Before She Was Mine

Nothing can beat a mother’s love – except perhaps the love of two very different mothers…

Freya is torn between her two mothers. Liv, her adoptive mother who nurtured and raised her, is earthy, no-nonsense. The total opposite to Melody: with her vibrant, explosive personality and extensive, brightly coloured wardrobe, Freya’s birth mother is still apt to find herself thrown out of Top Shop for bad behaviour.
Hard as it has been for Freya to try to reconcile her two families, it has been harder for her mothers. Proud of her mature and sensible adoptive daughter, Liv fears Melody’s restless influence. Meanwhile, forced to give up her baby when she was just a teenager herself, Melody now craves Freya’s love and acceptance – but only really knows how to have fun.
Then tragedy strikes, and the bonds of love that tie these three women together will be tested to the max. Can they finally let go of the past, and pull together in order to withstand the toughest challenge life could throw them?

Kate Long is one of my favourite contemporary novelists. She deals with the subject matter closest to my heart, the one I most relate to, the one I am drawn to write about myself: family. Her style draws you in, down-to-earth, funny, poignant, and her gift for characterisation makes her stories utterly believable.

In Before She Was Mine, Kate Long deals with adoption and the consequences of an adoptee getting in touch with their birth family. As a teenager, Freya tracked down her birth mother, Melody, through Friends Reunited and, despite Social Services advice, made contact. Liv, always loving and supportive, gives Freya the space to explore this relationship.

I felt great empathy for twenty-three year old Freya. Since dropping out of college, she has moved back in with Liv and works in a garden centre. She does a lot of the housekeeping at home. (Someone has to.) Liv and her fellow nature conservationist and partner, Geraint – who Freya claims smells like a badger – are consumed with newts, insects, and the poo of small mammals. Meanwhile Freya’s best friend, Nicky, is planning her wedding to a bloke Freya has a crush on. Her beloved uncle and confidante is hoping to volunteer abroad. And her on-off relationship with loser, Oggy, is on repeat mode. All-in-all Freya feels she is being left behind, no future or prospects.

When her two mothers are each dealt a tragic blow at the same time, Freya’s loyalties are divided and she finally has to grow up.

Kate Long is a  Jacqueline Wilson for adults. She has a knack of drawing you completely into an everyday world where everyday people are pushed to their limits. She navigates through ‘issues’ with sensitivity and in an authentic way. You feel like you are right there, in the thick of it, gunning for the characters. For anyone who enjoys Laurie Graham, David Nicholls, Kate Atkinson or Marina Lewycka, I thoroughly recommend Before She was Mine – and if you have never read a Kate Long novel, you are in luck as there are many more to devour.

Read this article about Kate’s own experience of adoption. Some wonderful family photos!


Nothing Compares 2U

Summertime hits Britain.


Sunshine can make us happy.

But there’s always something nostalgic for me on a British summer’s day.

Today I was driving to Exeter (with A/C on!) and Zoe Ball played Sinead O’Connor’s version of Nothing Compares 2U. I was back in London, our first summer there. I was twenty-one, graduated and married, trying to live like a grown-up, in a flat in south east London, doing my first full-time job, commuting to town, to sit all day being bored by bureaucracy and being patronised by an older man with body odour.

I knew by the end of my first morning that I did not want to spend my days in an office. There weren’t even computers to distract me. No mobile phones to text get-me-out-of-here messages.

Just clock-watching.

And tedium.

Only relieved by window-shopping in Selfridges around the corner and gossip with two friends who felt the same way. Waiting for Friday night to come round.

Wondering if this was it?

(It wasn’t. I stuck out the year and then went on to do a PGCE in Primary. Never a dull moment working with the kids of Camberwell and Plumstead. Stress, yes. But never boredom.)

This beautiful break-up song reminds me of getting up early to catch a packed train at Hither Green, taking me into a city I didn’t want to live in, far away from the seaside, from my hometown of Teignmouth. It makes me happy I escaped that life. That I am now in my forties and know a lot more.

I also know that there is much ahead of me I can never even guess at. That life changes. You go along in a certain way for a while, you think maybe forever, but then life takes you off in another direction. I am now doing a job that I love, writing novels. I am on my own a lot but never clock-watch. Time rushes past and I have to try my best to catch up with it.

I don’t want to waste another day.

(Though I do love a bit of nostalgia – it makes you appreciate what you had and gives you hope for the future. More songs to follow.)

For the three

Crossing The Bar

Sunset and evening star
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For though from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.

Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)

Ten Tors Challenge 2012

The Ten Tors Challenge is legendary in the south west. For those of you who have never heard of it, it is held on Dartmoor over a weekend in May every year. Teams of six young people have to complete a 35, 45, or 55 hike, depending on their age, taking in ten of Dartmoor’s tors. They are completely independent, have to navigate with a compass, and camp out on the Saturday night. Organised by the army, it is well run. But May on Dartmoor is unpredictable. It can be freezing and wet, with fast-flowing rivers and stagnant bogs. Or it can be sunny and hot and these teenagers have to carry a heavy rucksack with all their equipment.

This weekend was a bit of both. Dartmoor has had an unusually large amount of rain throughout April so there are bogs and streams galore. But this weekend was sunny and windy, with no cloud cover so the temperature plummeted at night. Some of the walkers had to be airlifted off with hyperthermia. One poor girl broke two legs.

Our son, aged 15, was in the 45 mile team from Teignmouth Community School. He had blisters after Tor 4 on the first day but carried on. When his team finally made it home, all six of them, he had trench foot and sunburn. It really is a challenge.

People who think England, particularly down south, has a mild climate, they should try out Dartmoor, where a fog can appear from nowhere, bogs can suck you in and the sun can vanish in a minute to be replaced with dark dangerous clouds. One year they even had snow during the weekend. No wonder they built a prison here.

I am so impressed with the young people who took part, who have spent months training over the winter. I hope to go back next year and cheer them on again as it is quite a sight, especially watching them walk down the final hill in fancy dress, exhausted but exhilarated. My son is a glutton for punishment and is already determined to do next year’s 55 mile walk. Only he is going to need a much better pair of boots and many changes of socks. The St John’s Ambulance who dressed his rancid feet said that Gortex socks are the way to go. Better start saving as they are £50 a pair…

But these young people are worth it. They give you hope that this generation have much to offer the world.

Sophie of the Hundred Blogs

Well, this is my one hundredth blog post. I have blogged on all sorts of stuff over the last year and a bit: writing, books, popular culture, the 70s and 80s, Feminism, my town. And often I just randomly mind-dump.

Today’s post has a little of most of these things.

I am waiting for my copy of Hilary Mantel’s Bring up the Bodies, the follow-up novel to the astounding Booker winning  Wolf Hall. Both novels deal with the story of Thomas Cromwell, aka Alistair Campbell with an Axe (I blogged about this some time ago.).

Wolf Hall finished with Anne Boleyn in the ascendancy at court; we all know what her fate will be in this second novel. Not good.

Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife, must be one of the best known female historical figures, with so many films made and books written about her. She has intrigued and fascinated generations.

I was in London recently with my daughter for a hospital appointment. Afterwards, as a ‘treat’, I dragged her to the National Portrait Gallery, knowing she would eventually appreciate seeing the Tudor portraits. The iconic Anne Boleyn painting wasn’t there. It has been undergoing urgent restoration but the upshot of this is that it is now believed to have been painted shortly after Anne’s death, so is probably a good likeness.

As for Anne herself, she remains an enigma. She was undoubtedly charismatic, intelligent and ambitious with great faith and courage. But she was also fighting for her life, knowing she held a precarious position, used and manipulated by the men around her. It is remarkable that we are still intrigued with Anne Boleyn’s story hundreds of years later.  I can’t wait to read Mantel’s fictionalised version of events.

But for me, I will always think of her as she was in the film Anne of the Thousand Days (1969) which I saw as a child on the telly in the 70s. Richard Burton was a superb, yet obvious choice for King Henry, but I was really moved by Genevieve Bujold in the title role. I loved the premise – sadly untrue – that Anne made a last minute deal with Henry who came to visit her in the Tower: her life in exchange for her daughter Elizabeth to hold her claim to the throne. The tragic irony is that Henry’s overwhelming desire for a son was completely misplaced. His younger daughter Elizabeth was to become one of England’s greatest, longest-reigning monarchs.

If you watch this clip of the execution scene, you will notice her look at Cromwell (played by Greek-Canadian actor John Colicos of Star Trek fame), right before the French executioner does the bloody deed. And if you ever get the chance to watch the whole film, look out for Elizabeth Taylor in an uncredited cameo…

Exeter bombed

I love Exeter. It’s my local city, Devon’s county town, 12 or so miles from where I live in Teignmouth. It is a vibrant city, great for shopping (John Lewis is coming!), growing in business opportunities and with 18000 or so students at the world-renowned University and at various colleges and institutes. There is a growing arts scene, fabulous cafes, swish hotels, and a spanking new museum.

This has been quite a week for Exeter. Three days ago the Queen came for a visit and today the city remembered the Blitz with a range of performances and exhibitions in the centre.

A bit of history: In 1942, Exeter was chosen, along with other British cathedral cities such as Bath, Norwich, York and Canterbury, to be the target of sustained bombing raids by the Luftwaffe. These became known as the Baedeker Raids. The cities were supposedly chosen from the German Baedeker travel guides not for their strategic importance but for their beauty and history. The idea was to depress the national mood of the Brits and perhaps to get revenge for RAF raids of German cities such as Lubeck.

For some Exeter residents, it is a very different-looking place to the one they once knew, though there are still remains of the Roman wall, the Guildhall, ancient churches and of course the beautiful cathedral that only just survived losing its medieval roof.

For me, Exeter looks both to the past and to the future but it is a very exciting place to be right now.