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Cambridge author’s 12th novel celebrates love for oldies

Author Jennifer Chapman and her new book. Picture: Keith Heppell
Author Jennifer Chapman and her new book. Picture: Keith Heppell

A conversation over dinner with Jennifer Chapman - whose 12th novel, Kiss Goodbye, has just been published - includes a plethora of literary references which reveal a wide-ranging, free-spirited cultural hinterland.

First up is EM Forester.

“I’m not comparing myself to him but his work has always resonated with me, he writes in a way that the reader thinks: ‘Ahh, I thought I was the only one who thought like that’.”

This leads into a précis of books recently read.

“There are quite a few good writers today who write good novels, they’re good stories, but the authors are having to turn to detective novels because that’s what’s selling - unless it’s by Alexander McCall Smith. I don’t rate the Botswana novels, but his Isabel Dalhousie novels, which are set in Edinburgh, are just sublime - as are the the Detective Varg ones, which have a Scandanavian setting. They’re listed as detective novels but they’re not, they get into the characters’ minds and they’re also very funny.”

Also very funny is Sasha Swire’s Diary of an MPs Wife, which lifts the lid on the simmering internal machinations of the Chipping Norton set, the infamous clique which included Matthew Freud, Elisabeth Murdoch, David and Samantha Cameron, Rebekah Brooks and Jeremy Clarkson. Sample indiscretion? That has to be Cameron’s claim Swire’s scent “makes me want to grab you and push you into the bushes and give you one.”

“I do think every novel should have laugh-out-loud moments,” notes Jennifer, “but with Diary of an MPs Wife well, I recently had an operation, and I really thought I was going to burst my stitches.”

Further down the line, as I’m readying to leave, she says conspiratorially: “I’ve just read Rose Tremain’s Islands of Mercy and it’s everything a novel should be - William Boyd’s Trio is also very good.”

Jennifer was raised in Potters Bar and trained as a journalist with Westminster Press. Her publisher Fisher King says that “in a varied life she has owned a wine bar, run a PR agency, become an antiques dealer, and knitted a lot of jumpers her family won’t wear”. Her output also features four non-fiction titles, including The Last Bastion, about the ordination of women; Barnado’s Today about the work of Dr Barnardo, and Made In Heaven, which is about “changes in marriage in the 20th century”. This oeuvre has sold across the world in English and in translation.

When asked how she found the time to write - she has three daughters - she says: “I used to allocate a certain amount of time each day, even if it was only 500 words, and if I didn’t do those 500 words I used to feel quite uncomfortable.”

Kiss Goodbye is set in and around Cambridgeshire, and features four main characters. The plot involves the unravelling of two marriages, and the reentanglements that are then forged, with varying degrees of success.

One of the characters is a Filipina, and Jennifer - apparently effortlessly - beautifully captures the consequences of a decision the woman makes, to marry someone who can afford to look after her: he’s a lot older, so it’s not a very romantic marriage. She joins a dating agency to have a bit more fun, or even just to get out of the house. So was there a lot of research into the life of an incoming Asian (or Pacific Islander if you prefer) woman, to understand her plight?

“All my books are about emotions, about relationships,” she replies, “but they are fictional, you have to mine your emotions.”

And the Filipina woman?

“I would think the male character is the one you’re feeling sorry for.”

Whether this male is the cheated husband or the cheating husband is not explicit, but you’ll be able to work that out for yourself - details on how to win one of five copies are available below. Meanwhile, the wife of the cheating husband leaves him, moves to Cambridge and - in ways that are both hilarious and alarming - starts internet dating. What was that all about?

“I wanted to write about online dating when you’re old, for the generation that met their partners through church - it’s for people who want to throw caution to the wind, and all the wonderful people you can meet, and what a great time you can have.

“I write books that I’d like to read,” adds Jennifer, who is married to Richard, a retired GP, “and which reflect life as it is. I think people want to read those sorts of novels. It’s always been thus: I’m not a feminist, it’s about using your imagination.”

Before becoming an antiques dealer, Jennifer had a career as an award-winning business journalist running alongside her prolific authorial output. Is there a secret to her style - intimate, worldly-wise, smart-funny - she’d like to convey to budding novelists ahead of National Novel Writing Month in November?

“That’s just the way I am, I couldn’t write to order.”

Kiss Goodbye is published by Fisher King in paperback (£8.99) and digitally on Kindle, iBooks, Google Books and Kobo. To win one of five copies, simply answer the question below and email your entry with A, B or C to sr@fisherkingpublishing.co.uk by midnight on November 5.

Q: When was the first woman priest ordained in the UK?

A: 1952

B: 1989

C: 1994

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