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Isabel Ashdown





Tender and subtle, it explores difficult issues in deceptively easy prose... Across the decades, Ashdown tiptoes carefully through explosive family secrets. This is a wonderful debut – intelligent, understated and sensitive.

At once troubling, funny and joyous, this is an intimate, lyrical and deeply moving novel of an ordinary family crumbling under the weight of past mistakes.

Isabel Ashdown’s captivating debut vividly brings to life the gentility of a 1950s childhood, the free-spirited hedonism of the Sixties, and the urban domesticity of 1980s Portsmouth.
Thirteen-year-old Jake’s world is unravelling as his father and older brother leave home, and his mother plunges into alcoholic freefall.

Despite his turbulent home life, Jake is an irrepressible teenager and his troubled mother is not the only thing on his mind: there’s the hi-fi he’s saving up for, his growing passion for Greek mythology (and his pretty classics teacher), and the anticipation of brief visits to see his dad. When his parents reconcile, life finally seems to be looking up. Their first family holiday, announced over scampi and chips in the Royal Oak, promises to be the icing on the cake – until long-unspoken family secrets begin to surface.

Read Chapter One

Isabel Ashdown

lives in West Sussex with her carpenter husband and two children. She worked in product marketing for 15 years, frequently travelling throughout Europe and the United States. Despite not having written since school, in 2004 she gave up her senior management role to test her long-held ambition to become a writer, enrolling on a BA in Creative Writing at Chichester University. In 2007 she graduated with a first class honours degree in Creative Writing, and received the Hugo Donnelly Prize for Outstanding Academic Achievement. She went on to win the 2008 Mail on Sunday Novel Competition with an extract from Glasshopper. Isabel recently gained an MA in Creative Writing with Distinction, for extracts from her second novel Hurry Up and Wait, and is currently Writer in Residence 2013-14 at the University of Brighton. Myriad published her third novel, Summer of '76, in July 2013. Her fourth book, Flight, will be published in May 2015.

Mail on Sunday

An intelligent, beautifully observed coming-of-age story, packed with vivid characters and inch-perfect dialogue. Isabel Ashdown's storytelling skills are formidable; her human insights highly perceptive.

Juliet Nicolson, Evening Standard

Isabel Ashdown’s first novel is a disturbing, thought-provoking tale of family dysfunction, spanning the second half of the 20th century, that guarantees laughter at the uncomfortable familiarity of it all.

David Vann, author of Legend of a Suicide

I love it. It’s a book that’s very fast and really rewarding for the reader. There’s a wrenching end to the first chapter that switches the mood and absolutely hooked me for the rest of the book.

Waterstone's Books Quarterly

An immaculately written novel with plenty of dark family secrets and gentle wit within. Recommended for book groups.

Sainsbury's Magazine

A brilliant début.

Joel Morris on Simon Mayo's BBC Radio 5 Live

It’s an incredibly convincing boy’s voice; an incredibly convincing woman’s voice. It’s very subtle, and subtlety is the key to this. The tragedy is happening behind the words and behind what people are saying, and you could be forgiven for wanting to read it again to catch all the nuances. It reminded me of Iain Banks. If you enjoyed The Crow Road, you’ll get lots out of this book.


This stirring coming-of-age novel evokes the strictures of the '50s and the tacky flamboyance of the '80s brilliantly. Narrated through 13-year-old Jake's eyes, it's a heartbreaking redemptive tale of family secrets that will take you on an emotional rollercoaster. Arm yourselves with a box of Kleenex as you'll be weeping into your pillow by the end.

Fay Weldon and Paula Johnson, Mail on Sunday Novel Competition

Engrossing and moving.

Easy Living

Carefully observed, unexpected and mesmerisingly beautiful.


In Jake, Ashdown has created a beautifully realised character, totally believable as a 20th-century boy but imbued with qualities which should resonate with any reader and will surely stand the test of time...The prose is succinct and smooth, the dialogue crisp and convincing. An intriguing, atmospheric read with a healthy dollop of realism.

Drink and Drugs News

Skillfully written and difficult to put down...this novel is a page-turningly good read.

Amazon 5 star review

Tell friends and family you have gone away, take the phone off the hook and be prepared to be completely immersed in the lives of Jake and Mary. I've just lost the last two days to this wonderful novel and I've loved every second of it. Jake, in particular, really hit the spot with me, from his love of cold November days and Greek mythology, his thoughts on Joey Deacon and Thundercats, through to some moments of real heartbreak. All beautifully conveyed by the author.


A beautifully poignant, multi-layered family story. There is glorious detail in the writing which renders it truly memorable. [And] I was very impressed by the masterful handling of the chronology and the weaving of the two different points of view in the story as it rushes towards its climax.

The Bookbag

The beauty of Ashdown's writing is that readers are able to connect to the real characters presented and understand that life isn't always all that easy...her character representations, no matter what sex or age, are flawless, and her descriptions of small hometowns and country and beachside holidays create superb images to match the story...It's hard to know who to recommend this to without encouraging everyone to go out and buy it. Ashdown is a definite one to watch for in British literature.

NewBooks Magazine

Ashdown’s début novel is accomplished, accessible and absorbing.

Books and Other Stories

I saw Glasshopper on the ‘just returned bookshelf’ at the library – so I grabbed it... I read and finished it in two days!

The Hungry Reader

Glasshopper is the kind of novel that stays with you, or rather the characters and their little quirks do. Adolescent Jake is very vivid and seeing the story unfold through his eyes parallel to his mum Mary’s story works very well. The pain of growing up is captured beautifully in both cases. What I really like is that Isabel Ashdown has managed to keep a lot of family secrets buried under the surface, and yet those secrets are what drives me as a reader forward. Nothing is ever spelt out; events are implied and it’s satisfying to work things out for yourself. The end is totally unexpected and lifts the story.

Farm Lane Books

The writing is reminiscent of Maggie O’Farrell, so anyone who loves her books is sure to enjoy this one.

Isabel Ashdown reads from Glasshopper

Isabel Ashdown reads from and discusses Glasshopper at a fundraising dinner for NACOA, the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, May 2012.

Isabel Ashdown reads an exclusive extract

RRP £7.99 pbk
384 pages • 129 x 198mm
ISBN: 978-0-9549309-7-4
E-ISBN: 978-0-9567926-3-1
Published 17 September 2009
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German edition

ISBN: 978-3-8218612-0-3

Isabel signs copies at Chichester University's launch for Glasshopper.

Isabel aboard the St Clair ferry where she signed copies between two of the novel's key locations, Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight.