Today I am on the blog tour for The Watch House by Bernie McGill, I have a wee sneak peek extract for you to indulge in. Enjoy,
In the vein of Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, THE WATCH HOUSE by Bernie McGill is the story of the modern world arriving on Rathlin, a remote Irish island, at the very end of the nineteenth century, with dramatic consequences for a young woman named Nuala.
As the twentieth century dawns on the island of Rathlin, a place ravaged by storms and haunted by past tragedies, Nuala Byrne is faced with a difficult decision. Abandoned by her family for the new world, she receives a proposal from the island’s ageing tailor. For the price of a roof over her head, she accepts.
Meanwhile, the island is alive with gossip about the strangers who have arrived from the mainland, armed with mysterious equipment which can reportedly steal a person’s words and transmit them through thin air. When Nuala is sent to cook for these men – engineers, who have been sent to Rathlin by Marconi to conduct experiments in the use of wireless telegraphy – she encounters an Italian named Gabriel, who offers her the chance to equip herself with new skills and knowledge. As her friendship with Gabriel opens up horizons beyond the rocky and treacherous cliffs of her island home, Nuala begins to realise that her deal with the tailor was a bargain she should never have struck.
Rathlin Island, April 1899
The face of her, grey as flint, lying there in the iron bed.
Such a lot of blood to birth one measly thing. Grainne Weir said she’d never seen
so much. ‘But Nuala Byrne is young and strong, she’ll get over it. Let her sleep.
the best tonic for her. We’ll give the child panada till she comes round.’
‘You’ll take a drop, Grainne? It’s been a long haul.
You’ll have a wee drop for your trouble?’
The way it came out, the veil still round its face. I’d never seen the like of it and
nor had the handywoman. Speechless, the pair of us, till she thought to wipe that
thing off its face with a scrap of muslin like you would a cobweb off a
windowpane. The yell it let out when its face appeared, fit to raise the dead. And
in the bed moaning, only half sensible to what was going on.
‘What a thing,’ said Grainne Weir, after a sup, ‘for an islander to be born in the
caul. A child born like that, it can never be drowned,’ she said, quiet. Putting
curious notions into my head.
Nuala Byrne thinks that my oul eyes see nothing, that I didn’t know what was
going on the time she was up at the watch house. I had my suspicions, sure
then, ‘There’ll be another mouth to feed in the spring,’ said she, innocent as you
like, rising from the fire, and our Ned the Tailor looking like she’d slapped him
the face, before he came round and smiled his big childish smile over at me like
he’d done something right after all. And her, blowing the breath out her nose like
the bellows in the forge pushing out air, like she’d gotten
away with it, like she’d fooled us all. She might have fooled the Tailor with her
story -making, with her telling of it the way she’d like us to believe it and not the
was. Our Ned’s a good man but he’s an awful gam. God knows where he’d be
without me. Nearly six years between us, I’ve always had the care of him. For all I
know he believes he’s begotten a child by rubbing his chin on her face. But I’m
not fooled. Every morning since she’s stepped over that threshold I’ve checked
the sheets in the bed in the upper room and they’ve been as dry as if they’d just
been shook out off the hedge. If
there was to be another mouth to feed, I knew that mouth wasn’t the Tailor’s
doing and I’d a fair idea whose doing it was.
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