Do you like Christmas stories? I love them, and this year I have a story in a Christmas anthology by The Word Wenches — the group of historical romance authors I regularly blog with — Mary Jo Putney, Jo Beverley, Patricia Rice, Joanna Bourne, Nicola Cornick, Cara Elliott and Susan King.
My story is called Mistletoe Kisses, and it's about Allie Fenton, a young woman who, for various reasons, has never been able to attend a ball. Now orphaned and on the shelf, she's planning to become a teacher at a girl's seminary in Bath. But first there's her last Christmas at home and then, Lady Holly's famous annual Christmas ball.
Here's a short excerpt:
"You'll come to my Christmas ball, then," Lady Holly told her. "Don't bother trying to think up any excuses — you're coming and that's that. Your year of mourning will be up, and you have no reason to stay here moldering away when I've gathered an excellent range of eligible gentlemen for your perusal." Allie laughed. "For my perusal? As if I'm going shopping?" "That's exactly what you'll be doing." "Don't the gentlemen have any say in it?" The old lady sniffed. "Women have been making men believe they have a choice for generations. Now don't be frivolous, Allie — I am determined to give you one last chance to find a husband before you go off and bury yourself in this, this school of yours." She pronounced 'school' as if she really meant 'zoo.' Allie smiled. For all her caustic tone, Lady Holly had a very kind heart. "I would love to attend your ball, Lady Holly. . . " The old lady frowned. "I hear a 'but' coming." "Not really—I would truly love to dance and flirt and be madly frivolous, and your Christmas balls are legendary, and you know I've never been able to attend. But the only ball dresses I have were made for the eighteen-year-old me, and not the seven-and-twenty version. Alas" — Allie indicated her hips and bosom and grimaced — "I'm no longer the slender young thing I was." Lady Holly snorted. "You were a scrawny young twig back then — no bosom or hips to speak of. Now you've a fine womanly figure. Besides, I've thought of that. Took the liberty of getting a dress made for you — left the box with Meadows. It should fit — got Mrs. Meadows to take your measurements from one of your current dresses." Allie blinked in surprise. "You had a dress made for me? A ball dress?" "Now don't get all stiff-necked on me, Allie Fenton," the old lady said in a fierce tone that didn't deceive Allie for an instant. "I was very fond of your dear mother and this is for her, as much as for you. She was so looking forward to your making your come-out and was devastated that her illness prevented it." "I'm not being stiff-necked, truly I'm not. I'm just. . . surprised." There was a lump in Allie's throat. She was deeply touched by the old lady's brusque kindness. And thoughtfulness. A ball dress. . . Lady Holly reached over and patted her hand. "Now don't look like that, my dear — I promised your mother I'd see you dancing in the arms of a handsome man, and though circumstances have prevented it in the past — and I quite see that it would have been the height of impropriety for you to go dancing when first your mother and then your father lay dying — there is nothing to prevent you now, and you will come to my ball!" Allie smiled mistily. "Just like Cinderella. And you've even provided the gown." SNIP . . . . The parcel, tied with string and wrapped in brown paper, lay on her bed. She untied the string and under the wrapping paper found an elegant box with a stylish gold emblem on the front. She swallowed. This was no dress from the village seamstress — it was from Lady Holly's own London mantua maker. She eased off the lid, parted the layers of protective tissue paper and gasped. Almost holding her breath, she drew the dress from its nest of tissue. It was beautiful. The underdress was a light shimmering lilac shade that she just knew would go perfectly with both her recent mourning, and also her coloring. But the lovely silk underdress was quite cast in the shade by the delicate overdress in some kind of gauzy fabric through which the lilac silk shimmered. Embroidered here and there with tiny rosebuds in silver thread, it was finished with bands of delicately gathered silver lace around the hem and at the elbows of the puffed sleeves, and a line of silver embroidery around the neck. In the box, hidden beneath the dress, was underwear — not the kind of underwear that Allie had ever in her life worn — delicate, lacy, flimsy, exquisite underwear — a chemise, a petticoat, the daintiest, most feminine drawers, and even a corset. All were trimmed with lace, and everything but the corset was practically transparent. Almost scandalous. She remembered Lady Holly's comment that she had the figure of a woman now, not a girl. Allie had never really given it much thought. But now . . . these were certainly underclothes for a woman, not a girl. Smiling to herself, she put the lovely, naughty underclothes back in the box. She'd probably die a spinster, but she would treasure these forever. She picked up the dress again, held it against her body and turned to gaze at her reflection in the looking glass. It was the most beautiful dress she'd ever owned. And it suited her perfectly. The lilac color complemented her pale complexion and her dark hair, and even seemed to make her very ordinary gray eyes look almost exotic. The silver thread gleamed and shimmered in the light. It was a dress made for dancing. . . How many years since she'd danced? And never at a ball. Delight bubbled up in her. After what felt like years wearing mourning black and gray, this dress felt like a breath of spring. And yet even the highest sticklers could not look askance at her — lavender and lilac were approved colors for half mourning. But would it fit? She stripped off her old black gown and, holding her breath, she carefully slipped the ball gown over her head. And breathed. It was perfect. It was more than perfect. She gazed at her reflection, gave a sudden laugh and twirled around and around, as if she were a giddy, carefree girl again. She felt just like Cinderella. And she was going to the ball.
The LAST CHANCE CHRISTMAS BALL comes out on 29th September 2015. Buy it from your favorite bookshop, or try one of these links:
I just sent out a newsletter yesterday and there have been an abnormal number of bounces, mainly from g-mail and Big Pond (a popular Australian email server) -- and since this particular newsletter is partly about Australian readers finally getting access to my early Harlequin historicals, it's very frustrating.
So I'm posting a web link to my newsletter here. Sorry for the inconvenience.
I'll be blogging soon about the Australian romance conference but in the meantime, here are a couple of photos as an appetizer. That's me, at the costume party, which was themed "Fresh, Flirty or Famous" and I chose "famous" and went as Dame Barbara Cartland, complete with dogs — that's a dog on my foot as well as one on my arm. Also with me is crime/thriller writer Kathryn Fox, and the sinister fellow holding onto his beard with his knife is Harlequin author Marion Lennox -- who came as Johnny Depp, also carrying dogs.
Below are Fiona McArthur who writes medical romance for Penguin Australia and Harlequin, Trish Morey who writes Rural romance for PanMcMillan and Harlequin Presents, and Bronwyn Jameson, who writes for Harlequin Desire. Trish is dressed as the conference logo.
And here is Stephanie Laurens with Harlequin editor Princess Sue Brockoff.
I received an email yesterday from romance writer Stef Ann Holm, who I've never met, but who clearly is a kind and lovely person, telling me my book was featured on page 10 of the August 3 issue of WOMAN'S WORLD. She sent me this picture and this email:
I was eating lunch this afternoon, and glancing at the August 3 issue of Woman’s World magazine (The one with Dr. Oz on the cover and how to lose up to 400 lbs. by eating almond butter—going to pick me up almond butter in a moment. LOL) Anyway . . . on page 10, they show how to make manicures special. They used a paperback to imprint pages on your nails. I’m a romance writer too, and I always look at book titles. Saw “SPRING BRIDE” and did a Google search. There you are! And this is YOUR book. Thought you’d enjoy knowing that. Here’s a picture of the page you’re on. May all women use your book to paint their nails. But only after they read it and post 5-star reviews on Amazon.
And lo! Yes, that's text from my book, THE SPRING BRIDE on that model's nails. So do you think I've nailed the Fame thing? Or am I trying to gloss over the destruction of a book? Do you use my books to paint your nails? Should I? And wasn't it lovely of Stef Ann Holm to let me know?
When these two books were released in the USA All About Romance gave them both Desert Island Keeper reviews, and said "Sometimes it can be hard to pinpoint which books are really getting a lot of buzz on the Internet. But when six AAR reviewers and editors (and publisher) independently buy two books by the same author over one weekend and four more rush out to get them in the next few days, well, that's buzz like I've never seen before. Anne Gracie is an author worth getting excited about, and Tallie's Knight is the best Regency Romance I've read in years. (The other book we all rushed out and bought? Anne Gracie's other U.S. release - Gallant Waif - which received DIK status earlier this week.) "
I'm so pleased, because people have been writing to me for ages, asking when/how they can get hold of my old Harlequins. Ironic that they've been easily available as e-books in the US and Uk, but in the country I live in, we can't get them. But I've been informed they'll now be available on kindle etc, too, which will be great.
In September, Harlequin Australia will release my other two historicals — An Honorable Thief and the Christmas novella, A Virtuous Widow.
I am blessed in having a nearby off-lead park in which to walk my dog. I live quite close to the city, but I believe at some stage this land was planned to become a freeway. Luckily it never eventuated, so now we have a lovely half-wild park.
One side of the creek is fairly natural and "bushlike", except they mow the grass, and the other contains ovals and a bike path and a big area of wild-ish parkland.
Since the planting of gum trees and other native vegetation, the native birdlife has been returning and now we regularly see ducks, kookaburras, currawongs, magpies, rainbow lorikeets, and many others— well a lot of them we don't so much see as hear— so it can feel more as though you're in the bush, rather than a fairly short distance from the city.
They've been around for ages, and hadn't particularly appealed to me, but then a friend of mine came home from a trip to the US with one and it was fine and so pretty and all faceted semi-precious beads — much nicer "in the flesh" than the pics I'd seen on line. My friend said, "You should make one of these."
So I did. I made the first one with leftover beads — some semi-precious, some antique beads and various others. And I wore it and liked it and decided I needed another one in greens, because I'm very fond of wearing green. And then I saw some pink freshwater pearls with large enough holes for a needle to pass through — I love pearls, but all mine are so finely drilled a needle and thread won't go through them — so I bought them and made a third bracelet.
Here they are tastefully displayed on a paper towel roll. A few friends have delicately hinted they wouldn't object to a wrap bracelet coming their way, so I guess I'll be making them for a little while longer. I don't make jewelry for sale, only for friends and only to entertain myself if I'm watching TV or mulling over a plot problem. I think if I sold it, it would take all the fun out of it.
Here's a pic of last night's Fantasy & Romance panel at Dymock's bookshop in Melbourne -- from left to right, Keri Arthur, C.S. Pacat, Melanie Scott, me and Sarah Fairhall, the panel moderator. Pic taken by the wonderful Maria Matina.
Don't you love the panels behind us? They're from the adult coloring competition that Dymock's ran — apparently coloring books for grown-ups is the latest thing, and seeing them all displayed here I can see the appeal -- such bright and lovely designs, like a wall of fabulous tiles.
If you're in Melbourne this coming Thursday evening, why not come past Dymocks in Collins St for a great discussion of romance and fantasy with me and my friends Keri Arthur, Mel Scott and CS Pacat. It starts at 6.30 pm. Hope to see you there.
A dog is a heat seeking device. There is sun this morning, after days of grey and rain and cold — it's winter downunder — and Milly has found herself a small spot of it, and is sunning herself and her orange rubber gorilla.
Usually they lie at (or on) my feet in front of the small strip heater under my desk, she and her gorilla.
She's had that gorilla for nearly six months, since her first week here. It was a welcome gift from a friend. She was terrified of it at first — it had a wonderful two-tone squeak and had a tendency to bounce or roll when patted with a paw.
It took Milly ages to brave it, and I had a lot of laughs at her tentative pat-squeak-leapback routine, but eventually she lost her fear and totally fell in love with him. His squeak is gone, and he's a bit grubby, but otherwise he's whole and undamaged, which is amazing for such a flimsy rubber toy that gets such constant dog-love.
Tennis balls, on the other hand have been peeled, stripped and thoroughly destroyed, bones reduced to mere knobs and she'll even chew on a bit of wood in the garden. But not the orange rubber gorilla. She loves him.
Here's a short excerpt from my new book, The Spring Bride. In it, you meet my bad-boy hero, Zach, for the first time. (Whitehall is where the government offices were.)
"Sir?" A clerk poked his head into the Honorable Gilbert Radcliffe's discreet Whitehall office. From the outer office, Zachary Black watched, faintly amused by the clerk's excessive caution. Surely he didn't look that dangerous?
"Yes, Evans, what is it?" Radcliffe sounded preoccupied, busy.
"There's a man here asking to see you." The clerk lowered his voice. "Demanding to see you."
"The thing is, sir, he's a gypsy."
"Yes, sir. Dirty and disreputable-looking. I would have shown him the door, only the fellow asked for you by name, sir, insisted you'd want to see him, and wouldn't take no for an answer." He added doubtfully. "I could try to have him removed, if you insist, sir, only he's quite large and I fear it would be. . . difficult."
"An ugly customer, eh? Well then, send the fellow in. I'll deal with him."
The clerk turned to Zach, and stepped back to let him pass. "Watch yourself, gypsy. Mr Radcliffe might be a gentleman but he won't put up with any nonsense."
Zach winked at him, and sauntered into the the office, saying in a roughly accented voice, "Gen'leman give me a message for some toff called Mr Gilbert Radcliffe--that you, is it? Said I was to give it only to 'im. Said Mr Radcliffe would give me a gold guinea for it."
The Hon. Gilbert Radcliffe leaned back in his chair, regarding his visitor through narrowed eyes. His gaze took in the the darkly bristled jaw, the worn, faintly foreign clothing, the muddy boots, the shabby sheepskin coat with the faded but outlandish embroidery— and most damning of all, the small gold earring. "Gold, is it? For a scoundrel such yourself?"
"Gold, 'e promised me." Zach edged closer. "And gold is what I'll 'ave."
Gilbert Radcliffe wrinkled his nose. "Faugh, that smell. . . Have you been sleeping in a barn?"
Zach's mouth twitched, but he whined in an aggrieved voice, "I come a long way wiv this message, I 'ave."
"Shall I call someone and have the wretch removed, sir?" said Evans from the doorway.
"No, no." Radcliffe waved him away. "Bring a pot of tea and two cups."
The clerk gave him an incredulous look. "Tea sir?"
"And some biscuits?" Zach added hopefully. "Ginger ones?"
The clerk gave him a dirty look and glanced at Radcliffe, who nodded. "Yes, and biscuits—ginger if you have them. And shut the door behind you." When the clerk had gone, Radcliffe looked at Zach and shook his head. "He probably expects you to steal the spoons."
Zach gave him an indignant look. "I'll have you know, Gil, I haven't stolen any spoons for, oh, weeks."
I'm gearing up for the promo as my book, The Spring Bride finally goes on sale. Some authors adore the whirlwind of promo, the blitzing of social media channels, the public "look-at-me-buy-my-book." The rest of us go there reluctantly, channeling Lady Macbeth and muttering, "Screw your courage to the sticking point and we'll not fail."
I'm in the latter group. I do my best to embrace the world of social media, and most of the time I enjoy it. Not when it comes to telling everyone to to buy my book, though. My natural tendency is to do that from the bottom of a deep well, while wrapped in a blanket and wearing a gag. A natural salesperson I am not. And I know I'm not alone in that.
Mary Jo Putney once told me writers' conferences are full of introverts pretending to be extroverts. Many writers on social media are much the same. It's a bit easier, because you can do it from the comfort of your cave, hiding behind the computer screen, doing what you do every day anyway, creating a world and characters — only the character you're bringing to life is you. Authorly you — the one who is interesting and glamorous and lives a fantastically exciting life. Not the one who lives in track pants and trainers, who never goes anywhere because, well, that's how you write books, dammit!
But it seems people —publishers — expect you to project some kind of image. And to this end, they require you to provide — horror of horrors!— an Author Photo!
Like to read? Talk books and writing and storytelling? Meet authors? Come join me and three of my writing buddies in Melbourne on June 18th at Dymocks Bookstore in Collins St in the heart of Melbourne.
It's free, but you need to RSVP for the event atwww.trybooking.com/HXNC Bring along a printout of your ticket to win a book pack including 2 signed titles from each of us!
In my downtime I pursue a range of crafts -- not for any reason except that I enjoy it, and because sometimes when I'm concentrating on doing something fiddly with my hands, it helps me sort out story ideas and plot problems.
One of the "craft" things I do is to make necklaces and bracelets and earrings — not for sale, but just for fun. And sometimes for friends. At the moment my passion is for rough-cut crystals and semi-precious stones and though I already have plenty of jewelry in these materials, I keep making more in different combinations -- just because I can. And because I enjoy it.
I made the bracelet above last night. It contains rough-cut amethyst, quartz crystals, chrysoprase and a couple of baroque pearls. Might have to make a necklace to go with it.
I made the combo above back in December for a Christmas outing with friends -- red coral, lapis, chrysoprase, crystals and malachite. Funny how the light and the automatic camera shows things so differently -- both pics are of jewelry taken on the same untreated balsa wood tray. One pic shows it as white, the other as yellow -- and the greenish chrysoprase stones in both pics are from the same batch.
On New Year's Eve I came home with a puppy — not a tiny puppy, maybe 5 or 6 months old. I'd seen this picture on Pet Rescue and I was a goner.
I drove down before Christmas to meet her and make the arrangements—she had to be spayed, innoculated and microchipped before they'd release her — and collected her on New Year's Eve. She was named Amelia then, but I changed it to Milly.
Since then we've had a LOT of fun. She's a sweet-natured, affectionate little soul, very playful and active, but also quite happy (after a good game) to play by herself in the garden, or snooze on her bed beside my desk while I work.
Of course, sometimes she's not snoozing, but yumphing happily on a rawhide donut.
When I first got her, I bought Milly one of those "tug-of-war" ropes, with a tennis ball at one end and a rope handle for a human on the other.
The tennis ball was first de-fluffed, then thoroughly killed (and a post-mortem conducted — disappointingly hollow and untasty — and the remains scattered) but the rope, one end all shreddy, damp and delicious, the other end still a neat handle for a human, remains and we have fun playing tug-of-war and learning (one of us anyway) to "give."
So she was playing with the rope thingy all by herself in the lounge-room this morning, tossing it up and pouncing and catching it and giving it a good vicious shaking and all excellent fun.
Then her back foot got caught in the handle, and hah! the rope is fighting back! So naturally she's not going to be defeated by a shreddy old rope, no matter how delicious. So she gives a biiiig tug and plonk! Down goes a surprised puppy. Looks around. Who pulled my foot from under me?
But there's nobody there, and this rope needs to be taught a lesson, so up she gets and wrestle-tug-shake-growl...
And then plonk — floored puppy again — what? Pull my foot out from under me — again? Baaad rope. So growl harder, pull harder. . . fall harder! Damn rope!
Over and over for about 3 or 4 minutes.
Heartless here did nothing to help, just laughed and laughed.
Every year ARRA (that's the Australian Romance Readers Association) announces their awards, and I'm delighted to announce that my book, The Winter Bride, has been nominated for several awards in the 2014 awards: Favourite Historical Romance Favourite Continuing Romance Series Favourite Australian Romance Author 2014 and my hero Freddy is nominated for the The Sexiest Hero from a romance published in 2014 The full list is here.
Thanks to ARRA for organizing this Reader's Choice Award and thank you to those readers who nominated my book. The winners will be announced at the ARRA Convention in Canberra in March 2015.
A few weeks ago, a friend was given a pile of peppermint tea branches and she was drying them to make tea from the leaves. I wondered whether it might take from a cutting, so I begged a sprig from her. I wasn't sure it would work -- they'd been picked a couple of days earlier and the leaves were well wilted.
But I broke the twiggy bit in half and shoved the pieces in a pot, and nipped the growing tip out and because it was too small to make tea from, I popped it in a tiny glass. And lo! they're all growing. In the photo above, all those bright green leaves are new. You can just see a couple of the darker ones underneath.
The pot ones are doing so well, and even the little growing tip in a tiny glass has sprouted roots -- - you can just see them in the pic below. I'm so pleased. This isn't like the ordinary soft mint plant I've grown before, and it's delicious as a tea.
I always get a kick out of growing things I can use. Do you like mint or herbal tea? Or grow things to eat?