Secrets in the Dark - Ceril Campbell | Book Extract

 It's my stop on the Secrets in the Dark blog tour today and I'm excited to share an extract with you. I'm going to be reading this title in August and I can't wait as the blurb had me really intrigued. If you enjoy the extract, you can buy a copy here! It's available on ebook, as an audiobook as well as in paperback.  Secrets in the Dark - Ceril Campbell | Book Extract

Chapter 1


London, 1967–1970

Phoebe hated being thirteen. It was so hard to fit in with the girls at school, particularly with her bossy mother wielding her own agenda on how her only daughter should behave and dress. ‘Dahling,’ her mother began, at least fifteen times a day.

Phoebe knew she wasn’t important enough to her mother’s ego- centric life to actually be called by her own name. It was always ‘dahling’ her father was ‘dahling’ too.

‘Dahling, it’s so important to always be properly turned out. People will make assumptions about you, based on what you wear. You wouldn’t want them getting the wrong idea, would you?’

What wrong idea might that be? Phoebe wondered. But she didn’t stop her mother to ask, instead letting her carry on with- out drawing breath. It was better that way, as she never needed or wanted a reply.

‘You never know who you might run into. Remember that story I told you of how your father and I first met, when I was a young fashion model back in the fifties?’

How could Phoebe ever forget? It was a story her mother liked to tell at every opportunity.

‘As the Hon. Mrs Michael Clarke it’s so important to keep up appearances. You know, I’m always in the society pages – Tatler’s Jennifer’s Diary, the Daily Express’s William Hickey. You will be too, when you’re older, dahling. People will judge you.’

The cool girls in her year group already had, Phoebe thought despondently. They’d already formed a judgement about her, and it wasn’t a positive one. She dreaded the start of each new term, when classroom desk positions needed to be bagsied. She always wondered where she’d end up, as the cool girl group shotgunned the back rows. She didn’t want to always be in the front row – the goody-two-shoes girl, lumped together with the geeks and the swots.

She stared at herself in her bedroom mirror. Curly red hair and a freckly round face stared back at her. It seemed to lack potential. How could she make herself popular and interesting? If only she could have just one proper friend at school. As an only child, she was used to her own company at home, but at school she knew it just made her seem like a weirdo. Maybe if she transformed the way she wore her pristine new, slightly-too- big school uniform, she could win some new friends. She rolled the waistband of her grey pleated school skirt over and over, until it no longer ended at her knees but sat around mid-thigh. She then clinched the snake clasp of the grey elasticated purse belt over the rolls of skirt fabric at her waist. She stared at her reflection again. It was definitely an improvement.

She’d always felt ‘less than’. Not good enough, lacking. Maybe it was because she had such a perfect-looking mother. When she’d been really young, she could remember standing in her mother’s dressing room. It was like a special, magical Aladdin’s-cave world, smelling of musky perfumes and mothballs. She’d loved it in there. She would drape glittering diamond necklaces from her mother’s jewel box around her small, stubby fingers and stroke

all the silky fabrics and furs, which felt so beautiful to touch. She’d slide her little feet into her mother’s Ferragamo evening shoes. She couldn’t quite reach the hangers to try on any dresses, so she’d just hold a handbag and imagine her favourite gown. She always hoped she’d see a mini version of her tall, blonde, beauti- ful, slim mother looking back at her in the mirror. The only reflection she saw was of a short, chubby, red-haired child, with overcrowded teeth (at least she now had braces), tortoiseshell spectacles (recently swapped for painful contact lenses) and a navy velvet hairband losing the battle to hold back her curls. The trouble was, apart from the braces and the lenses, nothing much had changed over the years. She wasn’t that much taller, still on the plump side, and her hair was still red and impossibly curly.

Phoebe forced it into two wonky plaits and surveyed herself one last time. This new look would have to do, or she was going to be late for school. She picked up her stiff, shiny brand-new brown leather satchel and ran downstairs, where the family’s chauffeur, James, was patiently waiting in the hall to take her to school.

‘Can you drop me round the corner, James? I’d prefer the girls not to see me in the Bentley with you.’ Phoebe leant for- ward over the driver’s seat back and added anxiously, ‘Please? Promise you won’t tell my parents?’

James caught her eye in the rear-view mirror. He had soft brown eyes and a rolling Scottish accent. ‘Don’t you worry, Miss Phoebe, I won’t say a word. Good luck at school today.’ He was always kind to her.

‘Thank you,’ she said, sounding relieved. She knew she could trust him.

She had deliberately planned to get to school early today, to try and bag a desk right in the middle of the cool girl group. Not in the back row she wasn’t that brave. A middle row would do.

She took a deep breath and walked into the classroom. But the popular group she longed to be part of were already there.

‘Hi, girls, is it okay if I sit here?’ ‘Oh, hi, Phoebe.’

The girls had said hello back to her. Her hopes briefly rose. ‘Sorry, Phoebe. I’ve bagged this place for Kate.’

‘What about here?’ ‘Sorry, Louisa’s there.’

Phoebe moved further along the row. ‘Here?’ ‘Sorry, Phoebe Susie and Emma are there.’ She tried one more time.

‘No, that’s Joanna’s place.’

So it was back to the front row again. She’d so wanted to be part of the cool girl gang. Inside her, something turned over and formed itself into a steely determination.

She wasn’t sure how, but one day she’d be so cool, famous and successful that they’d regret not including Phoebe Clarke.

At break time, her classmates didn’t exclude her but they didn’t welcome her either. She sat on the edge of the small group, trying to overhear their weekend gossip. She had no idea what they were talking about. So she just listened and smiled when they laughed. Most of their gossip was about sex. She only knew the very basics of what her mother called ‘the birds and the bees’. The girls seemed to be learning more advanced stuff from their parents’ paperback books. They pored over their illicit adult contraband in the playground.

‘Let’s find all the naughty bits.’

‘Okay, my book’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

‘Mine’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. We could be the crème de la crème just like in the book, couldn’t we?’

But the cool girls knew they were already. Phoebe watched them huddled around their biblical tomes of sexual information

as they proceeded to read the juiciest bits out to each other. Although she knew more words in French than the ones they were using, she’d never heard of anything they were discussing – it was like another language. If all this was to do with ‘the birds and the bees’, her mother had never mentioned it. It all sounded strange to her. Her classmates didn’t enlighten her either. They thought she was way too babyish; she didn’t even wear a bra yet.

Maybe that was another way forward?

She asked Abby Mrs Abbott, the housekeeper to buy her a bra. Abby was always there for her, unlike her mother. Mrs Abbott triumphantly produced a Woolworth’s nylon Ladybird bra a 32A cup, with a rosebud print all over it. Phoebe excit- edly tried the bra on in her bedroom, and although she didn’t yet fill it out, she felt properly grown up, just like the rest of the girls. She experimented with padding the cups out with cotton wool and discovered that this was the final part of the no- boobs- to- boobs conundrum. She knew that no boy was going to be putting his hand inside her bra any time soon, so the cotton wool felt like a pretty safe option. It just needed not to fall out, and especially not in front of any of her classmates. So she made sure she always undressed for gym facing the lockers, and she never added the padding unless she knew it was completely safe. When it came to swimming she told the sports teacher she had the curse. She’d heard the other girls using that word as an excuse, but she hadn’t got hers yet, so it was just another fib to add to the ever-growing list.



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