Everyone knows I love to match a book to a reader. ‘Rose’s Choice’ is a heart-wrenching saga set in a small Northumbrian mining community during World War 2. Events unfold from Rose’s point of view and the novel starts in 1944 when she is ten. Here is an extract to see if it’s for you.
Ten-year-old Rose Kelly could hardly remember the time when there wasn’t a blackout at night and you could buy as many sweets as you wanted. The older lads and lasses talked about those days and how they would be back after Hitler was sent packing. Until that day, carrying a gas mask and a trip to their Anderson shelter in the middle of the night whenever they heard the siren, Wailing Willie, was part of life.
They might have to be careful with their sweets but they all ate well in Linwood colliery rows because of the allotments that grew all manner of fruit and veg. A strip of land was allotted to each house and the miners used their plot for growing food, keeping chickens and building sheds from whatever scraps of material they could find. After hours underground, pitmen liked outdoor hobbies like growing prize leeks or racing whippets and pigeons. Rose’s dad used his shed for painting and storing his canvases.
Even though they had the allotments, a lot of a miner’s pay went on food because he did a job that needed fuel in the belly and he dreaded being laid off sick. Miners were allowed a few extra rations because of their work but it all had to be paid for. Her mam was a really good cook of stews and pies and soups but Rose’s favourite meal of the week wasn’t any of those. Her favourite was Friday’s dinner when she could have either her one rationed egg, fried, with chips and a slice of bread, or have some battered fish and chips from Charlie’s.
Folk said her mam and dad made a handsome couple and Rose had to agree. Dad was as fair as her mam was dark. Her mam was the bonniest of all the women in the colliery rows, as pretty as that Vivien Leigh in the films. She had chocolate coloured curly hair that she tied up in a scarf when she was working, kind brown eyes and a big smile showing white teeth. Rose had her mam’s brown hair and her dad’s green eyes and, no matter how hard her mam tried, she put everything in her left hand like Dad too. Cack-handedness her mam called it.
Every weekend saw her dad sketching or painting after he’d done the gardening jobs and her mam making do and mending so much that she deserved a medal from Mr Churchill. Old clothes didn’t go on a scrap pile to make proggy mats for the floor as often. Clothes were unpicked to see if they could be altered or made into something new for Rose, her younger twin brothers or another bairn in the row. Their mam was very handy with a needle and careful with clothing coupons.
Their neighbours, the Elliots, had given up sharing the Anderson shelter with them. It now had a shelf and blanket arrangement that her dad called a bunk at the end of it for her and the twins, Stanley and David, to sleep on. Benches ran along either side and a shelf under the bunk held jars of water, some old crockery and an oil lamp, candles and matches. Their oldest proggy mat was on the floor and they had put a couple of blankets in there. Her dad and Mr Elliot’s son, Larry, had sealed the panels well with that stinky hot stuff before covering it with soil, and the shelter hadn’t leaked so it was dry but, goodness, it could get cold down there.
Mr Elliot thought the cold and being underground reminded his chest of the pit and made it worse. ‘I don’t mind dying in my own bed,’ he claimed. ‘When your time’s up then it’s up.’ Mary wouldn’t leave him so she stayed in the house too.
‘Do you think they’re daft Mam?’ Rose couldn’t understand the Elliots ignoring the siren.
‘I wouldn’t make their choice but our neighbours have lived through a lot. They lost two boys in the first war.’
To Rose, that was all the more reason to stay safe. ‘What about Larry? He’s lost two older brothers and might end up with no mam or dad?’ she asked.
‘You’re getting to be a real chip off the old block,’ Mam answered. ‘Let me get back to peeling these taties.’
‘What does that mean, Mam? What old block?’
‘It means you ask too many questions, just like your father.’
Rose went out to play with her best friend, Lottie. She had a hundred questions in her head. Maybe her dad did too. It was better if she didn’t ask too many at once because grown-ups didn’t answer them carefully when she asked too many. Like her mam, just now.
She should be like her mam who eked out the meat ration with lots of veg. She would eke out her questions a few at time and keep the tricky ones for Miss Wakenshaw, her favourite teacher, or Dad.
Rose loved school and she always wanted to read but often she had to put her book down and help out by keeping an eye on her brothers or running errands. She didn’t mind because it seemed to her that Mam never ever stopped working.
On Mondays, Mam helped Mary-from-next-door with her week’s washing because Mary was nursing Mr Elliot who was proper poorly with his lungs. Mary had no daughters so Rose’s mam stepped in. Her daughter-in-law, who was married to Larry, hardly came by even though she just lived in Burnside, the next village. She always sent Larry and the bairns over for Sunday tea and had a nice rest herself. When she listened in to their crack, Rose could tell her mam and Mary hadn’t much time for Larry’s wife, Kate.
That’s why it seemed so strange when Kate and the two children burst into Mary’s kitchen one Tuesday afternoon.
ROSE’S CHOICE – a heart- wrenching wartime saga of family, live and secrets.
Rationing, bombing, disease and pit disasters are part of Rose Kelly’s Workd War 2 childhood. When the spirited coalminer’s daughter discovers a family secret , she makes a choice that overshadows her teenage years. Rose tried to make the most of post war opportunities but family tragedy pulls her back to the rows She relinquishes a bright future for domestic duties because her family comes first. Will family ties get in the way of her dreams?
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