The Fourth Character

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Earlier in the week we celebrated a double release day with Victoria Cornwall for two books in her ‘Cornish Tales’ series: The Thief’s Daughter (now available in paperback and eBook) and The Captain’s Daughter (available in eBook). Today on the Choc Lit corner, Victoria talks about one of the most important aspects of her historical novels … location! 

In its simplest form, a story has a hero, a heroine and an antagonist. However, there is another element to a story that has as much importance and influence over the storyline as the main characters themselves. It is the setting where the story unfolds or what I like to call the fourth character.

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Daphne Du Maurer recognised the important role a setting holds and wasted no time in introducing Mandalay to the reader in her novel, Rebecca. Wuthering Heights and Jamaica Inn are as memorable as the main characters of their novels, so important their authors used their names for the title of their books. Even Poldark is out shadowed by the location the story is set in. The county of Cornwall. My birth place and home.

Cornwall

Cornwall remains a firm favourite with novel writers, but the county is more than a beautiful backdrop to a story.  It drips with history and, to the discerning eye, there are signs everywhere relating to its past. Celtic stone crosses and place names remind us of its numerous Cornish saints. Oddly named coves, such as Pepper Cove and Prussia Cove, hint at its smuggling and wrecking past. The silhouette of derelict mines still frame the skyline and wind-tortured trees continue to stretch their branches inland.

Pepper Cove

When I wrote The Thief’s Daughter I knew that Cornwall, in particular its coastline and smuggling past, would play a key role in the story. I wanted the reader to experience a face of Cornwall which is very different to the picture-perfect postcard, where sandals, towels and sandcastles are the only things that litter the beaches. I wanted the reader to feel they are with Jenna and Jack as they fall in love, hear the winter sea winds and smell the smoke of their fire as a downdraft puffs it back down the chimneys during a gale. I want the reader to see the salt stains on the glass of their windows and feel their anxiety as the coastal winds rob them of their breath as they climb its steep cliffs. Until you experience these things, you cannot truly convey what it is like to live in Cornwall, away from the tourist routes and picture postcard summer scenes. Inspired by Winston Graham’s writing, I have tried my best to show the side of Cornwall a tourist rarely sees and open a window on a murky past it can never forget.

Lundy Bay

In my second novel, The Captain’s Daughter, I moved inland to the barren landscape of Bodmin Moor. Atmospheric and dramatic, it provided the perfect backdrop to Janey’s journey from an innocent girl to a strong, courageous woman. The National Trust property, Lanhydrock House, inspired Bosvenna Manor where she takes up a position of Lady’s Maid. Grand, daunting, yet beautiful, with its strong demarcation line between the servants’ accommodation and those of the gentry, the house bears witness to the events that unfold within its walls. Events that will change the lives of those who live there forever.

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If you like the sound of Victoria Cornwall’s evocative Cornish novels, you can find purchasing options here:

The Thief’s Daughter
The Captain’s Daughter 

For more on Victoria Cornwall:

Follow her on Twitter @VictoriaCornwall and Instagram: www.instagram.com/victoria_cornwallx
Like her on Facebook: Victoria Cornwall
Check out her website:  www.victoriacornwall.com

What inspires Sheryl Browne?

Earlier in the week we celebrated the double publication day of After She’s Gone and Deadly Intent; two thrillers in the DI Matthews Adams’ series by Sheryl Browne. Today Sheryl talks a little bit about the inspiration behind these gritty, heavy-hitting new books …

What inspires me to write thrillers?

It’s a good question. The inspiration behind latest thriller, Deadly Intent, is a bit of strange one. My partner and I are keen boaters. It’s hard to imagine, though, how this idyllic scene might lead me to writing a book featuring family driven to the edge of sanity by a psychopath described by one reviewer as “the devil himself”.

Boat

We have our own little narrowboat, Aquaduck, so can often be found messing about on the water. We tend to moor up as near as we can to a pub for our evening meal. Sometimes the spots we moor in can be very remote and the pub can be an awful long way off, involving a trek along the towpath with nothing but the wind whispering through the trees and the eerie calls of nightlife for company.

 

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On one particularly spooky, moon-free evening on the walk back, I spotted someone parked in a country lane running parallel to the river. A prickle of apprehension ran the length of my spine. Why, I wondered, would he just be sitting there in the dead of night alone? It wasn’t long before I was playing the ‘what if’ game. What if … he’s a burglar? A mad-axe murderer? On reaching the boat, my partner announced he’d left something in the pub and promptly scarpered off back down the towpath to retrieve it, leaving me … with the strange night-watcher and my vivid imagination. Alone on the boat, it wasn’t long before the man had morphed into …

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Panicking now, I immediately searched for something with which to defend myself. The rubber ring, I decided, possibly wouldn’t fend off the hit man my partner had obviously hired. The front hatch was padlocked for the night, I had no phone signal, and the only other way out was the door he would surely imminently enter by.

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On his return to the boat, his phone safely retrieved from the pub, my partner took one look at my face and fell about laughing. My ‘hitman’ had apparently broken down and was waiting for the rescue service. Personally, I didn’t think it was that funny. Humph.

As you might have gathered then, people inspire my writing. Every scenario, every face, every place tells a story. A glimpsed situation, an argument between a couple, for instance, a verbal ‘slanging match’ in the street, and you have your stimulus for a book, upon which your overzealous writer’s mind will weave fictional facts. You simply can’t help yourself. The premise for After She’s Gone – now out in print – is a longstanding argument, or rivalry, between two men on opposite sides of the law, DI Matthew Adams and Patrick Sullivan. To quote Rachel at Rachel’s Random Reads, who gave the book a fabulous review (thank you, Rachel!), ‘both men are angry, both men know how to kill …’ I think that sums it up nicely.

I’ll leave you with a short excerpt, which hopefully demonstrates the friction between the two men.

After She’s Gone: Excerpt

‘Oh, for …’ Sullivan shook his head. ‘You’re scraping the barrel, Adams. And you know it. They’re for personal use.’ He reached wearily for his car door. ‘You won’t find anything more. And, if you are planning on finding anything, you might want to have a rethink. Unless you’re not too bothered about getting your partner kicked off the force, that is?’ Sullivan nodded to where Steve stood behind Matthew. ‘Probably better not take a leaf out of your old man’s book and try to stitch me up, don’t y’think?’

Obviously knowing he’d got the upper hand, Sullivan climbed out, giving Matthew a supercilious smirk as he did.

He was right. Matthew knew it. His stomach churned at the very closeness of the man, as he squeezed past him to the car, no choice but to with Sullivan allowing him little space. He’d wanted an excuse, any excuse to haul him in. He couldn’t do so though without some proof of a crime having been committed.

Sullivan waited while they searched, Steve giving Matthew quizzical glances as they did. There was nothing, of course, as if Sullivan would be likely to have a stash of heroin stuffed in his boot. Matthew sighed, exasperated. He must have left his brains at home this morning.

‘Oh, dear, come up empty-handed, have we?’ Smoking a legit cigarette, Sullivan blew a fat cloud of smoke over Matthew, as he emerged from the car. ‘Maybe you should give up being a copper and do something more fruitful with your life, Adams. I’m looking for a chauffeur if you’re interested. Pays well. Nice steady work, much less frustrating.’

His temper dangerously near spiking, Matthew counted silently. At seven his anger subsided some.

‘Inside.’ He nodded towards the house, a sprawling Grade II listed building. Testament to how fruitful this lowlife’s money-making endeavors were.

‘If you insist, Detective Inspector.’ Sullivan sauntered back to his car. ‘Just so you know, though,’ he said as he climbed in, ‘you’re barking up the wrong tree, sunshine. Whatever happened to Brianna was nothing to do with me.’

Suppressing a sigh of utter contempt, Matthew looked Sullivan over distastefully and headed back to his own car to follow him up the long pebbled drive.

Minutes later, he sighed inwardly again, as the third Mrs Sullivan climbed out of the indoor heated pool – blonde, tanned and healthy in a microdot bikini – to fawn all over the man. Bought and paid for, Matthew thought, as she reeled off Sullivan’s alibi for him.

‘He was here,’ she said, looking as innocent as a newborn baby, ‘dancin’ wiv Taylor, weren’t you, babe?’ She moved across to where Sullivan was watching Matthew with wry amusement. ‘And then we went to bed. He’s a lovely little mover, aren’t you, hun?’

Oozing innuendo, the woman fluttered her eyelashes coyly and draped herself around Sullivan’s neck.

‘Yeah.’ Sullivan’s amusement turned fast to irritation, as he realised she was dripping water all over him. ‘Watch the coat, sweetheart.’ His smile was now more a grimace, as he eased her away from his cashmere.

How long before the doting husband routine wore off, Matthew wondered, and Sullivan reverted to form, giving her the odd slap for some imagined misdemeanor.

‘And what time would that have been, Mrs Sullivan?’ he asked futilely.

‘What, when we went to bed, you mean? Bout two-thirty,’ the woman said. ‘I noticed the time ’cos I was keeping an ear out for Taylor. You know what kids can be like.’

‘No, he doesn’t.’ Sullivan looked at Matthew, his eyes full of calculated malice. ‘Doesn’t have any kids, do you, Detective?’

His heart twisting violently in his chest, Matthew looked away. Count, he commanded himself, swallowing back the hatred that threatened to choke him. Ignore the bastard. Taking a shallow breath, attempting to stave off the imminent wheeze in his chest, he caught Steve’s eye, who clearly noted something was wrong, and moved towards him.

‘Oh, that’s a shame,’ the woman said as Matthew shook his head, indicating Steve should stay. ‘Patrick dotes on his daughter, don’t you, Pat? We’re working on having a baby of our own,’ she imparted. ‘Didn’t go to sleep until dawn, did we, babe?’

Looking suggestively up at Sullivan, she reached to trail a long fingernail down his torso, while Matthew suppressed an urge not to shove the excuse for a human being in the pool and hold him under.

‘That’s right, sweetheart. Taylor can’t wait to have a little sister or brother to play with.’ Sullivan locked goading eyes with Matthew. ‘Happy?’

Not until I see you banged up for life or six feet under. Matthew’s gaze didn’t flinch. ‘I’ll be back,’ he warned him evenly.

‘Ooh, move over, Arnie. I’m shaking in my boots.’ Sullivan blinked girlishly.

‘One day, Sullivan,’ Matthew promised. ‘One day.’

‘Yeah, right, maybe when you grow a pair, Adams. Meanwhile …’ Adjusting his collar and cuffs, Sullivan nodded towards the annexe doors they’d entered by. ‘Don’t have an asthma attack on the way out, will you? Oh, and give me a ring sometime about that chauffeuring job. I’m thinking you might need one soon. Not going to go down well with your superiors, is it, you wasting valuable police resources harassing innocent people?’

Sub-species, Matthew thought. Then, the tightness in his chest warning him of just such an attack, he turned away.

Thanks for reading! I do hope I haven’t frightened you off!

For more on Sheryl visit:

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Amazon | Amazon US | Pinterest

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A little help from Jenson Button …

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On Tuesday we celebrated the paperback release of Kathryn Freeman’s racy new book Before You, which is set in the glamorous world of Formula One. Today we welcome Kathryn to the blog to talk a little bit about her inspiration for the novel – and the help she received from a certain Mr Button ;)  

On Tuesday morning you would have found me pushing a bottle of fizz into the fridge, ready for the evening (okay, you’ve twisted my arm. Lunchtime). Why? Because this week it was the paperback publication day for Before You, my book set in the world of Formula One. Unlike the drivers on the podium though, I made sure not to waste a drop of fizz!

Motorsport for some is nail biting. The thrill of watching drivers perform breath-taking manoeuvres at great speed, dicing with death. To others, watching cars go round and round the same track over and over again is simply one huge yawn. Whichever side of the fence you sit on though, I believe there is something seriously sexy about a man who sits in that driver’s seat, pitting his strength, his wit, his instincts against other drivers, and against the track. Indeed, my long time sporting hero, Jenson Button, is a real life sexy racing driver. Little did I realise when my husband (who works for a company who sponsor Jenson’s old team, McClaren) brought me home this cardboard cutout that it would inspire me to write a romance set in the word of Formula One.

Me and BY close up study

But the cutout sits by my desk and I automatically turn to it whenever words dry up – which can mean me spending a long time staring into Jenson’s blue eyes. I defy anyone not to be inspired to write about a sexy driver after that.

My fictional racing hero is Aiden Foster, who lives his life like he drives his cars, fast and hard. His father had been a racing driver, too, and by the time of his tragic death he’d won five World Championships. Aiden has yet to win one. He’s now with a new team and, with a few dollops of luck and no distractions, he believes this could be his year.

Of course this author isn’t about to make life that easy for him …

His first distraction comes in the form of Melanie Taylor, his new press officer. She’s more girl-next-door than the glossy, beautiful women Aiden’s used to, but he finds her refreshing. She’s sharp, funny, dresses down rather than up and has an ability to see through him that’s as admirable as it is scary. Just as he’s trying to work his way through his attraction to her, he finds himself on distraction overload when he gets a shock call from a boarding school.

I’m going to leave it there, and hope that whatever side of the motorsport fence you sit on, you’ll consider giving Before You a try.

Before You is now available as an eBook on all platforms and as a paperback from all good book retailers. For buying options click HERE.

For more on Kathryn visit:

 Website:  http://kathrynfreeman.co.uk

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/kathrynfreeman

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/KathrynFreeman1

Hero Material

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We’ve recently released the long-awaited Summer in San Remo by Evonne Wareham, which is the perfect fun and sunny read for this time of year! One of the many intriguing aspects of the book is the rather gorgeous hero Jake and Evonne is chatting a little bit about him on the blog today. You’ll definitely want to meet him by the end!

There was a debate here on the Choc Lit blog a while ago about the appeal of writing the Beta hero. My fellow authors who specialise in them made an excellent case – I wouldn’t expect anything less – and I can understand the appeal of a cute Beta in certain circumstances, but he’s not really the hero for me. Some of that may be because I like to write romantic suspense and with the situations I throw at my characters, you need an Alpha to get them out again – handy with fists, guns, cars. Maybe he’s not so good at sorting the recycling, but then it’s not that sort of book. I’m not sure where the fascination came from – possibly too many hours in my misspent youth watching TV shows like The Professionals and The A Team? Am I a closet adrenaline junkie who wouldn’t dream of getting her hands dirty in real life, but is quite happy to inflict it on her heroine – who is capable and independent and up to the challenge, but clear-sighted enough to know when to accept help from an expert? I’ve really no idea, but that’s the sort of guy I like to write and I’m stuck with him.

Except … now there is Summer in San Remo. I haven’t given up on writing romantic suspense, but this book is a departure from my usual style. It’s the start, I hope, of a series of summer sunshine reads. It’s a romantic comedy, with a very light dusting of crime and mystery, so the new hero on the block is not quite like the others. Jake – well, when the book opens, Jake is … disgustingly rich, gorgeously good-looking, mega confident … and if we’re being truthful, a bit of a jerk. (Heroine Cassie is nodding furiously in the background here.) He’s very, very sure of himself, but all that is set to change when he goes sleuthing with Cassie on the Riviera. It’s not the kind of book where he’s called on to rescue Cassie from anything too life-threatening – thinking about it, at the start he’d probably pay for her to have a body guard, rather than doing the job himself. But he is protective of her, although it takes a while for him to realise it. I had a lot of fun creeping up on him and getting him more and more enmeshed in loving Cassie, and changing in the process. He likes to be in control, which made it all the more fun getting him out of his comfort zone. Cassie gives him an excellent run for his money until finally the penny drops for both of them …

Is Jake an Alpha? Most definitely, although all his triumphs have been in the board room, not on the mean streets. He’s the hero for the job in hand, which is dealing with a mystery, not catching a killer.

I like to unsettle my Alphas by getting them into a relationship they have never experienced before. On that one, Jake is no different – he’s never been in love before. Or has he?

 Really, he’s only got himself to blame for the mess he’s in …

Summer in San Remo is available as an eBook on all platforms. For buying options click HERE.

For more on the author, you can follow her on Twitter @EvonneWareham

Or check out her blog: www.evonneonwednesday.blogspot.co.uk

Choc Lit on holiday!

Choc Lit on Holiday

TAKE YOUR CHOC LIT ON HOLIDAY COMPETITION IS BACK!
Are you a Choc Lit reader and lucky enough to be going on holiday this year? 

Why not enter our summery competition? Here’s how:

1. Pack your Choc Lit paperback or load up that eReader.

2. Take a photo of your Choc Lit paperback or the front cover of your eReader (as shown above) by the pool, on the beach, in a French cafe, or up a mountain if that’s more your style!

3.  Send the photo to us at info@choc-lit.com with the subject heading ‘Choc Lit on Holiday’. Make sure you tell us where you are.

The best photo will win 12 Choc Lit paperbacks of their choice plus chocolate!. The closing date is September 30th 2017 so get snapping! We’re looking forward to seeing your entries :)

Full terms and conditions available from info@choc-lit.com

Meet Lisa in the Cotswolds … to talk about Meet Me at Number Five

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Hello, I’m Lisa, author of Meet Me at Number Five which was released in June and has already received a Bestseller badge on Amazon UK in the Sports Fiction category (very happy about that!)

So, Choc Lit kindly asked me to write a blog to celebrate the release of Meet Me at Number Five and I thought it might be fun to give you a visual tour of the novel. I am a Cotswolds girl born and bred. When I was three I defied my mother and insisted on walking along a drystone wall where I predictably fell off, cut my nose wide open and have been left with a scar for life; the mark of true Cotswoldian, I reckon. I was born in Cheltenham but grew up in the Cotswold village of Bussage, returning to Cheltenham as a teenager. Our neighbouring village was Bisley, where Jilly Cooper lives. As a child my father and I used to take our neighbour’s dog for shady summer walks along the valley between Bussage and Bisley and we would stop to talk over the garden wall to Mrs Cooper, if she was out gardening. It wasn’t until I was about 15 and began reading Jilly’s books that I made the connection of who Mrs Cooper actually was! The settings of the novel very much reflect the locations of my upbringing so let me introduce you to a few landmarks and the inspiration they gave me…

Number Five

Both Clara’s house and Number Five are set in Great Norwood Street in Cheltenham, a little side road full of Regency houses on the edge of Tivoli, Montpellier and Leckhampton. This is the setting for Number Five:

NumberFive

As you can see there is a similar looking coffee shop/ restaurant with tables outside like Sam’s restaurant has. At the time I first came up with the idea, about four years, ago, there was a shop with art deco font and patterns around the frontage which I used to walk past everyday on my way to work and I instantly identified it as being the perfect location for Number Five. The actual concept for Sam’s restaurant which is a coffee-shop-cum-restaurant was inspired by one of my favourite Cheltenham haunts, Morans, which is actually around the corner from Great Norwood Street, in the Bath Road. I have been visiting Morans ever since I went out to work when I was 19 and it was local to where I was working as a PA. They have a coffee shop cum bar area which is packed all day and then in the evening you go through the archway to the restaurant area which is equally as popular.

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 Farriers Reach

A lot of action happens at Farriers too which is the Cavendish family farmhouse and land housing Grace and Charlie’s horserace training business. It’s not based on any firm establishment or area so is completely fictional but is situated somewhere between Cowley and Brimpsfield which is east of Cheltenham and west of Cirencester. In my imagination it looks something like this:

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Equus – Clara’s House

Now, Clara’s house is very real and was the inspiration for the whole novel, truth be told. In my previous career, I used to be an estate agent. In fact, I still write about the property industry and have been known, once or twice, to market myself as the Kirstie Allsopp of the Cotswolds! Anyway, one hot and particularly boring Saturday afternoon I was tasked to do some back-to-back viewings at the house in the picture. I have to say, I fell in love with it myself; it stands defiantly on the end of a row of perfectly manicured Regency townhouses with its bare brick Cotswold stone wall and the inside (at the time anyway) had so much character, it really felt like someone’s home and not a house which had been done up to sell. Anyway, between viewings and whilst viewers wanted time alone to peruse the house without the flamboyant estate agent trying to sell the better aspects of the property to them, I was sitting in the living room on the first floor, looking out onto the street and the idea for the novel came to me. I could vividly see a glamourous, older lady, the matriarch of the family, in her townhouse and her family of waifs and strays in numerous bedrooms the property had. I originally thought to call the novel The Home for Unmarried Mothers for I could see Grace having to live here, barren, unable to have a baby of her own but that soon changed as I considered Clara to be a racehorse owner. And that was how Meet Me at Number Five was born.

Equus

 

Cheltenham Racecourse

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Also known locally as Prestbury Park (or ‘PP’ as a loveable old boss of mine used to call it) the racecourse is where Hennie works and where a lot of the horseracing action takes place. As a Cheltonian, racing is part of me, I think it is for all of us. I have always been horse mad; if I wasn’t riding one, I was playing with my Sindy ponies or reading a horse book but when I was 20 I was lucky enough to work for a man called Alan Wright. I had gone to work for him to learn the craft of Human Resources but I came away with a much greater knowledge of horseracing. Our daily routine at the publishing company we worked for was to sit together while he poured over the racing post and I took notes of what bets he wanted to place. Then I would be despatched to the local bookies to place the bets and collect yesterday’s winnings and then, and only then, could we get down to the day’s business in the office. I have had some great days out at Prestbury Park and while I was on my journey to becoming published, some wise soul told me to set my next book where I was from. So if you’re from the Cotswolds (and Cheltenham in particular) what else would you write about?

I hope you have enjoyed my whistle stop tour of Meet Me at Number Five! If you have any questions you can contact me via Choc Lit or via my website: www.lisahillwriter.wordpress.com.

Meet Me at Number Five is available as an eBook on all platforms. For buying options click HERE.

Happy Birthday to Us! Birthday Round Robin: Final Part by Kirsty Ferry

Birthday Round Robin PT 5

Thank you to everyone who has messaged us to wish us happy birthday. We have been absolutely overwhelmed by your kind words – and we hope that we’ve shown our appreciation with this birthday Round Robin written by our fabulously talented Choc Lit authors!

But all good things come to an end and it’s Kirsty Ferry who is drawing our birthday celebrations to a close – no pressure, Kirsty! 

Lynda Stacey’s Part One is HERE

Kathryn Freeman’s Part Two is HERE

Lisa Hill’s Part Three is HERE

Jane Lovering’s Part Four is HERE

If you read right until the end you might just find a competition to enter too! ;)  

The Birthday Surprise – Final Part by Kirsty Ferry

‘Magda?’ Declan looked at Ralph, astonished. ‘Are you sure?’

‘Looks like her!’ said Ralph ‘Maybe she’s had a change of heart?’

‘Good grief. I hope not!’ Declan looked down at Anna, his face haunted. ‘My ex. Took it badly when I left her.’ He shook his head. ‘What a nightmare. The blokes will be her brothers. Thanks Ralph.’ He pulled a face. ‘Sorry Anna, I’ll have to go and sort it out. She’ll most likely be drunk, and her brothers like to think they’re all that, but they’ll back down as soon as I shout at them. Always have done. Forgive me?’

He looked so apologetic that Anna just nodded, imagining him squaring up to something like the Russian Mafia, taking on the role of an action hero in a movie. She dipped her head and blushed as she imagined him in a ripped vest with his muscles all exposed. By the time she looked up again, he was running over the grass, back towards the house.

‘You okay there?’ asked Ralph, eyeing her up. ‘You look a bit – damp.’

Anna looked ruefully at her disgusting shoes and scrubbed at her cheeks again. ‘Damp and grubby. I’m not fit to be at a party, really. I think I’ll head back myself and call that taxi. I’ll leave you and Helen to have fun and just go home.’

‘I’ll walk back with you.’ Ralph fell into step beside her. ‘I have a confession, anyway. I did set this up, you know. Me and Helen between us. Dec never forgot you – Magda was the biggest mistake of his life. When Helen and I made the connection, we sort of concocted it all and this seemed a good way of doing it.’ He shrugged. ‘You know, at least get you back in touch with each other. Dec’s a miserable sod at times, and I remember Prom Night was the happiest I’ve ever seen him.’ He looked up and suddenly grinned at the house. ‘Oh here we go. Right on cue.’ A dark shape came around the corner. It paused, and then started running back towards them.

‘Ralph! Where were they?’ It was Declan

‘Ah no! Are they already inside?’ Ralph’s face fell and he swore. ‘I felt sure we’d headed them off!’

Declan shook his head. ‘Fantastic. I should have guessed she’d sabotage this, I should have guessed.’

‘Maybe we’d best go in through the French doors?’ suggested Ralph. ‘Look, it’s dark enough to sneak in through the ballroom. I’ll go ahead and check.’ He melted away and Anna heard a soft click as he apparently opened the door.

‘Hold on!’Anna stopped and reached a hand out, touching Declan’s arm. She wasn’t prepared for the little jolt of electricity it sent around her body, even fourteen years later. She tried to sound more in control than she felt. ‘D’you think I’m going to creep around in the dark when there are potentially Russian Mafioso around?’ She left her hand on his arm, not wanting to pull away from him. It had taken all these years to touch him again and she was damn sure she was going to enjoy it while it lasted.

‘You’re right.’ Declan stopped. ‘They’re very much not Russian Mafia, though. Magda’s from Barnet. No. You stay outside if you want. In fact.’ He grinned and reached a hand out. He put his fingertips gently under her chin and tilted her face towards his. ‘If it’s all right with you, would you consider giving me a kiss for good luck?’

‘Declan!’ she felt her cheeks colour, but she didn’t, couldn’t resist and leaned in towards him. She closed her eyes and as their lips touched, she felt the years roll back and she was sixteen again and there was still the hope of a bright shiny future with the boy she was certain she loved …

Then a light flooded the terrace and the French doors flung open and there was a huge, happy shout: ‘Happy Birthday, Declan!

There was the sound of party poppers and cheering, and there they were, frozen in the light, in each other’s arms for all to see.

Anna sprung away first and stared, horrified at the doorway. Helen was standing there, Ralph’s arm slung around her shoulders and she was smiling quite ridiculously widely.

‘Helen!’ Anna blushed again.

‘What?’ Helen giggled and hugged Ralph. ‘Don’t you think that was just the best idea? We had to get Dec back up here and Magda turning up was all Ralph could come up with! People have been waiting ages to see him and wish him happy birthday! There’s loads more people than we told him there was!’

‘We completely lost him,’ added Ralph with a grin. ‘When you ran off, he didn’t want to be in here at all with us.’

‘Really?’ Anna looked up at Declan, and saw that he was blushing, and his expression was sweetly embarrassed.

‘It’s true,’ he said. ‘Ralph’s a pain and I looked at the options – him and a party I didn’t want; or you, and your pretty shoes and lovely face. They couldn’t keep me in there at all, after I saw you again.’

She laughed and shook her head. ‘And Magda? Is she really likely to turn up and spoil things?’

‘No! That’s why it threw me. She’s living down south with my ex-best friend and their child. It’s why I finished things with her. It was devastating, but I always thought there had to be a reason it happened; there had to be something better coming along.’

‘And?’ She was teasing now, giddy with relief and trying not to cry happy tears and run the risk of spoiling her make-up even more.

‘And it did. In a pair of soggy shoes, looking like Marilyn Manson. Anna, can we try again, d’you think? Properly? Like adults?’

‘I think so – I don’t see why not. Not if you don’t mind kissing someone who’s absorbed most of your lake into her party outfit.’

‘I don’t mind at all,’ he replied softly. And he kissed her again, in full view of the guests who cheered even more loudly that time.

And Anna thought it was quite possibly the best thirtieth birthday party she’d ever been to in her entire life.

You couldn’t ask for a sweeter ending! What a wonderful end to a lovely day. Here’s to another year of fabulous books, talented authors and amazing readers like you :) Thank you all so much!

The Girl in the Painting

     If you enjoyed Kirsty’s writing, you might like to check out her recent papeback release The Girl in the Painting. Click HERE for more information.

COMPETITION TIME!

To be in with a chance of winning a copy of The Girl in the Painting and some chocolate simply answer the question below (we hope you’ve been reading carefully!):

Where is Declan’s ex, Magda, from?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin Kirsty Ferry comp’ by Tuesday 20th June. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Wednesday 21st June.

Happy Birthday to Us! Birthday Round Robin: Part Four by Jane Lovering

Birthday Round Robin Pt 4

It’s our eighth birthday today and we’re celebrating with a birthday story written collaboratively by our authors, competitions, prizes and a hefty slice of virtual chocolate cake! We invite you to join us :)  

Lynda Stacey, Kathryn Freeman and Lisa Hill have had their turns and now it’s time for Jane Lovering to step up. Let’s see what happens next! Remember to make sense of the story, you will need to read the parts in order:

Lynda Stacey’s Part One is HERE

Kathryn Freeman’s Part Two is HERE

Lisa Hill’s Part Three is HERE

If you read right until the end you might just find a competition to enter too! ;)  

The Birthday Surprise – Part Four by Jane Lovering 

Anna stomped. There was no other word for it, she stomped her way across the driveway, passing groups who threw her puzzled looks that made her cheeks burn like beacons.  How could I?  How could I have been so stupid to think that he would invite me? And does Helen really not think I know a set-up when I see one?

Aware that the heels of possibly the most expensive shoes she’d ever owned were sinking into mud now, Anna stopped.  She was standing by the lake. No, not a lake. A pretentious puddle. Look, he’s even got a rowing boat! Just how pathetically bourgeois Declan is these days! She wondered for a moment how that sweet, shy young man could have turned into the sort of person who would have allowed himself to own a mansion and let her fall for a trick like Helen had played on her …

It was quiet out here.  Anna rubbed her hands over her cheeks, smearing the make up she’d so carefully applied to make her look closer to her dewy-skinned sixteen-year-old self, so that Declan would recognise her, and gave herself a talking-to. Yeah. He fancied me when I was sixteen.  But that was a long time ago, and we’re different people now, and besides, he didn’t even care enough to send a card when mum died, so just how much did he really like me? Or was he disappointed that I didn’t rip my knickers off for him on prom night? She rubbed her face again and let an image of ‘what might have been’ skip across the surface of the lake in front of her – glorious sex with Declan. Teenage pregnancy. Minimum wage jobs, to keep the kids fed and life in a too-small flat … no. It was probably better that they’d parted that night with their illusions and virginities intact.

‘Are you all right?’ The voice came from behind her and she turned slowly round to see Declan standing on the bank above the lake shore.  ‘What’s happened to your face?’  He sounded shocked.

‘Well, fourteen years, for a start! Did you really think I’d look the same as I did on Prom Night? Am I not allowed to have aged?’ Anna took a step back, indignation flaming into her cheeks again. ‘I suppose you still don’t shave and have a poster of the Spooks cast on your wall?’  Another step back as he started to approach down the bank, his shiny evening shoes reflecting the moonlight.

‘I meant … you’ve got black stuff everywhere. You look like a bad Marilyn Manson impersonator.’

The dawning horror as she realised that her mascara must now be equally distributed over her entire face was matched by a slow-creeping cold that told her she’d backed away so far that she was now up to her ankles in the lapping water of the lake.  Anna decided there was nothing else for it, and she gathered her dignity beneath her and stood on it firmly.  ‘If you were a gentleman you wouldn’t have mentioned it. And you wouldn’t have followed me. You’d let me have my moment of misery in peace.’

‘I didn’t know you were having a moment of misery.  Why would you be? Ralph invited you to my party, and you came, next thing you’re dashing off like a Cinderella who’s decided on an early night.  I haven’t even had chance to be rude to you yet.’  Declan came down to the lake shore and reached out an arm.  ‘Would you like a hand getting out of the water, or will you berate me for spoiling your paddle?’

There was nothing else for it.  Anna took the offered hand and found herself tugged up close against Declan.  He still smelled of sandalwood, her subconscious noted. She hoped she’d been wrong about the Spooks poster.

‘Why didn’t …?’ they both started to speak simultaneously, then stopped.

‘You still look good,’ Declan started cautiously again, as though waiting for Anna to shout him down.  ‘Apart from the black stuff, obviously. I heard about your mum, I’m sorry.’

‘Not sorry enough to write, though,’ Anna said, a touch tartly, but with a warm feeling starting to trickle down through her chest.

‘I was a sixteen year old boy! I had no idea what to say, “sorry your mum died, school is going well and we’ve got a new Head of English?” Not really…’ he tailed off.  ‘And I did write, once or twice. But …’ he shrugged.  ‘Why didn’t you give me your email address?’

Anna opened her mouth to answer, but couldn’t.  Why hadn’t she made it easier to get in touch? ‘I think, when mum died and Helen was so little – I had to look after her. Everything else sort of went out of my head.’

Declan gave her a smile. It was the smile she’d remembered most, she thought. A slow, cautious sort of smile that lit up his eyes.  ‘Then maybe we could try again …’ he started to speak, but was interrupted by a flurry of commotion at the top of the bank, and then a breathless Ralph was running towards them, his jacket flapping unbuttoned and his hair awry.

‘You’d better get here, Dec,’ he said, puffing slightly. ‘Magda has turned up with a bunch of blokes and she’s threatening to burn the house down.’

Trust Jane Lovering to leave things on a cliffhanger! Kirsty Ferry has her work cut out for her finishing off this story – but she will be in the next couple of hours. Keep an eye :) We can’t wait to see how it ends! 

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     If you enjoyed Jane’s writing, you might like to check out her recent release Can’t Buy Me Love. Click HERE for more information.

COMPETITION TIME!

To be in with a chance of winning a copy of Can’t Buy Me Love and some chocolate simply answer the question below (we hope you’ve been reading carefully!):

Who does Declan think Anna looks like with mascara all over her face?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin Jane Lovering comp’ by Tuesday 20th June. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Wednesday 21st June.

Happy Birthday to Us! Birthday Round Robin: Part Three by Lisa Hill

Birthday Round Robin pt 3

It’s our eighth birthday today and we’re celebrating with a birthday story written collaboratively by our authors, competitions, prizes and a hefty slice of virtual chocolate cake! We invite you to join us :)  

Lynda Stacey and Kathryn Freeman have set the bar high and now it’s up to our new author Lisa Hill to continue the story. Let’s see what happens next! Remember to make sense of the story, you will need to read the parts in order:

Lynda Stacey’s Part One is HERE

Kathryn Freeman’s Part Two is HERE

If you read right until the end you might just find a competition to enter too! ;)  

The Birthday Surprise – Part Three by Lisa Hill

Anna folded up the crumpled, old letter and returned it to her clutch bag as Helen’s clapped out old Mini Cooper rattled through the front gates to the house.

Helen let out a low whistle. ‘The Dohertys have certainly done well for themselves.’

Anna followed Helen’s gaze as she looked up at the old, Georgian limestone house, covered in wisteria, shining like a beacon with all its windows lit up.

She frowned. ‘How did you know Declan’s got a brother?’

‘Oh, I just meant the family in general,’ Helen said, breezily as the Mini’s tyres crunched up the gravel driveway.

‘Thanks for giving me a lift,’ Anna said, absently, looking up at the house, in its own grounds with a lake, well more of a large pond, nestled at the foot of the front garden. As Helen steered the car up the inclining driveway, Anna’s mind returned to the letter and the night of the prom. Would he still look the same? She had never forgotten his face. Those deep, intense, blue eyes, that sparkly white smile, the smell of his sandalwood cologne. They had both been sixteen but had felt much older. He’d walked her home and they’d shared a lingering kiss on her doorstep before finally parting at one in the morning with promises of meeting up the next day. Only, life changed the moment she walked through the front door. The lights had all been on and mum wasn’t there. Neither was Dad. Or her sister. Nan was sitting on the stairs, waiting for her to come home, her eyes awash with tears, telling her how beautiful she looked instead of focusing on the fact mum had been taken to hospital.

‘Here we are!’ Helen said, yanking on the handbrake, having reverse parked under a horse chestnut tree.

Anna’s stomach clenched. She’d gone with the black off the shoulder in the end, not wanting all eyes on her if she walked in wearing red. She could be a wallflower in black, appraise Declan from afar and try and work out his motivation for inviting her before she introduced herself.

‘Thanks,’ Anna said, finally taking in Helen’s attire for the first time this evening. She frowned. ‘You’ve got your face on; off anywhere nice?’

‘Oh, just into town. Want me to give you a lift back later?’

‘No, don’t worry, I can get a taxi,’ she said, silently adding that if she got cold feet the moment she stepped over the threshold she could at least call a taxi and go home and save herself the embarrassment of Helen finding out.

‘Okay, have a good night and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!’ Helen waved as Anna got out of the car.

Anna rolled her eyes as she tottered in her black Jimmy Choos over the gravelled drive. She looked at the house and had to concede Helen was right; wherever life had taken Declan, he’d done well for himself.

She made her way down some uneven York flagstone steps and along the path that led around to the front of the house. She stopped in the light coming from a sash window to take her compact out of her clutch and quickly check her make-up. She glanced at the letter again. She didn’t know what had made her bring it. She wasn’t sure why she’d kept it all these years; to remember that night perhaps? Mum never came back from hospital. It was decided that Anna and Helen should temporarily live with Nan but as Mum’s health deteriorated, Anna had to start Sixth Form at a school nearer to Nan’s. Dad had passed on the letter to her. It was short, sweet and to the point but it meant Declan was still thinking about her. She’d replied straight away, writing to the address on the letter, giving her Nan’s address but no reply ever came back. She’d never seen him again.

Until now.

She must have walked in a daydream around to the front of the house. Perhaps she was just eagerly awaiting their reunion. After all, he’d tracked her down, sent her the invite, he must want to see her. Of course he wasn’t gay! He was only thirty; perhaps like her he’d just not been very lucky in love? Perhaps he’d held a torch for her all these years like she had for him? After all, Facebook said he was single. Perhaps she should stop standing like a divvy at the front door with other guests brushing past her and actually get on with reintroducing herself to Declan Doherty.

She tentatively took the steps up the double fronted house and through the open front doors. The house was lively and chatty with classical music playing in the background. Glasses of champagne clinked, the chandelier overhanging the polished oak floor hallway glistened and there, engrossed in conversation with a taller, younger looking version of himself, stood Declan Doherty. He was slightly taller than Anna recalled but he was instantly recognisable with that slicked back dark hair and wide smile. She could see the boy she once knew standing before her but he was broader, taller and with the addition of stubbly jawline.

Anna swallowed hard.

‘Champagne Madame?’ A waiter asked.

‘I, er, um.’ She could feel her face flushing.

‘Anna?’ Declan’s distinctive voice called out sounding surprised. She plucked up the courage to look at him only to find he was striding towards her, encouragingly with a smile revealing those perfect, straight teeth.

‘Hi,’ she managed to squeak at Declan, suddenly feeling rather shy.

‘Ah, you found us then!’ The taller and equally handsome version of Declan marched up behind him extending his hand. ‘I’m Ralph.’

‘Ralph?’

‘Tah-dah!’ Helen suddenly appeared from a side room looking mightily smug with herself.

‘Helen?’

‘Surprise!’

‘Surprise what?’ Declan asked, looking as confused as Anna.

‘I’m Helen’s boss.’ Ralph put his arm around Helen.

Anna’s smile fell. She looked at Declan. ‘So, you didn’t invite me to your party?’

‘I, um …’ Declan faltered.

‘Never mind then,’ said Anna, turning on her heel. She pushed past an arriving couple and ran back down the steps.

‘Anna!’ Helen called.

‘Arrghh!’ Sobbed Anna, breathing in the cool night air. Flipping Helen; she’d even got changed into her red dress!

Love this addition from our wonderful new author Lisa Hill! Lisa doesn’t have a book out with us yet but that will change next Tuesday when we release Meet Me at Number Five. Keep an eye out on our Twitter and Facebook to catch a first glimpse of the cover! 

COMPETITION TIME!

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

Which shoes has Anna chosen to wear?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin Lisa Hill comp’ by Tuesday 20th June. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Wednesday 21st June.

Happy Birthday to Us! Birthday Round Robin: Part Two by Kathryn Freeman

Birthday Round Robin Pt 2

It’s our eighth birthday today and we’re celebrating with a birthday story written collaboratively by our authors, competitions, prizes and a hefty slice of virtual chocolate cake! We invite you to join us :)  

Lynda Stacey started off our Round Robin in a very intriguing way and now it’s up to Kathryn Freeman to continue the story. Let’s see what happens next! Remember to make sense of the story, you will need to read the parts in order, so read Lynda’s Part One first HERE

If you read right until the end you might just find a competition to enter too! ;)  

The Birthday Surprise – Part Two by Kathryn Freeman

Declan stared in horror at the fancy invitation card – the one announcing his birthday party, for crying out loud – before glaring over at his brother.

‘Tell me this is a joke. Tell me you haven’t sent this out to anyone.’

Ralph, of the dashing good looks and forever smiling face, had the good sense to at least look apologetic, even though Declan knew it was an act. ‘I thought you’d be pleased. Flattered. Excited?’

Declan wasn’t any of those things. ‘I’ll tell you what I am. Fed up. Annoyed. Ready to punch someone.’

Proving he had a strong sense of self-preservation, along with his modicum of good sense, Ralph took a few steps back. ‘Come on, it’ll be fun. A man doesn’t turn thirty every day.’

‘Exactly,’ Declan hissed. ‘I’m a thirty-year-old man. Not a three-year-old boy. I don’t want a frigging birthday party.’

‘Why not?’ Before Declan had the chance to remind him he didn’t do parties, didn’t do socialising. Didn’t do any of the normal things a thirty-year-old might be expected to do, Ralph was talking again. ‘You’ve turned into a recluse and I’m not prepared to sit back and let you waste your life any longer. If you don’t want to celebrate the milestone of thirty years, how about celebrating that it’s been two years, since … you know.’

Declan did know. He didn’t need a ruddy party to remind him of the fact. ‘Not a fact I want to remember,’ he answered curtly.

‘Eight years since you last flashed those dimples of yours?’ It was said with a smile, but the message was clear.

‘Eight isn’t a particularly significant milestone,’ Declan countered, ignoring the dig.

‘Every milestone is significant. Every one worth celebrating, especially if it makes you smile.’

‘I’ve had damn little to smile about for a long while.’

A brief flash of sympathy crossed his brother’s face. ‘I know. Which is why I wanted to do something to rectify that.’

Declan felt a tug of remorse. ‘Okay, I appreciate the sentiment, but a party? Seriously? Do you not know me at all?’ Maybe he no longer did, Declan thought with a wave of sadness.

‘I know you once liked to party,’ Ralph said quietly. ‘I remember your school prom. How you couldn’t stop smiling when you put on that suit. Slicked back your hair like some sort of second coming of Elvis.’

Declan felt his chest tighten as an image of a girl with dark red hair in a long green dress flashed through his mind. Next to her he saw himself, all wide-eyed, innocent and eager. No clue of what life had in store for him. ‘It wasn’t the thought of the party that had me smiling,’ he admitted gruffly.

‘I know. It was that girl you kept drooling over.’ Ralph paused, giving Declan a careful study. ‘What happened to her, do you know?’

Declan sighed, shoving his hands in his pockets. It all seemed a lifetime ago. ‘She moved schools, we lost touch.’ He’d written once, painfully scratching out attempt after attempt at a letter until finally ending up with something stilted and short. He’d never received a reply.

‘Umm.’ Ralph’s eyes drifted away from his and over to the window before finally glancing down at his watch. ‘Well, we’d better get ready. Guests are due to arrive in a few hours.’

‘How many guests, exactly?’

‘Well, let me see. If I’d gone with just the people you count as friends, there’d be  …’ Ralph held up his hand and started to count his fingers. ‘Two?’

Declan resisted the urge to throw something at him. ‘Two would be my sort of party.’

‘Yeah. And about as lively as a nursing home after lunch. So I also invited the family we still talk to, plus those of my friends who can tolerate you.’

‘Thanks.’

‘And a few people from work.’

Declan raised his brow. ‘How’s it going on that front? Didn’t you have a new apprentice starting?’

‘Yes, Helen. Lovely girl. She used to go to the same school as us.’

‘Oh?’ Was it his imagination, or was Ralph avoiding his eyes?

‘She’s eight years younger than me but it’s surprising how many connections we had in common.’

Declan narrowed his eyes. ‘Do you fancy this girl?’

‘Of course not.’

‘Then why are you staring at the wall behind me when you talk about her?’

‘I’m not.’ Ralph’s eyes swung back to his. ‘Just because you don’t have a love life, don’t think you have to help mine. I do perfectly well by myself, thank you very much.’

Anxious to avoid any further discussion on how sad Ralph thought his older brother’s life was, Declan nodded. ‘Fine.’

‘Right, I’ll leave you to try and make yourself presentable for your guests.’

As Ralph walked towards the door Declan sighed, pulling out his phone. What the hell? ‘Ralph,’ he shouted, stopping his brother just before he left. ‘Why have I got a whole load of requests to be friends with people on Facebook? I don’t have a bloody Facebook account.’

‘Ah.’ Ralph smirked back at him. ‘You do now. Consider it part of your birthday present, along with the party. My contribution to bringing Declan Doherty back to life.’

Oooh, the plot thickens! What’s led to Declan’s reclusive tendencies – and can a birthday party bring him out of his shell? We’ll find out in a couple of hours time when Lisa Hill takes her turn :)  

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     If you enjoyed Kathryn’s writing, you might like to check out her upcoming paperback, Before You. Click HERE for more information.

COMPETITION TIME!

To be in with a chance of winning one of Kathryn’s books and some chocolate simply answer the question below (we hope you’ve been reading carefully!):

How many years younger is Helen than Ralph?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin Kathryn Freeman comp’ by Tuesday 20th June. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Wednesday 21st June.