Review of Brandy Row by Teresa Gess
"For anyone with Isle of Portland connections who are not only interested in their own ancestry but also local and social history, then Brandy Row is a must. This book is based around a romance (or two) but cannot really be classified as romantic fiction, it has too much else to offer. It gives you an understanding of the Isle over almost 30 decades mid 19th Century, Portland comes alive with topographical descriptions, as well as those of the families. Names mentioned are Attwool, Byatt, Comben (sadly no Cox for me) Pearce, Stone, White and others. Although fiction it is based on fact which helps you travel back in time to exist amongst your ancestors and appreciate their lifestyle. I just hope that Shelagh will enlighten us in the future with the next generation, and for me also a prequel as my direct Cox line left Portland pre 1840's. A book I shall certainly read again."
THE CONCEPTION OF BRANDY ROW
I have been a closet writer for many years working on this manuscript. My objective was never publication, I just wanted a challenge and to see if I could do it. Thus Brandy Row started in longhand on scraps of paper, written late at night when the children were asleep and the house was quiet and then transcribed onto a Smith Corona electric typewriter when my son was at playschool.
As a busy mum raising two children, I would often find myself drifting into the magical world of my imagination. I had grown up with wild tales of life on an island – where smuggling was rife and the close-knit community were suspicious of ‘outsiders’. My father was born and brought up on the Isle of Portland and my childhood was filled with visits to my ancestral home and stories from yesteryear. So it came as no surprise when I found myself living in my father’s memories while bringing up my own children in the late 1970s. Now more than 30 years later, I have finally published the story I first started as a young mother.
The idea was inspired by my father’s tales of the island and one image in particular of my great great-grandmother meeting a customs official while smuggling bottles in pockets sewn into her underskirt. Members of my family also lived for a time in one of the seaside cottages in Brandy Row, which inspired the title.
For a complete novice Portland seemed a good place to start. Being an island, the story is quite easily contained and, like all islands, its inhabitants are fiercely proud of their heritage. It is almost like weaving in another strong character, so important is its history. My main worry was would I be able to do it justice? I did not want it to be formulaic.
Although taking a long time because of other commitments, the first draft just seemed to pour out onto the paper and once finished, I thought my work was done, but there were to be many rewrites. In 1980 to my delight I acquired an Apricot portable home computer and again the mundane work of retyping and editing the whole manuscript began, but what a wonderful tool it is, to be able to move paragraphs and cut and paste was so easy – no more Tippex.
Quietly drafting in my free time, it was not until I joined a writing group that I began to take my hobby more seriously. Through the Yeovil Writing Circle I met Margaret Graham who was about to have her first novel Only The Wind Is Free published by Heinemann. She has since gone on to publish 11 more books. Margaret and I became close friends and she went through my manuscript and gave me a great deal of sound professional advice. Finally I plucked up the courage to send it off to a publisher, but I found that historical romance was not what they were looking for and, apart from an encouraging letter from Headline, I only had brief rejection letters back. They already had their historical authors and were looking for fresh modern writers. Dejectedly, I put the manuscript back in the desk drawer, but occasionally took it out to give to selected friends to read and each one said they enjoyed it.
When I retired from my job as a medical secretary in August 2008, I used my new-found free time to work on a sequel to Brandy Row. The first draft of this manuscript, Dawn to Deadly Nightshade, is also now completed and because of this I decided to publish Brandy Row myself, rather than relying on the mainstream publishers, and I found Matador were very happy to take this on for me. They have been extremely helpful and professional and thus the birth of my first novel has been relatively pain free. Self-publication was the answer to my prayers. There was a time when self-publication was known as ‘vanity publishing’, but due to technological advances, more books are self-published than those published traditionally these days.
Brandy Row follows the story of Matthew, a young fisherman, who falls for Violet, the beautiful daughter of a smuggler. It is set on Portland between 1830 and 1851, before the construction of the ferry bridge, when smuggling was rife and the close-knit community armed themselves against foreigners or ‘Kimberlins’. The childhood sweethearts are rocked by the arrival of a new, handsome customs riding officer called Richard Dryer who Violet falls in love with. Knowing that she risks being ostracised by her family and friends, Violet has to make a decision that will have repercussions throughout the rest of her life.