I have always wanted to write a novel. In childhood I was a bookworm, a lover of Anne of Green Gables, What Katie Did, Little Women, followed by bolting through all the novels of Nancy Mitford, Daphne Du Maurier and Jane Austen. When I was eleven my English teacher Mrs Kelham tasked our class with writing a novel in a blue exercise book. Mine was about a Victorian family, and an adventure the siblings get drawn in to at the Great Exhibition of 1851. It wasn’t long until my story had filled five exercise books. I was disrupting the lessons, because instead of reading aloud their stories, my classmates only wanted to hear the latest romantic escapades of my heroes and heroines. At twelve I wrote a play called Jolly Hockysticks a satire about the posh mothers who collected from the school gates. My late grandmother laughed through the whole performance, always at the parts I intended to be serious, and she told everyone that I had to write. I kept her words in the back of my mind for a long time.
Author photo credit: Szerdi Nagy
Someone asked me the other day ‘What took you so long?’ Well I have loved every second of my career in publishing. I started as a bookseller where some brilliant colleagues brought my very classically educated reading tastes bang up to date. While working as a bookseller I realised that some lucky person got to look after authors, bring them in for signings, organise launch parties, even dress up as Where’s Wally. It was a light bulb moment when I heard that the job was called Publicity. I went on to run the Press Office at Headline and it is not a job that leaves much spare time for writing. Instead, I put a lot of energy and passion in to telling as many people as I could about authors like Penny Vincenzi, Patrick Gale and Maggie O’Farrell.
Lockdown came and online schooling and the need to escape in to something. We have a holiday houseboat in the harbour in Bembridge in the Isle of Wight, and I was missing it. I had seen an old Edwardian house on the beach near Seaview, and a family spilling out of it, off to all sail together and I started to wonder about them. I knew I wanted to write about a family, about mothers and daughters, about sisters, taking myself back to the favourite childhood books I loved to reread. Trapped at home, away from my happy place on the beaches of the Isle of Wight, a story set on the island began to form in my mind. I hope when you read it that you will feel some of my love for the island, and also notice that I was missing parties! There are quite a few of those in The Garnett Girls…