Classy historical fiction – heartwarming and full of adventure. Newswatch UK
Young Maryann Nelson is devastated by the loss of her beloved father. But worse is to come when her mother, Flo, sees an opportunity to better herself and her family in a marriage to the local undertaker, Norman Griffin. Though on the surface a caring, family man, Norman is not at all what he seems, as Maryann and her sister soon discover.
Unable to turn to their unsympathetic mother for support, the girls are left alone with their harrowing secret. But for Sal it is too much to bear…
The chance of a new life for Maryann opens up when she is befriended by Joel Bartholomew. Aboard his Narrowboat the Esther Jane she finds herself falling in love with life on the canal as she is swept away from Birmingham and all her worries.
But when Joel’s feeling towards Maryann begin to change, it awakens all the old nightmares that she had thought long buried, and in panic and confusion she takes flight…
The Narrowboat Girl is a testament to the overwhelming power of true love and its ability to overcome suffering.
This book came about because I love walking the towpaths along the canal, or ‘cut’ as it is known in Birmingham. I used to walk very often along the path close to our house, from the Dingle in Selly Oak, which takes you either into the city past the University, or out past the back of the Cadbury works. It’s a very green and beautiful stretch of the cut out to Worcester and I found it an inspiration. I had already written a short story set on that stretch before I began on the book.
The canals are a great feature of Birmingham, which of course is well known for having many miles of them. When I started researching the book I knew very little and had not worked a boat myself, so there was a great deal to find out about the people who worked the cut from the 1920s, when The Narrowboat Girl begins, to the beginning of the 1950s as the trade was beginning to die out.
As well as the families who were born and bred on the cut, I also wanted to write about someone from Birmingham, so Maryann comes from ‘off the bank,’ from Ladywood, an old district of Brum, and has to discover the life on the narrowboats from the outside, as I had to myself. Later, when I had had the chance to live on and work a boat for a short time, I thought I’d like to continue the story, and that was how Water Gypsies, the sequel came to be written.
The story of Maryann Nelson begins as a sad one, and the stories are as much about her life and struggles as about the life on the boats. It is a story about the darker side of certain individuals, the effects of abuse and about the emotional search for a place of love and safety. When I came to write the next book, it was clear that these were themes that would be part of Maryann’s life.