Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ring in the new

This time last year I wished for some quiet, even months to balance things out. No serious illnesses for anyone close to me. No deaths. No messy legal stuff. My house fixed.

Hmm. The serious illness in the family was still a problem (DH alone gave me grey hair with his penicillin reaction, let alone the other people I was worrying about – and in fact still am, because some of it’s ongoing), but the rest of it worked out fine.

Goals for this year:
  1. Work-life balance/stress management. Keep this going – the big key to this is having a routine and sticking to it. Sure, it can be flexible (i.e. nice day = possible time off), but building in time for emergencies is a good idea. I have to be realistic about Dad: his condition will get worse rather than better, and it’s a matter of building on the good days (and maybe ringing the home before I visit – he gets more out of the visit on a good day, too, whereas on a bad day he might not know I’ve visited, so it makes sense to try to get as many good days as I can so we both get the best of it).
  2. Exercise and weight management. Keep this going, too. The key to this is planning meals a week in advance (again, I can be flexible, but if it’s written down I’m more likely to be sensible) and keeping my online food diary (and I’m honest with it, so that’s a good thing). Keep going with the Wii (OK, so weighing myself every day isn’t ideal, but then again it also stops me sliding). The goal is to be back to my wedding weight – preferably by my wedding anniversary, but the end of the year will do. And then stay there!
  3. Writing. I want to lift my game a little – I want my books to really move people. As last year, I’ll track it through reader feedback, reviews, award shortlistings and bestseller lists. And as I’ve cut back a little on the local history (something had to give!), that should give me the space to sort another project I’ve wanted to do for a while. In theory.

    Do you have any resolutions or goals for this year? I’d love to hear them.I wish you all health, happiness and fulfilment for 2010. Happy New Year!

Ring out the old

Today’s a day for looking back. What kind of a year has 2009 been?

Workwise
Not bad.

(That’s probably about 380,000 words. If this was anyone else, I’d be cheering them on. But it’s me, so the verdict is ‘could do better…’)

There were some really fabulous career highlights – I was shortlisted for the RNA Romance Prize 2009 with Sold to the Highest Bidder!; my book Hotly Bedded, Conveniently Wedded was chosen as the first Presents to be an enhanced e-book; and Romantic Times gave me my first ever Top Pick for Surrender to the Playboy Sheikh AND shortlisted the book as Best Presents 2009. The year ended on a nice note, too, as Temporary Boss, Permanent Mistress made the Waldies list - thank you to everyone who bought it and put me there.

Personally
Bit of a rough year again – health problems in the family, redundancies and bullying issues. I’d like to thank everyone who’s been so kind and supportive, either with blog comments or private emails/phone calls. It really was appreciated.

So how did I do with my goals?

  1. Work-life balance/stress management. Well, I’m still the family fixer and that’s fine. And I’m getting better at managing deadlines, by going back to the way I used to do things in my ratrace days, i.e. keeping a proper schedule/to do list.
  2. Exercise. Hmm. Well, I was a bit better with this, particularly from September onwards. (Probably helped because I have a list of the week’s meals pinned to the fridge and there’s a space for me to write in the number of steps. That’s one management tool I’ll continue to use next year: I need structure!)
  3. Weight management. Thanks to the Harcombe diet, I’m actually taking some positive steps here. I’ve lost almost stone so far – mid-November was a bit of a struggle (note to self, reaching for the chocolate when you’re worried sick doesn’t do anything except stop the weight coming off; and Christmas was overindulgence) but this works without making me obsessed with food.
  4. Writing. I said I wanted to lift my game. I’ve had some really lovely reader letters this year and some fantastic reviews. I was shortlisted in the 2009 RNA awards. I’ve done well in the bestseller lists (top quartile of the Waldies for Playboy Boss – behind two REALLY big-name authors, so I was delighted) AND I got a Top Pick from RT, so hopefully I’ve met my goal there. And I think my Norway book (written mostly this year) is one of my best to date. The project that fell through the cracks? I wrote an outline and a dirty draft of the first chapter. That’s something to build on.

I’m a notorious goalpost-mover where my own achievements are concerned, but I think I’ve done OK with my goals this year. I’m lighter than I was at the beginning of the year, I’m a little bit fitter, and I’m happy with the way my writing and work-life balance/stress management are going. It’s a matter of consolidating it all and using it as a base to move forward in 2010.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

new decade (and new appliances…)

Current work: French duo book 2 (deadline approaching, arrgh)
Listening to: Norah Jones
Reading: CJ Sansom, Revelation

I’m going to do the looking back/forward thing on the year tomorrow. But we have a new decade coming up, so I want to look back on the Noughties as a whole (we were talking about it last night over dinner, so this list includes what the kids said...)

Overall, the Noughties were pretty good to me. We became a four-person family with the birth of Madam; Byron joined us; I got my hearing back (which I hadn't thought possible) and went back to music lessons; and careerwise I had my two biggest dreams come true – becoming a Mills & Boon author in 2001 (first book out 2002) and winning a literary award (RNA Romance Prize 2008). We made some really good friends, through work and school. We also extended the house quite a bit, so now we have a living space that really suits us. Yes, there was some dark stuff (mainly close family deaths and serious illnesses – some of which is still ongoing – and losing our first two spaniels), but on the whole it was a good decade. I feel grounded and settled, and that’s a good place to be.

I hope the next decade will be as happy, overall. I know we have some more dark stuff coming, this decade, with our remaining parents getting elderly, but we’re going to make some good memories to help counterbalance that (i.e. going to Italy in 2010, and I am SO looking forward to that). Our littlies will hit their teens, and be spreading their wings at uni towards the end of the decade (though they’ll always have a home with us, if they need it). And we should also be paying off the mortgage this decade (cough, cough, depending on endowment performance, but I lost trust in that a while back and switched a tranche of our mortgage over to repayment, which will hopefully cover the shortfall). I guess we’ll be heading for a new life stage. I hope the ride’s as nice as the last ten years have been.

Yesterday was an ‘interesting’ day. Had to queue for ages in the post office (kids were wonderful and didn't moan at all, despite our ticket saying that there were 54 people in the queue ahead of us – our first experience of the new queuing system). ‘You queued all this time just for passport forms?’ the cashier asked in seeming disbelief. Cue saccharine smile from me. Yup. You didn’t have any forms out in the rack, so the only way to get them was to queue up and ask you for them, was it not?

After all that, I was in the mood for spending money, and we have two domestic appliances that we bought in the millennium year and are on their last legs. First up was the tumble dryer – that’s arriving next week. Had a look at the cookers in John Lewis, but there isn’t much choice in the actual shop, and I’d like the up-to-date equivalent of my current cooker. Had a look online, and the one I’d like is substantially cheaper in House of Fraser (the difference will practically cover the costs of all four passports, so I do mean substantially), AND they do it in the colour I want. (Having seen the fingerprints on display models, no way are we having stainless steel; and this is a hard water area, so a quick wipe across a black cooker will leave noticeable streaks, whereas grey looks fine without having to be dried and buffed after wiping.) Just need to get a date from DH when his electrician friend can fit it, and then I can order it and arrange delivery.

As the kids had been so utterly brilliant during said tedious things, I caved in to daughter’s polite request and took them to lunch at Giraffe. (I was good and opted for chicken salad. Mainly because the scales on… when was Monday? What day is it, again?? Anyway, the weigh-in wasn’t good. And I’m so much fatter now than I was in 1994 that I look completely different and will need my passport renewal application and photographs countersigned. That’s a bit distressing. Actually, it's really upset me. So the diet is back on, as of now. Probably the kick up the backside that I needed for sliding back, the last six weeks.)

Plan for today: sort out passports, then son’s best friend is coming for a sleepover. Methinks they’re going to be messing about with models, and I will be baking with daughter. And in between… the deadline loometh.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Er… what day is it?

Current work: French duo book 2 (deadline approaching, arrgh)
Listening to: Norah Jones
Reading: CJ Sansom, Revelation (finished the O’Neal and it was fab)

What with bank holidays and school holidays, I have no idea what day it is – we’re completely out of routine. It’s a bit unsettling, and this week isn’t going to get better as there are more bank holidays plus an inset day on Monday. (And then my book is due in. Bwahahaha.)

We had a lovely Christmas – quiet, with just the four of us for most of the day, but nice. Santa was very good to me – perfume, books and music, as well as my fabby new phone. Kids were delighted with their haul, as was DH. Played games with the kids, ate too much (well, that was a given), and discovered that the giant spacehopper requested by daughter was enormous fun. Chilled out watching the Dr Who special: great ending, really loved the bit with Bernard Cribbins in the café (the acting there was phenomenal), but think the rest could’ve tightened up a lot more. DH reminded me that it was probably scene-setting for part 2, but I would have liked both parts to be good. (Fussy, moi?) Skipped Hamlet on Boxing Day as there were squeaks of ‘You’re really going to watch that for THREE HOURS?’ and mutters about when people were going to be fed (ah, the joys of having a son on the cusp of teenagerdom), so have ordered the DVD and am going to take a morning off and enjoy it in major geek mode, next term.

Sadly, the photos I was hoping to post don’t exist, as I didn’t manage to persuade DH to go for a walk on the beach on Boxing Day. It was a glorious day, but even daughter doing the big blue eyes thing didn’t budge him. (Rats. I wanted to see the seal pups. Maybe this weekend...) We did however go to the city and got the passport pics done. Also looked at large kitchen appliances, as the tumble dryer is on its last legs and the oven is heading that way. (Haven’t made a decision yet. Modern design is much clompier than my ancient oven. And then there's the reliability question. All the upheaval...)

Then, yesterday, the lack of sleep caught up with me (living with owls is hard work in holiday season – they want you to stay up late with them, and you’re still awake early, so you’re burning the candle at both ends: which I’m finding tougher as I get older) and I ended up having a rather long midday nap. Not so good for my wordcount, so I need to make up for that today.

Plan for today: er… what day is it, again? And am I the only one who’s like this, post-Christmas? Come and wake me up and tell me about your break!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

Current work: French duo book 2
Listening to: Christmas compilation
Reading: Barbara O’Neal, The Recipe for Lost Happiness (still enjoying)

Popping in briefly to wish everyone a merry Christmas (or, if you don’t celebrate Christmas, a happy holiday season). I hope you have a wonderful time with family and friends, laugh too much, and make some fantastic memories.

I’m taking a couple of days off.

No, really.

OK, definitely tomorrow; but I’m a lark so I can get away with doing a bit before everyone else gets up. Just hoping the snow melts so we get our traditional walk on the beach on Boxing Day. I have somewhere particular in mind this year, so I need to prime daughter to do the big eyes, ‘I love you Daddy’ look that turns him to mush so he’ll agree to it without moaning. (!) (He will enjoy it when we get there. And if we do, I will have some fab pics to post on Monday.)

I also want to watch Hamlet on Boxing Day. Will be interesting to see what David Tennant brings to the role. However, if there are squeaks of protest at Mummy being in boring English graduate mode, will be treating self to the DVD on Jan 4 and taking an indulgent morning off work next month instead. (183 minutes. Hmm. Either they all talk quickly, in which case please let there be subtitles, or there are cuts. Must fish out my Arden. Ha!)

Happy holidays.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Another wonderful review – and Do One Thing (aka a brilliant video)

Current work: French duo book 2
Listening to: Christmas compilation
Reading: Barbara O’Neal, The Recipe for Lost Happiness (still enjoying)
Big thanks to the Pink Heart Society for their review of Falling for the Playboy Millionaire, too:

Kate Hardy never fails to deliver poignant, dramatic, realistic and heartwarming romantic fiction and Falling for the Playboy Millionaire certainly does not disappoint. With its cast of wonderfully believable and fantastic characters and plenty of powerful emotion and dramatic intensity, Falling for the Playboy Millionaire is another dazzling keeper from one of the finest writers of high quality romantic fiction: Kate Hardy!

What a lovely end to the year.

As for the video – I pinched it from Lorraine. It’s the BBC ‘do one thing’ campaign and it’s just lovely. Go take a look here or here. (The squirrels. Oh, the squirrels. Haven't seen ours for a bit, so I hope he's OK. And I’ll be putting out some extra stuff for our wild birds during the bad weather.)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Wonderful review

Current work: French duo book 2
Listening to: Christmas compilation
Reading: Barbara O’Neal, The Recipe for Lost Happiness (enjoying)

Woke up to a really lovely review of Falling for the Playboy Millionaire – thank you, Julie Bonello of Cataromance, for making my day!

This is what she says:

Falling for the Playboy Millionaire is another slice of sheer romantic perfection from the dazzling pen of outstanding Mills and Boon author Kate Hardy! Written with plenty of sensitivity, warmth and heart, Falling for the Playboy Millionaire is a poignant, dramatic and wonderfully written and terrifically rendered tale of starting over and having the courage to take chances that made me cry buckets and had me reaching for the tissues.

In Falling for the Playboy Millionaire, Kate Hardy expertly combines wonderful characterization, tender romance and a heart wrenching conflict to create a mesmerizing contemporary romance which has winner stamped all over it!

And you can read the rest of the review here.

New office chair is lovely (no pic as office is a tip). Have a work thing with DH today, and then Madam’s best friend and her family are coming over for dinner – have a feeling the boys are all going to be on the x-box in the living room and the girls will be in the dining room with board games and chocolates. (Son has his best friend over for a sleepover next week, so am being fair about it!) And in between am going to squeeze in some work…

Monday, December 21, 2009

Snow, snow, snow

Current work: French duo book 2
Listening to: Christmas compilation
Reading: Barbara O’Neal, The Recipe for Lost Happiness (recommended to me by lovely Liz Fielding, and how right she was – food and romance is such a good combination)

Vile roads on Friday, but DH was home a little earlier than usual and came with me to put the wreath on my mum’s grave (so I didn’t have to drive in the ice).

Nice ‘early Christmas’ with my cousin and her husband this weekend,(and she has introduced me to the idea of chilled port (oh dear. I think I deserved more than a 1lb weight gain after the cheese and port consumed, ahem – and her lovely husband made us these gorgeous Christmas cakes). Cue much talking, much laughter, playing games etc. DH and I bought ‘Pass the Bomb’ last week – this is daughter’s current favourite, as she likes word games as much as I do. Daughter played guitar for everyone (and she’s going through a songwriting phase, bless her – I’ve caught it on video, so now it’s a matter of helping her put it in notation. She’s got the chords, so that helps!).

And it snowed. Kids both miffed that it was the wrong sort of snow (too powdery) – son because he wanted a snowball fight, and daughter because she wanted to build a snowman. But they enjoyed themselves clearing the snow off the cars and making a snow angel and bouncing around in the stuff. (They liked the hot chocolate afterwards even more, *g*)



And then the temperature dropped. I hate it when people I love are travelling in vile weather conditions, so I was a bit twitchy until I had the text saying that coz was home safely. Went DH’s best friend’s for Christmas nibbles and more games in the evening. Snowstorm on way home so it wasn’t a nice drive (v thankful that DH was driving, not me).

Looks pretty this morning (this is the view from the back garden) but treacherous roads, so I hope everyone who’s having to travel to work (especially on the back roads) has a very safe journey, and let’s hope this all melts for Christmas, leaving safe roads and just enough of a dusting on the trees/gardens to be pretty.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Perfume and the S-word

Current work: French duo book 2
Listening to: Def Leppard/Christmas compilation
Reading: (next on TBR)

The north wind doth blow…

And this is my front garden this morning.


Not as bad as some parts of the county (at the time of writing this, more than 100 schools across the county are closed), but was sheet ice for DH en route to work. Son is covered in spots, and he couldn’t have picked a better day for it, bless him. (I don’t drive in snow because I had a nasty experience some years back – gave me grey hairs, then six months later at the car’s annual service there was a large bill to fix the damage, plus more grey hairs as I contemplated the fact I’d been blithely driving round in a dangerous car. Not worth it. And another reason why I am soooo glad I work from home.)

On a nicer note, I’ve been working on the perfume book (aka French book 2). My wonderful agent sent me a quick note yesterday asking if I’d caught the programme about Versailles on BBC4 as it was about perfume (and she knew it would appeal to me as it was about recreating historical perfumes). I hadn’t, but was delighted to discover it on on BBC iplayer: hence a morning of some seriously interesting research. (Not to mention a lightbulb. Dear ed. Guess what? Your nerd radar will need to come out again… or maybe not. Maybe this could be a different project. Hmm. Let’s get my attention back to reindeer, shall we?)

Have a nice weekend, and stay safe in the white stuff.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Some excellent news

Current work: French duo book 2 (Provence. Hot, sunny days. Ha. Is zero degrees here in England)
Listening to: Def Leppard/Christmas compilation
Reading: (next on TBR)

Wonderful news from my ed yesterday – she’s v pleased with the revisions to French duo book 1, so my 42nd M&B has just been accepted. That’s definitely the best sort of Christmas pressie for a writer… and I'm thrilled.

Also had huge pile of Christmas cards yesterday. I love getting the ‘round robin’ letters in Christmas cards. I know some people loathe them and think they’re an excuse for boasting, but maybe I’m fortunate in my friends because they really are updates on what everyone’s been doing and they usually include pics of the kids/pets. (That’s what goes in mine, too. Except for two lines of boasting last year when I said how thrilled I was to have won the RNA Romance Prize 2008. But I don’t usually boast!)

Cold again this morning, with the threat of snow. I hope it holds off, or at least isn't as bad as forecast. We're just not geared up for snow, so just a dusting (that melted quickly and didn't affect the roads) would be great. So do you have snow where you are? (Or are you at nearly 40 degrees, down under?)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Harlequin Open House (and (don’t) let it snow, (don’t) let it snow, (don’t) let it snow)

Current work: French duo book 2 (Provence. Hot, sunny days. Ha. Is zero degrees here in England)
Listening to: Def Leppard/Christmas compilation
Reading: (next on TBR)

Daughter is desperate for the s-word and, since seeing the weather forecast for the East of England, has been dancing round, singing a certain Dean Martin song.

I am desperate for it NOT to snow. I have too many things to sort out first! (Or let it snow next week when I don’t have to set foot outside the house. And please let it melt immediately so the roads are safe. Would also prefer it not to be quite so frosty and dangerous this morning…)

In the meantime, there’s Open House over at eHarlequin. I’m there with the Presents authors and Medical authors, so do come and say hello (just click the link). There are authors there from Romance, Historical, Mira/Luna, and Steeple Hill, so if you want to check out all the threads go here. Look forward to seeing you there!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Romantic Novel of the Year longlist announced

Current work: French duo book 2
Listening to: Def Leppard/Christmas compilation
Reading: (next on TBR)

The Romantic Novel of the Year longlist has been announced over at the RNA website:

The Very Thought of You, Rosie Alison
Passion, Louise Bagshawe

Beachcombing, Maggie Dana
Fairytale of New York, Miranda Dickinson
Lost Dogs and Lonely Hearts, Lucy Dillon
A Single to Rome, Sarah Duncan
A Mother's Hope, Katie Flynn
A Glimpse at Happiness, Jean Fullerton
10 Reasons Not to Fall in Love, Linda Green
Marriage and Other Games, Veronica Henry
The Glass Painter's Daughter, Rachel Hore
It's the Little Things, Erica James
I Heart New York, Lindsey Kelk
The Heart of the Night, Judith Lennox
The Italian Matchmaker, Santa Montefiore
The Summer House, Mary Nichols
One Thing Led to Another, Katy Regan
The Last Song, Nicholas Sparks
Last Christmas, Julia Williams
The Hidden Dance, Susan Wooldridge
Congrats to everyone who made the longlist; and I’m especially delighted to see some of my mates on the list, so extra-special congrats to Jean Fullerton, Rachel Hore, Judith Lennox, Mary Nichols and Julia Williams :o)

Plan for today: go buy new office chair (with good lumbar support and, ohhhh, a soft seat), guitar lesson, then visit Dad. (This week am going with a more realistic mindset, i.e. not hoping for a good visit, and will make the best of it. If he chats to me this week, it'll be a hugely welcome bonus. Bloody dementia. It's been a bit tough, coming to terms with the fact that I've more or less lost him (except for the physical shell) in the same week of the year that I lost my mum, but hey. Character-building, and all that. Hence the planning of nice things. Though the new chair is a physical necessity!!)

Monday, December 14, 2009

counting down to Christmas

Current work: French duo book 2
Listening to: Def Leppard
Reading: Shirley Wells, Into the Shadows (finished and thoroughly recommend – I didn’t guess who the killer was); Nicola Cornick, Kidnapped (rollicking adventure yarn – great fun, especially as the heroine was more than a match for the hero’s horrible family! Thoroughly recommend this one, too)

Weekend of Christmas festivities. Lovely meal out on Saturday night: roulade of local blue cheese served with a waldorf-type salad (except better) and a pickled walnut; roast turkey and trimmings; and finally egg-nog semifreddo with mincemeat shortbread (though it tasted more like marzipan to me and talk about melt-in-the-mouth). And with the starters there was home-made wholemeal bread… I was going to be good and stick to the diet, but the lure of warm home-made bread (especially as I knew it would be excellent) was a bit too much for me! Was worth this morning's disappointing scales.

Yesterday was daughter’s best friend’s birthday, so they went off to the cinema. We took son shopping and found him the thing he really wanted for Christmas but I hadn’t been able to source online. He was like a dog with two tails all afternoon, bless him.

Today – well, so far I’ve already walked more than 15,000 steps as my car had its first service and I decided to do the last little bits of shopping rather than sit and wait. Rang DH to explain that the car service bill was cheaper than last year’s, to the tune of one Radley signature handbag. Big sigh from DH. ‘I know you don't want the latest signature bag. You went into Sonkai, didn’t you?’

Ye-e-es, but (a) it was before I picked up the car and (b) not for me. Bought something nice for daughter to go in her stocking. Thought about getting a second bracelet, as mine is full; but DH would moan, so decided against it (for now). However, I did talk to Craig (lovely goldsmith and jewellery designer at Sonkai) about something else… DH and I have been together for 25 years, next August. I would dearly like an eternity ring to commemorate that. I’m not after anything flashy. What I’d like is a narrow platinum band (to match my wedding ring in metal and size), with channel-set baguette-cut amethysts. And if we time our excursion to Capri right, then he can give me the ring in one of the most romantic places on earth. (Ha. Does it show that I’m a romance author, then? But next year is going to be a sticky year, so I’m planning nice memories to balance it out a bit.)

Righty. Better get back to work, because I am behind. Have a nice day :o)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Samba, and blogging elsewhere

Current work: French duo book 2
Listening to: Christmas compilation
Reading: Shirley Wells, Into the Shadows (cracking book and am enjoying it hugely – the setting’s done beautifully, the main characters are really interesting (lots of baggage so this is a series that has legs for a very long time), and as for the murder bit… I haven’t worked out who he is, yet, but he’s scary, and Shirley really gets into his head. And the nicest bit is that I’ve learned a lot about forensic profiling, but her research is so well integrated that it doesn’t show at all – it’s like learning by osmosis!)

Wonderful start to the morning yesterday. In middle school, they don’t do nativity plays as they do in first school, and I have to admit I really miss them. But daughter’s class has been learning Samba music, and they put on a performance for the parents. It was absolutely stunning, especially as they’d only done a term of lessons – the performance was really polished (as well as really loud!), and I found myself welling up a bit (as did Chloe’s best friend’s mum, and I bet some of the others might admit it today).

It was also about time I did my last ‘big’ Christmas present shopping, aka buying DH’s. He’s had his eye on an iPod Touch, so we went to the Apple shop to sort it out. I could’ve gone on my own, but I thought he’d rather choose his own case and the docking thing. And then of course we had to do all the synching and putting iTunes on my PC (which has been running like treacle all week, sigh). I have a feeling this is going to be Boy with New Toy all weekend, and I’ll be kicked off my PC and have to work on the laptop. (‘But I need to look at the Apps shop…’)

While we were out, I took a couple of pics of the lights in Norwich – and, because we’re in the run-up to festive season (and I’m out for Christmas lunch today and Christmas dinner tomorrow night), I thought I’d post them here.


This is our City Hall, just behind the market place (the latter has been here for more than 900 years). The colour of the lights changes every few seconds, which we enjoy watching.

And this is the 60-foot tree outside the Forum. This view includes the tower of St Peter Mancroft, which is the biggest parish church in the city (obviously excludes the cathedral) – and this is where Sir Thomas Browne (he of Religio Medici fame) is buried.

This is the view from the other side of the tree - showing the Forum (where our library is housed, along with BBC Radio Norfolk, a rather nice shop where they just happen to sell my books, the place that I think sells the best coffee in Norwich (and definitely has the best latte art - I checked that out while writing Breakfast at Giovanni's), and a very nice pizza restaurant where I sometimes meet friends for lunch). It's one of my favourite buildings in the city: light, airy, and I think it makes a lovely contrast with the ancient buildings surrounding it.

I’m also blogging elsewhere today: about Christmas lights (and confessing something terrible) over at the eHarlequin Medical Authors’ blog (where there's a chance to win a book); and about Christmas traditions over at the medical authors’ blog, Love Is the Best Medicine (where there’s also a chance to win a book); and about one of the nicest films I’ve seen this year over at the Pink Heart Society. So please go over and say hello!

Have a lovely weekend. As I mentioned above, mine is going to involve, um, Christmas dinner. (Twice, if you include lunchtime today…) What are you up to?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

I’m a dragon

Current work: French duo book 2 (and seeing my accountant)
Listening to: Christmas compilation
Reading: Shirley Wells, Into the Shadows (cracking book and am enjoying it hugely)

Yesterday, on the school run, the sky looked amazing with this enormous sun. Got to my favourite viewspot – and this is how it looked (smaller, for some reason, even though there was only ten minutes between spotting it and getting to a place where I could photograph it).
And this is the colour-saturated version – which I love, because it’s so dramatic. (It’s the ‘sunset’ setting on my Lumix, if you want to know how I did it.)



And the dragon? My littlest made me laugh out loud yesterday morning (which was pretty good, because I was on the verge of tears all day). We were walking up the hill to school, chatting, and suddenly she burst out with, ‘Hey, Mum, look, I’m a dragon!’ and then huffed out a huge warm breath into the cold, cold air. Just lovely. And another reason why I’m so thankful for my children. They’re wonderful. (And yeah, that’s going in a book at some point. In fact, it might well be the Sussex one with the castle, the knight and the emergency doctor, aka the one due after this one. And yes, my editor does know about the jousting scene. She hasn't yet said if she's going to make me take it out, so I'm going to make it so utterly compelling and sexy that she lets me keep it.)

The kids are complaining about my Christmas compilation in the car. The first half is the poppy stuff they like (Slade, Wizzard et al). The second half is… um… advent type music. And they say my choices are weird.

Excuse me. Weird?

The Mediaeval Baebes with ‘Gaudete’ ; Christian Forshaw’s version of ‘Mortal Flesh’ (this gives me goosebumps and it would work well with just about any medieval-set film – sadly, not on YouTube, but you can hear the first little bit of it on Amazon here – Aimee Green’s voice is stunning); the King’s College choir singing ‘Gabriel’s Message’; and Bert Jansch’s version of ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ (ha, that’s next week’s guitar lesson sorted, then – though a much more simplified version!).

So what out of that lot is weird? (At least it wasn't Sting singing Gabriel's Message. Though I have to admit to liking that. I foresee another CD arriving...)

Lovely morning planned today – mon petit dragon (hmmm… why are French dragons masculine, when in England a dragon tends to have female connotations?) is doing a Samba (music) display with her class this morning. Best of all, parents get to see this. Can’t wait.

Oh, and I do have some more good news. Seems I’m finally going to get to see Pompeii next year, after wanting to go there ever since I was really, really tiny. Am currently in discussion with DH and the kids about where we’ll stay; it’s summer, so my vote is for a two-centre stay – Naples and either Rome or Florence. Am a bit overexcited about this so will shut up...

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

congratulations in order

Current work: French duo book 2 (and seeing my accountant)
Listening to: Corelli (yup, stress puppy’s back)
Reading: Jan Jones, Fortunate Wager – read this in one sitting. I love Jan’s Newmarket books because she has the place spot on. I also love her characterisation (Caroline is a tad unconventional and utterly lovely – the kind you’d want to be your friend; and Alexander is just gorgeous), her dialogue, the way she writes the most horrible villains, and the rollicking good pace of her stories. (Jan, you’d better have the next one almost complete now. Impatient readers – i.e. me – want the next one…)

Guess I was a bit optimistic yesterday re Dad. Will gloss over the really upsetting stuff (which I have vented – am not bottling it up, and thanks to my best friend for ringing me last night to cheer me up) and instead focus on the good: the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Awards 2009 nominations have been announced. Some of my writing mates are on the list and I’m so pleased for them: Jessica Hart has a double nomination, firstly for the Career Achievement (Series) and secondly for the Best Romance; Sarah Morgan and Jennie Lucas for Best Presents Extra; Fiona Harper and Nicola Marsh for Best Romance; and Abby Green with a DOUBLE nom for Best Presents. Congrats to all of them.

(Oh, yeah. And I’m also listed for Best Presents with Surrender to the Playboy Sheikh. Special thanks to lovely Sarah Morgan for telling me yesterday evening when I was at a pretty low ebb.)

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

sunrise, sunrise

Current work: French duo book 2 (well, Tuesday isn’t an official working day any more as I’m visiting Dad and I have my guitar lesson, but… might get something done, even if it's only thinking while travelling)
Listening to: Seahorses, Do it Yourself (IMO one of the best albums of the 90s)
Reading: Finished Jane’s book – enjoyed it thoroughly!

Amazing sky this morning on the school run; the whole sky was pink. We get a fantastic view of the sunsets from our back garden, but our view east isn’t as good, so I had to wait until we were on School Road en route to littlest’s school after dropping off son. The sky had dulled a bit, but there were gold linings in the clouds, today. (I sincerely hope that’s a sign that Dad will be in a happier frame of mind and less aggressive with me today.) This is an unsaturated shot as I'd left the camera on normal setting, but gives you an idea of how pretty it was.


Just noticed the time; given that the traffic’s always heavy at this time of year, it’s time to go to my lesson. And five minutes of practising first (!).

Have a nice day – and nosey minds would love to know. What’s your favourite seasonal song (carol or pop)?

Monday, December 07, 2009

the best sort of weekend

Current work: French duo book 2 (finished revisions, yay! - well, muted yay until I hear my ed's reactions)
Listening to: Joe Bonamassa, The Ballad of John Henry (pinched from DH – like the first half very much as his voice is v like Paul Rodgers and guitar playing like Gary Moore at his best – good bit of blues)
Reading: Jane Jackson, Heart of Stone (another of her fantastic Cornish romances - see below).

Finished the revisions on Friday night so I had no guilt all weekend – just a lot of fun :o)

Fabulous weekend with my best uni friends. Lots of talking, lots of playing board games, lots of drinking wine, lots of laughing, bit of reminiscing… just the perfect sort of weekend. (And much needed after the recent family stuff.)

Oh, all right. Lots of eating, too. I made veggie soup for lunch on Saturday, followed by a bacon, avocado and mozzarella salad in a lime vinaigrette, served on a bed of rocket (this is ALL diet food, note – and we’ll gloss over the chocolate biscuits mid-afternoon). Dinner was ‘early Christmas dinner’, i.e. roast turkey with sausages wrapped in bacon, roast sweet and ordinary potatoes, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower and swede, followed by strawberry cheesecake and home-made strawberry ice cream. Oh, and then a selection of crackers with Cornish cheddar, Brie and French goats’ cheese; followed by decaf French vanilla coffee. (We’ll gloss over the amaretti biscuits and the Belgian truffles dipped in flaked chocolate that accompanied the coffee and with which I have been tormenting my Medical author mates.) And Sunday was chicken Dijon with jacket potatoes and lots of veg, followed by lemon roulade and more nice vanilla coffee (note to self, buy more next Monday when in town for car service).

Almost forgot about the entertainment. Daughter did us proud with a guitar recital. And son just has this lovely dry humour and a great sense of comic timing, so he had us in stitches – is a v good double act with his dad. Dog just pattered about and couldn’t decide who he wanted to sit with, so flitted from one person to the next (carrying the inner tube from a large roll of wrapping paper – the things that make him happy). Oh, and the silly Santa pressies. Mrs Santa sorts them all except her own – and Best Friend Santa brought her some proper vanilla pods and saffron - wonderful :o)

Sunday evening, after everyone had gone home, I finished writing the Christmas cards and parcelling up things that need to be posted.

I had planned to have an early night, but then I went back to Jane's book (and I started again from the beginning, because I'd been distracted when I started reading it). DH moaned so I had to turn the light off before I wanted to (admittedly, this was pretty late) but the first half is fantastic and I know the second half is going to be even better. There's a really unusual set-up in that the heroine is a single parent AND the owner of a quarry – Jane gets the social difficulties of these factors in Victorian England off to a tee. The hero is scarred (both physically and in his past) and is such a lovely character – you really feel for him, and understand why he won’t let people close. Then there’s the community, and Jane does this so well: the sheer warmth of people juxtaposed with social snobbery and righteousness (i.e. very rounded, realistic secondaries), plus the pressures of being a parent in the Victorian age, the fear of sickness (scarlet fever - am so glad we live in the present age), and the heartbreak of being unable to produce an heir. Add in greedy entrepreneurs, the same kind of male attitude that had me steaming mad as a student while reading George Moore’s ‘Esther Waters’ (I really, REALLY want Philip to get his comeuppance in this book), and … it’s just great and I'm going to have another (cough) early night tonight so I can finish it.

I adore Jane’s books because they’re so well rounded. Sarah Govier is a really strong heroine and easy to warm to, and the same is true of James Crago, the hero. Sarah’s little boy, Jory, is a real scene-stealer. And I loved learning so much about granite and gunpowder – her research doesn’t show because she weaves it in so well, but I know she's meticulous about details (and they're fascinating) so I tend to look for them. Highly recommended (and you can go and read a bit for yourself over on Jane's website).

Plan for today is book car in for its first service, write lots of French book 2, and go to post office on way home from afternoon school run. And also write up the blogs that are due this week. Eep. Where is the time going?

Friday, December 04, 2009

Publication day (aka seven different books in fifteen different countries…)

Current work: revisions – French duo book 1;
Listening to: Boston and Kansas (guess which two songs, on loop? Ahh, the joys of classic rock)
Reading: (no time!!!)

Today’s the official publication day for Falling for the Playboy Millionaire in the UK. If you’ve enjoyed the Penhally series, you’ll be pleased to know that this is part of it – and I had a lot of fun with this book. In particular with the puppies (planned meticulously by Margaret McDonagh and me), the dancing (I’d just got into Strictly Come Dancing at this point - and I think the waltz is so romantic), and the proposal scene.
I should warn you that you WILL need tissues for this one, though. It made me bawl my eyes out, especially Kate’s part in the continuity. (That’s why the book is dedicated to my mum as well as to my friends and colleagues who made the series such fun to work with.) It's also out in Australia and New Zealand next month (or at the Aussie Mills and Boon website right now). There isn't a widget on the sidebar because M&B doesn't have one (it's part of the Penhally series), but if you want to read the first few pages it's on my website - just click on the book's title above to read more about the book.

Temporary Boss, Permanent Mistress is out on shelves in Australia and New Zealand this month, and you can get an early copy of the book from Harlequin.com in the US (due on the shelves at the end of the month).

I’ve also had some translations come through my door, and was amazed to discover that how many different ones there are in Europe. You can get Surrender to the Playboy Sheikh in Germany and Holland, The Doctor’s Very Special Christmas in Italy, and Seeing Stars in France. Oh, and next month (so you can get hold of it this month on the Harlequin websites) there’s Their Christmas Dream Come True in Denmark (which means it’s about to be in Sweden, Norway and Finland as well – the Nordic editions tend to be released together). And somewhere about now there’s The Spanish Doctor’s Love-Child in Poland.
There are translations outside Europe, too – Surrender to the Playboy Sheikh is also newly released in Brazil, and Their Christmas Dream Come True in Japan.

Blimey. I don’t think I’ve ever had so many different titles, in so many different languages, out in the same month before! Very exciting.

Off to the osteopath this morning. And then I have to tidy the house (including my office, which is our second spare bedroom) as we have ‘early Christmas’ with my best friends from uni, aka the children’s godmothers. Turkey defrosting? Check. Crackers ready? Check. Wine chilling in beer fridge? Check. Pressies from Santa wrapped? Um, almost – will be later today. Decent choccies in? That’ll be ‘check’ as I’ll drop in to Hotel Chocolat after the osteopath.

Hope you all have as nice a weekend as I’m planning. (Whatcha up to? Enquiring minds aka Kate Nosey would love to know…)

Thursday, December 03, 2009

codeine, ice packs, and appropriate songs

Current work: revisions – French duo book 1; plus proofs for Neurosurgeon… and Mum! (the screamer is in the title, not my addition)
Listening to: Def Leppard/various French piano music
Reading: (no time!!!) (and those screamers *are* mine)

Every so often, my lower back gives me a bit of gyp. (Probably because I spend way too much time chained to my desk.) It’s been three or four years since the last episode but, when it plays up, the only thing to do is see the osteopath; a session of manipulation usually sorts me out. Unfortunately, the earliest they can see me is tomorrow morning. Tuesday was a bit grim – I was unable to concentrate on work because my back hurt so much, paracetamol didn’t touch it, and the hot water bottle didn’t help much. Lovely DH went to get me some codeine in the evening – took the edge off the pain and meant I got a bit of sleep, but codeine makes my thinking too fuzzy to let me work effectively. Then my lovely Meds author mate Caroline Anderson reminded me that you’re supposed to use ice packs for sprains (it’s a muscular thing). And that helped enormously.

DH was off yesterday and dragged me into town with him, because my phone had to go back (and, as it’s my phone, he said it would be easier for me to explain the problem just once instead of to him and then on the phone to the shop). The battery went from full to dead in the space of about 18 hours, despite wifi/Bluetooth being switched off and the phone itself on standby for most of that time, and nothing running in the background. All I did was to send two very short text messages, receive ditto, then take a photograph and send that in a text message. Hardly enough to warrant such a huge drain on the battery. Checked online and seems it’s a known problem. (Hmm. Would’ve been nice to have a warning. Caveat emptor, eh?) Luckily the Carphone Warehouse were nice about it and swapped the phone. They’ve said if the replacement plays up they’ll change it for a different phone. So far the signs are good, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the last one had a duff battery/power management system which isn’t going to affect this one as I do like the phone – it has a nice weight and feel to it, and the touchscreen’s lovely to use.

I also worked out how to transfer music to the phone – and that I can use the full tracks as ringtones. (Thank you, lovely Julie Cohen.) Working out appropriate songs for the people on my phonebook will be huge fun. Currently, the kids and school are ‘Sweet Child of Mine’, DH is Badfinger’s ‘No Matter What’ (well, OK, the Lepps’ version of it), and I’m thinking about adding ‘Pictures of Home’ as the ringtone for home. (Everyone else is ‘Pour Some Sugar on Me’. But that will probably change daily, according to my mood.) This is what technology is for, in my view: making life easier and/or more fun.

Question of the day: which songs/ringtones would you find appropriate for your nearest and dearest?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

rainbows

Current work: revisions – French duo book 1
Listening to: Def Leppard/various French piano music
Reading: (no time!!!)

Busy with revisions, so here’s a pic from Monday morning. There was a brighter rainbow on the actual school run, but I didn't have the camera on me - and I haven't yet installed the software to transfer files between my new phone and PC, so I can't post that pic yet. But, while the computer was booting up, I was making myself a cup of tea... and spotted this from the kitchen window.


What's caught your eye recently?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Happy December

Current work: revisions – French duo book 1
Listening to: Def Leppard/various French piano music/Nirvana
Reading: (no time!!!)

Can’t believe it’s December already. And I am way behind. Haven’t written cards, haven’t posted presents – arrgh. Need to get revisions finished. (And somebody has decided to take time off this week. Yes, I’d love to take time off with him, but why couldn’t he do it next week instead? Why are men incapable of synchronising diaries? And why can’t men play the X-box QUIETLY?)

Had son off sick yesterday, too, installed on sofa with Star Trek, blanket, dog, glass of iced water and bowl for throwing up. (I looked in on him frequently, but it also meant I didn’t do as much yesterday as I’d intended.)

Today is usually guitar, but lovely Jim has been très accommodating and moved my lesson to Thurs. (Also have a blood test on Thurs, so guitar will be good for relaxing me before needle goes in arm. Ah, the joys of an underactive thyroid.) Am not visiting Dad this week, as the last two visits have been pretty fraught. Anyone who has someone close with dementia will know exactly what I mean by needing time to regroup before the next onslaught.

Today… nose to grindstone, and probably working on the laptop to avoid the distraction of the internet. Here’s this month’s calendar pic – and may December be a kind one for you.



Monday, November 30, 2009

Santa arrived early

Current work: revisions – French duo book 1
Listening to: Def Leppard/various French piano music
Reading: (no time!!!)

Friday was spent planning how to fix the book and discussing it with lovely ed (who didn’t go for version 2, but liked version 3, so I do at least know what I’m doing).

I had planned to have Sunday off (DH’s mum’s bday so we were sorting the party, and I guess it would’ve been a tad rude to work). Saturday was going to be full-on work – except DH decided to do his Christmas shopping. He only has to buy for one person (i.e. me) and he really didn’t have to do it on Saturday, because there was only one thing on my list this year. But I guess he knows that the best way to distract me when I’m stressing (still family stuff, not the book) is to give me a new gadget – and so Santa arrived early. (It’s either that or he’s trying to guilt me into giving him his Christmas pressie early…)

Santa did have a bit of a brainstorm in the shop and rang me up to see if I wanted an Android phone – well, yeah, course I do, because then I could use it to replace the PDA and synch it with my desktop (hmm, except email because I’m very bad and tend to use it as a filing cabinet). But I don’t want to be tied to a contract; as I work from home, my mobile is ‘for emergencies’ and a bit of texting to family members not on email, so pay as you go is the best option for me. And I really didn’t think he should spend that much money on a phone. (Have to admit, though, if I were still in my ratrace job, I would’ve had an Android already. I’ve always been a bit of a tecchy fiend, and my first mobile phone was dinky back in the days when they were brick-sized, so it’s a huge joke in the family that I have such an old-fashioned mobile phone nowadays.)

Anyway, Santa had my shortlist and a list of questions to ask (primary one being whether I could use my existing SIM, as changing networks and phone numbers would be a pain). And now I have this wonderful touchscreen phone (and the screen swipes just like an iPhone). The camera’s not bad (though obviously not up to the standard I need for work, so it won’t replace my camera), the radio works nicely, and I can browse the net on it. (I think that’s free with Wifi?) Now I have the delights of working out how to get MP3 tracks on to the phone (won’t use headphones, but could hook it up to car stereo).

And then there are ringtones. I don’t mean the polyphonic nightmares – I mean the ‘realtones’. Oooh. I could have a Blackmore track for DH (probably Highway Star) , ‘Sweet Child of Mine’ for the kids/school (you see how my mind works? baaad), and… oh, do I go for Zeppelin, Whitesnake or the Lepps as my main one? Does anyone out there have experience of Jamster? If I’m reading the T&C correctly, it seems that I can sign up to their plan, download my three tracks for my first week’s plan, then cancel the plan immediately and won’t get sucked in to a subscription. Anyone tried it, and does it work like that or is it too good to be true? Or does anyone have recommendations for a reliable, non-pirate site? (Take the piracy rant as read.)

Distractions, distractions. Dear Ed. I am not sitting on the internet, looking up ringtones and playing with my new phone. I am doing my revisions. Really…

Friday, November 27, 2009

how to revise a book

Current work: revisions – French duo book 1
Listening to: Bach cello sonatas
Reading: (looking forward to going back to Jane Jackson’s new one – am in a better frame of mind, though it’s still been a turbulent week with one lot of bad news hot on the heels of the next. Am hoping that today I might get some nice news from someone...)

Revisions came in yesterday. I need to make my hero and heroine’s motivations a bit clearer – and revisit the conflict because it doesn’t work for my ed. The big sticking point was finding a reason for my hero and heroine to split up ten years ago – something that’s both their fault. No babies or miscarriages (done that), no health problems (that’s in the next book – and it’s not a fatal one, it’s something that will ruin the hero’s career and dreams).

This means thinking time. Some of my writer friends resort to ironing for this one, but I have a better solution.

First, take one pile of bags and boxes into the kitchen, along with scissors, wrapping paper, sellotape and labels, and set them all on the breakfast bar. Remove Christmas stockings from wardrobe and put them there, too.

Next, ban everyone from coming into the kitchen or else Santa will be going on strike. Dog is included in this because he has a tendency to place on delicate paw on edge of breakfast bar, spy goodies, steal them, and cart them off to his bed.

Add soothing, very regular music. (Needs to be classical, or will sing along instead of using this as thinking time.) Preferably cello. And preferably Bach, though Haydn will do.

Then think about the big question that needs answering for the book. Keep thinking. Wrap presents and label them. Keep wrapping. Keep thinking.

The theory is that the answer will come when your fingers are sore, you never want to see another piece of sellotape again, and you’re about to panic that the book will never work…

(I’ll confess that it didn’t work – though on the plus side I have done most of the Christmas wrapping. But I did bounce ideas with one of my writer mates, who is SO going to get the dedication for this book because she pointed out what was staring me right in the face. It’s so true that in this business you can be far too close to your book to see the obvious. Doesn’t matter whether you’re a newbie or this is your forty-second book for your publisher... the traps are still there and you can still fall right into them!)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

If music be the food of love...

... it means that a romance author is talking about a 'soundtrack' to her book over at the Pink Heart Society.

That's where I am today, talking about the music inspiring my French duo. It's quite an eclectic mix. (And yes, it involves lovely Joe Elliott...) Do go over and have a listen, and tell me what you're listening to right now (here or there, don't mind which!)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

the little things

Current work: slash and burn job (still)
Listening to: Bach cello sonatas
Reading: (still not quite there - watched House last night instead, because sometimes I just need a cuddle with DH on the sofa)

Let’s just say that Tuesday afternoons are fast becoming the low point of the week. (Some of the conversations with Dad are so surreal it makes me want to laugh. And then it makes me want to weep because it’s so damn sad.)

But the little things keep me going. Tonight, it was the fact that son wanted a hand with his Food Tech homework. Turned into a really enjoyable foodie discussion, and then a request to help me cook dinner. So he did. (I’m quite pleased that he’s showing interest in cooking as well as being the typical teenage boy, aka permanently hungry and shooting up at a rate of knots. At least I know when he goes to uni/leaves home he’ll be able to fend for himself. It’s also a good bargaining tool if the people you live with can’t cook – gets you out of washing up duties *g*)

So what are the little things that keep you going?

Monday, November 23, 2009

ring, ring…

Current work: slash and burn job on first three chapters
Listening to: Corelli
Reading: (still not quite there)

Fairly turbulent weekend so am skipping over most of it. (Still standing. Still smiling. Bags under eyes, though.)

One good thing about this weekend is that we have a new phone. Bliss. The one in my office was corded (yes, I KNOW that’s very old-fashioned) and was combined with the fax machine. I haven’t sent or received a fax in I don’t know how long. And to answer the phone I had to move my tower fan, negotiate the box(es) of filing I’ve been promising to do for nearly a year, and then hope the cord wasn’t twisted. Not to mention the fact that I couldn’t alter the volume on the receiver and it was a little difficult for me to hear. So I’d taken to pinching the cordless one from the living room – and leaving it on my desk. Which is a tad messy (yes, we know, just like the rest of my office), so DH complained that he could never find the phone.

We had to go to the electrical warehouse anyway to get a new steamer (ours finally packed up on Friday night, and as I use it every single day it had to be replaced immediately). It just so happened to be 10% off day, so I suggested looking at phones – and we found a one we both liked, with four handsets. (I had already scoped this out, but hadn’t got round to dragging DH off to the warehouse.) Which means there is now a phone on my desk and the one in the living room will stay put. And now there’s one in the kitchen, too, so if I’m cooking I can hear the phone. (I’m not in denial about my deafness, as such. I just forget I can’t hear.)

But the thing that REALLY impressed me was the phonebook. Putting in all the numbers is a faff. Doing that on every handset – frankly, it wouldn’t happen. But this phone migrated the phonebook to all the handsets at the touch of a button. How very cool. And it has a speaker phone so if the person on the other end has a really soft voice I can switch the phone onto speaker mode and have a better chance of hearing them. Colour me happy. (Doesn’t take much to please me…)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Kindness (aka what goes around, comes around)

Current work: slash and burn job on first three chapters
Listening to: Corelli
Reading: (not concentrating enough to read and don’t want to waste Jane’s book as it’s so good – on hold for the time being)

Kindness. I think it makes the world go round. And people were definitely kind to me yesterday. A friend sent me her new children’s books (nonfic). My daughter was invited to a friend’s for tea yesterday, and her friend’s mum gave me a doggie bag when I went to pick up daughter (she’s Indian so it was a PROPER biryani, and very nice too). Son shared his chocolate with me (measured amount because he said he didn’t want to crash my diet, but I looked stressed enough to need it). Another friend sat me down (well, by email) and asked me some questions that went straight to the heart of one of the work issues, and then it all clicked together in my head (so I can at least stop worrying about that one!). And I’ve had some really sweet emails (the one from a friend’s daughter made me cry, in a nice way).

Thanks to everyone who’s been so lovely – am still worrying about the family stuff, but things will hopefully start to sort themselves out a bit over the next few days.

So when the world is a bit off kilter, remember this: kindness makes the world go round.

And I’ll definitely be passing it on.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Something to smile about

Current work: should be revisions on the first three chapters (can’t concentrate)
Listening to: Radiohead
Reading: (not concentrating enough to read and don’t want to waste Jane’s book as it’s so good – on hold for the time being)

What started as a nice week is rapidly turning pants. Not going into details (worrying about various family members and some work stuff) but I really could do with something to smile about.

This is what I came up with today. (He knows he’s not allowed on there. Look at the twinkle in the eyes and the waggy tail. That expression says, ‘Awww, but I love you. You’re not really going to make me get off, are you?’)

So tell me something that makes you smile. Let's make the world a nicer place (because, right now, it doesn't feel like one).

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The land of ice and snow…

Yesterday was a bit of a stressy day (not blogging about it, as it’s to do with Dad – dementia is so bloody cruel. And I came home to a savage review - well, I guess that makes the string of three, after some other news about one of my publishers, last week). Though the lovely Modern Heat girls cheered me up with a string of messages about a fabulous review. Er… what review would this be, then? My mate Heidi Rice was a superstar and told me the full story.

And it was something that really pleased and relieved me (I'm a tad paranoid about this book, because I know I was pushing the envelope re settings; before I talked my ed into it, she said that Presents readers like their stories set in exotic – i.e. hot – climates, and this is about as far as you can get). So I’m doing some trumpet-blowing and sharing here. This is what Romantic Times had to say about Temporary Boss, Permanent Mistress:

Corporate lawyer Lydia Sheridan longs to be a working artist. She's ready to resign her post, but CEO Jakob Anderson needs her assistance on a weeklong job in Norway. Then, if she still wants to leave, he'll wish her the best. Although the two have their own personal baggage, they find they're wildly attracted to each other and indulge in a whirlwind affair. But after Norway will they be able to go their separate ways? This tale begins as a fun and flirty romance that deepens emotionally as Lydia and Jakob open up to each other. Interwoven descriptions of the sights and sounds of Norway add a wonderful ambiance to the story.

Oh, yes – and they gave me FOUR AND A HALF STARS! (I think that deserves a screamer.) Thank you very much, Sandra Garcia-Myers. You made my horrible day a whole lot better.

Have also updated my website – new book, new excerpt, new recipe. (And it's a nice one. Strawberry and rhubarb crumble. Scrummy.)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

designing perfume

Current work: research for French duo, book 2
Listening to: Radiohead
Reading: Jane Jackson, Heart of Stone (enjoying this very much so far – Jane’s books are always a treat and her characterisation is superb – more on this later)

The ‘design your own perfume’ session yesterday was utterly brilliant. Dale Evans was so nice and gave me lots of information that will be very useful in certain scenes. It was an amazing experience.

I had eighteen blends to sniff (via little card sticks dipped into the scents), and the idea was to put them into three piles – ones I really liked, ones I wasn't sure about, and ones I absolutely didn't like.

We started with the middle notes – these give an idea of the type of perfume you’ll eventually end up with, as they’re the notes that last for a few hours. Knowing what kind of perfume I always buy (florientals with a vanilla base), I asked if she’d tell me the numbers rather than the names, so I wouldn’t be biased by the names... But I still ended up with the florals!

Then we did the top notes – these are the ones you smell first and which vanish after an hour or so. I absolutely LOVED the amber. (Was my second-favourite out of the eighteen.)

Then we did the base notes – the one you can still smell on your skin at the end of the day or the next morning. Out of the four, I didn’t like the mossy one at all; I didn’t mind the musk and woody (sandalwood) ones; but one was utterly glorious and made me say, ‘Oooh, yes, I LOVE this one!’ Its official name was ‘balsamic’ - and the major component was gorgeous French vanilla.

The next stage was to do the initial blend. My top note was amber, the base note was balsamic, and we added a couple of the middle notes I’d liked. This time, I had to wave them past my nose really quickly, so that I’d pick up all the scents together. It was a matter of adding in some to bring out the notes in others, and taking out ones that didn’t work for me. And then, when I thought I was happy, tried them outside (where they smelled different again, and I took out the aldehyde because it felt wrong – ummed and ahhed a long while about the sandalwood, too).

So in the end:
  • the base was a double dose of balsamic (vanilla, bergamot, tonka and jasmine), woody (sandalwood) and musk (angelia root and coriander)

  • the middle was ‘floral floral’ (night blooming jasmine, mandarin, violet leaf and blackcurrant - described as ‘narcotic’) and ‘gentle floral’ (bergamot and sage - described as ‘very easygoing and gentle’)

  • the top was citrus (yet more bergamot, with mandarin, lemon and grapefruit – described as ‘easygoing and fresh’) and amber (even more bergamot (!), cardamom, geranium and clary sage – described as ‘warm, sensual and sexy’).

And this is what it looked like once bottled.


The ostrich feather has been spritzed with my perfume and smells gorgeous. (Oh, and the name? I did think about calling it after my heroine, but then had a very narcissistic moment and called it ‘Pamela’. Well, hey. It’s my blend. And it’s quite sophisticated so I thought it deserved the full first name rather than the diminutive everyone uses.)

It was a really enjoyable, fascinating experience and I’d definitely recommend it. A whole hour of me-time. (Actually, it wasn’t strictly me-time – in this case it was work, because it’s all background stuff to the book. But you can see why I love my job. Especially the research side.)

And the verdict of ma famille? Son said it smelled very nice. Daughter tried to waltz off with the feather and then begged a spritz. And the twinkle in DH's eye told me he liked it, too…

Monday, November 16, 2009

hide-and-seek, and the joys of research

Current work: research for French duo, book 2
Listening to: Green Day (latest album, pinched from son)
Reading: Liz Fielding, His Desert Dream – excellent book. Gorgeous hero, very strong heroine – can’t say too much without plot spoilers, but it’s Liz’s trademark fabulous characterisation, wonderful dialogue, and a plot that really works. The bit where he teaches her to count in Arabic is wonderfully romantic, and the proposal scene had me in tears. This one’s a contender for my favourite Liz Fielding book (and yes, we all know that I think ‘Gentlemen Prefer… Brunettes’ is the best category romance ever)

Had a bit of a lazy weekend – catching up on sleep (why DO men wake up in the middle of the night and feel obliged to see if wifey is awake, instead of leaving their partner to sleep while they creep downstairs and go play on the internet instead?). Oh, and some Christmas shopping. The phone I’d like to check out isn’t out yet, but DH – mindful of years when we’ve had to search for hours for the ‘must-have’ toys that ours wanted – decided we should buy daughter’s phone. And of course she did the thing with the eyes, and he turned to mush. ‘Yes, darling, of course you can have it now…’

This morning was a game of hide-and-seek with the dog. No, he hasn’t gone missing – but daughter’s PE kit has, and so has one of my shoes. He has this habit of ‘borrowing’ things and cuddling them. Then he gets distracted by something and drops them. We’ve turned the house upside down. No joy. (I did point out that I’ve been suggesting for months that the kids should get their school stuff ready THE NIGHT BEFORE to save all this angst, but do they listen???) (The shoe thing is different. It was in the shoe rack. Dog still stole it.)

Plan for today: well, I’ve had polite requests to tidy my office (it’s full of Christmas presents… unwrapped, so it’s currently supposed to be a banned area in any case), so I guess I’d better do that. And this afternoon I have my perfume course – of which more, tomorrow. Suffice it to say that I am SO looking forward to it!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Wild, windy and wet

Current work: working on outline for next Med (which I didn’t start yesterday)
Listening to: Diana Krall
Reading: next on TBR

Seems appropriate than on Friday 13th, the forecast for the East of England is wild, windy and very, very wet.

I did think about doing phase 2 of the Chr*stm*s Sh*pp*ng – I have my list, broken down by shop, so it should only take a couple of hours.

But it’s cold and really, really wet. Not shopping weather. I did suggest walkies to dog. He stuck his nose out of the back door, gave me a look that clearly questioned my sanity, then went straight to his bed and hid his nose under his paws. I’m guessing that’s a no.

Just as well, though, because I’m shattered – I ended up doing 19k steps yesterday. No, it wasn’t Christmas shopping. I was dragged out again last night because DH wanted to go to the Apple Store and show me what he wants for Christmas. Now he’s actually played with an ipod Touch, I’m getting all the “I don’t mind not having anything to unwrap on the day, if you want to give this to me early. And you don’t want to risk them selling out – remember the hassle of trying to find a DS Lite for the kids, a couple of years back?” (The saying about “like a kid in a toyshop” – oh, yeah. That was him.) But we did at least have dinner out. (Steak and salad, with Moroccan tea. I was sooo virtuous. Mainly because I want to repair last week’s diet damage.)

Anyway, I’m cold and I’m tired and I want a cup of tea. So today’s schedule is put the kettle on, write my outline, tidy my office, then review my outline. With lots of tea in between.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The joys of Chr*stm*s Sh*pp*ng

Current work: working on outline for next Med
Listening to: Silje Nergaard (waves at Nina, who introduced me to gorgeous CD)
Reading: next on TBR

I used to be incredibly organised. All Christmas shopping was done and wrapped by half term. All cards were written and ready to be posted. I was incredibly focused.

Nowadays… uhh. Christmas has got out of hand – take as read the grumpy old woman rant about how everything’s too commercialised and the real meaning of Christmas has been lost. (Well, it is and it has.)

I braved the shops and did most of my shopping today. Now it’s a matter of ticking things off the main list, wrapping them (sadly, that’s my job – I’m not good at it but DH claims he’s worse and then proves it by wrapping something deliberately badly), writing my ‘final bits to get’ list, writing cards (and I am SOOOO glad I spent the time one year to put everyone’s address on a file I can print straight on to labels – saves so much time now), and doing the post office run.

Of my remaining bits, some can be done online, and the rest I’m leaving to another day because I’m shopped out.

So come on. Fess up. How far are you along the Christmas treadmill?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Armistice Day

Current work: Modern Heat (beginning of French duo, book 2)
Listening to: Norah Jones
Reading: next on TBR

Today is Armistice Day – and it’s especially poignant in 2009 as the last three surviving soldiers from the First World War passed away this year.

They will not be forgotten.

(I’m also blogging over at the e-Harlequin medical romance authors’ blog today, on a rather lighter topic.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

learning new things

Current work: Modern Heat (beginning of French duo, book 2)
Listening to: Diana Krall
Reading: next on TBR

Radio show was great fun yesterday. Listeners were ringing in/emailing the most interesting phrases. It was all to do with a book on forgotten words – and etymology is so fascinating.

Could go off at a tangent, but I have an early guitar lesson so had better stop here. Oh, except one thing – I’ve booked my perfume course. Monday. Have spoken to the lady who’s teaching me and explained why I want to know about perfume; she sounds really nice, so I think we’re going to have a lot of fun.

Question for today: has anyone out there tried electrolysis? And does it hurt more than tweezing? Ever since I was pregnant with my eldest, I’ve, um, joined the Three Little Pigs. (Think about it…) Not that I’m vain, but I’m conscious of it, and it’s high time I descruffed and did something about it. (Waxing is absolute no-no. Bleaching - I have fair hair anyway so it won't make a difference. Might consider threading – but again, does it hurt?) (And now there is this lightbulb in the back of my head saying, ‘You could write a romance about a beautician …’)

Monday, November 09, 2009

forgotten words

Current work: Modern Heat (beginning of French duo, book 2)
Listening to: Eva Cassidy (hmm - this book's soundtrack appears to be jazz. Interesting...)
Reading: next on TBR

Nice weekend. Lunch out with good friends on Friday (I made sensible choices), which put me in a better mood. Saw the head when I met son from school on Friday – am very impressed that he came over to check that son was OK and hadn’t had any more hassles. (Very nice man as well as an effective leader – that’s a good combo, and I’m even more sure now that we made the right choice of school. The hassles probably would’ve happened anywhere, but they’ve been dealt with well.) Sorted out the flowers for my mum, which also helped (not commenting on the fact that my “push pot” for fresh flowers has gone missing, yet again - have bought another and written Mum's name on it with a permanent marker).

We had fireworks on Saturday night:

Today, am on the radio (BBC Radio Norfolk) at 12.15, talking about words that have dropped out of use. Lovely Graham Barnard and Karen Buchanan are the presenters, and my co-interviewee is Sarah Bower, author of ‘Needle in the Blood’.
Am also toying with the idea of changing my mobile phone (mine is several years old and the sound isn't brilliant, not to mention irritation of slow texting). Am too much of a cheapskate to buy an iPhone (as I work from home, I really only need a pay-as-you-go mobile for emergency purposes - an expensive contract would be a waste and pointless!), but I do like the idea of a touchscreen phone. If I have time today, I'll mosey in to Carphone Warehouse and see which I like more: the Samsung Tocco Lite or the LG Cookie.
In between I’m having fun with book 2 of the duo. I’m really enjoying the beginning of this one, though I might be breaking a rule or two…

Friday, November 06, 2009

Pollyanna

Current work: Modern Heat (beginning of French duo, book 2)
Listening to: Def Leppard (X – love this album)
Reading: next on TBR

Thanks to everyone who commented yesterday or sent me a private message about my difficult week. The bullying was serious enough for the headmaster to be involved, but school has been brilliant and acted swiftly. I had a long conversation yesterday with the head of year and hopefully things will be easier for son now.

Dad is still not well, and the nature of his illness means that he never quite pulls back from these blips: we lose a little more of him each time. Sadly, it’s just not fixable. All I can do is be as supportive as possible.

The other thing that’s affecting my mood this week is the fact that my mum would’ve been 64, this Sunday. It’s not regrets for things done, but for things we didn’t have time to do. I’ll feel better when I’ve put new silk flowers on her grave, to keep it nice and colourful over the winter, and fresh freesias (her favourite flowers). But in the meantime I’m not particularly good company.

As for the diet disaster – I’m going back to phase 1 for the rest of the week, to help me break the cravings cycle again. That means no coffee, even decaf, because I’m a comfort eater and will hit the chocolate or biscuits to go with said coffee. I don’t, however, do that with peppermint tea, so I’m going to keep myself on the straight and narrow with that.

Went to the post office yesterday with lots of parcels, including the new book, so I’m really supposed to be tidying my desk today. It’s possibly my most-loathed chore, so I’m putting it off for a day or two. Instead, I’m starting the new book, as the heroine is talking to me and I’d like to capitalise on that.

Have a nice weekend. And hopefully I will be back to being Pollyanna on Monday. (I might even feel like celebrating the eighth anniversary of being an M&B author – which was actually on daughter’s birthday. Just finished M&B #42 and starting #43. Not bad in eight years…)

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Chinese curses

Current work: Modern Heat (final readthrough of book 1)
Listening to: Chopin nocturnes (bleak enough to suit my mood)
Reading: next on TBR

Isn’t there a Chinese curse along the lines of ‘may you live in interesting times’? Well, whoever stuck that one on me, I’d appreciate it if you could lift it for a couple of months, please.

Am pleased to report that the book is done. Doing the final readthrough this morning, then printing it out to post to my agent. Let’s hope it makes it through the picket lines. And that my agent and ed like it. (Yup, am at THAT stage of the book. Happens every time – which is probably a good thing as it stops me from being complacent and cheating my readers.)

The ‘interesting’ stuff? Dad’s having a blip (so might not be up to visitors today) and son is falling foul of the monsters again. (I accept that the ringleaders probably have a horrible life. But they need to learn that being spiteful to other people isn’t the right way to deal with it. And, as most of them are OK on their own, maybe the little groups need to be split up.) Plus news of one (possibly two) redundancies in close family.

Apols for the doom and gloom. I may be in a better mood later. But I crashed my diet badly yesterday (was definitely an ‘in need of chocolate’ day), so I have to break the sugar cravings again and I’m cross with myself for being weak. Guess the remedy is to start the next book… (Or tackle my accounts for this year, or tidy my desk. Urk. Make that start the next book.)

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

party-party-party

Current work: Modern Heat (finishing off book 1 of the duo)
Listening to: Def Leppard/Debussy
Reading: next on TBR

Really, really busy weekend.

Friday: briefly into town, then catching up with work, then out bowling (it was Glow Bowling, i.e. everything was fluorescent, so littlest was delighted – and I was totally shocked to get the best score of the night. I mean, I’m hopeless! But I got a spare followed by two strikes, one of which won me a “glow torch”… oh, and the fact that our team had the bumper bars up might’ve helped – but anyway, it was my personal best and I was so chuffed). Then everyone came back to ours for dinner (jacket potatoes, chicken breasts, ratatouille, salad – and I was very good and had a very small piece of birthday cake and NO pudding).

Saturday: supermarket to sort out shopping for Sunday’s party, work, and then “trick or treat”. DH always has a giant pumpkin – and this shot of the dog will give you an idea of how big. (Dog was not pleased at being used as a marker. That sulky look says very clearly, “There had better be treats involved, for doing this.”)

Sunday: family party. Sadly, Dad wasn’t well enough to come, so I sent a goodie bag via my stepmum. Madam entertained us all with her guitar playing – she’s getting very good.

Yesterday: inset day, so in to town so Madam could spend some of her birthday money. She bought a DSi (which is great fun – I love the voice recorder, and the fact you can play things backwards) and a camera (Nikon compact – it’s tiny and she’s delighted with it). Sneaked in a bit of work, then out to dinner at Yellows – birthday girl was very pleased with that.

Today: guitar lesson, then finish as much as I can of the book, then school run and Madam’s two best friends are coming home with her for dinner.

Righty. I’m gone. Lots to do.

Monday, November 02, 2009

happy November

Current work: Modern Heat (finishing off book 1 of the duo)
Listening to: Sheryl Crow
Reading: Sarah Morgan duo – Snowbound: Marriage Miracle and Christmas Eve: Doorstep Delivery (absolutely brilliant – Alfie, Patrick’s son, is just hilarious. Sarah’s secondaries are always a treat, and there’s snow, and gorgeous heroes, and really nice heroines you’d like to be mates with, and walk-on parts from characters from her previous Lakeland books, and… Highly recommended!)

Happy November; and may it be a lovely month for you.

Today is an inset day (teacher training) so I’m busy doing stuff with the kids (Madam is desperate to spend her birthday money) and finishing off my book, but I’ll be back with reports of this weekend’s partying tomorrow.

In the meantime, my mate Sarah Morgan has a sparkling new website, so do go over and have a look.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Llamas

What with birthday party preparations (i.e. tenpin bowling tonight, trick-or-treating tomorrow, family party Sunday, Inset day etc Monday) and a screaming deadline, I barely have time to breathe, let alone write anything interesting on my blog.

Instead, I will leave you with a link to a YouTube song that my children made me watch. Made me smile, too. The Llama Song.

Oh, and the Harry Potter song. Loved this. Very clever - YouTube at its best.

Enjoy. I'm off to make cookies.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

star

Current work: Modern Heat
Listening to: (kids still asleep so peace and quiet…)
Reading: next on TBR

London was fab but tiring! (I did 19k steps on Tuesday and 13k on Wednesday.)

We had dinner before the theatre at Adam's Rib; wish I’d had the camera out when Madam’s meal arrived because she was so pleased with it. The look on her face made the fact that I’m now behind on my deadline completely worthwhile.

And her little face when we emerged at Piccadilly Circus and all the lights were everywhere – normally, we’re on the train home by that time of night, so she was stunned by it all.




Grease was great - the choreography was fantastic, especially Cha-Cha’s dancing (the high kicks were unbelievably high). Travolta and Newton-John are a v hard act to follow, but Ray Quinn and Emma Stephens did a good job. I did feel though that the actors playing Doody and Rizzo had better voices – for me, Natalie Langston (Rizzo) was the standout in the show. The special effects were good (the car was great – banger one side and sparkly the other) and the staging transitions were very smooth.



The one thing that did surprise me was how quiet the audience was. Maybe it’s because I’m from the provinces rather than a sophisticated West End theatregoer, or maybe I’m just a groundling at heart, but at a musical I’m used to audiences clapping and singing along to their favourites, maybe dancing in their seats (especially to some of the numbers in this show - ‘We Go Together’ in particular). But the audience was so quiet, it felt a bit embarrassing to clap (even when you were being encouraged to do so). Madam said she sang along in her head, bless.

On Wednesday, we went to the Natural History Museum. There was an ENORMOUS queue to get in, so we stayed in the Earth Sciences side rather than join another huge queue to see the dinosaurs. Which of course meant going up this escalator to the volcanic section...

Some of the gem specimens were gorgeous. (This is zoisite.)


Then home to two surprises from my RLH. I really wasn’t expecting flowers when he met us from the train. Or that he’d have done the job I’ve been putting off for too long (cleaning the oven, since you ask). What a star. :o)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Grease is the word...

London bound, this morning - and am not sure which of us is the more excited, littlest or me. This will be my first musical in the West End (I normally do serious drama, preferably Renaissance), and daughter's first ever West End performance. Dinner out (also in the West End), staying overnight at her godmother's, and then the Natural History Museum tomorrow. Plus complete and utter attention from me. Endless games of I-spy, Hangman and other paper games...

Actually, from the squeaks I can hear even without sound in and the 'Oh, pleases' from her brother, I'd say littlest might be the more excited. :o)

Back tomorrow (or possibly Thursday) with a full report. Hope your day is as nice as mine's going to be.