How the worst year of her life became the best year of her life...

Marilyn has spent eighteen months renovating her house, just in time for her husband to walk out on her. With the help of best friend, Cindy, she resolves to meet the new challenges of life as a middle-aged single woman with dignity.

Her year, however, continues to spiral out of control. Her son is deployed by the army to Afghanistan, her mother remains consistently cruel and the job she expects to obtain becomes something completely different. The changes in her life appear sometimes too hard to handle and keep growing worse. By the time twelve months have passed, however, some amazing things have happened.

About the Book


Papertrail was shortlisted for a Varuna/ HarperCollins publisher fellowship, 2010


Congratulations on being shortlisted for the Varuna Publisher Fellowship... To reach this stage is a wonderful achievement....
Tessa Hockly (Varuna Writers' House Executive Director, 2010)

If you would like to read Papertrail with a view to publication, please email me at


The sporting equipment warehouse was massive and promised it held a thousand different kinds of exercise machines. Perhaps as proof of the effectiveness of the devices the salespeople appeared disgustingly taut. There was another attribute they appeared to share, too.

‘They’ve all got spray-on tans,’ Cindy whispered.

‘Maybe it’s compulsory once you reach a miniscule BMI,’ Marilyn replied.

Was she really going to turn her new spare room into a mini-gym, a retreat for her and Cindy to shed some serious kilos?

They were approached by a young sales attendant, handsome in a chiselled casually muscle bound sort of way, who introduced himself as Dayne. He came at them out of nowhere and when she looked back on the encounter Marilyn wondered if he’d somehow managed to emerge from behind his impossibly large and startlingly white grin, some kind of hairless reverse Cheshire cat on steroids.

It was simple to explain their needs. Dayne was apparently very happy to show off a variety of toned muscle groups as he demonstrated the machines for them. Marilyn and Cindy took their time deciding which were most suitable – Cindy flirting happily – until they eventually chose a set comprising a treadmill, a stationary bike and a weight device. It came bundled with a DVD, so at least they’d have some idea of what to do with them all.

Dayne suggested they take up an offer of home delivery and assembly and they made an appointment for later that day. Cindy headed off to work and Marilyn went home and spent a few hours emptying out the spare room. She realised she was slightly nervous as she waited for the arrival of the equipment. After all, she was single now. What if Dayne, with his obvious overload of testosterone, made an advance on her? It wasn’t completely out of the question, was it? Until now she would have just explained she was married, been equal parts flattered that he’d said something and annoyed that he’d seen her only as a sex object, but refusing either way. Now there would be no excuse.

There was a knock at the door. She wondered whether her outfit was suitable, and as had sometimes happened, questioned whether she was showing too much cleavage or not enough. She opened the door.

A balding and sweaty thickset man in his fifties was standing there. He introduced himself as Kevin.

‘You’re not... Dayne?’

‘He’s in sales. Don’t worry, people always expect to see him, they always get disappointed for some reason when I show up. But between you and me, love, Dayne wouldn’t know an adjustable spanner from a basketball and he’s gay as well in case you were wondering. Best stick with a professional, yeah?’

‘Er, yeah,’ Marilyn stammered.

She left him to it and half an hour after entering her spare room the gym was finished. As Kevin dragged away boxes, mountains of polystyrene and acres of polythene she stood silently and inspected her now assembled purchases. They certainly looked impressive, gleaming white and silver. She gingerly touched the seat of the stationary bicycle.

‘Here’s my card,’ said Kevin. ‘Call me if you need a bolt tightened.’

Was bolt tightening some kind of euphemism, Marilyn wondered?

‘The bike’s all right,’ Kevin added, ‘but the weight machine sometimes needs adjusting. You’ve got a year’s worth of service, so don’t hesitate, OK?’

It wasn’t a euphemism, not even from Kevin. She looked again at the machines while Kevin did something with a clipboard.

‘Sign here and here. The deductions begin at the end of the month.’

‘That’s it?’

‘Oh, sorry,’ he added, reaching into his tool bag. ‘Here’s the DVD.’

She walked him to the front door. He wasn’t the sort of courier she had expected to deliver the start of her new life and identity.

‘One more thing,’ he added.


‘Don’t tell the boss but I do a fair bit on eBay. If you happen to stop using it after a while – and a fair few do – give us a bell and I’ll help you sell it. I keep fifteen per cent and we’re all happy.’

‘It’s good to be happy,’ was all Marilyn could think of to say.

She watched silently as Kevin’s van slid out of her driveway. Her phone rang.

‘It’s here,’ she told Cindy.

‘How was Dayne?’

‘He was Kevin.’


‘Not my type. Although apparently he was straight, unlike Dayne.’

‘What a shame. Dayne was so nice, too.’

‘We should have guessed. Anyone that perfect is bound to be gay.’

Marilyn went inside and closed the door of the gym and she left it shut until Cindy arrived. Then they both stood at the doorway and looked inside.

‘Is this sensible?’ asked Marilyn after a minute or so of silence. ‘We’ve embraced the ideal of personal change, but the first thing we’ve chosen to alter is our appearance. Why not our personalities which have led us to this decision? Why our outside and not our inside?’

‘Personality doesn’t come into it,’ Cindy told her. ‘I just want to meet someone who isn’t going to make jokes about my thighs. We’ll get trim taut and terrific while aiming to keep as much of our tits as possible. We’ll get rid of the flab factor. Then we’ll worry about who we really are.’

Marilyn had never heard Cindy talk about her weight so candidly before.

‘You’re with me now,’ Cindy told her. ‘We do this together. I’ll count on you and you can count on me.’

They were still staring at the machines.

‘We need to watch the DVD,’ Cindy suggested.

‘Yeah, the DVD.’

Two hours later they were both sprawled on the lounge, an empty bucket of chocolate ice cream between them, not to mention a drained bottle of merlot and some sweet biscuits Cindy had dug up from the back of the pantry.

To top off their first evening of exercise they’d only managed to watch fifteen minutes of the DVD before switching over to the cricket which Cindy claimed to be a fan of, although Marilyn could never recall her watching it before.

‘It’ll get us in the mood for sporty things,’ Cindy insisted, although the way Marilyn felt about cricket it was more likely to do the opposite.

‘We’ll start tomorrow,’ Marilyn said.

‘Absolutely, Cindy said. ‘Except I have to meet some people for dinner. But you start, and I’ll do a double workout on Wednesday.’

‘That’s Jay’s first night back.’

‘A triple workout on Thursday then.’

Suddenly the idea of offering Kevin a fifteen per cent commission on the sale of the gym began to become more appealing. No! Marilyn wasn’t really going to give up this easily, was she? She would definitely start in the morning. She’d seen enough of the DVD to use the bike. She’d start on that and then work up to the others. Cindy could join in when and where it suited her. She needed it far more than Marilyn did, after all. Marilyn glanced over. Cindy was asleep and an empty crisp packet perched on her chest like a little boat was rising and falling in slow motion, a chip ship on an undulating ocean, a cellophane vessel on a cellulite sea. Marilyn had no idea where the packet had come from.