The world created by Milly Johnson is how we’d all like life to be.
Across the 10 romantic novels she’s written to date, good things happen to the most deserving people and the odd nasty soul usually gets their comeuppance.
“I’m not going to take these lovely characters and give them a rubbish ending,” she says with the expected candour of someone with Glaswegian and Yorkshire parentage. “I want people to feel uplifted at the end.”
Many good things have happened to Milly in the past decade, capped by her winning an award for Best Romantic Comedy Novel earlier this year.
But behind the rose-tinted spectacles and sense of humour lies a steely determination forged at her lowest ebb, before she fulfilled a lifelong ambition – having her first book published – at the age of 40.
“I sometimes think ‘I wish I’d done this at 21’ but I don’t think I could have. But when I hit 40 it all came straight out.
“It makes me sound a bit crackers, but it was almost as if God had said, ‘OK, this bird wants to be a writer, I’m going to make the first 40 years of her life a scrapbook of life experiences and when she’s 40 we will let her loose on the PC’.
“It just came straight out like it never had before.”
On the eve of her 40th birthday, Milly was working as a copywriter when life took a distinct turn for the worse.
“I had a fantastic job, a very good salary and my life/work balance was brilliant,” remembers the divorced mum-of-two.
“But all good things come to an end, I suppose, and trouble erupted when my boss, who had brought me to the firm, fell out with another manager.”
Milly presumed she’d be given another boss and carry on as normal. But one night she says she received a threatening phonecall at home from the big boss.
She felt her position would be under threat if she didn’t end the friendship with her old manager.
Refusing to be dictated to on who she could socialise with, Milly says she and a group of like-minded colleagues were ostracised by the manager and those who sided with him.
“There was no compromise. If you wanted to be part of the ‘in’ crowd you had to turn against the others. It was horrific. Adult bullying is terrible as your whole security is threatened. I was a single mother with two kids, working to pay the mortgage.”
Milly left her job and tried to sue for unfair dismissal. She used up her life savings before the spiralling costs forced her to drop the case.
Always looking to take a positive out of a negative she launched a website to help people stuck in the same situation and is now able to use her position as a successful author to give talks on workplace bullying.
“I’m quite a hard old bat, but it affected my health very seriously. I became good friends with my solicitor – don’t get me wrong he still sent me the bill – but he reminds me of when I first walked into his office.
“My mouth was full of cold sores, I had flip-flops on, no tights or socks. I just didn’t know how I was dressing and I didn’t have any make-up on. I was in such a state, crying and sobbing. It completely destroyed my confidence.
“However, I’m a great believer in hope and that whatever doesn’t destroy you makes you strong. It taught me a lot about myself and made me more determined than ever to be a writer because I never wanted to go back to working for someone again.”
Her debut novel The Yorkshire Pudding Club was about three women in Milly’s hometown of Barnsley who all fall pregnant at the same time. Her second book The Birds and the Bees owed more to the Scottish side of her family.
She explains: “I wanted to write about Scotland in an incredibly fond way because I had all these lovely memories of visiting my mum’s aunts there as a child.”
Always borrowing on her own experiences, the central theme of her latest work The Teashop on the Corner is about people getting a second chance to do what they really want.
“I’m 50 now and you think you’re going to be settled at that age,” she adds. “But, for various reasons, people who are my age are losing their jobs and having to start again, moving to smaller houses and trying to build up their fortune again. I wanted to write about that.
“This book is also very special to me as I named the main characters after my partner’s mother Molly and her husband Harvey, but Molly passed away before I got to finish it so she’ll never get to read the story I wrote for her.
“A couple of months later Harvey had his life savings stolen, but, on hearing the story, the whole town rallied around – a woman from Milton Keynes wrote a cheque for the whole amount and sent it to him anonymously.
“I think we forget that in a world of rottenness there are some truly gorgeous people out there and that is the message of this book.”
BY DARRYL SMITH, 29 JUNE 2014 7.45AM. REAL LIFE STORIES Sundaypost.com
It’s not a spoiler to say that in the world of Milly Johnson, there should always be a happy ending.
- The Teashop on the Corner is available from bookshops and on Kindle now.
- For more information on workplace bullying, contact the National Bullying Helpline on 0845 22 55 787