If I had to choose the perfect writer to cheer me up on a shivery winter’s day I’d definitely go for Katie Fforde. I began reading her new novel, A Summer at Sea, in a hospital waiting room, feeling ever so slightly on edge.
Within minutes my whole body had relaxed and my pulse had returned to normal as I was transported to an old-fashioned steamboat chugging through the Western Isles of Scotland.
Katie Fforde, who has sold 2.5 million books in the UK alone over the years, goes from strength to strength.
Each of her novels (and this is the 22nd) explores a different profession or background but what makes them special is that they are skilfully written and deceptively easy to read. In the space of a few pages you feel like you’ve known the main characters for your whole life. This may sound a straightforward task for a writer but in practice it’s fiendishly difficult to achieve.
This time round Fforde has chosen a midwife as her heroine. Emily is single, adores her career and is happily ensconced in a cottage in the Cotswolds. But after a run-in with a doctor who disapproves of home births she decides it’s time for a change and jumps at the chance to spend the summer cooking on a puffer boat off the Scottish coast.
It sounds blissful but Emily also has to contend with the hard graft of cooking for seafaring holidaymakers, charming her tricky kitchen assistant (who thinks she should be running the show), looking after a frail elderly passenger and keeping a watchful eye on the owner of the puffer boat – Emily’s old friend Rebecca, who’s heavily pregnant.
Throw into the mix a dashing local medic, widowed when his exuberant daughter was a baby and considered a catch in the neighbourhood, and you quickly realise that Katie Fforde has done it again. A Summer at Sea has all the ingredients Fforde fans know and love – a likeable heroine, a handsome but flawed hero, a cast of empathetic characters, warmth, wit and fun. The icing on the cake, of course, is the puffer boat herself, which was inspired by a real boat called VIC 32 and to whom A Summer at Sea is dedicated. In her acknowledgements Fforde pays tribute to her agent, Bill Hamilton, who suggested she put the puffer into the book in the first place. She did more than that – “I decided to make the puffer the star,” she says.
Century, Fforde’s publisher, has done a cracking job on the book itself. A Summer at Sea not only looks pretty but the endpapers are illustrated with maps of the area around Crinan – so you can see for yourself the place that captures Emily’s (and the reader’s) heart.
A Summer at Sea by Katie Fforde (Century, £12.99)