What I learnt this week: 15th March 2018

What’s in a title?

For some authors (for me it’s Nora Roberts, Jilly Cooper, Suzanne Brockmann and more recently Samantha Young and Christina Lauren), I don’t care about the title, the cover or the blurb. The author name alone will have me buying the book.  But I can read far more books than they can write, plus I love to find new authors – how else can I add to my favourites list if I don’t try them? When I’m choosing a book I’m like the kid in the candy store. All those sweets, I don’t know which to pick first. Much like the lemon bon bon, or the pear drop (am I showing my age?!), it’s the name, or when it comes to books the title, that first catches my eye – and my imagination. It doesn’t decide whether I want to buy the book or not, but it does make me stick my hand in the candy jar and take a look at what’s there. If the cover appeals, then I then read the blurb. If I’m hooked by that, I’m a click away from having the book on my Kindle.

And my hand is very expert at making that click.

Of course back in the day I’d have to go to a shop, put my hand in my purse and hand over hard cash to buy a book. Now I can buy one while I’m supposed to be working (shh, don’t tell on me). And as it’s not real money (come on, I’m only clicking a button) I can buy a lot of them very easily (shh, don’t tell the husband).

All this brings me to the actual point of this post – yes, I know, I should come to it sooner, but I’m a writer. I can’t blurt the ending out up front. I need to lead you through thousands of words, first.

Sorry, we were talking about the point of the post. The title of my next book, set in a biscuit company and to be published as an ebook around end of May/early June, is going to be:

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As to whether the cover will feature any crumbs, or indeed any biscuits….well, luckily the creative people at Choc Lit will be designing it, not me.

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What I learnt this week: 1st March 201

Writing through the Beast from the East 

It was forecast – and it arrived.

First there was the cold, then the snow flurries (view from my study window).

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But mainly, where I live, the cold. You don’t realise how drafty your house is, until it’s minus degrees outside. Now I know why people buy those long sausage shaped draft excluders. I ordered several yesterday, but until they arrive (no doubt when the temperature is back up) all those cushions I insist on buying and my family hate? They don’t think they’re such a bad idea any more. Ditto the throws…

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Still, perfect weather for writing a Christmas book, so I’m cracking on with it. Up to 52,000 words now and it’s Christmas Eve. Clarissa the budgie has been causing havoc, a tree has been decorated, and Gabby and Owen – oh no, I’m not falling into that trap. Suffice to say I’m really enjoying writing their story.

Of course writing is a sedentary process, and sitting for hours on end when it’s freezing outside and your house is old can get very cold. Which is why these are a great investment. That long worm like hottie? Absolutely brilliant for keeping the whole back warm and toastie. The penguin hottie? Pretty useless – too small so only lasts a short time – but looking at it makes me smile.

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Finally, after a day of writing, this is the way we keep warm in our draft filled house at the moment.

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And yes, those are Christmas lights but I decided they looked so pretty they were going to stay. Ditto the thing that looks like an illuminated juice extractor…

Finally, because I wanted to photograph it like this all December and failed, here is my Christmas paperback, in the snow :-)

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But now I have the photograph, the Beast from the East is welcome to disappear. And the Heat from the South make an appearance.

What I learnt this week: 22nd February 2018

How to annoy/embarrass your kids 

Much has already been written on this topic of course, so perhaps I should have titled this How I annoy my kids, because that’s what the following originate from – my personal observations. And frankly, my sons are 18 and 20 so no longer children. So actually the title should be How I annoy the young adults I’m mother to, but that would be very ungainly and a rather poor advert for my writing. So how about:

How I annoy/embarrass my 18 and 20 year old sons

1) Call them cutie pie, or sweetie

Now in my defence, I only do this in texts, but I’m sure they roll their eyes every time they see it.

2) Ask them every time they leave the house – have you got your keys/wallet/phone

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I forgot to remind my eldest of this the last time he left the house. There I was, merrily driving him to the tube station so he could get back to the flat he shares with his university friends in London. Twenty minutes later, we arrive at the tube. ‘Have you got your wallet, your keys, your phone?’ I ask belatedly. He rolls his eyes (of course), pats his pocket. Pats his pocket again. And off we trundle back home, to pick up the phone he’d left by the side of his bed, then to head back to the tube again. Not my ideal choice for Sunday evening entertainment.

3) Tell them to drive safely every time they get in the car

‘How else do you think I’m going to drive?’

I can’t help it. I watched these boys crash go-karts. I worry.

4) Remark on the weird length of footballers socks during a Champions League game.

Or indeed any game. Apparently they don’t care. Strange. Though not as strange as the sight of men with white football socks pulled up over their knees, as observed in the Man Utd match last night.

5) Remind them not to drink too much every time they go out with their friends

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Sadly the eldest is at university so out of my control. I like to think he has a pint, then turns to lemonade.

6) Remind them not to take drugs every time they go out with their friends

I usually combine this with reminder number 5, and if they’re going to a club, I tag on reminder 7, too

7) Watch your drink at all times. Bad people can spike it.

8) Ask them to remove the rubbish that’s strewn over their bedroom floor

Apparently that’s carefully filed schoolwork/university notes.

9) Tell them they need to wear a coat

They’re old enough to decide if they want a coat, thank you.

10) Ask them to put their shoes away when they come in and dump them just inside the hall, in a perfect position to trip up over as you go up or down the stairs.

‘But I’m putting them on again tomorrow.’

Finally, last, but by no means least.

Write romantic fiction….!

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What I learnt this week: 15th February 2018

Immersed in Christmas again

Last week I finished the first round of edits for Crumbs, my next book. The first round is always the most challenging, as it requires the major revisions. Cutting out characters, swopping chunks around, adding a chapter. The next time I see it, as long as I haven’t made any major clangers in the first round, I’ll be onto the line edits; are the sentences as tight, as good, as they can be?

With Crumbs submitted, my focus has turned again to Christmas. It’s taken a few days to get back into the characters again, but now I’m off, and up to 34,000 words. So far I’ve researched characteristics of Victorian houses, and keeping budgies. Did you know that a budgie is a bit like a dog (stay with me on this) - when it wags its tail it usually means it’s happy to see you. It can also mean it’s about to poo though, so be careful how you approach it. A budgie with its head cocked to one side is curious. One who bows its head towards you, wants a scratch on the back of its neck where it can’t reach with its beak.

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What on earth does all that have to do with Christmas? Ha – you’ll have to wait an see :-)

In other news, as is traditional in February, my husband again asked me if he needed to buy me a Valentine card. Of course it’s commercial, as he points out, but I write romantic fiction. Celebrating romance, even if its just by the purchase of a card, is important. Celebrating it with roses, pink champagne and a candle lit meal would be even better, but as I say in my biography:

‘…the romance in my life is all in my head. Then again, my husband’s unstinting support of my career change goes to prove that love isn’t always about hearts and flowers – and heroes can come in many guises.’  

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What I learnt this week: 1st February 2018

An introduction to my next book, edits and the sea

Currently I’m deeply immersed in edits for my next book, Crumbs.

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It’s the story of Abby Spencer, who knows she can come across as a blonde airhead – she likes to talk and is a bit of klutz – but that’s not her. She’s helped to raise her sisters and gained a business degree. Now she’s ready to start her career, so she applies for a job at Crumbs, the local biscuit manufacturer owned by Lord Charles Faulkner and run by his son, Douglas Faulkner.

Doug Faulkner – what can I say about him? He’s got wild Irish looks currently restrained in a stuffy managing director suit. He hates his job and hates working for his father even more. When he interviews Abby for the role of his personal assistant, she says more words in half an hour than he manages in a day. So he decides to hire her, just for the hell of it. She might add some spark to his miserable life.

If these crumbs of information have whetted your appetite and left you hungry for more (too corny?!) the book will hopefully be published in a few months time – dependent on how well the editing process goes. So far I’ve deleted a thousand superfluous words, then added another chapter (2,000 words). I’ve thanked my editor for kindly correcting Abby’s age (she’s 24, and it appears I can’t count) and for pointing out that my solicitor appeared to go by two names. As per usual with me, I’ve totally forgotten that some readers do actually like a bit of description. My poor editor felt compelled to point out that she had no idea where they all lived, or over what time frame it all happened. I hope one day I will learn to add such detail without being told, but it appears four years of writing and editing books isn’t long enough for such a miracle.

At the weekend we popped down to the coast (Stokes Bay in Hampshire, for those of you who like the detail…!). There is something about the sea that lifts the spirit, and clears the cobwebs from the mind. It can also be pretty damn deceptive. This is how it looked from the car, when we decided how lovely it would be to take a walk along the prom.

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This is what it was actually like.

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Never mind hold onto your hats, I had to take the thing off my head and clutch it in my hand. Trust me, we deserved the big fry up we had when we made it to the cafe at the end.

Walking back was a breeze, mind :-)

 

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…