‘I absolutely loved Beyond This Broken Sky so much that I never wanted it to end… Addictive from start to finish and I didn't want to put it down. It is the most unique WW2 story I have ever read... I loved every minute of it.’ Confessions of a Bookaholic, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
1940, London: An unforgettable novel about the strength of the human spirit in the face of war and the remarkable women who put themselves in danger on the front lines during the Battle of Britain. As a volunteer for the ambulance service, Ruby has the dangerous task of driving along pitch-dark roads during the blackout. With each survivor she pulls from the rubble, she is helping to fight back against the enemy bombers, who leave nothing but destruction in their wake. She’s assigned to work with Joseph, who will stop at nothing to save innocent victims of war. Because he is not in uniform, people treat him with suspicion. But as Ruby watches him save a young child from a building that may collapse at any moment, she becomes determined to protect this brave, compassionate man. Even if it means making an unthinkable choice between saving her own life and risking everything for his… 2019: Recently divorced Edi feels lost and alone when she moves to London to start a new life. Until she makes a discovery, hidden beneath a loose floorboard in her attic, that that reveals the story of the woman who lived there in the 1940s. She gradually pieces together a life full of danger, love and betrayal and becomes inspired by Ruby’s heroism. But as Edi uncovers more about Ruby, she realises that the house holds the key to a devastating wartime secret and that the truth can be a dangerous thing… A sweeping tale of bravery, self-sacrifice, and the legacy that can be left behind by a single act of courage. Perfect for fans of The Alice Network, The Secret Messenger and The Lost Girls of Paris. Readers are loving Beyond This Broken Sky : ‘Just absolutely beautiful. Loved loved loved this amazing book. Poignant, heartbreaking and yet joyful. A wonderful book… It is an absolute triumph.’ NetGalley reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘ This amazing story is a wonderful must read… Once I started the story I couldn’t put it down. It is definitely a book you can’t help but to devour it in one sitting… Will have you up all night flying through the pages… A phenomenal story, I absolutely loved it.’ Page Turners, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘ Fantastic… I don't want to give the unique twists of this story away… But suffice it to say that you won’t want to put this one down! ’ 2 Bags Full, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘Once you start reading this book you won’t want to put it down… It had me reading into the early hours of the morning… A real rollercoaster of emotion… I totally loved this book.’ Goodreads reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘ Fabulous… Great historical fiction… Can highly recommend.’ Goodreads reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘ A first class read for lovers of WWII fiction.’ Goodreads reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘ Great WWII-era historical fiction… Has it all: history, mystery, suspense, wonderful cast of characters… An addictive novel… Another great read from one of my new, favourite authors… 5/5 stars.’ NetGalley reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘ An exciting, emotional, and passionate story… I was carried away to the streets of London, to the shelters, the noise, and the despair… Highly recommended! ’ Lu Reviews Books, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘ I absolutely loved this story… Grabbed me from the first page…. Could not put down.’ Goodreads reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Release date: April 20, 2021
Print pages: 350
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Beyond This Broken Sky
‘Shall I light the candles?’ Kitty asked, hurrying into the room holding a book of matches. She reminded Ruby of a faded pencil sketch of a person, with her pale blonde hair scraped back into a ponytail and her dreary lilac housecoat and flesh-coloured nylons.
‘Why not?’ Ruby exclaimed. ‘May as well hasten my demise from this cursed heat. I can just see the headline in tomorrow’s Express – “She Evaded the Hun but Was Done for by the Sun”. Or perhaps, “Dazzling Doyenne Dies of Dehydration”. Editors seem so obsessed with alliteration these days.’
‘I’ll only light a few then,’ Kitty murmured, her thin eyebrows raised.
Even in this heat, Kitty was still as white as a ghost, not to mention skinny as a rake. Ruby had tried fattening her up with various meats, cheeses and chocolates from the Fortnum & Mason food hall but to no avail. Anything the poor girl ate seemed to be burned off as soon as it passed her lips. Ruby couldn’t help smiling as she pictured Kitty’s brain chugging away like a piston, burning up calories as it churned out anxious thoughts.
As Kitty began lighting the cluster of white candles at the centre of the table, Ruby took a sip of her lemon and honey. Since the war had begun, a year previously, finding a lemon had become akin to spotting a unicorn, but thanks to her contacts on the black market, she’d managed to procure one. Good job too, or she wasn’t sure her throat would be up to another séance.
The doubts she’d experienced prior to her previous soirees began flooding her mind: would she be able to convince her guests that they were receiving messages from their dearly departed? Or would she be exposed as a fraud? Would she burn in hell, if such a place existed, for deceiving people?
She swatted the doubts away by reminding herself why she’d begun holding séances in the first place – to reassure people and try to bring them some comfort in what was a deeply unsettling time. Perhaps today she’d finally receive a genuine message from the other side. It certainly wouldn’t be for the lack of trying. And it wasn’t as if she was charging people money to come. She was doing it purely from a place of compassion.
She thought back to the first séance she’d attended as a teenager, after her beloved father was killed in the Great War. Her father had been the person she loved the most in the entire world. The thought of him never returning home again, never waltzing her around the parlour again, never regaling her with tales of his life as a West End theatre star again, had left her catatonic with grief. Hearing her father speak to her once more – albeit through a rather intimidating pot-bellied, hairy-warted medium named Madame Blavosky – and telling her that she must get on with her life and ‘live it with gusto!’ had changed everything. It had enabled her to feel a tentative glimmer of hope again, and gave her permission to live life to the full – a gift that had sadly been denied her poor mother.
Ruby glanced at the sepia portrait of her mother hanging over the mantelpiece. The photograph had been taken five years previously – three years before her mother’s death. She’d spent so long grief-stricken by that point that her mouth had actually reset itself into a permanent droop. The contrast with the beaming, twinkly-eyed bride in her wedding day portrait was shocking. Ruby couldn’t help shivering in spite of the heat. Her mother’s fate was something she’d spent years trying to avoid at all costs.
She took a notepad, quill and bottle of ink from the sideboard and placed them on the table. A spot of automatic writing might be the easiest option in this weather. She would have to play it by ear, of course, and read her audience. This was a tip she’d learned from her father. ‘Every audience is different,’ he’d once told her, when talking about his acting career. ‘You have to read their energy and play to it accordingly.’ She hadn’t really known what he’d meant at the time, but now his advice was serving her well.
The doorbell rang, wrenching her from her memories.
‘Your first guest,’ Kitty mumbled.
Kitty had a knack of stating the obvious, but Ruby tried not to hold it against her. Ever since the timid young woman had become her tenant, moving into the flat above hers at the start of the war, Ruby had made it her mission to try to bring her out of her shell. Enlisting her help with the séances was part of this grand plan, although Kitty still barely said a word.
Ruby finished her lemon and honey infusion and sat down. Her heart was pounding. You’re only trying to help people, she reminded herself.
‘I am ready to receive them,’ she boomed, slipping into her medium’s voice. The truth was, she didn’t feel ready at all. ‘Please help me, Papa,’ she whispered, praying that spirits actually did exist and that her father was watching over her.
Kitty returned to the room with a middle-aged man wearing a crimson polka dot bow tie with a matching band around his trilby hat. The heat had obviously got to him too as he’d already removed his jacket and patches of sweat darkened his shirt beneath the armpits.
‘This is Mr Blackwell, Miss Glenville,’ Kitty mumbled.
Mr Blackwell was the first ‘member of the public’ to attend one of Ruby’s séances, having responded to a discreet advertisement she’d placed on a noticeboard in the British Library. At the time, she’d thought it might be easier trying to receive or create messages for people she didn’t know at all, but now she wasn’t so sure and her stomach clenched.
‘Good afternoon, Mr Blackwell, please take a seat,’ Ruby said, gesturing at the chair to her right. She looked at Kitty pointedly.
‘Oh, uh, yes, would you like me to take your hat, sir?’ Kitty stammered.
‘Thank you.’ Mr Blackwell sat down and took a handkerchief from his pocket and began dabbing at his brow, his eyes darting this way and that.
While he was scanning the room, Ruby scanned him, searching for clues. Men tended to be harder to read than women as they wore less accoutrements. She looked at his face, at the shadows beneath his eyes, at the nick on his jaw where he’d clearly cut himself shaving. She glanced down at his stubby fingers resting on the table. No wedding ring. Perhaps he was a widower.
‘Have you travelled far to get here, Mr Blackwell?’ she asked.
‘Only from Clapham,’ he replied. His voice was soft and he sounded educated. Ruby estimated that he was around fifty. Perhaps he’d lost a son to the fighting in France.
The doorbell rang again and Kitty hurried out, returning moments later with Mary Scott. Mary had been to every one of Ruby’s soirees. She used to be her mother’s charwoman and she came to receive messages from her husband, Bill, who’d been killed three months previously in the Battle of Dunkirk. Ruby decided to begin proceedings with a message for her, as a way of winning Mr Blackwell’s confidence.
‘’Ello, Miss Glenville.’ Mary bustled her portly frame over to the table and sat down with a sigh. ‘Lumme, it’s hot enough to fry an egg on the street!’
‘It really is quite frightful,’ Ruby agreed.
As Mary took off her jacket and hat, Ruby observed that her blouse had been buttoned unevenly and the roots of her grey hair were dark with grease. The poor woman looked ravaged by grief. She made a mental note to deliver an extra-comforting message from Bill.
The doorbell rang again and Kitty returned with the two remaining guests – a former flapper dancer named Charlotte, whom Ruby had befriended during a hazy night of cocktails at the Florida Club, and her elderly Aunt Maud, who, according to Charlotte, was desperate to receive a message from her brother Roger, who’d been lost to cancer a few months ago. Ruby was very grateful when her guests were indiscreet about their losses – it made her job so much easier.
She exchanged a few pleasantries with the women, noting Maud’s hawklike stare and seating her in the chair furthest from her. Kitty took the women’s hats and jackets and left the room. Ruby cleared her throat.
‘Good afternoon, everyone,’ she said. ‘And welcome to our soiree, during which we shall hopefully be joined by some very special souls, dear to your hearts. If I could ask you to please place your hands on the table, like so.’ She placed her hands palms down on the table, praying that this time they wouldn’t be trembling from nerves. ‘And move them so that the tip of your little finger is touching the tip of the little fingers of those either side of you so we may form a circle. Then I’d like you all to close your eyes as I offer up a prayer for protection.’ She checked that everyone had closed their eyes. ‘May the light of the Lord shine over us,’ Ruby began, adding a silent prayer that, if there really was a God, He would be as forgiving as He claimed. ‘May the presence of the Lord protect us from evil…’ She felt Mr Blackwell’s finger twitching against hers. ‘And may those of us we long to hear from visit with us today. Amen.’
A murmur of amens rippled around the table.
‘Is there anybody there?’ Ruby asked, lowering the tone of her voice even further. She waited for a moment, trying to clear her mind, just in case a spirit was trying to communicate with her. ‘Please make your presence known.’ Mr Blackwell’s finger twitched again. Sweat beaded on Ruby’s forehead. ‘Speak to us so that we may relieve your burden!’ she cried. But it was no good. All she could hear was the ticking of the grandfather clock in the corner, louder and louder. There was nothing else for it; she would have to pretend again. She inhaled deeply through her nose and raised the back of her tongue to the roof of her mouth. She tightened her stomach muscles and slightly parted her lips. ‘Over here,’ she said, projecting her voice to the other side of the room.
‘Ooh!’ Maud shrieked, causing Mr Blackwell to jump.
‘I’m sensing a very strong presence,’ Ruby whispered. ‘Please, let’s hold hands so that we can maintain the connection.’ Mary and Mr Blackwell took hold of her hands. His was hot and clammy. ‘To whom do you wish to speak?’ Ruby asked. She dropped her head slightly to make it look as if she’d gone into a trance. Then she prepared to throw her voice again. ‘To Mary,’ her voice echoed from the other side of the room.
‘Aw, it’s my Bill again,’ Mary said. ‘’Ello, Bill, duck. How are you doing?’
Ruby breathed a sigh of relief. Words beginning with M, like Mary, were notoriously hard to pull off when it came to throwing one’s voice. But she’d learned the art of projection at the knee of one of the world’s most successful ventriloquists – her grandfather, the Fantastic Frederick Rose. She inhaled deeply through her nose before projecting again. ‘When you’re sad, I’m sad.’
‘Oh, Bill.’ She heard Mary sniff.
‘I want you to be happy.’ Ruby rocked back and forth, as if in a trancelike state.
‘I’m sorry, Bill,’ Mary said. ‘I’ve been so down in the dumps lately, but I promise I’ll cheer up.’
Ruby inhaled again. ‘I love you, duck.’
‘I love you too, Bill.’
Ruby opened her eyes and glanced sideways at Mary. She was relieved to see a smile on her face, which instantly warmed her heart.
‘He must have been watching over me,’ Mary said. ‘I’ve had a right bad week this week.’
‘He’s always watching over you,’ Ruby said with a smile. Her throat was really sore again from the projecting. She glanced down at the notepad and started to twitch her arms. ‘I’m picking up the presence of another soul. But this one wants to write through me.’ She let go of Mary and Mr Blackwell’s hands and picked up the pen. Her head was pounding. Damn this heat.
Just as she was about to pretend to go into another trance, there came a high-pitched wail from outside.
‘Bloody sirens,’ Charlotte muttered. ‘Bound to be another false alarm.’
Ruby paused for a moment. They were supposed to take shelter as soon as they heard the air-raid warning, but, so far, London had been pretty much untouched by the German bombs. They only seemed interested in bombing the airfields on the outskirts of the city. ‘What would you like to do?’ she asked the group. Normally she was loath to obey the siren’s command, but this could be the perfect excuse to end the séance early.
‘I say carry on,’ Mary said. ‘We’ll be all right, we’ve got my Bill watching over us.’
Ruby looked around at the others. To her disappointment, they were all nodding, even the twitchy Mr Blackwell. ‘All right, let’s continue.’ She closed her eyes. ‘Are you still there, friend? To whom do you wish to speak?’ Trying to tune out the wail of the siren, Ruby began rocking back and forth. ‘I’m sensing the spirit of a young man.’ She bowed her head so they wouldn’t see her open her eyes, and gave Mr Blackwell a quick sideways glance. He suddenly seemed very alert.
‘Wh-what does the young man look like?’ he stammered.
‘He’s of average height.’ Ruby glanced sideways again. Mr Blackwell’s face was blank. A bead of sweat trickled down the side of her face. ‘Actually, I’m sensing that he was slightly shorter than average.’
Mr Blackwell began to nod.
‘I think he might be the son of someone present,’ Ruby said.
Mr Blackwell frowned and looked disappointed. Damn it. If the young man wasn’t his son, then who was he to Mr Blackwell? Nephew perhaps.
‘Or maybe he’s someone’s nephew.’
Again, there was no response from Mr Blackwell.
The tension in Ruby’s head intensified. This heat was dulling her wits. Then she thought of the dandyish manner in which Mr Blackwell dressed and something dawned upon her. She began to write, using her right hand instead of her customary left.
WE SHARE A VERY SPECIAL KIND OF LOVE, she wrote, in jagged letters.
Mr Blackwell gasped.
Phew, third time lucky. Ruby thought of her friend Teddy, from her New York days. He’d been that way inclined too. Unlike the prim and proper disapprovers, Ruby didn’t give a hoot who people fell in love with. But she knew that men like Teddy endured a terrible time, trying to keep their love secret. Her heart panged for poor Mr Blackwell.
She uttered a gasp for effect and began to write again. OURS IS THE BRAVEST KIND OF LOVE, ONE THAT DEFIES TIME AND SPACE AND THE HATRED OF OTHERS. She heard Mr Blackwell give a low sob. WHEN YOU ARE SAD, THINK OF OUR SPECIAL TIME, she wrote, reasoning that every couple must have had at least one time together that they classed as special.
Sure enough, Mr Blackwell began nodding enthusiastically.
Satisfied that he would now leave more content than when he’d arrived, Ruby turned her attention to Maud. But just as she was about to channel a message from Roger, a strange humming sound filled the humid air.
‘What the heck’s that?’ Mary said.
Ruby chose to ignore it. If she moved swiftly, she could have the whole thing over and done with in a few more minutes. But the humming grew louder and louder, as if the air outside had filled with angry hornets.
‘What the dickens?’ Mr Blackwell muttered.
Ruby opened her eyes to see that the rest of the circle were all looking apprehensively towards the window. ‘Let me just check,’ she said. She went over and peered through a chink in the blackout blinds. ‘Oh my!’ she exclaimed. A weird gloom had fallen over the square as if a cloud was passing over the sun.
‘What is it?’ Charlotte asked.
Ruby looked up at the sky. It was filled with what looked like hundreds of black birds, all flying in neat V-shaped formations.
There was a knock on the parlour door and Kitty burst in, her pale face for once flushed. ‘I – I’m sorry to interrupt, Miss Glenville, but – but – the Germans are here!’
Joseph looked out of his window, his heart thudding. When he’d heard the siren begin to wail, he’d assumed it was yet another false alarm. But now the sky was filled with German bombers like a swarm of giant black moths. What were so many of them doing flying over London? Was this the start of the long-dreaded invasion? His stomach churned at the thought of the fascist Nazi wave that had conquered so much of Europe sweeping over Britain’s shores. People assumed that because he was a conscientious objector he didn’t care about such things. But nothing could have been further from the truth. Joseph hated the Nazis and their brutal regime. That was why he was a conscientious objector after all – he abhorred all killing.
He grabbed an old tobacco tin from the mantelpiece and stuffed it in his trouser pocket. It contained a couple of photographs of his parents and his brother’s dog tag. It was the only thing he now deemed worth saving in the event of an emergency and he couldn’t quite decide if this fact was tragic or liberating.
He glanced around the room, praying that he wasn’t looking at it for the last time, then, shunning the lift, he hurried out of the back door of his flat and raced down the stairs. As he reached the entrance hall, with its huge chandelier and black and white chequered floor, the door to the ground-floor flat flew open, causing his heart to sink. Ever since he’d moved to Pendragon Square almost a year previously, Joseph had done all he could to avoid his landlady. She was everything he hated: vain, pampered and privileged. How else could you describe a young woman who’d inherited such a huge house in one of the most fashionable parts of London and, by all accounts, hadn’t had to work a day in her life?
But instead of his landlady, a rather flustered-looking man wearing a red bow tie appeared. Upon seeing Joseph, he tipped his hat and hurried across the hall. As he opened the front door, the hum from outside grew louder. Three women came hurrying out of the flat behind him. Joseph sighed. Ruby must have been holding one of her ‘séances’ again. When Kitty had told him about Ruby’s decision to start holding séances, it had made his blood boil. The nerve of the woman, taking advantage of people when they were stricken with grief. It wasn’t as if she needed the money; apparently her mother’s side of the family owned half of Scotland, so she had to be doing it out of greed, boredom or cruelty, or a mixture of all three.
‘All right, duck?’ one of Ruby’s poor victims said, spotting him on the stairs. ‘Looks like Jerry’s arrived.’
As he followed the women to the front door, Kitty came flying out of the flat, looking panic-stricken. Joseph liked Kitty, even though she barely said a word. He was hardly surprised she was timid as a mouse. Living above her flat, he’d heard the sharp bark of her husband’s yells piercing the floorboards late at night, followed by Kitty’s soft sobs. He wondered if Kitty had been as relieved as he was when her husband had enlisted and had been stationed down on the south coast.
As Joseph reached the front door, he heard the distant rap-rap-rap of anti-aircraft fire. But would it make any difference against this German show of force?
‘Well, Hitler sure knows how to ruin a sunny Saturday!’
Joseph instantly tensed at the sound of Ruby’s jaunty voice from behind him. How could she joke about it? If all of those planes were about to unleash their bombs, hundreds of people could be about to lose their lives.
‘They’d just better not scupper my supper plans,’ Ruby continued, following him out onto the steps and locking the front door. As always, she was dressed to the nines, in a figure-hugging black dress and a pair of bright green heeled shoes. A huge emerald sparkled on her ring finger, although as far as Joseph knew there wasn’t a husband on the scene, which didn’t surprise him. The woman was intolerable, worrying about her supper plans when the Germans could be about to invade. It annoyed Joseph even further that she was so beautiful. With her wavy raven hair and rosebud lips, she looked as if she’d sprung straight from the pages of a fairy tale, like some kind of enchanted princess. If there was any justice in the world, she’d have been born stooped and gnarled. But there was no justice in the world; Joseph had learned that long ago.
Ignoring Ruby, he hurried over to the tree-lined garden at the centre of the square. A shelter had been built there for the residents at the start of the war. Thankfully there’d been no need for its protection yet.
‘They’re heading east,’ Ruby continued, gazing at the planes crowding the sky and clearly unable to take a hint. ‘Why do you think they’re heading east?’
‘The docks maybe,’ Joseph replied bluntly.
When they reached the entrance to the shelter, he somehow mustered the good grace to stand back and let her inside first.
‘For what we are about to receive…’ Ruby said dramatically, before heading down the concrete steps.
As Joseph followed her, it took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the gloom after the brightness outside. The shelter was long and narrow, more like a tunnel than a room, and the walls were lined with corrugated iron. As his eyes adjusted, he saw rows of frightened faces, all tilted upwards, listening and waiting.
Joseph had hoped he’d be able to escape Ruby, but as the shelter was almost full to capacity he had no choice but to sit down opposite her. Feeling the tobacco tin in his trouser pocket cutting into his leg, he took it out and examined its contents, and not just for comfort. If he looked otherwise occupied, it might stop Ruby from speaking to him. He felt for the round leather dog tag. In the gloom of the shelter, he wasn’t able to see the blood staining the bottom just beneath his brother’s name. Liam had only just turned eighteen when he’d been slaughtered in Ypres. His life, like so many others, taken before it had even begun. In effect, his dad’s life had been taken too. To his lasting shame, Joseph hadn’t even recognised the emaciated, lice-ridden figure who returned from the trenches, appearing one day in their backyard in Blackpool and causing Joseph to drop his football in fright. Gone was the fun-loving man he remembered from his earlier childhood, and all that was left was a haunted shell.
‘Ooh, if you’re having a smoke could you be a doll and roll me one?’ Ruby said, nodding at the tin.
‘It isn’t tobacco,’ Joseph replied.
‘Then what is it?’
Joseph sighed. ‘Some personal belongings.’
Ruby laughed. ‘I wish I could pack all of my worldly goods into a tobacco box.’
Kitty giggled beside her, then shot Joseph an apologetic look.
Joseph’s cheeks burned. ‘Well, maybe the world would be a better place if people didn’t insist on having so many things.’
‘I say…’ Ruby leaned forward and lowered her voice to a whisper. ‘Are you a communist?’
‘No, I am not,’ he snapped.
‘I wouldn’t mind if you were, it’s just that, what with your views on the war…’ Ruby glanced at the Peace Pledge Union badge on his jacket lapel. ‘I thought—’
‘Well, you thought wrong.’
There was a distant thudding sound, vibrating through the ground.
‘What was that? Have they started bombing?’ Kitty exclaimed, turning to Ruby. She looked terrified.
‘Don’t worry. We’re safe down here. Isn’t that right, Mr O’Toole?’ Ruby looked at Joseph.
‘Absolutely,’ he agreed, although with every thud that reverberated through his spine, his fear increased. Would they be safe inside this shelter if they suffered a direct hit? Or were they waiting to be buried alive inside a corrugated metal tomb?
I should have kno. . .
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