Sunday, 29 August 2010


Nipping off to squeeze the last bit of fun out of the summer holidays at an indecent hour tomorrow morning - did intend to pick out names and get books sent off before we went, but got a bit sidetracked by the Great Washing and Packing Challenge. Which means there's still a couple more days to drop me an email with the number of Balfour girls and your address. I'll choose ten winners when I get back!

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Balfour Legacy, part 2.

It’s only August and there’s still a week left of the summer holidays, but today is one of those crisp, blue-sky apple scented mornings that leaves you in no doubt that autumn is sneaking up on you. Going outside before the daughters emerge from their beds I was so captivated by the dewy lushness of the garden that I felt sorry for Muffin, banged up in his hutch, and opened the door so he could lollop around. An hour later, realizing that he’s breakfasted extravagantly on the lettuces my husband planted out at the weekend I’m not sure that this was such a good idea. Muffin however, has tasted freedom as well as twenty one romaine lettuces and has no intention of giving himself up. Oh dear. Garden will look a good deal less lush tomorrow morning.

Anyway, moving away from Muffin’s Guilt and back to Emily’s Innocence - a big thank you to everyone who’s mailed so far with the answer to the question. It took a while to get my author copies, but when I did I got quite a few so I’m going to pick out ten names to send books to. If you are leaving an answer on the website, perhaps you could also leave your postal address too, to save time if yours is one of the names picked out (If you’ve already left your answer without an address don’t worry!)

It might seem a bit odd that I’m blogging about the background to this book when the plot and the characters came from an outline rather than from my own head. However, although the process of writing a book for a continuity series is very different from writing one in the ordinary run of things, it requires a HUGE amount of creative thinking to bring the characters to life and make them move naturally along the path carved out for them. I’ve said elsewhere that it feels like writing backwards. Usually I start with characters and flesh them out enough so that they themselves dictate the course of the action through their responses and choices, however, in a continuity you already know (broadly) what’s going to happen. You just have to make it work, and this means doing an awful lot of reading between the lines and thinking in the bath.

This was the first time I’ve ever created a fictional kingdom in one of my books, and it was huge fun. The only information I was given about Santosa was that it was ‘a small island principality off the coast of Brazil’, so the rest was up to me. A lovely couple of hours of cyber-tourism led me to the island of Fernando de Noronha and this became the inspiration for Santosa.

The view from exclusive Santosan restaurant,
The Purple Parrot...

...And the scene upon which Luis looks down
as he flies Emily home from the ballet on the mainland

And the beach where Luciana's birthday party was held, with 'Rico's monument'...

I’ve blogged before (over at Nalini Singh’s blog *shameless namedrop*) about the way fairy tales have a habit of working their way into my books, and the story that echoed through this one was Red Riding Hood. It appeared from nowhere on the first page of the prologue, then dissolved into thin air again, only to resurface as the sexual tension mounted. I was a bit surprised by this, as it’s not a story in which I’d ever identified any strong romantic elements (unlike Beauty and the Beast, or Cinderella – both of which have influenced previous books) but I when I came to think about it, it was the darker aspects – fears of being powerless, preyed upon, devoured – which were relevant here. I had an image in my head while I was writing – a very precisely remembered illustration from a fairy tale book I had as a child, of endless tall black trees and a slender figure in a billowing scarlet cloak running through them (I wish I could find it now), and this totally informed the build up to the love scene between Luis and Emily. I love it when that kind of random-thought thing happens and guides the writing.

The other thing that forms the backdrop of a book is the music I listen to while I'm writing. Breakaway by Kelly Clarkson (pinched from daughter #2's itunes account) was Emily's theme song, while the mighty King's of Leon's Use Somebody was Luis's. Other songs on the playlist included All Saints Pure Shores (for its beachy Santosan vibe) Tiny Dancer (for obvious reasons) and a couple of songs by a band called Dexter Freebish Kate Hardy drew my attention to a couple of years ago now. And assorted other odd things that must have made sense at the time, at a particular stage of the book but haven't been given much of an ipod airing since (Stronger anyone? Didn't think so... It's a strange business, writing.)

I think the only other thing to say about writing this book was how fab it was to be working alongside other authors - both from a fangirl point of view, but also because of the support we gave each other. I was in regular, hand-holding contact with Kate Hewitt and Carole Mortimer and Sharon Kendrick and it really did make the whole thing seem like quite an adventure. The best bit of which is now, when I get to actually read the books I got such tantalising glimpses into back then! (Am currently LOVING Sharon's book, Kat's Pride. Kat is a fantastic heroine. And as for Carlos... *fans self* Off to read more...)

Keep those competition answers coming and I'll pick out names at the weekend!

Monday, 23 August 2010

The Balfour Legacy: Emily's Innocence

Okaaaay... Have done the arduous ‘back to school’ shopping trip for uniform and shoes and am beginning to make headway with the washing landslide, which means that there’s nothing to stop me finally getting around to doing the long-postponed post about my contribution to the Balfour series. Well, nothing apart from three daughters lounging untidily and noisily around the house and a book that’s demanding to be written, but the pile of author copies currently cluttering up my desk is ruining the otherwise zen-like minimalism of my workspace (ha!) and I really need to re-home them before I can apply myself properly to Kit and Sophie. So, I'm hiding out in my bedroom with tea, toast and my laptop to bring you the lowdown on writing Emily's Innocence. Listen carefully, there'll be questions at the end!

When my editor first mentioned the idea of the Balfour series to me I was a pathetically easy-sell. ‘Big English country house… wealthy patriarch… wives, mistresses… eight daughters…’ ‘I’ll do it.’

I knew straight away that this was going to be exactly my kind of book, and I was even more excited when I got ‘the bible’ – a booklet detailing all the background, characters and story outlines for each of the sisters – through the post. Flicking through, finding the story that had my name on it and starting to read about Emily and Luis was a real heart-racing, hand-trembling moment because, in spite of my eagerness to be involved in the series there was a worry lurking in the dark recesses of my mind that I just wouldn’t connect with the story or characters I’d been given.

But the moment I read the phrase ‘incorrigible playboy bachelor’ I knew everything was going to be alright. As someone who has veered helplessly towards serious, tormented heroes in the past it felt like an absolute gift to be presented with the task of creating a shameless playboy and I started writing with great enthusiasm. Luis quickly sprang to life on the page with his sarcastic asides and wisecracking one-liners and I adored writing the bits with him in it. OK, let’s be honest – I just adored him. Here’s the face I based him on…

However, it was when I got to about the halfway mark in the book that I suddenly hit a wall and realized that, much as I was having a ball creating a wicked, unapologetically shallow hero with his mind permanently below his waist (or that of any passing beauty) I’d actually pretty much neglected to the ‘hero’ part of his job description. I’d always aimed to develop depth to him through the action of the book, but the way I’d written him that journey was simply going to be too long to accomplish in 250 pages! So, after a long and increasingly excited conversation with my editor one day I put down the phone and went back to the start, introducing a darker edge to Luis’s character and a more powerful motivating force behind his behaviour. The original story outline in 'the bible' specified that his older brother had died, leaving Luis as the reluctant heir to the Santosan throne. By taking that a step further and making Luis indirectly responsible (or so he sees it) for Rico’s death it opened up a whole goldmine of emotion for me to romp about in. (India Grey's Obvious Tip for Aspiring Writers – give yourself enough material to work with and it makes the whole business of getting words on the page a great deal easier!)

As for Emily, the outline specified that she was the adored baby of the family, ‘however, the indulgence of her father and her sisters has not ruined her character – she remains down-to-earth, beautiful and good, a stronger version of her graceful, kind-hearted mother.’ I have to admit when I read that my heart sank a little as it can be a challenge to create a heroine who is virtuous and sweet without making her come across like the annoying class swot. However, I decided Luis was my secret weapon here. He's exactly the kind of person who would address this head-on and voice all those issues directly, forcing Emily to confront the possiblity that her irreproachable values and high moral standards are just hypocrisy and naivite in disguise. Introducing this alternative perspective on Emily’s character early on made her feel more human to me, and from that point on I really bonded with her. Here’s how I pictured her…

It was in email conversations with Natalie Rivers and Michelle Styles that I explored the importance of ballet in relation to Emily's character, and it threw up some interesting points. Emily is regarded as a brilliant dancer, which implies a certain ease with her own body and openness to physical expression, yet these were the very things that her uptight character struggled with most. Call me sadistic, but I like to see a character struggle, and so it was this discrepancy which formed the core of Emily's conflict and the basis for her journey. Who better than louche, sexy Luis to help her overcome her inhibition?

So, that's a little introduction to the characters... come back on Thursday when I'll be talking about the background, setting and inspiration behind the story. In the meantime I'd like to make some inroads into this pile of author copies and send out the neat postcards I've had made. For a chance to get one email me via the website (there's a link somewhere over there <--- but it's got a bit lost amongst all the other stuff) and answer this simple question: How many Balfour sisters are there? (You can find the answer in the above ramble if you look closely enough!)

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

All Camped Out

Back home for good now after nomadic couple of weeks camping in France, and then in my stepmother’s field for our annual family get-together (aka the Olympics). However, joy of waking up this morning between clean sheets in a proper bed is somewhat mitigated by feelings of utter despair at the overwhelming amount of washing, sorting out and putting away of kit required, so have retreated up to my office to comfort-eat pistachio nuts and catch up on emails and computer stuff. Alas, now feel completely overwhelmed by that too.

France was lovely. We went with friends and, unwilling to squander precious holiday driving long distances, decided to go no further than Normandy where we set up camp on a site in the grounds of a fabulous, crumbling chateau. We were right on the shore of a huge lake, where the children could canoe and fish for the giant carp we glimpsed in its olive green depths (and which would occasionally leap up, as if laughing at their efforts.)

We were in the lush heart of Calvados country, and it was absolutely beautiful…

This was the setting I chose for Taken For Revenge, Bedded for Pleasure and it was every bit as luscious as I'd pictured it. In many ways, with its fields of cows and orchards and timbered buildings it was a lot like Cheshire, but distinctively French and ergo more stylish. I repeatedly got us lost by failing to read the map because I was so busy gazing out at the glorious countryside and shrieking with excitement as I caught glimpses of fairy-tale castles behind ornate wrought iron gates, and farmhouses, looking like film-sets and displaying the kind of effortless distressed elegance that I constantly fail to achieve at home, which appeared through boughs of ripening apples.

In the evenings in our lakeside camp the seven children turned our tent into a gambling den, obsessively playing Black Jack for mini Mars Bars while we sat outside conducting comprehensive taste-tests on the local cider and wine and spotting shooting stars. One day we went to Honfleur and took refuge from a torrential downpour in a pavement restaurant for a long, boozy and memorable lunch (which sparked off lots of inspiration) and another we drove up and along the coast to Arromanches, soaking up the D-Day history with avid fascination. Faded, fabulous Deauville was another place where inspiration was everywhere (although sadly tall, dark, handsome James Bond actors were nowhere to be found...)

I don't think we would have managed to drag ourselves home at all if it hadn't been for the lure of the Family Olympics a few days later, and the necessity of putting together fancy dress costumes. This year each team was given a letter of the alphabet to base their theme around: as Team G, my nephew (pictured below - how cool?) came up with the idea of Goths, which gave me the perfect excuse to give my corset another outing. (Had to let the laces out at least an inch from last year though. Oops. I blame Cristiano.)

The weekend flew by in a warm blur of wine, nostalgia and laughs interspersed with the odd game of Swimming pool Egg and Spoon and Lawn Darts. I enjoyed an unprecedented level of success in the games this year (demonstrating particular finesse in the Spud Tossing event, though I say so myself) however, I have to admit that the fact that the Goths brought home bronze medals was largely down to my competitive, competent alpha-male team-mates (Thanks boys!) No room to bask in glory though as Gold went to Daughter #3 in Team C (Circus) and Silver went to Daughter #1 and my sister-in-law in Team M (Military - showing that you can be killer competitors while also looking like Cheryl Cole in the Fight for this Love video. How is that fair?)

Anyway, now we're home and they've returned to languishing in their bedrooms like consumptive Victorians while I trail around sorting out the aftermath of two camping trips like a below-stairs skivvy, I'm wondering if introducing some kind of competitive element into household chores will induce them to help? Speed Ironing, perhaps. Or Hoover Relay. Or how about The 'Pick up all your Stuff from the Floor before I take it to the Charity Shop' Challenge? Think this might be my only chance of getting back to my poor neglected book...

So, what's been happening while I've been away? Fill me in on all the news!