I’m delighted to be on the tour for Attend by West Camel. Already known for his excellent editing skills, West Camel is proving to be a very worthy author too. Thank you to Orenda Books and Anne Cater for inviting me to take part. I have an extract for you but first the blurb.
When Sam falls in love with Deptford thug Derek, and Anne’s best friend Kathleen takes her own life, they discover they are linked not just by a world of drugs and revenge; they also share the friendship of the uncanny and enigmatic Deborah.
Seamstress, sailor, story-teller and self-proclaimed centenarian immortal, Deborah slowly reveals to Anne and Sam her improbable, fantastical life, a history of hidden Deptford and ultimately the solution to their crises.
With echoes of Armistead Maupin, Attend is a beautifully written, darkly funny, mesmerisingly emotive and deliciously told debut novel, rich in finely wrought characters that you will never forget.
Chapter 1: Anne
Anne pulled at the door, but it resisted; it clung to the jambs. She
hoped no one was passing on the balcony outside, seeing that she
couldn’t even get out of her own home.
She tugged again and recalled struggling like this once before.
When Mel had locked her in.
He’d grabbed her as she’d made a dash for the front door of their
flat. Held her against the wall, his heavy forearm at her throat;
searched her pockets for her keys and the money she’d stolen from
his wallet to buy herself a hit.
‘Now look after your fucking kid,’ he’d shouted as he locked the
door from the outside, his face a dirty blur in the frosted glass.
Julie had wailed in the next room – the insistent keen of a six-week-
old. What was it – eighteen years ago? The sound still rasped.
Anne’s hand slipped and she grazed a layer of skin off the knuckle
of her thumb. She took a breath and looked down at the key in her
palm, its grooves and notches clean and new. Mel was long gone, she
was alone and this door was just a bad fit. She tried pushing her toe
under its bottom lip and pulling the handle upward. With a bit of a
twist it opened.
She stepped out into sunlight and the smell of roasting meat.
Sunday. Her mother would be busy with the dinner right now – hot,
banging pots. Perhaps she should walk over there – have something
to eat, help with the washing-up. But Julie would be home with the
baby. They wouldn’t want Anne there, spoiling things.
As she descended the three floors to the courtyard, she heard
booming voices and shrieking kids. The Nigerian family on the
ground floor had just arrived back from church. Anne nodded to
them as she passed – the children in neat suits and dresses, the men
smart, and the women tall in their hot-coloured wrappers and stiff
‘Hello, how are you settling in?’ asked the mother, her children
swinging at the ends of her long arms.
‘Not bad, thank you. Getting there, you know.’ But Anne kept
moving, conscious of her mousey, messy hair, her drab jeans and
She hurried on out of the courtyard, not sure now whether she
would call her mother. But waiting at the crossing on Church Street,
she reminded herself why she had come back, clean, to Deptford.
She pulled out her mobile phone; no credit. There was a phone box
on the other side of the road – she would call from there and invite
herself to dinner. She would make herself sound cheery and relaxed.
Rita answered loudly, but seemed to lower her voice when she
realised it was Anne.
‘Oh, hello, love. What’s up?’
‘Nothing, just settling in, you know.’
‘Need anything doing?’
‘I’m OK, I’m doing everything myself.’
‘Oh yes? Well, don’t be knocking back help when it’s offered; you
don’t know when you might need it.’
Anne gripped the phone’s stiff metal cord. ‘How’s everything
‘Alright. We’re sitting down to dinner in a minute.’
‘Oh right. I was thinking I could come over, if you don’t mind. I
just fancy a roast.’
Rita paused for a moment. ‘I’d like to say yes to you, love, but…’
‘Don’t worry, not enough to go round?’
‘Well, that, and, well, Mel’s here.’
Anne dug her nail into the graze on her thumb. ‘Come for his
lunch most Sundays, does he?’ She knew it was the wrong thing to
say as soon as the words were out.
Rita was quick to react. ‘No, but he’s been to see his daughter and
grandson a lot more than you have.’
‘I want to come now, don’t I?’
‘Well, I didn’t know that. You wouldn’t want to be here with him
anyway, would you?’
‘No, I fucking wouldn’t.’
‘Well there you are, then. What can I do?’
‘You just think he’s some fucking saint and I’m the only one that
fucked up.’ Anne heard her voice scudding away from her. ‘And Julie
thinks the sun shines out of his fucking hole. If she knew what it was
like when she was little—’
Her mother interrupted, hard and quiet. ‘She don’t, Anne. But I
do. And I also know that it was me that looked after her when you
was off sticking yourself full of that shit. So don’t start.’
Anne was silent. She heard her own breath in the handset. A train
rumbled along the viaduct above her.
‘Go on then, got any more?’ said Rita. The baby cried in the
Anne thumped the wall of the phone box. Everything was
clenched, her throat was tight. She tried to slam the door as she
left the box, but the spring insisted on closing it slowly. Mel must
be sitting down at her mother’s table now, his fists tight around a
knife and fork, a napkin tucked into his shirt, his heavy jaw steadily
chewing through the meat. While she stood here alone, under the
railway arch, not sure where to go. The noise of a massive, empty
lorry drove her out, fiercely picking at the hem of her coat.
She wanted a fix, and had to shake her head and mutter ‘no’ out
loud – she was beyond that now. She turned into Crossfield Street,
her gaze lowered to the patches of old cobbles appearing where the
tarmac was wearing away.
She slowed down; there was a bench ahead – she could sit down
there and calm herself. It was on the edge of a green space that was
criss-crossed oddly by humps and half-walls – left over from before
the war, she always supposed. Beyond it was the white church where
she had been married to Mel. Kathleen – Mel’s sister, and her oldest
friend – had been bridesmaid. That had been the best part: her and
Kathleen in their dresses.
She looked up at the church tower, its columns and scrolls rising
above the uglier buildings around into an almost irresistibly sharp
needle. The intricate gold clock below it always surprised her by
telling the right time. And, as she looked, the bell began to chime.
When she looked down, she saw someone else was sitting on the
bench: an old woman in a dark-grey woollen skirt and shawl, a grey
bag placed beside her. She was bent over slightly and what looked
like a white sheet was spread across her lap. Anne’s step faltered –
she could not work out where this person had appeared from. The
woman glanced up as she passed, and Anne, attracted by the clean,
open face and wave of white hair, allowed herself to smile and nod.
But rather than returning her smile, the woman’s face tightened in
shock and she clutched at the edges of her shawl. Anne saw something
drop from her hand and bounce onto the ground, leaving a
twisting trail behind it. Turning her head back, Anne saw that it was
a reel of white thread. The woman made no effort to pick it up, but
stared open-mouthed as Anne walked away. Anne shook her head
again, wondering why she had bothered coming back to Deptford.
She reached the junction with the High Street and turned back
into the churchyard, where there were more benches among the
graves and rose bushes. She had always found a little peace here.
When she had rowed with her mother, or Mel or Kathleen, she would
come and sit on the stone caskets or, most often, on the curved steps
under the church’s semicircular porch.
Now, as she lowered herself onto the top step, she heard the swell
of voices from the service on the other side of the doors. The hymn’s
tune was familiar, but the words escaped her for the moment, and
she couldn’t resist a growing feeling that, after the long, meandering
journey to get herself clean, she was back where she had started.
She leaned against the pillar behind her and tried to tell herself that
things were different now: she hadn’t taken smack in two years; Julie
was grown up and had her own baby; she and Mel had divorced long
ago. But she still hadn’t seen Kathleen; and he was at her mother’s
table while she was stewing on these same cold steps.
The voices had been quiet for several minutes when the old
woman who had been sitting on the bench in Crossfield Street came
in through the churchyard gate. She strolled slowly down the path,
making a show of looking at the graves on either side, but all the
time sneaking glances up at Anne. Her clothes and her bag were
the same colour as the rain-stained stones. When she was just a few
yards away, she seemed to realise that Anne was watching her, drew
her short figure up a little and looked Anne full in the face, her lips
parted and her blue eyes wide. There was something slightly desperate
about her expression that made Anne move around on the step,
but she held the woman’s gaze and, at this, the woman approached
more purposefully until she stood nearly at Anne’s feet.
Who is the old woman and what does she want with Anne? There’s only one way to find out. You can buy Attend here.
Born and bred in south London – and not the Somerset village with which he shares a name – West Camel worked as an editor in higher education and business before turning his attention to the arts and publishing. He has worked as a book and arts journalist,
and was editor at Dalkey Archive Press, where he edited the Best European Fiction 2015 anthology, before moving to new press Orenda Books just after its launch. He currently combines his work as editor at Orenda Books with writing and editing a wide range of material for various arts organisations, including ghost-writing a New-Adult novel and editing The Riveter magazine for the European Literature Network. He has also written several short scripts, which have been produced in London’s fringe theatres and was longlisted for the Old Vic’s 12 playwrights project. Attend is his first novel.