Must Try Harder – Adventures In Anxiety by Paula McGuire #Review #Mentalhealth #Anxiety

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Paula McGuire’s world was shrinking. Bullied as a child and plagued by excessive social anxiety, she had become a recluse. Unable to even go into a shop on her own, Paula’s life was effectively over before she hit thirty. But then something changed. She isn’t even quite sure what. But after years of running away from life, Paula decided to grab it by the balls … She didn’t do anything too difficult to start with – just learning all 17 Commonwealth Games sports! After that, she threw herself into naked-life modeling and astronaut training. Next, Paula plans to swim all around the United Kingdom. At the time of writing, Paula can’t swim … somehow that isn’t discouraging her one bit! Must Try Harder tells the remarkable story of a life transformed by facing up to fear. Paula’s funny, heartfelt, and above all, inspiring story shows us that we each have the power to do amazing things.

My Review

I’d like to thank Paula and Trigger publishing for providing me with a copy of Myst Try Harder to review.

I was really excited to receive a copy of must try harder to review. As someone who has suffered with anxiety for most of my life I always find it reassuring to read someone else’s story. For me there has always been a sense of feeling that I’m ‘not normal’ whatever normal is.

Until recently mental health has been something not really spoken about or admitted to. It’s a welcome progression that there is now so much information and acceptance around the subject.

Must try harder – adventures in anxiety is a must read for people who have anxiety or have anxiety lingering in the background of their life. It’s not a miracle solution and Paula doesn’t promise to ‘cure’ you of your anxiety. What she does do is tell her story with brutal honesty and humour.

Paula’s story is inspirational, I think if she reads this review she’ll disagree! It’s inspirational because it makes you sit in awe at the things she’s achieved, it’s inspirational because it makes you think bloody hell, I feel my anxiety bubbling just thinking about the challenges she’s not only set herself but completed. It’s inspirational because I’ve actually started pushing myself to do things even though my anxiety is screaming at me not to!

From The Glasgow 2014 challenge which saw Paula taking part in 17 commonwealth sports to the dream job challenge where Paula pushes herself out of her comfort zone to try every daunting career she can think of. (Think pilot and astronaut and you can imagine how high she sets the bar) Paula hits them all head on. She doesn’t always enjoy it, she doesn’t always excel in her given challenge, but she does it. She pushes herself out of her comfort zone, past the barriers of her anxiety and she flipping does it!

Paula writes …

The only power anxiety had over me was how easily it could convince me of that power. As soon as I began to question its authority, and see it for what it was, it’s hold over me loosened and it has never taken control again since.

Telling myself that i am anxious, makes it feel like a part of me, something immoveable and innate, that I can do nothing about. When instead i remember that I’m only feeling anxious, I can separate the emotion out, and know it will pass. Feelings are fleeting, changeable, and don’t ever need to be part of my permanent record. I can feel them while they’re around, then move in because they are not an immutable part of me and never will be.

These two paragraphs sum up Paula’s journey. She makes the decision to kick anxiety’s backside and kick it she does. Must try harder has had a positive impact on me, it’s made me look at my anxiety differently, Im trying not to see it as a barrier, of course there are days when it’s harder than others but must try harder and Paula’s blog will remain in my life to remind me its achievable.

Thank you Paula 😘

Click Here To Buy Must Try Harder – Adventures In Anxiety

All About Paula


Paula McGuire is an adventurer, speaker and author, but, most of all, she’s a trier. For thirty years Paula lived under a rock, somewhere on the outskirts of every social situation, suffering crippling anxiety, panic attacks and depression that would eventually rob her of even the most basic freedoms. After decades of medication and intervention, adventure became Paula’s personal therapy in 2012, when she became Paula Must Try Harder, trying the 17 Commonwealth sports, exposing her to constant fear and enabling her to fight her way back into the world. Ever since, Paula has terrified herself daily in the name of recovery, and now spends all that nervous energy challenging herself to wild exploits and encouraging others to allow a little fear into their days. From skinny-dipping and flying a plane to going shopping on her own, Paula’s adventures have covered the bizarre and the banal, and demonstrate that living a happy, full life with anxiety really is possible.

Where To Find Paula



Amazon Author Page



Reflected Destinies by Florence Keeling #BlogTour #Giveaway


Laura is happy and content, she has a new boyfriend and loves her job teaching primary school pupils in London.  But when she inherits a rundown house from a stranger on her 30th birthday, memories of her prom night come flooding back, memories of a scary encounter and an antique mirror in the very same house.

Laura visits the house with all its secrets and as she unravels the clues she reveals the biggest secret of all: her own destiny.  But how can you change the future if it’s already written in the past?

I’d like to thank Rachel’s Random Resources and Florence Keeling for inviting me to take part in this blog tour.

Click here to buy Reflected Destinies

All About Florence

Florence Keeling adopted for her pen-name her Great Grandmother’s name, chosen because of the shared birthday of April Fool’s Day.  She is married with two teenage chidren.  Born and raised in Coventry, England she now lives just outside in Nuneaton.  Reflected Destinies is her first novel.

Florence Keeling also writes for children under the name of Lily Mae Walters.

Where To Find Florence




1st Prize – Signed copy of Reflected Destinies  (UK Only)
2nd Prize – E-copy of Reflected Destinies  (International)

*Terms and Conditions –You are only eligible to win the signed copy if you are in the UK. Worldwide entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below.  The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then I reserve the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time I will delete the data.  I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

Click here to enter

Fatal Inheritance by Rachel Rhys #BlogTour #Review


Reminiscent of a Golden Age mystery, Fatal Inheritance is an intoxicating story of dysfunctional families and long-hidden secrets, set against the razzledazzle and decadence of the French Riviera.

1948: an English housewife trapped in a dull marriage escapes to the South of France to claim a mystery inheritance. She didn’t have an enemy in the world, until she inherited a fortune.

Out of the blue, Eve Forrester receives a solicitor’s letter. A wealthy stranger has left her a mystery inheritance but in order to find out more, she must travel to the glittering French Riviera. Eve discovers her legacy is an enchanting villa overlooking the Mediterranean sea andsuddenly, life could not be more glamorous.

But while she rubs shoulders with film-stars and famous writers, under the heat of the golden sun, rivals to her unexplained fortune begin to emerge. Rivals who want her out of the way.

Alone in paradise, Eve must unlock the story behind her surprise bequest – before events turn deadly

My Review

I’d like to thank Anne Cater, Rachel Rhys and Random House publishers for including me in this blog tour.

I was beyond excited when the email for this blog tour dropped into my inbox. Dangerous Crossing is one of my all time favourite reads. I had been eagerly awaiting  Fatal Inheritance.

Fatal Inheritance is a delicious read. It has all the elements for me of an unforgettable read. There is mystery and suspense interlocked with characters that have layers of dark secrets.

Eve is stuck in a loveless marriage with an overbearing husband. In the opening pages Rachel has depicted this really cleverly. I found myself feeling oppressed and trapped. As the story evolves I felt Eve was like a butterfly slowly opening her wings and finding herself.

Throughout Fatal Inheritance there is the mystery as to what the connection is between Eve and Guy.

I literally could not put this book down, this should be on everyone’s summer read list. If Tigre yet to discover Rachel I urge you to do so, you really won’t regret it!

Click Here To Buy Fatal Inheritance

All About Rachel

RACHEL RHYS is the pen-name of a much-loved psychological suspense author. Fatal Inheritance is her second novel under this name. Her debut Dangerous Crossing a Richard and Judy bookclub pick, was published around the world. Rachel Rhys lives in North London with her family.

Where To Find Rachel



The Haunting Of Hattie Hastings ~ Part Three by Audrey Davis #BlogTour #Review


Nothing lasts forever … Gary’s time on earth seems to be coming to an end. His visits are less frequent and his visibility is fading fast. But he still has a mission to accomplish, which involves Hattie and her ability to pass on a heart-rending message.

Best friend Cat’s ex-husband is determined to prove that he deserves another chance, but do leopards really change their spots?

Times are tough for Hattie’s mother Rachel, but where there’s life, there’s hope …

Meanwhile, is there someone already in Hattie’s life who can help her move on when it’s finally time to say goodbye?

Get your tissues at the ready – both for laughter and tears – with the final installment of a trilogy that has been hailed ‘brilliant’, ‘hilarious’, and ‘a great feel-good read’.

My Review

I’d like to thank Rachel’s Random Resources and Audrey Davis for including me in this wonderful Blog Tour.

For me, The Haunting Of Hattie Hastings – Part Three was very much like returning to catch up with old friends. I’ve been a huge fan of The Hattie Hastings series, so part of me was eager to devour part three but I was also hesitant to complete too quickly as i knew it was the end of an era!

Part three didn’t disappoint, it is full of many funny moments but also many tears. Audrey has a wonderful writing style that seems to pull you into the pages and become acquainted with the characters very quickly.

Gary remains the ever hilarious spirit, making his impromptu visits when least expected. It’s plain from the beginning that Gary’s visiting trips will slowly be coming to end once he’s completed his final quest.

The Haunting Of Hattie Hastings -Part Three is written with compassion, humour and a sprinkle of magic. This is truly a lovely end to a wonderful series of books. If you haven’t already sampled the delights of this series, I urge you to do so.

Click Here To Buy The Haunting Of Hattie Hastings-Part Three

The Haunting of Hattie Hastings Part 3

All About Audrey

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Audrey Davis survived secondary school on the West coast of Scotland. Rubbish at science but not too bad at English, she originally wanted to be an actress but was persuaded that journalism was a safer option. Probably wise. She studied at Napier College in Edinburgh, the only place in Scotland at that time to offer a journalism course.
Her first foray into the hard-nosed newspaper world was as a junior reporter in Dumfriesshire. Duties included interviewing farmers about the prize-winning heifers to reporting on family tragedies. She persuaded her editor to let her launch an entertainment column which meant meeting the odd celebrity – or just the downright odd. From there, she moved to the loftier rank of senior reporter back in her home patch. Slightly more money, fewer farm animals but a higher crime rate. As Taggart would say: ‘There’s been a murrrrder!’
After a stint in London on a video magazine – yes, she is that old – Audrey moved to Singapore with her fiancé. She tried valiantly to embrace the stinking heat, humidity and lack of jobs, although she did work briefly on a magazine which was banned by the government for ‘artistic’ use of naked men’s bottoms.
Next on her adventures was a land Down Under where her main focus was raising Cost Centre One (aka firstborn) and coming to terms with the imminent arrival of Number Two. Still, she loved the Aussie way of life – BBQs, beaches and bring your own booze to restaurants – so it came as a blow when OH announced a move back to the UK. Not a job between them, the climate a possible deal breaker and an Exorcist-style vomiting infant on the flight home didn’t bode well …
Always a survivor, Audrey sought out similar-minded friends (i.e. slightly bonkers), got the children into a good school and thought about taking up writing again. Sadly, thinking about it was as far as she got, unless you count shopping lists. Then, hubby drops another bombshell. Switzerland. As in – it’s packing time again. Off to the land of cheese, chocolate, scarily efficient trains and a couple of teeny, tiny issues. Like driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road and speaking a foreign language (French). The former was conquered fairly quickly (we’ll skip over the wall demolition in week two), the latter remains an ongoing battle of the hopeful against the hopeless. At least she provides amusement for the local workforce.
It wasn’t until 2016 that Audrey rediscovered her writing mojo with an online Writing Fiction course. From there, her first novel – A Clean Sweep – was born, although it took a bit longer than nine months from conception. A short, darker prequel – A Clean Break – followed, and in November 2017 she published the first in a novella trilogy, The Haunting of Hattie Hastings Part One. Part Two is published on 21 March 2018, with the conclusion following in July. After which she might have a wee lie down

Where To Find Audrey



Josie James and The Teardrops of Summer by Lily Mae Walters #BlogTour #BlogBlitz #Youngfiction #Giveaway



Josie James is an ordinary 13 year old until something extraordinary happens during her summer holidays.

Whist staying at her Great Grandmother’s cottage in the country she finds herself swept into the cursed world of Suncroft where it is perpetual winter.

Her new friends believe she could be the Chosen One who it is foretold  will lift the curse, but there are more pressing matters.

The Teardrops of Summer – magical crystals that render the owner immortal – have been stolen.  Along with her telepathic husky-dog Protector Asher and her new friends, Josie must race to find the
Teardrops and prevent catastrophe for their world.

Purchase Links


All About Lily

Lily Mae Walters chose her pen name in honour of her beloved grandparents who also stare in the Josie James series.

She is married with two teenage children, and two huskies that are the inspiration behind Murphy and Asher in the books.

Lily Mae lives in Nuneaton, England and finds herself using local  places and even her old school in her stories.

Family and friends mean the world to Lily Mae and many will find themselves popping up throughout the series.

Lily Mae also writes for adults under the name of Florence Keeling.

Where To Find Lily




1st Prize – Signed copy of Josie James and the Teardrops of Summer  (UK Only)
2nd Prize – E-copy of Josie James and the Teardrops of Summer (International)

Click here to enter

*Terms and Conditions –You are only eligible to win the signed copy if you are in the UK. Worldwide entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below.  The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then I reserve the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time I will delete the data.  I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

Madam Love Actually by Rich Amooi #Blogtour #Extract #Giveaway


I’d like to thank Rachel’s Random Resources and Rich Amoo for including me in this blog tour.

Lance Parker is an arrogant know-it-all. As author of the bestselling book Your Soulmate Doesn’t Exist, he says love is for losers. Madam Love is a fortune teller and matchmaker who has brought hundreds of couples together.

When the two clash during a radio interview, she admits even someone as irritating and impossible as Lance has a soulmate. He says she’s delirious and a fraud. Then the gauntlet is laid down: Madam Love has two weeks to prove Lance wrong and find him a soulmate.

When Lance meets wonderful Emma by chance, he doesn’t know what to think anymore. But Emma has a secret. She’s Madam Love, actually. And it’s going to take a whole lot more than a crystal ball to get her out of this mess.

Sit back and enjoy…

Emma pressed the radio button with her index finger, but the first station was playing a commercial. She changed the station, and the next one also had a commercial playing. And the next two stations after that.

“What’s with all the commercials at the same time?”

Annoyed, she jabbed the next preset button with her index finger and hoped for a song she liked. Actually, any song would do at this point.

“Welcome back!” the female radio host said. “I’m Elaine Stewart and we’ve been talking with bestselling author Lance Parker about his book Your Soulmate Doesn’t Exist. This seems to be a controversial topic with the ladies, Lance.”

“The truth hurts,” Lance said, laughing.

“Sure you want to take another call? Marie was not too happy with you last hour.”

“Not a surprise,” Lance answered. “I’ll be blunt—most women are living in a dream world when it comes to love. What they see in the movies and reality are two different things altogether. Love is not some fantasy like serendipity or destiny or soulmates. None of that exists and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You can just ignore the psychologists, the relationship experts, the matchmakers, the dating websites, and especially those so-called love doctors and fortune tellers.”

Emma jerked her head back. “Who is this idiot?”

“Well, there seems to be plenty of people who disagree with you,” Elaine continued. “We’re talking about love and soulmates on the program this afternoon. We have a line open if you’d like to call in and join us. Do you believe in soulmates? In Lance’s opinion, there is no such thing. What do you think?”

“I think Lance is full of bull,” Emma said at the car radio, shaking her head in disgust. “Just what I need to hear, someone who’s knocking what I’m selling.” She moved her finger over the button to change the radio station.

“Patty is on line two and has a comment about fortune tellers.”

Emma pulled her finger away from the radio.

“Patty, you’re on the air with Lance Parker. Go ahead.”

Please say something positive. Please, please, please.

Positive or negative, it could have a direct impact on Emma’s business.

“Thanks, Elaine,” Patty said. “Long time listener, first time caller. I just want to say that I disagree with Lance one hundred percent. I met my husband at the bowling alley in the Presidio, and it’s all because of a fortune teller. He’s my soulmate.”

Emma pumped her fist in the air. “Yes! Take that!”

She pulled her car over near Thirty-Sixth Avenue, miraculously finding an open spot across the street from the lake. She killed the engine, but left the radio on.

Lance laughed. “You believe because of the fortune teller you met your soulmate, and now you’re happily married?”

“Yes, actually,” Patty said. “And there was no way that could have been a coincidence. She’s the one who sent me to that bowling alley.”

“Really?” Lance said. “And you didn’t stop to think maybe it’s not that difficult to meet a man at a bowling alley? It’s a place with beer! The odds were in your favor that you were going to marry someone from that place. I’m surprised you didn’t walk away with three or four proposals at the end of the night.”

“You’re not very nice,” Patty said.

“And you’re not very realistic,” Lance said.

“Don’t take that from him!” Emma said, talking to the radio again.

“Uh-oh,” Elaine said. “Looks like another person hung up on you, Lance. You’re not making any friends today.”

“Like I said . . . the truth hurts.” Lance laughed.

“So, you’re not buying the whole fortune teller thing?” Elaine asked.

“Not even for a minute,” Lance said. “You can stick fortune tellers in the same category as soulmates. Fantasy. In fact, just stick them in the garbage while you’re at it.”

“What a jerk!” Emma said.

She wanted to reach through the radio with her foot and kick Lance where it hurt the most.

“We’re going to take a break for the news at the top of the hour, but we’ll be right back to take more calls with bestselling author Lance Parker,” Elaine said. “Do you agree or disagree with Lance? Do you believe in soulmates? Give us a call.”

Emma glanced over at her cell phone on the passenger seat as Elaine gave the phone number of the radio station.

She tapped her fingers on the steering wheel, deep in thought. She turned her head to look across the street at the entrance to the lakeside path, and then back over to her phone on the passenger seat.

She was tempted to call the radio station and give that man a piece of her mind.

So tempted.

His harsh words were really eating at her.

You can stick fortune tellers in the same category as soulmates. Fantasy. In fact, just stick them in the garbage while you’re at it.

Emma knew she would regret it if she let him get away with being so rude.

She blew out a big breath and then reached for the phone, tapping in the phone number of the radio station. “I’ll show you who’s garbage, Mr. Parker.”

Purchase Links

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Amazon CA

Amazon AU

All About Rich

Rich Amooi is a former radio personality who now writes romantic comedies full-time. He is happily married to a kiss monster imported from Spain. They live in San Diego, California with their very hairy daughter, a mini goldendoodle puppy. Rich believes in public displays of affection, silliness, infinite possibilities, donuts, gratitude, laughter, and happily ever after.

Where To Find Rich



Win a Sterling Silver Lucky Charm Pendant, plus an autographed paperback copy of Madam Love, Actually. (Open Internationally) Click here to enter

*Terms and Conditions –Worldwide entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below.  The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then I reserve the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time I will delete the data.  I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

The Madonna Of Bolton #Blogtour #Extract


Charlie Matthews’ love story begins in a pebble-dashed house in suburban Bolton, at a time when most little boys want to grow up to be Michael Jackson, and girls want to be Princess Di. Remembering the Green Cross Code and getting out of football are the most important things in his life, until Auntie Jan gives him a gift that will last a lifetime: a seven-inch single called ‘Lucky Star’…

On his ninth birthday, Charlie discovers Madonna, and falls in love. His obsession sees him through some tough times in life: being persecuted at school, fitting in at a posh university, a glamorous career in London, finding boyfriends, getting rid of boyfriends, and family heartbreak. Madonna’s music and videos inspire him, and her fierce determination to succeed gives him the confidence to do the same – and, ultimately, to let go of his idol, and find his own voice.

My Review

I’d like to thank Matt Cain, Unbound nooks and Anne Cater for including me in the blog tour for The Madonna Of Bolton.

Today I’m excited to bring you an excerpt from The Madonna Of Bolton …

Dress You Up

‘Charlie Matthews and Shanaz Gulati – you’re on next!’

I can feel my heart thumping in my chest. Flippin’ ’eck I’m nervous!

I’m in my final year of primary school and about to take to  the stage for the first time. To me, my school’s enormous, even though it only consists of one dirty redbrick  building,  a concrete playground with a football pitch, and a 1960s prefab where we all go for parties on Pancake Tuesday and St George’s Day. At the centre of the school is the main hall, a room so important that we use it for loads of different things – assem- bly, dinnertime and even games of rounders when it’s  too wet  to do PE outside.

Right now the hall’s full of schoolchildren and their families, all their eyes trained on the stage. I peek through the curtains and look at them. Sitting on the front row is the headmistress Miss Leach – or Miss Bleach as everyone calls her because she’s so strict. Miss Bleach’s favourite expression is ‘Woe betide’ and whenever she gets cross, she screams and shouts until the veins stick out on her neck like the Incredible Hulk or  Deirdre  Barlow on Coronation Street.

Sitting just a few seats away is Vince Hargreaves,  someone who terrifies me even more than Miss Bleach. Like me, Vince is



in the top class and everyone knows he’s the cock of the school. For some reason he’s taken a particular dislike to me – he’ll steal my glasses so I can’t see anything at playtime, give me Chinese burns whenever he feels like it and, if he’s in a really bad mood, throw my satchel onto the railway line next to the playground. Right now he looks in my direction and I’m pretty sure  he catches my eye. I quickly shut the curtains and fart with fear.

Every Christmas in my school, the top class put on a show   for their parents and the rest of the children, singing and dancing along to their favourite pop songs. So far this year, Marina Broadbent and Lucy Drury, who both have fringes so long you can’t see their eyes, have bounced their way through Wham!’s ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go Go’, and Steven Spriggs, who always seems to have a hole in his trousers and a cold    sore on his top lip, has pulled off an uncannily accurate impression of Shakin’ Stevens. Right now, Damian Bradley and his girlfriend Bev Adams, who caused a stir when they were caught timing themselves necking with a stopwatch behind the caretaker’s room, are finishing off their version of ‘Take on Me’ by a-ha. The stakes are high – so far  each  performance  has been a huge success. Shanaz and I have something different planned and, even though I let her convince me it was a good idea when we were hidden away in the safety of her bedroom, now that it’s  come down to it I’m not sure what I’ve let myself  in for. From the look on her face, Shanaz isn’t either.

‘Good luck, Shanaz,’ I stammer.

‘Don’t say that!’ she yelps. ‘Don’t you know it’s bad luck?’ ‘Really? What are you supposed to say then?’

‘Break a leg. Honestly – it’s what all the stars say. I saw it on

Fame last week.’

Shanaz is so clever and my best friend in the whole world. We


Dress You Up

first met in reception class and bonded by painting a big picture of Wonder Woman together on our first day. To me Shanaz is brave and fearless; she can climb to the top of the tree behind  the headmistress’s office and pick leaves off the thistles near the kitchens without being stung. She tells really great  stories, like the one about her grandma, who grew up in a  Maharajah’s  palace in India but escaped  to England  so that  she could  marry a stable boy she’d been forbidden from seeing by her parents. And at dinnertimes she always has exotic things like chapattis and bhajis in her butty box, which I think look much more exciting than my dull salmon-paste sarnies and Trio or Penguin biscuit. For some reason, though, the other kids at school  aren’t so impressed. They complain loudly about the smell of her food, pulling faces and holding their noses as if it’s disgusting. If there are no dinner ladies around they even spit at Shanaz and call her a ‘Paki’. Whenever they do, she just  smiles  and  says, ‘Actually, my family are from India and my grandma’s a princess!’

I never really understand why the other kids don’t like Shanaz but the truth is they don’t like me much  either.  Not  only do I have no interest in the war games the boys like to   play but I’m no good at football and always come last in every event on sports day, which makes everyone think  I’m  weird and not a proper boy – at least that’s what they never tire of telling me. Maybe that’s why Shanaz and I have become such good friends, because I’m the only one who doesn’t mind what the other kids say about her and she’s the only one who doesn’t mind what they all say about me. Not that we ever talk about that; the last thing we want to do when we’re together is to go over things that make us unhappy. No, as soon as  we’re  together we play games that make us believe nothing bad ever happens to us at all.



When we were little, this mainly consisted of re-enacting scenes from films like Bugsy Malone and TV shows like Renta- ghost. Or we’d dress up Shanaz’s pet cat in doll’s clothes, brush its hair into bunches and play Mummies and Daddies, pushing   it around in her sister’s pram. Once we were a bit older we left behind those kinds of silly, childish games and instead devoured every volume of The Chronicles of Narnia, chatting endlessly through each book and painting pictures of the castle of Cair Paravel and the Battle of Beruna that we’d stick up on Shanaz’s bedroom wall. Shortly after that we moved on to the Choose Your Own Adventure books, which we thought were ace  as  at  the end of each chapter you got to decide what happened next. We’d never read anything like it and couldn’t get enough  of them – we’d borrow one each from the local library, race through them in a day or two and then swap books with each other.

But recently we’ve decided that we’ve outgrown Choose

Your Own Adventure books too. Now that we’re ten it’s time for us to find a more mature way to spend our time. And that’s how we became obsessed with Madonna.

These days it’s not difficult for us to feed our obsession as Madonna’s everywhere; this is the year of Live Aid, the increas- ing success of the Like a Virgin album and the film Desperately Seeking Susan. Every week Shanaz and I buy Smash Hits or Look-In magazine, cut out the posters and song lyrics and stick them up on our bedroom walls. We use my mum and dad’s new VHS recorder to tape her videos on Top of the  Pops,  playing them back repeatedly to study their every frame. And we devise elaborate dance routines to her music, performing imaginary concerts to audiences of thousands in my backyard. Madonna’s


Dress You Up

our idol and we want to be just like her. The way we look at it, this year’s Christmas show has given us our opportunity.

‘How are you feeling?’ asks Shanaz. ‘Terrified,’ I bleat.

‘Well, try not to be. I bet Madonna doesn’t get nervous when she goes on stage.’

I make a big effort to relax and tell myself I’m doing nothing wrong; all I’m doing is trying to be like Madonna and she’s so famous that loads of people are doing that at the moment. The only thing is, all the people you see dressing up like her are  girls. I look down at my outfit and feel my heart slam into my throat. I wonder whether it will work if I actually say a prayer  to Madonna. Oh please make this go well, Madonna!

We’re about to perform a routine to ‘Dress You Up’, using a big coat stand and a screen that we’ll disappear behind to change costumes, adding hats, fingerless gloves and other Madonna-themed accessories as we go along. We’ve  adapted the dance routine from a performance we saw her do in the video of The Virgin Tour and have spent  months  rehearsing  it in Shanaz’s bedroom. We found two long blonde wigs in the school dressing-up box and Auntie Jan helped us put together our costumes using her sewing machine at home, agreeing to keep the whole thing secret from Mum and Dad. She’s made us blue and yellow jackets to wear like the one Madonna had on tour, with blue miniskirts and matching lacy tights. Shanaz has   a BOY TOY  belt buckle tied around her waist and I’m wearing     a huge crucifix around my neck. I’ve never dressed up like a   girl before and think it’s ace fun. The only thing that slightly spoils it is having to wear my big plastic NHS glasses on the    end of my nose. But I try not to worry about it too much – if I don’t wear them I won’t be able to see what I’m doing. And it’s



important that I get the routine absolutely right. This is my chance to impress everyone. This is my chance to make the other kids like me.

‘Now Ladies and Gentlemen,’ announces Mr Fletcher in his broad Bolton accent, ‘please welcome Shanaz Gulati and Charlie Matthews to sing ‘Dress You Up’ by Maradona!’

The audience chuckle at his mistake although he doesn’t  seem to notice. By now my heart’s pounding so violently that  I’m worried it might burst through my ribcage.  We  stand  to one side to make way for Bev Adams  and  Damian  Bradley,  who are just leaving the stage and come barging  past.  They take one look at us and burst out laughing.

‘Freaks!’ hisses Bev.

‘Weirdos!’ adds Damian, elbowing me in the ribs.

I try to take no notice and look at Shanaz and smile feebly. As the four beats of the introduction sound, we take to the stage in darkness. When the lights come up we launch into the routine and straight away  begin  to  relax. We’re singing along to the instrumental version on the B-side of the 12” single and so far I’m amazed to find that things are going well. For those first few moments on stage we understand what it must feel like to be Madonna performing a gig in front of thousands of

fans. And the feeling’s mega.

For the first verse and chorus I sing with so much joy I don’t even notice the reactions of people in the audience – and forget to worry about what people think of me. In fact, I’m so carried away with my performance that for once I forget to feel any kind of fear at all. I’ve never experienced such a powerful sensa- tion and feel as if I’ve enough energy to take on the world.

But then I pause so that Shanaz can sing a few lines on her own and that’s when I notice everyone’s faces; most of the kids


Dress You Up

and their families are looking at us with a mixture of fascin- ation and, for some reason, distaste. I can just about make out my own family watching by the door  –  Mum’s  pawing  her  neck as it flushes redder than ever and Dad’s  mouth is gaping  so wide that even from this distance I can see his tonsils. When  I catch sight of Joe, his eyes are bulging in their sockets and his chin plummeting slowly, his Jawbreaker gobstopper eventually falling to the floor and rolling halfway across the room.

A few rows in front of them, I spot Miss Bleach glaring up      at us disapprovingly, all steely expression and pursed lips. Just  a few seats away from her, Vince Hargreaves  glowers  at  me and punches his fist into his palm. I tell myself not to pay any attention but to concentrate on my performance.

Miraculously, we’re working our way through the rather complicated dance routine without a hitch. The problems only start during the bridge in the middle of the song, when the record skips and we lose where we’re up to. We just about manage to catch up with the music when it skips again and leaves us really lost. We  freeze and look at each other in panic.   I hear a few kids snigger in the audience and am suddenly paralysed by fear. I recognize Vince Hargreaves laughing like Muttley the dog and see him pointing right at me.

What do we do?

What would Madonna do if she were us?

And what will all the kids think if we mess up now?

Shanaz gives me a determined glare and nods at me to carry on.

We throw ourselves back into it, determined to give it our all and make up for the hiccup. I move forward with a twist and hand Shanaz a fur stole and rosary beads, which she wraps around her neck as she carries on singing. As she leaps forward



to launch into the next move, it’s obvious that her rosary beads have become attached to my crucifix. By the time we realize what’s wrong, we’re all tangled up and it’s too late. I lose my balance and collapse into her, propelling her forward and over the edge of the stage. Before I know it, I’m lying in a heap on   the floor of the auditorium, my blonde wig in Miss Bleach’s lap and my eyes held by the gaze of a snorting Vince Hargreaves.

The music’s still playing loudly and no one can hear me scream. As I hit the floor I must have crashed down onto my    leg and done myself an injury. The pain’s almost unbearable. I can’t tell what’s going on but there’s a big kerfuffle and lots of adults fussing around me. And then I black out.

When I eventually come round, I’m sitting in the back of an ambulance on my way to hospital. My costume has been hacked off and the music to ‘Dress You Up’ has been replaced by the sound of a blaring siren. Mum and Dad are asking lots of questions and a sweaty paramedic with eyebrows as thick as Dad’s moustache is prodding me in various places. He eventu- ally announces that I’ve broken my leg.

‘Waaaaah!’ Mum starts wailing. ‘Is he going to be like that Joey Deacon?’

‘Shut up, you daft bat!’ says Dad. ‘It’s only a broken leg. I bet you can hardly feel a thing, can you, lad?’

But I can feel it. I can feel it a lot. I tell myself to be brave     but the pain is so bad that I start to feel dizzy.  I  black  out  again.

The next thing I know, I’m lying in a hospital bed with my leg in plaster and a sombre-looking Mum, Dad and Joe huddled around me. Mum’s trying to get me to drink a cup of hot OXO,


Dress You Up

which she always makes when Joe and I have anything wrong with us.

‘Come on, love,’ she coos, ‘a nice beef tea will do you good.’ Joe holds his head in his hands. ‘You’re so embarrassing,

Charlie,’ he moans, ‘I hope none of my mates from footie find out you dressed up like a girl.’

Dad grumbles away under his breath. ‘Well, all I can say is,   let that be a lesson to you, lad. That’s what you get for  par- ading round the stage tarted up like a woman.’

I wait for Mum to defend me but she doesn’t.  In  the  past she’s sometimes been an ally, such as when Dad found out  I liked skipping and confiscated my skipping ropes and she let  me know where they were hidden. Or the time I wanted a  length of elastic to try out the new craze for what the girls at school called ‘Chinese skipping’ and she secretly bought me some from a gypsy who came knocking on the door. But then Dad started calling me a ‘Mummy’s  boy’ and all that stopped.     It doesn’t look like it’s going to be starting again now.

‘Oh maybe it was a mistake, love,’ says Mum. ‘This is only Bolton, after all.’

‘What are you on about, woman?’ Dad  bellows.  ‘There’s  nowt wrong with Bolton!’

‘I never said there was, Frank.’

‘Yeah, well, that kind of carry-on would be embarrassing anywhere. I don’t know, Charlie, what were you thinking?’

As I listen to his words, a deep shame about what I’ve done sits in me like a boulder. I can feel hot, frustrated tears begin- ning to leak from my eyes and sniff them  back  quickly.  If  I  start to cry I’ll only make things a lot worse.

As the event keeps replaying itself in my mind I feel overwhelmed by a sickening sense of humiliation. I might have



had my doubts about the performance we were planning beforehand but I enjoyed myself so much during rehearsals  that I couldn’t see how going ahead with it  would  be  a  bad idea at all. I never for one second dreamed it would end up like this. But when I close my eyes now all I can see is Vince Hargreaves, sniggering as he looks at me lying in a heap on the floor. The whole thing has been a disaster and I’ve made  an utter fool of myself in front of the entire school. I don’t know how I can ever face anyone again. They didn’t think much of    me before – now they’ll think I’m really rubbish!

‘Flamin’ ’eck!’ sighs Dad. ‘I reckon I’ll take you to watch the football next week.’

‘Yeah,’ agrees Mum, ‘that might be a good idea, love.’

As I listen to their words, I feel hollowed out. If  Mum  and Dad don’t like me the way I am, what hope do I have with anyone else?

I groan aloud. I try to be like my idol and this is where it     gets me.

Maybe this love story is going to be a bit more complicated than I thought.

Click here to buy The Madonna Of Bolton

All About Matt

Matt Cain was born in Bury and brought up in Bolton. He spent ten years making arts and entertainment programmes for ITV before stepping in front of the camera in 2010 to become Channel 4 News’ first ever culture editor. His first novel, Shot Through the Heart, was published in 2014 and his second, Nothing But Trouble, followed in 2015. As a journalist he has contributed articles to all the major UK newspapers and is currently Editor-in-Chief of Attitude, the UK’s biggest-selling magazine for gay men, and its sister publication, Winq. In 2017 he was voted Diversity in Media’s Journalist of the Year. He lives in London.

Where To Find Matt