Amanda Wilkie unexpectedly finds herself alone with three children under five in a rambling Victorian house in London, after her husband walks leaves them claiming he’s just ‘lost the love’, like one, might carelessly lose a glove.
A few months later, Amanda’s heavily pregnant friend, Ali, crashes into her kitchen announcing her partner is also about to abscond. Once Ali’s baby Grace is born, Amanda encourages them to move in. When Jacqui, a long-lost friend and fellow single mum, starts dropping by daily, the household is complete.
Getting divorced is no walk in the park, but the three friends refuse to be defined by it. And, as they slowly emerge out of the wreckage like a trio of sequin-clad Gloria Gaynors singing ‘I Will Survive’, they realise that anything is possible. Even loving again…
When one door shuts, another one opens
For eighteen years I had written children’s books as a jobbing author. For various reasons I was asked to change my name to Jess Bright by my last publisher, so they could relaunch me as a new, box-fresh, younger, cooler Jacqueline Wilson-type for tweenage girls. As with a lot of gambles, it didn’t really pay off because I wasn’t able to be myself, I was pretending to be a big sister to my readers when in fact I was old enough to be their mum. I submitted my last book to them in 2016, it was a story about bullying told from the bully’s point of view, how she became a bully and her journey to redemption when she loses everything. She wasn’t a ‘nice’ character, but she wasn’t meant to be, I wanted her to feel genuine.
At the same time as submitting my book, I slipped disc in my back leading to crippling back pain, morphine patches, and eventually an epidural injection to relieve the pressure on my spinal cord so I could come off the painkillers. On the drive back from the hospital after the procedure, I received an email from my agent telling me the publishers had rejected my book because of the Marmite plotline and the amount of work it needed, and in doing so, didn’t want to carry on the partnership with my brand of Jess Bright. To say I was gutted was an understatement. I think I cried solidly for twenty-four hours. I know it’s only work, no one died, but for me, it was so much more.
Writing had saved me during my darkest hour years previously when I had been left holding three kids under five after my husband had walked out. I had taken a career break, writing the odd book between babies, but essentially remained a stay at home mum. Then overnight I was a single parent and the buck stopped here – this filled me so much fear, doubt, grief, instability, I was a crazy hot mess of emotions and never knew how I was going to be feeling from one minute to the next. One thing I could do, however, was restart my career. I had never had an agent, so I set out to find one knowing this was one journey I couldn’t undertake alone. I remember sitting in Charlie’s office, telling him about my situation, bursting into tears, and him promptly offering to represent me! It was Charlie who encouraged me to write Gaby’s Angel, the first book Oxford University Press bought as part of my working relationship with them.
So when I received the news my collaboration with them had been terminated, I felt the same kind of rejection I’d experienced when my marriage ended. I was facing a real career crossroads. Charlie tentatively suggested writing adult fiction because he knew it had always been a pipe dream of mine. I sent him a secret blog I had written during a time when I lived communally with my friend, Vicky, her baby and my three kids in my house that we jokingly called The Single Mums’ Mansion. He leapt on it immediately and said that it had to be my next book.
The story is set during this tumultuous yet uplifting time in the single mum commune. Another friend, Nicola, was also going through a divorce with her two kids and she practically moved in, spending whole weekends with us, 6 children all squashed in together. We went on holidays, celebrated Christmases as a patchwork family, held wild parties, helped each other through heart-breaking situations when the ex-husbands got remarried and started new families. I can honestly say I do not know how I would have coped with it all had I not had those other two women to stand next to and gather strength from. The Single Mums’ Mansion is my love letter to my two friends, not sparing any visceral details and certainly not sugar-coating the life of a single mum. Here’s to us, ladies, and all those other single parents, bossing the hell out of life and making the best out of a difficult situation!
The first thing that strikes me about this story is its authenticity and honesty. Numerous comic moments provide much-needed light relief amidst the despair and sadness these single mum’s experience at the destruction of their perfect family dreams.
The inspiration for this story is the author’s blog, and the story reads like a journal of her feelings and experiences, as the main character Amanda, comes to terms with life after her husband walks out and leaves her with three kids under five.
Realistic, flawed characters underpin a fast-paced, intricate plot, which shares Amanda. Ali and Jacqui’s experiences of being a single mum. What stands out is the camaraderie between the three women. Despite the sad events this story has many laugh-out-loud moments which make it a worthwhile read.
The language is uncensored, but it isn’t gratuitous, merely an illustration of the characters’ personality and stress experienced. There are also episodes of drunkenness and drug taking, which I didn’t like, especially when the children were present. Again it gives the story authenticity, but the casual attitude took the edge off the enjoyment of the story.
If you enjoy your stories with no filters, crammed full of laughter and poignancy, this is the book for you.
I received a copy of this book from Aria Fiction via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Janet Hoggarth has worked on a chicken farm, as a bookseller, children’s book editor and DJ with her best friend (under the name of Whitney and Britney). She has published several children’s books, the most recent ones written under the pseudonym of Jess Bright. Her first adult novel, The Single Mums’ Mansion is based on her experiences of living communally as a single parent.