I’m so delighted today to be joining the blog tour for Christmas Secrets by the Sea by one of my very favourite authors, Jane Lovering, published by Farrago Books on 13th December and available as an e-book and in paperback. I won’t link back to my other enthusiastic reviews of Jane’s books – you’ll find them all if you pop her name into my “search” box – and I won’t even mention that she is now a multiple RNA awards nominee and prize winner. I just know that a new book from Jane is always a reason to celebrate here at my house, and this one just proves that she’s getting better and better with every book. I really loved it – and thank you to Fanny at Farrago Books for inviting me to join the tour, for my reading e-copy, and for arranging for Jane to pop into the blog today.
Christmas by the sea – that sounds romantic, right?
Tansy Merriweather is down on her luck. She’s lost her business and her relationship, and instead of a glamorous London apartment, her home is now a campervan on a Dorset beach. And as if things couldn’t get any worse, a scruffy dog called Brian with a taste for sardines has adopted her.
When Tansy’s new-found friends at the cafe in the bay help her find a job as a location scout for a new TV show, things start looking up. However, when she finds herself babysitting the show’s grouchy star, Davin O’Riordan, she’s not sure she wants to stay around. But when Brian forges a touching romance with Davin’s elegant whippet Seelie, Tansy begins to see another side to Davin.
As Christmas approaches, secrets emerge and Tansy and Davin discover a bond between them. But how will they cope with the storms headed their way – and can they save the cafe from closing?
Review to follow shortly, but first a big welcome to Jane – shoes off please – to answer the question “Why Christmas Secrets By The Sea?”…
This is a question that has been asked by literally nobody, which is slightly surprising. But then I am regularly surprised by clouds and the taste of aubergines, so I suppose nobody should be surprised that I have been surprised by it, if you see what I mean. When you are regularly startled out of your socks by the sound of a door slamming, then having nobody ask you why your book is called what it is shouldn’t register on the Richter Scale of Surprising Things.
And yet it has. The celebration of Christmas plays a very small part in this book. In fact, a scruffy dog plays a larger part than Christmas. Rain plays a larger part. But Christmas is in the title, which might lead one to expect that Christmas is central to the theme of the book, might it not? Aha! I cry in response, possibly whilst producing a rabbit from a hat at the same time, although I’m making no promises because rabbits are difficult things to manage at the best of times and hats can fight back if you take your eye off them. Aha!
The book isn’t named after the festival. It’s named after the place… Yes. The ‘Christmas’ in the title isn’t so much the 25th of December, although that does also get a walk-on part. You see, the village in which much of the action takes place, and where our cast of characters find themselves sitting out a raging storm, is called Christmas Steepleton. It was the setting for a novella I wrote a couple of years ago, called The Boys of Christmas (also set at Christmas, also mostly about the place). It’s a location I fell in love with, so when the chance to write a Dorset-set series of novels came up, I immediately thought about my lovely little fictional village of Christmas Steepleton.
Of course, there’s a fair bit of Christmassy thingies going on too, there are presents and relentlessly boiled sprouts, I think tofu gets a mention but don’t let that put you off. Christmas happens in the book, but the book also happens in Christmas. It’s a bit like Lyme Regis, only smaller and steeper and with more of a Lovecraftian vibe, as though the inhabitants might spend their spare time worshipping monsters from the deep and sacrificing maidens once a year on a clifftop. They don’t, they are normal, hardworking fishermen and shopkeepers and they show no signs of worshipping anything at all. Apart, maybe, from the leading man in the book, Davin O’Riordan, who’s an upcoming TV star. Anyway. No submarine monsters.
The ‘Secrets’ part relates to things that my hero and heroine are keeping from one another. Not even really in a ‘secretive’ way, more in the way that you just don’t talk about some things, because they are upsetting. I recently had my old terrier put to sleep (she was the model for Brian, actually, the awful dog in the book). I don’t talk about it much. It’s not a secret, it’s just too recent for me to be able to discuss it without getting that horrible feeling that I am being choked. So I don’t. And it’s the same with my characters – they both have things that they’d rather not talk about, or even think about, if they don’t have to. In fact, the whole book is about them facing up to the fact that some things need to be talked about.
I’ll leave you to work out what the ‘By The Sea’ part of the title means for yourselves.
Thank you Jane – and I’ve worked out the “By The Sea” part! Although it could also have been “During Some of the Worst Weather Imaginable”, but that might not have been so catchy…
I’ve often said that my Christmas wouldn’t be complete without a book from Jane Lovering – and with this lovely read, it most certainly is. It’s one of those books you could happily read at any time of the year, set at Christmas but not overflowing with tinsel and lights, full of lovely characters whose life stories tug at your heartstrings and instantly make them your new best friends as you watch them stumble their way to a hoped for happy ending. Davin did take a while to win my heart – turning on his film star smile for all his adoring fans, being a thoroughly miserable sod when in lovely Tansy’s company, until things start to simmer a little.
Goodness, what dreadful lives these characters have had – I liked the way Davin’s back story was slowly revealed, punctuating the present day story, and poor Tansy’s rather been through the mill too. I so enjoyed the whole story, full of the most wonderfully drawn characters – including some lovely cameos of friends some readers will remember from Christmas Steepleton. The TV show encampment makes a great backdrop and location for developing some of the more minor characters, combining the world of the cafe and its problems with the catering van and its customers.
And if I’m discussing characters, I can’t possibly leave out Brian. I’m really not a very doggy person, but he’s SO wonderful. Ok, he smells a bit, and you might not want to run your hands through his fur (even if that were possible), but with apologies to the two-legged variety he was my favourite character in the whole book. He doesn’t talk – that would be just silly – but he expresses so much emotion with a twist of his eyebrows or a joyful gallop along a windswept beach. I just loved his romance with pedigree Seelie, described as “Dennis the Menace in hot pursuit of… Claudia Schiffer” – not the only romance in the book by any means, but the one that perhaps most filled me with joy.
And I’m not usually particularly keen on teenagers either, but I really liked Rory. I’m no expert, but he was tremendously “real” to me – I loved his excitement and enthusiasm about little things, the caring and warm heart under the gruff exterior, the archetypal difficult teenager sometimes letting out the little boy within.
The other thing that’ll really stick in your mind from this book is the atrocious weather – not the crisp snow you might have expected, but the sort of biblical rain and ferocious wind I always thought was more of a Yorkshire speciality. The descriptions are wonderful – but I might just avoid Dorset in future at this time of the year, particularly if I’m in a camper van.
The writing, as always, is superb – Jane Lovering has that ability to choose exactly the right words and images to make you laugh, with a wonderful touch of the ridiculous, then moving seamlessly to a scene of such poignancy that it catches your breath. If you’ve never read one of her books before, do give this one a try – I really think it might be my new favourite. But if you have already discovered her writing, I expect you’ll already be looking forward to reading this one over Christmas – and I promise you’ll enjoy every moment.
About the author
Jane Lovering was, presumably, born, although everyone concerned denies all knowledge. However there is evidence that her early years were spent in Devon (she can still talk like a pirate under the right conditions) and of her subsequent removal to Yorkshire under a sack and sedation.
She now lives in North Yorkshire, where she writes romantic comedies, one or two of which have won awards. Owing to a terrible outbreak of insanity she is now the minder of three cats and two terriers, one of which is a Patterdale and therefore as insane as Jane. Though smaller, and cuter, obviously.
Jane’s likes include marshmallows, the smell of cucumbers and the understairs cupboard, words beginning with B, and Doctor Who. She writes with her laptop balanced on her knees whilst lying on her bed, and her children were brought up to believe that real food has a high carbon content. And a kind of amorphous shape. Not unlike Jane herself, come to think of it.
She had some hobbies once, but she can’t remember what they were. Ask her to show you how many marshmallows she can fit in her mouth at once, though, that might give you a clue.