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

 

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 VALENTINE’S DAY! A Valentine’s Wedding Fair – Final Part by Jane Lovering

ValentinesRR5

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! However you plan to spend it we hope there is plenty of chocolate to be had … and maybe a little bit of romance too 😉 

Speaking of romance we left the heroine of our Round Robin, Jess, in a little bit of a sad state yesterday when Victoria Cornwall had her turn. Now it’s up to Jane Lovering to finish the story! Fittingly, it’s also publication day for Jane’s new book Living in the Past today – you can find all the details at the end of this post so read on!

If you haven’t caught up with previous parts of the story yet, make sure you read them first:

Part One by Kirsty Ferry HERE
Part Two by Morton S. Gray HERE
Part Three by Angela Britnell HERE
Part Four by Victoria Cornwall HERE 

And, as always, make sure you read right until the end to find out how to enter an exclusive competition! 

A VALENTINE’S WEDDING FAIR – FINAL PART BY JANE LOVERING 

After a few minutes of buttering up his ex wife, Mark came back to Jess and the stall. ‘Sorry, Jess,’ he said, lowering his voice so it was covered by the hubbub in the room, ‘I had to do that. Their insurance covers them against “interference”, and I wanted to make sure they couldn’t claim against us for getting them moved into the sun.’

Jess felt her heart give a tiny upward wobble. ‘You noticed that, then?’

Mark’s smile was decidedly cheeky. ‘Oh, I notice a lot more than you or Harriet give me credit for. Now, let’s get these ruined cakes cut up, clear the table and give your wonderful cake the centre stage. D’you know …’ he looked around the room at the crowded stalls, all wall to wall icing, embroidery and tea cups, like a Women’s Institute fete gone rogue, ‘I think the minimalist look might just give us the edge here.’

He was right. Amid the overdone decorations and overfilled tables, their stall, with just its understated cover, spaced plates of samples and the occasional champagne flute with its inch of bubbles, looked, Jess thought, classy. And, as the building opened for the Fair to begin, it seemed as though a lot of prospective brides agreed.

‘How lovely to have a bit of space to actually look at your cake.’ One very elegant girl, wearing a diamond large enough to be used in an industrial machine, sipped at her sample champagne. ‘So many of these stalls look so … cluttered. A bit desperate.’ She picked up one of the Buntings cards and slipped it inside her classy card holder, then popped it into her Mulberry bag. ‘Several of my friends are engaged, I’ll pass your details on to them.’ And then she was gone, on her Louboutin heels, pausing only to raise an exquisitely plucked eyebrow at the gentle cascade of chocolate that the Bobbins centrepiece had become.

Jess felt almost sorry for Harriet. An eye for detail had given Jess the ability to see things that other people didn’t always notice, and she’d seen the way Armand was looking at Jake. Jake had always had a bit of a ‘reputation’. Her friend had sort-of hinted that he’d slept his way into his current position with anyone who offered. Jess watched Jake and Armand make eye contact, and a conversation consisting entirely of eyebrow-movements begin. Jess looked across to see that Harriet had noticed too, and that her immaculate nails were now tightly embedded in the sleeve of Armand’s jacket. Oh dear. Not the relationship from heaven that Harriet always talked it up to be then. She felt a twinge of pity for Harriet, whose desire for total perfection in all things had driven Mark away – he was more the kind of man for chaos and last-minutes than spreadsheets and countdowns.

Mark brought Jess back with a small nudge against her shoulder. ‘Here.’ She looked up to see him offering her a plate, with only a few of their taster samples left on it, and a glass, containing what looked like a sample-and-a-half. ‘Nearly all our cards have been taken, and there’s only this left. Plus we’ve had loads of enquiries – reckon this has been our best Wedding Fair to date!’ Jess took the glass. Mark was holding one of his own, and he gently touched the two flutes together. ‘Here’s to the future,’ he said, quietly. ‘Yours and mine. Ours.’ And, before they drank, he gave her the smallest kiss on the top of her head, in a moment Jess knew she would remember for a lifetime.

As they sipped their champagne, Jess heard a passing bride comment on the Bobbins stall. ‘Oh look, a chocolate fountain! How very twenty fifteen!’ and she had to hide her smile behind the last morsel of red velvet cake.

Aww, so happy that Jess got together with Mark in the end. They had us worried there for a moment – but as always, the Choc Lit authors pull it out of the bag and create the perfect Valentine’s story. Well done everyone! 

If you enjoyed Jane’s part of the story, you can order her novels from all good book retailers and stockists – and Living in the Past, her new novel, is out today and available on all eBook platforms! Click on the cover images below for more details. 

JL

LIP OUT NOW

COMPETITION TIME!
To be in with a chance of winning a Jane Lovering paperback and some chocolate simply answer the question below (we hope you’ve been reading carefully!):

How does a passing bride describe the melted chocolate cake (which she mistakes for a chocolate fountain!) on the Bobbins’ stall?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin comp 5’ by Thursday 15th February. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Friday 16th February.

Choc Lit 2017 Halloween Round Robin: The Ghosts of Maplewood Hall, Part Two by Christina Courtenay

Halloween P2

Readers beware! It’s time for another Halloween Round Robin from Choc Lit, back by popular demand. Five talented Choc Lit authors have been working collaboratively on a wonderfully spooky short story – The Ghosts of Maplewood Hall – which we will be sharing in five parts in the run-up to Halloween (with the final part falling on the big day itself!) Come back every day to read a new extract AND enter competitions to win chocolate & book prizes.

Each author taking part has no idea where their part of the story will go, which leads to a few spooky surprises along the way. But you’ll need to read on to find out more ;)  

The second author to contribute is Christina Courtenay! Remember to read right until the end to find details of the competition. 

A Round Robin is best enjoyed if you read each part in order. If you missed yesterday’s beginning by Jane Lovering, read it HERE

THE GHOSTS OF MAPLEWOOD HALL – PART TWO BY CHRISTINA COURTENAY

‘Need a hand?’

A wicked chuckle sounded right next to Martine’s ear and a white hand appeared beside her own. Sure, a bit of help would have been welcome, but not when the hand offered seemed to be floating on its own without the rest of the body it should have been attached to.

She tried to echo the kitchen scream, which had just sounded again, high-pitched and feminine, but the only thing that came out of her mouth was a small, strangled squeak. She knew she ought to make a run for it – if nothing else, to check what was the matter with Kate – but her legs were frozen to the spot and she simply couldn’t make them work.

‘Here, let me hold one end of the that and you take the other.’

The cheerful voice didn’t have the effect it obviously expected on Martine. This time she managed a proper scream to rival Kate’s, but it was cut off abruptly by the hand. Its touch on her mouth was light, but firm, and cold. So very cold.

‘Shhh, please, there’s no need for hysterics. I’ll protect you, I promise.’

As soon as the hand was removed, she swivelled her head around, glancing wildly into the more or less complete darkness that surrounded her. ‘P-protect me? Wh-what … who?’ she managed to stammer, although her voice was vibrating with fear.

‘Oh, I do beg your pardon. Did I forget to introduce myself? Lord Maplewood, at your service. Or Sebastian to my friends.’ The hand did a sort of swirl in front of her, as if it was accompanying an old-fashioned bow. ‘As I seldom have such delightful company here, I think we can safely count you as one of those.’

‘One of those what?’ Martine whispered.

‘Friends. You may call me Sebastian.’

Was she supposed to be grateful? A disembodied hand had just given her permission to call him by his – its? – Christian name. She swallowed hard. This was insane.

‘No, this isn’t happening,’ she muttered. Kate’s scream had just spooked her and now she was having hallucinations. She should never have come, no matter how much her best friend fancied James. There had to be a better way of impressing the guy.

‘I say, you weren’t expecting to walk into a haunted mansion and not encounter any of the residents, were you?’ That chuckle again, even closer now. And was that a cold breath she felt near her left ear? Martine shuddered and finally managed to take a step to one side.

‘Go away. You’re not real. You can’t be.’

‘Why not?’ He – Sebastian – sounded mildly interested.

‘There’s no such thing as gh-ghosts. I can’t even see you. All of you, I mean.’

‘Ah, apologies. There, is that better?’

Martine almost choked on her hasty intake of breath. In front of her, still holding one end of the tape, stood a man. A very good-looking man, it had to be said, but it was hard to notice that when he was mostly see-through and there was a kind of lit-up aura surrounding him. ‘I … I … Jesus!’

‘No, no, I’m not even a saint.’ Sebastian laughed and winked. ‘Not even close. Might I suggest you concentrate on my face, then the rest of me won’t be quite as disconcerting.’

She did and he was right. Sort of. It was still hard not to notice that he was transparent, but looking at his handsome features definitely had a calming effect. His smile was infectious and if he hadn’t been so see-through – or so dead – she could have fancied him, for sure.

‘So what brings you here?’ he asked, conversationally. ‘Do carry on with this taping business, by the way. It is obviously important.’

Martine wasn’t so sure, but she realised she wasn’t as scared any longer. Perhaps it was the fact that her brain told her this couldn’t be real, and if it was just a dream or hallucination she had nothing to fear. Or maybe that Sebastian wasn’t threatening in the slightest. If she’d ever imagined ghosts, they had been of the vengeful, moaning, chain-clanking type, not one whose laughing eyes she couldn’t seem to stop looking at. And look on the bright side – at least he’s not a carp! On automatic, she picked up the tape and carried on putting it on the door frame. It was actually easier now because Sebastian’s aura threw some light and she could see better.

‘Uhm, thank you.’ Martine closed her eyes for a moment, wondering if she would wake up and find she’d dozed off, or if the vision next to her would just disappear, but he was still there when she opened them again. Disturbingly close, smiling, and with his head slightly to one side.

‘I’m glad I found you first. I’m honour bound to tell you that there will be some competition for your favour tonight, but hopefully you will give me a chance to prove that I’m more worthy of your attention than any of the others.’

‘Others?’ Martine didn’t like the sound of that. ‘What do you mean, my favour?’

‘Well, tonight is Samhain, is it not? All Hallow’s Eve?’

‘Yes, and?’

‘It is the one night of the year when the spirits of the departed may return and mingle with those of you who are still alive. And for one lucky soul it means a chance to regain that which was lost. All it takes is … well, actually, I’m not allowed to tell you because it has to happen spontaneously, without prompting.’

Martine was starting feel like she’d stumbled into a movie set or something. The whole thing was definitely surreal. She snorted. ‘What is this, a fairy tale? I can give you back life with a kiss of pure love? Yeah, right.’

Sebastian raised his eyebrows and put a hand on his heart, pretending to look wounded. ‘Are you implying you could never love me? I’ll have you know, all the ladies fell over themselves vying for my attention back in my day.’

‘I bet.’ His expression brightened at her words, so she hastened to add. ‘But you probably had a real body then.’ A hot one, if the outline of his ghostly clothes was anything to go by, but she buried that thought. Not helping. ‘But how am I supposed to fall in love with someone I could probably stick my fingers right through? Let alone kiss you?’

‘Oh, ye of little faith.’ Sebastian grinned. ‘There is a little more to it than that.’

‘But―’

Martine’s words were cut off by the beam from a torch. ‘Are you okay? What happened?’ Patrick was coming down the stairs and she could just about make out his worried frown.

‘Well …’ She waved a hand towards Sebastian, but when she looked in his direction, the only thing she could see was the falling end of a piece of tape.

Well, if we have to meet a ghost, we wouldn’t mind meeting one like Sebastian 😉 But is he as charming as he seems? We might just find out tomorrow when Victoria Cornwall adds to the story!

If you enjoyed Christina’s writing, you can find her books available to purchase from all good online book stockists and retailers. Click on the image below for purchasing options. 

JL

COMPETITION TIME! 

To be in with a chance of winning a Christina Courtenay paperback and some chocolate simply answer the question below (we hope you’ve been reading carefully!):

Who disturbs Sebastian and Martine by coming down the stairs?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin comp 2’ by Thursday 2nd November. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Friday 3rd November.

Choc Lit on holiday!

Choc Lit on Holiday

TAKE YOUR CHOC LIT ON HOLIDAY COMPETITION IS BACK!
Are you a Choc Lit reader and lucky enough to be going on holiday this year? 

Why not enter our summery competition? Here’s how:

1. Pack your Choc Lit paperback or load up that eReader.

2. Take a photo of your Choc Lit paperback or the front cover of your eReader (as shown above) by the pool, on the beach, in a French cafe, or up a mountain if that’s more your style!

3.  Send the photo to us at info@choc-lit.com with the subject heading ‘Choc Lit on Holiday’. Make sure you tell us where you are.

The best photo will win 12 Choc Lit paperbacks of their choice plus chocolate!. The closing date is September 30th 2017 so get snapping! We’re looking forward to seeing your entries 🙂

Full terms and conditions available from info@choc-lit.com

Happy Birthday to Us! Birthday Round Robin: Part Three by Lisa Hill

Birthday Round Robin pt 3

It’s our eighth birthday today and we’re celebrating with a birthday story written collaboratively by our authors, competitions, prizes and a hefty slice of virtual chocolate cake! We invite you to join us :)  

Lynda Stacey and Kathryn Freeman have set the bar high and now it’s up to our new author Lisa Hill to continue the story. Let’s see what happens next! Remember to make sense of the story, you will need to read the parts in order:

Lynda Stacey’s Part One is HERE

Kathryn Freeman’s Part Two is HERE

If you read right until the end you might just find a competition to enter too! ;)  

The Birthday Surprise – Part Three by Lisa Hill

Anna folded up the crumpled, old letter and returned it to her clutch bag as Helen’s clapped out old Mini Cooper rattled through the front gates to the house.

Helen let out a low whistle. ‘The Dohertys have certainly done well for themselves.’

Anna followed Helen’s gaze as she looked up at the old, Georgian limestone house, covered in wisteria, shining like a beacon with all its windows lit up.

She frowned. ‘How did you know Declan’s got a brother?’

‘Oh, I just meant the family in general,’ Helen said, breezily as the Mini’s tyres crunched up the gravel driveway.

‘Thanks for giving me a lift,’ Anna said, absently, looking up at the house, in its own grounds with a lake, well more of a large pond, nestled at the foot of the front garden. As Helen steered the car up the inclining driveway, Anna’s mind returned to the letter and the night of the prom. Would he still look the same? She had never forgotten his face. Those deep, intense, blue eyes, that sparkly white smile, the smell of his sandalwood cologne. They had both been sixteen but had felt much older. He’d walked her home and they’d shared a lingering kiss on her doorstep before finally parting at one in the morning with promises of meeting up the next day. Only, life changed the moment she walked through the front door. The lights had all been on and mum wasn’t there. Neither was Dad. Or her sister. Nan was sitting on the stairs, waiting for her to come home, her eyes awash with tears, telling her how beautiful she looked instead of focusing on the fact mum had been taken to hospital.

‘Here we are!’ Helen said, yanking on the handbrake, having reverse parked under a horse chestnut tree.

Anna’s stomach clenched. She’d gone with the black off the shoulder in the end, not wanting all eyes on her if she walked in wearing red. She could be a wallflower in black, appraise Declan from afar and try and work out his motivation for inviting her before she introduced herself.

‘Thanks,’ Anna said, finally taking in Helen’s attire for the first time this evening. She frowned. ‘You’ve got your face on; off anywhere nice?’

‘Oh, just into town. Want me to give you a lift back later?’

‘No, don’t worry, I can get a taxi,’ she said, silently adding that if she got cold feet the moment she stepped over the threshold she could at least call a taxi and go home and save herself the embarrassment of Helen finding out.

‘Okay, have a good night and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!’ Helen waved as Anna got out of the car.

Anna rolled her eyes as she tottered in her black Jimmy Choos over the gravelled drive. She looked at the house and had to concede Helen was right; wherever life had taken Declan, he’d done well for himself.

She made her way down some uneven York flagstone steps and along the path that led around to the front of the house. She stopped in the light coming from a sash window to take her compact out of her clutch and quickly check her make-up. She glanced at the letter again. She didn’t know what had made her bring it. She wasn’t sure why she’d kept it all these years; to remember that night perhaps? Mum never came back from hospital. It was decided that Anna and Helen should temporarily live with Nan but as Mum’s health deteriorated, Anna had to start Sixth Form at a school nearer to Nan’s. Dad had passed on the letter to her. It was short, sweet and to the point but it meant Declan was still thinking about her. She’d replied straight away, writing to the address on the letter, giving her Nan’s address but no reply ever came back. She’d never seen him again.

Until now.

She must have walked in a daydream around to the front of the house. Perhaps she was just eagerly awaiting their reunion. After all, he’d tracked her down, sent her the invite, he must want to see her. Of course he wasn’t gay! He was only thirty; perhaps like her he’d just not been very lucky in love? Perhaps he’d held a torch for her all these years like she had for him? After all, Facebook said he was single. Perhaps she should stop standing like a divvy at the front door with other guests brushing past her and actually get on with reintroducing herself to Declan Doherty.

She tentatively took the steps up the double fronted house and through the open front doors. The house was lively and chatty with classical music playing in the background. Glasses of champagne clinked, the chandelier overhanging the polished oak floor hallway glistened and there, engrossed in conversation with a taller, younger looking version of himself, stood Declan Doherty. He was slightly taller than Anna recalled but he was instantly recognisable with that slicked back dark hair and wide smile. She could see the boy she once knew standing before her but he was broader, taller and with the addition of stubbly jawline.

Anna swallowed hard.

‘Champagne Madame?’ A waiter asked.

‘I, er, um.’ She could feel her face flushing.

‘Anna?’ Declan’s distinctive voice called out sounding surprised. She plucked up the courage to look at him only to find he was striding towards her, encouragingly with a smile revealing those perfect, straight teeth.

‘Hi,’ she managed to squeak at Declan, suddenly feeling rather shy.

‘Ah, you found us then!’ The taller and equally handsome version of Declan marched up behind him extending his hand. ‘I’m Ralph.’

‘Ralph?’

‘Tah-dah!’ Helen suddenly appeared from a side room looking mightily smug with herself.

‘Helen?’

‘Surprise!’

‘Surprise what?’ Declan asked, looking as confused as Anna.

‘I’m Helen’s boss.’ Ralph put his arm around Helen.

Anna’s smile fell. She looked at Declan. ‘So, you didn’t invite me to your party?’

‘I, um …’ Declan faltered.

‘Never mind then,’ said Anna, turning on her heel. She pushed past an arriving couple and ran back down the steps.

‘Anna!’ Helen called.

‘Arrghh!’ Sobbed Anna, breathing in the cool night air. Flipping Helen; she’d even got changed into her red dress!

Love this addition from our wonderful new author Lisa Hill! Lisa doesn’t have a book out with us yet but that will change next Tuesday when we release Meet Me at Number Five. Keep an eye out on our Twitter and Facebook to catch a first glimpse of the cover! 

COMPETITION TIME!

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

Which shoes has Anna chosen to wear?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin Lisa Hill comp’ by Tuesday 20th June. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Wednesday 21st June.

Easter Round-Robin Romance – COMING SOON!

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Well, we weren’t going to let the Easter weekend go by without a Round Robin Romance! Come back next Thursday 13th April when we’ll be sharing the first extract of a five-part story written by some very talented Choc Lit authors. Berni Stevens will start us off, followed by Rhoda Baxter, Kirsty Ferry, Morton S Gray and, last but not least, Angela Britnell. We’ll be giving away books and Easter chocolate each day too!

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY! Final Part of Choc Lit Mother’s Day Round Robin by Morton S. Gray

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A very happy Mother’s Day to all the mums out there – we hope you are all thoroughly spoilt today, and that you have the chance to spoil your own mums too 🙂 We’re sure your day will be full of treats but start off with this treat from Morton S. Gray – the final part of our Mother’s Day Round Robin. One final competition at the end too!

To enjoy this story make sure you read the other parts first:

Part One by Margaret James HERE 

Part Two by Jane Lovering HERE

Part Three by AnneMarie Brear HERE

Part Four by Kirsty Ferry HERE

FINAL PART BY MORTON S. GRAY

I found myself enveloped in Mike’s arms. He rubbed circles on my back and I could feel his warmth dissolving my misery and drying my tears.

Lucy and my mother were sitting next to each other on the settee, as I peered over his shoulder. They both looked contrite.

‘So, Lucy, what’s wrong with your car?’ Mike asked. I could tell he was deliberately changing the subject.

‘I don’t know really. It’s just making a strange noise.’

‘What sort of strange noise and can you tell where it’s coming from?’

My mother piped up. ‘It sounded like a steam engine when she arrived.’

‘Something vibrates underneath me.’

With a feather light kiss on my forehead, Mike released me and walked to the window. ‘It’s stopped raining. Let’s leave your mum and gran to open the chocolates and you can start your engine and let me listen to this noise.’

The door had hardly closed when mum rounded on me. ‘He’s nice. You want to hold onto that one. So, useful to have a man who’s handy. He can sort out my garden and I’m sure Lucy will come around. You’ve done your best for her. Don’t ever believe any different. I hope Mike’s good in bed too.’

It was all I could do not to spit out the mouthful of red wine I’d just sipped.

Mum and I went to stare out of the window.

‘I always regretted not finding someone else when your dad died, love. Life is much better shared … I wonder if Mike could recommend me to his dad?’

When I looked askance at her, she said, ‘I met John once. He’s a good-looking man, a waste single. He might like a companion for concerts, or … or bridge, perhaps.’ I could swear she was blushing and her face took on a faraway look as if she was imagining a cosy tête-à-tête with John Philips.

Lucy was behind her steering wheel revving the engine. Mike circled the car, occasionally yelling instructions to my daughter as he peered beneath the car.

She switched off the engine and jumped out, handing a duster to Mike. He launched himself to the ground and put his duster-clad hand under the car. I couldn’t see what was in his hand when he got up. They stood talking earnestly to each other for a few moments. I worried about what Lucy might be saying. Was she warning Mike off? Extolling the virtues of her father?

Lucy got back into her car and started the engine again. The noise appeared to have miraculously disappeared.

Lucy was laughing as she and Mike walked back towards the house.

‘What was it?’ I asked.

‘Just going to wash my hands,’ said Mike, as he disappeared upstairs to the bathroom.

Lucy was beaming. ‘Mike is Liam’s dad.’

‘Liam?’

‘The guy I’ve fancied for ages. Mike says he’ll invite him to have a drink with us at the pub later. The noise was a piece of metal stuck above the exhaust. Mike says it was vibrating and making that awful noise. So, nothing serious or expensive after all, thank goodness.’

She walked over and gave me a brief hug, which I took as an apology for her earlier behaviour. ‘Mike’s nice,’ she whispered.

Mike came back into the room and looked at each of us in turn, a surprised expression on his face. I realised we were all grinning at him.

I shook myself and got up. ‘Right, if Lucy’s car is fixed, I’ll serve lunch. Mike, would you help me in the kitchen?’

He followed me and after a glance into the other room to make sure my mother and Lucy were occupied, he said, ‘Well, how am I doing?’

‘Wonderfully. Although I think you’ve got the role of matchmaker later. Lucy’s after Liam and mum has her eye on your dad.’

Mike came and hugged me from behind, narrowly avoiding launching the steaming lamb joint which I’d just extracted from the oven to the tiles.

‘Hmm … might make for a very complicated family tree when you agree to marry me,’ he laughed.

Maybe Mother’s Day wasn’t that bad after all.

What a truly gorgeous ending! The Choc Lit authors do it every time. We hope you’ve enjoyed our 2017 Mother’s Day Round Robin. Let us know what you think in the comments 🙂 Happy Mother’s Day all!

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If you enjoyed Morton’s writing, check out her debut release The Girl on the Beach which is available to purchase in eBook format from all platforms.

COMPETITION TIME

To be in with a chance of winning a Choc Lit book and some chocolate simply answer this question:

What was the problem with Lucy’s car?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin Morton Gray comp’ by Monday 27th March. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Tuesday 28th March.

Choc Lit Mother’s Day Round Robin – Part Four by Kirsty Ferry

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It’s time for the penultimate part of our Mother’s Day Round-Robin and it’s Kirsty Ferry’s turn today! Yesterday AnneMarie Brear left off with a shock phone call in the middle Mother’s Day lunch preparations. Where will Kirsty take us? As always, make sure you read right until the end for a competition. 

To enjoy this story make sure you read the other parts first:

Part One by Margaret James HERE 

Part Two by Jane Lovering HERE

Part Three by AnneMarie Brear HERE

PART FOUR BY KIRSTY FERRY

‘Your dad?’ I burst out. ‘What on earth does he want? He doesn’t make a habit of ringing you, does he?’ I frowned at Lucy, who ducked her head, embarrassed. I noticed that she hadn’t managed to answer the call though. Jack had only let it ring a couple of times and then hung up. I felt a renewed sense of rage on my daughter’s behalf. He couldn’t even give her thirty seconds to answer a phone call?

‘I did ask him to come and have a look at my car,’ muttered Lucy. ‘But I asked him if he could come here to look.’ She compressed her lips and looked for all the world like the petulant little girl she had once been. She flicked her gaze up at Mike and scowled. ‘I didn’t know he would be here, you see. I thought Dad could come and have a look and fix it and have lunch with us.’

‘Your dad won’t want lunch with us!’ I said, horrified. ‘He’ll be doing something with … her. And Luca.’

Lucy glared at me. ‘I don’t see why he should. Luca’s only little and gets spoiled all the time, and Megan is so far up her own backside that she thinks every day and every occasion revolves around her anyway. I’m important too. I’m his daughter. And you’re my mum. And we should be together.’ A big, fat teardrop welled up in Lucy’s eye and she blinked it away. ‘I should ring him back. He’ll be worried.’

I bit my lip, but my own mother vocalised what I wasn’t going to say: ‘He’ll not be worried at all. He’ll be jumping for joy that you didn’t answer because that’s his excuse, you see. “You didn’t answer”,’ she waved her gin around dangerously, ‘“so it’s not my fault.” Nothing was ever his fault. Nothing. Mark my words …’ My mother leaned towards Mike who blinked at so much old-lady-face filling his vision. He could, I suspected, smell her face-powder and hairspray as well as the Chanel No.5.  ‘… he didn’t do a good job in the garden.’

‘Mother …’ I said weakly. Mother and gin were never a great combination.

‘Oh, shut up, all of you. I’m ringing Dad back,’ announced Lucy. She stomped into the hallway and huddled at the bottom of the staircase, stabbing the phone.

I closed the door gently and looked at Mike. ‘I’m so sorry. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. Lucy doesn’t mean to be obnoxious.’

Mike grinned and filled my wine glass. ‘She’s fine. It’ll just take time. My son hated it when my ex-wife and I split up. He’s great now. He was only ten at the time.  Good grief, thinking about it, it’s fifteen years since we broke up.’ Mike shook his head. ‘We’ve been divorced longer than we were married. Imagine.’

I did imagine. Three years or so down the line and it was only now I was starting to feel a bit less raw – and a huge part of that was due to Mike loving me and respecting me the way he did.

The door opened and I turned to see Lucy come in, looking rather pale and red-eyed. ‘He’s busy,’ she said, her voice a little wobbly, ‘but he said he hoped I got it sorted soon. Because it’s Luca’s birthday next weekend and Dad’s asked me to drive over to drop off his presents, because Dad hasn’t got time to come to my flat and collect them.’

My mother opened her eyes wide and her mouth wider, but I put a restraining hand on her shoulder and Mike zoomed in with more gin to distract her. I didn’t need her opinions of Jack and Megan right at this minute. I was too busy screaming inside, myself.

‘Once again, I am so sorry,’ I said to Mike, my voice more controlled than I felt. ‘I wish we’d just gone to the pub like you said. I wish everybody had just stayed away. I think I hate Mother’s Day. It always makes me feel like the worst Mother in the world You’re meant to protect your children and look after them. And not feel so useless. And I’ve been useless to my little girl since her bloody father walked out on us, straight into that woman’s bed.’

And now my own tears did bubble up to the surface. Because being a mum really was the hardest job imaginable.

Awww, poor Jenny. We really feel for her! Can her special lunch be salvaged? You’ll find out tomorrow when Morton S. Gray takes up the reins for what will  be the final part of the story. It’s Mother’s Day too! We hope you’re all prepared 😉 

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If you enjoyed Kirsty’s writing, check out her new releases – The Girl in the Painting and The Girl in the Photograph, which are now available to purchase.

COMPETITION TIME

To be in with a chance of winning one of Kirsty’s books and some chocolate simply answer this question:

How long has it been since Mike separated from his ex-wife?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin Kirsty Ferry comp’ by Monday 27th March. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Tuesday 28th March.

Choc Lit Mother’s Day Round Robin – Part One by Margaret James

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It’s Mother’s Day on Sunday and what better way to celebrate than a Round-Robin romance written by five talented Choc Lit authors? We’ll be sharing a part of the story every day until Mother’s Day and there’ll be a competition a day too! 

Margaret James is starting us off today. Read right until the end to take part in the competition! 

‘Mum, he isn’t right for you. He’s a jobbing builder on zero hours contracts and you’re a grammar school deputy headmistress. I can’t believe my mother’s sleeping with a bricklayer and everybody in the village knows about it. They’ll all be laughing at you behind your back. You really shouldn’t see him any more.’ Lucy dumped her Prada handbag on the kitchen counter and gave me that particular look, the one I guess I must have given her myself when she’d brought unsuitable boyfriends home in the past.

But I’m not a teenager. I’m nearly forty-five, for heaven’s sake, not seventeen. Jack and I split up three years ago. I know Lucy loves her father, idolises him in fact, even though he’s married to someone who is Lucy’s age and now she has a half-brother who’s almost two. So aren’t I entitled to have a life as well? Who kidnapped my rebellious, free-thinking daughter and replaced her with this strict, judgemental snob who tells me how to live my life?

‘I don’t know why you’re so upset,’ I said. ‘Mike’s a perfectly nice man. He’s thoughtful, generous and kind. We get on very well. We have lots of interesting chats about all kinds of things. We both like gardening and we’re both alone, so what’s your problem?’

‘The fact he made a brilliant job of mending your old garden wall didn’t mean you had to go to bed with him. Does he even wash his hands before he touches you?’

‘Lucy, that’s enough.’ Okay, I could accept that Lucy might not want her mother to be sleeping with somebody and that it must have been a shock when she called unexpectedly last Saturday and found Mike in his dressing gown making coffee in the kitchen while I was still in bed.

‘Granny’s coming round on Sunday,’ I reminded Lucy. ‘It’s Mother’s Day and I’ve invited her for lunch. You’re welcome too, of course.’

‘I’ll check my diary,’ she said, clearly having forgotten that I’m a mother too and I might like to see my daughter on my special day.

As Lucy’s Clubman drove away, my mobile rang. It was Mike ‘Hello, beautiful. How are you doing today?’

I’ve just got home from work,’ I told him. ‘Do you fancy coming round for dinner later – half past six to seven?’

‘Sounds great. I’ll bring a bottle, shall I?’

‘Lovely.’

‘But you mustn’t go to any trouble, love. I bet you’ve had a busy day so you’ll be tired. Maybe I could cook?’

‘I was thinking M&S,’ I said, ‘and letting someone else do all the work.’

When Mike arrived he smelled of something citrus-based and altogether gorgeous. He was carrying a bunch of freesias and a bottle of Pinot Grigio. He’s not very tall and he’s not movie-actor handsome. But he’s solid, strong and capable, good to snuggle up against. He makes me feel secure, something Lucy’s father never did.

‘What are you doing on Sunday?’ he enquired as we drank the last of the white wine, lolling comfortably on the sofa. ‘I was thinking we could drive into the countryside, have lunch at some old country pub and then go for a ramble in the woods.’

‘I can’t.’ I twisted round to look at him. ‘It’s Mother’s Day and I’ve invited Mum for lunch. My daughter will be coming too, that’s if she’s free.’

‘Maybe I’ll see you later, then? We could still go out somewhere, have dinner, maybe?’

‘After the kind of Sunday lunch my mother will expect, I’m going to be stuffed. But we could walk into the village, have a drink. Yes, let’s do that. Lucy can drive her granny home. Come and call for me about half seven. Or maybe – ’

‘What?’

‘You could come to lunch. Yes, come and meet three generations of my family. It’s time you got to know them.’

‘But Jenny, didn’t you tell me Lucy isn’t keen on you having relationships? Didn’t you say she’s still upset about you and her dad splitting up? She might not want to see me.’

‘Lucy is twenty-three. She’s not a child, even though she often acts like one. It’s time she started to grow up. My mother’s getting a bit forgetful nowadays, but she’s very sweet and I’m sure she will like you. Mike, will you come?’

Oh dear! Sounds like Jenny’s Mother’s Day Sunday lunch could end up being quite an explosive affair. Come back tomorrow for Part Two by Jane Lovering to see what happens. You don’t want to miss it!

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If you enjoyed Margaret’s writing, make sure you keep an eye out in the coming months for a new release 😉 Until then, you can check out her existing novels HERE

COMPETITION TIME

To be in with a chance of winning one of Margaret’s novels and some chocolate simply answer this question:

What does Mike bring for Jenny when he comes round for dinner?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin Margaret James comp’ by Monday 27th March. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Tuesday 28th March.

Read Part Two by Jane Lovering HERE.