When Chantelle kindly offered to allow me to pay a visit to her blog, she said that her own writing was gritty, contemporary and non-conformist. I reckoned that I could manage at least two out of three. Then I discovered that her blog was called Glorious Outsiders and that certainly had a resonance. I am here to talk about my new novel Barefoot on the Cobbles and my slightly eccentric life; Glorious Outsiders abound!
Before I was any sort of published author, I was and still am, an historian. As such, I am not particularly interested in politics or tales of the great and good. I am fascinated by ordinary people, how they lived and the influences that underlie their behaviour. If I say that the presentations that I give on historical topics include aspects of witchcraft, mental health, non-conformist religion and the role of women, you might get the idea. It is the marginalised who intrigue me the most; truly the outsiders.
I am also a keen family historian. I seek out my ancestors and pay tribute to all those from whom I descend. These are not rich people, nor are they anyone who is well-known but they are those who, if it were not for me, might be forgotten. I have several non-fiction books in my portfolio; books about social history, genealogy and local history. I had reached a lull in ideas for more non-fiction topics, so I thought it was time to turn to fiction. I hadn’t written ‘stories’, since I was an angst-ridden teenager. I was all set to craft a very different novel, when the tragedy upon which Barefoot on the Cobbles is based came to my attention. It was a story that was not recalled in local folklore, which piqued my interest. So, in a way, I still haven’t written fiction, as this is the retelling of a true story. I did find that my historian’s instincts had to be suppressed at times. Although very little in the book is pure invention, there were occasions when I had to create plausible scenarios to fill in the gaps in the historical record. At first, I found it very difficult to convince myself that I really could just make it up!
Barefoot is set, in the early years of the twentieth century. This era provided me with plenty of scope, encompassing as it does, the First World War, the fight for women’s suffrage, the influenza epidemic, the dawning of a social conscience and medical care in pre-NHS days, all of which feature in the book. So, from that point of view, the novel is not contemporary, yet the emotions that my characters experience are recognisable today; the psychological make-up of human beings does not change.
In Barefoot on the Cobbles you will find a narrative set in the beautiful Devon landscape; communities whose lives were shaped by the sea. So not just real people but real, recognisable places. There are scenes in the local asylum, on a battlefield, in court and on deathbeds. I think that qualifies as gritty. It isn’t all doom and gloom because the characters’ lives shaded from joy to despair, as do our own. As I struggle to answer the question, ‘What is your book about?’ I often say it is about people and the incidents in their pasts that led to the tragedy that is the culmination of the novel. It is a ‘why-done-it’.
Who then are Barefoot’s non-conformists, the Glorious Outsiders? The person who became the main character is a fisherman’s wife, who is past middle-age and described by some of her neighbours as ‘odd’. On the surface, her behaviour seems unconventional and the novel seeks to explain why this is so. Apart from this desperate mother, you will meet the troubled daughter, the reluctant soldier, the traumatised engineer, the militant suffragette, the alcoholic bankrupt and others on the side-lines.
I will leave you with the blurb and if you want more information, it can be found on my own blog The History Interpreter http://bit.do/bfotc
“In the euphoria of the armistice a young woman lay dying. Daisy had grown up, barefoot on the cobbles, in a village on the rugged North Devon coast; she was mindful of the perils of the uncertain sea. Her family had also been exposed to the dangers of disease and the First World War but for Daisy, it was her own mother who posed the greatest threat of all. What burdens did that mother, an ordinary fisherman’s wife, carry? What past traumas had led, inexorably, to this appalling outcome?
Vividly recreating life at the dawning of the twentieth century, Barefoot on the Cobbles is based on a real tragedy that lay hidden for nearly a hundred years. Rooted in its unique and beautiful geographical setting, here is the unfolding of a past that reverberates unhappily through the decades and of raw emotions that are surprisingly modern in character.”
Barefoot on the Cobbles – a Devon tragedy ISBN: 978-1-911438-54-0 is published by Blue Poppy Publishing https://bluepoppypublishing.co.uk and paperback copies can be obtained from them. It is available on Kindle from Amazon, in various English-speaking countries. The link for the UK is https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B07K3YMYRV