A big lovely welcome to Clare Rhoden and the blog tour for her novel, The Stars in the Night.
Harry Fletcher is a confident young man, sure that he will marry Nora, no matter what their families say. He will always protect Eddie, the boy his father saved from the gutters of Port Adelaide.
Only the War to End All Wars might get in the way of Harry’s plans…
From the beaches of Semaphore to the shores of Gallipoli, the mud of Flanders to the red dust of inland South Australia, this is a story of love, brotherhood, and resilience.
Clare has shared an extract today.
***** beginning of extract*****
The unrelenting summer was mute with loneliness, brutal with drought. Neighbours dropped by now and then,or nodded to Nora at church. There was nothing new to say. There was no news,or only delayed bad news. Not even bad news was special now. They all chewed the remnants of a shared disaster like a flash flood, with tales of more destruction coming in belatedly from outlying areas.
Like a flood, war’s effects were unpredictable and astonishing. Great gaps in the congregation showed where places had been saved, places no one would ever fill. No shadow of that lad’s life on the land; no body and no grave. Swept from sight and sense, and only words left in his place, the same words going around over and over again till even the words died somewhere else, robbed of the life they once had. Nora often found her mind wandering when she should have been listening. A month had passed since her father had sailed back to England, shaking off the financial disaster of his failed war investments. Nora began to fear that her future, too, held only longing and loss. Time perhaps to think about another life. But as each week melted into the next, she put off any decision.
At dusk on the last day of January, as the last bloody rays of sun flooded the long drive, she stepped onto the verandah. The eucalypts along the fence looked like petrified coral. Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight. Shepherds must like hot weather. She waited. The trees exhaled, freshening the air. The first creaking whisper of coolness teased the dust on the grass. The earth seemed to stretch and yawn. Insects jabbered at the coming night.
Nora leaned on the post, aware of the turning of time. Then she saw him coming down the drive, the strap of his swag crosswise on his chest. A self-willed, obstinate, lone merino ram, pride and despair of the flock, returning from the hill paddock in his own good time. Shepherdess’s delight. She nearly shouted his name. The next moment she realised that the waiting was over, that the future was here, and it frightened her. But it was her time.
She stepped back into the hallway and turned on the electric light. She didn’t look at her reflection in the mirror or remove her workday apron. She didn’t think of any such mundane things. She took the kerosene lamp from the side table and lit that too. Bearing it high, she went out again and placed it on the broad railing that guarded the verandah, as a beacon, a welcome, a sign. She saw the instant he noticed it, saw him check and then come on in the growing darkness. She held her arms out to him. At the yard gate, he fumbled the catch and then looked up at her. A moment more and he bounded up the steps and had her gathered against him. He was warm and solid and very real, smelling of sweat and dust and sunshine. He filled her arms.
‘Oh God, oh God. Harry! Harry!’
Harry didn’t answer. He had no words for what he felt.
A shudder ran through them both. A spotted nightjar caw-caw-cawed and the crickets resumed their screaming. Nora put her arms up around Harry’s neck but the swag foiled her, and the dipping brim of his hat. She could get no closer for the moment. She drew back, wondering whether to look at his face or pretend not to. She had only once been in his arms before and she sensed now a withdrawal in him too.
‘Come in, do, before the mosquitoes start on you,’ she said at last.
Harry set himself against her. ‘Wait a minute. You’d better get your brother.’
‘Isn’t he inside?’
‘He’s not here, Harry. My brother’s in Adelaide.’ She stood close to him, puzzled and a little fearful. ‘You’ve been talking to Charlie?’
Harry rubbed his jaw. ‘Not recently enough, it seems. Nora, he said he’d be here after your father sailed. He told me the date. He was going to help me. I didn’t want you to handle this alone.’
‘To handle what alone? Harry, come inside, won’t you?’
‘Not before you’ve even seen me. You mightn’t want me in there.’
So he was going to be difficult over the matter of his face. Nora was so sure of herself that she was surprised at the frantic way her heart had started to beat. It was because he doubted her. She was afraid he’d turn and go away again. She couldn’t bear to lose him twice. Her fingers tightened in his shirt.
‘Of course I want you here,’ she said. ‘You can have the guest room. I need to put on new sheets. I didn’t know you were coming. Well,’ she confided, ‘I didn’t know when. I just hoped you would come before I had to go looking for you.’
‘Nora, wait.’ Harry resisted the coaxing. His hand closed over hers. ‘I want you to tell me now. Look at me. Tell me whether you can bear it.’
Nora had already made her decision. She had her answer the moment she held him in her arms. Nothing could undo that leap of knowledge, that recognition, that sureness. ‘Harry, stop fussing. Come inside. I don’t know what you’re talking about.’
‘You do know! You got my letter. My face, I mean.’ His words were half angry man, half beaten child.
‘That letter! I threw it in the fire. I burned it. I wrote to you about that.’
Harry turned back, his face still in shadow, his brief flare of anger swamped. ‘I know. You said it couldn’t make any difference. But it can, Nora. I see it in people’s eyes. I’ve seen—I frighten them. Even my mother—’ He shook his head, perplexed and stubborn. ‘Look. You haveto look at me. Don’t be afraid to say no. Don’t have me out of pity. It’s not pity I want from you.’
‘And you’ll get none! Show me, then.’
***** end of extract*****
Clare Rhoden writes historical fiction, sci-fi and fantasy (check her titles at Odyssey Books http://odysseybooks.com.au/). Clare lives in Melbourne Australia with her husband Bill, their super-intelligent poodle-cross Aeryn, a huge and charming parliament of visiting magpies, and a very demanding/addictive garden space.
Clare completed her PhD in Australian WWI literature at the University of Melbourne in 2011, and a Masters of Creative Writing in 2008, in which she investigated the history of her grandparents who emigrated for Europe to Port Adelaide in January 1914. The Stars in the Night is the result of her research.
For more information about Clare, visit: https://clarerhoden.com/