The samples offered in this section are
from a published novel, entitled:
Copyright © William Kenneth Jones
The novel is based on incidents in a district of central Manchester, in the early decades of the Nineteen-hundreds. The extracts, below, are offered as samples from the complete novel.
Nancy - an Introduction
Nancy was born on Tuesday, the twenty-second day of January 1901 - the day that Queen Victoria died. Of course, no connection could possibly exist between these two events, as none could exist between the setting of the Queen's demise and that of Nancy's birth.
Our first introduction to Nancy will be some months after her birth, when her family moved to a place called Chase Street, situated in the centre of industrial Manchester. The house they occupied was part of a terraced row, typical of the thousands upon thousands constructed in the nineteenth century - these to accommodate an expanding working-class migrating to the cities in search of employment. Each house in the row consisted of the hastily built two-up, two-down arrangement with an outside toilet in a small backyard.
The area in which the houses exist is contained between two, high-arched, railway viaducts built to span the wide valley formed by the River Irk. In Nancy's immediate area, these loom above a conglomeration of factories and workshops, with the mentioned houses being compressed within whatever space industry deemed fit to relinquish.
The first-built of the viaducts followed the route surveyed in 1839 by George Stephenson to link Manchester and Leeds. The building of the second structure commenced a decade or so later and formed part of the line linking Manchester with Radcliffe. But more concerning to Nancy and those living in the district was the constant noise created by trains rumbling along the elevated tracks - these to pour down smoke to mingle with that from the factories and workshops all around.
Years before Nancy became aware of the viaducts, many of their archways were boarded up for use as workshops and their red bricks blackened by decades of industrial pollution. All this gave them a more confining and dominating look than they might otherwise possess.
However, our main interest relates to Nancy and her family. The first-born of the family came into the world two and a half years or so before Nancy's birth. After recovering from the death of that child (occurring almost immediately after its birth) and the resulting illness from a difficult delivery, Nancy's mother resumed employment in a laundry located in an area known as Red Bank. This is situated on the other side of the first-built viaduct from Chase Street. On the Red Bank side of the viaduct, and running parallel to and immediately below its structure, is a narrow, cobbled road, also named Red Bank. All this is mentioned because it's an area we'll see much more of, later.
In this inauspicious setting of viaducts, narrow streets and factories, our first glimpse of Nancy is when she is being cradled in her mother's arms in the front room of their house, in Chase Street. The afternoon sunlight slanting through the window falls upon the chair in which her mother sits. It shows that the appearance of both mother and child has no congruity with the district in which they live. We can see that Nancy will take on her mother's attractive features and luxuriant hair of a light chestnut colour - enhanced by its tendency to curl and give a hint of gold when catching the light.
Those with an interest in art might suggest that the person nursing Nancy brings to mind the central figure in Rossetti's painting, entitled: The Beloved. This they might do, despite the years she'd spent in the debilitating heat and steam of the laundry.
Those lacking artistic inclinations might find themselves responding in the way most men would. They would feel compelled to stare covertly at an embodiment of beauty not usually seen. In this respect, Nancy will become the image of her mother.
However, our purpose is to follow the life-events of the infant we have just glimpsed, and discover what joys, pains, sorrows, surprises, disappointments and other happenings life can bestow or impose upon a person of Nancy's circumstances. In this, we will - perhaps - gain an understanding of what shaped her character and why she felt impelled to behave as she did.
The author, Charles Reade (1814-84) began his novel, The Cloister and the Hearth, with these words: Not a day passes over the earth, but men and women of no note do great deeds, speak great words and suffer noble sorrows. The author wrote in a style usual for his period.
A later age might express his observation in this way: Every day, people of no particular distinction do creditable deeds, speak commendable words and endure dignified sorrows. We will see how Nancy and others closely involved in her life struggled to reach the dignity implicit in Charles Reade's observation - this when a period in Nancy's life appeared to have "neither joy, nor love, nor light, nor certitude, nor peace, nor help from pain" (to borrow a phrase from the poet, Matthew Arnold).
It is assumed that a person begins to lose the attributes of childhood and moves towards the awareness of adulthood around their eighth year. This, therefore, seems the appropriate time to meet Nancy again, when she attains that age in the early part of 1909. We will find her content as any child can be - with caring parents, loyal playmates and, for a short while, protected by the innocence of childhood...
The August of 1916 arrived with warm, dry and sunny weather. Then, towards the middle of the month, it became unsettled with thundery rain. In these conditions, the horrific extent of the Battle of the Somme began to emerge.
The Newspapers told that the battle commenced on the morning of Saturday, the first day of July. Nancy found one account of this particularly distressing:
The dawn rose with a light mist promising a glorious summer day and by 7.00am the sun shone from a cloudless sky. At 7.25am, the artillery barrage lifted and then the ground shook from the detonation of underground mines that the British had planted near the German lines, by way of tunneling. The Hawthorn mine exploded first then the Lochnager mine, near La-Boiselle, then the three planted at Tambour. At precisely 7.30am, as the noise of the explosions died down, scores of whistles shrilled a signal for the waiting men to climb out of their trenches, to walk across the couple of hundred yards to those occupied by the Germans. The offensive continued in the days following, despite losses estimated at 60,000 during the first day.
The first sentence caused her the most distress. It appeared to imply a complete indifference on the part of whatever it was above to the slaughter happening below. She remembered having a similar feeling when she felt, then, that if this was the way of the world, where could there be any hope? It seemed to her that the only hope was that which each individual could create for themselves. But the world seemed ill disposed to offer those conditions.
Nancy saw hardly anything of Noreen and Greg - both being absorbed in their individual aspects of war-work. She, herself, found that the long hours demanded by her employment made her feel that sleep seemed all she wanted to do, on most evenings. Both Liz and Agnes expressed similar feelings. It seemed to Nancy that it became all work with very little play, and, in that respect, the extra money she earnt did little good. During one of their occasional evening meals, she offered the surplus to Greg, for safekeeping. At first, he seemed reluctant to take it, but then said a National Saving Scheme was becoming available. He could put the surplus in that, along with any future amounts she might want to save.
"An' now Noreen's away, most times, tha's finished up havin' t' do shoppin' an' cookin'," he said with a smile. "Ah should be addin' t' tha savings t' pay fo' that." He paused. "Noreen'll have t' watch out fo' her laurels," he then said with a grin. "Tha'll be making potatoes taste like pears - same as she does."
She smiled gratefully - pleased by the compliment and accepting what she believed was a jest about augmenting her savings. "I'm glad y'u like the meals I cook," she said.
"Aye, Ah do that," he replied with a smile. "It was a fortunate event when tha decided t' stay here."
The weather continued to be stormy and unsettled. November brought flurries of snow, which, it seemed, became a factor in ending the Somme conflict. Greg told of reports indicating an advance by the British and French forces of twelve miles - this gain being paid by an estimated 400,000 British and 200,000 French casualties.
"Accordin' t' my mathamatics," he added grimly, "that works out at summat like fifty thousand casualties for each mile."
Later, when thinking about what he said, Nancy realised that her mind tended to go blank with each revelation. It seemed the numbers had reached a size that she couldn't comprehend. However, what distressed her even more was the thought that constantly pushed its way into her mind, each time. That agonising thought about her Dad being out of it all and her Mam not being here to worry about him. How could the death of her parents represent a comfort? How could it be of any satisfaction? It seemed to Nancy that the world had become so distorted, it distorted her thoughts.
She recalled the normally cheerful Agnes's bitter outburst about the war and then realised she wasn't the only one deeply affected. However, she knew she'd have to find something, for herself, that she could hold in her mind, to drive out the dark distortions which the world seemed so ready to create. Otherwise, she would feel constant despair.
Then she recalled thinking, some time ago, about a guiding light - this represented by what she felt her parents would want her to become. She had to remember her Mam's constant attempts to be understanding and her Dad's steadfast sense of duty. These were the qualities that she mostly admired about her parents; and she knew they would want her to strive towards attaining them. In this way, she could keep her Mam and Dad within her - all the time. She could ask herself what they would want her to do, in whatever situation she had to face. She felt this seemed to be the only sense she could find in a world that seemed to have lost all sense of reason...
Chapter 51 (reproduced above) typifies the chapters covering the years of World War One, whose trauma is described as it affects Nancy and her family and the population in general.
For a Review of the novel, click this link: http://www.aidan.co.uk/article-nancy-stirring-of-the-birds.htm
The book ends with a suprising and unexpected conclusion. You can obtain the publication that allows you to experience this by using the following link: