Being a trainee journalist in 1968 in the Welsh Valleys has never been so vibrant and fascinating. Simmonds has created characters that draw the reader in, and the situations which he describes often feel more like facts than fiction. This is a great time in which to set the novel, as women begin to find their independence, the question of Welsh identity gets an airing, and an ambitious young man can find his feet in a strange environment. The story of James Nash is funny, sincere and lively as the personalities and preoccupations of a small town keep the narrative moving right to the climatic ending. The serious memories of a fairly recent war reverberate to great effect, and this is essentially a very human tale. I was extremely grateful to get a copy of this book to read and review.
The book opens with Jake arriving in the small town in which he has a training post as a general journalist. The reader is introduced to the newspaper offices as Jake meets his new boss, the chief reporter and the beautiful Lotte who soon helps him discover the nature of the work. The people are friendly and have distinct characters, including a permanently angry Vicar who has put off many of his congregation; it is only later that we discover why he sees life in such a way. I found Sion and the Captain fascinating characters, as they try to create interest in their Welsh Freedom Movement and in a scene almost reminiscent of Monty Python, try to come up with a name for their tiny group. While there are serious elements to this book, as Jake discovers that it is not always easy to distance himself from a story and some danger emerges, there are some marvellous set pieces. The rugby game which descends into warfare is a classic, but also keeps the plot moving as Jake’s love life hits difficulties. The incidents which make up Jake’s first experiences of work have the ring of genuine experience, which probably reflects the author’s own career. Jake discovers much in his first few weeks working for the newspaper, and there are several stories which continue throughout the book to great effect.
The plot of this novel is not straightforward; it could be seen as a collection of stories along the lines of James Herriot type memoirs. It succeeds as a cohesive whole as it is skilfully written, with no overlong digressions and a sense of purpose throughout. I found it funny, compelling and well judged as an entertaining and realistic read. There are some recognisably Welsh characters but they never become stereotypes in speech or mannerisms. There are miners, rugby players and a fearsome landlady, but these are real people, not just thrown in to fill the book. I was fascinated by Jake’s revealed thoughts, as he is nervous of his girlfriend coming, bewildered by the behaviour of some of his co workers, and discovers that getting the story is not always enough. This is a lovely book, good hearted and always interesting, and I recommend it as gentle and satisfying read.
Other things proceed as normal; I really enjoyed this book and found it a light read after some of the novels I have been tackling recently. At least I do get a variety of books to read – a historical novel with a twist, a romantic book which promises to be a deep read, and a powerful book of working in an important industry are to come very soon.