Yorkshire, the summer of 1962. Sixteen-year-old Evie Epworth stands on the cusp of womanhood. But what kind of a woman will she become?
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Up until now, Evie’s life has been nothing special: a patchwork of school, Girl Guides, cows, milk deliveries, lost mothers, and village fetes. But, inspired by her idols (Charlotte Bronte, Shirley MacLaine and the Queen), she dreams of a world far away from rural East Yorkshire, a world of glamour lived under the bright lights of London (or Leeds).
Standing in the way of these dreams, though, is Christine, Evie’s soon to be stepmother, a manipulative and money-grubbing schemer who is lining Evie up for a life of shampoo-and-set drudgery at the local salon.
Luckily, Evie is not alone. With the help of a few friends, and the wise counsel of the two Adam Faith posters on her bedroom wall (‘brooding Adam’ and ‘sophisticated Adam’), Evie comes up with a plan to rescue her bereaved father, Arthur, from Christine’s pink and over-perfumed clutches, and save their beloved farmhouse from being sold off. She will need a little luck, a dash of charm and a big dollop of Yorkshire magic if she is to succeed, but in the process, she may just discover who exactly she is meant to be.
Many thanks to @annecater for inviting me to be part of #RandomThingsTours
Probably one of the reasons I loved this book so much was because it is set in my era. I was not even 10 at the time, much younger than Evie, and still at Primary School, but I remember everything she talks about, from Adam Faith (I loved him – his was the first record I ever bought) to Atora Suet (still don’t know what that is but I can still see the packaging) and our Dansette record player, though ours was red.
I didn’t live in Yorkshire or anywhere near but lots of things were still the same, unless you lived in London, but I didn’t go there until 1972. I did something in fashion like Caroline. It was still vastly different from our narrow-minded, parochial, suburban life in the Cotswolds. I had never heard of a lesbian when I was 10 years old, possibly not even at 16. Things were different in those days.
The storytelling from Evie’s point of view does at times make her sound younger than 16 or maybe we were just a lot more naïve and less street-wise back then. There are brief interludes when we hear how her father Arthur met her mother, but the rest is all about Evie.
I laughed out loud some of the time. Maybe if you are too young to recall the sixties you may not find it as hilarious as I did. The characters are richly drawn often to the point of caricature, especially the ghastly Christine who wants to marry Arthur, sell the farm and get her hands on his money. And poor Arthur is so nice he just doesn’t see it coming. But Evie does. She’s intelligent and funny and always has her head in a book – which to Christine is just being lazy. Christine loves everything manufactured from man-made fibres – Tupperware, nylon, plastic. Especially if they are pink or leopard-print. Now I am quite fond of pink and leopard-print though probably not at the same time, but it’s Evie’s description of ‘sticky-outy’ dresses that made me laugh. And the bit when she tries on Christine’s pink, chiffon, baby-doll nightie and gets stuck and has to be rescued by best friend Margaret was so funny. This actually happened to me in an M&S changing room, though not a baby-doll nightie or any type of nightie, but let’s not go there. Everything old and made from wood is rubbish to Christine. My house is a shrine to pine – Christine’s worst nightmare.
Apart from these three we have Christine’s awful mum Vera, her obese friend Mrs Swithenbank, superstitious Mrs Scott-Pym next door (you’ll find out why I say she is superstitious when you get to that bit) and her wonderfully eccentric, estranged daughter Caroline.
But one of the stand-out things for me about the book is how Matson has managed to capture perfectly the ‘playful’ (his word) voice of a 16 year old girl in the sixties. Hard enough for someone like me who was there!
So grab a copy and a cuppa and enjoy. With a slice of cake from Betty’s of course.
About the Author
Matson Taylor grew up in Yorkshire but now lives in London. He is a design historian and academic-writing tutor and has worked at various universities and museums around the world; he currently teaches at the V&A, Imperial College, and the RCA. He has also worked on Camden Market, appeared in an Italian TV commercial, and been a pronunciation coach for Catalan opera singers.
Matson Taylor on The Miseducation of Evie Epworth:
“The book is a bittersweet comedy set in the Yorkshire countryside, written from the first-person perspective of Evie, a clever, confused and, I hope, very loveable sixteen-and-a-half year old. It’s about that funny time (in both senses of the word) between childhood and adulthood. It’s a book about lost mothers, uncoping fathers, and muddled daughters. It’s also the story of when the ‘50s finally became the ‘60s in Evie’s small village, with the modern world arriving in all its pop glory. I like to think of it as the lovechild of James Herriot and Sue Townsend with a good dollop of fairy tale and a dash of magical realism. I really wanted the book to have a strong, fresh, playful voice and, importantly, to have a heart as well as raise a smile. It’s basically a warm, sad, funny story about growing up and being lost then found.”
Question and Answer with Matson Taylor
I asked Matson some questions about being a writer. This is what he told me.
How much research did you need to do about the 60s? Music, fashion etc. As a historian you must be used to doing research.
I did a lot of research for the book but, as you say, it’s my day job so I’m very used to it! I love immersing myself in a period and it was great to find out about lots of different aspects of the fifties and sixties that I didn’t know about. I spent hours (days, weeks!) looking through fashion magazines and music papers; I could easily lose myself for hours at a time… The adverts were best – you can learn so much from them – they give you a real sense of how life was lived at the time. I played a lot of the music too (mainly when washing up) and also tried to watch as many films from the period as I could. I also kept phoning my dad to ask him questions about ‘old money’ – he can be a very helpful research assistant when he wants to be!
How important is setting to your novel?
In one sense, setting is really important – Yorkshire is almost a character in the book. I really wanted to get a sense of the county and the people and the humour too. But in another sense the book could take place in any rural setting – most villages and small towns have a similar feel to them: the way everyone knows everyone; the way there’s a set rhythm to life; the way things change pretty slowly; the way that community underpins almost everything. And there’s also, for some, that sense that there’s something else, another life, waiting to be lived elsewhere.
Did you start with the character of Evie? Or the plot?
Evie and the plot arrived almost simultaneously! Or at least certain key elements in the plot. I always knew I wanted a strong first-person narrator with a playful, naive, but knowing voice around the age of 16/17. This is because I wanted to explore the idea of not quite being an adult (yet) but not really being a child either. And the plot arrived with Evie because I knew that this kind of voice would work best set against a true ‘baddy’, someone who sees herself as being older (and better) then Evie. In a way, Evie and Christine represent two different decades – Evie is the sixties and Christine is the fifties and I partly built the plot around this tension.
What’s your typical day as a writer pre- and post-Covid?
I think for most writers pre and post-Covid are almost the same! We’re used to squirrelling ourselves away when we’re in the middle of writing. I like to start early – I usually get up around 6 and read/edit yesterday’s work while I’m having a pot of tea. Then I have breakfast (more tea) and listen to the radio for a bit before starting work, either at university (teaching) or at home (writing). Pre-lockdown I’d usually meet friends for a drink or a bite to eat after work and then come home and try and have another hour or so writing – but with lockdown I’ve found writing in the evening much more difficult to do so I’ve generally been relaxing in front of the TV or on the sofa with a good book.
What music do you listen to when you write? Did you listen to lots of Adam Faith? Or do you prefer silence?
I need absolute silence. I’m definitely not a writer who can sit in a busy (noisy!!!) cafe. Every hour or so I’ll put some music on to have a stretch and a jiggle around though.
What do you like to read and what is your favourite book ever? Just one.
I read everything and anything! Old, new, classic, contemporary, fiction, non-fiction, high-brow, low-brow. I’ve always loved reading and I hope I always will. My favourite book ever?!?! That’s really hard and changes quite often! Today it’s The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E M Delafield – a classic that would be right up there with Three Men in a Boat and The Diary of A Nobody if it had been written by a man…
Have you discovered any new hobbies during lockdown? Gardening? Baking? Painting?
Exercising out on my little terrace! That’s my one new lockdown hobby (to try and off-set my old lockdown hobby: eating)
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I’d love to say something profound and philosophical here (ending poverty, curing cancer etc) but I can’t so instead I’ll just say that I’ve been overwhelmed by the amount of love for Evie from readers; it’s been such a wonderful experience for me to know that something I’ve written has made so many people laugh (and cry – in a good way, hopefully) – without doubt she and the book are my greatest achievement.
How do you unwind?
A good walk is always helpful. And a good pie and a pint. And a good film. Probably avoiding the news too at the moment!
Thank you so much to Matson for answering questions readers will be dying to ask.