It is this combination of raw, unfiltered suffering and disarming pragmatism that makes the book so gripping – don’t be put off by the subject matter, this is a page-turner that doesn’t let go.
Has any subject preoccupied writers and artists of all kinds since time immemorial quite like love? What exactly is the irresistible force that brings two separate people together into this many splendoured thing that makes the world go round and lifts us up where we belong?
Notoriously difficult to describe without falling back on cliché, love is a slippery concept – and it’s a heartbreaking truth that some of those who’ve done the best job of conveying what it’s all about are those who describe its loss. Somehow, through a depiction of the agony of losing love, we understand what it is.
This is very much the case with Dear Blacksmith, an extraordinary memoir of grief by Sheffield-based writer Beverley Ward. This is a book that began as writing therapy when Ward’s partner of eight months, a blacksmith named Paul with whom she had fallen head over heels in love, suddenly died. As Ward says in her introduction, ‘I wrote in order to survive.’
The following year of her life passes in a state of sometimes unbearable sadness. Her writing is full of emotional honesty but also a remarkable lack of sentimentality. It is this combination of raw, unfiltered suffering and disarming pragmatism that makes the book so gripping – don’t be put off by the subject matter, this is a page-turner that doesn’t let go.
The story of their relationship, Paul’s death and the year that followed is told in a series of short pieces – vignettes, poems and reflections. It is presented in this way because, as Ward explains with characteristic honesty ‘the human in me cannot live with this material any longer’. But also because it paints an unexpectedly visceral picture of how one woman made it through a year of pain.
It’s testament to the power of Ward’s writing – and maybe the power of her love – that we come away from this book not only heartbroken by the loss she has endured, but also jealous of the love story she shared with her blacksmith. By wholeheartedly letting us in, showing us what this man – both in presence and in absence – means to her, she shares a many splendoured thing indeed.