Welcome to another Friday Reads blog. This week we’re talking to romance author Pernille Hughes about her latest novel, Ten Years.
Becca and Charlie have known each other since university.
Becca and Charlies have also hated each other since university.
Until now. Until Ally’s bucket list. The death of their loved one should mean they can go their separate ways and not look back. But completing the list is something neither of them can walk away from.
And sometimes, those who bring out the worst in you, also bring out the very best…
Over the course of ten years, Becca and Charlie’s paths collide as they deal with grief, love and life after Ally.
(Becca and Charlie have received an unexpected email from his fiancée and her best friend, Ally. Ally has apparently scheduled an email asking them to check in on her mother, Valerie, on the first anniversary of her death.)
Valerie suddenly looked around, confused. “I forgot the cucumber sandwiches.”
“I’ll go,” said Charlie, rising. Valerie stayed him with a hand on his knee. “No. You’ve travelled so far. Have a rest.” She wandered out, leaving them alone, watching each other. They’d have to do small talk now.
“You made it then,” he said. How dumb was that?
“Obviously,” she said, taking an exaggerated slurp of her tea. She did it to irritate him. It was habitual. Any needly thing she could do to put him on edge. Best to get in there first, she found – he gave as good as he got. “Can’t get much past you.”
He gave her an unimpressed stare. “You haven’t changed.”
“It’s only been a year. What were you expecting?”
“Hardly expecting, just hoping.” Knob. This was the Charlie she was used to – not the broken shell of last year. He’d stood taller again, too, when he’d walked through the door. Perhaps going away had been for the best.
“And I know why my shirt’s wrinkled, what’s your excuse? You might have made an effort.”
He was admonishing her. He could stuff that. She shrugged at him and rolled her eyes for good measure.
“Maybe it’s called Fashion, grandad,” she said.
He wasn’t convinced. It was an original Katherine Hamnett she’d found in Oxfam, with USE A CONDOM emblazoned across it, which, while sound advice, was, on reflection, not necessarily right for the occasion. At least it was clean. Ish.
Valerie appeared from the hallway, a plate of sandwiches in her hand. “Now then, Becca, are there any nice men around for you at the moment?”
Charlie’s mouth spread to a wider grin as he settled back into his chair and drank his tea. He was only missing the popcorn.
When she and Ally had lounged around here as teens this would have been a regular question from Valerie, an opportunity to snigger about boys and discuss crushes. Valerie wouldn’t be intense about it, it was just fun chatter. Right now though, not so much. Valerie seemed to have forgotten Girl Code. Not asking about boys in front of a boy was definitely carved in stone somewhere. Surely it was a basic law, like the first rule of Fight Club, along with “Don’t sleep with a friend’s BF”, “Don’t sleep with a friend’s ex” and “Don’t sleep with a friend’s dad”. Becca might be quite louche in some ways, but she knew her Girl Code.
“Well, I … um,” she began.
“Yes, Becca, how are things on the man front?” Charlie contributed, and she was inclined to pelt her cucumber sarnie at him. He was enjoying watching her squirm. And then it dawned on her: she needn’t squirm. She was a grown-arsed woman, who had relationships, admittedly very brief ones sometimes, but she was absolutely capable of attracting a man and she should own it. Sitting up straight she spoke to Valerie, soundly ignoring Smug-face on the other side of the table.
“Well, actually Valerie, I’ve been seeing a decent guy for the last two months.”
Valerie’s face went up a rung on the ladder of Pleased. God, Becca loved this woman. Becca vowed there and then to Be More Valerie, not bearing grudges against anyone … OK, mostly anyone. Becca flicked Charlie a quick look. He wasn’t looking so smug now. Ha! He’d clearly wanted her to be as single and sad as he was.
“Tell us about him,” Valerie urged.
“Yes, do,” concurred Charlie, his blue eyes vaguely mocking her under their black lashes.
“Well … it’s still quite new…”
“Two months, dear, that’s not so new.” Valerie was trying to be reassuring.
“And a record, surely?” Charlie added. He leaned across and snaffled another couple of sandwiches and a scone. He was almost close enough for Becca to punch him in the ear. Almost, but not quite.
Welcome Pernille. Have you always wanted to be a writer?
As a child I always told myself stories. As a teen I wanted to be a journalist, but my English teacher told me my writing wasn’t good enough. I didn’t write again for ten years. I was working for Ragdoll, the makers of Teletubbies, when I started having children – four within five years, and I became a stay-at-home mum. Babies are lovely, but their conversation is rubbish, so I could feel my brain shrinking. When my twins were six months I signed up for a correspondence course for Writing for Children. Coming from Children’s TV I thought that was where my writing voice lay. I did get two novelty books optioned, but due to the 2008 recession the publisher changed direction and they got dropped. (I kept the option money, so hurrah!) I then tried picture books, Middle Grade books, Young Adult books- as much as a hobby as learning my craft -until I sold an adult short story to The Sunday Times and then a further thirty five to them, followed by coming runner up in a Women’s Fiction short story competition which gained me a space in an anthology. It was my first published story and that’s when I realised that was where my writing voice really lay.
Has any author inspired you?
I loved Meg Cabot’s writing voice from very early on, and as I got more and more into Women’s Fiction, the styles of Mhairi McFarlane, Lindsey Kelk and Janet Evanovich were influential in showing how I could bring my vocal flavour to my writing and humour to both the prose and dialogue.
What do you like writing most?
I like writing a good argument and letting the dialogue in my head run. I can’t write anything straight. Humour will always seep in.
Do you have a special place for writing?
The plan was that my husband and I would have a time-share arrangement on the study in our house, with me having it during the day, but more often than not one of my kids seems to grab it. I spend a lot of time using my bed as the office. If I need to get out, then I’ll pick a café in town that has high seating so I can swing my legs.
Are you a pantster or a plotter?
I truly wish I was a plotter. It’s surely a more efficient way of writing and then I could be quicker and release more books?? But sadly I’m not. I try to plan, then get stuck, then worry about not progressing, so launch into the book instead, pantsing, and get in a mess. I think I’m more of a hybrid than an-out-and-out pantser by the end.
Is your writing ever inspired by your family or real life incidents?
Only the small details. I don’t want to use bad or sad things that have happened to people I know as material. That feels wrong to me. Instead, those small funny things that happen with friends and family get used, or names, birthdays, proposal scenarios, quirks, whatever comes to mind. It’s like leaving easter eggs in the books for readers who know me. There’s a dragon in each of my books for my sister to find.
What are you writing at the moment?
I’m writing a romcom which is a bit of a passion project. It’s been knocking about in my head for a while, after an autumnal guided-walk through Highgate Cemetery. If you’re interested in British social history, I highly recommend it as an interesting afternoon out.
What inspired you to write this book?
All my books start in different ways. Punch-Drunk Love was originally called Sweatpants at Tiffanie’s which came from me punning about with Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Probably the Best Kiss in the World came from a weekend trip to Copenhagen where my husband and I visited the Carlsberg brewery and later walked along the Christianshavn canal with the pretty houseboats. Ten Years on the other hand came from a lunch with my editor, where we talked about what we wanted to work on next. I love an enemies-to-lovers story, as it lends itself to bickering dialogue, Charlotte proposed a long spanning story. We talked about the set up of the three characters, and that grief would be central, but with humour to bring levity to it.
As I normally write comic romances, writing Ten Years, blending funny and sad, was something new. I’d once heard the brilliant psychotherapist Julia Samuel on the History Hit podcast talking about our modern attitudes towards grief. She described grief as “love that doesn’t know where to go.” That idea stayed with me and certainly sat with me in the writing of Ten Years. Becca and Charlie had to see that you can’t shoo the pain away or ignore it, you have to accommodate it, find a place for it within you.
I also had the notion buzzing in my head of ‘all magic comes at a price’ which I think I might have got from Once upon a time, the TV show? It was something that came up at the end of Probably the Best Kiss in the World, where Love is the ‘magic’. I was still thinking about it here. What would the price be for Becca and Charlie? Essentially, I came to the conclusion that if you’d asked them, they’d have said the same; in losing Ally, they’d already paid upfront.
What time of the day do you write best?
Mornings, but that often coincides with friends wanting to meet for coffee and I have no willpower to say no. I usually end up writing early afternoon, feeling guilty about not writing in the morning and knowing that once the kids are back from school they’ll be distracting. I need to get better at managing my distractions.
What are your hobbies?
Reading (of course), hopefully travelling again soon, and skiing.
What advice would you give to other writers?
Find your tribe! Writing is a lone pursuit, but it needn’t be lonely. The writing community is enormously supportive, you just need to reach out.
Great advice, Pernille!
Before she moved to writing full-time, Pernille Hughes studied Film & Literature at university. After she graduated she went on to market Natural History films before working in Children’s television, which meant living in actual Teletubbyland for a while! From 2011–2015, she was a regular contributor for The Sunday Times column ‘Confessions of a Tourist’. She’s had two novels published to date – Punch-Drunk Love and Probably the Best Kiss in the World – and her new book Ten Years is released on August 31st 2022.
Pernille lives in Buckinghamshire, England and while the kids are at school she scoffs cake and writes stories in order to maintain a shred of sanity.
www.pernillehughes.com (Free short story here!)
Tiktok; @pernillehughes (but I’m old, so manage your expectations!)
Thank you for talking to us today, Pernille. Wishing you lots of luck with your writing.