The Low Road
In 1828, two young women were torn apart as they were sentenced to transportation to Botany Bay. Will they ever meet again?
Norfolk, 1813. In the quiet Waveney Valley, the body of a woman – Mary Tyrell – is staked through the heart after her death by suicide. She had been under arrest for the suspected murder of her newborn child. Mary leaves behind a young daughter, Hannah, who is later sent away to the Refuge for the Destitute in London, where she will be trained for a life of domestic service.
It is at the Refuge that Hannah meets Annie Simpkins, a fellow resident, and together they forge a friendship that deepens into passionate love. But the strength of this bond is put to the test when the girls are caught stealing from the Refuge’s laundry, and they are sentenced to transportation to Botany Bay, setting them on separate paths that may never cross again.
Drawing on real events, The Low Road is a gripping, atmospheric tale that brings to life the forgotten voices of the past – convicts, servants, the rural poor – as well as a moving evocation of love that blossomed in the face of prejudice and ill fortune.
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Enjoy an Excerpt:
I held Mrs White’s hand as we walked up Candler’s Lane together, towards the school on Jay’s Green. We came out near the workhouse, and the pond. I looked upwards instead, into the two willow trees that were in new bright leaf. They whispered “baby, baby” to me alone. We reached the door of the school. Mrs White asked me if I was ready, then we stepped in together. For a moment the room was quiet and all the children looked at me with knowledge in their shining morning faces, though they said not a word. Then my new teacher welcomed me in and found me a place to sit.
My new life lasted for some four years. I learned my letters and my numbers and I learned plain cooking and other home skills. Mrs White taught me fine sewing, and how to mend with a stitch that hardly showed.
I learned other lessons as well: that I was cast out from the town where I was born, and I was made to feel that most at school. The Archdeacon Olderhall came, two or three times a week, to inspect us. The first time he came the teacher sprang up as if he had been stung, and shouted at us to stand up straight, next to our desks. Then the archdeacon walked to the front of the class and his gaze swept over us but it stopped on me, as if it had snagged there. He stared at me, as if he could see right through me, to my base-born heart and the stones that weighted it. Did he know, could he know, that it was my fault that my sister had died? I turned my eyes down and trembled each time that he came.
The older children knew full well what had happened to Mama. Some said nothing, but Jem Summers’ sons, who had lost the Easter race to me, were truly unkind. They told the others not to speak to me, and when I turned my back they would whisper together and laugh if I came near. I took no notice of them, and it must have irked them, for one day in the schoolyard, as I stood at the door looking out at them all, the two brothers spoke up in unison, and sang out my name, and then the whole class said my mother’s name out loud and then shouted, “She is dead.” I turned away so they could not see the tears that sprung out of me, and the teacher came running out. He saw my face and took me in the schoolroom but I would not tell him what had happened. He beat the boys all the same after school, so hard that that they never did it again. Instead, the whole class left me completely alone between nine of the clock and one p.m., when at last I could take my items and walk back to the big house, where Mrs White waited for me, as often as she could if the doctor did not need her.
I never accustomed myself to the pond and the trees that whispered to me. Sometimes I saw Matthew Wypond there, outside the workhouse. He would look up and stare, then walk away, quite fast, as if I reminded him of something or someone he would rather forget.
There were nights when no dreams came, but often I would wake in tears to find Mrs White by my side, setting a candle down on the chair by my bed and sitting with me till I calmed. She held my hand and I saw how her hair was loose and long as she bent over me in her nightgown and shawl. However kind she was she could not drive forth what I had seen or turn time back so that what had been done to Mama could be undone.
The Low Road
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Katharine Quarmby has written non-fiction, short stories and books for children and her debut novel, The Low Road, is published by Unbound in 2023. Her non-fiction works include Scapegoat: Why We Are Failing Disabled People (Portobello Books, 2011) and No Place to Call Home: Inside the Real Lives of Gypsies and Travellers (Oneworld, 2013). She has also written picture books and shorter e-books.
She is an investigative journalist and editor, with particular interests in disability, the environment, race and ethnicity, and the care system. Her reporting has appeared in outlets including the Guardian, The Economist, The Atlantic, The Times of London, the Telegraph, New Statesman and The Spectator. Katharine lives in London.
Katharine also works as an editor for investigative journalism outlets, including Investigative Reporting Denmark and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
LinkedIn: Katharine Quarmby – Writer, Journalist, Editor – Self-employed | LinkedIn
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/stores/Katharine-Quarmby/author/B004GH8LS6