A very special book event…

There are many wonderful things about being an author.

Firstly, you get to write books and as we all know, everyone loves books. In the same way that everyone loves Cornwall and Mary Berry. It’s just a fact of life. If you ever meet someone who tells you that they don’t like books, take this as a distress call. They just haven’t met the right book yet. Simply lead them gently to the nearest friendly librarian or bookseller and they will do the rest.

I love writing books – it’s the best kind of challenge. I love developing characters, weaving their stories, undertaking research (yes I really do need to watch that You Tube video of Bruno Mars again – my main character is a huge fan, honest) whilst doing my best to create something original and authentic, which readers will enjoy.

I have even learnt to accept the bad writing days, when pulling just one word from your brain feels like delving into treacle, when you’re convinced that you’re rubbish at this and should be doing a proper job, like tidying the hell-hole of the cupboard under the stairs. I believe that this is part of the process (albeit a very tedious part). Any writer who claims not to have days like these is a big hairy liar. That’s another fact of life. You’re welcome.

Last weekend I discovered the absolute cherry-on-the-cream-on-the-icing-on-the-cake (what? I like big cakes) moment of being an author.

A book event. And not just any book event, my friends. Oh no. This was quite literally an all-singing, cake-eating book event.

As many of you know, my most recent book is called The Choir on Hope Street. It tells the story of two very different women – Nat and Caroline, who come together to form a community choir when their beloved Hope Street hall is threatened with closure.

I have made no secret of the fact that I love my own community choir and they were a huge inspiration when I wrote the book. I wanted to write about how joyful I feel when I sing with them. If you’ve ever been part of a choir, you too will know how wonderful it is to share in that moment when the harmony sounds so sweet or indeed when you fluff it up and fall about laughing. Bloody marvellous, isn’t it?

The event took place in the Orpington branch of Waterstone’s. It’s a small branch and the manager told me (with no hint of malice or irony), ‘we just don’t get the big names – David Walliams and Lee Child won’t come to Orpington.’

But I went. And I took my choir and I can honestly say it was the best day of my writing career so far. As we walked in and spotted my books on the table, a man approached me and offered his hand. I didn’t know him but he told me that he was a writer too.

‘Well done,’ he said, wiping away a tear. ‘I’m proud of you. You’ve done it.’

I’m not great at taking compliments so I smiled and muttered something self-deprecating but I was very touched.

When the choir began to sing, it felt like the perfect summary of everything I was trying to get across in the book. I left my signing table and went to join them. I think this photograph sums up precisely how I felt.

While I signed books for people during the break, I experienced a tiny glimpse into what it might be like to be famous in a low-key, writerly way. I can report that it is utterly lovely. Talking to all kinds of different people about books and singing? And there was cake too? What’s not to like?

I was overwhelmed by the different people who turned up to support me – a school friend who I hadn’t seen for over twenty five years, two of my lovely author friends – one lady even asked me for a selfie. I was surrounded by my choir, my friends and my family – it was a bit like my wedding, just without the drunken dad-dancing.

As the choir finished their last song, I wiped away a tear because I didn’t want it to end. I was having a moment – a very, very happy moment.

Needless to say, the bookshop were amazing and very pleased because I finished the event as their number one bestseller.

Move over, Lee Child – see what happens if you don’t make time for Orpington?

For the rest of the day, I was buzzing as I shared pictures on social media and people responded with lovely comments. My favourite message was from a choir friend who told her six-year-old daughter about the event and my book.

‘That’s amazing,’ she said. ‘I want to be an author just like her.’

I’m already looking forward to her book-signing.

My work is done and I couldn’t be happier.




The Choir on Hope Street

Lovely reader friends,

it’s been over a year since I’ve had a new book to share with you. So I am as excited as a Labrador who’s been left in the kitchen and just spotted a roast chicken on the counter, to tell you that The Choir on Hope Street will be published in paperback and as an eBook on the 6th of April!

This book has been a real labour of love for three main reasons:

Firstly, I sing in a community choir and I love it. I am a passionate advocate of the power of music, singing and what it does for your soul. I believe that Ella Fitzgerald should be available on the NHS and they should begin an immediate cloning programme for Gareth Malone. In short, I think that singing in a choir is the most uplifting and wonderful legal high you’ll ever find.  I shall be writing more posts about my choir when the book is published but needless to say, this awesome group was a great source of inspiration for me when I wrote the book.

Secondly, a lot of people say that community spirit is dead, particularly in London. I disagree. This book is a love letter to the south-east London community that I have called home for many years and to all those quiet, remarkable people who pull together when they’re truly needed. Hope Street is their street and their story is about a community, which forms a choir to try to save their beloved local hall.

Thirdly, this is a book about hope and my heart tells me (my brain agrees too – they try to avoid falling out if possible) that the world needs a little bit of hope at the moment.

The two main characters, Natalie and Caroline are in desperate need of hope.

Nat’s husband has just said the six words no-one wants to hear – ‘I don’t love you any more’, while Caroline’s estranged mother has to move into her house turning her perfectly ordered world upside down. As they come together to form the choir to try and save Hope Street hall, they discover that you often find hope where you least expect it.

So please take a moment to choose a fabulous song to play in your mind (for me it’s always ‘Feeling Good’ by Nina Simone) as I present the absolutely stunning cover and the link for pre-orders.

Ta da!


Gorgeous or what?

I really hope that you enjoy reading this book as much as I enjoyed writing it for you, my bookish chums. May it make you laugh, cry and channel your inner Adele!

Click here to pre-order



‘So how old is your sister?’

I am momentarily confused by the question. ‘I don’t have a sister.’

‘You don’t have a sister? But two of your books have sisters as the main characters.’


‘And yet you don’t have one?’

‘Er no.’

O-oh. Rumbled. Authors are supposed to write about what they know and I clearly do not know what it’s like to have a sister. ‘I have a brother though,’ I plead feebly but as I consider my six-foot-two sibling with his size fourteen feet, I realise that this will not cut the mustard.

My questioner fixes me with a suspicious frown.  I’m for it now. I close my eyes ready to be lambasted. ‘You write as if you do have a sister,’ she says almost accusingly.

I exhale. ‘Okay. Er, thank you?’

I am relieved but it does make me wonder. Almost unwittingly, I have put sister relationships at the very centre of both my novels. Why would I do this? Why didn’t I write about a small girl with a brother, older by nine years who protected, annoyed and entertained her in equal measure during their late seventies-early eighties childhood (actually, hand me my notebook. I might use that one day).

I think there are several reasons for my choice of subject. Firstly, as we have ascertained I don’t have a sister and therefore would really rather like one because you always want what you can’t have, don’t you? A lot of my friends who actually have sisters would say exactly the opposite and happily trade their sibling for a plate of chips. The truth is that it’s fun for a writer to imagine what they don’t have, to stretch their mind a little and pose that salient question, ‘what if?’

The four sisters that I created for my first two novels are all very different but they’re all the kind of women I would happily spend an evening in the pub with (my litmus test for any lasting friendship).

The Darcy sisters from Not Quite Perfect would be a hoot. In fact, they do spend the evening in a version of my local pub with spectacularly messy results. There is a clear dynamic in Emma and Rachel’s relationship and this is never more apparent than during the scenes where their parents are present. It is a truth universally acknowledged that as soon as you are back with your family, often in the place where you grew up, you resort to type and not always in a good way. When they’re with their parents, Rachel and Emma forget that they are a mother of three and a successful editor respectively. They bicker, tease and ridicule one another like a couple of seven-year-olds. I can’t tell you how much fun it was to write.

However, when their respective worlds collapse, they offer each other support but not in a sentimental, gushing way. It is the straight-talking, uncomplicated language of siblings. The truth will be aired in all its gory glory. Deal with it. But at the root of all this truth-telling is love. It’s the sentiment that, ‘you need to hear this because no-one else is going to tell it to you straight. I’m doing it for your own good.’

So it is with Bea and Lizzie Harris in my second novel, The Secrets Between Sisters. Bea has that similar vein of wit and character as Rachel but her straight-talking has a more defined purpose. Her sister, Lizzie has been estranged from her family and normal life for a long time. Bea is her only real friend and lifeline and when she dies, Lizzie is devastated and unsure how she will cope. Bea leaves her twelve letters to be read one a month over the following year. They contain her final wishes for her sister which she hopes will bring her lasting happiness. They also take Lizzie on a journey revealing long-concealed secrets that will change her life forever.

These letters represent the ultimate gesture of sisterly love. They are Bea’s way of caring for Lizzie after her death and contain insights that only a sister would know. Bea understands Lizzie completely and also knows that her sister will do whatever she asks of her. She also knows that her words will be even more compelling once she is gone. Lizzie is not only forced to face her beloved sister’s death but also deal with the wishes and the conflicts they bring without Bea’s guidance.  It is tough love delivered as only a sister can.

I didn’t want the letters to be depressing though. As with Rachel and Emma, there is wit and warmth at the core of the sisters’ relationship. Although the loss of Bea is devastating, the humour contained in some of her letters and the way she recounts their memories and gently teases her sister, offer a nudging comfort and prevent Lizzie from getting stuck in a grief-flooded rut.

So as you can see, sisters have proved a great source of inspiration to me and I hope I have done them justice. I loved writing these characters. I am fascinated by families and their messy, funny, infuriating dynamics and I think sisters encapsulate the very essence of these dynamics. No-one tells you the truth more candidly, more accurately and more bluntly than a sister but then no-one loves you more than a sister either. You can point out their faults but will not tolerate it if someone criticises them in return. It is a unique relationship and endlessly fascinating.

As to whether I would like a sister? Possibly, but right now I’ll settle for my big brother and his size fourteen feet. At least I don’t have to worry about him borrowing my shoes.


I’m starting a revolution…

When was the last time you wrote a letter? I would like to say that I just have but I’m not sure if the hastily scribbled note enclosed alongside a claim for osteopath treatment actually counts.

I’m talking about the kind of letter your parents or grandparents would have written long before the digital age engulfed us; words carefully constructed on sheets of Basildon Bond neatly held over a lined ‘underpage’ enabling you to write in a straight line.

My mother still has a letter drawer in a dresser in the dining room. It contains old letters, writing paper, envelopes, a fat green address book with gold gilt writing nestled in its original cardboard box and a letter opener.  My father uses the letter opener every day. It’s shaped like a dagger and my six-year-old son is fascinated by it. When he opens the drawer to retrieve it, there’s a smell of sweet wood mingled with the scent of treasured old letters; words of love, care and sadness from the past. It’s heady.

This isn’t to say that I dislike other forms of communication. E-mails are fantastic but wildly overused. Social media is amazing but it has its time and place. Texting is brilliantly convenient but it’s not exactly the place for Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18.  I’m not averse to a smiley face or a Megalol and I don’t think every communication should be a work of poetry either.  The digital age has a lot to offer but my goodness it’s an exhausting place. I can’t help feeling that we need to take a break from the chit-chat world we live in and allow our brains to rest and settle a little.

Typing at a computer or jabbing at your phone is a fundamentally different exercise to sitting at beautiful huge walnut writing desk overlooking a delightfully blooming garden as you lay down your worldly thoughts for another person.  What? I dream for a living, okay? Kitchen tables are also fine.

I think it’s partly the physical act of letter-writing that makes it so special. Consider for a moment; here I sit, typing my ideas for you to read and every word is delivered by me effectively stabbing at the keyboard, punching out my thoughts. This works beautifully when you need to get your words down quickly. Plus I can delete, re-jig and re-form with ease, which is a blessing. You wouldn’t want to read my first drafts. Not even I want to read my first drafts. Writing on the computer is contained and focussed; it’s efficient, enabling me to box my ideas and assemble them into some sort of order.

Putting pen to paper is entirely different.  As a writer, there are times when I need to let my brain spill over like an over-risen soufflé. I want to set it free from contained thought and explore its deepest recesses.  That’s when I retrieve my latest notebook and my favourite pen. I often go and sit in a coffee shop to remind myself what real people look like. I watch and listen and sometimes write nothing at all. But often I will find myself noticing a couple of people and I will try to invent a story about them.  And when I put pen to paper, the sheer act of writing on a page allows my brain to open up in a way that my keyboard often does not.

It’s the same process with letter-writing. The conscious act of opening a pad of note-paper, writing the date and address, and beginning, ‘Dear,’ is very intimate. It takes care and attention because you are writing to one person. Every word counts. You need to linger as you write. There is little room for deleting or editing. You are holding a one-way conversation with the recipient but because it is one-way, you will can share your innermost thoughts without fear of contradiction or interruption.

In turn, to receive a hand-written letter is uniquely special. These days, the letters I receive are usually from older friends or relatives and the letter is often a card but still, the physical act of opening and reading a note from someone who has taken the time to write to you is a treasured moment. Sometimes, the letters will make you laugh, other times they will make you cry but they will always make you stop for a moment longer than usual and think about the writer and what they mean to you.

When I was a student, I lived in Munich for a year. For the first few months I was desperately homesick, living in another family’s house, trying to come to terms with the language and culture. One of my university friends used to write to me. She would recount tales of the house she was now sharing with fellow-students; of their various exploits and catastrophes. These were delivered with such humour that if I received one in the morning, I would save it for the evening when I could lie on my bed propped up by the flattest pillow known to man and laugh until the tears rolled down my cheeks and my stomach ached. For me they were a godsend and even twenty years on, I can remember the comfort I felt at the sight of her hand-writing.  Someone was thinking about me and cared enough to let me know.

This is an inferior example when you compare it to the impact letters have had during wars over the centuries. The letters sent between soldiers at the front and people back home during the two World Wars were quite literally matters of life and death. When you read the well-documented array of letters between sweethearts, from mothers to sons, from fathers to their children, you understand what it is to be human. The mundane details of people’s lives are there offering a distraction to the sheer awfulness of the situation, but most of the letters begin and end with love. They are declarations of the heart, pure and true because when you are facing the very real possibility of death, what else remains but love?

Letter-writing has always been inextricably linked to love. True, there are such things as poison-pen letters but these days the internet seems to be the place where people choose to spew their hate-filled bile. Maybe this means that the hand-written letter can be reserved for love and care. I hope so.

When my father in law died, his wife received over a hundred letters and cards; handwritten notes filled with kindness and love. Not e-mails or texts but words on a page doing their best to convey sympathy and offer comfort. She reads them from time to time even now because they remind her of the person she loves and misses still.

When I was a child, my mother encouraged me to write thank you letters after every birthday and Christmas.  I didn’t need much encouragement. I loved using my Paddington Bear stationery set (who wouldn’t?) and I followed her guidance carefully. Address on the right, date on the left. Dear whoever, thank you very much for the (detail gift here).  Now write a sentence about why you like the gift and tell the recipient about what you did to celebrate. Finally, thank them again and wish them well. I still write letters of thanks and encourage my children to do the same. It feels like an important ritual; part of my family heritage and something that is worth preserving.

Writers love letters almost as much as they love books. They are laced with possibility. They can hide secrets or reveal truths, they can upset, thrill and gladden. They are a window to the soul.

Letters were uppermost in my mind when I came up with the idea for The Secrets Between Sisters. I wanted to write about two very different but completely devoted sisters. Bea Harris is the strong one, the one who always knows what to do. Her sister, Lizzie is the polar opposite, estranged from her family, lonely and alone. Bea has been her only support through life and when she dies, Lizzie wonders how she will cope.  Her sister leaves her a package of letters containing her final wishes; wishes that she hopes will help Lizzie find happiness but wishes that will also reveal some difficult truths.

When Lizzie reads Bea’s letters month by month, she discovers comfort in her sister’s written words. The sight of her handwriting and the fact that she is holding a letter that her sister once held makes her feel as if Bea is still with her in a way, guiding and counselling her through life. They also take her on a journey, revealing secrets and truths, which will change her life forever.

Of course, you don’t have to be life-changing when you write a letter. It can just remind people that you love them or are thinking about them. In the ubiquitous world of e-mail, it is special and rare; a treasure to be preserved.

I hope we can hold on to the art of letter writing. In this busy, immediate world they offer respite. They enable us to pause, reflect and record important things that need to be said; thoughts and fears and hopes. They offer comfort and love and show us the essence of the person who wrote them.

So I am proposing a mini-revolution right now. Why don’t you dig out that old note-pad or treat yourself to a new one and put pen to paper?  Let’s all write a letter to someone we love. Let’s take a moment to reflect about them and what they mean to us and let’s tell them. Let’s take a break from the chaos and feed the soul. Who knows where that revolution might take us?



The Secrets Between Sisters Cover Reveal

I love a makeover.

I love the sense of possibility that leaps into my brain at the word. For some reason, I immediately conjure up the Disney fairy-godmother and the sweeping ease with which she transforms Cinderella.



One of the best things about makeovers is the way that you can apply them to so many areas of your life.

Realise you’ve had that Rachel hair-cut for one decade too many?

Time for a Kate Middleton makeover!

Decided that the block-colour pairing of midnight blue and lime green in your son’s bedroom is hurting your eyes?

Fetch me the Dulux paint chart – we’re doing the DIY makeover challenge!

And so it is with books. Every few years, they become out-dated. They start to look as tired as a toddler after a day at the funfair. They need a re-think. They need the book equivalent of a spa day.

I am therefore absolutely delighted to announce that ‘Dear Lizzie’ is having just such a makeover.

This was my second book following hot on the heels of ‘Not Quite Perfect’. It tells the story of Lizzie, whose beloved sister Bea dies leaving her twelve letters to be read one a month over the course of the following year. Bea’s dying wish is that these letters will bring her sister the happiness she lacks. However, they also unlock the secrets that have remained hidden for so long within the sisters’ family and it is these secrets that will change Lizzie’s world forever.

In light of these themes and the darker, more intriguing side to Lizzie and Bea’s story, those clever, clever HQ editors and designers have transformed both title and cover and given the book the most stunning makeover.

And I am slightly over-excited to be able to show you the new look below.

Isn’t it a beauty?


If you’ve already read this book, thank you – you are one of my favourite people.

If you are intrigued by Lizzie and Bea’s story and would like to read it, you can click to buy here.


Happy reading, chums.


My Beautiful Garden One Year On

About a year ago I wrote this post:


It was an ironic post because at that stage, the garden looked a bit like this.


It was a big bare patch of earth ripe with possibility or as the cats and foxes of the neighbourhood seemed to think, a massive toilet.

But I am not a woman who lets excrement get in the way of her dreams. I have a gigantic bottle of cat repellent and I am not afraid to use it.

So over the winter, I kept looking out of the window at that strip of earth and tried to channel my inner Capability Brown. Everyone’s got to start somewhere and I bet he had to deal with his fair share of feline faeces.

Winter gave way to spring and I watched with envy as neighbours’ gardens bloomed with crocuses, daffodils and fat-budded magnolia trees.


I was resolved. It was time to stop dreaming and start planning.

I am an eternal optimist when it comes to dreams. I approached this particular project with the starry-eyed wonder of a young puppy and the words,

‘How hard can it be to build raised beds? It’s just railway sleepers and possibly some concrete. Tis a mere weekend project.’

It took five minutes of me watching some chirpy Australians building very neat, very precise raised beds on You Tube to reach the following conclusion:

‘This is actually very hard. The ground is full of bricks and stones. You will need a pick-axe to break them and you’ve never used a pick-axe. You are also scared of spirit levels, not to mention concrete mixers. You have a dodgy back and both you and your husband have limited patience. It would take you approximately two years to complete and would probably look a bit crap. It’s time to call in a professional.’

You see, if there’s one thing I’ve learnt during forty two years of being me, it’s the ability to recognise my limitations. I am never going to win Wimbledon or become chief chocolate taster for Waitrose. Similarly, I am never going to build my own house or indeed flower border. Accept the truth and move on.

The professional was called Steve. He was friendly, efficient and had the work ethic of the chief ant in the world’s busiest ant colony. He brought three men with him. They worked solidly from seven to four every day with about four seconds off for lunch. It was astonishing. By the end of the week my dream looked a bit like this.


I know. I did a little horticultural swoon at the sight of it too.

All it needed was the addition of some carefully-sourced plants. We spent a long time considering what plants to buy. We already had a good stock of potted herbs which would populate one tiered section and three miniature fruit trees for the large end bed. My husband was particularly excited about these trees and has since taken to caring for them with the tenderness of a father nurturing new-born triplets.


We decided to split the remaining beds between flowers and vegetables and set about making a wish-list.

Wish-lists are wonderful things aren’t they? They are flights of fancy that bear little or no resemblance to the wet face-flannel of reality.

This wish-list had headings such as ‘plants we love’ and ‘likes clay’ because our garden sits on heavy clay soil. London clay to be precise – it is as dense and unyielding as a crowd of London commuters, hence its name. Actually, I made that up but it sounds convincing.

The list of plants we loved featured anything that my husband or I recalled with fondness from our childhood gardens, although it has to be said that my husband can be a tad sketchy with names.

‘I like those yellow ones.’


‘That’s the fella.’

‘Anything else?’

‘Fuchsias,’ he said confidently. ‘Every house I’ve lived in has had a fuchsia in the garden.’ Then his face clouded with uncertainty. ‘Actually do I mean fuchsias? They’re sort of bright pink with dangly bits.’

I fetched a gardening book and flicked to the fuchsia section. ‘Do you mean these?’

He took the book and nodded happily. ‘They’re the ones.’ He leafed through a few pages. ‘These purple ones are nice too.’

So fuchsias were added to the list, along with rudbeckia because my grandad and mum always grew them and I love any plant with a silent ‘d’.

Actually, I love all plant names come to think of it. Unlike my husband, I want to learn them off by heart and recite them like a pro. I want to know the Latin names and the common names, I want to embrace words like ‘perennial’ and ‘half-hardy’ and use them correctly. I want to become a regular watcher of Gardeners’ World and understand what they’re talking about on Gardeners’ Question Time. I want to be best friends with Carol Klein and have Monty Don on speed-dial.


Okay, I might be getting ahead of myself there but I felt that the list was a positive step towards gardening nirvana. By the time we’d finished, it ran to three pages. I went to bed that night excited at the prospect of tomorrow’s plant-buying trip.

I’m not sure if you’ve ever visited a garden centre clutching such a list with two fidgety children in tow. I’ll be honest. It’s not the most relaxing of experiences.

The two main problems were that the garden centre wasn’t set out in the exact order as my list. In fact, the garden centre actually had the audacity not to stock some of the things on said list or if they did, I couldn’t find them. The second problem was that bored children simply don’t believe that searching for a heliopsis is more fun that playing hide and seek in between the conifers. In truth, I’m not sure I do either.

As a result, my husband and I pretty much abandoned the list and set about grabbing whichever plants seemed to like sun but weren’t fussy about drainage. On the plus side, we did find a rudbeckia and a fuchsia but the heliopsis remained the plant equivalent of a unicorn. Still, we bought verbena, cirsium, crocosmia, osteospermum, hermerocallus and a lupin.

I know. Like real gardeners and everything.


We also bought beetroot and radishes to plant and our proper gardener friend gave us an abundance of tomatoes, courgettes, cucumbers, peppers and fennel along with some unidentified plants, whose names my husband forget during the short journey from his house to ours. As I’ve said, plant names aren’t his thing.

We spent the whole of the next day planting. It was hard work and I can’t say I’ve mastered the art of garden design but we felt pretty proud once we’d finished.


We were worried that some plants would die but over the summer we have watched them spread like a miniature invading plant army. It’s been really rather wonderful.


We’ve eaten red and green lettuces, white cucumbers, sweet beetroot, courgettes, fat juicy tomatoes and all manner of herbs fresh from the ground.

beetroot img_20160908_181701

We’ve also grown the plant equivalent of a gigantic smile and we’re leaving it on the plant to see just how big it will become. Watch this space.


We’ve learnt how to deal with fat slugs and fruit-tree bugs, how to dead-head flowers, feed vegetables and that courgettes have male and female flowers (who knew) and are the bullies of the vegetable patch.

We have also found that cats and foxes have no respect for a truly beautiful garden and to them it’s just a toilet with plants now.

No matter.  Our dream is taking shape and yes, we need to stock up constantly on cat repellent, slug pellets, bug spray and plant food.

But on the plus side, we can always buy new plants while we’re there and who knows, we may even find the illusive heliopsis in the process.



Eight things I want my daughter to know…

As my daughter starts secondary school, these are the eight Mumfacts ™ I want her to know.

First Mumfact ™, you are loved. This probably isn’t a huge surprise but it’s very important that you always remember this. This love is a bit like the biscuit base in a Double Decker (and you know how much I love a Double Decker). You think you can manage with just the nougaty, chocolate part but then you realise that the biscuit holds it all together. Without that you are just a gooey mess in a world without biscuits.

Terrifying, isn’t it?

Plus, the people who love you will always give you biscuits – I refer you to your grandmothers, parents (although I know Dad can be a little protective of the Jaffa Cakes), aunties, uncles and even your brother when he’s in the mood to share.


Double Decker

Second Mumfact ™, you are beautiful – inside and out.  I catch a glimpse of you now, still my little girl and see the lovely young woman that you will one day become. Don’t be scared of that woman – she’s going to be a great friend of yours and many other lucky people. I can’t wait to get to know her in the years ahead.

Third Mumfact ™, you are braver than you realise. I watched you while we were on holiday, spending nearly every second in the sea, boldly facing the waves with your own brand of cool, shunning goggles in favour of shades, getting knocked down and then back up again, laughing and smiling all the while.

You’re good at this thing called life. You’re ready to face all the new challenges and adventures and have a ball while you’re doing it. You just have to go for it, my love.



Fourth Mumfact ™, you have a voice and it deserves to be heard. Don’t be afraid to speak up. You have interesting things to say and people will respond if you voice them. There will always be louder voices but not necessarily more interesting ones. Take courage and trust me, going to a new school with brand new people is the time to share your brilliant ideas with the world. Believe me, I wasn’t always a gobby cow – I was like you in lots of ways and I had to find my voice. Then I found it and after a while I had to tone it down a bit (ask Dad). Now, I enjoy ranting at the TV and radio and it’s probably a blessing that I work alone. You are bright, clever, funny and full of brilliance – time to share this with the world, my sweet.

Fifth Mumfact ™ – this is the moment to find your thing. Whether it’s singing, cricket or stilt-walking, find the thing you love to do and do it all the time. Try everything you fancy (or maybe never thought you fancied) that comes your way in the quest to find this thing. Don’t avoid something because other people aren’t doing it. Be brave and give it a try. You never know where these things might lead or what amazing people you may meet along the way.


Sixth Mumfact ™ (and one I wish I could change), people aren’t always kind. Friendships ebb and flow. Don’t worry about this (see ‘you are loved’ for reassurance) but do talk to us about it. We’re on your side and you must never feel silly or wrong if these things upset you. Again, I wasn’t always this lippy and I have pretty much experienced every bitchy girl scenario going. I’ve got your back. So has Dad. And everyone else who loves you for that matter.

Seventh Mumfact ™, don’t live your life through social media. Also don’t think that the people who are on social media are having a better time than you. They’re not. They’re just telling you about the best bits of their life. Think of it as a party – it’s nice to go to a party sometimes but if you ate jelly and ice-cream 24/7, you would be sick. Also, don’t post anything you wouldn’t be prepared to share with Grandma.

jelly and icecream

Eighth Mumfact ™, watching lots of comedies as you go through secondary school will improve your teenage life no end. I have made a lot of friends through a shared love of comedy and I reckon that finding people to laugh with is the secret of a happy teenage life. The older you get, the less you laugh so make sure that in the words of Victoria Wood, ‘you laugh until chips come down your nose’ while you’re young. ‘Two Soups’ in particular will set you up for life.


And that’s pretty much it, lovely girl except to say that I am ridiculously proud of you.  I know that this next step is a big one and you may be a little bit nervous or even scared. That’s okay – it won’t last because pretty soon you’ll be on your way, working hard, trying new things and having all the fun.

And all the while, I will be here, watching in awe, helping smooth any bumps in the road and most of all cheering you every fantastic step of the way.


Buddy’s Referendum Diary


Thursday 23rd June

Today is Referendum day. I have no idea what that means, except that Ladyofthehouse went out for a bit and returned declaring, ‘I have exercised my democratic right! Let’s hope the rest of the country doesn’t cock it up.’

When Beardy said goodnight to me later, he looked relieved. ‘I think it’s going to be okay, Buds,’ he said. ‘Looks as if we’re staying in.’

Of course we’re staying in, you great hairy numpty. It’s night-time. We always stay in at night-time.

Unless I decide to stay out with my girlfriend, Mindy of course. Then we’re definitely out.


Friday 24th June

Well. That was a bit of a shock. The Family has run out of TunaFelix and I had to have SardineFelix instead. Beardy looked pale and worried when he gave it to me.

‘It’s not good, Buds. It’s not good at all,’ he said as he put my bowl down.

You’re telling me, mate. Sardines are the food of the devil.

I knew something was wrong because Ladyofthehouse was already out of bed. This isn’t normal.

According to Beardy, Ladyofthehouse ‘doesn’t do mornings’ and ‘you can’t talk to her until she’s had coffee’.

In fact I think she’d been up for a while. After forcing down my sardines I found her staring at the television, shaking her head and repeating, ‘no, no, no, this can’t be happening.’

Smallboy came downstairs and asked what had happened. Ladyofthehouse said that we had decided to Brexit. At first I thought she said ‘breakfast’ and went to wait by my bowl for more food but then Smallboy started to cry and asked if there was going to be a war. Ladyofthehouse gave him a big hug and said, ‘not if I can bloody help it.’

I nudged Smallboy’s legs so that he picked me up. Humans think they’re hugging you but really it’s the other way round.

‘I love you, Buddy,’ he said.

I love you too, Smallboy.

Lovelygirl came down then. Beardy told her about the Brexit and she looked worried. ‘Does that mean I won’t be able to get a job?’ Beardy told her it would be fine whilst looking as if he didn’t really believe it.

I nudged Lovelygirl’s legs so that she picked me up.

‘Oooh Buddy, I love you,’ she said. ‘Will it be okay?’

I love you too, Lovelygirl. And yes, it will be okay, although I’m not entirely sure what ‘it’ is.

Beardy and Ladyofthehouse told the children not to worry and to go and have some breakfast.

After the children had gone Ladyofthehouse started to get cross. ‘Look what they’ve done,’ she cried. ‘Look what they’ve done to my children’s future. Bunch of bloody bastards.’

‘Bastards,’ agreed Beardy, putting his arms around Ladyofthehouse.

I nudged their legs so that Ladyofthehouse picked me up.

I let them hug me for a bit before wriggling onto the floor and going to sit with the children. They need me today.

When Ladyofthehouse came back from dropping Lovelygirl and Smallboy at school, she was even crosser.

‘Well the pound’s gone through the floor, we’ve been sent baskets of muffins by every far right-wing group in Europe and now David bloody Cameron has decided to eff off having gambled the country away in a bid to stop Farage, who is declaring a victory for decent people. Pah! He wouldn’t know a decent person if one stood up in his soup!’

At least I think that’s what she said. All I could do was stare at the floor and wonder how many pounds were underneath it and also, if I might like muffins. They had to be better than sardines.

Ladyofthehouse spent the day cleaning the house and typing very fast, whilst shouting things at the radio and television.

Friday nights are usually a very happy time but everyone seemed glum.

I went out with Mindy. She was worried too. She said that in the Referendum people had either voted to stay ‘in’ or ‘out’ of the EU. She said the EU was a big organisation set up to unite the countries of Europe after the war in order to bring stability and free trade between nations. She said it wasn’t perfect and cost a lot of money but that it brought lots of advantages in terms of free movement, trade, subsidies to poorer areas and a healthy spirit of outward looking co-operation. Mindy is a very knowledgeable cat.

She has a particular interest in the EU fishing policies and is now concerned that fish prices will rise. I don’t care as long as there’s plenty of TunaFelix.

Mindy said that a lot of people had voted ‘out’ due to concerns about migration to this country, which is like other cats coming into your garden. I don’t really like other cats coming into my garden apart from Mindy but then I’m a cat and therefore have limited intelligence. I thought humans were cleverer than that.


Saturday 24th June

Ladyofthehouse and Beardy are very angry but I’m not sure who with. They have fierce discussions about the things that annoy them.

Ladyofthehouse is particularly angry with all the people who voted to leave but now wished they’d voted to stay. She calls them ‘cockwombles’. This word makes Smallboy laugh until he falls on the floor. Ladyofthehouse says he’s not to use it at school or in front of Grandma.

Beardy is mainly angry with a man called Cameron and another called Boris. There is also a man called Nigel who they dislike but Ladyofthehouse has said that no-one is allowed to speak his name out loud.


Sunday 25th June

I am a little bit worried about Ladyofthehouse. She seems to be losing it slightly.

She has taken to strolling round the garden in the early evening (something I enjoy myself), throwing slugs and snails into a flowerpot whilst crying, ‘come here Boris, you fat slimy slug,’ and ‘oh no, Dave, you may have destroyed the country but you’re not eating my Rudbeckia,’ before throwing them all into the big bin and shouting, ‘die, you traitorous scum!’



Monday 26th June

Very confusing day which ended up with Beardy declaring that, ‘England were out of Europe’.

Duh, keep up Beardy. That was last week.


Tuesday 27th June

Ladyofthehouse has got a cold. She’s very snotty. She is blaming this cold on Boris, although I’m not sure if she means the slug or the man with the funny hair on TV.

She lay on the sofa watching something called Wimbledon today. Ladyofthehouse and Beardy love Wimbledon. It seems to calm them down. I like watching it with them. I like Roger Federer best. He has fantastic eyebrows.


Wednesday 28th June

Ladyofthehouse seems less angry and sadder now. Today she was watching Cameron on the TV and instead of swearing, she was listening.

She sat down on the sofa as if all her worries were weighing her down. So I jumped up next to her and rubbed my head against hers. She was surprised because I don’t do this very often. ‘Thank you, Buds,’ she said, scratching my head. ‘I needed that.’

What can I say? I’m a very perceptive cat.

Mindy told me later that Ladyofthehouse was probably sad because of the rise in hate crime. She said that as a lot of people voted ‘out’ due to concerns about immigration, it has given rise to the far right thinking that this somehow validates their abhorrently racist views.

Like I said, Mindy is very knowledgeable, whereas humans seem to be increasingly stupid.


Thursday 29th June

Ladyofthehouse was angry again, this time because no-one seems to be running the country and they all seem to be arguing about who should do it now that Cameron doesn’t want to.

Apparently Boris was going to try but now a man who Ladyofthehouse calls, ‘the rubber-faced twonk’, has said he wants to but a lady called Theresa may do it too. It’s very confusing.

Ladyofthehouse put Wimbledon on and the Family all sat watching Andy Murray, who reminds me of a cat because he never smiles even though he’s happy.

I stay very close to them. They are calm but I sense they need me. They are always picking me up now and hugging me. I don’t mind. I love them.

I also have a plan to help them. I know exactly who can sort things out and I’m starting the campaign tomorrow.

I think she’ll unite the nation because of her intelligence and political insight, and more importantly ensure that we never run out of TunaFelix again.

Mindy presentation


The thrill of the deadline

There’s nothing more thrilling than reaching a deadline, is there? For the organised amongst you, this may involve a gentle jog to the finishing line, a small but heart-felt air-punch and that satisfied sense of a job well done. If you are slightly chaotic, as I am, it’s a bumpy ride. It goes something like this.

A fortnight before the deadline, you are calm personified – a mixture of Mary Berry and Barack Obama – cool, twinkling, confident.


A week to go and you take on the air of Corporal Jones from Dad’s Army, muttering ‘Don’t Panic’, under your breath in a less soothing, more hissy mantra.

You then hurl yourself into the task at hand. You work late into the night (never first thing – there isn’t enough coffee in the world that could jump-start you into early-morning writing). So working late is the only option but it’s okay because it means a glass of wine, a bowl of Kettle Chips and an episode of Modern Family as a reward.

giphy (1)

See? Being a night-owl pays big time, my friends. You can’t be hitting the Chablis at ten in the morning. It may have worked for Hemingway but then he never had to do the afternoon school-run.

Then we reach the day before the deadline. This day is oddly calm. The hard work is done. There is a niggling panic that you have lost control of the book somehow, that it doesn’t hang together but then you remember that it’s hard to keep the detail of ninety thousand words in your head and the panic subsides. This day mainly consists of ticking off items on the slightly odd final check list such as:

–          Does Dan have size ten or size twelve feet?

–          Check number of times the word ‘wow’ is used & delete accordingly.

–          Decide whether to keep or remove the new vicar.

It’s not your average ‘to do’ list but it all seems vitally necessary during the intense adrenaline-pumped moments before you attach the manuscript to an e-mail and send it to your editor.

Finally, the moment does arrive. You simply cannot put it off anymore. The manuscript is saved for the final time. You send it off into the world, like a baby bird on its first flight and hope that it doesn’t crash into the first window it reaches.


You hold your breath and then realise that breathing is important and exhale. You stare at your screen for a moment and feel quite tired. Your brain is as weary as a toddler after an hour in a ball pool. Take a break, brain. You’ve worked hard. You need a rest.

The day afterwards is lovely. You emerge into the world, blinking at the light – a bewildered writing mole. There is no writing to do today. You have earned a rest.

It’s a day to tick off some of those things you don’t have time to do because you are writing, like communicating with your family and working out why the fridge makes that weird whining noise, but only in the afternoons.

Important stuff.

You write a shiny new ‘to-do’ list. It doesn’t seem quite as writerly and creative as the manuscript check-list. It contains items like:

–          Sort e-mails (2 years’ worth)

–          Check utilities bills

–          Phone the Inland Revenue

You give it your best shot. After a day of clenching your teeth as you try but fail to find someone from HMRC who wants your tax and weeping as your Yahoo Mail page crashes every time you try to archive something, you have an epiphany. Existing in the real world is too hard and actually, really quite boring.

Immediately, you know what you need to do. You e-mail your editor with a request and she is delighted to oblige.

The next day, you’re one happy camper. You sit at your computer with a fresh sense of purpose and a manic grin on your face as you type the words, ‘Chapter One.’

You have a new deadline. All is well.

giphy (2)


It’s all in the name

There are many things I like about writing books. The staring out of the window is lovely. The drinking coffee whilst staring out of the window is also good.

However, when it comes to actually writing the words down onto the page (fortunately I like this bit too), one of my favourite parts is coming up with names and the more books I write, the more I enjoy this particular challenge.

Because it is a challenge as the writers amongst you will probably agree. You have to be very careful with names. Very careful indeed.

One misplaced Valerie and your old school-chum from thirty years back will be on your doorstep demanding to know why she’s been cast as a serial killer with a penchant for knitting woolly-faced effigies of her victims (Crime writer friends, feel free to have that one on me. You’re welcome)

knitted doll

When I wrote Not Quite Perfect, I was a complete name-giving rookie. I named most of my characters after my family and friends. In my defence, the whole novel began as a creative writing experiment but when it got more serious, the names sort of stuck. My sister-in-law still wants to know why my sixty-something bossy mother character is based on her (stop being bossy and I’ll tell you) whilst my mother-in-law was sorely disappointed to only play a walk-on role. You can’t please all of the people or indeed any of the people, especially if you’re related to them.

It may seem like the easiest thing in the world to give a character a name but names are tricky. You don’t always get them right first time. One of the main characters in Dear Lizzie was called Barney right up to the last moment when I suddenly realised that his name was Joe. Just like that. The poor man had been wandering through my novel, dealing with quite a lot of terrible things and I hadn’t even had the decency to give him the right name. Sorry Barney. I mean Joe.

Above all, you can have fun with names. You can play with them, you can
re-arrange them, you can invent completely new ones and stretch them into whatever you need them to be.

It’s basically the writer’s equivalent of Play-Doh and I’ve always loved Play-Doh (particularly the smell).

When I was writing Life or Something Like It last year, I was struggling with a name for a key male character. I was sharing this issue with my family over dinner, when my eight-year-old son fixed me with a look.

‘I have three ideas for you, Mum.’

‘Okay,’ I replied uncertainly. My son doesn’t usually offer much input regarding my books. Inspiration? Droves. Input? No. But into the mouths of gift horses, I will not look. It’s one of my rules.

‘Go on.’

‘First idea – Chris P. Bacon.’

Guffaws around the table. A raised eyebrow from me. ‘And the next?’

‘Terry Fied. Although that’s mainly for spooky stories,’ he said sagely.

‘Yes, this isn’t really a spooky book.’

‘Shame,’ he shrugged. ‘All right. How about, Robin Banks?’

‘It’s a fantastic name but maybe better suited to a book featuring a criminal?’

‘Probably,’ he said. ‘Well I can’t really help you. Sorry Mum.’

Never mind, son. Name-giving is an art. I’m no expert but I’m learning.

In my opinion, Charles Dickens is the top dog when it comes to names. There’s never a poll of best character names that doesn’t feature one of his.  I mean, I was pretty proud of Cat Nightingale as the name for my reluctant heroine in Life Or Something Like It, but Uriah Heap is pure unbridled brilliance.

Ironically, my favourite name in the book I’ve just finished isn’t that of a person. It’s the name of the road on which they live – Hope Street, based on the south-east London community in which I’ve lived for large parts of my life.

I like to think that Charles Dickens might have approved or very likely come up with something better. Like I say, I’m learning.

So I thought it would be appropriate at this stage to consider my favourite character names. Here’s a short but by no means exhaustive list.

  1. Reginald Jeeves and Bertie Wooster

We don’t really need the first names do we? Perfect names, perfect characters, perfect stories. That is all.

jeeves and wooster

  1. Eva Delectorskaya

William Boyd’s heroine from Restless. He has Dickens-like talents for names. This one sticks with me largely because I can barely pronounce it but I also love Nat Tate, Logan Mountstuart and Amory Clay.

  1. Huckleberry Finn

If you wanted a name to sum up the character of a chicken-stealing, grubby rascal then you couldn’t do much better.

  1. Veruca Salt

Children’s books lead the way with excellent names and Roald Dahl is probably the master. Mind you, with Charlie Bucket, Augustus Gloop, Willy Wonka and Mike Teavee all in one story, he pretty much cleaned up.

  1. Abel Magwich

Really, this entire list should be peopled by Charles Dickens’ characters but this meaty villain from Great Expectations wins for me. Any writer who created Dick Swiveller (stop sniggering at the back), Merry Pecksniff, Kit Nubbles, Pleasant Riderhood and Woolwich Bagnet as secondary character names should be crowned king of all the names forever.

abel magwich

I would love to hear your favourites if you’d like to leave a comment.

Right, I’m off to think up a name for an eighty-something female ex-librarian with a passion for cryptic crosswords. Maybe Ivy or Joan? Mind you, I’ve always liked Olive…