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.

EXCERPT:

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.

‘This.’

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)

 

Sharon.x

 

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…

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.

1021FDCD-CFE5-4A7E-8691-5ADFFC362AC3

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…

reviewpic

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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