What I’ve Been Up To

Her Heart for a Compass

I can say in all honesty that in the last couple of months I have been through a whirlwind of experiences that I never dreamed would happen to me, and which at times took this wee camera-shy person way beyond her comfort zone. The reason (in case you’ve been away on a trip to outer space) was the official launch of the book I’ve co-authored with Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, Her Heart for a Compass.

The official book release was a wonderful and exciting time, if a little bit exhausting. To finally be able to talk about the experience of working together, of the fun and laughter we shared during our lockdown writing sessions, and of the wonderful book itself, has been fabulous.

And my goodness, the Duchess and I have done a lot of talking! We appeared together on launch day live national television in the UK on the Lorraine Show. We took over the Mills&Boon Instagram account, for an Instagram Live chat (which is still available on the Mills&Boon channel). We also appeared together again (this time pre-recorded) on national UK television  on Alan Titchmarsh’s Love Your Weekend.  Being a massive Strictly Come Dancing fan, I was thrilled to pieces to meet Craig Revel Horwood while we were recording this show, which aired on 5th September, and as you can see from the photo, quite starstruck when he danced with me in the Green Room (and informed me that my ‘arm was in quite the wrong position for a start, darling’).

The Duchess has also appeared on The One Show, Loose Women and countless other tv shows all over the world. I am in awe of her professionalism and her stamina, and have learnt so much from her. Her advice and faith in me gave me the confidence to get through what was at times a nerve-wracking experience, and to come out the other side of it all feeling I’d done both of us justice. I cannot thank her enough for her support and friendship.

Photograph by Andrew Cawley

There have been any number of interviews in the press too, and when the Scottish Sunday Post sent photographer Andrew Cawley to my house, I liked the picture he took so much, I bought the rights. So here is my new, official photograph. What do you think?

My Writing

I am working on the second book in my Victorian duet, Revelations of the Carstairs Sisters. Mercy is the beauty of the family, the toast of a society in which image for a woman was becoming even more important than ever, as photography developed and Queen Victoria and Prince Albert pioneered the use of photographs to promote the royal family. When the story opens, Mercy has been miserably married for seventeen years, tortured by her inability to have a child. Then her husband dies suddenly.

The title of this new book is Lady Armstrong’s Scandalous Awakening, which will give you an idea of the way the story goes – and yes, I have once again returned to my favourite family, the Armstrongs. Mercy’s deceased husband is Harry, the son of the original Lord Armstrong and I confess, every bit as misogynistic, patronising and vile as his father. When Harry realises he’s dying he would really like to take Mercy with him. Even he can’t manage that, so instead he writes a codicil to his will that will ensure that the world knows, when it is read out, that she has a body of marble, a heart of stone, and is unfit, in his opinion, to be any other man’s wife.

I am happy to say that Mercy sets out to prove to the world that she’s much happier without him, ably assisted by self-made Scottish engineer Jack Dalmuir. Needless to say, things don’t go at all as planned.

I’m thoroughly enjoying writing this extremely emotional book, which is, like the first in the series, set in the 1860s, the same point in the Victorian era as Her Heart for a Compass. Mercy and Jack’s romance will be released in spring next year. But you don’t have to wait too long for the first one. Talking of releases…

New Releases

The Earl Who Sees Her Beauty is the first in the Revelations of the Carstairs Sisters duet, to be released this month – so watch this space for a giveaway!

Prudence, my heroine, has a badly-scarred face and is forced to wear a veil when she goes out in public. She is pretty much a recluse, the invisible woman everyone pretends not to see, and her fascination with all things plumbing and engineering is completely frustrated by her sex and her situation.

Then Dominic, a Crimean War veteran, appears in her life in a ‘meet cute’ that I had great fun writing. He too is damaged, though his scars are much less visible. In complete denial about his heritage and his inheritance, he is happy instead to focus on Prudence, from the first seeing behind her veil and beyond her scars to the women she truly is.

I have added in another little fun connection with Her Heart for a Compass, with a secondary character called Sarah, a feisty red head named for the Duchess, to whom this book is dedicated, who may or may not be setting her sights on Clement, Prudence and Mercy’s scholarly brother. Will my fictional Sarah get her happy ever after? You’ll have to wait until the second book in the series to find out.

The Earl Who Sees Her Beauty was a very tricky book for me to write, and you can read about my struggles with it in a previous blog, but I am very proud of the result. As ever, my amazing editor Flo had faith in me when I was at the end of my tether, and I am very excited that Prudence and Dominic’s story is finally being released. And of course, more importantly, looking forward to hearing what you think of it.

If you can’t wait for release day to lose yourself in the mid-Victorian world of the Carstairs Sisters, you can read an on-line prequel to the series right now. It Started at a House Party is available on the Harlequin website, and picks up the theme of image and women struggling to find a voice, with a pioneering female photographer, Esme (named for my heroine Esme Young, presenter of the Great British Sewing Bee).

For my November release, I go back in time to Regency England, with one of three Christmas stories in the anthology, Regency Christmas Liaisons, the other two novellas featured by Christine Merrill and Sophia James. My story, A Most Scandalous Christmas, is set on the wilds of the Yorkshire Moors where my divorced heroine Lady Silvia Merton has been living as a recluse (yes, another woman forced into hiding by society!). Silvia is dreading Christmas. A chance encounter with my first ever Welsh hero, Ellis Wyn-Jones, who is also dreading Christmas, sees the pair of them agree to spend the time together. Needless to say, things don’t turn out the way either of them planned.

Anything Else Worth Mentioning?

Well, there’s a lot of things I haven’t found much time to do like sewing and gardening and reading. The rest of this month is going to be devoted to writing Mercy and Jack’s happy ever after – and believe me, I’m going to be putting them through their emotional paces.

In October, I’m delighted to tell you that I will be attending some book festivals, and will be ‘in conversation’ about Her Heart for a Compass with the Duchess of York. We will be at the Henley Book Festival on October 7th, the Harrogate Literature Festival on the 22nd of October, and in Yeovil on 2nd November. Some of these events are available on-line, so check out the festival website for details.

Whew! That’s more than enough for me right now, back to writing.

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  1. What a lovely journey it has been for you! I am delighted at all your success after all the hard work you put in with your writing. I adore the photo by Andrew Cawley: Your pose, the framing, the colors…everything.

    1. Thanks so much Keira, it has been a fabulous experience, and not over yet! So glad to hear that other people are liking the author pic too. I truly hate getting my photo taken, though I’m trying to get more used to it. I liked this one because it doesn’t look staged – mostly because the photographer did actually make me feel a bit more relaxed.

    1. That would be lovely if you could. It’s on 2nd November and our event is at 18.30 but if you do make it let me know, I’d love to actually meet you

  2. That is a truly wonderful photo. I, too, hate having my photo taken, and I hate the last professional headshot that was taken of me that just thinking about it makes me want to cry. Mercifully, there isn’t much use for a headshot in my profession so hopefully it will be long buried with the other awful “official” photos of me (passport, drivers’ license, various ID badges, etc) LOL. All this is to say that if I liked a photo as much as you like this one, I’d buy it and use the hell out of it, too!!

    The Earl Who Sees Her Beauty is currently winging its way to me (I hope – I received a credit after my order shipped, so I’m biting my nails in anticipation of which book was too popular for me to grab!) and it sounds like it’d be a perfect fit for this month’s TBR challenge. Considering its been on my wishlist since you announced it, I think that counts, LOL. Also looking forward to your Christmas offering. Harlequin always spoils us with their Christmas collections!!

    Obviously I need to read the Armstrong sisters series sooner rather than later, as it sounds like quite a few of your other books/characters touch on their universe in some capacity 🙂

  3. One of the things I’m very grateful for is that in my teens and twenties there were no digital cameras, and the few pics of me are not ‘out there’. I am trying to use Instagram more because it seems to be the current social media of choice, and so get accustomed to using photos and video, but it’s a slow process! I’ve been thinking about photography a lot though, and image, both intrinsic to my REVELATIONS OF THE CARSTAIRS SISTERS series – and in fact I’m about to write a blog on the subject (to be posted on the Mills&Boon blog later in the month). Seeing ourselves in a photograph always startles us, it makes us think, is that really how I look and how other people see us. Imagine what that must have been like in the early days of photography when people from most walks of life suddenly had access to their own images? I find the whole subject fascinating, and I am sure I’ll keep returning to it again and again- and if you read the on-line read associated with the series, you’ll see a little of what I mean.

    I do hope that Prudence and Dominic’s story lives up to your expectations of it, and as always, look forward to your thoughtful review when you get a chance. I’ve just received the digital advance copy of the Christmas book and I love the cover. I’ll say now, that my story in it is definitely Christmas with a twist!

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