Oh Crumbs and the Green Arrow

Last week we released Oh Crumbs by Kathryn Freeman – a sweet romance set in a biscuit factory! Today Kathryn is on the blog talking about the unlikely inspiration for the hero of the book, Doug Faulkner … 

I can almost see your frown. What on earth does my new book, a love story based in a biscuit company, have to do with a DC Comics superhero?

The truth is, it has a great deal to do with it, because I got the inspiration for the book from the Arrow TV series. I used to watch it because I have sons, and it was something we could all enjoy together. Now they’ve grown out of it, but I haven’t …

What about Oh Crumbs, I hear you ask (or possibly you’re asking why I continue to watch a man in a green hood shoot baddies with a bow and arrow. That will become clear later!). Well, the more I watched Oliver Queen, aka The Green Arrow the more I fell for his character (which was no doubt helped by the actor, Stephen Amell, who portrayed him) and the more I wanted to pinch some of his characteristics for my next book hero. And no, Doug Faulkner doesn’t walk around wearing green leather pants carrying a quiver. He is however quietly spoken, like the Green Arrow, and very considered in what he says. He has the same sense of outward calm, of control. And, similar to Oliver Queen, who is mayor of Star City by day and an arrow-slinging vigilante at night, Doug also has a hidden, unexpected side to him. But you’ll have to read Oh Crumbs to find out what that is.

There was more about the Green Arrow that hooked me in though, and perhaps now my enjoyment of the series will become clearer. You see, in between saving Star City on a weekly basis, The Green Arrow has been having the most wonderful, slow-burning romance with Felicity (played by Emily Bett Rickards); computer genius and brains behind the Green Arrow’s operation. I loved the contrast between his quiet, serious personality and that of Felicity, who’s funny and a total chatterbox. I also loved the way Felicity comes across as an airhead, yet actually it’s she who’s the smart one.

For Oh Crumbs, I wanted to build on this idea. Instead of having Doug and the bubbly Abby saving the world from destruction though, I opted to give them a simpler life. Doug became managing director of a biscuit company (Crumbs). Abby, who gave up her dream of going to university to help bring up her younger sisters, has been working as a PA while undertaking an Open University business degree When she applies for, and surprisingly gets, the job of Doug’s PA, it soon becomes clear that Doug isn’t your usual managing director. And Abby is far from an ordinary PA …

Sound intriguing? You can get your copy of Oh Crumbs today – click on the image below for purchasing options. 

For more on Kathryn:
Follow her on Twitter @KathynFreeman
Like her on Facebook Kathryn Freeman (author)
Vist her website www.kathrynfreeman.co.uk

Happy Birthday Choc Lit! Final Part by Kathryn Freeman

We’re nine years old today! And we’re celebrating with a birthday Round Robin written by six of our talented Choc Lit authors. Jane Lovering set us up for the perfect ending with a mysterious note left in a borrowed book. Will Kathryn Freeman deliver and finish our wonderful birthday story with a bang? Let’s see! 

In order to enjoy this story, you’ll need to read it in order, so make sure you read:

Part One by Morton S. Gray HERE
Part Two by Kirsty Ferry HERE
Part Three by Sue McDonagh HERE
Part Four by Lynda Stacey HERE
Part Five by Jane Lovering HERE

Also, remember to read right until the end so you can enter the last competition of the day. All competitions on all extracts will be open until next Tuesday so there’s plenty of time left to enter all of them!

The Forgotten Birthday – Final Part

As Lauren started to read the note, her heart began to pound. She recognised it. Her mind swimming in disbelief, she skimmed over the childish writing.

Happy birfday Laura. Will you be my girlfriend? Hugh xx

It couldn’t be the same note. That had been over twenty years ago. And the boy who’d written it had been called Hugh Webster, not Peacock.

But the more she stared at it, the more the memories came flooding back. It was addressed not to Lauren, but to Laura. The name she’d gone by all those years ago, before she’d decided Lauren sounded more elegant.

There was only one person who could explain to her why she was reading a note given to her on her ninth birthday. She glanced at her watch. Was ten o’clock too late for a woman to knock on the door of a man she hardly knew?

Sober Lauren would have answered yes, but this version, on a high after the day, fortified by a few drinks, had the confidence to march right up to it.

Her jaw dropped when the door opened. ‘Hugh?’ He didn’t look like the man she’d met this morning. Wearing a T-shirt that moulded chest muscles she hadn’t noticed beneath the old jacket he’d worn, it was his face that shocked her the most. ‘You shaved off your beard.’

He shifted awkwardly on his feet. ‘Ah, yes, you noticed.’

His eyes crinkled. Deep brown eyes, warm and inviting as a mug of cocoa. How had she missed them earlier? More memories filled her head. A boy with a permanently creased blazer, scuffed shoes and dark hair that flopped into his brown eyes. Her heart began to race. ‘Why?’

‘I thought you might have more chance recognising me.’ His eyes held hers and she felt their pull. Just as she had all those years ago.

‘It is you,’ she whispered.

His freshly shaven cheeks flushed. ‘Afraid so.’

‘But … how? Is this just a coincidence?’

The flush deepened and he dragged a hand through his hair. ‘Yes, and no. You applying to be on the course run by my mum, yes. Me coming here in her place, no.’ When she simply stared at him, too shocked, too overcome to do anything else, he sighed and opened the door wider. ‘I see I have some explaining to do. Do you want to come in?’ His hand rose to his chin, then dropped again, no doubt realising he no longer had a beard to scratch. ‘Sorry, you probably don’t want to come into a stranger’s room. We can go to the bar, or—’

Lauren stepped inside. ‘You’re not a stranger, Hugh Webster.’

She caught his eye and he smiled. It was the same boyish smile she remembered, though this time it came from a man. A very attractive man. Somewhere inside her chest she felt a long-forgotten tug.

Moving to the end of the room she went to sit on the chair, leaving him to perch on the bed. Maybe it was the room, but he felt larger now. No longer the bearded, bumbling author, but a potent, handsome male.

‘So.’ He smiled sheepishly, and all at once he was the boy she knew again. ‘I help my mum out with the creative writing course she runs. Daphne Peacock is her pen name. Her real name is Daphne Webster.’

‘That’s why I didn’t recognise you. Plus, the beard.’

Again, he went to scratch it. Again, he dropped his hand. ‘Ex-wife hated beards, so when we divorced I grew one just because I could.’ He searched out her eyes. ‘Am I right in thinking you’re divorced, too?’

She grinned, feeling lighter, more carefree than she’d done in a long time. ‘My Chains piece did kind of give that away, didn’t it?’

‘It did.’ His expression sobered a little. ‘I’m sorry. It sounded like you had a bad time.’

‘I’m over it.’ And she was, she realised with a burst of pride. After today, she’d officially put that part of her life in the past.

‘Good.’ His smile returned. ‘And I wasn’t kidding when I said you might have a knack for poetry. It really was very good.’

‘Thank you.’ But much as she looked forward to turning her mind to new ventures, there was still something from her past she wanted to explore. ‘You were telling me why you’re here instead of your mum?’

‘Ah, yes.’ He glanced down to his clasped hands, then back up at her. ‘You’d sent a photo, and although the form said your first name was Lauren not Laura, everything else, including the date of birth, clicked and I knew, just knew it was you.’ She watched his throat move as he swallowed. ‘I thought, to hell with it, I’m running that course. I wanted to see you again. See if those feelings I had as a boy, were still there as a man.’

It was her turn to have to swallow as the emotion clogged her throat. ‘And are they?’

His dark eyes burned into hers. ‘God, yes. The moment I saw you, that was it. I turned into my bumbling nine-year-old self, desperately hoping the prettiest girl in the class would take notice of me.’

Her stomach flip-flopped and Lauren felt a prick at the back of her eyes. ‘Your note. Where did you find it?’

‘You left it on your desk at school. I picked it up, meaning to give it back to you, but I never screwed up the courage again. Until now.’

As his eyes pressed hers, her heart lifted. Slowly she rose to her feet and went to stand next to him. ‘What if I tell you that was the most romantic thing I’ve ever had happen to me?’

He smiled and his hands reached to clasp her face, sending tingles through her. ‘What if I ask you to have dinner with me tomorrow?’

Her heart jumped. ‘What if I tell you this is the best birthday I’ve ever had?’

His gaze dropped to her lips, and his eyes darkened. ‘What if I kiss you?’

Oh wow! Well done Kathryn – we certainly didn’t expect that and it really was the perfect ending to an amazing birthday story. 

Thank you to all our authors and to all of our supportive readers too! We hope you’ve enjoyed this story and continue to enjoy Choc Lit books for many years to come. Here’s to another year of fantastic authors and brilliant books! 

If you enjoyed Kathryn’s writing, you might like to check out her books. You can find details by clicking the images above. 

COMPETITION TIME!

To be in with a chance of winning a Choc Lit book and some chocolate to go with it simply answer the question below (we hope you’ve been reading carefully!):

What is Hugh’s mum’s real name?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin Kathryn Freeman comp’ by Tuesday 19th June. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Wednesday 20th June.

Happy Birthday Choc Lit! Part Five by Jane Lovering

We’re nine years old today! And we’re celebrating with a birthday Round Robin written by six of our talented Choc Lit authors. Lynda Stacey left us with a kiss, now it’s Jane Lovering‘s turn. Let’s see what happens next … 

In order to enjoy this story, you’ll need to read it in order, so make sure you read:

Part One by Morton S. Gray HERE
Part Two by Kirsty Ferry HERE
Part Three by Sue McDonagh HERE
Part Four by Lynda Stacey HERE

Also, remember to read right until the end so you can enter the fifth competition of the day! 

The Forgotten Birthday – Part Five

Just before he left, Hugh muttered something in her ear. ‘Page Eleven. Don’t tell anyone.’ And then, with a final ruffle through his beard, he was gone, heading downstairs towards dinner, as Marion came to her door, regally splendid in a gown comprised of equal amounts of taffeta and whalebone.

Dinner was more fun than Lauren could remember having had for some time. With Marion’s warning against Ian clanging in the back of her head, Lauren steered clear of him and tried to throw herself more into the conversation between the others. She discovered that two of the other women and one of the men actually lived not too far from her, and they exchanged email addresses with a tentative idea of forming their own writing group.

Lauren felt a curious tingle inside, a feeling of something bubbling up at the base of her throat, and she stared down at the prawn cocktail starter with narrowed eyes of suspicion, until she realised what it was. It was excitement. She was actually feeling excited for the first time in – how long? An actual, proper emotion that wasn’t unhappiness or boredom or anger! And she looked around her at these people, strangers really, who were chatting to her about their hopes for the future raising glasses of something that certainly wasn’t champagne but it was alcohol with bubbles in. And, if she ignored the fact that Ian kept trying to press his leg suggestively against hers under the table and was just asking for a fork in the thigh, she was having a really good time.

The book that Hugh had given her was weighing her bag down with more than purely the mass of pages it contained. Hugh had been right, the book had been right, she was keeping all her emotions locked away inside her head. That exercise he’d set, Chains, had shown her that she wasn’t as over her sister and husband’s infidelity as she tried to let herself believe. That the two people she’d loved most in the world could do that to her…

Lauren looked around again. The attitude of bonhomie that was spreading in equal measure to the amount of fizzy alcohol being drunk touched something inside her. One of the women, Helen her name was, raised a glass and mouthed ‘Happy Birthday!’ across the table, and Lauren smiled at the realisation that she was having a better time here, with these virtual strangers, than she’d had with her husband during practically the whole of their marriage. That she’d married him more to get away from her family than out of love. That he and her sister hadn’t really done anything to her, she had let their betrayal affect her. And maybe now, thinking how badly they’d both treated her over the years, she could see how they deserved one another. She couldn’t quite wish them a happy future, and would gladly shove pooh through their letterbox any day of the week, but still. She was getting there, buoyed up by the sense of camaraderie and acceptance she was feeling here and now.

It was only when the party was over and she’d gone back to her room, giggly and not-quite sober, that she remembered Hugh’s whisper when he’d given her the book. She turned to Page Eleven with trepidation, and, to her surprise, it wasn’t an inspirational quote. It was a small, badly-spelled note, handwritten, blu-tacked to the page.

Oh Jane. You can’t do that to us when we have to wait another hour to find out what it says on the note! Kathryn Freeman takes over for the last part of our Round Robin. We really hope you’ve been enjoying it so far! 

If you enjoyed Jane’s writing, you might like to check out her books. You can find details by clicking the images above. 

COMPETITION TIME!

To be in with a chance of winning a Choc Lit book and some chocolate to go with it simply answer the question below (we hope you’ve been reading carefully!):

What is Marion’s gown made of?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin Jane Lovering comp’ by Tuesday 19th June. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Wednesday 20th June.

Happy Birthday Choc Lit! Part Four by Lynda Stacey

We’re nine years old today! And we’re celebrating with a birthday Round Robin written by six of our talented Choc Lit authors. Sue McDonagh left us on a bit of a cliffhanger. Let’s see where Lynda Stacey takes us … 

In order to enjoy this story, you’ll need to read it in order, so make sure you read:

Part One by Morton S. Gray HERE
Part Two by Kirsty Ferry HERE
Part Three by Sue McDonagh HERE

Also, remember to read right until the end so you can enter the fourth competition of the day! 

The Forgotten Birthday – Part Four

‘Hugh …’ Lauren opened the door and glanced up and down the corridor. ‘Sorry, are you looking for someone?’ She turned, grabbed her bag, room key and slammed her door to a close behind her. She began walking down the deserted corridor and in the direction of Marion’s room.

But Hugh stood his ground.

‘Yes, of course. I … I was looking for you.’

Lauren turned as he made an attempt to smooth out the well-worn jacket and then moved his hand upward to scratch his bushy beard, while shuffling nervously from foot to foot.

‘I brought you something.’ He rummaged around in his shabby leather briefcase and pulled out an old battered book. ‘It was in my box of books, in the car.’ He blushed and held the book out towards her.

But Lauren just stood and stared. The book was dark grey with a white-ish writing. It was so battered, she couldn’t even make out the title. ‘What is it?’ She screwed up her nose.

‘Well…’ Hugh smiled and blushed all at once, ‘It’s a book of course. Walking on Alligators. I… well, I thought you’d like to read it. It might help, you know, with your writing.’

Lauren laughed. ‘Why on earth would I want to walk on Alligators?’ She rolled her eyes, turned and marched towards Marion’s door. She knocked and then stood staring at the number twelve that had been haphazardly screwed to the door.

Once again she wished for the ground to open. This was the second time in one day that a man had flirted with her and she wasn’t sure she liked it, even if Marion had said she was the youngest and prettiest on the course. She shook her head. She didn’t belong. She couldn’t write, that had been proven during the day with her chaotic list about chains.

‘I will write even if all I do is jot down some notes about my feelings. I’m storing up material for the future, without knowing what it is.’ Hugh read from the book. ‘It’s here you see, page a hundred and thirty-four. I honestly believe this is what you’re doing. You’re keeping all your emotions, all your words in a store somewhere up there.’ He pointed to her head.

Lauren sighed and smiled in appreciation. Maybe she’d been harsh. Maybe Hugh was just trying to be kind and maybe she really hadn’t given him a chance.

‘Thank you, I appreciate the book,’ she whispered as she reached up and gently kissed him on the cheek, just as Marion’s door swung open.

Awww! We’re starting to quite like Huge (despite the beard!) But what is Marion going to think when she spots the kiss? You’ll have to wait another hour to find out from Jane Lovering!

If you enjoyed Lynda’s writing, you might like to check out her books. You can find details by clicking the image above. 

COMPETITION TIME!

To be in with a chance of winning a Choc Lit book and some chocolate to go with it simply answer the question below (we hope you’ve been reading carefully!):

What is the title of the book that Hugh brings for Lauren?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin Lynda Stacey comp’ by Tuesday 19th June. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Wednesday 20th June.

Happy Birthday Choc Lit! Part Three by Sue McDonagh

We’re nine years old today! And we’re celebrating with a birthday Round Robin written by six of our talented Choc Lit authors. Morton S. Gray and Kirsty Ferry started us off and now’s it’s time for Sue McDonagh to take over. Let’s see what happens to Lauren next … 

In order to enjoy this story, you’ll need to read it in order, so make sure you read:

Part One by Morton S. Gray HERE
Part Two by Kirsty Ferry HERE

Also, remember to read right until the end so you can enter the third competition of the day! 

The Forgotten Birthday – Part Three

Was it her, or was Ian coming on just a bit too keen? Even if he had got her name right. Flustered, Lauren glanced down at the notebook under her hand, and read her own words: Freedom – my first steps to freedom. Yes. She no longer had to be bullied into what other people wanted her to do.

‘Thank you Ian, that’s really kind of you.’ She swallowed and continued in one breath, ‘But I’ve come on this course to get to know people and so I think it would be lovely to see everyone for dinner and drinks later.’

There was a little ripple of ‘lovely’ and ‘what time will you be there?’ and Lauren smiled round the class, feeling as if she’d done the right thing. Until she saw Ian’s lowered brows. She hoped she hadn’t put his nose too much out of joint. But really, she wasn’t ready for a relationship. Or even a fling. She wanted to learn to write. She cursed herself. She should have said that instead. It was easy to edit words on the page. But once they were out of your mouth, that was it.

Hugh’s voice broke in on her thoughts. ‘Well, that’s the evening sorted, thank you Laur-‘ he paused, squinting at her label, ‘-en,’ he ended, on a positively euphoric note. Lauren beamed at him, and leaned back to listen to someone else’s prose. They all seemed so much better than hers, and she fought down the impulse to creep quietly out of the class and go back home. Gradually though, she forgot herself and enjoyed listening to Hugh setting artful questions that teased information out of people about their writing. There was so much more to it than she’d realised. ‘What if,’ seemed to be a phrase that he used a lot.

There were group exercises, and although Hugh mangled almost all their names, he got them all chatting and laughing until Lauren was surprised that it was the end of the day. It turned out that Marion was in a room not far from hers, and they walked there together.

‘You did well today,’ Marion said, with a nod.

‘Really? I’ve never been on a writing course before. I have no idea what I’m doing.’

‘I meant with that Ian.’ Marion sniffed. ‘He’s a shark, he really is. I’ve seen him on other courses. Picks on the youngest, prettiest girl. Thinks he knows it all.’ She nudged Lauren with a sharp elbow. ‘But you put him in his place, straight away.’

‘Oh, I think he was just being friendly,’ Lauren said quickly. ‘I didn’t want to give him the wrong idea, that was all.’ Youngest, prettiest girl? Her? Surely not. ‘This is me – see you later at dinner.’ She closed the door quickly behind her to forestall any more conversation.

What if?

What if Ian was just lonely, and found the older women intimidating?
What if Marion was just miffed because Ian had never hit on her?

What if Hugh shaved that dreadful beard off and wore clothes that he hadn’t slept in? There’d been that moment in the classroom, when he’d met her eyes, and she’d felt oddly as if he knew her.

She sank onto the bed, her mind reeling. Today’s writing exercises had made her look at everything in a different way. Her brain felt like a foreign country.

What if … Lauren shook her head to dislodge the thought but it bobbed back like an annoying fly. What if she gave up the job she hated, and found something she actually enjoyed doing? But what else could she do? She stared out of the window at the beautiful gardens, thinking, until her gaze fell on the clock. Heck! Twenty minutes before she was meeting everyone for dinner! She leapt into the shower, deciding what to wear. Halfway through drying her hair, there was a knock at the door.

‘Five minutes!” she called, concentrating on her thick, curly hair, which would look like a frizz-ball if she didn’t finish the job properly. It was probably Marion. A spritz of perfume, a speedy make-up and lip gloss and she was ready. Palming her earrings to put in on the way, she opened the door.

It wasn’t Marion.

A bit of a cliff-hanger there! Who could be at the door? Is Ian as sleazy as he seems? Will Hugh lose the beard? You’ll have to wait for Part Four by Lynda Stacey to find out – up in an hour!

 

If you enjoyed Sue’s writing, you might like to check out her debut novel, Summer at the Art Cafe. You can find details by clicking the image above. 

COMPETITION TIME!

To be in with a chance of winning a Choc Lit book and some chocolate to go with it simply answer the question below (we hope you’ve been reading carefully!):

What sort of hair does Lauren have?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin Sue McDonagh comp’ by Tuesday 19th June. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Wednesday 20th June.

Happy Birthday Choc Lit! The Forgotten Birthday – Part Two by Kirsty Ferry

We’re nine years old today! And we’re celebrating with a birthday Round Robin written by six of our talented Choc Lit authors. Morton S. Gray started us off with a cringe-worthy birthday encounter and now it’s up to Kirsty Ferry to help poor Lauren out of her predicament (or make it even worse!) 

In order to enjoy this story, you’ll need to read it in order, so make sure you read Morton’s part first HERE. Also, remember to read right until the end so you can enter the second competition of the day! 

The Forgotten Birthday – Part Two

‘I think the Birthday Girl should read her work out first.’ That was Ian, smiling again at Lauren as they settled back onto their tables after the birthday embarrassment. He’d moved desks so he was bang opposite her now. Yes. She definitely wanted the floor to open up and swallow her. ‘It’s her special day after all.’

‘Oh no, I really don’t think so.’ Lauren smiled back, trying to take the edge off her words. She closed her notebook firmly and rested her hand on it, as if Hugh would whisk it out from under her nose and read her garbage on “chains” out himself.

‘The first time’s the hardest.’ Ian leaned across the table. ‘It gets better after that.’ He winked and she blushed to the roots of her hair.

‘…’

She was, actually, speechless – words were not enough to respond to him. A big problem when one was in a creative writing class. She was so out of practice with this flirtation business; because surely that’s what he was doing.

‘He’s right,’ chipped in Hugh. ‘Ivan–’ he squinted at Ian’s stuck-on name, ‘is correct.’

‘Ian.’ Ian smiled at Hugh. ‘Ian is right. And so I am. Go on Lauren.’ He emphasised her name and Lauren blushed again. ‘We’d love to hear your work. You’re among friends. At least, I hope we’re friends. Only friends go to each other’s birthday parties.’

‘Very true.’ Lauren sighed and looked at the sea of expectant faces. ‘Okay. I’ll do it. Then that’s it. Someone else can do it next time.’ She opened her book and her stomach churned as she looked at the words she’d scrawled on the paper.

‘Have a bit of cake, love,’ said Marion encouragingly, pushing a plate closer towards her. Hugh had brought the cake through with them and placed it in front of her enticingly. ‘It always helps me.’

Lauren grinned, her stomach suddenly unknotting. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad. She looked at the words and took a deep breath. ‘Chains. Bitter. Twisted. A prisoner. My marriage. My life. Break free. He broke me. Freedom – my first steps to freedom. My robin, red as the sunrise, red as a berry. He’s free, he’s happy. He’s unchained. As am I. Now …’

Her skin was burning, and she couldn’t continue. Surprisingly, it was still so raw. Her sister’s betrayal, finding her in bed with her very own husband. She felt sick – properly sick. ‘Good grief.’ She stared at the notebook. ‘I’m so sorry. I don’t know where that all came from.’ She looked up at Hugh, almost apologetic. ‘Well. I’ve put a downer on that exercise, haven’t I? On my bloody birthday as well!’

Hugh nodded, efficient yet understanding. ‘It’s fine. These courses–’ he waved his hand around the room, ‘–they can be cathartic. They can dredge things up. But they can also help. Don’t forget, we’re all here to support each other.’ He looked around the room. ‘Isn’t that right?’

The assembled writers all nodded.

‘I thought it was great.’ Ian was looking at her. ‘Almost poetry. Wouldn’t you agree?’ He looked around the room, and everyone else nodded and murmured assent.

Lauren smiled gratefully. ‘I never thought I was a poet.’ She hadn’t written much beyond a shopping list since she’d got married.

‘We discover all sorts about ourselves on these courses.’ Ian was looking at her in admiration. ‘You, perhaps, will discover you’ve got a knack for poetry.’

Hugh chipped in again, clearly worried that Ian was taking the lead when he was supposed to be in charge. ‘Yes. Ivan is correct. Again. We do run specific courses in poetry – perhaps you might like to explore that another time, Laura?’

Lauren looked at Hugh and their eyes fixed on one another’s for a moment. She blinked and he blinked, and he was the first to look away. ‘Of course,’ he said, rubbing that beard again, ‘that offer is open to everyone here. Just saying.’

‘I really do think you’ve got the makings of a poem there.’ Ian tapped his pen on his notebook and looked at Lauren. ‘Lauren.’ Again, the emphasis was on her name. ‘If you want to chat about it later at dinner, I’m very happy to chat to you. And, maybe, buy you a birthday drink?’

Are things looking up a bit for Lauren? And do we sense that there’s going to be a bit of rivalry between Ian and Hugh? We’ll see when Sue McDonagh takes up the reins with the next part of the story in an hour’s time. Don’t miss it! 

   If you enjoyed Kirsty’s writing, you might like to check out her books. You can find details by clicking the image above. 

COMPETITION TIME!

To be in with a chance of winning a Choc Lit book and some chocolate to go with it simply answer the question below (we hope you’ve been reading carefully!):

What does Hugh think Ian’s name is?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin Kirsty Ferry comp’ by Tuesday 19th June. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Wednesday 20th June.

Happy Birthday Choc Lit! The Forgotten Birthday – Part One by Morton S. Gray

Can you believe it? We’re nine years old today! And what better way to celebrate than with a birthday story written collaboratively by our authors, competitions, prizes and a hefty slice of virtual chocolate cake? We invite you to join us 🙂 

We’ll be sharing an extract of the story every hour until the end of the day. With every extract there’ll be a book+chocolate prize and, with six extracts, there’ll be plenty of opportunity to win! Simply read each extract to the end so you can answer a question about the story and see how to enter (we’re sure you won’t find it hard as the story’s a corker!) 

Morton S. Gray starts us off this morning, where we meet Lauren on the morning of her thirtieth birthday, and she’s getting ready for an adventure … 

The Forgotten Birthday – Part One

Lauren woke to the sound of the post plopping onto the doormat. She shrugged on her dressing gown and walked down the steep staircase of her tiny terraced house, retrieving the mail before she went into the tiny kitchen. Her friend the robin was sitting on the bird feeder outside of the window. It was almost as if he waited for her morning greeting and conversation before flying off to do whatever robins did all day.

‘Morning, Red. I know I’m late. I need to get a move on. It’s my birthday you know. Thirty. How did that happen?’

She filled the kettle, set it to boil and glanced half-heartedly at the assorted envelopes. It wasn’t likely that anyone would have sent her a birthday card. When you’d fallen out with your sister over a year ago and divorced your ex about the same time, it didn’t bode well for surprise parties or birthday greetings.

It took her the time it needed for the kettle to switch off to brave those envelopes. A charity request, store card coupons, a bill and a bank statement. No surprise there then.

‘Whoopee do! Happy birthday, Lauren.’

A cup of coffee made her feel more human and the robin uncharacteristically came back for a second visit to the bird feeder.

‘Thank you, Red. You’re the man who always make me feel special.’

The little bird bobbed into a bow, just as if he’d understood every word. Lauren laughed. Time to get ready to face her big adventure.

She’d booked her birthday treat well in advance and taken this Friday as holiday from her boring job in insurance administration. Only now did her stomach do a somersault when she thought about those unknown strangers’ faces. At least they wouldn’t know it was her birthday.

It was a terrible habit to talk to herself, but as she lived alone, it kept her on track. ‘Shower, tick, bag packed, tick, rubbish put out, tick, bird feeder well stocked for Red, tick, car keys, yes. Right let’s get this show on the road.’

Following the satnav’s annoying male voice, she headed south, stopping for another coffee at a service station on the motorway. The countryside got lovelier as she neared her destination in the Cotswolds. She kept repeating her Thomas the Tank Engine mantra. ‘I can do it, I will do it, I can …’

Before she knew it, her things were installed in a single ensuite room and she’d found her way to the conference room. There were eleven other creative writing students, five men, seven women. They all arranged their notebooks and pens on the tables and gave each other shy glances. They would be spending two days together – it was a voyage into the unknown.

Just when Lauren decided she really ought to try to make conversation and break the ice, the door crashed open. A man carrying, or rather dropping, a large cardboard box, lurched in.

‘Sorry, so sorry, I’m late, traffic was awful. Now I know you were expecting Daphne Peacock, my … erm, mother, but I’m afraid she’s sick, so you’ve got me instead.’

Hmm, this wasn’t the inspiring person she’d been hoping for. She loved Daphne Peacock’s novels. The man looked as if his jacket had seen better days, his beard was bushy. Lauren hated beards.

One of the guys helped the man pick up the box and put it on the desk. All sorts of things were spewing out of the cardboard – magazines, leaves, odd bits of metal, a watch.

‘I’m Hugh, I’m a published writer, three novels now and I’m your tutor for the weekend.’ He rummaged in the box and retrieved two rolls of sticky labels and marker pens. He scrawled Hugh on one of the labels, pressed it to his chest and then passed the rest around for the rest to do the same.

‘What sort of fiction do you write, Hugh?’ asked a fifty-something woman with a label that said Marion.

‘Romantic suspense novels, actually.’ The expression on his face suggested he was used to a weird reaction to that statement.

More rummaging in the battered box and he bought out a folder brimming with words torn from magazines.

‘Right, we’ve only got a short session before our lunch, so grab a word and write whatever comes into your head. Best to pick one at random, I find.’

Lauren found her heart-rate increase and her stomach churning as she stared with horror at the word she had picked out – chains.

Hugh was speaking again. ‘Don’t worry about this exercise, it’s just a warm up. We can share what we write in the session after lunch. Prose or poem is fine.’

It certainly broke the ice, after a tense thirty minutes of silence, apart from pens scratching over paper, the group made their way down to the dining room chattering away. Lauren held back a little listening to what the others were saying. There was a table set aside for them in the refectory with a huge Creative Writing label. Lauren glanced around at the nearby tables, Life Drawing, Vegetable Gardening, Drumming, were the ones she caught sight of.

They were the first course to arrive, but the room soon filled up. Lauren exchanged a few words about her journey with Marion and tried to assess the rest of the course members from underneath her eyelashes. All ages, but predominantly older than her. One of the men was smiling broadly at her. She squinted to read his badge, Ian, and then avoided making eye contact.

Then it happened!

A woman appeared through the door marked kitchen with a birthday cake, candles aflame and came straight over to their table.

Hugh leapt into action. ‘The course administrator noticed we had a birthday girl in our midst, Laura.’

Cheeks aflame, Lauren got up. He obviously meant her even if he had got her name wrong. She stood frozen by Hugh’s side as everyone in the room sang Happy Birthday to Laura.

‘Lauren’ she mouthed under her breath and belatedly realised she was talking aloud as if speaking to her tame robin. So much for anonymity and escape on a course miles from home.

Hugh’s face suggested he was puzzled by her reaction. Lauren blew out the candles and scurried back to her seat, amid congratulatory noises from around the room.

‘We can have the cake with our tea in the meeting room later,’ said Hugh, smiling.

Lauren wanted the floor to open and swallow her up. She’d have to read her prose piece about chains when they got back to the room …

Oh dear, how embarrassing for poor Lauren. We’re cringing for her but also can’t wait to find out more! We’re sure you feel the same. And you don’t have to wait too much longer as Kirsty Ferry’s second instalment will be up in the next hour! 

     If you Morton’s writing, you might like to check out her fabulous novels. You can find details by clicking the images above. 

COMPETITION TIME!

To be in with a chance of winning a Choc Lit book and some chocolate to go with it simply answer the question below (we hope you’ve been reading carefully!):

What is the name of Hugh’s mother?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin Morton S. Gray comp’ by Tuesday 19th June. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Wednesday 20th June.

Moonbeams in a Jar: On Location

At the beginning of the week we released Moonbeams in a Jar by Christine Stovell – a sweet novella for dog lovers, travel lovers, romance lovers … and everyone in between! Today Christine joins us on the blog to tell us a little about the once-in-a-lifetime holiday that inspired the story … 

“Take every chance you get in life,” the saying goes, “because some things only happen once.” When my husband, Tom, asked me one summer evening which destination I’d choose if I could hop on a plane the next day and go anywhere in the world, I never expected him to act on my words and surprise me with a trip to Hong Kong. I was so taken aback – and so anxious about whether or not we could afford it – that I was initially quite cross. Like Chloe, the heroine of my novella Moonbeams in a Jar, I’m a bit of a planner, whereas Tom, like my hero, Ryan, is far more spontaneous. Left to me, we might never have seen Hong Kong and then I would have missed out on one of the most thrilling holidays of my life.

I didn’t know then that Hong Kong would feature in my novella, but when Chloe decides to splurge on a big holiday before starting her new job, I realised it would make the perfect place for my couple to explore their feelings for each other… and to learn that love rarely arrives conveniently or according to plan. The sights, sounds, smells and tastes of my trip stayed with me and many of those experiences worked their way into Chloe and Ryan’s visit … I’ll leave you to guess which ones!

Shaking my fortune stick at Wong Tai Sin Temple

HK 013 Star Ferry

Chloe and Ryan’s story begins in Little Spitmarsh, my fictional seaside town where Ryan, a photographer, lives conveniently close to his fiery cousin Tansy who regularly looks after Ryan’s basset hound, Fred. The inspiration for Little Spitmarsh came when Tom and I sailed half way round Britain in a vintage wooden boat in a series of what I only half-jokingly call ‘The Epic Voyages’ which, again, took me way out of my comfort zone. At the time we kept our boat in a small boatyard on the East Anglian coast and had a very happy time there pottering round the backwaters. That’s when the location for Little Spitmarsh really started to take shape and became real to me.

East Anglia

The opening scene for my first Little Spitmarsh novel, Turning the Tide, began when I ‘saw’ a troubled young woman in dungarees walking by the side of a creek and knew I had to tell her story. That was Harry Watling, someone who is more than capable of standing on her own two feet, a girl who isn’t afraid of breaking a fingernail and who doesn’t need a man to change an electric plug for her. From there, a whole cast of characters introduced themselves and continue to wander in and out of my Little Spitmarsh series which can all be read as stand alone stories.

So … when I started writing Moonbeams in a Jar I knew that Little Spitmarsh would be the starting point and that my heroine, Chloe, would go on her dream holiday to Hong Kong. I was a bit surprised when Snowdonia crept into the story, but there was no stopping Ryan, who loves working in difficult, remote terrain and was determined to get some stunning shots of the mountain in its darkest mood. I’m lucky enough to live within striking distance of Snowdonia and have enjoyed many climbs in the hills exploring these rugged peaks and enjoying the magnificent views. It’s never easy, but if the weather turns against you and you’re not prepared – as Ryan discovers – the places of refuge are few and far between. As it turns out, being caught in an horrendous storm on an exposed mountainside is only the start of Ryan’s problems!

Snowdonia in good weather!

Chloe and Ryan’s road to their Happy Ever After takes many twists and turns along the way as Chloe learns to take more chances and Ryan realises that love can’t be put on hold. I hope that Moonbeams in a Jar will give you a flavour of some of the locations they visit along the way and that you will enjoy travelling with them.

Hong Kong at sunset

Moonbeams in a Jar is now available to buy as an eBook on all platforms. Click the banner below for purchasing options.

For more information on Christine Stovell:

Follow her on Twitter @chrisstovell 

Like her on Facebook Christine Stovell, Author

Check out her blog www.homethoughtsweekly.blogspot.co.uk

The Purrfect Pet Sitter and my Imaginary Menagerie

This week we released our second Ruby Fiction title – The Purrfect Pet Sitter by Carol Thomas. Today on the blog, Carol introduces us to some of the animals in her own life (and in the book!) and talks about the research she did on running a pet sitting business.

I am delighted that my romantic comedy, The Purrfect Pet Sitter, is now available as an eBook. Getting my publishing contract with Ruby Fiction is a dream come true; the fact it is for a book that enabled me to indulge my love of writing romantic comedy in which you can fall in love with the supporting cast of animals as much as the hero makes it even more special.

Anybody who follows me on social media will know that I am a dog lover with a soft spot for Labradors. I lost my two gorgeous old boys, Benson and Milo, within the last few years and now have a slightly crazy, two-year-old Labrador with a penchant for eating things he shouldn’t (he last went to the vets for swallowing a tea towel, whole!).

With Lisa Blake, the lead character in my novel, being a pet sitter, this gave me the perfect opportunity to incorporate a Labrador into her life. Jack is a wonky-eyed black Lab, the beloved pet of Winnie, the first client to put their faith in Lisa and her new business. He is a cheeky boy and, while not a young dog, when the mood takes him, he can achieve the energy of a puppy and the speed of a whippet – many Labs can.

Jack, who was inspired by my Labrador Milo (a handsome, slightly wonky-eyed boy, with an independent spirit, a variety of quirks and a lot of love to give) features throughout the book. One of my favourite scenes involving him is the opening chapter in which he has slipped his collar. In her search for Jack, Lisa has a chance encounter with a mysterious man in leather, Lisa finds him frustrating whereas Jack seems to have him on side.

Another of my favourite scenes comes when Lisa and Winnie take Jack to church, for a service in honour of St Francis of Assisi (patron saint of animals). Writing the scenes in the church was a lot of fun. I don’t want to give anything away, but I will say that what Jack does to a Yorkshire terrier actually happened. My dog, Benson, was guilty of this misdemeanour in one of his early training classes, in which, being a Labrador, he was much larger than his smaller breed puppy pals.

My insight into the life of a pet sitter came from my daughter. She has been a pet sitter, running her own business for many years. Of course, she is nothing like Lisa Blake; she has certainly never lost a client on her watch. But she was able to provide some great anecdotes, and she allowed me to read her diary, where clients are listed under their pets’ names. It made for a fabulous read and inspired me to come up with names for the three chickens Lisa looks after in my novel. I hope their names will give you a smile, they did me – but then I had been alone in a hotel room writing for thirty-six hours when I came up with them (hmm, you’ll have to let me know what you think)!

I enjoy bringing animals to life in my books; I consider them all part of my very own imaginary menagerie and, as you read The Purrfect Pet Sitter, I hope that you will fall in love with them, as I have.

The Purrfect Pet Sitter is now available to buy as an eBook on all platforms. Click the banner below for purchasing options.

For more information on Carol Thomas:

http://carol-thomas.co.uk
http://facebook.com/carolthomasauthor
http://twitter.com/carol_thomas2
https://www.pinterest.co.uk/carol_thomas2/
https://www.instagram.com/carol_thomas2/
http://carol-thomas.co.uk/blog

When a Fictional World Becomes Your Reality

Yesterday Morton S. Gray’s gripping debut novel, The Girl on the Beach, came out in paperback. Today Morton joins us on the blog to chat about the setting of her first novel (which is the same for her upcoming second novel, The Truth Lies Buried) – the fictional town of Borteen – and how a made-up place has started to feel very real to her! 

My debut novel, The Girl on the Beach is set in my fictional seaside town of Borteen. It is amazing how quickly a fictional place can begin to feel completely real. I can walk down the streets and name the shops and their owners, I know what the views are like from various places in the town and surrounding countryside, even how wide the roads are.

When it came to writing Book 2 in the Borteen Secrets Series – The Truth Lies Buried – my editor asked if I had a map of the town, so I drew one and added pictures to show how I envisaged the buildings and various landmarks. It was surprisingly easy to do, because I had walked the streets so often in my head. I intend to tidy this up at some point so that I can let readers see it, but at the moment the map includes some pictures to which I don’t have sharing rights.

My characters are also very real to me. If any of them walked into a café I would recognise them. I know their appearance and demeanour, how they interact as if I was inside of them looking out of their eyes, as well as from observing them through the eyes of other characters. Not only do I know how their facial features change when confronted with the situations I put them into in my books, but I know how they feel too, how their heart rate reacts and the sensations on their skin.

I suppose what I am trying to say is that I can put myself inside my story, fictional town and even inside the characters. I realise that makes me sound really odd, but it is how the process of writing works for me. I guess I see my books unfold like films in front of me.

This experience isn’t unique amongst writers, but friends who haven’t had this encounter with a fictional world can look at me a little strangely if I talk about it, especially when I mention that other Borteen residents mentioned in The Girl on the Beach and The Truth Lies Buried are clamouring for their stories to be told too. I guess that means there will be other books in the Borteen Secrets Series!

The Girl on the Beach is now available to purchase in paperback. Click on the banner below for purchasing options. 

Morton’s upcoming novel, The Truth Lies Buried, will be out on 1st May as an eBook. Click on the banner below for pre-order options. 

For more information on Morton S. Gray:

Follow her on Twitter: @MortonSGray
Like her page on Facebook: Morton S. Gray Author
Check out her website: www.mortonsgray.com