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Susie Steiner’s West Hampstead guide

I’m a seriously local person. I don’t like to leave my manor. When I leave Whamp, I feel like I need a decompression chamber to prevent the bends. I’m a homey, hanging with my FG-massive. I’ll stop being embarrassing now.

My favourite place to eat: The Wet Fish, for posh nosh. We’ve tried the new posh one, Ham, and liked it. The Czech & Slovac Club (74 West End Lane) for schnitzel, dumplings, goulash – everything Czech in fact. And the best beer. I’ve been going there since my Czech grandfather first took me aged 5, so ahem a few years now. It hasn’t changed one jot except the smoking ban cleared the air somewhat. If you’ve never been, try it.

Sunday roast at: home, obvs. Or The Green Room or The Alliance. There is def an opening for more Sunday roasts out – Ham, are you hearing us?

I still miss: Tom & Jenny’s Kitchen Table. Dizar gift shop – remember that one? The flower lady who used to be at the entrance to the cemetary, before Tesco came.
I don’t take change easily.

West Hampstead could do with more: clothing and general shops. An old fashioned DIY store. I have a secret yen for a GAP. Pants and socks, people. Pants and socks.

West Hampstead could do with less: estate agents, obvs. What have we done to deserve this plague of shiny suits?

I hate that: the pavements are cluttered with wheelie bins, the high street awash with rubbish bags which the foxes raid. As a sight-impaired person, my travel down the payment is fraught with risk on bin day. But after hearing Georgia Gould, Camden Labour leader, talk about the brutal cuts to local authority budgets, I reluctantly concede that the bin changes were necessary. Reluctantly, I tell you. I mutter audibly to myself as I step around seeping bags on Fortune Green Road.

The best place to walk: round the cemetery in high summer, across the Finchley Road and up the paths to the Heath in autumn, down to the farmers market on Saturday mornings.

Hold your kid’s party at: Play centre on Fortune Green, which also happens to be the best after school/holiday play scheme in town with the loveliest staff.

Get drunk at: I’m a notoriously tame drunk. Half a shandy, home by 9pm. But I choose to spend those precious un-drunk minutes at Bobby Fitzpatrick’s, because it’s so like being in my living room. Also, excellent nachos slathered with everything.

Exercise at: I’m sorry what? I can’t hear you.

Have your hair done at: Tila Studio, on Fortune Green Road. Amazing hair colouring. Also, profesh make up – useful if crap eyesight leads to frankly bizarre make-up application.

Fill the cultural tank at: West End Lane Books of course. Brilliant readings by authors (not just me), seriously good thriller recommendations from Danny and an all round warm hug of a shop. Also hilarious on Twitter. JW3’s not bad also.

I will be at West End Lane Books on April 26 to celebrate paperback publication of Persons Unknown, my latest Manon novel, along with the murder squad detective who advises me on all things procedural. He’s seriously interesting. Come for him. Contact West End Lane Books (see below) to reserve a spot.

My books have a distinct local flavour. Missing, Presumed mentioned Fordwych Road and Fortune Green both appearing, and a couple of characters buy Soleros on Mill Lane (gripping), while Persons Unknown is awash with Killy High Road refs. It’s out in paperback on April 5 and signed copies are available from West End Lane Books ku.oc1534625306.skoo1534625306blew@1534625306ofni1534625306 or tweet them @welbooks.

Why local author Susie Steiner loves West Hampstead

Susie Steiner, Guardian journalist and novelist, chatted to West Hampstead Life about life as a working mother in West Hampstead.

Susie Steiner

Susie Steiner

Looking from the outside, you appear to have it all. How did you do it?
The career was very slow – I’m very slow and ploddy – I started on local papers and did work experience on the Ham and High. Then I trained as a cub reporter and did moonlighting shifts on the nationals. Eventually I got a staff job at The Times as a news reporter and then as a feature writer, and then I went to the Guardian in 2001 as an editor on the Weekend Magazine. That was a very lovely job and that’s where I had children, so it was punctuated by an awful lot of maternity leave! I got to a point that lots of women get to after their youngest is a bit more independent and you think: what now?

West Hampstead seems full of writers, musicians and literary agents, do you think there is something about the area that attracts creative types?
Well it’s just the most gorgeous place to live. I can’t think of anywhere better to live. It’s got is the gorgeousness of Hampstead and Belsize Park without the wankers really! It’s not as moneyed, it has a shabby edge to it, which is lovely. It hasn’t got that investment banking feel which is the death knell of creativity. It’s got a very nice low-key ordinariness to it and an amazing feeling of community, it’s hard to walk down the street without knowing everyone. You can be whatever you want here, you don’t have to put on a front when you walk out the door or dress a certain way.

How has West Hampstead changed since you first arrived?
It was a very different place, it was really shabby. There were no supermarkets, just a rash of 24-hour shops where you could buy fags but that was it. It’s changed a huge amount. I think it’s become better and better, there are fabulous places to eat and lovely shops. It’s amazing to go into shops and know the people who work there! It’s delightful.

What’s your favourite spot in West Hampstead?
Oh God I love so much! I like the guys in David’s Deli hugely who say hi to my kids. I love the food at The Wet Fish Cafe. I love the Kitchen Table – who doesn’t? I love the community centre where I do an exercise class and the nursery below it where both my kids went. I feel knitted into the whole place. I love Emmanuel School where my children are, which is a roll down the hill. We’re really embedded. I moved here in about ’94 and I lived in Kingdon Road in a bachelorette pad with my mates. When I was single I didn’t know anyone here, it was just great for work because of quick transport. But then when I got married and had children I suddenly got to know all my neighbours in an amazing way.

What are the best and the worst things about West Hampstead?
The number of estate agents makes my blood boil! The number of very average cafés makes me a bit annoyed. I’d like a kid’s shoe shop, I’d like a clothes shop. I think we have a problem with the variety of shops, there is a great deal of repetition. The best thing is the community – the people. I’ve never been happier, there’s no better place to live in terms of friendliness and the feeling of belonging somewhere and I’d never imagined how important that feeling would be. Saying hello to people on the hill every morning really makes a big difference. It’s extraordinary.

What book do you wish you’d written?
American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld. It’s a few years old. It’s a fictionalised life of Laura Bush and it poses the question of how did a bookish, shy Democrat come to marry this sports jock, hard drinking, handsome Bush? It’s riveting and it doesn’t have shock tactics of sex and violence, it’s a very intricate study of character. It’s slow, detailed and absorbing.

Susie Steiner’s latest book, Homecoming is out now in paperback and was reviewed here. She will also be running a creative writing workshop on May 1st at West End Lane Books.

Review: Homecoming, by Susie Steiner

HomecomingMy husband has oft commented that with our Farmer’s Market, our feisty WI group and altogether friendly villagey atmosphere in Mill Lane and West End Lane, West Hampstead could be twinned with Ambridge.

Not entirely surprising then that Susie Steiner, one of the area’s community of writers, has chosen to set her debut novel, Homecoming, within a farming community.

The narrative follows the fortunes of the apparently hapless Hartle family with the story unfolding to the rhythm of the farming year.

The Hartles’ farm is suffering financially, the family is suffering emotionally: one son sinking into alcoholism, the other hotfooting away to open a garden centre so halfheartedly that he actually names it Garden Centre; parents Joe and Ann struggle to balance the books and make sense of a year so bleak that the prevailing advice is to sell up and cut their losses.

But Homecoming, set in Yorkshire, is resolutely not a ‘grim oop north’ story. It’s about community and family, belief and commitment. The portraits of the family and the locals, in particular the Hartle boys’ partners – the energetic and sparky Ruby and the embattled Primrose – provide a warm and vivid counterpoint to the harshness of the landscape and the seemingly unremittingly bad news that rains down on the Hartles.

In essence, Homecoming is all hearts and minds. Will there still be a viable farm for one of the boys to inherit? Will any of the marriages survive let alone prosper? Is stoicism the right response to the Hartles predicament?

For those of us who like to really submerge ourselves in the characters that writers like Steiner create, there are tears and literally laugh out loud moments in Homecoming and while reading it I ran home to seek it out as one would a warm hearth on a bitter day. And there are precious few novels one can say that about.

Homecoming, by Susie Steiner is out in paperback on March 6th
Faber & Faber, £7.99