‘The Year Without Summer’ by Guinevere Glasfurd was published in hardback and as an eBook on the 6th February 2020 by Two Roads Books. It is also available in Audiobook. Today it is my turn on the blog tour for this book and I would like to thank Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to participate.
I have an extract from ‘The Year Without Summer’ for you all to read. First though here’s the book blurb.
1815, Sumbawa Island, Indonesia
Mount Tambora explodes in a cataclysmic eruption, killing thousands. Sent to investigate, ship surgeon Henry Hogg can barely believe his eyes. Once a paradise, the island is now solid ash, the surrounding sea turned to stone. But worse is yet to come: as the ash cloud rises and covers the sun, the seasons will fail.
In Switzerland, Mary Shelley finds dark inspiration. Confined inside by the unseasonable weather, thousands of famine refugees stream past her door. In Vermont, preacher Charles Whitlock begs his followers to keep faith as drought dries their wells and their livestock starve.
In Suffolk, the ambitious and lovesick painter John Constable struggles to reconcile the idyllic England he paints with the misery that surrounds him. In the Fens, farm labourer Sarah Hobbs has had enough of going hungry while the farmers flaunt their wealth. And Hope Peter, returned from the Napoleonic wars, finds his family home demolished and a fence gone up in its place. He flees to London, where he falls in with a group of revolutionaries who speak of a better life, whatever the cost. As desperation sets in, Britain becomes beset by riots – rebellion is in the air.
The Year Without Summer is the story of the books written, the art made; of the journeys taken, of the love longed for and the lives lost during that fateful year. Six separate lives, connected only by an event many thousands of miles away. Few had heard of Tambora – but none could escape its effects.
11 April our year of the Lord, 1815
I write in haste as I have been called to the seas south of Makassar once more to investigate rumours of a disturbing nature. Very distinct reports, like cannons, were heard last week in Ternate, five hundred miles east of us and not easily reached. Pirates were suspected, but none found. Then, one night ago, more explosions, this time sufficient to shake our ship and the houses around the harbour, even though we were moored and Makassar peaceful. Yet more talk of pirates, who must be close at hand, if so.
I have had Susilo sharpen my short sword should I need it. I am as prepared as I might be in these parts. But I ask you please to pray for my return with my sword still safely sheathed beside me.
Pirates notwithstanding, I shall be happy to be at sea again. The air here is at its oppressive heaviest, some days it is as if mercury has been poured over us; I have never known it so stifling hot. Even the birds seem afflicted and have lost the will to sing. An eerie stillness hangs over the town and makes the most relaxed man uneasy. Perhaps one of their gods has taken a good breath in and is about to blow us off our feet.
You are a sweet sensible thing to stay in England.
So wish me a fair wind and a safe return, my darling. We sail when it is light.
Your ever loving husband,
Surgeon aboard the Benares
12 April our year of the Lord, 1815
I am writing this by candlelight though it is not yet midday. A little after 8 a.m. this morning it was apparent we had sailed into what I can only describe as an extraordinary occurrence. To the west and south of us, the sky had assumed the most dismal prospect; the sunrise seemed smothered: a deep red glow that refused to brighten. By ten in the morning, I was certain night had been returned to us. I could scarcely make out the shore, and our ship was but one mile from it. I felt something brush against my skin, with the softness of snow. Snow? Imagine my confusion! What snow could survive this hostile clime? I touched my finger to it, incredulous, until I saw that it smudged. Ash. One question had been answered, but many more took its place. Within an hour, the sky, from horizon to the heavens, was filled with it. It fell in heavy showers with a soft patter, coating the deck then forming a thick layer. And now we have reached a truly awful and alarming state: a darkness as total as at new moon.
The ash is still falling as I write. We are working in shifts to sweep it away, such is its weight. And now the captain is calling me to help rig an awning, presumably to keep it off the deck. I do not know how we will rig anything when one cannot see one’s hand in front of one’s face. Darkness or not, I must go.
I shall write again later. Until then, I am
Your loving husband,
Surgeon aboard the Benares
13 April our year of the Lord, 1815
I know not if this is night or day, though by the hours that have passed it must be morning once more. The captain’s awning was a dismal failure and we have all been put to the broom in an attempt to keep the ash from reaching perilous levels. We are now sweeping it overboard else it will add many tons in weight to the ship. Wherever one sweeps you can be certain that behind you the ash will have heaped up readily to depths of a foot or more. The further south we sail, the grittier it becomes. The air is foul with it; every breath is a half breath and all on board are wheezing. The queue of the poorly lengthens to my door.
Forgive me, I am unable to write more. Exhaustion has felled me and my hands are blistered.
Your loving husband,
Surgeon aboard the Benares
18 April our year of the Lord, 1815
Dearest, dearest Emmalina,
Forgive my silence, but I have been unwell, a consequence, I think, of ash having found its way into our drinking water. My blisters, I am relieved to say, are improved.
My darling, I wish I had never seen this day for I am struggling to find the words that can adequately express it. Daylight is returned but, oh, for the darkness we had five days ago in favour of what I can now see.
We have arrived off Bima on Sumbawa, which we believe almost certainly is the source of the ‘cannons’ that disturbed our peace in Makassar. This island, once a green gem, is now a hellish scene, to rival any produced by Breughel. The mountain Tomboro, sometimes called Tambora, is gone. Gone! But where? If I had not climbed it last year, when I was the guest of the Rajah here, I would scarce believe it were possible. I knew of the volcano beneath it, but had no reason to suspect an eruption. I am yet to find the Rajah among the few survivors we have met. I hope he lives. I will venture out tomorrow to find him.
But I am ahead of myself. Let me tell you first of our awful approach. We sighted Sumbawa yesterday. Then, still some distance off, the sea became sluggish, thickened with ash in a grey soup. I was below deck, assessing our water supply to determine what portion was spoiled, when I heard a cry go up from above.
I popped my head through the hatch, but it was impossible to make out what was being said. A sailor held out his arm, and pointed, then flapped up and down in a most peculiar manner. Already, he had a small crowd around him and they were similarly vexed. I heaved myself up through the hatch and elbowed my way through the commotion. I took the spyglass from one of them and looked.
That wasn’t water ahead, but stone: a sea, made entirely of stone! But stone that undulated gently.
Bump, bump, bump went several pieces as they knocked into the hull. The bosun, hearing it, took a net and scooped up a small amount. He turned what he had out on deck and we stared as though at strange, dead specimens from the deep. I poked at one with my foot then reached down to pick it up. Stone, now cinder, and pocked like a sponge. The stone had no weight – so that was why it floated. The bosun ventured it was pumice.
Pumice? Of course. I went to the port side and looked over. Pumice in every direction, the sea thick with it and as far as I could see. Although we had a good wind behind us, the ship had slowed and struggled to make way. It must have been many feet thick to slow us like that.
And that, my dearest, is how the sea becomes a mountain and the mountain becomes a sea. There are riddles everywhere, it seems . . .
‘The Year Without Summer’ is available to purchase from Amazon UK:-
About Guinevere Glasfurd
Guinevere Glasfurd was born in Lancaster and lives near Cambridge with her husband and daughter. Her debut novel, The Words in My Hand, was shortlisted for the 2016 Costa First Novel Award and Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award and was longlisted in France for the Prix du Roman FNAC. Her writing has also appeared in the Scotsman, Mslexia and The National Galleries of Scotland.
Website – http://www.guinevereglasfurd.com
Twitter – https://twitter.com/GuinGlasfurd
Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/GuinevereGlasfurdBooks/
Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14055595.Guinevere_Glasfurd