Friday, 2 June 2017

My new Summer Read - "Getting to Know Me"

Well, here we are at last.  New book, new release date, same old nerves!

My TWELFTH full-length novel will hit Amazon and Lulu on Wednesday 28th June.

In the meantime, here's the cover reveal, blurb and first chapter.

Enjoy!

 

THE BLURB 

Penny seems to have the perfect life.
A fantastic job on a country manor estate
with lodgings thrown in and a fit boss
who's more like a friend.

Everything about her is highly organised.
Except for affairs of the heart.

When conventional methods fail, how far
is she prepared to go to find herself a husband?

At the risk of jeopardising her friendships
- and indeed her livelihood -
can she learn to listen to her heart
rather than her head to discover that ...

... love is what happens while you're
busy making other plans?


 * * * * * 
Chapter One


A word of advice.  Sitting on the loo in a nightclub at three a.m. after a bottle of wine, three glasses of champagne and a tequila slammer is not the ideal place to have a light-bulb moment.  Trust me, being surrounded by other women's hen night vomit, trails of discarded toilet paper and empty tampon tubes really isn't the environment you want to be in when you look in your handbag and realise you've messed up.

Monumentally.

And all because of the wrong bloody evening bag.


*****


That afternoon at work had been totally manic.  Had it been quieter I might not have found myself perched on a clammy toilet seat contemplating my rather dodgy future, because I'd have had the time to head into town and pick up the beaded clutch I'd ordered to go with my outfit for the coming evening.

But no.  From the minute I hit my desk, problems after problems reared their ugly heads until by the time it got to two o'clock, I knew that there was no way I'd be enjoying the relaxing afternoon off that I'd planned.

So I put in a quick call to best friend Evie and mumbled my request through a mouthful of 'egg and stress' sandwich - as my dear mum used to call them.

'Sorry, Pen,' Evie interrupted.  'I can't understand a word you're saying.  Have you been to the dentist or something?  Or maybe you're having some sort of attack at the realisation that you need to call this ridiculous farce of a marriage off.'

Ignoring the wedding lectures that had become part of her daily routine, I carried on regardless.

'Hmmph, cang u ... gulp ... splutter ... collect ... bag ...'

Swallowing down the hurried bite I'd taken, I continued, 'Oh, Evie!  Sorry, it's batshit mad here today.  I haven't had time to scratch and I'm just wolfing down my lunch before I faint from hunger.  I just wondered if you'd have time to nip into Accessorize and pick up the bag I ordered.  I'll be lucky to get away from here before six tonight.  Bloody Logan is driving me up the wall!  I don't know what he'll do when I'm on honeymoon.'

As Evie agreed to run my errand for me and I hung up, Bloody Logan - my boss - appeared in the doorway, clearly having heard what I'd said and smiling in the way that only he can, mud on his wellies, holes in his cashmere jumper and unruly curls going in all directions.

'What will I do when you're on honeymoon?' he repeated.  ‘Hmm, well now, let's see shall we, Penny?  I shall mope and mourn, dragging myself around the estate with ashen face and sunken eyes and the business will more than likely go fun-bags up.  But then you shall return to the fold, wave your magic wand over everything and all will be restored to order.  Oh, and you'll probably realise the error of your ways and be asking me for advice on divorce proceedings because, let's face it Perfect Penny, you are being a bit of a tit.'

Opening my mouth to defend myself, I was stopped in my tracks when he leaned over my desk to wipe a crumb from the side of my lips.

'Got a stray bit of cress there.  Not a good look.'

Licking the offending morsel from his finger, he turned to leave adding, 'By the way, Ma wants to see you up at the manor before you go.  Something about a wedding present.  I told her not to bother 'cos it won't last but you know Ma - can't tell her anything.  My gift to you will be a shoulder to cry on and the name of a good lawyer - you can thank me later.'

Stuffing the last of my sandwich defiantly in my mouth, I pulled a face behind his back.  Why did everyone have such a problem with my impending nuptials?


*****


There are a few things you should know about my job, my boss, my life and how I'd come to be considered (A) Miss Perfect and (B) Momentarily deranged.

Living and working in a small village on the outskirts of Oxford was like a dream come true.  Landing the position at Grangeford Manor was everything I could have hoped for.  It was challenging, varied and fun, allowing me the scope to stretch myself and implement new ideas and initiatives - more of that later - and I'm not blowing my own trumpet here but, had it not been for some of my brainwaves, Logan and his family might not have been sitting quite as prettily on their threadbare silk cushions as they were now.

Anyway, I digress.  Grangeford Manor is the humongous house that sits at the back of approximately ten acres of stunning Oxfordshire land in an area called Sunningford.  With more rooms than I care to count, it houses Logan in the left wing and the rest of his family everywhere else.  Literally everywhere else - scattered like confetti after a windy wedding.  Various staff help to keep the manor running smoothly - I use this term lightly, as chaos seems to be the major force of The Newton-Barr family.  On occasions, Logan's brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews and other assorted waifs appear for short - occasionally longer - stays and I never quite know who might pop into my office at any given time with some weird request.  In fact once Christiana, Logan's youngest sister, asked me to call the doctor for the morning after pill as she was so hung-over her eyes couldn't focus on the phone that her hands were too shaky to hold.

That's the sort of job I have!

But my main role is the organisation and running of the estate's converted barns - one of which is my office, another my home, four permanent rentals and three holiday lets.  Again, there's never a dull moment and the responsibility for these, combined with the events we now offer up at the manor, keep me chasing my tail like a dog with mange.

Logan and I have a great working relationship.  He can fly off the handle and appear distracted and curt sometimes but I've always known how to throw calming waters on his raging fire and, most of the time, we share easy banter and muddle along quite nicely.  Lady Finola, his mother, often joked that we were like an old married couple.  To which I'd blush and Logan would mumble.  He's my boss and my friend - that's all, except things became complicated for a while.  Anyway, the family was always telling me that they didn't know what they'd do without me.  My eye for detail, my efficiency and what they called my natural knack for troubleshooting and muck-cleaning when the shit hit the fan, had got them out of many a scrape over the years.

'She's just perfect!' was the line I'd hear the most.  Which, funnily enough, was what my parents always used to say about me.  It's a lofty description to live up to but my mission in life has always been to simply do my best and never let people down.  Years of being a Brownie, Guide, milk monitor, prefect and Head Girl are deeply ingrained in me.  I make no apologies!

The first seven years here were the happiest I'd ever been.  A new start, a fab career and salary all with stunning digs thrown in.  My social life had never been better, dating came easily to me and I generally had a high old time.  Meeting Spence was the icing on the cake - or so I'd thought.  He was also settled in a great job, had the same OCD tendencies for order and precision as I did and seemed to share a similar set of values.  Of course, Logan never took to him but I became used to his snide comments and allowed them to run off me like water from Donald and Daffy, who liked to come and waddle around in puddles outside my barn door.

It wasn't until my mother became unwell that I started seeing Spence through Logan's eyes - a little too pristine to hang around and witness the ugliness of impending death.  In short, when the going got tough, the tough became a wet fart and scurried off with a stream of pretty poor excuses faster than a priest could read the Last Rites.

Logan and his family on the other hand, couldn't have been more accommodating.  Knowing that my poor mum had a morbid fear of dying in hospital, they converted one of the barn rentals so that she could live out her final months in comfort and with me never more than a moment away.  They employed a nurse for the times that I couldn't be there and, towards the end, they recruited a temp for my job so that I could be by her side the whole time.  Through their kindness I had the comfort of being with her when she passed and for that I will always be grateful.

Suffice it to say, losing my mum took its toll.  My life suddenly seemed to have got stuck on the pause button and I was scared.  An only child, with no other family to speak of, my mother had been my one constant and, still reeling from Spence's abandonment, I found myself questioning the point of anything.  OK, so he probably hadn't been The One but, drained from the trauma of my loss, I felt like an anchorless boat, bobbing around in a turbulent sea with no idea of the direction in which I should be heading.

What is it the experts say about grief?  Don't make any hasty decisions for at least two years?  Yeah, well I didn't listen to that one, did I?  My life wasn't perfect.  It was a mess - and watching someone you love die before your very eyes makes you question your own mortality - I didn't want to die alone.  I didn't want to live alone so I made the decision to take the bull by the horns and get me a husband - even if it meant paying for one.


*****


The rest of the afternoon leading up to my hen night flew by in a haze.  Any trips to the hairdressers or nail bar in preparation for my so called big send-off, flew out of the window as I juggled calls from prospective holiday renters and meetings with cleaning contractors or caterers for various upcoming events.

Logging out of my computer at just gone six, I figured I'd have just enough time for the quickest of showers before heading off to meet the girls at the restaurant we'd booked prior to hitting a club.

'Erm ... Penny?  Here ...'

Logan had appeared in the doorway and was shuffling uncomfortably.  'Take this towards your evening.  I still think you're off your tiny little rocker but ... well, have a good one and have a drink or three on the family.  With any luck a few bottles of bubbly might give you the clarity you need.'

He handed me two envelopes and prepared to leave.  'Oh, and by the way, Ma's conked out after too many lunchtime G&T's so she said she'll see you on Monday but that I should give you this.'  He pointed to the pink envelope in my hand along with the brown one which clearly contained money.  'She apologised for forgetting that she had it but said that you know what she's like and ...'

I'd ceased to hear any other words that came from his mouth as the familiarity of the handwriting on the pink envelope was etched on my brain.

It was from my mum.


*****


'What d'you mean, you didn't read it?  How could you resist?'

Evie had arrived at my barn after work in an attempt to do something with my hair when she'd heard that I'd had to cancel my salon appointment.  The bane of my life, my curls turn to frizz if not completely tamed and my best friend knew how cranky I'd be if I headed out for the night looking like a blonde Ronald McDonald after a trip through a car wash.

'It just didn't seem the right time,' I explained.  'I didn't want to rush it as that didn't seem fitting and I didn't want to be upset before tonight.  I mean, let's face it, nothing's exactly gone according to plan for tonight, has it?  No pampering, no down time and no sodding evening bag to go with my outfit either.'

'Look, Pen.  I've said I'm sorry.  I was running late myself and the shop had just shut by the time I got there.  I did remember to bring that sequinned one that you bought for the launch party up at the manor and then loaned to me for Drew's wedding.  I'm not totally useless - and you have to remember, we can't all be as organised as you.  Come on, have another glass of fizzy and let's get going.  It's not every night I get to be head hen to my best friend.  Let's make this a night to remember and when we get back later, I'll be here when you read your letter from your mum.  You're right, it's probably better that way.'


*****


Fast forward a few hours and we're into the toilet scene again - my moment of spending a penny as another dropped, shall we say.

I'd left the dance floor desperate for a wee and a make-up repair after much raucous dancing and laughing.

Hovering over the toilet seat - years of having 'germs' drummed into me by Mum - I rummaged in my bag for a tissue after discovering that the paper dispenser next to me was empty.

As I pulled it out, something came with it from an inside pocket - damn Evie for bringing this bag for me - my world tilted on its axis, my legs turned to jelly beneath me and my buttocks landed slap-bang on the cold, damp loo seat.

Mum would not have approved.

Studying my find in my hand, time stood still and my heart almost stopped with it.

A Polaroid photo taken up at the manor's launch four years previously.  Crinkled and a little torn at the edges.  A snapshot in time.  In many ways, history - in other ways still so very much the present.  Him and me.

My boss - and what I suddenly realised had been my secret and buried crush for more years than I cared to remember.  But sadly not the man I was about to head down the aisle to in a week's time.

Because - and prepare yourself - I'd never actually set eyes on the man who I was due to marry.  Truth.  Oh, I'd been sent an image in an email but that was the sole extent of my visual knowledge of him.

And in a flash I could at last see why everyone had declared me totally bonkers.  My decision to take control of my life and force things that should come naturally suddenly seemed like a bad idea.  A very bad idea indeed.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

The Little Things


On this day, last year, I shared a very special meal with the most important woman in my life. My lovely mum, of course.

It wasn't in a fancy-schmanzy restaurant with bubbles and fawning waiters.  We weren't dressed up to the nines, knocking back the wine (our favourite tipple).  It was on the side of her bed at her bedside cabinet, in the cosiness of her bedroom, with her tucking into fish and chips that my husband had prepared.  I remember he'd over-cooked the criss-cross chips as (for obvious reasons) life was a little chaotic at the time but my mum wolfed them down like a woman possessed declaring that she was starving!  We laughed and joked and, for a while, I let myself believe that all would be well in the world.

Just that afternoon she'd been visited by an acupuncturist who seemed to have worked her magic and prior to that we'd been giggling with my sister as we tested our mum on her times tables.  Boy, was she good at those!  Years of war-time schooling that drummed them into you were to be thanked for that.

After her meal, she said she wanted a wash.  I wasn't to know but this was to be the last time I would pamper and preen her - a full wash from the sink as she perched on the loo seat, legs and arms moisturised with new smellies she'd received for Christmas, a clean nightie and then back into bed where she cheekily 'ordered' cheese and biscuits because she was still 'starving'!

The next day, quite calmly, she called us all in to say her goodbyes.  I wouldn't have thought it possible for someone to be so clear-headed about the fact that it was time to leave the world unless I'd witnessed it for myself.  She knew - it was as simple as that - and she wanted to make sure that she'd said what she needed to.

Heart-breakingly sad but, at the same time, so lovely when you think of how many people don't get the chance to plan and say their farewells and then leave this world from the comfort of their own bed surrounded by love.

I guess the point of this piece - other than to honour and remember my mum - is to say take the time to do little things with those you love because you just never know if it's going to be your last chance.

I treasure that evening with my mum.  It will be etched in my heart forever and tonight I'll raise a glass to her and I know that she'll remember why I'm doing it.