There’s something about winter that makes me want to curl up with a chick lit book in front of a roaring fire. I was given the opportunity to read a perfect wintry book by Hodder & Stoughton*, and to do a Q&A with the author; All I Ever Wanted by Lucy Dillon is out on 1st December, and is such a lovely read.
From the blurb:
Nancy is four, nearly five. She talks all the time: in the car, on the way to nursery, to her extrovert older brother, to her collection of bears. But then, one February morning, everything changes. Nancy’s mum and dad split up. Her father Patrick moves away from their Bristol home to Newcastle. And Nancy stops talking.
Eva is forty-four, nearly forty-five. She didn’t expect to be the third wife of a much-loved household name, but eight years ago, she and semi-retired bad boy Michael Quinn fell in love. Eva knew marrying a much older man meant compromises, but it was the love of a lifetime for them both – until Mickey dies suddenly, leaving Eva alone with his gossipy diaries, their two pugs, and a distressing voice in the back of her mind, wondering if perhaps she’s sacrificed more than she meant to.
While Nancy’s parents negotiate their separation, the question of weekend contact is solved when Patrick volunteers his sister Eva’s house. It’s in Longhampton, an hour out of Bristol, with plenty of room for her to get to know a niece and nephew she’s barely met – even if Nancy continues to refuse to speak. Patrick is sure it’s just a phase but his soon-to-be-ex-wife is worried that something more traumatic lies at the heart of their daughter’s selective mutism.
Meanwhile, Eva begins to read through Mickey’s diaries, and with every page she’s forced to confront a view of her marriage that turns everything she believed about her late husband, her self – and her own heart – on its head. The fortnightly presence of two children in her peaceful, grown-up home – one constantly singing and performing, the other wordless and sad – initially drives Eva and the two pugs, Bumble and Bee, to exhaustion, but as spring turns into summer, a trust slowly begins to form between an anxious little girl with a heartbreaking secret, and a woman who has realised too late that what her soul yearns for is the love of a child.
There are three main characters in this story; Nancy, a four year old struggling to cope with her parent’s separation, Caitlin Nancy’s mother, and Eva, Caitlin’s sister in law.
Caitlin is a bit of a free spirit whereas Patrick is extremely organised. Their differences used to compliment each other, but now it seems as if they can’t have a conversation without it turning into an argument. Caitlin doesn’t know why, but it seems as if she can’t do anything right in Patrick’s eyes. They decide to separate.
As Caitlin and her husband Patrick try to deal with their separation, Eva is still struggling to cope with the death of her husband, the famous actor Michael Quinn.
Joel, Caitlin’s son seems to be coping with the separation, but Nancy is becoming increasingly withdrawn, and can no longer talk outside the comfort of her house.
To help facilitate visits between Patrick and his children, Eva agrees to host the children and her brother on alternate weekends, and finds herself becoming attached to her brother’s children, in particular Nancy.
As Eva spend more time with Caitlin and the children, she finds herself opening up for the first time since she lost her husband…Until she is approached by a publisher who wants to publish Mick’s diaries. Eva is torn between wanting to know how her husband really felt, and being scared of what she may discover.
The two women find themselves becoming friends as they come to terms with the changes in their lives, and try to help Nancy.
As I said before, this is a lovely book. I’ve categorised it as chicklit, for want of a better term, but it is much more than that. This books is about relationships, friendship, family, grief and adorable pugs.
The voices of the children are so clear and realistic – and funny! Lucy paints such vivid chaacters, for example qhen capturing the bittersweet experiemce of receiving a back-handed compliment from a small child.
“Mummy your hair is beautiful…like a big black sheep!”
This book would be a great Christmas gift, or a weekend read.
Please keep reading for my Q&A with the lovely author, Lucy Dillon.
Hi Lucy, this is the first of your books I’ve read and I loved it! It is such a cosy book – I read it in front of the fire at home (and on the train, but the less said about that the better). Something about the story seemed perfect for winter.
One of the three main characters is 4 year old Nancy. Nancy goes from being an outgoing, confident, imaginative wannabe fairy, to being very withdrawn as a result of her parents’ separation. The transformation was believable and quite worrying, what research did you do to make this so realistic?
I talked to friends who have four year olds, and listened to a lot of children playing, then tried to imagine how it would be if their non-verbal communications were the only forms of communication an adult had to go on. And it was interesting to me as a dog owner (NOT that I’m drawing a comparison between children and dogs here!) to realise that it came down to body language – hunched shoulders, hidden eyes, leaning for comfort – which can convey an awful lot, if you’re observant and trying hard to understand.
Nancy and her ten year old brother Joel were hilarious. Joel is so flamboyant, and Nancy has an entertaining way of looking at the world. They reminded me of my nephew and nieces – particularly Nancy’s back handed compliment that her mother’s hair was beautiful “like a big black sheep”. Where did you get your inspiration for their personalities?
My friend Chris has a particularly hilarious and charming nephew – I love hearing about him, and his latest dramatic outburst. I suspect he’ll be famous when he grows up. (I certainly hope so!) There’s a lot of him in Joel.
I was particularly grabbed by a phrase early on in the book describing relationships, about how the little things you loved about a person in the beginning are what make you want to (and I’m paraphrasing)”stab them to death with a fork in the end”. That’s quite specific… it made me snort with laughter (I was on the train 🙄). Why a fork?
Oh, because it’s just the closest thing to hand when you can’t take it anymore! I have nothing against forks, per se.
Patrick isn’t Joel’s biological father, but he has raised him and continues to treat Joel exactly the same as his biological daughter Nancy. I loved that. Was this a conscious decision to make Patrick more likable?
The thing about Patrick is that he’s actually pretty likeable, right from the start, but because we only see him through Caitlin’s eyes, through her filter of her own weariness and self-doubt, he comes across as being a control freak workaholic – when in fact he’s just a caring, if frustrated, dad who’s trying to keep his family together the only way he thinks is right. As we get to know Caitlin better, her own judgement starts to look a bit shaky, and maybe Patrick’s actions don’t seem quite so outrageous. I wanted to recreate that feeling you have when a close friend breaks up with her ‘unbearable’ boyfriend, but you slowly start to piece together a very different story…
Caitlin and Eva are complete opposites; Caitlin is very artistic, passionate and eccentric, whilst Eva seems more cautious and restrained. Which character do you identify with most?
Both, I think. But I tend to be hardest on the characters who are most like me, so probably Caitlin!
One of the main themes in the book is about losing a loved one and dealing with that grief. Eva’s discovery of her husband’s diaries changes her perception of their marriage. In Eva’s shoes would you have read the diaries? I’m not sure I would…
I’m not sure I would, either! But Eva is the sort of person who’s always worried about how others see her, so the thought of strangers knowing things about her very private marriage is something she can’t stand. But ironically, it’s by reading the diaries that Eva realises that there was quite a lot she didn’t know either, and it makes her question herself, as much as Mick. One of the hardest parts of losing someone is realising that you might not have known them as well as you could, and now it’s too late – it’s heartbreaking for Eva, but in one very important way, it’s what sets her free.
Eva is coming to terms with the fact that she and her husband chose not to have children. There has been a lot of coverage about female celebrities who have chosen not to have children; why do you think there is still a taboo about this issue?
It’s funny – there definitely is a taboo about it in the media, and yet not so much with real people! I do think the media (by which I mean one particular newspaper…) loves to pit women against women, pointing out their differences to make one set ‘better’ or ‘worse’, and parenthood is a favourite example. A woman who doesn’t have children is either selfish, or unhappy, or careerist, when in fact, she’s none of those things – she’s simply a woman who doesn’t have children. We all have a range of experiences in life; it seems like such a waste of energy to focus on what you haven’t done, instead of celebrating what you have. But then that doesn’t sell newspapers or make people click through websites, does it?
Eva has two adorable pugs Bumble and Bee, who her late husband Mick used to “voice” characters for. I have read your blog, and saw that you actually do this for your dogs. I have a house bunny (picture attached) who is a total princess, and my husband and I both like to voice her opinions in a silly voice, much to the chagrin of our neighbours (just so you know, its not just you). Have you ever been caught voicing your dogs when you thought you were alone?
Yes. All the time. (I’m glad I’m not alone here! And what a cool companion to have! One of my neighbours in London has a house bunny and takes it for walks on a lead.) Although interestingly, my boyfriend insists that Bonham, my lovely and much-missed Basset boy, was a broad Glaswegian, rather than the broad Brummie he definitely was.
Bumble and Bee are rather spoiled – they have their own rooms and an admiring audience whenever they go out for walks; If you were a dog, what breed would you be and why?
I would like to be a Basset hound – they’re impossible not to love. But given my ginger hair and unreliable nature, I’d probably end up as a Red Setter.
In the book Caitlin gives her children wishes to be granted on special occasions; If you had three wishes, what would they be?
Calorie free chocolate
Animal abusers to feel that exact pain themselves, forever (sorry, I did Classics – I’ve got a very old school approach to punishments!)
The ability to stop time in order to meet deadlines
Final question, what is your favourite winter drink?
Tea. Always tea.
Thank you very much. 😊
Thank YOU! What a fun set of questions! I loved answering them – and I really appreciate the effort you put into making them so interesting. 😊
Please let me own in the comments if you plan on reading this book, and which books you like to read in Winter.
*This book was to me by Hodder & Stoughton in exchange for an honest review.