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Cheshire Cheese and Camembert: a novel

1916. Europe is mired in a gruelling war of attrition, Russian society is in turmoil and Britain is losing its grip on the island of Ireland.

Meanwhile Charlie Knott, cricket lover and radical sympathiser, left his home town of Hyde for the docks at the eastern end of the Manchester Ship Canal some time ago. He is a settled family man with a steady job in his middle years.

As the effects of war begin to bite and the prospect of conscription becomes a reality for many, the chance of a happier life is once again precarious for the workers of England. And as this year of all years crackles open, Knott’s own peace is threatened by a series of events – at home and abroad – which undermine his present and his past.

Like a piecer in a cotton mill, tying together loose strands from Blessèd are the Meek and Twenty-six Nil, Knott is the narrator of Cheshire Cheese and Camembert, charting these stormy waters, a man trying to do his best by his family, his friends and himself.

In 2018, when I finished writing Blessèd are the Meek, my novel of the Hyde Chartists, I had no plans at all to produce a sequel to that story. The idea of a Hydonian trilogy was even more inconceivable. I spent much of the Covid period writing Inappropriate Behaviour, a modern story set largely in rural France before the seed of Twenty-six Nil was planted in late 2020 and I suddenly found that 19th century Hyde was once again dominating my thoughts.

And finally, to 2022 and the third book. So much did I enjoy writing about my home town’s past that I wanted to tie up a few loose ends and take some of the characters into the 20th century. By this point, however, I had decided to move most of the narrative to Manchester. Hyde features somewhat less and the story is purely fictional in spite of the background historical detail, and so if I have created a kind of Hydonian trilogy, spanning one hundred years from Peterloo, then it is a trilogy in the loosest sense.

It is my hope that readers will find in Cheshire Cheese and Camembert a novel that stands on its own two feet. Nevertheless, I would concede that there is more to appreciate if it is read after Blessèd are the Meek and Twenty-six Nil.

By 1913 the time of Walter Rowbotham has passed and I made his former pupil, his best man and a relative of James Shore my new narrator: readers familiar with Charlie Knott will know that he was never likely to spend his whole life in Hyde and we see a self-assured, ambitious man now settled in the thriving city, specifically in the area of the docks by the late-Victorian engineering marvel that was the Manchester Ship Canal. Thus the novel is about trade and expanding horizons, modernity and prosperity, and the threats posed by the turmoil set in motion by the outbreak of war.

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