Tin Man

Tin Man by Sarah Winman

About the Book

It begins with a painting won in a raffle: fifteen sunflowers, hung on the wall by a woman who believes that men and boys are capable of beautiful things.

And then there are two boys, Ellis and Michael,

who are inseparable.

And the boys become men,

and then Annie walks into their lives,

and it changes nothing and everything.

Tin Man sees Sarah Winman follow the acclaimed success of When God Was a Rabbit and A Year of Marvellous Ways with a love letter to human kindness and friendship, loss and living.

For Robert Caskie

and for



I would like to thank everyone at Tinder Press for their commitment to this book, especially my editor Leah Woodburn, Vicky Palmer, Barbara Ronan, Katie Brown, Amy Perkins and Yeti Lambregts.

Thank you to Christopher Riopelle and the National Gallery. To the Cowley Car Plant for their generous help, and to the British Library. My thanks to Pam Hibbs for sharing her stories of St Bart’s hospital in the 80s.

Thank you to my friends who keep me laughing.

Thank you Mum, Si and Sha.

Thank you to my agent Robert Caskie for your belief in this book 10 years ago, and for the incredible journey that followed.

Thank you Patricia Niven, always.

‘I already feel that it has done me good to go South,

the better to see the North’

    Vincent Van Gogh in a letter to his brother Theo,

May 1890


All Dora Judd ever told anyone about that night three weeks before Christmas was that she won the painting in a raffle.

She remembered being out in the back garden, as lights from the Cowley car plant spilt across the darkening sky, smoking her last cigarette, thinking there must be more to life.

Back inside, her husband said, Bloody move it, will you, and she said, Give it a rest, Len, and she began to undo her housedress as she made her way upstairs. In the bedroom, she looked at herself sideways in the mirror, her hands feeling for the progression of her pregnancy, this new life she knew was a son.

She sat down at her dressing table and rested her chin on her hands. She thought her eyes looked tired, her skin dry. She painted her lips red and the colour instantly lifted her face. It did little for her mood, however.

The moment she walked through the door of the Community Centre, she knew it had been a mistake to come. The room was smoky and festive drinkers jostled as they tried to get to the bar. She followed her husband through the crowds and the intermittent wafts of perfume and hair oil, bodies and beer.

She wasn’t up for socialising with him any more, not the way he behaved with his friends, making a point of looking at every pretty thing that passed, making sure she was watching. She stood off to the side holding a glass of warm orange juice that was beginning to make her feel sick. Thank God Mrs Powys made a beeline for her, clutching a book of raffle tickets.

Top prize was a bottle of Scotch whisky, said Mrs Powys, as she took Dora over to the table where the prizes were laid out. Then we have a radio, a voucher for a haircut and set at Audrey’s Coiffure, a tin of Quality Street, a pewter hip flask, and lastly – and she leant forward for this confidence – a mid-size oil painting of very little worth. Albeit a fine copy of a European work of art, she added with a wink.

Dora had seen the original on a school trip to London at the National Gallery’s Pimlico site. Fifteen years old she’d been, full of the contradictions of that age. But when she had entered the gallery room, the storm shutters around her heart flew open and she knew immediately that this was the life she wanted: Freedom. Possibility. Beauty.

There were other paintings in the room, too, she remembered – Van Gogh’s Chair and Seurat’s Bathers at Asnières – but it was as if she had fallen under this particular painting’s spell, and whatever had transfixed her then, and drawn her into the inescapable confines of its frame, was exactly what was pleading with her now.

Mrs Judd? said Mrs Powys.

Mrs Judd? repeated Mrs Powys. Can I tempt you to a ticket, then?


A raffle ticket?

Oh, yes. Of course.

The lights flickered on and off and a man tapped a spoon against a glass. The room quietened as Mrs Powys made a great show of reaching into the cardboard box and pulling out the first winning ticket. Number seventeen, she said, grandly.

Dora was too distracted by the feelings of nausea to hear Mrs Powys, and it was only when the woman next to her nudged her and said, It’s you! that Dora realised she had won. She held up her ticket and said, I’m seventeen! and Mrs Powys shouted, It’s Mrs Judd! Mrs Judd is our first winner! and led her over to the table to take her pick of the prizes.

Leonard shouted out for her to choose the whisky.

Mrs Judd? said Mrs Powys, quietly.

But Dora said nothing, she stared at the table.

Get the whisky, Leonard shouted again. The whisky!

And slowly, in unison, the men’s voices chanted, Whisky! Whisky! Whisky!

Mrs Judd? said Mrs Powys. Will it be the whisky?

And Dora turned and faced her husband and said, No, I don’t like whisky. I choose the painting instead.

It was her first ever act of defiance. Like cutting off an ear. And she made it in public.

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