The Conviction of Cora Burns by Carolyn Kirby | Blog Tour Extract |#historicalfiction

Published by No Exit Press
ebook and paperback (21 March 2019)
320 pages

My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for the blog tour invite. Oh how I wish I was able to fit in a review for this. I’ve read so many good reviews of it but my reading of it will have to wait a while. In the meantime I have an extract to share.

About the Book

To believe in her future, she must uncover her past…

Birmingham, 1885.

Born in a gaol and raised in a workhouse, Cora Burns has always struggled to control the violence inside her.

Haunted by memories of a terrible crime, she seeks a new life working as a servant in the house of scientist Thomas Jerwood. Here, Cora befriends a young girl, Violet, who seems to be the subject of a living experiment. But is Jerwood also secretly studying Cora…?

With the power and intrigue of Laura Purcell’s The Silent Companions and Sarah Schmidt’s See What I Have Done, Carolyn Kirby’s stunning debut takes the reader on a heart-breaking journey through Victorian Birmingham and questions where we first learn violence: from our scars or from our hearts.


the Union

‘Have you been in here before?’

The girl looked at Cora then slowly shook her head.

‘What’s your name?’

The new girl blinked. ‘Alice Salt.’

Cora’s laugh had a cruel edge. ‘That’s a funny name. Alice Salt; all is salt.’

Alice flushed. Despite the blotched skin, her face was a pretty oval with tiny cupid lips and almond-shaped eyes under thick brows. They seemed like the same shaped eyes, in fact, as Cora’s own. And Cora’s might also be the same shade of violety-grey but she had never looked in a glass clear enough to know.

All of the Bolger girls were rattling the chains on the giant stride and staring at Cora. Normally, she’d have taken this as a challenge, called them pikeys and threatened to spit in their beds, but today she turned her back. She tightened her arm on Alice’s elbow.

‘I’m Cora Burns. I’ll look after you but you must do as I say. How old are you?’

Alice licked her cracking lips. ‘Nine.’

Cora’s eyes narrowed. Skinny little runt if she was nine.

Tears began to pool at Alice’s eyelids. ‘Today’s my birthday.’

Birthday? Cora had never heard such a lot of stuck-up swill. She put both hands on Alice’s wrist and forced the skin in opposite directions. A teardrop slipped through Alice’s dark eyelashes and spilled down her cheek. But she didn’t make a sound and her hand stayed on Cora’s sleeve. Perhaps she did have guts after all. Cora wiped the drip from Alice’s cheek and felt a twinge of remorse. She almost confessed that she was angry only because the date of her own birth was a blank. She might be nine as well, but couldn’t be sure.

Then Cora looked down at Alice’s wrist and jerked back in panic.

A wheal of red skin puckered up Alice’s arm into her sleeve. Alice saw Cora’s expression and smiled through her tears.

‘Don’t worry, you didn’t do that. It was from japanning.’

‘What’s that?’

‘Don’t you know?’

Cora grabbed hold of the scarred wrist, twisting it again to show that she was the one who’d ask the questions round here.

Later that night, when all the hoo-ha had died down and there was only spluttering and coughing in the dormitory, Cora made herself stay awake until the snuffling started. It would always get going as soon as the new girl thought no one could hear. Cora pulled back her covers, about to slip along the facing rows of iron beds, but a shivering figure in a too-big nightdress was already there at her bedside. Alice’s face was washed in grey moonlight. She seemed almost to float on the cold air that slid through gaps in the floorboards.

‘Will you budge up for me, Cora? I can’t get to sleep on my own.’

She stole between the sheets and Cora pulled the lumpy blanket over their heads pressing herself around Alice’s bird-like limbs. Alice wiped a hand across the burbling from her nose and whispered.

‘I don’t like that bed. Who was in it before?’

‘Betty Hines.’

‘What happened to her?’

‘Her mother came for her, but it won’t be long till she’s back, I’d say. The mother’s a widow and sickly so Betty’s in and out of here like a rat in a drain.’

Alice turned in the bed and Cora could make out her eyes shining in the darkness.

‘I hope your mother doesn’t come for you, Cora.’

An odd tightness gripped at Cora’s chest. She knew that she must have had one once but mother was just a word. She had never before imagined her own to be a living, breathing woman. Cora swallowed the tightness away and cut a hard note into her voice.

‘It’s best not to have a mother. Everyone who does can’t stop blubbing.’

Alice put her hand on Cora’s. ‘I don’t have a mother either.’

‘Is she dead?’

Alice shook her head. ‘I thought Ma was my mother until she told me that I was boarded out to her from the Parish. And now I’m nine, the Guardians expect me to get the same to eat as a grown-up. So Ma can’t keep me any more.’

It took Cora a minute to comprehend what Alice was telling her.

‘If she’s not your real Ma, who is?’

But Alice could only shrug, her eyes glistening with tears.

In the next bed, Hetty Skelling coughed in a way that made Cora suspect she was wide awake and listening. Cora rubbed her big toe on Alice’s icy foot and put her lips almost inside Alice’s ear. Her voice was quiet as breath.

‘We’re the same then, you and me. And that’s why, from now on, we’re going to be sisters.’

About the Author

Originally from Sunderland, Carolyn Kirby studied history at St Hilda’s College, Oxford before working for social housing and then as a teacher of English as a foreign language.

Her novel The Conviction of Cora Burns was begun in 2013 on a writing course at Faber Academy in London. The novel has achieved success in several competitions including as finalist in the 2017 Mslexia Novel Competition and as winner of the inaugural Bluepencilagency Award. Carolyn has two grown-up daughters and lives with her husband in rural Oxfordshire.

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