Brighton. She doesn’t know it at all. She sits in the café in Waterstones drinking a latte. The café is on the top floor and, out of the window, she has a view of the sea and the pier, its end shrouded in mist. The coffee makes her feel shaky. She isn’t used to it. Only Alice drinks coffee. On the chair next to Nell is her rucksack containing all that she has brought with her. She watches as the barista in his checked shirt wipes the table opposite, humming to himself. He moves behind the counter, re-arranges the cakes. It’s still early in the morning and, apart from the barista, there is no one else in the café, or indeed on the entire floor.
There is something comforting and familiar about bookshops, all that knowledge and experience waiting to be discovered, all those secrets, private and collective pain, joys and triumphs hidden amongst thousands of pages. It’s why she’s here. She needs somewhere safe to think about what comes next, to reflect on her first night in the city.
When she’d arrived in Brighton yesterday all the shops had looked huge compared to those at home. She’d walked from the station, through the town, straight to the seafront where she had stood, staring at the mass of pale green water, at the foamy waves crashing against the pebbles. The day was drizzly and grey much like today and she found it difficult to tell if the moisture on her face was rain or sea spray. She’d gripped the railing and looked at the pier, blurred by the rain. A teenager with a blue Mohican and a tiny star tattoo on his left cheekbone rolled past her on his skateboard. There was something pleasing about having the city behind her and the vast expanse of flat grey-green water ahead of her; the juxtaposition of the controlled urban environment butting up against nature. She breathed in damp salty air, the taste of freedom. The sea, the sea. Isn’t that what the roaming Greeks cried when they finally reached it?
The beach below was empty, not how Nell remembered it from that hot summer day all those years ago. She’d curled her fingers around her hag stone in her pocket, taking comfort in its familiar smooth edges. Her phone beeped. It was Alice, of course.
Seventeen-year-old Eleanor has left rural Lincolnshire for Brighton in search of a fresh start. There she meets the charming, older Scott.
‘A funny, tragic, unpredictable story of a young girl’s dangerous journey through an abusive relationship and coming out the other side. Critchley gets inside the mind of both abuser and abused laying bare the strange and strained logic of both, but in the end her protagonist emerges bravely and triumphantly the less deceived but not before things have gone terribly wrong.’
The Tiny Gestures of Small flowers will be published July 2021.