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!
Historical novelist, Rosemary Noble, is presenting an extract from her first novel entitled ‘Search for the Light‘.
Rosemary’s novels are powerful and engaging explorations of historical periods: strong, empathetic characters and beautiful language transport the reader to the time and place.
Rosemary researches the historical periods thoroughly, but the characters take over and tell their stories. In a letter to readers, Rosemary introduces the inspiration behind her moving novel, ‘Search for the Light’.
This is a story of love and friendship, of three women out of the thirteen thousand transported to Van Diemen’s Land alone. Until a few years ago they had been written out of history, their contribution ignored, denigrated for behaviour unseemly in a woman of the times, constantly punished for minor misdemeanours. Some were strong enough to survive and their contribution deserves to be recognised.
I sat down one morning, and my character, Sarah, appeared out of nowhere, a victim and survivor of abuse. Readers love Sarah and I grew to love her. Once or twice I wondered if she should die but she told me, no, and I’m relieved she stayed my hand. Of all the characters, she did find the light and it was inside herself.
In the extract, Sarah has been given a life sentence of transportation for manslaughter. She is waiting in Newgate prison and Nora, the main protagonist, is another prisoner who has befriended her. Sarah is the only character written in the first person because I strongly believe she wrote her own story.
Thank you for your interest and your time.
Words from the novel:
My name is Sarah Mawby I told her, but I don’t really know what my name is or even If my mother ever gave me one. Mawby was the name of the street where I was left. No, I don’t know who my parents are. No one claimed me. Why would they? Just another wailing mouth to feed.
I don’t know my age, about fourteen I think. I have never had a birthday. Some of us foundlings survived our childhood, but it was just luck, lots of children didn’t. We were given a cot to share, as many as ten to a cot, a few patched second-hand clothes, a morsel of food, if it could be called that; much worse than in here it was.
When sickness came, whole cotfuls of babies succumbed in turn. They told us they had gone to live with God. God obviously didn’t want me. I’m not surprised.
Oh yes, we were taught to read and count. They didn’t teach us to write. Too dangerous, we might write and tell someone how we were treated. Sundays, we went twice to church and heard all about hell fire and damnation, whilst we shivered in our thin smocks. What else did we get? Oh yes, the stick. There was lots of that. Was there love? I didn’t believe it existed. I’d heard of it but I never had any.
Then I watched Nora with her father today and saw love for the first time. It was the most beautiful thing I ever saw.
How Nora and Sarah fit into the story:
A moment’s foolish mistake costs sixteen-year old Nora her freedom and her family. Sentenced to transportation she has to grow up fast to survive prison, the long journey and then life as an assigned servant in Van Diemen’s Land of the 1820s. She is sustained by real friendships with other prisoners, Sarah and Helen. Can anyone of them overcome the pitfalls of convict life to become pioneering settlers of modern day Tasmania? This is a story of love and friendship amidst the trials of 19th century Australian colonial life.
Opinions of the reviewers:
“There were moments when I was doing the literary equivalent of shouting at the TV. It moved me, I felt alarm, indignation, great sadness and elation.” Ingenue Magazine Summer 2017
“Rosemary Noble writes with immense skill and takes great care with the characters in this story and I look forward to meeting some of them again in her next book.” John Charles Hall June 2017
“The characters are brilliantly defined; the narrative flows and the historical knowledge of the author is admirable. A fabulous read.” Catrin August 2016
More about the author:
I’m probably a frustrated historian but I’m making up for it now.
This was my first book, so a measure of relief in having achieved this goal. I thought it was going to be my one and only but at the end I wrote an epilogue, which is the daughter of Helen, another main character, looking back. And the sequel was born. So, in many ways I didn’t need to miss the characters, they were looking over my shoulder when I wrote The Digger’s Daughter and are still breathing down my neck as I write the third book in the series.
Reading ‘Ranter’s Wharf’, Rosemary’s latest release, made me feel passionate about my ancestors’ suffering. Following Rosemary’s extract and information, I have bought ‘Search for the Light’. I am looking forward to finding out more about Australian history through Rosemary’s characters. Digger’s Daughter, the second Australian Saga book, is also available now.