The person who gave me the very first idea for this book was Sally Prue, a good writer and a good friend of mine. It was, I think, while my husband and I were moving from Manchester, where we’d lived for forty-three years, to Cambridge in 2010.
What about, Sally said, a novel about a house chain? And the idea struck me then as a very good one and I filed it away, mentally. At the time, I was busy writing a novel called Cover Your Eyes, which had been on my desk for what seemed like decades but was probably only about four years or so. That book was published in October 2014.
They say that moving house is traumatic, but we had tremendous fun. We enjoyed culling our books and furniture; we loved our new house and best of all, we knew we’d be nearer both daughters and all our grandchildren. So I had nothing but good experiences when it came to the whole business of looking for and finding a house.
In October 2013, my husband died. The very last thing I felt like doing was writing a novel. What I had lined up in my head, towards the end of Cover Your Eyes, was a more ambitious and quite different sort of novel and I didn’t feel in a state to tackle that. On the other hand, work is one of the best things for occupying a sad mind, and for getting a person used to an altogether altered emotional landscape. I thought about Sally’s house chain idea….and I mentioned it to my elder daughter while we were swimming. We batted ideas around a bit, and then (we were in the Jacuzzi at the time…I recall it vividly) she came up with probably the greatest asset a novel can have: a good title. Love or Nearest Offer began to take shape.
The heroine of this novel is an estate agent. That’s not a sentence you’ll read too often. But Iris is an estate agent with a difference. She knows which houses will be perfect for which people. She realizes when someone is making a mistake. She is less good at sorting out her own love life, but of course, (because this is unashamedly a feel-good book and I make no excuses for that) she finds Mr. Right in the end.
I decided on my characters. I needed people who were different both in their reasons for wanting to move and in their life situations. So my cast includes a widower, a divorcee, a young family and a youngish artist moving from New York. I then had to find houses for them. Others would have gone on to Rightmove and had a good time choosing properties, but I am renowned for my laziness in matters of research and so I chose houses I know. Vina, my divorcée, lives in what is basically, with a few changes, my younger daughter’s house. Aidan, my widower, lives in my house in Manchester although is garden is much, much bigger. And Josie and her husband and son live in a truly marvellous riverside flat in London which is home to a writer friend of mine.
The book was pleasant and easy to write. I liked being Iris and seeing the world through her eyes. I hope it’s the sort of story that makes people feel good and it made me feel better as I wrote it. I put into it all kinds of personal details. For instance, in May 2015, I visited Giverny with two friends of mine while we were on holiday in Paris and two of my characters go there as well.
I’m a fanatical knitter and that is reflected in the book too. And I love writing about paintings. I’ve done it before in Facing The Light and I enjoyed writing about an artist in this novel.
Also, for the last couple of years, there’s been a dog in my life for the first time. Brewster is a Welsh Terrier belonging to my elder daughter and so I thought that rather than putting a cat in the story – something I’ve done in a lot of novels because I love cats so much – I would concentrate on a dog this time.
It’s my habit to have characters in my novels of all ages and both sexes. I want to appeal to the widest possible audience. So from thirty-two-year-old Iris, to fifty-eight-year-old Vina to sixtyish Aidan, with Josie about thirty, and Patrick in his early forties, I feel I’ve covered all bases, so to speak. Also in the book are Zak, who is four and Georgia, Vina’s boss, who is eighty.
I realize that this book is in no way an accurate reflection of today’s property market. I realize that the properties I’m describing are totally out of reach of most people. I plead in extenuation the fact that this is a novel. I’ve made it all up. I want anyone who reads this book to be happy. I am not in the business of gritty realism here, and my hope is that my readers take pleasure from it. I enjoyed writing it, which helped me a lot at a difficult time in my life.
Adèle Geras is the author of numerous successful novels for adults and children. She blogs at History Girls, a joint blog written by authors of historical fiction and fantasy history for Junior (middle Grade), YA and adult readers.
Adèle’s novel is reviewed in our fiction section by Victoria here.
Adèle Geras, Love or Nearest Offer (Quercus, 2016) ISBN: 9781784298517, Hardback, 384 pages.
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