There are four thousand love stories in Central Park

Central Park has over nine thousand benches. You might wonder why I’m telling you this, but I promise it will all become clear. Most people who head to New York, can’t wait to hit the shops, take in a Broadway show, visit the Statue of Liberty, and look out from the observation deck of the Empire State Building. I was no different, but what I didn’t expect, is that all of those things would pale into insignificance for me, when I fell in love. With Central Park.

At heart, I’m a country girl, so maybe it’s no surprise that I loved the oasis of tranquillity that Central Park provides in such a vibrant city. But it fired my imagination in a way that I’d never thought possible. And it was all down to those benches.

Over four thousand of them have been ‘adopted’, which means they’ve had plaques assigned – each one a mini love story in its own right. There were hundreds of them that touched my heart, and, if I’d had the time, I could have spent the entire ten days I was in New York, just wandering around Central Park, reading those plaques. There were proposals, dedications of love, and the marking of every momentous occasion you can imagine. But this was my favourite:

Isn’t that the most beautiful love story you’ve ever read, in so few words? I’d really like to know more about Meg and Wes, but what I do know is that they inspired the idea behind my latest novel The Christmas Shop at Central Park’. When Libby moves to New York to recover from the death of her parents, and takes a job working in a Christmas shop on Seventh Avenue, she reads a message on a bench – from Charlie to Grace – that changes her life.

The benches in Central Park weren’t the only things to influence the story, though. There’s a scene in the novel where the heroine can’t find the Empire State Building, even though she’s standing right in front of it. It happened to me, and I’ve never seen a police officer laugh so hard! But shrouded in mist, it didn’t look anything like I’d expected. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it… Just look how different it looked in these two pictures, taken on the same trip, I think it was a case of being too close to see what was right in front of me, first time around!

Leeds trip – Paula’s in the centre and I’m back left.


Four of the characters in the book are named after some friends I met up with on a trip to Leeds, and a throw away comment from someone when we were at that stage of the evening where rash promises are made! I’d gone on the trip with one of my best friends, Paula, and she was probably an even bigger influence on the story than those beautiful benches in Central Park. She’s an absolute inspiration, dealing with health issues which would stop most people, but somehow she keeps grabbing life by the scruff of the neck. One of the main characters in the story represents everything I love about her – intelligence, wit and the absolute refusal to do anything but live life to the full. I’d give Paula her own plaque in Central Park if I could, but for now she’ll just have to settle for having the novel dedicated to her instead.

If you get the chance to spend an hour or ten wandering around Central Park, reading those plaques, you won’t regret it. After all, you can go shopping in any city, but where else will you get the chance to read thousands of mini love stories, all in one place?


All About America – Wednesday Wondering

The Wednesday Wondering baton has passed back to me and I have to say I’m very excited to be the Question Master again! It’s been really lovely taking a step back and seeing what my fellow-Write Romantics have come up with but it’s also lovely to be coming up with a new set of questions myself, especially after a break of several months.

statue of liberty3On Saturday, Rhoda Baxter joined us and launched a week of US-themed posts. Lynne Connolly also shared her knowledge and experience about the US market on Monday and we’ll be hearing more from Lynne tomorrow. As you’d expect, the Wednesday Wondering also has an American-theme.

I thought I’d start this post with a little bit of trivia and the first thing that popped into my head was, “I wonder how many towns or cities in America are named after towns in the UK?” This seemed a very apt pondering because USA week is timed in celebration of 4th of July and 4th of July is the celebration of independence from the UK. Which means that there are a lot of English settlers in America who will have taken English town names with them. I Googled it (of course) and the best source seemed to be Wiki. I know Wiki isn’t always 100% accurate and the site itself claims to be incomplete but it was certainly a good starting point. The site listed each state then the number of UK-town-namesakes in that State. Hmm. Count entries against all 52 states? Maybe. After all, Alabama only has 4 and California has 7 listed. Then I scrolled down a bit further and found Massachusetts with approx. 110. I couldn’t bring myself to undertake that count. If anyone is really desperate to know, here’s the link and good luck to you! Please let us know how you get on 🙂

Back to the Wondering. I asked a very simple question this week:

What do you love about the USA?


Jaxx says …

I guess us Brits are ruled by the weather and it makes us inclined to be gloomy and pessimistic and I love the way the Americans will put a positive spin on anything, even against the glaring evidence suggesting the opposite:

“The world’s gonna end in five!”

“Yay, that means I won’t have to spend the last of my wages on filling the Chevvy with gas.”

I suppose if we lived in wall-to-wall sunshine we might all be the same.


Helen R says …

I must admit that I haven’t been to many places in the USA. I’ve been to Florida – which was wonderful – in my early twenties, not a care in the world, and to top it off we got to see the Space Shuttle Atlantis take off in May of 1997. We visited the Kennedy Space Centre the week before so we saw the shuttle on its launch pad, and we had VIP passes to watch the launch at 4am one morning in May. It was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen. So I guess what I love about America is how big, how vast, how amazing so many things are over there. They certainly don’t do things by halves!


Picture 201Jay says …

What do I love about the USA – everything! I have been six times and I could happily go a hundred more and never get bored of the place.  In fact, when I am a best-selling millionaire (probably in Vietnamese Dong, which are approximately 33,000 to the £pound), I will go every year.  I love the fact that they have everything from the super tacky adult’s playground that is Vegas, where you can travel the world in themed hotels on the strip, to the most fantastic national parks and natural wonders, like the Grand Canyon. Being greedy, I think the food is fab too and my current favourite book/film is ‘The Fault in Our Stars’.  I dream of writing something that fabulous.  What I most admire though is American comedy.  Right now, there are probably less decent British comedy shows than you can count on one hand.  America is busting with them, though, and my favourite at the moment is Modern Family. I want my family to grow up like that and, of course, I want to look like Sofia Vergara. Sadly, I have about as much chance of that as writing like John Green, but a girl can dream!


Rachael says …

I love how the Americans celebrate. Be it Independence Day or Thanksgiving, they really know how to do it. Family are the focal point of such celebrations. Of course this is what the films make me think and I especially like the Christmas ones. Maybe one day I’ll experience first-hand, one of America’s celebration days.


Grand canyonDeirdre says …

There are so many possibilities here, I shall keep this short and sweet and mention just three things I love that have come our way from the US. Firstly, Amazon. Where else can you buy books in seconds, manage your Kindle library, publish your own books, build a career as writer, set up a wish list and buy all kinds of useful things into the bargain? Amazon doesn’t always get a good press, I know, but I can’t imagine being without it. Secondly, Yankee candles, for the beautiful scents and lovely colours. Thirdly, Krispy Kreme donuts!


Alys says …

My favourite US author is Jennifer Crusie who writes the funniest romantic comedies with a dash of suspense.  The first book of hers I read was ‘Welcome to Temptation’ which kept me entertained during a ten hour flight to Vancouver. Even when there was terrible turbulence when the plane stopped in Calgary, I had my eyes fixed on this book and I was (by my standards) not all that fazed.  When I got home I read her other books. ‘Fast Women’ and ‘Crazy for You’ are my other two favourites.  So what makes them so good?  Well, the plots are a fabulous mix of romance and suspense. There’s enough edge to the suspense to make you believe there’s some real danger. The heroines are feisty and smart. And Jennifer’s writing is downright funny. I love her books so much that I won’t lend them to people in case they don’t give them back.  That’s probably the highest praise I can give an author!

As to other things that I love from the US at the moment that list includes ‘The Good Wife’ and ‘Castle’ on TV, the folk singer Aoife O’Donovan and my Timberland sandals.


Chinese theatreHelen P says …

What I love about the USA, wow there’s too much to write about but I’ll give it a go. I love New York and one day I will go there, I just have no idea when but it’s on my bucket list. I’ve only ever been to Hawaii, years ago but it was beautiful. I love the crime novels set in America there is something so glamorous about being an FBI agent. Stephen King’s stories, Lucky Charms, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Hollywood, Bare Foot White Zinfandel, I love that there are such great opportunities over there for everyone, Oprah Winfrey – I would really like to meet Oprah one day. Did I mention Kevin Bacon? Love that man at the moment, he can do no wrong. I want to go to the Statue of Liberty, The Empire State Building, I want to see Central Park and Macy’s. I want to live the American Dream if only for a week.


Lynne says …

I love maple syrup!!! I love it in cakes made with spelt flour, on pancakes, ice-cream, anything really. It tastes great and reminds me of romantic pictures of New England with log cabins, patchwork and cosy open fires. One day I’d love to go there and see if it’s really as I imagine or have I got it wrong completely.


Island of AdventureAnd, finally, my response …

I can do this in one word. Disney. But of course, I’m far too much of a jabber-pot to leave it just at that! I love Disney films, Disney princesses and Disneyland. For a long time, The Little Mermaid and Beauty & The Beast were my favourites (I was brought up on the classics but I prefer the later ones for the songs!) but then I saw Tangled and was astounded. And then I saw Frozen! Wow! Do I want to be Ariel, Belle, Rapunzel, Anna or Elsa? It’s a tough one! I’d always dreamed of going to Disneyland and, when I was about 28, I took redundancy from work and spent some of my pay-off on a December trip to Florida. Everything about it was amazing except the company but we all learn from our mistakes! I loved the parades and there was something quite magical about wearing shorts and a vest while Mickey and Pooh Bear wore scarves and hats to get into the winter-theme. We visited the Disney-built town of Celebration where it snowed in the high street and everything was just movie-magic-perfect. For a few brief moments, I really felt like I was living the dream … then I looked at my boyfriend and knew I wasn’t, hee hee hee!

We’d love to hear from you. What do you love about America? The movies, books, people, values? What are the places you’ve visited or would love to visit?

Julie xx

The Wednesday Wondering – Our Overseas Dreams

Has a week really passed since the last Wednesday Wondering? Looks like January is going to just whizz by!

It was Twelfth Night on Monday which, if you’re superstitious, signals the final day to take the Christmas decorations down. I suspect a lot of people took theirs down at the weekend. I did. I absolutely adore fairy lights and I love all the ornaments on my tree so it’s usually with great sadness that I take them down and pack them away. There’s another side, though, that really welcomes the de-cluttering and the way the lounge suddenly seems so much bigger again. With Christmas well and truly packed away and resolutions started (and possibly already broken), thoughts often turn to holidays. We like to have something to look forward to. For those making the most common resolutions of losing weight/getting fit, this can help them achieve their goals e.g. “I need to get into my size 8 bikini by the time I go to Corfu in June  and I’m a size 28 now; that’s achievable isn’t it?!!”

With the thought of travel in mind, I set this Wondering:

If money was no object and you could travel anywhere in the world to research then set a book in that place, where would you go and why?

I wish I didn’t have to add in “if money was no object” but, sadly, none of us have won the lottery yet so the travels we’d love to do are probably going to remain in the realms of the imagination and whatever images we can conjure up on Google!

Here’s what some of the group said …


Well, now there’s a good question. If I didn’t have to worry about financing it I would go around the world for research. Why not? There are so many places I’d like to experience and with my chosen genre having settings in glamorous locations across the globe, what better excuse would I need!

I’d love to know what the hot desert sun feels like or the cold wind that blows snow around Swiss mountains. I’d like to stand in a sea that is warm and clear as the waves lap gently onto soft sand. I’d love to hear the sounds of the night in places so hot there is an orchestra of insects – just so long as I didn’t have to sit outside with them.

The list is endless and very expensive, so I guess I’ll just have to use my imagination.



Ooh, this is a tough one… I haven’t ever really thought about setting a book abroad, as I tend to write about locations that I know or fantasy ones of my own invention.  I think it might be because I am too lazy to research these things properly.  However, I really want to go to New York in the next couple of years and would ideally like to go there around Christmas-time and watch the big parades, then ice skate effortlessly, whilst like snowflakes fall all around me, in Central Park!  Okay, so I can’t ice skate to save my life and maybe I’ve been watching too many schmaltzy American movies on Sky over the past month, but I think I could write a romantic story in that setting.  If not there, then in the wilds of Scotland, which I always find inspiring – but, since you did say that money was no object, just book me the Penthouse at the Four Seasons in NY for now!



My initial response to this question was, ‘Ooh get a Winnebego and travel around America,’ but then I realised I was thinking about going on holiday rather than researching for a book.

It would have to be ‘if money was no object’ as, the older I get the less of an intrepid traveller I’ve become. I hate not knowing where i’m going to sleep and when I can next take a shower, so I’think I would rather just mingle for a while with super rich people to set a book somewhere Like Aspen or Venice, which is do-able on a budget, but wouldn’t it be great to be able to go to the sort of places Michael Winner used to review?

I’m sure many books are set in places where the writer has never ventured, but to see it for yourself must add a layer of authenticity. Just as an example, my latest WIP starts off in a bar in the ‘outback’ of Angola where the heroine is sipping a cocktail, enjoying the air conditioning and taking in the view. My friend went out there for her work and took loads of photo’s of the hotels and bars they had to stay in and they were mostly run down shacks which didn’t serve alcohol, let alone cocktails. The roads were dirt tracks apart from in the main cities and the people were mostly poor. Nothing like my first chapter- sigh- I should have known really! Back to the drawing board for me!



I would love to go to Canada for an entire year, to let me experience all the seasons: the myriad of colours that come with Autumn / fall, the snow of winter, the long summer nights and the feeling of spring too. I’ve always wanted to go there and I would love to include a Canadian Mountie as a hero 🙂



This is a tough one, so many places, so little time.  I’m going to go with my top 3.

1. I would love to go New Zealand.  It’s a place that has fascinated me for a long time.  I have rather distant family who live there and my Granny has been many times (most recently last Christmas when she was 95!).  One day I’d like to try to write an epic fantasy novel and I think the incredible landscape and the Maori culture would be a really inspirational starting point.

2. The West Coast of the US and Canada.  I’d like to start in San Francisco and drive up the coast to Vancouver and then on into British Columbia.  I’m not quite sure what writing reason there is for this one it’s just something I’ve always wanted to do. Although, Winston (one of the characters in Beltane) has Canadian First Nation ancestors so I could learn more about him.

3. I’d like to live in Ireland for a few months.  I’ve been in love with Ireland for years and I’d like to rent a cottage on the coast of County Cork and soak up the legends, the atmosphere (and let’s be honest, the rain).  It’d be a great place to set the third of the Beltane trilogy.



I would go to rural Virginia in the USA, a choice inspired by my love of the TV series The Waltons. The stories surrounding the lives of John-Boy, Mary-Ellen and the rest of the Walton family and their friends and neighbours are so deeply entrenched in the beautiful fictitious setting of Walton’s Mountain that they simply wouldn’t work anywhere else. The series was set in the years of the Great Depression and the second world war, a time of great social change. It would be fascinating to delve into the history and discover how real-life families like the Waltons coped with the disappearance of the simple way of life. I don’t know what period my book would be set in but that would be something I’d find out as I went along.  While I was researching I’d stay in a wooden house on a mountain which would look like the Waltons’ home on the outside but the inside would be the last word in luxury living, with room for my family and friends to enjoy a lovely extended holiday while I beavered away at the book.



Yet again, I’ve gone and set a question where I haven’t considered my answer first. Durr. If I’m completely honest, I don’t feel any sort of draw towards setting any of my novels overseas. My trilogy is set on the North Yorkshire Coast and I like writing about what I know. Mind you, I’ve actually created a fictional town so, in theory, it could be anywhere in the country and isn’t really about what I know! I’ve researched all sorts of elements for my books so it’s not the research about unknown countries that’s putting me off. I think it’s just that I have lots of ideas for future books and none of them lend themselves to being set overseas as a whole or in part.

That’s not to say I wouldn’t love to travel because I adore some of the suggestions the other Write Romantics have come up with. I went to New Zealand 14 years ago and would love to return. I went to Canada on my honeymoon 8 years ago and would love to go back and explore further. I want to visit more of the USA and Australia (been to parts of both) and I would love to experience the stunning white sands/blue ocean types of beach in the film ‘The Beach’ starring Leonardo DiCaprio. I believe that was filmed in Thailand. Pictures of The Maldives look incredible too. Although I have a confession; I’m not really a hot weather worshipper and I don’t much care for sand! Fussy aren’t I?!

So maybe my answer is that I’d like to explore and I’d like to write while I’m exploring but my writing would probably be set in the UK and I’d just use the scenery around me as inspiration for creativity rather than a setting.


What would your answer be? Please join in and let us know by clicking on the heart at the top of this post and leaving a comment. Next week we’ll be looking at our New Year’s Resolutions and whether they’ve already fallen by the wayside.

Have a good week.

Julie xxx