It’s a pleasure to take part in the Blogtour When I First Held You by Anstey Harris.
‘Inspired by Anstey Harris’s own family history, When I First Held You explores the scandal of forced adoptions, where thousands of babies born to unmarried mothers throughout the 1950s to the 1970s were removed and placed with families deemed suitable.’
About the Author
Anstey Harris was born in an unmarried mothers’ home in Liverpool in 1965. Now a mother and stepmother herself, she lives in Scotland. She has been inspired by her own search for her birth family and hopes to give a voice to the women and children—16,000 a year during the 1960s in the UK—separated from each other by forced adoptions.
Anstey won the H. G. Wells Short Story Award in 2015 and her debut novel, The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton, a Richard and Judy Book Club choice, won the Sapere Books RNA Popular Romantic Fiction Award in 2020. Her second novel, Where We Belong, was shortlisted for the RNA Book of the Year Award 2021. Follow @Anstey_Harris on Twitter
About the book
In 1960s Glasgow, anti-nuclear activists Judith and Jimmy fall in love. But their future hopes are dashed when their protestors’ squat is raided and many, including Jimmy, are sent to prison. Pregnant and with no word from Jimmy, Judith is forced to enter an unmarried mothers’ home, give up their baby and learn to live with her grief.
More than half a century later, Judith’s Mending Shop restores broken treasures, just as Judith herself has been bound back together by her late, much-missed partner, Catherine. But her tranquillity is shattered when Jimmy—so different and yet somehow the same—reappears, yearning to unpick the painful past.
Realising they each know only half of the other’s story, Jimmy and Judith finally break the silence that tore apart what might have been their family. Amid heartbreak and hope, how much can now be mended?
What the author does with the precision of a surgeon is create the visual image of the invisible emotional volcano Judith carries around with her day in and day out. The lid she places on top of the bubbling mountain, is one that move at any moment to expose the scars and the years of feelings that she has had to hide from herself and the world.
This is never more obvious than when Jimmy appears out of nowhere after over half a lifetime. The pressure beneath the lid begins build, as the past comes rushing back to both haunt and completely devour Judith.
Kudos for the realistic statistics and ripping the veil from the unicorn fluff versions of adoption reunion stories. The truth and reality doesn’t make for such great television. Too many questions remain unanswered, which can be incredibly painful and frustrating for those involved.
This is a story that is all the more poignant, because the roots are based in truth, and because of the throwaway attitude towards the lives of the girls, women and children who were torn apart without a second thought.
It’s wonderfully written, it’s also like having a view into the patchwork family of strangers brought together by the coincidence of DNA. What is family really? Healing the deepest wounds is a myth, but gaining a semblance of peace is possible.
Buy When I First Held You at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer. Publisher: Lake Union Publishing, pub date 24th January 2023 – Paperback £8.99. Buy at Amazon com.