The Colours of the Dance won the 2016 First Novel Prize and was listed in the Fish, Flash 500, Mslexia and Yeovil competitions.
E. J. Pepper's second book, Flight Path, won the 2017 Exeter Novel Prize and is due for publication in 2020.
She is currently working on her third novel.
The first novel by PJ Pepper won her the award, and rightly so. This interesting historical fiction is set in 1880s in Ulster which was the place where Protestants and Catholics did not have friendly feelings towards one another, and where Catholics were deprived of any recognition. The proposal of Home Rule that would give the Catholics some rights, was very much opposed by the Protestants. Those turbulent times are the background for the events in which two main characters are Kate and her sister's daughter, Brede.
Kate O'Hagan and her niece, who are Catholics, are lucky to find employment in a Protestant house after a long time of hunger and homelessness. Brede, a 10-year-old girl, has not been able to speak since a most traumatic experience. She is the narrator, and a most observant one, and her interpretation of events is the core of the story. I think Ms Pepper captured wonderfully the way a child sees the world and what she conclusions she comes to, and created a character I truly came to like. Brede is a girl who has come through moments that children should be spared and has to work hard, and yet she can find little joys around her. Dancing is her joy, she practises the steps, and I think for her dance is what connects her with her past and family, the immaterial heritage she received.
The historical background made me look up some information as although I know a little about the Glorious Revolution and King Billy, of Home Rule I had a rather vague idea.
by Beata B.
The word ‘dance’ appears to be used in several ways within this evocative 19th century historical novel based upon the Irish fight for independence from Britain. Set in Ireland at a time of landed gentry and tenant farmers and when the ‘Prods’ and ‘Carth Licks’ were fighting each other, along with the British, comes a little girl, the gentle Brede – who is about 9 or 10 or maybe even 11 years old, but no one really knows.
Brede is left orphaned when she witnesses first the death of her siblings and then her parents, of fevers and dysentery. Left alone in the world she is taken care of by her Aunt Kate and together they walk through Ireland trying to survive until finally they are taken in and employed in one of the large house by Mister and Missus Henderson as cook.
Although, they are well liked within the house, life is not without it’s problems as they are often frightened of being turned out into the streets, yet again. This is due in part to them being ‘Carth Licks’ and some people’s dislike of ‘the Carth licks’.
Because of Brede’s past experiences, she is unable to speak, she can hear the words in her head and wants to speak, but the words just won’t come out. Not being able to speak or read or write, she is unable to ask for clarification from others around her of what is going on or what a certain words means, and she often misunderstands what is happening, which brings a lightness to the book and a slight sense of humour. As adults we no longer see the world in the same way as a child does and presume, sometimes incorrectly that what we say is fully understood, but it isn’t always, and Brede often finds herself confused about the world around her. The one thing that Brede loves to do is her ‘steps’ or dancing the Irish reels with Kate.
The dance of life within the book is witnessed through the eyes of a young child, which makes more enjoyable and lighter. Yes the historical back ground is there, but Brede takes you on a dance through the story all of her own. However, if you are looking for a book of Irish history, this isn’t it, but is about life.
I picked this book because of the cover, as i so often do when i am browsing books in a store, but i enjoyed the story too.
E. J. Pepper grew up in Worcestershire and County Donegal.
She studied English language and literature at London University and has a Masters Degree in Creative Writing from Chichester University.
She lives with her husband on the Surrey/Sussex border.