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!