Sally Howe takes her husband, Gus, to the airport as he leaves on a year long stay in a cabin in the Rocky Mountains, emulating his hero, Thoreau. Sally has refused to go with him &, after an argument at the airport, she assumes that this year apart is really a trial separation. Sally is an unpublished (so far, she hopes) writer & a year without Gus has it’s attractions. She looks forward to uninterrupted time to work on her writing – a novel & various pieces for newspapers – & being able to watch Neighbours without snide comments from Gus. Sally decides that life really can begin at 50, menopausal hot flushes notwithstanding. Sally’s feelings about Gus range from irritation at his unemotional letters home which seem to be nothing more than lists of birds seen (he’s a keen birdwatcher) & moments of missing him intensely.
Unfortunately for Sally, life tends to get in the way of the best intentions. No sooner has Gus left than several men begin pursuing her. Billy Bathgate at the local store, Jeremy from her Italian class & then there’s Iain, who’s a more disturbingly attractive proposition. Iain is a widower, an architect who lives in Italy but is in England visiting his daughter & mother. On his regular trips between Brighton (daughter) & Edinburgh (mother), he stops off to visit Richard, Sally’s brother who has invited himself to stay as he goes through a divorce. Richard is DIY mad & very useful doing all the jobs around the house that Gus never found time for. Sally would be quite pleased if it wasn’t for his habit of popping his head around the door of the study asking for guidance every half hour.
Iain’s interest in Sally is soon obvious but, although he’s attractive, there’s something about him that Sally finds unnerving. Is it his habit of droning on about architectural features at the drop of a hat or is it the fact that he has his own hairdryer & is often caught checking his appearance in the mirror? Then there’s Sally’s son Sam, who tends to drop in from university with a carload of washing, rant at his mother about the world’s ills, complain about the environmental unsoundness of the brands she buys at the supermarket & then disappear.
Sally’s career as a writer goes in fits & starts. She has a couple of pieces published in the Recorder, sends her novel to several agents, most of whom ignore her completely & spends hours deciding on the correct way to address the editor of the leisure section & then analysing her replies minutely for signs that she likes Sally’s style. Sally goes to a weekly writing class with her friend, Kate, & their emails are a hoot as Kate bolsters Sally’s self-esteem & offers fashion advice as Sally becomes involved in photo shoots & talkback on the local radio station.
Plotting for Beginners is a great read. Told in the form of a diary with email exchanges with Kate & Gus’s letters, it’s funny, witty & poignant. It’s great to read a book about a woman in her 50s, complete with hot flushes & menopausal mood swings. The other characters are just as interesting, from the seriously odd members of the Deep Water writing group to Pippa, a neighbour who takes a fancy to Richard as he repairs Sally’s drystone wall & Mrs Mountain, a local busybody who almost derails Sally’s budding radio career when she calls in to clarify Sally’s views on Christmas.
Plotting for Beginners was originally published as a paperback in 2006 & has just been relaunched as a Kindle ebook.
The sequel, Plotting for Grown-ups, is published this week & I’m looking forward to reading it. The ebook is available now from Amazon & the paperback is coming soon. More information is available on Twitter @suehepworth & on Sue’s blog. Jane is on Twitter @JaneLinfoot