It’s a Rye ol’ world!

A few days ago I put the final full stop on my new book, ‘Guinevere’ – an erotic novella telling the alternative myth of King Arthur’s famous wife.

It therefore seemed fitting to visit an English town that dates back to mediaeval times. Unlike the legend of Camelot, thought to be based in Cornwall, we visited Rye in East Sussex.

Despite living only 1.5 hrs away, neither my husband nor I had visited Rye before. Famous for its cobbled streets, rich history and old, old buildings, Rye is a famous tourist stop, and we decided it was about time we took it all in.

We stayed in The Mermaid Inn on the beautifully named Mermaid Street. An ancient building dating back to the 1100s (wow!), the Mermaid Inn is a pub with over thirty rooms, a cosy bar and a restaurant.

We were lucky enough to stay in a four-poster room and when I asked the chap who showed us to our room whether it was one of the haunted rooms (The Mermaid Inn is well known for being a popular ‘haunt’ with various spectres), he said no. However, when I checked out the room information, it very clearly said that there had been several sightings of the ghost of a man who terrifies guests by walking through the bathroom wall into the main room – aarrrgghh!

Ghosty didn’t make an appearance on the night we stayed (or if he did, we must have been asleep). I’m not sure whether I was relieved or disappointed about this!

We chose to have dinner in the bar as it was so lovely and cosy and heated with a huge open fire. We could have eaten in the dining room, which looked very lovely and had a tempting-sounding menu, but we wanted a relaxed evening, so we opted for a more informal setting.

We arrived Saturday midday and took a walk around Rye. If you like antiques, then Rye is a good place to visit, as it has so many antique shops. There’s also a very quaint looking independent cinema called ‘Kino’, which we’d have visited had we stayed longer.

There is an enormous amount of pubs and other eateries in Rye, many of which looked gorgeous. We, however, stuck with The Mermaid Inn, and took advantage of their mulled wine offering in the afternoon. It was a miserable, rainy January day, and there really seemed to be no better place to be than whiling the hours in the warm and comfortable bar. We even got chatting to the locals, which was very entertaining!

Rye is fairly small, so if you only have a weekend to spare, it’s a good town to visit. And if you like English history, ancient architecture and friendly locals, it’s the perfect place to go!

http://www.mermaidinn.com

Top 5 Reads

It’s been a while since I’ve written a post on book recommendations, so I thought it about time that changed.

Here are my top 5 recent reads for…

A laugh
Why Mummy Swears by Gill Sims

I found this wrapped up without a tag under my tree at Christmas and it took me a while and a few embarrassing text messages thanking the wrong people to recall who had given it to me. After several responses along the lines of “Erm, I didn’t actually buy you a present”, I finally remembered – my wonderful best friend – who else!

Why Mummy Swears is a hilarious account of what it’s really like being a working mum and wife. Aside from the fact that I wanted to kill her husband for his ridiculously selfish behaviour, I loved it from start to finish.

My husband even said: “You’ve always got a smile on your face when you’re reading that book.” That says it all really. If the winter blues are hitting you hard, then this is the ideal antidote.

The swears are wonderfully appalling – perfect for anyone like me with the tendency to be a bit of a potty mouth.

Murder and Mayhem
Apple Strudel Alibi by H.Y. Hanna

I love H.Y Hanna’s Oxford Tearoom series as anyone who’s read my previous book recommendations will know. They’re very ‘cosy’, funny and intriguing all at the same time.

I especially liked this one, which is set in Vienna, as I’ve been there fairly recently myself, so it almost felt like I was there all over again.

I took this book in via Audible, which is always a pleasure with the Oxford Tearoom books, as they’re narrated by Pearl Hewitt, whose voice I could happily listen to all day.

Self-development
Leap Year by Helen Russell

I’ve got to admit – I love a self-help book. I’m not sure this is classified as such, as it’s more of a first-person narrative about the author’s own personal dilemma and how she overcomes it, but whatever the official genre, this is bloody funny.

I laughed out loud to this on many an occasion, as the author takes the reader through her decision-making process when it comes to whether she will remain in Denmark or return to England with her family.

On the way she attempts to lose weight, make new friends and try out a radical new dance class as a way to shake off her British inhibitions.

Romance and Friendship
The Mother of all Christmases by Milly Johnson

Clearly, no list of book recommendations in this blog is likely to be without an entry from Milly Johnson. I love the warmth, humour, romance and of course happy ends that you’re guaranteed with a Milly Johnson novel, and The Mother of all Christmases does not disappoint. In fact, it surpasses expectations.

I don’t know how she continues to think up all the wonderful characters and their stories, but she does, and I hope she continues to do so, as I’ve now read them all!

Historical, edge-of-your-seat moments
The Faithful by Juliet West

I don’t think I’ve ever gripped my car steering wheel as much as I did when I listened to this book on Audible. Steering-wheel-gripping was often combined with shouting “No, no, you can’t!” or “What? I can’t believe it!” as the story unfolded.

Juliet is such a talented story-teller that you can’t help but get completely sucked in to the plot and the wonderfully colourful characters.

Set in the run up to WWII, The Faithful tells the story of a teenage girl who finds herself immersed in the world of the British extreme right movement. Not only is it a sensitive and edge-of-your-seat read, it is also fascinating from an historical point of view.

My Weekly Pocket Novel accepted!

What a brilliant start to the new year – on Friday I heard that my 50k word submission to My Weekly Pocket Novels has been accepted!

It’s a real privilege to be published by My Weekly as they’re such a long-standing, reputable company, and they’re publishing my book – YESSSSSS!

Obviously I’m made up about this, especially because it means I’ll be able to fulfil my ambition of going in to a newsagent/supermarket and seeing one of my books on the shelf (the Pocket Novels are kept on the magazine rack).

The novel, Saving Alice, has been in the making for over a year, and made placed second in the Romantic Writers of Australia’s Ripping Start competition.

The book, which is a love story, features a cheeky little girl called Alice and her rather scrummy single dad.

Saving Alice will be out 4th April 2019.

An Asian Christmas

Late last night I arrived home, with my husband and young son, from a 17-day tour of Asia. We travelled over Christmas and New Year, starting at Singapore and ending in Shanghai, visiting in between Hong Kong, Ko Samui, Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan.

We went via cruise ship plus two long-haul flights out of Heathrow and back. Phew! Over the two and a half weeks, we experienced the fascinating, exotic, run-down, hot, cold, tranquil, bustling, rich, poor, developed and undeveloped of this vast region.

A relaxing holiday it was most definitely not, but it was a great way to get a taster of each of the countries. The only one I’d visited previously was Hong Kong, so it was almost all new to me.

Clearly, there isn’t enough time in one blog to go into great detail, but here’s my top line:

Start (see pic): Singapore – beautiful, super clean country with zero crime rate. Very impressive buildings and one of the best hotels I’ve ever stayed in, although it wasn’t ludicrously expensive (Swissotel). The service was phenomenal and the people we encountered were fabulous and so helpful. On the top floor of this huuuuuuge hotel, there is a bar, where you can sit and take in the extraordinary view. So we did, with a Singapore Sling in hand.

The weather is hot, hot, hot!

Singapore is almost all built-up, although doesn’t have that too-busy city feel, which I hate, so I’d love to go back here again.

Stop one: Ko Samui, Thailand. We paid to go on a trip to a hotel for the day. It was called The Passage. Our tour package included lunch (gorgeous), a Thai massage (definitely an experience to be had), and use of the beach and pool (spectacular).

We were so lucky to miss the storm, which hit the area just a few days later. The weather we had was blissful. The tour wasn’t cheap (none of the cruise tours are, so it’s the only one we went on), but it was worth every penny.

The Thai people were super and the place was beautiful. Will definitely be saving the pennies for a return visit.

Stop two: Pattaya, Thailand. The problem with cruising is that you’re basically dumped where the ship docks. Unless you’ve robbed a bank recently and can afford all the trips, then you have to find your own way around, and the place you dock in may not be particularly nice. Although the ship advertised it was stopping at ‘Bangkok’, we were actually 2.5 hours drive away from Bangkok!

We took a 30-minute coach ride to the town of Pattaya, which is OK but not very salubrious. By night, it’s the red-light district. We were there in the day, so didn’t see that, but still, it’s very built-up and the beach, although nice, is lined with people selling parasailing (or whatever it’s called). It’s cut-throat business, so be prepared to be harassed a little from traders. The weather was glorious. I’m sure there are a lot nicer places in Thailand, and this won’t be on my list to go back to.

Stop three: Vietnam. Similar story here – we docked miles away from anywhere of interest. The city was the place on everyone’s hit list, but it cost a lot to get there.

I’ve heard lots of accounts of how wonderful Vietnam is, but our experience wasn’t in line with this. Having said that, other cruise passengers said they really enjoyed their day here, so it is of course subjective.

Our experience involved getting off a coach in a minor town. It was bustling, with a small shopping centre, a market and lots of local shops lining the street.

The area appeared fairly poor, with a lot of traders walking up and down, touting their goods on a tray around their necks. Everyone, but everyone, rides on a scooter – often with several people (and dogs) to one scooter.

The weather was very hot. That was our final hot stop…

Stop four: Taiwan. I had no preconceptions about what Taiwan would be like. I felt like we hadn’t made the most of our stop in Vietnam, and should probably have visited the main city, so when we reached Taiwan, we decided to get on the local train and venture into Taipei, which was around 45 minutes away.

If you love cities, hustle and bustle and something new every corner you turn, then you may well love Taipei. For me, however, I find this level of busy overwhelming.

We left the enormous train station and found ourselves in a shopping mall that was so huge I felt a little dizzy. We walked around the streets and the amount of market traders and shops is staggering. There are definitely bargains-a-plenty.

I had a good look out of the window on the train ride in, and the term ‘concrete jungle’ must have been coined for this area. Everywhere you look, there are high-rise grey concrete buildings. Pretty it isn’t, but interesting, most certainly.

It was a grey, chilly and rainy day, which I believe is typical of Taiwan at this time of year.

Stop five: Hong Kong. A busy metropolis, rammed with people and skyscrapers, Hong Kong does enormous on its own scale. We rode the metro around the city – very easy to navigate, and just like London’s Underground system.

We had lunch in a local restaurant, which was delicious, and I ended up eating everyone’s as my family weren’t feeling particularly well. Oh well, more for me!

I did a highly intellectual experiment and ordered sweet and sour chicken to see if it really did taste like the version you get in The West – given so many people say it’s altered for our taste. Lo and behold – it was as beautifully sweet and gloopy as we get in Worthing’s Imperial China restaurant. Hurrah!

We took a taxi back to the port and the driver took the side streets. Wow! The shiny, shiny Hong Kong you see in pics is a world away from the city’s underbelly. Parts of HK are really rundown. I realise this doesn’t come as a surprise as that’s all cities, but wanted to point out that if you have a craving to see the ‘real’ HK, then by all means visit that famous skyline, but take a trip down the side streets too.

It was a winter’s day in HK at around 10 degrees C, so wrap up warm if visiting this time of year.

Stop six: Busan, South Korea. Thankfully, this is one of the stops where the city of interest is near to the port. I really liked Busan. Although English is not widely spoken, the people we came across were very kind and friendly and we both tried hard to communicate.

Busan is highly developed, and during this stay, we visited the high street and local mall. The mall was huge with so many floors I couldn’t get my head around it. We went to the top and took in the view, which from that height, was awesome.

What I particularly liked about Busan was that although it was lively enough, it wasn’t crammed with people as some of our previous stops had been, and I actually felt I could breathe.

This was our coldest stop at a rather nippy 5 degrees C.

Stop seven: Nagasaki, Japan. Nagasaki is a small, pretty town, and the boat docks within walking distance of the centre. Needless to say, Nagasaki is most famous probably for the WWII bombing it endured, and there is a museum dedicated to this time in its history, as well as a peace museum.

The nicest people I have ever met live in Nagasaki. Our son being young, blonde and blue-eyed got a lot of attention, and many people stopped to talk to us in the street. He ran onto a playground and within minutes was playing with a group of Japanese children and teenagers, who were all shouting out his name.

I loved Nagasaki, not just for the people, but for its tranquility – ironic really, considering what it’s been through. You can mooch around without being bothered and without bumping into a thousand people.

I don’t suppose we’ll ever make it back to Nagasaki, but I would heartily recommend a visit.

It was a beautiful day – cold but sunny.

Final stop: Shanghai. Due to delays with the boat reaching shore, we didn’t really get to see much of Shanghai. We stayed in the Longemont hotel, which was recommended by the cruise liner, although if that’s the best Shanghai has to offer, then it wasn’t particularly impressive. Our room smelt of cigarettes and the temperature in the room was set at 30 degrees C, even though it was about 10 degrees outside. We were melting! Someone was sent to help us, and ‘fixed’ the problem by opening the window. This wasn’t my favourite solution considering we were on the 40th floor.

They eat very ‘interesting’ food in this part of China, which I’d say requires a rather strong stomach. I consider myself quite adventurous when it comes to trying different foods, but it was a bit like watching an episode of ‘I’m a Celebrity, Get me Outta Here’. It isn’t just chicken’s feet and deep fried insects on offer – it’s on a whole different level. I’m not sure what the ‘cloud soup’ was, but it looked rather globular. Clearly, wonderful for adventurous foodies everywhere!

If you visit Shanghai, be prepared that English is not at all widely spoken and the food and service levels are very different from what’s expected in The West. You may consider this half the fun of travelling, but if this is likely to hamper your stay, then it’s worth thinking about.

We travelled to Singapore with Singapore Airlines. The food and service is good and the cabin crew are staggeringly well-kept.

We travelled back to Heathrow with British Airways. The food was OK, the service was crud and the cabin crew look like a right old state. There was a 3 hour delay going out, and we waited almost 2 hours for our baggage to reach the belt.

Choose Singapore!

Release date – tomorrow!

The time has finally come for my latest book to be released – whoopee!!

Secrets of the East Wing is my third book – and naughtiest to date!  It’s my second erotic short story this year, and it’s out tomorrow.  As it’s a short story it’s available as e-book only 

It’s about a young English countess married to a mysterious earl.  He’s a loving, attentive husband, but there’s one thing missing in their marriage – intimacy!  The earl has a secret he doesn’t want to share with his wife, and he asks her to promise never to try and find out what it is.

For years she keeps that promise, until one day curiosity gets the better of her, and she enters his chambers and finds out what it is he’s been keeping from her for all these years.  Then, she wishes she hadn’t…

My beta readers all asked me how I came up with the storyline, as it’s fairly out there.  I was even asked if I ‘did those things’ – haha!  I can honestly say it’s all imagination, which I think I’m glad about even though our countess and earl have a lot of fun.

I wanted to write a story set in an English manor and weave in a plot involving men and women, men and men, women and women – you get the picture.  The result is Secrets of the East Wing.  I hope you like it https://www.amazon.co.uk/Secrets-East-Wing-Gina-Hollands-ebook/dp/B07HRY5LLV/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1543346832&sr=8-3&keywords=gina+hollands

Why authors like rejections

Yes, it really is true that writers enjoy receiving a rejection.  Okay, kind of true.  A rejection is not as good as an acceptance, clearly, but it is certainly preferable to the usual alternative, which is being completely, entirely and categorically ignored.

Most writers, if they’ve stuck around long enough to send out several of their works, will know that rejections are just part of life.  For most, they form quite a big part, and although it’s never nice to be told your work doesn’t float that particular agent’s/publisher’s boat, at least you know where you stand and can then get on with life accordingly, whether that be approaching someone else, writing something new or taking up calligraphy/wind sailing/bee-keeping instead of this writing lark.

While I’m lucky enough to have enjoyed some success so far as a writer (and hopefully there’s more to come), I’ve also received my fair share of rejections.  When I say ‘fair share’ I’m talking on a scale of about 1:30.  Not great odds, admittedly.  If I were a betting woman, I’d do well to keep my money firmly in my purse, but as writers we generally come to accept such a ratio.  I can just about live with that.  The spark of light you get in amongst all that darkness can be enough to keep you going to produce the next manuscript.

What I cannot and never will be okay with is radio silence.  Everyone knows that most writers – even the mighty J.K. Rowling – received hundreds of ‘no thank yous’ before she hit the jackpot with Harry Potter.  She even got plenty after, when she hid her identity and sent out her new manuscript.  But what no-one ever seems to mention is the amount of times we’re blatantly ignored.

Now, I’m not saying this happens all the time.  Writers and agents are bombarded with submissions from hopefuls and it can of course take time to get back to all of them.  I have great respect for this species of agent/publisher, who takes the time to respond, but I cannot abide by those in the industry (and believe me, there are lots), who just don’t bother.  Especially those who ask you to make revisions, getting your hopes up, then don’t even have the courtesy to come back to you.  I can’t speak for any other aspiring writer out there, but personally, I’d much rather have bad news that no news.

No news means you’re always wondering, always checking your missed calls and emails just in case they’ve finally got back to you.  It’s emotionally exhausting!

So, dear writers, if you’re being ignored, I empathise deeply.  And if you’re an agent/publisher, please don’t go dark on us.  We’d rather you said how it is, rather than fail to say anything at all.

Ignorance, in our case, is definitely not bliss.

Here we go a-Ghent

In my previous blog about our recent long weekend spent in Bottrop, Germany, I mentioned that we visited Ghent in Belgium for a day and night en route home.  I didn’t want to mix the two places in one article, so this blog is dedicated to Ghent, and Ghent alone!

Our first thought was to visit Bruges, as it seems the most obvious, but we thought we’d do things a little differently…

First of all, I was really taken aback with how beautiful the city was.  It’s packed with stunning architecture including churches and cathedrals-a-plenty, and even a castle.  If ‘old stuff’ isn’t your thing, however, Ghent is still definitely worth a trip.  There are eateries everywhere and if you fancy a spot of retail therapy, there are some gorgeous shops selling everything you could possibly want.

Unfortunately for us, our day in Ghent was a Sunday.  As is the case in a lot of Europe (even the cities), this means that the vast majority of the shops are firmly closed.  The restaurants, cafes and bars tend to stay open though.  So, if you do like to shop when abroad then avoid Sundays!  We had no particular plans for our day so just ambled along and took in the sights.

I’d never stepped foot on Belgian soil before, so I wasn’t even sure what language to expect to hear in Ghent.  As it turned out, it’s Flemish.  French is spoken in much of Belgium, but Ghent is in the region where Flemish – a type of Dutch – is spoken.  As you might expect, English and French is widely understood so don’t worry if your Flemish is a tad rusty.

Of course, no trip to Belgium would be complete without devouring a ridiculous amount of food.  There are quaint cafes everywhere selling pancakes and waffles, and our little boy battled his way through a pancake with ice cream and salted caramel sauce that must have weighed more than he did.  I, meanwhile, ‘made do’ with a coffee and ice cream truffles – well, you can’t go to Belgium and not have chocolate!

We drove to Ghent from Bottrop.  The journey was, in the main, very straightforward (even though we were driving on the opposite side of the road from what we’re used to).  The only slightly tricky bit was when we reached the city.  Having said that, it was very doable still.  Even on the Monday morning, when we departed at ‘rush hour’, there didn’t appear to be a great deal of traffic on the roads.  It wasn’t anything like the M25, anyway.

It only took us around 1.5 hrs to drive from Ghent to the Euro tunnel in Calais, so very handy.  If you do decide to drive to Ghent, book your hotel early, as those with car parks are fairly few and far between.

If you like history, pretty cities and food, glorious food, then Ghent should definitely be on your travel wish list.

Skiing in October? How’s that then?

Last week we took a long weekend in Germany to visit the indoor Alpine Ski Centre in Bottrop, Germany https://www.alpincenter.com/bottrop/en.

We took up skiing three years ago and for the last two have visited Norway over Christmas.  While it’s beautiful and the skiing is brilliant, it’s not a cheap holiday, and a week on the slopes can seem like overkill.  There isn’t usually much other than a ski resort in the vicinity, so unless you’re happy sitting around in front of the fire all day,  it can seem a bit too long.

As an alternative this year we decided to forgo Scandinavia and find another way to practise our skiing, which wasn’t as costly or as far to travel, and didn’t involve a whole week.  The answer of course was an indoor ski centre.  Bottrop boasts the largest in the world and, as I like to practise my German language, it seemed an ideal solution.

We drove from Harwich and took the overnight ferry to the Hook of Holland.  The ferry crossing was superb.  I get seasick but I’m OK if I lay down, so the option of sleeping over in a cabin seemed perfect.  The ferry is perfectly equipped with a restaurant, bars and cafes, shops, a games room and even a cinema.  It even arrived on time.  I’d definitely take that option again over flying or driving all the way through France.

We stayed at the Van der Valk hotel (a Dutch chain) in Gladbeck – a 15 min drive from the ski centre.  The hotel was really lovely, with a roaring fire, comfy sofas and a large restaurant.  The staff were all exceptionally friendly and helpful.  Our room was lovely and big and perfectly comfortable, and there was a free car park on site.  The TV had international channels.  The only downside was that there was on occasion a waft of a toilet smell in various places in the hotel, but that wouldn’t put me off visiting again.

We very much enjoyed the Alpine Centre.  There were a couple of curt members of staff but enough nice ones to balance them out.  The slope is as good as it possibly can be for an indoor slope, with twists, turns and optional jumps.  I still consider myself a beginner skier, and I felt comfortable but challenged on the slope.

They have a cosy restaurant area with buffet and a separate cafe/bar, which is very authentic.  The great thing about the centre was that for one price (which I felt was very reasonable), everything is included – equipment hire, food, drink and skiing.  For beginners there is a nursery slope with separate lift and lessons are available.

We will definitely be returning to the Alpine Centre in Bottrop, possibly next year, and would recommend it as a good alternative to visiting the real thing if you’re looking for one.

On our final day we drove to Gent in Belgium, which I thought was wonderful.  I’ll do a Gent blog next time!

https://gladbeck.vandervalk.de/en

Just Imogen

A short cosy story with a happy end…

 

Imogen went to open the dishwasher to put her empty cereal bowl in, then remembered she didn’t have a dishwasher anymore.  The six-bedroom house she’d lived in, and loved, for the last twenty years during her marriage to George had all the modcons.  But since his affair with his secretary (why did he have to be so obvious!) and their subsequent divorce, he’d insisted on selling the house. 

Little had she known at that time that the business was failing and debts had been building up.  After the sale of the house everything they’d owned had been paid back, leaving very little to split between them.  Now, here she was in a small rented flat with only herself for company.

She felt the familiar sting of tears, and batted it away.  She abandoned her bowl in the sink to wash up later. She couldn’t risk being late for work on her first day.   

She glanced longingly at her Ford Fiesta as she walked past it.   It was a miserable January morning and she was tempted to jump in and drive to avoid the twenty-minute walk in the rain, but now she was having to fend for herself, money was tight, and petrol didn’t come cheap.  She squinted against the driving rain, and forced herself to get on with the walk.

The closer she got to Sheila’s Cafe, the more the nerves clawed at her.   She hadn’t worked since becoming pregnant with Jody a year into their marriage.  Then Ben followed soon after, and she’d never even thought about returning to work.  George said it was important she was there for the kids and she’d agreed. By the time they’d become old enough to fend for themselves, the world had moved on and her skills were outdated.  She couldn’t have re-started a career even if she wanted to.

But now needs must, and the only employer who hadn’t regarded her with either distaste or pity was Sheila, the nice smiley lady who owned the local cafe round the corner from her new flat.  It wasn’t going to make her rich, but she didn’t need a fortune as long as she could cover her bills. Now the kids had both flown the nest, George didn’t have to pay her much, so she was on her own for the first time in her life.  Just her. Just Imogen.

 

Her breathing was heavy by the time she arrived at the cafe.  Her married life had been admittedly luxurious, and she’d barely had to walk anywhere.  The downside was that her waist had thickened over the years, but George always said he liked curvy women.

 

“So how come he chose Davina, the size six stick insect, to have an extramarital with?”, she said to herself through gritted teeth.

 

‘“Talking to yourself, love?’”  Sheila appeared from the kitchen.

 

“Oh, sorry, I was just putting the world to rights.”

 

“You’ll get on fine here, then,” laughed Sheila.  “The customers love a bit of a natter.”

 

The work was hard, and Imogen’s legs ached by the end of the day, but she felt strangely elated when it was time to go home.  The day had flown by. She’d enjoyed serving and chatting to the customers, and had even noticed the man with the kind brown eyes looking at her.  

 

After a few weeks, she was slowly starting to settle in to her new single life.  She’d had to make changes, such as shopping at the budget supermarket rather than her usual upmarket one, but she found it didn’t really make a difference to her quality of life.  Walking to work every day had even meant she’d lost weight. There was no danger of her becoming a size six, but at least her trousers fitted better these days. And she could eat what she liked without worrying about George’s fussiness.

 

The kind-eyed man came into the cafe several times a week, and always gave her a bright smile and the warmest thanks when she took his slice of cake over.

 

‘“Steve likes you,” said Sheila, nodding over at where he sat.

 

“Don’t be silly, he’s just being friendly,” Imogen replied, although could feel her cheeks  flushing.

 

“He deserves to meet someone nice like you.  His wife left him years ago. Don’t think he’s had any romance since.  Shame, he’s a lovely man.”

 

Imogen glanced over, and Steve’s eyes twinkled back at her.  She looked away, embarrassed.

The next day he came in the cafe later than usual, and was still there when it was time for Imogen to go home.  She was just about to leave when she heard a voice.

 

“Erm, excuse me.”

 

She turned and realised it was Steve addressing her.

 

‘“I wondered if you’d like to have dinner with me one day.”

 

Flustered, Imogen muttered an excuse about not liking to eat out, and quickly let herself out of the door.  She cursed herself all the way home. She had really wanted to accept Steve’s invitation, so why hadn’t she?  And to make some stupid excuse about not liking restaurants! He must have thought her so rude. She cringed at the thought.  

 

Decades of been George’s wife had eroded her confidence.  She thought she’d been been happy with him, but a month on her own and she realised the real Imogen had been stifled in their marriage.  She was starting to get to know herself again, but wasn’t yet at the stage she had the confidence to go on a date. Would she ever be?

 

She sighed and let herself into her flat.  It was humble but comfortable. She’d filled it with the things she loved.  It had been refreshing, not having to worry about what anyone else thought when she decorated, not like in their old home when George had liked everything to match perfectly.  Imogen preferred a more homely, higgledy-piggledy style.

 

If she was honest with herself, living alone wasn’t turning out quite as bad as she’d feared.   She loved her job at Sheila’s and was getting to know some of the regulars, but when she got home the nights were long and lonely.  Jody and Ben were busy with their own lives, and the friends she’d socialised with when she’d been married seemed to be avoiding her, as if things were awkward now she wasn’t part of a couple.  

 

She settled down on the sofa with a glass of wine and a cheese straw left over from the cafe.  She used to love cooking but there didn’t seem to be any point now it was just her. She sighed.  Another Friday night alone with the TV for company.

 

She was just dropping off in front of the latest celebrity fly-on-the-wall documentary when the sound of the doorbell startled her.  Who was that at this hour? It was past seven O’clock, and she barely got any visitors these days even during daylight hours.

 

Jody stood at the doorway, suitcase in hand.  Tears were streaming down her face. “I’ve fallen out with Jenny, Mum.  Being her flatmate is a total nightmare. Can I stay here with you for a while please?  Just while I find a new place.”

 

“Of course you can, darling!’”  Imogen said, pulling her daughter in for a tight hug.  She’d just finished making Jody a mug of cocoa, which seemed to cheer her up no end, when the doorbell rang again.

 

“Mum, do you mind if I stay for the weekend?  I needed to get away from uni for a couple of days.  And I’ve missed your cooking. I never thought I’d say I’m sick of junk food, but, well, I guess I am.”

 

She ruffled Ben’s hair like she used to when he was little.  “Of course you can, love, come on in.”

 

An hour later, Imogen smiled as she looked at her grown-up children on the sofa laughing at a comedy together.  She was just wondering how to make a decent dinner for three out of her stock of microwave meals when the doorbell rang again.

 

She opened the door and was met was a handsome man with twinkly brown eyes.  “Steve. What are you doing here?”

 

“Sheila told me where you lived.  I hope you don’t mind, but when you said you didn’t like eating out, I thought you might prefer to eat dinner in.”  He held up two plastic bags bursting with cartons that smelt spicy and delicious.

 

“That’s so kind, Steve,” she said, touched at his thoughtfulness.  “But I’m afraid I can’t. My two children are here visiting.” Although she was delighted Ben and Jody were there, she was surprised how disappointed she was to turn Steve away.

 

“There’s more than enough for four,” he said.  “I didn’t know what you liked, so I got a selection.”   His hopeful expression quickly faded. “But don’t worry if you’re too busy.  Sorry, I shouldn’t have turned up unannounced.” He turned to leave.

 

“No,” she said, quickly, gesturing for him to come in.  “Please stay, that would be nice.”

 

Ben and Jody were quiet at first but Steve soon started chatting to Ben about football, which broke the ice, and Jody seemed to relax once Steve told a funny story about a flatsharing disaster he’d experienced as a young man.

 

Steve had even even brought a couple of bottles of wine with him.  George would never have done that, thought Imogen.  Food and shopping had always been left to her in their marriage.  Steve poured wine into her glass, and she smiled. She never imagined she’d find herself middle-aged, divorced and working in a cafe, but now she was, she realised she hadn’t been this happy for a long time.  

 

“Steve”, she said, as he was leaving.  “I was nervous earlier at the cafe when you asked me out.  I love restaurants, and I’d love to accept your invitation, if it still stands that is.”

He bent down to give her a peck on the cheek.  “It certainly does. How about Thursday evening?”

 

“Can’t wait,” she said, and when she closed the door behind him she grinned, realising she really couldn’t.