Sherrie Hewson, formerly an actress on Coronation Street and now a regular at ITV's day time topical discussion programme Loose Women, graduated with honours last year as the winner of the BBC's crime writing celebrity reality show Murder Most Famous. She passed the excruciating Minette Walters quality control test to win with her prose for The Tannery and it has now reached print as a 114 page Quick Read from Pan Books. Faced with a 20k word count limit, how does it fare?
Let's first remember the TV series in which Sherrie surprised herself with the darkness she encountered in what she produced, when writing fiction for the first time. I remember the final episode where she read her prose and it was dark. Very dark. On reading The Tannery, I feel it has been tempered down to a degree, but that darkness is still there.
This novella deals with the impact of the second World War on an ordinary family, in particular the only child daughter, Dolly, as seen through her eyes. Unlike other war-based stories I have read, this one focuses not on humanity and courage prevailing, but the dirty and the desperate, and the damage it scatters, with no sense of hope. Initially. Dolly is forced to grow up in advance of her years and become a parent to her parent. When an adolescent, she sees scenes of sexuality involving her mother that today would have social services running a mile to protect her. But not then. Then, she had to suffer bullying from her peers and deal with the growing-up element all by herself. She is exposed to alcoholism in both parents, its terrible consequences and a final dénouement that stretches her to her limits.
The first chapters are deeply suggestive of bad things to come, and they do come. On reading, it is possible to think that things can't come any worse than this for Dolly and yet they do. Again and again. The ending is a mix of the very tragic with some hope.
This is an unusual Quick Read because it is so dark, albeit tempered by the final ending. But it is very definitely worth a read. Its chronological setting defies the pace of a thriller, but if you read on, the tension builds to a bursting point and the dénouement delivers. Miss it at your disadvantage. I'd like to see what this new author can deliver further.