Today I welcome guest author Graham Higson author of Flither Lass, a historical novel set in 1915 England during the First World War. The title is available at Amazon US and Amazon UK.
Flither Lass – a historical novel from a different perspective
From May 27 - June 3 Flither Lass will be available from 99 cents. Here is some background to the tale.
The story is set in 1915, so it's not too far into the dim and distant past. Even so, the lifestyles, people's values and expectations are so very different from what we know today. And if that isn't so much of a culture shock, then the snapshot of this particular remote English coastal village is likely to challenge many people's beliefs of what life was really like in some parts of England, if indeed they ever realised that such places existed.
The story is set around the inshore fishing industry which was prevalent along the east coast, north of the old port of Kingston-upon-Hull, up beyond Scarborough and on to Whitby. This is the stretch of coastline where, traditionally, fishermen went out in sail-powered fishing boats known as "cobles". In those days the North Sea could be, certainly by modern standards, a rich fishing ground for cod and herring that were caught by line fishing.
Forget any thought of thin catgut fishing lines; these lines were ropes over 200-feet long, with numerous hooks baited with limpets. These are the mollusk-type creatures that live inside the conical shells usually found sticking to the rocks, almost with the strength of industrial adhesive. Another name for limpets is "flithers" and they were collected by flither girls.
So there we have the title. These women had been a common sight, many of them traveling in gangs, walking many miles from home, often in harsh weather conditions, scouring the shore for bait to use on their husbands' lines. Hardy, strong, practical, they were experts at climbing steep cliff faces using a single rope, and sometimes just with their bare hands. They didn't allow their highly impractical long skirts to prevent them working and thought nothing of rolling them up to their waists and (horror of horrors!) exposing their bare thighs so they could wade farther out in the water.
My flither lass, Amy, has just gone 16, but she works alone, estranged from the local community which believes, in its ignorance, that she is backward, slow-witted. The reality is that she is a wild, unruly girl, passionately protective of the small bay that she believes is hers. She works things out by instinct and whatever else she can pick up from odd snatches of conversation not obscured by an undiagnosed hearing condition. You wouldn't get that these days. Naturally, sometimes she gets things wrong.
But then no one in the village has an enviable lifestyle, most of them suffering poor living conditions verging on poverty. And now there's a war, the young men have joined the armed forces and many of them will not return. Dark times indeed.
The First World War is being fought hundreds of miles away in France and Belgium, and most people in Britain might feel a certain security in that the horrors are taking place in some foreign land. But to those living beside the North Sea, a major shipping lane, the war is hideously close, with merchant vessels using it to transport essential food and supplies. But here, only a few hundred yards away from Amy's village, the shipping is at threat from bombs, mines, and the German unterseeboots—the U-boats.
This is the backdrop for Amy's story; we might assume she is cocooned in some bubble of comfortable ignorance. But one stormy night her insular little world falls apart when her beloved father is lost at sea. The cards are stacked against her, and then something happens that will change the rest of her life.