Alison May’s Top 5 Shakespearean Heroines

The Cobbe portrait

The Cobbe portrait

It’s Shakespeare’s 450th birthday! And in honour of the occasion I’m getting all Shakespearean and nominating my favourite heroines and heroes who have sprung forth from the Bard’s quill. Today it’s the turn of the ladies.

Cue the Top of the Pops style countdown music…

5. Katherina, The Taming of The Shrew

Ok, so to modern eyes there’s an awful lot that’s wrong with The Taming of the Shrew. Essentially it’s a story about domestic abuse which ultimately breaks the spirit of the main character, but that’s not to say that we don’t love that main character. It’s the fact that we love her so much that makes her humiliation so hard to watch. Katherina is outspoken, bolshy and engaged in a ferocious bout of sibling rivalry with her sister. She’s not a ‘nice’ heroine but she grabs the audience by the throat and shakes them, and she’s inspired a Hollywood teen flick and a classic musical. Straight into my top 5 for Katherina.

4. Hermione, The Winter’s Tale

The Winter’s Tale deserves an honourable mention in any rundown of Shakespeare plays, mainly because it includes the epic stage direction ‘Exit stage left pursued by bear.’ But this is my top heroines, not my top stage directions, so let’s get back to Hermione. She’s a wronged woman. Accused by her husband, the King, of infidelity, she’s thrown out of the palace and her child is dispatched into the wilderness. Hermione doesn’t let this get her down. She bides her time, and reappears years later, pretending to be a statue of herself. The King repents; the lost child reappears; and Hermione reveals herself to be alive rather than made of marble, simultaneously securing one of the least plausible happy endings anywhere in literature, and inspiring generations of fake statue street performers. Kudos to Hermione.

3. Helena, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Helena is a heroine for any girl who’s ever felt that they were destined to always be the sidekick. For all of us who’ve ever thought we were just the plain friend who was never going to get the guy, Helena is the one to watch. Obviously she ends up blissfully in love with her man, with only a tiny bit assistance from fairies and magic potions, and she also gets to participate in one of the best cat fights ever written, where she describes her rival with the classic line ‘And though she be but little, she is fierce.’ It turns out that, once she gets going, quiet, compliant, sidekick Helena can be pretty fierce too.

2. Juliet, Romeo and Juliet

Oh Juliet. Poor unfortunate Juliet. You’ve made it to number two on this list for your appealing mix of impulsiveness, passion and quite a sensible head. Although when I say ‘sensible head’ that’s only really in comparison with Romeo, who is all passion and impulse with hardly a moment’s thought. Anyway, for passion, pure romance and taking a chance on love Juliet makes it into my top five. If she’d only had the good sense to think a little bit harder about the practicalities of the whole ‘faking her own death’ plan, she might have made it all the way to the number one.

1. Beatrice, Much Ado About Nothing

No competition for the top spot in my list. For me Beatrice is the funniest, cleverest, and most passionate of all Shakespeare’s heroines. She’s a brilliantly loyal friend, and a very modern woman. She advises her cousin not simply to marry in line with her father’s wishes, but to find a husband who pleases her, and she out and out rejects the idea of getting married herself, which makes her confusion and horror when she realises that she is actually completely, utterly, irredeemably in love with Benedick all the more endearing.

So that’s my top five heroines. Come back on Friday when I’ll be running through Shakespeare’s top leading men.


Available on Kindle!

“I think this is a marvellous updated retelling of [Much Ado About Nothing] … fresh and modern.” – Dear Author

Much Ado About Sweet Nothing by Alison May is available on Kindle.

Southern Temptations by Luscious Lily

Sugar & Spice

This is my story! Luscious Lily.

Hi y’all and welcome to ‘Luscious Lily’s Southern Temptations.’ Pull up a chair, pour yourself a glass of sweet tea and I’ll share a few of my cooking secrets with you. Southern women are born knowing how to cook and to us there’s nothing better than feeding a house full of people we love. My recipe today is a special one for us ladies. I grew up listening to my Mama and her friends sitting together on our front porch indulging in some gentle gossip and cake baking one-upmanship. Everyone had her own specialty and they weren’t always generous when it came to recipe sharing. I’ve heard more than one lady accused of missing out an ingredient on purpose. It would always be strenuously denied…but everyone knew the truth.

If you can picture spring time in the South you’ll understand why I picked ‘Luscious Lily’s Lemon Squares’ to share with you today. The air is warm, the blossoms are heavy on the trees and the humidity isn’t yet wrecking havoc with your hair. A pitcher of iced fruit tea sits on the table along with your best crystal glasses. There are starched linen napkins, never paper, or one of the long line of Southern grandmothers (with a smile on their face and a spine of steel) will come back to haunt you. The napkins are essential to wipe the powdered sugar off your fingers because these lemon squares are dredged in it as soon as they come out of the oven and the darn stuff sure does get everywhere. These cakes are a manifestation of the true Southern woman with their buttery crumb base, a sharp lemon centre and all hidden under a covering of sweet sugar.

Always remember to toss in a little love when you’re cooking and you can’t go wrong! Y’all come on back soon for more of ‘Luscious Lily’s Southern Temptations.’


1 ½ cups (190g) all purpose (plain) flour

3/8 cup (45g) powdered (icing) sugar

½ teaspoon (2ml)  salt

¾ cup (170g) butter or margarine, softened

 Rub above ingredients together until it starts to stick together (butter can still be in small lumps). Press into a greased 9 inch x 13 inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees F (180C) for 15 minutes.

While that is in the oven cooking mix up the top layer.

 3 eggs

1 ½ cups (300g) sugar

½ teaspoon (2ml) baking powder

4 ½ Tablespoons (65g) all purpose (plain) flour

4 ½ Tablespoons (65ml) lemon juice

½ teaspoon (2ml) grated lemon rind

 Combine above ingredients and pour over baked layer. Return to the oven and bake at 350 F (180C) for 25 minutes. As soon as it comes out of the oven sprinkle with powdered sugar (icing sugar). Cut into squares to serve.

 Sugar & Spice by Angela Britnell that features the lovely Luscious Lily  is available as an eBook today and in paperback from 7th May 2014.  Check her out here…


Beverley Eikli’s real-life inspiration

So what does running a luxury safari lodge in Botswana and operating the computer Beverley Eikli author pic RDequipment in the back of low-flying survey aircraft have to do with writing novels?

Well, that’s a very good question and at the time I was doing both those jobs, I certainly wasn’t aware of any connection.

However, when you’ve hitched your star to a pilot you’ve met on the other side of the world, the ride’s going to take you places where you have to adapt and seize the adventure on offer, or shrivel away from boredom or lack of usefulness. For me, that meant some unusual jobs in far flung places, working with some very unusual characters…. All filed away for future reference, or perhaps unconsciously finding their way into the stories I wrote in the evenings.

I was a journalist when I first took up a two-month relief management job in the Okavango Delta, so my love of words was already entrenched. My desire to write fiction, however, was still a frustrated one, with a number of dusty manuscripts lying about under beds or on floppy discs.

Grampa on his muleA year earlier I’d found my grandfather’s pictorial diary, so working in Botswana in the early 1990s was a case of the grand-daughter repeating history with a modern take. In 1916 Grampa had been a young district commissioner, surveying the tsetse fly belt in the Okavango – amongst other jobs – whereas by the time I arrived, tourism was one of Botswana’s biggest earners, together with diamonds. (Several years later I worked in Botswana’s high security diamond-mining town, Orapa, but that’s a story for another time.)

Now, newly arrived in the Okavango in Botswana’s lush north, I was in charge of a remote 16-bedded safari camp, accessible for half the year only by light aircraft due to the annual floods which attract vast herds of game from all over southern Africa.DSCN0056

Communications for both grampa and I were challenging, though I enjoyed better food, since my job was to ensure 5-star meals and accommodation for the high-paying, mostly overseas, visitors to the lodge. This I did with the aid of my dog-eared Women’s Weekly Cookbooks, ordering in the fresh ingredients and the meat – ie, the village cow, always delicately referred to as ‘Charlie’ over the two-way radio for the sake of those who might be listening in. Charlie would arrive in a large plastic bin, and generally not in the company of our guests on account of Charlie’s propensity for attracting swarms of frustrated flies.

I could write a book about this wonderful time in my life, the highlight of which was meeting my gorgeous Norwegian bush pilot who flew into camp and literally whisked me off my feet the night before I was due to fly home to Australia.

Instead, I’ll move onto the next unusual job I mentioned in my introduction: as an airborne geophysical survey operator.Bevie with microlight in Botswana

For while catering to the needs of the often rich and sometimes famous guests at Mombo Lodge furnished me with experience of a certain type of clientele, my job as a technician in a male-dominated field, working mostly at 250ft above ground on contracts in remote locations, supplied me with material of a very different sort that I consciously, and unconsciously weave into my novels.

Inspiration comes from unexpected places and the more I think about it, the more I can see that my boss on my first contract, and the man who trained me, was the main inspiration for the mother of my heroine, Adelaide, in my latest release, The Maid of Milan.

When the aforementioned handsome Norwegian bush pilot – now my husband, Eivind – started a year’s contract as a survey pilot in Namibia, I found myself based in Windhoek at a loose end. So when Simon the survey company’s chief technician recruited a lad he’d met in the bar for a job as an airborne geophysical survey operator (working the computer equipment in the back of low-flying aircraft) on the basis that the prospective candidate didn’t throw up on roller-coasters at the funfair, and that he was skinny, I put the case to Simon that I didn’t throw up on the roller coaster either, and that I was just as skinny, so as Simon was still looking for another technician, he need look no further.

Unfortunately Simon was not taken by the idea of hiring me. I didn’t have a technician’s background (though this lad didn’t, either) and there were few, if any, women working in this field at the time. However Simon was ultimately overruled by head office. Management liked the idea that as I weighed only 45kg, which was about half that of their other male technicians, more fuel could be uploaded for each 8+ hour sortie, thus saving the company many thousands of dollars over the year’s contract.

Simon was a loyal company man and having been overruled, he bore his cross bravely. Very like my heroine’s mother, he was determined that his protégé would be given the best training in order not to let management or the crew down.

In hot, humid and turbulent conditions, I could not have had a better motivation for learning how to trouble-shoot if the equipment was playing up, or how to dexterously bring in an oscillating ‘bird’ – the torpedo-like data-gathering equipment suspended below the aircraft. For Simon was a chain smoker, and with no air-conditioning or ventilation in the aircraft, and ash dropping over my hands and into the computer and the thick-pile orange carpeting as he showed me the ropes for eight hour stretches, I was determined to master my tasks and so be alone in the air without Simon and with only the pilot as soon as possible.Over wingtip - Erongo Mountains, Namibia

Simon was just one of the small and colourful crew I worked and lived with for that happy year. Sadly he succumbed to emphysema a few years after this contract but I always appreciated the fact that, like so many of the guys I worked with on these various contracts, even if he made no secret of his reservations in working with me on the basis that I was a woman with limited technical experience, those reservations became irrelevant and forgotten once I’d settled comfortably and successfully into the job.

I’m not a writer who purposefully bases a character on a person but it is interesting to realise that a real-life situation has sometimes had a strong influence, such as Simon’s motivations in getting me up to par, and his methods, which bore similarities to the noble motivations and strong-arm tactics of Mrs Henley, Adelaide’s mother in The Maid of Milan.

Mrs Henley is driven by a higher order to do right, though it goes against the grain. But she’s a woman with a higher calling and she will do her duty. Having been saddled with Adelaide, she goes about doggedly forging what she believes to be the right path for the girl. Her motivation is pure, her methods harsh, and the outcome …unexpected. Many readers see her as a villain but I actually sympathise with her.

And before I really do write an entire book on the serendipitous discovery of real-life characters I know and have worked with, having found their way into my fiction, I’d better stop right there.

The Maid of Milan has been described as a Regency-era ‘Dynasty’ with its love triangle, drug addiction and redemption themes.  It has a happy ending but it’s not so much a conventional romance as a psychological study of the insidious effects of guilt, the mental anguish associated with covering up the past; and discovering how far forgiveness and love can stretch when an entirely new reality is laid bare.MOM_hirespackshot small

Beverley’s latest Choc Lit release is The Maid of Milan, a Regency-era ‘Dynasty’ with its love triangle, drug addiction and manipulation themes.

You can visit her website at: and her blog at: http// or follow her on Twitter: @BeverleyOakley

The Maid of Milan is available in paperback and all major ebook platforms, including Kindle UK, Kindle US and Kindle AUS.




The Round Robin Round-Up

In recent months, the authors at Choc Lit have produced unique short stories to celebrate special events such as Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. What’s fascinating is that we’re not producing a story each, but a contribution to one entire story, which is then posted day-by-day on wonderfully supportive book blogs. It’s a fascinating process. We don’t know what will arrive in the inbox or how the next author will progress what we’ve set up. It’s like tag wrestling, but without the leotards or catapulting off the ropes to floor the opponent.Mothers Day Round Robin

I was interested in how we approached our particular sections and asked for my fellow ChocLiteers thoughts.

Valentine’s Round Robin

Kathryn Freeman

I found it harder than writing a story by myself as I was very conscious I shouldn’t give away too much, too soon, but I already had in mind how I wanted it to end!

- I also found it more rewarding in a way, as I was so intrigued by how those after me would pick up the reins.  I felt proud to be part of the final result – but in awe of the ability of my fellow writers who managed to kick it off so well and then keep the suspense and so neatly tie the ends up at the end. I was very glad I went early!

Evonne Wareham

I did the Valentine one. It was great fun and also scary! I was day 4 of 5. The 3 previous instalments had set up some lovely leads, it was a responsibility to live up to them and also leave the story in a good place for the final instalment. Making a villain out of the character who would normally have been my alpha hero was interesting.

 Mother’s Day Round Robin

Alison May

I actually found writing part 1 quite intimidating. Normally the beginning of a story would be one of the last bits that I’d still be tweaking with and revising. This time I didn’t have that option. I had to write an opening that set up enough possibilities for the six writers that followed to apply their imaginations but wasn’t so vague as to be completely irrelevant to what came later. I think I stared at the blank screen for longer than I ever have before, feeling the pressure of not letting the later writers down. I ummed and aahed particularly about whether to introduce a potential hero in part 1. I do have a discarded paragraph where a mysterious stranger appears, but in the end I decided to leave the hero for the writers who came later. I’m now really happy with Kelly and sort of in love with little Lucas. I just hope that the writers and readers who came after me ended up feeling the same.

 Laura E. James

Alison wrote a great introduction, and that allowed me to take the story in any direction. Conscious of the fact it was a Mother’s Day story, and we at Choc Lit write romance, my focus was on developing a love interest and a father for Kelly’s baby son. I left it for the latter writers to decide if this man was one and the same. It was liberating not having to make that decision, however, now the story is complete, I have to say, I found what followed, and the conclusion extremely satisfying. I loved this experience.

 Berni Stevens

I was so relieved not to be given the first slot, and I take my hat off to Alison for doing such an amazing job. I still remember my own first day back at work after maternity leave, so writing Kelly’s feelings came easily to me. I loved the way Laura and Henri set up new possibilities for the story, but I couldn’t resist throwing in my own curved ball! I truly couldn’t wait to see how it all panned out.

Beverley Eikli

I was caught between a rock and a hard place with such excellent instalments having gone before. Now, with the story having only two more instalments after mine, I knew that it was time to explore the motivations of some of the characters who may (or may not) have a larger role to play and begin the process of tying up the threads my predecessors had left me :)

Unexpected plot twists are what I love best, though of course that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. However since it seemed to be ‘at that point in the story’ I thought I’d just go for it. I wrote most of it while travelling through Norway but had to think long and hard to come up with the direction I was going to take it. There were so many!

 Amanda James

I found it really tricky coming in at the penultimate section. I couldn’t end it obviously, but I wasn’t sure where to go either because of what had come before. Of course I knew we should probably have a happy ending, so worked towards that. The problem was that a couple of the stories before mine had said that Damien had wanted nothing to do with Kelly and his son, another had said that Kelly had ignored all Damien’s attempts to contact her by phone and text. Gulp. I realised that this was to set up intrigue and conflict and I eventually got it sorted  … I hope! It was great fun to write and I would love to do it again.

 Margaret James

I enjoyed writing the ending.  It was fun to read everything which came before it, seeing how the previous writers had developed the story, set traps for the unwary reader, suggested various directions in which the story could go, and also suggested various resolutions. I decided early on who the bad guy in this story was going to be and I wrote my ending to reflect this decision.


From a personal point of view, what’s struck me reading these comments is that as writers we’ve used our knowledge, experience and instinct to know how to start the story, when to add a hint of romance or betrayal, where to introduce the twist and turns, and how and when to start wrapping it up to bring it to a satisfying conclusion.

Beyond my contribution at Part 2, I was reading and discovering along with all the other readers and was captivated by the unfolding story.

I’m already looking forward to the next Choc Lit round robin.


Here are the links to our Mother’s Day story, which can now be read from start to finish:

Part One by Alison May on Chick Lit Reviews and News

Part Two by Laura E James on Jera’s Jamboree

Part Three by Henriette Gyland on Laura’s Little Book Blog

Part Four by Berni Stevens on Cosmochicklitan

Part Five by Beverley Eikli on Chick Lit Uncovered

Part Six by Amanda James on Love of a Good Book

Part Seven by Margaret James on One More Page

So, what does happen in Nashville?

What Happens in Nashville?

The short answer is – a lot! Both for the characters in my new Choc Lit novella and in real life.

I’ve lived just outside Nashville for nearly 18 years now and have finally written a story based totally in my adopted hometown. In ‘What Happens in Nashville’ straight-laced English lawyer, Claire Buchan, is dreading her sister’s hen party;  a week in Nashville filled with honky-tonks, karaoke and cowboys.  When she meets Rafe Castello he fits the cowboy stereotype perfectly with his handsome looks and roguish charm but as he and Claire get to know each other, she realises there is far more to him than meets the eye. That’s also the perfect way to describe the city of Nashville to anyone who has never been here.WHIN_150dpi

Anyone who explores beneath the surface of ‘Music City USA’ finds a far more varied town than its commonly held image might lead you to believe. If you want country music, honky-tonks and cowboys they’re there in plenty but how about a world-renowned symphony orchestra, the top-ranked Vanderbilt University, a vibrant waterfront along the Cumberland River and a growing restaurant scene that goes far beyond traditional barbeque? For Civil War fanatics Nashville and the surrounding area is a huge draw with its antebellum mansions and historic battlefields. If art is your thing then check out the stunning Frist Center for the Visual Arts. I could go on and on but having just reread the last paragraph think I’ll now be in line to get an offer from the Nashville Tourist Board any day now!

For a little fun here’s an excerpt from ‘What Happens in Nashville’ when Claire first spots Rafe at the Nashville hotel where the party will be staying.

‘She dropped her bags and set off in search of another human being. To the right of the elegant curved staircase she noticed a glass door and wandered over to peer out through into a small garden. On the wrought iron bench in the centre of the grass a man with a black cowboy hat tipped down over his face was stretched out with his long bare legs hanging out over one end, swigging beer straight from the bottle. Wonderful. Very classy.’

In her mind Claire immediately labels him as a no-good cowboy before they even speak and over the next week comes to realize how wrong she was in her first assumptions. Just like Claire I’ve had to revise a lot of my opinions over the years! The old adage about not judging a book by its cover – although the cover of ‘What Happens in Nashville’ is so pretty I wouldn’t blame you for that – is so true here in Nashville. The scruffy man with his worn jeans and scuffed cowboy boots sitting at the next table to you in a restaurant could easily be a multi-millionaire, Grammy award winning songwriter, university professor or professional athlete.

I’ll finish in true Southern style (you’ll have to ignore the Cornish accent) by saying ‘Y’all come on now and find out what happens in Nashville.’

P.S. Nashville has an interesting chocolate connection! In 1912 Nashville produced the first combination candy bar with more than one principal ingredient. They were named ‘Goo Goo Clusters’ possibly after the first words of the inventor’s baby! They’re still made in Nashville but known internationally. Here’s a link to the company’s history page:

What Happens in Nashville is available in all countries that have access to Amazon Kindle including Kindle UK, Kindle US and Kindle Australia.

Angela_author picture


Long Live the Beta Male!

I recently posted a Tweet that went ‘My heroes are not muscular, ripped, Alpha Men. They’re just blokes who fall in love’, and it was suggested that I write this blog post to talk about why I write this kind of hero.  So I shall try my best to explain, without recourse to my not-so-secret crush on Tony Robinson…

I’ve never really been a woman for the thews and biceps, or for the kind of man who wants to ‘save’ a woman, and, for some reason, in Romance Hero Land, these two attributes tend to go together like hot porridge and treacle. In fact, dare I say it, if a big, burly man rode into my life and wanted to rescue me from ‘all this’, he’d find himself limping away solo, with his Stairmaster jammed somewhere uncomfortable.  I much prefer the kind of man who says ‘I can see you need a bit of saving.  Me too.  Shall we help each other along the way?’

Johnny Depp

Johnny Depp

While I can suspend disbelief with the best of them (see above comment about Tony Robinson…) I can never quite manage to put myself in the place of the heroine being wooed by the Alpha Male.  Too many of them seem helpless, waiting for the obligatory Big Strong Man to solve their problems and ‘know best’.  And where does that leave the man who really hasn’t got a clue?  Who is floundering around in his life, just as the heroine is floundering in hers?  Men who admit to their vulnerability can be every bit as sexy as the man who has none, in fact their very sincerity and approachability is often what attracts the heroine in the first place.  So Long Live the Beta Male and his sensitivity, and you can keep your abs and pecs – I’ll settle for a relationship of equals every time!

Jane was born in Devon and now lives in Yorkshire. She has five children, four cats and two dogs! She works in a local school and also teaches creative writing. Jane is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and has a first class honours degree in creative writing.

Jane writes romantic comedies which are often described  as ‘quirky’.

Her debut Please Don’t Stop the Music won the 2012 Romantic Novel of the Year and the Best Romantic Comedy Novel award from the Romantic Novelists’ Association.  

Jane with award copy

Kate Johnson: Three Inspirational Women

In honour of International Women’s Day, here are a couple of thoughts on three women who inspire me.

Elizabeth I. I mean I don’t think I’d want to have her round for dinner, but I do think that what she managed to accomplish is extraordinary. She was only the second female monarch England ever had, following her sister’s short reign (which was dominated by her husband). She lived in a time when a woman was really just a piece of property and no one really thought she could do much without a man to tell her what to do. Well, she proved them all wrong! She declared herself married to her country, a marriage which brought peace and prosperity for forty five years.Elizabeth_I_Armada_Portrait


Mary Seacole. Florence Nightingale got all the glory but Mary worked just as hard and was nearly forgotten by history. As a Jamaican woman in the 1850s she was at a huge disadvantage to begin with. Trained by her mother as a nurse, but turned down by Florence’s school of nursing, she took herself off to the Crimea and set up the British Hotel for wounded soldiers. Even when this bankrupted her, she didn’t give up, and sold her memoirs to keep herself afloat. Now that’s a determined and resourceful lady.



Buffy Summers. Oh come on, I can’t write about inspiring women without mentioning the Buffster! In movies and in books, the petite blonde is usually the monster’s first snack. Or maybe she’s nearly the snack, but is rescued by a man at the last minute. She’s just there to show us how dangerous it is to be, er, pretty and blonde, whilst manly men get on with the serious business of world-saving. Not so Buffy. She was the pretty blonde who went into the dark alley with the monster…and emerged with its head. She rescued the helpless men. She showed up on TV on Thursday nights and showed a generation of girls they didn’t have to choose between being pretty or brave or smart. They could be all three.

Kate Johnson is a prolific writer of romantic and paranormal fiction. Kate is Choc Lit’s IT_packshot webyoungest author and lives near Stansted, Essex. She is a self-confessed fan of Terry Pratchett, whose fantasy fiction has inspired her to write her own books. Kate worked in an airport and a laboratory before escaping to write fiction full time. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and has previously published short stories in the UK and romantic mysteries in the US. She’s a previous winner of the WisRWA’s Silver Quill and Passionate Ink’s Passionate Plume award.

Her first UK debut novel, The UnTied Kingdom was shortlisted for the Contemporary Romantic Novel Category Award in 2012. It also won an online Best Book Award.

Kate’s Choc Lit novels include: The UnTied Kingdom, Run Rabbit Run and Impossible Things (February 2014).

Follow Kate on TwitterFacebook and her blog.

Dancing in the Rain with Amanda James

I am having such an exciting time! Two e-releases in the same week is enough to make a person keel over. However I am here to chat to you about the ideas behind both of them, so I’d better wait until later for an attack of the vapours.

Both Dancing in the Rain and Somewhere Beyond the Sea are romantic suspense, though Dancing in the Rain has an added paranormal/spiritual aspect. I love writing in this genre, though I really enjoyed writing my time travel novel, A Stitch in Time too.


SBTS_hirespackshot small









Dancing in the Rain was the first adult novel I ever wrote about twelve-ish years ago. (Actually, looking at my notes, just found that I didn’t finish it until 2005) It has been carefully edited and honed since those early days, thank goodness. I first got the idea in 2002 at the beginning of a four week long holiday in America when I had made up my mind to write a novel after many years of faffing. I was and still am an avid fan of Dean Koontz and I read two of his books on the long car journeys. Lots of coincidences happened whist travelling around relating to his books, (too detailed to go into now) and so I decided to write to him when I returned. I never expected a reply, but he did reply explaining that he didn’t believe in coincidences.Dean letter

I wrote to him again later to ask his advice on getting an agent (cringe) and he replied again. He wished me luck and said that perseverance matters. Thank goodness I took that on board. And isn’t he a lovely guy? He has sold 450 million books, but took the time to write to me in his own handwriting.

One of the reasons for the trip was to explore Monument Valley belonging to the Navajo Nation as well as other sites – Crazy Horse National Monument in honour of the great Sioux leader. At that time, I taught The American West at GCSE and was totally absorbed in the whole subject. The beauty of Monument Valley completely blew me away and I returned another three times over the years. Traditionally, Native American culture is against harming the environment and being a one with nature. That sparked the first idea for my novel, and then the petroglyphs (ancient rock art) around the area and the history associated with the people who had created it gave me the next. Then as I travelled, one by one the ideas came. And soon Jacob Weston was born. It has been a long road to publication for this one, but I always believed the day would come.mandy pic blog 2

As well as loving the desert region of Arizona/Utah, I have always felt a great affinity with the ocean. I especially love the north coast of Cornwall and am lucky enough to have realised a life-long dream and now actually live here! The idea for Somewhere Beyond the Sea grew out of my love for the area, but how the actual mystery behind the story of Karen and Nathan Ainsworth arrived in my head I have no idea. I guess I liked the little village that the TV character Doc Martin lives in ( Port Isaac) and loosely based Kelerston on that. The village doesn’t really exist however. I wanted an imaginary village based between Mawagn Porth and Padstow, about twenty minutes from me. If I chose a real place, people would expect detailed street names etc. I wanted a ‘feeling’ of the place so I could include bits of my favourite towns. There are touches of St Ives and Falmouth in Kelerston too. I loved writing this story and couldn’t wait to see where the characters would lead me. One of the characters has a very dark secret and it was such a challenge keeping it from the reader but at the same time giving them just enough to keep them guessing. It was very tricky trying to resolve the problems of the character too, but I loved every minute of it. I hope you will enjoy reading it. mandy pic blog

Follow Mandy on Twitter!



Write your own romantic suspense!

From the pen of Evonne Wareham

Choc Lit sent me an e-mail. As they do. How about giving us some tips they said – How to write romantic suspense?

Fine I thought – no problem.  So here it is – my top ten list.

Whoa! Wait a minute. I can tell you about how I write romantic suspense, but it might not be how you would write it. We’re all different, which is a Good Thing, as the world would be full of books that are all exactly the same, which might be a bit boring, after a while.

So – to start again. Here is my list of thoughts about writing romantic suspense. Things you might like to take into account as you write, or if it’s a genre that you’re wondering about. But it’s your book.

1.  Are we having fun yet?  

Write something you’re going to enjoy.  You’re going to be keeping company with these characters for quite a while, so you have to start off liking the idea. It’s fine to experiment and explore different genres, to find the one that is the best fit. Is romantic suspense right for you?

2.  Are you a good juggler? 

Romantic suspense mixes the ingredients of a romance and a thriller, in roughly equal measure. So you have to be happy with doing both. How you arrange it is up to you, but they do have to be intertwining parts of the story.

3.  Do you have criminal tendencies?  

Most romantic suspense has a crime at the heart of it, so you have to be comfortable with writing about it.

4.  How good are you at killing people? 

On the page! On the page! This is one point where you do not do personal research. This is where imagination comes in. But it can be disquieting, when you read back what you have written and wonder where it came from.  Creating evil villains can be disturbingly rewarding.  Or maybe that’s just me?

5.  Out damned plot!  

How much of a plotter are you? Do you enjoy it?  I used to think I was one of those who wrote into the mist – in vulgar parlance, a pantser. It gradually dawned on me that I wasn’t. I was a plotter who didn’t put pen to paper until the high points of the action were all worked out in my head.  If you enjoy plotting, then romantic suspense is a good place to do it.

6.  Warm, simmer, sizzle, volcano? 

 Only you can decide on your comfort level when writing love scenes.  But there are a couple of things to think about.  The love scenes are an essential part of the action, part of the character development of the hero and heroine, right for them and for the plot, at that time.  In this, the romantic suspense setting can be a help. Your hero and heroine are in extreme situations, probably with their lives being threatened. That can make things happen faster and in a more intense way.  And if the heroine has just been hiding in a small space, with this exceptionally hot guy

7.  Go on, thrill me. I dare you…  

If it’s a thriller then you’re talking roller coaster, nail-biter, more twists than a corkscrew. And if you can do it, a cliff hanger at the end of each chapter.

8. That is sooo romantic. 

While the hero and heroine are running around, saving the world, they also have to fall for each other, in a big way. So you need all the ingredients of romance as well as thrills and spills – the misunderstandings, the arguments, the hero who has problems making a commitment, the heroine with a dark secret in her past …

9.  My hero … Swoon. 

Choc Lit like their books to be written at least in part from the hero’s point of view, which is great, as you get to write about what he is thinking. I love watching the poor guy falling for the heroine and not knowing what’s hit him.  I go for the mysterious type, alphas, but not overbearing, strong and capable and very protective of the heroine. Those are my choices. Have fun making yours.

10.  And heroine?

 If I have one pet hate when I’m reading, it’s a wet heroine – the ‘too stupid to live’ kind. I try to write independent women who can run their own lives, but who recognise a situation that is too big for them to handle alone.  Part of the challenge of writing a heroine who can stand on her own feet is making her vulnerable in the right ways.

That’s it. My ten thoughts. I hope they help and if you’re writing romantic suspense, or thinking about it, that you enjoy the journey.

Evonne RD pic

Evonne Wareham was born in South Wales and spent her childhood there. After university she migrated to London, where she worked in local government, scribbled novels in her spare time and went to the theatre a lot. Now she’s back in Wales, living by the sea, writing and studying a PHD in history. She still loves the theatre, likes staying in hotels and enjoys the company of other authors through her membership of the Romantic Novelists’ Association.

Evonne’s debut novel, Never Coming Home won the 2012 Joan Hessayon New Writers’ Award, the 2013 Colorado Romance Writers’ Award for Romantic Suspense, the Oklahoma National Readers’ Choice Award for Romantic Suspense plus was a nominee for a Reviewers’ Choice Award from RT Book Reviews. Evonne’s novels include: Never Coming Home and Out of Sight Out of Mind.


Round-Robin Valentine Romance

Happy Valentine’s Day from everyone at Choc Lit!

Five of our fabulous authors have put together a romantic tale – they’ve each contributed to give you one fabulous romance.

Collect all five questions (found at the end of each story section) and send your answers to to be entered into our Valentine’s Day giveaway!

giveaway pic reduced

Part One by Janet Gover

The hearts were everywhere!

The instant Shelly stepped outside her front door, the whole world seemed to be thrusting hearts at her. Roses too. She just knew that she’d be surrounded by pink balloons on the train and forced to watch a procession of red bouquets delivered to work. To everyone but her. Her friends would gleefully display cards and expensive chocolates, proof of a lover’s devotion – or at least existence.

Was there a Valentine’s Day equivalent of ‘Bah Humbug’? If there was, it would be her mantra for the day.

To make matters worse, Shelly had to walk past the florist to get to the train station. For eleven months of the year, she enjoyed seeing his flowers. Sometimes the smell of his displays alone was enough to make her pause in her busy day. But in February, the shop was a mass of Valentine’s Day promotions all specifically designed to remind her she was ALONE.

She would ignore it.  Duck her head and walk past as quickly as she could.

The traffic lights conspired against her, and Shelly found herself waiting at the crossing staring at a sign urging passers-by to send flowers to the love of their life.

She was the love of no one’s life. She had been single for … well, longer than she cared to remember. Ever since … Shelly caught herself in a sigh. Go on, she told herself, be honest. You don’t date because you have found the love of your life. If only he knew it.

She could never tell him, of course. It wasn’t just the workplace thing. It was because she was just Shelly and he was … well … who he was.

Across the road, the florist opened his doors to catch the early morning trade. That’s when the craziest idea stopped Shelly in her tracks. Could she? Should she?

‘What would you think if a woman sent you flowers?’ she blurted out as she entered the shop. ‘If they were delivered to you at work. In front of everyone. Would you be embarrassed?’

He smiled, and his face glowed with good humour. ‘It depends who sent them. If they were from my mum, then yes. If it was you …’

But Shelly had stopped listening. If she didn’t do this now, she’d never do it. ‘What flowers should I send a man who …’ Her voice trailed off as she was overcome with her own fit of embarrassment.

‘Ah,’ the florist said in a gentle voice. ‘Unrequited love. I know it well.’ He turned away quickly to indicate a vast scarlet array on his shelves. ‘Well traditionally, it’s a red rose. Or more than one.’

She wasn’t sure. In fact, she was becoming less sure of this with every passing moment.

‘But, if you want something a bit, well, unique … how about this?’

He reached for a vase holding a single, long stemmed rose. It was creamy white with a faint hint of the palest pink. The petals looked like porcelain. In contrast to the overwhelming sea of red, it was pure and quite lovely.

‘It’s the Michelle Meilland rose,’ the florist said.

‘Oh,’ her heart fluttered. ‘My name is Michelle.’

He looked at her with a pair of sparkling green eyes. ‘In that case, it’s perfect.’

He was right. It was the perfect rose. Maybe, just maybe, it would change everything. She wrote the delivery details on a small white card and handed it to the florist.

His eyebrows rose as he read the name and address.  ‘Okay …’ he said in a slightly shocked voice. ‘I think I will have to deliver this one personally.’



What type of flower does the florist recommend to Shelly?

 Part Two by Kathryn Freeman

Ethan stared in horror at the name on the card and then cast his eyes back to her sweet face.  If that’s who her ideal man was, he had about as much hope of catching her attention as he did catching a ride to the moon.

She cleared her throat. ‘Isn’t this the part where I pay?’

He flushed. It seemed he couldn’t stop impressing her. First he’d blabbed a corny line about her sending him flowers. Now he’d been caught gawking. ‘Err, yes, sorry.’ Quickly he rang up the amount on the till.

As she handed over the money, their fingers briefly touched. His heart hammered and he felt a zing through every cell in his body.

She was looking at the rose.

‘So, umm, do you work there too?’ he asked, acutely aware this was it: his last chance to unleash his wit and charm, heck, at least to find some, before she tucked the change into her purse and he never saw her again. ‘Is that how you met him?’

‘Yes.’ Her curls bobbed around her face as she nodded.

‘I thought so.’ She stared at him questioningly. ‘Oh, I mean, I thought that was where you worked. I see you walking by here every morning, heading in that direction.’ Shut your flipping mouth, Ethan. Now she thinks you’re stalking her.

Thankfully she laughed. ‘Right.’ She was still staring, almost wistfully, at the rose. ‘I’ve never done this before. Do you really think he’ll like it?’

Ethan ran a finger over the soft petals and then looked into her equally soft blue eyes. ‘If he doesn’t, he’s a fool.’ Her eyes widened and her cheeks tinged with pink. He smiled. ‘You look even more like Michelle now.’ Her embarrassment turned to confusion and he couldn’t blame her. How on earth was he going to get out of this one without making a further twit of himself? ‘I mean, you look like the rose. You know, your cheeks are creamy white, but slightly pink …’ Oh God, kill him now.

But she didn’t look horrified, or laugh in his face. She grinned, and his heart danced. ‘I’ve never been told I look like a rose before. Even if it is because my cheeks go red.’

‘No, it’s not just that …’ He ground to a pathetic stop. He didn’t have the words, or the confidence, to say any more. Unlike the man on the card. ‘Well, thanks for coming in. I’ll make sure he gets Michelle this morning.’

As soon as the real Michelle closed the door behind her, Ethan thumped his fist on the bench. What a total muppet. How on earth was he ever going to get the girl, if he couldn’t string two coherent sentences together in her presence?

Sighing deeply, he set about wrapping up the Michelle Rose. Frankly, it didn’t matter that he couldn’t talk to her. Not now he knew who she’d set her heart on.

It just about summed up his life. He now had to deliver an expensive rose to a guy he hated. Worse, the rose he’d have to grit his teeth and politely hand over to the git wasn’t from a faceless passerby. Oh no, it was an expression of love from a girl he, Ethan the flower boy, had a desperate crush on.

Not a good start to the day then.

But on the plus side, at least he now knew her name and where she worked. If only he knew what to do with that.


What’s the florist’s name? A) Ewan B) Ethan C) Evan

Part Three by Sue Moorcroft

Shelly used her pass to get into the huge glass and chrome building that housed Jake Starkey Holdings, tip-tapped her way over the black marble of the triple-height foyer and over to the staff lift.

As she pressed the button and waited for the doors to open, she gazed across at the sparkling glass tube that whizzed the executive lift up to the top floor, Jake Starkey’s domain. Jake Starkey who stalked through the building every day at the head of his retinue, dark eyes flashing, stubble hollowing his cheeks. And never looked Shelly’s way.

She’d never been invited up to the top floor but she’d heard about the suite of offices and the roof garden that led directly from Jake Starkey’s lair. According to rumour, he wasn’t always the calm and detached figure who strode into the building every day. Sometimes he burst out of his office and slammed the door behind him to pace the paving of the roof garden, pausing to stroke a petal or tweak off a dying leaf. When, a few minutes later, he returned to whatever meeting he’d abandoned, serenity would return with him and he would deal with the day’s frustrations.

The man liked flowers.

Shelly tapped her toes and tried to reassure herself that she’d done the right thing. He was used to women throwing themselves at him but her approach was subtle and intelligent. He would touch the waxy petals of the rose and wonder about the woman who had sent it, his interest piqued.

And then … Her daydream juddered to a halt. And then what? What then, Shelly? Just how did she propose to get herself up onto the hallowed top floor, into Mr Jake Starkey’s very own office, so that she could casually notice the perfection of the single cream rose and say, ‘Oh! A Michelle Meilland, I think? Fantastic, isn’t it?’ How could he be bowled over that she shared his botanical leanings and by the extraordinary breadth of her knowledge if she was locked away, as usual, in her little cubicle on floor 3?

She would find a way.

Even as the lift doors opened she whirled away, dashing back across the foyer, aware of co-workers jumping aside and raising their eyebrows at her flight. She skidded through the automatic doors and back along to the station, fairly dancing with impatience on the platform until the huge ungainly commuter train hissed to a halt. Clenching her fists through the ten minute journey, bouncing down onto the platform and running back through the barriers, she arrived back at the florist’s shop like a gust of wind, hair coming loose and streaming over her shoulder.

The man behind the counter stared as she slid to a halt.

‘When will it be delivered?’ she gasped. ‘The rose, the Michelle Meilland I paid for earlier and arranged for it to be delivered to—’

‘Yes, I remember.’ But he still looked at her as if she’d turned into an alien in the last half hour. ‘I suppose it would be about eleven o’clock.’

‘Perfect!’ She could have kissed him. Except she couldn’t, obviously, because he wasn’t the right man. But otherwise she might have done. ‘I’ll be waiting for whoever delivers it down in the foyer at eleven o’clock.’

His eyes narrowed. ‘It’ll be me who delivers it. Why do you want to meet?’

She felt a triumphant smile burn across her face. ‘Because when you’re shown up to his office – I’m going up with you.’



On what floor is Jake Starkey’s office?

Part Four by Evonne Wareham

Ten to eleven.

Ethan hurried towards the building, resisting the urge to yank at the tie he’d put on to make the delivery. His sister, Sandra, had laughed when she’d seen him but as she’d agreed to mind the shop while he was gone, she was allowed.

Shelly was waiting in the foyer, apprehension and excitement clear in the tense lines of her body.  Ethan wanted to shout: ‘He’s not worth it!’ Instead he let her whisk him through the entrance procedure with what he hoped was a convincing smile.
A security guard hurried to intercept them as Ethan clipped his visitor’s pass to his jacket. ‘Miss James, you need to get up to the conference room on level 3, now. Mr Starkey is meeting your department there.’ The guard grinned, winking at Shelly. ‘Take your young man with you. He can wait with the receptionist. You can thank him properly for the Valentine after.’

Ethan had no time to explain that he was the delivery guy, not the boyfriend. Shelly was towing him towards the lift. The warmth of her hand, closed around his, drove out every other thought.

‘We don’t need to wangle our way into Mr Starkey’s office.’ Her voice trembled with anticipation as they hurtled upwards. ‘It must be fate.’

The lift doors opened. Two men stood in the otherwise deserted reception area. As Shelly and Ethan stepped out of the lift, one of the men stormed towards it, yelling over his shoulder. ‘Tell the staff yourself, Starkey. I’m not doing it!’

Jake Starkey shrugged and shouldered his way into the conference room. Shelly and Ethan exchanged a confused glance and slid in behind him.

The speech was short.

‘This department is terminated, as of today.’ Starkey looked at his watch. ‘Redundancy and notice payments were transferred to your bank accounts five minutes ago.’

The door banged behind him, leaving a stunned silence.

Twenty seconds to fire forty people.

Men in dark suits shepherded them to the main office. Each desk had an empty box and a brown envelope.

Combative, angry words whirled around – tribunal, legal proceedings. Ethan hoped, fiercely, that these people could challenge Jake Starkey for what he’d just done, but right now he was more concerned with the stricken look on Shelly’s face as she slumped in her chair. Jake Starkey was the most arrogant, egotistical … Ethan took a deep breath. Shouting names inside his head wouldn’t help Shelly. He pointed to the box. Shelly bit her lip.

‘Could you …?’

It didn’t take long to identify and pack Shelly’s possessions. Ethan dropped the rose on top.

They joined the queue of staff, tramping down the back stairs to a side door and a line of waiting taxis. Ethan helped Shelly into one, prompted her to give the driver her address and settled the box beside her. Her head jerked when she saw the rose. ‘Take it away, please. I don’t want it.’ He snatched it up as the taxi revved impatiently. Backing away, he slammed the door.

His last sight was her pale face, paler than the rose in his hand, staring back at him through the window, as the cab pulled away.

Ethan looked down at the bouquet he’d just made up – a dozen perfect yellow roses – friendship, concern, care.

‘Sandra – can you drop this one off on your way home?’  He scribbled down the address he’d recited to himself, over and over, all the way back from this morning’s disaster.

‘Of course.’ Sandra took the carefully wrapped package. ‘They’re lovely, more original than the red ones.’

Ethan nodded, unable to say any more as Sandra bustled around, collecting her coat and bag. At last the shop door clattered closed behind her.

‘And that may have been the stupidest thing you ever did. The last thing she’s going to want is a reminder of today – or you.’ He looked over at the white Michelle rose, standing in a tall vase on the counter. Its head had drooped, so that it was almost touching its stem. He knew exactly how it felt.

But he still couldn’t give up on a tiny glimmer of hope.


Ethan makes up a new bouquet towards the end of part four. What colour roses does he choose?

Part Five by Isabella Connor 

In the kitchen, slumped over a mug of coffee, Shelly thought of roses and redundancies, of her lost job and her lost love.

Get a grip, she told herself. Jake Starkey had never been her love. Just an illusion. He didn’t deserve her devotion.

She looked at the bouquet on the counter, next to the empty bottle of Chardonnay. She’d found the flowers outside her door, after she’d ignored four long rings at the doorbell. They were the reason she’d drunk herself into oblivion last night, embarrassed that her mother had sent roses in an attempt to brighten up her Valentine’s Day.

‘Things might get better,’ Jan had clucked on the phone, probably tapping the side of her nose at the same time.

Nice idea, Mum, but it hadn’t made her feel better. Just reminded her she was a failure at relationships.

Jake Starkey had been the focus of her attention for the last four months. The hope, the dreams, the fantasies – they’d kept her going through a long cold winter. She’d not make that mistake again. No more unrequited love …

Unrequited love. She’d heard those words yesterday in the flower shop. The florist – Ethan – had seemed to guess by magic her sad situation. He hadn’t made her feel pathetic, though. Not then, nor after Jake had dropped his bombshell, reducing her daydreams to dust. Ethan had packed up her things and got her safely into a cab, staring through the glass, looking concerned. He had nice green eyes. And a head full of dark curls … You look like the rose …

She hadn’t even thanked him for being so nice.  Well, she’d set that right as soon as she’d showered, and put some make-up on. Now, where had she put that pink pashmina …


Shelly entered the flower shop but there was an unknown woman behind the counter.

‘Can I help you?’

‘I was looking for … but he’s not …’ Shelly’s voice trailed off.

‘Ethan’s making a delivery. He’ll be back soon. Can I give him a message?’

‘No, it’s okay.’ About to leave, Shelly caught sight of the white rose in a vase on the counter.  She remembered hissing at Ethan to take it away… ‘Could you tell him thanks for helping me out yesterday. I had a bit of a crisis.’

‘Are you Shelly?’

God, Ethan must have told her about yesterday’s fiasco.

‘I’m so sorry about what happened. Ethan was gutted. He used to work for Jake Starkey. Five years ago. He was made redundant too. That’s when he set up this shop. Decided to be his own boss.’

‘I see.’ It must have been hard for him to be reminded of all that, yet he’d seemed more concerned about how Shelly felt.

‘Did you like the flowers?’


‘The yellow roses. Ethan chose them specially. I tried to deliver them, but you weren’t at home.’

Roses … chosen specially for her … roses on Valentine’s Day …

‘Ethan will kill me for saying this, but I’m his big sister, so I’m allowed – he thinks you’re gorgeous.’

Gorgeous. Shelly was blushing, probably a deeper pink than her scarf. But the woman was smiling which gave her confidence. And a mad kind of courage.

‘I’d like to buy some flowers.’


Ethan trudged into the shop. His heart just wasn’t in it today. Thank God Sandra was there. She gave him a big smile. Probably a pity smile.

‘Any customers?’ he asked.

‘One. She bought something. For you.’

Ethan frowned. ‘Me?’

Sandra pointed to a vase on the counter. It had held only the Michelle rose, but now that was surrounded by a dozen yellow ones.

‘Oh my God … was it … did she …?’ His mind was reeling with possibilities, and his mouth was refusing to work properly.

‘She left a card.’

Ethan took it, staring in shock at the writing. The name of a restaurant with a date and time, and the words No more unrequited love.

And for once the leftover Valentine’s Day balloons and pink teddy bears didn’t seem even remotely out of place.


What colour are Ethan’s eyes?