This book is comprised of nine linked short stories that form a novella. At the heart of all the stories is a water-powered woolen mill in Perthshire, Scotland. The Other Side of Stone spans three centuries in an intimate study of those who are connected to the mill.
- 1831 Stone Curse – a master stonemason fashions the dedication stone for the towns new mill. His many years of work have led to ill health and he has a terrible cough. He carves more than just the date into the stone…
- 1913 In and Out the Windows – Catharine, a young wife waits for her weaver husband outside the mill. She has a conversation with the mill who steals her husband away for so many hours. She and her husband were of like minds – until she became a suffragette and he becomes increasingly swayed by the mill and his own ambitions.
- 1990 The Last Tweed – George Kaye, a weaver for over thirty years, a grandfather, is forced out of his trade with the closure of the mill. They want to nail the doors shut, but he has lingered on to respectfully fill the last of the estate orders. He knows that if he leaves the mill for any reason, he won’t be allowed back in, so he stays working, on his Dobcross Loom. The end of an era…
- Spring 1913 All In Good Time – picks up from the second story with the Catharine waiting for her husband outside the mill. Months later, she is still a suffragette aiming to get the vote for women. She still wants to train as a nurse, though her husband has not yet signed the letter granting her ‘permission’ to do so.
- 2003 The Lost Son – James’ family have owned the mill for generations. When it came his turn to hold the reins of the family firm, the timing was wrong. Now people wore ‘ready-made’ clothing, and the demand for fine Scottish woolens waned. The mill closed. His marriage failed. He went off to Africa to train local people how to weave cotton. After he was there for two years, his time there was up, and he regretfully returns to Scotland with the sure knowledge that he has disappointed his family.
- October 1913 Traitor – picks up Catharine’s story once again. Yearning for some independence she got a job as a domestic servant in ‘the big house’. Once they learned she was a married woman they let her go. Now, back on the bench waiting for her husband, she rails at the mill for how society treats women. She talks to the mill like it was a sentient being. She laments that her husband wants her at home acting like a ‘proper wee wife’ whilst she wants so much more.
- 2006 Broken Symmetry – a young couple have converted the old derelict mill into eight separate flats, keeping one at the top left corner for themselves. Once completed, the young man gives in to a state of lethargy. He never leaves the building. His wife goes out to work, yet he remains in the flat. Meanwhile, the old building has plans of its own…
- July 1914 Strike – we return to Catharine’s story once more. Her husband John, foreman, is working alone in the mill trying to finish some orders for khaki for the army. All his workers are on strike, so he goes it alone. She now realizes that her husband John does not support her need for independence. She makes a monumental decision.
- 2019 The Other Side of Stone – a teenage girl travels to the Scottish village to pick apples. She meets a local boy and an old woman who tells them of the mill as they sit atop the dedication stone.
As with all good historical fiction, several of the stories within “The Other Side Of Stone” are based on fact. They bring the past to life, giving the centuries old building and those connected to it, some understanding, some measure of regard.
The characters in these short vignettes are vivid in their authenticity. The old stone mill is a testament to endurance. Large and tall, the stone building overshadows the small Scottish town, blocking out the light with its dominance and souring the atmosphere. For almost two centuries it has influenced generations of people – tainting more than just the air they breathe.
The stories cover some historical aspects of the times in which their characters lived. Old Gaelic superstitions, the suffrage movement, industrialization, unions, the labour movement, wars, political unrest, and more. They tell of how people accept change with reluctance.
Although Catharine’s stories are central to the entire book, my favourite character was George Kaye, the man who wove the mill’s very last tweed. I found his story both vivid and poignant.
All in all, a haunting and memorable collection of stories.
I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel from Patrick at Taproot Press, for my own reading enjoyment and the writing of this review.
Publication date: March 31, 2021