One of the things people tend to ask me after they find out I’m an author, is where my ideas come from. The best answer I can usually come up with is ‘Everywhere!’ Every conversation I’ve had (or earwigged). Every memory, or funny story or interesting fact. Snippets of the places I’ve been and the people I’ve met, swirling together like imagination soup until the scent of an interesting idea wafts out and catches my attention.

And like usual, the original idea behind How Not To Be a Loser was not one idea, but several, scribbled down over the years in a notebook. One of them was about a woman who had a promising sporting career, and then gave it up for a man who turned out not to be worth it. I wondered about this woman, where she ended up and whether she ever got over her bad decision. Whether, after giving up the dream of winning, she would forever class herself as a loser. But of course, the more I grew to like her, the more I wanted her to find a way to believe in herself again. To dump the shame like she dumped that no-good man.

But for that to happen, it would mean restoring her physical wellbeing, as well supporting her mental health.

And that naturally got me thinking about my amazing mother-in-law, Phyllis Moran. Unlike Amy Piper in the book, Phyllis was never considered sporty, and raising 8 boys in the Northern Irish Troubles is exercise enough for one woman. But it’s also very stressful, and Phyllis struggled at times with her mental health, as do so many of us, in whatever situations we find ourselves in. However, she pressed on, she worked hard, she laughed loud through all the tough times, and once her sons were grown men and she finally had some time to herself, now in her 60s with a gaggle of grandchildren, she joined a running club. And to her surprise, she met a group of people who didn’t think any less of her for being the oldest one there, or a novice, or for getting lost if she ran on her own. Instead they cheered on her every step. And as she fell in love with running, her confidence blossomed. As she grew stronger physically, her mind grew stronger too. In months she was running half-marathons, inspiring the club members so much with her quiet determination and positive attitude that they gifted her with an all-expenses paid trip to do the Great North Run.

My mother-in-law has unfailingly been one of my biggest author fans. She is beyond proud of me. Well, Phyllis, your family are just as proud of you, and are so pleased you’ve finally learnt to be proud of yourself.

And that was my hope and dream for Amy Piper, too. That after years of hiding away, she would learn to feel proud of herself again. And what better place for that to happen than a running club. Where, like my mother-in-law, Amy finds group of women from all walks of life, who cheer her on, run alongside her (even when she’d rather they didn’t) and teach her that, just maybe, she was never the loser she thought she was.

Friendships have always intrigued me. Why do some friends flit in and out your life while others stick around for the long-term? Why do good friends turn on you and break your heart yet tentative friends can become your rock? Why can you meet up with some friends after years apart and pick up where you left off yet a few weeks away from others places an uncomfortable distance between you?

When I started writing, my books were always going to be about romance but it didn’t take long before friendship became a clear theme and, over time, perhaps more of a driving-force in my writing than the romance.

In New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms, Sarah has an unexpected opportunity to take over her auntie’s flower shop, Seaside Blooms. When she’s packing up her life in London ready to return home to the North Yorkshire seaside town of Whitsborough Bay, she comes across a clairvoyant recording made when she was eighteen which has been missing ever since. Everything on the recording has already happened except the prediction that she’s going to move back home and meet the man of her dreams – Steven.

Sarah needed a best friend as a sounding board but I wondered if it would be better to give her two best friends – one who believed in the recording and one who didn’t – each pulling Sarah in different directions. And what if those two friends also hated each other? Elise and Clare were born.

What started out as a standalone novel soon became a trilogy because, as I developed Elise and Clare as characters, it became apparent that they had their own stories to tell. Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove is Elise’s story and Coming Home to Seashell Cottage, out in March, is Clare’s. The trilogy expanded into a four-book series. The prequel novel, Making Wishes at Bay View was released last month.

I like to explore friendship in different ways – friendship between family members as well as those not related by blood, across generations, love into hate and hate into love, friends as rocks and friends who are flaky, friends who are short-term and those who are long-term. 

Making Wishes at Bay View looks at a cross-generational friendship. Twenty-five-year-old Callie works in Bay View Care Home and has a strong friendship with eighty-four-year-old resident, Ruby. Callie also has a strong friendship with her brother, but has another friend who lets her down.

For Sarah, Elise and Clare in books 2-4, I was interested in how friendships can change over time and according to circumstances. Time-wise, the three books cover a little over two years and a lot happens for the three women during that time, testing and shifting their friendships.

The premise for The Secret to Happiness (released in September last year) was always about friendship rather than romance. I created three women who each needed to let go of something in their past but were struggling to do this on their own. I wondered whether the power of friendship could help them do this but whether this could come from people who, at the start of the book, were strangers.

If you do enjoy a lovely romance story, please rest assured that all my books do include romances but every single one explores friendships too. There’s so much scope to explore with this theme and I’m excited to see where the next one takes me.

Jessica xx

 

Love Island.

 

So here I am, a miserable January evening. Publication of my first book for Boldwood, The House by the Sea, is imminent and I need to write a few words to help introduce it to the world.

The House by the Sea is about two damaged people, Joe and Edie, brought together in a decrepit, ghostly old villa on a beautiful Mediterranean island. To find a way forward, they first have to dismantle the walls they’ve built around themselves.

That’s the precis done. Now I need to expand on one of the book’s themes. But which? Sicily? Grief? New beginnings? Gardens? Puppets? Lost portraits? Friendship? Marriage? Divorce? I can’t decide. And then I remember that the book is being published the day before Valentine’s Day and it comes to me. Love! I could write about love!

I settle on the settee with my writing essentials; the laptop and the two dogs. I open a new document, call it: Love, and stare at the screen for half an hour.

Rain hammers against the windows. The wind howls. I put on another jumper.

Who am I to write about love? What do I know?

 I pour myself a glass of leftover Christmas wine (we’re doing dry-ish January). An hour has passed, not a word written. I can’t think of a single thing to say. Serendipitously, Love Island is starting on the TV. Love Island is exactly what I need.

I curl up with a dog on either side of me, wine in hand. I’m watching for inspiration, you understand. Research.

The theme music plays. I jiggle along. Older dog sighs in a long-suffering fashion and puts her chin between her paws. The series is coming from South Africa, but if you ignore Table Mountain in the background, it could be Sicily. Almost.

‘Here we go!’ I say to the dogs.

And there they are! The beautiful young things! Twenty-something gods and goddesses, tanned, made-up, muscles rippling, hair flicking, teeth straight and white, all adorable.  They gather around the love-pool in the garden of their love-villa, these sweet, hopeful, sincere young people, each looking for somebody special; the one. They are nothing at all like the characters in my book and yet in some ways they are almost exactly the same.

I’m more cynic than romantic. I don’t believe everybody needs somebody nor should anyone feel under pressure to be ‘coupled up’, as they say on Love Island. Valentine’s Day is hideously over-rated, sex isn’t the be-all and end-all, bad love is worse than no love and good love is more about kindness, humour and tolerance than hearts and flowers.

And yet… I drink my wine and stroke Lil-dog’s ears and I watch those Love Islanders ‘crack on’, and despite myself, their honesty, their willingness to put themselves through so much in pursuit of affection brings a lump to my throat.

Making yourself vulnerable by revealing your true self to someone else takes courage. To let yourself love again after your world has been blasted apart is absolutely terrifying.

Good luck to those young people. With all my heart, I hope they find what they, like Joe and Edie in my book, are looking for.  I wish them all the good love in the world.

‘Ow bin ya?

My name is Lindsey Hutchinson and my tales are about the people of the Black Country during the Victorian/Edwardian eras.

I was born and raised in the area and maintain you cannot find a nicer people. Following in my mother’s footsteps (Meg Hutchinson) as an author, the saying ‘Yow tek afta ya mutha’ certainly applies.

My latest book, The Children of Gin Barrel Lane, is set in a gin palace around the time folk would sell their kids for the price of a tot. Research tells us the gin was often cut with turpentine and sometimes made drinkers of the throat-searing liquid go mad or blind!

Young Jack Larkin lives with his mother in the Crown Gin Palace, and after discovering a young girl hiding in the yard he persuades his mum to take her in. Dolly ‘Daydream’ has a crippled leg but refuses to let it hinder her. After the death of her mother she runs away from her cruel step-father, and then Jack and Dolly’s adventures begin.

Selling a necklace bequeathed to her, Dolly uses the proceeds to help Jack’s mum pay off a large debt owed to the distiller, who is a wealthy rogue. Her step-father wants to lay his hands on the jewellery and decides to hunt the girl down.

Will he find her? Does he get the gem? Can Dolly stay with the family who have taken her in off the streets? All these questions and twists and turns are in the book waiting to be discovered.

Although I have lived in the Shropshire countryside for many years, I still miss the bustle of the town markets where I grew up.

Life in the Black Country was hard back then and poverty strangled the towns and cities; there was no work to be had and the ‘bread lines’ lengthened day by day. Folk would starve rather than accept a ticked into the workhouse. ‘The onny way yow cum outta theer is in a box!’

I often wonder how people managed with a dolly tub and mangle as I fill my washing machine. No microwaves then – women cooked on the hearth fire. A communal standpipe in the yard alongside a privy block which sometimes served as many as six families. The smell must have been horrendous! Disease was rife and it’s no wonder!

For anyone struggling with the accent here are a few words to help understand the strange lingo.

Are – yes

Cantin – gossiping/chatting

Cock-aiver – Smack

Dobbin – Wheelbarrow

Fittle – food

Kaylied – drunk

Pairstin – beating

Reasty – rancid/smelly

Wazzin – throat.

I hope you enjoy my books and ‘Om sure we’ll spake agen soon’.

Tarra a bit!

Of all the things associated with the Principality of Monaco – tax exiles, luxurious yachts, expensive property, the yearly Formula 1 Grand Prix to name but four  –  a jumble sale does not readily spring to mind. But every year at the beginning of December that is exactly what is held in the prestigious circus tent in Fontvielle right next to the helicopter port.

It’s got to be the poshest jumble sale in Europe, if not the world. Of course it goes by the much more romantic title of ‘Kermasse’ but basically it’s a jumble sale and Christmas Fair held to raise money for various charities both in Monaco and wider afield.

Over the years it has become something of a ritual in the social calendar of the well-off who live in Monaco and along the nearby towns of the Cote d’Azur like Antibes, Cannes, Nice and Menton. With Princess Caroline as the Patron it draws on a rich seam of supporters to organise it every year. Not only do the well-to-do donate all kinds of unwanted clothes and goods, they also attend the event, en masse. Either to run stalls or simply to socialise. They treat the day and the place as their own and descend to eat, drink and gossip as well as spend money. ‘It’s just like a midday cocktail party with all one’s chums’ was how a friend described it to me.

From the moment the tent flap is lifted at 10.0.a.m. on Saturday morning and the semi-orderly queue that has formed surges in, it’s all systems go. The whole place pulsates with people hunting down a bargain with a determination that knows no bounds. Forget Black Friday and Cyber Monday – Kermasse Saturday in Monaco is much more fun.

All the familiar stalls are here for the Christmas fair: cakes, preserves, handmade toys, crackers, Christmas presents and cards, sweets, bric-a-brac, paintings by local artists, jewellery. In between these stalls there are the fund raising tables selling raffle and tombola tickets.

As for the jumble itself: trestle tables around the perimeter of the tent are piled high with all the usual secondhand goods: clothes, shoes, books – hundreds of books – electrical goods and miscellaneous items. The better quality clothes, designer labels and the like are separated and displayed in ‘The Boutique’ – and this is where there are real bargains to be had.

The first year I went to the Kermasse rumour had it that a Chanel suit had gone for just twenty euros and a Versace cocktail for a mere forty euros. I consoled myself with the thought that the women who wear ‘haute couture’ in Monte Carlo tend to take the phrase ‘You can never be too rich or too thin’ very seriously. Designer dress sizes all tend to be in the 6 – 10 size range with very little, if anything in my size. (12 on a very good day). I have found some bargains down the years though – including a brand new pair of Timberland boots for my husband for fifteen euros and a lovely leather handbag for me for the princely sum of five euros.

The centre of the tent, where the circus ring would normally be is packed with tables and chairs and surrounded by food stalls offering a range of dishes. As the wine flows into plastic cups, the partying begins. The noise starts to rise and ricochet around the tent and its almost impossible to hear what people are saying even if they are sitting next to you.

It’s a great day out and one I enjoyed for several times when we lived down south. Very few people believe me when I say that the best jumble sales I’ve ever been to have been in Monaco but they were. And I’ve still got the leather handbag to prove it.

 

* * *

The Kermasse for 2019 was held 7th December

So here it is – my first book with the brilliant team at Boldwood!

When I was asked to write a blog about the inspiration behind My One Month Marriage, I stared at a blank page for a long time. Actually, I do that a lot. It’s an occupational hazard. As is stress-eating biscuits, panicking over deadlines and wondering whether some guy I met in a bar in my twenties will think a nasty character in one of my novels is based on him (note to guy from bar, it probably is).

The starting point for My One Month Marriage was the title – it popped into my mind one day while I was listening to a Kenny Chesney album and it stuck. For the non-country music fans, Kenny is the singing superstar who was married to Renee Zellweger for four months before they suddenly divorced. Oh, the aching heart and intrigue.

Next, I needed my leading lady, and flipped through my memory bank for the right person for the job. You see, I form imaginary people in the same way as real-life friendships. Once they’re created, they exist in my head and then we drift in and out of each other’s lives as time goes by.

That’s how the main character in My One Month Marriage came to be Zoe Danton, who played a small role in a previous book, Another Day In Winter. In that novel, she was blindsided when she was suddenly dumped by the love of her life. The strong, funny way she dealt with it resonated with me and I knew then that I would bring her back in another book and make her centre stage. Well, almost centre stage. She’s sharing the limelight with her three sisters, Marina, Verity and Yvie. All women in their thirties, they have completely different personalities, but they’re bonded by a devastating time in their teenage years, when they vowed that they would always stick together.

However, that might be about to change.

The first chapter of My One Month Marriage opens thirty days after saying “I do”.  Zoe is sitting surrounded by a pile of gifts that she has to return because she has kicked out her new husband before the sell-by date on the wedding cake. Consoling her with hugs, neon pink cocktails and sibling sarcasm are her Marina, Verity and Yvie. But as the afternoon unfolds, Zoe receives some shocking news. Could the reason for the breakdown of her marriage lie with one of her sisters?

And could the pact that they made when they were teenagers be about to unravel?

I do hope you love it and please drop me a line on one of my social media platforms (below) to let me know what you think. It always makes my day when I hear from readers – and it’s a lovely change from staring at those blank pages and stress-eating biscuits.

 

Love,

Shari xx

 

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