Sneak read of The Talk of Pram Town

The Talk of Pram Town is published TOMORROW! (does merry dance) But in case you wanted to quality check contents / spy / be generally a bit beaky (who doesn’t?) then here, for your delight, is the prologue. And if that whets your appetite, you can then click on this link and watch me read the next chapter (and marvel at my lockdown hair).

Connie

London, April 1970

She could have used the last of the money to get rid of it. Michelle had said her cousin knew a bloke who knew a woman in Stepney who’d do the deed if she didn’t want to deal with doctors. She didn’t. But she didn’t want to see a woman in a back street in Stepney either it turned out, despite all her Nell Dunn dreams. And, besides, it was too late now.

         ‘You sure you don’t want anyone, love?’ The midwife, thick-set and florid, offers her a damp flannel. ‘Your mum? Everyone needs their mum.’

         Connie, pale and sweating, shakes her head to both. ‘Not me. Jesus Christ.’ She groans as another contraction grips her, quick and vicious.

         ‘Nearly there, love.’

         Nearly there. She hears him grunt the words into the wet shell of her ear. ‘Nearly there,’ he tells her, as if he knows she’s hoping. She sees him too. Sees the whites of his eyes tinged livery. Sees the pores of his nose where a single hair pokes through. Sees his thing, fattened and angry and jabbing at her. Worse, she can smell him sometimes. His too-close breath bitter with coffee and sickly with Polo mints. His still-buttoned shirt Omo-white and rotary-line fresh. How quickly the thrill of being wanted had faded. How had she ever thought him handsome? A catch?

         The rest of it is blurred, faded at the edges by time and distance and sheer determination. Did she say ‘No’? Maybe not. And if she said ‘stop’ it was weak, or in her head. And she’d flirted with him, hadn’t she? Led him on like her mother said she always did, so it was no more than her just deserts.

         This was no more than her just deserts.

         ‘Bloody fuck!’

         The midwife doesn’t flinch – heard it all before, perhaps. But the mother in her head tuts and ticks her off. ‘And you can bugger off as well,’ she thinks.

         And yet, fifteen minutes later, as the baby crowns, threatens to stretch and snap her wide open, it’s her mother she calls for, red-eyed and desperate.

A year to the day, broke and alone, she goes home. Baby in a borrowed pushchair, all her world in two carpet bags, back to Pram Town she slips only to find the car gone, the curtains drawn, the front-door double locked.

         They’ve actually bloody gone away! To the lakes, she presumes. Same as every year. As if nothing has happened. As if she – they – don’t even exist.

         Perhaps they don’t. Not like she’s been in touch. And their names don’t even match now. The Earnshaw chopped off and replaced with Holiday; half of Constance rubbed out and tweaked for effect. She’s a different person now. Not that girl – their girl – anymore.

         The baby gurgles, the chips of mirror in Connie’s skirt twinkling in a bright slice of sunlight.

         She smiles. ‘Well bugger them, Sadie,’ she says aloud. ‘Or bugger her, anyway.’ And she pushes the buggy down the side return, roots around under a stone Cherubim, and lets them in with her father’s secret spare key.

         She doesn’t take much: her diary, two dresses, five pounds from the Pinnacle Biscuits tin in her father’s study. Just enough to get them to their next stop, wherever that might be. Wherever there’s a cheap bed and bar work and an open mic. She eats two digestives, takes a belligerent piss in the downstairs lavatory and deliberately omits to flush. Then, baby on board, she’s out and down the road before anyone can catch them. Before her parents get back from their tedious road trip and ask what she’s done. Before Martha gets back from tedious school and asks where she’s been. Before Mr Collins gets back from tedious work or tedious choir and asks why she did it and where the devil is his money?

         ‘Thief,’ he barks after her for that night in sixty-nine.

         ‘Thief,’ her mother shrieks for today and for ever.

         But, fingers in her ears, ‘Tralalala, I can’t hear you,’ she replies, and she’s off like a rocket, little Connie Holiday, sweet Connie Holiday, the singing gymslip mum.

The bus is almost empty, a fact she cannot fathom. Why anyone would stay in Harlow when London is on the doorstep? A vast dance floor waiting to be waltzed through. A diamond, waiting to be plucked. She picks up the baby, grizzling for milk now, pulls up her top, not bothering to wonder if the two other passengers might glimpse and glower and grumble. It’s only skin after all. Nothing to be ashamed of, whatever she’s been told.

         Sadie sucks, satisfied, her eyes wide, and green enough for cricket. Despite them, Connie can’t see him in her at all, thank God. There’s her father’s freckles, her mother’s moue of irritation, and her own hair, a surly brunette, though hers is dyed now, platinum as sand, only the roots revealing her inheritance. It was Michelle’s idea, and bathroom handiwork. ‘You can’t be a star if you don’t stand out,’ she’d said.

         Turns out it takes more than a bottle of bleach to turn Connie Holiday into Marilyn Monroe or Marianne Faithful. But she won’t be deterred. She is dogged, if not really qualified. Bloody-minded, her father would say. And she daren’t think what words her mother might come up with. But so what if she never got her A levels? So what if she never even finished school? It’s not like she’s stupid. She could have shone if they’d let her try. If she could have been bothered. But she didn’t need to. She bets Mick Jagger never passed a single exam, after all. Or if he did it would have been art. She’ll be fine, she tells herself. More than. Has to be. Because it’s not like she can ask Sadie’s father for anything. Not like she wants to.

         She kisses the sweet fust of the baby’s head. ’This time next year, I’ll be on top of the world,’ she promises.

         ‘I’ll be a star, Sadie. You’ll see. A star.’

Like what you see? You can buy the book here.

And come to the online launch party and get a signed copy here.

About Joanna Nadin

A former broadcast journalist and special adviser to the prime minister, since leaving politics I’ve written more than 80 books for children and adults, as well as speeches for politicians, and articles for newspapers and magazines like The Guardian, Red and The Amorist. I also lecture in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, and hold a doctorate in young adult literature. I’m a winner of the Fantastic Book Award and the Surrey Book Award, and have been shortlisted for the Roald Dahl Funny Prize, the Booktrust Best Book award and Queen of Teen among others, and twice nominated for the Carnegie Medal, for Everybody Hurts, and for Joe All Alone, which is now a BAFTA-winning and Emmy-nominated BBC TV series. I've also worked with Sir Chris Hoy on the Flying Fergus series and ghost-written Angry Birds under another name. I like London, New York, Essex, tea, cake, Marmite, mint imperials, prom dresses, pubs, that bit in the West Wing where Donna tells Josh she wouldn’t stop for a red light if he was in an accident, junk shops, crisps, Cornwall, St Custard’s, Portuguese custard tarts, political geeks, pin-up swimsuits, the Regency, high heels, horses, old songs, my Grandma’s fur coat, vinyl, liner notes, the smell of old books, the feel of a velveteen monkey, Guinness, quiffs, putting my hand in a bin of chicken feed, the 1950s, burlesque, automata, fiddles, flaneuring, gigs in fields on warm summer nights, Bath, the bath.
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