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Exclusive excerpt from 'The Strawberry Girl' ahead of author event

Ahead of our exclusive author event for ‘The Strawberry Girl’ by Lisa Stromme, here is an excerpt to whet your appetite...  

   My arms stung as I turned to find Munch looking down at me. He was wearing a dark jacket that hung from him as though he might have inherited it from an older brother. A grey waistcoat held him in place. He had a shapely, sensuous mouth, which I felt guilty for noticing. The top lip, curving and full, was framed by a light moustache, the bottom lip was plump, almost petted like a child’s. he had a strong jawline that the sadness was not a fleeting emotion but something that inhabited him permanently, like an anchor.

   “Johanne?” he said, half smiling.

   “Yes, it’s me.” I straightened my torn skirt. “Mother wanted me to find fruit for the Heyerdahls.”

   “My sister and I collected the ripe ones this morning,” he said. “Come up to the house.”

I wanted to refuse him. Mother would skin me alive if she knew I had been caught trying to steal strawberries, let alone from him. But I could not return empty-handed and although Munch’s face was serious, his eyes were kind.

   “We can’t let Hans go without now, can we?” he said, fetching my bowl from the fence.

He was carrying a beige sketchbook. The edges of it were frayed and the cover was marked with scribbles and coffee stains. He tucked it under his arm and turned to go up the hill. I walked in his footsteps, my dirty feet stepping where his boots flattened the grass. When I raised my head at the brow of the hill I immediately noticed the paintings.

    Two large canvases, almost as tall as me, loomed in the near-distance. Like bathers reclining in the sun, they were leaning against the wall of the burgundy outbuilding, his temporary studio. The pictures were so compelling I couldn’t help but look. One was of a lady, a dark figure, staring mournfully at what looked like her own shadow. She was so utterly desolate that my chest tightened and a wave of sadness invaded my throat.

   The other painting was of a lush scene where a man and woman were resting by a tree. The woman was wearing a light-blue apron and holding a bowl of red berries that ignited my curiosity and somehow intensified my sadness. I wanted to reach out and touch the couple. They seemed wounded.

   When we reached the hut, Munch called out to his sister.

   “Inger! Johanne’s looking for strawberries.”

I hovered outside while he climbed the steps to the back door.