Today I’m on the blog tour for The Tissue Veil by Brenda Bannister. The Tissue Veil is a story of two teenagers living in the same East end property, but 100 years apart. I have an extract below for you to read over. It is really good!
What if you discovered a hundred-year-old diary under your floorboards – and then found references in it to yourself? Or if you lived in 1901, yet kept seeing glimpses of a girl from modern times? And what if both of you had problems that only the other could really understand? Emily and Aysha live in the same Stepney house and an inexplicable link develops between them, fuelled by Aysha’s discovery of a journal and Emily’s sightings of a ‘future ghost’. Each takes courage from the other’s predicament – after all, what’s a hundred years between friends?
Excerpt from Chapter 19 of The Tissue Veil
Emily’s father has borrowed money from his employee, William Baines, who has designs on both Emily and her father’s business. Determined not to be indebted to this man, Emily takes a job as a seamstress is one of the new Oxford Street stores…
A man called Arthur Smythe is in charge of the room, allocating the work and checking its quality. He sets me sewing samples of different stitches and asks if I have used a sewing machine.
“No, sir,” I reply, “I have only worked by hand.”
“You’re neat enough, but you’ll need to speed up,” he says. “You know the boss, I hear?”
“Mr Fenton? I went to school with his daughter.”
“Well, there’s no favouritism here – or not till you’ve earned it. The wage is seven and sixpence for nine to seven, Monday to Friday, with an hour for dinner. Saturdays nine till two at a shilling when there’s enough work on. I’ll put you with Lottie. There’s an order for two blouses, same pattern, you can follow what she does.”
I had not even asked about the wage before. There is a tuppenny fare each way on the train, which leaves five shillings and tenpence, from which I must buy my tea and keep myself in stockings.
Lottie is sharp-faced blonde of about nineteen. She and a girl called Kathleen work at a table which has the advantage of a window and the thick grey London light. Lottie gives me the pattern pieces for a blouse and shows me where the tucks must be and how to insert the lace trim before the garment can be assembled. She is a strict supervisor and checks my stitching every few inches. Lace is expensive, she says, and if I spoil it, Arthur will dock money from her wages. That doesn’t seem fair,
“Arthur’s all right,” she tells me, “though you must remember to be on time and that it’s always Mr Smythe to his face. Oh, and don’t spend all day in the you-know-what, the lav. He looks after us in the workshop pretty well, better than that la-di-da lot downstairs that measure up the customers and do the fittings. Watch out for Miss McPherson, who fits the ladies, she’s a real tartar.”
Our room is immediately above the fitting area and there is a twisting inside staircase ending in a half-glazed door which opens onto the floor below. Orders, fabrics and patterns arrive by that route, but the girls are forbidden to use it without permission.
“Sure and keep away from Mr Sutcliffe, who measures the gentlemen,” adds Kathleen. “If he asks you to work late, mind you remember an appointment and excuse yourself, or he’ll have you measuring his inside leg.”
“‘E ain’t got anything worth measuring, if you ask me,” says a spotty, lank-haired girl, who turns round from her machine at the central table.
“No-one is asking you, is they, Doris?” snaps Lottie. “Keep your mouth clean and your eyes on your work or your seams will wander.”
The machinists are mostly engaged in sewing linings for jackets and skirts, which are then stitched in by hand. After four hours of work, when my fingers are numb and my back rigid with bending over my needle, Arthur blows a whistle and announces the break.
“One hour, sharp, ladies.”
“Did you bring anything, Emily?” Lottie asks. I nod, because Daisy has packed up some bread and cheese with a slice of cold beef.
“When it’s warm enough to sit out,” she says, “we usually walk to a garden square, but today we’d best eat over there in the corner, where you can take a drink of water, then we’ll go and
window-shop all the stores.”
Lottie produces a hard-boiled egg and a dry-looking bun, which she finishes in no time; Kathleen has a bit of bread and a slice of cold bacon. I am obliged to bolt my food if I am to go
out with them. I have my long wool coat with a fur collar, which Ma had made two years ago. It’s short for me now, but still warm. Kathleen eyes it curiously as she and Lottie wrap woollen shawls around their shoulders and we go down to the street.
“What are you doing here, Emily?” she wonders. “You don’t look as if you need to earn a crust.”
“My Pa’s in business,” I say, “but he’s not been doing well since Ma died last year. I’d rather support myself, if I can.”
“Well, you won’t make your fortune,” Lottie says, “but it’s a wage. Do you live at home?”
“Yes. Don’t you?”
“Some of us board a few streets away, towards Covent Garden. There’s a woman, Mrs Pegg, rents out rooms to dressmakers and shop girls. I share with Kathy. She’s from Ireland so she doesn’t
have family here.”
“I don’t like to leave my Pa just now.”
“Fair enough. But if it you change your mind or it gets too much to travel, I can put in a word, you know.”
We walk to Regent Street and stare at the windows of Hamleys, the famous toy shop. There are dolls, tin soldiers, clockwork toys and kits for tennis and croquet. Kathleen gazes in longing at the dolls with their lace bonnets and porcelain smiles.
“Would you look at those?” she whispers. “If only I could send one for my sisters Bridget and Maeve.”
“They’re just dolls,” I say. “You could make a rag one and dress it nicely for them.”
“You’ll have had a doll,” Lottie snaps. “Books and toys and the like – you can tell that by looking at you. Kathy’s sisters’ve never had anything bought from a shop. You don’t know what
I bite my tongue; I have a lot to learn.
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