Monday, 10 November 2014

Driving Home for Christmas blog tour and competition

You wait ages for a blog tour competition then two come along at once. Today I am delighted to welcome A.L. Michael to the blog, with her lovely Christmas book, Driving Home For Christmas (have you all got the Chris Rea song going round your head now? I have!)

Megan McAllister is home for Christmas…whether she likes it or not!
Christmas is about family…and for Megan family means two people: herself, and her daughter Skye. It doesn’t mean her parents who, ten years ago, saw her pregnancy as anything but a miracle. And it definitely doesn’t include her irresistible ex-boyfriend Lucas Bright.
So ‘Driving Home for Christmas’ has never been top of Megan’s festive playlist. But for Skye, she knows she needs to spend the holiday season with the people she’s left behind. She can do this. Even if the thought of meeting Lucas under the mistletoe still has her feeling like she’s drunk one-too-many Snowballs!

But somewhere between the hanging of stockings and the crackle of wrapping paper, Christmas starts to sparkle. And Megan begins to wonder if family could be bigger than her and Skye after all…Pop the buck’s fizz, stoke the fire and prepare to giggle the festive season away with AL Michael!
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Competition
To win a Driving Home for Christmas goodie bag, including merchandise, festive treats and a £10 Amazon giftcard!




Teaser
Lucas Bright sat on the side of the road and watched the tour bus leave without him. They were somewhere less than glamorous, and he wasn’t even sure how to get home. If home was where he wanted to go. She’d gone, the mere months of their marriage drizzling out to this one moment, where she wanted a divorce and he didn’t care enough to stop her. Musicians shouldn’t marry. Trying to build a life on the road, from tour to tour, hotel to hotel, it just didn’t make sense. Plus he had the idea that Mike, that roadie who had been sniffing around had caught his wife’s interest. Ex-wife. Soon enough, anyway. May as well get used to using the terminology.

Being a rockstar wasn’t everything he thought it would be. Or maybe it had just been tainted by fighting every night about things that didn’t matter. Did he wink at that girl in the audience, did she steal those lyrics, why couldn’t they work together anymore.

Jess was talented, no doubt. She was going to make it big one day. One day soon, if she stayed single and used her ‘indefinable allure’ on the business execs. She’d been their opening act on the tour. They’d got closer, all those nights talking music, drinking too much, laughing until his face hurt. This was life, he thought, this was what people did. They never sang together, though. Somehow, that part was reserved for Megan, in some sort of misguided loyalty to her, and to what they’d had.

Lucas shook his head, he was an idiot. His marriage breaks down, he quits his band, and he’s thinking about a girl he loved when he was seventeen?

‘Get a grip,’ he said to himself, standing up. Right, a plan. Call Claire, let her know everything’s alright. Get her to prepare their mum for him coming home. Was the little village ever really home? He’d always felt like an outsider. They moved there when he was a kid, Claire would only have been a toddler, and from the start he’d been seen as ‘that troublemaker boy from London’. He wasn’t meant for small spaces. But it didn’t seem he was made for the road, either.

He could have one last go at it, by himself, he thought. Call Derek, pay for some studio time, record an album. He’d made some money selling on his songs before, and whilst it was painful to hear someone else up there, singing the songs he wrote, it made good money, and it was what he was good at. It also meant he didn’t have to go back yet, tail between legs, proving them all right.

London, he’d go to London. Give himself a few more months to ‘make it’, to prove he’d done something real. And then he’d go back for Christmas. Just for Christmas, before he’d leave again. There was nothing really there for him since she’d left anyway.


Sunday, 9 November 2014

Mistletoe Mansion blog tour and competition

I'm delighted to welcome Sam Tonge back to the blog today. This lovely and prolific lady has another book coming out - this one's a Christmas romp called Mistletoe Mansion. She's sent me chapter 2 for this blog. Read chapter 1 first here.

There's also a fab competition to enter where you have to put together a Pinterest board showing your ideal Christmas party. All details below. I had a go - click here for my attempt. As you can see I probably missed the brief a bit. In my defence I'd have nothing to wear to a glittering Christmas party - oh, unless I win this competition of course!


About the book

Kimmy Jones has three loves: cupcakes, gossip magazines and dreaming of getting fit just by owning celeb workouts.
When Kimmy’s Sensible Boyfriend told her he didn’t approve of her longing for the high life or her dream of starting a cupcake company Kimmy thought she could compromise – after all, she did return those five-inch Paris Hilton heels! But asking her to trade in cake-making for a job sorting potatoes is a step too far.
So, newly single - and newly homeless – Kimmy needs a dusting of Christmas luck. And, masquerading as a professional house sitter, her new temporary home is the stunning Mistletoe Mansion. Soon she’s best buds with glamorous next door golf WAG Melissa, and orders are pouring in for her fabulous Merry Berry cupcakes! The only thorn in her side is handsome handyman Luke, a distraction she definitely doesn’t need. And talking of distractions, something very odd is going on at night…
Kimmy is finally living the life she’s always wanted. But will her glimpse into the glittering lifestyle of the rich and famous be as glamorous as she’s always imagined…?

About the Author

Samantha Tonge lives in Cheshire with her lovely family, and two cats who think they are dogs. When not writing, she spends her days cycling and willing cakes to rise. She has sold over 80 short stories to women’s magazines. Her bestselling debut novel, Doubting Abbey, was shortlisted for the Festival of Romantic Fiction best Ebook award in 2014. Its fun standalone sequel is From Paris with Love. Mistletoe Mansion stars a new set of characters and is for fans of cupcakes and Christmas!

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Mistletoe Mansion - chapter 2

The bus stop? Little privacy. The back of my old hatchback? No room to stretch out. The doorway of the Spoon & Sausage? I sat on my pink case, outside Adam’s flat. Where on earth would I sleep tonight? How dare Adam throw me out? What a jerk. See if I cared…Yet I squeezed my eyes shut, to trap any tears, and my throat felt tight and sore –as if I’d got the tonsil infection from hell.
Perhaps I could crash in some shop’s outdoor Santa’s Grotto. I’d packed as quickly as I could, just finding time to brush my teeth and hair. Plus I’d squashed in some baking utensils and my novelty pig oven gloves. Adam was probably still in the shower, singing “One potato, two potato, three potato, four…”
A nearby flowering weed caught my eye. It stood upright between two paving stones. I leant forward, tugged it out and one by one yanked off its petals – he loves me… he loves me not… If I were famous, I imagined the sad shot the paparazzi might take of me now, the drooping wild flower stuffed through my gold metallic parka jacket’s buttonhole. It would go with the headline: “Kimmy Shown Red Card by Love Rat Adam”, except my Adam was more of a love-bunny (he’d hate me calling him that).
Shivering from the bitter December air – or was it from shock? – I nevertheless put on my fake designer sunglasses, due to the odd bit of sun. Although when the clouds parted, Luton still looked as grey as an old pair of Y-fronts. The Greta Garbo “I-want-to-be-left-alone look” suited the occasion, don’t you think, after my dramatic morning? A man in uniform walked past, spiking litter. From behind I got a whiff of something pungent – Adam’s aftershave, smelt a bit like some cleaning product.
‘There was no need to leave without saying goodbye,’ he said to my back. ‘You haven’t even eaten.’
‘You ordered me out.’ I turned around, determined to look more cross than upset.
His hair was all wet. Like a white flag, he held up the cheap ready-decorated Christmas tree I’d bought – Adam had insisted stuff like advent calendars and fairy lights were a waste of money, so I’d had to compromise.
‘You forgot this.’ He gazed down at me with those metallic grey eyes. ‘This is silly. At least come back for lunch.’
‘Now I’m silly as well as irresponsible?’ Annoyed at the tremble in my voice, I stood up and dragged my case along the street, towards the pedestrian crossing on the left. However, secretly I wished he’d scoop me up and carry me back to the flat, saying that it was all just a big mistake.
‘Wait up!’ he called and I slowed slightly, willing him not to drop my ace little tree. The baubles looked basic and the branches were threadbare, but it was the ninth of December, for goodness’ sake, and right now my world needed a dollop of Christmas magic.
‘For God’s sake,’ he said and easily caught me up. ‘It’s not that I don’t understand.’
Chin trembling, I reached for my tree and gripped it by the metal base. We were in front of Clarkson’s Estate Agents. He steered me to the nearby blue painted bench, where I’d arranged to meet Jess.
‘I get it,’ he continued. ‘We all have dreams. Me, I’d kill to live like… like a top racing driver.’
I sat down, shoved my case under the bench and fiddled with a lacklustre piece of tinsel.
‘Sometimes,’ he continued and took a seat next to me, ‘when I’m travelling back from my night shift and the motorway’s empty, I hit the accelerator… But kidding myself that I’ll ever race cars for a living won’t pay the rent.’
‘Remember that Formula One leather jacket you bought when we first started going out?’ I stared across the road to the White Horse pub. ‘It cost a whole week’s wages.’
‘Now I know better.” He leant back to avoid a kid on a skateboard whizzing past, followed by a gaggle of giggling teenagers, cheap handbags swinging, not a care in the world. A group of women in burkas walked behind them and a souped-up car, bass volume on full, zoomed along.
‘There’s nothing I want more than you and me together,’ he said, huskily, ‘even though you stick your cold feet on me in bed and leave trails of flour around the flat like some MasterChef slug. But you’ve got to realise that dreams are just that. During the day, it’s about making the best of what you’ve got. This job at the factory won’t come along again – they’ve held back on recruitment for months. When that application form dropped through the letterbox this morning my heart leapt, babe. It’s the best Christmas present I could ever have, the thought that, at last, you and me would be moving our lives forward.’
‘But next week I’m baking cupcakes for my mate Nikki’s hen night. I even blagged some cut-price sugar from the corner shop that’s closing down. If I spend all day, every day with you, sorting spuds, I’ll never have the energy for cooking after work. You’re always knackered after a day at that place. And what if my business did, by some small miracle, take off and I left the factory? It wouldn’t look good for you. No. It’s best that we keep “us” and work separate.’
‘Sounds like more excuses.’ He glanced at his watch.
‘Don’t let me keep you,’ I muttered.
‘I said I’d drop round to Mum and Dad’s this afternoon; things to do before that.’
‘What will you tell them?’ My voice wavered. ‘About us?’
‘The truth, of course.’ He looked sideways at me. ‘You know Mum. She’ll blame me.’
I half-smiled. Barbara was great. Adam always joked that if he and I ever split up, she’d take my side and ask him what he’d done wrong.
‘She’ll have to take back her wedding outfit,’ he mumbled. ‘That’ll teach her to buy it before we even got engaged.’
Hardly believing his words, I nodded. Telling his parents about our split meant it was final. So this was really happening? How could my lovelife have crumbled around me within the space of one hour? I took his hand, which felt icy cold. ‘Just give me six months. Please. I can sense things are about to go my way.’
‘You’ve already been temping for weeks, Kimmy.’ He pulled away his fingers and blew on them with warm breath. He stood up and rubbed his hands together. ‘I won’t hold on for another half year.’ His voice broke. ‘Sorry, babe. It’s over.’ With that, he walked away.
I pulled the limp flower from my button hole and watched it tumble to the ground. In need of a ballad, I reached into my jeans’ back pocket. Great. I’d forgotten my iPod.
‘Adam! Hold on! Keep an eye on my luggage. I’ve left something in the flat.’
Without giving him much chance to answer, I rushed past, head down, as he sloped back to the bench. I didn’t want him to see my runny nose or tears trickling out from under my glasses. My phone rang and, slowing to a trot, I reached into my front jeans’ pocket. A repentant love message from Adam? No. He didn’t text that fast. It was from Jess. She was on her way over and said it was just as well we weren’t meeting at her place.
Hoping she was okay, I put the phone back in my pocket. Mrs Patel from the grocer’s smiled at me as I turned towards the flats. If I were famous, Elton John would lend me his French villa, or I’d flee to my Barbados hideout, or (how cool did this sound) I’d go into rehab.
I entered the red-brick building and climbed the two flights of stairs to number fourteen. New graffiti had gone up on the whitewashed walls overnight, featuring lewd cartoons of Father Christmas. It still brightened up the place, though, and drew attention away from the missing chunks of plaster. I unlocked our front door and went in.
Stupid, I know, but I expected it to already look different. It didn’t. On the left was the kitchenette, with its scratched worktop, on top of which was a Tupperware box of cranberry and orange festive cupcakes I’d made only last night, after baking Postie’s batch. They were next to the tiny electric cooker and sink where a tap dripped constantly. I’d been meaning to change the washer. Mum had always relied on me to do that sort of thing. Over the years I’d picked up a lot from her boyfriends – like how to change a fuse and put up shelves. One even taught me how to pick locks, another how to hotwire cars.
I headed into bedroom and ran a finger along the furniture as I went. Adam had made a real effort when I’d first moved in; skipped the pub for weeks, eventually spending his beer money on a beech effect flatpack wardrobe and a small cabinet for my side of the bed. We’d also made a special trip to St Albans’ market for that beige throw to cover the balding sofa. I lifted my pillow, picked up my iPod and slipped it into the back of my jeans. A photo on the windowsill caught my attention. It was me and Adam kissing behind two plates of curry. We’d celebrated every single one of our anniversaries at the same Indian restaurant.
‘Yoo hoo!’ warbled a shaky voice.
It was Mrs Burton. I took off my sunglasses and slipped them into my parka pocket. Then I left the bedroom, forcing my mouth to upturn. Her lined face peeked around the front door.
‘You shouldn’t leave this open, dearie,’ she said.
‘I was just going out,’ I said and grabbed the Tupperware box of cupcakes. We moved into the corridor. I closed and locked the door. Mrs Burton leant on her stick. Whatever the weather, she always wore her long woollen cardigan and secondhand Ugg boots.
‘Everything all right, Kimberley? I happened to see you outside with your luggage.’
Happened to? With her antique opera glasses and log-book, Mrs Burton took Neighbourhood Watch to the next level. She’d note when the number eighty-seven bus wasn’t on time and knew which paperboys were late because they’d spent the night necking cider on the street corner.
She held up her hand, translucent skin mapped with veins. ‘No need to explain. You and your young man have tread troubled waters for a while now.’
‘How…?’
She patted my hand. ‘Not as much laughter as there used to be. Just silence. My Bill and me used to argue a lot. Now that’s the sign of a healthy marriage. Better out than in, me dearie, that’s what I always say. But don’t you worry. Men often take a while to work out what’s best for them. He’s in for a shock as to how much he’ll miss you.’
‘Cupcake?’ I gave her a proper smile and took off the Tupperware lid.
Eyes shining behind pink-rimmed glasses, she lifted one out. ‘It’ll take a lot to improve on the walnut and fig ones you made last week. Those beauties have kept me as regular as a cuckoo clock.’
‘Thought they would.’ I winked and put back the lid. Jess would be outside any minute. I kissed the old lady goodbye and went down the stairs. When I got back to the bench, Adam was pacing up and down.
‘I’d better get going.’ He cleared his throat. ‘Where will you stay tonight?
‘Um… Jess’s.’ I sniffed and lifted my head into the air. ‘You needn’t worry about me. I can manage.’
He held out his hand.
I slipped my hand into his and squeezed it tight.
‘No,’ he said. ‘The key. I may as well have it back.’
‘But there’s no going back from that,’ I spluttered, the inside of my chest cold again. ‘Come on, Adam. This isn’t you. Work’s been demanding, lately. Perhaps you’re suffering from stress. It’s only a couple of weeks before Christmas, for heaven’s sake!’
‘Are you blind, babe?’ he said. ‘You haven’t seen this coming? Is this all really such a surprise?’
My throat hurt again, as if I’d eaten too much buttercream icing and had a bad case of acid reflux.
‘Just ring your mum, Kimmy. Ask if you can kip on the floor – she might surprise you and say yes. You can’t stay at Jess’s forever and we both know you’ll never get a flat without proof of a regular income.’
‘You’ve got to be joking. Her latest man’s got three Alsatians. They have the sofa now.’ Mum made it quite clear, as soon as I got a job at Best Buns, that I was to move out, permanently; find out for myself that life was hard. As if I didn’t know that already.
As Adam strode away, my stomach cramped but I held back more tears. Life had thrown crap at me before – I’d survived, and I’d survive now too. That was the best and worst thing about getting older – each tough experience taught you how to cope with the next. I mean, one minute I’d been shooting into Melissa Winsford’s ninth hole, the next I was well and truly lost in the rough…
I sat down and almost dropped the box of cupcakes. Outside the White Horse, over the road, a young couple walked along in scarves and hats, hugging each other tightly. Adam never held my hand anymore and would rather Chelsea football club be relegated than us snog in public. I used to slip soppy notes in his lunch box until he complained that they stuck to his sandwiches. Perhaps this break-up had been waiting in the shadows for a while.
It’s funny how the things that attract you to someone eventually lose their shine – like the way he threw an arm over me during his sleep; how he insisted on using teabags twice. And I knew my liking for bowls of potpourri drove him crazy. I’d become a fan of them since living above a chip shop. It was my first flat. Dirt cheap. It had to be, on my wages from Best Buns.
From the left, a flash of red caught my eye – Jess’s bobbed hair. Despite her small frame, she stood out in her tribal print duffle coat and maroon jeans. Jess didn’t use peroxide, hated fake tan and wore old women’s comfy shoes – in theory, we were a total mismatch. She didn’t watch my fave shows like The Apprentice and Keeping Up With The Kardashians, nor did she use whitening toothpaste. Yet at school we’d both bonded through a deep hatred of sport. Except I was the lucky one, with a mum always happy to write me a letter to get out of netball or swimming; anything for a bit of peace, so that she could get back to her fags and daytime telly. It was only when I met Adam that I got into fitness DVDs. Not that he minded my squishy bits – he liked my “soft curves”. It was my idea to battle my muffin top. You see, I often imagined what Adam and I would look like together, posing in one of my celebrity magazines. If I could just tone up we wouldn’t look half bad. We’d be the next Brangelina – the papers would call us Kimadam, perhaps. I shook myself and waved in Jess’s direction.
‘Kimmy?’ Jess hurried towards me, eyes goggling at the Christmas tree. She carried a massive rucksack. ‘Why are you sitting outside here with all this stuff?’
‘And what about you, with that rucksack? I said, brightly.
‘You first.’ She slipped the khaki bag to the ground and sat down.
‘No, you,’ I said, graciously delaying my dramatic announcement that Adam had brutally (okay, slight exaggeration) chucked me out. Plus I need a few more minutes to stem any tears that still threatened. I patted her arm. ‘Looks like you and Ryan have fallen out big time. Brothers… Who needs them, eh?’
She bit her thumbnail.
‘What’s happened?’ I said.
‘He called me a neat-freak; said it was worse than living with our mum.’ Her chin wobbled.
‘Ungrateful bastard!’ I said, for one nanosecond forgetting Adam. ‘You’ve transformed his house! Has he forgotten that his previous lodgers liked cheese and had tails?’
She offered me a stick of gum and I shook my head. Jess had taken up the habit about a month ago.
‘Guess I should have knocked, before going into his bedroom this morning,’ she said.
‘Huh?’
Her cheeks tinged pink and instantly clashed with her hair – and her red nose. Poor Jess always seemed to have a cold through the winter months, plus hayfever in the summer – not the best allergy for someone who worked with plants. ‘This morning, it being the weekend, I thought I’d do him a favour and tidy his room.’
‘That was a bit keen.’
‘I know, but I had this overpowering urge to clean.’
‘Was he still asleep?’
‘No. He, um, had company.’
‘Jess!’ My hand flew over my mouth. ‘Was she pretty?’
‘Boobs like grapefruits and a dead neat Brazilian.’
I caught her eye and we both giggled.
‘So, I was wondering…’ Jess glanced across at my case. ‘Any, erm, chance I can crash at yours? You should have heard Ryan. Apparently it’s been a nightmare for him, living with his kid sister, ever since Mum and Dad retired to Spain. He says he owes it to our parents to see that I’m all right, but that I cramp his style and he’s sick of not having a private life.’
‘What a cheek! I bet he’s already struggling to work out the washing machine.’
‘I shouted at him,’ muttered Jess. ‘Told him he was a joke and no other woman would ever move into his hovel.’
‘You never shout.’
‘I know.’ She sighed. ‘He even made some rude comment about my lentil cutlets. I mean, what decade is he in? No one makes vegetarian food like that anymore. I wouldn’t have minded if he’d criticised my bean burritos or tofu chow mein. He said at least now he could enjoy a guilt-free turkey dinner at Christmas.’ She nodded at my luggage. ‘Please tell me you’ve not moved out. Have you two had one of your disagreements?’
‘What do you mean?’ A lump returned to my throat.
‘Remember he gave you the silent treatment after your last trip to the salon?’
I’d forgotten that. He thought twenty pounds was a lot to pay for fifteen minutes eyebrow threading.
‘And he didn’t come out to the pub last weekend for that festive quiz.’
Nope. He was sulking because I’d turned down an interview for a permanent cleaning job.
‘Do you think my head’s stuck in the clouds?’ I asked, voice choked up. ‘Adam more or less said I’d treated his flat like a holiday camp.’ I could count on Jess to be straight with me. She’d always tell you if your bum did look big or your new haircut sucked. I pulled the lid off the Tupperware box. Sugar was great for low moods. A bloody good cake could sort out any problem.
‘You’re a… a….’ She sneezed and blew her nose – into a handkerchief, of course. Even tissues made from recycled paper, originally made from sustainable forests, were too environmentally unfriendly for her. ‘You’re a daydreamer, Kimmy; a romantic. No doubt about that. And who can blame you. Let’s face it, your mum hasn’t always–’
‘She’s done her best,’ I said and bit my lip.
‘I don’t know why you still defend her,’ Jess muttered and shook her head. She took a cake from the box. ‘Whereas Adam, I guess he just looks to his parents. Marriage, mortgage and kids; the daily grind paying off…’ She bit into the sponge and chewed for a moment – the only person I knew who could simultaneously munch on food and gum. ‘Face it, Kimmy: you two have less in common now – you’ve got different priorities and have grown apart.’
‘But you and me still get on, even though I hate gardening and you’d rather stare at a blank screen than follow BeyoncĂ© on Twitter.’ I took a large bite of cake too.
‘But I’m not planning my future around you.’ She smiled. ‘No offence.’
‘You’d be better suited for him,’ I mumbled. Jess even had a savings account.
She shook her head. ‘Have you forgotten the argument we had about recycling?’
Jess sorted through all her rubbish, composted her peelings and washed out her tins. Adam said multi-coloured wheelie bins cost the government too much money and that they’d be better off investing it in nuclear energy.
Jess popped the last mouthful of cupcake into her mouth. ‘Really yummy,’ she said. ‘I trust it was suitable for vegetarians?’
‘Of course.’
‘Love that orange buttercream icing.’
‘It’s made with actual orange zest, instead of essence, which means…’ I smiled. ‘Ingredient geek alert. Ignore me.’
‘Shame you used paper cases. They contribute towards the decimation of rainforests.’ She opened her rucksack and tugged out a copy of the Luton News. ‘Is there anyone else we can stay with?’ Her mouth drooped at the corners. ‘It doesn’t get much worse than being homeless for Christmas. Plus I’ve got to get myself sorted for work tomorrow. The last thing I need, on top of this, is to lose my job. Maybe we can find a flat?’
‘This late in the day?’ I said. ‘Have we even got enough for a deposit?’
‘It won’t do any harm to look through the paper. In these arctic temperatures, I for one don’t want to spend tonight on the street.’ She pointed to a splat of congealed sick on the pavement. ‘That mess reminds me, I threw up just before I left Ryan’s. Last night I had a take-away veggie burger – it must have been contaminated with meat. So, I’m a bit peckish now.’
I jerked my head towards the White Horse. ‘What we need is a shot of caffeine. I might even splash out on a packet of crisps, seeing as I no longer have to justify my every financial transaction to Mr Stingy Purse Strings.’ 
Jess gazed at me. ‘Chin up, Kimmy,’ she said, softly. ‘Come on. I’ll treat you to a cheese toastie and chips.’
I gave a wry smile and nodded. We stood up, ready to haul our luggage to the pedestrian crossing. But then I stopped dead. What was that, stuck to the glass front of the estate agent’s? Leaving Jess to drag over my case, I carried the tree and cake box over to the window. I cocked my head. The house in that photo… Wow. It was everything I’d ever dreamed of: roman pillars either side of the red front door, massive gardens, a well cute pond… I leant forward to read the labels. Five bedrooms, a hot tub and (posh or what) croquet lawn. It even had its own games room and bar. And that kitchen! There was a big American fridge and an island to breakfast off.
‘Ready?’ said Jess. ‘The traffic lights are about to change.’ Puffing under the weight of her rucksack, she gazed at the picture. ‘Bet that place costs a lot to heat.’
Why wasn’t I that sensible? Instead, in my head, I was already clicking my fingers at servants whilst eating a delicious afternoon tea on the front lawn. As for that staircase! And those four-poster beds! And talk about privacy, there was room for a mid-terrace  house before you came across the neighbours. I was about to step away, when underneath the For Sale caption I noticed some bold writing.
“Live-in housesitter urgently required, to maintain gardens and house until property sold. Enquire within.”
‘What’s the matter?’ said Jess. ‘You look like you’ve just been given limitless texts.’
‘Do you believe in fate?’ I said.
She read the advert and stopped chewing her gum for a moment. ‘Are you completely bonkers? Us? Living in a place like that?’
‘Why not? Come on, you and I aren’t going to be beaten by our current situation. This is the answer. Think about it – your job at the garden centre is bound to impress. And I’m well nifty with a duster and vacuum cleaner. This could be my one chance to prove to Adam that I do have a practical streak.’ There’s no need for him to know how wicked the setting is – just that I’m prepared to scrub and clean and work hard to put a roof over my head; that I can do anything I put my mind to, including making a success of my cake company. If I slogged my guts out to do well at this job, he’d be impressed. Then I’d wow him with my “concrete business plans” (um, leaflets, cooking classes, entering cake contests). My mind raced.
‘You and me, together, we’ll have that place sold before you can say “Mulled Wine Muffin”.’ I beamed, a chink of hope breaking through the storm clouds of my lovelife.
‘But we haven’t any experience.’
I snorted. ‘You’re joking? The way we’ve kept house for Adam and Ryan? You don’t need a CV a mile long to know how to bleach a loo or polish a mirror.’ I pointed to the window. ‘Urgently required’, I quoted. ‘Sounds desperate.’ I scooped my hair back into a scrunchie, unzipped my gold parka jacket and smoothed down my sequinned jumper. ‘After a few days away, the two men in our lives will be pleading with us to move back.’
‘I don’t know, Kimmy…’ Jess wiped her nose. ‘What about references? How do we explain suddenly turning up like two lost tourists?’ She stared hard at the photo and pointed to the right hand back corner of the lawn. ‘Who do you think that is?’
I screwed up my eyes and examined the topless young man with floppy chestnut hair, leaning on a spade. He certainly had his work cut out – that garden was huge.

I fixed a smile on my face and held out my hand, flat, in front of Jess’s mouth, glad she got the message but didn’t actually spit her gum into my palm. Then she smeared on her favourite lipgloss – homemade of course, using Vaseline and food essence. I took a deep breath and pushed open the glass door. Jess caught my eye and I winked. A tiny bubble of hope tickled the inside of my chest. This dream house was going to help me win back Adam

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Room In Your Heart - interview with Wendy Clarke

Today I'm delighted to welcome Wendy Clarke to the blog. Her first collection of short stories has just been released as both an ebook and in print. I've read some of the stories and they are amazing -I can see why in just a couple of years she's gone from being a wannabe writer to being a People's Friend favourite.



Hi Wendy and welcome back to the womagwriter blog! I remember seeing your name start appearing in comments, and checking out your blog a few years ago, when you were just starting out. What made you take up writing? And why did you decide to write women’s mag fiction?

I'd like to say that I've always known I would be a writer, but it didn't happen that way. I started writing by chance three years ago when the primary school I was working in closed down. My brother had just completed an on-line writing course and thought it might give me something to do while I was deciding where to go with my life. Of course, I wasn't to know how much I was going  to enjoy my weekly writing tasks and how much I'd miss them when the course ended. My lovely tutor thought my writing suitable for submitting to magazines and I was lucky to gain my first sale quite quickly. The rest, as they say, is history.

You’ve been amazingly successful in a relatively short time. What’s your secret, and what tips can you share with other womag writers?

I'd love to be able to share my secret... if only I knew what that was! There's a lot of different advice out there as to how to break into the womag market but I think it boils down to a few simple things: By all means study the market but if you don't write from the heart, the editor will see it; keep on writing and subbing (I write a minimum of one story a week) and finally, don't be put off by rejections - we all get them.

You’re an active blogger, and I know you use Facebook and Twitter a lot as well. How important do you think it is for writers to have a presence on social media, or do you just do it for fun?

I think that depends on the type of writing you do. I started my blog, Wendy's Writing Now, in August 2012. I started it just after my first story sale, as I wanted to chart my writing progress from that day. I would have been shocked if I'd known that just over two years later I'd have sold nearly a hundred stories. The other reason for starting my blog was for social interaction - having come from a busy school environment, being at home all day writing was quite isolating. I found the blogging community friendly and welcoming - I still love it!
As for Facebook and Twitter - I was a bit of a late starter, having shied away from both for many years, but I've just started my first novel and know how important it is to have a good social networking platform. Now I embrace both - after all, if you can't beat them join them!

Your book, Room in Your Heart, was published on 27 October. How did you find the whole self-publishing process? I know some people love doing it and some are daunted by the very idea. What advice would you give to someone considering publishing their own anthology?

My best advice is - if you aren't technically minded, find someone who is! I could not have published the collection without the help of my clever husband. I would also suggest having a copy of Sally Jenkins' Kindle Direct Publishing for Absolute Beginners by your side - it's a life saver. If anyone is interested in finding out how I got on with the self-publishing process, I tell all in an article in Writing Magazine which comes out in November.

There are a lot of short story anthologies available now – what makes yours stand out? Give us a teaser, something to make us want to read it immediately!

'Rachel is sitting in the corner of the restaurant by the window, staring at something I can't see. Although only dusk outside, the waiter has lit the candle and I look to see if its light catches the diamond in her engagement ring before remembering she won't be wearing one - or her wedding band...'
This is from the first story in my collection called, Read These When I've Gone, and is a particular favourite of mine. My short stories have been described by Shirley Blair, the fiction editor of The People's Friend, as having as having emotional depth - I hope that readers of the collection will agree.

I met you for the first time in person a couple of months ago at one of Della Galton’s weekend classes – the one on how to publicise your book (funny, that!) What piece of advice from that class did you find the most useful?

It was a great course wasn't it. The best piece of advice was how to work the coffee machine! Seriously though, it was probably the importance of connecting with people and making friends on social media, rather than using it as a tool for shoving your book down people's throats.

What’s next on your writing to-do list? Any plans for another book, or for some longer fiction perhaps?

I plan to publish another collection of my magazine stories next year, so look out for that. As to other writing plans, apart from continuing to write short stories for the magazines, I hope to find some time to complete the novel - although I seem to remember having said that last year!

And finally, what’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever heard?

A quote from Ray Bradbury... 
'First, find out what your hero wants, then just follow him!'

Thanks Wendy! I'll look forward to your next collection.

Room In Your Heart is available from all Amazons at just £1.53 for the ebook or £4.99 for the print version. It'd make a lovely Christmas present for your female relatives! 

About Wendy

Wendy Clarke is a full time writer of women's fiction. She started writing when the primary school she taught in closed down and after completing two creative writing courses, began writing short fiction for magazines. Since then, she has sold nearly a hundred short stories and her work regularly appears in national women's magazines such as The People's Friend, Take a Break Fiction Feast and Woman's Weekly. She has also written serials and a number of non-fiction magazine articles.

Wendy lives with her husband, cat and step-dog in Sussex and when not writing is usually dancing, singing or watching any programme that involves food!

Room in Your Heart is Wendy's first collection of short stories.


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Wendy's Blog

The Blurb
 She kept a special room in her heart. For a while, the door was locked and then, one day, she felt able to visit the room and realised that, instead of being a place to fear, it was full of happiness...

Room in Your Heart, is a collection of twelve romantic short stories of love and loss, previously published in The People's Friend Magazine. If you like stories with emotional depth and a satisfying ending then these stories will not fail to leave you unmoved.

A holiday in Porlock helps Julia make an important decision but brings back painful memories.

The beauty of the Lake District opens Cassie's eyes to where her real love lies.

Max wonders whether it's a good idea to meet up with his ex-wife, until she hands him a bundle of letters.

The stories in this collection allow a peak into the hearts of twelve ordinary people who share one belief... in the power of love.