The Sewing Machine by Natalie Fergie |Blog Tour Extract

Published by Unbound Digital
Available in ebook and paperback (7 February 2019)
320 pages

My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for the tour invitation. The Sewing Machine was originally published in 2017 but now has a gorgeous new cover. For my turn on the tour, I have an extract to share.

About the Book

It is 1911, and Jean is about to join the mass strike at the Singer factory. For her, nothing will be the same again.

Decades later, in Edinburgh, Connie sews coded moments of her life into a notebook, as her mother did before her.

More than 100 years after his grandmother’s sewing machine was made, Fred discovers a treasure trove of documents. His family history is laid out before him in a patchwork of unfamiliar handwriting and colourful seams.

He starts to unpick the secrets of four generations, one stitch at a time.

EXTRACT

Apprentice

Summer 2010 Edinburgh

Secrets are hidden in the fabric and creases of the old hospital. They turn up on a daily basis, but their importance is not always recognised by those who discover them.

The joinery apprentice is tired and hungry. It’s been hours since he ate his packed lunch – provided by his mother every day without fail – and he just wants to get home. Unfortunately, the foreman has other ideas and has been on his case all afternoon, giving him irritating bits and pieces of work to complete which amount to very little. The last task of the day is a perfect example of this and once again it means he is working on his own. When he thinks about all the people who died in this place it makes his skin wrinkle. He was born a stone’s throw away in the Maternity Pavilion, one of the first buildings to be torn down, but feels no loyalty to it. The rest of the site is being repurposed, transforming it from a grand Victorian infirmary into an upmarket lifestyle location stuffed with photogenic cafés and shops, and with apartments he will never be able to afford without a serious win on the lottery.The long medical wards overlooking the Meadows are being converted into flats, and glass-walled towers infill the spaces where once there were closely-mown lawns or, more recently, semi-permanent Portakabins for Clinical Chemistry and Medical Physics.

On Lauriston Place the stone buildings of the Surgical Hospital are empty. The blind-windowed turrets, which used to be home to bedpan washers and baths, are still infested with silverfish. Here, the planned renovations have barely started and the black and white chequered corridors are almost silent, no longer trafficked by trolleys and wheelchairs and the occasional high-tech bed with bleeping alarms and flurries of anxiety. The aromatic blend of morning porridge, disinfectant and visitors’ flowers has been replaced by plaster dust, and essence of decaying pigeon. In the former Orthopaedic ward, the smell is of old timber as the fittings are removed. The apprentice has been told to dismantle the small walk-in cupboard which once housed the ward telephone. It doesn’t seem like a joinery job to him – it’s more like demolition – but he doesn’t question the instruction. One of the first things he learned in this trade, before anyone even showed him how to use a chisel, is that there is no merit in being a trouble maker.

On the soundproofed wall of the booth is a printed card, barely held in place by amber Sellotape.

FIRE 3333

CARDIAC ARREST 2222

He shivers at this brutal reminder of mortality.

Just below chest height is an empty shelf, strung with disconnected telecoms cabling. He bashes the wood from below with his fist. More dust. He should be wearing a regulation face mask but it’s nearly knocking-off time and he can’t be bothered to go and get a fresh one. He puts the curved claws of his hammer into a gap in the simple frame, which has held the shelf up for fifty years, and holds his breath as he levers it downwards.The tongue-and-groove panelling creaks under his effort and then comes away suddenly, forcing him to take a step backward to evade the swords of splintering timber. He waits for any small, furry creatures to scurry away in search of a fresh hiding place. Goodness knows how the mice survive here now, he thinks. It’s not as though there’s any food for them.

He nudges the pile of debris with a steel toe-capped boot. Nothing. Mummified rodents are almost worse than live ones, but he wants to be sure and gives the mess one last scattering kick before he bends over to investigate properly. At the bottom of the heap is a Manila envelope. He picks it up and tries to read the address but the strip lights in the poorly lit corridor are broken and it’s impossible to make the words out. He abandons his half- completed task and opens the door opposite, marked Doctor’s Office.

Like the rest of the hospital, the room seems to be inhabited by new life and there is a rustle from the corner as he walks in. The tall windows are festooned with cobwebs and one of the blackout blinds is falling off its roller. He holds the envelope up to the compromised sunlight and wipes the green stamp carefully with his thumb. Twelve pence. He wonders how long ago the postage for a letter was twelve pence, and peers again at the address, trying to decipher the handwriting. As he stands there he hears the main ward door open, and he stiffens as the foreman shouts to ask if he is finished yet. He instinctively puts his hand in front of his mouth to muffle his reply and conceal his rule breaking, but decides not to respond. The last thing he needs is a health and safety lecture.

He listens until he’s sure he is alone, and then pulls out a chair and sits down at one of the desks. He sets the envelope on the surface in front of him and starts to go through the drawers, but they yield nothing more than blank sheets of paper and dried-up ballpoint pens. Disappointed, he lifts the handset of a push-button telephone and sits up straight. ‘Yes, this is the doctor speaking.’

And then he remembers his meeting with the careers advisor at school. He replaces the receiver carefully. ‘In your dreams, pal. No chance of that,’ he says.

He gets up from his seat to have a closer look at the cabinetry and the abandoned equipment. The X-ray viewer is a familiar feature of TV dramas and he walks over to investigate, flipping the switch beside it. There is a loud buzz and it flickers into life. He cannot turn it off fast enough.On the blackboard beside the door, someone has written

GOODBYE 1st MAY 2003

in white chalk. He pulls out his phone and takes a photograph of the message to show to his mum.

The envelope is still lying on the desk and he picks it up and shakes the dust off it before stashing it in one of the many pockets in his work trousers. After a final look around the room, he heads out of the ward, back along the chessboard corridor to the exit, and out into fresh air. He leaves his hammer behind, certain that he’ll be back on Monday to finish the job.

It’s not until he is sitting on the top deck of the bus that he remembers his find. It had been drummed into everyone on their first day at the hospital that all such items must be handed in at the Site Office. As he gets off the bus near his girlfriend’s flat, he sees her and shouts her name. She looks up and smiles. The red pillar box is six paces away and with barely a pause he pulls the letter out of his pocket and posts it, before running to meet her and wrapping her in his arms. It’s Friday night and the weekend is already looking good.

About the Author

Natalie Fergie is a textile enthusiast, and has spent the last ten years running a one-woman dyeing business, sending parcels of unique yarn and thread all over the world. Before this she had a career in nursing. She lives near Edinburgh.

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