The Debutante

When Issy wakes up in 1904, she has one task – to secure an eligible husband, without screwing up her family’s history. 

The Debutante is the coming-of-age story of 18-year-old Isabelle (Issy) Worthing, who travels back in time to the Edwardian era where she becomes immersed in the debutante season with the purposes of securing an illustrious match for the Worthing family and ensuring their continued good fortune. She is mentored in her pursuit by an astute elderly ancestor named Lady Brampton, her great, great, great grandmother, whom she discovers shared a similar experience to her as a young woman, as did all the first daughters of the Worthing line.

Adrift in her own time and butting heads with her mother, Issy is tasked with securing a match for Lady Brampton that does not alter the trajectory of their family’s history, and in the process, she learns a good deal about herself to help direct her own uncertain future.

The story also follows the romance of Issy’s own mother, who at 17 had travelled back to 1944 to endure a ‘season’ that was as unrecognisable as war-torn England, leaving its mark on her heart forever and teaching her the value of the unbreakable mother-daughter bond.

You can read a sample chapter of The Debutante below…

Chapter 1

Like in any regular high school all across the country, the layout of the classroom reflected its hierarchy. At the front of the class were the geeks or the nerds, eagerly absorbing new knowledge just as a sponge absorbs water – the doctors or lawyers, architects or engineers of the future perhaps, a motley crew of misfits by their side (they didn’t know it yet, but one day when their school days were over, this hierarchy would cease to exist – though try telling that to any teenager who longs to fit in).

Occasionally a harassed young teacher might place one of the more disruptive kids at the front to mix things up a bit, but otherwise the bottom tier of school society would give way to the middle tier – the floaters – those very few kids who were neither quite at top of the pecking order nor the bottom – who were gifted with the ability to get along seamlessly with both crowds without being excluded by either. At the back were the most popular kids in class (often interspersed with the most trying), for whom fitting in at all costs and maintaining their coveted status was infinitely more important than anything the teacher might have to say.

Issy Worthing fell into the latter camp – you could recognise her by her ironed-straight swathes of blonde hair, willowy frame, and the fact that almost every young girl in that room would have given pretty much anything to swap places with her, even if just for a day, but never more so than today.

There was something so 1990’s about a handwritten note, but since Miss Partridge, the English teacher, made a point of confiscating her classes’ mobile phones at the start of each lesson (apart from Jack Shaw, who had discovered that shoving his phone down his pants was a highly effective deterrent to any confiscation attempts, and not even Miss Partridge was keen to challenge that), the students of class 1B had little choice.

Issy was sat next to her best friend, Mila Stuart, who was almost a carbon copy of Issy except for a perpetually tanned glow that Issy, with her olde English ancestry dating back to William the Conqueror, could not achieve without a bottle, much to her dismay. Miss Partridge was saying something gripping about conjunctive adverbs, as thirty sets of eyes strayed out of the classroom window to the intangible freedom that lay beyond, where the school-field was grazed with daisies and dandelions and a soft, early-summer sun, when a pen flew like a miniature missile and landed at Issy’s feet.

Miss Partridge raised her eyebrows but didn’t skip a beat, and as Issy bent down to retrieve the pen, she noticed with some excitement – by far the most exciting thing to have happened to her that day, anyway – that wrapped around it was a slip of lined paper. Hastily, she unwrapped the note and set it on her lap, then reached towards the occupant of the desk behind her to return the pen to its owner, a frisson of anticipation running through her as Chad Connor locked his smooth, dark eyes onto hers and winked.

Issy felt Mila nudging her side, and an air of unspoken curiosity passed between the pair. Unfolding the paper, Issy laid it on her desk so they could both see, all the while careful not to draw the attention of Miss Partridge.

They may have just been three seemingly innocuous little words, but to Issy, they were way more than that: Be my date?

She gasped. She’d just assumed that Steph Sutton, with the impressive curves she did her utmost to flaunt to the guys insofar as uniform restrictions would permit, would be Chad’s obvious choice. It was no secret she’d been trying to capture his attention all year. And whilst Issy had always admired Chad from afar – and she was far from alone in that – she’d just assumed he was well and truly off the table. Evidently, she was wrong, and in that moment, there was no doubt she was the most fortunate girl in her final year of school.

‘O-M-G, what are you gonna write back?’ asked Mila, her whisper almost a squeak.

Issy turned over the paper, grinned covertly at Mila, and in big capital letters wrote one word: ‘YES!’

Mila gripped her arm. None of this had gone unnoticed by Steph Sutton, particularly not when she saw Issy wrapping what appeared to be a piece of paper around her pen and deliberately nudging it to the floor with her elbow. She especially didn’t miss the look on Chad’s face when he leant over to pick it up, nor his grin when he read whatever the note said, nor the slap on the back he got from his best mate beside him, followed by the frantic whispering that passed between the two girls. She had a pretty good idea what it must be about, and she was not impressed.

She’d somehow been able to persuade her mum to buy her a fitted, red dress with a low, beaded bodice and high side slit for the prom. She’d harped on about it so much that she’d worn down both her mum’s defences and her better judgement. All Steph’s fantasies for the past three months had been about Chad’s reaction when he saw her in the dress – which she was sure he would be unable to resist – and now priggish Issy Worthing, with her ethereal, olde-worlde beauty, formidable lineage, and ancestral stately home, had done the unthinkable by breaking the girl-code and stealing him from right under her nose.

Fortunately for Steph, the kerfuffle in the back row hadn’t escaped Miss Partridge’s attention either. She nudged her glasses back up her nose, as she had a habit of doing.

‘A conjunctive adverb can be used to connect the ideas between two sentences, for instance, “Issy Worthing kept talking in class, consequently – consequently is the conjunctive adverb in this sentence, you will observe – she was asked to share her exciting news with the rest of us.”’

Issy paled.

‘Well?’ Miss Partridge cleared her throat. ‘Since you were studying that piece of paper so intently a moment before, I can only assume you’ve been taking copious notes throughout our lesson. Perhaps you could be the first to provide an example of a sentence containing a conjunctive adverb for us?’

Chad smirked, and in the opposite corner, Steph Sutton narrowed her eyes in satisfaction. That’ll show her, she thought. This wasn’t over yet.

When Issy stepped into the porch of their small, inobtrusive semi after school that afternoon, she knew not even the niggling presence of her younger sisters nor the nagging from her mum could bring her down. She was floating on air and bursting to share her good news. She’d spent the entire bus ride discussing dress options with Mila, and whilst this had been the primary topic of conversation amongst her friends for the past couple of months at least, never had it held as much import as it did when she had the security of a date and Chad’s reaction to seeing her in the dress for the very first time to consider. She knew it was absolutely imperative to make the best first impression she could.  

    She was so full of her own thoughts that it took her a few moments to register things were different. She couldn’t hear anything for one. Usually, before she’d even opened the porch door, she’d hear the cartoons on the TV in the background, and her sisters, Jasmine and Ella would either be embroiled in a squabble or playing together boisterously. Their mother, Susan, would be busy preparing dinner, yelling at the girls periodically to either stop fighting or keep the noise down so she could hear herself think. The moment Issy walked through the door, she’d be told to either help keep the girls in line, or (and she wasn’t sure which was worse), get roped in to chopping up vegetables or passing over some pot or other. Then, after dinner, the TV would go off until they’d finished their homework – without doubt the worst part of the school-night routine that their mother was most adamant about.

After that, the night was theirs. If she and her siblings weren’t quarrelling, Issy would usually spend it watching TV or lying in her room texting Mila, or, especially on weekends, heading out to catch up with her friends.

    ‘Hey mum,’ she said, as she opened the door between the porch and their living room. ‘What’s for d-?’

    She stopped abruptly. The TV had been muted, and her mum was leant forwards on the couch sobbing, whilst the younger girls sat either side of her, rubbing her back as they looked at Issy anxiously, unsure of what to do. She could see they were relieved she was home at last – the elder sister ready to take charge and let them off the hook.

At first Issy was too taken aback to react. She didn’t think she’d ever seen her mother cry before – not since their dad had left anyway, and that was a long time ago now.

    ‘Mum… What happened? Are you ok?’

    Susan nodded, though it was perfectly obvious she was not ok. ‘It’s…’ she said between sobs, ‘it’s your grandmother… I’m afraid she’s… She’s passed away. A stroke. It was quick, she won’t have suffered.’

    Issy gasped. Their grandma was quite a remote figure, but even in her seventies a robust one. It was hard to imagine her not simply living forever. She had to, she had a sprawling country estate and acres of land and outbuildings to manage. She was on all the village committees. Issy and her sisters didn’t really know her very well. They didn’t see her often – as far as she was aware she and their mum didn’t get along, though none of them really knew why. Something about Susan shunning their family fortune and title to live a more ordinary life with a more ordinary man, who, to Susan’s infinite chagrin, Grandma had turned out to be quite right about in the end.

    ‘Oh, mum. I’m so sorry.’

    Her news forgotten, Issy indicated for her sisters to move aside and let her sit next to their mum. She wrapped her arms around her and hugged her close, which only made her sob all the harder. It felt a little awkward at first – they hadn’t exactly been getting on too great themselves lately. But her mum’s tears, her vulnerability – something she rarely glimpsed – pricked at her heart.

    ‘Put the kettle on, Jasmine.’ Her voice held all the authority of the eldest sibling, even in a whisper. ‘Ella, you go and get the chocolate biscuits, the good ones, and try and find the takeaway menus – looks like fish and chips is on the cards tonight.’ It was their mum’s favourite, after all.

    The girls put up none of their usual resistance (though for a moment Ella did look as though she was about to put up a fight about the choice of takeaway, McDonald’s being a particularly coveted treat), and were willing to defer to Issy just this once.

    Issy rested her head against Susan’s and breathed in her scent – the most familiar, impossible to articulate, and yet somehow the most instantly comforting scent in the world.

‘We’ll need to go to Worthington of course for the funeral, and to get everything tied up. I’m afraid we’ll be there for quite some time.’

Issy raised a perfectly arched eyebrow. Quite some time. ‘How long?’ she asked, a sense of foreboding washing over her. Chad. The prom.

‘Weeks at least. Maybe even months. There really is a lot to do. A lot to… consider.’

Susan wiped her eyes with her hands, eyes the same cornflower blue as Issy’s, grabbed a tissue, and wiped her nose then dabbed off the excess mascara. It was easier for her to keep her emotions in check when she focussed on the practicalities.

‘But…’

Susan looked at her sharply, as the familiar tension rose between them.

‘But what?’

‘Well…’ Issy breathed deeply. ‘What about my exams? My A Levels? They’re pretty important – you’re always on at me about how important they are. And what about the prom?’

Issy felt her frustration rising as she came to terms with what was at stake. If she’d gotten the exact same news a mere twenty-four hours earlier, before Chad, as much as an extended stay in the middle of nowhere with only her mum and sisters for company would be a total drag, she wouldn’t be dragging her feet. But she so, so wanted to get dressed up and make her entrance to the prom on Chad’s arm.  

‘Can’t you just take the girls with you while I stay here with dad?’

‘I wish I could, Issy, but I can’t. I’ve already asked him. He’s swamped with work and working away a lot – you’d only be stuck at home with your step-mum.’

Issy rolled her eyes. A summer with her step-mum was probably the only thing worse than a summer at Worthington Manor.

‘But the prom, my exams…’ she said again.

‘I’ve arranged with the head-teacher for you to sit your exams at the village school.’

‘Oh my gosh, really?’ She sighed.

Jasmine and Ella crept in, placing their humble offerings on the coffee table. Jasmine shot a warning glance at Issy to remind her it was not the time to be causing a scene. Just this once Issy knew she was right, but she could sense Chad’s attentions slipping away, and an image of curvaceous Steph Sutton, a satisfied smirk on her face, flashed into mind.

‘I can’t promise anything. The next few weeks are going to be very busy. But I will do my very best to get you to your prom, ok?’ said Susan. ‘And let’s not forget, your dear grandmother, my mum, has just died.’ She sniffed, as the tears threatened to overwhelm her all over again, whilst she simultaneously determined they would not. ‘And in the grand scheme of things, I think you’d agree that’s more important than any prom.’

Issy couldn’t argue with that. She knew she was being incredibly self-absorbed right now. But it was just the timing of it all… Oh, it was unfair. It was so very unfair.

Later that night, Issy threw herself onto her bed and considered all the implications of the next few weeks. Missing her last day of Year Thirteen. Not sitting her A Levels at her own school. Not celebrating the end of an era with her own friends, many of whom would be heading off to college or university. Things would never be the same again. Chad. And somewhere, tangled in amongst these thoughts, were thoughts of her mother and thoughts of her grandmother, who in hindsight she wished she’d been a lot closer to and made more effort with, but growing up you didn’t tend to think too much about those sorts of things – you merely took your lead from your parents.

Her phone beeped.

Hey! It was Mila. Have you heard from Chad? I hear Steph Sutton’s nose is out of joint.

    Issy shook her head in irritation. If Steph and Chad weren’t together in the first place, which they weren’t, then she had absolutely no right to be put out. Chad wasn’t her property, and she could pretty much take her pick of the guys anyway, so it wasn’t like she was missing out. Deftly, Issy fired back a response.

    I’m not sure I’m even going to make it to the prom anymore. My grandma’s just died, and now I have to go to Worthington Manor. For months. MONTHS! (Tears emoji).

    (Super surprised emoji x 3). Oh no, I’m so sorry. But what about school, and Chad and the prom? Can’t you stay with your dad?

    Huh. Thought Issy. Fat chance. Like he would care. Nope. He’s too busy with work, as usual. Looks like I’ll have to sit my exams at the local school. Mum’s still gonna to try to get me to the prom, though.

Oh. My. Gosh. Mila fired back, equally fast. Let’s hope so. It wouldn’t be the same without you. And we don’t want Steph Sutton swooping in to steal your date.No, thought Issy, she very much did not want that.

Whatever you do, pinged Mila, don’t give Chad any reason to think it might be off.

Her phone beeped again. Hey babe… It was Chad, and her heart leapt with equal parts joy, sorrow and frustration. Looking forward to taking you to the prom x

Issy sighed, unsure how to respond. She had gotten home that evening with such excitement, such pleasure, and now… What a mess this night had turned out to be.

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