Friday, 21 December 2012

Happy Christmas! And thank you...

... to everyone who's stuck by me in what has been my first full year as an independent author.  And what a year it was!  There were lessons learnt, more sales than I thought I'd have - although I don't think Jackie Collins has got anything to worry about just yet - and I "met" some incredible people who have read my books, loved them, and shown me more support and encouragement than I'd ever dreamed I'd have.

But what this year has definitely taught me is that nothing can stop me from doing what I love - and that's writing.  It's a dream to be able to do what I do, every day, and although it's a journey that can bring some frustrating and sometimes even upsetting lows, the highs I experience when somebody tells me they've loved one of my books is something I shall never take for granted.  Ever.  

So, to all of you who've taken a chance on this indie author, and taken the time to read my books, I just want to say thank you.  A really BIG thank you.  You make everything worthwhile; you give me a reason to keep writing.  I really do love you all.

So, have a wonderful Christmas, and I hope 2013 brings good things for everyone! 

Right, I'm off to open the mince pies... I think it's about time now, don't you...?

Meet the Author - Francine Howarth

It's time for another 'Meet the Author' post, and today I'd like to introduce fellow Famous Five Plus author, and a writer of both historical and contemporary romance - the wonderful Francine Howarth!

So, sit back, stick your feet up, and let Francine tell you a little bit about herself, and her latest novel, Stalker in Paradise...

First I want to express many thanks to Michelle for daring to let me loose on her blog, and secondly to say it’s great to be here in the esteemed company of another brave Indie author.

Now for something to say… Oh lordy, where to start… O.K. Almost every author will tell you they get asked the same old questions, over and over again. But rather than bore you senseless with reams of questions and stock answers, I’ll share the one I get asked and hate the most: Q) “Why do you write contemporary as well as historical romances?”
This question immediately has a tag-on sentence: “Surely it’s better to specialise in one or the other.”



In truth there’s no simple answer to the above, except to say portraits are invariably the inspiration behind the novels I pen, which can be contemporary or historical. I will say my heart lies within historical romances simply because I’ve loved all things historical since I was old enough to read. That said, contemporary novels have their appeal, too. But getting back to the inspiration aspect of creating other worlds within the world we know and its past.

I often wonder what a person was thinking on the day the portraitist centred attention on the subject’s eyes and mouth. Eyes and mouths reveal so much about a person: a hint of amusement, a sparkle of lust, so on and so forth. Eyes, after all, are supposedly the windows to our souls. That is why eyes for me become important within a novel: their colour, intensity, and their ability not only to see they are able to convey much alongside character mannerisms. The senses too, play a huge role in presentation of atmosphere, whether interior or exterior. What do the characters hear, smell and feel by touch? Also, I’m a great believer in keeping peripheral characters as vague as possible, for they are not in any way central to the plot, whereas the hero and heroine are vital components in keeping reader interest alive. See if you agree with me.


This is the opening to my latest novel Stalker in Paradise:


Tethered to the mainmast of a sailing ship and fifty lashes of the whip supposedly raining down on his back, he sensed something or someone on the quayside. It was little more than a flash of creamy white in his peripheral vision. Nonetheless, instinct and aversion to the paparazzi kicked in and he inclined his head to see what had caught his eye.

   Yee gods.

   An exquisite apparition had come to brighten his day. Not as such, but certainly a vision of beauty. What with a cloud as black as the darkest night overhead and looking like it intended business, and the fact Ricky Lindon had just buggered a scene take, the director’s sudden yell, ‘Cut’ came as no great surprise.

   The master of proceedings threw down his copy of the day’s script in a gesture of utter frustration, and furthered with a snide comment: ‘The effing script Lindon, read it, you might get an idea of what I want from you today.’

   ‘And if I’d sneezed?’ he quizzed, even bigger grin

  The director turned and stormed off, shouted, ‘Take a break, and when Don Juan is ready to continue, perhaps he’ll be good enough to let me know.’ The director paused, turned, and his entourage parted like the red sea for Moses. ‘Oh, and Ricky, see to it your back on set by one on the dot.’ The director’s finger drummed his watch. ‘And no distraction hanging around.’

   As the director resumed his stride, Ricky glanced over his shoulder to fellow actors standing close by. ‘What in hell is his problem?’

   His co-star shrugged. The flogging master did the sign of the cross with his fingers, and the camera crew continued scrambling to cover their kit with rain covers whilst sniggering like idiots.

   The creamy vision all the while remained on the quayside taking in the scene of irate director and minions scurrying along behind him.

   ‘Yeah, yeah, so I goofed,’ he said, making light of the whole situation.

   Hell, he’d only turned his head slightly and concentration of looking pained at supposed punishment of fifty lashes had lapsed into a broad grin. Damn it all, he couldn’t believe a woman like that would be standing there all alone without a man of some sort hanging on her skirt tail. She was gorgeous despite her face half shadowed by a wide-brimmed hat and reflective shades. He swung his head back round to get a better look at long slender legs and slim shapely hips of the barefoot goddess.

   Whoa. If he didn’t know better she could easily be his ex.

   A sudden offshore breeze whipped at her cream-dress and dragged it up her thigh, and the casual way she caught the brim of her hat to prevent it blowing away caused his heart to blip: several times. He panned his eyes back to her face, the sensual sexuality of a smile bestowed upon him utterly breathtaking, not to say stimulating in a maddeningly frustrating way. But the eyes, he couldn’t see her eyes. Couldn’t really read her.

   Overhead the black cloud stretching to the far distant suddenly shimmied past the sun like the gods were on his side. Lit from behind her figure turned to silhouette. A stunning figure, too. But something  . . . something about her was damn familiar.

   No. It couldn’t . . . couldn’t be Tara.

  There it was again, that come get me smile beamed from beneath her brimmed hat. It had to be her. No two women were that alike except identical twins, and Tara didn’t have a sister let alone a twin.

   What in hell had happened to her once beautiful long blonde hair?

   The fabulous vision rapidly turned about and strolled away, brazen and sensual serene. The way she leisurely pulled her hat from her head and shook long blonde locks loose set his pulse racing, for it was as though she had read his very thoughts.

   Was it Tara? Dare he shout out her name? He’d look a right tosser if wrong in his thinking. He had to know: one way or the other. He turned to one of the sound technicians, asked, ‘Hey Ron, do you know who that gorgeous beauty is?’

   Ron glanced over the rim of his specs in her direction, replied, ‘Yeah, she’s with the guy who bankrolled the movie. Don’t know her name, though.’

   ‘What, the old guy?’

   Hell he sounded like he was well choked. Damn it, he was choked. His heart dived. He was still lashed to the mast and nobody taking a blind bit of notice of that fact. He yelled, ‘C’mon guys, give me a break here. Set me loose.’

   His intention was to go after her. He turned his gaze back to the departing vision of beauty. Just then a man with a clipboard stepped toward her in a rather officious manner. Her dismissive gesture of hand in the air suggested she didn’t have a pass and had no right on set. And she looked like she didn’t give a monkey, as though she owned the place, and that was just how Tara would have responded to a jumped up jerk.

   Great, how in hell was he supposed to get near her if she was shacked up with Darrell Easterly the shipping billionaire? Easterly had bodyguards galore, probably ex special-forces soldiers with sniper credentials to die for: literally.

   Was he brave enough to take on bodyguards? Sure he was if it meant he could get near enough to Tara to make her see reason. Buggerations. To be a swashbuckling hero on the big screen was one thing but facing down a gun another. Damn it. He could do it if he was forced to. He and Tara had unresolved history and he was still pissed at being dumped on the sidewalk by an armed security guard.

   Ricky Lindon, heartthrob movie star once upon a time engaged to Tara Portland, and then on one nightmare day suddenly thrown out of her apartment block merely because she’d spied him kissing some girl in a restaurant. Yeah, there was unfinished business, because she hadn’t given him a chance to explain?

   A damn kiss had wrecked their relationship, and it wasn’t his fault it had happened. That part of it really stuck in his craw. Trying to explain about the incident had gotten him a slap to face. A door slammed in his kisser and the added indignity of armed guard hauling him into a lift before bundling him out and onto the street. Tara had then vanished within days, and had now popped up with a shipping magnate in tow.

   Well, there was something needed to be said, and the apparition on the quayside had given him the big come get me if you dare. No way could Ricky Lindon walk away from that kind of a challenge.

This is the back cover blurb:
Actor and Hollywood golden boy, Ricky Lindon, loved Tara Portland with all his heart and lost her through no fault of his own. On seeing her again he’s determined to do whatever it takes to get her back. But fate intervenes in a way that rocks the very foundations of his movie star lifestyle. Not only is Tara surrounded by bodyguards, the new man in her life is a force to be reckoned with, and a disastrous incident turns Ricky from one-time lover to secret stalker. But is the thrill of watching over Tara as she sleeps enough, or will compulsion to touch her be his downfall?

Stalker in Paradise is available here at Amazon and Amazon .com

You can see more of my books listed at: Francine

Francine, thank you for agreeing to guest here on my blog, and thank you so much for an extremely interesting 'Meet the Author' post!  

I wish you lots of luck with Stalker in Paradise, and I hope you have a very Happy Christmas, and an extremely successful 2013!

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

TV Chefs... Who's YOUR favourite?

Nigel Slater
Has anyone else been watching Nigel Slater's Dish of the Day on BBC One on Friday nights?  Now, don't get me wrong, I like Nigel Slater, I really do.  There's just something very relaxing about the way he talks, the way he cooks... but, I do sometimes wonder what parallel universe he's living in because it certainly ain't my world.  I mean, to begin with, this latest show of his has him looking at ways to make the most of your weekly shop and each episode usually begins with him dredging the remains of his fridge and knocking up a quick snack before he heads off to do this aforementioned shop. Except that, the remains of his fridge usually consist of a nice slab of Parmesan, half a dozen field mushrooms, some fresh garlic and a slice or two of Italian ham!  He wants to come round my house on a Saturday morning before we do the weekly shop and see if he can knock up a quick snack with a Dairylea triangle, a slice of mouldy bread and half a jar of salmon paste because that's what's usually left in our fridge come Saturday morning.  And then, when he finally gets out of his rather impressive kitchen to do that weekly shop, where does he go?  Not one for pushing a dodgy trolley round Asda is Nigel, oh no, he's off down the High Street to that friendly delicatessen on the corner or the cheese shop next to the French Bakery, which is fine, if you're loaded.  Has anyone told this bloke there's a recession on?  I'm in Lidl, Nige, mate.  But, guess what?  I can still get a nice Spanish Chorizo in there! ;)

And then, later in the show, just to thank that friendly Deli owner for helping him choose the perfect sausage, he pops over to their pad to cook them a quick lunch, asking very politely if he can rummage through their fridge to find something he can use to make that little thank you lunch.  However - and call me cynical, I can't help it - he always manages to find the perfect marriage of ingredients in these peoples' fridges and cupboards.  A nice block of cheese or a whole salami, not to mention a couple of perfect peppers and more seasoning than you can shake a stick at.  If he came round mine and had a rummage in my cupboards he'd probably find that I'm out of salt, me peppers have shrivelled up in the salad crisper and that garlic sausage at the back of the fridge has been there for far too long!  Make something out of that, Nige!  

However, putting the obvious manipulation of TV aside, I still love Nigel Slater.  When I just want to chill out and watch somebody cook nice food, he's the perfect choice of TV cook - even if his ingredients are sometimes a little extravagant for my budget.  Maybe the BBC needs to do another version of this show where they send Nigel up north to make dishes using my weekly shop... Not a block of Parmesan in sight...

Nigella Lawson
Moving on, another of the popular TV chefs that have been around for a while now is Nigella Lawson - and I can't stand the woman!  I mean, I've got nothing against her personally, but her programmes, her cooking style, the way she pouts and leers into the camera, it does my head in!  Does anyone actually live like her?  The woman cooks in her dressing-gown for heaven's sake!  Who does that?  Actually, probably quite a few people, but I doubt they look as glamorous as she does.  I do actually remember coming downstairs on many a morning when I lived at home to find me Mum cooking breakfast in her dressing-gown with her hair still in rollers and no make-up on.  Not exactly Nigella, but more realistic.  Ms. Lawson appears to roll out of bed with her hair all perfect and her make-up in place as she strolls casually into the kitchen to knock up Eggs Benedict and a Bucks Fizz, instead of the real-life version of events - a bacon and sausage bap and a mug of tea.  Yes, I'm northern and proud! ;)

Raymond Blanc
But, moving back to those TV chefs I actually like, let's talk about the lovely Raymond Blanc.  Out of all the TV chefs I've watched in my life, he's been one of my favourites for decades now, mainly because he has never done anything to annoy or aggravate me.  Ever.  He's only ever made me smile.  Granted, sometimes I have to put the subtitles on because I can't always fully understand what he's saying, but I love the bloke.  Just love him!  In fact, The Restaurant was one of my favourite TV programmes ever and I was, to put it politely, bloody annoyed when the BBC decided to axe it.  The memory of Raymond's face when he caught some woman trying to open a can of coconut milk with a knife the size of a small machete is an image I'll  never forget!  Hilarious!  He just comes across as such a nice man, a gentleman, and even though French food has never been my favourite cuisine, if Raymond Blanc's on TV, I'm there.  

Heston Blumenthal
And another chef I can take or leave?  Step forward Heston Blumenthal.  If I can't knock up a dish in my little kitchen using stuff I can buy from Aldi then I'm really not interested.  You can stuff your dry ice where the sun don't shine as far as I'm concerned, and while you're at it, take Jamie Oliver with you.  He's another one that gets on my nerves, although I will still watch him, if there's nowt else on.  But it usually ends up with both me and my husband picking holes in everything he does - apart from a very nice recipe for a turkey and leek pie he did on one of his Christmas specials a few years back.  We tried that, and it was lovely!  So, he might get on my nerves at times, but at least he turned out a recipe we could cook easily and which tasted fab!  Which is more than Nigella's ever done...

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
And back to my favourites - Hugh Fearnely-Whittingstall!  I like Hugh, almost as much as I like Nigel Slater.  They both possess that calming quality I look for in my TV chefs, and whenever I see a River Cottage programme making an appearance on Channel 4 I always look forward to just sitting back and enjoying whatever it is Hugh's got in store for us.  And the same can be said for my absolute favourite TV chefs - yes, it's The Hairy Bikers!  Those two fabulous northern boys who very rarely make anything I wouldn't eat, although, it has to be said, it's going to be quite a different experience watching the pair of them now since they lost all that weight.  I'm just hoping Simon King won't lose that cuddliness (is that an actual word??) that makes him so weirdly attractive!   

The Hairy Bikers - pre-diet in this pic I think...
I do hope they're still going to knock up a few more pies and cakes in future shows though, because I'll be extremely disappointed if all they're going to cook now is rabbit food!  Mind you, once Christmas is out of the way I can guarantee I'll be wanting to shed more than a few excess pounds so maybe one more Hairy Dieters wouldn't exactly go amiss, after all, in their last series they managed to make a low-fat pie, and I always thought that was about as easy to achieve as finding the Holy Grail... Greggs needs to seriously think about this line of business...

Now, I could probably go on and on talking about the TV chefs I love to watch, and those I can quite easily switch off, but I'd probably be here all day if I did.  And to be honest, all this talk of cooking is making me quite hungry, so, I'll pop off now and try and resist the urge to dip into the Christmas hamper by actually doing some work on 'Striker', but, in the meantime, who are your favourite and not-so-favourite TV chefs?  Who ices your cup cakes, and who burns your baps?  And do we actually have a TV chef that could seriously be called "eye-candy"?  Because I really can't think of one - can you...?

Right, I'm off to stick that kettle on... Anyone got any cake they're willing to share...?

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

My All-Time Favourite Christmas Songs... What are yours...?

It's another musical-themed post today to celebrate the release of my new novella Christmas Without Icing, but whilst today's earlier post was all about the festive soundtrack for the book, this post is going to look at some of my all-time favourite Christmas songs.  Just to make us all feel even more festive.  And for the younger ones amongst you, a Christmas song was a record with a Christmas theme that bands and artists used to release back in the olden days before Simon Cowell created 'The X Factor' and subsequently ruined Christmas forever. ;-)

I've got many happy memories of Christmas, and a lot of those memories revolve around songs, and, let's face it, there have been some classics turned out over the decades.  It's just a shame they don't do them anymore, but, let's relive some of those memories by taking a look at some of my favourites from years gone by...

Slade - Merry Christmas Everybody

Now, come on.  Who doesn't like this Christmas classic?  It's the ultimate Christmas song for me, probably because it's always been around, right from when I was just five years old in 1973, when it was released, right up to present day.  It never goes away, and so it shouldn't.  You only have to hear this and you just know it's Christmas!  A true classic that will never die.

Wizzard - I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day

I just love the 70s!  And although I don't for one second share this song's sentiments - I think I'd quite easily go barmy if it was Christmas every day, although I doubt I felt the same way back in 1973 - this is another of those songs that brings back so many happy childhood memories of Christmas.  I can still remember one Christmas Eve decades ago, when me, my mum and my sister (dad was down the pub escaping for half an hour!) were all snuggled on the sofa watching Top of the Pops and this song was on, and me and my sister were so excited!  We wanted to go to bed and go to sleep because then it would be Christmas Day, but we were way too excited to settle down!  So many happy memories, and these songs always make me smile when I remember them.  This is another true classic Christmas song that will live forever.

Jona Lewie - Stop The Cavalry

I really like this song from the Christmas of 1980, but my husband hates it!  He has to leave the room if its on, which I find quite amusing because I have no idea what he's got against it.  It's another of those classics that's always around at this time of year, and I don't mind that one bit.  Another of my favourites, definitely!

Chris de Burgh - A Spaceman Came Travelling

Now, usually I'd run a mile from anything Chris de Burgh - that 'Lady in Red' does my head in, big time!  But this - this is good!  I like this!  God knows what he's actually singing about but I don't really care - it makes me feel Christmassy (is that an actual word??) and that's all I'm bothered about. And, like many on this list, it's a Christmas song from the 70s, released in 1975.  A great time to be a kid, the 70s...

Cliff Richard - Saviour's Day

I'm sorry, but the Godfather of Christmas songs had to make an appearance.  And this particular track has made it onto my list of favourite Christmas songs because, once again, it brings back happy memories of a great Christmas, although I was very much an adult back in 1990, when this was released.  And anyway, I'm not ashamed to admit I'm a bit of a closet-Cliff fan.  'Devil Woman' was a classic, I don't care what anyone says...

Michael Buble - It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

Because you've just got to have a bit of Buble at Christmas!  Enough said...

Greg Lake - I Believe in Father Christmas

Released in 1974, this song also appeared on my Christmas Without Icing soundtrack, but because it's one of my ultimate favourite Christmas songs, it's making a second appearance today.  Because I love it!  It's one of those songs that makes me feel all warm and cosy inside whenever I hear it, and like many of the others in this list, it just brings back a lot of happy, childhood memories. And I just adore the ending to this song!

The Darkness - Christmas Time (Don't Let The Bells End)

The most recent (that I can remember, anyway) and probably one of the last Christmas songs to be released as far as I'm concerned, in the Christmas of 2003.  I love The Darkness, and I loved this song. It's just so tongue-in-cheek - a bit like The Darkness themselves, really...

Elton John - Step into Christmas

Another classic 70s Christmas tune, released in 1973, proving that the 70s certainly was a good decade for the Christmas song.  But, like many of the others from that time, this track also lives on, year after year.  A happy, feel-good Christmas song.  

So, there you have it.  Just a few of my all-time favourite Christmas classics, and there are still a load more I could've mentioned, like 'Fairytale of New York' by The Pogues feat. Kirsty MacColl, or 'Happy Xmas (War is Over)' by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Wham!'s 'Last Christmas' and, of course, 'Do They Know It's Christmas' by Band Aid (original 80s version, that is).  They're all classics, and I love them all.  And, like I said before, it's just a shame that we don't have a glut of Christmas songs to look forward to at this time of year anymore.  But at least we'll always have these classics to keep the musical spirit of Christmas alive, and to help relive all those fabulous Christmases of the past...  Long live the Christmas single!

And, don't forget, my brand-new Christmas novella, Christmas Without Icing, is available to download HERE from Amazon for just 99p!  

Right, I'm off for a mince pie...

It's Christmas! It's also the official launch day for 'Christmas Without Icing', my new Christmas romance novella!

Yes, two weeks today and the big day itself will be upon us!  So, what better time to release a little festive fairytale to warm people's hearts on these cold, winter days and nights?  And today is the official launch day for just that kind of story - my little bonus book, Christmas Without Icing - a heartwarming tale of love and hope at Christmas, set in Lapland.  Because I've been there.  And it was beautiful!  Perfect inspiration for a romantic, festive story.

And, because it's a Christmas-themed romance, and because it's that time of year again, I thought I'd do a festive-themed musical post to get everyone in the mood for the coming holiday period.

So, just what were the Christmas songs that made up a suitable soundtrack for Christmas Without Icing?

Well, as much as I love the old Slade and Wizzard classics, they weren't really the kind of music that went with this story, but these ones were...

Mud - Lonely This Christmas 


Frankie Goes To Hollywood - The Power of Love  

Mariah Carey - All I Want For Christmas is You  

Michael Buble - Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)  
Greg Lake - I Believe in Father Christmas  


Paul McCartney - Wonderful Christmastime  

Any favourites in there?  One of my absolute favourite Christmas songs of all time is included in that list - Greg Lake's 'I Believe in Father Christmas'.  Ever since I was a child I've loved that song, and I don't even know why.  I just do.  And, funnily enough, it kind of suited this story too.

So, that's the soundtrack for the book - and if you'd like to read a little excerpt from this brand-new novella of mine, you can do so here - an excerpt from Christmas Without Icing - and see what you think.

So, get those Christmas tunes turned up loud, grab a mince pie, and curl up with a festive romance - Christmas Without Icing - a Lapland fairytale.  Available to download HERE from Amazon for just 99p!

And look out for another musical post later today where I'll be sharing some of my all-time favourite Christmas classics! Yes, it's just another excuse to play Slade again... 

Can I smell mulled wine on the go...?

Monday, 10 December 2012

'X Factor' Monday - We have a winner!

Congratulations to fellow northerner James Arthur for winning 'X Factor' 2012 last night - but was it the right result for him?  I'm still not sure myself.  This morning he's been talking about how he wants to get things moving as quickly as possible, release some music really soon, but I'm just not sure how easy that's going to be.  I'm not sure how much creative control he's realistically going to have, but, I guess we'll just have to wait and see how that pans out for him.

James Arthur - X Factor 2012 winner! Photo:
His winner's single is, as I write this, already number 1 in the iTunes chart, but whether it makes it to the Christmas number 1 slot still remains to be seen.  Making it a charity single certainly means it's probably got a better chance than it would have otherwise had, but there are a lot of charity singles knocking about right now so it's difficult to say what we'll see at the top of the festive charts to be honest.  I, personally, haven't taken notice of the charts since about 1996 so I couldn't really care less what the Christmas number 1 is, but if it's something that's making a bit of money for a worthy cause then, whatever it is, that can't be a bad thing, can it?

So, 'X Factor' 2012 is now over, and I can't say I'm sorry to see the back of it.  It also, apparently, ended with the worst set of viewing figures in a long time, probably confirming that it really is time this show was either put to bed, or given the biggest shake-up, because it needs it.  And I don't think it'll be axed, not yet, anyway, so a shake-up it is then.  Please.  Because I can't (and won't) sit through another 17 weeks of what I've endured this year.  And, yes, I know I could have switched off but I only kept watching in the hope that Christopher Maloney would actually win and bring this show to its knees, but that dream ended on Saturday evening leaving us with a half-credible winner.  From the north east.  So I'm not really complaining on that score, but I just think that the whole point of the show has got lost over the years.  I mean, did anyone notice the complete lack of distress on Jahmene's face last night when it was announced that James had won, meaning he'd come second?  Yeah, there wasn't one, because, to all intents and purposes, he'd won too.  He'll also get a recording contract, he'll also get a career out of this, and if 'X Factor' history is anything to go by he'll probably end up with a better and longer career than James will!  So, I think, personally, that this show needs to be turned back into a competition - make it one recording contract up for grabs, and that's all.  Just the one.  Anyone else should just have to hope and pray that someone comes along and signs them too, but, of course, that'll never happen.  Because I still think this show is nothing more than a money-making machine for certain people who will sign up all the decent acts regardless of how far they make it on the show.  There's really nothing to play for, no huge, final prize - or not one that matters, anyway.  And quite a few people see winning the actual show as double-edged sword, so, really, what's the point? 

Anyway, I think I've been on me soapbox enough times over the past few weeks about all of that, everyone knows my feelings on it by now, so, let's look at last weekend's final then.  Was it any good?  Well, I thought it was okay.  Saturday was, anyway.  Although, I have to admit, I enjoyed it far more because I'd recorded it while I was watching 'Strictly Come Dancing' on SKY+ and could therefore whizz through the adverts. 

Jahmene Douglas - X Factor 2012 runner-up. I liked him - a lot. Photo:
The song choices were okay, the duets with the mentors were good, and I especially enjoyed Christopher Maloney's duet with Gary Barlow.  I was initially a bit sceptical that he could pull off one of my favourite Take That songs - 'Rule the World' - but he did.  Quite well, actually, thanks to Gary, I reckon.  But it was good.  Not quite sure what the hoo-ha with Jahmene Douglas' microphone was during his duet with Nicole Scherzinger though.  She claimed it wasn't working, but we could hear him okay in our house, so I came to the probably slightly cynical conclusion that she realised his autotune wasn't turned on and that's why she took it off him, but that's just me being me.  I guess we may never find out, but she didn't look happy at the end of that song.  She had a face on her that could turn the milk!  I suspect somebody's head rolled, but anyway, Saturday night's part of the final weekend was okay - even if Kylie Minogue still makes me green with envy!  When is that woman going to start looking her age?  She's the same age as me but she makes me feel like I should be in the cast of 'Last of the Summer Wine'... She looks stunning! 

Sunday night, however, had me bored rigid!  I just wanted it all to be overwith, to be honest.  In fact, I spent most of the show reading through a Christmas TV listings magazine and moaning about how much rubbish is on television over the festive period.  Although, my night was made after reading that 'The Hotel' is back for another new series at the end of the month - and we're back at The Grosvenor!  That programme was the best comedy on telly, I can't wait for it to start again... Anyway, I digress.  Yes, for me, Sunday's final show was a bit of an anti-climax for me.  Once Christopher had been knocked out (and mysteriously didn't reappear on Sunday's show along with the rest of the finalists, but I'm not even getting into that one right now) it felt a bit obvious who the winner was going to be.  At that point I felt that James had it in the bag, and I was right.  And do I like his winner's single?  No.  Not really.  I mean, it's okay, but I'm just sad/angry/disappointed that this programme has meant we now no longer have a nice, Christmas song at number 1 like we used to when I was a child (back in the dark ages, otherwise known as the 70s!)  I miss Cliff Richard...

So, it's over.  Finished.  And all that's left now is to sit back and wait and see who has the biggest career out of all of this year's finalists.  The winner?  The one that came second?  Christopher Maloney...?  It's anybody's guess...

Friday, 7 December 2012

'Christmas without Icing' - My Christmas novella is released!

I know I said I wasn't going to do a Christmas book - some of you might remember I'd actually started a Christmas novel back in the summer - because I just wasn't "feeling" the story, which is why I'd put it aside in order to start writing 'Striker'.  Well, funnily enough, for some reason, with Christmas fast approaching, I was suddenly taken over by the festive spirit (and I'm not talking about mulled wine here) and felt a strange urge to take another look at that Christmas story of mine.

Reading through it, as Christmas songs flooded out of my radio (alright, slight exaggeration there maybe, but Mariah Carey's 'All I want for Christmas is You' was playing the other day...), I knew that this was a story that could make the perfect novella - so I took the bull by the horns, so to speak, and adapted what had already been written into this new, bonus book of mine.  And 'Christmas without Icing' was born!  I like to call it my little Lapland fairytale, and, despite me saying that I don't really write "sweet" romance, this is exactly what this is.  It's a sweet, festive, fairytale.  And I hope you like it.  

Anyway, here's the blurb, and, just like the book, this is also short and sweet...

Jessie Collins has always wanted to visit Lapland.  But this Christmas, more than any other, it’s also a place she feels she really needs to be as she tries to come to terms with a painful event in the past, and a future she really needs to start living.

Can a strange young man called Mikku, lights in the sky, and a magical little town in the Arctic Circle really help her find the strength she needs to move on?

Christmas without Icing – a Lapland fairytale…

So, there we have it.  A bit of a bonus book from me, all thanks to the Christmas spirit taking over and making me feel all festive. 
Want to check out a little excerpt?  Okay - here you go...

 The sky was the most incredible colour – a mixture of pink and orange streaks and, even though it wasn’t even lunch time yet, I could see it wouldn’t be long before that early dusk arrived.  It wouldn’t be long before this beautiful little place was bathed in that daytime darkness once again.  This was so, so different to anything I’d ever experienced before.  I’d never seen anything like it and I actually found it quite mesmerising, just standing there, looking up at the sky, watching as it changed before my eyes, creating layer upon layer of colours from orange to pink to brown.

‘Beautiful, isn’t it?’

I spun round to see a tall, young man standing beside me, dressed all in black from his hat to his snow boots.  Where had he come from?  I hadn’t even heard him walk up alongside me.  Maybe I’d just been too deep in thought.  And my hat was pulled right down over my ears so it probably wasn’t a complete surprise that I hadn’t heard him arrive.

‘Yes.  Yes, it’s really beautiful,’ I said, watching him as he stared up at the rapidly darkening sky, the colours deepening but still swirling around over our heads.

‘If you think this is something to look at, then you should see the Northern Lights – Aurora Borealis…’  He stopped staring at the sky and looked directly at me, something which took me slightly by surprise because I’d kind of been staring at him.  He didn’t seem to mind, though.  ‘Have you ever seen them?’

‘Erm, sorry… have I ever seen what?’  The sudden appearance of this stranger had unsettled me slightly.  One thing I certainly wasn’t used to was being approached by attractive young men wanting to strike up a conversation.  But something – I didn’t know what, exactly, but something was telling me he was okay.  I had nothing to worry about.

‘The Northern Lights,’ he replied, smiling at me and I had to turn away for a second.  I’d been knocked for six slightly and I just needed a moment to pull myself together.

‘No.  No, I haven’t seen them,’ I said, turning back to look at him, taking in his handsome face with the beautiful smile, deep, dark eyes and perfect skin.  He had a really lovely accent too.  I wondered if he was a local.  Maybe he was a ski instructor or something.  Oh God, I hope he wasn’t trying to drum up business because one place I really wasn’t in a hurry to be was on a pair of skis.  I’d seen people outside the hotel trying to walk around in those ski boots and the majority of them looked as though they had a bad case of piles, which led me to think they obviously weren’t the easiest or most comfortable of things to wear.  And that was before you added the skis to the bottom of them.  No, he was going to be bitterly disappointed if he was looking at me to become a new pupil.  I didn’t care how good-looking he was.

‘Would you like to?’ he asked, still looking at me with those intense eyes of his.  He had one hell of a stare on him but the strange thing was, he wasn’t making me feel in the least bit uncomfortable.  Quite the opposite, in fact.

‘Yes,’ I replied, unable to take my eyes off him, even though it felt a touch weird to be here in the middle of this magical little Christmas village staring at this stranger who’d seemed to appear out of nowhere.  ‘Yes, I would.’

‘I think you should,’ he said, nodding slowly as he turned to look up at the sky again, his hands shoved deep in the pockets of his black jacket.

I wanted to ask why – why he thought I should but, for some reason, I couldn’t seem to get the words out.

‘My name is Mikku,’ he went on, turning back to look at me.

‘I… I’m Jessie,’ I said, suddenly feeling quite tired.  It was as if all the events of the past couple of years had finally caught up with me – like a huge weight had just landed square on my shoulders, weighing me down.

‘Jessie… that’s a lovely name…’  He smiled at me again and, just as suddenly as it had appeared, the tiredness seemed to dissipate, leaving me with a strange sense of calm.  ‘Would you like some company, Jessie?’

Was he coming on to me?  But, as I looked at him, right into those ridiculously deep eyes of his, I knew it wasn’t like that.  It was nothing like that.  For some reason I just couldn’t explain, I felt incredibly comfortable with this man.  This strange, young man with the intense stare and the soft voice.  And, despite having planned this day as a day to reflect, a day to be on my own and think about what it was I was supposed to do with this new, enforced future of mine, I suddenly realised that, yes.  Yes, I did actually want some company.

‘I think I’d like that,’ I said, returning the smile he gave me.  ‘I think I’d like that a lot.’
© Michelle Betham 2012
The hotel we stayed in when we visited Lapland

This book was inspired by a trip my husband and I took to Levi in Finnish Lapland a few years ago, and it was probably one of the most memorable holidays I've ever had, in the most beautiful place.  The scenery there is just stunning, and I will never forget the experience.  Ever.  So, it seemed only right to use those memories of such an incredible place as inspiration for this little story.

Levi town centre - inspiration for 'Christmas without Icing'

Now, this story is a little different to what I usually write, as I mentioned before, so, if you're expecting sexy and edgy then this isn't it - this is a Christmas love story - nothing more, nothing less.  A little departure for me, but sometimes I like to be different! ;) 

'Christmas without Icing' my festive fairytale, available to download now from Amazon