#blogtour – Ella’s Journey by Lynne Francis @AvonBooksUK #extract

I’m so pleased to be sharing an extract from Ella’s Journey by Lynne Francis with you today as part of the blog tour. Thank you to Sabah Khan from Avon Books for the place on the tour. Lynne is a debut saga writer and it looks like a lovely read. Here’s what it’s about:

Ella is trying to put the past behind her, but the past won’t always stay hidden.

The truth is, Ella is hiding from a scandal. A scandal that drove her family out of their beloved Lane End Cottage in the tiny Yorkshire village they had lived in all their lives. A scandal that her sister Alice was blamed for.

But Alice is no longer here. So it’s up to Ella to pick up the pieces and do the best she can for the family she loves so dearly.

Ella’s luck finally changes when she gains work in service at Grange House, a gentleman’s residence on the outskirts of York. But can Ella keep her position there? Or will she follow in her elder sister’s footsteps…

A gripping new saga series that fans of Dilly Court and Valerie Wood will adore.

Today was Christmas Eve, when the tree would go up in the entrance hall. Last year, Ella had helped to decorate it, her first ever Christmas tree. She’d been entranced by the delicate glass baubles, each one wrapped in tissue paper and carefully boxed. She had never seen anything like it; the tree so tall that the butler, Mr Stevens, had needed to climb a stepladder to hang the decorations from the top branches. He had only managed to place the star on the top by going up to the landing and leaning precariously over, Rosa and Doris hanging on to his coat-tails and squealing while Mrs S stood at the base, alternately telling the maids to shush and gasping in fright herself. When the decorating was finished, and the candles placed in each holder all around the branches, the Wards’ youngest son John was called to see the candles lit for the first time.

Ella had felt sure that his saucer-eyed amazement had only been a reflection of her own expression. She could have stared at the tree for hours, drinking in each and every detail, how the flames of the candles sparkled and reflected in the glass baubles as they spun and shifted in the draughts of the hall.

John’s governess had gone home for the holidays and although Mr and Mrs Ward were there for the lighting ceremony, it was Ella that John sought out, reaching for her hand and gripping it hard, wordlessly. She had bent towards him.

‘It’s beautiful, John. Have you ever seen anything like it?’ She so wished that her niece Beth were here. Ella would have taken her around the tree, pointing out the sparkling colours of the spinning baubles, and the little toys and striped sugar canes hanging from the branches.

John found his voice. ‘Yes, I have. Last year.’

Ella smiled. ‘You can remember it?’

‘Of course I can.’ John was scornful. ‘I’m not a baby. I’m six.’ He paused. ‘It was in our other house and it wasn’t as tall as this one. I think this year’s tree is the best of all.’

Mr Stevens, handing out candied fruits, a Christmas treat for the family and staff, heard John’s words and bent to offer him a fruit jelly.

‘Well, Master John, it’s lucky we had enough decorations to cover such a tall tree. Now, you’ll have to let go of Ella. She has work to do and it’s time for your bed. Christmas Day is nearly here.’

Ella wasn’t sure whether it was she or John who had been the most reluctant to be parted from the spectacle, but the family were moving through to have their drinks and, with extra guests expected, her help would be needed in serving the Christmas Eve dinner. She had bent down to whisper to John, who was exhibiting a mulish expression, bottom lip stuck out and jaw set in preparation for a battle over bedtime.

‘John, Father Christmas can’t visit unless he knows you are asleep. So off you go to bed now and in the morning you can come downstairs to check. If you are lucky, and if you have been a good boy, perhaps he will have left some presents for you under the tree.’

That had been a year ago. She had been so looking forward to a repetition of the ceremony this year, to experiencing the same magical feel and all the wonderful scents of the house at Christmas. She remembered lingering in the hallway every time she had cause to pass through it, to drink in the scent of the pine needles. Instead, she was locked up here alone in the chill of her room, a world away from the lights, warmth and bustle of the household on Christmas Eve. She heard Doris and Rosa go down the stairs, and huddled back under the covers. There seemed little point in getting up, only to sit fully dressed in the cold, with nothing to do except strain her ears for sounds from below that might give her some sense of belonging to the celebrations.

She must have dozed again, waking with a guilty start to the sound of the key turning in the lock. It was Doris, bringing a tray with breakfast for her: tea, and a hunk of bread and butter. It was poorer fare than Ella could have expected had she been at the breakfast table with the other servants, but she was grateful for it all the same, even though the tea was stewed and all but cold after being carried up the chilly staircase.

‘You’re to stay up here until Christmas has passed,’ Doris said in solemn tones. ‘Whatever have you done, Ella? And all the extra work you’ve given us at this time of year, too. What can you have been thinking of?’

Her words sounded harsh but Ella could see that Doris was torn between scolding and concern. She knew only too well how much Ella needed her job.

‘Mr Ward will talk to you again on Boxing Day evening, after the guests have gone, Mrs S said to tell you. She’s too busy to come up here herself.’

Doris cast a quick glance around the room and sighed. ‘It’s little better than a cell, what with all the brightness down below for Christmastime. I must go, I have so many things to do, but I’ll try to be back.’ And with that she was gone, the key turned firmly in the lock.

Sitting up in bed, covers drawn up under her chin, Ella took a few bites of the bread and butter. She’d thought herself hungry but, although she had gulped down the cold tea, the bread tasted like ashes in her mouth and she struggled to swallow it. Doris’s words rang in her ears. ‘Little better than a cell.’ A cell was where her sister Alice had died, locked up all alone, denied any contact with her mother and with her baby. She couldn’t begin to imagine what that must have felt like. Then her thoughts turned to her mother, now living in Nortonstall with Thomas, Annie, Beattie and Beth. She hoped that the money she had been able to send them meant that they could have some sort of proper celebration for Christmas.

Ella wasn’t sure how long she had been sitting there, gazing sightlessly at the opposite wall, sighing occasionally and shedding a few tears, before cries from the garden below roused her. Aware of a change in the light, she looked at the window; large fluffy flakes were falling silently against a yellow-grey sky. It was snowing, and snowing hard. Ella swung her legs out of bed, shivering as her feet struck the cold floorboards, and wrapped the shawl from the end of her bed around her shoulders. From the window, she could see that the snow must have been falling for a while. The garden was thick with it and the dark, bare winter branches of the trees were tipped with white frosting. Across the pristine whiteness of the snowy lawn, John was racing up and down, spreading his boot tracks far and wide and uttering little yelps of excitement. He stopped suddenly, spread out his arms and flung his head back, mouth open. It looked to Ella as though he was trying to eat the snow as it fell and she smiled, wanting to bang on the glass and wave. Then she thought better of it and hastily drew back. She didn’t want John to spot her and to ask questions, the answers to which might upset him. It pained her to see him out in the snow on his own, with no one to share the fun. If she had been downstairs, she would have begged for a few minutes to spend outside with him. Mrs S would have grumbled but granted it: like all the servants she felt sorry for John, neglected in a household where his older siblings and parents were always preoccupied with their own concerns.

There would be no festivities for Ella this year. She tried to tell herself it was no different to previous years with the Ottershaws, but it was still a cruel blow. She couldn’t bear to think about what the future might hold if she were to be sent home. It would mean employment somewhere like the Ottershaws’ once again. A life of drudgery for very little reward, slaving for ignorant, boorish people who treated her like the dirt they employed her to clean up.

Ella clenched her fists, driving her nails into her palms. What had actually happened? She couldn’t imagine what had gone so wrong, but as the Christmas celebrations rolled inexorably on without her, she had plenty of time to reflect on the events of the past fifteen months, and what had put her in this awful position.

So if you like the sound of Ella’s Journey then you can buy the ebook now.

And there are other lovely blogs taking part in the tour so please do go and have a read.

Lynne Francis grew up in Yorkshire, the setting for The Mill Valley Girls novels. She has a degree in English Literature from London University and worked in a variety of jobs after leaving school and university, including a pickle factory, a bacon factory, the Famous Army Stores and Harrods, before settling on non-fiction publishing as a career. By then living in London she spent more years than she cares to remember working her way up from editorial assistant to co-running a small publishing company, before returning to Yorkshire on an Arvon creative writing course once her three children had left home. She now lives in a Kent cottage along a tiny lane not far from the sea, dividing her time between writing, walking and enjoying the countryside.

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