Two teenage girls from opposite sides of the tracks in 1960s Midlands England are forced into prostitution in this engrossing tale of loss, liberty, and love.
Weep at the relationship between clever Janet and spoiled Priscilla, as their handsome, young English teacher, Mr Edwards – and his corrupting father – become embroiled in their tortuous journeys.
But then a smart heroine Tara fatefully enters the fray on a secret detective mission.
Dramatic and topical events include a city-slum killing, police malfeasance, newspaper-business bribery, emotional blackmail, destitute homelessness, and a mountaineering adventure.
This saga combines a socio-political struggle by the under-privileged against repression, with both feminine and asexual insights into love, to produce a thought-provoking, yet stylishly old-fashioned, romantic rollercoaster.
Mike Leaver, 70, lives off-grid in a converted, static truck on a business park in Snowdonia. As well as writing his autobiography and first three modern-fiction novels – largely on a laptop by candlelight in his lorry – he has finished penning the second part of his intriguing life story. Like Alan Bennett’s the Lady in the Van, Mike has become a well-known eccentric around his adopted home of Gwynedd.
Sheila Chalmers (Guest Review) - 26 Jun, 2023
Reviewed by former teacher and WI officer Sheila Chalmers – April 2023 *
As I reached the final paragraph of chapter one, I knew I could sit back and enjoy the unfolding of an exciting journey - both physical,social, and emotional - of Janet and Priscilla, as they overcome their early problems and find their place in the world.
Author Mike once again shows his ability to create a scenario, peopled with eccentric characters, and fluently tell their story. We meet a diverse cast, all realistically portrayed, with lots of physical description: heroine Tara surely belongs in a pre-Raphaelite painting with her long, flowing, red-gold hair.
The main characters are influenced by each other, and grow and develop as the story unfolds. Mike's principal females are particularly three-dimensional, but teacher Richard and his monstrous father Reginald are also interestingly drawn.
We deviate occasionally from the main pathway and are introduced to minor passing characters. I particularly enjoyed the encounter with Albert and Alice in the cemetery in Menai Bridge: a delightful glimpse into the world of grief. Graham (the Aviator) and Thomas (the Tank) also appear only briefly, but play their part in moving the plot forward.
Through Janet, with her love of all things natural, we are introduced to the private lives and 'thoughts' of animals: the Jackdaw's views on human mothers and their babies is delightful.
The physical settings lend much to Mike's own experience, particularly in the stunning area of North Wales, where much of the novel's second half takes place. Particularly realistic is the account of Richard's foolhardy attempt to climb Yr Wyddfa.
In contrast, the graphic portrayal of the inner-city Midlands slum where Janet's story begins, leaves us with no illusions at all about the difficulties the 12-year-old managed to overcome.
Although covering similar themes to his two earlier and equally enjoyable novels, 'Newspaper Curtains' is more gentle and moves at a slower pace as the story unfolds.
Like those first two, it still confronts strong themes. Childhood poverty and neglect, sleeping rough, sexual coercion, harsh employment practices, and even murder, all feature. Some of the language used may offend some readers' taste, but it is always appropriate to the situation.
This third novel has much to entertain the reader, but it is also thought-provoking, exploring the theme of successful lives emerging from a seemingly deprived or problematic background.
Though an optimistic story overall, it raises many queries. But, as Mike himself points out “books which cause the reader to ask questions, are often considered to be the most interesting.”
* I am the first to review all 4 of Mike Leaver's books so far. I have been an avid reader since childhood and progressed to a degree in English and Education. A career in Early Years teaching followed, nurturing children's literary skills and love of storytelling. I later moved to North Wales to pursue other interests, and was a Women's Institute officer for many years.