Available in Ebook, Audio & Hardback (20 August 2020) | Paperback (1 April 2021)
I’m delighted to be starting off the blog tour for The Lies You Told and only wish I could have fitted in a review in time for the tour. I was a fan of Harriet’s debut, Blood Orange reviewed here last year and am very much looking forward to catching up with this. In the meantime, I have an extract to share today.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Can you tell the truth from the lies?
Sadie loves her daughter and will do anything to keep her safe. She can’t tell her why they had to leave home so quickly – or why Robin’s father won’t be coming with them to London.
She can’t tell her why she hates being back in her dead mother’s house, with its ivy-covered walls and its poisonous memories.
And she can’t tell her the truth about the school Robin’s set to start at – a school that doesn’t welcome newcomers.
Sadie just wants to get their lives back on track.
But even lies with the best intentions can have deadly consequences…
It’s the first time I’ve ever slept in my mother’s room. That I can remember, anyway. It’s cold. My arm is the only part of me out from under the covers and my skin feels clammy, my fingers chilled. I roll over, tucking myself in fully, leeching off Robin’s warmth. She’s snoring gently next to me. It’s a couple of years since she’s wanted to sleep in with me, but the temperature of the house defeated her. The first night we arrived, she walked into the room I made up for her and walked straight out again.
‘It’s freezing,’ she said, ‘and I don’t like that weird painting on the wall.’
‘I’ll move it,’ I said. But I didn’t argue when Robin wanted to share my bed. I don’t want to let her out of my sight.
The duvet is too thin. I piled our coats on top last night for extra warmth, but they slipped onto the floor while we slept. I reach over and pull them back on, trying not to disturb Robin, eking out her sleep for at least a few minutes more. It’ll be cold when we get up.
The gas fire is still here. I remember sometimes in winter, the coldest days, that my mother let me dress beside it, warning me not to get too close. I was never allowed to touch it then. I’m scared to touch it now. It’s brown, shiny, its corners sharp, gouges out of the paintwork. The ceramic burners are black with soot. I don’t even know if it’ll still work. The fireplace around it, once white, has yellowed, scorch marks above the fire. I looked away from the china ornaments on the mantelpiece last night, but in the dim light of the morning, I see they’re still the same; smiling shepherdesses, a Pierrot with a vacuous grin, all crowded close along the narrow shelf.
Robin shifts next to me, sighs, subsides back into sleep. I don’t want to wake her. Today is going to be hard enough for her. Anxiety spikes through me. The dank room lies heavy on me, thoughts haunting me of the warm house I’ve fled. The contrast between the spare room here, rejected by Robin, and her own bedroom that we’ve been forced to leave behind: the bed draped with pink hangings, the sheepskins on the floor. There are no sheepskins in my mother’s house – only a ram’s skull still displayed on the stairs, resplendent in his horns.
It’s safe though. Far away. Robin rolls over in bed, closer to me, her arm warm beside mine, the little knitted meerkat my best friend Zora made for her held tight in her hand. My breathing eases. After what happened, I would always have felt chilled in that house, despite the warmth. I shiver now at the thought, the shock still raw. Deep breath in, out. We’re here now.
I reach over and pick up my phone from the bedside table – nothing. No messages. Its battery is nearly out – of course there aren’t sockets beside the bed. But the electricity is at least still working. As long as we don’t electrocute ourselves before I’ve had a chance to get the wiring checked. I lie back, listing all the jobs that are essential for the safety of the house, overwhelmed at the number of tasks ahead of me. At least there won’t be time to think about anything else.
‘What time is it?’ Robin mutters, turning over to stretch her limbs.
‘Nearly seven,’ I tell her. I pause. ‘We’d better get up.’
For a moment longer we lie there, both reluctant to brave the cold. I steel myself, pushing the covers back in one go and jumping to my feet.
‘You’re so mean,’ Robin says, sitting up fast. ‘Do I have to have a shower? The bathroom’s freezing.’
‘No, it’s OK. I’ll try and get it sorted for later.’
She runs through to her room and I hear her thumping round as she gets ready. I throw on jeans and a sweater without giving my outfit any thought. It’s too cold for vanity.
‘I don’t want to go,’ Robin says, a piece of toast in her hand that she puts back on the plate, uneaten. She sighs. My heart sinks.
‘I’m going to hate it,’ she says, turning away and putting her hair up into a bun twisted on the top of her head.
‘It might not be that bad.’
‘Yes, it will,’ she says, staring at me. There’s no arguing with her tone.
She’s about to walk through the gates of a new school in Year 6, new uniform – box-fresh, crisp and stiff – years after everyone else has formed their gangs and factions. The uniform she’s wearing doesn’t even fit properly, collar too big around her throat, skirt too long. Her face is pale against the bright red of the new school cardigan, the stark white of the new shirt, everything we bought in a rush yesterday from the uniform shop up Finchley Road I remember from my own childhood. My throat tightens, but I make myself smile.
‘It’ll be OK,’ I say, an edge of desperation in my voice. ‘You’ll make some lovely new friends.’ I pick up a piece of toast, look at it, put it down. I’m not hungry either.
‘Maybe,’ Robin says, her voice full of doubt. She finishes dealing with her hair and pulls her phone out of her pocket, entranced immediately by the screen. I twitch, control myself. Is there a message from Andrew, wishing his daughter good luck at her new school? I don’t know if Robin and her dad have spoken since we left . . . since we had to leave. Robin keeps scrolling down, eyes flickering.
‘Anything interesting?’ I say in the end, unable to stop myself, trying to keep my tone light. ‘Has your dad messaged?’ Casually, I pick up my own phone and put it in my bag.
Robin looks up, her face still and pale, eyes dark as her hair. She shakes her head. ‘Not Dad,’ she says. ‘Haven’t you spoken to him?’
I smile, neutral. I need to move the conversation on. She has to believe this is all normal. She doesn’t need to know that the last contact between her dad and me was a hissed exchange on the phone before his number went dead. Just go, he’d said. I don’t want you here anymore. Either of you. Loathing in his voice I’d never heard before.
I’ve been silent too long. She’s looking at me, a question starting to form on her face.
‘Any gossip? You chatting to someone?’ I say with an effort. Over the last couple of months there’s been a complicated row between Robin’s friends and people in her old class, and I’ve found the updates strangely compelling.
‘Everyone’s still asleep, Mum. It’s the middle of the night back home.’
‘Sorry, yes. Of course. I wasn’t thinking.’ The words hang in the air, before Robin relents.
‘But there’s a load of messages from last night while I was asleep. Tyler sat next to Addison on the bus on Friday instead of Emma and now no one is talking to Addison.’
‘Oh lord . . .’
‘I know. It’s so stupid.’ She looks at her phone once more before tossing it down.
‘Maybe it’ll be easier being at an all-girls school,’ I say, striving for a tone of conviction. Failing.
Robin shrugs. ‘I guess I’ll find out.’
The last year of primary school. Memories of it, deep in my bones. Everyone turning eleven, some looking like teenagers, some still child-like. At least Robin sits in the middle of this spectrum, neither very tall nor very short, nothing extreme in her development that stands out. It’ll be hard enough anyway. Suppressing a shudder, I remember the rejections, the spite. Whatever else I’m facing, at least I never have to go through fitting in to a new school again.
‘I don’t know how they’re coping without you to mediate.’ ‘I don’t think they are,’ Robin says, her face serious.
‘They’re falling out way more without me there. I’ll never see the messages in time.’
‘I’m sure they’ll work it out. And you’ll see them soon. In the Christmas holidays, maybe.’
Robin is silent. It’s too much change to take in. Too much, too fast. My world and Robin’s turned upside down in a scurry of days. The air lies heavy.
‘I know this is difficult,’ I say. ‘But we can make it work. We were lucky that this place came up. Your school back home was great, but we’ve always wanted you to go to school here, in London. You’re going to love it.’ My voice falls off. I remember that last rushed day in Brooklyn as I threw clothes into bags, a smile fixed to my face as I lied through my teeth to Robin about why we had to leave. Right then. No time for goodbyes.
‘And you were happy there? You’re sure I’m going to like it?’ Her face is pinched, suspicious.
‘Yes,’ I say. Another lie. But only a small one this time. ‘But you told me you didn’t have the best childhood,’
Robin says. She’s sharp, my daughter. Too much so.
I quickly gather myself. ‘That was more to do with home,’ I say. ‘Your grandmother. She wasn’t very keen on kids – even her own. School was an escape. I mean, of course there were difficult bits, but I made some friends. I loved the library. They made me school captain in Year 6 and put my name up on a board – that was pretty cool. It was definitely better than here.’ I gesture around me at the tired, cold kitchen.
Robin smiles. ‘At least it’ll be warm,’ she says, attempting a joke. I reach across the table to hug her and after a moment she hugs me back. ‘Let’s get out of here. You don’t want to be late. Not on your first day.’
Robin nods and crosses the room to pick up her bag and pull on a pair of gloves. I put on a woolly hat to hide the worst of my greasy hair, and we head out.
We walk to the bus stop, our footsteps slapping in time against the pavement. I glance over at my daughter. Her face is set, her chin firm, almost grown-up yet still so young.
I don’t know what lies ahead for us. I want to be calm. But I can’t shift the fear at the pit of my stomach, heavy as our steps on the ground.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Harriet Tyce was born and grew up in Edinburgh. She graduated from the University of Oxford in 1994 with a degree in English Literature before gaining legal qualifications. She worked as a criminal barrister for ten years, leaving after the birth of her first child. She completed an MA in Creative Writing – Crime Fiction at UEA where she wrote Blood Orange, which was her first novel.