A(nother) Review: Those People by Louise Candlish

Two reviews in two days? No, I didn’t read it that quickly, I’m trying to catch up on my reviews – I have quite a few outstanding, so here goes with the next one.


The Facts


Title Those People

Author Louise Candlish (Twitter: @Louise_Candlish)

Publisher Simon & Schuster

Publication Date 11thJuly 2019

Buy it on Bert’s Books bertsbooks.co.uk/those-people


The Blurb



Until Darren and Jodie move in, Lowland Way is a suburban paradise.

Beautiful homes. Friendly neighbours. Kids playing out in the street.

But Darren and Jodie don’t follow the rules and soon disputes over loud music and parking rights escalate to threats of violence. Then, early one Sunday, a horrific crime shocks the street. As the police go house-to-house, the residents close ranks and everyone’s story is the same: They did it.

But there’s a problem. The police don’t agree. And the door they’re knocking on next is yours.


Does it deliver?

It absolutely does.


It takes time for the reader to discover what the crime that shocks the street is, the first part of the novel begins the day that Darren and Jodie move in, but each chapter begins with snippets of transcripts between the police and the neighbours describing what happened that Sunday morning.


It works well to build up the tension, but I was half expecting the crime to be the main focus of the book, instead, we reach it within a third of the novel and we then focus on the fall-out and the escalating tension between Darren and Jodie and the rest of the neighbours – building to an ending, leaves the loose ends just tied tight enough for you to want that teensy bit more, but feeling satisfied



We follow four neighbours – Ralph, Tess, Sissy and Ant – they are in effect the heroes of our story, battling against the invasion to their perfect lives. That’s certainly how they see themselves


And while Darren and Jodie aren’t exactly the nicest neighbours to have, they’ve technically not committed any crimes. They just haven’t fitted in.


There’s a wonderful moment when Ralph – after having encourage Ant to record Jodie and Darren’s driveway for evidence – complains that Darren is looking out his window at them. “He’s probably a paedophile” he complains.


And that’s typical of these characters. They’re all nice enough on the surface, but they’re full of prejudice and NIMBYism. It is said that a person’s true character is revealed when they’re put under pressure, and that’s certainly what happens here.


Candlish has created a large cast, but one that is easy to get a grip on and instantly feels real and compelling.


The Setting

Most of the action takes place in Lowland Way – a street in modern-day London, with a few small snippets taking place in some nearby pubs. Candlish cleverly doesn’t waste too much time describing the street.


We all know places like Lowland Way and all have our own images of it. The geography of the houses starts to make itself known naturally as the book progresses. I imagined a mix of Wisteria Lane from Desperate Housewives and the street I grew up in.


The Verdict – 9/10

It’s another strong book that I think will be a big hit this summer. It builds tension and suspense throughout and even though you might find yourself not liking the characters very much, you do still care about them, wishing them their little victories, excusing some of their mistakes – even when it’s obvious they’re doing something wrong.


My theory is that you’ll probably find yourself feeling sympathy to one of the characters – but it’ll be a different one, depending on who you’re most like. Expect a BuzzFeed quiz on it very soon.


(If you feel sympathy for them all, you’ve got problems)


Look Out For

If you enjoyed Those People you’ll enjoy Our House also by Louise Candlish.


Don’t Forget…

You can buy Those People from my own online book shop Bert’s Books. If you use the code RAMBLING at the check-out, you’ll get 10% off.




Eurovision 2019 – All the Songs

One of the benefits to running your own business from home is that this year I’ve had time to listen to all the Eurovision entries before the big night.

Three times.

Of course, I didn’t just stop there – I ranked them all as well from worst to best. The first time, I just listened to them, the second time, I watched the videos.

Then I watched the videos all over again just to make sure I had them in the right order (I didn’t).

So, buckle up kids, we’ve got 41 songs to get through – complete with my comments. Obviously, this is just my opinion, so it is 100% completely correct.

41. Slovenia – Sebi by Zala Kralj & Gašper Šantl

On first listen: Accidentally watched the video of this first and I can’t say I particularly want to sit through it again. It’s quite a gloomy quiet song, really not for me at all.

During the video: She’s moping about in the video, it’s not a very energetic performance, although granted that would be difficult with this song. I don’t know what they can do to make this any more interesting on stage.

40. Albania – Ktheju tokës by Jonida Maliqi

On first listen: This song reminds me of something, but I can’t think what. The singer has a dramatic tone to her voice, but it all feels a bit urgent, I’m struggling to relax while listening to it. And I’ve just noticed some yodeling. It’s not the worst song, that’s probably about the best thing I can say about it. I’m sort of glad it’s over.

During the video: Probably just me, but I think she looks a bit like Sandra Bullock. I think this song thinks it’s more important than it really is. If it rains on stage and she’s wearing that skin coloured dress, she could pick up a couple of extra points.

39. Iceland – Hatrið mun sigra by Hatari

On first listen: It took me ages to find that funny little ð so this better be worth it. And instantly, it’s not. If you thought Lordi were heavy rock, then this lot are Lordi’s heavier older brother. Please don’t make me listen to this again.

During the video: He looks like a kid having a strop. Honestly, his parents ought to keep him home from Eurovision and do us all a favour. On the third listen this started to grow on me, but still…

38. Georgia – Keep on Going by Oto Nemsadze

On first listen: It feels like a funeral march. I don’t know what he’s singing about, but it’s very moody. Because it’s not in English and it’s slow, it’s sort of lost me. I don’t understand the language and I can’t sing along with the sounds like I can with some of the others

During the video: The video at least matches the song. It’s black and white and a bit moody. In fact it’s more than moody, it’s downright depressing. At a guess, I’d say it’s a song about war/refugees. I guess the end is uplifting. It’s definitely song with a message, but not for me.

37. Serbia – Kruna by Nevena Božović

On first listen: Starts with strings, a sound we don’t hear much. The singer is quite breathy, and not in English. It’s slow, so it feels like there’s not going to be anything catchy. Hang on, she’s just flipped to English. But not for long. It’s not holding my attention.

During the video: I got all the way to the end of the video before realising I was watching Slovenia’s not Serbia’s, which probably says a lot about both of them. There is probably more to work with here, but not much.

36. Portugal – Telemóveis by Conan Osiris

On first listen: Ok, this is a good start. It’s not in English, but it has sounds I can emulate, and interesting music. Although, it’s already feeling a bit eclectic, almost as if it doesn’t know what sort of song it wants to be.

During the video: This is a selections performance, rather than a video, which I like because it gives you a clue what it might be like during the finals. This guy has a style that is as eclectic as the song. He’s dressed in feathers, and he’s got a topless friend dressed the same way. The dance is distracting but the audience don’t seem overly enamoured with it.

35. Germany – Sister by S!sters

On first lesson: The singers are quite nasal in parts and as ballads go it seems pretty unmemorable. I like the slightly quicker moments during the song, but when they start chanting ‘Sister’ it feels a bit durge-y.

During the video: Well, they don’t look like sisters, and I don’t think they really have a connection. They’re both a bit shout-y. It’s like something you’d have seen on Glee 15 episodes into series 5 when everyone was getting a bit tired. Not a fan, but again, it grew on me during the third run-through.

34. Belarus – Like it by ZENA

On first lesson: It starts off immediately more interesting than some of the others. The music feels quite Eurovision-y. It’s dance-y and does at least allow you to sing along to it, but it goes on slightly too long for my taste.

During the video: This isn’t a produced video, but the performance from the Belarussian selection show. It’s slightly easier to judge these songs, and unfortunately, I don’t think she’s got any stage presence. She’s ok, not terrible, but I think both her and the song are too forgettable.

33. Austria – Limits by PÆNDA

On first listen: Another high pitched female. It seems like it’s going to be quite a ballad-y year. This is fairly nondescript. There’s not a lot to interest me here.

During the video: The video is about as interesting as the song. It’s all quite bland. I don’t think it will do very well, which means it will probably win. Having said that, it grew on me again during the third viewing

32. Hungary – Az én apám by Joci Pápai

On first listen: At first, this appears to be like many of the others, a bloke singing a ballad. It doesn’t just feel like this is in a different language, it sounds like it’s being played backwards, but it makes for an interesting sound. The whistling interlude is new and breaks it up a bit. I don’t think this song is going to take off with a Westlife-style key change, step off the stools moment, but with so many of those moments in the other songs, that might help set it apart.

During the video: We’ve got another one who doesn’t like to open his eyes while he sings. But worse than that, he’s got a topa-knot. And a guitar. Christ.

31. Australia – Zero Gravity by Kate Miller-Heidke

On first listen: I can’t work this song out, it feels a bit too experimental for my liking. I’m not sure who they’re trying to target with this song. Oh, wow, a disco beat has just dropped in. That’s quite a change in tempo – could lead to an interesting visual. But after about thirty seconds of that, it’s back to the linnet-bird style of the beginning. And now opera. This is definitely too messy, I’m just waiting for it to finish now.

During the video: She looks like someone turned Princess Elsa into one of those dolls they put over toilet rolls. I liked the woman on the stick bouncing around in the background, but I was sort of waiting for her to smack Elsa in the mouth to shut her up. We should beat this.

30. Poland – Fire of Love (Pali się) by Tulia

On first listen: This has a unique sound – at least compared to the others, which could be an advantage, though it seems fairly linear. There’s no ebb or flow in it yet. What you get at the beginning is just kind of there for the rest of the song. It lost me mid-way, I got bored of it.

During the video: We’ve got a black and whie video with women carrying shoes and a man at a garage having a fag. This video isn’t really revealing to me anything about the song. It feels a bit obscure.

29. Israel – Home by Kobi Marimi

On first listen: From the start this song felt like it had a bit of an Irish feel to it – it took me a moment to realise why, but then I realised I could picture it being played atop a montage in Lord of the Rings. I suppose comparisons to Enya aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Marimi’s vocals are good, but I feel the choir and backing track threaten to overwhelm him from about a third of the way into the track

During the video: With the right emotion and the right staging this could do quite well, but I don’t think Marimi brings it in the video. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to feel, and so the song doesn’t really connect with me.

28. Montenegro – Heaven by D mol

On first listen: This might be the first act I’ve listened to this year which isn’t exclusively one gender or the other. That could help their perofrmance on the night, although the transition into an Irish style of music doesn’t work for me. It picks up towards the end. It’s another one that’s OK. Nothing special.

During the video: Oh, there’s four of them! I didn’t get that from the song. Even they seem surprised by the Irish music. Actually, there’s five of them! No… six. They’ve all found theIrishman and are now singing at him on the beach. I didn’t really pay attention to the video, I was too busy counting. I stand by my OK.

27. Estonia – Storm by Victor Crone

On first listen: He’s got a guitar. I can tell without even looking – I’m getting singer/songwriter vibes. The world doesn’t need another Ed Sheeran. Oh, it’s called Storm? Copy-cat. It’s ok. Enough to make me tap my foot, but I’ve already forgotten it and I’m still listening. That could be said about a lot of the songs this year, though.

During the video: He did have a guitar! But then it disappeared in some clever camera trickery. I can’t tell if this is an actual recorded performance, or the proper music video. Either way, it hints at what’s to come on the night, they might have some ambition for the staging that could lift it above average.

26. Romania – On a Sunday by Ester Peony

On first listen: A dramatic start, almost like a horror movie – but that could just be the video. The music falters to begin with, which is odd. The lyrics are simple and clear, the structure of the song seemingly obvious. It’s ok, bit dull for me.

During the video: A dramatic start, almost like a horror movie – but that could just be the video. The music falters to begin with, which is odd. The lyrics are simple and clear, the structure of the song seemingly obvious. It’s ok, bit dull for me.

25. Greece – Better Love by Katerine Duska

On first listen: The Greeks have come along to prove that just because an act sings in English, it’s no guarantee I will have a clue what’s going on. It’s a little bit catchy, but it’s mostly warbly.

During the video: If I was hoping the video would give me any clue what was happening, then I’m disappointed. They’ve definitely gone for theatre with this one, but it might be just a little bit too avant garde for most people. The song is similar to a lot of others this year. It seems to be the year of the ballad.

24. Moldova – Stay by Anna Odobescu

On first listen: She sounds like Claire from Steps. That’s a good thing. She’ll stand out for being a female doing a ballad among a sea of men doing ballads. But like the others they’ve not been able to resist dropping a beat in for the middle third. It’s another one that feels like it goes on a minute too long, though.

During the video: This could almost be a Steps video . It looks like clips from a trashy daytime soap opera, and who doesn’t want melodrama with their Eurovision? She doesn’t move an awful lot so itwill be interestin what they choose to do on the night. It’ll probably involve fake rain of some sort.

23. Sweden – Too Late for Love by John Lundvik

On first listen: This guy wrote our song and the Swedish normally do quite well, so I’m interested. It’s straight into the vocals, I wonder if we’ve missed a bit. This is firmly in the style of bloke singing a ballad. I’m a bit disapointed by it, I mean it’s not terrible, but I don’t think it’s up to Sweden’s standards. You can tell he wrote ours. They’re not massively different.

During the video: This is a live performance rather than a video so again, a bit of a clue a to how he might perform on the night. There’s some good camera work which makes it feel slightly more dramatic than it is and he moves a bit more than I’ve seen Michael move when he performs, although he is still doing it on the spot. It’s a little bit catchy, but not a lot.

22. Russia – Scream by Sergey Lazarev

On first listen: A song from Russia called Scream makes me nervous, but it starts quite calm, although the drama is quickly starting to build. Having said that, it’s not holding my attention. It feels like the song you get at the beginning of the second act of a musical, the sort of song that eases everyone back in, but nobody would miss.

During the video: Worth pointing out this is yet another single white male singing an ballad. There’s a story unfolding around this guy in the video, but again, he’s not doing much apart from waving his arms around.

21. Lithuania – Run with the Lions by Jurij Veklenko

On first listen: When I saw the title of this song, for some reason I had bigger expectations of this song. It’s not what I thought it would be. I was expecting something a bit more energetic. It’s ok, but it doesn’t really go anywhere and am a little bit disappointed.

During the video: He’s quite a handsome chap – but honestly, do we need any more single white males on this stage? Perhaps my fatigue of this kind of singer is colouring it for me, but it’s nothing special. I think it’ll make it to the finals, but if it doesn’t, I don’t think it will be missed.

20. Malta – Chameleon by Michaela

On first listen: This song that feels like it’s stuck in second gear. It’s not a slow song by any means but it doesn’t ever kick in. It’s growing on me the more it goes on, but it’s definitely a middle-of-the-pack. It sounds a bit like an Ava Max reject.

During the video: She looks like Avril Lavigne – perhaps she’s one of her stand-ins. The words are coming up on the screen in case we’re having trouble understanding her. This means I’m reading the words rather than looking at the performance which seems to be not a lot going on in artistic backgrounds. It is definitely growing on me, but I think the verses are weak.

19. United Kingdom – Bigger Than Us by Michael Rice

On first listen: The only song that I wasn’t listening to for the first time, so it makes it a bit harder to judge in comparison to the others. Rice’s vocals are a bit like Israel’s at the beginning where they dominate the music, but then the chorus comes in and the music takes over. It’s a fairly typical British song. It feels like a sequel to Storm – which I loved. I like this too, but it doesn’t deserve to do better than Surie.

During the video: Michael overperforms this too much for my liking, the lip wobbles and air-grabbing are a bit too much. It’s a nice story, I guess, but it won’t play out too easily on stage, unless they try some sort of interpretive dance like Ireland did last year, but really, I don’t see what they can do apart from have a few flashing lights and a smoke machine.

18. Croatia – The Dream by Roko

On first listen: Shades of Conchita from the beginning – this time in the sound of their voice. It’s a promising start. Oh, wow, the shades are getting shadier, it’s quite like a lot of other ballads.

During the video: He looks like Belgium’s older brother. And he plays his own piano, but the problem with that is he doesn’t open his eyes while he’s playing or singing. It’s an ok song, but I don’t think he’s that charismatic.

17. Latvia – That Night by Carousel

On first listen: Instant thought is that this is a husky version of Amy McDonald. The lyrics are predictable, but that’s no bad thing, it means I’m singing along in less than a minute, which is what you need from a Eurovision song. A lot of the voters will only be hearing the song for the first time on the night. It doesn’t go anywhere, but it’s inoffensive, likely to be forgotten

During the video: It looks like she’s performing on last year’s Eurovision set. The performance is understated (they’ve even coloured it in black and white) so could stand out for its sheer simplicity on the night, but I fear for them that the song isn’t special enough for that.

16. Finland – Look Away by Darude feat. Sebastian Rejman

On first listen: The most famous (slash only) Darude song I know, isn’t actually a song. From memory, Sandstorm doesn’t have any lyrics, so I haven’t really got anything to compare this to. BUT it does have a Darude feel to the music. The vocal seems a bit weak, but it has echoes of BrightLight BrightLight about it, who I like. This could get in my head. (Pun intended).

During the video: This guy doesn’t really match his voice, but I like the look he’s going for. I’m not entirely sure if Darude is actually doing anything back there, but it’s good to see him, or it was until they turned him around and replaced him with a floating green woman. A nice bit of theatre, coupled with the fact I imagine this will be played all over Europe, this could do well.

15. France – Roi by Bilal Hassani

On first listen: There are some good hooks in this song. Some of the more memorable moments come toward the end of the song which will help – if people haven’t left the room during the beginning. Seems like standard Eurovision fare.

During the video: There are some good hooks in this song. Some of the more memorable moments come toward the end of the song which will help – if people haven’t left the room durin the beginning. Seems like standard Eurovision fare.

14. Italy – Soldi by Mahmood

On first listen: The first song I listened to where it was completely non-English, but that’s ok, I liked it from the beginning, possibly because it wasn’t a ballad. It feels quite dance-y and I can see this one going off on the night with the crowd. As a non-Italian speaker, there are no hooks for me to grab onto though, so not sure it will stick in my head. There are parts of it that made me think of Holly Valance and Kiss-Kiss

During the video: I still like it, but the video doesn’t give the vibe I was expecting. I thought they were going for a Fuego-style song, but Mahmood barely moves in this video, in fact for much of it, he just stands there looking moody as if you’ve criticised the painting and decorating you asked him to do on your kitchen. If that vibe translates to the final performance, I don’t think this will do very well on the night.

13. San Marino – Say Na Na Na by Serhat

On first listen: As the name suggests, this is quite dance-y. At this stage I’m grateful that it’s not another ballad. The male singer of this sounds a bit creepy, but they’ve got a hook, even if it does remind me of Fat Les and his Vindaloo. I don’t think he was the right person to sing this song, probably needed a woman’s voice. I am enjoying it, though.

During the video: He looks as I sort of expected. There’s a club setting and he looks slightly too old to be there, chatting up people ten years younger than him, which is fine, do what you like, but it’s not endearing. A lot of dancing in this video which can’t be replicated on the night with just six people on stage. This is one of those songs that gets better the second time you hear it. Weird little girl at the end.

12. Denmark – Love is Forever by Leonora

On first listen: Plinky plonky music to begin with. This has shades of Lily Allen circa 2001 – and that girl that had flowers in her hair. It’s a good example of that kind of music and it’s been long enough that it might feel fresh again. Ah, Eliza Dolittle is the other one she reminds me of. It’s going on a bit too long for my liking. The twee-ness of it outstays its welcome.

During the video: She looks like Lily James. If Lily James was a waitress. I like the giant chair she’s sitting on – it adds to the twee-ness, but it works. As do the two that join her with their ladders towards the end. It’s differen enough from the others so far.

11. Armenia – Walking Out by Srbuk

On first listen: This comes for you right from the beginning, it reminds me a bit of The Saturdays, but she loses that as the song goes on and she breaks into a bit of a Celine Dion impression. Mashed together two quite different styles, but it works for me, I think. At least it does for the first 2 minutes. The third minute completly breaks the style. Too unpredictable to dance to. I think this could be a bit too messy

During the video: This girl’s got attitude, and she’s got topless dancers in blazers which works for me. This works better with a visual and I quite like it second time around. There’s still that weird break in it though, which sort of breaks the momentum, but it does just about bring it back.

10. Spain – La Venda by Miki

On first listen: This had a dramatic start, but then seemed to introduce a banjo out of nowhere. Like Italy before it, it’s competely non-English and a bit dance-y – there are some hooks that I can get on board with though, so it will stay in my head a bit longer.

During the video: I was singing and dancing along on the second time round. This is infectious to me, it’s fun, and could potentially have everyone up and dancing on the night. The success of this one will depend on its position in the running order but it’s my favourite so far.

9. Norway – Spirit in the Sky by KEiiNO

On first listen: I’m already disappointed that this isn’t Gareth Gates and the Kumars. It’s got a night dance-y beat to it. The dancing with the fairies line will play well to the crowd on the night – I can already picture it on someone’s t-shirt. Oh, dear it was all going so well – a shaman seems to have taken over for the last third. It’s interesting, just not what I was expecting. The rest of the song is good, though.

During the video: They’ve filmed the video in Narnia – but it is at least another male/female combo which is different from most of the other acts. They’ve clearly got a vision/story for this song so the performance on the night should hopefully be something spectacular. The shaman looks like he’s in pain.

8. North Macedonia – Proud by Tamara Todevska

On first listen: I like this. The vocals are clear, not being drowned out by the music, which is sweet, but with a promise to rise as we go along. I do like a violin solo as well and it’s not too long here. Here comes the swell. I can imagine myself singing this in the shower pretending to be Whitney. It’s not the best song, but it’s more than OK.

During the video: It’s a song about female empowerment. That’s very now. I think this could do well on the night. It depends on what they decide to project on the screens behind the singer. But this could become a bit of an anthem.

7. Cyprus – Replay by Tamta

On first listen: She sounds like a lot of the acts in the chart at the moment. You can decide whether that’s a compliment or not, but it should mean she attracts an audience of some kind. There are some good hooks in this, and there’s enough to keep you interested.

During the video: This is a proper video. I’m going out on a limb here and saying she’s probably an established music star in Cyprus. She oozes confidence and if the performance on the night is anything like the video, we could be in for a good one. Half decent song with a good perfomance, it could be in with a chance.

6. Switzerland – She Got Me by Luca Hänni

On first listen: It’s not terrible, it’s making me move, which is always a good sign. It sounds like something you might find on One Direction’s second or third album, where they’re trying to be popular, but also a little bit edgy.

During the video: He’s got presence, although that could just be the hat (I do like a hat) – he looks like he’s recently left a boy band so I stand by my 1D comparison. He can move so we should be in for a good performance. I think he’ll have some fans on the night, he won’t win, but he’ll finish on the left hand side of the board.

5. Ireland – 22 by Sarah McTernan

On first listen: I’m listening to this one straight after Iceland, so I’ll probably love it. Oh, already, I do, it’s a bit plinky-plonky in a twingy-twangy way. That’s expert analysis for you. The music is better than the lyrics here, but she can sing. I don’t think it’ll match Ireland’s perfromance last year, but it’s decent enough, and is at least different from the other songs. I’ve surprised myself by singing along with it towards the end.

During the video: They’ve gone for a vintage feel with the video, which seems to be working for the song. It feels like it’s achieving what Michael Rice’s set out to do. I’m interested to see what they do with this on stage. I definitely like this more now than I did when I first heard it. Have to say, she did well in all that wind, especially when her hair smacked her in the face.

4. AzerbaijanTruth by Chingiz

On first listen: I’ve liked a lot of Azerbaijan’s songs in the past, so I always look forward to what they bring. I like the beat of this song. It builds to a change that kicks in at just the right moment, and the chorus is easy to sing along to. It brings more of the same after this point, but I like it enough to listen to it again.

During the video: He looks like he’s rocked up to the gay club a bit too early. If the array of other interesting people in the video turn up on the night it could be for a fun performance. I like it even more the second time around.

3. The NetherlandsArcade by Duncan Laurence

On first listen: This is the last one I’m listening to, I might have a bit of fatigue. It’s a slow start. Oh, good, it’s another solo male ballad. He’s got a nice quality to his voice though, I think he can sing better than some of the others. This is quite nice actually, and might be the best of the ballads. There’s a nice lively chorus that doesn’t break from the rest of the song.

During the video: He appears to be naked in a lake. We even get to see a bit of bum. Why did I wait 40 songs before watching this one? Winner. In all seriousness, it’s probably not, I think it will suffer from wherever it’s placed in the order, depending on how many of the other male ballads go through. They might all merge into one. This is the best of them, though.

2. Czech Republic – Friend of a Friend by Lake Malawi

On first listen: Straight into the vocals, which is a shame, as I don’t think I like them. Oh, hang on, have I heard this before? He’s got a cockney talking bit, and then the vocals get better. It’s a little bit catchy and the cockney bit is memorable at least. It makes you pay attention.

During the video: This guy has small ears. But he’s cute and I like the instagram-like video. This could be a hit. Some of the vocals bother me, but I think I like it because of that. It’s only problem is it’s not a serious song, that’s fine (look at Toy), but it might not be silly enough for Eurovision.

1. Belgium Wake Up by Eliot

On first listen: At the beginning it sounds like the opening credits for something, but then the singing starts and it doesn’t anymore. I’m enjoying the way it’s building to something. I think I like this song, it sounds a bit like something Justin Bieber or one fifth of One Direction might sing. Bit anticlimactic though.

He’s cute. He looks like he could be one fifth of One Direction. I actually think on second listen this might be one of my favourites.

So, agree? Disagree? I’ve probably cursed half the field now and Serbia will end up winning!

A(nother) Review: Normal People by Sally Rooney

January turned into a pretty crazy month for me. I left my job of sixteen years with nowhere to go and then had a short case of man-flu towards the end of the month.

There are bigger stories behind both of these things, but you don’t care about them. All you need to know is I’m using them as my excuse as to why I haven’t written any blog posts so far this year.

I have still been reading during this time though, and the first book I read this year was Normal People by Sally Rooney.

You’ll almost have certainly seen this book around – it was longlisted for the Booker, shortlisted for the Costa, and declared Book of the Year by Waterstones. It’s been hard to miss, but maybe like me, you’ve gone several months having seen its distinctive cover without knowing exactly what’s underneath?

Normal People follows the relationship between Marianne and Connell – two teenagers who go to the same school in the west of Ireland, but have nothing really else in common and nothing to do with each other. Their lives start to become entwined, though, when Connell’s mother starts to clean for Marianne’s.

An attraction is formed and we become voyeurs to their relationship over the years, watching how they drift toward and away from each other as their circumstances change, drawing ever closer to what we assume is the natural conclusion.

Your next question, as is my duty to answer, is how good a book is it? There’s certainly been a lot of hype about it and it is well written, but the characters left me a bit lacking. I didn’t connect with either Marianne or Connell in a particularly strong way.

I didn’t dislike them, but to be ambivalent about the two lead characters when the lens is so tightly drawn around them is a problem.

Perhaps I was expecting too much after all the critical acclaim, or perhaps, as they title alludes they were supposed to be this normal.

It’s still very well written and an enjoyable read, I just didn’t quite get into it as much as other readers did.


Normal People is available now from Faber & Faber

A(nother) Review – The Love Letter by Lucinda Riley

This might seem a bit of a departure for me, but The Love Letter is a novel I really enjoyed earlier this year, and now as I write the review I googled it to remind myself of some of the finer points.


In doing so, I discovered the story behind The Love Letter – originally published as Seeing Double back in 2000 it seems the publisher at the time lost faith in the book and pulled all of the publicity and marketing for it, leading to disappointing sales for the author.


The reason for it? Riley has created a fictional version of the Royal Family, in which a journalist stumbles upon a secret that could tear the monarchy apart.


It all begins when our journalist – Joanna Haslam – is forced to cover the funeral of a famous actor. Tucked in at the back of the church she befriends an old lady who has snuck into the ceremony.


From this moment on Joanna is on a path that will take her into a dangerous world where some parts of the establishment will do anything to keep the secret from coming out.


This book wasn’t what I expected it to be at all when I picked it up. I’d never read a Lucinda Riley novel before, but I had pigeon-holed her in my head into writing sentimental love stories and family sagas.


That’s a fairly reasonable judgement to make, even the publishers themselves make it – if you take a look at the category on Amazon, it places it in both historical romance and sagas. But this book is much more than that.


I found it much more like a thriller with one of those endings that left you flicking through the pages breathless as you barrel towards the ending. One of the best books I’ve read this year, and was good enough to make me consider picking up more by Riley.


The Love Letter is available now from Pan

A(nother) Rambling: Majority Report

I haven’t gotten on my soapbox for a while now, so I thought it was about time I went on another rambling.


For the last seven weeks on the blog, I’ve been reviewing the shortlisted titles on the WHSmith Thumping Good Read award – that’s after I had the pleasure of reading over thirty books back in March to help choose the shortlist.


My reading style has never been the most commercial. The books that sell thousands of copies are crime, action or romance stories – they all have their merit, but they’re generally fast-paced crowd-pleasers.  There’s nothing wrong with them, this isn’t a blog about commercial vs non-commercial books – at least not in that sense.


The types of books I LOVE are those that slow it down and explore their characters. Their critics would say these are the books wherein nothing happens, and while that’s not exactly true, I can see their point. My favourite book – A Little Life – is well over seven hundred pages long and has plenty of plot – but a thriller writer might dispatch of those plot points in two hundred pages or so.


Like I say, this isn’t to pick holes in either genre – I love reading all books and all have their positive and negative points. The real reason I’m highlighting these differences is because I had never read so many commercially focused novels in such quick succession before and it really brought something home to me.


For Thumping Good Read, publishers were asked to submit their best books, the page-turners that readers just wouldn’t be able to put down. Those brilliant books that people who don’t read would want to read. It’s a prize for people that don’t want to read a hard-going tome like A Little Life – or this blog post, the way it’s going.


In those thirty plus books – and I’m not going to name names, they were all wonderful books, and dismissing any of them was extremely hard – I can count the number of gay characters on one hand.  The three that I stumbled across were – 1) a dead body 2) a cardboard cut-out best friend 3) closeted until page 223.


The number of ethnic minorities were fewer: One.




Ok, so that one’s slightly disingenuous. A majority of the time race wasn’t explicitly mentioned for many of the characters, but there were clues.


Perhaps I was reading them as white – projecting my own societal expectations and unconscious racism onto the fiction that the author had written.  It’s possible, but there was at least one occasion where I read a main character as black – only for, three quarters of the way through the book for the author to make a point of highlighting the character’s milky white skin.


If I could read that character as being from a BAME background, why couldn’t I have read others in the same way? It’s just as possible as me reading them as white, that they were written white.


Some of my favourite books of the last couple of years contain representatives from minorities – Guy Gunaratne’s In Our Mad and Furious City, John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies, Sarah Winman’s Tin Man and the up-coming Take Nothing With You from Patrick Gale. These books exist – but they haven’t all broken into bestseller lists, and perhaps more tellingly, they’re not being submitted for a book prize that in its very mission statement is looking for commercial books.


Even as I write this, I can see that these books are skewed towards my own interests, mirror aspects of my own life. Perhaps the simple reason commercial books are mostly white and mostly straight is because most of the book-buying public is mostly white and mostly straight?


Representation is important. Recognising yourself in a character is a shortcut into understanding a novel – but so is learning about other people, other cultures, it’s how we learn about the world, develop our empathy.


With all this in mind where are the commercial novels serving these minorities? Why are we making it so hard for their voices to be heard?


Is it because publishing is full of straight white people, publishing straight white people for straight white people to read?


As someone on the inside of the business I can tell you this – while publishing is very white, it’s not very straight, so there must be something else at play.


Perhaps the state of the economy has led us as an industry to become risk-averse. We look at the bestseller lists, see what people are buying ask for more of it, then flood the market with it.


Customers are looking for good books, at the end of the day that’s all they really want, and I believe that most of them are grown-up and educated enough to be able to read and enjoy a book that doesn’t match their own demographic.


We – the publishing industry – are unconsciously discriminating (and I do think in many cases it is unconscious – we’re not horrible bigots) and so we need to start consciously changing the things that we can control.


From authors to agents, editors to publishers, retailers to reviewers we need to start championing the books we all love and not just dismiss them as ‘uncommercial’. We need to have more faith in readers.


It’s also worth noting – that of the four characters I identified above from the thirty plus books, three of them ended up on the Thumping Good Read shortlist. Even those that were thin cardboard cut-outs helped add a difference, a richness to the worlds they were introduced in, helped their books stand just above the others.


I know that I’m going to start mixing things up in the books and stories I write – even if all that means is I stop referring to girls with milky skin and blue-eyed boys…

The Burning Chambers by Kate Mosse

I’ve mentioned before a couple of books that first turned me back onto reading as an adult. One of them was The Time Traveler’s Wife, among the others was Labyrinth by Kate Mosse.


Since Labyrinth was released some thirteen years ago, Mosse has written several other books, including two follow-ups to her debut – Sepulchre and Citadel. While I liked Labyrinth – and still have a copy of it on my bookshelf – I didn’t ever go back and read anything else from her.  Something else always came up.


So when The Burning Chambers fell onto my desk a short while ago, I decided to give it a go.


Reader, I struggled. At least to begin with. It’s five hundred pages that explores the early days of the French civil war – the French Wars of Religion between the Catholics and the Hugenots.


We see it through the eyes of a handful of characters – led by nineteen year old Minou who receives a strange letter one day, leading to a chain of events that finds her fleeing from Carcassone to Toulouse before onto Puivert


I persevered though, and I’m glad I did. The more we get to know Minou and her family the more human the story becomes, the more engaging.


The struggle I had at the beginning was that much of the story relied on the politics of religion – the trouble with that, though is that as someone who doesn’t give much of a toss about religion, I found it hard to care what either side got up to. They were all behaving like a bunch of prats.


I felt like we didn’t spend enough time getting to know the characters – and it wasn’t until Minou’s younger sister was put into peril that I really started to care what was happening.


At that point, when it became more about the human element, I raced through the last half of the book.


Would I recommend this book? It’s difficult to say, and it comes down to what I always say, if you like this sort of book, you’ll like this book. It’s well written, it delves into the events of that time with – I assume – some accuracy. And if it’s not accurate, it as least believable.


The test comes with would I read the second book in the trilogy? For me, that depends on how quickly it comes. If it’s released next year, then the characters will probably still be fresh enough in my mind to pay them a revisit. Now I’m engaged with them, the next book should be easier to get into.


If I have to wait a couple of years…? I’m not sure I’d have the patience.


The Burning Chambers is published in Hardback on 3rd May 2018 by Mantle

The York Realist by Peter Gill

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After posting last week’s review of The Eyre Affair, WordPress kindly pinged me a notification that I had just published my 200th blog post.


I’ve had a quick peek back and that breaks down as:


89 Books Reviews

82 Random Ramblings

24 Chapters of Memories of a Murder

2 Short Stories

1 Poem

And 1 Review of a stage show (Dawn French’s one-woman show, for those interested)


All of which presents me the perfect opportunity to go little off-piste and talk about something a bit different (AKA I’m reading a big book and struggling with it so there is no book review this week, but I’m distracting you with something new and shiny):


A review of a play!



My twitter chum @adejohnleader very kindly (go on, give him a follow) gave me tickets to see The York Realist at the Donmar Warehouse.


First off – let’s start with the Donmar. One of the reasons I lept at Ade’s offer was because I’d always wanted to go to the Donmar, and never previously had a chance.


The seats are arranged in a horseshoe shape around the stage. We we were sitting on one side of the ‘circle’ (more of a U) and that meant we saw he whole production from the side of the stage, looking down on it.


It was a unique experience, one that actually helped immerse you into what was going on. It made me feel less like an audience member and more of a voyeur. Bizarrely, it helped make the whole thing seem more real.


There were moments when George – the main character – would look over at our side of the stage while talking to someone in the other direction. His words were saying one thing, but his facial expressions another.


I was very aware that my friend who I’d spotted on the other side of the theatre couldn’t see what I could see, and may well have been interpreting things differently. I wondered what things he was seeing that were shaping the play for him. Were we both watching he same play, but having very different interpretations, simply because of our physical perspective?


Highly likely, we know that art of any kind is made in the emotional perspective of the viewer, but I’d never really considered physical perspective in other shows I’d been to.


Onto the play itself.


The York Realist is set in 1960’s Yorkshire and all takes place in the front room of George’s house. He’s a farm labourer, living with his mother, being set up with one of the local girls Doreen – but there is a secret, one bubbling under, one that everyone seems to know, but never mentions.


That secret is John and a love affair they share.


I’ll be honest John is the other reason I jumped at the chance to see this play. Or at least Jonathan Bailey was. I’ve had a bit of a crush on him for years, ever since I first saw him in dodgy Neil Morrissey BBC1 Sitcom Me and Mrs Jones. Said crush was only heightened after 2016’s glorious Crashing (Can we have another series, please?).


But, while he was good, the whole cast were, particularly ‘Barbara’ actress Lucy Black it was Ben Batt as George that captivated my attention the whole way through. He had a presence right from the moment he stepped onto the stage.


He was the enigmatic George, drawing us all in and making us understand his character with just looks and eye rolls. The writing – the play was written by Peter Gill – obviously helped, natural as it was, but he inhabited the role so much that the character still lingers clearly in my mind several days later.


The play explores the difference in cultures between the two men, John, the out and proud gay man, seemingly less confident in making a move, while, in one of the play’s funniest scenes, George grabs a pot of Vaseline from the kitchen and drags his partner upstairs.


Events conspire against them but the emotional crux of the play comes when George must make a decision. Stay in Yorkshire or move to London with John. Similarly, John is confronted with the possibility of just staying in Yorkshire with the man he loves, but in a community where they won’t be accepted.


The pull of home, our friends and family, what’s comfortable vs the new and exciting, vs a love that could go wrong seems to be the main conflict. Reader, myself and a random woman I was sitting next to were in tears.


But, as well as emotional, it was funny. Funny in a way that TV can’t be. Looks from one character to another, a subtle eye roll which on the screen wouldn’t translate that well, were suddenly hilarious in person.


The theatre reminds me of real life. It is funny, and it is emotional, and sometimes even the through the most mundane of activities – such as George eating his dinner – some of the most interesting parts of life happens.  It’s a trick that television hasn’t been able to achieve for some time. Maybe it used to, particularly in the early days of the soap operas, but our attention spans are too short now.


We have to have drama. Or comedy. We very rarely seem to get both, and when we do the drama has to be bigger and better, the comedy has to be more raucous or surreal. On TV a gag about a pot of Vaseline would come across as crude and offensive, on the stage it’s a moment of real life.


For me, 2018 is going to be the year of plays. I’m aiming to see one every month. I saw Lady Windermere’s Fan in January, plus a revisit of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in early Feb. I’m chalking The York Realist up as my March visit come early. It’s not the first play I’ve ever seen in the West End, but I have a feeling it will be the one that truly started my love for non-musical productions.


The York Realist is on at the Donmar until the 24th March with a special benefit performance on the 21st before transferring to the Sheffield Crucible until 7th April


(PS – I’ve nicked the image from the Donmar’s website – couldn’t find anyone to credit, but would gladly amend this blog were someone to let me know!)

A Short Story – Never Not Lonely

Jeremy had fallen in love.


This was nothing new, but this time someone had fallen in love with him back.


Two people in love. With each other. At the same time. Jeremy was not a religious man, but for the first time in his life he was starting to see evidence of a benevolent God. For the first time in his life, he wasn’t lonely.


At fifty-five years of age, he had given up on never not feeling lonely.


He was his parent’s second child, arriving ten years after his sister, Audrey. She hadn’t been particularly planned, but Jeremy was very much an accident of a couple in their late-forties who had emotionally checked out of their marriage many years before.


All of his parent’s friends were their age, therefore there weren’t really any kids to play with. Jeremy entertained himself, occasionally playing with his sister for as long as her teenage mind would tolerate him.


Any friends he made at school were uncomfortable with his parents and their house which seemed to be infested with damp, that he soon gave up inviting them round.


As a result, he had largely grown up alone. Grown up lonely.


In his older years, he’d made some limited friends, but his keenness always seemed to put them off, and planted him firmly in the acquaintance circle.


He’d had crushes on some of them as well and on his, neighbours, his colleagues, but none that had ever led to anything.


Not that he’d gone without.


He’d meet people in bars and get drunk with them. Wake up the next morning with them. He had once, by some fluke, found himself engaged to a young woman from the law firm in the same building as the accounting office where he worked.


He had been set up on the date by his colleagues, and somehow managed to not scare her off. Fiona, it seemed, was husband-hunting.


After three months of some casual dating, Fiona had suggested marriage. Jeremy had been remarkably inactive in the whole relationship, so he was rather confused and somehow felt more alone than ever. He had proposed anyway. This was, he had assumed, what love felt like.


It had, of course, been Jeremy’s own fault that his engagement to Fiona had not worked out.


Looking back on it years later, he knew of course that he wasn’t truly in love with her, but then she wasn’t either. He wondered if that had caused him to subconsciously find a way to sabotage their well-planned future.


He blamed what happened on his cowardice, on his inability to be honest, which, apart from an antique wedding ring and his grandmother’s jewellery were the only things he had ever inherited from his father.


Fiona on the other hand had blamed it on Jeremy sleeping with her brother when she had taken him home for Christmas, three months prior to their intended wedding day.


That had been over twenty years ago. Things with Fiona’s brother had – unsurprisingly – not worked out and now Jeremy couldn’t even remember his name.


Following Fiona and the unnamed brother, Jeremy had spent most of his life alone, with only a few short-lived liaisons to keep him going.


There had been one relationship he had thought would progress further, a dental hygienist named Claire who had spent close to three months waking up with him in his apartment a short walk away from Notting Hill.


Things had soured when he discovered she was only using him to make her ex-boyfriend jealous. A bodybuilder named Clive who just happened to live in the building next door. It had at least explained why she had always been so keen on taking romantic walks, just around the block.


That had been a particularly painful break-up – for Jeremy, at least – one that had led to him selling his flat in order to avoid the blissfully reconciled couple next door. Of course, in between buying it and selling it, the value of the flat had increased quite dramatically, so he’d banked the money and moved out of London to a cheaper but much more impressive penthouse flat.


It was only when the invoice arrived from the lawyers that his estate agent’s had used that Jeremy began to consider what happened with Claire and Clive as karma. The administrative assistant who had signed the letter was none other than his one-time-fiancée, Fiona.


The past five years had been sex free, woman-free, man-free, and subsequently trouble-free for Jeremy. At least that was the face he presented to the world. In truth, he was desperately lonely – not that he really knew any other way to feel.


He had all but settled to live out the rest of his life that way when he overheard a conversation between two colleagues in his work canteen.


They were talking about a local politician who had been arrested over the weekend after being caught in-flagrante in an alleyway behind a fish and chip shop on a local estate.


This wasn’t new news to Jeremy, he had of course read the details in the newspaper with much interest. Despite not having had any sex for some time, he rather enjoyed living vicariously through others.


Darren, the young intern who had only recently started working at the accounting firm was sitting at the table next to his, talking to a young woman whose name Jeremy did not know.


The intern was an attractive man – well, boy, really – but Jeremy had soon dismissed him for being too camp. It had never occurred to him, of course, that Darren might not be interested in him.


“The prostitute was a boy?” Jeremy had asked, overhearing some of the conversation.


“Well, man, legally, but yeah. Seventeen years old.” Darren replied, over-exaggerating his facial features as he did.


There had been no names mentioned in the reports Jeremy had read. “How do you know?” He asked.


“Well, I know him, don’t I?”


Jeremy asked a few more questions, carefully, without trying to appear too interested and learned that Darren didn’t really know him, but he did, at least, know of him. The young man – Patrick he called himself – used a dating app to advertise his services.


Jeremy knew of those apps, but he had never used them before. He had always assumed that it would be full of people his own age. It would never have occurred to him that young, attractive people, would be using them to find love. Or, in the case of Patrick, work.


That evening, having spent the rest of the day thinking about it, he made the decision to download one of them. He chose Grindr, the app that Darren had specifically shown him. It was designed solely for gay men.


Jeremy had never considered himself as gay, but when it came to casual sex, he had always preferred the company of men.


Love – he had always envisioned that between him and a woman. But sex? Sex was for men. Their bodies were harder, it was rougher, and although a sweeping generalisation, there were far fewer emotions.


He had long ago given up on love, and he thought he had on sex as well, but now, learning that young, attractive people might be interested in him, even if he did have to pay for it? He’d never been so turned on at work before.


On this particular occasion, Jeremy had not been able to stop thinking about Patrick, the young rent-boy that the MP – incidentally the same age as Jeremy – had been caught with. Since Darren had shown him Patrick’s profile and he had seen that soft face with the hard look in his eye, he was fascinated.


He might have to pay for it – but this young, gorgeous man would be willing to help him feel a little less lonely.


Jeremy experienced a stroke of luck that evening when he logged on. After thirty minutes or so of browsing, he found him. Patrick, seemingly undeterred by the events of the previous weekend, was subtly advertising his services.


It was three days before Jeremy plucked up the courage to say hello, but once he did, Patrick was warm and flirty. Erotically charged conversation flowed between them for the next few days before Patrick finally suggested they meet up.


That had been on the Thursday. On the Friday night, Jeremy left work and drove brazenly to the same estate where the MP had been caught with his pants down.


In person, Patrick looked slightly thinner than his photos, perhaps not quite so innocent, that hard look in his eye seeming to have taken over his entire face. They sat in a dark car park facing the local pub. Conversation was stilted, not like online and Patrick avoided making eye contact with him.


After a few aborted attempts to engage him in conversation, Jeremy gave up and just pushed his chair back and unzipped his fly. Patrick reached across and quietly set to work.


“I’m sorry.” Jeremy was saying less than a minute later. This time it was his turn to avoid eye contact as he pulled a crisp ten pound note from his jacket pocket.


He hesitated, then pulled out a second and passed both across to Patrick. He took the money eagerly and left Jeremy alone in the car without saying goodbye.


Their second meeting was a week later. Jeremy had expected never to see him again, but when he had next logged into the app, he’d found a message waiting for him.


They met in town during the afternoon on the following Thursday and they had driven a short way into the countryside. Here, they had transferred to the back seat of Jeremy’s jaguar, where Patrick’s hands explored a little more than they had the week prior. They had even kissed.


Jeremy supposed that Patrick was a little more comfortable away from the scene of his last arrest. This time he lasted five more minutes before finding himself apologising again.


The following night Patrick came to Jeremy’s apartment and the two of them had sex for the first time. When Jeremy awoke on Saturday morning, Patrick was gone, and so was the money that he had left on the side.


Jeremy’s and Patrick’s Friday nights together became a routine and a highlight of Jeremy’s week. The highlight.


Sometimes, they even talked before sex and Jeremy felt less lonely, but he would always wake alone each Saturday morning.


Until about three months later when something changed. Jeremy woke up on the Saturday morning and Patrick was still there, watching him sleep.


“You’re still here.” He said.


“Don’t worry,” Patrick laughed, “I’m just leaving.”


He pulled his lithe nude body from the older man’s bed – Jeremy watched in awe, this was the first time he’d seen it in natural light. He was like an Adonis. He pulled the covers tight to himself, suddenly aware of his own droopy middle-aged body.


He watched Patrick quickly slip on his jeans and t-shirt and head for the door. Jeremy leant over and picked up the notes from the bedside table. “You haven’t got your money.” He said.


“I know.” Patrick gave him a sweet smile, the first time Jeremy had seen a smile like that on his young lover, and then left.


Jeremy fell backwards into his pillow. He was fifty five years old, but it had finally happened. He wasn’t lonely anymore.



Jeremy’s older sister, Audrey, visited him on the first Saturday of every month.


“I would come more often,” she’d say to him, “but I’m so busy with the girls and all the charity work that I do.”


He knew that she saw her visits to him as part of that charity work. She pitied him.


For Jeremy, thought she was his only living relative, these visits were like torture. Her stories of her different adventures and everything her daughters were up to only served to remind him of how truly lonely he was.


He was sure that she knew this, and was only keeping in touch to ensure that her daughters received what would be a not inconsiderable inheritance. He had once explicitly told her that they were due to get everything in the hope she would leave him alone. Even grandma’s rings, he’d said, which he knew was a bone of contention. For some reason he had been the one to end up with the old woman’s jewellery.


His plan had not worked and she had continued to visit, once a month, on the first Saturday, like clockwork. She was, he supposed, keeping an eye on her investment.


One particular Saturday morning, a few weeks after Patrick had refused to take any money from Jeremy, the older man woke to sunshine streaming through a gap in the curtains. Patrick was asleep next to him, curled up on his side as he often was first thing in the morning.


Since that day, weeks before, when Jeremy had realised he was in love, the two of them had barely spent a day apart. Jeremy was happier than he had ever been and he had even resumed singing to himself in the mornings, a habit he had fallen out of years before.


Something about Patrick, his youthful body or his carefree spirit had awoken something in Jeremy. In the past, men had just been for sex, love, an emotion he’d always reserved for women, but his love for Patrick was more than emotion, it was like air itself. He was alive again.


Jeremy was singing his way through the only verse of George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord that he knew as he walked from his bedroom to the kitchen. He faltered slightly when he saw a cup of tea, steaming away on the counter. Had Patrick already been awake? It seemd unlikely.


“It’s not long made, so it’ll still be hot.”


Jeremy turned in surprise to discover Audrey sitting on the couch. She was wearing the same old grey skirt that she always did, the only acknowledgment of colour the collar of a floral blouse poking over the frayed edges of her beige cardigan.


“Do your dressing gown up, please. I don’t want to see anything you have to offer.”


Jeremy tightened his gown, “How did you – “


“Spare key.” Audrey interrupted, as she often did. Jeremy hadn’t bothered to complete a thought in front of Audrey for the last thirty years. It didn’t matter, she would always do it for him. “You gave it to me for emergencies.”


“What’s the – “


“You didn’t answer the door, I thought there might be something wrong.


That fucking spare key, Jeremy thought, then added out loud: “So you rushed in here and made yourself a cup of tea?”


“Well, once I got in here I realised you had company.” Audrey motioned to the two wine glasses left out from the night before. “And don’t try and deny it, I can tell by the look in your eye.”


“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Jeremy sat opposite Audrey and sipped from his mug. He’d give her this, she made a good cup of tea. Not that he’d ever let her have the satisfaction of knowing it.


“So, is it a one-night stand or something serious?”


“Somewhere in between. Neither.”


Jeremy hadn’t told anyone about Patrick yet. He wasn’t ashamed, but he wanted to keep it their own private pleasure for now. He wasn’t stupid, he knew how people would reach to their thirty seven year age gap.


Audrey sighed. “Well, don’t let her take advantage of you, Jeremy. You’re not exactly what they call a catch. She’s likely only with you for one thing, and it’s not what’s underneath your dressing gown. I’ve seen it all before with Tim at work. He got himself one of those Thai brides off the internet and the prat only went and fell in love with her. Of course, she disappeared with the contents of his bank account after three months and did he ever see her again? Did he – “


For once, Audrey was the one who was unable to finish a thought. The cause of this abrupt stop was Patrick, in nothing but a pair of small pants, strolling through the room. He took a towel from the clothes horse set up in the kitchen.


“Don’t mind me,” he said, “just heading for a shower.”


Audrey simply stared at the may-as-well-be naked young man as he passed in front of her, flashed her a smile and disappeared into the bathroom.


“Jeremy, I…” she didn’t know what to say.


“Put your tongue away, Audrey, you’re not exactly his type.”




“Who is he?” Jeremy smirked, before sipping on his tea. He was quite enjoying this. “That’s just Patrick. The rent boy I’m seeing.”



Jeremy unlocked the door to his apartment and called out for Patrick.


“Sorry,’ Patrick said coming out of the kitchen with a glass of wine, “it seemed to be the quickest way to fill her in. I couldn’t see you getting a word in any time this side of Christmas.”


“You’re too young.” Jeremy said, coldly.


Patrick just gave a small resigned laugh. “I knew she’d get to you. My age has never bothered you before. Turned you on in fact.”


“I meant for the wine, not for me,” Jeremy laughed, taking the glass from Patrick, kissing him as he did.


Audrey had insisted that she and Jeremy leave the flat immediately, refusing to speak while “that boy is in the shower.” Jeremy, while appreciating the silence from his older sister, had always preferred an easy life, so had acquiesced.


Unfortunately, this proved a costly mistake, having had to spend most of the afternoon with his sister.


“You were gone a long time.” Patrick said pointing to the half empty bottle of wine on the coffee table.


“Audrey has a lot to say even when she’s got nothing to talk about. Imagine how much she had to get through. Her coffee kept going cold.”


“I’m guessing she wasn’t planning the wedding?”


Jeremy sat down in an armchair and pulled Patrick onto his lap. “Not exactly. Funeral, maybe. Don’t take it personally, though I think she’s been planning mine for a while.”


“You’re not leaving me then?”


Jeremy smiled and took a gulp of wine. “Of course not, it’s my flat!”


Patrick punched him playfully on the arm, causing Jeremy to yelp as he nearly spilt his drink. “What did she say?”


“Nothing important. Nothing that could make me change my mind about you.” He gave Patrick a tender kiss, and then offered him a sip of his wine. “Actually, that’s not true, she made me realise there’s something I want to give you”


Patrick smirked and ran his hands over the older man’s crotch. “I’m always ready for whatever you want to give me.”


“Not that,” Jeremy moved his hand away and pulled out a small key from his pocket, “Well, not just that. You’re always here any way, we might as well make it official. Move in.”


Patrick laughed, taking the key. “I already have. They’ve given my room to someone else at the bedsit. Literally ALL my stuff is here.”


“It is?” Jeremy looked around as if noticing for the first time the relatively few additions to his flat. “Well, now you can lock it away, can’t you?”


They kissed again. “Is this hers?”


“No, she’d never give that up. I got it cut on the way back. That’s not everything, though,” he started to swivel the simple silver band he had on his right hand, “I want you to have this.”


Patrick watched cautiously as Jeremy removed it , “Are you proposing?”


Jeremy rolled his eyes, but said nothing as he slipped the ring onto Patrick’s thumb, the rest of his fingers too slender.


“It’s a promise.” Jeremy said. “You have changed my life in such a short time. I never thought I would ever feel the way that I feel about you. All my life, I have fallen in and out of ‘love’ with all sorts of people, but now I can see, in comparison to what I feel for you, they were just childish crushes. I didn’t know it was even possible to feel this way.


“That’s what I told Audrey today. I told her I didn’t just love you, I was you. You are me. Without you, I am nothing, I have been nothing. It’s taken fifty five years, but I am alive. This ring is my promise to you. I’m not stupid. I know you don’t feel quite the same way, not yet at least, but I promise that you will. I promise that you will never have to sell yourself again. I promise that my home will be your home. I promise to love you. Always.”


They kissed, their tears mixing with each others.



Two days later, Jeremy returned home from work to find the door unlocked and the apartment, while not quite empty, certainly lacking a presence.


He didn’t notice that his laptop and stereo and TV were missing. He didn’t notice his collection of rare and signed books had been swept from their shelves. Nor did he notice that his grandmother’s jewellery had been taken from their box in the bottom of his wardrobe.


He did notice that Patrick was gone. He did notice the letter on the coffee table, written in Patrick’s own childish hand.



    I’m sorry. I can’t do this to you anymore. I don’t love you the way you want me to. I can’t keep taking advantage of you. You deserve to be loved.


P x


With the letter was the spare key, but not his father’s ring. Jeremy had been robbed, not just of his material possession, but of his love.


Of his life.



It was New Year’s Day and Audrey had finally resolved to go back to Jeremy’s flat. It has been six months since she had last visited, in that fateful week when she’d crossed the threshold three times.


The first time had been her regular monthly visit when she’d been astounded to discover her brother was cohabiting with a seventeen-year-old boy.


Her second visit had been on the Monday morning and had lasted much longer than the first. She knew that Jeremy would be at work and gone with the intention to get rid of the child who was taking advantage of her brother.


She’d let herself in and had been relieved to discover he was in the shower. That would make it much easier. By the time he’d come out she had gone through the bedroom and packed everything that she could reasonably assume was his. Anything with a twenty-eight inch waist, or marked with XS.


“Get dressed.” She’d said handing him a change of clothes.


“What are you doing here?” He’d asked, quickly pulling them on.


She’d handed him an envelope of cash – five thousand pounds – and explained that it was more than Jeremy had to offer, so he might as well take it and leave.


“I don’t – “


“Shut up while someone else is talking.” Audrey had spat at Patrick, thrusting the duffel bag she’d packed into his arms as she did. “Your mother didn’t do you many favours did she? Perhaps you should go back to her until you can learn to behave like a proper grown up?”


“She’d have a lot to say about the way you’re behaving right now.” He’d spat right back at her.


Audrey had been surprised. Did kids really talk to their elders this way? “Let me guess, she never raised a hand to you did she?”


She had reached into her own bag, and as she pulled it out, the young man in front of her flinched as if she was going to hit him. She’d laughed and handed him a notepad.


She’d told him to write a note to Jeremy, telling him he was leaving. To let him down gently. Patrick had ignored her and insisted that he loved her brother.


“Love? Love!” She had laughed the same way she’d laughed at her ex-husband when he had told her he loved his mistress. She hadn’t been much older than Patrick, and now, five years later, Frank was living on his own in a bedsit above a fish and chip shop.  “If you love him so much, you’ll agree with me and leave him now.”


“No.” The boy actually stamped his foot. “I’m going to spent the rest of my life with him.”


Audrey had laughed again and then found herself having to explain to him that her brother was nearly forty years older than him. “By time you’re thirty, when you should be thinking about settling down, he’ll be seventy, and looking for his retirement home!”


She had continued in this vein for some time, citing yet more examples of how the age gap would cause problems, slowly wearing Patrick down like a stream on a mountain.


“Like I said before,” she had said nearing the edge of her rehearsed monologue, secretly very pleased with how well she had delivered it, “you will leave him. It’s fun now but one day you won’t be able to cope anymore. If you love him, you’ll leave. Break his heart now… save shattering it later.”


Patrick said nothing more to her. Instead, he had sat down at the table and wrote a short note to Jeremy, then silently had picked up his bag and left, taking the envelope containing five thousand pounds with him.


Her third visit had been on the Friday of that same week. She had expected to hear from Jeremy, to hear of the break-up, but having heard nothing, she had grown concerned. What if Patrick had simply waited for her to leave and gone back in?


She’d visited on Friday night, when she knew Jeremy would be home from work.


That visit had been Audrey’s final visit to her brother’s flat. Finding Jeremy’s dead body had rather soured it for her.



There had been no note, other than Patrick’s, but the police hadn’t treated his death as suspicious.  There had been no reason for her to delay this so long, but it was while she was filling the fifth bin bag of clothes for the charity shop that Audrey had realised it hadn’t been this flat that she feared.


She had feared leaving her own home, of leaving and still feeling desperately lonely. Somehow, feeling it somewhere else, here, the bus had made it real.


Once everything had been cleared she went home and sat among her brother’s things. His TV and stereo. His rare and signed books. Their grandmother’s jewellery.


She waited.


Waited for her daughters to call. They had promised they would, after all. She waited, and while she did, she wondered where her father’s wedding ring had gone.


The End

A(nother) Rambling: A New String to My Bow

Taking a break from reviewing a book this week – to talk about my favourite topic outside of books.
I did something new yesterday, something a little bit nerve-wracking, but ultimately fun. It’s also what stopped me from reading, at least stopped me from reading anything new – hence no review.
(I do like the word hence. Makes me feel posh)
At WHSmith, we’ve been working on erasing stigma around mental health. The company has done shitloads (that’s the technical word) to raise awareness within the company, as well as this year doing huge amounts of fundraising for – along with Cancer Research – Mind.
As part of our activities, last year Bryony Gordon came to Swindon for a Q&A session – hosted by publicity goddess George Moore.
It went down so well, we arranged another one for Matt Haig – to coincide with the launch of his new book (How To Stop Time – read it!) and to get a male perspective on the challenges faced by those who suffer from poor mental health.
I know what you’re thinking – How come he’s not talking about himself yet?! Give the people what they want!
Ok, ok!
Well, guess what mug offered to step in and host the thing – with absolutely no prior experience of having done something like that?
You guessed it. This guy.
I spent the last week reminding myself of the events of How To Stop Time, I re-read Reasons to Stay Alive, and I monitored Matt’s tweets closely to see if they would raise any questions I wanted to ask.
Then. I got up on the stage, sat opposite Matt – and introduced us both to what felt like an enormous crowd, but was in reality closer to 30.
How to stop time indeed.
Matt had the hard job – he had to talk for twenty seven out of the thirty minutes – I just had to sit there and listen to him, and make sure I didn’t ask a question he’d just answered.
But boy was it hard – I didn’t know where to look. Did I look at the audience like a loon? Matt was (NOT like a loon, I hasten to add), but then he was talking to them. I would just be grinning inanely at them.
Should I instead just ignore them? But that felt rude, and besides if I didn’t look, how did I know if they were still awake – or even there?
At least I know why Graham Norton drinks now.
In the end, it went ok. Neither myself or Matt said anything stupid, I had some positive feedback from people afterwards (not that I believed them of course), and we all learnt a little bit more about mental health (and turtles) as well as hearing about a great book!
What’s the point of me telling you all this? I have a new skill! I can interview people – so let me tell you now, Graham had better watch out.
He’s ahead in the interviewer-skills race (for now) – but I can match him drink for drink.

A(nother) Review: Yesterday by Felicia Yap

“…all my troubles seemed so far away, now it looks as though they’re here to stay…”


The problem with naming anything after such a famous song is that you’re always going to associate it with that song.


It took me a while to read Yesterday simply because I kept bursting into song every time I picked it up.


But when I did pick it up I found a really intriguing set-up. Let’s see if I can explain in a few short sentences…


We are in an alternative universe, where everything is identical, except for one key difference: nobody can remember anything that happened more than two days ago. Around two thirds of the population can only remember the past twenty-four hours, while a special third can remember forty-eight – it’s a bit like the old adage ‘In the Kingdom of the Blind, the one eyed-man is King’.


Here’s the thing, though… while they might not be able to remember, they can learn. Each night they write down the events of their day and they are able to retain certain facts. Think of a photo of yourself as a baby, on a day out at the beach. You don’t remember being there, but the fact that you were is something you know.


It’s a tricky concept to get your head round, but in two paragraphs, I hope I have been to explain it.


In the book, it took seven chapters before it clicked into place for me. The writer doesn’t try to explain this world to the reader, it is simply presented as ‘this is the way it is’ and it’s very confusing.


For instance, the main character is a novelist. A successful novelist.


How on that earth could a novelist be successful. There are very few of us that can read a novel in two days – especially if we were to spend the evening writing an update in our diaries.


Once the concept is explained, perhaps a little too late for the casual reader, we are left with a novel – at heart, that now classic domestic noir genre – with a strong central mystery.


It rumbles along at a decent pace and where this novel is unique is that the characters are as oblivious, or nearly as oblivious to the true events as we are.


At a deeper level, it raises some intriguing questions about the nature of memory, about whether we truly are better off not knowing, or if full photographic memory is a better way to live our lives.


What it doesn’t do is explore the notion of how our memories make us. The characters all have distinct personalities, which suggests their behaviours are learned, routine, but it doesn’t investigate this at all.


Can a person still be a moral person if they do not remember their morals? Are they still funny if they have no memory of ever being that person? Can you and should you be held responsible for something you don’t remember?


What the book does do, is collapse under it’s own weight. It’s a tricky concept, and combining it with a convoluted, almost Sunset Beach style revenge plot means that there are many things not clear.


The writer herself seems to realise this, by including a chapter at the end of the novel wherein the antagonist gives a blow by blow account of what they did and how they did it.


It ties the novel up neatly and leaves no questions, but a good book shouldn’t have that much exposition. It’s a bit like when a comedian has to tell you why a joke is funny.


Yesterday has a shaky start, a strong middle, but a dodgy ending that leaves a bad taste. It is an ambitious novel with a smart concept, it’s just perhaps a little too ambitious.


Yesterday is published by Wildfire on 10th August 2017