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Aug 8, 2014

Press coverage from the Oxford Mail

Family saga for the county set

by Jaine Blackman, Lifestyle editor

Jaine Blackman meets an author who has made Oxfordshire the prime location for her trilogy of love and intrigues.

“Intrigues are intrigues,” says Shirley Hook-Pattison discreetly when asked if she has first-hand knowledge of some of the escapades in her book.

There are plenty of them in Mixed Emotions her first novel, written at the age of 58, and the subtitle – An Oxfordshire Affair – is apt in more ways than one.

It’s set in various Oxfordshire locations and starts with an illicit romantic liaison.

But don’t expect any graphic sex scenes.

“I couldn’t [write them]. I’m not a prude but I wouldn’t be able to look anyone in the eye,” says Shirley – now 60 and living in Bicester – who writes under the pen name of Antonia Abbott.

So while there’s mention of passionate nights, it’s left to the reader’s imagination to fill in the details. 

“It’s like clothing, it’s more attractive just to hint at something rather than have everything on show,” she says. 

The book came about through a chance meeting with a writing coach.

“I had always been an avid reader and my mother and I used to joke that I should write a book. My husband said the same thing,” says Shirley, who runs an Independent Financial Adviser practice.

“I then met a book coach and spent a morning with her evaluating whether or not we thought I could write.

“We thought I could, so I did.” 

The result is the first in a trilogy, published by Raven Crest Books, following the fortunes – and misfortunes – of the Rowlands family of Moulsford, with the action taking place in a variety of towns and villages around Oxford. 

“Oxfordshire is a lovely county. I know it well, so it seemed the right place,” says Shirley, who took about nine months to write her book. 

The settings are recognisable – The Feathers in Woodstock and The Crazy Bear at Stadhampton are stayed at, businesses are set in the Lamb Arcade in Wallingford and shopping expeditions undertaken at Bicester Village and Oxford city centre – but are the characters based on real people? 

“There is a character based on my father and anyone who had met him would recognise him but that’s the only one based on a real person,” says Shirley.

However, she has drawn on her own past experiences and interests throughout the novel. As well as one character being a financial adviser, another deals in antiques; there are links with motor racing and the pub trade and a love of fashion and glamour.

“My mother and I used to both deal in antique porcelain and collect it,” says Shirley.

“I am a petrolhead who loves Formula One and who used to marshal at race tracks in her late teens and early 20s and I adore lovely clothes and jewellery.”

Shirley with her husband Karl

Chatting with her, more similarities with characters and events emerge: a love of cats, her time as a PA... and a dislike of a certain type of snobbish private girls’ school, not unlike the one she attended as a young woman in Berkshire. Woodstock Academy in the book is based on that but isn’t a real establishment.

Shirley was also going to give The Crown in Church Enstone a fictitious name (The Nag’s Head) as unlike other places which get little more than a passing mention, a lot of the action takes place there.

It’s a place she knows well: “It was originally my father’s pub in the 1970s,” says Shirley, who ran it herself for a spell when her dad was ill. 

When she contacted the present owners to see if they were happy with a photograph of the pub being used on the book’s cover and gave them a draft, not only were they were happy to let the image be used, and the pub’s real name, but is also selling copies.

Just don’t go in expecting Alf – the novel’s landlord – to be behind the bar.

Shirley, whose husband Karl, 61, is a retired publican, hugely enjoyed writing the book even though she has been “stretched” to find time to fit in the writing while juggling home life and work. “You have to be JK Rowling to make a living from it,” she says.

She doesn’t have a writing routine but grabs time on her laptop or iPad whenever she can – getting up early and at weekends, and she polished off a few chapters while on holiday in Greece earlier this year (“Rather than reading a book a day, I’d write a chapter”).

She misses reading as much as she used to – her favourite authors are Jilly Cooper, PD James, Agatha Christie and Ian Fleming – but her biggest regret is her much loved mother died in 2010 so didn’t see her novel.

“She would have enjoyed it so much. She would so have loved the fact that I am a published author,” says Shirley.

Now she is halfway through book two – Heightened Emotions, An Oxfordshire Wedding – and then there will be book three to follow, the last in the trilogy of the Rowlands family.

“Then who knows...” she says.

Shirley may have been late starting her career as a novelist but she’s certainly making up for lost time.

Mixed Emotions: An Oxfordshire Affair is available on £1.99 Kindle; £8.73 paperback

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