Sunday, 27 November 2016

Publication Day: The Beauty Shop Released 28th November 2016

My debut novel, The Beauty Shop is released today, the 28th November 2016. Set during World War Two and based on the true story of the Guinea Pig Club, it explores the nature of good looks, social acceptance and the true meaning of 'skin deep' via three interlocking experiences.


England, 1942. After three years of WWII, Britain is showing the scars. But in this darkest of days, three lives intertwine, changing their destinies and those of many more.

Dr Archibald McIndoe, a New Zealand plastic surgeon with unorthodox methods, is on a mission to treat and rehabilitate badly burned airmen – their bodies and souls. With the camaraderie and support of the Guinea Pig Club, his boys battle to overcome disfigurement, pain, and prejudice to learn to live again.

John ‘Mac’ Mackenzie of the US Air Force is aware of the odds. He has one chance in five of surviving the war. Flying bombing missions through hell and back, he’s fighting more than the Luftwaffe. Fear and doubt stalk him on the ground and in the air, and he’s torn between his duty and his conscience.

Shy, decent and sensible Stella Charlton’s future seems certain until war breaks out. As a new recruit to the WAAF, she meets an American pilot on New Year’s Eve. After just one dance, she falls head over heels for the handsome airman. But when he survives a crash, she realises her own battle has only just begun.

Based on a true story, "The Beauty Shop" is a moving tale of love, compassion, and determination against a backdrop of wartime tragedy.


Chapter One

Ward III, Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead, November 1942

The boy lay swathed in bandages that masked third-degree burns to the face, neck, chest, arms, and legs; the aftermath of a skirmish with the Luftwaffe. It was a miracle he’d been able to bail out of his flaming Spitfire and pull the cord on his parachute, with hands of molten wax, skin that hung in shards like ripped silk, and fingers melded together by the heat of the furnace. Archibald McIndoe inhaled as he hovered in the doorway of the side room and wrinkled his nose against the cloying stench of charred flesh that assaulted his nostrils. It was a nauseating odour he was used to and usually ignored, but tonight was different. Tonight it was especially malodorous and reached into the back of his throat, and he cupped his nose with his hand as he tried not to gag.

He sauntered out into the ward. Music flowed from the gramophone further down, and the upbeat, familiar Glenn Miller sound swung out, a delightful blend of saxophones, trumpets, and strings. ‘American Patrol.’ The volume was unusually low; he sensed that was purposefully done out of respect and his heart contracted. A haze of stale cigarette smoke and the sweet aroma of beer blended in the air to mask any clinical odours or otherwise. With the blackout curtains drawn, the bedside lighting cast a subdued glow around the ward. He stopped in front of the coke stove and held his hands in the wave of heat that streamed from the door. They were still numb from the frosty evening air, even though he had been back inside for a while.

He glanced around. The place looked more like a barracks than a hospital. One airman lay stretched out on top of his bed, reading a newspaper, a smouldering cigarette resting between the first two fingers of his right hand. He glanced up.

‘Evening, Maestro.’ The voice was flat.

Archie nodded a greeting. Three others sat huddled around the table in the middle of the ward, playing cards. Suddenly, an airman in RAF blues sprang up from his chair and grabbed the blonde VAD nurse with the ruby lips and twirled her around, dancing to the tune, which promptly changed to a slower number. Then he drew her close as they waltzed to notes that quivered in the air. He glanced at Archie and grinned. ‘Hello, Maestro. Fancy a beer?’

‘No thanks, Dickie, not tonight.’

His upturned mouth sagged into a straight line, and he nodded, his hand slipping from the nurse’s waist as he moved away – thirty seconds of frivolity anaesthetised by the gathering dark clouds. As Archie ambled back towards the side room, the boys gazed at him with sombre faces, their eyes glazed. Amidst the clink of beer glasses, the chain-smoking, and the banter, they all knew.

Back in the side room, another sound filtered in, a desperate, chilling rasp, and the hairs at the nape of Archie’s neck prickled. He sighed. He had told the boy exactly what he said to all of them when they first arrived. ‘Don’t worry. We’ll fix you up.’ His stomach sank. He’d tried his best, truly he had.
He strode over to the bed. David’s breathing had changed since this morning. He was in the period of transition; the final phase. Archie swallowed. Dear God, why had it come to this? David lay quite still, rattling breaths cutting through the hush, a thatch of golden blond hair just visible above his bandages. Did he have a girl and did she ever thread her fingers through his hair? It was a random thought, plucked from nowhere, silly really, but then this whole event was bizarre and surreal. It shouldn’t be happening – just like this damn, bloody war. The words of his cousin Harold Gillies sprung into his mind: This war will bring injuries never seen before. Archie nodded. ‘Right again, as usual,’ he muttered.

Why couldn’t he have saved him? Yes, the boy had severe injuries, but injuries he could have survived. But the infection that had taken a serious hold several days ago had changed the course of David’s life, bending its flow in another direction. Sepsis had spread, his organs were failing, and there was nothing to be done. Nothing at all, except sit here and wait. The boy sucked in breaths through an open mouth. Archie glanced around and spotted the kidney dish on the bedside table with a mouth swab and water. He gently dabbed David’s dry lips and tongue. At least he could do that.

Archie was not familiar with death. Most of the time, his patients lived, so it was a dreadful blow when death came calling. This boy had suffered enough, and now in a cruel twist, he would die after all, and he’d put up such a splendid fight. Archie heard Richard Hillary’s words loud and clear as if the young fighter pilot were standing next to him: Tell me, Archie. Does a chap ever sense that death is waiting?

‘I don’t know,’ Archie murmured. ‘But I sense it.’ He sank down on the chair next to the bed and glanced at his watch. Eleven o’clock. He pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes, stifling a yawn as fatigue closed around him like a warm, fuzzy blanket. He’d spent twelve hours in surgery and longed to return home, but he would wait. The boy was an American with the RAF; a stranger on foreign soil. No one should be alone at the end.

Sister Jamieson bustled into the room carrying a steaming, white enamel mug, her rubber-soled shoes squelching across the linoleum floor. ‘I saw you come in, and I thought you might like a cup of tea,’ she said in a hushed voice.

‘Thanks.’ He was in need of something a little stronger, in all honesty, but that would have to wait. He took a sip. At least it was warm.

‘I can ask one of the nurses to sit with him if you need to go. There’s no telling how long it will be.’ Her thin, pale lips flickered to form a faint compassionate smile, revealing a dimple on her left cheek he’d never noticed before, although the woman rarely ever smiled.

‘It’s all right. I’ll stay a while. Besides, there’s no one to rush home for.’ Home was but a mere shell now that his wife and daughters were in America, but at least they were safe, thank God.

‘Such bad luck he came down behind enemy lines. If only they could have repatriated him sooner.’

‘Yes, well I suppose he’s lucky they sent him back at all.’ Archie sipped the tea and Sister Jamieson retreated. He liked to think that even German doctors would obey the Hippocratic Oath and do their best for their patients. The enemy. His elder brother’s face slipped into his mind. Jack had been captured in Crete in 1941 and was now in a camp somewhere in Germany. Two birthdays spent in captivity. Archie prayed he was well and wondered if he’d received the Red Cross parcel as yet. He closed his eyes for a moment. Why in heaven had Jack joined up? He’d even had to lie about his age, given that he was forty-one at the time. Archie shook his head. Jack had inherited Mother’s artistic ability and had studied art, but he’d gone on to run the family printing business after Father passed away. It was as if war had sought him out, with the lure of one final fling.

The music from the ward suddenly ceased, and a hush descended. Out in the corridor, the sluice door protested as it swung shut with its usual creaky groan and water gushed as someone turned on a tap. The night nurse rattled past the door with a tray of steaming mugs, and he caught the comforting aroma of malt as it drifted in the air on a ribbon of steam. He glanced at the rise and fall of David’s chest as the boy sucked in shallow breaths, followed by the release of excruciating rasps that snarled over his lips.

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