Out with the old and in with the new (boiler).

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I know it’s silly to attach significance to inanimate objects but I’ve been looking at our old boiler for the past week, knowing its days were numbered, and couldn’t help the small pang of…something.

When I first moved in, it was just me; still slightly terrified I now had a mortgage (my dad told me “just think of it as paying rent to the bank instead of the landlord” which helped).

My fear of being a ‘grown up’ only increased when a collection of small problems led to one big problem. It started when my dad tried to replace the lock on my front door on the second day. When we tried to get back in, we couldn’t, which meant two hours camped on the doorstep while we waited for the locksmith to come. Next the furniture arrived early, which would have been good had the the new carpets not arrived late. There was a rather extreme game of Tetris where we tried to cram all of my stuff into one room so the carpets could go down in the others. And then the big one, I turned on the boiler and…nothing. Dead.

My uncle came to check it over and decreed it couldn’t be fixed. It was the end of October, if I remember correctly. And already cold. I’d spent all my money on the deposit for the flat and was in a bit of a muddle – now more than ever pondering whether home ownership really was such a great thing after all.

I phoned around for some quotes. One man couldn’t do it but recommended his mate who could. A week later and the flat was warm for the first time in probably a long time, given the state of the boiler (the man also gave me “mates rates” because he thought I was a friend of the person who recommended him. I wasn’t).

And I started my new life: broke, happily single, loving being able to paint my walls colours I liked for the first time (although the buttermilk was a mistake which had to be painted over a week later because it clashed with the carpet and made me feel sick) and put pictures up without worrying about losing my rental deposit.

I had many lovely times in the flat with my friends and just chilling on my own. I can’t remember ever being lonely.

I’d only planned to stay for five years, maximum, but here we are, more than a decade later, a husband, child and now in need of another new boiler.

It wasn’t with sadness that I kept glancing at it but maybe a touch of nostalgia – the boiler was the first (and last for a while) thing I bought for the flat. It’s been with me since the start. Witnessed the good and the bad.

It’s taken a month to find someone to replace it. Thankfully we’ve still had hot water and mini heaters so it could have been a whole lot worse. It hasn’t been without its stressful moments – such as when I thought I had it sorted, paid a substantial (to us) deposit and the company rang to say it was going to cost AN EXTRA £1400 (I only paid £1700 for everything 10 years ago). I cancelled that one but had to wait 10 days to get my deposit back and also find someone else to replace it.

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The funny thing is, I was having a moan to the nice lady in our local charity shop (where I’d just donated some stuff). She’d only asked ‘how are you?’ but she got more than she bargained for. A man came to the till. He’d overheard our conversation and recommended a company he’d used three times before and highly rated. I called them when I got home, their surveyor came out that afternoon and gave us a quote cheaper than all the rest. At this very moment, the new one is being installed. Hopefully by this time tomorrow we will have heat again.

I wonder what things the new boiler will get to share with us.

What’s the first thing you bought for your home? And have you still got it?

Thank you to those of you who got in contact wondering if I’m ok, much appreciated. Sorry for the lack of posts, I’ve had a lot of stuff on and there just hasn’t been time. All is well. Hope you are too.

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Review: The Sewing Room Girl.

sbavinIf Susanna Bavin ever needs an alternative career, I think she should consider being a hypnotist. 

I’m sure she must have had some training already because the minute I see one of her books, it’s impossible to look away; anything could be happening around me and I wouldn’t notice. 

Her third book, The Sewing Room Girl, is a powerfully written story, full of twists and turns, heartbreak and smiles, that will stay with me for a long time. 

Here’s the blurb:

Born into service, sixteen-year-old Juliet Harper has always idolised her mother, Agnes. But Agnes is haunted by what could have been, and the glamorous life she might have lived if she stayed in Manchester rather than settling down in the Lancashire moorland with her husband.

Life takes another unexpected turn when Juliet’s father suddenly dies. Agnes’s reputation as a seamstress leads to her being taken on by local landowners the Drysdales, where she is proud to work. But it will be a bumpy road for both of them as they settle in to their new lives.

Will Juliet ever be able to choose her own path? And what will become of them when Agnes falls ill?

Every single character pulls their weight. As usual, Susanna’s villains are enough to make me shiver when I think about them, even now. Also, I think plucky, courageous Juliet might just be my favourite of Susanna’s leading ladies (and I don’t say that lightly). 

The time period (1890s) and location seem meticulously researched. Susanna has the perfect touch when it comes to weaving in interesting little titbits of the time without making it seem like a history lesson. 

Her wonderfully warm writing style lured me deeper and deeper into the tale until I felt like I was there living it with them. 

I pre-ordered this one and I will be doing the same with book four.

Format: Kindle.

Price: £2.48 (via Amazon).

My rating:  Five stars. 

Susanna was one of my first Behind The Book interviewees last year, talking to me just before debut was published. You can read more here.

A Look Behind The Book With Shari Low.

B8B6C5EE-10D3-4A57-89C1-6D0BFFC3C49BShari Low is a writer who ticks all the boxes for me – as you will know if you’ve read any of my reviews of her books (I used the word ‘perfection’ to describe one).

Her tangled plot lines, authentic characters and wonderful writing style, which is always bursting with heart, has made her a number one best-selling author. The fact that she is also down to earth, friendly and appreciative of her fans, makes me all the more thrilled for her success.

Currently working on book 24 (wow!), Shari has taken time out to be my latest Behind The Book interviewee (and also my last one of 2018).

I had a proper fangirl moment and struggled to narrow down my questions to a number that didn’t rival a book of its own but here’s what she had to say.

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I love your books and always marvel at the planning that must go into them. I assume you have a huge glass wall where you write complex diagrams using different coloured markers. Am I close?

I so wish I were that kind of writer, positively oozing organisation and structure! The truth is, I plan absolutely nothing. Not a thing. I just start with a vague top-line concept, then type and see where it goes. Every single word of it lives in my head – I don’t write anything down, no post-its, no notes. This is why I become completely consumed when I’m working on a novel, because my mind just lives in that world from the moment I start a book until I type ‘The End’, usually about six weeks later.

While you always wanted to write, it wasn’t until you hit 30 that you actually sat down and wrote the opening chapters of what would be your first book. Do you think the life experience beforehand helped you become a better writer? 

Life experience definitely helped me. I didn’t go to uni or study creative writing in any way. Instead, I worked full time from when I was 16 in a multitude of jobs – sales, recruitment, and managing nightclubs in the UK, China and Hong Kong. By the time I finally sat down to fulfil my lifelong ambition of writing a book, I had loads of stories to tell. Twenty years later, I’m still going.

How on earth do you let your characters go? They seem so real – and I’m just a reader – I imagine they are almost like family to you.

I’m completely hopeless at letting them go! That’s why so many of my characters pop up in later books. In my head, my books are a real world, where you bump into people you haven’t seen for a while, or some of the lives overlap in unexpected ways. One character in particular, Josie, an outrageous, frank, and completely hilarious woman of mature years, stormed into that world back in Temptation Street in 2010, and she’s made an appearance in almost every book since then. She’s based on someone I adored, who passed away many years ago, and it’s my way of keeping that person around.

You’ve written under several pseudonyms, including as Shari King, with your childhood friend, Ross King. I guess the last one is obvious but can you talk about your decision to use pen names?

I think it comes down to style and genre. The books I write under my own name are tales of tangled relationships with heaps of humour and heart. Every now and then, I get the urge to write a raunchy, 80s style bonkbuster, so that’s when I slip on a leopard print jacket with huge shoulder pads and break out the pseudonyms.

You published your most recent book, the brilliant Another Day In December, last month. Will there be any more in this series? (Please say yes). How did you spend publication day?

Yes! I’m working on the third book in the Winter Day trilogy right now – it’ll join One Day In December and Another Day In Winter on the shelves in Oct 2019.

On publication day for Another Day In Winter, I worked all day, then all my mates descended at night. There was definitely gin!

 

As well as your many fiction books, you also published a non-fiction book, Because Mummy Said So, based on your popular parenting newspaper column. Would you consider non-fiction again?

Perhaps. For fifteen years I wrote the weekly newspaper column about the ups, downs, hilarity, and mortifying moments of family life. Because Mummy Said So is a collection of my favourite stories of chaos, mayhem and disasters. However we could only fit so many in the book and there are loads we didn’t use so there’s definitely the possibility of another volume. I was a relentlessly embarrassing, imperfect parent!

On the day you found out about your first publishing deal, you also discovered you were pregnant (big day!). I know your boys are older now but can you share any tips for mums and dads for juggling family life with writing time?

I write everywhere and anywhere, no excuses.  I worked on my newspaper columns and features during the day while the kids were at school, so I had to fit my novels in around that. My boys are both basketball players who have trained every night for the past five years, so my last ten books have pretty much been written while sitting in sports centre car parks drinking tea out of a flask and then overnight while they’re asleep. Oh the glamour! I look fairly close to something from a zombie apocalypse by the time I type the last page.

What’s the best and worst thing about being a writer?

The worst is the ‘head on desk, deadline approaching, oh-I’m-rubbish-at-this’panic that hits me several times during the writing of every book. I’m now on number 24 and it still happens!

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Do you have a top writing tip you could share?

I always like to have at least one character that I’m madly in love with – it makes getting to the desk every morning so much easier!

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Thank you so much to Shari for taking the time to answer my questions. I’m completely blown away by the fact that she doesn’t plan. I’m even more in awe of her work now.

If you’d like to find out more about her please visit her website, Facebook page and follow her on Twitter (she’s very friendly). You can also buy her books via Amazon and all good book shops.

What about you? Are you a plotter or a panster? I was a complete panster until my first go at National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) and now I’m a bit of a mix of both.