Book Chat Back-chat #3: Best books of 2018*

It’s been a long while since the last instalment of Book Chat Back-Chat, and that’s mainly because my foolish decision to relax the kids’ phone restrictions on holiday last summer led to a severe reduction in reading. Quelle surprise.

However, they’ve managed to get back into their reading groove over the last few months so, without further ado, here’s the latest round of book recommendations from my daughters (aged 12 & 14), my husband and myself, over a breakfast of pancakes and syrup.

B (age 12): My favourite book last year was Splash by Charli Howard. It’s about a 10-year-old girl called Molly who lives with her grandparents because her mum left when she was younger. Molly loves swimming, but her best friend says swimming isn’t cool so she keeps her swimming club a secret. Then her mum comes back into her life but she’s not a good mum.

Mrs H: So what happens to Molly? Does she fall out with her best friend?

B: I don’t want to give anything away but basically it’s about how Molly needs to learn to stand up for herself. I loved this book so much – I read it in four days. [Squirts kingsized dollop of golden syrup onto her pancake.]

Mrs H: WHOA – that’s an obscene amount of goo! You should aim for a puddle, not a lake.

B: That is a puddle.

Mrs H: An enormous puddle. Anyway, what are you reading now?

B: The one you gave me – After The Fire by Will Hill. I’ve only read a few chapters but I’m already hooked. I want to know what happens next.

Mrs H: Well I read After The Fire and I couldn’t put it down! I’d say it’s a great book for anyone aged 12 or over, male or female. It’s about a girl who grows up within a religious sect in America. They live in a walled compound where she has always felt safe, but when a devious new leader takes over and forces her mum to leave, she starts to question the world she’s grown up in and all the people around her – and realises she must escape before it’s too late.

R (age 14): My turn! So the book I most enjoyed reading this year was Girl Boss by Sophia Amoruso.

Mrs H: Is that fiction or non-fiction? [Removes golden syrup from table before 12yo can squirt a second dollop on her pancake.]

R: Non-fiction – although it’s also a TV drama series. It’s about how Sophia Amoruso started up a company by selling vintage clothes on ebay. She went from dropping out of school and never being very good at any jobs to being really successful. Her company Nasty Gal is mega-famous now. It really inspired me.

Mrs H: What are your other favourites from this year then?

R: I loved The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas. I think I talked about that last time. And I also loved re-reading The Letter For The King by Tonke Dragt. It’s a medieval fantasy story and one of my all-time favourite books – I re-read it because I wanted to remind myself of the story before I read the sequel, The Secrets of the Wild Wood – which was also really good, though not as good as the first book.

Mr H: So my favourite book this year was The Choice by Edith Egur, who is a Holocaust survivor. She tells the story of her life from her time in Auschwitz to how she became a psychologist and public speaker.

B: So is she very, very old then? [Retrieves golden syrup and puts it back on the table.]

Mr H: Yes, in her 90s.

R: How old was she when she was in Auschwitz?

Mr H: She was a teenager. She wanted to be a professional dancer.

Mrs H: Why is it called The Choice?

Mr H: Well she says that we all have choices and that being a survivor requires acceptance of what was and what is. She also says that one person’s suffering is no less significant or important than anyone else’s. I found it very thought-provoking.

Mrs H: Any other faves from 2018?

Mr H: Yes, Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert was a really helpful book about the spiritual side of the creative journey. She’s really good at explaining things in a matter-of-fact, non-cheesy way. And I also read a biography of Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson which was fascinating.

Mrs H: Um, kids – where do you think you’re going?

B & R: To watch That 70s Show.

Mrs H: Don’t you want to know what my favourite books are?

B & R: No.

Mrs H: Oh. That’s nice. [To husband]: Looks like it’s just you and me then. OK, so the books I enjoyed most over the last year are: The Power by Naomi Alderman – a story that flips the power-balance between men and women on its head – very thought-provoking; Breath by Tim Winton, which is about a thrill-seeking teenager in 1970s Australia, whose passion for surfing keeps him in a constant dance with death. LOVED that book!; The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah which is about two sisters fighting in the resistance in World War Two. The story really makes you feel the fear and pain of everyday life in Nazi-occupied France. But my absolute favourite book of the year has to be A Ladder To The Sky by John Boyne, (lent to me by my good friend Jen who has a hound-like nose for a meaty page-turner).

Mr H: I just don’t see what was so great about A Ladder To The Sky. I nearly gave up on it several times.

Mrs H: What?! Are you mad? It was brilliant. An ambitious and emotionally bankrupt author who steals other people’s stories in order to ruthlessly further his own career? How is that NOT gripping?

Mr H: It was just all a bit meh.

Mrs H: Meh? MEH?

Mr H: Is that your impression of a disgruntled sheep? OK, to be fair, I liked the bit where his wife was narrating – that bit was good.


Mr H: It was VERY putdownable. Don’t look at me like that, Mildred. I’m entitled to my views.

And that, book-lovers, is where we’ll leave this episode of Book Chat Back-Chat. Suffice to say the husband and I are still married, but I am banned from recommending him any more novels for the whole of 2019. (But we’ll see about that…)

* (Some of the books mentioned were published in 2018, but some have been around much longer.)

Are you feeling shelf-conscious?

A work in progress

A work in progress

Since I got sucked into the trend of writers posting their #shelfies on Twitter, I’ve been forced to take a closer look at my bookshelves. They are sadly lacking and don’t reflect my reading habits at all. But that’s just it: I haven’t paid much attention to my bookshelves in years – not since a male friend put the revolutionary suggestion to me of having a damn good clear-out, followed by a new policy – only keeping the occasional book you really, really loved reading.

I had, until that suggestion was made, pretty much kept every book I’d ever read since the age of about 18. But as I was rapidly running out of shelf space at the time, had a partner whose art book collection seemed to take an unspoken prominence in our living room, and with a baby on the way, I thought this was sensible advice.…until more recently.

When I wanted to thrust a book at my husband to read the other day (not that he was likely to read it but every now and again I like to thrust some fiction at him as a dare) I was galled to find it was no longer on my shelves. I’d loved it so much I’d forced it upon an unsuspecting friend almost immediately after reading it. Damn! Now I had to go and buy it again, because whether the husband read it or not, I suddenly regretted giving it away. (The book in question was Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns.)

My piddly little collection of most beloved books had shrunk over the years as I’d been too quick to give books away to friends and charity shops. I’d quite liked the idea that I was recycling books and passing on the joy of reading them, and yet at the same time, I’d diddled myself out of a collection of much-loved reads.

Instead, ten years after I’d introduced my new policy, our shelves were heaving with the husband’s art, design and photography books, the husband’s business books, the husband’s autobiography and travel memoir collection and the kids’ books. Whereas I had been SQUEEZED OUT! All I had was a handful of classics from my degree course, a couple of chick lit reads from my early twenties and Wild Swans by Jung Chang (which my late, great aunt forced me to buy and for which I’m eternally grateful.)

So, over the last year or so, I’ve been trying to re-grow my Greatest Reads collection and resist giving books away. Is this because I’d like to one day produce a really impressive #shelfie that speaks volumes about the well-read unsnobbish fiction consumer I am? Not really. (Oh go on, then.) Or is it because it’s high time I claimed back some shelf-territory from the husband and kids? Nope. (I’ve already cleared out a crap-stack of his business books and he hasn’t even noticed.)

I just want to hoard the books that made me laugh, cry, or drew me into a world I didn’t want to leave. Because books that make you feel something are works of art. And treasure is for keeping.

In short, I intend to be more shelfish. (Sorry.)

Blown-Away Man

BAM final artwork

This is my current WIP. Coming soon, hopefully in early March…

Blown-Away Man – the blurb

Brought up in a sleepy Lincolnshire village by unassuming parents, Ed Sullivan has, since the age of eleven, been on a mission to live the fullest and most successful life he can.

Now 40, creative director at a renowned London ad agency and married with two young children, life has moved on and become a little too predictable for Ed’s liking. Bored, restless and starting to doubt his achievements, he finds himself wondering what his old school friends are up to now…

It’s not long before Ed sets off to Lincolnshire to meet a group of old classmates whom he hasn’t seen in almost 25 years. But the evening turns out to be more of a distraction than he’d intended, when one of his old friends makes a revelation that turns his life upside down.

Chapter 1

Present day


‘I’d better get going actually,’ says Lisa Dixon, reaching for her coat.

‘Well it was nice seeing you again,’ I say.

It’s an odd feeling, making polite conversation with the person you lost your virginity to nearly a quarter of a century ago. Luckily the subject didn’t come up, although I’m sure it’s as clear in her memory as it is in mine.

‘I would stay longer,’ she mumbles, ‘But my dog was sick this morning – I don’t want to leave her on her own for too long.’

It’s a lame but solid, pre-planned excuse to make an escape from our Class of ’87 reunion. Normally I’d have had one up my sleeve too, but as I’m the one who’s organised this get-together, I feel a moral obligation not to leave before last orders – which I’m guessing is still at 10.50pm as clearly nothing else has changed in this old dive in over twenty years.

The Horse and Groom in the small town of Chelmsby is like a teleport to the 1980s. The walls are still covered in a patchwork quilt of beermats, apart from behind the bar where the framed faces of comedians such as Tommy Cooper, Ken Dodd and Les Dawson grin down at you alongside their once sought-after autographs. The carpet is still brown and sticky. The only noticeable difference is the absence of ashtrays and smoke – a change the landlord, Bernie (an unapologetic chain-smoker), is still smarting about.

Lisa hitches her bag strap onto her shoulder and mutters goodbye. I stand up to give her a kiss on the cheek, but she only notices as she’s squeezing past me. She stops, and turns her cheek towards my face at the wrong moment so we look like a couple of nodding pigeons engaged in a mating ritual before she extracts herself and scurries off. That leaves about nine of us, which is roughly what I’d expected. Not everyone I’d tracked down was keen on the idea of a school reunion, but overall it’s been a nice evening. Interesting. Fairly predictable. No need to organise another one any time soon, but better than another night in watching crap telly or getting Gemma’s back up by surfing the ’net for hours on end.

What was I expecting though? Nobody’s really changed that much. We all look older, thicker round the hips, a bit wrinklier and greyer – or bald in Dogboy’s case. No one’s a millionaire. No one’s famous. No one’s committed a heinous crime and gone to prison. A couple of people have come out of the closet and fled Lincolnshire for warmer and more cosmopolitan climates, and one person who couldn’t make it, Jimmy Wild from the year below, has apparently gained so much weight he now needs a mobility scooter to get from A to B. Shame, because we always said Jimmy Wild made for a great stage name, but he ended up working in management at Chelmsby pea factory and is now on long-term sick leave.

‘My round!’ Ray stands up and takes orders from everyone. ‘What about you, Golden Boy?’ He nods at me coolly. It’s the second time he’s called me Golden Boy this evening. ‘Is it me or does Sully sound like a Londoner?’

‘Well he’s been there nearly twenty-five years, Ray, so it’s not surprising, is it?’ says Anita Bennett.

‘Another pint for me ol’ mucker?’ slurs Ray, his hard stare making it quite clear I may have been his ol’ mucker once, but I’m certainly not anymore.

I tap my half-full pint glass. ‘I’m good, thanks.’

‘By the way, everyone,’ he says with a hiccup, ‘you remember that deodorant advert he won the award for? You know that were all my idea, don’t you?’

Here we go. Dogboy groans. Jenny Nicholls (who now lives in Norwich with husband number three) glances at me sympathetically.

‘It were me who started singing my aroma to My Sharona. It were me.’

‘For the millionth time, Ray, you were singing My Sharona and Sully changed the words to my aroma. I were there and I remember it like it were yesterday,’ says Dogboy.

‘But I would never have had the idea were it not for Ray describing the deodorant’s “aroma” while we were all singing along in the back of Kev’s car,’ I say diplomatically.

Ray nods. ‘I inspired you. Don’t forget it.’ He stumbles off to the bar, grumbling something about Lisa being anti-social for leaving so early.

Taking her cue from Lisa, Jenny slips her coat on and says her goodbyes. She kisses me on the cheek. ‘It’s been so nice to see you, Sully,’ she whispers in my ear. ‘You honestly haven’t changed at all.’ I wish I could say the same for her. Us lads used to have such a crush on her – she was gorgeous back then. But her head-turning days are definitely behind her.

‘Good to see you too, Jen.’ I give her a hug and she squeezes my cheek affectionately. I know she’s remembering the days when I was putty in her hands and her breasts were putty in mine.

‘I should’ve stuck with you, Sully,’ she sighs. ‘I always knew you were going to make something of yourself.’ Then she pats me on the back and heads off into the night.

The compliment warms up my insides like brandy. Coming here and seeing everyone has confirmed what I’d always suspected – that I’d done something worthwhile with my life, whereas they… not so much that they’d wasted theirs, but they hadn’t exactly strayed far from home or done anything out of the ordinary. Dogboy has worked as a mechanic at the same local garage since he took on an apprenticeship there after leaving school. Ray works at the sorting office. Lisa’s a secretary for a local building firm, Anita’s a full-time mum, and Jenny – who to her credit once spent a year in Magaluf working in a bar – now runs a small cleaning agency.

I get a little buzz of satisfaction from knowing that, unlike my old peers, I’ve got something to show for the last twenty-five years. I’ve travelled, explored, built a successful career. I’ve not wasted a single day nor a single opportunity. Normally I’d deem it pointless to compare my achievements with those less ambitious than myself, but for the time being, while life’s a little sluggish and compliments and ego boosts are thin on the ground, I can’t help but feel rather good. Or smug, as Gemma would no doubt say.

I check my watch: 11.30, an acceptable time to make a move in my opinion. I decide to visit the gents before saying goodbye and making my departure. It’s been nice to see everyone after all this time, my curiosity’s been satisfied and I’ve re-established contact with Dogboy and a couple of others, which feels good. But it’s time to go, before Ray gets any drunker and the atmosphere turns sour.

‘So you caught up with Lisa, then?’ Anita intercepts me as I leave the table.

‘Yeah,’ I say, glancing at the cuckoo clock above the bar. Bernie winks at Anita, his beer belly resting on the counter. He’s been teasing us all evening, reminding my old classmates of every occasion they’d ever embarrassed themselves in his pub – stories that usually involved someone being sick all over someone else.  I’d already left Lincolnshire by then, although I would come back now and again to meet up with the lads in here. But after a year or so, contact fizzled. My fault. I came back less and less. And when I did, I just couldn’t be bothered to see them. We had nothing in common anymore. I’d moved on, while they were happy to stay put – something I just couldn’t, and still don’t, understand.

Anita stares at me, her lips slightly parted, revealing those infamous gnashers. I wonder why she never got them straightened. Still, she’s married with three kids now, so why should she care?

‘She didn’t tell you, then?’ She frowns.

‘Tell me what?’ She’s got my attention now. She’s looking serious and slightly baffled.

‘Oh, never mind.’ She bites her lip.

‘Tell me what, Anita?’

Anita fiddles with her large gold hoop earring. ‘I don’t know if it’s my place to say.’

‘Say what? Is Lisa ok?’ Now I’m confused. Lisa had seemed fine, if a little nervous. But then we were all a bit nervous – some of us hadn’t seen each other since we were sixteen.

Anita takes a big breath. ‘She didn’t mention anything about Ryan, her son?’

I’m all ears now. Lisa and I had talked for a good half-hour and she’d never mentioned she had a child. We’d talked briefly about my mum, my wife and kids, my career in advertising, her career as a secretary, her passion for dogs, my passion for travel. Then, when we’d run out of things to say, she’d looked at her watch and used her exit strategy.

‘She has a son?’ I say.

‘She had a son.’

Now I’m staring at Anita, who’s shuffling her weight from one foot to the other and twiddling that earring for all it’s worth.


Anita swallows. ‘He died.’

My face drops. ‘Jesus.’ I don’t know what to say. ‘God, that’s so awful. Poor Lisa.’ I picture Lisa as she was just five minutes ago, sitting next to me at the table, chatting away nervously. She’d looked good – better than I’d expected. She’d lost weight and dyed her hair a rich brunette. She had a few wrinkles now of course, but somehow her crow’s feet were sort of becoming – especially when she smiled, which she’d done a lot as we’d sat side by side catching up on old times. Perhaps she still found it too hard to talk about. God knows her life was hard enough already back when we were kids.

‘When did he die?’ I ask.

‘1993,’ says Anita.

1993?’ For some reason this isn’t the answer I was expecting.

‘He was six.’

‘Christ.’ I’m properly sober now. ‘That’s tragic. That’s just…’

Anita watches me as I take it in.

‘It seems so unfair. It’s not like Lisa didn’t have her plate full already what with her mum and dad and all that…’

She says nothing.

‘She didn’t mention a partner. I’m guessing she’s not with the father anymore?’ I ask.

Anita shakes her head. ‘She’s had a few fellas over the years. Nothing too long-term. But she’s never told anyone who the father was. It’s strictly taboo.’ She looks me in the eye.

‘How come?’ I ask.

She shrugs. ‘I have a theory.’


She takes a big glug of Jack Daniels and Coke and leans towards my ear. ‘She moved away from here about three months after we left school. She left suddenly. Only told me a week beforehand that she was going. Remember her aunt had moved in with her when her mum started going down hill? Well later that summer they all packed up and moved back to her aunt’s place in Grantham. She kept in touch – just. You know, the odd letter here and there. Never a word about having a child. Never phoned me, never wanted to meet up. It wasn’t till she moved back again, about five years ago, that she told me about Ryan. She got pregnant the summer we left school. She said she never spoke to the father again, that he didn’t even know she’d got pregnant, and she wanted to keep it that way.’

My mind is whirring. The noise of the pub fades into the background. The music, the slot machine, the chatter of forty or so punters, it all goes mute. My hand trembles as I place my pint on the bar.

‘Are you all right?’ asks Anita.

I clear my throat. ‘Do you have any idea who the father was?’

Anita stares at me. ‘Well, she’s never said anything, but I wondered if maybe…’ she steels herself, ‘if maybe it was you?’

My jaw hangs open. I’m about to reply when Dogboy comes over and slaps me on the back.

‘She’s not telling you that bloody birth story, is she?’ he blurts. ‘The first time I heard it I reckon my face looked like that an’ all.’

Anita groans. ‘Very funny, Paul.’

‘You all right, mate?’ Dogboy looks at me. I struggle to reel my mind back into the pub. My legs turn to jelly. I stuff my hands into my pockets so no one can see them shaking.

‘Yeah,’ I nod. ‘That’s a cracking birth story, Anita.’

Dogboy laughs. ‘Still, you’ve got nippers now, Sully. You’ve been there.’

I’m not listening. He punches my arm. ‘Earth calling Sully?’

‘Er, well I wouldn’t say I’ve been there, I just held her hand and watched.’

‘But that’s worse! I mean, they don’t get to see what’s going on but us lads, we have to watch all the blood and gore – not to mention the other, Christ! No one warns you about that, not it?’ I smile weakly at “not it”, a turn-of-phrase I dropped like a hot potato when I moved to London.

‘I don’t think Sarah would appreciate you sharing that much detail, Paul,’ says Anita.

‘She’ll tell you herself next time. So what do you think – next time we bring partners and kiddiwinks?’ Dogboy beams.

Personally I can’t think of anything worse. Anita’s not jumping at the idea either.

‘Think about it.’ Dogboy pinches my cheek. ‘Going for a slash.’ He squeezes past us in the direction of the gents.

Anita and I stand in silence, her theory hanging in mid-air. I’m conscious I need to say something, but my mind has gone again, back to that night when Lisa and I left the school disco early. We’d walked out of the school gates, my arm around her shoulders. She had somewhere we could go, she said – a neighbour had gone on holiday and asked her to feed their pet chinchilla. She had the key in her pocket.

‘I think I need to speak to Lisa,’ I say, my voice barely audible.

‘Might be a good idea,’ agrees Anita.

‘Can you give me her number?’

Anita considers this for a minute before pulling her phone out of her pocket. We swap details and Anita forwards Lisa’s number to me.

‘Do you think…?’ She trails off, unsure how best to put it.

‘I’ll call her,’ I say. ‘I’m going to head off now…’

‘What?’ Dogboy overhears me on his way back from the gents. ‘You can’t leave now – the night is young! Haven’t the licensing laws changed down south, Sully? And Ray hasn’t told you about the bones they found under his patio yet, has he?’

‘They were dog bones, as in bones that dogs chew on, nowt to do with human remains,’ Anita explains.

‘Cheers Anita. You’ve just ruined a classic yarn.’ Dogboy scowls at her.

‘Save it for next time,’ I say, pulling my jacket on. ‘I’ll be back for the christening.’

‘Promise?’ Dogboy holds out a hand. ‘I can’t wait for you to meet Sarah and our Zak. I know it’s short notice, but I wanted to be sure, you know?’ He looks at me with pure joy in his eyes and throws himself at me for a manly bear hug.

‘I’ll be there, I promise,’ I squeak from within his bulky embrace.

‘Are you sure you’re happy to be godsquad to our nipper?’

‘Sure,’ I gasp, the breath being squeezed out of me. It’s not as if you can say no to such a request, is it?

‘This reunion was long overdue.’ He prods me with a finger. ‘We’re staying in touch from now on, Sully. You hear me?’

‘I wouldn’t have it any other way.’ I slap him on the back and he karate-kid punches me on the shoulder – his signature move from our prepubescent years.

After I’ve said my goodbyes, I leave the pub and walk out into the cold, damp autumnal air. The streets of Chelmsby are dark and empty. As I walk to the taxi rank next to the Happy Garden takeaway, I check my watch again. Back at Mum’s house, a couple of miles away in Aldersby, Gemma isn’t expecting me home for a while yet. I take out my phone and look at Lisa’s number.

I slump back against a wall, my head full of noise. Adrenaline is racing around my body. Usually I love the feeling – it makes me feel alive. But for the first time ever, it’s making me feel nauseous. I try to calm down and think. Lisa’s son can’t be anything to do with me, surely?

After a moment’s hesitation, I press Call.

OK, so I’m an indie author…

Nervous, unsure and doubtful

I launch my novels online

I’m guessing that selling one copy

could take a very long time


I join that dreaded Twitter thing

and tentatively start to tweet

I discover that people are friendly

supportive and rather sweet


It seems I’m an indie author now

so I must learn to promote myself

but without annoying other tweeters

in my bid to stand out on the shelf


I blog about writing and publishing

the highs and lows of the ride

sometimes people relate to my posts

which makes me feel warm inside


Little by little my sales creep up

and I feel like celebrating

after years of seeking a publishing deal

going indie is liberating


Still I’m just a novice at marketing

and I’m only a one-man-band

I’m tweeting, blogging and editing too

but I need to establish my ‘brand’


Women’s fiction – that’s definitely me

but I know that men like it too

I’m romantic comedy as well you see

but ballsy – not cringe-worthy goo


Mummy porn? Not me I’m afraid

though there’s an abundance of sparks a-flying

There’s drama a-plenty in my books

that’ll leave you laughing and crying


Beach reads is a good one, I’ll admit

as there’s sunshine and foreign soil

But my next one’s in Brighton in winter time

so is that another good label foiled?


All in all I’m just loving this journey

It’s amazing my books are being bought

I’m no longer seeking a publishing deal

But if you’re offering I’ll give it some thought

by Tasha Harrison, 2nd July 2012

Paw Choices – a short story

Henry likes to think of himself as a free spirit. At the weekends he likes to get up and see where the day takes him. Once we bought a two-man tent on a whim, and were camping wild in the New Forest a few hours later. Sometimes we go to a nightclub, dance into the early hours, and then fall asleep on the beach. You wouldn’t know Henry was a 45-year-old vet with a penchant for humorous socks.

Henry says he doesn’t want to get tied down. He says I’m great, that we have something special, so why ruin it by getting all serious? As long as we’re honest with each other, he says, that’s what counts. I know it’s fear of getting hurt that keeps him from getting too close, and that’s why I’ve been patient. I’ve never pestered him to see me, or even to call me his girlfriend, and I’ve been happy enough to take things at his pace. But deep down I know he wants to be loved and cherished like everyone else. And I’m the woman to love and cherish him. I know that because fate brought us together.

We met at the cat rescue centre the day I adopted Monty. Henry was doing the rounds, giving injections and flea drops. I couldn’t make up my mind whether to go for Monty, a black and white male domestic short-hair, or Coco, a sleek female with shiny chocolate-coloured fur.

‘See which cat responds to you the most,’ said Henry, noticing that the helper I’d been talking to was now busy talking to someone else. His deep brown eyes twinkled at me as he opened the door to Coco’s run. Coco, who was fast asleep in a basket, twitched an ear periscope-style in my direction, but didn’t so much as lift an eyelid to check me out. ‘Don’t take it personally,’ smiled Henry. He ushered me over to Monty’s run and opened it. Monty immediately got up and came to investigate.

‘Hello moggie,’ I cooed, stroking his head. Monty nuzzled my leg and miaowed.

‘Looks like Monty’s your man,’ said Henry, flashing me a grin. ‘Coco might look like the perfect accessory to one’s sofa, but she’s clearly not the emotional type. Still it’s up to you.’ As I took in Henry’s tall stature, his broad shoulders and confident smile, I couldn’t help feeling that he would be the perfect accessory to my sofa and if only I could take him home I wouldn’t be needing a pet to keep me company.

‘I’m sold on Monty,’ I said, hoping my instant attraction to this man wasn’t written all over my face.

‘Good choice. This one clearly wants to be loved.’

After helping me get Monty into my portable cat basket, he fished a card out of his pocket and handed it to me.

‘He’ll need a flu-jab in twelve months’ time,’ he said. ‘But if you fancy going out for a drink a little sooner than that, give me a call.’

Now here were are, ten months’ later. We’ve coasted along and I’ve been cool, calm and collected. But there comes a time when a woman has to lay her cards on the table…if only I could get him to the bloody table to show him my cards.

You see, Henry’s been somewhat elusive lately. I mean, he’s impossible to pin down at the best of times, but recently he’s been rather slack at returning my calls. I forced myself to casually ask if everything was ok, but he said – somewhat irritably – that he was simply rushed off his feet at work.

For some reason I find myself phoning his practice and booking an appointment. I know this is not a cool thing to do, but I need to see him. And besides, I’ve noticed that Monty is looking a little porky these days. I can’t understand it as he never finishes his food. But I’m sure my eyes are not deceiving me: Monty has definitely gained weight. Could he have an overactive thyroid? Obviously I need a vet’s opinion.


I sit in the waiting room with Monty protesting loudly from within his basket. I stretch my back. It is aching from carrying Monty on foot. My house is only a short walk from Henry’s practice, but in hindsight it would have been better to drive. Carrying a big cat in a heavy basket could see me end up at the osteopath’s if I’m not careful. I look around – there are two other people, an old lady with a Westie and a younger woman with far too much make-up and an immaculately groomed poodle. It’s hardly the long queue I’d been expecting.

Henry greets me coolly and mumbles an apology for not getting round to calling me. He adjusts his glasses and scratches his stubble. I look down at his ankles. Yes, as usual he’s wearing a pair of ridiculous socks: fluorescent pink and orange stripes. I remember the first time I met him, he joked it was his trademark, that it “jazzed up” the obligatory white coat. So on Valentine’s Day this year, I sent him a pair of Cupid socks – anonymously, of course, in case the act of giving a Valentine’s present were to bring Henry out in a cold sweat.

‘It’s been like Piccadilly Circus in here,’ he says, lifting the basket onto his table and extracting Monty who was now reluctant to emerge.

‘Seems pretty quiet to me,’ I say.

‘Two people cancelled today,’ he says quickly.

‘I thought we could go for a drink this Friday?’ I say.

Henry clears his throat and strokes Monty. ‘Er, I can’t, I’m afraid. I’m visiting my parents this weekend.’

‘Well, how about lunch on Monday, then?’ I suggest, breaking the golden rule of always leaving the ball in his court.

‘Sorry, Kate. At best I’ll be scoffing a sandwich in the back yard here on Monday – we’re booked out next week. People going on holiday. They need flu-jab certificates for the catteries and kennels. Now what did you say was wrong with Minty?’

Monty,’ I say tersely. He ought to know my pet’s name by now. ‘He seems to have put on some weight.’

With his free hand, Henry points to the cat adoption papers I am holding and beckons impatiently. He spreads them on the table next to Monty and scans the illegible handwriting of the woman from the cat rescue centre. Then he picks Monty up and places him on a large set of scales on the floor. ‘Dear God!’ he exclaims. ‘What have you been feeding him? Cement?’

‘Sheba,’ I reply defensively. ‘And sometimes Iams.’

‘How much? A kilo a day?’

I do not appreciate his sarcasm. As his girlfriend, I deserve a little more respect.

‘How much does he weigh?’ I ask.

‘Nine kilos. Congratulations. That’s a new record at this practice.’

‘I don’t understand it,’ I say. ‘He never finishes his food.’

‘Probably because he’s so stuffed. You’re overfeeding him.’

‘I can’t be!’ I gasp.

Henry points to Monty’s papers. ‘Says here he was six kilos when you adopted him from the cat rescue centre. He’s gained three kilos in the ten months you’ve owned him, Kate. He’s overweight.’

I’m speechless. My eyes well up. ‘Someone else must be feeding him,’ I splutter. ‘A well-meaning neighbour perhaps.’

‘I’m afraid it’s more likely you are the culprit, Kate. It’s very common. People overfeed their pets out of love. Just cut down the portion sizes and only feed him twice a day. We sell Obesity Management biscuits here at the practice. They’re expensive, but they’re the best nutrition you can give him in these circumstances.’

Henry checks his watch and heaves Monty back into his basket.

‘Bring him back in a month’s time so we can check his weight,’ he instructs me as he shows me to the door.

‘So when will you be free?’ I ask, my voice rising an octave.

‘Um, I’ll call you when work’s calmed down a bit…next week.’ He almost shoves me back into the waiting room and calls cheerfully for a Mrs Whitely and Squiggles to come in. The heavily made-up woman with the poodle teeters past me on impossibly high stilettoes as I lug Monty’s basket towards the reception desk to pay the bill.

‘Rita, get one of those Obesity Management sacks down for Kate and add it to her bill, will you?’ The door slams behind him as the receptionist hauls a giant sack onto her desk.

‘That’ll be seventy-three pounds and eighty-five pence, please love,’ says Rita, tapping away at her keyboard. I inhale.

I look at the sack: 3.5 kilos. I look at Monty: nine kilos. I look at the basket: two kilos? I look at the receptionist. She smiles sympathetically. ‘Would you like me to call you a cab, love?’


One week later, and still no call from Henry. I can’t help feeling that something isn’t right. I try to reassure myself that this is normal behaviour for Henry, and that if he no longer wanted to be with me, he would say so, as he prides himself on his honesty. So that only leaves one credible theory: we are getting too close, and he is retreating. He is yanking up his draw-bridge as I must have accidentally lifted a toe over the marked boundary.

What a load of nonsense, I suddenly think. Sod Henry and his bloody boundaries. I’m going to call him today because for one thing, I am about to prove him wrong: there is someone else feeding Monty, I just know it. And with the help of a teeny-tiny spy-cam I’ve bought online, I shall soon be able to prove it.

I call to Monty who loyally trots over to me and nuzzles my leg. I kneel down, stroke him and attach the spy-cam to his collar. Then I usher him towards the catflap, and watch eagerly as he squeezes through. He trots up the steps into my tiny garden and leaps up onto the wall, disappearing into the garden next door.

When I hear the sound of the catflap clattering twenty minutes later, I jump up from the sofa. Monty brushes up against me and purrs. I remove the camera from his collar and plug it into my laptop.

‘Now for the moment of truth,’ I announce to Monty, who saunters over to his empty bowl and miaows.

I watch the laptop with wide eyes. A succession of grainy, wobbly images fill the screen as Monty goes walkabout. There’s my garden; the wall; my next-door neighbour’s garden; the alleyway, and so on. Monty doesn’t hang about. I’m no longer sure where he is – between some back gardens by the look of it – but he has ventured a lot further than expected.

Finally he stops by some railings. I hope to God he isn’t about to try and squeeze through them as they do not look wide enough to accommodate Monty’s girth. The next image I see is a bit of a blur – there is a figure, but then a dog appears, barking, and Monty does a u-turn and runs. I rewind and pause the footage. Yes, there is someone – in fact there are two people.

‘Cover your eyes, Monty!’ I gasp as I realise what I’m witnessing. I press play and pause it again. I can clearly make out a woman’s legs wrapped around a man’s hips. I ought to avert my eyes but I’m too intrigued. Are they actually doing it, I wonder? Outside, in their back garden? Good Lord! I will Monty to look up so that I can see their faces, but instead he looks down. Dismayed, I follow the man’s legs down to his ankles. My heart stops. For there, between his trousers and his shoes, are a pair of socks covered in little Cupids, pointing their arrows towards a pair of impossibly high heels.