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Book review: The Would-be Wife by Annie Wilkinson

The Would-be Wife by Annie Wilkinson
The Would-be Wife by Annie Wilkinson

As she grew up in a small terraced house in the hub of Hull’s fishing industry, Lynn Carr longed to escape the stench of fish, the din of clogs on cobbles and the aroma of smoke-oven chimneys.

And when she married handsome, ambitious Graham Bradbury and moved to a house in the smart end of town, she thought her dreams had come true… until a cruel betrayal turns her comfortable life upside down.

Annie Wilkinson, the daughter of a Durham miner, pays homage to her adopted home town of Hull in a moving and compelling saga charting the rigours and perils of the fishing industry, and recalling the battle of the brave wives who famously launched a campaign to improve working conditions at sea.

Almost exactly fifty years ago, Hull’s ‘headscarf revolutionaries’ took on the might of the Establishment and fought to improve safety in an industry that was killing their men. The women’s protest became one of Britain’s most successful civil action campaigns of the 20th century.

In a powerful story of family, friendship and adversity, Wilkinson – popular author of novels like The Land Girls and Angel of the North – brings us up close to the realities of life and love in a tough, hard-working fishing community.

Lynn Carr grew up within the sights, sounds and smells of the fishing port of Hull, with its skyline of ships’ masts, its ‘ant colony’ of busy quayside workers known as ‘bobbers’ and baskets laden with fish.

She is the daughter and sister of fishermen but this is the Sixties and she has always yearned to be free from the hardship and worry of life by the docks. So when pharmaceutical worker Graham Bradbury asked her to marry him, she ignored the warnings of family and friends that he was a serial womaniser and accepted.

Four years later in 1967, Lynn is a qualified nurse, has a charming home far from the docks and a beautiful four-year-old son Simon.

Graham told her when they married that she was ‘The One’ for him but now she has discovered that he is having an affair. Lynn is forced to return to her parents’ home with her young son but is determined to fight for her independence.

But does Lynn’s mother really want her back, and will Graham let her walk away so easily? A terrible tragedy will change everybody’s lives… will Lynn ever truly escape from her past?

Packed with rich authentic detail, hardship and unexpected plot twists, The Would-be Wife is both a gripping fictional drama and a poignant tribute to the real-life fishermen and their families who were caught up in a tragedy that triggered some of the biggest changes ever seen in the British fishing industry.

Wilkinson writes with warmth, insight and a genuine affection for Hull, its people and its history in a story that will resonate with readers far beyond this proud northern city.

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £6.99)