Tag Archives: writing

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

Author Spotlight: RACHAEL FEATHERSTONE

On my blog I like to bring you interviews and guest posts with authors I think you will like. Today I am delighted to welcome RACHAEL FEATHERSTONE to the Coffee & Roses Author Spotlight with a brilliant guest post to celebrate her very first novel, Puzzle Girl, which publishes today! Over to you, Rachael…
Rachael Featherstone author pic
I never knew if this day would actually come. If my dream that had once felt so far away would become a reality. It’s been a long road to get here and I’ve had some amazing support along the way from my agent, publisher and family and friends. So many people ask me, ‘what does it feel like to have your first novel published?’ I answer, ‘Amazing!’ ‘Incredible!’ ‘A dream come true!’ It can be hard to put into words how much goes into publishing your debut. But the closer I came to publication, the more I began to realise that publishing Puzzle Girl has felt a lot like getting married.

It all started with the proposal: Accent popped the question and I said, ‘Yes, yes, yes!’

Puzzle Girl cover
We set the date for the big day – 16th March 2017 – and it felt soooo far away. 15 months to wait! But it was probably a good thing because there were so many things to organise.

What was I most excited about? The wedding dress – aka the cover of the book. I was lucky that Accent’s designer took on board my ideas and I love the finished cover!

So many of us dream about having the perfect wedding, we want everything to be just right. And it was no different with publishing Puzzle Girl. We edited with a fine-toothed comb and planned out everything from the perfect wedding invite (aka the blurb of the book) to the perfect honeymoon (my two-week blog tour).

As for the hen night? Well that was my book launch. We celebrated on 2nd March, the event hosted by my best man – my literary agent, David Headley – at Goldsboro Books. It was such a fun evening and I got to sign copies of the limited edition hardbackwhich is exclusive to Goldsboro.

And of course, there had to be wedding cake!

Goldsboro Puzzle Girl cupcakes

And today the big day is finally here. My husband and I (my actual husband, not the book!) are having a celebratory lunch. Then this evening we invite all of you to join in for the publication day reception party on Twitter! There will be several Puzzle Girl party bags to be won as well as an hour and a half of Twitter chatter. I hope you can join us! x

Puzzle Girl Twitter Party Invite

Thanks so much to Rachael for a fantastic guest post – and happy P-Day!

Rachael lives in Hampshire with her husband Tim. Puzzle Girl is out today, published by Accent Press. You can follow Rachael on Twitter, on Facebook and visit her website.

Here’s the blurb of Puzzle Girl:

Clued-up career girl Cassy Brookes has life under control until one disastrous morning changes everything. When she finds herself stuck in a doctor’s surgery, a cryptic message left in a crossword magazine sends her on a search to find the mysterious ‘puzzle-man’ behind it. Cassy is soon torn between tracking down her elusive dream guy, and outwitting her nightmare workmate, the devious Martin. Facing a puzzling love life, will she ever be able to fit the pieces together and discover the truth behind this enigmatic man?

You can buy Rachael’s book in ebookpaperback and limited edition hardback.

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 5: Lucy’s choice, Lucy’s world

free-wallpaper-christmas-treeWelcome to the fifth – and final – part of my #WurdyChristmas treat short story. Yesterday I asked you to make a tough decision for Lucy – so did she choose to stay in the beautiful winter world, or return home to change her own life?

Thank you for getting so involved in this story – it’s been so much fun to write! Read on to find out what happens when Lucy makes the biggest decision of her life…

SILVER BELLS AT TONY & FRANK’S ©Miranda Dickinson 2o16

PART FIVE

You can stay here. Permanently. And you’d never want for anything, never feel lonely again. Or you can go back. Make things different in the way you’d like them to be. It’s your choice…

What kind of a choice was that?

Lucy looked at her grandmother – her beloved Gran who, even this evening before everything happened, she would have given anything to see again. Here Gran was, as vibrant and vivacious as she had ever been in life, dancing with Bing flippin’ Crosby for heaven’s sake – and Lucy wanted more than anything to stay by her side. Who decided Gran would be the one asking her to make an impossible choice? It seemed unnecessarily cruel. But, if it meant Lucy could see her grandmother whenever she wanted, was it worth the risk?

Who would miss me if I stayed here? Her parents, for sure. Maybe her workmates at Tony & Frank’s. Certainly not Aaron Morgan. Had he ever really cared about her, or only about what he got out of their relationship? She could be safe here in this startling winter world. She could be happy…

So, she should stay.

‘Gonna have to hurry you, kid,’ Bing said.

Lucy’s choice was easy, wasn’t it? She was surrounded by beauty – the dazzling snow sparkling like diamond dust on everything in sight; by joy – the look in Gran’s eyes when she danced with her hero; and by possibility – the village in the distance that invited her to explore and the handsome stranger in whose arms she had found such freedom. Beauty, joy, possibility – what more could anyone wish for?

Choose carefully, the note back on Sophie’s desk had said, your choice will change your life

Tony had been right – Lucy wanted her life to change. What better than a fresh start in a beautiful place? Because what was the alternative? Return home as a dumped girlfriend, face the inevitable questions about what happened and maybe even get in trouble for spending the night in the restaurant. Not much of a choice.

‘Lucybobs, what does your heart tell you?’ Gran asked.

How can you ask me that? Lucy felt tears prickle her eyes. Her heart longed to stay where people she loved were. Given the chance to remain in contact with Gran why would she ever choose to walk away?

‘I don’t know,’ Lucy said. ‘What would you do?’

Her grandmother held up her hands. ‘I made my choices in life, dear. This has to be one of yours.’

Bing nodded. ‘It’s your gig, kid. If anyone else made this decision for you, you’d regret it.’

He was right, of course. This whole experience had begun with someone else’s decision. It had to end with Lucy’s own.

And that’s when it hit her.

This is my choice. It’s all been about my choices.

Without realising it, Lucy had been slowly taking back control of her own life tonight. The choices she had made hadn’t seemed like they belonged to her – investigating a song she remembered from childhood, picking a gift, choosing a door to walk through – but with each one she had felt stronger, become braver.

They were all looking at her now, Gran, Bing and the beautiful stranger – all willing strength and courage into her with their smiles.

‘I think –’ she began…

Whhhhhuuummmmphhh!

A huge pile of snow glanced across her right shoulder, almost knocking her over.

‘He shoots! He scores!’

Lucy regained her balance and turned to see two familiar faces engaged in a snowball fight. Both were still dressed in evening suits but each had added a candy cane-striped scarf and camel-coloured overcoat to their attire.

‘Boys, boys! The lady was just making her decision,’ Bing frowned.

Tony and Frank’s gaze instantly dropped to their snow-covered feet like naughty children being reprimanded for too-rough playground games. ‘Sorry.’

‘I should think so, too. My granddaughter deserves more respect. So, Lucybobs, are you staying here?’

The snow had begun to fall again and Lucy felt the soft kiss of pristine white flakes against her skin. This world – wherever it was – was breathtaking. The prospect of staying here forever threatened to steal Lucy’s heart…

Apart from one, tiny detail.

It wasn’t real.

‘No,’ Lucy replied – noticing the sky dim a little, ‘I don’t think I can.’ The sun hid behind a vast bank of white cloud that had appeared from nowhere. ‘I love you, Gran – and it’s an honour to meet you, Mr Crosby. But this isn’t the change I want to make.’

One by one the tiny white lights on the bandstand began to extinguish. A long shadow passed from the top of the rolling, snow-covered hills to the valley far below, lights in the small village that huddled there disappearing, too. Seth gave a low bow and was lost in the encroaching dusk. Bing saluted Lucy, kissed Gran’s hand and, with a slow turn, vanished.

Lucy felt her heart swell when Gran stepped forward and took both her hands. It was bittersweet: this could only be another, more final, parting.

‘My darling girl,’ Gran said, her falling tears sparkling as if they contained glitter. ‘You did it.’

‘I love you. Don’t leave me yet!’

But Gran was shimmering now, her body becoming stardust. Lucy felt the pressure of her grandmother’s hands on hers becoming less and less – and she let out a sob as Edith Smith finally melted into the darkening snowscape.

‘I – I didn’t say enough,’ she cried, her hands still outstretched as if she could catch the last few stars where Gran had stood. ‘There was so much more I wanted to tell her.’

Tony’s almost-transparent hand rested lightly on Lucy’s shoulder. ‘You did good, Lucy Smith. We should get you home, if that’s where you want to go?’

It hurt, but it was the only choice.

Go back. Make things different in the way you’d like them to be.

Gran had known the best decision all along.

‘Aww, boss, just one more snowball,’ Frank pleaded, as the last of the light faded from the incredible winter world. His voice seemed to be coming from a long way away now. As Tony’s laugh rang out with a metallic, hollow echo, Lucy braced herself…

Whhhhhuuummmmphhh!

Lucy’s cheek was cold and her head hurt. An indistinct sound was playing somewhere nearby, repeating over and over. Not a song this time, but something Lucy couldn’t yet place. Slowly, she lifted her head and found herself at the red vinyl table in the first booth where she’d fled as soon as she had reopened the darkened restaurant.

Except Tony & Frank’s was dark no longer.

From every table, booth wall, serving hatch, window and stool that lined the bar, tiny sparkling white lights shone. It was almost as if the interior of Tony & Frank’s had become the bandstand in the winter world Lucy had just left. The restaurant was ablaze with light. At the far end where the serving hatch revealed the now illuminated kitchen, the Founders’ busts sparkled with scarves of looped silver tinsel Lucy couldn’t remember them wearing during her evening shift. Tony appeared to be grinning, while Frank grumpily surveyed the empty restaurant.

Had she dreamt it all?

The nondescript sound came again, this time more insistent. Bewildered, Lucy rose and moved towards the front door, her shoes leaving damp footprints across the black-and-white chequerboard floor. She couldn’t think how her feet could have become so wet. Unless…

This time when the sound repeated, Lucy immediately recognised it. The knocking continued until she found the front door key on the giant bunch of keys in her pocket.

‘Okay, okay, I’m coming.’

‘Police,’ said a gruff voice from the other side of the door.

Great. Turning the key in the lock and pulling open the heavy oak-and-glass door, Lucy dug out her brightest smile. ‘Hello, officer.’

The middle-aged police officer at the entrance didn’t smile back. Instead, he peered around Lucy to look into the restaurant. ‘Are you alone, madam?’

‘I am. I’m supposed to be finding a taxi to take me home.’

The police officer’s brown furrowed into a frown. ‘Can I ask why you were here, alone on Christmas Eve –’ He checked his watch. ‘– Ah, my mistake. Christmas Day…’

Soon it will be Christmas Day

Not soon. Now! Lucy looked at her watch – and saw the hands had moved to read three o’clock. She had come back to change her life, just as she’d told Gran she would.

‘Well?’ The police officer’s radio crackled into life and he turned away to angrily bark a reply into it.

How Lucy was going to change her life was still an unknown. Like the song that first sounded in the kitchen, like the destination behind the impossible doors. But she had already made choices that had changed her experience tonight – and she was determined to change the rest of her life for good.

The squeak of the front door summoned her attention. Leaving the police officer to argue with the disembodied voice of his colleague back at the station, Lucy made her way to the entrance – just as another policeman entered.

Lucy froze.

Hair the colour of a clear midnight sky. Winter blue eyes that sparkled in the light of the fairy lights in the restaurant…

‘Hi,’ he said, looking over at his colleague, then around the lavishly lit restaurant. ‘Are you the only person present?’

Lucy managed a nod, instantly feeling dumb.

‘We were patrolling the retail park and we saw the lights come on.’

‘I’m sorry, that was me.’

‘And how did you get in?’ He had taken a notebook from his pocket and was now awaiting her story. He lifted his pen to the pad and Lucy remembered how strong the stranger’s arms had been as they had held her. What would it be like to be cradled in them in real life…?

What am I thinking? This isn’t the same man

‘I let myself in,’ she rushed, hoping her answer would mask the growing flush creeping up her neck. ‘I’m assistant manager at Tony & Frank’s.’

‘Right. Any reason you’re here on Christmas Eve?’

‘Christmas Day,’ Lucy corrected him, blushing again.

The PC looked at his watch. ‘So it is. Merry Christmas.’

Lucy was about to reply when the older police officer returned. ‘Have you taken her statement?’

‘I’m doing it now, Sarge.’ The young PC turned back to Lucy. ‘So, you let yourself in – because…?’

Lucy sighed. ‘Because my boyfriend dumped me this evening after work and I didn’t bring my car, so I let myself back in with my keys.’

‘For what purpose?’

‘To call a taxi… Probably to wait it out until daylight. Then I’ll walk home.’

‘Have you seen the weather outside? You won’t be walking very far.’

Lucy peered through the window and gasped. Every inch of the car park where Aaron had trashed her heart was now covered in glittering, shimmering snow. ‘Oh – wow…’

‘Not to worry, Miss…?’

‘Smith. Lucy Smith.’

The midnight blue eyes seemed to sparkle. ‘We can give you a lift home, Miss Smith – can’t we, Sarge?’

The older police officer looked less than impressed. ‘Well…’

‘Aw, come on. It’s Christmas. And we can hardly leave Miss Smith here.’

‘I suppose so…’

Lucy, weary from the rollercoaster she had been on, smiled at the thought of reaching her own bed before daybreak. ‘That would be wonderful, thank you.’

‘Right. I’ll radio in. Miss Smith, could you turn off all these lights and secure the premises?’

‘No problem.’

Lucy was aware of the young PC’s eyes on her as she closed down Tony & Frank’s for the Christmas break. When the last set of lights had been turned off, she offered him a shy smile. ‘All done.’

‘Great. Our car’s out here.’ Together, they began walking across the newly fallen snow to the police car parked in splendid isolation on the deserted car park.

‘I’ll be glad to get home,’ Lucy admitted.

‘I’ll bet. So, your fella dumped you?’

‘Yes.’

‘On Christmas Eve? That’s harsh.’

‘It is. It was. But – I think I’m better off without him.’ As Lucy said it, she understood. The first way she could change her life was to make sure she didn’t let anyone else treat her as second best. She wouldn’t waste any more tears over Aaron Morgan. Tonight had taught her that she deserved more. She had left so much behind in order to return here – she had to make her decisions count.

‘Guy sounds like an idiot to me,’ the police officer said.

‘Maybe he was.’

‘Trust me, I see a lot of idiots in my job.’ He gave a self-conscious smile and offered Lucy his hand. ‘PC Seth Bell. At your service.’

When Lucy took his hand it felt warm and familiar…

* * * *

In the darkened restaurant, silence returned. Above the open serving hatch to the kitchen, two plaster busts kept watch over Tony & Frank’s. A length of silver tinsel shuddered to the black-and-white chequerboard-tiled floor, where it sparkled in a pool of pale blue emergency light.

And in the middle of the table in the first booth, a small silver box dotted with diamond-hearted stars began to glow…

THE END

©Miranda Dickinson 2016

Thank you for reading, voting and helping Lucy Smith choose! It’s been a privilege to write this story with you and for you. There’s just one last poll for you to vote on…

#WurdyChristmas 3: What will Lucy choose?

free-wallpaper-christmas-treeWelcome to the third part of my exclusive #WurdyChristmas treat short story. Yesterday, I asked you whether Lucy should choose the engraved silver box or the starry velvet bag…

The vote was so close! Right up until I began writing today’s episode the lead kept changing. Read on to find out what she chooses!

Don’t forget to vote at the end to choose what happens tomorrow. Happy reading, lovelies!

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

Lucy’s fingers hovered over the silver box and the velvet bag.

Which one should she choose?

The purple-inked note addressed to her said whatever she chose would change her life.

Change my life? How?

Both gifts were beautiful, both would be wonderful to own, but who had left them here? And who knew she would be alone in her manager’s office tonight? Was someone watching her? Was she really alone here?

What if I make the wrong decision?

Her mum always said decisions should come from the heart. ‘You deliberate and agonise, but I think you always know the right choice, deep down. Your heart decides long before your head.’

Lucy didn’t trust her heart tonight. Not after being so wrong about Aaron. Her heart had assured her Aaron was The One – a phrase she’d laughed at when others had used it, before he arrived in her life. How could she have been so blinkered about him? Her heart had soothed her fears that he was too good to be true, that she was falling dangerously hard for someone who wouldn’t even hold her hand in public…

A fresh wave of injustice hit her as she sat in Sophie’s chair in the cramped office. The signs had been there all along, hadn’t they? His insistence that displays of affection were confined to when they were alone. His unwillingness to introduce her to his parents, or hang out with his friends. As she began to unpick the relationship she’d believed to be perfect, it all became suddenly, horribly clear.

I made excuses for him all the time. I never asked why.

How had she become such a doormat? She was a bright, intelligent woman with ambition and dreams and an intrinsic belief in better times and silver linings. Wasn’t she? Given the almighty mess she now found herself in, maybe the biggest injustice had been that she had allowed someone else to dictate her happiness.

Silver Bells, Silver Bells…

She was suddenly aware of the song again, although she was pretty certain it had been playing all the time since she entered Sophie’s office. It was the same song, Bing Crosby’s familiar croon and Carol Richard’s bright replies. But this time, it was different.

It was almost as if someone were whispering the words close to her ear…

She stood, grabbing the engraved silver box with its tiny diamond-hearted stars – reassured by its considerable weight in her hand – ready to defend herself. Was there an intruder? Had someone followed her inside? She couldn’t remember whether she had locked the front door behind her when she’d come back to Tony & Frank’s. What if someone had been watching her and saw an opportunity?

‘Who’s there?’ she called, every nerve in her body on high alert.

Is that what you did in a situation like this? She didn’t know – but in every thriller she’d ever watched it was the first thing people said. Too late, she remembered that most characters in films who did this usually lived (or didn’t live) to regret it…

The whisper came again, this time by her right ear. She spun around, holding the box aloft, ready to throw it or strike out in the darkness. Could she get away if she hit her invisible assailant? Would there be time to escape?

And then, the silver box in her hand began to glow

For a moment, Lucy forgot her fear. The sight transfixed her. All over the box, the tiny diamond stars dazzled as if dancing in sunbeams. The silver itself emitted an ice-blue glow that bathed Lucy’s hand in light. And the strangest part was that where the glow rested felt warm against her skin…

‘Good choice, kid,’ said a voice.

‘See, I knew she’d go for that one,’ said another. ‘I mean, the bag’s a beaut but check the sparklers on that box!’

Shaking, Lucy looked up – and saw two men leaning against the steel shelving unit where Sophie kept boxes of menus, kids’ activity packs and the staff manuals. Except that when she dared look closer, the shorter of the two appeared to be sitting on the middle shelf.

Hang on – how was that even possible?

‘Who are you? How did you get in here?’

The taller man smiled. He was dressed in an evening suit, black tie hanging loose from the open collar of his dress shirt. In better light, he might have had more than a passing resemblance to Dean Martin in his Rat Pack years. ‘Kid, relax. We didn’t get in here. We are this place.’

Lucy stared.

‘Look at her, boss. The poor thing’s scared to death.’ The shorter man waved from his impossible perch. He too was dressed in evening attire, but the open black jacket and blue silk cummerbund across his ample waist looked as if they had seen better days. His balding brow wrinkled into a frown as he sent Lucy a tentative wave. ‘Hey, lady. Don’t worry. We ain’t stealin’.’

Lucy increased her grip on the silver box, even though its warmth was comforting, inviting her to forget everything and cradle it. ‘Get out! Both of you. Or I’ll…’

The tall man shrugged. ‘Or you’ll what? Throw that gift at us that we picked out for you?’

‘She wouldn’t.’

‘I think she might. She looks mad, Frankie.’

Lucy blinked. ‘Frankie?’

‘Sure. You mean to tell me you don’t know who we are?’

Since their sudden arrival in the office, Lucy had battled the strangest feeling that she somehow knew the intruders – but until the tall man uttered his companion’s name she hadn’t been able to place them.

‘No…’

‘I think she’s gettin’ it, Tony.’

‘You don’t exist! You’re the made up founders of a chain restaurant – there are busts of you over the kitchen hatch…’

‘Babblin’. She’s babblin’, Tony.’

‘I know, Frankie. Give the kid some air.’

‘You are kidding me…’ Lucy felt the room undulate around her. What on earth was happening? She couldn’t – absolutely couldn’t be – talking to Tony & Frank. They didn’t exist. The whole thing was a story created to sell the theme – two brothers from Napoli who arrived in 1920s New York on a boat of immigrants and set up a restaurant in the back streets of Brooklyn. Except that it never happened. The restaurant chain wasn’t even American. The headquarters were in Slough, for crying out loud!

‘Kid, put that box down. We aren’t here to terrorise you.’ Tony held his hands out and Lucy felt her knees buckle as she saw the faint outline of the office through them…

‘Uh boss, I think we’re losing her…’ Frank’s voice began to drift away as Lucy closed her eyes and gave in to the ice-blue, soothing warmth of the glowing silver box.

‘Lucy, Lucy Smith, come back.’ From far away, almost as far as the song had sounded, Lucy was aware of Tony’s voice.

‘Go… away…’ she heard herself murmur.

‘You chose the box, kid. That means you chose us.’

‘I didn’t… I didn’t…’ Words danced around Lucy’s head like the white diamond stars dancing across the silver box lid.

You called us here, Lucy Smith. Because you wanted something better. Because you wanted a miracle.’

‘Go… away…’

‘Lucy, come back.’

This time, Lucy felt the pull of reality gently bringing her back to the darkened office. When she dared to open her eyes, Tony and Frank were still there – both standing now, closer to her than they had been before.

‘Look over there,’ Tony said, pointing a semi-transparent finger to the back wall of the office, where two doors had appeared. Each was painted red, its edges decked out in metallic trim – one gold, one green. ‘We’re here to help you, Lucy Smith. But you have decide what happens here. So pick a door.’

‘Why?’

‘Trust us, kid. Pick a door. The rest will become clear. So, what’ll it be?’

Lucy stared at the doors. Apart from the trim they seemed identical. And what remained of her logic told her that there couldn’t be anything behind either door, apart from a small gap to the back wall. But so much had happened already that defied reason. And she wanted things to change in her life.

But which door should she choose?

TO BE CONTINUED… ©Miranda Dickinson 2016

What do YOU think? Should Lucy choose the gold door or the green door? Vote NOW in the poll below – and come back tomorrow to find out what happens next!

#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!

Strange times and Silver Linings

Next Thursday, my eighth novel, SEARCHING FOR A SILVER LINING is published. It’s the book I am most proud of, not least because I worked so hard to make it a truly memorable book. It is also personally special to me because of the happy hours I spent talking to my Dad about his memories of being a teenager in the 1950s while I was writing it. But I never thought during the many months spent writing my book that it would be published without Dad seeing it.
   
But that’s what is happening. A week ago today, I lost my lovely Dad.

 
Still, as I write that sentence, I can’t quite believe it. Life without him is going on – because life does – but the world is a little dimmer and quieter without his presence and infectious sense of humour. The bottom line is that I write what I write because I inherited Dad’s love of comedy and his natural storytelling skill. My earliest memories are of Dad making me laugh. He would make my toys move and talk with funny voices, and tell me stories that made me giggle. He made books come alive for me and my sister and often recited favourite tales verbatim on our walks. So much of what I now do for a living can be traced back to those special times.
When he died, I didn’t want to think about my writing, my stories. They suddenly seemed trivial. All I could think of were his stories – the ones he’d tell over and over again, the ones we had now lost. How do you carry on promoting a new book when life floors you like this?

I’m not sure I know the answer.

But here’s what I do know. My amazing, talented, hilarious Dad had one solution whenever life chucked a spanner in his path: create something to redress the balance. When he was unexpectedly made redundant at the age of 56, Dad sought something creative in response: he joined a TV and Film Extras agency. 

Over the years he had a ball, acting alongside famous people from Scarlett Johansson, Johnny Depp and Michael Sheen, to Catherine Tate, Patrick Stewart and Philip Glenister. And from each new job came new stories – hilarious, stitch-inducing tales of the crazy things he was asked to do. Such as posing with a bolshy duck in The Village, or running up a hill with a Zimmer frame in Hustle. Or the time while filming The Libertine when he asked Johnny Depp what his previous acting job was (Dad’s had been Emmerdale, of which he was mighty proud) to be told ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’, and Dad replied, ‘Oh, I’ve seen that. Were you in it?’

Dad understood that, when something bad happens, creating something new and hopeful in its place is the best response.

I can’t bring my Dad back. I wish I could – I would swap every printed copy of my books from here to eternity for one more day with him. But what I do have is the book he was so involved in the writing of. So many of Dad’s memories are woven into the story – in Reenie’s tales of her band The Silver Five’s exploits and in Grandpa Joe’s diary entries that Mattie Bell discovers as she embarks on a road trip like no other. Even the songs that form the chapter headings in Searching for a Silver Lining are my Dad’s favourites from the 1950s. It’s as if the things I loved most about being Brian Harvey Dickinson’s daughter have been infused into the story.

  
Dad was SO proud of my writing. Every week he would call me with shelf updates from my local Waterstones and WHSmith stores – the booksellers knew he was my Dad and would show him the latest sales figures for my books. He would frequently rearrange shelves so that my books were more visible – several times I was congratulated for being a Richard and Judy pick because a certain sparkly-eyed septuagenarian had been working his magic on the shelves… I know he was proud of this book and loved chatting with me about it.

Those are the things I’m hanging on to as I prepare to do all the book promotion in the coming weeks. So if you see me on Twitter and FB and appearing on lovely book bloggers’ sites talking about my book, please know I’m doing it hoping my lovely Dad is looking on approvingly from the major stage (with the enormous audience) he’s just been called to. And thank you for all your love and support – it’s helping me so much to carry on doing what Dad was so proud of.

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.

YOUR chance to appear in Book 8!

Right now, I’m editing what will be my eighth novel and I’m making some substantial changes to the first draft I submitted at the end of last year. So, I thought it was about time we had some fun with the book…

What I’ve loved in recent years is involving my lovely readers in not just the launch of my books but throughout the process, via my vlogs and #getinvolved challenges. It’s been so much fun to incorporate ideas – and in some cases, readers themselves as characters – into my stories.

So, this got me thinking. How can I have fun with this big edit of Book 8, while also getting my lovely readers involved?

Here’s my exciting plan…

As this is an edit and I don’t have a lot of room to put in suggestions and new characters, I’ve decided to offer some chances for teeny-tiny mentions I can sneak into the story without detracting from it or changing the pace.  I’m calling these MICROCAMEOS. Think of it like film extras who appear in scenes to support the action. I would like to sneak you into the heart of the action of Book 8, hanging out with my brand new cast of characters.

Fancy grabbing a MicroCameo in my new book?

To win a spot in Book 8, simply share this blog post (via Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr or on your blog) and leave a comment (either below this post, on my Facebook Author Page or tweet me @wurdsmyth on Twitter) telling me why you should have a MicroCameo. I’ll pick as many as I can to sneak into the story and if you appear in the book, I’ll mention you in the Acknowledgements at the beginning, too. Entries must be in BY MIDNIGHT (GMT) ON FRIDAY 11TH MARCH.

I would love to write you into my book. What are you waiting for? Best of luck! xx

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