Does a house contain life within beyond mere bricks and mortar? If Tammy Norrie – The Hoose Daemon of Seahouses is to be believed, it resolutely does. He describes a house as ‘An ark o souls’ no less.
In this first novel by acclaimed Fife poet, musician and songwriter, William Hershaw, Tammy Norrie, the ‘beastie’ that inhabits the old fisherman’s cottage in Northumberland, is the spirited narrator.
At first glance, when Tammy Norrie is fair agitated at the arrival of the obnoxious holidaying family from the South, the Blackberrys, in the now renovated cottage it looks as though he could be a mischievous sprite. While the simple idea of spiritual spanners being put in the works of this brittle and boisterous family is amusing enough, Hershaw’s story is much more than that.
The hoose daemons are good souls and not spookers. They are invisible to all except some gifted folk and Tammy Norrie is the last of his line in Seahouses. Their lifetime can span generations and Hershaw uses this device to describe events in social history through the eyes of this detached observer. ‘An enigma wrapped in a riddle’ sums them up.
Tammy Norrie or the voice of one of his older hoose daemons, like the wise and learned Roller Skate, take the reader from Viking times through Bede, to more recent historical events in the area. They are invisible witnesses to the likes of Queen Margaret’s arrival in Scotland from Norway, young Grace Darling’s heroism, the Jarrow marches, the introduction of the railway, the Eyemouth fishing disaster, the two World Wars and their effects on private lives.
The tales of the lives of past residents Belle, Willie the Scotsman, Old Hilda, Young Bert, Young Hilda and Doris expose the changes in social mores over decades and centuries. The standards of the ghastly dysfunctional Blackberrys who embody greed, selfishness and lack of decent values stand in high relief against those the hoose daemons value.
With some detailed lessons in fossils thrown in, the book takes the reader on a journey with some wry philosophical humour through political history showing the effects of social justice, feminism, social mobility, inequality and class. The distressing anomaly of human beings being able to indulge in space travel yet being unable (or unwilling) to feed the poor on planet earth; the sadness at human beings making the same mistakes again and again are clearly topics close to the author’s heart and put in the mouth of the invisible eponymous narrator.
Hershaw’s prose is written with the clarity of one of the novel’s motifs of ‘summer rock pools’. Just hear the assonance of ‘…cranelled ramparts of Bamburgh Castle…’ and the warm and lovely metaphor on love that ‘…happed the house like cotton wool…’ Well versed in writing in Scots, he sensitively captures the north east voices. His fine gift of poetry is put in the mouth of wee Tammy Norrie with some of the daemon’s scribbling included in a bonus chapter.
When night’s eyes droop
Where blue stars drop
In the candling of day
Dragon prows bow
Dip under the sea
His favourite themes of love and the morality of human decency are brought together with more than a touch of magic in this delightful debut. Hershaw’s recurring themes of hope with enduring, accepting love appear in the form of two fairy tales at the end. The text opens and closes with the Northumbrian folk song Dance to your Daddy creating a perfect narrative circle. Throughout the book like a wee beacon is the motif of The Clear White Light.
Significantly, the Geordie band Lindisfarne has a song with that title and it features in Scots as The Clear White Licht in Hershaw’s2002 pamphlet Winter Song.
This is another speculative take on the spiritual world by Hershaw who in 2012 gave us Johnny Aathin, described as a “… shadowy, shape-shifting, regenerating figure …” who was aabody an naebody. It may be written in the voice of a spirit but it is firmly on the side of humanity.
*Tammie norrie is the Scots word for a puffin.
Tammy Norrie – The Hoose Daemon of Seahouses (ISBN9781907676437) by William Hershaw is available from http://www.gracenotepublications.co.uk/ at £10
It is also available on Kindle from Amazon.