"The Other Side of Stone" by Linda Cracknell is a beautifully crafted novella that treats the reader to a very poignant and visual reading experience. Following the life story of a woollen mill in rural Perthshire, the scene is set by the crafting of a carved door lintel by a travelling stonemason, a journeyman, in 1831. We then get to follow the fortunes of the mill and its inhabitants from its beginnings to the present day.
By 1913, the mill is a thriving enterprise with its regular orders being heavily supplemented by the demand for fabric for military uniforms. Shifts are 24 hours, and we view this time through the eyes of one mill worker’s wife who, whilst having aspirations of her own, is left to wait outside the mill each day for her husband to finish his shift. He holds her future in his hands, but as time goes on, he becomes increasingly involved in the running and politics of the mill, putting aside his earlier promise to support his wife’s right to a working life of her own.
The story of the mill, through boom and bust, is one that is typical across the whole industry, so by 1990 it is no surprise that, with business declining and family fortunes lost, closure is the result. One embittered worker, one of the last to leave, takes the knowledge of generations of workers with him, in the pattern book which contains the mystery of their art; a now dying art.
In "The Other Side of Stone", Linda Cracknell works her way into the fabric of the mill, provides insights into the village community and getting under the skin of the characters who inhabit it, in each chapter of its life. Like unearthing a time capsule, her words provide snapshots of those who passed through the building at different times in its history. Her descriptions are rich and colourful and create a beautiful pen picture of life and how it changes over time. But what particularly shines through is the real humanity in this book, reminding us that behind each and every building are real people whose lives are shaped by their experiences of their time spent within it.