Memories of a football mum

One of the most challenging roles in life just might be the manager of a kid’s sports team. In the earlier years of my marriage, I spent many a Saturday standing on the touchline cheering on my husband’s football team. So, I thought I knew how local clubs worked.

And then a few years later, my youngest son joined our village football team. How my eyes were opened! I watched astounded as otherwise rational parents turned into raging monsters on the touchline, yelling insults at any child with the misfortune to fumble the ball. When one eight-year-old was substituted, allowing another child a chance to play, his dad loudly declared the replacement to be a ‘load of crap’. After one match, the manager’s car was keyed. There was even a parental punch-up on the side of the pitch, while the young players looked on horrified. Eventually, the worst offender started a new team where his son could get the glory he deserved. That went so well, the new team ended up kicking him out.

I’ve sat through team meetings debating whether winning takes priority at all costs, including our children enjoying themselves. The boys usually reacted to their parents ridiculously overinflated competitiveness with bemused embarrassment. All they wanted was to have fun playing football with their mates. Thankfully, most of the time that’s what they did.

In Always on My Mind, the main character, Jessie, offers to help her friend manage the village under-nines football team. He’s making the team all-inclusive, so pretty much anyone can join, irrespective of their ability, and it’s about to cause a whole load of trouble. I had so much fun recalling some of the choicest moments from my football-mum days, while writing these fantastic kids the kind of story that every child should experience, no matter what team or hobby they take part in.

To all the team managers out there, I salute you, and I really hope you enjoy reading about a club that focusses on what actually matters. May your team’s success always be judged on how it makes the members feel about themselves, and how they treat their teammates and the opposition, rather than how many games they win!

Start reading Always on my Mind here:




Why My Heart is in the Highlands — Debbie Young

When I first visited the Highlands in 2000, with my new Scottish boyfriend, I couldn’t understand how at the age of 19 he had torn himself away from such a beautiful country to live in England. Although he came from Bannockburn, the site of the famous 1312 battle in Central Scotland at which the Scots thrashed the English, Gordon’s heart was in the Highlands, as the Robert Burns poem goes. Specifically, he was an aspiring Munro bagger. He had embarked on the very Scottish quest of climbing all 282 Scottish mountains over 3000 feet high, named after Sir Hugh Munro who’d first listed them all in 1891. 

Every summer holiday for the next twenty years, touring in various camper vans, we headed north of the border so that he could gradually tick them off his list. I was the designated driver of this support vehicle, dropping him off at the starting point for each mountain and picking him up many hours later at his designated finishing point. Meanwhile I’d take myself off for the day to explore. After a couple of years, our baby daughter came too. Over the years, we enjoyed many local attractions, including museums of Highland life (one of which makes inspired the museum featured in Murder in the Highlands), spectacular beaches, steam train rides (think Harry Potter) and loch cruises (one of these is in the new book too).  

Although I’m no climber, I have seen more of the Highlands than many Scots. I’ve grown to love their rugged, raw scenery; the pure, bracing air; the soft colours and hard rocks of the mountains and rolling moors. In the Highlands, I feel closer to nature, to history and to prehistory than anywhere else I’ve ever been. There’s a primeval quality to much of the scenery, and in some places the landscape is lunar. The space and isolation in this sparsely populated territory provide peace and tranquillity, but also a sense of danger and excitement.  

The relative isolation as you travel brings you closer to your travelling companions, so where better to send Sophie and Hector to take their relationship to the next stage, especially as her parents live in Inverness? To be honest, I planted them there at the start of the series, thinking it could be a great setting for a later instalment. 

As to my Scotsman – reader, I married him, in full Highland regalia. What was the outcome of Sophie and Hector’s romantic trip north of the border? You’ll have to read “Murder in the Highlands to find out!

Pick up your copy of Murder in the Highlands here:

Alice Alone: Meeting My Younger Self

I started to write ‘Alice Alone’ when I was twenty-five and working as a freelance journalist in Buenos Aires.  It felt daring – and exposing! – to be trying my hand at fiction, so I deliberately created characters and a situation as far removed from my ‘real’ life as possible.  And that is how Alice and her husband, Peter, both in their 50s – old fogies to my then young eyes – were born. I put them in a house in north London, and threw them into a marriage crisis triggered by the departure of their youngest child from the family nest.  With no offspring around, the ugly truth of their empty shell of a relationship is laid bare.  Trapped by the situation and her own loneliness, Alice takes some shocking steps in her quest to rediscover happiness.

Authors don’t re-read their books, at least not any that I have come across.  So, when I picked up ‘Alice Alone’ to see what edits might be required for a modern audience, it really was thirty-five years since my eyes had travelled over my own words.  And wow, was it weird – like going back in time and meeting someone you used to know, but had half forgotten.  A someone who sounded so confident!  A someone who thought she knew stuff!  What an upstart!  But then, every word was familiar too, as were the memories they evoked.  Life in Argentina – there was a lot to remember, including the desperate youthful desire to prove myself, by writing a story that would ring true, while keeping the reader guessing…

From that point of view, my aims – during the course of producing eighteen more books – have remained the same.  The stories we tell matter.  They are both a reflection of the world we live in and a help towards understanding that world.  A whippersnapper of a novelist I might have been, but the story of ‘Alice Alone’ contains insights that gave the older me a retrospective shiver of pride.  Twenty-five, I might have been, freshly married, naïve, with the world at my feet, but I was already the observer each novelist has to be: taking everything in and trying to make sense of it.

The older me may be wiser, but she is also warier than the one who wrote about Alice.  There is a fearlessness that goes with naivety.  Thirty-five years ago, I thought little about pitfalls, literary or otherwise.  I just sat down and typed out a story.  It had a beginning, a middle, and an end, with twists to keep the reader guessing.  How simple.  How easy.  How enviable.

Amanda Brookfield

February 2023

You can start reading Amanda’s book Alice Alone here: 🇬🇧 🇺🇸

Happy Galentines Day! 💕 Samantha Tonge is here with a blog post about the power of female friendships and relationships! Read all about it below ⬇️✨
When I was a younger woman, the benchmark for female friendship, in my opinion, was that portrayed in Sex and the City. Four strong women who shared their secrets, their fears and ambitions, going out on the razz together, meeting for lunch, being there for each other during the most difficult moments. And I’ve enjoyed something like this at different points in my life… at school, then university, in jobs, to some degree with playground mums. However those friendship groups have never endured.
As the years have passed, partly due to mental health struggles, it’s been difficult to stay committed. I’ve thought about this from time to time. Wondered if I’m the odd one out. But the older I get, it matters less, because I do have female friendships in my life that may not fit that razzamatazz mould, but that are important nevertheless.
Friendship is about total acceptance of who you are, without being laughed at, without point-scoring. Whilst I loved my late mum dearly, we were also friends, and shared ongoing private jokes, we confided in each other. I miss her every day. Yet I also enjoy a strong bond with my wonderful daughter. Female relationships are so important because you are looking at the world through the same-shaped lens, one where there is patriarchy, unacceptable societal expectations, one where it helps to talk to like-minded people about hopes and doubts, about hormones and emotions.
These days, of course, friendship has an added dimension thanks to the people you come across online. The author community is fantastically supportive and I’d say I’ve made important friendships there, despite not meeting all of these people in real life, where we’ve shared our concerns in what feels like a safe space, where we’ve supported each other with more tangible things like marketing. I don’t go on retreats with other writers. I’m not much of a social butterfly. This doesn’t mean my life isn’t enriched by the female writers I know, along with intelligent, sensitive, funny readers, bloggers and female publishing staff.
It’s these kinds of friendship that permeate my books. Like Robin, in Under One Roof, who gets back in touch with Tara, her high school best friend. Due to tragedy that friendship didn’t last, but it’s picked up again, years later. It’s an intense friendship that’s faced problems. It’s not about brunch out or drinking cocktails, it’s simply being there with a hug or at the end of a phone – being a listening board. Then there’s Dolly and Phoebe in Lost Luggage, there’s a big age difference between them, but they are drawn together by a lost notebook. Each of them has hidden away from months and they discover common ground that helps them each find a new normal. My upcoming novel, out in a few months, also focuses on a female friendship between two women who randomly meet and by doing so, change each other’s lives for the better and boost each other’s confidence.
And that’s what the best female friendships are about, whether they grow, in a group, over a Cosmopolitan in a glitzy bar – or one to one, in a messaging app or over a Latte in the local coffee shop.
It might be Valentines Day but Gillian Harvey‘s brand new book One French Summer is the perfect Galentines Day read, with one of the main themes being female friendships. 💫 To tell us a little more about how this inspired her writing, Gillian has written us a post! Keep reading below ⬇️
Friendships are odd things. Some are transient. Some wax and wane. Some people feel as if they’ll be in our lives forever, but move away. Life takes people in different directions and people move in and out of our lives.
These days, we never have to let anyone go – we can collect them like little momentos through social media – reconnect with people from our past we’d never have found again without the magic of the internet. Sometimes, scrolling through a friend list, we alight upon someone and reconnect. Sometimes we wonder who on earth someone is and how they ended up there in the first place.
Then there are the special friends. The ones you’d be in touch with even if social media didn’t exist. The people who you hold onto through all phases of your life. Who you know will be – to coin a famous friends related phrase – ‘there for you.’
Like many of us, I’m guilty of neglecting certain friendships. Sometimes months pass without me making contact beyond the odd direct message. Living in France can sometimes mean I don’t see a couple of my closest friends for months or occasionally years (thanks Covid19). In fact, writing this has made me realise I need to set up a few Zoom calls, stat.
Luckily, these friends remain friends despite my neglect. Because they’ve transitioned to being (in my eyes, at least) family. Family I’ve chosen, beyond any chance DNA connection. Friends I can laugh with, cry with, even argue with in the knowledge that we love each other. Friends who I can be completely and utterly myself with because they’ve already seen the worst of me (teenage me, drunk me, anxious me, pregnant me, post-natal me and – worst of all – food-poisoned me).
In ‘One French Summer’ Katy has a brilliant group of close friends. Friends who see her for who she is, and love her no matter what. Friends who aren’t afraid to tell the truth, even if it might occasionally hurt. Friends who laugh together, cry together, argue together and grow together.
And friends who, like mine, perhaps aren’t always appreciated enough.
‘And as they laughed, Katy felt the years slip away. There was Vicky – the girl she’d met in teacher training; and Sam, who’d been working at the school since her early thirties. Ivy, who’d taken about two years to thaw out when she’d first started working at the school, but who’d become a close friend over the years that followed. A lot had happened since then, she thought: Ivy’s divorce; Vicky’s promotions; Sam having the twins, and the terrible pregnancy that had seen her on bedrest for almost three months. And they’d been there for each other throughout it all. Always finding something to laugh at, no matter how difficult it seemed. And she knew, despite the state of her marriage, that she was still incredibly, immeasurably lucky to have this ‘second family’ of friends.’ — One French Summer, by Gillian Harvey
You can read Gillian’s brand new book One French Summer here: 🇬🇧 🇺🇸

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