Nothing much ever happened on Horseshoe Lane – why should it? It was, after all, just a normal suburban backwater with the usual cross section of growing families, ageing pensioners, the occasional singleton and a brace of curtain twitchers. The arrival of celebrity couple, Heavenly and Travis, however, changes all that. This glamorous pair bring about a summer of competitive party throwing and ambitious home improvement projects that will have disastrous and completely unforeseen consequences.
Neighbours who’ve got by for years with just the occasional chat over a garden fence about the unseasonable amount of rain or the state of next door’s garden are slowly united by suspicion as a husband goes missing, a much loved cat turns up dead on a doorstep and Enid from Number Seven is found badly injured at the foot of the cliff.
Could one person be responsible for all of this? Could that person be the strange and unlikeable Hilary Jones from Number Nine? There was only going to be one way to find out and it was going to involve a lot of whiskey….
In this her wonderful follow up to ‘The Rock Star Known as Horse’, Owen’s riveting new story finds a murky side to the suburbs, a side where petty jealousies and neighbourly rivalries can escalate out of all control with calamitous results, all intricately observed with her usual dark humour firmly to the fore.
Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear oh dear. I feel like an alcoholic at his first AA meeting. My name’s Jane, I’m a writer and I don’t blog. I’ll get my coat. It’s not something I’m proud of, I know I should, I really do but…but I can’t, I just can’t. Pull yourself together woman, I hear you say, call yourself a writer? Then get thee to a blog!
I have nothing but the utmost respect for people who can be pithy and succinct, topical and contentious, funny and endearing in about five hundred words. I wish I could do it but I’m not a natural writer of short pieces; I’m much more at home with a full-length book. Sitting down to begin a document that will exceed 100,000 words fills me with a deep and abiding joy; sitting down to write 500 words for a blog post brings me out in a cold sweat. 500 words you say? About what? Anything I like? Seriously? Because that last statement just removed any intelligent thought from my brain. It’s hard enough (for me) to write 500 words on a given subject but you want me to choose my own subject? Oh good lord, pass me the gin.
It’s not just blogging – years ago I was asked to contribute a short story for the first every anthology of short stories sold in aid of charity. The book was called Girls’ Night In, the charity was War Child. The deadline was set and the word count was to be five thousand. Five thousand? Is that all? By way of research I read some short stories, noted that they all had a beginning, a middle and an end, just like a novel. I organised my pencils, opened a new file on my computer, made a cup of tea. This went on for about two weeks and the deadline loomed ever closer. I was constantly reminded of the words of the wonderful Douglas Adams who once notably said ‘I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.’ Finally, after endless sweating and stressing and tearing of hair, I managed to write something I was happy with and emailed it off with about ten minutes to spare, only to get an out of office automated reply informing me that the person in question would be back in the office a week on Thursday.
When I’m writing a book, it’s like living in two separate worlds: the real one, and the one in my head and it’s in my head where the ideas ferment and grow. I’m not sure there’s room for anything else. When I’m not writing a book, my head is full of candy floss and I have to live with that for a while, let the old characters and voices fade away, leave space for the new ones to arrive. There’s no room for anything else.
That said, I have nothing but admiration for bloggers: they put themselves out there, on the line, on a regular basis. They share their innermost thoughts, their struggles, their pain and their joy. They lay it all bare, for real, whereas I’m just a writer of fiction. I just make stuff up.
Hilary sighed and made her way downstairs and into her living room where the view from the window was almost vertigo inducing: Number Ten was set on the steepest part of the hill, squatting truculently in the shadow of Casa de la Luna, and Hilary’s back garden consisted of two small terraces that, once upon a time, may well have a been a garden. Now they were overgrown and full of weeds and their retaining walls were starting to slide down towards the cliff edge, giving the whole thing a rather precarious air. Also on this lower ground floor were Hilary’s kitchen and a dining room, both with windows looking out onto a small concrete patio area, which ran along the back between the house and the patch of grass previously known as a lawn. Despite being south facing, the room seemed dark and cold. The shabby, blue leather three piece sofa and matching armchair covered most of the carpet but unfortunately not all of it. The carpet was a migraine inducing masterpiece of blue and green swirls and it wasn’t just the carpet that could make the unwary visitor slightly nauseous. The ceilings had been heavily Artexed and then scraped into an endlessly repeating fan pattern. The walls were divided horizontally with blue, green and yellow striped paper below and plain yellow above, divided by a floral border just in case you still hadn’t noticed them. Faded blue curtains with a yellow moon motif spattered all over them completed the look. No one in their right mind would have lived with them for more than a week but Hilary’s acute lack of imagination prevented her from redecorating mainly because she had, quite literally, absolutely no idea, not one, as to where or how to start and no idea what to do if she did. To be fair, this didn’t just apply to the redecorating, this applied to her whole life and whilst other people would have rushed around and started saying things like paint the walls white, pull up the carpet and polish the floorboards, get rid of those ugly curtains, burn the sofa, Hilary just sat there, knocked senseless by the enormity of the task in front of her, completely devoid of any kind of inspiration.
She clumped back up the stairs to her bedroom. Although technically a loft conversion, when she looked out of the front dormer window, she was looking out at street level. The original architect had chosen to put just one dormer window in, looking out to the front of the house. It was an eyebrow dormer and this single eye in the middle of its roof gave the house a slightly sinister look. To be fair, it had been a major factor in endearing the house to Hilary the first time she saw it. As she’d alighted inelegantly from the estate agent’s low slung sports car, it had seemed as if the house was glaring balefully over the kerb and Hilary could identify with that. From inside the eyebrow she could see the houses on the north side of the road, could see that Kelly Cunningham was now in her front garden, planting out some bright pink flowers. Again. Didn’t that woman have anything else to do? Hilary didn’t believe that a medium sized front garden and a few pots on a balcony could possibly require that much attention. She had a sneaking suspicion Kelly Cunningham was not gardening at all, merely spying on her neighbours but she was only half right: Kelly was indeed gardening, like her life depended on it, but while she was ferociously wielding her retro floral trowel, she was also keeping an eye out for the new neighbours.
It’s a shame Hilary and Kelly didn’t become friends, things might have turned out so differently. Of course they could have continued avoiding each other for many years, could have played out the rest of their lives without ever exchanging more than banal pleasantries about the weather but the soon to arrive new neighbours would be like petrol thrown onto the bonfire of their relationship, would cause Kelly to suddenly find her hitherto undiscovered competitive streak and unleash Hilary’s imagination on an unsuspecting street. It was never going to end well.
Hilary looked at her watch and sighed. It was still not even lunchtime and she was bored out of her mind. What was she going to do with the rest of her day? What did the others do? If only she’d known how boring life in the suburbs could be before she’d paid cash for this stupid house.
Jane’s first novel, Camden Girls, was published by Penguin twenty years ago and quickly became an international cult bestseller published in many languages including Japanese, Spanish,German, Hebrew, Italian and Dutch. She’d already spent many years working in the film business working alongside stars such as Christophe Lambert, Andi McDowell, Daryl Hannah and James Remar before switching to the music business and working for bands such as The Who, Robert Plant, ZZTop and many more. Eventually, even that got boring and that’s when she wrote Camden Girls.
After publication, life became interrupted by an unfortunate traffic accident and Jane moved out of London to Sussex and slowly returned to writing. Her novels don’t fit into any specific category and, frustrated by endless rejections along the lines of ‘You write beautifully but we don’t know how to sell this book’ she started self publishing. Rave reviews gave her the confidence to keep going and believe in what she was writing.
She’s still in Sussex, sharing her life with her musician partner, three horses and a dog and divides her day between writing and riding.
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