The Other Family by Joanna Trollope set in London and Newcastle upon Tyne Richie is
the link between two families who live 300 miles apart, in London and in Newcastle
upon Tyne. Two families;
one wife, one partner and four children. Intriguing.
Richie, a successful musician, suddenly dies and leaves the two families with
different problems to sort out. The two families have never met but know of
each other. Richie never divorced his first wife, Margaret who lives in
Tynemouth with a son, Scott who is in his late 30s. In London, I’m not sure where,
Chrissie tries to pick up the pieces of her devastating loss with her three
daughters, Tamsin, Dilly and Amy. The reading of Richie’s will brings the
family together over a sentimental legacy. Changes have to be made but there is
an issue with acceptance of the situation they find themselves in.
But how does it bring them together?
Trollope successfully portrays the emotions and dynamics of family life and
The novel is
set in two different cities. I know Newcastle upon Tyne well and the buildings
mentioned, The Sage and The Baltic to name a few. I can picture these iconic
buildings and the view that is described of the Tyne Bridge from Scott’s city
centre flat. But I am wondering if there is a strong enough emphasis upon the
place that other readers would want to visit if they had not before. But
Newcastle upon Tyne does have a hold for one of the family members not only
because of its difference to London but also because of the music opportunities
she can take. And of course Newcastle upon Tyne has long associations with many iconic musicians: Sting, Dire Straits, Bryan Ferry, Lindisfarne, The Lighthouse Family, and Cheryl Cole....(to mention but a few).
This is an
interesting read and once again Joanna Trollope has written a winner with her
successful style. Some of the sentences take up half a page. It took me a while
to get used to this; but it reads like someone having the conversation in their
head. However, for me the cities could have been anywhere and I don’t know if I
would have wanted to visit them. But after all this book is about people,
relationships, their struggles and coming to terms with a new future.
Thanks to Ann Reddy for reviewing this for TripFiction If you would like to really get under the skin of the North East of England, then we have many novels that will do that for you. Just click here And London as you can imagine is really well represented on the website! Do come and connect with us on Twitter and Facebook, we always love to hear from you!
The Railwayman's Wife by Ashley Hay set in Thirroul, NSW A tender exploration of marriage and loss for a young woman and her child, living in New South Wales. From the early days of Mac and Ani's marriage, when life glows for the two of them, to the post war years when the couple has a young daughter Bella. Their marriage is the centrepiece of the narrative, beautifully captured as the couple relationship evolves and matures. Ani's family is originally from Scandinvavia and on the morning of her wedding to Mac, her Father writes in her daybook *"The same kinds of birds fly together" in Finnish (as per the title of this post). The novel is set against the background of World War II and its aftermath. Melancholic in feel, the reader accompanies Ani as she takes up the job of librarian at the Thirroul Railway Institute Library, the thunder of the D57 steam trains punctuating the storyline with their hissing, demanding presence. "The trailing detritus of the war" has left its mark on Frank Draper whose memories are clouded by the people he encountered during his years as medic to the wounded. And Roy McKinnon, too, poet and ponderer, who struggles to find his creativity because of his own experiences of the last few years. Their love of the written word is at the heart of the interchanges that Roy and Ani have, especially "Kangaroo" by D H Lawrence, which Ani holds dear. It is set in the very same area in which they live, and she enthuses "I loved the idea that such a story could come from such a pretty seaside town". Bella skips her way through the book, preventing the book from sinking into real melancholia, and the reader is left with hope for the future. Ashley Hay very kindly agreed to answer some of our questions, so we hand over to her. Enjoy!
TF: We had to look
Thirroul up on the map! What inspired you to set your novel in this New South
Wales location? AH: I grew up in Austinmer, the next village up the coast from Thirroul, and I’ve
always wanted to write about that landscape – it has an amazing escarpment that
reaches down almost to the ocean, and combination of the sky and the mountain and
the water always made it feel a special sort of place.
The novel is partly inspired by an actual moment
in my family’s history (my grandfather was killed in a railway accident and my
grandmother was given the job of Railway Institute librarian in compensation
for this) and that story did take place in Thirroul – albeit with very different
incidents and characters to those in The
Railwayman’s Wife. And because I wanted to include the idea of D. H.
Lawrence in the book (he wrote Kangaroo
during a short stay in Thirroul in the early 1920s), I wanted to keep the
fiction in its actual factual space.
TF: The novel has
real psychological insight into ‘loss’. How did it affect you writing about
loss and death and how did you keep you keep yourself buoyant?
AH: While I was writing scenes about Anikka Lachlan,
the railwayman’s wife, hearing about her husband’s death, or the sections about
the war experiences of the poet, Roy McKinnon, or the doctor, Frank Draper, it
didn’t feel different to the mechanics or processes of any other pieces of
writing – I was just trying to make the voices sound right, trying to make the
But I know that after I’d written out the scene when Mac, the railwayman, dies
(which you learn about very early in the book but don’t read about until almost
the end), I was incredibly anxious about my own husband’s safety and well-being
for a couple of weeks. It felt like a nasty kind of chutzpah to go around
killing off perfectly lovely husbands … and I made sure mine stayed well away
from anything locomotive for as long as I could.
TF: The rumble of
the railways is like a constant hum in the background. Do you have a particular
interest in trains, as there is quite some detail about engines and so forth.
AH: I’m glad that sound – that rumble – came through,
because sound was one of the ways I found this novel in the first place. I was
listening to a talk in the library where my grandmother had worked when a train
pulled into the platform outside and I realized how horrifically close and big
and huge it sounded. I realized she’d had to work that close to the sound of
the thing that had killed her husband, every single day for years. And I was
fascinated by that proximity.
As for the detail about trains, I have to make a
confession: I had a son while I was writing this novel, and he’s the kind of
lovely little boy who loves trains – reading about them, watching them, playing
with them, building his own tracks. So, really, a lot of my train-ish research
came from reading him Rev. W. Awdry’s original Thomas the Tank Engine books – which are a very good source for
these sorts of particulars. I could feel like a tops mother who was reading a
huge number of books to her small person while I was secretly researching halts
and footplates and boilers and guards at the same time …
TF: How did you
come to writing? And do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
AH: There weren’t a lot of writers around on the south
coast of New South Wales in the late 1980s – D. H. Lawrence was long gone – so
I wasn’t sure how to go about becoming one. I did a journalism degree thinking
that I might be able to get a job as a journalist and then work out if I was
any good at this intriguing other
sort of writing after that. It turned out to be a good theory and I made my way
from journalism’s starting point through essays and narrative non-fiction to
this seductive world of writing fiction and Making Things Up. But I still work
as a freelance journalist – you get to enjoy having words appear much more
rapidly than they can when you’re working as a novelist, which is nice.
As for tips for aspiring writers, read as much as
you can – that’s the best way to learn. And write as much as you can too –
regularly, and for its own sake, not just to try to publish. It’s an essential
criterion for being a writer that you actually write. Also if you find a good
editor, nail their feet to the floor and never let them out of your sight …
they can help you make your stories sing.
TF: What are you
currently working on? Will location be an important feature?
AH: I finished writing about Sydney (for The Body in the Clouds, my first novel)
and Thirroul (for The Railwayman’s Wife)
after we’d moved hundreds of miles north of both places … to Brisbane. When The Railwayman’s Wife was done, I said
to my husband (whose job had brought us to the capital of Queensland in the
first place) that I wanted to write a book about where I was for a change, and
did he think we could sit still in Brisbane long enough for me to finish one?
It’s set in Fairfield, the riverside piece of this city that we live in, and
location is – again – very important to the plot. I think place has been
important to pretty much everything I’ve written – in essays, in narrative
non-fiction, and certainly in my novels and short stories. It always rises up
like a character and makes a space for itself.
TF: When you travel,
what is your choice of leisure reading? AH: Anything from the teetering piles of unread books that sit like skyscrapers
around my house; I promise myself at the beginning of each year that I won’t
buy any new books until I’ve made a dint in the ones I haven’t read yet – and
my resolve fails ten minutes’ later in the January sales.
The best match between a journey and a story that I’ve managed recently was
reading Michelle de Kretser’s extraordinary Questions
of Travel while I was away from home myself, and in Jordan of all exotic
places. That gave an added punch to her wonderful meditations on our different
ways and reasons for moving through the world. Thank you to Ashley for her generous time in answering our questions. You can find out more about the author via her website And if you would like more books set in Australia, then just click here to choose your next novel. Tina and the TripFiction