JESSICA HART AND I ARE WRITING TWINS...
Shame we don't share the same birth date! But what we do share this year is the publication of our fiftieth book and it's a huge pleasure to welcome Jessica to the blog this week to tell us about this very special anniversary.
First though, since she was too shy to mention it herself, I'll tell you that it's not the only book bearing her name on the shelves this month. There is also, Christmas Dreams, a three-in-one with stories by Betty Neels, Rebecca Winters and Jessica, that would make a lovely stocking filler for any romantic you know. Or maybe you'd like to pop it in your own stocking!
The major event this month, however, is the very special Last-Minute Proposal, Jessica's fiftieth Mills & Boon/Harlequin Romance.
Jessica has a deeply adventurous spirit. Her books over the years have been set in the Outback and the Far East, places that she's lived and worked. And check out her blog for fabulous pictures of her coastal walk in Cornwall this month.
But I do know that Jessica has a particular love of the Highlands, so it's no surprise to see her heroine following in her footsteps -- and abseiling down the side of a cliff -- with her gorgeous hero. Fabulous stuff, Jessica! Over to you...
When I was first published, in 1991, writing was a pretty solitary business and it was some time before I came into contact with any other authors. When I did, it didn’t take me long to realise that Liz Fielding was the act to follow, and follow I have. Liz won a RITA, and a little later I won one too. Liz won the RNA’s Romance Prize, the next year I did. Liz hit 50 books earlier this year, and guess whose 50th book is also out this October ..? Really, it ought to be deeply annoying, but Liz combines her deserved popularity with such charm of manner and does so much to support other authors, and to promote the Romance line and romance generally, that I can’t think of anyone in whose footsteps I’d rather tread! So thank you, Liz, for setting such a fine example, and many congratulations on 50 fabulous books. See you at 100??
The mind boggles at the idea of having written 100 books, I must say. 100 heroes, 100 heroines … how would I possibly be able to distinguish between them? On the other hand, I would never have been able to imagine writing 50 when I started out, and yet I can remember every hero and heroine so far. Every character feels different when I’m writing, but inevitably some stay in the mind more than others. Luckily, Tilly and Campbell in Last-Minute Proposal are one of those couples. Anyone who reads my blog regularly will know how much I struggle with some books, but Last-Minute Proposal was fun to write, perhaps because I identified so much with Tilly, with her love of food, her insecurity about her figure and, of course, her fear of abseiling! The book opens with her reluctantly partnered with Campbell in a reality TV competition.
His task is to get Tilly down a cliff, across a river and to the top of a mountain in the Scottish Highlands … but later he has to face a challenge of his own where he has to rely on Tilly’s expertise, and that’s just as difficult for him as the outdoor stuff is for her.
The very first scene was easy to write: I based it completely on the time I had to abseil down a rock face in Dentdale, a beautiful part of the Yorkshire Dales – and if you think Tilly makes a fuss, you should have seen how I carried on! This picture was taken when I was halfway down, and I was quite unable to see what was so damned funny … I had no idea at the time that exactly 20 years later I would use that scene in my 50th book, but it just goes to show that no experience is ever wasted!
In the extract below, Tilly has survived the abseiling, but now has to get up a mountainside. If you’d like to read what happens afterwards, I have a signed copy of Last-Minute Proposal to give away, together with a fabulous pink tote bag to give away.
Email me at jessica @ jessicahart.co.uk (no gaps) to tell me what Tilly is drinking in her fantasy below, and I’ll do a lucky dip for a winner next week.
‘Let’s get going,’ he said.
Tilly groaned but hauled herself obediently to her feet. ‘How much further is it?’
‘We could do another three hours at least.’
‘I’m not sure my feet will last that long,’ she said, wincing as she wriggled her toes in her boot.
‘Mind over matter,’ said Campbell briskly. He threw his pack onto his back and adjusted the straps with deft movements. ‘The trick is to keep thinking about something else.’
‘Like what you’d really like to find at the top of the next hill.’
‘That’s easy,’ said Tilly, securing her own pack into place and trudging after him. ‘Can you please make sure there’s a fabulous bathroom, with a deep, scented bath piled high with bubbles? I’d like candles and a glass of champagne waiting for me on the edge of the bath … oh, and a little plate of nibbles too. Smoked salmon, probably,’ she added reflectively. ‘Or nuts? No, smoked salmon,’ she decided. ‘Little roulades stuffed with prawn mousse and soft cheese.’
‘I’ll see what I can do,’ said Campbell in a dry voice.
He was taken aback by how vividly he could picture Tilly sinking into the water with a sigh of pleasure. Her skin would be pink and pearly and wet, her hair clinging in damp tendrils around her face, her breasts rising out of the bubbles as she tipped back her head and dropped smoked salmon into that lush mouth …
Campbell had to give himself a mental shake, and he picked up his stride. He felt almost embarrassed, as if someone had caught him peeking round the bathroom door.
Tilly was still fantasising. ‘While you’re at it, can you arrange for a wonderful meal to be cooking so that the smell comes wafting up the stairs? No niminy piminy nouvelle cuisine, though, not after the day I’ve had. I want something hot and tasty. It doesn’t have to be fancy.’
‘A roast?’ Campbell suggested, drawn back into the scene she was creating in spite of himself.
‘Yes, a roast would be very acceptable, especially if you can lay on all the trimmings too. Or a really good casserole with creamy mashed potatoes.’ Tilly was beginning to salivate now. She could practically taste that first mouthful. ‘Or – I know! – steak and kidney pudding … mmnn, yum, yum … Even a-’
Glancing at Campbell just then and catching his fascinated gaze, she broke off. ‘What, you don’t have fantasies?’
‘Not about food.’
‘What do you fantasise about then?’ she demanded grouchily, embarrassed at having revealed quite how greedy she was. Why couldn’t she be the kind of girl who hankered after a green salad or a mug of nice herbal tea?
Campbell lifted an eyebrow in response, and she tutted. ‘Not that kind of fantasy,’ she scolded as if he had spoken, although actually she wouldn’t have minded knowing that at all. ‘A fantasy you can share with a nice girl like me!’
‘I’m not sure any of my fantasies are suitable for nice girls.’
There was just the faintest thread of amusement in his voice and Tilly was sure that he was mocking her.
‘All right, imagine being really relaxed,’ she challenged him.
‘Just do it,’ she insisted. ‘Close your eyes – or on second thoughts, you’d better not, you might trip – and picture yourself happy.’
Campbell sighed and prepared to indulge her. At least it might stop her whingeing about her feet for a while longer. He thought for a moment.
‘Have you got an image of yourself relaxed and happy?’
‘Where are you?’
Tilly hoped that he wasn’t going to say that he was in bed. That would make it very hard to concentrate. She waited for him to say standing on top of a mountain, or skiing down a black run.
‘I’m sitting in a comfortable chair in front of the fire.’
It was so unexpected that she actually gaped at him. Sitting? Wasn’t that a bit tame for a man like Campbell?
‘What are you doing?’
The defensive note in his voice made Tilly grin. ‘You make it sound like you’re confessing a dirty secret! What are you reading? Nothing illegal or immoral, I hope?’
‘Roman military history.’
Campbell practically bit out the words, and this time Tilly really did laugh.
He scowled at her. ‘What’s so funny?’
‘I’m sorry. It was just so unexpected,’ she tried to explain.
‘What, marines aren’t allowed to read?’
‘It’s not that. It’s just that you seem such a macho action man that it’s hard to imagine you poring over ancient history, that’s all.’
‘I don’t want to spend all day doing it. You asked me to imagine myself relaxed,’ said Campbell almost crossly. ‘That was just a picture that came into my mind. Obviously I should have said some kind of extreme sport instead!’
‘That wouldn’t have been as interesting, though,’ said Tilly, meaning it, but Campbell clearly thought that she was joking.
‘I’ve had the mick taken out of me for years,’ he said in a resigned voice. ‘Anyone would think I had some bizarre fetish. It’s only military history, for God’s sake.’
‘But why the Romans?’
He shrugged. ‘I like their logical approach. Their sense of order. They were great engineers. Great strategists.’
‘And successful,’ Tilly reminded him, sure that was the key to their appeal for him. ‘The Romans were winners too.’ She caught his look. ‘Hey, I did history at school. Roman history may not be my bedtime reading, but I’m not completely ignorant!’
She studied him under her lashes as she toiled on beside him. She hoped he wasn’t regretting telling her. She rather liked the idea of him sitting quietly and reading by the fire, and was touched by the fact that he seemed faintly embarrassed by it, as if he had confessed some weakness.
‘So … have you got a fantasy meal cooking in the background while you read your book?’
‘I’m afraid I’m not someone who spends a lot of time thinking about food,’ he said. ‘I eat what’s put in front of me. I’ll have some of your roast.’
Tilly wished he hadn’t said that. It was enough to conjure up an instant cosy domestic scene. There she was, upstairs in the bath, and there was Campbell by the fire. Any minute now he would look at his watch, put his book down and go and check on the roast, then he would come upstairs and sit on the edge of the bath.
‘I’ve turned the potatoes,’ he would say, topping up her glass. If you were going to have a fantasy, Tilly believed, you might as well make it a really good one. ‘Will you be much longer?’
And Tilly would sip her champagne and ask him to wash her back while he was there. She could almost feel his warm, firm hands soaping her, and obviously he wouldn’t stop at her back …
‘That must be some bath.’
Campbell’s voice jerked Tilly out of her daydream. ‘What?’ Disorientated, she looked around her to find that she had somehow made it to the top of the hill without even realising it.
‘You haven’t said a word for the last mile. I’m impressed by the power of your fantasising!’
If only he knew.
For more click here...