‘It was an ABSOLUTE gem of a book and I LOVED every minute of this fantastic story!’- Christie Barlow, author of ‘Evie’s Year of Taking Chances’The best things in life happen when you least expect them
Nat’s husband has just said the six words no one wants to hear – ‘I don’t love you any more’.
Caroline’s estranged mother has to move into her house turning her perfectly ordered world upside down.
Living on the same street these two women couldn’t be more different. Until the beloved local community centre is threatened with closure. And when the only way to save it is to form a community choir – none of the Hope Street residents, least of all Nat and Caroline, expect the results…
This spring, hope is coming!
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About the Author
Having worked in the worlds of book selling and publishing, Annie Lyons decided to have a go at book writing. Following a creative writing course, lots of reading and an extraordinary amount of coffee, she produced Not Quite Perfect, which went on to become a number one bestseller. Her latest book, The Choir on Hope Street, is a story of power ballads, community, cake and hope. She tries to write stories which make people laugh and cry, although hopefully not at the same time.
Read an Excerpt
The Choir on Hope Street
By Annie Lyons
HarperCollins PublishersCopyright © 2017 Annie Lyons
All rights reserved.
'I don't love you any more.'
That was it. Six words delivered so simply, as if he were reading the news.
'Good evening and here is the news. The marriage of Natalie and Daniel Garfield, which lasted for fifteen years, is over. In a statement today, Mr Garfield said, "I don't love you any more." Mrs Garfield responded by punching him in the face and trashing the house.'
At least that's what I wished I'd done later but at the time an odd sensation of calm descended. It was as if this wasn't really happening to me. It was at best some kind of joke and at worst something that could be sorted.
This wasn't in the plan. This kind of thing was never going to happen to us. Other people split up, their marriages disintegrating like a swiftly disappearing desert island, but that was never going to happen to us. We were rock-solid – a steady ship; Nat and Dan, Dan and Nat. It had the ring of one of those American teen shows that Woody loved to watch on Nick Jr.: all jazz hands and sparkly teeth.
We were a great couple. Everyone said so. We were the kind of couple that others looked at with awe and secret envy. Everybody loved Dan. He's just one of those men who people like – old ladies, babies, men, women, children have all told me over the course of our marriage, what a really great guy he is.
I would go on nights out with my female friends as they ripped apart their partners and husbands, picking over their faults like vultures feasting on carrion. I would nod with sympathy but never really had anything to add. They would often turn their sleepy, drunken gaze to me, pat me on the shoulder and slur, 'Course you're lucky, Nat. You've got Dan. He's such a lovely guy.'
And he was. Possibly still is.
Dan was my husband, my soul mate. Of course he had his faults. The underpants on the floor and the toilet seat in the perpetual 'up' position were an irritation, but not exactly a major crime against domesticity. He was, is a good man – a good husband and father. He was my happy-ever-after. Naturally, we had disagreements and wobbles. Who doesn't? We didn't spend as much time together on our own as we would like but that's to be expected. We're busy with work, Woody and life. Obviously it would be lovely to go on the odd date-night or even have sex but, frankly, we were usually too knackered. I'd always thought that the shared bottle of wine on Friday night with a movie was good enough. Clearly I have been labouring under a major misapprehension.
Initially, I went into full-on denial mode when he dropped the bombshell. I wondered later if my body had actually gone into shock in a bid to protect myself from the truth. Certainly at the time, my brain sent me a quick succession of messages to counter his statement: he didn't mean it (he did), he'd been drinking (he hadn't), he was tired (true) and angry (not true). It wasn't until I'd picked over the remnants of that evening with various friends (my turn to be the vulture now) that I'd fully taken in the order of events.
It was a Tuesday evening. I hate Tuesdays. They make me feel restless and impatient. Monday is supposed to be the worst day but for me, it has always been Tuesday. I can deal with the post-weekend slump and Monday is usually my most productive day but by Tuesday, I am longing for the week to move 'over the hump' towards the downhill joy of Thursday. I often long for a glass of wine on Tuesday evenings but on this particular day I was disappointingly sober because I was having a so-called healthy week.
At least I was before he said it.
It was around 8.30 and we had just finished dinner. Woody was reading in his room before lights-out and I had been about to go and tuck him in. I normally love this part of the day: the feeling that another episode of motherhood is successfully complete; no-one died. Everyone is safe. If I had been paying attention, I would have noticed that Dan was particularly uncommunicative during dinner.
Again, it wasn't until later that I recalled the details: his downward gaze and hands fidgeting with the cutlery, his water glass, the pepper mill.
I had been telling him about a problem with my latest book. I am a children's picture-book writer and have enjoyed some success with my series of books about 'Ned Bobbin the small boy with the big imagination', as my publisher tags it. There have been six books so far and my editor wants another three but I was struggling with ideas and wondering whether to take him down the super-hero route.
When I recalled the conversation later, I realised that I had done all the talking; posing and answering my own questions with just the odd 'mhmm' or nod from Dan. That was the problem with being a writer – you spent too much time at home on your own with no-one to talk to.
I talk to myself all the time when I'm working. I read back what I've just written, talk to the radio or hold imaginary conversations with all manner of people, including Ned. I read somewhere that adults have a certain number of words they need to say in a day and that the word quota for a woman is higher than a man's. I believe this. It isn't unusual, therefore, for me to unpack my day to Dan when he gets home. I thought he liked it. Maybe I was wrong about that too.
I had finished my dinner: an unimaginative stir-fry containing any vegetable-like items I'd found in the fridge on opening it at 7.30. Woody had eaten earlier. He was eight years old and always starving when he returned home from school so I tended to feed him straight away and then either Dan or I cooked our dinner later.
I stood up to clear the plates, reaching out for Dan's. He looked up at me and only then did I notice how pale he looked – his face, slightly pinched with age, but still handsome. He stared at me, unsmiling and I realised he was nervous.
'What?' I asked with an encouraging smile.
He swallowed and bit his lip. Then he said it.
At first I assumed he was joking.
'Yeah right, and I'm having an affair with James McAvoy.' I shook my head and made for the door.
I paused, turning to look back at him. He was crying and that was when I knew it wasn't a joke. It was the first rumble of a threatening storm. Still, my brain told me to keep going, carry the plates out, kiss Woody goodnight, come down and sort this out. It was just another thing to be sorted, like pairing the socks in a basket of washing.
I could hear my heart beating in my ears as I padded upstairs, pausing outside my son's bedroom door. I focused for a moment on the wooden letters stuck to the upper panel, spelling, 'WOODY'. Each letter was represented by an animal with the same corresponding first letter and I reached out a hand to stroke the wombat's cheery face. I will sort this out. I'm good at sorting. All will be well.
I pushed the door open, blinking into the half-light, feeling immediately reassured by the sight of my son. He was sitting up in bed, reading by the light of the twisty snake-lamp we had given him last birthday, propped up by the patchwork cushion my mum had made him when he was born. His chin was resting on his chest, that customary frown creasing his perfect face. He flicked his gaze in my direction and then back down at his book.
'How's Mr Fox doing?' I asked, as if nothing had happened, as if my world was still intact.
Woody sighed. 'Not good. Boggis, Bunce and Bean shot him.'
'Ooh, that's not good.'
Woody shook his head in agreement but kept reading, his eyes darting left and right. I looked around his room at the dog-eared football posters, the framed prints of scenes from my Ned Bobbin stories, the Lego models and the shelves stacked with books. Woody was a bookworm. He had learnt to read at the age of three and not really stopped since. He had probably read Fantastic Mr Fox at least fifty times. I felt a sense of calm descend. It would have been the easiest thing in the world to nestle down at the end of Woody's bed, to pretend Dan hadn't said what he had just said and hope that it all went away. I felt safe there.
'Time for lights-out, fella,' said Dan's voice from the doorway. I jumped, jolted back to reality. I couldn't see his face properly but his voice was throaty from crying.
Woody glanced at him and then me. 'Can I just finish this chapter, please?' His expression was wide-eyed and impossible to resist.
Dan stepped forwards and ruffled his hair. 'Okay, but then straight to sleep.'
"Kay,' replied Woody. 'Night, Mum.'
I leant down and kissed him. 'Night, darling boy. Love you. Sleep well.'
'Love you. Sleep well,' repeated Woody like a robot. 'Night, Dad.'
'Night,' said Dan. He turned towards the door and paused, looking back over his shoulder at me. 'Coming?' I stared down at my son as if he might offer a solution.
He sensed my hesitation and looked up. 'Night, Mum,' he said again with a trace of impatience.
'Night,' I answered, turning and following Dan out of the room and down the stairs. We didn't speak again until we reached the dining room.
'I'm going to get a glass of wine,' I said. 'Want one?'
'No,' sighed Dan. 'Thanks. We do need to talk, Nat.'
'And that's why I need a glass of wine,' I said, making my way to the kitchen. I poured a polite helping and then doubled it. Taking a large gulp, I refilled it and carried the glass into the dining room. Dan was sitting at the table, his hands in prayer position.
I slid into the chair opposite. 'So,' I began, trying to stay calm and matter-of-fact. 'What's this all about?' Dan ran a hand through his neatly parted hair and stared up at the ceiling. 'I'm leaving.'
I was surprised to learn that two gulps of wine could inflame immediate righteous anger. 'Because you don't love me any more?' I almost spat the words.
'I think so.'
'You think so?' I snapped. 'Because that's a fucking big statement if you're not sure. Do you love me or not? Simple question.' My voice was increasing in volume and it unnerved me. My childhood had been punctuated by anger between my father and mother. As an adult I had made a monumental effort to keep mine under control but all bets were off now. Red was the new black.
Dan stared at his hands, unable to look me in the eye. 'No, I don't and I'm sorry.'
The sarcasm devil took control of my brain. 'Well that's all right then. If you're sorry then I forgive you. That makes it all just fine.' I folded my arms and stared at him.
I couldn't get a grip on my brain somehow, couldn't work out what I was supposed to say or how I was supposed to feel. I had no point of reference for this moment. It felt like somebody else's life.
Dan tried to be reasonable. That was one of his greatest strengths. He was eternally reasonable and always took other people's opinions seriously. We rarely argued and this was largely down to Dan. He was able to defuse a situation like the most practised of bomb-disposal experts. 'I understand that you're angry, Nat, and you have every right to be, but if you'll let me, I'll try to explain.'
I took another deep gulp of wine before holding up my glass as if proposing a toast and saying, 'Please. Be my fucking guest.'
Dan swallowed. 'It's nothing you've done or said. You have always been the perfect wife.'
'If you're about to use the words, it's not you, it's me, I will get violent,' I retorted.
Dan looked at me, tears brimming in his eyes. 'I have tried to stay in love with you but I just don't have those feelings for you any more. I love you but I'm not in love with you.'
My head was spinning from a combination of wine and fury. I stood up. 'So you're planning to leave?' Dan nodded. 'I want to speak to Woody first.'
'Very decent of you, but you'll have to come back to do that another time because I want you gone.'
People talk about a red mist and others talk about an outof-body experience but for me it was neither. I thought nothing and felt nothing but pure white-hot fury as I smashed the wine glass to the floor and screamed, 'GO! NOW! I WANT YOU FUCKING GONE!'
Whether out of self-preservation or respect for my feelings, Dan left the room. Moments later he reappeared with a bag, which I realised he must have been hiding in the back of his wardrobe for goodness knows how long. Waiting for the right moment. He had clearly been waiting for the right moment for a while.
He didn't try to speak to me again before he left and I was oddly grateful to him for this. I heard the front door close like a full stop to my life so far. I looked around the room, numb with anger, unable to cry. I looked at the shards of broken glass and swore.
The annoying thing about a burst of righteous anger is that you have to clear up afterwards. I went to fetch the dustpan and another glass of wine.CHAPTER 2
I actually thought that I was going to kill her. It was as if she had some kind of death wish. She just stepped into the road without even looking just as I was turning the corner. It was incredible. If I hadn't stood up on the brake, I would have hit her much harder. Luckily, I was able to swerve so that I merely touched her and she sort of sat backwards onto the kerb. Of course, it had to be right outside the school, immediately after drop-off. Typical. I had to park on the hazard lines right outside the school, which obviously isn't allowed until 9.30 a.m. The headmaster was standing at the gate and he glanced my way as I leapt from the driver's seat.
'Apologies, Phil!' I cried, giving him a cheery wave. I noticed a gaggle of school mums who I knew from the PTA and tried to give them a reassuring nod as I hurried round to check up on her. I hoped they would just disperse but they had seen what happened and one of them was already on her way over. I recognised her as an annoying woman called Nula, who had been particularly disparaging about my idea to sell 'Loom Bands' at the summer fair.
'They're an absolute nightmare,' she had moaned. 'My cleaner is forever getting them stuck in the Dyson. And Alexis nearly took her little brother's eye out with one last week.'
She was one of those mothers who attends every PTA meeting, criticising each idea and failing to offer any of her own. She also insisted on running the Pimm's stall every year and drinking most of the profits. Her daughter had spat at Matilda when they were in Reception and I had obviously been on her hate list ever since I'd complained to their teacher. I didn't care though – you have to learn to rise above these things when you're the Chairwoman of the PTA. She was simply jealous that I had been elected to the post for a third consecutive year.
It took all my powers of control not to poke her in the eye as she rushed over, ignored my presence except for a haughty flick of her hair and sat down next to the woman, putting an arm around her shoulder.
'Are you all right, Natalie?' she asked in soothing tones. 'I saw the whole thing and can act as a witness if you need me to?' She flicked her gaze in my direction, her nostrils slightly flared. 'What were you thinking, Caroline?'
Trouble-making viper. Luckily, Phil had arrived on the scene. 'Are you all right, Mrs Garfield? Mrs Taylor. Would you like to come inside?'
'I think she's in shock,' said Nula. 'We should probably call an ambulance. And the police.' A shadow of smug satisfaction passed over her face as she uttered this last sentence. That's it, I thought, no Pimm's stall for you this year. Three hours of Splat the Rat, you interfering shrew.
The woman had been staring at the ground all the while but now she seemed to come to her senses. She looked up at us all, her face wide-eyed and fearful. I noticed with distaste that she was wearing pyjama bottoms and a hoody with trainers. To the untrained eye, the trousers could have just about passed as a pair of those awful floral things that everyone insists on wearing these days but she didn't fool me. I can spot M&S nightwear a mile off. Her eyes were heavy with dark shadows and her hair was scraped up into a loose bun. Many people think you can achieve this hairstyle in a matter of seconds but many people are wrong. The wispy-haired look takes practice and effort. This woman hadn't applied either.
Excerpted from The Choir on Hope Street by Annie Lyons. Copyright © 2017 Annie Lyons. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I was thoroughly enjoying this refreshing book about a community choir, made up of very human singers - people like you and me. The author is obviously a gifted writer. I was anticipating finding more books by her, and I had already begun recommending this book to family and friends. But now I would tell them to not waste their money. For whatever reason, in a place where it didn't even make sense, the author of this British book seemed to feel compelled to bring ugly American politics into the book, and I simply stopped reading after these two sentences."....I liked words and books, and I had started writing books for children because I like children. I was not Donald Trump, who I was pretty sure didn't like any of these things." Putting aside the fact that these statements were not based in fact but rather false assumptions which have been proved untrue, these statements seemed to be thrown in there for no plot-related reason, other than to disparage the leader of another country, for no reason. The book takes place in England, so it makes even less sense from that vantage point. I don't know if this was the choice of the author or publisher, but hopefully they will make a different decision next time. This ruined for me, the best book I had read in years. What a disappointment.
Hope Street is a small neighborhood, like so many in the world, where many of the residents can exist quite neatly within the small area. An aging community center becomes the catalyst for the story, as a developer’s interest may result in changes to the neighborhood, unwelcome changes. We start the story with Natalie: a children’s book author with a husband, son and gay best friend who is also responsible for bringing her books to life. Things are busy, but good and comfortable, at least until Nat’s husband announces he doesn’t love her anymore. Nat’s world is, understandably, upended, and when she is wandering sightlessly in traffic after walking her son to school, she is hit by Caroline, the original “too busy appearing perfectly put together and in control” woman with little patience or liking for those who don’t meet her rather impossible standards. Naturally, Natalie dissolves into an emotional mess much to Caroline’s discomfort, but she has a plan. Well, a plan that is less about Natalie and more about her zealous determination to create a committee to save the Community Center. Oh this was fun, as Natalie went through a series of emotional moments from barely hanging on to the plot right over into her fun-loving, never quite allow things to get you down wonderful self, she was certainly the easiest to understand. Caroline is that mean girl who can’t abide deep emotion, preferring to compartmentalize her life, her interactions and her friendships are superficial at best, mean girl at worst. Caroline is DESPERATE to be needed, but only in positions where she feels there is some sort of control and admiration for her work. And, the Community Center, with the brilliant idea of starting a choir to compete for a prize that will not only help them to raise much needed funds BUT also get them publicity – she’s all in. And the community comes together: people from all walks of life who were, at first, simple acquaintances become friends of the best sort: supportive, encouraging and helpful: whether for a quick sitter requirement or a shoulder and a hug. Never a dull moment as they sing, learn and discover, even as lives and trials go on. Most importantly, both Natalie and Caroline come to grow and change. Natalie starts to make changes and become more settled in her own life, with her husband at loose ends. And Caroline, from ignoring and shunting her mother off to a care home to discovering long-held family secrets and finding a new appreciation for her mother, her life and her newly found friends in the community, the story has one memorable moment after another. Exactly what you’d want from a story about a community banding together, with characters that grow, change and develop in front of your eyes as the story unfolds. A wonderful escape into a story that will leave you smiling. I received an eArc copy of the title from the publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.