19 March 2015

Excerpt Thursday: BIRD'S EYE VIEW by Elinor Florence

This week, we're welcoming author Elinor Florence whose latest title is BIRD'S EYE VIEWJoin us again on Sunday for an author interview, with more details about the story behind the story. One lucky visitor will get a free copy of Bird's Eye ViewBe sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's post or Sunday's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb. 

Rose Jolliffe is an idealistic Canadian farm girl who joins the air force in World War Two and becomes an interpreter of aerial photographs, searching for bomb targets on the continent. Working with hundreds of intelligence officers at an English mansion, she spies on the enemy from the sky and makes several crucial discoveries. Her British commanding officer Gideon Fowler recognizes her almost supernatural skills, but can he be trusted?
Lonely and homesick, Rose finds comfort in letters from the home front. As she grows disillusioned by an unhappy love affair and the destruction of war, tragedy strikes, and her world falls apart. Rose struggles to rebuild her shattered life – and finds that victory ultimately lies within herself.

**An Excerpt from BIRD'S EYE VIEW**

I leaned over and studied the photograph once again. I had been working on it for two hours, yet I couldn’t interpret the strange pattern of light-coloured circles against a darker background of grass.
I was becoming adept at identifying surfaces based on tone and texture alone. Earth, grass, sand, rocks — each had its own distinctive shade of grey. By now I was skilled at reading a photograph, squeezing out every drop of information like the pulp of an orange.
What had made those strange spheres? No weapon or vehicle that I recognized. I stuck out my lower lip and blew air upwards over my flushed face.
Fowler came into the room and stopped beside my desk. “Everything all right here, Jolliffe?” It had become a private joke, his using the same words every day.
I looked up at him and smiled. “Yes, sir, except for the heat. The problem is the exposure on this photograph. Maybe if it were darker I could make out some detail inside these circles. I’ll check the others and see if they’re any sharper.”
“Very good, Jolliffe.” He smiled back at me and I felt a frisson of excitement. Don’t be a fool, I told myself. Lately I couldn’t help noticing that even in the midst of my deepest concentration, if Fowler walked past my desk it took me a few minutes to recapture my focus.
I went down to the print library and told the duty clerk what I needed.
“Sorry, Assistant Section Officer. The prints are checked out to someone else.”
“Is anyone on duty in the darkroom?”
“No. We aren’t expecting any new photos tonight. Mrs. Hamilton said to call her if anything else arrived.”
“Well, don’t bother her. Just give me the negatives. I’ll pop into the darkroom and make a print. It should only take me twenty minutes.”
“If you’re quite sure —” She eyed the stripe on my sleeve and handed over the negatives.
I turned on the red warning light outside the entrance to signify no admittance, and slipped between the heavy floor-length curtains. Gosh, it was sweltering! The interior room without windows was like a steam bath. The reddish-coloured safe light seemed to pulse with an unearthly glow.
I found the negative and slipped it into the enlarger. Almost faint from the heat, I made a decision. Quickly I slipped off my shoes, then my skirt. I pulled my tie over my head, and unbuttoned my shirt. Finally, off went my stockings and garter belt, leaving me in my underwear.
I felt lighter and cooler, my bare feet damp with sweat on the stone floor. I lifted a piece of paper out of the cardboard box and slipped the edge into my mouth, identifying the emulsified side when it stuck to my upper lip. After sliding the paper between the sheets of glass, I flicked the switch on the enlarger.
I burned in those puzzling circles by allowing the light to fall on them directly, protecting the rest of the photo by dodging my hand back and forth under the beam, and slipped the print into a tray full of developing fluid.
While I watched the dark image rise from the white paper, I splashed clean water from the rinsing tray over my shoulders and throat. It felt delicious on my hot skin. When the photo was ready I picked it up with a pair of rubber tongs and slid it into the tray of fixing solution.
As I gazed at the image, my mind wandered. Suddenly I had one of those rare sensations of flight. I almost felt myself lift physically from the floor and soar high above the tray, seeing it through a bird’s eyes.
Of course! I knew what those circles were — nothing to do with any type of warfare. “It’s goats!” I said aloud, and laughed. The circles were the grazed patches made by goats on tethers, walking around the stakes in mathematically precise spheres.
I returned to my own skin and my feet touched the stone floor just as a shaft of light entered the darkroom. I whirled around. Gideon Fowler was standing inside the blackout drapes, staring at me. For a couple of seconds both of us were transfixed.
“Terribly sorry,” he muttered, before vanishing again.
I looked down at myself. My arms and shoulders glistened with drops of water, gleaming in the rosy light. My modest white cotton brassiere and underpants were more revealing than any bathing suit. I wished I had been wearing my standard issue bloomers, but they had been replaced long ago.
Why hadn’t he seen the warning light? Everyone at the station down to the lowliest cleaner knew that opening the curtains could ruin the precious film. I scrambled into my uniform, my temperature rising again.
Quickly I ran a rubber squeegee over the photo and stepped outside the darkroom. I looked up and saw that the warning light overhead had burned out. I marched down the hall and handed the negatives back to the filing clerk.
“Did Flight Officer Fowler find you, ma’am?”
“Yes, he did,” I replied, pretending to study the photograph in my hand. “The warning light outside the darkroom needs replacing. Could you do it right away, please?”
I walked down the long hallway, my footsteps slowing as I approached the camouflage room. Outside the door I squared my shoulders, then went straight to my desk without glancing left or right. Sam’s face was glued to his stereoscope and Fowler was sitting with his back to me, reading a file held open on his lap. No one spoke for the rest of the shift.

About the Author
Elinor Florence is a career journalist who has written for daily newspapers and magazines including Reader’s Digest. Like her heroine, Elinor grew up on a prairie farm in Saskatchewan and now lives in the Rocky Mountain resort of Invermere, British Columbia. Married with three grown daughters, her passions are village life, flea markets, and old houses.

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Author Blog: Wartime Wednesdays

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