Follow A Star … and Bill, by Christine Stovell

 

FAS_hires smallThis week’s brought the official publication day for Follow A Star for me and Do Opposites Attract for my fellow Mrs July, Kathryn Freeman (and no, we’re not going to get our buns out in any shape or form!).

Follow A Star is set in Little Spitmarsh, the faded seaside town trying to reinvigorate itself that’s the location for my novel, Turning the Tide.  I missed the place and the people when I left it behind so I had to return to see what some of the familiar characters had got on in my absence.  That said, you don’t have to have read Turning the Tide to read Follow A Star as both May and the book’s hero, Bill, are new characters.

Little Spitmarsh takes elements from many of the seaside harbours Tom and I visited sailing from the east coast of England round to west Wales.  Thinking about those voyages made me dig out my sailing diaries where I relived moments like this…

“Well, I certainly get to see Land’s End.  It’s a brilliant, sparkly blue day with sunshine lighting up the waves … the big wild waves which become bigger and wilder as we turn to the wind.  Even though I trust Veryan [our boat] and Tom, I can see the boat’s getting hard to steer.  Our normally dry cockpit takes a wave that tears a stanchion out the deck and I start to think that this beautiful summer day will be my last.”

After those kinds of experiences, it’s perhaps not surprising that I decided that the best place to begin with May and Bill – neither of whom need any further complications in their life – was the confined space of a little boat. By the time they tie up at the old boatyard in Little Spitmarsh the tension between them has reached boiling point – and that’s when they discover their problems have only just begun.

I, however, had several surprises writing this book, I didn’t realise, for example, that May was hiding a secret until a good third of the way through the first draft. The biggest shock came though when Bill stepped out in front of May for the first time and I saw his red hair – I didn’t think for one moment I’d be writing about a ginger hero, nor that I’d grow so fond of him. After much debate about casting (I wish!) Follow A Star, my editor, Rach and I came up with a couple of suggestions of actors to play Bill. But one woman’s ginger dream is another’s ginger horror so what do you think?   Red-haired heroes hot or not – and if ‘yes’ then who?

You can see some of the images and inspiration behind the book on my Pinterest Board here and if you’re in the mood for some music, there’s a Spotify list of the tracks I played writing the book here.

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Only True In Fairy Tales

OHIF.Kindle_150dpi copySeeing my name on the cover of a book still feels like a dream come true, especially when it’s one as gorgeous as that of my third full-length novel, Follow A Star which is published in paperback on Monday.  However, this week’s been particularly special because it’s brought a first for me; the e-release of my first novella Only True in Fairy Tales. As the cover gradually appeared on my screen, I had a real ‘Oh, WOW!’ moment – and I still have to keep staring at it!

Dreams are often rooted in reality and although both of these stories contain elements of my own life, it was growing up on the edge of Epsom Downs which really inspired Only True in Fairy Tales.  Eloise, the heroine of my novella, lives in a house which is very like the small Victorian cottage we lived in.  From the front bedroom, the one I shared with my sister, I would sit for hours staring out the window, watching the thoroughbred horses in the racing stables opposite being put through their paces.  Eloise is similarly gripped by the shadowy Gothic house opposite her and is rather put out when gritty crime writer Ross Farrell moves in to ‘her’ dream castle.

Ross’s house is based on one I knew from walking our very sweet, but rather naughty miniature dachshund, Zorba (my mum was in her ‘Greek island’ period).  It always felt like a fairy tale castle to me, with its turret suddenly rising from the thickets of what seemed such a wild, remote place.

When I put the images together on a Pinterest board, I had a Victorian cottage, a Gothic folly and a miniature dachshund, but the spark that brought the story to life came in the form of another dog, Gracie, a black rescue greyhound who kept dancing across my mind’s eye.  What if, I wondered, Eloise was a reluctant Sleeping Beauty, someone who has a very good reason to believe love is only true in fairy tales and is determined to concentrate on her rescue greyhound and her tapestry design business?  Add a handsome stranger, one who keeps coming to Eloise’s rescue and then ask a question, ‘is he a prince or a beast in disguise?’  And those are the foundations for my novella, Only True in Fairy Tales!

Christine Stovell: Learning with Jilly

002r Back in the days when summers and paperbacks were long and hot, I sat on a Dorset beach and looked around to see every other woman reading Jilly Cooper’s blockbuster of a novel, Riders with its distinctive cover of a white bejodhpured buttock being firmly cupped by a tanned male hand.  Being a published author was still a distant dream for me then, but the image of that book resting in so many women’s hands stuck with me and inspired me to keep going.  At the time, I was a bit puzzled by the novel’s success; a book about posh boys and showjumping didn’t especially appeal to me.  Even when I was overcome by curiosity and bought a copy, a cast list the size of a short story was a little off-putting… and then I started reading, got hooked and couldn’t wait for the next Rutshire Chronicle.

In contrast to some lacquer-hard bonkbusters which take themselves a little too seriously for my taste, what attracts me to Jilly Cooper is the warmth and fun, plenty of puns and a strong sense of an author enjoying herself.  It’s all about her characters, of course.  Not just the gorgeous heroines and sexy heroes, but the utter delight she takes in creating the smallest minor roles too.  Maybe that’s what gave me a taste for working with a cast of characters too – it’s something I really enjoy doing.

And setting?  I once, rather naively, asked an agent about the ‘right’ setting for a novel, ‘you can set in in the Gobi Desert for all I care,’ she said, ‘provided the writing’s good enough!’ Jilly Cooper’s skill for me was about making me care about characters, even if I didn’t begin by being interested in their situations.  So when I couldn’t ignore an idea for a novel about a young woman running a boatyard in a deeply unfashionable seaside town, I went with it and it became Turning the Tide. And when Coralie Casey, the heroine of Move Over Darling, escaped to a sleepy village in far flung west Wales, I went along with that idea too, because I wanted to tell her story.

What I learned from Jilly Cooper, something I’ve tried to apply to my own writing, is to create characters readers will hopefully care about and have fun!  Which authors have you learned from?

A Day in the Life of Christine Stovell

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My day usually starts with an energetic workout mainly because my mum’s suffered terribly with osteoporosis and I’d like to avoid the same fate if I can. I like running best, but I’ll skip, step, row or hula hoop to get going.  We live on the coast of west Wales so in the summer, I’ll walk to the beach for a swim, but it’s a heck of steep climb back home as we’re 200m above sea level.  Seven years ago, when Tom and I moved here to write, study and paint, a lot of people thought we were bonkers, but two novels, a couple of qualifications and several art exhibitions later, I think they’re beginning to see we mean it!

Sold!

Sold!

The hardest part for me about writing is getting past the inner critic which I’d dearly love to silence, but once I’ve overcome that there is nothing to beat the satisfaction of a good writing day.  Having watched a recent programme about Bradley Wiggins, with sports psychologists discussing the importance of self-belief in achieving potential, I’ve been trying a few techniques to get myself writing rather than worrying.  Good job the programme wasn’t about Lance Armstrong, eh?

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Life in the country – something they don’t tell you on the TV – is dominated by two tanks; there’s the great greedy oil tank which needs regular filling and the black hole that is the septic tank which needs regular emptying.  The fuel tank in our car takes quite a battering too as we live miles from anywhere, including the nearest railway station which is an hour away. There’s no mobile phone signal, the broadband speeds are a disgrace, and it’s a constant battle to keep mice out the loft, but, hey, the views are breath-taking!  We must doing something right anyway, as we’re never short of visitors and living so far away from our large, extended family, it’s always good to have an opportunity to catch up.stn

One thing visitors don’t come for is my cooking; I’m the world’s laziest cook and would survive on toast, pasta and the odd slug of Talikser.  Fortunately I’m married to a wonderful man who can make a meal out of nothing – although it is a bit disconcerting at the end of a fab dinner when Chef tells me he’s made it from something ancient at the back of the fridge.

I love reading in bed and hoped that by switching to a Kindle and tiny spotlight I’d be able to read all night without disturbing my other half, but now it seems the constant clicking of pages turning is driving him mad. Never mind, I’m safe, warm, I have enough food to eat and clean water to drink – that’s a lot to be grateful for.

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Hello, 2013!

Resolutions or other solutions?  What are your plans for 2013?  Here’s a taste of what the Choc Lit authors will be doing…

A Time Turner for Margaret James

A Time Turner for Margaret James

Margaret James : My new year’s resolution:  To make better use of my time so that I’ll have plenty of opportunities (in the words of the literary genius who wrote the Mars Bar ad) to Work, Rest and Play. If I get a Time Turner for Christmas, like the one Hermione has in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, I might manage it. But if not…

Sarah Tranter : To lose weight. Not at all original and it’s been my annual resolution since my eldest emerged nine years ago. Pre kiddiwinkles I was a size 8. Eeek. And to organise myself. I am determined to increase my writing time. I’m not yet sure how, without the benefit of a magic wand – but I WILL do it! I so will.

Linda Mitchelmore: For 2013 my resolution is to keep off the not inconsiderable weight I have lost recently. I’ve already made a good start by walking at least two miles (and often twice that) every day since 1st October 2012. I’m in the groove now, and I want to stay there. So, I won’t be making any more of these delicious cakes…..honest!

Linda says goodbye to all this.

Linda says goodbye to all this.

And Christina says goodbye to all that.

And Christina says goodbye to all that.

Christina Courtenay : New Year’s resolution – I never make any because I know I won’t keep them, but I am determined to cut down on my chocolate intake (sob!) in 2013 and to get a little bit fitter. (Shouldn’t be too difficult as I probably couldn’t be less fit if I tried)

Amanda James: New Year’s resolutions…as usual try to exercise more, lose weight, and don’t get twisted in knots about things that are beyond my control. Hope I get to achieve just one of them!

Sue Moorcroft: I don’t really make New Year resolutions but I’m quite pleased that other people do – because a common resolve is to take a writing course. As I’m a writing tutor as well as a writer, it’s handy!

Jane has a cunning plan

Jane has a cunning plan

Jane Lovering: I don’t usually make New Year’s Resolutions because I don’t believe in setting myself up for failure, but this year I am going to resolve to talk less and listen more. This will probably be achieved by stuffing my mouth with chocolate at every opportunity, so I’m guessing my 2014 resolution will be to lose weight.

Val Olteanu (one half of Isabella Connor):  A friend of mine is a Life Coach, and I asked her to help me find more time for my writing. I had to note down everything I did in an average week, between waking up and going to bed. I was hoping she’d advise me to cut down on housework, but she said “You’re watching too many TV reality shows.” I blustered it was a kind of research but she knew that was a Big Fat Lie. So, my resolution for 2013: no more than one TV reality show a week.

Liv Thomas (the other half of Isabella Connor): I don’t usually make resolutions because I’ve never been very good at keeping them. I’d like to resolve to worry less, but I’m not sure that one is in my hands. I do resolve to do my very best to justify CL’s faith in me. And to keep off the stone that I’ve lost in the past couple of months:)

A research trip in Wyoming. Research is a must when writing a historical novel, no matter how gruelling.

Liz's research trip in Wyoming. Research is a must when writing a historical novel, no matter how gruelling.

Liz Harris: Thinking of a resolution for 2013 was a hard one as the resolution I’ve made for the last eight years was fulfilled this last year. No prizes for guessing what it was! Looking back at how mega busy I was last year, I think my resolution for the coming year must be to find a better balance between writing the next novel and doing all the fun things that go along with being published.

Kate Johnson: My Resolution for 2013? Oh, how boring are resolutions? I never stick to them anyway. So I suppose I’ll just resolve to Be More Fabulous, I’m sure I can work with that!

Beverley Eikli and the kids, Xmas Day 2008

Beverley Eikli and the kids, Xmas Day 2008

Beverley Eikli : New Year’s Resolutions for 2013? Recently I came upon the New Year’s Resolutions I’d made for 2005. The list read: 1- Have another Baby; 2 – Find a Country To Call Home; 3 – Get a Publishing Contract. Well, in 2005 I had our second daughter, in 2007 we settled back in Australia and in 2012 I signed with Choc-Lit. I’ve got it all! Now all I want is a happy, healthy family and for my books to be enjoyed.

Zana's engagement ring

Zana's engagement ring

Zana Bell: 2013. New years are always new beginnings so we are getting married in the first weekend of January. My first Choc Lit novel comes out in October – our Spring. I like the timing.

Evonne Wareham: Resolutions – I don’t really do them – but I am going to try for a better work/life balance – more ‘me’ time, more walks on the beach, more fun. Will I succeed? Ask me again, this time next year 🙂

Henri's desk

Henri's desk

Henriette Gyland : New Year’s Resolutions for 2013:  To tidy my office and be more organised. Now where did I put that list?

Juliet Archer: NY’s Resolution: 2013 is the year when I will have a waist smaller than the Duchess of Cambridge’s – if only for a few months!

Margaret Kaine: Normally I don’t make New Year Resolutions but this year I do have one hope and resolve. When Spring arrives I’m going to buy a glamorous dress and some feminine shoes and wear them. Why? Because by then I hope to be able to! Clue – ‘I wish I’d looked after me feet!’

Christine Stovell: My aim is to count my blessings, make the most of each day and to try worry less about events beyond my control.

Chris wonders what the future holds...

Chris wonders what the future holds...

Whatever the future holds for you, there’s something for everyone in the Choc Lit selection, so one thing you won’t have to plan for the New Year is what to read!  Thank you to all of you who have followed and supported us in 2012.  We look forward to hearing more from you in 2013.

HAPPY NEW YEAR FROM THE CHOC LIT AUTHORS!

Christine Stovell: W is for Written in the Stars

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Facebook tells me that it’s our Jane’s birthday today and Liz’s on Friday. Sandwiched between them, making a Choc Lit triple-decker, is mine.  Like Arthur C. Clarke who famously said, ‘I don’t believe in astrology; I’m a Sagittarius and we’re sceptical,’ I’m another sceptical Sagittarian and I never, well, hardly ever, read what is written in the stars for me according to the monthly magazines.  I’m not convinced that it was destiny that brought Jane, Liz and me together, but simple probability.

And yet, having scoffed at the magazine horoscopes, I should add that I was very privileged four years ago when a dear blogging friend drew up my personal horoscope as a counter to my natural scepticism.  I have to admit that what I read was so accurate it was spine-tingling, not only in respect of past events but also in its predictions which have been proved true as the years unfolded such as when publishing success would come and moving to a house by the sea.

On the subject of writing, one observation suggested by my chart was this:

Your Mercury is in your eighth house, the area of the horoscope typically concerned with sex, death and other people’s money. It’s a classic placing for someone who writes mystery or detective stories, although I’m not sure that’s necessarily what you’re about?  Mercury here is concerned with getting to the bottom of things, ferreting out secrets and uncovering the motivation behind human behaviour.

The last sentence certainly applies to my current work, but mysteries or detective stories … I must admit it’s an intriguing thought.  Life’s full of surprises, but birthdays come round every year, so happy birthday Jane and Liz and I’m sure we’ll all be raising a glass to you!

The epainting is ‘Welsh Coast’ Tom Tomos, but we hear that some of you are missing the Wednesday Hottie, so here’s one of our famous hotties especially for Jane…  Still missing them?

Happy Birthday, Jane!

Happy Birthday, Jane!

Chris on Baring All in Best Magazine

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In an article which appeared in last week’s edition of Best magazine, I was invited to say why romance still matters.  I didn’t write about extravagant sweeping gestures – it isn’t as if my path has exactly been strewn with rose petals – but about small ways in which romance helps to keep those all-important lines of communication open.  The relationships in my novel Move Over Darling founder when couples won’t or can’t talk to each other.

‘Lovely!  Just give me a few personal anecdotes, will you?’ said the features editor giving me an example which would have had my children blushing.  After doing the mental equivalent of chewing my pencil, I came up with a few illustrations of successful romantic gestures and one, involving an accidental incident of public nudity on my part, that was less well executed.   ‘A photo of you and your husband would be nice too,’ said the editor.  Gulp!

Despite my trepidation, people in my local supermarket did not point and stare when I went in to buy my copy of Best. My daughters thought the article was great – though my youngest couldn’t resist an ‘Ooh-er, a bit saucy, Mum,’– and my husband tells me I can no longer complain about him as it states in a national magazine that he is Officially Romantic.

So…which romantic gestures would you dare to bare?

Christine Stovell: Move Over Darling

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It’s Publication Day! After some long dark nights and a couple of moments of utter despair when I couldn’t see the way forward at all, my second novel, Move Over Darling finally gets its day in the sun!

It was moving to Wales, nearly seven years ago, that first set me thinking about this novel.  All the remarks about us ‘escaping to the country’ suggested we were running away from something rather than taking positive action.  Then it struck me that the population of the county where I now live was almost the same as the small Surrey borough I’d left behind – except that those people were spread out over a much wider area.  The economy of this part of west Wales is reliant on farming and tourism and looking at the figures more closely, I noticed there were concerns about the migration of young people out of the area in search of better paid work.  What would happen, I thought, if a girl who’s escaped to the country met the boy who’d escaped from the country? And so the story began…

Here are a few of the ideas and images that worked their way into the novel.  Can you place them?

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Maybe you'd find Alys here?

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Converted stable buildings - for commercial use, perhaps?

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No surf today!

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The view from the tippy-top!

Chris: The Secret of Success

jessr ‘It’s something I’ve worked so hard for – 120 miles,week in week out. What you put into it is what you get out.’ Mo Farah on winning his Olympic gold medal in the 10,000m.

‘I was in a right old state. There are so many moments in the four years when you are doubting yourself. You only see the final polished product but it’s four years of hard work, injury, defeat, it is not a glamorous thing to be a cyclist, you have to put a lot of hard work in and that is what makes these moments so special.’ Sir Chris Hoy, Britain’s most successful Olympian with six gold medals.

I knew she was capable of something great,’ said David Baker, chairman and head coach of Matrix Taekwondo about Olympic champion, Jade Jones. ‘It was her willingness to train. She loved training. She never complained if the training was too hard.’
‘I think the message is really, whatever sport you’re doing, even if it’s just a job if you work hard at, if you’re dedicated you can achieve anything. Anything’s possible.’ Boxing Olympic champion, Nicola Adams.

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Listening to the medallists during these games has been a useful reminder that for every golden moment, there’s a story of fighting against the odds, of overcoming rejection, pain and self-doubt in order to succeed. Sometimes the goal seems distant, impossible to reach, but the only way to reach it is to keep going.
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Congratulations to each and every one of the inspiring Olympic champions who never stopped fighting for their dreams.

Photos by kind permission of daughter, Caroline, who was lucky enough to be there to see Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah and Greg Rutherford win their gold medal.

Chris: Wednesday’s word is Wedding!

We're going for something less formal!

We're going for something less formal!


With my daughter’s wedding taking place in, ooh, a little under two months’ time, this Wednesday’s ‘w’ could only mean one thing to me as it’s an occasion I’m delighted about and greatly looking forwards to. Except for the four o’clock in the morning worries when I have a fret about everyone turning up on time and doing what they’re supposed to do – and I don’t mean the bride and groom. So long as everyone remembers this is Their Special Day, I’ll be happy – and no one will get to meet MoBzilla so they’ll be happy too.

Having studied some social anthropology, I’m very interested in the rituals and traditions of rites of passage (I’m also fascinated by borders and geographical locations on the ‘edge of places’ hence my penchant for setting my books by the coast, but that’s another story!). One of the rituals I’ll be carrying out for my daughter before she sets off to her wedding is helping her dress. In preparation, I’ve been studying YouTube clips to see how to lace up a wedding dress and how to arrange a veil (if only YouTube had been around when my daughter was born – I might have felt less at sea as a new mum!).

I also asked one of the young women at my hairdressers who’d recently got married, how long it had taken her to get ready. ‘Oh not long,’ she said, ‘my sister helped. Although it wasn’t until I saw the photos that I saw she’d laced the dress up wrong and got fake tan on the back of it.’ Eeek! And the veil? ‘That blew off as soon as I got out the car,’ she said. ‘But I had a lovely day!’

And that’s the point, isn’t it? Wedding days come and go and if something isn’t perfect, it doesn’t matter so long as the bride and groom are happy. So do feel free to share your triumphs and disasters…then this MoBzilla can know what to look out for!