Au revoir France and goodbye ferry. Hello, White Cliffs of Dover. Where are the bluebirds?
Have you guessed? We stayed in Blighty for our holidays. But I feared that we would miss the sunshine and the dégustation. A ‘Blightycation’ ahead of us, we visited: castles, gardens, castles, seaside towns, pubs and yet more castles.
Travelling the roads, in search of another castle, I spotted a brown sign for a vineyard. Barnsole Vineyard was perfectly situated in a picturesque Kentish village. The entrance to the bijou vineyard took us straight to the vines. Alors! We were en France. We were invited to sit on a terrace surrounded by flowers. My mind wondered back to those many, many heady days of wine tasting en France. I wanted to say, ‘Bonjour. Dégustation s’il vous plait?’ But my schoolgirl French wasn’t required. The only headache that threatened was from the wine, rather than trying to dredge up my language skills.
The proprietor gave us a warm welcome. She was passionate about the vineyard and keen to point out that ‘nature throws its challenges’ at the winemaking process. This vineyard oversees the whole process from the grape to your glass. Despite the hard work, the proprietors were relaxed. They had learned the art from the previous Polish owners. On the day that we visited, their friends were bottling the sparkling wine. I felt like I had walked into a scene of the many romance novels that I have read. However, I was concerned that the lovely proprietor was spitting out the wine onto the grass. I didn’t like to comment at the time!
We were welcomed with a tray full of bottles to taste. No complaints were heard from me as I wasn’t driving. The only hint of Blighty was the cool breeze that threatened to bring a few drops of rain.
The wine was delicious! We enjoyed the fresh citrus flavours of the white and another had a slightly floral taste. The red wine tasted of berries. My tasting senses were working! According to the experts the Red Reserve 2013 had ‘redcurrants and sense of delicious spice’ while the Recheinsteiner was ‘complex with a great body’: I don’t remember him but I was right about the berries. We also bought some sparkling English wine for Christmas. I did feel a warm glow from the effects of the wine tasting. However, I could walk in a straight line to the car. Feel free to congratulate me on this because I concentrated with all my might! Apparently, I am lined up for an award.
Nodding off on the journey home, I did see the bluebirds. This Francophile may have been converted. We will all be delighting in ‘Blightycations’ very soon – just you wait and see. Meanwhile, I am thinking of organising a pre-Christmas wine tasting celebration. Would you care to join me?
This novel awoke my social conscience and forced me to place farthings in my handbag for the ‘poor souls’ that suffer in this novel. Woe betide anyone that doesn’t have tissues ready when they read this book.
This is a story of three generations of good, ‘soft-hearted’ and compassionate people with a social conscience and an increasing sense of rebellion. This book roused the ghosts of my ancestors and took me to the heart of the world that they would have inhabited.
From the outset, I was drawn into this world and the ‘hardship’. A child tries to say a final farewell to his mother and ‘each tap’ of the coffin ‘pierced William’s heart’ and my own. The love radiating from the poor people immediately arouses compassion and sadness.
Initially, I hated the threat that the aunt posed to the loving family unit. But I received an education in opportunity through William’s eyes. It warmed my heart when William delighted in his full belly and compared Aunty Betsy’s Christmas feast to the meagre ‘turnip and potato soup’ that he was accustomed to.
It is impossible not to admire Aunty Besty’s tenacity in a gentleman’s world; this former maid uses her opportunities wisely to educate her nephew. The hopelessness of the times is reinforced in the stark setting:
‘Cherry blossoms fell, unopened and desolate, onto the frozen ground while Betsy listened for birdsong and found it sparse and desultory.’
The cold weather collides with the delicate beauty to reinforce the desolation. Furthermore, the ‘blackening sky’ is like an omen and I worried about the characters’ proximity to poverty.
The contrast between William and his brother, who was in the poverty trap, reinforces the difference that money and opportunity presented. It is easy to understand how the grip of demon drink took hold as a means of escape while religion provided a spiritual compass and ‘hope of a better life’. It is intriguing to observe how William’s son, John, applies his education and opportunity against the backdrop of a changing world.
This book is an intelligent study of the harsh conditions of the times. One is shocked, educated and made to feel compassion like the central characters. I tasted ‘the grit and grime’ of the novel from the safety of my armchair, and felt the warmth of ‘the straightforward good folk with no pretentions or guile’. Yet, I did want to get on my soap box and rant on behalf of my ancestors who would have struggled as ‘wealth and poverty oozed through the smoke from the chimneys.’ I wanted to call on Sir Titus Salt for help!
Enough of my ranting! I suggest that you read the book and let Betsy, William and John guide you through the hard times. This is a powerful narrative combined with an interpretation of the historical context: the reader learns about the making of the working class. Rather than simply observing the appalling circumstances, the reader learns why people behaved in the way that they did. Furthermore, the novel will help you to reflect on the 21st century.
It is a sobering thought that 21% of people still live in poverty today. Like Betsy, William and John, can we understand and help those in need rather than judging? Where would we be today if everyone had ignored the injustice?
It was a pleasure to welcome, historical novelist, Rosemary Noble to Wales. We met at Newport Station. Unfortunately, it was a rainy day but that was soon forgotten as we chatted about her novel, Ranter’s Wharf and retraced the Chartists’ footsteps as we walked down Stow Hill. We went to visit the site where the Chartists were believed to have been held captive. Unfortunately, the original building has been demolished but the whispers of struggle can still be felt in the town.
Finally, we visited a fish and chip shop before I drove Rosemary to the Chat Room. There is a good fish and chip shop in Newport that honours the northern tradition of cooking in beef fat. Back at the Chat Room, we ate fish and chips and talked about Grimsby – the setting of the novel.
Jessie: Your novel is well-researched and rich with historical references. You have developed strong characters that one cannot fail to empathise with. I can rant on and on about the merits of your book as I did in my review. Can you summarise the book in a few words?
Rosemary: It’s a moving family saga about love, loss and betrayal set in 19th century England. It follows three generations as they attempt to find a way to live honourably in tumultuous times.
Jessie: Your novel has been a very popular download on Kindle. I have noticed an impressive number of reviews. Can you retrieve some reviews that capture the essence of your book? Always modest, Rosemary hesitated a little until I insisted that we read the reviews.
Rosemary: Maybe like any author, I dread the first reviews because you wonder if anyone will get what you are trying to do, especially when the subject matter is unusual. But I have been overwhelmed with the kind words people have written. For example:
“The wonderful characterisations in this novel make light of a challenging theme and transport the reader through the harsh times of Victorian Lincolnshire in a roller-coaster of emotions A little masterpiece of its genre” John Broughton – May 26 2017
“The joy of this book is that it is absolutely gripping. Because of the sympathy with which the characters are portrayed, you find yourself really caring about what happens to William – adopted as a bewildered child by his rich maiden aunt – and his heirs who carry on the fight for social justice into the next generation.” Perdisima May – 15th 2017
“Delightful and informative. An intriguing story with a wonderful insight of the times.” Amazon Customer – April 15th 2017
Jessie: Can you tempt the reader with an extract from the novel?
Rosemary: “Her passionate nature freed itself from the reserve she showed the world, allowing her whole body to respond with joy to his smiles, with misery to his tears and a fierce desire to protect him.”
Jessie: How did you feel when you had finished writing your book, and did you miss any of the characters?
Rosemary: In some ways, relieved because it was a hard story to write. It’s based on my 3x great grandfather who was an ordinary farmer until he was converted. I wanted the book to be engrossing and relevant but I had to keep the reader interested while dealing with the difficult subjects of poverty, politics and religion. Religion has featured strongly in all three of my books only because it was so important in the 19th century but it is not my natural element. My next book set in the 20th century will not be influenced by religion but will have its own problems for me to overcome as a writer and storyteller.
I always miss the characters in my books. As an author, they inhabit my mind constantly. Because the subject has relevance for today with Brexit and the Trump vote, I wonder what my characters would have felt and how they would react. I can hear William saying to his son,’ education is key’ and his son and nephew replying, ‘No, every man should have a vote if they contribute to the wealth of the country.’ I found myself quite conflicted when writing the final chapters.
Jessie: Who would you like to read your book and why? This could be another author, someone famous, a friend or a member of your family.
Rosemary: People like my hairdresser’s receptionist who said to me ‘your book makes me realise I should always use my vote.’
If I can move someone sufficiently to learn how hard life used to be and then become more active in demanding the voice of the poor and dispossessed are heard today, then I will be happy. I am no Dickens or Hardy but am conscious of the impact they had on 19th century society. Our current times are troubling and I see the hard-fought-for Welfare State crumbling through cut-backs. Let’s not go back to those times, please.
If there was one famous person I wish would read my books it would be the director, Ken Loach. I am in awe of his work such as Cathy Comes Home and I Daniel, Blake.
Jessie: Why should I keep your book in my handbag?
Rosemary: For a dose of realism and compassion. Allow yourself to be transported to a time where life was a struggle not just in a material way but also in a spiritual and political way. I want to know how you would react to ‘the undeserving poor’. Would you turn your back, cloak yourself in respectability or would you act to mitigate the poverty around you?
Jessie: What is the last sentence written in your writer’s notebook?
Rosemary: A solitary gull glides and swoops in the azure sky below a trio of swifts cavorting and darting as though playing tag but in the far distance a black speck appears, a harbinger of death.
This is a note for my next book, working title, Sadie, which will link all my books together.
Jessie: What is the biggest challenge for an independent author?
Rosemary: Getting noticed which means learning about marketing on social media. The key for me is the relationships you forge with other indie’ writers. In any walk of life, you learn so much from other people and you’re stronger together in a team. In our case, a virtual team of authors from around the world as well as close to home.
What is the best advice that you have received as a writer?
Rosemary: Learn the craft but write the book you want to write. Stay true to yourself. I am in the lucky position that I don’t need to earn my living from writing which frees me to write what I want.
Rosemary is driven to give a voice to our ancestors, to those who never had a voice in real life. “I like to pose questions, encouraging readers to think for themselves, ‘what would I do in that situation, how would I cope’? The stories history sends us, have relevance for today and I like to tap into that because I am quite a political person though it’s only this year that I joined a political party.”
Rosemary is passionate about the messages that she conveys through her novels. Ranter’s Wharf did make me think about the way that my own ancestors must have struggled. Rosemary’s strong characters evoke empathy in the reader as she transports us to their world and their struggles. One only has to open a newspaper to see that poverty has not disappeared and neither has prejudice. I do worry about the Welfare State and hope that politicians will listen to their conscience. We must all continue to vote!
This novel took me over the Severn Bridge to Clifton in Bristol – my favourite area of the city. The characters and setting were so real that I am convinced that I have met them in Clifton. I am sure that I have seen Polly Park.
On one occasion, there was a striking woman wearing a ‘fifties inspired dress’ and ‘a cute cardigan decorated with teapots’. She was muttering to herself as she walked along the riverside in Bristol. She was heading towards her charming houses that ‘sat on a man-made island flanked by the River Avon … floating harbour behind.’ Another time, I spied a flamboyant character in one of the vintage frock shops. She smiled at me as I checked out the beautiful dresses. This time she was wearing ‘Joe Brown embroidered cropped jeans and a Desigual gypsy top, and up-do and red bandana.’
We have often lingered in a Bristol restaurant located on the harbourside and wondered who lives in the quirky, colourful houses that seem to stand proud in their protest against a grey sky. Now I believe that the barges docked in Bristol were sheltering Spike and Polly until they came out to admire ‘the surprising spring weather having cleared to bestow an evening warm with promise.’ Reading this book, I had experienced an overwhelming sense of déjà vu because Dun’s style of writing places the reader into the heart and soul of the characters: it feels so real as if you have been there before. It was often difficult to leave the characters and I found any excuse to return to my book with a cup of tea and a stack of Polly’s Jammie Dodgers.
Polly is an endearing character full of humour, vulnerability, strength and determination. She is stranded on an emotional island, unable to commit, as her character has been shaped by her Bohemian mother turned celebrity chef. Polly delights in Bristol and is aware of how its maritime and smuggling past lurks in every corner. It is a delight to meet the pseudo pirate who hijacks Polly’s heart and keeps their love hidden inside a treasure chest. The reader waits for the love to be retrieved from the treasure chest. Dun tugs your heart, pulls at your emotions and tickles you with humour as you yearn for a happy ending. But the experienced reader is all too aware of ‘The Trouble With Love’ and is uncertain if Polly will find her happy ending.
The novel is skilfully written and there is a depth to the characters. One is made to deconstruct the characters’ psyche and fully understand what drives them. Dun steers a course through the scenes that are beautifully constructed and filmic in style. The close-ups on Polly’s thoughts ensure that there us empathy with her doubts and dreams. Who could resist her humorous perspective throughout? How cool to have the insight into the mind of Polly – the performance poet who can see humour in all situations. Polly’s honest, humorous internal dialogue sparkles throughout the novel.
The narrative resonates with the beats and rhythms of the colourful language but forget the scansion of traditional poetry: let the ebb and flow of life and love run its course. The story is packed full of delicious moments like one of Polly’s Jammie Dodgers. And if one steps back then there are also some contemporary issues. Read the story and find out how partners impact on friendships. Observe how a child impacts on the life of a free spirit. Explore the dynamics of a close female relationship when the friend is in a same sex partnership. Meet Polly’s adorable little girl who is the beating heart of the novel.
There is so much to discover about all of the characters in this lovely book so I will leave it to you to get absorbed in the scenes. You will have to explore the tangle of emotions and confusion of love. Pull up a chair, light the fire and watch as it ‘settles into a sociable glow’. Listen to Polly, her friends, family and lovers as they chat about their desires.
Enjoy the brilliantly paced narrative and the witty, perfectly drawn characters.
‘..clearly, here was an event that gripped the nation like no other and didn’t relax its grasp for twenty one whole days.’
Tour de Yorkshire fever is about to grip Yorkshire this Friday. In preparation for the race, I have placed a topical book, about cycling, in my handbag. Nowadays, I can’t wait to go and capture the atmosphere of this cycling event but I haven’t always been a fan!
However, my husband has always been obsessed with the Tour de France and is glued to the television for three weeks during the tournament. I could never understand the appeal; to me it seemed like endless scenery whizzing past. I was not impressed when my husband decided to buy me a book about the event. He assured me that I didn’t need to be an enthusiast to read French Revolutions by Tim Moore.
Annoyingly, I did love the book, and didn’t stop laughing; it was something to read whilst my husband watched the race. It is an hilarious book about an amateur cyclist, aged 35, who decided to complete the Tour de France route six weeks before the big race. Admittedly, you do learn about the event, but the book is crammed full of entertaining anecdotes. Moore’s style of writing just breezes along, punctuated with witty observations.
The book entertained me and managed to begin a revolution in my heart! I was nudged again when Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France, and then when the Tour de France visited Yorkshire. It really was like a fever had swept through God’s own county.
I’ll leave you with the words of that great French cycling legend:
“It was like having a Tour de France stage in my home region, it was so amazing. I am not saying that because I am here, I really feel it. To see my name written on the road or on banners held by children really touches me. I have been a rider for 16 years and I have never seen anything like that.”
Thomas Voekler, France, Tour de Yorkshire Winner 2016
I had the pleasure of visiting Yorkshire Sculpture Park last week. It is an open-air art gallery, set in the grounds of an eighteenth-century mansion. The landscaped gardens work together with the sculptures to create an amazing creative harmony.
There is such a variety of sculptures and each one inspires questions. Indeed, it is amazing the way in which perfect strangers are happy to discuss the sculptures without worrying about their interpretations. Perhaps the visitors feel uninhibited as they are not confined by the walls of gallery that echoes with knowledge. Who knows?’
During the walk, we stumbled on many people from different nationalities. An Australian woman told me that she had been ‘startled’ by a wonderful sculpture of a woman’s head. We agreed that the spirit of the woman seems to beckon you. From a distance, the sculpture looks like a projected image – prompting: is she real or imaginary? As you approach, the sculpture is flat – like the silhouette on a stamp. It is a beautiful form that seemed to appeal to women rather than men, on that day. Despite the grey sky, the light was adding a mystical quality that gave the sculpture an air of confidence. What this suggesting something about the modern woman?
Further into the walk, we were greeted by Highland cattle. These creatures were so still, and at ease with the visitors, that we wondered if they were sculptures. We also found a dead tree with ancient looking bark and a very twisted form. Had the tree been left there to demonstrate how natural objects can also be sculpted by the elements? We were having this debate when another visitor overheard and said, ‘What a load of arty farty nonsense!’ This brought us completely down to earth and reminded me of how everything is open to interpretation.
Still laughing at the comments, we found some steps that were carved into the earth paving a way to some open woodland. I decided that the steps were a sculpture but my husband was sceptical at this point; he had been influenced by our fellow Yorkshire folk. A plaque marked the spot as if to reassure me. It felt as if someone was presenting a hopeful message about the climb. Pardon the pun, but I went a step further and commented that to me they represented the struggle for independent authors. But that was my interpretation at that point in time: I was influenced by my emotions, experience, the weather and, of course, ‘arty farty nonsense’.
The Yorkshire Sculpture Park is a wonderful place to visit. I wonder if you would be able to spot the sculptures that instigated our discussions? Would you agree with the interpretations? Did someone deliberately construct a place when art can be read according to mood, weather and other factors? I don’t know the answer to this but invite you to have a look. Perhaps some of the questions should be placed next to the sculptures? Maybe, there will be a sculpture of a handbag in the future, or possibly a sculpture constructed of books.
Following the visit, I was brimming with questions and ideas. Reading the sculptures inspired my own writing, and reminded me that it is so important to take some time for reflection. I placed picture postcards of the sculptures in my handbag, rather than books. However, I know that I will return to ask more questions and to find a suitable reading spot – or maybe several.