The Gilded Fan – Publication Day!

tgf_packshot-copy2It’s finally here – publication day for The Gilded Fan – and I’m afraid that against Sarah’s advice (well, it was good advice even though you couldn’t possibly follow it for a debut novel), I’m not going to be professional, I’m going to start this post with a ‘squeeeeeeeeeeeee!’

Even though this isn’t my first ‘baby’ to be released into the world, it still feels the same – exciting, terrifying, awesome and a lot more besides! The Gilded Fan is one of those books that has been through dozens of incarnations and each time I’ve thought ‘this is the one’, the one that’s going to get published. And it wasn’t … until now!

What is it about some books that makes it so hard to get them just right? Some stories seem to write themselves, whereas others you sweat blood and have to pummel them into submission. And yet, it’s so worth it when you feel that you finally get there and it’s done. Yes, I could probably have gone on tweaking it for years (do we ever stop tweaking?), but I’m happy to leave it now to fend for itself in the big wide world.

So, The Gilded Fan – what is it about? It’s the sequel to The Scarlet Kimono (although it can be read on its own) and features the daughter of the hero and heroine of that novel. A half-Japanese girl who is forced to go back to her mother’s country, England, to live with relatives she considers barbarians. There’s a handsome hero (long-haired of course – you know me), the small matter of the English Civil War and a whole lot of prejudices on all sides … No, I think I’d better just give you the blurb:-

How do you start a new life, leaving behind all you love?

It’s 1641, and when Midori Kumashiro, the orphaned daughter of a warlord, is told she has to leave Japan or die, she has no choice but to flee to England. Midori is trained in the arts of war, but is that enough to help her survive a journey, with a lecherous crew and an attractive captain she doesn’t trust?

Having come to Nagasaki to trade, the last thing Captain Nico Noordholt wants is a female passenger, especially a beautiful one. How can he protect her from his crew when he can’t keep his own eyes off her?

During their journey, Nico and Midori form a tentative bond, but they both have secrets that can change everything. When they arrive in England, a civil war is brewing, and only by standing together can they hope to survive …

I’m off to celebrate with some chocolate! (Ok, a lot of chocolate, if you insist!)  Why not join me?

Val on Romance and the F-Word

This is Tweedledum here – sorry, I mean Val. Tweedledee – aka Liv – is busy taking care of her daughter and new grandson. I know we all wish them well. So this is another benefit to a writing partnership and sharing a brain – when one of us is busy, the other can leap into the breach and write the blog entry. :)
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“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!”

When Rhett Butler hurled this final insult at Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone With The Wind,” my grandmother said there were some gasps from the 1939 audience in her local cinema. It’s a mild curse word now, but in those days censors could demand profanity be toned down in a movie. It’s such a famous line now that it’s almost impossible to imagine it rewritten. Would “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a hoot” or “Who gives a fig?” have had the same impact?

swearjar

Swearing in movies, and in literature, can still be a thorny issue today, though. Some people have no problem with it, others are strongly turned off. In the romance genre, in particular, the f-word seems to be frowned upon. So what should a romance writer do?

• Avoid curse words completely? Sacrifice verisimilitude so as not to sacrifice readers?

• Tone down the strong language, substituting ‘jeez’ for the Christian deity invoked in a non-religious context?

• Or is the judicious use of the f-bomb okay when it’s appropriate for character and situation?

I suspect many writers would favour the last option. Use curse words as an expletive when the character is shocked or surprised by something – and use them sparingly in the belief that less has more impact.

Researchers into profanity in everyday conversation have reported that actually a very small percentage of all words spoken are taboo words, although that’s likely to vary if you’re in say a pub or a prison or a school playground (speaking from personal experience as a teacher!). So using strong language sparingly in a novel would seem to mirror what we experience in real life.

What happens, though, if you have a character who swears a lot? Writers know that some characters take on a life of their own. Sometimes they seem to arrive on the page fully formed, and they will have their say. To restrict that character’s use of cursing could be viewed as self-censorship, which is supposed to be anathema to all artists.

And what if a publisher insists profanity be toned down or removed, either for reasons of house style or because they feel the readership won’t approve? Is that an issue writers should take a stand on in the interests of protecting their artistic vision, or is it not something worth arguing about?

To swear or not to swear in romantic fiction, that is the question.

I’d love to hear your views – and I swear (ha! ha!) I won’t accuse you of potty mouth if you’re moved to drop an f-bomb. ;)

Christina’s Novella – Out Now!

marry-in-hastesmallI’m very pleased to be able to tell you that my first novella, Marry in Haste, is now available on Kindle! It’s a Regency romance and here is the blurb:-

‘I need to marry, and I need to marry at once!’

When James, Viscount Demarr confides in an acquaintance at a ball one evening, he has no idea that the potential solution to his problems stands so close at hand …

Amelia Ravenscroft is the granddaughter of an earl and is desperate to escape her aunt’s home where she has endured a life of drudgery, whilst fighting off the increasingly bold advances of her lecherous cousin.  She boldly proposes a marriage of convenience.

And Amelia soon proves herself a perfect fit for the role of Lady Demarr­­­. But James has doubts and his blossoming feelings are blighted by suspicions regarding Amelia’s past.

Will they find, all too painfully, that to marry in haste is to repent at leisure?

Amazon link here

Wednesday’s W is for Winning!

stos_coversmallThis week’s Wednesday alliteration is the word WINNING, as in fabulous prizes, which is what you will have a chance to do for the next three weeks!  Leading up to the paperback publication of my new novel, The Silent Touch of Shadows, we’ve decided to have some fun with weekly competitions rather than a launch party.  So we hope you’ll join in from the comfort of your home or office and even bring your own wine.  Not that we’re encouraging drinking on the job of course!

On publication day itself, Saturday 7th July, we’ll be giving away the top prize – a Kindle, pre-loaded with some of mine and the other Choc Lit authors’ award-winning novels! – to one lucky person who has entered the contest during the previous weeks and the final day.  To make it fair, we’ll put all the names in a hat and draw one at random.  It could be you!

Now for the first two weeks, we would like you to guess the answer to a question and we’ll be posting one clue a day on Twitter, Facebook and my blog to help you out.  During this time, there will also be random book giveaways to those folks that RT on Twitter, Share on Facebook and generally spread the word – so there’s a chance to win something every day.  What could be better?

So can you guess what this week’s prize is? Well, that’s the first question, and here’s the first clue – it’s something you can wear on your wrist (and it’s vaguely related to the book of course). As I said, we’ll be giving you four more clues – one each day, on Twitter, Facebook and my blog. Once you know the answer, please leave a comment on my blog (here). The correct one, plus the week’s winner, will be revealed there in a week’s time, together with next week’s competition.

Please keep checking Twitter (@PiaCCourtenay), Facebook and my blog for clues and best of luck everyone!

(And if you don’t want to wait, The Silent Touch of Shadows is available now on Kindle)

Christina x

“… Rabbit …”

easterjulietMore Easter memories from the Choc Lit Authors:-

Juliet – RABBIT LOVE – There have been a number of rabbits in my life, most of them fictional. After having three real ones, courtesy of my children (guess who had to do most of the looking after?), the rabbit I love most is definitely to be found between the covers of a book. I don’t mean Beatrix Potter’s creations, although I do have a soft spot for naughty Peter, Benjamin Bunny, Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail.

Instead, my favourite rabbit books are the Little Grey Rabbit series by Alison Uttley, about a compelling ménage à trois of Little Grey Rabbit, Hare and Squirrel (red variety, of course). LGR was the mother figure with obsessive compulsive disorder (always cleaning and tidying), Hare was the stereotypical bad boy (he stole an Easter egg!) and I can’t remember much about Squirrel. Who’s the love of your rabbit life?

easterlizLiz – Thinking about Easter, the first thing that came to my mind was this – my husband and I decided to spend Easter in Italy one year, and we went to Cortona for the Easter weekend.  In the evening, we strolled into the central piazza and found that people were taking their seats for an opera to be performed on a stage that had been constructed at one end of the piazza.  We bought a ticket and we, too, went and sat in one of the rows of wooden chairs that faced the stage. The opera turned out to be the wonderful Cavalleria Rusticana, by Mascagni, a one act opera set in a 19th century Sicilian village on Easter morning.  I was thrilled as it contains one of my all-time favourite choral pieces, The Easter Hymn.  This is one of the most strirring and most moving pieces of music, and if you don’t know it, you have a treat ahead of you if you decide to listen to it.

Just imagine that Easter evening - sitting beneath a slowly darkening sky that was filling with stars, in a piazza lit solely by the lights from the stage, listening to the voices of the Sicilian villagers, along with the seduced Santuzzi, rise to a crescendo in one of the most beautiful melodies ever written. That was an Easter to remember.

easterhenriHenri - As children my sister and I were often given a painted cardboard egg for Easter. Inside were small sugar-coated or foil-wrapped chocolate eggs, and always a little fluffy chick too. After a while we had quite a collection of chicks, some of them very elaborate with their own nests, and we’d spend Easter playing with the chicks (which all had names), making houses for them out of empty cereal boxes and generally allowing our imagination free rein. My favourite scenario was Chickerella who went to the party in her borrowed feathers, despite the Evil Step-Hen forbidding it. Now, what does that remind me of…?

Jane – We’ve owned many rabbits over the years, most made their escape in a precipitous manner, treating our garden like a prison camp out of which they couldn’t dig their way fast enough.   My son, now nearly eighteen, is repeatedly teased by his sisters about his ‘duelling scar’, where he was actually attacked by a rabbit when he was about four.  So, as you can see, I have an uneasy relationship with the Easter Bunny.  But not so the Easter Hare, the origin for the Easter Bunny stories; despite their being rare elsewhere in the country, here in Yorkshire you can’t go for a run without tripping over half a dozen of the berserk, spring-loaded things.  I have a terrific fondness for them, mad eyes, bonkers boxing matches and all.  However, when it comes to rabbits … only the Rampant kind will ever enter my house again …

A modern little witch

A modern little witch

Christina – In Sweden they have some very strange traditions for Easter, probably of pagan origin, but who knows? My favourite one was dressing up as a witch on what’s called “Skärtorsdagen” (Thursday before Easter) and going out to wish people Happy Easter in the hope they’d give us money or sweets as a reward (almost like Trick-or-Treating for Hallowe’en). My mum would let me borrow one of her skirts so it reached all the way to the ground (anchored by a belt as I was much smaller obviously), then tie a scarf round my head the way old ladies did. I was given a broom to hold, because Swedish witches apparently fly off on their brooms that night to congregate somewhere, and then my dad painted my face. Using watercolours (there were no face paints back then) he gave me horrible wrinkles and transformed me into an ugly crone. The paintbrush tickled as he worked and when the paint dried, my face felt funny, but I loved looking in the mirror afterwards. I was a true work of art! (And getting money or sweeties was of course a bonus).

Once again, HAPPY EASTER from all of us!

(And please come back tomorrow for the unveiling of a new Choc Lit novel …)

Christina has a New Cover!

Layout 1Apart from having a book published in the first place, I think my favourite part of the process is watching the cover design take shape and then seeing the final result.  And here it is, the cover for my next book The Silent Touch of Shadows!  I’m really thrilled at how it turned out and absolutely love it!

The Silent Touch of Shadows will be a slight departure from my previous novels, as it’s a time slip story with some paranormal elements.  It’s set partly in the present and partly in 15th century Kent.  The heroine in the present is harassed by a ghostly presence when she moves into an old Kentish manor house.  Being a genealogist, she decides to do some research to solve the mystery and slowly unravels the story of the house’s previous owners and a six hundred year old love story.

It will be published in July and I can’t wait to hold a copy!

Hello from Henri

Hi there. I‘d like to take this opportunity to introduce myself as the latest chocolate flavour in the Choc Lit box. For those who don’t know me, my name is Henriette Gyland, although most people call me by the androgynous Henri. On Twitter I’m known as @henrigyland.

I signed with Choc Lit last year in November after having won the New Talent Award at the inaugural Festival of Romance. Both events were absolute highlights of the year for me, and I’m delighted that my novel Up Close is going to be published this year.

Holkham Beach - the inspiration for my setting

Holkham Beach - the inspiration for my setting

Described by the book trade as “a dark, romantic suspense story in true Hitchcock tradition”, it’s set on the desolate Norfolk coast, a landscape which with its endless flat beaches and fir trees remind me very much of my country of birth, Denmark. Years ago I was staying with friends in Norfolk, and we took a day trip to the coast.

There I was completely bowled over by the raw beauty of the place, the smells and the sounds of the sea, the flora and fauna, especially the seals – I’d never seen them in the wild before (scary creatures!). It was a revelation, and I remembered thinking, “I wonder what it’s like living here in winter” followed by, “I want to write about that”.

In other words, my novel started with a place.

But novels have to have plots and people in them, and that still escaped me. Then, completely unconnected, I read an article about soldiers returning from the Gulf War (1990-1991), and how some of them were suffering from an unexplained illness, later referred to as Gulf War Syndrome.choclit-blog-13-jan-2012-scuba-diver3

I started reading up on this and learned that they’d been given an experimental vaccine as protection against Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons, and that this might be making them ill. With the bit between my teeth I tried to track down ex-soldiers, doctors, nurses, etc. – anyone who’d been in The Gulf – but nobody would talk to me!

Frustrated (and paranoid because of the black van with tinted windows which had taken to parking outside my house…) I decided, after much soul-searching, that the subject matter was altogether Too Dark for a romantic novel, so I put the book on the back-burner. But it wouldn’t go away, and eventually the hero and heroine were “born”.

The setting and the background are merely strands woven into a story about the relationship between bitter ex-navy man, Aidan, who finds solace in his passion for art and scuba diving, and Lia, an aqua-phobic ER doctor haunted by a tragedy in her own past. It’s the story of love and loss, betrayal and divided loyalties.

And murder. Let’s not forget that…

Liz Harris – hello from a new Choc-liteer in the box

a-page-from-kbs-album5Hello, all! To those of you I don’t know, my name’s Elizabeth Harris, but I’m usually known as Liz. On twitter I’m known as @lizharrisauthor

Last October, a dream came true when I learnt that Choc Lit was going to publish The Road Back. It was an unbelievable moment, and I’m still pinching myself to make sure that I really am awake.

Since The Road Back is my very precious link with Choc Lit, I decided that I would say something about how I came to write it in this, my first Choc lit blog. Now there’s a surprise, I can hear you say!!

My novel has been described as ‘a sumptuous tale of love and adventure in the sweeping and little-known backdrop of Ladakh, north of the Himalayas … which throws together two people from radically different cultures with explosive results.’

Until fairly recently, however, I’d never even heard of Ladakh. The first time I learnt that there was such a country was three years ago when my cousin, who now lives in Australia, asked me to help her find a home for an album that her father, my late uncle, had compiled after a visit he made to Ladakh in the mid 1940s.

When my uncle had been stationed with the army in North India, he’d managed to get one of the few authorised passes to visit Ladakh. Upon his return to England, he’d assembled the photos and notes into an album, which he had passed on to his daughter.

The album is now in the Indian Room of the British Library, on Euston Road. It was brought over to England by friends of my cousin, and I collected it from their hotel. In the two weeks I had it before handing it over to the British Library, I read it from cover to cover … and I fell in love with Ladakh. From that moment, I knew I had to set a novel there and I began to research the country in depth.

From the very start, I knew that my heroine, Patricia, was born in the 50s and brought up in Belsize Park, a part of London I know well. I saw her as a lonely child, living with parents who’d been torn apart by grief over a tragedy that had happened to the family in the past.

But I didn’t yet know my hero, Kalden, beyond the fact that he was born and brought up in a Ladakhi village in the Buddhist part of the country. While I waited to ‘see’ him clearly, I continued resourcing Ladakh, learning more and more about the country. And then one day, I read a very interesting fact about life in Ladakh. It was a Eureka moment! I felt a powerful surge of excitement when I read that …

Oh, dear. I seem to have run out of time. I’d better say goodbye for now!

P.S. I’d like to have been able to include some photos from my uncle’s album, but I don’t yet seem to have the right connection to upload an image to the blog. I shall have to sort that out.

Choc Lit Christmas Special – Day 2

choclit-logoxmassmallerEveryone has their own Christmas traditions, be it stirring the pudding or putting up special decorations, and Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without them. Today we thought we’d share our favourites with you, so here they are:-

Margaret – My mother and I have always made the Christmas puddings together. I remember being very small – two or three, perhaps – and having to stand on a kitchen stool to stir all the ingredients together. Then I’d close my eyes and make a wish or several. Last month we made our Christmas puddings in the same old yellow china mixing bowl, following the same old recipe first printed during WW2, and stirring them with the same old wooden spoon. Only nowadays Mum sits down and I do all the stirring. I’m the one in charge. So I slosh some brandy in, as well.

EvonneA childhood tradition was a trip to the pantomime, back in the day, when the Principal Boy was played by a girl and the costume was a cross between a musketeer and a chorus girl.  You can forget poor downtrodden Cinderella, I wanted to be Prince Charming, or his side kick Dandini – cavalier satin and lace, endless legs, killer heels and a hat with a plume!

Sue – Parties? Do they count? I don’t (necessarily) mean the type where intrepid partygoers get falling-over-drunk under the partner of the moment, but more the Christmas celebrations with workmates past and present, fellow club members etc. It’s just nice to get to know people out of their usual environment or catch up on old buddies.

KateMy favourite Christmas tradition is probably my Christmas Eve lunch and cinema date with my best friend. We’ve been doing it a few years now, and it’s a lovely start to Christmas proper.

Liz's unusual stocking

Liz's unusual stocking

Chris – Making up Christmas stockings for my daughters. I did it right up until they left home, and still do if they’re staying with me for Christmas. They don’t make quite as much noise as when they were little (or wake up so early, thank goodness) but it’s still good fun.

LizOld tradition: We never open any presents until after the Christmas lunch has been cleared away. It means that the cook (usually me) gets to join in with all of the unwrapping of gifts when it takes place, without keeping an eye on the clock.

New tradition: We have expanded in number and we now do a Secret Santa, with a fixed price limit.  It’s great fun and we never want to return to the situation where everyone buys a present for everyone else.

LindaNow, listen up – I’m not a cheapskate. This is a bit of fun – honestly. Every year – and I mean the whole 365 days of it – I think about/keep an eye out for the ‘Freebie Box’ my family exchanges with my brother’s family. Think BOGOFs. Think 3-4-2. Think those books and make-up and bags and other gift carrots they stick to the front of magazines to get the punters to part with their cash. Think mail-order ‘free gifts’ – a scarf if you buy a jumper for example. Anything non-perishable is up for grabs. Think wine (often a couple of cases of it over the year!) and toiletries and nearer Christmas chocolates and biscuits with long sell-by dates – it all goes in the ‘Freebie Box’. We get back as much as we give and it’s huge fun doing it. Everything likes something for nothing, don’t they? But did I say box? Some years we need a tea crate!

Henriette – My favourite tradition is when we light the Advent candles on the first Sunday in Advent (like Christina said yesterday). Unlike Christina’s Swedish version, the candles in a Danish one are placed in a wreath or a circular candle holder, and we light one candle each time but only burn it a quarter of the way down. On the last Sunday all four candles will be lit in a staggered pattern.

swedensnow3smallJaneWe have always gone for a Christmas Day walk. As a child, I used to love the fact that the whole family (even the laziest members) got out of their chairs and went somewhere picturesque, and I’ve kept up the tradition over the years. We do have to prod some of the children, particularly anyone who receives an X Box game, but they eventually give in and we head out onto the moors in search of Christmas spirit, an appetite for dinner and hypothermia.

Christina – Hmm, there are so many to choose from, so I can’t just pick one, but making saffron buns, decorating the tree and watching Chevy Chase in National Lampoon’s “Christmas Vacation” on the evening of the 23rd December are some of my favourites! (not all at once obviously)

JulietThe stockings under the tree. They date from the children being young, and each one belongs to a different member of the family. It’s always a struggle to find presents that fit inside the narrower stockings – but very worthwhile on Christmas morning.

So do you have any traditions that make Christmas special for you? Please share them with us! And come back tomorrow if you’d like to find out about our favourite gifts …

Juliet, Kate and Christina – Library Talk

If anyone is in the vicinity of the Victoria Library in London tomorrow, Monday 12th September, Juliet, Kate and Christina will be doing a talk about writing and irresistible heroes.

The event is at 160 Buckingham Palace Road, London SW1W 9UD (close to Victoria Coach Station) between 6pm – 7.45pm and there will be chocolates!

Hope to see you there!