Thanks to enjoying the blog tour for Sharon Gosling’s first novel, The House Beneath the Cliffs, she became an author I kept an eye on. I was on the look out for her next and The Lighthouse Bookshop confirmed for me that if I’m looking for an escapist read, she is one of my go-to authors. She seems to effortlessly blend a mix of sadness and heartache, secrets, warmth and potential romance into an engrossing read that’s so enjoyable. Our main character, Luisa McGregor, has allowed herself to become stuck. A life that once felt safe, secure and predictable is now starting to stifle Luisa and she needs more, a new challenge perhaps. Then into her lap falls great opportunity. Her friend Oliver presents a daunting, but tantalising proposition. Instead of carrying on as a gardening assistant to a woman she feels increasingly out of step with, she should check out an opportunity to build a whole new garden at a site near the Cumbrian coast. There’s a pot of money available to build a community garden on wasteland next to a gym and youth club. Luisa agrees to visit the site and is daunted by the amount of work needed, but also inspired by what could be achieved there. As we meet the people of this disadvantaged area of Collaton, we can see what a community garden could mean to these people. There’s teacher Cas, who is pouring all of his energy and spare time into the young people of the area. Harper is a teenager with a lot on her plate, but determined to find a way out of Collaton towards a different future. Can Luisa design a garden that brings both healing, inspiration and a stronger sense of community for the residents?
I did connect with Luisa and the position she has become stuck in. She has had to recover from the terrible trauma of losing her husband in an accident. She has dragged herself up from the darkest and most difficult days following her husband’s death, to a point where she feels she has rebuilt her life. She’s working in garden design, even if she doesn’t like her boss, she has a nice home and great support in her sister. Really though, she’s just treading water and terrified of stretching herself or reaching for something that she could lose. I loved the way the author shows Luisa coming alive again as she works on the new garden. She literally blooms alongside her plants and seems to gain something from working with others and passing on her skills. Without trying too hard, the garden draws in those who need it including a woman who’s been her husband’s carer since an accident paralysed him. He’s initially sceptical and annoyed that his wife’s attention has been captured by Luisa’s plans, but just a few hours a week gaining respite from her caring role has transformed her. It’s not long before he’s creating bespoke benches for the garden, adapting the way he uses his joinery skills to his disability. Harper is a character who really stands out, she’s a young girl brimming with potential, but struggling to escape the difficult circumstances of her life. She is the main caregiver for her younger brother, now that their mum has died and their father has escaped into the bottle. Harper has a skill for mechanics, engineering and invention. She spends her spare time either at the club with Cas or helping at the local garage where she’s doing up a battered old Mini that Cas has gifted to her. Harper’s story shows us how hard it can be for someone to escape where they live and their family circumstances. Her cousin Darren is out of prison and is back dealing drugs in the area again, Harper is devastated when he preys upon her younger brother, Max. Max is easily influenced, especially when it comes to friendships. He struggles to make friends and has been subjected to bullying, so when someone older and seemingly cool pays him attention it’s an easy conquest. Darren wants him as a drug runner or lookout, but Harper puts her foot down and offers herself up instead. I was on tenterhooks, knowing that this decision would have consequences in the future.
There are a few powerful scenes that really stand out. Max has a secret that he’s been working on in Harper’s absence, inspired by the garden and when it was unveiled I almost held my breath. I loved the idea for his garden and the description was so lush and vivid I could almost smell the vegetation and feel the warmth. I could imagine sitting there, early on a sunny morning and enjoying a coffee. I also kept thinking what an incredible wedding venue it would be. It’s clear as soon as Cas and Luisa meet that there is potential for romance, but I wondered if both of them were too hurt by their pasts to take the chance. I was sure it needed a catalyst and the author certainly gives us one. The scene where Darren’s thugs get into the garden was heartbreaking and heart-stopping. I could actually feel the fear of the volunteers and residents as Darren shows his true colours and the bad boy reputation he’s trying to create for himself in the community. However, the gang don’t expect to be challenged, with devastating results. I was rooting for Cas and Luisa, with their endeavours in the community and their potential romance too. I read to the end quickly, determined to see the garden succeed and whether Luisa would overcome her fear of love and inevitable loss. I took the book on holiday with me and it was an enjoyable and emotional read, with an ending that was truly satisfying. This is an author who understands that life has seasons and that women have an amazing capacity to accept life’s changes, as well as the resilience to reinvent themselves and start over again.
Published by Simon and Schuster UK 27th April 2023
Meet the Author
I’ve been writing since I was a teenager, which is now a distressingly long time ago! I started out as an entertainment journalist – actually, my earliest published work was as a reviewer of science fiction and fantasy books. I went on to become a staff writer and then an editor for print magazines, before beginning to write non-fiction making-of books tied in to film and television, such as The Art and Making of Penny Dreadful and Wonder Woman: The Art and Making of the Film.
I now write both children’s and adult fiction – my first novel was called The Diamond Thief, a Victorian-set steampunk adventure book for the middle grade age group. That won the Redbridge Children’s prize in 2014, and I went on to write two more books in the series before moving on to other adventure books including The Golden Butterfly, which was nominated for the Carnegie Award in 2017, The House of Hidden Wonders, and a YA horror called FIR, which was shortlisted for the Lancashire Book of the Year Award in 2018.
My debut adult novel was published by Simon & Schuster in August 2021. It was called The House Beneath the Cliffs and it was set in a very small coastal village in Scotland. The idea for it had lodged in my head years before. I have a love for unusual dwelling places and I came across a tiny house that completely captured my imagination. My adult fiction tends to centre on small communities – feel-good tales about how we find where we belong in life and what it means when we do. Although I have also published full-on adult horror stories, which are less about community and more about terror and mayhem…
I was born in Kent but now live in a very small house in an equally small village in northern Cumbria with my husband, who owns a bookshop in the nearby market town of Penrith.