Today is that most uncomfortable of days, Friday 13th. When every kind of calamity is supposed to happen, and after dark… we just won’t talk about what happens after dark on Friday 13th…
But I’d like to take a different view. Welcome to this Friday 13th! I hope you have a great day! Because Friday 13th is my lucky day.
It hasn’t always been. I adopted this rather unlikely tradition after a discussion with a friend at work – we saw eye to eye on most things but Friday 13th was the exception to the rule. My friend was convinced that Friday 13th would bring her every bad thing that she could think of, along with a few that she couldn’t. To me, it was just another day.
So one Friday 13th, we decided on a little experiment. We’d start at 8.30 in the morning, when we arrived at work, and write lists. My list would contain all the good things that had happened that day, and my friend’s would contain all the bad things. We were each quietly confident that our own list would prove the longest and settle the question for good.
We stayed late after work, and compared notes (we couldn’t go to the pub or a coffee bar and do it in comfort, because my friend was sure that unnecessary travel would prompt all kinds of catastrophe). The lists were both long and detailed, and while I don’t remember exactly who had the most entries, it was more or less a tie. My friend continued in her dread of the date, and it became my lucky day.
So, it’s without any trepidation at all, that I bring you the cover of my latest book, which is released this month. Cal and Andrea are hoping to make their friends’ wedding day perfect, but they meet with their share of bad luck, including a particularly distressing accident with the cake! Somehow they manage to get through it all – and maybe that’s the whole point of my Friday the 13th story. That having our friends and loved ones stand by us, through both good luck and bad, makes everything better.
Do you have a particular charm, or routine, to bring you luck? I’d like to think that I’m not very superstitious, but then I do always cross my fingers when a new book makes its way out into the world…
EDIT – And I’ve just seen that Harlequin have a Friday 13th offer, to bring us some good fortune today! If you buy 4 books or more then you save 40% on your order – the offer runs from 12.00am to 11.59pm ET on Friday 13th November. Here’s the link!
There are many different quotes that have shaped my life and my writing. ‘Girls can’t do Physics’ is one of them.
Mr M. was the Head of the Physics department at my school. At the end of the 1970’s it was considered quite all right to express such an opinion, and he used to say it so often that it became a wry joke amongst the girls he taught.
In truth, this worked to my advantage. At age sixteen our sixth form syllabus offered a choice of either English Literature or Physics and although Physics was the obvious option in terms of the other subjects I was studying, I wanted very badly to study English Literature. So ‘Girls can’t do Physics’ played straight into my hands 🙂 (I’ll add that my mother, who was fiercely determined that her girls would have the opportunity to do whatever we set our hearts on, was well aware that I was doing exactly as I wanted, so held her tongue.)
I did, however, study Chemistry. The Head of the Chemistry Department was less vociferous on the subject of what girls could and couldn’t do but when we arrived in the Chemistry Lab on the first day of term, we found him no less opinionated. He re-arranged us, putting all of the girls in the back row and the boys in the two front rows. When someone put their hand up and asked why he told us that in these ‘modern times’ he was sadly unable to bar girls from his senior classes, but since he believed us unlikely to succeed, he intended to concentrate on educating the boys.
So we protested – with all the fervour of teenagers who can taste the sweet nectar of change. The Headmaster made sympathetic noises, claiming to understand exactly how we felt. But we had to understand that some of the older teachers needed time to catch up with the idea that girls could excel in the sciences. We were sent back to the Chemistry Lab to resume our places in the back row.
Some of the girls in my class overcame the obstacles by working twice as hard, and when national exam time came around they smashed their way through the first of a succession of glass ceilings. For my own part I had a very serious crush to contend with, and that didn’t leave me a great deal of spare time for extra Chemistry. Will Shakespeare might have been more than 400 years my senior, but since when did the sixteen year old heart bother about little things like that? I wondered whether true love had turned me into a traitor to my cause, but I couldn’t help the way I felt. If the sciences didn’t want me, that was actually fine, because I didn’t want them.
Did I cave in under pressure and miss out on a glittering career in science? I think not – Will still leaves me slightly weak at the knees, and I don’t regret the choices I made back then. But it wasn’t until I was in my thirties and decided to do some Open University science courses in my spare time, that I realised what I’d missed out on at school. The elegant synergy in great books, plays and poetry, didn’t seem to be so far removed from the cause and effect of Science and Mathematics. We were shown how weirdly beguiling fractal patterns worked, taught the mathematics of a rainbow, and for the first time I realised that Science can also be incalculably beautiful.
Things are better now, of course, but many girls are still less encouraged to study Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths, and women are still under-represented in STEM professions worldwide, particularly at high levels. In 2015, the General Assembly of the United Nations established The International Day of Women and Girls in Science, to be celebrated on 11th February. If you’d like to see more facts and figures, and how UNESCO and UN-Women are working to encourage girls and women in science, here’s the link.
I’ll finish with another quote, which is much closer to my heart. My great-aunt was born in Queen Victoria’s reign, one of eight sisters, and was considered the beauty of the family. By all accounts she’d been a little wayward in her youth, and in her old age she’d become a kindly and fragile lady, whose most fervent wish was to get through the day without the slightest hint of discord. Even as a child I knew that she was both clever and perceptive.
When I got a place to study English Literature at University, I was despatched off to visit various elderly relatives, to impart the news in person. I dutifully ignored those who appeared to believe that I’d be spending the next three years reproducing the complete works of Jane Austen in cross-stitch, or who told me that this would be a pleasant, if slightly unnecessary, interlude before finding a husband made my own career irrelevant. I’d heard it all before and learned that loving my great aunts and uncles didn’t mean I had to accept their outlook on life. But it was something of a relief when my great-aunt propelled me into the kitchen for tea-making and biscuit-choosing duties.
As soon as we were alone, she sat me down, and grabbed both of my hands, holding on so tight that I was concerned she might be unwell. She told me that I wasn’t to listen to anyone who said my degree would be of less value because I was a girl. And then the words that I’ll always remember, because they were spoken with a passion I’d never seen in her before. ‘I would have loved to have had the chance to go to University. You go. Do it for me.’
In the face of those words, ‘Girls can’t…’ dissolves in a puff of ineffectual smoke.
And that’s shaped my writing. My heroines can do Physics, Chemistry, or whatever else they choose, and my heroes are man enough to accept that without even having to think about it. If that’s the way the world works today, it does so because of the determination of my fellow occupants of the back row, and the women who came before us and encouraged us to take up the opportunities they never had.
Of course, once you’ve learned to question bias, it’s a difficult habit to break. So before I allow them to slip from my thoughts for good, I’d like to thank my old headmaster and my physics and chemistry teachers. Somehow, despite all of your efforts, you did manage to teach me one thing of great value.
I guess we’re all getting used to video conferencing these days. How not enough light can make you look as if you’re speaking from a dungeon, and too much light can turn you into a shadow puppet. The very lovely Annie O’Neil and I put all of our skills to good use the other day when we were asked to do a Facebook Live chat with Vic Britton, the Commissioning Editor for Mills and Boon. Did we have an amazing time? Yes, we did!
We had a few hiccups, of course, because that’s what live chats are for 🙂 Those of you who wear varifocal glasses will recognise my rather faraway look in the first few frames, which comes from trying to find the right part of the lens to read something on my screen. Annie had a special guest with her – Skye the border collie – who almost caused a disaster by sitting on her computer cable. When my connection dropped suddenly, Vic and Annie valiantly kept going until the internet fairies flew to my rescue. Oh, and if you want to know about the tennis ball, you’ll have to watch the video…
A huge thank you to the ladies at Mills and Boon, who invited us and made this possible, and to Vic who was our wonderful host. And, of course, wild appreciation for Annie O’Neil who is always a star in any given situation.
To round off Annie’s and my trip to Dolphin Cove, I’ll end with a short excerpt. Drew has been recovering from injuries sustained in a car accident, but is keen to get back to work. He’s taken his new puppy Phoenix to scout out the Veterinary Centre, early one morning, before anyone’s due to arrive for work…
The deserted reception area smelled of wax polish and hope. The consulting rooms were still the same, one of them filled with a mass of photographs of Ellie’s canine patients, and another with a more restrained set of framed photographs that belonged to Lucas. Drew’s was…empty. Neat and tidy, without a speck of dust. Drew smiled. It was ready and waiting for him.
‘Drew! What the blazes are you doing here?’
Ellie’s tone generally became firmer, in proportion to the size and momentum of the animal she was dealing with. This must be the one she reserved for charging rhinos.
Drew did the only thing possible and let go of Phoenix’s lead. When he turned, he saw the puppy barrelling along the corridor, the lead trailing behind her, and Ellie fell to her knees, scooping Phoenix up into her arms. Worked every time.
Or… Every time apart from this one.
‘Come on. What are you doing here?’ Ellie stood to face him, trying not to smile as the puppy licked her neck.
‘I could ask you the same question. Shouldn’t you and Lucas be staring into each other’s eyes over your cornflakes? You are technically still on your honeymoon, even if you are at work.
Ellie flushed slightly, presumably at the mention of Lucas’s eyes. ‘You do know what you’re doing, don’t you? Deflecting one question with another. It so happens that I didn’t have cornflakes for breakfast, and Lucas isn’t here. He’s doing the school run this morning.’
‘So you’re letting him in gently to the joys of parenthood.’ Drew grinned. He imagined that the other parents at the school gate were more of a challenge to Lucas than the whole six years he’d spent as TV’s favourite vet.
‘He said that yesterday was a bit like running a gauntlet of meerkats.’ Ellie shrugged. ‘He doesn’t mind, really.’
‘He loves it. You know that.’
Ellie nodded, smiling. She’d been in love with Lucas ever since the three of them had studied together at veterinary school. Lucas had left to become a celebrity vet, and Ellie had returned to Cornwall, where she and Drew had set up in practice together in Dolphin Cove. When Ellie and Lucas’s son, Mav, had been born, he had been so like his father, and a constant reminder that something was missing in all their lives.
But now Lucas was back. Ellie had never loved anyone else, and Drew was happy for them both.
‘You still haven’t answered my question.’
He hadn’t counted on springing this on Ellie today, but since she’d asked, he may as well grasp the nettle. ‘Why don’t we go and sit down in my office.’
‘I’m really getting worried now. You’re trying to butter me up by sitting down, aren’t you?’
Drew chuckled. ‘Yep. And I don’t want Phoenix running around here until she’s had her second set of vaccinations.’
He let Ellie tuck his hand into the crook of her elbow, but Drew was careful not to lean on her as they walked. He’d leaned on Ellie far too much already and he appreciated her support, but it had to stop. Leaning on the people around him was beginning to weaken him.
Ellie plumped herself down into a chair, keeping Phoenix on her lap for more cuddles, and Lucas lowered himself into the seat behind his desk. The surface looked as if it had been polished every day while he’d been away.
‘I’m coming back to work, Ellie.’
Ellie’s eyebrows shot up, but she took a moment to moderate her reaction. ‘We weren’t expecting you till the end of the month. Are you sure you’re well enough? What does your physiotherapist say?’
‘She says that if I think I can manage it I should give it a try, just for a couple of days a week for starters. She told me to take things slowly and stop if anything gets too much.’
Relief showed in Ellie’s eyes. ‘That…doesn’t sound so bad.’
‘You know I’ve been going crazy at home, Ells. I really need this and I’m going to need your support. I know you and Lucas can do with a helping hand here.’
‘Yes, we could.’ Ellie’s gaze softened suddenly. ‘Lucas isn’t replacing you, Drew. You know that’s never going to happen.’
It might. The complex animal surgery Drew excelled at took stamina and strength, and no amount of concentrating on the positive could tell him for sure that he’d ever be able to do that again. But he still had a lot to give, and if anyone was going to replace him, he wanted it to be Lucas. And if anyone was going to replace cool Uncle Drew in Mav’s affections, he wanted that to be Lucas too.
But the late-night fears about being of no more use to anyone were just paranoia. They weren’t what Ellie needed to hear from him at the moment.
‘You’re not the only one who’s pleased to see Lucas back, you know. We were all friends, and I’ve missed him too.’
‘You never said…’
Drew rolled his eyes. ‘Of course I didn’t, not while you were missing him on a completely different level. And being remarkably tight-lipped about it.’
Ellie heaved a sigh. ‘Okay. You have my support, just as long as you don’t overdo things. If you do, I won’t hesitate to escort you off the premises.’
‘It’s a deal.’
‘I suppose…the accounts need signing off.’ Ellie shot him a mischievous look. No doubt it had crossed her mind that checking them through involved sitting down.
‘I can do that.’ Drew called her bluff. ‘Although I haven’t forgotten that it’s your turn this year. Or maybe we should give them to Lucas, since he’s our newest partner in the practice.’
Ellie didn’t take the bait. ‘We’ll both owe you one, then. Mrs Cartwright’s coming in this morning, with Tabatha…’
‘Okay. You take Tabatha, and I’ll take Mrs Cartwright.’ It was well known that whenever Mrs Cartwright made an appointment for someone to look at her cat, she really wanted to sit in the waiting room and chat for an hour. The vets at the Dolphin Cove Clinic always made sure that she got a cup of tea and that someone was available to listen to her.
‘You’re a darling.’ Ellie frowned. ‘I suppose you’re not allowed to drink welcome-back champagne…?’
‘At eight in the morning, and with painkillers, probably not. We’ll do that another time.’
‘Welcome-back coffee, then? Your mug’s in your top drawer….’ Ellie gave Phoenix one last hug and got to her feet.
‘You go and get on. I’ll make the coffee.’ Drew opened the drawer of his desk, finding pens and his coffee mug stacked neatly inside. He was going to have to do something about all this tidiness.
‘All right.’ Ellie planted her hands on his desk, leaning over to kiss his cheek. ‘I’m so glad you’re back, Drew.’
‘Don’t get sloppy on me Ells…’ Drew could feel a lump forming in his throat.
‘Tough guy, eh?’ Ellie shot him a speculative look.
‘Not really. I just don’t want you to get me started.’
‘That might not be such a bad idea, Drew. You’ve always been there for me, and now Lucas and I both want to be there for you.’
‘You are. And I appreciate it.’ He just didn’t want to talk about it. ‘White no sugar?’
Ellie rolled her eyes. ‘That’s right. Glad to see you haven’t forgotten.’
When Ellie left, he took a moment to soak in the feeling. He was here, sitting behind his desk, and already had a few things to do with his day. Looking at the accounts, making the coffee and chatting to Mrs Cartwright might not be quite at the cutting edge of veterinary practice, but it was a start.
Humans are a lot like magpies sometimes. We collect shiny little pieces of information and store them away carefully, our instincts telling us that at some point we’ll be glad we knew that there are 270 stations on the London Underground, or that peanut butter can be made into diamonds. (There! That’s two off my list already.)
The sad fact is though, that a lot of this interesting information resembles an iceberg. One tenth of it may be majestic and shiny in the sun, but nine tenths remain submerged, stored up for a future that isn’t going to happen. Our brains are wonderful and sometimes mysterious things, and our innate curiosity about the world is one of the things that fuels science and innovation, but there’s also a degree of frustration. When am I ever going to be able to slip the fact that opposing faces of a dice will always add up to seven into everyday conversation? (Did you see that? Three off my list! Squeee!)
But sometimes, just sometimes, a writer gets the pleasure of being able to dredge beneath the surface, and haul something up that they never thought they’d need. Take Latin, for instance…
There’s a story attached to this. For some reason, my parents thought that learning Latin was going to add to my life skills. I have no idea what that reason was, I was too busy trying to avoid the subject, which in retrospect was probably a mistake because at fourteen I found myself sitting in class at school, struggling with a language that seemed to me to be totally irrelevant to modern life.
I tried – I really did. Two of the more unlikely things that stick in my mind from my teens are being able to decline a Latin verb, and knowing all the words to ‘American Pie’ (in order, no less!). But after a year, the indignity of being thrown out of the Latin class when I’d worked so hard to get to grips with it, was far outweighed by relief that I was never again going to have to know how to stab someone with a sword in many different tenses.
(Just a moment ago, I went to look for my old Latin primer, so I could take a picture of it. It seems that at some point I had the good sense to throw it away, which is more than can be said for some of the books on my shelves, which are a pretty random collection as well. But that’s another blog.)
And – yet again, writing has proved me wrong. Because when I wrote about a doctor hero and an archaeologist heroine, who solve an ages old medical mystery together, a Latin inscription became an integral part of the puzzle. (I’ll add a picture of that book, instead.) I dedicated the book to teachers everywhere, and particularly my Latin teacher, who after all these years had been proved right. Finally, finally my impoverished understanding of the language had come in handy.
Writing’s a bit like that. Putting our characters into situations that we don’t generally find ourselves in. Needing to know things that aren’t generally necessary. Have you ever found yourself in a situation where that ‘never need to know’ information has come in handy? Does anyone have any of those sparkly, useless facts for me to add to my ever-growing collection? Or have you acquired the knack of concentrating only on what is useful or beautiful, without that clutter of random things? (If so, any advice on how to do that would be much appreciated!)
I’m thrilled to be welcoming our newest Medical Romance author today – welcome Julie Danvers! Julie’s debut Medical Romance ‘From Hawaii to Forever’ is available from the 1st June (not long to wait!) and it’s the perfect read for a sun-soaked holiday in the comfort of your own home. I’ve asked Julie the need-to-know questions, so I’ll leave you to get acquainted…
I discovered Medical Romance when:
I’ve always been interested in medical dramas, whether they were fast-paced emergency room stories or cozy family practice dramas. In college, I was obsessed with shows like ER and Everwood, two very different medical dramas that demonstrate just how versatile the genre is. Discovering Harlequin’s Medical Romance line was a happy accident for me. About a year ago, I decided to get serious about my writing, and I thought that I wanted to write a thriller. As I was researching how to write suspense stories, I came across the So You Think You Can Write website, and learned that Harlequin had put out a call for new Medical Romance authors. I decided to give it a shot, and I’m so glad I did, because it’s opened up a whole new world of storytelling possibilities. I might still write that thriller someday, but Medical Romance offers plenty of opportunities for excitement and suspense.
I wrote my first story when:
When I was eight years old, I wrote a short story called The Christmas Cat. I remember that I had a green gel pen that I really enjoyed writing with, so much so that I wrote an entire six-page story with it. Sometimes all it takes to find the motivation to sit down and write is a great pen.
Where do you live:
I’ve lived in Chicago for almost ten years. I love it. It’s a great city, and all my stuff is here, so I don’t think I’ll ever leave.
My best trait is:
I don’t give up easily, which is probably a very useful trait for a writer. I think writing is a lot like yoga. If there’s something you can’t do yet, you get further if you think, “how can I learn to do that,” rather than, “I can’t do that.”
My worst trait is:
I am not a very tidy person. I’ve heard a number of writers say that if you want to make time for your writing, you have to put housework on the back burner, and unfortunately I think that advice is all too easy for me to follow.
Five things on your bucket list:
Visit Ireland, New Zealand, Banff, and Yellowstone National Park.
Write a gripping psychological thriller-romance that tops the bestseller lists.
Eat a bagel from the Beigel Bake in Brick Lane in London. I have been to London three times, and each time, some obstacle has prevented me from getting to the Beigel Bake. Someday it will happen.
Attend a Broadway production of Bring it On: The Musical (you never know, it could come out again).
When her perfect life implodes, high-flying city doctor Kat Murphy plans the ultimate escape. In Hawaii, she finds sun, sea and sand on her doorstep—and delicious paramedic Jack Harper to rescue her from drowning! Her fascinatingly carefree new colleague is temptation personified… And when Kat can no longer resist, she has an enticing offer for the island’s most eligible bachelor: a fling without forever…
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They’ve always fascinated me, not least because when I first heard about them, I thought that they actually did contain peanut butter and jelly. (Note for our American readers – we refer to the preserves that we spread on our toast as jam. In the UK, jelly is the wobbly gelatine dessert that goes with ice cream.)
Anyway. PB&J always sounded a little odd to me, but it came up in the course of an email conversation with the lovely Susan Carlisle, which started with my enquiry about a typical American breakfast, took an unexpected right turn via marmalade and then got lost in a discussion of the various different names for things you can spread on bread or toast. Somewhere along the line I admitted to my jam/jelly confusion, and Susan recommended peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to me, although not necessarily for breakfast.
It’s taken me a while to indulge my curiosity, but staying at home has given me a new respect for the untravelled path. So I decided to make a totally British PB&J. That’s peanut butter and jam, in case you were wondering 🙂
And my results? Well, I think that ‘getting there’ might be the right term to use, and if anyone out there can see a flaw in my method and help steer me in the right direction, I’d be grateful. I used buttered wholemeal toast, along with equal amounts of crunchy peanut butter and strawberry jam. (I spent some time extracting the pieces of strawberry from the jam. I’m not entirely sure why I did that, but it seemed a good idea at the time.)
I’m not sure that I qualify as a PB&J lover yet – I may need to work on my recipe a bit, or it may be an acquired taste. But it has a lot of potential. And it’s reminded me of what book-lovers already know. Not being able to go out into the world, doesn’t stop the world from coming to you.
And, in other news, I have a book out next month. It makes absolutely no mention of PB&J’s but it does have a hero, a heroine and home made apple pie 🙂
Is love the one challenge…
…they’ll face together?
Her rivalry with doctor Jamie Campbell-Clarke is fun and, most importantly, strictly professional! After the devastating demise of her brief marriage that’s all plastic surgeon Anna Caulder can handle. But when Jamie’s own painful past arrives at her London clinic, Anna’s compelled to seek a deeper connection… Once in his arms, Anna knows that’s where she wants to stay – if only she can find the courage to share her heart-breaking secret.
I love a good list. (I know that’s something I share with a lot of the regulars here at Love is the Best Medicine 🙂 ) For me, there’s something about writing everything down in a list, that gets it all under control and makes it easier to tackle. Categorising is always good, and if there’s an opportunity for colour-coding, I’ll take it.
And ticking everything off. That’s the reward, isn’t it? Sometimes accompanied by chocolate.
So of course, when the New Year (a new decade, even!) rolled around, I had my pen at the ready. I’m one of those people who still has a physical diary, an A4 day to the page one, which is great for jotting everything down in one place, and making lists.
But this year, my enthusiasm for the New Year’s list had palled. Maybe it’s because this time last year I had a back injury, which meant that about the only thing on my list was to get back on my feet. Anything that involved more than the minimum of physical activity stayed on the list, transferred from one to the next for months. For a while, it seemed that my lists only reminded me that I had a mountain in front of me, and I was climbing it frustratingly slowly.
Finally, I took a different approach and decided to be a little kinder to myself. Inspired by Facebook pictures from friends and fellow writers, showing some very impressive looking stacks of books written in the last ten years, I made a list of all the things I had done in the last year. And I’ll admit that it surprised me. I wrote the better part of five books. I rested up and then exercised my way back to full health. Somehow, in the face of those two big things, the little things didn’t rankle quite so much. And I when I thought about it, there were quite a few smaller things to add to the list as well. However did I get this far in life without knowing how to knit socks?
So, this year the list-making has taken a new, and different turn. Yes, I still have the To-Do list, because otherwise I’d forget things. But the list in my diary, the most important list because it’s not jotted down on a spare piece of paper and thrown away when it’s served its purpose, has a slightly different function. It’s a list of all the things I HAVE done that day.
So far it’s working rather nicely. I jot everything down and go to bed satisfied, rather than wondering what I did today other than stare at my computer screen and mosey around in the kitchen (Ah yes! That’s right, I wrote a couple of chapters… Then I de-scaled the coffee machine, went for a walk, and… So it goes. I write down all the little, everyday things because those are the things I’d be putting on my To-Do list for the day.)
Maybe this is the start of something new. Maybe by the end of the year, my lists will have become more elaborate, and I’ll find that I’m an inveterate diarist. Or maybe I’ll abandon my Have-Already-Done lists, in favour of the To-Do lists again. But so far, this year is the year of the list, but not quite in the way I’d expected.
I’ve heard people say that when they write a list they include a few things that they’ve already done, so that they have the satisfaction of ticking them off straight away. I’ve long been guilty of that 🙂 So here’s the question. What’s the very best part of a list? The list itself, or the ticks?
It’s my turn today, to introduce you to the second book in the Pups that make Miraclesquartet. I’m thrilled to be book-buddies with Susan Carlisle this month (our books are both out today!), and next month we’ll be having excerpts from Annie O’Neil and Karin Baine’s books.
This excerpt from Festive Fling with the Single Dad introduces Flora and Aksel, along with another very important character. Dougal is a puppy, rescued by Susan’s heroine and his story runs through all four of the books. I don’t think I’m giving away too much to mention that Dougal will be finding his forever home in the final book of the series!
Up close, he looked even more…
More outdoorsy. Taller and blonder and… Just more. A two-day beard covered a square jaw, and his mane of shoulder-length hair was tied at the nape of his neck. His casual shirt and worn jeans gave the impression of an off-duty Norse god, and Flora McNeith resisted the temptation to curtsey. It was slightly over the top as a greeting for a new neighbour.
‘Hi. I’m Flora. From next door.’ She gestured towards her own cottage, tugging at Dougal’s lead in a fruitless attempt to get him to sit down for just one moment. ‘Welcome to the village.’
He looked a little taken aback when she thrust the food box, containing half a dozen home-made mince pies into his hands. It might be more than three weeks until Christmas, but the lights of the Christmas tree in the village had already been turned on, and in Flora’s book any time after September was a good time for mince pies.
‘That’s very kind.’ His voice was very deep, the kind of tone that befitted the very impressive chest that it came from. And it appeared that whatever kind of deity Aksel Olson was, language and communication weren’t part of his remit. He was regarding her silently.
‘I work at the Heatherglen Castle Clinic. I hear that your daughter, Mette, is a patient there.’ Maybe if she explained herself a little more, she might get a reaction.
Something flickered in his eyes at the mention of his daughter. Reflective and sparkling, like sunshine over a sheet of ice.
‘Are you going to be part of Mette’s therapy team?’
Right. That put Flora in her place. Apparently that was the only thing that interested Aksel about her.
‘No, I’m a physiotherapist. I gather that your daughter is partially sighted…’ Flora bit her tongue. That sounded as if everyone was gossiping about him, which was half-true. The whisper that Mette’s father was single had gone around like wildfire amongst the female staff at the clinic. Now that Flora had met Aksel, she understood what the excitement was all about.
‘You read the memo, then?’ Something like humour flashed in his eyes, and Flora breathed a small sigh of relief. Lyle Sinclair must have told him about the memo.
‘Yes. I did.’ Every time a new patient was admitted a memo went round, introducing the newest member of the clinic’s community and asking every member of staff to welcome them. It was just one of the little things that made the clinic very special.
‘Would you like to come in for coffee?’ Suddenly he stood back from the door.
‘Oh!’ Aksel’s taciturn manner somehow made the words he did say seem more sincere. ‘I shouldn’t… Dougal and I are just getting used to each other and I haven’t dared take him anywhere for coffee yet. I’m afraid he’ll get over-excited and do some damage.’
Aksel squatted down on his heels, in front of the ten-week-old brindle puppy, his face impassive.
‘Hi, there, Dougal.’
Dougal was nosing around the porch, his tail wagging ferociously. At the sound of his name he looked up at Aksel, his odd ears twitching to attention. He circled the porch, to show off his new red fleece dog coat, and Flora stepped over the trailing lead, trying not to get snagged in it. Then Dougal trotted up to Aksel, nosing at his outstretched hand, and decided almost immediately he’d found a new best buddy. Finally, Aksel smiled, stroking the puppy’s head.
‘I’m sure we’ll manage. Why don’t you come in?’
Two whole sentences. And the sudden warmth in his eyes was very hard to resist.
‘In that case… Thank you.’ Flora stepped into the hallway and Dougal tugged on his lead in delight.
I love the cinema. And one of my favourite films from this year so far, has been the documentary film ‘Apollo 11’. Comprised entirely of footage shot 50 years ago, some which hasn’t been released before, it tells the story of the first manned mission to the Moon.
I almost didn’t go and see it – after all it’s a story that’s been told before. I remember watching the moon landing on television, when I was a child, and I have to say that at that time I found it a little underwhelming. I understood that I was watching history being made, but even though I tried to feel the importance of it all, it wasn’t quite as exciting as I’d hoped it might be. We sat, staring at the television, and it seemed a very long wait until something happened – and when it did the pictures were so fuzzy it was difficult to see what was going on.
But this new film is a revelation! One of the big differences is that that the film uses footage which was brought back from the mission – not that which was transmitted at the time, and so the quality of the footage is incomparably better. It’s edited, as well, to make it more immediate. And the pictures of Neil Armstrong, climbing down from the lunar module and setting foot on the moon for the first time were sharp and clear. At last I felt the excitement and the sense of occassion that I’d wanted to feel all those years ago!
And, of course, we know more about the moon landings now. At the time, it wasn’t widely known how little fuel was left when the lunar module touched down – there were just fifteen seconds to spare before the craft wouldn’t have been able to take off again. Watching the landing, with the timer ticking away at the bottom of the screen and hearing the measured communications between mission control and the astronauts, I had my heart in my mouth. And when it was time for the perilous journey home, even though I knew full well that the lunar module had successfully reconnected with the command module, the sharp footage from each of the craft as they docked in space had me sitting on the edge of my seat, holding my breath.
So this film really changed my appreciation of an event that I remembered and thought I knew. I was moved by the immense bravery of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. I shed a tear when they returned safely back to earth. And I found the sense of wonder that had eluded me when I first watched the moon landings.
And it got me thinking. Although this is a beautiful film, it tells the same story as the one I heard when I was a child. Part of its impact now, is because I’ve changed.
And that applies to our stories too. They’re a joint effort, between reader and writer to make a world together. I rely on the reader’s imagination to help create that world, within the framework of a book. And I have to hope that readers will trust me to bring them safely home at the end. We’re in this together.
Is there a story – either true-life or fiction – that you’ve re-discovered and which has meant something very different to you the second time around?
First impressions matter, but often a heroine has to wait before she hears what a hero really thinks of her. But I decided to ring the changes a little in this book, which is the first of my ‘London Heroes’ duet.
Gabriel DeMarco wakes up in hospital with a beautiful woman by his bedside. The after-effects of the drugs that were slipped into his drink last night mean that he’s not able to stop himself from voicing exactly what’s on his mind…
Gabriel DeMarco opened his eyes. That seemed to be quite enough work for today, so he closed them again.
‘How are you feeling?’ A woman’s voice flowed over him like warm honey. It was a nice voice, quiet yet firm. The kind of voice that any man should take notice of.
‘I could go back to sleep.’ The words slipped out before he had a chance to tell himself that sleeping probably wasn’t what the voice wanted him to do. And at the moment it seemed like a siren’s call, which couldn’t be resisted. ‘Or…I could wake up.’
It sounded as if the voice was smiling. ‘Why don’t you wake up? You’re in hospital.’
Really? The thought didn’t bother him as much as it should. He was comfortable and relaxed, as if lying on a cloud. He tried opening his eyes and light seared through his brain, making his head hurt. He’d just have to keep them closed for a while…
‘Which hospital?’ Not that it mattered particularly. But talking might convince the voice that he’d complied with her request.
‘The Royal Westminster. You’re in the private wing.’
That made sense. Someone must know who he was, and that the son of Leo DeMarco, head of one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in Europe, could stand the cost of a night’s stay in hospital. Or maybe he’d been here longer than just one night. Gabriel couldn’t remember.
He flexed his fingers, running his hand across his chest and then moving his legs. Everything appeared to be working. No pain. Whatever he was in here for was probably very minor…
‘Open your eyes.’
No… He didn’t want to. Maybe he said as much, without knowing it, or maybe the voice just read his mind, because he felt the touch of a hand against the side of his face.
‘Come on. Open your eyes.’
He couldn’t resist. This time the pain wasn’t so bad, because the hand was shading his face. When he turned his head in the direction of the voice, a mass of red-blonde curls and a pair of blue eyes snapped suddenly into focus. What had happened to him suddenly came a very poor second in importance to who she was.
‘What’s your name? Are you a nurse?’ Stupid question. She wore a dark blue sleeveless summer dress, which seemed to be held together by a few buttons and a belt around her waist. Clearly not a nurse unless they’d changed the uniform from sensible to sexy.
‘My name’s Clara Holt. I’m not a nurse, although I’m medically trained. Your father sent me.’
His father? Since when had he started sending women to sit at Gabriel’s bedside? The thought occurred to him that maybe his father had, for once, made a marvellous choice. She was perfezione…molto bella… Porcelain skin and shining gold hair. Right now, making the gorgeous Clara happy was all he wanted to do…
‘Grazie.’ Her lips curved into a slight smile. He’d missed out her lips, and that was unforgivable…
‘You speak Italian?’
‘Only a few words.’
She knew the ones that mattered. Every woman should understand the words a man said when he called her beautiful.
Wait. How many of his thoughts had sprung to his lips by mistake, and what language had he voiced them in? The feeling that this wasn’t right was beginning to nag at the edge of his consciousness. If he thought a woman beautiful, he usually had the manners to wait, and make quite sure it was the kind of compliment she wanted to hear.
Gabriel shook his head, trying to clear it, and struggled to sit up. Pain shot across his temples and he suddenly felt very nauseous. The wonderful Clara reached out, gently pushing him back down onto the pillows.
‘You’ll feel better in a moment, just take it slowly.’
She was an angel. Clara could take him up to her cloud any day of the week and…
No! He still wasn’t thinking straight. He fought to locate a sensible question in his head, and came up with only one.