I am utterly delighted to welcome fellow Romantic Novelists’ Association colleague Jenny Harper to my writing blog today! Jenny lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, though she was born in India and …
There are so many Christmas books published every year and it can be difficult to decide which to read. I hope to help with this week’s Christmas book review which is a real cracker if you…
It’s always lovely when a friend’s book is snapped up by a publisher, and I was delighted to hear that Kate Blackadder’s novel, Stella’s Christmas Wish had been bought by Edinburgh-based Black and White. And now publication is finally here! Go on Kate – do tell us about your new novel!
Thank you for having me on your blog, Jenny.
My usual writing genres are magazine short stories and serials but I wanted to challenge myself to write something longer. I had to learn to allow myself to add words – when writing for magazines you’re always cutting to keep to a word limit. But writing serials was good training because magazines ask you to do a detailed synopsis first and I found it useful to do one for Stella.
Stella’s Christmas Wish was originally called Don’t Ask Alice. At my creative writing class we were brainstorming titles and that was one I came up with off the top of my head (although it turned out that someone else had already thought of it). I wanted to take the exercise further – to find out who Alice was, and what she couldn’t be asked and why, so I created Stella and her younger sister Maddie. Alice is their granny who brought them up. She lives in Melrose, in the Scottish Borders, and Maddie shares a flat in Edinburgh.
The sisters and their granny are very close so Stella is shattered to get a phone call in Christmas week to say that Alice is in hospital, unconscious after a fall. Stella is unable to get hold of Maddie and when she dashes up from London it’s to find that her sister has gone away. She gets hints of where and why from various people but it seems it’s only Alice who can provide all the answers – and it emerges that there’s something in Alice’s past that Stella knew nothing about.
On top of Alice being ill and Maddie missing, Stella knows that in coming home she’ll inevitably come in contact with her ex-boyfriend Ross, a former rugby international who now runs a restaurant in Melrose. Theirs was an acrimonious parting and she doesn’t know how either of them will react when they meet again. And of course, when celebrating Christmas is the last thing on Stella’s mind, there are signs all around of seasonal festivities.
So, the themes of Stella’s Christmas Wish include:
Sisters. The story is not in the least autobiographical but little personal things do creep into your writing. Like Stella and Maddie, my sister and I both have our birthdays in May – and, like them, it was a puzzle to us when we were little why her birthday came first when I was older …
Secrets. There’s a secret in Alice’s past, something she’s buried deep for many years. When it surfaces, it becomes the catalyst for a whole chain of events. Family secrets are a subject I find fascinating – and every family has one.
Then there’s the secret, known only to Stella and one other person, about why she suddenly decided to take up a job offer in London, leaving Ross bewildered and hurt.
Stella’s Christmas Wish: an extract specially for readers of my blog.
Six days before Christmas a family crisis brings Stella back from London to the Scottish Borders – and to Ross, the man she left fifteen months earlier. In this extract Stella has unwillingly accepted a lift from Ross.
‘And your work?’ He sounded as remote as if they’d met as strangers at a dinner party. ‘You enjoy it? At least, when it’s not inadvertently getting mentioned on the news?’
‘I’ve had some interesting assignments – the current one is a management buy-out,’ she said. ‘It’s vital it works out otherwise there’ll be job losses.’
He blew out his lips. Almost like a kiss. ‘Big stuff then,’ he said, unconsciously echoing his grandfather’s reaction. If this were before, when she was in the Edinburgh office, he’d have asked questions, wanted to hear more. But now, like herself, he seemed unwilling to respond to her replies in a way that would turn this into a proper conversation. He reached into his jacket pocket for his wallet. ‘Perhaps we should get on.’
‘Let me get this.’ Stella gestured to him to put his money away. ‘As a thank you for the lift.’
He stood up, pushing his chair back so that it scraped along the floor. ‘I may not be earning mega bucks in the Big City but I can afford to buy you a coffee.’
They stared at each other.
Was this it? Stella’s heart pounded. Was this the showdown she’d been half-expecting from the moment she got into the car? She looked away first, biting her lip to stop it trembling. ‘I didn’t mean that. I just—’
The waitress was back. ‘Did you enjoy your coffee?’
Stella got to her feet. ‘Yes, thank you,’ she said. ‘Could you tell me where the Ladies is, please?’ She lifted her phone and her purse and left the café without looking back.
In the cloakroom she stared at herself in the mirror.
Ambitious girl keen to get on in her career, not letting anything – or anyone – stand in her way. That’s how Ross must have interpreted her decision to move to London.
The real story was much more complicated.
Stella’s Christmas Wish is published by Black and White Publishing at 99p. https://blackandwhitepublishing.com/shop/coming-soon/stellas-christmas-wish.html
About Kate Blackadder
I live in Edinburgh with a view of the Castle. I’ve had around fifty short stories published and three magazine serials. Stella’s Christmas Wish, myBook.to/Stella set in Edinburgh and the Scottish Borders, is my first full-length novel. Two serials The Family at Farrshore myBook.to/Farrshore and The Ferryboat myBook.to/Ferryboat are available on Kindle, and in large-print library editions. I blog at http://katewritesandreads.blogspot.co.uk/ and can be found on Twitter @k_blackadder and https://www.facebook.com/KateBlackadderAuthor
I’m having a bit of a fan girl thing at the moment – and in between blinking in awe at the light bulb moments, I’m learning a fair bit about how to write. I’ve written ten books (eight published an…
Can you believe it’s Hallowe’en already? And I’m delighted to be hosting Helena Fairfax again. This time, appropriately, she’s talking about her new release, a collection of romantic suspense. It’s a fascinating post, so do read on!
Hallowe’en is the season for witches, spells and superstition. I tell myself I don’t have any superstitions – of course not! No rational person would believe bad things can follow seeing one magpie, or a black cat cross the road, or looking at the moon through glass. It’s irrational to believe in such things. Or so I tell myself. And yet you’d never find me putting a pair of shoes on a table. No way! Someone told me it was bad luck a long time ago. I did it once, and bad luck did follow. So now if I see someone else do it, I’m on edge. You just never know….
In my new release, a collection of romantic suspense called A Year of Light and Shadows, one of the themes is the superstition surrounding Macbeth. My heroine, Lizzie, is an actress, and Macbeth is the play she’s rehearsing with her theatre group. Right from the start, Lizzie feels the play is bringing bad luck. She tells the hero, Léon:
‘It’s well known the play is cursed. For us actors, it’s a nightmare. We have to remember not to say the name “Macbeth” in rehearsals, because if we do, something terrible is bound to happen. We have to call it “the Scottish play,” instead. And if any of the actors forget, they have to go outside the rehearsal room, turn round three times, and knock on the door to be let back in.’
Later in the story, one of the actors does say the name “Macbeth” backstage by mistake – and bad luck surely follows…
As I was writing this story, I grew more and more curious to know why actors are so superstitious about this play. Here are some of the things I’ve discovered.
Some actors believe the spells in the play are actual spells used by witches in Shakespeare’s day. There’s a legend that a coven of witches were so enraged by this, they cursed the play for all time. If you’ve ever been to see Macbeth, you’ll know the witches can be terrifying when they first appear out of the mist, and the words they speak are chilling. It’s easy to see how this superstition grew up.
And it’s true that bad luck dogged Macbeth from the first. Shakespeare wrote the play especially for King James, who was Scottish and a believer in witchcraft – but the King hated the play so much he banned it, and it wasn’t performed again for five years. There are many accidents associated with the performance of the play. Stories go that in the very first production, a prop dagger was replaced with a real one, and an actor died. In 1947, the English actor Harold Norman – who didn’t believe in the superstition – was accidentally stabbed during the performance and later died of his wound. There have been lethal riots, fires, broken limbs, and when Laurence Olivier himself played the part of Macbeth, he was almost killed when a heavy weight dropped to the stage, narrowly missing him.
Of course there are more prosaic reasons why the play attracts such bad luck. There are more fight scenes in Macbeth than any other Shakespeare play, and – since it’s now over 400 years old – it’s inevitable that there will be a number of accidents and tragedies associated with it.
My hero, Léon, certainly doesn’t believe in the superstition. Léon‘s mother was Italian, and he uses a phrase that sums up his philosophy on superstition exactly:
‘Do you know how we say “break a leg” in Italian?’ I shook my head, and he told me, ‘In bocca al lupo. It means “In the mouth of the wolf.” And if ever someone wishes you good luck in this way, you must never say “thank you,” because that is guaranteed to bring you bad luck. You must answer only crepi il lupo. It means “to hell with the wolf.”’
“To hell with the wolf” – I love that expression! It’s perfect for Léon, because he’s seldom afraid of anything…except for Lizzie’s safety – which becomes clear as the story progresses 🙂
The saying “In the mouth of the wolf” comes from the fact that female wolves carry their young in their mouths to protect them. The person saying it is wishing someone safe-keeping. It’s a lovely expression!
Do you have any superstitions, or any particular superstitious sayings you use? Do you know of any curious superstitions in other countries? If you have any comments at all, I’d love to hear from you!
Thanks very much for having me today, Jenny. It’s been fun revisiting my stories!
A Year of Light and Shadows contains three romantic mysteries in one volume.
Palace of Deception
From the heat of the Mediterranean….
When the Princess of Montverrier goes missing, Lizzie Smith takes on the acting job of her life. Alone and surrounded by intrigue in the Royal Palace, she relies on her quiet bodyguard, Léon. But who is he really protecting? Lizzie…or the Princess?
The Scottish Diamond
To the heart of Scotland…
Home in Scotland, Lizzie begins rehearsals for Macbeth, and finds danger stalking her through the streets of Edinburgh. She turns to her former bodyguard, Léon, for help – and discovers a secret he’d do anything not to reveal…
A Question by Torchlight
A story of mystery and romance…
The approach of Hogmanay in Edinburgh means a new year and new resolutions. Lizzie and Léon have put their year of danger behind them. But something is still troubling Léon, and Lizzie fears the worst…
A Year of Light and Shadows is available on pre-order on Amazon
and on Kobo
and other major e-tailers. The print version is coming soon!
Helena Fairfax writes engaging contemporary romances with sympathetic heroines and heroes she’s secretly in love with. Her novels have been shortlisted for several awards, including the Exeter Novel Prize, the Global Ebook Awards, the I Heart Indie Awards, and the UK’s Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme Award.
Helena is a British author who was born in Uganda and came to England as a child. She’s grown used to the cold now, and these days she lives in an old Victorian mill town in the north of England, right next door to the windswept Yorkshire moors. She walks this romantic landscape every day with her rescue dog, finding it the perfect place to dream up her heroes and her happy endings.
If you’d like to get in touch, or find out more about my books, writing, and photos of my settings or the Yorkshire moors where I live, please follow my newsletter by subscribing here
All new subscribers to my newsletter will receive a FREE copy of Palace of Deception – the first book in the collection A Year of Light and Shadows
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I’ve found a star! At least, I’m happy to be hosting Lynda Stacey today – she won Choc Lit and Whole Story Audiobooks 2015 Search for a Star competition, so she must be a shining light … And I’m very much looking forward to meeting her.
Hi Lynda, and welcome. Let’s start off by finding out how long you’ve been writing.
I wrote on and off as a child. I always said that I would write a book and be published, but I have little self-belief. It was only when others began reading what I wrote and encouraged me, that I realised that maybe – just maybe – I could turn my dream into a reality. But I can’t say it comes easy to me. I left school very young, our school wasn’t very good and to be honest, I was taught nothing about grammar, which means that every sentence is a struggle.
You’re doing all right so far! So tell me, what do you like/dislike most about writing?
I love the art of writing, being submerged in the story and allowing the characters to take on their own personality. It always makes me laugh when you stare at the page, wondering why your character has just done something a little bizarre, then a few pages later, you realise why they did it.
You sound as though you get really close to your characters – do you see anything of yourself in them?
I don’t ever see myself in my characters, but I do see other people in them. I’d love for people to read the book and identify themselves. But, I’ll never admit to who each character is.
So that’s the creative side of writing. How about social media? Do you find it rewarding – or dull?
I spend far too much time on social media. I love it. As well as being an author, I used to be a Scuba Diving instructor and have friends who are now living all over the world. The social media gives me the opportunity to keep in touch with them, see what they are doing and ultimately, I know that they are safe.
Scuba diving, eh? There must be a book in there somewhere … I’m tempted to say it would have great depths, but I’ll resist. What’s your ambition as a writer?
I’d love to provide myself with a small retirement income. I’ve never believed in pensions and have always invested money into property. The plan had always been to buy, refurbish and sell, and then buy, refurbish and sell a bit more. But the problem is, I now, have a property that I absolutely love, and I don’t want to sell it. So there goes my pension… haha… I therefore need to find another way to afford food in my old age.
Do you write in solitary splendour, or do you have writing buddies and/or beta readers?
I have some amazing friends. Some are authors, others are not. Jane Lovering always does my full critique. She’s very strict and sometimes tells me to get rid of characters, plot lines or whole paragraphs of work. I sulk for a while, but eventually I realise that she’s right (as always) and do as I’m told. I also have three other people who read for me on a regular basis. They give me great feedback and pull me along kicking and screaming at times.
What’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said about your writing?
I always love it when people say that they’ve loved what I’ve written, but on the same level, I’m always stunned. For some reason, I still wait for the but….. I always expect the, “I loved it, but I think you could have done this…”, which of course doesn’t come.
What are you proudest of?
Surviving… As I said earlier, I used to teach Scuba Diving, and yes, I was the crazy lady who dived with sharks, without a cage. When I first started diving, I thought that if I ever saw a shark, I’d have been the first woman to walk on water. But they are the most fabulous creature, ever and completely misunderstood. I used to love the adrenaline rush of being down there with them.
Yikes! I’m off! Thanks for being my guest, Lynda …
House of Secrets
A woman on the run, a broken man and a house with a shocking secret …
Madeleine Frost has to get away. Her partner Liam has become increasingly controlling to the point that Maddie fears for her safety, and that of her young daughter Poppy.
Desperation leads Maddie to the hotel owned by her estranged father – the extraordinarily beautiful Wrea Head Hall in Yorkshire. There, she meets Christopher ‘Bandit’ Lawless, an ex-marine and the gamekeeper of the hall, whose brusque manner conceals a painful past.
After discovering a diary belonging to a previous owner, Maddie and Bandit find themselves immersed in the history of the old house, uncovering its secrets, scandals, tragedies – and, all the while, becoming closer.
But Liam still won’t let go, he wants Maddie back, and when Liam wants something he gets it, no matter who he hurts …
Lynda, is a wife, step-mother and grandmother, she grew up in the mining village of Bentley, Doncaster, in South Yorkshire.
Her own life story, along with varied career choices helps Lynda to create stories of romantic suspense, with challenging and unpredictable plots, along with (as in all romances) very happy endings.
Lynda joined the Romantic Novelist Association in 2014 under the umbrella of the New Writers Scheme and in 2015, her debut novel House of Secrets won the Choc Lit & Whole Story Audiobooks Search for a Star competition.
She lives in a small rural hamlet near Doncaster, with her husband, Haydn, whom she’s been happily married to for over 20 years.
This is Jane Jackson’s second visit to my blog, and I’m delighted she wants to come back. I love her novels and their fabulous evocative covers – and now she has a new one out!
Welcome back, Jane –and please tell us about your new book.
Thanks so much for having me as a guest, Jenny.
Two things inspired this book. The first was a photograph of a Bedawi man. I saw it in a travel magazine twenty years ago, cut it out and put it in my ‘Possibilities’ file. I don’t know his name or anything about him. Nor do I want to. It was his expression and the look in his eyes, that caught my attention. I knew that one day I would use him in a book. He – and I – had to wait a long time for the right time.
The second was Wilfred Blunt’s account of the Egyptian uprising in 1882. The people had been taxed into abject poverty by two consecutive rulers with ambitions to make Egypt more like Europe. After their grandiose but ill-planned schemes bankrupted the country, Egypt had to accept Britain and France jointly taking over financial management. Why? Because England had a 44% share in the Suez Canal and wanted to secure its safety as a trade route to India and the Far East. Seething resentment among the poorest, and those who wanted Egypt ruled by one of her own, found a champion in an Egyptian-born soldier who had risen through the ranks to become minister of war. Honest and well-intentioned, he stood no chance against the lies, dirty tricks, and political double-dealing of the British, French and Turco-Circassian ruling elite.
But this is purely background. I write historical romance, not social history. Yet without context the story would have no depth or resonance. I wanted to write about a relationship that could only have happened to this couple in this place at this time.
Why are my characters there? Captain Jago Barata is master of a trading schooner sailing all over the world. Having also carried secret documents (See The Consul’s Daughter) he is a trusted emissary. After their marriage, his wife, Caseley, sailed with him until the birth of their first child. But her grief over the tragic loss of their two young sons in an epidemic, and his guilt at not being there when she needed him, has opened an unbridgeable rift between them.
When Jago is commissioned by the British government to carry £20,000 of gold as a bribe to the Bedouin to fight on Britain’s side should the unrest erupt into civil war, Caseley – desperate to escape a home that holds too many painful memories – wants to go with him. When he refuses, citing the dangers, Caseley knows emotion won’t sway him. But she speaks French, the official language in Alexandria, he doesn’t. Therefore for this at least he needs her.
They sail from Cornwall in spring to chaotic, cosmopolitan Alexandria. Travelling in the guise of a wedding party they leave tense, noisy and crowded Cairo by camel for the Eastern desert, a place of searing heat and bitter cold. Harsh and barren by day, at night the gritty dust glitters under countless stars.
As Jago tries to fulfil his mission, Caseley must decide her future.
Goodness, Jane, it sounds epic – and so exciting. Can’t wait to read it. Thanks for being my guest today.
The Master’s Wife is a stand-alone book, but is also a sequel to The Consul’s Daughter, RNA Novel of the Year Finalist 2016.
Cornwall, 1882. Now owner of her late father’s shipyard, Caseley has drifted apart from her husband, Captain Jago Barata. Following the loss and heartbreak they have recently suffered, and unable to express their true feelings to one another, their marriage is at risk of collapse. When Jago is commissioned to undertake a voyage to turbulent Egypt – a mission of vital importance – Caseley, convinced she is about to lose him, and desperate to escape home and its devastating memories, risks everything by deciding to go with him. Will their marriage survive the dangers they are sailing into – and will they ever make it back to England?
I have lived in the same Cornish village nearly all my life.
My first book, a romantic thriller, was published in 1982. After four medical and ten contemporary romances for Harlequin writing as Dana James were published worldwide I began writing longer historical romances. Of the fourteen published as Jane Jackson some remained Cornwall-based, others – set in the C18th and C19th – ventured to foreign shores while maintaining strong Cornish links. After joining the RNA in the early 1990s I reached the shortlist for the Romantic Novel of the Year Award with Eye of the Wind in 2002, and was shortlisted for the Historical Prize in 2010 with Heart of Stone, and again in 2016 for The Consul’s Daughter. Also in 2016, Crosscurrents was shortlisted for the Winston Graham Historical Prize. The fifth in my Polvellan Cornish Mysteries series written as Rachel Ennis was published in August.
Teaching the Craft of Novel Writing for over twenty years from Ad. Ed. to MA level has been both a pleasure and a privilege. Ten of my former students are now multi-published novelists.