Aug 21, 2019

Writer Conferences, Why I Love Them. Annie West

Every year I attend the Romance Writers of Australia Conference in August. This year was my twentieth year! So to mark the occasion, and while I’m still buoyant with energy and enthusiasm after attending the 2019 Melbourne Conference, let me share just a few of the reasons I love this event. This isn’t a complete list! (Note, rather than post from this year’s event I’ve gone back to the vaults to find photos from previous years).

Sunny Queensland in winter
1.       Travelling away from home. There’s nothing like actually getting away from the day to day routine to make you feel rejuvenated. And in winter especially, there’s something about the lure of a beach, or a vibrant city, that appeals. Because of RWA I finally got to Western Australia – somewhere I’d been meaning to visit for ages.

With the wonderful Helen Bianchin
2.       The warm welcome. I have fond memories of the year I’d sold my first book to Harlequin Mills and Boon and attended a lunch put on by the company for its writers. That was a thrill, but most especially there was the joy of receiving an ‘award’ (a comic item I still treasure) from the established authors. It was presented to me by the lovely Helen Bianchin and I couldn’t quite believe I was in such exalted company.

First sale celebrations with Elisabeth Rose, Alison Stuart, Anna Campbell and Fiona Lowe
3.       The way everyone celebrates when a writer finally achieves their dream of publication. Here I am with some authors celebrating their first sale. It was a while ago now but you may recognise some of the faces.

1920s themed cocktail party
4.       There are plenty of chances to have fun and to dress up, including at the themed cocktail parties.

Living the good life
5.       Conference time means no cooking or cleaning. Sometimes it even means room service with your feet up, listening to the waves rolling in on the beach!

Booksigning with the lovely Helene Young
6.       You get to sit with terrific writers, whether at a booksigning or participating in a workshop or listening to a panel discussion. It’s a great way to pick up information and make friends. I always come away from conferences feeling like I’ve learned something new or learned to look at something I do/or don’t do from a new perspective.

Winning the Romantic Book of the Year!
7.    Saturday Awards Night! I’ve included a photo of me here where the grin says it all. But whether you’re in the running for an award or not, it’s wonderful seeing the many writers who’ve made the effort to enter writing contests, to see the names of finalists and share their excitement, and of course, share the buzz of a win with all those winners.

LoveCats rule - Rachel Bailey, Amy Andrews and Bronwyn Jameson

It's also a fabulous chance to catch up with other LoveCats! It's often the only chance we have to meet as we live so far away. The smiles and laughter are infectious. 

I have to add the conference provides great inspiration. Anyone picking up my new book (Sheikh’s Royal Baby Revelation) will see a dedication to a number of women who were at last year’s RWAustralia conference. I was in the middle of writing that book and had come to a crossroads, not quite sure what direction to take. Thanks to a late night discussion with a number of wonderful authors (including some LoveCats) I went away brimming with ideas.

8.    For me this writers’ conference is an essential part of my year. I get to catch up with people who understand my love of story telling and of romance in particular. I get to commiserate and celebrate with them, to learn new things and feel like I’m part of a strong, vibrant community of talented women.

Do you have an event or group that you’d never miss? Something that makes you feel good and connected to people with similar interests?

Aug 14, 2019

New York adventures

If you follow my author page on Facebook then you’d have seen ALL the pictures I posted of my recent jaunt to Singapore and New York, and have heard some of the silly stories I told of our travels.

Like the time the New York Subway played a practical joke on Mr Douglas and me—it let him on, but not me. He stood on the train while I stood on the platform, and we waved forlornly to each other as the train pulled out. [We caught up with each other 15 mins later so don’t feel bad for me. It was, actually, hilarious.]

But I thought I’d share another “funny” story today.

St Francis Assisi Church--sweet, right?
For our first week in New York we stayed in a hotel called The Stewart. It’s across the road from Madison Square Gardens—so…pretty central. ;-) We had a view onto 31st Street and a very sweet little church, but also a view onto the building behind us. I took a peek out of this back window not long after we arrived, and the rooms in this neighbouring building were dark, with no movement, but there were figures in beds. I thought: Oh, it’s a nursing home. How deserted it looks…and lonely.

Next to the church was a building with a tree! And look up...there's a water tower.
In the wee small hours of the night—when it felt like it should’ve been day…and I was really hungry because it should’ve been day (there’s a 12 hour time difference between Singapore and New York, so the good news is you don’t have to change the time on your watch), I couldn’t help thinking about those lonely figures in those dark little rooms.

When we finally allowed ourselves to play wake ups in the morning, I said to Mr Douglas, “Do you know we’re overlooking a scene of human misery?” I told him about the scene that would greet him from our back window. I wondered aloud if we could go visit because…you know, we’re on holiday and had the time etc.

Of course, he then had to go and peek out the window too (I’m the window peeker in our relationship, him not so much). And he started to laugh!

Dear reader, he’s not a callous man. But I was shocked, I tell you—shocked! Until he revealed all. They weren’t incapacitated people in lonely beds in dark rooms but mannequins. We were looking into a medical training facility!

There's probably a moral to that story, but I have no idea what it is. ;-)

But if you do ever find yourself in New York I highly recommend the Brooklyn Lager--it was very refreshing after a day spent trudging through a city in 37C temps.

Aug 12, 2019

Carousing with the Cats

Melbourne may have been freezing with lashing rain and polar blasts, but it was warm and fabulous at the 2019 RWA conference this past weekend. I had such a brilliant time catching up with the LoveCats family who all flew into Melbourne from across the country.

Highlights included:
Clare, Jennifer and Amy
  • Watching the stunning and statuesque Annie West sweep into the Gala dinner in the most beautiful green dress
  • Hearing about Michelle Douglas’s amazing trip to New York for the RWA America conference and her being a finalist in the US Rita Awards (the highest award for distinction in romance fiction) for her book The Million Pound Marriage Deal
  • Learning more about Clare Connelly incredible ongoing success and knowing it is happening to such a beautiful person
  • Laughing at Shannon Curtis’s wit. She kept me laughing all weekend. Hilarious doesn’t come close to how funny this woman is
  • Listening to Rachel Bailey’s awesome ideas for making future conferences more fabulous and watching with awe as she works behind the RWA scenes to get things done
  • And there were so many more...

Amy Andrew's keynote speech
The weekend’s shining star was Amy Andrews. We leapt to our feet for a standing ovation when Amy became a RWA Life Member for her incredible contribution to organisation. Such a deserved honour as Amy has worked so hard for RWA including being President (twice wasn’t it, Amy?).  But, it also recognised Amy for all the incredible gifts of kindness she shows people such as mentoring aspiring writers, helping authors network and generally being an amazing, inspiring person.

Amy received not one, but two standing ovations. Her keynote speech has us falling off our chairs laughing then quickly scrambling back up to scribble down all her words of wisdom. It was the amazing Amy Andrews (along with a few other Cats!) who gave me the confidence to take writing seriously and go for it.

I’m now flying back to work (aarrrhhh) truly inspired but also sad we won’t be doing that again for another year.  Something to look forward to.

How about you? What did you get up to over the weekend?

Aug 4, 2019

Sunday Smooch with Clare Connelly (Whoops, it's late!)

Welcome to another LoveCats DownUnder Sunday Smooch!

Today we have a smooch from Clare Connelly but first......the winner of last week's Sunday Smooch Giveaway is .... Laurie!   

Please contact Amy Andrews to receive your prize!

And now for today's Sunday Smooch from REGRET ME NOT!

One sexy night with consequences...

It was one single night of passion with a mysterious stranger, but when Elodie Gardiner realises she’s pregnant, she naturally intends to tell her billionaire lover – only before she can do so, she discovers a very pressing reason to keep their baby a secret! 

Three years later, ruthless tycoon Fiero Montebello receives a shocking call from a London hospital. The woman he slept with three years ago is in a serious condition in ICU – and the son he never knew he had is in the crèche!  

Family is everything to Fiero and there’s no way he’s going to let his son be raised anywhere than under his roof – even if that means his one-time lover is a part of that. He can never forgive her for keeping their child a secret, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t still want her. This seduction is a dangerous game laced with resentment and hurt… 

Scene set-up

This is a secret love-child romance (one of my favourite tropes) and the baby daddy in question, Italian Billionaire Fiero Montebello is, understandably, furious to discover he has a two year old he never knew about. The result of a passionate one-night-stand, this scene is the immediate aftermath of his discovery and shows how he's processing the news and trying to work out how to fit all the pieces together. I absolutely love this book but I'd have to say Fiero's fiery nature (see what I did there?) has made him my most polarising hero to date! He's a big tough alpha but don't worry, he's got a heart of gold in there and you do get to see it by the end of the book ;)  I'm giving away an e-book copy of the book (sorry, it's only in digital because NYC with fellow love-cats Amy Andrews and Michelle Douglas has meant no time for boring things like checking the formatting of print files, WHOOPS!). 

Smooch  - 

“I made a mistake.” 
Christosi, you made a mistake. And now you’re asking me to forgive and forget.” 
She swept her eyes shut, knowing what a monumental task that would be for him. “For Jack.” 
“Yes, for Jack.” He ground his teeth together, and she was conscious, out of nowhere, of how close they were to one another. His long fingers were curled around her wrists, and every time he sucked in a breath his chest moved forward to brush against her nipples. 
The last thing she’d expected to feel for this man ever again, and especially in that moment, was desire, but there it was, turning her blood to lava and her knees to jelly. 
Something in the air around them shifted, changing so that she was conscious of him in a way that was all-consuming and definitely not one-sided. She saw the way his eyes changed, his pupils flexing, his lids lowering; she saw his lips part and felt his warm breath fan her temples and her own lips mirrored his, separating and pushing a soft breath from her lungs.
“You should have told me about him.” And despite the anger he’d thrown at her, the fury, the threats, her stomach looped because she felt what was at the root of everything he’d said and done: devastation. 
He was devastated. 
She sobbed, but he lifted a finger to her lips, and she gasped in surprise, the touch totally unexpected. 
“Stop crying.” 
She shook her head a little. “I can’t.” 
His hands cupped her face then, holding her completely still, and her hands, now free, dropped to her side. “I will never forgive you for keeping my son away from me.” 
His words were like acid and his touch was like silk. She couldn’t fathom how she felt. 
“But it appears I cannot make the same decision you did. I will not push you out of his life.” Her heart turned over in her chest. 
His thumb padded over her lower lip and her heart rabbited against her ribs for another reason now. Despite the seriousness of this conversation, she could barely concentrate. 
“You and Jack will move into my house.” The words were devoid of emotion. “For six months, you will live with me, to see if we can do it your way – and raise him together.” 
It was more than she’d expected. Different to what she’d hoped and yet it made a strange kind of sense. “We’ll live together?”
His eyes flashed. “For Jack’s sake, yes, but you and I will remember the truth, Elodie. We will know what we think and feel, no matter how much effort we go to for the happiness of our son.” 
His head dropped a little lower, his eyes scanning hers. “You will know that when I smile, it means nothing. That my anger and hatred for your decisions are still inside of me, weighing down on me with the pressure of every single day of Jack’s life I have missed.” 
Salty tears clogged her eyes. 
“You will know, when we look at Jack and laugh, like normal parents, that it’s a lie.” 
Her lips parted on a gasp, or perhaps the start of a plea, a desire to make him stop talking like this. “And you will know that if I kiss you, Elodie, it is because of the same chemistry that drove us together that night, and nothing more. You will know that I will never like you as a person, that I will never forgive you for your decisions.” 
She didn’t get a chance to speak. His lips claimed hers and she moaned, knees that had been jelly for long, aching minutes giving way so she would have collapsed to the ground if it weren’t for his arm clamped vice-like around her back, holding her to his body, binding them together. 
And they were bound together. By their son, and by something else, something that lodged inside Elodie and refused to let go. 
“Don't.” She shook her head but didn’t pull back. She didn’t want to. 
Her brain was screaming at her to put some distance between them but her body…oh, her traitorous, treacherous body. Everything shook and trembled inside of her, and her hands were lifting and tangling in his hair of their own accord. She remembered this so well – the feeling of her body pressed to his. The height difference meant she had to push right up to be able to reach, but his hands curved around her waist and lifted her the rest of the way, holding her to him, her feet off the floor, as though it was the only way they could exist. 
His words were still hammering inside of her, the disdain he felt for her evident in every single one, but her body was desperate, hungry, and for a moment, she willingly pushed away common sense and simply existed. She felt rather than thought.
His kiss dominated her. 
It was only afterwards that she realised it was a punishing kiss, designed to draw submission from her, to show her his pain, even when it was a pain she already understood. But punishing or not, the kiss swirled the waters of her soul so she was whimpering into his mouth before she realised it, and only just stopped herself from moaning, ‘please’, into the room. 
Her intense need was a wake up call. 
With a fierce burst of reason, she pushed at his chest, separating them now, her feet finding the floor physically and metaphorically, shock at what had just happened causing her to lift trembling fingers to her lips as though she could wipe his kiss away. 
It was some very small consolation that he looked as shocked as she felt. 
“Don’t,” she said again, but this time, she meant it. “Don’t you dare kiss me.” 

F0r a chance to win a digital copy of REGRET ME NOT leave a comment below. Bonus points, tell me if you love alpha heroes or not? They're 100% my jam, I love them. Michelle Reid wrote some of my all-time favourites, but pretty much any Harlequin Presents hero floats my boat. What about you?! Alpha or Beta or Cinnamon Roll!? 'Til next time, LoveCats, meowy mwahs. x

Jul 25, 2019

Stress soothers – Kandy Shepherd

It’s been quite a stressful time for me in recent weeks. Our house is on the market and it was a frantic time getting it ready. Now there’s the constant pressure to keep it really tidy! 

Amidst all that I had my next story to finish for Harlequin Mills & Boon. A severe bout of the flu took me out of action for a month, which put me behind on my deadline. (I caught the flu before I’d had a chance to get vaccinated.) 

Thank heaven, I finally finished (just last night!) after long hours of BOC (butt on chair) and being very anti-social. Now I go through the nail-biting time of hoping my lovely editor likes the story...

Other stressful things have been happening too. So I thought I’d share some photos of things I love and think looking at might help to keep the blood pressure down!  (Of course that's apart from the obvious stress releases like exercise, meditation, massage, binge TV and so on!) I’d love to hear what are your favourite stress relievers.

The first thing I turn to at stressful times is chocolate, which I really, really shouldn't do. All those stress-relieving nibbles and all that sitting down leads to a new stressor – getting fatter! Deadly, my dietitian daughter warns...

Chocolate is not what I should be turning to!
I love to have flowers in the house, from my garden ideally. While my house is open for inspections I indulge in some flowers arrangements from my favourite florist. We go way back to my magazine days, and she knows just the flowers to lift my spirits!

The colours of these flowers soothe my soul! (Love the little cabbages.)
I absolutely love the water, swimming in the sea and walking along a beach are among my favourite past-times. Both these beaches are in the far northern suburbs of Sydney and easily accessible. One reason this particular LoveCat likes living DownUnder!

This is Bungan Beach on Sydney's northern beaches, view from a house for sale  (that we couldn't possibly afford, sadly!)
Too chilly (winter Down Under) for me to swim but others are braving the waters at Mona Vale, another Sydney  beach.

Who isn't cheered up by a rainbow. This one was taken on a walk around our little farm when I was seeking inspiration for a plot point. 

Stormy weather and a rainbow in the Blue Mountains

Food I haven't had to cook myself (or clear up afterwards) is a cheer-up treat. This cafe breakfast of corn fritters really hit the spot. 

That gorgeous green is a pea puree

Of course my cats always bring joy, just looking at them makes me feel happy. Stroking them and listening to them purr are proven stress releasers.

My precious kitties taking up my entire side of the bed! From left: Alfie, Tabitha, Ivy

Then there's spending time with my wonderful husband and gorgeous daughter. But they don't much like me posting pictures of them on social media!

What works for you when you need to distract yourself from stress? I'd love to read your comments!

Jul 22, 2019

Up, Up and Away by Amy Andrews.

As you read this, I will be on a plane winging it to the USA. To New freaking York to be exact for the Romance Writers of America conference.

New York, baby - Woooooot! 

I'll be there with fellow Cats, Clare Connelly and Michelle Douglas. 

Michelle and I are both up for a RITA award on Friday night (Saturday morning Down Under). Michelle for her Harlequin book, The Million Pound Marriage Deal and me for my Harlequin Escape book, Fair Game.

I'll be back with pics from my visit to the Big Apple next time but in the mean time everybody keep everything crossed for either Michelle or I to take out that RITA please :-)

Jul 21, 2019

Sunday Smooch with Amy Andrews

Welcome to another LoveCats DownUnder Sunday Smooch!

Today we have a smooch from Amy Andrews but first......the winner of last week's Sunday Smooch Giveaway is .... Mary Preston!

Mary, can you please contact Michelle at michelle (at) michelle-douglas (dot) com to receive your prize!

And now for today's Sunday Smooch from The Kissing Contract!

Marshall Dyson wants one thing and one thing only: to raze his grandfather’s island to the ground. Everything is ready to go—except for the freakin’ bunnies! Hundreds of the furry critters hopping about and multiplying before his eyes. And then there’s the American Bunny League, along with one distractingly beautiful veterinarian, taking him to court to save them...
Dr. Augusta “Gus” North can’t believe the grumpy—and annoyingly hot—builder she’s facing in court cares more about demo-ing some cabin than the lives of 200 bunnies. But when the judge orders Marshall to stay on the island and help her rehome the rabbits—the entire month—she knows they’re going to need to lay some ground rules.
Like, for example, absolutely no kissing. Might as well go ahead and get that in writing. Sure it’s on a napkin, but that still counts.
How hard could it be to keep their hands off each other amidst all the fighting? Surprisingly, harder than wrangling 200 bunnies...

Scene set-up

Augusta shows up at Marshall's work site to deliver him his adopted rabbit, Thumper. It's the first time they've seen each other since the island and things get really heated, really quickly....

Smooch  -

A guy ran over from a truck, where he’d been talking to the driver, a frown on his face. “Lady…” he said, raising his voice a little, “you’re not supposed to be on site without permission and a hard hat.”
“Oh…right, sorry.” Gus also raised her voice. “I was just looking for Marshall. I mean…Mr. Dyson.”
The guy laughed. “Mr. Dyson? He’s over there.” He pointed to a group huddled around some plans before putting two less than clean fingers in his mouth and whistled. It was a piercing noise that cut above the din, and a bunch more men looked.
Including Marshall.
He was dressed pretty much like everyone else in heavy-duty pants, boots, a high visibility vest, and hard hat, but he was Marshall and her heart clunked in her chest as he stood and stared. Gus knew the feelings swelling inside her were more than just missing him feelings or even falling for him feelings.
They were fallen really hard feelings. Crap.
Suddenly, he was striding toward her, and Gus’s stomach clenched and her knees knocked as his long legs chewed up the distance. Sunglasses hid his gaze, so she couldn’t read him, but his stride was purposeful and…intent.
“Someone to see you, Mr. Dyson,” the guy said with a grin as Marshall drew level with them.
His eyes may have been hidden, but Gus could feel his gaze burning into hers. “Piss off, Brett,” Marshall said.
The guy saluted. “Yes, sir, Mr. Dyson, sir,” he said, and ambled off unhurriedly, chuckling to himself. He joined a huddle of men who clearly had no intention of getting back to work while there was a woman in stilettos, holding a rabbit in a cage, talking to the boss.
Marshall whipped his sunglasses off and Gus’s pulse leapt as his indigo gaze latched hungrily onto hers. He was cleanly shaven and it took her back to that day in court. Man, had a lot of water flowed under the bridge since then.
“What’s up, doc?” Then he grinned. “I wasn’t expecting you.”
Gus smiled. “I thought I’d hand-deliver your new best friend.” She held up the cage, but Marshall barely paid Thumper any attention.
His eyes roved over, and he shook his head. “It had to be the skirt? And the heels?”
Yeah, she shouldn’t have. But the Devil had ridden her this morning when she’d been deciding what to wear. She probably wouldn’t have if she’d known she was going to end up on a construction site, but the heat in his eyes as he looked at her made her decision worthwhile.
Not to mention curling her toes. She shrugged. “This old thing?”
Grinning, he shook his head. Reaching for the cage with one hand, he relieved her of it while circling her upper arm with the other. “Let’s take this somewhere more private, shall we?”
His tug was gentle but firm and, aware of their audience, Gus followed meekly. But her legs had started shaking again and her heart was rattling almost as loudly as the jackhammer in her ears.
Towing her toward the trailer, he opened the door for her and said, “Inside.”
Gus didn’t argue, walking up the two steps and entering the trailer, conscious of him following into the room. She looked around—two desks covered in paperwork complete with coffee ring stains, a filing cabinet with a box of tools on top, several hard plastic chairs, walls devoid of any decoration, and layers of dust clinging to all the surfaces.
Two pedestal fans, with rivulets of grime clinging to their cages, pushed warm air around the room. A wash basin that had clearly never been cleaned stood next to a bar fridge on top of which was a coffee percolator, the pot half full.
To say it reeked of testosterone was an understatement.
She stepped to the side and he brushed past, her body lurching at the slight caress as he put the cage down behind the far desk and quickly washed his hands.
“Shut the door.”
Gus did as he asked, the construction noise muffling instantly. So much for not being alone with him in an office. Turning to face Marshall, she leaned her back against the door, watching as he dried his hands on some paper towels then crossed to the window, where he reached for the cord of the blinds. With a quick pull, they dropped down.
A twist of his wrist and the slats snapped shut.
The room dimmed a little, stray fingers of sunlight still managing to poke in around the edges of the covering. His eyes met hers and locked as he took off his hard hat, ruffling his hair with one hand as he threw the hat on the nearest desk with the other.
“No, leave it,” she said, her voice husky with nerves and the way his gaze was eating her up. “I like it. Very blue collar.”
“Another time,” he growled, prowling towards her.
Gus pressed her knees together as he approached. Everything inside her heated, melted, liquefied. She shouldn’t be here with him, like this. No good could come of it.
He stopped in front of her, just out of reach. “I’m going to kiss you now,” he said, his eyes roving over her face. “Better speak up if you’re not down with that.”
Gus knew she should speak up. Knew she should move. She’d fallen for a man who came with a built-in expiration date. But she did neither.
She didn’t want to move. She wanted him to kiss her.
He nodded and muttered, “Okay then,” taking that last step toward her, slipping one hand onto her hip, cupping the other around her jaw, his mouth swooping down to claim hers in a hard, hot, hungry kiss.
Her head thunked back against the door at the force of it and sparkles of color popped behind her eyes. Her pulse thrummed through her veins as she grabbed for his shoulders, pulling him closer, his hand slid to her ass and hitched her closer again, her heels high enough to bring their hips into alignment.
He groaned against her mouth. He tasted like coffee and smelled like sunshine and shampoo, and her nose filled with the scent and the flavor of him as she kissed him back harder and hotter.
But it wasn’t enough. She squirmed against him, needing him closer. Needing more of him.
All of him.
As if he could read her mind, his hand was at her waist, pulling her blouse out of her skirt and his palm was pushing under the fabric, big and hot on her skin as it smoothed up, up, up until it hit the fleshy satin rise of her breast, and then he was squeezing and kneading and pulling the cup aside, his fingers taunting her aching nipple.
Gus gasped, breaking their lip lock as they squeezed. She arched and cried out and he kissed her again and again and again, his hands making short work of her buttons before groping for the zipper at the back of her skirt.
“Up,” she said, panting against his mouth. “Up is easier.”

F0r a chance to win a digitial copy of The Kissing Contract leave an answer to the question in the comments and come back next week for the announcement of the winner and another Smooch!

Question - hard hat yes, or hard hat no? :-)