Why Gareth Southgate MUST stay as England Manager – one teacher’s perspective.

You know what it’s like at the end of term; you’ve been working hard all year, the pressure’s on to finish everything, mark all the books and get everything organised before the blissful collapse of a few weeks’ holiday. You try to keep the energy high, to persuade your increasingly tired classes that every single piece of work counts, and to keep morale up with pep talks, gentle persuasion, the odd sanction where necessary and, hopefully, a fair few laughs along the way, if you’ve built that kind of relationship with them. Well, in my view, this time of year for England’s manager and his team is no different. It’s a desire for a final push, but in the end, you just do what you can to get things in order, to keep things going just a bit longer.

Of course, I don’t have the luxury of millions in the bank, and neither do my students (as far as I know). I could do with an army of physiotherapists to ease away the aches and pains, but I’m not exactly putting my body through the same thing Harry Kane is, so perhaps that’s a false parallel. What I can strongly identify with, though, is that desire to push through, to wring the best out of my students until the end.

But sometimes that’s just not possible.

Sometimes you just need to let it go.

Sometimes, you just have to phone it in. For your sanity, and the whole damned class.

To my mind, that’s exactly what happened last night. Yes, the defeat against Hungary was a shock, but these things happen. Yes, on paper we should have walked it, with a home crowd and the collective talents of team and manager. And yes, the fans were right to be frustrated, to a point. However, experimentation, taking risks and trying different things can be seen to be a positive. If, indeed, Gareth Southgate was aiming to get a sense of playing new combinations ready for Qatar, then surely he learned a lot last night.

And with learning, more often than not, comes failure. It was Samuel Beckett who said, after all, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

While the stakes for the England team are high, surely the Nations’ League is the perfect playground to learn that lesson, rather than Qatar in November? Surely there has to be some perspective on this one, terrible match, albeit within the context of a less than stellar campaign?

Gareth Southgate is the most successful England manager since Alf Ramsay. But how quickly people forget. Watching his team flounder in last night’s game against Hungary, seeing an exhausted Harry Kane struggle to connect with both the ball and his team, a weary Bukayo Saka putting in runs but finding his legs wanting, and a stalwart Kyle Walker trying his best to provide the solid defence he’s so known for, it felt like watching battle weary chargers staggering back from the Crimea after a disastrous assault. And on the touchline, every worry and every concern etched deeply into his features, their equally shattered general, trying to hold back the tide. Too stressed, too tired, knowing, as the game slipped away from him, that the penalties would be severe (no pun intended).

If this sounds hyperbolic and irritatingly short on technicalities, that’s not surprising. I’m no football expert. I teach English and I write romantic fiction for a living. But I can recognise exhaustion. I’ve taught for twenty years; it kind of goes with the territory. You know when your class is done. You know when to push, and when to lay off. And I’m sure, if Gareth had had the chance just to say ‘no, lads. Take the night off. Get an ice bath, read a book and sleep,’ then he might have done so. The requirements of this tournament pushed them all to the limit when they were already knackered from a demanding season. And yes, the easy argument is ‘well, they’re paid to perform at the top of their game’, but somehow, having seen the fatigue on display last night, that justification falls father flat. We all know there are eye-watering sums of money in the game; but there are also tired human beings.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only mother in the audience last night who, when Jude Bellingham’s nose met the heel of a Hungarian player, just wanted to wrap him in a blanket, give him an ice pack and send him to bed with a cup of tea. And seeing a red-eyed Harry Kane facing the media after the defeat, honourably calm and unswervingly loyal to a manager who deserves that loyalty, should remind us all that at the end of the day they’re human beings. Highly paid human beings, but human beings nonetheless.

And England fans should be as loyal to Gareth Southgate as his captain is. Yes, this wasn’t their greatest hour, and today Gareth was frank about how painful the defeat and the rabid criticism of the so-called ‘fans’ was. But, with his calm authority, his thoughtful processes and his years of experience, the team, and by proxy, the country, is in a safe but firm pair of hands. Without failure there can be no victory, and we’ve been spoiled as fans for the past five years under Southgate. If a few people disagree, then so be it, but please treat these men with the respect they deserve. At the end of the day, that’s the bare minimum they should expect.

Gareth Southgate has made these players connect with each other; that much is clear both on and off the pitch. He rebuilt the team from the ground up, and they clearly adore him. His own brand of care, patience, firmness and nurturing epitomises many of the virtues of both a great teacher and a great mentor, and he’s only in the middle of his time. To cut him off short now would be a travesty. England fans must put their trust in him; he’s earned it.

At the end of term, we all stagger to the finish, and look forward to the new year, albeit with a good chunk of time off in between. Are the England team and their manager really any different?

New Beginnings at Roseford Hall by Fay Keenan Blog Tour – Review

What a gorgeous review- thank you so much, Julie xxx

Bookish Jottings

Life in London has lost its sparkle for Stella Simpson.

So when she gets the opportunity to escape to the country for a year, it seems too good a chance to miss. In the beautiful Somerset countryside, the majestic Roseford Hall has been painstakingly restored and is now ready for its grand opening. And as the writer in residence, Stella gets to see it all  – from the rowdy resident peacocks, the hidden secrets of the Hall, to befriending the Lord of the Manor himself.

At the other end of Roseford, single father, Chris Charlton is facing his own refurbishment woes. Rocked by a tragedy two years previously, his plans for crumbling Victorian wreck Halstead House are as stuck as he is. 

As Roseford Hall prepares to welcome a new era, and Halstead House’s future is under threat, Chris and Stella find themselves drawn to one another. Can they finally leave…

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New Beginnings at Roseford Hall

Thank you so much for this gorgeous review! xxx

Little Miss Book Lover 87

The start of a brand new series from bestselling author Fay Keenan.

Life in London has lost its sparkle for Stella Simpson.

So when she gets the opportunity to escape to the country for a year, it seems too good a chance to miss. In the beautiful Somerset countryside, the majestic Roseford Hall has been painstakingly restored and is now ready for its grand opening. And as the writer in residence, Stella gets to see it all– from the rowdy resident peacocks, the hidden secrets of the Hall, to befriending the Lord of the Manor himself.

At the other end of Roseford, single father, Chris Charlton is facing his own refurbishment woes. Rocked by a tragedy two years previously, his plans for crumbling Victorian wreck Halstead House are as stuck as he is.

As Roseford Hall prepares to welcome a new era, and Halstead House’s future is under threat, Chris…

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‘New Beginnings At Roseford Hall’ by Fay Keenan

Another wonderful review from Amanda – thank you so much! xxx



Life in London has lost its sparkle for Stella Simpson.

So when she gets the opportunity to escape to the country for a year, it seems too good a chance to miss. In the beautiful Somerset countryside, the majestic Roseford Hall has been painstakingly restored and is now ready for its grand opening. And as the writer in residence, Stella gets to see it all– from the rowdy resident peacocks, the hidden secrets of the Hall, to befriending the Lord of the Manor himself.

At the other end of Roseford, single father, Chris Charlton is facing his own refurbishment woes. Rocked by a tragedy two years previously, his plans for crumbling Victorian wreck Halstead House are as stuck as he is.

As Roseford Hall prepares to welcome a new era, and Halsted House’s future is under threat, Chris and Stella find themselves drawn to one another. Can they finally…

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Happy Birthday Mum 💞 | Flora’s Week Show

Am super touched by this lovely post from Flora, on my birthday. It’s all lies, of course!!

☆ Flora's Week Show ☆

Hello blogging beans & Mum! Today, is a very special day because it’s my Mum’s birthday! 🎂 Yay! 🎉 To celebrate this special day, I’ve put together a poem and a list of things that I’m thankful that you do. By the way my Mum has a blog which you can find here. Without further ado, let’s begin!

Things I’m Grateful For:

  • Taking me to a coffee shop to write
  • Giving me endless love 💞
  • Being an awesome Mum 💕
  • Telling me what a blog is ✏️
  • Taking me and the family to nice places

Your Awesome GIFs | Tenor

My Mum

Mum, you always cook beautiful food for me,
from chilli to spaghetti,
You always help me with my English homework,
From stories to poems,
You always give me amazing advice,
From tips to writing,
Mum, you are wonderful,
Happy Birthday

💕 💕 💕

Thanks so much for reading! ❤️  I hope you…

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The 2021 Romantic Novel Award Winners Interviews with…. Julie Houston

A fab interview with the award winning (and all round awesome) Julie Houston!

A Little Book Problem


Today I am delighted to be interviewing the winner of theSapere Books Popular Romantic Fiction Award in the RomanticNovelists’ Association Awards 2021 with her novel Sing Me A Secret. Please welcome to the blog, author… Julie Houston.


Julie, congratulations on your win and thank you very much for agreeing to appear on my blog during the entry period for the 2022 awards.

This award was voted for by book bloggers, librarians and book sellers. That is a hard crowd to impress. What does it mean to you to win this particular award and what it is about this book that you think spoke to them out of the hundreds they read each year?

I am totally in awe of the people who voted for me for this award, but particularly the book bloggers. They are an amazing set of readers, giving their time and expertise to reading countless…

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How ‘Horrible Histories’ gave me Harry Sinclair.

When I’m writing a novel, I always like to have an image in my mind of what the two lead characters look like. Often, this can be a composite of two or three people – for example, in my debut novel, The Second Chance Tea Shop, Matthew Carter, the leading man, was a kind of hybrid of Richard Armitage, Gerard Butler and Gabriel Byrne, with a bit of Paul McGann thrown in for good measure. Having a face to put to the name helps me hugely with plotting the action, and reactions in the novel. I’m a sucker for using body language and facial expression as dialogue tags, and so imagining how a particular actor or performer might walk, speak and bring life to a character helps a lot when I’m in the throes of writing the story.

Just For The Summer was a hard book to write, for many reasons, most of them pandemic related. I’ve talked about this recently in a post on the Boldwood Books blog, so I won’t bore you here by repeating it. But one of the key issues for me was that I just couldn’t picture the male protagonist, Harry Sinclair, in any detail while I was writing the first third of the book. I had a clear picture in my mind of the female protagonist – she looks a lot like Kate Winslet- but I was lost when it came to the guy! And when I can’t ‘see’ a character, I find it incredibly difficult to write about them.

Anyway, time passed and this book just wasn’t getting written. I know, right? I’d leave the computer at night, and in the morning there were exactly the same amount of words onscreen as when I’d left it. Not even the bloody dog could help, and he’s clever! I was starting to flounder.

And then, something happened. My daughters got really into Horrible Histories. Being too old to watch it myself as a kid, and my own children being too young to fully appreciate it the first time around, this was a whole new experience for all of us. And, to tell you the truth, I absolutely loved it. We all did. It’s funny, educational, beautifully acted and scripted, and the best kids’ TV show with adult appeal I’d seen in ages. The magic of those writers and that cast (basically the same people), is pure alchemy.

But that wasn’t all. Somewhere in the back of my mind, something started falling into place. Without realising it, I’d got a style model for Harry Sinclair. And he was there, in five series of Horrible Histories, two series of BBC Ghosts (which we also all love and watch on repeat), and, after a sneaky Now TV subscription just to watch it, Yonderland, too! Yes…Ben Willbond became, to all intents and purposes, the perfect style model for Harry. In my head, I’d had this blurred impression of someone tall, greying and gentlemanly in a kind of clever, bookish, slightly rumpled way, and he just seemed to fit the bill. Harry was found!

Suddenly, the cinematics I have in my head when I’m writing started to come to life. Kate had her Harry, and I could see, incredibly clearly, the events I was writing about. I could see Harry in his bookshop, Harry and Kate on Willowbury Hill in the early morning discussing their lives, the ‘mishap’ that happens when a famous author comes to visit and all of the other bits in between.  And although it was still tricky to write (you know, home schooling, pandemic, lockdown, remote teaching etc), it felt as though it was getting easier. And that’s a key thing for me…if I can ‘see’ it, I can write it.

In conclusion, I owe a debt to the Horrible Histories  team in general, for keeping the family sane with their brilliance during lockdown, and to Ben Willbond in particular for giving me the perfect style model for Harry. If the screen rights are ever bought for this book, I’d love him to take the role! So much so, that I did actually mention the HH team (and Ben) in the book’s acknowledgements. So, Mr Willbond, can I interest you in playing a suave, yet slightly shambolic bookshop owner in a sleepy Somerset town? I think you’d be just perfect for it! 

And as for the next novel? I’m thinking I might use Laurence Rickard as a style model, too…

If you’d like to read the book for yourself, here’s a link or two:

JustForTheSummer HI RES (1)

UK: amzn.to/34MZEVk

US: amzn.to/3g6UEQJ

Audible: adbl.co/3f4yFKk

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Just for the Summer – Fay Keenan

A fab review of ‘Just For The Summer’ – thank you so much!

Eatwell Reads-Well

I immediately empathised with Kate; she came across as totally lovely and I couldn’t understand why her Husband had ever left her for another woman. She also seemed the perfect Mum; how I felt for her, when she discovered her Husband was taking their boys to Florida with his new woman – a holiday that Kate had longed for when they were together.

Kate ends up ‘between homes’, staying at her Brother’s place and decorating it; she was thinking of setting her own business as a decorator. Life seems pretty grim for her. She needs to find a house to live in, and everyone else seems to be away on holiday.

The arrival of Harry the bookseller seemed like manna from heaven – although Kate’s first interaction with him doesn’t go that well! Indeed Willowbury doesn’t seem short of eligible men, with coffee shop Jack available too!

The inter-sibling teasing…

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A Romantic Fiction Writer’s Thoughts on the England Team of Euro 2020.

gareth 2

I don’t ‘get’ football. I’ve never followed a team, played it or spent much time thinking about it. I mean, I’ll watch England playing an international game, but I’ve never been overly emotionally invested in it. I’ve not really cared two hoots about whether or not the national teams get through or not, writing them off for most of the past two decades as over paid, over bred, preening stallions who fall over in a gust of wind and generally have ridiculous hair.

Until now.

I don’t know if it was the change of mindset from the pandemic, the fact that there’s been a dearth of things to feel good about for fifteen months, or the fact that I’ve harboured a bit of a crush on Gareth Southgate since the 2018 World Cup, when he rocked up in a waistcoat and I was so impressed I wrote a waistcoat wearing hero, Charlie Thorpe, into my novel, A Place To Call Home, but something definitely changed this year. And so, I’m going to try to put my spin on the Euros, from the perspective of a writer of romantic fiction. And someone who still knows virtually nothing about the beautiful game.

The books I write sink or swim by how much my readers can relate to, like or even fall in love with my characters. If readers don’t get behind them, they don’t waste time finishing the book. They have to find some quality, some attractive feature in the people I’ve imagined, to follow their stories. They have to feel something for them. I think football must kind of be the same thing. It’s not just about the game play; it’s about the narrative, and the characters. Contemplating this was where my interest started to be piqued for the Euro 2020 (played in 2021, of course), football tournament. Suddenly, I was creating characters in my mind as I watched these players, and through those imaginative explorations, I started to care. I started to feel something for them.

waistcoatTake Gareth Southgate, for example. At forty nine years old, and carrying the trauma of missing a penalty in the 1996 Euros with him for twenty five years, he’s got a lot of ‘romantic hero’ traits. Tall, dark, grizzled, brooding, calm, dignified, giving the impression of colossal emotion kept under rigid control but burning deep within, ready to erupt at a time and place of his choosing, and the wearer of very sharp suits, he’s a pretty good archetype. And throughout this tournament, he’s shown a huge amount of affection for his players, supporting them in their darker moments, celebrating with them when they’ve triumphed and seeming to be both father figure and mentor to them all. He appears to be respected by them, loved even, and he instinctively seems to know what makes them tick.

I was in a pub, in 1996, with my university friends, half cut and hopeful of an English victory, when he missed that penalty. Dad later joined us, driving from Bristol to York to pick me up, drank a pint or two and bought us all a curry before driving me home the next day. It was a proper moment. It stays in my mind for the crushing of hope as much as the great night we all had. At eighteen years old, you have the world at your feet, and for a few hours that evening, nothing mattered but the booze, the game and the laughs. But I still felt incredibly sad for Gareth that night.


harry gareth 2018So when he took over as England manager, I was programmed to have a bit of a soft spot for him, even though I hadn’t followed anything he’d done since that fateful night in July 1996. As I said, not a football fan. But seeing him with his team, bringing them on and supporting them, brought out the romantic writer in me, and I started to feel interested. Here was someone who had that perfect balance of calm and steel. And I still believe that. The minute I saw the much tweeted about ‘Southgate Hug’ in action for the first time (in Russia, at the World Cup in 2018, as the snapshot of him with Harry Kane shows), I realised that there was a physicality, belied by the restraint, that captured the essence of the man. And last night, that was on display once again, albeit under different, heartbreaking circumstances. Those consoling touches, that unselfconscious ability to make contact that seems so at odds with being English, but seems to be brought out on the football field by the extremes of the game, was there for all to see. 


In fact, it graced a fair few front pages this morning as those who were drawn into the drama of the game tried to process it all. His comforting of poor, distraught Bukayo Saka, who was so young to have to bear the outcome of the last penalty of the match, is a freeze frame of a moment that no one could deny was hugely emotional. And what makes it more poignant is that Gareth knows what that feels like to miss. That gesture reads as an attempt to protect the young player from what he knows is coming; the onslaught of scrutiny, criticism and hatred that, sadly inevitably, he would go on to face almost immediately the game had ended. It’s a gesture that’s both apologetic and protective, and thus emblematic of the relationship between manager and team.

jordanBut, interestingly, this time around, I’ve noticed some other romantic fiction archetypes on that pitch too. If Gareth made my heart flutter, my writer’s pulse beat a little faster for others, as well. Take the incomparable Jordan Pickford, for example. Two months ago, I’ve had said Jordan who? if asked. To be truthful, I still don’t have a clue who he plays for, apart from England. But, my goodness, what presence! Commanding, eruptive, wearing his heart on his sleeve and his emotions all over his face, he is an absolute force of nature. Lip reading Jordan Pickford’s words (mostly screamed, and mostly starting with ‘Harry!’) was such a pleasure during the Euros. 


maguireAnd then there’s Harry Maguire – who I joked, the first time I heard him speak, just needed a flat cap and a whippet and he could be the lead in some 1950s TV drama set in a cosy Yorkshire village. Presence, skill and a down to earth pragmatism that felt infinitely reassuring, he’s another type of romantic hero. Pure Sheffield Steel, as one commentator (I forget who), put it.

harryThe other Harry, of course, Mr Kane, looks like some golden haired lead from an epic movie, exuding both calm like Gareth Southgate, and absolute skill in tantalising bursts of drama. Reminiscent, perhaps, of Taylor Swift’s ‘London Boy’, he’s a charismatic captain.


And then, the young bucks: the beautiful, elegant, incredibly accomplished Marcus Rashford, who I knew more about from his food and literacy campaigns than his footwork. What charisma, what passion, what presence! Raheem Sterling, another hugely gifted and charismatic man, with a smile to melt the hardest of hearts and, from what I can see with my inexperienced eye, footwork to match. Add the dancer-like elegance of Jack Grealish into the mix, and the youthful exuberance of Bukayo Saka, and their combination of youth, skill and indefatigable enthusiasm is completely infectious.

To my writer’s mind, this feels like a story that is entering its third act; if the World Cup in 2018 introduced us to this cast of characters, and the Euros established the characters and introduced the most painful of conflicts, then surely the World Cup in 2022 will be the thrilling final part of the story, but hopefully not the end. And, as a definite non-football fan, but a loving witness of this band of players and their manager, who have created an incredibly emotionally interesting, talented and cohesive team, I’ll be there, in the audience, to see them take the stage again.

But my heart, after last night, goes out to them all. The operatic tragedy of the game going right down to the last penalty could have been written for some tear jerking sporting movie, and it played out in all its glory and pain on screens around the country last night. The writer’s maxim, about having characters you love chased up a tree by a bear, and then having the bear throwing rocks at them, worked its way onscreen in the most dreadfully painful and engrossing way during that game. It was melodrama, it was the pinnacle of an exciting narrative, and it’s easy to try to analyse it as such. And I don’t even fully understand the game.

So tonight, twenty four hours on, I’m reflecting on the art is life perspective that I’ve had through this tournament, and trying to remember that these people are just that; that the fallout from the game has been horrendous for many of them, and that it will take a little time for them to recover. The drama has been intense, and exhausting, and I’m not surprised that Gareth Southgate said he needed a rest in the press conference he took today. But one thing’s for certain; I might not be much the wiser when it comes to the rules of the game, but I am completely hooked on the drama of international football; and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

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