Throughout her life, Lisa Grant has had a volatile relationship with her narcissist mother, Elizabeth, who has always been economical with the truth about her upbringing in Cambridgeshire. After Lisa finds happiness in her own life, she decides to harness her journalistic skills, to find out more about her mother’s early life and is shocked by what she finds. As each piece of Elizabeth’s jigsaw slots into place, Lisa begins to realise that her own dysfunctional childhood was more like a stroll in the park with Mary Poppins. The following extract is a brief introduction to Elizabeth’s parents and the first few days of her life.
Elizabeth was born into an uncertain world, a few days after Neville Chamberlain announced that the UK was at war with Germany.
Her mother’s cries during labour had gone unheard. Her sister was at school and both her parents were at work.
Gertrude Clemmens reached down to touch her newborn baby for the first time, wrapping her in the swaddling blanket that had been used for her own birth, seventeen years previously.
‘I think you must be the most beautiful baby in the world, my lovely Lizzie.’ She whispered, the feathery touch of her lips caressing Elizabeth’s cheek, still wet with afterbirth.
‘Just you wait ’til your dad sees you… he’ll be cock-o-hoop.’
Elizabeth was born in her grandparent’s cottage on the Ditton Hall Estate owned by Viscount Rutherford. Her mother, Gertrude, was the eldest daughter of Walter Clemmens, Rutherford’s gamekeeper and her father, Edward Campbell, was Rutherford’s son. Poles apart on the social scale, but bound together by a love so strong nothing could tear them apart.
Edward was a caring and thoughtful young man, very different from his father in both looks and personality. He had very recently graduated from Cambridge University with an honours degree in Classics and returned home to the palatial Georgian mansion, Ditton Hall. The house and the Ditton Hall estate provided work for many of the villagers, including Elizabeth’s maternal grandmother, Evelyn Clemmens.
In his heart, Edward wanted nothing more than to marry his childhood sweetheart, Gertrude, and live quietly in a cottage on his father’s estate, but he knew his parents would never allow it. His mother had already compiled a long list of young debutantes she planned to introduce him to. Introductions that were on hold, much to his relief. He’d had little time to celebrate his university success or contemplate his future because duty was calling in more ways than one. After Edward had signed up with the Cambridgeshire Regiment, Walter Clemmens found out Gertrude was pregnant with Edward’s child and had delivered him an ultimatum.
‘You’ve got our Gertie up the duff, so I expect you to do right by her.’
Walter Clemmens was a man of few words, but when he spoke, his words were well chosen and to the point. He was a skilled user of most firearms, including a Purdey shotgun, which had been a gift from Lord Rutherford. It was always tucked under his arm and he had threatened to use it on Edward if he didn’t do right by Gertie.
The morning of Elizabeth’s birth, Edward had been deep in thought, meditating in the Baroque chapel at Ditton Hall. The threat of war was at the forefront of everybody’s minds and he was no different. He had yet to tell Gertie he had signed up to fight for King and Country, yet, but she would know that he would want to do his duty, but the thought of going to war was an agonising one. Leaving his parents and Ditton Hall meant nothing to him, but the thought of leaving his beloved Gertrude was unbearable. A door groaned open and he looked up to see a smiling Evelyn who walked over and sat next to him. His heart jumped for joy in anticipation of what she was about to say.
‘You have a daughter, Edward.’ She whispered in his ear.
He sprang to his feet and rushed outside. He ran across the manicured lawns, along the banks of the River Cam that meandered its way through the sweeping formal gardens at Ditton Hall, lorded over by towering oaks and magnificent elms. He crossed the bridge shaded by cascading weeping willows trees, startling a pair of mute swans who flapped their wings in feeble protest at the sound of his feet pounding across the wooden slats.
His breath became more laboured as he sprinted on to the leaf-strewn path he had taken so many times before, which wound its way through the woods to the Clemmens’ cottage. He took the stairs three at a time catching his breath at the top, before going into the bedroom Gertrude shared with her sister, Clara. Gertie was sitting up in bed, looking radiant as she breastfed Elizabeth. Clara was sitting on the side of the bed, chattering excitedly and, Walter, as dour as ever, stood a few feet away with the Purdey tucked under his arm.
‘She’s so beautiful! She’s just like her beautiful Mother. Oh, Gertie, this is the best and proudest moment of my life. I love you so much, and I love our little girl. You’ve made me the happiest man alive.’
Gertrude passed the swaddling child to Edward, whose. His tears overwhelmed him, prompting a disgruntled sigh from Walter, who believed the young men of the day were soft. Elizabeth’s tiny fingers touched her father’s nose.
‘Ah look,’ said Clara, ‘She’s reaching out to her dad.’
A few days after Elizabeth was born, Edward arrived at the Clemmens’s cottage wanting to take Gertrude for a drive. Gertie was reluctant to leave her baby daughter for the first time, but her mother had persuaded her to go.
‘Oh go on Gertie, have a nice time,’ Evelyn had said. ‘You know I’ll always look after Lizzie with my life.’
It was inevitable that Edward had started to allow the euphoria of becoming a father, to be eclipsed by the haunting reality that in a handful of days his regiment would be shipped out to Malaya, so the drive had been a ruse. Edward had an ulterior motive. He had planned to drive them to the medieval church at the historic and picturesque village of Granchester. He had spoken to the vicar there, asking him to marry them in a secret ceremony.
He told Gertie where they were going as they drove along, and she’d burst into tears. Concerned, he took his left hand off the steering wheel and held her hand.
‘They’re happy tears, my love. I could never, ever be this happy again. I love you so much, Edward Campbell.’ He turned to smile at her, losing concentration, just for a second, as the words ‘I love you too. With all my heart. Always and forever,’ escaped his lips, before turning to face the road again. Ahead of them, a herd of cattle was spilling out of a field on to the lane and he swerved to avoid them, ploughing his vehicle headlong into a five-hundred-year-old oak tree, killing them both instantly.
MORE ABOUT JUST SAY IT
Just Say It is my first attempt at a novel and it is the bittersweet story of Lisa Grant and the volatile relationship she has with her narcissistic mother, who has jaundiced her views on love and marriage.
Incapable of committing to a long-term relationship, she hides her insecurities behind a successful journalistic career.
It is only when she turns forty that she lets go of the past and finds it in her heart to forgive her mother.
KEY MOMENTS AND CHARACTERS