It’s a pleasure to welcome you all on the final day of the blog blitz for The Photograph by Debbie Rix! My thanks to Kim Nash for the opportunity to join and for providing the extract I’ll be sharing with you all today. First, here is what The Photograph is all about.
Author : Debbie Rix
Title : The Photograph
Pages : n/a
Publisher : Bookouture
Publication date : June 27, 2018
Italy, 1958: Rachael is a young widow with a small child. After a lifetime of running for survival, of not knowing who to trust and where to call home, she finds herself in a place of safety. On a sun-drenched Italian island for one carefree summer the troubles of her past fade away and she falls in love. But will Rachael’s new-found happiness bring her further heartache?
England, 2017: Sophie has a handsome husband, a gorgeous house in the English countryside and a successful career as an anthropologist. But the one thing she longs for is a baby of her own. As she struggles to conceive, cracks begin to appear in her marriage. So Sophie throws herself into her work and tries to seek comfort in childhood memories of her beloved grandmother Rachael.
One afternoon, Sophie finds a forgotten letter and an exquisite silk bracelet hidden in Rachael’s old writing desk. Intrigued, she begins to unravel the extraordinary story of her grandmother’s past – and a secret that has the power to change everything…
The crowds in the town swirled and moved and, for a moment, a path opened up between her and Tommaso. He looked up momentarily from his card hand. There was a flash of recognition as he caught sight of her. He stood up, saying something to his friend. She smiled fleetingly at him, and then was gone. Back into her car, reversing down the little road and onto the ring road around the town, heading for the causeway back to Cagliari, onto the ferry to Rome, then back to London – and to everything that was most dear.
Herne Hill, London
Sophie closed the door to the little box room as quietly as possible, anxious not to alert her husband, Hamish, who was sleeping in their bedroom across the landing. The box room was filled with dusty packing cases from their last house move five years earlier, and it aggravated her. She wanted the room cleared out, but Hamish refused to help. This niggling disagreement had been going on for several months and was part of a much bigger struggle, a complex combination of simmering tension that festered between husband and wife.
Sophie went downstairs to the kitchen, put the kettle on the range and pottered about, clearing up from the night before. Friends had come for dinner and the sink was still filled with the roasting pans that had been left soaking overnight. They’d had a nice enough evening – sharing jokes, discussing politics and work gossip – but lurking beneath the surface were layers of unspoken resentments between Sophie and Hamish that intermittently bubbled to the surface.
Later in the evening, Sophie had filled the sink with hot water and began to wash up the serving dishes. Hamish, fuzzy with red wine and brandy, had stood behind her, his arms wrapped round her waist, nuzzling her neck.
‘Don’t,’ she’d said. ‘Help me with this.’
Hamish, hurt at this rejection, had sloped off to bed.
When Sophie had finally followed him upstairs, they’d argued, before climbing into opposite sides of the bed, both bristling with indignation.
As she washed and dried the pans the following morning, putting them away in the bottom of the dresser, Sophie thought about Hamish; about the way his back had been turned away from her the night before. She still felt a glimmer of resentment at his refusal to help, but nevertheless made two cups of tea – a small conciliatory gesture – and took them upstairs. Hamish was sitting up in bed checking emails on his phone when she came in.
‘Morning,’ he said. ‘I’m sorry about last night. I should have been more helpful.’
‘Yes… well. The washing-up’s all done now.’ She put his mug of tea on the bedside table.
‘Thanks…’ He looked up at her expectantly from beneath his sandy lashes. ‘I was just tired,’ he explained.
She studied him for a moment with her dark grey-green eyes before wandering over to the chest of drawers and picking up her hairbrush.
‘But that’s no excuse, is it?’ He paused, waiting for her to reply but she seemed intent on vigorously brushing her long dark hair.
‘I’m just worried about applying for the new job,’ he continued, by way of explanation. ‘You know how important it is to me.’
‘I do understand, Hamish,’ she said, impassively, turning to look at him, ‘but I really can’t talk about that now. I’ve got to get off to work.’
‘Can we talk later then?’ He sipped his tea, admiring the way her loose silk kimono slipped off her shoulder; her dark hair trailing in gleaming tresses down her back. ‘Sophie…?’
She didn’t reply, but twisted her hair into an instant chignon that she fixed, expertly, with a pair of combs, and selected a black skirt from her wardrobe.
‘Why don’t you come back to bed?’ he asked.
‘No, I can’t this morning, sorry,’ she said from the other side of the room, ‘I’ve got a meeting with my PhD supervisor this morning – I’ve really got to get going.’
Dressed in the black skirt and a pale blue sweater, she shoved her notes into her bag, leant over the bed and kissed him, fleetingly, on the cheek – the kiss you give a distant relative, not the kiss of a wife for her husband.
‘Shouldn’t you be off too?’ she asked, checking her reflection in the mirror.
‘I’ve got a slightly later start,’ he said.
‘Time to sort the box room out, then,’ she cajoled, slinging her bag over her shoulder.
‘Not that again? Can’t you just leave it?’
‘Fine, fine…’ she answered, impatiently, picking up her leather jacket from the chair. ‘See you later.’
Sophie was thirty-three, and had been married to Hamish for eight years. They met at a friend’s wedding and it had been love at first sight – at least that’s how they both remembered it, how they described it to new friends and acquaintances. Sophie was an anthropologist, studying for a PhD at London University, exploring various aspects of Roman burial. Hamish was a registrar at King’s College Hospital in south London. They lived in a small terraced house in Herne Hill, South London. Sophie had been brought up in Hampstead and had never really got used to living south of the river. But it was convenient for Hamish’s job, and as his hours were more demanding than hers, with weekends on call and frequent late nights, they moved there to suit him.
After nearly four years in the same job, Hamish was on the lookout for a consultant’s post. As they prepared dinner for their guests the night before, he and Sophie had squabbled about a job that had recently been advertised in Cheltenham. Hamish was keen to apply, but Sophie was concerned about moving so far out of London.
‘How will I complete my PhD from Cheltenham,’ she had asked him, as they waited for their guests to arrive. ‘I have to be in London at least two or three times a week. I have to meet with my supervisor, I have lectures to give – students who need me. Have you thought about that?’
‘Honestly? No,’ he’d replied. ‘But this is not about you, Sophie; it’s about me and our future…’
As she walked down the road towards the station, she smarted with renewed irritation about his assumption that she would just abandon her PhD to suit him. She was annoyed too about the box room. He simply refused to help her clear it out. Why had it become such a battleground? It wasn’t that the room really needed clearing. There was no pressing deadline, like a visiting relative, or urgent need for a spare room. But Sophie wanted it cleared; she wanted it to be prepared – cleaned and decorated. She wanted it to be waiting for a time that she hoped would be coming soon, if she could only get pregnant…
If she could just have a baby, she might be more willing to abandon her PhD, move to Gloucestershire and be a consultant’s wife. In many ways, it was exactly what she wanted. But the sheer wretchedness of her inability to conceive made her stubborn. The box room, filled with her husband’s notes from his student days and the discarded detritus from their previous lives, was a physical manifestation of their impasse. She wanted a baby; her body refused to cooperate. She wanted the room empty for the baby; her husband refused to cooperate. He wanted to move out of London; she refused to cooperate.
As Sophie stood on the platform at Herne Hill station, a cool breeze blew in across the tracks. The station was dirty and, she had to admit, rather depressing. When her train came in, it was packed as usual, and she stood all the way to London, wedged between a man with appalling body odour and a young woman who spoke loudly into her mobile phone for the entire journey. At Blackfriars station, she took the tube to Tottenham Court Road. From there she walked the final leg of the journey to the British Museum, where one of her supervisors was based. She loved the route – the buildings in that part of London were architecturally all of a piece. Nearing the museum itself, walking past the tourists gathering in eager gaggles, she always got a rush of excitement as she crossed the threshold and entered the vast atrium. This stunning centre of learning – of research, of knowledge – was her playground. She believed, on days like today, that she had the best job in the world.
She took the lift to the first floor where the anthropological library and research centre was based. With ten minutes to spare before her meeting with her supervisor, she wandered into a gallery exhibiting Roman and Greek vessels – intricately designed pots and bowls made of verdigris bronze, and pottery painted with decorative scenes. The idea that something so delicate could survive intact for over two thousand years never failed to impress Sophie. A particular favourite was the Portland Vase. Made early in the first century, this Roman hand-blown dark glass vase was decorated in exquisite detail with a white cameo design of languorous men and women, relaxing by the sea. Discovered in Italy in the seventeenth century, it had been transported from Naples to England, where the Duke of Portland had lent it to Josiah Wedgewood, who created an entire industry based on its stunning designs.
The vase was thought to have been a wedding gift, and as such was a remarkable example of first century workmanship. Any items from this period were of interest to Sophie – not just because they were beautiful but also from a professional perspective. The title of her PhD was The Rituals and rites associated with burial sites of Ancient Rome, with a particular focus on Pagan, Jewish and Christian traditions in 1st and 2nd century AD. It was a subject that had long interested her. Her great-grandfather, George Laszlo, had been an expert on classical archaeology and had also worked at London University. Sophie was proud of this link with her august antecedent. When she walked into the college buildings, she often thought of her great-grandfather striding up the same steps fifty years earlier. After studying for an MA, she too had taught at the university, and two or three times a year took groups of students to work on archaeological digs around the Mediterranean. Her work was challenging and fulfilling, but time spent away from home for long periods put inevitable stresses on her marriage and disrupted her attempts at getting pregnant. To be abroad on a dig at the precise moment she was ovulating was frustrating to say the least. And, at first, that was how she reconciled her inability to conceive.
As she sat outside her supervisor’s office, she recalled the first time she and Hamish had discussed starting a family. They had just moved into the house in Herne Hill; it was in a state of disrepair and they spent every weekend stripping old woodchip from the walls.
‘Do you want children, Hamish?’ she’d asked, as she coated the wallpaper with water.
‘What… now?’ he had asked, laughing, holding up his hands covered in glue and bits of paper.
‘No… not now,’ she’d laughed, ‘but, you know… some time.’
‘Sure – I’d love kids. But it’s your call, Sophie. Whatever you want really.’
This was not the ringing endorsement she had hoped for. When she had imagined this moment, she had fantasised that he would sweep her up in his arms and declare himself excited at the prospect of fatherhood – like Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life. Sophie loved the film, especially the scene when Mary tells George she is pregnant. Stewart’s face goes through the full gamut of emotions, from disbelief, to joy and excitement. There was no doubting George’s elation at the prospect of becoming a father. By contrast, Hamish had been about as far from ‘elated’ as it was possible to be. On reflection, it was the perfect response and she realised that he was probably anxious not to put too much pressure on her. He was telling her that whatever happened, he would be happy. If they had a child, then great; if not, then that would be fine too. But, of course, what it meant was that she carried the burden – the desire for a child, the desperation, as each period came and went with lunar regularity – totally alone.
If this extract has left you wanting more, why not go ahead and grab yourself a copy!
The Photograph is available to buy!
Debbie spends a lot of time in Italy and the setting of the novels reflects her knowledge and passion for the country. She lives in the Kent countryside with her journalist husband, children, sheep, chickens and cats. When not writing, she is usually to be found in the vegetable garden. She began her career with the BBC- initially as the news reader on Breakfast Time, thereafter appearing as a presenter and reporter on a variety of factual and light entertainment television series. She had a spell as an Agony Aunt, and has also written about gardens and gardening – one of her private passions.