Thursday, 29 March 2007

A Celebratory Competition

Thank you to everybody who stopped by my blog to congratulate me on my RITA nominations! I've made up my mind and I'm planning to go to Dallas in July. I'm busy trying to calm down about it all, I really am, but the adrenalin rush just keeps on going... In the meantime, I thought I would run a little competition.

I'm having lots of fun with my voice recognition software. Most of the time it's really accurate, but occasionally it fouls up – normally when I talk too fast (Who? Me? Never!) or don't speak clearly enough. I've also discovered it's a really bad idea to try and dictate when you have the hiccups!

Here are some examples that have made me giggle:

  • "send an e-mail to my editor" became "send an e-mail to my head"
  • "Hi Meg" became "hind legs"
  • "She rummaged in her bag" became " she vomited in her back"
  • "hiccups" (see above) became "he cuts"
  • "I'm an auntie" became "I'm a Nazi" (I promise you, I'm not - although my children may have something to say about that...)

So, my competition to win copies of my current release Her Parenthood Assignment is to guess what I actually said when my voice recognition software wrote the following:

"... half a chocolate muff in wrapped in a paper Soviet."

E-mail me at with your answers and I'll pick three out to win a book! Closing date is 6th April. I'll announce the winners and collect addresses then.

Monday, 26 March 2007

Latest news

Each year the RWA (Romance Writers of America) holds a contest for romantic fiction called the RITAs. I kind of see it as the Oscars of the romantic fiction world. I could be wrong about that, but it seems to be the biggest, glitziest do there is.

Anyway, yesterday I got a phone call from America, telling me that Blind-Date Marriage had finaled in two categories: Best First Book and Best Traditional!

I would like to say I received the news with consummate grace and professionalism, but unfortunately I can't. I yelled "no way!" down the phone. Classy, huh?

Now I'm trying to work out whether I should make the trip to Dallas to be at the awards ceremony in person. Should I?

Saturday, 24 March 2007

Her Parenthood Assignment: the Setting

And now for my favourite bit – the setting of Her Parenthood Assignment. South Devon is a popular tourist spot, full of holiday cottages and hotels. It's not hard to see why. The scenery is stunning: rolling hills, dramatic coastlines and chocolate-box villages.

The lovely town of Dartmouth is mentioned frequently in the book as it is the nearest real town to my fictional setting. This is the view from Dartmouth over the river to Kingswear.

I've been visiting the area for more than 20 years, first on family holidays (my father had a boat moored in the River Dart during my teenage years) and now to visit family who have moved down there.

The first location in the book, where Gaby finds herself on the wrong side of the river, is based on Greenway Pier. It was a favourite spot of another writer – Agatha Christie owned Greenway, a fantastic white house on the hillside. It's now owned by the national trust and open to the public.

When I wrote the opening scene, I had an idea that they should be a bell to call the ferry. When I went searching for pictures of the area in my local library, I discovered there was actually a bell on Greenaway Pier. A fact I had long forgotten but had reached out of my subconscious when I started to write. I wonder what else is tucked away up there that I've forgotten about.

The village of Lower Hadwell is based on the real village of Dittisham on the banks of the River Dart, just across the river from Greenway. It has a horribly steep hill – so bad you have to turn round and walked backwards to stop your calves aching when you get near the top. I spent many happy hours on the pontoons catching crabs with fishing lines baited with strips of bacon and now when we visit, my children do the same.

As for the Old Boathouse, it's a fictional house, based on a real cottage I saw on a flyer for English Country Cottages, a holiday-home letting company. Click here if you want to see the details. I'm almost tempted to rent it for a week and live in Luke and Gaby's house. It is actually in Stoke Gabriel, further upstream from Dittisham. In my imagination, I made it larger, further away from the town and with a jetty out front. Initially Gaby was going to be called Emma but, after I found the picture of the boathouse in Stoke Gabriel, I changed her name to Gabrielle. It seemed fitting.

Her Parenthood Assignment: the heroine

I'm sorry to say that I can't post a picture of Gaby here. I only have a fuzzy idea of what she looks like. Although, if I saw a photo that matched my vague idea of her, I'd know it in a second.

She describes herself as ordinary. She has brown, not-sure-what-the colour-it-wants-to-be hair and brown eyes. And when Luke first sees her, he thinks of her as being pretty ordinary too. I see her as having a kind of quiet beauty. The sort that creeps up on you bit by bit until you realise the person standing in front of you is actually quite stunning. The fact is, as Luke gets to know her, the beauty of her warm and giving personality shines out and captivates him.

Gaby is escaping from the wreckage of her marriage to super-controlling, city-slicker David. Since childhood she's been the person other people have wanted her to be. She described her old life as like being as suburban version of Frankenstein's monster. She looked the part, with all the right pieces in the right places, but somehow the spirit was missing.

She arrives in Devon, a super-nanny sent to help Luke Armstrong with his troubled daughter, Heather. The last thing she needs is to get involved with another controlling man who just can't seem to keep a lid on his temper. However, as she becomes embroiled in Heather and Luke's lives, she empathises with Luke for the horrors he must have endured in prison and starts to see glimpses of a wonderfully warm and caring man underneath the gruff exterior.

But, as they reveal their feelings for each other, Gaby's old insecurities surface and she starts to unwittingly sabotage their relationship. If you want to see Luke and Gaby in action, pop over to my website and read the excerpt here.

Sunday, 18 March 2007

Her Parenthood Assignment: the hero

Luke Armstrong is prematurely turning into a grumpy old man. But then again, he's got a lot to be grumpy about. He spent five years in prison after being wrongly accused of his wife's murder and now he's been set free on appeal he's trying to rebuild his life with an 11-year-old daughter who can't even bring herself to call him anything but "Luke".

When I started writing Her Parenthood Assignment Luke looked a little bit a cross between Rupert Penry-Jones, who plays Adam in Spooks (MI5 in the USA) and actor Jeremy Sheffield. As the book developed, Luke took on his own identity within my head and have not been able to find a picture that matches him exactly, but the guy on the front cover is pretty close!

Friday, 16 March 2007

Five-star review

I've just discovered that Her Parenthood Assignment received a five-star review at Cataromance. Here's a snippet:

Her Parenthood Assignment is a well-written tale which will tug at your heartstrings and tickle your funny bone with its captivating blend of dramatic scenes, hilarious one-liners and potent emotional intensity.

Obviously, I'm rather chuffed about this. If you want to read the whole review click here.

Sunday, 11 March 2007

The missing prologue

This is the prologue to the second draft of 'Her Parenthood Assignment' which was cut in the final round of edits:

‘They’ve reached a verdict.’

Luke Armstrong peeled his gaze from the floor and looked at the uniformed man standing in the doorway. For weeks he’d sat in the courtroom and watched it all play out. Witnesses fidgeted, jurors frowned, lawyers attacked and counter-attacked, but none of that mattered now. It had only been a prelude to this moment.

So much hung on where the scales of justice finally tipped. His and Heather’s lives would be defined by the clipped reply of the jury foreman. They
had to make the right decision. His wife’s murder could not go unpunished.

He felt strangely numb as he navigated the network of corridors that led to the courtroom. Why wasn’t his heart punching against his ribcage, his adrenalin levels in the rafters? There was only a sense of inevitability, like the eerie calm of a deserted beach waiting for a storm.

The future was no longer his to command. But then, it never had been. Not since the moment Lucy had been found in that hotel room.

The hotel room.

Just that thought alone should send a tremor through him, but there was nothing. Not a blip. He’d seen the glossy pictures of the crime scene, heard every grisly bit of medical evidence countless times over. It had taken on the surreal, impersonal quality of those late night forensic shows he used to enjoy so much.

He’d become desensitised. He’d had to. ‘Till death do us part’ was supposed to have referred to when they were old and grey, not when they when they were barely halfway there.

All that mattered now was his daughter. Heather needed every scrap of his love and strength if she was going to make it though this. He would have to be her rock while she grieved; he could do his own later when she had come to terms with the loss of her beautiful, vibrant mother.

The spectators' gallery of Courtroom Two was packed. Every seat in the high-ceilinged, panelled room was filled. All except the judge’s chair and the twelve empty spaces to his left. Seats reserved for the seven men and five women would decide the fate of his shattered family.

A plain door on the left creaked and an usher appeared. Every head in the courtroom swung round.

The jury were here.

Their faces had become as familiar to him as actors in his favourite television dramas. For weeks, day in, day out, he’d studied them. He didn’t know where they lived or what they filled their days with, but he felt like he knew them. He’d even given them nicknames.

The shuffling and whispering in the gallery hushed as they filed in. They weren’t in their usual order. The woman he’d labelled “The Redhead” led the way. The fact she’d been made foreman had to be a good omen. Not that he believed in any of that stuff. He used to laugh at Lucy when she’d read her horoscope. But he was desperate, and he’d cling to any sign of hope.

It seemed to take an age before they were all seated and the judge entered and started talking. The words were just background
blah. All the time he kept his eyes on the Redhead, trying to gauge her secret.

Would her answer be one word, or two?

And then he heard the clerk say, ‘Would the defendant please rise?’

It took him a few seconds before he realised that was his cue to move. His legs didn’t seem to want to work, but somehow he hauled himself to his feet and looked the judge straight in the eye. He had nothing to be ashamed of. He was innocent, had said so all along. The Redhead believed him, he knew she did. He’d seen it in her eyes when he’d given evidence.

But now she wasn’t looking at him, none of them were, and he didn’t know if this was a good or a bad sign. He didn’t really hear what the clerk said next, because he was waiting for her to look up, waiting to see that look of understanding in her eyes. Then he’d know he was safe, that Heather wasn’t going to lose both her mother and father in the space of a few short months.

‘…and have you reached a verdict on which you all agree?’


‘And on the count of murder, do you find the defendant guilty or not guilty?’

The world stopped spinning. Luke certainly stopped breathing.

The Redhead tore her gaze from the court official and looked at him, her eyes filled with pain and sadness. She seemed to plead with him to understand. And he did.

A split-second before her lips moved he knew what she was going to say and his knuckles whitened on the rail in front of him.


Her Parenthood Assignment - the inspiration

This was a bit of an odd book in terms of the starting idea as the original plot twist was axed by my editor and I had to completely rework the book.

A few years ago I was called to do jury service. I only served on one case and it was a fairly minor charge, but a difficult one to decide on. I couldn't sleep that night, even though I felt I had made the right decision, because I was very aware that I had changed the course of someones life. I wondered how I would feel if I had sat in on a really serious case, say a murder, and had convicted the defendant. Then the what ifs started coming thick and fast...

What if my gut instinct had told me one thing, but the forensic evidence had told me something else?
What if the verdict was overturned a few years later and I discovered I'd been wrong?
How would I feel? What would I do?

The seed idea for Luke and Gaby's story was planted. In my original draft, Gaby had served on the jury that convicted Luke of his wife's murder six years earlier. She was racked with guilt after he was set free on appeal and became determined to find out if he was okay. In a bit of an identity mix up, she ended up looking after his daughter. The conflict of the story centred around the fact that Luke hadn't recognised Gaby and the problems that were going to erupt when her secret was revealed.

I was itching to write the story over Christmas 2005 and had racked up seven chapters before my editor got back to me with a verdict on the synopsis I'd sent her. She very wisely picked up on the fact that this storyline could be an ethical minefield. In the end, despite writing a whole new section where Luke and Gaby had a shared past, I decided the simplest option was best - Gaby was a nanny who specialised in difficult situations and she and Luke had never met before.

Very painfully, I went back over my seven chapters and ripped out the original storyline. The emotional problems that the characters were going to face were already there but, without the external conflict of Gaby's secret identity, they had to deepen and were brought more sharply into focus. I think I ended up with a much stronger book because of this, even if it was a pig to rewrite.

This is a lesson I keep coming back to. Quite often, when I write a synopsis there will be an element of external conflict that seems important but, as I write the book, I often find it a better idea to ignore that external conflict and build on the internal conflict between the two characters.

I was delighted to discover a few weeks later that Luke and Gaby's story had sold with no revisions. The overhaul I'd given it had obviously strengthened it. The only change was that we lopped the prologue off the front - a scene in which Luke heard he's guilty verdict at the end of his trial. Without the jury storyline it just didn't seem necessary. I'm tempted to post it here as a bit of a teaser. Perhaps I'll do that tomorrow...

Friday, 9 March 2007

Book number 2!

Finally, my brain has emerged from the post-book haze enough for me to blog again. My fourth book, working title The It-Girl and the Heir, is with my editor and I am wearing a my inbox checking for the verdict. When I sent it off, I was really pleased with it, but as the days tick by I'm becoming more and more convinced that it is pants.

Anyway, enough of obsessing about things that are out of my control. I'm really excited because the favourite book I have written so far Her Parenthood Assignment is out in the UK at the moment and will be released in North America next week.

Here is the blurb and the cover just to whet your appetite.

Falling for her boss... and his family!

Working as a nanny for the rather gruff, yet extremely good-looking Luke Armstrong's spirited daughter seems like just the challenge Gabby Michaels needs to kick-start a new life!

Arriving at the Old Boathouse on the rugged coast of Devon, Gaby can see that the rift between Luke and his daughter can only be breached if Luke allows himself to be healed, as well. But in helping to fix this family, Gaby realises she wants to be more than just the nanny - she wants to be a mother to Heather... and a wife to Luke.

I'll be blogging about the ideas behind the story over the next few weeks.

Friday, 2 March 2007

In the same week as the Oscars...

Just as I was putting the finishing touches to Josie and Will's story, I discovered my first book, Blind-Date Marriage, won a Cataromance Reviewers' Choice Award for the Best Silhouette Romance of the second half of 2006. And even better news, I'm sharing it with Sophie Weston's The Cinderella Factor, which I thought was a really wonderful book.
You can see the rest of the award winners here. Congrats to everyone on the list!