'The Split has everything I love in a novel. It's hilariously funny, it's so uplifting, and its characters are irresistibly loveable' - BETH O'LEARY
'Full of humour, kindness, cake and a cat, this is the novel to turn to in difficult times' - KATIE FFORDE
Brutally dumped by her girlfriend, Ally is homeless, friendless and jobless... but at least she has Malcolm. Wounded and betrayed, Ally has made off with the one thing she thinks might soothe the pain: Emily's cat.
After a long train journey she arrives home to her dad in Sheffield, ready to fold herself up in her duvet and remain on the sofa for the foreseeable. Her dad has other ideas. A phone call later, and Ally is reunited with her first ever beard and friend of old, Jeremy. He too is broken-hearted and living at home again.
In an inspired effort to hold each other up, the pair decide to sign up for the local half marathon in a bid to impress their exes with their commitment and athleticism.
Given neither of them can run, they enlist the support of athletic, not to mention beautiful, Jo. But will she have them running for the hills... or will their ridiculous plan pay off...?
A brilliant, heart-warming and intensely funny story of love, heartache, friendship and family. Perfect for fans of Marian Keyes and Beth O'Leary.
~*~ PRAISE FOR THE SPLIT ~*~
'A warm, funny, comforting read with such loveable characters!' RUTH JONES
'Uplifting, warm and heartfelt, with a cast of engaging characters who quickly became my friends. A feel-good depiction of love, friendship and family, which is very funny, but with moments of true poignancy too. An absolute must-read' - HOLLY MILLER
'It's like meeting Marian Keyes and Dawn O'Porter in a cosy gay pub in Sheffield!' MATT CAIN
'Wise, wonderful and so much fun. I loved it!' - HEIDI SWAIN
'It was pure fun. Heart-warming and adorable' - JULIE COHEN
'It's rare that a book so important to the literary canon is, at the same time, entertaining, heart-warming, and funny' - ANSTEY HARRIS
'I adored The Split - a hilarious but oh-so-relatable tale of how not to handle a break-up. It made me laugh and sigh and head out for a run' - HOLLY HEPBURN
'An absolute JOY from start to finish. If you're after a smart, funny romcom with characters to root for, this is one for you' - RICHARD ROPER
'Fun, sassy and a joy to read. I loved it!' - EMMA COOPER
'Such a lovely and heart-warming book. And it's hilarious! ... You'd be hard pushed to find a better group of characters to spend time with' - SUZANNE EWART
Release date: February 22, 2021
Publisher: Quercus Publishing
Print pages: 352
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I was more animated than usual, clattering about, talking loudly, laughing obnoxiously. I was trying to catch Emily’s eye to somehow bring her into the room, which she’d walked into minutes before but still failed to completely occupy. I wished I’d cleaned up a bit, noticing my laptop and several dirty mugs on the table. I adjusted my hair into a neater ponytail. I was suddenly and ridiculously self-conscious of being in my Kermit the Frog pyjama bottoms, as if Emily had never seen me in them before, as if she hadn’t worn hers the night before. I found myself talking non-stop about my mundane day, about Malcolm, who sat on the bookshelf looking bored by the whole sorry scene, about what I was cooking, about strange Mr Jeffrey’s noisy building project next door which now seemed to be taking the shape of a kennel and should we be worried that he was getting a dog?
Emily sat at the kitchen table and looked out of the tiny round window on the side of the boat, through which you could just about make out the shapes of trees and the deep green of the murky river. Every time something I said elicited a response greater than a nod or a murmur I felt triumphant, clinging to those ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘maybes’ like the sweetest and most tender declarations of love. Emily alternated between fiddling with a loose button on her shirt and running her fingers through her long dark hair, pushing it roughly away from her face as if it stung every time it touched her. I thought the more I talked, the more likely she was to come around. I couldn’t stop looking at her. I wanted to see her relax. But Emily’s eyes wandered, filled with that strange kind of sadness that you impose on yourself a few times in your life when it’s for the best, in the long run.
When I finally paused to put the dinner plates on the table, I immediately knew I should never have stopped, but by then it was already too late. That was my fatal mistake. I wished I could have stood in the kitchen for ever, making pasta and small talk until I finally said the thing that convinced Emily she was about to make a terrible mistake. I should have filibustered her into staying. There must have been a magic combination of words that would have worked. Instead I allowed that dreadful silence to envelop us, thick and heavy, as the first tears fell from Emily’s eyes.
‘I’m so sorry, Ally.’
Don’t be, I said in my head. Just don’t be and we’ll forget this moment ever happened and we’ll just eat our tea and sit on the sofa with Malcolm between us and carry on for ever.
‘I can’t do this anymore.’
I put my head in my hands, unable to watch.
‘We both know that things haven’t been right for a long time, don’t we? Please look at me, Al. Don’t make me be the one who has to do this when we both know.’
I didn’t look up. I didn’t know.
‘We’re just not right together anymore, are we? I think we’ve both grown up so much and we’ve both changed. Well, I know that I’ve changed.’
I told her that I hadn’t noticed any change, which made her incredibly angry very quickly and after that there were fewer tears on her part. In fact it seemed I had unwittingly given her a renewed conviction. She sat up straighter and banged her hand on the table in frustration, which made Malcolm shoot out of the cat flap at lightning speed.
‘Of course you haven’t noticed a change! Of course you haven’t.’
She shouted this, a kind of high-pitched, wobbly shouting that I had never heard from her before. If the moment hadn’t been so completely horrible I might have laughed. It might have been something that I could have done an impression of in a few days’ time with my arms wrapped around her waist and she would have slapped me on the arm and protested, but she would have laughed too.
‘You never notice anything, Ally! It’s like you’ve stopped bothering to engage at all. Do you know how hard it is to be the energy for two people? To have to coax you into coming out with me? To have to coax you into doing literally anything? It’s exhausting.’
I told her that I didn’t understand how she could be exhausted by me doing nothing, but I knew what she meant. I’m not stupid, but how do you respond to that? Maybe I could have apologised and tried to explain or reason with her, but I could see that she’d already made up her mind. In her head she had already stepped outside. I looked down and saw that she hadn’t even taken her shoes off.
Emily said some things then that made me squeeze my eyes shut and grit my teeth until the ringing in my ears drowned out the sound. It was an attempt to block the memories ever being made. I knew it all anyway; tired, bored, done.
‘I’m going to stay at Sarah’s tonight,’ Emily eventually said, breaking through the self-imposed sound barrier. She pushed her chair back and made a move towards the door.
Instinctively I got up too and stood behind my chair, gripping the top until my knuckles went white, prepared to shield myself from what I knew was coming.
‘Sarah from work?’
I said this as incredulously as possible. As if it was the most ludicrous thing I had ever heard in my life. As if Emily had said she was going to stay at Father Christmas’s house. But as I said it, watching her really squirm for the first time that evening, months of memories started flooding my mind. Tiny snapshots of late nights and distracted conversations and working on weekends. These memories that I had locked away in a tiny inaccessible part of my brain. I hated her then for thinking that I didn’t notice, even though I hadn’t realised that I had.
I shook my head and started to laugh – an absurd reaction to feeling that you’ve just taken the worst beating of your life and then been run over by a lorry.
Emily started to speak to me like you might speak to someone standing on the windowsill of a tall building or too close to the edge of a tube platform.
‘Listen.’ She put her hands up to indicate she meant no harm, that she wasn’t going to make any sudden movements to make me jump. She didn’t move any closer, but she did take her hand off the door handle.
‘I never meant for any of this to happen, OK? I honestly never intended for any of this to happen, but seriously Ally, I feel like you checked out such a long time ago and so I just kind of felt like I could check out too. I meant to tell you sooner, but I just . . . it’s been really hard. I really loved you, you know that don’t you?’
She loved me. Past tense.
Emily carried on. She didn’t see the word hanging in the air in front of us.
‘And this thing with Sarah hasn’t been going on for very long, a couple of months, three months I suppose. But she’s not the reason for us breaking up, you understand that? We’re not right and I should have done this sooner and I’m sorry for that.’
It was too much to process all at once. I slumped back down on my chair and nodded not so much in acceptance of her apology as in admission of defeat. I wouldn’t keep her there that night.
‘I’m going to go now,’ Emily said very gently like a mother putting her child to bed without the light on for the first time.
‘I’m going to come back tomorrow so we can talk about this all properly, OK? When things aren’t so fresh.’
I nodded again, sick at the prospect of being alone to face the staggering realness of it all.
Emily looked irritatingly satisfied, as if we’d made some progress. She grabbed her bag. It was already packed, next to the door. How had I not noticed that? She stepped outside. She closed the door and took the breeze with her.
The kitchen got even smaller. The ceiling lower, the light dimmer. Time moved torturously slowly in the few hours after she left. I sat at the table in the deafening silence and cried, great wracking, gut-wrenching sobs, the kind that make your head feel like it might explode, that make your throat feel like sandpaper. I cried until I was exhausted, got up, turned on the tap in the kitchen sink, stuck my head under it and drank and drank like Malcolm does when someone tries to do the washing up. I picked up my plate of cold pasta studded with soggy bits of courgette and sad blobs of cold tomato sauce and ate the whole thing. Then I took Emily’s and ate all of that too, this time covered with a pile of grated cheddar. I felt briefly comforted.
There was no way I’d be able to sleep that night, so I found myself lingering over ordinary bedtime things. I brushed my teeth for a full twenty minutes, until my gums bled and the brush tasted only of my own metallic saliva. I actually completed the lengthy cleansing routine I always vowed to do, which involved all sorts of rigorous wiping and steaming and several layers of moisturising. I put on fresh pyjamas, and finally, when there was absolutely nothing else to do, I stood in the doorway of our tiny bedroom, stared at the unmade bed which that morning had contained both of us, grabbed the duvet, shut the door behind me and made my way to the sofa.
My plan had been to watch TV all night, but the moment I lay down, I fell into a deep, dreamless sleep. I forgot to check if the door was locked or set a ‘burglar trap’ (a clothes horse in front of the door with lots of coat hangers on it for maximum noise). I didn’t run through every single scenario in my head of the boat catching fire or Malcolm drowning or a serial killer prowling around the riverbank. I simply closed my eyes and slept and slept.
The next morning my mouth was dry and my eyes were puffy. I had been crying in my sleep, which was just about the most pathetic thing I could imagine. It was still dark outside, 6 a.m. Basically the middle of the night. I switched my phone off airplane mode expecting to see at least one message from Emily checking I hadn’t chucked myself overboard in the night, but there was nothing. Anger pulsed through me. There was no way I was going to wait around all day for her to come and speak to me. I couldn’t bear the thought of her sitting in front of me telling me her plans for how I could move out and when. She would probably be planning to move Sarah in. I vaguely recalled meeting her at some Christmas drinks, but she was just a shape with a blank face. Not important enough to remember, I’d thought.
I grabbed my suitcase and started to pack as many clothes as I could. I’d be coming back soon, I thought. Yes, when everything had calmed down. It would blow over. Nothing we couldn’t sort out. My thoughts were racing. I felt feverish, almost. The only place I could think of going was to Sheffield, home to my dad’s. All my friends in London were Emily’s friends too. I shuddered, wondering if they had known what was going on. Had they all discussed it? Had they offered her advice on how to break up with me? Whose idea had it been to have a bag packed? No one had reached out to me yet, to ask if I was OK.
I picked up my phone to text my dad.
Dad. This is an SOS. I need to come home for a while. Emily broke up with me. Is that OK? I’m sorry. I know it’s early.
He replied almost immediately. I imagined him lying in bed scrolling through his phone, probably playing Scrabble.
You don’t have to ask. I’ll pick you up if you let me know what train you’re on. Bring your big coat. It’s cold.
Just as I was on my way out, Malcolm emerged from his spot in front of the wood burner. He stretched lazily before flopping back down again, exhausted by the effort. He looked up at me. I looked deep into his eyes for some sign of sympathy or understanding, but all I could see was Breakfast? Before I had the chance to make a conscious decision, I walked over to the bed and pulled Malcolm’s carrier out from underneath. Somehow, perhaps because it all happened so quickly, he let me pick him up and wrestle him into it with relatively little fuss. A bit of bleeding was to be expected. My heart thumped as I paused in the doorway, a performance of thinking things through as if I hadn’t already made up my mind. Malcolm yowled as we stepped off the boat.
The train was late. And it cost me more than £100. There ought to be some kind of discount for those travelling at the last minute with broken hearts. I thought about billing Emily and the look on her face when she saw the request pop up on her phone. Tempting.
The swell of anxious people rolling suitcases and the babble of screaming children on the platform was giving me a stomach ache. Every rogue shriek from a baby set a fresh burst of adrenaline pumping through my chest. I tried to block them all out. Crouching down, I poked a tentative finger through the slats of the carrier resting on top of my suitcase. Malcolm hissed.
When the train finally arrived, I heaved myself, my giant suitcase and giant cat onto the train, nearly bursting into tears at the sight of a luggage rack with space. This little accomplishment, getting onto the train and securing an unreserved seat, felt like a triumph.
I was suddenly ravenous. As other passengers organised themselves around me, and the train slowly rolled out of St Pancras station and into the grey January day, I got my Marks and Spencer ploughman’s and packet of cheese puffs out of my bag and thought of nothing else for a few blissful, cheese-filled minutes.
I have never experienced a loss of appetite except when severely poorly and even then I stare longingly at the food other people eat, miserable at the wasted opportunity.
The romance of train journeys used to appeal to me. Once, even this East Midlands train that smelt like toilets and cheese and onion crisps would have relaxed me. But today I felt no joy or peace. The journey felt slower than usual and was punctuated only by Malcolm’s occasional yowl, a guttural reminder that he was there against his will, and I realised, with a pang of guilt, that I hadn’t given him breakfast before we left. I pushed a crisp through the bars of his carrier, but he just looked at it in disgust, insulted by the bleakness of the offering. I pressed my forehead against the window and as the next heart-wrenching lift of St. Vincent’s guitar from my ‘feelings’ playlist burst through my headphones, I felt a cinematic rush of sadness and a fresh wave of tears flowed down my cheeks, turning the green hills and the winter sun into one big, beautiful green and orange smudge. I had been vaguely aware of people giving me a wide berth on account of the cat and the weeping, but in that moment it was just me, the train, and my pounding, anxious, broken heart hurtling from one home and into another.
When the train pulled into Sheffield, I hobbled onto the platform along with hundreds of students lugging their nice clean laundry. I realised, having had my phone safely back on airplane mode all morning, that I was going to have to switch it on now in order to find out where my dad was. He’d probably left at least two concerned voicemails. I took a deep breath before taking the plunge and swiping. My phone instantly lit up with messages coming through too fast to read, although I had my suspicions. Stopping at a pillar near a piano where someone was attempting to play ‘Für Elise’, I stabbed at my phone, squinting my eyes in an effort to see as little as possible. I lifted it to my ear to listen to a voicemail, expecting to hear Dad’s voice telling me which car park many, many minutes from the station he was in.
‘You’ve taken the fucking cat, I can’t believe it.’
A surge of adrenaline flooded through my body. Emily.
‘I knew you were going to be upset, Ally, but I didn’t know you’d be so insane that you’d steal my cat.’
He’s not your cat, I replied in my head. He is our cat.
‘You need to bring him back immediately. Don’t you dare ignore this, I will ring your dad and tell him.’
This didn’t concern me. It was an empty threat, as Emily had never once bothered to come to Sheffield in the seven years we’d been together. I was also not sure what Emily thought my dad would do about it. He is not a cat bounty hunter.
I hung up, satisfied that she was experiencing at least some level of the turmoil I felt. As I put my phone away, I looked up and was surprised to find Dad hanging about in the entrance of the station craning his neck, looking around for me instead of doing snail’s pace laps of the car park so he didn’t have to pay. Seeing him search for me in the mass of people made the tears swell all over again and my heart lurch into my throat. I might have been five again and lost at the supermarket, or alone at a party desperate to go home. He was the physical embodiment of a lifeboat. I rushed towards him as fast as I could (given my furious, furry luggage) and threw myself at him, thrusting Malcolm’s carrier into his spare hand and burying my face into his neck. I noticed that he felt shorter than I remembered, or slighter. He smelt like the shower gel I’d bought him for Christmas.
‘All right, love?’ he said, giving my head a little pat and pretending not to notice that I was crying, which I was very grateful for.
‘Let’s get these bits in the car, shall we?’
I nodded and together we moved slowly towards the car, which was parked down a side road, not saying anything. Just before he opened the boot Dad seemed to notice for the first time that the holdall in his hand contained a cat, but his only reaction was to raise his eyebrows and pop him in with a ‘Here we go then.’
‘Good journey?’ he asked, adjusting his mirrors.
‘Yeah,’ I said, ‘I had a ploughman’s.’
There was something inherently comforting about sitting in the passenger seat of Dad’s Peugeot. It smelt faintly of the ancient pine air freshener hanging limply from the rear-view mirror and far more strongly of a forgotten orange peel curled up in the compartment of the passenger’s side door. I closed my eyes and in the comfortable silence of the journey felt my shoulders loosen a little bit as we rode through the city and out into the hills. Even with my eyes closed I knew exactly where we were going, each twist and turn and strain on the car’s engine. I opened my eyes as he began his parallel parking ritual, which mainly consisted of turning a bit red and calling Brian next door’s very reasonably sized people carrier a ‘fucking monstrosity’. Once we’d finally managed it, I went to the boot to grab my bags, and followed Dad, who was carrying Malcolm, inside. I could hear our dog, Pat, barking excitedly on the other side of the door. I felt another pang of guilt for subjecting Malcolm first to this journey and then to an elderly but enthusiastic Jack Russell.
My dad put Malcolm’s carrier at the bottom of the stairs before ushering Pat out of the back door to let off steam in the garden. I dumped my bags and fumbled about in the dark for the hallway lamp, but when I finally located the switch, the bulb had gone. I shivered as I took my coat off and hung it on the end of the bannister. I wondered when Dad had last had the heating on.
‘Let’s get you a cup of tea.’ Dad’s head popped around the kitchen door.
I nodded and slipped my shoes off, kicking them in the general direction of the shoe rack, something I could only get away with when there were actual tears on my face.
‘Now then, what will um . . . what will Malcolm have?’ He gestured at the carrier, acknowledging for the first time since he’d picked me up that I had brought the giant cat with me. Malcolm was staring out at us, quietly seething. Pat, who we’d always thought might chill out with age, could still be heard barking her special ‘reserved for cats’ bark through the back door.
‘Could he have some water, and,’ I paused, knowing I was pushing my luck, ‘do you have any cheese? It’s just that he loves cheese, and it might calm him down to have a treat.’
I knew full well that the nonsense of asking for cheese for the cat would only be tolerated for a short amount of time, possibly for today only, so I had to really take advantage while I could.
Dad raised his eyebrows but didn’t protest. ‘Cheese it is.’
I opened Malcolm’s basket, very happy to turn my attention to him. He let out a low moan and crawled out, showing off his enormous tail so that everyone in the room would be rightly intimidated and frankly embarrassed about the size of their own tails.
He sniffed his way over to Dad, who was grating cheese onto a saucer, and after an intense inspection begrudgingly started to nibble on it.
We left him to his snack and took our mugs of tea into the living room. Dad settled on the big green armchair which was an old relic from Grandpa Arthur’s time, and I sat down opposite him. The room hadn’t changed since I’d moved out eleven years ago, with its bumpy painted walls and sausage dog doorstop. I didn’t have to worry about the unknown in this room, it was like a time warp. A picture of Mum and Dad on their wedding day sat in a silver frame on the side table next to me. I wiped my finger over the front of their smiling faces to remove a layer of dust. Since Mum died, Dad and I hadn’t put up any new photos in the house. Time stopped circa 2004.
‘So how long do you think you’ll be home?’
I took a sip of scorching hot, very strong tea. I hadn’t had tea with anything but plant milk in it for over a year. Emily had become a vegan and insisted I at least give up milk if I could not commit as fully as she had. It tasted ridiculously, wonderfully good.
‘Not that it matters,’ he said quickly.
‘Thanks, Dad. I don’t really know. I kind of don’t really have any plans yet, everything’s a bit . . .’ Despite myself I heard my voice waver and felt my bottom lip tremble again.
‘A bit up in the air,’ he said, nodding. ‘It’s all just a bit up in the air at the moment.’
I nodded because I couldn’t speak, and reached forward to grab a chocolate Hobnob from the coffee table. My favourite. It was an unopened packet so I knew he had bought them especially for me.
‘It will get better. And that . . . that awful girl will realise what she’s missing soon enough and I tell you what.’ He paused, looking as though he couldn’t quite decide how to actually tell me what. ‘She’ll never find anyone as good as you.’
We were quiet for a minute. It was very much not like Dad to be so forthcoming, so he’d said it all very quickly, looking down into his cup of tea. I resisted the urge to slide over to him and plant a kiss on . . .
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