“The Inheritance of Solomon Farthing” by Mary Paulson-Ellis: a theatrical book launch by Golden Hare Books at the Royal Scots Club
Mary Paulson-Ellis received an MLitt in Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow and also won the inaugural Curtis Brown prize for fiction in 2009. Her debut novel, “ The Other Mrs Walker”, was Waterstones Scottish Book of the Year, 2017. Her second novel, “The Inheritance of Solomon Farthing” was launched last week at the Royal Scots Club, Edinburgh, a most apt location for a narrative inspired by memories of the Great War. This private club in the New Town was founded in 1919 in honour of 11,162 men in the Royal Scots Regiment who died in the First World War.
Organised by Mary and Golden Hare Books, there was a theatrical ambience to the wine reception with staff dressed in army uniforms, a medley of vintage wartime songs, the chance to gamble with matchsticks and buttons, and cheese and crackers served from a vintage tin box. If this didn’t take us on a moving and nostalgic trip to the trenches, nothing would.
Afterwards, guests were invited to the theatre downstairs for the meet the author event. Julie Danksin of Golden Hare Books, welcomed us all and introduced Mary Paulson-Ellis. It was also a timely celebration for Golden Hare which was named Independent Bookshop of the Year at the British Book Awards 2019.
They were up against eight regional winners but it was Julie of Golden Hare Books who was presented with the award by Ian Rankin at the ceremony in May.
Mary Paulson-Ellis is certainly interested in complex dual narratives, linking past and present. “The Other Mrs Walker” has been described as neo-Victorian mystery, set in the Edinburgh winter of 2010, when the death of an elderly woman starts the research into her life story.
Mary explains that the saga of Solomon Farthing inhabits the same territory as Mrs Walker – the theme of identity and no known next of kin. It begins in the present day, when an old soldier passes away in an Edinburgh nursing home which sparks the search for his descendants and delve into the past to follow a link back to the battlefields, France 1918.
The story was inspired by “Heir Hunters” the BBC TV series which follows the investigations of legal cases when someone dies intestate. Apparently 60% of people do not make a Will, such that the inheritance of their Estate can be claimed by the closest living relatives.
Solomon Farthing is an Edinburgh heir hunter who has been given the responsibility of finding the rightful owners of a pawn ticket and an amount of cash, just a few belongings of the deceased soldier. But his journey of discovery also reflects on his own troubled life and lost links with his family.
The novel also explores the morality of inheritance – how do we know where the money comes from as it passes hand to hand. We may be left a gift, valuable property, an investment but was it the result of theft or gambling. ?
Julie then asks Mary about the other character in her books, Edinburgh. As she has lived here for 32 years, (born in Glasgow), it is her homage to the city, although, of course, a great deal of fiction is set here. She also explains that it is not a novel about World War I as other writers have covered the subject most comprehensively, including Pat Barker’s “Regeneration” Trilogy.
The narrative of Solomon Farthing focuses on the life and death of men and soldiers – indeed it was not men, comments Mary, but boys who were called up aged 19, who then had four weeks training before heading off to fight for their country.
There is a most poignant quotation printed at the beginning of this novel:
“ The First World War, if you boil it down, what was it? Nothing but a family row.” Harry Patch .
Before he died in 2009, aged 111, Harry was the last surviving combat soldier of the First World War and known as “The Last Fighting Tommy”.
On the front cover of “The Inheritance of Solomon Farthing” is a quote from Val McDermid:
“A richly rewarding literary novel that’s also a gripping page-turner.”
“The Inheritance of Solomon Farthing” by Mary Paulson-Ellis – part modern mystery and part heroic war story – is clearly the perfect time-travelling, Winter’s tale.
Perhaps visit the Golden Hare Books to pick up your copy.
“The Inheritance of Solomon Farthing” by Mary Paulson-Ellis is published by Mantle Books, an imprint of Pan MacMillan