The Showman's Girl extract

It was ten in the morning, on the first of May, 1932, and the circus on the common was just coming to life. In the roped-off paddocks, horses snorted in the morning sun. In makeshift runs beside ornately carved and painted caravans doves and chickens cooed and clucked. From nearby tents, more exotic animal noises carried on the air: the low, raspy yawn of a lion, and the trumpet of an elephant’s reply.
Thirteen-year-old Emily Brooke had come to know the sounds and animal smells of the circus well, and it’s sights, too: gleaming motor lorries and horse-drawn goods wagons, each emblazoned with the
name of Strand’s Grand Circus; simmering, shimmering traction engines that provided electricity; the doll-like circus women, in their silk dressing gowns and headscarves, hanging tiny costumes on washing lines; the men in their vests, painting pieces of scenery or repairing props.
This morning, though, as she hurried across the rough grass, trying to keep up with the long, confident strides of Molly Malone, the elephant trainer, Emily scarcely noticed her surroundings. Her insides were too tied up with nerves.
They found Adam Strand, the circus owner, in the big top. The side panels were rolled aside, like curtains, to let some air under the towering roof, and as Emily’s eyes adjusted to the strange half-light beneath the canvas, the sight of the tall, imposing showman made her catch her breath.

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(Author's note: The black and white picture of the big top interior above shows Pinders Circus in the 1930s and was supplied by retired ring master George Pinder who's story is one of many included in my non-fiction book Circus Mania. For more circus history and atmospheric pictures visit the Circus Mania blog.)

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