Don’t Tell The Bride: special edition

Hold onto your hats, this…is Don’t Tell The Bride: The Untied Kingdom edition! This is the show where the groom gets the whole wedding budget, and the bride gets no say in how it’s spent.

Tonight, the pressure’s on for ex army major Will Harker, as he attempts to organise the perfect day for his bride to be Eve. For this couple, it all started when he saved her from drowning in the Thames after a paragliding accident.

“I thought she was an alien. Just dropped out of the sky with one giant wing.”

“But you still swam in after me. I could’ve been from the planet Zog.”

“We’ll, I didn’t see no bugger else doing it.”

“Oh, cheers. There’s romance for you!”

The Untied KingdomGoing out with a soldier was an alien idea to Eve, too. “He is about ninety percent scar tissue. And it’s catching. I’d never been shot at until I met him. You’re such a dangerous man, Harker!”

And will the wedding he plans be just as risky?

“Oh God. He’ll probably hold the reception in the NAAFI.”

Day one, and Harker is searching for a venue. “Can’t be in a church. Been married before. The local register office looks like a barracks I was once in that smelled of feet. Maybe not there.”

Eve has slightly higher aspirations for her dream venue. “A stately home, you know, high ceilings and antiques and sprung ballroom floors. Don’t reckon I’ll get that, though. His ex lived in a house like that. He wasn’t a fan.”

His choice of catering probably isn’t going to go over well, either. “How much? No. Food can’t cost that much. You must be bloody joking. I’ll get the pub to put some sandwiches on.”

As one fifth of the pop sensation Grrl Power, Eve got used to wearing some top designer labels. Her dream wedding dress has always been something, “Elegant. Simple. Nothing huge or frou-frou. I’ve been to some celebrity weddings where the bride looked like she was wearing a birdcage and a net curtain. That’s not for me!”

But while Eve is relaxed about her dress, the thought terrifies Harker. “There’s a wedding shop on the high street. Scares the life out of me. I’d rather get shot. I honestly would. But there’s no getting round it, is there? She can’t get married in her pyjamas. It’s an important thing, I don’t want her to think I don’t realise that. She wants a proper wedding dress. Something with, you know, frills. Lace. One of them cage type things to hold the skirt out. Yeah.”

It’s the end of week one, and Harker has got a register office that looks like an army barracks, a pub, and a dress that’s part birdcage. It must be time for the stag!

“The what? What do I want a stag for? We’re having chicken at the…oh, you mean the party. Yeah…pub, I think. That’s that sorted. What’s next?”

Er…he really is going to just go to the pub. Let’s move on, shall we? Next he needs to pick out bridesmaid dresses. “Some woman on the radio asked Eve if she was getting her bandmates back together as bridesmaids. I’d tell you what her reply was, but I’ve been told you can’t swear on telly this time of night.”

Meanwhile, Eve is about to get the first piece of news about her own wedding. “I can’t believe I have to be sent an invitation to my own wedding. That’s wrong in about…five different ways. And…oh. So is this invite. I’d say he did it in five minutes on the computer, but he doesn’t know how to use a computer.”

But he knows someone who does. “Got a mate to do ’em with a, what d’you call it, laptop. Ridiculous, what stationery companies charge, just for a bit of paper and some fancy writing.” True enough, but there does seem to be one person he’s forgotten to invite. “What, her mother? Oh aye, that’d be perfect. Ever seen a mother of the bride punched by her own daughter?”

Now there’s one week to go, and Harker is a bit dubious about one part of his wedding prep. “She told me to get a haircut. I bloody hate getting haircuts. Look, if some bugger’s coming at my head with a blade, I’m basically going to shoot him. I don’t reckon hairdressers like that.”

It’s the day before the wedding, and Eve finally gets to see what Harker has picked out for her to wear. “Oh, you’re KIDDING me. I look like a loo roll holder!”

After weeks of preparation, the big day is finally here, and Harker is finally getting the hang of romance. “The thing is, all this girlie stuff, I completely hate it. But Eve doesn’t, and she’s the point of it all, isn’t she? It’s to make her happy. I’d do anything for her. To be honest, I’d wear the damn wedding dress if it made her happy. I, er, really hope it doesn’t come to that, though.”

© Photographer <a href=

Kate’s Interview with a heroine

So today, I’ve been chatting with the heroine of my next book, Impossible Things:

What is your name?

Interesting question. I’ve been called Agnes and Jorrie and Little Witch, but I think I’m called Ishtaer. Apparently that’s too short, however, and lots of words I don’t understand have to be added to it to make a proper name. That’s what Lord Krull says.

Lord Krull?

Oh, you’ve heard of him. Even I’d heard of him, and I didn’t remember my own name. Scourge of the seas, terror of the Empire, the most feared pirate and warlord in the world? I thought he was the devil when I first met him. But then he rescued me and made me well and told me to call him Kael. I think he’s being kind. It’s very confusing.

There’s a rumour going round you’re his…well, you know, that you and he…

Oh. Yes. I’ve tried denying it but that just seems to make people believe it all the more. I’ve tried telling people that I’m not interested in Lord Krull or any other man, and I’m convinced I’m the last woman in the Empire he could ever desire, but no one believes me. So I’ll just say we shared a cabin on the voyage over the Great Sea and let people hear what they want to.

Riiiight. So is it true that you’re the first female Warrior in history? And that you’re the first person ever who’s been Chosen by the Gods not once or even twice, but three times? And that you can talk to ghosts?

I suppose I’m just full of impossible things.

Kate: It’s one way to research…

When my best friend asked if I wanted to go to Venice for her birthday, my first thought was “Ooh, I could use that in a book!” (Actually, my first thought was “Hell yeah!” followed by a quick check of my bank account, but that’s not the point here).

I’ve been toying with a new book about a love triangle between a con artist, a journalist, and a Hollywood movie star. I wanted to set a few scenes around a glamorous party, the kind where the host thinks nothing of flying a few hundred of his nearest and dearest out to somewhere amazing, hiring the Rolling Stones to perform, and serving cocktails with real diamonds in. I haven’t quite got the wherewithall to go out to Hollywood to research that (although I’ve flown into LAX, which surely counts for something) but Venice, well that’s only a few hours away, isn’t it? And I know how to order drinks in Italian.

So really, it was a research trip to discover amazing locations for glamorous Hollywood parties. I reckon a palazzo like one of these might be nice…

Palazzo on the Grand Canal

Palazzo on the Grand Canal

Ca' d'Oro from the Grand Canal

Ca' d'Oro from the Grand Canal

Only…look a little closer at that second one (the Ca’ d’Oro), and you’ll see what we didn’t expect to find. Venice might or might not be sinking, depending on who you ask, but it turns out that in December the tides get REALLY high. And that’s when fronting onto the Grand Canal isn’t quite so desirable. The loggia, the colonnaded bit at the front, is where your gondola is suppose to moor up so you can saunter straight in to your palazzo. It’s not supposed to be under several inches of water…

However, as city highways go, the Grand Canal really is a bit different than most. This is like, say, Whitehall. With boats.

The Grand Canal

The Grand Canal

And some of those pesky high tides again. Those are definitely going in the book.

The edge of St Mark's Square, rapidly disappearing under the high tide

Edge of St Mark's Square, disappearing under the Grand Canal

The upside is that for once, we could see most of St Mark’s Square without throngs of people. It’s probably never so empty as it is when it floods!

St Mark's Square, the Doge's Palace

St Mark's Square, currently the Doge's private paddling pool

I also fancy my Hollywood movie star taking home some Murano glass. Some of the chandeliers we saw were pretty epic, but then on the island of Murano itself, there are sculptures like this just dotting the streets and squares.


If Venice did Olympic torches...

And of course, whilst it’s no longer the most cost effective way to travel, you can’t deny the gondolas are romantic.


When Venice sparkles, boy howdy does it sparkle!

Then there’s your commute to the airport. Get on the airport bus, slog around the M25…or cross the Lagoon in a vaporetto. That’s a speedboat to you and me.

The Lagoon, with the Dolomites in the background

The Lagoon, with distant Dolomite mountains

The lagoon from the vaporetto

The Lagoon on a choppy day

I reckon that’s a few good ideas for the book!

(Pictures taken by said best friend: thanks Alysia!)

Kate’s Wednesday Which…?

No, not witch, although it might be more interesting (note to self: write a book about witches). I’m in that lovely state between sending off my previous book and deciding what to write next. My last book, currently titled Impossible Things, is about a warlord and a blind slave and a dog called Brutus. It’s total, all-out fantasy, which has left me with a yearning to write something firmly set in the real world.

Only…I’m not great at that! Yes, I’ve written contemporaries, but they’re a little implausible, which is half the fun. I had an idea for my next book, which involved a Hollywood movie star and an ordinary girl, but ordinary is, like, way boring, so maybe she might turn out to be a con artist instead. I’m not sure (note to self: order Hustle box set).

Then there’s the other story which has been on the back burner for a while. This one has a one-legged detective and a girl who sees ghosts. Which is awesome, but it has no plot (note to self: research phantom limb and fictional possibilities thereof).

Or there’s…you get the picture. Which one do I write next?

Kate’s transatlantic notes

So, some of you might know I started off my writing career with American publishers. I won a few awards across the Pond, but there’s one I’ve never cracked: the Romance Writers of America’s main award, the RITA.

Last year, I entered The Untied Kingdom and my scores were, well, mixed. Two judges gave it a perfect score, one just under that, and two thought it was utterly mediocre (how depressing is ‘mediocre’?).

So we at Choc Lit started wondering about the RITAs and what does well. Some of my favourite authors have been honoured by the award, but it’s a tough nut to crack for a British author.

“Theres not enough sex in my book!” said one friend. Well, that’s genre-dependent. Being an author of paranormal romance (as well as erotic romance under my pen name) this is a trope I’m wearily familiar with. You don’t necessarily need sex in a book to do well in the US market, in fact there are lots of popular books which keep it off the page. But American readers are pretty vocal if they feel they’ve been cheated: lots of build up and then the bedroom door closes!

Having read a few American paranormals lately (I’ve read loads and loads, just not for a while) yes, the feel seems more urban fantasy, vampires and werewolves and chicks in tight leather with swords (just look at the covers!).

It’s style as well as content, and really hard to put your finger on. The market is used to a certain type of book, as are we I suppose–I’m not sure Sherrilyn Kenyon or Loretta Chase would win a RoNA, but they’re pretty damn popular over there (Sherri doesn’t actually enter the RITAs as she says she isn’t in need of the publicity, and might as well let someone else have the chance. Sherri is an utter sweetheart. She even bought me lunch once).

I don’t know if that’s why The Untied Kingdom wasn’t right–just not paranormal enough, maybe, or perhaps they prefer clean-cut heroes whose long hair is always perfectly conditioned, who wear leather trousers without irony, and have names with extra H’s in them (ahem). I suppose a guy like Harker who has a pathological aversion to shaving, smokes like a chimney and says ‘bugger’ a lot probably didn’t seem so appealing…

Well, I like him anyway.

Kate on the faulty punchline

There’s a scene in one of The Simpsons Hallowe’en specials where Homer is trying to tell the kids a horror story and says something like, “And then she hit him with a golf club!” And they look at him, bored. “Did I mention he always played golf?” “No, Homer.” “Well, anyway, he did. And did I also mention that she was dead?” “You suck, Homer.”

(that’s me paraphrasing because I can’t remember the exact words, and I’m too lazy to look it up)

Well, anyway. I’ve finished the first draft of my next book and while I’m pleased with it, it feels a bit like Homer’s joke. The shock revelations, the lovely resolutions, the imagery and themes…well, I know what they are and why they’re so shocking or lovely or whatever–but I fear I’ve forgotten to tell the reader. They’ll get to the end and go, “So…what was that thing about the red tiger?”

I know I’ve written short stories and novellas in the past where I’ve got to the end, spellchecked and pressed Send, without redrafting. But I can’t really get away with that on a 100,000+ book, which takes place over several years and three continents of a total fantasy world. I’ve made maps of this. Maps, I tell you. And coats of arms. What’s that you say? It’s just a form of procrastination? Well, you might be right my friend, but I still need to know whether the Academy is east or west of the Tower (actually it’s north) and which side of the shield the red tiger stands on.

Still, this is what second drafts are for!


Now, did I mention a tiger...?

Kate is running a bit late…

Gosh, how unusual for me! Actually, in my family I’m one of the punctual ones. When certain names come up on my phone’s display, I know that the opening lines will be, “We’re running a little bit late…” I’m making mental lists of things to be done before various family members visit at the weekend, and after all the making beds and cleaning bathrooms there’s a rather guilty, “Your office still needs tidying, Kate. You can’t see the floor any more. You’ve got piles of paper that have been there for four years. That bag of promo stuff from the RWA conference has been there since you flew home…in 2005. There could be a new civilisation under it. The last time you tidied it was when Spike let a mouse loose in there and was too lazy to catch it.” Which reminds me, there might still be a mouse in the dining room that I really ought to rescue…

So it got me thinking about that Einstein quote: “If a cluttered desk signs a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” My desk isn’t terribly cluttered at the moment–just the iMac, keyboard, mouse, headphones, lip balm, tape measure, calculator, camera, video camera, piggy bank, CDs, emery board, empty tissue box, two fluffy cats, a paint chart… you know, all the essentials. And the only reason it’s that tidy is because I had a photographer round the other day and they always want to take pictures of the stuff you haven’t tidied.

So anyway, what I was going to say was…er…oh yes! I might not have tidied my room (I mean, my office, I’m not seven, and let’s not get started on the state of my bedroom floor) since 2005, but I have written quite a lot of books since then. Surely there must be some correlation? I agree with Einstein. Cluttered minds come up with the best stuff!

Now, if someone would send a sherpa, I need to navigate past this pile of paperwork…

Kate’s Wednesday Hottie

(Yes, I know it’s Thursday. This is what happens when you forget to check the calendar.)

Lately I’ve been enjoying the new series of Silent Witness. Yes, it’s all a bit glossy, and I seriously doubt any pathologist has ever been as well-dressed and all-out pretty as Nikki Alexander (not to mention those Louboutins she wear to totter around the path lab), but I don’t really care, because of Nikki’s delectable colleague Harry Cunningham. He really does make a job involving the dissection of mutilated corpses seem sexy.

I first noticed him in Vanity Fair about fifteen years ago, playing the self-absorbed (and unfortunately named) George Osborne. And then last year, I wandered in to find my dad watching Silent Witness (oh great, I thought, another grisly crime drama) and he said, “Don’t you think this guy looks like a cross between Richard Armitage and David Tennant?”

Since those are pretty much my #1 and #2 crushes, I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. Still can’t.


Kate Johnson: Easter memories, eh? I think it might have to be the year I came downstairs on Easter Saturday to find a big box full of flowers and chocolates and champagne, celebrating the release of my new book.

No wait, that’s this year!

Run Rabbit Run is out today, full of romance and suspense and very snarky humour. There aren’t any rabbits, but there’s a heroine who, as Donna Noble put it, “saves worlds, rescues civilizations, defeats terrible creatures and runs a lot. Seriously, there’s an outrageous amount of running involved.”


Kate Johnson is very excited to announce…

…that not one, not two, but THREE Choc-Liteers have been shortlisted for the Romantic Novel of the Year Award!

The best part is that they’re all in different categories, so we’re not even in competition with each other. Hussah!

Christina Courtenay has been shortlisted for the Historical RoNA with her wonderfully evocative Highland Storms, sequel to Trade Winds. It’s set in Scotland, with a strong-willed heroine, brave and gorgeous hero, and even a stalwart dog. What more could you want?

Highland Storms

Jane Lovering has been shortlisted for the Romantic Comedy RoNA with her hilarious and touching Please Don’t Stop The Music. Set in York, it features a heroine running from her own past and a rockstar hero with a monumental secret to hide.

Please Don't Stop The Music

And the final nominee is… me! The Untied Kingdom has been shortlisted for the Contemporary RoNA. It’s set in a third world country fighting an endless civil war… called England. Its star is a man who is neither a rockstar nor a laird, but an army major, grumpy and weary and brave. And his heroine, a girl who is haunted by the memory of lime green hotpants.

The Untied Kingdom

While we’re not in direct competition with each other, I’ve seen the shortlists and boy howdy, there are some big names and some fabulous books listed there. So cheer for us Choc-Liteers on Monday, 5th March, when we take on the titans… er, I mean when the winners are announced!

Jane, Christina, and Kate
Jane, Christina, and Kate