Welcome back to #TalkoftheTown, a weekly link-up I am co-hosting with Shaz from Jera’s Jamboree. We’d love you to share your book related blog posts with us. Please visit my Talk of the Town page if you are unsure of how a link-up works. We are looking forward to reading your blog posts.

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I am so pleased to be welcoming Laura Briggs to the blog today. Laura’s Christmas release, A Christmas in Cornwall, is out now. Laura has kindly written a guest post about Cornwall for my blog readers. Cornwall is somewhere I always wanted to visit, but have never gotten round to doing so. Oh well, one day for sure!

Five Things I Learned (and Love) About Cornwall
(Guest Post by Laura Briggs)

I love England. And I love Cornwall. Sadly, however, I’ve only been to England once (on a school trip, actually), and wasn’t lucky enough to visit Cornwall during my stay. So when I began writing about it in A WEDDING IN CORNWALL, I realized all my knowledge of it came from ‘Doc Martin’ and the hit series ‘Poldark’! So I did a little … then a lot more …research while writing, and learned more about one of England’s most beautiful and most unique counties, full of culture and history. So here are five of the ‘fun facts’ I learned that found their way into A WEDDING IN CORNWALL, A CHRISTMAS IN CORNWALL, and the upcoming third book A COTTAGE IN CORNWALL.

#5  Heath — One of Cornwall’s Native Plants

Heath is as quintessentially English as the moors … but I had always pictured it in THE SECRET GARDEN’s Yorkshire world, and never knew that it was one of Cornwall’s native, rugged flora, nor that it was protected. But I learned all this and more when I wrote the first cliffside encounter between Julianne and Matt. Cornwall is full of beautiful wildflowers, so choosing a plant was hard, but I chose heath because it seemed like such a perfect representation of Cornwall’s character. And, maybe, a little bit perfect as a representation of Julianne herself!

#4 The Cliffs

The coasts of Cornwall are breathtaking. Even if you’ve only seen pictures, like I have, the beauty of its shores can really be mind-blowing. Until I began this book, I had only a vague idea (Doc Martin, remember?) so much of A WEDDING IN CORNWALL’s coastal beauty was originally inspired by other parts of England…but when I began visiting blogs and websites by Cornwall’s natives and visitors, the Cornish reality began to take form in my head. The view of the shore and the sea factors into every story somehow, and feels almost like another story character to me now. I even named the manor house in honor of it, in fact (the original name — that’s another story).

#3 Oggies

Meat pies are a Cornish specialty, and residents have very decided opinions on what constitutes a quality ‘oggie,’ I learned! I tried to describe their favorite tradition as best I could when writing the scene in Charlotte’s shop, and it definitely made my mouth water as much as Julianne’s did. The only thing better than reading Cornish opinions on English pasties is watching pasties being cooked on The Great British Bake Off.

#2 The Cornish Tongue

Ah, Cornish! Not an easy language, as I learned from a little research. It has ties to other languages — it has spelling difficulties that make one’s head spin and pronunciations that my American tongue simply can’t attempt. But I made my best attempt to include a little of it in the story because Cornwall just isn’t the same without its language, as I’ve come to understand. Village names come from it, boats and landmarks are called by its tongue, and local phrases and slang are derived from it. In A WEDDING IN CORNWALL, the village name is taken from two common Cornish/Old Welsh words (the spelling is a little imperfect, as I’ve since learned!) Julianne and Matt visit the famous Lowarth Helegan gardens, whose name means ‘Willow Tree,’ and even Rosemoor Cottage has a reference point in Cornish.

#1 Troyls

It’s a running joke in the story — Julianne’s confusion over the traditional Cornish evening of music and dance, which comes up yet again in A CHRISTMAS IN CORNWALL. To me, a troyl seems like the Cornish version of an Irish ceili, although I’ve also learned that it served as a traditional festival or celebration at the end of the fishing season in different parts of Cornwall. And you even sense a little kinship with Scotland in the fact that kilts are sometimes worn by the men (hence Julianne’s blush over indulging in a little mental picture of Matt in attendance).

From the ‘Lizard’ to the flavor saffron, I’ve learned far more about Cornwall than the ‘fun facts’ I just named from the first book…and what I’ve learned since then found its way into the Christmas sequel, and into the third book I’m releasing in January (where I learned a little more about a famous Cornish tourist spot, and about springtime in Cornwall). I hope the world they helped create will help readers escape to a little part of Cornwall, even if they’re as far away from it as I am!

About Laura

Laura Briggs’ first stories were written in crayon about a rooster named Henry–but she was pretty young at the time, so it’s understandable. She eventually graduated to writing more complex plot lines and characters and writing her stories on a laptop. She tends to write stories with a romance theme, but as a reader she has a soft spot for mysteries, including those by Agatha Christie and Mary Roberts Rinehart. She also enjoys books by Jane Austen, Anne Tyler, Amy Tan, and too many others to name. In her free time, she likes to experiment with new recipes and tries to landscape her yard (a never-ending project).

Author Website: http://paperdollwrites.blogspot.com/

Twitter Account: http://bit.ly/1ME9ivJ

Facebook Page: http://on.fb.me/1JjeMoI

Thank you so much for visiting today, Laura.

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Welcome back to #TalkoftheTown, a weekly link-up I am co-hosting with Shaz from Jera’s Jamboree. We’d love you to share your book related blog posts with us. Please visit my Talk of the Town page if you are unsure of how a link-up works. We are looking forward to reading your blog posts.

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I read and reviewed Debbie Johnson’s Christmas at the Comfort Food Cafe a few weeks back and absolutely loved it. The lovely people at HarperImpulse are kindly offering one lucky blog reader the chance to win their own copy of this festive book. All you need to do is enter via the Rafflecopter link below (UK only, I am afraid). The giveaway will be live for one week. The prize will be sent to the lucky winner directly from Harper Collins Headquarters. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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As soon as a very intriguing email from publisher Avon landed in my inbox, asking whether I wanted to be part of #AVerySecretBlogTour, I said “yes” without any hesitation. Avon does come up with some brilliant ideas for blog tours and I thought this newest one was just fantastic! Let me tell you a bit more about this blog tour. First of all, it is for Katerina Diamond’s newest release, The Secret. The book itself is not a secret, but furthermore the bloggers taking part in this blog tour are. The identity of the bloggers involved is kept a secret until the day it is their turn on the tour. The night before, Avon will leave some hints as to who the blogger might be… 

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The Secret Garden

(Guest Post by Katerina Diamond)

When I was a child I was given two books for Christmas. They were navy blue, leather-bound and had little colourful illustrations on a few of the pages. I absolutely loved these books and read them from cover to cover so many times; the excitement of turning the page and finding a picture was something that never got old. To this day I still remember the pictures. One of the books was Little Women and the other was The Secret Garden. 

The idea of The Secret Garden is something that still draws me in: a garden that is hidden away from the rest of the world, with a concealed entrance and a beautiful rope swing hanging from a tree branch – that fed the romantic in me almost as much as Jo March and her handsome German Professor Fritz Bhaer in Little Women. Over the years we lost a lot of our belongings and so those books disappeared and I was quite bereft.

The Secret Garden was a dark book, with so much darkness that I remember feeling like it wasn’t meant for children to read in places, and after doing a little research I found out it wasn’t originally a children’s book but was actually a serial in a magazine. The protagonist is quite a dislikeable little girl who learns to grow and become herself within the confines of a secret garden. The idea being that spending time alone and unwatched would uncover her true self, allowing her to grow into a person she had never known she was. I think it was quite a powerful lesson when a lot of stories were telling us that money or love were the answer to all of our problems.

Recently I was in a local second hand shop and I saw those books I’d had – exactly the same ones – and I bought them again. I even wondered if they were my own copies, they were so familiar. I read them as soon as I got them home, the familiarity of the pictures bringing back so many memories (of being alone reading!). They sit on my bookshelf among my Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes books. We all have those favourite books from childhood, and those two were mine.

 

I am hugely excited to be sharing an extract from Claudia Carroll’s newest release, All She Ever Wished For, with you today. I finished reading this book last night and it is absolutely brilliant!

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‘Tess, my sausage, is that you?’ says Bernard, coming out of the kitchen with a sherry in one hand and a carving knife in the other.

‘Hello, you,’ I smile up at him as he bends down to give me a peck on the cheek.

‘Had a good day?’ he asks. ‘Everything sorted about that dratted jury summons?’

‘No, but don’t worry, come Monday morning it will be,’ I tell him confidently.

‘Good, good, good,’ he says absently, steering me past a big mound of books scattered all over the hall and on into the kitchen, where Beatrice is cremating what looks like it once started out in life as a rabbit.

Did I tell you about Bernard? Because he’s just lovely and the total opposite of just about every eejit I’d dated right up till he and I met. With one messer in particular very much to the forefront of my mind at the minute, but we’ll just skate over him like he never existed. Mainly because that particular chapter of my life is now buried deep in the back of my mind, padlocked and labelled ‘Do not, on any account, enter’.

Trust me, you don’t want to know.

Anyway, back to Bernard who’s a big man, portly and greying, but with just the loveliest soft brown eyes. Gentle, kind eyes. He’s also a full fifteen years older than me. He just turned forty-three last year and before he and I met, he quite literally hadn’t dated since he was in college. And even that relationship petered out after just a few months.

In fact, half of me suspects that’s the primary reason why Desmond and Beatrice were so welcoming to me right from day one. Up until Bernard and I started dating, I think they’d pretty much written off their only son as being neither gay nor straight, but in that grey hinterland in between. You know, a confirmed bachelor. One of those asexual people, who’d just rather have a nice cup of tea than dip a toe into the dating pond, purely to avoid all the emotional messiness involved.

His fellow college professors had long ago written him off as a young fogey in the William Hague mode and all the students he lectures had jokingly nicknamed him Billy Bunter because of his size, when, to everyone’s astonish­ment, he suddenly started dating anew. True, he and I were a bit of an odd couple at the beginning, and attracted much head shaking and commenting behind our backs along the lines of, ‘it’ll never last’.

Even now, from the outside we look like a bit of a mismatch. There’s Bernard, in his Clark Kent glasses wearing a crumpled linen suit, dandruff all over the collar and his tie on a bit skew-ways. Whereas here’s me still in my work gear of a Lycra top, leggings, trainers and the warmest fleece I own – insurance against the cold of this house, which even in high summer never seems to get as much as a single ray of sunlight and is permanently freezing.

Even the way we met was a bit unusual and I’m only praying that his best man, a fellow professor, doesn’t raise the subject in his wedding speech. Smash Fitness, you see, the gym where I work as an instructor, is on Nassau Street, slap bang in the middle of town and just across the road from City College, where Bernard lectures.

Anyway, cut to January two years ago and Bernard decided that he was developing a bit of a middle-aged spare tyre (and I hate to use the politically incorrect term ‘porker’, but in his case it was only the truth). In the spirit of New Year’s resolutions, he decided that the only thing that would do him was to join a gym. And so gung-ho was he about his new fitness regime that he even booked a few full-on gut-burning sessions with a personal trainer.

Which is where I came in. But being brutally honest, this was no Hollywood ‘meet cute’. I never really had that whole love-at-first-sight thunderbolt when I gave Bernard his first fitness assessment at the gym. Instead I took one look at this greying, overweight older man and if anything felt pity for the poor sod as I put him through a one-to-one boot camp class.

Boot camp at Smash Fitness, by the way, involves your client doing a range of squats, lunges and press-ups, while the trainer yells all manner of motivational phrases in their face like, ‘faster, harder, higher! Gimme ten more! Come on, burn it off . . . work through the pain!’ We’re actively encouraged to err on the savage side with our clients, as my boss operates under the perverse notion that the tougher and more insulting you are to people, the more likely they are to keep coming back.

It’s not my way though. Personally, I prefer to encourage clients and cheerlead them towards their fitness goals, reminding them of how far they’ve come and how well they’re doing and that’s exactly the way I treated Bernard from the word go.

God love him though, he got so sweaty and red in the face when I first put him up on a treadmill, I really thought the guy might have a heart attack.

After a meagre ten minutes of what he claimed was medieval torture, he begged for mercy.

‘I’m so terribly sorry,’ he panted, gulping for air, ‘but I’m afraid I’ve got pain in my hamstring muscles that haven’t been used in decades.’

Typical Bernard. Unfailingly polite even when on the brink of an aneurysm. So just to make sure he got value from the full hour he’d paid for, I offered to take a look at his diet, to see what improvements could be made there. It’s fairly standard practice at Smash Fitness to take clients off wheat, gluten, dairy, alcohol and sugar for a full six weeks and if clients can only stick to it, they’ll soon start to look and feel unbelievably fantastic when they see visible results. Of course, Bernard nearly baulked at this when he realised that all his much-loved teatime sherries were now well and truly out, but I held firm.

Anyway, our session was finished and he was about to go his way and I mine, when he suddenly stopped me in my tracks.

‘Tess,’ he panted, still red-faced, sweaty and out of breath. ‘I’m absolutely determined to do this correctly, you know, in for a penny, in for a pound and all that.’

‘Good for you, you won’t regret it,’ I smiled, thinking how posh the English accent made him seem. The guy actually sounded a bit like Stephen Fry.

‘The thing is, your website says that the gym offers an at-home service, where a trainer will call to your house with smoothies and then whisk you off for a brisk morning jog, isn’t that correct?’

‘Absolutely,’ I said, delighted and relieved that I hadn’t scared him off fitness for life. ‘We can call to your home or to your workplace any time that suits you.’

‘Then how’s tomorrow morning for you?’ he asked, taking off his specs and looking at me a little bit shyly.

‘Well, normally we have a rota of personal trainers and I’m afraid I’m not scheduled for tomorrow morning.’

‘Yes, that’s all well and good, but the thing is some of the other trainers are quite brutal, almost to the point of being sadistic here, I find. So if it’s quite alright, I think I’d really prefer it if it was you. In fact, I don’t want it to be anyone else except you,’ he added, the big brown eyes almost pleading with me.

What can I say? My heart went out to the poor guy and I found myself saying yes.

So the following morning I trooped around to his house at 7 a.m., with a kale, carrot and Brussels sprout smoothie, which, trust me, may look like a glass of mowed grass, but doesn’t taste nearly as revolting as it sounds.

I am very excited to share an extract of Jane Lythell’s newest release Woman of the Hour with you today. I am a huge fan of Jane’s books and was highly anticipating this newest one. I am about half-way through this book and it is fantastic!

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ABOUT THE BOOK

Meet Liz Lyon: respected TV producer, stressed-out executive, guilty single mother… woman of the hour.

StoryWorld is the nation’s favourite morning show, and producer Liz Lyon wants to keep it that way. Her job is to turn real-life stories into thrilling TV – and keep a lid on the scandals and backbiting that happen off-stage.

But then simmering tensions erupt at the station, trapping Liz in a game of one-upmanship where she doesn’t know the rules. As the power struggle intensifies, can Liz keep her cool and keep her job? Does she even want to?

In this gripping novel of power, rivalry and betrayal, Jane Lythell draws on her experiences of working in the glamorous, pressurised world of live TV.

EXTRACT

CHAPTER ONE

SEPTEMBER: StoryWorld TV station, London Bridge ‘It’s not true, is it?’ Simon was standing by my door and I beckoned him in. I know you shouldn’t have favourites but Simon is the best researcher I’ve ever worked with. He’s a finisher, never overlooks any detail and is great both with members of the public and presenters. He closed the door behind him. ‘There’s an ugly rumour circulating that the new job’s gone to a daughter of the great and the good,’ he said. You can’t keep anything secret in a TV station. It’s the leakiest place on earth. I sighed but said nothing. ‘Liz?’ he persisted. ‘I’m afraid so. Thumbscrews were applied.’ I was being indiscreet saying that. I should have held the management line and pretended that I had given the researcher role to Harriet Dodd on merit. But I was fed up about it too. Harriet is the daughter of Edward Dodd who edits a national newspaper and is a friend of our MD Saul Relph. What I didn’t tell Simon was that Saul had called me into his office and told me that his friend Edward Dodd was worried about his daughter and he wanted her to be taught the meaning of hard work. It would be a major favour if we would take her on and train her up. I had resisted but Saul had added that my taking her on would help the whole station. Simon was giving me an old-fashioned look. ‘It’s a three month attachment. I’ve made it clear that if she doesn’t make the grade she’s out,’ I said. Simon leaned forward and picked up the glass paperweight that Ben, my ex-husband, bought me on our falling-in-love trip to Venice. We had gone over to Murano to choose it. Simon gazed at the colourful swirls that orbited inside the glass sphere. ‘How do you bear it?’ he said. ‘Because I have to.’ He put the glass globe down delicately. ‘OK.’ I knew Simon wouldn’t shop me to the others. Given the amount of TV we have to produce, I have a ridiculously small team of three researchers and a runner. I used to have three experienced researchers and we could manage our output, although we were working at full stretch. But Roomana had left recently to work at a rival company as an assistant producer. I had expected to appoint a seasoned researcher in her place. Instead, we were going to have to train up Harriet, a complete novice, and I knew this would put a strain on us all. My team is small because most of what we produce is sofa television. This entails getting a range of guests into the studio to be interviewed by Fizzy Wentworth, our star presenter. We also run pre-recorded stories on our show, but many of these are supplied by independent production companies; hence my tiny team. The phone on my desk rang and it was Henry, the floor manager. ‘You’d better get down here quick. Dianne Lucas won’t come out of make-up. Says her hair looks a fright,’ he said. I hurried downstairs to the make-up room on the ground floor. I had booked the actor Dianne Lucas as our interview of the day. She’s no longer an A-lister but she is still a name and she’s written this steamy memoir about a love affair she had with a much younger man at the height of her fame. She kept the affair secret at the time. Maybe she needs the money now because she’s been extremely graphic about the affair and it is being serialised in one of the tabloids. I slipped into make-up and the moment I saw Dianne’s fraught face in the mirror I knew this was a woman on the edge. Her eyes moved up and met mine in the mirror. I saw anger in her eyes, an anger she was barely containing. Why the hell had the publishers put her up for this interview? Live television is a tough gig and I’ve noticed before how actors can go to pieces when they don’t have their scripts to hide behind. ‘I can’t go on with my hair like this,’ she said, making a tragic grimace which made me think of one of those theatre masks with the lips turned down dramatically. Make-up mirrors can be unforgiving with all the light they throw on the face and Dianne’s hair, which had been overdyed, hung limply around her cheeks and drained her face of colour. Ellen, our head of make-up, was applying blusher to her cheekbones. ‘Maybe if we pinned your hair up?’ Ellen suggested. She and I both made soothing, complimentary noises as Dianne’s hair was teased up into a bun and false hair was added to give it more body. I slipped into flattery mode. I hate the way I am able to do this so easily. ‘Now we can see your lovely cheekbones much better,’ I said. I watched Ellen working fast and expertly and tried not to panic as I thought of Fizzy sitting on the sofa with no one to talk to. Fizzy could only spend so much time going through the newspapers. ‘Your book was such a revelation; so authentic. I’d hate our viewers to miss the chance of hearing from you,’ I said,  touching her on the arm and helping her to her feet. I knew I was laying it on thick but if it got Dianne Lucas out of make-up and into the studio I was doing my job. She gave a parting look at the mirror, pulled her shoulders back and raised her chin; I could imagine her doing that as she stood backstage in a theatre just before she made an entrance. I hoped her professionalism as an actor would carry her through as I walked with her to the studio door. Henry the floor manager took her in to be miked up. I hurried to the gallery to watch the interview. We are in voice contact with Fizzy from the gallery via an earpiece and I whispered to her to take this gently as Dianne was fragile. Fizzy gave a tiny nod to show that she had got my message. As Dianne sat down on the sofa Fizzy leaned towards her, holding her book face out to camera, and said in a warm voice: ‘Welcome to StoryWorld, Dianne, and thank you so much for coming in this morning. What a great read this is. I found it a very honest account of love.’ ‘Love!’ Dianne Lucas hissed at her. ‘What does that word even mean?’ Fizzy did not react to Dianne’s aggression and ploughed on. ‘Well, I agree that there are many different types of love, but what you seem to be talking about here, very candidly I thought, is a deep physical attraction between two people, an attraction that transcended the age difference.’ ‘No! That is prurient nonsense. It was a meeting of souls,’ Dianne said very coldly. I thought that was a bit rich as the book describes their first kiss and their first shag with relish and later goes on about how rejuvenating it was to have a much younger lover. ‘Ask her what her happiest memory of the relationship is,’ I whispered to Fizzy who was now flicking through the book to give herself a moment. ‘I was wondering what your happiest memory is of the relationship, Dianne, as clearly there were deep emotions.’ Dianne narrowed her eyes and I felt sorry for Fizzy. ‘Did you read the book?’ ‘Yes indeed, wonderful.’ She hadn’t. We had summarised it for her. ‘The relationship was torment from beginning to end,’ Dianne Lucas said, putting on the tragic face for which she is famous. It was a car crash of an interview and I asked the director to come out of it early. He shot me a sympathetic look. He knew I was in for a mauling from Julius. Every morning there is a post-mortem meeting on that day’s show chaired by Julius Jones who is our director of programmes. He makes notes on each item and the show is pulled apart, and occasionally praised, in front of assembled senior colleagues. We have all come to expect more shredding than praise at these meetings. I knew Julius would have a go at me for booking Dianne Lucas because it had been one of the most uncomfortable interviews we’d broadcast in ages. I got myself a coffee from the staff café and joined the others in the conference room. Julius kept us waiting. Fizzy was already in there and I sat down next to her. One thing I’ve learned over the years is to be careful how you treat presenters when they’ve just come off air. For all their apparent confidence in front of the camera most presenters are deeply insecure and needy people. They need the love of the viewers to make them feel alive. When they come off air they are still full of adrenalin and cannot take any criticism. It is best to praise them and take it up later if an interview has gone wrong. ‘Well done for handling Dianne. I know she was a nightmare,’ I said. ‘She’s aged very badly,’ Fizzy replied with a slight shudder. Fizzy is a woman who sets great store by how people look. She is thirty-eight but she looks younger. She is pretty rather than beautiful, with her strawberry-blonde hair and pointed chin, more of a girl-next-door type who viewers can relate to, rather than drop-dead gorgeous. Julius entered the room and there was a palpable change in the atmosphere. No one says anything until they’ve had an indication of which way he is going to jump. Sometimes you can tell what his mood is going to be simply by the way he sits down and spreads his arms on the table. Julius is handsome, though in a rather bland way. He’s got light brown hair cut short, hazel eyes, a straight nose and full lips. He looks clean-cut and preppy but he is unpredictable, a chameleon, and his face can change from pleasant to menacing in a moment. Even his name is a sham. He was born and raised Nigel Jones but changed his name to Julius Jones when he started working in television. He’s the man who spotted Fizzy when she was a PA and he has moulded her into the queen of live TV. He is a difficult man but I have learned a great deal from him about how to produce hit shows. He has a genuine talent for popular TV and knows what issues and personalities will connect with the audience. Now his full lips were stretching in a humourless line as he looked directly at me. ‘What did we get out of Dianne Lucas today? Three sentences? Our interview of the day!’ ‘I’m sorry. She was a disaster and I think Fizzy did really well under the circumstances,’ I said. ‘That’s a given. But doesn’t Lucas have a reputation for being a nut job?’ ‘Neurotic certainly, but her book is getting a lot of attention and—’ ‘Why didn’t you pre-record her?’ he snapped. ‘That’s the wisdom of hindsight,’ I said. To my surprise Bob, the news editor, spoke up in my defence. ‘To be fair, we do always say that live TV is better than pre-recorded,’ he said. Julius gave him a dangerous look. ‘Rubbish. Liz should have predicted we would have trouble with her,’ he said. Bob wouldn’t let it go. ‘I’m just saying that we pride ourselves on our immediacy, don’t we?’ This was true. Live TV is more risky than pre-recorded TV because you can’t control what will happen and we are encouraged to go live whenever possible. It was Julius who came up with our slogan: Real people, real life, real stories live. ‘Someone with your experience; not good enough, Liz.’ His hectoring tone rang out across the table at me. Julius left it at that and turned to the next item. But he would have noted that Bob had stuck up for me and he wouldn’t have liked it. I felt grateful for the support because Julius had made me feel inadequate even though he was one hundred per cent right about Dianne Lucas. It is well known that she is strange. There are stories of her holding seances in her sitting room to get in touch with her dead first husband. I should have thought about her eccentricities and sent a crew to interview her about her book. But why did Julius always feel the need to belittle everyone all the time? As we left the meeting I mouthed a thank you to Bob who gave me a small nod. Bloody Dianne Lucas and her stupid hair; she was going straight onto my blacklist. Oh yes, I keep my own secret blacklist of guests who I will never book again. They get on my list if they fail on camera, as Dianne did today, or if they act out of order. I have always found it significant how a celebrity treats junior members of staff, like our runners who get them a coffee and book them a cab. Many a celebrity will put on the most charming face when sitting on the sofa with the cameras running, but I’ve seen some of them behave horribly to the runners; sneering or snarling at them for no reason. They go straight onto my blacklist. I enjoy the fact that they don’t realise they are reducing their time in the limelight because of their treatment of staff they think don’t matter. I sometimes wonder how I have survived in live television this long. It can be a bloody and brutal business. When I started working in television seventeen years ago I was idealistic and perhaps a bit foolish. I was working on a series called Celebrating Our Unsung Heroes. Julius Jones was then head of features and he tasked me with finding a coal miner who was on the point of retirement after a life spent underground. We planned to make a big fuss of the miner and his wife. We’d bring them up to London to sit on the sofa with our popular breakfast stars, screen a brief package about his life of hardship and then beam in a pre-recorded farewell from his workmates which was guaranteed to reduce his wife, if not the miner, to tears. Bingo. Real people, real feelings, real television, Julius said. It wasn’t easy finding a working miner, nearly all the mines had been shut down, but I did find Albert, a man who had gone down the mines at the age of fifteen. I liked him. He was a proud man. This was a big thing in his life and he had told his village he was going to be on the telly. A group of them had gone down to their social club that morning to watch the live transmission of his interview which was scheduled for eight-fifteen. Julius Jones was in charge of the show that day and he overran the running order by nine minutes, which is unheard of. He was in a rage and he told me he was going to pull the eight-fifteen story. I said you can’t, his whole village are waiting to watch it. He shouted at me: ‘If you can’t fucking deal with this you shouldn’t be on the team. Now get out there and sort it!’ I took Albert and his wife into our café. We made a point of giving our guests a good breakfast after the show, and I had to break the news to them. I was ashamed at how we had treated Albert, as if his life story did not matter. We ate bacon and eggs but I was finding it difficult to swallow the food. As I was escorting them to the taxi we crossed the atrium and the big boss, the MD of StoryWorld, was walking in. Albert stopped him. ‘You let my village down today,’ he said. The MD looked over at me. ‘Is this true?’ I nodded miserably. ‘Albert’s village had gathered to watch his interview. We had to cut it.’ An hour later Julius Jones hauled me into his office and he was incandescent. ‘You naive little bitch! Landing me in it. I won’t forget this.’ But I’m still working at StoryWorld. I was a researcher then and now I’m head of features and Julius Jones has worked his way up to become the director of programmes. He is my boss. I called my team in and we went through the list of who we had booked for the rest of the week. I was under pressure to deliver a strong interview of the day tomorrow. Simon was keen that we go with a member of the public with a human interest story. A single-parent dad called John had written in to our agony aunt, Betty. ‘John’s wife upped and left him with their three young children. He’s given up work and built his life around his kids, but he’s worried now because his daughter is hitting teenagehood. He feels she needs a woman around to talk about girl stuff and does Betty have any advice for him?’ Simon said as he passed me the email. I read what John had written and it was the most marvellous letter. ‘It’s wonderful, Simon, but he’s an unknown.’ ‘I’ve spoken to him on the phone. He’s a natural. He came out with all these brilliant funny stories about his kids. And look at him.’ Simon handed me a photo he’d printed of John seated on a sofa with his three children climbing over him, two boys and a girl. The sofa was worn, the room was shabby but the kids looked happy. He was a good-looking man with a friendly open face. ‘He is rather attractive,’ I said. I handed the photo to Molly, my other researcher. ‘I wonder why he hasn’t got himself a girlfriend then,’ she said. Molly and Simon get on but there is an inevitable rivalry between them for stories. She was pushing her idea for Fizzy to interview a footballer who had brought out his memoir; actually it was more of a misery memoir than a sporting one. ‘It’s not only about football, it’s also about his tough childhood and it’s surprisingly well written and revealing,’ she said. ‘Why does everyone think footballers are stupid?’ Simon said. I was reading the back of the book. ‘And he wrote it himself? Not a ghostwriter?’ ‘All his own words…’ ‘Maybe next week, Moll; I’m not keen to do two book stories back to back.’ ‘I’ve got this feeling John from Sheffield will be great. I think Fizzy will love him. We get her to empathise with him and she can ask viewers to email or tweet us any suggestions about dealing with teenage girls,’ Simon said. ‘That’s Betty’s territory,’ I said. Betty is our formidable agony aunt and she covers these types of issues on her weekly slot, but she was away doing a lecture tour in Canada. It was high risk but in the end I decided we would invite John from Sheffield as our interview of the day. Some of our most successful items have involved ordinary people and Simon’s instincts are sound. Chalk Farm flat, 7.15 p.m. I was home by seven-fifteen tonight which wasn’t too bad. I pay Janis, a woman who lives locally, to be with my daughter Florence until I get back. Flo complains it’s stupid because at fourteen years of age she is fine to be left on her own, but she gets on well with Janis who has been her childminder for years. Janis cooks her supper and they talk. I learn all kinds of useful stuff about Flo from Janis, which I’m grateful for but which also makes me sad because Flo stopped confiding in me a while ago. When she was younger we were incredibly close and she was my best cuddly little girl. Janis left and I knocked gently and popped my head round Flo’s bedroom door. One of the great fights between us has been about how I barge into her room unannounced. Now I try to remember to knock first. Flo’s bedroom was in near darkness except for the glow of her tablet which lit up her face. I love that face more than any other face in the world. She did not smile when she saw me but she did not scowl either. ‘Had a good day, sweetheart?’ ‘Yeah, OK. Dad called.’ ‘How’s he doing?’ ‘He said Granddad will pick me up if I get the train on Friday.’ ‘Great.’ Every two or three weeks Flo spends the weekend with her dad Ben and his parents in Portsmouth. We have to be flexible about it because Ben works as an aerial photographer and sometimes a big job will come up at the weekend and he can’t see her. Sometimes she will go down on a Friday night, which I prefer because it gives her longer with her dad. ‘I’m making chilli. Do you fancy some?’ She shook her head. ‘No, ta. I’m stuffed.’ She was keen to get back to her tablet so I closed her door. It was one of our better exchanges because recently we rarely talk without angry words passing between us. As I chopped the onions I reflected that I would have a free weekend. Ben and I set up the weekend arrangements after we divorced and I try hard not to let it slip. Before our split I couldn’t understand those women who try to stop contact and who bad-mouth their exes, especially when they do it in front of the children. But afterwards, when things got ugly, I would find myself biting back my anger and frustration in front of Flo. There was a lot of anger and disappointment to process after ten years of being together and I’m sure she must have overheard our heated words from time to time.

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