‘Dead Ernest’ is being published as an eBook tomorrow the 1st March 2018 by Sapere Books. It is also out in paperback. I am absolutely thrilled to be kicking off this blog tour today along with two other bloggers.
I have an exclusive extract from the book for all of you to read, but first here’s what its about.
No one had expected Ernest to die, least of all Ernest…
Ernest Bentley was a pillar of the community. But when he suddenly dies of a heart attack his wife Annie refuses to have the words ‘beloved husband’ added to his gravestone. Their son, Billy, is exasperated with his mother and worries about how she will cope on her own. Unwilling to take time out of his own busy schedule to take care of her, he enlists the services of the local vicar, Andrew, to keep an eye on her.
Before she knows what is happening, Annie finds herself telling Andrew things she has kept hidden for years. Dark secrets that had plagued her sixty-year marriage to Ernest. When Annie’s estranged granddaughter, Ophelia, turns up for a visit, the two bond over their mutual contempt for Billy and his controlling behaviour. But when Ophelia meets Andrew, the unhappily married vicar, things start to get very complicated…
What is the truth about Ernest? Why is Annie behaving so strangely now that he is dead? And how can Andrew reconcile his growing feelings for Ophelia with his respect for his marriage and his religion?
Spanning from the Second World War to the present day, Dead Ernest by Frances Garrood is a poignant, moving and, at times, very funny look at what really goes on behind closed doors in the ordinary lives of ordinary people.
No one had expected Ernest to die, least of all Ernest. He prided himself on coming from tough, Yorkshire stock, and had often told Annie that he would easily outlive her. So, when he had his heart attack, Annie’s feelings were at first of surprise rather than anything else.
“Are you sure?” she asked the policewoman, who was making tea in the kitchen. (How odd that it was always the police who were sent to break bad news; almost as though dying in the street were an offence against the law). “Are you sure he’s dead?”
“Quite sure. I’m so sorry, dear.” The policewoman handed her the tea (much too sweet, and not hot enough) and put an arm around her shoulders. “It must be a terrible shock. Is there anyone you’d like us to contact?”
“Billy. My son Billy. You’ll need to contact him.”
Because, of course, Billy must be told. Strangely, Annie had rather wanted to keep the news to herself for a while; to taste it and think about it on her own before sharing it with anyone else. But Billy would think it odd if she didn’t tell him at once, and besides, there would be things that would need doing. Annie had only the vaguest idea of what those things were, but she was sure Billy would know how to deal with them. Billy was good at that sort of thing.
“How do you know it was a heart attack?” Annie asked. “How can they tell?”
“Well, they can’t tell. Not for certain. But that’s what it looks like. There’ll have to be a post-mortem, of course.”
“Ernest wouldn’t like that,” Annie said, remembering Ernest’s dislike of being touched and even greater dislike of anyone seeing him in a position of disadvantage. A post-mortem, she could see, was going to place him in a position of considerable disadvantage.
“It has to be done, dear. It’s the law. Because he didn’t die in hospital.” The policewoman poured herself a cup of tea, although Annie hadn’t invited her to have one. Death, it would seem, muddled up all the rules of normal behaviour.
Ernest would have hated dying in the street like that, with everyone watching. Dying in hospital would have been acceptable, with dignity and nurses and clean sheets. But then Annie might have had to sit with him while he was doing it, and she wasn’t sure she could have managed that. Perhaps, after all, it was a blessing that he had died in the street.
“Where was he?” she asked. “Where did Ernest die?”
“Outside the fish and chip shop.”
“Outside the fish and chip shop,” Annie repeated, surprised. It seemed such an odd place to die. She wondered what he had been doing there. The fish and chip shop was the wrong end of town for the barber’s, which was where Ernest was supposed to be, and he’d only just had his lunch, so he couldn’t have been hungry. But now she would never know. Nobody would ever know what Ernest was doing before he died outside the fish and chip shop.
Annie was aware of the policewoman watching her, waiting to see how she would behave. “What do people usually do?” she asked, suddenly interested.
“Do?” The policewoman looked bemused.
“Yes. When someone dies. You must see a lot of them. When you tell them, what do they do?”
“Everyone’s different of course,” said the policewoman carefully. “They cry, of course, and some people even scream. And sometimes they’re just shocked and quiet. Trying to understand what’s happened.”
“And what am I?”
“What are you?” The policewoman’s teacup paused, trembling, halfway to her lips.
“Yes. How would you say I was taking it?”
“I would say,” the teacup returned firmly to its saucer, “I would say that you were being very brave. Perhaps it hasn’t quite sunk in yet,” she added gently. “It’s a terrible shock for you.”
Was it? Was it really a terrible shock? A surprise, certainly, but a shock? Annie wished the policewoman would go away and let her think. She needed time to sort herself out; to get to grips with what had happened. Ernest was dead, and she didn’t feel anything much at all. Not sad, not happy, not anything. Was she normal? Was it okay to feel like this?
“Ernest is dead.” She tried the words to see what they felt like. “Ernest — is — dead. It sounds so strange.” She paused. “He had this little joke he used to tell: ‘Once upon a time there were two worms fighting in dead Ernest.’ I never thought it was funny, and Billy didn’t like it, but it always made Ernest laugh.”
The policewoman smiled.
“Did he have a sense of humour then, your Ernest?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that. Ernest only had the two jokes, and I’ve forgotten the other one.”
“Would you like another cup of tea?” the policewoman asked.
“No thank you. I think I’d like you to go now,” Annie said.
“But we can’t leave you here on your own. Not at a time like this. Is there a neighbour who might sit with you? Just until your son gets here.”
Annie thought of her neighbours. Of odd, secretive Mr Adams, a tiny man of indeterminate age who lived alone and who hoarded things. Annie had only once been inside his house and had been left with an impression of disturbing smells and what appeared to be wall-to-wall jumble and bric-a-brac. The piles were neat and appeared to be in some kind of order, but the impression was not welcoming. On the other side lived a young couple, with a frog-faced toddler who screamed a lot. Annie certainly didn’t want to involve them, and she quite definitely didn’t need the toddler.
“I don’t really have much to do with the neighbours.” She stood up. “I want to be by myself now. I don’t need anyone else.”
After the policewoman had gone, Annie locked and bolted the door. Then, because it was getting dark, she drew the curtains and turned on the gas fire. Ernest would be home any time now, and wanting his tea. Ernest was very particular about his tea. He always had it at six o’clock on the dot, the same time as he used to have his meal when he got home from work. Ernest liked routine and order, and because it was easier to do what Ernest wanted, Annie had always gone along with it. Yes. She must get Ernest’s tea ready. A nice piece of fish (it was Friday) and some mashed potatoes and cabbage. Annie thought it was odd to have cabbage with fish, but Ernest had read a book about green vegetables being particularly good for you, and recently he had insisted on having them with everything.
But Ernest is dead, she realised again. Ernest is dead. He isn’t coming home for his tea. The green-vegetable book came too late to save him. He won’t be coming home at all; not ever. His heavy tread on the gravel (a slight limp because of his bad hip), his key in the door, his voice calling her name as he hung up his coat and cap. None of these things would ever happen again. The coat and the cap were — where? At the hospital, presumably. And Ernest himself; where exactly was he? Lying somewhere, cold, waiting for the post-mortem. Annie shivered. At least she wouldn’t have to go and identify him. Billy would see to that. She couldn’t understand why anyone had to go and identify Ernest, when he’d been carrying his pension book.
‘Dead Ernest’ can be purchased in paperback from Amazon UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dead-Ernest-behind-closed-doors/dp/1912546019/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1519756569&sr=8-1
About Frances Garrood
My main career was in nursing, but I also trained and worked for many years as a relationship counsellor with Relate. Widowed in 1992, I re-married and now live with my husband in Wiltshire, where I enjoy riding my horse in the beautiful Pewsey Vale, reading, writing, singing in our large church choir and keeping up with my grandchildren. I also write regularly to a prisoner on Texas Death Row and do local voluntary work with homeless and vulnerable adults.
I first started writing as a child; mainly poetry, but there was one horrific novel (mercifully, never finished) in which a woman gives birth to a hideously deformed child in a thunderstorm. While I was bringing up my four children, I began writing and selling short stories to magazines before the enforced immobility following a fractured spine gave me the time to tackle my first novel, Dead Ernest.
All my books are very strongly relationship-based. My writing has also been affected by my widowhood and my experiences with my Relate clients, and my books sometimes include issues of death and bereavement. Strangely (and not by design) they all seem to include pet animal funerals (not a subject which normally occupies my mind!).
PRAISE FOR FRANCES AND HER BOOKS
“Frances Garrood is a magnificent writer.” — thebookbag.co.uk
“Dead Ernest is remarkably well written, well constructed.” — Grumpy Old Bookworm
“Light-hearted, heartwarming and enjoyable.” —writers-online.co.uk
Website – http://www.francesgarrood.com/