Liz Harris: How I became an author

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Yesterday was paperback release day for Liz Harris and The Lost Girl. Today Liz shares her journey to becoming a writer and a little bit about her latest hero, Joe Walker … 

I give a lot of talks, and when my talk is over, I stay on to chat with the readers there, something I always enjoy doing. During the conversation after my latest talk, which was at the BeaconLit Festival at the end of June, I was asked, as I regularly am, if I’d always wanted to be an author, and who my heroes are modelled upon. Knowing that I was going to talk to you today, I thought I’d answer both of those questions for you.

Firstly, have I always wanted to be an author from the moment I knew what ‘author’ meant? The answer is no! I’ve always loved reading – I’ve read everything I could get my hands on over the years: Enid Blyton, Noel Streatfield, Jane Austen, Mickey Spillane, Catherine Cookson, Agatha Christie, Charlotte Bronte, Barbara Taylor Bradford – everything. And I’ve always loved writing essays, letters, exam answers. However, it was years before I connected my two loves. Books just happened, I would have thought, if I’d thought about it at all.

So how did I come to be an author? Well, when I finished my studies, I set off to see the world. I started in San Francisco and ended in Los Angeles. As you can see, I didn’t get far! I had six fantastic years in California, and then real life intervened and I had to return to England.

During the years that followed, I settled to life in England, which included writing voluminous letters to friends, until one day, a friend, in desperation at having received yet another ten-page letter, phoned up and suggested I wrote a novel. Hmm, I thought. I sat down at the typewriter, slipped in a sheet of paper and started my first novel. Even before the end of Chapter One, I was hooked!

Now, after six published novels and several short stories, I’m still hooked. To spend all day giving birth to new characters and situations makes for a wonderful life. I can’t imagine anything better than being an author.

As for the inspiration for my heroes, the latest of whom is Joe Walker, the ‘star’ of The Lost Girl. Joe is one of a line of heroes who have grown out of my love for Wyoming and the American West, a time when men were men, you might say.

I’m a real romantic and a believer in love at first sight. The morning after I’d met a certain Richard, I went into the school where I taught and told my friends that I’d met the man I was going to marry. The morning after Richard met me, he told his closest friend that the night before he’d met the woman he was going to marry. We married 38 years ago.

And what could be more romantic in a novel than a man who forged his life in the openness of Wyoming, beneath an endless wide blue sky; a man who was lean, tanned, athletic, at ease in the saddle, able to turn his hand to anything; a man who was passionate when he fell in love and fiercely protective of his woman?

So that’s how I became an author. And that’s also an introduction to Joe Walker, a rugged, good-looking man. I think you’re going to like him.

Liz’s new novel, The Lost Girl, is the author’s fourth paperback novel with Choc Lit. Click HERE for purchasing options. 

For more on Janet, follow her on Twitter: @lizharrisauthor

Visit her website: www.lizharrisauthor.com

Where does fiction meet real life?

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It’s paperback release day for Kathryn Freeman and Search for the Truth today. In celebration, Kathryn is here on the blog exploring the connection between the fiction she writes and her own life … 

A question I’m often asked is whether I base any of my fictional characters on people I know or have met. This question has been asked even more frequently  about my latest paperback, Search for the Truth. The reason? Search for the Truth is based in the pharmaceutical industry – an industry I worked in for over twenty years.

‘Am I in it?’ Is the most common question from former colleagues. The answer is no.

‘Is the romance based on your romance?’ I met my husband at work, but while I love him dearly, he is to romance what McDonald’s is to haute cuisine. Hence sadly, the answer is no.

‘Is Jim based on me?’ Is the question asked by my male colleagues. Jim is my hero, the head of Research and Development (R&D) and a George Clooney look alike. Clearly the answer is … no.

As I pointed out, the whole thrill of writing fiction is making things up. And the thrill of writing romantic fiction in particular, is dreaming up, okay, fantasising, about a fictional hero. Jim Knight is, I confess a combination of quite a few of my fantasies …

But while the people I write about only ever live in my imagination, some of the things they do are based on what I’ve seen or experienced in real life. For example when she’s at the airport Tess, my heroine, always likes to get to the gate the moment the flight is called. My husband is like this, and it does drive me slightly nuts. After all, they put all those duty-free shops in the departure lounge for a reason, don’t they?

I’ve also experienced the same dilemma Tess experiences when she finds herself in New York on a business trip; relax in the hotel for a few hours before the meeting, or do a mad shop/sightsee dash? Like Tess, I chose the latter.

Helix pharmaceuticals is a fictional company, but some of the dubious things it’s accused of doing are based on activities the industry has been criticised for in the past, like entertaining doctors too lavishly and not publishing all of its study results. I’ve never seen any lap dancing, I hasten to add (umm, you have to read the book for that to make sense).

So yes, even though Search for the Truth is a totally fictitious story about fictitious people who work for a fictitious company, nuggets of real life have helped to feed my imagination. What I hope I’ve done is build on those nuggets, twisted them and shaped them, so the end result is a lot more entertaining, more exciting than another day at the office :)

Search for the Truth is now available as a paperback from all good book stockists and suppliers. Click HERE for purchasing options.

For more information on Kathryn:

Website:  http://kathrynfreeman.co.uk

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

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/KathrynFreeman1

Before You: The inspiration

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Kathryn Freeman’s new novel Before You was released this week. Here she chats about the inspiration behind the book … 

Writers are often asked where they get their ideas from. For me, in nearly every case it starts with my hero, though it’s not always obvious where he comes from. My husband thinks it’s him and while I usually nod my head and say of course dear, in Before You, he could just be right (for once). Panic not, Aiden Foster, my outwardly cocky, fabulously sexy racing driver, bears no resemblance to my husband. He was however inspired by the gift my husband gave me for Christmas several years ago. A life size cardboard cut out of Jenson Button, which sits next to my desk.*

Jenson Button cut-out: worth straining your neck for ;)

It’s very hard to have JB twinkling down at you and not want to write about a racing driver. So that’s how Before You was born.

I’ve been lucky enough to go to a couple of Formula 1 races (Spa and Silverstone) but it was only when I started researching more on the subject that I realised how much these sportsmen lend themselves to being romantic heroes. For a start, they are phenomenal athletes. Between the g-forces they experience and the heat in the cock-pit, each race is likened to running a marathon in terms of the physical endurance required. Every time they corner, a racing driver experiences forces up to four times their own weight. In fact in terms of the effect on their necks, they are said to experience three or four car crashes every lap!

Then there is the fact that while they’re coping with these g-forces, heat and inevitable fatigue, they’re hurtling round a track at two hundred miles an hour – with twenty other drivers all vying for position around them. Racing must take incredible mental strength, courage and nerves of steel, especially when you consider one momentary lapse in concentration could send the driver spinning dangerously off the track.

Aiden Foster, hero of Before You, doesn’t just have all that thrown at him, either. When he gets out of the car, his life doesn’t get any easier, what with trying to live up to his father’s racing legacy, the arrival of a troubled boy and the distractions of a pretty press offer … but perhaps I should leave you to read about all that ;)

* In case you’re wondering, my husband works for one of the companies who sponsor Jenson Button’s team, McLaren. They were doing a promotion in the coffee area and he spotted the cardboard figure and asked if he could take it home. He might not feature in my books, but a man prepared to walk through work with a cut out of Jenson Button under his arm because he knows his wife will love it, is my type of hero :)  

For more on Kathryn:

Follow her on Twitter @KathrynFreeman1

Like her on Facebook: www.facebook.com/kathrynfreeman

Visit her website: www.kathrynfreeman.co.uk 

Kathryn’s new book, Before You is out now and available to buy as an eBook from all platforms. Click HERE to view purchasing options. 

Happy Birthday Choc Lit: Telling Porkies by Debbie Flint

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Now, something slightly different from Debbie Flint to round off our series of birthday short stories – birthday pork pie rather than birthday cake anyone? :)  

‘I’m sorry ma’am but I’m going to have to confiscate these.’

‘But they’re not meat. They’re pork pies,’ I whined.

The customs official held one side of my little package, my precious little package, and I held vainly onto the other. It didn’t work. He was shaking his head at me, and with a jerk, took my booty away. My heart always pounded as I strolled nonchalantly through the airport arrivals. But this time it was pounding for a different reason. He was handsome too. Annoyingly so. It would have been easier if he was overweight and ugly, and he should have been sweating in the warm Florida customs department interview room with its dodgy air conditioning and wilting yucca, but he wasn’t. I was, though – or was it my first hot flush? Or rather, a ‘glowing moment’ as my 75 year old mother called them when she was having hers.

‘They’re for my mum’s birthday. Can’t I keep just one, to take her? She loves them and can’t get them here – not the crunchy crust, Marks and Spencer’s kind anyway. It’d be a lovely surprise for her.’ He didn’t respond, just examined my passport and made some notes, poised and calm.

‘Sorry Ma’am,’ he said. Then he handed it back to me, one eyebrow raised. I took it from him, or tried to, but he held the other side of it till I looked him in the face. What? said my expression, as I tried to act affronted. He wasn’t moved.

‘You know, sometimes I wonder if you people have a heart,’ I said. He narrowed his eyes at me, but I couldn’t help it. ‘Just one little gesture of goodwill – you can see they are packaged up, you surely know I will be eating them, not using them to infect your precious crops.’ Still no sign of compassion. ‘She’ll be heartbroken. Can’t you make them magically vanish into my case again?’

He chewed his lip and took a breath, then spoke. Still the level, calmness, totally at odds to the turmoil I was feeling – for more reasons than one.

‘No. Ma’am.’ And he glanced up into the corner of the room. ‘Now I hope the next time I see you,’ he said, leaning towards me and lowering his voice, ‘Draco here won’t be alerting me that your suitcase holds contraband.’ He had a stern expression, but one eyebrow was quivering slightly. The yellow Labrador on the floor wagged its tail upon hearing its name.

Now it was my turn to look quizzical. ‘Draco?’

‘It was either that or Weasley,’ he explained. ‘J.K. Rowling fan.’

‘So it seems,’ I said with a sniff. ‘I prefer Robert Galbraith myself.’ I waited, and the corner of his mouth quirked right on cue. Then he snapped my passport together.

‘Now I ought to file a report, but you say it’s your first offence so …’ he said. I batted my eyelashes very slightly at him, waiting expectantly. And hopefully. He paused a moment, then handed me back my passport. ‘I’ll “magically” let it go. Don’t do it again.’

I breathed a sigh of relief. ‘Thank you,’ I said, and smiled at him. ‘I won’t.’

He beamed back at me. ‘Now, you may go on your way. Have a safe journey home and I hope your mother has a wonderful birthday. Are you celebrating somewhere special?’

So he was being conversational now? I tucked the passport into my bag and took one last lingering look at the package on the table, being investigated by that damned efficient black nose. I bet I knew exactly what he’d be doing with my mother’s ‘gift’ as soon as I walked out the door. ‘A party at her house – with jelly and ice cream … and no pork pies,’ I said.

He smiled. ‘Well jelly and pork pies never went well together,’ he replied. ‘Goodbye ma’am.’

‘Goodbye, Mister …’ I looked at the name badge on his jacket, ‘… Christoff.’ And with that he led Draco out the door to pick on the next poor victim of over-zealous sniffing, leaving me to repack my suitcase in front of his disinterested colleagues excavating someone else’s suitcase on the other side of the room. Then I made the walk of shame back out of the exit door.

***

‘What a lovely thought,’ my mum said the next night as she caught her breath. ‘When you said you were bringing a surprise I thought it would have been pork pies again, not a big cake like this! It’s far too much for just us. I’ll have to go cut it up to share it with the neighbours,’ she said, removing the candles she’d just blown out. I felt a pang of regret that her so called creative daughter hadn’t come up with the customary cunning gift.  She hadn’t said anything, but I knew she was disappointed. Oh well, maybe next year. Mum headed off to the kitchen with the cake just as the door bell rang and mum’s little spaniel started yapping loudly. ‘Get that would you? If it’s Albie next door, tell him he’s twenty minutes early,’ she called over her shoulder. ‘Hermione, shut up,’ she shouted at the dog, who paid no notice and as soon as I opened the door to the hall, the bundle of black fluff sped past me towards the dark figure just visible through the opaque glass in the front door.

‘Hang on!’ I called, picking Hermione up. Suddenly in a break in her yapping I heard an answering deep ‘woof’ outside the door and my heart skipped a beat. I released the catch on the door and the little dog practically jumped out of my arms trying to get to whoever was on the other side. I struggled to get the spaniel back under my arm. ‘Quiet Hermione!’ I hissed. Only then did I see the owner, and the yellow Labrador wagging its tail energetically on the doorstep.

‘Quiet, Draco,’ the dog’s owner said, and the Labrador shut up. Suddenly all the stress in my body was replaced with a different kind of tension. I opened my mouth but no sound came out so I shut it again. ‘Hi,’ he said, somewhat sheepishly. The authoritarian tone was nowhere to be seen. Instead, Mister Harry Christoff stood there in a leather jacket looking every inch the biker type. With the dog. Oh my god, had he discovered I’d lied about it being my first time? I could see the headlines now – ‘Serial Pork Pie Smuggler gets Deported to the UK.’ My mother would be mortified. Then I saw something familiar in his hand. ‘This is for your next of kin. Well, your mother.’ He presented the pork pies towards me, still cold – he’d even put them in a fridge or something. Then he produced a bunch of flowers from behind his back. ‘These are for the birthday girl,’ he added.

‘How?’ I asked. It seemed I was only capable of uttering one word replies – it was like he’d bewitched me or something.

‘Turns out a sniffer dog will sometimes rescue a package from the trash can at the end of a shift. Completely unbeknown to me,’ he said and the tell-tale eyebrow-flickering flashed across his tanned face, and his blue eyes glinting at me. ‘And I thought I’d help rescue a birthday party. Bit like a magic trick,’ he said. ‘See, turns out we do have a heart.’ Then hesitating, he added. ‘I hear this is the place to get jelly and ice cream?’

‘And pork pies, as it happens. Thank you.’ I said, a big beam spreading across my face. ‘Magic.’

Thank you to everyone who has helped share our birthday news and who has entered our competitions. You’ve all been incredible and we feel lucky to have such lovely readers and bloggers supporting us :D Remember, you can continue entering all the competitions on the blog until Friday 17th June for the chance to win some book goodies  :) 

   COMPETITION TIME!

If you enjoyed Debbie’s story and would like to read more of her writing, then you’ll love this competition. For a chance to win a copy of Take a Chance on Me and some goodies, simply tell us what you think of the story, either in the comments below or on the relevant Twitter/Facebook post. We’re looking forward to hearing your thoughts :)

You have until Friday 17th June to enter.

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Happy Birthday Choc Lit: Marcy’s Dilemma by Angela Britnell

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A sweet little story by Angela Britnell about ‘a party princess’ and somebody who has never had a proper birthday celebration. Aww! 

This shouldn’t be so hard for a woman known as The Party Princess. Marcy would come up with the perfect idea for Jacca’s thirty-seventh birthday if it killed her.

She arranged spectacular birthday celebrations for a living and her outlandish themes, unique locations, spectacular food and signature cocktails were legendary. But worrying about this particular party had kept her awake for the last week.

He told you not to make a fuss.

Marcy came from a large, noisy family and although they weren’t rolling in money her parents always created the most fantastic parties. One of Marcy’s most treasured possessions was her birthday scrapbook capturing the yearly memories – something her parents did for each of their six children culminating with their eighteenth birthday bash. She still couldn’t get her head around Jacca’s recent sad admission.

What do you mean you’ve never had a birthday?

I never said that. Everyone has a birthday – as in the day they were bornI simply mean I’ve never had a birthday party.

His indifferent shrug hadn’t fooled her because she knew him too well. She’d fallen in love with Jacca at fifteen when her oldest brother brought him home from university for the Christmas holidays. When her mother asked the usual questions about his family Jacca gave them a bare bones story about his dysfunctional mother, absent father and the years he’d spent drifting through the foster care system. Afterwards he never spoke of it again. The tall, soft-spoken young man with the stormy grey eyes and tousled black hair turned her inside out then and still did today.

They’d been friends for nearly two decades when she had one too many margaritas after her own birthday party in February and admitted she loved him.

I love you too, Marcy, but I don’t know how to “do” a loving, lasting relationship. I’d break your heart.

Too late. You did that a long time ago. It’s been in two pieces all these years and I need you to put it back together. Give us a chance.

Last Wednesday they’d been lying in his bed, wrapped around each other under the warm fluffy covers in that wonderful half-drowsy state when something suddenly occurred to Marcy.

When is your birthday anyway? You’ve never told me.

The fifteenth.

The fifteenth of June! As in next week?

It’s one day out of three hundred and sixty-five. So what?

That’s when he’d dropped the no-birthday-party bombshell.

I’m going to make up for the thirty-six birthdays you’ve missed.

Don’t make a fuss, Marcy, please. It’s not a big deal.

She’d distracted him with a kiss and he’d foolishly assumed the discussion was over.

 ***

Marcy’s heart raced as she spotted Jacca heading her way across the restaurant.

‘Surprised?’

‘Pleasantly.’ His wry comment made Marcy’s cheeks burn. ‘No horde of people jumping out of the woodwork to wish me Happy Birthday or busty blonde stripper popping out of an enormous cake? You’re slipping.’

‘Cheesy isn’t my style,’ she scoffed.

He smiled and leaned in to kiss her before sitting down. ‘I know. Actually I’m relieved. I thought you’d ignore my warning.’

‘Who me?’ She picked up the menu. ‘I don’t know about you but I’m starving.’ Jacca’s suspicious glance increased her nervousness.

Somehow she got through the meal and then caught the waiter’s eye. He immediately brought over Jacca’s favourite chocolate cake and set it on the table.

‘Nice.’

‘Not too over the top?’

He cocked his head to one side. ‘No.’ Jacca’s dark eyes bored into her. ‘But you do “over the top” for a living.’

Marcy pulled out a black leather photo album from the bag stashed under her chair and laid it down. Next she retrieved a small gift-wrapped box and placed it in front of him. ‘In a minute we’ll have our picture taken to go in here.’ Marcy touched the album. ‘Hopefully the first of many—’ she caught her breath ‘but if you say no—’

‘Say no to what, Marcy?’

‘I know you haven’t celebrated your last thirty-six birthdays but I’m making sure you’ll never forget this one. Open the box.’

Jacca slowly removed the paper.

‘Don’t be afraid,’ she urged.

He tossed the lid to one side and discarded the crumpled tissue paper. Jacca read her handwritten note and a smile slid across his face.

‘You aren’t going to turn all macho and say you should be the one asking?’

Jacca shook his head. ‘Yes, I’ll marry you.’ He reached for her hand. ‘Will you marry me?’

‘Of course I will.’ She flung her arms around his neck and a camera flashed.

‘Surprise!’ A swarm of people poured out from behind the bar and all of Marcy’s family plus a large group of their friends surrounded the table. Indoor fireworks shot off around the room,  streamers cascaded down from the ceiling, a Mexican mariachi band launched into a raucous version of the traditional birthday song and a mass of golden balloons floated around them.

‘My mum vetoed the stripper,’ she whispered.

‘Thank goodness. How are you going to top this next year?’

Marcy smirked. ‘With a wedding. That’ll guarantee you never forget our anniversary. Happy Birthday!’

Jacca tightened his arms around her waist. ‘For some reason I’ve just become a big fan.’

Oh we love it! Brilliant happy ending by Angela. Guaranteed to put a smile on your face :)

   COMPETITION TIME!

If you enjoyed Angela’s story and would like to read more of her writing, then you’ll love this competition. For a chance to win a copy of Sugar and Spice and some goodies, simply tell us what you think of the story, either in the comments below or on the relevant Twitter/Facebook post. We’re looking forward to hearing your thoughts :)

You have until Friday 17th June to enter.

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Happy Birthday Choc Lit: The Birthday Cake Mix-up by Morton S. Gray

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Another newbie author has written a birthday short story for us. Welcome Morton S. Gray with a sweet little tale about a birthday cake mix-up and a chance encounter …

There’s a competition at the end too! 

‘That’s my birthday cake!’

The blond-haired man stopped mid-bite and a dab of cream lodged on his lip. ‘Excuse me?’

‘That is MY birthday cake.’

Emily couldn’t believe that this stranger was tucking into the Victoria sponge that she’d made with a slightly heavy heart the day before. It wasn’t the same having to make your own birthday cake.

She tried not to get distracted by the fact the culprit looked cute with his longish hair, serious grey eyes and the cream on the edge of his full lips.

Of course, she’d heard the rousing sound of happy birthday from the far corner of the restaurant and the lights had flashed to signify a celebration, but Emily had never dreamed that they had served up her cake.

She had only realised when a rather masculine Star Wars cake had been presented to their table, when it was her turn for the lights and singing routine, a little while later. Not that the singing of the familiar birthday song was very loud, there was only her elderly mother, and the staff to sing.

By the time she’d realised the mistake, her Victoria sponge had been served up to the guests at the other table, the guests who now all sat goggle-eyed and open-mouthed to see what would happen next after her confrontation.

The unfortunate man put another mouthful of cake into his mouth, realised what he had done, then chewed quickly and swallowed. ‘I’m terribly sorry. I didn’t order the cake, so I’d no idea it wasn’t mine.’

Emily realised she was making a scene and that nothing could now be done to rectify the mix-up. She’d been looking forward to the fresh cream cake and the shop-bought, grey thick-icing affair she’d ended up with was not what she’d had in mind for a birthday that had already turned into a rather low key, almost sad event.

‘Don’t I know you from somewhere?’

His voice tugged somehow at her memory banks. Emily looked more closely at him. She’d felt an instant attraction despite her outrage, but only now did it occur to her why. Martin…Martin Freeland. He’d aged well. She hadn’t seen him since the Tuesday before that fateful day when all of her dreams had been squashed.

‘Martin?’ She was annoyed to feel herself blushing and alarmed that, after so many years, tears weren’t far beneath the surface, evoked by the memory of that day.

A look of anguish passed across his features. ‘Em? Is it really you?’

Her anger over the cake was superseded by old wounds surfacing. ‘You didn’t come for me.’

‘I did, please believe me, I did, but you weren’t there. I stood and waited for hours.’

‘So, did I. I’d cried an ocean of tears, by the time I gave up and went back to my parents’ house. We left for Australia the next day.’

‘I waited until midnight. Lake Road by the post box.’ He pulled a hand through his hair.

Emily groaned. ‘Lake Street by the post box. It’s the other side of Sowden.’

‘No! Oh, Emily, so sad to think that these days we’d have just spoken on our mobile phones and sorted out the mix-up. How did we manage without mobiles?’

They stood, oblivious to anyone else in the restaurant, their eyes exchanging years of regret. They’d always been called the twins at infant school, because their birthdays were on the same day and they’d been inseparable like real twins. Friendship had morphed into romance as puberty hit and when Emily’s parents planned to emigrate to Australia when she was sixteen, Martin and Emily had agreed to elope the day before she travelled. He hadn’t turned up at the rendezvous hastily agreed in whispers at the family’s farewell party and now the reason, which had haunted her ever since, was clear.

Martin broke the silence first. ‘Please say you’ve been happy. It’s always worried me that you might be alone, even if you didn’t want me.’

‘That’s not true, of course I wanted you. I thought that you’d changed your mind about me.’

‘No way!’

‘I married after university, but it didn’t work out. Mum and I came back to England recently after my dad died.’

‘I’m divorced too. I’ve never forgotten you, Em.’

He smiled that heart-stopping smile she remembered so well.

Emily felt a surge of hope and reached out to wipe the dab of cream off his lip.

Aww, let’s hope Emily and Martin make up for lost time :) Lovely!

COMPETITION TIME!

As Morton is a new author, we don’t yet have a book to offer for this competition (although Morton’s debut novel with us will be out soon – keep an eye out!) However, Morton has kindly sent us some goodies for a lucky winner and we’ll throw in another Choc Lit book too :)As before, just let us know what you think of this story, either in the comments section below or on Twitter/Facebook.

Competition closes Friday 17th June 2016.

Happy Birthday Choc Lit: Never Lose to a Banana by Christine Stovell

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Well, we bet you’re all as intrigued as us to know what this one is about ;) Christine Stovell’s birthday story up now: Never Lose to a Banana.

Make sure you read right all the way until the end for a competition! 

As she left Mrs Brown for dust, Milly almost punched the air – except that would have been a frivolous waste of energy when she needed every breath in her lungs just to finish the race.  Eyebrows had certainly been raised when she’d volunteered for Spleenham Borough Council’s running team, hoping to help raise a big sum for the Mayor’s charity in the Spleenham Half Marathon.  The perfectly plucked eyebrows belonging to Emma Parfitt, the council’s press officer, had probably risen highest.

‘You? But Milly, I’ve never seen you rush for anything,’ Emma remarked with a catty smile.  ‘Unless it’s a free drink at a leaving party.’

Milly thought of several cutting replies then swallowed them.  The truth was that for too long life had been one humongous party; dancing and drinking from festival to festival.  Recently, she’d looked up to find that while she was recovering from her latest hangover, all her friends were coupled up, getting married or becoming parents.

‘Emma, the half marathon course is suitable for everyone, novices included.’

They’d turned to see the delicious Dr Gareth Davies, Head of Leisure Development – six foot three of pure hunk – towering over them.  ‘Don’t worry Milly, I’m putting on training classes for the team after work.  I’ll get you through the race, I promise.’

‘Ooh, count me in too,’ Emma purred.  ‘I’ll play chase with you any day, Gareth.’

Team training with Dr Delicious certainly had its attractions, thought Milly, ignoring Emma, but it was the date of the half marathon that had clinched it.  Her birthday.  The Big Three Zero.  Time to quit, not hit, the bottle.  It had been a beautiful relationship, but now they were through.

Five miles into the race and she was feeling euphoric.  She glanced at her new sports watch; sheesh, that time was un-be-liev-able!  Okay, Dr Delicious had specifically warned them not to set out too quickly, but surely the faster she went, the better?  Secretly, she was as keen to impress the lovely Gareth as Emma, who was certainly somewhere in front of her.  Without Gareth’s gentle encouragement, Milly wouldn’t have been half so determined to follow her training schedule.

‘You’ve made the biggest improvement of anyone,’ he’d told her with a huge smile at the end of the final training session.

‘Yes, well, it’s a great charity isn’t it?’ she’d shrugged, not mentioning that cancer had cheated her of her mum.  She hoped, in a small way, to help spare someone else that pain.  Amateur psychologists might have suggested that’s when the partying had started, her escape route from grief, but taking up running had made her feel truly alive again.

Milly concentrated on her footing as the course narrowed through a public park.  Two lads in front of her were engaged in a private battle, elbows out, each determined not let the other past.  Milly took a deep breath, dug deep and picked them both off.  Yes!  But now she was gasping, her mouth parched and her legs, well, they seemed to belong to someone else.  Desperately, she groped for a Jelly Baby which promptly trebled in size in her mouth, leaching it of every drop of moisture.  At the next water station, she chugged half the bottle down and poured the rest over her head. Then, when she couldn’t feel any worse, she spotted Emma, bouncing along just ahead of her, her glossy pony-tail swishing from side to side.

‘Nice try,’  Milly dimly heard the other woman say above her pounding heart when she finally caught up, ‘but you’ll never get past me.’  Emma surged forward and Milly’s legs just refused to respond.  Then suddenly Emma was sprawled across the path, blood pouring from her knee.  Milly searched her soul, stopped and knelt down beside the injured woman.

‘What are you doing?’ Emma yelled at her.  ‘Don’t spoil your chances for me; you’re a fab runner and you’re doing great.  Get going!’

‘It’s all right, Milly, I’ll take over.’

It was one of the council’s refuse collectors, Jake someone, who, Milly couldn’t help but notice, was pretty ripped from lifting all those bins.

‘Go!’ they both shouted.

Was it too late?  Milly considered giving up, but her mum hadn’t given up, had she?  She’d battled with her illness until the very end.  Milly took a deep breath and picked up her pace, overtaking Mrs Brown for the second time and taking out the Pope for good measure.

‘Just two miles left to go,’ a friendly race marshall told her, ‘you’re nearly there!’

Milly could have torn his head off.  Two miles was like for-bloody-ever.  And to cap it all there was a runner in banana costume coming up fast behind her.  What had Dr Delicious said?  Never, ever lose to a banana.  Milly’s lungs were bursting, but the banana was right on her shoulder, letting her set the pace, shadowing her step for step.  Milly didn’t know if she had anything left in the tank, but she would not let that damn banana past.  With a supreme effort she threw herself at the finish line beating the banana by what must have been a split second.

‘Oh you little beauty,’ said the banana, in a muffled but familiar voice.

‘Gareth?’

He took off his hat and grinned at her.  ‘Just look at that time!  And running on your birthday too – you’re an absolute star!  A little bird told me,’ he explained, taking a medal from one of the volunteers, dropping it over Milly’s head and kissing her.  ‘Happy birthday!’

Milly could barely see him for tears.  Birthdays hadn’t been the same since she’d lost her mum, but today she’d won more than a medal, she’d got her sparkle back and rejoined the human race. The happy was back in birthday.

Anyone else want to meet a banana now? Fab story from Christine :D

COMPETITION TIME!

If you enjoyed Christine’s story and would like to read more of her writing, then you’ll love this competition. For a chance to win a copy of Follow a Star and some goodies, simply tell us what you think of the story, either in the comments below or on the relevant Twitter/Facebook post. We’re looking forward to hearing your thoughts :)

You have until Friday 17th June to enter.

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Happy Birthday Choc Lit: The Gift by Victoria Cornwall

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In the midst of celebration, a sad but beautifully written little story by one of our new authors, Victoria Cornwall. This is guaranteed to bring a tear to your eye. Just gorgeous!

Read right until the end to find out how to enter one of our many birthday competitions :)

The familiar notes stir my soul and bring me to my senses whilst a hunter’s moon casts a silvery light on the Georgian building in front of me. It is imposing, but despite the late hour I feel no fear. As a new bride I fell in love with Bosvathick House the first time I saw it. I have walked its polished floors and looked out its lead framed windows many times. It was me who planted the flowering Wisteria which now adorns its outer walls. I have laughed and loved in those rooms until, one day, without warning, I left, abandoning my child and the only man I ever loved. Tonight, by way of a simple tune wafting through an open window, the old house is calling me home. A movement catches my eye and I see his silhouette in the window. The house is not the only one waiting for my return.

To my relief, the hall remains unchanged. I feel ashamed for feeling this way as it may mean that my husband remains locked in the despair in which I left him. I climb the staircase lined with his ancestors. They look down on me from their gilt frames as I slowly follow the musical notes of The Blue Danube to the first floor. The sight of my portrait gives me the courage to continue on.

The carpet is newer here and the rooms have subtly changed. A female has cast her magic touch across the décor. I feel out of date, impotent and no longer missed. The door to his study is ajar and for the first time I feel afraid. I have not seen him for twenty-five years. Once I knew him better than I knew myself, yet now he is a stranger to me. I falter.

‘I knew you would come.’ His voice sounds just the same and emotion clogs my throat. I remain hidden behind the door, unable to move. ‘I know you are here, Rowena. Come in and let me see you.’ I have no choice but to enter. Even now, after all these years, I am drawn to this man.

He looks as handsome as the day I left. Nervously I touch my hair, wondering how I must look to him. He sees my concern.

‘You look as beautiful as I remember,’ he says. I see softness in his eyes and I cannot help but return his smile. The tuneful notes slow as the music box finally runs down.

I reach out to touch the treasure on his desk, ‘You still have the music box.’ I had always loved his twenty-fourth birthday gift to me. The tune was our first dance. Its haunting melody always touched something deep inside me. My husband often said it had the power to wake me from the deepest of sleep.

‘Happy birthday.’

I look up surprised. I had forgotten it was my birthday today.

‘I wish you had not left us,’ he adds. The sadness in his voice is almost the undoing of me.

I look into his eyes which hold a thousand stories, none of which I was present to share. What seems like only yesterday to me, I realise, has been an eternity for him.

A silence descends between us and I know he waits for the inevitable. I try to resist twisting the knife, but cannot help it. ‘How is she?’ I blurt out. My husband closes the music box as he considers his reply. It cannot be easy to find the right words to discuss the woman who caused our parting.

‘Her name is Elizabeth.’

The sound of her name is painful to hear. I move to the window and look out onto the tranquil gardens below.

‘What is she like?’ I ask quietly.

My husband sighs, ‘She is witty, beautiful and a joy in my life.’

I wince at his words. The pain has increased a hundred times.

I turn to look at him, ‘Does she know about me?’

‘Yes, I have told her all about you.’

‘Does she hate me?’

Richard shakes his head slowly, ‘She has no reason to hate you.’

I take a deep, shaky breath, ‘Is she happy?’

He nods.

‘Does she understand that it was not her fault I left?’

He nods again, as if he has reassured me this a thousand times before in his dreams. Strangely, his quiet frustration calms my frayed nerves. I needed to know that my daughter is happy and it seems that she is.

My mind wanders back to the day I left. A time I want to remember and forget in equal measures. Twenty-five years ago I held my beautiful new-born daughter for the first time. For a few precious moments I looked into her dark blue eyes and felt her soft skin against my own. I kissed her damp head and promised to love her forever — but then my dreams came crashing down around me. Unbeknown to me, my life’s blood had begun to seep onto the white cotton sheets beneath. Soon the bed linen could no longer mask my demise. In the midst of chaos and confusion, my daughter was taken from my arms. I fought to stay, but quickly grew weak. I had given my husband the gift of a daughter and my daughter, Elizabeth, the gift of life, yet within the hour I had left them both.

The garden blurs before my eyes, ‘Why did you play the music box, Richard?’

‘Because I am ready,’ he says matter-of-factly. ‘Our daughter is now married and has a husband to love and protect her. She no longer needs me.’

I have conflicting emotions, both pleased and disappointed at the same time.

‘Then it is time,’ I say, offering him my hand. I see no fear in my husband’s eyes as he takes it in his. He has waited for this moment for as long as I have. We smile and finally feel complete.

What did we tell you? Better go and wring out our hankies before the next story :’) Lots of good things to come from Victoria Cornwall! 

 

COMPETITION TIME!

As Victoria is a new author, we don’t yet have a book to offer for this competition (although Victoria’s debut novel with us will be out soon – keep an eye out!) However, Victoria has kindly sent us some goodies for a lucky winner and we’ll throw in another Choc Lit book too :)As before, just let us know what you think of this story, either in the comments section below or on Twitter/Facebook.

Competition closes Friday 17th June 2016.

Happy Birthday Choc Lit: The Wish by Berni Stevens

 

13443248_747846918690419_1680927807101622952_oA little bit of a twist on a birthday story by Berni Stevens here – and a rather famous hero ;) Read on to find out who it is and to enter another birthday competition! 

A blank screen never helps. I peered at the document on the screen, hoping inspiration would hit me. Nothing did. I needed to come up with three thousand words by Monday. The clock was ticking. I had a title, Obsessive Love in Gothic Literature. I love Gothic literature, so I’m well aware what year it is. June 2016. The bi-centennial of the birth of Frankenstein, and Polidori’s The Vampyre. So … Happy Birthday to them, but why couldn’t I think of anything to write?

‘Where’s Byron when I need him?’ I muttered.

I decided to Google Lord George Gordon Byron, look at some portraits of the great man, and hope inspiration would hit me. Even in portraits he looks charismatic, dominating the canvases on which he’d been painted. He was once described as ‘Mad, bad and dangerous to know’ and he looked it. I sighed. How I wished I could talk to him about his various affairs, his passions and his poetry.

I brought up a list of Byron’s poems, the list went on for ages, and I clicked  on To Romance.

‘Parent of golden dreams, Romance: Auspicious queen of childish joys…’ Well I didn’t think I could top that, so I started off the essay with the Byron quote. Only two thousand, nine hundred and ninety words to go then.

My text alert buzzed near my ear and I sat up, startled. I must have dropped off. That’s not a good sign when even Byron can’t keep me awake. I checked the text. Only a sales message. Not surprising, everyone I knew would be working on their essays tonight. I looked at the offending screen – it had gone into sleep mode, so I tapped the mouse. Obligingly the title came into view, complete with the Byron quote underneath. Perhaps I should forget him altogether and concentrate on Mary Shelley or  even Heathcliff. A different approach might help my writer’s block.

I suddenly became aware of the gentle fragrance of roses. Odd. I rarely bought flowers for my room in Halls, and even if I did, it was unlikely to be roses. A slight movement in the corner shadows of the room had me jumping to my feet, my heart thumping.

‘Who’s there?’ Yes, I know, very sensible to call out to a burglar.

A tall figure detached itself from the shadows and came into the pale light of my desk lamp.

‘What…? Who …? How …?’

‘Very good questions all.’ A deep masculine voice answered, with more than a hint of sardonic humour.

I stared at the man. Something about him seemed familiar. But that way lay madness and possible incarceration in padded cells. Probably for a very long time.

‘Where did you come from?’

‘You called me,’ he answered.

He gestured at the chair opposite and made it a request. I nodded. It couldn’t hurt, clearly I was dreaming and dreams didn’t hurt. He sat down and I studied the handsome face in front of me. He was even better looking than the portraits conveyed. An angular, aristocratic face, framed by a mop of black hair, and dark hypnotic eyes fringed by thick eyelashes. His lips were full and sensual – a poet’s mouth – and for the first time in my life I understood that expression. It had probably been written just for him.

‘Lord Byron.’ I made it a statement.

He inclined his head, his lips favouring me with a slight smile. He reached into the inside pocket of his jacket and drew out a slim silver cigar case. Holding it up he asked if I minded. Under normal circumstances I would have minded a lot and asked him to go outside to smoke. But this was a dream, and dreams don’t smell. Except I could still smell roses. I noticed he had an ivory coloured rosebud in his lapel, and I imagined the scent came from that.

Having been given permission to smoke, he lit a small cigar, and the fragrant smoke immediately wafted up to the ceiling.

‘How can I help you?’ Intelligent dark eyes stared into mine. It was obvious now how he had managed so many affairs. Charisma emanated from him in waves.

I explained about the essay. It seemed to amuse him. Then he just talked about his life and the women – and men– with whom he’d had romantic dalliances. Plenty of information for my essay. The basic information I knew of course, but now the man himself was telling me his innermost feelings. Dream or not, I knew what I would be writing. The difficulty now would be keeping it to 3,000 words.

When he stopped for a moment, I plucked up the courage to ask a question I knew every scholar of Gothic literature would want me to ask.

Outside, the unseasonal winds threw heavy rain at the window. How fitting.

‘Did Polidori really write The Vampyre, or is it your work?’

The handsome face broke into a proper smile, transforming his face into a more boyish one.

‘Ah, John … physician extraordinaire and aspiring writer. What do you think?’

‘I think it’s your work. At least I think it was your idea.’

The half smile was back.

I really hate stories where everything was just a dream, so when I woke to an empty room several hours later, I felt more than a little annoyed. Except once I started typing, I found the words flowed with ease. The ideas had to come from somewhere.

Also by the keyboard was an ivory coloured rosebud, scented and perfect, whilst the faint aroma of cigar smoke still hung in the air.

Berni writes such good dark, brooding heroes – and Lord Byron is the epitome of that (although not a vampire!) Fabulous story :)  

COMPETITION TIME!

If you enjoyed Berni’s story and would like to read more of her writing, then you’ll love this competition. For a chance to win a copy of Dance until Dawn and some goodies, simply tell us what you think of the story, either in the comments below or on the relevant Twitter/Facebook post. We’re looking forward to hearing your thoughts :)

You have until Friday 17th June to enter.

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Happy Birthday Choc Lit: 200 Years of Secrets by Clare Chase

Ck-ReVUWUAA-yZx You can always rely on Clare Chase for a little bit of mystery! Our fourth birthday story of the day and another competition at the end too :)  

Open viewing – 15th June – 10am – 6pm. Come and help us celebrate Houghton House’s 200th birthday.
Wander through its spacious rooms, drink in the atmosphere of its glorious gardens – and enjoy a free glass of bubbly and some birthday cake. Our staff will be on hand to answer any questions you have.

I put down the local paper with its advertisement. Bill Morris, the estate agent, had assured me this was a great approach. ‘Of course, we’ll get plenty of freeloaders,’ he’d said, ‘but the hordes will increase the sense of urgency for genuine buyers. And they’ll love that it’s the house’s bicentenary.’

It all sounded horribly calculated, but as the executor of my grandmother’s will, I knew I needed to get the highest price I could, to divide fairly amongst her beneficiaries. I sighed. I didn’t want to let the house go at all, but it was way beyond my means.

At 11am on the 15th I was standing in my grandmother’s sunny garden, underneath a cedar tree, wearing a smart dress and a fixed smile. The air was full of the scent of roses and the sound of swifts overhead. Beyond the garden hedge, over the fields, I could see the medieval church at Little Halstead.

I tried to distract myself by guessing which visitors were genuine buyers. There was one guy in particular who got my attention. He had tousled dark hair and brown eyes, which caught mine for a moment as he passed by. There was something appealing about his rumpled white shirt, undone at the neck, combined with well-cut trousers. By the time I’d had a glass of bubbly myself, I’d made up my mind he should buy the place, after which we’d embark on a passionate love affair.

As the day wore on, I realised that he was still present. Maybe he really would put in an offer. He was upstairs when I spotted him. For just a second he went into what had been Auntie Mary’s room, but came out onto the landing again quickly. I managed to duck out of sight. After that, I got curious, and made it my mission to follow him. It reminded me of the games of spies my sister and I used to play, running in and out of those very rooms.

An hour later, I was sure of one thing. Mr rumpled white shirt was up to something. He’d been into Auntie Mary’s room several times, usually reappearing quite quickly. At last, he stayed put, and I decided to find out what was up.

But as I pushed the door open, I came face to face with him. Whatever he’d been doing, he’d finished. For an awkward moment, we stood opposite each other, and I noticed something incongruous. The folder of information on the house, which he’d been carrying earlier, looked thicker. What’s more, I could see there was a wodge of paper shoved into it that didn’t look like marketing material.

I let him past, but then followed him down the stairs. Presumably he’d only hung around so he could access my aunt’s old room alone.  If I was right, he’d found something there, and now he’d be on his way.

As I watched him leave via the side gate, I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t exactly call the police. Instead, I carried on following him. It wasn’t long before he turned around, and this time, there was nowhere to hide.

At the sight of me, he gave a rueful smile. ‘I had a feeling you were onto me.’ He held out a hand. ‘Jack Wentworth.’

I shook it. ‘Ellie Mayhew.’

‘You’re family then?’

I nodded. ‘My grandmother was the owner.’

After a moment’s hesitation, he reached inside the estate agent’s folder and passed me the sheaf of papers I’d spotted. Letters – all written in the same hand.

By the time I’d read the first couple I’d got the picture. Notes from a man who was clearly married to a third party, to someone called Emily. ‘And this woman, Emily…?’

‘Is my great aunt. She lived in the house with her parents, before your grandmother moved in. She’d hidden the letters under a floorboard in her old room. I understand she would have removed them before they sold up, but she’d moved to the US by then, so she didn’t get the chance.’ He sighed. ‘She spotted the place was up for sale again and saw an opportunity to get them back. I wanted her to contact you direct, rather than sending me in. But because the lover’s still alive, local and married to the same woman, she wouldn’t agree. I’m sorry.’

He took the folder back from me, and suddenly I felt tears in my eyes.

‘What is it?’

‘I’d have done the same, if my grandmother had asked me. Sorry – just battling my emotions; it’s been a long day.’ But of course it was my granny I was missing. Houghton House just seemed like my last link with her.

He put a hand on my arm and I shivered, in spite of the warmth of the day. ‘It can’t be easy. Would a drink help, do you think? My place is just up the road.’

‘That sounds good. But hang on a sec.’ I nipped back and grabbed some of the leftover birthday cake, wrapping it in a napkin before Bill Morris spotted me.

And so it was that I celebrated Houghton House’s 200th birthday in a tiny cottage nearby, with its own roses in the garden. It was right next to the medieval church in Little Halstead.

‘Would it make you sad to come and visit again?’ Jack said, pouring me some wine. He met my eye. ‘Only I’d like you to.’

And I suddenly realised there was every chance I could get just as sentimentally attached to his cottage as I was to Houghton House. And not just the cottage …

‘No,’ I said at last. ‘I’d like that.’

We were a little bit suspicious of Jack for a moment there, but glad we could change our minds, as he sounds gorgeous! Great job, Clare :)  

COMPETITION TIME!

If you enjoyed Clare’s story and would like to read more of her writing, then you’ll love this competition. For a chance to win a copy of You Think You Know Me and some goodies, simply tell us what you think of the story, either in the comments below or on the relevant Twitter/Facebook post. We’re looking forward to hearing your thoughts :)

You have until Friday 17th June to enter.

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