Over the past year, more than half a million people went out and bought a novel about a cleaning lady called Janice, who finds the courage to overcome the difficulties in her past.

The Keeper of Stories became a publishing sensation, recommended by word-of-mouth and at one point, the most gifted book on Amazon after the multi-million seller, The Boy The Mole, The Fox And The Horse.

No one was more surprised than its author, Sally Page, who lives in Gillingham, Dorset.

‘I kept refreshing the app which tells you its Amazon position, almost unable to believe it,’ she says. ‘It’s been on the Amazon bestseller list for eight months now.’ It was the same feeling again as her book raced up the prestigious Sunday Times Bestseller List to number eight at Christmas, a deeply competitive time of year for book sales. When the book was placed on sale in Tesco’s, the numbers surged again.

Great British Life: Sally's first novel The Keeper of Secrets was a runaway success. (Photo: HarperCollins)Sally's first novel The Keeper of Secrets was a runaway success. (Photo: HarperCollins)

‘It wasn’t heavily publicised but seemed to sell by word of mouth,’ says Sally. ‘I’m sure it’s got a lot to do with the world we’re in; people had come out of Covid and there was a lot of bad news in the media. I think people wanted something warm, where ordinary people’s stories are told in an optimistic way.’

The story of how she came to be published – her new novel, The Book of Beginnings, out in late September – reads like the plot of one of her own books.

In the past, Sally had produced the highly acclaimed Flower Shop books, telling the visual story of the Ted Martin florists in Wiltshire; she had owned a market research company and still runs Plooms, selling beautiful fountain pens in a dazzling rainbow of colours.

But she had never attempted fiction.

‘Because of the Flower Shop books, I’d always felt I was more like a journalistic writer,’ she explains. There was also her idea that: ‘In our house, it’s always been that Alex (her eldest daughter) is The Scientist, and her other daughter Libby (best-selling author of 2018 novel The Lido) is The Writer.’

Great British Life: Sally with her daughter Libby Page who also has a new novel out The Vintage Dress Shop (Photo: Supplied by HarperCollins)Sally with her daughter Libby Page who also has a new novel out The Vintage Dress Shop (Photo: Supplied by HarperCollins)

For Sally, it happened like this. ‘One day, in 2016, I woke up and had the idea for a story. I thought that I’d really like to try and write it and, as I did so, I discovered that I absolutely adored writing creatively and just couldn’t stop.’

Three months later, Sally started another novel, then another, and has now written five in all. But, once she started sending out her work to potential publishers, reality kicked in as she faced rejection after rejection.

However, she had reckoned without the ‘wonderful’ Charlotte Ledger at OneMoreChapter, a digital imprint within the giant HarperCollins publishing house, who offered her a book deal.

‘Charlotte championed The Keeper of Stories and fought for it to be published,’ Sally tells me. ‘If she hadn’t, I’m not sure what would have happened.’

Initially, the book was published digitally. Then, as its success grew, it came out in paperback.

As her writing star rose, Sally’s agent was delighted to find that the treasure trove of other novels. Sally is currently in a giant editing phase, as she readies them for publication.

‘I’d almost do anything rather than editing,’ she confesses. ‘Changing things is hard when you’ve written them a certain way.’ She understands the reluctance some writers have, to complete this process. ‘People say “It’s your book” but you’d be mad not to listen to the editors and people who give you good advice. With The Book of Beginnings there were a lot of edits. They kept pushing and pushing and I’m glad they did, as I can see it is so much better for it. I always want to write better.’

An early bird who often starts work at 7.30am, Sally writes all over her home: ‘In bed, at the kitchen table, on the sofa,’ as well as going out to write, too. ‘The cafes of Dorset have had quite a lot of my money, as I do tend to buy a lot of coffee and cake when I’m working in them,’ she smiles.

Great British Life: Sally's latest novel The Book of Beginnings. (Photo: HarperCollins)Sally's latest novel The Book of Beginnings. (Photo: HarperCollins)

As a new-ish writer, Sally also had to get used to her readers contacting her with their thoughts, ideas and comments on her books. Some emailed her to tick her off about the bad language used by Decius, the delightful wire fox terrier and break-out star of The Keeper of Stories. But she was also touched to receive an email one evening from a woman who said she was reading the book in a bar in Greece whilst drinking an Amaretto. ‘I emailed back saying “pour one for me”,’ she laughs. ‘I love the way people connect with my book.’

Sally is hoping to get the same positive reviews with her latest novel The Book of Beginnings. It tells the story of Jo, 39, who is at a crossroads in her life. She goes to look after her uncle’s stationery shop in north London to get away from issues at home and with her relationship.

‘It’s about the friendship between her, a runaway vicar who is 57 and an older man called Malcolm,’ says Sally. ‘It’s a bit of a love story, as well as being about friendship.’

In part, this book has been inspired by her own love of stationery, which started in her childhood. ‘I have particular memories of new crayons, pencil cases, and exercise books at the beginning of the school year. These gave me a huge amount of pleasure – as did playing Post Offices when I was little.’

Great British Life: Pick your Ploom. The fountain pens designed by Sally Page. (Photo: plooms.co.uk)Pick your Ploom. The fountain pens designed by Sally Page. (Photo: plooms.co.uk)

Her love of all things writing continues with Plooms (plooms.co.uk) her online fountain pen company, which Sally started when she couldn’t find a pen she wanted to buy. ‘I write with a fountain pen all the time; I love the sound it makes on the paper,’ she tells me. ‘In The Book of Beginnings, I’ve just written about what I know, and I know about selling fountain pens. I also wanted to say something about the joy of writing in ink. This does permeate the book.’

Her phenomenal writing success has brought about many things, but for Sally, who received no advance for her first novel, one of the best has been: ‘Being able to afford things like a lipstick I’ve admired.’ Or, indeed, the pink and orange Me + Em jumpsuit she wore to The British Book Awards, when The Keeper of Stories was shortlisted for Book of the Year.

Not that she’s complacent. ‘I’ve always worked to support myself and my family,’ she says proudly. ‘I feel that even if it all stopped tomorrow, I’d do what I’ve always done and go out and get a job.’ [ends}

The Book of Beginnings is published by HarperCollins on September 28. Find out more at sallypage.com. Sally and Libby Page will be at Waterstones Dorchester on October 3 at 7pm and Yeovil Literary Festival on October 27 at 6pm, talking about their respective new novels, The Book of Beginnings, and The Vintage Shop.