Today I’m delighted to feature author Penny Batchelor. Penny’s debut thriller My Perfect Sister was longlisted for The Guardian’s Not The Booker Prize 2020 and was a Waitrose Weekend choice. Her New Best Friend, Penny’s second novel, will be published on 5th August 2021.
Penny is currently hard at work writing her third book.
When Penny was five she wrote at school that she likes fish and chips and wants to write books. Both are still true!
She is an alumna of the Faber Academy online ‘Writing a Novel’ course, a freelance journalist, a former BBC content producer and website editor for various educational institutions, and lives in Warwickshire with her husband.
Penny is passionate about positive disability representation in fiction. One fifth of the UK population is disabled, so why don’t we see that reflected in novels?
Along with EC Scullion Penny is the co-founder and editor of the Thriller Women blog, which publishes interviews with female thriller writers.
Over to Penny:
Which five pieces of music/songs would you include in the soundtrack to your life and why?
Looking back to when I was a young child my parents bought me the Grease single ‘You’re The One That I Want’ to play on dad’s old record player. I was far too young to go and see the film but I loved to sing along to the record. When Grease made it to TV I used to watch it with a friend who knew it word by word. The sexual references totally went over our heads but we both thought it was very naughty that Sandy smoked a cigarette!
As a tweenager (although they weren’t invented back then in the 1980s) I loved Wham and especially George Michael. A magazine printed a double spread each week for four weeks and I collected them all to have a huge Wham! picture on the back of my bedroom door. I didn’t get to see Wham! perform as a child but was thrilled to see George Michael’s Symphonica tour in my 30s. I remained loyal! I still love listening to his music and it’s very hard for me to choose a favourite. ‘Last Christmas’ is my go-to tune every festive season, but if you’re pointing a gun to my head forcing me to make a decision then my second single choice is ‘Freedom’. It’s a brilliant singalonga pop tune and the video at the time with lots of supermodels in caused a stir! I was very sad when George Michael died too young. He never seemed to find his happy place
I got into U2 at university and enjoyed playing their music as loudly as possible! My third choice is their single ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’. The introductory music before the singing is amazing and has stood the test of time. When I was at Uni in the 1990s I went with my brother and a couple of his friends to the Granada Studios tour in Manchester. I was a big Coronation Street fan at the time and loved treading the cobbles and going in the Rover’s Return. As part of the tour there was a 3D cinema showing a montage of swirling graphics all accompanied by Where The Streets Have No Name. It was my first experience of 3D and the film along with the song made the experience unforgettable.
And now onto my personal anthem, Chumbawamba’s ‘Tubthumping’. I was born with a rare genetic condition called Osteogenesis Imperfecta, Brittle Bones in non-Latin language, and the upshot of that is that I have fractured a lot in my life, particularly as a child. ‘Tubthumping’ reminds me of going to indie clubs in my early to mid 20s and I love the lyrics ‘I get knocked down but I get up again, you’re never going to keep me down’, which literally has been the story of my life! I fell, I broke my femur and then when it mended I got back up again and carried on. For me those lyrics can be taken both literally and metaphorically, i.e. life’s not going to keep me down. Even now I love dancing in my bedroom to ‘Tubthumping’ and have a chuckle remembering Chumbawamba’s drummer pouring a bucket of cold water over John Prescott at The Brits in 1998!
Mine and my husband’s first dance at our wedding was to Michael Buble’s ‘Everything’ because the lyrics reminded us of our feelings for each and also we also didn’t want to slow dance! However, the song of the night, and my last single pick, was ‘I Gotta Feeling’ by the Black Eyed Peas. We got married at 4pm, wanting to avoid a huge gap between food and speeches. Our reception was a fabulous evening and it certainly, as the lyrics say, was a very good night. ‘I Gotta Feeling’ got lots of people up dancing with huge grins on their faces. The song will always now be synonymous with our wedding day and, as with ‘’Tubthumping’, I still love dancing around my bedroom to it. I can’t fail to feel happy when it’s playing.
What five things (apart from family and friends) would you find it hard to live without.
Books! A world without books is not a world I’d want be a part of.
My MacBook for writing on and keeping in touch with people.
Summer Fridays Lip Butter Balm. I tried for years to find a decent lip balm that lasted and finally found this one. I go through tubes of it – it’s worth the price.
My wheelchair for obvious mobility reasons!
Toast. It’s my go-to food.
Give five pieces of advice to your younger self?
Your spots will go and having oily skin in your teens and twenties means fewer wrinkles in your 40s!
Don’t be afraid of failure. You’ll never attain everything you go for but if you don’t try then that means you can’t succeed.
In your twenties you’re writing a load of rubbish. Keep trying though and you will find your own voice. Don’t give up your dream of being a published author.
Don’t have a perm. Trust me, it’s not a good look. If you must have one then make sure no-one takes a photo of it for everlasting chuckle evidence.
You will find love; it’ll just take you a little longer than some other people.
Tell us five things that most people don’t know about you
I’m a qualified Reiki practitioner, although it’s a long time since I last gave it a go.
I worked in telly for a few years and went on a TV shoot with the late, great Jill Dando.
My nephews nicknamed me Aunty Stainy for my propensity to spill food down myself at mealtimes when I’m talking.
I’m a keen knitter and it made my day when I had my own knitting pattern (for a blanket) published in a knitting magazine.
My dad wanted to call me Penelope and my mum wanted to call me Anna. Dad joked that me being named Penelope Anna was only time he ever got his own way with mum 😉
Tell us five things you’d still like to do or achieve.
I hope to carry on writing and being published, honing my craft with each novel.
I have lots of novel ideas in genres other than psychological thrillers and would like to get a chance to write them too. So far there’s a Christmas feel-good book; a Pride and Prejudice offshoot; a literary fiction book; an historical crime thriller; a YA novel; and a speculative thriller. Plus lots more. So much to write, so little time …
I’m looking forward to seeing the adults that my nephews and god-daughters become. It’s such a privilege to know a person from the day they were born.
I isolated over the Coronavirus lockdown and really missed our family Christmas. This year I hope we’ll have a huge get-together with lots of fun to make up for what we missed out on.
I enjoy travelling, seeing different cultures and getting some sun! Bali is on my bucket list. I’m saving my pennies.
Many thanks for joining me today Penny, it was lovely to discover more about you. Great music choices, I’ve always linked Tubthumping in particular so it was good to hear that again as well as the Black Eyed Peas – I was deemed too old to go ‘clubbin’, nowadays I’d just go and enjoy it. Argh, the perm, we’ve all done it and I’ve still got well hidden photo’s to prove it. It was the worst thing I ever did! In my more ‘alternative’ phase I took my Reiki levels I and II, but I’ve neglected it since. A pity really, as my once sceptical husband used to swear by it for his knees. I had to laugh at your being nicknamed Aunty Stainy, nephews are wonderful arent they? Here’s hoping that you do carrying on writing, you seem to have plenty of ideas up your sleeve. Here’s to all restrictions being off, so you can jet off for some culture in the sun. As for Christmas, I think we all deserve a joyous family one this year.
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My Perfect Sister
How can you ever live up to the memory of someone you hardly remember?
Annie is five when her sister Gemma leaves for school one day and never returns. The family’s lives are changed forever with Gemma’s disappearance and Annie feels neglected and unloved. When she is just sixteen, she decides she can no longer live in the shadow of her perfect but absent sister and she leaves home, falling in and out of jobs and relationships, her resentment for Gemma always there, bubbling under the surface.
Many years later she reluctantly returns home to care for her mother, ill with cancer. Her anger only grows when she sees Gemma’s room still kept as a shrine while hers is now her mother’s sewing room, but as she cares for her mum she begins to soften and egged on by her best friend Priti she realises she has to uncover what happened to Gemma, for all their sakes.
Her research puts her in danger but with the help of a fabulous cast of characters and a satisfying twist in the tale, she finally discovers the truth but can she ever accept it?
Her New Best Friend
Mum-of-two Audrey is horrified when during a moment of distraction in the park, her pram with baby Wilfred in it rolls down the hill and into a pond. Fortunately for her, Claire Jones is nearby and rescues Wilfred, soothing Audrey and daughter Antonia with coffee and cake in a nearby café. No harm is done.
However, the frightening experience dents Audrey’s confidence and she replays the events over and over, convinced she can’t have forgotten to put the brake on. To make matters worse she keeps spotting a shadowy figure everywhere she goes and becomes sure that someone is stalking her.
Audrey’s fears are escalating when a catastrophic reaction to a bee sting sends her into a coma – and into hospital – but once again her new best friend is on hand to step in.
Does Claire really have Audrey’s best interests at heart?
And if not, why has she inserted herself so cleverly into Audrey’s life?
Will Audrey ever recover?
And will her real friends be able uncover the truth before it is too late?