Today I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Coming Home To Winter Island by sharing an extract. My post is presented with thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me on the tour and the publisher for providing the extract.
Wrap up warm and explore the breath-taking beauty of a remote Scottish island and an old house waiting to unlock enchanting family secrets.
Fans of Jill Mansell and Milly Johnson will love this irresistible new winter novel from Jo Thomas.
Do you need to find out where you’ve come from before you can know what the future holds?
Ruby’s singing career is on the verge of hitting the big time, when her voice breaks. Fearing her career is over, she signs up for a retreat in Tenerife to recover.
But an unexpected call from a stranger on a remote Scottish island takes her on a short trip to sort out some family business. It’s time to go and see the grandfather she’s never met.
City girl Ruby knows she will be happy to leave the windswept beaches behind as quickly as she can, especially as a years-old family rift means she knows she won’t be welcome at Teach Mhor.
But as she arrives at the big house overlooking the bay, she finds things are not as straightforward as she might have thought.
There’s an unexpected guest in the house and he’s not planning on going anywhere any time soon …
‘Breathe,’ I tell myself firmly. ‘Breathe from your butt!’ I clench my buttocks and drag the air in through my nose, then let it out long and slow from my mouth, not allowing even a flicker of nerves in. ‘Just breathe!’ In. And out. In. And out. Phuuuffffffffff! My buttocks lift, followed by my hips and then my diaphragm. ‘Breathe from your butt!’ I repeat, and count, pressing each finger into my thumb, chasing off doubt and jitters, taking control. I focus my mind on the counting and not on any last-minute nerves that might be trying to creep in. This is what I’ve learnt to do. I begin to smile: this is it! Finally! I’ve waited for today for a long time and I want to drink in every bit of this performance and remember it.
I can still taste the honey and lemon from the hot drink on my tongue. I look over at Jess, my best friend and band manager. She’s way more nervous than me. Jess writes new songs, which we mix into the set with covers in my country/blues/jazzy singing style. I turn to look briefly at the rest of the band and flash them a reassuring smile. There’s Moira on drums, looking relaxed as ever, dragging her hands through her short spiky hair. Gwilym on keyboards, nervously running his fingers over the keys and then staring up lovingly at the oblivious Moira, waiting to take his lead from her. Ali on double bass, as tall and impressive as her instrument, with a really high quiff, making her look even more imposing, which is why men are always terrified of her and she can’t understand why no one ever wants to ask her out. She plays bass guitar too.
Our two backing singers are Lulu and Pixie Rose, who doubles up on trumpet and saxophone. We don’t hang out with them so much. They turn up when they’re needed and do their job. And they do it really well. Both want their own careers, of course, but this goes some way to getting a foot in the door. And then of course there’s Jess herself, in a smart black trouser suit, on lead guitar and sometimes the mandolin, holding us all together like a shepherd with her flock. She’s incredible. She gives me a nod, and the briefest of winks.
We all know how important this gig is. It could change everything, for all of us. I know how much they’re depending on me to do the very best I can. I look up. Today I need to knock this performance right out of the park. We’ve been preparing for this day since we first came together as a band and talked about our dreams of going all the way. For Jess and me, that was right back when we met at an open mic night nearly twenty years ago. We hit it off straight away and started writing songs and performing, adding to the band since then. Obviously we’ve all done our own stuff too, to make money. I do solo singing in a piano bar, and Jess creates samples for an online music company; but we’ve kept the band going, adding to the family, growing all the time. It’s been a long journey, but hopefully tonight is when we’ll all get there together.
Coming Home to Winter Island
And then of course there’s Joe, sitting out in the audience, probably as nervous as the rest of us, maybe more so. There’s a lot resting on this for him too. Gorgeous, smart, funny Joe, who has been my biggest supporter from the day I met him at a televised battle of the bands competition. His band crashed out in the early rounds and Jess and I went on to win that day, before getting knocked out prior to the show going on air. Joe gave up playing guitar after that; it was just a hobby, he said. Him and some mates from work had entered for a laugh, hoping to be the latest Take That, ‘one for the mums’. None of them could actually sing or dance, but they looked gorgeous. He abandoned the idea of instant fame and instead told me exactly how he could help take my career to the top with his marketing ideas. It took years for me to finally give in to his requests for a date. But his persistence paid off and we’ve been together for coming up to four years now.
I breathe deeply and count on my fingers again. I feel excited, like it’s Christmas morning and there’s a stack of presents under the tree to be unwrapped, waiting to see people’s faces when they see what you’ve bought them. In Joe’s case, one present in particular. The ring that has been sitting in its box for nearly a year now. The one I’ve promised to put on when everything is sorted. When the deal here is done. When I’ve got my recording contract. As soon as I can move on to the next chapter in my life, I’ll be ready to set a date.
After nearly four years together, life was finally starting to come together for me and Joe. After tonight, life will be sorted. It’s our time. And he wants it for me as much as I do.
He’s supported me through all the times when I’ve sung to a handful of people, when shows have been cancelled, and when they’ve been packed out and we’ve floated home on a high. He’s always had faith in me, even when I’ve been tempted to give up. He has kept me going, believing in myself and that this day would come. He’s been happy standing in the wings, so to speak, and I want him to enjoy this as much as me. I know he will. He’s out there now, in the audience. He’ll have the champagne ready and on ice. He’s even invited his family along.
Joe loves to make a big deal of things. He’ll be telling everyone how great I am, and organising photo opportunities for any groupies. He thinks I’m going to be the next big female voice. I hate thinking about things like that. I like to just do the best I can. Joe takes control of all the publicity, and I’m happy to let him, even if I do find his enthusiasm for me a little embarrassing at times. I’m not the big name he tells people I am, not yet. But as he works in PR, he knows how to put on a splash, and if it makes a great marketing opportunity too, well why not? He tells me we have to create the buzz and the crowds will follow. Which is why tonight is so important to us both. This gig – a night of singers and bands performing their favourite Christmas songs the week before Christmas, with an A&R manager here to see us, here in this theatre in our home city – feels just perfect. Perfect for finally putting down some roots. And I know Joe feels it too. He wants me to succeed, he tells me all the time.
The smell of the dry ice sets my adrenalin racing as I breathe in . . . and out, focusing on the finish line, like a
Coming Home to Winter Island
long-distance runner. I’ve spent years putting in the hours, the training and the small events. This is my race today, and I’m going to do it with everything I’ve trained for. I’m going to sing my heart out. My buttocks clench and release in time with my breathing as the smoke curls around my ankles. I’m totally focused on the job I’ve got to do here. There’s an A&R person in that audience with a contract ready for signing, and a producer at a record company already interested in us. This is it. Our time: the band’s; mine and Jess’s, mine and Joe’s. Finally. And I’m ready.
I look at Jess on lead guitar. She holds my gaze, steady and reassuring, telling me she won’t let me fall, and I return it. We’re there for each other. We know each other so well; we understand exactly how the other works and how to support them. Then she nods and turns to Moira, who stops fiddling with her spiky hair and lifts her sticks, suddenly very focused as she waits for Jess to give the signal. Jess does one last check around the band. All eyes are on her. I clench my buttocks as tightly as I can beneath my Spandex pants. She nods to Moira, and the band fall into step behind her as she clicks her sticks together. One, two, three . . .
The music starts; the curtain rises. I follow it with my eyes, and the bright lights suddenly shut out all other sights and sounds. I focus really hard on the finish line, right at the back of the auditorium. Somewhere out in that audience is the person who is going to change our lives forever, finally giving us the break we’ve been working towards all these years: slaving away in cafés and bars, scraping together the money for rent and singing lessons whilst holding on to the dream of finally signing a recording contract. Rushing from shifts to rehearsals with the band and sacrificing everything else for paid gigs. It’s Joe who’s helped me hang on to that dream. Finally the record industry are interested in us. All those years of working and promoting the band has paid off. This is it.
The intro builds to a crescendo. I lift my head, drop my shoulders and relax my buttocks, ready to let my voice do the work. I smile as I slip into my comfort zone. This is what I do. This is what I’ve always been able to do. And now it’s time to make it my everything. Briefly, a light flashes, from a camera or phone, and suddenly, without warning, my brain flicks up an image of my dad, the blue lights, the hospital sign. Not now! I can’t think about that now! I shove it as hard as I can from my mind and clench my buttocks really tight, blowing out a big breath, letting the bluesy, jazzy sound wash over me.
Fully focused again, I go to slip into the first note. But though my mouth widens, nothing comes out. No sound. I falter. I dig deeper, and then recoil when something in my throat pops and all that comes out is a croak. I’m suddenly gripped with fear, tight fingers around my throat strangling me. I turn to Jess, who looks at me wide-eyed. She doesn’t need to say what she’s thinking. I’m thinking it too! What the hell is going on? Where’s my voice gone?!
As the band plays on, I slowly step back into the smoke, into the shadows of backstage, silent, hot tears rolling down my cheeks, my moment in the spotlight gone, disappointment hanging heavy in the air.
Coming Home To Winter Island is available from Amazon.
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