Welcome Back, Downton!

 

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Currently in the Kobo sale!

Did the first Downton of the season live up to your expectations? Here’s what Margaret Kaine thought …

I began writing my novel, ‘Dangerous Decisions’  because I loved not only the original series of ‘Upstairs/Downstairs’, I am also fascinated by the sheer elegance of the Edwardian Era. By the lovely clothes and great country houses, the impeccable manners, even while being aware that this privileged way of life was only made possible by the toil of others.

And so I was well into my plot when ‘Downton Abbey’ first hit our television screens. Written with authenticity by Julian Fellowes and providing us all with welcome romantic escapism, it drew me like a magnet. Full of well-portrayed and distinctive characters set against a luxurious background, I found it absolutely compelling and its fantastic ratings proved that so did thousands of other viewers.

We all looked forward with impatience for this new series of Downton Abbey to begin, although I was a little wary. With some sadness, I confess to feeling that the last series had rather lost its way.

But last Sunday, within minutes of the opening scenes, I was totally absorbed.

Dame Maggie Smith is, as always, an absolute joy and brilliant as the Dowager Countess. “Principles are like prayers,” she advised at dinner. “Noble, of course, but awkward at a party.’  Delivered in her own inestimable style. Wonderful!

It was like meeting old friends from both above and below stairs. I’ve always had a soft spot for Lady Edith, and her hopeless predicament really touches the heart. Carson is so splendidly superior, Mrs Hughes her sympathetic sensible self, Mrs Patmore eternally frazzled and young Daisy trying to better herself. Although I was surprised when she used the term, ’pig-ignorant’ which I tend to think belongs to a later decade.

It was good to see the social changes of the time beginning to creep in, with the socialist young teacher invited to dine without the knowledge of Lord Grantham, whose disapproval was almost apoplectic. Carson chosen over Lord Grantham by the villagers to head their war memorial committee. The scene when the doctor – invited to luncheon by the Dowager Countess – wasn’t offered cake by her butler was hilarious, yet for the period was totally believable. And Lady Mary actually considering spending a clandestine week with Tom Gillingham, to see if they were sexually suited before marriage! There were many lighter moments, delicious repartee between Mrs Crawley and the Dowager Countess, Molesley and his disastrous hair dye, a brilliant cameo by Anna Chancellor, didn’t we always anticipate that Jimmy would take one risk too far? Encouraged by the odious footman Thomas of course, who seems to have so many hidden agendas it is a wonder he can sleep. And I’m sure we will see more in the future of Mr Bates and his splendid wife, Anna. I thought the Countess seemed a little subdued even before the revelation by her maid. And what is the story there? Intrigue abounds.

I shall definitely be watching next Sunday and no doubt for all the other Sundays in the current season. Because – welcome back, Downton, the magic has returned!

Dangerous Decisions is available now as a paperback and on all eBook platforms.

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Recurring dreams and haunted offices: Some Veil Did Fall by Kirsty Ferry

Happy e-publication day to Kirsty Ferry! Her fantastic timeslip novel, Some Veil Did Fall, is out in all eBook formats today and to celebrate she’s talking spooky happenings on the Choc Lit Corner …

KirstyFerryBlack&White1As my new eBook and debut Choc Lit title Some Veil Did Fall is due to be
released, I thought it might be interesting to share some of the inspiration
for it and some of the spooky goings on that helped me to come up with the idea
for certain parts of the book.

I love writing about the paranormal and ghosts, and I particularly
love the idea of timeslips and parallel lives being led in two different time
frames. Some Veil Did Fall starts with a recurring dream that my heroine, Becky, keeps having, and as the story goes on, the reasons for this become clear.

The fact that Becky dreams about a house and, in particular,
a staircase is based on a recurring dream I used to have when I was younger.
Only I was running into the house, and Becky is running out of the house. I had
all but forgotten this dream until I walked into Belsay Hall, which is in the
care of English Heritage, a few years ago – and discovered that they had opened
up the servants’ staircase. I got one of those ‘Oh my!’ moments when I realised
it was exactly the same staircase as the one I used to dream about and I must
admit I was rather freaked out by it! I remember jotting it down in a notebook  – “Belsay staircase” – thinking how it needed to go into a story one day, and I filed it away for future reference, a bit scared to dwell on it too much.

Then, just over three years ago, I began to work in an office which was in a beautiful terrace of Georgian houses that had all been converted into offices. In order to convert them, the builders had knocked through the houses on each floor, so you can now basically walk the corridors from Number 1 to Number 5 going ‘whooooooo!’ and pretending you’re a ghost walking through the walls. Not recommended if anybody important is about, but quite fun otherwise.

I asked my new manager, only half-joking, if the place was haunted.
Somewhere with such a lot of history had to have something hanging around
there, and I wasn’t disappointed. My manager told me that she had actually seen
a proper ghost on the second floor – a lady dressed as a maid or an old-fashioned nurse. Intrigued by this, we did some research using crystals and divining
rods (in our lunch hour, we weren’t that nefarious!) and discovered the woman’s
name was Elizabeth. We also discovered that, in life, she had cared for people
and she told us she had lived and worked there in the 1860s. Slightly doubtful, I cross-referenced the information on the census for the 1860s, and sure enough a woman called Elizabeth had been a maid there during that time. No other people called Elizabeth appeared in any other censuses for the house.

Once we knew that and told people, lots of colleagues began coming forward with stories – we heard about cleaners finding men in offices dressed in old-fashioned clothes who would suddenly disappear, people drifting up staircases with no legs, laughter
in empty rooms, chairs being piled up in locked rooms, footsteps in corridors
at 6 a.m. when workmen were in on their own and my own experiences which
included  knocks on the door with nobody there, a pole we used for opening the massive sash windows lifting up and then laying down gently on the ground and, best of all, a full-blown argument between two women in the office at eight o’clock in the
morning – and sudden silence with nobody inside the room when I walked in on it.

I loved the place! I started thinking about ghosts living in their parallel timelines and I was especially intrigued by the argument I’d heard. What could be so important to two women that meant they were still arguing about it one hundred and fifty years later? What if they were trying to resolve something and they were both convinced they were right? Who won in the end? And what happened to them both? Finally, what about Elizabeth the maid? Was she involved somehow? In the 1860s?

I don’t want to spoil the story, but you will find something like that hidden in a scene between the pages of Some Veil Did Fall. It’s a small scene – but it just shows that you can get your inspiration from just about anywhere. Even from the office in your day job!

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Leather and Lace: Fool’s Gold by Zana Bell

Happy e-publication day to Zana Bell! Fool’s Gold is released in digital format today. Read on for an insight into the inspirations for her latest novel, as well as a tantalising extract! 

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What is the fascination of love across the classes? The Cinderella trope is, of course, perennially popular. My great-great-great grandfather ran away to Gretna Green with his mother’s maid and I am inordinately proud of my impetuous ancestors. But what about the reversal – the woodcutter and the princess? There’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover and The Go-Between. In Downton Abbey, Lady Sybil married the chauffeur. Yet none of these has the triumphant happily-ever-after we expect from the Cinderella story. Why is that?

Class structures buckled and bent considerably in New Zealand in the 1860s when survival depended less on inherited wealth and considerably more on courage, quick wits and plain good luck. I had a lot of fun in Fool’s Gold in throwing together characters who normally would never have met. Lady Guinevere Stanhope is cast upon her own resources when her father unexpectedly dies and, luckily for her, she is rescued from drowning by Quinn O’Donnell, an Irish doctor turned gold digger. He was raised by priests and has a great loathing for the English aristocracy, but having saved Guinevere, he feels responsible for her until she recovers her strength. Here is a scene where he brings medicine to her in a rackety hotel in a rowdy gold-mining town (think the Wild West in glorious Lord of the Rings scenery):

Guinevere tasted the medicine and made a face.

‘Ugh. What on earth is it?’

The corner of Quinn’s mouth lifted. ‘’Tis the druggist’s own recipe. I checked the ingredients and it’s sound enough, but I did wonder how it would taste.’

 ‘Disgusting.’

‘Ah well, as the priests used to say, it seems it is always the unpalatable things that do us the most good and must be endured virtuously without complaint.’

Guinevere couldn’t help smiling at his ironic tone, though she grimaced again at the next sip. ‘My father was fervently against anything that made one uncomfortable and had no belief in virtue either, saying it was a scourge to unsettle one’s natural desires.’

Quinn took the empty cup from her hands and put it on the table before pulling a chair up and sitting beside the bed. ‘Did he now?’

Perhaps the illness was making her overly sensitive but Guinevere thought she detected a censorious undertone. ‘I don’t mean he wasn’t honourable,’ she said defensively. ‘He was the kindest, most generous of men but he just thought differently from most about actively seeking happiness and enjoyment of life.’

‘Mm.’

‘What do you mean by “mm”?’ Guinevere eyed Quinn. He’d ceased being a handsome interloper in her room and was back to being infuriating. His lips were folded into a flat line of disapproval.

‘Just seems to me ’tis easier to seek happiness and enjoyment when you don’t have to be spending time seeking food, warmth and safety instead.’

‘Well, of course.’

‘There’s no “of course” about it, where I come from.’

‘But that was not my father’s fault. Don’t make it seem as though it was. And don’t sit in judgment of him either when you never met him. Your life has had nothing to do with his.’

‘No, but I know his sort. If one is born into luxury, ten must be born into poverty to support it.’

‘That’s not true.’

‘No? Then just how many servants did you have, Lady Guinevere, to look after you and your father?’

Guinevere was outraged but also thrown. ‘I don’t know,’ she stammered. ‘I’ve never thought about it.’

‘No,’ he agreed. ‘I’m quite sure you haven’t.’

‘Don’t you use that tone on me. How dare you be so condescending.’

‘Don’t be absurd. How can a penniless Irishman condescend to an English lady?’

‘I don’t know but you do!’

For a second they glared at each other but to Guinevere’s surprise, Quinn was the first to break. A rueful smile tugged at his lips and this time it did soften that horrid coolness in his eyes.

‘A fine doctor I am, to be getting my patient’s temperature soaring again. Lady Guinevere, I apologise. I shouldn’t have said anything about your daddy.’

‘Thank you,’ she said gruffly. ‘He was a good man, you know.’

‘I’m sure he was.’

‘He supported lots of artists.’

‘Looked after artists, did he? Ah well, there you go then. And a very fine job he did of it too, I’m sure.’

Guinevere threw him a suspicious sideways glance but his expression was bland. Her eyes narrowed. ‘Mr O’Donnell,’ she began then paused.

‘Lady Guinevere?’ Again, his tone was politely neutral but she did not trust him at all. 

‘You’re laughing at me.’

‘Sure, now would I do that?’

‘Sure, yes you would.’

There was no denying the mischief in his eyes and he laughed. ‘I’m sorry, I truly am. I shouldn’t be teasing you.’

‘No you shouldn’t!’ But Guinevere could feel herself weakening and despite being still very ruffled, she couldn’t help smiling back. ‘You are quite insufferable, you know.’

‘So I’ve been told before – two nights ago, in fact.’

Guinevere laughed. ‘It seems such a long time ago now. I feel like I’ve known you for much longer.’

‘Do you?’ he asked, and as he smiled down into her eyes, there was something in his tone that suddenly made her feel shy. For a second their eyes locked and Guinevere’s heart skipped.

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Can you think of any stories where the woodcutter and princess do get to live happily ever after? Why does their love often seem doomed?

 

 

Megan’s Top 5 Romantic Heroes

If you could only choose five leading men who would you pick? It’s a hard decision! Here’s Megan’s (Reading in the Sunshine) favourite heroes  any of these guys on your list?

MeganMaverick  – Top Gun

So when I think of Top Gun I think of the awesome soundtrack, I think of the planes, even the aviators! But most of all I think of Maverick – cheeky, handsome Maverick who can make women everywhere swoon with just a wink and a smile! Is there anything more handsome than a man in uniform ladies?! And who doesn’t like the thought of Maverick riding to your house on a motorbike in his leather jacket to spend the night romancing you?

Mark Darcy – Bridget Jones

Mark Darcy is a definite romantic hero for me, and I’m sure for many others too! Lovely, lovely Mark Darcy, who folds his underpants and will even fight Daniel Cleaver to prove his love for his leading lady. But above all, I love Mark Darcy because even with Bridget’s big pants, and her embarrassing moments that let’s face it we all have from time to time, he loves her just the way she is!

Jack Dawson – Titanic

Jack Dawson is SUCH a romantic hero without even meaning to be! When he won the tickets to board the Titanic in a lucky poker game, who knew that he’d soon be meeting the LOVE OF HIS LIFE? Jack Dawson is everything you could want in a man – funny, exciting, full of life and daring to take risk after risk to be with his girl. And if that wasn’t enough to melt your heart, the lengths he goes to for his Rose will…“He saved me, in every way that a person can be saved.” SIGH.

Johnny Castle  – Dirty Dancing

Sometimes there is nothing better than a man who can move…and this is where the gorgeous Johnny comes in! I know that when we all watched Dirty Dancing for the first time we all secretly wanted to be Baby, having the opportunity to dance with Johnny, and be swept off of our feet into the lift!

Noah Calhoun  – The Notebook

I can’t talk about romantic heroes without talking about Noah Calhoun. The strength of his love for Allie is BEAUTIFUL , and Noah is the type of man who would do anything for his true love. Noah not only has the kindest heart in the world, but he built Allie the house of her dreams, he likes to go out on a rowing boat for a date and kiss in the rain….swoon!

Thanks so much for stopping by the Choc Lit blog, Megan :) We totally agree!

You can hear more from Megan on her blog and you can follow her on Twitter here.

Exclusive short story: Sugar Coated by Angela Britnell

Woohoo! Sugar and Spice is the Kindle Daily Deal at only 99p! To celebrate, Angela’s written an exclusive short story to enjoy this bank holiday weekend.

Sam selected the last beignet from her plate and sunk her teeth into the soft squishy goodness, not caring when another puff of icing sugar stuck to her chin. The good side of her business trip to New Orleans in the sweltering summer heat sat right in front of her, in the form of the Cafe du Monde’s  hip-destroying doughnuts.

Today's Kindle Daily Deal!

Today’s Kindle Daily Deal!

‘Samantha?’

She jerked her head up and met Gareth’s shocked stare. Her ex-fiancé’s sweeping gaze ran down over her and Sam winced, acutely aware of her sticky, overheated skin, wrinkled dress and lack of make-up.

‘Fancy meeting you here.’

Just fancy.

‘This is Lucinda,’ he beamed at the tall, elegant blonde draped over his arm. ‘Lucinda Morecombe, my new wife. We’re on our honeymoon.’

Sam didn’t respond and she watched a rush of heat colour his face and neck. Even thick-skinned Gareth must realise his enthusiasm was tactless in the circumstances – she almost asked if he’d actually turned up and gone through with the ceremony this time. Sam experienced a violent urge to pick up the plate of leftover icing sugar and throw it all over his immaculate black golf shirt and crisp chinos.

‘Aren’t you going to introduce me to your friend, Snugglepuff?’ Lucinda whined.

‘Yes, Snugglepuff, why don’t you.’ Sam teased and Gareth shifted from one foot to the other,  mumbling something which Lucinda immediately asked him to repeat.

‘This is Samantha Black. I told you about her. We were … um, engaged a long time ago.’

This is Samantha?’ Lucinda’s eyes narrowed. ‘You told me she was plain and you’d felt sorry for her.’

Sam couldn’t decide whether to smack Gareth for making derogatory remarks about her, or gloat because Lucinda obviously didn’t agree with his assessment. Jealousy made the other woman’s face pinched and shrewish. Good. Gareth deserved every miserable minute of what he’d have to endure when they left. She stared at him and waited as he weighed his options. If he denied everything he’d be calling his new wife a liar. Hurting Sam’s feelings was much better on the Protect Gareth At All Costs scale.

‘No one could match up to you, my angel,’ Gareth purred and Sam thought she might lose her beignets all over his glossy black shoes. He flashed Sam an apologetic smile. ‘No offence intended.’

‘None taken,’ she replied through clenched teeth.

Gareth cleared his throat. ‘We ought to be going.’

‘Of course,’ Sam agreed, casually raising her left hand to push back her hair.

‘What’s that?’ Gareth snapped, pointed at her finger.

She smirked at the glittering two-caret diamond. ‘What do you think?’

‘Who’s the, er, lucky man?’

Sam gave what she hoped was an enigmatic smile. ‘No one you’d know.’

‘I hope you’ll be very happy.’ Gareth’s grudging tone was beyond satisfying. ‘Come on, Lucinda.’

Sam chuckled to herself as they left. Discreetly switching the ring from her right hand had been a touch of genius. She’d bought it from her lottery winnings, the obscenely large jackpot Gareth missed out on by leaving her standing at the altar a year ago.

Sometimes revenge really was best served sugar coated.

 

Angela enjoying a plate of beignets in the Cafe du Monde, New Orleans

Angela enjoying a plate of beignets in the Cafe du Monde, New Orleans

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Heart of the Story

Happy publication day to Angela Britnell!  Angela’s stopped by to tell us a bit more about her new novel, Celtic Love Knot.

Storytelling is at the heart of my new contemporary romance ‘Celtic Love Knot.’ Olivia Harding, a Celtic mythology professor from Nashville, Tennessee has built up a stellar academic career around her fascination with ancient stories and how they’ve developed over the years to become part of the culture. But for my hero, Lanyon Tremayne, one particular story has defined his life leaving him isolated and withdrawn. He’s carried the burden of blame for his brother’s death for so long it’s become part of who he is, and without breaking a promise, something he’s vowed never to do, his life is unlikely ever to change.

Olivia travels to Cornwall because her particular love is the legends of the Cornish giants, especially Bolster who is reputed to have terrorised the small village of St. Agnes. The Tremayne family have lived in that area for generations and Lanyon initially has a sceptical view of Olivia’s chosen career, mocking her when they first meet.

‘Next thing you’ll tell me you believe in Piskies and Knockers.’

Because Lanyon is tighter than a clam where it comes to revealing anything meaningful Olivia jumps to negative conclusions about him. It’s only when she’s talking about the story of the local giant, Bolster, to a young boy and his mother that she begins to wonder if she’s misjudged him.

‘Thank the nice lady for telling you the story,’ she urged.

‘It’s not a story, it’s real.’ He fixed Olivia with his sharp blue eyes, ‘isn’t it?’

She hesitated, trying to find the balance between the complete truth and an outright lie. ‘Well, we’re not sure. You know sometimes you tell your friend a story and he passes it on to someone else and the story changes?’ Kenvor nodded, looking very serious. ‘No one has ever proved it’s not true.’

‘Good,’ he tugged on his mother’s hand. ‘Come on, Mum, let’s go. Thanks.’

They left and Olivia rested her back against the cool rock for a few seconds. Did the same thing happen to Lanyon? Had the car crash story taken on a life of its own until it became ‘the truth’? For someone who was an expert in research and sorting out fact from faction she’d done a lousy job with Lanyon.

The stories Olivia and Lanyon tentatively begin to exchange shape their relationship, the same as they do with every couple – along with the age old questions of how honest to be, when to talk and when to hold back. On the surface he’s the one with the most to gain by opening up, but Olivia is burdened by her own family secrets and isn’t about to let them go easily.

As the Bolster Festival approaches, the main reason for Olivia being in Cornwall, and their stories weave closer together my characters both have life-changing decisions to make.

Can two tangled lives make a love knot?

Only the storyteller knows the answer …

Available on Kindle UK and Kindle US 

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Laura E James: Absolute Beginners

As I sit down to write this post on first loves, quite by chance the velvet tones of David Bowie have eased their way into my consciousness and soothed my furrowed brow. I’m listening to Now 1986, and Absolute Beginners is playing. I loved this song. I loved it so much, I bought the vinyl 12 inch. I wanted to spend plenty of quality time with David ‒ something the 45 single couldn’t deliver. In those days, there wasn’t a repeat button, and I had to get up from my comfy red chair to return the arm of the record player to the start of the disc to hear it again. I was up and down like the proverbial yo-yo. I didn’t mind. It gave me the opportunity to linger a while by my bedroom shelf and sigh over the black and white Bowie postcard perched there.

When Absolute Beginners was a hit, I was nineteen; the age Chris Frampton is when he first meets Vicky Paveley, in Follow Me, Follow You. Emotionally and physically, they are each other’s first loves. They know this because their love is that raw, intense, can’t-live-without-you love. The sort that stops you eating, stops you sleeping and stops you speaking about anything other than that boy, that girl, that person, who’s so part of your being, you will absolutely, most definitely, positively die if you don’t see them at least once a day.

Shortly after Gajitman and I became a couple, I was due to jet off for three weeks to Dubai to spend Christmas with my parents. The plans had been made long before I fell madly in love with this tall, gentle, IT man, and as much I was looking forward to seeing my family, the thought of being parted from him hurt.rings

Before I left, I took a photo of him, so I could keep him close at hand. Like my Bowie postcard, the picture was endlessly sighed over. Once in Dubai, I bought a frame, and Gajitman took pride of place on my bedside table. I spoke about him so often to my parents, my mum put a daily restriction on how many times I could mention his name. This makes me smile even now.

Gajitman and I were friends for a couple of years before love took a grip and gave us a good shake. I was twenty-six by this point, and (Gajitman and impressionable children in the James household turn away now), I’d been out with other men.

This brings me to the question: what defines a first love?

Is it those intense feelings you’re experiencing for the cute boy in your maths class who’s helped you understand probability? (What are the chances he’ll go out with me?) Is it the painful, ‘He doesn’t even know I exist but I love him madly’ obsession of a gorgeous pop star? Or is it when the recollection of the dream you had about that person, turns your stomach into Claudia Fragapane and somersaults across the room? If it is, then I’ve had many first loves, especially with those gorgeous pop stars.

Or is first love the complete experience? The reciprocal, full-on, all-encompassing, passionate love you want to last a lifetime even if, as a couple, you don’t?Wedding Photo Cutting The Cake Hands 2

This is the love Chris and Victoria share in their teens. There will have been other girlfriends and other boys, plenty of first hand-holding and first kisses, but this? This is the exciting, painful, wonderful, exhausting, totally absorbing love. This is the real deal. This is their first love.

I’ve reached the conclusion there isn’t a standard answer to my question. I think the only person who can know what it is that defines a first love, is you.

As someone who can spend days giving serious consideration as to what to write in a birthday card, words and their meanings are of great importance to me, so I know my first, true, romantic love was and still is with the only man to whom I’ve said, ‘I love you.’

And that isn’t David Bowie.

*hits repeat*

Can a first love last forever?

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You save me and I’ll save you…

Victoria Noble has pulled the plug on romance. As director of the number one social networking site, EweSpeak, and single mother to four-year-old Seth, she wrestles with the work-life balance.

Enter Chris Frampton, Hollywood action hero and Victoria’s first love. His return from LA has sparked a powder keg of media attention, and with secrets threatening to fuel the fire, he’s desperate to escape.

But finding a way forward is never simple. Although his connection with Victoria is as strong as when he was nineteen, has he been adrift too long to know how to move on?

With the risk of them breaking, will either #follow their heart?

Available TODAY on Google Play, Kobo, Apple and Kindle. Paperback out in September – pre-order here.

What did you do in the Great War, Mummy?

Margaret James looks at the heroism of the women of WWI

This year marks the outbreak of one of the most horrible conflicts in human history, and – as we all know – there are plenty of other contenders for this ignominious accolade.

But most wars aren’t only about men defending the homeland and/or killing or injuring just about everyone who counts as the enemy within shooting, bombing or mutilating reach. They’re also about human heroism on a massive scale, and World War One motivated many people to find courage deep inside themselves which might otherwise have stayed locked away all their lives.

Edith Cavell, a heroine of the conflict who will hopefully feature on British currency one day soon, helped people who found themselves on both sides of the conflict and finally paid the ultimate price for her heroism. ‘I realise that patriotism is not enough,’ she said, as she faced execution by a German firing squad. ‘I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone’.

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Memorial to Edith Cavell outside St Martin’s Place, London

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Memorial outside Norwich Cathedral

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While the men fought and suffered appalling hardships on the fields of battle, women fought and suffered too, often in a wide variety of ways. When the men went off to fight, the women left behind stayed at home to run estates, farms, households, businesses and to raise families in hardship and poverty while their husbands were away. It’s hard for us in 2014 to realise just how powerless women were a mere hundred years ago – they had no parliamentary or other judicial vote, no real authority in the world of work, no autonomy within the home. The advice to ask your father was no joke back then because, without Dad’s permission, wives and children could not usually make even the most trivial of life decisions.

During the Great War, women worked in almost all the professions previously barred to them. They trained to be police officers. They laboured in dangerous places like munitions factories and mines. They worked as nurses and in a wide variety of support roles such as ambulance drivers on the front lines, often being critically or even fatally injured themselves. One lady I interviewed while I was researching my novel The Silver Locket which is set during World War One told me about her mother who worked as a rat-catcher on a farm in Yorkshire – the man who had originally been attracted to this desirable career option having joined up – and, while she enjoyed being out in the fresh air, she hated wearing a tie. Only men wore ties…

Did taking on men’s roles during this conflict help to advance the cause of female emancipation when the fighting finally ended? Well, women eventually got the vote. But, after the hostilities had ground to an exhausted halt, most of them were sent away from the factories, farms and workplaces back to the home, where most men felt they still belonged. They had demonstrated one incontrovertible truth, however – when a society is in crisis, women can contribute in positive ways just as effectively as men. The women of 1914 – 1918 laid the foundations of the women’s liberation movement which would really get into its stride fifty years later. There is still much to be done, but we women of 2014 are so lucky and we owe so much to our sisters from a hundred years ago.

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If life is cheap, how much is love worth? 

It’s 1914 and young Rose Courtenay has a decision to make. Please her wealthy parents by marrying the man of their choice – or play her part in the war effort?

The chance to escape proves irresistible and Rose becomes a nurse. Working in France, she meets Lieutenant Alex Denham, a dark figure from her past. He’s the last man in the world she’d get involved with – especially now he’s married.

But in wartime nothing is as it seems. Alex’s marriage is a sham and Rose is the only woman he’s ever wanted. As he recovers from his wounds, he sets out to win her trust. His gift of a silver locket is a far cry from the luxuries she’s left behind.

What value will she put on his love?

Three Heroes, Three Times the Trouble

Next week Monsoon Mists, the final instalment in my Kinross trilogy, is released in paperback and as always I’m chewing my nails wondering how it will be received and whether readers will like my hero.  Because let’s face it, the hero is the most important part of a romantic novel and the ideal scenario is of course that readers will fall in love with him.  It’s what you’d like for every hero you create, but this time there was added pressure – would he be able to match up to his father and brother who’d gone before him?

TradeWinds:Layout 1When I wrote Trade Winds I was totally in love with the hero, Killian Kinross, myself.  As an author you have to be, otherwise why would anyone else feel the same?  He’s handsome, with long auburn hair and intensely blue eyes (and yes, he was based on my favourite actor in the looks department) – what can I say, I’m shallow and I like my heroes to be good-looking!  But I think what I liked most about him was his sense of humour and mischievousness.  He didn’t take himself too seriously, was a bit of a ‘bad boy’ (okay, a lot of a ‘bad boy’!) as he’d never been in love until he met the heroine, and he just generally enjoyed life to the full, making the best of every situation and his skills.  I was told readers liked him too, which was lovely but rather daunting when I came to write the second book in the trilogy, Highland Storms.  This featured Killian’s eldest son, but how to create another gorgeous hero without making him a copy of his father?

Layout 1I solved that problem by (a) making him take after his mother in looks, apart from the blue eyes, so although still handsome he’s totally different to Killian, and (b) giving him a personality that’s almost the opposite of his father’s.  Brice had been in love with the same girl since his teens and would never have dreamed of cheating on her.  He’s quiet and calm, and although he has a sense of humour and can sometimes be mischievous, he’s a lot steadier than his father ever was.  Doing what’s right is important to him and he’d never go looking for adventure just for the sake of it.  He has all the ‘big brother’ traits when it comes to his siblings and his clan – caring, protective and careful.  Yet when it matters most, he shows himself to be every bit as strong as his father.

9781781891674The third book, Monsoon Mists, features Brice’s younger brother Jamie.  He had a lot to live up to and I must admit I found writing him very difficult at first!  In the end, however, I let him show me his character himself.  I started to write down his back story and somehow he evolved inside my head and little by little, I realised what he was like.  I knew he was a ‘bad boy’, like his father, since he’d caused Brice a lot of grief in Highland Storms.  In looks, he also took after Killian (apart from having his mother’s eyes) and to begin with, he was just as wild, if not worse.  Poor Brice had his work cut out keeping his little brother out of trouble, while Jamie himself never had a care in the world until a scheming minx called Elisabet changed everything.  That’s when his life is suddenly turned upside down and so is his character.

From having been a carefree young man, he becomes cynical, introverted and a staunch supporter of justice.  A womanizer no longer, he mistrusts all females and it takes a very special lady to try and make him see that they’re not all like Elisabet.  But has he really changed completely?  You’ll have to read the book to find out, but we all know the past has a habit of catching up with us when we least expect it …

Monsoon Mists

Sometimes the most precious things cannot be bought …

It’s 1759 and Jamie Kinross has travelled far to escape his troubled existence – from the pine forests of Sweden to the bustling streets of India.

Jamie starts a new life as a gem trader, but when his mentor’s family are kidnapped as part of a criminal plot, he vows to save them and embarks on a dangerous mission to the city of Surat, carrying the stolen talisman of an Indian Rajah.

There he encounters Zarmina Miller. She is rich and beautiful, but her infamous haughtiness has earned her a nickname: “The Ice Widow”.  Jamie is instantly tempted by the challenge she presents.

When it becomes clear that Zarmina’s step-son is involved in the plot Jamie begins to see another side to her – a dark past to rival his own and a heart just waiting to be thawed. But is it too late?

'Promote Me!' portrait

Christina can be contacted via her website, Twitter and Facebook.

Monsoon Mists is available in paperback and on all eBook platforms including Apple and Kobo. Kindle UK, Kindle US and Kindle AUS

New houses, old bookshelves …

My lovely mum, who turned eighty in May, is moving this week (to be closer to me) after Kathryn Freeman portraitliving the last 45 years in the same house. It’s been a week of hard work, tears and above all memories. It’s the house I grew up in; where I waited for Father Christmas, drank my first glass of wine, left to get married from. I even lived there with my own family for nine months (husband and two young sons aged 5 weeks and 2 years) when we were between houses. Our bedroom was the dining room. Umm, perhaps nostalgia has helped me forget a lot of the angst of that particular scenario, though I can remember battles about the central heating.

It’s been years since I took a proper look around my old bedroom, which still looks uncannily how it used to be when I lived there. I was struck by how many books there were on the shelves.  All books I’d eagerly devoured as a teenager: Mills and Boon, Winston Graham Poldark series, Jilly Cooper, Jackie Collins (who provided most of my sex education…), Catherine Cookson (my mum’s favourite). Also some less predictable books – like my Geoff Boycott autobiographies. For those of you who don’t know who he is, I’ll leave you to look him up and perhaps then wonder…why on earth?! He might not have had the good looks of a typical teenage heartthrob, but I admired him because he was such a strong character. I’ve always loved a man who speaks his own mind. A bit of a rebel who’s not ready to conform.

Maybe that’s why the hero of my first paperback (Do Opposites Attract?) has a dour, stubborn streak in him. Mitch McBride hasn’t had an easy life and this makes him wary of people who have (like my heroine, Brianna Worthington). Geoff Boycott was the son of a miner, playing much of his cricket with men who’d been through public school. He must have found that hard, too.

But there the comparisons end. Do Opposites Attract? is set in a refugee camp, not a cricket pitch. Mitch is a doctor, not a sportsman. And while he manages to bowl one maiden over, and she definitely hits him for six, there are no other cricketing analogies. Honest.

Who was your first fictional crush?

Kathryn’s novels include: Too Charming and Do Opposites Attract?

Website:  http://kathrynfreeman.co.uk

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