Friday, 30 September 2011

Craving the Forbidden - the lowdown

My husband is away on a work trip at the moment, so I was up with the lark (or the fat pigeon who lives, noisily,in the apple tree outside my bedroom window) this morning, determined to get on top of the pre-school routine. All went gratifyingly smoothly; scrambled eggs served up to the two daughters who wanted them, #3's packed lunch made (by herself, admittedly) dinner money found for the others, and I was feeling pretty smug as I drove home from the school run. Then I discovered that the guinea pigs were still shut in and sweltering in their eglu and I'd forgotten to brush my teeth. Oh well, almost there.

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!

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Back to Books

Ages ago I mentioned that I'd got a box of author copies of my latest release Craving the Forbidden and promised to blog about it, which - true to form - I've so far failed to do. But as the book is now available on Amazon (and the Mills & Boon website - check out the clever link thing I managed to put over there on the sidebar <-- ) and is about to hit the shelves of bookshops here in the UK it's about time I got my act together, so come back tomorrow for some background information on Kit and Sophie's story, and a chance to win a copy.

In other book news, I also got some copies of an anthology in which I'm honoured to be included, along with fabulous authors Jessica Hart and Amy Andrews. The book that I have in it is Mistress: Hired for the Billionaire's Pleasure (featuring Orlando Winterton, my all-time favourite hero.) It's called Loving our Heroes, is coming out at the end of October and £1 from every sale goes to Help for Heroes. I feel particularly proud to be involved in supporting this charity for reasons I'll explain tomorrow when I talk about Kit and Sophie's story. In the meantime, here's the cover - isn't it fabulous?

Monday, 26 September 2011

Downton Debrief (WARNING: may contain massive spoilers)

My, things are moving fast in downtown Downton aren't they? April 1917 already (the war definitely will be over by Christmas at this rate...) Thomas is back in Yorkshire and back at work, though the wound in his hand still looks alarmingly fresh. Matthew is still in one piece (no surprises there, having seen his battle-dodging last week) and heading back off to the trenches, where the sniping will be far less fierce than in the Dining Room at Downton. Edith finally gets a snogging scene, while Bates is missing in action, Maggie Smith's Jennifer Saunders impression gets better and better and Carson finds it all a bit much.

I really like the way the seemingly irredeemable O'Brien is oh-so-gradually revealing her human side, and I loved the set-up for future heartache in the storyline between Daisy and William. (Relationship Dilemma 1917-style: you don't want to finish with your boyfriend just before he heads off to the trenches incase he dies. But what if he just gets horribly injured...?)

So what did everyone else think of Episode two ?

Thursday, 22 September 2011

It's been a while since I mentioned it...

...but James D'Arcy's looking mighty fine these days isn't he?

*happy sigh* Hero inspiration in every finely-shaped feature. Since the book I'm currently working on is set in a different time-period (and also features a pilot hero) I think it wouldn't be disloyal to Orlando to use him again...

Who are you finding inspiring at the moment? Do share!

Friday, 16 September 2011

This Sunday...

Lay in supplies of red wine, firewood and Kit Kats. Put the kids to bed early and take the phone off the hook. Downton's Back!

I'm desperately excited about the new series, but also a teeny bit apprehensive too. It's set in the same period as the book I'm writing now, and have had in my head for the last 6 years or so - what if it turns out to be freakily similar to the central story in my book? (and annoyingly better?) So much has been written about this time period already and there's no limit to the number of stories still to be told and unique ways to tell them, so I suppose it's unlikely that I'm going to see my particular take on it spookily played out before a TV audience of millions. But let's just say if any of the men have enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps I'll be watching from behind the sofa...

Better stock up on extra wine and Kit Kats, just incase.

Monday, 12 September 2011

A week of contrasts

It was probably a bit daft to squeeze in one last camping trip before school started again: certainly the wise people at the Met Office suggested as much, as did the (very tiny) Voice Of Reason inside my own head, whispering stuff about the need to organise school shoes and PE shorts and track down a whole raft of 6th form text books. But one of my greatest skills is ignoring the voice of reason, so the last Friday of the holidays saw us heading off in the direction of the Peak District, in a car stuffed with waterproofs, hot water bottles, thick socks and wellies - because (*nervous laugh*) we're not completely without sense.

When we got there, the campsite looked like this. At a weekend. In the summer holidays. (*more nervous laughing.*)

Of course, it rained. Quite a lot, as it happened - mostly on the morning we were trying to pack the tent up; a task which took on an interesting 'It's a Knockout' aspect with the addition of gallons of water pouring over the whole proceedings. But in between downpours it was almost freakishly hot and sunny. Well, for Derbyshire anyway, which, happily, is a county generously endowed with pubs in which to dry off. We shopped for new term supplies in beautiful Buxton, and sampled water from the famous spring. It was warm...

Let's just say I was a bit more enthusiastic about the Bakewell puddings in Bakewell. Unsurprisingly, perhaps.

In line with this summer's 'misery tourism' theme we had to make a trip to the Plague Village of Eyam, where we spent an afternoon utterly engrossed in the tragic events of 1665-66 and looking at yet more graves. Honestly, what kind of childhood am I giving my poor daughters?

Before we headed home again on Tuesday, Chatsworth was on the itinerary. Of course, we couldn't have foreseen the torrentialness (if that's not a word, it should be) of the deluge in which we took down the tent, nor the extent of our bedragglement as we trudged - in wellies, gently steaming as we dried out - around the most magnificent house in England. Given time, Daughter #1 might possibly forgive me for making her spend her summer holidays visiting the dead, but showing up at Mr Darcy's house looking like refugees from Glastonbury may take therapy. The house guides were very kind, possibly because we looked like people who weren't really used to being Indoors, and the wallpaper was lovely, but a bottle of water cost £1.50, which made me think rather more kindly about the warm, free water in Buxton. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of a large fortune probably got it by fleecing tourists.

Back at home it was all hands to the laundry pile as the countdown to school ticked into the final hours. (Actually, that's just wishful thinking. I tackled the laundry pile heroically and alone.) Once all three daughters had been pushed out of the door, more or less clean and ironed on Wednesday morning, I had just one day to transform myself from weather-beaten tent-dweller to the kind of person who wouldn't be thrown out of a smart restaurant in Charlotte Street.

With the dirt mostly removed from beneath my fingernails, headed excitedly down to London to meet up with a group of fellow Presents authors. Lunch was in honour of visiting Australian writers Annie West and Trish Morey and was champagne-fuelled, delicious and an absolute riot of non-stop conversation. It was heaven to be in heels rather than wellies, eating perfect food cooked by someone else, in the company of wonderful, inspiring women. More efficient people than I took photos (or charmed passing businessmen into taking them, Presents-heroine style.) As the day gave way to evening and the time of my train home approached, neither the flow of conversation nor champagne showed any sign of abating and I dearly wished I could have stayed. Luckily it's a mere seven weeks to the annual Mills and Boon Author lunch... Better get some writing done before then.

What's everyone else been doing over the summer, and how are we all feeling about the onset of Autumn? And is anyone all fired up to get their entry off to New Voices? Let me know if you are so I can cheer you on!

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Fly-by post

Because I'm crazily trying to catch up on washing from last weekend's camping trip* and simultaneously packing for another one tomorrow, I haven't really got time to muse on the bizarre fact that it's suddenly September. So, here's David Sylvian to ease you gently into autumn. He sounds slightly puzzled about it all too, but I love this song and always dig it out for a nostalgia-wallow at this time of year.

Back next week, when the house is empty, I'm looking for excuses to avoid opening my neglected book file, and can start getting excited about New Voices and my upcoming Modern release Craving the Forbidden. I have books to give away...

* the family reunion one, which also involves the team games, all-day drinking and fancy dress - in my case this year no corset, but a rather dashing highwayman's cloak and hat as Adam Ant. Surprisingly warm and practical. Am thinking of packing them for weekend in Peak District too.