Hilary Boyd talks about mature love.
1. Can you tell us a bit more about your best-selling novel Thursdays in the Park?
It’s a love story, pure and simple. But perhaps not so simple in that the two people who fall in love, Jeanie and Ray, are 60+. Oh, and Jeanie is married! It’s about family and how infidelity affects more than just the main protagonists. It’s about being an older woman in the 21st century and what that means. But finally, as I said, it’s about love.
2. What inspired you to write this novel?
I was 60 and in shock. How could I possibly be 60, and, indeed, a grandmother? One day, in the playground of the local park, my small granddaughter swinging back and forth on the swing, I spied a man – older, like me – helping his grandson (son?!) on the slide. Hmmm, I thought, he’s cute. And I suddenly thought it would be a great start to a novel. I never spoke to him, so sadly he’ll never know he inspired me.
3. What was the most difficult part about writing this book? And what was the most fun part?
The hardest part was keeping in mind the editors’ negative comments from all my previous rejections. Weak heroine . Too much navel-gazing. Not enough dialogue. Then doing the exact opposite.
The most fun part was getting into the heads of the characters, making them live. And they didn’t all do quite what I expected them to do, which was even more fun.
4. What novel have you recently read that you’d like to recommend to other book fans out there?
The Essex Serpent, by Sarah Perry, Serpent’s Tail. It’s a magical historical romance – fascinating characters, beautifully written and not at all predictable. I hated finishing it. A must-read.
5. What’s next for you?
My next novel, The Lavender House, is just out in hardback and ebook. It’s the story of a divorced woman, Nancy, who finds herself trapped by family duties – her ageing mother, her stressed-out daughter, her two granddaughters – with no life of her own… Until along comes the unsuitable Jim.
Excerpt from Thursdays in the Park
‘You shouldn’t drink so much.’ George’s whisper hissed into the heat of the summer night as they walked home along the silent pavement.
‘I didn’t have more than three glasses,’ Jeanie protested. ‘I’m certainly not drunk.’
She unlocked the door and made her way through to the kitchen. It was hot, so hot, even at ten-thirty at night. She threw the keys and her bag on the table and went to open the French windows on to the terrace.
‘It’s bloody embarrassing, you get so strident and loud,’ George went on as if she hadn’t spoken. ‘As if anyone’s interested in vitamin trials. If you hadn’t been so drunk you would’ve seen the man was bored out of his brain.’
Jeanie looked at her husband, stung by the venom in his voice. He’d been uncharacteristically tense all evening, snappish even before they’d left for Maria and Tony’s. Then, when they’d hardly finished coffee, George had jumped up and said they had to go, some feeble excuse of an early meeting she knew he didn’t have.
‘I wasn’t drunk, George. I’m not drunk. He was the one who kept asking questions,’ she told him quietly.
George picked up the keys she’d flung on the table and went to hang them on the rack of hooks by the doorway. Above each hook was a label in George’s careful, even script: George–H, Jeanie–H, George–C, Jeanie–C, Spare H, Spare C, to denote house and car keys for them both.
‘Let’s have a nightcap outside. It’s too hot to sleep.’
She checked her husband’s face to see if she were yet forgiven, but his eyes were tense behind the heavy tortoiseshell glasses.
‘I’m sure he thought you were flirting,’ George persisted, staring pointedly at his wife.
‘Oh, for heaven’s sake.’ Jeanie felt the breath short in her chest and looked away from him, a blush flooding her cheeks. Not a blush of guilt – the man had been weedy and dried up with discoloured teeth: nice thursdays in the park enough, but hardly a sex object – but of anxiety.
She hated confrontation. Brought up in a dank Norfolk vicarage, she had watched her mother swallow the brusque, domineering dictats issued by her father, never questioning his right to abuse her in this way. Jeanie had lived in fear of him, but she remembered willing her mother on, hoping that just for once she would finally explode, make a stand against his bullying, and vowing that she would never let herself be treated in that way. Mild-mannered George, she believed, was nothing like her father.
George raised his eyebrows. ‘You’re blushing.’
She took a deep breath. ‘Come on, pour us an Armagnac and let’s sit outside and cool off.’ She heard the wheedling tone in her voice and hated herself for
‘You saw him,’ she added weakly, and moved towards the terrace. She felt the adrenaline twitching in her body, and was suddenly just tired.
‘I think I’ll go up,’ he said, but he made no move to go; just stood, his tall, gangly frame sagging and rooted, in the middle of the kitchen. He seemed miles
away, the stupid tension about the dinner party obviously forgotten.
‘George . . . what is it . . . what’s wrong?’ She went over to him and looked up into his face. Shocked, she saw a heavy, blank desperation in his brown eyes that she’d never seen before. ‘George?’
For a second he held her gaze, frozen. He seemed about to speak, but instead turned abruptly away.
‘Did something happen today?’
‘I’m fine . . . fine.’ He cut across her question.
‘Nothing happened. What could happen?’ She watched his face twitch and pull distractedly, as if he were trying to change his expression, then he headed for the stairs.
‘Are you coming?’ he muttered as he left.
Jeanie has been married for thirty years, but her husband George has become so cold and distant she may as well be alone. Surely, at just sixty, a loveless marriage can’t be the only thing left on the horizon? Then, one Thursday in autumn, Jeanie meets Ray in the park, and a chance meeting blossoms into a friendship.
They talk, laugh, share hopes and secrets and heartbreaks.
They offer each other a second chance at life and love.
But will they have the courage to take it?
Hilary Boyd trained as a nurse at Great Ormond Street Hospital, then as a marriage guidance counsellor. After a degree in English Literature at London university in her thirties, she moved into health journalism, writing a Mind, Body, Spirit column for the Daily Express. She published six non-fiction books on health-related subjects before turning to fiction and writing a string of bestsellers, starting with Thursdays in the Park. Hilary is married to film director/producer Don Boyd.