Staying in with Ray Rumsby

It’s a funny old world isn’t it? My guest today got in touch through my school A’Level French teacher of over 40 years ago! It’s a pleasure to welcome Ray Rumsby to the blog to tell me about his book as I have it on my TBR and think it sounds amazing.

Staying in with Ray Rumsby

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Roy and thank you for agreeing to stay in with me.

Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?

I’ve brought my novel, The Prentice-Boy. It was published by Claret Press in October 2022. I’d spent six years in writing and re-writing my story, at different stages asking various people to read what I’d done, and to make suggestions. It’s a matter of getting the book as ‘right’ as possible, so readers can enjoy it, and that’s why I’ve brought it, Linda.

It sounds like a labour of love. What can we expect from an evening in with The Prentice-Boy?

Well, the book has two central characters, rather than one – two closely-connected lives to follow; two ways of seeing the world; two different voices describing what happens; and by the end of the story, I hope that readers will want to know the outcome for each of them. Actually, double-ness threads its way through the whole book – reflections, shadows, colours changing in a different light, deceptive appearances, concealment, and lies. I became very interested in that idea.

That sounds fascinating. Did writing it that way impact on you?

It helped me to explore how we as individuals can sometimes believe things about past national events, or details of our own family history, which later turn out to be quite false. Of course, once discovered, these matters can’t easily be ignored. There are consequences. They change us in some way: statues can be torn down, friendships ended. To use the eyes and thoughts of a middle-aged artist and of his apprentice seemed a good way to present ‘what happens afterwards’, as well as well as those moments of finding-out – for them both. That was tricky!

I bet! Tell me a bit about the two main characters.

Though William is a perceptive, skilled artist, in social life he misreads situations catastrophically. By contrast, young Jesse is street-wise, but as a workhouse foundling has never known family life, and as an apprentice depends entirely upon the Master’s will. Their partnership, travels together, artistic endeavours and mutual influence, are the double-act which carries the humour and the pathos in this book.

What about the era The Prentice-Boy is set in?

The Prentice-Boy is set two centuries ago, three years after Jane Austen died and five years after the Battle of Waterloo. However, what led me to write the book in this way were political and social events in 2016, Brexit year, and what has happened since. One purpose in looking back can be to help us understand society now, to consider how our lives, and the choices we make, also have consequences in future.

Sadly I’m not sure we learn much from history Ray. It seems to have a nasty habit of repeating itself.

What else have you brought along and why have you brought it?

Along with The Guardian, some tofu, and my Woke tee-shirt – all carried in a Remoaner tote bag – I’ve brought a 2020 image of an indie bookshop:

Ha! I have a feeling that photo might be taken in Kett’s Book Ray! Thanks so much for staying in with me to chat about The Prentice-Boy. I hope it’s not too long before it reaches the top of my TBR as I think it sounds fantastic. 

The Prentice-Boy

In 1820 London, landscape artist William Daniell hires Jesse Cloud, a homeless teenager, to be his apprentice. But all is not as it seems. Both William and his prentice must make their own inner journeys to expose others’ betrayals and explore their own possibilities. Faced with bankruptcy, starvation looms. Friendships fragment. The artist must learn how to see and his prentice must learn how to survive – while the truth shatters all.

The powerlessness of the poor and women’s suffrage are a constant presence tainting the air. This troubled period of change and division provides a vivid sense of time and place.

William’s casual assumptions about the poor in society and about women in particular challenges his very identity. An accident-prone venture to remote East Anglian shores becomes a journey of revelation and self-discovery as long-hidden truths about their backgrounds begin to unravel, and the secretive nature of the prentice-boy gains sudden significance.

William’s camera obscura captures an insecure society of inequality and flux. Two centuries later it is uncannily familiar and resonates deeply.

The Prentice-Boy was published by Claret Press on 6th October 2022 and is available for purchase through the links here.

About Ray Rumsby

Following a successful career in education and training, Ray Rumsby turned his attention to campaigning and theatre, and his play about the life and work of poet George Crabbe sparked the idea for his first novel. Crabbe’s 1810 poem Peter Grimes tells the tragic story of three apprentices ‘farmed out’ from a London workhouse. This led to the creation of Jesse Cloud, a homeless teenager fleeing the workhouse and one of the central characters of The Prentice-Boy.

Ray has also written several articles for academic journals and his work for a national charity led to a PhD. In 2013 Ray began a campaign to rescue a local bookshop scheduled for closure. A group of volunteers formed a new, not-for-profit community bookshop, and Kett’s Books has evolved successfully ever since.

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