Saturday, May 17, 2008

I'M BACK!

Well, almost. Having dillied and dallied amongst the chocolate shops, tulip fields and windmills for far too long -- in solid sunshine! -- I'm now into the deadline cave. There will be a full report with pics as soon as the wip is delivered, but meantime here's a little glimpse of the temptations to come...

Right now, though, I'm more excited about introducing my next guest blogger, who's kindly given up her own precious time to help me celebrate my 50th book.

I first met Natasha Oakley a year or two when she was placed next to me at a Mills & Boon author lunch. She'd just sold her first book and I was so taken with her that I rushed out and bought FOR OUR CHILDREN'S SAKE, the minute it hit the bookstores. I was not disappointed. It was an amazingly mature first book and since then she has gone from strength to strength.

This year she has been nominated for a RITA, is shortlisted for the National Readers’ Choice Award and has already won the Romantic Times award for 'Best Presents of 2007' with her book, The Tycoon's Princess Bride. It says "Presents" on the cover, but truly, it is a "Natasha Oakley", guaranteeing a strong story, fabulous characters, great humour and a deeply embedded emotional core. If you haven't already read one of her books, don't wait! Give yourself a treat!

Natasha...

50 books! From my perspective, currently chugging my way through a book that feels as easy to write as pushing a turnip through a fine sieve, that seems almost an impossible achievement. That’s 50 heroines, 50 heroes, 50 black moments ... Shattering. Fortunately I have a large glass of wine to one side of me so I am just about coping with the thought of it.
It’s particularly lovely to be asked to blog in celebration of Liz’s amazing achievement because one of those fifty books is part of the reason I now write category fiction. I’ve already said something about the reasons why I stopped acting and started writing on Jessica Hart’s blog this month so I won’t repeat myself here other than to say that it was a ‘surprising’ decision because I wasn’t a ‘writer’. Not the kind who scribbled stories from the time they could hold a pen anyway.

My creative outlet was theatre. I was passionate about that - and I read a lot of plays, searching for exciting audition speeches mainly. Apart from that it was Georgette Heyer, Mary Stewart and assorted nineteenth century literature. I have a bit of a weakness for Anthony Trollope. And Dickens. Oh and Austen.

And I watched movies. Still do. (My favourite of all-time is a little black and white film called ‘Hobson’s Choice’. It stars the late great Sir John Mills as Willy Mossop, the shy boot maker, who marries the ‘master’s daughter’. Not that he particularly wants to at the beginning. You’ve got to watch it if only to see the scene where he’s getting ready for his wedding night. The morning-after-the-night-before is rather lovely too.) I really hadn’t read much contemporary fiction and I certainly hadn’t read a Harlequin Mills & Boon.

I approached my new ‘career choice’ very methodically. Romance was a fairly easy decision. That’s the best bit of any movie, isn’t it? Best bit of any book. Besides I really wasn’t in a place where I wanted to write anything with an unhappy ending. I’m still not.

Then I looked at what sold. Now that was really interesting.

Harlequin Mills & Boon is a publishing phenomenon. One book sells every 3 seconds in the UK alone. And how about this – in the past fifty years there have been 10,325 weddings, 29,500 kisses and 35,250 hugs. Wonder who actually went through and counted those??? vbg

Only I’d never read a Mills & Boon. I remember looking at the turning display unit in my local library and wondering quite where to start. English heroines I thought. ‘Write what you know’ and all that. I picked up ten books, quite at random, and took them home.

The first book off the pile was Jessica Hart’s ‘The Convenient Fiance’ which I absolutely loved. The second was a book I didn’t like quite so much so I shan’t tell you anything about it. Then I read a ‘regency’. (Still quite tempted by the idea of writing a regency romance, you know.) The next book was Liz Fielding’s ‘Dating Her Boss’ – and it was brilliant. I loved Max, tortured by regrets after the death of his first wife. Gilly who had far too much hair until it was tamed in a real Cinderella moment. You’ve got to love the moment where Max sees her transformed. The kiss on the stairs is perfection. And why is it men have such a thing about angora jumpers???

That trip to the library really did seal my fate. I had a new direction. But more than that I had discovered a lovely way to unwind. I still think a ‘Liz Fielding’ romance is a pretty perfect way to escape life’s grot life.

This month I have one of my own romances on the shelf. It’s called ‘Wanted: White Wedding’ and I wrote it during a particularly bleak time. My lovely mum was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer and died a few months later. There’s a lot to be said for disappearing into a world you have complete control over.

My fellow Pink Heart Society editors ‘cast’ their books. I don’t always. But for ‘Wanted: White Wedding’ I did.

So here is Freya and Daniel and a short excerpt from Chapter One:





“Get that, will you?”

“I’m -”

“The phone. Take a message,” a disembodied male voice shouted, followed by a grunt. “I’ll be through in a minute.”

“I -”

“Phone! Just answer the phone!”

For a brief second she wondered whether she’d inadvertently stepped into a farce, and then Freya shrugged, stepping over a pile of vinyl records and an old gramophone to reach the other side of the desk. What did it matter? And at least it would stop that infernal noise ricocheting about.

“Ramsay Auctioneers,” she said into the receiver, her eyes on the closed door.

“Daniel? Is that you?”

Hardly. She rubbed a hand across her eyes, the humour of the situation finally reaching her. “I’m sorry, Mr Ramsay isn’t available at the moment. May I take a message?”

“Can you tell him Tom Hamber called, love?”

Her right eyebrow flicked up and she reached over the scattered papers for a pad of florescent stick-it notes. In her real life she’d have paused to tell Tom Hamber she wasn’t his ‘love’. She might even have told him that while she could pass on a message she was by no means certain she would ...

“Have you got that? You won’t forget?”

“Tom Hamber called,” she said dryly, drawing a box around the two words she’d written. “I think I’ll manage to remember.”

“Tell him I need to speak to him before midday.”

Freya added the words ‘before midday’ to the note, then turned at the sound of a loud crash. “I’ll leave him a note,” she said in to the receiver. Whether he actually found it really wasn’t her problem.

“That’s it, love.”

She set the receiver back on its cradle, ripping the top note off the pile. One thing she was certain of: there was no way on earth she was going to let her Grandmother sell anything valuable through this crazy set-up. She looked at the confusion on the desk and stuck the note firmly on the telephone.

“Thanks for that.”

Freya turned and found she was looking up into a pair of brown eyes. Very definitely up. At five feet ten - more in heels - it wasn’t often she had to do that.

Why did that feel so good? Some deep Freudian something was probably at the root of it. He had to be at least six foot two. Quite possibly more. And those eyes … Dark, dark brown and sexy beyond belief.

“I was holding up one end of a table and couldn’t let go.”

Freya pulled her eyes away from his and wrapped her sheepskin jacket closely around her. “Right.”

“Did you get a message?”

“Yes. Y-yes, I did. Yes.” The corner of his mouth quirked and she stumbled on, feeling as foolish as if she’d been caught drooling. “It was a Tom Hamber.”

“Ah.”

“He wants to speak to Daniel Ramsay before midday.”

“I can do that.”

The most horrible suspicion darted into her head.

“I’m Daniel Ramsay.” He smiled, and Freya felt as though the floor had disappeared beneath her.

This couldn’t be Daniel Ramsay. From her grandmother’s conversation she’d conjured up a very different picture. Someone altogether more parochial. More …

Well …. less, if she were honest. Much less. Truthfully, this Daniel Ramsay looked like the kind of man you’d quite like to wake up with on a lazy Sunday morning. A little bit rumpled and a whole lot sexy.

“You’re a little late.” Then he smiled again, wiping his hands on the back of dark blue denim jeans and the effect was intensified. “But not to worry. I get here about eight thirty, but I told the agency nine thirty was fine.”

He held out a hand and she automatically held out her own. His wedding ring flashed. Of course a man who looked like this one would be taken. They always were - even if they pretended not to be.

A familiar sense of dissatisfaction speared her. It was amazing how many men said they were separated when the only thing keeping them apart from their significant other was temporary geographical distance.

She was so tired of that. Tired of the game-playing.

Daniel bent down and pulled open the bottom drawer of his desk. “I’ve got the key to the inner office here. I’ll show you where everything is and then I’ve got to drive out to the Penry-James farm.”

“I’m not -”

He stood straight. “Which part didn’t you get?”

“I understood you perfectly, but I’m not from any agency.”

“You’re not?”

“Merely a potential customer.”

His hand raked through his dark hair. “Hell, I’m so sorry! I thought -”

“I was someone else.” It didn’t take the mental agility of Einstein to figure that one out. It was vaguely reassuring to know he didn’t actively intend to run his business in such a haphazard way.

Sudden laughter lit his eyes, and she fought against the curl of attraction deep in her abdomen.

“So you’re not the cavalry after all? Perhaps we’d better start over?”

“Perhaps,” she murmured, feeling unaccountably strange as his hand wrapped round hers for the second time. He had nice hands, she registered. Strong, with neatly cut nails. And a voice that made her feel as though she’d stepped into a vat of chocolate.

But taken, the logical part of her brain reminded her. And, apparently, the kind of man who, if he wasn’t actually preying on her grandmother, was certainly making the most of an opportunity.

And my question:

What was your first Liz Fielding experience? I will give away a copy of my RITA nominated book, ‘The Tycoon’s Princess Bride’, to the person whose comment makes me smile.

Thanks, Natasha! You've got until Sunday evening (US time) to leave a comment. In the meantime if, like me, you can't wait to buy Wanted: White Wedding just click the title.

17 comments:

Kate Hardy said...

My first Liz Fielding was 'Gentlemen Prefer... Brunettes'. It's a book I always revisit when life's going pearshaped as it always puts a smile on my face. It's typical Liz Fielding: great dialogue, sparky characters, and a thoroughly good read that puts a bit of sunshine back into life.

Congrats on the RT award, Natasha - now go and bring the Rita home!

Nathalie said...

My first book was The Bridesmaid and the Best Man... I found it great, especially that the heroine was not some size 0 model.

Liz Fielding said...

No siz 0s in my books, Nathalie. I saw that hideous piece in the paper referring to Princess Beatrice as fat. I thought she looked stunned at Peter Phillips wedding. And when I was her age size 10 was considered thin! What on earth is the matter with these people?

Liz Fielding said...

Well, of course that should have read "stunning"... :)

Donna Alward said...

I've read lots of Liz's books but my first "encounter" that I'll always cherish was an e-mail I got several years ago and before I was published. Liz was so encouraging and offered advice (and she still does, thank goodness!). I was so thrilled that THE Liz Fielding thought I was worth a bit of her time. I won't ever forget it.

robynl said...

I really liked her take on writing:
HELP! MY MIND'S GONE BLANK. It has humor which always does me good and I like to laugh and chuckle. Liz mentions "I have to confess, however, that sometimes the "magic" needs a bit of a prompt. Chocolate, obviously is essential at times like this,..."
She eats chocolate and so must be a very nice person(in my eyes) b/c I also like/love chocolate. I'm eating some right now as I sit here.

Natasha Oakley said...

It would be difficult to write a size zero heroine with any degree of description, wouldn't it! I'm just not sure I could get 'she walked across the room on her sticky little legs, her face gaunt' to actually fly ... vbg

Chocolate .. hmmm, yes. I'm currently going the wine and garlic bread route ...

michelle Douglas said...

What a lovely post, Natasha. Enjoyed the excerpt muchly too and am looking forward to reading the rest.

My first Liz Fielding was 'Eloping with Emmy.' I just fell in love with it. I think it's because, although the characters have conflicting goals, they like each other so very much. And Emmy is deliciously naughty!

Snookie said...

I have nver picked up a Liz Fielding book that I didn't love. Don't even remember now what or when my first encounter with Liz was. I know I have not read all of her books and when I see some of the older ones at a used books store or garage sale, I pick them up! Her books make me laugh and cry and just escape into another world! It's hard to choose a favorite, but one of my favorite heroines is Lady Gabriella!

Rachael said...

I too love Lady Gabriella. I've been lucky enough to meet Liz a few years ago and she has inspired me so much in my own writing. I always enjoy her books. It was Liz who mentioned I should look out for Natasha's books and I haven't been disappointed. They're great.
Congrats on the award Natasha.

Natasha Oakley said...

Thanks, Rachel. Yes, I should pay Liz really, should I!

Talking about a non-size zero heroine what about Dodi in 'The Bridesmaid's Reward'? You know the one where she has to be chief bridesmaid at her movie star sister's wedding ...? I thought Brad was a lovely reward. :)

Natasha Oakley said...

Obviously, that's 'pay Liz, shouldn't I!' Do so hate it when you push 'post' and notice a typo.

Anonymous said...

I don't remember my first Liz experience exactly. I was checking books out of the library while I discovered authors. But at some point in '04, I picked up CITY GIRL IN TRAINING at the UBS. I don't know that I've ever laughed so hard while reading a HR. A few months later, THE BILLIONAIRE TAKES A BRIDE and A SURPRISE XMAS PROPOSAL hit the shelves in the US and by then I was hooked. And trying to hook everyone I know. Happily hooking everyone I can . . . I've loaned out big chunks of my collection and just one or two books at a time. Am about to loan it out again -- some books just get mailed and I hope they arrive at their destination but Liz's get mailed with a tracking number so the post office can't lose them. I've actually bo't extra copies of Liz's books to loan to people who break spines or can't be depended on to return the book! I'm just out to get people in NA hooked on Liz.

Oh! Is that what we do after "Hooked on Phonics"? "Hooked on Phonics" and then when you can read, "Hooked on Liz". LOL

Okay, time for another cup of coffee. :)

Penn (formerly ftworthmom)

Virginia said...

The first book I read of Liz's and fell in love with the book was The Secret Life Of Lady Gabriella. I haven't been reading Liz's books for lone, but the one I have read have been great.

Liz Fielding said...

Hi everyone! Sorry I've been MIA again, but I've been without an internet connection since Friday. It's done wonders for the wip (which suggests I need to distance myself from temptation during working hours) but thrown my cyber life in havoc.

Taking your favourites as my guide it's clear that after this book I'm going to have to stop writing the angsty weepies and stick to the mad romcoms. Thankfully the new sheikh novella has some laughs.

Have a great holiday weekend everyone!

Barb said...

The first LF that became unforgettable for me was The Best Man and the Bridesmaid. But I've loved them all. Another favourite was The Surprise Christmas Proposal. Congrats on your fiftieth, Liz. And lucky us. So many lovely books to enjoy. Thank you.
And thanks to Natasha, too. I do think you English authors have a special "something" about your stories that's very hard for the rest of us to capture.

Jan Jones said...

Lovely excerpt, Natasha.

The first 'Liz' I remember by name was ELOPING WITH EMMY. I'd gone into the mobile library to choose my mother's weekly dozen books, and had picked it because of the alliterative title and the lovely cover. Then started reading it on the walk up from the library van to Mum's house (which would usually take all of about three minutes).

Half-an-hour later I let myself into her front-door with the book slipped guiltily into my pocket to 'find' for her the next day when I'd finished it.