Journal reporter Claire Allan’s latest novel has earned her fifth consecutive bestseller title - today we publish an exclusive extract in advance of a signing tomorrow at Eason, Foyleside.
‘If Only You Knew’ tells the story of two cousins who unearth a world of secrets when clearing out their late aunt’s home in the South of France. In this section, Ava has just learned of Betty’s death.
Ava was shocked as she arrived at her mother’s house, having deposited Maisie back with her still-sleepy father, at just how bereft Cora was.
It wasn’t that she thought her mother to be a heartless cow or devoid of feeling, just that she had never really spoken of Betty and when she had it had been in hushed tones.
Betty was most definitely the black sheep of the Scott family, having left Derry in the late 70s for a bohemian lifestyle in the South of France. Ava couldn’t say she had blamed her one bit for leaving Derry behind – Derry in the late 70s wasn’t exactly a fun place to be by all accounts.
Ava would have left too – especially if she had found a very handsome man to marry who wanted to take her away from it all. South of France versus the Bogside and tear gas? Who could have blamed her?
But it seemed there were elements in her family who had felt betrayed in some way by Betty’s departure. Sure they were all meant to be in this together, weren’t they? Whatever the reason Betty was not someone who was spoken about very often.
There weren’t even family holidays en masse to Provence even though at family gatherings it was agreed it must be lovely out there.
Looking at her mother now, bent double in grief on her armchair, her sobs racking her body Ava wondered if maybe Cora just hadn’t wanted to let her sister go, knowing perhaps she would never come home?
“Oh Mum,” she said, kneeling down beside her mother and pulling her into a hug. “I’m so sorry,” she soothed.
“I just thought I would see her again . . . there was so much we needed to say –” Cora broke off, sniffing loudly right in Ava’s ear which made Ava shudder. She never liked getting too close to a clatter of snotters. Pulling back, she looked at her mother: “I’m sure she knew how you felt about her,” she soothed, not quite knowing why she was saying that. She didn’t, in honesty, know if Betty knew a damn about her mother and how she felt about her. Ava didn’t know how her mother felt about Betty. She just didn’t come up in conversation that often.
“How could she not tell us she was sick? Were we so bad she would rather die out there without a being belonging to her close by? And then to tell us, by letter . . .” Cora gestured to a letter on the side table and then broke into a fresh dose of sobbing. “I would have gone. I would have been there. I know we all have our lives and we’re all busy but we would have gone, or we would have brought her home . . .”
Ava hugged her mother again. “She’s been in France a long time. Longer than she was ever here. Maybe she just considered that home?”
Cora sniffed. “Home is always home,” she said. “She should have let us say goodbye.”
“I’m so sorry, Mum,” Ava repeated. “I’ll make you a cup of tea. You’ve had a shock. Have you spoken to the rest of the family yet?”
Cora shook her head. “I just called you. I just wanted you.”
Ava felt her heart swell at her mother’s honest emotion. An only child, her mother leant on her heavily at times. Of course she would have called her in the circumstances.
Ava kissed her and went to make for the kitchen.
“She’s left you something,” Cora said as Ava turned on her heel.
“What?” Ava stopped and turned, sure she must have misheard. How could, why would, Betty leave her anything?
“It says so in the letter. You’ve to go to a solicitor’s in Belfast on Wednesday to hear more.” Cora spoke softly, her head downwards. Ava felt absolutely and totally confused. Sure they had spoken for a long time at her granny’s funeral – laughing like old friends – but leave her something?
“Really?” she asked. “Why would she?”
“You must have meant a lot to her,” Cora said, looking up, her eyes filling with tears again. “Sure don’t you mean a lot to us all?”
If Only You Knew is published by Poolbeg Press. Claire will be signing copies of the book in Eason, Foyleside, tomorrow at 2pm.