Just over a month ago, I heard that Miriam Wakerly was doing a book signing in my local Waterstone’s. I’m not normally a Waterstone’s person, preferring to haunt charity/second-hand bookshops and the virtual shelves of Amazon, but I went along to say hello, because I’d heard good things about her from Veshengro, and I’m always up for meeting people who are on my side of the Gypsy debate.
So off I trundled on a sunny Saturday afternoon, into my local Waterstone’s to say hello. Miriam was lovely, and signed a couple of books for me, and I left the shop determined to read and review them as soon as possible. Then I headed off for a week of driving around the country and recording music with friends, and at some point in the course of the drive I opened the first book.
Now, I must admit I started reading the book pretty tentatively. Wakerly is a self-published author; a courageous thing, but one that can backfire; I’ve read so many self-published works that turn out to be completely dire as soon as you’re beyond the title page.
To say that I was pleasantly surprised would be a major understatement. Gypsies Stop tHere gripped me from the first page and carried me all the way through to the end on a wave of ‘I don’t want to put this down’. And then I picked up the second book, No Gypsies Served, and had the same feeling all the way through that one.
The books follow Kay, who moves to a small country town after the tragic death of her husband and inadvertently ends up in the middle of a debate about whether Gypsies should be allowed to stop in the place they’ve always used. The fiery young Natalie originally introduces her to the debate, and the more research Kay does, the more she realises just how unfair life can be when you happen to be of Romany ethnicity. She meets lots of exciting people along the way – Dunstan the gardener, Lena the young Gypsy woman – and learns to stand up not only for herself, but also for victims of racial prejudice in her local community.
The characters’ relationships are beautifully and sympathetically woven, without being cloying. The books walk that oh-so-delicate line when talking about an ethnicity (particularly Gypsies), between telling the truth and romanticising them. They walk the line well. There is no feeling that the Romany people are being parodied as mildly ridiculous, simple-minded weirdos who spend all day sitting in dark tents cackling at crystal balls. Instead, every character in the story is portrayed as equally human, equally normal, with the only differences being ethnicity and culture.
All of these strands pull together to create a couple of truly beautiful books. I’d recommend them as essential reading to anyone; I think they should be in every local library, preferably on the ‘recommended’ shelf, and that they should be compulsory reading for all schoolchildren. Perhaps then we’d see less of the prejudice towards Travellers, and more people with Miriam’s admirably open-minded and warm-hearted approach to true humanity.