I have a little something different on the blog today, as I have an extract from new book Walking Wounded. So a little different to your average book review!
Regular readers will know that I recently signed up for a blog hop book tour, which started with us reviewing Isolation Junction last week. Walking Wounded is the next book on the list.
Walking Wounded is written by Anna Franklin Osborne and is the story of those left behind in a Blitz ravaged London.
I can very much relate to author Anna. As a parent, she hit a tiny crisis a few years ago as she that her purpose in life had narrowed to not an awful lot more than dashing between two jobs and being a mummy taxi. So, she decided to start writing. Which was was pretty much the reason I started this blog!
Walking Wounded was written over a period of a year, on a tiny tablet. Anna wrote every day in 10 minute bursts while sat in the school car-park waiting for her daughter to emerge from school. She wrote parked outside ballet lessons and maths lessons. She wrote early in the mornings while everyone was asleep. That is dedication and I very much admire that!
So what is Walking Wounded about?
Walking Wounded is a war story and family saga, focusing on those left behind whilst their men folk went to war. It is about how they survived and how their relationships evolved through periods of violence, loss and reunion.
Spanning the period from the Armistice of the Great War to the exodus of the Ten Pound Poms to Australia in the 1950s, its internal violence is mirrored by the world stage upon which it is set.
Extract Four – Walking Wounded
Click here to pop over to The Stationary Geekette, to read extract three.
“The next few days passed in a blur. The excitement of the war ending, the boys coming home, and now Edie’s engagement all had a dreamlike quality, and Florence felt her way through them carefully, knowing that a gulf existed between her and her husband that she had yet to navigate.
On the surface, he was the same old William, a carbon copy of Reggie and Bert, although his black hair now had a stubborn white streak at his temple. He seemed at peace in the daytime, loving nothing more than pulling the now doting Lydia up onto his lap and singing to her in his soft voice.
But as the day wore on, he would become increasingly agitated and tense, avoiding his wife’s eye as she worked around him in the house. And each night, when the boys got back from working in the shop, he would leap up with barely disguised relief and suggest he took them out for a pint, leaving with a backward guilty glance and arriving home too late and too drunk to talk, falling into bed and sleeping within moments.
And then one night, the nightmares started.
It was a Tuesday, stocktaking day for the boys, so Florence was not expecting them home until late as they would usually meet their friends at the pub directly after finishing work. She has arranged for Edie to take Lydia out for a play with friends, her daughter looking at her with sudden, bashful understanding, ‘I’ll buy her fish and chips and have an early night, Mum.’
She glanced ruefully at herself in the mirror, a little embarrassed that she was feeling shy because of what she had planned, then pulled the pretty fabric of her favourite maternity smock down over her neat but expanding bump and walked downstairs with a determined smile pinned on her face.
William barely looked up as she entered the kitchen and for a moment she hesitated.
She felt the fear of rejection deep within her, threatening to let her down, and she almost, almost faltered. But then the courage that had never failed her yet led her three paces further to cross the divide to the man she loved, and with heartfelt relief she felt the familiar desire stirring for the man sitting before her taking over, and she bent to kiss him full on the lips, feeling his startled but then enthusiastic response.
William broke away and looked at her, smiling, but Florence was in no mood to talk. Needing to find this moment, this intimacy with her husband, she took his hand and led him upstairs, feeling the warmth flood through her as he slid into bed and covered her body with his own.
Much later, they rolled away from one another, but fell asleep still touching, neither aware that each slept with a gentle smile on their face.
Many hours later, Florence awoke with a shock.
Her first thought was that Lydia must be ill, strange cries calling to her maternal instinct and forcing her from blissful sleep, and she sat up disorientated, realising with her waking breath that the cries came from William, her husband.
Shakily, she reached out and touched him, seeing that he was still asleep but dreaming, and watched helplessly as he recoiled away from her trembling hand and howled like a lost soul.
The next morning, Florence waited until everyone had left the house, then turned to William, her hands on her hips and a challenge in her eyes that he wanted to avoid, staring silently down at the table and hoping against hope that she would just drop it, leave him alone. ‘William,’ she tried, tentatively, ‘William please tell me what last night was about. Do you remember what you were dreaming of?’
William looked up at her reluctantly, and saw reflected in her loving face what he had most feared to see.
Furiously he stood, shook his head as he if were trying to shake away the violence of his thoughts, and without a word, slammed out of the house. Shocked by his reaction, Florence watched him walk away, head bent and shoulders hunched, then felt her knees give way and sank down at the table, finally giving way to the burning tears she had been holding back and weeping at her impotence, stricken to the heart.
The nightmares continued, relentlessly.
Florence could see no pattern to them, sometimes they were almost as he first drifted off to sleep, sometimes after a few hours, but the effect was always the same. First the thrashing around, then the crying out, then the shocked, sweat-drenched face of the man she loved, staring glassily into the darkness and unable, or unwilling, she thought bitterly, to tell her what he had seen.
He would turn to her then, holding her tight, finding some solace in her nearness and in her body, but never, ever, talking.
Edie could sense the gulf between her parents, but thought her brothers seemed to be helping, talking to her dad down at the pub and behaving as if he’d never been away. Now that Dad was back, she found the intimacy that had sprung up during the war years with her mother had been lost, yet she knew instinctively that her mum needed her even though she had no idea how to help.
Not knowing where to turn she began to spend more and more time with Edward, feeling a guilty weight lift from her shoulders each night that they walked out together, leaving the new and unfamiliar tension of the big house behind.
Edward had begun to split his time between his home and hers, arriving as soon as he could each evening to take her for a walk, and Florence allowed them to go off alone.
After all, she reasoned, the boy had just survived the war to end all wars, surely she could trust him with her eldest daughter? So each and every evening, Edie and Edward walked and talked, her hand tightly clenched in his and thrust deep into the pocket of his overcoat as they walked through the grounds of Alexandra Palace, his eyes fixed on the distant lights as he bared his soul and told her, word by painful, grating word, about his war.
About the blood and the rats, the lice and the endless, stinking mud. Mind-numbing, paralysing fear. She never commented, shocked by the raw pain in his voice as he told her of the atrocities he’d seen, the conditions he’d suffered.
She had no idea what to say, so unwittingly she did the best thing she could possibly have done to help him heal, she just listened, tears running down her face unchecked, and held his hand while he talked.
They set a date.
‘As soon as possible,’ Edward declared, I’ve waited long enough!’ They were sitting in the front room of the big house on Muswell Hill to mark the occasion, the unused fire stoked up for the first time in years.
Lydia had been sent, protesting, to bed, but Reggie, Bert and the whole family were all here to discuss the wedding plans. ‘I really can’t fix anything too soon,’ protested Florence weakly, ‘we can’t throw a party with what we’ve got, let alone a wedding!’ She glanced across the room to William for support, but he looked away, refusing to catch her eye.
She sighed, knowing that he would not engage in this little family drama, nor any other battle she needed him to fight for her again. Edie straightened her back and looked at her mother and father earnestly. ‘Mum, listen to me,’ she urged, gently. ‘Edward and I have already waited too long! I’m twenty now, and quite able to make my own decisions.
We want to get married soon, we can fix it ourselves, just our family and Edward’s mum.
We don’t need a big do, but we really want to get married next month, Mum.’ She sat back breathlessly and stared down at the pattern on the rug, her piece said and painfully aware of her heart thumping in her chest as she waited for a verdict.
‘But what will you wear?’ wailed Florence plaintively, aware of how silly she sounded but nonetheless clutching at straws, not ready for any more change in her world, and certainly not ready for her eldest to fly the nest and leave her to cope.
Edie relaxed and laughed out loud, smiling with relief at Edward who had broken out into a huge grin.
‘I can still fit into my green dress you made me, Mum,’ she insisted, ‘and I’ve always loved it.’ Florence looked at her, horror-struck, a phrase from her own mother, from her own chaotic childhood clamouring in her mind, then springing unbidden to her lips, ‘But you can’t wear green for a wedding, it’s bad luck!’ Edie laughed again and Edward joined in this time.
‘Mrs Johnson,’ he said quietly, ‘we’ve just come through the biggest war this world has ever seen. It’s time we made our own luck, don’t you think?’ The date was set for mid-December, barely a month after Edward and William had come home. Edie danced through those days, feeling that her heart might just burst with happiness as she scribbled lists and made plans, pooh-poohing any obstacle that presented itself. Each morning she smiled to herself as her eyes fell on the dress hanging on the back of her door, elegant and grown-up, especially with the creamy lace wrap Florence had tearfully lent her to go with it with the cold drawing in now as winter came with a vengeance to North London.
But unbeknown to them all, a new enemy was sweeping across Europe, as deadly as the Germans, but this time silent and unseen.