Publisher – Head of Zeus
Ebook and Hardback (12 July 2018) | Paperback (1 March 2019)
A wartime saga set in Manchester, following the lives and loves of workers in Rosenberg’s raincoat factory
| About the Book |
When a factory girl and a Jewish businessman fall in love it seems that the whole world is against them.
Manchester, 1939. On the eve of war Gracie Earnshaw is working in Rosenberg’s Raincoat factory – a job she hates – but her life is about to be turned upside down when she falls in love with Jacob, the boss’s charismatic nephew.
Through Jacob, with his ambitions to be a writer, Gracie glimpses another world: theatre, music and prejudice. But their forbidden romance is cut short when Jacob is arrested and tragedy unfolds.
Gracie struggles with heartbreak, danger and old family secrets, but the love of her first sweetheart comes back to her in an unexpected way giving her the chance of a new life and happiness.
It’s a pleasure to be starting off the blog tour for The Girl in the Pink Raincoat. I do enjoy books set during WW2 and this certainly does appeal. My thanks to Florence of Head of Zeus for providing the extract and for the invite to the tour.
Everyone hated the heat and the deafening noise, but for Gracie the worst thing was the smell of chemicals that turned her stomach every morning when she arrived at the Rosenberg Raincoats factory. She put on her green wrap-round overall and covered her dark hair with a headscarf tied in a turban and stood looking out at the blackened perimeter wall and high tower of Strangeways prison not a hundred yards away.
‘Late again, Miss Earnshaw, and in no hurry to get to your workbench, I see. I’ll dock you half an hour for that.’
‘But, Mr Rosenberg, it wasn’t my fault, honestly. There was this woman – very well dressed, lovely hat with a peacock feather – stepped off a bus, missed her footing, practically fell at my feet—’
‘I’m in no mood for your stories this morning.’ He put his thumbs under his braces and stretched them. ‘Now, get to work. We’ve had a big order from Kendal Milne for the new-season raincoats and it’s all hands to the pump to deliver them before the Manchester rain beats us to it.’
Gracie went straight to her sewing machine, and Maria at the bench next to hers shouted over the noise, ‘Did he catch you?’
Gracie rolled her eyes and snapped her imaginary braces, making Maria laugh. Then she started on her first raincoat of the day and was soon singing along with all the other girls. At mid-morning, when the blazing sun was streaming through the skylights, Jacob Rosenberg, the boss’s nephew, arrived in the machine room to check production. He was always immaculately dressed in a hand-tailored suit, but this morning he had removed the jacket, and in his pristine white shirt, open at the neck, he drew admiring glances, causing a sudden drop in the work rate.
Every now and again Gracie, towards the back of the room, slowed her machine so she could watch him. He had a ready smile, knew everyone by name and had a quick chat with them as he recorded the number of garments completed. By the time he reached her row she had her head down, stitching at a furious pace.
‘Ah, Gracie, making up for lost time, I see.’ There was always a smile in his voice, and the hint of a foreign accent set him apart.
She stopped sewing and gave him her innocent look. ‘Wouldn’t want to let Rosenberg Raincoats down, would I, Mr Jacob?’
He checked her total and winked. ‘Knew I could rely on you,’ he said.
At midday the workers sat out in the yard, eating: the men who welded the waterproof seams sat in the shade, while the women enjoyed the warmth of the late-August sun. Gracie unwrapped the newspaper from her dinner and passed a bloater-paste butty to Maria who, in return, gave her a roll filled with Italian sausage.
‘What are you doing this weekend?’ asked Gracie.
‘Same as I do every weekend – selling ice cream and sarsaparilla.’
‘I thought I might go up to Heaton Park. There’s a brass-band concert. Do you want to come?’
‘I don’t think I can. If this good weather holds, we’ll be really busy in the shop.’
‘I were up at park last week,’ Charlie Nuttall shouted across to them. ‘There’s a bloody big anti-aircraft-gun placement and a searchlight right in the middle of it. Talk about wasting brass. And have you seen all them shelters they’ve built round the town? Don’t they read the papers at the council?’
‘Happen they know summat we don’t,’ said his mate Ernie.
‘Nah, peace in our time, Mr Chamberlain said, and that’s good enough for me.’
‘Charlie, give over with all the war talk,’ said Hilda, who folded and packed the raincoats. ‘Hey, Gracie, you haven’t told us about the book you’re reading this week. Is it a love story?’
‘I’ve only just started it, but I don’t think it is. It’s about a lad called Pip and so far he’s met a prisoner on the run—’
‘What, out a Strangeways?’ asked Hilda.
‘No, this prison’s not round here, it’s near the sea. Any road, after he meets the prisoner the lad gets taken to a big house and he’s there in a strange room…’ Gracie paused, all eyes on her. ‘It’s lit by candles and his eyes pick out a lady at a dressing table in front of a mirror. The strangest woman he’d ever seen. She was dressed all in white, like a bride – satins and silks and a long veil – jewels too.’ Gracie mimed the necklace and earrings. ‘But Pip looked closer, something wasn’t right. The clothes might have been white once, but now they were yellow as parchment. The bride was a withered old woman, just skin and bone.’
‘Oh my goodness, what’s gone on there?’ said Hilda.
‘I could guess.’ said Maria. ‘It reminds me of one of my aunts. She were jilted at the altar, but she kept the wedding dress for her shroud.’
Gracie looked up and caught sight of Mr Jacob standing just inside the door watching her and she turned to the workers.
‘Anyway, that’s as far as I’ve got. I’ll have to tell you the rest next week.
On cue, Jacob Rosenberg stepped into the yard. ‘She’s right, time to get back to work.’
Charlie fell into step beside her as they went inside. She could guess why – he was always asking her to go out with him. ‘I could meet you at the park on Sunday if you want some company,’ he said.
‘Nah, you’re all right, Charlie.’ She laughed. ‘I’d sooner spend day at council tip.’
Of all the bedrooms in the Midland Hotel, this one was Sarah’s favourite. She went straight to the windows and opened them wide to gaze down at the vast, circular Central Library and across to the buses and cars in St Peter’s Square. Then she got to work stripping the bed, leaving the eiderdown, bedspread and blankets to one side and putting the used sheets and pillowcases in the cart. Fresh white sheets, lightly starched, were definitely one of her favourite things. She stood at the end of the bed, tossed the sheet into the air and inhaled the smell of clean linen as it billowed and descended.
Bed made, she moved on to the bathroom. She had never seen one before she came to work at the Midland. In Belfast, where she had grown up, they had had a privy in the yard and a tin bath hanging on the wall, which they brought inside on a Saturday night and filled with hot water. When she’d come to Manchester, it was no different.
The bathroom gleaming, she set out the fluffy towels – so soft, she held them to her face – then placed a tiny Yardley soap in each dish. She ran the Ewbank over the carpet and polished the furniture, checking the writing desk had a good supply of Midland Hotel-headed notepaper and wondering what the guests might write about. Finally, she looked in every drawer and wardrobe and under the bed. The guests left things behind sometimes: a button, a handkerchief, a business card, the faint scent of French perfume… Once, she had found a beautiful silk scarf behind a dressing-table.
At the door she paused. She would never sleep in a room like this, but she made it new again every morning and allowed herself to think that one day her Gracie might rise in the world and enjoy such luxury.
When Sarah had finished her shift, she hurried home. She had left some sheets steeping in bleach that morning and she hoped that the few hours of sunshine left in the day would be enough to dry them. She turned into Pearson Street and the little girls gathered round the rope swing hanging from the lamppost called, ‘Mrs Earnshaw, do you want a go?’
She waved at them, ‘Not today, girls,’ and hurried on.
As usual, the boys were playing football on the croft at the far end of the street, but she was surprised to see a group of women standing close to her house, having a serious chinwag.
‘What’s up?’ she said, then noticed that Doris, her next-door neighbour, was sniffing and wiping her eyes with her sleeve. A few of the others looked close to tears.
‘The kids are being evacuated.’ Doris waved a letter in her hand. ‘They came home today with this and they’re going in a week’s time. They’re taking our kids.’
Another mother shouted, ‘We’re not even at war!’
‘Now, hold on a wee minute.’ Sarah’s voice was calm. ‘Nobody will take your children if you don’t want them to go. But just think about it. The people who know what’s really going on are making plans to keep them safe. Did you read the article in the Evening News last week?’ It was clear from their faces that they hadn’t. Sarah went on, ‘It’s very well organised. They’ll be evacuated out in the country with decent people who’ll look after them. Even their teachers are going. Think of it as a holiday for them. They’ll have a great time and if there’s no war, well, there’ll be no harm done and they’ll be back home before you know it.’
Sarah could see them weighing up her words. ‘Did they tell you where they’re being sent?’
‘Ramsbottom – wherever that is,’ said Lily, who had four children under ten.
‘Well, there you are – there’s a train from Manchester to Bury and I think Ramsbottom is near there. You could go and see them easy enough. You know, some children are being sent to Wales – a different country. At least yours’ll be in the same county.’
The women looked thoughtful and she hoped they would mull it over and, while they were all together, she decided it would be a good time to mention something else. ‘I’ve been thinking about shelters,’ she said. ‘Not many of us have the room for an Anderson in the yard and the nearest public shelter’s on Oldham Road. I thought I’d ask the landlord at the Foresters Arms if we could use his cellar. It’ll need a good clean, of course. What do you think?’
There were nods of approval, and Lily joked, ‘That’ll suit my Wilf down to the ground. He spends his days down the pub, might as well sleep there too!’
But Doris was crying again. ‘It’s really going to happen, in’t it? We’ll get bombed.’
Sarah put her arm round Doris’s shoulders. ‘Don’t worry, sure it’ll be fine. Look on the bright side – without the kids you’ll have half the washing, cooking and cleaning to do and a nice cosy cellar to shelter in if the bombs start falling.’
| Author Bio |
Alrene Hughes grew up in Belfast and has lived in Manchester for most of her adult life. She worked for British Telecom and the BBC before training as an English teacher. After teaching for twenty years, she retired and now writes full-time.