Today I am delighted to be taking part in the Books-On-Tour blog tour for The Secret Diary by Anna Stuart and I’m pleased to say that I am going to be sharing an extract with you. So if you love the highs and lows of a good family saga, with deep, dark secrets and a bit of emotional turmoil thrown in, then read on dear reader, read on… This could be your perfect summer read.
Two women. One house. And a secret that spans decades…
The past merges with the present in an unforgettable, poignant story of love, loss and courage in this beautifully written story set between World War Two and the present day.
She steps into the room and it’s like going back in time.
Catapulting her right into the heart of the 1940s.
The spindle of the record player frozen and ready to play. The flowery wallpaper faded but intact. A soldier’s uniform pressed and hung on a door, coal still in the fireplace.
A floorboard creaks beneath her and she notices a small desk in the corner of the room. She opens the top drawer and runs her hands along the edges, something catching at her fingertips. A hidden compartment. And behind it, the soft edges of a book.
As she dusts it off, she can see it has a red leather covering, the pages yellowing with age. She realises it’s a diary. Some of the pages have been torn out. The first entry has 16th June 1945 printed in neat little letters at the top. Below it, in hurried, untidy script are the words:
‘My name is Nancy Jones. And I have a secret…’
Fans of The Tattooist of Auschwitz, The Alice Network, and Lilac Girls will love this incredible tale of the amazing bravery and inspiring friendships of everyday women during World War Two that had the power to change history.
Nancy sets down her hairbrush and looks at herself curiously in the elegant triple mirror. Three faces stare back but she isn’t sure if she recognises any of them. Who is she now? Is she Nancy the gunner girl, battling with her crew to keep the enemy from invading their skies? Nancy the new wife, fighting for a place as a gamekeeper at her husband’s side? Or Nancy the young mother, keeping a happy home for her growing family?
She feels like all three of them at once, but the world doesn’t seem to want to allow that. Why can’t a woman operate outside the kitchen? Why can’t a wife work? She thought that when the war ended, the fighting would be over, but it seems that for her, and so many women like her, it’s only just starting.
With a sigh, Nancy looks down at the red leather book on the dressing table – a solid, forthright rectangle amongst the curvy hairbrushes and perfume bottles. She bought it just after VE Day to record her married life with the beloved husband she finally knew would come home from submarine-haunted seas. She’d felt such joy that day, such optimism, but peace hasn’t turned out to be quite as simple as she’d hoped.
War has changed them all. The things they’ve seen, the things they’ve done, the secrets they’ve shared. The world is different now, and you can’t just pack the past away with your gas mask and your ration book and ‘go back to normal’, because normal is different too.
Nancy picks up the book and strokes its cover. She’s loved recording the last year in this diary, however up and down it’s been, but she fears she’s been too frank. There’s a secret in here she agreed to keep – for her own sake and the sake of the rest of her fellow gunner girls. She doesn’t regret what they did in the darker corners of the war, but she doesn’t want it known either. It’s locked in their hearts and that’s where it should stay.
Opening the diary, she scans the entries, reliving events, shaking her head at the things she’s been through. Her hand pauses on the final pages and she sighs. She shouldn’t have made this particular entry. It was foolish, reckless.
There’s only one thing to be done.
Gritting her teeth, Nancy takes hold of the last few pages in one hand, braces the other against the spine, and tears. The pages come away cleanly and she looks at the torn remains against the leather, feeling ashamed at defacing the precious book.
No matter. Worse has been lost in the last six years than a few idle scribblings. Setting the papers down, she opens up the left-hand drawer, nudging her lipsticks and compact aside to find the tiny lever and release the compartment beneath. She places the diary gently inside and then, on an impulse, drops a kiss onto her index finger and touches it to the red leather.
A noise somewhere in the house beyond makes her jump, and she hastily closes the compartment and sweeps the lipsticks back across it with a cheery clatter. She stands and all three reflections merge into one Nancy. Giving herself a little nod, she picks up the torn-out pages and looks to the bin, but instinctively her fingers tighten around the papers, around the words – around the secret. Somehow, she can’t quite bring herself to throw this away.
She doesn’t want her wartime secret known right now, but maybe some time in the future, when the suffering is less raw and people are more forgiving, there will be the space for it to come out. She looks around the lovely annex tucked away at the back of the gamekeeper’s cottage she’s proud to call home, and smiles as she spots the perfect hiding place. There is always, it seems, more than one place to keep a secret…
About the author
Anna Stuart lives in Derbyshire with her campervan-mad husband, two hungry teenagers and a slightly loopy dog. She was hooked on books from the moment she first opened one in her cot so is thrilled to now have several of her own to her name. Having studied English literature at Cambridge university, she took an enjoyable temporary trip into the ‘real world’ as a factory planner, before returning to her first love and becoming an author. History has also always fascinated her. Living in an old house with a stone fireplace, she often wonders who sat around it before her and is intrigued by how actively the past is woven into the present, something she likes to explore in her novels. Anna loves the way that writing lets her ‘try on’ so many different lives, but her favourite part of the job is undoubtedly hearing from readers. You can reach her on Facebook @annastuartauthor or Twitter @annastuartbooks.