Tuesday 26 April 2022

Blackthorn Winter by Jill Tresder BLOG TOUR #BlackthornWinter @JIll_Treseder @RandomTTours @SilverWoodBooks #BookExtract

It's 1845. Eight-year old James Thorne is growing up in the New Forest. His life takes him far from his roots - first to the workhouse, next as a seaman in the Royal Navy, then to the respectable confines of urban life in 19th century Portsmouth. But he never relinquishes his joy in the Forest and the yearning for the presence of trees in his life.

This family saga traces James's path from boy to grandfather - a story of light and shade, love and loss. For some, blackthorn is an emblem of bad luck. And in a 'blackthorn winter', spring blossom is blighted by snow and ice. But for others - especially his childhood sweetheart, Kitty - the white owers bursting from black branches are a symbol of hope... 

Blackthorn Winter by Jill Treseder was published on 16 March 2022 by Silverwood Books. As part of this #RandomThingsTours Blog Tour, I am delighted to share an extract from the book with you today. 

Extract from Blackthorn Winter by Jill Treseder 

Granma’s been staring into the fire all evening. She does that sometimes. As if she can see things in there we can’t. Sometimes they are things that happened long ago because she’ll look up and start talking about Grandpa, things that make no sense to us because we don’t remember Grandpa. Usually it’s a funny thing that happened and she’ll sit there rocking and smiling to herself. Other times her lips are tight and she can’t stop from frowning and she bends forward. That’s when she has the pains and she’s concentrating on the flames to stop herself from crying out and we know not to say owt.
The best times are when she talks about our ma and pa. Harriet has some memories, but they died when I was too small to remember much, so we can’t hear enough about them. Pa first saw Ma at the fairground.
‘She was the lady the knife-thrower throws the knives at,’ says Granma. ‘Your pa couldn’t take his eyes off of her.’
‘But she wasn’t always doing that, was she?’ I ask because I like to hear about her dancing on the elephant.
‘No,’ says Harriet. ‘She used to ride a chestnut horse the same colour as her.’
‘Don’t interrupt,’ says Bertie. ‘I wants to hear about the knives.’
‘You two are talking about when she was in the circus. In London. But that’s another story. Another day. Now where was I?’ says Granma. ‘Oh, yes. It was love at first sight for your pa. He’d seen darkies before, but not a woman. He’d never see anyone so beautiful. He was worried the knife-thrower might make a mistake.’
‘How close did he throw the knives, Granma?’
‘Right up close. So when he’d finished throwing, she would step away and her shape was outlined in knives on the board.’
‘Even the shape of her head?’ I’m watching the pictures in the grooves and knots of the cupboard door beside the hearth. They come and go in the firelight. Mostly, there’s an old man with a hooked nose.
Granma nods and shifts Lizzie on her lap.
‘Did he ever make a mistake?’
‘Not with the knives. The knife-thrower – his name was Raoul – made a different kind of mistake. His mistake was to tell your mother she had to marry him.’
‘What? The knife-thrower said that?’ I ask. Now the old man in the door twirls around and turns into a young girl in long skirts. Just like Ma.
‘Yes, indeed. By that time they were down Bartlett’s field where they stayed for the winter months. Sometimes your father would go and see your mother and talk to her.’
‘Did she like Pa better than the knife-thrower?’
‘What do you think? Anyway, one day your father finds her sitting on the fence in tears. Raoul had beaten her and told her that if she didn’t marry him she would have to leave the fair. She had nowhere to go.’
‘And what did Pa say?’
‘He said, marry me instead.’
Bertie claps his hands and Lizzie stirs, one eye opening and closing again.
‘Did she say yes?’ asks Bertie.
‘Of course she said yes,’ says Harriet, who’s sewing and pretending not to listen.
‘She did say yes. But then she made a mistake. She went back to her tent to fetch her things. When you don’t have much in the world you don’t want to lose what you have.’
‘What happened, Granma?’
‘Raoul was waiting for her and when she said she wouldn’t be his wife and she was leaving, he grabbed hold of her and started dragging her away. Then your pa stepped up in front of him, and he said—‘
‘I’m going to marry her!’ interrupts Harriet.
‘That’s right. And Raoul said your pa would have to fight him for her. And your pa punched him straight in the face—‘
‘And laid him out cold!’ Harriet and I chorus.
It’s a story we never tire of hearing.
I like watching Granma’s face in the firelight – but not when she’s having pains. She has big dark eyes and they’ve stayed soft. Some old people’s eyes go hard so you know they’re ready to give you a hiding before you’ve opened your mouth. Charlie Pope’s grandmother’s like that and all us nippers keep well out of her way. Granma’s got a wide mouth, as if she’d always rather laugh than scold. When she does scold she’s really fierce and her eyes go fiery. You know she really means it.

One evening she gazes into the fire a very long time and when she looks up she doesn’t talk about Grandpa.
She says, ‘When I’m not here any more, you’ll be good to each other, won’t you? Just be good boys and do what Harriet tells you. And help her with Lizzie. And Harriet, you listen to Missus Pope. She’ll know what to do.’
‘Where you goin’ Granma? Can’t we come with you?’ Bertie jumps up and puts his arms round her neck.
‘I’m not going anywhere yet. But I won’t last forever.’

Jill Treseder was born in Hampshire and lived all her childhood in sight of the sea on the Solent and
in Devon, Cornwall and West Wales. 

She now lives with her husband in Devon overlooking the River Dart.

After graduating from Bristol with a degree in German, Jill followed careers in social work, management development and social research, obtaining a PhD from the School of Management at the University of Bath along the way. 

Since 2006 she has focused on writing fiction.

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