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


‘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.’


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. 



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 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 Valentine’s Round Robin 2017 – Part Two by Christina Courtenay

Round Robin CC

Happy Valentine’s Day all! We hope you have a lovely day planned with a special person that will involve plenty of chocolates, flowers and pampering. Enjoy! 

Yesterday Kirsty Ferry introduced us to the village of Thistlethorpe and Harriet, who was organising a Valentine’s Ball with a little bit of an ulterior motive in mind! Today Christina Courtenay picks up where Kirsty left off. Will Harriet be successful in her attempts to encourage Tony to the event? Read on to find out …

Come back each day until Friday 17th to read part of an amazing Valentine’s-themed story by five authors. Read right until the end so you can enter our daily competitions too! 

Remember to read Part One by Kirsty Ferry before starting on this extract. 

Talk about bad timing. Of course it had to be the object of their discussion, Tony himself, and Vera turned to wink at Harriet. Not in a subtle way, but a big comical sort of wink, which the policeman couldn’t fail to see. Harriet felt her cheeks burn. Well, if he didn’t know about her crush before, he certainly did now.

But her mortification didn’t end there. Vera took another sip of her tea and called over to Tony, ‘We were just talking about you. Harriet has something to ask you.’

Well, thanks a bundle. Harriet sent Vera a death glare, but the annoying woman just giggled.

‘Oh?’ Tony’s blue eyes twinkled, but he appeared not to have noticed the wink or any undertones. Or if he had, he was gentleman enough not to let on.

Harriet took a deep breath. What was the worst that could happen, after all? He could say no and that would be that. ‘I’m organising a Valentine’s Ball at the pub and I just wondered if you’d like to join us? Everyone else will be there and you are, after all, part of the village now. I … uhm, thought it might be nice for you to get to know us a bit better.’

Ha! How was that for diplomatic? That should show Vera and hopefully Tony wouldn’t read too much into the invitation.

He nodded. ‘Sounds great, thank you. I’ll have to check whether I’m on duty, of course, but I should be able to pop in at least for a while.’ He hesitated. ‘Actually, I have a visitor coming to stay that weekend. Do you mind if I bring someone?’

Harriet’s heart plummeted. Oh God, she was such an idiot. Of course a man like him would already have a girlfriend. He must have had a life before he came to Thistlethorpe. And he certainly didn’t look like he’d been a monk. Six foot two-ish, broad shoulders, muscles, lots of muscles, and those eyes … She cleared her throat. Yeah, goodbye to that dream then. ‘Of course.’ She managed a smile. ‘As I said, everyone is welcome.’

‘Oh, good. I’m sure Jamie will fit right in.’

Jamie. Unusual name for a girl, but still …

Harriet pulled herself together. She had a job to do. She plastered on an even wider smile. ‘So, what can I get you? The iced buns are on special price today.’

‘Then I’ll have half a dozen, thank you.’

When Tony had paid for his buns and left with another bone-melting smile, Harriet glared at Vera. ‘Don’t. Say. A. Word. Okay?’

Vera held up her hands as if surrendering. She actually looked quite sad, as if she cared about Harriet, but the latter didn’t feel up to discussing her love life. Or lack of it.

She’d have to implement Plan B – getting her sister to bring that blind date she’d been threatening. How bad could he be? Actually, knowing Lil, very …

Vera left, with a tiny wave and a grimace of compassion – at least that’s how Harriet interpreted the face the woman made – and Harriet concentrated on unloading another tray of iced buns into the display counter.

When the bell over the door rang again, heralding another customer, she prepared to act professional. She didn’t have time to mope around. And her life was fine as it was – a great job, a lovely little cottage all to herself, a cat and enough money to do most of the things she wanted. Who needed a man? They were nothing but trouble anyway. With a welcoming smile, she looked up and nearly dropped the tray in her hands. In front of her stood yet another gorgeous male – blond this time, and with eyes like a grey, stormy sky, in his early thirties maybe and … a dog collar. She swallowed a gasp.

‘Er, hello, what would you like?’

Instead of just giving his order, the man held out his hand across the counter and gave her a big grin. ‘Hi, I’m Zack, the new vicar. It’s my first day so I thought I’d celebrate with something nice for tea. Any recommendations?’

‘Er, right. I’m Harriet. Buns. Iced buns or … or maybe a piece of the chocolate cake? The frosting is to die for. I mean …’ She stopped. Did one say things like that to a vicar? A vicar named Zack? It didn’t seem a very ‘vicarly’ sort of name, if there was such a word. And having two handsome men move into the village at the same time was unheard of. Still, she wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice. No matter how good-looking Zack was – and although he wasn’t quite as big and brawny as Tony, he seemed to be in pretty good shape and those cheekbones of his were quite simply amazing – she wasn’t falling for him. There was probably a Mrs Vicar. Or if not, he was celibate. She bit her lip and tried to collect herself.

‘Do you know, I think I might just have one of each,’ he said. ‘I don’t suppose you’d care to join me? My treat. It would be nice to get to know my parishioners a bit. But only if you have time. If you’re allowed …’ He tailed off and looked behind her as if he was wondering if she had a horrid boss who was going to come out and tell her off for fraternising with the customers.

Harriet relaxed. There was no harm in talking to the man and business was always slow this time of day. ‘Sure, I’d like that, thanks. As long as you’ll excuse me if anyone comes in to buy something.’ She gestured towards one of the tables. ‘Take a seat and I’ll be with you in a minute.’

As she made the tea, she wondered if one could invite a vicar to a ball?

The plot thickens! And now Zack the vicar has been added to the mix, the possibilities are endless. Come back tomorrow to find out what happens next when one of our debut authors Morton S. Gray takes her turn.

9781781893203 CMYK 300

If you enjoyed Christina’s writing in today’s extract make sure you check out her most recent book, The Velvet Cloak of Moonlight, which is set in and around the historic Raglan Castle in Wales and has recently been nominated for a RoNA award in the Paranormal/Speculative Romance category. Click the image above for purchasing information. 


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

How many iced buns does Tony buy?

To enter, send your answer to with the subject heading ‘Round Robin Christina Courtenay comp’ by Friday 17th February. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Monday 20th February.

Part Three by Morton S Gray is now available to read HERE

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays from the Choc Lit Team and our Santa Clauses!

Merry Christmas from Team Choc Lit!

Merry Christmas everyone, Happy Holidays! Thank you for all your fabulous support in 2015. We look forward to sharing more exciting releases and fabulous Choc Lit books with you in the new year.
Love from the Choc Lit Team x
(Lyn, Lusana, Jane O, Liz, Jane E, Marie, Jessamy) 

And now a message from our Choc Lit Santas: 🙂

PersuadeMe_Visuals3:Layout 1

juliet Santa photoJuliet Archer:  “As Jane Austen said in Emma, published 200 years ago this month: ‘This is quite the season indeed for friendly meetings. At Christmas every body invites their friends about them, and people think little of even the worst weather.’ I wish you all a wonderful Christmas and New Year, with lots of ‘friendly meetings’ and as little as possible of ‘the worst weather’.”

Santa - Rhoda BaxterPLEASE RELEASE ME_front150dpiRhoda Baxter: “Wish you all a fab holiday season with lots of chocolate, cake and nice warming books to read. See you next year.”


Zana Bell - Santa!

Fool's Gold

Zana Bell: Meri Kirihimete (Maori) everyone and many best wishes from New Zealand. May you all have a wonderful festive season. ”


AnnMarie Santa photo

AnneMarie Brear: “Wishing everyone a very merry Christmas, (a perfect time to read good books) and a safe and healthy 2016!”



Jan Santa photo


Jan Brigden: “Wishing everyone a joyful, peaceful, healthy Christmas & New Year, with much festive good cheer, happy reading (and chocolate goodies aplenty!). Enjoy!”


Angela Britnell - Santa!


Angela Britnell: “Wishing all of our Choc Lit readers a joyous Christmas and a wonderful New Year filled with good books!”


Sheryl Browne Santa!


9781781892350Sheryl Browne: Christmas time, mistletoe and wine … If you fancy a gorgeous hero to complete the scene, dip into scrummy Choc Lit book. Perfection. Have a lovely Christmas everyone!

You Think You Know MeClare Chase - Santa!Clare Chase: “Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas, full of warmth and good cheer, followed by a very happy 2016.”


An Irish Promise

Valerie Olteanu  - Isabeall Connor - SantaLiv Thomas - Isabella Connor - Santa!Isabella Connor (Liv & Val):  Nollaig shona dhaoibh. Wishing all Choc Lit readers and their families, a wonderful Christmas, and a happy 2016.”


Christina Courtenay - Santa!Christina Courtenay: “I would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Have a peaceful, relaxing holiday hopefully with lots of time for reading! Thank you all for your support this year and here’s to a fantastic year in 2016!  Christina xxx”

Some Veil Did Fall

Kirsty Ferry - Santa!

Kirsty Ferry: “Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas and a happy, healthy 2016. I hope you enjoy a festive season filled with cake, chocolate and a multitude of good books! Love from Kirsty xxx”


9781781892206Debbie Santa photoDebbie Flint: “Wishing you sleighbells and snowflakes, mince pies andmulled wine, silent nights and holly-days, myrrh and magic moments, tinselled tots and festive pets, plus perfect peace, Christmas cheer – and to all a good night!”


9781781892466 Kathryn Freeman - Santa!Kathryn Freeman: “Christmas – a time to relax, to indulge. Whether you’re turkey or goose, chocolate or champagne, Christmas films or a sack full of books, I wish you all a very happy Christmas.”


Janet Gover - Santa!9781781892688Janet Gover: “May Christmas be a time of joy for you and yours – and I hope 2016 will be a wonderful year filled with love and laughter.”



The Highwayman's Daughter

Henriette Gyland - Santa!Henriette Gyland: “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. May 2016 be filled with love, laughter and good books to read.”


Linn's Santas photo

Linn B. Halton: Wishing everyone peace, love and happiness this Christmas time, and a wonderful start to 2016! Linn x




Liz Harris - Santa!Liz Harris: “Wishing you everything for 2015 that you wish for yourself.  May it be a year filled with health, happiness, chocolate and, of course, books!!”


The Wedding Cake TreeMelanie Hudson - Santa!Melanie Hudson: 
“Wishing you love, light and oodles of laughter this Christmas.”



9781781892701Laura E James - Santa!Laura E.James: “Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas and a 2016 that’s overflowing with good health and great books.”



Magic Sometimes Happens

Margaret James - Santa!Margaret James: “Merry Christmas, readers and writers, and may 2016 be a wonderful year for you all.”


Impossible ThingsKate Johnson Santa!Kate Johnson: “I’d like to wish everyone a very happy festive season and offer my best wishes for the new year.”


Dangerous DecisionsMargaret Kaine - Santa!Margaret Kaine: “I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas whether you are spending it with family or friends, or have chosen to be on your own surrounded by chocolates, wine and good books. May I wish you both good health and happiness throughout 2016.”


Jane Lovering - Santa!9781781892817Jane Lovering: “Wishing everyone a happy HobNob dunking, marshmallow toasting, Tony Robinson watching day! Although if you don’t like any of these things, I wish you a Happy Christmas anyway…all the more for me! JANE X”


9781781892176Sally santa photoSally Malcolm: “Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas, and a New Yearfull of adventure!”



Alison May - Santa!9781781892947Alison May: “May your festive season be joyful and filled with books, chocolate and all good things. Happy Christmas one and all.”



Emma - There's No Turning BackLinda Mitchelmore - Santa!Linda Mitchelmore: “Happy Christmas to you all. I hope you will have a wonderful time, spending Christmas in whichever way you choose. I also hope there will  be a little window of time to curl up with a Choc Lit novel – or two – somewhere warm with a glass of something festive.”

Lynda Stacey Santa photoLynda Stacey: “May your Christmas sparkle with happiness, surprises and above all else, good health. Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a fabulous 2016  xx”



DANCE UNTIL DAWNBerni Stevens - Santa!Berni Stevens: “Wishing everyone a Perfectly Paranormal Christmas and a peaceful New Year! Happy reading! Love Berni xxx”


Follow a StarChristine Stovell - Santa!Christine Stovell: Nadolig Llawen! Merry Christmas one and all. Here’s wishing you everything you would wish for yourself.”


Romancing the SoulSarah Tranter - Santa!Sarah Tranter: “Merry Xmas and a fabulous 2016 to you all!”



Never Marry a Politician!Sarah Tranter - Santa!Sarah Waights: “Wishing all Choc Lit readers a fabulous Christmas and as much romance and chocolate as you can handle in the year to come.”


Out of Sight Out of Mind

Evonne Wareham - Santa!Evonne Wareham: “Happy Christmas – Nadolig Llawen – and health, happiness and lots of good books for everyone in 2016.”


Nick santa photo

Nicky Wells:  “Frohe Weihnachten und ein Gutes Neues! ~That’s “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year” in my native German, and I’d like to wish you both of those with all myheart. May your Christmas sparkle and may your 2016 be filled with love, laughter and happiness. Xx”


The Jade Lioness by Christina Courtenay: Release Day and Competition!


Jade is something that is undeniably Oriental and for me the mere word evokes images of the Far East and exotic settings. It’s been considered precious for millennia and has been used from prehistoric times, first to make tools as it’s such a hard material, then later merely for ornamental purposes. It has great significance for Asian people and is thought to embody many virtues. And no wonder – it’s truly beautiful!

The first time I saw a jade object I was seventeen and visiting Hong Kong with my parents. The shops there were full of jade jewellery – chunky bracelets, delicate rings and pretty necklaces. I loved the colour and feel of it (it’s lovely and cool to the touch) and could totally understand why the Chinese found this material so attractive. As I have green eyes, I immediately felt that this was the perfect accessory for me and I came home with quite a few additions to my jewellery box …


At the time, I didn’t know that there are actually two types of jade – the minerals nephrite and jadeite – slightly different in colour and hardness, but similar enough that they were thought to be the same thing in the past.  Nephrite comes in many shades from almost white to dark green, as well as reddish, whereas jadeite has more colour variations, even blue, lavender and pink.  In the finest jade, the colour is supposed to be evenly distributed.  Both types are polished to a shiny finish, with nephrite being more resinous while jadeite can have a mirror type shine.

The translucent, emerald-green jadeite is the most sought after variety – the more see-through the better (like the bowl in the photo).  It was traditionally considered a “gem” (and a royal one at that since the Chinese emperors loved it), although it is actually just a stone or rock, and it was more highly prized than gold or silver.  In fact, the Chinese valued it the way Europeans did with gold or diamonds.


So, when the time came to choose a title for the third instalment in my Japanese trilogy, the word jade sprang to mind and we ended up with The Jade Lioness. I think it captures the essence of the story and I hope the readers will agree!

PrizesToday is paperback publication day for The Jade Lioness, and to celebrate we thought we would give you the chance to win a signed copy of the book plus a little piece of jade – there are two sets up for grabs:  a necklace or a little figurine, together with a lovely Chinese silk pouch for each.  A third runner-up can win the book and a silk lipstick case in jade green.  To be in with a chance, just leave a comment below and tell us what you think about jade and/or the colour green (which is a calming and positive colour I think, signifying spring and rebirth, although sometimes it’s also the colour of poison!).  Does it have any special significance for you?

In the meantime, here’s the blurb for The Jade Lioness:-

Can an impossible love become possible?

Nagasaki, 1648 Temperance Marston longs to escape war-torn England and explore the exotic empire of Japan. When offered the chance to accompany her cousin and Captain Noordholt on a trading expedition to Nagasaki, she jumps at the opportunity. However, she soon finds the country’s strict laws for foreigners curtail her freedom.

On a dangerous and foolhardy venture she meets Kazuo, a ronin. Kazuo is fascinated by her blonde hair and blue eyes, but he has a mission to complete and he cannot be distracted. Long ago, his father was accused of a crime he didn’t commit – stealing a valuable ornament from the Shogun – and Kazuo must restore his family’s honour.

But when Temperance is kidnapped and sold as a concubine, he has to make a decision – can he save her and keep the promise he made to his father?

The paperback of The Jade Lioness is now available to order on Amazon UK & Amazon US.

Find out more about the author, Christina Courtenay, on her website or follow her on Twitter @PiaCCourtenay.

Four Weddings

Move Over DarlingGrab your fascinators – it’s Four Weddings time! To celebrate the release of The Wedding Diary by Margaret James, we’ve asked four lovely Choc Lit authors to imagine their characters’ weddings.

Which wedding would you most like to be a guest at? Don’t forget to leave your vote at the end of the post!

Gethin and Coralie from Move Over Darling by Christine Stovell

What a beautiful spring day and what a glorious setting! Blinking, as she emerged from the cool interior of the old stone building, Coralie paused to take stock. The little church was set on top of a hill, from where emerald fields tumbled down to a turquoise sea. A winding road led to the village of Penmorfa and eventually to the garden centre where the reception was being held. Having popped over there first thing, Coralie knew that Alys and Kitty had pulled out all the stops in the large marquee with its striped-canvas roof spread out jewel-like in the beautiful grounds.

You look absolutely ravishing in that dress, Mrs Lewis,’ said the handsome man beside her in his sexy Welsh lilt.

Coralie shivered, delighted that her gamble had paid off. The vintage silk organza wedding dress had arrived as exactly described; prom-style, with an extravagantly-full skirt, a high neck, deep V back and a cinched-in waist. She’d accessorised it with an orange duchesse silk bow in her piled-up copper hair and matching orange shoes.

She gazed up into Gethin’s face as the sunlight caught the intense, blue-black of his hair, the twinkle of his midnight eyes, and a glint of white teeth as he smiled. Her husband. Her husband! Her once-secret love was no secret anymore and she felt like shouting it from the highest hills, telling the daffodils and anyone else would listen. But, first …

‘I look equally ravishing out of it,’ she said, stretching up to whisper in his ear, just as the photographer snapped them.

When anyone asked afterwards what she was saying to her husband, Coralie just smiled. But the photograph always reminded her of the most perfect start to their married life.

The Gilded FanNico and Midori from The Gilded Fan by Christina Courtenay

The wedding of Midori Kumashiro and Nicholas Noordholt was something quite out of the ordinary.

‘I’ve never seen a more exotic bride!’ cousin Temperance exclaimed when she first saw Midori in her wedding finery. ‘You look like a Far Eastern princess.’

Midori’s gown was made out of the brightly coloured silk material which had once been her best kimono. After the hardships of the recent civil war, and with most of the congregation being Puritans, it wasn’t really suitable. But it was a compromise – better than marrying in the original garment, which would no doubt have scandalised everyone. Her hair hung loose down her back, dark and glossy, almost to her knees and she needed no other adornment – she was quite simply beautiful and radiated happiness.

The groom was exceedingly handsome too, in a midnight blue silk coat, waistcoat and breeches, with a white silk shirt and stockings. It was his expression that drew the onlookers’ attention, however, as he watched his bride come towards him on the arm of her cousin Daniel. He looked like a man who’d found the greatest treasure on earth.

Temperance, as maid of honour, wore a pale blue gown that complemented her lovely eyes. Both she and the bride carried small posies of white damask roses tied with ribbons. Everyone else was dressed in their Sunday best.

A feast was held in the Marston household after the ceremony, featuring pastries, tarts, marchpane, crystallised fruits, cakes and jellies, as well as some foreign dishes concocted by the

bride herself. Wine and ale flowed freely and everyone joined in the dancing afterwards.  It was the most joyous of occasions and one which the guests wouldn’t forget in a hurry.

No Such Thing as Immortality

Nate and Rowan from No Such Thing as Immortality by Sarah Tranter

I stood alone before the altar in the family chapel and closed my eyes. The stale musty air became infused with the fragrance of white roses. My daydreaming of Rowan at Ridings was reaching new heights …

‘Chill,’ James murmured at my side. He patted his pocket containing the Gray family wedding band.

‘Me?’ I queried with a wry rise of my brow. James was the one fidgeting. Aunty Hetty’s presence was more than unsettling him. He sent a fruitful rant my way.

My coat was tugged. I turned and looked down. Rowan’s nephew. I smiled but shook my head. There was a time and place for dressing up as a dinosaur. He returned to running around pews with his brother and being reprimanded by his parents.

My eyes met Elizabeth’s. Oh sweetheart. ‘I’m so happy,’ she bawled into my head, swiping away her tears of blood before they could be seen by the humans in the congregation. Frederick, arms around her, grinned at me and rolled his eyes.

Madeleine, next to him, observed silently, ‘You are the something old, Nathaniel. Any idea as to …?’

My look shot to the open door. And there she was. Dear God! I was barely aware of her being on the arm of her Uncle Fergus. He was wearing a kilt, sword, but no shirt ― even on this day! But Rowan … She was in full-length ivory, her glorious hair piled loosely around her head, her mother’s pendant around her neck. And her smile! Our eyes had met and held and it was as if time stood still. That look within their stunning verdant depths was reflecting all that she felt, all that I felt …

I swallowed hard and inhaled deeply of the dank musty air. How I prayed time was not our something borrowed.

A Stitch in Time

John and Sarah from A Stitch in Time by Amanda James

Sarah Yates, time traveller extraordinaire, looked at her reflection and felt her heart do a rumba against her ribs. Even if she said so herself, she looked beautiful…and yes, even a little radiant. The ivory silk gown clung in all the right places and rippled sumptuously to the floor. Sarah grinned, noticing that with her slightest movement, the silk caught the light and poured material across her curves like cream over a spoon.

A single string of pearls adorned her neck, the matching teardrop earrings adding lustre to her peaches and cream complexion. Hand-made lace decorating the neckline tumbled to a halt, revealing just a hint of cleavage rising and falling to the rumba rhythm.

Artistically twisted into Botticelli tendrils; her long golden hair, the side tresses secured behind her head in a simple pearl clasp, looked absolutely perfect. And today was going to be perfect. Allowed carte blanche for one special day by ‘the powers that be’, she and John had chosen a very special wedding venue and a very special time.

In a clearing of an English forest when the world was young and full of hope, accompanied by birdsong, Sarah walked a path of flower petals towards her fiancé. Divine in a dark grey suit and green shirt, his dark hair curling over the collar, John turned and shot her a smile rivalling the sunlight streaming through the leafy canopy.

At the end of the path he took her hand, his deep green eyes twinkled and his wide sensuous mouth broke into another heart-stopping smile. And Sarah knew that despite their very much ‘less than normal’ relationship, she was soon going to be the happiest woman in the world.

What is Christina up to at the moment?

tgf_packshot-copy2When you’ve had a book published, done all the PR/blogging/tweeting etc to launch it into the world and things start to calm down again, the question you are asked most frequently is “what are you working on now?” (That is, if you are talking to fellow book-lovers/writers, not family members who still haven’t realised that writing isn’t a hobby you pursue in between cooking, cleaning or washing up for them.)

For me, that question often doesn’t have a straight-forward answer, because I’m a bit of a writing butterfly. I flit from one story to another, working on one for a while, then get bored and work on something else – I have a very low boredom threshold. Apart from new writing projects, there are also edits for forthcoming novels that have to be done of course, so sometimes that means I can be working on up to four different stories more or less at once. Here’s a little summary of what I’m doing right now:-

Edits for New England Rocks – I’ve just finished the second round of edits for my YA novel due to be published in August (yeah, very excited about that!). There was a small snag, shall we say, which eagle-eyed editor Rachel discovered in between Edit no1 and Edit no2, so that took a couple of days to fix, but I think we’re sorted now (at least I hope so!). I’ll have to wait until next week to find out and then there will be proof-reading.

Umpteenth draft of second YA novel, sequel to the above. I wrote this a while ago and when starting to revise it again I discovered I’d used the hero’s name in another book – disaster! Cue major trawl through endless name lists in order to find one that suited his personality. I can’t write unless my characters have the right names!

Second draft of Monsoon Mists (provisional title), the third in the Kinross trilogy. Those of you who read Highland Storms will know that Brice Kinross’s brother Jamie caused a lot of trouble, but things were not quite what they seemed so I thought it only fair that he should get to tell his side of the story. For the last few months or so, I’ve been working on this and at the moment I’m chewing my nails waiting to receive my beta readers’ verdicts. I know it will need more work, but at least I’ve got to the stage where I dared to send it to them (progress indeed)!

Revision of the third book in my Japanese trilogy so that I might dare to send it to the Choc Lit tasting panel. That’s going to take some time …

In between these bursts of writing, I’m also trying to prepare myself for the RT Booklovers’ Convention in Kansas City which I’ll be attending at the beginning of May with some of the other ChocLiteers. In case you think we’re just going there to have fun (you may have heard that there are parties just about every night and even a ball, not to mention male cover models on the premises 24/7?) – fear not, I promise we will be working hard. Workshops, talks, networking, you name it – we’ll be attending everything. And we’ll report back afterwards with, hopefully, plenty of inspiring photos. With all this socialising, er, I mean working, I have a feeling my wardrobe and suitcase are both going to prove woefully inadequate, but as the convention hotel is apparently situated right next to a shopping mall, I’m not too worried. I may even forget a few things on purpose 🙂

So what are you up to?

The Gilded Fan – Publication Day!

tgf_packshot-copy2It’s finally here – publication day for The Gilded Fan – and I’m afraid that against Sarah’s advice (well, it was good advice even though you couldn’t possibly follow it for a debut novel), I’m not going to be professional, I’m going to start this post with a ‘squeeeeeeeeeeeee!’

Even though this isn’t my first ‘baby’ to be released into the world, it still feels the same – exciting, terrifying, awesome and a lot more besides! The Gilded Fan is one of those books that has been through dozens of incarnations and each time I’ve thought ‘this is the one’, the one that’s going to get published. And it wasn’t … until now!

What is it about some books that makes it so hard to get them just right? Some stories seem to write themselves, whereas others you sweat blood and have to pummel them into submission. And yet, it’s so worth it when you feel that you finally get there and it’s done. Yes, I could probably have gone on tweaking it for years (do we ever stop tweaking?), but I’m happy to leave it now to fend for itself in the big wide world.

So, The Gilded Fan – what is it about? It’s the sequel to The Scarlet Kimono (although it can be read on its own) and features the daughter of the hero and heroine of that novel. A half-Japanese girl who is forced to go back to her mother’s country, England, to live with relatives she considers barbarians. There’s a handsome hero (long-haired of course – you know me), the small matter of the English Civil War and a whole lot of prejudices on all sides … No, I think I’d better just give you the blurb:-

How do you start a new life, leaving behind all you love?

It’s 1641, and when Midori Kumashiro, the orphaned daughter of a warlord, is told she has to leave Japan or die, she has no choice but to flee to England. Midori is trained in the arts of war, but is that enough to help her survive a journey, with a lecherous crew and an attractive captain she doesn’t trust?

Having come to Nagasaki to trade, the last thing Captain Nico Noordholt wants is a female passenger, especially a beautiful one. How can he protect her from his crew when he can’t keep his own eyes off her?

During their journey, Nico and Midori form a tentative bond, but they both have secrets that can change everything. When they arrive in England, a civil war is brewing, and only by standing together can they hope to survive …

I’m off to celebrate with some chocolate! (Ok, a lot of chocolate, if you insist!)  Why not join me?

Going to the Ball

festivalofromanceAs the Festival of Romance approaches, the thought that seems to be occupying most attendees’ minds is not “who is going to win an award?”, but “OMG, what am I going to wear?!” There have been discussions about shoes, dresses and accessories on Facebook, Twitter and various blogs, with suggestions flying back and forth.

Officially, we’re going to a Ball, which to me would mean long, formal dresses, but these days it’s also acceptable to wear a cocktail dress or very nice short dress. I was a bit hazy as to the term “cocktail dress”, so I looked it up. According to Wikipedia it’s a “woman’s dress worn at cocktail parties or semi-formal occasions” and was originally fairly long, either just above the ankle or ankle-length. But nowadays the length doesn’t matter, only its level of “sumptuousness”.

Hmm … So really, it’s up to the wearer to decide if they think their outfit is sumptuous enough, right? Which is just as well, because judging by past events we have attended, the Choc Lit authors (and everyone else) have wildly differing personal styles and I’m all for that.

chocliteerssmallAs teenagers, most of us follow fashion slavishly, whether it suits us or not (rah-rah skirts anyone? Ye gods …). But with maturity and confidence you develop your own fashion sense and get an eye for what looks good on you and what doesn’t. I think most of us instinctively seek out the colours that suit us best and with practice you realise that some clothes just weren’t made for a shape like yours.

To me, part of the fun of going to an event like the Festival of Romance Ball is seeing what everyone else is wearing and we do scrub up quite well I think. But we all show our personalities through our clothes (see photo on the left for example). We couldn’t be more different if we tried, but this is the true “us” and I love it that we’re not all clones! Our outfits are as different as our books, even though they come under the same heading of “romance”. I guess it would be fun to do an experiment some time, swapping clothes, but I have a feeling it would be a fashion disaster 🙂

myshoessmallSo – if you’re attending the ball, what are you going to wear? And if you’re not, what would you have worn? Me? I’ll be in silver and grey, plus shoes I can’t walk in … nothing new there then!

Christina’s Wednesday W

swelake2Like Evonne, I was having trouble coming up with a suitable topic for the Wednesday W feature and flicking through my dictionary didn’t produce any worthwhile results. (Couldn’t think of anything to say about “worthwhile” unfortunately). So I asked my daughter to suggest something. She said “water”.

fairybridge2At first I said no, I can’t write about that because Mandy already did a post about the sea, but then I thought – why not? There are lots of other types of water! Lakes, ponds, rivers and waterfalls. Moats too and, of course, rain!

waterfall3There’s something very soothing about water, just looking at it I mean. All the above are peaceful in their own ways and very often something you stop to stare at for a while. Is there anything more beautiful than a still lake at sunset? A river gently flowing under an old stone bridge? A little pond full of shiny koi fish? Or a waterfall, shimmering in the sunshine? They all calm the spirit. Even rain is wonderful, especially if you’re indoors, snug and warm, just listening to it or watching rivulets running down your windows.

ragmoat3I spent all my childhood summers in a little cottage by a lake, swimming almost every day no matter the temperature of the water. (Yes, I was and am a complete water baby.) I even swam when it was only 16 degrees Celsius (60 Fahrenheit), only emerging when my lips were turning blue and my teeth chattering so much I couldn’t speak. I just loved it! And when I wasn’t in the the water, I was on it, messing around in an old boat, learning how to row, trying fairly unsuccessfully to fish, or pretending my friends and I were pirates. I’m sure this all fed my imagination no end!

fish2Whenever I can, I go and sit by the waterfall in the Japanese Garden in London’s Holland Park. It gives me inspiration for writing and is a great reminder of the stark beauty and orderliness of Japan, which I often write about. The pond beneath the fall (or one like it) has featured in two of my books and it’s a wonderful place to just sit and think.

But my favourites are, of course, the Swedish lakes near where I grew up and although I don’t get to go there as often as I’d like, they stay in my memory so I only have to close my eyes and I’m there.

rain2How about you, what kind of water do you prefer and does it inspire you in any way?

Christina – When Research is Fun!

devonmeleatherjsmallThe very word “research” sounds a bit dry and boring, at least to me. And I freely admit I’m not one of those writers who gets totally absorbed in researching my next WIP and forgets about actually writing the book. On the contrary, I can’t wait to finish the research. I’d rather just tell the story, without having to read up on anything beforehand.

Unfortunately, that’s not possible when you write historical novels – I have to have the background knowledge of the period, as well as a grasp on the clothing, social conventions of the time, and things like food and travel. And of course, I need to know all the facts about the specific events that occur in my story (if it’s based on real ones).  But once I have all that, I only look up things as and when I need them, rather than storing facts in my brain “just in case”.

Obviously, there are great ways of making the research more fun, which don’t involve trawling through musty tomes that send you to sleep within two pages. For example, I love going to museums to see the artefacts that would have been used and handled by my characters. I also really enjoy watching films set in the right era, even if the filmmakers don’t always get the details right. And then there are the places you can visit where whole “sets” have been built up, including the relevant smells in some cases, or where they let you experience things belonging to certain eras for yourself. That can really help!

devonfemaleclothingsmallA couple of weeks ago I made a research trip to just such a place, Torrington 1646 at Great Torrington in Devon. There they have a permanent exhibition about the time of the English Civil War. Visitors are given talks on things like clothing, weapons and medicine for this period and I had a wonderful time imagining myself back in 1646.

Although I didn’t get to try on the women’s clothing (someone else did that), I wore a man’s leather jerkin (which was amazingly heavy due to the fact that it was made of thick buffalo hide!), a Puritan style felt hat and I was given a musket to hold.  Later, I learned how to load and fire the musket (in principle only, I didn’t actually shoot anything) and how to fight with a pike as part of a “hedge-pig” formation.  Finally, I had a lesson in medicinal plants, which was extremely interesting.

(This is NOT me in a beard)

(This is NOT me in a beard)

Now all I have to do is incorporate it all into my edits!

Anyone else done any fun research recently?

(The Gilded Fanset during the Civil War, will be published in February 2013)