Charlotte, daughter of Reverend Percival Hatton, has been content to follow the path laid out for her. Charlotte has an understanding with Captain Nicolas Paget – every inch the gentleman – who she expects someday to marry. But then she meets Josiah Martyn and everything changes…
A driven and ambitious Cornish mining engineer, and the complete opposite to Captain Nicholas, Josiah has come to London to help build the first tunnel under the river Thames. When unpredictable events occur at the inauguration of the project, Josiah and Charlotte are suddenly thrown into an unexpected intimacy.
But not everyone
is happy with Charlotte and Josiah growing closer. As friends turn to foes,
will they be able to rewrite the stars and find their happy ever after,
although all odds seem to be stacked against them…?
I received a copy of this book from the author and Corvus Books in return for an honest review.
Set in 1825, this romantic family saga explores the engineering feat of building the first underwater tunnel in London, by Brunel. The vision of this late Regency event comes across well in this story, but so does the human cost, of such a dangerous undertaking.
Charlotte is the Rector’s daughter, who since her mother’s untimely death has fulfilled the parish duties expected of a Rector’s wife. She is compassionate, clever and courageous, and does what she can to help the parish’s poor and unfortunate. The Rector is judgemental about his poorer parishioners. He is the antithesis of his daughter and prepared to put his material needs above his pastoral duties.
Charlotte meets Josiah, an engineer working for Brunel on the tunnel when he averts a near-tragic accident for her. The attraction although immediate and powerful builds through friendship when they meet on many occasions, through Charlotte’s parish duties and mutual acquaintances. Their romance appears ill-fated, when her father’s desire to maintain his reputation overrides the needs and wishes of his daughter, leading to an angst-ridden emotional climax to this story.
The historical background is well researched and written in a vivid real-time way that allows the reader to experience some of the events of the era. The characters are complex. Many are disagreeable but add to the story. All act in a way that fits with this exciting historical period. The social class divide is marked, but the evidence of change that the future Victorian era witnessed is seen here.
An absorbing plot, with vividly written characters, historical events, and a believable but utterly romantic love story, makes this the perfect book to curl up with on a cold winter’s afternoon.
Jean Fullerton is the author of thirteen novels all set in East London where she was born. She also a retired district nurse and university lecturer. She won the Harry Bowling Prize in 2006 and after initially signing for two East London historical series with Orion she moved to Corvus, part of Atlantic Publishing and is halfway through her WW2 East London series featuring the Brogan family.
THE LAST EDITION OF TENSE CRIME THRILLERSERIES SET IN BIRMINGHAM
RECEIVES CITY CENTRE LAUNCH
Birmingham has well and truly been put on the crime thriller map with the success of the TV series Peaky Blinders but for bookworms amongst us, the popular Trail Series has long brought readers into the modern-day 21st century with its tense storylines, murder and intrigue set in and around the city.
The Trail series features a vodka business, a cancer cure and obsessive killers. Every book is a good read in its own right – each is a great crime story with terrific twists to keep the tension mounting – but together, they follow the same characters over several years.
The Trail series author AA Abbott also known as Helen Blenkinsop has been compared with the likes of Ruth Rendell, John Grisham and Jeffrey Archer. She lived and studied in Birmingham for nearly 20 years and her passion and love for the city became the inspiration for the Trail series.
Now, after four successful editions, the last storyline will be revealed in the publication of THE FINAL TRAIL which will be launched in Birmingham on 28th October.
In the last book …”Glamorous Kat White has built a successful craft vodka brand in Birmingham, but she has an uneasy relationship with her business partner, Marty Bridges. Her mother had previously supplied with poisonous vodka. Marty doesn’t trust Kat, resents having to depend on her for commercial success, and isn’t thrilled that his eldest son wants to marry her. That’s not his biggest problem, though. He’s trying to develop a cancer drug with Kat’s brother, Erik, and it’s draining money he doesn’t have. Just as he finds an investor with pockets deep enough to fund their research, Erik is lured to the former Soviet Union and thrown into jail. Meanwhile, Ben Halloran, who killed his father to save Kat’s life, is faced with the twin risks of a murder charge and his brother’s deep-seated desire for revenge. Can Ben escape with his life and liberty? And can Marty save both Erik and his business – and learn to trust Kat?”
Helen said“I’ve been writing about these amazing characters for over 5 years, so you can imagine, they have become a part of my life. It’s been a great journey and they have come through so many storylines that it feels right for them to achieve their dreams at last.”
Most of the action in THE FINAL TRAIL takes place across the city and features the famous Rose Villa Tavern and 1,000 Trades in the Jewellery Quarter; The Mailbox, home to the BBC in Birmingham, Holloway Head by the famous Pagoda Island and locations in Harborne and Edgbaston.
Helen added, “It’s going to be very sad to launch the last book as the stories and characters have built up such a following but it will give me the opportunity to weave new and exciting tales – I have so many ideas buzzing in my head.”
THE FINAL TRAIL is a perfect read for those who like a fast-paced crime thriller combined with suspense, humour and plot twists. It’s ideal to take away on holiday and provides a great read during the autumn/winter nights.
THE FINAL TRAIL will be available to order from Amazon in e-book, paperback and dyslexia-friendly format from Monday 28th October 2019.
Everyone that meets Kat Keating is mesmerised. Beautiful, smart and charming, she is everything a good girl should be.
Her sister Eleanor, on the other hand, knows she can’t compete with Kat. On the awkward side of tall, clever enough to be bullied, and full of the responsibilities only an older sibling can understand, Eleanor grows up knowing she’s not a good girl.
This is the story of the Keating sisters – through a childhood fraught with secrets, adolescent rivalries, and on into adulthood with all its complexities and misunderstandings. Until a terrible truth brings the sisters crashing together and finally, Eleanor begins to uncover just how good Kat really was.
Good Girls is a love story, a coming-of-age story, a mystery and a tear-jerker. But most of all it’s a reminder of who to keep close and who to trust with your darkest secrets.
I received a copy of this book from Boldwood Books via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Two sisters, once close, but who have become estranged as they grew older. Eleanor, the older has her own reasons, but she’s never understood her sister Kat’s. Drawn together again, by a cruel stroke of fate, is it too late to reconnect?
This is an excellent family drama, with dark family secrets that devastate the once close sisterly bond. The story begins with Eleanor rushing to be with her sister, and them drifts back in time to the mid-1980s when they were young girls, and then the early 1990s, when Eleanor left for university.
The historical events slowly illuminate the present discord and misunderstanding, but all is not revealed until it is in some ways, too late to make amends. Serendipity plays a part in this story, as it often does in reality, and Eleanor gradually comes to terms with her past and the possibility of a hopeful future.
The cast of characters resonate, they all play a part in Eleanor’s life but have their own motivations and flaws, which makes them real. The story is realistically peppered with laughter, sadness, anger and despair. It is a poignant reminder that you cannot sometimes trust those closest to you, and of the rollercoaster nature of life.
An emotional family drama, with a realistic plot and memorable characters.
Author Interview – Amanda Brookfield – Good Girls
What inspired you to write ‘Good Girls’?
My original idea was to write about two sisters who are driven apart and then re-connected by the same man, deciding to get in touch by email after twenty years. But then the story took off in a hundred other directions, as stories do!
What interests you about family drama? Why are stories about sisters so absorbing?
We all come from families of one kind or another – our upbringings forge us, whether we like it or not – and I love looking at the myriad ways we try to deal with that. Sisters are a prime and rich example (I have two of my own!), being a relationship that is full of rivalries and ups and downs. But there are also, always, the ties of love and loyalty that continue to bind us as siblings, long after we have gone our separate ways in the adult world. This is a fascinating seam to explore as a novelist.
Dialogue is very important in a family drama story. How do you make your dialogue realistic?
You can have the most gripping plot, but if the voices of the characters do no ring true then it will fall flat. The way I work is to hear my characters speak inside my head. In fact, often snatches of dialogue – of how my characters would communicate – arrive at unexpected moments when I am away from my desk, driving the car say, or walking the dog. I have learnt to trust these snatches and write them down – it is my imagination working overtime, and 9 times out of 10 it is absolutely right. I guess it is like being an actor, trying to get inside the psyche of a protagonist.
How do you create your characters? What makes them believable and real?
Constructing a character is a bit like doing a jigsaw. You decide what they look like, and where they live; what age they are and what they do for a living. You give them hopes, hobbies and fears. Then you throw events at them and see what they do! If there is enough substance to your creations, enough humanity, the the way they behave under pressure will feel real and credible for the reader.
What sort of books do you enjoy reading and why?
I read as widely as possible – mostly fiction, but also memoir, travel and some history. I love being surprised by what I find on the page and always have my antennae up to learn new things, both creatively and factually. If someone recommends a book to me passionately enough, then I will always give it a go! I also try to avoid reading books that I think might be similar to whatever I am working on – I hate the idea of being influenced or feeling that someone has already gone where I am trying to go.
What are you currently writing?
I am halfway through a novel about a woman plucking the courage to leave her abusive husband – one of those subtle monsters that no one else knows about. I am writing the story from my heroine’s point of view, so it has an intensity that feels new and exciting. It is important for me to feel that each new writing project is stretching the boundaries of what I have done before.
Extract from ‘Good Girls’ – Amanda Brookfield
CHAPTER ONE January 2013
Eleanor decided to take a taxi from the station, even though she knew it would cost ten precious pounds and mean a wait. Being so rural, only a handful of cars served the area, but she didn’t want to be a bother to Howard, her brother-in-law. She texted both him and Kat to say she would be there within the hour and stayed as warm as she could in the small arched station entrance. It was a cold, dank morning, not raining for once but with air like icy metal against her skin.
The taxi driver who pulled up some twenty minutes later exuded an attitude of reluctance that made Eleanor disinclined to make conversation. When they hit a tail-back, thanks to a loop round the old Roman bridge, still not fixed from the heavy flooding over the New Year, he thumped his steering wheel. ‘A bloody joke. We can land men on the moon and still it takes three weeks to fix a few old stones.’ Eleanor murmured agreement but found that she didn’t mind much. The fields on either side of the road were still visibly waterlogged. After the grimy mêlée of south London, it was a visual feast – ethereal, shimmering silver bands engraved with the black reflections of leafless trees and smudgy January clouds.
The usual criss-cross of feelings was stirring at being back in such proximity to the landscape of her childhood. Just twenty miles away, her father was a resident in a small care home called The Bressingham, which he had once included in his rounds as a parish priest, days long since lost to him through the fog of dementia. Howard and Kat’s substantial Georgian house was ten miles in the opposite direction, on the fringes of a town called Fairfield. They had moved from Holland Park seven years before, a year after the birth of their third child, Evie. At the time, Eleanor had been surprised to get the change of address card. She had always regarded her little sister and husband as life-long townies, Kat with her posh quirky dress-making commissions to private clients and Howard with his big-banker job. It was because they saw the house in a magazine and fell in love with it, Kat had explained at one of their rare subsequent encounters, in the manner of one long used to plucking things she wanted out of life, like fruits off a tree.
But recently life had not been so cooperative. A small tumour had been removed from Kat’s bowel and she was in bed recovering. Howard had reported the event earlier in the week, by email, and when Eleanor had got on the phone, as he must have known she would, he had said that the operation had gone well and that Kat was adamant that she didn’t need sisterly visits. No further treatment was required. She would be up and about in a matter of days. Their regular babysitter, Hannah, was increasing her hours to plug gaps with the children and he was taking a week off from his daily commute into the City. ‘But I am her sister,’ Eleanor had insisted, hurt, in spite of knowing better. ‘I’d just like to see her. Surely she can understand that.’ Howard had said he would get back to her, but then Kat had phoned back herself, saying why didn’t Eleanor pop down on Saturday afternoon.
‘Nice,’ said the driver, following Eleanor’s instructions to turn between the laburnums that masked the handsome red-brick walls and gleaming white sash windows and pulling up behind the two family cars, both black, one a tank-sized station wagon, the other an estate. He fiddled with his satnav while Eleanor dug into her purse for the right money. I am not the rich one, she wanted to cry, seeing the visible sag of disappointment on his sheeny unshaven face at the sight of her twenty-pence tip; I am merely the visiting elder sister who rents a flat by a Clapham railway line, who tutors slow or lazy kids to pay her bills and who has recently agreed to write an old actor’s memoirs for a sum that will barely see off her overdraft.
Howard answered the door, taking long enough to compound Eleanor’s apprehensions about having pushed for the visit. He was in a Barbour and carrying three brightly coloured backpacks, clearly on the way out of the house. ‘Good of you to come.’ Brandishing the backpacks, he kissed her perfunctorily on both cheeks. ‘Brownies, go-carting and a riding lesson – pick-ups in that order. Then two birthday parties and a bowling alley. God help me. See you later maybe. She’s upstairs,’ he added, somewhat unnecessarily. ‘
‘The Big Sister arrives,’ Kat called out before Eleanor had even crossed the landing. ‘Could you tug that curtain wider?’ she added as Eleanor entered the bedroom. ‘I want as much light as possible.’
‘So, how are you?’ Eleanor asked, adjusting the offending drape en route to kissing Kat’s cheek, knowing it was no moment to take offence at the Big Sister thing, in spite of the reflex of deep, instinctive certainty that Kat had said it to annoy. At thirty-eight she was the big sister, by three years. She was also almost six-foot, with the heavy-limbed, dark-haired, brown-eyed features that were such echoes of their father, while Kat, as had been pointed out as far back as either of them could remember, had inherited an uncanny replication of their mother’s striking looks, from the lithe elfin frame and flinty-blue feline eyes to the extraordinary eye-catching tumble of white-blonde curls. ‘You look so well,’ Eleanor exclaimed, happiness at the truth of this observation making her voice bounce, while inwardly she marvelled at her sibling’s insouciant beauty, utterly undiminished by the recent surgery. Her skin was like porcelain, faintly freckled; her hair in flames across the pillow.
‘Well, thank you, and thank goodness, because I feel extremely well,’ Kat retorted. ‘So please don’t start telling me off again for not having kept you better informed. As I said on the phone, the fucking thing was small and isolated. They have removed it – snip-snip,’ she merrily scissored two fingers in the air. ‘So I am not going to need any further treatment, which is a relief frankly since I would hate to lose this lot.’ She yanked at one of the flames. ‘Shallow, I know, but there it is.’
‘It’s not shallow,’ Eleanor assured her quietly, experiencing one of the sharp twists of longing for the distant days when they had been little enough and innocent enough to take each other’s affections for granted. They had been like strangers for years now in comparison, shouting across an invisible abyss.
Amanda Brookfield is the bestselling author of 15 novels including Relative Love and Before I Knew You, and a memoir, For the Love of a Dog starring her Golden Doodle Mabel. She lives in London and is currently a Visiting Fellow at Univ College Oxford. Her first book with Boldwood, Good Girls, will be published on 8th October 2019.
When the boy was four, he asked his father why people needed sleep. His father said, ‘So God could unfuck all the things people fuck up.’
As America recovers from the Second World War, two families’ journeys begin. James Vincent, born in 1942 to an Irish-American family, escapes his parents’ turbulent marriage and attends law school in New York, where he moves up the social ladder as a prosperous and bright attorney. Meanwhile, Agnes Miller, a beautiful black woman on a date with a handsome suitor, is pulled over by the police on a rural road in Georgia. The terrible moments that follow make her question her future and pivot her into a hasty marriage and new life in the Bronx.
Illuminating more than six decades of sweeping change – from the struggle for civil rights and the chaos of Vietnam to Obama’s first year as President – James and Agnes’s families will come together in unexpected, intimate and profoundly human ways.
Romantic and defiant, humorous and intellectually daring, Regina Porter brilliantly explores how race, gender and class collide in modern-day America – and charts the mishaps and adventures we often take to get closer to ourselves and to home.
I received a copy of this book from Random House UK- Vintage Publishing -Jonathan Cape via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
This book has sat on my virtual to be read pile all Summer, maybe I subconsciously knew that it would be a challenging read, and this weekend I found out I was right, it was. Though, not the way I thought.
It is an epic story, a family saga spanning an iconic period in USA history. It focuses on family, racism, sexuality, sex discrimination, as well as a myriad of other politically and socially significant themes, but it explores them through two families. One black, one white, and the ways they interconnect, sometimes intimately, other times just for a moment in time. This is an intensely personal way of exploring the modern-day history of the USA. It brings it to life, recalling memories for some, and making it real for the younger generation, who didn’t live through it.
Six decades are covered and the cast of character is plentiful, but it is the way the story is written that I find challenging. It is best described as a series of short stories, each featuring members, of the two families, often at a notable historical time point. Many of the scenes are retold more than once, being seen from another point of view. Whilst, this reinforces the effect of the historic event, it does make the reader feel they are experiencing a groundhog day.
If you can accept the unusual structure, which would work seamlessly in visual media, not surprisingly, the author is a playwright. The story is enlightening, humourous, poignant and romantic, illuminated with rich historical detail. Full of vivid imagery, the reader can visualise what is happening, how it affects the participants, and the story as a whole, very easily.
So, if you enjoy historical literary fiction, and are prepared to let it absorb you without worrying about who did what, and why do you have to see it, from so many perspectives. This is a story that will sweep you away, in time and place, whilst also illuminating the political and social struggles of the USA’s citizens in an influential sixty-year period.
I received a copy of this book from Aria via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
What appeals about this story is its commitment and honesty. Georgina is a relatable, remarkable, yet ruthless character, who you would want on your side. Her love for her family and friends shines through, even though she commits and sanctions unspeakable acts as the head of a south London crime gang in the 1930s.
When her newly acquired gangland empire is under threat from men who think she should know her place, she only has one response; be better than them, and fight back. She symbolises the female fight for equality. The crimes are gritty, but the story is one of family, and this is why the protagonists are likeable.
A clever plot with plenty of depth and hidden twists complements the complexcharacters well and makes this a page-turning chapter of a compelling crime series.
Guest Post – Sam Michaels- The Birth of a Ruthless Woman
was born and bred in London and then lived in Surrey, Kent and Hampshire before
moving to Spain four years ago. It was here that I found I had the time to take
up writing. So, after lots of encouragement from my husband and mum, I sat on
my sofa and penned my first novel, Trickster.
probably imagine that living in a sunny climate is inspirational and blissful
for a writer but I doubt it’s anything like you might picture. There’s no
sitting in the sun, sipping sangria and dipping in the pool. It’s impossible to
use my laptop outside because I can’t see the screen. So instead, I sit at my
new desk in my spare bedroom with a ceiling fan on and the shutters closed.
It’s so peaceful and this is where I wrote my second novel, Rivals, the follow
up to Trickster.
a series of five books has been such an interesting journey. Normally, after a
novel is completed and published, the author will leave the characters behind
and move on to the next story. But with mine, I’ve had the wonderful
opportunity to delve deep into Georgina’s Garrett’s life from birth, growing up
and into adulthood. When I’d finished Trickster and started writing Rivals, I
was so excited to meet Georgina again and couldn’t wait to move her character
on through her complex life.
came about as I was driving with my hubby. I remember turning to him and
saying, ‘Georgina Garrett, the birth of a ruthless woman.’ She started off as
just a short single scene in my head – A young woman, beautiful, tough and on
the wrong side of the law. I could see her eyes, hair and the shape of her
body. I knew when she was born and that she’d had many struggles to overcome.
In the scene, Georgina was dressed as a boy and was thieving with her father.
For the rest of the drive with hubby, I blurted out the whole story, from the
day WW1 was declared and the birth of Georgina until she came to rule the
streets of Battersea.
hubby was flabbergasted and so was I – Trickster just needed to be written now.
I began typing, I found Georgina’s character changed slightly. I gave her more
of a heart and made her more caring. After all, I wanted my potential readers
to love her as much as I did! And I found that once the book was finished, I
missed her. So I was keen to get on with writing Rivals and now I’m almost
finished writing the third in the series.
so much more for Georgina to yet experience – and I can’t wait to share it with
you in the coming books!
Sam Michaels lives in Spain with her family and a plethora of animals. Having been writing for years Trickster is her debut novel. FacebookTwitter
In the darkest days of the Blitz, family is more important than ever.
With her family struggling amidst the nightly bombing raids in London’s East End, Ida Brogan is doing her very best to keep their spirits up. The Blitz has hit the Brogans hard, and rationing is more challenging than ever, but they are doing all they can to help the war effort.
When Ida’s oldest friend Ellen returns to town, sick and in dire need of help, it is to Ida that she turns. But Ellen carries a secret, one that threatens not only Ida’s marriage but the entire foundation of the Brogan family. Can Ida let go of the past and see a way to forgive her friend? And can she overcome her sadness to find a place in her heart for a little boy, one who will need a mother more than ever in these dark times?
I received a copy of this book from Atlantic Books – Corvus via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
The sense of community, family and the austerity of wartime London is conveyed well in this historical family saga. Part of the ‘Ration Book’ series, none of, which I have read, it works well as a standalone. However, the engaging characters, historical detail and sense of place, make me want to read the earlier books.
1941, London has suffered two long years of war, rationing makes living difficult, and the ever-present threat of nightly bombing means that living each day to the full, and appreciating your family is vital. Ida Brogan is a character who does this, she values her family and still loves her husband, but the return of an old friend in need makes her question everything that has gone before. The main plot focuses on her struggle to come to terms with this unwanted knowledge, and how it affects the family she holds so dearly.
There are many subplots interwoven into the story that gives it authenticity, depth and variety, which keeps the reader turning the pages. Outstanding characters are Ida, Jeremiah and Queenie. They are complex and believably flawed. The plot is well-paced and gives enough detail for you to appreciate the ambience of London’s EastEnd in WW2, without slowing the pace. The relationships, rationing and sense of community are beautifully conveyed and relatable. They made me recall my grandparents’ and parents’ wartime experiences, retold on numerous occasions during my childhood.
A lovely blend of family drama and history, with a realistic balance of humour and poignancy.
Jean Fullerton is the author of twelve novels all set in East London where she was born. She also a retired district nurse and university lecturer. She won the Harry Bowling Prize in 2006 and after initially signing for two East London historical series with Orion she moved to Corvus, part of Atlantic Publishing and is halfway through her WW2 East London series featuring the Brogan family.
Evie Kilgaren is a fighter. Abandoned by her mother and with her father long gone, she is left to raise her siblings in dockside Liverpool, as they battle against the coldest winter on record. But she is determined to make a life for herself and create a happy home for what’s left of her family.
Desperate for work, Evie takes a job at the Tram Tavern under the kindly watch of pub landlady, and pillar of the community, Connie Sharp. But Connie has problems of her own when her quiet life of spinsterhood is upturned with the arrival of a mysterious undercover detective from out of town.
When melting ice reveals a body in the canal, things take a turn for the worst for the residents of Reckoner’s Row. Who could be responsible for such a brutal attack? And can Evie keep her family safe before they strike again?
A gritty, historical family drama, full of laughter and tears from the author of Annie Groves’ bestsellers including Child of the Mersey and Christmas on the Mersey.
I received a copy of this book from Boldwood Books via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
I love reading a book that you become absorbed in from the first page. ‘The Orphan Daughter’, has this quality, and it’s an enthralling story, with historically authentic characters, whose lives you feel part of, especially the two main female protagonists Connie and Evie.
The historical period for this book, the post WW2 era, and the terrible winter of 1947 is a time I often heard my grandparents and parents talk about. The historic details are believable, and the setting and characters portrayed using vivid imagery, which brings the book to life.
Evie’s hardships are all too common during this time, the euphoria of the ending of war recedes, leaving the bombed cities, damaged infrastructure and relentless poverty for many. Life is hard in Reckoner’s Row, although the community is tight, it is wary of outsiders and unforgiving to those who break the unwritten laws. Evie wants to get out and make something of her life, but love and responsibility draw her back, into the world she longs to leave. This is an emotional family drama, where women are important, they keep families together, and have to subjugate their ambitions.
Angus is an outsider, there to investigate. He and Connie have an attraction, but she is loath to risk her heart and reputation on a fling. There is a mystery element, in this story, which adds to the family saga theme. The air of menace increases as the story progresses. Connie and Evie find that their daily hardship is not the only danger they face.
‘The Orphan Daughter’ has an authentic historical setting, complex characters, with intriguing elements of crime and mystery cleverly woven into the story. An enticing start to the ‘Reckoner’s Row’ series.
Extract from The Orphan Daughter – Sheila Riley
CHAPTER 1 SUMMER 1946 Nineteen-year-old Evie Kilgaren gathered her mane of honey-coloured hair into a loop of knicker elastic before taking a vase of heavy-scented lilies and freesias into the kitchen. The flowers were barely faded when she rescued them from the churchyard bin that morning.
Placing them in the centre of the table, she hoped their heady scent would mask the smell of damp that riddled every dwelling in the row of terraced houses opposite the canal and add a bit of joy to the place.
‘Who’s dead?’ her mother, Rene, asked. Her scornful retort was proof she had already been at the gin and Evie’s heart sank. She had wanted today to be special.
Surely her dead father’s birthday warranted a few flowers. Even if they were knockoffs from the church – at least she had made an effort, which was more than her mother had.
‘I got them for Dad’s…’ Evie was silenced by the warning flash in her mother’s dark eyes. A warning she had seen many times before. Rene gave a hefty sniff, her eyes squinting to focus, her brow wrinkled, and her olive skin flushed. Evie knew that when her mother had drunk enough ‘mother’s ruin’, she could be the life and soul of any party or, by contrast, one over could make her contrary and argumentative. ‘I thought they’d look nice on the table,’ Evie answered lightly, quickly changing her answer to try and keep the peace. She should have known better than to mention her father in front of Leo Darnel, who’d moved in as their lodger six months ago and taken no time at all getting his feet under her mother’s eiderdown. ‘I found a vase in…’ Her voice trailed off. Her mother wasn’t listening. As usual, she’d disappeared into the parlour to darken her finely shaped eyebrows with soot from the unlit grate – make-up was still on ration – dolling herself up for her shift behind the bar of the Tram Tavern. The tavern was barely a stone’s throw away on the other side of the narrow alleyway running alongside their house, so why her mother felt the need to dress to the nines was anybody’s guess.
Out of the corner of her eye, Evie noticed a sudden movement from their lodger, who was standing near the range, which she had black-leaded that morning. Leo Darnel didn’t like her and that was fine, because she didn’t like him either.
He was a jumped-up spiv who tried to pass himself off as a respectable businessman. Respectable? He didn’t know the meaning of the word, she thought, her eyes taking in the polished leather Chesterfield suite that cluttered the room and seemed out of place in a small backstreet terraced house.
‘None of your utility stuff,’ he’d said, pushing out his blubbery chest like a strutting pigeon. All the time he had a wonky eye on the bedroom door. He would do anything to keep her mother sweet and made it obvious every chance he got to show Evie she was in the way.
He’d been very quiet for the last few minutes, Evie realised. That wasn’t like Darnel. He was up to something, she could tell. He hadn’t interrupted with a sarcastic comment as he usually did when she and her mother were having a tit-for-tat. His elfsatisfied smirk stretched mean across thin lips as he hunched inside a crisp white shirt and peered at her.
His beady eyes looked her up and down as he chewed a spent matchstick at the corner of his mouth before turning back to the grate. His piggy eyes were engrossed in the rising flames of something he had thrown onto the fire. Her attention darted to the blaze casting dancing flares of light across the room.
‘No!’ Evie heard the gasp of horror and disbelief coming from her own lips. How could he be so callous? How could he? As he stepped back with arms outstretched like he was showing off a new sofa, Evie could see exactly what he had done.
‘You burned them!’ Evie cried, hurrying over to the range, pushing Darnel out of her way and grabbing the brass fire tongs from the companion set on the hearth, desperate to save at least some of the valuable night-school work.
Two years of concentrated learning to prove she was just as good as all the rest – reduced to ashes in moments. Thrusting the tongs into the flames again and again was hopeless Her valuable notes disintegrated.
‘Mam, look! Look what he’s done!’ Her blue eyes blazed as hotly as the flames licking up the chimney.
‘You are not the only one who can crawl out of the gutter? Mr High-and-mighty!’ Evie was breathless when her burst of anger erupted, watching the flames envelope her books, turning the curling pages to ash. She balled her work-worn hands, roughly red through cleaning up after other people and pummelled his chest. Why? She caught his mocking eyes turn to flint before being dealt a quick backhander that made her head spin.
Her nostrils, which only moments before had been filled with the sweet fragrance of summer freesias and Mansion polish, were now congested with blood as traitorous tears rolled down her cheek. Evie dashed them away with the pad of her hand, ashamed and angry because he was privy to her vulnerability. Her pale blue eyes dashed from the range to her mother, who was now standing in the doorway shaking painted nails.
Sheila Riley wrote four #1 bestselling novels under the pseudonym Annie Groves and is now writing a new saga trilogy under her own name. She has set it around the River Mersey and its docklands near to where she spent her early years. She still lives in Liverpool.