Aug 31, 2016

Does chocolate help us write better? Kandy Shepherd

What is it about writers and chocolate? My experience at a recent writers conference made me ponder the question.

 I know my fellow LoveCats have shared tales from the recent Romance Writers of Australia conference in Adelaide, South Australia, so I won’t go over ground already covered.

Suffice to say it was a fabulous conference. As usual, the generosity and friendship of fellow romance writers was the highlight. The conference was held in the most wonderful spot right on the beach and if I can go back to Glenelg any time soon I will!

South Australia is known as home to wonderful wineries. But it’s also been home to a wonderful chocolate brand, made there since 1915. The Haigh’s chocolate shop was five minutes walk from the conference hotel. Each delegate got a discount voucher for Haigh’s and I suspect a high number of them were redeemed.

I lost count of the number of times people at the conference asked me, “Have you been to Haigh’s yet?”

“Um, yes, three times already,” would be my reply.

The delightful staff at Haigh’s told me they were inundated with romance writers. The Aprichocs, a nugget of apricot enrobed in chocolate was my favorite—a nice thing to buy in SA, a state known for producing apricots. Then there were the choc-coated liquorice bullets. And the chocolate frogs, particularly the giant 375 super frog.

I suspect my room-mate and I were not the only romance writers nibbling on chocolate in their rooms. We actually ate so much of it, we felt we’d come down from a high when we went home and were craving chocolate for days.

Chocolate has fired many a deadline for me. Does it help me write better, or help reduce stress? Chocolate contains  phenethylamine, said to be a natural anti-depressant (dark chocolate has the most).  Eating chocolate releases endorphins—the so-called “feel-good” hormones in the brain. If eating chocolate makes us feel better, perhaps that kick starts our creative processes and we write better stories.

So writers need chocolate because it helps us write better and more effectively. Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking it!

Oh dear, I’ve just visited the Haigh’s website to check spelling—and they do mail order…

Are you a chocoholic or not? Do you have a favourite treat? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Note: Stock photos - not Haigh's (They didn't last long enough to be photographed.)

Aug 29, 2016

Happy Travels

I've just returned from three weeks away - two weeks in New Zealand (including the RWNZ conference), followed a couple of days home to wash all my clothes, pat the dogs and see Mr Bailey, then off to Adelaide for the RWA conference.

Two things I learned about myself:
I love being away, seeing new places and meeting up with friends!
I love being home again in my own place, with all my dogs (and Mr Bailey) around me.

We've already had some photos from the Adelaide conference, so I thought I'd share a few from the NZ leg of my trip.

Leaving early on a Monday morning. This was about an hour into the drive and the sun was starting to peep over the horizon:

In Napier, I found a statue of a greyhound. It's like Napier was welcoming me personally!

The day I left Napier it was cold and rainy. I think Napier was as sad for me to go as I was.

Then it was on to Nelson, which has a gorgeous river walk.

And on the river walk was this very cool chair, honouring the NZ author Maurice Gee. Even more cool was that I was with his daughter, Emily Gee, who writes most awesome Regency and fantasy romances.

Also in Nelson, a cathedral. I love finding the cathedrals in towns I visit.

A quick trip from Nelson to Mapua for lunch. How awesome are these snow-capped mountains?

Seriously. How awesome?

Then a couple of days staying with fellow LoveCat, Barbara DeLeo. Her dog Cosmo made me very welcome.

 And onto the Romance Writers of New Zealand conference, where I was a guest speaker. Here I am enjoying the cocktail party with fellow guest speaker Jaye Ford.

The next night was the Awards Dinner, which was MCed by the amazing Barbara DeLeo. 

 The entertainment was a troupe of Regency dancers. Don't they look amazing?

In very exciting news, the winner of the short sexy Koru award was our very own Louisa George. That's her on the right, giving her acceptance speech.

 A quick selfie with Barb: 

Now I'm desperate to go back to New Zealand and explore the places I haven't seen yet. Tell me, is there anywhere you're desperate to visit? 

Aug 28, 2016

Sunday Smooch with...Louisa George

Welcome to another LoveCats DownUnder Sunday Smooch!

Today we have a smooch from Louisa Georgebut first 

... the winner of last week's Sunday Smooch Giveaway is 

Franca Poli !!

Can you please contact to receive your copy of Contract Wedding Expectant Bride!

And now for today's Sunday Smooch from LOUISA GEORGE

BLURB: Something old. Something new…?

When Chloe Cassidy is jilted at the altar it’s all her nightmares rolled into one. Her mother is convinced she’s the victim of the family curse. Her sister believes she just hasn’t found The One yet. But Chloe’s not listening; she’s too busy taking her humiliation out on the infuriating best man, Vaughn Brooks. Three months later, Something Borrowed—her wedding planning business— is failing. In a last ditch attempt to save it, Chloe is forced to swallow her pride, and work with the enemy: too-hot for his own good, award-winning chef Vaughn. She soon realizes the sparks flying between them are nothing to do with their dubious past, but from something else altogether…

Scene set-up: Vaughn is teaching Chloe how to make bread in his state of the art restaurant kitchen. After one very lovely kiss, he's told her why he can't get involved in a relationship and she agrees wholeheartedly, and yet...

He tore his gaze away and groaned. ‘Right. Er… Are you hungry?’
            ‘Why are you always trying to feed me?’
            ‘Because you look too thin, and it’s the best thing I do. I’ll have you know, people pay a fortune to be fed by me.’
            Her eyes flicked toward the huge stainless steel fridge. Her food-porn dream. Words got stuck in a dry mouth. She swallowed as she thought about sex by the light of the open fridge door. About hand-feeding each other food. Then she reminded herself that this scenario was very different from her dreams. For one, they’d agreed that neither of them was prepared to actually go there and do that. ‘Yes. Er… Okay. What have you got?’
            ‘Whatever you want. Come here.’ He took her hand and tugged her to the fridge. Opening it up, he lifted out containers of cooked meat. ‘See, there is everything you could possibly want to eat. Olives? Cheese? Finest prosciutto, from Friuli in northeast Italy. Try some.’ He ripped a piece off and held it out to her.
            He wanted to give her food because it was a distraction from the need that simmered in his eyes, she knew damned well. Because he wanted her as much as she wanted him, but he was hell-bent on fighting it. And that was his choice. But it didn’t mean he wanted her any less.
            He was Mr Non-Committal; he was going to leave as soon as she found a decent manager for him.  There was no future for them. Whatever they did next would not only be a mark on her heart but on her soul too. She was playing a dangerous game.
            But, despite everything, she still wanted to play.
            Because not playing this game with Vaughn Brooks would mean a lifetime of regret, of wondering what if? Of wishing she’d had the guts to take something she wanted. So for once in her life, she was going to put herself first.
            She leant forward and took the prosciutto from his outstretched fingers—with her teeth. She didn’t know who was more shocked, her or him. So, rather thank thinking about where they were heading, she concentrated on eating the delicious meat. ‘Oh, God, that is amazing. You want some?’
            ‘Aha.’ There was a subtle shift in his voice, one that told her he wanted more than food. And that stoked the fire in her gut, made her bolder, braver.
            She took a piece of the ham and held it to his lips. Without taking his eyes from hers, he leant forward a fraction and took it into his mouth. Then he gave her a smile that was half sexy, half tease and all sin.
            ‘Anything else?’ She tore her gaze from his and looked in the fridge. ‘Ah… strawberries. Did I ever tell you how much I adore strawberries?’
            ‘Chloe—’ No kissing. He didn’t say it, but he didn’t have to. It was there in the silence.
            But this was eating. Right? Just strawberries, and they weren’t exactly sinful. Unless…
‘I mean, I really, really, adore them. Just irresistible. They remind me of summer and sunshine… and…’ She ran her tongue over her top lip, then caught her bottom one in her teeth and gazed up at him. His eyes flickered red-hot need and he reached for the container of scarlet fruit.
            Flicking off the lid, he lifted a strawberry out and held it to her open mouth, running it over her top lip, then on to the bottom one. Slowly, he placed the fruit between her teeth. She sucked it in, bit down and tasted the intensely sweet juice.
            ‘Delicious. You try one.’ She did the same to him, watching his throat work as he swallowed. ‘I’d like another, please.’
            ‘Yes, m’lady.’ Breathing fast, he took another out and ran it again over her lips, then put it in his own mouth. ‘You taste like heaven.’
            ‘How would you know?’
            ‘Because I’m pretty damned sure that Heaven would taste of strawberries and wine and sunshine. Like you probably do.’
            ‘Want to check? Just to be sure?’ Then, unable to resist any longer, she tiptoed and cupped his face in her palms. With no hesitation, she licked a trail across his lips. ‘You taste pretty damned good yourself.’ Then she licked a trail down his throat.
            Still no kissing. Not technically.
            ‘Do that again and I won’t be able to hold back any longer,’ he groaned against her forehead, but still he didn’t kiss her.
            So, achingly slowly, just to prove her intent, she licked again, first his bottom lip, then the top.
            He edged away a fraction, holding her shoulders as he growled, ‘I mean it, Chloe.’
            ‘So do I.’
            His eyes flickered closed. ‘We should stop.’
            ‘Why, when I know you want it as much as I do?’
            His voice was gravel and stone. ‘Because this isn’t a game, Chloe, and I just can’t give you what you want.’
Something Borrowed is set in Notting Hill, a place I used to live a long time ago and also the setting for one of my favourite movies, Notting Hill. Have you ever been to a movie set/setting? Did it live up to your expectations? 

Come back next Sunday, when the winner of today's giveaway will be announced and a smooch from Helen Lacey will be posted!

Smooch Graphic by WebWeaver

Aug 26, 2016

In praise of romance...

I think there must be something in the water, or perhaps the general non-romance reading population are finally catching up...but today I was alerted to TWO articles praising the romance genre. The first:  sets out to slam all the stereotypes and perceptions that people have about romance books and the protagonists etc.

The second one talks about an academic researcher who claims Mills and Boon books are actually the 'literature of protest' and feminist texts.

I don't know about that... I guess that's for people cleverer than me to debate. But I do know that I love to read about strong sassy women who won't settle for second best, who value their self worth and won't take any crap. Overcoming obstacles is something we all have to face in life, believing in love and a HEA keeps me going when things are going wrong.

When I tell people I write romance for a living I generally have to wait out the pause before the other person answers. (I secretly LOVE telling people what I do every day!). I usually get a fabulous response but, a few months ago I was out with a 'literary bunch' and when a man found out I 'made money' from writing he asked what I did. I told him I wrote romance and he literally turned his back to me. Honestly. Turned away from me without saying a word. I was pretty shocked and lost for words. His attitude sums up the ignorant, the snobby and the downright ill-mannered- someone who's never read a romance book in their lives but thinks they know what it's all about because of some 1980s book cover they once saw.

I don't care what other people think, though, I just love to read them and to write them. I love the thrill of making life complicated for my hero and heroine, I love living vicariously through my heroine (because, yes, I do! I'm always smarter, funnier and sexier in my books). I love going to conferences and meeting the strong sassy women who write and read these books and sharing my love for a bloody good plot twist and a gorgeous hero we all fell in love with. Mostly, I love it when a reader tells me a story (and not necessarily one of mine, but one of many) helped them through a difficult personal time.

What do you like best about reading romance? Any new releases you've read recently you can recommend?

Aug 22, 2016

Conference highlights - views, peeps and booze!

So I walked through the door a couple of hours ago having just flown back in from the Romance Writers of Australia conference. I dumped my bags and hung with hubby for a bit then switched on my computer - 600 emails.....

And this blog to do.

It's late, I'm sorry. But I thought you might forgive me if I posted lots of pics :-)

Hotel was in an absolutely stunning location with an awesome view!

I'd hate y'all to get the impression that the only thing I do at these conferences is drink. But there is a lot of time spent in bars....

ARRA book signing. I always sign with a glass of wine :-)

I call this one sunshine, booze and a redhead. The owner of that hair is the gorgeous Joanne Grant from the Harlequin office in London!

Awards nights dinner table!

And there were LoveCats!!! Rachel Bailey and Kandy Shepherd were also in attendance but I somehow appear not to have a photo with either of them.... Bad Amy!

The delightful Annie West!

This was taken verrrrry late at night and Michelle Douglas and I may have overindulged a little. The gorgeous Cathryn Hein kept us company!

Jennifer St George and moi at the Saturday night awards dinner with two spunky chicks - Denise Rossetti and Christina Brooke!

And that's all folks! Hope you enjoyed a little snapshot into my weekend!

Aug 21, 2016

Sunday Smooch with Yvonne Lindsay!

Welcome to another LoveCats DownUnder Sunday Smooch!

Today we have a smooch from YVONNE LINDSAY but first 

... the winner of last week's Sunday Smooch Giveaway is MALVINA.

Can you please contact STEFANIE LONDON via email at stefanie (at) stefanie-london (dot) com to receive your e-copy of PRETEND IT'S LOVE.

And now for today's Sunday Smooch from YVONNE LINDSAY!

HIS LOVER by choice, his bride by decree...and the mother of his heir? Only from USA TODAY bestselling author, Yvonne Lindsay!

For a man used to getting what he wants, King Rocco has met his match. His courtesan, Ottavia Romolo, insists they sign a legal contract. He would have laughed at such demands from any other woman. But Rocco wants Ottavia more than he could have imagined.

Soon Rocco realizes Ottavia is an asset to him beyond the bedroom. And with his legacy in jeopardy, he must marry and produce an heir. Dare he enter into an even more binding union with Ottavia—turning his lover into his queen?

Scene set-up - Professional courtesan, Ottavia Romolo, has been held captive in King Rocco's summer lakeside palace for the past few weeks, so her knowledge of his sister's scandalous behavior cannot be shared with the media. King Rocco is surprised to be invoiced by the courtesan for the time he's held her captive, however he is in for even more surprises when he attempts to negotiate a contract with her.

Smooch  -

It galled her that he had so much power over her. Hadn’t she sworn that no man would ever make her decisions for her or control her life again? And yet, in this, she was effectively helpless. Work to your strengths, she reminded herself, and allowed her stance to soften. She allowed her lips to part, just slightly, and moistened them with the tip of her tongue. He’d noticed, she realized with a flare of satisfaction. His eyes had flickered to her mouth; his nostrils had flared ever so slightly on an indrawn breath.

She’d cast her bait, but had she hooked him?

“You had better be worth it,” he growled.

His voice was deep and slightly rough. As if he was fighting his own internal battle. Ottavia allowed herself a smile, lowering her eyelids slightly.

“So do we enter into a contract, my king?”

She lingered over the last two words, using every skill at her disposal to make them sound like a caress—a promise. She knew she’d failed when he threw his head back on a hearty laugh that transformed the seriousness of his face into something far more appealing. Something that pulled at her with a magnetic strength she’d never experienced before. Eventually he calmed.

“You still think you can control how this turns out, don’t you?” he said, cocking one brow at her. “Are you always this optimistic?”

“I am always in control of myself and my choices,” she replied.

Even as she said the words she knew they hadn’t always been true. Certainly not when she’d been fourteen and her mother’s latest lover had begun to show an unhealthy interest in her burgeoning figure. Even less when her mother had discovered that interest and Ottavia had overheard her mother haggling with her lover over how much he would be prepared to pay to have her. 

She fought back a shudder. Those days were behind her. She’d taken control of her life that day. Made a conscious choice and resolved to never be at anyone’s mercy ever again.

Ottavia forced her thoughts into the present and recalculated her strategy. Perhaps King Rocco needed a little more enticement. She took a step back before turning and slowly walking closer to the windows that overlooked the gardens and the lake. If she hadn’t been so acutely attuned to the man she’d turned her back on she wouldn’t have heard the sharp intake of breath as he noticed the long sweep of her back, laid bare by the open cut of her gown. It was as if she could feel the heat of his gaze follow the line of her spine until it dipped into the deep V of fabric that covered the swell of her buttocks.

She sensed rather than heard him approach behind her. Was it her imagination or did she feel the heat of his breath against her naked skin?

“Then you are indeed fortunate,” he said close to the shell of her ear.

His voice held a whisper of a thousand words left unsaid. Ottavia closed her eyes and concentrated on remaining still. On simply absorbing his nearness without analyzing the individual reactions clamoring throughout her body.

“Fortunate?” she asked, her voice surprisingly husky.

“A king does not have many choices,” he said to her surprise.

“I would have thought that you had it all, Sire.”

The air behind her shifted—the heat that had smoldered against her suddenly gone—and she knew he’d stepped away. Because with those few words he’d said too much, perhaps? Slowly, she turned around. He stood on the other side of the room, his hands loosely clasped behind him as he stared at a portrait of his late father on the wall.

“I have a proposal for you, Ms. Romolo,” he said without looking at her. “It would behoove you to agree.”

“Just like that? Without knowing the terms?” she asked. “Without negotiating? I think not.”

“Do you negotiate everything?”

“I am a businesswoman.”

He spun to face her. “Is that what you call your…trade? A business?”

“What else would you call it?” she challenged.

The corner of his mouth quirked upward. Ottavia fought the urge to bristle. He was testing her. That much was obvious. If she was to get what she believed she was owed by him, she needed to hold on to every last thread of self-control that she possessed.

“Come here, Ms. Romolo.” He crooked a finger at her.

She would do as he’d commanded, but only because she wanted to, she told herself as she glided forward with all the elegance and poise she’d learned in the past fifteen years.

“Sire?” She bowed her head as she drew before him.

A low chuckle escaped him and she felt her own lips twitch in response.

“Subservience does not suit you.” With the point of one finger he tipped her chin up so she looked him in the eye again.

Her lips parted on a gasp as she recognized the sudden flare of hunger in his gaze. A gasp that he captured as he lowered his mouth to hers and took her lips in a kiss that stole every rational thought from her mind. Caught by surprise, she gave herself over to his touch, to his taste. To the plundering of his tongue as it delved into the moist recesses of her mouth. A sound, a growl from deep in his throat as she touched her tongue to his, sent unaccustomed desire unfurling through her body. Her blood heated, her insides clenched on a spear of need that completely took her breath away.

And then, just like that, it was over. She teetered slightly on her heels before gathering sufficient wits to steady herself. A swell of anger bubbled at the back of her mind. Outrage swiftly quelled the yearning that hummed through her veins as she realized he thought he had the right to simply take from her without permission. Disappointment followed hard on the heels of her anger. Here was another man who saw her as something to be used at his whim, and discarded.

She had to regain the upper hand once more so she swallowed her indignation and smiled at the man standing opposite her.

“Sampling the merchandise?” she asked tartly.

I hope you enjoyed the first kiss between King Rocco and his courtesan, Ottavia. It was quite a challenge writing this story as I worked very hard to ensure that Ottavia remained very much her own woman--something she'd worked extremely hard to be--but also to allow her to find the happy ever after she never expected to get. The Courtesan Brides series is my first foray into royal themes and I have to say it was great fun to create my characters own world with its own rules and regulations. Tell me, are you a fan of royal stories? Did you ever want to be a princess or a queen when you were growing up? Leave a comment and go into the draw for a signed copy of CONTRACT WEDDING, EXPECTANT BRIDE.

Come back next Sunday, when the winner of today's giveaway will be announced and a smooch from ... LOUISA GEORGE ... will be posted!

Smooch Graphic by WebWeaver