Hanukkah days and Christmas Nights…

Here it is! The cover for book no. 3… ‘Hanukkah at the Great Greenwich Ice Creamery’.

Hanukkah book cover

It’s beautiful, isn’t it? The twee row of shops (just like Turnpin Lane in Greenwich, London, where this story is set), the snow, the lamplights, and the ice cream (my favourite). All set against a beautiful purple backdrop.

This story is one I’d thought about writing for years, have tried writing for years, and have tinkered around with for years. In every format or incarnation, it never worked. I just couldn’t get it right. It was on a beach, while eating a bowl of melon gelato (my absolute favourite ice-cream in the world) that I shook my head, pulled out my laptop (yes, I take it to the beach with me) and started writing the first chapter.

I knew the last chapter, you see. I had the last chapter worked out in my head. I know some writers would get that out first, and work back from that point, but I’m not that kind of author. My reward for writing the rest of the book is to get to write the last chapter. The last chapter is my literary pat on the back, the creative version of a glass of champagne. I love writing last chapters.

I don’t want to talk about the plot of this book too much before release day, but this story is very personal to me. A friend of mine reading this would find it absolutely littered with easter eggs from my life. From the Greenwich setting, to the ice cream mentioned, to the food eaten, to the places visited… it’s all taken from people I’ve known, or things I’ve experienced.

I’m not the kind of author who puts themselves into their books, normally. At least, the characters are never me, or a self-insert. Their feelings or emotions might have been ones I’ve experienced, but their personalities, their quirks, their conflicts… those are all created for them, or, in that strange way that often happens, simply a result of putting them from my mind down onto paper. And ‘Hanukkah at the Great Greenwich Ice Creamery’ is no different to my other stories: Cohen and River (my hero and heroine) are entirely their own characters. But the rest of the story? Well, I poured my heart and soul into this one. I applied what I called my ‘method writing’ technique to this one. I ate copious amounts of ice cream (a hardship, I know). I baked challah and rye bread. I walked around Greenwich and China town. I sat by the Royal Observatory. I lived and breathed these characters for the three months it took to write their story.

When Choc Lit suggested I might want to try my hand at a holiday story, I fully intended to write a regency one. In fact, I wrote four chapters of a regency Christmas book, which may or may not be finished in time for next year. But when I went to start on the fifth chapter, this story poured out of me instead. I wrote a chapter a week for three months, and then an extra two when I realised twelve just wasn’t enough. This was one of those stories which was just plain fun to write. I never imagined in a million years that anyone would actually publish it, so I had a ball of a time writing it just for me. When I did submit it to Choc Lit, I said in my submission, quite plainly, that I was fully expecting it not to be accepted. It was, after all, off brand for me. It was not historical, but modern day. It focuses on Hanukkah. It incorporates quite a mix of elements. It is told entirely from the perspective of the hero. I re-read the manuscript, and told my husband that I expected it not to be published. I told my friends I probably wouldn’t have a story out for the festive period this year.

But Choc Lit surprised me. They not only accepted it, but were even enthusiastic about it. I thought for certain that it would be an awkward, ‘sorry, not for us’. I wasn’t expecting it to be ‘we think this is a lovely story’.

Which just goes to show that in publishing, you just never know. What you think will be a ‘no’, might just turn out to be a ‘yes’.

I’m going to blog more about this book later, closer to release day. There are certain parts of this story that need to be discussed, especially that of the life experience of my heroine, River.

Until then, I’m going to crack on with next years Christmas story and my next non-seasonal books…. and eat more ice cream, of course.

And so it’s March…

Blink.

What happened to Christmas? No, what happened to January? Actually, scratch that, where did February go?

I have to admit to having been a busy bee these past two months, and March looks like it will be just as insane. My husband and I were sitting down yesterday to merge our calendars and worked out that this week we’ll only be at home together one night out of seven. Which is clearly crazy, but and indication of just how busy we are. We both sighed when we realised we probably wouldn’t really see each other again until Thursday, but my husband, who is always my absolute rock, gave me a kiss and, with his best Bogart voice, told me that ‘We’d always have Paris.’

Because in early February, we left the kids with my Mum and went to Paris. We’re both huge fans of France and French living, and although we travel to the continent regularly, we never seem to go to Paris (unless it’s my annual trip to Disneyland Paris with the kids, which I don’t think counts as ‘Paris). So this year we decided to make an effort to visit the French capital, taking the Eurostar, staying at a boutique hotel in Montmartre and doing as many ‘touristy’ things as we could squeeze in. We walked to Sacre-Couer and then took the Metro to Odeon and walked around the Luxembourg Gardens. From the Luxembourg Gardens I made my husband walk all the way to the Eiffel Tower (spoiler, that’s a long walk) and then wait till sunset to see the light display (another spoiler, it rained just as it started!). The next day we went to the Louvre early and we spent the next six hours looking at artwork. Neither my husband or I are art lovers as such, but the Louvre is charming and it was a wonderful place to visit. More than that, they had Venus de Milo pop figures in the gift shop (I told you I wasn’t an ‘art’ person) that I lusted after for a good ten minutes, before my husband reminded me that I’m not a ‘things’ person and it would be just be something else to dust in the house.

6CAF7EDE-BAA9-4F91-AF63-1088D7B85B90But Oh, aren’t they pretty?

The next day we went to Versailles. I have always, always, always, always, always wanted to visit Versailles. I’m an absolute history nut, and Versailles has been top of my bucket list for a very long time (next trip will be Rome). And Versailles is spectacular, so pretty, so engrossing, and I spent the entire day with a smile on my face. We walked all over the palace grounds, right along to the Petit Trianon and to the Queen’s theatre and grotto (and no, my husband will not build me my own personal grotto in the garden, for one thing, the council would probably have words and for an another, he already built me a greenhouse).

E1126FFE-70E8-462A-A4E5-82BE3CDB9387On our final day in Paris we visited a restaurant across the road from a casino. Now, I’m no gambler (I’m too competitive and barred from family games, go figure) but I had to take a picture of this casino, because it reminded me strongly of my next book which I can now announce will be published in June!

FE02FF53-4C3F-4C06-969C-E502EC549246Yes, my next book is complete and I love the story. I cannot wait to share it with everyone, honestly and sincerely. This book has a special story behind it, which I will share closer to publication day. And my heroine this time has red hair… a colour I would love to have, if my hair weren’t so strongly blonde and hard to colour (red dye makes my hair go pink sadly).

Writing wise, I’m in the throws of a Christmas story. I’ve found this book a hard nut to crack, but keep the words coming by simultaneously writing a story for a friend (when I get blocked I ask friends to give me a prompt and that gets the words flowing again… this friend- an Australian- asked for a particular story which I would personally have never written myself but am finding fascinating, and happily, the enthusiasm travels to my other works. So for any writers out there, if you ever suffer from writer’s block on one work, just pick up your pen and try another… you’ll be surprised at how quickly the words may come). Luckily, I’ve also had a great writery meet-up with some pretty inspiring authors… the absolutely lovely Fi Harper, Carol Cooper, Liz Harris, Bella Andre, Sophie Weston, Janet Gover, Lucinda Lee and Henriette Gyland. They were all happy to share stories and we managed a forty five minute writing session which reinvigorated my love for my current WIP. They’re all absolute stars and I adore them.

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I have some lovely events coming up so hopefully I’ll be able to update soon with more news and writer-talk. I’m also going to review another classic author from the romance genre… Anne Mather, whose back catalogue I’m slowly working through.

Love and sunny days to all, Sharon.x

 

Reviews, reviews, reviews…

Once, I begged my husband to elope with me rather than put me through the agony of a wedding.

He didn’t refuse, but reminded me very gently about all the people who wanted to be there to help us celebrate.

‘Just don’t make me be the centre of attention the whole day, okay?’ I asked him, to which he smiled.

‘I’ll try and outshine you. It will be hard, but I’ll try.’

 

I’m a classic introvert. I dislike being in large crowds, need time alone frequently, and am very happy with my own company. I dislike the idea of having people notice me, and prefer to blend in with my surroundings. I don’t wear make-up or paint my nails, I live in boots, jeans and jackets and if my hair wasn’t so strongly a natural blonde I would probably tone that down too. The thought of being a ‘bride’ and all that entailed absolutely terrified me, and my favourite part of my wedding day was after the ceremony, when our family and friends got up to sing a medley of Gilbert and Sullivan songs (I’m a huge G&S fan, and my husband- once a member of the Imperial College Operatic Society- had invited to our wedding musicians, singers and directors by the score) and my husband and I had a minute to ourselves. My husband took that moment to hug me. We didn’t talk, or laugh, or even kiss. It was just us in a quiet moment, and I felt like I could breathe for the first time that day.

So, having a book out now and reading reviews coming in from Amazon and Goodreads, is, for an introvert like me, absolutely nerve-wracking. I’m not hiding behind a pseudonym, because I love the story I’ve written, and I want to share it. But not hiding behind a pseudonym leaves me feeling open and vulnerable. It’s got to the point now where I won’t even look at the reviews, and my husband is the one to say ‘No, you should look at this one,’ or, ‘This person suggests that…’

Because my husband knows me, and he gets my personality. And he knows that my introvert status walks hand-in-hand with a crippling low self-confidence, and that I take criticism and rejection hard and to heart.

But he also knows me well enough to tell me that, eventually, I need to get over this when it comes to my work. And he’s right.

Because not everyone is going to like what I write, or my voice, or my style. Some people might read the book and not understand what I was trying to convey, or how I wanted my characters to appear. And I have to learn to be okay with that. Because writing, as with everything else in life, is subjective. I remember reading Laurie Graham’s ‘The Unfortunates’ and absolutely falling in love with it, so much so that I immediately gave a copy to a friend with similar reading tastes to me. And she absolutely hated it. Something in that work appealed to me, but wasn’t apparent to her.

So, I’ve decided to read the reviews of my work, and rather than reading them negatively, I’m going to take positives from them. One reviewer, the very kind Caitlyn Lynch, left me a review which was- for the most part- highly complimentary. But she also criticised my research, which had me weeping later that night.

Her criticism was mainly that I had shown ignorance of France by having my heroine at a Hotel de Ville, which is- in France- a town hall. And actually, I did know that, having planned for my heroine to be a party at the Hotel de Ville from the beginning (town halls were often used for social gatherings in the Georgian and Regency periods, even in post-revolutionary France). But I hadn’t meant that she was staying at a Hotel de Ville. Had I wanted my heroine to stay at a hotel, I would have mentioned that she was sleeping at the Hotel de la Poste. I know France well (in fact I will be in Paris next week- excited squeal!) and love that country and the people. So, with Caitlyn’s review, while my first impulse was to weep, I decided to take a positive from it. I decided that obviously it was my error as a writer not to have conveyed that knowledge correctly. I should have made it clearer that Sophy was at a party at the Hotel de Ville, but not actually staying there as you would at an everyday hotel. And next time, I’ll make sure I’ll do better.

I’m sure there will be moments in the future where I will want to cringe and weep at a bad review. But I’ll also remind myself to learn from the review and keep looking forwards to the next book.

Which hopefully I’ll be able to talk more about very soon…

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Reacquainting myself with the Mistress of Romantic Suspense…

Confession: I don’t hate ‘Blue Monday’, or even January. I’ve always regarded January as a continuation of the Christmas period… the decorations are often still up,  people aren’t quite firing on all cylinders after the holidays, and the cold nights are perfect for cuddling up and- my favourite thing of all- reading books. I have issues with February, but that’s another story for another time.

But this January has been a little bittersweet, to be honest. My book has been released and the reviews are- so far- very kind. One of my favourite people turned 40 and we had an amazing night out to celebrate. But this month has also seen the loss of the darling Doris O’Connor, author extraordinaire and mother hen, who succumbed to cancer (#fuckcancer) after the bravest fight I’ve ever seen. Doris and I had been friends for years, and I owe her so much, and will miss her dearly.

I’m new to grief, in a way. I’ve been lucky so far, and most of the people I love are well and healthy and happy. I’ve grieved for lost friendships (hard) and lost relationships (harder) and even a lost baby (painful), but I’ve never really lost anyone unexpectedly or so young as Doris was. My husband has been good, letting me cry when I need to and pouring wine liberally on the weekend Doris died. He lost his Mum back in May, and has spent months coming to terms with her loss and grief itself. It was odd particularly at Christmas. We spent two days with his Dad at his house, and it was strange being there for and for my mother-in-law not to be there. But my sister-in-law and husband were admirable in their grief, smiling through the day and playing with the children, exchanging gifts and understanding that life goes on. Grief, it seems, is a fluid thing.

And like anything else, when I’m unhappy or hurt, I retreat into books.

My husband’s mother, as well as being a preacher and counsellor, was a fantastic reader. While I was there, my father-in-law and sister-in-law emphatically told me to take any of her books that I wanted. In the end, I only took one: a Mary Stewart novel I was missing from my collection.

Mary Stewart (Lady Stewart, though she never used her title) like Netta Muskett and Nina Lambert, had more than a little influence on my own decision to write romance novels. For one thing, she was a Northern girl like myself, hailing from Sunderland. She was also, like myself, a true romantic. She and her husband were married for over fifty years, until his death separated them. As a believer in the longevity of true love, I adore this story.

I read my first Stewart book aged about 20, when I was working as a waitress for a hotel. I worked both the breakfast and evening shifts, and quite often would sleep at the hotel in an empty room rather than go home. Once, in a break, I wandered around outside until I came across a second-hand book shop, where I found a rather tatty copy of ‘The Ivy Tree’ by Stewart.

I read that book over about a week, between waitressing shifts, utterly engrossed. I was a solitary creature (I still am, to be honest, requiring time alone frequently in order to stay sane) and most of my co-workers gave up on me, realising that I wouldn’t be torn from my book.

Not until I’d reached the end, at any rate.

If you haven’t read ‘The Ivy Tree’ I beg you to go out right now and get a copy. Because this book is superb, and was my first experience of the ‘unreliable narrator’ trope. It’s told, unbelievably, in the first person, and Stewart makes you wholeheartedly believe everything our heroine tells us… up until the last second, when she whips the comfort blanket of a story away, and makes you realise that you have to re-read the entire novel to understand the very blatant hints she has been dropping throughout the duration of the novel.

After ‘The Ivy Tree’, I made a point of picking up Stewart’s entire collection (most is happily available in e-version now). But I’d missed one or two over the years, and so I was delighted to find the last one I hadn’t read on my mother-in-law’s shelf.

And I read it quickly, before dipping my toes back into the rest of her books. ‘Madam, will you talk?’ Is another of her stories I would definitely recommend, particularly if-like me- you like your romance with a dollop of intrigue.

My husband and I collect signed hardbacks by our favourite authors, and I’m gutted that I never managed to get a copy of any of my books signed by Stewart. She died aged 97, and I’m forever on eBay, trying to justify the cost of a book signed by her (my husband still hasn’t forgiven me for once spending £90 on an out of print romance by Nina Lambert, which wasn’t even signed).

Mary Stewart, in my eyes, will forever be the gold standard of romantic suspense writers.

And if you’re feeling the effects of January this year, I can only recommend a warm cup of coffee, a good armchair, a cosy blanket, and a copy of ‘The Ivy Tree’ to see you through.

That’s what I’ll be doing.xx

brown book page
Photo by Wendy van Zyl on Pexels.com

Release Day for ‘The Marked Lord’

It’s January 15th, 2019… which makes it release day for The Marked Lord!

I’ve been excited for this day for months now (poor old Christmas didn’t really get a look in) and I woke up this morning and you know what?

It’s been a good day.

I think all writers have an idea in their head of what publication day for their novel would be like. And I suppose I’m no exception. But the truth is that although today has been a good day, with messages from friends (including ones in Australia and the US) I will treasure, it hasn’t been the dream day I had in my head.

And that’s okay. Because although I HAVE A BOOK OUT (excited caps lock usage very necessary at this point!) my kids still have to go to school. They still need their lunches packed, uniforms cleaned and shoes on. And although I HAVE A BOOK OUT it’s still a working day, and my husband still needs to commute into London and can only grab a quick word with me between meetings at various financial institutions. And although I HAVE A BOOK OUT I still have to run errands for the PTA, tidy the house, get to the gym and, most importantly, write. Because although I HAVE A BOOK OUT, life still goes on.

And that’s all okay.

Because I took the time out to read a magazine today. While drinking a coffee. And eating a chocolate brownie (I don’t even really like chocolate and am not coeliac, but I have a thing for gluten-free chocolate brownies. Go figure.) all by myself at Starbucks.

And while there, I took the time to check my twitter and Instagram, and found both flooded with messages from readers and writers. Congratulations and best wishes coming from friends. It was a nice moment.

This afternoon a friend called me, asking if I were swimming in flowers and cards, and if I would be drinking champagne tonight.

“You’re a published author today!” She squealed. “This is a big deal!”

But the truth is that I won’t be drinking champagne tonight, and nobody sent me flowers or cards. And in a way, that’s the way it should be. Because this is a personal goal reached for me, and right up there with giving birth naturally and trekking The Great Wall. And the person who should be most proud of me is me.

And I really am. I am proud of myself.

And as someone who has always suffered with low self-confidence, that’s a big thing to admit.

And admitting it has been the second best part of today. The first, of course, has been reading all the messages of support from my friends. All of my best friends, some old work colleagues, old school friends… they all got in touch to say that they were proud of me. And that’s a lovely thing to hear. I’ve also had so many messages from those at Choc Lit and in the romance community- more than I feel I deserve. I’ve been truly humbled by how kind and supportive everyone has been.

It’s been a good day, and I think it will be a good week. Reviews for ‘The Marked Lord’ have been trickling in and making me feel very warm. Tomorrow night my husband and I will get some time together. And this weekend is a close friend’s birthday and we’re going out to celebrate.

Thank you, so much, to everyone who has been in touch. And if you read ‘The Marked Lord’ and have any comments, do please get in touch to let me know.

Sharon.xx

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Mince Pies, Tinsel, Tea-towels and Zero Productivity: A Busy Mum’s Christmas

I’m sitting in the near-dark so that our fairy lights twinkle more brightly. My living room is covered in elves, ornaments, Christmas teddies and Christmas blankets (we have three. Why do we have three? I didn’t buy a single one of them. Are they multiplying in my loft? Actually, that wouldn’t surprise me. Everything either multiplies or disappears in my loft. There is no in-between.) Our Christmas tree is in the bay window, dropping pine needles as I write (my husband is a fervent fan of real trees and refuses to even hear of my buying a false one). My children are high on a combination of excitement, copious amounts of Christmas snack sugar, advent chocolates, and general good cheer. And, to help everything, my three-year-old’s pre-school has shut up shop for the holidays early. Everyday it’s just me and her, filling our days with yet more Christmas shopping and gingerbread baking, counting down the hours until my six-year-old finishes school.

I haven’t written a word in… oh, too long. And if I don’t write for long stretches, I tend to get waspish, antsy, frustrated and snappy. For me, writing is a way of letting out emotion and feelings.  And if I can’t write, I get bottled up, which eventually ends in an explosion of bitterness, tears, and resentment, usually directed at my husband (who I love, and who puts up with it because he knows exactly what’s going on in my head).

I have all these ideas in my mind swirling around, and zero time to spend writing them down. Without that morning work session when my daughter is at pre-school, my entire routine is thrown. I don’t get to go for my morning swim or run or yoga session, so that I feel sluggish all day. I don’t get my writing done. I don’t get that time to go over paperwork, or my admin, or anything really. And by the time 9pm rolls around, when I would normally turn on my laptop and work again, I’m too exhausted from having cared for a toddler all day. That, and the fact that this time of year is jam-packed with activities for my family.

Actually, I don’t mind the activities so much. In the last three weeks I’ve been to the theatre with friends (to see ‘A very very very very very dark matter’, which I don’t recommend on account of it being a very WTF? kind of play), a night which ended, as my nights out seem to do, with me cuddling one friend in the back of an Uber at 2am completely inebriated, before getting into bed and waking my husband up to discuss light fittings (I know, I know… but what can I say? He’s a patient man and he indulges me). I’ve been to see my son’s Christmas play not once but THREE times, because as Chairperson of my PTA I need to be there to sell raffle tickets and muster up support (and my son had a solo part this year, and he sang beautifully, a talent he emphatically did not inherit from me). My mother has been to visit and we’ve been into London to look at the Christmas lights, as well as into my local town to finish up shopping for Christmas day. I’ve been to Canterbury to see my nephew sing and play violin in his school orchestra, which was amazing, on account of the orchestra being ultra-talented and also because it was my nephew, who I adore. I’ve been to the RNA London chapter’s Christmas lunch, which was lovely, and I got to sit next to Maggie Sullivan (who has my dream job as resident author for Coronation Street) and hear all about the next book in her series. I also got to speak with Lucinda Lee about the Avengers (harassing poor Fi Harper in the process into seeing the entire MCU series of films) and generally fangirl with her for half-an-hour. I’ve been into London Bridge (my favourite part of the city) to meet with my Best Friend Forever and have noodles and Christmas coffee with her (she’s going back to our hometown in Australia for Christmas so I won’t see her to the New Year now sadly). I’ve also had an impromptu wine and cheese night with my neighbours where I possibly drank a little too much red wine and ate more mince pies than can be good for me.

Rather amazingly, my husband also took me out in this period. He surprised me by texting me in the morning with instructions to ‘glam up’ and meet him in London that afternoon from a particular train. He then met me at Charing Cross, kissing me under the Christmas tree, before taking me out for Mexican food and Margaritas (he knows me too well) to see ‘The Book of Mormon’ (which was irreverent fun and I loved every minute of it).

I still have, unbelievably, a North Pole Tea Party to attend tomorrow, as well as the Year Six Church concert, and then another Christmas party on Friday evening. This weekend I have a visit to Santa booked in, as well as our annual visit to the Pantomime. And then… finally, after what feels like weeks of preparations and parties and visits and decorating and Christmas baking, we have Christmas itself.

I love Christmas Day, but I’ll be glad when January rolls around and we can get back to routine. I’ve outlined my Christmas 2019 and Christmas 2020 novels, and I need- and I mean need- to start writing the 2019 one ASAP.

I know how terribly lucky I am. I have a husband who loves me, two children, a publishing contract, fabulous neighbours and friends (two of whom are a delicious mix of both), and a wonderful family. This Christmas my children will wake to a house full of family and presents under the tree. I already know what my gift is this year: my husband asked me what I wanted, and I said ‘Something French’ (I am a not-so-secret Francophile). So he’s taking me to Paris, for a purpose other than Disneyland, so I can finally see Versailles and the Mona Lisa (I skipped it on my first Paris trip, spending all my allocated time in the Louvre looking at the Etruscan artifacts in the basement (I’m also a not-so-secret Ancient History fan). I’m so, so lucky. I read somewhere once that the cup of gratitude provides the sweetest drink, and I never really understood that. But now, I can definitely say that yes, to be grateful in happiness is definitely sweet.

And I wish the same for everyone else.

Have a holly, jolly Christmas.

With love and gratitude, Sharon.x

P.S And if any of you see me mucking around on Twitter in the New Year instead of writing, set me straight, will you? Please?

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

 

 

 

 

Christmas is coming… for the next four months…

So. Mild panic.

I have been asked to write a Christmas novel.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas and this time of year. I love the merriment, the food, the drink, and the sheer joy in the small faces of my children. I’m not so keen on Christmas decorations (my husband and I get caught in our yearly debate on real trees vs fake trees, and tinsel vs tinsel-free) and I’m not so keen on the crowds of people in every town centre, and nor am I keen on the cost (I have a six-year-old and lego is expensive). But while I’m not keen on the aesthetics, I very much enjoy the traditions and emotions of this time of year.

But writing about it? Hmm.

I’ve never attempted a Christmas novel or even a story before. Why would I? I write historical romance novels set in the period before Christmas trees were even a thing.  There was no Santa with his red-nosed reindeer. There were no turkeys, brined or otherwise. The gentle sounds of Bing Crosby crooning ‘White Christmas’ did not float across the Regency drawing room.

But I’ve been asked to write one, and I’m never one to back down from a challenge. So, I’ve pushed my other projects to one side and have given myself four months to write a 80,000 word Christmas book (for publication in 2019, when the new Star Wars comes out, at which point I will be living in the cinema and hardly blogging at all). So, I need to to write 20,000 words in January, or 1000 words a working day. This is doable, provided (and this is a big provided) that I can get the plotting/story and conflict right.

Wish me luck?

I plan on buying lots of mince pies and Christmas food in the January sales, to keep me in the mood over the spring. My husband will be delighted… my waistline not so much.