Once Upon A Time in England

On the coldest night of 1975, a young man with shock-red hair tears though the snowbound streets
of Warrington's toughest housing estate. He is Robbie Fitzgerald, and he is running for his life -
and that of his young family. In his heart, Robbie knows the odds are stacked against them. In this
unbending Northern town, he has married the beautiful brown nurse who once stitched up his
wounds. Susheela is his Tamil Princess, but in the real world, the Fitzgeralds have to face up to prejudice, poverty and sheer naked hatred from their neighbours. Now Robbie has seen a way out, and he's sprinting to his date with destiny...Over thirteen years of struggle, aspiration, achievement,
misunderstandings, near-misses and shattered dreams, Helen Walsh plunges us into the lives and loves of the young, doomed Fitzgerald family. She shows herself to be a brilliant chronicler of our people and our times. And in the Fitzgeralds, she has created a family who will stay in your heart, long after the final page. Once Upon A Time In England offers an unforgettable portrait of the world in which we live, and confirms Helen Walsh as a writer of searing power.

The author on Once Upon A Time in England

"I never set out to write a state-of-the-nation novel, but rather tell the story of a love that was doomed right from the start. The backdrop, an all white satellite estate in the North West of England, with the National Front a palpable presence, meant that flame haired Robbie Fitzgerald
and his Tamil immigrant wife were always a non starter. Ten years later, ten years earlier, or ten miles further down the motorway they might have stood a chance. But not in Warrington, not in the 1970s."

Book Reviews

The New Statesmen
"Once Upon a Time in England will be one of the 20 best novels published this year. It is a very good novel and it deserves to be read." READ MORE

The LA Times
"Although the story has a deep, upsetting beauty, a reason to read "Once Upon a Time in England" is because its tension is the world's tension." READ MORE

The New York Times
"Helen Walsh's second novel is bookended by random acts of violence, twin hate crimes depicted with the blend of trenchant detail and even-handed detachment that's the hallmark of this muscular portrait of family disintegration and hard-won redemption." READ MORE

The Telegraph
"For each of the characters, hope builds and is snatched away. It's just one damn thing after another in this family saga. But Once Upon a Time in England is the kind of book whose events you find yourself repeating to friends." READ MORE

The Independent
"Walsh draws two eras in bold colours, enriched by the beleagured love that pulses so movingly through her swift-running saga." READ MORE

The Independent on Sunday
"The novel's greatest poignancy rests not in the parents but in the children whom they damage, and the timescale enables Walsh to depict the next generation as they develop – or rather, fail to develop... She unflinchingly shows human beings consumed by a damage and hurt that turns them into the very monsters they had hoped to slay." READ MORE

The Guardian
"Nikesh Shukla's top 10 Anglo-Asian book.From Hanif Kureishi to Helen Walsh, the novelist celebrates books that find room for naked raves and Bruce Springsteen as well as wrangles over arranged marriages. Helen Walsh. Once Upon A Time in England A story of one moment that changes everything, and leaves a couple desperately in love spending a lifetime passively battling each other for release. Here, it is a brutal act of racism against working man's club singer Robbie's beautiful Tamil wife, Susheela. Set in the north, and featuring plenty of small-town suffocation, dreams fade and hope dims, lives collide and their children grow up in that inbetween world, never quite sure of who they're meant to be and who their parents wish they were. A bittersweet joy to read. " READ MORE

Read the opening pages of Once Upon A Time in England the book

Once Upon A Time in England

Part One

Oford, Warrington, 1975

Out on the plains, the icy urban plains, a flame-haired young man was belting down the street, his
two-tone shoes sliding and skidding away from his knees. His eyes were slit to the freeze, and his
elbows moved freakishly fast, punching and chopping a pin-wheeling path through the night, as
though his crazed perpetual motion would keep him upright, outpacing the slick of the sodium-
streaked pavements.

An old lady out walking her dog heard his helter-skelter approach, saw the lady spin round the
corner and flare right at her. She gasped and shrank back into a neighbour's gate, snatching up the
pooch and drawing it tight to her bosom. The ice sprinter did not even see her, barely took note of
the dog's startled yelp as he blitzed past in the steaming slipstream of his own breath. He was
hardly dressed for the weather, wearing just a thin black shirt rolled twice at the cuffs. The top two
buttons remained undone, revealing a flash of flesh as white as the snowflakes gathering in his curls.

On sight of his wild red mane the old lady's heart returned to normal, the dog was returned to the
ice-bound floor. There was only one man around here with hair that hue - Jimmy Fitzgerald's lad,
Robbie. There he went, running, running - always running, whatever the weather, too hot or too
cold. But where was he running to? Or from what? She watched him rip round the next corner and
out of sight, stood and stared at his foot-prints. The snow smothered his skidmarks so that soon
there was no evidence of him having been there at all, only a tenuous ribbon of panic lingering in
the air. The dog poked its snout up, sniffed at it and ran in little revolutions, yapping madly.

Robbie Fitzgerald was running for his life. He peeled another corner and at last the squat silhouette
of the building lurched into view. The windows were blacked out and bore no testimony to the
wildness that pulsed within. But as Robbie drew up outside and gathered his breath, the night
reverberated with the rampant din of stamping feet and screeching fiddles and the braying spray of
laughter. This was Orford's Irish Club, Saturday night. This was make or break. Robbie grinned to
himself, took one last deep breath, swung the door wide open and plunged inside.

The heat and disorder slurped him up in one muddled flush. It was chaos in there - people were
whooping and howling and whirling one another around. Dark slicks of spilt Guinness sloshed on
the floor in contrast with the white of the night outside. To his right, a group of drunken men, arms
draped affectionately around one another, belted out 'The Fields of Athenry'. On the small stage
beyond, a fiddle quarter struggled to be heard above them. Robbie stood back and soaked it all up.
He allowed himself a small smile as he stayed rooted to the spot for a moment, shaking his head at
how little the place had changed. Then he got down to business. He needed those fiddle players.
Without them, well - it would all turn to dust.

He pushed himself up onto his tiptoes and scanned the room for Irene. His heart kicked out with
giddy relief as she ducked up from beneath the bar and flipped open one of those bumper-sized
bottles of stout. She laughed her dirty, infectious laugh as she poured, propped up one elbow,
holding court to a gaggle of travellers, her huge freckled bust splayed across the bar top.

'Irene!' he yelled, and hoisted his head up so she could see it was him. He stepped through the black
puddles, edging his way through a malestrom of flailing elbows and thumping feet. 'IRENE!'

Irene O'Connor did not hear her name being yelled across the roof of noise. She couldn't hear a
thing in there. It was crimson brilliance of Robbie's hair that caught her attention. Red-haired men
were two a penny in her club, but Robbie's mop was such a magnificent red it almost glowed.
School bus red she called it. She swivelled to meet his gaze, instinctively raking a hand through her
hair. Robbie launched himself up and onto the bar. His face, his head, his hair were wrung with
sweat. His eyes were big and crackling with some intense energy.

'I need you to help me,' he shouted. His words were drowned out, sucked back over his shoulder
into the roistering din. His eyes flickered all over her.

'What you saying, our kid?' She moved right into him, lent her ear to his hot, smoky mouth.

'Irene, this is serious, love. I need you to help us. There's been an emergency.'

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