Sunday, 26 August 2018

New Release Spotlight & Excerpt: Leo's War by Patricia Murphy

Leo’s War by Patricia Murphy

It’s 1943 and young Leo tries to protect his disabled sister Ruby as the Nazis invade Italy. After his mother is arrested, he turns to Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty to save them. But he is no ordinary priest. Known as ‘The Pimpernel of the Vatican’, the Monsignor is the legendary organizer of the Rome Escape Line. Soon Leo is helping out with this secret network dedicated to saving the lives of escaped prisoners of war, partisans and Jews. But as the sinister Nazi leader Kappler closes in on the network, can Leo and his sister stay out of his evil clutches?



In this extract from chapter 6, 12 year-old Leo and his disabled younger sister Ruby Have arrived at Vatican City hoping to find sanctuary with the head of the Rome Escape Line, Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty. But as both are red-haired and Ruby has cerebral palsy, they are conspicuous and run the risk of being picked up by the Nazi guards. So Leo decides to carry Ruby on his back concealing her under a cloak and disguising himself as a beggar with a hunchback. He has been told that after evening mass the Monsignor waits every day on the steps of the Basilica in Saint Peter’s Square, where he is approached by escaped POW’s, partisans and Jews seeking refuge from the Nazis.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

As I made my first awkward steps into the square, I got
a shock. For it was also full of German soldiers in their
jackboots and steel helmets. Many were relaxed and
laughing, gawping like sightseers. But curiously isolated
too, as no one would come near them. I edged back into the
cooler air and shadows of the colonnade. There were lots of
beggars about so nobody paid an old hunchback much
attention. I walked on until we reached the end of the
curving colonnade which was quite close to the steps up to
the Basilica. There we skulked behind a pillar.
There was no sign of a tall priest with glasses and a
shock of curly hair on the steps of the Basilica. We waited
for what seemed like ages, my back creaking from the
weight of Ruby. Then the bells rang out for six o’clock and
people continued to pour in and out of the Basilica. Women
in mantillas clutching prayer books, students, nuns, priests
and monks. Finding a priest among priests would be like
finding a needle in a haystack.
But, sure enough, as the sun began to sink in the sky a
very tall black-clothed figure came out and stood on the
steps holding a prayer book. His head was occasionally
bent in prayer but he also looked up to heaven a lot and
then would sweep the square with his gaze. I got the
impression he was taking everything in, including me.
I took my chance.
Right, Ruby. Hang on.”
Ruby gripped my back and I pulled the old cloak around
us. I stepped out from behind the pillar and walked across
to the steps, like I thought a hunchback might. I didn’t have
to pretend to stagger. Ruby was a dead weight.
As I got closer I began to whistle “If I Were a Blackbird”
as Delia had instructed. Breathlessly, I have to admit, what
with my heart pounding and the effort of carrying Ruby.
The tall priest raised his head from the prayer book with
a smile of pure happiness like he’d just tasted a toffee apple.
He gave a slight nod. I saw simple steel-rimmed glasses
hovering before piercing blue eyes, and a wide, smiling
mouth. He had one of those faces that made you instantly
like him. His hair stood up from his head in a black shock
of curls. His nose was a bit like a potato but his lively eyes
twinkled behind his round glasses and his face was the
kindest face I’d ever seen apart from my mother’s.
I continued to whistle out a few bars of Delia’s “auld
And, next thing, he bounded down the steps towards us.
When he reached us I gazed up at him, panting, knees
buckling under the weight of Ruby.
Follow me, boy,” he said quietly. “A short distance
Just then a couple of Nazi soldiers walked by, their
helmets glinting in the slanting sun. They glared over at us
but Monsignor Hugh smiled at them and, making the Sign
of the Cross, said “Veni, vidi, vici.” Even I knew that was “I
came, I saw, I conquered” in Latin, said by Julius Caesar after
some battle or other. They passed on, not interested at all in
a priest spouting Latin and an ugly old misshapen beggar.
The Monsignor led us through the colonnade itself and
stepped over a small barrier into the road on the other side.
He then led us into a narrow side street. I followed on a
little way behind as though I had no connection with him. I
had to scuttle to keep up with his long legs as he strode
ahead. Ruby was good as gold, clinging on with all her
After covering a couple of hundred yards we reached a
large building dominating a corner, surrounded by a
terracotta-coloured wall. I had the impression we’d walked
the long way round because the building was close to the
Basilica. It was almost as if we’d doubled back on ourselves
maybe the Monsignor wanted to make sure we weren’t
There were double doors at the front of the building with
steps and a porch with columns. But he led us to a gate
under a stone archway at the side near an unmanned
porter’s cabin. As we passed though the archway, I glanced
upwards at the inscription above. It said Collegio Teutonico. I
asked him quietly what it meant.
The German College,” he said.
I nearly fell out of my standing, Ruby almost slipping
from her perch. The German College! I hadn’t realised that
was what the address meant. Of course Delia wouldn’t lead
us into a trap. But why was the enemy of the Nazis working
in a German College of all places? Was he a double agent?
My stomach went cold but I had no choice but to trust

Patricia Murphy is the bestselling author of The Easter Rising 1916 – Molly’s Diary and Dan’s Diary – the War of Independence 1920-22 published by Poolbeg.
She has also written the prize-winning “The Chingles” trilogy of children’s Celtic fantasy novels. Patricia is also an award winning Producer/Director of documentaries including Children of Helen House, the BBC series on a children’s hospice and Born to Be Different Channel 4’s flagship series following children born with disabilities. Many of her groundbreaking programmes are about children’s rights and topics such as growing up in care, crime and the criminal justice system. She has also made a number of history programmes including Worst Jobs in History with Tony Robinson for Channel 4 and has produced and directed films for the Open University.
Patricia grew up in Dublin and is a graduate in English and History from Trinity College Dublin and of Journalism at Dublin City University. She now lives in Oxford with her husband and young daughter.

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