A Bermondsey author has penned a new novel about local people working in the old Peek Frean biscuit factory, Kirsty Purnell writes…
Bourbon Creams and Tattered Dreams, written by Mary Gibson, tells the story of a working class Bermondsey girl who chases her showbiz dreams to America in the 1920s before winding up back home when the Great Depression strikes.
“It’s a story of going away in order to come home again. It’s about someone who, out of personal tragedy, finds out that home is the best place to be,” said Mary.
As with all of Mary’s books, Bourbon Creams explores the Bermondsey landscape of the early twentieth century and readers will recognise local landmarks such as Grange Road, the old Abbey Street Star music hall, Tower Bridge and of course, the biscuit factory. “Everyone had a mum or an aunt who worked at Peek Freans,” she told the News.
Mary’s passion for chronicling a working class Bermondsey of days gone by was ignited when she realised that the tight-knit community she’d grown up in had changed forever.
“When the dockyards and industries were here, people lived in the streets that they worked in and this gave the community a flavour in its heart,” she said.
“When the docks closed and the industries moved out, it dissipated and Bermondsey became less of a village-type community. People moved out and moved up, too, with social mobility.”
Now on her fourth book, Mary’s back catalogue is enriched with detailed memories shared by her mother and grandmother. “Dad wrote daily letters to mum from the Far East during the war and details from these can be found in Gunner Girl [her third novel]. She also had a lot of stories from the Blitz and her childhood in Dockhead,” she said.
Her parents were also part of a ‘90s Bermondsey Reminiscence Group, which made a wealth of resources available for Mary to draw on, including memoirs, journals and photographs.
“Community and hardship – the two seem to always go together. But the hardships are what forged the actual community. They brought out the resilience of ordinary people. They went through a hard time but still managed to live a very happy life,” said Mary.
Mary states that her earliest inspiration as a writer was Spa Road Library, which is now the Buddhist Centre. She said: “I started going there at five-years-old. I went down on the back of my brother’s bike and we were amazed that we could go into the library for free. I haven’t looked back since.”
Mary moved to Kent in 1996 when house prices in Bermondsey started to rocket but her affection for the area endures. “I’ll always think of Bermondsey as home,” she said.
Bourbon Creams and Tattered Dreams is available on e-book and hardback can be purchased from January 12, 2017.