Today BelleBooks is taking part in the Infinite Sky Blog Tour
I was lucky enough to get a review copy of this book a couple of months ago, and I have to say I loved it!
As a special wee treat to all my followers I'm sharing the whole first chapter of the book with you!
paddock one Sunday night while we were asleep. My brother Sam was excited when
he saw them.
“Gypos!” he shouted.
Sam used to have a gypsy in his class: Grace Fitzpatrick. She’d been famous
at school because she could do as many things with her feet as with her hands. She
could even write her name with them, which was funny because she couldn’t read.
Sam, who’d sat next to her in assembly, said she smelt like cat piss and fire smoke.
“They live off barbecues,” he told me as we watched from Dad’s bedroom
I thought it sounded brilliant.
There was a caravan, and a clapped-out car, and a few metres away, a fire with
a pot hanging over it.
“Be bloody hundreds of ’em by the end of the day,” Dad said, emptying
sawdust from his overall pockets onto the floor.
“They’ll probably tarmac the field while we’re asleep,” Sam said. “Try and
make you pay for it.”
Dad made a growling noise. “Be a nightmare getting rid of them, that’s for
He left us leaning on the windowsill.
Sam made dents in the wood with his fingers while I wondered what Dad was
going to do. This was exactly the sort of thing Mum would have sorted. She’d have
been best friends with the gypsies by breakfast, had them falling over themselves to
make her happy, even if that left them without a home.
“Look at all those dogs,” Sam said. “Bet they fight them. Tie blades to their
I shook my head.
“Seen it on the telly,” he said.
“What, on kids’ telly?”
He dug his elbow into me until I squirmed.
Two greyhounds bounded round the paddock, and I tried to imagine them
snarling at each other, blades flying, but it was ridiculous, and then the caravan door
swung open, and a tiny black dog scurried out.
A woman appeared in the doorway. Tall and thin, with red hair falling over
one shoulder, she looked beautiful. She lifted her arms above her head and stretched,
revealing a stripe of tanned belly beneath her green vest. Behind her the white
caravan seemed to sparkle.
“Prossie,” Sam said.
The woman spun around suddenly, and a teenage boy in rolled-up jeans leapt
from the caravan, laughing. He’d obviously startled her. The three dogs ran over to
him, the tiny black one lagging behind, and he bent down to tussle with them. They
licked at his bare chest.
Sam didn’t have anything to say for a second. The boy looked about the same
age as him. He was obviously the woman’s son, tall and thin like her, but with
lighter, ginger-blond hair that flicked out above his ears and curled on the back of
“Bet he don’t go to school,” Sam said.
“Come on, you two,” Dad called up the stairs. “You’re going to be late.”
“Shit!” Sam said, because he still hadn’t found his football boots.
Still, we couldn’t help staying a minute longer, watching as the red-haired
woman filled a bucket with water from the pot above the fire and began scrubbing
Dad left the house at the same time as we did. With fists clenched, he headed
towards the paddock.
I couldn’t wait till the summer holidays. Everyone at school was getting on my
nerves. Especially Matty. At registration, when I told her about the gypsies, she told
me this story about her second cousin’s boyfriend’s brother: he was on his way to
the newsagent’s to buy a magazine when a gypsy girl burst out and cracked him over
the head with a golf ball in a sock. For no reason. I told her we didn’t have any girls,
only a boy, and described the way his hair flicked out, but she curled her nostrils at
“Pikeys are gross, Iris,” she said. “You’d get gonorrhoea.”
Matty was always name-checking STDs. She thought it made her look
At dinner time, we watched the boys play football.
“Your socks are odd,” Matty told me. “Don’t you care?”
“Maybe you should.”
I took my shoes off, and folded my socks down so their oddness was less
“That’s your problem, Iris,” she sighed. “You think that makes a difference.”
Before Maths, next lesson, I nipped into the toilets and took them off.
Matty had moved to Derby from Guildford four years ago with frizzy black hair and
too-big glasses which left red dents on her nose, but every new term she got prettier.
Today her black frizz was tamed into long waves that she twisted round her little
finger. Her glasses had shrivelled to contacts, and to make matters worse, her boobs
had gone from a size nothing to a 32B in the last six months. As far as Matty was
concerned, she was a fully mature woman.
“Remember, Iris,” she’d taken to saying to me, “my birthday’s in September.
Really, I’m in the year above you. Really, I’m a Year Ten.”
Every day, after school, I watched the gypsies. They hadn’t listened when Dad told
them they weren’t welcome, and much to his annoyance were getting on with their
lives. As well as the teenage boy, the dogs and the red-haired woman, there was a
man, a baby, and four little girls.
The boy spent a lot of time with his mum. He got in her way while she was
cleaning, and made her laugh. Sometimes she grabbed him and ruffled his hair. They
reminded me of how Mum and Sam used to be.
The gypsy boy was good to his sisters. They were all loads younger than him,
but he still played hide and seek with them, and picked them up when they cried. I
couldn’t imagine him getting mad at them for something as silly as borrowing his
In the evenings, they all sat around the fire, or on the grass nearby, until it was
time to eat whatever their mum cooked in the pot, or their dad brought home in the
car. Later on, when the mum had put the little ones to bed, the gypsy boy went to lie
underneath the caravan by himself, and I felt as though I understood him completely.
Dad shouted if he caught me watching from his bedroom window.
“It’s not a game, Iris,” he said, and so I kept my spying to when he was out.
One night, I left my curtains open so the sun could wake me. I wanted to see what
the gypsies did first thing. It was well before six when I crept upstairs, past Dad
sleeping with his head half-under the pillow, to my usual perch on his armchair by
the window. He didn’t notice. Mum was the light sleeper, the snorer too. She used to
make herself jump in the night.
Underneath the early white sky, the paddock was dotted with poppies, and fat
wood pigeons in the tall poplars surrounding the yard called to each other. The boy
got up first. He jumped down the caravan steps and did a lap of the field with the
dogs. Occasionally, he stooped to pick up sticks, or tugged dead branches from the
By the entrance to the paddock was a huge pile of logs that Dad and Austin,
his apprentice, had cut down over the months – a year’s supply at least. Reaching it,
the boy stopped. He glanced towards our house, and I ducked behind Mum’s rose
pincushion cactus. I peered round its spiky dome, which was flowering purple, and
watched as he added a couple of long, slim branches to his pile.
Back at the camp, he knelt to build a fire. By the time the door to the caravan
opened next, he was fanning the flames with a sheet of cardboard. His mum emerged
carrying a stack of bowls, the baby wrapped to her back, and the boy changed
position to direct the smoke away from them.
“Eye?” Dad lifted his head. “That you?”
Dad called me Eye, as in ball. Mum used to tell him off for it, back when they
still talked to each other. “She’s named after the flower,” she’d say, but she didn’t
mind really. It was just something they did.
“What you doing?”
“Need some socks,” I said, pretending to rummage in the unsorted pile I’d
been sitting on.
The plastic of Dad’s alarm clock creaked as he looked at it. “S’not even
seven,” he groaned. “Go back to bed.”
I watched the boy put on a rucksack, pat the baby’s head, and walk to the
far end of the field where the paddock dropped into the brook. He reappeared on
the other side of the water, and then disappeared into the Ashbourne Estate, and I
wondered where he could be going.
It was the last day of school, and the Year Elevens ran around scrawling over each
other’s shirts and planning who to egg and flour. Only the most popular kids didn’t
have at least one willy drawn on their back. I wondered how Sam would have done
if he hadn’t been suspended. I saw his best friend, Benjy, a couple of times. His lip
was still split from where Sam had punched him.
I was sad to be leaving science for the summer. Biology was the best, not only
because I got a break from Matty. I was in the top set, and she was in the bottom,
and I paid extra special attention when Mrs Beever talked about the parenting traits
of various birds. Apparently both male and female swans help build the nest, and
if the mother dies (or drives off in a van to Tunisia) there’s no need to spaz out and
call the RSPB. The male swan is completely capable of raising his cygnets alone. I
almost wished Matty was sitting next to me when I heard that.
All afternoon we bickered, but choosing sweets in the shop after school she
still invited me to sleep over at hers that night. “We can do a fashion show with my
new clothes,” she said. “Mum’s making spag bol.”
“Doubt my dad’ll let me,” I lied, putting ten fizzy cola bottles in a paper bag.
“He still being weird?” she said, and I nodded, but the truth was I couldn’t
bear it round hers any more.
Her mum, Donna, asked questions with her best talk-to-me expression: are you
okay? and is your dad okay? and is everything OKAY at Silverweed Farm? The worst
thing was that Matty didn’t stop her. She just stood there expectantly, as if the two of
them had become some kind of talk show mother/daughter duo, and I their favourite
guest. Matty and Mom!
I hope you loved it!
Make sure to stop by the other blogs taking part in the tour!