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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Some Christmas Humour - Changes at the North Pole

I was going through some old files the other day and came across this bit of Christmas nonsense - with a sting in the tail.  Unfortunately I have no record of where it came from so cannot properly attribute, however it is very clever  - enjoy!

Notice to all employees

The recent announcement that Donner and Blitzen have elected to take the early reindeer retirement package has triggered a good deal of concern about whether they will be replaced, and about other restructuring decisions at the North Pole.  Streamlining was necessary due to the North Pole's loss of dominance of the season's gift distribution business.  Home shopping channels and mail order catalogues have diminished Santa's market share. He could not sit idly by and permit further erosion of the profit picture. The reindeer downsizing was made possible through the purchase of a late model Japanese sled for the CEO's annual trip. Improved productivity from Dasher and Dancer, who summered at the Harvard Business School, is anticipated. Reduction in reindeer will also lessen airborne environmental emissions for which the North Pole has received unfavourable press.

I am pleased to inform you that Rudolph's role will not be disturbed.  Tradition still counts for something at the North Pole.  Management denies, in the strongest possible language, the earlier leak that Rudolph's nose got that way, not from the cold, but from substance abuse. Calling Rudolph “who was into the sauce and never did pull his share of the load” was an unfortunate comment, made by one of Santa's helpers and taken out of context at a time of year when he is known to be under executive stress. 

As a further restructuring, today's global challenges require the North Pole to continue to look for better, more competitive steps. Effective immediately, the following economy measures are to take place in the Twelve Days of Christmas subsidiary:
1.     The partridge will be retained, but the pear tree never turned out to be the cash crop forecasted. It will be replaced by a plastic hanging plant, providing considerable savings in maintenance;
2.     The two turtle doves represent a redundancy that is simply not cost effective. In addition, their romance during working hours could not be condoned. The positions are therefore eliminated;
3.     The three French hens will remain intact. After all, everyone loves the French;
4.     The four calling birds were replaced by an automated voicemail system, with a call waiting option. An analysis is under way to determine who the birds have been calling, how often and how long they talked;
5.     The five golden rings have been put on hold by the Board of Directors. Maintaining a portfolio based on one commodity could have negative implications for institutional investors.  Diversification into other precious metals as well as a mix of T-bills and high technology stocks appear to be in order;
6.     The six geese-a-laying constitutes a luxury which can no longer be afforded. It has long been felt that the production rate of one egg per goose per day is an example of the decline in productivity. Three geese will be let go, and an upgrading in the selection procedure by personnel will assure management that from now on every goose it gets will be a good one;
7.     The seven swans-a-swimming is obviously a number chosen in better times. The function is primarily decorative.  Mechanical swans are on order. The current swans will be retrained to learn some new strokes and therefore enhance their out placement;
8.     As you know, the eight maids-a-milking concept has been under heavy scrutiny by the EEOC. A male/female balance in the workforce is being sought. The more militant maids consider this a dead-end job with no upward mobility. Automation of the process may permit the maids to try a-mending, a-mentoring or a-mulching;
9.     Nine ladies dancing has always been an odd number. This function will be phased out as these individuals grow older and can no longer do the steps;
10.   Ten Lords-a-leaping is overkill. The high cost of Lords plus the expense of international air travel prompted the Compensation Committee to suggest replacing this group with ten out-of-work congressmen. While leaping ability may be some what sacrificed, the savings are significant because we expect an oversupply of unemployed congressmen this year;
11.   Eleven pipers piping and twelve drummers drumming is a simple case of the band getting too big. A substitution with a string quartet, a cutback on new music and no uniforms will produce savings which will drop right down to the bottom line; We can expect a substantial reduction in assorted people, fowl, animals, and other expenses. Though incomplete, studies indicate that stretching deliveries over twelve days is inefficient. If we can drop ship in one day, service levels will be improved.
12.   Regarding the lawsuit filed by the attorney's association seeking expansion to include the legal profession  (thirteen lawyers-a-suing) action is pending.

Lastly, it is not beyond consideration that deeper cuts may be necessary in the future to stay competitive. Should that happen, the Board will request management to scrutinise  the Snow White Division to see if seven dwarfs is the right number.

Fr  S. Claus


Alison xxx
(and don't forget to watch out for my new historical romance release in January - CLAIMING THE REBEL'S HEART)

For more information and to read an excerpt:  Click HERE
or visit GOODREADS 

Ms. S. is going to take a little break from the blogosphere over Christmas and New Year (to do some writing and a bit of travelling)... she will be back on 15 January!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Taking tea with Joanna Lloyd (and a Giveaway!)

My last tea guest for the year is the lovely Joanna Lloyd, fellow Australian and writer of fabulous historical romances.  Joanna's extraordinary childhood, growing up in a remote part of Papua New Guinea, is fodder for a whole book of its own and makes my own childhood in Kenya look positively tame!

I have been looking forward to sharing a cup of tea with my fellow historical writer... Joanna…one lump or two?

Honey please, I’m an old hippy. Oh, and a squeeze of lemon, no milk. (AS: Honey? Umm... George do we have any honey?)

Christmas is just around the corner, how will you be celebrating this year?

I don’t want to spoil our lovely tea party so lean over a bit. Very quietly… I am not a big Christmas person – if you bend my arm I might sling a bit of tinsel across the door jamb and plonk a small Christmas tree on the table but I am turned off by the commercialization of it. All my family are the same but I will be having Christmas lunch with my son and daughter-in-law and a few friends who are Christmas orphans. My favourite day is Boxing Day because then I know the whole hurdy-gurdy is over for another year…Bah! Humbug! (AS: You don't get any argument from me about the commercialisation but I love Christmas for the family connections past and present. As I make my Aunty 'Etty's mince pies I think about the generations of women in my family who preceded me...and sharing a meal with my precious family at any time is always a treat)

You and I were both born in exotic places… how did your parents come to be in Papua New Guinea and how old were you when you moved to Australia?

My father was an engineer and at aged 22, decided it might be exciting to travel and work in the wilds of PNG. He was sent to Madang in 1946 to a small island off the coast to help build a desiccated coconut factory 6 months after my parents married. They lived in a kunai (grass) hut, grew all their own food and my mother baked her own bread. As babies my brother and I were “stored” in meat safes which were timber framed cupboards with the top and sides screened with fly wire to keep out the malaria-carrying mosquitoes. My older brother was the first white baby born in the little Madang hospital. When my mum was in labour, her dog was under the bed barking at the furore and a group of drunks, dragged in to the small hospital to dry out, were on the veranda outside her door, cheering Mum on as she screamed. My father was somewhere playing tennis! I was born in a Lutheran Mission bush hospital, only accessible by jeep if the rivers were down so Mum had to be very sure of her dates! I went to Australia to boarding school at twelve, returning for holidays and when I turned seventeen, my parents left Papua New Guinea to move back to Australia. (AS: What extraordinary parents you had! It sounds very similar to my grandparents' experience in colonial Kenya in the 1920s but that's a conversation for another day...)

What is your most enduring childhood memory of your time in PNG?

It was an idyllic childhood. A time of total freedom and safety. There were no restrictions on my movements and I don’t think I wore a pair of shoes until I was 12 years old and was sent to Australia to boarding school. There are many memories but I will relate one. Our haus-boi (domestic servant) would go on regular “walkabout” back to his small village in the jungle. There would be no warning, we would get up in the morning and he would have disappeared and when he was ready he would reappear. (AS:  We had a similar experience with household staff in Kenya) 

When he reappeared on one occasion he had in tow a young girl of about 12-13 years of age.  He told us he had bought her for two pigs and she was now his wife. I recall my mother being horrified and insisting she slept in a different area from him because she was just a child. She and I would play with my toys together and the poor man was too frightened of my mother to touch her. He was not happy over wasting two pigs on the bride price for no return though. When I finally went away to boarding school she had not become pregnant so I can only assume fear won out over lust. I have provided a photograph of me aged about 9 years at a Sing-Sing (gathering of different tribes to show off their dances and costumes) in the highlands of PNG.

The young Joanna at a "Sing-Sing"

When did you first start writing seriously?

Since 1987 all my work positions have required writing: reports, assessments, submissions, speeches and media releases. When I could no longer go to work, about 7 years ago, I decided I wanted to write fiction and so wrote my first book set during the French Revolution. At this time I had no training in creative writing, including character development, plot points, arcs etc. It was just a rollicking good tale. But into the bottom drawer it went – and rightly so!  But ever onward and upward I went and have now had two books published. (AS:  Maybe that rollicking tale will reappear in another form in the future? I don't think any rollicking tale is ever wasted!)

In your non-writing world you have been involved in Family Law mediation where you must see the sad end to relationships that began with such hope.  How has that led you to writing romance?

I’m not sure if you are asking that question tongue in cheek, Alison – and well you might! For over 20 years, I assisted people to separate.  I listened to their vitriol and blame and thwarted their attempts to use their children as pawns to score points against each other. (AS: I'm an ex-lawyer who LOATHED "Family" Law with a passion for all those reasons) By the end I was able to detach from the emotion and the outcome and the only issues I was adamant about were how the children were managed by both. I would ask them to provide me with a photo of the child/children before mediation and I would put it in a prominent place and each time one (usually the male) would ask for ridiculous arrangements with regards to the child, I would point at the photo and remind them it was a vulnerable person they were playing tag with. By the end of this I think I jumped to the other end of the continuum where a Happy Ever After was a welcome change needed to bring back my faith in love and relationships. I must admit, even now, I sometimes read or write and think…Hah! That won’t last! (AS: As an antidote to Family Law, I took to doing pre-marital counselling which I loved but yes, I often wonder how many of the marriages lasted...)

Your first book, BEYOND INNOCENCE, was set in the early 1800s in colonial Australia but with your new series you are moving to one of the most interesting periods of our modern age, the First World War.  SHADOW BENEATH THE SEA is set around the sinking of the Lusitania. What was the inspiration behind this story (and when is it being released?) and is there a sequel planned?

There is a bit of a story around this one. I began writing the book as a love affair set on the Titanic, intending it to be ready for end 2011/early 2012, in time for the 100 year anniversary. However, life had other ideas and I missed the boat (pun intended)! I wanted this still to be set on a ship as I was drawn by the idea of a floating microcosm where events in the normal space of time are reduced to a matter of days and where all manner of characters are thrown together, then faced with a disaster. I was also fascinated by this virtually unknown (except by us history lovers) event in history which had a massive effect politically, personally and globally and influenced the previously neutral America to eventually enter the war. (AS: I remember my grandmother telling me about the sinking of Lusitania...Newspapers were forbidden to children but her parents were so shocked it was talked about openly at the table).

SHADOW BENEATH THE SEA wasn’t written as part of a series but there is a possibility of sequels to both this book and BEYOND INNOCENCE. The hero of SHADOW BENEATH THE SEA, Edward, would be personally involved in the fighting and Lillian, …well, there is a world of possibilities for this courageous, independent woman. 
Lillian Marshall’s father is determined she will accompany him to England on board the great luxury liner, Lusitania. Walter Marshall needs an accomplice in crime to execute a shrewd con to make their fortune. Lillian is faced with an impossible decision - stay in America and marry a man she doesn’t love for stability and security, or face her fear of sea travel, her father’s crooked schemes, and an unknown future to reunite with a family she’s never known.

When Edward James books passage to England on the Lusitania, he believes his future is at last out of his father’s hands and his career as a musician is within reach. Before the ship sails, Edward becomes an unwitting ally in Walter’s plan to force his reluctant daughter onto the ship. Edward finds himself drawn to the intriguing Lillian and seeks her company at every opportunity; finally facing the possibility that it may be Lillian who holds his heart.
Unfortunately, his uncle has more insidious plans to wed Edward to the cold-hearted Lavinia Armitage, daughter of a family business partner.

So begins a love story hindered by class, time, and promises - Edward’s to marry Lavinia and Lillian’s to steal from the man she loves. Against a backdrop of vivid characters, obscene wealth, secrets, lies, and deceit, the countdown begins toward one of the greatest war-time shipping tragedies in history.
Buy links:


And about Joanna Lloyd...
Born in Papua New Guinea, I, like many other ex-pats, were sent to boarding school in Australia. After thirteen years in Sydney, I gravitated to the lush warmth of Far North Queensland. Now that my two boys are safely married and raising their own families, I have the time to indulge my love of books and writing. I have always had a voyeuristic fascination with people, how they think and why they act in certain ways. This led to studies in Psychology and years of workplace and family law mediation. All of which convinced me it is impossible to know what another is thinking and the most bizarre fiction could never emulate real life.

What wonderful fodder for a writer! When the iconic John Lennon wrote "All you need is love", he knew that every living being seeks out love in some 
form. My novels are about love - romantic, passionate, parental, selfless and self-serving. I will spend the rest of my writing life exploring and writing about the many levels of love. Maybe the day will come when I truly understand it. To find out more about Joanna, visit her WEBSITE.

It has been a while since we have had a Giveaway and Joanna is offering a digital giveaway of either SHADOW BENEATH THE SEA or BEYOND INNOCENCE if you can tell us in which century each of these books are set.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Taking Tea with...Emmie Dark

Contemporary romance author, EMMIE DARK, is counted among one of the circle of incredibly talented writers that my fair city of Melbourne has produced, but sadly she is about to forsake the 'land downunder' for a far more exciting life in San Francisco. Our loss will be San Fran's gain.

Emmie is a lady in every sense of the word and I am particularly grateful to her for teaching me how to wear a scarf properly. I love scarves but I turned up to a lunch looking like I'd thrown a piece of old rag around my neck and Emmie took me in hand. Every time I construct my neck wear now I think fondly of Emmie...

Emmie,  I know you are a tea passionista  (it has to be EXACTLY right!) so please share with us the secret of a good cuppa!

Yes, it’s very appropriate that I’m here taking tea with you! Although I am a quite demanding visitor to entertain when it comes to tea. For a start, I want a selection to be available. Many people think having English Breakfast and Earl Grey on hand is pretty flash. Nope. Not even close. I primarily drink herbal teas, so I’d like to be able to chose from green, rooibos, licorice, jasmine, and a few blended varieties, just to start with. Then the water has to be the right temperature (which, of course, varies according to the kind of tea you are serving). And no cups with the tide out – I don’t take milk, so I want a full cup, please! (Are you regretting inviting me, yet?)  (AS: Not at all, George appreciates a guest who appreciates his tea making skills, don't you George? Quick, George, find the bone china...)

I remember meeting you just after you had sold your first book to Harlequin. Can you describe your emotions on getting “the call”?

It’s actually kind of a blur. I do remember that I almost missed the call – it was early morning and I was in bed with a cup of tea (of course) and my laptop,  doing some writing. My phone rang and I debated about whether to interrupt my “flow” to take the call. I’m so glad I did! I remember jumping out of bed and just walking around from room to room, thinking, “Is this really happening?”

Can you believe it is nearly Christmas!  What will you be doing for Christmas this year?

I’m about to move overseas, so this year I’m wringing every minute out of every day to spend time with my family and friends. On Christmas Day I expect to be drinking champagne, eating way too much food, and laughing over those terrible cracker jokes. 

I believe you are leaving Australia for the siren call of San Francisco. How did this come about and what will you be doing in SF?

Yes, I’m shortly leaving my beloved Melbourne for my equally loved San Francisco. The opportunity of a new job beckoned and proved to be too good to pass up. I’m looking forward to getting to know San Francisco and making it my home. I’m sure there’ll still be lots of opportunities to write and I’m looking forward to the inspiration I’ll no doubt gain from new surroundings! 

You are an inveterate traveler…  What is the one place in the world you would recommend as your “must visit” place?

Ooh, this is a tough one! In honour of my soon-to-be home I’ll pick a place that’s very near San Francisco: Yosemite National Park in California. The scenery is absolutely jaw-dropping – it’s genuinely one of the most amazing places I’ve ever seen. (I’ve attached a photo of me there!) (AS: I loved San Francisco, although my enduring memory is of my sons getting food poisoning from some iffy crab on Fisherman's Wharf and throwing up all the way from San Francisco to Monterey)

Apart from your lovely Harlequin romances you have recently ventured out into the world of “indy”.  What led to this decision?

I’d been working on DANCE WITH ME for a while and had discussed it with a couple of publishers. Unfortunately it doesn’t fit neatly into a category – it’s a romance, but it’s also sort of women’s fiction, although it’s a bit too sexy to fit into that genre. I still believed in the story and thought it needed to get out there, so I decided to try self-publishing. It’s been a real learning experience, but Dance With Me has been really well received, and I’m definitely working on doing more!  

You have a new book coming out on December 16 (you heard it here first, folks!)… CHARMED… what was the inspiration behind CHARMED?

CHARMED is an erotic novella that’s coming out with Destiny Romance. It’s sort of a follow-up to SPELLBOUND, which came out earlier this year, although the two books are independent of each other, they just take place in the same ‘universe’. In SPELLBOUND, my heroine has a bit of an issue with psychic powers. I decided to take that one step further: what if there’s a witch who has total mastery of her psychic abilities but then she meets someone who is totally impervious to her powers? Someone who also just happens to be tall, dark, handsome and troubled? I hope that’s intrigued you! 

Emmie, we wish you all the very best on your move to SF and we will miss you...

Polly Heatherton’s life isn’t turning out the way she’d thought. So after a very, very bad day that involves losing her job and breaking up with her boyfriend, she packs her bags, leaves Australia behind and steps out on the trip of a lifetime to work out what comes next.
In Guatemala she meets incurable white knight Josh Byrne, an American trying to hold together his fractured family. That isn’t turning out so well, so instead he turns his heroic tendencies to rescuing Polly.
Josh and Polly have a fling that is supposed to be short-lived. Instead it sets them on a journey that takes them through three countries, two emergency room visits, one incredible dance lesson, and a hell of a lot of vino tinto.
Book buy links:
More information:

And a little more about Emmie Dark...
After years of writing press releases, employee newsletters and speeches for CEOs and politicians – none of which included any kind of kissing – Emmie Dark finally took to her laptop to write what she wanted to write. She was both amazed and delighted to discover that what came out was sexy, noble heroes who found themselves crossing paths with strong, determined heroines. And plenty of kissing.

Emmie lives in Melbourne, Australia, and she likes red lipstick, chardonnay,  sunshine, driving fast, rose-scented soap and a really good cup of tea. Like, a really good cup of tea. She’s particularly fussy about it, and has been known to pack her own teabags when she travels. Most members of her family are too scared to make her a cuppa, in case they get it wrong.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Writing Process

Writers supporting writers… I am always happy to help my writing colleagues and one particular friend, Anita Davison, my partner in crime (quite literally as we are both tinkering around with Cosy Mysteries at the moment) and fellow 17th century passionista, has invited me to join a blog tour with a difference. A fabulous way to get to understand the way writers work (or don’t…) and to meet some "new to you" authors. Welcome to the WRITING PROCESS BLOG TOUR.

Anita Davison… whose blog is, also writes as Anita Seymour and I am currently reading her wonderful fictionalisation of the life of Elizabeth Murray - ROYALIST REBEL. Loving it!

Here goes:

1)     What am I working on?

Start with the hard one! Right at this very moment I am in the middle of edits for  an English Civil War set historical romance, CLAIMING THE REBEL’S HEART, for which I am very happy to do the "Cover Reveal" today. 
For more information and to read an excerpt, visit my WEBSITE:  click HERE.
Release date:  January 22, 2014.

With Christmas looming I am allowing myself the luxury of a short break while I mull over my next project - which is an English Civil War set historical romantic suspense - THE BRIDE IN THE BOX.

Sitting on the backburner is the long awaited sequel to my “King’s Men” series (BY THE SWORD and THE KING’S MAN) and I am also planning two other stories to link to CLAIMING THE REBEL’S HEART. One day the English Civil War will be the “new Regency” and I will be there!

Also on the back burner is the aforementioned “cosy mystery”, Harriet Gordon and the Burmese Ruby - set in Singapore in 1910.

So many ideas…so little time!

2)     How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I write across genres. Back in the dark past when I actually had an agent he sat me down in a cafe in New York (yes… really!) fed me coffee and doughnuts and told me I had to make up my mind as to whether I was writing romance or historicals because I couldn’t do both. I have mulled over that piece of advice for many years and have gone on completely disregarding it.

In today’s publishing world, that distinction is less important than it was back in New York in 1999. In those days it mattered that a publishing house could put a label on a book that could distinguish it clearly…Romance, Historical, Crime. What the epublishing world has done is blur those boundaries and made it acceptable to write across genres.

3)     Why do I write what I do?

I like to write the books I like to read - historicals with a romantic theme and if I also want to add a ghost or two or a mystery to be solved or even a bit of time travel…I do. I need action and adventure in my tales. Straight romances are just not my thing and while I love a good historical, I still need two characters I can engage with and who have at least got the promise of a HEA. Sad endings are just not too sad…

4)     How does my writing process work?

Let me start by saying I am an “organic” writer (or “pantser” if you prefer). My stories begin with characters and an inciting incident, a good strong setting and a piece of history and, of course (because I do write romance!) a Happy Ever After…all of these ingredients form the basic skeleton of the story and it is up to my characters to make the story happen. This is a method fraught with difficulty… you go up dead ends, you suffer sagging middles… but that magic moment when your characters start talking back to you and you are walking their journey with them makes it all worthwhile.

Writing mysteries presents more of a challenge than a straight historical romance because you do need to have a compelling mystery to solve and that requires a little thinking about….! I am discovering ways to manage the need to plot with the pantsing method of writing and getting a little more efficient about the process. My husband is aghast as I arrive at the dinner table with the announcement “I know who did it!”. Being an engineer he just rolls his eyes. It is absolutely beyond his comprehension that I could write books without plotting every nuance. Tried that once… got bored…

Next week (15th December) watch out for two special writing friends. If you love historical romances these are the writers for you.

JOANNA LLOYD Born in Papua New Guinea, like many other ex-pats, Joanna was sent to boarding school in Australia. Having always had a voyeuristic fascination with human behaviour, she studied psychology and spent twenty years conducting workplace and family law mediations. This exposed her to the very best and worst of human behaviours. After the degenerative process of muscular dystrophy caused her to be wheelchair bound, she transferred her fascination to the written word. She is the author of two historical romance novels – Beyond Innocence, and Shadow Beneath the Sea. She lives and writes in tropical Far North Queensland – her version of paradise.

You will find her blog at:
(Joanna will be taking tea with Ms. Stuart on December 20).

MAGGI ANDERSEN Maggi Andersen lives in the countryside outside Sydney, Australia, with her lawyer husband. After gaining a BA in English and an MA in Creative Writing, and raising three children, Maggi now indulges her passion for writing. She writes in several genres, contemporary and historical romances and young adult novels. You’ll find adventure and elements of danger in everyone.
You will find her blog at:

FINALLY... As my little Christmas present to my readers, my time travel romance (with an English Civil War setting), SECRETS IN TIME, is on sale on Amazon only from 9-14 December for $0.99c! Good, quick holiday reading!  To go directly to AMAZON click HERE

Friday, December 6, 2013

Taking Tea with Alice Valdal

One of the wonderful things about being a writer are the friendships I have formed with other writers in all corners of the earth. 

When Alison met Alice - Butchart Gardens 2008
Probably the most precious and enduring of these friendships came about in an unlikely way. Sometime in 2007 or early 2008 (I can't even remember now!), I signed up to do Margie Lawson's Beating Self Defeating Behaviours course. As part of the course, I had to pair up with another writer on the course with the intention of being each other's consciences. I went through the list and randomly chose the name of another historical writer, Alice Valdal of Vancouver, Canada. As Alice and I began to exchange emails we realised we had so much more in common then just being prone to self defeating behaviours. We are both Capricorns, both active in our churches, cat lovers,  both 'pantsers' and we have a similar taste in our writing (and reading) and every Monday we still write to each other to report in on what we are doing (or not!) with our writing...and life in general. EVERY Monday since 2008. I can't imagine my writing life without Alice.

The tie was probably strengthened by a visit to Canada, my husband and I made in June 2008 (to visit #1 son who was working in Banff). We caught the ferry to Vancouver Island where Alice met us and we spent a wonderful day with her. She took us to her beloved Butchart Gardens, her home (with the most beautiful view) and we lunched at a magnificent Empress Hotel in Victoria (an Indian tiffin lunch shared with Jo Beverley!).

So I am absolutely thrilled to have Alice as my tea guest this week and to shout from the mountain tops her venture into indy publishing with her collection of delightful short Christmas stories (THE MAN WHO LOVED CHRISTMAS - free on Smashwords). With no further ado, I am throwing open my door and my arms to Alice...

Alice,  despite living so far apart, we have been privileged to share an actual cup of tea at your lovely home on Vancouver Island?  Do you have a preference?

Earl Grey, is my cuppa.  (AS: Sigh... we don't have THAT in common...)

I’ve sipped it from a bone china cup at the world-renowned The Empress Hotel in Victoria. I’ve had it poured from a silver teapot at  the Butchart Gardens, accompanied by dainty sandwiches and scones with clotted cream.  But the best cup of tea is one shared with a friend.  We can sit in the kitchen, on the porch, by the sea or atop a mountain, it’s the friend that counts.  So thank for pouring, Alison. ( pleasure!)

You and I met doing  Margie Lawson’s course on Overcoming Self Defeating Behaviours – what would you say is your worst self defeating behavior when it comes to writing? Have you managed to overcome it (because I know I haven’t!)?  

Ha ha!  What I’ve learned since we took that course, is that I cannot fit into someone else’s pattern.  Even my self-defeating behaviours are outside Margie’s list.  I’ve given this question some thought and I believe my most counter-productive activity is trying to write when I’ve nothing to say. The words are stilted, the language stiff, the grammar convoluted -- the whole writing session is destined for the garbage can.   

I’m still working on a solution but I recently came across  Rachel Aaron’s blog where she laid out three essentials for writing a good scene.  The first was knowledge.  I.e.  what do you want to tell the reader in this scene? 

Know what you want to say before writing seems pretty obvious, but I’ve learned that I can get so tangled up in the words or the pacing or the GMC or a dozen other “rules” that I forget what I want to say (AS: so much good writing is killed by 'rules'...!).  If I take the time to know what I want to tell the reader, I find the writing comes faster and better.  

What did you do in your life before writing?  

How far back to do you want to go?  As a teenager, I was a dairy princess. <g>  In my working life I’ve been a school teacher, liaison officer, and esthetician.  (AS:... an "esthetician"? AV:  maybe you call it "cosmetician"  I did skin-care, facials, manicures, pedicures, waxing, . . . also sold some cosmetics, but the emphasis is on healthy skin, not make-up).

Where did your love of history come from

It’s right there in the word Hi….story.  Some think history is a dry study of dates and names, but if we look behind those items, we’ll find real people with fascinating stories.  We’ll find landscapes and cultures and clans and heroes.  We find story.

Tell us about Christmas on Vancouver Island?

There’s no snow!  

My growing up years were in snow country and I can’t picture Christmas 
without softly falling snowflakes, banks of the white stuff lining the roads and making fluffy hats on the fence posts.  Where I live now, we get rain most of December.  Roads are dark, gardens are waterlogged and your Santa hat is sodden.  (AS:  sounds like a Melbourne winter - without Christmas!)

To make up for all this dark and dreary, we go in for lots and lots of lights.  There is a sail past outside my window every Christmas with dozens and dozens of boats decked out in coloured lights.  Truckers parade through the streets with their rigs festooned in lights.   Butchart Gardens plants thousands of lights among its shrubs and trees and homeowners light up the streets with masses of tiny lights.  I still miss the snow, but it is nice not having to shovel the walk on Christmas morning.

You have just released a collection of short stories with a Christmas theme. How did these little stories come about?

Over the last several years, I’ve posted a story in my newsletter as a Christmas gift to readers.  The stories aren’t my usual style, more mystical, more whimsical, more tender. I once heard a preacher talk about “thin places,” where the barrier between the ordinary and the holy is fragile.  I like to think these stories describe thin places. 

Friends read them and urged me to collect them into a book, hence “The Man Who Loved Christmas and other short stories.”  It has been a great introduction to the world of self-publishing.

About Alice...
 I grew up in a family of boys, so my best girl friends lived between the covers of a book -- Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames and Anne Shirley.  I used to wish I lived on Prince Edward Island so I could be more like Anne! Later I went away to university, earned a degree in history and English, got married, moved to the West Coast of Canada and made a number of career changes, but the “Anne” books still rest on my book shelf.

I started writing more as a test to see if I could than for any serious expectation of publication, so when my first novel “Love and Lilacs” was published I was thrilled, and somewhat bemused.

My writing has taken a new twist in the past few years.  My children’s choir at church, wanted to stage a musical and needed material that would match their talents, as well as those of the adults we co-opted into the group.  I spent weeks searching for a suitable script without success.  In the end, I decided to use my time writing the play rather than looking for one, so now I've added playwright to my other hats. (AS:...and every year she swears will be her last time...)

I live with my husband and two cats on beautiful Vancouver Island. When not spinning tales in front of the computer, I enjoy gardening, needlework, music and the ocean view from my kitchen window. 

The Man Who Loved Christmas”, the title of the first story in this collection of mystical tales, is an almost fairy-tale about family and life and Christmas and love that never dies. Protagonists in the other stories range from a teenage girl to an old woman.  All share a theme of family and love and unseen possibilities in the Christmas season.

This collection contains six stories of hope and charm, a Christmas gift to readers

THE MAN WHO LOVED CHRISTMAS is FREE on Smashwords- click HERE and for reasons best known to Amazon... .97c on Amazon 

Monday, December 2, 2013

It can't be December already?

Am I alone in thinking it is only April? Because that is where my brain is… but the Christmas decorations are in the shops (and have been since September), my to do list includes “Christmas Cards” and the Christmas pudding is steaming in the kitchen so I have to accept the fact that it is indeed December and it must be Christmas.

Even my husband, grumbling as he hauled the ladder in from the garage to retrieve the Christmas tree and decorations from our highest cupboard, muttered. “Isn’t it only yesterday I put the Christmas decorations away?”

Every year seems to speed up.

Is it because I am already entering dates for August next year in my diary? And son is getting married! Or is it just because I am getting old?

I remember my 95 year old grandmother saying “My dear, at my age, a year is only one 95th of my life… when you are (pointing to 7 year old son) his age it is one 7th of your life.”

Perhaps it is the law of diminishing returns. The older you get, the faster the years fly by…

The dead give away that Christmas is approaching, at least in this part of the world is the frantic pressure everyone suddenly seems to be under. For Australians Christmas = summer holidays. While there are only 3 public holidays, Australia effectively shuts down for at least two weeks. When I was in the Army I always thought Christmas would be the ideal time for a full scale invasion. All the potential invading force would find to oppose them would be a door with the sign “Re-opens January 13”.

We must catch up before Christmas!” my friends cry…

You see the hordes in the supermarket stocking up on food as if Armageddon was due to arrive at any moment. You ask friends how they are and they roll their grey ringed eyes heavenwards and say “I’m so stressed! I can’t wait for Christmas to be over.” I know they don’t mean it.

Why do we do this to ourselves? What is it about Christmas that resets our clocks? As soon as Christmas is over, its as if the nation heaves a sigh and a Boxing Day torpor descends on the land.

Then we make our New Year’s resolutions as if the flick of a clock hand suddenly changes everything.

How Alison sees herself....
Would I change anything? Not a bit! I’m no Grinch. I love Christmas, I love the busy-ness of Christmas. The careful planning of the presents, the Christmas baking that ties me to the women of my family from generations past and the family coming together.

The tree is up, the fruit mince for the mince tarts (family recipe)is maturing in a dark cupboard and yesterday in 36 degree heat I spent 8 hours steaming the Christmas pudding. Ah yes, Christmas in Australia does it bring its own challenges! This year, for the first time, we are spending the day with one of my sons and his partner. I love how my family of 4 has become a family of 6. Oh… I just love Christmas and yes as soon as Boxing Day comes I will reset my clock, make my New Year’s Resolutions and the cycle of life will continue.

Alison's 17th Century recipe for Christmas Pudding
This is the recipe for my famous "Seventeenth Century" Christmas Pudding 


250g flour,  1 tsp nutmeg, 250g suet 1 tsp cinnamon, 250g dark (Barbados) sugar, 250g each of sultanas, raisins, currants and mixed peel
250g grated new carrot, 100 slivered blanched almonds, 250g grated raw potato, 1 large wineglass of brandy or sherry, 3 or 4 tsp mixed spice 

1. Mix all ingredients thoroughly and put in greased basins, covered with greaseproof paper and a cloth.
2. Steam for 8 hours.
3. Cool and change cloth.
4. Re-steam for 3 hours and serve with brandy butter, custard etc.
Notes: can be made not too long in advance and it can be frozen. It makes one large and one small wonderful, dark, very rich pudding!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Taking Tea with Debra Brown

It is always a pleasure to share a cuppa and a natter with a historical writer but today's guest comes with an added extra, Debra Brown is the owner of THE ENGLISH HISTORICAL FICTION AUTHORS, one of my favourite blogs and the 'go to' place for all those quirky little facts about English history you were too afraid to ask.  

Good afternoon, Debra.  No guest gets past my door without a stated preference for tea (flavor?) or coffee? What can I offer you?

I love a Chinese brand of organic green, Royal King. I don’t suppose….?

(AS: Ummmm.... I'll see what we have in the back of the cupboard!)

You are something of an enigma… on one hand you are a published author in your own right (I’ll come back to that) but you are also the owner of one of my favourite blogs – The English Historical Fiction Authors. The contributors to this blog include some very well known names in the Historical Fiction space, including one of my own personal favourites, Elizabeth Chadwick. How did you come to set up this blog and gather such an impressive stable of authors?

I was bemoaning the amount of work needed for me to regularly research and write a history blog, and in a chat with an impressive author I got the idea that surely others like myself (some of us call ourselves Anglophiles) would love to read a bite-size bit of British history on a blog each day. Right? I thought this could be done with thirty or so authors, so I began contacting some who had written British historical novels and would have done the research upon which to base their stories.

It took only a few weeks to get a group together and organize the blog. We launched it September 23, 2011, bribing people to visit with a Kindle drawing and many books to give away.

The English Historical Fiction Authors recently collaborated in a book, Castles, Customs, and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors. How did this collaboration come about?

We celebrated our first anniversary as a group with our readers. Afterward, Deborah Swift suggested we put some of the posts together in a book. My first thought? Yes! I knew it was a wonderful idea from the start, and many of the authors were just as excited.

Where does your passion for English history come from? Do you have one particular period of history that holds your heart?

I started reading historical fiction as a child—I don’t remember my age exactly, probably about eight. I just remember sitting around for hours in the hiding places of our spacious house devouring an ancient (as old as my dad!) set of seven books called My Bookhouse which now comes in fifteen volumes. They were an amazing compilation of classic stories and poems from all over the world written by the likes of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Robert Louis Stevenson—as well as hundreds of illustrations that captivated me. I have loved England, history, and literature ever since.

I can’t say that I love one exact period more than others, though I prefer the periods in which balls and etiquette practiced in fine houses prevailed rather than a harsh life below a motte and bailey topped hill. Clothing—I prefer Victorian and Edwardian fashions and some medieval gowns. Don’t tell, but I’m not much for Regency women’s dress. (AS:  I have to agree with you... the fashions of late Victorian England, while impractical, are the epitome of elegance!)

Debra Brown, author, has penned the “Jane Austenesque” THE COMPANION OF LADY HOLMESHIRE. What was the inspiration behind this story?

I previously had a jewelry business, and when I was working on the designs I watched period movies. All of them. And then they came to an end. About that time the 2008 recession hit and my day job ended as well as my jewelry sales dropping off. I was very happy to organize all those bits of stone and metals into storage boxes and be done with them.

I wanted to fill my life with more historical drama, so I began dreaming up a story of my own. What fun it would be to write a book, I thought. I never dreamed of having it published, so I didn’t study writing. I didn’t know authors or anyone who did any such thing; I just wrote myself a story. Then on Facebook someone suggested I submit it to her publisher, and I did. It was accepted, and my new life began! I revised the book a year later….

You write “sweet” historicals. As a reader (and writer)I personally prefer the interaction of the big muscle between the ears, rather than any other generic body parts. My characters have to really earn their moment in bed and even then historical accuracy compels me to mention the terrible risks they run!  I think a great many writers are pressured by their publishers to make their books “hot”. What is your view of the trend towards “hot” historicals?

I know “hot” books came to be considered mainstream, but I think it is a long-lived fad, and we will be back to what we had for hundreds of years. I think books focused on other topics will again predominate, and steamy romance will be less emphasized. Why? Because there is only so much that can be written about sex before it becomes repetitive. A demand for less sexually focused stories is growing, and I believe eventually publishers will quit insisting upon it. But what do I know?

I even wonder if the success of certain books is artificial. Everyone I hear from on the topic of Fifty Shades of Grey says they either won’t read it or didn’t like it, for example. So how did it get so high on the charts?

That is one of the first things I thought about when I started writing my book. I didn’t really know if anyone wrote clean stories anymore (I was out of the serious reading world for a long time). The supermarket had ever so many steamy romances, and I wasn’t interested in them. I wanted a good plot, interesting characters, and such—like the classics I remembered from my younger years. I know many writers of hot romance write well, but I wanted my story to carry itself without sex.

What is next for Debra Brown, writer?

I have been working on another early Victorian story that I call For the Skylark (AS: Lovely title!). I started with a woman modeled after Dickens’ Miss Havisham, but as I introduced her adult twins, they took over the story. I thought this book would have been released long ago, but the blog and Castles, Customs, and Kings has kept me pretty busy. I work on it as I can and hope to have it published within a year.

Thanks, Alison, for having me to tea! AS: It's been an absolute pleasure and here comes George with your Royal King tea...most appropriate.

A compilation of essays from the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, this book provides a wealth of historical information from Roman Britain to early twentieth century England. Over fifty different authors share hundreds of real life stories and tantalizing tidbits discovered while doing research for their own historical novels.

From Queen Boadicea’s revolt to Tudor ladies-in-waiting, from Regency dining and dress to Victorian crime and technology, immerse yourself in the lore of Great Britain. Read the history behind the fiction and discover the true tales surrounding England’s castles, customs, and kings.  

If you are interested in knowing a little more about this book, which would make a fantastic Christmas present for a history lover, Debra is also the guest of the Hoydens and Firebrands this week, talking about the seventeenth century 

And don't forget to keep an eye open for FOR THE SKYLARK:  Raised isolated on a large estate, Evangeline cannot cope when her brother and only friend, Dante, falls in love.