Sheila O’Flanagan on feminism, tough decisions and modern marriage

Sheila O’Flanagan on feminism, tough decisions and modern marriage

The first feminist I ever met was my dad. I didn’t realise he was a feminist. I didn’t even know what the word meant. I was, after all, one of three daughters and I simply assumed that everyone had the same attitude towards girls as he had towards us: that we could be whatever we wanted to be and that we should strive to be the best at whatever that was. My dad encouraged us in our passions and never indicated for a moment that my childhood dream of being an astronaut wasn’t at all likely because, back then, only men were astronauts. Instead, he took me to Dunsink Observatory so that we could look at the stars together.

My mother was – and still is – a feminist too. She was one of the only women in our housing estate to work outside the home in a time when very few women considered it an option. When my father died, heart-breakingly young, from cancer, it was her job that supported the family financially, and my aunts who offered practical support.

I have never known a time when the women in our family didn’t speak up for themselves, or make plans of their own, or support each other, or earn their own money. But there was no set model of how any of us should live our lives. I had aunts who were married with children, aunts who were married with no children and aunts who remained single. I had aunts who worked outside the home and aunts who didn’t. I loved all of them and I looked up to all of them. Nobody ever suggested that any one had made better choices than the other. And while there was a background assumption that the more likely choice for me and my sisters was getting married and maybe having a family, there was also an assumption that we would have a job and strive to do well in it. Whatever decisions we made about our lives, they were all equally valid.

Yet the word feminist was never used. All the women in my family were just living with their choices.

I know I was reared by feminists because I was reared by women who wanted to make their own decisions and live their best lives. Sometimes those decisions were poor ones. Sometimes things didn’t turn out exactly as they’d planned. But at least their mistakes, like mine, were theirs to make.

I write about women who make mistakes because I believe that the greatest power we have is to get something wrong, take ownership of it and learn from it. It’s an impossibility to get things right every time. We take decisions with the best of intentions, but sometimes we have to accept that it hasn’t worked out.

An exhausting number of people seem to think that they have a right to criticise women’s choices, good or bad, without ever having stepped into their lives or knowing what has influenced them. The criticism is in the little things – the clothes we wear, the colour of our lipstick, the style of our hair; and the bigger things – our relationships, our mothering skills, our career decisions. Women are criticised every single day for not getting things right and, sadly, social media has only served to increase the number of times someone can be told that their skirt is too short or their bum is too big or that it’s their own fault they were assaulted.

In my latest book, Her Husband’s Mistake, Roxy has to face a pivotal moment in her life and her marriage. Her husband acknowledges that he’s made one specific mistake. But Roxy, like all women, wonders if she herself is the catalyst for his behaviour; she questions the decisions she’s made in the past and worries about the ones she has to make in the future. As so many women do, she blames herself for the actions of others. It takes time before she realises that she is the one person in charge of her own life.

It’s very important to me that Roxy has the opportunity to get things wrong as well as get things right. And it’s equally important that she has to work out what wants in the future, and that none of it is clear, or easy. It’s also important that she knows which mistakes to own.

Understanding the mistakes of the past and facing up to our own decisions are an important part of living our best lives in the future. Women are afforded less opportunities to do this because we are held to account so often by people who don’t know us or the circumstances of our lives.

But, like Roxy, we just have to give ourselves permission to be wrong as well as right. And to realise that we can learn from both.

Her Husband's Mistake flat lay

Get your copy of Sheila’s new book, HER HUSBAND’S MISTAKE, here.

Read a sneak-peek of Her Husband’s Mistake by Sheila O’Flanagan

Read a sneak-peek of Her Husband’s Mistake by Sheila O’Flanagan

Here at Team Bookends, we are offering you the chance to read an exclusive preview of the first chapter of the new book by No. 1 bestselling author, Sheila O’Flanagan! Her Husband’s Mistake is about marriage, tough decisions and true happiness.

Roxy’s marriage has always been rock solid.

After twenty years, and with two carefree kids, she and Dave are still the perfect couple.

Until the day she comes home unexpectedly, and finds Dave in bed with their attractive, single neighbour.

Suddenly Roxy isn’t sure about anything – her past, the business she’s taken over from her dad, or what her family’s future might be. She’s spent so long caring about everyone else that she’s forgotten what she actually wants. But something has changed. And Roxy has a decision to make.

Whether it’s with Dave, or without him, it’s time for Roxy to start living for herself…

Click here to read the first chapter of Her Husband’s Mistake by Sheila O’Flanagan: Her Husband’s Mistake, Chapter One

Her Husband’s Mistake is out on 30th and is available to pre-order from Amazon now. Click HERE to get your copy!

It wouldn't be Christmas without…

It wouldn't be Christmas without…

It’s always nice to hear what puts us in that all important Christmassy mood when it comes to this time of the year. Whether it’s the smell of mince pies and mulled wine, rummaging in the attic for Christmas decorations or writing endless amounts of Christmas cards. We asked authors Annabelle Thorpe and Sheila O’Flanagan what puts them in the festive spirit,

Sheila O’Flanagan, author of The Missing Wife

It wouldn’t be Christmas without..

Christmas Carols and Nativity Plays. When I see four-year-old angels adjusting their wings and small shepherds and wise men struggling with their home-made robes as they make their way to the manger, I’m reminded of the goodness and innocence of children, and I’m filled with hope for the future. On Christmas Day my playlist is always the beautiful music of traditional carols which bring me back to my own childhood and simpler times.

Annabelle Thorpe, author of The People We Were Before 

It wouldn’t be Christmas without…

Dean Martin.  ‘Let it Snow’ and ‘Baby it’s Cold Outside’ are part of my Christmas soundtrack through December  (along with Last Christmas by Wham!, obviously).  One of my favourite memories from recent Christmases is my older sister and I, singing enthusiastically to Deano’s Greatest Hits after a long Christmas lunch, to my nieces and nephew’s horror.  Wine may have been taken.

Twiglets.  And Matchmakers.  Glace fruits. And all the other classic Seventies Christmas treats that defined my childhood Christmases.  The joy of finding one last After Eight in among all the empty sachets?  Necking a liqueur chocolate when the grown-ups weren’t looking?  Classic joys. Having said that, I had a 1970’s-themed New Year party a few years ago and someone bought cheese balls.  They were grim.

Carols.  I’m not religious but there’s nothing more Christmassy then belting out ‘Oh Little Town of Bethlehem’ before a glass of mulled and a mince pie.  I usually go with some journo friends to the carol service at St Bride’s on Fleet Street, known as the ‘Journalist’s Church’.  And I always have the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols on on Christmas Eve.  My Mum listened to it every year, and it always makes me think of her.

If you liked this why not read some more of our Christmas content,

The books I’ll be giving this year with Kathryn Hughes and Rosanna Ley


My favourite Christmas memory with Jo Thomas and Debra Daley


Photo Credit:

My Perfect Weekend – Sheila O'Flanagan

My Perfect Weekend – Sheila O'Flanagan

Long lie-in or up with the lark?

Once it’s bright I’m up!

Full English or a super-food smoothie?

If I’m away, I’ll go the Full English. At home a smoothie.

Bookshop browsing or exploring a library?

Bookshops browsing (and buying).

Cocktails or coffee?


Action-packed or total relaxation?


Time to write or time to step away from the computer?

Great time to write!

Radio 2 or Radio 4?

Radio 4 – actually it’s usually 5 Live in a Saturday, I love Fighting Talk.

The feel of shiny-new book or the smell of a dog-earned classic?

Shiny new book

Dressing up to the nines or jeans & wellies?

Jeans & wellies

A trip to the cinema or a DVD on the sofa?

Sofa with box sets

Sheila O’Flanagan’s brand new novel THE MISSING WIFE is available now in hardback and eBook.

Liked this? Get to know what makes a perfect weekend for…

Tasmina Perry

Alice Peterson


Get involved in Sheila O'Flanagan's next book campaign!

Get involved in Sheila O'Flanagan's next book campaign!

Would you like to have the chance to tell us more about why you love Sheila’s novels? Are you a die-hard women’s fiction fan, who can provide interesting perspectives on the genre?

Headline are going to be hosting a focus group in collaboration with external partners Relish Research.  They would like to invite Sheila O’Flanagan  and women’s fiction readers for an informal discussion about their reading habits and love of Sheila’s writing in particular.

The two-hour session will be held on the morning of Friday 6th May at the Hachette offices in Blackfriars, London, leaving participants free to spend the afternoon in London however they wish. Headline will cover any travel expenses (Standard Class tickets or equivalent) and, as a thank you for taking part, we’ll send you home with a £50 John Lewis voucher.

If you’d like to apply for a chance to join us, please send an email no later than 22nd April 2016 to with a contact number and a suitable time to call you, as the company would like to ask you a few preliminary questions to get the most out of the session. We’ll also be able to tell you a little more about the research project.

The focus group will have no more than eight participants so, if you’re interested in taking part, do please get in touch as soon as possible. Please note that if a high volume of applicants are received , Headline may only be able to respond to those selected to join the research group.

Good luck to all that apply and we can’t wait to see what this project brings to the next book!

Please note:

  • All comments from the session will be anonymised
  • Your contact details will not be passed on to any third party and will be deleted after Headline have finished the research
  • Relish Research are bound by The Market Research Society Code of Conduct. You can verify their membership by calling free-phone 0500 39 69 99


Win a Mother's Day book for you and another to distract the kids, from Sheila O'Flanagan!

Win a Mother's Day book for you and another to distract the kids, from Sheila O'Flanagan!

THE CRYSTAL RUN is my first novel for children and it will be published in May this year. I honestly wasn’t thinking about writing for children when the idea for the novel came to me but as the plot developed it seemed that the novel would work better with younger people as they main protagonists.

The initial setting of Sanctuary came to me when I visited the Alhambra palace in Granada, Spain. As I walked around the different courtyards and passageways, I kept seeing a mental image of a young woman dressed in white with a ribbon in her hair. I’ve no idea where this image came from but the more I thought about her and wondered who she was, the more I saw her as someone who appeared quiet and gentle but who was part of something really important. The Alhambra is very tranquil even though it was built as a fortress as well as a palace and I thought of it as a sanctuary against the outside world.

With this idea of sanctuary and the image of the girl still firmly lodged in my head, the idea of THE CRYSTAL RUN began to form. The action takes place on a different world to ours, and one where two countries are at war with each other. The girl from my imagination, Kaia, is part of a group of young people who have to travel through enemy territory to place powerful crystals in different locations. These crystals help to maintain the Shield that protects her country from the enemy.

Meanwhile, on Earth, Joe Hunter is being chased by school bullies who want to take his earphones. As he tries to escape he passes through a portal which unexpectedly transports him to Kaia’s world. After a somewhat worrying time where he’s suspected of being a terrorist, he goes with her on her Run to place the crystals.

The reason I wrote Joe and Kaia in their early teens was that the book is primarily an adventure story and I didn’t want more adult themes and issues getting in the way of the action. Although there is a lot of adventure in the book it also deals with questions about whether to believe everything you’re told, learning who your friends are, and who you can trust.

It was really only when I’d finished writing it that I realised it would be a children’s book. Until then I simply wrote the story as it unfolded to me, following Kaia and Joe’s journey together. I loved adventure stories when I was a child and I hope that I’ve managed to make THE CRYSTAL RUN the sort of book where you keep wanting to know what happened next. And as I think all children should read whatever books they like, it’s not aimed at boys or girls. Hopefully any child will be able to identify with Joe and Kaia and will care about what happens to them.

I also hope that my adult readers will enjoy reading these books to their children or other kids they might know. As it’s coming up to Mother’s Day, Bookends are running a competition to win a copy of THE CRYSTAL RUN along with a paperback copy of MY MOTHER’S SECRET, which is out in Ireland and published next week in the UK. Hopefully, the children you give the former to, will be occupied enough so you can have some time to enjoy the latter this Mother’s Day!

To enter, just email with your mailing address under the subject line ‘Secret/Crystal’. Full T&Cs can be read here. Good luck!

THE CRYSTAL RUN is available to pre-order here and you can buy MY MOTHER’S SECRET here.

Like this? Why not…

… read about the books on Sheila’s bedside table

The Bookends list of shorts for a sweet bookish fix…

The Bookends list of shorts for a sweet bookish fix…

For some of us summer heralds an opportunity to finally sit back and get gloriously lost in the backlog you’ve racked up on your e-reader, but for others, it’s all you can do to snatch ten minutes to yourself between blowing up the kids’ inflatable crocodile and applying a sixth layer of sun-cream. The Bookends team are strong believers that even the the tiniest of respites is a golden opportunity for a great read, so we’ve put together a list of some short but oh-so-sweet stories from some of our favourite authors.



A gripping and beautifully written novella that introduces Alice, the unforgettable character at the centre of Jodi Picoult’s new novel LEAVING TIME.  Alice is a researcher studying memory in elephants, and is fascinated by the bonds between mother and calf. Living on a game reserve in Botswana, Alice is able to view the animals in their natural habitat, as long as she obeys one important rule: she must only observe and never interfere.  Then she finds an orphaned young elephant in the bush and cannot bear to leave the helpless baby behind, risking her career to care for the calf.

Buy it here!

GIRLS ON TOUR – Nicola Doherty

Girls on Tour final cover

You get five for the price of one in this hilarious series from Nicola Doherty, featuring four friends, and five fabulous locations. Poppy is bound for Paris. Could this be her chance to end her epic dry spell?  Lily is en route to her cousin’s wedding in LA, where she’s willing to break a few rules to land her dream role.  Maggie can’t wait for her romantic ski holiday in Meribel – until it goes seriously off-piste.  Rachel packs for a glamorous Roman holiday, but a blast from the past is about to sabotage la dolce vita.  The girls get together and fly to Manhattan. But someone’s been hiding a big secret in the Big Apple…

Buy it here!


Daydreams_of Angles_demyHB.indd

These are old stories, but not as you know them. Set not in the forests of Europe or fantasy worlds, but on the battlefields of World War II and the wilderness of downtown Montreal.
With her blazing imagination, irreverent humour and arresting prose, Heather O’Neill twists original children’s stories and fairytales anew: more magical for their realism, more profound for their darkness; captivating, witty and wicked.

Buy it here!



When it comes to falling in love and finding the elusive ‘one’, Adele Parks, with her trademark, up-front, tell-it-as-it-is style, gets right to the heart of the dilemmas real women – and men – face in their lives.  FINDING THE ONE is the first of four deliciously insightful e-short story collections about the changing face of love – and sometimes finding it in the most unexpected of places.

Buy it here! And pre-order Adele’s second collection of shorts HAPPY ENDINGS, out in October.



Yes, that’s right, we’ve included a second entry from Jodi Picoult. What can we say? The woman’s a genius. Even as a child, Serenity Jones knew she possessed unusual psychic gifts. Now, decades later, she’s an acclaimed medium and host of her own widely viewed TV show, where she delivers messages to the living from loved ones who have died. Lately, though, her efforts to boost ratings and garner fame have compromised her clairvoyant instincts.  When Serenity books a young war widow to appear as a guest, the episode quickly unravels, stirring up a troubling controversy. And as she tries to undo the damage – to both her reputation and her show – Serenity finds that pride comes at a high price.

Buy it here!



We’re finishing off with something different, though if it’s short stories you’re looking for, Sheila does those too – check out DESTINATIONS and CONNECTIONS. This delightful ebook invites us in for a glimpse of the bestselling author’s world, including pieces on ‘A Writer’s Life’, a Q&A with Sheila and the first chapter of MY MOTHER’S SECRET.  Not a novel — more a really good gossip!

Buy it here!


Liked this?  

Check out Jodi Picoult’s LEAVING TIME – it’s our Book of the Month!

Read what books Sheila O’Flanagan keeps on her bedside table here.

Introducing A SUMMER WITH FRIENDS – Free E-book Sampler

Introducing A SUMMER WITH FRIENDS – Free E-book Sampler

Today, Headline publishes this gorgeous sampler of first chapters from some of the brightest and most talented women’s fiction authors around. So if you’ve been dithering over what to read next, here’s an opportunity to dip your toe in before you buy!

We asked one of our editors Sherise Hobbs to tell us more about this brand new collection of  first chapters, available now to download for free:

“I love the chance to dip into the latest novels from my favourite authors. And SUMMER WITH FRIENDS is a delicious treat of a read.

The collection sweeps you away to glorious Cornwall, sun-kissed Italy and the beautiful Rocky Mountains with chapters from Emylia Hall, Jo Thomas and Jill Shalvis. It invites you to discover captivating secrets shared by Sheila O’Flanagan, Harriet Evans and Emma Hannigan. Adele Parks and Tasmina Perry offer a tantalising glimpse into the mysteries of the past, and Jill Mansell and Kathryn Hughes take you on an unforgettable journey of the heart. Stella Newman and Louise Lee inject an irresistible dose of fun and romance. In fact, this whole collection will leave you with a smile on your face and the warmth of summer in your heart — whatever the weather!”

Download SUMMER WITH FRIENDS here. Let us know on social which chapter caught your attention first.

Liked this? Why not get to know these authors a bit better? Try our quick fire Q&A with Emma Hannigan, or find out about the books on Emylia Halls bedside table.

Books on my Bedside Table – Sheila O'Flanagan

Books on my Bedside Table – Sheila O'Flanagan

PG Wodehouse was a comic genius. This book of short stories means that on the nights when I’m too tired to concentrate on a novel, I can read a story and then fall asleep with a smile on my face.

A PERFECT HERITAGE  by Penny Vincenzi
Penny writes huge doorstopper novels, rich in location and character. This has been on my bedside table for a while, because I was deliberately keeping it for my summer holidays. You need time for a Penny Vincenzi novel!

I have an advance proof copy of this real-life spy story about a womanising graduate who doubles as a US embassy clerk and a Soviet agent. I know you’re not meant to judge a book by its cover but I just loved the picture of the woman on this and so when I saw it in my publisher’s office I asked if I could have it. One of the perks of being an author!

When he bought me my first telescope my dad also bought me this book on the night sky. It’s maps of the constellations and I love looking at them at night and thinking about the universe we live in. I also feel closer to my dad who died when I was nineteen.

This is the Spanish translation of Agatha Christie’s first novel THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES. I’m reading it because I know the story well and because I’m trying to improve my Spanish.


Sheila’s latest novel MY MOTHER’S SECRET is out in Hardback and E-book now. Click here to buy.

Bestselling author Sheila OFlanagan tells us where she creates her wonderful novels…

Bestselling author Sheila OFlanagan tells us where she creates her wonderful novels…

My Writing Room

Sheila O’ FlanaganI wrote my first novel, DREAMING OF A STRANGER, in the garage of my house in Clontarf. The conversion job on the garage, which was done by the previous owners, was very basic and the temperature never seemed to rise to more than a few degrees above zero. It was also on the gloomy side because it faced northeast and  didn’t get much sun.

When I eventually gave up the day job to become a full-time writer, I knew that I would’t be able to stick the cold garage all day. So I decided to build up over it and relocate my writing room to upstairs.


Now my desk is right beside a full-length window and it overlooks the garden, which means I can watch the birds, the squirrels and the occasional hedgehog that wanders in — along with the footballs from the boys next door! There’s another window behind me so I can see downstairs into my living room. Even though authors are supposed to work in splendid isolation, it’s good to be able to see what’s going on in the house sometimes.

My desk is big. I like having room to spread out my manuscripts and whatever reference material I might need. I also have a couple of fridge magnets with inspirational quotes on them (for the dodgy times) and some paperweights. Two of the paperweights are trophies I won at badminton; one is a glass maple leaf I brought home from a book festival in Canada and the other was a gift from a bank where I worked. I keep a container of Muji coloured pens nearby which I use for editing. I pick a different colour for each draft so I know where I am in the editing process.

If You Were MeThere are two bookcases nearby and they contain a selection of reference books as well as some non-fiction. Another cupboard holds all of my office stuff. On top of that is my printer, which I hate with a passion for two reasons — one: that I could only buy it in black and two: is that it always seems to run out of ink in the middle of printing a manuscript. There are usually more books and folders on top of that cupboard too, and I hang two Chinese good luck tassels from the handles.

Under the desk is a big box for recycling. When my cat, Djin was alive, he used to sleep in it – if he wasn’t sitting on a manuscript, eyeing it balefully. Even now, cat hairs can still end up on my desk and I know he’s sending his critical opinion from wherever he is…


Sheila’s new novel, IF YOU WERE ME, is out now in paperback and ebook.

Enjoyed this? Why not find out what books Sheila has on her bedside table.