Extract: The Secret of Orchard Cottage by Alex Brown

Thursday 2 June 2016
Today I am kicking off the blog tour for Alex Brown's The Secret of Orchard Cottage. My review is sadly delayed because of ongoing personal problems but anyone who knows me will know just how much I love Alex and I absolutely adore her books and I can hand on heart recommend this book and can't wait to share my review very soon. When going through difficult times books have always been a comfort blanket to me and this one was perfect to escape into for a few hours and take my mind off things. Until then enjoy the extract and keep up with the tour by checking the banner below!

April Wilson is wondering what to do next – her life has been turned upside down after the loss of her husband so she’s hoping to piece herself together again with a visit to her elderly great aunt, Edith. Arriving in the rural idyll of Tindledale, she’s dismayed to find Edith’s cottage and the orchards surrounding it in a sorry state of disrepair. Edith seems to have lost interest completely, instead she’s become desperate to find out what happened to her sister, Winnie, who disappeared during WWII.

April gets to work immediately, discovering that the orchard still delivers a bumper crop each year, and with the help of some of the villagers – including Matt, the enigmatic Farrier – begins to unravel the mystery of the missing Winnie. Slowly,

April can feel things coming to life again – but can Orchard Cottage work its magic on her too?


Tindledale, June 1941 . . .

As the early morning sun sauntered over the apple trees in the orchard next to the cottage, bathing her bedroom in strands of glorious spun gold, Winnie Lovell tucked the last letter into an envelope and stowed it inside her handbag along with the others for posting later. Then, after replacing the lid of her fountain pen, she crouched down and swept the rug aside to lift a wonky floorboard to the left of the wardrobe and reached in between the rafters to retrieve an old wooden apple box containing her diaries dating back to when she was a little girl. Winnie placed the pen inside the box and took out the pressed purple violet one last time and held it up to her cheek, allowing herself a brief moment of contemplation before hurriedly secreting it all away back under the floor. She stood up and straightened her stockings in silence, reminding herself that this wasn’t the time for sentiment. No, absolutely not. Her mind was made up. Resolute. And there really was no going back now.

Winnie buttoned up her new khaki uniform jacket and straightened the collar, proud to be a part of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, or FANY as everyone said, and cast one last glance around the rose-print-papered bedroom in the eaves of the honey-stoned cottage that had been her home for all of her twenty years. She really would miss this old place, Orchard Cottage, a special place on the outskirts of Tindledale, the village where she had grown up. With its tiny school with the clock tower on the roof and the cobbled High Street, flanked either side with black timber-framed, white wattle-walled shops with mullioned windows, surrounded by lush, undulating fields full of hops, hay, lambs, cows, strawberries, buttercups and delicate pink cherry blossom in springtime that swirled all around like confetti in a breeze. All the familiarity, and there was a certain beauty, comfort even in the predictable, seasonal routine of a life lived in a rural village. But constraint too, and as much as she loved Tindledale, Winnie knew there was a whole new world waiting for her beyond the bus stop in the village square. Adventure. That’s what this was. She had waited her whole life, or so it seemed, for this very moment. She had already fulfilled her duties in the Women’s Land Army, teaching the city girls how to work the land. Luckily the base hadn’t been that far away so she had been able to hop on the bus home when she had leave, but this time it was different. As soon as the next part of her training was completed, she would go into the field and then who knew when she might next come home? But Winnie was determined to give it her all. Do her bit for the war effort. Her patriotic duty. And her parents had been so proud when Bill the postman had cycled up to the apple barn door to deliver the letter requesting her to report to the special FANY training centre located over two hundred miles away. Before war had been declared, the furthest Winnie had been was to Market Briar, the market town on the other side of the valley, and she had certainly never travelled on a train, which reminded her – she looked at the alarm clock on the cabinet beside the bed – it really wouldn’t do to be late! The next bus, on the hour every hour, left the village square at ten sharpish, and it was already nearly nine o’clock.

Winnie folded her new hand-knitted cardy into her suitcase – made especially for today with some wool unravelled from an old blanket. Make do and mend! That’s what all the women in the village were chatting about, along with ‘beauty is your duty’. So she checked her hair and make-up then applied a little more lipstick in Scarlet Pimpernel – having swapped a stick of liquorice and a book for a selection of tester sticks and a block of mascara with a couple of younger girls in the village. (Hettie and Marigold; one had an aunt who worked on the Yardley make-up counter in a department store.) She then gathered up her hat, gloves, handbag, suitcase and, lastly, the ugly gas mask in its square cardboard box with a length of string for a handle, and closed the bedroom door behind her. Winnie made her way down the rickety old staircase and into the kitchen where the homely aroma of a traditional fry-up greeted her.

‘Eggs and bacon for you, Winifred?’ her mother Delphine asked, with the hint of a French accent, lifting the edge of her apron to wipe her hands as Winnie slipped into the chair next to Edith, whose cheeks were flushed red like a pair of plum tomatoes from having been outside in the fields since the crack of dawn. As little sisters went, Edith – or Edie, as she liked to be called – wasn’t too bad. And Edie loved working in the orchards, crating up the apples and pears and tending to the horses, which was just as well now that it all came down to their father, George, and their neighbour, seventy-year-old Albert from three fields over, to keep things going, since both of their brothers had left the farm at the start of the war, having enlisted right away. Which was even more reason why Winnie was determined to do her bit. Yes, the Land Army had been fun, hard work too, but she was quite used to that, having grown up helping her father in the orchards. But now she wanted to do more; properly support the war effort like her brothers and saw no reason not to just because she was a woman. So after using every shilling she had, and with some help from her parents, she had managed to buy her uniform and was now ready to show what she could really do to help stop the Nazis in their tracks.

‘Ooh, yes please Mum,’ Winnie said, knowing better than to refuse, given that the rationing of bacon had come into force last year. Nerves and anticipation had seen to her appetite, but Winnie knew that her mother had saved the rashers, cut as generously as could be afforded during war time by Bessie up in Cooper’s the butchers’ shop in the High Street, especially for her farewell breakfast, just as she had for each of her brothers. So it would be churlish to turn it down and risk the wrath of her father who was a stickler for citing that old adage of ‘waste not want not’ and gratitude really was next to godliness, as far as he was concerned.

The blog tour continues tomorrow over on Becca's Books with the next extract and one of her fabulous (I'm sure!) reviews so be sure to check it out and the other stops on the tour!

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