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Blog Tour and Book Excerpt for "The Low Road"

Book Title: The Low Road

Author: Katharine Quarmby

Publication Date: UK: 22nd June 2023. US: 19th September 2023. Australia/NZ: 2nd January 2024

Publisher: Unbound Publishing

Page Length: 400

Genre: Historical Fiction / Lesbian Fiction / Women’s Literature

The Low Road

Katharine Quarmby




In 1828, two young women were torn apart as they were sentenced to transportation to Botany Bay. Will they ever meet again?


Norfolk, 1813. In the quiet Waveney Valley, the body of a woman – Mary Tyrell – is staked through the heart after her death by suicide. She had been under arrest for the suspected murder of her newborn child. Mary leaves behind a young daughter, Hannah, who is later sent away to the Refuge for the Destitute in London, where she will be trained for a life of domestic service.

It is at the Refuge that Hannah meets Annie Simpkins, a fellow resident, and together they forge a friendship that deepens into passionate love. But the strength of this bond is put to the test when the girls are caught stealing from the Refuge's laundry, and they are sentenced to transportation to Botany Bay, setting them on separate paths that may never cross again.

Drawing on real events, The Low Road is a gripping, atmospheric tale that brings to life the forgotten voices of the past – convicts, servants, the rural poor – as well as a moving evocation of love that blossomed in the face of prejudice and ill fortune.


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Author Bio:


Katharine Quarmby has written non-fiction, short stories and books for children and her debut novel, The Low Road, is published by Unbound in 2023. Her non-fiction works include Scapegoat: Why We Are Failing Disabled People (Portobello Books, 2011) and No Place to Call Home: Inside the Real Lives of Gypsies and Travellers (Oneworld, 2013). She has also written picture books and shorter e-books.

She is an investigative journalist and editor, with particular interests in disability, the environment, race and ethnicity, and the care system. Her reporting has appeared in outlets including the Guardian, The Economist, The Atlantic, The Times of London, the Telegraph, New Statesman and The Spectator. Katharine lives in London.

Katharine also works as an editor for investigative journalism outlets, including Investigative Reporting Denmark and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.


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Book Excerpt:



I must be instructed on how to become an object, and so we arrived at Mr Haskin’s room, off the great hall of the refuge, opposite the Committee Room. A fine room, smelling of beeswax, the wood panels gleaming with it, a fire flickering in a grate. Neat it was, and I thought that must be Maria’s work, to dust and sweep and put all to rights.


Mr Haskin sat behind his desk, pen in hand, entering words in a large black leather book. Maria bobbed in front of him and after a moment, as she looked at me, I did the same and then straightened to stand in front of him. “Maria, fetch Miss Clements and Mrs Clark.” He cleared his throat. “You are now a new object here and as such, will receive the charity and protection of the refuge. You may wonder what an object is. You may rest assured that it means that you receive charity from our Institution and that is all. There are others here in Hackney, including one for orphans where others on the committee argued that you should have rightfully gone, but I argued that you should be admitted here, as I felt that I could reform you.


My attention drifted. From Mr Haskin’s window, which looked over the courtyard, I could see the old men. They were playing chequers now, slow and steady. “Those men live in the almshouse below,” he said. It was small and grey and low, not like the refuge, where all the windows upstairs were barred, and with a high wall around it. “You will see that the windows are barred here. We had an escape from the male refuge, and I barred the windows myself.” He looked right proud with his own conduct, puffed up with it. “I barred some forty windows in just one day. Nobody here in the refuge is above manual labour such as that. I was in such a place myself as a boy, and I know that I can steer you onto the right course.” In a lower voice, as if he was talking to himself, “I was like you once.” I looked at him, his black hair combed and neat, his perfect whiskers, his brushed coat, and I could not understand what he meant at all.


There was an excited knock at the door. A tall young woman burst in, brown hair falling out of her cap, pushing past Maria, followed by a woman of middle height, unsmiling and resplendent in a white cap that covered all her hair with a gleaming white apron over a wide girth. Mr Haskin paused, frowned. “Miss Clements, Mrs Clark, our new object.” Miss Rachel Clements spoke up to welcome me, fluttering her hands and pulling at her lace collar, her brooch. Mrs Clark stood, quite quiet, by her side.


“I will take the child around, Mr Haskin, and issue her with the requisites.”


He raised a hand and she quieted, flushed. “You may show her around the different areas and then Maria will take care of the object afterwards, until she is fully accustomed to how matters are conducted here. Maria, wait outside and the new object will join you.” He waited until the door was closed behind her. I wondered, was she listening, as I used to?

“We must keep the object’s story to ourselves,” he said. “The other objects should be protected from such horrors.” Then he looked at me. “You will not tell your story to other objects. It is forbidden to do so. Neither will we. You will commence here on your path to reform. I hope that is clear to you?”


I stared back at him fleetingly, full in the face. I knew that look on his, when people thought they knew me, what had happened to me. Pity next to fear, fear next to contempt. He hadn’t heard the half of it, for I had smoothed it out for the committee so the clerk could write down the version they would accept. My story taken from me and locked away, as if I should be ashamed. Was it for me or for them, I wonder. They never knew the whole of it at any rate, put away for safe keeping. It is only now that I take my fragments out, mend them so they are one. I have to, so I can be whole, past and present fixed together so I can go on.


Mr Haskin cleared his throat. “It must never be forgotten that we have several purposes here: to relieve the destitute, such as yourself, to reform and restore the criminal violator of the laws of God and man, and to promote the best interests of society.” I wondered how a boy like him had learned to speak like that.


And to this end, he continued, he would measure my progress every week. He held up the book he had written in when I had entered. In gold lettering on the front, The Regulator. “I note your conduct in my book. Look, here is your name.” He turned the page, and I saw that by my name there were two ruled lines, above them the words Virtues on one side and Vices on the other. In black ink, by the weeks of the year in lined rows were several other columns, for industry and idleness, piety and impiety, obedience and disobedience, gratitude and ingratitude. “I will note your faults and merits here, and then when I feel it is necessary, I will summon you again. That is all.” He closed the great book with a clap, and I saw how scattered motes of dust flew upwards as he placed it on a shelf. Miss Clements beamed at me, quite suddenly, then threw open the door so that Maria could come back in. He spoke again, in her hearing, as sternly as before, looking at me all the while. Then he rose and beckoned to me and we all left his room together; he locked it behind him with a key on his belt. Mrs Clark went on down to the laundry and I followed Mr Haskin on, Miss Clements behind him, and Maria behind her.


Excerpt from

The Low Road

Katharine Quarmby

This material is protected by copyright.


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1 comentario

Thank you so much for hosting Katharine Quarmby, with an Excerpt from The Low Road. Take care,

Cathie xo

The Coffee Pot Book Club

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