The Fourth Character

Image of both books

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

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

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

Cornwall

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

Pepper Cove

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

Lundy Bay

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

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

The Thief’s Daughter
The Captain’s Daughter 

For more on Victoria Cornwall:

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

Literal Freedom: Laura James on Rheumatoid Arthritis

This week, 16th – 22nd June 2014, is Rheumatoid Arthritis Awareness Week.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a painful, often debilitating auto-immune disease, which causes laura handinflammation, stiffness and in most cases, chronic fatigue. I’ve been diagnosed with the condition for near on thirty years. It’s indiscriminate, and not as some may think, restricted to older people. I was eighteen when I first noticed a dirty red hue and swelling to my knuckles. My mother had been diagnosed five years prior, so as soon as I showed her my puffy fingers, we were off to the hospital.

That was a long time ago, and treatment was vastly different then to now. Technology, science and medicine have come on in leaps and bounds, and one of the reasons I am able to type this post is because of the amazing hand surgery I’ve undergone in the last few years. My rheumatology and orthopaedic teams are incredibly skilled, and I consider myself extremely lucky to be under their care.

My debut novel, ‘Truth or Dare?’ started life when my left wrist had been partially fused and plated. I had a minimum of six weeks in a cast, followed by a couple of months in a splint. With a head full of ideas and an unshackled right hand, it was the perfect time to write the novel I’d always said was ‘in me’. I took out my A4 notebook, warmed up my favourite pen and posed the question, ‘Is it ever acceptable for a person to do the wrong thing for the right reason?’ At that moment, Kate Blair and Declan O’Brien entered my world. Declan has the best hands.

Hands 3Technology has also provided me with an alternative way to read. I am not always able to hold a physical book, as much as I love them, so on ‘bad’ days, I switch on my e-reader and lose a few hours living vicariously through the characters. It’s the same when I’m creating and writing books. Distraction is a well-known technique for fighting pain. Lately I’ve been distracted by my new hero in my second Choc Lit book, ‘Follow Me, Follow You’. Gorgeous Chris Frampton bears an uncanny resemblance to Johnny Depp.

I am often preoccupied with the characters in my head.

I’m often preoccupied with Johnny Depp.

It’s pain management, you understand.

I think it’s fair to say that with or without a condition such as RA, the human body has itsphysical limits, but there’s more to us than skin and bone, or in my case, metalwork and plastic. We have our minds, imaginations and creativity, and when inspired, even if it’s for the shortest time, we are free.

For further information on rheumatoid arthritis, please click on the link for the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society. https://www.facebook.com/nationalrheumatoidarthritissociety?fref=ts

http://www.nras.org.uk/stories/writing-with-rheumatoid-arthritis

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Birthday Celebrations: Part Five by Rhoda Baxter


Choc Lit is 5 today! We’d like to say a HUGE thank you to our wonderful authors who write the best romance out there!  We’d also like to thank our dedicated Tasting Panel, who continue to select the best stories of the bunch. Our 10 awards are in recognition of their excellent taste and the many hours of reading they do for us all. And last, but by no means least, we want to thank our fabulous readers and book bloggers – without your continued cheerleading and love for Choc Lit novels we would not be here. Enjoy the last instalment of the story!

Kate had never seen Meg so hysterical as when she heard the news. It was almost as though something had snapped her inner cool. She collapsed in a tearful heap. Stunned herself, Kate lowered herself onto the arm of Meg’s chair and watched as the news anchor described how the plane was returning to England because almost everyone on board – including the pilot – had succumbed to an infection ‘caused by a contaminated batch of vol au vents.’ The logo of the catering company Kate had used flashed up on screen.

Marcus and Kate looked at each other, both going pale. ‘We had those…’ Marcus said.

And suddenly Kate was furious. Her brother could be seriously ill and she needed someone to blame. Megs gave a wail. ‘Oh Mark! My Mark.’

‘Megs,’ Kate snapped. ‘Pull yourself together. I didn’t know you cared so much about Mark. He’s MY brother, not yours.’

‘But I l…love him!’ Meg wailed. ‘I’ve just never had the chance to tell him and now I never will!’

That pulled Kate up short. What? Meg? In love with her brother? Oh.

Another glance at the screen and the anger was back. She would have to worry about Mark and Meg later. Right now, she had a catering company to shout at.

As soon as she gave her name, the woman on the phone launched into an apology and an explanation about how the diamond story was a ruse. ‘We don’t think that batch is contaminated, but we can’t be sure—’

Kate’s voice sank to a hiss. ‘Not only have you poisoned an entire flight, you’ve poisoned me as well.’

‘It’s only a tummy bug, Miss Walton. Have you…eaten the vol au vents?’

‘Yes. I have. And so has my… er… friend.’

‘Are you experiencing any… amorous feelings?’

She glanced at Marcus. He smiled and her stomach did a little flip. Amorous feelings? ‘Well…’

‘That happens immediately. Then within about 30 minutes, there will be…um… gastrointestinal issues.’

30 minutes. It had been at least an hour. Kate took a deep breath. Apart from a small tug of excitement whenever she looked at Marcus, her stomach seemed to be fine. ‘No, no stomach problems.’

‘Are you sure? They’re usually quite severe…’

‘No, I’m fine.’

The woman let out a sigh of relief. ‘Oh thank goodness for that. Listen, Miss Walton, we would advise that you don’t eat any of the food we supplied, just in case. We will, of course, refund you in full.’

Once she’d hung up, Kate rubbed her eyes. She needed a moment to make sense of all the information.

 ‘Oh my god! Mark!’ Meg’s shriek made Kate rush back to the TV where Mark’s photo, clearly taken from his passport, was on screen. Underneath, the scroll said: ‘Have a go hero’.

As Meg burst into tears again, Marcus passed her the tissues. ‘Your brother’s a hero,’ he said. ‘He and the steward are bringing the plane home.’

Once they knew where the plane was going to land, Marcus drove them to the airport in the cake delivery van. With a bit of pushing and shoving Kate and Meg managed to get to the front of the waiting crowd just as the camera flashes of the waiting journalists went off. There, in the middle of the melee, looking shaken, but otherwise perfectly well, was Mark.

‘Mark!’ Kate ducked under the barrier to get to her brother, but Meg beat her to him. She flung her arms around Mark and buried her face in his shoulder. A rather stunned looking Mark wrapped his arms around her.

‘Mark,’ said Kate.

Mark opened one arm and gathered Kate to him as well. ‘You idiot,’ she muttered into his ear, ‘the lengths you go to to avoid my party.’

But Mark was too busy looking at Meg to answer.

‘It was awful,’ said Mark, as they finally walked back to the van.

‘Must have been terrifying, piloting a plane,’ said Kate.

‘Oh no, that bit was okay. They gave me very clear instructions. No, it was after we landed. When we had to go back into the cabin to let the ambulance crew in. The plane was full and there were only so many loos…’ Mark paled. ‘That’s a sight I’m never going to unsee.’ He shook his head. ‘I may need therapy.’

There wasn’t enough room for everyone in the front of the van, so Meg and Mark bundled into the back.

‘I’ll drive very carefully,’ said Marcus. ‘If we get stopped pretend you’re made of cake.’

They pulled up outside the house. Kate looked at the window, where one banner she’d forgotten to take down still said ‘Happy Birthday’. She suddenly felt weary.

Marcus squeezed her shoulder. ‘You okay?’ When she nodded, he said: ‘Let’s go let those two out the back.’

But when they opened the door, Meg and Mark were wrapped tightly round each other, their faces apparently glued together. Marcus quietly shut the door again. ‘I don’t think they want to be disturbed.’ He grinned. ‘It’s a good job your brother didn’t eat the vol au vents. Mind you, what are the chances of the catering company losing a diamond and getting bacterial contamination in the same set of vol au vents.’

‘Ah, about that. They didn’t really lose the diamond.’ Kate briefly explained.

It took a moment for the implications to settle in. Marcus’s face fell. ‘So I don’t have to stay here overnight then.’

He wanted to stay. Kate felt the heat rising in her cheeks. ‘Well, not unless you want to.’

Marcus took a step closer to her. ‘Oh, I do,’ he said. ‘I really do.’

His lips met hers and forgot all about being tired as she abandoned herself to the delicious warmth of his arms pulling her closer.  When they finally drew apart he said, ‘I must admit, I’m a little sad that I’m not carrying a huge gemstone in my guts any more.’

Kate laughed and laid her head against his chest. ‘Don’t worry. To me you’ll always be a real diamond.’

The End

Rhoda Baxter writes contemporary romantic comedies. Her father’s engineering skills Rhoda Baxter author shotwere in international demand, so her childhood was split between the UK, the Pacific island of Yap, Nigeria and Sri Lanka.

Rhoda studied at the University of Oxford and holds a DPhil in microbiology. When chosing a pen name, she got nostalgic about the bacteria she used to study, (Rhodobacter species) and named herself Rhoda Baxter after them. Now her day job involves protecting and commercialising Intellectual Property generated by University research. This allows her to stay in touch with cutting edge scientific research without having to spend long hours in the lab.

Rhoda is married and has 2 children. They live together in Beverley, East Yorkshire. Her novels include Girl on the Run and Doctor January.

Competition – NOW CLOSED!

If you haven’t already entered our free prize draw to win any 5 Choc Lit novels, including advance 2014 books, enter now! Simply answer the following question:

In part one of the story, how many balloons has Kate blown up for her brother’s birthday party? Send your answer to info@choc-lit.com with ‘Birthday Competition’ as the subject line.

Birthday Celebrations: Part Four by Christine Stovell

Christine Stovell’s up next! Today we finally get to meet the elusive Mark.

In a plane somewhere above Bulgaria, Mark lifted his eye mask to a scene of wild, rowdy revelry reminiscent of a Bacchanalian rite.

‘What the—?’

All around him passengers had loosened inhibitions along with their seat belts. Some were embracing, others swayed in their seats and waved their arms above their heads looking blissed-out and a few – who he was sure had been strangers before they’d boarded the plane – were snogging as if they had only minutes to live. His mates, Dan and Robbie, wearing tearful smiles, clapped each other on the back and exchanged manly hugs whilst Tim and Adam, raising little plastic wine glasses, drank toasts to two hot blondes across the aisle whose beaming expressions radiated pure unalloyed joy.

What the heck was going on?  He must have dropped off after all.  He’d pretended to be asleep at first, but only because he didn’t want to field any teasing about Meg.  Especially not on his birthday.  Meg. What a cliché!  What a chimp he was! Of all the women in the world to choose from, why had he fallen for his sister’s best friend, the girl who’d witnessed every mistake he’d ever made and would only ever see him as Katie’s annoying brother?

Suppose he’d gone along with the ‘surprise party’ – what then?  Would Meg have agreed to dance with him or let him hold her?  Nope, more likely she’d have told him he had a stray nostril hair, rocked with laughter and disappeared with another man. She wasn’t even bothered by the mention of Lola-Rose, the stripper.  He didn’t want Lola-Rose though – even if she hadn’t been a made-up ruse to make Meg jealous – he wanted Meg.  And Meg thought he was a complete joke.  If only there was something he could do to impress her.

Suddenly Mark became aware that a frantic air steward was mouthing something at him and realised that not only had he been asleep for far longer than he’d reckoned, but that he was still wearing his headphones. He removed them and was instantly regaled by singing, laughter and new couples billing and cooing like reunited turtledoves.

‘You didn’t have the prawn vol au vent, did you sir? You were sleeping when they came round, weren’t you?’

‘What?’

The steward wrung his hands.  ‘That damned catering company.  First they spin us a line about one of the catering staff losing the five-carat diamond from her ring in the pastry and then we get the truth.  Turns out they used contaminated prawns.  We’ve got a major case of Vibrio lascivibundus on our hands!’

‘Vibrio what?’

The steward broke off for a moment to extricate himself from a middle-aged woman with a coquettish smile who was trying to remove his tie.

‘FPB – otherwise known as Frolicsome Poop Bug.  The symptoms present themselves initially by inducing feelings of intense well-being in the sufferer, an overpowering sense of affection towards others and a tendency to inappropriate flirting.’

As bugs went it didn’t sound too bad to Mark. Some inappropriate flirting would certainly take his mind off Meg.

‘And then comes the stomach pain, cramping, bloating, gas and—’ His words were muffled by a matronly passenger clasping him to her bosom and kissing the top of his head.

‘Let’s hope we get to Dalaman before those later symptoms arrive,’ Mark said, fervently.

‘Ah, I’m afraid there’s a slight problem with that,’ said the steward coming up for breath.   ‘London’s the only airport equipped to deal with an outbreak like this. We’re turning the plane round.’

Bloody great, thought Mark. Not only was he not going to get his week in the sun trying to think about any woman except Meg, but any moment now the cabin air would be filled with something much worse than happiness.

‘You’d better tell the pilot to put his foot down,’ Mark said, trying to smile. ‘This could get messy.’

‘It already has.  The pilot and co-pilot both ate the vol au vent.  I’m afraid it’s all down to you and me now.’

 

Christine Stovell was born in Epsom, Surrey and now lives in Wales. Winning a tin of Current photochocolate in a national essay competition at primary school inspired her to become a writer, an ambition she neglected for far too long thinking she had to have a proper job. After graduating from UEA, she took various jobs in the public sector writing research papers and policy notes by day and filling up her spare drawers with embryonic novels by night. Losing her dad to cancer made her realise that if she was ever going to get a novel published she had to put her writing first.

Setting off, with her husband, from a sleepy seaside resort on the east coast in a vintage wooden boat to sail halfway round Britain provided the inspiration for her novel Turning the Tide. Christine lives on the beautiful west Wales coast where long-distance running helps her plan her plots. Half marathons, like novels, both begin with small steps. Christine’s novels include Turning the Tide, Move Over Darling and Follow a Star.

COMPETITION – NOW CLOSED!

If you haven’t already entered our free prize draw to win any 5 Choc Lit novels, including advance 2014 books, enter now! Simply answer the following question:

In part one of the story, how many balloons has Kate blown up for her brother’s birthday party? Send your answer to info@choc-lit.com with ‘Birthday Competition’ as the subject line.

 

Birthday Celebrations: Part Three by Linda Mitchelmore

Today it’s Linda Mitchelmore’s turn. What’s she got in store for Kate and Marcus?

‘Urghh, um, urgghh,’ Kate said, a mouth full of vol au vent. Trust Meg to turn up now just as she was on the cusp of something with Marcus. He’d been dropped into her life, just moments ago, a little gift from the gods, and she was going to make use of the gift.

Kate slid her tongue around a piece of prawn, bit, swallowed.

‘Well, you can text them right back and say these are delicious, and…’

‘I’ll do no such thing!’ Meg yelled at her. ‘And who the hell is he?’

The ‘he’ in question’s eyes widened in surprise and Kate rushed to his defence.

‘Marcus. You did say to find another bloke called Mark and this is as close as I could get in the short time available. Marcus, this is my bestie, Meg.’

‘Pleased to meet you and all, Meg,’ Marcus said. ‘And before you admonish me for drinking alcohol with my delivery van outside, this was my last drop of the day and I can walk home from here, pick up the van on Monday.’

He was making his instant dislike of Meg obvious, wasn’t he?

Marcus took another vol au vent off the plate and popped it, whole, into his mouth. He made exaggerated ‘this is practically orgasmic’ faces as he chewed. And then he began to splutter. Only the splutter was rapidly turning into a choke now.

Kate poured champagne into a tumbler – it must have been at least half a pint – and ordered him to swallow it. He did. But still he spluttered.

‘Pat him on the back for God’s sake!’ Meg yelled.

Marcus’s eyes started to roll in his head.

‘Heimlich,’ Kate said.

‘Oh my God, oh my God,’ Meg said. ‘I’m too late …’

Marcus coughed and then, mercifully, he swallowed.

‘I don’t know what the hell – a ball-bearing or something? – that was …’

‘You found it!’ Meg said, sounding triumphant now, like Marcus had won a prize or something.

‘Found what?’ Kate asked.

‘The diamond.’

‘Diamond?’ Kate and Marcus said as one, instinctively moving closer to one another.

‘Yeah. That was what the text was about. Apparently, the woman who made all the pastry for your party stuff has just rung in to say the diamond from her engagement ring has gone missing. She was pretty sure it was there when she was doing the pastry, but when she washed her hands before going home it, like, wasn’t. It’s a stonker apparently. Zillions of carats and all that. Very valuable. And the catering company isn’t insured for that sort of loss. And …’

‘And now it seems to be in my personal waste disposal system,’ Marcus interrupted.

‘It does,’ Kate said. ‘And you know what that means? Well, apart from the obvious,’ she finished with a giggle.

‘I don’t know. Tell me,’ Marcus said. And then he winked at Kate.

Gosh, but that wink was doing very funny things to Kate’s insides.

‘It means,’ she said somewhat huskily, ‘that you aren’t going anywhere for the time being.’

‘And two’s company, three’s a crowd springs to mind,’ Meg said. ‘I’m out of here. I’ll text the catering company back and tell them the lady will have her diamond back in, um, due course.’

And then Meg fled.

‘So …?’ Marcus said.

Kate filled his glass up again.

There were mini pizzas, devils on horseback, chicken wings, and profiteroles for dessert to get through. They wouldn’t starve, would they?

‘So, we’ll have to find something to do while we wait for the diamond to, er um, see the light of day again, won’t we?’ Kate giggled. It was obvious from the way Marcus was looking at her now, that food was the last thing on his mind …

‘I couldn’t switch that thing on for a few moments, could I?’ Marcus asked, pointing at Kate’s state-of-the-art flat-screen TV. Only it’s the World Cup and England’s playing at the moment.’

‘Five minutes,’ Kate said.

She could wait five minutes.

But when the screen popped into life it was to see a news flash.

‘Reports are coming in that a British Airways flight to Turkey has been

 

Linda Mitchelmore has had over 200 short stories published worldwide. She has also won,

Linda Mitchelmore_landscapeor been short-listed for, many short story writing competitions – Woman’s Own, Woman & Home and Writespace to name but three. In 2004, Linda was awarded The Katie Fforde Bursary by the Romantic Novelists’ Association, and has a story in their 50th Anniversary Anthology, ‘Loves Me, Loves Me Not’.

Linda also won the Short Story Radio Romance Prize 2010.

Linda’s books include To Turn Full Circle, Emma: There’s no Turning Back, Hope for Hannah, Grand Designs and Red is for Rubies.

“Linda Mitchelmore has a gift for making you feel right there, in the story, with her lovely warm characters.”  Bestselling author Sophie King.

COMPETITION – NOW CLOSED!

If you haven’t already entered our free prize draw to win any 5 Choc Lit novels, including advance 2014 books, enter now! Simply answer the following question:

In part one of the story, how many balloons has Kate blown up for her brother’s birthday party? Send your answer to info@choc-lit.com with ‘Birthday Competition’ as the subject line.

Birthday Celebrations: Part Two by Angela Britnell

What’s a girl to do with over 400 prawn vol au vents? Sugar and Spice author Angela Britnell picks up the story today and introduces an interesting twist …

Armed police? As if her day wasn’t bad enough already. This had to be a joke. Kate approached the door and cautiously opened it, half expecting it to be kicked from her hands.

‘Gotcha!’

Her gaze travelled upwards and met a pair of bright blue eyes. The first thing she registered was that the exceptionally tall young man grinning at her had a. the reddest hair she’d ever seen, b. no police uniform or gun, and c. was holding out a massive white box.

‘Cakes Galore at your service.’ He thrust the box towards her with a wide grin.

‘Are you a bloody nutcase?’ Kate glared. ‘Were you trying to give me a heart attack?’

‘Hey, why don’t you try approaching a house that sounds like World War III is in progress, armed with only a cake box. Seemed a good idea at the time.’ He shrugged. ‘The name’s Marcus.’

…find some other bloke called Mark…

This must be an omen. ‘Do you like prawns?’

‘Excuse me?’

‘It’s a simple question,’ she said, exasperated.

‘So it may be, but not one I regularly get asked when delivering cakes,’ he teased. ‘Dare I birthday cakeask if you want to explain all this?’ He gestured around the room and Kate realised the full extent of her meltdown. ‘Most people hang the balloons up instead of massacring them.’

Before she could stop herself the whole sorry story poured out. All the plans she’d made. Her errant brother’s disappearance. Finally she ended with her irrational reaction.

‘Heck. So I’m guessing you won’t want this?’ Marcus pointed at the huge chocolate cake. Kate peered in through the plastic cover of the box and blinked back tears. She’d found an old photo of her brother as a baby and Mark’s toothy grin smiled up at her amid decorations all in his favourite red and white Arsenal colours. Was she such a bad sister that he had to flee to Turkey to escape her well-meant plans?

‘What will you do with it?’ she asked.

‘We’ll take it to one of the old people’s homes nearby. They do pretty well out of our rejects,’ he said with an easy smile and Kate found she couldn’t stay mad at him. ‘Back to the prawn thing. The answer’s yes and I haven’t had lunch so bring them on.’

Being pathetically grateful to anyone wasn’t in Kate’s DNA but she almost flung her arms around Marcus’s neck. ‘I’ll get us some.’ She ran into the kitchen and loaded a big plate with vol au vents before grabbing a bottle of champagne and two glasses. ‘There we go. Eat up. Only three hundred and fifty left to go.’

His eyes widened. ‘Were you expecting a hoard of marauding Vikings?’

Kate bristled. ‘The etiquette books all say to allow ten per person per hour if it’s replacing dinner, which this is – or rather was. Plus my brother’s friends don’t go in for RSVP’s much so I wasn’t sure how many were coming.’

‘Sorry. All the more for us.’ He picked up one and bit into it with obvious pleasure. ‘These are good.’

She opened the champagne and poured them both a glass. ‘How about a toast to my absent brother? To Mark!’ Kate relaxed back in the chair and thought how much nicer this was than dealing with a house full of people.

‘Kate! I just got a text from the caterer…’ Meg burst in through the door and stopped, staring at them both in horror. ‘Stop eating those things right now!’

Angela Britnell was born in St. Stephen, Cornwall, England. After completing her A-Levels Angela_author pictureshe worked as a Naval Secretary. She met her husband, a US Naval Flight Officer while being based at a small NATO Headquarters on the Jutland Peninsula in Denmark. They lived together in Denmark, Sicily, California, southern Maryland and London before settling in Franklin, Tennessee.

Angela won Choc Lit’s Search for an American Star competition. Her novels include Sugar and Spice and What Happens in Nahsville.

Follow Angela on Twitter: @AngelaBritnell

COMPETITION – NOW CLOSED!

If you haven’t already entered our free prize draw to win any 5 Choc Lit novels, including advance 2014 books, enter now! Simply answer the following question:

In part one of the story, how many balloons has Kate blown up for her brother’s birthday party? Send your answer to info@choc-lit.com with ‘Birthday Competition’ as the subject line.

Birthday Celebrations: Part One by Jane Lovering

To kick start our birthday celebrations, 5 brave Choc Lit authors have been working on a birthday-themed round-robin. Stop by the Choc Lit blog each day to see where a different author will continue the story, with the conclusion on Sunday 15th. We’ve no idea where the story will take you! Great fun and not to be missed. 

Part One by Jane Lovering

‘He’s not coming.’shutterstock_137923343

Kate stopped, napkin half folded into what she was devoutly hoping was going to be a swan shape, even though it currently resembled an illustration from The Joy of Sex. ‘What do you mean, he’s not coming?  Meggie? Where is he?’

Her friend Meg gave a deep sigh and turned her wrist to look at her watch in a theatrical fashion.  ‘Right now, he’s probably somewhere over Bulgaria.’  Then, with a grin, ‘Well, you did say you wanted to give your brother a surprise party – maybe you should have just given him a little hint and then he wouldn’t have flown off to Turkey with four of his best mates and a stripper called Lola-Rose.’

Kate looked at Meg, then at the fifty-seven balloons, all bearing the slogan ‘Happy Thirtieth, Mark!’ which bobbed around near the ceiling of her front room.  ‘I thought someone would tell him,’ she wailed.  ‘I mean, that’s what happens, isn’t it, with surprise parties?  They’re never real surprises!’

Meg gave her a look.  It was a look that Kate wasn’t sure she liked.  ‘Have you considered that maybe someone did tell him?  And that he didn’t want a party?’

‘But… everyone likes parties.’

The look intensified.  ‘It’s just… sometimes, Katie, you can be a bit…bossy, you know?  And all this’—a waved hand took in the decorations, the balloons, the sexually ambiguous table linen—‘it might be a bit much, don’t you think? You could have just put a hundred quid behind the bar at his local.’

Kate slumped onto the sofa arm. ‘What do I do now, Meg?’

‘Try to find some other bloke called Mark who’s got thirty of something to celebrate?’  Meg picked up her bag.  ‘And possibly spend all afternoon on the phone cancelling everyone?’  She gave Kate a quick wink and headed for the front door.  ‘Right.  Now I’ve delivered the bad news I’m popping down to my spiritual home of the off-licence and telling them that the Sale or Return booze is no longer required, okay?’

Kate nodded sadly.  I just wanted something fun.  Everything is so boring these days.  She swept the half-folded napkins into a black rubbish sack.  Birthdays are supposed to be parties and balloons and cake… A sudden thought made her jump to her feet.  ‘Cake!  Oh God, Meggie, I’ll have to cancel the cake!’

The only reply was the slamming sound of the front door. Meg had already gone.

There’s four hundred prawn vol au vents in the fridge.  What can I do with four hundred rapidly ageing prawn vol au vents? Take them to the cats’ home?  Knock yourself out, guys… And what did Meggie mean, ‘bossy?’  Kate formulated a ‘The Party’s Off’ text and started sending it to everyone in her address book.  I’m not bossy, I’m just organised.  Someone has to be, after all…

A balloon, adrift from its moorings, bounced gently off the top of her head, its trailing party ribbon and destined-never-to-be-seen cheery message brought a brief flood of tears to Kate’s eyes.  I wanted to put on a nice frock and dance to 80’s pop music, that was all.  A party, just a little thing… something to keep my mind off the fact that I’ve been dumped yet again by another waste of space…

Filled with a sudden fury, and fuelled by the knowledge that those vol au vents hadn’t come cheap, Kate seized the balloon by its string and stabbed it savagely with a cake knife.  The resulting ‘Bang!’ was surprisingly therapeutic, and she found herself jumping around the room, catching at ribbons and dragging the balloons down to the floor to meet a very motivated and curiously healing, if somewhat stabby, end.

‘There!’  She flopped back onto the sofa, now decorated with shiny slivers of plastic.  Shreds of the ex balloons hung around the room and made her erstwhile tidy front room resemble an extra-terrestrial ground zero.  Her vision was still smudged by tears but she felt better.  Sufficiently recovered, anyway, to answer some of the return text messages that had been pinging onto her phone while she danced the helium-tango.

She’d just pressed ‘Send’ on a message to the only one of Mark’s friends who’d bothered to get back to her expressing any sympathy, when a sudden, loud crack at the front door made her jump.

‘Open up, armed police!’

 

Jane Lovering was born in Devon and now lives in Yorkshire.  She has five children, four Jane with award copycats and two dogs. She works in a local school and also teaches creative writing. Jane is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and has a first class honours degree in creative writing.

Jane writes award-winning romantic comedies and articles for newspapers and magazines.  Please Don’t Stop The Music was her first novel to be published in the UK and it won the 2012 Romantic Novel of the Year Award as well as the Best Romantic Comedy Novel. Her other novels include Star Struck, Vampire State of Mind (Otherworlders: Book 1), Hubble Bubble and Falling Apart (Otherworlders: Book 2).

For more information on Jane visit www.janelovering.co.uk and follow her on Twitter: @janelovering

COMPETITION – NOW CLOSED!

To be in with a chance of winning any five Choc Lit novels – including advance 2014 titles – simply answer the following question:

How many balloons has Kate blown up for her brother’s birthday party? Send your answer to info@choc-lit.com to be entered into a prize draw.

 

And the nominees are …

With Kathryn Freeman, Laura James and Alison May all in contention for the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s Joan Hessayon Award for new writers, we caught up with our lucky Choc Lit Three in advance of the awards party to see how they’re feeling.

All three are ‘graduates’ of the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme, through which unpublished authors receive feedback on their manuscript from an experienced writer.

So firstly how did the New Writers’ Scheme help you develop your debut novel?

Too CharmingKATHRYN: Too Charming was the second novel I’d submitted to the scheme. When I look back now, I believe that reading this second report was probably the turning point for me in terms of understanding the difference between writing a collection of words and writing a story. Specifically for Too Charming, the main feedback was to develop my heroine further – to show more of her internal struggle. I also had a habit of changing point of views at the drop of a hat, which confused the reader – oh and I used far too many cliches!

 

 

TOD_FRONT largeLAURA: ‘Truth or Dare?’ went through the scheme two years running, receiving two reads on the second pass. That provided me with three reports in total, and all raised pertinent points, some to do with the actual story, others of a more technical nature. I took the time to read and absorb the comments, and made the necessary changes. I had and still have great respect for the readers’ knowledge and experience, and I took their suggestions seriously. I confess, I didn’t agree with everything within the reports, but the fact the questions were raised meant I gave the manuscript further consideration. The reports were encouraging, positive and helpful, and I always felt supported.

 

SN_Kindle75dpiALISON: Like Laura, ‘Sweet Nothing’ went through the scheme twice. At the time I thought the first reader was evil and the second was completely lovely, but that essentially was down to the fact that the first reader found a lot of faults with the book, and the second really liked it. With hindsight, I realise that the first year I submitted Sweet Nothing it simply wasn’t ready. After a lot more revision and work I re-submitted it in year two. Much as it pains me to admit it, the first reader wasn’t evil; she was right. Damn her and her cleverheadedness.

 

 

2. What advice would you offer to anybody receiving their New Writers’ Scheme critique report at the moment?

Laura: The readers are experienced in their field, and they are willing us to succeed. The advice they offer is there to nurture us as writers. Read the report, set it aside for a week, and let the ideas percolate. You don’t have to agree with the reader’s suggestions, but why not give them a try? I did and ‘Truth or Dare?’ improved no end. It was published by Choc Lit under their Lite imprint, in October 2013.

Kathryn: First, take a deep breath before you open it. Once you’ve read it, allow feedback to settle in for a while before launching straight into revisions. My first instinct was to defend my manuscript – after all, I wouldn’t have submitted it if I hadn’t thought it was the bee’s knees (oops, cliches again – sorry). It is only when I re-read the manuscript months later, through fresh eyes and with the feedback next to me, that I started to see what the reviewer meant. I didn’t change everything – but they are scarily wise. Lastly, and most importantly – make a conscious effort to highlight the positives. There will be many, but they can be overlooked in the face of all the other suggestions. It is those positive comments that will inspire you to tackle your story again with a renewed sense of purpose and optimism.

Alison: Yes, absolutely, everything that Kate and Laura have already said! And simply remember that rejection and criticism and suggestions for change are part of the career you’re working towards. It’s too soon for me to tell you whether they get easy to deal with, but they do get easier. Try to think about everything your reader has said. Whether you act on their advice or not is absolutely up to you, but try to resist the urge to get defensive and reject ideas simply because you didn’t think of them (which is just the sort of daft immature thing I would do!)

3. And how are you preparing for the big night? Frock? Hair? Shoes? Acceptance speech? Practising the magnanimous loser face in the mirror?

Alison: I had my frock picked months ago. Then about six weeks ago I accepted I was never ever going to fit into it in time, and picked a different frock from the back of the wardrobe. Then last week I accepted that I’m really not going to fit into that one in time either, so I bought a new dress in the size I actually am, and it was only £9 in the sale so that’s totally fine, isn’t it? I shall head mirrorwards right now to practice my magnanimous loser face. For the full party effect I might just pour a glass of wine to hold while I’m doing it.

Kathryn: I have the ‘frock’ – I bought it last week for a wedding I’m attending in June, and think it might just do for this evening as well. Of course on the day I’ll try on many more outfits, discard them all, tell my husband I have absolutely nothing to wear. And then settle for the first outfit I tried on. I still need to buy some shoes that will not only provide some glamour, but will also take me across London on the tube. No speech, no mirrors – I’m just delighted to be amongst such amazing company.

Laura: I bought two dresses last time I went shopping, so my frock is sorted. It’s silver and black. I haven’t seen it since before Christmas, and all I can imagine is chain mail. It’s not chain mail, but if I found a dress I really liked in chain mail, I would wear it. Shoes are another matter. I struggle with footwear as my feet have been affected by Rheumatoid Arthritis. Sadly, my Go-Go boots don’t suit the dress. Finally, I shall be checking the integrity of my hold-ups, following a let-down at the 2013 Festival of Romantic Fiction. In fact, I’m tempted to not wear any, so as to avoid the Nora Batty look.

I’m now reconsidering the Go-Go boots …

Alison: And finally, Congratulations from all three of us to ALL the Joan Hessayon Award Contenders, and a huge thank-you to Melanie, the RNA and all the New Writers’ Scheme readers for their hard work supporting new writers. We salute you.

 

The Round Robin Round-Up

In recent months, the authors at Choc Lit have produced unique short stories to celebrate special events such as Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. What’s fascinating is that we’re not producing a story each, but a contribution to one entire story, which is then posted day-by-day on wonderfully supportive book blogs. It’s a fascinating process. We don’t know what will arrive in the inbox or how the next author will progress what we’ve set up. It’s like tag wrestling, but without the leotards or catapulting off the ropes to floor the opponent.Mothers Day Round Robin

I was interested in how we approached our particular sections and asked for my fellow ChocLiteers thoughts.

Valentine’s Round Robin

Kathryn Freeman

I found it harder than writing a story by myself as I was very conscious I shouldn’t give away too much, too soon, but I already had in mind how I wanted it to end!

- I also found it more rewarding in a way, as I was so intrigued by how those after me would pick up the reins.  I felt proud to be part of the final result – but in awe of the ability of my fellow writers who managed to kick it off so well and then keep the suspense and so neatly tie the ends up at the end. I was very glad I went early!

Evonne Wareham

I did the Valentine one. It was great fun and also scary! I was day 4 of 5. The 3 previous instalments had set up some lovely leads, it was a responsibility to live up to them and also leave the story in a good place for the final instalment. Making a villain out of the character who would normally have been my alpha hero was interesting.

 Mother’s Day Round Robin

Alison May

I actually found writing part 1 quite intimidating. Normally the beginning of a story would be one of the last bits that I’d still be tweaking with and revising. This time I didn’t have that option. I had to write an opening that set up enough possibilities for the six writers that followed to apply their imaginations but wasn’t so vague as to be completely irrelevant to what came later. I think I stared at the blank screen for longer than I ever have before, feeling the pressure of not letting the later writers down. I ummed and aahed particularly about whether to introduce a potential hero in part 1. I do have a discarded paragraph where a mysterious stranger appears, but in the end I decided to leave the hero for the writers who came later. I’m now really happy with Kelly and sort of in love with little Lucas. I just hope that the writers and readers who came after me ended up feeling the same.

 Laura E. James

Alison wrote a great introduction, and that allowed me to take the story in any direction. Conscious of the fact it was a Mother’s Day story, and we at Choc Lit write romance, my focus was on developing a love interest and a father for Kelly’s baby son. I left it for the latter writers to decide if this man was one and the same. It was liberating not having to make that decision, however, now the story is complete, I have to say, I found what followed, and the conclusion extremely satisfying. I loved this experience.

 Berni Stevens

I was so relieved not to be given the first slot, and I take my hat off to Alison for doing such an amazing job. I still remember my own first day back at work after maternity leave, so writing Kelly’s feelings came easily to me. I loved the way Laura and Henri set up new possibilities for the story, but I couldn’t resist throwing in my own curved ball! I truly couldn’t wait to see how it all panned out.

Beverley Eikli

I was caught between a rock and a hard place with such excellent instalments having gone before. Now, with the story having only two more instalments after mine, I knew that it was time to explore the motivations of some of the characters who may (or may not) have a larger role to play and begin the process of tying up the threads my predecessors had left me :)

Unexpected plot twists are what I love best, though of course that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. However since it seemed to be ‘at that point in the story’ I thought I’d just go for it. I wrote most of it while travelling through Norway but had to think long and hard to come up with the direction I was going to take it. There were so many!

 Amanda James

I found it really tricky coming in at the penultimate section. I couldn’t end it obviously, but I wasn’t sure where to go either because of what had come before. Of course I knew we should probably have a happy ending, so worked towards that. The problem was that a couple of the stories before mine had said that Damien had wanted nothing to do with Kelly and his son, another had said that Kelly had ignored all Damien’s attempts to contact her by phone and text. Gulp. I realised that this was to set up intrigue and conflict and I eventually got it sorted  … I hope! It was great fun to write and I would love to do it again.

 Margaret James

I enjoyed writing the ending.  It was fun to read everything which came before it, seeing how the previous writers had developed the story, set traps for the unwary reader, suggested various directions in which the story could go, and also suggested various resolutions. I decided early on who the bad guy in this story was going to be and I wrote my ending to reflect this decision.

***

From a personal point of view, what’s struck me reading these comments is that as writers we’ve used our knowledge, experience and instinct to know how to start the story, when to add a hint of romance or betrayal, where to introduce the twist and turns, and how and when to start wrapping it up to bring it to a satisfying conclusion.

Beyond my contribution at Part 2, I was reading and discovering along with all the other readers and was captivated by the unfolding story.

I’m already looking forward to the next Choc Lit round robin.

Laura.

Here are the links to our Mother’s Day story, which can now be read from start to finish:

Part One by Alison May on Chick Lit Reviews and News

Part Two by Laura E James on Jera’s Jamboree

Part Three by Henriette Gyland on Laura’s Little Book Blog

Part Four by Berni Stevens on Cosmochicklitan

Part Five by Beverley Eikli on Chick Lit Uncovered

Part Six by Amanda James on Love of a Good Book

Part Seven by Margaret James on One More Page

Write your own romantic suspense!

From the pen of Evonne Wareham

Choc Lit sent me an e-mail. As they do. How about giving us some tips they said – How to write romantic suspense?

Fine I thought – no problem.  So here it is – my top ten list.

Whoa! Wait a minute. I can tell you about how I write romantic suspense, but it might not be how you would write it. We’re all different, which is a Good Thing, as the world would be full of books that are all exactly the same, which might be a bit boring, after a while.

So – to start again. Here is my list of thoughts about writing romantic suspense. Things you might like to take into account as you write, or if it’s a genre that you’re wondering about. But it’s your book.

1.  Are we having fun yet?  

Write something you’re going to enjoy.  You’re going to be keeping company with these characters for quite a while, so you have to start off liking the idea. It’s fine to experiment and explore different genres, to find the one that is the best fit. Is romantic suspense right for you?

2.  Are you a good juggler? 

Romantic suspense mixes the ingredients of a romance and a thriller, in roughly equal measure. So you have to be happy with doing both. How you arrange it is up to you, but they do have to be intertwining parts of the story.

3.  Do you have criminal tendencies?  

Most romantic suspense has a crime at the heart of it, so you have to be comfortable with writing about it.

4.  How good are you at killing people? 

On the page! On the page! This is one point where you do not do personal research. This is where imagination comes in. But it can be disquieting, when you read back what you have written and wonder where it came from.  Creating evil villains can be disturbingly rewarding.  Or maybe that’s just me?

5.  Out damned plot!  

How much of a plotter are you? Do you enjoy it?  I used to think I was one of those who wrote into the mist – in vulgar parlance, a pantser. It gradually dawned on me that I wasn’t. I was a plotter who didn’t put pen to paper until the high points of the action were all worked out in my head.  If you enjoy plotting, then romantic suspense is a good place to do it.

6.  Warm, simmer, sizzle, volcano? 

 Only you can decide on your comfort level when writing love scenes.  But there are a couple of things to think about.  The love scenes are an essential part of the action, part of the character development of the hero and heroine, right for them and for the plot, at that time.  In this, the romantic suspense setting can be a help. Your hero and heroine are in extreme situations, probably with their lives being threatened. That can make things happen faster and in a more intense way.  And if the heroine has just been hiding in a small space, with this exceptionally hot guy

7.  Go on, thrill me. I dare you…  

If it’s a thriller then you’re talking roller coaster, nail-biter, more twists than a corkscrew. And if you can do it, a cliff hanger at the end of each chapter.

8. That is sooo romantic. 

While the hero and heroine are running around, saving the world, they also have to fall for each other, in a big way. So you need all the ingredients of romance as well as thrills and spills – the misunderstandings, the arguments, the hero who has problems making a commitment, the heroine with a dark secret in her past …

9.  My hero … Swoon. 

Choc Lit like their books to be written at least in part from the hero’s point of view, which is great, as you get to write about what he is thinking. I love watching the poor guy falling for the heroine and not knowing what’s hit him.  I go for the mysterious type, alphas, but not overbearing, strong and capable and very protective of the heroine. Those are my choices. Have fun making yours.

10.  And heroine?

 If I have one pet hate when I’m reading, it’s a wet heroine – the ‘too stupid to live’ kind. I try to write independent women who can run their own lives, but who recognise a situation that is too big for them to handle alone.  Part of the challenge of writing a heroine who can stand on her own feet is making her vulnerable in the right ways.

That’s it. My ten thoughts. I hope they help and if you’re writing romantic suspense, or thinking about it, that you enjoy the journey.

Evonne RD pic

Evonne Wareham was born in South Wales and spent her childhood there. After university she migrated to London, where she worked in local government, scribbled novels in her spare time and went to the theatre a lot. Now she’s back in Wales, living by the sea, writing and studying a PHD in history. She still loves the theatre, likes staying in hotels and enjoys the company of other authors through her membership of the Romantic Novelists’ Association.

Evonne’s debut novel, Never Coming Home won the 2012 Joan Hessayon New Writers’ Award, the 2013 Colorado Romance Writers’ Award for Romantic Suspense, the Oklahoma National Readers’ Choice Award for Romantic Suspense plus was a nominee for a Reviewers’ Choice Award from RT Book Reviews. Evonne’s novels include: Never Coming Home and Out of Sight Out of Mind.