Today I’m delighted to be first stop on the blog tour for Kate Thompson’s new novel, The Wedding Girls which is published on 9th March by Pan Macmillan. Kate is a journalist with twenty years’ experience as a writer for the broadsheets and women’s weekly magazines. She is now freelance and, as well as writing for newspapers, she’s a seasoned ghostwriter. The Wedding Girls is her third novel, following the Sunday Times bestseller Secrets of the Singer Girls and The Secrets of the Sewing Bee. You can find out more about Kate and her books at: http://www.katethompsonmedia.co.uk/
Read on for an extract from the book and the chance to win one of five copies!
If a wedding marks the first day of the rest of your life, then the story starts with the dress.
It’s 1936 and the streets of London’s East End are grimy and brutal, but in one corner of Bethnal Green it is forever Hollywood . . .
Herbie Taylor’s photography studio is nestled in the heart of bustling Green Street. Tomboy Stella and troubled Winnie work in Herbie’s studio; their best friend and hopeless romantic Kitty works next door as an apprentice dressmaker. All life passes through the studio, wishing to capture that perfect moment in time.
Kitty works tirelessly to create magical bridal gowns, but with each stitch she wonders if she’ll ever get a chance to wear a white dress. Stella and Winnie sprinkle a dusting of Hollywood glamour over happy newly-weds, but secretly dream of escaping the East End . . .
Community is strong on Green Street, but can it stand the ultimate test? As clouds of war brew on the horizon, danger looms over the East End. Will the Wedding Girls find their happy ever afters, before it’s too late?
18 january 1933
St Margaret’s Church, Westminster, London
A fine frost covered the churchyard in a glittering blanket of silver as the first flecks of snow began to drift from an ivory sky.
To some, January might have been a queer month in which to tie the knot, but to Kitty Moloney it was perfect.
Married when the year is new, he’ll be loving, kind and true, or so went the old rhyme. The bride, Miss Nancy Beaton, would enter the church, but she would emerge, quite transformed, as Lady Smiley, wife of Sir Hugh Smiley, a Grenadier Guards officer and baronet. There was something irresistibly romantic about starting the New Year with a new name, especially one as grand as that, Kitty thought.
Stamping her frozen feet on the flagstones to keep out the cold, she tried her hardest to nudge her way to the front of the crowd for a better view, but it was impossible. Everyone loved a wedding, and no one could resist the sight of a bride, especially a well-known society one such as Nancy.
Kitty was hemmed in on all sides by stout matrons in damp wool coats, all clamouring for the best spot from which to view the bride enter the church.
A whiskered constable was holding back the crowds, a disapproving figure in black, his cloak spread wide like a bat, with the Palace of Westminster arching up into the skies over his helmet.
‘Mind yourself, girlie,’ tutted the woman in front; a dressmaker, judging by the sketchbook and pencil in her hand. ‘Us hoi polloi gotta keep a respectable distance.’
Kitty felt foolish. Her gaze slid down and a flush of pink washed over her pale cheeks. What was she even doing here? She was just a girl from the wrong side of town, a shabby fourteen-year-old in cardboard-patched boots and her big sister’s hand-me-downs. And then she remembered. She was somebody. In five days’ time, she was to start an apprenticeship under the tutelage of wedding dressmaker Gladys Tingle at her Bethnal Green workshop.
Gladys’s voice when she had hired Kitty while she was still at school, not two and twenty days previous, rang through her mind as clear as a bell in the chilly churchyard.
‘If a wedding marks the first day of the rest of your life, then the story starts with the dress. Immerse yourself in wedding gowns, my girl, leave no stitch unturned, ’cause it’s the society sorts from up West that the girls from the East End wanna look like. It’s pictures of their wedding gowns in the Daily Sketch they’ll be bringing in for us to copy!’
After a brusque examination of Kitty’s hands and nails, Gladys had dismissed her with orders to start at 9 a.m. prompt the first Monday morning after the new school term began.
A sudden burst of handclapping and the distant thud of horses’ hooves brought Kitty back from her wonderings.
‘I say! There she is,’ called out an excited voice. ‘God bless you, Nancy!’
Applause and cheers rang out and the crowd stirred into life. The dressmaker gasped and dropped her pencil. A small space opened up in the crowd as she bent to retrieve it. Seizing her chance, Kitty wriggled through the sea of stockinged legs and found herself at the very front.
She opened her eyes wide, then wider still and just like that, her grumbling tummy and frozen feet were forgotten. For gliding down the flagstones on the arm of her father was the bride, and what a marvellous bride was she!
Nancy emerged dreamlike from the snow, a tiny ethereal vision in a long sweep of buttery silk, its diaphanous overskirt shimmering with silver embroidery and hundreds of tiny pearls. In her pale fingers she clutched a spray of chalk-white flowers.
Kitty gazed in wonderment, for Nancy looked like no other woman she had ever seen: a perfect china shepherdess, her brown eyes large and liquid, her lips full and rosy. Atop her gleaming curls, tiny white flowers and a dusting of snow. In her wake, two pageboys in white satin breeches and tails, holding the train as if it were made of glass. In the swirling snow, looking like they had stepped straight from the pages of a children’s fairy tale, they drew a collective sigh from the crowd of admiring matrons.
And then came the bridesmaids: tall, slender and serene in white tulle and taffeta. Kitty counted seven – no, wait, eight of them – and oh, how dreamy, how utterly dreamy. As they slid past like a bevy of swans, she realized they were all connected by a long continuous garland, smothered in snowdrops, which looped from one maid to the next like a maypole. Everywhere Kitty looked there was light, snow-white blossom: encircling slender waists and trailing over shoulders.
Kitty felt her heart turn over. It was a performance, a thrilling, spectacular show with a Snow Queen its star. She sighed deeply. If the walk to the church door could be this glamorous, Kitty could only guess how heavenly the interior of the church must look. How dashing the groom, how regal the guests, to what impossible height the ceiling must soar.
The bride was drawing closer now, so close Kitty could almost reach out and touch the hem of her ermine-trimmed gown. Instead, she gazed up at her with shining eyes and realized she was holding her breath.
Please look at me, Kitty from Bethnal Green. Notice me.
But the Snow Queen bride passed on by, poised and unreadable, leaving in her wake a scented trail of allure.
Kitty sagged and scuffed the toe of her boot on the ground. Who was she fooling? Girls like Nancy were born to glide on marble floors bedecked with roses. Girls like her were consigned to watch them from the damp darkness of the crowd, anonymous and unseen.
But as the bride reached the church porch, something magical happened. She turned. Flickered those large dark eyes over the crowd and settled on Kitty. A whisper of a smile, the flash of a diamond as she raised her hand. And then she was gone, stepping into the church, off to meet her glittering future, leaving Kitty as pale and faint as the January sky. Nothing could ever come close to the lavish, romantic dream Kitty had witnessed.
As the crowd dispersed and she reluctantly began the long walk back to the narrow streets of the East End, Kitty made a vow in her secret heart. She wouldn’t just be the wedding seamstress. One day, she would be the bride.
Kate’s lovely publisher has given me five paperback copies of The Wedding Girls to give away to lucky readers.
To enter just leave comment in the box below or re-Tweet one of my tweets about this giveaway or like one of my posts about this giveaway on my Instagram page.
I’ll pick five winners using Random.org after the closing date.
This giveaway is open to UK residents only and will close at midnight on Wednesday 8th March. Good Luck!