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We Met In December Book Tour – Extract

We Met In DecemberOn the book tour Rosie Curtis’ stunning new book called ‘We Met In December’, enjoy an extract from the first chapter of the Christmas story.

Jess
22nd December, 15 Albany Road, Notting Hill

I pause for a minute outside the house and look up, still not quite believing that this terraced mansion is home. It’s huge, slightly shabby, and has an air of faded grandeur. Six wide stone steps lead to a broad wooden front door, painted a jaunty red that is faded in places and chipped away to a pale, dusky pink. Each window on the road is topped with ornate stuccoed decorations – the ones on our house are a bit chipped and scruffy-looking, but somehow it just makes the place look more welcoming, as if it’s full of history.

Next door on one side is freshly decorated, the black paint of the windowsills gleaming. They’ve got window boxes at every window, crammed full of pansies and evergreen plants. I can see a huge Christmas tree tastefully decorated with millions of starry lights, topped with a huge metal star. There’s a little red bicycle chained to the railings and a pair of wellies just inside the porch. This must be the investment banker neighbours Becky talked about. The mansion on the other side has been turned into flats, and there’s a row of doorbells beside a blue front door.

I rush up the steps and lift the heavy brass door-knocker.

‘You don’t have to knock,’ Becky says, beaming as she opens the door. ‘This is home!’

‘I do, because you haven’t given me a key yet.’ I love Becky.

‘Ah.’ Becky takes my bag and hangs it on a huge wooden coat hook just inside the door, which looks like it’s been there forever. There’s a massive black umbrella with a carved wooden handle hanging beside my bag.

‘Used to be my grandpa’s,’ she says, absent-mindedly running a hand down it. ‘This place is like a bloody museum.’

‘I can’t believe it’s yours.’

‘Me neither.’ Becky shakes her head and beckons me through to the kitchen. ‘Now wait here two seconds, and I’ll give you the tour.’

I stand where I’ve been put, at the edge of a huge kitchen-slash-dining-room space, which has been here so long that it’s come back into fashion. It’s all cork tiles and dangling spider plants and a huge white sink, which is full of ice and bottles of beer.

I think Nanna Beth would be impressed with this. With all of it. I’ve taken the leap.

‘Life is for living, Jessica, and this place is all very well, but it’s like God’s waiting room,’ she’d once said, giving a cackle of laughter and inclining her head towards the window, where a flotilla of mobility scooters had passed by, ridden by grey-haired elderly people covered over with zipped-up waterproof covers. The seaside town I’d grown up in wasn’t actually as bad as all that, but it was true: things had changed. Grandpa had passed away, and Nanna Beth had sold the house and invested her money in a little flat in a new sheltered housing development where there was no room for me, not because she was throwing me out, but because – as she’d said, looking at me shrewdly – it was time to go. I’d been living in a sort of stasis since things had ended with my ex-boyfriend Neil.

Weirdly, the catalyst for all this change had been being offered a promotion in the marketing company where I worked. If I’d taken it, it would have been a job for life. I could have afforded to buy a little house by the sea and upgraded my car for something nice, and I’d have carried on living the life I’d been living since I graduated from university and somehow gravitated back home when all my friends spread their wings and headed for the bright lights of London, or New York, or – well, Sarah ended up in Inverness, so I suppose we didn’t quite all end up somewhere exotic.

But Nanna Beth had derailed me and challenged me with the task of getting out and grabbing life with both hands, which is pretty tricky for someone like me. I tend to take the approach that you should hold life with one hand, and keep the other one spare just in case of emergencies. And yet here I am, an hour early (very me) for a housewarming party for the gang of people that Becky has gathered together to share this rambling, dilapidated old house in Notting Hill that her grandparents left her when they passed away.

‘I still can’t believe this place is yours,’ I repeat, as I balance on the edge of the pale pink velvet sofa. It’s hidden under a flotilla of cushions. The arm of the sofa creaks alarmingly, and I stand up, just in case it’s about to give way underneath my weight.

Becky shakes her head. ‘You can’t? Imagine how I feel.’

‘And your mum really didn’t object to your grandparents leaving you their house in their will?’

She shakes her head and pops open the two bottles of beer she’s holding, handing me one. ‘She’s quite happy where she is. And you know she’s all property is theft and that sort of thing.’

‘True.’ I take a swig of beer and look at the framed photographs on the wall. A little girl in Mary-Jane shoes with a serious face looks out at us, disapprovingly. ‘She’s keeping her eye on you: look.’

Becky shudders. ‘Don’t. She wanted me to come to Islay for a Christmas of meditation and chanting, but I managed to persuade her that I’d be better off coming when the weather was a bit nicer.’

Becky’s mum had been a mythical figure to all of us at university. She’d been a model in her youth, and then eschewed all material things and moved to an ethical

living commune on the island of Islay when Becky was sixteen. Becky had stayed behind to finish her exams with a family friend, and horrified her mother by going into not just law, but corporate law of all things. Relations had been slightly strained for quite a while, but she’d spent some time in meditative silence, apparently, and now they got on really well – as long as they had a few hundred miles between them.

I look at the photograph of Becky’s mum – she must only be about seven. She looks back at me with an intense stare, and I think that if anyone can save the planet, it’s very possibly her. Anyway, I raise my bottle to her in a silent thank you. If she’d contested the will, Becky might not have inherited this place, and she wouldn’t have offered me a room at £400 a month, which wouldn’t have got me space in a broom closet anywhere else in commutable distance of King’s Cross, where my new job was situated.

‘Just going to get out of this jacket,’ Becky says, looking down at her work clothes; then she disappears for a moment and I’m left looking around. The house is old-fashioned, stuffed full of the sort of mid-century furniture that would sell for vast amounts of money on eBay – there’s an Ercol dresser in the sitting room and dining chairs that look like they’ve come straight out of Heal’s. I take a photo of the huge potted plant that looms in the corner like a triffid, and then I wander into the hall. It’s huge and airy, with a polished wooden banister that twirls round and up to the third floor where there’s a skylight – dark just now, because it’s midwinter, but I bet it fills this space with light in the middle of summer. There’s a huge wooden coat stand with a mirror by the interior door, and a porch with ceramic tiles worn through years of footsteps passing over them. The place must be 150 years old, at least. And – I push the sitting room door open – there’s enough space for everyone to collapse on the sofas in a Sunday-ish sort of way. The paintings on the walls are draped with brightly coloured tinsel and fairy lights, and there’s a Christmas tree on the side table, decked with multi-coloured lights and hung with a selection of baubles, which look—

‘Hideous, aren’t they?’ Becky’s voice sounds over my shoulder. ‘I couldn’t resist. They’re from the pound shop so I just went to town a bit. If you can’t be tacky at Christmas, when can you?’

‘I love it,’ I say, and I do. Becky disappears back into the kitchen and I can hear the sound of her warbling out of tune to Mariah Carey and the clattering of plates and saucepans. I stand in the hallway and look at this amazing house that I couldn’t afford in a million years, and I think back to about two months ago when I saw an advert for my dream job in publishing come up and wondered if I should take the chance and apply. And how Nanna Beth had said, ‘Nothing ventured, lovey – you never know what’s around the corner . . .’

If you liked the sound of this book and would like to read more, you can pre-order ‘We Met In December’ from Amazon and will be available to buy from good bookshops from 3rd October 2019.

Once, Twice, Three Times An Aisling By Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen

Once, Twice, Three Times An AislingThe fabulous Aisling is back for a third time with the latest book by Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen called ‘Once, Twice, Three Times An Aisling’.

What the back cover says –

Aisling is thirty, flirty and frazzled.

But – just when she should finally be feeling all grown-up – she’s floundering.

Because when you’re recovering from a broken heart as well as struggling to keep your café as sizzling as your award-winning sausages, it’s hard to feel you’ve really made it as an adult.

Which is just the moment for the unexpected to strike and complicate everything.

Now is not the time for a delicious new man to show up, her best friend to demand the hen do of the century and a surprise celebrity appearance.

But Aisling, never one to worry about having too much on her plate, rolls up her sleeves: she’s got this.

Until she discovers that being a proper grown-up means you can’t do everything.

Sometimes you will let someone down.

But will it be those she loves, or herself?

Can’t wait to see the return of our favourite Irish heroine!

You can pre-order ‘Once, Twice, Three Times An Aisling’ from Amazon and will be available to buy from good bookshops from 19th September 2019.

Win A Copy Of The Girl At The Window By Rowan Coleman

The Girl In The WindowI’ve a copy of Rowan Coleman’s new book called ‘The Girl At The Window’ to give away to one lucky person.

What the back cover says –

Ponden Hall is a centuries-old house on the Yorkshire moors, a magical place full of stories. It’s also where Trudy Heaton grew up. And where she ran away from…

Now, after the devastating loss of her husband, she is returning home with her young son, Will, who refuses to believe his father is dead.

While Trudy tries to do her best for her son, she must also attempt to build bridges with her eccentric mother. And then there is the Hall itself: fallen into disrepair but generations of lives and loves still echo in its shadows, sometimes even reaching out to the present…

To be in with a chance of winning this book, simply answer the below question by leaving your answer in comment box below by Monday 19th August 2019.

What is the name of Trudy’s house?

To find out more about ‘The Girl At The Window’, check out my review.

The Homeless Heart-Throb Book Tour – The Neighbourhood

Crystal Jeans

On the book tour for Crystal Jeans’ new book called ‘The Homeless Heart-Throb’, read about about the neighbourhood that Crystal lived in and the people that inspired the characters.

I was very surprised, upon moving to Pontypridd, that it’s not the shit hole Cardiff people judge it to be. It’s surrounded by lush green hills and its people are so friendly and chatty that it sometimes unnerves me. When I first visited the house to do meter readings, I met my neighbour from three doors away, Ann, an eighty-year-old Shirley Bassey fan. She asked about my ‘partner’ and I, being a coward, played Dodge the Pronoun. Because Pontypridd, that ultimate turkey, voted for Brexit, I assumed it was full of bigots (it might well be).

A few days later, Ann met my ‘partner’ and barely blinked. Maybe she’d become immune? Pontypridd is rammed with lesbians – they are almost as numerous as small blond boys on bikes doing wheelies.
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My new novel, ‘The Homeless Heart-throb’, is about a street and its inhabitants. A neighbourhood. So let’s talk about neighbours.

Growing up in Mynachdy, my next door neighbour was the Purvoe family. A huge gooseberry bush hung over our garden fence, belonging to the Purvoes, and me and my sister would sneak up and pick the gooseberries, only to find we were being watched from the shadows by the creepy father. We told our mum and she said we should call him Purvoe the Pervert. In all fairness to him, we were stealing his fruit.

On the other side of us was a big multiracial family – a blonde white woman who was on disability (everyone thought she was faking it) and her black husband and 5 or 6 good-looking children. I used to spy on the boys through the garden fence (they were boring). A few doors down lived the man who had, according to rumours, sexually abused his daughter and gone to prison for it.

Mostly what I remember about this cul-de-sac is all the miserable old men. They had an intolerance for children (especially, seemingly, young girls) and my mum was always knocking on their doors to give them a bollocking after they’d called me a hussy or a bitch just for standing too close to their parked vans. These days there are less children out playing, and according to my mother, who still lives there, the young adults of yesteryear have turned into miserable old bastards themselves. Garden fences, once chest height, have been replaced by seven-foot pickets and lined with tall trees.

I am not moralising about the diminishing of community here. I value privacy.

The Homeless Heart-throb

Actually, I probably am moralising about the diminishing of community. It sucks.

From the age of 18 I lived in my nan’s house on Banastre Avenue. On one side lives a Greek family, the matriarch who recently died in a gruesome road accident while holidaying in Crete. I remember her washing line getting caught up in our fir tree and helping her untangle her bra from its spiky branches. I couldn’t tell if she was embarrassed or not. The widower keeps his garden gorgeous and has an aviary full of canaries and lovebirds (my cats once snuck in and killed one). The daughter is sometimes friendly and sometimes cold, and it’s like that in the whole street. The only exceptions are the African family two doors down, who are consistently unfriendly (I long ago stopped smiling at them as we passed in the street, partly because the smile would not be returned, also because I was worried my keenness to display friendliness was some sort of micro-aggression) and the Indian family opposite, who are consistently warm.

Actually, the white man from number one is also friendly, but since he shoots pigeons with an air rifle from his bathroom window, I’d rather he wasn’t.

Next door on the other side there used to live a Portuguese family who similarly ran hot and cold (I am aware that I’m no picnic myself). Once, the woman, an artist, asked us to feed her animals while they went on holiday, and when she got back, we told her the cat had an eye infection and should go to the vet. She looked horrified at the idea. My family assumed that she didn’t care about her cat, and maybe this was a cultural thing. Years later I befriended her and learned she was a lovely hippy – a bongo-drumming, anti-vaccine, kefir-brewing, homeopathic hippy with social anxiety and a distrust of big pharma. Lesson learned.

I based the character of chapter three’s Estela on this woman, lazily changing her nationality to Spanish. I knew nothing about her at this point – she was, fittingly, a blank canvas (fitting because she has artist’s block). I made her a secret opiate user. Then, when reading through early drafts of The Homeless Heart-throb, I realised that most of the characters were drug addicts or alcoholics (write what you know!). To have so many addicts crammed into one tiny street seemed far-fetched. I re-wrote some characters, changing an illicit thrill for Tramadol to a craving for Dr Pepper. But you know what? Who knows? Who fucking knows what our neighbours are getting up to?

My next door neighbour in Pontypridd is an oldish couple who look, according to my partner, like a Roald Dahl version of Santa Claus and Mrs Claus. Ann has become Glam Ann, because of her fabulous sense of style. On the right is a family – mum, dad, teenagers. I know nothing about these people. They have yet to give up their secrets, I to give up mine. Perhaps it’s just as well their garden fence is obscured by hedges.

You can buy ‘The Heartless Heart Throb’ from Amazon.

Mummy Needs A Break Book Tour – Extract

Mummy Needs A BreakOn the book tour for Susan Edmunds new book called ‘Mummy Needs A Break’, here’s a taster from the taster.

It had been a long time since he had said anything that flirty to me. And what if there was more to it than just messages? On the one hand, the idea was preposterous. This was my clueless Stephen. He once tied himself in guilty knots when a woman at a party gave him her number.

Later, we discovered she only wanted him to advise which type of steel she should use for her fence. But on the other, he wasn’t the type to message anyone for the fun of it. I had had to show him how to set up reminders to reply to his work emails, and it had been months since he bothered to respond to any of my texts.

Thomas had finally fallen silent in his bedroom, and I could hear Stephen plodding back down the hallway towards me, blinking like he’d returned from a disappointing all-night dance party. He rubbed his eyes as he emerged into the white LED light of the kitchen but stopped in the doorway when he clocked his phone in my hands. He looked at the illuminated screen, then my face and back again. ‘What are you doing?’

‘Who is this?’ I rose to my feet.

I had to grip the cold floor with my toes to keep myself upright.

‘Who are you texting?’

He spluttered, a mottled flush spreading over his face. He looked as if he’d just swallowed something rancid. ‘What?

No one.’

I thrust the phone at him. He snatched it from my hand and looked at the open conversation.

‘What is going on?’ My words were harsh in the balmy evening air.

He pushed the phone away, his hazel eyes sparkling.

‘Nothing is going on. I can’t believe you’re going through my phone.’

You can buy ‘Mummy Needs A Break’ from Amazon and will be available to buy from good bookshops from 19th September 2019.