Anyway, moving swiftly on. The first I heard about the project that was to result in Craving the Forbidden and its sequel (In Bed with A Stranger, out in November) was when I went out for tea with my editor back in 2009. Over scones, champagne and a pot of Russian Caravan (we both agree that it's a crime to have to choose between champagne and tea so usually manage to squeeze in both) she asked if I'd be willing to be one of three of authors doing double-length stories. Given my tendency to write double the wordcount on every book, I'd agreed before she'd even finished the sentence - or told me that Lynne Graham and Penny Jordan were the other authors involved.
My excitement was tempered slightly by the fact that I was in the midst of my struggle to write The Book That Would Not Die (published eventually under the alternative title Her Last Night Of Innocence) but my subconscious decided to take matters into its own hands, and the morning after I got back from London I woke up with an extremely vivid scene in my head. It was set on a train leaving London and heading North (no prizes for guessing where you got that from, Subconscious) and was compelling enough to make me get out of bed and head straight for my computer to write it down. That was the starting point for the book, and over the following months as I wrestled with Cristiano and Kate, Kit and Sophie's story pieced itself together, bit by bit, in my mind. By the time I actually came to write it I had a notebook full of bits of dialogue and notes on scene ideas. Some of them never made it into the finished book, largely because I couldn't remember what they meant. What kind of scenes did I have in mind when I wrote 'beetroot' and 'doormat'??
The one thing that I hadn't quite got to grips with in my head when I started writing the book was the hero's character. I knew what he looked like...
...and I knew what kind of person he was ('distant' and 'disapproving' were the words written on the post-it notes on my computer screen) but I didn't really know why. At first I had him down as being an architect; precise and controlled, governed by rules and order. That was fine as far as it went, but there were still things that didn't fit and loose ends that wouldn't tie up, no matter how hard I yanked them. And then I realised that he wasn't an architect at all but a soldier and everything fell into place. Well, once I'd completely rewritten the first four chapters, anyway.
The course of the story changed dramatically after that, and took me down research routes that were fascinating, eye-opening and humbling, which is why I'm so thrilled to be involved in the Help for Heroes fundraising anthology. Kit Fitzroy is an EOD operative (that's Explosive Ordnance Disposal to the previously uninitiated, like myself) It's an extraordinary job, done by utterly extraordinary people - but there's more of that in the second book, so I'll talk about that next month.
Craving The Forbidden is almost entirely set in a hulking great castle on the Northumberland coast, based on an amalgam of Bamburgh and Alnwick and consequently imaginatively named Alnburgh. Usually I seem to set books in locations I can only dream of visiting but we'd had a great holiday in Northumberland the year before so this time all the research was conveniently done well in advance. Most uncharacteristically organised of me.
On the surface I suppose the conflict is staggeringly simple - always the best kind to work with, I find - and as old as the hills. The story is about the attraction of opposites - the spark between two people who come from different worlds and embody different values. Kit Fitzroy comes from a family whose name goes back to the Norman conquest and whose home has stood strong for four hundred years. Sophie Greenham has grown up on a painted London bus and has never stayed anywhere for more than a few months at a time. She's a bit-part actress and reinvents herself with every job that comes along, whereas Kit's identity seems set in the stone that forms Alnburgh's foundations. The idea of permanence makes Sophie shudder, but it's what keeps Kit going. All of that formed the background to the interaction between their characters and made it easy to write.
What was more difficult was managing the pace and splitting the story into two parts with a genuine, convincing absolute Happy Ever After promise at the end of the first one, and there were times at the beginning when I really did think I might have been far too hasty in saying yes to the project before thinking it through! But as I got further into the story, and into Kit and Sophie's heads, I forgot all about that and just let the story unfold until it reached its natural conclusion. Like Kit and Sophie, all I cared about was that moment and the future (ie book 2!) was a long way from my mind.
So, after that quick introduction to the book and its characters, I have some copies to give away. If you'd like to be in with a chance of getting one, email me via the website and tell me the name of your favourite holiday place. I'll pick five favourite holiday places out next week (and probably end up with a few more places on my Must Visit list...)
Now, I'd better go and clear up the mess from breakfast and apologise properly to the guinea pigs. Have a nice weekend everyone!