The Girl in the Glass Tower


Elizabeth Fremantle shares an extract from her novel The Girl in the Glass Tower. The novel came out on June 2nd and is available here. Elizabeth talks about writing on the Birkbeck Blog.


Tap, tap, tap.

‘Nan,’ I say. ‘When will they stop hammering down there?’

‘They stopped a month ago. Listen, it is silent.’ I can see the concern on her face. She can hardly bear to look at me.

‘But I hear it.’

I am very weak; it takes a supreme effort to lift my fingers from the bed to my cheek. Pain echoes through my perpetually.

‘Do you?’ She says it like someone talking to an infant.

I stroke the side of my face; a down has sprouted there. Perhaps I am finally becoming the boy my family once wished I had been.

She pulls back the covers and, averting her gaze, deftly removes my soiled shift, moving my body easily, as if I am a puppet. I am reminded of Margaret, deep in the past, who was able to take off her shift without undoing her gown. It used to make us laugh. It is a long time since I laughed.

Nan replaces the shift with a clean one. It smells of grass. I suppose it is summer and everything has been laid out on the lawn to dry. The scent takes me back to Hardwick and that miniature queen with the wooden stump beneath her skirts, the first great disappointment of my childhood.

‘In heaven’s name, I wish I could persuade you to eat something.’ Nan’s eyes are dewy and bloodshot. I feel her hand cradling my own.

‘Shhh,’ I say. ‘Don’t cry, Nan. It is what I want – what God wants.’

A harpy is perched near the window. Black feathers, red lips, sharp teeth, black eye. I watch it through the cracked pane. My vision is blurred but I can see it clearly in my mind’s eye. It moves towards the place where the window is ajar and drops something from its mouth on to the sill, then opened its vast wings, momentarily blocking out the day, before soaring up and away.

I squeeze Nan’s hand. ‘My body is not my self.’ She looks baffled, as if I am speaking in Greek.

13 June 2016