It’s a real pleasure today to be joining the blog tour for What’s Left Unsaid, the debut novel from Deborah Stone – published in July 2018 by Matador, available as an e-book and paperback. My thanks to Kelly at Love Books Group Tours for the invitation. And I must admit that this is one of those times that I’m kicking myself that I just couldn’t fit in the reading – I’ve explored the book a little (you might like to download the kindle preview too…) and it’s one I think I’d really enjoy. Here’s the synopsis…
Sasha is just about managing to hold her life together. She is raising her teenage son Zac, coping with an absent husband and caring for her ageing, temperamental and alcoholic mother, as well as holding down her own job. But when Zac begins to suspect that he has a secret sibling, Sasha realises that she must relive the events of a devastating night which she has done her best to forget for the past nineteen years.
Sasha’s mother, Annie, is old and finds it difficult to distinguish between past and present and between truth and lies. As Annie sinks deeper back into her past, she revisits the key events in her life which have shaped her emotionally. Through it all, she remains convinced that her dead husband Joe is watching and waiting for her. But there’s one thing she never told him, and as painful as it is for her to admit the truth, Annie is determined to go to Joe with a guilt-free conscience.
As the plot unfurls, traumas are revealed and lies uncovered, revealing long-buried secrets which are at the root of Annie and Sasha’s fractious relationship.
So, my apologies, no review – but let’s take a look at an extract, see if the book appeals to you as much as it did to me…
For how long do we remain undamaged? We are marked men the moment the midwife leaves a handprint on our rear ends. It’s just the luck of the draw as to whether you benefit from nature, nurture or something far worse. Whatever the fates throw at you, some of it sticks, building to create the final set of armour plating we hide behind as adults. Like fingerprints, each one of us is different, and we mutate as we collide with random others in our path through life.
I heard a strange clang as I turned the corner to my attic office. I glanced around before I took another step, but I could see nothing in the hallway, and the room itself appeared empty. Dropping my handbag to the floorboards with a deliberate thud, I spotted a pair of scissors lying open by my keyboard and one of my drawers was half-open. A file I usually kept on the desk was on the floor. I edged into the room. The scissors looked slightly bent and the lock on my grey filing cabinet appeared to be scratched, as though someone had tried to force it open. I crept over to the window and rattled it, but it was tightly shut.
‘Jesus, Zac, you frightened the life out of me. What the hell are you doing hiding behind the door?’ I jumped and the tea I was holding leapt out in a perfect arc and landed in my handbag. ‘Damn… I didn’t realise you’d be back so early today,’ I said, half- smiling at my son and half grimacing at the thought that my phone was probably soaked, and possibly ruined.
‘I just thought I’d surprise you.’ Zac paused to assess how cross I was. ‘I had an unexpected free period, so I got back early.’
‘You should have texted me. I could have picked you up from the tube on my way back from my meeting,’ I said, grabbing a wad of tissues from the box on the filing cabinet and swabbing my phone. I pressed the home button to check it was still functioning.
‘Oh, it was no bother.’ Zac was already out of the door and heading down the stairs, his long legs hurdling two steps at a time.
‘What did you need up here, by the way?’ I called after him. My papers were strewn in what to the untrained eye might appear seemingly chaotic, yet was actually well-organised in its own fashion, and I didn’t like anyone else to touch them. The filing cabinet always remained locked and I had the only key.
‘Oh, nothing. I was just looking for some sticky tape to fix the cover on my book.’
‘You’ve got some on your desk in your bedroom. If you tidied up a bit, you might even find it.’ I waved my scissors at him as he reached the bottom of the staircase. ‘Zac, did you do this? They’re totally bent out of shape.’
‘No’, he glowered, plugging in his wretched earphones. One day, he would have to have them surgically removed. I followed him down the stairs and yanked his earphones out again as he pushed open the door to his bedroom.
‘But look, Zac, my scissors are dented. Are you sure you didn’t touch them? It’s very odd, because it looks as though someone might have used them to try to get into my filing cabinet.’
Zac scowled. ‘I didn’t bloody use them, OK? Are you accusing me of breaking and entering?’ He turned away from me and slumped face down on the bed, pulling a pillow over his head.
‘Zac, I’m not accusing you of anything. I’m just asking… and don’t swear at me. Show some respect.’
He laughed, lobbing the pillow at me, which missed. ‘I’ll show you respect when you show some to me.’
‘You know what I mean.’
‘Zac, what on earth are you talking about? First, you frighten the life out of me, and then you get defensive the moment I ask you a question. I really don’t have the time, nor frankly, the energy for your nonsense today. And somehow this conversation seems to have turned from me asking you if you’ve dented my scissors, to you accusing me of something, which is what, exactly?’
‘Why don’t you tell me?’ Zac glared at me, unblinking.
‘You’re not making any sense, Zac and you know I don’t enjoy riddles, so spit it out.’
‘Ooh, that’s a good one,’ he replied, sitting up and staring straight at me as though I were now his sworn enemy. ‘You do like riddles, as it turns out, so why don’t you spit it out?’
I started to feel as if I was in alternative universe, where I didn’t quite speak the language. I’d been there many times before – it’s called parenting a teenager – but this felt different. This time, I really needed an interpreter. Zac lay on his unmade bed, prone and half camouflaged in a pile of dirty washing, wiring himself back into his iPod.
‘Zac,’ I called, pulling an ear bud out of his head yet again, ‘is something upsetting you? Has something happened at school?’ He just stared at me, unblinking, defiant. ‘Look, if you don’t want to talk now, come and find me when you do, but right now, I need to feed Stanley, reply to a snotty email from my wretched new client, and then I need to decide what to cook for dinner.’
It must have been a combination of the magic words ‘feed Stanley’ and ‘dinner’, because at that precise moment, Stanley arrived behind me – even though, technically, he wasn’t allowed upstairs – tail wagging, brown eyes wet with hunger. With every movement, he signalled imminent starvation. He was, after all, a golden retriever. ‘OK, Stanley, let’s go. Kibble awaits.’
As I turned, I caught a rancid glass of chocolate milk with my foot, which Zac had left on the floor some days ago, sending dregs of foul smelling liquid all over the cream carpet. Well, it was a stupid choice of colour for a teenaged boy’s floor, but anyway. Stanley waited expectantly at the top of the stairs. ‘Christ, that’s all I need. What the hell was that doing there? Zac, get up and fetch me a towel, will you?’
Zac couldn’t hear me, because he’d stuffed his earphones back into his lugholes yet again and was too busy staring at some inanity on Twitter to notice that anything was amiss. The chocolate concoction was soaking rapidly into the cream carpet, so I bolted downstairs and returned with a couple of towels, stopping to wet them in the bathroom.
Running the tap, I glanced up at myself in the mirror. Deep, dark shadows underscored my eyes and my mascara had flaked. I hoped I hadn’t looked like this in my meeting. The client I’d just seen must have thought she was conversing with a zombie, or someone who’d had a traumatic experience on the way to meet her. I reassured myself with the well-known fact that bathroom lighting is never flattering, but these days, I wasn’t too sure which light was. What I really wanted was to be able to wander around in soft focus, like older actresses in films. Living life through a filter would improve so many things. I wrung the towels out before heading back to tackle the carpet. I sank to my knees and scrubbed away at the stain for several minutes, with Stanley standing over me watching, head cocked to one side like a benign inspector. I carried on for a while longer and got the worst of it out. When I stood up, my knees complained of being locked in one position for too long.
It was then that I noticed the mess under Zac’s desk. There were books, leaflets, football magazines, balls of paper, files, empty ink cartridges, tangled headphones, other assorted wires and pieces of Blutak, all forming anthills of detritus. In the far corner, there was a photograph. It looked like it was an old baby photo of Zac from years ago. I wondered what on earth that was doing there. ‘Zac. Zac!’ I shouted, yanking the perennial earphone out of the left side of his head, attempting to reconnect him with reality.
‘What now?’ Zac scowled.
‘Stop being rude, Zac. Please. Look at all this mess underneath your desk. Find a bin bag and get rid of some of this rubbish, will you. I don’t know how you can work in such a dump.’
‘It’s my room and I can keep it how I want. I’m seventeen years old, not five. Stop telling me what to do.’ Zac kicked his legs down hard onto the bed like a toddler having a tantrum. Filthy laundry bounced underneath him, emitting unpleasant odours of teenage boy.
‘And it’s my house, so sort it out. I’m going downstairs to make dinner. Come on, Stanley. It’s definitely time for kibble now.’
I wheeled around and Stanley took his cue. He led the way out of the door, tail wafting, turning to make sure that, this time, I was following him towards his bowl. Zac replaced his earphones and slammed the door shut behind me. I needed to remember to buy some new scissors and maybe think about putting a lock on my office door.
I’m not sure I agree with Kant. He asserted that people only lie out of selfishness to get what they want, and for that reason, one should never lie under any circumstance. But surely there are occasions – many occasions, in fact – when it is preferable not to tell the truth, or at least to fudge it, bend it or possibly deny its very existence. Childhood is built upon a bed of lies – Father Christmas, the Tooth Fairy, the Bogeyman. Yet we do not all grow up to be corrupt individuals, bereft of any understanding of right and wrong. We lie to protect our children, to shelter them from emotional harm. Can you honestly tell me that you have never told a little white lie to save the feelings of others? I know I can’t. The question is, in hindsight, was it the correct thing to do?
Wishing you every success with this one, Deborah! And here are details of the other stops on the ongoing blog tour…
About the author
Deborah Stone read English Literature at Durham University. She lives in North London with her husband, two sons and her dog.