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Christmas For The Shop Girls – Extract

Christmas For The Shop GirlsOn the book tour for the fourth book in ‘The Shop Girls’ series by Joanna Toye, sit back and enjoy the first chapter from the book called ‘Christmas For The Shop Girls’

Chapter 1

April 1943

‘Look at it!’ said Lily. ‘You’d think the bomb had dropped yesterday!’ Ladies’ Fashions, Model Gowns and Suits and Coats were in uproar.

Gladys darted her friend a look – only Lily could say that! Gladys wouldn’t have dared, in case it brought that awful night flooding back. But Lily had been so strong, coming back to work when the memories must still have been so vivid and evidence of the destruction was still all around. Now, though, three months later, it looked as though the demolition squad was in again.

The first floor was in chaos – and all because there was going to be a fashion show.

Harassed porters were assembling a catwalk under the supervision of the Model Gowns buyer: beside them the store’s carpenters sawed and hammered. In the middle of it all, the buyers from the other two fashion departments were taking dresses and suits on and off a rail, evidently in dispute over what should make the final cut. Juniors scurried to and fro offering more garments for inspection, which were scrutinised and mostly rejected. If not, they scuttled off again to iron out the sort of creases visible only to a buyer’s eye.

A potted palm wove its way uncertainly towards them and beneath it, Lily recognised Jim’s suit trousers. Along with Peter Simmonds, the first-floor supervisor, Jim had been charged with getting the store back on its feet after the bomb and the fashion show was going to act as a sort of relaunch for Marlow’s as well as highlighting the new spring and summer Utility styles. There was no doubt about it, Jim was on the way up. He was also – the thought still made her smile, inside and out – Lily’s boyfriend of a few months’ standing.

‘Jim!’ She hissed him over. ‘How’s it going?’

‘Let me put this thing down.’

Lily helped him to rest the pot on a little plinth where a plaster baby was displaying a smocked romper suit and waving a rattle. Jim’s tie was askew and his shirt untucked, not the sort of appearance Marlow’s usually required of Mr J. Goodridge, second sales on Furniture and Household.

‘If you really want to know,’ Jim began, ‘it’s hell. Suits and Coats and Ladies’ Fashions are at each other’s throats over who gets to show more items and Model Gowns is sulking because she wanted her stuff to go out all in one block – a “tableau” she calls it – and not mixed in with the others.’ He gave a despairing sigh. ‘And they say never work with children or animals. I could add to that!’

‘It’ll be fine!’ Lily tried to reassure him. ‘It’ll all come together at the last minute, you’ll see.’ His eyes were deep-set and brown; his hair was sticking up where he’d pushed his hands through it in the way Lily loved and she had to stop herself from reaching up to smooth it down. Her boss on Childrenswear, Miss Frobisher, tall, blonde, and ever-elegant herself, was a stickler for smartness in appearance, but even on a day when the usual rules didn’t apply, Lily didn’t think she’d approve.

Jim pushed his fingers through his hair again, making it stick up even more.

‘I don’t see how. I knew we should have got more done last night – at least got the catwalk built!’

‘Hah!’ Lily retorted. ‘You and I stayed late to finish off the Christmas grotto, didn’t we, and look what happened!’

Gladys winced, but that was Lily for you, and the measure of Lily and Jim’s relationship. They struck sparks off each other, but they both seemed to thrive on it. As if in proof, Jim was grinning and Lily was smiling at him with a sort of ‘Well? I’m right, aren’t I?’ expression. Even so, Gladys tactfully jumped in.

‘Are the models here yet?’

Before the war, Marlow’s had had its own models, but now they were in the WRNS or turning out shells in a factory somewhere.

The models for today had been booked through an agency in London, and to Gladys were invested with an air of almost filmstar glamour. ‘That’s another thing.’ Jim looked at his watch. ‘They should have been here three-quarters of an hour ago.’

‘You know what the trains are like.’

‘That’s why I wanted them to come yesterday, but would You Know Who hear of it? Decided to scrimp on expenses.’

You Know Who was Cedric Marlow, the store’s owner, notoriously careful with money.

‘It doesn’t really matter, does it?’ Lily pointed out. ‘There’s nothing for them to prance up and down on yet.’

‘Thanks for reminding me.’

In a further reminder, there was a monumental crash as a tower of gilt chairs tumbled from a trolley and hit the half-built catwalk.

‘I’d better get over there.’ Jim moved to pick up the palm, but before he could, Mr Simmonds approached. Tall and spare, he always moved at a lick, but this was speedy, even for him. He nodded to the girls and addressed Jim.

‘They’ve had a telephone call upstairs – the models haven’t left London yet. And I’m not sure they will.’

‘What?’

‘There’s an unexploded bomb at Harrow-on-the Hill. No trains leaving in our direction at all. I think we’d better face it, they’re not going to get here.’ Mr Simmonds sounded remarkably calm, but then he was ex-Army, invalided out with a dodgy shoulder. ‘We’re going to have to regroup.’

‘What does he mean, regroup?’ asked Gladys.

Miss Frobisher had sent them both off to dinner early, saying she’d square it with Mr Bunting, Gladys’s boss on Toys.

‘Think of something else, I suppose,’ shrugged Lily. ‘I don’t know.’ Gladys looked worried. Lily persevered with her rissole but chewed cautiously: bits of bone weren’t unknown. ‘Maybe the salesgirls from Fashions could model them, they know the clothes.’

‘They’re all so old though!’

It was true: with all women between nineteen and forty-three conscripted into some kind of war work, Marlow’s, like other shops and stores, was staffed by younger girls like themselves and, to put it politely, the middle-aged. ‘Salesgirls’ was a courtesy title: many of them had been brought back out of retirement.

‘There’s always the juniors.’

Gladys didn’t look convinced.

‘I can’t see the juniors on Fashions swanking up and down a catwalk – they’re like frightened rabbits! I’d be the same with their bosses.’

That was true as well: the fashion buyers were a fearsome bunch. Miss Wagstaff of Model Gowns was a tightly permed, tightly corseted martinet. Miss Drake (Dresses), petite and pretty, looked more approachable, though anyone who’d ever witnessed her beating down a wholesaler on price would have swiftly reassessed that opinion. Miss McIver of Suits and Coats was originally from Aberdeen and was a chip off the old block of that so-called granite city. All in all, Fashions was known to be the toughest department in which to work: Miss Frobisher had started there and survived, which was one of the reasons Lily admired her so much.

‘Anyway, it’s not our problem.’ Gladys pushed her plate away and pulled her jam turnover towards her. Lily was quiet. It was still a setback for Jim. His problems were her problems; she’d help him if she could. In fact, she often intervened when her help wasn’t required – or desired.

‘Gladys!’ she exclaimed suddenly. ‘It is! We’ve forgotten about Beryl!’

If you liked this wee taster of the book, you can buy ‘Christmas For The Shop Girls’ from Amazon and is available to buy from other good bookshops.

Paula Hawkins Reveals New Book – A Slow Burning Fire

A Slow Burning FireExciting news for fans of ‘The Girl On The Train’ author Paula Hawkins, as she’s returning to our bookshelves in 2021 with her new book called ‘A Slowing Burning Fire’.

A Slow Fire Burning is a propulsive, twisty thriller which examines the insidious and destructive nature of past trauma. Hawkins deftly upturns expectations as she demonstrates how lives can collide and ultimately how damage can lead to damage.

Paula Hawkins writes: ‘A Slow Fire Burning starts with a brutal murder on a London canal boat. Laura, a likely suspect, is witnessed leaving the scene and for a while it looks like a straightforward case. But what I wanted to explore in this book is the way that no tragedy happens in isolation: an accident in childhood can have ramifications a decade later; trusting the wrong person at the wrong time can derail a life completely. I am interested in the way we become the people we are: how we choose what to hold onto and how those things can wound us.’

Transworld Fiction Publisher Sarah Adams says: ‘I could not be prouder to announce the publication of A Slow Fire Burning. I adore this book, which contains everything readers could possibly want from a Paula Hawkins thriller – a dark plot that grabs you and never lets up, characters that you believe in utterly, incredible pace and knock-you-sideways twists. Paula skilfully balances delicious touches of sharp, knowing humour with deeply affecting storytelling, so that we are powerfully enthralled from first page to last gasp. This confirms Paula as one of the most exciting commercial thriller authors writing today.’

Paula’s agent Lizzy Kremer says: ‘It’s a thrill to be back in Paula Hawkins’ world: a world in which women who refuse to meet society’s expectations are easily blamed, and in which they seek to seize back power over their own stories. I remain in awe of Paula’s giant empathy for those who have suffered and her striking ability to satisfy and also to surprise her readers.’

You can pre-order ‘A Slow Burning Fire’ from Amazon and will be available to buy from good bookshops from 31st August 2021.

Sharon Dempsey Reveals New Book Called Who Took Eden Mulligan?

Who Took Eden MulliganNorthern Ireland author, Sharon Dempsey has revealed her new book for 2021 called ‘Who Took Eden Mulligan?’

What the back cover says –

‘They’re dead. They’re all dead. It’s my fault. I killed them.’

Those are the words of Iona Gardener, who stands bloodied and staring as she confesses to the murder of four people in a run-down cottage outside of Belfast.

Outside the cottage, five old dolls are hanging from a tree. Inside the cottage, the words “WHO TOOK EDEN MULLIGAN?” are graffitied on the wall, connecting the murder scene with the famous cold case of Eden Mulligan, a mother-of-five who went missing during The Troubles.

But this case is different. Right from the start.

Because no one in the community is willing to tell the truth, and the only thing DI Danny Stowe and forensic psychologist Rose Lainey can be certain of is that Iona Gardener’s confession is false….

If this sounds like your type of book, it will be available from the Kindle Store from 18th February 2021 and will be available to buy from good bookshops from 19th August 2021.

Book Tour – 33 Women

33 WomenOn the book tour for Isabel Ashdown’s thrilling new book called ’33 Women’ sit back and enjoy an extract from the story.

THE SISTERS OF TWO CROSS FARM :
CODE OF CONDUCT

1. Come as yourself, sister, whoever that may be.
2. No man shall enter through the gates of our community.
3. In all things, sisters are equal.
4. Trust is implicit, loyalty a given.
5. 33 will be the number at our table.
6. 6 will be the number of our Founding Sisters, the caretakers
of our community.
7. All who dwell here must first shed their limpets, who or
whatever they may be.
8. Come for a day or stay forever, but all must come in the
spirit of sisterhood.
9. Every sister will be afforded a week to weep and a lifetime
to grow.
10. Each sister will rise with the sun and rest with the moon.
11. She will labour six days out of seven for her weekly shelter.
12. Banishment is final.

1. VANESSA
March 2005

There is a moment in which pain and fear slips into acceptance.

I am there now, and all around me is still, a midnight hush
of shock and awe. No more can I feel the weight of fists slamming into my jaw, or the snap of my ribs, or even the gasping pressure of fingers closing around my throat. In fact, I barely feel a thing, just the frost-damp grass beneath my palms and the cool white whisper of my breath as it slips through my broken lips. Above me, the stars are out, the indigo sky quite lit up by them, and, as white wings soar by, it occurs to me that they are silent witnesses to my passing. I wonder if I should feel afraid.

But then I am sixteen again; I see Celine and Pip shrouded
in sunlight at the kitchen table, laying out bread for cheese
on toast, and Celine is cutting the crusts off Pip’s because she
won’t eat them, and drizzling Worcester sauce on mine because
that’s how I like it. And I’m standing there in the doorway in
my school uniform, biting down on my lip because I love these
two so much – I’m feeling too much – and it’s chaos inside my
head; and now we’re sitting on the back steps, arranged like pot
plants, one-two-three, eating our toast and looking out across the courtyard, naïvely planning summer day trips and meal rotas,
and Celine is saying ‘Delilah who ?’ and the light is radiating
through Pip’s scruffy blonde hair and she’s sticking two fingers
in the air, blowing raspberries and we’re laughing, all three of
us through tears, and we have each other and we’ll cling to that,and we’ll never walk away . . .

A sound, a thud like iron against hard earth, brings me back
to this starry night, and even through my inertia fresh panic
grips me. How will they know how to find me? How will my
sisters know where to look?

The night sky is obscured as women gather over me, their
faces lined with age, eyes moving closer, closer, closer still, testing me for life. Whether they see it or not, I wish them only love in this final breath, before their eyes, like the stars, fade to nothing.

If you liked this short extract from ’33 Women’, you can buy it from Amazon and is available to buy from good bookshops.

Fallen Angels By Gunnar Staalesen

Fallen AngelsOn today’s book tour, I’ve an extract from Gunnar Staalesen’s new book called ‘Fallen Angels’.

Sit back and enjoy the first chapter from this Nordic Noir.

We stood outside the chapel. None of us looked at one another directly; no one wanted to take the initiative and leave. By the front door Jan Petter’s widow, eyes red-rimmed, was receiving the last mourner’s condolences with a limp handshake. The sleet landed on our shoulders like colourless confetti.

Even Paul Finckel’s strident sarcasm had dwindled to nothing.

‘Anyone want a lift into town?’

‘I’ve got my car here,’ I said.

‘What about going out for a beer, all three of us? I just have to nip down to the newspaper.’ Finckel looked at Jakob.

‘That’s an idea. I have to go home first and take care of the kids.’

‘Where do you live?’

‘In Nygårdshøyden.’

I looked at Finckel. ‘I’ll drive Jakob down. Where shall we meet?’

‘We might have to drive our youngest daughter to my sister’s,’ Jakob said. ‘She lives in Sandviken.’

‘Call me when you’re ready,’ Finckel said. ‘I’m at the paper. It’s pretty central as far as all the important watering holes are concerned.’

‘That’s why he works there,’ I added.

‘There are worse reasons,’ Finckel grunted, and left.

We followed him down to the car park.

We drove in silence from Møllendal, crossed Gamle Nygård bridge and took the illegal left-turn the new traffic arrangement almost invited you to take, to Marineholmen, on the southern side of Nygård Park.

Jakob explained where he lived. Halfway between St John’s church and Sydnæs Battalion marching band. The decibel level rose considerably in the spring as Easter week approached, with the pealing of bells at all times of the day and the band doing their drills every Tuesday and Saturday.

‘How many children have you got?’ I asked as we passed the football ground in Møhlenpris. ‘Three,’ he answered. ‘Though they’re not all children really … Maria’s sixteen. Then there’s Petter, who’s fourteen, and little Grete, who’s six. She’s the one who’s the problem if Maria can’t look after her for a few hours.’

As we turned up to the top of Olaf Ryes vei, he said: ‘My wife’s … moved out.’

I nodded, but said nothing.

The building where he lived was in the middle of the district. It had a redbrick façade and faced the shadowy side of the street. Jakob lived on the first floor in two flats that had been merged into one.

Midway up the dark stairwell he stopped with one hand on the railing, half turned to me and said pensively: ‘How do you get on with Jesus, Varg?’

The unexpected question made me feel like a turtle that had been whipped onto its back and deprived of any protection. I mumbled: ‘Well, I …Why do you ask? Are you related?’

He scrutinised me. Then he shot me a gentle smile. ‘It’s strange, meeting you again after such a long time. A lot of water’s flowed under the bridge, eh?’

I nodded in agreement. A lot of water indeed.

Then he carried on up. He rang the doorbell as he put the key in the lock and held the door open for me.

We went into a long, dark hallway. On the floor was an open, light-brown leather satchel. Shoes and boots were strewn across the floor and on a chair there were piled four or five jackets of various sizes and styles. On a little chest of drawers I espied an old-fashioned black telephone under a stack of brochures, free newspapers and unopened junk mail. Somewhere nearby I felt the monotonous throb of disco rhythms.

The door to a blue kitchen was open. Plates, cups, glasses and breakfast items were still on the table and a somewhat sickly smell of rancid fat and stale carrots wafted out to us.

Jakob closed the kitchen door and opened another, to the sitting room. ‘Come in, Varg.’ Then he shouted: ‘Maria! Are you at home?’

After an unhurried pause a door opened further down the corridor and the pop music became louder. ‘What’s up?’ a young girl said.

Jakob’s voice was drowned out as he advanced down the corridor.

I looked around the large sitting room, which was L-shaped as two rooms had been merged and the dividing wall replaced with a big, white sliding door.

At the back, on wooden flooring treated with lye, there was a black grand piano surrounded by rag rugs and black-and-white pictures on the walls. One wall was covered with shelves of books and sheet music, and inside a half open cupboard I glimpsed a not inconsiderable collection of records and cassettes.

If that wasn’t enough to quench your thirst, you can pre-order ‘Fallen Angels’ from Amazon and is available to buy from good bookshops from 12th November 2020.