Anne Bonny Q&A #Extract with #Author of Wartime Sweethearts @LolaJaye #ww2Fiction #Saga #HistoricalFiction #Romance @EburyPublishing @PenguinUKBooks

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Wartime Sweethearts by Lola Jaye

Synopsis ~

An English Girl. An American Soldier. A twin secret…

When Rose meets American GI William there is no denying the attraction between them…And even though she knows her family would not approve of her relationship with a black soldier, they can’t help but fall in love.

However Rose has a secret of her own and when war separates the sweethearts before she can confide in William, it is Rose who will have to deal with the consequences…

From the author of Orphan Sisters comes a moving and unique saga which gives a voice to the untold tales of our past.

Q&A ~

Q) For the readers, can you talk us through your background and the synopsis of your new novel?

A) Hello there! I’ve been a published author for ten years now and I’m also a registered psychotherapist. I’ve written five novels and a self-help book and was born and raised in London, England. I’ve lived in Nigeria and up until recently, the United States. My books have been translated into several languages including Korean, German and Serbian. I love writing saga novels and Orphan Sisters was released in 2017 charting the fictional journey of an immigrant family and the issues faced in post war London. My current book Wartime Sweethearts is out now:

When Rose meets American GI William there is no denying the attraction between them… And even though she knows her family would not approve of her relationship with a black soldier, they can’t help but fall in love. However Rose has a secret of her own and when war separates the sweethearts before she can confide in William, it is Rose who will have to deal with the consequences…

Q) Can you talk us through the journey from idea, to writing and finally to publication?

A) I have an idea. Then the characters are born. If these characters start to invade my thoughts, it’s time to tell their story! I became interested in learning more about the large numbers of babies born to African American solders and British women during WWII after listening to a segment on BBC Radio 4 Women’s Hour. Brown babies was the term used and I felt I needed to tell their ‘forgotten’ story.
When I write, I not only want to entertain, but I also like to weave in the contributions made by people of colour throughout the years. For example, it isn’t widely known that during both World Wars there were a significant number of African, Caribbean and Asian soldiers who volunteered and were recruited to all branches of the British armed forces. Although the story of William and Rose focuses on the African American allies, the cover for Wartime Sweethearts at least offers us a rare glimpse…

Q) What are your favourite authors and recommended reads?

A) I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou was/is a phenomenal woman. There’s something quite beautiful about the prose and raw emotion which sings from each page of this book.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
I needed to be in a certain place mentally to really take on this book due to the harrowing subject matter, so it stayed on my shelf for over five years. When I finally opened the first page, I was hooked.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
Every single page of this book felt like part of a feast I wanted to devour slowly. I was there with the characters too, living and breathing the life of a Japanese geisha and not sat on my couch on a rainy afternoon!

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I read this at a time I had newly arrived in America, so this novel felt like perfect timing. It contained so many references which gave way to a number of ‘aha’ moments like, what it meant to be an immigrant living in America- themes I recognised and could relate to on a personal level.

Q) What were your childhood/teenage favourite reads?

A) Like millions of others, I enjoyed the Flowers in the Attic books by Virginia Andrews and the naughtiness of Judy Blume in Forever. Pre teen me also loved books by Rosa Guy who was a phenomenon because for the very first time, I was reading about characters who looked like me. One of her books which particularly springs to mind is Edith Jackson, about a 17 year old black girl trying to make her way in life.

Q) What are you currently reading?

A) I am just about to start reading Tell me your Secret by Dorothy Koomson -who made be feel very special by sending me a proof!

Q) What has been your favourite moment of being a published author?

A) When a reader emails to tell me how much my writing has touched their lives.

Q) Who has been your source of support/encouragement, throughout the writing process?

A) It helps to have a list of writer friends who are familiar with the neurosis, solitude and basic weirdness that come with being a writer!

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Lola Jaye
Website
Twitter
Pre-order link via Penguin UK
Wartime Sweethearts on Goodreads

Extract ~

Chapter One

1944

She had never experienced this type of pain before. ‘Is the baby all right?’ she said in between deepened breaths and a succession of quick pants. Wasn’t the pain part supposed to be over by now? Why was she feeling as if she still needed to push something heavy out of her? When she was little, she’d accidentally walked in on Mrs Bunting giving birth next door. Rose had been mesmerised at the aftermath of bright red blood splattered across the bed sheets and a fully formed, yet purple and reddened baby wailing in its mother’s arms. The sight of something called the afterbirth, pooling out of her neighbour’s nether regions a little while later, was not what she’d expected either because no one had actually mentioned that part. Perhaps this was what was next for her too – she just couldn’t believe how much pain she’d endured so far, or that this beautifully formed, wailing infant now being tended to by her sister Flora, as Marigold, the oldest of the three, looked on, had actually come from her. In the blurred lines between pain and exhaustion, Rose was fighting pangs of envy at the time they’d already got to spend with the baby. Her first child. A little girl! She couldn’t wait to be alone with her and stare into her

perfect face. Absorb every single inch of this new person she’d got to know over the last eight months while safely cocooned in her stomach. She’d only managed a few seconds of a glimpse when Flora had placed her onto her chest right after she’d first entered this world. Their heartbeats had instantly connected and she felt an intoxication of love for this little being who had bombarded its way into her life at a time when the outside world had felt so uncertain. ‘She is a beauty!’ encouraged Marigold, standing at the end of Rose’s bent legs, an uncharacteristic smile spread all over her wide face. The earlier embarrassment at her sisters viewing parts of her she herself had never seen, had long since disappeared. She’d never felt more grateful for their presence nor more at ease. Marigold had already birthed two of her own as well as taking in a couple of evacuees at the start of the war, while Flora was just a natural at being organised; the clever one of the family. ‘Got a good pair of lungs on her too!’ said Marigold. ‘Time to give this beauty a nice clean and you can hold her,’ said Flora in that voice adults seemed to have hidden most of the time, yet regularly pulled out for babies and little children. Perhaps Rose herself would talk that way to the little one from now on as she fed her, combed her hair (when she had some) and bathed her. Rose couldn’t wait for these instances that would define her new role as a mother. At the age of thirty-one and already married for six years, she’d been waiting for this moment her entire life. This was her chance to do better as a wife and finally be able to prove to Pete, her husband, that she wasn’t a bad wife for not giving him a child or whatever other reason he would come up with. He’d often remind her he could find better among the dead cows at the knackers yard where he worked. He probably could. She wasn’t that much of a good wife. She sometimes burnt the food even though they were living on precious government rations and at times let the dust settle on the sideboards where

their wedding photo and ornaments took pride of place. Pete hated dust, said it made him cough. When one day he placed both hands around her neck until she couldn’t help but splutter in panic, he simply said, ‘Now you know what it feels like,’ before releasing her. She was a bad wife, but this, motherhood, she could do. She’d lost her mother Lillian at a very young age and she and her sisters and brother had been raised by a succession of aunties and neighbours while her father, Albert, sat in a chair smoking a pipe and stroking his moustache, lamenting the loss of the only woman he’d ever loved. Just like he still did every single day of his miserable life. Out of a line-up of three girls and the much longed for son, Donald, who finally came along and, with him, a change that would affect their lives forever, Rose could admit she’d been the favoured one. Flora the middle girl was the forever spinster with ‘too many big ideas’ and ‘just not ladylike enough’, according to their father, with Marigold the plain and ‘big’ one. At least Rose was looked at as the one ‘pretty enough’ to secure a decent husband who would earn enough money to contribute to the family pot. Rose had wanted that too. Hoping at least for a husband who could be a better father than hers and perhaps be more like her little brother Donald who at least took an interest in her life. What she’d ended up with was a man who did odd jobs when he could, refused to contribute anything to the Baker family and stayed away at least three nights a week, showing up drunk and reeking of other women. This baby was so important. Five months ago, she’d stood between Pete and the wall, his hand tightened around her wrist, his thigh jammed in the space between her legs, his spittle landing on her cheek as he reeled
off all the reasons why he should leave and never come back. Just like he usually did after a row. When, finally, she had landed him with the biggest reason of all – ‘I’m having a baby, that’s why!’ – her eyes had stamped shut as she waited for what was next.

Instead, he’d gently pulled her into his arms, punching the air instead of her face and cheering with happiness. And for the next five months as the baby grew inside her, Pete began to behave differently; rubbing her swollen feet and letting her know almost every day that he had never loved her more. She thought – had believed – he would never hit her again and especially not with his baby inside her. So now it was only his words that stung and usually when he was too drunk to care. Marigold said this was good, an improvement, yet for Rose his words sometimes felt like punches. Rose’s new fear was that Pete would be upset the baby wasn’t a boy. He may have said he didn’t mind what she produced and wasn’t fussed, but Pete said a lot of things. Having promised never to hit her again (many times but especially since she was pregnant), he’d recently succumbed with a sharp tug of her chestnut-coloured hair just after breakfast, the morning he left to work at the knackers yard four days ago. ‘Look what you made me do!’ he’d whined. Her hand had gently caressed the side of her head, she imagined would be a pinky red, as her other hand smoothed over her swollen belly. Thankfully, her baby was safe inside, moving around like normal. Seconds later, he was apologising as he pulled a pack of cigarettes and matches from his pocket. ‘Anyway, you’ve got those meddling sisters of yours, you don’t need me around. I don’t know why you’re moaning about me going away, anyway. Having a baby is a women’s thing, so it’s best I get back when it’s all done and with a bit of cash in me pocket. You’re both going to need feeding.’ He lit the match and placed it to the tip of the cigarette. ‘You’ve still got another month and I’ll be back just before or on the dot. Don’t you worry.’ He’d dragged on the cigarette as she imagined the instant joy she’d feel in stubbing it right into his cheek. The sweet little mite was crying wildly now, a reassuring sound as Rose felt an enormous need to push again.

She screamed louder than she ever thought she could. Louder than when Pete had first struck her that second hour into their wedding. Louder than when he had ‘accidentally’ twisted her wrist when they had rowed about the woman at number twenty-three. ‘Ahhhhhh!’ Marigold looked on, open-mouthed as Flora, always the most organised and sensible, placed the new baby into Marigold’s arms. ‘Please stop this pain – ahhhhhh!’ Rose’s screams were louder than when she’d been told her mother was never coming home after giving birth to Donald. What if a similar fate awaited her too? The thought had rushed through her mind many times and she was extremely angry with herself for not making it to the hospital on time for her own emergency. But as Marigold had pointed out helpfully or unhelpfully, their mother had died giving birth in a hospital anyway. ‘Marigold, hold that baby tight over there,’ said Flora with a warning tone to her voice. ‘Something’s happening here!’ Rose held her tears inside, the pain preventing such a luxury. This wasn’t meant to be happening. This was it. She too was about to go the way of their mother and never see her child again. ‘Oh my . . . No . . . This can’t be!’ shouted Flora, her hands now embedded between her sister’s legs. ‘What?’ screamed Rose, in between each desperate pant. The pain kept coming at her like a huge tank, she imagined. Steamrolling over her entire body and then backing up to do it all over again. ‘Keep pushing!’ urged Flora, her own face red with concentration. Marigold moved closer, still clutching the baby. ‘I don’t believe this!’ ‘Someone tell me what’s going on? Ahhhhh!’ The pain seared through her with an intensity she had never known. Every part of her enlarged with pain.

‘It’s another one!’ said Flora. ‘Another what?’ yelled Rose. ‘It’s twins!!’ Those final pushes were the toughest. The screams were the most intense and even though her eyes were stamped shut, Rose knew it was enough. She’d done it. She’d released a second baby into the world and she couldn’t have been more surprised . . . or happier. Her tears of joy, instant as she opened her eyes, but when she clocked the expression locked on each of her sister’s faces, her smile dropped. ‘What is it? Is my baby okay?’ She could only hear the cries of the first baby. ‘It’s a girl. Another girl.’ Gone was the joy in Flora’s voice heard only moments earlier with the arrival of the first child. Even Marigold looked miserable, but then again, Marigold was regularly unable to keep a smile for long. ‘Can . . . can I see her? Why isn’t she crying?’ ‘I’m . . . Err . . . I’m just going to sort her out here . . . Clean her up . . .’ Something in Flora’s tone didn’t sit right with Rose. Of her three siblings, she and Flora were the closest. Although Rose was only just over a year younger, Flora was the one she looked up to. She’d been the first girl in their family to finish school with good marks and the first one to get a job long before women were expected to as part of the war effort. She even spoke proper too and Rose had always wanted to be like Flora. Not a spinster . . . No, not that, but to possess her strength and fearless attitude. Yet, the expression on Flora’s face was that of fear. ‘Flora, what’s that face for? What’s wrong with my baby?’ The loud and healthy cry from baby number two was reassuring and timely. ‘Nothing is wrong. There you go, a healthy pair of lungs.’ ‘You sure about that, Flora?’ added Marigold, rocking baby number one, Iris, in her arms. Pete and Rose had already decided

to name their baby Iris if it was a girl – in keeping with the flower theme of their family. For a boy, they had decided on Donald after her brother who was currently fighting the Jerries and who they hoped would soon be home. ‘Is there something wrong with my baby? Please tell me!’ ‘Once I give her a bath, everything will be okay. Marigold, give Rose the first baby.’ Marigold appeared to be dumbstruck, her eyes fixated on the baby in Flora’s arms. ‘Marigold, give her the baby!’ ‘Iris. Her name is Iris,’ said Rose. ‘Give little Iris to her. Go on!’ Rose’s fears quickly floated away as she once again held baby Iris against her tired body. The smell of her, the uniqueness of this moment, overwhelming and eclipsing any joy she had previously felt during her thirty-one years of life. In her arms was her very own child and a combination of her and Pete. Although the marriage had been a bit rocky of late, Iris was proof that everything had happened to lead her to now. This beautiful human being wrapped safely in her arms; this moment; this love. And she had two of these little blessings. Pete would love her so much after this. Their love would be rock solid and never, ever become fractured again. The love of two babies binding them together, forever. ‘Can I see my little Lily, now?’ the name rolled off her tongue effortlessly. Lily, a shortened version of their mother’s name, seemed so very fitting. ‘Lily . . . That’s a great choice,’ said Flora uneasily. There seemed to be a private conference going on between her sisters with Lily being at the centre of it. As Rose listened to the reassuring sound of her first daughter’s breath, she also longed for the second one. She wanted to be close to her and to be reassured of her existence. As Flora spoke, the expression on her face was grave. ‘I thought when I washed her, it would come off . . .’

‘What would come off?’ ‘Her colouring.’ ‘What?’ ‘Maybe in a few days. It’s probably a birth thing . . . you know because she’s the second one?’ Flora moved closer to the bed, a white sheet covering the unexpected second baby, Lily. Rose handed Marigold (herself looking as white as the sheet) baby Iris and held out her arms for Lily. She felt an intense rush of warmth as Flora placed the baby into her arms. Were they identical? Would they have similar personalities or be totally different? Her sore and aching body managed to embrace a feeling of joy as she imagined the future, which now appeared amazing and full of sparkling possibilities. The country may have been at war, but in that moment Rose could not have asked for more as she settled Lily into her arms. She opened the sheet, excited about seeing her baby for the very first time. Instead, her breath caught in her throat. Her eyes widened, her breathing accelerated. She couldn’t speak. Not a word. If not for the presence of two babies, there would not have been a single sound in that room. Then Marigold spoke. ‘If I hadn’t seen this myself I would have said the devil himself had come into the house this morning and did this. What. The. Hell. Is. That!?’

My Dearest Love,
I can still feel the harshness of the ground beneath my bare feet as I run towards my mama, as she calls us in to eat. I miss the smell of fresh cornbread and the sound of the birds chirping me awake in the morning. I also miss the sky as blue as the sea with the sunshine above the mammoth trees draped in Spanish moss as I trace the sweat dripping down to my cheek. Yes, this land of yours, Great Britain, has the birds, but it rarely has the sunlight.

Yet, one day, when I thought it was going to be just another grey day, the sun appeared in all its splendour. It was the day we arrived in the town of Alderberry and all those people were so welcoming to us. I couldn’t be sure if I and the other seven guys were part of that welcome, but it appeared we were. To every one of the British who came to greet us, ask our names and thank us for ‘helping get rid of the Jerries’, I was just another American soldier walking the cobbled streets like they were reclaiming the land of their forefathers! I admit it. I allowed the clapping and stares to go to my head. It wasn’t something I was used to. The staring yes, but not the clapping. Not in America and not among my comrades either. It made me feel like a hero. Cornel told me to tone it down a little and put my chest back in. Maybe I should have. But for once I wasn’t about to obey any orders. ‘We ain’t like them,’ he said. ‘Well, to these folks, we are!’ Cornel was my best friend in the army. We looked the same. And while we were stationed in areas far away from home and everything I had ever known we had a type of safety in numbers, strategy in defence of some of the other men, like Riker. Riker was from Augusta, Georgia and not too far from where I grew up in Savannah. And it’s because of this that he hated me the most. The guys from the North weren’t like Riker and his boys. They treated us well enough, didn’t adhere to Jim Crow, but they sometimes called us spooks or Nigger. I didn’t mind much . . . well I did . . . of course I did, but I was powerless in the face of it all. Just like I was when put on duties that really had nothing to do with fighting the Germans. I wanted to get in there and do what I had been sent to do – not clean out the bathrooms. But it wasn’t worth a dime to say anything. Cornel was right and we were not the same in the eyes of Riker and his men or the law of our own country. So, if in Great Britain, it seemed like we were men – then I was going to enjoy that feeling for as long as I could.

Riker and the others truly believed they were movie stars. Big time operators stopping to hand out gifts to the ladies and kids. If the lady was pretty, she would get a little more than some cigarettes or candy. More like some nylons and a promise to ‘see her later’. I’d never known of a man to get a date so easily! Back home, I’d had to patiently wait six weeks for just a kiss with sweet Augustine Jewson! How Riker and the other guys behaved was not my way and, even if it were, I and the other seven guys who looked like me would not be allowed to partake anyway. Instead, we simply ‘minded our business’ as Cornel would say. Content to enjoy the way you folks pronounced words like ‘water’ and to give out extra candy bars to anyone who even smiled our way. As we stood in and among the last of the gathered crowds, my mouth dry with all the talking and laughing with the British folk, one of the seven said something about going to a bar or a ‘pub’, for lunch. It was called the Black Dog and I found this name a little unfortunate, but I was assured by one of the local men that the name referred to a real black dog that used to gather sheep in the area. As usual, Cornel was being negative, saying – ‘Let’s just all go back to base. I ain’t going in no establishment called the Black Dog!’ – five of the guys ignored him and carried on in the direction of the pub. ‘You coming?’ asked Cornel. ‘This isn’t home, we’re in England now. The folks here have been nothing but cordial, nice and welcoming.’ ‘I don’t know where you living but back at the base, ain’t nothing changed.’ He was right about that. Men like Riker were still determined to keep up what they were used to back at home regardless of where we had landed – and drinking in the same area as them was not the done thing. Some drinking establishments had already agreed to rotating passes so that we Negro soldiers were never in on the same day as white soldiers. Not everyone in this village had agreed to that and this made me happy inside. It felt

like England and its people were not going to be hostile towards us and that was great. But of course that made no difference to men like Riker. Of course, I was about to follow Cornel back to base . . . But something or someone stopped me. I looked up again and there it was. A kind of vision that I hoped was real. ‘You go on up ahead, and I’ll meet you.’ That was a lie. Cornel was looking sour but I was not about to leave. Not at that moment. Maybe not ever, because I had just laid eyes on you, for the very first time. Back home in Savannah, it wasn’t hard for me to ignore the look of a woman – a white woman – because simply put, to look back could get me in serious trouble, even killed. Yet thousands of miles away, here in a British town called Alderberry, I tried once again to pretend that my way of life back home was far behind. I had to do that in combat anyway because I just couldn’t afford to think about those I had left behind. Yet still, I, William Burrell, dared to look back at you. I dared to catch your pretty smile. A moment, which locked me into a time and space I never wanted to come out of. You were the first white woman I had ever looked at in that way before. Maybe even the first woman. Not even Augustine Jewson or Marie A. Rhodes or Viola Jackson had held my time in such a way. I knew that image of you would remain in my mind like a flower in a bed of concrete. I mean no disrespect when I say this, but you weren’t Hollywood glamour like Gene Tierney, with your dressed-down flat shoes, your hair neatly styled, but with tendrils falling messily into your eyes, that to be honest did look a little tired. Yet, I could see they still sparkled with something. And looking at you gave me a sense of peace within the chaos. A calm I didn’t know I had missed. A sense of acceptance in a world where I was risking my life for a country that failed to even see me as a man.

‘Hello there,’ you said. I adored that accent as well as your brazenness. I’d overheard Riker and the others talking a lot about British women being very forward and willing to ‘give it up to a GI’ on the first night if alcohol and ‘fags’ were involved. I knew you’d be different. I just knew. ‘Why, hello. I’m William Burrell. How are you today, ma’am?’ ‘I’m fine, thank you, Mr Burrell.’ ‘You can call me Willie.’ ‘William will be fine.’ And there it was. Instant confirmation that what you already saw in me was more than what I had been used to. Men younger than I often referred to me, a grown man, as ‘boy’ while others just called me Willie. To me, Willie only ever sounded right coming from the lips of my mama and daddy and here stood you, beautiful sweet you, calling me by my full name and this just confirmed that everything I had felt in the ninety or so seconds we’d known one another was valid. It was real. You were not part of my wishful imagination. ‘May I ask you your name?’ I asked you. A firm nudge almost knocked me off my feet. ‘You should not be doing this,’ whispered Cornel into my ear. ‘I thought you were going back to base,’ I said, momentarily out of my trance. ‘I was until I saw you trying to commit a suicide.’ ‘Just being friendly to the lady.’ ‘Then be friendly to everyone, the same. Don’t put trouble on yourself. It’s not worth it. She ain’t worth it.’ As Cornel moved away, I turned back and you were gone. Luckily, my gaze found you slowly moving away from the crowds, that smile and then your hand telling me to follow. I stopped, remembering Cornell’s words along with thirty years of my own memories locked away in my head and refusing to leave me. My heart beat fast. I was in another world. In England. They didn’t do that here, did they?

I followed anyway and then you stopped and turned around, smiling at me once again, luring me further into your world and possibly a whole lot of trouble. Soon, only a muddy ground and an abundance of trees surrounded us. Lush greenery and the absence of others. There was just you and I. What if you screamed? ‘My name is Rose.’ I walked closer to you, so slowly and giving you a chance to change your mind; tell me this had all been a mistake. I should have thought about the possibility that this could be a trap but I knew you wouldn’t do that to me. I already trusted you. I already knew you. So, with my hand stretched out, I moved closer knowing as soon as our palms touched for the very first time, you’d become everything I never knew I needed.

Wartime Sweethearts Cover

Anne Bonny #BlogTour #Extract The Librarian Of Auschwitz by @ToniIturbe #BasedOnATrueStory #DitaKraus #NewRelease

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The Librarian Of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe
Translated by Lilit Zekulin Thwaites
Review To Follow

Synopsis ~

‘It wasn’t an extensive library. In fact, it consisted of eight books and some of them were in poor condition. But they were books. In this incredibly dark place, they were a reminder of less sombre times, when words rang out more loudly than machine guns…’

Fourteen-year-old Dita is one of the many imprisoned by the Nazis at Auschwitz. Taken, along with her mother and father, from the Terezín ghetto in Prague, Dita is adjusting to the constant terror that is life in the camp. When Jewish leader Freddy Hirsch asks Dita to take charge of the eight precious books the prisoners have managed to smuggle past the guards, she agrees. And so Dita becomes the secret librarian of Auschwitz, responsible for the safekeeping of the small collection of titles, as well as the ‘living books’ – prisoners of Auschwitz who know certain books so well, they too can be ‘borrowed’ to educate the children in the camp.

But books are extremely dangerous. They make people think. And nowhere are they more dangerous than in Block 31 of Auschwitz, the children’s block, where the slightest transgression can result in execution, no matter how young the transgressor…

Extract ~

The Nazi officers are dressed in black. They look at death with the indifference of a gravedigger. In Auschwitz, human life has so little value that no one is shot anymore; a bullet is more valuable than a human being. In Auschwitz, there are communal chambers where they administer Zyklon gas. It’s cost-effective, killing hundreds of people with just one tank. Death has become an industry that is profitable only if it’s done wholesale. The officers have no idea that in the family camp in Auschwitz, on top of the dark mud into which everything sinks, Alfred Hirsch has established a school. They don’t know it, and it’s essential that they should not know it. Some inmates didn’t believe it was possible. They thought Hirsch was crazy, or naïve: How could you teach children in this brutal extermination camp where everything is forbidden? But Hirsch would smile. He was always smiling enigmatically, as if he knew something that no one else did. It doesn’t matter how many schools the Nazis close, he would say to them. Each time someone stops to tell a story and children listen, a school has been established. In this life-destroying factory that is Auschwitz–Birkenau, where the ovens burn corpses day and night, Block 31 is atypical, an anomaly. It’s a triumph for Fredy Hirsch. He used to be a youth sports instructor, but is now an athlete himself, competing against the biggest steamroller of humans in history. He managed to convince the German camp authorities that keeping the children entertained in a hut would make it easier for their parents to do their work in camp BIIb, the one known as “the family camp.” The camp high command agreed, but on the condition that it would be for games and activities only: School was banned. And so Block 31 was formed. Inside the wooden hut, the classrooms are nothing more than stools, tightly packed into groups. Walls are nonexistent; blackboards are invisible. The teachers trace isosceles triangles, letters of the alphabet, and even the routes of the rivers of Europe with their hands in the air. There are about twenty clusters of children, each with its own teacher. They are so close together that classes are whispered to prevent the story of the ten plagues of Egypt from getting mixed up with the rhythm of a times table.

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Antonio Iturbe
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Anne Bonny #BlogTour #Extract Dead Man’s Daughter by @RozWatkins #NewRelease #CrimeFiction #DIMegDalton #Series #Derbyshire @HQstories @HarperCollinsUK

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Dead Man’s Daughter by Roz Watkins ~ #2 DI Meg Dalton Series
Currently Reading – Review To Follow

Synopsis ~

She was racing towards the gorge. The place the locals knew as ‘Dead Girl’s Drop’…

DI Meg Dalton is thrown headlong into her latest case when she finds a ten-year-old girl running barefoot through the woods in a blood-soaked nightdress. In the house nearby, the girl’s father has been brutally stabbed to death.

At first Meg suspects a robbery gone tragically wrong, but something doesn’t add up. Why does the girl have no memory of what happened to her? And why has her behaviour changed so dramatically since her recent heart transplant?

The case takes a chilling turn when evidence points to the girl’s involvement in her own father’s murder. As unsettling family secrets emerge, Meg is forced to question her deepest beliefs to discover the shocking truth, before the killer strikes again…

Extract ~

Prologue

She lay on her back, hard metal under her, so cold it felt like being punched. The smell of antiseptic scorched her throat. She couldn’t move. She tried to scream. To tell them not to do it. She was still alive, still conscious, still feeling. It shouldn’t be happening. But no sound came. The man had a knife. He was approaching with a knife. Silver glinted in the cold light. Why could she still see? This was wrong. With all her will, she tried to shrink from him. He took a step closer. Another man stood by. Dressed in green. Calm. They were all calm. How could they be so calm? She must be crying, tears streaming down her face, even if her voice and her legs and her arms wouldn’t work. Please, please, please don’t. Inside her head she was begging. Please stop. I can feel. I’m still here. I’m still me. No words came out. The terror filled her; filled the room. The knife came closer. She couldn’t move. It was happening.

The touch of steel on her skin. Finally a scream. One of the men placed his hand on her mouth. The other man pushed towards her heart.

The woman grabbed my hand and pulled me deeper into the woods. Her voice rasped with panic. ‘She was running towards the gorge. The place the locals call Dead Girl’s Drop.’ That didn’t sound good, particularly given the Derbyshire talent for understatement. I shouted over the wind and the cracking of frozen twigs underfoot. ‘What exactly did you see?’ ‘I know what you’re thinking, but I didn’t imagine it.’ Strands of dark hair whipped her face. She must have only been in her forties, but she looked worn, like something that had been washed too many times or left out in the rain. She tugged a similarly faded, speckled greyhound behind her. ‘I was expecting proper police,’ she added. ‘I’m a detective. DI Meg Dalton, remember? We wear plain clothes.’ No matter what I wore, I seemed to exude shabbiness. I was clearly a disappointment to Elaine Grant. I sneaked a glance at my watch. I’d had a phone-call from my mum that I should have been returning. Elaine tripped on a stump and turned to look accusingly at me, her edges unclear in the flat morning light. ‘Pale like a ghost. The dog saw her too.’ I glanced down at the dog. He panted and drooled a little.

I wasn’t sure I’d rely on his testimony, but I couldn’t afford not to check this out. I shivered and pulled my scarf tighter around my neck. ‘Wearing white, you mean? But you saw blood?’ ‘It was a nightdress, I think. Just a young girl. Streaking through the trees like she had the devil at her heels. And yes, there was red all over her.’ Branches rattled above us. Something flickered in the corner of my eye – shining pale in the distance. My breath stopped in my throat and I felt a twitch of anxiety. ‘Is there a house in these woods?’ I asked. ‘Approached down a lane?’ Elaine walked a few steps before answering. ‘Yes. Bellhurst House.’ I knew that place. The woman who lived there had kept calling the police, saying she was being watched and followed, but she’d had nothing concrete to report. After the first time, they’d joked that she had an over-active imagination. Possibly a fondness for men in uniform. And we hadn’t taken her seriously. Elaine touched my arm. ‘Did you see the girl?’ We waited, eyes wide and ears straining. The dog let out a little affronted half-bark, more of a puff of the cheeks. A twig snapped and something white slipped through the trees. ‘That’s her,’ Elaine shouted. ‘Hurry! The gorge is over there. Children have fallen . . . ’ I re-ran in my mind the control room’s leisurely reaction to this call; our previous lacklustre responses to the woman in the house in these woods. A band of worry tightened around my chest. I pictured a little girl crashing over the side of the gorge into the frothing stream below, covered in blood, fleeing something – something we’d been told about but dismissed.

Maybe this was the day the much-cried wolf actually showed up. I broke into a limping run, cursing my bad ankle and my bad judgement for not passing this to someone else. I couldn’t take on anything new this week. The dog ran alongside me, seeming to enjoy the chase. I glanced over my shoulder. If the girl had been running from someone, where were they? I arrived at a fence. A sign. Private property. Dangerous drops. Elaine came puffing up behind me. I was already half over the fence, barbed wired snagging my crotch. ‘Did you see anyone else?’ ‘I’m not sure . . . I don’t think so.’ She stood with arms on knees, panting. She wasn’t in good shape. ‘I can’t climb over that fence,’ she said. ‘I have a bad knee.’ ‘You wait here.’ I set off towards where I’d seen the flash of white. The dog followed me, pulling his lead from Elaine’s hand and performing a spectacular jump over the fence. The light was brighter ahead where the trees must have thinned out towards the gorge. I could hear the river rushing over rocks far below. My eyes flicked side to side. There was something to my left. Visible through the winter branches. ‘Hello,’ I shouted. ‘Are you alright?’ I moved a step closer. A figure in white. I hurried towards her. She was uncannily still. I blinked. It was a statue, carved in pale stone. Settled into the ground, as if it had been there for centuries. A child, crying, stone tears frozen on grey cheeks. I swore under my breath, but felt my heart rate returning to normal. Was that something else? It was hard to see in the dappled light.

A glimpse of pale cotton, the flash of an arm, a white figure shooting away. I followed. There in front of me another statue. Whereas the first child had been weeping, this one was screaming, mouth wide below terrified eyes. I shuddered. I ran towards the noise of the river, imagining a child’s body, smashed to pieces by stone and current. I didn’t need a dead girl on my conscience. Not another one. I’d been good recently – not checking my ceilings for hanging sisters or hoarding sleeping pills. I wanted to keep it that way. ‘Hello,’ I shouted again. ‘Is there anyone there?’ A face nudged out from behind a tree which grew at the edge of the gorge. It was a girl of about eight or nine. She was wearing only a white nightdress. Her face was bleached with fear and cold, her hair blonde. The paleness of her clothes, skin, and hair made the deep red stains even more shocking. I took a step towards the girl. She shuffled back, but stayed facing me, the drop falling away behind her. She must have been freezing. I tried to soften my body to make myself look safe. The dog was panting dramatically next to me, after his run. He took a couple of slow steps forward. I was about to call him back, but the girl seemed to relax a little. The dog’s whole body wagged. The girl reached and touched him. I held my breath. The girl shot me a suspicious look. ‘I like dogs.’ Her voice was rough as if she’d been shouting. ‘Not allowed dogs . . . Make me ill . . . ’ ‘Are you running from someone?’ I had to get her away from the edge, but I didn’t want to risk moving closer. ‘I’m with the police. I can help you.’

She stared at me with huge owl eyes, too close to the drop behind. Heart thumping, I said, ‘Shall we take him home for his breakfast?’ The dog’s tail wagged. ‘Is that okay?’ She shifted forward a little and touched the dog softly on the head. A stone splashed into the water below. ‘He needs a drink,’ she whispered. Elaine had been right. The girl’s nightdress was smeared with blood. A lot of blood. ‘Okay,’ I said. ‘Let’s take him back for a drink and some breakfast. Shall we do that?’ The girl nodded and stepped away from the edge. I picked up the end of the lead and handed it to her, hoping the dog would be keen to get home. I wanted the girl inside and warmed up before she got hypothermia or frostbite, but I sensed I couldn’t rush it. I walked slowly away from the gorge, and the dog followed, leading the girl. Her feet were bare, one of her toes bleeding. ‘What’s your name?’ I asked. I thought she wasn’t going to answer. She shuffled along, looking down. ‘Abbie,’ she said, finally. ‘I’m Meg. Were you running from someone?’ I shot another look into the trees. She whispered, ‘My dad . . . ’ ‘Were you running from your dad?’ No answer. I tried to remember the substance of the calls we’d had from the woman in the house in the woods. Someone following her. Nothing definite. Nothing anyone else had seen. ‘Are you hurt? Is it okay if I have a look?’

She nodded. I crouched and carefully checked for any wounds. She seemed unharmed, apart from the toe, but there were needle marks on her arms. I was used to seeing them on drug addicts, not on a young girl. ‘I have to get injected,’ Abbie said. I wondered what was the matter with her. My panic about her welfare ratcheted up a notch. I grabbed my radio and called for paramedics and back-up. ‘There’s a stream,’ Abbie said. ‘He needs a drink.’ The dog was still panting hard. ‘No, Abbie. Let’s – ’ She veered off to the right, surprisingly fast. ‘Oh, Jesus,’ I muttered. Abbie pulled the dog towards the pale statues, darting over the bone-numbing ground. I chased after her. There were four statues in total, arranged around the edge of a clearing. They were children of about Abbie’s age or a little younger, two weeping and two screaming, glistening white in the winter light. I ran between them, spooked by them and somehow feeling it was disrespectful to race through their apparent torment, but Abbie was getting away from me. I saw her ahead, stepping into a stream so cold there were icy patches on the banks. ‘No, Abbie, come this way!’ I ran to catch up, wincing at the sight of her skinny legs plunging into the glacial water. She called over her shoulder. ‘He can drink better at this next bit.’ She clutched the dog-lead as if it were the only thing in the world. I was panicking about her feet, about hypothermia, about what the hell had happened to her, and who might still be in the woods with us. But she was determined to get the dog a drink. And I sensed if I did the wrong thing, she’d bolt.

‘Abbie, let me carry you to the drinking place, okay? Your feet must be really sore and cold. We’ll get him a quick drink, then head back and get warmed up.’ She looked at her feet, then up at me. Worried eyes, blood on her face. She nodded, and shifted towards me. I reached for her, but she lurched sideways and fell, crashing into the freezing water. She screamed. Heart pounding, I reached and scooped her up. She was drenched and shivering, teeth clacking together. I pulled her inside my coat, feeling the shock of the water soaking into my clothes. I took off my scarf and wound it loosely around her neck. I stumbled through the mud, filling my boots with foetid bog water, and finally saw a larger stream ahead, flowing all bright and clear. The dog immersed his face in it, gulped for a few moments, and looked up to show he was done. ‘Right, let’s go.’ I shifted Abbie further up onto my hip and limped back in the direction we’d come, trousers dragging down, feet squelching in leaden boots. The dog pulled ahead, shifting me off-balance even more. Through the boggy bit again, past the cold gaze of the statues, and at last to the fence where Elaine was waiting. ‘Oh, thank goodness!’ Elaine said. ‘She’s alright.’ I gasped for breath. ‘Could you go on ahead and put your heating on high? It could take a while for the paramedics to get here. We might need to warm her up in your house. She’s frozen.’ ‘Shall I run a bath? Not too hot. Like for a baby.’ ‘No, it’s okay. Just the heating.’ ‘Like for my baby.’ Her eyes seemed to go cloudy. ‘My poor baby.’

I touched her lightly on the arm. ‘I’ll bring the girl back. Just put the heating on high and get some blankets or fleeces or whatever you have, to wrap round her.’ Elaine nodded and helped me lift Abbie over the fence, before heading off at a frustratingly slow walk. I picked Abbie up again. ‘Not far now,’ I said, as much to myself as her. ‘We’ll get you inside and warmed up.’ ‘Thank you,’ she said in a tiny voice. ‘Thank you for letting me get a drink for the dog.’ Her ribs moved in and out, too fast. That could be the start of hypothermia. I clasped her to me, enveloping her in my jacket and pulling the scarf more snuggly around her neck. My feet were throbbing, so I dreaded to think what hers felt like. ‘Where do you live, Abbie?’ I said. ‘In the woods.’ She held on to me with skinny arms, trusting in a way which brought a lump to my throat. She rested her head against my shoulder. Her voice was so quiet I could barely hear. ‘I’m tired. . . Will you make sure I’m okay?’ I swallowed, thinking of all that blood. I could smell it in her hair. ‘Yes,’ I whispered into the top of her head, ignoring all the reasons I couldn’t make any promises. ‘I’ll make sure you’re okay.’
*
We eventually arrived at the edge of the woods, and crossed the road to reach Elaine’s cottage. I hammered on the door and it flew straight open. I wrenched off my muddy boots and sodden socks, followed Elaine through to a faded living room, and lowered Abbie onto the sofa. ‘Get some blankets around her,’ I said. ‘I’ll be back.’ I dashed

barefoot over the road to my car, grabbed some evidence bags, and slipped my feet into the spare trainers I’d shoved in there in a fit of sensibleness. My toes felt as if they’d been dipped in ice, rubbed with a cheese-grater, and held in front of a blow-torch. Back at the house, Elaine had swaddled Abbie in a couple of towels and about five fleecy blankets that looked like they could be the dog’s. I decided it was best not to smell them. ‘Do you have anything she could wear?’ I asked. ‘So we can get that wet nightdress off her?’ Elaine hesitated. ‘I still have . . . ’ Abbie looked up from her nest of fleeces and mumbled, ‘Where’s the dog?’ Elaine called him, and Abbie stroked the top of his head gently, her eyelids drooping, while Elaine went to fetch some clothes. The room was clean and tidy but had a museum feel, as if it had been abandoned years ago and not touched since. Something caught my eye beside the window behind the sofa. A collection of dolls, sitting in rows on a set of shelves. I’d never been a fan of dolls and had dismembered those I’d been given as a child, in the name of scientific and medical research. And there was something odd about these. I took a step towards them and looked more closely. A floorboard creaked. I jumped and spun round. Elaine stood in the doorway, holding up some soft blue pyjamas. ‘These?’ They must have belonged to a child a little older than Abbie. I nodded, walked over and took the pyjamas, then sat on the sofa next to Abbie. I opened my mouth to thank Elaine and ask if she had a child of her own, but I glanced first at her face. It was flat, as if her muscles had been paralysed. I closed my mouth again. I persuaded Abbie to let me take off the sopping-wet,

blood-soaked nightdress and replace it with the pyjamas. Her teeth chattered, and she clutched my scarf. I put the nightdress in an evidence bag. ‘My sister Carrie knitted that for me.’ I was better at saying her name now. ‘When I was very young. It’s the longest scarf I’ve ever seen.’ Abbie touched the scarf against her cheek, closed her eyes and sank back into the sofa. I looked up at Elaine. ‘Do you know if she lives at Bellhurst House? She said she lived in the woods, but she’s pretty confused.’ Elaine stared blankly at me. ‘Yes, I suppose she must. They own the land that goes down to the gorge.’ A pitter-patter of my heart. The guilt that was so familiar. Again I tried to remember what the woman from Bellhurst House had reported. Someone in the woods, someone looking into their windows, someone following her. She hadn’t lived alone; I remembered that. There was definitely a husband, possibly children. ‘Is that your house, Abbie? Bellhurst House?’ She nodded. ‘A car went down there,’ Elaine said. ‘In the night. I couldn’t sleep. Down the lane. I didn’t think much of it at the time. But now I’m wondering . . . ’ ‘What time?’ ‘I’m not sure exactly. About three or four, I think.’ ‘Okay,’ I said. ‘Police are on their way to the house. What colour was the car?’ ‘I couldn’t see – it was too dark.’ I turned to Abbie. ‘Do you remember anything about what happened?’ I said. ‘Where the blood came from?’ She leant close to the dog and wrapped her arms around him. He gave me a long-suffering look. Abbie spoke softly into his ear, so I could barely make out the words. ‘Everyone always dies. Jess. And Dad . . . ’ I looked at her blood-stained hair. ‘Who’s Jess?’ ‘My sister.’ I imagined her sister and her father bleeding to death in those dark woods, surrounded by statues of terrified children. ‘Where are your sister and your dad, Abbie?’ No answer. She closed her eyes and flopped sideways towards me. I caught sight of the dolls again. It felt as if someone had lightly touched the back of my neck with a cold hand. It was the eyes. In some of the dolls, the whole eye was white – no iris or pupil. In others, the iris was high, so you just saw the edge of it as if the eyes had rolled up inside the doll’s head. I turned away, feeling Abbie’s soft weight against me.

RW
Roz Watkins
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My Review of The Devil’s Dice ~ #1 in the DI Meg Dalton Series

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Anne Bonny #BlogTour #Extract The Lives Before Us by @JulietConlin #NewRelease #HistFic #HistoricalFiction #ww2Fiction @bwpublishing #TheLivesBeforeUs

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The Lives Before Us by Juliet Conlin
Currently Reading – Review To Follow

Synopsis ~

“I wasn’t sure I liked the sound of it. Even my vivid imagination could hardly fathom a place as tight, or dense, or narrow as Shanghai.”

It’s April 1939 and, with their lives in Berlin and Vienna under threat, Esther and Kitty – two very different women – are forced to make the same brutal choice. Flee Europe, or face the ghetto, incarceration, death.

Shanghai, they’ve heard, Shanghai is a haven – and so they secure passage to the other side of the world. What they find is a city of extremes – wealth, poverty, decadence and disease – and of deep political instability. Kitty has been lured there with promises of luxury, love, marriage – but when her Russian fiancé reveals his hand she’s left to scratch a vulnerable living in Shanghai’s nightclubs and dark corners. Meanwhile, Esther and her little girl take shelter in a house of widows until the protection of Aaron, Esther’s hot-headed former lover, offers new hope of survival.

Then the Japanese military enters the fray and violence mounts. As Kitty’s dreams of escape are dashed, and Esther’s relationship becomes tainted, the two women are thrown together in the city’s most desperate times. Together they must fight for a future for the lives that will follow theirs.

Extract ~

Kitty can’t sleep, despite the five Manhattans she ended up drinking to try to stop her whirring thoughts. Or at least slow them down long enough to fall asleep. Earlier, the young Chinese boy eagerly fixed her one drink after the next, but at one point – when the room began spinning – she shooed him away. She didn’t want a child witnessing her humiliation.
She turns to her side, the sheet sticking to her damp skin. It seems even hotter now than during the day. Finally, when the silver-plated clock on the dresser strikes out three thin chimes, she gets out of bed and goes to the window. The street below is dark and quiet, just a few lone vendors sitting here and there in front of charcoal braziers, calling out to the occasional passer-by. The apartment is located in the French Concession, the section of Shanghai under French authority, Vitali explained at length on the drive from the port. Of course, he knew all along what he intended to tell her once they’d arrived and just wanted to cover his own uneasiness with a pretend air of nonchalance.
As soon as he left, Kitty began to panic. Her first thought was to get out of there, to head back to the port before the ship started out on its return journey and get as far away from Shanghai as possible. But even before she carried her suitcase to the door, she realised it was futile. Pride has so far prevented her from counting the money Vitali left behind, but she knows there is no going back. She placed all her bets on one card – Vitali, the coward – and now, it seems, she has lost.
She presses her cheek against the cool window glass. If she cranes her head, she can make out the intersection, see the red, blue, yellow glow from the electric neon signs that line the façades of the buildings, can hear the noise of cars and trams and the shouts from rickshaw runners.
She yawns, then shivers, in spite of the cloying heat.
A shriek of laughter travels up from the street, and somewhere in the distance a car backfires. Four Chinese women in skintight embroidered dresses walk, arms interlinked, along the pavement towards the intersection fifty metres away, chatting in sweet sing-song voices. Kitty can well imagine what they are talking about. For all their exoticism, the women’s conversation is unlikely to be much different in content from those Kitty had with Resi, walking home along Stuwerstraße at dawn.
She and Resi parted on poor terms. Another dancer at the Nachtfalter accused Kitty of accepting tips that weren’t rightly hers; there was an ugly row, allegiances were formed, and Resi ended up taking sides against Kitty. Because she’d found out she was Jewish, Kitty is sure. And then, the following evening, Vitali came to the bar – the proverbial dark handsome stranger – and all seemed suddenly well. And now . . . Her breath is crushed in her chest as she fights down another surge of panic. Eyes closed, forehead resting on the windowpane, she takes several deep breaths. She has survived before. She has endured fear and suffering and humiliation at an age at which most girls would be sitting pigtailed behind school desks. She is fearless – isn’t that what Esther said?
And if Vitali really does love her, all will be good. She won’t force his hand but will wait until that wife of his has recovered from (or succumbed to, she thinks spitefully) whatever illness she is suffering from, and she will be ready and waiting and irresistible. It is far from what she envis¬aged, but if this is her only choice, well, then she will make it her own. She wipes her tears away with her hand. There is no use in crying. Life is hard, and it is a vanity to believe any different.

JC
Juliet Conlin
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Anne Bonny Rose Villa by @sampriestley #Extract #RoseVilla #HistFic #HistoricalThriller #NewRelease

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Rose Villa by Sam Priestley

Synopsis ~

Rose Villa has held a curse in its bricks since 1843, and the Yorkshire village has held the secret of a murder since 1987. In 2007, Jonathan and Kirsty meet on Facebook twenty years after they last saw each other and Kirsty visits Jonathan in his home, Rose Villa, only to find the house has affected him and he’s no longer the person she once knew.

In 1843 in a Yorkshire village two gypsy women are evicted from their home by men planning to build new houses. The youngest gypsy, Matilda, curses the land, anything built on it, and those who live there.

In 2007 Jonathan is coming to terms with his girlfriend leaving him and Kirsty is facing the break-up of her marriage. Old school friends, and former boyfriend and girlfriend, the two meet again on Facebook and Jonathan invites Kirsty to his house, Rose Villa. Rose Villa was built on the cursed land and has caused its inhabitants over the years to go mad and become violent.

When Kirsty goes to Jonathan’s house he talks about his girlfriend in an increasingly resentful way. Kirsty begins to remember the last time she was in this village, 20 years ago, when she came to find her grandmother’s grave. That day she saw a girl crying over a letter down behind the church, and she met an older woman in the graveyard who seemed to know Kirsty.

Kirsty is finding Jonathan’s behaviour more and more erratic and he doesn’t seem like the same person she knew twenty years ago. She asks his neighbour, Mrs Daniels, what she knows about Kirsty’s family, and she receives a shock, and a warning.

Back in 1987 violence lay beneath the surface in Rose Villa and on the day Kirsty was in the village all those years ago, it finally found its way out.

Jonathan is getting more unstable and as Rose Villa takes over completely, dark secrets emerge from its walls and from Jonathan.

Extract ~

1843

The church sat proudly on the brow of the hill above them, its pale sandstone the colour of the skin the people wore here in the north of England, its tower high in the sky like they held their heads. The wind had blown the small back door at the church open and shut five times that morning already. The little green gate that led to the drop of steps on the land behind the church, steep as a leaned ladder, rattled on its hinges. The land in this northern village was as unpredictable as a cliff face. It swooped around houses, a school, an inn, like the buildings were here first and the earth moulded itself around them. And down here, behind the church, it bobbed in the shape of sand dunes and then fell away dramatically where the line of steps led precariously down to the bottom lane. The patch of land between the church and the steps was where Matilda and her mother lived.

Matilda didn’t know how long they’d been living here in this run-down old barn on this piece of land down behind the church, but she knew her mother didn’t want to leave. Matilda’s mother said that she had found a place she would die in. Her mother was old now, the skin on her dark face loose and deeply lined, her small pebble eyes often closed and most of her teeth long gone. She insisted she would die soon, and who was Matilda to argue?

The men had left. Matilda didn’t know how long since. Her father had gone first, years ago, saying he couldn’t stay, it wasn’t right, it wasn’t what they did, it wasn’t the way his heart lay. And the women didn’t know where he was now. Though Matilda’s mother swore he would be there at the end and she would see him again. Then Matilda’s own husband had gone. She felt the lack of a child keenly and, so her mother said, this was something to make him wander. But truth be told, Matilda knew he would go anyway. There was no reason for him to stay.

So the two women lived in the old barn alone. They made and sold things and kept a few chickens they’d received in payment for telling fortunes, their bony fingers travelling the lines on palms and their dark eyes gazing into the mystery of left behind tea leaves in chipped china cups. The minister in the church encouraged them to stay and brought them food when they had none, a spare lump of bread as big as a rock, cheese and if they were lucky, cooked meat they had to chew on with their worn-out teeth. Matilda heard people in the village call them his pets and it stung her more than when the people turned their eyes away from them or crossed the path to avoid them. But even he couldn’t help them when the man from Hawthorne Lodge came and knocked at the door of the old barn.

On the days the man from Hawthorne Lodge, flanked by other smart men from the village, started coming to the barn to speak to the two women, Matilda’s mother had the beginning of a sickness. Matilda told the men and they looked at her with a mixture of fear and cold suspicion, and they went away. But they came back.

“I’m sorry your mother is sick,” the man from Hawthorne Lodge said. “But we do need to speak with you both as a matter of urgency.”

“What’s it about?”

“It’s about the land, Mrs Boswell,” the man said. “This land does not belong to you, nor this barn you live in. We understand you have lived here for some time, but it is not yours and…”

Matilda had folded her arms over and frowned at the man. “And?” she said.
“And now we need this land.”

“What are you saying?”

“We are saying you and your mother must leave, Mrs. Boswell. Perhaps you could join your husbands at their new places of living.”

“My mother has a sickness.”

“Of course,” the man said. “We understand that and there will be time enough for your mother to recover from her current illness, but…”

“But?”

“But then you must leave.”

Matilda had gone back inside that day and thought about what could be done. She told her mother and received the answer she expected. “We shan’t leave.”

Matilda had breathed sharply. “Perhaps we could go to father.”

Her mother shook her old head. “I won’t go anywhere. I’ll die here, Matilda. Your father is coming back, I know he is, I feel it my bones. I’ll wait for him and I’ll die on this spot. I won’t be moved now.”

It was a situation Matilda had never thought to find herself in. It was in their blood to move, to travel. They purposefully moved. And now she and her mother were purposefully not moving. She knew her father wasn’t coming back, no matter how much her mother insisted she could feel his presence getting closer on the wind. But she couldn’t tell her mother. You can’t change the way things will be. That’s what she believed.

The man from Hawthorne Lodge came back to the barn. The people in this village had held their suspicion of the gypsy family close to their chests. They had always been civil and never invited argument, preferring to let the family live here like they would let a stray cat sleep in their outhouses, but the difference between them and the gypsies was always felt. Matilda had always felt it. Something unspoken. Something loosely caged.
Matilda stood and looked at the men at the barn door and knew she would never be more than something they tolerated here.

“Why do you want this?” Matilda asked.

“We will build houses here,” the man said. “We need more houses in the village now and this is a good place to build.”

“But this is where we live. You don’t need to build anything new, we already live here.”

“This doesn’t belong to you,” the man insisted. “You can’t stay. Besides,” he looked around at the old barn with its holes in the roof and its broken timber, the rat nibbled corners and the damp floor where the rain had dripped in. “it’s not safe to live in.”

“It’s safe enough. We live here.”

Matilda’s mother said the men couldn’t make them move. But of course, they could. It was easy enough to make anybody move, but them, the gypsies, the outcasts who no one spoke to and everyone was suspicious of, were even easier to move.

The day it happened, Matilda thought, was the day that finally finished her mother. She didn’t die on that day, but Matilda knew that was the day she had decided she would die.
The men dismantled the barn around Matilda’s mother. Matilda had stayed by her side for as long as she could, but the timber fell on to her and made her fear for her own life. She grabbed her things, a few items of clothing, what food she had, and she tried to make her mother move. She watched in amazement as her mother held fast and sat it out amongst the debris and the dust.

When it was over and their home was gone, Matilda stood on the land and closed her eyes. She didn’t care who heard her and who didn’t. She felt the anger rise inside her body and a bitterness take over all other feelings. It was the fact that they thought they could just do this. They thought they could just turn them out, onto the land, with no help and no kindness. They thought they were only as good as animals and should be treated the same. They thought there was nothing these two wandering women could do about it. Matilda would make them think again. Matilda would do something about it. These men who had done this, she knew, sought only to make money for themselves. Matilda would do something about that. But as she stood there and closed her eyes and felt the words untangle in her brain and appear in her throat, she didn’t say it for the men who’d done this or for the villagers who had gathered to watch the spectacle. She said it for her mother who was dying and wanted nothing more than to die in the place she now called home. A wandering woman who had paused her journey to let death take her.

“Let all who dwell here suffer ill tempers and find no happiness. Let the building on this land be full of anger and never see calm.”

SP
Samantha Priestley
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