Happy Birthday Choc Lit! Final Part by Kathryn Freeman

We’re nine years old today! And we’re celebrating with a birthday Round Robin written by six of our talented Choc Lit authors. Jane Lovering set us up for the perfect ending with a mysterious note left in a borrowed book. Will Kathryn Freeman deliver and finish our wonderful birthday story with a bang? Let’s see! 

In order to enjoy this story, you’ll need to read it in order, so make sure you read:

Part One by Morton S. Gray HERE
Part Two by Kirsty Ferry HERE
Part Three by Sue McDonagh HERE
Part Four by Lynda Stacey HERE
Part Five by Jane Lovering HERE

Also, remember to read right until the end so you can enter the last competition of the day. All competitions on all extracts will be open until next Tuesday so there’s plenty of time left to enter all of them!

The Forgotten Birthday – Final Part

As Lauren started to read the note, her heart began to pound. She recognised it. Her mind swimming in disbelief, she skimmed over the childish writing.

Happy birfday Laura. Will you be my girlfriend? Hugh xx

It couldn’t be the same note. That had been over twenty years ago. And the boy who’d written it had been called Hugh Webster, not Peacock.

But the more she stared at it, the more the memories came flooding back. It was addressed not to Lauren, but to Laura. The name she’d gone by all those years ago, before she’d decided Lauren sounded more elegant.

There was only one person who could explain to her why she was reading a note given to her on her ninth birthday. She glanced at her watch. Was ten o’clock too late for a woman to knock on the door of a man she hardly knew?

Sober Lauren would have answered yes, but this version, on a high after the day, fortified by a few drinks, had the confidence to march right up to it.

Her jaw dropped when the door opened. ‘Hugh?’ He didn’t look like the man she’d met this morning. Wearing a T-shirt that moulded chest muscles she hadn’t noticed beneath the old jacket he’d worn, it was his face that shocked her the most. ‘You shaved off your beard.’

He shifted awkwardly on his feet. ‘Ah, yes, you noticed.’

His eyes crinkled. Deep brown eyes, warm and inviting as a mug of cocoa. How had she missed them earlier? More memories filled her head. A boy with a permanently creased blazer, scuffed shoes and dark hair that flopped into his brown eyes. Her heart began to race. ‘Why?’

‘I thought you might have more chance recognising me.’ His eyes held hers and she felt their pull. Just as she had all those years ago.

‘It is you,’ she whispered.

His freshly shaven cheeks flushed. ‘Afraid so.’

‘But … how? Is this just a coincidence?’

The flush deepened and he dragged a hand through his hair. ‘Yes, and no. You applying to be on the course run by my mum, yes. Me coming here in her place, no.’ When she simply stared at him, too shocked, too overcome to do anything else, he sighed and opened the door wider. ‘I see I have some explaining to do. Do you want to come in?’ His hand rose to his chin, then dropped again, no doubt realising he no longer had a beard to scratch. ‘Sorry, you probably don’t want to come into a stranger’s room. We can go to the bar, or—’

Lauren stepped inside. ‘You’re not a stranger, Hugh Webster.’

She caught his eye and he smiled. It was the same boyish smile she remembered, though this time it came from a man. A very attractive man. Somewhere inside her chest she felt a long-forgotten tug.

Moving to the end of the room she went to sit on the chair, leaving him to perch on the bed. Maybe it was the room, but he felt larger now. No longer the bearded, bumbling author, but a potent, handsome male.

‘So.’ He smiled sheepishly, and all at once he was the boy she knew again. ‘I help my mum out with the creative writing course she runs. Daphne Peacock is her pen name. Her real name is Daphne Webster.’

‘That’s why I didn’t recognise you. Plus, the beard.’

Again, he went to scratch it. Again, he dropped his hand. ‘Ex-wife hated beards, so when we divorced I grew one just because I could.’ He searched out her eyes. ‘Am I right in thinking you’re divorced, too?’

She grinned, feeling lighter, more carefree than she’d done in a long time. ‘My Chains piece did kind of give that away, didn’t it?’

‘It did.’ His expression sobered a little. ‘I’m sorry. It sounded like you had a bad time.’

‘I’m over it.’ And she was, she realised with a burst of pride. After today, she’d officially put that part of her life in the past.

‘Good.’ His smile returned. ‘And I wasn’t kidding when I said you might have a knack for poetry. It really was very good.’

‘Thank you.’ But much as she looked forward to turning her mind to new ventures, there was still something from her past she wanted to explore. ‘You were telling me why you’re here instead of your mum?’

‘Ah, yes.’ He glanced down to his clasped hands, then back up at her. ‘You’d sent a photo, and although the form said your first name was Lauren not Laura, everything else, including the date of birth, clicked and I knew, just knew it was you.’ She watched his throat move as he swallowed. ‘I thought, to hell with it, I’m running that course. I wanted to see you again. See if those feelings I had as a boy, were still there as a man.’

It was her turn to have to swallow as the emotion clogged her throat. ‘And are they?’

His dark eyes burned into hers. ‘God, yes. The moment I saw you, that was it. I turned into my bumbling nine-year-old self, desperately hoping the prettiest girl in the class would take notice of me.’

Her stomach flip-flopped and Lauren felt a prick at the back of her eyes. ‘Your note. Where did you find it?’

‘You left it on your desk at school. I picked it up, meaning to give it back to you, but I never screwed up the courage again. Until now.’

As his eyes pressed hers, her heart lifted. Slowly she rose to her feet and went to stand next to him. ‘What if I tell you that was the most romantic thing I’ve ever had happen to me?’

He smiled and his hands reached to clasp her face, sending tingles through her. ‘What if I ask you to have dinner with me tomorrow?’

Her heart jumped. ‘What if I tell you this is the best birthday I’ve ever had?’

His gaze dropped to her lips, and his eyes darkened. ‘What if I kiss you?’

Oh wow! Well done Kathryn – we certainly didn’t expect that and it really was the perfect ending to an amazing birthday story. 

Thank you to all our authors and to all of our supportive readers too! We hope you’ve enjoyed this story and continue to enjoy Choc Lit books for many years to come. Here’s to another year of fantastic authors and brilliant books! 

If you enjoyed Kathryn’s writing, you might like to check out her books. You can find details by clicking the images above. 

COMPETITION TIME!

To be in with a chance of winning a Choc Lit book and some chocolate to go with it simply answer the question below (we hope you’ve been reading carefully!):

What is Hugh’s mum’s real name?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin Kathryn Freeman comp’ by Tuesday 19th June. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Wednesday 20th June.

Happy Birthday Choc Lit! Part Five by Jane Lovering

We’re nine years old today! And we’re celebrating with a birthday Round Robin written by six of our talented Choc Lit authors. Lynda Stacey left us with a kiss, now it’s Jane Lovering‘s turn. Let’s see what happens next … 

In order to enjoy this story, you’ll need to read it in order, so make sure you read:

Part One by Morton S. Gray HERE
Part Two by Kirsty Ferry HERE
Part Three by Sue McDonagh HERE
Part Four by Lynda Stacey HERE

Also, remember to read right until the end so you can enter the fifth competition of the day! 

The Forgotten Birthday – Part Five

Just before he left, Hugh muttered something in her ear. ‘Page Eleven. Don’t tell anyone.’ And then, with a final ruffle through his beard, he was gone, heading downstairs towards dinner, as Marion came to her door, regally splendid in a gown comprised of equal amounts of taffeta and whalebone.

Dinner was more fun than Lauren could remember having had for some time. With Marion’s warning against Ian clanging in the back of her head, Lauren steered clear of him and tried to throw herself more into the conversation between the others. She discovered that two of the other women and one of the men actually lived not too far from her, and they exchanged email addresses with a tentative idea of forming their own writing group.

Lauren felt a curious tingle inside, a feeling of something bubbling up at the base of her throat, and she stared down at the prawn cocktail starter with narrowed eyes of suspicion, until she realised what it was. It was excitement. She was actually feeling excited for the first time in – how long? An actual, proper emotion that wasn’t unhappiness or boredom or anger! And she looked around her at these people, strangers really, who were chatting to her about their hopes for the future raising glasses of something that certainly wasn’t champagne but it was alcohol with bubbles in. And, if she ignored the fact that Ian kept trying to press his leg suggestively against hers under the table and was just asking for a fork in the thigh, she was having a really good time.

The book that Hugh had given her was weighing her bag down with more than purely the mass of pages it contained. Hugh had been right, the book had been right, she was keeping all her emotions locked away inside her head. That exercise he’d set, Chains, had shown her that she wasn’t as over her sister and husband’s infidelity as she tried to let herself believe. That the two people she’d loved most in the world could do that to her…

Lauren looked around again. The attitude of bonhomie that was spreading in equal measure to the amount of fizzy alcohol being drunk touched something inside her. One of the women, Helen her name was, raised a glass and mouthed ‘Happy Birthday!’ across the table, and Lauren smiled at the realisation that she was having a better time here, with these virtual strangers, than she’d had with her husband during practically the whole of their marriage. That she’d married him more to get away from her family than out of love. That he and her sister hadn’t really done anything to her, she had let their betrayal affect her. And maybe now, thinking how badly they’d both treated her over the years, she could see how they deserved one another. She couldn’t quite wish them a happy future, and would gladly shove pooh through their letterbox any day of the week, but still. She was getting there, buoyed up by the sense of camaraderie and acceptance she was feeling here and now.

It was only when the party was over and she’d gone back to her room, giggly and not-quite sober, that she remembered Hugh’s whisper when he’d given her the book. She turned to Page Eleven with trepidation, and, to her surprise, it wasn’t an inspirational quote. It was a small, badly-spelled note, handwritten, blu-tacked to the page.

Oh Jane. You can’t do that to us when we have to wait another hour to find out what it says on the note! Kathryn Freeman takes over for the last part of our Round Robin. We really hope you’ve been enjoying it so far! 

If you enjoyed Jane’s writing, you might like to check out her books. You can find details by clicking the images above. 

COMPETITION TIME!

To be in with a chance of winning a Choc Lit book and some chocolate to go with it simply answer the question below (we hope you’ve been reading carefully!):

What is Marion’s gown made of?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin Jane Lovering comp’ by Tuesday 19th June. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Wednesday 20th June.

Happy Birthday Choc Lit! Part Four by Lynda Stacey

We’re nine years old today! And we’re celebrating with a birthday Round Robin written by six of our talented Choc Lit authors. Sue McDonagh left us on a bit of a cliffhanger. Let’s see where Lynda Stacey takes us … 

In order to enjoy this story, you’ll need to read it in order, so make sure you read:

Part One by Morton S. Gray HERE
Part Two by Kirsty Ferry HERE
Part Three by Sue McDonagh HERE

Also, remember to read right until the end so you can enter the fourth competition of the day! 

The Forgotten Birthday – Part Four

‘Hugh …’ Lauren opened the door and glanced up and down the corridor. ‘Sorry, are you looking for someone?’ She turned, grabbed her bag, room key and slammed her door to a close behind her. She began walking down the deserted corridor and in the direction of Marion’s room.

But Hugh stood his ground.

‘Yes, of course. I … I was looking for you.’

Lauren turned as he made an attempt to smooth out the well-worn jacket and then moved his hand upward to scratch his bushy beard, while shuffling nervously from foot to foot.

‘I brought you something.’ He rummaged around in his shabby leather briefcase and pulled out an old battered book. ‘It was in my box of books, in the car.’ He blushed and held the book out towards her.

But Lauren just stood and stared. The book was dark grey with a white-ish writing. It was so battered, she couldn’t even make out the title. ‘What is it?’ She screwed up her nose.

‘Well…’ Hugh smiled and blushed all at once, ‘It’s a book of course. Walking on Alligators. I… well, I thought you’d like to read it. It might help, you know, with your writing.’

Lauren laughed. ‘Why on earth would I want to walk on Alligators?’ She rolled her eyes, turned and marched towards Marion’s door. She knocked and then stood staring at the number twelve that had been haphazardly screwed to the door.

Once again she wished for the ground to open. This was the second time in one day that a man had flirted with her and she wasn’t sure she liked it, even if Marion had said she was the youngest and prettiest on the course. She shook her head. She didn’t belong. She couldn’t write, that had been proven during the day with her chaotic list about chains.

‘I will write even if all I do is jot down some notes about my feelings. I’m storing up material for the future, without knowing what it is.’ Hugh read from the book. ‘It’s here you see, page a hundred and thirty-four. I honestly believe this is what you’re doing. You’re keeping all your emotions, all your words in a store somewhere up there.’ He pointed to her head.

Lauren sighed and smiled in appreciation. Maybe she’d been harsh. Maybe Hugh was just trying to be kind and maybe she really hadn’t given him a chance.

‘Thank you, I appreciate the book,’ she whispered as she reached up and gently kissed him on the cheek, just as Marion’s door swung open.

Awww! We’re starting to quite like Huge (despite the beard!) But what is Marion going to think when she spots the kiss? You’ll have to wait another hour to find out from Jane Lovering!

If you enjoyed Lynda’s writing, you might like to check out her books. You can find details by clicking the image above. 

COMPETITION TIME!

To be in with a chance of winning a Choc Lit book and some chocolate to go with it simply answer the question below (we hope you’ve been reading carefully!):

What is the title of the book that Hugh brings for Lauren?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin Lynda Stacey comp’ by Tuesday 19th June. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Wednesday 20th June.

Happy Birthday Choc Lit! Part Three by Sue McDonagh

We’re nine years old today! And we’re celebrating with a birthday Round Robin written by six of our talented Choc Lit authors. Morton S. Gray and Kirsty Ferry started us off and now’s it’s time for Sue McDonagh to take over. Let’s see what happens to Lauren next … 

In order to enjoy this story, you’ll need to read it in order, so make sure you read:

Part One by Morton S. Gray HERE
Part Two by Kirsty Ferry HERE

Also, remember to read right until the end so you can enter the third competition of the day! 

The Forgotten Birthday – Part Three

Was it her, or was Ian coming on just a bit too keen? Even if he had got her name right. Flustered, Lauren glanced down at the notebook under her hand, and read her own words: Freedom – my first steps to freedom. Yes. She no longer had to be bullied into what other people wanted her to do.

‘Thank you Ian, that’s really kind of you.’ She swallowed and continued in one breath, ‘But I’ve come on this course to get to know people and so I think it would be lovely to see everyone for dinner and drinks later.’

There was a little ripple of ‘lovely’ and ‘what time will you be there?’ and Lauren smiled round the class, feeling as if she’d done the right thing. Until she saw Ian’s lowered brows. She hoped she hadn’t put his nose too much out of joint. But really, she wasn’t ready for a relationship. Or even a fling. She wanted to learn to write. She cursed herself. She should have said that instead. It was easy to edit words on the page. But once they were out of your mouth, that was it.

Hugh’s voice broke in on her thoughts. ‘Well, that’s the evening sorted, thank you Laur-‘ he paused, squinting at her label, ‘-en,’ he ended, on a positively euphoric note. Lauren beamed at him, and leaned back to listen to someone else’s prose. They all seemed so much better than hers, and she fought down the impulse to creep quietly out of the class and go back home. Gradually though, she forgot herself and enjoyed listening to Hugh setting artful questions that teased information out of people about their writing. There was so much more to it than she’d realised. ‘What if,’ seemed to be a phrase that he used a lot.

There were group exercises, and although Hugh mangled almost all their names, he got them all chatting and laughing until Lauren was surprised that it was the end of the day. It turned out that Marion was in a room not far from hers, and they walked there together.

‘You did well today,’ Marion said, with a nod.

‘Really? I’ve never been on a writing course before. I have no idea what I’m doing.’

‘I meant with that Ian.’ Marion sniffed. ‘He’s a shark, he really is. I’ve seen him on other courses. Picks on the youngest, prettiest girl. Thinks he knows it all.’ She nudged Lauren with a sharp elbow. ‘But you put him in his place, straight away.’

‘Oh, I think he was just being friendly,’ Lauren said quickly. ‘I didn’t want to give him the wrong idea, that was all.’ Youngest, prettiest girl? Her? Surely not. ‘This is me – see you later at dinner.’ She closed the door quickly behind her to forestall any more conversation.

What if?

What if Ian was just lonely, and found the older women intimidating?
What if Marion was just miffed because Ian had never hit on her?

What if Hugh shaved that dreadful beard off and wore clothes that he hadn’t slept in? There’d been that moment in the classroom, when he’d met her eyes, and she’d felt oddly as if he knew her.

She sank onto the bed, her mind reeling. Today’s writing exercises had made her look at everything in a different way. Her brain felt like a foreign country.

What if … Lauren shook her head to dislodge the thought but it bobbed back like an annoying fly. What if she gave up the job she hated, and found something she actually enjoyed doing? But what else could she do? She stared out of the window at the beautiful gardens, thinking, until her gaze fell on the clock. Heck! Twenty minutes before she was meeting everyone for dinner! She leapt into the shower, deciding what to wear. Halfway through drying her hair, there was a knock at the door.

‘Five minutes!” she called, concentrating on her thick, curly hair, which would look like a frizz-ball if she didn’t finish the job properly. It was probably Marion. A spritz of perfume, a speedy make-up and lip gloss and she was ready. Palming her earrings to put in on the way, she opened the door.

It wasn’t Marion.

A bit of a cliff-hanger there! Who could be at the door? Is Ian as sleazy as he seems? Will Hugh lose the beard? You’ll have to wait for Part Four by Lynda Stacey to find out – up in an hour!

 

If you enjoyed Sue’s writing, you might like to check out her debut novel, Summer at the Art Cafe. You can find details by clicking the image above. 

COMPETITION TIME!

To be in with a chance of winning a Choc Lit book and some chocolate to go with it simply answer the question below (we hope you’ve been reading carefully!):

What sort of hair does Lauren have?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin Sue McDonagh comp’ by Tuesday 19th June. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Wednesday 20th June.

Happy Birthday Choc Lit! The Forgotten Birthday – Part Two by Kirsty Ferry

We’re nine years old today! And we’re celebrating with a birthday Round Robin written by six of our talented Choc Lit authors. Morton S. Gray started us off with a cringe-worthy birthday encounter and now it’s up to Kirsty Ferry to help poor Lauren out of her predicament (or make it even worse!) 

In order to enjoy this story, you’ll need to read it in order, so make sure you read Morton’s part first HERE. Also, remember to read right until the end so you can enter the second competition of the day! 

The Forgotten Birthday – Part Two

‘I think the Birthday Girl should read her work out first.’ That was Ian, smiling again at Lauren as they settled back onto their tables after the birthday embarrassment. He’d moved desks so he was bang opposite her now. Yes. She definitely wanted the floor to open up and swallow her. ‘It’s her special day after all.’

‘Oh no, I really don’t think so.’ Lauren smiled back, trying to take the edge off her words. She closed her notebook firmly and rested her hand on it, as if Hugh would whisk it out from under her nose and read her garbage on “chains” out himself.

‘The first time’s the hardest.’ Ian leaned across the table. ‘It gets better after that.’ He winked and she blushed to the roots of her hair.

‘…’

She was, actually, speechless – words were not enough to respond to him. A big problem when one was in a creative writing class. She was so out of practice with this flirtation business; because surely that’s what he was doing.

‘He’s right,’ chipped in Hugh. ‘Ivan–’ he squinted at Ian’s stuck-on name, ‘is correct.’

‘Ian.’ Ian smiled at Hugh. ‘Ian is right. And so I am. Go on Lauren.’ He emphasised her name and Lauren blushed again. ‘We’d love to hear your work. You’re among friends. At least, I hope we’re friends. Only friends go to each other’s birthday parties.’

‘Very true.’ Lauren sighed and looked at the sea of expectant faces. ‘Okay. I’ll do it. Then that’s it. Someone else can do it next time.’ She opened her book and her stomach churned as she looked at the words she’d scrawled on the paper.

‘Have a bit of cake, love,’ said Marion encouragingly, pushing a plate closer towards her. Hugh had brought the cake through with them and placed it in front of her enticingly. ‘It always helps me.’

Lauren grinned, her stomach suddenly unknotting. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad. She looked at the words and took a deep breath. ‘Chains. Bitter. Twisted. A prisoner. My marriage. My life. Break free. He broke me. Freedom – my first steps to freedom. My robin, red as the sunrise, red as a berry. He’s free, he’s happy. He’s unchained. As am I. Now …’

Her skin was burning, and she couldn’t continue. Surprisingly, it was still so raw. Her sister’s betrayal, finding her in bed with her very own husband. She felt sick – properly sick. ‘Good grief.’ She stared at the notebook. ‘I’m so sorry. I don’t know where that all came from.’ She looked up at Hugh, almost apologetic. ‘Well. I’ve put a downer on that exercise, haven’t I? On my bloody birthday as well!’

Hugh nodded, efficient yet understanding. ‘It’s fine. These courses–’ he waved his hand around the room, ‘–they can be cathartic. They can dredge things up. But they can also help. Don’t forget, we’re all here to support each other.’ He looked around the room. ‘Isn’t that right?’

The assembled writers all nodded.

‘I thought it was great.’ Ian was looking at her. ‘Almost poetry. Wouldn’t you agree?’ He looked around the room, and everyone else nodded and murmured assent.

Lauren smiled gratefully. ‘I never thought I was a poet.’ She hadn’t written much beyond a shopping list since she’d got married.

‘We discover all sorts about ourselves on these courses.’ Ian was looking at her in admiration. ‘You, perhaps, will discover you’ve got a knack for poetry.’

Hugh chipped in again, clearly worried that Ian was taking the lead when he was supposed to be in charge. ‘Yes. Ivan is correct. Again. We do run specific courses in poetry – perhaps you might like to explore that another time, Laura?’

Lauren looked at Hugh and their eyes fixed on one another’s for a moment. She blinked and he blinked, and he was the first to look away. ‘Of course,’ he said, rubbing that beard again, ‘that offer is open to everyone here. Just saying.’

‘I really do think you’ve got the makings of a poem there.’ Ian tapped his pen on his notebook and looked at Lauren. ‘Lauren.’ Again, the emphasis was on her name. ‘If you want to chat about it later at dinner, I’m very happy to chat to you. And, maybe, buy you a birthday drink?’

Are things looking up a bit for Lauren? And do we sense that there’s going to be a bit of rivalry between Ian and Hugh? We’ll see when Sue McDonagh takes up the reins with the next part of the story in an hour’s time. Don’t miss it! 

   If you enjoyed Kirsty’s writing, you might like to check out her books. You can find details by clicking the image above. 

COMPETITION TIME!

To be in with a chance of winning a Choc Lit book and some chocolate to go with it simply answer the question below (we hope you’ve been reading carefully!):

What does Hugh think Ian’s name is?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin Kirsty Ferry comp’ by Tuesday 19th June. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Wednesday 20th June.

Happy Birthday Choc Lit! The Forgotten Birthday – Part One by Morton S. Gray

Can you believe it? We’re nine years old today! And what better way to celebrate than with a birthday story written collaboratively by our authors, competitions, prizes and a hefty slice of virtual chocolate cake? We invite you to join us 🙂 

We’ll be sharing an extract of the story every hour until the end of the day. With every extract there’ll be a book+chocolate prize and, with six extracts, there’ll be plenty of opportunity to win! Simply read each extract to the end so you can answer a question about the story and see how to enter (we’re sure you won’t find it hard as the story’s a corker!) 

Morton S. Gray starts us off this morning, where we meet Lauren on the morning of her thirtieth birthday, and she’s getting ready for an adventure … 

The Forgotten Birthday – Part One

Lauren woke to the sound of the post plopping onto the doormat. She shrugged on her dressing gown and walked down the steep staircase of her tiny terraced house, retrieving the mail before she went into the tiny kitchen. Her friend the robin was sitting on the bird feeder outside of the window. It was almost as if he waited for her morning greeting and conversation before flying off to do whatever robins did all day.

‘Morning, Red. I know I’m late. I need to get a move on. It’s my birthday you know. Thirty. How did that happen?’

She filled the kettle, set it to boil and glanced half-heartedly at the assorted envelopes. It wasn’t likely that anyone would have sent her a birthday card. When you’d fallen out with your sister over a year ago and divorced your ex about the same time, it didn’t bode well for surprise parties or birthday greetings.

It took her the time it needed for the kettle to switch off to brave those envelopes. A charity request, store card coupons, a bill and a bank statement. No surprise there then.

‘Whoopee do! Happy birthday, Lauren.’

A cup of coffee made her feel more human and the robin uncharacteristically came back for a second visit to the bird feeder.

‘Thank you, Red. You’re the man who always make me feel special.’

The little bird bobbed into a bow, just as if he’d understood every word. Lauren laughed. Time to get ready to face her big adventure.

She’d booked her birthday treat well in advance and taken this Friday as holiday from her boring job in insurance administration. Only now did her stomach do a somersault when she thought about those unknown strangers’ faces. At least they wouldn’t know it was her birthday.

It was a terrible habit to talk to herself, but as she lived alone, it kept her on track. ‘Shower, tick, bag packed, tick, rubbish put out, tick, bird feeder well stocked for Red, tick, car keys, yes. Right let’s get this show on the road.’

Following the satnav’s annoying male voice, she headed south, stopping for another coffee at a service station on the motorway. The countryside got lovelier as she neared her destination in the Cotswolds. She kept repeating her Thomas the Tank Engine mantra. ‘I can do it, I will do it, I can …’

Before she knew it, her things were installed in a single ensuite room and she’d found her way to the conference room. There were eleven other creative writing students, five men, seven women. They all arranged their notebooks and pens on the tables and gave each other shy glances. They would be spending two days together – it was a voyage into the unknown.

Just when Lauren decided she really ought to try to make conversation and break the ice, the door crashed open. A man carrying, or rather dropping, a large cardboard box, lurched in.

‘Sorry, so sorry, I’m late, traffic was awful. Now I know you were expecting Daphne Peacock, my … erm, mother, but I’m afraid she’s sick, so you’ve got me instead.’

Hmm, this wasn’t the inspiring person she’d been hoping for. She loved Daphne Peacock’s novels. The man looked as if his jacket had seen better days, his beard was bushy. Lauren hated beards.

One of the guys helped the man pick up the box and put it on the desk. All sorts of things were spewing out of the cardboard – magazines, leaves, odd bits of metal, a watch.

‘I’m Hugh, I’m a published writer, three novels now and I’m your tutor for the weekend.’ He rummaged in the box and retrieved two rolls of sticky labels and marker pens. He scrawled Hugh on one of the labels, pressed it to his chest and then passed the rest around for the rest to do the same.

‘What sort of fiction do you write, Hugh?’ asked a fifty-something woman with a label that said Marion.

‘Romantic suspense novels, actually.’ The expression on his face suggested he was used to a weird reaction to that statement.

More rummaging in the battered box and he bought out a folder brimming with words torn from magazines.

‘Right, we’ve only got a short session before our lunch, so grab a word and write whatever comes into your head. Best to pick one at random, I find.’

Lauren found her heart-rate increase and her stomach churning as she stared with horror at the word she had picked out – chains.

Hugh was speaking again. ‘Don’t worry about this exercise, it’s just a warm up. We can share what we write in the session after lunch. Prose or poem is fine.’

It certainly broke the ice, after a tense thirty minutes of silence, apart from pens scratching over paper, the group made their way down to the dining room chattering away. Lauren held back a little listening to what the others were saying. There was a table set aside for them in the refectory with a huge Creative Writing label. Lauren glanced around at the nearby tables, Life Drawing, Vegetable Gardening, Drumming, were the ones she caught sight of.

They were the first course to arrive, but the room soon filled up. Lauren exchanged a few words about her journey with Marion and tried to assess the rest of the course members from underneath her eyelashes. All ages, but predominantly older than her. One of the men was smiling broadly at her. She squinted to read his badge, Ian, and then avoided making eye contact.

Then it happened!

A woman appeared through the door marked kitchen with a birthday cake, candles aflame and came straight over to their table.

Hugh leapt into action. ‘The course administrator noticed we had a birthday girl in our midst, Laura.’

Cheeks aflame, Lauren got up. He obviously meant her even if he had got her name wrong. She stood frozen by Hugh’s side as everyone in the room sang Happy Birthday to Laura.

‘Lauren’ she mouthed under her breath and belatedly realised she was talking aloud as if speaking to her tame robin. So much for anonymity and escape on a course miles from home.

Hugh’s face suggested he was puzzled by her reaction. Lauren blew out the candles and scurried back to her seat, amid congratulatory noises from around the room.

‘We can have the cake with our tea in the meeting room later,’ said Hugh, smiling.

Lauren wanted the floor to open and swallow her up. She’d have to read her prose piece about chains when they got back to the room …

Oh dear, how embarrassing for poor Lauren. We’re cringing for her but also can’t wait to find out more! We’re sure you feel the same. And you don’t have to wait too much longer as Kirsty Ferry’s second instalment will be up in the next hour! 

     If you Morton’s writing, you might like to check out her fabulous novels. You can find details by clicking the images above. 

COMPETITION TIME!

To be in with a chance of winning a Choc Lit book and some chocolate to go with it simply answer the question below (we hope you’ve been reading carefully!):

What is the name of Hugh’s mother?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin Morton S. Gray comp’ by Tuesday 19th June. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Wednesday 20th June.

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.

Happy Birthday to Us! Birthday Round Robin: Part Four by Jane Lovering

Birthday Round Robin Pt 4

It’s our eighth birthday today and we’re celebrating with a birthday story written collaboratively by our authors, competitions, prizes and a hefty slice of virtual chocolate cake! We invite you to join us :)  

Lynda Stacey, Kathryn Freeman and Lisa Hill have had their turns and now it’s time for Jane Lovering to step up. Let’s see what happens next! Remember to make sense of the story, you will need to read the parts in order:

Lynda Stacey’s Part One is HERE

Kathryn Freeman’s Part Two is HERE

Lisa Hill’s Part Three is HERE

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

The Birthday Surprise – Part Four by Jane Lovering 

Anna stomped. There was no other word for it, she stomped her way across the driveway, passing groups who threw her puzzled looks that made her cheeks burn like beacons.  How could I?  How could I have been so stupid to think that he would invite me? And does Helen really not think I know a set-up when I see one?

Aware that the heels of possibly the most expensive shoes she’d ever owned were sinking into mud now, Anna stopped.  She was standing by the lake. No, not a lake. A pretentious puddle. Look, he’s even got a rowing boat! Just how pathetically bourgeois Declan is these days! She wondered for a moment how that sweet, shy young man could have turned into the sort of person who would have allowed himself to own a mansion and let her fall for a trick like Helen had played on her …

It was quiet out here.  Anna rubbed her hands over her cheeks, smearing the make up she’d so carefully applied to make her look closer to her dewy-skinned sixteen-year-old self, so that Declan would recognise her, and gave herself a talking-to. Yeah. He fancied me when I was sixteen.  But that was a long time ago, and we’re different people now, and besides, he didn’t even care enough to send a card when mum died, so just how much did he really like me? Or was he disappointed that I didn’t rip my knickers off for him on prom night? She rubbed her face again and let an image of ‘what might have been’ skip across the surface of the lake in front of her – glorious sex with Declan. Teenage pregnancy. Minimum wage jobs, to keep the kids fed and life in a too-small flat … no. It was probably better that they’d parted that night with their illusions and virginities intact.

‘Are you all right?’ The voice came from behind her and she turned slowly round to see Declan standing on the bank above the lake shore.  ‘What’s happened to your face?’  He sounded shocked.

‘Well, fourteen years, for a start! Did you really think I’d look the same as I did on Prom Night? Am I not allowed to have aged?’ Anna took a step back, indignation flaming into her cheeks again. ‘I suppose you still don’t shave and have a poster of the Spooks cast on your wall?’  Another step back as he started to approach down the bank, his shiny evening shoes reflecting the moonlight.

‘I meant … you’ve got black stuff everywhere. You look like a bad Marilyn Manson impersonator.’

The dawning horror as she realised that her mascara must now be equally distributed over her entire face was matched by a slow-creeping cold that told her she’d backed away so far that she was now up to her ankles in the lapping water of the lake.  Anna decided there was nothing else for it, and she gathered her dignity beneath her and stood on it firmly.  ‘If you were a gentleman you wouldn’t have mentioned it. And you wouldn’t have followed me. You’d let me have my moment of misery in peace.’

‘I didn’t know you were having a moment of misery.  Why would you be? Ralph invited you to my party, and you came, next thing you’re dashing off like a Cinderella who’s decided on an early night.  I haven’t even had chance to be rude to you yet.’  Declan came down to the lake shore and reached out an arm.  ‘Would you like a hand getting out of the water, or will you berate me for spoiling your paddle?’

There was nothing else for it.  Anna took the offered hand and found herself tugged up close against Declan.  He still smelled of sandalwood, her subconscious noted. She hoped she’d been wrong about the Spooks poster.

‘Why didn’t …?’ they both started to speak simultaneously, then stopped.

‘You still look good,’ Declan started cautiously again, as though waiting for Anna to shout him down.  ‘Apart from the black stuff, obviously. I heard about your mum, I’m sorry.’

‘Not sorry enough to write, though,’ Anna said, a touch tartly, but with a warm feeling starting to trickle down through her chest.

‘I was a sixteen year old boy! I had no idea what to say, “sorry your mum died, school is going well and we’ve got a new Head of English?” Not really…’ he tailed off.  ‘And I did write, once or twice. But …’ he shrugged.  ‘Why didn’t you give me your email address?’

Anna opened her mouth to answer, but couldn’t.  Why hadn’t she made it easier to get in touch? ‘I think, when mum died and Helen was so little – I had to look after her. Everything else sort of went out of my head.’

Declan gave her a smile. It was the smile she’d remembered most, she thought. A slow, cautious sort of smile that lit up his eyes.  ‘Then maybe we could try again …’ he started to speak, but was interrupted by a flurry of commotion at the top of the bank, and then a breathless Ralph was running towards them, his jacket flapping unbuttoned and his hair awry.

‘You’d better get here, Dec,’ he said, puffing slightly. ‘Magda has turned up with a bunch of blokes and she’s threatening to burn the house down.’

Trust Jane Lovering to leave things on a cliffhanger! Kirsty Ferry has her work cut out for her finishing off this story – but she will be in the next couple of hours. Keep an eye 🙂 We can’t wait to see how it ends! 

9781781893531

     If you enjoyed Jane’s writing, you might like to check out her recent release Can’t Buy Me Love. Click HERE for more information.

COMPETITION TIME!

To be in with a chance of winning a copy of Can’t Buy Me Love and some chocolate simply answer the question below (we hope you’ve been reading carefully!):

Who does Declan think Anna looks like with mascara all over her face?

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

Happy Birthday to Us! Birthday Round Robin: Part Two by Kathryn Freeman

Birthday Round Robin Pt 2

It’s our eighth birthday today and we’re celebrating with a birthday story written collaboratively by our authors, competitions, prizes and a hefty slice of virtual chocolate cake! We invite you to join us 🙂 

Lynda Stacey started off our Round Robin in a very intriguing way and now it’s up to Kathryn Freeman to continue the story. Let’s see what happens next! Remember to make sense of the story, you will need to read the parts in order, so read Lynda’s Part One first HERE

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

The Birthday Surprise – Part Two by Kathryn Freeman

Declan stared in horror at the fancy invitation card – the one announcing his birthday party, for crying out loud – before glaring over at his brother.

‘Tell me this is a joke. Tell me you haven’t sent this out to anyone.’

Ralph, of the dashing good looks and forever smiling face, had the good sense to at least look apologetic, even though Declan knew it was an act. ‘I thought you’d be pleased. Flattered. Excited?’

Declan wasn’t any of those things. ‘I’ll tell you what I am. Fed up. Annoyed. Ready to punch someone.’

Proving he had a strong sense of self-preservation, along with his modicum of good sense, Ralph took a few steps back. ‘Come on, it’ll be fun. A man doesn’t turn thirty every day.’

‘Exactly,’ Declan hissed. ‘I’m a thirty-year-old man. Not a three-year-old boy. I don’t want a frigging birthday party.’

‘Why not?’ Before Declan had the chance to remind him he didn’t do parties, didn’t do socialising. Didn’t do any of the normal things a thirty-year-old might be expected to do, Ralph was talking again. ‘You’ve turned into a recluse and I’m not prepared to sit back and let you waste your life any longer. If you don’t want to celebrate the milestone of thirty years, how about celebrating that it’s been two years, since … you know.’

Declan did know. He didn’t need a ruddy party to remind him of the fact. ‘Not a fact I want to remember,’ he answered curtly.

‘Eight years since you last flashed those dimples of yours?’ It was said with a smile, but the message was clear.

‘Eight isn’t a particularly significant milestone,’ Declan countered, ignoring the dig.

‘Every milestone is significant. Every one worth celebrating, especially if it makes you smile.’

‘I’ve had damn little to smile about for a long while.’

A brief flash of sympathy crossed his brother’s face. ‘I know. Which is why I wanted to do something to rectify that.’

Declan felt a tug of remorse. ‘Okay, I appreciate the sentiment, but a party? Seriously? Do you not know me at all?’ Maybe he no longer did, Declan thought with a wave of sadness.

‘I know you once liked to party,’ Ralph said quietly. ‘I remember your school prom. How you couldn’t stop smiling when you put on that suit. Slicked back your hair like some sort of second coming of Elvis.’

Declan felt his chest tighten as an image of a girl with dark red hair in a long green dress flashed through his mind. Next to her he saw himself, all wide-eyed, innocent and eager. No clue of what life had in store for him. ‘It wasn’t the thought of the party that had me smiling,’ he admitted gruffly.

‘I know. It was that girl you kept drooling over.’ Ralph paused, giving Declan a careful study. ‘What happened to her, do you know?’

Declan sighed, shoving his hands in his pockets. It all seemed a lifetime ago. ‘She moved schools, we lost touch.’ He’d written once, painfully scratching out attempt after attempt at a letter until finally ending up with something stilted and short. He’d never received a reply.

‘Umm.’ Ralph’s eyes drifted away from his and over to the window before finally glancing down at his watch. ‘Well, we’d better get ready. Guests are due to arrive in a few hours.’

‘How many guests, exactly?’

‘Well, let me see. If I’d gone with just the people you count as friends, there’d be  …’ Ralph held up his hand and started to count his fingers. ‘Two?’

Declan resisted the urge to throw something at him. ‘Two would be my sort of party.’

‘Yeah. And about as lively as a nursing home after lunch. So I also invited the family we still talk to, plus those of my friends who can tolerate you.’

‘Thanks.’

‘And a few people from work.’

Declan raised his brow. ‘How’s it going on that front? Didn’t you have a new apprentice starting?’

‘Yes, Helen. Lovely girl. She used to go to the same school as us.’

‘Oh?’ Was it his imagination, or was Ralph avoiding his eyes?

‘She’s eight years younger than me but it’s surprising how many connections we had in common.’

Declan narrowed his eyes. ‘Do you fancy this girl?’

‘Of course not.’

‘Then why are you staring at the wall behind me when you talk about her?’

‘I’m not.’ Ralph’s eyes swung back to his. ‘Just because you don’t have a love life, don’t think you have to help mine. I do perfectly well by myself, thank you very much.’

Anxious to avoid any further discussion on how sad Ralph thought his older brother’s life was, Declan nodded. ‘Fine.’

‘Right, I’ll leave you to try and make yourself presentable for your guests.’

As Ralph walked towards the door Declan sighed, pulling out his phone. What the hell? ‘Ralph,’ he shouted, stopping his brother just before he left. ‘Why have I got a whole load of requests to be friends with people on Facebook? I don’t have a bloody Facebook account.’

‘Ah.’ Ralph smirked back at him. ‘You do now. Consider it part of your birthday present, along with the party. My contribution to bringing Declan Doherty back to life.’

Oooh, the plot thickens! What’s led to Declan’s reclusive tendencies – and can a birthday party bring him out of his shell? We’ll find out in a couple of hours time when Lisa Hill takes her turn 🙂 

9781781892879

     If you enjoyed Kathryn’s writing, you might like to check out her upcoming paperback, Before You. Click HERE for more information.

COMPETITION TIME!

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

How many years younger is Helen than Ralph?

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