What I learnt this week: 18th January 2018

A cool birthday 

It’s become a tradition (if you can call 3 years on the trot) for me to celebrate my birthday in London. Keen to continue it (and reinforce the ‘tradition’ part, so I have an excuse to go again next year) we went to London at the weekend to raise a glass to my advancing years. Because I’d manage to persuade the boys to come too, I wanted to do something ‘cool’. Something an eighteen and twenty year old would find more interesting than just going out for a meal with their doddery old parents. So I arranged to go for cocktails afterwards. In a bar made of ice.

It’s called the IceBar (genius)

We were invited to arrive twenty minutes before our 11pm ‘slot’, primarily, it became clear, to persuade us to buy another cocktail at the cosy warm bar, before we entered the freezer. Being tight, we spent the twenty minutes deciding on the cocktail we’d have in the ice bar i.e. the one included in the entry price. At £16 each to get in, it was a flipping expensive cocktail. Just before 11pm we queued up to get our capes – with handy attached gloves. No point dressing up to go to this cocktail bar. Anything you wear gets covered with an inelegant blue thermal cape.

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Finally we were allowed in the -5 degree bar. Was the experience worth it?

Experience is the right word. It’s the only time I’ve had a cocktail where the ice was on the outside (cocktails are literally served in an ice glass).

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And yes, it was fun to see a bar made of ice, and to stand in a freezer for a while. I certainly won’t forget my birthday, and it did make for some pretty cool photos.

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The verdict from my kids ‘okay but I wouldn’t go again.’ The verdict from me and my husband ‘okay but I wouldn’t go again. And a flipping expensive cocktail.’ (I think you can guess who paid).

Writing update

The Christmas story I’ve started now has a title (The Unexpected Christmas, though of course this may change) and is up to 20,000 words (i.e. about a quarter way through). Progress will be halted for a while now though because I’ve just received the edits for my next book, provisionally entitled Crumbs. I last saw this in 2016, so I’m really looking forward to diving back into the lives of Abby Spencer and Doug Faulkner, who meet in a biscuit factory. It may not sound romantic, but hopefully it sounds sweet ?!

 

 

 

What I learnt last year

My 2017 writing year

Last year (oh boy, that sounds weird already) I was thrilled to see the publication of two paperbacks, and two new ebooks.

Before You made it into paperback in August 2017, with Jenson Button lending a helping hand in promotion. A Second Christmas Wish was published in paperback in November 2017, this time with the help of a saxophone playing reindeer. He was almost as cute as Jenson, and did help me secure my first ever radio interview. To say I was nervous is an understatement (I didn’t realise my heart could go that fast), but BBC Radio Berkshire were gentle with me and though I wasn’t great, I certainly wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. In fact when it was over the relief gave me such a high I felt ready to tackle Paxman. Until I later played it back on iPlayer radio.

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In ebook, Too Damn Nice was published in July 2017 (with no help from any props…). I wrote it back in 2012, before I had a publishing contract, and paid for it to be critiqued. I was advised to cut it down by a third and target it for Mills and Boon. Oh and change the hero because he was too nice. I preserved with it at full length…and a new title was born! A Little Christmas Faith hit the Kindle ‘shelves’ in October 2017, helped by two fury friends.

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What did I learn?

  • Doing something that scares you can give you a real buzz when it’s over (and is less painful than knowing you wimped out).
  • Listen to advice, but do what feels right.

My 2017 non-writing year

My first choice of holiday is a sun kissed beach and a good book, but with 3 non-sun loving males in my family, it was never going to happen. Instead we set off to Canada over the summer. Whether it was cycling, walking or climbing, we took in some breathtaking views, and though we certainly had to work for them, I think they were sweeter for it. It was the first time I’ve come back from holiday fitter and lighter than I set off, though I felt I needed another holiday to recover from it. One with a sun kissed beach…

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Much as I love going abroad though, the place I keep going back to, the place I love more than any city I’ve ever visited, is London. It doesn’t matter how often I go, there is always something new to see. This year we made a point of going in during December to see the Christmas lights.

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There is something about London that makes me smile, makes me dream, inspires me. This time, after seeing it dressed in its sparkly Christmas finery, I came home and started writing another Christmas book…

What did I learn:

  • Your first choice isn’t always the best choice. Not getting it can lead to something better.
  • If you’re looking for inspiration, go back to a place you love.

And on to 2018

What will this year bring? On the writing front, I will start edits soon on my next book, Crumbs. Perhaps, if the Choc Lit tasting panel like the romantic suspense I’m trying to finish, or the Christmas book I’ve started but still have a long way to go on, there will be a further book too, later in the year.

On the personal front, I hope this year brings exam success to my children, though it will mean an empty nest come September, and my husband and I having to talk to each other. On the bright side, I will no longer be out voted, so might not have to watch as much football. And hey, I might even get to the beach…

I also hope this year brings health and happiness to you all. And plenty of opportunity to read* :-)

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* Other books, by other authors, are available!

 

 

What I learnt this week: 21st December 2017

It’s that time of year again…

It starts in early December, with the annual Christmas tree debate. The conversations in our house go something like this:

Family: ‘Why do we need a flipping tree anyway?’

Me: ‘Because it’s Christmas. And they look pretty,’

Family: ‘If we have to have one, get an artificial one. Real trees are a pain in the neck. Buying the damn thing, cutting the end off, pine needles everywhere, trying to get rid of the dead thing in January. Let’s not go through all that again this year.’

Me: ‘But real trees smell so nice.’

Family: ‘For [word too rude for this blog] sake.’

Truth is, I’m not ready to succumb to the practicality of an artificial tree just yet. And anyway, my books wouldn’t look nearly as good on it as they do on my freshly cut Normandy fir …

(yes, of course I was made to take them off. My family didn’t even want the tree. They certainly didn’t want a tree decorated with romance books).

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Next, we have the present debate. What are we getting each other (hints dropped and hopefully picked up on). What have we got in the ‘trunk’ – a place where I store bargains I’ve picked up during the year. A great idea, except that tastes change, my nieces grow, people ask for specific items, and I usually forget to look in the trunk until after I’ve bought everything. Anyone fancy a pair of size 2 sparkly shoes? My 13, 14 and 15 year old nieces certainly don’t, though they might have done ten years ago, when I first put them in there.

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Finally, we have the Christmas card debate, which goes roughly in the same direction as the tree debate. Again, I’m not ready to succumb to emailing/texting my Christmas cards just yet, though for the first time since my kids learnt to write (they’re now 18 and 20) I did let them off actually signing their names. The fact that the eldest was away during the critical signing period, and refused to come back until all cards were posted and decorations were up, had something to do with it. He’s home now, a fact that I can tell because 1) the washing basket is never empty 2) the snack drawer is always empty 3) when I come downstairs in a morning there are more lights blazing than in Oxford street. Lovely to have him home though, honest.

Which brings me to the most important part of Christmas for me. Family. Whether I’m sitting next to an artificial tree or a real one, surrounded by cards or with an in-box stuffed full of emails, wearing a big sparkly diamond something, or an oven glove (hubby, big hint, NOT THE SECOND ONE)…I’m looking forward to spending time with my family. Until they drive me mad, of course.

Well, that’s me done for another year. I wish you all a very happy Christmas, whether you’re with family, friends or an artificial tree. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my blog, and I hope to see you again in the New Year.

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What I learnt this week: 14th December 2017

Stars aren’t easy to work with

Perhaps I should alter that title to canine stars, as I can’t honestly say I’ve worked with any other type. Unless we can count a cardboard Jenson Button, in which case the title would have to change completely because Jenson is an absolute joy to work with. He goes where I put him, doesn’t grumble and has a constant sexy smile on his face.

I digress.

The real stars of my latest Christmas book, A Little Christmas Faith, aren’t the lovely Faith, owner of the Old Mill hotel, or the hunky Adam, her first guest. Nor is it Chloe, Faith’s stroppy teenage niece. No, the true stars are Nip and Tuck – a pair of rascal Cavachons. And don’t they know it. They feature quite a few times in the book, and steal every scene. I don’t usually put animals in my stories; the only pets I have are goldfish and while colourful and calming I can’t see them making much of a splash in a book (no groaning, please).

Mahrez (on the left) and Vardy

Mahrez (on the left) and Vardy

But in A Little Christmas Faith I liked the idea of big hearted Faith having a couple of crazy mutts running riot around her fledgling hotel. And hunky Adam picking the two fluffy dogs up, one under each arm. I didn’t even have to work hard to imagine what these dogs might look like, because I knew a real pair who fitted the description beautifully. Owned by dear friends, their real names are Ted and Oscar, but other than that, everything else you read about them in the book is true to their character. They were rescue dogs, nearly impossible to train, and impossibly cute.

‘Let’s have a photoshoot with Ted and Oscar’, I said to my friend. ‘It will be great for my blog.’

Now you know a true friend when they don’t question your idea. Simply make time in their busy day to turn up with the fluffy bundles.

Could we get them to sit dutifully by the tree? Well, yes, we did (umm, okay, my friend did. I was the photographer), in the end. Thanks to treats, persuasion and patience. But wow, it was worth it. Don’t they make a pretty (sorry, handsome) sight.

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Of course it didn’t all go according to plan. Here are two of the dozens of other photos that didn’t quite come off.

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Oh and being dogs, they saw a tree in the front room and….well, we don’t need to go into details, do we? After all, they are stars, and stars are allowed to be a little temperamental. Plus if I don’t promise to be discrete, they may not agree to star in any future books. Worse, they may not cuddle me again…

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What I learnt this week: 30th November 2017

Christmas really is coming

I know, I know, I seem to have been banging on about Christmas for most of the year. First I told you about writing a Christmas book (back in Easter), then A Little Christmas Faith was published (October) and finally A Second Christmas Wish was out in paperback earlier this month (as recommended by reindeers…).

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Well at the weekend I went for a stroll around Dorney Lake. Used as a rowing/kayaking venue in the 2012 Olympics (below some photos from the day we were lucky enough to attend), it’s owned by Eton College and is a beautiful setting on a sunny day.

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On Sunday it wasn’t quite as hot as it was in the summer of 2012, but the sun was out and the lake looked just as stunning. Instead of rowers though, we came across…Santa. To be more exact, a whole bunch of Santas. Maybe I should say a whole stocking full of Santas? A sack of Santas? Whatever you want to call them, they were quite a sight running round the lake.

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I thought Santa was getting in training for Christmas, but it turns out they weren’t real Santas, just a group of good people taking part in a sponsored Santa dash. In some ways I’m relieved, because Santa without his pot belly is like, well, Christmas without turkey. In my case, Christmas without a very dry, completely overcooked turkey…

 

 

What I learnt this week: 23rd November 2017

Beware the writer you know

It’s easy to sit at my desk and come up with a great idea for a story. Let me rephrase. Come up with a storyline that I think is great. That’s what I did a few years ago with the latest manuscript I’m about to submit to my publisher. It’s a bit different from my usual – a bodyguard and a scientist out to protect her. A little more on the suspense side, but of course the major part of the book is still a romance.

I happily ploughed into writing about a brilliant scientist (Dr Kelly Bridges) who is working to develop a vaccine to counteract a potential bioterrorism threat; specifically that of new strains of smallpox. After all, I’m not a numpty when it comes to science. I did a pharmacy degree and worked in the pharmaceutical industry for twenty odd years. I could write about this.

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And actually it’s true. I can. What I can’t tell you though, is whether what I’m writing has any degree of plausibility, or whether those kind enough to read the story (if my publisher accepts it for publication) will end up frowning/throwing their Kindle down in disgust/laughing their socks off at my attempts to write about vaccine development. And that’s just on my heroine’s side.

My hero (Marc Jacobs) is ex-special forces, but now works for a security company. Of course I can google things like equipment he might come across, language he might use, but is it credible? My experience with military life is a big fat zero, and though I watch television/read books involving special forces, most of it comes from America, and my hero is British.

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Suddenly I’m left wondering why I didn’t write about a pharmacist/medical writer/romance where they met on holiday and didn’t have to discuss their jobs, ever.

Thankfully though, this is where friends come in. Those in the pharma industry will soon find me asking them questions such as:

  • is it plausible to have my heroine working on finding a special ‘ingredient’ to add to the small pox vaccine to make it more powerful, protecting against any variant of small pox terrorists might try and create?
  • what type of laboratory equipment might she use to run tests?

Fear not, there is little science in the story, but I want to ensure my kind readers laugh only at Marc’s wisecracks (well, he made me giggle) and not at the storyline itself.

As for the military questions, when my cousin came to visit with her boyfriend, we got talking about this book, and he was foolish enough to mention that he knew friends who’d been in the special forces. Yes, you can bet he now finds himself with a list of questions to ask them. Some  are below, with answers he’s already found out in brackets.

  • is the term SNAFU still used for something that’s gone belly-up? (apparently it’s American, so I’ve asked for a British alternative. If you don’t know what SNAF stands for, look it up – it made me smile but is a little rude to put on my blog…)
  • is there a slang term for the binoculars they use at night? (NVG’s, night vision goggles)
  • what would Marc call his boss in the military (CO – commanding officer)

The morale of this? If you know a writer, keep your lips firmly sealed about what you do, or the friends you have. Otherwise you too might end up having to ask them what type of gun a terrorist might use (apparently AK47 is a good choice…)

What I learnt this week: 16th November 2017

 A knees up in London

The Romantic Novelists Association hold two parties a year, a winter party and a summer one. As they are an excellent opportunity to meet the people I otherwise only ‘see’ on Twitter – or the front cover of books – I always aim to attend. The fact that drink and canapés are always involved, and lots of book chat, is of course only a minor consideration…

This year I nearly didn’t make it. In my usual style, I remembered to book my ticket two weeks before (quite organised, I thought) only to find they were sold out. But I was helpfully slotted onto a waiting list, and one member’s bad luck became my fortune. Out came the sparkly top (come on, when else am I going to get the chance to wear it?) and the heels. Not always a wise choice given there is a bit of walking to do to get to the venue, but at least I could cadge a lift to the station from my son. When I first started going to these events my sons didn’t drive. Now they’re becoming useful, the eldest has already sloped off to uni, this one plans to follow next year. Remind me again why I had children?

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I digress. Off I trooped to the library at One Birdcage Walk. A very apt venue for a party of writers.

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There I drank; wine, pink fizz. I ate; sausages on sticks, mini halloumi burgers, tuna…things, cream cheese…things (now you can see why my books aren’t filled with vivid descriptive text). I also talked to some lovely writers, some I’d met before, some I’d only met ‘virtually.’ Here I am with the amazing Berni Stevens who not only designs the Choc Lit covers but also writes, too (thanks to John Jackson for the photo). And also  drinking pink fizz with Helen Rolfe (who comes under the lovely writer category).

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So it’s not all writing, writing, writing, being a writer. Sometimes it’s party, party party :-)

 

 

What I learnt this week: 9th November 2017

A publication day to remember

Tuesday was paperback publication day for A Second Christmas Wish. It was first released as an ebook last Christmas, but because it’s just come out in paperback I get to celebrate all over again. You won’t get any complaints from me. And actually it is a celebration, because though the release of a new book is exciting, there is something very special about seeing a book make it into paperback. Only ebooks that sell well are published in paperback, so there’s that. But also as an author you’re given a few paperbacks to use as promotion, so you get to see them, touch them, smell them. Photograph them next to baubles…and reindeer.

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There is something much more real about seeing your name on a paperback.

So there I was, happily fiddling about on social media in the middle of morning, basking in the glory of my publication day (book bloggers, fellow authors and readers are very kind) when I saw an email from my publisher land into my in-box with the heading URGENT.

Heart in my mouth, I opened it up. BBC Radio Berkshire were happy to have a quick interview with me at 1.40pm. Could I make it.

Here’s the thing. While I love to talk (!) I’ve never been interviewed on the radio before. But I pulled on my big girl pants as they say (I believe JR Ward actually said panties, but she’s American. Brits don’t have panties, thank God). Where was I? Oh yes, pulling on my pants and agreeing to be interviewed live on radio. There was an added complication in that I had to pick my son up, who was dependant on the tube, and if all went well we’d only be back at 1.30pm. If all didn’t go well…but thankfully it did, and by 1.35 I was sat in my office, shitting bricks.

At 1.40 I received the call. There was about a minute left for the end of the song, and then Bill Buckley would be chatting to me.

Somehow I got through it. He was lovely, which certainly helped, and actually by the end I did almost think Bill and I were just having a chat. Maybe we were. Maybe nobody else was listening…

So there you have it. A publication day to remember. My first Christmas paperback. My first radio interview. Did I celebrate that evening with a large glass of wine?

You bet I did.

And then I fell asleep in front of the telly.

 

What I learnt this week: 2nd November 2017

I’m not tired of life…

Samuel Johnson famously wrote “When a man is tired of London he is tired of life.”

Well we popped into London last Saturday and I’m relieved to know, I’m a long way from that yet.

I’m lucky to live less than an hour from central London. Lucky too, that my eldest son chose to go to university in London. These things combined mean a) I get to go into the city regularly, and b) I get to see my son a lot, too. Much to his delight, obviously.

Last Saturday was his birthday. I can no longer say ‘my teenage sons’ because one of them isn’t anymore. Have I changed my biography? No. Because teenage sons is how I still think of them. I know they’re no longer babies, but I can’t quite fathom the idea of them being adults yet. They can both drive, vote and drink in a pub, but to me they’re still my children. And I guess until they actually buy me that drink in the pub, with money they’ve learnt themselves (I’m not holding my breath), they’ll remain that way.

Back to London. My son lives in West Kensington (student digs weren’t as palatial as that in my day) but we had a voucher to use, so headed off to Bloomsbury on the tube. After a lovely meal, my sons expected to get back on the tube.

I had different ideas. I wasn’t going to travel under the ground and miss all the sights London had to offer. Of course we’ve seen them before, but seeing them for the first time, or the one hundred and first, they still have the ability to lift my spirits. To stir my soul. To remind me of how fabulous our capital city is.

We walked to Trafalgar Square and down The Mall (apologies for poor photos – the sun behind Buckingham Palace didn’t help).

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Then through Green Park and Hyde Park (the sun now in a more helpful position).

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Finally we entered Knightsbridge

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Maybe it was the sight of the shops. Maybe just tired legs, but my family chose this moment to rebel, and we caught the tube the rest of the way. It didn’t matter. By then I’d had my fill; my love of London was cemented once again, and my scampi and chips were no longer sitting heavily in my stomach.

Now to plan my next visit. ‘Are you going to apply to any universities in London?’ I asked my younger son on the way home.

I think you can imagine his reply.

 

 

What I learnt this week: 27th October 2017

Publication day

Tuesday saw the publication of my second Christmas book – A Little Christmas Faith. For 99p you get a hotel in the Lake District, a couple of crazy dogs, mince pies, decoration overload. Oh and deliciously hunky guest who checks into Faith’s new hotel.

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So did I celebrate my publication day doing something Christmassy? Going into the loft, shining up the baubles, preparing the Brussels sprouts?

Not exactly. I spent it in Blackpool. There was no snow, but plenty of rain and bracing sea air. No Santa’s grotto, but a Tower and a pier. No Father Christmas, but plenty of ho ho ho as I caught up with aunts, uncles and cousins.

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Sadly no reindeer either, but I did find these beauties when we went for a walk in the Lake District.

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They weren’t the only wildlife we saw. Amazingly, we also caught sight of a goldfish in the pond of this cave.

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Sorry, I didn’t have the presence of mind to take a photo of the fish so you’ll have to trust me on this. Apparently a few years ago someone put a couple of goldfish in the water as a prank. The goldfish haven’t only survived, they’ve multiplied, even though there is no plant life, not much sun, and the water is less than appetising. Hardly little devils.

Not a Christmas miracle, but pretty miraculous none the less. As was the sight of the sun that day…