The Reluctant Romantic

The Reluctant Romantic

Author Thea Lim tells us about the writing process for her book An Ocean of Minutes and how it unintentionally became a love story.

I didn’t set out to write a love story. In fact, I was startled when my agents Karolina Sutton and Lucy Morris chose to position my book as a love story. I said, are you sure it isn’t migrant literature disguised as time travel? Or a disquisition on the passage of time, wrapped in a mystery? But they pointed out it was the love story held all these elements together. I had tricked myself into writing a romance.

In the same way that it wasn’t obvious to me I’d written a love story, the romance between Polly and Frank – which takes place in a past timeline that’s woven with the present – was most difficult for me to write. One reason is this: I’m a filthy romantic, and I’m regularly overcompensating for this, trying to keep my sappy vibes in the closet. (Spoiler: they escaped.)  

Another reason the courtship was challenging to write: my romantic hero, Polly, is a little emotionally closed-off. She has to be, in order to convince herself to travel one-way into the future. You need a vice-grip on your emotions to pull off a feat like that. I’m drawn to such characters, tank-like champions who just get it done, like my mother and her mother. Plus, it was interesting to write about someone like that in love, telling a story for those of us who didn’t dream of our wedding day, who dreamed instead of a sturdy partnership, or even just a happy life, whatever it may contain. Still, it was tricky. I had to accept that some readers just weren’t going to buy in, if the hero wasn’t given to wild flights of passion.

Faced with all this, I searched out models, especially unconventional love stories. I obsessed over Edward P Jones’ The Known World, which is not a love story at all, but contains one of the most moving and illuminating scenes of people falling in love I’ve ever read, when Elias and Celeste find each other in the most abject conditions. I mapped it and then shamelessly used it as a template for my own characters’ meet-cute. My final version of that scene turned out vastly different, but Jones’ work got me started.  

How writing works (sometimes)

I searched for narratives where much is said with very little. I wanted to match the way I told the story, with who Polly is. My writing teacher, Mat Johnson, gives lectures on the way Children of Men uses a single prop: a ping pong ball. The ball abbreviates years of history into thirty seconds of film, showing that no matter how Julian tries, no one but Theo can catch the ball when she throws it (metaphor alert). The flashbacks in Brokeback Mountain are similar; they are so fast – like when Ennis hums a song from childhood for Jack – and it’s the restraint in the storytelling says so much about how unbearably fleeting love can be. Inspired by these innovative examples, I worked to put my reader on a “need to know” basis.

But I hit a problem. This preference for compression, paired with my reluctance to let loose my inner Diana Gabaldon, had made the love story too subtle. So much of what love is, is unsaid. I didn’t want to have to spell out what was between Polly and Frank; that felt counter to the nature of love. Yet what is both magical and impossible about textual narratives – as opposed to visual ones like film or tv – is that the words are all we have. And if it’s not said (either in or between the lines) the reader can’t follow. What a predicament.

Then I hit the jackpot. I met Cassie Brown at Quercus, who could see the story before it was there: it’s shadow. Over several months, along with my Canadian editor Helen Smith, she helped me fill it in, from small but vital changes (like turning up sentences that whispered about love) to big changes. The original submission I’d sent my agents has five flashback chapters; the final version of my novel has eight.

Author portrait © Elisha Lim

I made one final change. One of the questions An Ocean of Minutes poses is whether or not it truly is better to have loved and lost, than to have never loved at all. I believe the writer’s job is not to tell us how to be, but to show us many ways to be, fully rendered, so we can choose for ourselves. But my US editor Tara Parsons pushed me to provide an answer to the question I’d posed. You’ve put the reader through the wringer, she said, you can’t leave them hanging!

While I didn’t intend to write a love story, I did intend to write a story about how we love, even though we know everyone will eventually go away from us, through life or time. I wanted to show this loving act in motion, without making an argument as to its value. But when I truly considered it, I did not want to push a book into the world that said it was possible there’s no point to connection, or no point to love.

So I wrote an answer. I added in a paragraph, right before the final one: “She thought all those days had been lost, like beams of light at the end of their reach, scattering into darkness. But he had kept them safe after all.” And then the book was done.

An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim is out now in all formats.

This article first appeared on Bookanista.

World Book Night 2019

World Book Night 2019

World Book Night is a national celebration of reading and book that takes place every year on 23rd April. World Book Night is all about celebrating the power of reading, to highlight the difference reading makes to people’s lives and to spread this message to anyone who doesn’t already read.

The Books

World Book Night is run by The Reading Agency, who have chosen 23 brilliant books to be given out across the UK with a focus on those who don’t regularly read or have easy access to new books. Books will be donated by organisations and publishers to prisons, libraries, mental health groups, colleges, hospitals, care homes and homeless shelters.

We’re thrilled that four of our authors have their books on the list of books to be donated.

The Ice Cream Girls by Dorothy Koomson

‘All the stuff in the papers was lies. We were never The Ice Cream Girls’

Serena and Poppy were teenagers when they were branded as the Ice Cream Girls.

When they were accused of murder, one of them was sent to prison while the other was set free.

Now, 20 years later, one of them is doing all she can to clear her name and the other is frantically trying to keep her secrets.

Which Ice Cream Girl is desperate enough to kill to get what she wants?

A gripping, emotional thriller from the Sunday Times bestselling author Dorothy Koomson

Mad Girl by Bryony Gordon

Mad Girl

Bryony Gordon has OCD.

It’s the snake in her brain that has told her ever since she was a teenager that her world is about to come crashing down: that her family might die if she doesn’t repeat a phrase 5 times, or that she might have murdered someone and forgotten about it. It’s caused alopecia, bulimia, and drug dependency. And Bryony is sick of it. Keeping silent about her illness has given it a cachet it simply does not deserve, so here she shares her story with trademark wit and dazzling honesty.

A hugely successful columnist for the Telegraph, a bestselling author, and a happily married mother of an adorable daughter, Bryony has managed to laugh and live well while simultaneously grappling with her illness. Now it’s time for her to speak out. Writing with her characteristic warmth and dark humour, Bryony explores her relationship with her OCD and depression as only she can.

Mad Girl is a shocking, funny, unpredictable, heart-wrenching, raw and jaw-droppingly truthful celebration of life with mental illness.

Thinking Out Loud by Rio Ferdinand

When Rebecca died, the idea that one day I might begin to feel better would have struck me as laughable … I know how persuasive this kind of permanence thinking can be. I know too that anyone locked in its grip will laugh if I promise them that their pain will one day ease. It will. Of course it will. But I know better than to expect anyone to believe me.’

In 2015, former England football star Rio Ferdinand suddenly and tragically lost his wife and soulmate Rebecca, aged 34, to cancer. It was a profound shock and Rio found himself struggling to cope not just with the pain of his grief, but also with his new role as both mum and dad to their three young children.

His book now shares the story of meeting, marrying and losing Rebecca, his own and the family’s grief – as well as the advice and support that get him through each day as they strive to piece themselves back together. Thinking Out Loud is written in the hope that he can inspire others struggling with loss and grief to find the help they need through this most difficult of times.

‘A lacerating account … painful but necessary’ Evening Standard

‘Beautiful & significant … Tackles grief with honesty’ Dawn French

‘Very important and moving book’ Alastair Campbell

The Chalk Pit by Elly Griffiths

Boiled human bones have been found in Norwich’s web of underground tunnels. When forensic archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway discovers the bones aren’t as old as originally thought, it’s time for DCI Nelson to launch a murder inquiry. What was initially just a medieval curiosity has taken a much more sinister nature…

Meanwhile, DS Judy Johnson is investigating the disappearance of a local rough sleeper. The only trace of her is the rumour that she’s gone ‘underground’. This might be a figure of speech, but with the discovery of the bones and the stories both Ruth and the police have heard of a vast community of rough sleepers living in the old chalk-mining tunnels under Norwich, the clues point in only one direction. Local academic Martin Kellerman knows all about the tunnels and their history – but can his assertions of cannibalism and ritual killing possibly be true?

As the weather gets hotter, tensions rise. A local woman goes missing and the police are under attack. Ruth and Nelson must unravel the dark secrets of The Underground and discover just what gruesome secrets lurk at its heart – before it claims another victim.

‘My favourite current crime series . . . a pleasure from start to finish’ Val McDermid

How to celebrate World Book Night

All over the country events run by individuals and organisations will be held to celebrate the power of reading.

In Brighton, crime novelist Elly Griffiths will be celebrating World Book Night with an author event where she will be talking about her book The Chalk Pit, which has been chosen by World Book Night as one of their gifted books. This is a free event and all are welcome! For more information, click here.

Visit the World Book Night website for more information on the various events taking place across the country.

As an individual you can help to spread the joy of reading by organising a book swap with your friends or at work. Donate unwanted books to local charities and libraries. If you’re a member of a library, take a friend who isn’t and encourage them to sign up. Finally, share what you’re doing for World Book Night on social media to inspire others to participate – don’t forget to include #WorldBookNight !

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary | Friends of Bookends reviews

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary | Friends of Bookends reviews

We asked the Friends of Bookends panel what they think of Beth O’Leary’s debut novel, The Flatshare. Here’s what they said…

Jen

I really enjoyed this book!

Basically it is about Tiffy and Leon who share a flat, but one does the night shift and one the day and weekends are sorted so that they never meet. Until, of course, the day they do, under embarrassing circumstances. Throw in a wrongly incarcerated brother, an emotionally abusive stalker boyfriend, good helpful friends and the satisfying conclusion which the reader knows is coming and what you have is an engaging read!

“Beth O’Leary has created an uplifting story with well drawn, likeable characters and a believable plot.”

I shall be awaiting her next book eagerly and a further glimpse into Tiffy and Leon’s life in a sequel, would be the icing on the cake!

Angela

Tiffy and Leon are flatmates, yet they have never met. Beth O’Leary’s novel explores a unique living situation which, inevitably turns into something more. Tiffy is a delightfully scatty character who, due to a break-up and a low-paid job, is finding the London housing market tough. Leon, a nurse on night shifts, needs money for a lawyer for his brother and hatches the idea of renting his bed while he is at work.

The New Jojo Moyes

Through a series of notes, the relationship between Tiffy and Leon begins – drawing in friends, relatives and a whole sub-cast of other characters who each add something to the story. Although the premise is a romantic chick-lit story, there are moments of seriousness: Tiffy’s abusive ex-boyfriend and Leon’s palliative care patients.

Beth O’Leary’s use of notes as communication between Tiffy and Leon is what elevates this book above standard chick-lit. The concept gives the reader an insight into the inner thoughts of the main characters and adds a comic element which I really enjoyed. I would encourage anyone to pick this book up, it is perfect for sitting in the sun and indulging!

Francine

At first sight, I thought this was another predictable boy meets girl story. But as I read on I was drawn in by Tiffy and Leon narratives and discovered the story contained much more than a ‘will they won’t they’ theme. Covering serious issues like abuse and wrongful arrest allowed it more depth and much more interesting, also allowed a greater insight into the characters and behaviour of Tiffy and Leon. Two wary people, vulnerable, frightened to trust. The choice of Tiffy’s job was inspired lending a comic element to the novel and Leon’s job showed his caring nature.

The subplot of Mr Prior and his lost love added poignancy, showing again Leon’s caring nature in his pursuit of the elusive Jimmy White and cleverly provided a opportunity for Leon and Tiffy’s relationship to move forward.

“I found Tiffy’s vibrancy refreshing and Leon’s cautionary nature a joy.”

The Richie predicament added real intrigue, whilst Justin’s reappearances were disturbing. The supporting characters, were well rounded and played a big part in bringing this novel alive. Even towards the end I didn’t know how it would play out and there was a few curve balls I didn’t see coming.

Overall, a great read, I loved it and gladly recommend it.

Janet

Tiffy needs to move out of her ex-boyfriend’s flat quickly. When she comes across Leon’s advert she’s quick to snap up the chance to flat share. The only trouble is, there’s only one bedroom. Leon will be there during the day, Tiffy can have evenings and weekends. What can possibly go wrong?

I practically inhaled this book, I only stopped when real life or sleep got in the way. Luckily I picked it up when I was looking for a light, funny read. Light and funny this is but it is also moving, romantic, cosy and warm.

The Flatshare

There is a whole cast full of delightful characters. Tiffy is funny, kind and unique, considerate of her friends, even new ones like Ritchie, Leon’s brother, whom she tries to help almost immediately. She slowly comes to view her previous relationship with Justin, her loathsome ex-boyfriend, in a new light, becoming aware of just how toxic it was. Her friends are wonderful. The acerbic Gerty and quiet Mo are great counter-points to Tiffy’s potentially eccentric ways. Rachel, her work friend, is a lot more mad cap, and encourages Tiffy to be more adventurous.

Then there’s Leon, who seems to have an aversion to speech marks as all of his chapters feature an absence of them. This works though, as the style helps to underline the differing voices of Tiffy, more impulsive and exuberant, with Leon, who is quieter and more introverted. Leon is struggling with his brother’s incarceration, his floundering relationship with his girlfriend Kate and his burgeoning feelings for Tiffy. He puts others first, spending his weekends off searching for the lost love of one of his patients.

It was lovely to read the relationship between the two develop through post it notes and other messages dotted around the flat. The story grew and blossomed as both sides told their tale from their own viewpoint, alternating between Tiffy and Leon.

I loved this from the opening pages to the last post it note. There wasn’t anything I didn’t like about it. A funny, warm, encompassing read. I look forward to reading more from Beth O’Leary in the future. Highly recommended.

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary is available to buy now!

Unwrapped – Q+A with debut author Beth O’Leary

Unwrapped – Q+A with debut author Beth O’Leary

Today we’re chatting to debut novelist extraordinaire Beth O’Leary about new reads, new beginnings and Easter. Her first novel, The Flatshare, is the uplifting story of Tiffy and Leon who share a flat, share a bed but have never met…

The Flat Share

When you’re on the hunt for a new read, how do you go about discovering one?
I get a lot of my book recommendations via Twitter and Instagram – I follow lots of bookish people with similar tastes to mine. If I’m in the mood for something specific, I might look at a Goodreads ‘Top 50’ list for that genre and browse through until a cover and blurb catches my eye. What I should do is go and choose something from my existing bookshelves, which are completely overloaded and have no room left on them for new books!

Easter and Spring are all about new beginnings. Tell us a little bit about how ‘new beginnings’ are discussed in your book.
Oh, The Flatshare is all about new beginnings. One of my main characters, Tiffy, has just left her toxic boyfriend and is trying to figure out what her life looks like without him; the other main character, Leon, is in desperate need of a fresh start. He’s stuck in a rut in his relationship and is dealing with the trauma of his brother being imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. But Leon can’t stay stuck for long once Tiffy moves in to his flat…

If you were to set up a bookish Easter egg hunt, which five books would you choose to hide?
What a phenomenal question! Now I want to set up a bookish Easter egg hunt. I’d pick five fun novels about fresh starts: One in a Million by Lindsey Kelk, The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella, The Cactus by Sarah Haywood, Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pierce and The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion.

If your characters were Easter eggs, what kind would they be?
Leon would be something very classy and simple, I think. Lindt chocolate, maybe… And it wouldn’t be hollow on the inside, because there’s much more to Leon than there seems, so maybe there’d be lots of truffles in the middle of the egg!

Tiffy would be a homemade Easter egg, for sure, with a really ambitious combination of flavours that shouldn’t work but totally does: ginger and lemon and strawberry chocolate, or something. Hers would come brightly wrapped, too.

How would your main character celebrate Easter?
Leon would be bemused by the idea of celebrating Easter – he’s not religious, so what’s it for? Chocolate? He can eat chocolate whenever he wants anyway? Plus he never gets the bank holiday days off at his work – he’s a hospice nurse – so he sometimes forgets it’s happening at all.

But Tiffy would be all over it. Any excuse to decorate the flat, wear bright colours and do some arts and crafts…

The Flatshare is available now!

You can follow Beth on Twitter @OLearyBeth and on Instagram @betholearyauthor

The Flatshare
The Garden of Lost and Found by Harriet Evans

The Garden of Lost and Found by Harriet Evans

Nightingale House, 1919. Liddy Horner discovers her husband, the world-famous artist Sir Edward Horner, burning his best-known painting The Garden of Lost and Found days before his sudden death.

Nightingale House was the Horner family’s beloved home – a gem of design created to inspire happiness – and it was here Ned painted The Garden of Lost and Found, capturing his children on a perfect day, playing in the rambling Eden he and Liddy made for them.

One magical moment. Before it all came tumbling down…

When Ned and Liddy’s great-granddaughter Juliet is sent the key to Nightingale House, she opens the door onto a forgotten world. The house holds its mysteries close but she is in search of answers. For who would choose to destroy what they love most? Whether Ned’s masterpiece – or, in Juliet’s case, her own children’s happiness.

Something shattered this corner of paradise. But what?

The Garden of Lost and Found is available on e-book now, and available in hardback on April 18th!

The Girl in the Letter by Emily Gunnis

The Girl in the Letter by Emily Gunnis

A heartbreaking letter. A girl locked away. A mystery to be solved.

1956. When Ivy Jenkins falls pregnant she is sent in disgrace to St Margaret’s, a dark, brooding house for unmarried mothers. Her baby is adopted against her will. Ivy will never leave.

Present day. Samantha Harper is a journalist desperate for a break. When she stumbles on a letter from the past, the contents shock and move her. The letter is from a young mother, begging to be rescued from St Margaret’s. Before it is too late.

Sam is pulled into the tragic story and discovers a spate of unexplained deaths surrounding the woman and her child. With St Margaret’s set for demolition, Sam has only hours to piece together a sixty-year-old mystery before the truth, which lies disturbingly close to home, is lost for ever…

Read her letter. Remember her story…

‘What a heartfelt emotional story, made even more so because it’s based on a shocking truth. I raced through it, involved, moved and gripped’ Fanny Blake

The Girl in the Letter is available now!

The Language of Birds by Jill Dawson

The Language of Birds by Jill Dawson

A hypnotic and thought-provoking novel inspired by the sensational Lord Lucan case, by the Orange Prize-shortlisted author of Fred & Edie.

In the summer of 1974, Mandy River arrives in London to make a fresh start and begins working as nanny to the children of one Lady Morven. She quickly finds herself in the midst of a bitter custody battle and the house under siege: Lord Morven is having his wife watched. According to Lady Morven, her estranged husband also has a violent streak, yet she doesn’t seem the most reliable witness.  Should Mandy believe her?

As Mandy tries to shield her young charges from harm, her friend Rosemary watches from the wings – an odd girl with her own painful past and a rare gift. This time, though, she misreads the signs.

Drawing on the infamous Lord Lucan affair, this compelling novel explores the roots of a shocking murder from a fresh perspective and brings to vivid life an era when women’s voices all too often went unheard.

The Language of Birds is available now!

The Mother in Law by Sally Hepworth

The Mother in Law by Sally Hepworth

She has never approved of you. But it’s when her body is found the secrets really start to come out …

From the moment Lucy met her husband’s mother, Diana, she was kept at arm’s length.  Diana was exquisitely polite, and perfectly friendly, but Lucy knew that she was not what Diana envisioned.  Even so, Lucy wanted so much to please her new mother-in-law.

That was five years ago. Now, Diana has been found dead, a suicide note near her body.  Diana claims that she no longer wanted to live because of a battle with cancer.

But the autopsy finds no cancer. The autopsy does find traces of poison and suffocation.

Everyone in the family is hiding something. But what? And where will the secrets stop?

With Lucy’s secrets getting deeper and her relationship with her mother-in-law growing more complex as the pages turn, this new novel from Sally Hepworth is sure to add to her growing legion of fans.


‘Fiction at its finest’ – Liane Moriarty, Number One bestselling author of Nine Perfect Strangers

The Mother in Law is available to pre-order now!

Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts

Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts

Behind the most famous movie ever made is a tale of love, magic and one incredible woman.

Hollywood, 1938: As soon as she learns that M-G-M is adapting her late husband’s masterpiece, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, for the screen, Maud Gage Baum sets about trying to visit the set.
Nineteen years after Frank’s passing, Maud is the only person who can help the producers stay true to the spirit of the book – because she’s the only one left who knows its secrets…

But the moment she hears Judy Garland rehearsing the first notes of ‘Over the Rainbow’, Maud recognizes the yearning that defined her own life story, from her rebellious youth as a suffragette’s daughter to her coming of age as one of the first women in the Ivy League, from her blossoming romance with Frank to the hardscrabble prairie years that inspired his famous work. With the young actress under pressure from the studio as well as her ambitious stage mother, Maud resolves to protect her – the way she tried so hard to protect the real Dorothy.

This richly imagined novel tells the story behind The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the book that inspired the iconic film, through the eyes of author L. Frank Baum’s intrepid wife, Maud.

Finding Dorothy is available now!

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

Tiffy and Leon share a flat
Tiffy and Leon share a bed
Tiffy and Leon have never met…

Tiffy Moore needs a cheap flat, and fast. Leon Twomey works nights and needs cash. Their friends think they’re crazy, but it’s the perfect solution: Leon occupies the one-bed flat while Tiffy’s at work in the day, and she has the run of the place the rest of the time.

But with obsessive ex-boyfriends, demanding clients at work, wrongly imprisoned brothers and, of course, the fact that they still haven’t met yet, they’re about to discover that if you want the perfect home you need to throw the rulebook out the window…

A BBC RADIO 2 BOOK CLUB PICK

See what everyone is saying about The Flatshare, 2019’s hottest debut! 

‘One of the most talked about books of 2019… Fans of Jojo Moyes’s Me Before You will love this UpLit romcom’ 
Red Magazine

‘The new Jojo Moyes… This has all the ingredients of Me Before You‘ 
Cosmopolitan 

‘Funny and winning… a Richard Curtis rom-com that also has its feet firmly planted in real life. A real treat’ 
Stylist

‘Set to become the romcom of the year with its loveable characters, comic situations and deeply satisfying love story – a Sleepless In Seattle for the 21st century’ 
Sunday Express

‘In the league of Bridget Jones and Marian Keyes’ Walsh sister books’ 
Claire Allan

‘Funny, emotional and uplifting’ 
Sun

‘A quirky, feelgood read, bursting with character and warmth’ 
Prima

‘The Flatshare is a huge, heartwarming triumph’
Josie Silver

‘Deliciously funny and truly uplifting’
Lucy Diamond

‘Touching, funny and skilful, a delightful read’
Katie Fforde

‘It’s funny and charming but there are moments of real poignancy, too. Guaranteed to leave you with a smile on your face’ 
Good Housekeeping

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary is available now!