Girl in Oxford: The Inspiration for Girl in Red Velvet by Margaret James

Last week saw the paperback publication day for Girl in Red Velvet by Margaret James – a wonderful saga set in 1960’s Britain, specifically Oxford. Today Margaret tells us a little more about the inspiration for her new book and describes the Oxford of the past …

Hello readers! Thank you so much for dropping by – it’s lovely to have you here.

Girl in Red Velvet was inspired by the time I lived in Oxford during the late 1960s onwards. My boyfriend, who was soon to be my husband, was an undergraduate there. So I got to know his friends and in those days anyone could wander in and out of the various colleges, at least during the daytime.

Oxford was a lovely city in the sixties. It’s still lovely, but some hideous modern buildings have replaced a few of the older ones. The pub in which Lily gets drunk for the first and most humiliating time is now a pizza palace, and the once grand department store of Elliston and Cavell is now part of a nationwide chain.

At that stage in my life, I didn’t have any definite ambition to become a novelist, but I must have been soaking everything up because, when I came to write Lily Denham’s story, Oxford seemed the obvious place to set it, and the story unfolded more or less before my eyes.

Lily is a clever girl – much cleverer than me – but she still makes lots of mistakes. On her first day she meets Harry and Max, best friends who decide she’s one of the lads and invite her to go with them on their madcap adventures, stealing punts, almost drowning themselves, and climbing over towering walls into deer parks. Lily isn’t supposed to fall in love with either, let alone both of them. But she does.

It looks as if there can’t be a happy outcome to this situation, and for a while everything looks pretty grim for Lily, and for Harry and Max, too. But time has a way of sorting things out, and at the end of the story all three of them find themselves in the places they never expected …

Girl in Red Velvet is available as an eBook on all platforms and can be ordered as a paperback from all good book retailers. Click on the cover image above for purchasing options. 

For more on Margaret
Follow her on Twitter @Majanovelist
Like her on Facebook Margaret James Novelist
Check out her website and blog www.margaretjamesblog.blogspot.com

A New Cornish Tale

Last week we published The Daughter of River Valley, a new book in Victoria Cornwall’s ‘Cornish Tales’ series (which can all be read as stand-alone books!) Today Victoria joins us on the blog to talk about the gorgeous location of her new novel and the experience that inspired the plot…

Each novel has travelled a journey prior to its release and The Daughter of River Valley is no different. The story was inspired by Rocky Valley, a beautiful location in Cornwall, and a head injury I sustained as a teenager which temporarily robbed me of my memory. I had my idyllic setting which was worth fighting for and a budding plotline for the heroine, whose hasty defence of her home robs a stranger of his memory. As you can imagine, the words began to flow thick and fast.

By the following year I had completed the novel and was thrilled when the manuscript was shortlisted for the New Talent Award at the Festival of Romantic Fiction. My writing has developed over the years so working with Choc Lit gave me the perfect excuse to revisit the novel and polish it to be the best it can be. I am glad to say that it now has an amazing cover, a new title and is a superior version to the one I wrote all those years ago. As with all the books in my Cornish Tales series, they are linked by family ties, but are stand-alone novels. Beth Jago, the heroine of The Daughter of River Valley, is the niece of the woman who adopted Daniel in The Captain’s Daughter. She is also the direct descendent of Jenna, the heroine of The Thief’s Daughter.

My own memory loss was minor, not complete and lasted no more than a few hours, but it gave me a glimpse of the frustration and confusion of trying to remember something that is simply no longer there to be recalled. My heroine is a caring and determined young woman, but she did not invite the stranger into her home. Which side of her character will come to the fore? Does she send him on his way even though he is gravely ill and at risk of dying, or does she nurse him back to health and help him to discover who he is?

What would you do? Oh, I forgot to mention, he is rather handsome, which in reality should not make a difference … but this is fiction and who can resist a “tortured hero” with a dark past?

The Daughter of River Valley is available from all eBook platforms. Click on the cover image above for purchasing options. 

For more on Victoria
Follow her on Twitter @VickieCornwall
Like her on Facebook Victoria Cornwall
Check out her website and blog www.victoriacornwall.com

A Very Special Nashville Hero

Earlier this week we released Angela Britnell’s new novella Here Comes the Best Man – the perfect read for wedding season and warm weather! Today Angela chats a little bit about the hero of the book, Josh Robertson, and by the end of this post we’re sure you’ll be dying to read more about this strong, smouldering but complex Nashville hero 😉

‘Apart from standing up with Chad at his wedding I’m nobody’s best man – trust me.’

There was never supposed to be a sequel to The Wedding Reject Table until Josh Robertson’s stubborn streak came into play. I wrote Here Comes the Best Man because Josh nagged me to tell his story, with no expectations that he’d get a romantic happy ending because it wouldn’t occur to him he deserved such a thing.

Josh is far too aware of what he considers to be his failings. He doesn’t possess his younger brother Chad’s easy charm, he’s been at loggerheads with his father since he was a rebellious teenager and he’s convinced he let down his fellow soldiers during his years in the US Army. His objective is to do his duty by his brother and return to his Colorado retreat as fast as possible.

I started off knowing very little about Josh because the brief appearance he made in The Wedding Reject Table didn’t reveal much but I soon discovered he shared a common trait with the rest of my Nashville book heroes. He’s not an aspiring country music star waiting tables or selling shoes to pay the bills while he longs for his big break. But … and this is a big one… country music still runs through Josh’s blood. To him it’s both a blessing and a curse, the two so intertwined he can’t see the proverbial wood for the trees.

As a baby his mother sang Johnny Cash classics to lull him to sleep and the moment he taught himself to play the guitar Josh fell in love with the incredible power music gave him to express his emotions. All of this tells his father, Big J Robertson, that his oldest son is set on his pre-determined path as the country music equivalent of Prince Charles, the heir to their three generations’ old family guitar business. However Josh in convinced that leaving Nashville and making his own path in life is the only way to be himself but still the music never leaves him alone.

When my story begins the last twenty years have taken a toll on Josh and the first time Louise Giles sets eyes on him she sums Josh up with astonishing accuracy.

‘The superficial resemblance to his younger brother ended at his mesmerising tawny eyes and thick jet-black hair. There was no smooth charming veneer to Josh Robertson, only a dark, hard world-weariness he wore like a heavy winter coat.’

I wanted to help lighten Josh’s load. As the inimitable Audrey tells him ‘We all have our sorrows and regrets. We learn to live with them.’ Of course you’ll have to read Here Comes the Best Man to discover if Louise, Josh’s family and music hand him the key to a future he could only dream of. All of my heroes are special but there’s something about Josh that I hope makes everyone root for him and fall more than a little in love because in the end that’s what truly matters.

Here Comes the Best Man is available from all eBook platforms. Click on the cover image above for purchasing options. 

For more on Angela
Follow her on Twitter @AngelaBritnell
Like her on Facebook Angela Britnell

 

Evonne Wareham: A Crime Writer Trying Her Hand at Romantic Comedy!

Last week we released the fabulous Summer in San Remo by Evonne Wareham in paperback. Evonne normally writes romantic suspense and Summer in San Remo is her first foray into romantic comedy (with a hint of mystery) so today on the blog she talks about that transition – and what we could potentially expect from her in the future 😉

It’s common knowledge that I have criminal tendencies.

That’s in my writing life, I hasten to add. All the disreputable stuff is strictly on the page – I’m far too much of a scaredy-cat to go anywhere near anything nefarious in real life.

I’m not sure exactly what draws me to the dark side, but something does. As my signature writing genre is romantic suspense, this is not too much of a surprise – the thriller and the love story get equal billing in those books, but what happens when a romantic suspense writer turns to writing romantic comedy? You’re ahead of me – romantic comedy, with a dusting of crime.

Summer in San Remo, which has just come out in paperback, is my first venture into the lighter side of romance. Cassie and Jake spar and bicker and kiss and make up, in the tradition of romantic comedy heroines and heroes, while investigating a mystery that takes them – you’ve guessed it again – to the Italian Riviera. It was great fun to write and I like to think that the mystery element adds just a little bit of an edge to the story. It is a mystery, rather than an all-out crime – no dead bodies or truly nasty villains – I save those for the thrillers.

I drew on memories of a fabulous holiday that I spent in San Remo, some years ago, for a glamorous background. The book features locations on both the French and Italian sides of the border, with lots of sunshine, a luxurious villa, parties and masses of food, particularly ice-cream – and shoes – but the mystery is the thing that drives the plot. It’s the reason that Cassie finds herself in San Remo, back with her first ever boyfriend, Jake. When he disappeared to New York twelve years ago she never thought she’d see him again. And, of course, she never wanted to see him again. Of course she didn’t.

Right now she’s putting all her energy and talent into building a successful business, and she really doesn’t need distractions. And Jake seems determined to be one big distraction. Back in the U.K. to take over running the family detective agency for the summer, he’s filthy rich, even more gorgeous, and a complete pain in Cassie’s … neck. Unfortunately he also seems to be the only person who can help her with a job for a new and very enigmatic client …

And then somehow Cassie finds herself agreeing to take a trip to San Remo with him …

I had a really good time writing the book, and I loved spending time with Jake and Cassie – so much so, that I want to write more romantic comedy and I’m intending that Summer in San Remo should be the first of a series. That project is currently proceeding at the pace of a bed of sloths, but like all determined sloths, it will get there in the end.

A series naturally has to have a thread to hold it together and, with Jake involved in running a detective agency, that seemed to be the perfect choice. And a detective agency implies a certain amount of crooked goings on – and here I am back with the crime again.

I really can’t stay away from it.

Summer in San Remo is now available in paperback from all good book retailers and also as an eBook through all eBook sellers. Click on the image above for purchasing options. 

For more on Evonne
Follow her on Twitter @EvonneWareham
Like her on Facebook Evonne Wareham
Check out her blog www.evonneonwednesday.com

 

Arlette’s Story: A Virtual Tour

Yesterday we celebrated the release of Angela Barton’s debut novel from Ruby Fiction, Arlette’s Story, which tells the story of Arlette Blaise; a young woman living in the French countryside during the Occupation of WW2. Today on the blog, Angela takes us on a ‘tour’ of the area that inspired the location and shows us some of the sights Arlette might have seen along with some short extracts from the novel itself to really set the scene …

Hello everyone. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to write a blog post about Arlette’s Story.

When I’m creating a place for my characters to live, I usually imagine somewhere that I know, and rename it. My protagonist, Arlette Blaise, is the daughter of a farmer living in rural France and I knew immediately that she would live a short distance away from this beautiful hilltop village in Charente. It’s called Aubeterre-sur-Dronne and it’s where I now live with my husband, Paul. I re-named the village, Montverre, in Arlette’s Story.

Narrow cobbled roads lead off from each corner, sweet-smelling linden trees perfume the air and small shops sit along its edges. As Arlette’s Story is set during WW2, I’ve changed the items being sold in these shops. I invented a clog maker, a haberdashery and a cobbler’s. Throughout my story, a lot of drama takes place in this square. It’s here that Arlette and her close friend, Francine, watched the Germans march into their village. It’s where she meets an old friend of her late-mother’s, not knowing what a huge role this lady would play in her life. It’s where Arlette witnesses the brutality of war. Seventy-five years ago, the Germans really did take over Aubeterre to live and work. Every morning when I wander down to the boulangerie to buy my baguette, I’m reminded of Arlette and her story.

 “Soldiers marched in rows of six. They were dressed in green field uniforms and wearing metal hats that reminded Arlette of Grandma Blaise’s mixing bowl. They looked almost comical; hardly how she’d expected murderers to look. Their faces were stern and impenetrable, but as they strutted past her position outside the clog maker’s, she noticed a few of the soldiers look furtively to one side. They snatched glances at the gathered villagers and the damp grey buildings that were to become their new homes. Like a drumbeat, the Germans stomped in rhythm, followed by soldiers on horseback.”

This is the church just up the hill from us in Aubeterre. I renamed it and placed it on the edge of the village because I needed there to be a cemetery where Arlette’s mother is buried. Tragically, someone else is laid to rest in my story. 

“A small group of people assembled outside St Pierre’s church, their heads bowed in hushed whispers. The sky was a canvas of blue and white smudges. It had rained overnight and the smell of damp earth and pleasantly pungent flowering raspberries hung in the air alongside the gathered throng’s anticipation.”

Arlette’s Story is also a book about family, friends, every day life, relationships and of course, love. Saul Epstein is my book’s hero. He’s a Jewish medical student who’s been prevented from training by the Nazis. He moved south to Montverre where he’d heard that farmhands were being hired.

“Arlette sat on the wall of the well and lowered the bucket that was fixed to a long chain. It was early evening, the time of day when the flowers’ scent was more potent. The farmyard was tranquil and Klara the dog slept in the shadow of the mulberry tree. Against the wall of the farmhouse leant a fig tree, its trunk looking as if it was slouching with weariness. The wide green foliage tapped repeatedly against the sitting room window in the breeze that blew from the river. At that moment in time, Arlette felt happy. She raised her face to the sinking sun and sighed audibly.

A short time later, the reason for her happiness strode out of the shadows of the barn pushing a squeaking wheelbarrow. Saul. His shirt was rolled up to his elbows and his top few buttons were undone, revealing a tanned and toned chest.”

There are several smaller arcs in Arlette’s Story but the climax takes place at Oradour-sur-Glane. It’s about an hour’s drive from us here, but I needed Arlette to be able to get there by horse and trap in an hour or so. (This is one of the things I love about writing. We can move towns, change names and forge relationships with a few clicks on the keyboard!)

Oradour was a small thriving town that had enjoyed a peaceful seclusion for most of the war. It had wonderful facilities: a tram system, schools, two hotels, a doctor’s surgery, a restaurant, a hairdresser, a butcher and baker. Nearly seven hundred people lived there. You can see some wonderful photographs taken before 10th June 1944 – the day the Nazis arrived on this website: https://www.oradour.info/images/catalog1.htm.

“Cycling at speed, they passed a metal sign welcoming them to Oradour-sur-Glane. With her chest heaving from exertion and her skirts billowing, Arlette was desperate to reach the tranquility of her grandmother’s house. They passed the church with its tall steeple and continued until the road opened up into a village green, bordered by neat railings. Dotted around the open space were mature chestnut trees and wooden poles that were linked by tram wires, looking like long empty washing lines.”

At midday on 10th June 1944, a convoy of trucks drove into Oradour. Two hundred Nazis climbed down and ordered all of the villagers onto the fairground. (A central grassy slope where a fair would visit each summer; although the villagers called it the fairground all year round.)

“Waiting in the centre of the village, Arlette saw townspeople converge from all directions at gunpoint. She was standing on Oradour’s fairground, a gently sloping hill of grass from where she could see in all directions. She watched while the elderly were hauled from their homes and clients were pushed out of the hairdressers with wet hair. The baker joined them, still covered in flour. Teachers led children by the hand and diners streamed out of restaurants. The carpenter was forced to leave his work, also the cobbler, the village cart-wright and the blacksmith. An elderly man struggled beneath the weight of his sick wife in his arms. The Hotel Avril and Hotel Milord’s guests were being ushered from the buildings by Nazis shouting orders.”

The impressive steepled church stands on the edge of the village next to the River Glane. The 10th June 1944 was a Saturday, but children were present from outlying villages because some were rehearsing for their First Holy Communion and others were attending a vaccination programme at school.

On the fairground, the Nazis separated the men from the women and children. The men were taken to several barns spread around the village and the women and children were ordered into the church. 

“Arlette didn’t let go of her grandmother’s hand despite the bumping and jostling from others. They were ordered deeper inside the church. The cool interior was a welcome relief from the fierce heat outside and many women and children settled themselves on the wooden benches. She helped her grandmother to sit on a stool beside the altar but as more women were herded inside, the crowd pushed Arlette a short way from the old lady. Helpless to stop the momentum, she was thrust to the opposite side of the altar.

A cough. A baby’s whimper. A child’s voice calling for maman. But still the women remained calm, their ears straining for any communication or sign of what was going to happen next.

Then it came.

Distant machine gun fire could be heard through the open church door. It continued for a long minute until it slowed. Then just occasional short bursts.

‘What are they firing at?’ someone whispered.

‘Perhaps they’re destroying something.’

‘The men…you don’t suppose…?’”

I will leave what happened next, here. A short summary of words cannot convey the feelings that I, and everyone who visits, are left with after visiting Oradour.

Charles de Gaulle ordered that the town should be left as it had been found after the Germans set fire to it and fled. It remains frozen in time as a reminder of the capability of man’s inhumanity to mankind. After seventy-five years the buildings are crumbling and family items and furniture are rotting and rusting. The first time I visited I felt an overwhelming compulsion to write a story from a survivor’s point of view, and in some small way, to help keep the memory alive. For those who read it, Arlette’s Story will be that reminder.

Here are photographs taken on my latest visit.

A typical street of crumbling houses.

The doctor’s car still stands where he parked it 75 years ago. He came back from his rounds and saw the village on the fairground. He climbed out of his car to see what was happening and was forced to join them by the Germans.

Oradour’s church. The steeple caved in during the fire.

The tramlines are overgrown and rusty.

One family’s Singer sewing machine. The majority of mothers made their children’s clothing. I gave Arlette’s grandmother a sewing machine in my book.

The fairground where hundreds of villages were herded.

Cars parked in the village’s petrol station and mechanic’s garage.

Tiles still decorate a family’s fire surround and a  saucepan still hangs above where once sat a grate.

Arlette’s Story is published by Ruby Fiction and available to purchase on all eBook platforms. Click the cover image above for purchasing options. 

For more information on Angela Barton:
Follow her on Twitter @AngeBarton
Check out her website: www.angelabarton.net

 

Oh Crumbs and the Green Arrow

Last week we released Oh Crumbs by Kathryn Freeman – a sweet romance set in a biscuit factory! Today Kathryn is on the blog talking about the unlikely inspiration for the hero of the book, Doug Faulkner … 

I can almost see your frown. What on earth does my new book, a love story based in a biscuit company, have to do with a DC Comics superhero?

The truth is, it has a great deal to do with it, because I got the inspiration for the book from the Arrow TV series. I used to watch it because I have sons, and it was something we could all enjoy together. Now they’ve grown out of it, but I haven’t …

What about Oh Crumbs, I hear you ask (or possibly you’re asking why I continue to watch a man in a green hood shoot baddies with a bow and arrow. That will become clear later!). Well, the more I watched Oliver Queen, aka The Green Arrow the more I fell for his character (which was no doubt helped by the actor, Stephen Amell, who portrayed him) and the more I wanted to pinch some of his characteristics for my next book hero. And no, Doug Faulkner doesn’t walk around wearing green leather pants carrying a quiver. He is however quietly spoken, like the Green Arrow, and very considered in what he says. He has the same sense of outward calm, of control. And, similar to Oliver Queen, who is mayor of Star City by day and an arrow-slinging vigilante at night, Doug also has a hidden, unexpected side to him. But you’ll have to read Oh Crumbs to find out what that is.

There was more about the Green Arrow that hooked me in though, and perhaps now my enjoyment of the series will become clearer. You see, in between saving Star City on a weekly basis, The Green Arrow has been having the most wonderful, slow-burning romance with Felicity (played by Emily Bett Rickards); computer genius and brains behind the Green Arrow’s operation. I loved the contrast between his quiet, serious personality and that of Felicity, who’s funny and a total chatterbox. I also loved the way Felicity comes across as an airhead, yet actually it’s she who’s the smart one.

For Oh Crumbs, I wanted to build on this idea. Instead of having Doug and the bubbly Abby saving the world from destruction though, I opted to give them a simpler life. Doug became managing director of a biscuit company (Crumbs). Abby, who gave up her dream of going to university to help bring up her younger sisters, has been working as a PA while undertaking an Open University business degree When she applies for, and surprisingly gets, the job of Doug’s PA, it soon becomes clear that Doug isn’t your usual managing director. And Abby is far from an ordinary PA …

Sound intriguing? You can get your copy of Oh Crumbs today – click on the image below for purchasing options. 

For more on Kathryn:
Follow her on Twitter @KathynFreeman
Like her on Facebook Kathryn Freeman (author)
Vist her website www.kathrynfreeman.co.uk

Happy Birthday Choc Lit! Final Part by Kathryn Freeman

We’re nine years old today! And we’re celebrating with a birthday Round Robin written by six of our talented Choc Lit authors. Jane Lovering set us up for the perfect ending with a mysterious note left in a borrowed book. Will Kathryn Freeman deliver and finish our wonderful birthday story with a bang? Let’s see! 

In order to enjoy this story, you’ll need to read it in order, so make sure you read:

Part One by Morton S. Gray HERE
Part Two by Kirsty Ferry HERE
Part Three by Sue McDonagh HERE
Part Four by Lynda Stacey HERE
Part Five by Jane Lovering HERE

Also, remember to read right until the end so you can enter the last competition of the day. All competitions on all extracts will be open until next Tuesday so there’s plenty of time left to enter all of them!

The Forgotten Birthday – Final Part

As Lauren started to read the note, her heart began to pound. She recognised it. Her mind swimming in disbelief, she skimmed over the childish writing.

Happy birfday Laura. Will you be my girlfriend? Hugh xx

It couldn’t be the same note. That had been over twenty years ago. And the boy who’d written it had been called Hugh Webster, not Peacock.

But the more she stared at it, the more the memories came flooding back. It was addressed not to Lauren, but to Laura. The name she’d gone by all those years ago, before she’d decided Lauren sounded more elegant.

There was only one person who could explain to her why she was reading a note given to her on her ninth birthday. She glanced at her watch. Was ten o’clock too late for a woman to knock on the door of a man she hardly knew?

Sober Lauren would have answered yes, but this version, on a high after the day, fortified by a few drinks, had the confidence to march right up to it.

Her jaw dropped when the door opened. ‘Hugh?’ He didn’t look like the man she’d met this morning. Wearing a T-shirt that moulded chest muscles she hadn’t noticed beneath the old jacket he’d worn, it was his face that shocked her the most. ‘You shaved off your beard.’

He shifted awkwardly on his feet. ‘Ah, yes, you noticed.’

His eyes crinkled. Deep brown eyes, warm and inviting as a mug of cocoa. How had she missed them earlier? More memories filled her head. A boy with a permanently creased blazer, scuffed shoes and dark hair that flopped into his brown eyes. Her heart began to race. ‘Why?’

‘I thought you might have more chance recognising me.’ His eyes held hers and she felt their pull. Just as she had all those years ago.

‘It is you,’ she whispered.

His freshly shaven cheeks flushed. ‘Afraid so.’

‘But … how? Is this just a coincidence?’

The flush deepened and he dragged a hand through his hair. ‘Yes, and no. You applying to be on the course run by my mum, yes. Me coming here in her place, no.’ When she simply stared at him, too shocked, too overcome to do anything else, he sighed and opened the door wider. ‘I see I have some explaining to do. Do you want to come in?’ His hand rose to his chin, then dropped again, no doubt realising he no longer had a beard to scratch. ‘Sorry, you probably don’t want to come into a stranger’s room. We can go to the bar, or—’

Lauren stepped inside. ‘You’re not a stranger, Hugh Webster.’

She caught his eye and he smiled. It was the same boyish smile she remembered, though this time it came from a man. A very attractive man. Somewhere inside her chest she felt a long-forgotten tug.

Moving to the end of the room she went to sit on the chair, leaving him to perch on the bed. Maybe it was the room, but he felt larger now. No longer the bearded, bumbling author, but a potent, handsome male.

‘So.’ He smiled sheepishly, and all at once he was the boy she knew again. ‘I help my mum out with the creative writing course she runs. Daphne Peacock is her pen name. Her real name is Daphne Webster.’

‘That’s why I didn’t recognise you. Plus, the beard.’

Again, he went to scratch it. Again, he dropped his hand. ‘Ex-wife hated beards, so when we divorced I grew one just because I could.’ He searched out her eyes. ‘Am I right in thinking you’re divorced, too?’

She grinned, feeling lighter, more carefree than she’d done in a long time. ‘My Chains piece did kind of give that away, didn’t it?’

‘It did.’ His expression sobered a little. ‘I’m sorry. It sounded like you had a bad time.’

‘I’m over it.’ And she was, she realised with a burst of pride. After today, she’d officially put that part of her life in the past.

‘Good.’ His smile returned. ‘And I wasn’t kidding when I said you might have a knack for poetry. It really was very good.’

‘Thank you.’ But much as she looked forward to turning her mind to new ventures, there was still something from her past she wanted to explore. ‘You were telling me why you’re here instead of your mum?’

‘Ah, yes.’ He glanced down to his clasped hands, then back up at her. ‘You’d sent a photo, and although the form said your first name was Lauren not Laura, everything else, including the date of birth, clicked and I knew, just knew it was you.’ She watched his throat move as he swallowed. ‘I thought, to hell with it, I’m running that course. I wanted to see you again. See if those feelings I had as a boy, were still there as a man.’

It was her turn to have to swallow as the emotion clogged her throat. ‘And are they?’

His dark eyes burned into hers. ‘God, yes. The moment I saw you, that was it. I turned into my bumbling nine-year-old self, desperately hoping the prettiest girl in the class would take notice of me.’

Her stomach flip-flopped and Lauren felt a prick at the back of her eyes. ‘Your note. Where did you find it?’

‘You left it on your desk at school. I picked it up, meaning to give it back to you, but I never screwed up the courage again. Until now.’

As his eyes pressed hers, her heart lifted. Slowly she rose to her feet and went to stand next to him. ‘What if I tell you that was the most romantic thing I’ve ever had happen to me?’

He smiled and his hands reached to clasp her face, sending tingles through her. ‘What if I ask you to have dinner with me tomorrow?’

Her heart jumped. ‘What if I tell you this is the best birthday I’ve ever had?’

His gaze dropped to her lips, and his eyes darkened. ‘What if I kiss you?’

Oh wow! Well done Kathryn – we certainly didn’t expect that and it really was the perfect ending to an amazing birthday story. 

Thank you to all our authors and to all of our supportive readers too! We hope you’ve enjoyed this story and continue to enjoy Choc Lit books for many years to come. Here’s to another year of fantastic authors and brilliant books! 

If you enjoyed Kathryn’s writing, you might like to check out her books. You can find details by clicking the images above. 

COMPETITION TIME!

To be in with a chance of winning a Choc Lit book and some chocolate to go with it simply answer the question below (we hope you’ve been reading carefully!):

What is Hugh’s mum’s real name?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin Kathryn Freeman comp’ by Tuesday 19th June. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Wednesday 20th June.

Happy Birthday Choc Lit! Part Five by Jane Lovering

We’re nine years old today! And we’re celebrating with a birthday Round Robin written by six of our talented Choc Lit authors. Lynda Stacey left us with a kiss, now it’s Jane Lovering‘s turn. Let’s see what happens next … 

In order to enjoy this story, you’ll need to read it in order, so make sure you read:

Part One by Morton S. Gray HERE
Part Two by Kirsty Ferry HERE
Part Three by Sue McDonagh HERE
Part Four by Lynda Stacey HERE

Also, remember to read right until the end so you can enter the fifth competition of the day! 

The Forgotten Birthday – Part Five

Just before he left, Hugh muttered something in her ear. ‘Page Eleven. Don’t tell anyone.’ And then, with a final ruffle through his beard, he was gone, heading downstairs towards dinner, as Marion came to her door, regally splendid in a gown comprised of equal amounts of taffeta and whalebone.

Dinner was more fun than Lauren could remember having had for some time. With Marion’s warning against Ian clanging in the back of her head, Lauren steered clear of him and tried to throw herself more into the conversation between the others. She discovered that two of the other women and one of the men actually lived not too far from her, and they exchanged email addresses with a tentative idea of forming their own writing group.

Lauren felt a curious tingle inside, a feeling of something bubbling up at the base of her throat, and she stared down at the prawn cocktail starter with narrowed eyes of suspicion, until she realised what it was. It was excitement. She was actually feeling excited for the first time in – how long? An actual, proper emotion that wasn’t unhappiness or boredom or anger! And she looked around her at these people, strangers really, who were chatting to her about their hopes for the future raising glasses of something that certainly wasn’t champagne but it was alcohol with bubbles in. And, if she ignored the fact that Ian kept trying to press his leg suggestively against hers under the table and was just asking for a fork in the thigh, she was having a really good time.

The book that Hugh had given her was weighing her bag down with more than purely the mass of pages it contained. Hugh had been right, the book had been right, she was keeping all her emotions locked away inside her head. That exercise he’d set, Chains, had shown her that she wasn’t as over her sister and husband’s infidelity as she tried to let herself believe. That the two people she’d loved most in the world could do that to her…

Lauren looked around again. The attitude of bonhomie that was spreading in equal measure to the amount of fizzy alcohol being drunk touched something inside her. One of the women, Helen her name was, raised a glass and mouthed ‘Happy Birthday!’ across the table, and Lauren smiled at the realisation that she was having a better time here, with these virtual strangers, than she’d had with her husband during practically the whole of their marriage. That she’d married him more to get away from her family than out of love. That he and her sister hadn’t really done anything to her, she had let their betrayal affect her. And maybe now, thinking how badly they’d both treated her over the years, she could see how they deserved one another. She couldn’t quite wish them a happy future, and would gladly shove pooh through their letterbox any day of the week, but still. She was getting there, buoyed up by the sense of camaraderie and acceptance she was feeling here and now.

It was only when the party was over and she’d gone back to her room, giggly and not-quite sober, that she remembered Hugh’s whisper when he’d given her the book. She turned to Page Eleven with trepidation, and, to her surprise, it wasn’t an inspirational quote. It was a small, badly-spelled note, handwritten, blu-tacked to the page.

Oh Jane. You can’t do that to us when we have to wait another hour to find out what it says on the note! Kathryn Freeman takes over for the last part of our Round Robin. We really hope you’ve been enjoying it so far! 

If you enjoyed Jane’s writing, you might like to check out her books. You can find details by clicking the images above. 

COMPETITION TIME!

To be in with a chance of winning a Choc Lit book and some chocolate to go with it simply answer the question below (we hope you’ve been reading carefully!):

What is Marion’s gown made of?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin Jane Lovering comp’ by Tuesday 19th June. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Wednesday 20th June.

Happy Birthday Choc Lit! Part Four by Lynda Stacey

We’re nine years old today! And we’re celebrating with a birthday Round Robin written by six of our talented Choc Lit authors. Sue McDonagh left us on a bit of a cliffhanger. Let’s see where Lynda Stacey takes us … 

In order to enjoy this story, you’ll need to read it in order, so make sure you read:

Part One by Morton S. Gray HERE
Part Two by Kirsty Ferry HERE
Part Three by Sue McDonagh HERE

Also, remember to read right until the end so you can enter the fourth competition of the day! 

The Forgotten Birthday – Part Four

‘Hugh …’ Lauren opened the door and glanced up and down the corridor. ‘Sorry, are you looking for someone?’ She turned, grabbed her bag, room key and slammed her door to a close behind her. She began walking down the deserted corridor and in the direction of Marion’s room.

But Hugh stood his ground.

‘Yes, of course. I … I was looking for you.’

Lauren turned as he made an attempt to smooth out the well-worn jacket and then moved his hand upward to scratch his bushy beard, while shuffling nervously from foot to foot.

‘I brought you something.’ He rummaged around in his shabby leather briefcase and pulled out an old battered book. ‘It was in my box of books, in the car.’ He blushed and held the book out towards her.

But Lauren just stood and stared. The book was dark grey with a white-ish writing. It was so battered, she couldn’t even make out the title. ‘What is it?’ She screwed up her nose.

‘Well…’ Hugh smiled and blushed all at once, ‘It’s a book of course. Walking on Alligators. I… well, I thought you’d like to read it. It might help, you know, with your writing.’

Lauren laughed. ‘Why on earth would I want to walk on Alligators?’ She rolled her eyes, turned and marched towards Marion’s door. She knocked and then stood staring at the number twelve that had been haphazardly screwed to the door.

Once again she wished for the ground to open. This was the second time in one day that a man had flirted with her and she wasn’t sure she liked it, even if Marion had said she was the youngest and prettiest on the course. She shook her head. She didn’t belong. She couldn’t write, that had been proven during the day with her chaotic list about chains.

‘I will write even if all I do is jot down some notes about my feelings. I’m storing up material for the future, without knowing what it is.’ Hugh read from the book. ‘It’s here you see, page a hundred and thirty-four. I honestly believe this is what you’re doing. You’re keeping all your emotions, all your words in a store somewhere up there.’ He pointed to her head.

Lauren sighed and smiled in appreciation. Maybe she’d been harsh. Maybe Hugh was just trying to be kind and maybe she really hadn’t given him a chance.

‘Thank you, I appreciate the book,’ she whispered as she reached up and gently kissed him on the cheek, just as Marion’s door swung open.

Awww! We’re starting to quite like Huge (despite the beard!) But what is Marion going to think when she spots the kiss? You’ll have to wait another hour to find out from Jane Lovering!

If you enjoyed Lynda’s writing, you might like to check out her books. You can find details by clicking the image above. 

COMPETITION TIME!

To be in with a chance of winning a Choc Lit book and some chocolate to go with it simply answer the question below (we hope you’ve been reading carefully!):

What is the title of the book that Hugh brings for Lauren?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin Lynda Stacey comp’ by Tuesday 19th June. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Wednesday 20th June.

Happy Birthday Choc Lit! Part Three by Sue McDonagh

We’re nine years old today! And we’re celebrating with a birthday Round Robin written by six of our talented Choc Lit authors. Morton S. Gray and Kirsty Ferry started us off and now’s it’s time for Sue McDonagh to take over. Let’s see what happens to Lauren next … 

In order to enjoy this story, you’ll need to read it in order, so make sure you read:

Part One by Morton S. Gray HERE
Part Two by Kirsty Ferry HERE

Also, remember to read right until the end so you can enter the third competition of the day! 

The Forgotten Birthday – Part Three

Was it her, or was Ian coming on just a bit too keen? Even if he had got her name right. Flustered, Lauren glanced down at the notebook under her hand, and read her own words: Freedom – my first steps to freedom. Yes. She no longer had to be bullied into what other people wanted her to do.

‘Thank you Ian, that’s really kind of you.’ She swallowed and continued in one breath, ‘But I’ve come on this course to get to know people and so I think it would be lovely to see everyone for dinner and drinks later.’

There was a little ripple of ‘lovely’ and ‘what time will you be there?’ and Lauren smiled round the class, feeling as if she’d done the right thing. Until she saw Ian’s lowered brows. She hoped she hadn’t put his nose too much out of joint. But really, she wasn’t ready for a relationship. Or even a fling. She wanted to learn to write. She cursed herself. She should have said that instead. It was easy to edit words on the page. But once they were out of your mouth, that was it.

Hugh’s voice broke in on her thoughts. ‘Well, that’s the evening sorted, thank you Laur-‘ he paused, squinting at her label, ‘-en,’ he ended, on a positively euphoric note. Lauren beamed at him, and leaned back to listen to someone else’s prose. They all seemed so much better than hers, and she fought down the impulse to creep quietly out of the class and go back home. Gradually though, she forgot herself and enjoyed listening to Hugh setting artful questions that teased information out of people about their writing. There was so much more to it than she’d realised. ‘What if,’ seemed to be a phrase that he used a lot.

There were group exercises, and although Hugh mangled almost all their names, he got them all chatting and laughing until Lauren was surprised that it was the end of the day. It turned out that Marion was in a room not far from hers, and they walked there together.

‘You did well today,’ Marion said, with a nod.

‘Really? I’ve never been on a writing course before. I have no idea what I’m doing.’

‘I meant with that Ian.’ Marion sniffed. ‘He’s a shark, he really is. I’ve seen him on other courses. Picks on the youngest, prettiest girl. Thinks he knows it all.’ She nudged Lauren with a sharp elbow. ‘But you put him in his place, straight away.’

‘Oh, I think he was just being friendly,’ Lauren said quickly. ‘I didn’t want to give him the wrong idea, that was all.’ Youngest, prettiest girl? Her? Surely not. ‘This is me – see you later at dinner.’ She closed the door quickly behind her to forestall any more conversation.

What if?

What if Ian was just lonely, and found the older women intimidating?
What if Marion was just miffed because Ian had never hit on her?

What if Hugh shaved that dreadful beard off and wore clothes that he hadn’t slept in? There’d been that moment in the classroom, when he’d met her eyes, and she’d felt oddly as if he knew her.

She sank onto the bed, her mind reeling. Today’s writing exercises had made her look at everything in a different way. Her brain felt like a foreign country.

What if … Lauren shook her head to dislodge the thought but it bobbed back like an annoying fly. What if she gave up the job she hated, and found something she actually enjoyed doing? But what else could she do? She stared out of the window at the beautiful gardens, thinking, until her gaze fell on the clock. Heck! Twenty minutes before she was meeting everyone for dinner! She leapt into the shower, deciding what to wear. Halfway through drying her hair, there was a knock at the door.

‘Five minutes!” she called, concentrating on her thick, curly hair, which would look like a frizz-ball if she didn’t finish the job properly. It was probably Marion. A spritz of perfume, a speedy make-up and lip gloss and she was ready. Palming her earrings to put in on the way, she opened the door.

It wasn’t Marion.

A bit of a cliff-hanger there! Who could be at the door? Is Ian as sleazy as he seems? Will Hugh lose the beard? You’ll have to wait for Part Four by Lynda Stacey to find out – up in an hour!

 

If you enjoyed Sue’s writing, you might like to check out her debut novel, Summer at the Art Cafe. You can find details by clicking the image above. 

COMPETITION TIME!

To be in with a chance of winning a Choc Lit book and some chocolate to go with it simply answer the question below (we hope you’ve been reading carefully!):

What sort of hair does Lauren have?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin Sue McDonagh comp’ by Tuesday 19th June. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Wednesday 20th June.