Two blurbs for Unspoken. The shorter one for the back of the paperback, the slightly longer one for the Unspoken, Amazon book page.
A dramatic family saga. A tale of secrets, love and revenge.
Alice is fast approaching her one hundredth birthday and she is dying. Her strange, graphic dreams of ghostly figures trying to pull her into a tunnel of blinding light are becoming more and more vivid and terrifying. Alice knows she only has a short time left and is desperate to unburden herself of the dark secret she has lived with for eighty years.
Jessica is her great granddaughter and a mirror image of a young Alice. They share dreadful luck in the types of men that come into their lives.
Alice shares her terrible secret with Jessica through a set of handwritten notebooks detailing her young life during the late 1930s. Following the death of her invalid mother and her father’s decline, she is forced, at 18, to take control of the farm. On her birthday, she meets Frank, a man with a drink problem and a violent temper.
When Frank’s abusive behaviour steps up a level. Alice seeks solace in the company of her smooth, ‘gangster lawyer’ Godfrey, and when Frank finds Alice in the arms of another man, he vows to get his revenge.
Unspoken. A tale that spans two eras and binds two women born eighty years apart.
A dramatic family saga, Unspoken is a tale of secrets, love, betrayal and revenge.
Unspoken means something that cannot be uttered aloud. Unspoken is the dark secret a woman must keep, for life.
Alice is fast approaching her one hundredth birthday and she is dying. Her strange, graphic dreams of ghostly figures trying to pull her into a tunnel of blinding light are becoming more and more vivid and terrifying. Alice knows she only has a short time left and is desperate to unburden herself of a dark secret, one she has lived with for eighty years.
Jessica, a journalist, is her great granddaughter and a mirror image of a young Alice. They share dreadful luck in the types of men that come into their lives.
Alice decides to share her terrible secret with Jessica and sends her to the attic to retrieve a set of handwritten notebooks detailing her young life during the late 1930s. Following the death of her invalid mother and her father’s decline into depression and alcoholism, she is forced, at 18 to take over control of the farm. On her birthday, she meets Frank, a man with a drink problem and a violent temper.
When Frank’s abusive behaviour steps up a level. Alice seeks solace in the arms of her smooth, ‘gangster lawyer’ Godfrey, and when Frank discovers her in another man’s arms, he vows to get revenge.
Unspoken. A tale that spans two eras and binds two women, born eighty years apart.
A Thousand Years of Division.
The village of Kirkby Sutton is a conglomerate and an enigma. Formed by the merging of two villages that had outgrown their ability to remain separate as an entity, it nevertheless retains two extremely different and specific identities. One half, as its name suggests, is built around the church and is a, (mainly), well-to-do, haven of respectability, with its Georgian Manor, leafy, wide-verged streets, lined with large, detached houses, driveways, off road parking and a library. There is also a small 1960s estate, a mix of private, three bedroomed, privately-owned houses, with an enclave of housing association tenants bolted on for political expediency.
Down the hill, the other half of the village contains a higgledy-piggledy, hotchpotch of stone cottages, modern, town houses and rows of Victorian terraces, originally built for the employees at the local lace factory, brewery and estate workers, who made the short trip up the road, to toil on the farms of Lord Beresford on the other side of the village. Nowadays, the descendants of those workers still live in the red brick terraces, but are employed by industries in the nearby cities of Nottingham and Derby.
The rivalry of its residents compares to any found in much larger towns and cities. You would be hard pressed to find as much animosity at a local Derby football match in Liverpool or Manchester. The annual village fair, which includes a fiercely fought, tug-of-war competition, held on a boozy bank holiday weekend, regularly turns violent. For years, a police sergeant from the small town of Higton, was paid to referee the event, but when the ageing sergeant retired and the police station was closed down to save money in the 1950s, the residents were left to sort out their own mess, so a committee, made up of the vicar’s wife and a group of teetotal residents from both sides, sat in sober judgment over the proceedings. To this day, the committee still rules on complaints and accusations made by one side against the other. Most of the grievances are easily dismissed, but on a few occasions, a vote has to be taken with the chairperson, a lady with no connection to either side of the village, holding the casting vote.
Sutton is the older part of the village and dates back to Saxon times. Its name comes from the Anglo-Saxon term for South town, (village, or enclosure.) It was built on the plain at the bottom of a long slope, on the bend of a fast-flowing stream. They built a timber church, which, in bad winters, became a flood plain. Sick of paddling to church for their religious instruction, they erected another one, higher up the slope, using the soggy timbers from their original construction.
A hundred or so years later the Danes arrived, but instead of rape and pillage, the Vikings merely appropriated the land around the church and began to farm it. This community became known as Kirkby, or, the settlement by the church. Over time, the Danish intruders, became Christianised, improved the church building, and appointed one of their own number, a man from the nearby town of Derby, as priest. They reluctantly allowed their near neighbours to attend religious ceremonies, in an effort to re-Christianise the local population, who had, by now, become almost universally, heathen.
The church was rebuilt in stone during the thirteenth century, when the new Lord of the Manor, a distant relative of King Henry 111, was granted all of the lands around the area. Residents of Sutton sent emissaries to their new lord demanding a church of their own. The lord’s response was to add an extra tax on the ungrateful villagers, a tax that the residents of Kirkby were excused. The Sutton inhabitants were outraged and set about building a church of their own on the site of the original timber church, but on the eve of its consecration, it mysteriously burned down. A second attempt was made a year later but with the same result. Suttononians smelled a rat, and protested outside the stone church at Kirkby before Evensong. The parish priest dismissed their grievances and told them in no uncertain terms, that both instances of arson, were acts of an angry God, and if they didn’t start attending his sermons, they would be branded heretics and burned at the stake.
This threat worked to a degree, but there was always an undercurrent of hostility inside the parish.
Sutton attempted to build their own church on no less than twelve occasions over the following two hundred years with the same fiery result. When, at last, an Abbey was built on their half of the divide in the late 15th century, their joy was unbridled. That joy was soon to be bridled again, however, as in 1538 under instructions from Henry V111, the building was demolished and the land and possessions, seized by the crown.
Sutton decided that God really didn’t intend them to have a church and reluctantly fell in with their Kirkby hosts, which was a good job really, as a hundred or so years later, administrators decided that it was too much of the job administering two villages, so they combined them in a covenant and changed its name to Kirkby Sutton. The villagers only found out about it at the next census, and by then it was too late to do anything about it.
The villages expanded in the 18th century to accommodate the newly built mill on the Sutton side of the boundary, and the mill owner’s needs on the Kirkby side. New dwellings to house the relatives and administrators of the fledgling industry were built in Kirkby, whilst rows of stone cottages were erected in Sutton, meaning the dividing line between the two halves became ever closer.
When the mill closed in the mid-Victorian era, it was turned into a lace factory. Next door, the new owners also built a tannery. These budding entrepreneurs were soon followed by Barton’s Brewery, who took the crystal-clear waters of the stream to make their distinctively flavoured ales. Four streets of terraced housing were built on the southern edge of Sutton. The dwellings came complete with individual, outdoor lavatories and a series of communal water pumps. The larger houses of Kirkby, in general, became equipped with their own water supplies, albeit fed from a pump in the kitchens. This led to a near riot one summer, when, fuelled by a small outbreak of cholera in Sutton, the residents crossed the border, (a line of skinny, pine trees,) and begged their richer, and less smelly, neighbours for clean water. The gentry refused, so fuelled by the cheap, but strong, ale, supplied by the new Barton’s Brewery public house, the Suttononian men, invaded the North and smashed up the main pumping station that fed the privately-owned houses. The newly-formed, Borough Police Force were summoned, the riot was quelled and a raid was made on ‘suspect’ houses in Sutton. Several arrests were made, including that of a wheelchair bound lady of 75 years who hadn’t left her home in a decade.
During the first world war, an uneasy peace ensued with both sides of the village losing men in the fields of Flanders. When the war was over, it was decided that a small cenotaph would be built. The Kirkbyans wanted it to be outside the church. The Suttonians, outside the Tannery. A compromise was arrived at and the stone cenotaph was built on the dividing line between the two halves of the village. By now, this line was imaginary, as houses had been erected on both sides, and a tarmac road ran straight through the middle, connecting to a main road at the top end of Kirkby. An uninformed, outsider, would never have known the villages had ever been separate.
Typically, a row ensued over which side of the construction the names of dead would be carved into, so, sensibly, for once, the Sutton names were carved, facing the south and the Kirkby ones facing the north. Every year, on armistice day, the residents line up on either side of the tribute to remember their own. Villagers divided, even in death.
This story begins in the early 1950s.
Alice January 1939
At nine-thirty on New Year’s Eve, nineteen-thirty-eight, Amy and I went up to the Old Bull to see in nineteen-thirty-nine. The place was packed to the gunnels. Even the snug was so rammed that had either one of us turned around, everyone in the bar would have turned around with us. We didn’t stay long. The people standing next to the bar wouldn’t move away to allow those behind be served, so it would have been well past midnight before we got our first gin and tonic. A couple of lads from the local mill tried to chat us up, but even they couldn’t get close enough to buy us a drink, so we went back to Amy’s and played a few records until just before midnight, when Amy’s dad knocked on her bedroom door to invite us to share the big moment with him and Amy’s mum.
He just had time to pour us a glass of port before Big Ben bonged out it’s barrage of bells. Amy’s parents linked arms with us and we all sang Auld Lang Syne, with me, singing the wrong words. I have been taught the New Year’s anthem three or four times but still sing, for the sake of… Amy’s dad, who was one sixteenth Scottish, knew all of Burn’s lyrics and made sure our arms stayed linked until he had belted out the last line of the song. When he reached, and we’ll tak a right gude-willie-waught, Amy looked at me, I looked at her, and no amount of lip biting or cheek sucking, was ever going to stop the hysterical fit of laughter that followed.
Amy’s dad kept going until the bitter end, then he let go of our hands, called us ‘childish’ and retired to his armchair to finish the malt whisky that a real Scotsman had sold him on their family holiday the previous Easter.
Around twelve-thirty, Amy showed me to the door.
I asked why her dad hadn’t done the first foot thing, seeing as he was so keen on the New Year rituals. My own father, who wasn’t even a hundredth part Scottish, had done it every year without fail. I never understood what was behind the custom. Mum told me it was something to do with bringing in a gift to the household, but as all he ever brought in was a lump of coal and a stale mince pie left over from Christmas, things we already owned, I was left as confused as ever. Perhaps they did it differently in Scotland.
Amy looked around to make sure no one could overhear and whispered. ‘He tripped over the step wearing his kilt a few years ago and showed his Willie Waught to the world, so Mum has banned him from doing it since then. He was off work for a month with a cracked ankle. Old Mrs Bowen, who lived next door at the time, got a right eyeful. She was going to call the police until Mum brought her inside and plied her with gin.’
‘I remember him being off work, but you never said why,’ I said, through my giggles.
Any looked at me wide-eyed. ‘Would you tell that story to anyone? It’s one of those tales you want to hear about someone else’s dad.’
‘I was still sniggering to myself when I got home. I stood in the yard for a few moments to look at the new foundations that had been backfilled and waiting for the concrete to be poured for over a week. Mr Hart, our builder, refused to tip the concrete until the weather was above freezing, as the finished slab wouldn’t be as strong. The forecaster on the radio had said the weather was going to be dry for the next few days with temperatures forecast to be around forty degrees Fahrenheit, so, Michael promised to begin mixing the stuff on the morning of the second.
I was really keen to get that process started because once the new milking parlour/winter cow-shed was ready, we could pretty much quadruple the size of our Friesian herd. I turned towards the kitchen wondering if the coming year would bring us better fortune than the previous one. It had been a year littered with secrets and lies, revelations and revenge. As I turned to close the kitchen door, I took one last look at the newly dug foundations and told myself to look for the positives. A new year always came with the promise of a new start after all. Last years’ secrets should remain buried.
At eleven o’clock on Sunday September 3rd 1939, I opened up the kitchen for the farmworkers to enable them to hear an historic speech from our Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, or the undertaker, as Amy had renamed him. Not all the lads worked on Sundays, some were rostered to tend the animals, milk the cows etc and I called them in when I heard the BBC inform us that there was going to be a speech of national importance.
We had been edging towards war for the entire year and Germany’s invasion of Poland a couple of days before had made the prospect an inevitability. As we waited for the broadcast, my thoughts went back to the autumn of the previous year when the same man, joyfully waved a piece of paper at the cameras whilst declaring, ‘Peace for our time.’ I wondered if he had brought a scrap of worthless paper with him this time around and what was written on it. Bugger! must have been a distinct possibility.
Amy’s nickname was perfectly suited. The scrawny man with the scrawny neck and the old fashioned, turned-over collar, wouldn’t have looked out of place marching solemnly in front of a hearse.
The few whispered conversations ceased as we heard his voice over the airwaves.
I am speaking to you from the cabinet room at 10 Downing Street. This morning the British ambassador in Berlin handed the German government a final note stating that unless we heard from them by 11 o’clock that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us. I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently this country is at war with Germany.
There was a bit more, mainly relating to Hitler’s warlike mentality, but we didn’t really take that in, the first part of his statement said everything we needed to hear. We were at war with Germany again, even though we were promised that the 14-18 conflict had been the war to end all wars.
Amy pushed her empty tea cup across the table.
‘Well, the undertaker has just assigned another few million people to an early grave. There has to be better ways to advertise your business.’
No one laughed.
Barney, our foreman, gave his thoughts.
‘Levity aside, Amy, this has been coming. Hitler is a nasty piece of work, and it’s high time someone stood up to him. We could have done it last year, but I understand that we weren’t ready to take him on back then. I’m not sure we are now; I think we might have to try to persuade the Americans to come in again or we could be in trouble.’
‘Thank goodness for the channel,’ said Benny Tomkiss, one of the younger workers. He pointed vaguely towards the Kent coast from which any attack would surely come.
Miriam, a non-practicing Jew, whose father had spent the majority of his life working on our farm, waited for a few seconds of silence before adding her own tearful thoughts.
‘I’m so pleased we’re finally telling him he can’t just do what he wants. Last year, cousins of mine were thrown out of their businesses, their homes and their jobs, just for being Jewish. Do you all remember what they did on that bloody Kristallnacht? I’m so worried about them, I haven’t had a letter since February. The Nazis are sending Jews to work camps where they are used as slave labour. How any so-called civilized society can allow this to happen is beyond me. He has to be stopped before millions of people are slaughtered, just for belonging to the wrong religion.’
No one seemed to be able to look at Miriam as she delivered her tear-filled statement. We had all heard the rumours of Jewish people being hounded out of their homes and exiled to concentration camps throughout Germany. The newsreels at the cinema had shown graphic images of Kristallnacht. The vast majority of the British population were horrified by the news reports, but there were some, even in our small town, who seemed to blame all that was wrong with the world on the Jewish race.
I turned off the radio thinking that, as head of the farm, I ought to say something. My father would no doubt have delivered a rousing speech, saying we were all in this together and it was up to each and every one of us to do our bit to ensure that Hitler was defeated. Sadly, as a nineteen-year-old mother, I wasn’t up to delivering rousing speeches.
‘Firstly, I have to say that we all knew this was coming, sad and shocking as the actual announcement was. Secondly, I’m sure the government will announce soon that farming industry workers are in a reserved occupation. The country will still need to be fed and our troops will need their ration packs so none of you will be forced to join up if you don’t want to. I will however, understand completely if any of you feel you have to do your bit for King and country and you can go with my blessing but, please, if you can, wait until the recruiting offices are set up. We’ve still got the corn harvest to bring in before you go.’
I let out a deep sigh.
‘Damn Hitler, damn Mussolini, damn Stalin, and damn Neville bloody Chamberlain.’
As the lads drifted out into the yard, I sat down at the kitchen table thinking about the past year.
The farm had done well. The wheat crop had been as good as it ever had been and we’d had a bumper crop of piglets and lambs too. The new milking parlour/barn had enabled us to house thirty cows through the bad weather and the extra animals meant that our milk production had quadrupled. The electric pumps meant that milking was now a one-man job and Miriam’s little butter and cheese enterprise had expanded. There had been a wedding in March when young Benny married his childhood sweetheart, Emily.
Martha was now a toddler with a mission to explore every inch of the farm. Her inquisitive nature was only matched by her temper, if she was stopped going into places she wasn’t allowed to go.
Our relationship still bordered on indifference. She put up with me if she was in the mood, but no amount of encouragement or proffered bribes, could get her to spend time with me if didn’t feel like it. Her vocabulary wasn’t great yet but ‘Mama’ one of the easiest words to say, was the word she used least.
Since March, I had been accompanying my best friend Amy to the local picture palace to watch the latest Hollywood exports. To my delight and embarrassment, my movie star lookalike, Rita Hayworth, appeared in more and more of the movies on offer. I looked like Rita; my rolling shoulder length curls made the similarities almost photographic. We were so much alike that the owner of the picture house, a Mr Wallington, even offered to pay me to stand outside the cinema greeting prospective movie goers whenever one of her films was on show.
Future wise, financially at least, the farm would be better off. The government tended to look after us during times of conflict. They would almost certainly subsidise the crops and give us more money per ton for producing it. That wouldn’t necessarily transmit to farm workers’ wages and if we lost any of our men to the fighting, we might have to recruit from the elderly residents of the town, then again, the local factories would almost certainly switch to war production and that would mean the skills of the town’s women and elderly men, would be much sought after.
I could never understand the government’s attitude to farm workers. On the one hand they wanted them working at home producing for the country, but on the other hand, they were reluctant to pay them a little extra in order to keep them in our fields instead of fighting in foreign ones.
Amy, as a mill worker, wouldn’t be allowed to leave to do any other work. Her skills would be needed in the manufacture of uniforms, parachutes or anything else the forces might require.
‘I do hope this thing doesn’t go on as long as the last one,’ she said, sipping at a fresh mug of tea. ‘I promised myself I’d be married before I was twenty-five and there will be a severe shortage of eligible bachelors once this bloody war gets going.’ Amy was just coming up to twenty-one.
‘You’ll be all right if the Americans do come in,’ I replied. ‘Imagine Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart turning up at an army camp nearby?’
Amy rested her chin in her upturned hands and sighed.
‘Imagine,’ she said.
It began with a trivial moment of carelessness, but the shockwaves that reverberate from this seemingly insignificant incident, spread far and wide.
Ed and his heavily pregnant wife Mary are on an errand for Ed’s ailing father before the pair depart for warmer climes. But the winter of 1962 comes early and one innocuous event and a hastily taken decision will have devastating consequences for the family of young Rose Gorton. Mary’s already fragile mental state is put under further stress while Ed tries to make sense of events that are spiralling massively, Out of Control.
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