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Sunday, 4 September 2011

Susanne O'Leary

Promoting Susanne O'Leary

Susanne O'Leary

About Susanne
Susanne O’Leary (born Lagerlöf) is  from Stockholm, Sweden and lives in Ireland with her Irish husband.  She started writing about twelve years ago and her first novel, 'Diplomatic Incidents' caused a few raised eyebrows in the world of diplomacy. Then followed three further novels, 'European Affairs' (which was renamed 'Villa Caramel' for the e-book version), 'Fresh Powder' and 'Finding Margo' (all written in English and published in Ireland) in the romantic comedy genre In early 2010, Susanne published her fifth novel, 'Swedish for Beginners' as an e-book, swiftly followed by three e-books from her previously published backlist and a further two works; 'A Woman's Place', a historical novel and 'Virtual Strangers', a co written detective story with fellow Swedish writer Ola Zaltin. She is currently working on a sequel to 'A Woman's Place' and when that is finished, will start writing the second book in the 'Virtual' detective series.
You can buy Susanne's books at the following links

A Woman’s Place
This is the story of two women, mother and daughter, based on true events.
In 1899, Julia, at the age of twenty, travels on her own from Stockholm to New York in hot pursuit of the man whose child she carries. Living life with passionate intensity, across the social realm, Julia struggles to survive in turbulent times.
Her daughter Sonja, born of that first tempestuous union but brought up in Finland by a stepfather when Julia remarries, has the same spirit and courage as her mother. Her wanderlust takes her to Paris and then on to New York, where she leads a ‘Great Gatsby’- life in the aftermath of the Wall street crash.
The backdrop of the Great Depression and its impact on society then provides an interesting parallel to the present times.
Set in Stockholm, Helsinki, Monte Carlo, Paris and New York from 1899 through to the 1930’s, this is a story with a true eye-witness feel.
A large part of the narrative is provided by the texts of the letters actually exchanged between the main characters.
Author’s note: This story is based on family letters, postcards and diaries written by my great-aunt Julia and her daughter Sonja.
A Woman’s Place
By Susanne O’Leary
© Susanne O’Leary
Chapter 1

Stockholm, December 1899
She bumped into him as she was trying to leave the shop. She had been looking over her shoulder to make sure her mother didn’t see her and didn’t notice him until it was too late. Suddenly, she found herself pressed against a green loden-clad chest, breathed in the faint scent of sandalwood and looked up into a pair of brown eyes.
The man was tall and slim and he looked at her with amusement mixed with ill concealed appreciation. His smiled widened as he studied her more closely.
Accustomed to admiration, Julia nevertheless felt suddenly awkward and self-conscious. ‘Oh,’ was all she managed and touched her nose to make sure there wasn’t a smudge there, which might explain his intent gaze. She wobbled slightly as she tried to regain her composure and another ‘oh’, came out of her mouth.
‘Oh, indeed.’ He steadied her with both his hands on her shoulders. ‘If you didn’t dash about like that, young lady, you wouldn’t bump into people.’
One hand on her hat, Julia stepped away from the man. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said with all the dignity she could muster, ‘I was in a hurry. And in any case, why didn’t you look where you were going?’
‘Julia?’  a shrill voice called from behind the counter, ‘where are you off to?’
‘Now, look what you’ve done,’ Julia hissed. ‘My mother has noticed me.’
He lifted one eyebrow and his small blond moustache quivered. ‘Your mother? You mean you work here?’
‘Not really. My family owns this… this establishment. And I help out from time to time.’
‘I see.’
‘Julia?’ her mother called again, ‘what are you doing by the door? I need you to pack up this order. And please don’t annoy the customers.’
‘Sorry, Mama,’ Julia mumbled and started to walk back across the shop.
The man lifted his hat. ‘Nice to meet you, Miss -?’
‘Julia,’ she said over her shoulder, ‘as you might have heard my mother shout. Julia Stenbeck.’
‘Delighted to eh, bump into you, Miss Stenbeck.’
So am I, Julia thought. Her back straight but her dimples very much in evidence, she swept across the sawdust-covered tiles to take her place beside her mother behind the counter. She quickly took off her hat, hung up her coat, patted her hair in place and put her apron back on.
Mrs Stenbeck was all smiles and apologies when the man reached them. ‘What can we do for you, Mr Oldenberg?’ she said. ‘The oysters are very good today. And we have just received some excellent caviar from Russia.’
‘No oysters today,’ Oldenberg said, not taking his eyes from the crimson cheeked Julia. ‘I was wondering if you might have some lobster?’
Julia kept her eyes on the fillet of beef she was wrapping up in waxed paper, carefully tying string around it and expertly finishing it off with a neat little bow.
‘How many?’ Mrs Stenbeck asked. ‘I have some, freshly cooked. And live ones too, if you prefer.’
Oldenberg didn’t reply and Mrs Stenbeck repeated her question.
‘Oh? Yes, lobsters.’ He seemed far away for a moment, looking at Julia who refused to meet his eyes. ‘Two, I think, of the cooked ones and some of that excellent beef Miss Julia has just wrapped up so beautifully.’
‘Certainly,’ Mrs Stenbeck said. ‘Anything else?’
‘No thank you,’ he said.
‘I’ll have your order delivered as soon as I can,’ Mrs Stenbeck said. ‘The delivery boy is out on an errand but I’ll send him around as soon as he comes back.’
‘Very well.’ Oldenberg clicked his heels together, lifted his hat and inclined his head in a polite bow. ‘Good afternoon ladies.’
Julia opened her mouth to say goodbye but before she had a chance to speak, he had left the shop.
‘Oh,’ her mother sighed, ‘such a distinguished gentleman.’
‘Why couldn’t he take his order himself?’ Julia asked. ‘It was just two lobsters and some beef.’
‘You know very well that a gentleman never carries a parcel of any kind,’ Mrs Stenbeck said.
‘And a real gentleman wouldn’t go shopping for food. He’d send his wife or housekeeper.’
‘I don’t think he has a wife. And maybe his housekeeper was unwell.’ Mrs Stenbeck’s eyes focused on Julia as if she had just realised she was there. ‘Where were you going just now? Had I given you permission to go home?’
‘No, Mama,’ Julia mumbled. ‘I just wanted some fresh air.’
‘Fresh air,’ her mother snorted. ‘You wanted to meet that silly girl from the hat shop so that you could go gallivanting into town. But I need you here now that both Alma and Katia are at home with bad colds. Now, you can start putting together the order for Mr Oldenberg. And there are other ones to take care of after that.’
‘Yes Mama,’ Julia said. Mr Oldenberg, she thought as she wrapped more beef in wax paper, tied yet more bows, he was certainly handsome. But he didn’t look like a real gentleman. There was something roguish about him, as if he wasn’t quite what he seemed and was daring the world to find out. He had flirted with her in a way that was so subtle as to be nearly imperceptible but she had felt an attraction between them in every cell of her body. Danger, she told herself, he’s one of those men a nice girl should have nothing to do with, one of those men her sister Alma said were connected with the devil himself. But Alma was always warning her about the devil and sin and bad thoughts, as if Julia was a child and not a grown woman of nineteen, who had already turned down two proposals of marriage.
Alma was twenty years older than Julia. Thin, tall and plain, Alma’s stern and forbidding appearance hid a tender heart. She was religious and loyal, and knew that to sacrifice her own needs for the family was the task God had given her to fulfil on this earth. She was married to Herman, a nice, quiet man who looked as if marriage to Alma was a cross to bear rather than the joyful union he had hoped for. But it wasn’t Alma’s fault, Julia thought, maybe it had not been easy to be the eldest of ten children, having to help with all the little ones and also step in when Papa lost nearly all his money and they had to fire all the staff. Mama had been taken ill with nerves and Alma had saved them from bankruptcy by running the business with the help of the siblings who were old enough to work. Then, one by one, they had left. Albert had gone to America, where he had found employment in a shipping business and married an Irish girl, David had been taken ill and was now in a mental institution, the older girls married and the two youngest boys went to Gothenburg to work in a shipyard. Papa was too old and too ill to work and spent his days at home. The only ones now working in the shop were Mama, Alma, Julia and the youngest, Katia, only thirteen years old but already both capable and dutiful.
Julia wasn’t interested in duty. Flirty, witty and full of fun, she was her father’s darling and her mother’s greatest worry. Her artistic flair was something to suppress rather than nurture and her flamboyant nature, pretty face and hour-glass figure, according to Alma, a curse that could lead to eternal damnation. But her mother no longer had the energy to watch over Julia. There were so many other problems to worry about; her husband’s illness, the business and her own health, which was causing concern, as her night time cough became gradually worse. The small flat they had moved into when the money had started to dwindle was dark and cramped, so different from the large airy apartment they had lived in when the business was bringing in enough money for the family to live in great comfort.
As she worked, Julia thought of the carriage and two white horses that used to bring them through town and even out to the country on Sundays, of the fine clothes and jewellery her mother had worn,  the presents her father had brought home for ‘his girls’; Julia and Katia, of dancing classes, piano lessons and birthday parties, of laughter and happiness and not a care in the world.
Then, from one day to the next, everything had changed. The money was gone. Father had gambled it all away and left his family with nothing. There was no more laughter, no presents or beautiful clothes. Julia had been twelve years old then, Katia only five. At one time things were so bad that Katia and Julia could not go to school, because they had no shoes. But Alma had managed to pull them out of their misery and now they had a reasonable standard of living. But there was no joy, Julia thought, just dreariness, hard work, prayers and that awful ‘duty’.
She found solace in drawing and painting, using her meagre allowance on paper, crayons and paints. The colours and shapes she created drew her into another world, full of light and beauty. Flowers, butterflies, small birds and tiny animals appeared as if by magic on the blank pages and her painting became compulsive, an escape from her drab surroundings. Julia would paint her pictures at the kitchen table, in the light of the oil lamp, while Father read, Mother sewed or knitted socks and Katia did her homework. They were mostly silent, the only sound the clicking of knitting needles, father turning the pages of his book and Katia mumbling her lessons to herself. Julia wondered how Alma and Herman spent their evenings. Probably very much the same way, she imagined.
Her thoughts went back to Mr Oldenberg. He looked as if he was the kind of man who liked to laugh, someone who didn’t care about duty or hard work. He had looked at her as if he could see through her clothes and Julia felt hot all over as she remembered the expression in his eyes.
Lottie, her friend from the hat shop, had said that men only wanted one thing from girls but had not deliberated on the subject. Julia had tried to ask Alma about it, thinking a married woman would know. But Alma had looked away, and said it wasn’t something a young lady should know and that married women had to suffer certain things in the marriage bed in order to have children. Both intriguing and confusing, Julia thought. This thing men wanted according to Lottie, which seemed both naughty and delicious, was that the same as the ‘suffering’ Alma had talked about? Had she refused to go through with it, as she had no children? And why was it enjoyable for men and a sacrifice for women?
Julia tied up the last parcel and put it in the pile to be picked up by the delivery boy. Her mother was busy at the till and Julia glanced at the big clock over the door. Nearly closing time. It was growing dark and she could see the gaslights outside the shop being lit, one by one. The streets were becoming crowded with carriages and people were getting onto the horse-drawn tram that had just pulled up further down the street. Time to close up shop, put the meat in the ice-box, sweep the floor and balance the till. Then the short walk across the bridge to their flat in the old town.
‘Julia,’ Mrs Stenbeck said, ‘If you leave now you could get some peppermint tea for your father on the way home. I have to send off the last deliveries and do the accounts.’
‘Yes, Mama.’ Julia put on her hat and coat, not forgetting her fur muff, a remnant of better days and so comforting to put her hands into on such a cold night. She noticed it was beginning to snow and hurried to get ready so she would arrive home before the streets became too snowbound.
Julia was just about to turn the sign on the door to CLOSED and pull down the blind, when she noticed someone outside, trying to get in. She opened the door. A young woman stood there, looking at her hesitantly. ‘Miss Stenbeck?’ she said.
‘Yes? The shop is closed,’ Julia added as an afterthought.
‘I don’t want to buy anything,’ the young woman said. ‘I was looking for you.’ She was pretty, her blonde hair swept up in an elaborate chignon under the smart little hat and Julia could see even through the veil that her eyes were outlined ever so discreetly with black pencil and that the pink flush on her cheeks had nothing to do with nature. Her clothes were expensive but lacked the quiet elegance one would associate with a real lady. There was a mischievous quality to her smile, however, and she exuded such warmth and friendliness that Julia was immediately drawn to her.
‘Looking for me?’ Julia said. ‘Why? I don’t think we’ve met.’
‘No, we haven’t,’ the young woman said, ‘but my brother asked me to give you this.’ She pressed something into Julia’s hand, turned around and disappeared into the falling snow.
‘Wait,’ Julia called, ‘Who are you? And who is your brother?’
But the young woman seemed to have been swallowed up by the darkness. Julia blinked away the snowflakes and looked at what had been pressed into her hand. A note. She closed the door of the shop, walked into the circle of light cast by the gas lamp and unfolded the piece of paper. It smelled faintly of sandalwood and the elegant handwriting was difficult to decipher.
Dear Miss Julia,
I did not dare speak to you further under the stern gaze of your mother, but I was so taken by your charm and beauty that I couldn’t help but ask if I could possibly see you again? I would like to take you to tea and maybe get to know you better. My sister will call into the shop tomorrow for your reply. I hope you will forgive me for daring to contact you like this, but I did not see any other way.
Hoping to see you again very soon
Yours sincerely,
Karl Oldenberg
The nerve, Julia thought, the sheer brass neck! Who does he take me for? She was about to scrunch up the note and throw it in the gutter but changed her mind and stuffed it into her pocket instead. Her fingers played with the piece of paper while she walked and despite the numbing cold, felt a curious warmth spread through her body.

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