Life: An Exploded Diagram is the latest novel from multiple award-winning author Mal Peet, who won the Carnegie Medal for Tamar and the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize for Exposure.
The book is a coming-of-age love story, set in Norfolk in the 1960s against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It has already received great acclaim from Patrick Ness and Anthony McGowan, and Walker have created a book trailer which was revealed on 27th May on Wondrous Reads along with the first extract, but you can also watch the trailer here, below!
You can read the second extract here, and the third extract will be placed on Writing from the Tub, on Sunday.
THE GIRL WHO ATE HIS HEART BUMS A SMOKE
Saturdays and Sundays were the busiest days for picking. Whole families went: mothers with toddlers perched in wickerwork child-seats behind the saddles of their bikes, men with boys on their crossbars and lunchbags over their shoulders. Clem and Goz stood up on their pedals, overtaking at high speed.
The picking had moved to an adjacent, much larger, field. There were two weighing-stations. Mortimer’s men were stretching a tarpaulin over a three-sided shelter made of hay bales. Even at this early hour the day was very hot, and the filled punnets of strawberries would need shade. The two boys pushed their bikes over the baking ground to the far side of the field, where a line of ash trees separated it from a shimmering expanse of ripening wheat.
“There,” Goz said, gesturing with his head.
One ash had lost its grip on the earth and slumped against its neighbour. In their conjoined shadows a few of last season’s bales had been overlooked. The boys parked their bikes there and stuffed their rucksacks into the spilt hay.
At dinner-time they returned to this den, away from the noisy mob, shuffling themselves into the narrowing shade. They unwrapped their sandwiches with reddened fingers.
“Wanna swap one?”
“Dunno,” Goz said. “Wotcher got?”
“Cheese and piccalilli.”
“Cawd, no. Dunno how you eat that stuff. It’s like yellow sick.”
“Thank you very much, Gosling. I’ll enjoy them all the more for that.”
They drank over-sweet orange squash from a flip-top Corona bottle. It was warm as blood, despite their precautions. Goz had a packet of ten Bristol cigarettes. They smoked, sighing pleasure. A segment of time passed.
A voice that was neither of their own said, “Give us a drag on that.”
They squinted up. She was wearing the same knotted shirt and short blue jeans as before, stained now, and a misshapen, big-brimmed straw hat that webbed her face with shadow.
Goz reacted first. He held up his ciggie and she stepped forward and took it from his fingers. She took a theatrical pull on it then stepped forward, pushed the boys’ legs apart with one of her own and flopped onto the ground between them, her back against the broken bale. She took another drag, with her eyes closed.
“I hope you don’t mind,” she said. “Daddy doesn’t know I smoke.”
Clem and Goz leaned forward and goggled at each other (Daddy?) and then, as one, took a peek down her shirt.
Goz found his voice. “Your dad? That’d be the Lord High Mortimer, would it?”
She laughed, snortling smoke. “God, is that really what they call him?”
She opened her eyes and looked at them in turn. There was a little slick of perspiration in the hollow where her throat met her chest. She smelt of sweat and strawberries and something like vanilla ice-cream.
“Some do,” Goz said. “We don’t. We’re communists. We’re making plans for the revolution.”
“Are you? Are you really? Is that why you’re down here away from all the other workers?”
“Yeah. People talk. You can’t trust anybody. There are informers everywhere. Walls have ears.”
“So do corn,” Clem said, and instantly regretted it.
“That was feeble, Ackroyd,” Goz said.
She turned to Clem.
God, her eyes.
“Ackroyd? Any relation to George Ackroyd?”
“Yeah,” he admitted. “He’s my old man.”
She studied him. He trembled with the effort of holding her gaze.
“Yes,” she said. “You look like him, come to think of it. I like George. He’s nice. Daddy thinks the world of him.”
“Yeah, well,” Clem said, thinking, She knows my dad? He knew she existed?
“So what’s your first name, son of George?”
“Clem. My ugly mate is Goz.”
The girl stubbed the cigarette out, carefully, on a patch of bare soil and pushed herself forward onto her knees. She looked around the field then stood up.
“Okay,” she said. “Thanks for the smoke. I’ll see you later, alligator.”
“Hang on,” Clem said. “What’s your name, then?”
“Short for Françoise.” She pronounced it ironically, with an exaggerated Norfolk accent: Fraarnswaars.
“Cawd strewth,” Clem murmured, watching her walk away.
“Dear oh bleddy dear,” Goz said, sorrowfully.
You can read the next extract tomorrow on Writing from the Tub, tomorrow.
And thanks to the lovely people at Walker I have one copy of the book to giveaway. Comment on this post with your name and email address to win. Closes 11th June, 11:59pm. UK only.