I’ll warn you right away — this post will seem like bragging.
With that said, am shouting to the world: My new novel TEA AND BISCUIT GIRLS showed up on my doorstep yesterday!
I was leaving to teach my class when I saw the large cardboard box sitting on the front porch; I jumped out of my car and raced to pick it up. I tore of the packing tape, and under the green cellophane packing bubbles was 12 copies of my new book. The sheer excitement of holding one of my books will never get old. I looked at it with satisfaction and clutched it to my heart.
Oh, I know that e-books are all the rage and people enjoy them for varied reasons, but I don’t think seeing my e-book will give me the same thrill that the “Real McCoy” has done for me.
I guess it is tangible evidence that I accomplished something worth publishing. It’s a testament that someone thought my writing was good enough to put it in print. And I’m thankful most of my readers feel the same way. The best thing about this book is, I know it’s better than the first. As I write more novels, I feel I’m stronger and more confident because I know I’m growing as an author.
Just to celebrate, I’m giving you the first two chapters. Let me know if you want more.
It was sweltering hot in London on September 7, 1940. Everyone
and their neighbor looked for a way to escape from the unseasonable
heat. People sat on lawns fanning themselves while they enjoyed an
outdoor picnic. Others enjoyed rowing boats on the Thames. Children
swam in nearby lakes. Elderly people who couldn’t escape their homes,
sat in front of electric fans and listened to “wireless” broadcasts. No
matter what people chose to do, this Saturday afternoon was one for
the record books.
The O’Neill family decided to spend the beautiful Saturday
afternoon together at Hyde Park. Ella packed a picnic of fried chicken,
baking powder biscuits and fresh apples for the occasion. George
lazed on a wool blanket as he listened to his three teenage girls argue
over a card game. Usually he’d be working at the ﬁ re house as one
of London’s few professional Captains in ﬁ re service. Having this
carefree day with his family was special because he knew the cold,
rainy, dreary months of autumn were just around the corner.
The lazy afternoon sped by quickly and soon it was time to drop
the girls off at the cinema. They had wanted to see the latest movie
release, The Thief of Baghdad. As George pulled the car to the curb in
front of the theater, Ella said, “Now girls, remember to take your gas
masks with you.”
“Oh Mum, do we have too? I can hardly breathe in that darn thing.
And that dank smell of rubber makes me sick,” thirteen-year-old Mary
Her older sister Katie teased. “So why do you giggle every time
you breathe in and out, and the edges of the mask makes that fartin’
Ella said. “Katie!” She admonished her middle daughter and
then turned to her youngest. “Now Mary Elizabeth, there will be no
argument. Everyone has gas masks—the soldiers, boys, girls, babies
and even horses have them. It is for your own protection.”
Mary didn’t give up easily. “You can’t see a bloody thing wearin’
that damn mask! I sure hope the Germans never gas us because
everyone in England will be goin’ round bumpin’ into each other
making farting noises.”
George swallowed his laugh and gave Mary Elizabeth a
disapproving look. “Girl! Your language. I’ll have no child of mine
talkin’ like a bloody dock worker!”
Anna, the eldest sister at eighteen, grabbed Mary Elizabeth’s ear
and gave her a slight tug. “Why must you always go arguing with
Mum? You won’t get you into the cinema without it. Lug the bloody
thing or we will leave you here.”
The three teenagers ran in the direction of the cinema. Ella yelled
from the car, “And come straight away! Don’t be late for high tea at
In chorus, the three girls turned around a and yelled, “Yes, Mum.”
Like most families in England, high tea on Sunday afternoon was
a sacred tradition. It was a time to be civil, get out the good china and
linen and spend time as a family. It was also a time to share tales of
the week that just went by. It was also a time for the family to plan for
the upcoming week. Everyone looked forward to the special biscuits
that Ella always baked for the occasion. They were light and sweet
and usually fresh out of the oven. George said that Ella’s biscuits were
the best in Londontown.
Promptly at four o’clock, Mary Elizabeth bolted through the back
door and announced, “Mum, we’re home—right on time, Gas masks
“Good. I would hate to have to take the strap to the lot of ya.” Ella
teased. She never once had hit the girls. But she was very good at
threatening beatings. “Katie, dear, would you please put the kettle on
while I get the teapot and cosy ready?”
“Yes, Mum.” Katie answered. Everything would be ready at 4:15
p.m. Katie always said, “Big Ben could set his clock by Mum’s tea
Ella brought out the silver-edged tray laden with ﬂ oral china cups
and saucers which had belonged to her grandmother. There also was
a china jug of milk. A basket lined with a colorful towel held the
biscuits, and the teapot was steeping in its quilted cosy. As they sat
down at their familiar places at the table, Ella poured the tea in to the
dainty cups. As Ella passed cups of the hot brew to members of the
family, the air raid siren howled.
“Ah, here we go again.” Ella said. “I suppose it will be like it was
a couple of days ago, warnin’ after warnin’, wailin’ after wailin’,
siren after siren, but nothin’ is ever happenin’. I’m getting sick of
this nonsense. If the damn Germans are going to attack us, then they
bloody-well should get it over with!” Ella’s bravado hid her real fear.
England was the only country not under Nazi control.
George gave his wife a look that said to be quiet. “We’ll have no
more of that, Mother. We would never want the nuisance raids of the
past few months turnin’ into an invasion, would we?” George knew the
real threat of the German war machine. Everyday he was responsible
for training civilians for the ﬁ re service. If Germany ever did invade
England, everyone knew it would start with bombings to “soften up”
the English population.
Mary Elizabeth said, “Don’t worry father. Mum would take care of
them Germans with the strap!”
The family laughed. Leave it to Mary Elizabeth to break the tension
with her quick wit.
Suddenly in the distance there was a growing roar outside. George
got up and looked out the window east toward the Thames River.
Overhead there were black specks in the sky that looked like swarming
“My God!” George screamed. “This is it! Quickly girls! Get to the
cupboard under the stairs!”
Katie was the ﬁrst to speak as she read her father’s terriﬁed face,
“What is it, father?”
“Planes. Thousands of them. Germans. Luftwaffe.” George
screamed. “Do what I tell ya! Get in the cupboard! Now!”
Ella read the fear in George’s eyes. She never heard his voice so
stern. Like a mother hen, she shooed the girls into the tiny closest
under the stairwell, leaving cups of tea and half-eaten biscuits on the
As the family huddled in the tight quarters of their stairwell
protection, they heard a growing crescendo of growling plane
engines. The noise grew into a deep, full roar like the thunder of a
great waterfall. Then there was a series of thuds. All of a sudden the
family was thrown up against the walls of the cupboard. Shocks from
high explosives made the ﬂoorboards heave and roll like a ship in high
seas. The pressure of the blasts were so strong, they felt as though
their eyeballs were going to be sucked from their sockets. Everyone
was too stunned to speak, except for Mary Elizabeth who cried.
“Oh, Mum. My stomach is turning!”
Ella whispered. “Don’t be afraid, lass. So is mine.” Ella held her
youngest close to her full bosom. Katie and Anna ﬂanked their mother
as George lay on top of them all. They all prayed silently the house
would be spared.
The pounding went on and on for hours. It was six o’clock in the
evening when the “All Clear” siren sounded, and the family emerged
from under the stairs. They were glad to escape their crowded
quarters, but appalled by what the saw. The windows of the house
were blown out and glass shards littered the ﬂoor. A pulverized dust
covered everything. A red-brown fog ﬁlled the air. A putrid sulfur
smell choked them as they breathed through handkerchiefs.
George went outside to survey the damage. Slate titles had come
off the roof and lay cracked in Ella’s ﬂower garden. Fires burned out
of control throughout the neighborhood. Across the street there was a
crater where the Wellingtons had lived. The house was obliterated. All
that was left was a pile of bricks and burning timbers.
He went back into the house and found Ella crying as she witnessed
her grandmother’s china smashed on the ﬂoor. The only piece in tact
was the milk jug, which had turned over on its side. Spilled milk
soaked the braided rug. Ella lovingly picked up the jug and began
cleaning the spilled milk. With the total devastation around them, George
couldn’t believe his wife was fussing over a little milk.
As she picked up the pieces of her grandmother’s china, Ella
muttered, “Those bloody Germans! How dare they attack us like this!”
“We’re at war, Mum.” George said simply. “We’re at war.”
Ella sobbed in his arms.