Now for my first book review in a very long time! Published two years ago, ‘Billy and Me’ is the debut novel from actress and vlogger Giovanna Fletcher. You may wonder why it’s taken me that long to get round to reading it – after all, she has had her second novel, ‘You’re the One That I Want’ published since then, and a festive novella to accompany this very book published last Christmas, with her next offering, ‘Dream a Little Dream’ due to hit the bookshelves this summer. Basically how it works is, I have a wish list on my Amazon account, separate to my main one for DVD boxsets and random crap I don’t really need but quite like the look of.
Every couple of months when I want to read something new, out comes the list and thus begins a frantic reserving spree from my local library. Sometimes I’ll read the book I’ve reserved and I’m entirely non plussed, glad to have borrowed it and not to have parted with £7 or £8 in Waterstone’s. Sometimes I’ll read it, quite like it and make a point of saying I liked it through the usual mediums. Then every so often, I get a book I fall head over heels in love with. ‘Billy and Me’ falls neatly into the latter category.
The novel’s protagonist, Sophie May, lives a quiet, sheltered existence working as a waitress in ‘Tea on the Hill’, a quaint little tea room in the fictional Kent village of Rosefont Hill, where she has grown up and lived all her life in a fairly ‘normal’ existence by all accounts with her mum who runs the local library, Molly, the kindly matriarchal owner of ‘Tea on the Hill’ and the village’s many colourful inhabitants. Enter a big film company who are shooting a new big screen version of the Jane Austen novel, ‘Pride and Prejudice’ in the village, and their whole lives are turned upside down – not least all of Sophie’s, when she has a chance encounter – and then becomes romantically involved – with the dashing Hollywood actor and star of the film, teen heartthrob Billy Buskin.
It’s a story very much with Giovanna’s own experiences drawing influence. She is of course, married to McFly and McBusted’s Tom Fletcher (they met when they were just 13 at Sylvia Young Theatre School. I know. Stuff that dreams are made of), and so she knows more than anyone about what it’s like to be the seemingly ‘normal’ other half of a well known figure in the public eye. In her case, it’s been being the other half to the front man and lead songwriter for one of British pop’s best loved bands of the last 10 years (and a dab hand at wedding speeches). In the case of ‘Billy and Me’, its very much about what happens when someone fairly ordinary becomes romantically entangled with someone in a high profile job, the pressures that come with it, and how you cope with the highs as well as the lows.
Giovanna really builds up and develops all her characters and unfolds the story so well – meaning that you’re really rooting for Sophie and Billy the minute she has her first encounter with him in ‘Tea on the Hill’. She offers light and shade to the story in equal measure, with real laugh out loud moments coming alongside more poignant, heartbreaking ones. I was particularly impressed most of all with the vignette flashbacks to Sophie’s childhood that offered a deeper glimpse into her character.
I enjoyed the camaraderie between Sophie and Molly best of all – I found it rather endearing that she was forever doting on her like a Catholic mother hen (think Father Ted’s Mrs Doyle, but slightly less manic/Irish) and was the perfect foil to Sophie’s naivety and uncertainty about herself as a person, particularly at the beginning of her relationship with Billy. Billy is a great leading man – dashing but not to the point of being cheesy/naff. Giovanna’s given him a bit of grit and warmth to his character that makes him really interesting.
Without giving anything away to those who may not have read it, ‘Billy and Me’ is a really heartwarming romance that’s believable and engaging. As I’ve mentioned already, Giovanna’s already had a follow up novella ‘Christmas with Billy and Me’ published (that too, is brilliant. Maybe save the review of that for October 18th when I start listening to Christmas music) – fingers crossed her future novels will see a return to Rosefont Hill as there’s so much more she can do with Sophie and Billy yet.