The Perfect Christmas Kiss

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Today sees the release of Alison May’s Christmas Kisses; a collection of gorgeous festive stories about three girls searching for ‘the perfect Christmas kiss’. But does that ‘perfect’ kiss even exist? Alison asks that exact question in today’s blog post … 

The idea of writing a post about ‘The Perfect Christmas Kiss’ seemed such a good idea as an abstract concept when I agreed to it a week before I had to actually sit down and write anything. It’s such a beautiful romantic idea – surely everyone has an idea of their perfect mistletoe-moment?

You might have a fantasy of meeting your flawless long-distance lover at the top of the Empire State Building as the bells chime to ring in Christmas Day. Or you might prefer a more traditional English Christmas scene – maybe with snow falling over a village green outside a beautiful old stone church, everyone wrapped up in hats and scarves and the love of your life with a sprig of mistletoe and a certain twinkle in his or her eye? Or perhaps you’re not a lover of Christmas and would prefer to be whisked away to a sunkissed beach to forget the festive season altogether and indulge in a little holiday romance whilst you’re there?

But here’s the problem – all of those ideas sound lovely in practice but they’re fantasy, aren’t they? And there’s nothing wrong with a bit of fantasy, but trying to translate fantasy into real-life is a surefire recipe for anti-climax and disappointment. That sunkissed beach sounds lovely, but actually having a frolic on it is just going to lead to sand in your pants and a sunburn in places that the sun really isn’t supposed to shine. The meeting at the top of the Empire State Building is such a romantic idea, but once you actually get there you’ll be sharing the viewing platform with every other lovelorn hopeful in New York city, and there’s nothing worse than having to form a queue every time a eligible-looking singleton appears on the off-chance that they might be the one for you. Even the snow-covered English village sounds frankly off-puttingly chilly, and realistically, you’re going to have a streaming nose and chattering teeth if you stay out trying to canoodle for too long.

So here’s my suggestion for the perfect Christmas Kiss – don’t plan it. Perfect moments are something that happens, not something that can be prepared. You know how nights out where you swear that you’re just going to have one drink and then end up crawling home at 3am are always more fun than big nights that take weeks to plan? Well I think perfect Christmas kisses might fall into the same category. Whatever you think perfection is going to look like, that’s almost certainly not how it would actually turn out. Perfection, where is exists at all, exists in the surprising and the unexpected, in the spontaneous and the organic, rather in those things that have been meticulously planned and preconceived. That’s something that each of the heroines in Christmas Kisses has to learn in their own different way. Perfect is never really what you think it’s going to be. Sometimes you have to open your mind and enjoy the moment that you’re in right now, whether it looks like you expected or not.

Christmas Kisses is now available to purchase in paperback from all good book stockists and retailers. Click HERE to order from Amazon. 

For more information on Alison, follow her on Twitter @MsAlisonMay.

A tour of Coorah Creek

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It’s release day today for the e-book of Janet Gover’s Little Girl Lost – the fourth story set in the tiny Australian outback town of Coorah Creek. To celebrate, Janet takes us on a tour of the Creek.

After four books (and maybe more to come – who knows), I thought it was time I took you to Coorah Creek.

The town is fictional, but in building it, I’ve drawn on the small bush towns I know so well. I grew up in a town just like Coorah Creek – only a fair bit smaller. So come with me now and let me show you around.

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This is what you see driving into my old home town. This isn’t Coorah Creek – but in many ways it is. 

Let’s start at the pub. The Coorah Creek Hotel is the heart of the town. It’s the place to get together with their friends and neighbours. A lot of community decisions are made at the pub – decisions to form a bush fire brigade or create a sports ground for the kids at the school. Small towns thrive on gossip, but the  gossip you hear at the Coorah Creek pub is the kind of gossip that will result in everyone pitching together to help someone repair their home, or clear some land.

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This hotel is actually in New South Wales – but this is what the Coorah Creek Hotel looks like – including the wrought iron on the upper veranda. The only difference, this is brick, and Trish’s pub is timber. 

This bar is in my head whenever I write a scene set in Trish’s bar… see that big walk in cold room behind the bar. Can’t you just see Syd and Jack storing the kegs there?

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When I was a kid, I once rode my pony into this bar. I can’t remember why but it must have seemed like a good idea at the time. 

We didn’t have a police station in my town. It just wasn’t big enough so the nearest police station was about eleven miles away. But Coorah Creek does have a police station. In my head it looks like this. This was the post office in my old town, but in some small communities, a one man police station would look a lot like this.

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Note the faded and worn paint. Paint doesn’t last long under the outback sun.

Coorah Creek has a hall. It’s where the town Christmas party is held. This is exactly what it looks like.  As an aside, I met my first politician in this hall during a community event when I was a teenager.

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The hall was built out of corrugated iron – even the outer walls. It was pretty hot inside in the summer. 

My town had a single garage. It looked like this when I was a teenager, and it still does. Change comes slowly to these little towns.

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This is Ed Collins’s garage exactly. 

One of the icons of Queensland – particularly the bush – is wooden houses built on wooden stumps. I guess it had a lot to do with available building material and the need for airflow under the house. Those stumps and the metal caps on them also keep ants and termites out of the house. Most of the houses in Coorah Creek are like this.

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Note the water tanks. We had no reticulated water and survived totally on rainwater or water delivered in tanker trucks when it was really dry.

That’s Coorah creek for you. There are not a lot of bright lights. There’s no shopping centre or movie theatre. But there are a lot of good people.  That’s the strongest memory I have of growing up in my small town. People would be there whenever help was needed. That’s the town I have tried to capture in Coorah Creek. I hope you’ll go and visit and meet some of my friends.

Janet’s new novel, Little Girl Lost, is the fourth book in her Coorah Creek series and is now available to buy as an eBook. Click HERE for purchasing options. 

For more on Janet, follow her on Twitter: @janet_gover

Visit her website: www.janetgover.com

How do women survive in the mad, bad world of politics and spin?

9781781892770Sarah Waights, author of Never Marry a Politician, talks about the inspiration for her novel, and about the plight of the strong, capable women who are often behind the rise of the world’s most powerful men …

Long before Hillary Clinton decided to stand for the presidency herself there was a joke doing the rounds and it went like this:

Hillary and Bill drive into a gas station. As the attendant is filling their car, Bill says, “Look Hillary, isn’t that the guy you used to date at college?  Just imagine, if you’d married him not me you’d be the wife of a gas station attendant.”

“Nonsense, Bill,” said Hillary, “If I’d married him instead of you, he would be the President of the United States.”

And therein lies the truth that inspired my novel Never Marry a Politician.  Behind every successful man is a very clever woman and the cleverest women of all may well be the ones who wield their power covertly, using their man as a puppet to achieve their own ambitions. Shakespeare was fascinated with the concept; What was Lady Macbeth if not quite literally the power behind the throne? Poor old Macbeth didn’t have an idea in his head other than the ones she put there and – boy – did she have some big ideas. Incidentally, Shakespeare also portrayed her as a raving, hormonal lunatic and ensured she came to a sticky end but – hey ho – feminism had a long way to go back then.

Not that we have come as far as we would like to think, as I peek between my fingers at Hillary Clinton’s current presidential campaign. Despite the social progress that allowed Obama to get into power, there has still never been a female president. In the UK’s political system I watch with horrified fascination as those handpicked female members of our elected parliament – the brightest of the bright – have to run the gauntlet of press and parliamentary preoccupation with their legs, cleavage, shoes and marital status before they are allowed to express a view or table a policy. Even then, the apparatchiks are far more likely to hand them a brief concerning childcare provision than, say, defence policy. I feel even more sorry for the women who – quite by chance – happen to be married to a man who is ambitious for a career in politics. That is what happened to my poor heroine, Emily, who quickly learns that – despite it being the 21st century – her role is to stand meekly in the background gazing at her husband admiringly.

“I do have an opinion of my own,” she protests to her lover, Matt.

“Sure you do,” he replies, “but only when your husband’s advisors have told you what it is.”

The ‘gazing admiringly’ thing, by the way, is one I felt Nancy Reagan did awfully well and that made her an excellent President’s wife.  The UK equivalent would probably be the ‘wife’ of our one and only female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher; her spouse, Dennis, was stalwart, supportive and above criticism. Always. When he died all anyone could remember him doing was chatting amiably about golf and mixing a killer gin and tonic. Could she have done it without him? Personally, I doubt it.

One would like to think that women signing up to the husband’s job to the detriment of her own autonomy was an outdated idea. When I was a child, my father was in the diplomatic corps which involved lots of making polite conversation with his opposite numbers from other countries. My mother’s role – it was made quite clear – was to play the Nancy Reagan to his Ronald, taking the wives out shopping and giving them tea and cake while the men got down to the real business of – well – being diplomatic. But that can’t be how things work now, can it?

I actually think it isn’t.  I think it’s worse.  I have built a career and raised a family in an era where women were not just supposed to ‘have it all’, they had to somehow ‘do it all’ too. Achieving the role of the perfect wife and mother at the same time as having a ball-breakingly successful career is now less of a freedom and more of a moral obligation. We owe it to our mothers and grandmothers who were left entirely without bust support after all that bra-burning so that we – the newly empowered (and exhausted) generation – could rule the world. In the general election in the UK last year, the media was fascinated by the wives of the political leaders. It was clear that, the female vote was being courted. In order to have any respect for the husband, we had to admire the wife. Here, wearing a pinny and churning out perfect cupcakes was key but not, in itself, enough. Instead, the politician’s wives, with their perfect, smiley children in tow, had to bake, smile, be immaculately dressed AND have impressive careers (but no opinions, mind). Two are high-flying lawyers and another is ‘something very clever’ in product development for a really classy stationery design company – phew, nothing controversial about notepads, thank heaven. The high (or low) point of the entire campaign was the week when all the leaders were photographed in their own kitchens, drinking coffee with their wives – cue pages and pages of coverage analysing the political significance of everything from the mugs they were drinking out of to the brand of olive oil sitting next to the stove.  Honestly!  I know… madness.

Actually, the scariest thing I ever did was to marry. Although I knew almost as soon as I met him that I loved my husband-to-be – and that I trusted him – my mind whirled with terror at the thought of how being a wife and having children, would make me vulnerable, financially dependent, that I would somehow lose myself, that I would feel compelled to become a mirror of my husband to justify his protection of me … I needn’t have fretted. My husband has never wanted me to become anything other than a more developed, fulfilled, version of myself. We have taken turns, over the years, to be the breadwinner, raise the children, take time out to follow our dreams (get me! A published novelist no less …) and just be whoever we felt we needed to be. Of course that has meant being supportive to each other, being loyal, being the person who is always on side – even when you’ve made a right royal  tit of yourself – but it has never had to mean turning into a person who exists purely to show our partner in a better light.

And so – just like my poor character Emily, we all struggle on – walking the tightrope of career versus family, spin versus substance, truth versus diplomacy and wine versus waistline. Thank God for the escapism of other people’s stories.

Never Marry a Politician is now available in paperback. Click on one of the links below to purchase.

Amazon UK   Amazon US  Amazon CA

For more on Sarah, follow her on Twitter @SarahWaights

The Jade Lioness by Christina Courtenay: Release Day and Competition!

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Jade is something that is undeniably Oriental and for me the mere word evokes images of the Far East and exotic settings. It’s been considered precious for millennia and has been used from prehistoric times, first to make tools as it’s such a hard material, then later merely for ornamental purposes. It has great significance for Asian people and is thought to embody many virtues. And no wonder – it’s truly beautiful!

The first time I saw a jade object I was seventeen and visiting Hong Kong with my parents. The shops there were full of jade jewellery – chunky bracelets, delicate rings and pretty necklaces. I loved the colour and feel of it (it’s lovely and cool to the touch) and could totally understand why the Chinese found this material so attractive. As I have green eyes, I immediately felt that this was the perfect accessory for me and I came home with quite a few additions to my jewellery box …

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At the time, I didn’t know that there are actually two types of jade – the minerals nephrite and jadeite – slightly different in colour and hardness, but similar enough that they were thought to be the same thing in the past.  Nephrite comes in many shades from almost white to dark green, as well as reddish, whereas jadeite has more colour variations, even blue, lavender and pink.  In the finest jade, the colour is supposed to be evenly distributed.  Both types are polished to a shiny finish, with nephrite being more resinous while jadeite can have a mirror type shine.

The translucent, emerald-green jadeite is the most sought after variety – the more see-through the better (like the bowl in the photo).  It was traditionally considered a “gem” (and a royal one at that since the Chinese emperors loved it), although it is actually just a stone or rock, and it was more highly prized than gold or silver.  In fact, the Chinese valued it the way Europeans did with gold or diamonds.

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So, when the time came to choose a title for the third instalment in my Japanese trilogy, the word jade sprang to mind and we ended up with The Jade Lioness. I think it captures the essence of the story and I hope the readers will agree!

PrizesToday is paperback publication day for The Jade Lioness, and to celebrate we thought we would give you the chance to win a signed copy of the book plus a little piece of jade – there are two sets up for grabs:  a necklace or a little figurine, together with a lovely Chinese silk pouch for each.  A third runner-up can win the book and a silk lipstick case in jade green.  To be in with a chance, just leave a comment below and tell us what you think about jade and/or the colour green (which is a calming and positive colour I think, signifying spring and rebirth, although sometimes it’s also the colour of poison!).  Does it have any special significance for you?

In the meantime, here’s the blurb for The Jade Lioness:-

Can an impossible love become possible?

Nagasaki, 1648 Temperance Marston longs to escape war-torn England and explore the exotic empire of Japan. When offered the chance to accompany her cousin and Captain Noordholt on a trading expedition to Nagasaki, she jumps at the opportunity. However, she soon finds the country’s strict laws for foreigners curtail her freedom.

On a dangerous and foolhardy venture she meets Kazuo, a ronin. Kazuo is fascinated by her blonde hair and blue eyes, but he has a mission to complete and he cannot be distracted. Long ago, his father was accused of a crime he didn’t commit – stealing a valuable ornament from the Shogun – and Kazuo must restore his family’s honour.

But when Temperance is kidnapped and sold as a concubine, he has to make a decision – can he save her and keep the promise he made to his father?

The paperback of The Jade Lioness is now available to order on Amazon UK & Amazon US.

Find out more about the author, Christina Courtenay, on her website or follow her on Twitter @PiaCCourtenay.