Every time I walk my dog past the cute wooden huts on West Wittering beach, I dream of owning one. I’ve even got a shortlist of my favourites. I chat to the owners of several regularly and they tend to be passed down the generations, and every hut has a story to tell. So fellow Chindi author Angela Petch’s latest book, Mavis & Dot, totally appeals. For the avoidance of doubt – this is a grown up book not a kids book! It was written in memory of a friend who passed away from ovarian cancer, and the icing on the cake is that all profits from Mavis and Dot will go towards cancer research, so I’m adding this to my “to be read pile”. Now I just need the weather to warm up a bit – deck chair and thermos at the ready, since we’re going a bit retro.
Anyway, I’ve invited Angela onto my blog to chat about the themes and inspiration for her book, so over to her.
Loneliness and Kindness
Mavis and Dot are two very different ladies who retire to the Sussex seaside at about the same time. They forge an unlikely friendship and end up having a few adventures together. I don’t think for a moment that they set out to be kind for a reason, but they end up helping each other through their loneliness. True kindness lies within giving, without expecting a return.
When Mavis— always on a mission to lose the inches— is incapacitated after a strenuous session of an exercise class (Bums and Tums), Dot came over as soon as she could, producing from her shopping bag a huge slab of fruit and nut chocolate.
‘I remember you saying this was your favourite. It was reduced at the Co-op because one end was a little melted, but it should taste fine. And I bought three fruit cakes. Their sell-by-date was last week but that doesn’t matter. It will act like penicillin for you, what?’ she chortled, ‘a little bit of mould will save you from having to take antibiotics.’
Mavis knew that Dot was only being kind but how was she supposed to shed pounds for her ballroom dancing classes with all these goodies wafted under her nose?
Dot needs support from her new friend later, even though she doesn’t realise. She’s a complex, prickly character. Mavis is the first person to whom she pours out her heart, after more than fifty years of keeping a personal tragedy to herself. Afterwards, they put on the kettle (there is a lot of tea drinking in Mavis and Dot).
‘Tea again,’ laughed Dot, ‘we’ll start to look like teapots.’
I loved William books, written by Richmal Crompton and all of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five Adventures when I was little. So, I’ve given Mavis and Dot some grown-up adventures. Dot comes across a couple of illegal immigrants hiding in a beach hut and she decides to rescue them, not without complications. She is determined to help them in their quest for a better life and invites them back to her house.
This act of kindness gains her a family. At the end of the book, after sharing Christmas Day with most of the characters in the book, Dot sits quietly by the fire.
It had been one of the best days, something to bottle for gloomier times. She thought about the unpredictability of life; how bad could be softened by good; how old clichés like “never give up” were so true. Because if anybody had told her this time last year, she would be spending December 25th with strangers who were now like family, she would have laughed in their face.
By the way, I love that her illustrations by Gill Kaye, editor of Sussex magazine, Ingenu/e are simple pencil sketches, like I used in Eternal Seas. Here’s one of Dot staking out the beach hut at night with her dog, because she’s convinced somebody is using it at night.
Introducing two eccentric ladies who form an unlikely friendship.Meet Mavis and Dot – two colourful, retired ladies who live in Worthington-on-Sea, where there are charity shops galore. Apart from bargain hunting, they manage to tangle themselves in escapades involving illegal immigrants, night clubs, nude modelling, errant toupees and more. And then there’s Mal, the lovable dog who nobody else wants. A gently humorous, often side-splitting, heart-warming snapshot of two memorable characters with past secrets and passions. Escape for a couple of hours into this snapshot of a faded, British seaside town. You’ll laugh and cry but probably laugh more.
Angela Petch lives in the Tuscan Apennines in summer and Sussex in winter.
Her love affair with Italy was born at the age of seven when she moved with her family to Rome. Her father worked for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and he made sure his children learned Italian and soaked up the culture. She studied Italian at the University of Kent at Canterbury and afterwards worked in Sicily where she met her husband. His Italian mother and British father met in Urbino in 1944 and married after a wartime romance.
Her first book, “Tuscan Roots” was written in 2012, for her Italian mother-in-law, Giuseppina, and also to make readers aware of the courage shown by families of her Italian neighbours during WW2. Signed by Bookouture in 2018, this book will be republished in June 2019. Another Tuscan novel has been commissioned for 2020.
“Now and Then in Tuscany”, a sequel, was published in April 2017 and features the same family. The background is the transhumance, a practice that started in Etruscan times and continued until the 1950s. Her research for her Tuscan novels is greatly helped by her knowledge of Italian and conversations with locals.
Although Italy is a passion, her stories are not always set in this country. “Mavis and Dot”, published at the end of 2018 and sold in aid of Cancer Research, tells the story of two fun-loving ladies who retire to the Sussex seaside. They forge an unlikely friendship and fall into a variety of adventures. Ingenu/e Magazine describes it as:“Absolutely Fabulous meets Last of the Summer Wine… a gently hilarious feel-good book that will enchant and delight…”.
A prize-winning author, member of CHINDI authors and the RNA, she also loves to travel and recently returned to Tanzania, where she lived at the start of her marriage. A keen tennis player and walker, she also enjoys spending time with her five grandchildren and inventing stories for their entertainment.
Her short stories are published by PRIMA and The People’s Friend.