I have a Sarah.

I have a Sarah. She’s five-years-old. Her favourite things in the world are Lego, princesses, dancing, making cupcakes and reading books. She’s tempestuous and demanding, alternating sometimes on a minute by minute basis from being a ball of pure sunshine to a dark cloud of a thunderstorm; she keeps us all on our toes. She’s clever and quick and feels things very deeply. She’s emotional and giving and loves her family, her friends, and her school very much.

My Sarah, aged 5

This last week, my Sarah has heard her name being mentioned in the news frequently, and has kept glancing up to the sound of it. “They keep saying my name,” she told me yesterday morning, while I brushed her hair, with the sound of the Sunday news in the background. “They keep talking about Sarah.”

I nodded, but motioned for my husband to turn the news off. There are some things a five-year-old doesn’t need to know about. Some things that can wait to be explained.

Or can they? It was last night, once both our children were in bed, that I suddenly turned to my husband, with worry in my voice. “When do I start telling her?” I asked him. “When do I start telling her all the things she needs to know? All the things she’ll need to do?”

My husband looked back at me with soft eyes, but made no reply.

Because there is no right answer, at the end of the day. There’s no right answer to a question I can’t believe I even need to think about.

Looking at my Sarah, holding my Sarah, I’m reminded of another mother out there who has lost hers. Her daughter, her Sarah, kidnapped from the London streets and murdered by a man in a position of trust. A woman who was, as we all know too well, just walking home. A woman who did everything ‘right’, all the things we are ‘supposed to do’, and still came to harm from a man.

My Sarah has no real knowledge of wickedness yet. Her ideas of evil are formed from fairytales and stories, stories where predominantly a woman (normally old, with magical powers, envious and wretched) plays the antagonist to a princess protagonist. Men in these stories are the wise old fathers, the handsome princes, or the sturdy farmers. In my Sarah’s world, men are figures of love and affection: the adored big brother, the loved Grandfather, the reliable father. In my Sarah’s world, men are still princes on their white horses. They are still kings on their thrones.

All week I’ve been looking at my Sarah and wondering when I burst that bubble. When I start mentioning things like ‘keys between your fingers, ignore the catcalls, don’t go out alone.’ When I start having to warn and remind. When I start having to check and worry.

In a small way, I suppose I already have. Both my children are very aware of my ‘if you ever get lost’ mantra. “Find a nice looking woman, a Mum or a Grandma, if you can,” I tell them, again and again. “Tell them your name and ask for help.”

I never tell them to find a man. It’s always a woman. The seed is already planted in that way.

This last week has made me so desperately sad, so desperately worried and so desperately angry all at once. Women have started to say out loud, “This is not okay.” Women have started to say, “Why are we the ones who are punished?” Women have started to say, “These are the things we have to do.” Is this the first step in a long walk to a better future? I don’t know. I really don’t.

The only thing I do know is that I have a Sarah, and that in fact, every mother of a daughter does. Sarah in Hebrew means ‘esteemed woman’ and that is what we all are.

We’re all a Sarah. We all know a Sarah.

And in these few last weeks, we lost a Sarah too.

I’m going to give my Sarah a big cuddle when I see her after school today, and at the back of my mind, I’ll be thinking of another mother who cannot do the same. I feel for her and her family so deeply.

Because I have a Sarah.

And they had one too.

One Year of Covid19…

I remember it like it was yesterday.

Friday the 13th, 2020. As chairperson of the local primary school’s PTA, I was running the committee’s AGM and annual quiz night, and had been at the school for hours getting ready. I had twenty quiz packs ready, music and snacks and even – I laugh to think of it now – 300 glass vials with scented cotton inside for a ‘guess the smell’ round.

At six pm, I was standing in a deserted school hall, with doubt starting to creep down my spine. The virus – that virus, Coronavirus, there are patients with it in St Tommy’s, haven’t you heard? – was in the UK and spreading rapidly. Should I have cancelled the AGM? Was it wise to have a quiz night with up to 100 people in a school hall? Should I have let my husband leave for Amsterdam that morning? (He had almost cancelled, and I had been the one to tell him to go, knowing he might not have the chance again soon).

When another committee member arrived, I nearly wept with relief. I was being ridiculous, I decided. There was no way a virus would stop a harmless school event. My husband would be fine. The AGM would go on as planned. But one look at my friend’s face while we discussed ‘the situation’, as we so delicately referred to it, and all my doubts came creeping back.

“They’re going to close the schools,” she said with a shrug, like it was already a done deal and didn’t really matter anyway.

“Maybe I should cancel,” I replied fearfully, gesturing around me, but my friend only shrugged again.

“People are already on their way. It’s too late.”

We then did what most of Britain – if not the world – did that week. We opened up our wine, and started to drink.

The quiz night went on as planned, and we had over 100 people, in the end. All hugging, laughing, drinking and sharing food. Afterwards we spilled into the local pub, ordering more wine and getting slightly tipsy. I hugged my friends goodbye at around 11pm, before walking home and tiptoeing into my house to pay my babysitter.

I remember that night vividly because it was what I consider to be the last ‘normal’ night of my pre-Covid life. The Sharon on that night – smiling, merry, only slightly tinged with worry – had no idea that my husband would return home with Covid and have to spend nearly six weeks in and out of bed, completely wiped out, his eyes bloodshot and red, coughing horribly. The Sharon of that night couldn’t conceive of a world where the schools would close and I would have to spend the best part of the next year homeschooling my children. The Sharon of that night would have laughed at the thought of only seeing my family once over the next twelve months. The Sharon of that night had no idea of what was to come.

I’ve been lucky this last year, in many ways. We haven’t been financially affected by the pandemic. We have a large garden in which the children can play. I could afford to pay the black market prices flour, cocoa powder and yeast went for at the height of lockdown v.1. But more importantly, my husband, sister and mother all recovered from their Covid infections, while I either didn’t catch it, was asymptomatic, or had a mild infection (I still don’t know). So many other people haven’t been as lucky and they all have my sympathy and virtual hugs.

But wow. What a year. Just after we woke this morning, still lying in bed, my husband gave me a cuddle. “It’s been a year since I was in Amsterdam,” he whispered. “It’s been a year since all this began.”

I nodded, but I’ve long since stopped counting in things like ‘time since’. I’ve learnt now the best way to go forwards is to count in ‘days until’. I’m shielding, so I know I have twenty-one days until I can leave my house again, maybe do my own shopping at the local supermarket. I know that I might – just might – see my family at May half-term, and that it’s eighty days until then. In a way, the Covid19 pandemic has made me reset how I look at life. There are some good things to take away from all this, and one thing that has been reinforced is just how much I prioritise my family, and time spent with them.

My children are – for the time being, at least – back in school, so work-wise I’ve picked up where I left off. I’m working simultaneously on two holiday romances, both interlinked and set in the same town. I’m occasionally working on a gift story for a friend. And I’ve finally – finally! – started another contemporary romance, one that’s set during Covid19.

It’s been a year, but there is so much to look forward to.

NaNoWriMo No No No

Well. Here we are again. It’s that time of year. The time all writers both dread and look forward to.


To be entirely honest, I’m more than a little bit rubbish at NaNoWriMo. Every year I sign up and every year I have the same result (I never finish).

It isn’t the deadline as such that bothers me, or even the word count. It’s just that as a writer, I tend to dip from project to project (I write on average three books a year) and can never settle on one of them for the WHOLE OF NOVEMBER! Instead, I tend to spread my wordcount over all of my WIP’s, and as such, while November tends to be a successful writing month for me (note: the children are at school for the entire month), NaNoWriMo never is.

I get that it works for some people, but I’m just not one of them.

I actually have four WIP’s at the moment (I know, I know… but I love them all and can’t choose). Two are holiday romances (one of which is already complete, but is still in the editing stage, so I count it still as a WIP until I press that submit button). The next is a medical romance, set during Covid (I know, I know… but I need to get it out of my system, and as they say, writing is cathartic). And the final one, still in the outlining stage, is a second-chance romance (one of my favourite tropes).

I know, at this point, that I need to prioritise the second of my holiday romances. The six months we spent during lockdown when the kids were not in school really cut into my writing schedule, and I’m still playing catch-up with just about everything. I don’t regret for a moment prioritising my kids or my husband during that tumultuous half-year period – it was, for me, absolutely the right thing to do. But I do regret that I won’t have a book out this year, when there should have been two. Still, this holiday romance is incredibly fun to write, and the images I have saved on my iphone for inspiration make me smile every time I see them. Writing this book is easy… it’s like when I wrote ‘Hanukkah at the Great Greenwich Ice Creamery’ in a little over eight weeks… the words are just flowing (and its always a surprise and a pleasure when that happens).

Surprisingly, none of my WIP’s are historical fiction. I have two outlined, but haven’t yet begun work on them. It’s strange, I love reading and writing historical fiction, but with everything going on in the world, I’ve been drawn more and more to contemporary romances. There’s still research involved, but its a different kind to historical research, less time-consuming and less all consuming (I can’t tell you how many wiki-holes I’ve fallen into over the years…). I will go back to my historical fiction one day, but for now, I’m happy to lose myself in a Covid-free vision of the modern world.

I will try to keep on schedule for NaNoWriMo, but I’m not going to stress out about it this year. There are far too many other, more pressing things to be worried about in 2020!

Sending lots of NaNoWriMo love to you all,


Some news…

I’ve been quiet recently, I know. During lockdown, I dedicated myself to my family and our mental wellbeing. My husband is a critical worker, and hasn’t had a day off since February. So, I took on the tasks of homeschooling my four year old and eight year old. I took on the tasks of cleaning and maintaining our home. I cooked and shopped and made sure our lives were as orderly and happy as could be during unusual and distressing circumstances.

I’ve written a little, I’m happy to say. Outlined a new book, cracked on with book 4, and completed a new, somewhat different manuscript (of which I’ll talk more later…)

Today, I do have some news to share though. My novel, The Marked Lord, is a contender for the 2020 Joan Hessayon Award.


This makes me happy for many reasons, but the first and foremost one is that this award is a celebration of love. The award itself, (which I think was formerly the Netta Muskett award, but I’ll need to fact check that) is named for Joan Hessayon, who was a brilliant romance novelist. Joan met her husband David in Paris in 1949 (the city of love) and they were married for fifty years before her death in 2001.

I love the story of how David and Joan met, and of how he was so determined to marry her that he followed her back to her native US. I love that he set up this award in his wife’s name, so that her memory would continue, year after year, while celebrating the work of new authors. This award defines and celebrates love from every angle you look at it.

The list of contenders this year is amazing, and I’m lucky to call so many of the authors featured my friends. Kathleen Whyman is hilarious, with the most infectious smile you’ll ever come across, and her book has been long-looked forward to since she first described it to me at an RNA event two years ago (*falls over*).

Lucy Keeling is a delight, and for such a petite woman, she has a soul and comedic touch of massive proportions. I’ve read both her novels, and laughed like crazy through both of them (and like me, she’s filthy minded, which makes me adore her even more).

Jacqueline Rohen is on the list too, for her debut novel How to Marry your Husband. I never met Jacqueline (she lived in Uganda at a rescue centre for chimpanzees which she poured her heart and soul into) and sadly I never will, as she passed away a week before her book was published. If I could choose a winner this year, I would pick her. She never saw her book published, that amazing moment when you can see your work in the flesh. She should be remembered this way, through this award… because her book is wonderfully touching, and all about second chances (my favourite trope) and love triumphing over all.

And isn’t that what the Joan Hessayon award is about, after all?

I’m honoured to be on this list, and very much looking forward to congratulating the winner.

Many thanks, as always, to the wonderful RNA and also to the wonderful Janet Gover (friend, writer extraordinaire, fellow Australian and efficient NWS organiser), and absolutely, without a doubt, to Dr David Hessayon and the memory of his wife and love of his life, Joan.


Extract from new W.I.P…

So rather excitingly, Choclit are having an online book festival! There are lots of readings and giveaways and author news and recipes and all kinds of other things, to help give our readers a boost during these strange times. Although, it’s not just about raising happiness. It’s also about helping us connect with our readers, to show that even now, when we’re all so alone and far apart, that we really are all together.


Because we are all together in this, aren’t we? By staying apart we’re coming together, and helping to fight this terrible virus and protect our NHS, as well as our vulnerable friends, family and neighbours.


We’re all making sacrifices for the greater good here. Mine are small, in the grand scheme of things. I haven’t seen my family in nearly six months. I haven’t left my home (except for exercise) in nearly three. The book I’ve been writing, that I my timetable said should be finished in March, is languishing still as a WIP on my laptop.


I hate that it’s still a WIP, because it was a story I really wanted to write, and was looking forward to finishing (if only so I could find out how it ends, because at this point in time, with act two finished and starting to write act three, I still don’t know). It’s about what happens when you fall in love with the right person at the wrong time, and about moving on from your past when it comes back to haunt your present.


I love this story, and so, as part of the online #chocrubyfestival I asked Choc Lit if I could post an excerpt from the book. They were very glad for me to, and so I’m happy to present below a section from chapter three of the story below.


But more than that… I actually filmed myself reading the very same excerpt (it’s filmed in my greenhouse, of all places, and I’ve just got over Covid19 so I don’t look or sound great, but still… an actual vlog!) and can also add the link below!

I really hope you enjoy this snippet from my latest WIP and look forward to hopefully sharing the complete project with you all very soon.


With a start, Alix Emerson sat bolt upright in her bed, wondering where the hell she was and what that bloody awful noise could be. 

‘Sam,’ she murmured sleepily, burrowing her head under her pillow, trying to block out the noise. ‘Sam, make it stop.’

But the noise continued unabated, and Alix groaned, realising that her flatmate was not going to come to her aid. 

Of course he wasn’t. How could he? They were four thousand miles away from their shared flat in Hammersmith, and he was three rooms down the hall in this hotel, rather than in the room next to hers as usual. For once, Alix would have to solve her own problems, and right now, ensconced in this dark hotel room, that problem was the pulsing beat of her alarm and –

Damn, her alarm. Rolling over, Alix grabbed hold of her offending mobile, frantically swiping at the screen until the phone stopped screeching, the room becoming blissfully quiet once more. Through bleary eyes, she looked at the time.

Eleven am London time, which made it… what? Six in the morning here? Alix threw her phone to one side, without bothering to check. She didn’t need to check. She never needed to check. When it came to the time difference between GMT and EST, she knew the hour automatically, almost like it had been programmed into her system. Every time her phone rang, early in the morning or late at night, she would instinctively do a quick calculation, mentally working out if it was too early or too late to be him. She’d tried in vain to break herself of the habit, telling herself that it was a pointless exercise, that the time in New York didn’t matter, that the time difference between them didn’t matter.

Because she didn’t matter, did she? Not to him.

Not anymore. 

He’d stopped calling a long time ago, Alix reminded herself. And the only person she was hurting in holding onto a small nugget of hope that one day, maybe one day, she’d answer her phone and hear his voice again, was herself.

She swung her legs out of bed, stumbling into the hotel bathroom and staring in the mirror. She looked tired, almost haggard, the result of a bad case of jetlag and one too many margaritas the night before. She could thank Sam Okereke and Olivia Linklater for that. As soon as their plane had touched down at JFK she’d become a bundle of nerves, her eyes glancing furtively from side to side, taking in the people around them, her mind working overtime. She found her eyes lingering on a man ahead of her, tall and broad, his head down. That could be him, she’d thought instantly. Another man to her right, his brown hair tinged with red, made her inhale sharply. Or him.

She felt stricken with anxiety and yet oddly hopeful all at once, and her hands shook as she collected her luggage, her heart racing as the taxi pulled away from the airport and the New York City skyline came into view.

She wasn’t supposed to be here, she’d thought guiltily. She’d promised him she wouldn’t ever set foot in this city again.

‘You can have London, I’ll have New York,’ he’d thrown at her, on that final, fateful night, and she’d been too hurt, too bewildered and heartsore, to fight him on the issue.

Olivia, with the razor-sharp scrutiny that had made her editor-in-chief at Gloss magazine at just thirty-four years of age, noticed Alix’s discomfort straightaway.

‘You’re shaking like a leaf, Alix,’ she’d said, giving her a sideways glance. ‘God, you’re not… on anything, are you?’

‘No,’ Alix had replied. ‘I almost wish I was.’

‘What’s up, Ally?’ Sam asked, turning instantly to her, his voice rich with concern.

Alix only shrugged, keeping her eyes trained on the view outside. ‘I just don’t like New York.’

Olivia rolled her eyes. ‘You’ll like it more after we hit the hotel bar, I promise.’

Sam looked at her, almost askance. ‘We have the Armstrong takeover meeting tomorrow morning… are you sure drinking tonight is a good idea?’

‘I’ve been prepping for this meeting for two months now,’ Olivia replied, her voice sharp. ‘And I just spent an eight-hour flight up to my eyeballs in Dominion Corp and Armstrong Publication paperwork. All I want now is a hot shower and an expense account pitcher of margaritas.’

Olivia was good to her word. As soon as the three were ensconced at the bar, showered and somewhat refreshed, Olivia ordered pitcher after pitcher of cocktails, plying Alix with booze until she’d been unable to walk and they’d had to put her to bed, like a wayward child.

‘Will she be okay tomorrow?’ she’d heard Olivia say through ears full of alcohol induced cotton wool, and she’d seen Sam grin as he tucked a blanket around her.

‘Yeah. She never can hold her booze. It’s always the same. After one drink she’s fine, two she’s okay, if a little morose, but by three?’ He chuckled. ‘Three drinks and she starts speaking and singing in French.’ Alix felt Sam reach down and squeeze her fingers, warm and comforting. ‘She’s really cute when she gets like that.’

‘God,’ Olivia’s disdain was evident. ‘So, what happens if she has more than three?’ she then asked, and Alix felt Sam disentangle his fingers from her own, felt him stand and then gesture to her on the bed.


Now, Alix splashed some water on her face while starting the shower, rummaging through her toiletries bag for her toothbrush and shampoo. 

It was a big day, she reminded herself. If today went well, she would really cement her role at Dominion Corp, and would go back to London with a real bargaining chip to use in why she should be allowed away from Gloss magazine and into investigative journalism at one of their more newsworthy papers. 

Alix stepped into the shower with a sigh. It wasn’t that she didn’t like writing Get it up with Emmy, and she certainly wasn’t squeamish writing about sex. In fact, she was damned good at it. So damn good at it that she was one of Dominion Corp’s most syndicated columnists. So damn good that Olivia confessed she would be stupid to let her go. So damn good that Shearer was never, ever going to let her leave a goldmine article for investigative journalism at one of his newspapers. And it galled Alix to admit that her talent with words may have cost her her dream, that she would forever be at Gloss, writing lipstick and sex tips and celebrity news. 

But no. It wasn’t over yet. Alix stood taller, washing her hair with more vigour. When a space had unexpectedly opened up on the Armstrong takeover team, Olivia had asked Alix if she was up to the role.

‘You’re young and well turned out and you can do the languages thing,’ Olivia had surmised, sitting on Alix’s desk primly. ‘You should come with me to New York.’

Alix had swallowed hard. ‘New York?’

‘Yes,’ Olivia inspected her immaculately manicured nails. ‘Tall place, big city. You might have heard of it.’

Alix blushed. ‘Well, yes, I know, but…’ she chewed on her lip. ‘You really want me to come to New York for the Armstrong merger talks?’

Olivia sighed. ‘Actually, I don’t. Not really. Louise was meant to come, but she fell off her horse at the weekend, the silly cow, and she’s currently laid up in bed with a broken leg,’ Olivia rolled her eyes, as though Louise had deliberately broken her leg to make life difficult for her. ‘Now I’m down a team member, and I need someone who can speak French.’

‘French? I didn’t know Armstrong was French-owned?’ Alix queried.

Olivia shrugged. ‘It’s not. But the current CEO has a place in Paris, and I’ve heard she’s not above speaking in foreign languages during meetings to get one-up on her competitors. I want to go prepared, so… enter you. Besides,’ she added. ‘Sam’s coming… so, you know. You’ll have a friend there.’

‘You mean Sam my roommate?’

‘Well, in this instance he’ll be there as Sam my assistant, but yes. It was him who suggested you for this role to me. So, check your passport and pack your bags. We fly in two days.’   

Alix rinsed the shampoo from her hair, applying a liberal layer of conditioner. She might’ve come to New York as a last-minute addition to help with the Dominion Corp- Armstrong Publications merger, but she knew a chance when she saw one. And this was her chance to prove to Olivia and Shearer that she wasn’t just Emmy, sex columnist extraordinaire, but also Alix Emerson, serious journalist. 

She grit her teeth. She wouldn’t give up her writing dreams. Not for anything. Not for anyone.

Not when she’d lost one dream in her life already.


What did you all think? Is it any good? (*crosses fingers* I really hope it is)




Work in Progress Reading with Sharon Ibbotson

Ice cream in December? Really?

When I’ve mentioned recently to people that I have a novel coming out soon about Hanukkah set in a south London ice creamery, I’ve noticed more and more people giving me ‘the look’.

You’ll know what ‘the look’ is of course, everyone does. It’s that expression of doubt mingled with a little disbelief that crosses someone’s face when they think you’re doing something absolutely crazy. Crazy like, say, writing a winter novel set in an ice creamery.

But there is method to my madness, I promise (there generally is, though sometimes I have to look really hard to find it).

When I first sat down to write ‘Hanukkah at the Great Greenwich Ice Creamery’, two things happened. I happened to check Facebook, and this memory cropped up:

Binky chocolate ice cream

It’s my daughter Sarah, from when she was about two years old, standing outside of the Globe Theatre in London and eating chocolate ice cream.

I smiled widely on seeing the image, as parents tend to do, before closing Facebook down and going back to my work. But after five minutes of sitting, my laptop on, and words not quite leaping from my mind to the page, I went back to Facebook and opened up the image again.

You see, in my original plan for ‘Hanukkah at the Great Greenwich Ice Creamery’, River worked in a book store. She was going to be the deaf woman with a love of words, and each chapter was going to be named for a famous romance (at my wedding, incidentally, I gave out favours that consisted of a vintage tea cup and saucer filled with Australian sweets and a tag which had a famous romance quote upon it. I slaved over those for weeks, picking and choosing over one hundred of my favourite quotes about love). But looking at the image of Sarah, eating her ice cream in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral, it was like a bolt of inspiration trickling down my spine.

Because River, of course, had to work in an ice creamery. She just had to. I knew then and there that she would work with food and flavour, and that each chapter would be named for a flavour relevant to the content of that stage of the story. Chapter one, ‘strawberry’, is named for a basic ice cream flavour, followed by ‘apple’ and ‘orange’. But as the story opens up more, and as we learn more about River and Cohen and the events which shaped their lives, the flavours grow more complex too… from ‘jaded green tea’ to ‘sunflower seed’. Jaded Green Tea, in particular, was a favourite flavour of mine. I lived in China for a time, and the character of Rushi was inspired by my neighbour there, this charming lady:

Rushi inspiration

I have back story about every single flavour River ever invents in the novel, most of which I cut in editing, but I’ve saved for myself in my ‘cut but not forgotten’ word doc. Jaded Green Tea, I decided, River invented after the death of her adoptive father, and I originally had a scene written which showed Rushi crying while stirring a batch of the ice cream, mourning her husband and the love of her life.

The more I wrote of ‘Hanukkah and the Great Greenwich Ice Creamery’ (I wrote a chapter or two over an eight week period) the more I learned about ice cream in general. I’ve always been a fan, and my husband will remember (hopefully fondly) the first part of our honeymoon, which we spent in Venice, where I dragged him from gelateria to gelateria so I could try different versions of melon ice cream (and yes, there is a reference to this in ‘Hanukkah at the Great Greenwich Ice Creamery). I also dragged him on a walk across the city so we could see a) where the courtesans once displayed their naked bodies for sale and b) where they filmed Indiana Jones, so it wasn’t entirely an ice cream based trip.

I’m a meticulous researcher when it comes to my work, and one of the earliest facts I discovered about ice cream was that the modern ice cream, served in a cornet, was actually invented by a Victorian woman named Agnes Marshall (who also invented the earliest version of the modern ice cream dispenser). And learning this warmed my heart, because I loved the idea of my heroine River, deaf but independent and running her own business in London, working with a product invented by another independent woman who was from London (Agnes Marshall, by the way, also was the first to suggest using liquid nitrogen in ice cream making, which is how celebrated chef Heston Blumenthal makes his today).

I also discovered that Ben and Jerry, of the famed ice cream brand (and Jewish men too, like Cohen in my story… in fact, Ben’s surname is Cohen) set up their first store in Vermont (known for snow and cold weather) because they themselves learned that ice cream in served in a cold climate is proven by science to warm the body up. Also, did you know that Ben Cohen suffers from an inability to smell or taste food? That’s why Ben and Jerry’s normally is served with chunks, because he tastes things by texture. This was another fact which made me smile… I had River, my deaf heroine, expressing herself through food, something Ben Cohen did too.

So next time you’re out on a cold and snowy day, maybe instead of reaching for the mulled wine or hot chocolate, you could reach for a scoop or two of ice cream? (or ice cream in hot chocolate, which I heartily recommend – or even better… a scoop of Vanilla bean gelato served with a measure of hot espresso poured over it, or – better still – a measure of hot espresso mixed with Irish Whiskey. Trust me).

My book is out in THREE DAYS, would you believe it? I’m so excited to share this story and discuss more of the details about it with you. Next week I’ll be posting a blog about deafness and BSL, and the week after, a blog about Hanukkah and Judaism, so hope to see you here again soon.

Hanukkah book cover





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…


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.


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…


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
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