I’m pleased to be taking part in the blogtour for Moira Forsyth’s latest novel, Tell Me Where You Are. I’m really disappointed not to have been able to fit this into my reading schedule as I’m sure I would enjoy it. Another for the to-be-read list! Anyway, I have an extract of the book to share with you today and I hope you enjoy it and consider buying a copy of the book.
On the morning of the 27th Gillian set off to drive her parents back to Aberdeen. While she packed, Jim went out to remove all traces of frost and ice from the car windows. He refused lock de-icer and warm water (Frances’s usual shortcuts) and it took him some time to get the doors open. The air was misty with cold and Dingwall below was lost in a greyish haze, but overhead the sky was brightening to blue.
Frances stayed outside to help her father. Alex had not appeared, from tact or nervousness.
‘Now then,’ her father said, wrenching the driver’s door open at last, ‘we’ll get the engine warmed up.’
‘What about windscreen wash?’ Frances asked. ‘Maybe we should check that first.’
He paused, thwarted. Instead of answering, he said, ‘So what’s he up to?’
She had avoided being alone with her father till now. Boxing Day had been eased by the long buffet lunch at the Ramsays, an annual gathering of neighbours.
‘Alec. Your once-upon-a-time husband. What’s he up to?’
‘He’s not my anything now, Dad.’
‘He’s here, though. Shot out of the blue, was it?’ He glowered at her, suspicious.
‘Yes. He rang on Christmas morning. I said not to come just yet, but he turned up anyway. Because of Katy, it seems.’
‘What’s wrong with Katy? Nothing a good talking-to wouldn’t cure. Why do they wear black, these girls? You’d think they were forever going to funerals.’
‘It’s just the fashion,’ Frances said. She leaned past her father and released the catch for the car bonnet. ‘I’ll check the water.’
‘But he’s after something, don’t tell me he’s not. When’s he ever made an effort before? Brought Katy to visit you? Never.’
He did not mention Susan, Frances noted. No-one said her name. Even Gillian and she, out of earshot of everyone else, had shied away from talking about her. It was a measure perhaps of the force she still exerted. Or was it like naming a curse, bad luck?
‘I might have some of that screenwash stuff in the shed,’ Frances said. ‘I’ll look.’
When she came back, her father was polishing the back window, unnecessarily, since he had already cleared it, and the sun was shining now, softening the film of frost on the bodywork. A moment later, Frances slammed down the bonnet and he got into the car. The engine started without protest so he got out, leaving it running. Behind the car, the exhaust emission condensed in the air. They stood side by side, Frances with the bottle of screenwash in one hand, the kettle in the other.
‘You take care of yourself and the boys,’ her father said abruptly. ‘You can’t have him waltzing back now. Even if he is their father.’
‘Oh there’s no question of that.’
‘Maybe not. Let me know, Frances, you hear me? Any help you need . . .’
‘I know, Dad. Thanks.’ She sighed, leaning her head for a moment towards his shoulder. ‘It’s a bit awkward, that’s all. Not for me. He’s like a stranger, thank God. But the boys and Katy. I feel for them.’ She bit her lip. ‘Dad, Susan hasn’t been in touch, has she? With you and Mum?’
‘Not a word. Ask your mother. There’s usually a Christmas card but he signs it. Not her.’
‘You get a card?’
‘Not this year I think. Ask your mother.’
Even this, so small and harmless a thing, gave her a stab of – what – jealousy? Of course not. She wanted Susan to be in touch with her parents. It was Susan who had made contact impossible.
‘Let’s go and see if Gill’s ready.’
‘And when is she going to settle down?’ her father grumbled. ‘Left it a bit late for having a family. Though they don’t care nowadays – wait till they’re middle-aged, some of them.’
‘Oh well,’ she murmured, ‘Gill’s happy the way she is.’ Not true, though.
Dressed but unshaven, Alec appeared just as they were leaving, to shake hands and be polite. As the car crept down the icy lane he vanished into the bathroom.
Frances meant to strip beds and restore her home to order but the house was still full of other people, so she made coffee and stood for a while at the living-room window, looking down the garden and across the fields to Dingwall, clearer now in the distance. For a while she went on watching this stillness, where all that moved were specks of flying gulls or crows, to and fro across the landscape.
‘You’ve got a great view.’
It was Alec, shaved and wearing jeans and a pullover. He joined her by the window at a cautious distance.
‘I love it,’ she said.
‘Your mother says you’re a headmistress now, is that right?’
She told him the name of the school. ‘It’s tiny,’ she said, ‘just two and a half teachers. The head teacher’s post came up before the summer, and I was ready for a change.’
‘You like it?’
‘It’s a lovely wee school. Nice kids, very rural. A change from Alness.’
‘That was a bit grim, was it?’
‘No, just a tougher place to be. To be a child in.’
‘What about you?’ She turned to face him with such directness she surprised herself, and he, startled, was compelled to meet her eyes. The rush of recognition, the electric charge of it, her blue eyes, his brown, the naked knowledge they had had of each other once: these things made the blood well to her face and to his, so that unable to bear it, they turned to look at the view again.
‘Oh, I’m doing all right. Dryburn’s made me redundant years ago – did I tell you when you came down that time with the boys? Anyway, I was ready for a change. I’ve a part share in a restaurant now, in the centre of Newcastle.’
‘Nice place – hard work though.’
‘What do you do in it – not cook?’
He laughed. ‘No, not that. Manage. Finance, staff, marketing, the works.’
Frances was silent, finding it hard to imagine his life.
‘Any chance of a coffee?’ he asked.
‘Sure. Would you like some breakfast?’
As she rinsed mugs and filled the kettle he said, ‘It’s very good of you to have us here.’
‘I didn’t seem to have a choice.’
‘I do appreciate it.’
He was much less sure of himself these days, she realised as a shaft of sunshine caught his face, showing the pitiless lines, tired round his eyes, the skin dull with being indoors too much. The life had gone out of him. Was he drinking still, she wondered. Hard not to, in his business, but he had not drunk much since his arrival, even yesterday at the Ramsays when it would have been easy.
‘Sit down,’ Frances said. ‘I’ll make some toast.’
While she did this he rested his elbows on the table and leaned into his hands, rubbing them over his face, emerging bleary-eyed, the flick of dark hair which still fell over one side of his forehead, shoved aside.
‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘I’m not in good shape.’
‘I can see that.’ She pitied him, relieved to feel so little. ‘So what is it that’s brought you here with Katy? Kate.’
My thanks to Julia Forster at Ruth Killick Publicity for inviting me to take part in the tour. Tell Me Where You Are is published by Sandstone Press in paperback at £7.99. You will find various buying links on the publishers’ website here: Tell Me Where You Are
From the back of the book
Maybe the worst thing hadn’t happened yet. You couldn’t know the awful things lined up in the future, looming.
The last thing Frances wants is a phone call from Alec, the husband who left her for her sister thirteen years ago. But Susan has disappeared, abandoning Alec and her daughter Kate, a surly teenager with an explosive secret. Reluctantly, Frances is drawn into her sister’s turbulent life.
About the Author
Moira Forsyth grew up in Aberdeen, lived in England for nearly twenty years, and is now in the Highlands. She is the author of four previous novels and many short stories and poems published in anthologies and magazines. Waiting for Lindsay and David’s Sisters, originally published by Sceptre, are now available as e-books from Sandstone Press, which also published The Treacle Well in 2015.