NK Chats To… Beth O’ Leary

Hi Beth, thank you so much for joining me today. Can you tell me about your book, The Flatshare and what inspired it? 

Thank you so much for having me! The Flatshare is a story about two people who share a one-bed flat but don’t meet: one works nights, the other works regular hours. It was inspired by my own experiences of moving in with my boyfriend when he’d just started work as a junior doctor and was working lots of night shifts. We would go days on end without seeing one another – he’d get home from work just after I’d leave in the morning and vice versa, so we passed like ships in the night. It got me wondering what might happen if two strangers lived that way…

 

What’s your writing process like from idea to final draft? 

For me, the basic concept is often what comes into my head first: in this case, two people sharing a bed but not meeting. The main characters come next, growing out of that: so here, I asked, why might two people be willing to do that? What sorts of people would they be?

 

I generally do a rough plan after that point, which features some key moments I want to happen in the novel, but then I rarely look at that plan again once I get writing. For me, first drafts tend to snowball – I write very quickly, almost with the sense that I’m trying to keep up with the story, and then when I hit the end of the book I go back and do a lot of work from that point onwards. The first draft gets the raw, emotional stuff down, the clay of the story – the second draft is all about shaping that into something.

 

Do you have any writing rituals and somewhere special you like to write? 

Well, I wrote The Flatshare on my commute to and from work, so after a while that became my writing ritual – it took me ages to get used to writing full-time at a desk at home after that! I often listen to music while I write, and tend to create playlists for stories. These playlists are especially useful when I’m editing, because they get me back into the character’s heads even when I’m looking at the book more analytically.

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Book Extract: I Love You Billy Langley by Monika Jephcott Thomas

Hello to Monika Jephcott Thomas and the blog tour for her latest novel, I Love You Billy Langley. 

Twenty-year-old Netta can’t wait to leave Germany and teach in Brighton, England. It’s the height of the swinging 60s, but Netta hasn’t bargained for the prejudice she’ll receive in a country full of anti-German sentiment just twenty years after the war.

She finds solace in Billy, the school caretaker, with whom she falls in love.

But when she takes him back to Germany at Christmas it’s Billy’s turn to be on the receiving end of a frosty welcome.

I have reviewed the novel but first, Monika has shared an extract. Enjoy. 

 

***** beginning of extract*****

Netta Portner looked around her bedroom as if it were the last time she would ever see it. It wasn’t.

Not just yet. But she felt the need to capture everything in her memory now, before the chaos of leaving ensued and clouded everything. As she scanned the room she caught sight of herself in the mirror on the dressing table. She turned to face her reflection, smoothed down her dress, adjusted her glasses, and raised her chin in the confident manner she prayed she could adopt when she stood in front of a class of comprehensive school students next week in the south of England.

‘Here!’ Her mother came hurrying into the room, dumping three suitcases of various sizes onto the bed.

To Netta the hurrying and dumping seemed completely unnecessary and typically dramatic. For a split second Netta wondered if it was designed to mask a sadness at her imminent departure from the nest, but that notion was soon buried under her general irritation with her mother, which Netta had cultivated throughout her teenage years.

‘These served me well when I moved here from Kunzendorf,’ said her mother.

‘During the war? When you were pregnant with me?’ Netta asked, delighting in her albeit embryonic presence in the story her mother had regaled her with on many occasions – the story of an arduous journey all the way across a devastated Germany on its knees in the final months of the Second World War. Since then Netta had never been much farther from home than the north coast for family holidays.

‘Hm-mm!’ her mother sang her response as nonchalantly as she could. ‘So a little jaunt to England should present no issue for them.’

‘It’s hardly a little jaunt, Mama.’

‘Well it’s hardly a race across a vast nation being bombed mercilessly by the Allies either, is it?’ her mother said.

Netta seethed as she flipped open the lid of each case.

Her mother, hands on hips, looked around the room as if she had never seen it before. ‘At last I can give this room a damn good clean.’

Netta looked daggers at her mother’s back as she ran her finger along the chest of drawers and grimaced at the dust she found there.

‘Oh please, mother! When was the last time you cleaned anything?’

‘Well, I’ll get Emilia to do it. Chuck out all this rubbish too.’

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Book Review: Amazing Grace by Kim Nash

She’s taking her life back, one step at a time…

Grace thought she had it all. Living in the beautiful village of Little Ollington, along with head teacher husband Mark and gorgeous son, Archie, she devoted herself to being the perfect mum and the perfect wife, her little family giving her everything she ever wanted.

Until that fateful day when she walked in on Mark kissing his secretary – and her perfect life fell apart.

Now she’s a single mum to Archie, trying to find her way in life and keep things together for his sake. Saturday nights consist of a Chinese takeaway eaten in front of the TV clad in greying pyjamas, and she can’t remember the last time she had a kiss from anyone aside from her dog, Becks…

Grace’s life needs a shake up – fast. So when gorgeous gardener Vinnie turns up on her doorstep, his twinkling eyes suggesting that he might be interested in more than just her conifers, she might just have found the answer to her prayers. But as Grace falls deeper for Vinnie, ten-year-old Archie fears that his mum finding love means she’ll never reconcile with the dad he loves.

So when ex-husband Mark begs her for another chance, telling her he’s changed from the man that broke her heart, Grace finds herself with an impossible dilemma. Should she take back Mark and reunite the family that Archie loves? Or risk it all for a new chance of happiness?

Amazing Grace focuses on Grace and her son, Archie. Both are trying to navigate through life since Grace’s split from her husband, Mike. They didn’t have the happiest of marriages so at the beginning of the novel, Grace isn’t feeling on top of the world.

Her self-esteem is really low but she is grateful she has her son. With the help of Archie, her friend, Monica and friends she meets along the way, Grace is hoping she can soon enjoy life again.

This novel took me a couple of chapters to settle into. This has nothing to do with the book or the effortless writing style. The element of the plot that focuses on Grace loosing her mother is something I found quite hard to read having lost my own Mum on this day in 2016.

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Book Review: Maybe Baby by Carol Thomas

Just when you thought you had it all worked out …

Best friends Lisa and Felicity think  – maybe, just maybe – they finally have everything sorted out in their lives.

Lisa is in a happy relationship with her old flame, and busy mum Felicity has managed to reignite the passion with her husband, Pete after a romantic getaway.

But when Lisa walks in on a half-naked woman in her boyfriend’s flat and Felicity is left reeling from a shocking discovery, it becomes clear that life is nothing but full of surprises …

Maybe Baby is the second novel in the Lisa Blake series (the first being The Perfect Pet Sitter.) I had not read the first book but this isn’t a problem. This works just as well as a standalone novel and the back story is worked in well with the current plot.

The two main characters, Lisa and Felicity are wonderful. Their amazing friendship is something that really stands out. Both have a lot of warmth, humour and they seem real, relatable and I could empathise with them very quickly, especially Lisa.

Miscarriage is quite a sensitive subject for me but it is handed in this novel very well. In fact, all the themes are presented well.  Carol’s approach and writing style contribute to this very much. You feel as though you are sat at the table talking to these women. The men in this novel are also wonderful but for me, it was all about Lisa and Felicity.

The plot moves at a great pace and I read this in pretty much one sitting. I am definitely going to go and read the first book in the series.

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Novel Kicks Book Club: The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Hello April. 

Better still, hello to British Summer Time.

This month, the book club title is The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris.

This is a book I have been meaning to read for a while. As usual, I have posted a question below to start the discussion. If you’ve read this, I’d love to know what you think. If you haven’t, there is plenty of time to read it. Come join me in the comments below.

Anyone can take part in this book club and you can be in your favourite chair with a cup of tea.

 

About The Tattooist of Auschwitz:

I tattooed a number on her arm. She tattooed her name on my heart.

In 1942, Lale Sokolov arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau. He was given the job of tattooing the prisoners marked for survival – scratching numbers into his fellow victims’ arms in indelible ink to create what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust.

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Book Extract: My Sister’s Lies by S.D. Robertson

I’m happy to welcome S.D. Robertson back to Novel Kicks and the blog tour for his new novel, My Sister’s Lies. 

For a decade, Hannah’s life has been pretty close to perfect – she has a great job, she’s married to Mark, and her child-free existence means she’s free as a bird. The only sadness in her life is a fall-out with her sister Diane, who hasn’t spoken to her in over ten years. But now Diane is on her doorstep – and this time, she’s got her teenage daughter Mia in tow.

When Diane asks if Mia can stay with Hannah and Mark for a few days, Hannah is glad of the chance to get to know her niece. But as the days turn into weeks and Diane doesn’t return, Hannah begins to worry. Why hasn’t her sister been in touch?

Diane is carrying a devastating secret that will destroy Hannah’s carefully constructed life. But how much is she willing to reveal – and when will she pick her moment?

 

S.D Robertson has shared an extract with us today. 

 

***** beginning of extract*****

He was a stubborn man, Frank Wells, so she couldn’t imagine he would have breached his vow to reveal this one particular piece of news. While she could only assume he was the person who’d given Diane her address, this was no doubt with the intention that it might lead to their reconciliation.

As Hannah had lost herself for a moment in these thoughts, her guests had also kept quiet, leading to the first long, awkward silence of their visit. Suddenly aware of it and uncomfortable, she’d responded by taking the bull by the horns and attempting to get to the bottom of Diane’s shock return.

‘You said something before about needing to see me,’ she’d said, squeezing her palms together and raising her eyebrows. ‘That it was important?’

‘Yes, that’s right, but can we talk about it later?’ Diane had replied. ‘How’s Mark, by the way? He’s still at work, I assume.’

‘He’s fine, thank you. He should be home before too long.’

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Book Extract: Wildflower Park Part 3 – Oopsy Daisy by Bella Osborne

Yey, Bella is back. Welcome to Bella Osborne and the blog tour for Oopsy Daisy. This is part three of her four-part serial for Escape to Wildflower Park. 

Escape to Wildflower Park with Part Three of a brand new four-part serial from bestselling author Bella Osborne.

Life’s not always a walk in the park…

When Anna is dumped by her fiancé, she moves in to her own place on the edge of the gorgeous Wildflower Park and pledges to stay off men and focus on her career, but a handsome new colleague seems to thwart her attempts at every turn. And when she receives an accidental text from a mystery man, could it be the new start she needs? Or someone she really shouldn’t be falling for?

Anna’s neighbour Sophie is a stressed-out mum-of-two with a third on the way. Her husband is a constant frustration, and their children are a regular source of newly-invented swear words and unidentifiable sticky surfaces.

Luckily, Anna and Sophie have each other – and Wildflower Park proves to be a sanctuary as they map out a path to find the happiness they both deserve…

 

Bella and Avon Books have shared an extract today. Enjoy. 

 

***** beginning of extract*****

‘Who do these belong to?’ said a grinning Sophie, waving aloft a pair of men’s Spider-Man underpants as Anna dashed into the kitchen to avoid the downpour outside.

‘What?’ said Anna, glancing at the swinging underwear. She kicked off her heels and sighed with relief. It had been a very long day. She gave her toes a wriggle. Maurice was lying in the hall stretched out like a furry road bump.

‘Who is Mr …’ Sophie paused to study the label ‘… large?’ asked Sophie.

‘Who’s who?’ asked Anna, starting to feel a tiny bit irritated by the silly conversation and the stupid pants.

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Book Review: Nobody’s Wife by Laura Pearson

‘Of the four of them, only three remained. And there was no going backwards from there.’

Emily and Josephine have always shared everything. They’re sisters, flatmates, and best friends. It’s the two of them against the world.

When Emily has the perfect wedding, and Josephine finds the perfect man, they know things will change forever. But nothing can prepare them for what, or who, one of them is willing to give up for love.

Four people. Three couples. Two sisters. One unforgivable betrayal.

From the best-selling author of Missing Pieces comes a heart-wrenching story about family, loyalty, and obsession that will have you racing to the finish.

I had not had a chance to read Laura’s first novel, Missing Pieces, so Nobody’s Wife was my introduction.

The style of writing very quickly pulled me in and I found myself totally engrossed in the setting and the lives of these four people.

One of the things I loved was that these characters felt very real. They are flawed. They make mistakes. Not only does the tension build well throughout the book but I really liked how it is told from all four sides.

This book is very emotional. It had me morally questioning the decisions these characters were making. I found it hard to feel sympathy but at the same time, I wanted to believe in the love story that was being developed. I loved and hated them all at once.

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Book Review: Two Silver Crosses by Beryl Kingston

Twins Ginny and Emily Holborn have everything they could ever need in their Wolverhampton home: a loving family, a garden to play in and a staff waiting to attend to their every need. Until, one summer day in 1926, they disappear without a trace.

Ten years later, bright-eyed solicitor Charlie Commoner is given his first job: track down the still-missing Holborn twins. Despatched to France, he’s left to unravel a web of infidelity, mystery, and terrifying family secrets.

Let bestselling author Beryl Kingston sweep you away on a journey from London to Paris, through tragedy and triumph in the search for two sisters wearing two silver crosses.

 

Twins Emily and Ginny have a nice life with their parents and Grandfather in Wolverhampton.

However, when their father dies, they are told by their mother that they need to leave and can’t go back. Also, they are not to talk about who they are when they reach France.

Back in Britain, the family don’t know why the twins and their mother would just disappear.
Years later, it is important that these girls are found but not everyone wants to see them return.

This was the first novel I’d read by Beryl Kingston.

The plot of this novel is compelling. I did find it a little slow at the beginning so it was a little difficult to get into but I am pleased that I did stick with it as I eventually got really drawn into the story of these three women and the man who was sent to find them.

It’s set in both England and France. The descriptions of the towns in France were so vivid. I could imagine them and felt very immersed in the story.

Ginny and Emily are very different as characters. Ginny is the louder of the two. Emily is the one I resonated with the most. She is a homebody and prefers to be around family. Both girls want to live their own lives but are being held back slightly by their mother; not really understanding why.

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A Moment with… Tony Lee Moral

Welcome to Tony Lee Moral who is here to talk about his new novel, The Haunting of Alice May, released on 12th March. 

Alice May Parker moves with her family to the sleepy town of Pacific Grove after her Mom dies, but little does she know the strange and terrifying events to come.When she falls into the bay during a kayaking trip, she is rescued from drowning by the mysterious Henry Raphael.

Handsome, old-fashioned and cordial, he is unlike any other boy she has known before. Intelligent and romantic, he sees straight into her soul.

Soon Alice and Henry are swept up in a passionate and decidedly unorthodox romance until she finds out that Henry is not all what he seems.

 

Tony is here to talk about the inspiration and process behind The Haunting of Alice May.

In my new novel The Haunting of Alice May, I blend mystery, with suspense and the supernatural. The central character, Alice Parker, moves to Pacific Grove, California, with her father and little sister after her mother dies. Whilst kayaking in the bay, she paddles towards a mysterious island, but capsizes and is drowning when a young man, Henry Raphael, magically appears, delivering her safely to the beach. Against all rules, they begin seeing each other.

The novel is partly inspired by J.M. Barrie’s supernatural 1920 play Mary Rose, about a woman who disappears on a Scottish island and reappears many years later in a ghostly form, while all her loved ones and those around her have grown old. Barrie is best known for writing Peter Pan or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up in 1904, about a boy who has an overwhelming desire to remain young forever.

I first read Mary Rose when I was researching my books on Alfred Hitchcock, as it was the Master of Suspense’s favourite and he wanted to make it into a film. He thought about the challenges of creating Mary Rose as a ghost with neon lights, but unfortunately was never able to realize his passion project. So Henry, in my novel is a version of Mary Rose — someone who never grows old, doesn’t become an adult, is from a different era, and is tied to a mysterious island.

Taking this premise, I thought, wouldn’t it be fascinating and sad if the ghost never grew old, while those around him had died? When Henry falls in love with a human, the dilemma is that they are not only from two different times, but also from two different worlds. While Alice is a contemporary teenage girl with a romantic nostalgia for past literature, Henry’s values are from the turn of the 20th Century, and he is bound by a sense of old-fashioned duty.

When writing for it is important to distinguish between mystery and suspense. Many readers become confused by the two terms. Having written three books on Alfred Hitchcock, I learned that they are actually two very different processes. Mystery is an intellectual process like a riddle or a whodunit. The mystery of Henry, who saves Alice from drowning, is who is he really? Is he a ghost? Where does he come from? What secrets does this island hold on which he inhabits? These are all mysteries that run through the book.

Each of the main characters has their own personal mystery to unravel, whether it be Alice, Henry, Emily, or Heather. Mystery is a central part of being a teenager. Teens are faced with such questions as: What will happen to me when I grow up? Will I find a partner? Will I fulfil my ambitions? Will I do well at school? When Henry asks Alice, “What are you afraid of then?”, she doesn’t immediately answer. Yet inside, she knows she is afraid of many things: concerns for her family, their future, and growing up without a mother. For me, this is the crux of the novel. Part of the fear of growing older is not having fulfilled your life’s ambitions.

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NK Chats To: Eleanor Anstruther

Hello Eleanor, welcome to Novel Kicks. Can you tell me a little about your book, A Perfect Explanation and what inspired it?

A Perfect Explanation is based on the true story of Enid Campbell, granddaughter to the 8th Duke of Argyll, who sold her son to her sister for £500.

She was my grandmother, and the son she sold, my father. I’d always known the basic fact of this story, but no more than that. Thirteen years ago, I asked my father to tell me about his mother, and his response inspired the novel.

 

How much of a challenge was it to write a fictional story around historical events?

It was a huge challenge, not least because the characters in the book, who behave so badly and make such terrible mistakes, are my relations, and the urge to take sides was almost overwhelming. Added to that was the difficulty of first making sense of a complicated story, and then picking a narrative out of that complex weave of real life events.

A narrative must have a beginning and an end, whereas in reality, the scenes of our lives trail endlessly into one another. I had to choose where to start and stop, which of the many points of view to take, and essentially, what story to tell. Everybody wanted to have their say, but having spent a decade listening to them all, and writing many versions, I stood back and wrote the story as I wanted it told. It became as much my perfect explanation as it is theirs.

 

What is your typical writing day like? Do you write in silence? Have a specific place to write?

It depends where I am with a piece of work. I have a studio in the garden, and I’ll be up there every morning for two or three hours while working on a first draft. Often once I’m in the editing process, I’ll start at four or five in the morning, and work much longer days. It’s gruelling and relentless, but nothing else gets a book written.

I write in silence, although another vital part of my writing day is thinking about the work in the evening, my notepad beside me. I have playlists for everything I write, and listening to the music which goes with the novel I’m thinking about, often produces new ideas or solves that day’s problem.

I also do some sort of exercise most days, either running, walking or swimming. As with listening to playlists, I often solve problems when away from my desk, either out in the fresh air, or ploughing up and down a pool.

 

What’s your writing process like (from idea to final draft?)

Ideas come and niggle at me until I pick up my pen and write them down, and then it’s too late to do anything but think of how they might grow. It’s a trick really, of stories, to get themselves written. They pretend they’re just an itch, but as soon as you scratch them, they turn into a full blown illness that can only be cured by completion. So I write down ideas, and then at some point I take an idea up to my studio where the whole thing becomes more serious and I start to think about what it is and how it can be.

Salt, 15th March 2019

Julie Cohen gives the best advice for writing; it is simply to “finish the damn book” which is easier than it sounds. Knowing how tough first drafts are, when I’ve decided to take the plunge, I just hold my breath and get on with it until I have what Graham Linehan calls “the screaming skinless babe” that is a completed first draft.

After that it’s months and months of editing, reading it back aloud – this is crucial, by the way, to hearing flow, tone and rhythms – and leaving it to rest for weeks at a time too, so that I can go back to it with fresh eyes. When I feel I can do more, I’ll send it a trusted freelance editor I’ve been using for years, to get his take on it, and only after that, and more editing, does it go to my agent. I also usually run it past a couple of beta-readers, chosen specifically for that material.

Having now been through the process to completion, I know that it isn’t truly finished until I’m holding the printed book in my hands.

 

What inspired you to be a writer?

I come from a family of writers; it’s in my blood. I’ve always written and can’t imagine life without it. I did, however, take a long time to recognise it as a career. It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I thought, why not do this as a profession?

 

Which author/book has influenced you the most?

That’s a very tough question – can I have two?! Henry James and George Eliot.

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Book Review: The Truth About Love and Dogs by Lilly Bartlett

Scarlett and Rufus aren’t in the honeymoon stage anymore so much as the honey-should-we-bother phase.

Desperate to get their sparkle back, Scarlett has plotted, planned and waxed more than any woman should have to, but none of it is working.

Which makes it very hard to start the family they want.

At least her business is going strong, even if her marriage isn’t. She and her best friend spend their days tangled up in dog leads and covered in fur.

Scarlett is the fairy dogmother, training hopeless pets like compulsive eater Barkley, impulsive Romeo Murphy and bossy Biscuit. Meanwhile, her best friend walks the dogs and pines for the man who doesn’t know she exists.

Thank goodness the women have each other.

If only Scarlett could work out how to get her marriage back on track. But Rufus isn’t sharing his feelings with her. He is, though, sharing with her best friend. Her best friend, Shannon.

Four words from her husband Rufus turns Scarlett’s world upside down.

The Truth about Love and Dogs was originally published as Love is a Four-Legged Word and as Michele Gorman, not Lilly Bartlett.

Scarlett wishes her personal life was better. Although she finds that her marriage may be falling apart, her business is going from strength to strength. She is a dog whisperer – training a variety of dogs whilst her best friend and business partner, Shannon, walks the dogs whilst dreaming about a man she has only seen from afar.

I have read a few of Lilly/Michele’s novels now and was already a big fan. I had not read this one under its previous title but it did not disappoint.

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Novel Kicks Fiction Friday: What’s in the Cupboard?

It’s Friday which means it’s time to start writing some fiction.

Fiction Friday is our weekly writing prompt. The aim is to write for a minimum of five minutes and then keep going for as long as you can. Once you’ve finished, don’t edit, just post in the comments box below.

Today’s prompt: 

You are sitting in a chair when your child comes up and sits next to you. Out of nowhere, your child looks at you and says…

‘Daddy/Mummy, who is that in the cupboard upstairs and why are they sleeping when it’s not bed time?’

Begin with the above sentence.

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Novel Kicks Writing Room: Speaking Differently

Today, I wanted to focus on the various speaking styles of characters. I

Each character needs to have their own specific voice.

Write two pages of dialogue.

One character only speaks in short sentences whilst your other character is a bit more of a chatterbox. They speak in longer sentences.

Has this achieved two distinctive voices?

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Kindle March Book Haul

HarperCollins, May 2019

There have been lots of great novels already released this year and plenty more on their way. 

I am looking forward to reading many of these books. I wanted to do a book haul for titles that I have ready to read on my kindle.

The Furies by Katie Lowe sounds absolutely amazing.

In 1998, a sixteen-year-old girl is found dead on school property. Her body is dressed in white and posed on a swing. The cause of death is unknown.

There are four girls that know what’s happened. They’ve managed to keep their secret. Until now.

I don’t know why but I am getting a little bit of a Virgin Suicides vibe from this novel and I can’t wait to read it.

This is due to be released on 2nd May 2019.

 

Half a World Away is the new book by Mike Gayle. I have adored this man’s novels for many years and always get a little excited when he released a book.

Hodder & Stoughton, June 2019

HarperCollins, April 2019

The general summary of this novel is Kerry Hayes is a single mum, a cleaner, and is Mariah Carey’s biggest fan.

Nick is a successful Barrister. He has a wife, a daughter and has a big house in Primrose Hill.

These two are strangers who have nothing in common and who may as well be living worlds apart.
It wasn’t always this way. They are both about to discover who they really are.

 

The Rules of Seeing by Joe Heap is another book I am looking forward to reading. The cover is beautiful.

The release of the paperback is on 18th April. The basic story surrounds Jillian (Nova to all but her mother,) who has lived thirty-two years in the dark.

She is now learning to see. The sky is blue, and green and grey. A whole spectrum of colours that are as changeable as her mood.

The one thing she can see is that Kate is going to change her life forever even though they have only just met.

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