Don’t Stop Me Now: The music behind Magic Sometimes Happens …

Margaret James

It’s paperback release day for Magic Sometimes Happens! Today, we have Margaret James on the blog chatting about the music that inspires her writing …

As the mother of two music-mad daughters who were once teenagers (gosh, were they really, it doesn’t seem five minutes since they were fifteen and seventeen respectively), my house used to vibrate to the racket of competing stereo systems and CD players. I sometimes wonder why, like the walls of Jericho when Joshua blew his trumpet, it didn’t come tumbling down.

But I must admit I’m addicted to music, too. While I’m writing, there’s usually music playing somewhere in the house – Classic FM on the radio in the kitchen, more recent stuff on Spotify via my iPad, classic rock or other modern music on my CD player. I’m Freddie Mercury’s greatest fan and Queen does it for me any time. When I’m on a roll with a novel, it’s always a case of Don’t Stop Me Now!

Or, conversely, if I’m having trouble with a book, this rousing stuff from Gladiator helps to wake me and my characters up:

While I’m planning a novel, I need to bring my characters to life in my head, and thinking about what kind of music they like helps me to do that. My most recent novel, Magic Sometimes Happens, features a hero who loves the American classics and a heroine who has never heard of George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern or any of those guys. But it turns out my heroine Rosie was listening when my hero Patrick was telling her about his favourites, and later in the story she uses a piece of Gershwin to send him a special message:

Rosie’s tastes are more modern, but none the worse for that. I suspect she and Patrick are closer in their appreciation of great music than either of them might think. I’m sure they’d both love this from Amy Winehouse:

By the way, if you’re wondering about that reference to Joshua and his trumpet – here’s the final song:

Mahalia Jackson, Queen of Gospel and just about everything else, you rocked back then and you always will!

MSH_hirespackshot revised

Magic Sometimes Happens is available as a paperback now from all good online book retailers and book-shops. Click here to buy it today.

Choc Lit Halloween Round Robin: Final Part

 

10455119_10152773259162482_2738666113214067691_nHappy Halloween to all our friends and followers! We hope you’ve enjoyed our spooky Round Robin. Now, courtesy of Berni Stevens, we present to you the sixth and final instalment. Make sure you read right to the end for a special Choc Lit competition and a chance to win three Choc Lit paperbacks of your choice …

A New Love for Halloween: Part Six by Berni Stevens

The tall shadow detached itself with some difficulty from the shrubbery, and began to walk towards Jo. The front door key dropped to the path with a clang as her nerveless fingers lost their hold on it.

‘I’ll get it,’ the shadow stooped to retrieve the key for her.

Amused blue eyes met hers. ‘Are you all right?’

‘Er … huh?’

‘It’s me, Zach.’

So he hadn’t been a dream then? Her world had become decidedly weird ever since she’d opened that cursed spell book.

Jo took her front door key from Zach, muttered her thanks and tried to fit it in the lock with a hand that trembled.

With a deep laugh, Zach put his hand over hers and turned the key.

No blue fire this time, she thought, with an inward sigh of relief. She seriously hoped that part hadn’t been true.

She stepped into her hallway, becoming aware that he still followed.

Turning round, she said, ‘Don’t you have a Halloween party to go to?’

He shut her front door behind him. ‘I think it could be more interesting here.’

A flutter of panic shot through her body at his words. She headed for the kitchen, clutching her bag tightly. All she could think of was the need to keep her mobile phone close.

Gran’s spell book was still on the kitchen table where she’d left it. As she reached her free hand out to pick it up, it suddenly seemed further away.

Zach loomed in the doorway, a sardonic smile on his handsome face.  She wished he’d leave.

‘Did you want something?’ She asked instead. Possibly not the most sensible question under the circumstances.

‘I’d quite like to carry on where we left off the other night,’ he said, moving closer. But hadn’t that all been a dream?

‘Coffee then,’ she said hastily, going towards the kettle.

‘Not exactly.’ His voice sounded close in her ear, and she jumped violently, dropping the kettle onto the work surface.

Gran’s book suddenly flew off the table and smacked into the back of Zach’s head, making him lurch forward, and when Jo side-stepped, he collided with the sink.

‘I think I’d like you to leave,’ said Jo, when a loud knock at the front door made her run from the room with a sense of relief. She flung the door open to see another musketeer – again. Well, actually, it was the first musketeer. But this time, he was surrounded by what looked like a bunch of miniature goblins and witches. There was even a tiny vampire leering toothily up at her.

‘Trick or treat?’ They chorused.

‘I’m sure I can find some treats –come on in,’ she said.

A surge of tiny demonic bodies hurtled down the hall, instinctively finding their way to the kitchen.

‘Come on Argos,’ she said smiling at Dan.

‘That would be Athos, or so I’m told,’ he replied.

The kitchen was empty – except for the squealing children.

Jo reached for the dish of squishy pumpkin and bat-shaped jellies, and handed them to the head goblin.

‘Your friend was just here,’ she said to Dan. ‘The other musketeer.’

My friend?’ Dan looked puzzled. ‘I’m the only musketeer. I know there should be three – well four – but none of my mates would dress up.’

Jo sank into the nearest chair. Could this night get any weirder?

A breeze sighed through the room, even though there were no windows open, and Jo swore she heard a voice whisper, ‘He’s the one.’

A special thank you to all the bloggers who hosted the previous parts of A New Love for Halloween. If you missed a part, or would like to read the story from the beginning, you can find the other extracts here:

27 Oct: Part One by Berni Stevens – Bookaholic Holly

28 Oct: Part Two by Jane Lovering – The Romaniacs

29 Oct: Part Three by Christina Courtenay – Dark Readers

30 Oct: Part Four by Kirsty Ferry – Girls Love to Read

31 Oct: Part Five by Evonne Wareham – Reviewed the Book

 Competition

To win three Choc Lit paperbacks of your choice, answer all 5 questions and email to info@choc-lit.com.

  1) Is Ellie from Dance Until Dawn …

a) a figure skater b) lead singer of a heavy metal group c) a dancer?

 2) Vampire State of Mind and Falling Apart are set in which city?

 3) In The Secret Kiss of Darkness Jago Kerswell is …

a) a highwayman b) an innkeeper and smuggler c) a vampire?

 4) Fill in the blank: Some Veil Did Fall is the first of Kirsty Ferry’s ____ mysteries. Is it:

a) Millais b) Hunt c) Rossetti?

 5) Out of Sight Out of Mind’s heroine Madison Albi is a scientist with a very special power. Is it:

a) mind reading b) time travel c) invisibility?

Magic Sometimes Happens … Happy e-publication day!

9781781891773

Hooray! Margaret James is back with another feel-good love story. Magic Sometimes Happens is out in all eBook formats today, so relax and enjoy! To celebrate, Margaret’s stopped by to tell us a little bit about her new novel …

While I was planning Magic Sometimes Happens, I knew I wanted to write a story about two very different people who fall in love. Or at least they think they’ve very different. But, as in almost all romantic fiction, they find that although they might come from different backgrounds, have different agendas and live in different countries, in all the most important ways they are the same.

What attracted my heroine, fashion-mad PR consultant and very British Rosie Denham (who also appears in The Wedding Diary as Fanny’s assistant!), to my hero Patrick Riley, a married American college professor who hardly notices what he wears, is the father of two cute but exhausting children, drives a trash-mobile, and whose obsession with his cutting-edge research into thought-to-text technology has effectively destroyed his marriage? Who is not even remotely interested in cardigans, cupcakes or consumer durables?

Let’s ask Rosie’s best friend, Tess:

He’s clever, kind and funny, and he’s damn good-looking, too. You should see him with his children, Rosie, talk about a perfect father – and the kids, they obviously adore him.

Clever, kind, funny, good-looking and a perfect father – how could Rosie possibly resist him? Perhaps she won’t even try?

As for Patrick: a hero should always be prepared to take a few risks, shouldn’t he – with his money (as an academic, Patrick doesn’t have too much of that), with his job, with his own safety, perhaps even with his life? Of course he should! So, when Rosie loses something very precious, something which most people would write off as irrecoverable, Patrick moves several mountains in his determination to make Rosie smile again:

Patrick

I called a friend who had connections with the CIA.

   ‘Yeah, it might be possible,’ he told me, after I explained. ‘I might know a guy who knows a guy. But a private contract – it would cost a bunch of money. We’re talking big bucks here.’

   ‘What, thousands, millions?’

   ‘It would be ten thousand dollars minimum, and in cash.’

   ‘If you let me have some contact details, I’ll go on from there.’

   ‘No, I’ll meet you for a beer some time. I don’t want to put this stuff in emails or tell you on the phone. You never know who’s listening.’

   ‘Maybe we could meet later today?’

   ‘Yeah, I guess,’ he said. ‘It’s been a while. So tell me – you mislaid the secret of eternal life?’

   ‘I want this data found.’

   ‘Okay, okay, but listen up – before you give your money to this guy, you need to know that he won’t offer any guarantees. Also, if he manages to track your data down, he could take his time to hand it over – might be months or even years. The fact is, he might never hand it over, but don’t even start to think you’ll get your money back.’

What has Rosie lost and why is Patrick so anxious to recover it? I hope readers will think it’s worth finding out.

Find out more about Magic Sometimes Happens and Margaret’s other novels:

www.facebook.com/margaret.james.5268

@majanovelist

www.margaretjamesblog.blogspot.co.uk

Magic Sometimes Happens is available on all major eBook platforms:

Kindle Uk   Kindle US   Kobo   iBooks 

 

Welcome Back, Downton!

 

DD_packshot copy.jpg

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.

Kindle   Kindle US   Apple

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.

Follow A Star … and Bill, by Christine Stovell

 

FAS_hires smallThis week’s brought the official publication day for Follow A Star for me and Do Opposites Attract for my fellow Mrs July, Kathryn Freeman (and no, we’re not going to get our buns out in any shape or form!).

Follow A Star is set in Little Spitmarsh, the faded seaside town trying to reinvigorate itself that’s the location for my novel, Turning the Tide.  I missed the place and the people when I left it behind so I had to return to see what some of the familiar characters had got on in my absence.  That said, you don’t have to have read Turning the Tide to read Follow A Star as both May and the book’s hero, Bill, are new characters.

Little Spitmarsh takes elements from many of the seaside harbours Tom and I visited sailing from the east coast of England round to west Wales.  Thinking about those voyages made me dig out my sailing diaries where I relived moments like this…

“Well, I certainly get to see Land’s End.  It’s a brilliant, sparkly blue day with sunshine lighting up the waves … the big wild waves which become bigger and wilder as we turn to the wind.  Even though I trust Veryan [our boat] and Tom, I can see the boat’s getting hard to steer.  Our normally dry cockpit takes a wave that tears a stanchion out the deck and I start to think that this beautiful summer day will be my last.”

After those kinds of experiences, it’s perhaps not surprising that I decided that the best place to begin with May and Bill - neither of whom need any further complications in their life - was the confined space of a little boat. By the time they tie up at the old boatyard in Little Spitmarsh the tension between them has reached boiling point – and that’s when they discover their problems have only just begun.

I, however, had several surprises writing this book, I didn’t realise, for example, that May was hiding a secret until a good third of the way through the first draft. The biggest shock came though when Bill stepped out in front of May for the first time and I saw his red hair – I didn’t think for one moment I’d be writing about a ginger hero, nor that I’d grow so fond of him. After much debate about casting (I wish!) Follow A Star, my editor, Rach and I came up with a couple of suggestions of actors to play Bill. But one woman’s ginger dream is another’s ginger horror so what do you think?   Red-haired heroes hot or not - and if ‘yes’ then who?

You can see some of the images and inspiration behind the book on my Pinterest Board here and if you’re in the mood for some music, there’s a Spotify list of the tracks I played writing the book here.

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Only True In Fairy Tales

OHIF.Kindle_150dpi copySeeing my name on the cover of a book still feels like a dream come true, especially when it’s one as gorgeous as that of my third full-length novel, Follow A Star which is published in paperback on Monday.  However, this week’s been particularly special because it’s brought a first for me; the e-release of my first novella Only True in Fairy Tales. As the cover gradually appeared on my screen, I had a real ‘Oh, WOW!’ moment – and I still have to keep staring at it!

Dreams are often rooted in reality and although both of these stories contain elements of my own life, it was growing up on the edge of Epsom Downs which really inspired Only True in Fairy Tales.  Eloise, the heroine of my novella, lives in a house which is very like the small Victorian cottage we lived in.  From the front bedroom, the one I shared with my sister, I would sit for hours staring out the window, watching the thoroughbred horses in the racing stables opposite being put through their paces.  Eloise is similarly gripped by the shadowy Gothic house opposite her and is rather put out when gritty crime writer Ross Farrell moves in to ‘her’ dream castle.

Ross’s house is based on one I knew from walking our very sweet, but rather naughty miniature dachshund, Zorba (my mum was in her ‘Greek island’ period).  It always felt like a fairy tale castle to me, with its turret suddenly rising from the thickets of what seemed such a wild, remote place.

When I put the images together on a Pinterest board, I had a Victorian cottage, a Gothic folly and a miniature dachshund, but the spark that brought the story to life came in the form of another dog, Gracie, a black rescue greyhound who kept dancing across my mind’s eye.  What if, I wondered, Eloise was a reluctant Sleeping Beauty, someone who has a very good reason to believe love is only true in fairy tales and is determined to concentrate on her rescue greyhound and her tapestry design business?  Add a handsome stranger, one who keeps coming to Eloise’s rescue and then ask a question, ‘is he a prince or a beast in disguise?’  And those are the foundations for my novella, Only True in Fairy Tales!

Birthday Celebrations: Part Three by Linda Mitchelmore

Today it’s Linda Mitchelmore’s turn. What’s she got in store for Kate and Marcus?

‘Urghh, um, urgghh,’ Kate said, a mouth full of vol au vent. Trust Meg to turn up now just as she was on the cusp of something with Marcus. He’d been dropped into her life, just moments ago, a little gift from the gods, and she was going to make use of the gift.

Kate slid her tongue around a piece of prawn, bit, swallowed.

‘Well, you can text them right back and say these are delicious, and…’

‘I’ll do no such thing!’ Meg yelled at her. ‘And who the hell is he?’

The ‘he’ in question’s eyes widened in surprise and Kate rushed to his defence.

‘Marcus. You did say to find another bloke called Mark and this is as close as I could get in the short time available. Marcus, this is my bestie, Meg.’

‘Pleased to meet you and all, Meg,’ Marcus said. ‘And before you admonish me for drinking alcohol with my delivery van outside, this was my last drop of the day and I can walk home from here, pick up the van on Monday.’

He was making his instant dislike of Meg obvious, wasn’t he?

Marcus took another vol au vent off the plate and popped it, whole, into his mouth. He made exaggerated ‘this is practically orgasmic’ faces as he chewed. And then he began to splutter. Only the splutter was rapidly turning into a choke now.

Kate poured champagne into a tumbler – it must have been at least half a pint – and ordered him to swallow it. He did. But still he spluttered.

‘Pat him on the back for God’s sake!’ Meg yelled.

Marcus’s eyes started to roll in his head.

‘Heimlich,’ Kate said.

‘Oh my God, oh my God,’ Meg said. ‘I’m too late …’

Marcus coughed and then, mercifully, he swallowed.

‘I don’t know what the hell – a ball-bearing or something? – that was …’

‘You found it!’ Meg said, sounding triumphant now, like Marcus had won a prize or something.

‘Found what?’ Kate asked.

‘The diamond.’

‘Diamond?’ Kate and Marcus said as one, instinctively moving closer to one another.

‘Yeah. That was what the text was about. Apparently, the woman who made all the pastry for your party stuff has just rung in to say the diamond from her engagement ring has gone missing. She was pretty sure it was there when she was doing the pastry, but when she washed her hands before going home it, like, wasn’t. It’s a stonker apparently. Zillions of carats and all that. Very valuable. And the catering company isn’t insured for that sort of loss. And …’

‘And now it seems to be in my personal waste disposal system,’ Marcus interrupted.

‘It does,’ Kate said. ‘And you know what that means? Well, apart from the obvious,’ she finished with a giggle.

‘I don’t know. Tell me,’ Marcus said. And then he winked at Kate.

Gosh, but that wink was doing very funny things to Kate’s insides.

‘It means,’ she said somewhat huskily, ‘that you aren’t going anywhere for the time being.’

‘And two’s company, three’s a crowd springs to mind,’ Meg said. ‘I’m out of here. I’ll text the catering company back and tell them the lady will have her diamond back in, um, due course.’

And then Meg fled.

‘So …?’ Marcus said.

Kate filled his glass up again.

There were mini pizzas, devils on horseback, chicken wings, and profiteroles for dessert to get through. They wouldn’t starve, would they?

‘So, we’ll have to find something to do while we wait for the diamond to, er um, see the light of day again, won’t we?’ Kate giggled. It was obvious from the way Marcus was looking at her now, that food was the last thing on his mind …

‘I couldn’t switch that thing on for a few moments, could I?’ Marcus asked, pointing at Kate’s state-of-the-art flat-screen TV. Only it’s the World Cup and England’s playing at the moment.’

‘Five minutes,’ Kate said.

She could wait five minutes.

But when the screen popped into life it was to see a news flash.

‘Reports are coming in that a British Airways flight to Turkey has been

 

Linda Mitchelmore has had over 200 short stories published worldwide. She has also won,

Linda Mitchelmore_landscapeor been short-listed for, many short story writing competitions – Woman’s Own, Woman & Home and Writespace to name but three. In 2004, Linda was awarded The Katie Fforde Bursary by the Romantic Novelists’ Association, and has a story in their 50th Anniversary Anthology, ‘Loves Me, Loves Me Not’.

Linda also won the Short Story Radio Romance Prize 2010.

Linda’s books include To Turn Full Circle, Emma: There’s no Turning Back, Hope for Hannah, Grand Designs and Red is for Rubies.

“Linda Mitchelmore has a gift for making you feel right there, in the story, with her lovely warm characters.”  Bestselling author Sophie King.

COMPETITION – NOW CLOSED!

If you haven’t already entered our free prize draw to win any 5 Choc Lit novels, including advance 2014 books, enter now! Simply answer the following question:

In part one of the story, how many balloons has Kate blown up for her brother’s birthday party? Send your answer to info@choc-lit.com with ‘Birthday Competition’ as the subject line.

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.

SN_Kindle75dpi

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

Sweet Nothing by Alison May is available on Kindle.

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: www.beverleyeikli.com and her blog at: http//:www.beverleyeikli.blogspot.com.au 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.