If you’re wondering how much wine fixes a broken heart, here are some suggestions: a vat, a bathtub, a glass the side of your head. Best served chilled, and with a straw. When Grace ’s husband passed away, there was no guidebook for the twenty-seven-year-old widow. Crippled with heartbreak, she was also clueless. Was she allowed to wear denim? Should she be shrouded in a black veil? What about T-shirts printed with Tom’s face? Three years later, things look a little different for Grace. She’s adopted two precious girls and she’s learned some life lessons: 1) A wild night involves a label maker and the kitchen cupboards. 2) When you drop your kids off to school, you have to deal with parents who hand out flyers saying, Have You Seen This Cardigan? 3) A supply of SOS wine fixes almost everything. If that fails, biscuits (chocolate ones, because she’s not a complete loser) are a good plan b. 4) On rare occasions, when venturing into the real world, liquid eyeliner is evil and borrowing your sister’s push-up bra is essential. Grace’s number-one rule is to protect her heart by only getting attached to her cookie jar. But Tom didn’t die so that Grace could play it safe, never stepping beyond the barriers of her comfort zone. Can she take a leap and get back to the old Grace, who still believes in love? This hilarious and moving tale is for anyone who’s questioned their qualifications at life, and learned that a little bit of wine goes a long way! Fans of Why Mummy Drinks, Shari Low and Sophie Kinsella, be warned: prepare for odd looks when reading this in public due to the ugly laughing it induces. Readers absolutely love Kristen Bailey: ‘ Absolutely hilarious!! Seriously, I haven’t been able to put this one down!… I have not stopped laughing… One of those books which is perfect after a stressful day because you are guaranteed to laugh out loud… Loved it… Devoured this book in just a few hours… Impossible to put down.’ Little Miss Book Lover 87, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘ One of the funniest books I have read. Ever!… I absolutely LOVED this.’ Star Crossed Reviews, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘I can’t even count all of the times I burst out laughing… I laughed so hard my cat jumped out of his bed scared out of his mind and gave me an evil look for disturbing his sleep… If you love a good laugh-out-loud story full of heart, love and banter and are not afraid to be that crazy person in public laughing like a total maniac, then this is definitely the book for you!’ Sinfully Wicked Book Reviews, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘ I’ve read books which have made me laugh before – but this time I couldn't stop!… I giggled hysterically… It's so very, very funny! My long suffering other-half is used to me giggling maniacally when I'm reading, but this took things to a whole new level… A right good laugh… Absolutely hilarious… Yes, it's THAT funny! Without a doubt, worth a full house of stars.’ Grace J Reviewer Lady, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘ Oh my days… I was howling in bed! The hubby wasn’t happy… Said that amount of laughter should not be coming from the bedroom! ’ Emma and the Little Book Worm, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘A laugh-a-minute comedy… I began laughing at about page 2 and didn’t stop until the end… Funny-as-hell!! I challenge anyone, man or woman, to read this book and not find at least one bit of it where you can say “yep… that’s my life”!!! This is a book that I started reading with tears in my eyes from laughing and rounded it off wonderfully with tears of sadness!!!… Fab, fab, fab!!! ’ Stardust Book Reviews, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘The laughs never stopped… Will give you a good bellyache from laughter.’ DarnCuteBookReviewGirl, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Release date: June 30, 2021
Print pages: 350
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How Much Wine Will Fix My Broken Heart?
If you have this letter then I am afraid the worst has happened and I’m not here any more. I don’t want to use the d-word so I will paraphrase in the best way possible: my body has literally given up on me. Stupid body. It’s quite a thing to have to write this letter before the event, to stare down this very possibility myself, but I don’t want to be gone and, basically, not have the final word. God, that’s awful to write, eh? I don’t want to be lying on my deathbed and forget to tell you something.
There’s only the one letter. I won’t spring these on you once a year or send Christmas cards from beyond the grave. This is it. I may come back and haunt you, though. Once I cross over to the other side, I’ll enquire about how I can make that happen. Fear not, it won’t be like a horror film. I won’t stand in dark corners and hide under the bed in a freaky haunted doll way. I’ll be a friendly ghost like in a BBC sitcom. I’ll be very benign. I hope I might have the ability to fly through walls. That’ll be handy as I have a feeling you’ll still need me to put the bins out. I’ll just appear when you’re brushing your teeth, give you the occasional fright. Boo! Remember me?
There are so many other things to tell you. I feel I need to give you lists of PIN numbers and passwords. Grace2000 is the password for most of my things. But for my email, it’s monkeyballs1992, which I hope will make you laugh. What else? Make sure you give my clothes away. Don’t keep them because that’s sad. What are you going to do with them? You could wear all of them at the same time and just lie in bed and pretend I’m there. Or make a patchwork blanket out of all my best hoodies. Don’t frame the clothes.
Also, while I have this platform, it’s important for me to say the following. Herbs and spices don’t have expiry dates. Those are best before dates. Don’t hate me but I think you waste a lot of money replacing your paprika every year. When it comes to tea, I also don’t know why you put the milk in first, with the teabag. It’s not the way to do things. It does affect the taste because the water isn’t the right temperature to absorb the tea through the bag. And I haven’t made that up. You called it my strange tea science but it’s truth, which is proven by the fact that my tea was always far more drinkable than yours. There are probably a million other things I need to say that are more important than that but those are the ones which come to mind at this very precise moment.
Next: try not to cry too much when it happens. I mean, cry a bit because if you don’t shed a tear then people will think you’re some sort of psychopath. Just don’t over-cry and I say that with the very best of intentions because, when you over-cry, you don’t use the good tissues and you get that rash around your nose where the skin flakes off. I’ll say it now because, hey, I’m dying, but it’s pretty grim. Maybe put some Vaseline around there to smooth out the edges. Hay-fever season, you look pretty monstrous most of the time. The things you can say to a spouse when you’re dead, right?
I don’t know why I’m joking as this still feels like the unfairest thing in the world, the rudest of interruptions. This has to be the final word as, while my ego would love you to mourn me forever, in black lace, shrouded in pain like Queen Victoria, building shrines in my honour, I don’t want you to do that. I don’t want my wonderful beautiful girl to die too. When the pain has subsided, let people in, date again. Date someone interesting and significantly better looking than me, of course. I’ve looked into single people around our age. At the time of writing this, the following people are single: Henry Cavill, Neymar and Drake. If you’re bringing Drake to your next family Christmas then record the moment your mum meets him for the first time. ‘Your name is Drake? Like a duck?’ I will come back and haunt you if you replace me with someone dull. You don’t go from me to James from the Home Counties who drives a Škoda Fabia, drinks Foster’s and supports Manchester United even though he’s never even been to Manchester.
Promise me you won’t regress, Gracie. That’s what I worry about most. You’ve always been mildly serious about life, and I love that about you. It is wildly endearing. You’ve always had a plan. But I suspect me leaving the mortal realm is not in your plan so my one big fear is that I won’t be there to balance you out. It is why we are so good together: you give me reason and order, you pull my feet back to the ground when I’m off in the clouds, you make sure that all my big dreams and ideas are possible in real-life situations.
Me: I want to go and build a school! I want children to think big! I want to create a system of education for all where no one is left behind!
You: You can’t today, it’s Sunday. You’ll need planning permission first. And willing children.
In return, I hope I added a certain zest and unpredictable quality to proceedings. I love that feeling of yin and yang, of a relationship built on this giant melting pot of qualities and facets. It makes me ache to think what our children would have been like. They’d have been all the best parts of us. I mean, they possibly would have had my weak-ish chin and the boys may have suffered the indignity of a premature receding hairline. Still, they would have had your meticulous nature and my robot dancing skills, meaning they were never destined to fail.
You are so earnest, you put heart and thought into everything you do, every word and action. I teased you about it. I joked about it all because I always thought you took everything too seriously. I guess the final joke’s on me. I should have listened to you when you first told me I needed to check things out. It was my health. It was serious. And all those nonchalant jokes I made about being young enough to fight this, thinking we had forever. I am sorry for all of that. I am sorry I thought we could exist without these things happening to us. I am sorry for not being more you. I am so very sorry.
Urgh, I didn’t want this letter to get sad and philosophical. I wanted it to be droll. Has it made you laugh? I’ve deleted a crapload of clichés already. Life is short. That’s a good one. I was going to have that printed on a wall sticker as a parting gift. I did think long and hard about a suitable parting gift, actually. Maybe something that has a lock of my hair in it. Did you know you could do that? I could weave you a friendship bracelet made of hair. I decided against it. It has a serial-killer quality to it, though it’s useful if you want to go down the voodoo route.
Instead, I thought about what I want for you when I’m not here. I don’t want you to sit still. You won’t be alone. You’ve never been alone with all your sisters around but remember to let people in too. You are hard to penetrate (and not like that, that bit was easy and that was an awful joke, sorry) but allow people in so they can help you with this. Keep moving. You do get into the habit of sitting still, of making plans, and with those plans come lists and spreadsheets and it all gets a bit static, you know? You must move on.
So, this is my way of making sure that you do. You must, Gracie. You must promise me this one thing.
Enclosed with this letter is a round-the-world ticket. It allows for five stops and, to narrow down the infinite choice of possibility (because I know you’ll pick places based on their tourist theft rates and currency values against the pound), I’ve selected those stops for you. All these destinations are countries I visited during my travels after university. Those three years when I was a selfish prick and left you to go travelling. Our limbo period. I know those places, they know me. I’ve attached lists of names and numbers of people to look up and some recommendations for things to do. I’ve also made the ticket completely non-refundable. I did this to ensure you go because you’ll make excuses not to go. If I’ve spent money on this then you will feel fiscal guilt so this will force you to make this trip.
Travel, Grace. Just keep moving. Raise a glass or five to me in different continents. After we left university and we had all those years in relationship limbo, I don’t think you ever understood why I went, why I left you. Hopefully, this fills in the gaps. At worst, you’ll be distracted from the fact that cancer came and made me its bitch. At best, you’ll move in the right direction, you’ll see a sunset or learn a new language and understand that the world is still new, it’s still turning, how this life malarkey isn’t totally awful even though I’m not here.
I will always regret the things we never did together. We never got to live in Paris above a bakery where a man called Jean-Luc would keep us in fresh croissants. We never rode a tandem. I probably never held you enough or sang enough songs about how much I fucking adored you. But no regrets. Just to have had you in my orbit for what time we had was perfection. I keep thinking back to the time when we first met. It was that dodgy nightclub in Bristol, do you remember? I was so drunk. It was a Dynamite Boogaloo night and I knew all the words to every song and you looked at me like I was mental while I was doing my strange disco jogging moves. When I told you my name was Tom, you asked me which one. Everyone’s called Tom. Major Tom, I said. And you asked why and then I told you my dad used to sing me that Bowie song all the time. And you didn’t sing the song back to me like most do. You apologised because you noticed that I’d spoken in the past tense. That’s what my Grace does. She’s there for the details. And I don’t remember half of what I’m supposed to in life but, man, that memory is etched into me.
I’m happy I have that memory of you in that shit club, your purple eyeshadow, your bra straps on show and your face gleaming with kindness. That is enough for me. It was always enough. What we’ve had was everything. Yet for you, this is not the end, not the past tense. You have a future so you must keep on. You must live for me. To not do so would be breaking my already broken heart.
I need to say my last words now, eh? My Grace, I could write books. I could write letters of no end that just describe all the words and feelings that line my brain. You know me. Teaching made me a wordy bastard. I am so scared. So scared to leave you, but I’ll stop here. I used to tell you every day that you were magnificent and you are. It’s been a pleasure, an honour and a gift to be your husband, to have loved you, to have been loved by you.
I love you so very much, Grace Callaghan. That I do.
Major Tom x
Gracie, I don’t know if this internet will work so I’ll make this short and sweet. I am in Ghana. Actual Ghana. Not that there’s a fake Ghana but it’s mental. The city literally beats with life. On the trip over here I seemed to make friends with everyone who sat on the bus. I seem to have a gift for it, don’t I? I just make friends everywhere I go. Everyone is smiling and interested in me, my life, they welcome me into their homes.
I adore it. I adore you.
Love you, T x
Carrie Cantello has a Harry-Potter-themed front room. I don’t know how old Carrie is but I’d put her around the late thirties mark. This wizard stuff is kind of everywhere, from the stuffed, boss-eyed owl that looks at me from the bookshelves to the monogrammed throws. There’s a framed picture of the whole family on a themed ride at Universal Studios where they’re all wearing matching Harry specs. I’d really like to look in the cupboard under her stairs. Crap, she’s also got Harry Potter mugs. Carrie, I feel like you need some sort of intervention. I bet you wear a cape to bed. Please let there be Potter-themed sex where she utters fake sex spells and talks about her husband’s wand. Penum Erecto. Don’t laugh, Grace. The husband has re-entered the room. Don’t think about his wand.
‘Ross, I said biscuits,’ Carrie barks at him. She definitely orders him around the bedroom, doesn’t she? I bet she refers to it as her golden snatch. Do. Not. Laugh. I bite on my lip and pretend I’m deep in concentration writing down the numbers. Join the Parent Teacher Association. Surround yourself with people. Get out there, Grace, Emma said. Are you on the PTA? I asked my dear sister. No. My one’s run by power women nut jobs. They’re not all like that, she told me.
Except they are. Carrie Cantello is the chair of The Downs Primary PTA. She possesses all the confidence and none of the charm and orders us around like her minions. She also doesn’t use emojis so I can never determine the tone of her messages. Is that sarcasm? Or do you hate me? She has bushy dirty-blonde hair, though I wonder if that’s to make her look like Hermione. Her skirting boards are super clean, like shiny clean. I imagine her scrubbing the skirting with a Potter film on, wearing her cape obviously. To cement her power in the school, she nominated her own husband to be governor. It’s very conspiratorial. Ross is harmless but writes a lot of tweets dissecting football matches that are of no interest to anyone but himself.
To Carrie’s left is her number one henchperson, Liz Boucher. Do you know how to pronounce that surname? No one does. It’s French so she always reels it off with an accent like she’s continental but really it means ‘butcher’ so it just suggests her ancestors were good with meat. Liz is the secretary because she has the iPad with the good apps for taking notes and making newsletters. She also loves a laminated sign for the noticeboard where she overuses exclamation marks. Tuesday! 8.30 p.m.! Support the School! Do it! Carrie and Liz like to go on girly days out to spas and call themselves besties on social media. They stand around gossiping at the school gate.
‘Oh, I don’t let my Josh play with him because I think he’s possibly on the spectrum. His mum should really get him assessed.’
‘I always have the time to at least iron a uniform?’
‘That teacher does not invest enough of her time into my Ava. What a complete amateur.’
And most of us let it slide because it’s not worth our time or energy. We’re glad we’re not like them. We’re grateful they’re in the minority. The rest of us are a motley crew that make this whole enterprise more endurable. Paula likes a wide-leg jean and a floral print blouse and carries her everyday belongings in a Bag for Life, Tina doesn’t get any of the jokes but once got drunk at our Christmas shindig and told us her husband is only allowed one blow job a year (his birthday), and we all know Georgia, who comes with tales of her recent divorce and how she had her first orgasm at thirty-eight years of age using something called a Clitty Clamp. But can we sell these at the next Christmas Fayre, Georgia? Can we?
I am the treasurer. I’m an accountant by trade so it made sense. It means I’m doing my bit and I get to feel important by carrying a cash box around at school events. I’m getting out there and throwing all this positive energy into the world so it can come back to me in kind. Would I prefer to be at home under a blanket, eating pretzels on this cold January evening, binge-watching Criminal Minds? Yes. We could have done this by Zoom or email but then Carrie’s cleaned her skirting boards. How else would she be able to show off her Harry Potter memorabilia? The owl on her shelf is looking at me, like I’m in his tree and he wants to peck my eyes out.
‘So. Much. To. Talk. About.’
I really hope there isn’t, Carrie. Just go through the agenda as quickly as humanly possible. There are ten of us squeezed around her living room on an assortment of dining room chairs, piano stools and an outdoor camping bench. This evening was not built for comfort.
‘So, apologies for absence?’ asks Liz.
‘Kay Holland can’t be here because her lot have the sicky bug,’ says a voice from the back.
‘Remind me to keep my kids away from hers then,’ Carrie mumbles. ‘Right, first things first: the Christmas Fayre made £3546, is that right, Grace?’ I nod. I won’t mention the fifty-two pence she’s excluded from that figure. ‘Seriously, pat yourselves on the back, please. Stellar work. We are such an amazing team.’
Oh, we’re actually patting ourselves on the actual backs, as instructed. Carrie looks like she’s performing the Heimlich manoeuvre on herself.
‘I told you all that the photo booths were the way forward,’ Carrie says. Liz claps, nodding. Except she didn’t. To my left is Helen. It was all Helen’s idea; she sourced the props and painted a Christmas backdrop complete with snowballs. Helen is possibly the only person I’d categorise with the ‘friend’ label here. We both have kids in the same classes and I’ve gravitated towards her sturdiness, how she doesn’t seem to give a flying fish finger what people think. I’m eagerly waiting for the moment it will come to a head between her and Carrie because it will be worth all those nights sitting at a computer filling in invoices and Excel spreadsheets.
‘All your idea, was it?’ Helen suggests.
‘Well, I approved it,’ Carrie says.
‘That’s like saying you wrote Harry Potter because you like magic.’
I smile. I’m not the only one who’s noticed.
‘Being an amazing team is also ensuring people get credit for their contributions,’ Helen adds.
‘Well done, Helen,’ I add. ‘We got some really good feedback for that.’ She turns to let me pat her back. I do so, laughing.
Carrie is less amused. ‘When you’re both quite done. Maybe we’ll set up something similar for the Easter Eggstravaganza.’
She announces that in accentuated tones because she’s come up with that name herself. Liz is clapping again and a few mums smile tiredly over their cups of tea and garibaldi. She hasn’t even provided biscuits with chocolate.
‘I’ve already booked in the petting zoo for that. Despite what happened last year, they realise it was not our fault.’
What happened last year is someone left a gate open and a three-year-old got run over by a sheep and a dad kicked said sheep in the head. There was also an incident where a child tried to feed a carrot up a particularly hairy guinea pig’s bum because they couldn’t work out which end was its face.
‘And Ross has agreed to dress up as the rabbit this year. The actor we hired last year was farcical. He couldn’t even hop.’
Helen twists her lips around, trying to stifle her giggles. Don’t. That shit is contagious. I look over at the owl. That doesn’t help.
‘The actor was pants because the kids chased him around the field, tackled him to the floor and robbed him of his sweets. Feral little fuckers,’ Helen adds. I grin because I was there. Though to see Ross Cantello chased and attacked by children may become a year highlight.
‘Treasure hunt would be much better,’ Helen suggests. ‘The Twenty-Four-Carrot Fun Day. Find all the carrots and the children get an egg. I don’t like mine getting all these random sweets and then they’re off their tits on sugar. The parents hated us after last year.’
‘I like that idea,’ I say. ‘From a money point of view, we’d have to spend less from the outset.’
Carrie glares at me. There’s the murmur of approval from the other mothers in the room. I give Helen a cheeky elbow and she winks at me.
‘But Eggstravaganza… it’s an excellent play on words,’ Liz adds.
‘My lad’s in Reception and he can’t even say his own name,’ Helen adds.
I take a sip of tea to hide my smirk. Keep prodding, Hels.
‘Well, I’ll think about it,’ Carrie says, drawing that conversation to a close. ‘We also had a plan for the end of the month. We don’t normally put on extra things but I thought it’d be a really good idea to have a Chinese New Year event.’
Liz, stop clapping.
‘Like a normal quiz night,’ she carries on, ‘but Chinese-themed for the end of January. We could get Chinese food in, perhaps some decorations, and I found a company who could print fortune cookies and fans for us.’ My heart drops. I sense Helen taking a deep inhalation of breath.
‘Oh my days, I know somewhere we could get straw hats,’ Liz says. ‘I have a kimono I could wear, it’d be a riot…’
I wait for it.
‘What do you think, Grace?’
It was coming. Shitsticks.
‘I think there are possibly better ways of making money for the school. A raffle maybe?’ I mutter.
Carrie stops to study my pained expression. ‘I thought you’d like that idea, what with your girls?’
All the eyes of the room fall onto me. Oh dear, I have to do this, don’t I?
‘My girls are not Chinese. They’re Vietnamese.’
‘Oh, well, it’s all the same, no?’
‘It really isn’t,’ I reply. Crumbs, Carrie. It’s late. There’s no alcohol here. I don’t want a conversation about cultural appropriation and your lack of understanding of world geography.
‘Then what about their father? Their Asian roots? I think they’d appreciate the fact we’re trying to celebrate the diversity of our school?’
I pause for a moment. Carrie has never asked me about my family, my life, or my husband, which is really just typical of her self-obsessed personality, but Helen knows and I feel her body lean into mine.
‘Maya and Cleo are adopted.’
‘Oh,’ Carrie says bluntly without a hint of an apology. ‘You’d never tell. They speak English so well.’
I inhale sharply to cut off my words.
‘I never see your husband about so I assumed he was the Asian one. Maybe he works all the time so is less involved in your family life.’
Deep breaths, Gracie. Deep deep breaths.
‘He’s less involved because he’s dead. My husband passed away from testicular cancer three years ago.’
The room goes quiet. Not even quiet. Dead. As dead as this owl next to me. As dead as Tom. He’d have laughed hard at that joke. He’d literally have wet himself over the owl.
No one is speaking. When I throw that bomb, I never quite get why everyone goes silent. Is it the testicle bit, the cancer bit or the death bit? All three are the most loaded conversation-killers you can get.
‘I… I didn’t know that.’
‘Well, you do now. The girls actually never knew him. I went travelling after Tom passed away and I adopted them during that time.’
The room take stock of that story. Some look down, some shake their heads, others you can almost hear the awkward sound of them swallowing and it hitting the pits of their stomach.
‘And you should also know we have a huge mixture of kids from the South East Asian diaspora in our school. Blake in Year Four has a Cambodian mother and the twins in Year Six are Filipino. If you want to label some crappy quiz event as representative of all these different families and their cultures by wearing straw hats and dicking around with chopsticks and bad chow mein then you’re just going to insult a load of people. Kimonos are also Japanese.’
If Helen could dance now, she probably would. She would actually twerk.
‘So you’re a single mother?’ asks Carrie.
That’s all she got from that? Yes, I am raising two sisters of Vietnamese/French ethnicity. On my own. In Bristol. In a house. And I am also sitting here with my pen poised ready to stab you through your jugular and tell you your Hogwarts-style living room is really quite the embarrassment. You have Hagrid coasters.
‘I am. And a widow, I guess.’
It’s like she doesn’t understand that. How am I supposed to look? Am I supposed to be a pre-teen single mother? Am I supposed to look sadder? Dressed in black? Do widows wear denim? Carrie scans the ring on my finger, ready to spread this information around the playground. This is a variation of her life that she just doesn’t understand and, for one small moment, I pity her.
‘Well, it was just an idea. I don’t want people being sensitive about it.’ That smidgeon of pity evaporates pretty quickly.
‘What about your Pancake Day idea, Carrie?’ Liz suggests animatedly, trying to mend the. . .
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