on June 28th 2018
A sparkling and hilarious romantic comedy! Perfect for fans of Jo Watson, Gill Sims and Kirsty Greenwood…
What do you do when the love of your life is already somebody else’s dad…?
Brown-eyed, brunette, 25.
Enjoys walking barefoot across shards of broken home. Likes loaded silences, resentment and insomnia. Dislikes romantic weekends, lie-ins and any chance of future happiness.
Former GSOH. Developing PTSD.
Ella Shawe was undomesticated, unattached and uninhibited.
Until she met Dan.
Sexy, charming and funny, Dan ticked all the right boxes and Ella threw herself head-first into the whirlwind romance.
But now she’s moved into his family home, complete with two demanding children and a hyperactive dog.
Throw in Dan’s impossibly perfect ex-wife, Ella’s interfering sex therapist mother and the snooty and dismissive mother-in-law from Hell, and Ella is almost ready to throw in the towel.
But, ready or not, Ella is part of the family now, and getting it right for Dan’s kids means getting it right for everyone. She just needs to figure out how to include herself in the mix…
Girlfriend, Interrupted will have you laughing-out-loud, gasping in embarrassment and rooting for Ella all the way. This British romantic comedy is packed full of humour and has a delightful contemporary heroine at its heart.
I had so much fun writing Girlfriend, Interrupted. It’s a coming-of-age, comedy romance, placing 20-something, Ella, into the highs of a new relationship with Coffee Shop owner, Dan, and also the depths of Domesticity, as step-girlfriend to his children.
Meeting someone with children isn’t necessarily what anyone considers, or finds themselves prepared for. So the romantic stakes are threatened by, and dependent on, turning their love affair into a family affair. Dan’s twelve-year-old daughter, Grace, is bored by Ella’s amateur attempts at family weekends. His eight-year-old son, Ethan, leaves Ella riddled with guilt, as he doesn’t say much at all. Dan’s ex-wife, Fitness Instructor, Bryony, is all set to marry Shoe importer, Vic, CEO of Heel the World, and has her own step-issues at the hands of Vic’s demonic twins.
Meanwhile, Ella’s mum, Renee Kershawe, is a Media-darling, Sex Therapist, appalled by Ella’s early-onset, luke-warm, love life. And Dan’s mum, Pippa, remains resolute as the leading lady in Dan’s and her grandchildren’s lives. Soon joining the dysfunction, we meet incorrigible womanizer and hot-boy actor, Jeremiah Layne, and Ella’s best-friend and former flat-mate, Kim, who’s free, and unashamedly single.
Torn between wanting to succeed at home, with needing to perform at work, we meet Ella’s boss, Audrey Steen, arch nemesis, Heather Constantine, and the team at Steen & Heard Communications. The office is a whole new world of burgeoning romance, unbridled lust, and midlife crisis. As the small, PR agency comes under threat from internal enemies, Ella finds herself negotiating with a sink-or-save client and serial man-cat, Saul Bartholomew… and the T’s and C’s do not apply.
Dinner with three authors?
Firstly, I’d invite Stephen King. He may not be renowned for his interest in Romantic Comedy, but his sheer skill and passion for Writing transcends any genre. He’s a maestro for anyone needing advice or inspiration. Next up, I’d place Jackie Collins on the guest list. Her novels met with criticism as trashy, but I admire how she gave female characters permission to make and break the rules. I’d hope Marian Keyes could make it. Her natural, comedic voice, paired with that empathetic approach, make her hugely enjoyable. If you don’t already, follow @MarianKeyes on Twitter. There are so many writers I’d love to invite. If my first three couldn’t make it, let’s say, Oscar Wilde, Nora Efron, and Homer. This could turn into a very late, slightly squiffy, evening. And, you know, great conversation is a three-course meal in itself, and I can certainly talk, so we’d better opt for something light like Tapas.
Five things you must have with you when you write?
The obvious one is my work on a screen. So, in addition, I like a notepad and pen to jot down ideas. A sense of time being my own is essential, as is non-stop Coffee to keep focused, along with a glass of Gin to remind me to have fun with the writing.
What kinds of books do you read?
My reading varies because some is research-based. I’m interested in Psychology and Philosophy, and recently discovered Esther Perel and Isabel Losada, focused on Relationships and Sexuality. I do love a good Biography, and I read a lot about the Film industry. I had a fixation on 1950s cinema, growing up, and later discovered Peter Biskind’s essential books for Movie Nerds. My latest discovery in Contemporary Fiction is Taylor Jenkins Reid, who writes brilliantly within Relationships and Family dynamics. Gillian Flynn flies the flag for female antiheroes, and in Crime and Thriller, I enjoy Dennis Lehane and Kevin Sampson. Rebecca Miller and Helen Walsh portray Character and explore Feminist issues, bravely and beautifully. I’ll always read the latest from Megan Abbott, Anne Tyler, Jane Green, Candace Bushnell, Jay McInerney and David Nicholls, because you’re guaranteed a great read. Luckily, I get to spend time reading daily, commuting by train.
Who is your celebrity crush?
I’ve adored Keanu Reeves, and all of his characters, for 30-years. I can’t wait for the new John Wick and Bill and Ted’s movies. Can we ask Keanu to dinner, too?
What’s next for you?
My third book is set in the fictitious suburbs of Fernleigh, and tells the stories of a group of women in the midst of marriage. Katherine Wagner is suddenly widowed, and becomes a single-parent, as well as a reluctantly, single woman. Next door, Erika Ford suspects her husband isn’t the man she should have married, as her former incarnation of the young, Erika Carter, takes control of her life. Janice Morelli is ravenously in love with her husband, Gino, but questions her own happiness, as she discovers her daughter’s take on Relationships and Sexuality. They’re such a great bunch of women. I hope you’re going to love them.
Chapter Three: Recipe for Disaster
Back in our early days together, Grace and Ethan used to ask if they’d be seeing me over the weekend and would erupt with ‘cool’s and ‘yes’s, whenever Dan said that they would. Nowadays ‘cool’ was the last thing Grace thought about having me there, living with her dad, while her little brother didn’t seem to think too much about any of it at all.
I remembered the first time I stayed over. Stepping into last night’s clothes the next morning. The faint breath of last night’s perfume. Every part of me every bit as delighted in daylight. We’d sank deeper into his bed that first time, until it became an ocean of us. Cinnamon warmth against white, cotton sheets. Finding each other, losing each other, all in the same second. His body seemed to swim against, beneath, inside me, for hours. Every time I closed my eyes, I heard him sighing into my hair as if his life depended on it. His kisses fossilized against my lips. Until it was suddenly morning.
A Lego man, broken on the bedside, as I looked for my loosened earring.
A small, pink dressing gown on the handle of the bedroom next door.
At first, those early traces of his children seemed to hint at the fact that he was a good guy. A really good guy. It didn’t seem so difficult, imagining those two worlds aligning. But now, here I was. Holding Dan’s hand in an oven glove.
Dan and Ethan trundled into the kitchen as I was thinking about all this. Remembering how I got there, as I set down the last plate, finally taking a seat next to Grace.
While the kids would probably have preferred me cooking up some Disney-style mission to get their parents back together that night, I’d trundled around the supermarket after work. I’d decided maybe Mum was right. A home-cooked sit-down meal might make us feel like an actual family. Deep down, I knew that was quite a lot to ask of anyone’s first attempt at Italian, but a hell of a lot to ask of mine.
I knew the basics, but not on a family-scale, with children and fresh ingredients involved. When I got to the part when you were supposed to brown the mince, I was tempted to prop up the sun lounger and make a Pina Colada. And how the hell did you sauté an onion? Sort-a cook it? Unless you had a mother like mine, who refused to pass on domestic advice in favour of administering feminist theory, grown-up girls like me were already supposed to know how to do these things. So far, I’d turned to my mother for advice and all I’d got was a stupid vibrator. That’s what she’d given me over lunch. And, if that wasn’t inappropriate enough, it was a glow-in-the-dark, cerise pink one, called The Pulveriser.
‘This looks great.’ Dan reached for the pepper mill, making me feel like the type of sophisticated woman who serves mints and decaf before the carriages arrive at midnight. My old flat mate, Kim, could vouch for the fact that my signature dish was Cheesy Beans on Toast, which I still say is perfect for every occasion. Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner. In sickness and in health. I’d somehow gone from snacking my way through being single, to attempting to cater for a family of four without so much as a well-used chopping block to my name.
‘I’m really not that hungry…’ Grace gave a reluctant nod as her dad offered some grated Parmesan. She’d been in a foul mood since her mum and soon-to-be stepdad, Vic, had dropped them off. First of all she didn’t like the clothes her mum had packed. Then she announced my lasagne tasted funny.
‘Does it?’ I was well aware it was a possibility.
‘Tastes fine to me.’ Dan carried on making conversation about Sports Day.
‘Urgh … what’s in this thing?’ Grace grabbed her glass, washing away the taste, making her brother roar with laughter.
Dan finally looked up and told her to stop being so ridiculous. But she wasn’t being ridiculous. Ridiculous could be fun; leaving us laughing around the table while she made a wig out of her spaghetti or adopted a terrible Italian accent. Grace was actually being quite smart. Figuring out if the best way to hurt my feelings was through her own stomach. She was acting like some kind of dining room Voodoo doll. I couldn’t take it to heart. My lasagne was burnt around the edges and all I could taste was my own disappointment. I’d have been quite happy to save Grace the effort. Grab us a few packets of crisps and hang up my apron for good.
Dan went back to his food, while I tried to ignore the dead-weight scrape of Grace’s fork. Conversation reached a chest-tightening halt. The opening cords of ‘Hungry like the Wolf’ lightened the atmosphere, but singing along to the ‘Do-Do-Doos’ only made the whole thing seem worse. I’ve never been very good with silence. I always get the urge to cause a distraction, which usually involves making a complete and utter show of myself. True to form, because if nothing else, at least I was consistent, I grabbed the nearest props and stuffed my mouth full of garlic dough balls for the kids: ‘I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse…’
I held up my hands, pretending to be Marlon Brando.
Dan almost smiled. The kids looked at me like I was deranged, because obviously no one their age had ever heard of The Godfather. Or Marlon Brando.
I started to chew, but gave up for the sake of my jawbone, discretely emptying my mouth into my napkin.
‘Nice manners…’ Grace muttered, as Ethan gave a snort of amusement. ‘This still tastes weird.’ She slowly, almost painfully, eyed her food. ‘Doesn’t it, Ethe?’
She issued a threatening glance across the table before her little brother agreed that they only really like daddy’s cooking.
‘I like his cooking the best too,’ I admitted. ‘But your dad’s been dropping major hints about my lack of culinary skills.’ I gave Dan a wry smile. ‘So you’ll have to blame him.’
‘That’s not true.’ Dan shook his head, wearing that deep frown that always made me want to sit on his lap. ‘I just wondered why you were trying to make an egg mayonnaise sandwich with raw eggs.’
‘Eggs are fattening.’ Grace sneered at her plate, her chin cobbled with concern. ‘I don’t even want to think how many calories there are in this thing.’
‘It’s good for you.’ I reached for a second serving of Parmesan, taking my cue from Dan. Pretending we were all having a lovely time, all the while thinking how I wouldn’t have even known how to spell ‘calories’ at her age, let alone count them. ‘Freshly made.’ I smiled.
‘Yeah, we all know you made it, Ella. You’ve only told us, like —’ She rolled her eyes — ‘a thousand times. That doesn’t mean it’s not fattening?’
She always did that. Turned her statement into a question whenever she was talking down to people way too old to know anything.
‘Grace.’ Dan gave her the briefest of looks and turned to Ethan with a wink.
‘Well!’ She fixed on her dad. ‘Grandma said I’ve never been able to digest heavy dishes like this,’ she said. ‘Grandma can’t eat stuff like this either. She’s given up dairy now, too.’
I’d already guessed it was grandma who Grace had been chatting to on her mobile earlier. Documenting my every move like I was on a reality TV show. Both of them conferring on this weekend’s excuse to vote me out:
“Ella Shawe, you have failed this week’s task. The public have spoken. You can’t cook for shit. You have 30-seconds to leave The Step-family Robinson House…”
‘And I’ve got my final bridesmaid dress fitting next week,’ Grace pointed out, aligning herself to a good cause. ‘Mum’s practically living off Superfood Smoothies. Some of us care about our figures…’
She gave me a glance which implied I definitely wasn’t one of them.
Wasn’t I? Fair enough, you’d hardly have had me down as a health nut, not like the kid’s mum. Bryony was into Weight Training, Yoga, Pilates. All that palaver. She could probably twist the tops off her Superfood Smoothies using only Mindfulness Meditation and her Kegels. But I wasn’t being peer-pressured into a leotard by a twelve-year-old.
I sipped at my water. Dan chewed on lasagne. I was grateful at least someone was eating it. While Ethan told us all about the new amazing football boots Vic had got for him, I passed on the rest of the dough balls. I gave up any hope of my Jamie Oliver-inspired, family-friendly version of Friday night. I was done with the cooking. I didn’t need food. I needed wine.
‘I meant to say —’ I noticed the chirpiness of my own voice, the way I always sounded when the kids were around — ‘Mum asked if we wanted tickets to that new show she was telling me about? It’s one Friday, middle of next month. I’ve got the date somewhere on my phone…’
‘Great.’ Dan nodded along. ‘But we’re pretty full-on for the next few weeks, you know? We’re at the zoo next Saturday.’ He picked up his napkin and turned to Grace. ‘What date’s Mum’s wedding?’
‘The 8th. Three weeks, Dad.’
I hadn’t realized the wedding was that close.
Or that Bryony was seriously going through with marrying Vic.
‘Wow, that’s gone quickly.’
‘It’s right there,’ Grace insisted. ‘I put it on the calendar.’
Grace was always putting things on the calendar. Every weekend was outlined with her and Ethan’s arrival, as if it might slip our minds otherwise.
‘It’s my birthday first!’
‘I know, Ethe. That’s what I meant,’ Dan said. ‘Are you still looking forward to the zoo?’
Ethan gave a nod, concentrating on his dad as he took a long drink of juice, the way he always did while he was eating dinner — stopping halfway through, downing the entire glass. As if working through his plate was as exhausting as crossing the desert.
‘We’re still coming here, aren’t we? After the evening reception, I mean?’ Grace said, back to the wedding. ‘Mum said you’re picking us up from the hotel?’
‘Yeah, as far as I know…’ Dan turned to me. ‘It might be a bit full-on. The next few weeks…’
I agreed. It was like being part of some intense rehab programme, being in the middle of a stepfamily. Lots of day trips and visiting relatives. The weekends were starting to pile up with a stack of events and arrangements I only found out about after Dan remembered to tell me, and, he was adamant, everyone else made on his behalf. When you lived on the outskirts of somebody else’s family, there were phone calls, texts, conversations, situations, going on above your head and under your nose the whole time. Arrangements being made. Events being planned. While all you could do was to stand on the sidelines, not sure whether to cheer everybody on, or roll up your sleeves. I was a cheerleader with two left feet. It was like that dance game I used to play with Grace. Never knowing where my next step was coming from until the very last minute. The moment you put a foot wrong, off went the alarms.
‘So, if you do go out,’ Grace said, not only keen on having an itinerary but always the first to devise a back-up plan, ‘is Grandma coming over?’
‘If we decide to go…’ Dan took another mouthful of pasta.
‘I’d really like to go if we could?’ I tried not to sound too keen. ‘I mean, if your mum’s free to look after the kids and everything…’
‘Kids are what goats have,’ Grace muttered, taking a drink.
For a split second, I hoped she choked.
I knew asking Dan to give up a night with the kids was breaking an unspoken agreement. But the idea of spending the evening at the theatre, instead of in front of some God-awful game show only the kids liked, was growing on me.
‘Yeah, I’ll ask,’ he said. ‘Or, you know, you could go. If you want?’
I couldn’t remember the last time we’d had a Saturday night out together.
Going out alone, turning up single, took the shine off it.
‘Are you going to wear that dress?’ Grace actually looked interested, far more interested than her dad. ‘That long one you were looking at before?’
‘I think so.’
I wondered if fashion was the way forward with her? Then remembered I knew nothing about it. Kim had always been my stylist. You could give Kim half a ball of string and an Argyle sock and she’d whip up something absolutely fantastic.
‘Is it new or something?’
‘No, I just haven’t worn it in ages. In fact —’ I glanced at Dan, the dress taking me back to that first night together — ‘I think the last time I wore it was when we went to that retro cinema thing. Remember? Movie Heist Night. We watched Ocean’s Eleven? Or it might have been Twelve? How many of those films did they make?’
I’d watched that film wrapped up in a gorgeous pashmina I’d borrowed from Kim. She’d let out a round of applause when I’d sloped back home to the flat, dodging innuendos. Trying to pretend I hadn’t been missing in non-stop action with Dan for the last 24-hrs.
‘I like those long dresses. That one of yours is really nice.’
‘Do you think so?’
I was amazed how quickly Grace switched from deep freeze to oven-baked. She actually smiled and ate some of her food without acting like it was melting her teeth.
‘But it looks kind of tight fitting.’ She kept it deceptively light. ‘It’s like my bridesmaid dress. You might want to skip on these big meals, if you’re still going to wear it…’
~~Review by AnnMarie~~
Ella Shawe moves in with her boyfriend Dan, and she goes from being a carefree girlfriend to being a mother of two, at least on the weekends. Her stepchildren, especially 12-year-old Grace can be hard work. Then there is their perfect mother and Dan’s mother who always make Ella feel as if she can do nothing right. It soon becomes apparent to her that life as a stepmother isn’t an easy one, and what makes it worse is that she has no time with Dan where they can just enjoy each other’s company. He seems oblivious to how she is feeling and can’t even see her point of view when she stresses out about something, or when he lets her down in order to help out his ex! Is there any chance of their relationship lasting, or will Ella decide that love isn’t enough?
From what I have written you would think that this is a depressing story, at times it was, but then the author cleverly throws in a LOT of funny moments, even during some of the difficult times that Ella faces. One minute I would be fuming on her behalf then the next I would be laughing at the antics some of the characters were getting up to. If nothing else this book will definitely make you run a gamut of emotions. The characters were believable, yes, even Ella’s mum who is a sex therapist with a toyboy lover. And if the author hasn’t had experience herself with being a part of a stepfamily then she has certainly researched it well because sadly the stress is very real.
I was a little disappointed with the way the book ended, it just seemed too abrupt. I know it leaves the reader open to use their imagination, but I would rather have had a more conclusive ending, maybe even an epilogue. Maybe there is a part two to their story?? I don’t know, but it definitely seems like the story didn’t end satisfactorily.
I have to admit that this book, although well written, wasn’t my cup of tea. I guess I am a reader who likes their romances set in historical times or fantasies that I can escape into rather than a contemporary romance that can be all too real and therefore despite being funny, can still leave me feeling stressed out like the characters. That said, if you like a contemporary romance with some laugh out loud moments amongst the sad, annoying, stressful moments, then you will love this book.
I voluntarily reviewed an advanced copy of this book.