On their reluctant drive over to Christmas dinner, the sisters come across a waif-like young girl, hiding with her baby in a disused bus shelter. Seizing upon the perfect excuse for returning to their own warm hearth, Hester and Harriet insist on bringing Daria and Milo home with them.
But with the knock at their front door the next day by a sinister stranger looking for a girl with a baby, followed quickly by their cousins' churlish fifteen-year-old son, Ben, who also appears to be seeking sanctuary, Hester and Harriet's carefully crafted peace and quiet quickly begins to fall apart.
With dark goings-on in the village, unlooked-for talents in Ben, and the deeper mysteries in Daria's story, Hester and Harriet find their lives turned upside down. And, perhaps, it's exactly what they need.
1. If you could work with any other author, who would it be and why?
What a fabulous idea! I'd want to work with another woman for sure but the two writers who sprang immediately to mind are - alas! - no longer with us: Bernice Rubens and Beryl Bainbridge. Both writers make me shout with laughter, their sly, mordant wit undercutting the narrative, constantly confounding expectations. They wrote with such honesty and beadiness about women, their frailties and secret lives. Who wouldn't want to learn from them?
2. What would be a typical working day for you? When and where do you write?
Early morning swim to clear my head and tease out any knotty plot points, while trying to avoid the bully-boys who refuse to give way in the water, damn them. Strong black coffee. Quick scan of the Guardian (not allowed the sudoku or crossword until I've done my work), with Radio 4 in the background. Into my study by 9, ideally. Move cat obscuring the screen. Review yesterday's progress. Try to retrieve deathless prose or new train of thought that floated into brain in the small hours. Fail. Shoo cat off keyboard. Get something - anything - onto the screen. More coffee. Move cat off the printer. Repeat ad nauseam (pretty much every day).
3. What is the hardest part of the writing for you?
Switching off. Once I'm off on a journey with my characters, they take over my life.
4. When and why did you first start writing?
I always have. Toe-curlingly bad poetry as a youngster (come on, we all do, don't we?), bits and pieces for performance, short stories. The decision to make writing my full-time occupation after years of dabbling in fiction and play-writing followed the deaths of two friends in close succession in the same year that I spent a week on a creative writing course on a Greek island. I suddenly thought, 'you only get one stab at this, so carpe diem.'
5. How did you come up with the idea for your book?
I was doing an MA in Creative Writing at Nottingham Trent University and I wrote a short story about these two assertive, rather cantankerous, sisters who happen upon an East European girl and her tiny baby in an old bus shelter. Readers liked the characters and said they wanted more. I was in the throes of completing a play at the time but my dear friend and writing buddy set me a challenge to write three chapters of a novel a week. I do love a challenge so I said yes and, quick as wink, Hester and Harriet took up residence. They've never left.
6. Are you a big reader? If so, what are you reading now?
I am a huge reader and have been since I could read. And I read quickly, so holidays, until I got a Kindle, were always a problem as a suitcase full of books is so damned heavy! I'll read anything – cereal packets, bus tickets, the back pages of other people's newspapers – if I don't have a book to hand. Currently, I'm tearing through Kate Atkinson's A God in Ruins, which, although it doesn't feature Jackson Brodie (bring him back!), is a engrossing, witty read that wears its research lightly.
7. Do you have any advice for other aspiring writers?
If you really want to write because there's nothing you'd rather be doing, write. Write every day: a chapter, a paragraph, a sentence. Carry a notebook everywhere. Eavesdrop. Read your work aloud. Learn to appreciate the positive things that readers, agents and editors highlight about your work: why does one always light immediately on the negative? Cultivate critical but supportive readers amongst your friends and listen to their comments. Don't be precious: your friends have read hundreds of books: they know what they like; your editors have developed hundreds of books: they know what works. Live – despite the setbacks (and there will be many) – in hope.