Well, today’s the day I need to do a little work on the blog – the free audiobook serialisation of Linda MacDonald’s Meeting Lydia will no longer be available through its pages. We started the serialisation over two months ago, on 30th March, sharing two new chapters at 7am every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. If you’ve been listening along, I do really hope you enjoyed it – but if you missed it, and you’d like to give it a try, you’ll find the audiobook available for purchase here.
As well as the technical challenge and the structure it brought to my lockdown days (and, I hope, to yours too), I was particularly delighted to bring you this serialisation because I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every one of Linda’s books, and it was a lovely opportunity to share one with a wider audience. Meeting Lydia is the only one available for audio, but I thought it might be good today to introduce you to all Linda’s books, and share my reviews once more. All the books are published by Matador, and are available in paperback and as e-books on all major platforms. If you click on the titles or cover photos below, you’ll be taken to each book’s Amazon page – but I will let you know the other purchasing options when I’m done.
When I discovered Linda’s writing, I tackled the series in entirely the wrong order, and started with the fourth, The Man in the Needlecord Jacket. Do you know, I can remember exactly where I was when I read it – it was when Mum and I had our unexpected stay in Madeira, her in hospital, me staying in an apartment I’d found while awaiting her recovery, reading book after book on the roof terrace. It didn’t matter at all that I started the series at the end – each book stands alone, and it worked just fine catching up with the others later. But let me introduce you to them in a more conventional order – starting with Meeting Lydia…
Marianne comes home from work one day to find her husband talking to a glamorous woman in their kitchen. Old childhood insecurities resurface, stemming from a time back at school when she was bullied. Jealousy rears its head and her happy marriage begins to crumble. Desperate for a solution – and introduced by her daughter to social networking – she tries to track down her first schoolgirl crush, the enigmatic Edward Harvey. But Marianne is unprepared for the power of email relationships…
Meeting Lydia explores the very relevant topics of childhood bullying, midlife crises, the pros and cons of internet relationships, and how the psychological effects of these affect the main character and those around her. Readers will be gripped by the turbulent life of Marianne who navigates the onset of menopause, an empty nest, a suspected errant husband and a demanding new obsession that pulls her in deeper as the story unfolds. Those interested in the psychology of relationships will enjoy this novel, as well as those who delight in an enthralling story with relatable characters and the powerful question of what happens when the past catches up with the present.
And I’ll share my full review, just one more time..
For a book to really impress me it needs to engage my emotions, win my heart, and move me – and it’s even better when it engages my brain a little too. This book did all that, and more – with its focus on Marianne, approaching her fifties, feeling the changes to her mind and body and their impact on her marriage.
One of the author’s exceptional strengths is in allowing you to inhabit the mind and thoughts of her characters – and Marianne’s mind isn’t always an entirely comfortable place to be, however recognisable from your personal experience. As well as the insecurities at her stage of life, Marianne carries a lot of baggage from her dreadful experience of bullying, as one of a small number of girls at a boys’ preparatory school – a legacy she’s never shared with husband Johnny, nor come to terms with. The novel is set in 2002, in the early days of electronic relationships – the relevance of “Lydia” (very cleverly) becomes clear as Marianne re-establishes contact with Edward, a fellow student she admired from afar, through Friends Reunited.
I very much liked the book’s structure – her initial search for contact, the email exchanges agonised over for tone and content, together with the deeper, more reflective drafts never sent but revealing far more about Marianne’s thoughts and feelings. I also loved the portrait of her marriage – the realistic exchanges and reactions, the words that couldn’t be unsaid, the jealousy souring each attempt at reconciliation. It would be wrong of me to tell too much of the story, but there were moments in this book when I was angry with her, wanted to hug her, and one significant point when I wished I was standing behind her to cheer her on.
The writing… is superb – a lot of introspection and self analysis, but very well handled, and an emotional touch that’s quite perfectly judged. There’s darkness and light, humour and tears, characters you grow to love, and a strong narrative drive that carries you through with a yearning to discover how things play out. I really enjoyed this book…
Again, from the cover…
When archaeologist Edward Harvey’s wife Felicity inherits almost a million, she gives up her job, buys a restaurant and, as a devotee of Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall, starts turning their home into a small eco-farm. Edward is not happy, not least because she seems to be losing interest in him. Taryn is a borderline manic-depressive, a scheming minx, a seductress and user of men. Edward and Taryn don’t know each other but they both know Marianne.
To Edward, Marianne is a former classmate who sends him crazy emails. She is Taryn’s best friend, and when Marianne meets Edward, she tells Taryn how wonderful he is and that he is not the philandering type. Taryn sees a challenge and concocts a devious plan to meet him during a series of lectures he is giving at the British Museum. When Edward and Taryn’s paths cross, questions of friendship, loyalty and betrayal are played out against a backdrop of mental fragility and the destabilising effects of a large inheritance…
Set in Broadclyst and Beckenham, with a chapter on the Isles of Scilly, A Meeting of a Different Kind is the stand-alone sequel to Meeting Lydia, continuing the story from the perspectives of two very different characters. Like its prequel, it will appeal to fans of adult fiction, especially those interested in the psychology of relationships.
And my review..
While this book is perhaps mainly Edward’s story, the way it was told reminded me of the many reasons why I’ve become such a fan of Linda Macdonald’s writing. In part, it’s a portrait of a marriage falling apart through neglect and disinterest – wife Felicity’s plans for her inheritance and Edward’s failure to share her obsession slowly widening the divide between them. And there, in an initially distant supporting role, is Marianne – a sounding board for Edward’s thoughts, feelings and life choices, while sharing her own.
Their attraction – once they finally meet – is palpable, their friendship and developing relationship fragile and tentative, moving forward with exquisite slowness constrained by their separate lives, their respective marriages and their family responsibilities. Their dance around each other is quite beautifully choreographed, intricately detailed and analysed, their characters and their emotional reactions authentic and perfectly drawn. The ability of the author to take you inside her characters is exceptional – sharing their thoughts, feeling their doubts and emotions, identifying with situations that are wholly recognisable and vividly real.
I must mention Taryn, Marianne’s “friend” – but hers is a rather unusual take on what friendship requires and entails. Despite her behaviour and its impact, I found the complexity of her character both intriguing and fascinating. There can sometimes be an inclination to draw an antagonist with less depth, with a focus on action rather than motivation. Her issues become plain, with a detailed insight into the hard-edged fragility that drives her – and I really liked the way the author explored her feelings after the event along with the personal resonance of her actions. I might not have liked her (and that has to be something of an understatement), but I very much liked the exploration of her character.
The writing is wonderful – relationships and feelings examined and analysed, but in a way that only adds to your emotional engagement with the characters, with a perfect balance between darkness and light and more than a touch of well-handled drama. I finished reading – and this book does end, and requires nothing more – and I was already looking forward to reading its sequel The Alone Alternative. I just wanted to spend more time with characters who had moved me and won my heart.
From the cover…
Former classmates Edward and Marianne, now fifty-five, have experienced a turbulent few years having lost contact with each other and suffered painful disruption to their home lives. Reunited again, this time through Twitter, they set about a search for personal fulfilment, but once again there are obstacles in the way – not least in the form of twice-widowed Jessica, Edward’s neighbour, who threatens to destroy their pursuit of happiness and whose behaviour has alarming consequences.
The extraordinary weather conditions prompt Edward and a former colleague to resurrect an idea for a documentary series that sets to challenge consumerist lifestyles. The Isles of Scilly become a model for sustainability and a filming trip to the islands provides an idyllic backdrop to the unfolding romantic tensions.
Set in 2012, the year of the London Olympics, the action alternates between Broadclyst and Beckenham and examines the difficult issues faced in committing to a new relationship in midlife. Could being alone be a preferable alternative?
And my review..
With this book, we move forward in time – with much having happened in the lives of both Edward and Marianne, the resumption of their friendship via Twitter and email, and decisions to be made about their paths into the future. Of all the books, I think this may have been the one I enjoyed the most.
The progression of their relationship, with the possibility of a happy ending for them both, had an authenticity I could completely identify with and really feel. By the time you reach the late summer of life, so much personal baggage has accumulated that the prospect of change can be terrifying – and as Edward and Marianne explore their options, advancing by a few steps then repeatedly faltering, continually questioning their choices, this was an immensely engaging read. I really liked the way that – when the personal side becomes too difficult to contemplate, and “alone” might seem the easier option – they sometimes retreat behind their shared passion for environmental issues, and I found that whole theme and the project they were involved in totally fascinating.
I must mention the way the book is written. This time, the author takes us inside both Edward and Marianne, exploring their day to day lives and reflections as they slowly make their decisions. Does that make it sound rather earnest? It emphatically isn’t – there’s an immense warmth about this book, a gentle humour that can’t help but make you smile (repeatedly, and broadly), moments of real drama and tension and others of sheer unbridled joy. Digging into the detail, I particularly enjoyed the family relationships – such well developed supporting characters – and their reactions to developments in the lives of Edward and Marianne. Edward’s naivety and gentleness makes him a tremendously likeable character – I particularly loved his naivety around the fact that he could be a covetable prospect for the “coven”, and a target for some particularly unwelcome attention, leading to unexpected and very well handled drama with an edge of real danger.
And I very much liked this book’s exceptional sense of place – Edward’s family home at Broadclyst, Marianne’s life in Beckenham, the Scilly Isles as both a model for sustainability and the vividly described backdrop for some of the book’s key moments. The author’s descriptive powers are breath-taking – her descriptions draw in the emotions her characters are feeling, and are immensely powerful. I really should have marked a few of the passages that spoke to me at that deep emotional level, but I was enjoying the whole reading experience far too much. But when Edward and Marianne “breathe the salty air and gaze across the beginnings of the wide Atlantic to an ocean of unseen delights”, my heart sang for them. This was a book I really loved.
And finally… The Man in the Needlecord Jacket…
The Man in the Needlecord Jacket follows the story of two women who are each struggling to let go of a long-term destructive partnership. Felicity is reluctant to detach from her estranged archaeologist husband and, after being banished from the family home, she sets out to test the stability of his relationship with his new love, Marianne.
When Felicity meets Coll, a charismatic artist, she has high hopes of being distracted from her failed marriage. What she doesn’t know is that he has a partner, Sarah, with whom he has planned a future. Sarah is deeply in love with Coll, but his controlling behaviour and associations with other women have always made her life difficult. When he becomes obsessed with Felicity, Sarah’s world collapses and a series of events is set in motion that will challenge the integrity of all the characters involved.
And my review… and you’ll remember that this was actually the first time I’d read one of Linda’s books…
This book was such a breath of fresh air, something a little different, and such an enjoyable read. Silly of me really, but I was expecting something rather more earnest and less accessible – and, I must be honest, the book’s title did reinforce my totally wrong impression. I didn’t even know I loved reading about “the psychology of relationships” – but I most certainly do!
Because what the author does so very well is to lay before us real people – people we recognise, who behave as real people do. And real people sometimes behave badly, make you shake your head in disbelief, sometimes drive you to the moral high ground when you disapprove of their actions, and sometimes make you feel very uncomfortable when you see them making mistakes you might well have made yourself. They experience self doubt, disappointment and heartbreak – and moments of sheer joy. This book captures it all, wrapped around a fascinating story – no massive fireworks, just life and relationships presenting opportunities and challenges that the characters negotiate and deal with in their own ways.
The characterisation in this book is quite exceptional – my heart bled for Sarah as she desperately poured love into her relationship with little return, and Felicity became my very best friend as she wrestled with the life-changing consequences of her earlier actions, the complexities of moving on, and coming to terms with the changes that have damaged her foundations. As for Coll… some of his actions made me gasp, and I loved the book’s construction in that the reader always knows rather more about what’s going on than the people directly involved.
And I really must mention the strength of the writing – smoothly readable, easy to lose yourself in the story, humour and outrage sitting comfortably side by side. One of the joys of reading on the kindle is the ability to highlight passages you’d like to revisit later, for those moments when you’re struck by some thought or expression – I’ve rarely used the function as much, because there were so many times that small observations or comments so perfectly summed up what life can really be like.
“I have often thought that life seems to deal out good times and bad times in batches rather than a mix of the two. I hear people say, ‘And as if that wasn’t enough…’ or, ‘Just when you think things can’t get any worse…’ The trajectory of life is rarely a ripple; more often a mountain range of peaks and troughs.”
I’d planned to just share a few extracts from my reviews – but when I re-read them, it seemed a shame not to revisit them in their entirety (with some very minor editing!). You can see how very much I’ve loved Linda’s books – and why I was so delighted to be able to share the serialisation.
So, how can you get hold of your own copies? The links in the post will take you to Amazon, where you can purchase in paperback and for kindle – you’ll find all the books together on Linda’s author page. In paperback, you can also purchase direct from Matador, through Hive, or by ordering from your local bookshop (who might well be delivering in these difficult times). Linda also tells me she’d be happy to sell direct – £8 for 1, £14 for 2, £18 for 3 and £20 the set, including postage and while stocks last – and you can message her via Facebook or Twitter. In addition to kindle, the ebooks are available for Kobo, via Google Play, and through Apple iBooks.
So, that’s “The End”, until Linda produces her next book – when I absolutely guarantee I’ll be sharing a review. Thank you Linda – and what fun it’s been!
About the author
Linda MacDonald is the author of four novels: Meeting Lydia and the stand-alone sequels, A Meeting of a Different Kind, The Alone Alternative and The Man in the Needlecord Jacket. All Linda’s books are contemporary adult fiction, multi-themed, but with a focus on relationship issues.
After studying psychology at Goldsmiths’, Linda trained as a secondary science and biology teacher. She taught these subjects for several years before moving to a sixth-form college to teach psychology. The first two novels took ten years in writing and publishing, using snatched moments in the evenings, weekends and holidays. In 2012, she gave up teaching to focus fully on writing.
Linda was born and brought up in Cockermouth, Cumbria and now lives in Beckenham in Kent.