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Guest post: My Dream Writing Space by Bella Osborne

24 Mar

bella osbornePlease extend a very warm welcome to Bella Osborne today as she joins me to celebrate the release of Willow Cottage: A Spring Affair,  part three of her lovely Willow Cottage series.

Bella has been jotting down stories as far back as she can remember.  In 2016, her debut novel, It Started At Sunset Cottage, was shortlisted for the Contemporary Romantic Novel of the Year and RNA Joan Hessayon New Writers Award.

Bella’s stories are about friendship, love and coping with what life throws at you. Bella believes that writing your own story really is the best fun ever, closely followed by talking, eating chocolate, drinking fizz and planning holidays. She joins us today to tell us all about her dream writing space. Welcome Bella!

Hi One More Page,

Thank you for being the next stop on the blog tour, it’s great to be on your blog today.

Part 3 of Willow Cottage is set in springtime and this got me thinking about the outdoors (bear with me) which led to me to imaging my dream writing space – a shepherd’s hut.

image003 (1)

Photo credit: http://heritageshepherdhuts.co.uk/

Sadly my garden isn’t big enough to accommodate one but if I had a spare field I would definitely save up my pennies and buy one of these beauties (I may even give up custard creams to achieve this*).

So what is a shepherd’s hut? Originally it was exactly what it says on the tin – a simple hut that a shepherd took shelter in during the lambing season. The original huts contained the essentials to survive for a few hours like a stove for heat and to cook on as well as water and a bed. Made from wood with a curved corrugated iron roof and mounted on wheels so they could be easily moved from field to field, they were functional rather than pretty.

image004However, thanks to modern farming methods you are now more likely to see one converted into something akin to a summerhouse and many are built from scratch with modern materials but mimicking the classic design. I love to while away time looking at some of the creations on the Internet when I’m meant to be writing (I think it’s one up from watching videos of kittens). This converted hut, that belongs to watercolour artist Jean Batterbee, is the sort of thing I would love to have…

I could imagine myself sat there writing away although the reality would more likely be that I would be wasting time on the internet looking at something else I can’t afford!

What would be your dream space?

*No, not really! I’d like one but not that much!

Thanks Bella – I think a Shepherd’s Hut would make an ideal reading nook too!

willow cottage springWillow Cottage: part three – A Spring Affair is out now in ebook formats.

Beth is running away. With her young son Leo to protect, Willow Cottage is the lifeline she so desperately needs. Overlooking the village green in a beautiful Cotswolds idyll, Beth sees a warm, caring and safe place for little Leo.

When she finally uncovers the cottage from underneath the boughs of a weeping willow tree, Beth realises this is far more of a project than she bargained for and the locals are more than a little eccentric! A chance encounter with gruff Jack, who appears to be the only male in the village under thirty, leaves the two of them at odds but it’s not long before Beth realises that Jack has hidden talents that could help her repair more than just Willow Cottage

Over the course of four seasons, Beth realises that broken hearts can be mended, and sometimes love can be right under your nose…

Willow Cottage is part of a serialized novel told in four parts, following the journey of Beth and her new life in the Cotswolds. The full book will be out next this August, but for now, enjoy Willow Cottage seasonally.

Find out more about Bella and her writing at: http://www.bellaosborne.com/

Guest post: The Best Things I Discovered About Sardinia by Rosanna Ley

10 Mar

I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Rosanna Ley’s new novel, The Little Theatre By The Sea, today. Rosanna is the bestselling author of novels including Return to Mandalay and The Villa and Last Dance in Havana. I love Rosanna’s books and the wonderful places she takes me to in them. In this new release, we visit Sardinia and Rosanna joins me today to talk about her favourite things about Sardinia. Welcome Rosanna!

rosanna leyThe Best Things I Discovered about Sardinia

  • Top of the list has got to be the stunning beaches. Some of them are ‘secret’ beaches as in little rocky coves which can be pretty isolated or maybe only accessible by sea. The clarity of the water here is second to none. My favourite beach – destined to be secret no longer – was at Cala Domestica on the West coast accessed by driving through the mountains past now-deserted mining villages. Take a turning down to the sea, park on the grass, cross a boardwalk, pick your way along a rocky trail a bit like a goat track and go through a tunnelled archway – to discover a keyhole cove invisible from both land and sea. It’s amazing…
  • Myrtle. Yes – I’m talking about the plant. In Sardinia, myrtle is part of the ‘maquis’ which cloaks the hills and valleys along with juniper and tamarisk. It has deep green leaves and fragrant white flowers and is sacred to Venus, goddess of love and so tends to make an appearance at Sardinian weddings. (Ideal for a writer of romantic fiction). Even more vital, it is used to make a delicious Sardinian liqueur known as mirto. (You can spot myrtle on the cover of Little Theatre by the Sea).
  • Delicious Food. I love Italian food but Sardinia goes one step further – and it’s in the right direction. Some of my favourites were:  burrida (a spicy fish soup), spaghetti con bottarga (with mullet roe) and malloreddus (a gnocchi style pasta cooked with saffron in tomato sauce). I also loved fregola – an unusual pasta similar to cous-cous, often served with clams. And as for the lobster… Take me back there – now!
  • Bosa. I’ve chosen Bosa as my favourite town in Sardinia because it’s historic and pretty and because I used it as the main inspiration for my fictional town of Deriu. The things I loved most about Bosa were the mediaeval cobbled streets, the gorgeous pastel-painted houses and the colourful markets. But there was so much more – the Castello dei Malaspino, the river Temo, the marina, the restaurants… Bosa was founded by the Phoenicians and its artisan traditions of gold-filigree jewellery and lace-making live on.
  • The frescoes. Italian frescoes are often still so vibrant that it’s hard to believe how old they really are. My favourites were in the fourteenth century Nostra Signora di Regnos Altos chapel in the ruins of the castle at the top of the hill in Bosa. Restoration in the 1970s has brought to light these most stunning cycle of Catalan school frescoes – unexpected, vivid and truly beautiful to behold.
  • The amphitheatre at Nora. Sardinia is one of the most ancient lands in Europe and for a flavour of its history, my favourite site would be the Roman city of Nora in the south west, built on a spit of land jutting out to sea. It’s the location which makes it magical, but you can still see the Roman baths decorated with white, black and ochre tesserae mosaics, a theatre dating from the second century AD, paved Roman roads and even the original sewage system. Guaranteed to take your breath away.
  • Flamingos! Who would expect to see flamingos in Sardinia..? I love these elegant birds and fortunately, they have taken to nesting in the wild in the marshes of the Sinis peninsula near Oristano and down on the south coast near Cagliari. An unexpected and delightful treat.
  • Costa del Sud. This 25 kilometre coastal drive from Chia to Teulada in Southern Sardinia is off the beaten track and a complete joy. What a road… It winds beside steep cliffs and snakes past hidden beaches and then the view opens out in glorious technicolour to display an entire stretch of the magnificent coastline. Which is what Sardinia is all about really…

Thank you Rosanna – I’m adding Sardinia to my list of ‘must visit’ places!

The Little Theatre by the Sea is out now in hardback, ebook and audio formats from Quercus.

little-theatre-front-coverFaye has just completed her degree in interior design when she finds herself jobless and boyfriend-less. While debating what to do next she receives a surprise phone call from her old college friend Charlotte who now lives in Sardinia and is married to Italian hotelier, Fabio.

When Charlotte suggests that Faye relocate for a month to house-sit, Faye wonders if a summer break in sunny Sardinia might be the perfect way to recharge her batteries and think about her future. But then Charlotte tells Faye that there’s something more behind the sudden invitation: her friends Marisa and Alessandro are looking for a designer to renovate a crumbling old theatre they own in the scenic village of Deriu. The idea certainly sounds appealing to Faye, but little does she know what she’s letting herself in for if she accepts this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity . . .

Find out more about Rosanna and her writing at: http://www.rosannaley.com

Guest post: The Shimmering Girl at the Palace by Laura Lam

9 Mar

Today I’m very excited to have Laura Lam joining me on the latest stop of her Masquerade blog tour. Laura was raised near San Francisco, California, by two former Haight-Ashbury hippies. Both of them encouraged her to finger-paint to her heart’s desire, colour outside the lines, and consider the library a second home. This led to an overabundance of daydreams. She relocated to Scotland to be with her husband, whom she met on the internet when he insulted her taste in books. She almost blocked him but is glad she didn’t. At times she misses the sunshine. 

Masquerade is the third and final novel in Laura Lam’s Micah Grey trilogy, following Pantomime and Shadowplay. Welcome Laura!

Once there was a girl with dragonfly wings, who soared above the world. She looked down and saw happiness, and sadness, and wide expanses with no one at all save the animals and trees and rocks and streams. She flew all the way around the world, writing down whatever she saw. When she came back, she did not show anyone her little journal. It was her version of the world, and she wanted to keep it for her alone.

— ‘The Dragonfly Girl’, Hestia’s Fables 

Laura LamEvery chapter in the Micah Grey series has a short found document at the start, ranging from a variety of sources: history books, diaries, songs, poetry, and more. It’s basically a sneaky way to add in more worldbuilding and detail about Ellada & the Archipelago.

I seem to write a lot about girls in Hestia’s fables in this book, which I didn’t quite clock until I started writing about these excerpts. Hestia’s fable are sort of like Aesop’s fables—short apocryphal tales that people in Ellada would have grown up reading. Dragonflies and damselflies are also a reoccurring motif throughout the trilogy. People in Ellada often whisper that dragonflies can weigh the lightness or darkness of the soul, which I might have picked up from research somewhere. This excerpt came across a little wistful, which I like. What did the dragonfly girl see on her travels?

If you buy Pantomime or Masquerade & send your receipt to Laura, you can claim a free 10k short story, “The Mechanical Minotaur,” set in the same world. If you buy all three, you can claim 60k of free fiction as well. More details here.

Masquerade is released today in paperback by Pan.

The gifted hide their talents, but dare they step into the light? 9781509807789

Micah’s Chimaera powers are growing, until his dark visions overwhelm him. Drystan is forced to take him to Dr Pozzi, to save his life. But can they really trust the doctor, especially when a close friend is revealed to be his spy?

Meanwhile, violent unrest is sweeping the country, as anti-royalist factions fight to be heard. Then three chimaera are attacked, after revealing their existence with the monarchy’s blessing – and the struggle becomes personal. A small sect decimated the chimaera in ancient times and nearly destroyed the world. Now they’ve re-emerged to spread terror once more.  Micah will discover a royal secret, which draws him into the heart of the conflict. And he and his friends must risk everything to finally bring peace to their land.

Please do visit the other stops on the Masquerade tour!

Find out more about Laura and her writing at: http://www.lauralam.co.uk/

Guest post: How the Idea of Me, You and Tiramisu came about by Charlotte Butterfield

24 Feb

Today I’m very pleased to welcome Charlotte Butterfield to One More Page on the first stop of her Me, You and Tiramisu blog tour. Charlotte joins us to tell us how the idea for her debut novel came about. Welcome Charlotte!

charlotte ButterfieldI’ve been a journalist for the last fifteen years, and a couple of years ago I was asked by a women’s lifestyle magazine to write a feature about couples where one of them was more attractive than the other one. Yep. True story.

The magazine actually wanted me to go out and find couples that would voluntarily be featured declaring that one of them was so much more beautiful than the other one. How would that even happen? Would I have to stop people on the street and say, “I’m writing an article and you two would be perfect for this!” Can you imagine? I turned the commission down in the end, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the idea of how society views couples. Everything seems to hinge on appearance and woe betide a couple that don’t seem completely balanced in age, weight and looks that want to make a go of it.

I wondered whether things like shared interests, humour, hobbies and love are somehow being pushed further and further down the list of priorities and looks are now everything. The popularity of Tinder suggests that this might be the case, which baffles me, how can you decide whether or not to give someone the time of day based on one photo?

This idea started to grow, and then I began imagining what it would be like being in one of these couples where it’s not just people you know that are making judgements about you and your love interest, but complete strangers too. What if one of you was famous and suddenly everyone thought they had the right to comment on your relationship and what he/she sees in you? We’ve all seen phrases ‘punching above their weight’ or ‘they’ve done well for themselves’ in celeb gossip magazines and it always made me cringe. It was then that I realised that I may have found the perfect plot for my first novel and my gorgeous (in every sense of the word) characters Jayne and Will came to life.

You can find out more about Charlotte and her writing and follow her at:

Website: https://charlottebutterfield.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/charliejayneb

It all started with a table for two…tiramisu

Life for self-confessed bookworm Jayne Brady couldn’t be better – she has a twin sister she adores, a cosy little flat above a deli and now she’s found love with her childhood crush, gorgeous chef Will.

But when Will becomes a Youtube sensation, thanks to his delicious cookery demos (both the food and his smile!), their life of contentment come crashing down around them. Can Jayne have her Tiramisu and eat it?

Me, You and Tiramisu is out now as an ebook and will be released in paperback on 9th March from HarperImpulse.

Please do check out the other stops on Charlotte’s blog tour over the next week!

Guest post: Meet the Chalet Girls by Lorraine Wilson

14 Feb

What better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than with a lovely guest post from one of my favourite romance authors, Lorraine Wilson. Lorraine is the author of the Chalet Girl series if novellas and I’m delighted to say, has just released the first full length novel in the series, Chalet Girls. Today Lorraine joins me to introduce her chalet girls to you all. Welcome Lorraine!

 

chalet girls snow
Those of you who have been following the blog may already know I started the Chalet Girl series because I love Switzerland and I thought the seasonnaire scene would be rich with story possibilities. With the novel Chalet Girls some of the inspiration came from characters already created in previous novellas although this doesn’t stop Chalet Girls being read as a standalone novel.

 

Chalet Girls features the stories of three characters – Sophie, Lucy and Beth. Sophie’s story started in Secret Crush of a Chalet Girl but I felt there was more to tell and a full length novel gave me the space to dig deeper into what really happens after ‘happy ever after’. Those of you familiar with her character know that Valentine’s treasure hunts feature in her story and this novel is no exception, I couldn’t resist creating another one :-)

 

Lucy has been a secondary character in some of the novellas and the inspiration for her story started when I read the real life story of Jenny Jones – a chalet girl who became an Olympic medal winner: http://bbc.in/2kAttD5 From there my research lead me into the world of extreme skiing. Watching videos of pro snowboarder Xavier de le Rue being dropped by helicopter onto the ridge of an alpine mountain gave me the inspiration for the character of Seb. You can watch one of Xavier’s jaw dropping mountain descents here: https://youtu.be/VpBkI4etfQI
With Beth’s story the inspiration was more personal.  I like to write escapist, fun stories but I also try to tackle some of the hard, painful things a lot of us carry around but rarely talk about. In a way hers is a story of perseverance and hope. Maybe this theme is of especial importance to me because a neurosurgeon told me eight years ago, after a severe brain injury, that I’d never be able to write a book. This was following an accident that left me with lasting disabilities. Finishing my first novella (Confessions of a Chalet Girl -http://amzn.to/2kC7FH5 ) using speech to text technology felt like a real triumph but as ‘Chalet Girls’ is my first full length novel its publication is yet another milestone in my own story.

 

On a lighter note, animal-loving readers might like to know that the dog called Pip featured both in the book and on the book cover is actually one of my own rescue dogs. He has his own story of perseverance and you can read about how he made his way from my lap into the book on the Harper Impulse blog – http://bit.ly/2kAnY7k

 

Chalet Girls is out now in paperback and ebook formats from HarperImpulse.

image1What happens when life in Verbier suddenly goes off-piste?

Lucy’s been bowled over by the sexy extreme skier who’s hurtled into her life. But can she accept Seb’s commitment to his adrenaline-filled career?

Trusting any man is out of the question after what’s happened to Beth. So why is she so drawn to twinkly-eyed Dan when he’s leaving at the end of the season?

Sophie’s madly in love with her gorgeous fiancé, Luc. Only instead of gleefully planning the winter wedding of her dreams, all she wants is to run and hide…

Three Chalet Girls are about to strap on their skis and find out!

Guest post: My inspiration for A Nightingale Christmas Carol by Donna Douglas

18 Nov

I’m very pleased to welcome Donna Douglas back to One More Page today as part of her A Nightingale Christmas Carol blog tour. Donna is one of my favourite historical saga authors and writes the hugely successful Nightingale series about nurses at the Nightingale Hospital in London and The Nurses of Steeple Street series about district nurses in Leeds. I’m a big fan of both series’ and I love the mix of historical detail and gripping story-lines that Donna always includes. Today Donna joins me to talk about her inspirations for A Nightingale Christmas Carol. Welcome Donna!

Donna DouglasThe idea for A Nightingale Christmas Carol came about entirely by accident, while I was researching a previous Nightingale novel. I was browsing on The People’s War, a BBC online archive of personal stories and firsthand accounts of life in the Second World War. If you haven’t seen it, I’d urge you to take a look if you have any interest in wartime history. There are so many fascinating and heartbreaking stories there, they could fill a hundred novels!

Anyway, I was researching nursing when I came upon a fascinating story from a young trainee nurse who was given the job of caring for German POWs in a British hospital. Apparently there were so many enemy casualties after D-Day that the local field hospitals couldn’t cope and they had to ship them to hospitals over here.

That set me thinking. What must it be like for a young British woman, perhaps someone with a loved one who had been killed or injured fighting in Europe or during the Blitz, to suddenly find herself in the position of looking after her sworn enemy?

And so the idea for A Nightingale Christmas Carol was born. The main character, Dora, has waved her soldier husband Nick off yet again, with the lurking fear that she may never see him again. She tries to bury her worries by throwing herself into her work as a nurse at the Nightingale Hospital. But then she is assigned to a new ward looking after German POWs.

And she’s not the only one, either. Fellow nurse Kitty has lost her beloved brother to a German U-Boat. And ward sister Helen has her own scars to bear from her time as a military nurse in Europe.

A Nightingale Christmas Carol is about how they all come to terms with putting their duty before their heart, which apparently many of these young women managed to do in real life.

It’s a side of the war that rarely gets written about, which is what attracted me to it. Germans are generally seen as ‘the enemy’, but they were also human beings – scared young men with loved ones at home who worried about them.

This is what the nurses came to realise, as they got to know their patients better. There were even stories of romance blossoming on the ward, although as you can imagine, this was incredibly frowned upon. A prisoner who fell for a local girl could find himself sent to another POW camp at the other end of the country. And a girl who fell for a German might find herself branded a traitor, or far worse.

But many of the wartime stories had happy endings, with couples finding that love really can conquer all. But will this happen in A Nightingale Christmas Carol? You’ll have to read it to find out!

A Nightingale Christmas Carol is out now in paperback and ebook formats from Arrow.

Find out more about Donna and her writing at:

Do stop back later today for my review!

A Nightingale Christmas Carol

The Nightingale Hospital, London, 1944

All that Dora Riley wants is her husband home safe for Christmas…

 With her husband Nick away fighting, Dora struggles to keep the home fires burning and is put in charge of a ward full of German prisoners of war. Can she find it in her heart to care for her enemies?

Fellow nurse Kitty thinks she might be falling for a German soldier, whilst Dora’s old friend Helen returns from Europe with a dark secret.

Can the women overcome their prejudices and the troubles of their past to do their duty for their country?

Guest post: My Top 5 Writing Tips by Mary Jayne Baker

4 Nov

Today I’m delighted to welcome Mary Jayne Backer back to One More Page to celebrate the paperback release of The Honey Trap. Mary Jayne grew up in rural West Yorkshire, right in the heart of Brontë country… and she’s still there. After graduating from Durham University with a degree in English Literature in 2003, she dallied with living in cities including London, but eventually came back with her own romantic hero in tow to her beloved Dales.

She lives with him in a little house with four little cats and a little rabbit, writing stories about girls with flaws and the men who love them. You can usually find her there with either a pen, some knitting needles or a glass of wine in hand. She goes to work every day as a graphic designer for a magazine publisher, but secretly dreams of being a lighthouse keeper. Welcome Mary Jayne!

mjbMy top five writing tips

1. Show and tell

You’ve heard the phrase “show, don’t tell”, right? It’s usually the first thing aspiring creative writers learn. Show what’s happening to your characters right now, in an immediate scene that covers their thoughts, actions, dialogue in the present. Don’t recount it after the event, as if you were describing the scene to a friend over coffee.

But like all writing rules, this one was made to be broken. The key thing is knowing when to show and when to tell. Yes, readers want to connect with characters in real time, to feel they’re watching events unfold as they happen, but there will be occasions when for the sake of pace, transition or significance you’ll want to do a quick bit of telling. For example, “It had been three years since the events of that summer. Sarah was a mother now, a wife, with three small children. It seemed a lifetime ago.” Yes, this is telling, but if that period of the main character’s life isn’t a major part of the story, you won’t want to slow it down with a lot of unnecessary showing.

2. Be efficient

Efficiency of language is something you shouldn’t worry too much about when writing a first draft, although if you have it in the back of your mind it can save you work when you edit. When you come back to your work after a break, then it’s time to look at each sentence to see if it communicates what you’re trying to get across without a word wasted.

When I started writing, I often overegged the pudding when it came to body language. A character who was embarrassed might flush and look to the floor. A character who was dismissive might raise an eyebrow and shrug. Later, I started looking at these and realising I was using multiple bits of body language just to make sure my reader didn’t miss the emotion being conveyed. This was both wordy and underestimating the reader’s intelligence. Often it only needed one bit of body language, or none, if dialogue or action had already made the emotion clear. Now when I edit, unnecessary body language and repetitive dialogue are the first things I look to cut down.

3. Forget what you learnt at school

You don’t need to write in full sentences, particularly in dialogue. Contractions like “don’t” or “aren’t” are fine (again, especially in dialogue). Long passages of flowery description might have earned plaudits from your English teacher, but when you’re telling a story they can often seem indulgent or slow things down. Forget what you learnt in the classroom, look at how those authors you most admire communicate with their readers and let them be your teachers.

4, Notice what’s happening in the real world

Always be aware of the conversations that you’re a part of or that are going on around you, the human dramas playing out all over. Hear or see something that makes you laugh? Jot it down. Something sad? Take that too. I shamelessly eavesdrop and plagiarise from conversations I overhear. For a writer, everything is raw material.

5. Never stop writing

The most important tip of all, even if it sounds obvious! I tried three times to write a novel before I eventually managed to pen my debut, and always lost confidence after a few thousand words. Keep writing, see every blank page as a challenge, and no matter how much you doubt yourself, how bad you think what you’ve written is, push yourself to keep on keeping on. One day you might just create something wonderful.

Thank you Mary Jayne and congratulations on your paperback release! 

The Honey Trap is out now in paperback and ebook formats from HarperImpulse.

the-honey-trap-mjbaker-194x300Journalist Angel Blackthorne is looking for her next big scoop. When her sleazy editor asks her to use her charms on super successful – and married – film director Sebastian Wilchester for a juicy exposé, Angel thinks what the hell? There’s a staff job on the horizon, and, let’s be honest, no one can make a cheater cheat if they don’t want to, right?

After the scandal breaks, Angel tries to put the story – and Seb – behind her, but fate seems to have other ideas. A near miss at a premiere after-party and a shared love of vintage film brings the honey closer to the trap.

But what happens when pretence leads to passion, and a ‘kiss and tell’ becomes something real?

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the stops on The Honey Trap Blog tour this week!

honeytrapblogtour

Find out more about MJ and her writing: at www.maryjaynebaker.co.uk You can also follow her on Twitter, @MaryJayneBaker, or like her Facebook page by going to Facebook.com/MaryJayneWrites

Guest post: How I found my inner geisha by Lesley Downer

1 Nov

Today I’m delighted to welcome Lesley Downer to One More Page on the latest stop of her blog tour for her fabulous new novel, The Shogun’s Queen. Lesley  has written many books about Japan and its culture, including Geisha: The Secret History of the Vanishing World and the gripping Shogun Quartet; The Last Concubine, The Courtesan and the Samurai and The Samurai’s Daughter. The Shogun’s Queen is the first book in the series. 

Lesley’s mother was Chinese and her father a professor of Chinese, so she grew up in a house full of books on Asia. But it was Japan, not China, that proved the more alluring and Lesley lived there for some fifteen years. She lives in London with her husband, the author Arthur I. Miller, and travels to Japan yearly. Welcome Lesley!

P1000534Hello, Amanda. First, thank you for inviting me to post on your blog today. I much appreciate it!

Long before I started writing fiction about Japan, long before I began to research The Shogun’s Queen, I decided to write a book on geisha. Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha had been a huge hit. But it struck me as somehow false. It was a version of the Cinderella story, in which the heroine finds redemption by meeting Mr Right. But I felt sure this was a western myth, not a Japanese one.

And so I became curious about geisha. I wondered what their lives were really like.

I’d already spent ten years living in Japan by then. I went to Kyoto, the home of the geisha and a city of beautiful ancient temples. There I found a little room to stay in in the geisha area, in the lea of the Eastern Hills. It’s a beautiful area of narrow streets lined with dark wooden houses with lanterns outside. There’s a stream lined with willow trees and crossed with little stone bridges. Maiko (trainee geisha) clip clopped beneath my balcony but it was hard to know how to approach them.  

I had an introduction to an elderly geisha, one of the grand old ladies of the district. I went to visit her taking a gift of expensive cakes. She was tiny like a bird with a perfect unlined face and steely black eyes, wearing an exquisite grey silk kimono. She must have been seventy at least. She took my gift and dumped it to one side.

‘You’re a westerner,’ she said contemptuously. ‘You’ll never understand our customs! Isn’t that what you tell foreigners who come to your country?’

I wanted to say that no, it wasn’t, but I dared not contradict.

‘You have no idea how to behave,’ she added. ‘You can’t just walk in. You must spend time, get to know us, then ask if perhaps we might very kindly introduce you to a geisha or maiko. Come back in a week,’ she added grudgingly.

I’d been in Japan long enough to know I might ruin my chances if I barged up to one of those exotic-looking creatures without an introduction. It was a small community and if I made the smallest slip they would close ranks against me.

Then one day I noticed the hairdresser’s up a little side street alongside the stream. He was outside of that closed community. He was a lively cheerful man who‘d been the geishas’ hairdresser his whole life. He let me watch while he did the maikos’ hair – combing it, ironing it, stretching it, rolling it and moulding it into the helmet-like winged maiko shape, putting in wads of yak’s hair to give extra volume. He was also an enormous source of entertaining geisha gossip.

I also went to visit the wig maker. Maiko are teenagers who begin their five year training in dancing and music at fifteen and they wear their hair in the distinctive maiko hairstyle. But qualified adult geisha wear wigs. When they take them off they can slip unnoticed into the crowd. I even tried on a wig but decided it wasn’t for me.

And every week I took another box of cakes to the stern old geisha and each time she put me off yet again.Victoria's scans 11

I also went to tea ceremony classes. I studied tea ceremony for two years when I was first in Japan and love it. It has elements of mass and tai chi. It’s perfectly choreographed, you do every movement just so. It can be serious or it can be relaxed. And you end up eating a little cake and drinking a delicious cup of bright green tea.

One day the teacher, a rather good-looking young man, took me aside. I’d told him about my frustration.

‘There’s a cake shop where all the geisha buy their cakes,’ he told me. He drew me a map.

I went there. It was down a back street, a very unprepossessing little place, more a stall than a shop. I bought a box of cakes and went yet again to see the fearsome old geisha.

For the first time ever she gave me a smile. ‘The best cakes,’ she said, nodding approvingly. ‘You’ve finally started to learn!’

In fact she never did introduce me to anyone. But by then I’d been around for a couple of months. Her training had actually done me some good. I now knew how to behave around geisha. Little by little they became used to me and took me into their hearts. They invited me into their homes and I met the young maiko that lived there and that they were training. I attended the classes where the maiko learn singing and dancing, went to geisha parties and saw performances of geisha dance.

I was back in Kyoto recently to research my latest novel, The Shogun’s Queen. My geisha friends are still around and I looked them up. My ‘geisha training’ not only taught me how to behave around geisha but also how it feels to be a woman in Japanese society. I shall never forget the lesson I learnt. I’d found my inner geisha.

Thank you Lesley – what wonderful experiences!

The Shogun’s Queen is released on 3rd November in hardback and ebook formats from Bantam Press.

shogun coverOnly one woman can save her world from barbarian invasion but to do so will mean sacrificing everything she holds dear – love, loyalty and maybe life itself . . .

Japan, and the year is 1853. Growing up among the samurai of the Satsuma Clan, in Japan’s deep south, the fiery, beautiful and headstrong Okatsu has – like all the clan’s women – been encouraged to be bold, taught to wield the halberd, and to ride a horse.

But when she is just seventeen, four black ships appear. Bristling with cannon and manned by strangers who to the Japanese eyes are barbarians, their appearance threatens Japan’s very existence. And turns Okatsu’s world upside down.

Chosen by her feudal lord, she has been given a very special role to play. Given a new name – Princess Atsu – and a new destiny, she is the only one who can save the realm. Her journey takes her to Edo Castle, a place so secret that it cannot be marked on any map. There, sequestered in the Women’s Palace – home to three thousand women, and where only one man may enter: the shogun – she seems doomed to live out her days. But beneath the palace’s immaculate facade, there are whispers of murders and ghosts. It is here that Atsu must complete her mission and discover one last secret – the secret of the man whose fate is irrevocably linked to hers: the shogun himself . . .

Find out more about Lesley and her writing at: http://www.lesleydowner.com/

 

Guest post: Best. Wedding. Ever. by Claudia Carroll

11 Oct

Today I’m delighted to be hosting Claudia Carroll on the latest stop of her All She Ever Wished For blog tour. Claudia is a number one bestselling author in Ireland and a top ten bestseller in the UK. She was born in Dublin where she still lives and where she has worked extensively both as a theatre and stage actress. She now writes full-time. Today, Claudia joins me to share a guest post about her favourite wedding. Welcome Claudia!

claudiaAbout a year ago ago, one of my dearest friends announced his engagement. He and his partner had been together for well over a decade, but this was actually going to be a double cause for celebration. Mainly because their wedding was to be one of the first same sex weddings to take place since the State decided to legislate for it. Literally, the minute it became legal, the happy couple got engaged.

‘Amazing news!!’ I squealed at my pal, who we’ll call Greg, purely because he looks at bit like a Greg.

‘It’s going to be just like a straight wedding darling,’ he gushed at me, ‘but with all the boring bits cut out.’

No was he joking. For starters, the wedding was held at the gorgeously posh Rathsallagh House in Kildare, one of the most romantic wedding venues going. On a gloriously sunny August day, with the entire ceremony held outdoors, like we were all on our holliers. And for the women, all the usual frantic running around the Dundrum Town Centre tearing our hair out over trying to find shoes to match dresses was immediately banished when the groom-to-be reassured us that the dress code effectively was, ‘turn up in whatever the hell you feel like.’

Because that’s the magical thing about same sex weddings; it’s almost like the Alice Through the Looking Glass of normal weddings, with all the usual traditions and conventions totally turned upside down. You feel like turning up head to toe in white, with a train and a veil streeling after you? Go for it. You want to dress like you’re on your way to the Oscars? The more fabulous the better, dahhling,’ as Greg told us all. ‘It’s going to be sparkles and sequins all the way!’

And boy, was it. So instead of a nervous bride clinging to her Dad as she walked down the aisle while an organist hammered out Here Comes the Bride, we had both grooms stride confidently towards the altar with their respective Mammies at their side, proudly followed by a gaggle of brothers, sisters, in-laws, nieces and nephews, all part of the wedding procession. All there to give love and support, just like families should. To the band playing There May be Trouble Ahead, by Nat King Cole, which got us all giggling and which I thought a particularly nice touch.

Then we had the service bit which kicked off with one of our actor mates getting up to the podium and quite solemnly telling us, ‘there now follows a reading from the book of Beyonce. And he did like it, so he went and put a ring on it….so put your hands up. Up in the club….’

Took all of thirty seconds for the gag to filter back through the puzzled congregation. But as soon as the penny dropped, we all joined in for an impromtu singalong of Beyonce’s ‘All the Single Ladies.’ Pure fab. Because you see that’s another great thing about civil partnership. The happy couple get to design the whole service around themselves and no one else.  

Amazing thing was though, because of the fun nature of the ceremony, it seemed to make the actual vow part even more emotional and moving. What is it about two people pledging to love and cherish each other always that has us reaching for the Kleenex? The minister conducting the ceremony was well-prepared though, thoughtfully and swiftly producing a mansize box of Kleenex for groom and groom to have a little blub into.

The whole service was over in thirty minutes or less, and next thing the brand new husband and husband where strutting down the aisle to ‘That’s Amore,’ by Dean Martin. On cue, bar staff began elegantly circulating around the lawns handing out trays of champagne to guests as we all toasted the newly weds, hugged them and told them how proud we all were to share the joy.

The reception was incredible too, with a nod to tradition in the form of a proper, tiered wedding cake, except all kitted out with tier on tier of baby blue cupcakes, one for each and every one of the guests. The speeches, which were all hysterical (one even involved slideshows).

And I thought of just how far we’ve come as a country. And it makes me feel so inordinately proud. To think that thirty years ago, gay couples could be arrested for doing nothing more than living an honest life, whereas now we celebrate their union just like you would with any couple.

Which is absolutely the way things should be, no?

 

All She Ever Wished For is out now in paperback and ebook formats from Avon

all she ever wished forMarriage. It’s a dream come true. Isn’t it?

One wet winter night, two women meet on a bridge. One is Tess Taylor, a personal trainer on the way to meet her boyfriend for date night. The other is Kate King, a celebrity married to a handsome billionaire who just happens to make her cry. In the cold dark evening, there is nothing to link them together but the bridge they shiver on. Little do they know they’ll both hold the key to each other’s future marriage

All She Ever Wished For tells the story of what happens when your dream is about to come true. And what happens when that dream turns into a bit of a nightmare

Claudia Carroll brings you a Christmas gift filled with second chances, fateful encounters and a lesson in what true love means.

 

Guest post: Writing characters – how to make them believable by S.C. Stephens

16 Sep

Please welcome fab author S.C. Stephens to One More Page today with a little guest post to celebrate the release of her new novel, Furious Rush. S.C. Stephens is a bestselling author who enjoys spending every free moment she has creating stories that are packed with emotion and heavy on romance.

In addition to writing, Stephens enjoys spending lazy afternoons in the sun reading fabulous novels, loading up her iPod with writer’s block reducing music, heading out to the movies, and spending quality time with her friends and family. She currently resides in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with her two equally beautiful children.

I truly believe that everyone does things for a reason. A guy sleeps with a ton of women–there’s an underlying reason. sc stephensStealing, drugs, drinking–somewhere, buried deep at times, there’s a reason behind it. One of the key parts of making a character believable, is showing the reader that reason, and letting them know why the character does the things they do. That’s what my editors call character motivation and it’s a major plot-mover.

Every writer’s process works differently, but for me, I have the two main characters drawn up in my mind long before anything is on the page about them. I imagine what their problems might be, what keeps them apart, what eventually brings them together, and then I consider how those things might happen in real life.

It feels very natural for me to think about them as people, and by the end of the story, it’s almost as if they’ve become real people to me. In my THOUGHTLESS series, Kellan was inspired by ­­­­music, and the lifestyle that musicians have. In FURIOUS RUSH, Hayden was the natural hero to me for Kenzie in this high pressure sport. Where she is strict and regimented, he is wild and adventurous. Just being around him causes her character to grow. He’s the yin to her yang.

furious rushFURIOUS RUSH by S.C. Stephens (Piatkus) is out now in paperback and ebook formats.

For Mackenzie Cox, racing motorcycles is in her blood. Born into a family legacy, she’s determined to show the world that she has inherited her father’s talent in this male-dominated sport. The last thing Kenzie needs is to be antagonised by her rival team’s newest rider, Hayden Hayes. Hayden, exceedingly arrogant and outrageously attractive, immediately gets under Kenzie’s skin and she can’t help but be distracted.

As Kenzie and Hayden push each other on the track, the electric energy between them off the track shifts into an intense – and strictly forbidden – attraction. The only rule between their two ultra-competitive teams is zero contact. Kenzie needs a win, and she also needs to stay away from Hayden. Unfortunately for her though, one thing has become all too clear: she can’t.

Fuelled by passion, driven by desire, Hayden and Mackenzie both want to win more than anything else. Except for, maybe, each other. But anger, jealousy and extreme competitiveness aren’t their only obstacles . . .

Find out more about S.C Stephens and her writing at: http://authorscstephens.com/