Written by Debz Hobbs-Wyatt
Published by Parthian Books
Review by Charlie Britten
Living in dirty chaos, eating fast food, and obsessed with statistics, journalist Gary Blanchet is losing it, his job on a local newspaper in Texas, his wife and his son. Sent out to report on a missing child, Gary finds the little girl with an old lady, Edith Boone, who has escaped from a care home. Edith tells him she is looking for her own daughter, Eleanor, who disappeared in Dallas many years ago, on 22 November 1963, the day President Kennedy was assassinated. Gary is wondering if he has found a story for his newspaper at last when he hears of a shooting at the local high school which his own son, Tyler, attends. By a stroke of luck, Tyler is away sick that day, but this doesn’t mean he has no involvement, as Gary discovers bit by bit.
The story about Edith Boone and her missing daughter won’t let Gary go. He persuades editor, Al, to let him pursue it further but doesn’t get anywhere until, on Al’s insistence, Gary consults psychic, Lydia Collins. Lydia is the best thing about ‘While No One Was Watching’, the character that warmed my heart and took this novel out of the ordinary. A middle-aged black woman living in reduced circumstances (but not in poverty), surrounded by cats and memories, but few real people, Lydia is ‘retire-ed’. At first, the reader is led to believe she is content to be so, but little by little, we learn of the circumstances that brought about Lydia’s retirement. This author inserts her flashbacks in byte sizes.
This novel has two first person narrators – Gary and Lydia. Lydia uses her chapters to share her world view, her gentleness and her firm traditional values, based upon what people she has loved have impressed upon her. Some of Lydia’s family have not treated her well but there’s no bitterness. Sometimes the reader doubts if she has a psychic gift at all, or merely an unusually insightful understanding of the human condition; at other times, we are sure it’s the real thing.
With Lydia’s help, Gary, Al and Tyler find out about Edith Boone and her missing daughter, but it doesn’t follow the pattern they expect. Increasingly they are drawn into the events in Dallas on 22 November 1963. Debz interweaves historical facts into the storyline with a light hand, always in context and never leaving the characters or the plotline of her novel, although she does drop in names like ‘Jack Ruby’ and ‘Lee Harvey Oswald’, and places like ‘Dealey Plaza’ and the – inevitable – ‘grassy knoll’, on the ready assumption that all readers are familiar with them. As 1963 is now over fifty years ago, I suspect many younger ones are not. However, this is the story of Lydia, Al, Gary and Tyler, more than it is a historical novel, about a school shooting or even about Edith Boone and her lost daughter.
As well as being a writer, Debz Hobbs-Wyatt is well-known in the UK as a publisher and editor. She works full-time for Bridge House Publishing as well as running her own children’s publishing company, ‘Paws n Claws’, and is the editor for the fiction website ‘CafeLit’. Although last year (2013), she was the winner of the Bath Short Story Award with ‘Learning to Fly’, ‘While No One Was Watching’ is Debz’s debut novel. She is currently working on a second.
Charlie Britten has contributed to Fiction At Work, Every Day Fiction, Mslexia, Linnet’s Wings, CafeLit, and Radgepacket. She has also written a couple of book reviews for Copperfield Review. She writes because she loves doing it.
All Charlie’s work is based in reality, with a strong human interest element. Although much of her work is humorous, she has also written serious fiction, about the 7/7 Bombings in London and attitudes to education before the Second World War. Charlie lives in southern England with her husband and cat. In real life, she is an IT lecturer at a college of further education. Charlie’s blog, ‘Write On’, is at http://charliebritten.wordpress.com/.