Monday, 26 May 2014

Surrey Life Review

I was delighted to have my books chosen for review in the March issue of  the beautiful, glossy Surrey Life magazine. I thought you might like to see it.

Book Corner

Each month, Juliette Foster looks at one of the best new book releases to come out of Surrey, plus we bring you literary dates for your diary and more...


The Review

Gypsies Stop there & No Gypsies Served by Miriam Wakerly

In 2010, Channel 4 broadcast the 60-minute documentary My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, which became a huge hit with British and American viewers. Audiences got hooked on the over-the-top frocks with enough fabric to wrap around a skyscraper and the sight of eager, young brides being chauffeured to church in Cinderella-style coaches.  Four years on, it seems that anything with 'My Big, Fat, Gypsy...' in the title stands a more than reasonable chance of making it to the small screen, yet in 2007 Surrey author Miriam Wakerly couldn't even find a publisher for her novels Gypsies Stop tHere and No Gypsies Served, thanks to a perceived lack of interest in travellers. She eventually published the books herself and the result is an honest, even-handed attempt to explore the barriers dividing gypsies/travellers from settled communities.
Accurate portrait
Forget the romantic image of gypsies living in painted wagons idling away the evenings around camp fires and instead think Dale Farm meets middle England. In other words, the very real conflict between gypsies/travellers looking for a site to live on, the villagers who don't want them there, and the local councils who are legally obliged to provide permanent sites to accommodate them.

It's a huge theme and one that's skilfully explored through the central character Kay, who in Gypsies Stop tHere moves to the fictitious village of Appley Green after the death of her husband. Appley Green, a mixture of the very real Surrey villages of Pirbright, Elstead, Tilford and Frimley Green, is a friendly, genteel community that is up in arms against a group of travellers occupying council land. The locals accuse them of anti-social behaviour and want them evicted while an activist campaigner demands restraint and compassion. Caught between two emotionally charged factions, Kay tries to be objective although she finds herself drawn to the gypsies after befriending Lena, a vulnerable young traveller woman.
The underlying theme running through this story is that both sides must ultimately learn to live together, yet Wakerly doesn't suffocate the reader with the message or resort to cheap character stereotyping to reinforce it. It would have been easy to present the gypsies as the helpless victims of bigoted nimbyists, yet they come across as proud, spirited people with a love of family that even the residents of Appley Green can identify with. Kay is both gutsy and pragmatic while her friendship with Dunstan, the generous-hearted gardener and all-round good guy, has a teasing 'will they, won't they?' quality about it. Dunstan is a strong, impressive character in his own right and it's fitting that Wakerly uses his heart-piercing struggle for acceptance and reconciliation as the basis for No Gypsies Served.
Matter of Balance

The re-emergence of these novels is timely given the current media obsession with gypsies and the struggle to balance their needs against the rights of local communities. The jury's still out on whether the issue will ever be resolved to anyone's satisfaction but the fictitious goings on at Appley Green have an all too authentic ring about them in areas such as Chobham. Gypsies Stop tHere and No Gypsies Served don't have to be read in any particular order as they stand as a sequel or prequel to each other. They've been ably woven together to tell a story that engages while raising important issues: can society ever do enough to atone for the historical wrongs perpetrated against gypsies? How will future generations judge our treatment of this unique community? Perhaps a Big, Fat, Gypsy TV extravaganza is the key to answering those questions.
A topical note from me:  With words such as 'racism' and 'xenophobia' running wild in tandem with the current upsurge of UKIP, perhaps this is a good time to remind ourselves of their meaning. Dictionary definitions are one thing, but constantly people fall into the trap of being 'racist' by labelling a group as homogeneous, usually with derogatory implications, rather than as a collection of different individuals.

How can this give any person respect and the opportunity to fulfil their potential if they are prejudged?

Gypsies Stop there and No Gypsies Served are both available as paperbacks and on Kindle  Amazon
Take a look at some of the reviews there, if you have time.

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