The Eildon Tree, an arts magazine of the Scottish Borders, has published a review of my novel, ‘Tom Fleck’. I’m thrilled and quite overcome.
Here it is:
A NOVEL OF CLEVELAND
also an eBook.
With The Flodden 500 Project coming to fruition next year, there
will be a resurgence of interest in one of the bloodiest battles ever
fought on English soil and this is likely to produce an outpouring of
academic opinion on the whys and wherefores of the conflict. There is
nothing wrong with that, but Harry Nicholson has anticipated the flood
of paper and got in ahead of the field—yes, it is a work of fiction, but
it has been thoroughly researched in terms of historical background and
it is set in a part of the country that the author knows intimately. These
aspects are apparent throughout the story and the book has real historical
and geographical credibility ahead of and beyond, 2013.
However, the story is not just about Flodden, although the battle
is an important part. Its setting is wider than this—north Yorkshire,
Durham and Northumberland, and the Scottish Borders and its subject
matter is also broad, covering agricultural life, class conflict, racial
tension, love, passion with quite a bit of lust, plenty of adventure
throughout and, of course, the battle scenes.
Tom Fleck is a poor, unread, farm hand, but with exceptional skills
as an archer, whose forebears were once yeomen and unfairly deprived
of ‘their own hide of land’ by the lord of the manor. Tom yearns to better
himself but, to do so, has to leave his home and family. He is inspired
by his dead father’s words, ‘Sharp as quivering hares are the Flecks. We’ve
eyes and ears for things other folk miss’.
Two objects that he has unearthed could be the key to his future, an
ancient gold torque and a Tudor seal ring that bring him into contact
with Rachel Coronel who longs to end her Jewish wanderings as an
outcast. Before getting very far, Tom makes an enemy of the lord’s son,
which bodes ill, but he is fortunate in being taken into the service of the
Norroy King of Arms whose task is to record men wearing coats of arms
in the north.
However, Tom is in the wrong place at the wrong time when men are
needed to fight against a Scottish army that is mustering in Edinburgh
and expected to move south. The reader’s attention is grabbed
and held by the very first words of the book:
Wings clattered through branches. Tom Fleck stayed his axe in mid-swing as
two wood pigeons flung themselves into the mist. He looked down at the dog as
her throat rumbled. She raised a paw,shot him a glance, then – ears cocked
– faced along the track. Metal clinked somewhere.
He whispered, ‘Whisht now. Come away.’
Harry Nicholson is good at this. Atmosphere abounds and pace and
good story telling are maintained throughout a book that is difficult
to put down; description is plentiful and often poetic, but is always
relevant to the story and never ‘contrived’. Readers will delight
in the descriptions of the land, the plants, the birds and the animals
and will enjoy the contribution of Tom’s dog, ‘Meg’. There are also
the dark sides of human nature and experience, poverty, drunkenness,
cruelty, conflict and death. It is for the reader to find out what
happens—the reviewer can certainly recommend it as a very good read
and hope that this first novel is followed by many more.