Saturday, 19 December 2009

Harlequin Romance/Mills & Boon Romance Giveaway!

The Harlequin Romance/M&B Romance authors have got together to send one lucky reader a fabulous Christmas present, Including:

  • Bachelor Dad on Her Doorstep – Michelle Douglas

  • A Trip With The Tycoon – Nicola Marsh

  • The Greek’s Long Lost Son – Rebecca Winters

  • One Dance With The Cowboy – Donna Alward

  • Boardroom Baby Surprise – Jackie Braun

  • Her Desert Dream – Liz Fielding

  • Invitation to the Boss’s Ball – Fiona Harper

  • The Magic of a Family Christmas, plus a box of chocolates from the factory she toured while researching the book – Susan Meier

  • Under The Boss’s Mistletoe – Jessica Hart

  • The Daredevil Tycoon and The Family Next Door (LI) – Barbara McMahon

  • Hired: Cinderella Chef – Myrna McKenzie

  • Her Mediterranean Makeover – Claire Baxter

  • A selection of tea and comfort goodies for when you’re reading - from new author Barbara Wallace

Visit the Harlequin Romance Authors' Blog to find out how to enter!

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

My secret weapon

Just glanced over to my bookshelf and was horrified to discover how many mugs have collected there in the last day or so. No wonder I can't find anything to drink out of downstairs (I have my desk and bookshelf in my bedroom - oh, for an office!).
Hate to think what might be mouldering at the bottom of some of those cups...

But it's obviously working! Progress is good on the book. So perhaps I should just stop mug-hoarding, wash up and boil the kettle once more.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Back to work!

Work on the latest book (imaginative working title: "Jennie & Alex" - and, yes, it's Jennie, the eloping sister from Invitation To The Boss's Ball) ground to a halt while the kids were off school for half term and we spent a week away in Norfolk with the family. Lovely scenery, good weather, great company.

I was walking on Holkham beach one afternoon and realised there was something familiar about it, and then I turned an looked back towards the shoreline, where a row of pine trees seperated the dunes from the sky.

Even though I'd never been there before, I recognised this beach - and a flash of a familar image from the back of my memory gave me the reason why. Holkham Beach is the wonderful wide stretch of sand that Gwyneth Paltrow walks up at the end of 'Shakespeare In Love' as the credits roll.

I would definitely like to go back when the weather is more like it is in the bottom picture than it was in mine!

Anyway, work on the new book is now going great guns (haven't reached the end of chapter three yet - one of my 'sticking points'), and at the moment I'm loving my heroine, loving my set up and loving the secondary characters.

I fear for the safety of said characters, though. My beginnings always end up too waffly and I end up having to cut words and people. But I need Auntie Barb with the orange foundation to complicate matters for Jennie now so she can't escape the hero later. And I need Jennie's parents' in there to paint a fuller picture of her character before Alex turns her world upside-down. Sigh. I just hope my editor agrees when I turn the book in!

Monday, 19 October 2009

Cinderella's Dress

My geeky heroine, Alice, has a vintage fashion makeover during the course of Invitation To The Boss’s Ball. She sees herself as a bit of a stick insect (not a problem I’ve ever had, unfortunately) but I wanted to show that all shapes and sizes can have issues about their bodies and that all of us can be beautiful and sexy. I think ‘sexy’ is more about what’s on the inside, anyway.

The best era of dress to suit Alice would have either been a flapper dress from the Twenties, or something bias cut from the Thirties. Since the ball she was attending had a theme of ‘Old Hollywood Glamour’ I chose the latter, thinking of stars such as Carole Lombard and Ginger Rogers when my imagination got to work on Alice’s attire. I don’t actually have a picture of the dress because it’s a combination of different ideas I saw when I was doing my research. The colour had to be deep, dark green, like the first picture, but I think the style was probably more like the other pictures, something that would flatter a willowy figure.

Why green? It’s my favourite colour – especially dark green. It’s possible that when I thought “Thirties” and “green dress” that I subliminally thought of Kiera Knightly’s dress in Atonement, but I haven’t seen the film and the green I had in mind was much darker. However, when I googled “green thirties dress” and tons of movie stills popped up, I decided this picture captured something of the wistful, romantic feel I wanted for some of the ball scenes and I used it as my computer wallpaper while I was writing the book.

Initially, I just pictured a pair of fabulous vintage shoes as Alice’s footwear, something satin or sparkly, but when I came across this picture, I knew they were perfect. Glass heels! Perfect for Cinderella! Of course, the heels aren’t really glass, they’re Lucite – a type of Perspex. In my mind, the heels on Alice’s shoes were entirely clear, unlike the shoes in the picture, which are only partly Lucite. Seriously, if these vintage shoes had been in my size, I would have bought them in an instant.

A change of clothes wasn’t all that Alice needed. If an ugly ducking is going to be a swan, she needs a complete makeover. I could have gone for a coiled and waved hairdo (see the top picture of Carole Lombard), but I decided that it wasn’t dramatic enough. The image that sprung instantly to mind was of movie star Veronica Lake, famed for her sexy peek-a-boo side parting. It was just the thing to knock not only Cameron’s socks off but the breath right out of his lungs.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Love Affair With Vintage Fashion

I’ve always had a thing about vintage clothes. I think it's a fascination for the dressing-up box that has never quite left me. As a student often bought my clothes in charity shops and second-hand shops, wearing vintage dresses and blouses before the phrase ‘vintage’ was widely used for other people's old clothes. When I was writing Invitation To The Boss's Ball I thought about some of the lovely dresses and blouses I had bought in various ‘retro’ shops, and I realised that I had owned more than just a couple of vintage items. At one time they had made up a major part of my wardrobe.

Here’s a pic of me in a 1950s dress that was a particular favourite in the late 80s. This was taken on my honeymoon, when I visited Venice. I don’t have the dress any more, unfortunately. It eventually disintegrated, but I wore it until it fell apart.

As I looked back through my photo albums, I discovered many more photos of vintage clothing I’d worn. Here’s one of me at my 21st birthday party, wearing a home-made peach lace cocktail dress I found in a shop near where I went to college. The satin bow round the waist was just the most amazing fabric. When Alice's admires the cocktail dress in the opening paragraphs of the book, it was this bow I was thinking about as I wrote:

"The old oyster-coloured satin had the most wonderful texture—smooth but not slippery, like modern imitations, stiff and reassuringly heavy. Anyone who saw the cocktail dress would just have itched to touch it, and this is what Alice did, letting her fingertips explore it fully, lingering on the crease of the sash as it folded into a bow just under the bust line."

As well as my charity shop finds there were the items I hijacked from my mother’s wardrobe. I still have two suede jackets of hers from the 60s, one brown, one bottle-green. Wish I could still fit into them. I have to confess to being a 'goth' in my latter teenage years, which happened to be around the time that Madonna first burst onto the pop scene. (Okay, seriously giving my age away here!) I dressed like many of my friends who had straight hair, but they teased me mercilessly for trying to look like Madonna - which I hotly denied, of course. I reckon it must be the curly hair - it added a different dimension to the look. But when I found this picture of myself in my mum's suede-fronted green jacket, I had to admit my friends might just have had a point. Oh well, being compared to someone who is now one of the world's most successful female artists isn't too shabby really, is it?

This picture was taken at a fancy dress party which had a 60s theme. The velvet and chiffon dress was one from that very decade, passed down to me by my grandmother. She recognised my penchant for old and unusual clothes, even though she often tutted at my fashion choices. The dress was originally knee length, but I shortened it to get an even stronger 60s look. Wish I hadn't now. Don't think I will ever be brave enough (or young enough) to wear it that short again.

At the very beginning of Invitation To The Boss's Ball, my vintage clothing aficionado heroine is unpacking a box that her partner has brought back from a house clearance:

"Alice carefully lifted a peacock-blue taffeta evening cape out of the box and when she saw what was underneath it, she froze. There they were, just sitting there—the perfect pair of shoes."

I have to own up to possessing that very peacock-blue cape. It's gorgeous, with vibrant blue watermarked taffeta on the outside, and a matching white taffeta lining. It has a little silver button at the collar and tailored slits in the front to elegantly slip your wrists through. Trying it on, you have to resist the urge to swan around like Grace Kelly. At least I do. Never had the courage or the occasion to wear it, though. Too worried about looking like a superhero who's lost her way. Maybe one day.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Invitation To The Boss's Ball - Vintage Fashion

I can’t really blog about Invitation To The Boss’s Ball without mentioning the glorious vintage clothing. My heroine, Alice, is going into business with her best friend, the owner of a market stall that sells vintage clothing. Their dream is to open a shop of their own – somewhere out of the wind and rain, with four walls and an office.

Here are some pictures of the sort of things I envisaged Alice and her friend Coreen wearing through out the book.

In the original version of my book there was an opening scene where Alice realised her current boyfriend, Paul, was nowhere close to Prince Charming. He ruined her lovely olive-green dress by chucking a wrapped up doner kebab in her lap. Unfortunately, the scene went by the way of the cutting-room floor during the revisions process. Still love the dress, though.

As Alice has to find some office wear when she movs her party-planning project into Cameron's offices, I could imagine her wearing cute little cardigans and silk embroidered blouse like this. Since she was used to wearing jeans, trainers and old fleece jackets, I wanted her to discover her feminine side. I also wanted her to stand out from the high-powered business suits and killer heels of Cameron's female employees.

Alice's friend, Coreen, is a true vintage fashionista. She loves dressing like a 40s or 50s pin-up girl. For some reason, always seemed to be wearing red shoes when she appeared in the book. I didn't plan that but it seemed to go with her personality, so I kept it in. (I'm hoping to write Coreen a little romance of her own sometime soon.) Anyway, Coreen's outfit for the ball was, as Alice puts it, "a little black dress that was fifties restraint and pure sin all at the same time". Here's the picture that was the inspiration for Coreen's party dress.

Of course, the girls aren't the only ones who get to wear some vintage fashion thoughout the course of the book. Alice gives Cameron the gift of some cufflinks. In my mind they were octagonal, like the ones on the right, but with tiger's eye stones set into them. Alice sees Cameron's platinum cufflinks as he takes them off to put her ones in and she's reminded that they are truly from two different worlds. How could she have been so stupid as to think she had anything to give him? Cameron, on the other hand, is thinking how wonderfully unique his gift is - rather like the enigmatic redhead to gave them to him.

The other half of Cameron's present from Alice is a tie. His was dark, dark green, not brown like the one in the photo here. It's not until things are going badly, badly wrong that Cameron finds out there is a secret contained in what looks like a boring old tie, and Alice turns it against him, telling him: ‘This is the kind of woman you need. Always ready, always glamorous, never having an ‘off’ day. Who cares if she isn’t real? She’ll never ask anything of you, never ask you for a piece of your soul. In short, she’ll always be your perfect woman.’

Lastly, here's the dress Alice wears in the final scene, where she goes to the V&A to see the new vintage clothing exhibition. I love this dress! It's just so cute. And just so Alice.

Of course, you may have noticed that I've left two vital pieces out of this list: Alice's fabulous emerald silk vintage gown and her glass-heeled shoes. There was so much I could say about Alice's makeover for the ball that I decided to dedicate a whole post to it. Watch out for that soon.

Saturday, 26 September 2009


Invitation To The Boss's Ball has just got some really great reviews:

"Fabulous, fun and feel-good, you’ll adore every single word of Fiona Harper’s irresistible new Harlequin Romance" Cataromance

"Fresh, funny, tender and absolutely mesmerizing" Pink Heart Society Reviews

"Definitely a winner." All About Romance

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Invitation To The Boss's Ball - Hero and Heroine

Alice is skinny, with bright red hair – too bright be called anything but ‘ginger’ – and she lives in jeans, trainers and her brother’s over-sized fleeces. It's not that she isn't pretty; it's just that she doesn't believe she's pretty.

If there ever was a girl crying out for a makeover, she's it. Not that she knows she wants this – that yearning is buried deep down inside and she’s too scared to dream she can be anything else than a guy’s best friend. She’s certainly not the kind of girl men fall down and worship. She just wants an average guy to live and average little life with. What a pity, then, she’s falling for Cameron Hunter, who’s so far out of her league it just isn’t funny…

Cameron is a software tycoon whose difficult past has driven him to succeed at any cost, to prove himself not only to the upper-class boys that used to bully him at school, but to the whole world. And he’s doing a rather good job of it.

But then he runs into Alice, a childhood friend who can help him out of a rather big jam, and he starts to look at his life with a fresh perspective. He’s not quite sure he likes what he sees. He’s spent his whole life climbing to the top of the heap, but he suspects all he’s done and all he is won’t be enough for the quiet, determined redhead he’s desperate to impress.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Invitation To The Boss's Ball - Story Inspiration

People often ask me where I get my ideas for stories. Invitation To The Boss’s Ball had a bit more of a roundabout birth than my books normally do:

Last year I wrote the trilogy with Jennie Adams and Melissa McClone. The editors didn’t give us a storyline – the just asked us to come up with something fresh and urban – so we spent what seemed like weeks instant messaging back and forth trying to come up with a clutch of ideas we thought might appeal.

One of our first ideas was for three heroines who set up their own internet company specialising in lingerie for women of all shapes and sizes. My heroine was going to be Alice, a lingerie designer, who was as thin as a rake and thought she was far too androgynous to wear her own creations – until she meets the hero, of course, and starts to feel sexy and a little more confidant.

The Romance editors weren’t sure about the lingerie company (too sexy?), so we went back to the drawing board and came up with a whole new raft of ideas. One of mine was as follows:

Three girls in three different countries discover that having the perfect pair of killer heels can be just the right ingredient when searching for their Prince Charming. Of course, Cinders’ luck with shoes and men was a little up and down, and our heroines just might discover that there’s more to love than Jimmy Choos…

I was going to tweak Alice into a fashion illustrator who bought a wonderful pair of shoes second-hand at a charity shop, but always felt she wasn’t sexy enough to do them justice. However, for the trilogy we ended up picking an internet dating theme, and I realised Alice was all wrong for the forty-year-old empty nester heroine in my book, so I waved her bye-bye and consigned her to my ideas file, turning my attention to Grace, who stormed away with the part.

However, once the trilogy was done and I was discussing ideas for new books with my editor, she mentioned a new mini-series in the Romance line called “In Her Shoes”. Basically, modern-day Cinderella stories. I knew a heroine who could fill those shoes! Alice.

The basic idea for her character remained the same, but I decided the shoes shouldn’t just be second-hand but vintage. And that’s when the ideas really began to fly! Before I knew it I was trawling vintage clothing sites, salivating over the wonderful clothes. I even found a pair of shoes with ‘glass’ heels. Right then, I knew I had my story and that Alice wasn’t going to be consigned to the ideas folder any longer!

More on the story behind the story soon...

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

I just got back from a wonderful holiday in Italy. I stayed in the beautiful Riva del Garda on my honeymoon. 'Mr Harper' and I have always wanted to go back and we decided to take the kids and celebrate our 20th anniversary in style.

This was the view from our table as we dined outside on shore of Lake Garda last Monday evening. I couldn't stop sighing. Partly because my pizza was so good, and partly because it was so beautiful.

Even the flight over was stunning. We flew right over the alps. Who can pay attention to aeroplane food when there's a view like this out of the window?

Here's Riva's main square on the waterfront. We ate here most nights.

And here's what Riva looks like with the mountains in the background:

Boats in the little lakeside town of Limone:

The gorge at the Varone falls:

One of Riva's pretty cobbled streets, and the imposing Mt Rochetta, which towers over the town:

The way the Lake sometimes is the most amazing shade of green:

And the most beautiful place I have ever been - the magical Isola del Garda. This palazzo is on a tiny island at the south end of the lake and is like something out of a fairy tale:

And, finally, Lake Garda in a different mood:


Saturday, 22 August 2009

RWA 09: Washington DC - Sunday

Sunday morning, Donna and I got up bright and early determined to do some sightseeing. With only a few hours and a lot of city to see, we decided to get one of the tourist trolley buses which left from the hotel and ride around the National Mall, stopping at a few locations, if we had time. Here are some of my pics from our day out.

A pretty house in the Kalorama district

The National Mall

The Lincoln Memorial

Inside the Lincoln Memorial

I come from a nation that has grown up over thousands of years, absorbing influences, ideas and language from its many invaders. Reading the Gettysburg address, which is carved on the wall of the Lincoln Memorial, I was struck by the words. It's a powerful thing to found a nation and to be able to decide, "this is what we stand for", "this is what this nation will be founded on". Whatever your politics, you can't fault the dedication, the principles and the optimism that humankind can rise above its pettyness and be truly great. I want to believe that.

The Korean War memorial

This Korean War Memorial was very moving. Statues of soldiers, in rain capes and with radios, are walking thought the low bushes, always watchful, always alert. There is something haunting about these statues. Despite their uniform colour, you feel as if they could almost move at any second.

The Vietnam War Memorial

I wanted to see this memorial because I recognised it from an episode of NCIS. When I mentioned this to Donna, she knew exactly which episode I was talking about and I discovered a fellow fan! This led to a discussion of all things 'Tony' and brought some much-needed levity to what was becoming quite a solemn bit of sightseeing.

Donna on the trolley bus

The FBI Building

The Capitol

Donna and I in the grounds of the Capitol

Arlington National Cemetary
When we arrived at Arlington Cemetary, it was time for me to catch the Metro back to the hotel so I could collect my luggage and make my way to the airport. Donna and I hugged goodbye and, despite our warnings to each other not to start, shed a little tear. And then it was time to go. I really enjoyed the little I saw of Washington DC. Strangely, much of the architecture reminds me of my hometown, London, and I hope I get the chance to visit again some day and see all the things I missed.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

RWA 09: Washington DC - Saturday

There were some great workshops listed for Saturday at the conference, but I didn’t make it to as many as I’d have liked. Marathon runners hit what’s known as a ‘wall’ somewhere in the middle of the 26 miles. My buddy Donna Alward has a theory that RWA conference goers can have a similar experience. Too much information to absorb, too much adrenaline within such a short space of time… It’s gonna cost you somewhere down the line.

By Saturday, my brain was no longer retaining information the way it had been. I blew off some of the workshops I’d been desperate to attend and ordered the conference DVD instead, knowing I’d get much more out of them if I listened to them when I was feeling fresh. I didn’t know it yet, but the ‘wall’ was looming.

I had a lovely lunch with Donna and Kate Hewitt at the Lebanese restaurant across the road from the hotel. People had raved about this place all week. It was even in my guidebook. I wasn’t disappointed. After a hearty serving of lamb kebabs and baklava I was ready to face the world again – although, what I actually did that afternoon has slid from my memory. I have vague memories of a workshop on body language.

That evening, I had a quick dinner with Donna at the pub in the hotel and then it was time to get dressed up for the RITA/Golden Heart awards ceremony. I had been so excited about getting into my lovely green evening dress. I’d slimmed into it and it was feeling good but, during the ceremony, I hit the ‘wall’. All the tiredness, the jet lag, the emotion of the past few days caught up with me. I’m one to blub at weddings and when people give moving speeches so I shed a tear a few times. But then there was speech about how those winning awards (RITAs, Oscars, Grammies…) would probably give them up gladly to find a cure for cancer.

Cancer has affected my family in the last year and, although treatments were going well and there was no reason to be maudlin, this speech hit home. I started to cry…and then found I couldn’t stop. I sat there with tears constatnly dripping from my eyes for the next half an hour, wondering why on earth I was crying and how I could turn off the waterworks.

By the end of the ceremony, I had dried up, but I wasn’t really in the mood for socialising and the queues for food and drink at the RITA/GH reception weren’t really conducive to mingling, so I stuck with Donna and Julie Cohen and chatted to them and looked at all the pretty dresses. I only took a couple of photos of that night, so I have no glitzy photos to post, unfortunately. Here’s the one I do have. Me and Julie and Donna, smiling, but looking underneath as if were ready to go home and give our kids a big hug:

Friday, 14 August 2009

RWA 09: Washington DC - Friday

By Friday morning we were well into the conference and things were starting to blur together. I went to a couple of workshops, a get-together for the Mills & Boon Authors and then it was on to the Awards Luncheon. The speaker was best-selling historical romance author Eloisa James, whose talk was both moving and inspirational. Summing it up the best I can, she spoke about how real-life trauma and emotional moments are the fuel for great books – if you have the courage to pour it all into your writing.

And, just so you can see what it looks like when a couple of thousand authors sit down to lunch together, I snuck up the staircase at the back of the room and took a picture.

The afternoon was another blur of workshops and time for a quick dinner (gorgeous coconut milk soup and spring rolls) with Harlequin Romance authors Shirley Jump and Donna Alward, and then it was time to scoot back to the hotel and get ready for the Harlequin party, which was being held downtown at the Ritz Carlton.

There are parties and then there are parties. The Harlequin Party each year at the RWA conference is one of the latter. It rocks. This year it was Harelquin’s 60th birthday and this was reflected in the vintage covers being projected onto the walls and six different bars around the room, all offering cocktails from different decades.

I think what made it really great fun for me was that I had two great dancing buddies in Donna Alward and Jennie Lucas. I have only one word to describe the lovely Jennie on the dance floor and that is “shameless”. I quickly got sucked into an equal state of shamelessness. So much so, that while the DJ was doing an 80s bit, he asked Jennie and I if we’d go up on the stage and dance. Eek! I decided to grab Julie Cohen – cos she was equally shameless and in situations like that, the more the merrier, right? – but somehow they ended up on the stage and a third body wasn’t needed, so I stayed down on the floor. Just as well, I discovered, as the DJ got them to do “Maniac” from Flashdance, complete with running on the spot. Sorry, Julie!

The DJ certainly got the party jumping (and a few hearts a-fluttering). I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun. There is something to be said for a man who can get an entire room full of romantic novelists (including the big name authors) to all do Michael Jackson’s Thriller dance in unison, complete with zombie arms and everything. Other popular songs of the party: "I Will Survive", "It's Raining Men" and "I Need A Hero". All very apt, considering the profession of the most of the guests. I’m going to let my photos tell the rest of the story:

The scrum...I mean, the dancefloor.

Some of the yummy deserts on offer

The DJ receiving some adulation and singing "Livin' On A Prayer", I think...
Jennie and I in our shamelessness

The party rocks on...
Shirley Jump and yours truly

Midnight always comes too early after a party like that, and I wasn’t tired a bit, so I hung on with Shirley and we joined in with some after hours singing as the DJ hopped onto the piano in the lounge outside and started belting out songs. Eventually, around 1.30 a.m. we made it back to the hotel and I fell into bed.