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Fifteen-year-old Clara Pape spends most of her time daydreaming and resisting anything her parents say about growing up and applying herself. Little does she know, when all she wants is to leave school and worry about what to wear or what film to see at the cinema, that she will be sent off to learn French in the small village of Plérin in Brittany, Northern France. Reluctant at first, living day-to-day, she decides she may in fact enjoy a summer away, but soon her self-discoveries leave her away from home much longer than anticipated.

Yet, talk of war after leaving her hometown of Preston, Lancashire in 1935 clouds Clara’s coming-of-age classic adolescent adventures. With Germany wanting to take revenge for their defeat in the Great War and their invasion of Czechoslovakia, France and Britain may no longer stand on the sidelines. Clara’s never known anything about war, and her mother urges her to return. Instead of exploring her age of innocence, she stumbles into coping with suffering, searching for meaning, and discovering happiness, sorrow, love and the heart-pounding, dangerous liaisons of WWII that transform her adolescence into secrets, lies and hidden French resistance ties.

Prologue 1951

It was late afternoon when Clara Renard alighted from the coach at Preston bus station. She was totally exhausted both physically and emotionally. She had been travelling for thirty-six hours, and the last thing she had eaten was a sandwich that morning.

            As she took in her surroundings, she realized that the town had changed significantly. The bus station was exactly the same as when she had left fifteen years earlier, but otherwise, she found it difficult at first to get her bearings. 

            She recognized a few buildings, but she couldn’t believe how much the main street had altered, even though Preston had been virtually untouched by the bombings of World War II—most of the bombings had hit East Lancashire.

            She crossed the main road and slowly started to make her way home. Her legs felt like lead. She was so tired, having had no sleep the previous night.

            She was concerned as to how her mother would react on her unannounced arrival. She could just hear her mother saying, ‘you have made your bed, Clara. Now you must lie in it.’ What would she do then? She had no money, nowhere else to go, and she was definitely not going back.

            As she got nearer, her heart started to beat faster. It felt as though it would jump out of her chest.

            Clara arrived at the hairdressing salon owned by her parents; they not only managed the business but they also worked in their own areas on the ground floor. The living accommodation above the salon was her childhood home. She tentatively opened the door to her mother’s side of the salon. The tinkling of the bell on the door announced her arrival.

            Her mother looked up, taking a double take. “Oh my God! Clara, is that you?” Her mother ran over, taking Clara in her arms. Clara sobbed uncontrollably. “My dear girl, I can’t quite grasp that you are here.”

About the author

Anita is a retired Company Secretary living in the Island of Jersey with her husband David. The French Secret is her debut novel set on her home island of Jersey. She was inspired to write a novel on reading about a competition in a newspaper . view profile

Published on December 01, 2019

110000 words

Worked with a Reedsy professional 🏆

Genre: Historical Fiction

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