Confession: My Best Worst Valentine’s Day

“Can I see some ID, please?” The cashier spoke so loudly that the supermarket fell silent. A gasp came from behind me, where an elderly couple shuffled back in horror, assuming – as the cashier did – that I was attempting to buy alcohol underage.

I’m thirty, I’m single, it’s Valentine’s Day and all I want is a bottle of red wine.

“Take it as a compliment,” the cashier added.

That I look like a criminal or have a baby-face? I regularly get IDed and although I know the check-out staff are only doing their job, it can be trying. It doesn’t matter whether I wear my glasses or slap on make-up, I always have to pull out my purse and flash my driver’s license. Thankfully, I updated the picture recently. The previous one was taken when I was barely seventeen and going through a ‘goth’ phase. Long, mismatched brown-ginger hair, black-rimmed eyes and a bored expression that made me look like the zombie-girl from The Ring. I once presented my former ID to a cashier in Edinburgh. He looked back and forth from the plastic card to my face several times, before he reached out and shook my hand.

The words ‘Neville Longbottom-ing’ were used.

Patrick van IJzendoorn

Highclere Castle, via Patrick van IJzendoorn

I was in a new relationship last Valentine’s Day and we went to Highclere Castle, where Downton Abbey was filmed. Let’s call my date Greg. Anyone who follows me on Twitter might have seen my #DaretoShare dating stories for the Mills & Boon DARE launch. This one didn’t feature, although I have many other horrible tales waiting in the wings.

It was a lovely day – it even snowed, making the scene magical – before we ventured inside and were led around by the castle’s owner, Lady Carnarvon (“call me, Fiona”). At high tea, there were elaborate cakes and slim sandwiches and sparkling wine. There was even a naughty yellow Labrador who managed to squeeze himself into the dining room, tail thudding on our thighs, as he tried snaffle a pastry or two. It was then that I learned that my date, Greg, had never eaten a scone before.

I don’t know how this could have happened.

He lives in England. We are obsessed with scones. There is even a religious order dedicated to them. Well, there isn’t, but there should be. (And if you’re wondering, it’s jam first, then clotted cream. It’s the Cornish way!) Greg sawed his scone in half, slathered each side with all the spreads he could find, then slapped them together with an audible SPLAT that sprayed me – and those sitting on the table with us – with cream, butter, jam and crumbs. He then opened his jaw as wide as he could and tried to fit the entire lot into his mouth. He succeeded, barely.

Awkward and extremely English laughter broke out around the table.

Greg, at this point, slowly cottoned on to the idea that he might be eating a scone wrong. So he tried to talk, with his mouth still extremely full. This was a bad idea. A huge cream-crumb-splodge came soaring onto the pristine, white table-cloth. Silence. A very long, tense silence. Not that he noticed. No one spoke to us after that. I didn’t blame them. Still, once that ordeal was over, we had a cold walk around the grounds and I stored that particular memory in the section of my brain called: ‘funny stories we might tell our kids one day if he’s a half-decent guy who doesn’t frequently urinate in public and pick his face constantly’. That last run-on sentence might tell you why we broke up (hello, #DaretoShare, I’m fine, I don’t need therapy, I have wine – even if I do get constantly IDed when I buy it).

Today, wine in hand, I came home to begin freelance work. And there, sitting on the mat, was a beautiful book from Elisabeth Hobbes, called The Saxon Outlaw’s Revenge. Once again, I am relieved to have romantic fiction in my life; it gives me hope that one day I will find that half-decent guy. For now, fictional ones will do.


“Piratical tendencies” in Wilde in Love

wilde in loveWhen the mornings grew grey and miserable and foggy, I made a wish to the Book Gods for a beautiful story to land on my doorstep. And the Book Gods (Piatkus) answered! Wilde in Love by Eloisa James slipped from its envelope and onto the kitchen counter.

Lord Alaric Wilde – Wilde by name and wilder by nature – has returned from years abroad, unaware that his adventures have earned him numerous fans. As the ship he’s taken passage on docks in London, he’s met by a screaming mob – all female – who are desperate for a piece of him. Although they’ll settle for the flowers in his garden and the bricks from his house. To Alaric’s horror, almost everyone is obsessed with him, aside from Miss Willa Ffynche.

Despite the fact that Alaric claims not to be a pirate, he does have a swashbuckling swagger and a quiet confidence that is masterfully written. As for our heroine, Willa, she is a clever woman who always has the upper hand and is even analytical about marriage proposals. She would never fall for a man whose every move is dissected by the public. She finds it rather vulgar. Adoring women stalk Alaric, there’s even a farcical play about his exploits and Willa knows trouble when she sees it. But why must trouble be so alluring?

Eloisa James has written a story that captures all the best elements of a regency romance; flirty, feisty and fun, without taking itself too seriously. And it still packs an emotional punch. What makes Wilde in Love the ultimate escape is the back-and-forth between the characters. Their sharp minds are on display, as they duel with words and – very occasionally – wound one other. Or send thoughts down darker avenues:

 “Would it surprise you to know that I’ve never been aboard a pirate ship?”

“Indeed not,” she said, flustered. “I know that pirates board English vessels, rather than the other way around.”

The smile in his eyes deepened. “I confess to piratical tendencies.”

Was he implying that he viewed her as an English vessel eager to be boarded? Boarded?

From cannibals to suggestive comments about exploring “uncharted territory”, Wilde in Love is devilishly funny and a little on the saucy side, while remaining tongue-in-cheek.

My only comment, to spare British readers any confusion: when roly-polys are mentioned, the characters are not talking about a dessert. In the US, roly-polys are the name for woodlice. I did wonder why someone had left pudding in the garden…


Writer palate cleansers: “And now for something completely different”


A palate cleanser is a neutral-flavoured food or drink that removes food residue from the tongue allowing one to more accurately assess a new flavour.” – Wikipedia

Yesterday I was talking to a writer friend who had just finished a huge pet project: a dazzling, epic science fiction piece that took her two years to craft and is packed with world-building brilliance. It’s now landing in agents’ inboxes, with one full manuscript request fired back immediately. While she waits for other replies, she’s been working on a ‘palate cleanser’. A story that doesn’t require the immense mental strain her pet project did.

“It’s crap, basically,” she said, “but it’s crap I enjoy.”

For her, it’s Kingsman fan-fiction (each to their own).

For me, it’s been a medieval action-romance.

The idea popped into my head while I was in Gloucestershire, visiting a wooded valley with a big mansion, filled with half-finished carvings and a ‘haunted’ basement. The elderly house guide kept singling me out, asking me questions, claiming that I wouldn’t know about this or that, as I had a job that required a computer (and a baby face).

“Wouldn’t you prefer being here every day, in the great outdoors?”

“Yes,” I replied. “That’s why I’m here now.”

Amongst all his lecturing and mansplaining, he touched on a few interesting elements. Ones about carving and masonry and history (and ghosts!).

And so, I started writing. It was the characters – ones that appeared fully formed – that drew me in. Not before long, my palate cleanser became a loose first draft. One that has now been put away, for closer inspection later, as I work on the story I actually should be writing.

My question is – to fellow writers and readers – do you ever need a palate cleanser? After writing a love story, have you ever thrown yourself into horror? After reading too many thrillers, have you longed for a cosy feel-good paperback? Do you write Star Trek fan-fiction when you’re done churning out samey press releases? (And if the latter, will you let me read it?)

Image via Tumblr’s Texts from the Tailors 

To Wed a Rebel – OUT NOW!

Have you picked up my latest Regency romance, To Wed a Rebel, yet?


Really unputdownable! I adored it.’ – NetGalley Reader

“It was done, they were bound, all was finished…”

A fighter, a drinker and a notorious seducer, Isaac Roscoe was the last man that innocent Ruth Osbourne would ever consider as a husband – but that was before Roscoe ruined her prospects and reputation!

Now destitute and disinherited Ruth is faced with an impossible choice, a life on the streets or exchanging vows with the man who put her there. Yet, knowing that marriage was Roscoe’s last wish, Ruth knew her revenge would be best served by saddling him with a reluctant wife.

Determined to punish Isaac for his actions Ruth will stop at nothing to destroy him, body and spirit. Until it becomes clear that nothing she can do will hurt her disloyal husband more than he can hurt himself…

Want to finish a manuscript? Channel your inner-Jedi

Luke and Yoda

“Met today’s word-count, have you?”

Writing is a lot like falling asleep. You need to be calm. You need to be ‘in the zone’.

That means no interruptions.

Banish the partner, send the kids out, shut yourself away from your parents, ignore the flatmate. Once you get annoyed or even the tiniest bit flustered, your calm will go. Annoyance, anger and frustration will replace it. Ever tried to write while wanting to smash your own (or someone else’s) brain into the wall?

It’s impossible.

Channel the Jedi.

Find an inner-calm. The same one that beckons when you’re trying falling asleep or attempting (poorly) to meditate. It doesn’t mean shutting off emotion, it means giving yourself the space to feel what your characters feel, to become fully engrossed in your work, to forget the outside world exists and to carve a new reality.

Seek out that special, private space without constant interruption.

Because writing isn’t sitting down and bashing out a few words and calling it a day. It’s an uphill push, a gathering of momentum, before that flow comes. Once that momentum is disturbed, that big rock you’ve been shouldering will roll down and crush you.

That means starting all over again.

Remember the wise words of Yoda from Star Wars:

“Interruptions lead to anger. Anger leads to frustration. Frustration leads to an incomplete manuscript and a missed deadline.”

Or something like that. The only interruption I can tolerate? A fluffy four-legged one, because I never say “no” to that little face…

Step Back In Time… Cover Reveal!

Last weekend my publisher Carina UK, a digital offshoot from HarperCollins, held a #StepBackInTime social media event. As well as getting Mary Poppins’ Step In Time stuck in my head (and now quite possibly in yours), the glorious cover for my latest historical romance was revealed:

To Wed a Rebel by Sophie Dash

The cover is stunning. As an author, there is nothing better than finding out the cover for your latest story truly matches up to what’s between the pages. For me, it captures a key scene in To Wed a Rebel about love, betrayal, hope and redemption. (Can you tell I really like this story – I think you will too.)

And you can read more about why I love writing historical romance on the Carina UK blog:

A class system to revolt against, delicious scandals to fire gossip and pistols at dawn. While working on my latest historical romance To Wed a Rebel, I was immersed in the regency era. Historical fiction captures our imaginations, makes our hearts beat a little faster, and takes us to a place that’s far enough removed from the modern world, while still holding familiarity.

Here are my five reasons why I love writing historical fiction…

To my fellow writers – why do you love writing historical romance?

And to my fellow readers – why do you love reading it?