Friday 31 May 2019

The Sewing Room Girl
Susanna Bavin

I am so pleased to be a part of the blog tour for Susanna Bavin's new novel, The Sewing Room Girl. I am taking this one on holiday with me to Turkey next month as her first novel, The Deserter's Daughter was fabulous and I am hearing nothing but great reviews about this one! I want to thank Lesley at Allison & Busby for thinking of me and sending a copy for review.

Excerpt from Chapter One of The Sewing Room Girl
Saturday morning, not long after six and already the dew had burnt off. The sky was the soft blue of harebells and there was a brightness in the air, though it would be hot again before long. Just like last Saturday morning – and not in the slightest bit like it, because back then, when Juliet set off for the Dancys’ cottage, Pop had headed in the opposite direction to work on the drystone walls at the home farm. How could they not have known? Last Saturday, how could they not have known that by this Saturday . . . ?
She let herself into the Dancys’ cottage, where Mr Dancy sat in the rocking chair, pulling his boots on. Ella popped her head round the kitchen door.
‘Morning, chick.’ She didn’t ask impossible questions like ‘How are you?’ but her soft eyes and rueful upside-down smile revealed her concern. It was a shame she would never be free to marry because of looking after her father and grandmother – not that she looked after old Mrs Dancy much. That was Juliet’s job and had been since the morning after she left school.
She went upstairs, the soles of her ankle boots tapping on the wooden treads. The instant she opened the bedroom door, the stench slapped her. Old Mrs Dancy might be no bigger than a corn dolly but, by crikey, she produced enough motions to fertilise the top field and still have some left for her ladyship’s rose beds.
‘There you are, girl.’
Some folk said ‘Good morning’. Some said ‘How are you today?’ Old Mrs Dancy said ‘There you are, girl.’ Every morning for the past three years.
‘Morning, Mrs Dancy.’
Holding her breath, Juliet dug out the chamber pot from under the bed. Her scalp prickled as the tang swarmed round her. She hurried downstairs – but not too fast: it would be infinitely worse if she spilt it – and out the back door to the earth closet, chucking the pungent contents through the hole in the seat. For one head-spinning moment, it seemed the contents of her stomach might follow, but she retreated into the patch of garden and her nausea settled.
Dumping the chamber pot on the grass, she returned to lug the wooden pail downstairs. The pail into which old Mrs Dancy evacuated her bowels had a worse smell, but at least today it was just stools inside. Sometimes she peed in it as well and the pee seeped through a tiny crack, then Juliet would have to mop the floor.
She rinsed the chamber pot and pail under the water pump, then carried them back in.
Ella was about to put on the straw hat she wore in summer. She was lucky because she could dress her hat with flowers without the village busybodies calling it inappropriate, because her job was with flowers. She stopped with the hat halfway to her head.
‘Thank you.’
She always said thank you, unlike her grandmother, who was more likely to say ‘Now rub ointment into me bunions.’
Upstairs, Juliet slid the chamber pot under the bed and positioned the pail so that old Mrs Dancy would be able to slither off the mattress and hang onto her bedside table while Juliet helped her wriggle her nightdress up her scrawny thighs, before she plonked herself down on the pail for one of her noisy bowel movements.
Hearing the door shut downstairs, Juliet went to the window to watch Ella on her way. When she had started here, she had been happy to help the beautiful Ella. Now her ribs tightened in envy of Ella’s job down the hill. Ella worked for a florist and came home smelling of petals and greenery. Oh, for a proper job! But, as Mother, Mrs Grove, the vicar and Uncle Tom Cobley were fond of pointing out: ‘We all help one another in Clough’ – so there was no hope of it. Juliet spent long days filing toenails as thick as piano keys, removing earwax with a funnel of oil, applying pennies to warts and feeling the back of old Mrs Dancy’s hairbrush across her knuckles when the old lady’s wisps of hair refused to stay put in a meagre bun. Every hour, she read verses from the Bible because, as old Mrs Dancy said, ‘You never know when you’ll gasp your last.’
But it was Pop who had gasped his last. After his fall, he had been carried home on a door and put to bed, where he had lain motionless. The women who trooped in and out, providing cups of tea and unwanted food and much-needed company, said he looked like he was fast asleep. To start with, Juliet had taken comfort from it, then she realised that you moved in your sleep, even if it was just a little wriggle. Pop lay flat on his back, the way they had arranged him.
‘I’ll fetch your breakfast.’
She ran downstairs to make the thin grey gruel the old lady swore by.
‘Keeps me regular. You’ve got to be regular when you’re bedfast.’
It was the start of another interminable day, made heavier by grief and shock. Anxiety too. What was to become of them without Pop? Juliet balled her fist around the saucepan handle. It wasn’t right that they should have that worry. They should be allowed to concentrate on their loss.
And on top of all that, there was the boredom. No matter how often she swore to be cheerful, the irksome routine ground her down, leaving her brain sticky with tedium and her skin caked in stale air. Thank heaven Ella came home more or less when the children were let out of school.
Often, when Ella returned and set her free, Juliet would stride off along the tops to fill her lungs with clean air, but today she went straight home. Heat bounced up from the path. Her feet were hot and tight inside her boots. Doors and windows stood open, not that there was any breeze to be caught that way.
In the cottage, Mother and Mrs Grove were huddled together looking inside the tall cupboard in the alcove beside the fireplace.
‘That’s heavy, so it’ll need to go at the bottom,’ said Mrs Grove.
‘I don’t need telling how to pack, Beatrice,’ said Mother.
‘Pack?’ Fear streamed through Juliet, which was daft, because she knew the rules about tied cottages.
Mother turned round. Her face, which had been drawn all week, was brighter. ‘It’s good news. Mrs Whicker wanted to see me because her ladyship has heard of my reputation with a needle and wants me to be her personal seamstress.’ She laughed and a couple of tears spurted from her eyes. ‘It’s a live-in position. Imagine that. There’s never been a resident seamstress at Moorside before.’
If Mother went to Moorside . . . ‘Will I have to move in with old Mrs Dancy?’
‘You’re coming with me. It’s a sign of how much they want me that they’re prepared to take you as well.’
Mrs Grove snorted. ‘It’s a sign of what a sensible body Mrs Whicker is, more like. Say what you like about her being a slave-driver, but she guards those housemaids more closely than their own mothers. She wouldn’t dream of setting you adrift, Juliet, not at your age.’
‘So I’m not going to work at Moorside?’
‘No, you’ll stop with old Mrs Dancy.’ Mrs Grove sounded as knowledgeable as if the whole thing was her idea. She talked about everything that way. ‘Nowt will change for you, except for living in a different place.’
Nowt will change? It had already changed. Pop was dead, and she and Mother were to move out of the cottage Mother had moved into as a bride on the day Pop planted the climbing rose.
‘We have to pack and give the cottage a thorough spring clean,’ said Mother.
‘It’ll keep you busy,’ said Mrs Grove, ‘and that’s no bad thing.’
Whether it was good or bad was beside the point. There was no choice.

About the author
Susanna Bavin lives on the beautiful North Wales coast. Moving there five years ago was a childhood dream come true. She lives with her husband and their two rescue cats. Susanna is originally from Chorlton-cum-Hardy in Manchester, where her family has lived for several generations and which provides the setting for her family sagas.

Susanna started writing as a child and has been writing all her life, but for most of that time she didn’t submit anything to literary agents. Instead, she got rather hooked on getting feedback and worked with a writers' advisory service for some years. Then she decided to aim for publication and wrote three novels so as to have a body of work to offer a literary agent.

She is represented by MBA, who introduced her to the publishing world in their pre-Frankfurt Book Fair newsletter. Allison & Busby immediately asked if they could read The Deserter’s Daughter when it was ready. They bought The Deserter's Daughter and also bought a second, unwritten, 1920s saga on the strength of a synopsis - A Respectable Woman. They subsequently bought her next two books - The Sewing Room Girl and The Poor Relation.


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