Charlie Maddison loves being an architect in London, but when she finds out her boyfriend, Dominic, is actually married, she runs back to the beautiful countryside of Westenbury and her parents.
Charlie’s sister Daisy, a landscape gardener, is also back home in desperate need of company and some fun. Their great-grandmother, Madge – now in her early nineties – reveals she has a house, Holly Close Farm, mysteriously abandoned over sixty years ago, and persuades the girls to project manage its renovation.
As work gets underway, the sisters start uncovering their family’s history, and the dark secrets that are hidden at the Farm.
A heart-breaking tale of wartime romance, jealousy and betrayal slowly emerge, but with a moral at its end: true love can withstand any obstacle, and, before long, Charlie dares to believe in love again too…
I received a copy of this book from Aria Fiction via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Romantic love is often considered something you can only have when you’re young. Can you imagine your grandmother or great-grandmother falling in love, or do you just see the wrinkles, hear the repetitive stories and remember her forgetfulness?
Charlie reeling from a romantic betrayal finds that her great-grandmother Madge has kept so many secrets in her long life, including finding her true love, and the web of betrayal, deceit and secrets that this event spun.
Madge offers Charlie and her sister Daisy a chance to shine when they seem to be failing at life. Accepting the challenge takes the sisters on a journey of self -discovery and the revelation of Madge’s colourful past.
Told in dual timelines, which makes the story doubly interesting, you see parallels and differences between the two generations of women. There is a lovely balance of humour and poignancy. The romance is sweet and the story inspiring.
Literary agents – do writers today need one? – Guest Post-Julie Houston
When I started out on the long – and often winding – road to becoming a published writer, I’d no idea what the role of a literary agent actually was, never mind about how to go about getting one. I just knew that, according to all the self-help handbooks that I bought and loaned from the public library, I had to have one. This was about seven years ago when it was drummed into all new writers that agents were akin to St Peter at the gates of heaven. They held the key to whether you were going to be allowed in to get anywhere near the God-like publisher.
I’m not going to go into how one should go about achieving that status of being an ‘agented writer’ – countless detailed words of advice and articles have been written on the subject – but I thought I would share with you my own particular journey.
So, I’d written a book. It started off with the title ‘Harriet Westmoreland does it with class’ (Harriet is a teacher) became ‘Living La Dolce Vite’ (her husband spends a lot of time in Italy) then became ‘Compulsive Granite Disorder’ (Harriet, like me, has a bit of a compulsion for cleaning her granite when stressed) and eventually ended up as ‘Goodness Grace and Me.’ The manuscript went off to a string of agents. And came back. In those days, agents would often write little notes as to what they thought, and why it wasn’t for them, along with the rejection slip. I may be wrong, but these days, when online submissions to agents are de rigueur, I’m not sure that happens any more. And then came the glorious, magical week when, like a number 9 bus, three agents, all interested in my book, came along at once.
One, based in London, was originally from Yorkshire and was up for the weekend to see her mum. Could we meet? We most certainly could! And we did, the following Saturday, for coffee and a chat at Salts Mill near Bingley. By the time I left, floating back to the carpark on air, I had signed on the dotted line with Anne Williams of KHLA Literary Agency based in Bristol and London. I had an agent, a literary agent.
She did warn me that my particular genre – we both disliked and eschewed the handle Chick lit, preferring the more grown-up Romantic Comedy/Women’s Fiction – was not faring too well at that point in time, being overshadowed by the rush for psychological thrillers, and had even printed out an article from The Guardian to that effect.
The beauty of having Anne has an agent has been that she was formerly a commissioning editor for one of the big publishing houses. She had, in effect, been on the other side as it were and, as such, very much knew what editors were looking for and the pitfalls involved in getting there. Within a few weeks, my baby had come back to me tracked in red and, once I’d worked out how tracking actually worked (terrifying to begin with when you’re convinced you’re going to lose all that red work and have to admit it to this new agent) and taken my first tentative steps to adding my own tracking in a garish purple alongside hers, we were on our way.
My agent worked tirelessly to get Goodness, Grace and Me a place with a major publishing house. I was astonished at how few there actually were – this was at the time when even Penguin was amalgamating with Random House – and eventually we made the decision to go it alone. It was a good decision: the book went to #1 in Humour and #64 overall. With the follow-up novels, The One Saving Grace, Looking For Lucy and An Off-Piste Christmas we signed up with White Glove, a publishing division of Amazon for agented-only authors, which would not have been available to me without her. This was a great move: White Glove promoted my books, particularly in Australia, where the first two achieved #1 Humour, and Looking For Lucy went to the top of the charts going to #1 overall.
And then came the offer from Aria. I wrote A Village Affair and Anne brokered a three-book deal with Sarah, one of the lovely commissioning editors at Aria, to include Coming Home to Holly Close Farm and, my work in progress, Sing Me a Secret. While Aria do take un-agented submissions, having my agent at my side along the way has been wonderful. She’s a professional, knows all about contracts and the like and still works with me, tirelessly, with that damned red tracking, telling me off if I’ve written something that might come back to bite me, but also giving praise if something particularly meets with her approval.
Perhaps the best thing about my agent is that, after seven years, I consider her a friend. She’ll meet up with me for coffee or lunch when I’m down in London, has been over for supper at my house when she’s been back in Yorkshire and always gets back to me straight away if I email with some thorny question about publication or needing advice about where my work in progress is heading.
Many, many, successful, published authors go it alone without an agent What I would say is, if you do find an agent interested in working with you and offer to take you on to their books, go for it.
The road to publication is so much more comfortable with that agent by your side to hold your hand and share in your success.
Granny peered closely at the woman, scrutinising her features for clues as to who she might be.
‘It’s Harriet,’ the woman smiled a little nervously. ‘Lydia’s granddaughter.’
‘My Lydia? My sister, Lydia?’ Madge seemed puzzled.
‘Oh,’ Mum said. ‘You’re Keturah’s daughter?’ She turned to Madge. ‘It’s one of Keturah’s daughters, Granny. You know. Gosh, Harriet, I’ve not seen you for years.’ She paused. ‘It must have been at Aunt Lydia’s funeral, what, ten years ago?’
Daisy and I exchanged looks. Blimey, how many more grannies and aunties were there? They seemed to be coming out of the woodwork at an amazing rate. I was totally lost as to who they all were.
‘Lydia’s been dead twelve years now,’ Harriet said, reaching for the bundle of baby from the younger woman as it began to make snuffling noises.
‘My great-aunt Lydia was your Granny Madge’s older sister,’ Mum explained, pulling up a chair for Harriet and the baby. ‘She was quite a bit older than you wasn’t she, Granny?’
‘Oh, yes, much older. There were five of us: Lydia was the eldest and I was the youngest. There was a good twelve years between us. By the time I was eight or nine, Lydia was newly married and living over towards Colnefirth.’
‘I’m trying to work out how we’re all related,’ I said, smiling at the younger woman, who was looking as perplexed as I felt.
‘Oh, sorry, how rude of me.’ Harriet laughed. ‘This is my daughter, Liberty… Libby.’
‘So, you girls and Liberty must be eighth cousins loads of times removed then. Sorry, can’t work it all out,’ Mum smiled. ‘I was never very good at maths.’
‘We’re vaguely related. Probably best if we leave it at that.’ Liberty grinned at Daisy and Me. ‘Oh, and this is Lysander.’ She took the baby back from her mother and pointed him proudly in our direction.
‘Lysander? Golly, that’s a good strong noble name,’ I said. ‘What’s that song we used to sing at school? Some talk of Alexander, and some of Hercules; Of Hector and Lysander diddle um tum diddle iddle um…Sorry, can’t remember the rest.’
‘“The British Grenadiers”,’ Granny Madge tutted crossly before launching loudly and tunefully into song: ‘But of all the world’s great heroes, there’s none that can compare, With a tow, row, row, row, row, row, to the British Grenadier.’
The old chap who, up until then, had been nodding peacefully in his armchair in the far corner of the residents’ lounge, suddenly shot out of his chair, saluted Granny, shouted, ‘Damn good soldiers. Bless ’em all,’ and then, just as suddenly, sat back down and began to snore loudly.
‘Silly old fool,’ Granny Madge tutted again. ‘I tell you, they’re all mad in here. I need to get out before I become as crackers as they are. I’m sure it must be catching.’
Julie Houston is the author of THE ONE SAVING GRACE, GOODNESS, GRACE AND ME and LOOKING FOR LUCY, a Kindle top 100 general bestsellers and a Kindle #1 bestseller. She is married, with two teenage children and a mad cockerpoo and, like her heroine, lives in a West Yorkshire village. She is also a teacher and a magistrate. Twitter Facebook