Archive for the 'Book Research' Category
My romantic suspense, Playing to Win is set in New Zealand. During the course of the book my hero and heroine take a journey to Taupo, a childhood haunt of mine. Here are some photos of their journey to go with the text…
Kate listened to the ebb and flow of his voice and laughed as he painted colorful word pictures of a group of men and the close bonds between them. This man not only appealed to her senses, she liked him too.
There was little traffic on the road and none of the usual hold-ups due to road works. They passed Matamata and Waharoa with its small cafes and antique shop. Jersey cows grazed in lush green pastures while other herds ambled to the sheds for their afternoon milking.
“How about a stop in Tirau for a cup of coffee?” Kate asked.
“I like Tirau,” she confided when they sat at one of the outside tables. Relaxed, now with more space between them, she leaned back to enjoy the sun. “I enjoy browsing in the antique shops, and I always make time to look in the shop over there.” Kate pointed at one of Tirau’s landmarks. The entrance to the shop was a large sheep’s head made of corrugated iron. Through the gaping mouth or doors, shelves were crammed full of wool, soft sheepskins and hand-knitted sweaters. While they watched, a bus filled with tourists pulled up in the car park and the passengers descended on the staff.
“Yeah, I noticed it before. It’s impressive. The tourists seem to enjoy their visit.”
In the last shop, Kate lingered in front of a small pink music box. Not an expensive one but the type a young girl might fill with treasures. With a gentle finger, she pushed open the lid and the sweet strains of Swan Lake rippled through the shop while a ballerina twirled around and around. “I haven’t seen one of these in years.” She slid her teeth over her lower lip, disturbed by the bittersweet memories the tinkling tune evoked of her parents and happier times. “Not since…”
“Since?” Lane’s indulgent tone made her want to weep. He was so different from Steve.
“I used to have one almost exactly the same.” Until Steve broke it after he’d caught her smiling at one of his friends.
Lane appeared with several packages. “Do you want me to drive?”
Kate shook her head. “Thanks, but I’m happy driving.”
Gradually the scenery changed from farmland to pine plantations. Tree shelterbelts of a different species glowed in autumn colors ranging from green and gold to red and burgundy, protecting newly planted pines from strong winds.
“Nearly there,” Kate said as she drove through the outskirts of Taupo.
Lane peered toward the lake. “If we’re lucky, we’ll catch a glimpse of the mountains. There isn’t much cloud.”
Although early evening, they could make out the trio of mountains, Mount Ruapehu, Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe across the large expanse of blue-black lake.
Kate let out a satisfied sigh. “This is one of my favorite views.”
They shared a smile. “I’d forgotten how beautiful the New Zealand scenery is,” Lane said. “I haven’t visited Taupo for years. Where is Adam and Danielle’s holiday home?”
“Tui Road,” Kate answered, negotiating traffic and the holiday pedestrians still thronging the streets. “You can’t see the mountains or the lake from their house, but it’s only a ten-minute walk to the water.”
SHELLEY’S NOTE: Unfortunately on the day I visited there was cloud!
Lane, who had walked over to a set of sliding doors to watch the boys, said suddenly, “John, I think we’re needed. The boys have snagged the kite in a tree.”
“But there’s only one tree in the reserve,” John said.
Kate moved to survey the scene. A bubble of laughter escaped. “The boys have caught the kite in it. It looks as though they’re deciding who retrieves the kite.”
John groaned. “Come on, Lane. Supervision required.”
Here is the blurb for Playing to Win:
The truth has many layers…
Professional rugby player, Lane Gerrard is used to women throwing themselves at him, but a scurrilous tabloid article naming him as father of a child sends his temper soaring. The woman he confronts doesn’t fit the blackmailer profile. Kate Alexander is attractive with an enchanting innocence, enticing. A total stranger. Her feistiness draws his unwilling admiration, but the child…he is the image of Lane.
Kate can’t deny her son’s similarity to the sexy man at her door but no way will she hand him over without a fight. Kate doesn’t possess money but she can shower her son with love. With public speculation rife, Kate reluctantly works with Lane to discover the truth. They grow closer as distrust slowly turns to mutual fascination, but the tabloid articles bring out a stalker. Mild pranks escalate into danger, and suddenly Lane realizes Kate is a woman he could love. With Kate and her son, he could have a family. Now, with his heart on the line, this is one game he’s playing to win…
Purchase or Borrow from Amazon
A few years ago my husband organized a golf trip to the Gold Coast of Australia for members of the local New Zealand RSA (Returned Services’ Association). I’m not a golfer, but the lure of sunshine, half naked lifeguards on the surf beach, great shopping, and the chance to relax and do a little writing was all the incentive I needed. I packed my bags, ready to tag along.
Most of the group was a lot older than us, although I hasten to add, very fit and lively and definitely switched on. Our group consisted of couples plus three elderly bachelors. We called them “the boys”.
On the first day we arrived late morning and checked into our holiday apartments. We lazed around, deciding to meet up in the bar later that evening before going out to dinner in a group. The three boys were in the bar when we arrived for drinks. We purchased beer and wine and sat down outside to enjoy them while waiting for everyone else. The boys had already been out exploring.
“We’re going to the Burleigh Bowls Club for dinner,” one of the boys said.
“Yes,” another agreed. “Cheap meals. The beer is a good price as well.”
“And,” said the third boy, “There’s a dance at the Bowls Club tonight.” He paused to waggle his eyebrows. “We’re gonna grab us a granny!”
We roared with laughter. Not terribly P.C., I know, but I still grin each time I think of the three elderly men going off to the dance.
The next day, while the others were out playing golf, I pulled out my laptop and started pondering about what to write. The phrase “grab a granny” popped into my head and refused to leave. I decided to blend fact with fiction and write about a woman on a golf trip meeting with a younger man. Of course, the phrase “grab a granny” was in the story, although it wasn’t in relation to my heroine. I called my story, Grab a Granny.
Of course, the title Grab a Granny isn’t terribly romantic, so after consideration, my story became Summer Encounter.
Believe me, ideas are everywhere!
Here’s the blurb for Summer Encounter:
Sophie Walker is on holiday in Australia when a hot and handsome cutey kisses her right in the middle of the Burleigh Bowls Club. The man fires slumbering sensual fantasies and sends her hormones swooping. Sophie wants to take a bite before she realizes it’s Isaac Shepherd—one of her daughter’s ex-boyfriends. Chastened, Sophie tells herself to forget the younger man, but it seems the attraction is mutual.
Sunshine. A hot, young stud. Steamy sex. The perfect recipe for total relaxation until the end of the vacation looms and Sophie doesn’t want to let Isaac go.
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Gold Coast Beach
Taking in some sun on the Golf Course
This statue of Mackenzie and his dog Friday stands in the main street of Fairlie, New Zealand.
The real story of James Mackenzie, the sheep thief and man from whom the Mackenzie country in the south of the South Island takes it name, is still shrouded in mystery.
He departed from his home country of Scotland under a cloud after doing some double-dealing with some cattle that didn’t belong to him. At first, he went to Australia and then on to New Zealand. No one is sure of his exact arrival in New Zealand.
He first came to notice when he was discovered in the possession of one thousand head of sheep belonging to Robert and George Rhodes. Captured, he managed to escape, fleeing barefoot into the surrounding countryside. This was on the 4th March 1855.
It wasn’t until ten days later that he was arrested in Lyttelton on the charges “feloniously taking, stealing and driving away sheep.”
On 17th April 1855 he was found guilty by a jury in the Supreme Court at Lyttelton and sentenced to five years of hard labor on the roads.
Nine months later on 11th January 1856, he was granted an unconditional pardon. The hard labor had caused his health to deteriorate and he also staged many escapes, which were expensive for the Government because they had to recapture him each time. James Mackenzie spoke Gaelic and his English was poor, which meant he didn’t understand a lot of what occurred during his trial. These circumstances were communicated to the Governor by Mr Henry John Tancred, the Resident Magistrate at Lyttelton and Mackenzie’s pardon went through.
James Mackenzie left New Zealand shortly after his release and went to Australia. It is thought he died in Australia but no one knows for certain.
Mackenzie’s collie dog was called Friday. it is thought Mackenzie gave Friday commands in Gaelic since the dog refused to work for anyone else. She was a silent collie and worked the sheep in silence. I’ve heard it said that Mackenzie’s dog Friday was so well trained she could move a herd of sheep by herself while Mackenzie drank in the local pub. I don’t know how true this is, but it certainly adds romance to the tale.
I’m not sure what happened to Friday while Mackenzie was serving his sentence, but the dog was produced during the trial. It’s said the dog whimpered, Mackenzie spoke to her in Gaelic and then broke down and cried.
Visitors to Mackenzie country might find it strange that we’ve named an area after a sheep thief, but as well as being a shepherd, Mackenzie was an explorer and he found a region that is perfect for sheep. These days several large high country stations farm the Mackenzie region.
Source: The Story of James Mackenzie of the Mackenzie country, New Zealand, presented by Catriona Baker.
When I was working through my edits for Hunted & Seduced, my editor asked me about my use of the word reivers. Did I mean Reavers, the ferocious race, that featured in the television series Firefly? And wasn’t I spelling it incorrectly?
No, I answered. I mean reivers.
When I started writing the House of the Cat series, I dipped into my past travel adventures in Scotland and decided to invent a race called the Scothage. In Claimed & Seduced one of Keira’s employees comes from the planet Scothage. He looks after her livestock and wears a leather kilt.
In Hunted & Seduced, I again dipped into my Scottish memories and introduced a group of reivers who came from the planet Scothage.
Reivers were cattle thieves. They roamed the border region of Scotland from the 13th to the 17th century, raiding and plundering cattle. The reivers stole from their Scottish neighbors and also traveled across the border to plunder the English. Their main motive was to make money.
One of the most well-known reivers was Rob Roy Macgregor, made famous in the books written by Sir Walter Scott. The truth was romanticized in Scott’s novels and Rob Roy was portrayed as the Robin Hood of the far North. He was captured in 1727 and sentenced to transport to Barbados. Eventually he was pardoned, and he gave up the cattle rustling business to live the rest of his life as a law-abiding citizen.
My reivers are baddies who earn their living by stealing or capturing other spaceships for profit. In this case, they bite off a little more than they can handle.
So, there you have it – the story behind my reivers.
Read an excerpt for Hunted & Seduced
Meet Julia Maxwell. Like many heroines in romance land, Julia comes with baggage. While she was growing up her mother ran The Last Frontier, a strip club on Karangahape Road (known as K’ Road). The club is an old one and several generations of Julia’s family have run the business.
As a child, Julia hated the teasing she received from her peers, hated living in the flat above the club, hated her mother’s profession. Julia turns her back on the club, yet when money is short, she turns to stripping to earn enough to enroll in secretarial school. The second her training is completed, Julia walks away, pleased to be done with The Last Frontier.
But the past often has a way of returning to kick us in the butt.
And that’s exactly what happens with Julia. When problems pile up at the club, Julia steps in to help her ailing mother. It seems generations of tradition have rubbed off on Julia. First though, she needs to confess the truth to her friends.
Here’s a short excerpt where she makes her confession to her friends:
Julia’s hand tightened around her glass. Afraid of breaking it, she set her wine aside. How would her friends react? “My mother runs a club on Karangahape Road. A strip club.” Julia sucked in a quick breath and scanned her friends’ faces, ready for their responses. She’d heard every variation while growing up and had a smartass cut down for each dirty, snide comment.
“K’ Road? Really?” The pitch of Maggie’s voice rose, clear amusement in the quirk of her lips.
“Is that all you’re gonna say?” Julia demanded.
“Why didn’t you tell us?” Susan asked.
“My question exactly,” Christina said. “It’s not a brothel, is it?”
“No!” Julia leapt to her feet, indignation fueling her temper. “It’s purely a strip club. Buck’s nights and that sort of thing. I earned enough money stripping to pay for my education rather than taking out student loans.”
Silence fell. Susan’s mouth dropped open fishlike. Intrigue and silent questions radiated off Christina while Maggie raised her quirk to a smartass grin.
“Any more comments?” Julia asked.
~ * ~
Julia, with the help of her friends, takes the opportunity to haul the club into the twenty-first century by rebranding and changing up the format to burlesque. For Julia, the challenges from the past keep coming, pinging her like buckshot. You can learn more about Julia and Past Regrets here.
Do we really put the past behind us or does it keep returning to teach us lessons and shape our destiny?
One of the cool things about writing books with mystery and suspense elements is that you get to kill people off. The murder can be behind the scenes where the reader doesn’t see the grisly stuff, or the murder can be graphic and gritty and give readers nightmares. And then there are all the interesting methods of killing characters off. Choices galore and so much fun—for the writer that is!
Today I’m going to discuss poison. I’ve heard it said poison is a woman’s weapon. Since food is the ideal vehicle for poison and food preparation is often the domain of women, it’s simple to slip a little extra into the dinner. With poison, all the murderer requires is a way to introduce it to the victim’s system and their job is done. They don’t have to get up close and personal or get blood on their hands.
Poison was used by ancient tribes, within the Roman Empire and in Medieval Europe. Many noble families employed people to taste their food before they dined, so if the meal did contain poison, the taster keeled over first. These days most poisonings occur accidently, and the victims are often children.
This is a common poison in fiction, and it was very popular with the Borgias and de Medicis.
Arsenic is usually swallowed, but it can also be inhaled in industrial circumstances. Symptoms of arsenic poisoning include gastric problems, jaundiced skin, a skin rash, pain and vomiting. The skin becomes cold and victims become dizzy and weak from in drop in blood pressure. These symptoms are followed by convulsions and a coma. Death finally occurs due to circulatory failure. Not a nice way to go!
In the eighteenth century a Frenchman killed off his wives with arsenic. During sex he used a goatskin sheath to protect himself, but he placed a lethal dose of arsenic on the outside of the sheath. The women absorbed the arsenic during intercourse and died. Authorities became suspicious when so many of his wives died. He was found guilty and hanged.
Cyanide comes in three common forms: potassium cyanide, sodium cyanide and hydrogen cyanide. The potassium and sodium forms are solid and have the distinctive bitter almond scent while hydrogen cyanide is a gas. Cyanide can be swallowed, inhaled and absorbed through the skin. The cyanide interferes with the enzymes responsible for getting oxygen into the body. Death is fairly quick—short of breath, dizziness, nausea and a drop in blood pressure are some of the symptoms. Although the bitter almond scent is an indicator of the presence of cyanide, not everyone is able to smell this aroma.
Agatha Christie used cyanide in several of her mysteries. I distinctly recall Hercule Poirot detecting the scent of bitter almonds in a recent TV episode.
These are only two poisons to consider—there are countless others for your characters to use to rid themselves of troublesome foes.
When deciding to use poison as a murder weapon consider the following:
1. Is your book a historical or a more contemporary title?
Poisons were readily available from apothecaries in years past, and the possession of poisons didn’t prove guilt. It is more unusual to have poison readily available these days (apart from general household cleaners) and it isn’t always easy to purchase poison. Some require a special license before they can be purchased.
2. Think about the symptoms and the dosage required to kill off a character. i.e. their size, age and sex.
3. Do you want a quick death or do you want them to suffer for weeks?
4. Is there an antidote available?
5. How are you intending to introduce the poison? Will the character swallow, inhale or absorb the poison through their skin?
6. Do you want the crime discovered quickly or not? Maybe the murderer needs time to set up an alibi.
Poison is an interesting addition to the writer’s arsenal, and it might be just the weapon for you!
Authors: Have you used poison as a murder weapon before? What is the most interesting way you’ve killed off a character?
Readers: What are your favorite murder weapons in books? Do you like the sly murderer who uses poison or would you prefer a gun? Do you like your murders to take place off the page or do you like to experience them along with the characters?
Sources: Deadly Doses, a writer’s guide to poisons by Serita Deborah Stevens with Anne Klarner
During the last few months, I’ve done a lot of reading about dragons and their different characteristics. I’ve read fiction and non-fiction. One thing everyone is clear about is that dragons come in lots of pretty colors.
Here are a few interesting facts about dragon scales:
1. The scales cover the entire body of a dragon.
2. The dragon can make its scales stand on end, especially during the preening process.
3. Dragons like to keep their skin and scales impeccably clean.
4. Each scale overlaps and fits perfectly into the next to allow the dragon to move freely.
5. The inner part of the scale consists of hairs. Small glands around the hair follicles secrete a mineral rich substance, which coats the scales. It is this substance that colors the scales and makes them hard.
6. The scales grow and automatically renew like human fingernails and hair. Only a sick dragon will shed its scales.
7. The scales are never even in color, but will be different hues of a dominant color.
Source: The Book of the Dragon by Ciruelo
I’m about to write a new dragon story for my Dragon Investigator series. What color do you think I should make my dragon and why?
Dartmoor, the first national park in Britain, was formed in 1951. It’s a large open area famed for its moor, the bogs and stone tors, and wild ponies. Around 33,000 people live within the park and many others visit to experience the wilderness.
Man has farmed, mined the stone, lived and visited the Dartmoor region for at least the last 12,000 years as evidenced by stone circles, ancient bridges and other monuments.
Since the area has been inhabited for so long there are hundreds of tales involving ghosts, both evil and benevolent. Piskies or pixies, fairies, witches and wizards also live in Dartmoor, so it’s not good to travel through the moors after dark—not if you value your life.
During more recent years, tales of the beast of Dartmoor—a big black cat—have become common. There have been numerous sightings of big cats, but so far no one has definitive proof of one residing in the park.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle set his Hounds of the Baskervilles in Dartmoor, and it’s said he was inspired by ghostly tales of black dogs haunting the moors. Here’s one of the many ghostly tales of large black dogs.
A stagecoach with two female passengers was traveling from Tavistock, which is the largest town in the area. All of a sudden, the driver started whipping his horses, and when the passengers called up to him to slow, he pointed at the large black dog galloping alongside the coach. It was the ghostly black dog.
When I was deciding where to set Mistress of Merrivale, I wanted a place that was wild and potentially dangerous. The bogs and the isolated parts of the moor fit my story needs nicely. I added in a mention of ghosts and set a murderer loose. Understandably the locals become very nervous and start to glance over their shoulders and cast blame.
I chose Merrivale for my setting within Dartmoor, but my village is different from the real one since I took liberties and made it much larger. I added shops and made the church bigger. I also added to the population for the purposes of my story. In truth, the real Merrivale has an inn, a few houses, a chapel and a nearby mine, and thank goodness, they don’t harbor a murderer!
Would you be willing to walk alone at night in Dartmoor National Park? Why or why not?
In my release, Mistress of Merrivale, the heroine’s mother has dementia. Since my story takes place in the 18th century she hasn’t been diagnosed, but as the writer I know she has Alzheimer’s. It’s a silent disease in which the family suffers just as much as the person who is experiencing the illness. I know because my father has dementia. It’s sad watching someone you love losing connection with reality.
Dementia happens when there are changes in the structure of the brain. These physical changes might affect memory, the way a person behaves, their personality, their emotions and the way they think. There is no cure, and the symptoms gradually become worse.
Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia in our society. It was named after German Alois Alzheimer, a psychiatrist who first described the condition in 1906.
There is no single factor that has been identified as the cause of Alzheimer’s and it’s thought that the disease is a combination of factors such as age, genetics and environment.
1. 35.6 million people have dementia worldwide (2010)
2. In America there are more than 5 million people with Alzheimer’s.
3. It’s the sixth leading cause of death in America.
4. 1.1% of the population in New Zealand has dementia and 60% of these are female.
5. Most of the caregivers are largely unpaid. In fact according to stats in 2012 15.4 million family and friends provided 17.5 billion hours of unpaid care to sufferers.
In Mistress of Merrivale, Jocelyn is determined to find a protector who will accept her mother with her strange behavior and quirks. Jocelyn’s sisters want to send their mother to Bedlam, but she refuses to send her mother to a hospital. Instead, she hires a woman to tend to her mother and does her best to keep her parent happy and safe.
Of course everything is not as it seems, and there is murder afoot at Merrivale…
To read an excerpt check out the book page for Mistress of Merrivale
The other day I picked up a copy of IF WALLS COULD TALK, an Intimate History of the Home by Lucy Worsley. It’s a fascinating read, full of all those small social details that we often don’t hear about when we’re reading about history.
Here are a selection of things I’ve learned about beds and bedrooms.
1. Medieval people led more communal lives than us. At night they would sleep in the great hall, glad of the safe place of rest. The hall reeked of smoke and body odor, but it was safer than sleeping outside.
2. Medieval people who held jobs within the manor would sleep in their place of work. e.g. laundry maids would sleep in the laundry and the kitchen lads would sleep next to the fire in the kitchens.
3. A bed during medieval times usually consisted of hay stuffed in a sack, hence the saying hitting the hay.
4. A big bed would be shared, sometimes with strangers. Customs and etiquette developed regarding the communal bed. Families would lie in order of birth. If guests came to visit and stayed overnight, the father and mother would sleep in the middle of the bed between their children and strangers to prevent any naughtiness during the night.
5. The lord and lady of a manor would sleep in an adjoining room called the chamber or solar. It was a multi-function room but it usually contained a wooden bed.
6. During Tudor times the four-poster bed was the most expensive item in the house.
7. Tudor four-posters had bed strings on which the mattress sat. These would sag under the weight of the bed’s occupant and required constant tightening. This is where the expression, “Night, night, sleep tight.” comes from.
8. Housewives would accumulate lots of bed linen, enough to last a month so that laundry only needed to be done once a month. I’m glad I’m not responsible for the laundry!
9. During the 17th century bedrooms were on the upper floor. They led off each other, which meant the owner of the first bedroom had people trooping through all the time to get to the rest of the bedrooms. That would make for a restful night…
10. Corridors appeared toward the end of the 17th century, which meant the Georgians started to treat their bedrooms as more private spaces than those people of earlier ages. Their bedrooms were used as social rooms where they received special friends, conducted business and study.
11. During Victorian times privacy became paramount. Even husbands and wives had separate bedrooms and bedroom activities were confined to sleeping and sex.
12. Bedclothes consisted of many layers of sheets, blankets and eiderdowns until the 1970s and the introduction of the duvet. I, for one, am glad of this invention. Bedmaking takes mere seconds each morning.
I don’t know about you, but I’m glad I get to have a modern bedroom with my own bed. Sharing it with hubby—no problem. That seems minor when I think of those medieval great halls!
What does your dream bed/bedroom look like?