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Love, Dreams and Destitution

A Ha'Penny Will Do

Alison Huntingford

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 told 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.

Book Excerpt or Article

Joe's recollections

I remember my mother as if it was 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 bed-time.
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 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.

Thank you for visiting!
Dee Marley

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Alison Huntingford has a degree in Humanities with Literature and has always enjoyed reading, especially the great writers of the 19th Century.
She is an only child of two only children and so has always felt a distinct lack of family. This has inspired her to research her family history and most of her writing is based on this. Her debut novel ‘The Glass Bulldog’ was published in 2019 and was nominated for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction. This is her second full length novel, although she has also written several short stories.

In her spare time she enjoys spending time with her husband and their pets, listening to music, going to the cinema and gardening.

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