Happy Birthday Choc Lit! Part Four by Lynda Stacey

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

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

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

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

The Forgotten Birthday – Part Four

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

But Hugh stood his ground.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COMPETITION TIME!

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

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

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

Happy Birthday Choc Lit! Part Three by Sue McDonagh

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

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

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

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

The Forgotten Birthday – Part Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What if?

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

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

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

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

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

It wasn’t Marion.

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

 

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

COMPETITION TIME!

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

What sort of hair does Lauren have?

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

Happy Birthday Choc Lit! The Forgotten Birthday – Part Two by Kirsty Ferry

We’re nine years old today! And we’re celebrating with a birthday Round Robin written by six of our talented Choc Lit authors. Morton S. Gray started us off with a cringe-worthy birthday encounter and now it’s up to Kirsty Ferry to help poor Lauren out of her predicament (or make it even worse!) 

In order to enjoy this story, you’ll need to read it in order, so make sure you read Morton’s part first HERE. Also, remember to read right until the end so you can enter the second competition of the day! 

The Forgotten Birthday – Part Two

‘I think the Birthday Girl should read her work out first.’ That was Ian, smiling again at Lauren as they settled back onto their tables after the birthday embarrassment. He’d moved desks so he was bang opposite her now. Yes. She definitely wanted the floor to open up and swallow her. ‘It’s her special day after all.’

‘Oh no, I really don’t think so.’ Lauren smiled back, trying to take the edge off her words. She closed her notebook firmly and rested her hand on it, as if Hugh would whisk it out from under her nose and read her garbage on “chains” out himself.

‘The first time’s the hardest.’ Ian leaned across the table. ‘It gets better after that.’ He winked and she blushed to the roots of her hair.

‘…’

She was, actually, speechless – words were not enough to respond to him. A big problem when one was in a creative writing class. She was so out of practice with this flirtation business; because surely that’s what he was doing.

‘He’s right,’ chipped in Hugh. ‘Ivan–’ he squinted at Ian’s stuck-on name, ‘is correct.’

‘Ian.’ Ian smiled at Hugh. ‘Ian is right. And so I am. Go on Lauren.’ He emphasised her name and Lauren blushed again. ‘We’d love to hear your work. You’re among friends. At least, I hope we’re friends. Only friends go to each other’s birthday parties.’

‘Very true.’ Lauren sighed and looked at the sea of expectant faces. ‘Okay. I’ll do it. Then that’s it. Someone else can do it next time.’ She opened her book and her stomach churned as she looked at the words she’d scrawled on the paper.

‘Have a bit of cake, love,’ said Marion encouragingly, pushing a plate closer towards her. Hugh had brought the cake through with them and placed it in front of her enticingly. ‘It always helps me.’

Lauren grinned, her stomach suddenly unknotting. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad. She looked at the words and took a deep breath. ‘Chains. Bitter. Twisted. A prisoner. My marriage. My life. Break free. He broke me. Freedom – my first steps to freedom. My robin, red as the sunrise, red as a berry. He’s free, he’s happy. He’s unchained. As am I. Now …’

Her skin was burning, and she couldn’t continue. Surprisingly, it was still so raw. Her sister’s betrayal, finding her in bed with her very own husband. She felt sick – properly sick. ‘Good grief.’ She stared at the notebook. ‘I’m so sorry. I don’t know where that all came from.’ She looked up at Hugh, almost apologetic. ‘Well. I’ve put a downer on that exercise, haven’t I? On my bloody birthday as well!’

Hugh nodded, efficient yet understanding. ‘It’s fine. These courses–’ he waved his hand around the room, ‘–they can be cathartic. They can dredge things up. But they can also help. Don’t forget, we’re all here to support each other.’ He looked around the room. ‘Isn’t that right?’

The assembled writers all nodded.

‘I thought it was great.’ Ian was looking at her. ‘Almost poetry. Wouldn’t you agree?’ He looked around the room, and everyone else nodded and murmured assent.

Lauren smiled gratefully. ‘I never thought I was a poet.’ She hadn’t written much beyond a shopping list since she’d got married.

‘We discover all sorts about ourselves on these courses.’ Ian was looking at her in admiration. ‘You, perhaps, will discover you’ve got a knack for poetry.’

Hugh chipped in again, clearly worried that Ian was taking the lead when he was supposed to be in charge. ‘Yes. Ivan is correct. Again. We do run specific courses in poetry – perhaps you might like to explore that another time, Laura?’

Lauren looked at Hugh and their eyes fixed on one another’s for a moment. She blinked and he blinked, and he was the first to look away. ‘Of course,’ he said, rubbing that beard again, ‘that offer is open to everyone here. Just saying.’

‘I really do think you’ve got the makings of a poem there.’ Ian tapped his pen on his notebook and looked at Lauren. ‘Lauren.’ Again, the emphasis was on her name. ‘If you want to chat about it later at dinner, I’m very happy to chat to you. And, maybe, buy you a birthday drink?’

Are things looking up a bit for Lauren? And do we sense that there’s going to be a bit of rivalry between Ian and Hugh? We’ll see when Sue McDonagh takes up the reins with the next part of the story in an hour’s time. Don’t miss it! 

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

COMPETITION TIME!

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

What does Hugh think Ian’s name is?

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

Happy Birthday Choc Lit! The Forgotten Birthday – Part One by Morton S. Gray

Can you believe it? We’re nine years old today! And what better way to celebrate than 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 🙂 

We’ll be sharing an extract of the story every hour until the end of the day. With every extract there’ll be a book+chocolate prize and, with six extracts, there’ll be plenty of opportunity to win! Simply read each extract to the end so you can answer a question about the story and see how to enter (we’re sure you won’t find it hard as the story’s a corker!) 

Morton S. Gray starts us off this morning, where we meet Lauren on the morning of her thirtieth birthday, and she’s getting ready for an adventure … 

The Forgotten Birthday – Part One

Lauren woke to the sound of the post plopping onto the doormat. She shrugged on her dressing gown and walked down the steep staircase of her tiny terraced house, retrieving the mail before she went into the tiny kitchen. Her friend the robin was sitting on the bird feeder outside of the window. It was almost as if he waited for her morning greeting and conversation before flying off to do whatever robins did all day.

‘Morning, Red. I know I’m late. I need to get a move on. It’s my birthday you know. Thirty. How did that happen?’

She filled the kettle, set it to boil and glanced half-heartedly at the assorted envelopes. It wasn’t likely that anyone would have sent her a birthday card. When you’d fallen out with your sister over a year ago and divorced your ex about the same time, it didn’t bode well for surprise parties or birthday greetings.

It took her the time it needed for the kettle to switch off to brave those envelopes. A charity request, store card coupons, a bill and a bank statement. No surprise there then.

‘Whoopee do! Happy birthday, Lauren.’

A cup of coffee made her feel more human and the robin uncharacteristically came back for a second visit to the bird feeder.

‘Thank you, Red. You’re the man who always make me feel special.’

The little bird bobbed into a bow, just as if he’d understood every word. Lauren laughed. Time to get ready to face her big adventure.

She’d booked her birthday treat well in advance and taken this Friday as holiday from her boring job in insurance administration. Only now did her stomach do a somersault when she thought about those unknown strangers’ faces. At least they wouldn’t know it was her birthday.

It was a terrible habit to talk to herself, but as she lived alone, it kept her on track. ‘Shower, tick, bag packed, tick, rubbish put out, tick, bird feeder well stocked for Red, tick, car keys, yes. Right let’s get this show on the road.’

Following the satnav’s annoying male voice, she headed south, stopping for another coffee at a service station on the motorway. The countryside got lovelier as she neared her destination in the Cotswolds. She kept repeating her Thomas the Tank Engine mantra. ‘I can do it, I will do it, I can …’

Before she knew it, her things were installed in a single ensuite room and she’d found her way to the conference room. There were eleven other creative writing students, five men, seven women. They all arranged their notebooks and pens on the tables and gave each other shy glances. They would be spending two days together – it was a voyage into the unknown.

Just when Lauren decided she really ought to try to make conversation and break the ice, the door crashed open. A man carrying, or rather dropping, a large cardboard box, lurched in.

‘Sorry, so sorry, I’m late, traffic was awful. Now I know you were expecting Daphne Peacock, my … erm, mother, but I’m afraid she’s sick, so you’ve got me instead.’

Hmm, this wasn’t the inspiring person she’d been hoping for. She loved Daphne Peacock’s novels. The man looked as if his jacket had seen better days, his beard was bushy. Lauren hated beards.

One of the guys helped the man pick up the box and put it on the desk. All sorts of things were spewing out of the cardboard – magazines, leaves, odd bits of metal, a watch.

‘I’m Hugh, I’m a published writer, three novels now and I’m your tutor for the weekend.’ He rummaged in the box and retrieved two rolls of sticky labels and marker pens. He scrawled Hugh on one of the labels, pressed it to his chest and then passed the rest around for the rest to do the same.

‘What sort of fiction do you write, Hugh?’ asked a fifty-something woman with a label that said Marion.

‘Romantic suspense novels, actually.’ The expression on his face suggested he was used to a weird reaction to that statement.

More rummaging in the battered box and he bought out a folder brimming with words torn from magazines.

‘Right, we’ve only got a short session before our lunch, so grab a word and write whatever comes into your head. Best to pick one at random, I find.’

Lauren found her heart-rate increase and her stomach churning as she stared with horror at the word she had picked out – chains.

Hugh was speaking again. ‘Don’t worry about this exercise, it’s just a warm up. We can share what we write in the session after lunch. Prose or poem is fine.’

It certainly broke the ice, after a tense thirty minutes of silence, apart from pens scratching over paper, the group made their way down to the dining room chattering away. Lauren held back a little listening to what the others were saying. There was a table set aside for them in the refectory with a huge Creative Writing label. Lauren glanced around at the nearby tables, Life Drawing, Vegetable Gardening, Drumming, were the ones she caught sight of.

They were the first course to arrive, but the room soon filled up. Lauren exchanged a few words about her journey with Marion and tried to assess the rest of the course members from underneath her eyelashes. All ages, but predominantly older than her. One of the men was smiling broadly at her. She squinted to read his badge, Ian, and then avoided making eye contact.

Then it happened!

A woman appeared through the door marked kitchen with a birthday cake, candles aflame and came straight over to their table.

Hugh leapt into action. ‘The course administrator noticed we had a birthday girl in our midst, Laura.’

Cheeks aflame, Lauren got up. He obviously meant her even if he had got her name wrong. She stood frozen by Hugh’s side as everyone in the room sang Happy Birthday to Laura.

‘Lauren’ she mouthed under her breath and belatedly realised she was talking aloud as if speaking to her tame robin. So much for anonymity and escape on a course miles from home.

Hugh’s face suggested he was puzzled by her reaction. Lauren blew out the candles and scurried back to her seat, amid congratulatory noises from around the room.

‘We can have the cake with our tea in the meeting room later,’ said Hugh, smiling.

Lauren wanted the floor to open and swallow her up. She’d have to read her prose piece about chains when they got back to the room …

Oh dear, how embarrassing for poor Lauren. We’re cringing for her but also can’t wait to find out more! We’re sure you feel the same. And you don’t have to wait too much longer as Kirsty Ferry’s second instalment will be up in the next hour! 

     If you Morton’s writing, you might like to check out her fabulous novels. 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 the name of Hugh’s mother?

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

From Recipes to Romance

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We’ve recently launched our new Ruby Fiction imprint and with the launch came the release of our first Ruby book – The Best Boomerville Hotel  by Caroline James. To celebrate this exciting occasion we have Caroline on the blog today revealing a little bit about her writing journey AND, if you read right until the end, you might find a rather special competition too! 

Many little girls like to make up stories and even one day write them into a book. It was always my dream but as I grew up, it was one that I never imagined would come true.

I went to an all girl’s grammar school and absolutely hated it. The only classes I took a passing interest in were cookery and English and those because the teachers terrified me. It was a very unhappy time. My working life took a very different direction from the one my parents had planned and instead of taking further education, to their horror, I left home and worked on the south coast, waiting table and washing pots. Eventually, I knew I needed more education and in free time, at college in Bournemouth, I would wander along the beach, staring up at the cliff-side hotels, dreaming of owning my own. That was a dream I knew I could make come true if I worked hard. Writing however, was a dream too far as I never imagined being good enough to put pen to paper.

Fast forward many years.

I got my beautiful hotel. A country house in the Lake District. In fact, I got many things including a great career in the hospitality industry working with some of the best chefs in the business. Food was my life and had given me a good living. But there was still that nagging dream, that unpublished book and an unanswered question – could I write? A story had been in my head for years, based around a hotel. One day I had an epiphany. I would die wondering if I didn’t get my bottom on a chair, fingers on a laptop and brain in gear. And so, I stole every hour that I could from a manic schedule and wrote the story. It took me a year. My elation at having completed my first manuscript soon evaporated as no one was interested and the rejection slips piled high. In desperation, I learnt how to self-publish and was completely gobsmacked when the book went to number three in women’s fiction on Amazon. I’ve never looked back and five books on and five years later, my new book, The Best Boomerville Hotel, is published by lovely Ruby Fiction.

I never thought my recipe writing years would turn to romance writing but I am so thankful that they did.

The Best Boomerville Hotel is now available to purchase in eBook. Click on the banner below for purchasing options. 

BBH OUT NOW

For more information on Caroline James:

Follow her on Twitter: @CarolineJames12
Like her page on Facebook: Caroline James
Check out her website: www.carolinejamesauthor.co.uk

COMPETITION TIME!

And now for a very special competition for a chance to win perhaps the cutest prize we’ve ever had the pleasure of giving away! Meet Boomerville Bertie …
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If you’d like to win Bertie (who comes in his very own branded Boomerville small draw-string bag) then simply answer the following question:

Where is the Best Boomerville Hotel set? 

If you know the answer please email it to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Boomerville competition’. The deadline for entries is Monday 26th March. 

Good luck!

Ten quirky habits of a romance author

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To celebrate release day for her Choc Lit debut Little Pink Taxi, Marie Laval is sharing her ‘ten quirky habits of a romance author’. But that’s not all. Read right until the end of the post for details of an exclusive competition too! 

Today is the day I waited so long for – the day my romantic comedy Little Pink Taxi is released. I have been talking nonstop to friends, family and colleagues about it, and have been inundated with questions regarding my writing process. How I get my ideas? How do I pick the setting for the story, or choose my characters’ names? Do I have a routine? And so on … So I thought I would try and answer some of them today.

1)   The notepad

This may seem terribly mundane, but the first thing I do when I start a new story is to buy a notepad, but not just any notepad. It has to be a French Clairefontaine exercise book. I am addicted to them, probably because they are smooth and shiny, and remind me of being at school in France. Once I have my new notepad, I carry it in my handbag, and fill it with everything and anything I can think of about the setting, the characters’ background, their feelings and motivations. I jot down random thoughts, dialogues, quotes or even poems and songs.

2)   The map

I absolutely love maps, so the next thing I do after buying a notepad is to purchase a good road map of the area where the story is set. I now have an extensive collection, including maps of Algeria, the Highlands of Scotland, Provence, Paris and Bordeaux, where my next two novels are set. I like to refer to existing landmarks but the actual setting is always fictitious. In Little Pink Taxi, Raventhorn castle and the village of Irlwick are made up, but most of the other places mentioned are real.

 3)   The hero

How strange that I always know exactly what my heroine looks like, but that I need to search the internet and flick through countless adventure, sailing, mountaineering or car racing magazines for inspiration about the hero! This is however time pleasantly spent, and undoubtedly one of the most enjoyable aspects of my research. For Marc, my inspiration was Daniel Craig …

4)   The characters’ names

Sometimes names spring into my mind even before I get an idea about the storyline, but in some cases it can take a little longer. Rosalie Heart’s name was an obvious choice as soon as I figured out her personality – kind and bubbly – and her occupation as the driver of a pink taxi. Marc Petersen’s name took a little longer to click. In fact, he was called Magnus at first – a reference to his Danish ancestry – then I decided to make his name sound more French, since he is after all half French too. The names of the hero and heroine have to fit well together, and as Marc and Rosalie sounded like a good match, I was happy with my choice.

5)   The setting

Several years ago there was a television series I liked very much which was called Monarch of the Glen and which featured a beautiful castle called Glenbogle Castle. I loved it so much that I have wanted to set a story in a castle just like it ever since. In my mind, Raventhorn – the fictitious castle in Little Pink Taxi – is identical to Glenbogle castle, and like in the series, there is a loch and a forest, and of course, the dramatic backdrop of Cairngorms.

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A castle that looks similar to Glenbogle.

Unfortunately, having never stayed in a beautiful Scottish castle, I had to rely on research to get a feel for the place. That’s where the Internet is so useful. You can take virtual tours of hotels and stately homes, visit estate agents websites, watch documentaries or use Google Earth. When I have collected lots of photos, I like to create Pinterest board. You can look at the one I made for Little Pink Taxi here.

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Cairngorms National Park

6)   The playlist

I couldn’t write romance without having a soundtrack for my story. Rosalie Heart loves pop music and always sings to her favourite radio station, Happy Baby Radio, when she is driving. Unfortunately she can’t sing and her choice of music drives Marc crazy. So, which songs were in the Little Pink Taxi‘s playlist? Being French, I could have included Joe Le Taxi, but I chose old favourites such as ‘Don’t Speak’ by No Doubt, ‘Can’t Fight the Moonlight’ by Leanne Rimes, Seal’s ‘Kiss from a Rose’, and songs by Sade, The Lighthouse Family and Gabrielle.

7)   The facts

I love research and could happily spend weeks reading articles, books and journals. For Little Pink Taxi, I learnt a lot about Norse mythology, got sidetracked into researching the meaning of tattoos in the Russian mafia (which I didn’t use in the end!), and of course, I read about taxi driving.

8)    The dark moments

There are days when words flow and the characters talk to me, but there are also lots of dark moments when I despair that everything I write is rubbish. When that happens, I go for a walk to clear my head or I talk the problems over with my daughter Clémence at our favourite local café. As she is only twelve, she is far too young to read my books, but talking to her usually does the trick and helps me find solutions to the problems. That’s why Little Pink Taxi is especially dedicated to her!

9)   The gift

When I come to the end of a novel I buy myself something that reminds me of the story or the characters, and this time I treated myself with a lovely scarf and tweed handbag from a Scottish brand – both pink, of course!

10) The inspirational quotes

And lastly, in times of doubt or when I have so much on I don’t know how on earth I’ll manage, I remember my mother telling me to stop moaning and ‘Take the bull by the horns’. My own favourite inspirational quote is from French author Paul Valery: ‘The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up.’

Little Pink Taxi is out now and available to purchase on all eBook platforms. Click the banner below for purchasing options. 

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COMPETITION TIME! 

To celebrate the release of Little Pink Taxi, which is set in the Scottish Highlands, Marie Laval is giving away FOUR fabulous tweed corsages from Ness Clothing  to four lucky winners!

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To be in with a chance of winning, simply make sure you have read the above blog post carefully and then answer these four questions. Enter by sending your answers to info@choc-lit.co.uk:

1. What nationality is Marc Petersen (the hero from Little Pink Taxi)?
2. What real-life castle was the inspiration for Raventhorn Castle in the book?
3. Which TV series inspired Marie Laval to write Little Pink Taxi?
4. What is the name of Rosalie Heart’s favourite radio station?

About the Author:

Originally from Lyon in France, Marie has lived in the beautiful Rossendale Valley in Lancashire for a number of years. A member of the Romantic Novelists Association and the Society of Authors, she writes contemporary and historical romance. Her native France very much influences her writing, and all her novels have what she likes to call ‘a French twist’!

You can get in touch with Marie on Facebook and Twitter, and why not check the beautiful photos of Scotland and Denmark on the special Little Pink Taxi Page on Pinterest?

A Valentine’s Wedding Fair – Part Four by Victoria Cornwall

ValentinesRR4

Let the countdown to Valentine’s Day commence! It’s time for another Valentine’s Round Robin from Choc Lit, back by popular demand. Five talented Choc Lit authors have been working collaboratively on a super sweet short story – A Valentine’s Wedding Fair – which we will be sharing in five parts in the run-up to Valentine’s Day (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 surprises along the way. But you’ll need to read on to find out more ;)  

Victoria Cornwall has written a fabulous penultimate part today – but, before reading this extract, make sure you’ve caught up with Parts 1-3 of the story. 

Part One by Kirsty Ferry HERE
Part Two by Morton S. Gray HERE
Part Three by Angela Britnell 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 – PART FOUR BY VICTORIA CORNWALL

Jess opened the fourth box. She breathed a sigh of relief. Her piece de resistance, a cake decorated with ivory lace icing, had survived, unlike her other creations which reminded her of last night’s news footage reporting the aftermath of a tornado in Nebraska. Jake arrived and she shot him an irritable glance.

‘What were you thinking, Jake?’ she said under her breath when Mark had left. How Jake got the Event’s Manager’s job she would never know. She suspected it had something to do with his habit of doctoring his CV.

Jake held up his hands in mock surrender. ‘I swear I wasn’t looking at her cleavage.’

Jess rolled her eyes. ‘I didn’t mean that, I mean putting Mark’s ex-wife’s stand next to ours. Today is turning into a disaster.  I haven’t even hung up all the bunting yet.’ Jake reached for a red sugared heart. Jess slapped his hand away. ‘This mess is your fault, Jake. If you hadn’t had your eyes glued to Harriet’s cleavage …’

Jake nodded knowingly. ‘I knew it was about the cleavage. It was difficult to avoid, Jess.’

A devious thought struck her, ‘I’ll forgive you, but only if you do me a favour.’

Jake eyed her warily, ‘What are you up to?’

‘Nothing much. I just want you to use your position as Events Manager to ask Harriet to move the stand for her chocolate cake a bit more to the left. It will give us more room.’ The sun will catch it nicely there, thought Jess. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for the chocolate covering to melt.

Jake walked over to talk to Harriet and Jess returned to her boxes to see what she could salvage. Her first task was to set up the only cake that had survived. She had to admit, it was one of her best. She stood back to admire it. She had hoped to impress Mark. As if on cue, Mark reappeared carrying a box of wine.

‘I’ve had an idea,’ he said, opening a bottle and flashing her one of his sexy smiles. ‘We can give out free drinks and taster samples. If we slice up the broken cakes, no one will know what a mess they look now.’

It was a brilliant idea. Jess felt the urge to hug him. In fact she had the urge to hug him quite often these days, but had always resisted … until now. She was about to fling herself at him, when he turned round with the sharp end of a knife pointing at her. It killed the moment.

‘Here.’ He held the knife out to her. ‘You start cutting and I’ll get the plates.’

Deflated, Jess took the knife from him. She helped herself to a very large glass of wine as she began to slice up a squashed cupcake. She glanced over at Harriet’s chocolate cake. Either the wine was more potent than she had expected and it was distorting her vision or the top tier was already beginning to slide. She hoped it was the latter.

Unfortunately, Mark had noticed too.  He rushed over to rescue Harriet and arrived just as the top tier slid slowly forward and onto her dress. Jess downed another glass of wine as she watched Mark fuss around Harriet. She wasn’t sure what upset her most, that they appeared to be enjoying each other’s company or they were doing it amidst her favourite chocolate recipe. Could the day get any worse?

Oh no – poor Jess! And there’s only one more part of the story left for her to get her happily ever after. Let’s hope Jane Lovering is kind to her tomorrow … it is Valentine’s Day after all 😉 

If you enjoyed Victoria’s part of the story, you can find her novels on all eBook platforms – and The Thief’s Daughter is also out in paperback and can be ordered through your local book shop! Click on the cover images below for more details. 

Image of both books

COMPETITION TIME! 

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

What happens to Harriet’s chocolate cake? 

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin comp 4’ by Thursday 15th February. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Friday 16th February.

A Valentine’s Wedding Fair – Part Three by Angela Britnell

ValentinesRR3

Let the countdown to Valentine’s Day commence! It’s time for another Valentine’s Round Robin from Choc Lit, back by popular demand. Five talented Choc Lit authors have been working collaboratively on a super sweet short story – A Valentine’s Wedding Fair – which we will be sharing in five parts in the run-up to Valentine’s Day (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 surprises along the way. But you’ll need to read on to find out more ;)  

Before the weekend Kirsty Ferry and Morton S. Gray set the scene and left us in the midst of drama (Read Part One by Kirsty Ferry HERE  and Part Two by Morton S. Gray HERE). Where will Angela Britnell take us today? Read on to find out … 

A VALENTINE’S WEDDING FAIR – PART THREE BY ANGELA BRITNELL 

‘Oh, Mark how terrible! All your beautiful cakes are ruined. I’m dreadfully sorry.’

Jess ordered herself not to be a witch for thinking that if Harriet’s fake eyelashes fluttered any faster they’d take flight. Mark stood with his mouth gaping, sympathy for his ex-wife oozing from every pore and she itched to smack some sense into him. Seriously?

‘We’re mortified aren’t we, Armand? We’ll help you get all this cleaned up.’

‘But, chérie—’

Harriet rested one elegant hand, showing off her manicured blood-red talons, on Mark’s shoulder. Jess’s self-control strained with the effort of not swatting it away. ‘Being business competitors is one thing but it’s nothing personal.’

Jess snorted in disgust and the other woman’s mask slipped briefly before the practised smile returned. No one else noticed. Stamping her foot would be juvenile but Jess might as well be one of the blobs of pink icing oozing out of the upturned boxes for all the notice anyone was paying her.

‘Don’t worry.’ Mark’s soothing tone irked her. ‘I’ve got my secret weapon here.’ Jess’s back received a friendly pat. ‘She’ll work her usual miracles. You take care of your own display. We’re good aren’t we, JJ? Accidents happen.’

She grunted something he could take as agreement and Harriet’s smirk deepened. Before the ill-fated wedding Mark’s new fiancé buttonholed Jess and spelled things out in no uncertain terms.

You’re in love with Mark. I recognise it but he doesn’t because he’s a man and they never see the sweet, loyal girls who’re always there as anything more than a vaguely female version of their mates. I’ll make something of him that you never could. Stick to making cakes and keep your puppy dog eyes to yourself.

‘Armand, let’s get ready to amaze our customers.’ Harriet’s gaze swept over Jess’s faded pink vintage floral dress. ‘The whole shabby chic thing works well on you, dear.’

The sly dig reminded her of Pippa Warrington at primary school who pretended to admire Jess’s newly chopped off hair, courtesy of her older brother’s attempt to emulate Vidal Sassoon, while tossing her own enviously perky blonde ponytail.

‘You all right, JJ?’ Concern laced Mark’s deep voice and Jess forced on her friend/efficient employee smile. ‘We’ll make this work.’

‘Of course we will. Let’s see how bad the damage is.’ She lifted the first box onto the table and prised off the lid, unable to suppress a sharp intake of breath.

‘You spent hours on those.’ The miniature fairy cakes were a smashed mess and all the spare icing and decorations they’d brought along couldn’t save them. ‘She manages to spoil everything doesn’t she?’

In spite of the cake disaster Jess’s heart did a little flip. Maybe Mark wasn’t a lost cause where it came to Harriet after all. A ring of steel settled around her spine. She’d overcome far worse than this in her life including a childhood spent in care and a dangerous drift along a bad path until baking saved her. ‘Only if we let her and we won’t.’ Mark’s expression softened and he rested his big competent hands on her shoulders. For a wonderful moment Jess was only aware of his deep brown eyes and warm smile.

‘The pièce de résistance. The star of the whole wedding show.’ Harriet’s gloating voice pierced Jess’s happy glow.

As she jerked around Mark’s fingers dug in, willing her not to grab his ex-wife by the throat.

The magnificent chocolate cake complete with cascading creamy white icing roses was a work of art. Jess’s own prized recipe in its full glory. She met the challenge in Harriet’s gaze. For some reason the other woman wasn’t giving up her claim on Mark anytime soon. Bring it on. You don’t know who you’re tangling with but you’re about to find out.

Well if Harriet didn’t annoy you already, Angela Britnell has certainly exposed her truly manipulative and scheming side. Poor Jess! We hope she gets the ending she deserves but there are still two parts to go, with Victoria Cornwall adding her part tomorrow. Anything could happen!

If you enjoyed Angela’s part of the story, you can find her novels and novellas on all eBook platforms.Click on the cover images below for more details. Also make sure you keep an eye out as we’ll be revealing further details about an exciting new release from Angela Britnell very soon!

AB

COMPETITION TIME! 

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

What is Jess wearing to the Fair?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin comp 3’ by Thursday 15th February. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Friday 16th February.

A Valentine’s Wedding Fair – Part Two by Morton S. Gray

ValentinesRR2

Let the countdown to Valentine’s Day commence! It’s time for another Valentine’s Round Robin from Choc Lit, back by popular demand. Five talented Choc Lit authors have been working collaboratively on a super sweet short story – A Valentine’s Wedding Fair – which we will be sharing in five parts in the run-up to Valentine’s Day (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 surprises along the way. But you’ll need to read on to find out more ;)  

Yesterday Kirsty Ferry started us off with Part One (which you can read HERE) and today Morton S. Gray takes over. What drama will unfold at the Valentine’s Wedding Fair? Read on to find out … 

A VALENTINE’S WEDDING FAIR – PART TWO BY MORTON S. GRAY 

Straight in front of Jess and Mark, parked to unload outside of Valentine Manor was a van emblazoned with the Bobbins logo. Harriet had arrived already.

Jess heard Mark sigh heavily. She guessed it wasn’t much fun being confronted on a regular basis by the biggest mistake of your life in the form of your ex-wife, who just happened to be a competitor for the same customers.

She turned to her boss. ‘Come on, let’s get unpacked. We’re going to be in the same room all day, so we may as well get the first meeting with Harriet and Armand out of the way.’

‘Guess so. I just felt my heart sink to my boots yet again.’

‘Look, if I’d said anything to you before you married her, you wouldn’t have listened to me … would you?’

‘They say love’s blind and it’s so true.’

It got worse when they got inside Valentine Manor. The beautiful ballroom, decorated in pink and white, where normally the wedding receptions were held was chaotically full of people and boxes. The wedding fair opened at ten and the retailers were rushing to get organised before the public arrived.

‘We’ve got stand twenty. It should be in the middle, opposite the main doors. Jess struggled to see past the boxes she was carrying. Mark followed behind her with an equally heavy load as they dodged past the other stall holders.

The awful truth dawned on her. Bobbins had been placed right next to the Buntings stand. Harriet must have spoken to Jake the Events Manager about prime positioning in the room too. Jess felt her own heart sink to her boots.

It wasn’t just the competition or the frosty relationship between Mark and Harriet after their divorce that worried Jess, but the fact that Bobbins had chosen bright red as the predominant colour for their display. Jess suspected that being right next to the tall red plastic shelving on Harriet’s table, Buntings’ display might look rather more shabby than chic.

She concentrated hard on smoothing the rosebud embroidered tablecloth on their own stand, trying to ignore that Harriet was watching her closely and was wearing a red apron with a heart-shaped top, showing an ample amount of cleavage at the V of the heart.

After piling up their food boxes on the table and pulling a have you seen that face at Jess, Mark went to park the van, leaving her to arrange the tasty delicate stock. She’d begun to assemble the cake stand centrepiece when Jake, her best friend Ellie’s dishy brother came walking towards her. Jess felt her heart rate accelerate.

‘All okay? Do you have everything you need?’ He appeared to be talking to Jess, but her smile was lost on him as his eyes were firmly fixed on Harriet’s cleavage. Hmm … maybe she wouldn’t be going for a drink with him after all.

Jess wasn’t the only one to notice Jake’s fixation with Harriet’s ample chest. Armand barged between the two stands to position himself in front of Harriet with a thunderous expression directed at Jake. As he pushed between the two stands, he didn’t seem to realise that his elbow had connected with the piled-up plastic food boxes on Buntings’ table. Jess watched with open-mouthed horror as her carefully prepared cakes, truffles and canapes went into an avalanche slide over the back of the stand with a sickening crash.

Having seen what had happened as he returned to the stand, Mark came flying across the room to confront Armand, who was still oblivious of what he had done and seemed about to challenge Jake for ogling Harriet.

Jess was frozen to the spot, torn between going to see if anything could be salvaged from the toppled food boxes and waiting to see if she needed to break up a fight.

Disaster! What a fabulously dramatic second part from Morton S. Gray. Question is, are you Team Buntings or Team Bobbins? We think we already know the answer! Come back on Monday when Angela Britnell will be taking over. Will punches be thrown? Will cakes be salvaged? You’ll have to wait and find out! 

If you enjoyed Morton’s story, you can purchase her debut novel The Girl on the Beach on all eBook platforms. It’ll also be out in paperback in April! Click on the cover image below for more details. Also make sure you keep an eye out over the coming weeks as we’ll be revealing further details about an exciting new release from Morton S. Gray. Stay tuned!

9781781893142

COMPETITION TIME! 

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

What is the colour of Bobbins’ stand?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin comp 2’ 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, Final Part by Berni Stevens

Halloween FINAL

Happy Halloween! 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 ;)  

Our very own Queen of Spookiness Berni Stevens is rounding off our Halloween story today. We’ll leave you to decide whether our Round Robin this year has been a trick or treat. We know what we think!

A Round Robin is best enjoyed if you read each part in order. 

Read Part One by Jane Lovering HERE
Read Part Two by Christina Courtenay HERE
Read Part Three by Victoria Cornwall HERE
Read Part Four by Kirsty Ferry HERE

The shadowy figure of Bella shimmered and dissolved back into Kate, who staggered and would have lost her balance if Martine hadn’t rushed to catch her. The sounds of the ball stopped, and doors banged shut with ferocity.

‘Kate …’ Martine gave her friend a gentle shake.

Kate didn’t answer.

‘Not yet,’ Sebastian moved between them. ‘The demon is still here.’

‘Bella …?’ Edward looked at Sebastian, using the name for a question.

‘Is not … was not a demon or a witch. That was not Bella.’

‘How do we get whoever it is out of Kate?’ Martine’s head hurt.

James was staring at her and Kate as if they’d sprouted horns, and perhaps they had. She felt anything could happen here tonight.

‘Marti … what the hell are you talking about?’ His face was ashen.

‘It’s Samhain,’ she said. James still stared at her blankly.

‘The night when the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest,’ Sebastian said. ‘And the boundary can be crossed.’

Martine repeated Sebastian’s words to James, who now looked as if he might be sick. He was probably regretting finishing off the pizza everyone else had rejected.

‘Can you see the ghosts yet?’ She asked him.

‘I don’t believe in ghosts.’

That would have been funny under any other circumstances. Here they all were on a ghost-hunt in a haunted house – on Halloween – or Samhain – and the leader of the expedition didn’t believe in ghosts. Perfect.

Sebastian held his arms away from his body. ‘What am I? Scotch mist?’

‘Pretty much,’ she agreed. ‘Still see-through anyway.’

‘Now you’re talking to yourself.’ James muttered.

The sound of scuffling and cursing came from the doorway, as Patrick elbowed Ollie out of the way, and tumbled into the room. How come she’d never noticed the weakness of Patrick’s chin before?

‘Get away from my sister!’

James turned to glare at Patrick, ‘Get lost you stupid git,’ he said.

‘Guys, you’re a couple of wimps,’ said Martine rolling her eyes, and was rewarded with laughs from both James and Sebastian, which was actually a little weird. ‘We still need to get this whoever or whatever out of Kate,’ she said again to Sebastian.

‘I will assist you, Lara.’

“That would be Martine.’

It was Sebastian’s turn to look confused, which was a good trick for someone who was mostly transparent. ‘The other man calls you Lara.’

‘It’s kind of a joke,’ Martine began patiently. ‘Never mind. Can we do an exorcism or something?’

‘Exorcism?’ James looked horrified.

‘No need. Please light a fire to cleanse away the demons,’ said Sebastian, and began to chant in a lilting foreign language.

Martine emptied out her rucksack, picking out the rubbish that had probably lived at the bottom for years. Tissues, old receipts, a pair of fluorescent green socks (so that’s where they went) various sweet wrappers, and a very fluffy extra strong mint. Discarding the mint, she stuffed the rest of the rubbish into the fireplace.

‘James, got any matches?’

Still frowning, he handed her a box of matches, and she lit the little mound of rubbish.

Bright flames leapt up at once, as Sebastian chanted louder.

The temperature in the room dropped suddenly and disembodied voices joined in the chanting.

Suddenly Kate slumped to the floor, and black smoke curled out from her mouth and nostrils, as the chanting got louder and louder. Unfortunately this was the time both Ollie and Patrick decided to take a proper interest in the activity, and seeing Kate and the smoke, they both shrieked in a high falsetto, and pelted from the room still screaming.

The only thing missing was the tinkling soundtrack from The Exorcist. Mike Oldfield had a lot to answer for.

When the boys’ screams had faded in the distance, the chanting stopped abruptly as if someone had thrown a switch. The silence was deafening.

James went to kneel behind Kate and gently cradled her head. Martine could hear him talking softly to her as he stroked her hair back from her face. Deciding her friend would be safe now, she turned back to look at Sebastian. He held out his hand to her, and it looked pretty solid, so she took it.

‘Are you here … or somewhere else?’ she asked.

‘Where do you want me to be?’

‘Here, in my time.’

‘So shall it be.’

Hand in hand they turned to look at Edward, just in time to see him walking away with a pretty dark-haired girl on his arm. Martine blinked as they became fainter – then they faded away altogether.

We knew we could rely on Berni Stevens to finish off our Halloween tale in spooky style. We hope you enjoyed the story! Choc Lit authors are a talented bunch 🙂 Now it’s time for the Halloween festivities to begin but not before a final competition! Remember you can still enter all of the competitions listed on each extract until Thursday 2nd November.  

If you enjoyed Berni’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 Berni Stevens paperback and some chocolate simply answer the question below (we hope you’ve been reading carefully!):

Which items does Martine use to start the fire? 

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin comp 5’ by Thursday 2nd November. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Friday 3rd November.