Barefoot on the Cobbles

(6 customer reviews)



Barefoot on The Cobbles – A Devon Tragedy
By Janet Few

For more information about the book, see Janet’s website

In the euphoria of the armistice a young woman lay dying. Daisy had grown up, barefoot on the cobbles, in a village on the rugged North Devon coast; she was mindful of the perils of the uncertain sea. Her family were also exposed to the dangers of disease and the First World War but for Daisy, it was her own mother who posed the greatest threat of all. What burdens did that mother, an ordinary fisherman’s wife, carry? What past traumas had led, inexorably, to this appalling outcome?

Vividly recreating life at the dawning of the twentieth century, this story is based on a real tragedy that lay hidden for nearly a hundred years. Rooted in its unique and beautiful geographical setting, here is the unfolding of a past that reverberates unhappily through the decades and of raw emotions that are surprisingly modern in character.

6 reviews for Barefoot on the Cobbles

  1. shields_h_f (verified owner)

    I could not put this down. My head was spinning a bit with all the characters but a helpful list is found at the front of the book to keep you on track. Growing up in the middle of Devon and in Bideford descriptions of the settings brought back memories. The Devonian language was wonderful, just enough of it – my grandfather often called me ‘maid’ and referred to us children and our parents as ‘chill’. It manages to cover so many issues of the time -suffragettes, shell shock, the hardships of daily life as a servant or fisherman, the losses and mental distress experienced through a range of illnesses of the time, I could go on! The story is compelling, each chapter almost a story in itself, and I was definitely holding my breath for the verdict. I will be giving more than one as a Christmas present!
    PS also appreciated the good font size.

  2. Oliver Tooley

    Thank you, on behalf of Janet, who will appreciate your comments.
    Your observations closely agree with my own as I first read the manuscript, especially the baited breath up to the verdict, and you can imagine how much I have looked forward to today, and even more so to reading a review like this so soon after release.

    Especially happy to read your comments on the font. It’s not worth saving money by using a font that’s too small for many readers to see.
    In case anyone is interested in the geeky details, it is Garamond 12 point, our go to font for adults books.

  3. Sue Nickels (verified owner)

    Storytelling at its best! While this beautifully written book does indeed tell a story, it is one that is based on truth, with the characters we come to know and empathise with as we immerse ourselves in the narrative having actually lived out the tale being told in the settings described.
    As an honorary Devonian and a mother myself, this story of Devon lass Polly raising her large brood in the cobbled fishing village of Clovelly on the rugged North Devon coast really captured my imagination and I found it hard to put the book down. I felt such compassion for Polly as her life, which started with carefree youth and happy fulfilment as a young mother, plummeted through a series of tragedies which she found almost too unbearable to cope with, yet cope she had to, for the sake of her beloved family.
    The author writes with such eloquence as always, vividly evoking the lives of poor working folk in the early twentieth century, with revealing insights into aspects of the times such as the importance of ‘chapel’ to the community , the desire by some to break free of the restraints of their lower social class and move up the ladder to identify with the gentry, the rise of the suffragette movement, the effects the traumas of ‘the front’ had on those who returned from war, as well as the desperation of those left behind to constantly worry about their sons, fathers, husbands and potential husbands who had not yet returned, the horrors of the flu epidemic, and the fearfulness of the village women for their menfolk who daily faced the unknown perils of the sea in order to make a living and provide for their families.
    All this happened just a century ago and many of us would have had grandparents or great-grandparents living through those turbulent times and to me this makes reading Janet’s detailed and sympathetic account of her characters’ lives all the more relevant and enthralling.

  4. Margaret Flaiban (verified owner)

    Barefoot on the Cobbles is a beautifully written book. I thoroughly enjoyed every page. Highly recommended. From a ‘Yorkshire lass’s perspective I was transfixed by the descriptions of Devon and other places. Thank you to Janet and Blue Poppy.

  5. Helen Kent

    The book opens in 1919 with Polly and her husband Albert in the dock, accused of the manslaughter of their eldest daughter, Daisy. Polly has been told that the hangman’s noose is reserved for those found guilty of murder, rather than manslaughter, but in her mind that threat remains ever-present. It isn’t until the last pages of this carefully plotted novel that the reader finds out whether prison, an asylum or freedom await this bewildered, loving, couple.
    In between the author, Janet Few, recreates the preceding nineteen years: taking us into the close-knit fishing communities of Clovelly, Bucks Mills and Peppercombe; the thriving North Devon port of Bideford and the fashionable South Devon resort of Torquay.
    This is a true story, where all the named characters existed, and it takes a skilful combination of imagination and research to bring it to life and give it depth. I read it very quickly when it was first published and am belatedly writing this review to encourage others to do the same. I realise that I raced to the end to discover exactly how Daisy died and whether her parents would be found responsible. Now I know the answers to those questions I have resolved to read again more slowly in order to enjoy the richness of the world Janet so beautifully and cleverly created.

  6. Patricia Harrison

    I have been meaning to read this for a long Time and I’m so glad that I eventually have. It is so well written, holding the reader’s attention all the way through, bringing all the characters to life with wonderful descriptions of their emotions and state of mind. It was especially evocative for me being a “Devon girl” and being able to picture all the places described. I am going to read Sins as Red as Scarlet straight away. Thank you Janet Few.

  7. Sandy Fish

    Imagine sitting next to Janet Few in school as she spreads out her amazing technicolour pencil set across the desk. You may well feel a little inadequate as you set about bringing your own world to life with a 2HB and an old blue crayon plucked from the art room floor.
    Except that Janet Few is the type of person who would readily lend you her pencils, her knowledge and even offer a blanket of warm encouragement to help you explore characters in the full spectrum of colour that a life deserves.
    For there is no doubt that Janet can indeed make the past come to life. Even though grey, brown and charcoal dirt might best illustrate their harsh humble homes, the children of Clovelly who lived over 100 years ago, danced full of life and colour Barefoot on the Cobbles as they dreamed of finding their place in the world.
    With her sensitive hand and enquiring mind, she beautifully illustrates this true historical novel about real families. The arduous existence of a connected community fragmented by a tragedy and healed only by time as the daily tides dragged dark memories into the shadowy forgotten corners of the cottages that still stand today.
    We might perhaps be tempted to casually cast judgement on those involved in this tragedy. Offer an opinion from our ample armchairs where we sit protected by a health and welfare service awash with amazing drugs and vaccines to banish all ills.
    But, back then, women suffered, men struggled and children were lucky to stay alive even with the best of intentions.

    This beautiful Barefoot wander through the generations shows the delicate connections and relationships that continually shape the future and push us forward whether we’re ready to move or not. But, it’s no easy ride, there are some tough scenes, characters that we care about, young people like Daisy whose eyes once sparkled with hope, ambition and wonder.
    And I particularly sympathise with the curious Mr Collins, crippled and confused by his own standing in a closed community. Interfering and impassioned, he pushes across the class divide. His determination condensed into the clumsy cry of; ‘I’ve come to feed Daisy some egg and milk.’
    I really enjoyed this book; I enjoy Janet’s writing she is like a 150-year-old lady who has witnessed these events first hand. Who once walked those cobbles with note pad in hand and has come back to report her findings in this sumptuous slice of social history.
    Perhaps, these humble, hardworking folk who just did the best that they could might be surprised that anyone should be interested in their story that, in the big scheme of things, they mattered and that they have been remembered.
    And Clovelly is still the same, cobbled, cramped and creative, dominated by the sea, the community and that painfully picturesque hill.
    There are many characters from this book that are laid to rest in the Clovelly Churchyard and just as soon as lockdown is over, I will be down there to pay my respects to the people whose lives have been beautifully coloured in by the pencils of a tremendous history interpreter.

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