Dec 19, 2014

The Things I've learned in 2014....

So, another year is drawing to a close and in less than a week it will be Christmas and then New Years will be upon us. Before the year is out I wanted to reflect on the things three I've learned or struggled with or become grateful for this year....

1/ Deadlines.....I've had three contracted books written and submitted this year, and it was a struggle because life inevitable threw stumbling blocks in the path. A sick parent, a new day job and some health issues seemed to come one after the know that feeling you get when one thing ends and another seems to hurdle jumped and then presto, there's a another directly in your path. Yeah, it's been one of those years. But the deadlines have to be met and contracts fulfilled. So, lots of late nights, missed social events and just plain old hard work. But the hard work and late nights always pays off when the lovely box of books arrive from Harlequin and I get to hold the book in my hands for the first time.
2/ Gratitude....I've learned to be grateful for what I have....which was no mean feat considering I'm something of a dreamer and have my head in the clouds most days. I live in an amazing part of the world, a tiny down which sits at the most southern point of the Great Barrier Reef. I'm grateful for mu husband and the life we have, where I can have my horses and dogs and cats. I'm grateful for the fabulous day job I have and my friends and family.
3/ Plans....I'm not much of a planner. In my writing I'm a pantser and loathe doing outlines. But I'm learning this one. I don't plan much in my daily life either...but with so much going on, plans are now a must.
So, this is what I've learnt this year - try to meet deadlines htrough adversity, because it feels like a wonderful achievement. Be grateful for the people and things that are important. And lastly, plan ahead (not too far) to make life a little easier.
Have you learned anything this year? Or have plans for 2015?
Have a wonderful and safe Christmas :)

Dec 17, 2014

Bought By the Italian

She’s up for sale, and he’s the highest bidder.
What do you think of that as a tagline? It worked for me. And as soon as I had it I knew the plot for my second Hot Italian Nights novella. Here's a taste:
Gennaro De Laurentis might prefer motorcycle leathers to Armani, but when it comes to what he wants, he’s as ruthless as any corporate raider in a killer suit. And he wants Chiara, the unforgettable woman who denied the passion sizzling between them and walked away without a backward glance. Now he has the high society princess back in his power – and he’ll risk everything to make her his.
When glamorous fashion designer Chiara Armati goes up for auction, she’s selling her company over dinner for charity. Nothing else. As bidding rises to astronomical heights, she gets nervous. Yet only when she discovers her purchaser’s identity does she realise she’s caught in a trap. She’s never stopped wanting Gennaro or forgiven his betrayal. Now she’s at his mercy – and he’s as irresistible as ever!   
I published my first Hot Italian Nights novella earlier in the year. If you haven't read it, follow this link to find out more about BACK IN THE ITALIAN'S BED. I was determined to write the next story soon, plus I had the lovely experience of readers emailing to ask for Chiara's story. Note: if ever you read a book and like it so much you have the idea of writing to the author, DO IT! I can't tell you how special that is. Anyway, I was getting ready to work out just what Chiara's story was when life intervened with a few rather tough months, and my plans got put on hold.  
Finally, just recently, I carved out some time to write Chiara and Gennaro's story and I'm so glad I did. What fun we all had! I love a sizzling, intense hero and Gennaro is about as intense as they come. And in case you're wondering, this IS Gennaro and Chiara on the cover. I had the picture well before I finished the novella and this was the pair I wrote about.
I won't give you an excerpt here. You can find one on my website or at AmazonSmashwords or Barnes and Noble where the story is on sale. But I'll leave you with a photo of the area that inspired the story - the stunning Dolomites of Northern Italy.
I'm in the middle of another Harlequin novel now but I've got plans to write a third Italian novella too. For a bit of fun, how about giving me a suggestion for a title? I can't promise to use it but it might spark some ideas.
To celebrate the release of BOUGHT BY THE ITALIAN, I'll give a copy of a book to someone who leaves a comment.

Check back tomorrow when I'll post the winner's name.

Dec 15, 2014

Christmas Traditions with Stefanie London

There are a lot of jokes and memes on the internet about there being two types of people come Christmas time. I’m one of those people who is hanging out for December first so I can decorate my tree. I buy all the candy-cane flavoured items at the supermarket, I love listening to Christmas songs and I love wrapping all the presents and placing them under the tree.

Yep, cast your Christmas judgement this way.

This year will be the first holiday season that I’m not with my family. I’ll be honest, it scares me a little. I know I’m going to feel horribly homesick in the lead up to the 25th and there might be a few tears when I Skype home.

For now I’m trying to focus on all the things I love about this time of year, especially keeping up the traditions that make me feel connected to home.

Silly Hats
I'm unimpressed with your human traditions.
Every year there is a Santa hat or reindeer ears to be worn. When we pop our Christmas crackers at lunch, the rule is that everyone has to wear the paper crown while reading out their corny joke. I guess they call it the silly season for a reason.

No one is safe…not even the dog. (If you think Cici is looking at the camera with utter contempt, you’re right. We’ve dubbed this outfit the Christmas Coat of Doom.)

Chocolate for breakfast
My sister and I started this one. Christmas Day is the only day of the year where we can have chocolate for breakfast. 

Usually it’s a box of Favourites. (I always dig the Turkish Delights and Dream White Chocolates out first.)

Top of the tree
This was a singing and dancing Santa hat!
In our family the youngest member of the family is the only person who’s allowed to put the star on the top of the tree.

Christmas Presents on Christmas Eve
I think this is an Italian thing, but my family opens presents on Christmas Eve instead of during Christmas morning. We always sit in our parent’s lounge room with coffees (or maybe a sneaky Baileys) and biscotti while my sister and I hand out the gifts.

Bing Crosby
My dad has this wonderful old record player and we always begin Christmas proceedings with him playing White Christmas by Bing Crosby. It’s my favourite Christmas song and always puts a smile on my face.

That's my Christmas in a nutshell. This year I'll hopefully be having an actual white Christmas in Canada. Perhaps I can add making snow angels to my traditions list? 

What are your Christmas traditions? Have you ever been away from your family at Christmas time? I need your tips on how to get through it!

Dec 14, 2014

Sunday Smooch with Jennie Jones......

Welcome to another LoveCats DownUnder Sunday Smooch!

Today we have a smooch from Jennie Jones ___ but first winner of last week's Sunday Smooch Giveaway is Jeannie.....

Can you please contact Louisa George  on louisageorgeauthor (at) gmail (dot) com to receive your copy of A Baby On her Christmas List.........

And now for today's Sunday Smooch from The House At the Bottom Of The Hill by Jennie Jones........

From the best-selling author of House on Burra Burra Lane, comes a brand-new story about
opposites, attraction, an outback pub, and a pink house...

The mysterious death of her mother has left Charlotte Simmons on edge and off-balance for too long. Searching for the truth, Charlotte buys a Bed & Breakfast establishment in Swallow’s Falls, a small town in Australia’s Snowy Mountains, as a ploy to get close to the man who might have the answers. She’ll jazz up the old place, flip it, get her answers, and be gone in two months – max.

What she doesn’t count on is opposition from the dogmatic and slightly eccentric members of the town council. And the hotshot owner of Kookaburra’s Bar & Grill and his two-hundred-squats-a-day physique is simply poking his handsome nose in when he offers to act as mediator between Charlotte and the council.
Easy-going Daniel Bradford knows progress is slow in Swallow’s Fall. He’s finally about to put his plans into place to upgrade the hotel when a prim-and-proper, citified redhead blows into town, putting everyone on edge. The only way to contain the trouble she’s about to cause is to stay close – he knows trouble when he sees it, and soon it becomes very clear that there’s absolutely nothing containable about Charlotte, or the way he feels about her

Scene set-up - [ The previous night, Charlotte had a few after-closing-time drinks with Dan in his bar, attempting to drown her sorrows. He took her home, took care of her and tucked her up in bed. This morning, Charlotte needs to apologise to Dan because if she doesn’t appear to be getting along with him, her plans will fall apart. Dan’s concerns about Charlotte have heightened with the mysterious things he’s discovering about her past, and after last night, he’s beginning to realise just how much ‘care’ he wants to give her.]   

    She was trying her utmost to appear her usual flippant self but it wasn’t working. Not today. ‘I said come over here. I want to hear that apology again.’ He gave her a serious frown. ‘Do you have any idea how much trouble you could have got into? Could have got me into? Our reputations are at stake.’
    She stepped forwards as though in a rush, then stopped as the door closed behind her with a clunk. ‘I’m very sorry.’
    ‘It’s okay,’ he said. ‘I was joking. Just want a closer look at your bloodshot eyes.’
    Her resolve fired up, the clear whites of her eyes shining against the pupils. Ready to run or fight. Dan folded the hotel plans and tucked them beneath the bar. When had he begun to read her so well?
    ‘I’m still joking, Charlotte. Come on over here.’ He beckoned her. She took a step and stopped again. ‘Right up here.’
    She walked to the bar, stopped in front of him and pulled in a breath. ‘I suppose there’s a pay off?’
    ‘All right then.’ She wiggled her fingers at him. ‘I’m ready. Give.’
    Cute, but was she really ready? Dan smiled as the adrenaline inside him rose at the expectation of what was to come – the heightened moment before a fight or a tackle, when the hairs on the back of his neck stood up and his blood pumped faster.
    ‘I can take it,’ she said. ‘Don’t hold back.’
    ‘Okay, I won’t.’ He leaned forwards, took hold of her under her arms, pulled her over the bar and hit her mouth with his.
    Her hands slapped on the counter to steady herself and suddenly the bar was too wide for him, too much of a barrier. She was braced on it, her waist against it, her feet off the ground but she made no attempt to move from his kiss. He pressed his mouth on hers, prising her lips apart. Holy Jesus, he was kissing Red. She tilted her head, giving him a better opportunity to taste her. Firecracker Charlotte had her tongue against his, soft and gentle, but probing nonetheless, and she wouldn’t get an iota of an argument about it from him. He hadn’t felt sparks like this in – not ever. Electric sparks in his fingers, on his lips, running down the back of his legs.
    He broke from the kiss and let her down. She slid to her side of the bar, holding onto it, but she didn’t lose his gaze. What would she do now? He straightened and put both hands on the counter. What would he do now?
    ‘Well,’ she said, unblinking, looking as though he’d sent a volley of flaming arrows her way. ‘Some pay off.’
    ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
    ‘I’m not sure.’
    Neither was he – of anything except the current still washing through him. He made his way around the bar.
    ‘What are you doing?’
    He didn’t exactly know, but it was going to involve her mouth.

To go into the draw to win an eCopy of The House At The Bottom Of The Hill please leave a comment to this question....

What’s your favourite cocktail? Or can you make one up?
Come back next Sunday, when the winner of today's giveaway will be announced and another smooch will be posted!

Smooch Graphic by WebWeaver

Dec 12, 2014

It's a Bird Romance

Warning: This story doesn't have a happy ending.

For a long time now I've believed birds could teach us a thing or two about love and relationships. Living in the Marlborough Sounds we are surrounded in bush and therefore there are many birds. The main characters are tuis, wood pigeons, quail, thrush, sparrows and yellow finches. I have often fed them on our deck, only to stop when so many turn up for breakfast I need to buy bread especially.

Many types of birds mate for life and there are often mid air scraps or fights on branches resulting in one bird being shoved off - all because first there were two then a third bird arrives. I love watching the quails when their wee chicks are getting out and about. They come up our drive, one parent at the front of the line, the other at the back rounding up adventurous chicks.

Birds seem incredibly loyal to their mates and babies.

Two weeks ago I opened the curtains of our bedroom to see the view while we had our early cup of tea in bed. Onto the balustrade on the outer edge of the deck was a quail, strutting from one end to the other and back again. Over and over for about three hours. (I had long got up and got on with  my day). All the time the bird was calling for his mate which never made an appearance. This happened for three days in a row, then he disappeared.

On another occasion I was driving along the road when I came across a dead tui in the middle of the road and its mate standing over it, squawking loudly. He moved to the side of the road until I'd crept past and then returned to stand over the deceased female.

Being a romance writer of course I see the romance in these situations. But I don't see my heroes strutting up and down my deck balustrade for days on end. Could be fun given how handsome I make them.

Have you had instances where you've observed such dedication with an animal or bird?

Dec 10, 2014

Tis the season...

If there was only one food I could make, bake or create for Christmas, without a doubt my DH would beg me (beg me I tell you!) to make my fruitcake.

I swear he could live on the stuff (if I'd let him ;-) ).

So in the spirit of the season, I thought I'd share my fruitcake recipe with you. This was given to me by a work colleague a million years ago. :-)

First of all what you need to do is take 1kg and 1 cup of mixed dried fruit, add 1 cup of chopped pecans and pour over 3/4 cup of brandy and let soak overnight. Mmmm...this smells divine tomorrow. Promise.

The next day do the boring annoying thing first which is line a big, deep 20cm cake pan with multiple layers of baking paper (3 layers minimum and you want it to hang over the edges).  And don't forget to set the oven to a nice and slow 150-160'C.

Now to the fun part of beating and mixing. Beat 250g of softened butter, 2 teaspoons of vanilla essence and 1 2/3 cups of (firmly packed) dark brown sugar until combined. Add 5 eggs--one at a time and beating only until combined between each addition. Stir in 2 teaspoons of grated orange rind, 1/4 cup of orange juice and 2 tablespoons of strawberry jam.

In a separate bowl, sift together 2 1/2 cups of plain flour and a teaspoon each of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger (I'm pretty generous with the cinnamon). Stir this into the above mixture in 2 batches. Next, add the soaked fruit and mix well.

Spread the mixture evenly into the prepared pan and bake in a slow oven for 3 hours (or cooked when tested with a skewer). Brush the top of the cake evenly with another 1/4 cup of brandy. Cover with foil and leave to cool in the pan overnight.

This makes a BIG cake (which makes my DH's heart sing). The next day I cut it into 4 equal sized slabs, wrap each in foil and store in the pantry in  airtight containers. I like to store it for a month before eating it. Honestly, it is the most divine cake on the planet (if my DH is to be believed). :-)

What about you? What's the one Christmas food you couldn't live without?

 Michelle's Christmas book SNOWBOUND SURPRISE FOR THE BILLIONAIRE is on shelves now.

Dec 8, 2014

Travelling as Inspiration

I love to travel. Many of my stories have been inspired by places I’ve lived in or visited ... Venice, Paris, London, Melbourne, the US, the Lake District. I spend a lot of time thinking about the perfect setting and it’s not simply about pretty or interesting backdrops but locations that shine a little light on the characters…creating an environment that helps their story unfold. 

Many of my romances feature an heiress or a billionaire, and with that kind of incredible wealth it’s important to sketch a gloriously luxurious setting, one that is glamorous, fabulous, international.

My first novel, The Convenient Bride, was inspired by a trip to Venice where I was entranced and moved almost to tears to see so many gorgeous but decaying historic buildings crumbling into the canals. If I were as rich as the characters in my stories, I would have brought one on the spot and have it restored to its former glory. Long after leaving Venice, its tragic beauty continued to haunt my dreams and so I set The Convenient Bride there, with one of those Venetian gothic buildings playing a special part in the plot.

Being under the hot and harsh spotlights on a reality TV show was the experience that sparked the idea for Seducing the Secret Heiress. I took part in the Australian version of Dragon’s Den and the call for ‘action’ alone was enough to raise my heart rate.  Add judges, camera close-ups and a demanding Director, for an experience that was unbearably intense, yet exhilarating. I thought this pressure-cooker environment would make good fodder for a sexy romance. Not to mention that much can happen in a dressing room and those dressing rooms have mirrors, which adds a whole new dimension to a scene.

Parts of Seducing the Secret Heiress take the reader to London.  I lived in that amazing city for seven years. The seasons, the parks, the history, the pubs, the incredible mix of people who live there, left an indelible impression. Actually, London pops up a few times in my novels and one day I’d love to live there again. Who knows?

The Love Deception was inspired by my days working in the top end of town in Melbourne – think high-rise corporate offices with stunning views across the city, suits with high heels and stockings, business-class travel, luxury hotels. My heroine didn’t have a chance spending all those long stressful hours locked away in legal meetings with her hot boss in his private office.

A few scenes in The Love Deception are based on the terrifying experience of living through the remnants of a hurricane in North Carolina. A scary night! I’ll never forget the noise. My hero and heroine are in Barbados when they find themselves in the eye of the storm, literally and figuratively. They are only on the island for a very short time before nature unleashes itself and the hurricane hits. Of course I had them return to the island later in the book so they could enjoy everything this tropical paradise had to offer when a category five storm wasn’t causing mayhem. (It’s nice as an author to give your characters a reward when they have worked so hard to deserve happiness).

The core idea for The Billionaire’s Pursuit of Love popped into my head after attending a seminar dedicated to saving the world’s Orangutans. The wildlife workers lived in very basic conditions, working in the mud, rain and heat to ‘mother’ the vulnerable baby Orangutans until they could look after themselves – a little like nurturing human babies. When I read an article about a man worth millions who’d designed one of the world’s most successful computer games, I wondered what it would be like if these two people from incredibly different worlds were brought together through a twist of fate that just wouldn’t let them go. 

My latest release, Tempted by the Billionaire Tycoon, was inspired by a trip to a health retreat, an experience that gave me my heroine’s profession. Another trip to France and the UK inspired the lavish, deeply romantic locations in Tempted. Each time I visit Paris I fall under its spell – again. Seeing Versailles for the first time left me in awe of the beauty and romance of France, its history and great art. My heroine, Poppy, feels this too when she visits France for the first time. My billionaire hero of course has seen it all before, but it feels that little bit different now he is with Poppy!

At the moment I’m busy conjuring up my new billionaire novel. The hero and heroine are having a tortured time in a gorgeous old stately home in the UK, complete with a beautiful secret garden. That locked-up walled garden plays an integral role in the twists and turns in the story.

I hope they both find the key!

Is there a place you've visited that you found inspirational? I'd love to know.

Jennifer St George is a romance author whose sexy stories feature courageous, career-minded heroines, strong heroes in glamorous international settings. She has five books published with Penguin's digital-first imprint, Destiny Romance