Back in the Midst of Time, I journeyed back to my home town for Scarborough Lit Fest. This was a lovely day, including my old favs Sarah Waters and Kate Atkinson, but I also saw an hilarious talk by Sarah Harrison, a writer I’d never even heard of, but was very keen to discover as she seemed Right Up My Street.
Sarah Harrison started writing for Women and Home magazine in her twenties and was commissioned to write her biggest seller, Flowers of the Field, in 1980. It’s sequel, A Flower That’s Free was published four years later. Both epitomise what is best about 80s historical bonk-busters; they’re both about 800 pages long, both dealing with Strong Women Going Through Times of Adversity, and both have plenty of naughty bits to keep train journeys interesting. I found both of them in Poverty Aid for 10p each (again, eBooks cannot compete with second hand dead trees for what you can find in Pov Aid, whose mission to fill my house with 80s romance novels with ridiculous covers purely because they are so incredibly cheap seems never to want to end) and A Flower That’s Free was heavily embossed as well, in gold, just to make that 80s experience the better.
I loved them. Completely loved them. Pure escapism with a bit of danger thrown in. Flowers of the Field introduces the Tennent family and their hangers on, with the main crux of the story following the two sisters, Thea and Dulcie, and their various loves and friends, from the early 1900s to just after the First World War. A Flower That’s Free continues where Field left off, with the story of Thea’s adopted daughter Kate.
They are both very very silly, and conform to that classic historical-epic thing of at least one semi major character appearing at every major historical event that occurs in the time line of the novel. So we see the the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and famous Christmas Football game in the trenches. This device is even more outrageously used in A Flower That’s Free, with everything from the Berlin Olympics to the Battle of Britain witnessed by someone related to the plot.
Of the two books, Flowers of the Field is better written, but A Flower That’s Free is more enjoyable, just for it’s silliness, and the character of Kate, the spoilt, troubled daughter of the house. The first book focuses heavily on Thea, a far-too-likable heroine. Like Scarlett, Amber and all the rest, we all need someone we can hate a little bit. Kate is awful, and makes a succession of bad choices the reader can gloat over. Flowers of the Field is also the more romantic book, with the character’s begetting of a truer, higher love being the main plot aim, whereas A Flower That’s Free is down right rude, shockingly so in places. Flowers of the Field you’d lend to your Gran, A Flower That’s Free you’d nick off your Gran’s shelves as a kid and read it by torch light under the blankets.
If you are a romance fan, seek these out. Both great fun, and a nice little distraction from how horrible everything is at the moment. I’ve already lent them to my fellow slush-lover, and she also thinks they’re a hit. So thank you Scarborough Lit Fest, for bringing them into my life!