Category Archives: Life

MirandaWrites 59 – Welcome to St Ives!

I’ve just returned from a week in St Ives and it was heavenly! The best bit was taking my shiny new book, Somewhere Beyond the Sea, to the place where the story idea began, two years ago. While I was there, I filmed a vlog because my life it’s been ages since I last posted one…

This year has been completely rollercoaster-y – for reasons I’ll be able to share with you soon. Lots of stuff going on, good and bad, plus lots of plans for the future that I hope to see happen. More on that in forthcoming posts here. It’s all good, though!

So, without further ado, here is my brand new, sparkly seasidey vlog! I take you around some of the locations featured in Somewhere Beyond the Sea (more to come in future vlogs, too), talk about my inspiration for the characters and tell you why this book and the town where it’s set are so special to me. (And if it whets your appetite for Somewhere Beyond the Sea, you can preorder it here and here…) Now, snuggle up and get ready for a little trip to beautiful St Ives. Happy watching, lovelies!

SPARKLEMAS 8: My first festive VLOG!

It’s been flippin’ ages since I last vlogged – apologies! But I’m making up for it with some extra-special Christmassy vlogs for #24DaysofSparklemas…

24 Days of Sparklemas logo

Here is the first one – a very festive vlog with twinkly lights, hot chocolate, tinsel, a little bit of singing and even some REAL SNOW! I have the very rare gift of having this December off: my festive e-novella Christmas in St Ives is already out and sparkling away on virtual bookshelves and all the edits and proofreading on my next novel, Somewhere Beyond the Sea have been done months ahead of its June publication date. So, I’ve been making the most of it by having lots of fun with Bob and Flo – and this vlog shows you what we’ve been up to, including our annual family Christmas light safari where we go hunting for as many twinkly lights as we can find…

Do you have a question you’d like me to answer in the next Sparklemas Vlog? Leave a comment below this post, or tweet me @wurdsmyth, or leave a comment on my Instagram page or Facebook author page (click the links to take you there).

So grab a hot chocolate, sprinkle on an extra handful of marshmallows (go on, you deserve it!) and enjoy this little four-minute slice of Wurdy festiveness! xx

WURDYWATCH – Christmas movies!

Everybody has their favourite Christmas film. You know the ones: the moment the opening titles appear you’re there – the Christmas feeling and the snow and the feel-good factor guaranteed. I love the big-hitters – The Muppet Christmas CarolWhite ChristmasElf… 

But there is another kind of Christmas movie that’s become my slight obsession (sorry, Bob). I’m talking the made-for-TV, preposterously festive variety. And this year, I’m making it my mission to watch one every day until Christmas.

So here is WURDYWATCH – my odyssey into the always snowy, small-town-cutesy, irrepressibly romantic world of TV Christmas movies!

WurdyWatch Christmas Movies logo

WURDYWATCH starts here, folks!

Before we begin, let me say that my love for these films burns bright. I’m not out to criticise them or mock anyone who, like me, finds them irresistible. I love these movies for their unashamedly festive approach, their innocence, and their inherent belief that everyone is capable of goodness deep down, and that Christmas can bring magic into our lives. Yes, the acting may be hilarious at times, the scripts may contain gems that will have you chuckling long after the end credits roll and the plots might be as flimsy as Christmas wrapping paper, but there’s always magic, positivity and moments of uplifting loveliness. Personally, I think we need more of that in our lives.

So, my first WURDYWATCH treat is Angel of Christmas (Hallmark Movies 2015)

CAST: SusanJennifer Finnigan, BradyJonathan Scarfe
Director: Ron Oliver
Writer: Gary Goldstein
Setting: New York

Where to begin? Well, it’s the story of Susan, a newspaper copy-editor who longs to be a proper writer. She hates Christmas (we find out why later) but is challenged by her editor to find her a ‘magical, authentic, personal, emotional holiday story’ that will be the lead article on the Christmas Day edition of the newspaper. She’s given 3,000 words (probably half the newspaper, but hey, details schmetails) and a laptop that only types in 14 point (really big letters) and sent off to fulfil her dream.

On the way she meets hunky painter Brady (who we never see painting but always has an adorable blob of paint on his brow, even at a gallery launch). He’s a free spirit, happy to live in the present – the polar opposite to Susan, who is career-led, driven and ambitious. They strike up a friendship after a couple of chance meetings and when Susan tells him about the story she has to write, he volunteers to be her ‘Christmas coach’, schooling her in all things emotional, sparkly and festive…

You see? You’re hooked already, aren’t you? Well, hold onto your picture-perfect bobble hats, lovelies, it gets better…

Susan tells her Christmas-loving (and wise) parents about her mission and they give her quite possibly the scariest looking wooden Christmas angel you’ve ever seen. Honestly, this thing would give you nightmares. Behold:

Angel of Christmas angel

ARGH! That aside, there is a lovely, true – and mysterious – family story attached to the angel. (A story! Just what Susan needs!) In the 1920s, Susan’s great-grandfather moved to New York from a small town and fell in love with an actress. He promised her he would return in a year to prove his love and planned to propose to her. A talented woodworker, he made a Christmas angel in the image of his true love – the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen (aww!). But when he proposed to her, she turned him down, sending him back to the small town where he then met Susan’s great-grandmother when he tried to donate the angel to the local church. The story is that the angel is then responsible for every couple in her family meeting and falling in love.

Hence two unshakeable laws about TV Christmas movies:

1. FAMILY MATTERS – reconnecting with family, gaining wisdom from them and following long-held traditions are all important messages. There is nearly always a wise family member – Wise Mom, Wise Dad, Wise Grandpa-who-looks-suspiciously-like-Santa – who utters a key line from the movie. So here, Wise Mom and Wise Dad give the angel to Susan and say: ‘This little angel brings people together.”

2. WOOD WINS – in most TV Christmas movies, something made of wood proves to be key to solving a mystery/resolving a dispute/bringing people together. In this case, the whopping great, slightly scary Christmas angel that Susan carries with her everywhere (it must weigh a ton!), but also a wooden log cabin and an old wooden writing desk (no spoilers, you’ll have to watch it to find out why these are vital to the story!)

So Susan sets out to discover who the actress was that inspired her family’s heirloom…

Of course, Brady gets involved (adorable paint-splats and all) and the scene is set for a burgeoning romance. But – but! – there’s also a possible challenger for Susan’s affections! The dastardly Derek (played by the exquisitely named Tahmoh Penikett) is a hot-shot reporter at the newspaper and is everything Susan believes she is (and everything free-spirited, adorably paint-splattered Brady isn’t…) He hates Christmas! He has goals! He wears a suit! As Susan ponders the Christmas angel’s power to find her true love, could Dastardly Derek be The One after all?

I won’t spoil it for you by telling you if Painting-Not-Painting Brady or Boo-some Cad Derek wins Susan’s affections, but what I will say is that this film ticks so many boxes in the perfect Christmas movie list. Cute skating scene where they almost kiss? Tick! Christmas tree shopping? Tick! New York in the snow, carol-singing, the Rockerfeller ice rink and Christmas tree? Tick, tick, tick! Susan and Brady also discover their families share a strange Christmas tradition – the Christmas tree is always outside (“..so it can look up to see God…”) Is this a sign? I’ll let you find out!

There are surprise gifts, a twist I honestly didn’t see coming and Susan’s emotional journey which at moments is genuinely touching. And there’s snow, happy families, love and, of course, a little bit of Christmas magic on a Christmas Eve finale.

For the first movie of WURDYWATCH, this one’s a belter!

More coming soon – and if you liked this one, please leave a comment below or tweet me @wurdsmyth on Twitter. Happy Holidays! xx

Book 9 – latest news from the coalface…

It’s been quiet on here lately and that has been due to a couple of factors. Firstly, we finally moved house after lots of hard work, decorating, unpacking and late nights. But it’s fabulous to be in at last and my new office is wonderful to write in!

Wurdy New Office

The light in my lovely new office is so inspiring – I love writing here already!

We’ve built bookshelves so I’m now surrounded by lovely book friends, which always makes a house feel like a home to me. I even managed a small book rainbow on one shelf – something I’ve wanted to do for ages…

Book Rainbow

A book rainbow – I need more yellow and green books…

The second reason for my web silence has been that I’ve been frantically writing Book 9, which at last has a title. I’m just waiting for the official okay from PanMacmillan and I’ll let you know as soon as I can. What I will say is that the title is absolutely perfect for the story and will also plant a song in your head that you’ll be humming for weeks!

I don’t know why I thought moving house during writing a novel would be a good idea, but oh my life it’s been a challenge. Packing and house stress aside, we also have no internet until almost the end of April, which is the deadline for the book. Lack of internet is good for writing (because no temptation to check Twitter, or Instagram, or Facebook), but quite scarily bad for backing up files, so I have been enjoying the complimentary WiFi of coffee shops, friends and parents wherever I can. My office has been mostly on the road in my car, in cafes and grabbing bits of writing time whenever and wherever possible…

SBTS Car writing

My mini writing mentors LegoElvis and LegoDollyP have been on hand to help…

When I can tell you the title, I’ll tell you where I’ve set my novel and what the story is about. I’m so excited about this one! What I can tell you for now is that it’s a properly romantic story, told from two people’s perspectives: Seren MacArthur and Jack Dixon. Writing in their voices, in present tense (which I haven’t used since Welcome to My World, so a bit of a departure for me) has been wonderful and it’s safe to say that I’ve fallen in love with them as I’ve been writing. I haven’t felt so invested in a pair of characters for a while and I think you’re going to love their story.

SBTS Seren and Jack PostIts

As I’m writing the book, I have a stack of Post-Its with reminders to keep me on track.

For now, here’s a sneaky-peek at a line from the book, which I shared for #onelinewednesday last week (I think it sums up the feeling of the whole book):

SBTS One Line Weds

EEK! I have tingles!

It’s hard work and there’s a lot to write, but my family have been amazing. It’s true that they are a huge part of my writing career – without their support I simply couldn’t do this for a job. But it does mean writing as much as I can, every day. No Easter holidays for me! I’m writing early in the morning, bits throughout the day and through the night into the early hours of the next morning to get the book written. Yesterday (Easter Sunday), I was able to write for most of the day, thanks to my wonderful in-laws looking after Bob and Flo…

SBTS Easter writing

As always, I’ve created a playlist to give a sense of the atmosphere I want for the book.

As soon as I have internet, my vlogs will be back, too. I’ll post one each week to keep you updated on Book 9. Follow me on TwitterInstagram and Facebook for more sneaky-peeks and exclusives, too. There’ll also be news of an extra project I’ve just had the green-light on, so I’ll tell you all about that as soon as I can. All in all, it’s an exciting – if tiring and slightly nerve-wracking – time and I can’t wait to share all the juicy details with you very soon.

Right, kettle’s on. Anyone fancy a cuppa?

New Home cuppa

MirandaWrites 52 – The Christmas Vlog!

Merry Christmas, lovelies!

Well, it’s been a very strange year, with lots of ups and downs, but one silver lining (pardon the pun) has been the fantastic response from you about the return of my vlogs. For this week’s vlog, I asked for your festive questions – and you gave me some great ones!

Which location makes me think of Christmas? Am I going to write any more novels set in New York? How many notebooks do people buy me for Christmas? These questions and more feature in a very festive vlog with special guests, a #LegoElvis exclusive newsflash (so exciting!) and even a bit of singing from me! Plus, I offer my advice for creating great vlogs for anyone interested in becoming a vlogger.

(I mention Hayley’s vlog – check out her YouTube channel here…)

(Read my Elvis-impersonators-fighting-alien-killer-zombies comedy novel, Elvis vs The End of the World here…)

So get ready for a bit of MirandaWrites festive fun – and thanks so much for watching! xx

Reality check…

Do you mind if I get a bit emotional for a minute?

This is just a short post but something happened to me today that I wanted to write down. To remind me that it happens.

As you know, I’m in the final stages of editing Book 8. It’s been hard. Really hard. After writing and editing eight novels you would think I’d expect this but somehow every year I forget once my book is handed in. This year has been brutal. I’m not going to apologise for saying it. Writing a book is hard work, editing it into some kind of coherent story is a long (but necessary) slog. And the final stages of an edit are the absolute worst bit. If you’ve ever written a book, you’ll understand.

Editing Book 8

My edit face – nope, it ain’t pretty…

But then today, right in the middle of it all, someone I’ve never met tweeted me to say they’d chosen my books to read during their week off.

I know how precious holiday reading time is. And how important it is to choose the right book to spend time with. So, hearing that a complete stranger has picked my book completely blows my mind.

As a published writer it’s too easy to get caught up in the tough bits – the hours nobody else sees you investing, the doubts, the heart-searching slog to find the best story – and forget why you wanted to write in the first place. Every now and again glimpses like this appear and they are wonderful.

There’s no great lesson from this, apart from the encouragement that as a writer what you do makes a difference to other people. I’m leaving this post here as a message to anyone slogging out a story – and as a message to a future, sleep-deprived, fed up, final-stage-edit me. Hang in for the good stuff. It happens.

Anna Browne’s Christmas Party – PART FIVE (at last!)

Thanks so much for all your wonderful comments regarding my exclusive free short story. The final part turned into a bit of an epic and that, coupled with a stint in hospital with Flo (who is thankfully back to her sparkly self now) resulted in a very, very long delay in getting this to you…

BUT it’s here now – and I really hope it’s going to be worth the wait! If you want to download the entire story for free, there’s a link at the bottom of this blog post.

So, back to Hillford Hall for the final part of Anna Browne’s Christmas Party…

Anna Browne’s Surprising Christmas Party by Miranda Dickinson

©Miranda Dickinson 2015 All Rights Reserved.

PART FIVE

‘That’s our last song for this set. We’re The Pinstripes and we’ll be back with you after a little break,’ Romily smiled, as her band prepared to leave the stage. ‘I have it on good authority that the buffet is now being served, so please enjoy your food and we’ll see you soon…’

The background music faded up and The Pinstripes left their instruments to filter out into the room. Anna left Nell and Max to catch the band before they headed back to their dressing room.

‘Thank you so much,’ she said, as Romily, Wren, Tom, Jack and Charlie joined her. ‘That was fantastic.’

Romily shook her hand. ‘Glad you enjoyed it. Next set will be in about forty minutes or so, if that’s okay?’

‘Perfect. Please make sure you all have something to eat. I think the caterers have outdone themselves with the buffet – we’ve practically had to reinforce the tables.’

‘Already heading that way,’ Tom grinned. ‘We make it our aim to get to the table before anybody else in the room.’

Jack nudged his shoulder. ‘Talking of which, early birds are getting the worms…’

Anna glanced across the room to where a queue was already forming. ‘Don’t let me keep you, then.’

‘Cheers!’ Jack, Tom and Charlie hurried across the dance floor to claim their spot in the line.

Romily raised her eyes heavenwards. ‘Every gig it’s the same.’

‘Well, I’ll leave you to it. If you need anything in your dressing room – water or extra drinks – just let me know.’

‘We will, Anna. Thank you.’

As Anna moved back to her guests, she noticed Romily grab Wren’s hand and lead her out of the stateroom…

* * * *

‘Be careful – it’s very icy.’

‘My dear, I am more than capable of walking on frosty ground. I have had significantly more years’ experience of it than both of you combined.’

‘All the same, Dorothy, I’d feel bad if you were to slip. Take my arm – to humour me if nothing else.’

Grandma Dot’s frown immediately softened and she beamed up at her handsome escort. ‘Well, Dr Steinmann, when you ask so nicely, how can I possibly refuse?’

Bea James grinned as she followed her grandmother and Jake up the lantern-lit path towards Hillford Hall’s magical entrance. It was an impossibly English scene: a serene winterscape with an elegant Georgian red sandstone mansion at its warm heart. She’d become so used to winters in New York that she’d all but forgotten how beautiful December could be back home.

Home. It was a confusing word for Bea these days. Home was Brooklyn, with her bookshop, Hudson River Books, and her apartment; her neighbour’s crazy cat and her friends who meant the world to her. And Jake – the biggest surprise New York had given her. She was thrilled that Rosie and Ed were here, too – a meeting of her two lives represented by the people she knew in the room. Grandma Dot had been only too happy to come to the event at Hillford Hall this evening, remembering dances she and her late husband had attended here in their youth and longing to see inside the mansion again. Jake, like his brother Ed, was just blown away by the Englishness of everything: the pretty little villages, the beautiful Staffordshire border countryside and now a stately home that could have come straight from the pages of a classic novel.

For Bea, it was nice to be back in England – for the time being. This was going to be her first Christmas here since she’d left the UK to emigrate to America in her late teens. Her parents were overjoyed to have her back and she knew as soon as she saw the old Christmas decorations and settled back into the James family festive traditions she would love every minute. But the Bea James who had returned this Christmas was a world away from the Bea James who had left just before Christmas many years before – and she was very aware of it tonight. The fact was, she felt more American than British these days. It both surprised her and made her a little sad. She’d spent so many years dreaming of living and working in New York before she’d moved there and now she wondered how much of her formative years she had spent thinking about that instead of enjoying being in the country of her birth.

‘This place is amazing,’ Jake said, helping Grandma Dot out of her coat and handing it to the cloakroom attendant.

‘It used to be the local pick-up joint,’ Grandma Dot said, clearly thrilled at the surprise her statement caused Jake. ‘A bit of a lovers’ den, if you will.’

‘Oh really?’

‘Mm-hmm. Don’t believe the lie all those old films tell you about how chaste we all were. The stories these grounds could tell you about the shenanigans we all got up to at Hillford would render you speechless. I myself have rather fond memories of that boating lake…’

‘Dorothy! I’m shocked!’

Grandma Dot smirked like a naughty child and patted his arm. ‘Good. You should be. Shall we go in, darlings?’

Bea planted a kiss on her grandmother’s cheek. ‘I think we should before you bring any more startling revelations.’

She looked up at the elegant staircase rising before them, each step cloaked in thickly piled china blue carpet held in place with shiny brass stair rods that sparkled in the light of the hundreds of fairy-lights curled around the polished mahogany banisters. The entire space seemed to twinkle and gleam, hinting at what awaited them at the party. Tonight was going to be special, she knew, not only for the company she’d longed to enjoy but the experience of spending time in such a beautiful, grand house. And sharing it with the man she loved and the grandmother she adored made the whole night as perfect as it could possibly be…

* * * *

‘Right. Out with it.’ Romily folded her arms and fixed Wren with a serious stare.

Wren looked decidedly uncomfortable. ‘I have no idea what you mean.’

‘Yes, you do. You’ve been on edge for weeks, Wren. What’s going on?’

‘Nothing.’

‘Try again.’

Wren flopped down with exasperation on a chair in their opulent dressing room. ‘Honestly, Rom. I’m fine.’

‘No, you’re not. And neither is D’Wayne. I haven’t said anything because I thought you might tell me in your own time. But you’re not yourself and I can’t watch you being like that without asking why.’

‘Really, there’s nothing to tell.’

Rom kicked off her heels and pulled up a chair opposite Wren. It bothered her that Wren could be so down and not want to discuss it. This behaviour was troubling from the woman who normally wore her heart on her sleeve and wanted to talk about everything – every aspect of the situation and every possible outcome – for hours into the night. ‘I don’t believe you.’

‘I’m really hungry. The buffet’s out and the boys will have cleared it like a plague of locusts if we don’t get out there soon. I had to come straight from work here this afternoon – I’m starving.’

Rom had heard all the excuses before and she was determined not to budge. ‘So I’ll text Charlie and ask him to grab a plate for you.’ She reached over to her bag on the table and pulled out her phone. The tactic worked because Wren let out a dramatic groan.

‘Okay, okay. If I tell you will you promise to butt out?’

Rom considered the bargain. How could she tell if she’d be able to leave Wren alone once she knew what was happening? What if her best friend needed her help? But she’d looked so sad for weeks, as if the light that usually radiated out from her had been permanently dimmed. That couldn’t continue.

‘All right, I promise. Tell me…’

* * * *

Dudley Parker’s eyes were practically on sticks as he surveyed the sumptuous buffet. The tables seemed endless, packed with plates of delicious food. His stomach grumbled contentedly as he waited, plate and cutlery in hand.

‘I feel like a kid in a sweet shop,’ he whispered to his wife. ‘I’ve come over all emotional thinking what I’m going to pick.’

‘Try a bit of everything then. But don’t go too mad. Remember what the doctor said.’

Pah. Dr Thornton’s a proper killjoy. Telling me to eat healthy, when he’s the size of a truck! There should be some law against it.’

Mags rolled her eyes. ‘He’s doing his job, Dudley. And your cholesterol’s scary at the moment. I don’t want you carking it on me.’

‘Spoken like a true romantic,’ he chuckled, kissing her cheek. ‘I’ll be sensible, don’t you worry. I need to keep healthy so I can undo all my good work with your cakes!’

Further along the queue, Rosie and Harri waited. Rosie was acutely aware of the strange quietness over her cousin – and as the line ahead didn’t appear to be moving, she decided to seize the moment.

‘Are you okay, H?’

Harri smiled at her, a tiny betrayal of suspicion in her eyes. ‘Of course I am. Why do you ask?’

‘Oh, no reason.’ Reconsidering her answer, Rosie shook her head. ‘No, actually, there is a reason. Something’s not right with you and Alex.’ She caught Harri’s sigh and hurried on. ‘No, listen. I’m not prying, but I noticed it when you met us at the airport and it’s been bugging me ever since. You don’t have to tell me what it is. I just wanted you to know that I can see you’re not happy and I’m here if you want talk.’

Harri’s blue eyes filled with tears. ‘I should have known you’d spot it. We had a row. A bad one. On the drive over to pick you and Ed up at the airport. You know me and Al, we’re no strangers to arguments. But this one felt – and feels – different.’

‘What happened?’

‘It’s all so – unnecessary. And I wouldn’t mind, but it wasn’t my fault. He overheard me talking with his mum and completely misunderstood. He’s been on edge a bit lately with planning the second coffee shop and I know he’s strung out and tired. But it was like he bundled up all that frustration and chucked it straight at me. The worst of it was, I didn’t even realise he’d heard our conversation until it all came out in the car. I’m angry that he didn’t just ask me about it. I mean, he knows what Viv’s like.’

Rosie gave a wry grin. ‘Everyone knows what Viv’s like.’

‘Exactly. But instead of stopping for one second and just asking me about it before flying off the handle he took offence and assumed the worst.’

The queue shuffled a few steps closer to the buffet table.

‘Can I ask what it was about?’

Harri let out a long sigh. ‘Children.’

‘Ah.’

‘Exactly. I don’t know, Rosie, things were really good between us and even with all the craziness around Wātea 2, I thought me and Al were so strong. But honestly, since you’ve been here, I don’t know any more.’

‘Harri, Alex adores you. It’s plain as day.’

‘Maybe. He isn’t being very adoring at the moment.’

‘Have you talked to him since the argument? Told him how hurt you’re feeling?’

The look Rosie’s suggestion was met by told her everything she needed to know. Harri shook her shoulders as if shrugging off a wet coat. ‘Anyway, there’s nothing I can do about it tonight, so let’s just forget it and enjoy ourselves, okay?’

‘Okay. But you know I’m here whenever you want to…’

‘I know. Ooh, look, the queue’s moved again. Come on, let’s eat.’

With a heavy heart, Rosie followed.

* * * *

The dining room-turned dressing room was ominously silent as Romily waited for an answer from her best friend. Wren had pulled her thick black jumper from her bag that she had arrived in and had wrapped it over her knees like a blanket. She appeared even smaller than usual, dwarfed by the elegant chair in which she sat and the chunky cable-knit of her sweater. Her fingers fiddled with a silver hipflask that regularly made an appearance at gigs, but today she wasn’t using a tiny amount to give her vocal chords a little extra warmth before performing; instead she was knocking back considerable amounts.

‘Go steady with that, Wren. You don’t want to wreck your voice.’

Wren stared impassively at the hipflask in her hands and lowered it. ‘Yeah. Good point.’

‘So, come on then. What’s going on?’

‘D’Wayne and I split up.’

Romily’s eyes widened. ‘Oh no! When?’

‘A month ago.’

‘A month…? Why didn’t you tell me?’

‘We had a lot of gigs. D’Wayne’s still our manager and I didn’t want to make things awkward for everyone.’

Romily let the news sink in. How had nobody in The Pinstripes seen what was happening? The jokes had continued, Wren batting each one away with trademark dryness as she’d always done: but now she knew the truth, Romily couldn’t believe all of the band had been so blissfully unaware of what was really happening. ‘I’m so sorry.’

‘Don’t be. I thought we were compatible. I was wrong. It happens.’

‘No, I mean, I’m sorry for not asking sooner. For not noticing.’

Wren unscrewed the hipflask cap and took another sip. ‘I wouldn’t worry if I were you. I didn’t have a clue what was going on until the day we broke up.’

‘Oh hun. What happened?’

Sherise happened.’

‘Who?’

‘Oh you know, Sherise Walters? The mother of D’Wayne’s child?’

‘What?’

Wren reached down into the pocket of her coat, which had been hung over the back of the chair next to hers and pulled out a crumpled white envelope. ‘I found this in his car. It wasn’t hidden: I cleared some stuff off the passenger seat to be able to sit down and the letter was on the top of it all. It’s from her solicitor, demanding money to be paid monthly to Sherise for the care and wellbeing of their son.’

‘How old is this son?’ Romily asked, hoping against hope that it might be an older child from a previous relationship.

‘You see that? That face you’re wearing? That was me when I first read it. Hoping it was just something from his past that he’d somehow omitted to tell me. I could’ve coped with that, you know? We all have skeletons in our cupboards. I assumed we’d been together long enough for anything like that not to be a deal-breaker. But D’Wayne Junior is four months old. And we’ve been together four years. Now, maths was never my strong point, but even I can work out that particular sum.’

‘Oh Wren…’

Wren rubbed angrily at a tear with the sleeve of her jumper. ‘No, I’m fine. At least, I will be. The worst thing is, it wasn’t a surprise. Something had been off with him for a while. He’d hurry out of the room to take phone calls, which wasn’t like him. You know D’Wayne, he’s normally be glued to his phone in full sight of everyone, day and night. He was funny about me answering his home phone, too. He’d go off the deep end at me for picking up a telesales call, but never explain why he was so opposed to me taking calls. Who does that?’

‘Does he know you saw the letter?’

‘He should do. He was sitting in the driver’s seat when I found it.’

Romily stared at her friend. ‘That’s terrible! What did he say?’

‘He tried to tell me the letter had been delivered to him by mistake. I mean, that would probably work as a plausible excuse for ninety-nine per cent of the country, but not him. I’m no expert, but I would hazard a guess that D’Wayne and D’Wayne Junior are probably the only two D’Waynes in the country. So I told him we were over. And we are. That’s it.’

Romily blew out a long, low whistle and began to pace the floor, Wren’s revelation heavy in the air between them. She was torn between seeking out the band’s manager and telling him exactly what she thought of him and protecting her friend by honouring the secret. ‘What do you want me to do?’

‘Nothing. It’s done, Rom.’

‘It might be between you and D’Wayne, but I don’t want him to manage us any more. And I’m pretty sure the others will feel the same when they find out.’

Wren’s eyes narrowed. ‘They aren’t going to find out. I mean it, Rom. I’m still getting my head around what’s happened – I really don’t want everyone else wading in right now.’

‘But at some point…’

‘At some point it’s going to come out, I know. Just not tonight, okay? I just want to enjoy the gig and this lovely venue and turn my head off for a couple of hours.’

‘Guys – what are you doing?’

Romily and Wren turned to see Tom standing in the doorway, an overflowing paper plate of buffet food in one hand. ‘We’re just…’ Romily began, glancing at Wren, who glared back at her. ‘We’ll be there in a bit.’

If Romily had told Tom she was growing an extra arm he couldn’t have looked more bewildered. But when food was as important as it was to The Pinstripes’ lead guitarist, this wasn’t surprising. ‘I’d come now if I were you. Those guests are like gannets. If you don’t grab food soon all that’ll be left is dust.’ He stuffed a mini quiche into his mouth and gave a crumb-spilling grin before heading back to the call of free food.

‘Right, let’s get back.’ Wren peeled the sweater off her knees, put her heels back on and grabbed a mirror from the pile of makeup on the table to check her hair.

Not sure what else to say, Romily picked up her shoes. All of a sudden, she wasn’t hungry. How was she going to keep this a secret from the rest of the band – and, specifically, Charlie? ‘Honey, are you sure you’re okay to carry on?’

Wren snapped the compact mirror shut, the sharp sound echoing like a warning shot around the elegant room. ‘Yes. Can we leave it now?’ Her frown smoothed a little. ‘We’ll talk about it soon, I promise. Let’s just get Christmas out the way first, okay?’

Romily knew no more would be said tonight, but the news sat uneasily within her as she followed Wren back to Hillford Hall’s stateroom…

* * * *

‘So, Miss James, d’ya fancy a dance?’ Jake Steinmann grinned at Bea, giving a bow he hoped was sufficiently like the one he’d seen Prince Charming giving Cinderella in a Disney movie he could just about remember from his childhood. He’d never pictured himself a romantic hero before, but tonight – in this place – he wanted to be. For Bea. She looked so beautiful tonight and the soft light that surrounded her made her luminous.

‘I’d love to, Mr Steinmann.’ She took his hand and let him lead her onto the dance floor as the band began to play Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.

‘You look amazing,’ he said.

‘I know.’

Jake smiled. A year into their relationship and he already could guess what she would say before she said it. He loved that. Even after seven years with Jessica he hadn’t always been sure of what she was thinking. He loved that Bea’s sense of humour was always there, no matter what she faced. It mirrored that of his own family, particularly his older brother Ed. Humour, Ed always said, was your best weapon against the bad stuff in life. As long as you could laugh about something, you had hope. Bea subscribed to this theory, too and she was fast bringing Jake around to her way of thinking.

‘What are you thinking about?’

He looked down to see Bea smiling up at him, a slight wrinkle forming on the bridge of her nose the way it always did when she was amused by something. ‘You, me, this awesome house. But mostly you.’

‘Oh well, that’s good,’ she beamed, snuggling her head against his chest as they moved together across the dance floor. ‘Remember the last time we danced like this?’

Remember it? It’s seared onto my psyche. You broke my heart.’

Bea pulled back. ‘I did not.’

‘Oh, so the “I-like-you-but-I’m-going-to-marry-somebody-else” line was just small talk, was it?’

‘As I recall, you had revelations of your own.’

He had to concede on that one. ‘Good point. You looked so sad and lost back then I felt my heart being pulled to pieces.’

‘Aw. You never told me that before.’

‘I never wanted to before. Maybe Grandma Dot’s right: maybe there’s something about this house that brings out the romantic in people.’

Bea hugged him as the song came to an end. ‘I love you.’

‘Even when I’m being a slushy fool?’

‘Even then.’ She took his hand and began to leave the dance floor, but he held back. ‘What’s the matter?’

This could be the perfect moment: Bea in her home country, looking fabulous in the heart of a grand stately home, being watched by her beloved grandmother, surrounded by twinkling lights with all the promise of Christmas to come… He’d considered it on the flight across the Pond from New York, but was it too soon? Last Christmas she’d chosen someone else and he thought he’d lost her forever. Back then he’d prayed for the situation to change, for the impossible to be made possible – and it had happened. Surely that was a sign, wasn’t it?

But what if this wasn’t the night to ask her? What if she hated the ring hiding in his pocket, or the spontaneous question in a room of mostly strangers?

‘Jake?’

The moment passed. ‘Sorry. Jet-lag. I need a drink, do you?’

He knew she was watching him, with that quizzical expression of hers, as they walked back to their table where Grandma Dot was waiting. It would have been wrong to ask the question he’d longed to without thinking it through. Wouldn’t it?

* * * *

‘Hey Anna, we’re heading off.’ Max Rossi bent down to plant a kiss on Anna’s cheek. ‘I need to get this lady to bed.’

Nell grinned and hugged Anna. ‘Sorry to be a party pooper. I need to rest.’

‘You have the best excuse for leaving early,’ Anna smiled. ‘But you’re staying here tonight, aren’t you? So I’ll see you in the morning?’

‘Sure, Nell will be casting her critical eye over Hillford’s breakfast menu.’

‘Max! I won’t at all. I’ll be loving someone else cooking breakfast instead of me. I can’t remember the last time that happened. Anna, this evening has been phenomenal. And your friends are so wonderful. Elsie and Harri particularly. I think we’re going to be having a lot of new friends visit us in San Francisco next year. See you in the morning.’

‘Sleep well.’

Anna watched her friends walk hand-in-hand out of the stateroom. It was getting late and the guests were slowly beginning to leave. Outside it was snowing again, the flakes falling thicker and faster as the evening progressed. Already the silver lanterns had gained caps of glowing snow and the red carpet was being transformed into a pristine white one. Guests who at first moved to the windows to admire the perfect winter’s night scene quickly rethought their plans to stay until the end of the party, concerned for the thickness of the snow forming outside. One by one, they approached Anna, thanking her for a beautiful party and apologising for their earlier-than-usual departures. By the time The Pinstripes had sung their final song, the stateroom was less than half full. But Anna was happy. All of her plans had come to fruition and she had created the Christmas party she’d seen in her mind. It was magical, perfectly Christmassy and although the donations were still being counted, had raised a sizeable sum for the cancer charity Elsie had nominated. She said goodbye to another group of guests and sank into a chair by an empty table, absent-mindedly picking up a handful of silver snowflake-shaped sequins from the winter white tablecloth.

‘Am I late?’

Anna twisted to see the owner of the voice she already recognised. ‘Ben!’

Ben McAra chuckled as Anna threw her arms around him. His coat was cold and smelled of cinnamon spice and freshly fallen snow and she wanted to breathe him in forever.

‘Well, hello Anna Browne!’

‘What are you doing here? I thought you were working late in the newsroom?’

‘I called in a few favours,’ he grinned. ‘I wanted to surprise you.’

‘Well, you did that.’

‘Good job I did, too. The roads will be impassable if this snow keeps up.’ He lifted his eyes to scan the room. ‘Wow, Anna. You’ve outdone yourself here. If you aren’t careful they’ll be offering you a job.’

‘They did, actually,’ Anna smiled, remembering the shocked hotel manager’s reaction when he’d seen the completed room earlier.

‘You’re kidding?’

‘Nope. The manager asked for my CV. He might well ask again tomorrow. It’s a compliment, but I’m not tempted. This was fun: if I had to do it to pay the bills it would lose its appeal. Can I get you a drink?’

‘I think I’ll just go to the room, if you don’t mind? That journey was a beast. I need a shower, a tea and whatever goodies I can raid from the buffet.’ Ben eyed the still-laid tables hungrily.

‘Help yourself. I think most people are getting ready to go home now. I’ll say the official thank you and as soon as we’ve cleared everything I’ll join you.’ She shook her head, the surprise of his being here still making her tingle. ‘Thank you. For driving up tonight. I was missing you.’

Ben wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her to him. ‘I’d better go to our room then, so you can miss me some more…’

* * * *

Rosie reluctantly took a final look at the wintry setting of the party and linked her arm through Harri’s as they turned to walk into a real-life snow scene. ‘Do we have to go? It was such a gorgeous party.’

‘It was. But we probably need to rescue your husband from my fiancé’s comprehensive love of real ales.’

‘Probably a good idea.’

Harri shivered as they stepped out into the snow, giggling when her heels disappeared in the thick white layer cloaking the path. ‘Looks like we should have brought boots!’

She and Rosie clung to one another, wobbling and sliding along the candlelit path. Large snowflakes landed on their shoulders and heads, ice-cold kisses melting on their cheeks.

‘Are you going to be able to drive home in this?’ Rosie asked, letting out a shriek as her foot slipped and Harri just managed to stop both of them falling.

Given how difficult walking was proving, Harri felt a sudden anxiety grip her. ‘I’m going to give it a go. Just out of interest, how are you at pushing cars?’

‘Now’s as good a time as any to learn,’ Rosie laughed – stopping abruptly, her grip tightening on Harri’s arm.

Harri followed the direction of her cousin’s stare to see a dark figure in their path a few feet away. Where had they come from? And with the stillness of the night, how had they done so without making a sound? Harri could see silver-white puffs of breath rising from the shadowy figure. Whoever it was didn’t move and neither did Rosie or Harri: a High Noon standoff in the snow.

‘Let’s go round them,’ Harri muttered. If they stepped beyond the row of lanterns there would be just enough room to get past the stubborn figure. But she felt her heart beating faster. What if the stranger blocked their path?

Slowly, the figure lifted its hands to the hood covering its head, then suddenly yelled and doubled over, a spray of snow cresting over his back like a frozen wave. Harri and Rosie shrieked in surprise, instinctively hugging each other.

And then, the hooded figure began to laugh. He pulled himself back upright and looked behind him.

‘That was a cheap shot, dude.’

Harri forgot her fright in an instant. ‘Alex? What are you doing here?’

Alex removed the hood of his winter jacket and grinned at Harri. ‘Making the most of the snow.’ Another snowball shattered against his back and Alex bent down to bundle a return missile together.

Rosie shook her head, relief sounding in her voice. ‘Ed Steinmann, you big kid.’

From the snowy shadows Ed emerged, breathless with laughter and perhaps more alcohol than he’d consumed for a while. ‘Gotta make the most of the white stuff, Rosie!’ He gave a yelp as Alex’s snowball ricocheted off his arm.

Harri stared at the drunken pair, wondering how they had travelled to Hillford Hall and – more importantly – why they had come. ‘I’m guessing you need a lift home?’ she called over their shouts and laughter.

‘Actually, we’re your ride home, ladies,’ Alex spread his arms wide, wobbling a little as a snowball whizzed past his ear.

Please tell me you didn’t drive here, not in the state you’re in?’

‘Relax, H. We met Stu from the farm at the pub and he offered to bring us out to get you. The road home’s pretty much impassable unless you have a four-by-four. Stu wasn’t drinking and he has his Land Rover.’

‘Oh.’ It sounded a plausible reason, but Harri couldn’t escape a feeling of something darker, an impending storm cloud neither could avoid. She’d thought of little else tonight, the evening’s party providing much-needed light relief but not enough to fully allay her fears. And now Alex was here, at some considerable effort, when it would have been far easier to stay in the cosy confines of the village pub or welcoming warmth of Two Trees Cottage, just a happy stumble away.

Ed appeared at Alex’s side, red-cheeked and happy. They exchanged a look and Ed reached out to his wife. ‘You look cold. Let’s head over to the car park, okay?’

Realising she was being left alone with Alex, Harri’s heart sank. What had they been talking about at the pub? She was pretty certain now that their main motivation for coming to meet her and Rosie had nothing to do with the weather. When Ed and Rosie were out of sight, she faced Alex alone in the swirling snow.

‘H, can we talk?’ His smile had vanished. He wore it so often his face appeared alien without it.

‘Can’t we do this at home? I’m not exactly dressed for outdoor conversation.’ The feeling had gone completely from her toes and the icy water seeping into her ankles and calves threatened to freeze those, too.

‘There’s a bench, back there,’ Alex indicated over his shoulder. ‘We can sit and talk. Just for five minutes. Please?’

Oh wow, now this is serious

Fearing the worst, Harri picked her way over the snowy path to follow Alex, her feet tiny when she stepped in his large footprints.

Not far from where the lantern-lit path curved away to the car park was an old cherry tree, with a bench resting against its trunk. Strings of multi-coloured fairy lights had been woven through its bare branches, casting a rainbow of colours across the snow-covered ground. It could have been the most perfect setting had it not been for the growing sense of dread Harri felt, twisting her stomach like the gnarled brittle branches above her head as she sat down beside Alex.

She remembered the last time she had seen him looking at her the way he was now – back in the porch of her cottage on the most embarrassing night of her life. Back then, he’d told her he loved her, but what if tonight he took it all back?

‘Al, I know things haven’t been right with us recently, but…’

‘Let me say this, okay?’

This is it. The moment he walks away from me…

Harri had dreaded this since their fight and now she could see it playing out before her eyes. She nodded, silently willing him not to say the words she feared hearing.

‘I told Ed tonight about what happened with us. I said it’s challenged everything I thought I understood about me and you. I know you’ve felt it too, H, and we can’t ignore what happened. I hate fighting with you.’

‘I don’t enjoy it either.’

‘Ed insisted we come out here to meet you and Rosie. He gave me a lecture on the importance of being straight with someone that you…’ he hesitated, ‘…care about.’

Care about? This was worse than Harri thought. Now Alex couldn’t even say he loved her.

‘So be straight with me,’ she said, deciding to meet whatever was coming head on. ‘Because I’ve tried so hard to explain what you overheard. Your mum made a throwaway line about grandchildren and I was just humouring her. I thought if I sounded like I was agreeing with her she’d drop it and move on. I wasn’t saying I wanted kids, or that I was with you because I expected children from our relationship. I would never say that. And I’d certainly never say that to her if we hadn’t spoken about it.’

‘I thought you had.’

‘Yes, I know that’s what you thought. But that makes me sad because it shows how little you know me, Al, even after all this time.’

‘That’s what I wanted to say tonight, right now, before we go back and Christmas starts and we don’t have a moment to be on our own. I was angry with you – but that was my mistake, not yours. I hate that it made us step away from each other but I felt like I suddenly didn’t know you. And that scared me because this – us – is really the only thing I understand.’

Harri looked up at the rainbow lights, their tiny brave beacons blurring in the steam from her breath and burgeoning tears in her eyes. ‘Me too. I just wish this thing would go away. We were happy before it showed up. Weren’t we?’

‘Yes.’

She turned her gaze on him. ‘Then you have to trust me, Al. You have to believe that you will always be the first to hear anything about our relationship – and that the very last person in the world I would discuss us with is your mother.’

‘I do. I’m sorry.’ He stared up at the snowflakes tumbling from the night sky. ‘I’m such an idiot. Ed told me I was.’ He reached for her hand. ‘The kids thing spooked me. I’m just not ready for that yet…’

The snow creaked beneath Harri’s frozen shoes as she twisted towards him, feeling warmth and strength as she took his hand. ‘I’m not either. I don’t think I’m ruling it out entirely but right now, I like us. We have more to do, and see, and be, before we even think about that.’

In the twinkling light beneath the cherry tree lanterns, Alex’s gaze held hers. ‘I love you, Harri.’

Tension between them melted like the snowflakes landing on her cheek and Harri let Alex pull her towards him. ‘Then can we stop this?’

He nodded, kissing the tears from her eyes.

And suddenly, the winter night was magical again, soft flakes falling in silent splendour, covering the tracks where party guests had walked, making everything appear new. It was as if the night sparkled with possibility, sprinkled like tiny crystals of moonlight across the silent park.

* * * *

From a window high in Hillford Hall, Anna Browne saw the kissing couple on the bench beneath the snow-heavy cherry tree boughs, and smiled. Tonight was a night to be happy, she decided, a time to hope for better things and to dream of the impossible. And as snowflakes fell past the window, she closed her eyes and let herself be swept up by the magic of the night.

THE END

©Miranda Dickinson 2015 – All Rights Reserved

If you’ve enjoyed this story, let me know!

 The full story is available for free download HERE. Several of my books address the horror that is cancer. Just recently it has robbed us of more wonderful lives with the passing of Lemmy, David Bowie and Alan Rickman, not to mention countless others who might not be famous but are heroes in our lives. Please consider supporting the phenomenal work of Cancer Research UK – you can donate HERE. Thank you xx

Finding HOPE…

I’ve been trying to work out how to respond to recent events in the world and closer to home. I feel I should respond instead of simply being scared, which is how I felt last night. These are my thoughts…

I watched the news last night as MPs voted on Syrian air strikes and, like many people, I felt utterly devastated. Devastated that, once again, violence has been chosen to meet violence; fighting a war we haven’t asked to fight, for an unknown length of time with an unknown likelihood of victory. Whatever your views on the legality and rightful place of war against terrorism, it’s difficult to watch events unfolding in the news with a great deal of optimism.

The overwhelming feeling I encountered following reactions I saw across social media was powerlessness. We have no power over organisations or individuals who walk into our workplaces, cities, neighbourhoods or social settings intent on taking lives. We have no power over our governments’ responses – and certainly, it would seem, no power of influence over their actions. In a world so seemingly full of frightening things beyond our control, what can we do to make any kind of difference?

This is the conclusion I’ve come to: I am going to pursue HOPE, JOY and LOVE.

I can’t change what happened in Paris, or Garissa, or anywhere else terrorists have targeted. But in my life, and in my actions that affect other people’s lives, I can do something. I can pursue hopejoy and love. These are the things terrorists seek to target and destroy with fear. But the only way I can not allow them to win is to actively go after all the things they don’t want me to have. So I intend to encourage and help people, celebrate life, choose positive words over negative, choose to be optimistic and most of all, do everything I can to not be scared of what might happen in this uncertain world.

It’s a tiny personal stand from one life among a countless many. But I think it’s the only way I’ll feel I’m doing something to fight back in situations where I feel powerless. Peace lies in finding joy in terrifying times. I’d rather be doing something than just being scared. That’s all.

Lessons from Anna Browne: Write the book YOU want to write

I hesitated about whether to post this or not. But having spoken to so many writers during this year, both through WriteFoxy and via Twitter, I think this is something that could help fellow writers to follow their hearts…

I had the initial idea for A Parcel for Anna Browne about four years ago. Like many ideas it sat sparkling away on the sidelines of the books I was writing, trying to distract me when I had deadlines and waking me up in the middle of the night to whisper in my ear. I loved the idea. I even wrote the first chapter to see what it might look like. But I didn’t propose it to my agent or publisher for one simple reason: I didn’t think I could write it yet.

A Parcel for Anna Browne by Miranda Dickinson

A Parcel for Anna Browne

Writing is about taking risks when you’re facing The Fear.

You would think, after writing six Sunday Times Bestselling novels that have sold almost 1 million copies worldwide (eek!) I would be completely confident in my writing. This couldn’t be further from the truth! Every year I ask myself if I’m up to the challenge of writing another book and telling the story I’m dreaming of in the way I want to tell it.

What I found really comforting is that when I spoke to my writer friends it turns out that all of them regularly do battle with what has become commonly known as The Fear. Writers I admire, whose words flow onto the page beautifully, who tell stories that amaze, thrill and inspire me, have all at some time during the writing process of their incredible books doubted their ability to do their idea justice. What made the difference between those ideas remaining in the wings and being brought onto the page wasn’t confidence, but courage.

So, after four years of hesitation, I decided to go for it.

Writing A Parcel for Anna Browne has been one of the scariest and most exciting experiences of my writing career – and I am so proud of the result. Writing the book has taught me to follow my gut instinct and tell the stories I’m dreaming of telling. Where I’ve felt my vocabulary is lacking, or encountered obstacles I’m not sure how to overcome, I’ve held on to the inescapable feeling that Anna’s story is one I want to write.

So, this is what I’ve learned: if the idea has come to you, then you have everything you need to tell it. All you need is the courage to begin.

Miranda Writes 44 – Seeing my book printed!

All this year, I’m vlogging about the writing, editing and publishing of A Parcel for Anna BrowneThis week I go to the printers to see my book being printed – and it was AWESOME!

When you want to write books, the thought of one day seeing thousands and thousands of your novels whizzing around a printing factory seems like the stuff of your wildest dreams. And it completely is a dream come true to actually see that happen!

I was very lucky to be invited down to Pan Macmillan’s printers to see A Parcel for Anna Browne being printed. The very lovely Amanda from onemorepage came along, too, which made a wonderful day even more special. I’ll warn you, I squeak a lot in this vlog!

Enjoy!

M xx