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!

Monday, 7 July 2008

In the news

Gordon Brown says we must stop wasting food.

Wise words. I have therefore spent the day methodically finishing up all the weekend's leftovers. These included a third of a lovely Waitrose Balsamic onion and cheddar quiche*, the remains of Saturday night's roast beef, the last two brownies from the batch that I took to my library talk in Macclesfield, and four cold roast potatoes*.

Never let it be said I shirk my social responsibilities.

(*eaten standing by the open fridge, and therefore calorie free)

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Still Catching Up

I’m ashamed to realise that my unhealthy preoccupation with Alejandro and The Deadline meant that I failed to mention earlier something pretty important and very exciting. Fortunately Michelle Styles, Natasha Oakley, Kate Hardy and Susan Stephens are better women than I, so you probably already know that 2008 is the National Year of Reading, which is a ‘year long celebration of reading, in all its forms.’ To my mind, reading-- like friendship and Friday evenings—is something we should all celebrate, often, so I’m really delighted to have been invited to be the writer in residence for Cheshire Libraries. Sadly, being a writer in residence doesn’t mean you get to live in the library for a year, which would be my idea of heaven, (I’d bed down in the far corner by Historicals, and work my way steadily from there, via Biography, to Romance and General Fiction, with frequent sorties into Cookery to dream over beautifully photographed recipes that—since I was living in the library, I’d be under no pressure at all to attempt) however, it does mean that this Saturday I get to spend a couple of hours talking heroes and happy endings at Macclesfield Library. If you’re going to be anywhere near, we’ll have the kettle on at 10am sharp, so come and join us!

Yesterday, once I’d done my thousand words (1194 actually—how keen am I?) I started work on the Great Website Update, and that’s why this morning I have a sore shoulders, a slight hangover and have had only four hours sleep.

And it’s still nowhere near fully functional.