When I Come Home Again written by Caroline Scott, publisher Simon & Schuster UK, is available NOW in ebook, audiobook and hardcover format.
They need him to remember. He wants to forget.
1918. In the last week of the First World War, a uniformed soldier is arrested in Durham Cathedral. When questioned, it becomes clear he has no memory of who he is or how he came to be there.
The soldier is given the name Adam and transferred to a rehabilitation home. His doctor James is determined to recover who this man once was. But Adam doesn’t want to remember. Unwilling to relive the trauma of war, Adam has locked his memory away, seemingly for good.
When a newspaper publishes a feature about Adam, three women come forward, each claiming that he is someone she lost in the war. But does he believe any of these women? Or is there another family out there waiting for him to come home?
Based on true events, When I Come Home Again is a deeply moving and powerful story of a nation’s outpouring of grief, and the search for hope in the aftermath of war.
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I am so pleased to be involved in the blogtour celebrating and promoting the launch of Caroline Scott’s latest novel: When I Come Home Again. I have the pleasure of sharing an extract with you.
Chapter two extract
The hairs rise on his forearm and he hugs his knees to his chest. It is cold in the cell. They have taken his clothes away and he feels every breath of air from the window above. His naked body is familiar to him and yet not. He knows his own hands, but he can’t remember the scars on his arms, or the lice bites that cover his body. He scratches the backs of his knees and sees that there is blood on his fingers.
Your name, they said. We need a name. We can’t start without it. You need to give us your name.
It comes back at him again, that insistent question. All through the night. No starting, but no stopping. He would have told them, if he could.
The walls of the cell are blistered with damp. The plaster ripples and glistens. The walls are as pockmarked as his skin and the whitewash comes away on his shoulder when he leans against it. There are scales of lime in the creases of his hands and chalk down his fingernails. Five white condemning crescents. It is the chalk that has put him in this police cell.
Where’s your identity disc? they asked. Your pay book? Your service number?
Looking at the new bruise blooming on his arm makes him ashamed. The constable had walked him through the town with his arms in a grip. It wasn’t so much that it hurt, but he had felt humiliated when the people’s eyes flicked towards him and then away, and chastened by the words that they mouthed. He wanted to tell them that he’d done nothing wrong. He wanted to shout it out. He wanted to tell them that this wasn’t him.
What’s your battalion? What regiment? Where are you stationed?
They had emptied his pockets while the sergeant questioned him. Every item was catalogued and inspected. Every coin was turned over. Every pebble. Every piece of chalk. This scrutiny made him feel as though his pencil stub and box of matches were specimens in a museum requiring labels. But what should their labels be? Could these innocent items condemn him? They told him that they were taking his belt away so that he wouldn’t hang himself.
He watches the silverfish scurry. There are cobwebs in the corners and chains on the wall of the cell. They are crumbling, rusting old chains, the kind prisoners have in storybook dungeons, and he suspects they are there more for warning than purpose. He hears the spyhole in the door click again. They have been doing this all night; coming to look at him, checking on him. Why did they imagine that he might hang himself?
Home address? You must have a home address. You must have come from somewhere.
He tries to remember. He genuinely tries. He recalls the barns and sheds and ditches of the past few weeks, but nothing before that. He slept on a bench in a church porch some days ago. An old woman handed him a bowl of warm milk in the morning. A young cleric gave him a blanket that smelled of laundry soap. He tries to remember what home feels like, what it smells like. It smells of damp and disinfectant and urine in this cell, and the sweat on his own skin.
Place of birth? Date of birth?
‘Born to raise the sons of earth,’ the voice in the next cell crescendos. ‘Born to give them second birth.’ It’s Christmas carols now. The disembodied voice has been singing hymns all night; eight hours of rhyming trials and tribulations, mysteries and mercies, and green hills far away.
It was a desecration of a place of worship, they told him. It was a serious offence. He’d laughed when they said that this was the sort of filthy thing the Germans had done in France.
They told him it didn’t help his case that he laughed. They asked him why he did it. What was he thinking? What made him want to do such a thing? He could only reply that he didn’t know.
Next of kin?
Nothing. He apologized. He could see their frustration. He didn’t want to frustrate them. It wouldn’t do him any good, the sergeant said, if he didn’t speak up, if he didn’t cooperate. He would have to go back to his regiment, they said. The authorities would need to be informed. Was he home on leave, they wanted to know. Was he due back with his battalion? Had he gone absent?
What were you thinking, lad? they asked. Are you a deserter?
The electric bulb buzzes and casts a cold white light. It has been left on all night, the moths dancing foolishly around it. He picks them up off the floor now and they crumble to dust between his fingers.
The sergeant had brought him a tin mug of tea, bread and butter and a jug of hot water. He’d told him that he should wash. That he stank. When he put his hands to his face he realized that he hadn’t shaved for several days. He can’t remember his own reflection. He felt the new shape of his face with his wet fingers. The sergeant had leaned against the wall as he watched him wash. He said that he lost his son to the war last year. That Colin was a good boy. That his mother wouldn’t ever get over it. There were dark shadows under the man’s eyes.
Where’s your mother, lad? Does she know where you are? Don’t you want to be a good boy for your mother?
They showed him the charge sheet, turned it round to face him, the empty white spaces that ought to be filled. Where he ought to have a date and place of birth. Where he ought to have a residence. A next of kin. A name. The inspector’s finger jabbed at the paper.
What are you called? he asked it again. They keep on asking it. What’s your fucking name?
About the Author
Caroline completed a PhD in History at the University of Durham. She developed a particular interest in the impact of the First World War on the landscape of Belgium and France, and in the experience of women during the conflict – fascinations that she was able to pursue while she spent several years working as a researcher for a Belgian company. Caroline is originally from Lancashire, but now lives in southwest France. The Photographer of the Lost was a BBC Radio 2 Book Club pick.