RUMOURS

Rumours is my 12th novel, and like Chances, it is based in Hertfordshire where I live. The story is set around the impending sale of Longbridge Hall, a small stately home – and the effect this has on the villagers whose lives have long been intertwined with it. The heroine, Stella, is the agent given the task of selling Longbridge. But that means she has to deal with elderly Lady Fortescue who is eccentric, feisty and more than a little terrifying.

Stella is a single mum and broke, she’s very guarded about her past and she needs every penny of the commission she might earn. I have to admit being more than a little in love with the hero, Xander and his attractive stroppiness. He’s the village’s eligible bachelor but he just shrugs of the gossip that often circulates about him.

However, Xander can’t ignore the rumours about Longbridge Hall. He grew up on the estate and is appalled that it’s to go on the market. His secrets and memories are bound within the great house and its beautiful grounds – and they most certainly are not for sale. He’ll do anything to stand in Stella’s way – anything but fall in love of course.

Researching this book was eye-opening and fun – I was able to snoop around some incredible country mansions and of course I kept my ear to the ground and my eyes peeled to glean the gossip and shenanigans of village life! I feel Lady Lydia will win legions of fans amongst my readers in much the same way as Django. As you know, I love ‘that generation’ – and such characters become key in both aiding and abetting the hero and heroine, but also in imparting life lessons.

As with all my books, setting and a sense-of-place is fundamental, Longbridge Hall and the Hertfordshire landscape are so much more than a backdrop in this novel. For me, they’re leading characters too.

 

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Secrets

This, my 10th novel, gave me the chance to set another book in my beloved North East. Pillow Talk won the Romantic Novel of the Year Award whilst I was writing Secrets. Often, the title only comes right at the end. The working title for this novel was ‘Runaway Home‘ – which (secretly) I still prefer. It was time for a new cover-look for this novel – and I fought hard for something totally different to what I’ve had before and what’s ‘out there’. Having worked as a picture-researcher when I was a struggling unpublished author, I chose covers for other people’s novels. I became very good at it – and also rather opinionated. I am my publishers’ worst nightmare – but my finicky perfectionism is, I feel, worth it in the long run. This is also the first novel when I’ve featured a dog, a child and a house as characters in their own right. And worked hard to combat whimsy. In the name of research, I also had to cross over the top of the Transporter Bridge, 160′ over the River Tees – facing my vertigo head-on to do my characters justice. How many romantic interludes in contemporary fiction have been set in Middlesbrough, I wonder…

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Home Truths

I really struggled with this book – not with what to write (thankfully, that came easily) but with having to write it. Not just because its structure was so much more involved – here I juggled three main characters all who had to have level pegging. But because once again, life was imitating art – my father-in-law and my dearest friend were both fighting cancer at the time. They both died within 6 months of each other. Sometimes, reviewers can be infuriating. You wonder how they dare review a book they obviously haven’t bothered to read. One journalist simply passed off my novel, saying “mothers don’t leave their children – they just don’t”. Well, actually, they DO. And many readers wrote to me with their own experiences. I was really ready to see the back of the McCabes when I finished this novel. But readers still ask me to write another one. And it’s only now, two books on, that I do quite fancy revisiting this family – perhaps writing a prequel, set in the early 1970s, when Django first takes charge of those three little girls.

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Pip

Ah, Pip the clown. I had to persuade a lot of people that she wouldn’t be a scary clown – I couldn’t believe how many people actually have an aversion to traditional clowns! The Clown Doctors were fascinating to research and shadow – very humbling too, not least because I was pregnant (with my second child) whilst writing this book. The Clown’s Gallery in Dalston, east London, was a fascinating place – not least for their extensive collection of painted eggs, on which clowns can ‘copyright’ their make up. This was to be the last book in the McCabe series – not written as a trilogy, but interlinked nonetheless. By the time I finished this novel, I knew, though, that I’d revisit the sisters. But I needed some space from them first. And a posse of brand new characters needed my attention in the meantime. So Love Rules was next.

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Cat



Though this was my 4th novel, it was this book that really drummed home to me that I WAS AN AUTHOR. I had long been a fan of the Tour de France – from the comfort of my sofa…and now, my writing credentials enabled me to bag an access-all-areas pass. Bizarrely, life imitated art rather than vice versa – and I followed in Cat’s footsteps, spending my time on the Tour masquerading as a journalist, writing for the Times, for radio and for cycling magazines. The first Tour I went on was 1998 – which was the one with all the huge drug scandals. It was won by the inimitable Marco Pantani – who later died from a drugs overdose. The next Tour was won by Lance Armstrong. Many of the real riders, all of whom were very kind and welcoming, traded anecdotes or rides in their team cars for a cameo appearance in the book!

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Chloe



I started this, my second novel, before I even had an agent, never mind a contract, for my first novel, Sally. It was half-written when I finally landed my first deal. The money coming in meant I could continue the book by embarking on my first research trip. I flew to Northern Ireland in early February 1996 – ironically, on the day of the IRA bus bombing in Aldwych. I stayed in County Antrim and tootled about by myself, truly feeling I was following in my character’s footsteps. Soon after that, I continued my research with a trip down to north Cornwall. I remember it was snowing – and snow replaced sand on the beach, right up to the water’s edge. Chloe was the first of my novels to make it into the Sunday Times Top 10. My editor had the chart framed – and it has pride of place on my study wall to this day. Jasper and Peregrine in this book were actually based on two aged geldings I knew!

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CHANCES

Chances is my 11th novel – and writing it coincided with a very difficult time for me behind the scenes.  Perhaps, therefore, more than any of my other books, I am extremely proud of the result.
Essentially, though, Chances is an upbeat book and unapologetically romantic.  Parts of it made me laugh out loud, other interludes brought tears to my eyes.  The characters became very real to me and now that the novel is done, I miss them all very much and think of them often.  I really ‘felt’ this book.

Writing this novel provided me with an opportunity to explore a new location – and I chose Hertfordshire as my move to this beautiful county coincided with writing this novel.  The town of Wynford, however, is fictitious.
Vita and Oliver are my heroine and hero.  Oliver I adored – just as much as Joe from Secrets or William from Chloe.  Early on, I was struggling to find a name for my heroine and posted my dilemma on my facebook page – suggestions came in thick and fast!  I decided on “Vita” because of course the name means LIFE – and whilst I was writing this book my mum was battling cancer, so it seemed a symbolic name to choose.

The working title for this novel (which I still prefer – but would have looked rubbish on the jacket design) was “Between Two Women” – and this is one of the major themes of the novel.  We reach a stage in our lives when we’ve lost love and are on the cusp of finding it again – and that’s when all parties can concerned find themselves ‘between two women’.  For the men, they are caught between the woman they loved and lost and the one they have now.  For the woman, it’s the previous love of their current beau and the new interest of their ex.  However, the novel is also about the relationships women can foster between themselves – the way we talk to one another, the profound feelings our friendships can foster.

Vita and Oliver have had love in the past – but lost it in very different circumstances.  Brought together by an elderly shoplifter and a troublesome pear tree, will Vita and Oliver take a chance on love again?

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Pillow Talk

How I love research – it’s a true perk of my career. I spent delightful periods of time in the North East, in the jewellery quarter of Hatton Garden – and in a cage just off Regent Street. The cage was a security area within the offices of the Tanzanite Foundation (which oversees ethical mining of the gem) and I’d sit there handling carat after carat of this magical stone. Just a tiny nugget of a story hidden in a newspaper can fire my imagination – and reading about a 15 year old girl who woke along the arm of a crane in her nightie having sleep-walked there, became the springboard for full research into this fascinating, dreadful affliction.
The scenarios when Petra was doing her pottery classes were based on fact – that really was me. And yes, there was a sixth-former who’d gently serenade me with his guitar from a chaste distance….wonder where he is now! As with Chloe, some of these characters are not based on people at all. Arlo’s naughty schoolboys are in fact horses I know – my own included.

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Love Rules

Sometimes, a topic grabs me and won’t let go until I’ve written it out of my system. This book marked a subtle but distinct shift for me. It was edgier. It had undeniably darker themes. It was also the first time that I had to choreograph two main characters and not just one. I was fascinated by the sex industry – specifically who the punters actually are. I was appalled/captivated by the fact that it’s frequented not by the Dirty Mac brigade – but by normal blokes. For my research, I went into phoneboxes and took the calling-cards of the girls – and simply phoned and said “Er – hullo, can I have a quick chat…” Again, this book was very humbling for me. But quite tiring to write. Especially because I had to be true to my characters – which meant they simply had to go their own separate ways at the end. Many of my readers didn’t like this – they understood, they agreed with me – but they didn’t like it at all. I was immensely flattered by this response – that the book, the characters could be that compelling. On a lighter note, how lovely to see Sally and Richard all those years later…!

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Fen

This novel took me back to my roots in Art History – I worked for a while as an archivist at the National Arts Collection Fund and I based the little room in which Fen hides away on the one I used. She has to choose between two very different men – bizarrely, she ends up with the one I wouldn’t have chosen. But that’s characters for you – the author ultimately has little control. During this time, I fell pregnant with my first child. My hormones were all over the place. My four previous novels had all been pretty raunchy but Fen was (initially) OUTRAGEOUS. For the first time, my editor put thick red lines through many paragraphs and scribbled in the margins such gems as: “Yuck!” or “Tone it down, woman!” Fen had a change of cover design – and the model was none other than Sienna Miller.

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Polly



When I was trying to figure out whether or not I wanted to do a PhD, I went traveling in the USA one summer. I fell in love with Vermont – its landscape, its people, their way of life. I finished writing Chloe in summer 1996, Sally was due to be published that November – which gave me ample time to return to New England and to the love people I’d met 6 years previously. But I wasn’t returning as a tourist – I had my writer’s cap on this time. With the American links in this novel, it was fitting to have the launch party at Joe Allen in London. Burgers and fries all round. But by then, with the third book done, dusted and riding high in the charts, my thoughts turned from America to Europe – specifically France, the setting for my fourth novel, Cat.

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Sally



Back in 1991, trying to figure out how my new computer worked, I found myself writing the opening of the sort of novel I wanted to read. The thrill of being able to write what I wanted – and then hiding it – was utterly liberating….hence the utter raunchiness of the opening paragraph! Of course, I couldn’t afford research trips so the locations features in Sally are those well known to me – London and also Mull, on the Scotland’s west coast.
I was working in a coffee and tea shop at the time – and my colleagues were all ears to hear how this novel was progressing. The meal that Richard prepares Sally was suggested by Michele – an Italian with whom I worked at that time.
This novel took four years to write. It was finally published in November 1996. I’ll never forget the shock and sublime thrill of seeing it on the shelf of a bookshop. I feel very fondly towards the characters – hence involving them in minor roles in Love Rules – just so I could see what they’d been up to in the intervening years!

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