resort out on the peninsula is a little slice of heaven serving up delicious lobster under the shade of the palms. It's the inspiration for Pietro's in The Head of the Snake.
Ferries in Sierra Leone
Ferries in Sierra Leone were pretty basic affairs. Normally not much more than a floating raft. This one was actually quite advanced with an outboard engine to chuff across the river. Often they were just pulled on a rope.
The Chimp Sanctuary
High in the hills above Freetown is the Tacugama Chimp Sanctuary - since 1995, the sanctuary has been looking after and rehabilitating chimpanzees that were orphaned or kept as pets and cannot be released into the wild. It features in the book as Kuznetsov's favourite place to seek solace and sanctuary in Freetown.