Review & Interview: 'Goodness, Grace and Me' by Julie Houston (2013)
When Harriet’s husband, Nick, throws in his safe, but boring job in order to set up a new business during the current recession, Harriet is distraught. More so when she realises Amanda, her and best friend Grace's old enemy from school is back in their lives. Amanda, it turns out, is Nick’s new boss’s wife and, because of her legal and language skills, will be accompanying Nick on his business trips to Italy. How will Nick not succumb to the ruthless charms of the utterly gorgeous Amanda once he’s away from Yorkshire and in glamorous Milan? Knowing Nick is being seduced is bad enough, but when Grace falls madly in love with Sebastian, Amanda’s precious, much younger son, it can only mean trouble ahead...
At the end of 2013 I was contacted by author Julie Houston with the question whether I wanted to review her debut novel, ‘Goodness, Grace and Me.’ The cover straight away caught my interest (I love the Autumn feel of it) and the blurb also promised an enjoyable tale, described by the author as a ‘hilarious, laugh-out-loud romantic comedy.’ I was quite curious to start reading and discover whether the book would fit that promise!
Harriet is happily married to her husband Nick; they met in college and now lead a good life in a wonderful home with their three children. Harriet works as a teacher, but her safe life is suddenly turned upside down when Nick decides to quit his secure job and go into business with entrepreneur David Henderson. Suddenly, Nick is hardly at home anymore, and Harriet’s suspicions only get worse when she finds out how much time her husband is spending with Amanda, David’s wife and her old high school enemy. When Harriet’s best friend Grace, who has just split up with her husband, starts a steamy affair with David and Amanda’s son, everything starts to get even more chaotic and problematic in Harriet’s life...
‘Goodness, Grace and Me’ is a fast-paced novel with a great heroine at its centre. After just a few pages I already really liked Harriet who is a character many female readers will be able to identify themselves with easily. She is trying to deal with various things in her life: her children, her relationship, her friendship with her best friend Grace; and the reader is taken on this journey with her. The novel is easy to read, includes relatable family and relationship issues, has a few twists and turns I did not see coming, and next to that, it managed to make me laugh out loud on several occasions.
I really enjoyed reading about Harriet’s life, most particularly her relationship with her best friend Grace. They have known each other for a really long time and they’ve been through a lot; in the book they are forced to deal with particular situations, and I loved seeing how their friendship evolved. As I said before, there’s quite a lot going on in this novel, but I personally quite liked that, because it made me want to keep on reading. ‘Goodness, Grace and Me’ is a quick-paced, thoroughly enjoyable read that will make you smile, and a book I recommend to any chick lit or romantic comedy fan. I look forward to reading more of Julie Houston’s work in the future!
I'm delighted to welcome author Julie Houston to the blog today!
1) Can you tell us something about your novel, ‘Goodness, Grace and Me’?
I started writing “Goodness, Grace and Me” a couple of years ago and was lucky enough to be taken on by agent Anne Williams at KHLA in Bristol and London. A RomCom/Women’s Contemporary Fiction, it was published this summer and has been constantly in the Amazon Top 100 for Humour over the last few months. The best bit was seeing it sitting next to the re-issue of Helen Fielding’s “Bridget Jones’ Diary” one Sunday morning in November, particularly as Ms Fielding is from my home town and, until recently, I taught at her old Junior school.
I wanted to write a book for women that, whilst essentially ‘Chicklit’, wouldn’t be pink, frothy and about women shopping! I wanted to make women - and men it turns out - laugh, but also for readers to feel that wonderful emotion of love/lust we have hopefully all felt when meeting the one you know really is ‘The One.’
2) Where did you find the inspiration for ‘Goodness, Grace and Me’? Is it in any way based on your own life experiences?
After reading “Goodness, Grace and Me” someone said to me, ‘I know all about you and your love life now!’ I had to reply, ‘No you don’t!!’ Whilst Harriet does have quite a few off my characteristics, i.e. she is a teacher and, like me , can be a bit dippy at times, I do like to think that I am a lot more independent than she is. Of course there are lots of little stories within the book, particularly those tales about school, that I have based upon actual experiences. The ‘nun’ episode and the ‘fire in the garden’ episode were both based on actual things that happened to me. Nick is nothing like my husband, but I suspect Harriet’s children, and her sister, Diana, all resemble members of my own family!
3) There’s a great mix of characters in the novel. Which character did you most enjoy writing about and why?
Oh golly, that’s a hard one. I loved writing about Harriet’s actual falling in love with husband, Nick, but I also enjoyed creating Amanda. Amanda is nothing like anyone I have ever met I don’t think, and it was great to have free reign and create this utterly gorgeous and yet totally ruthless woman who has always achieved, through foul means or otherwise, just what she has set out to achieve.
4) What made you start writing and when did you decide you wanted to become an author?
I have always loved writing. I won my first writing competition when I was eight, writing in my local paper, and loved creative writing at school. I wasn’t too hot at maths - although funnily enough now I am and actually love teaching maths - and was always really pleased when I could get down to story-writing. When I was fourteen I started writing a diary and it was one of those huge page-a-day diaries. I poured out all my teenage angst into those diaries and wrote them well into my adult life. My sister has kept a diary for the last thirty years or so and, together with my fifteen years of diaries, it is my daughter who has been granted custody of them when we die!! I don’t think she is too impressed with the idea. I have written many short stories but it is not a genre I really favour. I think I probably really decided I wanted to be a novelist once I discovered Jilly Cooper and Marian Keyes. Both, to my mind, are genius novelists.
5) Can you perhaps tell us something about your future plans as an author? Are you already working on a next novel?
Absolutely! Once I’d finished ‘Goodness, Grace and Me’ I started a story about twins and drugs. Whilst it doesn’t sound as if it could possibly be a RomCom it was still essentially so. However, Harriet and Grace wouldn’t let me go and I knew I wanted to continue their story. The twins have been put on the back-burner and I will return to them once the sequel to Goodness, Grace and Me is completed and published hopefully in the Spring/Summer of 2014. All I will say is that Harriet is being a little bit naughty in the sequel - I don’t seem to be able to control her at all!
6) Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Basically don’t give up. If it’s something that you really want to do, you will achieve your dream of becoming a writer. Try to write something every day even if it’s just going over what you wrote yesterday. It’s like anything in life - the more you do something, the easier it becomes. I started running again a few months ago after a break - something that I first took up when living in New Zealand - and it was jolly hard work. But you walk a bit, run a bit and before you know where you are you are a runner again. Writing is a bit the same: I remember how proud I was when I completed the first chapter of ‘Goodness, Grace and me.’ Small steps soon become very much bigger strides. Of course some days you think, ‘God, I can’t do this’ but I think it was author Lee Child who said there is no such thing as ‘writer’a block.’ Just get on with it even if you write a page of rubbish! At least you are writing.
7) And last but not least, if you had to describe ‘Goodness, Grace and Me’ in just three words, which words would you pick?
Hilarious Romantic Comedy!! (Hopefully anyway!!)
Thanks so much to Julie for taking the time to do this interview! :)