Today I am taking part in the blog tour and sharing an extract from The Girl in the Van by Helen Matthews. This was released on the 17th of March, published by Darkstroke Books.
A tormented mother. An abandoned girl. A deadly game of survival.
What happened to Ellie?
Traumatised by events, Ellie’s mother, Laura, can’t bear to stay in the Welsh seaside town where she lives with her partner, Gareth. She escapes to London, breaking all ties with him, and refusing to tell anyone her new address.
After two years of living alone and working in a mundane job, Laura buys an old campervan and joins a singles holiday. Here, she meets Miriana, a teenage girl who bears a chilling resemblance to Ellie. As Laura uncovers Miriana’s story, she’s shocked by the parallels to her own life.
But stories can be dangerous, and someone out there will stop at nothing to prevent the truth about Ellie from coming out…
This extract is from the end of Chapter Two. The main character, Laura, a former teacher, left her home and partner, Gareth, after a devastating event involving their teenage daughter, Ellie. Moving away from her home in South Wales to London, Laura cuts all ties with Gareth and refuses to tell anyone, including her own mother, her new address. Two years later, she buys a second hand campervan and heads off to a campsite in Tenby (West Wales). On the way, she calls in on her mother and, although she’d kept in touch by phone, this is their first meeting after the long estrangement. Conversation is difficult and stilted. As this extract begins, Laura’s mum is the first to speak.
“Gareth came to see me last week. He’s good at keeping in touch.”
My heart beats a little faster. “How was he?”
“Better, I think. He looked fitter at least; he’s been working out at the gym, and he went back to rugby coaching last season.”
“Good.” The last time I saw Gareth he was a flabby, emotional wreck, his face bloated from alcohol. When she mentions him in our phone calls, I switch off. Mum spent too long on Team Gareth. It felt like she was siding with him against me.
“Anyway, the rugby club’s been his saviour. He spends all his spare time up there, so he’s not cutting himself off from people anymore.”
“Is he working?” I ask. Gareth’s a carpenter and had his own successful business building hand-crafted kitchens, but when I left he hadn’t had a commission for months and was sliding down the slope towards bankruptcy.
“Yes. He wound up his company. Now he works as a contractor for someone else, but he seems to have plenty of work. And he’s abandoned his mission to investigate – until he finds a new lead.”
“Mission! I’d call it an obsession.”
“Who can blame him?”
She’s right, of course. None of us knows how we’ll behave when the worst thing possible happens. My response was to shut down, stay numb and push everyone away. Gareth’s grief turned to rage – against the world, against himself, and ultimately against me. He lashed out at the way he was treated by the community and the press, and picked fights with anyone who asked questions or voiced an opinion. When some busybody organised a meeting about keeping children safe, he chucked a brick through the window of the church hall.
I get to my feet and collect up the mugs. I have a long drive ahead before I face a group of new people.
“Did you know,” Mum continues, unrelenting, “some of the teachers from your old school belong to the rugby club?”
“Sure, they always did.” What else can you do in winter in a small seaside dormitory town if you’re not into sailing, and too young to settle for a stroll on the pier or a bracing walk along the pebble beach?
“That teacher who was in your department plays rugby now. What was his name? Gareth spends quite a bit of time with him.”
My head aches from her talk of the past. I’ve cut my ties with Llewellyn High School, where I taught French for fifteen years and became Head of Department. “I can’t think of it at the moment.” I’ve blocked all the memories, not just the sad ones. “I expect it’ll come to me.”
She glances through the French windows at her garden where deep red and yellow roses are in bud, in bloom and overblown. She’d love me to stroll around the garden with her, but she says, “Off you go. Tenby’s a long drive. Make sure you get there before dark.” It won’t be dark for hours, but her anxiety’s a sign of how she’s aged, and my stomach clenches with pain and guilt. Surely I could relax my vigilance and spend more time with her? Gareth’s threats were angry words when he was at breaking point. If he meant me harm, he’d have tracked me down by now.
“Let’s say goodbye here.” I stop in the hall and hug Mum tight. I don’t want a long goodbye wave on the doorstep in full view of the neighbours. “I’ll see you soon.”
“Shall I give your love to Gareth when I next see him?”
“No.” I didn’t mean to snap, but the tight feeling moves from my stomach and lodges in my chest. I ease my backpack onto one shoulder. “Don’t tell him I was here. Please.”
“Okay,” she says.
At the end of her drive I turn and wave, then stride towards the main road and the pub where I parked my campervan. I’m still clutching the envelope she gave me with the cheque in it, and flip it over in my hands. On the back is a smudged line of text, as if the envelope had been pressed down like blotting paper on top of something she’d written underneath in fountain pen.
The letters and numbers look familiar. With a stab of shock, I realise Mum has noted down my campervan’s registration plate from the photograph I showed her. But why?
THE GIRL IN THE VAN BLOG TOUR
Follow the tour along the way for these bloggers thoughts on The Girl in the Van
LET’S GET TO KNOW HELEN MATTHEWS
Helen Matthews writes page-turning psychological suspense novels and is fascinated by the darker side of human nature and how a life can change in an instant. Her fourth novel The Girl in the Van, a suspense thriller with dark contemporary themes will be published by Darkstroke Books in March 2022. Previous novels include After Leaving the Village, which won first prize in the opening pages category at Winchester Writers’ Festival, and was followed by Lies Behind the Ruin, domestic noir set in France, published by Hashtag Press. Her third novel Façade was published by Darkstroke in September 2020.
Born in Cardiff, Helen read English at the University of Liverpool and worked in international development, consultancy, human resources and pensions management. She fled corporate life to work freelance while studying for a Creative Writing MA at Oxford Brookes University. Her stories and flash fiction have been shortlisted and published by Flash 500, 1000K Story, Reflex Press, Artificium and Love Sunday magazine.
She is a keen cyclist, covering long distances if there aren’t any hills, sings in a choir and once appeared on stage at Carnegie Hall, New York in a multi-choir performance. She loves spending time in France. Helen is an Ambassador for the charity, Unseen, which works towards a world without slavery and donates her author talk fees, and a percentage of royalties, to the charity.
BLOG TOUR ORGANISER
Thanks to Rachel from Rachel’s Random Resources for my spot on The Girl in the Van blog tour and for the promotional materials.