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