My latest novel How to Find Your Way Home is partly set on the marshlands of Canvey Island, Essex in the 80s and 90s. It’s always a gamble to set a book somewhere unfamiliar to you (until research means it is not unfamiliar of course.) So, I was thrilled when Graham Stevens who lives on Canvey himself shared this review he’d written for the website CanveyIsland.org. Many thanks go to Graham and the people of Canvey for reading! All mistakes are mine.
It’s an enjoyable read and I endorse all the comments on the book cover!
I don’t quite know how I came across this novel but having read a previous review and finding out that a large part of the narrative is based on Canvey I couldn’t resist the idea of reviewing it for the Archive website through my eyes as a long-standing Canvey-ite.
The fundamental storyline is a tale of an older brother and younger sister who are separated in early teenage years and nearly 20 years later are re-united by coincidence.
The story is based on them growing up on Canvey in the 1990s. However, the Canvey portrayed by the author is NOT of an island surrounded by a high concrete flood protecting wall with a population (Total then approx. 30,000) commuting to London and surrounding Essex. No, this is a romantic notion of the island, more reminiscent of my 1950s childhood when it was a much smaller semi-rural place that has evolved through time, surrounded by marshes to its west, north and east. But as you will realise, this description is absolutely necessary to evoke the atmosphere of the narrative!
Stephen, the older brother is introduced by his biological father to the surrounding wildlife when he is very young as they walk together on the marshes. He becomes a bit of a loner, absorbed in the bird life but particularly infatuated by the annual arrival of the Swifts to nest at the fictitious Memorial Hall. As soon as he considers she is old enough, he involves his sister in his lonely forays ‘birding’ on the marshes.
Emily is so influenced by her brother’s interests that she is willing to follow him everywhere. As stated in my preamble, they suffer from the divorce of their parents and although still together go to live with their mother and stepfather still on Canvey and still trying to carry on their childhood adventures. At this point I’ll leave you to read and enjoy Katy Regan’s warm-feeling exposure of the thoughts and emotions of her sibling characters as the story is skilfully unravelled.
Review by Graham Stevens.