What We Did in the War – Jennie Walters | Blog Tour Extract | #WhatWeDidInTheWar | @JennieWalters @Bloodhoundbook @RandomTTours

Can you ever let go of the past? Two women unhappy with their lives seize a chance to start over during a WWII bombing raid, in this dramatic and suspenseful novel.

London, 1944: As bombs start raining from the sky, two women rush out of a restaurant, leaving their possessions behind. Their chance meeting amid the chaos and destruction will have long-lasting consequences. Both beset by desperate problems, they take advantage of the wartime chaos to escape their humdrum lives and start again.

Sticking together, the pair live under the radar, using a stolen ration book to feed themselves and relying on a street kid’s help to get by. Cecil eventually finds work, while glamorous, feckless Claude looks after the flat—or doesn’t. Gradually their friendship sours and resentment creeps in. Just as Cecil is wondering whether she should ever have trusted Claude in the first place, she makes a shocking discovery—one that will expose a web of secrets, lead to an act of violence, and set the two on separate and very different paths.

My thanks to Anne of Random Things Tours for the invite. What We Did in the War is published by Bloodhound Books and available in ebook (including Kindle Unlimited) and paperback formats (12 March 2024). For my turn on the tour today its a pleasure to host an extract.



High Wycombe, November 1952

I’ve found her at last: my partner in crime. It’s taken eight years but finally I’ve tracked her down. She’s standing with her back to me, looking out of the window. Her cardigan’s slung around her shoulders and she holds a cigarette aloft, one hand cupping her elbow and a thin plume of smoke spiralling up into the air. I close the door behind me, suddenly light-headed, and dig my fingernails into my palms.

She turns around, smiles and advances towards me with her hand outstretched. ‘Hello. You must be–’ She stops when she realises who it really is, the colour draining from her face. ‘Good God,’ she says, taking a step back.

‘Heavens!’ I put on a smile, pretending just in time to act surprised too. ‘Claude! Can it really be you? What an extraordinary coincidence.’

She stands there, staring at me, dumbfounded. At least I have the chance to take a good look at her, see how she’s changed in the time we’ve been apart. She’s become – well, dowdy, that’s the only word for it. Her face has filled out, her hair has been tightly and unflatteringly permed, and she’s wearing a lumpy tweed skirt and sludge-coloured twinset with pearls – of course. Pearls are part of the uniform, although I sold mine long ago and haven’t the heart or the money to replace them. I used to think she could wear anything and look marvellous but now all that panache has gone. Torn between disappointment and relief, I wonder for a moment how this unremarkable figure can have lived inside my head for so long. Then I catch in her eyes a glimpse of the glorious creature she once was and remember what she did to me, and I’m glad she looks a frump, glad I’m perfectly made up and wearing a particularly smart costume in black-and-white houndstooth check, glad she looks afraid.

‘You’ll never be pretty but you can try to be chic,’ she said to me once, and I’ve taken her words to heart.

‘You look well,’ I say, since that’s the sort of remark people generally make in these situations.

She doesn’t return the compliment, although I deserve it more than she does. Instead she says, ‘I wondered whether I’d ever see you again,’ and gives an odd little smile, her eyes rather glassy and strange. Her accent is more cultivated than it used to be and I wonder whether she’s putting it on for my benefit, or whether this is how she talks nowadays.

We don’t seem to be getting very far. I prop my briefcase against a chair and push up my sleeves in a business like fashion so that my bracelets jangle. ‘Well, you have a beautiful home. Have you decided which rooms you’d like to refurbish?’

I usually say something similar to clients but in this case it happens to be true. Her house is charming: a large Edwardian villa with high ceilings and tall, arched windows filling the rooms with light. The garden’s lovely, too, from what I can see through the window, with stone steps from the terrace leading down to a sweeping lawn and a parterre formed of clipped box hedges.

She laughs uncertainly. ‘Do you seriously think we’re going to sit down and discuss soft furnishings?’

‘Why not? The company offered a free design consultation – you might as well have it.’

She stubs out her cigarette, walks over to the sideboard and pours herself a whisky from a cut-glass decanter. Pressing the glass against her cheek for a moment, she says, ‘So you work at Berridges? That’s quite a step up.’

‘I’d say we’ve both done rather well for ourselves. Clever old you, marrying into money.’ I won’t be patronised by anyone, least of all her. She hasn’t even had the decency to offer me a drink.

She flushes. ‘This is all rather awkward. I’d like you to leave, if you don’t mind. Obviously, I shan’t be asking you to do any work in my home.’

She’s becoming more sure of herself but I don’t appreciate being dismissed like an unsatisfactory servant. ‘Don’t you think we should talk?’

‘No, I do not.’ She takes a mouthful of Scotch, clutching the glass so tightly her knuckles turn white. ‘What on earth is there to say?’

‘I want to explain. You owe me that, at least.’ I sit down in the chair beside my briefcase and light a cigarette to show her I’m not going anywhere. She’ll have to account for herself, too, though I know better than to say so.

‘I don’t owe you anything,’ she tells me.

Jennie Walters has always been interested in stories. She was constantly daydreaming as a child, studied English at university and worked in publishing before leaving to write books of her own. Author of the ‘Swallowcliffe Hall’ series for young adults, she also writes historical fiction under the name of Daisy Wood. The heroines of What We Did in the War, Cecil and Claude, first crept into her head in the course of a Creative Writing MA at City University, London, and she has been rewriting their story since then: approximately a hundred years. Finally, here it is – a true labour of love!

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