It’s a real pleasure today to be joining the blog tour for The Covenant by Thorne Moore, the long-awaited prequel to the bestselling A Time for Silence: published by Honno Press on 20th August, this book is now available both for kindle and in paperback. My thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for the invitation and support, and to publishers Honno for my advance reading e-copy (provided via NetGalley).
And when I said “long-awaited”, I perhaps should have added “particularly by me”. I’ve had the pleasure of Thorne’s company at two book fairs in Narberth now, and this book has had a reserved slot on my reading list ever since she told me about it last year. I already knew how much I enjoyed her writing – you’ll find reviews here on Being Anne of The Unravelling, Shadows and Long Shadows (links are to my reviews), and there’s also an excellent guest post from Thorne on how Shadows could be classified (I think she settled on “slightly paranormal Domestic Noir”, which I certainly wouldn’t argue with – you’ll find that post here). To my shame, I still haven’t managed to read A Time for Silence – despite all the accolades, and sales of 57K – but that certainly didn’t stop me being really excited about the prospect of a prequel.
Let’s take a closer look…
The Owens are tied to this Pembrokeshire land – no-one will part them from it dead or alive.
Leah is tied to home and hearth by debts of love and duty – duty to her father, turned religious zealot after the tragic death of his eldest son, Tom; love for her wastrel younger brother Frank’s two motherless children. One of them will escape, the other will be doomed to follow in their grandfather’s footsteps.
At the close of the 19th century, Cwmderwen’s twenty-four acres, one rood and eight perches are hard won, the holding run down over the years by debt and poor harvest. But they are all the Owens have and their rent is always paid on time. With Tom’s death a crack is opened up and into this chink in the fabric of the family step Jacob John and his wayward son Eli, always on the lookout for an opportunity.
Saving her family, good and bad, saving Cwmderwen, will change Leah forever and steal her dreams, perhaps even her life…
And a couple of extracts from the reviews?
“A beautifully observed story of fate and family made real and immediate…” Alis Hawkins
“…a powerful and compelling tale of one woman’s determination in the face of sacrifice, hardship and tragedy… with a satisfying twist at the end.” Susan Elliot Wright
If you’d like to find out more about the origins of the story, I’d highly recommend reading some of the excellent blog posts Thorne has published in the run-up to publication: you’ll find them here.
And now, I know you’re rather expecting me to introduce my review – but I’m sorry, it wasn’t to be. In the aftermath of losing my mum, you might just have noticed that the books I’ve been reviewing recently have all been rather on the lighter side – and I’m really grateful to Thorne for suggesting that this story of religious fervour, duty, betrayal and murder might just not be the right book for me at the moment. I’m a little gutted, but I’ll really look forward to catching up with the book at a better time, when I’ll share my review.
Instead today, I’m delighted to welcome Thorne with a quite perfect guest post that she’s called Duty Calls…
How does a family work? According to the Janet and John books of my primary school, which were supposed to teach us to read with images we’d all recognise, it was all very simple. There was a Daddy, who went to work, drove a car and read a newspaper, and there was a Mummy who wore a nice apron over her nice skirt to cook and who looked after the nice children, a boy in short trousers and a girl in a frock. Both children would play with a Big Red Ball, but otherwise, daughter learned from Mummy and son learned from Daddy. They lived in a nice house with a nice garden and a lawn that needed mowing every weekend. They went on holiday to the beach and the children played with buckets and spades. For birthdays they would have parties with balloons and cake. Everyone was polite, no one shouted or got angry and children never did anything naughty.
Was it ever really like that? A 1950s dream of reassuring security where everyone had their allotted role and no one wanted to rebel.
We emerged from the 1950s into a world where rebellion was a part of growing up and we wondered why everyone had been so tame before. The reality is that for centuries, the price of rebellion wasn’t liberating freedom but degradation, destitution, even death. Those precise family roles were not just convention, they were laid down by God in holy scripture, backed up by draconian laws that didn’t brook argument. The man was the head of the household, absolute ruler of his family. The wife who failed to obey, who answered back, or who fell short in her housekeeping duties, was a sinner condemned by church and state. Children were commanded to obey their parents in all things, from when to eat to whom to marry, or they would be damned. Being cast out from your family didn’t mean running to your nearest friends for help. They wouldn’t open their doors to you because you were no longer respectable, exiled from decent society. You couldn’t turn to social services, because there weren’t any, except the church and God help you there. Girls who found themselves pregnant were still being sent packing by shamed parents, or hidden away and forced to give up their child for adoption, when Janet and John were preaching the Gospel of unquestioning social harmony.
How do you write about people who believed their roles were so divinely defined that they couldn’t contemplate resistance? By getting into their minds and hearts and seeing through their eyes, which isn’t always easy. Gwen Owen in my first novel, A Time For Silence, living in an isolated chapel-going community in the 1930s and 40s, puts up with just about everything – nearly everything – because she has learned that it’s her duty to do so. Her pride requires it. It’s an attitude her granddaughter, in the 21st century, can’t begin to understand.
In my latest book, The Covenant, which I’ve written as a prequel to A Time For Silence, I follow the life of Gwen’s aunt by marriage, Leah Owen, a woman who, if she lived today, would be capable of taking on the world. She could be a scientist, a general, a politician, an entrepreneur – entrepreneuse? She’d have the education she craved and the voice she deserved. I quite fancy her as a Mary Beard. But if you were a girl born in the 1870s in a strict chapel community in West Wales, your options were limited. You’d be limited entirely by Duty. Duty to God, duty to family, duty to community. The idea that anyone would put self-fulfilment first would have been utterly unthinkable.
In a closely confined world, with little chance of physical or mental escape, the judgements of scripture and law were backed up by something far more pervasive: the judgement of your neighbours. For everyone, but especially for women, imprisoned in dependency, there was nothing so comforting and reassuring as earning their neighbours’ respect, and nothing so terrible as their condemnation.
But somewhere in the sharpest minds, there had to be the thought, ‘I’m worth more than this.’ At some extreme point, duty and respectability would have to crumble and give way to ‘I’ve had enough. It’s all been wrong. To hell with this.’ Sometimes, you just have to quit.
Thank you, Thorne – I suspect that might make people even keener to read this book that a review from me would have done…
About the author
Thorne grew up in Luton, where her father was a Labour councillor and her mother once got the sack for calling her boss a male chauvenist pig, so she developed strong views about the way the world works. Her headmaster advised her to study law, but that implied a career in law, and the only career she wanted was as a writer, so she studied history instead, at Aberystwyth, and nine years later, after a spell working in a library, she returned to Wales, to beautiful and inspiring Pembrokeshire, to run a restaurant with her sister, Liz.
She did finally get her law degree, through the Open University, but these days, she writes, as she had always intended, and when she’s not writing,she makes miniature furniture, through her craft business, Pear Tree Miniatures, and occasionally she teaches family history.
History, personal and social, rather than political treaties and battles, remain a major interest, spurred along by her present home, a Victorian farmhouse that stands on the site of a Mediaeval manor. When she write about crime, as a traumatic turn of events that shakes people’s lives, she is primarily concerned with its causes and far-reaching consequences of actions, even through generations, rather than the thrill of the actions themselves, or the intricacies of forensic detection.
She has had three earlier novels published by Honno, A Time For Silence, Motherlove and The Unravelling, and has also brought out a book of short stories, Moments of Consequence. A fourth novel, Shadows, was published in July 2017 by Endeavour and was followed by its companion, Long Shadows, in April 2018.