A year ago, I excitedly blogged from the Smallest Farmhouse in Warwickshire to say that I was starting work on a new novel. At the same time, work began on renovating our Forever Home, a lovely but dilapidated cottage tucked high in the hills of what was once the Forest of Arden. I made a bet that I’d deliver my book by the time it was ready to move into in April. The race was on…
The Weekends of You and Me tells the story of Jo and Harry, who escape to a remote holiday hideaway, Morrow Cottage every year for a ‘just the two of us’ break from parenthood, work and family crises. It follows their weekends together through a decade that takes them from passionate fling in 2006 to make or break weekend in 2015. It was a technically difficult and rewardingly emotional book to write; Jo and Harry became my allies, and the intensity of having just two characters on the page for so much of the story meant I grew to care about them more than almost any couple I’ve written since Tash and Hugo (who some readers will know I’d bring back in every book if I could!). I also loved creating Morrow Cottage, the remote Shropshire bolthole that waits for them year after year, and in which they leave the outside world behind.
It’s probably no coincidence that Morrow Cottage has a roaring wood-burning stove which must be lit as soon as Jo and Harry arrive, because the old dairy in which I write at the SFW gets very cold indeed in winter. Despite a brace of electric heaters at my sides, I spent more than one late night through the early months of this year with my breath clouding in front of a monitor as I typed after hours. The imaginary Morrow wood burner kept me warm, along with the thought of having somewhere toasty to write at the Forever Home that I don’t share with quite so many spiders, or any rats, and that doesn’t have Hereford bullocks kicking the other side of the wall all night like neighbours demanding I turn the music down. The ‘Mummy shed’ – part of a new timber-framed garage – will be heated courtesy of the cottage’s eco-friendly new bio-mass boiler.
I delivered The Weekends of You and Me in May, but I still won my bet. At that point, the Forever Home had no kitchen, no working loo and a lunar landscape of dust and debris in every room – and my cosy writing space was nothing more than a sketch on a piece of paper. We hastily revised our moving date to the summer holidays.
Modernising a lopsided, half-timbered cottage that’s as damp as a riverbank and sits skewwhiff on its sixteenth century oak sole place is a mammoth undertaking, and none of us had appreciated the horrors hiding beneath the historic layers of paint and paper that covered every wall (and in some cases were the only things holding them up). It doesn’t stop us loving the place – it is so filled with character and kindness – but it meant our shoestring budget has had to stretch to lace up more and more holes, and our dreams of moving there before the roses blossomed around the door were always under threat. Getting in before the flower-heads turned into hips became our priority, and I clung onto my dreams of autumn plotting and proof-reading in a snug study.
The old dairy at the SFW was far from cold when I edited The Weekends of You and Me through June and July, and the pungent scent of cattle byre that floated through the windows provided authentic rural inspiration as I gratefully reshaped Jo and Harry’s decade of love and drama in the Shropshire Hills, happy to be lost in their world.
By the time I delivered it back to my publisher and the girls broke up from school for summer, the Forever House had gained one working loo and a succession of skips overflowing with builders’ teabags and fly-tipped white goods. Not one room in the cottage was habitable. My writing shed remained a distant dream, along with the garage that would house the eco-boiler. We pushed the move-in date back to September. I no longer felt quite so jubilant about winning my bet.
We all mucked in through the holidays, beadily observed by resident guinea fowl Ted and his hareem of lady pheasant friends. While Sam trundled around them in a mini digger moving mountains of soil, I designed a budget kitchen which almost fits, as long as we breathe in when we walk past the fridge and don’t mind loading the dishwasher with the door at a forty five degree angle. The girls and I then painted every wall in sight – and a lot of ourselves – in chalky emulsion, only to find the plaster all had to be cut back when big patches of damp showed through. Outside, a large concrete slab was finally laid where the garage, boiler room and Mummy’s Shed were going to be erected. We all jumped for joy on it until we discovered that it had been set out to the wrong dimensions and the timber-framers would now have to completely redesign it to fit there. We nudged our moving in date back to October.
As soon as the girls went back to school, I worked through the second edit of The Weekends of You and Me and found Jo and Harry’s story waiting to be shared, full of life and love and reasons to be cheerful. For readers who have been kind enough to spur me on by sending emails asking me to hurry up and write the next one, I promise there’s not long to wait now. It’s currently with the proof reader – the final stage before typesetting – and it comes out early next year.
This is my last blog from the Smallest Farmhouse in Warwickshire, where the apples have dropped for the second time since we started living here, and the windows are once again steaming up. We move out in just over a fortnight. I can’t wait to get started on the first of many novels I plan to write in the Forever Home, although I think I’ll be working at the kitchen table for the time being…as long as nobody wants to open the dishwasher. The old cottage is far from ready, but it does now boast two working loos and there’s a shiny eco-boiler under a tarpaulin in the timber-framed outbuilding. Let’s gloss over the fact that building hasn’t yet got a roof, internal walls or power and the Mummy Shed still lacks finishing touches like doors and windows. They’re all on the Moving House To Do list, along with ‘Write Your Blog’ which I can now tick off. I apologise that I do this so sporadically, but I hope today’s update makes up a little for its randomness. I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who visits my website, and I really hope The Weekends of You and Me brings lots of pleasure to readers when it’s published in 2016. It can be pre-ordered it in hardback here and ebook here.
I wish you all a wonderful autumn!