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EXTRACT from DEBUTANTES

We all have ambitions, thought Daisy, and our first ambition is to get out of Beech Grove Manor 

Chapter One 

‘You can come out now, Violet.’ Sixteen-year-old Daisy Derrington lifted her head from the camera and looked across to the beech hedge which framed the face of her elder sister, Violet.

‘I’ve got all sorts of creepy-crawlies in my hair,’ complained Violet as she slid out from under the branches. Standing there, even in worn, darned riding breeches and an old short-sleeved shirt, she looked marvellous, thought Daisy. Violet had always been pretty, but now, at almost eighteen, she was annoyingly beautiful.

‘Don’t make a noise,’ Daisy said. ‘I want to film the horses while they’re still grazing peacefully.’ She picked up her small box-shaped camera and began to move towards the next field. ‘That’s what you are supposed to be looking at. I’m going to do that now until Poppy comes out with the horse food. When I finish filming the peaceful grazing scene, I want to film them galloping. Will you go and help Poppy, Vi?’ 

The Derrington family consisted of father, great-aunt and four girls. Violet was the eldest. One glance at those beautiful violet-blue eyes had been enough to give her the name of Violet. That had been understandable, thought Daisy. However, her mother (a woman of few ideas, obviously) had then gone ahead to give flower names to the next three girls. Poppy – well, it was obvious from the start that she had inherited her mother’s flame-coloured hair, so her name was appropriate too, and Rose, the youngest, had been a sweetly pretty baby with a wild-rose complexion, according to everyone.

But Daisy, Poppy’s twin, disliked her name intensely. Coupled with her appearance – slightly chubby, with cornflower-blue eyes and pale blonde hair – there was something childish and stupid about the name ‘Daisy’, and as far as she was concerned, it was hardly an appropriate name for a famous film-maker, which was what she intended to be. 

The Derringtons lived in Beech Grove Manor – a tall, three-storey house made from honey-coloured sandstone and set amid magnificent beech woods in west Kent. The house had been built almost two hundred years previously with a stately dining room, drawing room, library and study on the ground floor and a dozen bedrooms, a picture gallery and a ballroom on the two upper floors. It had been a wonderful place to live in when there had been money to pay enough servants to keep it warm, well-cleaned and comfortable, money to do the repairs and money to renew the furniture when necessary. Unfortunately, the family fortune had lessened over the years and the present earl had made some disastrous investments, including sinking a large part of his fortune in a hugely disappointing gold mine out in India. By the early 1920s there were only half the servants needed for comfort and the furniture, carpets and curtains all needed renewing and repairing. There was no money for anything. No money to send the girls to school or even to afford the cheapest governess for them, no money for new clothes, no money for enough coal to heat the huge house properly, and certainly not enough money for Violet to become a debutante and be presented at court to the King and Queen, in the same way as other girls from the families that they knew. 

Daisy kicked a pile of leaves in exasperation. Everything was so frustrating, she thought. The Derrington family was so poor, the four girls were supposed to ask for nothing, demand nothing, achieve nothing, and eventually marry someone rich and most likely boring. But they all wanted more than that. Poppy wanted to be a professional jazz player and singer, she herself wanted to be a film director and Rose wanted to be an author. Violet, however, was determined to find a rich husband and believed that if she made a good match, married a man with money – well, perhaps that would be the way out for her younger sisters. But to make the match she had to meet the men, and virtually the only way to do that was to have a season. Daisy, however, believed that the key to the future for herself and her sisters lay in the small box camera, complete with an enlarger, a positive film printer, a copier and a projector, all of which had been presented to her by her godfather, Sir Guy Beresford, a wealthy businessman with interests in the film industry. The moment Daisy had seen what Violet looked like on camera she had suddenly become fiercely ambitious to direct and shoot a film which could be sold to earn them some money which would be spent on a season for Violet. Violet was (she had to admit) unusually good-looking in real life, but when shown on film, she became something else. A real film star!

We all have ambitions, thought Daisy, and our first ambition is to get out of Beech Grove Manor.

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