Excerpts

Excerpt – The Shipbuilder’s Daughter by Emma Fraser

51QRrTnj+zL._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_Prologue

Glasgow, 1920

The scream was like nothing Margaret had ever heard before and seemed to go on forever. She dropped her book and clasped her hands over her ears. Almost worse was the awful silence that descended a few moments later.

Her heart hammering, she ran to the window and looked outside. Although her father’s office was on the third floor, only a fraction of the shipyard was visible; the rest, sprawling alongside the Clyde, was hidden from view. Beneath her a crowd was gathering, converging on something she couldn’t quite see through the grimy window.

She used the sleeve of her dress to clear a patch, but all she managed to do was smudge it more. As urgent shouts filled the silence of moments before, she sped downstairs, emerging into the soot-filled air, her breath coming in painful gasps. She hesitated, suddenly reluctant to discover what horror had precipitated the blood-curdling screams.

‘Where are you going, Miss Bannatyne?’ a man asked, grabbing her by the elbow.

‘What’s happened? Is it my father?’

His lip curled. ‘No, it’s not your father. What would he be doing down here? It’s an accident. Nothing unusual, but not summat a young lass like you should see. Better go back indoors.’

She shook his arm away. ‘Let me go!’ she couldn’t just go back inside – she had to see for herself.

Eyes fixed on the huddle of men obscuring her view, she threaded her way through the grim-stained figures, their stale sweat mingling with the smell of burning coal, welded steel and other odours too foreign to identify, until she was standing inside the circle of onlookers. One of the workers, his face deathly pale, lay on the ground, pinned down by several steel girders. Blood seeped from beneath him, staining the dust red and, just visible through his torn trousers, white bone glistened through a ragged gash in his lower leg Margaret clamped her hand over her mouth to stop herself from crying out. Part of her wanted to turn away, to slip back through the mass of bodies and return to the safety of her father’s office, but another, stronger part couldn’t tear her eyes away from the scene unfolding in front of her.

The injured man groaned, sweat trickling down his face and pooling in the hollow of his neck. He looked up at his colleagues with frightened, pain-filled eyes. ‘Help me. For God’s sake.’

His please galvanised the group into action. Several men jostled past her, almost pushing her to the ground. One of them crouched by his side and grabbed the end of the girder. He turned back to the watching men. ‘We need to get the weight off him. Come on, men, put your backs into it.’

‘Stop!’

The shout, loud enough to be heard over the clanging metal, stopped the men in their tracks. Way above her head, so high up she had to crane her neck to see, a shipyard worker was standing on the scaffolding surrounding the ship currently under construction.

Ignoring the ladders connecting the different levels, he ran across a narrow plank, grabbed hold of a steel pole and swung down to the levels below. As he descended at breakneck speed, Margaret held her breath. If he wasn’t careful, he could easily plunge to his death.

But within moments he was on the ground and the crowd parted to let him through.

‘Jimmy,’ he said, addressing the man who had ordered the others to move the girders, ‘we’ll not be able to lift those off him without a crane. Get one over here. Toni, fetch the stretcher. And a cart too.’

The new arrival couldn’t be much older than her, yet to her surprise the men did his bidding without argument. He shoved dark hair out of his eyes and knelt by the injured man’s side. ‘How are you holding up, Hamish?’

‘I’ve been better, Alasdair. I’ve a feeling I’ll no’ be home for my tea.’

A brief smile crossed the younger man’s face as he ran his hands across Hamish’s body. ‘Aye, well. I’ll get someone to let the wife know. In the meantime, let me have a look see.’

Why didn’t they lift the girders off Hamish? He needed to get to a hospital as soon as possible. Why were the workers listening to this man? Where was her father? He should be here, telling them what to do.

‘Alasdair, lad, we have to get him out from under that weight,’ one of the men said. It appeared she wasn’t the only one wondering about the delay.

The dark-haired man shook his head. ‘He’s punctured an artery at the top of his leg. The pressure of the girders is stopping him from bleeding like a pig. If we take them off without putting on a tourniquet first, he’ll not last more than a few minutes.’ He yanked off his belt and wrapped it around the top of the injured man’s thigh. ‘Hold on, Hamish. We’re going to move you in a bit. I just need to do something first.’

He glanced up, his eyes narrowing as he caught sight of her. ‘You. Do you have anything I can use as a bandage?’

Margaret stiffened. He’d spoken to her as if she were a nobody. Anyway, she didn’t have a handkerchief and her dress was stained with soot from the yard. ‘No. I’m sorry.’

‘You’re wearing a petticoat, aren’t you? Tear a strip off and pass it to me.’

As several pairs of eyes swivelled in her direction, she blushed. ‘I can’t do that. Not in front of everyone.’

‘You’re going to have to. There’s nothing else. I need something to staunch the bleeding that’s not covered in muck.’

‘That’s Bannatyne’s lass,’ one of the men said. ‘Best leave her out of it.’

‘I don’t care if she’s the Queen of Sheba. She shouldn’t be here but since she is, she can help.’

Her face burning, Margaret lifted the hem of her dress. She tried to rip a piece off her petticoat but couldn’t make even the tiniest tear. ‘I can’t.’

Alasdair gave an exasperated shake of his head. ‘Someone help her.’ When no one made a move, he rose to his feet. ‘Is the crane here?’

‘Aye, son. And the stretcher.’

‘Right then, secure the poles.’ While the men started tying ropes around the girders, Alasdair stepped towards her. Before she could stop him, he lifted her dress and tore a strip from her petticoat with his teeth.

He looked up at her and a smile flitted across his face. ‘Sorry, Miss Bannatyne.’ He was so close she could see the freckles scattered across his face. Thick, long lashes framed eyes the colour of the sky in winter.

As soon as the ropes were tied, Alasdair knelt once more on the ground beside the injured man. ‘Hamish, I know it hurts like buggery now, but it’s going to hurt even more when we lift the girders. You can yell as loud as you like. No one here will mind.’ He squeezed Hamish’s shoulder. ‘Right, lads. As slowly and as carefully as you can.’

The ropes tightened, then inch by inch, the lengths of steel began to lift. Hamish screamed, his arms thrashing about in agony. Margaret watched in horror as blood spurted over Alasdair’s hands.

‘Hold still, Hamish. For the love of God, just hold still.’

If Hamish could hear Alasdair he was in too much pain to pay heed. He continued to flail his arms, trying to push Alasdair away.

‘Someone hold him down, for God’s sake!’ Alasdair shouted, his bloodied fingers slipping on the straps of his makeshift tourniquet.

One of the men pressed down on Hamish’s shoulders and Alasdair tightened the belt until the blood slowed to a trickle. Satisfied, he moved on to the gash in Hamish’s lower leg, wrapping the strips of Margaret’s torn petticoat tightly over the wound. Within moments his temporary bandage had turned red.

‘Pass me some planks,’ he ordered.

Eager hands thrust several at him. He discarded a few before selecting four of equal length. He placed one on either side of each of Hamish’s legs and tied them quickly with more belts.

‘Let’s get him onto the stretcher, lads,’ he said. ‘Go carefully. His legs are likely broken. The planks will help – but only a little.’

As they moved him, Hamish screamed again, then mercifully fell silent. They laid his unconscious body on the stretcher and set it on the back of the cart.

‘Take him to the Infirmary. As quickly as you can. Avoid the potholes. I’ll let the boss know what’s happened, once I find out what went wrong.’

‘Is he going to be all right?’ Margaret asked, grabbing Alasdair’s arm.

‘You need to leave, Miss,’ he replied curtly. His expression softened. ‘There’s no more any of us can do here. It’s up to the doctors at the hospital now.’ He turned back towards the men. ‘Right. Those who have nothing to say about what happened, back to work.’

As the cart rolled away she looked up. Her father was standing at his office window, staring down. Doing nothing. Just looking.

 

The Shipbuilder’s Daughter is available from Amazon.co.uk and The Book Depository now, and will be available from Amazon.com in October.

Guest Blogs

Guest Blog – Emma Fraser

51QRrTnj+zL._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_One of the pleasures of reading (as Laurie said so eloquently on her blog last week) is that it allows us to experience places we haven’t been to and lives we haven’t led. The same might be said of writing. I have always been intrigued by ‘what if’ scenarios. What would I have done had I been in a particular situation? How would I have coped? What choices might I have been forced to make?

Having said that, in my most recent book The Shipbuilder’s Daughter, I draw on personal experience and childhood memories as well as stories of a time before I was born, passed on to me by my grandfather Peter, my mother Annie and her brother, Lachie as well as great aunts and other relatives.

In The Shipbuilder’s Daughter, my heroine, Margaret, fearing her children will be removed from her, flees to North Uist where she has accepted a post as a doctor. Unable to keep her children with her while she carries out her medical duties, she arranges for a family of a friend to care for them while she works. I’ve kept the name of my grandparents home, Sandbank, describing it as it would have been in the thirties (and still was when I was a child !) and modelled the family the children stay with on my mother’s family, even giving them the same names.

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My grandfather worked in the shipyards of Govan but left to return to the islands when the health of his children, particularly that of his eldest son, Lachie, suffered in the smoggy, damp conditions of Glasgow. My grandfather, Peter Morrison was a remarkable man. Although he received very little formal education he was a well-known Gaelic bard. Many of his stories, songs and tunes have been recorded and collected over the years by the School of Scottish studies and are still sung today. He was also a prolific writer of letters to newspapers, sharing his opinions, of which he had many with the world at large. In the forties – seeking a better life – he took his family, including my mother, to live on the Monach Islands, about as far away from civilisation as you can get, where they lived, just the six of them for four years, surviving on what they could grow themselves, and income from the sale of lobsters or rabbit pelts – but that it a story for another time.

As a child going to Sandbank to stay with my grandparents for the summer holidays was a great adventure. The journey there seemed to take forever involving an interminable car journey; how me and my five siblings and our parents ever squeezed in to one car, I can’t imagine – it almost certainly involved sitting on laps – plus a boat journey of around three hours. Arriving at Lochmaddy (North Uist’s port) we’d be met and another journey over single-track roads would follow. Even then the journey wasn’t over. Sandbank at that time had no road or causeway to it, so if the tide was in, we’d be bundled in to anther small boat and rowed across to the house.

The magic for me didn’t stop there. Because of where Sandbank was built the tide would come in twice a day, high or low depending on the time of year and when it did it would completely change the landscape. I’d go to bed, (my way lit by a small paraffin lamp – there was no electricity at the house only a generator which supplied electricity for a couple of hours ) with my uncle’s boat lying its side on the sands only to wake up to find it bobbing in the sea, the house completely surrounded by water. (The causeway you can just see in the photo is a relatively recent addition.)

Without television or toys, we children would make our own entertainment. There were too many of us to be kept in doors so we’d be chucked out to play regardless of the weather (although the sun always seems to shine in childhood memories ) and we’d roam the croft, sail pretend boats made from reeds in the fissures of the fidean, or share a home- built wooden one (made by my then bachelor uncle Lachie), on the incoming tide. We’d search rabbit holes and feed hens, play in boats that were no longer in use and had been left to rot on the sands, dig for cockles, or hang our legs over the jetty and fish using crab heads for bait.

Many of the activities necessary to survival were shared by the community and often we children would help lift and stack peats or gather the hay – looking forward to when the Byre filled and we could fling ourselves from the hay loft into mounds of sweet-smelling hay. There were also trips in Grandfather’s boat to other, uninhabited islands where lunch would be tea, made with water taken from a loch and boiled by a fire made with heather (to this day I can still smell its particular scent) along with mussels picked from the rocks and bannochs or scones baked that morning by my grandmother and spread with home-made butter.

Not all the memories were pleasant; there was no indoor toilet and no running hot water so baths had to be taken (and shared ) in a zinc tub in front of the Rayburn stove, and my grandfather used to force spoonfuls of seal blubber on us to keep us healthy. A man of his time, he was strict and as a staunch member of the Free Church of Scotland, forbade any activity on Sundays that wasn’t reading the bible or writing letters – excruciating for young children.

In the evenings, people from other parts of the island would visit. Drams of whisky would be poured for the adults, someone would bring out an accordion or fiddle and then the music and dancing would start. In between there would be the story-telling. My parents and all the islanders were gaelic speakers – but not us children – so sadly we couldn’t follow what was being said.

My mother’s family were crofters and lobster fishermen and an abiding memory is of my Uncle Lachie striding across the sands – a sack of crabs slung over his shoulder (crabs weren’t considered to have monetary value back then in the same way lobsters did) and me running to meet him. It was he who told us the story of Baroomba who lived in a nearby loch and wanted nothing more than to grab a child and drag her, or him, in to a watery grave – thinking back it was to keep us away from that particularly deep, steep- sided loch, he who made us bats and boats out of wood and even painted them for us and he, who later, when my brother and I returned to live with him and my grandfather as lively teenagers – intervened in what could only be described as a clash between the generations. But that too is another story and for another time.

So it is with much love and gratitude that I dedicate this blog to the memory of my Uncle Lachie, who died in 2015 at the great age of 91 and is still sorely missed.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. You can read an extract from The Shipbuilder’s Daughter here on Wednesday and order it on Amazon. The ebook version of my second book We Shall Remember is currently, but only for a little longer, heavily discounted and you can buy it on Amazon at its reduced price if you’re quick.

Thanks also to my fellow authors for inviting me to contribute today!

Finally, I have a question for you. Is there somewhere that holds an abiding place in your heart?