Monday, 20 June 2016
Elle and Laurie are the last ones standing: they're single, they're not having babies any time soon and their weekends aren't filled with joyful meetings about mortgages. For Elle, this is fine. She likes her independent life, but Laurie wants love and she wants it now. So when Laurie begs Elle to come with her on a singles holiday to a beautiful vineyard in Tuscany, Elle is reluctant. She has no intention of swapping her perfectly lovely life for someone else's idea of her Mr Perfect, but ten days under the Italian sun with her best friend and lashings of wine? How bad could that be? Full of sultry summer nights, hilarious moments and plenty of adventure, You Had Me at Merlot will warm even the most cynical of hearts and have you believing in the magic of romance (and the power of a decent glass of wine).
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
I read this book when it was initially published as a four part series and loved it. It is a feel good book and as soon as picked it up each time I was swept back to Tuscany and the vineyards. I loved Dickenson's writing style, her prose is descriptive and draws the reader straight in but is also mixed with her fantastic humour which keeps the mood upbeat. I also follow the author on Twitter and her quick one-liners are also included within the book.
I love the characters, they are a fantastic cast and I would love to of been on this holiday, under the Tuscan sun, with fantastic company and beautiful Italian sunshine. It sounds like a great idea for a holiday - a group of singletons with a common love of wine, in the beautiful surroundings.
I would recommend this book to anyone wanting a good book to read this summer - whether beside a pool or in the back garden enjoying the Great British Summer we have been promised.
Thank you to the publishers, Sphere, for including me on this blog tour and sending me the book to review.
Saturday, 18 June 2016
June 18-25th is Independent Bookshop Week and 2016 is the tenth year of this celebration. In conjunction with Orion's publication of How to Find Love in a Book Shop by Veronica Henry bloggers are being asked what is their favourite Independent book shop. Unfortunately I don't have a local independent book shop but when I was asked there could only be one answer, Chipping Norton's Jaffe and Neale.
Jaffe and Neale is in the centre of Chipping Norton, a town in the middle of the Cotswolds and is a bookshop and a café - can you think of a better combination? It is a fantastic shop, as soon as I walk in the door I feel like I am returning to see old friends. I found Jaffe and Neale when I visiting Chipping Norton's Literary Festival (Chiplitfest) three years ago and have returned every year since. The bookshop plays a big part in the festival weekend, becoming the hub of the festival for visitors, guests and volunteers. Pop up shops also appear in some of the festival venues, all staffed by the cheerful and friendly Jaffe and Neale staff. All greet vistitors with a friendly smile and ask if they can help, however when Mark Billingham's Saturday night Chiplitfest quiz starts, the gloves are off, and the staff unite to create a formidable team who usually end up in the top three and give the authors teams a good run for the prizes.
Jaffe and Neale host numerous author visits throughout the year and throughout Independent Bookshop Week they are hosting, among others; Carol Duffy, Richard Osman and Alexander Armstrong (a full listing is available here)
Jaffe and Neale is owned by Patrick Neale and Polly Jaffé, both have backgrounds in the publishing industry and can be found working in the store. They opened the bookshop ten years ago, with their focus from the start being good books and good customer service, something which is evident ten years later. As soon as you walk in the store Patrick can be identified by his smart country gentleman attire and Polly is usually behind the counter with her fabulous smile - during festival weekend they can be spotted running between the author's green room, venues and the bookshop but always have time to greet friends and visitors they pass on the way.
Aswell as being an independent bookshop, Jaffe and Neale are a bustling café stocked with Aga-baked cakes made by Ceci in her Chadlington kitchen and look delicious. With chairs and tables both inside and out, there is no better reason to while away an hour reading a new book.
The bookshop offers something for everyone; with new bestsellers, old favourites and a well stocked non-fiction section, the shop is complete with a fantastic children's department. During festival weekend, an illustrator and/or author can be seen creating a window display which always look fantastic and frequent sessions are hosted at Jaffe and Neale for young bookworms. Independent Bookshop Week 2016 sees a visit from Alice's White Rabbit on Monday 20th June.
I hope I can encourage my blog readers to take a visit to Chipping Norton and pop into Jaffe and Neale. It really is a jewel in the crown of the Cotswolds and the perfect place to relax and enjoy an hour's indulgent book reading in lovely surroundings with the obligatory slice of (delicious) cake.
I am already on countdown to next years Chiplitfest and Jaffe and Neale will be one of the first places I pop into before the events start.
Wednesday, 8 June 2016
The Bridgeford Community Choir is in crisis. Numbers are down. The choir leader is in hospital. The tea urn is behaving in an ominous fashion. Something must be done.
New joiners Tracey Leckford and Bennett Parker might just be able to save the day. But Tracey is hiding a huge secret about her past. And Bennett - while equipped with a beautiful singing voice - is entirely baffled by the world and everything in it. Can they really fit in with dependable old regulars like Annie?
As the choir suffers through fights, feuds and the perils of the school fair, it becomes clear that their struggles are not just about music, but the future of their community. In order to save their singing group and their town, the Bridgeford Singers will have to find a way to work together - in harmony.
Today I am pleased to welcome Gill Hornby to my blog as part of her blog tour to celebrate the publication of her new novel, All Together Now. The publishers, Little Brown, have given me an extract to share you with my blog readers and my review will also be following soon. Enjoy ......
All Tracey had ever wanted, for her interminable teenage years, was to be Karen Carpenter: to sing to, to be heard by, to sway beneath the gaze of the whole world out there. In her more realistic moments she was prepared to settle for being a mere slice of Bananarama, such was the measure of her determination and – at times – desperation. But, no. Even her most humble aspirations were to be denied her. Fate, it turned out, had other plans. She waited, as she sang, for that familiar stab of grief, disappointment, humiliation; to be shocked once more by the way her story had ended; to be derailed by one of her interminable enquiries of ‘What if . . . ?’ But, much to her surprise, nothing happened. She was just having too good a time: lying on the sofa being Sheena Easton, making cheese on toast doing her best Bonnie Tyler. She was actually up, barefoot, on the dining table singing ‘Theme from Mahogany’ into yet another wine bottle – Do you know where you’re going to? – when the doorbell rang.
It had been many years since anyone had rung their doorbell, and it took Tracey a few moments to identify the sound. She heard it again. Her first response was to ignore it, until she realised that for once Billy was actually out. She climbed down from the table and tottered over to the cassette player. Supposing something had happened to him? She turned off the music and looked over the window sill. Was it a policeman down there, come to play out her very worst fears?
Tracey couldn’t even remember the last time she had used the front door. They had a mailbox fixed to the outside wall. She, Billy and Billy’s mates always came through the garage, and nobody else ever turned up, ever. As a consequence, the stairs down to it had become, over time, jam-packed with all the stuff they didn’t quite have room for and had never quite got round to chucking out. She stood at the top and peered down, over old bicycles, a rowing machine, a mini-fridge that didn’t smell too healthy, a guitar, a lava lamp, a rucksack, a lot of Warhammer, bin bags full of indeterminate cast-offs, a keyboard, a train set and finally, at the bottom, a pram. There was definitely a man down there, she could tell by the silhouette on the frosted glass. He rang again. Better get this over with. She picked her way through, like a warden in the Blitz. Eventually, she found and opened the door. It was him. The dad. Of that girl. The one in the wheelchair. Admittedly, she felt quite pissed now she was standing up and having to communicate with someone, but still, she was sure. It was him.
‘Evening. Sorry to bother you,’ he said, although he didn’t sound it. ‘Only I couldn’t help overhearing—’
‘Yes. Sorry’ – he put his hand to his chest – ‘I’m Lewis. We’re neighbours and—’
‘Hi. Tracey. You listen to us?’ She was starting to get, in Billy parlance, weirded out. This bloke was like one of those Stasi officers who spent their lives bugging East German homes. Tracey had never seen him before and suddenly there he was, twice in a night.
Was she under surveillance?
‘Well, no. Of course not. We don’t have a glass to the wall, or anything. We live across there,’ he jerked his thumb over his shoulder, ‘on the corner. We can’t help but hear your music and—’
‘All our music?’ Oops. She pressed her forehead to edge of the door. The Bloodshitters. He’d come to complain about The Bloodshitters . . .
‘No. Really.’ He held out his hand. ‘You don’t understand. This isn’t a complaint. I’m just here because, well, you were playing different songs tonight. And you were singing. I’ve never heard you sing before.’
OK. This was quite weird . . .
‘And you sounded brilliant.’
. . . but, you know, not that weird.
‘Thanks.’ They stood there looking at one another. Tracey felt rather at sea. She had never knowingly met a neighbour before and certainly never gone in for any of that neighbourly chit-chat stuff. ‘Very kind.’ But, much to her own surprise, she found that she did want to be friendly, just this once. After all, she’d watched this one with his daughter; she’d witnessed how much he cared; she’d seen him make a total arse of himself dad-dancing outside Budgens. Even Tracey Leckford couldn’t shut a door in a face after all that. She smiled, while racking her brains for something to say. ‘Anyway.’ What was it people talked about? Compost bins . . . Rubbish collection . . . Gutter-clearing . . . Surely this was a bloke who could bang on for hours about gutter-clearing . . . As it turned out, he was a bloke with his own agenda.
‘Actually, I have come to ask you a favour.’
‘Um. Yeah. Of course.’ Neighbours? Favours? Now she was seriously out of her depth.
‘We would like you,’ he pressed a leaflet at her, ‘to join our choir.’
She looked down at the leaflet, made a snorty noise, looked back up at his face, all ready for a good old laugh . . . and was struck, instantly, by the absence of a sense of joke where really, under normal circumstances, she would expect some sense of joke to be.
‘We have a competition to win.’
She straightened her face. ‘Yes,’ she said through a cough. ‘I heard it on the local news.’ Amazingly, for once she actually had.
Lewis was not as amazed as he should have been. ‘Yup.’ He thrust his hands into his trouser pockets, rocked on his heels, paused for a bit of teeth-sucking. ‘It is a pre-tty big deal.’
Tracey couldn’t reply to that; if she did, she would only get the giggles.
‘And you are exactly what Bridgeford needs.’
‘Yes . . . but . . . you see . . . ’
He pulled back his shoulders, raised his voice a bit. ‘Can all the voices of this town at last unite?’
‘Um . . . well . . . haven’t got a clue . . . I doubt it . . . Christ . . . sound bloody awful . . . but I’m afraid . . . ’
‘Are we better together or are we better apart?’
Apart, on the whole, obviously, thought Tracey – though she could see it wasn’t the moment to bring it up. Instead, she kept quiet and watched the spectacle unfold on her own doorstep. He was well away now, this Lewis – rather fancied himself as quite the inspirational public speaker, if she was not mistaken.
‘Can we go to the County Championships and bring back our pride?’
Tracey studied him as he blathered on with his fists clenched and his eyes shining. A funny thing, the power of the human voice, she thought: not just for the effect it had on others, but for the effect it could have on ourselves. Tracey was entirely unmoved by Lewis’ rhetoric, but clearly he was under the impression he was transformed.
‘Can we win the County Championships?’
She was looking at a shortish, fattish white bloke in supermarket jeans, but somewhere inside that shortish, fattish white exterior was a self-image of someone else entirely.
‘Yes we can!’
She cringed and let slip an involuntary moan of pain, but Lewis didn’t notice.
‘And we need you, Tracey. We really need you.’
‘Oh . . . um . . . Lewis . . . I would love to help, obviously, but . . . but . . . ’
‘We are your local singers . . . ’
‘Oh . . . OK . . . I did get that bit . . . but . . . ’
‘ . . . and we need YOU.’
‘Oh what, Tracey?’ He was getting rather demanding now. ‘Oh what exactly?’
Sunday, 5 June 2016
Today I am very pleased to welcome Alexandra Brown to my blog as part of her blog tour to celebrate the publication of her new book, The Secret of Orchard Cottage, which takes readers back to Tindledale, the village where Hettie's House of Haberdashery is based and a shop I would love to visit and have as my local needle store! In this book we are introduced to Orchard Cottage, where Great Aunt Edie lives and is visited by her niece April Wilson, following the death of April's husband.
The wonderful new novel from Alex Brown, bestselling author of The Great Christmas Knit Off, perfect for fans of Trisha Ashley and Jill Mansell. April Wilson is wondering what to do next - her life has been turned upside down after the loss of her husband so she's hoping to piece herself together again with a visit to her elderly great aunt, Edith. Arriving in the rural idyll of Tindledale, she's dismayed to find Edith's cottage and the orchard behind it in a sorry state of disrepair. Edith seems to have lost interest completely, instead she's become desperate to find out what happened to her sister, Winnie, who disappeared during WWII. April gets to work immediately, discovering that the orchard still delivers a bumper crop each year, and with the help of some of the villagers - including Matt, the enigmatic Farrier - begins to unravel the mystery of the missing Winnie. Slowly, April can feel things coming to life again - but can Orchard Cottage work its magic on her too?
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
The publishers, Harper, have kindly given me an extract to share with you, my blog readers. This is the fifth part of the blog tour and the fifth extract - you can read the whole extract by visiting each of the first six blogs taking part in the tour and the rest of the blogs have beautiful recipes which are also included in the book:
BLOG TOUR DAY 4
To find out what happens before this, head to:
Taken from Chapter 1
Gray had worried so much about April; often confiding in Jen, asking her to look out for his wife and to support her through his demise and when he was no longer here. Because, although Gray and April had been together for a while, they had only been married for a year when the diagnosis came, and Gray had said he would completely understand if April wanted to end things with him then and move on. Make a life for herself with somebody new. Somebody fit and vibrant. Instead of ‘saddling herself with a sickly, older, and quite often grumpy git like me’ (Gray could be quite self-deprecating at times). It was a lot to expect of her to stick by him, but April was having none of it. In sickness and
health. That’s what she had vowed, and gladly so. She wasn’t a quitter, never had been. And caring for Gray had given April a purpose, something to live for, and God knows she had needed it, because if the truth be told, her world had fallen apart that day in the consultant’s office. April had hidden it well of course, put on a brave face, stoic, and she was good at that, having trained at Great Ormond Street hospital where nursing seriously ill children required an ability to protect one’s self, close off emotions when required – maintain an emotional distance, if you like. It really wouldn’t do for a nurse to cry. No, that was for other people. April’s job was to be strong so that everyone else around her could cope. Hence, she hadn’t cried once in front of Gray or the twins. Or burdened any of her friends from the knitting group or gym classes that she used to do in the local leisure centre before Gray became seriously incapacitated. And April used to love knitting: sitting next to Gray on the sofa of an evening, they would watch TV together and he’d tease her about the chunkiness of her size 12 needles for a cosy Aran jumper that had been her last project. It was the simple, everyday ‘doing nothing’ stuff that April missed most. But now, well . . . it just wasn’t the same on her own. The happy association of knit one purl one and laughing along to Gogglebox wasn’t there any more.
‘Are you OK?’ Nancy asked, leaning forward to stroke April’s arm.
‘Yes, sure. Sorry darling, I was miles away.’
April shook her head as if to clear her thoughts, and then smiled at Nancy.
‘Don’t apologise,’ Nancy smiled back. ‘We all knew today would be extra tough for you. Another birthday without Dad.’ She shuffled her bottom backwards over the duvet and then patted the bed, indicating for April to sit beside her.
‘Actually, today has been better than I anticipated,’ April replied, conscious that underneath the veneer of being OK, Nancy was still grieving too, and she didn’t want to upset her stepdaughter by appearing to be ‘getting over her father’s death’ too quickly. But deep down April knew that she most likely would never really ‘get over’ Gray. Yes she’d learn to live without him, be happy again
perhaps, a different kind of happiness, she hoped, one day, but still . . .
‘Good,’ Nancy stated. ‘You know, Dad would never have wanted you to be “moping” all over the place.’ She paused to do quote signs in the air and April winced. ‘Especially on your birthday.’ A short silence followed. ‘Um, sorry, not that you are,’ Nancy added. ‘Gosh, sorry, I didn’t mean it like that, you aren’t . . . um, haven’t been “moping” at all, in fact you’ve been amazingly strong and kind and lovely as always to me and Freddie, putting everyone else before yourself. Sorry, me and my big mouth. I really must engage my brain before opening my gob and just letting words blurt out.’ Nancy pulled a face and shook her head, making her fiery red hair swish around her shoulders. ‘I just meant
that . . . well, you know how practical Dad was about stuff, being a scientist and all. I didn’t mean to be so insensitive, God no, but somehow it always comes out that way.’
‘It’s OK,’ April replied. ‘Like father like daughter, eh?’ and she nudged Nancy with her elbow, before both women exchanged glances and a smile.
‘Hmm, I guess so.’ Nancy pressed her hands together as if to break the moment and lift the mood, buoy them both back up. ‘I know! How about we watch an old film together? Mamma Mia, you love that one.’ April’s smile widened. ‘Whaaaat? What’s so funny?’ Nancy lifted her shoulders and pulled a face.
‘Mamma Mia!’ April laughed. ‘It’s hardly an old film . . .’
‘Hmm, weeeeell . . . it is to me. Or would you prefer to watch something really ancient, like Dirty Dancing perhaps?’
‘Or how about Some Like It Hot?’ April couldn’t resist, and Nancy creased her forehead.
‘Sounds like filth to me.’ Nancy folded her arms. ‘April, you fox! Never had you down as a porn fan,’ she teased.
‘Noooooo!’ April protested, her cheeks flushing. ‘Oh gosh no, nothing like that. It’s a classic, starring Marilyn Monroe. With Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon – they dress up as women and—’
‘Cross-dressing! Hmm, guess that could be cool.’ Nancy raised her eyebrows.
‘Hmm, it’s a bit more than that,’ April said.
‘Well, I’ve never heard of it!’
‘Ha! Now why doesn’t that surprise me?’ April gave her stepdaughter’s thigh an affectionate pat.
‘You know, I feel reeeeeally old now.’ She shook her head and let out a long sigh.
‘Oh don’t be daft! You’re still young. A million miles away from the menopause.’ April shook her head; trust Nancy to be so blunt. ‘Tell you what . . . why don’t I do your hair and make-up this afternoon? I could do your nails too; we could have a girly makeover party. I’ll get us some chocolate and maybe a cheeky bottle of bubbles . . . what do you say?’
‘That sounds lovely, are you sure though?’ April said, surprised, as it wasn’t really Nancy’s thing.
‘Yep. It’s your birthday and I want to make it nice for you. And you love all that beauty and pampering stuff.’ A short silence followed. April swallowed, hard. And then Nancy added, ‘Weell,’ she hesitated, ‘you used to before Dad died, and I know it’s hard, I really still miss him too, but he’d want us to make an effort on your birthday and you made an effort on mine, even though I bet you
didn’t really feel up to it.’ She pulled herself off the bed and went in search of April’s beauty paraphernalia. She opened the top drawer of a chest. It was full of underwear. ‘Sorry,’ she said, closing it again. ‘Nail polish?’
‘No problem,’ April replied, ‘it’s in the basket on the shelf in the ensuite.’ She paused and fiddled with the belt of her dressing gown. ‘And I say that a pamper afternoon is a very lovely idea, thank you sweetheart.’
‘Great!’ Nancy chimed. ‘But I’m sensing a big but!’ She stopped moving and turned to look at April.
‘It’s just that I thought my hair looked OK! Why didn’t you tell me before we went out for lunch?’
April pretended to admonish, but knew seriously that she hadn’t really bothered with all of that since Gray went, often wondering what was the point. Of course, she always made sure her hair was brushed and that she looked presentable and had clean clothes on, that sort of thing (well . . . underwear at least), but she had found it hard to muster up much enthusiasm for applying make-up
or painting her nails. To be honest, the last eighteen months had seen her operating as if on autopilot, going through the motions really.
‘April, your hair looks lovely. Honestly. I just thought it would be something nice to do for the rest of your birthday.’
‘Ahh, OK. Then thank you, and sorry, ignore me, I’m just being oversensitive. Come on, you grab the chocolate and champagne and I’ll sort out what we need up here,’ April chivvied, seizing the opportunity to busy herself and be in her preferred state.
‘Perfect.’ Nancy walked towards the door.
*TO FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENS NEXT HEAD TO http://blabberingaboutbooks.weebly.com/
TOMORROW FOR THE NEXT EXTRACT*
Thank you to the publishers, Harper, and to Alexandra Brown for visiting my blog today. My review will follow soon but I absolutely loved it!!
Saturday, 4 June 2016
Today I am pleased to welcome Hannah McKinnon to my blog, on the blog tour to celebrate the publication of 'Time after time'.
For fans of Laura Barnett and Dani Atkins, Hannah McKinnon has written a moving story that will resonate with any woman who has ever wondered, in a moment of frustration, “what if?”.
Hayley Cooper, a powerful but now struggling lawyer, fantasizes about what her life would be like if only if she’d made different choices. It’s understandable; the past two years have been hell. She barely sees her kids, her boss is trying to sabotage her, and her marriage is falling apart.
Burnt out, Hayley goes to sleep wishing for a different life. When she wakes up married to her first boyfriend, one she has not seen in over twenty years, she realizes there might be some truth in the saying “be careful what you wish for”. Over a single weekend, like Ebenezer Scrooge, Hayley gets to see her life on other side of the white picket fence – not just with her first ex, but with each of her past loves. But is the grass always greener, and will she ever want to go home?
I have been kindly given an extract to this fantastic book, when Hayley has just woken up in her ex-boyfriend's house:
A Different Life
Hayley stood perfectly still in Chris’ kitchen, unable to move despite her instincts telling her to get the hell out of there. The steady tick-tock from the clock on the kitchen wall was deafening.
What the … how …? Did I meet Chris somewhere and go home with him?
She shook her head. That wasn’t something she’d do. Maybe she’d spotted Chris on her way home, asked the taxi driver to give him a ride and ended up at his place? She tried forcing her memory but nothing came.
It doesn’t make sense.
Nothing made sense. Cold sweat trickled down her back and the dressing gown stuck to her body, making her shiver, so she pulled it away from her skin.
I need to get back to Rick and the kids. Oh shit.
She’d never cheated on Rick, never even kissed another man since they’d met. Yes, they were having problems, but cheat on him? She hadn’t seen, let alone spoken to Chris in almost twenty years but now she’d woken up in bed with him. Images of his bobbing penis flashed through her mind and she shook her head again in an attempt to get them out of her brain.
What did I do? Why can’t I remember? Did I go to a club? Or a bar?
She dismissed the theory as quickly as it had entered her muddled brain. She’d been at Ellen and Mark’s. They’d had drinks. She’d gone straight home.
Unless … unless I went on somewhere afterwards and someone spiked my drink?
She reached for the counter to steady herself.
What am I going to tell Rick? He must be frantic. Do the kids know I’m not home?
Hayley’s eyes darted around the kitchen for her mobile and when she couldn’t find it, she grabbed the phone on the kitchen counter and punched in her home number.
Before she heard it ring on the other end, she slammed the phone down.
No! We have caller ID.
Taking in big gulps of air, she closed her eyes and breathed out through her nose.
Think, Hayley, think.
She ran to the bathroom by the front door. Her head pounded, and as she sat on the toilet her stomach twisted itself into knots the size of tennis balls.
How could I let this happen?
She washed her hands and splashed cold water on her face. It slowed her breathing down, but only until she looked in the mirror.
‘Argh! What the hell?’
Her hair was cut in a cropped bob, much shorter than it had been the night before.
Why can’t I remember Ellen cutting it?
She smoothed it down with her damp hands and swallowed. Of course it would grow back eventually, but Rick was in for a surprise. He loved her long hair.
Will he think I did it to spite him? How many lies am I going to have to spin?
Rick would assume she’d spent the night at Ellen and Mark’s. After all, she had said, ‘Don’t wait up.’
Maybe he hasn’t phoned Ellen yet. Hang on, that’s it! Phone Ellen.
Hayley rushed back to the kitchen, snatched up the phone and dialled Ellen’s number.
‘Hello?’ a male voice said.
‘Mark?’ Hayley whispered into the phone.
‘Hayley,’ Mark said. ‘Trust you to be the first to call for the gossip. How are you?’
Hayley ignored Mark’s cheeriness. ‘Is Ellen there?’
‘Sorry, no. She went to pick up Morgan.’
‘Pick her up?’ Hayley frowned. ‘On a Saturday morning?’
‘Oh, she wanted to go last night.’ He chuckled.
‘What?’ Hayley said, then pressed on. ‘Fine. Will they be back soon?’
‘Any minute now. Shall I ask her to call you?’
‘Don’t bother. I’m coming over.’
‘Okay, see you. Say hi to Chris.’ Mark hung up.
Hayley still had the phone to her ear.
How did he …? Oh Christ, who else knows?
Shaking, Hayley realised she had two choices: leave and rush around Ealing in a sweaty dressing gown or go back upstairs to hunt for her things. While the first option meant she wouldn’t have to confront Chris, she couldn’t bring herself to leave the house so scantily dressed. She crept back upstairs, bracing herself for the inevitable confrontation. She needn’t have worried; he was lying on his back, fast asleep and snoring with his arms stretched out. The room smelled of a fresh fart.
She wrinkled her nose and looked around for her clothes. She spotted a pair of jeans, knickers, bra and a shirt lying on the floor next to ‘her’ side of the bed. They weren’t hers but she didn’t care – she would have donned a Ronald McDonald suit if it meant getting out of there.
Thank you to the publishers, Harper Collins, for sending the extract and for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.
Friday, 3 June 2016
Today I am pleased to welcome Susan Fletcher to my blog. Susan is the author of 'Let me tell you about a man I knew',
Lucy has written a letter which tells us, the reader, about the conception of the story:
Lucy has written a letter which tells us, the reader, about the conception of the story:
A snowy, dark weekend in Amsterdam in 2013 – and I found myself standing before a painting from the Van Gogh Museum. It was an olive grove, late in the day. The trees were in full leaf; the grass was scorched to the colour of earth. It was painted, I read, during the artist’s stay at an asylum in rural Provence. I stood by this van Gogh painting, as if warming myself. As I did, a thought came to me: had van Gogh been alone as he painted this? For these olive groves could not have been painted from a distance, as some of his cornfields had been. I felt certain that his easel had been planted amongst these trees, that he’d left the safety of the asylum’s grounds in order to paint them. If so, how had this been allowed? A disturbed and self-harming patient, walking out on his own? As I stood there, I wondered if he’d been accompanied. And with that, I began to imagine it: a warden – modest, quiet, hard-working – by the artist’s side. At home, I began to research. There had, indeed, been a warden at the asylum in Provence – Charles Trabuc. But he’d also had a wife. And intriguingly, van Gogh had painted them both. It was on seeing Jeanne’s portrait – her high-necked dress as if being restrained, and the soft, sad kindness to her face - that I felt my new novel settle around me. I knew, with certainty, whose story I would tell. Whilst I’ve used van Gogh’s letters, art and numerous biographies as a basis for this novel, Jeanne’s tale is all my own. It is her year, as I imagine it – her year of knowing this extraordinary man and how it altered her.
Susan Fletcher, 2016
The publishers, Little Brown, have kindly agreed to let me share with my blog readers, the first chapter of the book, which I hope will encourage you to buy the book and continue this fantastic read. Enjoy ......
All morning she washes their clothes in the yard beneath the
lime tree, the metal tub by her side. She hunches on a stool.
She unfolds the wet clothes, rubs soap on them and scrubs
the cloth against the wooden board. Rinses. Scrubs. Rinses.
After this, she takes the clothes and hangs them – on a
rope, tied between the lime and the stone wall. She does
this with care, a hand’s width between each garment. Then
with a forked branch Jeanne hoists the clothes so they find
the high breeze and they sway above the flattened earth and
their own shadows and the stool and the metal tub.
She pauses. Looks across the fields.
The breeze finds the hems of her apron and skirt.
Briefly, Jeanne thinks of closing her eyes – to feel this
wind against her, to open her mouth as if drinking it. The
mistral, she knows, tastes cool. But this is not the mistral.
It’s a warm southerly wind – and Jeanne goes back to the
tub, grasps its two handles and lifts it until the tub rests
against her thigh and like this she hurries unevenly to the
west side of their house and the boundary wall where not
much will grow except dandelions and moss. She strains,
momentarily; then there’s a sudden clattering sound and
the tub is on its side and the grey water rushes across the
ground, runs the length of the wall. Jeanne stands, watches
this. When she was young, with every upturned pail she’d
imagine it – this water’s path, its second life. Where now?
What might it do? Jeanne would think of it – the roots, the
dark and dark-scented world beneath her feet where worms
and busy, velvety moles might feel this surge and pause in
their tunnelling, tunnels that took this water to streams or
the Rhône itself, or elsewhere. The sea? Could it find distant
lands? Princes and kingdoms? Or could it – Jeanne’s emptied
bucket – make new trees and flowers grow? Roses because of
She thinks this now, as the water sinks away. Roses that,
if pinned to her hair, would leave a rose-scented trail in her
wake. They grow against south-facing walls, in June and
July. She’s cupped them, inhaled.
When the tub is empty Jeanne props it against the wall to
drain. Walks back across the yard and goes inside.
They watch for the mistral in these parts. Mostly it’s an
autumnal wind – yet it came early last year, blew when the
chestnuts were still forming. It cracked glass. It threw back
every unlocked door so that the town banged on its hinges
and livestock kept to south-facing walls. Mistrau in the local
tongue. Wind of change, of shallow sleep. By November the
hills were powdered with snow and, in the fields, there was
sleet. Jeanne would see the bluish glow of Mont Gaussier in
the afternoons as she walked back through the olive trees,
clutching her shawl to her jaw.
‘Spring will come,’ Charles assured her. In March, green
shoots pushed up near the gate; April was the month of drip-
ping lanes and a frailer, younger bleating in the moving herd
ping lanes and a frailer, younger bleating in the moving herd
of goats. It’s only now, in May, that there’s enough warmth
in the sun to dry clothes or walk without her woollen shawl
and so Jeanne moves from to room to room, unfastening the
windows that have been shut for so long and pushing them
wide so this new, warm air can find its way into the corners
Each window’s clasp cracks at her weight, like a seal.
Each view is known to her. From the parlour, Jeanne can
see the lane and the olive trees beyond. The kitchen, too,
faces the lane – but its second, smaller window looks into the
yard with its drying clothes, the lime tree, the wash-house
and a hen. She opens this window; the hen looks up.
She climbs the stairs to the bedroom – their shared room
with single beds – which sits above the parlour. She’s higher
now, can see more. More olive trees, in their rows; the eaves
of Peyron’s house, beside the hospital walls. If Jeanne leans
out of this window and looks right she can see Mont Gauss-
ier and Les Deux Trous and the five blowing cypress trees
ier and Les Deux Trous and the five blowing cypress trees
and she used to do this in her early married days – lean out,
her hands on the sill and smiling, feeling the sun on her face.
Her best view south. Beneath her, the road to Saint-Rémy.
Sometimes she sees the tops of heads. The dusty spines of
A second bedroom. It looks into the lime tree – green,
And there’s a final room. Was it a cupboard, before they
lived here? Or even a room at all? It’s the highest part of the
house, reached by three more steps, which means it feels safe
to her – a little tucked-away land. It used to be the nurs-
ery. Here she cradled and fed and sang to each boy – and
ery. Here she cradled and fed and sang to each boy – and
this made it her best place in the world, for a time. How
they’d grasp her finger with all five of their own, how they
seemed like fish with their soft, soft sucking sounds and
round, reflecting eyes meant they seemed other-worldly to
her, made for elsewhere. Jeanne rarely comes here now. But
In the kitchen, Jeanne thinks this: he comes from Holland.
Dutch means he comes from there. Her father had had a faded
antique globe, the colour of parchment or yellowed bone.
By the fireside he’d turn it and say, What would you like to
see, mon chou? Anything. All of it. Lands where ebony came
from or where volcanoes were or big, white bears or where
camels trod through deserts with spices and rolls of silk on
their backs. Holland, he assured her, was a flat, flat place –
land claimed from the sea, which the sea wanted back. Dykes
and walls built against it. A blowing sky.
Papa. Two taps of his fingernail. On finding a country,
he’d tap it twice and say to her, See? Just there.
There must be better hospitals than Saint-Paul-de-
Mausole. There must be asylums (although Charles is less
Mausole. There must be asylums (although Charles is less
fond of that word) where the director is well and the paint
doesn’t peel and the food’s more than haricot beans. Where
the fountain works, at least. Yet Salles is bringing this new
patient here? Jeanne knots her apron, looks out at the fading
light and can only suppose that Salles thinks the empty
rooms and overgrown garden at Saint-Paul will suit this
She washes the plates, dries them. She slows in her drying,
fingers the stem of a dark-pink bud. In the rue de l’Agneau,
there was jasmine; she’d make crowns of it, walk home like a
queen. Or she’d press herself into its soft, white curtain with
her arms held out, embracing it – and she’d do this still, if
Dutch. She washes, dries.
When she glances up, dusk has deepened into night.
Thank you to the publishers, Little Brown and the author, Susan Fletcher, for visiting my blog today.