Nevertheless She Persisted by Jon Walter #BookReview #BlogTour

“Anyone can set fire to things.” “But most people don’t. You’re one of the special ones.”
1914. Two sisters on opposing sides of the Suffragette movement. One, an up-and- coming prison warden responsible for overseeing the force-feeding of hunger strikers. The other, swept up in the deeds of the cause. A poignant look at the struggle from both viewpoints.
Making the hardest decisions in life takes astonishing courage. Making a stand for justice. Realising that following your heart can mean the loss of your freedom. Capturing the truth of such choices takes a writer of rare talent. In Clara and Nancy, Jon Walter has created two exceptional characters.
Exploring themes of protest, both on a political and personal scale, as well as family and feminism, Walter’s empathetic writing is a call to arms, urging us to be courageous enough in our own lives to do the memory of the Suffragettes proud.

I'm thrilled to be hosting the blog tour for Nevertheless She Persisted by Jon Walter, the first adult fiction book to be published by David Fickling Books today. My grateful thanks to the author, publishers and Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me and for my advance copy of the novel.

2018 marks the centenary year of the Representation of the People Act of 1918 which gave the vote to women over the age of 30 who owned a property, were on the local government register or married to a member, or were a graduate in a university constituency (full suffrage which gave women the same voting rights as men didn't come until 1928). Nevertheless She Persisted is a timely novel then, which follows two sisters whose lives are both transformed by the Suffragette movement.
The book opens in 1913 shortly after the death of Emily Davison at Epsom. Clara is already a warden at Holloway Prison and she manages to secure an interview there for her sister, Nancy. Clara is an ambitious young woman who is keen to gain promotion whereas Nancy seems more fragile and finds it difficult to act assertively in front of the prisoners. However, she becomes irrevocably drawn to a Suffragette prisoner, Daisy and as a result finds an inner strength which sees her take extraordinary decisions and become deeply involved in the militant campaign for women's votes. Her journey from a scared and insecure girl to a radical Suffragette is fascinating. Her interest in the movement comes somewhat reluctantly at first; she is a moth drawn to Daisy's irresistible flame. However, when Daisy tells her that deeds not words matter, she begins to assess her life and realises it is not her own and that she does what is expected of her.
Meanwhile Clara's role sees her assisting with the force-feeding of imprisoned Suffragettes on hunger strike. I was aware that women were forcibly fed as hunger striking political prisoners of the time but to actually read of the brutality involved was truly disturbing. Jon Walter's gritty descriptions leave us in no doubt of the painful and invasive nature of the procedure and it comes as little surprise to read that some of  the wardens themselves had to disassociate themselves with the act. Although Clara's job means she is in opposition to the Suffragettes, she rallies against the constraints of womanhood. She knows she will ultimately have to decide between marriage and her career and is angry that her aspirations to succeed in her job will be thwarted by a society that means that married women aren't permitted to work. As another suffragette, Mrs Birnstingl remarks to Nancy, "Our mission is not to tear down our institutions, Miss Cooper, but to change them for the better," and it is clear that the fiercely progressive Clara would reap the benefits of emancipation for women.
Nevertheless She Persisted doesn't tell the whole story of the Suffragette movement, nor does it pretend to. Ending just before the outbreak of the First World War, it serves as a poignant window into the lives of women at the time, constrained by a society that placed them on such a pedestal that meant their crimes were more harshly punished for being against their virtuous nature and yet didn't consider them worthy of the right to vote. It is a moving and sympathetic account of the courage of the women who were prepared to break the rules and take a stand against oppression to highlight their cause. I highly recommend the powerful and moving Nevertheless She Persisted and I'd love to read more about Clara and Nancy -  with WW1 looming  it would be fascinating to see how the changing roles of women then affects them both.

Nevertheless She Persisted is published by David Fickling Books and can be purchased here.

Don't miss the rest of the blog tour, details are below.

About the Author
A former photojournalist, Jon Walter is the acclaimed author of Close to the Wind and My Name Is Not Friday. He was inspired to write NEVERTHELESS, SHE PERSISTED after reading Sylvia Pankhurst’s biography and being gripped by one question: when is it right to break the rules? Jon Walter is available for interview and write features on a variety of themes, including: being an advocate of protest; his personal experience of being arrested; and writing beyond his own experience.