Posted in Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday! Mix Tape by Jane Sanderson.

Jane Sanderson’s new novel, Waiting For Sunshine, is on my most anticipated list for the summer. So it’s a great time to look back on her previous work and MixTape really resonated with me. I loved this book. Is it because I had a Dan? A musician who started as my best friend, but who I fell in love with. I was 18 and he took me to my first prom. His band were playing and it was 1991 so perms were everywhere and we were just adopting grunge. I would turn up for school in jumble sale floral dresses with my ever present oxblood Doc Martens. They played some of my favourite songs on prom night: some that were contemporary like Blur and others were classics like Wild Thing. I most remember Waterloo Sunset. Then, like a scene in a rom-com we walked across town to his house – me in a polka dot Laura Ashley ball gown and him in his dinner suit with the bow tie undone. He had a ruffled shirt underneath that he’d bought from Oxfam. We crept into the house and into the playroom so we didn’t wake any of his family, then watched When Harry Met Sally. I remember a single kiss and then we fell asleep but the love carried over the years.

When I think of Elliot I always think of those best friend couples, like Harry and Sally or later, Emma and Dex in One Day. Now I can add Dan and Ali to the list. Alison and Dan live in Sheffield in the late 1970s when the city is still a thriving steel manufacturer. Dan is from the more family friendly Nether Edge, while Alison is from the rougher Attercliffe area, in the shadow of a steel factory. They meet while still at school and Dan is transfixed with her dark hair, her edge and her love of music. Their relationship is based on music and Dan makes mix tapes for her to listen to when they’re not together such as ‘The Last Best Two’ – the last two tracks from a series of albums. What he doesn’t know is how much Alison needs that music. To be able to put it on as a wall of sound between her and her family. Dan never sees where she lives and doesn’t push her, he only knows she prefers his home whether she’s doing her homework at the kitchen table, getting her nails painted by his sister or sitting with his Dad in the pigeon loft. Catherine, Alison’s mum, is a drinker. Not even a functioning alcoholic, she comes home battered and dirty with no care for who she lets into their home. Alison’s brother, Pete, is her only consolation and protection at home. Both call their mum by her first name and try to avoid her whenever possible. Even worse is her on-off lover Martin Baxter, who has a threatening manner and his own key. Alison could never let Dan know how they have to live.

In alternate chapters we see what Alison and Dan are doing in the present. Now a music writer, Dan splits his time between a canal boat in London and home with his partner Katelin in Edinburgh. Alison has written a new novel ‘Tell the Story Sing the Song’ set in her adopted home Australia and based round an indigenous singer. It’s a worldwide hit and she finds herself in demand, having to negotiate being interviewed and getting to grips with social media. She has an affluent lifestyle with husband Michael and has two grown up daughters. She has a Twitter account that she’s terrible at using and it’s this that alerts Dan, what could be the harm in following her? The secret at the heart of this book is what happened so long ago back in Sheffield to send a girl to the other side of the world? Especially when she has found her soulmate. She and Dan are meant to be together so what could have driven them apart? Dan sends her a link via Twitter, to Elvis Costelloe’s ‘Pump It Up’, the song she was dancing to at a party when he fell in love with her. How will Alison reply and will Dan ever discover why he lost her back in the 1970s?

I believed in these characters immediately, and I know Sheffield well, here described with affectionate detail by the writer. The accent, the warmth of people like Dan’s dad, the landmarks and the troubled manufacturing industry are so familiar and captured perfectly. Even the secondary characters, like the couple’s families and friends are well drawn and endearing. Cass over in Australia, as well as Sheila and Dora, are great characters. Equally, Dan’s Edinburgh friend Duncan with his record shop and the hippy couple on the barge next door in London are real and engaging. Special mention also to his dog McCullough who I was desperate to cuddle. Both characters have great lives and happy relationships. Dan loves Katelin, in fact her only fault is that she isn’t Alison. Alison has been enveloped by Michael’s huge family and their housekeeper Beatriz who is like a surrogate Mum. It’s easy to see why the safety and security of Michael’s family, their money and lifestyle have appealed to a young Alison, still running away from her dysfunctional upbringing. She clearly wants different fir her daughters and wishes them the sort of complacency Dan shows in being sure his parents are always there where he left them. But is the odd dinner party and most nights sat side by side watching TV enough for her? She also has Sheila, an old friend of Catherine’s, who emigrated in the 1970s and flourished in Australia. Now married to Dora who drives a steam train, they are again like surrogate parents to Alison. So much anchors her in Australia, but are these ties stronger than first love and the sense of belonging she had with Dan all those years before?

About three quarters of the way through the book I started to read gingerly, almost as if it was a bomb that might go off. I’ve never got over that unexpected loss in One Day and I was scared. What if these two soulmates didn’t end up together? Or worse what if one of them is killed off by author before a happy ending is reached? I won’t ruin it by telling any more of the story. The tension and trauma of Alison’s family life is terrible and I dreaded finding out what had driven her away so dramatically. I think her shame about her mother is so sad, because the support was there for her and she wouldn’t let anyone help. She’s so fragile and on edge that Dan’s mum has reservations, she worries about her youngest son and whether Alison will break his heart. I love the music that goes back and forth between the pair, the meaning in the lyrics and how they choose them. This book is warm, moving and real. I loved it.

And what of my Daniel? Well he’s in Sheffield strangely enough. Happily partnered with three beautiful kids. I’m also happily partnered with two lovely stepdaughters. We’re very happy where we are and with our other halves. It’s nice though, just now and again, to catch up and remember the seventeen year old I was. Laid on his bedroom door, with my head in his lap listening to his latest find on vinyl. Or wandering the streets in my ballgown, high heels in one hand and him with his guitar case. Happy memories that will always make me smile.

Meet The Author

A former BBC Radio 4 producer, Jane Sanderson’s first novel – Netherwood – was published in 2011. She drew on much of her family’s background for this historical novel, which is set in a fictional mining town in the coalfields of Yorkshire. Ravenscliffe and Eden Falls followed in the two subsequent years, then in the early summer of 2017, This Much Is True was published, marking a change in direction for the author. This book is a contemporary tale of dog walks and dark secrets and the lengths a mother will go to protect her family. 

Jane lives in Herefordshire with her husband, the journalist and author Brian Viner. They have three children.

Posted in Random Things Tours

Nothing Else by Louise Beech.

Louise Beech’s new novel, pulls us into the emotional and traumatic life of Heather, a pianist who lives in Hull. She teaches and plays in local bars, then relaxes in her harbour front flat looking out to the Humber Estuary and the North Sea. Heather has a quiet life and quite a solitary one too. She has no family and relies more on her strong connections with friends. In fact it is one of them that encourages her to try out for a job on a cruise ship, something she would never have imagined doing. She would be scheduled to play in different bars on the ship through the day, but as her friend says, she can enjoy the facilities and gets to travel. This particular cruise is stopping in New York then on to the Caribbean before doing it all again in reverse. There’s something lonely and a bit melancholy about her and we learn that Heather and her sister have grown up in the care system, after their parents were killed. Music was the girl’s escape, once their mother had convinced their father it wouldn’t hurt for them to learn on the piano they were given. They both had an aptitude for music, but it was Heather’s salvation, the only place she could fully express her emotions. With their father unwilling to pay for lessons, their mother secretly sent them to piano teacher Mr Hibbard who lived a few doors away. When their parents died, both girls were taken into a children’s home together, but one morning her sister Harriet was taken to see the staff in the office and Heather never saw her again. She could only hope that a kind family had adopted Harriet, but for some reason hadn’t been able to take her too. When the girls had most needed to express themselves they would play a duet they had composed called Nothing Else. It was this piece of music that stayed with Heather all her life, instantly taking her back to the piano and her little sister.

Heather’s chapters follow her current life and the piano job she applies for on a cruise ship. Here and there the author takes us back in time to her childhood, where their father was a controlling and violent man and Heather felt responsible for keeping her little sister Harriet safe. Like all children who have traumatic home lives, Heather had become attuned to the slightest hint of tension. She knew when her father was going to explode and on those nights where the sounds downstairs were terrifying, Heather would keep Harriet out of earshot and they felt safe when they were tucked up in just one bed. She was also aware that their father preferred cute and cheeky Harriet, so knew to stay quiet and keep her head down. These sections from the past are traumatic and very moving. The author maintains the tension in these flashbacks, until we too are on edge, always waiting for something to happen. The author moves deftly between the experiences of Heather as a child in the middle of this situation, and a grown up Heather commenting on what happened with the clarity and insight of an adult. There were brilliant present day sections onboard the cruise ship where Heather befriends a writer who is also working aboard, teaching sessions in creative writing. Heather joins her morning sessions and finds them much deeper than she expected. I could recognise this from the writing therapy sessions I’ve facilitated – the prompt is always just a starting point and eventually you start writing what you need to write about. This definitely happens to Heather and is one way of processing the care records she applied for before the trip, dipping into them little by little, like a reluctant bather dipping her toe into the cold, deep water. She doesn’t want to be overwhelmed.

Harriet has her own section of the book, again split into her current life and the past she doesn’t fully understand. Now living in America, Harriet has a daughter whose left home and case of empty nest syndrome. Her flashbacks into the past remind us that Heather’s story is only part of this family’s history and Harriet may have a very different tale to tell. We learn most when their narratives overlap and we see a subtly different side of the events Heather describes, like two sides of the same coin. Again, it’s psychologically very clever and gives the perspective of the younger sibling, the one who is cared for and shown love by her big sister. I was longing to know what had happened at the children’s home. Where did Harriet go and how was she persuaded to go without her sister? Thanks to all of these questions and my curiosity over whether the sisters would ever meet again, I was totally gripped by the story and immersed into the worlds of these sisters. I enjoyed their different characters, developed by their separate upbringings, as well as their different experiences with their parents due to their ages. There are secrets that neither child was aware of, so there are some rewarding revelations to be found. I was eager to know if the sisters were somehow able to find each other. Mainly though, I was moved to read their tales of childhood trauma and wanted to understand the adults they became in light of that experience. Which of their characteristics could be explained by the past? There’s a cautiousness in Heather, because her ability to trust others is affected, leading to a quiet and lonely life. It was lovely to watch the cruise atmosphere, and proximity to others, forcing her into being sociable and to make friends. There’s a sense that she’s coming alive in these moments, which felt hopeful and uplifting. This was an addictive read that beautifully captured how childhood trauma and it’s effects can follow us into adulthood. The author showed, so beautifully, that it’s only by sharing and in this case, playing out that experience that we begin to heal.

Published by Orenda Books 23rd June 2022

Meet The Author

All six of Louise Beech’s books have been digital bestsellers. Her novels have been a Guardian Readers’ Choice, shortlisted for Not the Booker Prize, and shortlisted for the RNA Most Popular Romantic Novel Award. Her short fiction has won the Glass Woman Prize, the Eric Hoffer Award for Prose, and the Aesthetica Creative Works competition, as well as shortlisting for the Bridport Prize twice. Louise lives with her husband on the outskirts of Hull. Follow her on Twitter @louisewriter

Posted in Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday! The Man Who Didn’t Call by Rosie Walsh.

I’ve been putting together a list of all the summer releases I’m looking forward to and one of my most anticipated books is Rosie Walsh’s The Love of My Life. So I thought it was a great time to look back on her last novel which I absolutely loved.

I read this in two long bursts – one of which started at 3am. It’s a book I couldn’t put it down because all I wanted was these two people back together. The harsh realities of grief and lifelong family rifts are well drawn and believable. All of these people are trying to move forward despite their lives missing a beat one day on a country road, where a split second decision has lifelong consequences. This book explores grief, loss, loyalty, loneliness and the incredible ability the human heart has to heal.

Sarah has a 7 day whirlwind romance with Eddie. They meet by chance on a country road while Sarah is visiting her parents. She thinks Eddie just might be the one. But, Eddie goes away on holiday and she never hears from him again. Is Eddie a heartless playboy who never intended to call? Did Sarah do something wrong? Or has something terrible happened to him? Instead of listening to friends and writing this off as a one night stand, Sarah begins to obsess and is determined to find the answer. Every clue she has comes to a dead end and she is in danger of completely losing her dignity. As her time back home in the UK starts to run out, Sarah looks for clues to track Eddie down. What she hears is confusing her further. His friend doesn’t give the simple answer, that Eddie has moved on, but gives her a warning; if she knows what’s best for her, she needs to stop looking for Eddie

I quickly became invested in Sarah and Eddie’s story. I think we’ve all been subjected to the watched phone that never rings and how crazy it can make us. It could have made me dislike Eddie early on, but for some reason I never did. I’m definitely a hopeless romantic so I seemed to accept Sarah’s hope that this could still work out. The other characters in the novel are also well-written and compelling. I’m a therapist so I was particularly interested in Eddie’s mother and her mental ill health. I think her symptoms and the way she manipulated Eddie showed a streak of narcissism. She finds it impossible to see this situation from his point of view, only how it affects her. Anything that threatens their dynamic as carer and patient is a huge threat to her and she responds with emotional blackmail and hostility. Eddie is as much a prisoner of her mental ill health as she is. I also had empathy for Sarah’s friend Jenny who is struggling to conceive and undergoes IVF treatment to the point of financial ruin. Her character probably leapt out at me because I’m also not able to have children, and know how difficult it can be to come to terms with. Her stoicism and determination to support her friend in the face of her own loss is very moving.

I stayed up late to finish the book, because I had everything crossed that the mystery would be explained and these two people could move forward together. To different degrees, all the novels characters are imprisoned by the past and losses they can’t accept. My husband died when he was 42 and I was 35. It’s like a chasm opened up and I had to choose between staying on one side forever, with the past and my feelings of loss and fear. Or I could choose to jump over that chasm into a new future. I never forget what happened or the love I have for Jerzy, but twelve years later I have a wonderful partner and two beautiful stepdaughters. Thankfully, I had the bravery to move forward knowing I can’t lose my memories of the past but I still have a future full of possibilities I never imagined. That’s what the characters in the novel are trying to do. Grief is different for everyone and there are always tensions between those who are trying to heal and those who can’t imagine healing because it feels like a betrayal. Rosie Walsh draws these different threads together beautifully, creating a bittersweet novel that captures that moment of choice – to draw on our reserves of resilience, jump over the chasm and live again.

Meet the Author

Rosie Walsh is the internationally bestselling author of two novels, the global smash hit THE MAN WHO DIDN’T CALL, and – new for 2022 – THE LOVE OF MY LIFE, a heart-wrenching, keep-you-up-all-night emotional thriller, which was an instant New York Times bestseller and stayed in the German top ten for several weeks. 

Rosie Walsh lives on a medieval farm in Devon, UK, with her partner and two young children, after years living and travelling all over the world as a documentary producer and writer. 

The Man Who Didn’t Call (UK) / Ghosted (US) was her first book under her own name, and was published around the world in 2018, going on to be a multimillion bestseller. 

Prior to writing under her own name she wrote four romantic comedies under the pseudonym Lucy Robinson. When she isn’t parenting or writing, Rosie can be found walking on Dartmoor, growing vegetables and throwing raves for adults and children in leaking barns.

Posted in Netgalley, Squad Pod

That Green-Eyed Girl by Julie Owen Moylan

The drinks glass and flashes of almost neon colour on this book’s cover were striking on NetGalley. To me they signified city living, the bar scene and potential for glitz and glamour – I’ve probably watched too much Sex and the City. However, the women depicted here were a long way from flashy, fashionista, New York City Girls. In fact there are only a couple of nights out in the whole book. This is a different NYC, where real people live and work day to day, just trying to get by in a city that’s exciting, but expensive and tough. In a split narrative, set partly in 1955 and partly in 1975, this is a novel that writes back to women’s history. It opened my eyes to a time when women were persecuted for the way they choose to live their lives. In 1955 Dovie Carmichael and her friend Gillian work together as teachers and share an apartment. The friends have a lot in common: they love jazz, a glass of whiskey at night and lazy Sundays at home. The pair guard their private time very carefully, until one day when the wrong person gets a glimpse into their lives, changing everything. Twenty years later teenager Ava Winter lives in the same apartment with her Mum and her Dad, when he’s around and not with his mistress. Ava’s mum is not well mentally and Ava is struggling to live a normal teenage life, preferring to stay home to keep an eye on her. She becomes fascinated with a mysterious box and letter sent to their address from France. Inside are letters, a butterfly necklace and a photograph with LIAR scrawled across a woman’s face. Ava wants to know the story behind the box. Who was this woman, that lived in her home and what do the letters say?

The theme that stood out to me more than anything was loneliness. I felt a contrast between the huge open city and the small private spaces where secrets are kept. The characters I felt most connection with were Ava and Dovie, both struggling to keep secrets about their living situation. The mistake Dovie and Gillian make allows a very manipulative woman to take advantage of them. Judith works at the same school and does come across as a lonely woman, but has allowed her situation to develop bitterness and envy in her character. In the guise of struggling to find an affordable apartment, she inveigles her way into Dovie and Gillian’s home and relationship. It’s clear she wants friends, but seemingly can’t stand to see two people who are happy in each other’s company and if she can’t have it for herself she might just set out to destroy it. Ava is also lonely and I think she senses a similar feeling in the box of keepsakes she discovers, it’s that connection with the sender’s loneliness that makes her so determined to find the person this box was meant for. It’s also a distraction from how miserable her own life is. With her mum and dad estranged she is often solely looking after her mother who seems severely depressed and liable to harm herself. It’s almost a role reversal, with Ava looking after her welfare instead of the other way round. I felt deeply for this young girl going through the usual teenage phases of a crush on a boy in the neighbourhood, a worry about how she looks and fitting in, and both the anticipation and fear of what comes next in life. On top of this her father uses his precious time with Ava to chat up the waitress in their favourite diner. Her mother is deteriorating, screaming and muttering through the night and Ava is so worried about the neighbours hearing her or her friend finding out what home is really like since her dad left. The scenes of her alone in their cold apartment, willing her mum to settle for the night and wishing her dad was there, were vivid and moving.

Whether in New York or Paris the settings are beautifully evoked and I could feel the change in time period from just a few well written sentences. Even the usually romantic Paris has it’s downsides because this is the reality of living there, rather than the dream. I felt the author really got under the surface of these cities and showed me what it was like to be a New Yorker. I found the LGBTQ+ scene so interesting and the contrast between women who kept their relationships secret, with more openly gay women in NYC or Paris, was beautifully portrayed. Dovie has never ventured into meeting other women and the scene where she visits a club stayed with me. There’s an innocence about Dovie that contrasts sharply with the sophisticated women she sees there, some of whom are scathing of Dovie’s lack of knowledge about being openly lesbian in 1955. I don’t think she really understood the danger she faced which could be anything from losing her job to being arrested or put into an asylum. I was just as shocked to realise that women who were open about their sexuality, or discovered, were subject to arrest and even ECT treatment to curb their ‘unnatural’ activities or desires. The nightclub raid where Dovie is helped to escape through a bathroom window is unbelievably tense and so poignant when we realise it’s link to 1975. The way police manhandle and sexually assault the women reminded me of how the suffragettes were treated so many decades earlier. The idea was to break the women’s resolve and remind them what they were really for – the amusement, desires and dominance of men. Reading these women’s experiences made me so angry, but also opened a door into a world I am ashamed to say I knew little about. At heart this is a love story and all the way through I wanted to know what had happened in that apartment in 1955 and I also hoped that Ava would find the intended recipient of the box from Paris. For me this book had a similar impact to the television series It’s A Sin. This was an emotionally captivating story that’s sure to stay with me and has inspired me to read more about the history of sexuality and the fight LGBTQ+ people still have for equal rights across the globe. It left me with a lump in my throat, thinking about how love can last a lifetime, even beyond separations and loss. I really look forward to reading more from this talented author in the future.

Meet The Author

Julie Owen Moylan is a writer whose short stories and articles have appeared in New Welsh ReviewHorizon Literary Review, and The Voice of Women in Wales Anthology

She has also written and directed several short films as part of her MA in Film. Her graduation short film called ‘BabyCakes’ scooped Best Film awards at the Swansea Film Festival, Ffresh, and the Celtic Media Awards. She also has an MA in Creative Writing, and is an alumna of the Faber Academy’s Writing a Novel course. 

Her debut novel THAT GREEN EYED GIRL was published by Penguin Michael Joseph on May 12 2022.

She is currently working on her second novel SPANGLELAND

Posted in Random Things Tours

Remember Me by Charity Norman

Emily is a children’s illustrator, who spent her childhood in Hawke’s Bay but now lives in London. One evening she receives a call from her father’s neighbour, Raewynn, letting her know that his Alzheimer’s has progressed and he needs a little help. Despite both her brother and sister still living in New Zealand, Raewynn thinks Emily is the one best disposed to make the right decision. Emily’s father is well known in the area and is still known as Dr. Fitzgerald despite his retirement. He still lives on the family’s homestead with his two dogs and next door Raewynn and her son Ira who rents and farms the Arapito land. Until now they’ve managed to look after Dr. Fitzgerald, but trusting Raewynn’s opinion Emily decides to travel to New Zealand and check on her father.

When she arrives she knows all is not well. She realises her father has become very adept at seeming okay. He’s worked out which stock questions to ask when someone’s on the phone, using listening skills to let the caller think they’ve had a deep conversation. She thinks he’s rather like a magician, creating a Dr Fitzgerald who everyone knows and recognises, while underneath feeling confused, bewildered and frightened. As Emily spends time in her childhood home, memories rise to the surface: the unhappiness of her mother; her father’s distraction and avoidance of his family; the terrible state of Manu, Raewynn’s husband, who deteriorated and died from Huntington’s; the disappearance of Raewynn’s daughter Leah, who was lost on their range of mountains and has never been found. Emily was the last one to see Leah alive and the loss of this vibrant and beautiful girl still haunts the whole valley, including Emily’s father.

Norman writes about Alzheimer’s with knowledge and compassion. I spent some time working in nursing homes and Dr Fitzgerald is in the cruellest stage of his disease; he knows it is happening and he’s embarrassed, scared and exhausted from trying to appear like his old self. As Raewynn observes, it will be a blessing when he’s gone past this stage and reaches the place where he doesn’t remember his old self any more. It’s like watching the tide recede and as Emily settles in she can see this happening, layers and layers of what she recognises as her dad slowly drifting away towards the evening and then rolling back in the next morning when he’s at his most lucid. She can see the symptom of ‘sun downing’ as her dad becomes more anxious and confused in the evening. Then there are terrifying nights where he wakes screaming, doesn’t recognise her and can become violent. Then there are the family conflicts over care, as her brother and sister feel he would be better off in the ominous sounding St. Patrick’s where he’d be safe. Of course the other benefit to St.Patrick’s is that the house and land could be sold, meaning they would receive their inheritance. Emily doesn’t want to think her siblings are mercenary, but they have always stuck together and don’t have any interest in the land or the family’s long relationship with Raewynn and Ira who farm their land.

I had a huge soft spot for Raewynn, she feels like a real ‘earth mother’ type of woman and is a pillar of quiet strength. It takes a strong woman to come through the slow deterioration of her husband’s health, until he wasn’t the man she loved any more. She doesn’t complain and they all loved him fiercely, but those who know the family closely, know how much Manu’s illness took out of them all. For them to go through the loss of Leah only two years later seems unspeakably cruel. For Emily there is survivor’s guilt and her sadness for Ira, who was her best friend. Now there may be change coming, on the twenty year anniversary of her disappearance. Raewynn and Emily are interviewed, in the hope of jogging someone’s memory, that a change of allegiance might urge someone to talk, or that someone’s conscience finally forces someone to speak. In the meantime Emily is battling her siblings over her father’s wishes. Firstly, he gives her a living Will drawn up by his solicitor and much to her surprise, the person he wants to speak for him at the end, is Emily. It’s a revelation that her rather remote and unavailable father trusts her to do the right thing. It’s also a revelation that he’s been keeping a file of her memories in the box next to his bed, all the way back to her hospital baby bracelet. However, this isn’t the only revelation in the box and what Emily finds here will blow so many lives wide open.

This is what Charity Norman does best. She shows how relationship dynamics change and even break when something unexpected happens. Her characters are real, because they are so well constructed psychologically. Her sense of place is also incredible from the forbidding mountain range that backdrops the farm, to the bitter cold and the incredible micro-climate of a lush gully and waterfall hidden away. Oh how unbelievably emotional I felt at the end of this book, not just a lump in my throat, but actual tears. Yet I also felt such a feeling of ‘rightness’ that it ended the way it should. I was also deeply touched by the unique combination of Haka and bagpipes at Leah’s memorial. The New Zealanders I know seem to celebrate people for their unique traits and this memorial took me back to my brother in law’s funeral in Gisborne where a chainsaw and work boots adorned the coffin and the guttural roar of a stag heralded his departure. This writer is one of my favourites, because she understands the uniqueness of human beings, their incredible strengths and their hidden weaknesses. There is such emotional intelligence in this latest novel and it was my absolute pleasure to read it.

Meet The Author

Charity Norman was born in Uganda and brought up in successive draughty vicarages in Yorkshire and Birmingham. After several years’ travel she became a barrister, specialising in crime and family law. In 2002, realising that her three children had barely met her, she took a break from the law and moved with her family to New Zealand. REMEMBER ME is her seventh novel.

Posted in Rachels Random Resources

Shoot The Moon by Bella Cassidy

Tassie Morris is everyone’s favourite wedding photographer, famous for her photos of offbeat ceremonies and alternative brides. Yet commitment is proving impossible for Tassie herself, who cannot forget her first love.

When she’s sent to photograph a ceremony on Schiehallion – the Fairy Hill of the Scottish Caledonians – she meets Dan, who might be the one to make her forget her past. That is, until a family crisis begins a chain of events that threaten to destroy not only Tassie’s love life, but her entire career.

Set in a colourful world of extraordinary weddings, Shoot the Moon explores the complexities of different kinds of love: romantic love, mother love, friendship. And, ultimately, the importance of loving yourself.

There was an awful lot to admire in this novel about a young woman who makes her living capturing the love of others, while struggling to find the love she needs. I say needs rather than wants, because Tassie doesn’t really know what she wants or even the type of man that’s best for her. Largely this is because she’s stuck on a relationship she had when she was a teenager. I really felt for this woman, because she has so much going for her, but doesn’t realise it. She has had an exciting career in photography across the world, but more recently has worked for a U.K. wedding magazine. Tassie is given a file containing all the details of a wedding that her work colleague and friend has picked for their next real wedding feature. Tassie then travels down to that wedding to photograph it for the magazine. I particularly loved this rock and roll wedding, with the bride in a black dress and the mother of the bride performing the ceremony in her role as vicar. The author captures the beautiful details of the wedding so well I felt I was there. The Scottish wedding is also spectacular, not just the ceremony but the scenery around them. Scotland is the first time I see Tassie truly relax and let go of plans and schedules, leaving her phone to one side. It’s a moment of quiet in an otherwise busy story. In her spare time Tassie is a homebody, either tackling some of the DIY on her flat or tending the well-kept garden where she grows herbs and vegetables. She seems comfortable with who she is.

However, she doesn’t seem to know who she is when it comes to finding a partner. She harks back to her teenage years and the time she spent as Alex’s girlfriend. I love the way the author depicts our formative romantic relationships as something that shapes our love life into the future. Her seemingly perfect relationship with Alex possibly wasn’t that great, but when we put our rose tinted glasses on it can seem. Also, teenage relationships don’t have the pressures that our adult relationships do. They’re intense because it’s a new experience, but also because we don’t have the constraints or worries of work, money, mortgages and children. We have all the time in the world to be in love when we’re younger. Tassie only sees Alex occasionally these days and I wondered how much the relationship really suited his agenda, but left Tassie quite lonely and blocked her from moving on. There was an emotionally intelligent look at how attachment issues affect our relationships too; if we fear abandonment then we might put up with difficult behaviour just to avoid confrontation and potentially being abandoned again. I think Tassie is aware that Alex is not a fulfilling relationship for her, but can she cope with the feelings of being without it? Dan is a fantastic romantic lead character and has a lot of the qualities Tassie values in a man. He seems like someone who is straightforward, honest and loyal. Their personalities fit together well and he seems ready for a serious relationship, but can she take that step with someone she’s just met without fearing abandonment?

The author pulls everything together well as Tassie’s world changes completely when she makes a mistake at work and risks the reputation of the magazine. She has to think quickly because living in a London flat with her lifestyle won’t be financially sustainable. This seems like rock bottom for her, but could it possibly be a blessing in disguise? Could it be the right time to go home to the farm, given that her lifelong issues with her mum are still causing her emotional pain? Maybe it will also give her the opportunity to try something completely new as a career? I was keeping my fingers crossed for her because I wanted her to feel comfortable with who she was and feel whole. She might also be ready for that real, committed relationship to come along – but I didn’t need that for a happy ending. My only criticism of the book is that there were moments I felt like I was reading a different story. At the beginning we learn that Tassie sees a little blonde girl, who could be an imaginary friend, except Tassie continues to see her from time to time. Tassie feels like they’re connected in some way, but doesn’t know how. I found this really interesting and it had a different feel to the rest of the book. It didn’t seem to fit with the lighter tone around the wedding magazine and I had a feeling this could have been the start to quite a different novel. It’s a small thing, and I did like the way it was tied into her childhood anyway. All in all this was a great read for Valentine’s Day, and should suit romance readers as well as those who like their romances to have some emotional depth.

Meet the Author

Bella Cassidy grew up in the West Country – reading contemporary romances, romances, historical novels, literary fiction… just about anything she could lay her hands on. After a few years in London, working as a waitress and in PR and advertising, she went to Sussex to read English – despite admitting in her pre-interview that this rather sociable period in her life had seen her read only one book in six months: a Jilly Cooper. She’s had an eclectic range of jobs: including in the world of finance; social housing fundraising; a stint at the Body Shop – working as Anita Roddick’s assistant; as a secondary school teacher, then teaching babies to swim: all over the world.

She’s done a lot of research for writing a wedding romance, having had two herself. For her first she was eight months pregnant – a whale in bright orange – and was married in a barn with wood fires burning. The second saw her in elegant Edwardian silk, crystals and lace, teamed with yellow wellies and a cardigan. Both were great fun; but it was lovely having her daughter alongside, rather than inside her at the second one.

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Purchase Links

UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/SHOOT-MOON-alternative-game-hearts-ebook/dp/B09D2DHZYG

US – https://www.amazon.com/SHOOT-MOON-alternative-game-hearts-ebook/dp/B09D2DHZYG

Posted in Sunday Spotlight

Valentine’s Day! My Literary Crushes

I thought I’d celebrate Valentine’s Day by talking about our literary crushes. Let’s be honest, we all have them. Those literary heroes that draw us in and make us swoon. From a young age there have been literary heroes that have stuck in my mind, and probably informed some ill-advised dating choices over the years. Those formative literary heroes who made my adolescent heart flutter, have changed a lot as years have gone by. Perhaps because what I’ve learned through my real life relationships has started to change the characteristics that attract me in a hero. Those young, dashing, tortured souls don’t seem quite so attractive when you’ve encountered a few in real life. Of course, literary adaptations on film or TV often influence these crushes greatly – remember the endless banging on about a wet Colin Firth striding across the Derbyshire countryside? My mum’s expectation of that scene had obviously been honed by 1970’s literary adaptations like Women in Love where Oliver Reed and Alan Bates famously wrestled naked in front of a roaring fire. She expected Darcy to be wearing less clothes and couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. Anyway, I much preferred a slightly dishevelled Matthew McFadyen Mr Darcy, striding across a field at dawn. However, between the book covers, Mr Darcy simply doesn’t do it for me. Similarly, Mr Thornton from North and South was incredibly sexy when portrayed by the lovely Richard Armitage, but simply fails to light my fire when reading the book. So, with some trepidation, here are my reading crushes. Let me know yours. There’s no judgement here. ❤️❤️

Mr Rochester – Jane Eyre

Michael Fassbender as Mr Rochester

“To women who please me only by their faces, I am the very devil when I find out they have neither souls nor hearts…but to the clear eye and eloquent tongue, to the soul made of fire, and the character that bends but does not break—at once supple and stable, tractable and consistent—I am every tender and true.”

Considering they barely left the surroundings of their home at Haworth, those Brontë girls knew how to write the brooding, Byronic, hero. Heathcliff is probably the best example, but I read Wuthering Heights again when I was older, and he was a bit too tortured soul for my liking, plus he hangs a woman’s dog for goodness sake! I first read Jane Eyre when I was ten, in my last year of primary school, and I’ve read it every couple of years since. When younger, I loved the slow burn of their romance. From the moment she saves him from burning in his bed, it’s clear there’s something about Jane that attracts him. For him, she seems like a cool drink on a hot day. Somewhere he can sit and find peace, and let’s face it, he has an awful lot of drama to escape from. Of course when I was young I couldn’t see the feminist or sexual implications of the novel – Bertha upstairs was a bit of a monster to me. She was the gothic, scary bit so I didn’t really think about her as a person or what Rochester had done to her, until I was in my teens. I liked his dark brooding character and when he appears out of the fog on his horse it is still a swoon moment for me. I think I also enjoyed that he loves the plain, poor governess rather than the decorative, but awful Blanche Ingram. I loved their conversations and the way he seems to enjoy that fiery part of Jane. In my teens I used to think she was mad for leaving Rochester, but later I could see why she left and sometimes wondered if it wouldn’t have been better for her to keep her fortune and take off on a trip across the world. At least when she does return to Rochester it’s as an equal, with her own fortune and experience

Willoughby – Sense and Sensibility

Greg Wise as Willoughby

In every meeting of the kind Willoughby was included; and the ease and familiarity which naturally attended these parties were exactly calculated to give increasing intimacy to his acquaintance with the Dashwoods, to afford him opportunity of witnessing the excellencies of Marianne, of marking his animated admiration of her, and of receiving, in her behaviour to himself, the most pointed assurance of her affection.

We’re still in bad boy territory here, with the ultimate cad who breaks Marianne’s heart and reputation in Sense and Sensibility. I have read the book, but I will admit that the Greg Wise version does play a large part in this choice. I loved the romantic way that Willoughby finds Marianne, having sprained her ankle on a hillside. He simply picks her up and carries her home. Factor in some rain, and Greg Wise being all dark and handsome, mastering a huge horse and a literary crush was born. No wonder Emma Thompson wrote in her diary on that particular day that Greg was setting all hearts fluttering as he was drippng wet an

a he loves Marianne, but in need of money he chooses status and an heiress above his heart. There’s no excuse for how he behaves, he’s an absolute rat, but that rush of chemistry can’t be denied. Would we have done any different to Marianne? In the film, when he rides to the hill in order to watch Marianne and Colonel Brandon leaving the church after their wedding, I think he’s truly sad and a little jealous.

Jamie Fraser – Outlander.

Sam Heughan as Jamie Fraser

“I will find you,” he whispered in my ear. “I promise. If I must endure two hundred years of purgatory, two hundred years without you–then that is my punishment, which I have earned for my crimes. For I have lied, and killed, and stolen; betrayed and broken trust. But there is the one thing that shall lie in the balance. When I shall stand before God, I shall have one thing to say, to weigh against the rest. Lord, ye gave me a rare woman, and God! I loved her well.”

I couldn’t resist the giant photo of Jamie Fraser! I had barely started reading the Outlander series when the TV series started so now the literary character is always going to be linked with the lovely Sam Heughan. He’s a great choice for the character and the chemistry between him and Catriona Balfe as Claire is perfect. What I love about Jamie is the way Diana Gabaldon has written him and it’s something that spills over into the TV series. We as readers are firmly with Claire and everything Jamie does is viewed through the female gaze. Their wedding night sequence is good example. We experience him through Claire and it’s his body we’re undressing and enjoying. I think the allure of Jamie is that heady mix of tough outdoors warrior, with a vulnerability underneath. There’s the way he respects her ideas and opinions, unheard of in most men of Claire’s time, never mind the 18th Century. It’s also his deep loyalty to Claire, not just across the few years they’re together but all those years inbetween when they’re in a different time from each other. There’s nothing more romantic than that.

Cormoran Strike – The Cuckoo’s Calling Series

Tom Burke as Cormoran Strike

‘My best mate . . . ” For a split second he wondered whether he was going to say it, but the whisky had lifted the guard he usually kept upon himself: why not say it, why not let go? ‘. . . is you.”

Robin was so amazed, she couldn’t speak. Never, in four years, had Strike come close to telling her what she was to him. Fondness had had to be deduced from offhand comments, small kindnesses, awkward silences or gestures forced from him under stress. She’d only once before felt as she did now, and the unexpected gift that had engendered the feeling had been a sapphire and diamond ring, which she’d left behind when she walked out on the man who’d given it to her.She wanted to make some kind of return, but for a moment or two, her throat felt too constricted. ‘I . . . well, the feeling’s mutual,” she said, trying not to sound too happy.”

Finally, I actually fancy someone in this century! From the moment I picked up a dog eared copy of The Cuckoo’s Calling in a charity shop I was hooked on private investigator Cormoran Strike. Yes, there’s the old tortured soul aspect to his personality, but it’s not just the high pitched warning alarm of a damaged man that calls out to me. I remember how well the author described him having to care for the stump left when his leg was amputated. It felt realistic to me, because walking and standing a lot was painful for him. If he is tailing someone he would ache and his leg might have chafed against his prosthetic. I appreciated a hero with a disability, his heroism magnified by the fact he was injured in action. He’s a big man, broad and tall, so much so that you’d feel safe with him. He may be vulnerable, but he can handle himself if necessary and that’s a heady combination. He’s a great listener, full of empathy for people in a predicament and for those close to him. He’s deeply loyal to those who he can trust, like his business partner Robin. He’s been messed up by women, from his mother to his long term girlfriend Charlotte. However, he’s a very private about his relationships and seems to have his own code of honour which is very attractive.

Captain Wentworth – Persuasion

Ciaran Hinds as Captain Wentworth

“I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you.”

Are there any more romantic words in literature? Wentworth’s letter is, for me, the most romantic I’ve read. I’d go as far as saying it’s the best declaration of love in the classics. It’s all the more wonderful because Anne is so unassuming and modest. She has spent months with Wentworth back in her circle, loving him from afar, but never presuming he might feel the same way. In fact she’s so sure he’s moved on from the feelings he had for her when they were younger, she thinks he’s in love with Louisa Musgrove. She has so little confidence that she misses the care and kindness he shows her. After a long walk he makes sure it is Anne who gets the seat on the carriage because he’s thinking of her comfort. She thinks he wants to be alone with Louisa or that he thinks she needs to sit as she’s older. I love Wentworth’s constancy and the passion he has been hiding under that polite exterior. The kiss that follows is wonderful, because we’ve been waiting for it so long.

Jackson Brodie – Case Histories Series

Jason Isaacs as Jackson Brodie


“He was officially a lunatic, she decided. Strangely, that didn’t make him less attractive.”

What is it about Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie? He’s a slightly rumpled, middle-aged, private investigator. He’s been in the military and the police so is probably institutionalised. In fact he’s a bit of a hopeless case, often taking on the lame ducks he finds along the way, whether they’re human or canine. Marriage doesn’t seem to suit him, but he is a very loyal friend. He’s quite grumpy and set in his ways. I’m not really selling him well I know, but there is that indefinable something that’s attractive. Rather like Cormoran Strike, there’s that sense that he’s an honourable man. He’s old-fashioned and would want to make sure you got home ok. In fact he’s one of those men who would walk on the outside on the pavement so you’re safe, away from the traffic and don’t get splashed. I imagine he looks like life has knocked him around a bit, but if someone needs help he would still be the first one there. There are times when he does the right thing, not by the book, but by his own moral code and I love that.

Gabriel Oak – Far From The Madding Crowd.

Matthias Schoenaerts as Gabriel Oak

“And at home by the fire, whenever you look up there I shall be— and whenever I look up, there will be you.”

I haven’t put my crushes in any sort of order, but I’ve definitely saved the best till last. If you ask me, for most of the book, Bathsheba Everdene needs her head examining. Near the beginning of the book, Gabriel visits her. They’ve been neighbours and he comes striding across the fields with a lamb under his arm. It’s an orphan and he thought she might like to feed and take care of him. He then proposes to her and she refuses! If a man brought me a lamb I’d be beside myself with excitement and I’d be saying yes before he’d finished his sentence. How can you turn down a man who brings you your very own lamb? However, their fates are intertwined. After a terrible tragedy where he loses his whole flock, Gabriel is forced to look for a job. It turns out that Bathsheba has become an heiress, inheriting a farm but luckily needing someone to manage it for her.

Gabriel proves himself to be a loyal employee and is constant even when she marries the ridiculous Sergeant Troy. Troy gambles her money and one night gets the whole workforce dangerously drunk. They are celebrating the harvest, but the hay stacks aren’t covered and a storm blows up. Bathsheba finds Gabriel desperately trying to save he harvest for her, while Troy is passed out cold in the barn. Bathsheba grows up a lot in the course of the novel and she starts to see and value the qualities Gabriel has. She has previously overlooked his steadfast loyalty, how hard he will work for her and what an incredible friend he can be. He listens to her and when she is silly enough to lead on Mr Boldwood, an older gentleman who owns the neighbouring land, he speaks to her and warns her that it isn’t fair. Of course, this being Hardy, this flirtation ends in tragedy. Yet Gabriel is still there and when he proposes a second time she’s finally ready for the love he’s offering.

Happy Valentine’s Day! I hope you have a literary crush you enjoy ❤️❤️

Posted in Sunday Spotlight

Sunday Spotlight! Romance, Love and One Day by David Nicholls

I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of romantic novels on the whole, not as a genre anyway. However, I’m also that annoying person who writes outside the boxes on forms, resists the Census and ticks ‘rather not say’ if there’s an option to do so. My objection is to categories and putting things in boxes. I don’t object to a love story, in fact some of my favourite books are love stories. It’s just I don’t like it when love stories are packaged as romantic fiction or women’s fiction, given candy pink or baby blue covers, and characters who have little depth or motivation beyond the ‘meet cute’. I understand that, since Shakespeare, there’s been a set formula to the love story, but this can be taken to extremes. I actively hate simple love stories with manufactured obstacles and I definitely hated Fifty Shades of Grey (which was in no way a love story, but marketed as one). Perhaps my problem isn’t with love, but with romance; a much more contrived hearts, flowers and happy endings sort of place.

I like real obstacles: the terrible coincidence in Rosie Walsh’s The Man Who Didn’t Call; the limits posed by Will’s attitude to his disability in Me Before You; the mad wife in the attic in Jane Eyre; the girlish mistake of refusing a proposal in Persuasion. My favourite romcom is When Harry Met Sally so I do enjoy a ‘friends to lovers’ scenario, but it’s also witty with snappy dialogue and Billy Crystal making a woman miaow in bed. I love stories that are based within a historical or time-slip setting like the Outlander series of novels by Diana Gabaldon. I also like it when characters are so real it’s painful like Sally Rooney’s awkward teenage fumbling in Ordinary People. The characters must have depth, genuine problems or some meaty psychological issues to get my teeth into. I enjoy love stories set in other cultures or those that could be written as forbidden. I loved the viewpoint of a man coming to terms with his homosexuality in A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale and the transgressive love affair of D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. I enjoyed how love blossomed from a marriage of convenience during the Windrush era in Andrea Levy’s Small Island. I also loved the bittersweet tale of love gone wrong in David Nicholls’s other novel Us where our protagonist’s marriage breakdown comes into focus on a trip through Europe, interspersed beautifully with scenes from when they fall in love.

Several years ago, like thousands of others, I was blindsided by One Day. There was a time when you couldn’t move on public transport without knocking into someone reading this book. It’s a simple premise. Dexter and Emma were at Edinburgh University and as they graduate they spend the day together and forge a friendship, they climb Arthur’s Seat in their cap and gowns and talk about what they want for their futures. Dex would like to work in television and Emma would like to be a writer. The book then follows their story on the same day each year, sometimes together and sometimes apart, we see how life has changed them and the circumstances they find themselves in. Of course we know that Emma and Dex should be together, but will they ever find the right time or the courage to try?

I’ll be honest, at first I didn’t feel ‘grabbed’ by their story. My interest was mainly in their individual lives, especially considering that the book is set so that they’re both a similar age to me. I recognised the era, the reference points and also the struggles of life as they go through them. I thought Dex was a bit of a dick to be honest. He’s a player, egotistical and at times downright unpleasant. I really bonded with Emma though. A northern girl, she has a brand of kindness and an ability to see through bullshit that I liked. I saw some of me in her and I have always wanted to be a writer, but also went into teacher training (and didn’t finish). She clearly loves Dex, but will he ever see her? Mostly he sees her as a consolation prize, a shoulder to cry on, an advice giver and sometimes the great big kick up the arse he deserves. I can honestly say I hoped they never got together at several points in the book, because I didn’t think he deserved her. There’s a point where Emma has gone through a really tough time. She breaks off her engagement and goes through moving out and separating from her fiancé emotionally and financially. She goes out to Paris for a while and starts to write a children’s book. She has her hair cut short. She makes friends. I loved this Emma and I thought she’s built a new life from the ground up with no help from anyone. I wanted her to stay there.

As I know all too well, our love lives never simple. Often, where the decisions to be together seem very easy to make, it’s the right person. It’s reciprocal and committed. When we’re younger we’re learning about who we are in a relationship. We don’t know how much to compromise and how much to stick firmly to who we are or what we want for ourselves. We can get tangled up in relationships that are no good for us, are abusive, are with people who cheat, or people who put up obstacles and change their minds. We love people who aren’t ready, or who are too busy adding notches to the bed post. We can be so unsure of ourselves in our teenage years (and beyond) that we accept relationships that aren’t good for us and allow behaviour that’s demeaning or grinds down our self-worth. It’s also hard to love someone who doesn’t love you or who claims they can’t be with you. That great line from Sex and the City springs to mind – ‘he’s just not that into you’ – because when they are into you, they move mountains to be there. I felt that Dex was scared of real love and preferred empty encounters with beautiful women. Emma doesn’t value herself enough to set boundaries or ask for the love she deserves.

Everybody who knows the book will know the line I’m talking about. That one line I read and spontaneously burst into tears. That rarely happens with a book, but it did here. That’s when I knew this book had got me. My emotions were so invested in these characters that I had such a spontaneous response. I’m not sure how David Nicholls managed it, but I’ve spoken to other people who were similarly emotional. I think it’s the way he writes these two characters, they’re real and flawed. They struggle with life. We go through so many highs and lows with them, because even though we meet up with them on one day, we’re drawn in to how they got where they are. They’re not perfect either, far from it. Nichols weaves in addiction problems, affairs, career disasters and the difficulties of being a parent. There’s also huge loss to, and how the characters deal with these setbacks. One Day is a love story. Love is the primary theme of the novel. However, it’s also about being honest with ourself and others about our feelings and about recognising what love actually is. Perhaps I love One Day because it does go beyond the ‘falling in love’ stage, that even after years of yearning and kidding themselves about their feelings, Emma and Dex can still wake up one morning unnecessarily grumpy and tense with one another. Life is full of obstacles and love doesn’t stop them coming. Love isn’t always excitement, flinging your clothes off and swinging from chandeliers. Real love is always about being with your best friend.

Meet The Author


David Alan Nicholls (born 30 November 1966) is an English novelist and screenwriter. Nicholls is the middle of three siblings. He attended Barton Peveril sixth-form college at Eastleigh, Hampshire, from 1983 to 1985 (taking A-levels in Drama and Theatre Studies along with English, Physics and Biology), and playing a wide range of roles in college drama productions. Colin Firth was at the same College and they later collaborated in And When Did You Last See Your Father?. He went to Bristol University in the 1980s (graduating with a BA in Drama and English in 1988) before training as an actor at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York. Throughout his 20s, he worked as a professional actor using the stage name David Holdaway. He played small roles at various theatres, including the West Yorkshire Playhouse and, for a three-year period, at the Royal National Theatre. He struggled as an actor and has said “I’d committed myself to a profession for which I lacked not just talent and charisma, but the most basic of skills. Moving, standing still – things like that.”

Since then, David has turned to writing full-time, and is the author of four novels. ‘One Day’ was an international bestseller and the follow-up, ‘Us’, was long listed for the Man Booker Prize. He’s also a screenwriter and TV dramatist; his credits include adaptations of ‘Far From The Madding Crowd’, ‘Great Expectations’, ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ and feature film version of his own novels. ‘One Day’ and ‘Starter for Ten

Posted in Random Things Tours

This Is How We Are Human by Louise Beech.

I absolutely loved this incredible book about love, disability, sex and the secrets we keep from each other. Veronica and her son Sebastian live together in Hull. Veronica wants the best for her son and just like all parents, she wants him to grow up and have a full life. However, Veronica isn’t like other parents, because despite Sebastian being twenty years, six months and two days old, he’s struggling with the love and relationships part of his life. Seb is autistic and he is lonely. Seb loves swimming, his fish, fried eggs and Billy Ocean, he’d also love to have sex but no one will have sex with him. He’s already been in trouble after the girl next door convinced him to write an explicit letter to her underage sister. When their lives collide with Violetta, Veronica thinks she can see a way forward. She’s thought of paying someone before, but has stopped herself. Here though, is someone they’ve met before and who was natural with Seb. Veronica couldn’t have known she was leading a double life as a high class escort, in order to earn enough money to keep her seriously ill father at home. These three lives come together and change each other in unexpected ways.

There were scenes in this that made me laugh and some that made me cry. His need for sexual release is having a huge impact on his carefully ordered life. His swimming sessions have continued at the same time and day of the week, all the way from childhood, but his inability to see why his nakedness is different to the children’s has meant they must stop. When Veronica takes Seb to the sexual health clinic, because she’s desperate for advice, their lack of help and understanding infuriated me. The nurse seemed more concerned about whether Seb might hurt someone, or how Veronica’s thoughts about paying for it would be harming him. She even threatens to report her to social services. There’s no compassion or admission that they really don’t know what to do. It’s an issue I’ve thought about for a long time, having supported people with learning difficulties or autistic spectrum disorders in an advocacy role. Sadly, the figures for sexual violence against women with learning disabilities are terrifyingly high. While young people are often infantilised by parents who don’t want to accept their child is an adult. I read many years ago about an initiative in Holland very like our Direct Payments/Personal Budget system for care if you have a disability. However, social workers could add a component that would pay for the disabled person (physical disabilities) to hire a sex worker if they needed that for an sexual outlet. As Seb himself says:

‘People seem to get dead upset about it. But it’s just like paying for swimming lessons. You want to learn to do it and someone who knows how to will show you for an agreed fee’.

He sees it as a simple business transaction. Offsetting the worry, sadness and anger I felt in their behalf it’s Seb’s frankness that brings the humour. His mother greets him in the morning with a cheery ‘what do you want to do today?’ and his reply is ‘I want to have sex’. He goes on to explain that he might pay for sex:

‘If I was rich. But I’m not. I’ll just have to find someone who appreciates me before I die. I hope it’s this week. I’m feeling very sexual today.’

Seb is such a loveable and interesting character. He’s also handsome, so does draw attention from women when out and about, but Veronica knows that as soon as he speaks they will start to lose interest. She meets with Violetta and proposes her plan. However, there are real ethical concerns here and everyone is keeping secrets. Veronica isn’t planning on telling Seb the truth about his ‘sessions’ with Violetta, but she isn’t planning on telling Seb she’s been hired or why she needs the money. Seb has his own secrets and there is an ending to this that neither woman envisaged, showing a prejudice they didn’t know they had. They’ve discussed concerns that Seb may become attached to his tutor, but they didn’t imagine that she might become compromised in some way or that Seb might transfer his affections to someone new.

This is brave new ground in fiction. I have a physical disability, and I can count on one hand books that have a disabled character who openly discusses or explores their sexuality. This is almost society’s last taboo – the sexual disabled body is not to be looked at or mentioned. This is partly about the infantilisation of people with disabilities, they need care and are therefore vulnerable and untouchable. It’s partly to do with an innate reflex to reject what is different – often the fear of urine bags, colostomy bags, and other paraphernalia is so great, that the person becomes neutral to other people and they close their minds to the fact that this person is a sexual being. We saw this prejudice in action with the controversy around Marc Quinn’s statue of Alison Lapper. Not only was this a disabled woman who was naked, she was also pregnant. People rejected her body strongly, calling it ugly and disgusting. However, I think a large part of the furore was down to people being uncomfortable that Lapper’s pregnancy was a visual clue of a healthy sex life. Most of the same people would probably be uncomfortable with this book, but I was so excited to see the issue out in the open. We need to talk about it more. People with disabilities are having sex, often more adventurous and inventive sex, because they have to communicate more and find a way round their disability. It’s only by talking about it that we start to break down these prejudices and accept that a healthy sex life is a normal part of life for all adults able to consent. This was a difficult subject, handled with frankness, but also the greatest care and sensitivity. I’m so grateful that this talented writer turned her hand to this subject, writing characters that felt utterly real and incredibly relatable. It was funny, moving, and full of love, of every kind.

Meet The Author

Louise Beech is an exceptional literary talent, whose debut novel How To Be Brave was a Guardian Readers’ Choice for 2015. The follow-up, The Mountain in My Shoe was shortlisted for Not the Booker Prize. Both of her previous books Maria in the Moon and The Lion Tamer Who Lost were widely reviewed, critically acclaimed and number-one bestsellers on Kindle. The Lion Tamer Who Lost was shortlisted for the RNA Most Popular Romantic Novel Award in 2019. Her 2019 novel Call Me Star Girl won Best magazine Book of the Year, and was followed by I Am Dust.

Posted in most Anticipated 2021

Most Anticipated 2021! The Split by Laura Kay.

A brilliant, heart-warming and intensely funny story of love, heartache, friendship and family. Perfect for fans of Marian Keyes and Beth O’Leary.

Brutally dumped by her girlfriend, Ally is homeless, friendless and jobless… but at least she has Malcolm. Wounded and betrayed, Ally has made off with the one thing she thinks might soothe the pain: Emily’s cat. 

After a long train journey she arrives home to her dad in Sheffield, ready to fold herself up in her duvet and remain on the sofa for the foreseeable. Her dad has other ideas. A phone call later, and Ally is reunited with her first ever beard and friend of old, Jeremy. He too is broken-hearted and living at home again. 

In an inspired effort to hold each other up, the pair decide to sign up for the local half marathon in a bid to impress their exes with their commitment and athleticism. 

Given neither of them can run, they enlist the support of athletic, not to mention beautiful, Jo. But will she have them running for the hills… or will their ridiculous plan pay off…?

I’m looking forward to this book so much. Even the proof cover is funny and gives you a good idea of the offbeat humour inside. I also loved that it’s a romantic, comic novel about a same sex relationship – this should just be a norm, but in my reading experience is quite rare. I was also drawn in by the promise of a long train journey with a cat to Sheffield. Sheffield is very local to me, and once on a journey back from Liverpool I was sat on the middle platform at Sheffield station, drinking a chai tea and people watching. On the next platform down was another bench where a young man was desperately trying to get a fighting cat back into a cardboard box. I stood up to help, just as he managed to get it in the box and close the flaps. On the final stretch of my journey I remember wondering what on earth had made the man take a train journey with a cat in a cardboard box? Even more, what had possessed him to take the cat out at a major railway station on the middle platform. I now know that books are borne out of such inspiration!!

Laura Kay wrote the book because she had been fed up of not seeing herself represented in romcoms, and placing a queer character as the heroine, rather than the token funny friend is refreshing. It had always been there in her head. She says she’d been writing the book in snippets and phrases for a long time, but was finally pushed into writing the book because she wanted to read it. She wanted to represent friendship between two queer characters in her depiction of Ally and Jeremy. Most importantly she wanted to write about cake, which is one of my favourite subjects. This book is heartfelt, warm and very funny, plus it addresses that terrible conflict of loving a horrible pet that simply cannot stand you. What more could you want for 2021? Look out for my full review on publication.

Meet The Author

Laura has an MA in American History from the University of Sheffield and works as a writer and editor. She lives in London with her wife and cat. This is her debut novel.