The day my husband threw some clothes into a suitcase and walked out, I was left frozen, standing in our bedroom, listening to the sound of his car pull out of the gravel driveway and up the road until I couldn't hear it any more.

I tiptoed downstairs, shaky and shocked. Had that really just happened? Had he actually left and, if he had, did it mean my marriage was over?

Our children were young - aged six, four and two-year-old twins - and I hadn't been happy for a long time, but I never imagined my seven-year marriage would be over in what felt like a matter of minutes.

As I walked back upstairs, I realised the dark cloud that had been sitting on my shoulders for months had lifted.


I phoned a friend. 'I think maybe we have just separated,' I said with a shaky voice, gazing out of the window at the trees.

The shock took a while to subside. During the week, life felt much like normal. I kept myself busy writing and ferrying the children to school and back.

In the evenings I drank big glasses of wine and went to bed early, wondering if life would ever feel normal again.

When the children left to stay with their father, I drifted in an empty, quiet house, unmoored.

For seven years I had been someone's wife, someone's mother. I had no idea who I was supposed to be, rattling around in that old farmhouse all by myself.

I'd grown up in London, where I had met my American husband. After a year of dating, a year of married life and one child, we moved to the U.S., settling in Westport, Connecticut.
But a year later, we left for the countryside, thinking we wanted a fresh start in a sleepy town.

I had loved it, but now that single motherhood stretched ahead of me, I quickly recognised that I had little support there.

So, three days after my husband moved out, I decided to return to my old town, the one where my friends were; the life I had built five years ago.

I found an advertisement online for a tiny beach cottage that was small and beautiful, filled with sunlight and possibilities.

I dialled the number and was relieved when the landlord had a voice that was upbeat and warm.

When I introduced myself, he paused. "Jane? We know each other!" It was a man named Ian, whom I'd met a few times over the years.

Several days later I went to see the house. It was tiny, far too small, but a voice in my head kept whispering that we were supposed to be there. I walked to the beach with the landlord, who lived next door, then we toasted the lease with a glass of wine.

I was still numb, still in shock, but he was easy to talk to.

was back on a rollercoaster of emotion: terrified, vulnerable, no idea how I would manage four children under the age of six - and relieved.

We went to his house next door to sign the lease.

As I walked through the doorway, he placed a hand in the small of my back to guide me through, and I felt safe.

A relationship was the last thing on my mind. I needed to get used to this unexpected change, this new life.

I had married for all of the wrong reasons.

Through my 20s I fell in and out of love - and falling hard meant pain - but then I found a man who seemed stable, a man who would be a good husband and father.

I thought I was being sensible choosing with my head, rather than my heart.

I had four beautiful children, all of them distractions from a lonely marriage. I felt stuck and was too scared to leave: I thought I would have to stay until my children went to university. I never dreamed one argument would lead to my husband walking out.

But once I was single, there were a couple of things I felt clear about: I wasn't getting married again, and all of my focus was going to be on my children.

Even if I had been looking, my landlord was not my type. I had always dated men who were dark-haired and slender, boisterous, with big personalities and a sarcastic sense of humour.

My landlord, with his grey beard and twinkling blue eyes, was quiet and thoughtful. He listened, rather than talked.

When I moved into the cottage with my children at the end of May, he was always available next door if I needed an extra hand or something fixing.

One day I bought an inflatable slide for the children that wouldn't stay up. Girlfriends came over to help, but none of us could figure it out.

I heard the landlord next door in the garden and asked if he knew what to do. He fixed the leak instantly as my friends watched from the window.

"I think he likes you," said one. "He definitely does," said another.

I told them they were being ridiculous. But that night I lay in bed thinking about it.

Did he like me? Was that possible? I pushed it out of my head - this was going to be the summer for my children and of getting my head together.

And yet, the children and my landlord started to become intertwined. We took the children on his boat, shared picnics and went to the beach.

He had a ten-year-old daughter whom he had raised alone and she had an eight-year-old half-brother who, though not biologically his, called him Daddy.

Every day I found myself looking forward to seeing him. Whenever I heard his motorbike putt-putt into the driveway, my heart would start to smile.

Without being fully aware it was happening, slowly, slowly, over the course of a summer filled with children, wine, friends and picnics on the beach, I was falling for my landlord.

One evening two months later as we walked and talked along the beach, he reached for my hand. By the time we had reached the end of the walk, he'd kissed me.

Immediately this felt different from anything that had come before. It was steady and calm, the long road stretching as far as the eye could see. I looked at this man and felt a deep recognition, and a profound sense of peace.

From the very first night, we found ourselves imagining building a house by the beach for our large combined brood.

We had never been on a date, but had fallen into the kind of relationship I believe existed for other people - I just never thought it would happen to me.

It was peaceful, respectful and, most of all, kind.

He had enormous integrity - he didn't play games, didn't disappear for a day or two or not return my calls. He wasn't controlling or angry. He was just there, steady, constant and lovely.

By the autumn I was renting a bigger house, and we found ourselves living together.

People kept asking if I would write about it, but I laughed; surely not even the most romantic of romantics would believe this happens in real life.

I fell in love with the boy next door, my landlord to boot, three days after my marriage ended.

But it was lovely; this was the life and man I had always imagined. Three years later we married, and now we have been together for more than ten years.

I have learned many things about marriage in that time. I have learned that the psychologist John Gottman is right when he says kindness is the single most important characteristic of a good relationship.

Not necessarily the kindness of bringing your partner a cup of tea in bed (though that is nice), but often simply the kindness of attention.

When your partner asks you to engage in conversation, you put down the phone, newspaper or book and give them your full attention for as long as they need it.

It is the kindness of putting your partner before yourself, of treating each other with care, always.

I have learned what an enormous privilege it is to know and be known. Ian and I have seen each other at our best and at our worst, and we love each other anyway.

I've also learned that everything passes. Life is cyclical, and however painful it may be at times, however hard, however lovely or easy or fun, everything passes.

For many years, life was forever changing. Blending families second time around comes with an extraordinary set of challenges: another set of in-laws, ex-spouses, ex-in-laws and unhappy children who struggle to accept a step-parent and who shout and cry and shoot you filthy looks.

I had no idea how hard blended families can be, how challenging the role of step-parent, how unbearably painful it can be to be a stepchild.

It took me years to understand that a child of divorce has already experienced huge loss when their parents split up.

I understand these things now. Ten years on, I love the family we have built, and the children are settled and happy.

And, after all those years of saying I wouldn't write our story, I decided, finally, to use it for inspiration.

It isn't the story of my husband and me, but rather that of a relationship between two people, Emma and Dominic, who meet when one rents the other's beach cottage.

It is the story of what makes a good relationship, of finding happiness in ways you might not expect.

Emma's life doesn't follow the course of mine, and yet was drawn from it - from an English woman looking for a fresh start, for a place to call home.