PAPERBACK RELEASE DAY: I Don’t Want to Talk About It by Jane Lovering

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It’s paperback release day for I Don’t Want to Talk About It and Jane Lovering is on the blog chatting siblings, twins and … guinea pigs!

One of the main themes I’ve got running through this book (apart from how difficult it can be to look after a guinea pig) is sibling love and attachment.  In the case of I Don’t Want to Talk About It, the siblings are identical twin sisters. I’ve only got one brother and I don’t think he looks anything like me.  Actually, now I come to think of it, someone did say to me that they could tell we were brother and sister, and I wasn’t quite sure how to take it – my brother is quite a lot larger than me, has a beard and a decidedly receding hairline and I’m not sure which of these things was the point of commonality.  I didn’t like to ask, of course

I’ve never been a twin.  None of my children are twins (thank goodness, having them singly was hard enough work, I dread to think how twins would have gone down).  But I’ve used my experience of having a sibling to create the bond that exists between Winter and Daisy, and my experience of guinea pig owning to create the bond between Scarlet and Bobso. I might not know much about having a sister, but I do know quite a bit about keeping guinea pigs, and their propensity for concealing their gender, in fact, they are so good at it that I imagine guinea pig drag acts would be the epitome of greatness. They can also delay the development of their young before they are born, you know.

I Don’t Want to Talk About It explores what it’s like to have an identical sibling (yes, thank you, my brother and I are NOT identical), how it must feel to perceive yourself as one half of a whole entity and also why it is so important to check the gender of your guinea pig very very carefully.  It also contains two very sexy men and a small girl whose hobby horse has an extremely strong personality, plus a sewn-on expression of good-natured stupidity, and a rather unusual name…

For more on Jane, follow her on Twitter @janelovering.

I Don’t Want to Talk About It is now available in paperback from all good book stockists and retailers.

Amazon UK   Amazon US 

Judging a Book by its Cover

Is judging a book by its cover always a crime? Laura E. James explores the reasons why it might not be in today’s blog post. Make sure you read right until the end if you’d like to find out how you could get your hands on a FREE copy of Laura’s new book, What Doesn’t Kill You … 

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Judge: The charge is that judging a book by its cover is a crime. What say you?

Defendant: Your honour, I ask is it a crime to be drawn by the colours, the images and the hint of the treats and secrets in store when browsing online or roaming free from bookshop to library? I am attracted to a book by its cover, but isn’t that the point? If I haven’t become aware of a novel through personal recommendation, a good-looking book is going to turn my head. What can I say? I’m flesh and blood. And surely if covers weren’t important, all books would start at the title page. That would be the equivalent of me strolling in here in my underwear, instead of this smart, skilfully tailored business suit. First impressions count. But it’s not only that. The experience that is reading begins with the intrigue and awe a cover can incite.

I submit my evidence and present the Chesil Beach Book covers.

Truth or Dare? – a fabulous love story without the soft edges.

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Notice the light and shade, the carved initials in the bench, the closed, theatrical, red curtains waiting to swish open and expose the secrets lurking behind. I want to know what’s going on back stage. Red is for danger, right? Red traffic lights, red alert, red hot …

The etched heart tells of a romance, but it is crudely scratched into the back of a church seat. A youthful expression of love or a silent prayer? And observe the clarity of the title. It’s bright, it’s white, it’s stark. It’s challenging the reader. Your honour, I ask you, would you tell the truth or take the dare?

Book 2 – Follow Me Follow You – can a first love last forever?

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The black cover is eye-catching. It stands out from the crowd. It’s individual, it goes against romantic conventions. Are these characteristics the reader can expect from the hero or heroine, or does it suggest an overall feel of the story? A beautiful shooting star arcs across the top, but does it signify wishful expectation, or represent a sudden descent? The white silhouette of a woman occupies the corner. She’s checking her mobile phone ‒ an important clue. She could be searching for answers or awaiting a call. What or who is she hoping to find? And let’s take a moment to appreciate the colours of the lettering. A blue ‘follow’ and a pink ‘follow’. Your honour, my son explained his understanding of these colours to me and for him the blue symbolises the hero, and the pink, the heroine. I love that idea. For me, the spectral colours bring vibrancy to the dark night, like neon signs showing the way. And I wonder if that shooting star is heading for a place somewhere over the rainbow?

For my final piece of evidence, I give you What Doesn’t Kill You – an intense, emotional, heartbreaking story.

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Your honour, I urge you to look at this cover. I mean, really study it. Zoom in. It’s stunning. At first glance, the reader is trapped inside, stranded, their window to the world obscured by rain and condensation. The frame is old, flaking and in desperate need of care and attention. It needs a loving hand to bring it back to life. These are threads of the novel keenly observed and understood by the cover designer and beautifully illustrated. Dark? Yes. Stormy? Yes. Coastal? Unmistakably. Notice the white houses in the distance. They’re out of reach for now, but the yellow glow from the top windows proves there’s life inside, and as the maxim goes, where there’s life, there’s hope. Finally, I draw your attention to the lighthouse. It stands tall, silent and strong, keeping watch, shining its light into the fog, desperate to guide lost souls safely home. Is this a metaphor? Does it relate to a character or does it suggest to the reader that after sailing pages of stormy seas, they’ll finish the book, moored, anchored and sheltered in the harbour? It’s a wonderfully crafted and intelligent cover that speaks volumes and sets up the story in one magnificent image. From out of the darkness, there comes light. Or, in other words, your honour, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

In this digital age of downloads and ebooks, which I appreciate are not on trial today, but which I acknowledge have a place in this world, we forgo the pleasures of touching and smelling the book, of flicking through random passages, seeking out a gem of a line, of hearing the soft flap as we turn the page. But we are still able to indulge our sense of sight. We can still gaze upon the beautiful, thrilling, saucy, bright, dark, emotional, telling covers that hint and tease and excite our imaginations and invite us to explore, consider and share others’ opinions, other lives and other worlds.

Your honour, I cannot speak for everyone, but I speak from the heart. I believe judging a book by its cover is not a crime.

It is an adventure, a pleasure, and a joy.

Judge: Case dismissed.

We have FIFTY copies of What Doesn’t Kill You to give away but there is one condition – if you claim a copy, you will need to read the book and write an Amazon review for it. What Doesn’t Kill You is the first book in our ‘Dark Choc Lit’ range – an intense, emotional, heartbreaking story. If this sounds like something you’d enjoy, simply email info@choc-lit.co.uk to request. 

For more on Laura, follow her on Twitter @Laura_E_James

How do women survive in the mad, bad world of politics and spin?

9781781892770Sarah Waights, author of Never Marry a Politician, talks about the inspiration for her novel, and about the plight of the strong, capable women who are often behind the rise of the world’s most powerful men …

Long before Hillary Clinton decided to stand for the presidency herself there was a joke doing the rounds and it went like this:

Hillary and Bill drive into a gas station. As the attendant is filling their car, Bill says, “Look Hillary, isn’t that the guy you used to date at college?  Just imagine, if you’d married him not me you’d be the wife of a gas station attendant.”

“Nonsense, Bill,” said Hillary, “If I’d married him instead of you, he would be the President of the United States.”

And therein lies the truth that inspired my novel Never Marry a Politician.  Behind every successful man is a very clever woman and the cleverest women of all may well be the ones who wield their power covertly, using their man as a puppet to achieve their own ambitions. Shakespeare was fascinated with the concept; What was Lady Macbeth if not quite literally the power behind the throne? Poor old Macbeth didn’t have an idea in his head other than the ones she put there and – boy – did she have some big ideas. Incidentally, Shakespeare also portrayed her as a raving, hormonal lunatic and ensured she came to a sticky end but – hey ho – feminism had a long way to go back then.

Not that we have come as far as we would like to think, as I peek between my fingers at Hillary Clinton’s current presidential campaign. Despite the social progress that allowed Obama to get into power, there has still never been a female president. In the UK’s political system I watch with horrified fascination as those handpicked female members of our elected parliament – the brightest of the bright – have to run the gauntlet of press and parliamentary preoccupation with their legs, cleavage, shoes and marital status before they are allowed to express a view or table a policy. Even then, the apparatchiks are far more likely to hand them a brief concerning childcare provision than, say, defence policy. I feel even more sorry for the women who – quite by chance – happen to be married to a man who is ambitious for a career in politics. That is what happened to my poor heroine, Emily, who quickly learns that – despite it being the 21st century – her role is to stand meekly in the background gazing at her husband admiringly.

“I do have an opinion of my own,” she protests to her lover, Matt.

“Sure you do,” he replies, “but only when your husband’s advisors have told you what it is.”

The ‘gazing admiringly’ thing, by the way, is one I felt Nancy Reagan did awfully well and that made her an excellent President’s wife.  The UK equivalent would probably be the ‘wife’ of our one and only female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher; her spouse, Dennis, was stalwart, supportive and above criticism. Always. When he died all anyone could remember him doing was chatting amiably about golf and mixing a killer gin and tonic. Could she have done it without him? Personally, I doubt it.

One would like to think that women signing up to the husband’s job to the detriment of her own autonomy was an outdated idea. When I was a child, my father was in the diplomatic corps which involved lots of making polite conversation with his opposite numbers from other countries. My mother’s role – it was made quite clear – was to play the Nancy Reagan to his Ronald, taking the wives out shopping and giving them tea and cake while the men got down to the real business of – well – being diplomatic. But that can’t be how things work now, can it?

I actually think it isn’t.  I think it’s worse.  I have built a career and raised a family in an era where women were not just supposed to ‘have it all’, they had to somehow ‘do it all’ too. Achieving the role of the perfect wife and mother at the same time as having a ball-breakingly successful career is now less of a freedom and more of a moral obligation. We owe it to our mothers and grandmothers who were left entirely without bust support after all that bra-burning so that we – the newly empowered (and exhausted) generation – could rule the world. In the general election in the UK last year, the media was fascinated by the wives of the political leaders. It was clear that, the female vote was being courted. In order to have any respect for the husband, we had to admire the wife. Here, wearing a pinny and churning out perfect cupcakes was key but not, in itself, enough. Instead, the politician’s wives, with their perfect, smiley children in tow, had to bake, smile, be immaculately dressed AND have impressive careers (but no opinions, mind). Two are high-flying lawyers and another is ‘something very clever’ in product development for a really classy stationery design company – phew, nothing controversial about notepads, thank heaven. The high (or low) point of the entire campaign was the week when all the leaders were photographed in their own kitchens, drinking coffee with their wives – cue pages and pages of coverage analysing the political significance of everything from the mugs they were drinking out of to the brand of olive oil sitting next to the stove.  Honestly!  I know… madness.

Actually, the scariest thing I ever did was to marry. Although I knew almost as soon as I met him that I loved my husband-to-be – and that I trusted him – my mind whirled with terror at the thought of how being a wife and having children, would make me vulnerable, financially dependent, that I would somehow lose myself, that I would feel compelled to become a mirror of my husband to justify his protection of me … I needn’t have fretted. My husband has never wanted me to become anything other than a more developed, fulfilled, version of myself. We have taken turns, over the years, to be the breadwinner, raise the children, take time out to follow our dreams (get me! A published novelist no less …) and just be whoever we felt we needed to be. Of course that has meant being supportive to each other, being loyal, being the person who is always on side – even when you’ve made a right royal  tit of yourself – but it has never had to mean turning into a person who exists purely to show our partner in a better light.

And so – just like my poor character Emily, we all struggle on – walking the tightrope of career versus family, spin versus substance, truth versus diplomacy and wine versus waistline. Thank God for the escapism of other people’s stories.

Never Marry a Politician is now available in paperback. Click on one of the links below to purchase.

Amazon UK   Amazon US  Amazon CA

For more on Sarah, follow her on Twitter @SarahWaights

Mother’s Little Helper: Final Part by Kathryn Freeman & Happy Mother’s Day from Choc Lit!

MD RR Part 5Happy Mother’s Day to everyone in the UK. We hope all the mums out there have lovely days and are thoroughly spoilt! For the first treat of the day, we’re happy to present to you the last part of our Round Robin by Kathryn Freeman. Find out what happens to Lily and Rob, as well as the star of the show – the little cat who’s just successfully delivered four kittens into the world :)  

Make sure you read right until the end so that you can find out the final question for our competition and the details to enter.

In order to make sense of the story, make sure you read all of the preceding parts, which you can find below: 

Part One by Berni Stevens

Part Two by Sarah Waights

Part Three by AnneMarie Brear

Part Four by Clare Chase

‘Bugger.’ A grimace fell across Rob’s handsome features as he looked down at his phone. ‘Sorry, I need to take this. I’ll be back in a minute.’

As he strode out Lily glanced at Jo, who nodded frantically in the direction he’d gone. ‘Go and listen,’ she hissed.

‘That’s rude.’

‘So? How else are you going to find out if he’s taken?’

‘I don’t care one way or the other.’

Jo gave her a knowing smirk and Lily gave up the pretence, sneaking out of the kitchen and through to the lounge next to the hallway where Rob was talking. Not wanting to be caught with her ear to the wall, she opened the top drawer of the sideboard and pretended to search through it.

‘Yes, look, I’m sorry I had to dash off.’ His deep voice permeated easily through the thin walls of their apartment. ‘No, I was delivering kittens this time.’ Lily stilled as he waited for the other person to talk. ‘I’ll ask her, if you like, though really I’m not sure we can manage any more animals in the house.’

Sighing, she pushed the drawer shut. She’d heard enough.

‘I’ll be home soon. Love you.’

And now she’d really heard enough.

‘Oh, there you are.’ Rob seemed understandably surprised to see her in the lounge, rather than watching over the kittens.

‘Yes, I came to find some, err, matches.’

Thankfully he didn’t ask her what she needed them for. Instead his gaze wandered over her face and he smiled. It was more than just friendly. It was interested. ‘So, I hope you don’t think this is inappropriate but …’ he trailed off, running a hand through his soft, dark hair. ‘Sorry, I’m pretty useless at this. I was wondering if, maybe, you fancied going out for a drink sometime? Christen the kittens?’

Five minutes ago she’d have been a mass of bubbling hormones at his suggestion. Now she just felt sad. ‘Umm, thanks but I’m not sure the woman you were just speaking to would like that.’ Before he had a chance to come up with a lame explanation she spoke again. ‘We should go and check on the kittens.’

She marched past him and back into the kitchen. Jo gave her a questioning look but Lily shook her head, bending down to the kittens. Rob crouched next to her, a frown on his face, before checking over the tiny balls of fluff with gentle – and very fine looking, damn it – hands. Afterwards he moved on to the mum, feeling his way over her shoulders. ‘They’re all absolutely fine. I’ll need to scan to see if she has a chip but there’s no collar so I believe she’s yours if you want her. They all are.’

Lily gulped, gazing down at the tiny cute faces. Mum was licking them diligently. A teenage mum perhaps, but who clearly loved her babies.

Rob’s brown eyes warmed a little as he studied her. ‘You want to take care of them all, don’t you, but you know it’s a huge undertaking.’  He stood back up, once more towering over her. ‘If it helps at all, I’ll waive my fee. And my mum said she’d love a couple.’

‘Your mum?’ Had she heard him right? ‘But how does she know about them?’

‘That was her on the phone.’

‘That was your mum?’

‘Yeah.’ He cocked his head, regarding her quizzically. ‘Why?’

‘Well, it’s just I thought … you talked about coming home and loving her. I thought it was your wife.’

He burst out laughing, deep grooves appearing on either side of his very sexy mouth. ‘She’ll enjoy that one.’

‘So she was the evening I interrupted? The slamming door?’

‘Yes and no. The slamming door was a disgruntled employee I fired for mistreating a stray pup. Mum was the phone calls. I’d promised to take her out for a meal, as it’s Mother’s Day.’ He shrugged. ‘That’s the evening you interrupted.’

Lily put a hand to her mouth, feeling terrible. ‘Oh no. I’m so sorry.’

‘Hey don’t be. I’m very happy it was interrupted. Very happy.’ His dark eyes glittered back at her, full of meaning.

‘Umm, I think this is my cue to leave.’ Jo shot her a wicked grin before slipping out of the kitchen.

‘So is that why you didn’t want the drink?’ Rob asked. ‘You thought I was married?’

‘Yes.’

He smiled, brown eyes lighting up. ‘So now you know I don’t have an angry wife waiting for me at home, though I do have a slightly annoyed mother, will you reconsider? And mum lives with me, by the way, not the other way round. She moved in when dad died, if that helps at all in your decision making.’

Lily felt her heart turn gentle somersaults in her chest. He loved animals and he loved his mum. ‘I’d be delighted to have a drink with you.’

Aww, lovely ending to our Mother’s Day story. We hope you all enjoyed it as much as we enjoyed putting it together – and a very big well done to our talented authors, who always manage to excel at these Round Robins regardless of subject matter! 

COMPETITION TIME!

Now that we’ve reached the last part of the story, it’s time to submit your answers from the last four days, along with one last answer from today for your chance to win a mystery prize! Here’s the question:

What does Lily pretend to look for when she listens in on Rob on the phone?

When you’ve read every part of the story and collected together your answers, send all FIVE of them to info@choc-lit.co.uk. The winner (with five correct answers) will be picked at random. Deadline for entry is Wednesday 9th March and the winner will be announced on Thursday 10th March. Good luck!

If you enjoyed Kathryn Freeman’s writing, why not pick up a copy of her most recent book, Search for the Truth? It’s available as an eBook and will also be available in paperback from July HERE

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Mother’s Little Helper: Part Three by Annemarie Brear

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Sarah Waights left off with a slightly grumpy (but intriguingly tall and handsome) vet delivering kittens yesterday. What does Annemarie Brear have in store for us today? Make sure you read right until the end to find out and to see the next question for our competition!

To make sense of the story, you will need to read Part One by Berni Stevens HERE and Part Two by Sarah Waights HERE

He ran a hand through his hair and sighed. ‘A coffee, would be great, thanks. White with no sugar.’

‘Right, got it. Won’t be long.’ Lily joined Jo in the kitchen and they both looked at each other with wide disbelieving eyes.

‘How gorgeous is he?’ Jo whispered, a tea towel in her hand but no intention of drying the plates on the draining board as she watched Mr Sexy Vet hunker down beside the cat’s box.

‘I’m assuming that’s a rhetorical question?’ Switching the kettle on, Lily took out cups and then opened the cupboard that housed all the ‘naughty’ food. She scanned the shelf, cursing her decision last week to go on one of those five day wonder diets. The result meant Jo and herself had a junk food binge eating movie night last Friday to get rid of all temptation before she started the detox and new diet. All that was left in the cupboard were half a bag of Haribo Starmix, the remnants of a packet of chocolate digestives and a solitary penguin bar.

‘Mr Sexy Vet doesn’t have a ring on his finger,’ Jo acknowledged with raised eyebrows, her expression like one of those detectives on TV who has just solved a mystery.

‘Aren’t you clever, Inspector Morse? It means nothing. Loads of men don’t wear rings even when they are married.’

‘He’s not married.’ Jo gave her a superior look. ‘I know these things.’ She rubbed her chin thoughtfully. ‘I don’t think he’s gay either.’

‘Jo! Will you shut up?’ Lily laughed.

‘What?’ Jo failed to appear innocent. ‘In the past you’ve done worse than Mr Sexy Vet out there, I can tell you.’ She paused. ‘Is a Mister or a Doctor? I think they are doctors, aren’t they? Dr Sexy Vet.’

‘Be quiet. You’re impossible!’ Placing the digestives, the ones not badly broken, onto a plate and quickly making the coffee, Lily took them back into the living room with a large smile to cover the embarrassment of her simple offerings. ‘How’s she doing?’

A frown creased his handsome features. ‘Actually, she’s struggling at the minute. Her breathing seems a bit laboured.’ He took the coffee from her. ‘Thanks.’

‘Is there anything we can do?’ Lily winced as the cat meowed, inadequately finding a comfortable spot in the box.

Before he could answer, Rob’s phone rang in his pocket. ‘Sorry,’ he said to Lily, and turned away to answer it. ‘Hello? Yes, I’m still here. I’ve only just arrived … I don’t know how long I’ll be … Okay, I’m sorry about that … Right okay, bye.’

Rob replaced his phone back in his pocket and turned back to Lily. ‘It might be safer to take her back to my surgery. I can keep an eye on her there. Is that alright with you?’ Taking another sip of his coffee, Rob gazed at her over the rim of his cup.

‘Right. Yes, of course.’ Lily nodded, unable to take her eyes off him. ‘She doesn’t even belong to me.’

‘I’ll can check to see if she’s been microchipped. If she doesn’t have a home to go to, do you want her?’

‘Oh, um … I don’t know.’ She thought of her limited finances.

Jo came to stand behind her. ‘Lily will take her. She’s kind like that.’

His phone rang again, but this time he ignored it. ‘There’s no pressure if you don’t want her, and her kittens. They are a huge responsibility.’ He gave her his card from the bag he had brought in with him.

Lily slipped his card into her jeans pocket. ‘Shall I come with you now?’

At that moment, the cat meowed loudly and to everyone’s surprise they watched a tiny black kitten emerge.

Rob bent down. ‘We can’t move her now.’ He glanced up at Lily with a cheeky grin. ‘I hope you’ve got plenty of coffee in the house.’

Oh dear, it sounds like the poor little cat might be struggling. But we hope she’s in good hands with Rob. Come back tomorrow to read Part Four by Clare Chase and find out whether the kittens are delivered safely – as well as whether Lily and ‘Mr Sexy Vet’ have a chance ;)  

COMPETITION TIME!

If you’d like the chance to win a mystery prize in celebration of Mother’s Day, make sure you come back every day until Sunday so you can answer all five questions. You will need to read right until the end of each part to answer. We will give contact details of where to send your answers to on the final day of the Round Robin. Please wait until the end of the story to send in your answers. 

The third question is: Why is there so little food in the cupboards in Jo and Lily’s flat?

If you enjoyed Annemarie’s writing, make sure you keep a look out for her debut Choc Lit novel, coming soon!

Mother’s Little Helper: Part One by Berni Stevens

MD RR Part 1

It’s Mother’s Day this Sunday here in the UK and to celebrate, we’re running another Round Robin romance featuring five talented Choc Lit authors. And, just like with the last story, make sure you read right until the end so you can take part in our competition

The first author up is Berni Stevens, and she begins with just a little twist ;)  

‘Did you hear that?’ Lily turned her head towards the front door of the small apartment.

Her flat mate, Jo, shook her head. ‘I didn’t hear anything.’

‘It sounded like a cat.’

They both listened again. After a few minutes, a faint miaow sounded.

‘There,’ said Lily.

She went to open the front door, and on the step sat a small black cat. It looked up at her, big green eyes glinting in the light from the hallway.

The cat miaowed again, sounding more plaintive this time. Lily knelt down to get a better look. She held out her hand and the cat nuzzled and butted her.

‘Is it a cat?’ Jo came to the door, and sighed when she saw the animal on their step.

Lily picked the cat up in her arms and stood back up.

‘She’s pregnant,’ she said.

Jo knew the signs, so she went off to find a cardboard box for a bed. ‘Animals in distress always find you Lily,’ she said. ‘And birds.’

Lily had always been the same, ever since junior school. A blonde angel of mercy, forever rescuing birds with broken wings, finding confused hedgehogs, and abandoned cats and dogs. Once she’d even brought an orphaned fox cub into school that she’d found alone and starving under a hedge. The cub’s pungent smell had infiltrated the classroom and most of the corridors by lunchtime, and their teacher had begged Lily to take it home.

When Jo came back with a cardboard box filled with old towels, the little cat was on Lily’s lap, purring happily.

Lily looked up, ‘I think she’s going to have her kittens soon.’

Jo looked worried. ‘Do you know what to do?’

‘I’m hoping she will.’

‘What if something goes wrong?’

Lily stroked the tiny ears gently. ‘Where’s the nearest vet?’ She asked.

Jo pulled her iPhone from her jeans pocket. ‘No idea,’ she said. ‘Let’s have a look.’ She plonked herself in the other armchair and began scrolling through likely surgeries. The nearest veterinary practice was half a mile away.

‘Wychwood Veterinary Practice, Orchard Road. Shall we call them?’

Almost on cue, the cat howled and they both jumped. Lily scooped her up and put her carefully in the box. ‘Call,’ she said. ‘I think we need help.’

Jo held the phone to her ear, listening to a recorded message, and suddenly began opening drawers frantically. ‘Pen!’ She shouted. ‘And paper!’

Lily found an old envelope and a stub of a pencil. ‘Okay.’

Jo read out the number and Lily started to write it down. The pencil broke and the cat screeched at the same time. Muttering the number to herself, she tipped her handbag upside down and shook it frantically. Her phone skidded out amongst the debris, and grabbing it, she jabbed at numbers on the keypad.

A deep voice answered immediately. ‘Wychwood. Rob Daniels speaking.’

‘It’s the cat,’ said Lily.

‘Your cat?’

‘No, she just – sort of – turned up.’

‘What’s the problem?’

‘She’s having kittens.’

‘She’ll be okay. Cats are good like that.’

‘Please come.’

A muffled discussion could be heard between the vet and what sounded like an extremely angry woman. Lily was sure she heard a door slam. Then he came back on the phone. ‘Give me your address.’

Lily sighed with relief. Help was coming.

 We’re already a little intrigued by this vet and very much looking forward to meeting him! Look out for Sarah Waights’s Part Two coming tomorrow. 

COMPETITION TIME!

If you’d like the chance to win a mystery prize in celebration of Mother’s Day, make sure you come back every day until Sunday so you can answer all five questions. You will need to read right until the end of each part to answer. We will give contact details of where to send your answers to on the final day of the Round Robin. Please wait until the end of the story to send in your answers.

The first question is: What is the veterinary practice that Lily rings called? 

If you enjoyed Berni’s writing, you’ll be pleased to know she has a new book (the second in her London Vampire Chronicles series) coming out in April. Until then, why not check out her first novel with Choc Lit – Dance until Dawn. Available HERE

Dance until Dawn

You can now read Part Two by Sarah Waights here.

The Girl in the Painting by Kirsty Ferry: Release

The Girl in the Painting

Kirsty Ferry celebrates the release of her new novel, The Girl in the Painting, and tells us a little bit more about this intriguing and ghostly tale …

Here I am again at the beginning of another exciting journey – the launch of my second Choc Lit novel, The Girl in the Painting. It’s a kind of linked sequel to Some Veil Did Fall in the fact that it takes the characters and picks their story up a couple of years into the future. I shan’t give away any spoilers, but the main characters in The Girl in the Painting are a new couple, Cori and Simon, who are linked with Becky and Jon from Veil through the irrepressible Lissy – Jon’s sister and Simon’s colleague at the Tate Britain.

Well, to be honest, Lissy has taken Simon on as a project after his relationship with a horror called Sylvie broke up, and The Girl in the Painting tells the story of Simon and Cori and a peculiar set of circumstances involving an old diary and a Victorian laudanum addict.

Daisy, the Victorian heroine of The Girl in the Painting, is one of the best, most colourful characters I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with. She leapt off the page and basically directed me in what I had to write and how I had to portray her. I guess it just proves how strong a character she was, as her story is very much unaltered from my initial manuscript, whereas edits have hopefully taken care of the rest of it – picking up on the weak spots, the inaccuracies and the plotholes. I try very hard not to have anything like that lurking within my work, but these things do happen, which is why editing is one of my favourite processes. It’s maybe a little odd to admit but, to my mind, once the story is written, the proper fun begins!

Many of the characters in Daisy’s world, however, are real people – and I loved the research involved to find out about their lives and discover things which I could take away and fictionalise. I now have a mountain of books about the Pre Raphaelite artists and, like Cori, I can easily lose hours skimming through them. In fact, Lizzie Siddal – the model for Millais’ Ophelia, Rossetti’s muse and lover and the person who Daisy wants to emulate at any cost – was so fascinating I’ve gone on to write about her in other pieces of work, for example a three hundred word flash fiction piece which was one of the winners in the London TubeFlash competition, and a two thousand word piece I’m creating for my Masters in Creative Writing, about Victorian Celebrity Culture.

In fact, when I think about it, I’ve grown to love all my characters from Veil and The Girl in the Painting – and I hope you grow to love them as well. It was hard to say goodbye to them when I finished each book and moved on – so maybe, just maybe, I might have to write book three … because I think Lissy deserves a story of her own. And as Rossetti says in his poem, The Portrait:  “It seems a thing to wonder on.”

So I guess I’ll just have to see where my own muse takes me next!

The Girl in the Painting is now available on Kindle. Click on one of the links below to purchase.

Amazon UK    Amazon US    Amazon AU    Amazon CA

For more on Kirsty, follow her on Twitter @Kirsticupcake.

Alison May’s Top 5 Shakespearean Couples

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Alison May’s fabulous contemporary Shakespeare retelling, Midsummer Dreams, was released in paperback on Valentine’s Day. Today on the blog Alison gives a rundown of her Top Five Shakespearean couples. Is your favourite on her list? 

Shakespeare was the king of the romance writers. He wrote about love and romance in all their forms – youthful infatuation, the one that got away, the bickering rivals who are secretly in love, young lovers learning how to woo, older lovers taking on armies together – in terms of literary love the bard really did do it all. But which Shakespearean couples are the best? Well to answer that question, here is my entirely scientific and not just based on random opinion, Top Five Shakespearean Couples.

Cue the TOTP countdown tune…

5. Paulina and Camillo, The Winter’s Tale

Paulina gets a bit of a rough deal in The Winter’s Tale. In terms of the actual story, in which the queen, Hermione, is, apparently, killed by her jealous husband, but later miraculously reappears as a statue that comes to life, Paulina is lumbered with a lot of the heavy lifting. It’s her that either hides the not-dead Queen away, or magics the actually dead Queen back to life, and for her good efforts she’s rewarded with the death of one husband (the ill-fated Antigonus, who is ‘pursued by bear’ all the way off stage to bear-dinner land), and in the final scene she’s lumbered with a new husband, when the King decides that now he’s got his Queen back everyone else should be getting some romance too. So at the end of the play he declares Paulina and Camillo ‘betrothed’ with not so much as a polite enquiry as to whether either of them really fancies the idea.

So, despite not actually being a couple at all at any point during the play, Paulina and Camillo make it to number five for sheer willingness to abandon good sense and good characterisation in the face of aggressive plotting.

4. Viola and Orsino, Twelfth Night

I can’t lie. Twelfth Night has never been one of my favourite plays. I think it’s partly that ungainly run of four consonants in one word in the title. In essence though Twelfth Night is a play about a love triangle. Viola is shipwrecked on the coast of Illyria, where she promptly disguises herself as a man and gets a job working for the Duke Orsino. Orsino is in love with a local noblewoman, Olivia, and sends Viola, disguised as a boy to woo Olivia on his behalf. Olivia promptly falls in love with boy-Viola, who has, herself, fallen for Orsino. And much hilarity ensues. Fortunately just as the hilarity is reaching fever pitch Viola’s twin brother, Sebastian, turns up, and Olivia falls for him instead, because boy and girl twins are essentially interchangeable and basically the same person for the plot purposes. Obviously.

Anyway, asides from all that twin nonsense, Viola and Orsino’s story is actually quite sweet. Orsino is a man in love with the idea of love and romance, but he only truly falls in love when all of that artifice is stripped away. Viola is disguised as a boy so Orsino isn’t even thinking of her as an object of romantic affection, and when he stops thinking about love the whole time, that leaves space for actual love to come rushing in.

3. The Macbeths, Macbeth

Macbeth is an awesome play. It’s properly gruesome. There’s ghosts, and murder, and witches and a full-on battle scene to end with. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are locked together at the centre of all of that. They’re not exactly a romantic pairing. Nobody would say they bring out the best in each other. It’s perfectly possible that if she’d married a nice librarian from Norfolk, Lady Macbeth would have had a lovely life learning cross stich and tending to her geraniums. But she didn’t. She married Macbeth, and from there on in the world around them started to get a wee bit deathy. So they’re not romantic. They’re not pleasant. You wouldn’t invite them round for canapes. But these two were absolutely made for one another – each matching the other in madness, lust for power and commitment to good hand hygiene.

2. Benedick & Beatrice, Much Ado About Nothing

Benedick and Beatrice are the archetypal rom-com couple. They hate each other. They fight over everything. They bicker and spar and circle around one another, mocking the idea of romance and love, united and held apart by their shared commitment to the single life.

I think we all know how this one’s going to end up, don’t we? And when it comes, their acknowledgement that they’re deeply in love with each other is really moving. You can feel the layers of stubbornness and self-protection being peeled away by the raw emotion of the moment. If you don’t well up even a little bit when Benedick finally declares ‘I do love nothing in the world so well as you. Is that not strange?’ then you have a very cold soul indeed.

1. Oberon & Titania, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Now bear with me here. I get that Oberon and Titania might seem like an odd number one. For most of A Midsummer Night’s Dream they’re not even together. They’re in the middle of an almighty falling out over a changeling baby that Titania’s adopted. And because they’re King and Queen of the Fairies, their falling out involves lots of tricks and spells, and ultimately a whole section where Titania thinks she’s in love with a donkey, so I acknowledge that they’re not exactly love’s young dream, but what I love about Oberon and Titania is the feeling that we’re only seeing a tiny snapshot of their story. These are creatures who exist outside of human time – I like to imagine that they’ve been fighting and falling out, and coming back together and falling in love throughout eternity. I imagine that, although Oberon definitely has the upper hand in this particular battle, on another day in another place Titania will have her revenge, and ultimately they’ll keep coming back together, because he’s the King of the Fairies and she’s the Queen. Who else are either of them going to be with?

So that’s my Top Five Shakespearean Couples. Obviously, I’m slightly doubting the choice of Paulina and Camillo over Romeo and Juliet or Antony and Cleopatra, but the list was scientifically verified and objectively definitely right, so there’s nothing I can do. You, of course, can disagree to your heart’s content – I’d love to hear about your favourite Shakespearean  couples in the comments below …

Midsummer Dreams is now available in paperback. Click on one of the links below to purchase.

Amazon UK    Amazon US    

For more on Alison, follow her on Twitter @MsAlisonMay or check out her blog.

Introducing a new imprint: Death by Choc Lit!

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Last week, we released the first book on our ‘Death by Choc Lit’ crime imprint; A Stranger’s House by Clare Chase. Today on the blog Clare introduces the imprint and talks a little bit about the ‘ingredients’ that went into the making of the first Death by Choc Lit novel …  

Death by Choc Lit? What flavour of novel is that?

I feel very honoured that the publication of my latest novel, A Stranger’s House also marks the launch of Choc Lit’s new imprint, Death by Choc Lit: gripping, edge-of-your-seat reads.

The tagline got me thinking about crime, mystery and suspense fiction, and the vast range of stories that fall under that banner. I know that all Death by Choc Lit titles will promise a healthy dose of suspense, but beyond that, the specific ingredients will vary. A Stranger’s House is a murder mystery, and within that, here’s my particular mix:

A developing relationship

I know you’d expect this from a Choc Lit title! Ruby, my heroine, has been through a rough time with her ex-partner, Luke, and she’s cautious about any new emotional entanglements. However, the intensity of the situation she finds herself in throws her feelings into confusion. And the person who stirs her interest is holding back a momentous secret.

A location with more to it than meets the eye

I chose to set this book in Cambridge, and have written a follow-up, featuring the same characters, that’s also set in the city. I’ve lived here for over twenty years now, and the place fascinates me. It’s achingly beautiful at times, and there’s something constantly melancholic and nostalgic about it. I think it’s because of the high proportion of students. If you stay and become grown-up in the city, you’re always conscious of the passing of time, and lost youth! Cambridge is also a place of contrasts. You get choirs singing Elizabethan madrigals from punts on the river, whist drunks deal drugs on the commons. It’s a small city too, and secrets travel fast. A high proportion of residents work for the university (I used to myself), and there are lots of connections you might not expect.

A mystery to unravel

I like stories where I’m presented with information that could, in principle, allow me to guess the identity of the villain. There are plenty of clues to work on in A Stranger’s House, so the book’s ideal for anyone who likes to indulge in some armchair sleuthing!

A tense climax

I’ve always loved books that mix the detective element with a gradual rise in danger, leading to a life-or-death climax before the action’s over, so that’s the format I follow in my novels.

Crime fiction can be gritty, dark and violent, and of course it can also be humorous and cosy. My novels tread the line between the two. I’m a big fan of Elly Griffiths’ books, and love her balance of life and relationships with sleuthing and suspense. I belong to the Crime Writer’s Association, and they ask their members to rate their offerings on a profanometer, and a platelet counter! I can say that my book is very low on bad language, and there’s no focus on the gore. To me, it’s the characters’ motivations and the mystery that are interesting, and the suspense and relationships that add the spice.

A Stranger’s House is now available on Kindle. Click on one of the links below to purchase.

Amazon UK    Amazon US    Amazon AU    Amazon CA

For more on Clare, follow her on Twitter @ClareChase_ or check out her blog.

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The Perfect Valentine’s Day: Final Part by Sheryl Browne

DAY 5 VRRHappy Valentine’s Day to all our readers and to everyone who has been keeping track of our fabulous Valentine’s Round Robin :) We hope your days are full of wine, chocolate and romance! 

Sheryl Browne is rounding up the story today and, without giving anything away, she does us proud. Thank you to each of the five writers who have taken part – as always, you have outdone yourselves!

So sit back (hopefully with a big, preferably heart-shaped, box of chocolates) and enjoy the last part of this Valentine’s Day story. If you haven’t read the other extracts yet, make sure you do before reading this! And remember to read right until the end to find out about our Valentine’s Day competition :)  

Part One by Alison May can be read HERE.

Part Two by Linn B. Halton can be read HERE. 

Part Three by Kirsty Ferry can be read HERE.

Part Four by Angela Britnell can be read HERE.

Oh.’ Sophie lost the smile as they pulled up in front of the hotel.

‘Problem?’ Josh obviously noted her crestfallen expression. ‘It’s just that my roommate has first dibs on the flat tonight. New girlfriend. I think he’s trying to impress her.’ Shaking his head, he rolled his twinkly ocean blue eyes and then looked at her uncertainly. ‘If you’d rather not, though …’

‘Yes! I mean No, no problem.’ Unimpressed though she was by the tactless, “trying to impress her” comment, Sophie plastered her smile back in place. Having only recently moved in, her own flat was still an absolute tip. There was no way she was ready for him to see that. Where else did she think they were going to seal their relationship? The bowling alley, with his obnoxious fangirls cheering him on? Sophie shuddered, quashing a fleeting image of Arlo guffawing and bitchy Evadne and Belinda scoring her points out of ten. ‘It’s a good idea.’ She nodded. Impromptu. Romantic, she thought dreamily. This was special. It meant something. Obviously it meant something to Josh too.

‘I booked us a room.’ Josh whipped his key from the ignition, and promptly pricked her romantic bubble. ‘Oh, I almost forgot, I got you something.’ He turned, leaning over the seat, his mesmerising blue eyes meeting hers, his delicious spicy cologne playing havoc with her senses.

What, Sophie wondered headily. Roses! It had to be. Chocolates! With which they would indulge after … She held her breath, sure she would just burst with happiness at his thoughtfulness.

Oh. She deflated a bit as he produced a bottle of wine.

‘It’s not the best, but not bad,’ he said, waving the bottle in her direction and then shoving his door open and climbing out. ‘Coming?’ he asked, leaning back in to shoot her his confident, megawatt smile.

Sighing inwardly, Sophie reached for her door. At least she’d got the prosecco, she supposed. And at least he’d thought to come around and open her door for her. He was a gentleman. A gorgeous sporty hunk and very nearly a fully qualified solicitor. He was hers.

‘Watch your step. Don’t want to end up in A&E, do we?’ Giving her a mischievous wink, Josh nodded down at her ankle accentuating shoes as she teetered alongside him on the uneven cobblestones. He didn’t take her hand. Sophie swallowed back her disappointment.

‘So, what do you think?’ Josh asked, once they’d found their room, another flash of uncertainty in his eyes as he scanned her face. Another small plus.

It was tiny, shoebox sized. But clean and … serviceable. She didn’t need roses, Sophie told herself firmly. They would make their own romance, sip chilled wine together, make sweet meaningful love together, and then lie satiated in each other’s arms, sharing secrets until the sun rose. How much more romantic could it be?  Josh, she realised, was obviously as nervous as she was. Or possibly not. Turning back to beam him her best grateful smile, she blinked, slightly stunned to find him peeling his shirt off.

Sophie’s smile faltered, as he walked towards her, his tanned biceps glistening, his ocean blue eyes smouldering. ‘Are we getting naked?’ He stopped directly in front of her, his lips a hair’s breadth from hers. His breath was minty, his eyelashes long and lustrous, incongruous with his sun-kissed clutchable hair. Sophie almost wilted, as he pulled her proprietorially to him, her tummy dipping, her head giddy with longing, as he closed his delicious mouth over hers, kissing her hard, deep and  … stopping.

‘Damn.’ He groaned, as his phone beeped in his jeans pocket. ‘Talk about bad timing.’ Leaving Sophie reeling on her vertiginous heels, he pulled away, fished the phone out and read the text. Then, shaking his head, he smiled, keyed in a response and tossed the phone on the bed. ‘Sorry about that,’ he said, turning back to her.

‘No problem,’ she said, actually thinking it was.

‘I’ll just, er …’ Nodding towards the bathroom, he hooked a finger over the low neckline of her dress. ‘You might want to lose that,’ he suggested, smiling … amusedly? … and then sauntering off.

But, short of a bow, she’d dressed entirely to please him, from her lacy knickers to her figure hugging red dress, which actually now felt a bit tarty. Wasn’t he going to unwrap her? Obviously not. Watching him disappear into the bathroom, Sophie huffed over to the bed. Parking herself ungraciously to hitch off her heels, she paused as the phone beeped again. Her eyes travelled towards it. Should she?

What was so flipping urgent anyway? A curry. She realised, her heart sinking, as she read the text: How’d it go? Got to grips with the bowling balls yet? We’re heading over to The Dilshad. Will order for you. Balti or Masala?

About to. Balti, Josh had texted back.

****

‘Bastard.’ Matt surprised her, swinging her flat door wide as she waggled her key in the lock, wrapping an arm around her and steering Sophie gently inside. ‘If I see him soon he won’t be able to walk in a straight line, let alone bowl.’

‘Oh, Matt, it was a disaster! ’ Sophie blubbered, never more grateful for her strong, dependable, caring friend. He’d obviously used the key he’d had when he’d helped her move in and made sure to be here to pick up the pieces, again. ‘But you shouldn’t be here.’ She took the tissue he offered her and blew, not very daintily. ‘What about your date?’

‘I, er, cancelled. This morning. Come on, come on in. I’ve run you a nice scented bath.’

‘But…?’ He’d bought roses. Armfuls. She’d seen him in town, this afternoon. He’d looked a bit down, Sophie remembered. She’d assumed it was something to do with his job at the hospice, but she’d been so full of her own news about her date with despicable Josh she hadn’t asked him. She should have. She glanced up at him. He smiled embarrassedly. Leave it, she told herself, guessing poor Matt had had a disastrous Valentine’s Day too. ‘Thank you,’ she said, leaning in to press a kiss to his cheek, and then padding towards her bedroom, ridiculous heels in hand.

He was too sensitive, that was Matt’s trouble. Too caring. Too good-looking for the women he dated to see past the physique. They wanted macho, sporty types, like ‘Joshy’, not sensitive souls like Matt, who preferred to woo women before bedding them. They could have him. And she’d have Matt in a flash, if only she was one of the prettier more popular girls.

Sniffing, she pressed down the door handle, noting the heavenly waft of scented bath oil as she did, and then froze. Not bath oil. She blinked, bewildered. Roses! Everywhere. On the bedside table, on the dressing table, petals on the floor. Matt?

Speechless, panda-eyed, bedraggled, shoeless and short, Sophie turned slowly around to face him. ‘For me?’

Matt laughed. ‘Well, they’re not for me.’

‘But …’ Sophie stared at him, incredulous. ‘Why?’

‘Because I… ‘A flush to his cheeks, Matt stopped. ‘Because you’re beautiful. Sweet and beautiful, and far too good for that conceited pillock. I know you don’t … Probably wouldn’t consider, but …’ Pulling in a huge breath, Matt paused again, then, ‘Would you do me the honour of being my Valentine, Sophie?’

Totally stunned now, Sophie just continued to stare.

‘OK, right.’ Matt coughed, at length, and looked more embarrassed than ever. ‘Well, no problem. I get that you don’t, you know. I’d offer to wash your back,’ he joked, as was Matt’s wont, ‘but …’

‘You’d like to woo me first?’ Sophie found her voice.

A slow smile curved Matt’s mouth, a shy, gorgeous, completely unpretentious smile. ‘If you’ll let me?’ he asked hopefully.

‘Yes!’ Sophie laughed, bewildered. Was it possible? Did she dare hope, after so many heart-breaking disappointments, that her dream of the perfect Valentine’s Day had come true?

Aww, so glad Sophie got the Valentine’s Day she wanted in the end – and Matt sounds gorgeous! We hope everyone reading this gets their perfect Valentine’s Day too :)  

COMPETITION TIME!

Now that we’ve reached the last part of the story, it’s time to submit your answers from the last four days, along with one last answer from today for your chance to win a mystery prize! Here’s the question:

Where does the lovely Matt work?

When you’ve read every part of the story and collected together your answers, send all FIVE of them to info@choc-lit.co.uk. The winner (with five correct answers) will be picked at random. Deadline for entry is Wednesday 17th February and the winner will be announced on Thursday 18th February.

There is also one last chance to win a prize by commenting on this post or on Facebook/Twitter to let us know what you think of the story. The winners of these daily competitions will be announced at the same time as the main competition winner. Good luck!

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If you enjoyed Sheryl Browne’s writing, why not give her book, The Rest of My Life, a go? The novel will be out in paperback on April 7th and is available to pre-order HERE