Isle of Wight inspiration behind ‘The House Party’ – Mary Grand

The Isle of Wight is place of extraordinary beauty, dark skies, stunning beaches and gentle downland. It can feel remote, isolated, and as you travel on the ferry there is a feeling of leaving the rest of the world behind.

The inspiration for The House Party came while I was out walking, and the novel is soaked in the atmosphere that makes the island unique. The people in “The House Party” are all fictitious, but the story is set on the ‘real’ island with many recognisable landmarks mentioned.  Beth lives in “Castleford”, whose geography is similar to the village of Carisbrooke. Places featured include Carisbrooke Castle, St Mary’s church, as well as Tennyson Down, Shepherd’s Chine, the prison, the hospital, and my favourite place of all, Mottistone Down.


My new release, Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow, is the first book in a trilogy set in the Yorkshire Wolds in a hedgehog rescue centre called Hedgehog Hollow. My heroine, Samantha Wishaw, is the ‘hedgehog lady’ who sets up and runs the centre.

My dad’s sister, my Auntie Gwen, is a real-life ‘hedgehog lady’. She’s looked after hundreds of sick, injured and abandoned hedgehogs over the past forty years. It started when she found a hedgehog in her garden with a cut on its head. She took it to the vet for treatment and then looked after it while it healed ready for release back into the wild. She joined the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) who then invited her to become an official carer.

In the warmer months, Auntie Gwen’s garage is her rescue centre and, in the winter months, the vulnerable ones and late-juveniles (babies born in the second season of births in autumn who have limited time to put on weight pre-hibernation) move inside where it’s warmer.

The aim is always to get each hedgehog well enough for release back into the wild, like hoglet Bernard. My parents found him in their garden, squeaking for his mum. This is not necessarily cause for concern but they kept an eye on him and, when it was apparent that mum wasn’t going to return, they took him to Auntie Gwen. His mum could have abandoned him but it’s more likely something had happened to her.

Bernard was very small and dehydrated but Auntie Gwen nursed him back to life and he was later released in my parents’ garden. They live in a village, have hedgerows either side of their garden and lots of shrubs, perfect for food foraging. Auntie Gwen has released many hogs there over the years.

Some hogs can’t be released, like Baldy. Tragically, his mum was killed by a strimmer while a gardener worked in the grounds of a care home. Residents later spotted Baldy and discovered a nest in which several of the litter had also been injured. Auntie Gwen was called to nurse Baldy back to health.

Initially, treatment was for a severe case of mange. Triggered by parasite mites burrowing through the skin then laying eggs, it’s a common and extremely painful disease for hogs. Restricted by their spines, they’re unable to scratch so the pain steadily becomes more intense. The skin dies and an extreme case can result in the poor hedgehog being covered in so much caked-on dead skin that they can barely move, meaning they can’t eat or drink and they can’t protect themselves from predators. Isn’t that awful? The good news is that mange is fairly easily treatable and Auntie Gwen cleared it up but then his spines began to fall out, possibly as a result of the stress of what he’d experienced. They never grew back which meant he couldn’t be released as he’d have been easy prey without his spines.

Two years on, Baldy is a permanent resident at Auntie Gwen’s. He gets multi-vitamins and is regularly bathed in almond oil to help his skin. She has a run in the garden where he can roam but he’s now been upgraded to a ‘mansion’ with his very own rabbit hutch to give him even more space and freedom.

All around the country, amazing people like my Auntie Gwen run anything from a small one-person operation to a large rescue centre, giving their all to save this beautiful endangered creature. BHPS and the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) raise awareness and funds as well as campaigning. A recent big success for BHPS is an industry-first initiative with housebuilders Bovis Homes to install hedgehog highways on existing developments and future sites wherever possible, allowing hedgehogs to roam more freely between gardens in search of food. That makes my heart happy.

Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow is first and foremost a story of love, friendship and family but it’s also a story about hedgehogs. I hope that those reading it might learn a thing or two about the part they can play in helping protect our hedgehogs and grow their diminishing numbers once more.

Jessica xx


A writing cave. A state-of-the art computer set-up. A luxurious retreat in the South of France.

That was my dream. 

 I would sit and write there, one day, when I became a author. Or so I thought.

After a lifetime in a variety of other careers, I now have several books to my name. I even describe myself as a writer. But, like so many aspirations, the reality turned out to be a little different, and infinitely less glamorous.

I have a study.  It’s the smallest bedroom in the house, boasting enough space for a desk and not much else. 

I bought a suitably tiny desk, and a special ‘office chair’. 

Both were mistakes.

I need space. I need a stack of books to reference. I need many, many pens, because they magically ‘walk’ to other rooms. 

I can’t work without piles of paper where I doodle and write research reminders, like ‘buy more cake.’

My special chair rotates. This would be perfect in a large, open-plan office; the newspaper office in Superman, for example.  I could swivel round, waving a paragraph of brilliance, shouting ‘hold the front page.’ 

Instead, I spend my days fighting the swivel. This involves pressing my legs firmly against the edge of the desk.

Besides, my children keep having children. They are delightful, a blessing, the loves of my life, but when they all come for Christmas, we have a challenge. 

You have to store those grandchildren somewhere.

The answer is bunk beds –  the smallest on the market. They fit in (just) against the wall. They’re great for stacking a couple of grandsons, but access to my desk is severely restricted.

‘A laptop. That’s the answer,’ I cried. ‘I can work anywhere.’

That’s what led to the recent sad tale, the title of this piece…

…In the Conservatory, with a Computer Cable.

Here’s the cast list:

  • an annoying fly,
  • my special fly-friendly, fly-removing implement,

  • a lap-top cable,
  • a tiled floor, and 
  • my kneecap.

My leg is much better now, thank you, but chocs, flowers and cups of tea still very welcome.

The conservatory has other disadvantages. These include:

  • the body count of dead insects on the floor every morning during the summer, no matter how often I attack those pesky spiders’ webs with a broom,
  • the tempting presence of the garden, just a step away, where the sun shines, the bees buzz, and a seat in a cosy corner for reading tempts me away, while my poor, patient editor waits in vain for the next story,
  • the constant nagging desire to visit the vegetables to see how they’re doing. See carrot below. This is my first ever home-grown carrot. Don’t you dare laugh.

I’ve banished myself to the dining room table to write this post, which is intended to celebrate the publication of A Village Murder, the first in my new series of murder mysteries set in Somerset.

And, as I move on to the next adventure for Adam and Imogen, my ‘odd couple’ heroes of A Village Murder, instead of luxuriating in those glamorous venues I used to dream of, I’m faced with a blank page, an empty mind, and a ticking clock.

But, all is not lost. The kitchen is close by and I think, in fact, I’m almost sure, there’s a slice of coffee cake left in the tin. 

Excuse me while I check…

The launch party for my new novel, The Old Girls’ Network – virtually perfect!

Lockdown has affected everyone’s life in so many different ways. I have been lucky: I’ve been able to work from home and go outside. It has been a real privilege to be able to spend time with my family while they’ve been home, and that’s what I’ve focused on. These are interesting and unusual times and, while it would be easy to focus on the negatives, it’s a great opportunity to spend quality time together.

I’ve written another novel in lockdown, but it’s not about lockdown, it’s about the opposite. It’s about being outside, being able to travel, to experience life. I love being able to write about being outdoors, exploring the world, making changes happen, growing. A good friend of mine recently described his experience of lockdown as ‘dull,’ another friend said he was ‘lonely’ and, although I believe I could write a lively lockdown story that celebrates the things I hold dear, it’s nice to step outside of current restrictions and rejoice in freedom and fun. Enter The Old Girls’ Network.

My new novel focuses on the intertwined lives of three characters: two are sisters, Barbara and Pauline. They are very different and lead different lives. Barbara is difficult to warm to at first; she seems  starchy and aloof. Life has made her that way and she uses her bluntness as a coping mechanism to keep her safe from being emotionally bruised. Pauline is the opposite: warm and good-natured, but strong. At first the sisters clash over their differences, then the enigmatic Bisto Mulligan arrives on the scene as a house guest and the three characters’ adventures in the Somerset village of Winsleigh Green lead to them being able to develop, to learn and to grow.

Winsleigh Green is the setting for the novel and in many ways the story is a perfect antidote to the negative side of lockdown. Much of the action takes place outdoors: there are antics on the village green, a cricket match, a Shakespeare play, Morris dancing, welly-wanging, a local fête – all sorts of colourful activities. I’ve also included a bright array of local characters who interact with Pauline and Barbara and who befriend Bisto, from whom much of the mischief, mayhem and mirth comes.

I’m hoping readers will find the book fun and enjoy it as a celebration of life. It’s a mixture of comedy and contemplation, and a validation of human nature as each character strives to develop their horizons, to be happy, and to be the best person they can be.

But, in a time of lockdown, I can’t have a physical launch party for my new novel. I usually enjoy some sort of get together with friends and family – I’ll take any opportunity to celebrate. It’s fascinating to try to find ways around the restrictions we’ve come to rely on for safety, and one way of launching The Old Girls’ Network will be to toast the novel’s journey individually and at a distance, either to meet on zoom or to send photos of each person celebrating the novel. Boldwood Books are kindly willing to put photos on their website, people holding copies of the book, or kindle downloads, lifting a glass of something, dressed in ‘country-style clothing,’ whatever that might mean. I’d welcome photos – please upload your contributions to Twitter and tag me in, @JudyLeighWriter.

Today, Tuesday 16th June, is the release date for The Old Girls’ Network, and I hope you will all have as much fun reading it as I had writing it, which was a great deal of fun indeed. Please do raise a glass and, if you wish, send me a nice picture of yourself celebrating. Lockdown won’t last forever and I hope we will emerge healthy and happy, wiser, better educated and with a firmer grasp of our priorities as a society, and ready to party again.


One Day In Summer was published in June 2020. My 26th novel has made it into the world. Oh, the relief! I’m not being dramatic (for once) when I say that there were many times when I didn’t think we’d get here. After twenty years of putting words together for a living, you’d think it would be a smooth and seamless process, but no. I’ve spoken many times about my highbrow, profound method for writing a novel – it goes something along the lines of type, delete, panic, eat a biscuit, type, delete, panic, make a cup of tea. This is repeated day after day, until suddenly something clicks, the characters take up residence in my mind and their stories play out like a movie. Suddenly my fingers are flying across the keyboard as the words find their way to my screen. Within a month or two, the book is written, I’ve got several extra stress wrinkles and I’m searching for a Zumba class to work off those biscuits.

Dear readers, not this time. At least, not without a few twists in the road.

Book 26 was supposed to be a very different novel to the one it’s turned out to be. I was writing another story, with different characters, when – like the most unpredictable of plot twists – life began to imitate art. In the original book, my main character suffered a great loss. More than midway through writing, someone I love faced the very same tragedy. In my plan, another character was struck by a life-changing challenge. Unexpectedly and sadly, someone else I love was put in exactly the same situation. In a devastating heartbeat, the book I was writing had moved way too close to home. It had gone from a work of fiction, to something that came close to sharing the very real heartbreaks of some of the most important people in my life. And I had an overwhelming feeling that they were not my stories to tell.

I knew I couldn’t continue, but I had a book to deliver, a deadline to meet, a commitment to honour. For a moment, I crumbled, utterly distraught. Then two things happened. In the space of a few frantic hours, Agnetha (Aggs) McMaster came calling. A fictional character who’d been floating in the periphery of my mind for a while, she stormed into centre stage and she brought with her a whole lifetime of drama, love, loss and an irrepressible determination to pick herself up and rebuild her life on her own terms. Time for the second act of salvation – I called the cavalry. In my world, that’s my editor, Caroline Ridding, a publishing genius I’m truly lucky to have worked with for many years. An hour of tears (mine), explanations (mine) and calm reason (hers) later, I’d explained why I couldn’t write the original book, but that I had another one in my imagination, ready to go – and I promised I could write in in the space of a month. Without so much as word of doubt, my magnificent accomplice pivoted to the new plan and the curtains opened on One Day In Summer.

As dawn breaks, Agnetha McMaster wakes on the morning of her 45th birthday. After two decades of looking after others, this is the day that she plans to begin reclaiming her life. It’s her turn, her time but will she have the courage to start again?
A few miles away, Mitchell McMaster, is troubled. Ten years ago, he divorced Agnetha and married her best friend, Celeste. Now he suspects his second wife is having an affair. This is the day he’ll discover if karma has come back to bite him.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the city, a young woman is preparing for a life changing moment. Thanks to a DNA test, this is the day that Hope McTeer will finally meet her biological father. But will the reunion bring Hope the answers that she’s looking for?

As the 24 hours of the summer day unfold, secrets come to light, ties are broken, new loves are discovered, and there are laughter, tear, surprises and shocks.

From the moment I started writing her story, I fell completely in love with Agnetha McMaster and I realised that this was the novel I was always meant to write. It just took me a while to get there.

Aggs saved me. She saved this book. Because that’s the blooming brilliant woman that she is. I can’t wait for you to meet her.



Shari x


PS – As always, I’d love to know what you think – I’m on facebook, twitter, Instagram and my website is at

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