Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Costume Drama and On Location

Since His shock revelation at the weekend that the girls go back to school NEXT WEEK instead of the following one, under which happy illusion I had been joyfully labouring, the week has taken on something of a comical aspect. Like someone in a speeded-up film I am rushing around trying to assemble all the necessary bits of uniform and kit for daughter #2 as well as camping equipment, food contributions and 5 fancy dress costumes for our annual family get-together this weekend.

That's right-- this year the traditional Olympic games have been given an extra twist by brother #2, who (obviously bored in the office one day) has decreed that instead of being allocated countries, the teams will each be given a fancy dress theme. Daughter #1 is clad head to toe in lycra in the Superheroes (rather her than me), #2 has raided the dressing-up box and come up with a glamorous, swashbuckling ensemble for her place in the Pirate team, and #3 is cute as a button in denim and gingham for the Cowboys and Indians. Him Indoors had an alarmingly laid-back approach to putting together his look for the 70s Disco team, but very annoyingly managed to get everything in one quick swoop on the charity shops on Saturday afternoon. (Everything being hip-hugging ladies white flared trousers, black polyester shirt, cuban heeled boots, aviator shades and a loathsome gold medallion. The overall effect is John Travolta meets the Village People and is as camp as Christmas.) I am in The Victorians, so couldn't pass up such a golden opportunity to buy a corset. It's black, with fierce steel stud fastenings up the front and I'm utterly thrilled with it and its instant half-stone weight-loss effect. (Am currently wondering how I can incorporate it into my outfit for next month's glamorous Mills & Boon get together in London...) Quite how I shall manage to compete at table tennis and hula hooping in it remains a mystery. I predict another wooden spoon to add to my collection.

Anyway, in the midst of all this I'm also guiltily aware that I failed to deliver yesterday's promised look behind the scenes on location of Spanish Aristocrat Forced Bride, so here it is!(better late than never etc...)

The book opens at a glittering Costume Ball in the grounds of Stowell Castle (no women's polyester flares for Tristan though) and as I wrote this bit when school was out last summer, one of our favourite haunts brought the setting very vividly to life in my head. Cholmondeley Castle in Cheshire is the home of the Marchioness of Cholmondelely (famously and incomprehensibly pronounced Chumley) and the daughters and I spent a lot of time hanging around in the gardens, working out where you could land a helicopter and which would be the best place to put up marquees if you were having a party. This is my favourite view of the castle, from the lake where I built an imaginary folly on an island—Tristan’s secret retreat from the world.

By the time school went back and I tripped off down to London for the annual Mills & Boon Authors' Lunch I’d progressed to the part of the story which takes place at Lily’s home in London. As she’s a successful model I decided that she should definitely live in uber-chic, celebritytastic Primrose Hill, so Abby Green and I walked there from Euston (having stopped to pick up fortifying Krispy Kreme doughnuts on the way—it’s quite a distance, you know) to check it out. We bought a picnic lunch from a deli on Regents Park Road and ate it on the hill in the September sunshine, then wandered round looking for the kind of house that Lily might live in. We were really excited to come across the pretty little lilac-painted house in Chalcot Square which for a brief period had been the home of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. I did my university dissertation on Sylvia Plath so had to resist the urge to throw myself down on the pavement outside and lick the paving stones where she once walked, and instead decided that in tribute this would be Lily’s house in the book. (I’m sure Sylvia would be beyond thrilled to know this.)

The other important location in the book is Tristan’s home ground—Barcelona. Now, I love the internet, and its value as a research tool can’t be overstated, but there are some instances where it just seems ever so slightly inadequate— namely when I discovered this hotel tucked away in a tiny corner of the exquisitely pretty Placa de Sant Felipe (with its desperately sad history) and had a sudden and alarming urge to leave the kids with my mother and drag Him off that very weekend for some on-the-spot research. Perhaps fortunately the Hotel Neri was all booked up (no chance of them making space for me—unlike Tristan) so in the end I did have to fall back on the internet. This is the archway into the square...

Spookily this song was already on my playlist for the book when I discovered that the video was actually filmed in the square outside the church where Tristan and Lily get married. The children from the school, who get a mention in the book also make an appearance!

(And in spite of the woman dangerously writhing around on the scaffolding, I’d still love to go there… )
That seems a suitable note to leave on since next time I'm going to talk more about the music I was listening to when I wrote the book. I'll also get round to posting the question for the competition! (Shall try to think of something other than 'Where in the name of Cadbury are my $%*#! author copies'...)

Monday, 24 August 2009

Enid Blyton meets the Spanish Aristocrat

The Mystery of the Disappearing Author Copies has finally been solved, thanks to lovely medical romance writer Lynne Marshall, the wonders of email (and lashings of ginger beer.) Lynne got in touch at the weekend to say that a slightly bashed up boxful of copies of Spanish Aristocrat Forced Bride had been delivered to her house in California. (California, USA…Cheshire, UK…. I suppose I can just about see a certain semantic similarity, though looking out of my window into the dripping green English excuse for a summer it’s obvious that’s as far as it goes.)

Anyway, I'm hugely grateful to Lynne for solving the mystery. Now we just have to work out how to get them from there to here, but while we wrestle with that issue I’m going to get on with saying a little bit about the book and come up with a question or two so I can give away some copies when I finally get my hands on them. Here in the UK the new series of The Tudors began on Friday and so lovely Henry Cavill (face of Tristan) has been on my TV screen and my mind a lot of late. Let’s remind ourselves what he looks like, shall we?

Oh yummy. (Did I mention that I actually came face to face with him last summer when I went to visit Abby Green in Dublin? Oh I did?? Only 252 times???) In writing and in childbirth, the distance of time has a funny way of erasing the pain so that when you look back you only remember the excitement. However a quick glance back into the archive here (and here) shows that in this case my mind isn’t deceiving me. I loved Tristan and I actually, honestly, genuinely loved writing this book.

I think I’ve already mentioned somewhere that the idea for Tristan and Lily's story came to me while I was putting on mascara. It was during the period of stress-related insanity we now fondly call the writing of Taken for Revenge, Bedded for Pleasure, and I could see instantly that the conflict in this new story would be so simple and straightforward that I almost wept with relief. Given the mascara situation would have been very foolish indeed, so I reached for a pen and wrote the synopsis on the back of an envelope, wondering as I did so whether it might just be a teeny weeny bit depressing, even by my standards.

However, I’m nothing if not shallow and the lure of a handsome playboy tortured by a difficult past was too strong to resist. Tristan Losada Montalvo de Romero is staggeringly wealthy, fearsomely intelligent and breath-catchingly gorgeous, but happy he certainly isn’t—a fact which he attempts to blot out in the classic, time-honoured alpha-male way—ie by sleeping with as many beautiful women as humanly possible. When he meets Lily Alexander at a party at his best friend Tom Montague’s ancestral home he is interested only in temporarily blotting out the nightmarish reality of his complicated life and adding her to his list of one-night conquests.

Lily has reached a crossroads in a life that feels empty and purposeless. Along with her best friend Scarlet she was spotted by a modeling scout in her home town of Brighton at the age of 17 and from there drifted into a career she never actively sought, in which she has always felt ill at ease. Secretly she longs for a life that is far removed from the sterile, shallow world she finds herself in. She wants the warmth and security she lacked as a child... she wants marriage and motherhood; feelings which are intensified by Scarlet's blossoming relationship with Tom Montague.

And so it is that, a few weeks after her magical night with Tristan, the news that she's pregnant doesn't feel like a disaster. A shock, definitely, but also a source of secret, surprising joy. It's what she's always wanted, so she can’t think of it as being a mistake. However, telling Tristan about it is a whole different matter. That's the bit where it all starts to go a bit off road.

I incorporated into Lily all my own youthful and very politically incorrect yearnings to get married and have babies. When I was a teenager the phrase ‘what do you want to do when you grow up’ failed to stir ambitions of global travel and corporate success in my chest, but conjured images of a house with a fireplace and a big old brass bed, shelves full of books and a pram beneath the apple tree. (Oddly enough, a towering pile of ironing and liberal quantities of Rice Krispies scattered across the floor were absent from this vision.) I suppose Lily’s story is a slightly cautionary tale about being careful what you wish for, but I like to think that it also proves that if you love wholly and selflessly; if you have faith and keep on believing, you can find happiness in one form or another. Lily almost loses everything, but she hangs on to her dream… and in doing so discovers that it wasn’t quite what she thought it was.
Anyway, back in reality we're now in the final week of the summer holidays (news which came as a shock to me when He broke it to me at the weekend. I was firmly of the impression that we had another week...) so chaos reigns around here and I must go and sort it out before it becomes a job for the professionals. Back soon with more background info on the book. Tomorrow-- the setting and locations.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Taking laziness to a new level

We’re at the stage of the summer holidays now where getting dressed before 11am or achieving any sort of efficiency is just a dim and distant memory. Every day new items are added to my list of things to do, but somehow the prospect of naming all daughter #2’s new school uniform, sorting out my office and updating my website is just too overwhelming—I am adrift on a soothing sea of summer apathy and am in no hurry to pick up the oars and row back to shore with its daunting and wearisome array of imperatives. Thoughts and ideas for future books are positively burgeoning in my head like the fat harvest of apples on the tree in the garden (very early this year) No doubt most of these will languish indefinitely in the mental equivalent of our iced-up freezer, however the feeling of storing them up is most satisfying.

A small voice in the back of my head is telling me that I'll pay for all this glorious laziness later. Shall go and feed it chocolate cake and shut it up.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Hello! Remember me?

My how you’ve all grown. Last time I saw you you were only so big… etc. Sorry for the unexplained leave of absence—I did fully intend to drop by and do a quick post before we went away, but somehow in the stampede of packing and washing and shopping (for hot water bottles— hard to obtain in July—thermal socks, wine boxes, chocolate rations, torch batteries, more chocolate rations and camping gas) I didn’t have time. And I suppose, more importantly, with the rain lashing down against the window and the wind stripping the baby apples off the trees, neither did I have anything to say beyond ‘why didn’t we book a villa in France like sensible people’?

Anyway, here I am after not one summer excursion but two. Holiday (if you can call it that) number one was spent in Northumberland, where the skies and the beaches are huge and dramatic, story-book castles loom large around every corner. (As a longstanding, diehard fan of Michelle Styles’s books I was deeply excited to be visiting the bleak, grandiose setting of such favourites as An Impulsive Debutante, A Question of Impropriety and Impoverished Miss, Convenient Wife.) The ancient Teletubby dome tent withstood bracing winds and one short, intense thunderstorm but otherwise the sun shone and the children were in their element, reverting to savages alongside their cousins, not bothering to change their clothes and subsisting on a diet of bacon rolls, crab sandwiches and mini-bounty bars.

One day we brushed the sand out of our hair and ventured into Alnwick where the castle, with its outrageously over-ornamented interiors, brilliant waterpark gardens and mad treehouse kept us all enthralled for hours, and Barter Books which was my idea of earthly paradise and made me seriously consider the possibility of hiding somewhere in the depths of the old waiting room in the hope of getting locked in overnight. (Probably slightly more comfortable than the Teletubby hill tent…) Other highlights of the week included lots of windswept beach games, taking refuge in the Grace Darling museum during a particularly heavy downpour and trekking along the coast to Dunstanburgh Castle, from where the view was glorious.

(Also getting up early enough one morning to catch a beautiful sunrise...

...And sitting out every evening and watching it set again...)

By the end of the week the weather was turning chillier and wetter, which at least made it slightly easier to tear ourselves away and return to real life (and the end of holiday compensations of a hot bath and a blissful bed.) However, there was barely time to dry out the tent and sort through the washing before we packed up again and headed off to Wales to join some friends who had set up camp on the shores of Lake Bala with their extensive collection of watersports kit. These are the same friends as mentioned here—they of the gorgeous boys with the cool accessories, and it was v exciting for the daughters to be generously given free rein with their canoes, boats, windsurfs and wetsuits (Daughter #3 looked adorable in hers—like a mini cat woman. I, of course, stayed firmly on dry land in the role of coast guard and towel monitor, in the certain knowledge that I would look like a giant walrus.) Returned home with a carful of exhausted, elated children (I include the lovely husband in this, as at some point shortly after entering the Paddleworks shop he regressed to the age of about 17 and is now obsessing about what kayak he’s going to buy) all comparing capsize catastrophes, blisters and wetsuit chafe marks like badges of seafaring honour.

So, now we're home again, and with no further exciting excursions planned for the next couple of weeks the children have quickly reverted to lounging in front of the television in their pyjamas and squabbling over the computer, which is why I have chosen to retreat to the sanctuary of my bedroom with my laptop and a pot of tea. A quick glance at the internet (the only kind of surfing I’m interested in) reveals that my September release—Spanish Aristocrat, Forced Bride is already available on Amazon. How can this be when I haven’t even received my author copies yet? (Sorry to anyone who's waiting for one) Anyway, it reminds me that I fully intend to get my lazy ass into gear and organize some kind of contest over the next week or so, and also blog a bit more about the book itself and the characters...

Just as soon as I've made inroads into my washing pile, and hopefully excavated my brain from beneath a heap of sandy, mouldering towels in the bottom of a rucksack somewhere. In the meantime, hope everyone else is having a nice summer holiday-- what's everyone been up to?