Saturday, March 10, 2007

Saturday Surprise... FinDaBoo

This month historical author Michelle Styles brings her brand of wisdom regarding the dreaded synopsis and how it can actually help you, the writer!!!

Using a Synopsis

The four things that every writer requires are determination, desire, dedication and discipline. Without those four Ds, any writer is going to find it hard to finish the book. Part of having the discipline and dedication is being able to admit when you are stuck, when suddenly that lovely idea and premise becomes less appetizing to work on than changing cat litter or cleaning the toilet.

I admire those writers who can write into the mist without a synopsis and finish the book. I will freely admit that I can’t. I need to have some sort of road map for when the mist swirls so thickly that I can’t see my hand in front of my face, let alone think about the next word! And my road map is my draft synopsis.

There are many ways to write a synopsis. Whole books are written about the joys and dubious pleasures of writing a synopsis. This article is not about that, it is about how I use my synopsis to help me finish the book. Suffice it to say that if I had not written a synopsis for the first book I finished, I would never have finished that book. It gives me the confidence to know that there may be an ending and it helps to keep me focussed on the main arc of the story. I sincerely believe that it helps me write faster and helps keep me focussed on the structure of the book

I tend to write the first draft of my synopsis, when I have finished the first three chapters. There is no coincidence that this is the place where the mists come down most thickly. Before then, I might have a rough outline and some notes on characters written in my notebook (I use black moleskines for working away from my desk as they are my little luxury and I am less likely to lose them), but it is with my first draft of the synopsis that I begin to pull my book together. It is not my polished synopsis, but a rough draft. It always includes: the setting, internal/external conflicts, evidence of growing attraction, black moment and resolution and has the basic shape of the synopsis I will turn in.

In other words I sit down and plot. Plot is not a four letter word. It is discovering what is needed in my opinion at that moment to make the hero and heroine achieve there happy ending. For example what five things have to happen in their relationship for them to get to the happy ending?

After finishing the draft synopsis, I generally find that the mist has cleared and I can write. I know what my general plan is. The draft synopsis then gets lost among the debris of desk and I stop referring to it. However, inevitably, I get stuck again. I then take the synopsis out, reread it, and laugh. Could I have really thought that would be a good idea? Certain things are bound to have changed. Other ideas will no longer work, but I also think – ah that is where I wanted to go. I revised the synopsis, and away I go again – working towards the happy ending.

Sometimes, I even assign chapters to actions in my synopsis, and think – if I can get up to chapter eight, then I know I will get to write a love scene. Or I look and think – I better plot chapters 12 -14 more fully because there is no way I can make that scenario stretch for that number of words. Or I look at the synopsis, and think that this may be a road map but it sure isn’t the one to the one I am on. I then rewrite the synopsis, using the information I now have.

Some people find outlines work for them. And I do use brief outlines, but I also always work with my synopsis as I am writing the story. What this means is when I do reach the finish of the book, I do not have the synopsis to write. It is no longer an obstacle. With synopsis as with any other writing, it is far easier to fix a bad page than a blank page.

If you are finding it difficult to finish your book, sit down, draft a synopsis and you may just rediscover the magic. It works for me and perhaps it could work for you.

Michelle Styles is currently hard at work finishing her seventh book for Mills and Boon Historicals. Her third book for Mills and Boon Historical, Sold and Seduced is currently available from the Mills and Boon website and will be in retail in April.

Her first book for Harlequin Mills and Boon Historical, The Gladiator’s Honor, is one of the finalists for the Romantic Novelist Association Prize 2007. And we'll have lots more about that wonderful award come April!!!

Friday, March 09, 2007

Friday Film Night - City Of Angels

This week at The Pink Heart Society our very own Trish Wylie talks about one of her all time favourite weepies City Of Angels...

She didn't believe in angels until she fell in love with one.

There's just something about a hero who would give up everlasting life for love, isn't there? It would be nice to think that this kind of thing happens around us and we don't even know. And I'll confess, I've always been a fan of Nicholas Cage's acting a la Con Air and the like, but he would never have *done it* for me as a romantic lead until I saw this film. And trust me, if you haven't seen this, then I'm here to tell you that he plays this role fabulously!!!

The movie is based on director Wim Wenders' magical German film Wings of Desire about angels who decide to taste human experience. In this version, directed by Brad Silberling, Nicolas Cage is Seth, the heavenly creature who will face the choice between eternity and love.

First, we see Seth and Cassiel (Andre Braugher) gliding through Los Angeles (the City Of Angels) with a host of their kind, perching atop skyscrapers and varying landmarks, listening to the murmured thoughts of humans struggling their way through life, laying on healing hands and escorting the dead to the other side. (When Seth always asks them what their favourite thing was - the child he escorts early on informing him it was 'pyjamas')

It is during one such chore that Seth encounters Maggie (Meg Ryan), a driven heart surgeon who is shattered when a patient dies on the operating table in spite of her heroic efforts.
The incident triggers a crisis of faith for Maggie, who is both shaken and comforted by the stranger who starts showing up at her side.

With his soulful eyes and magically innocent portrayal of Seth, Nicholas Cage is the perfect casting as a creature of purity slowly consumed by hunger for human knowledge. And Maggie is very believeable too - a woman of grit and intelligence driven by enormous feeling in a job where she holds peoples lives in her hands every day.

Are you God?
No, my name is Seth.

From the moment Seth watches Maggie weep in the stairwell, when she thinks she's alone, it's hard not to get caught up in the emotion of this film. And I think you have to put that down chiefly to the two leads - after all, we all know that it's the characters that make any story, right? Seth's innocence and curiosity, Maggie's cynicism and underlying need to hope just balance so well, that you know the sense of melancholy you can feel in the film can only be *fixed* the one way. These are two people who need each other. And it's that kind of poignant thread of need that always draws me into a well written category romance...

Longing to become closer to Maggie, Seth makes himself visible to her. Unfortunately, Maggie is engaged to another doctor, Jordan (Colm Feore), and soon she finds herself torn between the comfortable yet emotionally-dishonest relationship with Jordan, and her inexplicable attraction to Seth, a calm face of tranquility without a past. But because he is an angel, Seth is unable to truly love her, and he faces a difficult choice-- to spend eternity in his present form and never know the warmth of Maggie's touch, or to 'fall', giving up his divine existence, to fully embrace the human condition and be with Maggie.

What good will wings be if you couldn't feel the wind on your face?

It's when Seth meet's one of Maggie's patients, Mr. Messenger (Dennis Franz), a former angel whose appetite for worldly pleasure has landed him in the cardiac unit, that he realizes he might not be the first one to suffer the dilemma he's in. And the introduction of the ex-angel who savours everything life has to offer adds a splash of humor to the movie's tone exactly when it's needed.

But despite the fact that the movie really does make you believe that darkly dressed angels are among us, hanging out in libraries and gathering together on a beach to listen to the music in the sunset, it's Seth and Maggie's story all the way.

Seth: You're a good doctor.

Maggie: How do you know?

Seth:I have a feeling.

Maggie:Yeah, well that's pretty flimsy evidence.

Seth: Close your eyes. Just for a second... what am I doing?

Maggie: You're... touching me.

Seth: How do you know?

Maggie: Because, I feel it.

Seth: You should trust that. You don't trust it enough.

Sigh. And yes, if you've seen the movie then you'll know that it's at least a three hanky ending and should never be watched while suffering PMT; a fact I'm sure will ruin it for those of you who prefer the Happily Ever After our little category romances have spoiled us with... But I tell ya I don't know that I would change it. I found it magical, poignantly hopeful and in some ways comforting. And it inspired me to think about *other worlds* when I began playing with the longer book that keeps calling me back to the keyboard in between my Romances and Modern Extras. I think that if a movie can touch and inspire you then it hasn't done too badly...

As to what Maggie would say was her favourite thing when her time came:

When they ask me what I liked best, I'll tell them, it was you.

Really, doesn't everyone hope for a love like that??? So do you know what you'd say was your favourite thing???

I'm giving this a Pink Heart Warm & Fuzzy rating of 9/10 - but only 'cos of the sad end!

Trish's second Sexy Sensation is out in Australia and New Zealand now! Breathless! is one of her favourite books to date and was recently reviewed at The Pink Heart Society Review Blog...

To find out more about what Trish is up to and for book releases and competitions you can visit her new Website or Her Blog

And don't forget to come back to The Pink Heart Society later this month when Trish will be doing a special feature on St. Patrick's Day!!!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Thursday Talk-Time with Jennifer Taylor

Join us in welcoming Medicals author Jennifer Taylor, here to give us her run down on the perfect man!

~ Holding Out For a Hero ~

Writer of romantic novels seeks hero, 28-40, for her latest book. Must be attractive, sincere, trustworthy and have GSOH. Must also love kids and pets.

Finding the perfect hero for your book is even more difficult than finding a hero in real life. Not only is he going to have to capture the heroine’s heart but the hearts of all your readers as well. This guy has to be someone really special, and I have to create him!

I write Medical Romances and sometimes feel a little guilty because my heroes already have a head start. The men I write about devote their lives to helping others and that gives them a step up on the ladder to becoming a fully-fledged hero. They deal with situations on a daily basis which would overwhelm ordinary men, and they are willing to put their lives on the line if the need arises.

So far so good. I can hear you thinking how easy it must be for me when I have so many potential heroes to choose from: General Practitioners, surgeons, physicians, emergency aid workers - the list is endless. I’ve used them all at some point, too, but the trick is finding the right hero for your particular heroine so let’s go back to the opening paragraph and check through that list of requirements.

Age is a key factor for the hero of a Medical Romance. It takes time to learn how to become a doctor and it’s important to get the facts straight. If my hero is a top-flight surgeon then he has to be in his thirties. He’s a mature man who has worked his way up and learned a lot along the way. Maybe he’s dedicated his life to making a success of his career, and maybe he’s done it at the expense of his personal happiness; that’s something I have to decide. One thing is certain, though, he has a lot of baggage and that will impinge on his relationship with my heroine.

It goes without saying that a hero needs to be attractive. He doesn’t have to be drop-dead handsome but he definitely needs to have that certain something that draws my heroine (and my readers) to him. He needs what one of my fans calls “the wriggle” factor. She describes it as the moment when the hero appears on the page and she suddenly feels the urge to wriggle in her chair. Watch out for it the next time you’re reading a book which has a really scrumptious hero in it.

Sincerity is another pre-requisite for my hero. I need to know that he isn’t just stringing my heroine along. He must put her interests first at every turn and never deliberately do anything that will hurt her. He cares about her even though he might not want to do so.

He has to be totally trustworthy both in the work he does and in his private life. By the end of the book, I need to be sure that he is going to care for my heroine for the rest of his life. OK, I’ll hold up my hands here and admit than I can be a bit mean to him by setting him all sorts of tests, but he needs to prove to me that he’s worthy of my heroine’s love.

A good sense of humour is absolute must for any hero of mine. I don’t want to lumber my heroine with a guy who can’t enjoy the lighter side of life so my hero has to show that he can laugh at himself. This is the man my heroine is going to spend the rest of her life with and I certainly don’t want her being bored to death!

Last on the list is a man who likes children and pets. This might seem a strange requirement but it’s the yardstick by which I measure my hero and decide if he lives up to my expectations. There is no better way to show the tender side of a hero than when he is interacting with someone, or something, more vulnerable than he is.

So that’s how I set about finding a hero. It’s an ongoing quest because every new book I write means that I have to start the search all over again. I’ve been extremely lucky so far and met some wonderful men who have fulfilled all my criteria.

So, what do you think are the not-negotiables for a hero in the books you love to read?

Check out the gorgeously sexy Harry Shaw in THE WOMAN HE’S BEEN WAITING FOR (NA Feb 07) and Christos Constantine, the brooding hero of Dr CONSTANTINE’S BRIDE (UK May 07). They definitely have “the wriggle factor!”

Jennifer is always delighted to hear from readers, so do visit her website at

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Writers Wednesday with Sarah Mayberry

Today's newbie is the lovely Sarah Mayberry, a fabulous new writer for Harlequin Blaze.

About Sarah:

Sarah lives in Melbourne, Australia, with her screenwriter partner, Chris. She has worked in publishing and television, but writing romance novels is definitely her favorite career so far. When she’s not writing, Sarah loves to read, go to the movies and avoid exercise.

The call:

Like a lot of other writers, my journey to being published was all about patience – which is pretty funny because I am basically an impulsive, impatient kind of person most of the time. I had submitted to Harlequin about eight or so times over the years and had no joy, but my last rejection was actually pretty encouraging. At the time I got it, I didn’t think so, of course – I think I had a pretty big ice-cream binge over it, actually. It wasn’t until I found the letter again a year or so later and read it with fresh eyes that I understood it was actually pretty encouraging, as rejections go. They said they liked my writing. And that if I wanted to have another go at the story they’d love to see it. I went to my partner and showed him the letter again and asked “why didn’t I do anything about this? I’m an idiot.” He helpfully agreed that I was an idiot, and I started working on a new novel.

I had changed jobs in the mean time, and started story-lining on Australia’s longest running television soap, Neighbours. Sitting in a room with people talking about story and character all day gave me a new appreciation of where I had been going wrong in my previous attempts at books, so I felt like I had a whole new confidence with the manuscript that eventually became Can’t Get Enough. I finished it, submitted it to Harlequin’s Flipside romantic comedy line, and sat back to wait.

And wait. And wait. A whole year of constantly checking my email and the letterbox later, I finally decided to be bold and chase up my submission with a phone call. I got straight through to Wanda, who is now my editor, which was my first pleasant surprise. The second was that she had emailed me to let me know she liked my book – hadn’t I gotten her letter?

Frantic phone calls to my IT consultant brother revealed that our email program had been “withholding” a bunch of emails from us. Wanda’s was amongst them. She wanted me to make my book a little longer, as the word count for Flipside had gone up while I was waiting for my submission to be read. I did that, and resubmitted, and waited some more. Then Wanda got back to me with the crushing news that Flipside had been cancelled. I was heart broken. I stopped reading her email and burst into tears and rang my partner and gibbered miserably down the phone at him. Then I went back and read the rest of Wanda’s email, which offered me two alternative venues for my story – Temptation or Blaze. So, things weren’t quite at the drown-myself-in-a-vat-of-ice-cream stage just yet.

I calmed down and opted for Blaze, being unafraid of adding words or writing hotter sex scenes, and I revised again. I spoke to Wanda a couple of times during that process as she eased me toward putting more sex earlier on in the book – what was originally an almost-kiss became almost-sex and, finally, flat-out sex by the time she’d held my hand long enough. Hilarious when I think about how much sex there is in all my books now! Anyway, by the time she was happy with my book, I pretty much knew she was waiting to hear back from the senior editor on whether they were going to acquire, and then I got out of the shower one morning to find the answering machine message light blinking.

It was Wanda, she’d called while I was shaving my legs or whatever, and I called her straight back. I had just spoken to her the night before about my latest round of changes (remember the time difference down here in Australia) and I just knew that she wouldn’t be calling again so soon unless she had news. And she did. She said those beautiful, amazing words: We’d like to buy your book. It was something I had been working toward for so many years, and it was so much the fulfillment of my dreams I couldn’t quite believe it.

Apparently I had a sensible conversation with her and took lots of notes on what would happen next after that, but all I can remember is this sort of out-of-body oh-my-god feeling that this couldn’t really be happening. Then I ended the call and just jumped up and down squealing like an idiot for a while.

After all that, if there is any advice I feel I can offer aspiring writers it’s this: write and keep writing. You get better with each attempt, and you learn something new every time. No word goes to waste at the end of the day, it’s all part of the journey.

I have since written another five books for Blaze, and a book for a Presents continuity set on a cruise ship, and I am working on the first of another three-book contract at the moment.

Take on Me is a March 2007 release, and is part of the Secret Lives of Daytime Divas trilogy, with the remaining two books coming out in April and May. All three books are set on a day time soap in LA. What fun!

Sarah is a regular at Exploding cigars, and also has her own website,

Thanks Sarah!

No Temptation Tuesday PHS Diet Club

This month's DietClub update and advice comes from someone who is doing very very well on her track in our International Ban-The-Butt Campaign across the globe. Here to share a few of her tips and secrets of success is Donna Alward.

When I was asked if I’d be interested in doing a diet club slot, I had to laugh. Yes, I signed up in January, and yes, I have lost some weight since then. But the e-mail came as I was in the middle of revisions. And as most of you know, the two WORST times to ask an author about her diet is during revisions or the week before deadline.

I have lost 7 lbs since the beginning of January and you know, it’s not stellar – I mean some members lost that much their first week – but I’m happy with it. It’s steady and it’s in the right direction. Considering I’ve had gastritis during that time and also have had both knees put up a protest, one deadline and one set of revisions, all in all I think I’m doing okay.

The problem with deadlines and revisions, or any time I feel the crunch of immediate stress, is that the food pyramid morphs into something like this: starchy carbs like bread and pasta on the bottom, a layer of dark chocolate on top of that, crowned with red wine. I can go on about the health benefits of all those items but we all know as a whole, this isn’t a sound weightloss type of diet.

So here’s what I know for sure. What works for me during a “regular” week.

1. Eat clean. I discovered this when I had gastritis. It was boring as hell. But it worked. Most of all I missed spicy stuff, so if you can eat clean and add your flavour with spice, go for it. I ate a lot of porridge, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, low acid fruits and veggies, no juice, no alcohol (sob! My grape!) lean, plain protein (mostly boneless skinless chicken) and low fat dairy. I also didn’t have caffeine. Now, I’m back on tea and the odd cup of coffee as a treat, and my wine on Saturdays. But for the most part – still eating clean. This means NO PREPARED STUFF. And another thing about revisions….you really start to appreciate convenience food.

2. Drink water. LOTS OF IT. You’ll go like a racehorse and flush out all kinds of nasties.

3. I make exercise regular and routine. Do it every day and only take one day off a week. If I have a day when my energy level is zip, I at least do 2 things. I walk the kids to and from school and I do a half hour of pilates or yoga instead of a full workout. I ALWAYS feel better.

4. I do three days of cardio and three days of weights. Muscle burns calories 3x faster than fat, so the more muscle you have, the more calories you’re going to burn simply when sitting in the chair creating your masterpiece. Now, with my knees staging a rebellion, I’ve had to stop running which is a shame because I enjoy it. I’m back on the stationary bike now for cardio, or walking on the treadmill. And on weight days, I warm up by putting on the boxing gloves and hitting the heavy bag for maybe 10 min.

And no girlie weights here, girls. You need to put enough resistance so that by the end of your set, your muscles are fatigued. I alternate upper body and lower body days.

Of course we all know that rarely do we have a perfect week, and sometimes we stop being diligent. That’s why I ended up putting most of the weight I’d lost back on. No one warned me about Writer’s Butt until it was too late. Diligence is key. And it’s probably why I’m happy with my seven pounds. Because it’s regular and shows I’m getting back in the routine of things.

Lastly…don’t forget the added calorie-burning benefit of AFTER HOURS activity! ;-) Now, I’m off to take my own advice….whole grains anyone?

Donna’s first Harlequin Romance, HIRED BY THE COWBOY hits shelves so so soon we can almost taste it. (It better be low fat and sugar free Donna!!)

She is also blogging about her writing process in a fabulous series called the Construction Zone. Check it out!

Monday, March 05, 2007

Sunday Spotlight on Jessica Hart

This week The Pink Heart Society spotlights author Jessica Hart - an RNA prize winner, Jessica has been nominated again this year!

About Jessica:

Unlike most writers, I never really wanted to be one. I fell into the business somewhere between teaching English in Jakarta, fantasizing about living in the outback and deciding for some reason that I still can’t satisfactorily explain that I would like to do a Ph.D. in Medieval History. I thought that writing romance would be a good way to finance my studies, and planned an ideal life where I would spend four months of the year working, four months studying and four months travelling (preferably in the outback). Of course it didn’t quite work out like that, but I have managed to have a very good time nonetheless. I started writing for money, it’s true, but twenty years, two degrees and 46 books later, I’ve acquired a real respect for category romance and its writers and readers.

I live in York (where else if you’re interested in medieval history?) with my Westie, Mungo, but spend a lot of time in a thatched cottage in Wiltshire where my partner, John, lives – which would be the perfect combination of city centre and country living, if it didn’t involve quite so much driving up and down the motorway.

Spotlight On Jessica:

Where do you get the inspiration for your books from?

Sometimes a film or a song will give me an idea, but increasingly my heroines deal with the same issues that my friends and I deal with in our own lives – which is why they tend to have been growing older along with me! So Contracted: Corporate Wife was based on a close friend of mine who wasstuck in a tiny flat in London with two adolescents and very little room to manoeuvre financially … wouldn’t a rich husband be the answer to all her problems, we would muse over a bottle of wine? But how could that work, and would it really be like? Business Arrangement Bride arose from many hours with friends at our favourite watering hole endlessly discussing our various emotional crises (usually mine!). If only men were prepared to have some relationship coaching, it would be so easy to keep us happy … step forward Tye Gibson!

What makes you mad?

Misuse of the apostrophe. Bad manners. Bad grammar. Cruelty to animals. Drivers who sit in the middle lane of the motorway instead of in the empty slow lane where they belong. Litter. Sniffing. Text spelling, as in “I luv u 4eva” (aaargh, I can hardly bear to write it, especially ‘luv’. I mean, why???? They’re only saving one letter, so why not spell it correctly?). The constant reorganization of the shelves in supermarkets so you can never find what you want. Not replying to emails, even when they contain a question that clearly requires an answer (John, this means you). The way the media always refer to family and friends as ‘loved ones’ (I don’t know why this annoys me so much, but it does). Unpunctuality. Unfathomable instruction manuals. Computer help lines … Gosh, I’m a crosspatch, aren’t I? Better stop.

What’s the most romantic thing that has ever happened to you?

Falling in love at first sight in a pub car park in the Yorkshire Dales. In spite of writing a number of romantic novels, until then I didn’t believe that it could really happen.

What in a hero makes you drool?

Laughter lines creasing his eyes.

If you weren’t a writer what would you be?

I often think about this as I nervously wait for my royalty cheque to arrive! Having tried a range of jobs in my time (secretary, cook, expedition interpreter, waitress, chambermaid, TEFL teacher, researcher etc) I would probably end up as some kind of administrator – I am a boringly practical and efficient person – but would love to think that I could run my own restaurant. I love food, thinking about it, shopping for it, preparing it, cooking it, eating it, talking about it …

What do you do to relax and wind down?

I would love to be able to boast about assuming some complicated yoga position, but the truth is that I’m most likely to go and have a drink and a gossip with a friend. I find that cooking restores me, as does landscape, the bigger and the emptier the better. A walk along a wild winter beach is always good, and if I really wanted to rethink my life, I’d go to a desert.

How do you get out of a writing rut?

With great difficulty! Sometimes it’s just a case of keeping my head down and plodding on, word by excruciating word. I’m struggling with the first draft of a book at the moment, and since committing to a 30,000 word story to be delivered by the beginning of May have had to bring my deadline forward by a month, which isn’t helping. So for now I’ve given myself smaller targets to try and get myself going. Instead of 17 or 18 pages per chapter, I’m aiming for 14, which will provide a substantial enough draft to rework easily (I hope!) into a full length book, and I’m breaking that down into 7 pages a day – when I’m working on all four cylinders, I would normally expect to do at least 15 a day, so 7 doesn’t seem that impossible. I tend to find that by aiming to write 7 pages, I’ll often manage 9 or 10 anyway, which puts me ahead of schedule and is always a good psychological boost!

If all that fails, I will give up and go out for a drink (I know, I know, there’s a theme developing here …). The fatal ‘extra glass’ later, I will roll home and either fall asleep or sit down at my computer and bash out several pages, not caring what I’m writing by that stage. It’s usually rubbish when I look at it the next day, but sometimes it can be just what I need to break my block. A useful technique, but one to be used with care, obviously!

If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be?

Now there’s a tricky question. There are so many places in the world that I love, but living in them might be a different matter. My grandmother was Australian, and I absolutely love Australia. I even applied to emigrate once (answer: Under no circumstances!) I think I’ve accepted now that I’ll never be an Australian but am stuck with being an uptight Brit, and I am very happy living in York. I just wish that I could transport the entire city with my house and friends, hairdresser, vet etc down to Wiltshire so that I could spend more time with John rather than driving up and down the motorway.

Who would you most like to give a hug to for a fabulous book you’ve read?

I’d say Georgette Heyer if I didn’t know that she would have been utterly appalled at the thought of a hug! I don’t suppose Jenny Crusie would much fancy a hug from me either – I really like the slight astringency in her style - but I think she’s an absolutely wonderful writer (especially Crazy For You, Welcome To Temptation, Tell Me Lies and Bet Me) so she’s the one I’d throw my arms around.

What music do you listen to when writing?

I am happily ignorant about music and will listen to anything. Although hugely picky about books, I love being given CDs, and listen to them obsessively for a while before moving on to a new fad. Currently I’m listening to Shaken by a Low Sound by a fantastic group called Crooked Still, who I saw recently in York. Other favourites are the Cowboy Junkies and k.d.lang (Hymns from the 49th Parallel) and with my low boredom threshold, I am very fond of a nice compilation, too. I’ve got a three CD compilation of stirring film scores (Classic FM at the Movies) which I have to say is brilliant writing music.

Tell us a secret nobody knows about you.

I’m short on secrets. Years ago, I confessed to a friend that I wanted to be mysterious. She laughed for about two years, and still sniggers whenever the word comes up. Sadly, I’m just not a secretive or mysterious person, so what you see is what you get. I am deaf in one ear, if that helps, but it’s not exactly a secret.

What was your most embarrassing moment?

Honestly, my most embarrassing moments are too embarrassing to tell anyone! The worst I’ll confess is the little incident on the first day of my holiday in Turkey a couple of years ago. I’d just graduated with a Ph.D. after nine years, and the morning I left I’d heard that I’d won a RITA for Christmas Eve Marriage, so as you can imagine, I was feeling pretty pleased with myself. All the celebrations had done for the diet, though, so I’d invested in a swimsuit with an alleged ‘secret control panel’. Smug with my various successes, I wriggled into it under a towel on our first day at the beach and plunged into the turquoise water. Basking on my back I was quite oblivious to the attention of two men in a passing pedalo, who were pedaling backwards and forwards past me, until my goddaughter, shrieking with laughter, pointed out the reason in a voice that rang across the water and alerted the entire beach to what was going on. It turned out that I had put the swimsuit on back to front – and to this day, I don’t know how I managed it – and was unaware that my substantial boobs had sprung free of the inadequate back of the costume and were bobbing around in an uninhibited fashion. It was very, very amusing for my companions, I gather, who derived much pleasure for the rest of the holiday in saying things like ‘which way round are you planning to wear those trousers?’ how many degrees did you say you had?’ or ‘have you found that secret control panel yet?’

What have you had to celebrate in the last year?

Winning the RNA Romance Prize last April, and being short-listed for it again this year – that’s been a real thrill. Finishing three books with no revisions (I have the nicest editor in the world!) Last year was a bit of an emotional roller-coaster, to tell the truth, so just getting through it was cause for celebration!

What’s beside your computer when you’re writing?

A selection of nail polishes for when I need displacement activity (my nails are perfectly manicured when I’m writing). Tweezers and a mirror (ditto). My mobile phone in case someone wants to invite me out for coffee or drink (ditto). A tattered, yellowing copy of Roget’s Thesaurus, split in two at the section on personal emotion. A ‘to do’ list. A timeplan so that I can cross of the days/chapters as I go. Cartoons that still make laugh even though they have been pinned up for years. A photo of Charlie, the last of my beloved tabbies who died just before Christmas and who would sit on my desk while I was writing – I miss him. And at my feet, Mungo, my Westie, usually snoring.

If you could kiss anyone in the world who would it be?

John – in spite of the roller-coaster! And if he wasn’t available, I would make do with Gary Sinese from CSI: New York – I’m a sucker for that lean, cold-eyed, stern-jawed look.

What are you working on now?

A book, as yet untitled, about the difficulties of having a relationship in your forties when you have so many different responsibilities to negotiate. My hero is a single father with three adolescent children, and the heroine has to care for her elderly mother. Dealing with ageing parents is something many of my friends are having to cope with at the moment, and I know it will be my turn sooner or later. As you get older, it seems to me that you have to work that much harder to create the space for a relationship, and it’s easy to let everything else get in the way, and move romance down the priority list. My characters are going to have to decide whether love is worth the effort …and I think we all know what the answer is going to be!

Barefoot Bride, a Harlequin/Mills & Boon Romance is out now in North America and the UK. (How gorgeous is that cover?)

For more check out Jessica's lovely and newly revamped website: