The Further Adventures of Jude and her Personal Romantic Hero

Lockdown ended at last on 14 May, and the movers arrived that afternoon. Our worldly possessions efficiently packed into a truck, we loaded the few things we needed to take with us (including our two cats) into a rental van and drove to Whanganui.

Our choice of temporary accommodation had been simple. I sent out four emails, and only one person replied, so we rented his place. I was excited to discover it was in Gloucester Street, where my uncle had lived through my entire childhood, and where I’d stayed numerous times; most recently in the late 1970s, with my PRH and the three children born to us.

We had the key code, so we let ourselves into the charming little cottage, where the gas fire was burning, the bed was made, and a white wine was chilling in the fridge.

The following day, the sense of deja vu increased as we looked around the place, especially when we offloaded several boxes into the garage. A drive along the street on the way to the supermarket confirmed that no other house matched my memories and a phone call to my sister confirmed it. She checked Mum’s old address book. I’d returned to my roots.

The house has been built onto and extensively remodelled, but as successive cousins have confirmed during visits to check, the garage hasn’t much changed since the days that my cousins who boarded at school in Wanganui used to spend all their weekends there, working on cars with my mechanic uncle.

Any novelist using that in a plot would be accused of far too great a coincidence, but life really is stranger than fiction.

Anyway, after dozens of open homes and even more house visits, we’ve put in an offer on a house in nearby Marton. Watch this space.

None of this has been helping my writing, but I hope to be settled soon, and sharing more stories with you all.

One chapter ends…

We’re off on an adventure tomorrow. After seventeen years in our home, we’re moving cities and even regions. It will be a new exercise in redreaming. A life time of facing change has taught us that, when dreams hit a brick wall, it’s time to redream. Or, to put it in authorly terms, when the chapter ends, turn the page.

This house was meant to be our retirement cottage: a little two bedroom house set on nearly two acres of land in Featherston, one hour by train from the capital city Wellington, where both of us worked. We’d just nudged past our half century, so we didn’t plan to leave work any time soon, but we figured we were here to stay. Little place. Little mortgage. And if the land got to much for us, we could subdivide or just plant the whole thing in trees and ignore it.

Then everything changed.

Daughter three came home with two small children. We took out a mortgage, and expanded the cottage into a five bedroomed house with two and half baths and two living rooms. It was going to be great. Daughter three was going through law school, and in time she’d find room in a country practice, and we’d build a little retirement cottage in the grounds and be grandparents almost in residence.

Then everything changed.

Our grandson was diagnosed with a cerebral auditory disorder, which meant he couldn’t distinguish between sound sources in a noisy environment. An ordinary classroom was hell for him. The specialist prescribed home schooling. My PRH (personal romantic hero), who is a gifted teacher, left his job to teach both children at home for three years, leaving us with one adult income (mine). But we could still get there. Daughter three was a couple of years off graduating, and was topping her class and getting noticed in moots (“a mock judicial proceeding set up to examine a hypothetical case as an academic exercise”).

Then everything changed.

Daughter three fell in love. Within a few months, they were gone, lock, stock and barrel. PRH found another job, and we found another dream. We’d be a hub for family and friends, work till we paid off the mortgage, and meanwhile welcome our grandchildren as often as we could.

You’ve got it. It worked for a while, then everything changed.

So here we are. We decided to sell around eighteen months ago, to pay off the last of the mortgage and realise a bit of our capital so we could retire and enjoy life. We finally found a buyer for our unique property in February, and we were looking forward to settlement date in early April.

Then everything changed.

This time, it was a global pandemic. The country went into lockdown, and we couldn’t move, we couldn’t look at houses, we were stuck. Mind you, an extra seven weeks to pack has been a real blessing! And I’ve needed every minute. I’ve sorted and chucked out and given away and sorted some more. With my mind woolly and frayed from all that’s going out in the wider world, packing has been a soothing way to reestablish some control.

But now the wait is over. Tomorrow, we’re off into rented furnished accommodation in a new town (me, the PRH, and the two cats), and our furniture is on its way into storage. Given people like us are still being advised to shelter at home, it may be some time before we venture into the community to make new friends, but we’ll be able to connect online and over the fence, and our new town has heaps of walking tracks and parks where we can exercise while keeping our distance.

Once I get the computer set up, I’ll be straight into writing again, with three novellas and two novels that are started and that need to be finished, two for Authors of Main Street.

That said, the top job is going to be to find a house. One with a bit of garden and room for visiting grand children. I’ll keep you posted!

Lock down and the distracted imagination

It’s hard times, isn’t it? Here in New Zealand, we went into lock down early, as soon as the first few cases of Covid-19 popped up in people who had not themselves been overseas.

Even earlier than that, people with preconditions or over the age of 70 were advised to enter a protective bubble in their own homes, and physically distance themselves from anyone outside those in the bubble with them. That meant me and my dearly beloved in our bubble, and our children and their families each in theirs.

We heard from the support agency who looks after our son, who has multiple preconditions and who flats with three other people with disabilities. The service put each of their houses into a protective bubble that included the households of the care workers that supported the residents. Bless them! They set our hearts somewhat at ease.

With two weeks of lock down over and two of the original commitment to go, the Prime Minister has been making noises about potential extension, and about reducing the restrictions in some places but not others. We’re resigned to whatever happens. Unlike most places in the world, we moved strong and early, so have a real chance of eliminating the virus within our borders (as long as we keep them shut for the duration). That’s worth staying home for.

Meanwhile, I’ve been finding it hard to write. My mind keeps circling in a endless round of anxiety, and I tend to hover over the latest statistics as if knowing them is going to make a difference to the outcome.

Mind you, we’ve been busy. We’ve spent days trying to sort out an extension on the settlement date on our house, since moving is not an allowable activity under the current restrictions. We’ve talked on the phone for hours to our son and a support worker trying to get movie channels set up on the house television — we paid the subscriptions to help out with keeping the guys contented and at home. We’ve helping neighbours out with sprouting seeds and other supplies that we had and they didn’t. We’ve been keeping up with our other family and friends.

In fact, one 96-year-old friend grumbles that she can’t get anything done because people keep ringing her to see how she is!

I’ve also read a lot of books, watched several movies, broken my high score in Sudoko, and played hundreds of games of WordScapes. At least some of those activities feed the imagination.

Still, deadlines don’t wait. I’ve managed (at the eleventh hour) to get To Wed a Proper Lady up for release next week, I’m in the process of getting Amazon to put the prequel novella Paradise Regained up for free, and already have it free on my own bookshop and at other distributors, and today I hope to finish the companion piece, Paradise Lost, which I plan to give away free with my newsletter.

Bit by bit, I’m getting my writing mojo back, and I keep reminding myself that these are difficult times, and my Prime Minister’s frequent admonition to ‘Be Kind’ applies to me, too.

How about you? What are you doing to weather this storm?

#JudegoestoBali and other thoughts about family

Me (on the far left) and my brothers and sisters during our sibling trip to Bali

This might have been my last trip for 2020, but what a trip it was! Our Mum’s kids and their spouses had their third get-together — first one at her funeral, in Auckland, New Zealand; second one five years ago in Oamaru, a small country town with significance in Mum’s life, and now this one.

One of my brothers organised the airfares, another hired a villa for the week, and we had a marvelous time catching up and getting to know one another all over again. Family matters.

I posted on Facebook using the hashtag #JudegoestoBali, so if you want to follow my adventure and you’re on Facebook, go take a look.

I came home thinking about family. About the links that tie me to my brothers and sister, and their spouses and children. About my own beloved, who wasn’t able to join us. I couldn’t sleep properly until I was beside him again, and he says the same thing. About the traditional Balinese family compounds — their domestic architecture leans towards walled compounds enclosing pavilions, gardens, and little shrines. Younger members of the family, when they take a spouse and begin their own family, move into their own pavilion. They live together and work together. Family matters.

About the love of a mother for her children, which transcends time, separation and grief. Even species. We had the privilege, quite without intending it, of timing our visit to the Elephant Sanctuary for a fortnight after the birth of one of only five babies born there in the last ten years.

What a little cutie! And already full of mischief and personality.

We saw a number of monkey mothers, too, when we visited the Monkey Jungle. Like the elephants, the monkeys live in family groups, with the mothers forming the nucleus around which the rest of the family formed. We saw one little fellow of perhaps a year old being repeatedly chased a short distance away by his mother when he attempted to crawl into her lap to replace the new baby. But when baby went wandering and another monkey appeared to threaten it, big brother was right there with Mum and a large male, presumably Dad, chasing the interloper some distance for his offense. Family matters.

Anyway, I’m home now, staying away from my grandchildren for a couple of weeks just in case I picked up Covid-19 while in airports or planes. Mind you, as I understand the statistics, they’re at less risk from me than I am from them, since children appear to show no or few symptoms. Just before I left for Bali, we sold our house, so I’m flat out packing. We’re moving to be closer to said grandchildren. Family matters.

Somehow, in the next week, I need also to finalise the book To Wed a Proper Lady, which is on pre-order, and will be out on 15 April. It is also about family, and is the first novel in my new series, The Children of the Mountain King.

In 1812, high Society is rocked by the return of the Earl of Sutton, heir to the dying Duke of Winshire. James Winderfield, Earl of Sutton, Winshire’s third and only surviving son, has long been thought dead, but his reappearance is not nearly such a shock as those he brings with him, the children of his deceased Persian-born wife and fierce armed retainers.

This series begins with a prequel novella telling the love story of James senior and Mahzad (Paradise Regained), then leaps two decades to a series of six novels as the Winderfield offspring and their cousins search for acceptance and love.

Click on any of the links to find out more.

Proper gentlemen, perfect ladies, and the fun of seeing them mussed

In a winter so cold the Thames freezes over, five couples venture onto the ice to find a love to warm their hearts.

It’s no surprise that my usual reading pleasure — historical romance set in Regency Society — is popular. After all, gorgeous healthy young man in a coat he has to be poured into, tight breeches, and stockings that show every curve of his calf muscles? What’s not to like?

Add to that the courtliness of the times. Passionate gentlemen who, nevertheless, act politely in the company of ladies. Clear rules about appropriate behaviour.

In any romance worth its salt the main characters care about one another, and behave with respect, but in cis Regency romance, the stakes are high. Our heroes have all the legal power; our heroines need love and respect in order simply to be safe, let alone happy.

Of course, the real Regency was also classist, sexist, and all kinds of other ists, so part of the fun of writing Regency stories is playing off the reality and the fantasy.

My newest release, Melting Matilda, which has just come out as a novella in the Bluestocking Belles collection Fire & Frost, has a heroine known as the Ice Princess, and a hero dubbed the Granite Earl.

He is all about convention and proper behaviour. She, even more so. I had great fun persuading them to relax and get mussed. Here’s the blurb for Melting Matilda.

Her scandalous birth prevents Matilda Grenford from being fully acceptable to Society, even though she has been a ward of the Duchess of Haverford since she was a few weeks old. Her half-brother, the Marquis of Aldridge, is convinced she will one day be wooed by a worthy gentleman, but Matilda has no such expectations. The only man who has ever interested her gave her an outrageous kiss a year ago and has avoided her ever since.

Charles, the Earl of Hamner is honour bound to ignore his attraction to Matilda Grenford. She is an innocent and a lady, and in every way worthy of his respect—but she is base-born. His ancestors would rise screaming from their graves if he made her his countess.

When his mother and her guardian begin collaborating on Her Grace’s annual charity fundraiser, neither Charles nor Matilda sees a way to avoid working together. And neither can forget the kiss they once shared.

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Excerpt:

If the two of them made it out of the near-invisible city streets alive, Matilda Grenford was going to kill her sister Jessica, and even their guardian and mentor, the Duchess of Haverford, wouldn’t blame her. Angry as Matilda was, and panicked, too, as she tried to find a known landmark in the enveloping fog, she couldn’t resist a wry smile at the thought. Aunt Eleanor was the kindest person in the world, and expected everyone else to be as forgiving and generous as she was herself. Matilda could just imagine the conversation.
“Now, my dear, I want you to think about what other choices you might have made.” The duchess had said precisely those words uncounted times in the more than twenty years Matilda had been her ward.
When she was younger, she would burst out in an impassioned defense of whatever action had brought her before Her Grace for a reprimand. “Jessica is not just destroying her own reputation, Aunt Eleanor. Meeting men in the garden at balls, going out riding without her groom, dancing too close. Her behavior reflects on us all.”
Was that the lamppost by the corner of the square? No; a few steps more showed yet another paved street with houses looming in the fog on both sides. Matilda stopped while she tried to decide if any of them were in any way familiar.
Meanwhile, she continued her imaginary rant to the duchess. “Even in company, she takes flirtation to the edge of what is proper. This latest start — sneaking out of the house without a chaperone or even her maid — if it becomes known, she’ll go down in ruin, and take me and Frances with her.”
Matilda had gone after her, of course, taking a footman, but she’d lost the poor man several mistaken turns back. Matilda had been hurrying ahead, ignoring the footman’s complaints, thinking only about bringing Jessica back before she got into worse trouble than ever before. Now Matilda was just as much at risk, and she’d settle for managing to bring her own self home to Haverford House, or even to the house of a friend, if she could find one.
Home, for preference. Turning up anywhere else, unaccompanied, would start the very scandal Matilda had followed her sister to avoid. If Jessica managed to make it home unscathed, Matilda would strangle her.
In her imagination, she could hear Aunt Eleanor, calm as ever. “Murder is so final, Matilda. Surely it would have been better to try something else, first. What could you have done?”

Falling in Love Again

My personal romantic hero (PRH) and I used to co-ordinate marriage preparation classes for our diocese, and were also hosts for one of the five evening sessions — the one on intimacy.

We spoke of the triangular theory of intimacy, and how most relationships started with passion and liking, and developed as the couple moved into commitment.

We also talked about levels of within each of the types. For full consummate love, the couple must be fully into friendship, passion, and commitment.

The science of love

We romantic novelists tend to write about the movement from the second stage of romantic love to the beginning of the third. Stage one is the initial physical response to the person — lust, usually. Attraction, the step after that initial physical response, comes next. Attraction is that heady feeling when passion and liking combine like sparkling wine as the hormones dopamine, norepinephrine and phenylethylamine light up the brain, producing elation, intense energy, sleeplessness, craving, loss of appetite and focused attention.

The science says it isn’t a permanent thing.  On average it lasts two to three years. At some point during this period, attachment, the third stage, comes into play as we get to know the person, faults and all. Our chemical helpers here are the hormones produced during sex and during moments of affection and commitment (oxytocin, vasopressin and endorphins, if you want to be technical).

We used to tell the couples on the course about the research that suggests most people fall in love (that second, attraction, stage) multiple times in their lives — an average of seven relationships that moved from attraction to the beginnings of attachment. The trick of a permanent marriage is to fall in love with the same person over and over again.

Just after Christmas, PRH and I celebrated our 48th wedding anniversary. We are currently deliriously, utterly, and blissfully in love, and have been for several years. Maybe the fizz lasts longer as you age and slow? We must be up to around eight or nine times through the cycle by now, and it deepens.

I had lunch with another romance writer today, my friend Rue Allyn, who is visiting from America. She suggests that listening is key to a long-term marriage is to listen. Just to really, really listen. I agree, and would add commitment. It takes two, but if both parties are committed to permanence, and truly listen to one another, all they have to do then is keep breathing.

Paradise Regained

Just before Christmas, I released the novella Paradise Regained. The hero and heroine are married and have eight children. But the magic of attraction has faded. Can they get it back?

It is set in 1794, in Central Asia, and is the prequel to The Children of the Mountain King, a series that begins in 1812, when the hero of Paradise Regained returns to England to inherit a dukedom.

One of the reviews says:

This may be Jude Knight’s finest work—and considering her other wonderful stories, that is saying something. This story of love gone cold, love under attack, and love rediscovered touched me profoundly. Here careful research is only exceeded by the depth of her characterization and the beauty of her prose.

James yearns to end a long journey in the arms of his loving family. But his father’s agents offer the exiled prodigal forgiveness and a place in Society — if he abandons his foreign-born wife and children to return to England.

With her husband away, Mahzad faces revolt, invasion and betrayal in the mountain kingdom they built together. A queen without her king, she will not allow their dream and their family to be destroyed.

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EXTRACT

James sent Peter with a message to Mahzad, inviting her to join him for a private dinner. The message didn’t need to say “and bed after.” Mahzad would guess.

Peter returned with a note and a glum face.

“Your humble servant begs leave to be excused, most excellent lord,” James read. “Your obedient wife, Mahzad.”

Like hell! He brushed Peter aside and strode through the halls, the people he passed taking one look at his face and getting out of his way.

The guards on the door to the zenana stepped aside and let him through without a challenge. Mahzad wasn’t in the central room. She wasn’t in her chambers, either. He emerged back into the great room, casting an eye around the ladies who were there. Cecily, who was sitting with Mahroch, made as if to get up.

Mahroch put out a hand to stop her. “Sit. You have caused enough trouble.”

James directed his glare at Mahroch, but the old woman was not discomposed in the slightest. She needed the help of a maid to rise, but she waved the girl off and walked with much of her old grace toward Mahzad’s chambers.

“Come, Lord James. You and I need to talk.”

“I need to see my wife.” He snarled.

“Not before we have talked.”

He followed her, of course, but his irritation was rising by the minute.

She deflated him by rounding on him as soon as they were in private. “James, I always thought you to be an intelligent man and one with enough sense to see what was in front of his nose, but I am disappointed in you.”

Attack being the best form of defence, he answered hotly, “Don’t tell me that you believe these scurrilous rumours about Mrs. McInnes. She is not my mistress. Not that I owe you or anyone else an explanation.”

Mahroch lifted an elegantly plucked eyebrow. “Not even my granddaughter?”

“Mahzad should know I would never dishonour her.” James relieved some of his tension by striding swiftly across the room and then back again. “Yes, and the rest of the citadel, too. It is a ridiculous conclusion to jump to. Insulting to me and to Mrs. McInnes. I can understand the Qajar commander but my own people?” His temper, barely in check when he’d arrived, was now at boiling point.

Mahroch was neither intimidated nor impressed. “Your own people, including your wife, would have been less inclined to make assumptions about your relationship with Cecily McInnes had she not been at pains to give the impression that you and she are lovers.”

“No.” That couldn’t be true. “She didn’t, did she? But why?”

The old woman dismissed his question with an elegant wave of one hand. “She had her reasons, and I am somewhat in sympathy with her, though I have put a stop to her mischief.” She bent forward, meeting his glare with her own. “But it remains for you to undo the damage that she—and you, I might add—have done.”

“What have I done?” James protested. “I have done nothing!”

“You will have to discuss that with my granddaughter, James,” Mahroch replied sharply. Her voice dried as she continued. “I suggest you spend at least part of the time listening. You will find her at the archery butts, I imagine. When she left here, she felt like killing something. Oh, and just a small hint. It would not harm your masculine essence to tell her how you feel about her.”

What was that supposed to mean? As James stalked through the citadel and down into the cellars, he tried to think about Mahroch’s last remark, but the injustice of the accusations against him kept shouldering out other considerations. Not least because, for a fraction of a moment back at the caravanserai when Cecily had offered herself, temptation had reared its serpently head. Only physically and he dismissed it, of course. He should be receiving credit for that, not suspicion and a cold shoulder for thoughts he’d never had and actions he’d not taken.

Cecily’s treachery didn’t bother him as much as Mahzad’s willingness to believe the lying woman. Felt like killing something, did she? James felt like spanking someone, and he blamed Mahzad for that entirely. He’d never raised his hand in anger to a woman in his life, especially not Mahzad, who had been his equal and his partner since the day they had escaped her father’s caravan.

Mahzad had posted a man at the doors to the range to prevent anyone else entering.

“Try to stop me,” James invited, and the guard wisely stepped to one side.

Inside, every lamp was lighted, but even so, the butts wavered in and out of shadows. Not that Mahzad was fooled for a moment. Arrow after arrow slammed into the centre of each target as she drew and shot, drew and shot, drew and shot, a dozen arrows at a time and then only seconds to reach for the next dozen and begin again.

***

For more about the hormones that support love: How love works

Facing both ways at once

In ancient Greek mythology, the god Janus had two faces so he could look in both directions at once — into the past and into the future. He was the god of any transitional state, including beginnings and ending, gates, doorways, and passages. He may have given his name to January, which will be on us at any moment.

The new year, whenever your culture celebrates it, is a time for considering the past and making plans for the future. For me, it’s a time of transition in other ways. We’re looking at a major upheaval in where we live. We’re planning to retire from paid employment.

The writing is a given. The upheaval in our lives has meant I’ve not completed as many books this year as I hoped. Next year, perhaps, though I expect the upheaval to continue at least until we are moved and retired.

Still, I’m pleased with what I have done. Look for my story The Gingerbread Caper in Christmas Cookies on Main Street, as well as the novella prequel to a coming historical series, Paradise Regained, which was published a couple of weeks ago. I also have a novella in Fire & Frost with the Bluestocking Belles due out early in February.

If you need some holiday reading, go see my blog post that lists Christmas Cookies and Paradise Regained, as well as others. I’m also going to put one up with books from friends.

Every good wish for whatever festival you happen to be celebrating, or just in general if you’re not celebrating at the moment. May your days be merry and bright, and may we all enjoy every good thing in 2020.

Writing feminist fiction

Signing books for Rosie, who came to hear me speak.

I launched the print version of my latest historical romance earlier this month. A local bookshop, Almo’s Books, hosted me, and laid on the supper. The photo above shows me, the book (Unkept Promises), and earlier books in the same series.

I really enjoyed meeting fans, and talking about my writing and the romance genre in general. One thing I said struck a chord with several of the people there. Romance, I told them, is inherently feminist. Here’s my logic.

Most of the people who write romance are women.

Most of the people who read romance are women.

Last, but by no means least, a romance story isn’t over until the woman in it gets what she wants.

The final point is probably the reason why the patriarchy has been putting romance down and trying to prevent women from reading it since before Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters. Romance acts as if men are not the most important people in the world. Romance thinks that what women want is an important plot point–no, more! THE important plot point.

Does that mean that romance is necessary to be a fulfilled woman? Of course not. I know many single women who lead interesting, productive and happy lives. But neither is romance a second best, a sell-out, a retreat from feminist values. If women can do anything, falling in love is one of those things.

I don’t write chick lit, or Mommy porn, or bodice rippers. I don’t buy into any of those demeaning labels. I write romance, and I’m proud of it. I write stories about two people who find one another, and in doing so, find a helpmate with whom to walk through life.

They face problems (which is what makes it a story), but they solve them together. They respect one another. They co-operate. Truly, what’s not to like?

I write capable women, and men who are strong enough to respect them. What could be more feminist than that?

Ask a busy person

You’ve probably heard the saying: “If you want something done, ask a busy person.”

Here’s some of my job list from today:

  • finishing my story for the Authors of Main Street box set
  • getting ready to go spend a week at our daughter’s place looking after her three children while she takes a much needed holiday
  • meeting realtors to choose a new one after the house has sat on the market for far too long (and it’s Spring, so a great time to sell, with all the fruit trees in blossom)
  • having coffee with the person who runs Featherston Booktown about my ideas for events in the next two years
  • finalising plans for the physical book launch of my novel at a local shop in two weeks
  • sending my three most recent books for deposit at our National Library
  • organising transport for our disabled son to take him too and from his national camp at the end of the month
  • fixing a mistake on the cover of the Bluestocking Belles’ box set that has just gone on pre-release
  • updating my books on Nielsen’s book table.

So by all means, ask a busy person. But the answer is no.

Here’s a wee bit from my Authors of Main Street story, The Gingerbread Caper.

Meg climbed the stairs, fishing for the keys she’d tucked into her jeans pocket.

Patrick was good-looking in a geeky kind of a way—tall, dark hair that needed a trim, earnest blue-grey eyes. He was lean to gauntness, but that would be the glandular fever. According to Aunt Margaret, he’d gone back to work before he was well enough, and suffered a relapse, so he was leaving Wellington so he wouldn’t be able to overdo things again.

Damn Aunt Margaret. When she told Meg about the lodger, she managed to make him sound old, feeble, and innocuous. “He’s something in government, sweetie,” she said. “A clerk. Something like that. He has had glandular fever, poor thing, which is difficult at his age. He needs somewhere to finish convalescing. He lives with a family who have children, and he isn’t finding it restful.”

At his age, my bony left foot. Patrick was no older than her, late twenties or early thirties. Even gaunt from his illness, even standoffish, he was hot. A clerk? Aunt Margaret’s ‘Something like that’ translated as senior policy analyst. He was cagey about what that actually meant. As if I was being nosey! She was, of course. Old journalist habits die hard.

He stumbled on the top step, and caught himself with a hand on her hip, snatching it away with a muttered apology as even the tips of his ears turned red. In another guy, she’d suspect a pass, but Patrick had already proved a klutz. Was that a result of the illness, too?

“No problem,” she told him. “This door is yours. Mine—or, rather, Aunt Margaret’s—is on the other side of the landing.” She turned the key while she spoke, and swung the door open onto the small flat—an open-plan living area and kitchen, a pocket-handkerchief bathroom, and a bedroom just big enough for a Queen-sized bed and a couple of bedside cabinets.

“I’ll leave you to it. There’s tea and coffee on the bench, and milk in the fridge.” She waved towards the kitchen, where a welcome basket of baking and another of fruit waited by the kettle, coffee plunger, and teapot. Canisters of tea and coffee bags lined the shelf above the bench. “Come down whenever you like. Dinner is at 6.30pm, if that’s okay. Aunt has a folder of ‘Things to Do’. It’s on the coffee table.” Another wave.

“Thank you. I’ll be fine, I’m sure.”

He had a sexy American accent: Canadian or US—she had trouble guessing, sometimes. Probably the States. They had a reputation for good manners.

Did she need to tell him anything else? She thought about it while he waited, watching her with just a hint of apprehension, as if she might suddenly do something alarming.

“Okay, then,” she said, breaking the silence. “See you later.”

As she turned to leave, Mr. Major slipped past her ankles and streaked across the room to disappear into the bedroom.

“Drafted cat! Sorry about that. I’ll just get rid of him for you.”

“You can leave him if you want,” Patrick said. “I like cats.”

“No one likes Mr. Major,” Meg warned. “Mr. Major is a fiend from hell.” The counter bell rang—someone was in the shop and young Emma was 30 minutes late getting back from lunch. “I have to go,” she said. The man was a grown-up. She left him to the tender mercies of Mr. Major, the cat-monster, and hurried back downstairs.

Retelling my author story

Conferences rock. There I am in the purple Regency duchess outfit, complete with ostrich feathers, holding the certificate for one of the 4th places I won in the Koru Awards at the Romance Writers of New Zealand Conference. The Awards dinner, and all the other socialising, was great. I had a fabulous time. But the real gold of the weekend was in the workshops, and I’ll be mining it for months, if not years.

One workshop set me retelling my author origin story in a way that tells more of a universal tale, harnessing the tropes my life has followed. Mine is a reinvention story. What’s yours?

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Have you ever wanted something so much you were afraid to even try? That was me ten years ago.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a novelist. I even started dozens of stories, over the years.

But life kept getting in the way. A seriously ill child who required years of therapy; a rising mortgage that led to a full-time job; six children, my own chronic illness… the writing took a back seat.

As the years passed, the fear grew. If I didn’t put my stories out there in the market, I wouldn’t risk making a fool of myself. I could keep the dream alive if I never put it to the test.

Then my mother died. That great lady had waited her whole life to read a novel of mine, and now it would never happen.

So I faced my fear and changed it–told everyone I knew I was writing a novel. Now I’d make a fool of myself for certain if I didn’t finish.

My first book came out to excellent reviews in December 2014, and the rest is history. Many books, lots of positive reviews, and a few awards later, I feel foolish for not starting earlier.

I write historical fiction with a large helping of romance, a splash of Regency, and a twist of suspense. I then try to figure out how to slot the story into a genre category. I’m mad keen on history, enjoy what happens to people in the crucible of a passionate relationship, and love to use a good mystery and some real danger as mechanisms to torture my characters.

Dip your toe into my world with one of my lunch-time reads collections or a novella, or dive into a novel. And let me know what you think.

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I have an origin story for my imprint, too.

I wanted to call my imprint Olive Press, since my mum’s name was Olive. But a bit of research convinced me it was a bad idea: already used, and all for Christian self-help books and Bible study guides. I don’t want to go misleading readers!

So I named it after my mother’s childhood home, which in turn was named after her family’s ancestral village, and I chose an olive tree for the symbol.