- Helen Dunmore - Orange Prize winner - Childrens books - The Lilac Tree - Extract
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The Lilac Tree / Extract
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It’s raining so hard I could write a message, put it in a bottle and throw it out of the window, and I’m sure it would float away. I wonder where the storm would take it? Maybe all the way back to London. I wonder if anyone would ever open it and read it.

Here I am, Katie Jenner, buried under the duvet, in my bedroom, in a cottage half a mile from the cliffs, just about to blow off the edge of Cornwall if this storm gets any worse. Mum’s asleep. How can she sleep? You can hear the thump of the sea on the cliffs. Punch, punch, punch, like a fight in a film, and the wind howling, and the rain spattering on the window. Or maybe it’s hail.

At least it’s warm in here, under the duvet. If you need the toilet you have to go downstairs, out of the back door, then down the path to the outside toilet at the bottom of the garden. Can you believe that we’ve come to live for a whole year in a cottage without an inside toilet? In fact there is no bathroom at all. There’s a sink in the kitchen where we can wash, and a tin bath which Mum says we can fill with hot water from the stove.

‘We’ll light a fire, and have our baths in front of it. It’ll be really cosy. Just imagine, Katie, a bath by firelight.’
Hmm. I can see that we won’t be having baths too often. I think of the power-shower in our house in London, and feel a pang of homesickness. My friends would kill me if they knew that the first thing I missed was the shower, not them. But at least we’ve got running water, and electricity, so I can read in bed. Imagine if we only had candles.

But the outside toilet is going to be a problem. The spider angle was the first thing I checked out. My findings were:
1) an exceptionally large black spider crouched on top of the toilet door, ready to zoom down as soon as anyone got comfortable;
2) a nest of spiderlings in the corner, waiting to turn into large spiders and join their mum on top of the door;
3) (last-minute discovery) a small brown spider with very hairy legs crouched inside the toilet roll, waiting for me.

‘MUM! Come and get the spiders out of here!’

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