Why I wrote my book: The Woman Who Kept Everything by Jane Gilley – guest post

Jane Gilley is the author of The Woman Who Kept Everything, published by Avon on

Today Jane is discussing why she wrote her book.

What I remember most about my childhood, apart from wide green fields to run around in and trees to climb, was my love of reading and writing. But writing has always been my first love. I wrote my first poem at 7, which my mother then sent to People’s Friend. And although my secondary school English teacher, Mr Philpot, said I should become a journalist, my mother sent me to secretarial college! “Please find a proper job!” So my enthusiasm for creativity was squashed or at best, humoured.

In the meantime, fortunately, life whisked me away. I travelled worldwide; I’ve been an interior designer, owed a teashop, sold furniture and currently run a kitchen and bedroom showroom with my husband.

Back in the 90s I wrote short stories – lots of them. I tried to get them published. No-body wanted them. My main problem was the show don’t tell issue, which I struggled with. I had more success writing freelance articles for newspapers. (Mr Philpot would be pleased!) But, apart from self-publishing 6 children’s books in 2008 and a book signing in Waterstones with Maisie’s Dream, a few years ago I wrote my first adult novel. It took 2 years with all the re-editing. Encouraged, by the writing group I formed last year, I had it professionally critiqued – promising story, they said – but it was not quite right. So I abandoned it, also putting my writing on hold, because we were moving house.

Then one day, just over a year ago, I read Rachel Joyce’s, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and something clicked. I liked the, seeming, absurdity of Harold just going out in his slippers to post a letter and then walking to Scotland. I adored the idea of someone doing something that was not expected of them.

We’re so entrenched in the daily routines and rigmaroles of life; how childhood is followed by a set pattern of work and marriage and settling down, then – bah humbug – old age. My mother coined it perfectly when she told me: ‘You can’t be happy all your life; you’ve got to get married one day!’


It doesn’t have to be that way, of course, but nor does it have to be about beautiful heroines in far flung places, marrying beefy heroes. Otherwise it implies that only beauty attracts success in life.

Hence, my protagonist, Gloria Frensham, suddenly sprang out of my subconscious, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “No luvvy. You can be old and a hoarder, like me, and still have a bit of get up and go in yer!”

So Gloria showed me the way to intersperse an ordinary life, as did Harold Fry, with a few jabs of triumph.

And so I went with that.

About the book

The Lady in the Van meets The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry in this uplifting, funny and moving debut novel about a 79-year-old hoarder who is convinced the world is against her.
79-year-old Gloria Frensham is a hoarder. She lives amongst piles of magazines, cardboard boxes and endless knick-knacks that are stacked into every room of her home, and teeter in piles along the landing and up the stairs.

She hasn’t left the house in years, but when a sudden smell of burning signifies real danger, she is forced to make a sudden departure and leave behind her beloved possessions.

Determined she’s not ready for a care home, Gloria sets out to discover what life still has to offer her. It’s time to navigate the outside world on her own, one step at a time, with just one very small suitcase in tow

Heart-warming and poignant in equal measure, this is a story about the loneliness of life, the struggles of growing old, the power of kindness, and the bravery it takes to leave our comfort zones.


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