Today I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for The Glittering Hour. I’m sharing an extract with thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me on the blog tour and to the publisher for providing the extract.
The epic and long-awaited new romance from the author of Letters to the Lost, winner of the RNA Award.
Selina Lennox is a Bright Young Thing. Her life is a whirl of parties and drinking, pursued by the press and staying just the right side of scandal.
Lawrence Weston is a penniless painter who stumbles into Selina’s orbit one night and can never let her go.
Spanning two decades and a seismic shift in British history as World War II approaches, this is an epic novel of passion, heartache and loss.
The winter sky was yellowish-grey and it sagged wearily over the frozen world. It had snowed last night, but disap- pointingly; a mean scattering of dirty white that had frozen into sharp crystals – nothing you could make a snowman from (would she be allowed anyway? Probably not). The cold slapped Alice’s cheeks and burned deep into her bones as she trudged miserably after Miss Lovelock.
They had taken their usual route, along the west carriage drive and round the edge of the lake, where last autumn’s leaves still lay in a mouldering rust-coloured carpet. The gardens at Blackwood Park were extensive and elaborate; once they had been the jewel in its crown, but now, with only elderly Patterson and a simple boy to maintain them they were overgrown and out of bounds. Alice’s daily walk (non-negotiable: Miss Lovelock was a great believer in the benefits of Fresh Air) was over the rough parkland, past sheep that eyed her with hostility. After eleven days it had already taken on a familiarity that was oppressive rather than comforting.
Eleven days. Was that all?
The unsettled feeling in her tummy was back as she thought of all the days that yawned ahead until Mama came home. She stopped, focusing on the white swirl of her frozen breath and the poker-like plants at the edge of the water. Bulrushes, Miss Lovelock said. Alice had heard of them in the bible story of Moses, but had never seen them before she came to Blackwood – there certainly weren’t any on the banks of the Serpentine or by the boating lake in Hyde Park, or any of the other places she went for winter walks with Mama (sometimes followed by tea at Maison Lyons or Gunters, or – if they had got cold and wet – crumpets at home, toasted together in front of the parlour fire). She stared hard at them, making herself notice their compact shape and velvety texture, because noticing those things distracted her from the sick, hollow feeling in her tummy. She would have liked to break one off, to take back up to the house so she could sketch it with the beautiful set of pencils Mama had bought her for Christmas (twelve different col- ours, like a rainbow in a tin) but she suspected that wouldn’t be allowed either. Grandmama had taken the pencils away when Alice had arrived, ‘for safekeeping.’ Drawing was not encouraged at Blackwood Park.
‘Alice! Come along child – quick march!’
Miss Lovelock’s voice, bristling with impatience, carried back from the point far ahead to which her brisk pace had taken her (‘quick march’ was not so much an expression, but a command. She was extremely fond of marching.) Everything about Miss Lovelock was brisk and no-nonsense, from her lace-up shoes and mannish ties to her fondness for arithmetic and Latin verbs – subjects with exact answers and no room for ‘what if ?’
(Mama said that ‘what if ?’ was always a good question to ask. She turned it into a game that they played on the top of the motorbus: what if you could be invisible for a day – what would you do? What if animals could talk? What if Parliament was filled with women instead of men?)
Alice left the bulrushes and began to trudge dutifully towards Miss Lovelock. The governess’s arms were folded across her wide chest and, even at this distance, Alice could see that her brows were drawn down into a single black line of exasperation. Much as Miss Lovelock liked Fresh Air, Alice knew she was eager to get back to the house and hand over her charge so she could spend the afternoon listening to the wireless in the warmth of her room. Even so, passing the old boathouse Alice couldn’t resist pausing to press her face close to the mossy window, peering in at the tangle of fishing rods in the corner, the pile of moth-eaten cushions, hoping to catch a glimpse of the ghosts that slumbered there dreaming of long ago summers; of boating parties and pic- nics and swimming in the lake . . .
Blackwood Park was full of ghosts. Its empty corridors echoed with the whispers of lost voices and snatches of old laughter. It was a house where the past felt more vivid than the present, which was nothing more than a stretch of end- less days fading into uniform blankness. It had been Mama’s house when she was growing up, and she had told Alice how she, Aunt Miranda and Uncle Howard would play hopscotch on the marble floor in the entrance hall and French cricket on the nursery corridor with the footmen, in the days before the Great War when there had been footmen at Blackwood (and when there had been an Uncle Howard – though of course he hadn’t been an Uncle then, and never would be a living one). Alice thought it might be their voices she heard. Their laughter, their footsteps.
‘Alice Carew, will you please get a move on!’
Her sigh misted the greenish glass and she turned reluc- tantly away. The light was bleeding from the January sky and a pale smudge of moon had appeared above the trees. Behind Miss Lovelock the house loomed, dark and impos- ing, its windows blank, its secrets hidden. With a leaden heart Alice walked towards them both.
The Glittering Hour is available from Amazon.
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