His most challenging role as a journalist, on his own reckoning, was when he returned to Canada in 1966 where he worked for CBC News first in Ottawa and then in the new Territorial capital of Yellowknife. Val was CBC News’ first full time Arctic editor working out of Yellowknife. His patch was 1,300,000 square miles of the Northwest Territories.
Val arrived in the north just as the native rights movement was getting started following the discovery of oil and gas in the Arctic. The clash of cultures between the traditional lifestyles of the northern natives and the demands of southern consumers for more fossil fuels provided the background for Val’s first novel White Bird Black Bird.
In the early seventies after the birth of their second girl, Claudine, the family returned to England. Both Val and Lil shared a fondness for the English countryside, its villages, shaded narrow lanes and green fields. They bought a smallholding on the Somerset Levels where Val freelanced, writing stories about the Arctic. The family adopted a self-sufficiency mode, planting a kitchen garden and trees.
Somerset made a deep impression on Val. He wrote a poem Dead Willows Morn
and started a fairy story titled The Story of Zog
both of which commemorated the Battle of Sedgemoor, the last battle to be fought on English soil.
But self-sufficiency was not enough to keep Val gainfully employed. He joined the British civil service and started working for the Central Office of Information first in Bristol, then Nottingham and finally London. The COI is the British Government’s media factory, responsible for government publicity services both at home and overseas. Val’s main client was the British Foreign Office for whom he made film and radio programmes for overseas distribution. Val’s experiences working for the Foreign Office was the basis of his second novel When the Lions are Drinking.
Asked how he adapted himself to his various roles as reporter, editor, broadcaster and civil servant in different parts of the world Val said he acted like a chameleon, absorbing the colours of the society around him and in the process becoming a part of that society.
After 20 years working for the COI Val and Lil retired to Port Macquarie. As Val explains in his memoir My Voyage around Spray (with apologies to Captain Joshua Slocum) the decision to go to Port Macquarie, halfway between Sydney and Brisbane on the Australian east coast, was a happy piece of serendipity the result of meeting with a London weather man and finding a reference to Port Macquarie in Slocum’s book Sailing Alone around the World. The weather man said Port Macquarie had one of the world’s best climates. Slocum, the first man to sail single handed around the world, was one of Val’s heroes. Val wanted to buy a yacht of his own and although he was not likely to follow in Slocum’s tracks, he did want to sail.