Letters from ElsewhereI’m delighted to welcome Mr Sykes to my blog today. Actually, between you and me, I was surprised to learn that Mr Sykes is only in his sixties, because he seems like a very sweet old man in the novel (Nice Girls Don’t by Sue Barnard) and “sixties” isn’t old in my book – not any more. I suppose in the early ’80s we had a different attitude to age – I know I did!

It’s 1982. A few years ago Mr Sykes took early retirement to look after his wife, after she was left crippled by an accident.

Following her death two years ago, he has slowly begun to rebuild his life.  Every day he comes to the local library to do The Times crossword.  He is well-liked by the library staff, especially Emily, whom he treats with old-fashioned gentlemanly charm.

But events are about to take an interesting turn, in both his life and Emily’s…

6th April 1982

The crossword was a real stinker today.  I think they must have got that dreadful compiler back again.  Goodness knows how he thinks up the clues, but most of them are impossible to solve from first principles.  I have to hazard a guess at the answers, then work back to try to make them fit.  It takes all the pleasure out of it.

 Emily was full of a cold today.  Poor girl; she looked like death warmed up.  I think she was on the late shift yesterday, too.  Frankly I’m surprised she came into work at all.  But then, I suppose she’s worried about the cutbacks.  If she wants to stand any chance of not being made redundant, she daren’t give the Council any reason to criticise her.  And I’ve no idea what I’ll do if they close the library altogether.  It’s been my lifeline since I lost Hilda, even if one day is very much like the next.

 Having said that, something rather different happened this morning.  I was looking through the dictionary trying to find a word which would fit the letters I had for 14 down, when a young man (well, probably in his late twenties, I would guess) wandered into the reference section carrying a pile of books about researching family history.  He spread them out on the table next to where I was sitting, and seemed to be trying to decide which ones to take out.  It struck me as odd because he seemed a bit young to be interested in that sort of thing.  Anyway, we got chatting, and it turns out that his grandfather died about six months ago, and that he’s now uncovered some kind of mystery about the old man’s past. 

 He said that he’s found a lot of old papers amongst his grandfather’s stuff, but can’t make much sense of them.  I told him about my own interest in family history, and offered to help.  I didn’t think he’d really be interested, but he leapt at the chance.  He’s going to bring it all in tomorrow for me to have a look at.

 He seemed like a pleasant young fellow, and very well-spoken.  It was only after he’d gone that I realised I don’t know his name.  I must make sure that we introduce ourselves properly tomorrow.

 I’ve no idea if we’ll find anything interesting, but it will make a nice change to have something else to think about for a little while…

About Nice Girls Don’t

NiceGirlsDont - Sue BarnardWho knows what secrets lie hidden in your family’s past?

Southern England, 1982. At 25, single, and under threat of redundancy from her job in a local library, Emily feels as though her life is going nowhere – until the day when Carl comes into the library asking for books about tracing family history.

Carl is baffled by a mystery about his late grandfather: why is the name by which Carl had always known him different from the name on his old passport?

Fascinated as much by Carl himself as by the puzzle he wants to solve, Emily tries to help him find the answers. As their relationship develops, their quest for the truth takes them along a complicated paper-trail which leads, eventually, to the battlefields of the Great War.

In the meantime, Emily discovers that her own family also has its fair share of secrets and lies. And old sins can still cast long shadows…

Can Emily finally lay the ghosts of the past to rest and look forward to a brighter future?

About Sue Barnard

Sue BarnardSue Barnard was born in North Wales but has spent most of her life in and around Manchester. After graduating from Durham University, where she studied French and Italian, Sue got married then had a variety of office jobs before becoming a full-time parent. If she had her way, the phrase non-working mother” would be banned from the English language.

Since then she has had a series of part-time jobs, including some work as a freelance copywriter. In parallel with this she took several courses in Creative Writing. Her writing achievements include winning the Writing Magazine New Subscribers Poetry Competition for 2013. She is also very interested in Family History. Her own background is stranger than fiction; she’d write a book about it if she thought anybody would believe her.

Sue has a mind which is sufficiently warped as to be capable of compiling questions for BBC Radio 4’s fiendishly difficult Round Britain Quiz. This once caused one of her sons to describe her as “professionally weird.” The label has stuck.

Sue joined the editorial team of Crooked Cat Publishing in 2013. Her first novel, The Ghostly Father (a new take on the traditional story of Romeo & Juliet) was officially released on St Valentine’s Day 2014.  This was followed in July 2014 by her second novel, a romantic mystery entitled Nice Girls Don’t.  Her third novel, The Unkindest Cut of All (a murder mystery set in a theatre), was released in June 2015.

You can find Sue on Facebook, Twitter (@SusanB2011), or follow her blog here.

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