We’re celebrating the release of Ferne Arfin’s novel, Tunnel of Mirrors. Read on for more details!
Tunnel of Mirrors
Publication Date: February 1st, 2022
Genre: Literary Fiction/ Contemporary Literary Fiction/ Romantic Elements “Eternal Lovers”
Publisher: Green River Press
Rachel Isaacson, spirited, otherworldly and haunted, is born into a rigidly Old World family in New York’s Lower East Side. Hungry for independence, Rachel enters a marriage of convenience with violent consequences.
Across the Atlantic, storyteller, fiddler and cliff climber Ciaran McMurrough is raised in pastoral innocence on Rathlin off the coast of Ulster. His upbringing in a tight-knit, isolated community leaves him unprepared for the subtle political passions following the Irish Civil War.
Outcasts-one by choice, one by chance-Rachel and Ciaran meet on the docks of lower Manhattan in 1928. Drawn to each other in this lyrical story, must they repeat a doomed cycle as eternal lovers?
“Tunnel of Mirrors fires the imagination and stirs the soul…a story to savour that remains long in the mind. I loved it.”
-Sunday Times Bestselling Author of Our Story, Miranda Dickinson
“Humour, emotion, and perfectly tuned dialogue, ensures her people are triumphantly alive.”
-Novelist Janette Jenkins, author of Firefly and Little Bones
“Tunnel of Mirrors is a beautiful, lyrical recreation of the past. With warmth, wit and great heart, Ferne Arfin takes the reader back into the struggles and small victories of a lost world.”
-Toby Litt, English writer and academic, author of Patience
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Every morning, on the way to work, Rachel stopped at Bessie’s to change from the modest cotton dresses her father allowed into one of the swingy, short frocks that she and Bessie made during their lunch breaks. Then, their hemlines a daring nine inches above the ground, the two girls swanked uptown to their jobs at Mishkin’s, Theatrical Costumiers to the Trade.
Mishkin’s son, Arthur, managed the sewing rooms. He was sweet on Bessie and any friend of Bessie’s was a friend of his, so both girls could count on extra break time for their own sewing. They could count on remnants of fabric, from time to time, as well.
Mishkin allowed his trimmers to keep the beads and feathers swept up at the end of the day. Lately, Arthur, who Bessie kept on a very long leash, had begun passing on the full boxes of beads that were often left over when a show was dressed. These were supposed to go back into stock but Arthur said, “What the heck. They’re paid for. If my old man asks, you got them from the sweepings.”
“You’re a real prince, Arty,” Bessie would say and he would glow for a week. Sometimes she even gave him a peck on the cheek. It was a small price to pay for the very same sequins and beads the showgirls wore when they danced for Ziegfeld and Minsky.
Rachel and Bessie were making special dresses. They had big plans. It was no use knowing all the latest steps, if you couldn’t show them off at the landsmannschaft socials, where bearded old men and everybody’s mother prowled the dance floor. And most of the boys at Corkery’s Shamrock Dancehall thought a good time was slipping a double bathtub gin into a girl’s Moxie and seeing how far you could get her to go. If you went to Corkery’s too often, the regulars started thinking you were a charity girl who would do just about anything for the price of a bottle of pop. Drunken boys were always staggering out of there whistling the tune to I’ll Say She Does. Even though Corkery made his payments, the place got raided at least once a month. Duvi said it was part of Corkery’s arrangement with Tierney, who was the local boss, because it kept the neighbours off the councilman’s back. Duvi always knew about the raids in advance, so the girls never got into trouble.
But now Rachel and Bessie were ready for better things. In the right place, a girl could meet big spenders who were hot steppers and who carried real Canadian whiskey in silver hip flasks. But for high-class dancehalls like Roseland or Dreamworld or Feldman’s Coney Island Palace, they needed real dance dresses.
Bessie thought Rachel should bob her hair. But some things couldn’t be left behind in Bessie’s rooms and Rachel was careful to protect her new double life. “You said you wasn’t afraid of your old man,” Bessie insisted. Rachel couldn’t make Bessie, who never did anything by half, understand that some arguments were not worth the trouble. Or that most of the trouble would land on her mother. Bessie hadn’t had a mother in such a long time.
Rachel weighed a heavy hank of glass beads across the palm of her hand. Bugles. The most delicate cylinders of crystal blue and green, threaded on lengths of fine silk. They sparked like a shoal of moon-chased minnows. There were enough to finish.
“And about time too,” Bessie said. Bessie had grown impatient with Rachel’s fussy particularity. Anything that glittered made Bessie happy. While Rachel waited for just the right colours, Bessie had finished her dress and was stringing a boa of pink dyed marabou feathers. She waved it under Rachel’s nose. “Ain’t these just dee-vine?” she said. “Ain’t they just the cat’s pyjamas?”
Rachel didn’t have the heart to tell her she looked like an explosion at bead factory; Bessie was so eager to make what she imagined would be a very grand entrance at Roseland. “Look out fellas, here I come.”
Rachel had planned more carefully, making sure Arty found just what she needed. If Arty ever wondered why he took so much trouble for a skinny Jewish girl, when he was already married to one and when it was her Irish shiksa friend he was after, Rachel did not let him wonder for long. Still the dress had taken months to finish. It was covered with beaded fringe and scattered with iridescent sequins, flashes of silver and the smallest seed pearls that Arty could finagle. From its pure white hemline, it rose in a narrow column through all the greens and blues to a deep cobalt at the shoulders. When Rachel put it on, she looked like a creature risen from the bottom of the ocean, seafoam still clinging about her knees.
“Geez, you look like a million, kiddo.” Bessie said. “Who’d ever guess you was jail-bait.”
Interview with the author…
BCH: Thank you for joining us on the blog today. We’re so excited to learn more about you and your new book! Can you tell us what prompted the idea for Tunnel of Mirrors?
Ferne: I heard a family story that haunted me for years. They key event in the story was so remarkable that I knew there could be a novel in it. But it also led to a bitter, unhappy life for the woman whose story it was. I wanted to try to write her into a different ending.
BCH: You’ve previously had short stories published. Other than time, what was the main difference in writing short stories compared to a novel length book?
Ferne: There’s a wonderful book, Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular, by the late Rust Hills, once fiction editor of Esquire. In it he defined a short story as “Something happens to somebody.” When I write a short story, the something that happens comes first. Usually the whole idea – start to finish – is formed in one concentrated burst of thinking. The story is written before I set down a single word.
A novel is more a process of gradual revelation, a kind of excavation. I start with the characters, and maybe the settings and I set them in motion. I may know some of the key landmarks along the way, but I rarely know where they will end up. I enjoy the process of discovering what my characters will do.
BCH: It looks like you’ve had quite a few interesting jobs. Which is your favorite?
Ferne: I loved being a journalist. It was like being paid to play. Every day was different. Every morning, showing up for my shift in the city room, I never knew what to expect. I never knew where the editors would send me or which of my ideas they would take up. I met politicians, crooks and swindlers, even movie stars. My most vivid work memories are from those days.
BCH: As a writer, do you prefer putting your stories down with pen and paper, dictation, or do you sit at a computer?
Ferne: I write at a computer and have done for years. I have a large-screened all in one. Interestingly, I can’t proofread off the screen. I only catch mistakes when I read from paper.
BCH: Have you had a mentor, in any of your occupations, who you feel shaped who you are today as a writer? What piece of advice resonated with you the most?
Ferne: I’ve had several different mentors. There was a newspaper editor who encouraged me early in my career and an important fiction editor of a major American magazine who invited me to a writers’ group in his home. And then there was the author, the late Malcolm Bradbury who inspired me to give myself permission to be an artist.
BCH: Is there anything else you’d like to share with readers about Tunnel of Mirrors?
Ferne: I hope readers will enjoy entering the worlds the Rachel and Ciaran come from and sharing their discovery of each other.
About the Author
London-based American writer Ferne Arfin has worked as a journalist, copywriter, actress and travel writer. Her short stories have been anthologised by Virago and Travellers’ Tales. Tunnel of Mirrors is her first published novel.
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