The Greatest Love Story Ever Told

You can choose your friends, but not your family. Isn’t that how the old saying goes? Well actually, that’s not strictly true, some of us choose our families too and I think those families are every bit as special – sometimes even more so – because of that.

As one of the Write Romantics, I write about love, of course; the clue is in the title. The funny thing is that although there remains an element of boy-meets-girl in my novels, I’ve always had an equally strong focus on wider relationships  – mothers and fathers, friendships and even the pivotal role of the family pet!

I’m not remotely linking the title of this blog to anything I’ve ever written, but I think I have discovered the greatest love story ever told… It’s not in any Amazon top ten lists, or gracing the shelves of Waterstones, but I’ve seen it with my own eyes and it’s called adoption. swalecliffeChoosing to love a child, who needs that more than anything in the world, with all your heart, has to just about sum love up, don’t you think?

Here’s a little picture of me and my childhood best friend, Claire, back in our primary school days. I won’t point us out in the photo, but we were a little bit nerdy if I’m honest, top of the class and slightly swotty back then, so we’re the only ones wearing the proper summer dresses and rocking some seriously horrendous sandals!  We both came from traditional families, a mum and dad, a sibling (or three in my case) and I bet back then we both expected we’d follow suit…

christmas2014-no1Life turned out to be a lot more interesting than that, though, and I’ve got the most cfwonderful jigsaw family, as we’re now called, made up of my children and step-children, oh and my husband of course. Not a lot of romantic novels have that sort of set-up, but I honestly wouldn’t change it for the world and it’s far and away the greatest love of my life. But Claire’s story is even more amazing. After a journey to motherhood that could probably fill a whole shelf of novels, Claire and her husband took the last leg of that journey to China, to bring their beautiful daughter home.  I won’t tell you all the details, because I’m still hoping that Claire might write that story herself one of these days and it really will be the greatest love story ever told.

claire-on-kindle-2I love Claire to bits, for a friendship that goes back so far, but more than that for being one of the people to teach me that love and motherhood are about so much more than genetics. Let’s face it, that’s the easy bit. When I wrote ‘The Gift of Christmas Yet to Come’, Claire was on my mind. The story isn’t hers, but the sentiment is. There are two books in the St Nicholas Bay series so far and whilst you’ll find a traditional love story in them both, you’ll also find the love story of motherhood that comes about in unexpected ways. I hope I’ve done that justice and there was only one person I could dedicate The Gift of Christmas Yet to Come’ to – Claire, a friend I chose, and the beautiful family she chose to build.

 

tgocytc-artwork‘The Gift Of Christmas Yet to Come’ is available as an ebook priced at 99p here.somebody-elses-boy-cover-final

‘Somebody Else’s Boy’ is available in paperback and ebook form here and for one week only is on special offer at 99p in ebook format.

Saturday Spotlight: Ellie Gray

Ellie Gray Profile PicToday on the blog, we’re delighted to welcome Ellie Gray. Sit down, Ellie, and make yourself comfortable, while we turn the spotlight on you. Don’t worry, this won’t hurt a bit…

First things first. When did you start writing?

I think I first started writing not long after I had my first child, when I was working part time. It suddenly occurred to me that, all those stories I had written in my head, the ones that kept me awake at night, carefully planning and constructing, should actually be put down on paper!  I’ve been ‘writing’ ever since I can remember but, up until that point, it never really occurred to me that I should physically write them down.

Yep, always useful to put the words on the paper! What genre do you write in, and why?

I write contemporary romance, erring on the sweet side, with strong male and female characters who have the same flaws we all have – no-one is perfect! I love writing about their hopes, fears and struggles and, best of all, helping them get to that happy ending; something that is not always guaranteed in real life. I also enjoy writing young adult novels with a fantasy-type edge.

Like Sharon, Alys, and Jessica, you’re a Yorkshire lass. Is setting important in your novels?

I think setting is really important and I love setting my novels in Yorkshire. I think readers like to ground the characters they are reading about, to know about where they live and how that affects them. I try to give enough description to enable the reader to really picture the surroundings, without being too prescriptive and degenerating into sounding like a travelogue! Although my debut novel is set in Yorkshire, my current work in progress is set in the exotic surroundings of Egypt and the Nile.

Exotic, indeed! When do you write? Tell us about your writing day.

That’s a tough one. Like many writers, I also have a full-time job and a family to work around. I am also studying for a Masters degree, just about to start my dissertation (gulp!) so it feels like a real juggling act. I try to write on a weekend and, if the writing itch gets too itchy to ignore, I’ll do a couple of hours on an evening, but I really do try to limit my evening writing during the week and spend some time with my family, and to drag myself out of the writing cave after an afternoon’s writing on a weekend.

Yes, we can all relate to juggling writing time with family time. As authors, we also have to get to grips with social media. How do you feel about that?

I know that social media is an important way of raising an author’s profile and I am building up a profile, using Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Pinterest etc. I’m also trying to learn as much as I can about how best to build up a following without shoving the ‘buy my book’ message down everyone’s throat. I do worry about how best to utilise social media, particularly when there are so many authors out there promoting their work. How do you get heard over the crowd? I don’t know the answer but it is something that I’m willing to work at and to learn from others.

Do you read much? What books do you like to read? Who is your favourite author?

I love reading. With reading comes the guilt complex, though – when I’m reading, there’s a little voice in the back of my head telling me that I should be writing. However, I know that to become a better writer, I also need to read as much as I can – so that’s what I tell that little voice when it whispers in my ear. I like to read a range of genres – contemporary romance, of course, but I also like to read the classics, Austen and Du Maurier, horror such as King, Herbert and Koontz, and I love the Harry Potter and Tolkein books. Oh, there’s the Sharpe series, I love those, and Elizabeth Peters with her Amelia Peabody adventures.

All of the Write Romantics were, at one time, members of the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme. Indeed, that’s how we met, so we’re very grateful we were accepted onto it. You were a member of this scheme. Do you feel it helped you? Would you recommend it to other aspiring authors?

Joining the RNA NWS is the best thing that I could have done to kick-start my writing career. I’d toyed with joining for several years but never seriously looked into it until late in 2014. Then, last year I decided that this was the year I was going to take my writing seriously. I knew the NWS is always oversubscribed so I stayed up on New Year’s Day to email my application just after midnight and kept my fingers crossed. Fortunately, I was successful and, since then, I have been overwhelmed by the support offered by RNA members. Even though I can’t always make the planned events down in London, there are lots of other ways to keep in touch and offer support and encouragement, not least via the email and Facebook forums. This year also saw the first RNA Afternoon Tea event in York which I attended and it was lovely to meet up with the people that I’d been connecting with online. Add to this the fantastic manuscript critique that is part of the NWS – I can only say that I would definitely recommend the RNA NWS to any aspiring author.

You recently signed a publishing deal with Tirgearr Publishing. Tell us about your path to publication.

It came out of the blue, which sounds ridiculous because, of course, I had sent the manuscript off for consideration. Beauty and the Recluse is a novel I wrote several years ago and which has been revised several times. Harlequin M&B requested to see the full manuscript about two years ago and, although they passed on it, they did give me an excellent and detailed critique.  As I was already well on with my next novel, I took it on the chin, put it in the proverbial drawer and kept on working on my new novel. Once I had drafted that, I took a break from it and pulled out Beauty and the Recluse and decided to re-work it, taking on board the M&B advice.  Once I had done that, I left it for a while and went back to editing my next novel. It was only when, during one of the email forums, one of the other RNA members mentioned that they had a new novel out for release with Tirgearr Publishing that, out of interest, I had a look at their website, liked the look of their titles and their approach and, on the off-chance, decided to send them Beauty and the Recluse – not holding out much hope. However, less than two weeks later, I had a response from them telling me that they loved the book and the characters and offering me a contract on the spot. I was at work at the time and thought that it must be a hoax!

Loving the title of your first novel! Can you tell us a bit about it? When is it due for release?

As you might guess from the title, it has elements of Beauty and the Beast and, while it isn’t a true, modern day re-telling of the tale, it does have certain similarities to the fairy tale.

Following the recent death of her father, and in need of both a job and somewhere to live, Kiya takes a housekeeping job on the spur of the moment.  She soon finds herself living in a beautiful but neglected mansion, working for a strange and reclusive man.

St. John is a man scarred by the past, both physically and emotionally, and is determined to live out his life alone.  They are two very different people, drawn to each other almost against their will, but can Kiya convince St. John that he is not the monster he believes himself to be? 

It is due for release in February 2016 and I am so excited, although nervous about how it will be received.  I can’t wait to get the first sight of my cover which should be fairly soon.

Very exciting times ahead! What are you planning next? Is there another book in the pipeline?

Yes, I am currently editing my next novel which is set in Egypt and follows the themes of love, loss and letting go of the past.

Thank you for being such a lovely guest, Ellie. Hope the spotlight didn’t shine too brightly in your eyes! Good luck with Beauty and the Recluse. We look forward to reading it. 

You can find out more about Ellie at:

https://elliegrayauthor.wordpress.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/elliegrayauthor

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/elliegray58

Pinterest:  https://uk.pinterest.com/elliegray71/

 

Wednesday Wondering – What are your childhood summer memories?

P1060508Welcome to August’s Wednesday Wondering. A few weeks ago, my eight-year-old daughter broke up for the school holidays; the start of a whopping 7 weeks and 2 days off! That’s a phenomenally long time. Panic set in. Would we be able to keep her entertained for that long, especially as we’d booked our main “summer” holiday for October half term so wouldn’t be going away and I’d started a new job and had very little time available to take off? Thank goodness for grandparents is all I can say on that one! Thinking about the long summer break ahead of her got me a bit nostalgic for my own long summer holidays as a child so my question to the Write Romantics this month was:
What are your memories of the long summer break as a child? Endless days playing out? Bored? Caravan holidays? Tell us all about it.
So they did …
Deirdre says …
Endless blue-skied days spent playing outside were very much a feature of my school summer holidays – because, wasn’t it always sunny, back then?  The freedom of being able to stay out until dusk, making ‘camps’ with the grass at the back of our flats when it was cut, hurtling down the slopes on roller skates, wandering round the estate where we lived and visiting friends’ houses – all of that made the holidays special.
Patty & Deirdre 1But my favourite time was when my two cousins, Pat and Linda, came down from London to stay with our Nan and Grandad for a week, and then I would be despatched by bus, with my little suitcase, to stay with them too.  The three of us slept in one double bed and of course there was more giggling than sleeping.  There were some old books about film stars, and Pat used to read to us out of them, making up funny accents.
Being Londoners, Brighton beach was the main attraction for the cousins, and Nan would take us down to spend most of the day there.  The photo shows Pat and me (I’m on the right) enjoying a splash about.  We’d stay in the sea until our skin was wrinkled like the skin of an old apple.
When the cousins had gone home, there were trips into the countryside to enjoy, just Mum, Dad and me.  We were lucky in that we had a car – hardly any of our neighbours did – and that was because my father worked in a garage and could get his hands on old bangers for very little money.  But they did us a turn, and we would pack a picnic and set out for our favourite spots.  No thermos flasks of tepid tea for us – we had a tiny stove that ran, I think, on methylated spirits or some such.  It was housed Leslie and picnic stovein an old biscuit tin and my Dad took great pleasure in getting this thing going in order to boil the kettle for the tea.  This photo of Dad plus stove is one of my favourite pictures of him.  I do remember great consternation – and a bit of a row – when on one occasion, nobody had remembered to bring the milk.
If I was ever bored in the summer holidays I don’t remember it.  I do remember feeling a bit miserable when all the other kids had gone indoors but I was an only child, so I was used to amusing myself.  At those times I’d escape into the current library book. This is nothing to do with summer holidays but that reminds me of something my Dad used to say, especially in his last years, after Mum had died: You’re never alone if you’ve got a book to read. Nice that, isn’t it?

Jackie says …

As a family we always went to Wales for our summer holiday and my memories are mostly of wearing a clingy, plastic rain mac, dragging it through puddles in Borth as water dripped into my eyes from the rain lashing down. I do recall the wonder of seeing flabby jellyfish lying in the sand and of finding tiny cowrie shells, clutching them furtively in my palm in case my dad said I wasn’t allowed to keep them. I’ve never seen them on any other beach in the UK since.

But the holidays I remember the most, were camping with the Girl Guides in the days when you had to make tripods for your rucksacks to sit on, and dig latrines in the ground with a tent put over the hole. By the end of day one, the tent was buzzing with flies and the smell was pretty horrific. When it was full, someone would then be told to fill in the hole and another one would be dug. 

I remember spiders and daddy long legs giving me evils from the top of the tent, and I remember trying to wash my hair in a round washing up bowl that was perched on a homemade tripod, and the whole thing tipping up on my shoes. 

There were frogs in the swimming pool and Captain pushed me and another girl in, and I thought I would die of fear and shock as I splashed into the cold water, although I don’t know what I thought the frogs would do to me! Nowadays she would probably be reported, but back then it was just considered par for the course.

My middle sister had Blancmange clumped in her fringe for most of the week and my elder sister cried when we sang ‘Taps’ around the camp fire before going to bed  ‘cos she missed my parents so much. That song makes me cry now. All I have to hear is the opening bars of ‘Day is done,’ and I’m welling up!

The most magical time of that holiday was being allowed to sleep under the stars on the last night. Us younger ones were hemmed in by the older girls as we all laid on the grass in our sleeping bags. We stared up at the clear sky, sprinkled with silver stars while Captain told us about each of the constellations and stories of how they got their names. 

I clearly remember appreciating the miracle that was the world I lived in and felt truly blessed to belong to it. 

I don’t think any of us realised how lucky we were to have our Captain, ‘Chad’ as she was known by the ones ‘in the know,’ But if she is still out there, I would love to be able to tell her how much she shaped my childhood and made me question and appreciate the world I live in. 

Thanks Chad, with love and respect from Jackie Dormouse.

Rachael says …

The long lazy days of my childhood summer certainly feel that way now. Firstly because life is so much busier today, but also because they were days of summer, if you know what I mean!

For me, six weeks out of school meant time to go for long walks with the family dog, to cycle  – on my mother’s old shopper, to go to town and feel all grown up hanging out in the city centre with my friends. Most of all, it was family time. With three younger brothers to keep in order, the noise level in our house was far from quiet and the activities we embarked on were varied to say the least. From playing on the garden swings to playing schools, to just generally fighting on the living room floor. They are all conjured up in my mind when I think of the summer holidays.

photoHelen P says …

I loved summer holidays, mainly because I hated school but it meant that we had our annual family holiday to Scarborough to look forward to. The whole family would go including my three brothers, nan, Aunty Dot & Uncle Pat. We would always stop in a self catering holiday flat and I loved it. In fact I still do, I took my own family there about ten years ago and they loved it too.

Below is a rare picture of Josh & Jeorgia enjoying playing out at Primrose Valley Caravan Park. It doesn’t seem that long ago, time really does fly.

P1060511

As for me, I smiled when I read through the responses as they had so many echoes of my own reaction to summer. We usually had two weeks away on holiday as a family. When I was very young, we had a tent, but this was swapped for a caravan. We had a lot of UK-based holidays, but we also travelled abroad with the caravan including very long trips to Germany and Norway. The caravan holiday that stands out the most for me was a trip to Great Yarmouth. It was probably the biggest caravan site we’d ever stayed on with a pool, huge playground and a clubhouse with entertainment until the early hours. My second cousins Andrea and Lisa were also on holiday in the area with their parents and we met up with them a few times, including a couple of nights at the campsite disco. I absolutely loved it.

P1060509But that still left about four weeks. Like Deirdre, I remember sun all the time. I used to play out on my bike and build dens in the fields and hedgerows that bordered our housing estate. Sometimes I played adventurous games with the boys in the neighbourhood and sometimes I wore dressing-up clothes or donned my roller boots and played out with the girls.

Days out with the family – including those whilst away in the caravan – always involved pre-prepared picnics. I don’t remember ever eating out. Mum would always prepare a jug of juice and we’d huddle round the back of the car, or sit on deck chairs in lay-bys with our sandwiches and juice. I can still picture that jug with it’s sealable lid and those beakers now, and hear the little sigh as the lid was eased up ready to pour. Isn’t it funny the little things that stick in your mind?

Sharon says…

It’s funny, but the summer holidays seemed to be always sunny and bright when I was young. I don’t remember it raining at all, though I’m sure it must have. Well, except for the summer of 1976, when the drought stretched on and on, and water was rationed, and it was too hot to do anything much except lie on the grass or eat ice cream.

Most summers, we went away to Primrose Valley. That was in the days before Haven owned it, and it wasn’t as big as it is now. I remember there was an outdoor roller skating rink and swing boats on the cliff top. There was a small shopping arcade, and a pub, “The Log Cabin”, where we all met every evening, and where my sister and I would sit in a little room drinking Coke and eating peanuts while the grown-ups had all the fun!

I loved those holidays because it seemed as if all the family went – grandparents, great aunts and uncles, cousins, half-cousins, the lot. My grandparents and aunt stayed in a pretty bungalow in the village, and we were in a posh caravan in a field across the road. There are photographs of those holidays stretching right back to when I was a baby in my pram on the beach, but the first time I remember going, I recall how shocked my parents were when we walked into the caravan and saw how grand it was. I don’t know what they’d been staying in before! We used to walk along the beach from Primrose Valley to Filey, and go winkle picking on Filey Brigg. Then we’d get fish and chips in Filey and walk back along the sands, tired but really happy.

At home, the days were spent roller-skating up and down the street, playing games like “May I?” and “Mr Wolf” across a road that had remarkably few cars passing through it, brambling, and going to the local swimming baths to cool off in the outdoor pool. I also remember warm summer evenings, sitting on the front garden wall, waiting eagerly for the ice cream van while Dad mowed the lawn. To this day, the smell of freshly-cut grass reminds me of those early evenings, sitting on the wall with my sister, watching my dad in the garden and listening out for those familiar chimes. Happy days.

We’d love to hear all about your summer memories. Please click on the comments at the end of the words below to join in the conversation.

Jessica xx

Review: Her Forget-Me-Not Ex by Sophie Claire

Her Forget Me Not Ex-1 cover

Luc and Natasha were married too young. It was a relationship driven by passion, but when Natasha became pregnant, Luc felt duty bound to propose, and Natasha, wanting a secure family life for her child, accepted. When she lost the baby, Natasha walked away, leaving behind a luxury apartment that was the loneliest place in the world, and a husband who didn’t seem to care, and whom, she was sure, was relieved that the whole episode was over. Three years later, Natasha has built a life for herself in the country village in which she spent the happiest years of her life – the time she spent living in Poppy Cottage with her mother and father, parents she lost at the tender age of seven. She owns a flower shop, and has dreams of buying Poppy Cottage, as she promised her mother she would. But it seems her plans aren’t as straightforward as she had hoped. Then Luc arrives on her doorstep, offering a solution to her problems. But he wants a favour in return. She must go with him to his family’s home in France and pretend that they are still married. His father is gravely ill, and his wish is to finally meet his son’s wife. It seems Luc hasn’t informed his family of their divorce, and he is determined that his father will get his wish. Against all her instincts, Natasha agrees to his terms. And so they head to France, to the family vineyard, to begin two weeks of deception.

This is a lovely novel – pure, unashamed romance. Luc is a gorgeous hero. The strong, silent type, successful in his work and focused on what he wants. Yet he nurses wounds that make him not only vulnerable to Natasha’s charms, but irresistible to the reader. My heart ached for the two of them, trapped in their unspoken pain – each of them believing the other didn’t care about what happened, each grieving for their lost child and their lost love.

Natasha is confused by Luc. He is too rich, too sophisticated for her simple ways. Throughout their marriage he seemed distracted, too intent on his work. He appeared uncaring, cold, and seemed resentful that he had been trapped into marriage by a gold-digger. Luc is baffled by a woman, seemingly unmoved by the loss off their baby, who walked away from their marriage and agreed to this charade for the sake of a piece of land. He thought he knew what she was, yet she seems to care about his family, about his father’s health, and to worry endlessly about deceiving them.

The one thing neither can deny is the intense sexual chemistry between the two of them. Passion sizzles off the page! Because the reader can see what both characters are feeling, and knows the motives for their behaviour, I wanted to shout at them to sort their relationship out, and stop seeing the downside to everything. Natasha, particularly, seems to feel inadequate, and unable to believe that Luc could have real feelings for her. But then, Luc is confused himself. He doesn’t know what he’s feeling. He’s still terrified of commitment, and can’t make a promise to Natasha that he’ll be able to stay with her long term, so who can blame her, really? If he doesn’t know himself that he loves her, how can she recognise it?

Neither can believe the other cares, but when you’ve been hurt so deeply in the past, do you dare to allow yourself to trust again? Luc has been told he’s a disappointment by his father for most of his life. He’s driven by a need to prove himself, to go it alone. He’s also been hurt and humiliated by another woman.He didn’t trust Natasha’s motives when they were together first time round, and now he’s afraid to take a chance on her again, as he doesn’t believe he’s capable of settling down. He doesn’t want to feel tied down – to the vineyard, or a woman. Natasha felt rejected by her great aunt and her biggest fear is living with someone who doesn’t really want her. From that perspective, Luc was the worst possible man she could have married.

The back story for these two characters meant that, although it was frustrating when they kept misunderstanding the other’s motives, I still felt compassion for them, and could quite see why they were behaving in the ways they did. I loved Natasha’s independent streak, the fact that she had a thriving career of her own, that she’d picked herself up and built a new life for herself. I loved her brightly coloured clothes and the quirky way she did her nails each day. Luc was smouldering, and I fell completely in love with him. The Provence countryside was described beautifully and I could almost feel the sunshine on my back. Luc’s family was delightful, and even the resolution of the father/son dilemma between Luc and the intimidating patriarch was handled realistically and satisfactorily.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel and flew through the pages with increasing delight. I’m looking forward to the next Sophie Claire book! 5/5

Sharon x

You can buy Her Forget-Me-Not Ex here

Next month, the book review will be by Jessica Redland, who will be reviewing Letting in Light by Emma Davies, which you can buy here.

Wednesday Wondering – What Does Easter Mean to You?

P1060222Happy Easter! Okay, so the bank holiday weekend with the key days of Good Friday and Easter Monday is now behind us, but it’s still school holidays and some of you may be enjoying time off work still. I was back to the non-writing day job yesterday, but I’m looking forward to having tomorrow and Friday off too.

My question for the WRs this week was, quite simply, ‘What does Easter mean to you?’

I attended church until I left home for university aged eighteen and remember there being a Palm Sunday parade from The Salvation Army Church at one end of the high street, past my church (Methodist) and up to the Church of England church at the other end for a multi-denomenational service. I’d parade as part of the uniformed organisations (Brownies, Guides, then Rangers) and I my over-riding memory is of being absolutely freezing because we weren’t allowed to wear coats or jumpers. Back then, the Brownie uniform was a dress, although I was certainly grateful for my bobble hat. I remember being giggling each year because the donkey always seemed to go to the toilet outside the church. I’d then spend the rest of the service trying to warm up, knowing that we’d have a freezing cold parade back again!

P1060226As a child, we’d get loads of Easter eggs – one from each set of grandparents, and from each auntie/uncle. My childhood home had an extra room downstairs called the study. It was originally a garage before we moved in and had been converted to a room, but it always retained that cold feeling of a garage. As such, it was the perfect place for storing Easter eggs and selection boxes at Christmas, keeping them nice and cool. It was also the perfect place for helping myself to chocolate when nobody could see me! I used to raid my Easter eggs and those of my older brother; such a pig! When I was 19, my habits hadn’t improved. My boyfriend in my 2nd year of university bought me a fabulous Easter egg. It was a large Cadbury’s crème egg one with a picture of a juggler on the front. The hollow chocolate egg was his stomach and his juggling balls were 2 normal-sized crème eggs and 7 mini crème eggs. I’d been presented with it about a week before we broke up for the Easter holidays and it sat enticingly on my shelf with strict instructions not to eat it until Easter. I think I lasted about a day before I broke into it. If I just ate one of the mini eggs then placed the foil back in the mould, that would be okay, wouldn’t it? So I did that. But it was really yummy. So I had another. And another. By the time we broke for Easter, I packed my Easter egg to take home. Except there wasn’t any chocolate left in it; just a plastic mould with the foil wrappers shaped into it to look like it was all still there! Oops!

Jessica xx

So, what does Easter mean to the WRs?

Sharon says…

P1060225I have very happy memories of Easter. One of the main ones is watching Jesus of Nazareth starring Robert Powell. We all – my mum, dad, sister, brother and I – gathered round the television to watch it, enthralled. My mum and dad weren’t religious at all, but they were really absorbed in the programme. As for me, I cried absolute buckets. I totally believed in the Easter story and it broke my heart to see it played out on screen before me.

Easter, for me, has always been one of the most important times of the year. Of course, when we were children, it also meant Easter eggs and time off school to me and my sister. One year, we got thirteen Easter eggs each from aunts, uncles, grandparents, parents, family friends…Quite ridiculous, really.

When my own children were little I made it very traditional. Fish on Good Friday, Easter eggs, lots of Easter themed television, a turkey dinner on Easter Sunday and sometimes church, too. Now they’ve all left home and my faith has sadly dwindled, I think, in my mind, Easter is simply tied in with spring – daffodils, new lambs, new life, new hope. In that sense, I suppose it has that much in common with a story of resurrection and overcoming even death. I do think that, if you’re a Christian, Easter is the most special time of year, even more than Christmas. I wish everyone – of all faiths or none – a happy Easter.

DSCF0005-smallRachael says…

Easter time here on the farm is like any other day. The daily jobs of milking and feeding continue regardless of what holiday it is. This only makes family time all the more precious, although with two older teenager’s social lives to be factored in this Easter, it may prove difficult to all be around the table for dinner on Easter Sunday.

As with most families, Easter is also about chocolate eggs and probably far too many of them! It’s good also to stop and reflect about why we are celebrating Easter. Just as Christmas isn’t all about the gifts under the tree, Easter isn’t all about mountains of chocolate.

I hope you all had a lovely Easter weekend and that you haven’t eaten too much chocolate!

Lynne says…

P1060224Easter to me is a time of new beginnings when the world wakes up from its winter slumber. For me my reading tastes change a little, from the fireside reading of winter, when I love P.D.James and Charles Dickens to livelier, more summery tomes. This year is a special treat, because there’s so many of my lovely Write Romantics’ stories available now in print and electronic form. Roll on better weather when I can loll around in the sun with an iced drink and suntan lotion and call it research!!

Jackie says…

church and daffodilsI was brought up as a reasonably strict Catholic and went to a Convent school from the age of ten. I would attend St Dominic’s church every Sunday in my best hat (even if I had a terrible cold and sneezed through most of the service) Lent was all about the money I would give to charity if I gave up sweets etc, rather than an excuse to diet or stop the booze (which it seems to have turned into today) and Easter was all about Christ dying on the Cross. So my memories of Easter are mostly about the dreaded Stations Of The Cross in church. There were I think, fourteen ’stations’ and the gathered congregation would kneel and pray at every icon reflecting on the image of Jesus at his crucifixion, before standing and walking to the next ‘station.’ I recall this took forever and one time I got a fit of the giggles with my best friend. She suppressed her laugh rather too much and it came out the other end as a loud ‘trumpet’ noise. This made us laugh even harder and she continued to ‘trump’ for Britain. People around us started tittering, but the nun in charge of us hoisted us up and sent us to the back of the church to reflect on our sins. She didn’t say what our sins were as I suspect such a thing as a ‘blow off’ couldn’t be acknowledged as it was far too unladylike! It was actually a bit of a result as we messed around with the rosaries and ‘palms’ that were for sale at the back of the church until it was all over.

Deirdre says…

Easter for us is a quite a low-key affair these days – not that we ever did a great deal but certain little traditions, like painting the shells of boiled eggs for breakfast, have slid off the radar now, mainly due to not having any children in the family, and the demise of my mother-in-law who celebrated Easter as she did everything else, with a cook-fest.  She used to make scrumptious spicy hot cross buns which were sent down to us on the morning of Good Friday, not before, not after.  Then on the Sunday there’d be a family gathering at her house for the big roast, followed by Christmas pudding from the batch she’d made the previous year.  She made simnel cake thick with marzipan and iced in lurid green which is the traditional colour, and on the top was a plastic egg decoration with a chick inside which came out year after year.  If we weren’t full after that lot there were home-made Easter biscuits sparkling with green-coloured sugar (no worries about additives for her), as well as the Easter eggs themselves and other chocolate treats.

Peggy at EasterI still do a roast – which has to be lamb, nothing else – and this year I was farseeing enough to get an extra Christmas pudding, having let them all down so badly last year by not providing one.  We have Buck’s Fizz mid-morning and champagne with lunch.   Any excuse.  The boys still get eggs, old though they are (the boys, I mean, not the eggs) and I always have daffodils in vases to brighten things up.   In the loft we have gigantic folded-paper rabbits and another rabbit that plays a tune which we stand about, if we remember to get them out.  We always invite my husband’s Aunt Peggy.  She’s 91 now.  This is a photo of her at ours last Easter.  As you can see she’s still got a sparkle in her eye, as well as in her glass.  We don’t do outdoorsy things at Easter. The weather always seems so cold, but we usually go for a drive in the country on Easter Monday and maybe stop off at a likely hostelry.  That’s something we did when I was a child, and we used to pick primroses if they were out in time, but of course you can’t do that now.

I do like Easter-time.  It’s so colourful with the daffodils and other flowers, and the Easter displays in the shops.  And of course you know that summer’s not that far away – always a cheering thought.

image1Helen R says…

We’ve never been a religious family so Easter has never been a big event in our house. This is hard when the kids fire questions at me about ‘why do we have Easter?’ Only as an adult did I find out eggs are given to each other to signify new life and it’s nice to have a basic understanding now.

As for the chocolate side of things I’m afraid I’m over excited this year. It’s my first Easter in the UK since 2000 and the Easter eggs on display in the shops are amazing. I shall make my selections this year and remember the meaning of the occasion.

Jo says…

disc 3 612I think Easter, a bit like Halloween, is a lot *bigger* now than when I was a child.  I don’t remember Easter egg hunts or anything like that, but my mum would make birds’ nests from strands of shredded wheat, dipped in chocolate, and fill them with little candy eggs.  We had a big family and so would receive lots of chocolate eggs from relatives and they’d all be lined up on the sideboard.  My sister would still have most of hers in June, but I’d eat all of mine by the week after Easter. Once or twice I even broke into her stock and tried to smooth out the foil after I’d eaten the egg, to make it look like it was still in there.  It’s no wonder she’s three sizes smaller than me, even now!

With my own children, we’ve always had Easter egg hunts, even when we’ve been away on holiday – which we often are for the school break.  Here’s a photo of the eldest three when we were in the New Forest one Easter and about to set off on a trail through the woods.  This year is no different, we’ll be staying in a converted barn in the Llyn Peninsula in north Wales and I’ll be hiding eggs for the big hunt on Easter Sunday.  I’ve tried suggesting that they might have outgrown it now that they’re 10, 13, 14 and 16, but they’ve insisted they’ll never be too old for an Easter egg hunt.  Here’s hoping I’m not still looking for places to hide their eggs when they’re in their forties!

What about you? We’d love to hear about your Easters past and present. You can comment by clicking on the ‘comments’ tag at the end of the teeny words below this post. Thank you xx

Chasing My Tail by Jessica Redland

10527383_331005803724929_5378621437399779308_nAs regular visitors to our blog will know, we post every Wednesday and Saturday with the occasional Monday post like Christina Hollis’s this week. And sometimes we completely rebel and throw in another random day. Because we like to mix it up like that.

As a group of ten, we all take turns to contribute to this blog. We all bring guests to the Saturday Spotlight and there’s a rolling ‘rota’ for the book group and for Wednesday posts. This week, Saturday’s guest has been organised by me and I’ve just received her article and pictures. I thought I might as well get ahead of myself and schedule them ready for Saturday.

While I waited for wordpress to load up, I glanced at the calendar on the wall by my Mac just to double check that I wasn’t a week ahead of myself. I have one of these family-planner things with six columns. There are only three of us in our family (other than the cat but he really doesn’t need his own column) but I need the other three columns to organise the other key aspects of my life – Brownies, Writing (mine) and Write Romantics. I am the ‘Keeper of the Calendar’ and keep on top of what’s happening when and by whom. I love this role and the other WRs jokingly refer to me as Brown Owl for keeping them on track with what’s coming up on the blog and when we have free slots. Organisation has always been one of my strengths.

Until recently.

P1040080You see, when I glanced at the calendar and assured myself that my guest was indeed this coming Saturday’s guest, I spotted my name in the Write Romantics column. Why was my name there? It honestly took me a good minute or so before I registered that my name was there because today is a Wednesday and today’s slot is mine! Oops. Between organising everyone else, posting the Wednesday Wondering (which I always pull together) last Wednesday, and keeping on top of my guest slot this Saturday, I clean forgot that I had a post to write. A post that I should really have posted this morning. Is it still morning somewhere in the world? Maybe. But that’s really not an excuse.

My excuse is, quite simply, that I’m chasing my tail at the moment and I have absolutely no idea whether I’m coming or going. Like several of the other Write Romantics, I have a day job. I work full-time hours as a Learning & Development Advisor at a factory, although I’m very privileged to have had a flexible working application accepted so I work my hours across four long days and have one day a week off to write. My job is pretty busy and sees me travelling to our Grantham site quite often, attending careers events at local schools, or running all-day training workshops. The days I’m back at my desk can be a frantic email-catching-up frenzy and prep for the next outing. This week has been one of those weeks with two days in Grantham then a day in the office today.

bootcamps-headerOutside of work and writing, I’m a Brown Owl running a pack of 25 Brownies and have done so for nearly five years. If I’m honest, I don’t have the time to do this (as it’s so much more than just the weekly meeting) but I love it and wouldn’t want to let it go. I’m also a bootcamper. On a Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning, I get up at 5.20am and head down to the seafront for a 6am hour-long bootcamp. I’m overweight so this is a big thing for me. To try and motivate myself to control my diet, I maintain a blog about this which I update after every single session. I really enjoy doing this and it helps me. But it’s time-consuming. I have an 8-year-old daughter, a cat, and a husband. And somewhere in amongst all of this, I write. But there’s so much on my writing plate at the moment. I submitted the final line edits on my debut novel ‘Searching for Steven’ last night (published by So Vain Books on 3rd June), I’m a quarter of the way through a final edit of my second book, I’m working my way through a second draft of book 3, I’m writing a short story to give away free as a teaser to book 1 and I’m blogging on this site and my own. I attended a scriptwriting workshop on Saturday just to throw something else in the mix and I’m meant to be doing a distance learning professional proofreading course but I’ve had to completely let that slip as I simply haven’t found the time to do it. I will emphasise that most of this work is self-imposed. My publishers haven’t put any pressure on me at all to get books 2 and 3 completed but I want them done as, after twelve years of living with this trilogy, I’m so ready for new material.

My sacrifice up until now has always been that I don’t watch (much) TV. I have programmes I love like Strictly, Downton Abbey and Mr Selfridge but I watch very little else (although I’m currently following Broadchurch). I gave up on the soaps years ago when I realised I couldn’t watch them and find time to write. It was quite liberating. If you don’t watch much TV, you don’t see adverts for programmes coming up, so you’re not enticed into watching something you’ve seen trailered. But now it feels like even giving up TV isn’t enough and I’m not sure where to go from here. My desk is a permanent mess although, surprisingly, I can find things. In fact, the whole house is a permanent mess with piles of stuff ‘to be organised’ or ‘to be relocated’ everywhere. This was all fine until I started dropping the ball. I double-booked a couple of guest slots and I missed my own slot today. This isn’t like me and I hate messing up in this way.

So what’s the answer? Well, my starting point is that I’ve booked a day’s holiday for tomorrow. My flex day is usually a Monday so I’m off next Monday but I worked on Monday this week so I have this week’s flex day on Friday. Which means I have five days until I’m back to work to get control of my life again. My daughter is staying with my mum for a few days which means complete peace and quiet tomorrow. On Friday, I’ll be collecting her but will certainly get at least a morning to organise myself and write. And she’s back at school on Monday so I have a full day then, although Brownies is back after the half-term break and I’ve just realised I have the newsletter to compile. Argh. Had forgotten about that too!

Hubby is out tonight so I’m taking advantage of an empty house and hoping to just get myself organised. If I can do the bitty stuff tonight (the internet banking, writing the Brownie newsletter, tidying my desk), then hopefully I can take a full day tomorrow to finish my edit of book 2 and put a big tick in that box. I can brew my short story a bit more over the weekend and then write that on Monday. Then all I have left is book 3. Piece of cake! What on earth was I worrying about. Chasing my tail? No. Not me. I’m in control. Always.

Now where’s that to do list I wrote about three weeks ago and what have I forgotten to do off it?

Jessica xx

PS Would love to hear from you on ways of balancing a huge workload, particularly if you work and write. How do you do it? Please click on the comments tag at the end of the words below this post.

Wednesday Wondering – You’re My Inspiration

On this day, 11th February, twenty-five years ago, Nelson Mandela was released after twenty-seven years of imprisonment. The Nobel Peace Prize winner was a source of inspiration to millions around the world. So the theme for today’s Wednesday Wondering is around inspiration. I asked The Write Romantics:

Who or what inspires you?

I told them that it was up to them how they interpreted this question. Inspiration could come from a person, a place, an event or something else. It could be something/someone who inspires them to write through to how they live your life or want to live their life.

I love it when I ask a question that can be open for interpretation because the responses are so varied. Today’s question didn’t let me down.

Jessica xx

Deirdre says …

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was walking around a National Trust estate the summer before last and a friend I was with asked me if I could imagine writing a story set there.  I could see what he meant – the ancient trees, the secret valleys filled with exotic plants – but I had to tell him, no, I wasn’t inspired.  I could see he was surprised, disappointed even, but on that particular day at that particular time I’d have found more inspiration in a grimy back street suggesting dubious goings-on after dark.  And I don’t write thrillers.

So, what I think is that inspiration, whether for something creative like writing or simply how to live your life, depends on mood and circumstance; a fluid thing, not easy to pin down or explain.  Which is probably why I took so long to come up with an answer to this question…

There are things, and people, who are more likely to inspire me than others.  For instance, I don’t look at super-achievers and think ‘I could do that’.  I mean the kind of person who home-schools three children, runs a successful business, jogs three times round the park before breakfast and writes best-sellers under cover of darkness, and all without breaking a nail.  That kind of thing leaves me cold.  But when I hear somebody talking, a woman around my age, say, and discover she has same problems, insecurities and crazy thoughts as I do, that will throw a switch inside me and I know I’m doing fine just as I am.  I suppose that’s validation rather inspiration but the two go hand in hand.  If you accept who you are now I think you’re more likely to be receptive to new ideas and have the vision to carry them forward.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThat’s the complicated answer, so now I’ll try to give the simple one.  I have a lovely friend who is very successful at writing stories for women’s magazines.  In fact she’s just sold her hundredth story!  I’m not saying I could reach that dizzy height but she’s definitely inspired me to have a go.  Brilliant writing of any kind will always inspire me, particularly with the novels.  My art teacher inspires me to keep on trying with the drawing and painting.  It’s her job, I know, but not all teachers have the knack.  Friends who have faced great challenges with strength and bravery are always inspiring.

On a lower level, watching property and gardening programmes makes me want to improve my own little patch, and magazines have great ideas that I can’t wait to follow – if only I had the time and the energy.  On the other hand I might just persuade somebody else to do it for me.

Helen R says …

My love of reading is what initially inspired me to become a writer. It took many years of loving books to be brave enough to tackle writing my own, and there were failed attempts as I continued to learn and wrote something that was together enough to submit to agents and publishers.

My other inspiration has always been my family and friends, including The Write Romantics. From the encouragement to get started and put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, to the much needed persuasion not to give up, I think that the people in my life have inspired me to follow this career path, which, let’s face it, can be pretty lonely sometimes.

Rachael says …

Anthology coverInspiration is everywhere for everything, if you just look for it. It doesn’t matter if it’s for a story idea or the motivation to do something. People, places, or events – past or present, are inspirational.

On a small scale, I find inspiration for my writing all over the place, watching TV, listening to the lyrics of a song, an overheard snippet of conversation. It’s all there for the taking if you open your mind to it.

But there is much bigger inspiration around us. It’s there in people who have risen to the challenge of life and achieved their ambitions, sometimes never letting go of their hopes and dreams for many years. These are the people I look to for inspiration, which in turn gives me motivation. People like the local unsung heroes of our communities, people who have faced illness and bravely shared their story, often raising huge sums of money for charity.

A perfect example of this is Stephen Sutton who inspired The Write Romantics to produce our first anthology, raising funds for charity. Winter Tales – Stories to Warm Your Heart is available in paperback and eBook formats via Amazon.

Jo says …

PaulaThe most inspirational person I know in real life is a friend of mine, called Paula. She has a wicked sense of humour, has the sharpest put-downs of anyone I’ve ever met and could probably drink the England rugby union squad under the table.  Our birthdays are one day – and, as she wouldn’t fail to let you know, four years – apart, so maybe that’s why we’re on the same wave length in so many ways.

When we worked together, they called us Trinny and Susannah and we weren’t afraid to tell the world how we saw things.  We were younger then, of course, with that feeling of indestructibility that comes with youth… and, of course, Paula’s muscular dystrophy was less evident than it is now.  She’s always been as tenacious as hell, refusing to have any special allowance made for her condition and working her proverbial off to climb the career ladder, attain a degree whilst working full time and achieve awards for her outstanding commitment to teaching.

Paula and Jo NYE2014Paula has never allowed her condition to define her and whilst many, with far less to contend with, proclaim themselves too ill to work, she’s been out there grabbing life by both hands. After a horrific fall and a six month stint in hospital, she’s finally decided it’s time to ease off the full-time workload, but she’s still willing to volunteer to support her fellow teachers and is thinking about setting up an advice service for others who find themselves in a similar position to hers. Paula also indirectly introduced me to my husband – although that’s another story altogether – hence my son having Paul as his middle name – she beta reads for me, being the first person to ever set eyes upon ‘Among A Thousand Stars’ and was the main inspiration for my Winter Tales’ story.

She never whinges about the hand that life has dealt her – and she’s had more than just being born with MD to contend with – she gets on with things, living independently and wringing as much out of life as it’s possible to do.  I wish I had an ounce of her courage and that I could truly appreciate what I’ve got when I look at what she has to deal with on a day-to-day basis.  I know I don’t, but, still, she’s the definition of inspirational.  We usually like to insult each other – it’s a sign of affection, don’t you know – but, let me say, here and now, Paula, you’re a star and an inspiration and I’m lucky to call you a friend. I know all this will make her uncomfortable, so, as Andrew Lincoln put it in Love Actually, and before Paula has to reach for the sick bucket or a bitingly sarcastic response, “Enough now, enough”.

Alys says …

DSC01339My key inspiration seems to come from places. Beltane was inspired by Glastonbury and my current work in progress, Lughnasa, is inspired by Orkney. I seem to need a strong sense of place in my writing and I find that visiting the location sparks ideas for the plot.  I had so many ideas from visiting Orkney that I couldn’t fit them all into the one book.  So maybe that will keep me going back there and writing about it again.

Sharon says …

When I was in my forties, I decided to do an Open University degree. This took me six years, and it was a long and difficult process. There were many times, when life was particularly tricky, that I felt like quitting, convinced I would fail.

In my spare time (ha!) I was researching my family tree. I’d sent for the marriage certificate of my great-great-grandparents. As I perused the details on the document, one thing leapt out at me immediately. The two witnesses to the marriage, and my great-great-grandfather, George, had all made their mark with a cross. Emma had written her own name.

When I was a little girl, my grandad had given me the memorial plaque awarded in memory of his father, who had been killed in the First World War. I’ve kept it with me ever since. I call it “The Big Penny”, because that’s what it resembles. Emma was that fallen soldier’s mother, which I hadn’t realised before starting my research.

Over thirty years ago, a clairvoyant told me that I had a guardian angel, an ancestor of mine, who watched over me and protected me, and that her name began with the letter E. After discovering my great-grandad’s mum was Emma, and finding that amazing signature on the marriage certificate, I’m absolutely convinced that she meant Emma. The thought of that young woman signing the register fills me with pride to this day. It was the hope that she’d be proud of me that inspired me to finish my degree, and spurred me on to finish my novel, in spite of my self-doubt. Emma is my angel and my inspiration, and I have a lot to thank her for.

And finally …

_MG_0003As for me, my response is similar to Rachael’s. My inspiration comes from all around me. I’m lucky enough to live on the beautiful North Yorkshire Coast. Three mornings a week, I rise at 5.20am and venture down to the seafront to take part in a bootcamp. I completed my very first bootcamp in February 2013, continued for about a year, then took eight months off before getting back into it but with a different company. Sadly, eight months was enough time to put all the weight back on that I’d lost and completely lose my fitness levels again so I had to start from scratch. It’s hard work, particularly when you’re in your forties and very overweight, but the setting is so inspiring. The mornings are starting to get a little lighter and we’ll soon hit the point where the sun rises while we’re working out. Who can fail to be inspired as the sun rises over the sea, casting its first rays on Scarborough Castle. Absolutely stunning.

bootcamps-headerI started to blog about my bootcamp experiences from Day 1 and the really strange thing for me is that friends, family and even strangers have cited me as their inspiration. I personally don’t think I’m very inspiring at all, especially as I’ve been doing this for two years and still have nearly all the weight to lose that I wanted to lose back at the start. But I still do it and I’ve massively increased my fitness. I guess it’s my determination to crack this thing – even if it takes a heck of a long time – that people find inspiring. And it’s those people who do crack it that I find inspiring. My second cousin, Lisa, decided enough was enough the same year I started Bootcamp and joined Slimming World. She lost about seven stone in that year. I lost three and put it back on again. I’m so inspired by her determination so I keep chipping away at it.

For my writing, settings inspire me, like Alys. So do songs. I will often hear a line in a song and think that it’s a great title for a book and, suddenly, I have an idea for a premise for a book.

What do you think? What inspires you? We’d love to hear from you. Please click on the comments tag at the end of all the words below.

Thank you

Jessica xx

Eight more sleeps…

SS102687It’s difficult to believe, isn’t it, that this time next week it will be Christmas Eve? Truth be told, I’ve been trying not to think about it galloping towards me as I am so far behind with my preparations and, as the days whizz past, I have to control the urge to hyperventilate into a paper-bag or slide into oblivion on a wave of mulled wine – the latter always the more appealing.

I think my lack of preparation is down to a series of things. I have been busy with the promotion of my Christmas novella, The Gift of Christmas Yet to Come, and the Write Romantics charity anthology, Winter Tales, currently a complete bargain at 98p. But it’s not just that, things have shifted in my household. All but the youngest of my four children is no longer a believer in you-know-who and for the first time, in I don’t know how long, it will be just the six of us on Christmas day. We’ll be joining the extended family on Boxing Day, but the big day itself is just about us and what we want.

The question is, when everyone stops being involved in leaving out carrots for the reindeer and mince pies for Santa, what do they want to do instead? We’ve started by talking about what to eat. We’re having a traditional Christmas dinner on Boxing Day, cooked by my lovely mum-in-law, so we’re free to choose what we want on the 25th. So far, the children’s lunch time order looks like this:

• One full English – hold the mushrooms and tomatoes
• Steak and chicken wings
• Coronation chicken
• Chinese Takeaway – reheated from the night before!

Not sure I’ll be joining any of my children in their choices, but we are starting to make new traditions for ourselves nowM4034S-4211 that they are getting older. To-the-death dance-offs on the Wii have replaced Mr Pop and plain old Monopoly has been usurped by the One Direction version – I know far more about those five boys than a woman of my years really should… The children can now stay up late enough to make midnight mass, but the crib service, in full fancy dress as a shepherd or angel, no longer holds such appeal.

And yet, the fundamentals haven’t really changed. So the non-believers know that the only similarity between Santa Claus and the giver of their gifts, these days, is rather more padding around the midriff than is good for you, but they enjoy the exchange as much as ever. The games have changed, but it’s still all about laughing and out of proportion competitiveness, which arises from a combination of sibling rivalry and competitive dad syndrome. Clichéd as it sounds, it is all about being together as a family that’s really important. If further proof of my theory that the heart of things stays the same is needed, I read a story this week that proves that nothing really changes, it just wears a new (Christmas) hat.

SS102598It goes something like this… The history of St Nicholas is that one of his first acts of giving, which generated the legend who became Santa, back in the 4th century, occurred after he heard of a man too poor to allow his three daughters to marry. Late one night, Nicholas went to their house and threw a bag of coins down the chimney allowing the eldest daughter to marry. Eventually, he repeated the gesture for the second and third of the man’s daughters.

Fast forward 1700 years or so and the staff of St Oswald’s Charity Shop in Blaydon have followed St Nicholas’s lead and made two of their colleagues’ dreams come true. Paula Kunes and Ellis Taylor have been working together in the charity shop since Ellis was made redundant four years ago and thought they would never be able to afford to get married. But some modern day saints, in the form of their workmates, gave the pair the money to tie the knot making it a Christmas they’ll surely remember forever.

So you see, things may seem to change, but Christmas is still Christmas and at the heart of it is love in one form or another. This must mean there’s no need to panic about not being ready, right? Now did anyone see where I put that paper bag…

Plastic trees, shag-pile disasters and possible lead paint poisoning – Yes, it’s ‘nearly’ Christmas!

Jo Bartlett Amazon 1Remember when we were kids and the countdown to Christmas was calculated in shopping days? Now that we live in a 24/7 culture, we can just talk in plain old days. Right now, I can tell you there are thirty eight of them left. That still seems like a long time to go, right? And far too early to be talking about Santa Claus, turkeys or over-done sprouts. As far as the latter is concerned, it’s always too early for me. But, since today marks the official release of my Christmas novella, I am going to try to get festive and put you in the mood, in the hope that you might forget yourself, go crazy, splash out 77p and download a copy.

As a believer in you-know-who, in the late 70s, I knew how to write a Christmas list. Although my mum would tell you that her generation knew the true meaning of Christmas – something about a walnut, an orange and being grateful to have them in your stocking – I’m just as likely to tell my children that my childhood spanned the real ‘good old days’, as far as Christmas is concerned. I remember waiting all year for Santa to bring me a Tiny Tears doll and I loved her, when she finally turned up on the 25th December 1978, almost as if her tears weren’t the only ‘real’ thing about her.

These days, my children want everything, but don’t really *want* anything at all. My nine year old will put his initials next to hundreds of things in the Argos catalogue. I’ve told him more than once that it would be quicker, and save ink, if he were to put his initials next to the things he doesn’t want. They get allowances and treats from grandmas and aunts, so, more often than not, they can buy what they want during the course of the year. I feel sorry for them, in a way, as they’ll never know that torturous wait for the one toy they truly want above all others and the sheer joy that accompanies its arrival.

The piles of presents have shrunk in size as my children have grown older, although the price hasn’t. iPods, iPhones, iPads, iReally-wish-I-had-shares-in-Apple, don’t look nearly as impressive in their wrapping as wooden train sets or Barbie’s deluxe town house. But, now that I’m a grown up, at least I get to make some of the decisions. Back in the era that taste forgot, my mum wouldn’t let us have a real Christmas tree, in case the pine needles got stuck in the cream shag-pile carpet. We weren’t allowed to put together the artificial tree until the twenty-something of December, either, and each year that passed the complicated colour coding system (probably lead paint) had flaked off a bit (making construction more tricky) and many of the artificial pine needles had found a new home nestling in the loft insulation.

Now the decorations go up as close to the 1st December as possible and, when the wood burner allows it to survive the M4034S-4211heat, we have a real tree. Not that I’m completely guilt free when it comes to my own children at Christmas. A good example of this would be the card I produced back when my youngest was just a baby – making all four children pose for a nativity scene outside my mum’s garden shed! Now aged, 16, 14, 13 and 9, I would have zero chance of recreating it this year. It’s all about the puckered-lip, fish-faced selfie, as far as my teens are concerned. But this photo is just one of the wonderful memories we have and something we still laugh about almost a decade later.

Four years ago to this very day, I received a cancer diagnosis that changed my life and, because I suddenly realised I was a mere mortal and that time is finite for everyone, I thought about the things I really wanted to do. One of those things was to fulfil a childhood dream of writing a novel and seeing it in print but, most of all, I just wanted to be around to see my children grow up and live to enjoy a misspent retirement with my husband. Christmas, and life in general, would be nothing without my friends, family and those absolutely dearest to me – my husband and children.

‘The Gift of Christmas Yet to Come’ is set in the present day, rather than the 70s, but it’s about those same special bonds and one woman’s search to complete the missing piece of her family. It’s also about the humour in life and the things people do that only those you really love can get away with and live to tell the tale.

Back when I was growing up, you could probably have bought a Sloe Gin Fizz for 77p and maybe even a whiskey chaser but, today, it wouldn’t stretch to a cup of tea in most places. So, for that little bit of warmth, and to kick-start an early Christmas, you could always check out the novella on Amazon instead via this link. Frankly, that’s as hard as my hard sell is likely to get…

Anthology coverTo counter that shameless self-promotion, there are some other fantastic books out at the moment, too, from those I would count on that list of special people in my life this Christmas – my friends – including The Write Romantics’ Anthology, Helen Phifer’s latest in the ‘Annie Graham’ series, Deirdre Palmer (aka Harriet James’) ‘Falling to Earth’, Steve Dunn’s ‘Viking Resurrection’ and debuts by Kerry Fisher, Jane LythellRachael Thomas and Sarah Lewis. Plenty to keep you warm this Christmas yet to come.

An extra-specially merry Christmas to my fantastic beta readers too – Julie, Lynne, Paula, Jennie and Steve – Sharon, for the endless encouragement and cheerleading, plus my old school friends – Sarah, Kate and Claire – who inadvertently helped plant the seeds of the idea for this story.

I hope you have good one, too, and watch out for those pine needles in the shag-pile.

Jo x

Sangria in the park, anyone?

It’s almost the end of February and it’s my son’s birthday on the 28th.  He was very nearly born the following day which, once every four years, is of course a leap year.  Pondering on this, I thought about what happens to that extra day and all the ones in between.  Do any of us really make the most of it and, in the words of the late Lou Reed, ever really get our Perfect Day?  Although, it’s not a leap year this year, it still inspired this week’s Wednesday Wondering, which is to ask you all what you would do if you had a day completely free to decide what to with it, from morning to night?  What would your perfect day look like and have you ever had one?

Jo
This is my final Wednesday Wondering for at least eight months, whilst the rest of The Write Romantics take their turn, so I’m glad to be spending it having my perfect day J.  I think, like a number of others, my perfect day would be spent eating, drinking and laughing with my nearest and dearest.  It would start with me rising early and writing a couple of thousand words, before my husband wakes up and brings me a cup of tea and a crispy bacon sandwich on tiger bread and a steaming hot cup of tea.  Next, I think a morning spent on a beach, rock-pooling with the children and feasting on locally made ice cream would be lovely.  Then hubby could take over with the children, whilst I catch the latest rom–com movie with friends and a late lunch of a clotted-cream afternoon tea.  Then, with the aid of a baby sitter, out with hubby for cocktails and a plate of salt and pepper squid.  A quick check of my emails on arriving home would reveal the offer a three book deal.  So I could finish the day in the hot-tub, looking up at the stars, with a glass of Champagne!

Julie
What a great question. I often think about people born on 29th Feb and whether they feel really special or perhaps struggle with identity issues as their actual birthday date is missing for 3 out of 4 years. Interesting. I think one of the most perfect days that stands out to me from start to finish was my wedding day. I know that may sound corny but everything was perfect; the weather, the food, the outfits, the disco at the reception … It had a couple of mishaps but they made the day funny e.g. I didn’t think about the extra height that the tiara would give to my head and knocked my hair on the door frame when getting into the car to go to the church. This knocked my head forward and I kissed the top of my dress. I was wearing a fairly bright lipstick! I also scraped my dress along the tires and got muck all over it. Then I messed up my vows and got the giggles in the church. But these things made it special.

As for just being handed a day for free and told I could spend it however I wanted, I’m torn between the ‘right’ answer and the selfish one! Selfishly, I’d love nothing more than to spend the whole day lost in the world of creativity that is writing my book. The phone wouldn’t ring, the cats wouldn’t constantly squeak at me to be fed and I’d have absolute peace. I’m lucky to snatch an hour here and there normally which is why this is bliss. The ‘right’ answer would be a day with the family but with nobody being in a grump (hubby) or having a strop (daughter). It would be a day in the great outdoors, location flexible, as long as it included a walk, some photo opportunities, a nice treat like an ice cream or a cake, a mooch round a couple of gift shops and probably a visit to somewhere historical. Given that I live in Scarborough, I have all that on my doorstep and I love it that I’m not actually from here so I don’t take it for granted; instead, I consider myself very lucky to be able to walk along the seafront and visit the castle etc whenever I want.

Alex
I like the idea of a perfect day but it wouldn’t be in February! I’d definitely want to save it until May or June when there’s some hope of a warm and sunny day in Yorkshire.  Then I’d probably go to Whitby.  It’s just over an hour’s drive for me and through some stunning countryside in the North Yorkshire Moors.  When I got there I’d walk down the 199 steps from the Abbey into the town and have lunch in my favourite teashop before walking along the sands and browsing in the lovely shops.  There would then have to be fish and chips for tea before I headed for home.

Jackie
I’ve been thinking about it on and off all week and am really stumped to work out what my perfect day would be- unless it was eating my way through the dessert menu at a really posh hotel- or even better having Simon Baker feed me!

Simon Baker

Helen R
I think I could say that I have had lots of days where I get to the end and just think, “Ah, that was the best day”. Major events are usually overshadowed by adrenaline though so when I think of a “perfect day” it’s more about simplicity…usually the sun would be shining, I would be with family perhaps on a walk followed by relaxing lunch with a glass of crisp Sauvignon Blanc.

Deirdre
I think for my perfect day I’d have to be in my favourite place, which is anywhere in the Sussex countryside.  Then add to that my favourite people, which would be my close family and some special friends.  It would be sunny all day, warm enough to be wearing a nice (hopefully new) summer dress and sandals, and there would be the most delicious food and drink.  Right then, now I’m in the beautiful cottage garden of an old timbered pub and we’re sitting round a vast wooden table with one of those umbrellas over it.  My food has just arrived – deep fried whitebait, with salad and home-made chunky chips, after which I’ll have chocolate pud, all washed down with champagne, best quality of course.  The conversation is light and funny and everyone’s happy with no worries whatsoever.  The birds are singing and there isn’t a pesky wasp in sight.  In the evening we’d all go back to our house, which would have miraculously trebled in size since we left, and sit about watching a great film on the giant screen TV (OK, another miracle required…) with some delicious nibbles and more champagne.  Mmm, when is this perfect day and can I have it soon please?

Rachael
If I had an extra day, first I’d have to insist it was a lovely summer’s day. I’d get up early and head off to one of the many places in the country I’m always promising myself of going to. I love castles and old houses and enjoy losing myself in the history of the place.

I did do that last year when I travelled to Sheffield for the RNA Conference. I have always wanted to go to Chatsworth, so took an extra day off the farm and visited this marvellous place the day before the conference. The sun shone as I wandered around the grounds and listening to the guide as I went through the house gave a real insight to the history of the place. It’s a place that it now on my revisit list!

Lynne
We had pretty much my perfect day last weekend, we were childless all day and went on a lovely drive round Oxford then stopped at a really lovely garden centre which is so much more than just plants but has lovely things to tempt. Then we stopped at a fab country house hotel on the way home for afternoon tea. I love old houses and this, Bibury Court, is a 17th C building with a huge wood fire and loads of squashy sofas in which to curl up & read the papers. Then, home early, to read one of the fab works by my fellow Write Romantics of course. What could be better!

So, come on then, The Write Romantics are giving you a free day to create your perfect twenty-four hours, so please tell us what you plan to do with it and we can all indulge together!

Jo x