Today on my blog I have an extract from A Sister’s Struggle by Mary Gibson.
A young girl struggles to keep body and soul together in 1930s London, while her proud but spendthrift widowed father refuses to accept charity.
Ruby is always hungry, but she will go without if it means her young brothers can eat. 1930s Bermondsey might be called the larder of London, with its pie, pickle and jam factories, but for the poor working classes, starvation is often only a heartbeat away. When Ruby’s neighbour suggests she ought to go to the Methodist Mission for free food, Ruby knows her father will be furious, but that she has no other option.
It is a decision that will change the course of her life forever, split her family and in the end lead her to face a terrible choice between duty and a great love.
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Mary Gibson was born and brought up in Bermondsey, south east London. After a thirty year career in publishing, she took the opportunity of early retirement to write a book of her own. Her début novel, Custard Tarts and Broken Hearts, was inspired by the lives and times of her grandparents in World War One Bermondsey. It went on to become a top ten Kindle best seller and was selected for World Book Night 2015.
Social Media Links for Mary Gibson
Twitter handle: @MaryGibsonBooks
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‘You have to wait for grace!’ Ida said. Seeing Ruby’s confusion, she gave a surprisingly deep laugh. ‘Don’t tell me you don’t know who Grace is!’
Ruby blushed. ‘I ain’t stupid! We always say grace indoors.’ Why she’d lied she had no idea. She always felt she should know everything. After all, she was in charge of the boys and Dodge had told her when Mum died that now it would be her job to keep the home going, especially with him being away so much.
The steward stood at the head of one of the tables and said a short thanksgiving, but it was nothing so eloquent as the silent prayer Ruby offered as she bit into crusty bread and salty beef dripping. ‘Dear Jesus, thank you thank you thank you,’ she prayed, understanding for the first time what the love of God really meant. Gratitude filled her stomach with each bite of bread and each burst of strawberry and chocolate sweetness on her tongue. If she’d been able to remember a hymn she would have stood on the table and sung it to the entire room. Instead. she felt an unexpected tear trickle down her cheek.
Ida paused with her mug of cocoa at her lips. ‘What are you crying for, you silly ’apporth?’
‘I’m so grateful,’ Ruby said, swallowing her tears. She turned to Davey, pretending to help him, but his two slices were already gone.
Eric ate his bread and dripping more hesitantly.
‘Don’t you like it?’ she whispered.
He ducked his head, then swallowed the bread with a great gulp as if it were a stone.
‘Don’t tell me he’s gonna cry too!’ Ida scoffed.
Ruby shot Ida a fierce look and shook her head. At which the girl’s face grew serious. ‘Sorry!’
For Eric really was crying and Ruby knew it wasn’t from gratitude but from sheer shame. ‘It’s all right, Ricky, Dad won’t find out,’ she whispered.
‘I don’t want to come here again. It’s horrible,’ Eric mumbled. He was screwing a piece of bread into a ball and he lifted the mug of cocoa to hide his tears.
‘It’s only till Dad gets back,’ Ruby said softly. ‘There’s nothing at home.’
Eric turned to her fiercely. ‘I ain’t coming here again. Dad says we don’t need charity!’
It was only now that Ruby realized half a dozen children on their table bore a striking resemblance to Ida. It seemed they were her younger brothers and sisters and all were happily munching their way through breakfast. Ida regarded Eric. ‘You’re right. God helps them that helps themselves. Don’t you want that?’ And when Eric shoved his slice of bread and jam away, she tore it in two and offered half to her youngest sister and half to Davey. Grabbing at it with two small hands he gave her a wide-toothed grin of appreciation. Dad couldn’t blame him, Ruby thought – he was far too young to understand what charity was.
Which was just as well, because breakfast was the only meal they had all day and when Dodge still hadn’t come home by evening she took Ida up on an invitation the girl had given her at breakfast.
‘If your dad don’t come home today, you meet me back here when the market closes and I’ll soon show you how to get some grub!’ she’d promised.
So that evening, Ruby left Davey at home with Eric and walked to Tower Bridge Road. The market was packing up for the day and there was a bustle of awnings being lowered and stalls being trundled back to their lock ups. Ruby spotted Ida’s red beret first and then three smaller Turpin girls standing beside her. Ida’s gaze was roving to and fro. When she spotted Ruby, she smiled and beckoned her over. She sent three of her sisters running in different directions and then turned to Ruby. ‘You come with me. Do what I do.’
Please do make sure you go and check out all the other blogs that are contributing towards this tour. They are all listed below.