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Prentice Boy: Past and Present by Ray Rumsby

‘I was genuinely sorry to finish this book. It had me completely engaged… and I loved the clever twist in the middle of it.’ Louis de Bernières, author of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.

It struck me as I began The Prentice Boy, that it had been a fascinating era: the French Revolution; the wars with Bonaparte which ended with Waterloo; the countryside abandoned by people seeking factory-work in overcrowded cities; the beginnings of women’s organised campaigns for rights; the abolition of slavery in Britain (though not in the colonies); food shortages, poverty, punishing laws, and workhouses for the destitute. Meanwhile, the rich and powerful seemed not to notice.

Insecure, troubled times that feel uncomfortably familiar.

I discovered the aquatints of a popular artist from that period: William Daniell (1769-1837). Daniell’s bold venture with writer Richard Ayton to show Britain’s coastal life and landscapes took a decade to complete. This became my inspiration: the preparation in London for the partners’ disaster-prone tour of the coast and its aftermath. Injured Richard Ayton and middle-aged William Daniell and Jesse Cloud, the fictional teenage street-kid who becomes his apprentice.

William, dedicated to his art, is insecure and hopeless with money. He is acutely perceptive of colour, light and composition, while also mis-reading social situations. His own gullibility contrasts with Jesse’s sharp-wittedness. The book’s humour often comes from their interactions.

But Jesse is hiding secrets; William’s own family story proves false. If what was presumed true, isn’t, the question then becomes how to cope with the fall-out—in a world that provides little softness or mercy.

Out now. Buy the paperback and ebook from the Claret Press with free package and postage in the UK.


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