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.’
‘Hey! There’s no rubbish in here. And don’t you go telling Emilia to throw anything away. This is my stuff. My room.’
‘You’re moving to England. So how can this be your room anymore?’
‘I might be back… for the holidays.’
‘Oh, Anetta, either you’re going or you’re staying, do make up your mind!’
‘So you don’t want me to come for Christmas?’
‘What I want has nothing to do with it, clearly. You’ll do whatever you want, as usual.’
‘Whatever I want! That’s a laugh.’ Netta muttered the next words only half-wanting them to be heard. ‘I can’t wait to be free.’
‘What was that? Free, you say? You want to be free? And what’s that supposed to mean exactly?’
There was a lifetime of gripes Netta could have listed to answer her mother, but instead she pouted, ‘Nothing.’ Then like the child her mother could always draw out of her just as her mother drew pus from her patients’ cysts, Netta whined, ‘Mama?’
‘Yes?’ her mother said in a tone which suggested she’d forgotten there was another woman in the room and only heard her baby in need.
Netta stared into the open cases as if they were bottomless. ‘What does one pack for a whole new country?’
Her mother tutted. ‘Well, that my dear, is for you to work out. I’m far too busy with the surgery to worry about things like that.’
Netta looked up from the cases when she heard her mother’s voice tremble, but she couldn’t see her face as she was already stomping out of the room.
***** end of extract*****
My thoughts on I Love You, Billy Langley.
It’s the sixties and Netta is a mixture of scared and excited as she leaves her home in West Germany to go and teach German in a school in Brighton. With it being only twenty years after the war, Netta is shocked to find prejudice toward her when she arrives.
A friendly face she meets is Billy, who is the caretaker at the school. They fall in love despite not everyone being happy with her presence in England. This is something Billy comes to understand better when she takes him back to Germany.
I read this book pretty much in one sitting. I couldn’t stop reading.
Netta is young and I immediately felt protective toward her. The thoughts and emotions of some of the characters she meets made me sad and certainly over the first couple of chapters, I was suspicious of people’s motives.
What is done well in this book is how both sides are told – how the German people as well as the British population felt after the war. It’s easy to forget that there would have been people in both countries who opposed the Nazi regime and how it is easy to tar people with a general bigoted brush. There are many emotions swirling around.
I loved Billy from the beginning. He is cheeky but I think he does really love Netta when he meets her.
The setting of this novel is described well. I could see myself on Brighton beach in the sixties. It’s the decade I’d like to go back and experience first hand.
Although the setting and themes can seem quite heavy, there is also a lightness to the writing and a warmth to it that makes it very readable. There is a great balance between the two. I loved this novel and I really recommend it.
Monika Jephcott Thomas grew up in Dortmund Mengede, north-west Germany. In 1966 she moved to the UK and, after a thirty-year career in education, delved into the therapeutic world where she has over twenty years experience as a counsellor and psychotherapist, gained with a wide variety of clients and presenting conditions.
By 1998, she and her partner Jeff established the Academy of Play & Child Psychotherapy (APAC). This has grown to become the largest provider world wide of post graduate training for Play Therapists and Practitioners in Therapeutic Play Skills, in partnership with several universities and colleges.
Monika and Jeff became founder members of Play Therapy UK. Monika was elected President of Play Therapy International in 2002. Their work culminated in the official recognition of the play therapy profession in 2013, an endorsement of their devotion to help the twenty per cent of children in the world who have emotional, behavioural, social and mental health problems by using play and the creative Arts.
Her professional background has given her insight into the effect of traumatic events not only on those directly experiencing them but also on their families and the generational impact.
For more information, visit her website: http://monika-jephcott-thomas.com/
I Love You, Billy Langley was released on 2nd April by Clink Street Publishing.