The Girl in The Letter
It's my stop on the Blog Tour today and I really can't wait to read this one, but will have to wait until April 2019 for the paperback to be published! To wet your appetite, I have an extract for you below and now I have read it, I really can't wait!
BLURB: 'A great book, truly hard to put down. Fast paced, brilliantly plotted and desperately sad at times - all hallmarks of a bestseller' Lesley Pearse on The Girl in the Letter Perfect for fans of Kate Morton and Kathryn Hughes, this gripping novel of long-buried secrets will stay with you for ever. A heartbreaking letter. A girl locked away. A mystery to be solved. 1956. When Ivy Jenkins falls pregnant she is sent in disgrace to St Margaret's, a dark, brooding house for unmarried mothers. Her baby is adopted against her will. Ivy will never leave. Present day. Samantha Harper is a journalist desperate for a break. When she stumbles on a letter from the past, the contents shock and move her. The letter is from a young mother, begging to be rescued from St Margaret's. Before it is too late. Sam is pulled into the tragic story and discovers a spate of unexplained deaths surrounding the woman and her child. With St Margaret's set for demolition, Sam has only hours to piece together a sixty-year-old mystery before the truth, which lies disturbingly close to home, is lost for ever... Read her letter. Remember her story...
Friday 13 February 1959
My darling Elvira,
I do not know where to begin.
You are just a little girl, and it is so hard to explain in words
that you will understand why I am choosing to leave this life,
and you, behind. You are my daughter, if not by blood then in
my heart, and it breaks to know that what I am about to do
will be adding to the mountain of hurt and pain you have had
to endure in the eight long years of your short life.
Ivy paused, trying to compose herself so that the pen in
her hand would stop shaking enough for her to write. She
looked around the large drying room where she had hidden
herself. From the ceiling hung huge racks crammed with
sheets and towels meticulously washed by the cracked and
swollen hands of the pregnant girls in St Margaret’s laundry,
now ready to go down to the ironing room and out to
the oblivious waiting world. She looked back down to the
crumpled piece of paper on the floor in front of her.
Were it not for you, Elvira, I would have given up the fight to
stay in this world much sooner. Ever since they took Rose away
from me, I can find no joy in living. A mother cannot forget her baby any more than a baby can forget her mother. And I
can tell you that if your mother were alive, she would be thinking
of you every minute of every day.
When you escape from this place – and you will, my darling –
you must look for her. In the sunsets, and the flowers, and in
anything that makes you smile that beautiful smile of yours.
For she is in the very air you breathe, filling your lungs, giving
your body what it needs to survive, to grow strong and to live
life to the full. You were loved, Elvi, every minute of every day
that you were growing inside your mother’s tummy. You must
believe that, and take it with you.
She tensed and stopped momentarily as footsteps clattered
above her. She was aware that her breathing had quickened
with her heart rate, and underneath her brown overalls she
could feel a film of sweat forming all over her body. She knew
she didn’t have long before Sister Angelica returned, slamming
shut the only window in her day when she wasn’t being
watched. She looked down at her scrawled letter, Elvira’s
beautiful face flashing into her mind’s eye, and fought back
the tears as she pictured her reading it, her dark brown eyes
wide, her pale fingers trembling as she struggled to take the
By now, you will have in your hands the key I enclose with this
letter. It is the key to the tunnels and your freedom. I will distract
Sister Faith as best I can, but you don’t have long. As soon
as the house alarm goes off, Sister Faith will leave the ironing
room and you must go. Immediately. Unlock the door to the tunnel
at the end of the room, go down the steps, turn right and out
through the graveyard. Run to the outhouse and don’t look back.
She underlined the words so hard that her pen pierced a
hole in the paper.
I’m so sorry I couldn’t tell you face to face, but I feared you
would be upset and would give us away. When I came to you
last night, I thought they were letting me go home, but they
are not, they have other plans for me, so I am using my wings
to leave St Margaret’s another way, and this will be your
chance to escape. You must hide until Sunday morning, the
day after tomorrow, so try and take a blanket with you if you
can. Stay out of sight.
Ivy bit down hard on her lip until the metallic taste of
blood filled her mouth. The memory of breaking into
Mother Carlin’s office at dawn was still raw, the anticipation
of finding her baby’s file turning to shock as she discovered
no trace of Rose’s whereabouts. Instead, the file contained
six letters. One was to a local psychiatric unit, the word copy
stamped in the corner, recommending she be admitted
immediately; the other five had been written by Ivy herself,
begging Alistair to come to St Margaret’s and fetch her and
their baby. A rubber band was wrapped tightly around these
letters, Return to sender written in Alistair’s scrawl across
She had walked over to the tiny window of the dark,
hellish room where she had suffered so much pain and
watched the sunrise, knowing it would be her last. Then
she had slotted Alistair’s letters into an envelope from
Mother Carlin’s desk, scribbled her mother’s address on it
and hidden it in the post tray before creeping back up the
stairs to her bed.
Without any hope of freedom, or of finding Rose, I no longer
have the strength to go on. But Elvira, you can. Your file told
me that you have a twin sister named Kitty, who probably
has no idea you exist, and that your family name is Cannon.
They live in Preston, so they will attend church here every
Sunday. Wait in the outhouse until you hear the bells and the
villagers begin arriving for church, then hide in the graveyard
until you see your twin. No doubt you will recognise her,
although she will be dressed a little differently to you. Try and
get her attention without anyone seeing. She will help you.
Don’t be afraid to escape and live your life full of hope.
Look for the good in everyone, Elvira, and be kind.
I love you and I will be watching you and holding your hand
forever. Now run, my darling. RUN.
Ivy started as the lock to the drying room where she and
Elvira had spent so many hours together clicked suddenly
and Sister Angelica burst through the door. She glared at
Ivy, her squinting grey eyes hidden behind wire-framed
glasses that were propped up by her bulbous nose. Ivy hurriedly
pushed herself up and stuffed the note into the
pocket of her overalls. She looked down so as not to catch
the nun’s eye.
‘Aren’t you finished yet?’ Sister Angelica snapped.
‘Yes, Sister,’ said Ivy. ‘Sister Faith said I could have some
TCP.’ She buried her trembling hands in her pockets.
She could feel Sister Angelica’s eyes burning into her. ‘Some
of the children have bad mouth ulcers and it’s making it hard
for them to eat.’‘Those children are of no concern to you,’ Sister Angelica
replied angrily. ‘They are lucky to have a roof over their
Ivy pictured the rows of babies lying in their cots, staring
into the distance, having long since given up crying.
Sister Angelica continued. ‘Fetching TCP means I have
to go all the way to the storeroom, and Mother Carlin’s
dinner tray is due for collection. Do you not think I have
enough to do?’
Ivy paused. ‘I just want to help them a little, Sister. Isn’t
that best for everyone?’
Sister Angelica glared at her, the hairs protruding from
the mole on her chin twitching slightly. ‘You will find that
hard where you’re going.’
Ivy felt adrenaline flooding through her body as Sister
Angelica turned to walk back out of the room, reaching for
her keys to lock the door behind her. Lifting her shaking
hands, she took a deep breath and lunged forward, grabbing
the nun’s tunic and pulling it as hard as she could.
Sister Angelica let out a gasp, losing her balance and falling
to the ground with a thud. Ivy straddled her and put one
hand over her mouth, wrestling with the keys on her belt
until they finally came free. Then, as Sister Angelica opened
her mouth to scream, she slapped her hard across the face,
stunning her into silence.
Panting heavily, with fear and adrenaline making her heart
hurt, Ivy pulled herself up, ran through the door and slammed
it shut. Her hands were shaking so violently, it was a struggle
to find the right key, but she managed to fit it into the lock
and turn it just as Sister Angelica rattled the handle, trying to
force the door open.
She stood for a moment, gasping deep breaths. Then she
unhooked the large brass key Elvira needed to get into the
tunnels and wrapped her note around it. She heaved open
the iron door to the laundry chute and kissed the note
before sending it down to Elvira, pressing the buzzer to let
her know it was there. She pictured the little girl waiting
patiently for the dry laundry as she did at the end of every
day. A wave of emotion crashed over her and she felt her
legs buckling. Leaning forward, she let out a cry.
Sister Angelica began to scream and hammer on the
door, and with one last look back down the corridor that
led to the ironing room and Elvira, Ivy turned away, breaking
into a run. She passed the heavy oak front door. She
had the keys to it now, but it led only to a high brick wall
topped with barbed wire that she had neither the strength
nor the heart to climb over.
Memories of her arrival all those months ago came
flooding back. She could see herself ringing the heavy bell
at the gate, her large stomach making it awkward to lug her
suitcase behind Sister Mary Francis along the driveway,
hesitating before she crossed the threshold to St Margaret’s
for the first time. Hurrying up the creaking stairs two at a
time, she turned as she reached the top and pictured herself
screaming at the girl she once was, telling her to run away
and never look back.
As she crept along the landing, she could hear the murmur
of voices coming towards her and broke into a run,
heading for the door at the foot of the dormitory steps. The
house was deathly quiet, as all the other girls were at dinner,
eating in silence, any talk forbidden. Only the cries of
the babies in the nursery echoed through the house. Soon, though, Mother Carlin would know she was gone, and the
whole building would be alerted.
She reached the door of the dormitory and ran between
the rows of beds just as the piercing alarm bell began to ring.
As she reached the window, Sister Faith appeared at the end
of the room. Despite her fear, Ivy smiled to herself. If Sister
Faith was with her, that meant she was not with Elvira. She
could hear Mother Carlin shouting from the stairway.
‘Stop her, Sister, quickly!’
Ivy pulled herself up onto the ledge and, using Sister Angelica’s
keys, opened the window. She pictured Elvira running
through the tunnels and out into the freedom of the night.
Then, just as Sister Faith reached her and grabbed for her
overalls, she stretched out her arms and jumped.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Emily Gunnis previously worked in TV drama and lives in Brighton with her young family. She is one of the four daughters of Sunday Times bestselling author Penny Vincenzi.
Follow her on Twitter @EmilyGunnis
and Facebook @emilygunnisauthor