This text is from the beginning of a novel. How has the writer structured the text to interest you as a reader? You could write about: • what the writer focuses your attention on at the beginning of the source • how and why the writer changes this focus as the source develops • any other structural features that interest you
It was on their first day at the house that Rosie saw the stranger child. Standing at the sink,
her hands deep in suds, Rosie was overwhelmed by the tasks that lay ahead of her. Tired
after the long drive from London the evening before, she gazed vaguely at the sunlit,
overgrown garden where Sam and Cara were playing.
The sash window had old glass that blunted the image, wavering the straightness of fence
and washing line, pulling things out of shape. Sam was kneeling beside the patch of earth
that Rosie had cleared for him, making hills and valleys for his matchbox cars and trucks by
digging with an old tablespoon, and Cara was toddling from bush to bush with a yellow
plastic watering can. Through the antique glass, Rosie watched them stretch and shrink as
they moved, as if she were looking through ripples. She closed her eyes, glad of a moment
of calm after the trauma of the last few days. Letting go of the plate she was holding, she
spread her tense fingers, allowing the warmth of the water to soothe her. When she
opened her eyes, another child was there.
Rosie had made a quick check of the unfamiliar garden before letting the children go out to
play. The bottom half of the garden was an overgrown mess, a muddle of trees and
shrubs. An ancient mulberry tree stood at the centre. Its massive twisted branches
drooped to the ground in places, its knuckles in the earth like a gigantic malformed hand.
The wintry sun hung low in the sky and the gnarled growth threw long twisted shadows
across the undergrowth within its cage. The trunk of the tree was snarled with the tangled
ivy that grew up through the broken bricks and chunks of cement, choking it. The path that
led down towards the fence at the bottom, which marked the garden off from an orchard
beyond, disappeared into a mass of nettles and brambles before it reached the padlocked
A little girl was sitting back on her heels beside a clump of daisies that grew against the
fence. She had her back to Rosie and was holding tight to the handle of a large wicker
basket that stood on the ground beside her. Cara seemed unfazed by the girl’s presence
and continued to move, engrossed, along the row of plants. Rosie bent forward to look
through the clearest of the panes and peered closer. The child was small, maybe around
eight or nine, although something in the tense hunch of her shoulders made her seem
older. Her hair hung down her back in a matted, dusty-looking plait and she was wearing
dressing-up clothes: an ankle-length dress and pinafore in washed-out greys and tans, like
a home-made Cinderella* costume.
Where on earth had she come from? She must be a neighbour’s child but how had she got
in? The wooden fences that separated the gardens between each of the houses in the
terrace were high – surely too high for a child to climb.
The child glanced over her shoulder, back towards the houses, a quick, furtive movement
as if she were scanning the upper windows of the row, afraid of being overlooked. Rosie
caught a glimpse of her face, pale and drawn with anxiety, before the girl turned back and
reached forward to quickly tuck a piece of trailing white cloth into the basket. Almost
unconsciously, Rosie registered that the girl was left-handed like herself, and that there was
something animal-like in her movements: quick, like the darting of a mouse or the flit of a
sparrow, some small dun creature that moves fast to blend into the background.
This extract is from the beginning of a novel by Judith Allnatt, published in 2015. It is set in a
house that used to be part of a nineteenth-century silk factory. Rosie and her two children, Sam
and Cara, now live in the house.
Something wasn’t right here. She had seen distress in those eyes.
Rosie turned away, dried her hands hurriedly and slipped on her flip-flops. She would go
gently, raise no challenge about her being in the garden but say and try to find out
what was the matter. Maybe if she pointed out that her mother would be worrying where
she was, she could persuade the girl to let her take her home.
But when she stepped outside, the child was gone.