Here’s a review of A Penny Spitfire by fellow Pewter Rose Author Nicky Harlow (Amelia & The Virgin)Penny Spitfire is a poignant and prescient study of the impact of World War II on a small midlands town. We see the world largely through Derek Fitton’s eyes. A car mechanic foresighted enough to open a garage before the war began, he has returned from India to find that he can no longer connect to his own town, community, even his marriage. Dennis’s prose pulses with sensory detail. It seems coated in axle grease, powdered with dust. Read it and you smell metal and oil, turpentine and cigarette smoke; you can hear the clank of trains shunting into the nearby station, the revving of automobiles unused since 1939. It tastes of blood.
In this town the war is almost a character in its own right. It is the glue that holds together a group of dispossessed men and women – and the wedge that has been driven between them. The novel exists in a silent, held breath, a time between two worlds. The war is over; the process of change – social, ideological and technological – is already in motion. But for all the distant clanking, the dust has yet to clear.
This is a technically adept work. Dennis’s omniscient narration is no Dickensian voice, haranguing and moralising. More it is the voice of a presenter or an MC; a slow strip-tease revealing a society in flux. His characters – the dreamy socialist, Charles Bury, the traumatised Burma Sammy, the lying ne’er-do-well, Clive Dandridge, and Fitton himself – have been curtailed, interrupted. Their relationships are still dominated by the war; just as the town is still dominated by a huge bomb crater. It seems that death is all they have to look forward to.
Only the ever buxom and garrulous landlady of the Odd Dog demonstrates any joi de vivre. But even this seems forced. The past is not `another country’ in this novel. It is more vivid than the present into which it bleeds. It infects the town with a hazy nostalgia, filtering everything through its sticky nicotine-stained lens.
Penny Spitfire’s poetry clings to you long after you have read the final chapter. There is a strong metaphorical element here, exploited to great effect by Dennis. The railway carrying trains that are either going away or being shunted into sidings, the penny that pops up under many disguises: as payment for thoughts, for the spitfire, a lapel-pin fashioned from left-over metal, or to close the eyes of the dead. And there is something inevitably Denis Potterish in the sexual repression that seeps into all the characters’ actions.
The ending comes as a cruel irony. In what is considered by the characters to be a symbol of hope, we are offered a glimpse of our own twenty-first century crisis.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Dennis finds the seeds of our destruction in his story of post war Britain. Writing of this quality is as hard to find as a penny spitfire on a bombsite.
Comments on A Penny Spitfire:
“[BHD] has immersed us in the world of post-war Britain in a very precise, enotive way. We sense the very weight and texture of the lives of his characters …. a carefully evolved story building up characters and detail from the inside …. the closely rafted prose as neatly turned as the ..sptitfire badges …evokes time and place with precision. … as sharp as Picture Post, … no hint of nostalgia, only an honest understanding of the difficult lives that people have to face.” – SM, reviewing in Cumberland News
“The story is gripping. Derek Fitton has more than a touch of Everyman. This is a beautifully written modern allegory.” – MW
A PENNY SPITFIRE
Brindley Hallam Dennis
Available direct from
or from Bookends in Carlisle and Keswick
BHD’s novel A Penny Spitfire published March 2011 by Pewter Rose Press. There is a brief author’s biography showing on their website. The story is set in October 1947, in a town inspired by BHD’s childhood memories of Burton Upon Trent.
To a background of industrial steam engines, hauling their trains between the dark brick walls of brewery buildings, the characters struggle to come to terms with the changes that war and history have forced upon them and their town. Fatherless children and childless men face desire, aspiration, shame and disappointment as their war-shattered world rises from the rubble of its bombsites.
Derek Fitton is a mechanic, but people do not fit together as easily as engines, and Charles Bury, younger son of a local business man, dreams of a new, fairer, Socialist world. Clive Dandridge, one step ahead of the law, entangles a troop of misfit children, including the introspective Paul and the runaway Jack, in his perverted schemes, from a hidden den deep within the rubble of the bombsite where Henry Street used to stand. On Edward Street, Tom and Violet Ferryman run The Odd Dog pub, where Burma Sammy drinks away his demob money, across the road from Fitton’s garage, and Maria clacks, clacks in her high heels, over the level crossing and down towards the Post Office at the corner.
Fitton has served in India during World War Two, a life changing experience. The novella opens with a prologue that begins… There are photographs of that time…..