The Romance Reviews

The Romance Reviews

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Way Down In The Hole

I almost threw my phone across the Northern Line tube to Edgware via Bank in anger. I'd frantically typed over one thousand words into my Google Drive. For whatever reason, I hadn't saved it when I got online, so when I did open it, the version I'd added to the story had gone. Poof. Into the imagination drift from whence it came. That curling smoke of inspiration I had inhaled whilst listening to Young Fathers on Spotify vanished.
You learn the hard way. Save everywhere. Save many versions of the same thing, so this thing never happens again. But it keeps happening to me! Back to the old days where I used to save work to CD drives, only for my bag to be stolen and every single one of my CDs in their bright pink cover case would be gone. Or even further back to floppy disk days, where it no longer worked, because it ended up in the bottom of my bag with a Tunnock Teacake and never recovered. Or to the early days where I'd make a note on the back of an envelope only for someone (not naming names Lady London) in a fit of OCD tidied up and that barnstorming idea was no more.
I like to think that the first time you write a scene is like an invisible tattoo. I remember giggling to myself when I wrote Tony playing Akon minutes after Nick was shot. I can recall how it amused me. I can feel to my fingertips how Danny and Will raged at their parents for having the audacity to get divorced and get back together. I can smell the stench of death when I wrote a shivering, naked Mical calling to her mother from the afterlife. I don't know, or rather, I'm not confident of how those would be the same if I'd had to write it from scratch, because dumbo here doesn't know how to save her work.
USBs and iClouds don't make any of this easier. I'm still having to rely on Ctrl + S and my brain, which is mocking me these days.
And yet, as I'm making the effort to type up some notes from an untouched and very long manuscript, adding to missing chapters, I feel a sense of the most wonderful deja vu. A battle of an 80s themed birthday party. An art gallery punch up. The dissolution of a friendship and the desperate hunger for love.
It all joined in holy matrimony with an understanding that I could do it. "You got this, heffa!" Hank reassures me repeatedly. It finally becomes clear that it's not impossible the second time around. I am older and wiser and more patient. The words trip from my fingertips right onto my keyboard, absent of the same frustration that has plagued my writing for weeks now. I have got this!
Funny that, I thought the older I became the less patience I had with everything. Well, everything except writing. It's one of the few things that deserves all my dedicated, committed patience.
Hot Muse Hank: Told you.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Crazy Little Thing Called Love

Happy Valentines Day!

You know Hot Muse Hank and I love this time of year. It appeals in every way to my romantic side. All sides of me are romantic I don't know why I pretend to be Miranda when I'm completely Charlotte (still a relevant reference...)

So Valentines Day led up to the wonder of Season of Love, and the three full length stories that have sprung from those mini anthologies:

First Love 

When love is brand new it seems never ending and as intense as the first time you are ever burned. Art and Patricia are surrounded by the pressures of family, friends and exams and yet find the quiet in the storm with each other:

Surprise Love

The love that creeps up on you, grabs you by the passport and takes you to another country is one of the best! Bren sweeps Wynne into a parallel universe where she begins to realise that it was always meant to be the two of them:

Renewed Love

The love that sees you at your worst, in your sickness and in your poverty is a love that will surpass a decade, two children, two salons, two mothers in law and a divorce is a love that will see you though everything. Stella and Niels fail and try again to be everything they vowed to be:

I've got a few more within th volumes to come, they make for easy plotting but Hank needs more persuasion. In the meantime, indulge in the romance! ❤

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Ebony Sky

A little while ago, a wrote about a former refugee who escaped war torn Rwanda to live in the UK. It was the least she deserved after the world sat back and twiddled their thumbs while genocide happened before their very eyes. Army of You and Me was deeply personal. I don't think I've been able to read it since publication. It just makes me cry.
In one of my many jobs, I used to work as a medical secretary for psychiatric doctors who assessed and treated asylum seekers (pre claim, individual escaping for fear of their lives) and refugees (individuals who's claim has been accepted by the government). I had people openly tell me that such people were lying. Making up whatever they could in order to stay in the country.
They didn't see what I did. They didn't hear the tales of brutality, rape, murder. How people had to leave their dead where they lay or risk suffering the same fate. That children were born out of terrible violence and yet they were protected. They didn't see pictures of the aftermath of the wars. Bullet holes in homes. Rubble where museums used to be. I read their medical reports, detailing injuries from irreparable internal damage from repeated sexual assaults to lost limbs. I've talked to people from Zimbabwe, from Kosovo, from Sri Lanka, from Pakistan, the Congo even as the scars are healing on their bodies.
I'm not going to address the inevitable "but what about..." I don't care. I don't want to hear it. Because that same person has never sat in an interview room at the Home Office watching a broken human being recall their rape by men who were "curing" them. Or explaining how a single simple decision saved them from murder, just for voicing political opinion. Detailing how they left everything they own in the world because they are the "wrong" religion, or they were born into the "wrong" tribe. Or how they were "caught out" loving someone from the same sex.
Imagine, for a moment, leaving your home. With the knowledge that you will never, ever see it again, because if you stay you will die. Absolutely, without any doubts, you will suffer and die. No job, no friends, no family, just the clothes on your back, a few personal possessions because you can hardly take anything else with you (you can't carry) and travelling in the back of trucks. On the underside of a plane. In a suitcase in hold. By the flimsiest of boats just to save your life. And when you get to safety, finally, safety! You're a liar. Why travel all the way to a western country where you have some connections to the home you've had to leave behind? Why go to a country where your home is judged on an impartial scale of "internal relocation". "Oh okay your city is being bombed to hell, but why don't you live up the mountains? No bombing is happening there." Where you are actually asked about your sexual experiences with people of your own gender to test whether you're really LGBT. Oh god, if you're transgender, get ready to wait years. No money. No access to jobs. Contrary to the Daily Mail's machinations, as an asylum seeker you don't get to swim in bathtubs of money. You get £36 per week. That's it. You won't necessarily stay where you entered. If you arrived in London, you may end up in the North of England in a small, grotty room in the middle of nowhere.
Once you've been given refugee status, you know you can't return to your country. If you're afraid to die, you're not going back there to find your family. Even if you are given permanent residence, you risk losing it if you return. The idea being if you're that scared you shouldn't want to. I know a woman who wanted to go home to bury her father. She couldn't.
What baffles me is the idea that asylum seekers and refugees have it easy. Not that their dealing with PTSD, the after effects of such a horrendous journey to safety, probably taking decades to feel anywhere near safe, but to forever have people question you. Do you think the Home Office forgets about you? Nah, they keep track of where you go forever. You're on their books now that's for life.
These people suffered in their own lands. And the place they call home casts them as liars, as thieves, as layabouts, as terrorists.
You've seen the photo of the dead Syrian boy face down on the beach in Turkey after a migrant boat capcized. Drowned. His name was Alan Kurdi. He was five. They were trying to reach Canada where his uncle lived. Alan's death happened on the family's third attempt to leave Syria as it was (and is) being bombed by almost every Western government and Russia too. My father and I watched Alan's father reject the offer of Canadian refuge. My father turned to me and said "Why doesn't he leave? Go to Canada?"
I'd seen that photograph too many times, I had become numb to it. "Go to Canada for what? What's there? His son is dead. That's why he tried to leave. Syria was a death trap for his child. Without his child what does he have to live for?"  
My dad was desperately sad about it. A thoroughly decent man who would in his own words "be lost" without his kids.
When the will to survive abandons you in the drowned body of your child, what is there left for you in this world? At the very least you're home, rocks and dust though it is, at least there isn't the inevitable shaming and terrorising of people who want to live. You can die without judgement. Bleak, isn't it?
Desperation will do strange things to the brain that can never be understood or explained in a way that a Border officer will ever be able to take in and accept.
I've seen rejection letters telling people "you forgot about what was happening somewhere else in your country, your claim isn't genuine, please return to certain death at your own expense and understand we will bar you from returning here if we have to pay to make sure you leave."
I've also been lucky enough to witness those refugees integrate. Get married. Finish their education. Become even more charitable. Enjoy life as much as they can, in effervescent gratitude.
Empathy is a singular emotion. It won't kill you. It won't lead you to your death. It just allows you to understand a fragment of what these terrified, scarred physically and mentally, helpless people are experiencing. See beyond the four corners of your life. The world is a big place. It's also in pain. The one thing you can do to help, is to know more. More knowledge means less fear and less fear undeniably means less ignorance. Dark things are born in ignorance. Let knowledge be the light.
Let empathy and love be that light.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Dark Times

I know I'm not alone in the writing struggle at the moment. A romance novel depends on a happy ending (or happy for now), or it's a novel with romantic elements. I could do that, but that's not really what I write.

In a world where people are so keen for any dissenters, critics, voices of reason to be quiet. To shut up and enjoy the 'privileges' we have at this time and to be grateful about that, it's like trailing through drying concrete to not be dragged down by the constant misery of racist, sexist and homophobic tweets, messages, posts, articles, opinion pieces.

If you think this is all about Mango Mussolini, you're wrong. He's the tip of the iceberg. It's in the UK with people who apparently want to maintain British law don't understand how that works. It's in France with far right politicians who will after three major terror attacks edge closer to power. It's in Germany and burka ban by the same leader who welcomed terrified refugees. Just constant, unrelenting depressive news.

I'd normally say I need time away, but where do you go to escape the entire world? I am struggling to wonder if Hank and I will see the light of those two beautiful words any time soon; "The End".


Monday, 9 January 2017

Blank Space

I've not many excuses other than Christmas and New Year were LIIIIIIIIIIIIIT! Having allowed my mother to complain for the last God knows how many years that Christmas cooking is hard work, after a three course all day meal, I basically slept and watched Harry Potter the rest of the time, whilst stuffing my face with mince pies and cheese. Not together, because gross, but lots of it.

So now I'm fat and still eating chocolate, I figured I need to get back on it. The writing thing I mean. Although, you need to understand, the not so new job is draining my creativity. It's really hard to be all about the romance when people make you want to fling your laptop across the room, or the thought of sending/reading another email will make you cry. Not that I don't love the not so new job, it's just that it is a hella load of work. And as much as I love writing, it is indeed work.

Thinking, planning, plotting, staring at a screen and willing the words to come to you. It can be the most terrifying things to see a blank page and realise that there is nothing coming to fill the page. I went to Stunning Sardinia (post on the way) which seems like ages away, and I didn't write a bean. Usually, the minute I'm away, I'm nose in notepad tap tap tapping away. Oh, this time I didn't take my laptop with me. Ahhh it all makes sense. Plus it was an excuse to have more hands free for Aperol Spritzes and I had a lot of those. So good...

Alcoholism aside, I did find the last half of the year productive. What I have done, is finish my secret project. Hurrah! Over 50,000 words of secret project. I've also pre-planned, as it plotted out a few stories as well, which I will start. As soon as I've finished this blog post.

Sometimes the silence isn't a slight against you, it's just there's very little going on that isn't me critiquing on Twitter. If anyone tells you that writing isn't a job, they are lyyyyying. And we all need a pause from a job to remind ourselves why we fell in love with it in the first place. I've done a lot. In the space of six years, I've churned out quite a few tomes. I can't say when I'll finish any of the others as I don't want to put a date on anything that I'll just ignore (me, deadlines, nadda. Ask any of my teachers) I know you are all waiting on Beppe. Me too! He'll entertain when he's ready and he's just not.

Shame. Coz the music is goooooooooooooooooood!

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

When Will I See You Again?

It's um been a while. I have got the best of excuses though. First, I started a new job! Yes, it's now four months old, but it's still brand new and it is testing all of my emotional and intellectual limits. I love it to bits and pieces! It also requires me being in bed like I'm back at school, I've finished my English homework and I want my teacher to give it the highest grade possible. I've been dedicated to my job before, and now it's in overdrive. I want to do well for my company, the people I work for and more importantly, I want to do well for myself. Prove I'm worth the salary (and it's a nice one too!).
My family is doing super well (some of us more than others, but I won't jinx it just in case) and I be making plans for 2017 travel destination (Japan is calling to me for real and it has to be quality travel), even my hair is obeying me, thanks to the talented scissor work of a true professional.
This leads to the small matter of me lacking the type of conflict that leads me to writing. I feel a little like Ray Charles without the drugs, and I wonder. Do I need to suffer to write? I mean I can't write when I'm emotional, you know this, but every story has been born out of some sort of drive to channel what I feel into a resolution I'm satisfied with. It's a logical explanation as why else would I write so fervently about people rising from the dead, finding their place in the world, overcoming the worst experiences to succeed, to love, to live. Or maybe, what I need is to not expect so much from myself. In the last five years, I've written a lot. A LOT. And I found the time to dedicate my time and energies to writing. Maybe I need a sabbatical to remind myself what I need about writing to get back there.

Or maybe, I'll just do NaNoWriMo and compete myself back into the rhythm. A little bullying never hurt me. Just ask Hot Must Hank.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Hot In The City

Nah, that's not London. It's Lucca, Italy, but it could have been. It's too hot here to take photos. You just want a Frappucino a bit of shade and your Kindle to chill. It's almost like being on holiday, all this sun and heat and basic breeze. Almost. The problem is finding a moment to get some wordage down. On the other hand, it's so much easier to conjure ideas after an ice cold gin and tonic and some fresh strawberries and cream. I'm still wavering between three stories, and it really is a race to the finish for all of them. Whichever one gets there, I'll have a celebration on here and everywhere for actually getting something done whilst in the most challenging job I've ever had. Loving it, but it's not leaving a lot of room for a tap on the laptop.

Have a peek at story 3 (Beppe's bard and Carole's compilation are both well ahead) and have a punt for yourself as to which one will be done first!

Like Fire 

“Hot tubs?” Tae queried. “In this country?”
Norah shrugged. “Not my party. Just... maybe deal with your Kent Forest.”
“Your overgrowth down south.”
“You’re such a cow!” Taemar raged. No one’s seen my down south area for months.”
Her sister made a face, muttering, “Maybe that’s why you should do something about it and get it seen.”
“What was that?”
“I said I’m going to get myself clean. Have a shower. But I’ve laid out a bikini for you and a nice sheer cover up and some huge heels and we can do this birthday thing.”
“I’m not up to people seeing me in a bikini.”
Norah paused, her glib sister for once unable to console her. In the six months since the accident, Taemar felt herself curling up like a dying spider but couldn’t stop herself. No one needed to see her scarred and torn skin, as stretched as strands of burnt toffee. She still danced, but covered head to toe, long sleeves and maxi skirts. No flesh on show and it really annoyed her considering before her tumble in her silly car, she was all for freedom of exposure, letting one’s skin breathe. But the thought of being stared at, pointed to, laughed at, by those who were perfect frightened her, which caused her even more irritation. How she missed her old body. The one that was only scarred by stupid accidents with curling tongs and a tussle with a coral reef in the Seychelles. That body never shamed her, made her feel afraid of judgement from pointless females.
She missed the Taemar she used to be, before she bounced around in a car. Before she had to give a statement to the police who arrested those idiots who caused the crash; the Taemar before the one who had to reassure the truck driver that the accident wasn’t his fault at all and not only give him tissues to dry his eyes but a nip of whisky as well. From her hip flask. Which she really needed to find. She hoped the trucker hadn’t stolen it, that hip flask was her pride and joy.
Being sociable also hadn’t been her thing. If it involved cars or generally being around people, she didn’t fancy it. Moreover, she really couldn’t take the pain of hoping she’d run into Jack and then being so bitterly disappointed, she’d go home and listen to Boyz II Men. Those dudes felt her pain. No one else knew like Boyz II Men knew.
“You won’t be in a bikini straight away,” Norah argued after a thought. “We get changed there. And you can wear my Heidi Klein. Everyone that’s going knows you and loves you and won’t care.”
Famous last words. “Alright. But if I want to leave, you get me the fuck out of there.”
Norah then proceeded to strip her sister’s lower half and hot waxed the hell, heaven and purgatory out of her bikini line. In tears, Taemar sat up. Norah snapped off her gloves. “You’ll thank me later. Do you want false eyelashes on?”
“No. I like having vision. I did like being able to walk, but now you’ve done your best to mess that up...”
Norah wrinkled her nose. “All this complaining and no thanking.”
Over the plain black bikini, Taemar pulled on a sheer, bright green shirt and jeggings. The heels were higher than normal, but those Mulberrys were the only thing giving her confidence to leave the house at this time of the night on her sister’s say so. Norah shoved her cover up inside a large beach bag with towels and bottles of champagne and edged Taemar into a waiting taxi. “Couldn’t you drive?” Taemar hissed.
“Nope. I want to party. And so shall you sayeth the Lord.”
Closing her eyes, Taemar tried to ignore the motion of the car, and didn’t open them until they arrived in posho land. “Why are we here?”
“What’s wrong with Parsons Green?”
“Not my type of people.”
“Because shaking your belly isn’t what they’d consider work? Fuck ‘em,” Norah dismissed.
“Wait, I don’t know anyone who lives here.”
Her sister ignored her, marching her into a period building that had been savagely cut into for money making flats. “All the way up.”
Four flights of stairs and they were rooftop, the moon painting a tiki inspired party an eerie silver. Above the fake hut that was marauding as a bar hung the sign Happy Birthday Soren.
Taemar turned to her sister. “You bitch.”
“Tae’s here everyone!”
Her Hitchcock blond surgeon swept towards her, wearing only swimming trunks. “I told her to tell you,” he murmured in her ear, giving her a squeezing hug. Maybe it was the amount of time she hadn’t had a piece of man sausage near her, but that hug sent all the right tingles to her thighs. He felt warm and smelled deliciously of a peppery cologne.
“Have you two...?” She trailed off or was rather cut off by Soren’s withering glance.
“I don’t pick up patients.”
“Norah’s not a patient.” Taemar argued.
“She is for someone somewhere and that’s enough reason for me to stay well away.”
Okay then. “Happy birthday,” she said weakly.
“How are you feeling?” He asked, lifting a lock of her hair to examine the scar on her temple. Lots of argan oil later, it was finally beginning to fade.
“You stitched me up good,” Taemar offered, pulling his hand away and making sure he was well out of reach of stripping her to examine her other scars. “I only brought booze with me, since I didn’t bother to ask whose birthday it was.”
“Always appreciated. The hot tubs are ready, we’re waiting for everyone else then we can watch a film and play some music. Nothing too heavy.”
It sounded great, but if Soren was here, it meant Jack was nearby. Or at least on the way. Soren curled a hand around her arm and tugged her gently to the tiki bar. In a few minutes she was handed a coconut filled with some lethal concoction and introduced to the swimwear clad friends. No Jack. What an anticlimax! Stupid, selfish man. Getting all her hopes up and then... Oh. He’s here.
Jack’s strange eyed gaze found her, even as she hid beside Soren. He handed his friend a badly wrapped gift, with a distracted, “Happy birthday.”
“What did you get him?” she asked, a grin fighting its way onto her face. She’d never been so pleased to see anyone.  
“A shirt,” Jack picked up her teasing tone immediately. “I’m hoping he’ll put it on any time today.”
“I don’t know why I even invited you,” Soren’s nostrils flared in disapproval. “You don’t look good in a bikini.”
“Not what you said last time. Tae, come with me to get a drink.”
“I’ve got one,” she lifted her coconut in his general direction. Jack plucked it from her hand to press into Soren’s chest.
“Come with me to get another.”
Before she could find another excuse not to, he hooked an arm around her shoulders and led her away, past the tiki bar to the other side of the roof. The general noise of the party drifted in the other direction. “He’s lucky it’s not raining,” Jack offered. “Be a fire hazard otherwise.”
She had to just say it, get it over with so she’d know and could if not belatedly save herself from the hurt, but at least scupper the worst of the damage. “No Beatrice with you?”
“Not likely.”
Taemar looked down at her heels, blue suede with a fearsome arch. “Why not?”
“I broke up with her.”
Her stomach imploded with joy. “Really? When?”
“If you hadn’t been so eager to rush off to the ward and not talk to me, I’d have told you. We broke up after your accident.”
Her mouth parted. As if anyone would do that for her. Why? “What?”
“I didn’t want to be that guy. So I broke up with her. May not have been the most sensitive thing to do, but... You’re you. Not seeing you or talking to you all these months has pretty much defeated me. And still here you are, upright.” She laughed. “Looking like I imagined you all over again. How are you?”
On fire, she wanted to say. “Better. Like you said, I’m upright. On my own two feet. Surviving.”
Jack rested his arms on the roof wall, looking down onto the green. “That doesn’t sound like you.”
“Okay so you remember me from school and from two days when I was on a morphine drip. How do you know?”
“Guaranteed, what everyone from school remembers about you, is your positivity. Never met anyone like you. You don’t survive. You live. What’s holding you back?”
“It’s a bit of PTSD. Bit of self doubt. A lot of self doubt.”
He leaned up from the wall, his hand brushing warmly over her chiffon covered side. The burn of his palm seared her through the material right to her bones. “Come here a minute,” he said gently, taking one of her hands and slipping it under his shirt. “Just feel the back there.”
Under her fingertips, she felt rough, skewered skin. “What the hell?”
“Third degree burn. Had graphs and all sorts. Chemical fire went straight through my uniform and melted the material to my body.” He released her hand, but Taemar continued to stroke the area in languid motions. “Can’t really deal with hot tubs. Or displaying my horribly scarred body to the world. I am completely on your side with that. Enforced nudity is wrong and abusive. So if you’re worried about getting into a bikini, don’t be. Stay with me.”
As awful as the patch of skin must look, having hands on Jack was doing nothing to put her off him. It definitely distracted her from her own disfigurement. He looked down at her, lashes veiling his irises. “You enjoying yourself there?”
“It’s like holding a stress ball. I can’t stop myself.” Truthfully, she wanted to skim her palm lower, under the waistband of his jeans, have a proper feel. “While I’m molesting you, tell me what you’ve been doing with yourself. I haven’t seen you in so long.”
“Been on strike.” He answered, lifting a hand to trace her eyebrow with a finger. Strange how he skimmed past her temple scar and she didn’t even flinch. “Campaigning a bit. Went to see my sister who’s had her baby in Australia. Tried to not pine over you every day, but I did. Don’t laugh, woman, it was truly pathetic.”
She hid her grin behind a free hand. “You could have called me.”
He nodded, glancing away. “I could have. If you’d given me your number. And as half naked as Soren is today, he has a thing about giving his friends patient information. I begged him. I promise you, I did. I tried all sorts of bribery and corruption and wild women for him to give up the information. Nada.”

With her hand still underneath his shirt, she pressed herself against him and closed her eyes. “Don’t go away again,” she told him, her voice muffled against his shirt. Lifting her head, she slowly became aware that Jack’s hands weren’t still. One cradled her elbow and the other palmed the small of her back. Underneath her shirt. Ooh, sly! She hadn’t even felt him do that. His thumb stroked over the base of her spine in languid circles and not for a second did his eyes leave hers.
Desperately trying to control the overwhelming need to rub herself against him, to bring relief to her burning body, Taemar thought about stepping away, going back to the party. Millimetre by millimetre, Jack closed the gap between them. The sound of her heart drowned out everything else. Her shallow breathing, the trickling of water in the pipes and even the low bass from the speakers. Jack’s hands tightened on her waist before he touched lush lips to hers. A jolt shot through her, heat splitting her chest to groin in a huge wave of desire. Expectation had never met with reality before. All her previous experiences with being patient and waiting had always fizzled, like a wet firework. But this? Maybe this is what Erica Jong had been banging on about all these years...