The Promise - Review

This is one of my favourite books, which has done well since published by Allison & Busby. If you’ve missed it then do check this review.

Reviewed by Geoffrey Harfield © Historical Novel Society 

This is an outstanding historical saga, on a par with Pilcher’s The Shell Seekers, in its family complexity. In 1948, young war widow Chrissie seeks her family’s past. The story flashes from the idyllic English Lake District to sordid San Francisco in the early 1900s, where we see Chrissie’s grandmother’s family. Then, without warning, Chrissie contemplates running a Windermere shop meeting a young chap who’ll help her fit it out.

Breathtaking Lake District landscape contrasts with the complexity of family history in ‘Frisco. With brilliant descriptions we see Chrissie’s grandmother, Georgia, forced to marry a rotter, a businessman with the power to destroy her entire family. But she has met her true love, an English sailor she bumped into, ending up with him in the mud and filth of Fisherman’s Wharf. Having lost her dastardly husband’s much longed-for son, Georgia becomes pregnant by her lover, who she secretly meets. But the 1906 earthquake and fire changes everything for her. With her mother, sister and maid they are destitute and homeless in the big city and reduced to camping out with thousands in Golden Gate Park.

Woven into the main story are many sub-plots devised to tempt the reader to reach further into the cupboard of family skeletons. If ever there were a filmic novel with great characters and loads of visual interest, this is it. The book reveals much about love and human nature as page after page of oversensitive female characters’ thoughts abound. Tensions build gradually, and the time slips back to 1948 and Chrissie and her beau. Throughout the book there is a tendency to narration overload as Chrissie discovers her grandmother’s tragic love story. This is a book of elaborate and extreme emotional introspection. If this is what you like, then this is for you.

SAN FRANCISCO 1904 Georgia Briscoe, in love with British sailor Ellis Cowper, is unwillingly betrothed to Drew Kemp. Her husband is mired in the San Francisco underworld, with a penchant for gambling and other women. Georgia plans to escape to be with the man she loves but Drew has other ideas. And then comes the earthquake… 

LONDON, 1948 Chrissie Kemp travels to the Lake District to meet her grandmother for the first time, only to discover a shocking family secret. As the truth unfurls, the passion, emotion and astounding love that blossomed in San Francisco is reveale.

You can click here to read details on this blog of the earthquake involved in this story.

Available from various bookshops and online as an ebook.

Amazon UK


Inspiration for Peace in My Heart

Having involved myself in a great deal of research about evacuees, I thought it would be good to show their love for Blackpool and the people who cared for them.

This idea came from a memory of my grandparents running a boarding house in the centre of Blackpool during the war, largely occupied by evacuees, Polish aircrew, soldiers taking a break, and many of their wives and children coming to visit their husbands. They apparently had a very busy and fascinating time. I learned from my father that he’d been trained as a shoe repairer when he was young before the war, working in Lytham St Annes. He remembered collecting and delivering shoes for George Formby, a lovely entertainer who lived nearby. He also used to do a lot of fishing, and knowing exactly where to do this, he would charge people to show them or provide them with some of the fish he’d caught.

Here they are sitting on the right hand side of the front row. My mother worked for his parents for a while, being his girl friend. Once the war broke out they quickly married. She moved back to live with her own mother in Accrington and worked in the textile industry throughout the war, largely producing parachutes.  My father was only twenty and had to report for infantry training at Squires Gate in Blackpool. That only lasted about six weeks although he would have preferred it to have been much longer. But the tragedy of the defeat of the Army in France and the evacuation of Dunkirk, speeded things up. He was then moved on to Manchester, Bury, Scotland and various other places throughout the war. Writing details of his service he said:

‘It was about this time that the Blitz on Manchester started, and the 6th Battalion was called in to give help to the Civil Defence and the Police. Along with other Army units this was a terrible time for the people of Manchester, as it was for other Cities in the country and we did our best to help. Our own barracks did not escape, and if not on duty we took shelter.’ 

After the war I recall as a toddler often visiting my grandparents and watching a performance of brightly lit puppets where a curtain was strung across part of the dining room. They told me that had often taken place during the war. We spent many happy days in Blackpool, my favourite visits being the Tower Ballroom, the Circus, Winter Gardens and riding a donkey on the beach. Always great fun for a young child. I remember my grandmother coming home from shopping one day to find a dusty mess of plaster and rubble on the staircase, my Grandfather having knocked open the entrance to the loft and planned to put in another bedroom. I used this incident and one or two others in the story, which was great fun. Eventually my grandparents sold the property and moved to Burnley, but my memories of this part of my family’s life, and my own memories post war, proved to be very much an inspiration as a setting for Peace in My Heart. The owners in charge of the boarding house in this story were, of course, not my grandparents but two sisters who cared for Joanne and Megan as evacuees. But would they stay with them or move back home?

The war is over and Evie Talbert eagerly awaits the return of her three children from their evacuated homes. But her carefree daughters and son are barely recognisable – their education has been disrupted, the siblings split up, and the effect on them has been life-changing. Her son has developed serious behavioural problems and with her daughters, there’s jealousy and a nervous disorder that cannot be explained… 

Evie’s husband also has problems. Having returned from being in action, he suffers nightmares and fits of rage. He’s no longer the gentle, quiet man Evie married. Peace may finally be here, but Evie’s family is in shreds. Now she must rebuild a loving home to achieve the happiness she’s always dreamed of… 

Available at WH Smith and various other book shops.

Amazon UK

Amazon US