I enjoyed Plotting for Beginners so much, I raced on to the sequel almost as soon as I’d downloaded it. Aspiring writer Sally Howe is a few years older now, about to turn 60 in fact. Her marriage to Gus is over. He decided he loved living in the wilderness so much that he’s applied for permanent residency & is living in his cabin in the Rockies. Her brother, Richard, has just broken up with Pippa, although as he keeps walking her dogs & doing odd jobs for her, she may not believe the relationship is really over. Two of Sally’s children live overseas & her youngest, Sam, is still popping in for home comforts & a chance to rant at his mother with his latest girlfriend, Xanthe, who takes over the kitchen & enjoys walking around in the nude. Best friend Wendy has reached the end of the line with her philandering husband, Alan, but keeps Sally amused with an endless stream of new outfits & her attempts at finding a replacement for Alan before she throws him out of home. At least the local village speed dating socials have two areas – one for those looking for a date & one for those who are already attached & just want to support the cause & chat to the locals.
Sally’s writing career seems to have stalled. Her first novel sold reasonably well but her second is doing the rounds of the publishers & her agent is getting to the end of the list. Her third novel, a romantic comedy (written with the aid of Billy Mernit’s Writing the Romantic Comedy) is coming along slowly as she works her way from The Chemical Equation : Setup & on to the Cute Meet & the Sexy Complication : Turning Point. When her agent, Donna, reaches the end of her list of publishers, Sally decides to publish the book herself. This involves finding a printer, organising an ISBN, investigating paper quality & font sizes as well as building her profile on Facebook & Twitter. Sally’s writing group friend, Kate (aka Giovanna), helps out with a few tweets for the days when Sally can’t think of anything to say in 140 characters & Sally blogs about the process of self-publishing.
Sally’s love life is non-existent. It’s been three years since Gus finally left but she’s not ready to move on. Walking Pippa’s dogs one day on the Monsal Trail, she accidentally trips up a cyclist who accuses her of criminal incompetence & rides off without giving her a chance to explain about the dodgy lead that led to the accident (I couldn’t help thinking of Jane Eyre’s first meeting with Mr Rochester at this point). The cyclist’s bike lamp had fallen off in the crash & Sally wonders if she’ll ever find out who he is so she can return it. Running into him again in a bookshop, she discovers that he’s Kit Wyatt, the local printer who has been recommended to her for her book. After a few sticky moments at their first meeting in his office, she realises that he is a very professional printer with lots of good ideas for a novice publisher. That he also happens to be gorgeous & a widower doesn’t escape her notice.
Kit & Sally’s relationship follows the plot of her novel as she follows the chapters of Billy Mernit’s writing manual from the Sexy Complication to the Hook that will bind her two romantic leads together. It’s a funny, realistic look at love in middle age. Sally worries about her figure (what will Kit think of her post-mastectomy body?), the reaction of her children & his children (his daughters are incredibly jealous & over-protective of their father) & her desire to be with Kit but also have a life of her own. She spends most of her time trying to get Richard & Sam to move out so she can have her house to herself.. Sometimes only her addiction to Neighbours & Yorkshire Tea keep her sane.
I loved Plotting for Grown-ups. Sally is a very sympathetic character & I enjoyed meeting Richard, Wendy & Pippa again. It’s great to see a woman in her 60s enjoying romance & getting on with her career even though there are complications with moody Kit & his horrible daughters. I especially enjoyed Sally’s self-publishing journey. Sue Hepworth’s own experiences were obviously great copy for this part of the plot as she self-published her novel, But I Told You Last Year That I Loved You, a couple of years ago & wrote about the process on her blog. Plotting for Grown-ups is currently available as a Kindle book from Amazon but it will be available as a paperback later in the year.