Tag Archives: Christmas

My BIG, SPARKLY Secret is out!

I have been waiting to tell you this for ages – and it’s finally time! Here it is: my big, exciting sparkly secret…

Christmas in St Ives COVER.jpg

IT’S A CHRISTMAS NOVELLA! CHRISTMAS IN ST IVES is published as an ebook on 19th October but you can preorder right now. It’s my first ever published Christmas story and I had an absolute tinselly blast writing it!

But there’s more – CHRISTMAS IN ST IVES isn’t just a lovely Christmas story set in the most gorgeous place in Cornwall, it’s also a prequel to my next novel, Somewhere Beyond the Sea which publishes in June next year. This means you’ll get to meet the main characters from the novel in this festive treat – and as the first chapter of Somewhere Beyond the Sea is included at the end of the novella, you’ll be able to read it eight months early!

Everyone thinks I write Christmas books because my novels have often been published around that time, but this is the very first time I’ve published a Christmas story and I’m over the moon with it. I’ve packed my love of St Ives, Cornwall and Christmas into this story, with a huge dose of love, laughter and more than a touch of sparkle. I really hope you’ll fall in love with CHRISTMAS IN ST IVES as I have – and that you’ll want to find out what happens to SerenCerrieKieran and Aggie next… xx

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

#WurdyChristmas 2: What Happens Next?

wurdychristmas-free-short-storyWelcome to the second part of my exclusive #WurdyChristmas treat short story, Silver Bells at Tony & Frank’s. Yesterday, I asked you whether Lucy Smith should open the door or walk away…

Overwhelmingly, you voted for her to open it!

What happens when she steps into the darkened restaurant kitchen, following the strange, echoey Christmas song? Find out below – and then vote in the poll at the end to choose what happens next. Happy reading, lovelies!

SILVER BELLS AT TONY & FRANK’S – PART TWO ©Miranda Dickinson 2016

Should she go in?

Lucy stared at the double doors for just a moment, then pushed them open. In the course of her average day as assistant manager at Tony & Franks she would pass through these doors maybe a hundred times and never even think about it. But this entry into the darkened kitchen felt different – as if by choosing to walk in she could alter the course of her life.

What am I thinking?

As the doors swung shut behind her, Lucy stopped in the middle of the black-and-white chequerboard tiled floor and laughed. The events of the night were obviously taking their toll. She wasn’t on the verge of a life-changing adventure – she was recently dumped, exhausted and stuck in a closed restaurant until she could work out a way to get home for Christmas.

‘Get over yourself, Lucy Smith,’ she said out loud.

Almost in reply, the song swelled in volume.

Silver Bells, Silver Bells

Lucy’s breath caught in her throat.

It was still slower than the song she and Gran had giggled their way through Christmas Eve waltzes to. And it still sounded far away, even though its volume suggested it was nearer

But that was impossible. Wasn’t it?

Lucy gazed around the familiar space that in this almost-light now appeared alien. The stainless steel worktables, large flat-top grills imported from New York by the 1950s-diner-inspired restaurant chain and banks of industrial-sized refrigerators formed an unfamiliar landscape, washed in pale blue light. She wondered if any of her workmates had seen the kitchen like this. Maybe Sophie, her manager, possibly Dragan and Malik, the head chefs… Seeing it like this, without its frenzy and noise, felt like a privilege.

Hear them ring… Soon it will be Christmas Day…

Lucy glanced at the clock above the grill. One minute to midnight. But that wasn’t right, was it? It had been past midnight when she’d found herself abandoned in the car park by Aaron. The batteries must need changing. She’d make it her first job on Boxing Day when she returned to work after her too-short Christmas break.

Christmas. She’d only ever envisaged it with Aaron for the last three years but tomorrow – today – or whenever it was – was going to be different. What was she going to do? She’d planned to spend Christmas Day snuggled up with the man she thought she’d be engaged to. It was far too late to make other plans, and her own home was woefully unprepared. Working long shifts at Tony & Frank’s in the run-up to Christmas meant she’d only just bought and decorated the small, slightly wonky tree she’d picked up for half price from the large B&Q across the car park from the restaurant. It reminded her of Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree from the cartoon she’d watched over and over on video as a kid with her cousin Kerry, until the ancient VHS tape snapped. ‘More twig than tree,’ Dad would call it.

Mum and Dad would always make room for her at their Christmas table. They never had just family on Christmas Day. Dad said it was Mum’s Italian heritage that dictated every meal should be able to stretch to however many waifs and strays deigned to drop in. Lucy usually loved being part of the eclectic mix of neighbours, friends and virtual strangers her mum invited for Christmas dinner, but now the thought made her shudder. Too many questions. None of which she could answer.

The song had reached an end and for a moment there was silence. Lucy waited. Sure enough, it began again, noticeably louder than before. It echoed around the empty kitchen, calling her closer…

To her surprise, Lucy wasn’t scared, more intrigued to find the source of the music. It definitely wasn’t the sound system – there were no speakers in the kitchen and all the controls were behind the front of house desk by the restaurant’s main entrance. And the music seemed to come from the furthest corner, where Sophie had small office. Tony & Frank’s called it a ‘Team Leader Epicentre’. Most of the staff called it ‘Sophie’s Cardboard Box’. Four wobbly fibreboard walls boxed the tiny space from the main kitchen area. In the summer it was so stifling that Sophie often abandoned it altogether, choosing a booth in the restaurant as her workspace instead.

That’s where the song is coming from!

Following the music, Lucy crossed the kitchen and pulled the bunch of keys from her pocket to find Sophie’s office key. But when she reached the door, it was already ajar. That was odd. Sophie was a stickler for routine – to leave her office unlocked was most unlike her. Of course she may have been distracted tonight. She’d been keen to get back to her new kittens, the thought of her partner Eric cat-sitting them all night apparently terrifying. ‘Don’t get me wrong,’ she’d told Lucy, ‘Eric is a total sweetheart but my kittens miss me when I’m not there. If they start to play up, I don’t think he’ll cope. They’re like gremlins who still have fur…’

When she stepped inside, the song seemed to suddenly surround her, the volume rising as if in celebration of her arrival. Surprised, Lucy took a step back and yelped as her shin banged into the leg of Sophie’s desk. Her hand shot to the edge of it to steady herself and her fingers brushed against something cold…

Lucy looked down. By her hand was a small silver box. Over its lid a burst of stars had been engraved, the centre of each one sparkling with a tiny diamond. It looked as if it had been carved from ice and sprinkled with starlight. Beside it lay a velvet drawstring bag. The beautiful midnight blue velvet had been printed with a shower of gold stars, tied with a delicate cord that could have been made of spun sugar. Lucy bent to get a closer look – and noticed the note.

Beside the box was a gold-edged sheet of notepaper, a message written in looping script across its surface in bright purple ink:

Hello Lucy Smith.

Tonight, Christmas magic is yours to choose.

But which gift shall it be?

Silver or velvet? Box or bag?

Choose carefully – your choice will change your life…

Lucy stared at the gorgeous gifts. Both were stunning – she had never seen anything so beautiful in her life. Could one of these really be for her? She could hardly believe it. But then, nothing since the end of her shift at Tony & Frank’s had made sense tonight.

Her fingers hovered over the box and the bag.

Which one should she choose?

TO BE CONTINUED… ©Miranda Dickinson 2016

What do YOU think? Should Lucy choose the silver box or the starry velvet bag? Vote NOW in the poll below – and come back tomorrow to find out what happens next!

SILVER BELLS AT TONY AND FRANK’S – #WurdyChristmas Part One

HERE IT IS! Welcome to my 2016 #WurdyChristmas treat! Over the next five days, I will be telling you a story. But at the end of each episode, YOU will decide what I write next… Anything could happen between now and Friday. Are you ready for a Christmas adventure?

Without further ado, it is my pleasure to present PART ONE of my story. Happy reading – and don’t forget to vote in the poll at the end to decide what happens tomorrow!

SILVER BELLS AT TONY & FRANK’S – PART ONE ©Miranda Dickinson 2016

Four little words.

That’s what Lucy Smith wanted for Christmas. The timing couldn’t be more perfect: three years to the day since her first tentative kiss with Aaron Morgan at a friend’s Christmas Eve party. And he’d insisted on meeting her tonight after her long shift at Tony & Frank’s 1950s-themed American diner restaurant. There could only be one reason why.

Her workmates had given her good luck hugs as they’d hurried out into the frozen winter night – it had been all anyone had talked about this evening. And for once, Lucy had enjoyed being the centre of attention. Tonight was her night – and even though the customers were rowdier than usual and the backs of her legs ached from running between kitchen and tables, she couldn’t stop smiling.

Will you marry me?

Of course he’d want to ask her alone, in the warmth of his new car. Aaron preferred to keep his public displays of affection private and personal. It meant more that way, Lucy told her friends: a secret world just for the two of them. So much of life and love was played out in public these days. Lucy and Aaron didn’t need to follow the crowd.

Will you marry me?

Four little words with the potential to change everything.

Well, she’d been right about that, at least.

Aaron had been waiting in his new car, like Lucy expected. She’d waved off her friends and walked alone across the frosted car park, excited puffs of silver-white breath floating across her shoulder. The glow of his car headlights made the ground sparkle like gold dust as Lucy approached. He’d looked nervous, as Lucy had expected. Both hands on the steering wheel, dark eyes trained on the darkened restaurant building. Lucy instinctively went to the driver’s side, as she always did. It was their thing. No matter who picked up who, the passenger always offered the driver a kiss through the opened window before getting into the car. He’d done it on their second date when Lucy picked him up from the office complex across town and it had been so lovely they’d adopted it as tradition.

She’d expected this, had thought of little else all day. What she hadn’t expected was that Aaron’s four little words would be the first thing he’d say.

‘I don’t love you.’

Four little words that could change everything.

Only not the change Lucy Smith was expecting.

After that it had been a blur – her stumbling replies and his mumbled apologies as little by little her world began to shatter. And then he’d closed the window and driven away, leaving her mid-sentence:

‘But – but you were supposed to drive me home…’

She had no car here. His insistence on meeting her tonight and the promised end-of-shift drinks with her colleagues had persuaded her to leave her car at home. Fifteen miles and a broken heart now stood between her front door and this freezing car park. It was past midnight – no hope of a taxi for hours. She could call her parents but they might be in bed already. And what would she say? They’d been as convinced as she was that tonight Aaron would propose.

Utterly defeated, embarrassed and cold, Lucy turned back to the familiar shape of Tony & Frank’s. The bulk of keys rested comfortably in her pocket. And in the raw ache of her shattered heart, an idea began to glow.

The restaurant was still, faint blue pools of light from emergency bulbs cutting through the gloom. At the far end the two plaster busts of the mythical Founders presided in darkness over the kitchen hatch, the white pom-poms on their Christmas hats just visible. As soon as Lucy entered, her tears fell. With loud, ugly sobs she reached out for the first booth and slid onto the padded seat.

How could she have been such an idiot? Aaron wasn’t distant because he was rehearsing his proposal speech; he was working out how to leave. There was nobody else, he’d said, but his eyes had told a different story. Why else would he want to end their relationship before Christmas? And what was worse – worst than anything – was that Lucy had allowed herself to focus only on him, on their future. As if all she wanted in life was a ring on her finger. When had she become that girl?

Grabbing the nearest napkin she blew her nose loudly. She should try to find a taxi – at least put some lights on and make some calls. Or she could make herself a drink in the kitchen and wait it out until daylight. She was cold, and angry and heartbroken, without transport or any idea of what to do next. Deciding a hot drink was a good idea, she left the booth and made her way through the darkness towards the kitchen.

And then, she heard it.

The faintest sound, at first so quiet it was barely decipherable. But then notes began to form, a melody emerging that seemed oddly familiar. Tony & Frank’s was known for its vintage soundtrack – a key selling point of the restaurant chain. Had someone left the music system on by mistake? Lucy felt certain she would have heard it as she’d locked up if that were true. And then, she recognised it: Bing Crosby and Carol Richards singing Silver Bells. It had been Lucy’s late grandmother’s favourite Christmas song – she remembered as a little girl being waltzed around the tufted Wilton carpet in Gran’s living room to it.

But it sounded – strange. Where was it coming from? Lucy moved towards the kitchen doors and felt her heart contract as the song grew louder.

It’s coming from in there

The song was slower than she remembered, a heavy echo attached to each note, as if it were being played in a steel-lined room a long way away. Reaching the kitchen doors, Lucy rested her hand against the cool metal – and stopped.

Should she go in?

TO BE CONTINUED… ©Miranda Dickinson 2016

What do YOU think? Should Lucy follow the song into the darkened kitchen? Or move away from it and try to get home? Vote NOW in the poll below – and come back tomorrow to find out what happens next!

Anna Browne’s Christmas Party – PART FOUR

I really hope you’re enjoying my sparkly Christmas treat – it’s been lovely to have your input on which characters I have to write about each day. Today, you voted for NELL SULLIVAN and MAX ROSSI from my fifth novel, Take A Look At Me Now, although a few more characters also split your vote – so watch out for them below…

Here’s PART FOUR – and read on to find out which characters you can vote into tomorrow’s penultimate episode. Happy reading!

Anna Browne’s Surprising Christmas Party ©Miranda Dickinson 2015

PART FOUR

‘Elsie! You made it!’ Anna hurried across the stateroom to gather Elsie Maynard into a huge hug.

‘I was starting to think we’d never get here,’ Elsie grimaced, casting a glance at her companion’s pained expression and quickly changing tack. ‘But Woody saved the day.’

‘Just call me Zorro,’ Woody grinned, planting a kiss on Anna’s hand.

‘Look at this place!’ Elsie said, her eyes bright as she took in every detail of the room. ‘You’ve done an incredible job.’

‘Thank you. It’s come together really well.’ Anna watched her guests mingling, laughing, chatting, making new acquaintances and celebrating old friendships. For weeks during the planning of this party they had been simply names on a list, with little to suggest what they might have in common, or how well they would gel in a shared environment. Ben had joked that it was like organising a wedding reception, where only you were the glue that held everyone together.

‘No matter how well you know everyone there will always be that worrying risk that they might all hate each other when you’re not in the room.’

‘Oh, thanks for that. I feel so much better now,’ she’d replied, pretending to take offence. ‘I’ll make sure the local police have their riot squad on hand, just in case.’

‘Anna Browne, you think of everything…’

The memory of his cheeky smile warmed Anna’s heart as she stood with Elsie and Woody, watching The Pinstripes band working their way through their first set. An older couple were already on the dance floor, the man twirling his wife to Lovely Day, much to the delight of their fellow guests. It was so wonderful to see a couple still so much in love and Anna knew enough about them to know what their love had cost them.

Was she the glue that held everyone together? She was probably the only person in the room who understood why each of her guests were special, but that made Anna feel even more privileged to have been able to bring such an incredible group of individuals together. Some she knew by acquaintance, others she had known for a long time, but one thing united them besides her: each person had amazing personal stories. Her grandmother used to tell Anna and her brother Ruari when they were little to pay attention to the stories people told.

‘A hundred-thousand stories pass you by every day as you walk down the street,’ she’d say. ‘Often the most ordinary-looking individuals carry the most exciting stories.’

Anna considered the countless stories in the room tonight, the experiences, loves and losses that each guest carried with them; and gazed down at her beautiful red dress, evidence of her own real-life adventure.

‘Great band, angel.’ Woody was nodding appreciatively as he watched The Pinstripes. ‘So together and tight. Reminds me of a support band Hellfinger had in Tokyo, ’86…’

Anna smiled as Woody launched into one of his incredible reminiscences. Tonight was a night of stories: hidden, known, shared and yet to be discovered…

* * * *

‘Magsie Parker, you dance like a dream,’ grinned Dudley as he twirled his wife gently underneath their joined hands.

‘We’re the only pair on the dance floor,’ Mags replied, blushing as she saw the group of guests watching approvingly. ‘You could have waited until more people were dancing.’

‘Not when I’m with the woman of my dreams,’ her husband said, chuckling as he pulled her close. ‘I want the world to watch us.’ He grinned over Mags’ shoulder at the lead singer of the band who gave him a huge smile and blew a kiss. ‘Our Rom’s singing up a storm tonight.’

Mags gave a little wave at her niece, feeling a swell of pride. ‘She’s a star. They all are. And to think that motley crew of scruffy teenagers who used to hang out on Our Pol could make music that beautiful.’

‘I reckon that’s your doing, Magsie.’

‘Now how do you work that out?’

‘Well, all those Saturday afternoons they spent nattering on our narrowboat, eating your cakes. I’d say your baking was responsible for making them chase their dreams.’

‘Dudley Parker, you daft beggar! My baking has nothing to do with that. They’re a talented bunch.’

‘I’m telling you, your cakes are magic, bab. They change the way people think about themselves. You look at those customers at the café. Right bunch of misfits they were before they tasted your baking. And now look at them! We’ve had weddings, job changes and even a round-the-world cruise that started out as a conversation over your Lemon Drizzle. It was your cakes that got them talking.’

‘Dudley.’

‘Yes bab?’

‘Shut up and dance.’

‘Right you are.’

* * * *

The last song of the band’s first set ended and the room was filled with warm applause. Battling a sudden attack of nervous butterflies, Anna approached the microphone, cue card in hand.

‘Um, hello everyone and thank you so much for being here this evening. As you know, we’re raising money for a brilliant charity that does so much to help people with cancer and their families. Many of you here tonight have been personally touched by this dreadful disease or know someone who has watched a loved one battle with it.’ Anna’s gaze inevitably drifted to Elsie, who was nodding in agreement; and Harri Langton to her right, who had lost both parents to cancer. ‘I would like to introduce my friend, Nell Sullivan, who has come all the way from San Francisco to be here. Could we give her a round of applause, please?’

The guests did as they were asked, parting as a smiling woman hurried over to Anna.

‘Hey gorgeous,’ she said, kissing Anna’s cheek.

‘Are you ready?’

Nell nodded. ‘Absolutely. Video is cued and ready to go.’ She took the microphone from Anna. ‘Good evening…’

Anna moved back into the crowd, smiling as a handsome, dark-haired man put his arm around her shoulder.

‘Great party, Anna,’ he whispered.

‘I’m so glad you two could make it, Max.’

‘Are you kidding? We had to be here. This party’s practically by royal appointment. I hope the video works. Some of the art collective put it together for us last week.’

‘It’ll be brilliant,’ Anna assured him.

‘You should see the outtakes,’ he grinned. ‘Our elderly neighbours stole the show.’

Right on cue, an old couple appeared on the screen.

‘Is this thing on?’

‘Stop yanking that, Saul Alfaro. The boy knows what he’s doing.’

‘I never in my whole life thought I’d have one of these little microphones like the newscasters on TV. Testing, testing…’ The party guests laughed as the old man leaned over his tie microphone and spoke loudly into it.

The video flashed and the couple were now seated in what appeared to be a very beige living room.

‘I lost my brother to cancer,’ the old man said. ‘And then my niece found a lump. She’s doin’ good now, but we were all so scared for her for so long.’

‘My mother, God rest her soul. And two of my cousins,’ the old lady added. ‘Too many of my friends, also. You’d think if they can put a man on the moon they could cure this disease already. There has to be a way to stop it.’

The video cut to an American diner, where a woman of uncertain years dressed in a tight-fitting leopard-print top and jeans, a white apron tied around her waist, was serving coffee and plates of enormous cinnamon toast slices to her customers.

‘My sister’s husband survived it,’ she told the camera. ‘But I have plenty of friends who didn’t. It’s an evil disease and it respects nobody.’

A view of the San Francisco Bay flicked onto the screen, Nell appearing walking alongside the water with another woman who looked as if she could be her sister. ‘Here in America I’ve seen the great work cancer charities are doing to support cancer sufferers and their families, with counselling, respite care and help after a loved one has been lost. That’s why I’m proud to support Anna’s fundraiser at Hillford Hall tonight. I ask you to please consider giving generously and thanks for watching.’

The film ended and Nell smiled at the gathered guests. ‘We just wanted to show you all that cancer touches everyone, all over the world. This wonderful party tonight has been put together by our lovely friend Anna and I think you’ll agree she’s done a phenomenal job.’

The room erupted in warm applause, causing Anna’s cheeks to redden.

‘So please, enjoy the night, give what you can and thanks so much for being here.’

Anna embraced Nell when she rejoined them. ‘That was fantastic. Thank you.’

‘Hey, you guys should come visit soon,’ Max said. ‘You’d love it.’

‘I might just do that. So, how are you enjoying your stay?’

Nell smiled. ‘It’s so good to get away for a few days. We’ve been so busy lately and I missed home so much. It’s great to be back, catching up with old friends – and staying in a gorgeous stately home isn’t too bad, either.’

‘She thinks she’s in Downton Abbey,’ Max said, wrapping his arms around Nell. ‘I reckon she’ll be installing a servant bell in our apartment when we get home.’

Nell beamed up at him. ‘We might need one, soon. Although I think we won’t be the ones shouting orders.’

Anna gasped as Nell patted her stomach. ‘No! You’re not…?’

Nell and Max giggled together.

Anna squealed and threw her arms around them both. ‘Oh wow! I’m so happy for you! When?’

‘Due April 5th,’ Max said, kissing Nell’s head. ‘It was a bit of a shock, but we’re getting used to the idea now.’

‘So this will be my last trip home for a while,’ Nell said. ‘But you have to come out and see us when little one’s here.’

‘I will! Definitely.’

Stories, Grandma Morwenna said, were everywhere, jumping out at you when you least expected them. Real life was more remarkable than anything you could dream up in the pages of a book. As Anna hugged her friends again she couldn’t help thinking her grandmother was right…

TO BE CONTINUED…

©Miranda Dickinson 2015 – All Rights Reserved

Who will be the next guests at ANNA BROWNE’S CHRISTMAS PARTY? Choose TWO from my sixth novel, I’ll Take New York:

  • Bea James
  • Jake Steinmann
  • Russ O’Docherty
  • Grandma Dot
  • Otis Greene
  • Jessica Steinmann

Comment below, or TWEET ME (using #WurdyParty), or comment on FACEBOOK by 8PM TONIGHT to register your vote! All will be revealed in PART FOUR, coming tomorrow…

Anna Browne’s Christmas Party – PART TWO

Did you enjoy PART ONE of my exclusive free Christmas story yesterday? I asked you to vote on Anna Browne’s next guests, this time from my third novel, It Started With a Kiss – and the winners were UNCLE DUDLEY, AUNTIE MAGS and WREN MALLOY. Read on to find out what happens – and watch out for a few other familiar faces I’ve sneaked in!

Here’s PART TWO for your reading pleasure (and read on to find out your choices for tomorrow’s story, too…)

Anna Browne’s Surprising Christmas Party ©Miranda Dickinson 2015

PART TWO

The guests were beginning to arrive now and Anna felt a swell of pride seeing their delight as they entered the wintry wonderland she had created in Hillford Hall’s elegant stateroom. At last, she could discard the list that had been her constant companion during the past week and enjoy herself. Just as she’d planned, all the elements had come together at the right time, even if the band’s late arrival had given her palpitations.

They were all set up on the makeshift stage halfway along the length of the room and while the first guests began to mingle around the perfectly decorated space they had set up background music through their PA system. The warm, irresistible tones of Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby soothed the atmosphere and brought a sense of festive timelessness to the party.

Anna smoothed her red dress and fastened simple aquamarine and silver drop earrings – a present from her elderly neighbour, Isadora – to her ears. The old lady had been dubious when Anna had told her about the venue for the Christmas party last week.

‘Do they do suitable glamour that far north? You may have to take a translator, dear. I fear you’ve been living in good society for too long…’

Anna smiled as she remembered her shock at Isadora’s sweeping judgment of anywhere north of Watford Gap. Never let it be said her neighbour was shy when it came to expressing her opinions. She couldn’t be more wrong, of course – and the wonderful event unfolding before her eyes was testament to that.

‘Excuse me, Miss Browne?’

Anna turned to see the handsome drummer from The Pinstripes event band walking towards her, his smart black shirt and suit trousers far removed from the vintage rock t-shirt and well-worn jeans he had arrived wearing. No wonder she’d seen several of the single female guests giggling in his direction.

‘Anna, please.’

The drummer gave a rueful smile. ‘Sorry. I’m not normally one to stand on ceremony.’ He held out his hand. ‘I’m Charlie. I just wanted to know what time you’d like us to do the first set?’

‘We’re serving the buffet around nine, so around 8.30pm?’

Charlie grinned – and if Anna’s heart hadn’t already been taken, she could have quite easily joined his growing group of admirers in the room. ‘Perfect. First set is more classic stuff anyway, so if the guests aren’t ready to dance by then it’ll be entertaining to listen to.’

‘I hadn’t really thought about when people would want to dance,’ Anna said, thinking of the discarded list in the cloakroom next door.

‘It usually has a direct correlation with how much alcohol they’ve been served,’ Charlie replied, his eyes twinkling. ‘Judging by that huge vat of mulled wine you have for them, I’d say a good proportion will be ready to bop as soon as we start.’

Anna laughed. ‘Oh well, I’m glad I had that covered.’

‘Job’s a good ’un, then. I’ll let the others know. Thanks, Anna.’

Charlie turned and walked back to where his colleagues were making final adjustments to the band layout. Anna noticed him share a joke with one of the singers, a pretty girl with dark blonde hair who seemed to command more of his attention than any of his other bandmates. Being used to watching people in her job, she was intrigued by the pronounced friendliness of their exchanges – they were certainly closer than the rest of the musicians, although the group as a whole appeared to be good friends.

Anna couldn’t imagine herself ever having the nerve to step in front of a band and sing, even though in her formative years she had adored singing. The Pinstripes were every inch the professional outfit and Anna had been amazed at how they had sounded during their sound-check. All of them had arrived dressed so differently from one another, laden with cases and bags, stands and equipment, yet when Charlie had counted them in, the music they produced was better than anything Anna had heard in professional concerts.

It was wonderful to watch the professionals around her working so effortlessly to create the party she had envisaged when she had begun planning tonight’s event. Everyone, from bar staff to waiters, catering staff to the band, worked deftly to make the room so relaxed, efficient and welcoming – and the result were streams of excited, enthralled guests. This evening was most definitely going to be a success…

* * * *

Halfway along the frost-covered path leading from the car park to the beautiful entrance of Hillford Hall, a diminutive woman – huddled within the folds of her best coat – stopped walking and turned back. She lifted a gloved hand to her brow and squinted past the bright candlelight of the row of lanterns marking the path to the winter gloom beyond, trying to make out an approaching figure and wishing she hadn’t left her glasses at home this evening.

‘Dudley! Is that you?’ she hissed.

The man was being insufferable this evening! He’d insisted they leave early from their narrowboat in case the traffic was bad, only to bring them to the grounds of Hillford Hall a whole hour before the party was due to begin. He’d gone off happily wandering around the snow-covered grounds and she’d been about to muster a search party when he’d returned, the hems of his best suit trousers caked in muddy, snowy slush and the shoes she’d so carefully polished for him last night now as dull as canal water. It was a damn good job she loved Dudley Parker, she told herself, otherwise she might have been tempted to inadvertently ‘lose’ him in Hillford’s landscaped boating lake…

‘Hold your horses, our Magsie! I found a bit of a rag in the car boot and my shoes have buffed up lovely!’ Dudley Parker appeared in the shadows and crossed onto the candlelit path, that cheeky grin of his that had saved him from many a sticky situation before firmly in place again.

‘A bit of a rag? We’re about to go into a stately home and you’re buffing up your leather slip-ons with something you found in the car? You’ll be the end of me, Dudley Parker!’

Dudley slipped a cheeky hand around his beloved wife’s waist and planted a warm kiss on her cheek. ‘That’s as maybe, bab, but what a way to go, eh?’

Margaret Parker giggled despite herself and gave him a dig in his ribs – or at least, as close to his ribs as his thick coat and sweater beneath would allow her to get. ‘You old charmer. Look at this place – have you ever seen anything so lovely?’

She gazed up at the blazing splendour of Hillford Hall, looking as if it had appeared from the set of one of her beloved television costume dramas. Tonight was a dream come true. When the gold-edged invitation had arrived, she had been overjoyed and she was still buzzing about it this evening. An elegant Christmas party in one of the country’s most beautiful stately homes – and her and Dudley on the very exclusive guest list! It was a world away from her everyday life and she could hardly believe it was happening.

Mags lived a happy, comfortable life, with their narrowboat and the small café she owned in Kingsbury, and she would tell anyone that she wanted for nothing. But she and Dudley had made many sacrifices to have that life, one of which was the hurried registry office wedding when her brute of a first husband had finally granted her a divorce. Secretly, Mags had dreamt of an elegant, beautiful wedding in a grand house such as Hillford. She hoped for it now for her beloved niece, Romily, who was now so completely happy with the man she had searched long and hard to find.

‘Tonight, you’ll be a queen here,’ Dudley said, close to her ear. ‘My beautiful Magsie, the belle of the ball!’ Of course her secret wish hadn’t been lost on him. He knew Mags better than anyone else on earth. ‘Maybe we should get our Rom to help us hijack the party and renew our wedding vows.’

Mags gave a loud tut to hide how touched she was by his suggestion. ‘Dudley Parker, we don’t need to renew anything. I meant what I promised you then and I mean it now. It is a gorgeous place, though. And we’ll get to see Romily singing with her friends, too.’

‘I know. I’m proper chuffed about that. Come on then, Magsie, let’s show this elegant lot a bit of Warwickshire class!’

* * * *

‘I swear, if D’Wayne tries to make a set change one more time I’ll swing for him,’ Jack grumbled, as The Pinstripes sat around a large mahogany dining table in a room they’d been given as a dressing room. Given that the most they could usually hope for was a broom cupboard or a staff toilet to get changed in, this was opulence in the extreme. There was even a huge crystal chandelier suspended over the table – in all the many gigs the band had notched up over the years, this was a first.

Wren Malloy grinned at the band’s keyboard player and hoped it would be enough. The thing was, she agreed with Jack. D’Wayne, her boyfriend and the band’s dubiously talented manager, had been a nightmare lately. But his attitude towards The Pinstripes had been the least of her worries… Ignoring the hardening knot in her stomach, she attempted to be oil on troubled waters.

‘I’ve told him we know what we’re doing. I think he’s just nervous about the showcase he’s booked us on next month. He really wants us to get some American gigs and if the contact with that hotel chain is impressed, it could be serious money.’

‘He should be more concerned with making sure we get to it in one piece,’ Tom replied, checking the new string on his electric guitar. ‘Knowing D’Wayne he’ll have us turn up a month late for the showcase.’

‘Tom…’

‘I don’t know why you take his side, Wren. I mean, I know you’re shagging him, but that doesn’t mean you have to betray your mates when he’s wrong.’

‘At least we don’t have to do that,’ Jack quipped, pulling a face.

‘Euwww, imagine if that was in the contract…’

‘Kill me now!’

Wren glared at Jack, who once again was enjoying his tag-team attack on her boyfriend with Tom. Even Charlie was smirking like a rude schoolboy. Did male musicians ever grow up?

‘Guys, would you give Wren a rest?’ Romily Parker stepped into the fray, as she had so many times before – and Wren loved her for it. Her friend had been her greatest ally and even though she knew Rom wasn’t exactly D’Wayne’s biggest fan at the moment her best friend’s support meant the world. ‘Jack, if you have an issue with D’Wayne, take it up with him. He can’t change the set anyway. That’s our domain and always has been. We’ll do what we rehearsed. What’s he going to do, storm the stage and take away our music?’

‘Ah, the voice of reason prevails once more,’ Charlie winked at Rom, as Jack and Tom mimed being sick.

Wren still wondered what had happened between Rom and Charlie. For a long time she’d been utterly convinced her best friends were destined to get together, but everything had changed when a certain handsome furniture maker from Stratford-upon-Avon had walked into her life. They certainly seemed loved up now and she had never seen Rom happier. If only she could feel the same way in her own relationship…

‘Hey, don’t let them wind you up,’ Romily said, handing her a bottle of water. ‘They’re just being their usual annoying selves.’

‘Good job I have you here to help me bring sanity back to the band,’ Wren smiled. ‘Is Will coming tonight?’

The mention of Romily’s other half made her instantly glow. ‘He said he’d try to come later. He’s teaching a woodwork class first.’

‘How did you ever come to date a non-musician?’ Wren laughed. ‘I can’t imagine what you two talk about… Ugh, wait, you’re going to tell me you don’t have time for much talking, aren’t you?’

Romily blushed. ‘Wren! As if I’d say something so crude.’

‘Mm-hmm. I know your game, Miss Loved-Up Parker.’

‘You should. You’re loved-up, too. Aren’t you?’

Wren felt her heart quicken. ‘Guys, talking of the set, we need to go through the order before we go on. Have you all got your folders?’ She could feel her friend’s gaze heavy on her as she busied herself with the pre-gig ritual. Maybe she would talk to Rom later this evening, if they found five minutes alone. Or maybe it could wait – until she could work out what was going on in her head.

A fleeting memory of a screwed-up letter shoved into her coat pocket glanced across her mind, making her feel sick.

No! Don’t think about that now!

Banishing the thought to the furthest reaches of her mind, she pinned her brightest smile over any other emotion her face might betray and threw herself into action…

TO BE CONTINUED…

©Miranda Dickinson 2015 – All Rights Reserved

Who will be the next guests at ANNA BROWNE’S CHRISTMAS PARTY? Choose TWO from my fourth novel, When I Fall in Love:

  • Elsie Maynard
  • Woody Jensen
  • Torin Stewart
  • Olly Hogarth
  • Daisy Maynard
  • Guin
  • Cher Pettinger
  • Jim
  • Danny and Aoife (counts as one choice)

Comment below, or TWEET ME (using #WurdyParty), or comment on FACEBOOK by 8PM TONIGHT to register your vote! All will be revealed in PART THREE, coming tomorrow…

Taking December off to dream…

This year – for the first time in five years as a published author – I’m taking December off from writing. It’s a whole new experience for me and, to be honest, it’s taking some getting used to…

Me and Bump model the Christmas jumper look!

My treat – a Christmas jumper! This is also Bump’s first photo!

It seems like a daft thing to have to get used to resting, but after the crazy-exciting roller-coaster that has been the last five years of my life, I’ve become accustomed to being busy. Very busy. I’ve generally been writing the first draft of my next book as I’m promoting my most recent novel and that takes me over Christmas, ready to begin editing from January onwards.

This year, after my decision to start again with my fifth novel, Take A Look At Me Now, and having to write the new version in just over a month, I decided to complete the first draft of Book 6 by the end of November so that I could take December off. I needed a break – and also, with a certain Bump on board, I wanted to have some time to enjoy the thrill of expecting a baby.

But I have to say, not writing is weird

I’ve always written. I wrote in the evenings after my day job and at weekends. I wrote in lunch-breaks and on train journeys. I even once wrote in a cinema during a particularly boring film (and was amazed that most of my notes were legible!) Having a ‘real job’ meant I worked writing around everything else and it’s a habit I’ve relied upon since becoming a published author.

But in September this year I was finally able to give up the day job and become a full-time writer. Which was amazing – and a complete ambition fulfilled. Suddenly my head had space to think and I could write at any time of day (or night, which is usually when my brain kicks into gear) and know I didn’t have an annoying alarm at 6am every day to drag me to work. Writing the first draft of Book 6 was a whole new experience because for the first time ever I was able to concentrate on one project, without a frustrating to-do list dangling like a Damoclean sword above my head. I handed it in and suddenly had a whole December to not think about it.

The problem is, writers’ brains don’t switch off so easily…

I never expected resting and not writing to be a challenge. But it has been. My brain, freed from the concerns of a day job, is like an overexcited kid in a fancy dress shop: Look! We could do this! Or This! Or THIS! – as feathers and sequins and cowboy hats and dragon tails are flung into the air. Instead of thanking me for the chance to not think of stories, my brain was adamant that this was the perfect opportunity to write anything and everything I could.

For a while there, it was a battle of wills between my writer brain and me. But then, I made a decision:

December is my dreaming month.

I’m not embarking on any big writing projects and I am resting (fully immersed in awful Christmas movies, twinkling fairy lights and festive tinsel), but I’m allowing my brain to dream. So, if a new sparkly idea happens to pop into my writer brain, I’m giving it space to bop around for a while. There’s no pressure to write it, or see it as a possible publishable object: I’m just enjoying the thrill of entertaining ideas. I’m not stressing over them and they may come to nothing, but I like that they feel free to arrive.

And the loveliest thing? It’s reconnecting me to that initial surge of adrenalin and creativity that made me fall in love with writing in the first place. That made me dream of, one day, writing books that would be read around the world and maybe, just maybe, being able to make a living from my stories. It’s too easy to forget – and I have forgotten over the last five years – what a gift it is to be doing what I’m doing now. Allowing myself time to dream has transformed the way I look at my writing and I’m confident that my future work will only benefit from it.

I would advise any writer – published or waiting-to-be-published – to allow yourself Dreaming Time. I think you’ll be amazed at how productive and enjoyable it will be!

Merry Christmas everyone!

I can hardly believe Christmas is here! Bring on the mince pies, twinkle lights and The Muppet Christmas Carol!

And, of course, Christmas is a time for PRESSIES – so here are two especially for you! Thank you so much for all your love, support and friendship this year, for buying, reading and spreading the word about When I Fall in Love and for being brilliant!

So – pressie number one is a little something to bop around the Christmas tree to. Michael Bublé has one, so does James Taylor, (and the less said about Rod Stewart’s the better), so here’s my very own collection of Christmas tunes especially for you! (Click on the image below to go to the free download)

Sparkly Christmas Medley EP cover

Pressie number 2 is a very special, magical story for the festive season. Find out what happens when one woman receives a surprise guest… (Click on the image below to read the story – you can download it free, too!)

The Christmas Window by Miranda Dickinson

Happy Christmas and look out for lots of exciting stuff coming soon! xx