Sisters Hester and Harriet are reluctantly driving to visit relatives when they come across a young woman hiding with her baby in a bush shelter. Seeing the perfect excuse for returning to their own warm hearth, the pair insist on bringing Daria and Milo home with them.
But with the arrival of 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. And, perhaps. that's exactly what they need ...
Hester and Harriet by Hilary Spiers is published by Allen & Unwin in paperback on 3 March 2016.
Welcome to the Hester and Harriet Blog Tour, I'm delighted to be the first stop on the tour. I'm thrilled to welcome Hilary Spiers to Random Things today, she's written a fabulous guest post which I'm really pleased to share with you. But first, my thoughts about Hester and Harriet ...
I love the cover of Hester and Harriet, it's colourful and eye-catching and really does represent the story inside. There have been a lot of recent best-selling novels that my blogging and reviewer colleagues have raved about, I won't mention titles. I've kept quiet about most of these as I have a real distaste for anything that I feel is a little twee, or life-afirming, or that has a 'moral message' running through it. Those sort of books just annoy me. When I was told about Hester and Harriet, I must admit that I thought it was going to be one of those books, and that it really wouldn't be my sort of thing.
However, there was something about the premise of the story that really did spark my interest, and I decided to give it a chance. I'm so pleased that I did. Hester and Harriet is a gorgeous story, well-written and full of down-to-earth and relevant humour that really appeals to me.
I've spent the last couple of days totally engrossed in this story that features two sparky and vibrant widowed sisters, living together in a small cottage in a large village. Hester and Harriet may be sisters, but they are two very different characters, and it is this that makes the novel so enjoyable. Their differences of opinion are often hilariously told, and their story is both fun yet heart-warming at the same time.
Hilary Spiers is an accomplished author. She's created a plot that deals with so many modern-day issues. The story takes place over the Christmas period, Hester and Harriet are reluctant to spend Christmas Day with their cousin Harry and his family. They like the finer things in life; good wine, smoked salmon and goat's cheese, and the thought of dry turkey and cheap supermarket wine is almost more than they can bear. They've used every excuse in the book in previous years, so eventually they set out, in the hope that the day will pass by quickly and they can get home to their own kitchen, and the delights that await them in their fridge.
Their plans go pear-shaped when they come across a young girl and a baby, huddled in the village bus shelter, and their instinctive kindness, and nosiness, and the thought that this could be their chance to avoid a terrible Christmas dinner, means that they stop and offer her a place to stay.
The arrival of Daria and her small baby Milo brings upheaval and chaos to Hester and Harriet's life. They are visited by strange men, asking awkward questions, they learn things about neighbours that they've known for years and they spend a lot of time careering around the countryside in their old and battered car. When their cousins' son Ben arrives on their doorstep, their lives become even more complicated.
Hester and Harriet really is a wonderfully constructed story, the writing flows so easily and the two lead characters are tremendous. The supporting cast, especially young Ben are expertly created, and the dramas and characteristics of village life are excellently portrayed. And, it is not in the least bit twee!!
I fell totally in love with this book, and with Hilary Spiers writing. I look forward to reading more by this very entertaining author.
A huge welcome to Hester and Harriet author, Hilary Spiers .....
'How do I look?' says Harriet.
'Dowdy.' says Hester.
'Excellent.' says her sister. This year, they have decided to see if they can appear so shabby and unkempt that their hosts will finally decide that - duty notwithstanding - they ought not to expose their friends and neighbours to their indigent and faintly repellent relations any longer.
'You've a far worse cardigan than that,' says Hester. 'The one you do the gardening in?'
Harriet struggles into a mud-coloured cardigan belonging to her late husband, a garment now bereft of buttons and sporting a multitude of moth holes. The sisters regard it for some moments.
'Trying to hard,' says Hester, shaking her head.
Reluctantly, Harriet reverts to the bobbly cable knit. 'Slippers?' she suggests
'We're going for eccentric, not doolally,' snaps Hester.
She marches into the kitchen and flings open the fridge to gaze longingly at the Serrano ham, the Roquefort, the pressed partridge terrine. Her mouth floods with saliva. Grimly, she closes the door.
Harriet places a hand on her shoulder. 'Five hours,' she says. 'We can last five hours, can't we?' This year, they have decided that in addition to the batty old women routine they will eschew any alcoholic fortification until the ordeal is over. 'Pleasure delayed ..' says Harriet and reaches for the car keys. 'Come on, let's get it over with.'
I'm on a mission.
I read voraciously - fiction, mainly. I love novels about all sorts of characters, young, not so young, nice, nasty, past, present, but I hunger (and I use that word advisedly) for books about older women. Real older women. Older women who are the main protagonists. Not wife or, sister of, aunt of, grandmother of ... Not wacky eccentrics, not ageing nuisances (dying or losing their marbles or both), not comic devices to show how out of touch they are with modern life (or conversely, how they've managed to shatter every preconception and surprise their family, their friends, their husbands by behaving badly). No, my mission to give ordinary older women their rightful place in the sun where their wisdom, their life experience and their complex personalities shine through. Heroines.
Now, a little back story. When I'm not writing (which I am most of the time- or intending to write or pretending to write), I'm involved with matters theatrical. Have been since I was an 11-year-old slip of a thing (oh, happy days!) essaying a Scottish accent in a melodramatic Jacobite one-acter called Campbell of Kilmour (if anyone has heard of it or, better yet, has a copy, let me know). These days I write plays, direct plays and, when directors are kind, I act in them. Except that there are so few parts for women of a certain age. For obvious historical reasons, the classics are male-dominated. I get that. But new writing? Why do so few new plays feature really strong older female protagonists? And who makes up the bulk of theatre audiences? Quite so.
So I started to write plays featuring strong central female characters somewhat past the first flash of youth. And once I'd started down that road, I noticed more and more the same dearth in literature. Of course there are some wonderful examples of gutsy older women in novels - Beryl Bainbridge, Bernice Rubens, Elizabeth Jane Howard, Barbara Pym, Anita Brookner for instance have all done sterling service in this regard - but I'd argue that they are in the minority. And yet who are the must numerous readers of fiction? Exactly, I rest my case.
When sisters Hester and Harriet, who first featured in a short story on my MA in Creative Writing, met with almost universal approbation and encouragement to do more with them, I decided to put my money where my mouth was and write a novel about them. For them, as it were. Give them centre stage and see where they took me. See if my theory - that older women are endlessly fascinating, surprising, funny, tragic, extraordinary and worthy of a starring role - held water. A lifetime later, months if not years of writing, re-writing, finding my life invaded by these two spiky sometimes infuriating but always entertaining creatures, who rise about everything I throw at them, I think it does. I very much hope readers will agree.
© Hilary Spiers, 2016
Hilary Spiers has had a varied career - including law, speech therapy, teaching, youth work and the NHS. She has also been involved with the theatre as an actor, director and playwright, and her dramatic work has been performed in a number of theatres including Hampstead Theatre and Riverside Studios.
Hilary has won several national short story competitions and had work broadcast on the radio.
She lives in Stamford, Lincolnshire
For more information about Hilary Spiers and her work, visit her website www.hilaryspiers.co.uk