Newsletter subscribers have chosen the cover of my next short story, and voters were entered in a draw to win a preview copy of My Dream Guy. Emma's name was the first out of the hat. Congratulations, Emma!

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Romance In The Rain—My Dream Guy

Go Wild In The Country!
How do you fancy a short burst of fun at the end of this washout of a summer? I've got the perfect antidote for your back-to-work blues.

Here in Gloucestershire we had a miserable spring and early summer, followed by the hottest, driest July on record. 

Luckily for the wildlife (but not so good if you like life outdoors), all that sunshine was followed by a dismal, wet August. With the barbecues in storage, why not splash out on an affordable treat—my next release? 

My latest short romance, My Dream Guy, was inspired by a holiday booked by my husband a few years ago. I thought it was going to be glorified camping, which we'd got out of our systems in the years BC—Before Children. 

It was fun, but the idea of roughing it with a baby on board made me dread a week stuck in the middle of nowhere. 
Emily, the heroine of My Dream Guy, doesn't have any children to worry about. She's only twenty-three, with a job she likes, and a gorgeous boyfriend in the shape of Jack Wright, but the sparkle has gone out of their romance. 

When Jack books them into a Welsh campsite during the wettest summer on record, it’s nearly the last straw for poor Emily. Like her friend Grace, she's a soft beds and sushi kind of girl.

Emily thinks the bronzed farmer who was her teenage crush is going to be the best thing about this dreaded holiday. But time has moved on. Feinwen Farm isn't the place she remembered.  Hunky Harri might be twice the man he was, but he's not the only one who's full of surprises!

Will Emily’s holiday from hell turn out to have a happy ending, too? 
You can find out more here.

The real-life holiday I was dreading turned out to be great fun. The minute I discovered we'd be staying in a lovely chalet with all mod. cons (including a hot tub!) I was hooked. From an open fire to  swimming under the stars, our holiday had it all. 

What's your best holiday memory? There's a free copy of My Dream Guy on offer for a comment picked at random on Saturday, 10th September. 

Monday, 24 August 2015

5 Top Tips For Writing With Scrivener

Scrivener's not simply a word processing package, it's a project management tool for writers. It allows you to store all your research, ideas, images and metadata in one place—the same place you're creating your manuscript. It saves you from drowning in a sea of notes made on the backs of envelopes, or in half a dozen different notebooks (if you can find them). When your book is finished, Scrivener can export it in any number of forms, including compiled and ready for publishing online.

Once you can navigate the Scrivener system it's brilliant, but to begin with it can be daunting. You can find out more about the possible downside here, but now I've been working with Scrivener for a while these are my top tips:

1. There's no substitute for diving in and tinkering. Use the free trial facility available from Literature and Latte. Press all the buttons, switch from view to view, drag and drop, and try out various forms of compilation to create different types of document for publication or upload. You can customise the system, so that each time you start a new project the fonts and formatting are exactly as you want them. Take your time to become familiar with the whole Scrivener experience. It's lovely to open a new project and start typing, knowing you're free to work without having to fight the system. Which leads me to...

2. Never try to learn a new system such as Scrivener when you're working to a deadline. Learn first, write later. Or write using your normal word processor (regularly saving to flash drives or the cloud, of course) then import it into the Scrivener project where you store all your research and ideas. I did this when I was working on my latest short romance, My Dream Guy. I wrote the first draft in a single document, using Pages for Mac. Instead of giving each chapter a title, I put a hashtag (#) at the end of each one. When imported into Scrivener, the system automatically created a new file for each chapter.  After editing my work in Scrivener, all I needed to do to format it ready for publication was hit Scrivener's "compile" button and—bingo! One ready-formatted manuscript, ready to go. 
3. RTFM—Read The Flaming* Manual, which in Scrivener's case rather handily shows up each time you open the package. It's there, along with interactive and video tutorials, visible on the front page, and for a reason. Use it. The video tutorials provided by Literature and Latte are great if you're a visual learner—the type of person who needs to see things done, rather than simply having them explained in words.

4. Scrivener For Dummies, written by Scrivener Wizard Gwen Hernandez is an invaluable book, although in common with every other trouble-shooting system for computing I've used, if you don't know why you're stuck, it won't be much help. You need to know the exact questions to ask the index, and the terms to use. I found fiddling about free-form (see Tip 1, above) and then cross-referencing the effect I achieved with this book was a great way to learn. I've always got my copy within reach. As a result, it's covered with notes, and remnants of those two vital components of a writer's life, tea and cake. Gwen Hernandez also has a Scrivener Corner on her website, with loads of useful tips (and no cake crumbs). You can find that here.

5. If all else fails, type your question into a search engine. You'll be amazed how many articles and YouTube videos have been produced by enthusiasts. A word of warning: because these people are enthusiasts, you may find the instructors go too fast, or skip over exactly the details you need to know. More than one of these personable geniuses uses the phrase  "you'll know how to do that already...." about the precise part of the process you want explained. The screenshots these video artistes use are often tiny and indistinct, too, so use these only if you've got 20/20 vision, a degree in mind-reading, and you're willing to take a chance.

Have you tried working with Scrivener? What's your favourite tip?

* other words beginning with F are available...

Monday, 17 August 2015

This Writing Life—Cover Reveal for My Dream Guy... 
In my summer newsletter, I held a competition for readers to choose between potential covers for my next short story, My Dream Guy. The names of everyone who voted went into a draw to win a preview copy of my next short romance, My Dream Guy, and Emma’s name was first out of the hat. Here’s the cover my subscribers chose. What do you think? 

My Dream Guy is based on a holiday OH booked as a surprise when we hadn’t been together long. I really did not want to go. I was too busy at work, the weather had been foul for weeks and wasn’t forecast to get any better, while to cap it all, this was an outdoor activity holiday. I’d much rather sit in a wood than fly through it on a zip wire, but when you’re first in love, you don't always say things like that out loud! I was all ready to be a martyr, but I got a big shock when I discovered my own dream guy had hidden depths... 
Emily gets a wake-up call too in my new story, My Dream Guy. The sparkle’s gone out of her relationship with Jack. She’s started hankering after the guy who was her first crush. Back then, Harri was a bronzed, twenty-something farmer who hardly paid any attention to the tongue-tied kid camping in his field with her family. Now Emily’s older, she’s thinks Harri the Hunk’s going to be the best thing about her dreaded holiday to a Welsh campsite, during the wettest summer on record. 

She’s in for an enormous shock—and then her boyfriend Jack springs an even bigger surprise. 

Can Emily’s holiday from hell ever have a happy ending?

There’ll be more about My Dream Guy in my autumn newsletter. That will have all sorts of news about life here at Tottering Towers, including the latest on Heart of A Hostage, the next book in my Princes Of Kharova series for The Wild Rose Press, an update on my bees and the kitchen garden harvest, together with a seasonal recipe, and a competition for subscribers only.

 My next newsletter will be out in the autumn. To get a copy, you can join my mailing list here: 

Monday, 10 August 2015

This Writing Life—Heart Of A Hostage

Coming soon!
Here's the newly-produced cover of my twentieth published novel. What do you think? Heart Of A Hostage is the third book in my Princes of Kharova series for the Wild Rose Press.

Mihail inherits a fearsome reputation as Public Enemy Number One. His family lost the throne of Kharova four generations ago—but in the small European country of Kharova, blood feuds last for centuries.

A car breaks down near his rebel headquarters, stranding its beautiful royal passenger. Mihail seizes the chance to take Princess Maia hostage. It's his perfect short-cut to the throne—or so he thinks.

Maia turns out to be the house guest from hell, and Mihail is a man with dark secrets locked away in his ruined castle hideaway. When Maia discovers what they are, the stakes rise and an already dangerous situation becomes lethal...

There's a big secret at the centre of Heart Of A Hostage, but I'm only revealing that to readers of my newsletter! The autumn edition will be coming out in October.  As well as a revelation about Heart Of A Hostage, my newsletter will  also contain details of my latest short story, My Dream Guy, together with a seasonal recipe, news about the harvest here at Tottering Towers, an update on my bees after their recent scare, and a competition. Sign up to my mailing list here to get a copy delivered straight to your inbox!

Monday, 3 August 2015

Beekeeping Bother: An Inspector Calls...

Probably one of mine!
I keep bees, although I never thought I could do it in a million years. The ideal beekeeper is well organised, calm, ready to turn their hand to remedial woodwork or a bit of flat-pack assembly at the drop of a hat, and accepts bee stings as just part of the job spec. I'm disorganised, anything but calm, hopeless at DIY and with a morbid fear of being stung.  I'm not even very keen on honey, so you might well ask why on earth I'm a beekeeper. It's because there are so many advantages, they far outweigh any problems.  Making an effort to plan, to record, to learn new skills and—stealing a phrase from Susan Jeffers—to Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway—far outweighs any downside. Unfortunately, something happened recently that cast a big black cloud over me and my bees.

I love gardening, cooking, and anything to do with wildlife.  If I could create infographics, I'd put one right here, with beekeeping at the hub of my favourite things. It's lovely to watch bees buzzing through the flowers on a lazy summer afternoon. The work they do in pollinating our  apple, plum and pear blossom provides us with fruit.  Later, at dusk, it's fascinating to stand in the apiary (as a collection of beehives is called) and hear the bees humming inside their hive. With a large and busy colony, the noise is loud enough to be heard from quite a way away. It's made by bees vibrating their wings, to drive off moisture from their haul of nectar. Concentrating the liquid means it will store without fermenting. If the weather's very hot, bees will bring water into the hive and evaporate that too, in order to cool their home. It's the original form of air-conditioning. How fascinating is that? I use honey in cooking to roast vegetables, and make cakes. Its anti-bacterial properties make it a great home remedy, too. The juice of half a lemon and a spoonful of honey, diluted with a splash of hot water makes a comforting drink if you've got a cold, or a sore throat. It's dangerous to promote anything as a cure-all, but beekeepers are a pretty healthy lot (we'll tactfully forget about the possibility of stings!)

My little apiary has been bumbling along (!) quite happily for about eight years. Then, the day before I was due to leave for the Romantic Novelists' Association's conference in July, I got the worst possible news. The expert who sold me a colony of bees a couple of years ago had diagnosed American Foul Brood (AFB) in his apiary. That's the equivalent of Foot And Mouth disease in farm animals. It's about the worst news any beekeeper can get. As my supplier is a diligent beekeeper, he gave the details of everyone who'd bought bees from him to the Seasonal Bee Inspector, who had to visit every contact on the list and check their bees.

Last week, my bees were up for inspection. Although I check them for disease during all my weekly hive inspections and have never spotted anything, I was really worried. What if I'd missed something? The queen bee lays an egg in each of the familiar hexagonal cells of the colony's honeycomb (don't worry, in a properly-maintained hive, she can't enter the part that provides the honey we eat. There's no chance of eating baby bees with your breakfast!). Foul brood in a hive produces a horrible smell, as you might guess, and the bee larvae are deformed and mushy.  The larvae in my hives were all fat, white and curled up in text book fashion.  That didn't stop me stressing.

If my bees had AFB, they'd all have to be destroyed, and my equipment burned. Okay, so "they're only insects", but they are my responsibility, and I had duty of care. Bees are in enough trouble worldwide, without me adding to their problems.

I was so concerned I posted about my worries on Facebook, and was touched by all the good wishes and promises of crossed fingers I received.  Thanks, everyone, I really appreciate your kind thoughts!

By the time the Seasonal Bee Inspector arrived, I was a bag of nerves. I was so concerned, I'd ironed my bee suit. I never normally iron anything! He was very kind and understanding, but his inspection took forever. He checked everything—and then he checked it all over again. As a matter of course, my bees were examined for any signs of deformed wings (caused by a different virus). They were brushed from their comb so the inspector could check the state of the wax cappings over the developing larvae. The appearance of everything was checked down to the smallest detail—several times.

I hadn't been sure whether the bee inspector would be able to give me the verdict there and then, or whether I'd have to gnaw my fingernails and wait for lab results, but I was too nervous to ask. Luckily, he didn't find any trace of anything nasty. He was able to give me the all-clear straight away! There was no sign of either AFB, or European Foul Brood (EFB), so I celebrated by writing full details of his visit and contact details down in my Apiary Record Book, as every conscientious, well-organised beekeeper should...:D

Incidentally, although the bee inspector was doing the insect equivalent of taking the roof of a huge maternity department and rummaging about among the staff and babies (for what felt like hours), neither he, nor I, got stung (thank goodness!). My bees have been selected to be docile, and despite this extensive disruption to their routine, they took it in their stride.

I include news about my bees and seasonal recipes as well as giveaways, and updates about my writing life in my newsletter, which I send out two or three times a year. The next one will include details of a short story due for release in the autumn, My Dream Guy, and  Heart Of A Hostage, which is the third title in my Princes Of Kharova series for The Wild Rose Press.

To get my newsletter, you can sign up for my mailing list here. To catch up with the first two parts of my Princes Of Kharova series, you can find out more here.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Guest Post: Lindsay Debout Talks About Writing Warming Stories...

Warming Stories
Today I'm welcoming an old friend of mine, Lindsay Debout. Lindsay has just self-published a book for the first time. That's an exciting and nerve-racking time in anyone's life, and Lindsay's here to tell us a bit about it.
I'm pleased you invited me to drop by, Christina. Thank you! I juggle a full time job in computing with home and family life, so writing is very much an occasional pastime for me. At the beginning of the year I had an idea for a short story, and Christina persuaded me to write it down. More stories followed, until I had enough for one volume and the beginnings of a second. It's that first volume, Warming Stories, which I've just self-published on SmashWords. 
Tell us about Warming Stories...
Warming Stories is a collection of erotic short stories for an adult audience. Each one is centred around a different female character and her reaction to the situation in which I've put her. Although I classify my stories as 'erotic', sex isn't the main focus of most of them; as in real life, sex is an important part of the journey but not the only part.
I've done some sexy scenes in my books, but not to that extent. Is the sex very explicit in Warming Stories?
Depends on what you mean by 'explicit'.  I wouldn't call it hard-core, but there's no doubt what's happening.
So, on the scale from vanilla to kinky, where do your stories fit?
I'm not sure these days anyone would call any of it 'kinky'. My stories are more about the relationship between the individuals rather than what they're doing to each other. If my readers want anything at all extreme, they should look elsewhere. None of my stories feature drugs, children, animals, cruelty, or anything like that. 
How can we find out more?
Warming Stories is free to download here It's in the Smashwords Premium catalogue, so it is available through several outlets including Kobo, Barnes and Noble, and it's in some libraries as well. I might charge a small amount for the second volume, but we'll see how popular Volume 1 is first.
Why did you want to write in the first place?
I loved writing the first one so much, I got wrapped up in the whole idea of telling more stories. I hope people will enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.
I'm sure they will, Lindsay! Your first volume of Warming Stories is already available free here,  so how about giving us a taster of your current work in progress?
I'd love to. These are the opening paragraphs from my next short story, 'Skater Man':
Pippa gazed up at the misty San Francisco sky. What just happened?
Mentally she reran the last few seconds. I was walking towards Fisherman’s Wharf. There was a clang behind me, then a shout, then something hit me in the back and spun me around.
She was lying on a very lumpy mound. Strange. It’s all pavement and benches around here. An arm lifted and waved in the air. I’m not wearing anything yellow. And I don’t have tanned hands.
Her brain finally connected the dots and she hurriedly rolled sideways. The figure she’d been lying on grunted and sucked in a lungful of air. “That didn’t go well,” he gasped.
No doubt about it, he was a local. Rollerblades, knee and elbow pads, helmet, disgustingly healthy teeth and the fashionable amount of sun tan. He was probably tall, probably fit and probably healthy, but right now he was sprawled full-length on his back. The impact and then Pippa’s weight on his chest had knocked the wind out of him.
Pippa scowled down at him. “What the Hell do you think you’re doing?”
“Trying to breathe,” he wheezed. “Give me a minute.”
Slowly he eased himself up onto his knees. Pippa parked her indignation for the time being and helped him clamber to his feet. Between them they got him to a bench and he took off his helmet.
“Sorry about that. I was trying a reverse slalom around the bollards and I got the timing wrong. Are you okay?”
He was definitely tall – she’d found that out when guiding him to the bench. The T shirt stretched over the unmistakeable shape of a muscular torso.  His hair was curly. At a guess he was early thirties. Not quite Greek God material, but definitely in a pantheon somewhere.
Pippa’s analysis was interrupted by his raised eyebrow. “Oh! Sorry. I think I’m all right.” She gave herself a quick once-over. “It feels like my hand smacked the ground and my dress must have got caught somewhere.” She sighed as she inspected the rip. “Looks like I’ll be making more dusters.”
“We can sort that out. Can I buy you a coffee? It’s the least I can do.” Without waiting for her answer he stood up and offered his hand.
Pippa hesitated for a moment. He’s a complete stranger, and a hooligan on skates. Why on Earth should I trust him? And yet… I don’t get the feeling he’s making a pass. I think this is just his way. She took his hand and he pulled her to her feet.
“There’s a restaurant right across the street. I can recommend it. I often eat there.” He led her across the boulevard. Pippa followed – not that she had much choice. He hadn’t let go of her hand, and she hadn’t tried to pull free. For some reason it felt fine.
Anyway, it’ll be more interesting than what I had planned for the day. So long as I’m sensible, what can possibly go wrong? Don’t answer that.

Thanks for visiting my blog, Lindsay. Best of luck with Warming Stories!

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

The Most Writing-Related Fun I've Had With My Clothes On—The RNA Conference, 2015

One Of The Peaceful Places To Write...
I've belonged to The Romantic Novelists' Association for years, but it was only when my local chapter (the Marcher) persuaded me to attend the annual conference on a day-ticket last year that I realised what I'd been missing. After that, I made sure I signed up for the whole three days of the 2015 adventure as soon as the list opened. This year's conference was held over a long weekend, 10th-12th July. I got back home yesterday, and my brain is still 100% Conference Custard.

This year's conference was held at Queen Mary's University, Mile End, in East London. Delegates could stay in student accommodation on the campus. The rooms were perfect for a short stay–clean, functional and within yards of the campus shop, laundry, cafe and bar. Oops—I nearly forgot. The residential blocks are all handy for dropping into the lecture theatres, too! I'm not sure how the students manage for whole terms, though. The racket echoing around the concrete canyons of the campus from revellers straggling back from the pub each night made it impossible for this country mouse to sleep with the window open. The double glazing shut out almost all the noise, so with the window closed I managed some writing until it got too hot inside the room. At first light there were some peaceful places around the campus for working. Luckily most of my stay was cool and cloudy, but for a couple of sultry nights I didn't get any sleep, or any writing done either, as there was no rest from the racket! 

Jan Jones, Roger Sanderson, Jenny Barden and their RNA team plan these events years in advance, so the strike of London Underground workers called for 9th July was a real pain. It was the day when most people would be arriving at the campus. Worse still, mainline trains running from the west of the country into London were cancelled, too. People like me who live right out in the shires hadn't a hope of getting to the university, as the total lack of parking space there meant bringing a car wasn't an option. I went up to London a day early to avoid the problems, and spent the extra time helping distribute complimentary tea, coffee, milk and sugar around the delegates' accommodation. 

Canary Wharf From The Green Bridge
On Thursday, while other people were battling their way to the university on foot, in taxis or by bus, I went for a long walk in an oasis of calm called the Jubilee Greenway. At Mile End, it's been formed from previously derelict land. I particularly liked the Green Bridge, which goes over the main A11. I'd walked straight across it before I realised I was crossing only a few feet above a busy arterial road! Traffic sounds are muffled by plantings of gorse and birch trees on the Green Bridge. Its greenery supports a lot of warblers, wrens and other birds, while crickets sizzle in the grass beneath the plants. 

I was already having a whale of a time, and the conference hadn't even started! Friday was an industry special. There was a panel of agents discussing their part in an author's career, and talks by editors, publishers, mass book buyers and reviewers. 

Workshops on character development, finding your writing voice, how to promote yourself, your brand, and your book filled the rest of the weekend. You could learn to punctuate with confidence with Jenny Haddon and Elizabeth Hawksley, experience the intricacies of dressing like a Geisha with Pia Fenton and Sue Moorcroft, or  discover the ins and outs of Victorian clothing with Mireille Weller. 

John And Friends (with champagne!)
Saturday Evening's Gala dinner gave the 300 delegates a chance to dress up and glitter. Everyone looked fantastic. The heels of Christina Courtenay's beautiful stilettos were exclamation marks of elegance. John Jackson, star of Twitter, the New Writers' Scheme, RNA Blogs and much more, came dressed for the Duchess Of Richmond's ball. If that wasn't heroic enough, he brought all sorts of wonderful things with him and created champagne cocktails (the best I've ever tasted) right there in the university's sun-drenched plaza. Actually, it might have been pouring with rain— John's cocktails stop you noticing the weather. They are that good. Believe me. 

The Gala Dinner was held beneath the spectacular vault of books contained in the university's grand Octagon library. Putting faces to the names of people I've only met online, or on the cover of their books, was amazing. 

My Souvenir!
I loved every second of the conference, so picking a favourite session is almost impossible. Two, though, stand out in my memory. Jane Wenham Jones did a workshop based around her book Wanna Be A Writer We've Heard Of? which was full of tips and wrinkles for promoting your work. To put them into practice you've got to look confident and outgoing (even if you aren't). This is where Janie Millman's session Present Yourself was a real help to me. Among other things, I learned to project my voice by jumping up and down and grunting like a Neanderthal. Doing this along with thirty other people—most of whom I'd never met before—was a crash course in shedding inhibitions. 

In the penultimate session I went to, Alison May urged us to get out of our comfort zones. Normally I shrink in my seat when anyone says that, but this time Alison was preaching to the choir—I'd already left my inhibitions back in Janie's session, the day before! 

One of the many important things I learned from the RNA conference is a fancy trick with Amazon links, which you can do via Booklinker. If you click on this link: you should see details which work for all Amazon stores, in whichever country you live. That sounds like magic to me. Could you try it out for me, and let me know if it really works? Thanks!