Read an extract from Friends like These: the unmissable new psychological thriller

Read an extract from Friends like These: the unmissable new psychological thriller

Read an exclusive Friends like These extract: as addictive as Friend Request, as gripping as The Girl Before.

Friends Like These banner

Lizzie hasn’t thought much about Becca since the accident.

She remembers the blood though. She can see how you wouldn’t be the same again after something like that. No one was surprised when Becca didn’t come back to work.

And Lizzie’s different these days too. She used to be the one in the shadows, stalking Becca’s perfect life online, but a lot has changed since then.

So when Becca’s ex shows up on Tinder, Lizzie swipes right. Why not? Doesn’t she deserve a chance at happiness as well?

Becca will have moved on. There’s no way she’d even remember Lizzie, no way she could know anything about her life – is there?

She’s about to find out that with a friend like Becca, she doesn’t need enemies…

See what readers are saying about FRIENDS LIKE THESE

‘a rollercoaster ride of plot twists and turns that will leave you breathless.’ NetGalley Reviewer

‘a cleverly written and well plotted thriller’ Goodreads Reviewer

I struggled to put this book down and read it at every opportunity.’ NetGalley Reviewer

‘this is a readable thriller packed with characters many of us will undoubtedly relate to.’ Amazon Reviewer

‘an incredibly modern and accessible psychological thriller.’ NetGalley Reviewer

Read the extract here: Friends like These extract.

Learn more about Friends like These here.

Paris in Springtime…

Paris in Springtime…

What could be more perfect, ahead of Valentine’s Day, than an insider guide to Spring in the most romantic city in the world? These Dividing Walls author Fran Cooper shares her favourite spots.
Is there anything more romantic than the idea of Paris in the spring? Those days when it’s warm enough to walk around without a jacket; when the trees along the Seine are in leaf and bloom, and birdsong mingles with the accordion music being played on the bridges. Of course, this vision doesn’t quite take into account the proliferation of dog’s mess underfoot, or the crazed Parisian motorcyclists who roar gleefully past you, or the thousands of tourists clamouring for the most picturesque photograph. That was the Paris I tried to capture in These Dividing Walls – one that’s beautiful, yes, but messy, complicated and troubled, too. But that being said, there’s no denying that Paris has its moments of simply breathtaking beauty, and for my money many of those creep up on you on an idyllic spring afternoon when you suddenly spot the city at its most charming.
I imagine plenty of Parisians are dreaming of those spring days right now, as they cope with some of the fiercest snow storms of recent years. So for anyone who might want to take a little séjour (whether real or imaginary) in Paris this spring, here are some of the places I most enjoyed visiting during my three years in the city…
The Jardin du Luxembourg is one of the Left Bank’s jewels. It combines everything you might possibly want in a park – lush green lawns, an ornamental lake for racing toy boats, formal flower gardens, tree-lined walkways, and groups of extremely professional chess players competing on the park’s free boards. This is the perfect place to while away a springtime afternoon, not least because Parisian parks have dozens of reclining garden chairs at your disposal – perfect for settling in with a friend or a book!

On the other side of the river, escape the bustling medieval streets of the Marais in the gardens of the Archives Nationales. The archives are housed in the Hôtel de Soubise, a private home dating back to 1375 and largely remodelled in the eighteenth century, but the gardens are open to all and provide a little oasis of calm amidst one of Paris’s most fun and chaotic quarters. If you’re looking for something a little grander, take an ice cream to the Place des Vosges or the gardens of the Palais Royal – both have plenty of tree-shaded benches on which to people watch.

If you’re willing to venture a little further afield, take metro line 10 to its last stop and marvel at the gardens of the Musée Albert Kahn – a hidden gem of a museum dedicated to the early days of photography. English, French and Japanese gardens are a riot of colour, especially at this time of year when the cherry trees are in blossom. And of course, if you’re willing to leave the city for a day, nothing beats the magic of Monet’s gardens and waterlily pond at Giverny, which are every bit as beautiful as his paintings.

These Dividing Walls is out now in paperback.

What Team Bookends are TRYING this year (see what we did there?)

What Team Bookends are TRYING this year (see what we did there?)

Inspired by Emily Phillips’ stonking debut novel Trying, Team Bookends share what they’ll be trying to do more (or less) of this year.

Aimee

This year I’m trying to read more outside of the genres I gravitate towards – in particular, I’m trying to read non-fiction. On my reading list I have Hunger by Roxane Gay and the brilliantly-named The Wonder Down Under by Nina Brochmann and Ellen Stokken Dahl.

I’m also trying to take care of myself a little better. I’ve now got a skincare regime together (though it’s still early days) and I’m trying to relax more by trying out some different hobbies. Past (and failed) attempts include origami, meditation, and listening to classical music. I’m now looking to take up knitting after my family bought me a kit for Christmas.

Vicky

In 2018, I am going to be #trying to do more running. Taking a leaf out of Bryony Gordon’s new book on how the marathon has helped her on her journey to happiness, I am going to be hitting the pavements, parks and footpaths that London has to offer. This will NOT be in pursuit of skinniness, self worth or (worse) unbearable smugness but simply to improve my mood for 2018. Less lows and more highs!

Hannah

This year I’ll be trying to channel my creativity and fall in love with drawing again – the fabulous folks at Scriberian have a handy (and rather beautiful) guide called How to Draw Anything that helps you rekindle the confidence and excitement of drawing. Time to splurge on fancy stationary and pencils for motivation…

Helena

Much to my brother’s delight I will be trying to read a lot more non-fiction (I’ve read one so far this year, an achievement in itself) as well as attempting to learn new recipes. I’ve got tons of recipe books that I’ve accumulated over the years full of delicious looking dishes and I definitely don’t cook from them enough. I’m going to be delving into Anne Shooter’s Cherish next month – it’s full of Middle Eastern delights and the Syrian courgette and cheese pies have caught my eye…

Alice

This year I am going to be #Trying to go more meat-free. My husband and I have agreed to have at least 3 vegetarian meals a week. I think we’ll eat more healthily as well as feeling better about ourselves.

Trying by Emily Phillips is out now.

Writing your life into fiction

Writing your life into fiction

Emily Phillips, the author of new release TRYING pitched the story of trying for a baby and failing in the pub – here she dissects injecting real life into fiction.

The moment I typed THE END, I cried. I was bereft. No matter that I had been channeling parts of my life into the themes and situations in TRYING – in those intense five months of writing, it had <become> my life.

Writing it had been in equal parts a cathartic outpouring of the fertility challenges we had been facing and a really great distraction. I had allowed myself to vent through creating ridiculous situations, drawing up any bitterness and twisting it into dark humour, and injecting real pain and tears into medical tests and let downs I had been going through.

And it worked. For those months, I was so fertility obsessed that I didn’t obsess over our real lack of progress in having a baby. I banked on the fact that in not having a conventional ending, that we might get our happy ending at home. That by the end of the first draft, no, the second, still no, the final draft, we would be on the way to having a baby that would neatly pop out at the same time as the book. But no.

The book is out this week and I’m still not pregnant. And, like some characters in the book, we’re now undergoing IVF. I didn’t want that to be the journey for Olivia and Felix in those pages – I wanted them to really consider their family in an open-ended unexplained situation as we did at the beginning – to know what it is to really want something.

But now, we’re letting science take over and I have such a better understanding of what I was writing in some of those sections. The research for the book also armed me for some of the obstacles ahead – both physically and mentally, so in a way it is now life, imitating art, imitating life.

Probably the hardest thing to do is write sex scenes. Simply attempting to keep them from being toe-curling in their rendering I hope helped me separate it from reality – I had to be thinking outside of individual experience and focusing on universal crap sex. And I’ve had plenty of comments from people who have said it rings true!

It’s tricky blurring the boundaries when you’re writing something with a personal bent, but the characters and situations are all far from reality. I’ve been through some of those medical probes, and I think we’ve all had some of those let downs, but it was important for me to throw in some real curve balls for the characters to battle against. Temptation, dissatisfaction, anger – those are things I’ve managed to steer clear of so far. It’s definitely the extreme bits where you can stretch the creative muscles that are the most fun to write.

TRYING by Emily Phillips is published in hardback, ebook and audio on 25th January.

Bookends authors share their Christmas Day Routine

Bookends authors share their Christmas Day Routine

As homes up and down the country wake up to put the turkey in the oven and open their stockings, our Bookends authors share their Christmas Day routines.

Carmel Harrington, author of Cold Feet: The Lost Years

We awake early, courtesy of our two children – Amelia (7) and Nate (6). They scramble into bed with Roger and I and then we all run to see if Santa has been. Santa always leaves his presents in our living room, in big red sacks. Roger and I watch the children open their Santa gifts, then we all have breakfast. Fortified by my first cup of tea of the day, we sit down and open our family presents, which are stacked under our tree. We normally do Christmas lunch at home, but this year we are going to my parents, as are my siblings and their families. I predict laughter, food, drink, love and a lot fun.

Chrissie Manby, author of The Worst Case Scenario Cookery Club

The past few years have seen a lot of changes for my family and so I suppose we’re finding new Christmas traditions.  My sister and mum usually cook though.  If they do let me into the kitchen, they only worry that I’m going to undercook the sprouts.  Apparently, they need to go on around Bonfire Night.

Fiona Mitchell, author of The Maid’s Room

We open presents, put on Christmas music, then at around 10am, the eating starts with crisps. I spend the afternoon in the kitchen cooking which involves dropping things and burning my wrists in a bid to fit everything in the oven. Somewhere along the line there’ll be games including Uno. Then we’ll flop and watch a David Walliams drama, followed by a film.

Stef Penney, author of Under a Pole Star

Depends where we are, but it will include present opening (after a token walk and lunch), and Christmas Eve involves a ritual reading aloud of Astrid Lindgren Christmas stories. No television allowed.

Della Parker, author of The Reading Group

Smoked salmon and scrambled egg for breakfast. A walk in the forest. (I got my car stuck in the mud one year). Christmas presents after dinner which is at 2.00 pm. Then we often play board games or Charades if we can move. Amazingly, boringly ordinary.

Emily Phillips, author of Trying

I haven’t had a definitive Christmas routine since I got together with my husband Charlie and we got to rotating between being at one of our families’ houses for Christmas morning (and present opening – all of that hastily fashioned wrapping in the recycling!). What we do always seem to do is have a massively gluttonous lunch at one house and then go on to the others’ for the same again for dinner. I need to add some stretchier waistbands on Santa’s list.

Home Alone 2 or White Christmas? Our authors' favourite Christmas movies

Home Alone 2 or White Christmas? Our authors' favourite Christmas movies

We quizzed more of our fabulous Bookends authors on the movies they want to snuggle down in front of this Christmas.

Kirstie Allsopp, author of Kirstie’s Real Kitchen

Ooh difficult… It’s going to have to be National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

Emily Phillips, author of Trying

I adore Home Alone 2 for a festive reminder of how much I love New York when the decorations are up (and how gothically spooky Central Park can be). But in terms of sheer sing-along joy, it would have to be A Muppet Christmas Carol. I do all my harried Christmas eve wrapping to it every year. The bunny gets me every time

Stef Penney, author of Under a Pole Star

Actually a New Year’s movie – The Apartment. Does that count?

Laurie Graham, author of The Early Birds

White Christmas. But this year I’m hoping Captain Underpants will be out on DVD.

Fiona Mitchell, author of The Maid’s Room

 I adore Kind Hearts and Coronets. For me, Christmas should involve a black and white film in some shape or form, and this one is my favourite. For family viewing? You can’t beat a bit of Home Alone.

Read an extract of Chrissie Manby's Falling Leaves and Fireworks

Read an extract of Chrissie Manby's Falling Leaves and Fireworks

Your perfect Firework Night read starts here!

Falling Leaves and Fireworks

Chapter One

Ronnie Benson, Mark Edwards and their toddler daughter, Sophie, had not long moved into their new house on Three Spires Close when the little black cat first came calling. It was a scraggy wisp of a thing. Thin and mangy with very visible fleas. Whenever Ronnie saw it, especially when she was out with Sophie in the pushchair, she would do her best not to make contact with its big yellow-green eyes. She didn’t want to encourage the poor creature. The last thing she wanted was for her daughter to pick up cat germs. Though she was an animal lover at heart, Ronnie’s determination to keep her daughter safe trumped everything.

‘It must belong to someone,’ she told Mark when he mentioned it was hanging around again. They’d seen it almost every day for a fortnight by this point. Every time someone came to the door it would run up the garden path full of heart-breaking hope that this might be its chance. Someone would let it in. ‘It looks well cared for,’ Ronnie insisted.

Both of them knew that wasn’t true.

‘If it’s still here on Saturday, I’ll call the cat shelter,’ said Mark. ‘They’ll have a space for it. Maybe its owner is looking for it right now.’

Ronnie nodded. It was all they could do. Call the shelter. They couldn’t take it in themselves. Sophie was still so small. The cat might scratch her. Add to that the fact they were skint. Mark had been working all the hours he could at the joinery firm so they could move out of Ronnie’s parents’ place and rent their little house. Ronnie had to feed the three of them on a painfully small budget. They were stretched to the absolute limit. There was no money for anything but the necessities. Cat food and vets’ bills were out of the question. Still, Ronnie felt guilty as the cat attempted to endear itself to her. Every time she stepped out of the house, it would be there, mewing and sidling up and trying to wrap itself around her legs.

‘You’ve come to the wrong place,’ Ronnie said firmly. ‘There’s nothing for you here. Shoo! Find someone else to bother.’

But Sophie had other ideas.

Earlier that week, Ronnie had taken her twenty-month-old daughter for a check-up. She was worried that Sophie wasn’t hitting all the developmental milestones she should be. She was growing. She was actually quite tall for her age. She was steady on her feet. But she still wasn’t saying much. No matter how much time Ronnie spent chatting to her little girl, Sophie remained resolutely silent. Until . . .

‘Cat!’

Ronnie was so surprised by her daughter’s sudden utterance that she assumed it must have come from someone else. But no, they were alone on the street. No one was hiding in the bushes. Ronnie crouched to fasten Sophie into her pushchair and she said it again.

‘Cat!’ This time she pointed for emphasis.

‘Cat! Cat! Cat!’

Now she had started, there was no stopping her.

The little black cat ventured closer, sensing its chance. Sophie beamed. ‘Cat!’ she said again. ‘Cat!’

Ronnie was ready to cry with tears of utter relief. Sophie ‘cat, cat, catted’ all the way to the shops. Where Ronnie bought a tin of cat food. By the time they got home again – to find the cat sitting right on the doorstep with an air of expectation – Ronnie knew what would happen next. Mark came in from work to discover that his little family had expanded from three to four. The tiny black cat had given Sophie something she felt worth talking about, how could they possibly refuse her a home?

 

Chapter Two

Ronnie decided she would forego her long-anticipated and much-needed birthday present of a new pair of jeans to pay for the cat to be treated for fleas and mange. A local animal charity helped them to get the cat spayed. Now that she was eating properly, the cat soon started to put on weight and her scruffy-looking coat became glossy. Meanwhile, Sophie’s vocabulary came on apace, as though she had been saving her words up for the cunning feline’s arrival. It seemed impossible that Sophie had been pretty much silent for so long as she launched straight into short sentences and soon left her peers open-mouthed with astonishment behind her. Most of those early sentences had ‘cat’ in them.

It was Sophie who chose the cat’s name.

‘Fishy!’ she complained, when puss came in for a cuddle, smelling of supermarket own-brand cat food. It seemed appropriate and it stuck. Fishy Benson-Edwards had found her place in the world at last.

***

Sixteen years on, it was hard to believe that Sophie, who now had an answer for everything, had ever been worryingly quiet. It was equally hard to remember a time before Fishy had been in the house. In the years since Fishy wheedled her way into number six Three Spires Close, Mark, Ronnie and Sophie had moved down the street to a bigger house at number twelve and another child – Jack– had swelled the Benson-Edwards family to five. Ronnie remembered fondly how instinctively careful Fishy had been around Jack the newborn.

Now Jack was eight and he and Fishy were the best of friends. Jack included Fishy in as many of his games as she would let him. She had remarkable patience until he got dangerously boisterous. She’d even allowed herself to be dressed up as, variously, a princess (to be rescued), an Ewok (to be an ally) and a lion (to be run away from, while she sat licking her paws). And when no one else would listen, Jack could always tell Fishy the plot of the latest episode of Doctor Who. Fishy would feign interest in just about anything in exchange for a couple of cat treats. Even the new updates to Minecraft.

Fishy was quite simply part of the family. Ronnie might grumble when Fishy climbed up on the sofa to sit with her, leaving a trail of hairs in her wake, but she was always secretly pleased when the cat chose her over her husband. Meanwhile, Mark sometimes carried Fishy around like a baby, flipping her onto her back, tickling her under her delicate greying cat chin and cooing as he cradled her. Even Sophie, who, like most teenagers, was bored of pretty much everything most of the time, always had a moment to give the old mog an affectionate scratch between the ears. There was always a gift for Fishy beneath the Benson-Edwards’ family Christmas tree.

Fishy’s birthday was celebrated on the anniversary of Sophie’s first proper word, but the truth was that no one really knew how old Fishy was. Though she was small, she was already fully grown when she chose the Benson-Edwards gang as her family. In fact, Jacqui, Ronnie’s mother, suspected that Fishy was at least five when she turned up. The vet thought she might have had kittens at some point. She had good manners around food and was easily persuaded to use a litter tray. Perhaps she’d been the pet of someone who died without making provision for her, leaving her to fend for herself.

Whatever, there was no doubt that nearly sixteen years after she first arrived in Three Spires Close, Fishy was getting old. Rather than head out into the garden to give the birds a quick scare, she was now content just to watch them through the patio doors. Likewise, when the local squirrels, whose antics had once driven Fishy wild, came to tease her, she barely batted a paw. She was spending more and more time asleep. The vet warned she might have to have some teeth out – an operation that would likely be dangerous for such an elderly feline. Her fur was more and more grey. Yet, sometimes, the old kitten was still there. Sometimes she would perk up and want to play for a while.

Ronnie refused to engage in the conversation when Mark reminded her that the true price one pays for having a beloved pet is that, more likely than not, you’ll be the one who has to make the decision to help them on their way to that so-called better place.

***

As it happened, in the end Fishy spared Ronnie that terrible dilemma. One night in mid-October Fishy died in her sleep, tucked up in her basket, while eight-year-old Jack, thankfully, was having a sleepover at his grandparents’ house. She looked very peaceful, thought Ronnie as she knelt beside the basket and ruffled Fishy’s grey-flecked fur one last time. There was almost a smile upon the cat’s face. Ronnie half expected her to purr.

‘Thank you for being our cat,’ Ronnie told her. Then she burst into big noisy tears that brought Mark running down the stairs. When he saw what had happened, Mark pulled Ronnie into his arms and he cried too because Fishy Benson-Edwards was the best cat in the world.

 

Chapter Three

‘We’ve got to sort this out before Jack comes home,’ Ronnie told Mark as they sat at the breakfast table, unable to eat for their grief. Mark agreed. Abandoning the breakfast they couldn’t eat, they carefully lifted Fishy out of her basket, wrapped her in an old tea towel – printed with pictures of herring – and took her out into the garden. They buried her in the shade of her favourite tree. Mark dug the hole and Ronnie said a prayer as he filled it back in. Though neither of them was particularly religious, they wanted to know that Fishy was going ‘upstairs’.

‘What are we going to tell Jack?’ asked Sophie as her parents shared the news with her when she finally came downstairs at eleven. ‘We can’t pretend Fishy’s just wandered off. It’s going to be obvious something’s happened.’

It was true. They were all red-eyed from crying. Especially Mark. And Jack generally took his cue from his father when deciding whether to freak out. Seeing Mark with tears in his eyes would definitely be a ‘freak-out’ signal.

‘We’ve got to tell him the truth,’ said Ronnie firmly. ‘He’ll understand.’

Indeed, poor little Jack had had a crash course in mortality that year. His great-grandfather, known to the family as Granddad Bill, had passed away on New Year’s Day. Jack had taken Bill’s passing surprisingly well. He seemed to understand that his great-grandfather was very old and ill with dementia and that his last few months had sometimes been frightening and painful. Ronnie and Mark hoped he would be equally sanguine about Fishy.

But Jack was not at all sanguine about the loss of the cat he called his own. Not in the least.

 ***

Jack called Fishy’s name as soon as he burst through the door when his grandparents Dave and Jacqui brought him home that afternoon. He was carrying a bag of sardine-flavoured treats that he’d begged Jacqui to buy as they browsed the aisles at Aldi. Jack was so excited at having bagged such a good gift for his furry friend. There could not have been a worse moment for him to discover that she was gone for ever.

Afterwards, Jacqui cursed herself for not having taken her phone to the supermarket. Had she got any one of Ronnie’s increasingly frantic texts, Jacqui could have prepared Jack for the awful news to come. She could have made a plan. Ronnie’s heart broke again when Jack heard the worst and threw himself at his grandmother’s waist and sobbed into the folds of her coat.

‘Oh, Jack,’ said Jacqui, as she stroked Jack’s head. ‘Fishy wouldn’t want you to cry. You know how much she loved you.’

‘You were her best friend,’ said Dave.

That only made him cry harder.

Of course Jack wanted to know where Fishy was buried. The whole family gathered beneath the tree in the garden and they did the prayers all over again. After that, Jack ran inside and refused to come out of his bedroom while the adults sat downstairs and worried.

‘He just needs a bit of time,’ said Jacqui. ‘He’s shocked. He’s lost a friend. He’ll be better once he’s at school tomorrow and he’s got lots to do to take his mind of it.’

‘I hope so,’ said Ronnie.

She knew she herself would take some time to get used to Fishy’s absence. It was very strange to stand at the kitchen counter, waiting for the kettle to boil, and not have Fishy brushing herself against the back of her legs in the hope that Ronnie was going to open a tin of cat food while she was there.

***

At teatime that horrible day, the Benson-Edwards family had a visitor. Their immediate neighbour, Cathy Wigmore, known to everyone at number twelve as Cathy-Next-Door, had seen Ronnie and Mark burying the cat when she looked out of her bedroom window that morning. She came round at five to offer her condolences. She brought with her a box of chocolates from Thorntons. It was nearly new. Only two of the champagne truffles had been eaten.

‘Couldn’t get to the shops today,’ she explained. ‘I was sanding some chairs in the garage.’ She was still wearing the protective mask around her neck. ‘I got these for my birthday. I’ve hardly touched them.’

Ronnie accepted the gift in the spirit in which it was given. It was only later that she realised it was actually the box of chocolates she herself had given Cathy as a gift two weeks earlier.

‘Thanks, Cathy.’

‘I’m sorry about Fishy. She was a good cat,’ said Cathy. ‘And I know you’re all going to miss her but you can rest assured she’s safely with Satan now.’

‘Cathy! Don’t say that! She was lovely!’

For just a second Ronnie was horrified. Then she remembered that Satan was the name of Cathy’s old dog, a bad-tempered and toothless Yorkshire terrier, who had died before Jack was even born. Satan had been Fishy’s nemesis for a while. One of Fishy’s favourite things had been to stretch out along the fence between numbers 12 and 14, keeping just out of reach while the Yorkie bounced up and down like a yo-yo, driven wild with doggy frustration. Cathy hadn’t owned a pet since Satan met his fate under the wheels of a surprisingly fast mobility scooter in Coventry city centre. She said she couldn’t bear the inevitable pain of parting.

‘You never get over it,’ she said now. ‘It’s just like having a human die. Worse, in fact, because when they’re alive, animals don’t piss you off nearly half so much as people do.’

Ronnie didn’t entirely disagree with that but she mimed a throat-slitting motion in an attempt to get Cathy to change the subject before Jack came into the room. Jack entered listlessly, carrying a Doctor Who book.

‘Evening, soldier,’ said Cathy, giving him a salute.

‘Fishy’s dead,’ Jack sighed.

‘I know. That’s why I brought you these.’

She indicated the chocolates. ‘There’s a couple missing but we saved your favourites.’

Jack said he didn’t want them.

Cathy and Ronnie shared a look. Jack off chocolate was a very bad sign indeed.

***

The next morning, Jack went to school. Ronnie was nervous as she walked him there. He barely said a word, when he was usually so hard to shut up. Perhaps she should have let him stay home? Just for one day. But Ronnie herself had to go straight to work after she dropped him off. She worked at a funeral parlour of all places. She wished she were going to a job where she could be guaranteed a laugh.

Ronnie waved Jack off at the school gates and watched until he walked into the building. His little shoulders were slumped. She didn’t think she’d ever seen him quite so sad and it made her heart squeeze in her chest. When she finally got to the funeral parlour, she had to walk around the block before she went in, to make sure she didn’t bring a cloud of unhappiness into the place. It wasn’t fair on the customers. They had enough worries of their own.

All the same, Ronnie’s boss, Mr Furniss, noticed she wasn’t her usual self.

‘Our cat died,’ she admitted.

‘Oh, Ronnie,’ Mr Furniss frowned. ‘That is horrible news. I’ll never forget the day we lost our Siamese, Shere Kahn.’ As he told Ronnie that story, he had to dab away a tear. ‘I didn’t even like cats before my wife brought that kitten home. Five years since he passed and the thought of it can still make me cry. Bloody pets,’ Mr Furniss concluded. ‘They get right under your skin.’

‘They do,’ Ronnie agreed.

Later that day, when he came back from his lunch-break, Mr Furniss brought Ronnie a red Bounty. He placed it on her desk with a respectful nod.

Falling Leaves and Fireworks is available as ebook only for the bargain price of only 99p. So what are you waiting for?!

Read a FREE extract of My Mother's Shadow

Read a FREE extract of My Mother's Shadow

If you haven’t yet read Nikola Scott’s debut My Mother’s Shadow then you’re in for a treat – we’ve got an exclusive extract just for you! Read more about the beautiful novel below and click here for the extract.

‘Addie thinks she knows everything about her mother. But when a stranger appears claiming to be her sister, she realises that her life so far has been a lie. But why?

Hartland House has always been a faithful keeper of secrets…

1958. Sent to beautiful Hartland to be sheltered from her mother’s illness, Liz spends the summer with the wealthy Shaw family. They treat Liz as one of their own, but their influence could be dangerous…

Now. Addie believes she knows everything about her mother Elizabeth and their difficult relationship until her recent death. When a stranger appears claiming to be Addie’s sister, she is stunned. Is everything she’s been told about her early life a lie?

How can you find the truth about the past if the one person who could tell you is gone? Addie must go back to that golden summer her mother never spoke of…and the one night that changed a young girl’s life for ever.’

You can pre-order the paperback now but if you can’t wait that long, it’s just 99p in eBook!

BAKED OFF by Chrissie Manby

BAKED OFF by Chrissie Manby

I’m about to utter something quite shocking.  I’ve never been a fan of The Great British Bake Off.  It’s worse than that.  I’ve never been a fan of baking full stop.  I know.  I’m a chick-lit writer.  Isn’t my life supposed to be an endless round of cupcakes and Chardonnay?  OK.  I’ll cop to the chardonnay, though only if it’s a nice flinty Chablis. Cakes though.  I just can’t get on with them.  If there’s a cookery equivalent of green fingers, I definitely have the brown thumb.

My sister Kate, in sharp contrast, is a wonderful baker.  For her son Lukas’s eleventh birthday, she made a cake in the shape of a burger, complete with a portion of fries on the side.  She’s made Minion cakes, Star Wars cakes, a beachscape cake, even a cake in the shape of Manhattan. With Kate to be relied upon for all those special family occasions, I’ve never had to make so much as a rock bun and I’m ashamed to say that as a result, I’ve never taken much interest in how Kate and her fellow baking fans perform their edible magic.

 

However, just a couple of weeks ago something changed.  Flicking through the channels, I paused on a close-up of Noel Fielding. I’d completely forgotten he was one of the new Bake Off presenters, even though my Facebook feed was filled with nothing but Bake Off outrage for what seemed like six months after his appointment was announced. May as well see what all the fuss is about, I thought.

Well, it turned out that Fielding and Toksvig were the ingredients GBBO had been missing for me. The salt in the caramel topping. I’ve always been a fan of Toksvig and Fielding is still my number one weird crush. With their offbeat humour at the helm, at last I could watch the show without getting toothache.  And boy it was worth it.

With Toksvig and Fielding running the show, I watched for long enough to appreciate the contestants’ impressive skills for once.  Those illusion cakes in episode one were spectacular. The champagne bucket! That BLT sandwich cake that won the day! Even the bread cake with the broken knife that cost poor Peter his spot in the competition was a revelation to me.

I was inspired. I actually watched An Extra Slice to find out more about GBBO behind the scenes. Maybe baking wasn’t boring after all.

Long story short, my sister’s birthday is coming up at the end of September and this time I’d like to be the one who makes the cake.  Kate deserves a special treat.  I knew I’d need practice so last week I got out the cake tin and made a trial illusion cake of my own. In some ways it turned out to be a spectacular success.

It looked like a Frisbee.  It even flew like a Frisbee.  Who cares if it was supposed to be a classic Victoria sponge?

 

Chrissie Manby’s new novel, The Worst Case Scenario Cookery Club is out now in ebook and released in paperback on September 21st.