Four Weddings

Move Over DarlingGrab your fascinators – it’s Four Weddings time! To celebrate the release of The Wedding Diary by Margaret James, we’ve asked four lovely Choc Lit authors to imagine their characters’ weddings.

Which wedding would you most like to be a guest at? Don’t forget to leave your vote at the end of the post!

Gethin and Coralie from Move Over Darling by Christine Stovell

What a beautiful spring day and what a glorious setting! Blinking, as she emerged from the cool interior of the old stone building, Coralie paused to take stock. The little church was set on top of a hill, from where emerald fields tumbled down to a turquoise sea. A winding road led to the village of Penmorfa and eventually to the garden centre where the reception was being held. Having popped over there first thing, Coralie knew that Alys and Kitty had pulled out all the stops in the large marquee with its striped-canvas roof spread out jewel-like in the beautiful grounds.

You look absolutely ravishing in that dress, Mrs Lewis,’ said the handsome man beside her in his sexy Welsh lilt.

Coralie shivered, delighted that her gamble had paid off. The vintage silk organza wedding dress had arrived as exactly described; prom-style, with an extravagantly-full skirt, a high neck, deep V back and a cinched-in waist. She’d accessorised it with an orange duchesse silk bow in her piled-up copper hair and matching orange shoes.

She gazed up into Gethin’s face as the sunlight caught the intense, blue-black of his hair, the twinkle of his midnight eyes, and a glint of white teeth as he smiled. Her husband. Her husband! Her once-secret love was no secret anymore and she felt like shouting it from the highest hills, telling the daffodils and anyone else would listen. But, first …

‘I look equally ravishing out of it,’ she said, stretching up to whisper in his ear, just as the photographer snapped them.

When anyone asked afterwards what she was saying to her husband, Coralie just smiled. But the photograph always reminded her of the most perfect start to their married life.

The Gilded FanNico and Midori from The Gilded Fan by Christina Courtenay

The wedding of Midori Kumashiro and Nicholas Noordholt was something quite out of the ordinary.

‘I’ve never seen a more exotic bride!’ cousin Temperance exclaimed when she first saw Midori in her wedding finery. ‘You look like a Far Eastern princess.’

Midori’s gown was made out of the brightly coloured silk material which had once been her best kimono. After the hardships of the recent civil war, and with most of the congregation being Puritans, it wasn’t really suitable. But it was a compromise – better than marrying in the original garment, which would no doubt have scandalised everyone. Her hair hung loose down her back, dark and glossy, almost to her knees and she needed no other adornment – she was quite simply beautiful and radiated happiness.

The groom was exceedingly handsome too, in a midnight blue silk coat, waistcoat and breeches, with a white silk shirt and stockings. It was his expression that drew the onlookers’ attention, however, as he watched his bride come towards him on the arm of her cousin Daniel. He looked like a man who’d found the greatest treasure on earth.

Temperance, as maid of honour, wore a pale blue gown that complemented her lovely eyes. Both she and the bride carried small posies of white damask roses tied with ribbons. Everyone else was dressed in their Sunday best.

A feast was held in the Marston household after the ceremony, featuring pastries, tarts, marchpane, crystallised fruits, cakes and jellies, as well as some foreign dishes concocted by the

bride herself. Wine and ale flowed freely and everyone joined in the dancing afterwards.  It was the most joyous of occasions and one which the guests wouldn’t forget in a hurry.

No Such Thing as Immortality

Nate and Rowan from No Such Thing as Immortality by Sarah Tranter

I stood alone before the altar in the family chapel and closed my eyes. The stale musty air became infused with the fragrance of white roses. My daydreaming of Rowan at Ridings was reaching new heights …

‘Chill,’ James murmured at my side. He patted his pocket containing the Gray family wedding band.

‘Me?’ I queried with a wry rise of my brow. James was the one fidgeting. Aunty Hetty’s presence was more than unsettling him. He sent a fruitful rant my way.

My coat was tugged. I turned and looked down. Rowan’s nephew. I smiled but shook my head. There was a time and place for dressing up as a dinosaur. He returned to running around pews with his brother and being reprimanded by his parents.

My eyes met Elizabeth’s. Oh sweetheart. ‘I’m so happy,’ she bawled into my head, swiping away her tears of blood before they could be seen by the humans in the congregation. Frederick, arms around her, grinned at me and rolled his eyes.

Madeleine, next to him, observed silently, ‘You are the something old, Nathaniel. Any idea as to …?’

My look shot to the open door. And there she was. Dear God! I was barely aware of her being on the arm of her Uncle Fergus. He was wearing a kilt, sword, but no shirt ― even on this day! But Rowan … She was in full-length ivory, her glorious hair piled loosely around her head, her mother’s pendant around her neck. And her smile! Our eyes had met and held and it was as if time stood still. That look within their stunning verdant depths was reflecting all that she felt, all that I felt …

I swallowed hard and inhaled deeply of the dank musty air. How I prayed time was not our something borrowed.

A Stitch in Time

John and Sarah from A Stitch in Time by Amanda James

Sarah Yates, time traveller extraordinaire, looked at her reflection and felt her heart do a rumba against her ribs. Even if she said so herself, she looked beautiful…and yes, even a little radiant. The ivory silk gown clung in all the right places and rippled sumptuously to the floor. Sarah grinned, noticing that with her slightest movement, the silk caught the light and poured material across her curves like cream over a spoon.

A single string of pearls adorned her neck, the matching teardrop earrings adding lustre to her peaches and cream complexion. Hand-made lace decorating the neckline tumbled to a halt, revealing just a hint of cleavage rising and falling to the rumba rhythm.

Artistically twisted into Botticelli tendrils; her long golden hair, the side tresses secured behind her head in a simple pearl clasp, looked absolutely perfect. And today was going to be perfect. Allowed carte blanche for one special day by ‘the powers that be’, she and John had chosen a very special wedding venue and a very special time.

In a clearing of an English forest when the world was young and full of hope, accompanied by birdsong, Sarah walked a path of flower petals towards her fiancé. Divine in a dark grey suit and green shirt, his dark hair curling over the collar, John turned and shot her a smile rivalling the sunlight streaming through the leafy canopy.

At the end of the path he took her hand, his deep green eyes twinkled and his wide sensuous mouth broke into another heart-stopping smile. And Sarah knew that despite their very much ‘less than normal’ relationship, she was soon going to be the happiest woman in the world.

What is Christina up to at the moment?

tgf_packshot-copy2When you’ve had a book published, done all the PR/blogging/tweeting etc to launch it into the world and things start to calm down again, the question you are asked most frequently is “what are you working on now?” (That is, if you are talking to fellow book-lovers/writers, not family members who still haven’t realised that writing isn’t a hobby you pursue in between cooking, cleaning or washing up for them.)

For me, that question often doesn’t have a straight-forward answer, because I’m a bit of a writing butterfly. I flit from one story to another, working on one for a while, then get bored and work on something else – I have a very low boredom threshold. Apart from new writing projects, there are also edits for forthcoming novels that have to be done of course, so sometimes that means I can be working on up to four different stories more or less at once. Here’s a little summary of what I’m doing right now:-

Edits for New England Rocks – I’ve just finished the second round of edits for my YA novel due to be published in August (yeah, very excited about that!). There was a small snag, shall we say, which eagle-eyed editor Rachel discovered in between Edit no1 and Edit no2, so that took a couple of days to fix, but I think we’re sorted now (at least I hope so!). I’ll have to wait until next week to find out and then there will be proof-reading.

Umpteenth draft of second YA novel, sequel to the above. I wrote this a while ago and when starting to revise it again I discovered I’d used the hero’s name in another book – disaster! Cue major trawl through endless name lists in order to find one that suited his personality. I can’t write unless my characters have the right names!

Second draft of Monsoon Mists (provisional title), the third in the Kinross trilogy. Those of you who read Highland Storms will know that Brice Kinross’s brother Jamie caused a lot of trouble, but things were not quite what they seemed so I thought it only fair that he should get to tell his side of the story. For the last few months or so, I’ve been working on this and at the moment I’m chewing my nails waiting to receive my beta readers’ verdicts. I know it will need more work, but at least I’ve got to the stage where I dared to send it to them (progress indeed)!

Revision of the third book in my Japanese trilogy so that I might dare to send it to the Choc Lit tasting panel. That’s going to take some time …

In between these bursts of writing, I’m also trying to prepare myself for the RT Booklovers’ Convention in Kansas City which I’ll be attending at the beginning of May with some of the other ChocLiteers. In case you think we’re just going there to have fun (you may have heard that there are parties just about every night and even a ball, not to mention male cover models on the premises 24/7?) – fear not, I promise we will be working hard. Workshops, talks, networking, you name it – we’ll be attending everything. And we’ll report back afterwards with, hopefully, plenty of inspiring photos. With all this socialising, er, I mean working, I have a feeling my wardrobe and suitcase are both going to prove woefully inadequate, but as the convention hotel is apparently situated right next to a shopping mall, I’m not too worried. I may even forget a few things on purpose :-)

So what are you up to?

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?

Going to the Ball

festivalofromanceAs the Festival of Romance approaches, the thought that seems to be occupying most attendees’ minds is not “who is going to win an award?”, but “OMG, what am I going to wear?!” There have been discussions about shoes, dresses and accessories on Facebook, Twitter and various blogs, with suggestions flying back and forth.

Officially, we’re going to a Ball, which to me would mean long, formal dresses, but these days it’s also acceptable to wear a cocktail dress or very nice short dress. I was a bit hazy as to the term “cocktail dress”, so I looked it up. According to Wikipedia it’s a “woman’s dress worn at cocktail parties or semi-formal occasions” and was originally fairly long, either just above the ankle or ankle-length. But nowadays the length doesn’t matter, only its level of “sumptuousness”.

Hmm … So really, it’s up to the wearer to decide if they think their outfit is sumptuous enough, right? Which is just as well, because judging by past events we have attended, the Choc Lit authors (and everyone else) have wildly differing personal styles and I’m all for that.

chocliteerssmallAs teenagers, most of us follow fashion slavishly, whether it suits us or not (rah-rah skirts anyone? Ye gods …). But with maturity and confidence you develop your own fashion sense and get an eye for what looks good on you and what doesn’t. I think most of us instinctively seek out the colours that suit us best and with practice you realise that some clothes just weren’t made for a shape like yours.

To me, part of the fun of going to an event like the Festival of Romance Ball is seeing what everyone else is wearing and we do scrub up quite well I think. But we all show our personalities through our clothes (see photo on the left for example). We couldn’t be more different if we tried, but this is the true “us” and I love it that we’re not all clones! Our outfits are as different as our books, even though they come under the same heading of “romance”. I guess it would be fun to do an experiment some time, swapping clothes, but I have a feeling it would be a fashion disaster :)

myshoessmallSo – if you’re attending the ball, what are you going to wear? And if you’re not, what would you have worn? Me? I’ll be in silver and grey, plus shoes I can’t walk in … nothing new there then!

Christina’s Wednesday W

swelake2Like Evonne, I was having trouble coming up with a suitable topic for the Wednesday W feature and flicking through my dictionary didn’t produce any worthwhile results. (Couldn’t think of anything to say about “worthwhile” unfortunately). So I asked my daughter to suggest something. She said “water”.

fairybridge2At first I said no, I can’t write about that because Mandy already did a post about the sea, but then I thought – why not? There are lots of other types of water! Lakes, ponds, rivers and waterfalls. Moats too and, of course, rain!

waterfall3There’s something very soothing about water, just looking at it I mean. All the above are peaceful in their own ways and very often something you stop to stare at for a while. Is there anything more beautiful than a still lake at sunset? A river gently flowing under an old stone bridge? A little pond full of shiny koi fish? Or a waterfall, shimmering in the sunshine? They all calm the spirit. Even rain is wonderful, especially if you’re indoors, snug and warm, just listening to it or watching rivulets running down your windows.

ragmoat3I spent all my childhood summers in a little cottage by a lake, swimming almost every day no matter the temperature of the water. (Yes, I was and am a complete water baby.) I even swam when it was only 16 degrees Celsius (60 Fahrenheit), only emerging when my lips were turning blue and my teeth chattering so much I couldn’t speak. I just loved it! And when I wasn’t in the the water, I was on it, messing around in an old boat, learning how to row, trying fairly unsuccessfully to fish, or pretending my friends and I were pirates. I’m sure this all fed my imagination no end!

fish2Whenever I can, I go and sit by the waterfall in the Japanese Garden in London’s Holland Park. It gives me inspiration for writing and is a great reminder of the stark beauty and orderliness of Japan, which I often write about. The pond beneath the fall (or one like it) has featured in two of my books and it’s a wonderful place to just sit and think.

But my favourites are, of course, the Swedish lakes near where I grew up and although I don’t get to go there as often as I’d like, they stay in my memory so I only have to close my eyes and I’m there.

rain2How about you, what kind of water do you prefer and does it inspire you in any way?

Christina – When Research is Fun!

devonmeleatherjsmallThe very word “research” sounds a bit dry and boring, at least to me. And I freely admit I’m not one of those writers who gets totally absorbed in researching my next WIP and forgets about actually writing the book. On the contrary, I can’t wait to finish the research. I’d rather just tell the story, without having to read up on anything beforehand.

Unfortunately, that’s not possible when you write historical novels – I have to have the background knowledge of the period, as well as a grasp on the clothing, social conventions of the time, and things like food and travel. And of course, I need to know all the facts about the specific events that occur in my story (if it’s based on real ones).  But once I have all that, I only look up things as and when I need them, rather than storing facts in my brain “just in case”.

Obviously, there are great ways of making the research more fun, which don’t involve trawling through musty tomes that send you to sleep within two pages. For example, I love going to museums to see the artefacts that would have been used and handled by my characters. I also really enjoy watching films set in the right era, even if the filmmakers don’t always get the details right. And then there are the places you can visit where whole “sets” have been built up, including the relevant smells in some cases, or where they let you experience things belonging to certain eras for yourself. That can really help!

devonfemaleclothingsmallA couple of weeks ago I made a research trip to just such a place, Torrington 1646 at Great Torrington in Devon. There they have a permanent exhibition about the time of the English Civil War. Visitors are given talks on things like clothing, weapons and medicine for this period and I had a wonderful time imagining myself back in 1646.

Although I didn’t get to try on the women’s clothing (someone else did that), I wore a man’s leather jerkin (which was amazingly heavy due to the fact that it was made of thick buffalo hide!), a Puritan style felt hat and I was given a musket to hold.  Later, I learned how to load and fire the musket (in principle only, I didn’t actually shoot anything) and how to fight with a pike as part of a “hedge-pig” formation.  Finally, I had a lesson in medicinal plants, which was extremely interesting.

(This is NOT me in a beard)

(This is NOT me in a beard)

Now all I have to do is incorporate it all into my edits!

Anyone else done any fun research recently?

(The Gilded Fanset during the Civil War, will be published in February 2013)

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

Christina’s ‘time-out’

at1Can you tell I’m still having sport withdrawal symptoms after the Olympics? Even the various terms used seem to have seeped into my brain! I guess it didn’t help that I had a houseguest who loves basketball in particular, so I saw quite a few games of that which is probably why this word (or should that be words? Dictionary claims it has a hyphen) stuck with me especially. But what really struck me was the whole ‘time-out’ concept. I want to apply it to real life sometimes!

It seems to me that writers don’t often have proper time off because even when we’re away on holiday we usually take our laptop/netbook/iPhone or whatever with us. It’s hard to resist the lure of “just checking” FB, Twitter or e-mails and although I always intend it to be a quick look, often it turns into a lengthy session. We’re also always thinking about our writing even when we’re not actually sitting at the keyboard, and disengaging the brain from our stories can be almost impossible!

It’s been a very busy summer for me with no real holiday time anyway so there have been momentss when I’ve felt like shouting ‘stop, time-out’, like the basketball coach did. To just have a day off without thinking about anything other than relaxing and doing whatever I wish without any pressure – perfect! Today I’ve decided to do just that because I finally have a really good excuse – it’s my birthday.

I’m old enough not to need a fuss on my special day any more and although I love receiving presents (who doesn’t?), that’s not the point for me. The main thing is that I get to spend the day exactly how I want to. I can sit and read, ignore the chores, eat nothing but cake, apple pie and chocolate, and not feel guilty. Absolute bliss! I think we all deserve one day a year like that, don’t you? One day when we get to decide everything and the rest of the family have to fall in with our plans and fancies, whatever they may be.

I hope you’ve all had or will have at least one day like that this year – I’m enjoying mine :-)

Christina’s New Cover

gilded-fan_frontToday I’m very pleased to be able to share with you the cover for my next Choc Lit novel, The Gilded Fan – I’m really thrilled with this one and love the Oriental feel of it, which was exactly what I wanted!

Seeing a new cover for the first time is very exciting and I don’t think I’ll ever tire of that part of the publishing process. I love watching it take shape, from the original ideas, through several draft concepts, to the final polished result.

The Gilded Fan is the sequel to The Scarlet Kimono, and I think it’s especially important to get the cover right when a novel belongs together with another book (or books). They need to be different, but still similar, and in this case, I think the cover artist has succeeded in doing that superbly. Hope you agree!

Here is 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…

thescarletkimono_frontsmallerThe Gilded Fan – coming February 2013

Today is The Day for Christina!

stos_coversmallSo it’s finally here – official publication day for The Silent Touch of Shadows! It’s a day I’ve waited a very long time for and I can’t tell you how pleased I am that it’s arrived at last.

There are some stories that are really worth fighting for, because you believe in them whole-heartedly even when no one else does. You’re sure the basic premise is sound and you have the feeling that if you revise it just one more time, it will be snapped up. And even when that doesn’t happen, you still go on believing that one day it will. For me, The Silent Touch of Shadows was one of those.

This novel started as one of those ideas that simply wouldn’t leave me alone. The story came into my mind almost fully formed (which is very rare as you all know!) and I just wrote it down. Since it’s based on a real ghost, I suppose you could argue that I had supernatural help, but I don’t know about that … :-)

I thought the manuscript was perfect as it was after the first draft (I was very new to writing then!), but it’s gone through a lot of rewrites since (I’ve lost count actually) and hopefully has improved with each one. Along the way, I never lost my faith in it and although I put it to one side many times while writing something else, I always came back to it. And now it’s out there at last, I guess it just goes to show – perseverance does pay off!

Thank you to everyone who has supported me in the run-up to publication, it’s much appreciated!