Friday, May 19, 2017

Friday Photo: Brecon Beacons

I took this photo when we went for a walk last winter. It was one of those crisp, clear, cold, sunny days where everything seems like it's wonderfully sharp focus.We'd never been to the Brecon Beacons before and it felt, in an odd way, a little bit like walking on the moon--or so I imagine! The rolling fields stretched on and on with hills and mountains in the distance and pretty much nothing else about. Gorgeous in a slightly desolate way :)

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Thursday Throwback: The Italian's Chosen Wife

This was my very first Harlequin Presents, written in 2007. After writing hundreds of short stories and serials for various women's magazines, I wanted to try my hand and something a bit more substantial, and I'd had a long-held dream to be published by Mills & Boon. In fact, I wrote my first manuscript for them, A Dangerous Bargain, when I was just twenty-two. Sadly it didn't go anywhere. My second manuscript, Nanny on Board, was a Golden Heart finalist, which was very exciting, although I didn't win. I wrote two more manuscripts in my early twenties before I shelved them all and moved on to short stories.

Fast forward eight years, and I decided I was ready to try again. I submitted three chapters and a synopsis for the Presents line, which was a change as I'd always submitted to the Romance line (then called Tender) before. Weirdly, when I'd started the story, the more emotional, angst-ridden Presents voice was the one that came out! Five months later I got a very positive revision letter, asking for revisions as quickly as possible because they really liked my voice. Getting that letter was so exciting, and so very affirming after months of waiting and years of rejections.

I lived, breathed, and dreamed that book for the next two weeks while I revised and finished it--because yes, I committed the cardinal sin of not finishing a book before submitting! Two weeks later I posted it along with all my hopes, telling myself not even to think of expecting an answer for at least 12 weeks. (They'd said it could be 16 weeks before I got a reply.)

Then, just two weeks later, I was staring at my inbox wishing I'd hear something, when I decided to hit refresh--even though I'd hit refresh seconds before. And would you believe, a new email popped up--from an editor at Mils & Boon. They wanted more revisions, but once again it was very positive, and she asked if she could ring.

The next few days were frantic as I had phone calls, made revisions, and waited to hear from the senior editor--all incidentally while my husband was away and unable to be reached! Then, on February 9, 2007, I got the official call.

Getting published by Harlequin quite literally changed my life, not least financially. I had a career, an income, and the validation of my books in the shops. A lot has changed since then in the publishing industry, seismic shifts that I don't think anyone could have predicted. I still write for Harlequin, in addition to five other publishers at various times. I've writtten 48 romances for Harlequin Presents (I think--I tend to lose count but I know I'm in the high forties) as well as 20+ books for other publishers. It's been a crazy, amazing ride, and I'm so grateful to be able to do this for a living. And so glad for this book, which will always hold a special place in my heart. You can read more about it  here.

Incidentally, this is my favourite of all my Presents cover. The hero and heroine look almost exactly as I pictured them, the sensuality is understated (as it is in my books), and there is a lovely elegance to the scene. I'm giving away one paperback copy of this Presents to anyone who comments below or responds to me on Twitter with their favourite romance of all time.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Wednesday Writing: Spotlight on Julie Ryan

I'm so pleased to welcome Julie Ryan to my blog today, with her book Jenna's Journey, which sounds really interesting! I've written about a multigenenerational story about a woman heading to Greece when her marriage fails myself, so maybe it's a fantasy of women... to just take off! I've certainly entertained the thought on occasion ;) Enjoy this blurb and extract; buy links are at the bottom.

       Jenna's Journey

Leaving town, heading to the Greek Isles without telling husband or friends, is heady medicine for a failing marriage. Seduced by Grecian sun and sky, Jenna innocently buys an ancient urn that tangles her into the web of a criminal world more sinister than she ever imagined. Romance is always afoot in the Greek Isles and Jenna gets a large helping with the seductive Nikos. Family is important in Greece, and Nikos helps Jenna learn all the richness it brings, and pass it on to the next generation.
Twenty-five years later, Allie takes this same journey. A little time travel, a big “what if” dream, a fated meeting with a taxi driver and a sprinkle of paranormal intrigue intertwine in a story that spans the lives of a mother and daughter. Twisty as the streets in a Greek island village, full of unexpected characters found on a faraway vacation, Jenna’s Journey will keep you turning pages far into the night.

Author bio

Julie Ryan’s roots are in a small mining village in South Yorkshire. After a degree in French Language and Literature, wanderlust kicked in and she lived and worked in France, Poland, Thailand and Greece. Her spirit enriched, her imagination fired, Julie started a series of mystery romantic thrillers set in the Greek Isles. 
Jenna's Journey is the first novel in Julie Ryan’s Greek Islands Series, a series she did not set out to create but which took on its own life and grew, rich and fascinating. This is the first of three published so far and it promises to delight readers looking for the hidden dark sides of dream vacations in the Greek Isles. Pandora's Prophecy and Sophia's Secret make up the rest of the trilogy.


As she stepped off the plane, a rush of excitement and anticipation flooded over her. She wondered if her mother had felt the same when she arrived in Greece almost twenty-five years ago. She knew that there must have been many changes during that time. Instead of flying direct to the island, her mother would have had to fly to Athens first, and then taken a boat to the island as direct flights to the island had only started up a couple of years ago. She stood in line waiting to clear customs, feeling guilty even though she had nothing to hide. Just walking through the green channel, she could sense hidden eyes watching her every move. This automatically made her act suspiciously, and then breathing a sigh of relief, she was through and out into the bright Greek sunshine. Squinting to read the address on the scrap of paper, she hailed a taxi and the driver sped off towards the hotel.
“Hi, I am Leo,” the taxi driver said, introducing himself in fluent English.
“Allie,” she replied.
She’d been anxious about being ripped off or taken on a wild goose chase, but there was no need to worry. Leo seemed to be the exception to her stereotyped image of Greek drivers. Although he drove fast, he negotiated the roads with great skill. Driving up narrow tracks, he tooted his horn to let any other drivers know he was coming.
She wanted to ask him about the austerity measures that had recently been imposed on them in order to meet their euro-deficit obligations. She had been quite shocked at the effects that the cutbacks had had on ordinary people. Last year, the government had introduced a kind of surtax cunningly collected through the electricity bill. If you refused to pay or couldn’t pay, you were cut off—simple! People had struggled to keep warm through the winter, as many couldn’t afford oil any more. The news had shown piles of rubbish in the streets thanks to the refuse collectors going on strike because they hadn’t been paid. Allie remembered seeing pictures of Piraeus on the news with garbage heaped as high as cars. She wanted to ask Leo more about how ordinary people had coped, but when she pressed him for more details, he shrugged and smiled.
“Greece is not only Athens, you know. Here, sure, life is tough, but we survive. Maybe we spend a little less, complain a little more, but life is good. You are in the most beautiful place in the world. If you have the sun and the sea and a few vegetables—what more do you need?”
Looking round at the idyllic scenery of the island, Allie thought that this was a far cry indeed from the sensationalist pictures of Athens that she’d seen on the TV. They finally pulled up in front of a traditional-looking but freshly painted hotel. Allie took the well-thumbed photo from her bag for comparison. Whilst the land round had all been eaten up by new developments, the hotel itself looked remarkably similar to the photo. It had been extended at the side, but there was no doubt that this was the place. Maybe now she would get the answers that she’d been waiting for all this time? She wanted answers that her mother couldn’t, or perhaps wouldn’t, give her.
“Here we are,” said Leo, taking her holdall from her and escorting her up some stone steps. Allie added a few euros to the fare, partly in relief at having got here in one piece, and also because Leo had been so charming. She knew from the guidebook she’d read on the plane that it wasn’t necessary to tip, but Leo accepted gracefully, handing her a card with his number on it in case she needed his services again. If what he’d told her was true, Allie guessed that meant his family could eat that night.
She walked up to the reception desk and, seeing no one about, rang the bell. She was quite surprised by the interior. Whilst the hotel looked traditional on the outside, the inside had been renovated in a very contemporary style. She was sure it was the right place, but she really didn’t know where to start to get the answers she’d come all this way for. She was in the middle of reading the notice above the desk which advertised free Wi-Fi access for hotel residents when a man in his late forties, or he could be early fifties—Allie wasn’t much good at telling people’s ages—came out of a room at the back. His skin was lightly tanned and he was wearing a light-blue chambray shirt, which set his tan off perfectly. He must have been good-looking in his youth, thought Allie.
The man stopped in his stride and she watched the colour fade from his face in disbelief.
“My God, it can’t be,” he whispered.
“You must be Nick,” replied Allie. “You look as if you’ve seen a ghost!”

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Tuesday Treasure: The Valley of Vision

I skipped yesterday's blog because I had two children home ill and we ate takeaway from Marks and Spencer, which I find is a more economical option than takeaway from a restaurant, and generally just as good. If you're curious, I had the Thai red curry :)

Today I wanted to highlight a book that was introduced to me about ten years ago, when I lived in Connecticut and was attending a Presbyterian church. (Incidentally, we've run the gamut of churches--Episcopalian, Anglican, Presbyterian, and now Baptist!

In any case, the book is called The Valley of Vision and it's a collection of Puritan prayers.

And all I have to say is... those Puritans knew how to pray! Well, actually, that's not all I have to say. The prayers are meant as reflections or meditations, and there is quite a lot to reflect on, with beautiful imagery and poetry and no word wasted. Here is an example from a prayer about God being all-sufficient:

The world is before me this day,
and I am weak and fearful,
but I look to thee for strength;
If I venture forth alone I stumble and fall,
but on the beloved's arms I am firm as the eternal hills;
If left to the treachery of my heart I shall shame thy name,
but if enlightened, guided, upheld by thy Spirit,
I shall bring thee glory.
Be thou my arm  to support,
my strength to stand, my light to see,
my feet to run, my shield to protect,
my sword to repel, my sun to warm.

Reading these prayers quiets my soul and gives me great perspective on the days and weeks ahead, which sometimes as a mother of five with too many deadlines and worries, feel like a great big slog! So I was happy to read this prayer today and remember what it's really all about. 

Friday, May 12, 2017

Friday Photo: Rainy Walk

It rains a lot in the UK. Everyone pretty much knows that. When I first moved back to the US after six years in the UK, I was amazed at how sunny it was. And I moved to Connecticut, not California! Every sunny morning felt like a not-so-small miracle. The long, hot summers were wonderful, and then they were not so wonderful, but I still appreciated things that the UK rarely has--outdoor pools, screen doors, sprinklers in backyards, kids spending most of the day in their swimsuits with drippy popsicles. Now, I know, on occasion, the UK experiences a heatwave and it's wonderful. Admittedly, a heatwave can be anything above 70 degree F. More than once, when I lived in the Lake District, someone would tell me it was 'red hot'. I checked the temp and it was something like sixty degrees, which in America in summer would be seen as a cold snap.

I admit, the weather here gets me down sometimes. I struggle. I compare it with weather in other places I've lived on my phone, and usually it comes out worse. When it doesn't, it feels like a small victory, which is petty, I know.

But anyway, we've had a spell of nice, warm, sunny weather here--and by spell I mean about four days. And I started, amazingly, to take the warm, dry weather for granted. And then it rained, and I was surprised. Surprised. How?  I have a short memory, I guess. But when I took the dog for a walk, and the air was damp and verdant, I actually enjoyed the wet. A little bit. And here is a picture I took:

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Thursday Throwback: When He Fell

When He Fell is my second book for Carina; the first was This Fragile Life, and they are both very emotional, high-concept reads. The idea for this book came when I read an article about two sixteen-year-old boys and best friends who were messing around on the school yard, and one threw a cricket ball at the other. It hit him in the head and he was instantly killed.

Of course, our sympathy goes instantly with the boy who was killed and his family. What a terrible tragedy, so immediate and pointless. But then I started thinking about the other boy. How would it have affected him? What would he be feeling? And I changed the ages and motivations of the boys, adding layers of secrets between the families, and this book emerged--the story of what happens when one boy pushes another and he falls and becomes brain damaged as a result.

This book is a bit darker than This Fragile Life, because it's about responsibility and forgiveness, and how we all can have a small part to play in a tragedy. But it has hope too--I couldn't write a book without a hopeful ending!

You can buy the book here.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Wednesday Writing: When Your Story Surprises You

So I'm nearly halfway into my current manuscript, Marry Me at Willoughby Close, and the story suddenly took an unexpected turn! I was preparing the hero and heroine to have a fancy dinner at a restaurant in London when my heroine decided not to go. (Spoiler--hopefully readers will have forgotten this by the time the book comes out!) I realized her decision to be independent was more important than the conversation (and flirting!) they'd have at the restaurant.

I love when a story surprises me, and the characters start to speak for themselves. I think it's usually a good sign that the story and characters have depth. I'm not just putting them through the motions. Here is a snippet of the scene I wrote that surprised me:

It wasn’t a date. She knew that. Of course she knew that. She wasn’t for one second imagining that Henry was interested in her. He was taking pity on her, for heaven’s sake, and pity was one thing Alice knew all too well.
She’d been pitied all her life. Pitied or ignored, and in all truth Alice didn’t know which one was worse. She didn’t want either, and she realized she was dreading this dinner because she didn’t actually want Henry gently instructing her on which forks to use or ordering for her because she so obviously wouldn’t know what to order herself.

She could see it all so clearly—Pretty Woman or Pygmalion—she’d read it for GCSE—it was all the same. The rich, sophisticated man telling the clueless girl what to do. How to feel. Introducing her to a world she never could have experienced or even found on her own, and then smiling smugly when she fumbled with the forks or marvelled at the taste of an oyster.

So now I've got to figure out what happens after they don't go out to dinner! Stay tuned. And in the meantime you can order the book here.