Thank you for stopping at my stall and I hope you enjoy your visit.
Published 15th April 2013
Storms Clouds Gathering
Storm clouds are gathering, silently and slowly, too far away to worry about. Or so it seems. But ignoring what is brewing will have dire consequences for the people caught up in the maelstrom.
Shirley Burton is too busy cheating on her husband, having a laugh and looking for fun to alleviate the boredom of her childless marriage. Kathleen Mitchell is too wrapped up in running around after her beautiful family to worry about her health. Anne Simpson has two things on her mind: her forthcoming marriage to Paul Betham, who seems to want to control her, and her career, which she does not want to give up.
Can Shirley really expect to deceive her husband and get away with it? Can Kathleen hold it all together, and is Anne able to have the best of everything?
Storm Clouds Gathering is a story of human emotion, passion and heart-rending grief. Set against the backdrop of the mid-sixties, these three families will be tested to the limit as betrayal, loss and love threaten to change their lives forever.
If the trailer has fired your imagination, here is Chapter One
Shirley Burton and Kathleen Mitchell crossed the cobbled stone yard with the rest of the shift workers. The bitter cold morning made their step hurried and their breath steam as they headed for the Mill, a three-storey building, its bricks blackened with soot, smoke belching out from the massive chimney on its left-hand end. Shivering, Kathleen glanced at the thin layer of ice floating on top of the millpond that ran the length of the yard. So far as she could see, Spring was not so much around the corner as out of sight.
‘Morning ladies,’ the Overlooker called, leaning on the jamb of the spinning shed door, a cigarette stuck to his lips, his hands stuffed in the pockets of his brown coat. Tall, dark and ruggedly handsome, Billy Smith at twenty-eight had still not succumbed to marriage. His reputation for enjoying the ladies was well known around the millworkers. Despite the dangling cigarette he managed a cheeky smile as he watched the women march towards the clocking-in shed, their chattering voices filling the yard and creating a merry atmosphere in the grey, frosty surroundings. Raising his head and pursing his lips Billy exhaled a mouthful of smoke letting it plume into the frigid air. Nipping the end of his cigarette he dropped the tab end into the breast pocket of his coat, frowning as he caught sight of the women’s curlers. Thankfully, most were concealed by headscarves, but two always seemed to peep out at the front. Smirking, he called out, ‘Must be Friday I see,’ and gave a loud wolf-whistle, rubbing his nicotine-stained fingers together to remove bits of tobacco.
‘Not much gets past you Billy boy, does it?’ Shirley Burton called back and at the same time patted her headscarf where curlers were neatly rolled in her hair. ‘If I’m lucky tonight, it just might be the last time you’ll have a chance to squint at me dressed to kill,’ she scoffed, then nudging, Kathleen, ‘he’s a cheeky bugger and a dirty one too.’
‘Well you should know,’ Kathleen remarked sourly. She knew Shirley and Billy had been having an affair for the last three months.
Shirley snorted and linking her arm with Kathleen’s, walked into the small and draughty lean-to clocking-in shed.
Rigid with disapproval Kathleen reached for the “Out Rack”, pulled out her card and dipped it into the heavy grey machine, listening for the deep clunking sound as it stamped the time. ‘I take it you’re coming with us tonight then?’ She retrieved her card and stepped forward to push it into the “In Rack”. Turning back she looked to see how many cards were left in the “Out Rack” and scanned the names, satisfied she did not have to clock-in one of her mates. ‘So are you? You’ve not answered my question.’
Shirley sidled towards her. ‘Give over Kath. You know the score, but I’ll try and stop by before the game begins, you know me.’
‘That’s the point Shirley, I do know you and believe you me you are playing a very dangerous game.’
‘Just cover for me and no one will be any the wiser. No one’s going to get hurt.’
Kathleen shook her head, her tone registering her disapproval. ‘Well don’t come running to me when it all gets nasty and your Jimmy throws you out.’
‘I’m just having a bit of fun, Kathleen.’ Stepping back to the entrance, Shirley gave a little wave to Billy Smith, who was still propped against the door.
‘What are you playing at?’ Kathleen hissed, her voice thick with concern as they nudged their way through to the cloakroom. ‘You know as well as I do there’s no good in that Billy, he’s only interested in one thing and he’ll hurt you in the end.’ Tucking a strand of loose hair under the hairnet hidden beneath her turban, Kathleen saw a sly smile cross Shirley’s face and wondered what had happened to her friend that she was behaving like a common trollop. As fond of Shirley as she was – they went back a long way – this carry on with the Overlooker was ridiculous. Shirley and Jimmy had problems, but she had not expected her friend to turn to someone like the lecherous Billy Smith, who was neither married nor interested in anything more than getting his leg over, ruining other people’s relationships in the process.
Shrugging out of her coat, Shirley answered, ‘Having some fun Kathleen, and it’s time you thought about it too. That Joe of yours is a good man, but when did he last take you out and make you feel special? Like most women of our age, I bet you’ll not even be able to remember.’
Kathleen winced, but she had no intention of having a row with Shirley so did not retaliate. Instead she repeated, ‘Like I said, he’ll hurt you. And what about Jimmy? As for me, I’ve my Joe and my kids and I’m happy enough with my lot.’
‘Billy Smith won’t hurt me, it’ll more likely be the other way round, but before I’m past me prime I’m going to have a bit of fun. Anyway, these days Jimmy’s only interested in his tea being on the table when he gets home and a bit of how’s yer father on a Saturday night. I don’t care what anyone says, we’re all too young to be sitting in front of the fire every night smoking a fag and wishing. I’m thirty-two not bloody sixty-two. I’ve done with years of wishing. Now I’m doing.’
Shaking her head, Kathleen knew better than to say any more. If Shirley wanted to play with fire by having a fling with Billy Smith then why should she care? She had enough of her own troubles. Leaving the cloakroom, she said ‘Come on Shirley, the wool won’t spin itself, unfortunately.’
Stepping through the heavy, green sliding door, the noise of the clattering machinery assailed their ears. The ever-present mist of fluff hung in the air and Kathleen sneezed as it tickled her nose, she could already feel the fine fibres lodging in her throat. Thank God she only worked the morning shift. Tightening the belt on her pinnie she pulled her sleeves down so her cardigan covered as much as possible of her arms. The fluff irritated her skin. Tapping Shirley on the shoulder, she mouthed, ‘I’ll see you later,’ and not waiting for a response hurried along the walkway towards her two looms, one on top of the other.
Stepping up to them, Kathleen checked that all the woollen threads ran smoothly and there was no slack or breaks in the yarn. She looked after ninety bobbins, forty-five on each loom. It took not only concentration to make sure the lines ran smoothly, but deftness in her fingers if a line broke. When this happened she tried not to panic, stopping the spinning bobbin where the thread had broken and at the same time speedily tying a knot to rejoin the wool. She knew that when a break occurred time was of the essence to get the bobbin spinning again. The last thing she wanted was to get her loom in a tangle, because it meant the Overlooker having to sort it out. This wasn’t too bad if it was the likes of Billy Smith. She didn’t like him much, but he was fair at sorting out any mess that happened when she couldn’t make a repair fast enough herself. One or two of the other Overlookers were less easy going than Billy and once too often she had felt the sting of their barbed tongues.
Trying not to dwell on the irritating side of her job, Kathleen focussed her attention on scanning the bobbins, thankful it was Friday.
Storm Clouds Gathering is available in Kindle (paperback available summer 2013)
Amazon co uk
Contemporaty Novelists' Book Fair