Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Friday, December 1, 2017

‘A Letter from Evangeline’ by Lily Burke

Long-standing readers of this blog will know that our daughter, Lily, is a keen reader and writer. Recently she entered a competition run by Jacqueline Wilson, in which readers were asked to write a letter set in historical times, the best of which would be published in Jacqueline Wilson’s next book. Lily didn’t win, and she was disappointed about that, although she didn’t really expect to win; what she was really disappointed about was that she had put so much effort into the story, and now, she says, no one will ever read it. So I’m putting the letter up here, so people can read it, and if anyone feels like letting Lily know what they thought of her letter, she would be delighted. I think it’s very good, but then I’m her Dad, and Lily is now nine years old, so my opinion doesn’t count so much anymore.
  Apart from some typos, the address at the top right, and some punctuation issues her OCD Dad just couldn’t let go, the letter is all Lily’s own work. To wit:

Ward 7,
St. Bart’s Hospital,
West Smithfield,
London.
September 2nd, 1942

Dearest Mother,
 You are in my closest thoughts and I hope that when I see you again you will be as healthy as when I saw you last. I felt awful leaving you. We were all in such a state, with Emily pregnant and Father going off to the war and Sissy, oh, it gets harder every day …
 She didn’t deserve to go, but I guess she’s better off where she is now. We loved her so, but we just couldn’t give her the home she needed. Sissy was so full of life and ideas and when she died all her ideas died with her.
 It’s my fault, I know. If I hadn’t spent all that money on my own selfish desires, we would have been able to buy the medicine Sissy needed to live.
 You simply must name Emily’s baby after Sissy. That way Sissy can be its guardian angel and be with us at the same time.
 Last week (God bless her little soul) there was a girl on the children’s ward around Sissy’s age, she was very poorly, I think she had cancer. She died on Sunday morning, and it brought a tear to my eye for it was such a familiar pain. Everything in my instinct was telling me to go and comfort that poor child’s mother, and so I did, but when I arrived on the ward I found that the mother had killed herself from a broken heart. I cried myself to sleep that night.
 The hospital is dreadful. We don’t get paid half of what we got in Manchester, and the other nurses look down on me because I’m not as posh as they are. One caught me crying in the hall after the little girl died, and said, in a very rude way, ‘Weaklings won’t survive this war.’ I didn’t say anything rude back because I know the reason that they’re so mean is because they’re trying to hide as much pain as I’m showing, and that’s only human, and I don’t see anything wrong with being human. The matron was coming, and I didn’t want her to see me crying, so I rushed off – and Mother, that’s when I met him.
 Please don’t tell the children, but I have a sweetheart. His name is Robbie and he’s ever so handsome and kind, if only you could meet him. Father would simply die if he saw him, because he looks like a convict! But he’s actually quite well behaved. He’s one of the few who survived in my ward, his body is broken but certainly not his spirit. The other night I caught him limping out of the ward and when I asked him wherever was he going at that time of night, he said he was going back to the army. I asked how on earth he would get there and he told me he would follow the trail of death.
 Often I hear him cursing someone, saying things like, ‘The day I meet you again is the day I will kill you.’ And oh, how it breaks my heart, but there is nothing I can do, for a man ought to put his health before his desire, and though no man should give up on his dream and should be ashamed to do so, he cannot let his spirit take him over. But I don’t blame him, even the calmest of men could lose their minds in conditions such as these.
 Mother, I’m embarrassed to say this, but I have been singing in a music hall. It’s not a thing a nice girl would do, but you know I’ve never been a nice girl! I suppose you’re wondering why. Robbie plans to go to America when the war is over, and he has invited me to go with him. I’m sad to say that I won’t be coming home. He will write songs and I will sing them, and it will be tough but we will find a way, as lovers often do.
 And if I do come back you can hate me, because I have gone against everything I ever believed. I betrayed you. But I hope against hope that you can find it in your heart to love me,
 Your ever loving daughter,
 Evangeline

By Lily Burke, aged 9