My lovely Mum is back today and she’s been reading Sue Wilsher’s debut novel, When My Ship Comes In.
Essex, 1959. Flo earns her money as a scrubber, cleaning the cruise ships and dreaming of a day when she might sail away from her life in the Dwellings, the squalid tenements of Tilbury docks. Then the Blundell family are evicted from their home.
Fred, Flo’s husband, finds work at Monday’s, a utopian factory town. Suddenly, it seems like everything is on the up for Flo Blundell and her children. Even Jeanie, Flo’s sulking teenage daughter, seems to be thawing a little in her shiny new surroundings.
But when Flo’s abusive husband Fred starts drinking again, he jeopardises the family’s chance to escape poverty for good.
Flo is faced with a terrible decision. Must she fight to keep her family together? Or could she strive for the life of her dreams – the kind of life she could have when her ship comes in?
GRIPPING! From the first page!
Sue Wilsher has an amazing ability with words – hauling the reader into this book, warts and all! No feeling is spared just true and real descriptions that have you on the edge of your seat – not because this is a story with an amazing adventure thread or a deceptive dark secret – but because this story is REAL! You live the minute, every minute!
Flo Blundell has awful and desperate decisions to make from the outset of the story, based around Tilbury docks and set in 1959, when folk were still feeling the scars of war but light was beginning to dawn on a better future for some.Flo is very loyal to her family, eight year old Mikey, fifteen year old twins Jeanie and Bab’s and her dear elderly ailing mother who lives in the tenement next door.
Although her husband is a drunkard and treats her aggressively – when he is at home, Flo remains the loyal wife, for she relates to her husband’s dark secrets of the past, and excuses him because, “He can’t help it.” Flo has a secret plan of her own; the Oxo tin in the larder helping to hide her dreams of a better life across the sea, but that is dashed when the contents are needed to deal with a very imminent and demanding problem, which can’t wait.
Cleverly the book switches from the third person to the first person – at first I found this a bit odd and had to do a double take to decide who was relaying events – but then I realised this was a very good tactic, because the person describing events was actually the character who chose to say very little – this was a wonderful way of getting inside someone’s thoughts and actually helping the reader to understand their way of thinking.
One dilemma leads to another and poor Flo has to deal with many dramas and heartbreaks all because of Fred’s inability to control his temper! Amazingly life seems to turn a corner at this point, but cleverly Sue still has the reader with heart in mouth expecting the worst and then just when you start to relax – Wham! Everything turns upside down again!
Sue’s descriptions are so real that you can smell the smog, taste the grime and feel every punch and kick launched at Flo. Thankfully there are some saviours in this traumatic world and Flo finds friendship and support in the least expected quarters. She never gives up on herself or her family and latterly makes a very brave decision.
Jeanie is the quiet moody twin who seems angry with the world, no matter what – she has her own plans and ambitions and although she has an affinity with her twin, when the time comes to face one of the cruellest decisions, she does so alone. Sue Wilshire has obviously researched her facts and because of my age I could relate to many things that happened, hearing similar stories when growing up and remember well the tin bath in front of the fire!
This isn’t a ‘Happy ever after story’ but it is a heart wrenching and heart-warming story of life in the late fifties and early sixties, for the working classes. A lovely read and I look forward to other volumes from Sue.
When My Ship Comes In is released in paperback and ebook formats on 6th April by Sphere.
Find out more about Sue Wilsher and her writing at: https://historicalwriters.org/writer/sue-wilsher/
I’d like to thank the publisher for sending us a review copy of this book.