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Monday, 11 April 2016

Puppy Power!

Dogs have owners, cats have servants.
DD always wanted a puppy. We said no, as they're such a responsibility and the whole family has to be committed to the idea as dogs are so dependent on humans. Eventually, we gave in and let her have a tiny kitten instead, as cats are more able to fend for themselves. Jynx the Norwegian Forest Cat grew into an enormous hunter of four-legged furry creatures. He's an old timer now, but although he'll catch anything from shrews to squirrels, he's terrified of everything else. This includes our neighbour, who fed him on the couple of occasions our family has all been away from home together.

Son No. 1 started asking for a dog the second he could talk, arguing that the cat belonged to his sister and he didn't have a pet of his own. We held out for years, but so did Son. Nothing would put him off. We told him he could open an animal sanctuary once he owned his own house. He kept on. Once he was fifteen and thinking about working with animals, it seemed like more than just a phase. We told him to do all the research, hoping the costs and work involved would deter him.  It turned out that was the worst thing we could have said. He attacked the task with the zeal of a Dr Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory. Breeds were narrowed down, and he decided he wanted a male golden retriever puppy. He even decided on a name for it—Alex.

Once Son No. 1 saved up enough money, he tracked down Kennel Club approved golden retriever breeder Gaynor Vines.  Some of Gaynor's puppies have gone to be companions and assistance dogs for autistic children, so it sounded like a partnership made in heaven. Son No. 1 still had to convince Gaynor that he (and the rest of our family) were fit and proper people to take on the big responsibility of owning a golden retriever for anything up to fifteen years. He passed the test, paid his deposit, was
Alex on viewing day
put at the top of the waiting list, and we settled down to wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Nature is unpredictable. Before any purebred golden retrievers became available, a lovely litter of retriever/labrador cross puppies arrived, and our son fell in love.

There were ten babies, seven girls and three boys. A viewing day was arranged so potential owners on the waiting list could pick which puppy they wanted. As Jeff was top of the list, his appointment was first, at 10:30am one Saturday morning. Armed with his list of things to look out for, we went to view the puppies. First we met their mum and dad, Ellie and Freddie. You can see a lovely picture of Freddie on the banner of the Care and Connect Facebook Page. Both parents were quiet, friendly and most importantly, their whole canine family had been home reared in company with several cats. We wanted to be sure of this, so our new arrival wouldn't bother with Jynx.

The puppies were only five weeks old, and their resistance to the outside world was still low. We had to go through a disinfectant footpath and weren't allowed to touch the puppies ourselves, only look at them as they played around on the other side of a low partition.  It was impossible to choose between between the three little dog puppies. They were all beautiful (of course!) but more importantly they were equally well grown, lively and inquisitive. We asked the breeder loads of questions, and watched the puppies playing with each other, and with her. They had the run of most of a large room, with lots of toys. There were unusual things, too—a collection of metal ladles and spoons, and  tunnels made from short lengths of wide plastic pipe. Their environment was designed to make sure they grew up accustomed to all sorts of unexpected sounds and experiences. It would be our job to carry on this work of socialising Alex to people, places, and things after we brought him home.

When you're getting ready to welcome a new puppy into your home, there's as much to do as when you're waiting for a human baby. And the similarities don't stop there! Next time, there are tears at bedtime and sleepless nights, so make sure you don't miss the next episode.

For more news about  Alex, life here at Tottering Towers and (with luck) a recipe for Orange Polenta cake, drop me an email at christinahollis(at)hotmail.co.uk with the words "Spring Newsletter" in the subject line.



Sunday, 13 March 2016

Is There Anybody There?

Before you read any further, if you're a human and you've opened this blog, please go straight to the comments and type "!". Then come back here, and read on...

I love reading other people's blogs, and blogging myself. This site gets plenty of traffic, but not many comments. It makes me wonder whether it's worth spending time on writing, posting and checking blog entries here, when I could be working on my next book, or out in the garden enjoying this lovely spring sunshine.

It's not as though I'm vanishing from the blogosphere entirely. As well as my own blog on this site, I blog on 14th of each month for Authorsoundrelations.  I also contribute to Janice Rosser's site OAPSchat, as well as taking part in blog tours, and guest spots with other authors. You can always find me at my website, christinahollis.com, too.

At the moment I'm behind with my writing schedule for 2016, so I'm going to be blogging here less frequently for a while. To paraphrase the politicians favourite phrase, I'll be spending more time with my Work In Progress :)

Of course, if you want to get in touch with me, come rain, shine, or looming deadline, just add a comment below!

Monday, 7 March 2016

Four Top Tips To Get Your Writing Noticed...

There’s huge pool of writing talent roaming the internet, and every one of them wants to be the next J.K Rowling or E.L James.  Here are three tips to help your work get noticed.

1. Read lots of best-selling books, especially of the type you want to write. Authors become popular because they know what readers like, and expect.  Background research helps you understand your audience.  Write first and foremost to please yourself, but if you want to entertain others as well, make sure you tailor your work to their likes and dislikes. Check out author guidelines, such as the ones produced by romance publishers Mills and Boon. http://www.millsandboon.co.uk/

2. When showcasing your work, first impressions count. They shape a reader's experience. William Shakespeare would still be a genius if he'd scratched words with a stick on wax tablets, but his texts would have been thrown away without a second glance. He knew how to present his work, and to whom. Times have changed, but some basic facts remain the same. An editor with piles of manuscripts to check will start with the ones that are easiest to read.  It's human nature to assume that a writer who can't be bothered to make an effort with presentation hasn’t put their whole heart and soul into a project.  

3. If you're sending off a paper version of your manuscript, make sure the lines are double spaced. Use white paper, print only on one side in black ink, in Times New Roman 12 point or other easily read font. Include a front sheet with the title, your writing name if you're using one, the word count and your contact details. Type "The End" at the end of your sample (of course!), so nobody’s left in any doubt, and add your details again. That's it. You don’t need fancy bindings, Gothic script or coloured ink. Just make it clean and clear. If you’re sending a submission by email, find out how your contact wants your work sent—as attachments, or samples in the body of the email message. If you use a Mac, supply your text as a Word document too, just in case. And always keep copies of everything.

4. Dreams of becoming a full-time, professional writer face stiff competition.  If your first move is to look for an agent or a publisher, choose carefully. Research firms, and individuals, via the Internet, or an up-to-date copy of the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook. Don't send your steamy sex-saga to a publisher who only deals in children's books, for a start. Make sure you send off exactly what is asked for, too—no more, and no less. Ideally, don’t start approaching agents or publishers until your book is finished. If it isn’t complete, tell them so, and when they can expect to see the whole thing.


Good luck!

Monday, 29 February 2016

Leap Day—A Second Chance To Start Again...

How are you getting on with those New Year Resolutions which all started so well back on January 1st? I know, I know, I've fallen down on the job, too—but with 2016 being a Leap Year and Leap Day (29th February) falling on a Monday, it's the perfect time to wipe the slate clean and try again. Here are three tips to give you a boost—

1. TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR OWN ACTIONS - How often have you heard someone say “I could have anything I wanted if only I had more money/more time/a better looking partner...or any one of a hundred other excuses. We all like to indulge in a bit of wishful thinking, but dreaming doesn’t change anything.  Appreciating what we’re blessed with already and building on it is the only way to get results. For instance, if (like me) you can’t understand why it’s impossible to lose weight, get checked out by a doctor to rule out any underlying medical condition, then try keeping a food and exercise diary for a few days.  It really helps, and I speak from experience!

2. BELIEVE  - it doesn’t matter what your goal is, the important thing is that you set one. Then buckle down and channel everything you’ve got toward achieving it. “Begin with the end in mind”, Steven Covey says in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Make sure your mind is trained on your ultimate prize, whatever that might be. Wanting to write a book isn’t enough. You must believe with all your heart that you can do it. A solid core belief is the only thing that will get you through the hours and hours of writing, re-writing, rejection and editing it needs to reach a goal like that. Half-hearted procrastinators need not apply! 

3. DO IT NOW - whatever "it" is. By the law of unintended consequence, it’ll take twice as long tomorrow, and three times longer next month. When you keep putting off the evil moment when you must balance your budget, send that email, or break off a relationship, the harder it becomes - and all the time the dread of doing it casts a deepening shadow over your every waking minute. When you’ve got a lot of frogs to eat, the saying goes, eat the ugly frog first. Making the initial effort is always the worst part of any task. 

Whatever you want to achieve in life, you are the only one who can really make it happen. Identify what you want, go for it, and you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that whatever you achieve, you’ll have given it your very best shot.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

How Do You Fancy Your Very Own Irresistible Bachelor?

Only 99 pence!
Click on the Amazon Advert to the right
The Irresistible Bachelor Collection, starring my very own Count Of Castelfino, is on offer right now for only 99 pence. Here's a taste of what you can enjoy by clicking on the advert in the right hand sidebar...

Meg Imsey is determined to start her new job in the gardens at the Villa Castelfino, although the new count disapproves.  Assuming he’ll keep well away, Meg goes off to the walled garden and loses herself in her work until Count Gianni lets himself into her sanctuary…

‘I never dreamed anyone would disturb me in here. The door was locked.  I have the only key.  How did you get in?’  she blustered, embarrassment mixed up with growing anger.
One hand in his pocket, Gianni strolled over to the old medlar tree where Meg had hung her hat and shirt.  Plucking them from the branches like particularly desirable fruit, he made his way over to her.  He took his time.  It was painfully obvious to Meg that he was making her wait for her clothes.  She wasn’t in the mood to be toyed with.  As soon as he got close enough she snatched her things from his hands and pulled them on.  He watched with something close to amusement.  Then he drew a second key from his pocket with a flourish.
‘As I said –I live here.  I have a copy of every key in the place.’
Barefoot but otherwise decent, Meg rallied.
‘That doesn’t explain why you felt the need to come in here.’
‘It wasn’t a need.  It was a want.  I wanted to see you, Megan.’
There was a haunting look in his dark eyes.  It was so delicious she could hardly meet his gaze. Nervous that he might be able to read all sorts of things from her own expression, she looked down at the coarse wiry grass at her feet.  All sorts of hope were beginning to stir deep within her… 

Copyright Harlequin Mills and Boon Limited.


I don’t use real people in my books, but that scene is based around a spectacular medlar tree in a real Tuscan garden.  It is planted directly below a terrace, which gives spectacular views of the snowy white flowers and later the strange, wide-mouthed fruit. The brownish medlars look something like giant rose hips. They are picked while still as hard as conkers and stored on flat trays until soft and wrinkled.  The overripe pulp has an odd, winy smell.  When boiled up with lemon juice and sugar, then strained it makes a glorious amber jelly to serve with cold meats and salamis.  It’s an acquired taste, somewhere between wine and cider but without the alcohol.  I’ve found a recipe for Medlar fudge, too, but that has so many other delicious ingredients (cream, brown sugar, maple syrup etc) that I suspect they mask any medlar flavour.  A pile of pancakes, some home made vanilla ice-cream and a drizzle of medlar fudge sauce sounds like a perfect pudding for those freezing spring nights when summer days in Tuscany seem a long, long way away....

The Count Of Castelfino is included in the The Irresistible Bachelor Collection, which is on special offer right now for only 99pence, so take advantage of this special offer now!

Monday, 1 February 2016

Dieting, And A Destination...

When the first of the month falls on a Monday, it’s a great time for second chances. How are you doing with your New Year resolutions? I’ve struggled with cutting down on carbs, so since Christmas, I’ve been busy losing three pounds in weight, then putting two of them back on again. It’s the little things I miss. OH brought a still-warm loaf of wholegrain bread back from our village shop one day last week. I managed to resist it for a whole day, but my willpower failed before the family managed to eat it all. Bread and Marmite has never tasted so good!

The second of February is Candlemas Day, a Christian celebration celebrated annually. It represents the Virgin Mary's purification and the presentation of Christ, and in our church all the candles for the year are blessed. Snowdrops are traditionally known as Candlemas Bells, as they flower at this time of year. When some brave daffodils were in flower at Christmas here, I thought the snowdrops would all be out and over by now, but they followed their own calendar. The photos on this blog were taken here at Tottering Towers, but if you’re anywhere near Colesbourne in Gloucestershire over the next couple of weeks, try and get to Colesbourne Gardens, where you can see them by the thousand. The gardens are signposted from the M5, and opening times for this don't-blink-or-you'll miss it event are on their website.

Friday, 29 January 2016

So You Want To Write A Book? Part Four...

1. Whatever you write, pour your heart and soul into it. If you believe in your work, then so will your readers, and you want to appeal to the widest possible audience. Read widely, join book clubs and talk to people. The more research you do into finding out what people like to read, the happier you can make them.

2. Find yourself a successful mentor, preferably by making personal contact through your membership of a good professional group, such as the Romantic Novelists' Association, or the Romance Writers Of America. You need someone you respect, who knows what they're talking about, who'll be honest about your work, and suggest ways you can improve. If you can't find any face-to-face guidance, go online and check out popular writers whose work you admire and see if they’ve produced any guides to writing that will help you.

3. Word of mouth recommendations drive the majority of book sales, so think creatively when it comes to getting your books into the hands of willing readers. If your book is good, your readers will spread the word far and wide, at no expense to you. Above all, enjoy your writing and remember—success isn’t only measured in financial terms. To have completed a book you’re proud to have written is a great achievement.

To make sure you don't miss any of my top tips, follow my blog using the sign-up form on the right hand sidebar of this page. I send out a newsletter a couple of times a year with news about my writing, country life, competitions and offers—join my mailing list here.