Christina and Man’s Best Friend

Sykes the Thespian Dog

Sykes the Thespian Dog

I think most of you know by now that I love dogs and have three of the little rascals who more or less rule my life.  (Yes, I know I’m supposed to be the “alpha dog” of the pack, but somehow I got ousted … no idea how that happened!)  Maybe that’s why they keep ending up in my novels?  Not exactly like mine, but just dogs in general.  They’re not always the centre of attention or have huge roles to play, but they are there in the background, doing what dogs excel at – being man’s best friend.

I was reminded of their appeal and why I love them so much when I happened to see the cover of this week’s Country Life magazine. Normally they have castles, gundogs or other such things on the front and portraits of debutantes inside, but this week they’re featuring Sykes the thespian dog. In case you don’t know who he is, he’s an extremely clever and talented little actor, who has appeared in countless films (including some with Johnny Depp apparently!). He also starred in an award-winning advert where he played Harvey, a rescue dog with unbelievable skills looking for a home! (See for yourself on Youtube here if you missed it). Currently he’s stealing the show in the new series of Midsomer Murders – I thought maybe it was just me, but apparently most other people think so too. Personally, whenever he’s on set, I forget all about the Inspector and the grisly murder victims. I’m much more interested in seeing what Sykes is going to get up to. And he never disappoints. He has a very expressive face!sykes2

So am I going mad? Turning into a crazy old dog lady? I don’t think so (at least not yet :) ). There is something particularly appealing about a dog (or any pet I suppose) who is intelligent enough to help their human owners. Especially if they save the day, sound the alarm when danger approaches or just leans on their human friend to give them sympathy when it’s needed. I explored this in Highland Storms, where the heroine’s dog Liath does his best to get in on the action and I have to admit I loved writing the scenes featuring him. I only wish my own dogs were as obedient or had half his brain cells, but that’s another story …

Any other animal lovers out there? Please tell me it’s not just me!

Choc Lit Christmas Special – Day 10

Christmas is often the ideal time to take photos, some of which we treasure as they remind us of loved ones and all the good times. Today we thought we’d share some of our favourite photos (both old and new) with you, and we hope you enjoy our “Christmas Album”!

Do you have any special photos you’d like to share with us? Please e-mail a jpeg to Christina at christinacourtenay@googlemail.com and she’ll post a selection here. Don’t forget to add a caption! The photo we like best will win you a copy of Kate Johnson’s brilliant novel The Untied Kingdom – set in an England where Christmas was very different indeed! (Competition ends midnight on New Year’s Eve)

Kate - Here's my Christmas photo, (as I can't find one of myself, although I know there is one of me and my brother standing to attention besides a badly decorated tinsel tree, but I seem to have lost it ...). It's Sugar, one of my birthday kittens, helping me with the gift wrapping!

Kate - Here's my Christmas photo, (as I can't find one of myself, although I know there is one of me and my brother standing to attention besides a badly decorated tinsel tree, but I seem to have lost it ...). It's Sugar, one of my birthday kittens, helping me with the gift wrapping!

Henriette – I always smile when I look at this picture of my sister and myself (it’s me on the left) baking pebernødder, small Danish cookies the size of round licorice allsorts.  The word translates as “pepper nuts”, but today people use cardamom.  Traditionally they’re placed inside cone-shaped Christmas tree decorations, with strict instructions to any children present not to “eat the tree” until we’ve finished singing and dancing around it.

Henriette – I always smile when I look at this picture of my sister and myself (it’s me on the left) baking pebernødder, small Danish cookies the size of round licorice allsorts. The word translates as “pepper nuts”, but today people use cardamom. Traditionally they’re placed inside cone-shaped Christmas tree decorations, with strict instructions to any children present not to “eat the tree” until we’ve finished singing and dancing around it.

Sue - And here’s one with my dad.  I know it was Christmas because I’m wearing two of my presents.

Sue - And here’s one with my dad. I know it was Christmas because I’m wearing two of my presents.

Sue – I know there is a picture of me on the spacehopper, but can’t find it.  So here’s one of me with another hot favourite present – a book.

Sue – I know there is a picture of me on the spacehopper, but can’t find it. So here’s one of me with another hot favourite present – a book.

Linda - They say you know you're getting older when policemen start to look younger ... well, what about when Father Christmas looks like he's still in nappies - as in this picture!  (My grandson - not sure if he's enjoying the experience of his first Christmas Day or not! Say aaaaahhhhh. )

Linda - They say you know you're getting older when policemen start to look younger ... well, what about when Father Christmas looks like he's still in nappies - as in this picture! (My grandson - not sure if he's enjoying the experience of his first Christmas Day or not! Say aaaaahhhhh. )

Chris - Christmas wouldn’t be complete without a brisk walk.  Living on the west Wales coast we’re spoilt for a choice of beautiful locations.  Here’s us on Christmas Day walking at Poppit Sands, Pembs.

Chris - Christmas wouldn’t be complete without a brisk walk. Living on the west Wales coast we’re spoilt for a choice of beautiful locations. Here’s us on Christmas Day walking at Poppit Sands, Pembs.

Linda - And here at Preston in Paignton we have a community tree. Said tree donated by Marldon Christmas Tree Farm and all the decorations made by the little ones at Preston Primary. It always makes me smile because we have a fir and a palm side by side!

Linda - And here at Preston in Paignton we have a community tree. Said tree donated by Marldon Christmas Tree Farm and all the decorations made by the little ones at Preston Primary. It always makes me smile because we have a fir and a palm side by side!

Christina – Here are a couple of photos of me, aged three, as St Lucia – all Swedish girls dress up for this on 13th December each year and although I’m sure I loved the attention at first, I seem to have tired of my crown fairly quickly!

Christina – Here are a couple of photos of me, aged three, as St Lucia – all Swedish girls dress up for this on 13th December each year and although I’m sure I loved the attention at first, I seem to have tired of my crown fairly quickly!

lucia2small1

Liz – Here is a photo of a group of super people - the Oxford Chapter of the RNA, who meet monthly.  It was taken just before Christmas last year and sent to the Cotswold Life magazine.  They'd asked us to remove any trace of Christmas as it was to be featured after Christmas - but the smiles on all faces show, I believe, that the Christmas spirit was very present amongst us!

Liz – Here is a photo of a group of super people - the Oxford Chapter of the RNA, who meet monthly. It was taken just before Christmas last year and sent to the Cotswold Life magazine. They'd asked us to remove any trace of Christmas as it was to be featured after Christmas - but the smiles on all faces show, I believe, that the Christmas spirit was very present amongst us!

Jane - Last Christmas – me and my giant icicle.  Best present since the headcollar!

Jane - Last Christmas – me and my giant icicle. Best present since the headcollar!

Margaret – My daughters and my grandson go for the Traditional Healthy Walk on Christmas Day 2008.

Margaret – My daughters and my grandson go for the Traditional Healthy Walk on Christmas Day 2008.

In 2010, however, Devon looked more like the North Pole – deep and crisp and even, and jolly chilly!

In 2010, however, Devon looked more like the North Pole – deep and crisp and even, and jolly chilly!

More gorgeousness…

Yesterday, a big box arrived for me, delivered by a rather young and attractive White Van Man who asked me where I wanted it and offered to put it anywhere I liked. So of course I invited him in.

Yes, it contained forty copies of The Golden Chain, and I must admit this cover is every bit as beautiful as the one for The Silver Locket. They make a lovely couple, do Rose and Daisy! I’ve spent quite a lot of time gazing at them in delight.

Print

Margaret James is moved by quiet heroism

I’m probably the last person on the planet to see The King’s Speech, but I finally got round to it this week, and – like everyone else – I loved it.

This is a story in which nobody gets shot and nobody has to make any life or death decisions, but the ending was edge-of-the-seat stuff all the same. The live BBC broadcast to the nation on the outbreak of WW2 – would it be a triumph, or would it be a disaster?

The new king, George VI, otherwise known as Bertie, never wanted the throne. A quiet, shy, devoted family man with a terrible stammer, he was happy to stay out of the limelight and would have probably spent his whole life in obscurity, had not his brother decided to abdicate, leaving Bertie to take over the family firm.

Bertie had a terrible stammer, which was a huge handicap for a king emperor whose country was being inexorably dragged into another world war, and needed an inspirational leader. So he had to tackle his stammer, face down his fears and get on with doing those live BBC broadcasts, making speeches to the nation, seeing his people and being seen. He was determined to do it, and did so with the help of an equally determined and motivated speech therapist, who gave the king the confidence he so badly needed.

Let’s have Oscars for both Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, who showed us all how to feel the fear, but to get out there and do it anyway.

kings_speech_ver3

Margaret James looks ahead

This year, there are lots of great Choc Lit titles coming up – Jane Lovering’s contemporary Please Don’t Stop the Music, Kate Johnson’s paranormal The Untied Kingdom, Christina Courtenay’s historical The Scarlet Kimono, and Sue Moorcroft’s contemporary Love and Freedom for starters. We Choc Lit novelists are a versatile bunch!

As well as writing novels, I am a journalist working on Writing Magazine, so I see the new catalogues in plenty of time, and I get sent lots of proof copies, too. I enjoy doing a bit of trend spotting. So what is going to hit the bookshelves this year?

More vampire fiction, certainly, and more supernatural fiction, too – in fact, it’s taking over the literary scene. Deborah Harkness debuts with A Discovery of Witches, which features, witches (naturally), vampires (of course), demons (eek) and a sexy vampire geneticist. Paul Magrs continues his delightful paranormal comedy series featuring Brenda the Bride of Frankenstein in The Bride that Time Forgot. Fairy tales for grown-ups look set to do well, and Carolyn Turgeon retells the story of Hans Andersen’s The Little Mermaid in her novel Mermaid.

As for contemporary romance – there’s a new Jill Mansell, and a new Adele Parks – hurrah – and Julie Cohen breaks into mainstream with Getting Away with It.

What about historical periods and settings? Rome (Simon Scarrow, Kate Quinn) is still hugely popular, and the Tudor tidal wave is likely to swamp us once again, with the Plantagenets and Stuarts doing their best to grab some reader-attention, too. Surely it’s time for something new?

So, readers, lots of choice out there – contemporary, historical, reality-based, paranormal – and Choc Lit has it all covered!

Margaret James on how to teach quantum physics to your mum…

I married a physicist, so I suppose it was only natural (or was it?) that my children should both become scientists.

Anyway – my new year’s resolution (I know, like promises and pie crusts they’re made to be broken) is to educate myself about things which are currently a mystery to me, and to get me started Senior Daughter has bought me Chad Orzel’s bestseller, How To Teach Quantum Physics To Your Dog.
51cgclhbwzl_sl500_aa300_1
The theory is, if a dog can understand quantum physics, so can I.

We’ll see!

In the meantime, I’ll carry on writing romantic fiction, and wondering if my grandchildren will inherit any of my novel-writing DNA?

Margaret James gets out more…

November has been an exciting month for me, with the publication of The Silver Locket and plenty of publicity opportunities.

I did newspaper interviews, was on local radio, and had a book signing in Exeter Waterstones which went really well, perhaps because it was a sunny Saturday afternoon and people were happy to buy two other paperbacks and get mine free in the three for two promotion.

The lovely cover also helped. The silver foiling and image of the heroine make it look like the perfect present, and people were buying the book as a Christmas gift.
dscn09781

A couple of days ago, I did a library event in Exeter with two of my other writing friends, promoting my own book and the RNA’s Golden Anniversary anthology, Loves Me, Loves Me Not. Waterstones came along and sold books.

Thank you for the photograph, Linda Mitchelmore!

Radio was a bit scary. Whenever I do radio I always dread having a coughing fit or getting hiccups, but on BBC Radio Solent I was fine – hence the big grin!006