Choc Lit 2017 Halloween Round Robin: The Ghosts of Maplewood Hall, Part Three by Victoria Cornwall

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Readers beware! It’s time for another Halloween Round Robin from Choc Lit, back by popular demand. Five talented Choc Lit authors have been working collaboratively on a wonderfully spooky short story – The Ghosts of Maplewood Hall – which we will be sharing in five parts in the run-up to Halloween (with the final part falling on the big day itself!) Come back every day to read a new extract AND enter competitions to win chocolate & book prizes.

Each author taking part has no idea where their part of the story will go, which leads to a few spooky surprises along the way. But you’ll need to read on to find out more ;)  

The third author to contribute is Victoria Cornwall. Remember to read right until the end to find details of the competition. 

A Round Robin is best enjoyed if you read each part in order. 

Read Part One by Jane Lovering HERE
Read Part Two by Christina Courtenay HERE

THE GHOSTS OF MAPLEWOOD HALL – PART THREE BY VICTORIA CORNWALL

Patrick lowered his torch beam as he approached her. ‘Martine? You look like you’ve just seen a ghost.’ He touched her hand and frowned. ‘You’re shaking,’ he said, giving her hand a mild squeeze. ‘James was an idiot for suggesting you stay here alone. ‘

‘Yes, he was … and I was an idiot for doing what he told me.’ Martine withdrew her hand from Patrick’s and fumbled with the end of the tape. Patrick was right – she was shaking, although she had a sneaking suspicion it was not only Sebastian’s apparition that was the cause of it.

Patrick attempted to help her, but Martine brushed him off and set about criss-crossing the door with a web of sensory wires. To her surprise she achieved it with amazing speed. Haunted houses – and a strong desire to leave a challenging situation – often turned her into an efficient worker.

‘I should have said something,’ said Patrick as he watched her work.

Martine stood back to admire her wired door that no person could pass through without setting off an ear-splitting alarm. ‘Not bad for a ghost hunting newbie,’ she said brightly, only too aware Patrick was standing just behind her. She felt much braver than only a few minutes before. Ghosts weren’t that scary, particularly if they were handsome and flirtatious too. ‘It was sensible of James to have someone posted by the door,’ she wittered on. ‘It just happened to be me.’

‘I don’t mean that,’ said Patrick. Martine’s senses switched to high alert and she stiffened. ‘I mean why I didn’t turn up at the restaurant the other night.’

The memory brought back the familiar flush of humiliation to her cheeks. She had spent the evening waiting for him to arrive, while the diners sitting around her threw sympathetic smiles in her direction and gossiped in hushed tones behind their hands. It had been their first date. The date she had dreamt of since she was ten. And it had turned into a disaster.

‘You didn’t even text,’ she mumbled.

‘I know.’ He touched her arm, but she immediately withdrew, hating herself for showing his non-appearance still bothered her. He reluctantly let his hand fall. ‘When I heard you scream just now I was …’

It was the diversion Martine needed. How could she have forgotten about Kate? ‘I wasn’t the only one who screamed. Kate did too!’ She grabbed Patrick’s torch. ‘We’d better go to the kitchen to see if she is alright.’

Patrick raised an eyebrow in surprise. ‘Who is this new brave Martine ready to take on the spooks?’

‘I’m not sure,’ replied Martine over her shoulder. ‘I am just finding out myself.’

They headed in the direction of the kitchen. Floating dust, illuminated by the beam of their torch, swirled around them as they passed through. At the far end of the passage they found two large doors. Martine felt Sebastian’s chilled breath on her neck as he whispered into her ear. She glanced at Patrick, who seemed oblivious to the ghost’s presence.

‘Which door do you think leads to the kitchen?’ asked Patrick.

Sebastian had told her and she had no reason to not believe him.  ‘The left,’ she replied confidently as she reached for the handle.

Sebastian had been right. Beyond the old oak door was the derelict kitchen of Maplewood Hall – the alleged epicentre of all the paranormal activity reported over the past century.  Martine and Patrick stepped into the gloom. The room was disappointingly quiet and empty. The moon shone through rain-stained windows, casting a harsh bright light onto the dusty tables, mottled copper pans and something dead and furry by the far wall. The floor was scattered with debris – a strange mix of autumn leaves, twigs and long abandoned kitchenware. A sudden movement in one dark corner startled them both. Martine automatically raised her torch as a weapon, but Patrick halted her in mid-swing.

‘Steady there, Lara Croft,’ laughed Patrick. ‘It’s only James.’

James walked briskly towards them, raking a hand through his tousled hair. ‘Kate’s gone. She said she felt someone tap her on the shoulder. One minute I was teasing her for being scared and screaming like a banshee. The next minute she was gone.’

‘Gone? Gone where?’ Patrick grabbed James’s shirt, ‘Where is she, James? If you have locked my sister in a cupboard as a joke I’ll …’

‘Why would I do that? What kind of bloke do you take me for?’

Martine left the men to their posturing and turned away. They were scared for Kate, but arguing about her wouldn’t help. Besides, Sebastian was talking to her again and his soft soothing tone, laced with a quiet chuckle, was enticing her to enter the pantry. She did not have the will to disobey. Patrick and James’s voices grew muted as she left them behind in the kitchen and entered the enclosed space of the inbuilt cupboard. At the far end was a small door. It seemed as if it was waiting for her.

‘Open it,’ whispered Sebastian’s seductive tone. She reached for the handle. It felt cold, yet turned easily in her grasp and the old rusty hinge silently opened. She stepped into an opulently furnished room basking in the white, hissing gaslight of numerous bronze wall lamps. Her friend stood in the middle of the room and at her side was a man. He was handsome, with a gentle curve to his lips and in his hand was Kate’s. He wore the same clothes as Sebastian, which were more in keeping with a time long gone by, whilst the room itself was as fresh and clean as if it was still used today. This part of the house was a stark contrast to the rest of Maplewood Hall, which relied on flapping tarpaulin to cover the holes in the roof and felt constantly chilly and damp due to the absence of electricity and a warm fire.

‘Can you see him too, Martine?’ whispered Kate, hopefully. Martine nodded slowly. Kate sighed with relief. ‘Thank goodness. I thought I was going mad. He wants me to—’

‘Help him cross over to the mortal world.’ She felt Sebastian’s presence beside her and tilted her head towards him. ‘So does he,’ she replied. As if she had asked him to, Sebastian grew more visible. ‘What are we going to do, Kate? What on earth are we going to do?’

Oooh, it’s beginning to get more than a little spooky now! Just what will Kate and Martine do? Kirsty Ferry will be telling us more tomorrow in the penultimate part of our Halloween Round Robin.

If you enjoyed Victoria’s writing, you can find her books available to purchase from all good online book stockists and retailers. Click on the image below for purchasing options. 

Image of both books

COMPETITION TIME! 

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

Where does Sebastian lead Martine as James and Patrick are arguing?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin comp 3’ by Thursday 2nd November. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Friday 3rd November.

Choc Lit 2017 Halloween Round Robin: The Ghosts of Maplewood Hall, Part Two by Christina Courtenay

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Readers beware! It’s time for another Halloween Round Robin from Choc Lit, back by popular demand. Five talented Choc Lit authors have been working collaboratively on a wonderfully spooky short story – The Ghosts of Maplewood Hall – which we will be sharing in five parts in the run-up to Halloween (with the final part falling on the big day itself!) Come back every day to read a new extract AND enter competitions to win chocolate & book prizes.

Each author taking part has no idea where their part of the story will go, which leads to a few spooky surprises along the way. But you’ll need to read on to find out more ;)  

The second author to contribute is Christina Courtenay! Remember to read right until the end to find details of the competition. 

A Round Robin is best enjoyed if you read each part in order. If you missed yesterday’s beginning by Jane Lovering, read it HERE

THE GHOSTS OF MAPLEWOOD HALL – PART TWO BY CHRISTINA COURTENAY

‘Need a hand?’

A wicked chuckle sounded right next to Martine’s ear and a white hand appeared beside her own. Sure, a bit of help would have been welcome, but not when the hand offered seemed to be floating on its own without the rest of the body it should have been attached to.

She tried to echo the kitchen scream, which had just sounded again, high-pitched and feminine, but the only thing that came out of her mouth was a small, strangled squeak. She knew she ought to make a run for it – if nothing else, to check what was the matter with Kate – but her legs were frozen to the spot and she simply couldn’t make them work.

‘Here, let me hold one end of the that and you take the other.’

The cheerful voice didn’t have the effect it obviously expected on Martine. This time she managed a proper scream to rival Kate’s, but it was cut off abruptly by the hand. Its touch on her mouth was light, but firm, and cold. So very cold.

‘Shhh, please, there’s no need for hysterics. I’ll protect you, I promise.’

As soon as the hand was removed, she swivelled her head around, glancing wildly into the more or less complete darkness that surrounded her. ‘P-protect me? Wh-what … who?’ she managed to stammer, although her voice was vibrating with fear.

‘Oh, I do beg your pardon. Did I forget to introduce myself? Lord Maplewood, at your service. Or Sebastian to my friends.’ The hand did a sort of swirl in front of her, as if it was accompanying an old-fashioned bow. ‘As I seldom have such delightful company here, I think we can safely count you as one of those.’

‘One of those what?’ Martine whispered.

‘Friends. You may call me Sebastian.’

Was she supposed to be grateful? A disembodied hand had just given her permission to call him by his – its? – Christian name. She swallowed hard. This was insane.

‘No, this isn’t happening,’ she muttered. Kate’s scream had just spooked her and now she was having hallucinations. She should never have come, no matter how much her best friend fancied James. There had to be a better way of impressing the guy.

‘I say, you weren’t expecting to walk into a haunted mansion and not encounter any of the residents, were you?’ That chuckle again, even closer now. And was that a cold breath she felt near her left ear? Martine shuddered and finally managed to take a step to one side.

‘Go away. You’re not real. You can’t be.’

‘Why not?’ He – Sebastian – sounded mildly interested.

‘There’s no such thing as gh-ghosts. I can’t even see you. All of you, I mean.’

‘Ah, apologies. There, is that better?’

Martine almost choked on her hasty intake of breath. In front of her, still holding one end of the tape, stood a man. A very good-looking man, it had to be said, but it was hard to notice that when he was mostly see-through and there was a kind of lit-up aura surrounding him. ‘I … I … Jesus!’

‘No, no, I’m not even a saint.’ Sebastian laughed and winked. ‘Not even close. Might I suggest you concentrate on my face, then the rest of me won’t be quite as disconcerting.’

She did and he was right. Sort of. It was still hard not to notice that he was transparent, but looking at his handsome features definitely had a calming effect. His smile was infectious and if he hadn’t been so see-through – or so dead – she could have fancied him, for sure.

‘So what brings you here?’ he asked, conversationally. ‘Do carry on with this taping business, by the way. It is obviously important.’

Martine wasn’t so sure, but she realised she wasn’t as scared any longer. Perhaps it was the fact that her brain told her this couldn’t be real, and if it was just a dream or hallucination she had nothing to fear. Or maybe that Sebastian wasn’t threatening in the slightest. If she’d ever imagined ghosts, they had been of the vengeful, moaning, chain-clanking type, not one whose laughing eyes she couldn’t seem to stop looking at. And look on the bright side – at least he’s not a carp! On automatic, she picked up the tape and carried on putting it on the door frame. It was actually easier now because Sebastian’s aura threw some light and she could see better.

‘Uhm, thank you.’ Martine closed her eyes for a moment, wondering if she would wake up and find she’d dozed off, or if the vision next to her would just disappear, but he was still there when she opened them again. Disturbingly close, smiling, and with his head slightly to one side.

‘I’m glad I found you first. I’m honour bound to tell you that there will be some competition for your favour tonight, but hopefully you will give me a chance to prove that I’m more worthy of your attention than any of the others.’

‘Others?’ Martine didn’t like the sound of that. ‘What do you mean, my favour?’

‘Well, tonight is Samhain, is it not? All Hallow’s Eve?’

‘Yes, and?’

‘It is the one night of the year when the spirits of the departed may return and mingle with those of you who are still alive. And for one lucky soul it means a chance to regain that which was lost. All it takes is … well, actually, I’m not allowed to tell you because it has to happen spontaneously, without prompting.’

Martine was starting feel like she’d stumbled into a movie set or something. The whole thing was definitely surreal. She snorted. ‘What is this, a fairy tale? I can give you back life with a kiss of pure love? Yeah, right.’

Sebastian raised his eyebrows and put a hand on his heart, pretending to look wounded. ‘Are you implying you could never love me? I’ll have you know, all the ladies fell over themselves vying for my attention back in my day.’

‘I bet.’ His expression brightened at her words, so she hastened to add. ‘But you probably had a real body then.’ A hot one, if the outline of his ghostly clothes was anything to go by, but she buried that thought. Not helping. ‘But how am I supposed to fall in love with someone I could probably stick my fingers right through? Let alone kiss you?’

‘Oh, ye of little faith.’ Sebastian grinned. ‘There is a little more to it than that.’

‘But―’

Martine’s words were cut off by the beam from a torch. ‘Are you okay? What happened?’ Patrick was coming down the stairs and she could just about make out his worried frown.

‘Well …’ She waved a hand towards Sebastian, but when she looked in his direction, the only thing she could see was the falling end of a piece of tape.

Well, if we have to meet a ghost, we wouldn’t mind meeting one like Sebastian ;) But is he as charming as he seems? We might just find out tomorrow when Victoria Cornwall adds to the story!

If you enjoyed Christina’s writing, you can find her books available to purchase from all good online book stockists and retailers. Click on the image below for purchasing options. 

JL

COMPETITION TIME! 

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

Who disturbs Sebastian and Martine by coming down the stairs?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin comp 2’ by Thursday 2nd November. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Friday 3rd November.

Choc Lit 2017 Halloween Round Robin: The Ghosts of Maplewood Hall, Part One by Jane Lovering

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Readers beware! It’s time for another Halloween Round Robin from Choc Lit, back by popular demand. Five talented Choc Lit authors have been working collaboratively on a wonderfully spooky short story – The Ghosts of Maplewood Hall – which we will be sharing in five parts in the run-up to Halloween (with the final part falling on the big day itself!) Come back every day to read a new extract AND enter competitions to win chocolate & book prizes.

Each author taking part has no idea where their part of the story will go, which leads to a few spooky surprises along the way. But you’ll need to read on to find out more ;)  

First up is Jane Lovering! Remember to read right until the end to find details of the competition. 

THE GHOSTS OF MAPLEWOOD HALL – PART ONE BY JANE LOVERING

‘Well, here it is. What do you think?’

James pulled the minibus into the deserted car park and waved a hand, indicating the blocky outline of the house, dark and deserted, outlined against the trees. The sun was going down, throwing the shadow of the building across the sheep-nibbled parkland, like the gnomon of an enormous sundial, telling them night was imminent.

‘Spooky.’ Martine gathered her coat around her. ‘I’m scared.’

‘You’re a wimp is what you are.’ Kate opened the back door of the van. ‘We’re a ghost hunting group. We’re here to hunt ghosts, and Maplewood Hall is supposed to be haunted. Why on earth did you join if you’re scared of old buildings miles from anywhere, at night?’

‘To be fair,’ Martine pressed her face to the minibus window, ‘I’m also scared of deer, owls and carp. It’s not just the buildings.’

James, Ollie and Patrick were unloading the equipment onto the grass-studded gravel. ‘You’ll be fine,’ Patrick said, sympathetically. ‘Deer only attack in the mating season, owls will leave you alone if you’re bigger than a mouse, and there won’t be any carp in the house.’ A glance over his shoulder at the hunched half-ruin. ‘I shouldn’t think. They’re a fish, aren’t they, carp?’

Kate lifted a box and jumped down. Slowly and hesitantly, Martine climbed out of the van and stood beside her. ‘They aren’t just a fish,’ she said, ‘they are absolutely enormous fish.’

‘Here, carry that.’ Ollie handed her a big box. ‘We need to get it all into the house before the light goes. There’s no electricity in there, no lights, so we want to get it all set up before we’re blundering around in the dark taking pictures of each other and bumping into the furniture. This is a ghost hunting expedition, not a Laurel and Hardy film.’

Slowly, burdened by wires, battery packs, bundles of equipment and, in one case, a fear of fish, the Littleton and District Paranormal Investigation Unit advanced on Maplewood Hall. They crouched in the remnants of manicured parkland and glorious gardens and looked at the house itself; windows boarded and shuttered against squatters and vandals and the roof partly covered in tarpaulin, which fluttered and flapped in an unfelt breeze.

Martine shivered again. She’d only come because Kate fancied James. She would have been perfectly happy to spend Halloween watching themed television and eating Skittles, but Kate was her best friend and there were some things you just did for your best friend. Although Martine wasn’t sure that riding shotgun on a trip to a known haunted house on the spookiest night of the year, with rain forecast and probable owls, didn’t go far beyond what was expected from friendship. Especially if it meant having to spend time with Kate’s brother, Patrick, too. He was the last person she wanted to see at the moment, but she wouldn’t think about that now.

Ollie and James went on ahead into the house, followed by Kate, who hesitated for a moment in the huge stone doorway. Martine knew that Kate wasn’t as unafraid as she was trying to make out. They’d been at school together, both equally scarred by memorable episodes of the X-Files, but Kate was determined that James was the man for her and would push through any tendencies to scream in the face of moving shadows for him to see her as a potential mate.

Patrick held the door open for Martine. ‘Look. No deer,’ he said, although the interior of the hallway was so dark that there could have been a herd of elk in there and nobody would be able to see them. ‘You will be fine.’

The last rays of the dying sun flickered down past the fluttering tarpaulin above them and illuminated a huge staircase rising out of the hall into a veil of dust-speckled darkness. Doors led off the passageway to left and right, and the corridor stretched beyond the base of the stairs, curving around into the depths of the house to be lost to sight. The tarpaulin flick-flacked distantly but all else was silent, apart from their footsteps, and Patrick, who’d got hiccups.

‘Ol, you go and check down that way,’ James said. ‘Pat, you do the stairs. Kate and I will find the kitchen, that’s supposed to be the main site of any disturbances.’ He gave Kate a sideways look. Martine suspected that James knew very well that Kate fancied him and was going to use this opportunity for a quick grope and a snog.

‘What about me?’ Martine asked uncertainly.

‘You stay there. Secure the doorway, we don’t want anyone to come wandering in and setting equipment off.’ He handed her a box. ‘That’s the gear. We’ll come back and get you once we’ve reccied the place.’

Off everyone trooped, their footsteps sounding more and more distant against the bare floorboards. Martine was alone. Behind her, outside the door, the sun sank and the night pressed against the house. Her eyes adjusted slowly, but there was nothing to see, only the rising vastness of the stairs in front, and the echoey emptiness of the hallway running off in either direction.

Martine grabbed at her coat again. It was cold. The hair at the back of her neck was prickling and she didn’t dare move in case she fell over something. And she was missing EastEnders. With a sigh she opened the box that James had given her and started to make herself useful, stretching fine tape across the doorway to prevent anything human coming into the house. She wasn’t sure how effective it would be, James hadn’t thought to leave her a torch and she was operating mostly by touch. When a soft sound slithered into her ears from the direction of the staircase, she dropped the tape and spun around.

‘Who’s there?’

There was no answer. But Martine could just make out a shape, a pale smudge in the dark, a faint ‘something’ against the wooden panelling. Something that drifted towards her in a silent haze of dust – she drew in her breath to scream, but her yell was stopped by a sudden, louder scream that came from the direction of the haunted kitchen …

A suitably spooky start from Jane Lovering that ended with a scream and a potential ghostly happening. Just what we all want from a Halloween Round Robin!

If you enjoyed Jane’s writing, you can find her books available to purchase from all good online book stockists and retailers. Click on the image below for purchasing options. Jane will have a new Christmas novella out in December – keep your eye on our social feeds for more information, coming soon! 

JL

COMPETITION TIME! 

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

Which three things is Martine scared of?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin comp 1’ by Thursday 2nd November. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Friday 3rd November.

The Fourth Character

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

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

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

Cornwall

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

Pepper Cove

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

Lundy Bay

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

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

The Thief’s Daughter
The Captain’s Daughter 

For more on Victoria Cornwall:

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

What inspires Sheryl Browne?

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

What inspires me to write thrillers?

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

Boat

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

After She’s Gone: Excerpt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more on Sheryl visit:

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

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A little help from Jenson Button …

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

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

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

Me and BY close up study

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more on Kathryn visit:

 Website:  http://kathrynfreeman.co.uk

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

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/KathrynFreeman1

Hero Material

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choc Lit on holiday!

Choc Lit on Holiday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Number Five

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

NumberFive

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

NumberFive2

 

 Farriers Reach

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

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Equus – Clara’s House

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

Equus

 

Cheltenham Racecourse

CR

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

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

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

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

Birthday Round Robin PT 5

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

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

Lynda Stacey’s Part One is HERE

Kathryn Freeman’s Part Two is HERE

Lisa Hill’s Part Three is HERE

Jane Lovering’s Part Four is HERE

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

The Birthday Surprise – Final Part by Kirsty Ferry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Ralph! Where were they?’ It was Declan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Helen!’ Anna blushed again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Girl in the Painting

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

COMPETITION TIME!

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

Where is Declan’s ex, Magda, from?

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