One summer following the Second World War, Robert Appleyard sets out on foot from his Durham village. 16 and the son of a coal miner, he makes his way across the northern countryside until he reaches the former smuggling village of Robin Hood’s Bay. There he meets Dulcie, an eccentric, worldly, older woman who lives in a ramshackle cottage facing out to sea. Staying with Dulcie, Robert’s life opens into one of rich food, sea-swimming, sunburn and poetry. The two come from different worlds, yet as the summer months pass, they form an unlikely friendship that will profoundly alter their futures.
Riva is a ‘high-rise diver’, a top athlete with millions of fans, and a perfectly functioning human on all levels. Suddenly she rebels, breaking her contract and refusing to train. Cameras are everywhere in her world, but she doesn’t know her every move is being watched by Hitomi, the psychologist tasked with reining Riva back in. Unquestionably loyal to the system, Hitomi’s own life is at stake: should she fail to deliver, she will be banned to the ‘peripheries,’ the filthy outskirts of society.
Helen Grant is a mystery to her daughter. An extrovert with few friends who has sought intimacy in the wrong places; a twice-divorced mother-of-two now living alone surrounded by her memories, Helen (known to her acquaintances as ‘Hen’) has always haunted Bridget. Now, Bridget is an academic in her forties. She sees Helen once a year, and considers the problem to be contained. As she looks back on their tumultuous relationship – the performances and small deceptions – she tries to reckon with the cruelties inflicted on both sides. But when Helen makes it clear that she wants more, it seems an old struggle will have to be replayed.
Everyone has a Tully Dawson: the friend who defines your life. In the summer of 1986, in a small Scottish town, James and Tully ignite a brilliant friendship based on music, films and the rebel spirit. With school over and the locked world of their fathers before them, they rush towards the climax of their youth: a magical weekend in Manchester, the epicentre of everything that inspires them in working-class Britain. There, against the greatest soundtrack ever recorded, a vow is made: to go at life differently. Thirty years on, half a life away, the phone rings. Tully has news.