A Ha’penny Will Do
By Alison Huntingford
Publication Date: 31st January 2022
Publisher: Austin Macauley
Page Length: 368 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Austin Macauley
Page Length: 368 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Love, dreams and destitution.
Three members of one family are linked by their struggle to survive poverty and war at the turn of the century.
Kate, a homesick, lonely Irish immigrant, dreams of being a writer. After difficult times in Liverpool she comes to London looking for a better life. Hoping to escape from a life of domestic service into marriage and motherhood, she meets charming rogue William Duffield. Despite her worries about his uncertain temperament, she becomes involved with him. Will it be an escape or a prison?
Fred is a restless elder son, devoted to his mother yet locked in a tempestuous relationship with his father. War intervenes and he secretly signs up to serve abroad. Is his bad reputation deserved? What will become of him?
Joe, too young to sign up for WW1, is left to endure the hardships of war on the home front and deal with his own guilt at not being able to serve. He starts an innocent friendship with his sister-in-law which sustains him through hard times. Will he survive the bombs, the riots, the rationing and find true love in the end?
These are their intertwined and interlocking stories recreated through the medium of diaries, letters and personal recollections, based on the author’s family history covering the period of 1879 – 1920. The truth is never plain and rarely simple.
This novel is a fresh and compelling look at life for the working-class poor in England at the end of the Victorian era. Covering issues such as the struggle for home rule in Ireland, the hardships of domestic service, marital strife, the suffragettes and the horrors of World War 1 on the home front and abroad, this is a realistic and gripping tale which keeps the reader involved in their human plight all the way.
Every family has its secrets, its mysteries, its half-truths. Ours is no exception.
When I was growing up, I was fascinated by tales of my grandad and his Irish mother. Her Irish origins seemed such a romantic and exciting notion that I was desperate to know more.
“She came from the poorest area of Cork,” my mum told me, “and was a great beauty, so we believe. Her name was Kate. Unfortunately, she died when the children were quite young, and their father had to bring them up.”
“Your grandad, Joe, was one of four brothers,” she continued. “There was Ern, who was a hero in World War One; he married your gran’s sister. Then there was Bill, the youngest, who used to do magic tricks on stage, and of course, Fred, who no one talks about.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“Well, they say he went bad and disappeared off somewhere.”
I was confused by what was meant by ‘went bad’. Had he been in prison, or worse? This intrigued me, but no one seemed to know the answers.
After extensive research, I have finally pieced together the truth of what happened to this family – a truth which is never plain, and rarely simple. The mists of time have parted briefly to reveal a glimpse of their lives. What I discovered was quite unexpected and surprising; including another brother who had never been mentioned before: Albert. Why has no one talked about him? I’ll leave you to decide that for yourselves. I also found out what happened to Fred; but again, you’ll have to read on to find out.
Therefore, I can now present the authentic stories of Kate, Fred and Joe, recreated through diaries, letters and my grandad’s memories. The mysteries are solved, and the ghosts are appeased. I hope I’ve brought them justice at last.
Joe’s Recollections, Introduction
I remember my mother as if it were yesterday, her dark curly hair piled up on top and a gentle Irish lilt to her voice. But I realise now that these are only my childhood memories of her, as she certainly wasn’t like that towards the end. It’s strange how time dims the things we don’t want to remember. However, since you’ve asked, I’ll try and tell it like it was, but my memory’s failing a bit now, so bear with me.
Her name was Catherine (McCarthy by birth), but I only ever heard her called Kate, even by her mother, who would occasionally visit us. I know they both came over from Ireland, although I don’t know exactly when. The family had lived in one of the most notorious slums in Cork – Barrack Street. It had a dreadful reputation for poverty, disease and filth, and yet my mother always spoke of it with the greatest affection.
“Joey,” she would say, “I had a grand childhood, I’m sorry yours has had to be so hard.”
She always called me by my middle name, Joe, (even though my first name is Andrew) and I still prefer to be called that. It reminds me of the good times with her and the feeling of being loved and wanted.
I hear the slum dwellings of Barrack Street have been cleared away now and new buildings put up, ones with running water, sanitation and electric lighting. My mother would have hated them and would have said they had no soul, not like the overcrowded, cramped hovels of the ‘lanes’. She didn’t live long enough to see her beloved street swept away; maybe that was a good thing. I don’t know.
As to the rest of her family, I have very little information. I believe she had a brother somewhere, and some Irish cousins and aunts, but the details have vanished in the mists of time, just like the leprechauns and faery folk that she used to tell us about at bedtime.
It was my mother’s very ‘Irishness’ that first attracted my father, William Duffield, to her, but it was also what most annoyed him when he was in one of his moods. On one occasion, I heard him shout at her, “There ain’t no shamrocks here, woman! So, stop your Irish blarney.”
My father was a dark, brooding kind of man, who usually only laughed at someone else’s expense. He had a certain charisma, I guess, and a way of being able to talk himself out of a bad situation. Trouble was something that followed him around, especially when he’d been out drinking, which was often. Nevertheless, he was popular with the local crowd and recognised as something of a ‘character’.
I’ve never been to Ireland, which is odd, I suppose, as my brother Ern lives over there now. After he married his second wife, Agnes, they moved out to be nearer to her family. Maybe the Irish connection was stronger for him as he was older than me and had more time with our mother. We still exchange Christmas cards and the like, but we’ve drifted apart a bit recently. I’m not sure why. Ern is quite a few years older 14 than me, but we were close once. He even introduced me to my own dear wife, who was his sister-in-law. We had some great times then, the four of us together. I miss that. Maybe it’s because Bet has passed on that it’s all changed.
I’m closer to my youngest brother Bill than anyone else in the family. As for the others, I never see Albert these days and Fred has been gone a long time now.
I have done many different jobs in my working life, from nursing to shelf filling and everything in-between! Having lived long enough now, I realise that life very rarely goes to plan.
I am an only child of two only children and so have always felt a distinct lack of family. This inspired me to research my family history and led me to write my debut novel, based on the true story of one of my ancestors. 'The Glass Bulldog' was my first novel but 'A Ha'penny Will Do' was published on January 31st 2022, again based on the true stories of my ancestors. I feel the lives of ordinary people can be just as sad, funny, dramatic and interesting as anyone famous. We are all just struggling to survive.
My writing takes place anywhere and everywhere, even whilst sitting in the car. I find driving is a great way to free the mind and inspire the imagination, and I've often had to pull over in order to get stuff down on paper. I always write the first draft by hand, as I think better that way, then redraft and edit as I type it up.
In my spare time, when I’m not writing, I enjoy spending time with my husband, our cats, rabbits and guinea pigs, listening to folk and world music, going to the cinema and trying to grow vegetables, with limited success!
Recently, I have started up the South Hams Authors Network in South Devon, to support and encourage other local authors like myself. I believe that if we all can connect in a friendly and open way then we can help each other to achieve great things. We have given library readings, radio and press interviews and attended events.
Connect with Alison:
Post a Comment
See you on your next coffee break!
Mary Anne xxx