I wrote my first novel when I was 8. It was about ponies, unsurprisingly as I was obsessed with ponies and the only books I read were pony books. I wrote the novel in two exercise books – the kind we had at school – and drew a cover on the front. Then, in true Blue Peter fashion, I covered them in sticky back plastic, and handed them to my mum, asking her to send them to Puffin so they could be published. Puffin never wrote back.
Years later, I discovered why. Mum had never sent them. She’d felt unable to part with them and had kept them in a drawer for posterity.
As an adult, I wrote a couple of non-fiction books, one about teaching music in junior schools (since that was what I did for a living back then) and one about being a DIY bride and creating the big, white wedding on a budget by making your own cake, wedding invitations and bouquet etc. I wrote that book under my married name, Jenny Hopkin, but its publication was extraordinary bad timing; it literally came out the month I split up from my first husband. Not great for a wedding book, especially one that had some of our wedding photos in it.
A few months later, I began doing internet dating. I’d often regale friends with my dating adventures over a drink and they’d howl with laughter. I wrote about my dates too, in my journal, and on my blog. People said to me, ‘You should write a book about all these dates’ and I often thought I would, but I never got started. A book about dating needed a happy ending but I was still single.
And then, after 13 long years of being single, I finally met Hermi on a dating app. We married a few months later. A year or two later, I thought about that dating book again and began to write.
Fast forward to January 2021. I’d finished my dating memoir, but wasn’t sure if it was any good and who’d want to read a memoir anyway by someone they’d never heard of? To publish a memoir, you surely needed to be a celebrity.
I was also bored. I’d been shielding since the previous March, as I’m immuno-suppressed so particularly vulnerable to Covid. I missed going out and meeting new people. I enrolled on a writing course with CityLit entitled ‘Starting Your Novel.’ The tutor was the wonderful Sophie MacKenzie. I took one particular date and began to write it as if it were fiction, tweaking the details, adding in things that hadn’t really happened.
The novel took on a life of its own. The main character no longer worked at the BBC, as I had, but worked in admin. She didn’t live in London but in West Yorkshire. (I had lived in London when I was single, but Hermi and I have now moved and live near Hebden Bridge.) By the time I finished, none of the original memoir was left. The book wasn’t about me anymore, but about a much kinder, better-looking and younger woman called Emily.
A lot of the romance novels I liked to read seemed to feature characters running tea-shops and bakeries so I thought Emily should lose her job and decide to pursue her childhood dream of running her own café. And why a board game café? Because my husband’s big passion is board games and since I met him, board games have become a real passion for me too.
That’s the story of how my debut novel, The Little Board Game Café, came into being. It will be published by Aria on 13th April and is available now to pre-order from Amazon, Waterstones or if you’d prefer to support an independent bookshop from Bookshop.org.