Tuesday, 21 June 2016

KISSING FROGS AND DOGS - New release

Tomorrow (22 June) will see the release of my 11th full-length novel, 'KISSING FROGS AND DOGS' - and you can pre-order now for delivery to your Kindle as soon as it goes live! Also available in paperback at Lulu.

THE BLURB:

Daisy's given up on love.
 
She's had the dirty done on her once too often and has put her heart on ice.
 
A chance meeting with a sexy singleton leaves her kicking herself - what a time to become a Born Again Virgin! - but when he suggests she gets a dog for company, she can't begin to imagine the complications that follow.
 
Join Daisy as she falls head over heels with her four-legged friend, discovers that not all men are mongrels and realises that sometimes, once you stop looking, you'll find exactly what you've been searching for.

 
‘KISSING FROGS AND DOGS’
Which one will lead to a fairy-tail ending?


I'm often asked where I get my inspiration from and, with this book, the answer is easy.  Around about last June I decided that the need for a dog in my life was too great to ignore anymore.  The time was right and a niggling thought began to tell me that it was almost essential that I listened to my gut feeling.  Much searching online, convinced that I'd find a dog who 'spoke' to me, and two months later a black bundle of fur, fun and love came into our lives in the shape of Alfie.

I'm a firm believer that many things happen for a reason. Why was it suddenly the right time to take on another little life?  For those who know me well, it's blindingly clear.  Alfie came to help me during the difficult time of my mum passing and to remind me to smile through the grieving process.  In short, he's been my saviour.

So, that got me thinking about how a dog can change a life and thus 'KISSING FROGS AND DOGS' was born. Alfie was by my side as every word was written.  He was my buddy when I returned to work after losing my mum thinking I'd never get the book finished and he forced me to get up and get on with it - and on the days I couldn't, to just go walking until the block lifted.

Without Alfie, there would be no book.  Although don't tell him that - he might want me to give him his share of the royalties to feed his addiction to Doggy Chocs.

So without further ado, here's . . .


Chapter One

'I really think that tonight may be the night, Grace.  Women get a feeling for these things, don't they?'

I was celebrating my twenty-eighth birthday with my best buddy and a mountain of cakes, sandwiches and Earl Grey tea at a posh hotel in Mayfair.  We'd talked about doing it for years and, with the money finally in my account from a particularly lucrative illustrating job, I'd decided to treat us both.

Through a mouthful of egg and cress, Grace replied, nodding enthusiastically, 'Oh, deffo!  When Milo proposed, I practically said yes before the question even had a chance to form on his lips - I just knew it was coming.'  She rubbed her enormously pregnant tummy and continued, 'Oooh ... pass me another smoked salmon sarnie.  Bubba's hungry today.'

Grace and Milo's whirlwind romance and almost instant baby making had given me hope in the wilderness of single life and disastrous dates.  Theirs was a classic love story that made your heart flutter and your pulse quicken - every girl's dream.  In true tradition, their eyes had met across a crowded bar and ... bam ... within a flash, they knew.  There was no going back - they were done for!  He'd bought her a drink, asked her how many babies she wanted and within a week he'd proposed.  No one questioned it.  They were just so right.  He adored everything about her and she reciprocated.  Their happiness gave the rest of us saddo singletons the faith we needed to keep on looking and to believe that love was out there for us somewhere.

Shortly after Grace and Milo married, I bumped into Reece - quite literally.  I was late for a meeting with an author and their publisher, and my head was filled with pixies, magic dust and flying unicorns.  No, I hadn't been on LSD - my mind's usually away with the fairies because that's what I do best.  My speciality, as my friends call it, is LaLaLand.  It's a cosy place to live and certainly beats the real world.  When the going gets tough, I sketch a mystical creature who bestows love on the world and everything is sparkly and shiny again.

Anyway ... I digress.  Bumping into Reece shook me up a bit.  You see, I'd convinced myself that I'd have the same thunderbolt moment with the man of my dreams.  After all, as best friends, hadn't Grace and I always spookily followed one another in the patterns of our fortunes - good and bad?

Let me give you a few examples so that you don't start to get the impression that I'm totally loop-de-loop and I think you'll see what I mean:

I lost my beloved mum when I was only fifteen.
Grace lost hers a year later.

My dad remarried an older lady - the lovely Elsa.
Grace's dad also found love again - except he bought himself a rather young Thai bride on the internet and was happily knackering and bankrupting himself.

My dad has since passed away but he left me with the best stepmum I could have hoped for.  Grace's is OK too but she looks more like a lady-boy and constantly pinches Grace's clothes and her dad's money.

We both failed our driving tests three times before we eventually passed, had our tonsils out at eleven, had crushes on two separate boys called Tim when we were in the sixth form and neither of us passed our GCSE maths despite numerous attempts.

You see?  So, once she met her Prince Charming, I just knew that it wouldn't be long before I followed suit and I was ready and waiting, legs waxed and sexy underwear on ice.

My collision with Reece was just the way I'd come to expect my own love story to begin.  Lady Luck, fate, Cupid, or whoever had the responsibility for the meeting of soul mates, had plotted and planned to lead us both to that moment when we made our connection - in our case, my head with his back as I hurried through one of those stupid glass spinny doors where you're meant to stay in your own section.  As we both spewed out the other side of it and I fell in a heap on the marble entrance hall, he bent to pick up my bag, file, umbrella and mobile and I swear I heard angels singing.  The bemused twinkle in his eye set off butterflies I didn't even know I had - certainly far more than any that had ever fluttered before.  This was it!

'Well, I've heard of falling for someone, but this is ridiculous!' he said as he took my hand to help me to my feet.

Corny?  Yes!  Win me over?  What do you think?

My poor besotted brain struggled to get through my scheduled meeting - not helped by the fact that the book I'd been asked to illustrate was about a Princess bride and her excruciatingly handsome Prince - because after helping me from the floor, Reece had asked if he could meet me for coffee.  Just to see that I hadn't broken anything, he'd said with yet more of that wonderful eye-dancing stuff.

It had been almost six months since that joyous day and I was walking on Cloud Ninety-Nine.  He was good looking, solvent, generous, attentive, funny and rather good in bed.  The only downside was he worked a little too hard - always at weekends - and I worried that I might end up being a lonely wife and mother.  A small price to pay though for having him in my life, but I was sure that once the first stunning baby came along he'd cut down on his hours a bit.

'Where's he taking you?' Grace asked as she devoured a slice of Madeira cake.  'That could give you a better idea.'

'He's booked a table at The Ivy.  Pretty special, huh?'

Grace smiled approvingly, pouring more tea into our fine bone china cups.  'Oh yes!  That does seem like he might be about to pop the question.  Have you got something new to wear?'

'I bought a gorgeous little black dress and some killer heels.  Figured I couldn't go wrong with those.'

'Lucky you!  I couldn't get this bod anywhere near anything little right now - and as for killer heels, just about any shoes cripple me at the moment.'

'Yes, well with any luck, this time next year it'll be me complaining about those sorts of problems.  Oh, Grace!  I can't wait!  Why can't it be eight o'clock already?'

'Promise me you'll ring me as soon as you can.'  Grace was clearly as excited as I was and she suddenly looked all dreamy-eyed as she stared far into the distance.  'Oh, I can just see it now - the candlelight, the soft music playing in the background, you looking good enough to eat and him all chiselled and groomed.  He'll be a little nervous - and you'll be cacking it - but he'll take your hand ever so gently and then he'll utter those words ... bloody hell ... he's over there with another woman!'

I'd been so wrapped up in Grace's description of how things might play out, like a child being lulled by a bedtime story, it took me a while to feel the impact of the dropped bombshell.  What on earth could she possibly mean - over there with another woman?

Grace had carefully placed her delicate cup and saucer onto the table and, as my eyes turned to see where she'd been looking, I kind of wish I'd done the same myself.

Dropping Royal Doulton porcelain on a marble floor makes one hell of a racket.

*****

Luckily we were at a table where we could see them but were obscured enough by a giant pillar for them not to be able to see us.  It brought bile to my mouth to watch them but it had to be done.  Maybe she was his sister or just a friend?  Maybe we were over-reacting.

The kiss he gave her as he got up was our first clue, swiftly followed by two kids who appeared from a table behind him uttering the words, 'Bye Daddy.  See you later.'

Pretty conclusive evidence, I'd say.  Wouldn't you agree?

'Oh, Daisy!'  Grace looked positively sick - either with sympathy or from excessive cake and sandwich consumption - and I pretty much felt the same.  'What are you going to do?'

I could barely think straight but I knew I couldn't just let him get up and walk out of the hotel without him knowing he'd been rumbled.  Gathering every bit of my courage and taking a massive breath, I stood and began to approach the treacherous bastard.  It would be cold comfort but I just wanted to see the look on his face when he realised that his game was up.

The woman I now assumed to be his wife smiled pleasantly at me as I got closer to their table.  Reece had his back to me as he readied to leave and turned to see who she was acknowledging.  He may just as well have had 'Guilty' branded on his forehead - the colour drained from his face, he gulped, his eyes darted like a cornered animal and I could almost hear his sphincter pucker.

Good.  He deserved it, and a whole lot more, and it was on the tip of my tongue to reveal the whole sordid story there and then - to let his, really rather pretty, wife know what a cheating heel he really was.

But then I saw his kids - two girls, wide-eyed and innocent.  Probably Daddy's girls who believed that he was the best man in the world.  I realised then that I couldn't do it to them, I couldn't rob them of that.  A vision of my own dear dad popped into my head and I had to swallow down a mounting sob.  It was because of him that I'd followed my chosen career path.  Years of bedtime stories filled with dragons, magical people and fantasy lands read in his myriad of voices had given me a vivid imagination and a dreamy outlook on life.  In light of recent events, maybe too dreamy, but I couldn't shatter these little girls' lives.  I may have drawn many wicked witches but I would never be one.

'Reece!  How lovely to see you,' I said as lightly as I could manage.  Grace later told me that it was Oscar worthy.  I then turned to his wife and added, 'Hi.  I'm Daisy.  Reece and I worked together years ago.'

'Pleased to meet you,' his wife replied, offering her soft and beautifully manicured hand.  'Was that at Newton Pierce?'

'Yes!  Yes, that's right,' Reece cut in hurriedly.  'Good to see you again, Daisy.  Where are you working now?'

Taking my final look at him and meeting his gaze head on, I replied, 'Oh, I don't work any more.  I'm married with two kids.  You know … these things happen, don't they?'

The colour returned to his face in a flush but he was unable to answer and I was done with him.  I just needed to get out while my dignity was still in one rather fragile piece.

'It was nice to finally meet you,' I said to his wife.  'Reece used to talk about you so much,' I lied with my last reserve of fake jollity and then, as I turned to walk past Reece, I mumbled loud enough for only him to hear, 'May you rot in hell, you stinking piece of crap'.

As birthdays went, it wasn't the best I'd ever had.

*****

Grace insisted that I went home with her and stayed for dinner with her and Milo.

'You can't be alone and miserable on what should have been your special day.  It's unlucky.'

'Unlucky?  Not much more can go wrong, can it?  I thought I'd be betrothed by now and instead I'm single once again and feeling like a complete and utter mug.  I hold you two wholly responsible.  If it wasn't for the fact that you and Milo had given me such unrealistic expectations, I'm sure I wouldn't have been quite so gullible.'

'That's a bit unfair, Daisy,' Milo said gently.  'We were as surprised by it all as you were.  The right man's out there for you somewhere though - you just have to believe.'

As Grace placed a bowl of ice-cream with a lit candle for me to blow out, I said, 'Well, I don't believe any more and ...' extinguishing the candle with a violent huff, added, 'You wanna hear my birthday wish?  I wish that my heart becomes like stone and I never let another man take me for a ride again.  I'm done with love!'

I hope you enjoyed the taster - and remember, you can pre-order NOW!  Also in paperback at Lulu.

Alfie has his copy!
 

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Happy Birthday Mr Misfit

The lovely Mr Misfit will be 60 next week so we obviously had to celebrate in style.  After too many parties in the house, involving weeks of work and food prep, we decided to take the easy route and book a room in a local pub and let them take on the hard graft. Food, booze, clearing up - sorted!

We booked the fantastic double act 'For The Boys' - after seeing them regularly at The George Tavern - for a vintage singalong and decided the ideal theme would be 'Dress in the Era of Your Choice'.

For decorations we decided on good old British and Aussie bunting (Mr Misfit's roots) with some flags for waving (à la Last Night of The Proms) and some photos of the Birthday Boy through the ages.

'For The Boys' did a fab job of getting everyone singing along to classics from the 30's to the noughties and then we handed over to our son for the dance tracks.

It was most definitely a night to remember, with friends embracing the theme and turning up in their finery.  We had everything from cowboys to flappers, French Revolution through to the 70's and a Madonna!

Many photos below but I think, on this occasion, they speak louder than words.

It had to be a Mummy Misfit dress, didn't it (?) complete with my Godmother's ORIGINAL 1940's astrakhan stoal.

The Misfit with 1960's Nonteen

... and the Alfie dog in his matching Misfit bandana.

With my Mr Misfit birthday boy

"For the Boys" - our entertainment, always ready for the camera!

Leading everyone in 'Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes'

Getting into the British spirit!
A good ol' Sing-a-long

Big night, little dog ...

The three of us ... and the new James Bond.

Sexy sirens

Make love, not war

There's always the photo-bomber ...

All the nice girls love a man in uniform

Mr Misfit over the years

Saints and Sinners

Howdy Pardner!

The Twitter Girls

A very British (and Australian) Affair

In full swing

Yin Yang Bonds

Mr Misfit takes the cake

Wasn't he a cutie?

Doing 'New York, New York'

The Misfit and Madonna

"Over and Out" - Mission accomplished.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

In Rainbows ...

Apologies for the blogging break but ... well, between trying to hang on to my sanity and get a book finished, I haven't really felt up to it.

Today though I do have a story that I want to share with you. It's something that happened yesterday that made me realise that my mum is with me all of the time and she will find ways of showing me.

We need to go back in time a bit to get the full picture, so bear with me.

I lost my dad when I was eighteen.  As a Daddy's Girl, this was tough and I would cry myself to sleep at night longing for him to visit me or, at the very least, give me a sign.

Then I had 'the dream' ...

There were huge fluffy clouds and the most amazing light - pretty corny so far, huh?  Poking through the clouds was a stunningly vibrant rainbow but it was actually an arched ladder and my dad was at the top of it with a paintbrush.  He turned and looked at me - he was really happy and clearly pretty chuffed with himself - and I asked what he was doing up there.

'This is what I do now,' he said simply.  'I paint the rainbow.'

Well, as he was a painter and decorator during his time on earth, this seemed a perfectly logical explanation and - in the time honoured tradition of bad story-telling - I woke up!

But ... I woke up happier.  He'd given me that sign I'd asked for. Even my son, as a child, used to point to the sky and say, 'Look what Granddad did!'

So imagine my surprise thirty-four years later when my lovely mum called us to her bedroom to say her final goodbyes and within the hour a rainbow had appeared in her back garden.  You couldn't make it up, could you?  My dad was there, ready to take her to be safe and he was telling us he loved us.

My Dad's rainbow in my Mum's garden
Then yesterday I was going to a friend's for lunch and I was dreading it.  My mum would always come along with us and sit and chat to his elderly mum and it just seemed wrong going without her.  Our friend had been thoughtful and set the table in a different room to where we would normally eat so that we didn't feel like there was an empty space and we had a lovely lunch - but it still felt odd.

When you're grieving, you become adept at painting on a smile and chatting as if you haven't got a care in the world but suddenly I found that I was smiling and really feeling it.

Because I'd looked out over my friend's back paddock and there she was - only this time with my dad.  His MASSIVE, vivid rainbow ... and later the shadow of a double rainbow by its side, which Mr Misfit joked wasn't as bright because she hasn't been 'up there' long enough to earn her stripes!


She was looking over me, after all!

Thanks Mum - as always, you were there when I needed you and I hope I did the same for you too while I was lucky enough to have you.

I found this song - says it all.




Thursday, 4 February 2016

Grief

Grief.
Such a short word.
But it hurts.
Sometimes.
Other times it leaves you numb and feeling like you're looking down at yourself - a bit like you're detached from your body or waking up from a nightmare.

My lovely mum is gone.  How did that even happen?  Silly question.  She was 88, had come to the end of her journey and ... pffft ... passed.  But at 51, I wasn't ready.  There was still so much to say and so much I THOUGHT I could do for her. I was wrong. Time ran out and that stinks.

So what does grief and the stupid grieving process mean to me?

* feeling like my life will never be the same again. And of course it won't.
* hating the fact that my life will never be the same again. And panicking.
* lying in a bath until it goes cold because I don't see the point of getting out.
* forgetting to get dressed. Again, what's the point?
* constantly saying sorry. 'Sorry Mum. I could have done this or I should have done that.'
* wondering when I'll feel 'normal' again.
* not wanting to feel 'normal' again.
* trying to find 'me' in a new routine.
* not having a routine.
* making excuses to myself for not going back to her house.
* (this is a bad one - don't think I'm totally evil, please) looking at old people and asking why they're still alive and my mum isn't.
* contemplating 'What's it all about?' Is she really with my dad now?  Is she really finally at peace and happy?
* asking myself if I'll ever write again.  How can I immerse myself in a world of fluffy fun and frippery when my heart is black and heavy.
* knowing that my mum would give me a good telling off and tell me she was proud of me and FORCE me to write again.
* praying that the 'Oh no' feeling will stop and I'll wake up one morning and see some joy again and a reason to get out of bed.

THAT'S what grief means to me.

On the upside ... I've lost a stone in weight and truly know that I am feeling this pain because I had the best mummy ever.

And she will help me find my way.

Somehow.

With my Mum on her last birthday

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

When Data Protection fails

When does Data Protection cease to be in the interests of those it claims to protect?

Well, let me tell you a little story ...

Today was book launch day for me so Mr Misfit and I headed to our lovely local pub on Putney Common with The Alfie Dog for a quick lunch and a glass of wine.  As we crossed the common we spotted two lads on a scooter chucking (what I thought was) a bag of rubbish.  Grumbling and complaining about their lack of consideration for our environment, we approached it. It was only when we got closer that we realised that it was a hand/baby changing bag. Once we realised that the bag contained a purse, bank cards and car/house keys it was too late. The little b*stards had done a runner before we could get their number plate.

SO ... off we headed to the pub where the young barmen were very helpful, offering the phone and advice.

Far more helpful than the police when we called 101.

'We don't deal with lost property.'
Erm, it's not lost property, it's clearly a theft (or possibly a mugging and the poor woman could be bleeding to death somewhere?!)

Furthermore, they only took details of where the bag had been dumped and OUR contact numbers - not the victim's name or address, which was on her driver's licence.

We then asked if they could contact her via the DVLA, knowing they have access to their records.
Nope!
Really?  Wouldn't that make sense? Give her a call, put her mind at rest and stop her cancelling her cards or having her house locks changed?

OK. So, following their guidance (I use that word loosely), we called NatWest and asked if THEY could give her a call.  We were then told that they could only report her card as stolen.  Even when we explained that we didn't expect for them to give us her number, all we wanted was for them to contact her and say we had her bag, bank cards and HOUSE keys - with her ADDRESS - we hit a brick wall.

Madness!

It seemed easier to head to  her house - basically giving up on a world that has gone PC to the point of obstruction.

No-one home.

Left a note and our mobile number.

Eventually we received a call from a police constable who told us that he was with the lady who was terrified that the b*stards might have broken in to her home with her house keys. No sh*t, Sherlock!

To cut a long story short, we have now delivered the bag back to the frazzled mum and, had the system worked more efficiently, she might not have had QUITE such a crappy day.  She told us that the police were just leaving her house and telling her that she'd need to have all the locks changed, at considerable expense, when she just happened to see our note in the letterbox.

She called us her 'angels'.

If it wasn't for 'angels' like us and if the bag had fallen into the wrong hands, the police and the banks would have been partly responsible for the possible outcome. Surely authorities should act while the trail's still hot and realise they have it within their power to shorten the victim's agony by reuniting them with their precious belongings as quickly as possible and prevent any further angst.

God help us if the man in the street has more common sense than those whose duty it is to 'protect' us.

Monday, 23 November 2015

There’s a new Cat Café in Town

FANFARE PLEASE ... !

'Catnaps & Flapjacks' is now available to pre-order from Amazon for your Kindle.

Release date is still WEDNESDAY 2nd DECEMBER but if you order now it can be on your Kindle the minute it goes 'live'.

DOUBLE FANFARE ... !

Cover reveal, including the back cover/blurb for the paperback which can soon be bought at Lulu.com.  Details to follow shortly.

Here's my lovely new cover ... 

[Click to Enlarge]

... and the blurb on the back:
[Click to Enlarge]

Kindle copies can be bought NOW in the UK and US (elsewhere please check your local Amazon site)

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Pull up a Seat at 'Catnaps & Flapjacks' !

As promised, here's the blurb and the first chapter of my next release, 'Catnaps & Flapjacks'.

If you're tempted to read more, it will be available to pre-order on Amazon for Kindle from 25 November for release on 2 December.  It will also be out in paperback at Lulu.com from the beginning of December.
 

THE BLURB

Abandoned and fostered as a babe-in-arms,
I've spent my life yearning to belong.

Pregnant at 16 by the boy I loved, I thought I'd found my happy place.
How wrong I was.

Becoming a grandmother at 34, I believed my daughter and granddaughter
were all I needed - along with the cats I cherish in my café.
Wrong again!

Suddenly people from my past are crawling out of the woodwork
and hot men are coming along like buses.

Grab a coffee and a cake at
'CATNAPS & FLAPJACKS'
and snuggle up with one of my fur-babies
as my story unfolds.

* * * * *


Chapter One

‘So, after ogling his cute little buns for approximately two hours, five minutes and nineteen seconds - not that I was counting or anything - he finally came over and spoke to me.’

Ross was putting the finishing touches to our last batch of cupcakes and filling me in on his night at a newly opened gay bar he’d been so excited about visiting.

‘And …?’ I asked as I wiped down the surfaces and checked that we were on schedule for opening time.

‘Oh Ellie.  I could have cried!  In fact, little tears of pain did spring to my eyes!  You could have stripped paint with his breath.’  He paused and wiped his hands on his frilly pinny, emblazoned with the sequinned words ‘Diva on Duty!’  As he shook his head with a huff, he continued, ‘You know what it reminded me of?  Remember that time Rupert had his gammy tooth and it cost you a fortune at the vet?  It was exactly the same rancid stench.’

Oh yes, I remembered it well and the smell, combined with the memory of the bill, almost brought tears to my eyes too.

‘Not your dream man, after all then?’ I stated obviously as I removed my dirty apron and replaced it with a clean one.  ‘Still … plenty more fish in the sea, eh?’

‘In the sea?  Pfft!  I reckon he had a whole shoal of dead ones hiding under his tongue!  Uggh.  I could vom just thinking about it.’

Poor Ross had been looking for ‘lurve’ for as long as I’d known him.  Not the type for endless one night stands, his dream was to settle down with Mr Reliable.  He hankered for cosy nights in front of the TV, weekends in the country and the ideal of living with and being cherished by his soul mate.

‘I give up Ellie!  I’m going to die a lonely old man surrounded by cats and stinking of pee and flea spray.’

‘Ross!  Will you stop it?  You’re thirty years of age - you’re not going to die lonely.  And anyway, I wouldn’t let you.’

Smiling bravely, Ross sighed and said, ‘Well as lovely as that is, Elles, I think we need to remind ourselves that you don’t have the necessary qualifying equipment so you kind of fall at the first hurdle.  And anyway, you’ll no doubt be married to the sensible Stefan by then - I don’t think he’d take too kindly to me muscling in on the act, do you?’

Opening my mouth to reply, I quickly closed it again as I realised it wasn’t the time to tell Ross about Stefan’s proposal the previous night or my lacklustre reaction and the confused feelings which seemed to have set up camp in my head, leaving me tossing and turning into the early hours.

No.  I needed to come to terms with the whole idea before I discussed it with anyone - in particular my prickly and stubborn daughter, Poppy.

That was not a conversation I was looking forward to.


*****


‘Well as long as you don’t expect me to call him Dad, it’s up to you what you do.’

Poppy was in her usual ‘shut-down mode’ as she handed cubes of cheese and cucumber to her good-natured three year old, who was happily flicking through a sticker book whilst chewing and humming.

‘Ria!  Will you please just eat and stop messing about,’ my daughter reprimanded unnecessarily - and I found myself, not for the first time, wishing that she’d just lighten up a little.

Stroking my granddaughter’s head and winking at her, I soothed, ‘You’re a good girl, aren’t you Sweetheart?  Eat up for MumsMum,’ I encouraged, using her pet name for me.

I was rewarded with the smile that never failed to melt my heart - a smile I couldn’t imagine life without.

And yet becoming a granny at the tender age of thirty-four had come as quite a shock - but what right did I have to judge?  Poppy had simply followed in my foolish footsteps and fallen pregnant before she’d even hung up her school uniform.  Yes, we’d both ‘got caught’ - as my headmistress had so delightfully put it - at the age of sixteen as a result of our first foray into the complicated world of sex.

That was where the similarities ended though.  My ‘happy accident’ had actually been premeditated.  I'd been in love, believed I was being loved in return and I'd planned to create a little being who would feel cherished and wanted - one who would become the centre of my universe.

Yes, I knew how Poppy had come to be and I also knew how close we’d been, how happy and carefree she’d been until the day she fell pregnant.

That was the day I lost her, when she pushed me away and refused to let me - or anyone else - in.  Almost four years later, I was none the wiser about the father or the circumstances behind how it happened.  It was a story she still wasn’t prepared to tell.


*****


I’d lost count of the foster carers I’d stayed with by the time I was thirteen.  They’d begun to morph into faceless, nameless blobs who offered me a bed, put a roof over my head and food in my stomach.  They did their jobs well and I couldn’t fault them but, although they cared, they didn’t love.

To be fair, most of them weren’t given the chance to even start to love me, as the authorities seemed to think that it was perfectly acceptable to move me from pillar to post at the drop of a hat.  By the time I’d reached ten, I was an old hand - after all, I’d been offloaded since I was a few months old - and so I developed the knack of living out of a suitcase - what was the point of unpacking only to move on again?

There were always reasons for my upheaval - some that I could understand and others that made no sense to a young, vulnerable girl in desperate need of stability and a family to call her own - but I learnt to spot the signs.  My social worker Pat would arrive with her briefcase and folders, there would be muffled chat in another room and then she'd join me for ‘The Pat Chat’.

Over the years I’d heard it all - foster mum was going into hospital, foster dad had changed his mind, foster mum was pregnant, foster parents had decided to adopt a baby and wanted to devote all of their time to their new child.  It seemed that nobody wanted me ‘for keeps’ and that hurt.

But at thirteen, everything changed - at least that’s what I’d thought at the time.

Arriving at 21 Flaxton Avenue on that bitterly cold December afternoon had felt different - I had no idea how but it just had.  Despite the sprinkling of snow on the pavements and the black ice on the roads, I’d felt warm and cosy for the first time in my life and I liked it.

Eric and Eileen had welcomed me with open arms and I’d stood in awe, gaping at their gaudily dressed Christmas tree, which was surrounded by enticing looking parcels and boxes.

‘Father Christmas came early this year, my love,’ Eileen told me with an easy grin.  ‘Lots of goodies under there for you - and not too long to wait now!’

She’d then taken my hand in hers, ordered Eric to get the hot chocolate ready and told me she’d show me to my room and help me to unpack.

For once, I didn’t question the logic in taking all of my things from their cases and placing them in beautifully scented, lined drawers as I looked at the comfy duvet on my pretty bed.

I was staying.  I was home.


*****


In their mid-sixties, my new foster parents had devoted their lives to caring for children.  Their flock-papered walls proudly displayed photographs of all the lives that had come into theirs - some for short stays, the majority until they were old enough to leave and care for themselves.  Most of them were still in contact with Eric and Eileen - one big happy family.

To name just a few, there was Adrian who lived just around the corner with his wife and son, Maggie who had moved to Ireland but often came back for visits and Lillian who popped in every day on her way home from work.

Sometimes I could be found engrossed by their little ‘Rogues Gallery’ as Eileen affectionately referred to it, and Eric would come in and tell me stories about them that made me laugh.  I loved to hear about each child and the funny or naughty things they’d got up to and Eric was a great raconteur - although Eileen would often chuckle and give him a telling off with, ‘Oh Eric!  That’s not how it happened at all.  You do exaggerate so.’

In short, I’d never been happier and the icing on the cake was when I started at Newton High School and met Lauren.

It had been a happy coincidence that we both started attending the school in the January term - two lost souls, nervous and terrified, we’d taken comfort in one another and instantly hit it off.

By the end of that first term we were inseparable.  Weekends, holidays and after school would see us at one another’s houses - chatting, studying, practicing our make up skills, confiding our secret crushes or listening to music.

But the thing that really sealed the deal on our friendship was our mutual passion for cats.  As much as I grew to love Eric and Eileen and felt comfortable taking Lauren home, the time I spent at her house was treasured because there were always cuddles of the furry variety.

Major Tom - the fat tabby - and Madonna - the slinky tortoiseshell - gave their love unconditionally and I soon became besotted.  When we found out that Madonna was expecting kittens I could think of nothing else.  I had to have one.

Of course, after two years of living with Eric and Eileen I knew that they were pushovers.  If something made me happy and it was within their power to make it happen, then they would allow it.

When I got the call from Lauren at just gone three o’clock one morning, Eric dragged himself from his bed and drove me bleary-eyed, in his tartan pyjamas, to see the tiny mewing scraps just after Madonna had delivered them.

I knew the minute I set eyes on Pebble that he was the cat for me and Eric nodded in agreement, dabbing at his eyes with his sleeve like the big softie I’d grown to love.

‘He’s a fine cat,’ he declared with a nod.  ‘Yes.  He’ll have a happy home with us.’

I couldn’t possibly have known that within a year, Pebble would be back living with Lauren and that I would, once again, be without love.


*****


Eric and Eileen were killed instantly in the motorway accident that was to change my life forever.  Two days after my sixteenth birthday, when I was riding on the crest of a wave and had well and truly shaken off my insecurities, they’d set off to visit Eileen’s elderly aunt and never returned.

The authorities swung into action again and, being considered a ‘difficult age’, I was allowed to stay with Lauren and her parents for a while before I was moved on to interim care.

And so I went back to living out of a suitcase - no one really wanted a sixteen year old and I just had to accept that while dealing with the grieving process at the same time.  Having Eric, Eileen and Pebble in my life I’d learnt how to love and be loved, and suddenly nothing made sense any more.

Maybe I didn’t deserve that privilege.  After all, my birth parents had abandoned me hadn’t they?  I began to believe that it was all my fault that I'd be alone and unloved forever.

Then I met Robert.

* * * * *