Published by Muswell Press
Available in ebook and paperback (19 April 2018)
My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part in the tour for The Dissent of Annie Lang and to the publisher and Ros for providing the guest post. This does look like a book I would love to read if only I could have fitted it in. The usual #bookbloggerproblems! However, I do have a great guest post from the author on the creation of Annie Lang.
| About the Book |
‘My story starts and ends at railway stations, though of course I can’t know this yet as I clamber off the boat-train at Victoria that warm May afternoon…‘
Growing up in a strict religious family in the 1920s, Annie Lang is witness to disturbing events that no one will explain. Only the family dog may know the answers.
Six years on, student Annie returns from France to find her beloved brother in a mental hospital and her ally, the Sunday school teacher, vanished without trace. With the help of her childhood diary, and sister Beatrice, Annie turns detective to unearth the truth.
Her journey leads to a discovery so disturbing that she believes it will ruin all their lives, unless they can atone for the past.
Ros Franey beautifully captures that point when a child can sense, and indeed dissent against, secrets that adults think they are too young to grasp. Impulsive, brave and lovable, Annie Lang is formidable when she takes matters into her own hands.
Who is Annie?
by Ros Franey
The little girl who became Annie Lang moved into my head about ten years ago. Whenever I thought about the story I was going to write, she would pop up with a strong opinion. She doesn’t suffer fools and sees straight through some of the cant her elders are dishing out, with a strange mix of derision and the fear that they might just be right.
So she’s also very much a child, with a child’s point of view. Having been told that if you’re not ‘saved’ you’ll go to hell, she takes this literally and worries about it in the same way, perhaps, as my generation worried about nuclear war when we were small – things no child should have to bother about. That said, she’s definitely not me. I didn’t have a religious upbringing, and although I did kick against many things, my revolt was never more than a minor mutiny.
When I was writing the book, Annie asserted herself in another way, too: she was controlling, and frequently didn’t react in the way I expected. You might think that the characters in your novel are your own property, but not at all. If you try and compel them, it’s a wasted effort – you have to rewrite. This is no big revelation: I’m sure most writers know it perfectly well, but it still took me by surprise. It’s difficult to quote an instance without giving the plot away, but when the first part of Annie’s plan has succeeded, I expected her to feel triumphant. In fact she feels wretched: she’s not happy that success has depended on deceiving people who have trusted her. She’s right, of course and I had to give in to her.
Some people have asked me if Annie is my mother. It’s true that this opinionated child may have some of her spirit. There are shades of my mother’s family in the story and I drew on their background, particularly for the part played in real life by the Mission, although their brand of nonconformist Protestantism was less extreme than the evangelical beliefs central to the novel.
My mum’s mother died not when she was six, as in the story, but when she was two, so she had no recollection of her at all. There was a version of Miss Higgs in her childhood, but I know nothing of the detail, beyond the incident of the long combinations – which I suspect was an indication of worse to come. The unpleasantness over the cod liver oil was also drawn from life, though not its consequences.
My mother did win a year studying in France before going to University College Nottingham, as it then was. (She was taught by the discarded husband of Frieda Lawrence, after Frieda had run off with DH.) But in other respects the story is not hers: there was no family dog (sadly), no crisis-ridden Sunday school teacher, no psychiatric hospital, no Bagshaw revelations, no daring plan.
I don’t know whether my Mum was rebellious, but in adult life she certainly rejected her religious upbringing. She also must have been courageous: sometime before the outbreak of the Second World War, after a summer job as an au pair in Munich, she escorted her Jewish employer’s two children across Europe to safety in England. In her sixties, her politics shifted from the stout conservatism of her upbringing. She became a militant vegetarian and campaigned for Amnesty and animal rights.
The only other piece of evidence I have of her childhood is from my Auntie Joyce, a gentler and more forgiving soul, who did keep her faith. She confided to me that, as children, she had been terrified of my mum, her younger sister. But I didn’t set out to write the book this way round. It’s only, looking back now, I can see that although Annie is not my mother, perhaps she’s a kind of prequel to the woman I knew in later life. Or rather, if she really did bully my poor aunt, perhaps she’s the little girl I hoped my mum might have been. There’s no way of knowing.
And in the end, I don’t think it matters. I was more interested in Annie as a child of our times than of the 1920s. By setting the story then, against a background of repression and bigotry, I hoped to distil the idea of how the powerless can be exploited by those with the whip hand, a theme given new currency by the Me Too movement since I finished the book. So I’m writing about hypocrisy, of which there’s no short supply in our own age, and the dangers of religious fundamentalism, wherever it’s located. But also, crucially, about the hope and resilience of children.
| Author Bio |
Ros Franey grew up in the Midlands where this book is set. She is a maker of award-winning documentaries, including two films about the Guildford 4 which, along with the book she co-authored Timebomb, contributed to the quashing of their case. This is her second novel. She lives in Camden, North London.