I’m off the ARRC!

I’m off the ARRC!

I’m off to ARRC this weekend… or for those not in the loop, The Australian Romance Readers Convention in Canberra.

I’m excited. I haven’t been for a few years, which is outrageous. These conferences are so much fun. The last one I went to involved waaaaaay to much booze and a stripper. But that’s another story.

This time around I’m on a panel called “A Touch of Magic.” I’m hosting a morning tea and doing an author signing.

I’m also looking forward to a drinks session where I finally get to meet other authors published by Momentum.

And I’m going to spend the weekend with hundreds of women who appreciate a good book boyfriend, generally know how to party and laugh… and all adore the written word.

Bring it on!

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Legless and blind heroes … and we don’t mean drunk

What happens when the romance novel hero is legless or blind? Amy Andrews and Jane Tara both think that’s just fine… in fact, their latest heroes are more than “fine”… They are hawt and handsome and everything else a hero should be.

 Amy Andrews and her legless leading man

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I’ve always wanted to write a bodyguard book. I love that delicious tension where he wants her bad but can’t do anything about it because he’s supposed to be protecting her. Honestly, I freaking love that hands off shit! It just calls to my ever-lovin’ romance soul.

So imagine my delight when my muse threw me one, finally! She’s really been very recalcitrant in that quarter. But, of course, she never just gives generously – she makes me work for it. She’s kinda bitchy like that because suddenly my “bodyguard” was an above knee amputee.

WTF??

I can’t have a hero who has to protect my super-model heroine from the bad guy be hampered by a prosthetic leg. I mean who ever heard of a one-legged bodyguard? I could, of course, have made him an ex kick-arse para-Olympic running champion but Oscar kinda put the kybosh on that!

So there I was, with my muse insisting and me wondering how the hell I was going to pull it off. But then things started to take shape in my head and before long I knew Blake was ex-military, I knew he’d had his leg blown off in Iraq and I knew after a harrowing couple of years he was in a reasonably good place.

And I think that was the most important thing to me. I didn’t want the book to be about an amputee hero.  The book is about an average Joe who falls for a woman waaaay out of his league. It’s a romance through and through. He just happens to have one leg.

It was also important that I made him physically strong and able. He may have a slight limp, he may not be able to run like the wind but he’s fit and work-honed.  He crafts wood and his pride and joy is the canal boat he spent a year of his life stripping down to the hull and renovating. Nothing like noisy power tools to help get your head back on straight.

And of course, all this is just code for good with his hands. Because Blake may only have one leg but he is very, very good with his hands!

Amy Andrews is an award-winning, best-selling Aussie author who has written thirty + contemporary romances in both the traditional and digital markets. She writes for Harlequin Mills & Boon, Entangled, Harper Collins and Momentum.

To date she’s sold over a million books and been translated into thirteen different languages including manga.

She loves her kids, her husband, her dogs, cowboys, men in tool belts, cowboys in tool belts and happily ever afters. Please, DO NOT mess with the HEA! Also good books, fab food, great wine and frequent travel – preferably all four together.

She lives on acreage on the outskirts of Brisbane with a gorgeous mountain view but secretly wishes it was the hillsides of Tuscany.

Jane Tara’s blind hero

My favourite vamp and her real life boyfriend inspired me when writing this story.
My favourite vamp and her real life boyfriend inspired me when writing this story.

When starting a new novel I usually have a clear idea of what I’m going to write. I’m not one of those let’s just wing it and see where we end up type authors. My characters are too pushy. If I let them have their own way one of them could go off the rails, party too hard and wake up married in a Vegas jail. My characters are like teenagers… Yes, they have certain freedoms, but they also need a lot of structure…

But the occasional character will stroll in, pretend to be all nice and easy-going… but then actually take the book in a direction that even I didn’t anticipate. I don’t get much of a say.

My latest book, The Happy Ending Book Club, contains one such character. The book has seven intertwined stories. In one of them (my favourite… there I’ve said it!) we meet Patrick. He’s tall, sexy… He’s a musician, he’s funny and smart… he has muscles… Sigh. Oh, and he’s blind.

No, not blind as in Friday nights at the pub blind… he’s really blind. Visually impaired.

He has a disability.

Romance heroes are notoriously “perfect.” Oh yes, they can have emotional wounds, but being anything less than physically flawless is unusual. I spent a lot of time trying to rewrite Patrick… but he was immovable… He made it clear: “Like it or not, this is who I am. I’m blind. Now do your job and write me!”

And so I did. More than that, I developed a massive crush on him. I saw him more clearly than any of my other leading men. His blindness didn’t make him less attractive. It didn’t make him needy. It also didn’t make him “extra special.” His blindness didn’t define him at all. Tilda the heroine recognised that being with him would present certain challenges, but her own issues far outweighed his.

In my mind, Patrick is everything a romance hero should be. For those of you who read my book, let me know how you see him.

Jane Tara has SchizoPENia. She finds it impossible to stick to one genre when writing. While most writers have a ‘voice’ … she has a few … her pen name should be Sybil.

She’s the author of over twenty children’s picture books, a number of plays, and three novels. By day, she runs Itchee Feet, a children’s travel publishing company with her partner Dominique. At night another voice is unleashed and she writes magical romantic comedies. Forecast, Trouble Brewing, and her latest novel, The Happy Endings Book Club are published by Momentum.

After years living in Tokyo, Vienna, London and New York, Jane is happy to call Bondi Beach home. She lives with her partner Dom and their four sons. Wine helps with that.

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I was told I’m going blind…and now I can see

I was told I’m going blind…and now I can see

Eye

I’m very excited about the release of my new novel, The Happy Endings Book Club. I have a long list of ideas waiting to be turned into books. Some have been waiting for years. This wasn’t one of them. The Happy Endings Book Club sprang from events that happened earlier this year. It was a cathartic reaction to a challenging few months. In many ways, it has been my own happy ending.

In March this year I went to Specsavers to have my eyes tested and to get some new glasses. I normally go to an optometrist in the town where my mother lives. He uses experience over schmancy machines to test my eyes. But Specsavers had a two for one deal and my glasses were on their last legs, so off I went.

The optometrist hooked me up to one of the state of the art machines, and took photos of my retina. She asked a bunch of questions.

“Do you have problems seeing at night?”

“Yes… my night blindness is a running joke with my close friends.”

“How about glare?”

“I can’t leave the house without sunglasses.”

More questions followed, and then she took more photos. She took me to a small room where I had more tests. Finally she left me alone for a while. A long while. When she returned it was with that look on her face. You know that look. If you are lucky enough to have never seen it in real life then you’ve certainly seen it on Grey’s Anatomy.

It’s the “I have bad news” look.

“You have Retinitis Pigmentosa,” she said.

“Exqueeze me?”

“You’re going blind.”

I laughed. Seriously. Stop joking around.

“The Royal Society for the Blind is wonderful. They can come over to your house and help with things.”

“What like? The cooking and cleaning?” I’d like that.

“They can teach you to move around your home. They can put in hand rails.”

She showed me the scans of my eyes and the pigmentation patterns I have right through my retina.

“You need to have more tests at the Centre for Eye Health. The guide dog association funds it. They’ll be able to tell you how far the condition has progressed.

The last thing I did before leaving was ask her to write the condition down so I could Google it.

Retinisis Pigmentosa.

The next week wasn’t pretty. It started with a lot of Googling. Then I returned to Specsavers and asked the optometrist for the scans. She took more (wider shots of the retina) and then put them all on a memory stick for me.

I made an appointment with the Centre for Eye Health, but was going to have to wait at least two months.

In the meantime, I did my own detective work. The pigmentation in my retina certainly looked like the ones with Retinitis Pigmentosa I saw online. But I didn’t want to be one of those people who self diagnosed via the Internet. The problem was… I couldn’t find any other reason for why my retina would have this pigmentation. It clearly indicated an eye disease. Also, there was no denying my aversion to glare and my night blindness, two main symptoms.

It didn’t look good. No treatment. No cure. But worst of all … and this was the terrifying bit, hereditary. Despite no history of it in my family, it can occur. And there would be a 50% chance of me passing it on to my sons.

And this is where I went from feeling like Nancy Drew solving a mystery, to absolute crap.

My sons.

My body filled with fear that even now as I write this, there is a memory of it in my limbs. I was filled with ice. I sat naked in bed, drinking beer, crying and searching online for a way for my sons to dodge this bullet. And I knew I would do anything, anything, for them to be okay. I would go blind. Let me take the bullet. I was okay with that. But please not my babies.

At this point, let’s rewind nearly twenty years.

I was fifteen and having a medical examination for my scuba diving license. The doctor looked into my eyes with one of those old school thingamajigs.

“You have aboriginal blood?”

I have pale white skin and freckles. “Can’t you tell?” I laughed.

“Let me rephrase that so it’s not a question. You have aboriginal blood.” It was a statement now.

“There has always been a family rumour,” I admitted.

“It’s not a rumour. It’s a fact.” He got down an old book for a high shelf. He opened to a page that showed the patterns in the eye of different races and pointed to one. “That’s you.”

To be honest, I can’t remember the images he showed me, or even much of the conversation that followed. It happened so long ago. I do remember how excited he was. He even called in his secretary to show her. I didn’t take it in. I went home, called my grandmother to tell her, and that was that. It was something that, if true … I was pleased about. Aboriginal heritage.

But now, it was the thing that both my partner and best friend focussed on.

“You’re not going blind. You have Aboriginal eyes.” They both insisted.

So we all researched that. My partner Dominique is an academic. He trawled university sites for any papers on ethnicity and retina pigmentation. We found two small mentions in research papers and a few mentions of a similar thing in Native Americans but not much about Aboriginal Australians so nothing to really hang my hopes on. I had to wait and see.

Wait and see?

See?

I realized how our language is full of sight analogies. I’ll see you later. Look here. Nice to see you. Focus on this. See what I mean?

I began to notice every single reference to sight in our language. And it got me thinking… what does it really mean to see?

If I was going to lose my sight … how would I see things?

How would I see myself?

How does one see, without sight?

For just over two months I obsessively researched sight. I read all about visual potential optometrists, natural eye care and the Bates method. The eye body connection and integrated healing via the Grunwald method. I read the works of about a dozen specialists who were taking ophthalmology into new realms including the amazing Jacob Liberman. Consciousness and vision. Our third eye. I read about blind people who had been taught to see through their chest. Was our vision simply a reflection of our reality? Can light heal the eye? How is the spirit connected? Where is the mind’s eye? Do we even see with our eyes?

I spent two months staring into the faces of my children. And my own face in the mirror. Would I not get to see myself age? Like many women in their forties, I’d been feeling invisible. But now I could see myself clearly. I loved every line, every wrinkle. I saw more clearly than I had in years. I stopped to view the world around me a lot more… to stare at the sun.

I reprioritized my life. If I was losing my sight, the last thing I wanted was for the Royal Society for the Blind to come around and teach me how to manage around the house. I wanted to pack a bag and take my kids travelling. Long term. James Holman, the blind traveller from the Victorian era became my inspiration. Coincidentally, years earlier we’d used a quote from his travel diaries for our children’s publishing company, Itchee Feet.

I see the world with my feet.

How did I see the world?

I took a long hard look at my life. Although I’d spent years studying various metaphysical and spiritual paths, I gained greater clarity in these two months than the previous two decades.

It became clear to me that seeing is subjective. And perhaps I’d been blind for years. One thing I knew, whether or not I lost my sight, this was an opportunity to gain greater insight.

I arrived at the Centre For Eye Health at the University of NSW, nervous but accepting. I was a little thrown by the guide dogs motifs on the window, but overall quite positive. What would be would be. I still had that dreadful icy fear in my limbs each time I thought of how this could impact my sons, but I accepted my own fate. I was still hopeful there had been a dreadful mistake, but if not … then I’d write a book about it. I’d write, right?

Dom came into the clinic for the tests with me. It was state of the art visual testing. I’d been wondering if there was any way I could cheat on the tests. I hadn’t even been able to study for them. How would I ever pass?

One specialist handed me over to another. The fancy machines gave way to a darkened room and a blindfold. I made a weak joke that it had been a while since I’d been blindfolded in a room with two men.

Then wearing night vision goggles, the technician placed gold electrodes into my eye and performed more tests I couldn’t cheat on.

I knew the results of these tests wouldn’t be shared with me for a week, and only once they’d been returned to the optometrist. So imagine my utter surprise when the specialist said:

“Your eyes are fine.”

“Exqueeze me?”

“You don’t have retinitis pigmentosa.”

“I don’t?”

“Look, places like Specsavers have all the latest equipment and no idea how to use it. The pigmentation presents like Retinitis Pigmentosa in the images, but we knew from the moment we viewed it that it wasn’t that.”

“What is it then?”

“No idea. It’s an unusual pigment.”

Here’s where my partner interjected and told him about the doctor who’d informed me that I had aboriginal heritage. “Could it be that?” he asked.

“Yes. I’ve seen a similar thing in islander boys. And those old-school doctors usually know a thing or two.”

I needed to make sure. “What about the other symptoms. I can’t stand glare.”

“You’re very fair.”

“And I’m night blind.”

“Can you see this?” He waved to me across the still darkened room.

“Yes.”

“You’re not night blind. Your tests are fine. I think what you experience as night blindness is simply that your pupil takes longer to adjust to the dark.”

“I’m not going blind?”

“No, you’re not.”

I made it to the car park before I started howling.

The next few days passed in a haze of relief and joy. I realised just how stressful the past few months had been. The possibility of going blind had coloured every waking moment. It took weeks for the fear in my limbs to subside, although the memory of it returns when I talk about that time. It took months to wake and start the day with thoughts other than that.

I turned my Nancy Drew skills to my family tree and uncovered some very interesting things (but that’s another story). I waited for the Specsavers’ optometrist to call with the official results, but she didn’t. I finally called her and she apologized: yes indeed, the results had been back for over a week, but she’d been busy. She had no idea that the specialist at the Centre for Eye Health had already given me the all clear. She just didn’t think that letting me know she’d misdiagnosed me was important.

(Specsavers, if you’d like to contact me about this matter, go ahead. An apology would be appreciated. I seriously considered taking this matter further, but ultimately I can’t stand drama and I’d had more than my fair share for months, thanks to the incompetency of your staff.)

I was pleased the whole episode was over. Focussing on the positive, I would write a book.

And from that, sprang The Happy Endings Book Club.

It’s not the book I thought I’d write. Or expected to write. But I needed to write it. Through the female characters I explored the idea of sight, and what it means to really see.

Each character has lost sight of something important. Paige misses glimpsing the magic in the world. Sadie doesn’t see the beauty inside people. Amanda wonders what she ever saw in her ex husband. Tilda literally can’t see herself. Michi can’t bear looking at her family, while Clementine is blind to what’s right in front of her. And Eva looks for romance in all the wrong places.

Through each of these very different characters I had the opportunity to explore some of the questions I’d been asking for months.

See why this book is important to me?

Like all happy endings, it’s never really an ending. It’s usually a beginning, and this is mine, as I gain deeper insight into the art of seeing.

I hope my new novel The Happy Endings Book Club entertains you. But more than that … I hope you come away from it asking yourself, how do I see myself? How do I see the world? How do I see? This Christmas, these questions are my gift to you.

In 1989, Dr. Jacob Liberman commissioned Arion Ocean to create this painting because it captured the connection Liberman observed between light, vision and consciousness. I spent a lot of time staring at this image and find it to be extremely powerful and healing.
In 1989, Dr. Jacob Liberman commissioned Arion Ocean to create this painting because it captured the connection Liberman observed between light, vision and consciousness. I spent a lot of time staring at this image and find it to be extremely powerful and healing.

 Copyright for the Eyelight image above

http://www.jacobliberman.org/light/eyelight/

http://sacredarchitecture.com.au

 

Trouble Brewing excerpt

Trouble Brewing excerpt

And my new novel, Trouble Brewing. Drink up!
And my new novel, Trouble Brewing. Drink up!

Chapter One

“Rub vodka into your chest to break a fever”

 

Calypso Shakespeare’s green eyes gazed deep into his brown ones. “What is it you want from me?”

“I just need you to give me what you gave the others.”

“I can’t do that. Everyone is different.”

He looked at her with such despair. “My heart … it’s …”

Calypso reached out and touched his arm lightly. “It’s okay. You’ll get through this. I’ll make sure you do.”

She was still for a moment, her skin translucent in the dim light; those incredible cat eyes intense as she searched the ethers for the answer.

She turned to him. “Her name was Mary.” A statement more than a question.

His eyes nearly fell out of his head. “Yes … Mary.”

“Bloody Mary! How dare she treat you like that!” She sprang to life and began to mix: vodka, tomato juice, a splash of Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco. She grabbed a lemon, deftly sliced it in half and gave it a quick squeeze. Her hand slipped into a jar and returned with a pinch of something that smelt of August rain. Her lips moved slightly, an incantation, as she sprinkled it into the glass.

He watched her, mesmerized. She was tall, with endless creamy limbs, her hair a tumble of deep red waves. Dressed in jeans and a simple white T-shirt, she was without a doubt the most stunning woman he’d ever laid eyes on. He’d heard of her for years – who hadn’t in London? – but seeing her in the flesh was something else. She turned and smiled, the type of smile that launched ships.

“This should do the trick.” A quick stir, and a wink as she slid it toward him. “Drink it in five mouthfuls – no more, no less.”

He did as he was told and placed the glass back down, gently, warily. It tasted like summer, and it wasn’t until that moment that he realized everything had tasted like winter for way too long. He licked his lips; it was delicious. Comforting even. And then he looked frightened. His hand flew to his chest.

“What’s happening?”

“You’re okay,” Calypso assured him.

He doubled over and groaned. His back heaved as he hyperventilated, and his breathing became more labored. A slow minute passed, and then a sudden howl, primal, excruciating, left his body. Others turned to watch now. A few first-timers looked concerned. The room was still with anticipation.

An absolute calm settled over him. His head moved slightly to one side, as though trying to recognize something new. Finally he stood, victorious – smiling for the first time in months.

“I feel it! It’s gone,” he declared.

The bar erupted into loud cheers. This behavior, odd though it was, was common in Calypso’s enchanted watering hole. Complete strangers made their way over to congratulate him. Their normal reserve didn’t exist in the cavernous room. They’d all seen the sign on the door that said, Anyone who says alcohol never solves anything has never been here before.

The man reached across the bar, grabbed Calypso’s hand and gave it a kiss. “You’re incredible! Thank you.”

“You needed to release the hurt. You can move on now. Mary didn’t deserve a good guy like you. And by the way, you’ll meet a lovely woman in about three months, through work. Keep an eye out for Samantha.”

*

Calypso watched until the man disappeared out the door, satisfied that she’d once again helped someone with one of her magical drinks. She glanced around her bar. It was a tiny cavern of a room in the basement of her parents’ pub, the King and Mistress. Calypso and her younger sister, Nell, had been raised in the King and Mistress, with its hodgepodge of rooms and corridors, its rota of regulars, four hundred years of history, and a handful of ghosts. Calypso had always mixed her magical potions behind the bar – even when she was too young to legally do so – but two years ago she had renovated an old cellar and Calypso’s Cauldron was born. The room had low ceilings and was dominated by a large, ornate bar. The oak-lined walls and stone floor kept the Cauldron cool in summer, while the open fireplace warmed it in winter. There were two long, rustic tables surrounded by stools and lit with candles and by the fireplace were a couple of comfortable empire armchairs paired with genuine Victorian footstools. It was welcoming, magical and completely unique – rather like the woman who ran it.

“Ah, Calypso girl, you helped that lad. You always know what the poor sods need.”

Calypso turned to Harry, one of her regulars. “I know what you need, Harry. Sleep. Go home, go on.”

“I’d rather sit here and watch you mix those magical brews of yours.”

Calypso unscrewed the lid of a tin and measured out some leaves. She tossed them into a teapot and steeped them in hot water. Then she placed the pot and a mug in front of Harry. “This’ll help you sleep.”

“Not one of those weird recipes, is it?”

“Plain old chamomile. On the house,” Calypso said.

“Good. Don’t want to wake up in Highgate Cemetery.”

“Most people in Highgate don’t wake up, Harry.”

“Busy night tonight.”

“Always is after I’ve been away.”

“Ah yes, the wandering Calypso. Where were you this time?”

Calypso poured herself a glass of water collected under a full moon and leant on the bar. Her face lit up as it always did when she spoke of her travels. A wanderer by nature, she was rarely in one spot for long. It’s why running her own bar suited her: she came and went as she pleased, and her patrons understood that. “Tallinn for a few days … then I stopped and saw an old boyfriend in Amsterdam.”

“How old?” Harry asked with a wink.

Calypso laughed. “Not as old as you – or as handsome.”

An attractive brunette approached the bar and nervously cleared her throat before speaking. “Excuse me, I heard you … help people.”

Calypso smiled; it was the same smile that had comforted countless patrons. “I do. Take a seat.”

The woman sat and stared anxiously at the gorgeous redhead whose remedies and psychic predictions were so famous. Calypso grabbed a cocktail glass. She scanned the woman for a moment and then snapped her fingers.

“When was the last time you treated yourself? You can only look after others if you first look after yourself. You need a chocolate cocktail!”

The woman realized that’s exactly what she needed.

Calypso continued speaking while she mixed. Her eyes glazed slightly as the veil lifted. “You know, you’re much smarter than you give yourself credit for.” A teaspoon of grated dark chocolate from Michel Chaudun’s in Paris. Some Chartreuse and port. “You lack confidence – stems from your childhood. Your mother never believed women could amount to much. Poor thing.”

Calypso cracked an egg, separated and discarded the yolk, and then strained all the ingredients. Next, from a vial the color of the sky, she added two drops, ever so gently. She placed the glass in front of the woman and looked her straight in the eye. “You are going to pass this exam,” she said. “And you will be an excellent doctor. Sip it slowly.”

The woman placed the drink to her lips. “It’s delicious. It’s like I know it from somewhere.”

“You do know it,” Calypso insisted. “Remember that during the exam. You do know it.”

“Thank you,” said the woman. “You have an amazing gift.”

Calypso nodded. She appreciated and acknowledged her gift. It was rude not to. “Yours is similar. We’re both here to heal.”

“Bloody hell, this box is heavy. Outta my way!” Megan Walker pushed through the crowd and plunked a crate of vodka on the bar.

“I said I’d help you with those,” Calypso chided.

“Yeah, well, you’re needed here so it’s my job to lug this shit around” Megan jumped up onto the bar and swung her legs over.

“What are you? A child?” Calypso shook her head. “There’s a gate there!”

“But then no one gets to see my knickers,” Megan teased.

“Thank goddess you’re wearing jeans.” Calypso laughed.

Calypso and Megan had been best friends since school; the two class misfits who at first were drawn to each other out of necessity, but soon realized they had all the ingredients for a strong and life-long bond.

Megan was as tough as nails – on the outside. She had short, spiky hair that changed color regularly; today it was bright blue. Her nose was pierced, as were her nipples and belly button. She was quite striking, with her big blue eyes and full lips, but most guys didn’t see past her boyish demeanor and numerous tattoos. Inside, she had a heart of gold and was a loyal and loving friend. Her mother had died when she was seven, so her father raised her and her four older brothers alone. He wasn’t quite sure what to do with a daughter, and often turned to Calypso’s mother Batty for help. The rest of the time, he treated Megan like another son. As a result, Megan was a loud, tough tomboy, who preferred jeans and boots to dresses, and watched football rather than chick flicks.

Calypso glanced at her watch. “Don’t you have a gig tonight?”

“Yep, but it’s at the White Horse in Archway, so won’t take long to get there.”

“You go. I can clean up.”

“No, it’s—”

“Megan, leave! Go and prepare to be pelted with tomatoes or heckled or whatever.”

Calypso caught Megan’s eye and they cracked up. Megan was a struggling stand-up comedian, which she joked was the same as embracing failure and poverty for life. Calypso assured her friend that she would make it one day, but in the meantime, Megan had to face a lot of heckling and taunts. Sometimes it bothered her, but mostly she took it on the chin and gave as good as she got.

“Hey, did you hear about the two nuns who were driving through Transylvania?” Megan asked in a perfect Irish accent.

“Okay, give it to me,” said Calypso.

“Suddenly Dracula jumped onto the bonnet of the car and bared his fangs. The first nun turned to other nun and said, ‘Quick, show him your cross.’ So the other nun rolled down the window and yelled, ‘Get off the fucking bonnet, you blood-sucking bastard!’”

Calypso burst into peals of laughter. “That’s a nine. Best one in a while.”

“Good. I’ll tell it tonight and hopefully they’ll be placated and won’t aim for my head when they throw things. See you tomorrow.” Megan gave Calypso a quick hug and bolted for the door.

Calypso lifted the vodka off the bar and started packing the bottles away. She only ever mixed with Babička vodka, a wormwood liquor based on a Czech witches’ brew. Other vodka didn’t compare medicinally.

A voice boomed across the room. “Where’s my girl?”

Calypso grinned as her father strode into the bar and enveloped her in a hug. She was twenty-nine years old, but it was still the safest place in the world to be. Alf Patterson was the size of a bear with a heart to match. What was left of his hair had a ginger tinge, and his laugh, which constantly bounced off the pub walls, could be heard three streets away. He ruffled his daughter’s hair. “How long are you in town for this time?”

Calypso shrugged. She never knew the answer to that.

Alf scanned the room. “They’re all glad you’re back. Anyone left to help?”

Calypso did a quick head count. The couple who’d come in a last ditch effort to save their marriage were kissing passionately in the corner thanks to marigold flowers muddled with lemon juice and sugar, topped with Boudier Saffron gin, Tanqueray gin, Liquore Strega and Licor 43, shaken then double strained. A woman who’d spent her whole life feeling like a clumsy wallflower was now dancing by the fire. A mix of champagne and clementine soaked in Cointreau and cinnamon did the trick. The two brothers who’d fought over a woman had called a truce and were laughing together. Yarrow tea to the rescue. Other people mingled, and chatted, and swapped stories about their personal potion.

“Yep, they’re all done.”

Alf reached up to a bell above the bar and gave it a loud clang. “My daughter is closing shop now. If you want more to drink, go into the King and Mistress. If not, bugger off.”

The crowd migrated contentedly toward the front of the pub. No one argued with Alf, because no matter what he said, he always said it with genuine warmth.

He turned to his daughter. “You too. Come and have a drink. Nell’s here.” They noticed Harry, who’d dozed off with his head on the bar. “Poor old sod. Had insomnia ever since his wife died … although obviously not tonight. What did you give him?”

“Chamomile and a friendly ear.”

Alf nodded. That was often all anyone needed. “I’ll deal with him while you lock up.”

Calypso wiped down the bar. She enjoyed closing time. She basked in the silence, and the satisfaction that she’d helped people. The space was hers and she was immensely proud of it. If she was honest with herself, and she usually was, she also liked closing time because she dragged it out as long as she wanted, anything to put off climbing the stairs to her rooms – alone. She gave a sigh. It was her choice to be alone now. Three years ago was a very different story. She’d been madly in love and never thought she’d be alone again. Foolish ignorance of youth! Since then, being alone was preferable to being in a bad relationship. Or worse, a brilliant relationship that ended badly.

She collected the empty glasses and stacked them in the dishwasher. Next, she gathered together the brews and herbs that she always locked in the safe – some things were simply too potent to be left out. She wandered around the room snuffing out the candles and lanterns. It was important to purify the space each day so she lit some sage and left it smoking in a saucer. Grabbing the keys, she wandered up the eleven stone steps that led to the main bar and locked the heavy wooden door behind her. The rest could wait until tomorrow. She didn’t want to be alone tonight. She wanted to see her family.

 Out June 1

Naming my characters with spam

Naming my characters with spam

I write because I am
I write because I am

My characters tend to choose their own names…whether I like it or not. In Forecast, the character of Georgette was very determined. I tried a few other monikers: Katherine, Alice…Maggie. But no, Georgette it was. Honestly…talk about strong willed.

Baily, Bunny, Fraser, Jem, Sondra, Kate…Drum (yes…Drum!). These are some of the characters from my plays. And yes they all have surnames as well…and yes, yes, yes they certainly push their own agenda, no matter how detailed my original treatment may be.

But then there are the minor…or even minor-minor (double minor) characters. When it comes to naming these guys, I stare around at my bookshelves, searching for inspiration.

I’ll set the scene for you… Me, in front on my laptop… staring into space… nothing… so I google for a few moments… utter crap that has nothing to do with what I’m writing… such as “sex astrology” or “celebrity body language” or “apartment rentals in Bulgaria.” Once I’ve finished procrastinating, I return to my novel… and try to tune into my character’s name. If it’s still not forthcoming, I’ll look around the room.

Scan bookshelves…Nancy Mitford…Nancy…Oxford Dictionary…Dictionary? Nancy Dictionary? Nope…Nancy Oxford…done!

When that doesn’t work, I flick through a baby-naming book. I close my eyes and concentrate on my character, I flip through some pages…and wherever my finger lands…that’s the name.

And the winner is… Dante…

Unless I don’t like that name and then I’ll try again.

But there is another excellent tool for writers…with a plethora of original monikers. It’s free, easily accessible and constantly being updated. It’s called… junk mail!

Ah yes, I know spam is meant to be the bane of our existence… and it is, but I also try to be a glass half full kinda gal. I like to turn lemons into lemonade.

This morning, my glass of lemonade included a Collins Baxter, Elsie Sexton, Molly Quintana, Sarah K Macmillan, Felix Richter and a Douglas Merrideen. Pure genius! It would take me hours…wasted hours of precious writing time to make these up.

“Felix Richter stared at himself in the mirror and decided then and there it was time to shave off his beloved moustache…”

“Sarah K Macmillan glanced at her watch. He was late again…and this time he would be sorry…”

“Molly Quintana swallowed three Advil and wondered what on earth ever possessed her to have seven children…”

Love it!!!!! Any other unique character naming techniques out there?

This is how I write (when my kids aren’t around)

This is how I write (when my kids aren’t around)

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This is how I write:

I write for fourteen hour stretches… but in short spurts.

Fourteen hours is a glorious luxury I rarely have with four boys around.

I write a bit… and reward myself with a break… a dream break I call it… time to feed my dreams.

I dream of living in Europe again…

So I write… and take a break… I check out rental apartments in Vienna.

I write more… and then look at rentals in Budapest…

I write again… and then I look at neighbourhoods… and schools.

When I’m writing, I’m dreaming… the two go hand in hand.

I pace the house a lot. I stare at my empty pantry. I haven’t had time to shop. I’m not that hungry anyway. Those taco shells will be fine.

I stretch… and then back to it…

I write… more, more, more… I get a lot done.

And then I look at real estate in Prague.

woman-writing-in-cafe_2

Ode To Redheads by Tom Robbins

Ode To Redheads by Tom Robbins

Those of you who have read Forecast know that the book’s main characters are the Shakespeare women… 3 generations of gorgeous redheads. Trouble Brewing continues my fascination with Shakespeares. This time it’s the London based Shakespeare women… and yes, they have flaming red hair. I adore red hair and will fly the banner high with my wonderful characters.

I’m deep into a rewrite of Trouble Brewing and the redheaded world of Calypso Shakespeare, her sister Nell and her mother Batty. I came across this delightful Ode to Redheads today, by Tom Robbins, and thought I’d share…

Drawn with pen.
Drawn with pen.

How are we to explain the power these daughters of ancient Henna have over us bemused sons or Eros?

Red hair is a woman’s game.

The harsh truth is, most red-haired men look like blonds who’ve spoiled from lack of refrigeration. They look like brown-haired men who’ve been composted. Yet that same pigmentation that on a man can resemble leaf mold or junk yard rust, a woman wears like a tiara of rubies.

Not only are female redheads frequently lovely but theirs is a loveliness that suggests both lust and danger, pleasure and violence, and is, therefore, to the male of the species virtually irresistible. Red O red were the tresses of the original femme fatale.
Of course, much of the “fatale” associated with redheads is illusory, a stereotypical projection on the part of sexually neurotic men. Plenty of redheads are as demure as rosebuds and as sweet as strawberry pie. However, the mere fact that they are perceived to be stormy, if not malicious, grants them a certain license and a certain power. It’s as if bitchiness is their birthright. By virtue of their coloration, they possess an innate permit to be terrible and lascivious, which, even if never exercised, sets them apart from the remainder of womankind, who have traditionally been expected to be mild and pure.

Now that women are demolishing those old misogynistic expectations, will redheads lose their special magic, will Pippi Longstocking come to be regarded as just one of the girls? Hardly. To believe that blondes and brunettes are simply redheads in repressive drag is to believe that UFOs are kiddie balloons. All redheads, you see, are mutants.

Whether they spring from genes disarranged by earthly forces or are “planted” here by overlords from outer space is a matter for scholarly debate. It’s enough for us to recognize that redheads are abnormal beings, bioelectrically connected to realms of strange power, rage, risk and ecstasy.

What is your mission among us, you daughters of ancient Henna, you agents of the harvest moon? Are those star maps that your freckles replicate? How do you explain the fact that you live longer than the average human? Where did you get such sensitive skin? And why are your curls the same shade as heartbreak?

Alas, inquiry is futile: Either they don’t know or they won’t say — and who has the nerve to pressure a redhead? We may never learn their origin or meaning, but it probably doesn’t matter. We will go on leaping out of our frying pans into their fire, grateful for the opportunity to be titillated by their vengeful fury, real or imagined, and to occasionally test our erotic mettle in the legendary inferno of their passion.

Redheaded women! Those blood oranges! Those cherry bombs! Those celestial shrews and queens of copper! May they never cease to stain our white-bread lives with super-natural catsup.

Shakespeare woman
Shakespeare woman