Tuesday, 23 December 2008

The Final Cracker!

And who else could it be? International man of mystery; world famous yet perenially elusive philanthropist and distributor of gifts across the globe (ergo probably a billionaire?) Father Christmas has more Presents hero qualities than you might think. And the best thing about him is that-- unlike Sting and Rodrigo and Colin and all the rest, he's coming to your house tomorrow night! As long as you've been good all year....

So what shall we ask him for, ladies? To cover all bases I'm asking for three things that are pretty affordable, three things that are optimistically and wickedly expensive, and-- because he's magic-- three things that are absolutely priceless. Here's my list...

  1. Cheap.
    A red bounty. Hard to track down dark chocolate version of the coconut and chocolate bar, and a few bites of heaven for 55p

  2. 2. Vaseline hand cream.
    3. Any of the January release M&B's. There are some fab titles coming up, from Kate Hewitt, Lynne Graham, Sara Craven, Miranda Lee... Essential festive bathtime escapism

  1. Perfume. I love this stuff... No 1 most of the year, but X at Christmas for its dark, spicy pine and cedar scent.
  2. This scarf. (sigh) I love the colour and it's cashmere from Himalayan goats, you know... (it's also 109 of your finest English pounds and well out of my league...)

3. This chair. In my office. In pink.


  1. Huge investment in the NHS and massive pay increases for nurses
  2. For daughter #1 to believe me when I tell her she's beautiful
  3. Clean drinking water for everyone, everywhere, because our inadequate Christmas donation to Wateraid just isn't going to solve the problem.
    (Oh, and 4. James D'Arcy and some mistletoe...)

Aside from that I really am blessed in that I have everything I could reasonably want, so now seems like a good time to say thank you all so much for another year of support and sharing-- of your thoughts and your time and your kindness. (Sniff.) You're all gorgeous. Happy Christmas to everyone and a peaceful and perfect new year.

Monday, 22 December 2008

I have winners! (And another Christmas Cracker...)

So we finally got the Christmas tree into the house on Friday evening and all of us girlies waited around interminably while He manhandled it into place and performed some drastic tree surgery to make it fit into our very low ceilinged sitting room. (When Christmas tree buying time comes around I always slip into a state of blissful optimism and temporarily delude myself that we live in a house called The Old Rectory.) The good new is we'll have plenty of pine logs to last us through the festive period. The bad news is the Christmas tree now looks like the victim of a savage attack by a homicidal maniac, and there's only so much damage you can conceal with baubles and tinsel.

Further bad news was to follow, involving fairy lights. I won't go into details, but suffice it to say that once we'd found candles and torches, located the fuse box, got the lights back on in the house and re-started the computer it seemed like a good idea to open a bottle of calming fizz, all of which is all a long, complicated and improbable excuse for why I didn't draw competition winners on Friday night as promised. However, I did get the daughters to do it yesterday, putting the names into daughter #1's Christmas stocking which had been newly unearthed from the Christmas box along with all the decorations. The first name picked out was Brigitte, who wins the necklace I want to keep for myself and a signed copy of Taken for Revenge, Bedded for Pleasure. Katie S and Karen were picked out next, so I'll be sending books to them too.

Today I'm going to be braving the supermarket for the first time in ages, having discovered yesterday that all the online shopping delivery slots were booked up. This is a shock to the system, because it involves getting dressed properly (ie in something other than pyjama trousers and my favourite grey polo necked jumper, stolen from Him circa 1998...) and probably even putting on mascara. Actually, this perfectly encapsulates my whole Christmas holiday clothes dilemma: I secretly feel that over Christmas I should be wearing posh clothes-- perferably grown-up dresses teamed with high heels and sparkly jewellery, but what tends to happen here is that once we return from church on Christmas eve we don't actually leave the house again for days and I never seem to get very far from the pyjama and favourite jumper look. It's all a far cry from the M&S advert fantasy (which even features formal evening wear. Saints preserve us!)

Anyway, here's another Christmas cracker. I love this clip, but why in the name of mince pies does she take so long to get down the stairs and kiss him??? This is Colin Firth for pity's sake. I'd have thrown myself over the railing.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Christmas Cracker number Seven!!

Haved just waved the children off to school with Him in charge, (laden down with badly wrapped presents for teachers, long overdue dinner money and reply slips for 47 letters from the last half term) and have now retreated back into the warm to drink tea and watch trashy TV, with the totally legitimate excuse that I'm awaiting a call from a journalist for a telephone interview. Definitely feel that I have the better deal here, which has provoked a guilty awareness that, for all my moaning about the shortcomings of the domestic male in general and my own specimen in particular, this is actually quite often the case.

I'm not just thinking about his services as spider exterminator and putter-up of shelves, but about the bigger stuff too, like the fact that he kept the faith (and-- more to the point-- kept me) during the long years when I was writing lots and earning nothing. He brings me cups of tea and glasses of wine (according to time of day/level of desperation) while I wrestle with deadlines and listens endlessly (or at least makes and effort to look like he's listening) as I try to work out plot twists and character motivation. He graciously puts up with my enthusiasm for searching out new hero material, and my unrestrained and voiciferous appreciation of certain character prototypes (James D'Arcy/Orlando) So, in view of all that, and since today is our sixteenth Wedding Anniversary I thought that today's Christmas Cracker really ought to be Him.

Us on our wedding day-- December 19th 1854 (or does it just seem that long ago?)

(...and here we are later, in a spooky foreshadowing of Things To Come, doing our very own version of a Mills & Boon cover shot...)
In other news, tonight-- right after we heft the giant Christmas tree in from the garden and watch the children decorate the bottom left hand corner of it-- I'm going to draw a winner for my half of the competition Kate Hewitt and I have been running, so if you haven't done so yet, leave a comment to be included! (If I don't do it soon I'm going to give into the temptation to keep the sweet little Hultquist necklace I bought the other day, which would be very Wrong of me.)

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Christmas Cracker number six

Those clementines look unappealing in the extreme but just listen to the voice and watch the hands...

I particularly like the drizzly caramel bit for some reason. And I'd dearly love to have Jean Christophe Novelli in my kitchen on Christmas day.

Monday, 15 December 2008

More Christmas Totty (aka Christmas Cracker number Five)

Today He has taken the day off work and we’re going to nail Christmas once and for all. At least that’s what He thinks, because he has no conception of the enormity of the job nor how short the school day actually is. Shall no doubt return home later with repetitive strain injury from handing the credit card over so often and the threat of acrimonious divorce hanging over us.

However, in the midst of all that I’m also planning to buy something suitably sparkly and Christmassy as a prize for the contest Kate Hewitt and I are running together. Anyone who leaves a comment this week will automatically be entered—keep your random thoughts about what makes a man irresistible coming! (I'd much rather be applying my mind to that issue than to whether the turkey I've ordered will fit in my oven.)
In the meantime here's today's Christmas Cracker for your attention, ladies...

(PS-- sincere apologies to anyone who's awaiting an email from me. I've got horribly behind on everything but will catch up soon, I hope.) (Cue the sound of hollow laughter...)

Friday, 12 December 2008

Christmas Cracker number Four

Or, more accurately, Four Christmas Crackers. (Or three and a half, depending on how much you fancy the slightly shorter one with the best voice.) Which member of Il Divo would you like to find in your stocking this Christmas? (There's a question for you to mull over while you queue in the post office today...)

Last night we went to the final performance of daughters 2 and 3's Christmas play. Sitting in the dark, crammed onto a chair at least three sizes too small for my bottom, wedged to one side by the width of my husband's shoulders in the seat pressed up against mine (the closest physical contact we've had time to enjoy for weeks) I watched the angels blinking and glittering in the stage lights while Mary nursed the baby and Joseph picked his nose and decided that, when daughter #3 goes up to high school in 4 years time I shall have to find some pretext to come back each year. Christmas is simply unthinkable without it.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Christmas Cracker number Three

Feeling utterly rubbish today, having been poleaxed by some vile winter bug whose main symptom seems to be the feeling that you've been dropped from the top of a very tall building. So, Christmas Cracker #3 is someone gentle and comforting, who you could just imagine bringing you hot chocolate in bed. Because occasionally, isn't that all you want?

I'm loving hearing all about the kind of men you want to read about, although oddly enough so far no-one's mentioned anything about hot-chocolate bearing jazz pianists. Let's see if Harry Connick jr and his Astonishing Blue Eyes can persuade you. Click on the picture to watch him in festive action...

(And keep those men coming!)

Monday, 8 December 2008

Christmas Cracker Number Two, and a competition!

After a busy few days of family and friends and endless hours spent on sleet-lashed motorways I’m struggling to catch up on ordinary life. Whoever thought it was a good idea to go away the weekend before the busiest week of the school year? Oh yes, that would be Him then.

Kate Hewitt is way ahead of me in bringing you news of the joint competition we’re holding. Both of us are at the point of embarking on new books, so we’re asking you to tell us about the kind of settings and heroes you like best. This follows neatly on from the ‘hot hero’ discussion we had here a couple of weeks ago, so leave your top tips for melting men here (ooh—check me out—I’ve gone all alliterative) and your favourite fantasy settings on Kate’s blog and we’ll each draw a winner next week. (And who knows—the combination may just end up being a book waiting to be written, in which case Kate and I will have an undignified wrangle over who gets to do it...) You don’t necessarily have to supply names of specific individuals for the hero (unless you want to) but now’s your chance to throw in any physical attributes, personality traits, mannerisms, values, nationalities, family circumstances even particular professions that you love reading about and which help to create a man who turns your knees to water.

Talking of which, here’s Christmas Cracker number two. (BIG sigh.)

The only clip I could find of this on youtube is dubbed in Spanish, but I watched it about 3 times before I noticed because unsurprisingly, I wasn’t listening to the words. I want to go to an office Christmas party and I want a dress like that and I want Rodrigo Santoro to be there. And I want to leave my mobile phone in the taxi on the way home.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Christmas starts here!

Of course, in an ideal world it would all be just how it is on the Marks & Spencers advert, with everyone in perfectly coordinating clothes, several feet of pristine snow and members of Take That popping round, brandishing expensive presents (all bought from M&S, so you can take them back easily.) However, the reality is that most of us are stressed, skint and slightly depressed that the children get twice as many party invitations as we do (and scrub up a lot better as well.)

Generally, this time of year is not a good time for turkeys or women, so here is my own personal countdown to Christmas; an antidote to the pressure of shopping, cooking, wrapping, icing and showing yourself up by crying at the school nativity play. I wanted to call it The Twelve Lays of Christmas, but my husband gave me one of Those Looks and walked away shaking his head disapprovingly. Spoilsport. Anyway, I opted instead for the slightly more decorous title India’s Christmas Crackers.

Here’s Number One. Forget the tantric sex, (or not...) ignore the plastic snow and just enjoy the gorgeous song and the fleeting glimpse of Sting at the height of The Hotness Years...

(You might want to pause this at 2 minutes 15 seconds...)

Gosh. Don't you just feel more full of peace and goodwill already? More next week!


Why is it that throughout November I am always in total denial about Christmas, telling myself (and the children—at least 700 times a day) that it is far too early to start making cards/mince pies and listening to daughter #1s illegal download of Now That’s What I Call Xmas Volume 294 on the way to school.

Someone please remind me next year (perhaps around late August) that this is a grave tactical error.

However, am fending off feelings of unfestive despair at my complete organisational incompetence by planning some blog treats to keep us all going in the run up to Christmas. Come back tomorrow for the first of my timely reminders of the joys of the season!

Monday, 1 December 2008


My life is usually so dull that events such as cleaning the bathroom and buying a new freezer appear on here as high points of glittering excitement. So how frustrating is it that when something genuinely cool happens I'm sworn to secrecy?

Knickers indeed.

Today I am starting the new book. Honestly. But first I have to tidy my desk and empty the bin in my office, which contains 382 chocolate bar wrappers-- legacy of the last one. Shudder to think how many calories lie between here and the next happy ever after...

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Five things I would probably rather do than update my website

  1. Sleep with Boris Johnson.
  2. Eat jellied eels
  3. Appear on Wife Swap
  4. Be photographed standing next to Angelina Jolie, with no make-up on.
  5. Actually, pretty much anything else.

The time has come to Get Help.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008


I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth/run away to live in a little cottage in the woods with Marco Pierre White, but since finishing the last book my brain seems to have collected its coat, switched the lights off and left the building, leaving me to potter around in mindless domestic apathy. I have dusted things, and cleaned windows (Well, some of them. When it came down to it there were more than I thought, and the novelty of marvelling at the dirtiness of the water soon wore off.) I have mopped floors and made fifty zillion calories worth of stuff from the new Nigella Christmas book with various combinations of daughters who have all been off school with coughs, chest and ear infections since last week. (The novelty of marvelling at my luck that they timed this for after the deadline has not worn off, hence the uncharacteristic indulgence with icing sugar and chocolate sprinkles, playing endless games of Disney Princess Memory Game and lighting the fire in the early afternoon.)

I have also cleaned the oven.

Can you tell I need to start another book?

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Seventh Book Itch. (A.K.A... there's only so many times you can use the word 'beautiful'...)

So this is my seventh book and my seventh hero, and I feel like a change.

I've been having a little look back at the six men who have gone before (and my, what fun that's been. Top of my list for post-deadline activities was cleaning the oven, but oddly enough I haven't managed to tear myself away from the computer just yet...) Raphael di Lazaro only ever existed in my head, so for the first one you'll just have to insert your own idea of tall, dark and handsome, but let's just remind ourselves of the others shall we....

(Angelo from The Italian's Captive Virgin, whose fallen angel looks were inspired by Alex Pettyfer.)

They’ve all been pretty different...

(Orlando from Mistress: Hired for the Billionaire's Pleasure. James D'Arcy supplied the tortured beauty for this one)

but they do have one thing in common...

(Olivier from Taken for Revenge, Bedded for Pleasure, which comes out in the UK in January. Thanks to James Franco and his lovely mouth)
and that's that they’re all...

(Alejandro from At the Argentinean Billionaire's Bidding, who was totally based on Argentine polo ace, Nacho Figueras)
absolutely gorgeous.

(Tristan, aka Henry Cavill, from the book I've just finished.)
SO... what I'm wondering is how essential that physical gorgeousness is to the Presents promise and the success of the story in the mind of the reader? Up until now I haven’t thought twice about it, because a) I'm pitifully shallow and b) I'm a total sucker for a fine pair of cheekbones, and I’ve written heroes whose effortless good looks instantly and obviously set them apart from other men. And also, I suppose, because the perfection on the surface often contrasts nicely with the darkness and damage within.

But increasingly I'm drawn to the idea of a man who is compelling, for reasons other than his physical appeal. Who makes you notice him by sheer force of personality and who exudes a kind of magnetic charisma that goes way beyond a strong jaw and a kissable mouth. Who you look at, not because he has the face of a young Adonis, but because you can’t not look, and while I know that any hero worth his stripes (ooops... another Orlando moment...) has all those qualities, I’m kind of interested in bringing them brutally to the fore by stripping away all the pretty packaging.

And so I’m thinking... maybe someone like....

Marco Pierre White. Scary. Menacing. Brilliant in his field. Easily bored. Outrageously rude. Sexy in a way you absolutely can’t deny but also can’t quite explain either.

What do you think? Will it work?

(and will it help if you remember that he used to look like this....)

Is there anyone else you can think of who attracts pretty much by personality alone? Whose sexual chemistry is loads stronger than the sum of the parts in the equation (can you tell I was rubbish at science at school?) I want a man with strength and charisma and a grown-up bad-boy attitude. I need someone rough and battered and been-around-the-block.
I think...
(Or do I just need to take a break and clean the oven?)

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Letting Go

I’m finding it hard to let go of this book.

There weren’t really any revisions, but my editor agreed that the ending was crying out for an epilogue, so I had a lovely excuse to submerge myself right back into it and wallow with delicious self-indulgence in my favourite part of writing (ie. the end). The playlist I’ve had while I’ve been working on this one has been absolutely cracking, so it’s been on at full volume while I’ve been sitting at my computer with a box of tissues, sending Tristan and Lily off into the sunset to get on with their life together.

I fell for Tristan in a big way, and I’m quite sure if I found myself standing a couple of feet away from Henry Cavill again now and he smiled his beautiful smile at me I would be utterly incapable of the restraint I showed in the same situation back in June. Not since lovely Orlando Winterton have I lost my heart so thoroughly to a hero...

(Talking of whom, I had a lovely Orlando moment this week when, collapsing in front of the TV with a glass of credit-crunch cava to celebrate the end of the book (again), I came face to face with delicious James D’Arcy— in military uniform. It was a drama series called The Commander, I think, but obviously I’m a little sketchy on the plot details since I was far too busy gazing lustfully at the striped epaulettes on those broad shoulders. Hell-o Orlando!)

Anyway, as another hero gets his girl it’s time to unpin the pictures from above my computer and change my screensaver to a new man, and for this I need your help...

Back tomorrow for a little opinion poll!

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Slice. Of. Heaven.

Several days after returning home am just about emerging from semi-comatose, blissed-out state engendered by a long weekend in an idyllic cottage in the Middle Of Nowhere.

We were surrounded by acres of woodland, which at this time of year was so beautiful that even daughter #1 needed no encouragement to get out of bed before midday and walk through it, and pretty much for 3 days we didn't see another living soul...

(cottage in there somewhere...)
Happily my unspeakably lovely editor had put her seal of approval on Tristan and Lily’s story before we left, so it was gorgeous to be able to leave behind all the skull-grinding stress of the past few deadline-driven weeks and spend the days exploring and the evenings soaking in the bath with wine, roasted chestnuts and Lady Chatterley’s Lover (sadly not in the literal form of Sean Bean), packed at the last minute specifically for its perfect bonfire-infused autumn woodland vibe. The only downside of this stroke of inspiration was that I spent most of our woodland walks not looking out for fascinating flora and fauna, but dreaming about Mellors appearing from behind a tree.
The Big Birthday began with a picnic breakfast in the forest at the time that we would usually be gathering up bits of homework, ironing uniform and braving the school run, and we ate warm almond croissants and drank cold champagne (well, He and I did, and daughter #1 asked...) in a silent cathedral of autumn colour and talked longingly about giving everything up for a life of rustic simplicity...
(But one which also involves such things as almond croissants and champagne. Obviously.) (And broadband connection.) (And, as I haven't seen the new Daniel Bond film, trips to the cinema. Anyone else seen it yet?)

Thursday, 30 October 2008


But I suspect it'll be a while before I can forget Tristan de Losada Montavalo...

In the meantime I have to hit the ground running with all the things that need washing/ironing/cleaning/arranging before we go away for the weekend tomorrow. And as it's my husband's birthday on Monday there's a fair amount of buying and wrapping involved too. Often feel that my life is horribly reminiscent of some banal Reality TV show where the tasks are increasingly unachievable (but also very dull).
The only thing that's cheering me up is that it's His 40th birthday! Haha! Since I haven't exactly excelled myself on the planning, any ideas for presents or ways to mark the milestone would be greatly appreciated...

Friday, 24 October 2008

It's a good job...

that the clocks go back this weekend.

That gives me a whole extra hour before I have to submit this book.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

India Falls Down a Deadline Hole, and Abby Green Takes Charge!

India Grey has asked me to blog for her to try and distract people from the fact that she’s not blogging. Listen, I don’t mind, the longer her glowing blog stays up about my book the better!!!

But I do feel like I owe her something in return so lucky you, you’re stuck with me. Now the only thing is, what to blog about?

Inspiration is something I’ve been thinking about lately and how essential it is to the whole process. Because ultimately if you’re not being inspired, you’re not getting excited about something and that’s one of the nicest parts of writing. It’s the first step in the process. And brings the most original ideas, sets you apart from the pack, helps to get you published…

I always find that after you get the spark of inspiration, and then sit down to write the thing, you start to veer off on tangents and when you look back at the thing that inspired you first, you’ve come a million miles in a different, not necessarily bad direction. That original kernal usually gets lost in the mix somewhere and sometimes that’s all it was ever meant to be, the intial spark.

You’re also getting into the hard nitty gritty of making something work, crafting your story and all the twists and turns you never dreamt of. And it is hard work!

For my current book (The Spaniard’s Marriage Bargain), I can’t remember what sparked the idea, but I can remember thinking to myself: what would be one of the worst things a woman could do? And to me that would be to abandon her child/baby. There is very little justification for that in the eyes of the world and society. And then I wondered what would make a woman, a mother do that, what possible reason could she have? And then the story grew from there.
I find magazines a great source of inspiration, I keep scrapbooks and I pull pictures out all the time. It can be anything, just a hint of an idea within a picture. The way a woman looks, a model in an outrageous outfit.

And movies! Movies are a veritable coal mine of inspiration, for instance, one of my favourite sequences of all time is the bar/love scene in Out of Sight, and I’m shamelessly using that as inspiration for my current WIP.
Check it out here: http://ie.youtube.com/watch?v=oy4N3fWBpj4
The thing is, inspiration is all around us: pictures in galleries, stories on the news, pictures in magazines, scenes in movies. It’s just a matter of staying open to seeing stuff, not getting bogged down in the logistics of thinking something might not work. And then you have to keep asking yourself, what if?
What if that person met that person? What if he thought she was like this, when she’s actually like that? What if she misjudged him? What would be the absolute worst kind of person for this person to meet? What does this person want? And why can’t they get it/have it?
I think it can get very distracting to spend a lot of time ‘casting’ real people, which invariably means actors, in the roles of your heroes and heroines. Ultimately they have to be in your head. It’s nice to have a face to go with the person in your head but I think we can end up identifying too much with the actor/actress we’ve cast in the role, and that takes away from the unique character we need to build up…
Having said that, I’m using Laura Bailey the British model as my current real life model for my heroine

I have her pictures on the desktop of my computer but it only serves as a guide, something to bring me back to thinking of her in a concrete way – I don’t really want to know about Laura Bailey the person. I have no model/actor picked out for my hero because I can’t find one, but it’s ok because I can see him in my head, and as long as I can transcribe him believably onto the page, that’s all that matters. Whether I pull it off or not remains to be seen!
My current WIP has had a bit of a helping hand in that the characters already appeared in another book. I introduced the hero Tiarnan Quinn (*) as the brother of Sorcha in Bought For the Frenchman’s Pleasure. He only appeared briefly but seemed, to me at least, to make a huge impression. And Kate, my heroine is Sorcha’s best friend, who also only appears briefly. For some reason I wanted Kate and Tiarnan to have their own story, and who knows what made me think that, or to even set them up in such a way. But now I’m in the process of trying to figure out how to get them together and what’s keeping them apart…
So in the spirit of looking for inspiration, I hereby now command you to go out and buy yourself a copy of the magazine of your choice. Be utterly decadent and go for November Vogue, or in light of the current economic climate you might want to go for something like Elle. But buy something, and buy some chocolate and indulge. Pull out pictures, make a collage of images that strike you - for whatever reason - it could be a place, or a person, or a story. Or if that sounds like too much hard work, the new James Bond movie is out in a couple of weeks…

just watch and enjoy!

And now it’s time for me to get back to work and forget whatever it was that inspired me to do this current story in the first place…and then the whole process will start all over again with any luck!
Thanks Abby... now get round here and write my book, do the ironing and clean out the fridge.
(*) Tiarnan Quinn. Seriously, seriously hot hero....

Friday, 10 October 2008

Your mission for this weekend...

...should you choose to accept it. (And I strongly recommend that you do...)

  • Go to a supermarket. Buy a large bar of chocolate (minimum 500g), a box of tissues, a bottle of wine/ indulgent beverage of your choice, and a copy of Abby Green’s latest book The Spaniard’s Marriage Bargain.

  • Return home, thinking of a plausible story that will get you out of all domestic and social responsibilities for at least 24 hours.
  • Unplug phone, make excuses to nearest and dearest and smuggle all purchases up to bed.
  • Read Rowan and Isandro’s story, eat chocolate, drink wine and weep. And weep some more. And then probably read again...

    This is a seriously special book. And I’m honestly not just saying that because Abby Green is my friend—absolutely the opposite in fact, as I’m very fond of telling her (as publicly as possible—preferably in front of editors) that her books are completely terrible and that if she ever wants any writing advice she only has to ask. So naturally it pains me deeply to have to report that this is a cracking, whole box of tissues, edge of your seat, emotionally wrenching page-turner of a read. The characters are perfect: both of them are real and fragile, and their struggle to come to terms with past hurt and move on from it is brilliantly drawn, as is the irresistible sexual tension between them. The story itself is actually pretty breathtaking in its simplicity and emotional logic, with a twist that I just know will make you gasp out loud (and thank me for reminding you to buy the tissues.)

    Just don’t tell her I said so, OK?

Monday, 6 October 2008

A good spell of writing.

I love it when it's like this: when the plot fits together, the words flow and the characters don't stop talking-- even when the computer is off and the house is full of noise, distraction and plumbers. I'm even loving getting up at 5, which is most unlike me, writing faster and happily sinking deeper into the world of the book.

Usually the only things I sink happily into are large glasses of wine, and bed, so this is good. I am very ready to sink. Sinking, in this context, is an extremely positive thing.

(It is also not before time.)

This is my most cold and ruthless hero to date. As a rule I don't go much for cold and ruthless; I tend to find laid back and laconic much more sexy. I think living with the plumbers for so long has brought out my unforgiving side.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Yikes-- it's October!

Which means that my deadline really is getting horrifyingly close. I never did report back on how the ‘slow and steady’ approach was going, did I? I think that in itself probably tells you all you need to know.

Yesterday I took an hour out from panicking over my keyboard and went to the Harvest Festival at daughters #2 and 3’s school, leaving the army of plumbers who had turned up to finally take the new bath from the front room, where its been situated for the past month, and put it up in the bathroom. Felt guilty as I slipped out, clutching my box of harvest gifts, partly for palming off much of our courgette glut onto the elderly of South Cheshire, but also because I felt that I really should have invited the army of plumbers along to the event since they’ve been here so blooming long they’ve become almost part of the family (although not really in a good way.)

Anyway, enjoyed a quiet hour in church contemplating the cycle of the seasons and mentally planning my next sex scene while listening with half an ear to daughter #2 recite a poem (with some difficulty since, as of Sunday morning she has two missing front teeth) and daughter #3 say a prayer. (‘Thank you for good food—for wine, bread olive oil’. Yum...very Jamie Oliver, I thought...) However the highlight of the service was the reception children singing a fabulous song called ‘Jesus you didn’t make my sandwiches.’ I’ve noticed He doesn’t empty the dishwasher much either.

Got back feeling spiritually uplifted (and very smug about getting rid of so many courgettes in one simple stroke) to discover the beautiful new bath in situ but set at a distinctly sloping angle, so the water has no hope of ever draining out properly.

Should have taken the plumbers with me, after all.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

S'not fair!

Time and events have rather run away with me, so I’m amazed to discover that it’s been two weeks since I last posted. (Why must it always be time and events that run away with me, and not Henry Cavill or James D’Arcy??) Last week I was down in London at the lovely AMBA lunch and Mills & Boon Toast to the Authors-- eagerly awaited as an oasis of civilisation in the squalor and chaos my usual life. As we are in the midst of renovating our bathroom things here are more chaotic than usual-- and considerably dustier-- so I was particularly glad to find myself sitting in the relative calm and comfort of the Virgin Express to Euston last Wednesday, my mini laptop balanced on the tiny fold out table in front of me, and a cardboard cup of surprisingly OK tea in my hand to soothe the ominous scratchiness in the back of my throat.

A trip to London wouldn’t be a fraction of the fun if I didn’t share a room with gorgeous Abby Green, and we had a great couple of days regressing to about the age of 17, and meeting up with friends old and new. Amongst the latter for me were Trish Morey and Jennie Lucas, both of whom proved as delightful as their books, and fresh, sparkly (and beautiful) new Presents signing Sabrina Phillips, whose first book is coming out next year.

At this point I'd better confess that I forgot to pack my camera, but in view of the fact that the moment I stepped off the train the scratching in my throat blossomed into the most spectacularly revolting cold that probably isn't such a bad thing. Spent the day of the AMBA lunch walking around with a scarlet nose and huge black circles under my eyes, and generally looking like an extra in some grim Channel 4 drama about the dangers of hard drugs. It is a tribute to the kindness of romance writers that people did still talk to me, however I'm horribly afraid that many of them might subsequently have regretted it. (If you're one of these people please let me know and I’ll send chocolate and lemsip by way of apology.)

Back in the north, the cold vanished as suddenly as it appeared, leaving nothing but a sore, raw nose and a lingering sense of injustice.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Blessed by the Cover Fairy

Hallelujah. After Polyester Shirt Man, and Bouffant Neanderthal Car Mechanic, at last I have some gorgeous cover totty.

My advance copies of Olivier and Bella's story arrived yesterday. I think I'm in love.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Too much information

The usual low-level stress of the school run has been cranked up a notch by the appearance, over the summer holidays, of lots of red signs along our picturesque route screaming 77 CASUALTIES IN 3 YEARS.

Suddenly taking the children to school seems positively foolhardy and irresponsible, and the ten minute journey though lovely Cheshire farmland as fraught with danger as solo circumnavigation of the globe in an inflatable dinghy.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Back to School

Have just waved off daughter 1, looking bizarrely smart in her school uniform, and almost unrecognisable from the bare-legged teenager trailing scarves and jingling ankle bracelets who has flip-flopped around for the last six weeks. Surreal. Daughters 2 and 3 don't go back until tomorrow, leaving us until 4pm today to assemble their uniforms, PE kit and pencil case contents and do something suitably celebratory for the Last Day of the Holidays. Last night was our traditional end of holiday dinner, which always consists of the children's very favourite food (gorgeous fillet steak from the farm shop down the road, and chips) consumed over an increasingly nostalgic and rose-tinted analysis of the summer. By the time we reach pudding history has been re-written, and no-one remembers the heated argument over crablines in Staithes, the squabbles in the car over space/CD choice/ having the windows open or my daily rants over unmade beds and uncleared breakfast dishes, and we're all in agreement that it's been the Best Holiday Ever.

So, today is a picnic in the woods, and cake in our favourite National Trust teashop. Tomorrow is Back to Work.

Friday, 29 August 2008

Post-Games Analysis

I don't think you can ever have too many wooden spoons.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Olympics here we come!

No, not those ones in Beijing. I mean the proper Olympics... the ones taking place this weekend at my stepmother's house and featuring events such as The Butler's Relay (swimming a length of the pool carrying a tray of drinks) Speed Jigsaw, and Target Skittles (I'm not sure what the target element involves, but have traumatic flashbacks to when my older brother used to practise his tennis aim by hitting unripe apples at me.) If you remember, last year I was pitiful enough to bring home the wooden spoon, but this time thanks to employing Madonna's personal trainer and spending the last six months on a high-protein, chocolate-and-cake-free diet it's all going to be SO different... *

Whatever you're doing this bank holiday, have a lovely time. Here in the UK the weather's set to be apalling, but my thinking is that what we lack in sun we can always make up for in Pimms and chocolate cake. (See? There you have the attitude of a finely-tuned Olympian...)

(*Snurk* Just in case any of my family read this. That'll scare 'em!)

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

At last...

I’ve found someone with whom I wouldn’t mind swapping jobs. Generally, as I’ve said before, I really do think I have the best job in the world, apart from chocolate tasting for Cadbury’s or being James D’Arcy’s dresser (although to be honest I think my interest lies more in undressing James D’Arcy...) but on Saturday we took the children to Manchester to play at being cool metro-kids for the day. This involved having lunch in a sushi bar, and then going to see this exhibition in the City Gallery.

Lauren Child is a goddess, and I’ve loved her work for years. However, what tipped this abstract admiration over into a raging case of full-blown career envy was a photograph of her at work at her desk. It’s all white and bright and gorgeous, of course, and on it she has a big box of coloured pencils.

Ever since I’ve been feeling a deep and primitive need to do some colouring in. I think that may be what my life is missing these days.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Life on the Home Front

So, the summer holidays slide inexorably on, although only the mouldering shell and fossil collections and as-yet unsorted piles of artwork and PE kit are firm evidence that it is, in fact summer at all. Every morning we seem to be greeted by lowering skies and impromptu rivers running down the garden, and have to think up new ideas for indoor entertainment.

I think that might be why I finally agreed to the guinea pigs.

Apparently I said yes ages ago, and since then daughters #2 and 3 have been secretly saving money, getting 'Look After Your Guinea Pig' type books out from the library and stockpiling doll's hairbrushes and blankets in preparation for the big day when they would arrive. Defenceless in the face of such skilled organisation, last week I found myself going along with the preparation of Muffin's old hutch and Monday saw us bearing home a big cardboard box containing Truffle and Biscuit (I know... the pets in this house clearly demonstrate the preoccupations of their owners. I put up a spirited argument for christening them Doris and Betty, which seemed much more in keeping with their little old-lady stoutness and busy, bustling movements, but was scornfully overruled in favour of more confectionary.)

They spent their first twenty four hours here huddled together at the back of the hutch watching beadily as the girls, suddenly possessed by some primitive nesting instinct, swept and tidied and prepared elaborate amusements for them to enjoy once the period of Settling In (advised by the girl in the pet centre) had passed. Many of these activites weren't entirely suitable, so the Barbie jeep and Sleeping Beauty Bed Set have been banished back to the toy cupboard, but the wooden fort (joint christmas present to all children years ago, and painstakingly painted by me a bit at a time on December evenings when they were all in bed) is enjoying a surprisingly successful renaissance as a guinea pig run. Truffle and Biscuit scurry along the ramparts and squeeze into the turrets, like grannies on a WI coach trip, looking for the tea room. We seem to spend hours, camped out in the conservatory where they've taken up residence, just watching them. (So does Ruby, only her expression is slightly less indulgent and more... speculative.)

Anyway, away from the domestic front, last night I ventured back to Liverpool at about the time when I'm usually sinking onto the sofa in my pyjamas with a cup of tea (ie 10pm) to take part in Linda McDermott's late night talk show on BBC radio Merseyside. It's a panel-type programme, which means lots of opportunity for gossip/discussion and driving into Liverpool I was so enjoying listening to the ladies talking about romantic films that I kept forgetting to check the road signs and ended up getting horribly lost. Luckily I found my way just in time to take my place in the studio at 11pm for a really enjoyable 40 minutes of chat on a wide range of romantic topics. Unfortunately I can't find a Listen Again link, so I'm tempted to claim airily to have been terribly articulate and incisive etc. However, far too many of you know me too well to believe that, and obviously people who heard it might be reading, so perhaps I'd better just say that it was huge fun and a lovely chance to publicise the Centenary Exhibition. If you're anywhere near Liverpool, go see it!

In the midst of all this I have to confess I'm struggling to fit in time to write, though the story and the characters are swirling insistently round my head, demanding attention. Thanks to my lovely laptop I've taken to snatching moments to frantically type a few paragraphs at the kitchen table or on the bed while supposedly sorting washing. Yesterday I was deeply involved in a lovely scene at breakfast time, and had successfully tuned out the arguments about whose turn it was to have the stickers in the cereal packet when daughter # 2 walked past and, glancing over my shoulder said in deep disgust, 'Eeeeuw. Mum's writing about pants.'

*sigh* I'm quite certain Virginia Woolf never had to put up with such restraints on her creativity.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Late again!

Sorry about that. A combination of guinea pigs, chocolate cake, ironing and a hot scene with my hero and heroine in a ruined tower at twilight conspired to keep me away from the blog yesterday. I did however manage to wake up in time to do the early morning phone interview with City Talk radio, which you can listen to here. (scroll down to Tuesday, and click on the breakfast show link. It's an hour and five minutes into the programme.) Hmm. The question ‘Is your pseudonym as important as the stories you write?’ was a particular low point for me, but then I had missed the bit at the beginning where they were sniggering over passages from Harlequin books...

Ah well. On a more positive note, I’ve finally got around to picking some winners for Orlando and Rachel’s competiton. Big congratulations to Crystal, who daughter #1 picked (out of a cereal packet, which was the most convenient thing to put the names in at the time!) as the first prize winner. Runners up prizes go to Amy, Trenda and Jane, so I’ll email everyone soon to find out addresses for sending goodies. Thanks again to everyone who entered!

Monday, 4 August 2008

Back to reality

Got Back from glorious week on Yorkshire coast last night, so to the general jumble-sale chaos of end of term items scattered throughout the house has now been added 472 loads of washing and 3 tonnes of shells/fossils/stones-that-aren’t-fossils-but-daughter#3-liked-them-anyway/and sand. (I’m sure it must be illegal to remove sand from beaches, even if not deliberately. Think that next year I’m going to tell my children that it is anyway, and unless they empty their pockets and buckets more carefully they’ll be arrested for causing coastal erosion, and malicious damage to the washing machine.)

So, we had a lovely time with some great weather—blazing hot, but with a thick haze of sea mist which was oddly romantic and atmospheric...

I do very slightly lament the passing of the days when the girls were perfectly content to potter around indefinitely on the beach with a bucket and spade while we adults lay on towels reading and drinking Pimms. Now they’re older, holidays definitely involve more in the way of physical exertion...

Like canoeing.

I can state with confident authority that it is impossible to paddle a canoe and read a book at the same time. I did try.

Anyway, no inroads have yet been made into the laundry as this morning I was up early to wash the sand and saltwater out of my hair and put on make-up for the first time in ten days before heading off to Liverpool to chat on Radio Merseyside about the Mills and Boon Centenary Exhibition, which has just opened in the Central Library there. Have to admit to a certain amount of guilty pleasure at finding myself alone on the train, wearing properly clean clothes and able to read a book without simultaneously having to referee squabbles and listen to Atomic Kitten. I was on the Sean Styles show, which was great fun because he’s one of those people who appears to be genuinely interested in what you have to say and was extremely charming. If you're very bored just now you can listen again here— fast forward to about 1 hour and 20 minutes into the show.

Afterwards I took advantage of a child-free day in the city and wandered around the shops (so many... so BIG!) In Retail Land it’s autumn already, but as I was still feeling windswept and sunburned from the beach I wasn’t remotely tempted to buy anything except some Super-Soothing Moisturiser for Ancient and Abused Skin, and new lunch bags from the John Lewis sale for daughters 2 and 3. Most uncharacteristically thrifty and organised I thought, as I headed away from the shops and towards the Walker Art Gallery to gaze at lovely Victorian paintings. (Uncharacteristically cultured too-- by that point I hardly recognised myself.) When I started to feel weepy and maternal in front of this picture I knew it was time to head home again.

Tomorrow I’m setting the alarm very early to do a phone interview on the breakfast show on City Talk radio. (It was difficult enough trying to sound professional and articulate at 11.30, so it’ll be interesting to see how I do at 7am.) Then I am NOT going to go back to bed with tea and 4 pieces of toast. Oh no, because then I am going to go through the entries for the competition (which have been piling up nicely in my absence, so huge thanks to everyone who’s taken the trouble to enter...) and pick a winner.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

School's Out!

The house is littered with cereal box models, folders of artwork and improbably numerous bits of PE kit, all of which I've been trying to process before we go away tomorrow. The children are in expansive holiday mood-- inviting friends for tea and for sleepovers at every opportunity and making regular stealthy raids on fridge and biscuit tin which would earn the respect of any one of Michelle Styles's Viking heroes.

Talking of which, I finished Viking Warrior Unwilling Wife on Friday when my husband was away-- which was good, because he does have an irritating habit of looking at me every three seconds when I'm coming to the end of a book I've raved about and saying 'Are you crying yet?' It's a fabulous story-- a beautiful, tender romance between two fantastically well-drawn characters, but also an edge-of-the-seat adventure. The emotional journey of the hero and heroine is set against a real journey which is fraught with dangers, and which challenges each of them to re-examine the things they thought they knew. I love Michelle's writing voice so much, and I particularly love the voice she gives to her characters-- the dialogue in this book is fast-paced and wry and totally credible, and made it very, very easy to fall in love with Vikar. (Even without the pervasive images of his green eyes, and the most beautifully depicted love scene in a cave. A cave with a waterfall. Oh yes.... Heaven can wait....) I was hopelessly slow in getting to reading this one, which came out in June. If like me you haven’t read it yet, make sure you put it in your suitcase this holiday!

So, today is packing and excitement-management day. Last night, sprawled on the sofa amid the chaos of waterproofs and fishing nets, drinking wine and wistfully watching gorgeous Francesco wander around the Parthenon we did feel fleetingly lazy and ashamed for not whisking the children off somewhere exotic and mind-broadening this summer. They, however, are boiling over with excitement at going back to the same place we go to every year and are busy writing lists of the order in which they want to do the usual things: the beach with the fossils, the beach where we always barbeque, fish and chips in the harbour and crabbing from the rocks. Last year we were lucky enough to be on a deserted beach when the Red Arrows were doing a display across the bay, so a repeat of that is featuring heavily on wishlists too. Mine included. I’d just finished writing Mistress Hired for the Billionaire’s Pleasure then, and was madly in love with Orlando, so to see the RAF in all their dashing glory was quite something.

This year I’m still deeply involved in the middle of a book, which isn’t quite so ideal in theory, but I’m actually really looking forward to having some time away from the non-stop madness here just to think and get to know my characters better. I'm crazy about the hero already, and it’s a bit like being a teenager again, marking the summers by different crushes. Way back then it was the summer of the Surf Instructor, or the summer of the Gorgeous Blond Boy in the Year Above; now it’s the summer of the RAF hero, or-- this year-- the summer of the Spanish Duke. It’s just as well I have a very understanding husband.

I'll be back in a week and a bit to pick a competition winner for my ever-expanding box of treats (to which an Audio CD of Sara Craven's Wife Against her Will, read by the lovely Michael Praed has just been added. Remember him? I used to pass interminable chemistry lessons dreaming of him, so I actually remember him a lot better than the periodic table, or how to balance an equation. That probably explains a lot...)

Friday, 18 July 2008


Somehow it’s Friday, which means that we’ve reached the part where I get to share the music that I was listening to when I wrote Orlando and Rachel’s story. (It also means I get to lie in the bath tonight with a glass of wine and finish Michelle Styles’s Viking Warrior Unwilling Wife, but more of that next week!)

I hope you’ve noticed the rather glitzy little playlist I’ve added down there on my sidebar, which has on it a few of the most significant tracks for the book. This was a story that really seemed to lend itself to lots of music—I suppose quite naturally, since Rachel was a musician; certainly lots of the songs on the playlist are very piano-y. I had my ipod on constantly while I was writing, and kept finding more songs which fitted the story and the mood. However, the ones over there on the left were the core ones that inspired me and put me instantly into the world of the book (and still do, whenever I hear them!)

The Michael Nyman piece from The Piano soundtrack was the tune I had on when I was writing the bit where Rachel runs away, and Chopin’s beautiful Nocturne in E minor plays a very significant role in the story, so undoubtedly earned its place on the playlist. Butterflies and Hurricanes by Muse and Vindicated by Dashboard Confessional were Orlando’s anthems, perfectly communicating his iron self-control, and his bitterness and anger. I hardly expected to find a track which suited Rachel so spookily, but about halfway through the book I heard the Shakira song The One and literally felt a shiver run down my spine. I’d just written a scene where Rachel is attempting to overcome her lack of domestic skill and cook dinner for Orlando. The words ‘So I learn to cook and finally lose My kitchen phobia,’ brought a very wide smile to my face...

So, the final question is this: What instrument does Rachel play professionally?
(There’s a bit of a clue on the cover of the book, if you can make out what it is. I still think it looks like they’re standing by a broken down car...)

Here’s a quick recap of the other three questions...
What is Orlando’s profession at the start of the book?
What is Rachel’s signature scent?
What is the name of Orlando’s ancestral home?
And finally... 4. What instrument does Rachel play professionally?

Email me here with the answers and I’ll pick a winner when we get back from holiday on August 3rd. I have three signed copies of the book to send to runners up, and I’m still adding to my box of goodies for the winner, which so far includes...

One of these (smuggled out) from the centenary exhibition...
Some perfumed goodies from L'Occitane in Rachel's favourite scent....
A signed one of these....

And, obviously, a substantial amount of this...

Thursday, 17 July 2008

DAY THREE— and an apology!

OK, so technically I’m not posting this on Day Three at all. Day Three turned out to be one of those days that makes you feel by about lunchtime like your head is in danger of exploding, and the only way of averting this would be a week in a spa in the Maldives with James D’Arcy/Henry Cavill/Just about anyone who isn’t a blood relative. Day Three began at 5.30am and finished sometime in the early hours, and involved a school trip (daughter #3 and me as a helper) a party, and the provision of cakes for 28 children (daughter #2 and class), a swimming lesson (daughter #3), and a last minute present crisis (daughter #1, with a long and anguished saga involving the leaving present she’s in charge of organising for her form tutor.) Luckily though, at the end of it all was lovely Francesco. (Which we collapsed to watch at about midnight, thanks to the wonders of digital recording...)

ANYWAY, this is all a rather long and rambling way of apologising for the fact that I didn’t manage yesterday’s post. Here, a day late, is a little bit of background about the setting of Mistress: Hired for the Billionaire’s Pleasure, (which is already available on Amazon!) and today’s question.

It was quite an indulgence writing a book that was set predominantly in England, and as most of it takes place in the depths of winter it was also a lovely change. I loved researching the settings for my previous books— Florence and Venice, and the sun-drenched south of France, but the contrast in the location alone made this book feel very different right from the outset. Easton Hall, Orlando Winterton’s grand ancestral home, is an important presence within the book, and is almost a symbolic extension of Orlando himself. When Rachel arrives there she is daunted by its size, and puzzled by the darkness and air of melancholy that fills its vast rooms, but gradually, during the brief time she spends there she makes her mark on the house and its wild grounds, revealing long-hidden secrets and starting to feel at home.

The inspiration for the house was Dunham Massey, a beautiful property in Cheshire owned by the National Trust. Easton Hall isn’t an exact likeness, but my favourite part of Dunham is the inner courtyard, around which the four wings of the house are built, and this found its way into the book as the setting for one significant snowy scene.
However, a Presents novel wouldn’t be complete without some exotic and luxurious travel. Easton is Orlando’s sanctuary, but in some ways it’s also his prison, and by moving the action to another location I was able to move the relationship between the characters on too and bring to the fore the unresolved issues between them. That gave me the excuse for a very indulgent afternoon spent doing in-depth research into the luxury hotels of Paris. To my mind, the spectacular Hotel Crillion.was the top choice...

(Now I'm going to give myself ten minutes to look at the website and dream of Orlando before getting back to work! It's my reward for the stresses of yesterday...)
Today's question: What is the name of Orlando's ancestral home?
Thanks to those of you who are sending answers every day. Just as a reminder, the closing date for answers to all four questions is 3rd August!

Tuesday, 15 July 2008


Rachel Campion had to be pretty special. And nice. I wasn't going to let just anyone have Orlando.

Because of Orlando's sight problems it was important to me that Rachel should have vivid red hair, but beyond that I didn't really focus too much on what she looked like-- in the book much more emphasis is placed on her voice and her evocative rose scent. I chose the name Rachel simply because I liked it and it suited her, so it seemed rather spookily satisfying when during my endless hours of research/ cyber-stalking in the early stages of writing the book I came across pictures and clips of James D'Arcy in An American Haunting. opposite gorgeous redhead Rachel Hurd-Wood. The film was dire, but although she's a good few years younger than my heroine, I'd found a face that seemed to fit the girl in my head.

Rachel Campion is the only child of a controlling single mother-- single of status and single of mind. Elizabeth Campion is totally obsessed with her daughter's career as a pianist and Rachel has been brought up in an intense hot-house environment that has turned her into a brilliant musician but left her isolated and totally ill-equipped to cope with the practicalities of everyday life. When the book opens she is poised on the brink of international stardom, thanks to a PR coup performed by a triumphant Elizabeth, in the form of Rachel's impending marriage to one of the music world's most influential composers. The fact that he is also a loathsome bully is something Elizabeth is quick to sweep under the carpet, and Rachel, sweet-natured and conditioned to be utterly obedient, sees no way out. Until she encounters a dark, beautiful man in the graveyard of the church on the morning of her wedding.

Lucky girl.

Today's question, and a little administrative information bulletin, (thanks to Trenda!):
What is Rachel's signature perfume?

Answers can be submitted via the website contact form. You can answer each question as it comes along, or wait until Friday and answer them all-- whatever you prefer. The closing date will be August 3rd, when I get back from holiday and can pick a winner for my growing collections of goodies. So far these include one of the fabulous Mills & Boon centenary posters (see here...) and some luscious rose-scented treats that Rachel would just love! (Oops. I think I just gave away the answer to today's question...)

Monday, 14 July 2008

Competition time!

After this morning's TV excitement, I'm back and ready to launch Day One of the competition to celebrate the release of Mistress: Hired for the Billionaire's Pleasure. I know you're supposed to save the best 'til last, but forget that. I'm cutting to the chase straight away, because my favourite aspect of the book is-- you guessed it-- the hero.
My adoration of Orlando Winterton has been pretty well documented here already, but the time has come at last to introduce him properly. To do that I need to go back to the beginning, and to where the whole idea for the book came from.

A few years ago I was struck down by a nasty virus called CMV which, amongst other delights, can cause long term visual problems. As a result I now have an annual field of vision check, and it was during one of these, and while I waited anxiously for the results, that the seeds of the book were sown. Thankfully, my test results were clear, but as a commited hypochondriac by then I'd already visited the scenario that they wouldn't be... that the news would be bad... and that's exactly the situation in which Orlando finds himself as the book opens. He's just been diagnosed with a degenerative sight condition called Stargardt's Macular Dystrophy. To a fighter pilot in the RAF this news spells instant professional death. To a man who is used to excelling effortlessly, to being a leader, a hero, the personal outlook is hardly more positive and Orlando's charmed, privileged life begins to unravel.

When I was writing the book I had a post-it note stuck to my computer monitor that had the words COURAGE and HEROISM written on it. (At least it started off being stuck to my monitor, but it kept falling off. One day while I was driving to pick the children up from school I found it stuck to my elbow.) These were the themes of the book, and completely contrasting ways in which Orlando and Rachel percieved these concepts provided the starting point for the conflict between them and the journeys they each had to make in order to get their happy ending.

Orlando was so lovely to write, and I fell quite ridiculously in love with him. That combination of phenomenal strength and private vulnerability is well established and hugely powerful, and provides endless romantic/heroic potential. It was a role to which lovely James D'Arcy-- on whom I've had a whopping great fangirly crush for ages-- was perfectly suited, and I joyfully embraced the opportunity to pin pictures of him all over my office and post photos here at the slightest excuse. As I'm sure you all remember...

I was very lucky in that a friend of one of my brothers is a pilot in the RAF, and he was fantastically generous with his time, providing loads of information in answer to my questions (even replying to my emails from the beachside bar when he was on holiday!) and often inadvertently informing the plot with the things that he told me. The book is dedicated to him.

Tomorrow I'll be back to talk about the woman who arrived suddenly and unexpectedly in Orlando's life, shattering his self-imposed exile and forcing him to confront things that really, he'd rather have left unconfronted. Like the fact that one glorious encounter doesn't necessarily get someone out of your system. And courage isn't simply a matter of defending your country...

Question 1: What was Orlando Winterton's profession at the start of the book?

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Weekend Bulletin

Here I am sitting in the garden, playing on my new tiny baby laptop (shiny new toy! So exciting!) and dropping by to tell you that tomorrow, as promised, I’ll be launching the start of a week-long competition to celebrate the release of Mistress: Hired for the Billionaire’s Pleasure.

(How sweet is this? It's an Advent 4211, fact fans, and is the size of a smallish notebook and really light.
Obviously, it's going to revolutionise my working life and quadruple my productivity... )
Every day I’ll be posting about a different aspect of the book, with a question, and on Friday I’ll do a quick recap and announce the prizes (which I’m still finalising). However, bear with me a little as tomorrow’s post will be up slightly behind my usual post-school run/cup-of-tea and slice-of-toast kind of schedule. This is because I’m appearing on Channel M’s breakfast show tomorrow morning. Live! (or live-ish, given the state of me in the mornings...)
What’s worrying me most about this at the moment is not the question of what to wear (about a 5 on a scale of 1 to 10 Top Things to Worry About) or oversleeping and being horribly late (possibly a 7) but the fact that all around daughters are succumbing to the sickness bug that’s doing the rounds at school. I’m counting on my notorious oil-tanker constitution to see me right...

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Three Things to Celebrate

1. Francesco Da Mosto’s new BBC series, Francesco’s Mediterranean Voyage. Research, inspiration and relaxation in one gorgeously-accented package, this goes a long way to filling the viewing gap left by The Apprentice. Just add sofa, wine and olives for the closest you can get to heaven on a Tuesday evening.

2. Translations of my first and second books into Spanish and Portugese. New covers, and great new titles. Innocencia Oculta... how fabulous is that? (Have had enormous fun opening them on random pages and trying to work out which bit I’m reading, but even though I know the books inside out it’s surprisingly hard! Since I’m obviously never going to be able to sit down and skim read through them, if anyone would like a copy just drop me your address via the website and I’ll get one off to you.)

3. Finally, after months of trying, yesterday I managed to get project playlist to work on my website. Apologies to anyone within a three mile radius of my house who would undoubtedly have heard the whoop of triumph, followed by an ear-shattering rendition of the songs while I danced round the house. Expect a further slump in word count over the next few days as I exercise my new found competence and play!