Bright lights, tiny city!

rochester-1This weekend I took a little trip up to Rochester, a historic city in Kent. Visit Kent describe Rochester as the area where Dickens’ life started and ended. As soon as you arrive, you can’t fail to notice some of the places mentioned in his books lining the characterful streets, which are made up of quirky shops and ancient buildings.

You can take a tour of Rochester which covers a range of sights familiar to Dickens’ fans, including the Six Poor Travellers House, Restoration House and Dicken’s own home – Gad’s Hill Place. Many of the exhibits in the Guildhall Museum are dedicated to Dickens and Rochester also boasts Baggins Book Bazaar, one of the largest second hand rochester-2bookshops in England.

At Christmas, Rochester really comes into its own and, on the first weekend of December each year, its streets are lined with stalls and carol singers to celebrate a Dickensian Christmas, culminating in a lamp-lit parade.

Although we decided not to brave the crowds for the Dickensian Christmas itself this year, we thought we’d visit the rochester-3Christmas markets in the grounds of Rochester Castle instead, the following weekend. This festive market boasts a beautiful setting, where the stalls are sheltered in the shadow of one of England’s tallest castles, overlooking the stunning cathedral, the second oldest in the country no less.

It was an undeniably atmospheric setting, and the mulled cider – along with our obligatory Christmas jumpers – added to the warmth, despite the organisers arranging a ‘snow storm’ as you walked through the wrought iron rochester-4gateway of the castle grounds.

The visit reminded me of two things, the first was why I was so inspired by the places Dickens called home in Kent – Rochester and Broadstairs – that I used them to create the fictional St Nicholas Bay. The second thing, though, was perhaps at the heart of what Christmas is all about. Whilst pretty settings and atmospheric Christmas markets are appealing, it’s the people you’re with who really count.  I shared the day with my daughter and one of my best friends rochester-ap-2and we spent a lot more time talking and laughing than we did browsing the stalls, which is something money just can’t buy.

Happy Christmas and all best wishes to everyone who follows the Write Romantics’ blog.

Jo x

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Once Upon a Long Ago, I had this great idea for a story…

once-ebook-cover-3

So, one year ago today, I was celebrating the publication of Kearton Bay Book 2 – A Kiss from a Rose. It was a wild day. I had loads and loads of guests, including many celebrities, and they all wore pink in Rose’s honour. I had stacks of food (mostly cake, to be honest) and a great deal of alcohol. Music was played, and there was much laughter and gossip. Sadly, it was a Facebook launch party, which meant that the entire event was “virtual”. In reality, I was hunched over my computer, wearing my pyjamas, and sweating buckets, while I tried desperately to keep up with the fast-flowing notifications. Yes, it was fun, but it was exhausting and terrifying, too!

Since that day (is it really only a year? It seems so much longer!) I’ve had a pocket novel and a short story published by The People’s Friend, and have released the first in a new series of books set in the Yorkshire Dales, This Other Eden. And on Rose‘s first birthday, I’m launching the next Kearton Bay book. Yes, Book 3 in the series, Once Upon a Long Ago, is now available to buy. This time, there’ll be no launch party. Instead, DH and I plan to head out into our beloved Yorkshire countryside, and visit an English Heritage property, or two. It’s quite an appropriate way to spend the day, given the plotline of the novel. I won’t give too much away, but suffice it to say that I’ve loved immersing myself in the world of stately homes and castles, and I’m really, really sad that my adventures with Will and Lexi are over. They are quite special to me, after all.

You see, back in 2011, it was Will and Lexi – along with Joe – who popped into my mind, completely out of the blue, and set me on this strange and totally unexpected writing path. I was just sitting in the car, minding my own business, when there was a knock on my brain, and there they were, demanding to come in. What could I do but oblige? They were terribly polite about it. Well, Will was, but that’s Will for you. Lexi was a bit more forthright, and Joe was so twinkly how could I refuse?

And, let’s face it, I’ve made Will and Lexi wait long enough. In spite of promising them that their story would be told, it’s taken me five years to get round to it. I did start it, but it never felt like the right time. I knew they weren’t ready, you see. Their story was a slow-burner, and other characters needed to tell their tales first. Lexi was quite annoyed about the whole thing, and made me apologise several times, but Will was so understanding and rather sweet. In fact, he actually apologised to me for bothering me with it all.

So, I think Will deserves his moment in the limelight. Oh, all right, and Lexi does, too. Actually, don’t tell her this, but I’ve grown rather fond of her. It will be very odd when I start work on my next book, knowing I won’t be heading up to Kearton Hall every day to see what they’ve been up to lately. I think, though, that they’ll be lurking somewhere when Book 4 is written. In fact, I’m certain of it.

Here’s the blurb.

Lexi Bailey doesn’t do love. Having seen the war zone that was her parents’ marriage, she has no interest in venturing into a relationship, and thinks romance is for fairy tales. As far as she’s concerned, there’s no such thing as happy ever after, and she’s not looking for a handsome prince.
For Will Boden-Kean, that’s probably a good thing. He hardly qualifies as a handsome prince, after all. He may be the son of a baronet, and live in a stately home, but he’s not known for his good looks. What he is known for, among the residents of Kearton Bay, is his kind heart, his determination to fund Kearton Hall — and his unrequited love for Lexi.
While Lexi gazes at the portrait of the Third Earl Kearton, and dreams of finding the treasure that is reputed to be hidden somewhere in the house, Will is working hard to ensure that his home survives. When he goes against Lexi’s wishes and employs the most unpopular man in the village, she begins to wonder if he’s under a spell. Will would never upset her. What could possibly have happened to him?
As plans take shape for a grand ball, Lexi’s life is in turmoil. With a secret from Will’s past revealed, a witch who is far too beautiful for Lexi’s peace of mind, and a new enchantress on the scene, things are changing rapidly at Kearton Hall. Add to that a big, bad wolf of a work colleague, a stepmother in denial, and a father who is most definitely up to no good, and it’s no wonder she decides to make a new start somewhere else.
Then she makes a discovery that changes everything — but time is running out for her. Is it too late to find her happy ending? Will Lexi make it to the ball? Will Buttons save the day? And where on earth did that handsome prince come from? 

You can buy Once Upon a Long Ago here.

Well, I suppose I’d better go and pack. I do have a trip to Skimmerdale to make, after all, and a rather gorgeous sheep farmer to reacquaint myself with. Now, where did I put my wellies? And my lippy…

sharonxxx

The Tightrope Women Walk – a Jane Lythell guest post

At my launch with lesley and sinnetToday we are joined on the blog by good friend of the Write Romantics, the very talented and totally lovely, Jane Lythell. Jane’s guest post explores the ways in which her new novel mirrors the challenge so many women face in balancing their work and home lives. Over to you Jane.

 On the dust jacket of my new novel Woman of the Hour it says: Meet Liz Lyon: respected TV producer, stressed-out executive, guilty single mother… Woman of the Hour. This sums up the dilemma of my central character very well. I was keen that in this, my third novel, I would put the focus on a working mum who has a high pressure job as a TV producer and a stroppy teenage daughter at home.

My heroine Liz Lyon is 41 years old and divorced; her daughter Flo is 14. Liz took on a big mortgage so that she and Flo could have a decent home. She is stressed by the demands of her job but she needs the TV salary to pay her mortgage. She calls this ‘golden handcuffs’, being paid so much that you feel you can’t leave your job.

Liz is in charge of the feature output of StoryWorld TV station which puts out a daily live morning show. It is her job toE-book and Paperback cover woman of the hour_rough 2_new_1 manage and soothe the huge egos at the station. There’s Fizzy Wentworth the star presenter, Gerry Melrose the astrologer, Ledley the Chef and Betty the Agony Aunt. There is also Liz’s team of researchers and a power-crazed boss called Julius Jones.

A television station often has a feverish atmosphere and even more so when the shows are live. Live TV is more dangerous than pre-recorded because things can go wrong. When it does go wrong presenters have to cope under pressure, there’s a surge of adrenalin and feelings run high. I try to capture this in a number of scenes in Woman of the Hour from the moment when a guest won’t come out of Make-Up because her hair looks awful, to the scene where a prominent politician tears off his mic and storms out of the TV station. Liz is left to pick up the pieces and has to be the calm sensible one who sorts out the problems.

When Liz gets home she has to deal with her daughter Flo who she loves deeply but who is doing that teenage thing of pulling away from her mum. Liz often can’t say what she means when she’s at work but when she gets home she can let her out her emotions, and she does. She’s sometimes like a pressure cooker ready to blow. She worries that she’s a better mother to her team at work than she is to her daughter Flo who presses all her buttons.

Why did my rows with Flo escalate so fast? Why was I able to control my anger at work but not at home? I felt a failure as a parent and I wanted to call Ben (her ex-husband) and tell him that he didn’t know what he was missing.

Liz feels a lot of guilt about the length of time she spends at work. She knows she should put Flo first but all too often the demands of work take precedence.

When Janis first came to work for me she told me a story that has stayed with me. It was a hot afternoon and after she had picked Flo up from school she took her to Primrose Hill to find a breeze and to eat sandwiches on the grass. They had walked to the top of the hill where there is this panoramic view of London spread out below with all its buildings, cranes and spires. Flo pointed to the view and said: ‘That’s London and my mummy works there.’ It makes me sad when I think of Flo saying that. She was missing me and she probably wished she had a stay-at-home mum who would pick her up from school every day.

When Liz gets home she often cooks to help her decompress from the stresses of work. At the end of the book I’ve included three recipes called: Comfort Recipes for the Stressed Out. I do think that many of us find comfort in cooking after a particularly bad day at the office!

Doing an interview for TV-am at car factoryI worked in television for 15 years, first at TV-am and later at WestCountry Television doing live TV. On Good Morning Britain I was one of the people who booked the guests for Anne Diamond to interview and I’d write the briefs for her. The hours were long and unpredictable and this made it difficult for me as a lone parent. I left my career in television when my daughter was nine years old.

Many books depict the emotional and family lives of women. I’ve seen much less fiction about a woman struggling with the pressures of work. Yet that had been my life. A working mother, trying to keep all the balls up in the air and feeling conflicted about competing pressures and I wanted to explore that in Woman of the Hour.

Jane Lythell

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Thanks so much for that insightful post, Jane. The Write Romantics loved Woman of the Hour and here’s Jo’s review:

 I’ve loved both of Jane Lythell’s other books – The Lie of You and After the Storm – but I think she hits new heights with ‘Woman of the Hour’. This is a departure from the tense psychological storylines in her first two books, to more of a women’s fiction feel – although my husband is reading the book now, and loving it too, and there are still plenty of deeper themes around the complexity of family and working relationships.

I really liked the first person writing in this novel and it was as if I was living Liz’s experiences with her. Sharing her upsCover WOTH and downs, anxieties and frustrations, particularly at the treatment she received from some of her colleagues at StoryWorld and the huge egos battling it out at times!

It is obvious that the author has researched this book by living some of the experiences and the writing is all the more authentic and engaging for that reason. There are a wealth of wonderful characters in the StoryWorld setting, many of whom could warrant their own novel, so I’m really glad to hear that there is more to come from this series.

There are clever sub plots weaved into the story, but Liz’s life is undoubtedly the main focus. As a working mum myself – familiar with the constant guilt trip that accompanies it – I loved the way the book moved between Liz’s working life and her interactions with her teenage daughter Flo. Again, the authenticity with which the scenes between mother and daughter were written, had me hooked.

There are moments to make you laugh, bring a lump to your throat and even to make your mouth water! The comfort food recipes at the end were a lovely touch too. As I said at the outset, I think Jane Lythell is a fabulous author and once again her novel, as with the other two, had me reading into the early hours. This is her best yet, though, and I’m already waiting impatiently for the next in the series.

You can find out more about Jane Lythell on her Facebook author page here or follow her on Twitter @janelythell

You can download Woman of the Hour, and Jane’s other books, from Amazon and they are also available in all good bookshops.

Location, location, location – it’s all about heavenly Hampstead for Carol Cooper

MSP_8587-Edit-2 cropWe are delighted to welcome back Carol Cooper, a long-time friend of the blog, to tell us all about how she decided on the setting for her second book. Carol is a doctor, journalist, and novelist. She writes for The Sun newspaper and teaches medical students at Imperial College.

After a string of trade-published non-fiction books and an award-winning medical text, she chose self-publishing for her fiction debut One Night at the Jacaranda. Her latest novel, Hampstead Fever, is out in June. Her novels are all about Londoners looking for love, and they’re laced with inside medical knowledge.

Like her fictional characters, Carol lives in leafy Hampstead, North London. Unlike them, she got married again in 2013. She loves a happy ending.

Over to Carol…

Why did I set Hampstead Fever in Hampstead?

Some fiction writers like to invent entire locations, but it’s not for me. I prefer to deploy my imagination on characters and plot rather than geography. It seems an unnecessary headache to make up a whole town. Besides, there’s always the risk that the street map in the author’s head is physically impossible.

Real places already have meaning for readers. Think of Liz Fenwick’s Cornish romances, or Glynis Smy’s choice of EastHampstead Fever FINAL EBOOK COVER London as the setting for Ripper, My Love.

In case you didn’t know, Hampstead is one of the most charming parts of London, and, logically, I also chose it for the title of my novel Hampstead Fever. The area is beautiful, trendy, and has a rich cultural heritage, although, on a Monday morning when Camden Council arrives to empty the bins in my street, you’d be forgiven for missing all of that. On bin day, a queue of irate drivers builds up, many of them turning the air blue because they can’t drop off their little darlings at school without walking a few extra yards.

The area is full of character, but it’s not edgy. Neither are my characters in Hampstead Fever. If you want edgy, you’d be better off reading Irvine Welsh or Chuck Palahniuk.

The people in my books have relatable problems, and Hampstead means different things to each one of them. For Harriet, the area is aspirational. She is a freelance journalist who finds it increasingly hard to pay her bills. Commissioning editors for the magazines she writes for don’t want well thought out features. They prefer pieces like “What’s My Bottom Line?” (the topic is literally pants). Harriet does her best but is overawed by all the successful authors and journalists in London NW3.

At 40, Laure is a first-time mum who panics every time her toddler develops a new symptom. Her partner works long hours and there’s no extended family, so Laure’s parenting guidance comes from books and the uber-competitive mothers at toddler group. Alas, Laure is so wound up in her child that she has little time to spare for her partner.

I think many readers will identify with single mum Karen. Her style is the opposite of helicoptering. I call it submarine parenting. She has four children ranging in age from six to 12 and is facing an early menopause, so energy is at a premium. No wonder Karen lacks the enthusiasm for a suitable relationship.

There are plenty of men in Hampstead Fever too, like Geoff who’s a doctor, and Sanjay who works as a fundraiser. Laure’s partner Dan is now an up-and-coming chef at a new restaurant in the heart of Hampstead Village. It’s the perfect place for a trendy bistro, but Dan complains he’s not paid enough, so, rather than use one of the existing restaurants as a setting, it seemed fairer to make up a new one. But I sited it in Flask Walk, a very real street.

A plus is that I live in Hampstead. Researching a location involves little more than a brisk walk, unlike, say, a writer in the UK who chose Venice as her setting.

I wanted my new author photo to fit in with the locale, but as I discovered you can’t always take one when and where you want. Hampstead Heath proved a little windy and wet on the day, which wouldn’t have been right for a book set in mid-summer.

My photographer got me to pose in the street near the Freud Museum. While the connotations may be a little heavy for my brand of contemporary fiction, the building is attractive. Alas, I hadn’t bargained on the crowds of people arriving to pay homage to the father of psycho-analysis. The Freud Museum doesn’t open till noon, so they were outside, waiting to be shown in to worship at the great man’s couch (yes, it’s still there in his study). One of the prospective visitors had even brought a suitcase, so there he was, on the pavement with his baggage. Now that would have been a great picture.

Hampstead Fever was released on June 30 and available on ebook platforms and in bookshops.

The Chocolatier’s Secret

Today it’s publication day for The Chocolatier’s Secret!

The Chocolatier's Secret- KDP version

 

This book is the second story in the Magnolia Creek series, but can be read as a standalone novel.

In The Chocolatier’s Secret, we return to the quiet town of Magnolia Creek, nestled in a beautiful setting in Victoria, Australia, not far from the city of Melbourne.

Today is publication day for the ebook, but the paperback will be on its way very soon. I can’t wait to hold the book in my hands! It’s always such a special moment 🙂

I already have plans for a third book in this series but for now I’m working on a Christmas novel, set in a different location.

I hope you’ll raise a glass of bubbly, have a block of chocolate nearby and enjoy reading this novel. I loved writing it.

Helen J Rolfe  x

Here’s the blurb…

Will one mistake ruin everything?

Andrew Bennett has an idyllic life in Magnolia Creek, Australia. He runs a chocolate business he adores, is married to Gemma, the love of his life, and has a close relationship with his father, Louis. But when Andrew receives a message from his high school sweetheart, it sends his world into a spiral, and the relationships he holds dear will never be the same again.

Molly Ramsey is looking for answers. After her last attempt, she believes the only way to get them this time is to face her past head-on. But to do this, she has to fly to the other side of the world – and she’s afraid of flying. Her search for answers lands her in an emotional tangle, not only with her past but also with a man very much in her present.

Family is everything to Gemma Bennett and she longs to have a house full of kids, but it just isn’t happening. And when Andrew’s past makes an explosive impact on the family, Gemma must decide whether she can accept the truth and open her heart in a way she never thought possible.

In this story of love, family ties and forgiveness, will past mistakes be the obstacle to a Happy Ever After?

You can buy The Chocolatier’s Secret here 

 

Summer, chocolates & plenty of secrets …

Summer, chocolates & plenty of secrets … it’s almost time to return to Magnolia Creek!

The Chocolatier's Secret- KDP version

 

The Chocolatier’s Secret is book two in the Magnolia Creek series, and I’m delighted to say that it’s now available for pre-order on Amazon. With The Chocolatier’s Secret we return to the sun-drenched small town of Magnolia Creek, and this is a standalone story focusing on different lives. But … keep an eye out for a few of your favourite book characters from What Rosie Found Next!

I had a lot of fun writing this book. I enjoy the research side and had already completed a major research project on adoption as part of a Masters in Writing so I’ve been able to use my contacts and the information I had at my fingertips to shape this story. I also have my own personal experience of adoption which helped keep the emotions realistic.

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Of course my favourite part of the research was finding out all about chocolate! I spent the day with Lucy and Andrea at Creighton’s Chocolaterie in Leighton Buzzard and discovered what goes on behind the scenes. I was really excited after my visit because I was able to weave in so many details to my story to make it authentic.

Publication day is Tuesday 28th June so only 8 days away!

If you would like to pre-order The Chocolatier’s Secret, you can do so here.

I hope you like the story … best enjoyed with your favourite chocolate of course! Here’s the blurb…

Will one mistake ruin everything?

Andrew Bennett has an idyllic life in Magnolia Creek, Australia. He runs a chocolate business he adores, is married to Gemma, the love of his life, and has a close relationship with his father, Louis. But when Andrew receives a message from his high school sweetheart, it sends his world into a spiral, and the relationships he holds dear will never be the same again.

Molly Ramsey is looking for answers. After her last attempt, she believes the only way to get them this time is to face her past head-on. But to do this, she has to fly to the other side of the world – and she’s afraid of flying. Her search for answers lands her in an emotional tangle, not only with her past but also with a man very much in her present.

Family is everything to Gemma Bennett and she longs to have a house full of kids, but it just isn’t happening. And when Andrew’s past makes an explosive impact on the family, Gemma must decide whether she can accept the truth and open her heart in a way she never thought possible.

In this story of love, family ties and forgiveness, will past mistakes be the obstacle to a Happy Ever After?

Dealing with Writer’s Block by Lynda Renham

Dealing with Writer’s Block by Lynda Renham

lyndaI’m very excited to be on the Write Romantics’ blog. Thank you so much for inviting me and for featuring my new novel ‘Perfect Weddings’ which I can now tell you, I never imagined would be finished.

I’m overwhelmed by its success and how much people are enjoying it. It’s the first time I have had so many messages from people telling me this is my best book yet. I have to pinch myself sometimes when I remember how I almost gave up on this book.

I developed that nightmarish thing that us writers despair of, named writers block. Nothing and I mean absolutely nothing seemed to come out of my head. I would sit at the laptop day in 9780993402623_PerfectWeddingsand day out, praying for something. I’d go for walks. I would sit and cry. I would demand of my cat Bendy, ‘why isn’t it happening?’ But he wasn’t much help. He either purred happily or fussed around me for more food.

‘It’s no good, I’m finished,’ I said to my husband, Andrew. ‘I can’t write comedy anymore. No wonder Comics kill themselves.’

‘It’s not that bad, is it?’ he asked

But it really did feel like it. What if I could never write comedy again? What would happen? That was it. I went into total meltdown.

I spent a whole day feeling sorry for myself and fighting the impulse to throw the lap top out of the A Christmas Romance Design! smaller Awindow and then an idea came to me. What if I wrote something else?  A nice little romance, perhaps? Something sweet, warm and cosy for Christmas. I still had time. Christmas was a few months away. So, I put ‘Perfect Weddings’ to one side and wrote ‘A Christmas Romance.’ The words just flowed and I loved it. Before I knew it, the novel was finished. Then it was back to ‘Perfect Weddings’ and how that flowed too.  I don’t know if there is an answer to writers block. Some authors say you should just keep writing and work through it. For me, taking a break, but still writing, worked. I do believe you should never stop writing when experiencing writers block. Even if you write rubbish, continue to write. Normally there is some gold dust to be found in that rubbish. The great thing is ‘A Christmas Romance’ became the first in the series based around the village of ‘Little Perran’ and I’m working on the second one as we speak.

So, here’s to writers block.

‘Perfect Weddings’ available on Amazon and all booksellers

Find out more about Lynda on her website

Follow her on Facebook

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