Wednesday, August 31, 2011

– if a picture paints a thousand words…

Current work: Rome Riva
Listening to: various
Reading: (next on TBR, but I did sneak in Michelle Styles’ “To Marry a Matchmaker” and really, really enjoyed it)

Am a bit time-squeezed, so am posting pics today instead of words. (Sunset in the back garden, Wells-next-the-Sea, and Dog in a trilby...)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

New voices workshop!

Just to remind anyone planning on entering the Mills & Boon New Voices contest that I'm doing a workshop in two weeks' time.

To celebrate the launch of the Mills & Boon New Voices 2011 writing competition, Mills & Boon are hosting a series of writing workshops for aspiring authors to learn the secrets of writing a successful Mills & Boon story.

I will be leading a FREE writing workshop at:

Date: Tuesday, September 13
Time: 10:30am - 12:00pm
Location: Attleborough Library, 31 Connaught Road, Attleborough, NR17 2BW

For more information or to book a place, call 01953 452319 or e-mail or

If you're not local to me and you're wondering if one of the M&B authors is running a workshop in your area, there's a list here on the New Voices website. Go check it out!


Monday, August 29, 2011

Vienna: a visit to Demel’s

My favourite café in Vienna was most definitely Demel’s. It’s one of the oldest cafés in Vienna and it’s incredibly welcoming. The staff are utterly lovely, the cake is wonderful (and so is the coffee), and the prices are really, really reasonable - not far off what I pay in M&S in Norwich.

The café itself is upstairs.

To get there, you have to go through the shop and past the kitchen, where you can see the staff making the cakes. (Everyone stands on the stairs taking photographs. No flash allowed or you’ll distract the staff. But it’s fascinating. Here they’re clearly making Sachertorte.)

And of course they’d be the ones to make a posh Lippizzaner cake.

Anyway. You choose your cake from the counter downstairs; they give you a blue ticket to give to your waitress upstairs. How do you possibly choose from such a wonderful selection?

I opted for Esterhazytorte (layers of almond sponge and hazelnut cream).

And of course a Wiener Melange (a cross between a cappuccino and a latte, pronounced mel-annj). Coffee and hot chocolate always come with a glass of cold water in Vienna. And if you have an 'ordinary' coffee, it comes with its own pot of whipped cream. (Proper whipped cream, too, not that vile sugar-filled stuff squirted from a can.)

And then, you just sit back and enjoy it.

You don’t have to have cake. Demel’s are also famous for their ice cream. And it’s beautifully presented.

Suffice it to say, we really enjoyed that particular visit! And that really sets the tone of Vienna for me. Lovely people, lovely food, beautiful surroundings and an ability to just chill out and enjoy life. We loved Vienna and I'd recommend it to anyone.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Vienna: a fiaker ride

On the Wednesday evening, we headed out to the Hofburg, where we took a fiaker (a traditional horse-drawn taxi) for a city tour. Fiakers were first licensed in 1693 (the name comes from the Rue de Fiacre in Paris, where they originated), and in the second half of the 19th century there were more than 1,000 in the city. (These are the horses who took us round.)

Chloe was very taken by the little hats the horses wear; our driver told us they were called zwlischen.

It was a very comfy ride, even over the cobbled streets.

So we went through the arch into the Hofburg.
And plenty of other tourists were doing the same.

Back through the arch towards Kohlmarkt.

And then pretty much the route we’d walked, two days before.

Vienna is undergoing quite a programme of restoration, so there are cranes everywhere.

Past Mozart’s house.

And the Stephansdom.

And then finally past the Altesuhr clock again, and back to the Hofburg.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Vienna: the Haus der Musik and Peterskirche

On the Wednesday, we visited the Haus der Musik. We really enjoyed ourselves playing with sound at all the different interactive exhibits. Clever software let you throw a dice eight times for flute and eight times for cello (each throw choosing a different musical phrase) so you could make your own waltz; you could also make your own CD (as Chloe did) and conduct the Vienna Philharmonic – Chloe did Hoffman’s ‘Can Can’ and I did Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. Great fun! (The speed at which you conduct affects the speed of the orchestra playing – very, very cleverly done.)

Then we had a stroll round the main shopping area. Some of the street artists were amazing. We were very impressed by this man’s balance.

We bought a picture of Stephansdom from one of the street artists, then visited Peterskirche. This may have been built on the site of a Roman encampment (there are some ruins just outside the Spanish Riding School, opposite), and the building of the present church was begun in 1701 after the old church was burned down and then Vienna was hit by the plague. It was the first building in baroque Vienna to have a dome (and it’s oval – very unusual).

Very baroque inside.

The dome was lovely.

But the fully dressed and bejewelled skeleton in one of the chapels was a bit macabre! (It’s a Roman martyr from the catacombs and was dressed and placed here in 1733.)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

special guest: Shirley Wells

I’m thrilled to introduce a special guest today – someone I’ve known for very a long time in the writing world (I think possibly before I became an M&B author, so we're talking at least 10 years), and whose books I really, really enjoy. Shirley Wells writes fantastic mysteries and I can never second-guess them. Her Jill and Max books are excellent, and she also has a new detective, Dylan Scott. I really enjoyed his first adventure, Presumed Dead; and I can hardly wait to read the second, Dead Silent, which is out right now.

Anyway – without further ado, let me hand you over to Shirley.

Thank you, Kate, for inviting me to your lovely blog. It’s especially wonderful to be here because I know I have something in common in everyone who visits: we all love your books. I’m not sure I have a favourite Kate Hardy book but A Christmas Knight is well up there. I cried all the way through that one.

I write mysteries and Kate writes romances but we’re both agreed on one thing. We have the best job in the world.

What do I love most about being a writer?

1/. There’s nothing better than having an editor praise your book to the hilt and offer you a contract and, better still, money for it. I love that feeling.

2/. Seeing the book’s cover for the first time. I’ve been lucky with mine and have only hated one. (I didn’t actually cry when I saw it, but I was very tight-lipped for several days.)

3/. Waking up in the morning and knowing that as I don’t have a proper job, it’s perfectly okay to enjoy an extra cup of coffee before getting to the desk.

4/. Being able to stare out of the window and claim I’m working.

5/. Basking in great reviews that lovely readers post on Goodreads and Amazon.

6/. Having a legitimate reason to need a shiny Mac, an iPad and iPhone, and to spend hours in stationery stores choosing pretty pens and notebooks.

Now, let me tell you what I don’t like about being a writer:

1/. Knowing the book has to be between 80-100,000 words and getting stuck at around 50,000 words.

2/. Getting an email from my lovely editor saying “The first lot of edits should be with you soon…” What?!? You mean it’s not perfect as it is?

3/. Writing a synopsis. I’ve never yet mastered the art of writing a synopsis that makes any kind of sense or that would entice anyone to read the book.

4/. Reading about writers who’ve knocked out 5,000 words before I’ve even put the coffee on. (Yes, I’m talking about you, Kate!)

5/. Realising that the amazingly cute puppy I introduced in chapter three has no valid reason for being in the book and must be sent to the delete folder.

6/. Promotion. Being a shy, retiring type, as a lot of writers are, I find it extremely difficult to tell the world I have a book out. Every time I mention it, I hear my mother saying “Stop showing off, Shirley!” So I won’t say a word about it.

Thank you so much for having me, Kate.

Having had several hundred short stories, ten serials and ten novels published, Shirley Wells is finally getting the hang of this writing lark. She’s lived in Orkney, Cyprus and the Cotswolds, and now lives in Lancashire where the Pennines, with their abundance of great places to hide bodies, provide the inspiration for her popular mystery novels. She shares her home with her husband, two dogs, two cats and any other stray animals that fancy being pampered. You can connect with Shirley via her website, Twitter or Facebook.

Her latest Dylan Scott mystery, DEAD SILENT, is available from Carina Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and all good e-book retailers.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Not the best of days...

Blogger clearly hates me today as it's decided to eat my sidebar (and then stick it right underneath the blog... sigh).

Add to this doing the "back to school" shop (shoes, sob, shoes), and the fact that Byron decided to roll in something disgusting and now needs a bath - no, it's not the best of days.

And we have to do a second run at the "back to school" shop on Thursday, as M&S didn't have all the uniform I wanted in daughter's size, and John Lewis has a new trial system where you input your details onto a huge screen (24 inches at least) which is visible by any passer-by (and yes, I did complain, starting with "your staff are lovely and v helpful but your system is not at all secure and you need some kind of screen filter or change it to an iPad type application so people's details are not going to be compromised).

But on the plus side, Autoglass said the chip in my windscreen is a "minor pit" that won't crack or spread, so it doesn't need fixing. And I am getting more used to the electronic handbrake. (Pull on, push off, indeed - it's pull on and then push on some more! Yup, I got the "touch the footbrake to release the parking brake" message again. I swear it would add "you dozy mare" if it could.)

AND my latest box of paperbacks has just arrived, and the cover is even prettier in the flesh!

Hopefully the blog will behave itself tomorrow, as I have a special guest and I want to do her justice :)

Vienna: the Riesenrad

From the Belvedere, we walked to the S-bahn at Rennweg, and headed for the Prater (aka funfair where the Riesenrad is).

The Riesenrad was built in 1896 by Englishman Walter Bassett, and starred in both The Third Man and The Living Daylights. It’s nearly 65m high and the wheel itself has a diameter of almost 61m. It turns at the rate of 2.7 kmh and the ironwork weighs 430 tonnes.

Going up…

Looking at the middle...

Going over the top…

Looking out of the window…

At the amazing views…

Then it was back into Vienna central. We’d had a rather (!) large lunch, so dinner was just a snack at a very nice cafe (note the fairy lights on the right as well as the lovely chandelier).

In my case, strudel!

On the way back to our hotel, we noticed an art installation called ‘Yellow Fog’ by the Danish artist Olafur Eliasson – basically at dusk fog is created around the façade of the Verbund headquarters in Vienna. It was quite eerie when the horses and carriages came past.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Vienna: the Belvedere

After the military history museum, we headed over to the Schloss Belvedere, which was originally built for Prince Eugene of Savoy as his summer residence. The Upper Belvedere looks stunning reflected in its lake.

It was originally built to house the prince’s art collection, but Franz Ferdinand lived there from 1894 to 1914. It became the city’s art gallery after the First World War. The gardens look down to the Lower Belvedere.

Much of the present-day collection was a bit modern for my taste, but two pictures really caught my eye: Egon Schiele’s ‘Four Trees’ (1917 – it looks really orangey on reproductions I’ve seen on the net, but the real thing is more reddish-purple and much prettier)

and Ludwig von Hoffman’s ‘Sunset over the sea’ 1898.

The gardens looked amazing from the upper floors of the Belvedere, with great views over Vienna itself.

In the Upper Belvedere, I really liked the Marble Hall. This was where the treaty was signed in 1955 to end the Allied occupation of Austria.

We strolled down through the gardens and past the fountain.

And then we reached the Lower Belvedere.

There was more art, plus three of the prince’s state rooms. I really liked the Golden Room, which was basically a hall of mirrors.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

quick catchup

Current work: Rome Riva
Listening to: various (mainly Beethoven)
Reading: Rachel Hore, A Place of Secrets (enjoying very much, though I haven’t had time to read this week)

Today is probably going to be spent baking with daughter and her best friend. Seems to have been a very busy, sociable week this week. We also managed to fit in a cinema trip; last year, we were spoiled for choice and ended up going twice a week, but this year there hasn’t been much we’d all want to see. (I had vetoed ‘Cowboys v Aliens’ until I saw the trailer – Harrison Ford AND Daniel Craig? Well-filling time, methinks.)

‘Zookeeper’ has been out for a fortnight and its last viewing was on Tuesday, so after son’s best friend went home we nipped into the city and caught the last show. DH warned me that it had terrible reviews. OK, so the plot was utterly predictable, but there was a lot of warmth and charm in it, and it made me laugh for the right reasons. And the best bit for me (not exactly a spoiler) was the end credits, where you have certain actors singing ‘More than a Feeling’… while in character as the animals. Really appealed to my sense of the ridiculous. (I put on the original, on the way home, but both kids refused flatly to sing along as giraffes. A year ago, I could’ve talked them into it... Sigh. They're growing up.)

The family history research has just had a major ‘oh, what?’ moment. A copy of my grandparents’ wedding certificate arrived yesterday. And the name of my great-grandfather isn’t what I thought it was. Hmm. My grandmothers’ parents’ surnames are not that common, I can only dig up one marriage with those two surnames in the space of the 20 years before my her birth, and my uncle remembers her dad’s name as being what I thought it was. So something isn’t quite right. Could it be a mistake by the registrar on the wedding certificate? Was my great-grandfather known by a family name rather than his real name? Only one way to find out: so I’ve ordered her birth certificate. Let’s hope it illuminates things rather than confusing me even more!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Vienna: the military history museum

On the Tuesday, we took the tube to Wien-Mitte and then the S-bahn to Sudbshnhof so we could visit the Heeresgeschichtlichtes Museum – the military history museum, which was formerly the city’s arsenal. The building is absolutely gorgeous.

We saw the car in which Franz Ferdinand was assassinated.

And also his bloodstained uniform.

There was also part of a U-boat on display and a bunker that had clearly taken a hit from a bomb.

Not to mention a bomb that was bigger than Chloe!

I rather liked the French military balloon from 1796.