A Postcard from Italy
I'm delighted to be hosting today's stop on the Blog Tour for Alex Brown's new novel, A Postcard from Italy. This novel starts in London, near to where I live!
I have an extract for you and it sounds like this will be a great book to read whilst on holiday lazing on a sun lounger with a cocktail or two!...
Grace Quinn loves her job at Cohen’s Convenient Storage Company, finding occasional treasure in the forgotten units that customers have abandoned. Her inquisitive nature is piqued when a valuable art collection and a bundle of letters and diaries are found that date back to the 1930’s. Delving deeper, Grace uncovers the story of a young English woman, Connie Levine, who follows her heart to Italy at the end of the Second World War. The contents also offer up the hope of a new beginning for Grace, battling a broken heart and caring for her controlling mother.
Extract - Chapter One
London, England, present day
Grace Quinn loved her job at Cohen’s Convenient Storage Company. In fact, it was the only thing that gave her real pleasure these days. Alongside her knitting and a large mug of hot chocolate with a dash of cherry brandy dropped in of an evening as she escaped into one of her favourite old films. She loved the classics. The feeling of being swept away into a world of nostalgia and glamour, where nothing bad ever happened, or so it seemed. Musicals especially, with plenty of dancing. Fred and Ginger. Doris Day. Whipcrackaway! She was a big Doris Day fan and had learnt so much about timing and precision from watching Doris, which in turn had helped Grace hone her own dance skills. Gene Kelly too. Singin’ in the Rain. She’d never grow tired of watching that masterpiece. Although her absolute all-time favourite was – of course – the legendary Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face. It really was ’S Wonderful, ’S Marvellous, as Audrey and Fred sang in the Technicolor scene where they floated down the river in the grounds of that idyllic chateau in Paris. But the magic could never happen for Grace until her bedbound mother, Cora, had eventually fallen asleep, which recently had been getting later and later.
So, slipping her shoes on as she brushed her hair, and then wound her rumpus of copper curls up into a more manageable bun, Grace kept one ear out for Cora upstairs in her bedroom, silently praying that she’d make it out the door to work without her mother bellowing again for more breakfast cereal and toast. Grace had already taken her a large bowl of cornflakes and two rounds of butter and jam, but the shop had run out of the extra-thick crusty bread, ‘so it takes more to fill me up, Grace’ is what Cora had said on calling out for yet more toast. And recently, Cora had been yelling too for the lamp right beside her on the cabinet to be switched on because her own hand, mere millimetres away, was ‘playing up’ again. That had happened four times last night.
But it wasn’t to be.
‘Grace. Grace. Grace. For the love of God where are you?’ Cora thundered in her dense Irish accent, thumping the floor with her walking stick and making the plastic lightshade, hanging from the ceiling in the lounge, sway precariously above Grace’s head.
She put down the brush. Gripping the edge of the mantelpiece with both hands, she closed her eyes, dipped her head momentarily and inhaled deeply before letting out a long breath, searching every fibre of her being just to find another iota of resilience somewhere within her. She was tired. So tired. After opening her eyes, Grace inspected her face in the mirror and saw bloodshot flecks around her green irises from lack of sleep and her fair, freckly skin seemed even paler, if that was even possible. Cora had had a bad night and Grace had been up until almost 3 a.m. This would be the third day in a row now that she would be late for work; even though her boss, Larry, was very under- standing, he was also getting on. And after his knee surgery last year it wasn’t so easy for him to do the rounds, walking the length of the warehouse corridors, checking the temperature controls and pushing the heavy metal trolleys back to their place in the bays beside the lift. Yes, he had been good to her, so the least she could do was to turn up on time. Grace really didn’t feel it was fair to leave it all to him.
But then nothing much was fair these days as far as she could see. Not for Larry. And not for her. How could it be fair when none of her siblings helped out? Cora had four grown-up children, yet it had been left to Grace, the youngest, to care for their extremely demanding mother, single-
handedly. Apart from the occasional visits from her best friend, Jamie. He lived in the terraced house next door and they had grown up together here in Woolwich. He worked as a midwife now at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and popped in whenever he could to help turn Cora and pick up a pound to buy her a scratch- card. Cora loved a scratchcard and was convinced that her ‘big win’ was just around the corner. And when that day came she was going to ‘employ an expert carer and book into a suite at the Savoy Hotel in London where they know how to do things properly’.
Grace had heard it all before a million times over and, if the truth be told, she really hoped that ‘big win’ would hurry up and happen soon for both of their sakes. Cora flatly refused to consider a council run care home, claiming only a high-end one, akin to a five-star hotel, would do for her, and she wouldn’t let ‘riffraff’, aka strangers, in the house to help out either, so it really had all been left to Grace to deal with. And Grace knew that she was crumbling under the strain of caring for her mother and trying to hold down a full-time job, but couldn’t see another way. Especially since Cora had flatly refused to be assessed for any sort of carers’ allowance, so Grace’s income was all they had to get by on. Grace had tried getting her siblings involved, but they had moved away or had important jobs in banking in the City of London . . . well, more important than her job at the storage company on an industrial estate in Greenwich and only ten minutes to get to on the bus, is what they really meant. So Grace ploughed on . . . because she couldn’t just abandon her mother, turn her back on her when she was unable to leave her own bed unaided due to her health problems exacerbated by her bulk.
No, Cora needed her.
‘What is it, Mum?’ Grace asked, on entering Cora’s bedroom, near choking on the foggy air, thick with the fragrance of lily-of-the-valley talcum powder.
‘What did you get this one for?’ Cora complained, her doughy face wobbling into a frown.
‘What do you mean, Mum?’ Grace scanned the room.
And Cora lifted up the corner of the duvet. Her fleshy bare legs and arms and nightie-covered body were coated in white talcum powder. Grace’s heart sank. It was twenty-five past eight, according to the gold carriage clock on the chest of drawers, and she was supposed to be at work by nine. There was no way she could sort this out in time – strip the bed, being careful to turn her mother as she did so – just as the care assistant from social services had shown her, and then replace the talcum- powdered sheet with a clean one. Before finally washing the powder from Cora’s body and finding a fresh nightie for her to wear. Grace had taken the last nightie from the drawer earlier this morning before putting a load of washing in the machine, ready to peg out on the line to dry when she rushed back home in her lunch break. But she couldn’t leave her mother like this for a whole morning. Cora was already wheezing from inhaling the powder and her skin would sweat and then get sore which would involve more creams and extra-frequent turning to avoid painful bedsores.
So, resigned to letting Larry down again with another late start, Grace pulled her mobile from her jeans pocket and swiftly tapped out a text message to him before galvanizing herself into action. If she moved fast and Cora complied with her instructions to hold the handle of the hoist when she rolled her onto her side, then she might be in with a chance of making it to work before ten o’clock.
About the Author
Photo by Philippa Gedge
Alex Brown is the bestselling author of six books and launched her career with the hugely popular Carrington’s series set in a seaside town department store. Alex now writes warm, witty and heartfelt novels centered on the cosy community spirit of village life. Alex began her writing career as a weekly columnist for The London Paper, before trading in the rat race for the good life. When she isn’t writing, Alex enjoys knitting, and is passionate about supporting charities working with care leavers, adoption and vulnerable young people. Alex lives in a rural village in Sussex, with her husband, daughter and a very shiny black Labrador.