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Friday, 11 December 2015

Six Ways To Enjoy Christmas, Despite Everything...

Floods, disasters, relationship problems...not everyone feels like celebrating this year. If you haven't been able to face making plans but you don’t want to be lonely this Christmas, here are a few ideas.

Be Good To Yourself... get some fresh air. During the shortest, darkest days of the year, things always look better in daylight. Even if the weather’s foul, get outside the four walls of home for an hour or two. The sun’s still up there somewhere, and exposure to natural light will raise your seratonin levels to increase your feel-good factor.  If you feel the need for company, there are bound to be other people out and about, trying to work off all those mince pies. 

Make Something...if it’s only a mess!  Fat cake will be gobbled up by wild birds. Very gently warm some lard until it melts. Careful—don’t leave the pan unattended, and don’t burn yourself. Stir in some wild bird seed, crushed unsalted peanuts and maybe a little grated cheese. When it’s cooled almost to setting point, pour the mixture into ice cream containers or yoghurt pots and leave to set.   Put it out close to a window, near to a dish of water (but away from bushes or other cover, where cats might hide).

Visit a Neighbour...England’s not a big place and most people live cheek by jowl in towns, but a 2013 poll by Churchill Insurance discovered that about 70% of us don’t know our neighbours’ first names, and more than a third wouldn’t recognise them. If you don’t know the name of your neighbours, Christmas gives you the perfect excuse to find out. Playing postman is a great ice-breaker. Simply write “with best wishes” inside a non-denominational greeting card, knock on their door and say, “I would have made it more personal, but I’m afraid I didn’t know your name.” Who knows—they might have been screwing up the courage to make contact with you!

Join in...every year, our village’s silver band travels around the surrounding countryside during Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, stopping every half mile or so to play a selection of carols and collecting for charity. The sound travels a long way up and down the various valleys, so even the most isolated houses can track their progress. Everyone comes out to listen, and the more adventurous follow them round as part of a spontaneous choir. Think of it as a slow-motion flash mob! Find out if there’s something similar where you live such as carols in the mall. Even if you aren’t religious, services over Christmas should give you a warm welcome. Music is very therapeutic (and there might be a mince pie or two involved, too.)

Give A Bit Back...foodbanks are grateful for donations of dry and long-life goods all year round. Christmas is no exception, but it’s a time of year when people in difficulty feel more isolated than ever. How about putting some chocolate or a fancy packet of biscuits in the collection for your local foodbank?  Eating the wrong things is never the answer to any problem, but everyone needs a bit of non-verbal comfort now and again. Offer a listening ear to a lonely person. Take a few small, non-controversial and prettily wrapped presents such as notebooks, cotton handkerchiefs, or calendars along to your local hospital, if they run a donation scheme for those who have to be in hospital over the holiday.

Whatever you do, have a a peaceful, happy Christmas.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

This Writing Life: Capturing The Castle...

Castle ruins, by Ann Walsh
It's launch day at last for Heart Of A Hostage, the third book in my Princes Of Kharova series for The Wild Rose Press. To celebrate, I'm joining with some other authors to blog on the theme of holidays.


I was brought up in my grandparents' house, which was paradise for a child, but a health and safety nightmare. A few weeks ago, BBC Radio 4 serialised Dodie Smith's "I Capture The Castle", and I laughed with recognition in lots of places. My own childhood home was damp, dingy and draughty, but until I started school and visited the lovely new houses lived in by other children, I didn't know any better.

Looking back, I can see my old home was a hopeless money-pit, but in those days it felt magical. There were chimney corners, a scullery, walk-in pantries, an enormous Aga (dating from long before they were trendy), a long-case clock complete with pendulum, stained glass in leaded lights, crackling open fires, gardens straight out of Sleeping Beauty, and even a ghost!

 For a child, my old home ticked all the fairy-tale boxes, especially at Christmas. An enormous, real fir tree would be set up, tall enough to nearly touch the ceiling in the largest room. Every picture in the house had sprigs of holly and ivy perched on top. One year, my father relived his own youth by showing me how to make table decorations, and garlands of evergreens to swag up the bannisters. Bright with holly berries and variegated foliage they all looked lovely, but were so prickly, they didn't mix well with party balloons!

I remember my childhood Christmases as brightly lit and very hot, because there were always so many visitors. We'd be crammed into whichever room had the best fire going. Chairs were drawn up in a semi-circle around the hearth and we'd drink gallons of tea. My grandparents both signed the pledge as children, and the only alcohol in our house was an elderly bottle of Courvoisier VSOP. It gathered dust for 364 days each year, until it was brought out on Stir-Up Sunday to add a wickedly foreign (yet traditional, which made it okay) flavour to the homemade mincemeat, Christmas cake and Christmas puddings. I swear that bottle of brandy never needed replacing, in all the twenty-two Christmases I lived at home!
By Kris de Curtis

To keep a satisfying blaze going in an open fireplace, you need a good draught, so while we stuffed ourselves with heroic quantities of mince pies, sausage rolls, cheese scones and Christmas cake, our faces got scorched while the mats (no fitted carpets in those days) rose and flapped in currents of cold air rushing into the room from under the doors.

Once our visitors left, all the lights except those on the tree would be turned off, and we'd sit in the firelight until it was time for bed. Then we ran the gauntlet of draughty hall and freezing bathroom, while down in the kitchen our stone hot water bottles were filled with boiling water and swaddled in yards of cloth, like feverish babies.

Buy now at http://bit.ly/1iNf2Gw
I used my old home as inspiration for Castle Dukagjini in Heart Of A Hostage, which goes on sale here today. The piano mentioned in Heart Of A Hostage was real, although in real life our model came to a very sticky end. Somebody thought positioning it over dodgy floorboards would stop anyone falling through. They hadn't realised how heavy that piano was, so I'm sure you can guess the rest!

As it's Friday, why not sample some other blogs on the theme of holidays? My fellow Wild Rose Press author, Tena Stetler, is joining in the celebrations on her blog with a piece called Christmas Decorating - Not for the Faint of Heart, while Nancy Reece is writing about Home for the Holidays on her site, and Arianne Cassini's blog is called Three Ways To Beat Holiday Hell With Christmas Cheer. 

Why not drop in to each of them, and say Christina sent you? :)

Finally, a prize draw! What are your favourite childhood memories of Christmas? All comments left on this post will be entered in a draw on Friday, 11th December. The winner will receive one copy of each book in the Princes Of Kharova series (His Majesty's Secret Passion, Her Royal Risk and Heart Of A Hostage), so be sure to let me know what you liked best about the festive season when you were little!


Sunday, 29 November 2015

Giveaways And Prizes—Not To Mention Romance, Royalty, and Rhinovirus...

myBook.to/HeartOfAHostage
myBook.to/HeartOfAHostage
Gah! No nonsense this week, as I've been felled by a bug that's been doing the rounds of OH's office. Now I (and the next generation) have been felled by it, too.

It would happen, this week of all weeks. On Friday, the third book in my Princes Of Kharova series for The Wild Rose Press, Heart of A Hostageis released. If you join the Goodreads giveaway before December 2nd, you can be part of the draw for a free signed copy of Heart Of A Hostage.

As part of The Wild Rose Press's holiday season, you can get 40% off the ebook versions of the first two books in the Princes Of Kharova series, His Majesty's Secret Passion and Her Royal Risk, but you'll have to be quick. This is a time-limited offer!

It's Advent Sunday today, so in the spirit of the festive season I'll be holding a draw for subscribers to my newsletter. Sign up to my mailing list here before December 2nd, and you'll be entered in a draw to win two signed books—a copy of both His Majesty's Secret Passion and Her Royal Risk, so you can catch up with the romantic excitement in Kharova before Heart Of A Hostage is released on Friday.

In my Christmas newsletter, there's a competition to win all three of the Princes Of Kharova books in one romantic bundle along with other prizes, so sign up here today!


Friday, 20 November 2015

Heart Of A Hostage—Three Chances Of Winning A Free Book!

myBook.to/HeartOfAHostage
Find out more here 
How would you like to win a copy of my new book? The 4th December sees the launch of my next book, Heart Of A Hostage. To be in with a chance to win an advance copy of the ebook, or one of two signed paperbacks, read on...

Heart Of A Hostage is the third book in my Princes Of Kharova series for The Wild Rose Press. The ruling family of Kharova has already been rocked by abdication, riot and revolt in the first two romantic novels in the series. His Majesty's Secret Passion was the story of how businesswoman Sara turned King Leo's life upside down, while he changed her future. Her Royal Risk pitted perfect personal assistant Krisia against career soldier Prince Athan, while Heart Of A Hostage gives  Leo and Athan's younger sister Princess Maia a chance to shine. You can find out more about all three books at http://bit.ly/1GEkZkJ 

I'm running a Goodreads Giveaway for two signed paperback copies of Heart Of A Hostage right now, over at http://bit.ly/1T2SK0w. My previous book, Her Royal Risk, ended with rebels disrupting the King of Kharova's coronation. Princess Maia is taken hostage after the celebrations. Hidden away in the rebel stronghold of Castle Dukagjini, she gets the better of her captor after discovering his terrible secret—and discovers a lot about the nature of independence, too.

You can find out more from The Wild Rose Press.

Meanwhile, here's a little taster..

She couldn’t pull back. Mihail was crossing more lines than she could count, and his deadly smile was a reminder of exactly how much trouble she was in...

...and there's a longer extract from Heart Of A Hostage here.
I'm also running a separate draw for readers of this blog. The prize is a pdf copy of Heart Of A Hostage. Just post a comment here, and I'll announce the winner next Friday, 27th November. 

Good luck!

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Goodreads Giveaway: His Majesty's Secret Passion...

myBook.to/HisMajestysSecret 
I'm running a Goodreads Giveaway this week over at http://bit.ly/1PBDK9H, with the chance to win a free copy of His Majesty's Secret Passion. That was the book which launched my Princes Of Kharova series for The Wild Rose Press, and you can find out more about it in my blog post  Writing A Series.

The Goodreads giveaway is running ahead of the launch on 4th December of the third book in the Princes Of Kharova series, Heart Of A Hostage. His Majesty's Secret Passion is the romance between King Leo and Sara, the career girl who captures his heart. Heart Of A Hostage is the story of King Leo's younger sister, Maia. She's heading for an arranged marriage into a horrible, money-mad family of social climbers. She must obey her brother the king's command, but secretly dreams of breaking free to find her independence. There's no hope of that, short of a miracle...

...and then, on the way back from celebrations for her brother's coronation, Maia's car breaks down. She's stranded in the middle of nowhere, alone, until a strangely familiar figure strides into view. It's Kharovan royal family's sworn enemy, gorgeous rebel Mihail.

Here's an extract from Heart Of A Hostage to whet your appetite...


myBook.to/HeartOfAHostage 
“What’s the matter?” His voice was as rough as his stubble.
“I want to go back to my car.”
“Not possible. Sorry.” 
That must top the chart of most insincere apologies, ever.
“My driver and my bodyguard…they’ll be worried.”
“Not about you. They've got other things to think about, such as their own skins. I’ve got lookouts posted everywhere. They’re busy taking your vehicles to a place of safety.”
“You mean they’re stealing them.”
“Haven’t you heard the saying ‘all’s fair in love and war’?”
 Maia looked him up and down. There wasn’t any room to hide a weapon in his white tee shirt and tight jeans, so she lifted her chin and tried to calm her breathing.
  “This is neither. You’re a rebel and a thief, Mihail Dukagjini, and I want to go home.”
“No. And I haven’t stolen anything for years.”
He reached out, ready to trail his fingers down her cheek. Maia recoiled. Truffle tensed, and she waited for the  little dog to lunge at her attacker, but he wasn’t going to challenge Mihail. Petrified to have someone stand up to his threats for once, Truffle turned tail and hid. 

To find out more, and to order Heart Of A Hostage ahead of publication, go to myBook.to/HeartOfAHostage 


Sunday, 1 November 2015

NaNoWriMo 2015: The Writing Begins!

A wintry mystery...Pic by Alexas Fotos
I’m posting my blog a day early today, as the first of November marks the start of NaNoWrMo—(National Novel Writing Month). The Na should properly be Int, as it’s an international  phenomenon now!

I’m going to be pretty busy for the next month, trying to hit an average word count of 2,100 per day. My project for this year’s NaNoWriMo is the first draft of Wolf's Bane, the second book in my Brackenridge trilogy of romantic novels.  I want to reach a total of 63,000 words by the end of November. It’s a mountain to climb, but that’s the beauty of NaNoWriMo. By breaking the task of producing a complete manuscript down into individual bite-sized chunks, it doesn’t feel so hard. That’s the theory, anyway... 

Finishing the first draft is one thing. There’ll be plenty of polishing to be done, but that can wait. NaNoWriMo simply gets the framework in place. I’ve already filled out character sheets for my protagonists, Sophia and Josh, so I know how they'll react to whatever is thrown at them while I'm writing at speed. You can find out more about how I develop my characters here.


Josh and Sophia met in Love Lies Bleeding, a contemporary crime novel which is currently in post-production. In Wolf’s Bane, the perfect new life Sophia has built for herself is leaving her faintly dissatisfied. She’s spent years dreaming about becoming a lawyer, then she does a good turn which makes her question her motives—and makes Josh realise that danger haunts them both, every moment of every day. Dark secrets and ancient legends are a deadly combination...

Have you tried using NaNoWriMo to help you make a start on writing your book? There's a copy of my Romance Review's Readers' Choice Nominee, His Majesty's Secret Passion, on offer for a comment drawn at random on 7th November.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Writing A Series: The Princes Of Kharova—How It All Began...

I'm getting really excited! In less than two months Heart Of A Hostage, the third book in my Princes of Kharova series for The Wild Rose Press, is published.

I started thinking about the plot of my eighteenth book, His Majesty’s Secret Passion, in the middle of a freezing winter. The sky was grey, and summer was months away. I needed an escape route, and I found it in writing the novel which turned into my twelfth contemporary romance. 

The idea of a powerful man taking on the job of rebuilding a country had been bubbling away in the back of my mind for a long time. Writing is all about living in a story world, and one miserable winter day, I was keen to escape to somewhere hot and sunny. Creating a new romance gave me the chance to do exactly that. I turned up the heating, switched on the white light box, poured myself some freshly squeezed orange juice (pretending I needed ice in it was a bit of a stretch, but I managed!) and dreamed up a luxury spa on a Greek island. King Leo was taking a break while waiting to be crowned, and Sara was a stressed executive in need of rest and relaxation.

I wanted to feel hot sun on my skin, and dig my toes into fine white sand. The only way I could do it was to lose myself in a fantasy. It was a lovely way to forget the dark days of winter. What began as a single idea for an escapist romance turned into a whole series of books. 
myBook.to/HisMajestysSecret
See myBook.to/HisMajestysSecret 

Leo and Sara’s story became His Majesty’s Secret Passion, the first book in my Princes Of Kharova series for The Wild Rose Press. I wrote the second book, Her Royal Risk, after readers wrote to me wanting to know what happened next. Krisia, the perfect personal assistant, was given the impossible job of working for Leo’s wild younger brother, Athan. Both these books were nominated in The Romance Review’s Readers’ Awards for Winter 2015. Voting is open until the end of October, so you can still register your vote by hitting one (or both) of the nominee badges at the top of this page!

There’s something unusual about the hero and heroine of the third book in my Princes Of Kharova series. Their roles are reversed.  Maia is the sister of the two princes who star in the other books, which of course makes her a princess. Mihail is Public Enemy Number One...


The second in the series...
In Heart of A Hostage, the third book in the Princes Of Kharova series, Leo and Athan’s younger sister discovers not everyone is willing to  let her get her own way in life.  Mihail, head of the Kharovan rebels, takes Maia hostage as she returns from a break. In return, he expects to get a big ransom, but the king of Kharova doesn’t bow to blackmail. 

Maia is a long way from the glittering, story-book princess Mihail fantasized about when they were both teenagers. His hostage becomes the houseguest from hell, but when Maia discovers the secret behind Mihail’s mysterious double life, everything changes in an instant.

Heart of a Hostage will be published by The Wild Rose Press in December, just in time for the Christmas holiday season. Sign up for my newsletter here to get a sneak preview, with the chance to win a free copy of Heart Of A Hostage the moment it’s released.  

Here’s a taste of what you can look forward to....

Mihail walks out of Maia's past, and into her present. Who is in more trouble—kidnapper or victim?

Princess Maia has it all—including a horrible fiancĂ© chosen for her by the king, and a family bullying her into doing the right thing—but all she wants is her independence. When she falls into the hands of rebel leader, Mihail, she tastes real freedom for the first time. Mihail is a lone wolf, Public Enemy Number One, and heir to a fierce tradition. A dangerous reputation, a castle full of guilty secrets and now rescuing Maia are all woven into his master plan. He can’t lose.
Until his unexpected hostage turns out to be the house guest from hell...


















Monday, 12 October 2015

Blogging: What Do You Want? Newsletters: What Do You Need?

See http://bit.ly/1MpGd3D
I read a lot of blogs, but nothing like as many as I used to. I've been wondering if they still have value, so if you called into my blog earlier today, you'll have seen a different post on offer. (bonus points for anyone who knows what it was about!)

What do you look for in a blog? Do you like to read about a blogger's news, details about their work in progress, extracts, guest posts, tips on the craft of writing, or general chit-chat?

Which blogs do you follow, and which are your favourites? I'm busy re-designing my own blog ready for the New Year, and I'd love to hear your suggestions.

Right now I'm working on my Autumn newsletter, which will be going out any day now. Do you subscribe to any newsletters? Again, I'd love to know what aspects of them you enjoy. How often do you like to receive them? What entices you to open a newsletter, when it arrives in your email inbox?

I use my occasional newsletters to keep readers up to date with what I've been doing over the previous months, whether I've been writing, working in the kitchen, out in the garden, or with the bees.

See  http://bit.ly/1MpGd3D
My subscribers are the first to see the covers of my forthcoming books, and I include one of my favourite recipes with each issue. The newsletter going out later this month features Roasted Tomato Tart, so if you'd like to find out how to make it, you can sign up to my mailing list here.

Thanks again to everyone who has voted for my books in the Romance Review Readers' Awards.  The polls close on 31st October, so if you enjoyed the first two stories in my Princes Of Kharova series for The Wild Rose Press and you haven't hit either (or preferably both!) buttons at the top of this page, please show your appreciation for His Majesty's Secret Passion here and Her Royal Risk here.

Post your comments about blogging and newsletters before Saturday 17th October, for a chance to win a signed book. The draw will take place over the weekend, and I'll post the winner's name next Monday.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Great News About The Romance Reviews Readers' Choice Awards!

Thanks to your help in first-round voting, the initial books in my Princes Of Kharova series for The Wild Rose Press, His Majesty's Secret Passion and Her Royal Risk, have both made it through to the final round of The Romance Review's Readers' Choice Awards for Winter 2015 (Contemporary Romance category). 

Now it's a case of whichever book in each category gets the most votes, wins.

I'd be really grateful if you could spread the word about the competition for me, and if you enjoyed my books, then I'd love you to vote for them both again, too!

You can vote for each book by clicking on the respective buttons at the top of this page, or click on the following links:

For His Majesty's Secret Passion, the link is: http://www.theromancereviews.com/viewbooks.php?bookid=18902

And here's the link you'll need to vote for Her Royal Risk: http://www.theromancereviews.com/viewbooks.php?bookid=17729

Again, thanks so much for your support.  I really appreciate it!

Monday, 28 September 2015

Extract From My Next Book, Love Lies Bleeding...

This is what Sophia's looking at, until...
My next book is a romantic suspense, with the working title Love Lies Bleeding. It's back from my Beta reading team, so it's now in the final edit stage. Here's the opening—so this is your chance to tell me what you think about it, in the comments section...

'...and I love TV, but I don't want to watch it every day!' Sophia put on a spurt. 
If only Alan would take the hint.  Moving to Gloucestershire was supposed to be the start of her blame-free existence. He should have vanished from her new life months ago. Instead here he was, still tagging along behind and refusing every command, kind word and firm refusal. Despite all the danger and her obvious lack of interest, nothing could squash his puppyish adoration. What was wrong with the man? He stuck like human chewing gum.
I'm running out of options. The only thing left is for me to get nasty. Really nasty. 
The track ahead was a bony limestone spine, rising almost vertically. Kicking on, scrabbling forward, clawing at the path in a fever of excitement she left her unwanted minder for dead. For dead...
The cold, clean air burned her face. She dragged it in like vodka.
'I'm serious!' Alan's voice rose, a long way below her now, and insubstantial as cigarette smoke.
Sophia stopped, stuck her hands on her hips and screwed round to face him. 
Every day, he held her back somehow. Today, he was stopping her from sprinting for the summit. He was still ten yards behind, and wheezing like an asthmatic ferret. It was too irritating to watch him labour up the slope, so she scanned the horizon instead. On this perfect morning the atmosphere was gin-clear all the way to Hay Bluff, sixty miles away. 
A snail could get there and back before Alan's caught his breath. 
This was a day to feel the lust for life powering through your veins. Life was too short for promises. Sophia wanted to make the break, and get on. 
She tensed and dropped her gaze. It caught on Gloucester, down in the vale of the Severn. From here, the city's confusion of buildings was a dark smudge on the countryside. It was a necessary evil—as vital, ugly and inescapable as the feelings Sophia kept locked away inside. She pivoted, her trainers scribing perfect circles in the damp, grey grit. Down in the city, the heaving mass of humanity would soon climb onto the treadmill of a new day, running around in the same old circles, in the same old way. Digging her toes into the ground she scuffed hard, destroying the neat marks.
'I’m serious,' Alan repeated, his voice struggling up to her. 'You're beautiful.'
'I'm trouble, you mean,' she ground away at the divots, guiltily wishing it was his face. 'Especially for a man like you. If you think I'm falling for that old line, forget it. It's only the thrill of the forbidden you're after.'
'How many times do I have to tell you?' He caught her by the arm. She narrowed her eyes in silent threat.  Releasing her, he flung up his hands in a gesture of peace.
'Nobody,' the pulse pounded in her voice, 'does that to me anymore.' 
'All right... all right....' He backed off, his voice oily with understanding. 'I just want you to know I don't care about...all that. Your past, I mean. This is a new start. For both of us.'
  Sophia felt sick. It should be easy to storm away, and end all this. Instead, she rubbed her hand up and down over the place where his fingers bit her skin.  A breeze rippled through the trees, high on the viewpoint above them. Drops of water suspended from the twigs after the previous night's storm came pattering down, with the sound of a million footsteps giving chase.
'...and I’m going to start by improving my personal best,' a stranger's voice growled out of Sophia's mouth, 'Race you to the top!'
Gone in a flurry of wet grit, she reached the viewpoint in time to watch Gloucester cathedral blanch with a blow from the rising sun. Then Alan's pale face bobbed into sight, and her view was eclipsed.
She checked her watch. 'Now I'm ready to go home.'
'You don't want to run any more?' He sounded half-dead.
Home was one of those words like 'mother' and 'loyalty' that never felt good any more. 'Nope. I've done my time. All I'm heading for now is a shower.'
'Can I play?'
It was hard not to groan, and almost as hard just to give his shoulder a playful punch rather than aim a haymaker at his jaw. 'No.'
He usually begged, but this time he looked distracted. His gaze went over her shoulder, across to the far side of the lookout point. 
'There's a car parked over there.' 
There was no point in looking round. 'This is the County's dogging hotspot. Of course there's a car parked over there.'
'But it's obviously been here overnight, Soph. Who in their right mind leaves a motor like that, in a place like this?'
'Nobody in their right minds comes here at all, except in broad daylight,' How could a guy in Alan's profession be so innocent?
He wasn't listening. He was heading for the vehicle, and gaining speed as he got closer.
'You don't abandon a class vehicle like this in a place like the Barrow Wake, Soph. It must be hot.'
There was nothing for it but to follow him, closing the distance between them as fast as possible. 
'It looks pretty cold to me.' This place seemed deserted, but only an idiot would shout. For the last eighteen months, she'd been more alert than ever to the fact there were always eyes to see, and ears to hear. 
'It's unlocked,' he called, already opening the driver's door. He was all enthusiasm and movement until he leaned over the back of the driver's seat. Then he went rigid.
'What is it?'
'You don't want to know, Soph.' 
Pulling the sleeve of his new tracksuit top over his hand, he ran it across every surface he might have touched. That meant only one thing. Big trouble.
'It's a body.'  
Alan's face was corrugated cardboard, but there was no point worrying about details if he was going to be caught in the act. Sophia saw her chance to scare him off for good. Taking him by the arm, she pulled him away from the car. 'Okay. I'll take it from here. Go.'
'I can't leave you on your own—not with this!'
'I'll be fine. You know that. You've got to go. What would it look like, you reporting this before you've clocked in at Brackenridge Central for the first time? They'll think you're a right smart-arse, trying to show them up. And being found with me....get going. Don't look back.' 
She swung him around, and sent him on his way downslope with a satisfying thump between the shoulder blades.

Once past the bland gatekeeper who answered her emergency call, the police were very...nice. Sophia wasn't used to applying that four letter word to the law. She didn't like to spoil the novelty. 
When they arrived to fill the viewpoint with their noise, they wrapped her in a foil sheet and tried to put her in an ambulance. To be shut in something like that was a step too far for Sophia. She agreed to sit on the vehicle's tailboard, but being surrounded by all those chemical smells was horrible. It got worse. A pretty Police Community Service Officer was put on empathy detail. Sophia's brightest smile couldn't shut her up. Then the radio fixed to the woman's shoulder burst into life.  
Sophia exploded with a curse that thinned the officer’s lips. 
'Sorry...but that thing frightened me to death!"
'It's all right, Miss Hope! Don’t worry! You're safe!' When the girl patted her kindly instead of reaching for a charge sheet, Sophia relaxed a fraction.
'And you're in luck, too,.' The PCSO tried a diversion. 'Detective Inspector Joshua Miller is going to be doing your interview. He's gorgeous.'
Sophia’s smile almost turned genuine. This was going to be easy, after all. She knew what handsome men were like. They always kept one eye on their reflection, and the other on their watch. They never let anything get in the way of their next hot date, least of all their work. A few snuffly, indistinct comments to this DI Miller, and she'd be off the hook. 
Again.

On a map, the Barrow Wake was barely a mile away from Josh Miller's new home. He would have walked, but the last time he tried that there was trouble.  The press suggested his reluctance to drive was a comment on policing cuts, and Josh was hauled before a committee convened by the Chief Constable.
Today he took his Ducati, just to annoy them all. It wasn't as though the man found dead at the beauty spot would care.
'And neither will any witnesses,' he told his dog. Lucky watched the ritual of Josh strapping on his body armour without comment. 
Leaving Lucky to sleep off his breakfast, Josh rode down into the valley, then powered his motorbike up the torture of Crickley Hill. Sweeping around The Air Balloon pub, he rode the tail of the Cotswold ridge to the Cowley roundabout. Then he took the return stretch as far as the viewpoint, and all at an average speed of exactly seventy mph.
It was as satisfying as walking a Derby winner around the Epsom course. Josh was still scowling as he trickled the Ducati along the lane and into the Barrow Wake parking area. Three police cars, a cat's cradle of incident tape and an ambulance were already in place. With a grimace of distaste he brought the bike to a halt beside the nearest police car. A uniformed officer walked up to meet him. 
'Loey? Shouldn't your shift have finished by now?' 
'I'll be off home in a minute.  I got a lift up here in case I could add anything useful. Fact is, Ratty and I clipped a guy with the patrol car last night.'
Josh took off his crash helmet and dug his fingers through his hair. 'Tell me it wasn't our dead body.'
Loey shrugged. 'Not unless he goes dogging disguised as a Welsh rugby fan.'
That was a relief. Police involvement had a snowball effect on tragedy.  Josh stripped off his gloves, and dropped them into the helmet. 'Is your Welshman going to sue?'
'Dunno. The speed he got away from us, across the road and over the fence opposite, I don't reckon there was much wrong with him.'
'Didn't you stop to find out?'
'Course we did. But on a miserable night, and with us being on call, there was only so much we could do.'
'Write it up as an incident. In full.' Josh gazed pointedly at the sergeant. 
'Already done. Chapter and verse, sir.'
Josh gave a nod of acknowledgement while scanning the confusion of people milling around the parking spot. Some were in uniforms, others in white coveralls. 
'Any witnesses?'
'One. They've got her in the ambulance, sir. '
Josh guessed what was going on back there. The crew were probably still bringing the witness down from hysteria. It was marvellous stuff, that happy gas. 
He lodged his helmet on the Ducati's handlebars, and strolled over to the abandoned Mercedes. 
'Nice car,' he said to the photographer. She moved aside to let him see the nasty secret hidden inside.  
Josh braced himself to see the type of corpse found in places where nothing worse than the thrill of illicit sex took its toll on those old enough to know better. He got a shock. The dead man was fully dressed. He lay on his right side, across the back seat. His knees were drawn up, and he might have been asleep--if it hadn't been for the big and bloody mass where his head should have been. 
This was a shabby, sad discovery, unworthy of a place where Victorian quarry workers once uncovered a priceless Roman burial hoard.
Josh dug his hands into his pockets and stared out over the Severn vale. There were plenty of people here to take notes, measurements and pictures for him. They recorded the facts, in the expectation Josh would find the solution. 
He knew he'd come up with an answer eventually. That was his job. But how anyone could actually bring themselves to take that final, irrevocable decision to strike the killer blow...it was something Josh would never understand.
'Miss Hope says she's okay for questions, sir.' Loey announced. 
His voice brought Josh back to the present. 'Who?'
'The witness, sir. She's waiting for you.'
'Okay. I'm on it.' 
Josh stopped at the side of the ambulance to get his thoughts in order. Bodies, he could handle. The first ones he saw made such a hole in his heart, all the ones since then slipped straight through. 
Witnesses were a different matter. Every one he interviewed after an unexplained death left an indelible mark. The tears, the confusion, the incoherent, ever-changing stories. He gritted his teeth and prepared to meet a blotchy-faced dimwit. When he rounded the ambulance, he was ready to trowel on the sympathy. 

Sophia Hope's unbelievable smile made him drop that idea like a clumsy plasterer.

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Monday, 21 September 2015

Why Not Try Writing Your Book Backwards?

Pic by A. Litterio
...not literally, of course! Instead of beginning with  blank sheet and typing Chapter One, give your imagination a workout.  Imagine a scene months, or possibly years, in the future. A reader reaches the last page of your book, and closes it with a sigh of satisfaction. Your story was exactly what they wanted.

That's the reaction you're aiming for, whether you write for pleasure or profit.

Buying a book, when there are thousands on offer both in the High Street and online, is a big decision. Reading is an affordable pleasure, but there are piles of treats everywhere. You need some way to ensure it's your book the reader chooses. Cover art and teasing cover copy work their magic, but by homing in on your target audience you can increase your chances of that reader searching out your book in the first place.  Identify your reader, and how and where you can find them is the first step to selling them your story.

What Do You Like To Read?
There are plenty of writers who scour the bestseller lists then churn out formula work that ticks all the boxes but may not result in selling books. Stand out from the crowd by writing from your heart, and you'll appeal to the hearts of your readers. I love the work of writers such a H.E.Bates, T.H. White and Henry Williamson, who all wrote about the natural world. My work is usually set in the countryside, because it's where I live and work. I can (and have) written stories based in cities as I was an office worker for several years, but the work always flows faster when I'm on 'home ground'.

Who Else Reads Your Kind Of Book?
Identifying your market, and developing unique selling point (USP) is vital. Write what you love, but have a picture of your readers in your mind while you work. I've written short stories for The People's Friend magazine, which knows its readership very well. They have specific guidelines, which you can find here. Basically, their readers like satisfying yet unthreatening stories, with happy endings. Contrast that with my current project (working title Love Lies Bleeding) a thriller which opens with the discovery of a murdered Member of Parliament, in which nobody is who they seem, and while the hero and heroine get together in the end, wedding bells aren't going to be ringing for them any time soon.

Who Will Review It?
Reviews, along with word of mouth recommendations, are the perfect way to get your name and book noticed. When there are hundreds of books published every day, that's the name of the game.  Obviously, five star reviews are best, but any grade is good. It means somebody has not only read your book, but they've taken the time to comment on it. From the minute you start writing your book, cast around for reviewers who write about books like yours. Making a list at this early stage means you'll be well ahead of the game when you get a publication date.

Monday, 14 September 2015

This Writing Life: There's A Busy Week Ahead...

http://myBook.to/MyDreamGuy
http://myBook.to/MyDreamGuy
Only a short blog today as I’ve got a very busy week ahead. I’m editing my new thriller to a tight deadline, trying to get round to beta reading my friend Lindsay Debout’s second collection of Warming Tales, and on Tuesday there’s  a meeting of my local RNA group to discuss, among other things, our next workshop. 

I hope summer still has a while to run, but my short romance, My Dream Guy, is published tomorrow, Tuesday, 15th September. You can reserve your copy of My Dream Guy from Amazon by clicking on this magical link: http://myBook.to/MyDreamGuy.

I had some great news a few days ago. Both His Majesty's Secret Passion and Her Royal Risk, the first two books in my Princes of Kharova series for The Wild Rose Press are up for nomination in The Romance Reviews Readers' Choice Awards, Winter 2015.

His Majesty's Secret Passion is my idea of escapist romantic fantasy, with an exhausted businesswoman and a king in disguise finding fun in the sun at a luxurious spa. There's sun, sea and secrets to be discovered in the ultimate in getting away from it all.

Her Royal Risk pits a perfect personal assistant against the boss from hell in a new job that's nobody's idea of heaven. It's only when Krisia and Athan are faced with a disaster they discover working together is a lot more productive than pulling each other apart...and it's pretty romantic, too!

myBook.to/HisMajestysSecret
myBook.to/HisMajestysSecret


You can find out more about both books by clicking here. I'd be really grateful if you could cast your vote for His Majesty's Secret Passion by clicking here, and for Her Royal Risk, here. Thank you so much!