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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.

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.

A Perfect Cornish Summer Book Tour – Extract

A Perfect Cornish SummerToday on the book tour for Phillipa Ashley’s latest book called ‘A Perfect Cornish Summer’, sit back and enjoy an extract from the summery tale.

‘I just hope Porthmellow will be good enough for him. If not, it’s tough,’ said Sam. A raindrop ran down her nose. Time was racing by and she had to finish the posters and get to work in Stargazey Pie. ‘There’s no rest for the wicked, eh?’

Chloe nodded. ‘Then I must have been very wicked indeed.’ She tugged her hood forward as the rain came down harder. ‘I must admit the festival is a much greater demand that I expected. No one has any idea of how much work is involved. I’ve run events but none as big as this. Even though we’re all volunteers, it’s still serious stuff.’

‘I don’t think I’ve really thanked you for joining the committee, by the way,’ Sam said. ‘I don’t know what we’d do without you and the other volunteers.’

‘Oh, I wanted to get involved. I can’t bear to sit around doing nothing and it’s been a great way to meet new people.’ Chloe’s eyes lit up at the praise.

Sam agreed. The festival had helped Sam make new friends too and cement relationships with people of all ages and backgrounds. Chloe had said she’d chosen Porthmellow because of the happy holidays she, her daughter, Hannah, and her ex had spent in the area, and the fact that Porthmellow was still was a real community where people lived and worked year-round, not simply full of holiday homes or deserted in the off-season. Even so, Sam thought it must have been hard for Chloe to move so far from home, especially as Hannah was in her first year at uni in Bristol. Chloe clearly adored her daughter, but Sam had yet to meet her. Sam thought, not for the first time, that Chloe must have been quite a young mother to have a daughter at uni. She didn’t look a day over thirty-five.

‘Thanks, Chloe. Will Hannah be coming to the festival?’

Chloe hesitated. ‘I don’t know. I doubt it. She’ll have exams, I expect, and she said something about wanting to go travelling afterwards. I’d be way too busy to see much of her anyway.’

‘I guess so,’ said Sam, detecting an edge of disappointment in Chloe’s voice. Perhaps she shouldn’t have asked. Hannah had shown no signs of making an appearance in Porthmellow since Chloe had arrived eight months ago, so perhaps it was a source of family tension. Sam certainly knew all about that.

You can buy ‘A Perfect Cornish Summer’ from Amazon and is available to buy from good bookshops.

Envy Book Tour – Extract

EnvyOn the book tour for Amanda Robson’s addictive new thriller called ‘Envy’, sit back and enjoy an extract from the thrilling story.

I end up doubled up at the park gate.

About to vomit. Heart pumping. Chest aching. Feeling light-headed, as if I am about to faint. When I have recovered a little I amble home.

The musty smell of my flat crawls into my bones and cradles my nostrils as I limp towards the shower. I turn the water on and wrap myself in a towel whilst I wait for it to warm up. The plumbing grunts and creaks, like an old man climbing stairs.

The water runs brown before it turns clear.

I test the water with my fingers. It still feels like ice. I am tempted not to bother, to just get dressed without a shower, but that is the start of a sort of slovenliness that I don’t want to be guilty of.

I wait another five minutes and then I step into the shower. The water is hot and satisfying now. It pummels my body and the more it presses against me, the more I relax. I soap myself with the lavender shower gel that Mouse bought me last Christmas. I start by lathering my generous thighs. Not taut and firm like yours yet, Faye, still dimpled with cellulite; down, down, towards my tree-trunk calves and broad ankles.

I massage and rub. It feels so soothing. So liberating. Upwards, upwards. Fingers circulating around my gelatinous breasts, my rolls of stomach fat. Fingers soaping into skin crevices. One day, Faye, if I keep working hard, my fat will dissolve, and I will be toned and slim like you.

Showered and dressed. Jeans and a jumper. Grey duffel coat that I have had for twenty years, and a black beanie hat. I step out into a cold sunny morning and wait at the bus stop across the road from your house. Every time a bus comes I ignore it.

Your front door opens and your Zac Efron of a husband steps out carrying a suitcase. A weekend bag. He waves his car keys. Lights flash. The boot opens. He flings the suitcase inside and drives off.

You can buy ‘Envy’ from Amazon and is available to buy from good bookshops.

You can also read my review of ‘Envy’ here.

Keep Her Close Book Tour – Extract

Keep Her Close ‘Keep Her Close’ is the latest book by MJ Ford. On the book for MJ Ford’s new book called ‘Keep Her Close’, sit back and enjoy an extract from the thrilling tale.

Oriel College was nestled in the cobbled streets between the High Street and Christ Church College. Not Jo’s natural milieu by any means, though she couldn’t help but admire the gothic architecture of the entranceway, and the resplendent, perfectly mown quadrangle of grass inside, still coated on the shaded side with the silvery remains of a lingering frost. A sign read ‘Open to visitors’ – term had ended a week or so before, so the majority of students would have left. The city itself was noticeably quieter, enjoying a brief lull before the panic of Christmas shopping really set in.

PC Andrea Williams was waiting just to one side of the quad. As ever, the constable’s height made Jo give her a second glance. She was at least six-two, possibly the tallest woman Jo had ever met in the flesh, and her dreadlocks gave her the appearance of being a couple of inches taller still. Dimitriou called her Andre the Giant, which only he found funny, and which had earned him a verbal warning when Stratton heard him say it. Dimitriou protested that Heidi had once called him George Michael’s less talented, uglier sibling, on the basis of their shared Greek heritage, and the fact that he had murdered a rendition of ‘Club Tropicana’ on a work karaoke night.

‘And I dare you to say it to Andrea’s face,’ Heidi had added. Jo would have liked to see that, because she knew that Williams had been an accomplished judoka before joining the force, only missing out on the national team through injury. She could probably have tossed Dimitriou’s gangly frame from one side of a holding cell to the other.

I’ve just finished the book and really enjoyed the gripping story, check my review here.

You can buy ‘Keep Her Close’ from Amazon and is available to buy from good bookshops.