Welcome to Authoright’s Spring Reading Week 2018. Today I’m delighted to welcome Alice Graysharp with an extract and exclusive short story prequel, but first a little about the book.
The keeper of family secrets, Patricia Roberts grows up isolated and lonely. Trust no one and you won’t be disappointed is her motto. Three men fall in love with her and she learns to trust, only to find that their agendas are not her own. With secrets concealed from her by the ultimate love of her life, and with her own secret to keep, duplicity and deceit threaten their relationship. In a coming of age story set against the sweeping backdrop of the Second World War – evacuation, the Battle of Britain, the Blitz, buzz bombs and secret war work – Patricia ultimately has to decide whether to reveal her deepest held secret for the sake of her future happiness.
“Shut that window,” called Pat’s mother, Adela, as she put the cruet set down. “Help me lay the table.”
Reluctantly Pat drew her head back in. By braving the elements and dangling far enough out over open space an advancing guest could be seen at the top end of Helix Road, but so far no show.
“They’ll be here soon enough, my dear,” said Nan, carrying in a bundle of cutlery. “Here, lay these for us would you now.”
It was a tight squeeze to get round the table, both leaves having been ceremoniously clonked into resting grooves and affording very little space to slide the assortment of dining chairs, kitchen chair, Nan’s spindly wicker-backed chair and even the becushioned bathroom stool (Pat’s perch) in front of the armchairs lining the room.
Task over, Pat shot back to the window in time to see a whisper of dark raincoats turn from the pavement into the front path.
“I’ll go,” called Pat, slaloming round the obstacle course, racing down the stairs and flinging the door open.
“Happy Easter!” cried Bill, beaming a wide grin and thrusting a small beribboned shoebox into Pat’s hands. Pat tore at the ribbon and lifted the lid, her eyes sparkling with excitement. There, nestling in a bed of gathered shiny red rayon, lay an exquisite chocolate Easter egg decorated with chocolate piping and marzipan flowers.
“Oh, thank you,” she breathed.
“A pleasure, my dear,” from Maud Whitshere, which Reginald followed up with,
“Rather wet out here. Would appreciate coming in,” and Pat made way for the guests to venture upstairs.
Ascending, Pat rummaged in her pocket and at the top of the stairs pulled Bill back.
“Here,” she said, “I’m sorry we couldn’t run to an Easter egg but here’s something I hope you like.”
Bill tore at the tiny package and out tumbled a cluster of cricket-themed cigarette cards. He swooped to pick them up, exclaiming, “Oh, jolly good, some of these players I don’t have.”
“I’ve been collecting them for months,” said Pat. “It’s been mostly footballers over the winter. I thought you might like them.”
“What ho,” said Bill. “I say, I say, I say, which bug doesn’t play football?”
“Don’t know,” said Pat, humouring him. “Which bug doesn’t play football?”
After lunch, as the rain had eased and the sky was brightening up, it was proposed that the menfolk should take the children and Peggy the dog to Brockwell Park, “for a good runaround,” said Nan.
Entering the park via the Tulse Hill entrance, Bill made a beeline for the ponds, Pat tagging behind. The men strolled on with Peggy.
“Help me look for frogspawn,” ordered Bill.
Pat hesitated. Her new yellow dress, which she’d helped make with hemming and neat overstitching of the decorative white lace, was too precious to risk despite its raincoat protection.
“For goodness’ sake, just sit here on my raincoat,” said, Bill spreading his coat, the outside down, on the damp ground.
Pat knelt, peering into the water. “I can’t see any fish.”
“Just as well, don’t want them eating the frogspawn.”
Yanking a corner of his raincoat from beneath her, Bill extracted a small lidded glass jam jar from a cavernous pocket. He pounced with glee and stood, raising the dripping jar aloft. Pat rose, peering. “Let me see.”
Bill moved forward triumphantly, tripped on an undone shoelace and cannoned forward into Pat whose step backwards was blocked by a returning Peggy. The jar flew into the pond. Pat overbalanced; flailing, she lost her footing on the slimy bank and, arms windmilling, landed with a splash on her bottom in the pond’s shallow edge.
Rescued by her father, Bill being far too helpless with mirth to assist, bundled home and subjected to a scrubbing, Pat eventually emerged in her old patched dress desperately trying to regain a sense of dignity. A contrite Bill, earlier admonished by his father for his ungentlemanly reaction, hastened towards her.
“Here, Pat, have some chocolate to cheer yourself up,” his grey-green eyes doleful, his anxious brow furrowed. Pat knew her cue and bestowed her forgiveness graciously with a large chunk. Perhaps one day she would forget the humiliation that was Brockwell Park on Easter Sunday 1935, but in the meantime the chocolate Easter Egg would at least provide a little compensation.
The Keeping of Secrets tells the story of Patricia Adela Roberts growing to womanhood in Brixton during the Second World War. We join her on Easter Saturday 1941, the Blitz has yet to become a distant memory and Pat has been invited to a small gathering at her friend Bill’s house in Brixton where she meets Jon for the first time …
The afternoon passed in a daze. I felt I was a split personality. Outwardly calm, poised, sociable and politely conversational, my pulse raced and I felt a desperate urge to run wildly around whooping loudly. Thrills coursing through me when Jon spoke, acutely aware of his proximity. Quite how he came to be sitting beside me I didn’t remember. The pale mid-April sunshine illuminating a corner of the garden made everything seem bright and polished. We played charades and I found myself paired with Jon as we played in three teams of two, Bill pairing up with his cousin’s friend Mary, a vivacious brunette with a ready laugh, and Bill’s willowy cousin Helen, a mop of curly black hair, partnering Edward, himself tall, dark and slender, a mutual friend of Bill and Jon’s from their school days. Later, as the evening shades deepened, distances in the blackout were compared and Edward gallantly offered to ensure Mary and Helen’s safe return to Helen’s home just off Clapham Common Southside where Mary was to stay the night.
‘I’ll walk you home, Pat,’ said Bill. ‘Brixton Water Lane?’ queried Jon. ‘I’ve an aunt lives Tulse Hill way and my mother would be pleased if I call in to check on her while I’m over in this neck of the woods. I might as well go via Water Lane, in fact it’ll cut the corner off for me. If there’s an air raid I can shelter for the night with my aunt’s family.’ Although there had been lull in air raids since 20th March, the threat hastened our departure.
Jon and I stepped out into the chill early spring evening, weaving our way through the back streets laughing and chatting as if we had known each other for ever. As we neared the front door I slowed, panic rising. ‘How far up Tulse Hill is your Aunt? Would you have time to stop for refreshment?’ I asked a little breathlessly, wondering at my own daring.
‘Chatsworth Way. And I’d be delighted to accept.’ I frowned. ‘I don’t know a Chatsworth Way at Tulse Hill. There’s one at West Norwood, where we lived a few months last year…’ My voice tailed off as I caught his wide grin. ‘West Norwood.’ Jon nodded.
‘Goodness, I must have walked past her place many times last year and not known of a connection with you. What a small world.’
Jon followed me upstairs and I introduced my gallant escort to my parents. He shook their hands, exchanging pleasantries and within a few minutes conversing as if he had known them for years. I studied him surreptitiously, marvelling at social skills exceptional for a young man of barely seventeen. He even charmed Booty, casually lifting and stroking him, and allowing a forefinger to be batted and nuzzled and chased around his lap. When he rose, apologising for the interruption to their evening and indicating the twilight gloom, my mother gushed, ‘You’d be most welcome to call in any time you’re passing on your way to your Aunt’s,’ and my father shook his hand firmly and said, ‘Nice to meet you young man, call again.’
I took Jon downstairs and we stood a moment on the pavement, he seeming as hesitant as me to bring the evening to a close. I can’t bear to not know when I’ll see him again.
‘Do you like walking?’ Jon asked. ‘With the recent lull in the bombing I thought I’d take the opportunity to go over to the City on Monday to see how it’s surviving.’
‘I’ve been thinking the same myself,’ I lied. As the corner of his mouth twitched, I added truthfully, ‘I’d be pleased to join you.’
‘Shall I call for you eleven-ish?’
I nodded as he stepped back. My disappointment that he was not stepping forward to embrace me was immense. Whatever are you thinking, you flibbertigibbet! With a conspiratorial smile, Jon swept me a low, theatrical bow, and, taking my hand, brushing my fingers with his lips, he turned, disappearing along the road with a wave, and it was only as I mounted the stairs that I thought, he went back the way we came. Does he even have an Aunt in West Norwood?
Born and raised in the Home Counties, Alice Graysharp has enjoyed a varied working life from hospitality to office work and retail. She currently lives in Surrey. This is her first novel, and the first title in a two book series, she is also already working on a seventeenth century trilogy. Published in the anniversary month of the outbreak of the Second World War and the Battle of Britain