A daughter of the artist Cyril Hamersma, Theresa was raised in London and married at nineteen. After having three children in quick succession she trained as a hairdresser, took up pottery but ended up working in a factory to pay the bills. After her eventual divorce she married again in 2006. Finally, having the support of friends and family, and with her children settled in New York and Kent, Theresa is able to follow her passion for writing and express her strong views about social injustice. She is an avid listener of Radio 4 and a keen gardener, growing all of her own vegetables. The Sea Inside His Head is her first novel.
Last week, Theresa enjoyed a talk and book-signing at Waterstones, Canterbury. Here’s how it went:
The venue for my talk and book-signing was the Coffee Shop in Waterstones, St. Margaret’s Street, Canterbury in Kent. It was Sunday afternoon 16th September and my dear husband Graham, electrical engineer by day and my proof-reader by night, was supplying everyone with a complimentary glass of wine or orange juice.
‘So, what made the Miners’ Strike different to other strikes?’ I began, as I looked round my audience, with a curious smile. The people, including two ex-miners, a miner’s wife and several writers, looked at each other, mumbled and shook their heads. I tried again. ‘Why was it different to say, the teachers’, or civil-servants’, or the dustmen’s strike?’ I asked. ‘Well, I’ve got a theory!’ I went on to explain: other workers might strike about pay, hours, or cut-backs, and although united by their grievances, a strike does not have the same impact on their lives. The reason the miners were so strong and became so heated is because many were related by blood. Their fathers, grandfathers, uncles and brothers had all been miners for generations before them and mining was the only job they knew. This is why I believe it all became so aggressive – so emotional.
And they weren’t necessarily Kent people. Many of the men who worked in the Kent coalfields were descended from miners who moved down from the North – from Yorkshire and Lancashire, from Scotland and Wales. Many of them walked all the way because they couldn’t afford the train fare. Someone in the audience called out, ‘And they were trouble-makers in their own pits up there!’ I had to agree, as I had already learnt that some of them had been ‘blacklisted’ for causing trouble before. One of the ex-miners added, ‘Yeh, and they had new houses here to go to!’ This was true; in the early 1900s the Coal Board built houses for them, creating new mining villages around the pits. The miners’ children ran from room to room switching the lights on and off, amazed to find hot and cold running water and indoor bathrooms.
This brief discussion led me nicely into the four short extracts I had chosen to read from my novel: The Sea Inside His Head, which is a love-story set during the 1984 Miners’ Strike. After the second, I paused to reach for my sparkling water and as I did so a few began to show their appreciation. This spurred me on and I finished the last two extracts to some hearty applause. Questions and answers followed, and by this time I was feeling exhilarated – the audience were genuinely moved by my reading.
‘How long has coal-mining been going on in Kent?’ someone asked. I replied that it began when coal was discovered during initial excavations for the channel tunnel, at Shakespeare Cliff in Dover, in the 1890s. After this I went on to answer questions about how I first became published, where I lived during the strike, where I was living now, and more. During the general buzz of conversation – as by now the audience were all talking to each other too – Graham announced that Waterstones were hoping to close in ten minutes and if anyone wanted to buy a book and get it signed, now was the time to do it!
– Theresa Le Flem