Sunday 22 November 2009


This is the view I will have for the next three days, though sadly- the rain continues to thrash down from the sky

Never mind, with a landscape more rugged than one of my heroes, a lap-top to hand, proofs to correct and an imagination looking to be fired - it will be perfect.

Friday 20 November 2009


Rach from Fareham suggests that Alexis could be good inspirational material - and since I could certainly do with some at the moment - here he is.

What d'you think?
To my mind he's just a little bit TOO perfect to make a perfect Presents hero. He just doesn't look quite complicated and complex enough to be a bad boy who comes good.....

Having said that - I should be careful what I wish for since my current hero is giving me headaches. I have spent the whole day grappling with him and he is refusing to behave!

So in an attempt to give my imagination a break - I leave you with this thought. If you could have dinner tomorrow night with anyone you choose - living or dead - who would it be?

William Shakespeare.

Thursday 19 November 2009


Just when I am looking for a little inspiration which doesn't involve me moving away from my computer (and my current story) - along comes an email from Michela waxing lyrical about her beloved hometown of Napoli.
She was also kind enough to send some photos, and here they are.
This is the most famous square in the city - the Piazza del Plebiscito.

And the famous bay.
By day.

And by night.

Michela also writes:
In Naples we have a "saying": Vedi Napoli e poi muori - its literal meaning is "You see Naples and then you can also die" but, for a Neapolitan man, it means that Naples is so perfect, so beautiful, so amazing... that you just have to see it once then you can die peacefully.

You've convinced me, Michela! Yes, I'm now inspired - but also wistfully wondering when I can get to visit this jewel of a place.

What has inspired you today?

Wednesday 18 November 2009


Here is is, my January 2010 release for Harlequin Presents, titled THE ITALIAN BILLIONAIRE'S SECRETARY MISTRESS.:

It's all about Riccardo Castellari - the powerful and sexy Tuscan tycoon. And Angie - sweet, mousey little Angie who has loved her terse boss ever since she can remember. I love this couple and really wanted to tell their story.

I love the cover, too....and not just the artist's brilliant depiction of the intense and inexplicable passion which grows between Angie and Riccardo. Look closely and you can see Big Ben - which looms up over the city like a benign friend. That's one of the fabulous things about being in London - it really does feel as if you've fallen into a picture post-card.

What's your picture-postcard city?

Tuesday 17 November 2009


Katrina and I have known each other since we were the wives of junior doctors in Dover, Kent - where we spent much of our times chained to our respective houses, listening to anxious (and occasionally hysterical) patients who needed twenty-four hour access to the phone. It is hard now to imagine a world without cell-phones or the internet.

Katrina knows lots of my secrets - and still finds it rather alarming that I went into my local butcher's (Mr. Doyle) on my penultimate day in the town and burst into tears because I was so sad to leave. But leaving anywhere is always poignant, don't you think?

Who knows your secrets?

Monday 16 November 2009


A friend brought me round an interesting present (vegetarians, look away now!) - a brace of pheasants which he had shot.

It made me realise how much we rely on someone else sorting out our food for us - cleaning it and packaging it. I have no idea how to pluck a pheasant and so I carried them down Winchester High Street to the butcher's. Sadly, it was shut - and so I had to trudge back with feathers flapping in the gathering gale (theirs, not mine).

They're rather sweet, aren't they?

Eventually, I drove them to a nearby village where as I write, they are being prepared by someone who knows what they're doing - and I shall collect them tomorrow.

Anyone have any good pheasant recipes?

Friday 13 November 2009


I was about to write that the Wizard Of Oz is celebrating it's 70th anniversary - until I remembered that there's no such thing as a wizard! And nobody ever had a pair of ruby slippers.....

And then I found this on sale at an Andy Warhole exhibition (and longed for a life-size pair of my own).

I leave you with a piece of musical perfection....though I don't know why it doesn't seem accessible....if you can manage to get it to work (or give me any tips on what I'm doing wrong) it you'll discover that there are Spanish subtitles which allow you to learn as you watch! 

I hope all your troubles melt like lemon-drops this weekend.

Thursday 12 November 2009


Went to see the film BRIGHT STAR yesterday - about the life of one of my favourite poets, John Keats.

It was filmed as if for a fabric conditioner meadow was seen unless it was lush-full of blossom and flowers. Seasons came and went with alarming frequency - one minute the nodding daffodils signified spring - and in another, the heavy snowfall told us it was winter (did they REALLY have that much snow in Hampstead?)

Having said that - I loved it. I loved the depiction of tortured love. Of loss before possession has even taken place. I loved Fanny's mad devotion and I despaired of events and people who all helped contribute to the tragedy of the poet's early death.

The (brilliant) actors playing Fanny and John also spoke the lines of a poem which has always particularly inspired me.
It was spookily prescient, in a way......

La Belle Dame Sans Merci

"O WHAT can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has wither'd from the lake,
And no birds sing.

"O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms! 5
So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel's granary is full,
And the harvest's done.

"I see a lily on thy brow
With anguish moist and fever-dew. 10
And on thy cheeks a fading rose
Fast withereth too."

"I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful—a faery's child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light, 15
And her eyes were wild.

"I made a garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She look'd at me as she did love,
And made sweet moan. 20

"I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long;
For sidelong would she bend, and sing
A faery's song.

"She found me roots of relish sweet, 25
And honey wild and manna-dew;
And sure in language strange she said,
'I love thee true.'

"She took me to her elfin grot,
And there she wept and sigh'd full sore; 30
And there I shut her wild, wild eyes
With kisses four.

"And there she lullèd me asleep,
And there I dream'd—ah! woe betide!
The latest dream I ever dream'd 35
On the cold hill's side.

"I saw pale kings and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all:
They cried, 'La belle Dame sans Merci
Hath thee in thrall!' 40

"I saw their starved lips in the gloam
With horrid warning gapèd wide,
And I awoke and found me here
On the cold hill's side.

"And this is why I sojourn here 45
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is wither'd from the lake,
And no birds sing."

Wednesday 11 November 2009


Pomegranates have always fascinated me because of their symbolism. It is said that Solomon designed his coronet based on the pomegranate's "crown" and Jewish tradition teaches that the pomegranate is a symbol for righteousness. In Greece, the fruit is traditionally smashed open on new year's day, taken as a new-home gift and used during weddings and funerals.

I've researched the fruit and it featured heavily in one of my books (THE SICILIAN'S SECRET PASSION) - but I've never seen one growing before I discovered one at the weekend, in Umbria. I felt as if I'd tumbled into a fairy-tale.

The myth of Persephone, the goddess of the Underworld, also prominently features the pomegranate. Poor woman was kidnapped by Hades and taken off to live in the underworld as his wife (there are worse things in life than being single!). Her mother went into mourning for her lost daughter and thus all green things ceased to grow.

Zeus, the highest ranking of the Greek gods, could not leave the Earth to die, so he commanded Hades to return Persephone but it was the rule of the Fates that anyone who consumed food or drink in the Underworld was doomed to spend eternity there. Persephone had no food, but horrible Hades tricked her into eating four pomegranate seeds while she was still his prisoner and so, because of this, she was condemned to spend four months in the Underworld every year.

Which is why Rossetti's painting of the luscious Persephone shows her holding an equally luscious pomegranate.

(Research is enthralling - but sometimes just a little too distracting!)

Tuesday 10 November 2009


well, mainly hearts.

PINK hearts......

Today I'm blogging over at the Pink Heart Society - you may have heard of them. They're a "blogazine" (crazy word!) for lovers of category romance novels - so clearly they're discerning people catering to people of discerning taste!

I'm talking about celebrity magazines. You know - those trashy, glossy periodicals which you'd HATE to be seen reading on a train. Shakespeare said: "apparel oft proclaims the man" - but what we read says a lot about how other people perceive us, too.

So are you brave enough to read what you want, where you want - without worrying about how you are judged?

You can visit on

Monday 9 November 2009


To strip an olive tree?

Quite a few, actually- since the trees yield a surprising amount of fruit. Men are vital (especially when precarious ladders are involved!).
You spread nets beneath the trees.....

Which then catch the yield.

And leave you with crates of beautifully-hued fruit which you can then take off to be pressed into oil.

Umbria is somewhere I've only visited in spring or summer but going there in November was wonderful. Grey, misty mornings - with the growing light illuminating the brilliant autumn colours of the leaves. Nearby we could hear the barking of the hunters' dogs as they searched for wild boar. Evenings were warmed by enormous log fires, toasted chestnuts and delicious stews. We sang (badly) to a beautifully-played piano, slept soundly after so much fresh air and exercise and found the entire experience inspirational. It was one of those times which gives meaning to the term "life-enhancing".

Thursday 5 November 2009


This is the view I'll have for the next three days.....

Well, not'll be missing Celia, Patrick and Rory (poor darlings!) but the lake and the tablecloth landscape will be there in all their glory.
I'll be picking olives, enjoying congenial company and soaking in all that wonderful Italian atmosphere - looking for inspiration which hopefully, I can use in the book I'm writing.
Whatever you're doing this weekend - hope it's wonderful.

Wednesday 4 November 2009


Here's a picture of a spider's web. It's not a particularly good photo (I was just learning about my new camera and, sadly - the misty season of web-building has now passed for another year....) but I was eager to show it. Why? Because the spider gets such a bad press! It is such a clever creature and their fantastic homes/traps would surely make most architects swoon with envy.

Okay, I concede that they're scary....particularly when they're mouse-sized and scuttling across the floor. But life is too short to be scared of spiders and that's why I have included the following childhood rhyme. I was only going to put in the first two stanzas - but it turns into such a magnificent morality tale that I've included the entire poem. Because, like me - you may have only ever heard the first few lines.

Mary Howitt (1799-1888)
The Spider And The Fly

"Will you walk into my parlor?" said the spider to the fly;
"'Tis the prettiest little parlor that ever you may spy.
The way into my parlor is up a winding stair,
And I have many curious things to show when you are there."
"Oh no, no," said the little fly; "to ask me is in vain,
For who goes up your winding stair can ne'er come down again."

"I'm sure you must be weary, dear, with soaring up so high.
Well you rest upon my little bed?" said the spider to the fly.
"There are pretty curtains drawn around; the sheets are fine and thin,
And if you like to rest a while, I'll snugly tuck you in!"
"Oh no, no," said the little fly, "for I've often heard it said,
They never, never wake again who sleep upon your bed!"

Said the cunning spider to the fly: "Dear friend, what can I do
To prove the warm affection I've always felt for you?
I have within my pantry good store of all that's nice;
I'm sure you're very welcome - will you please to take a slice?"
"Oh no, no," said the little fly; "kind sir, that cannot be:
I've heard what's in your pantry, and I do not wish to see!"

"Sweet creature!" said the spider, "you're witty and you're wise;
How handsome are your gauzy wings; how brilliant are your eyes!
I have a little looking-glass upon my parlor shelf;
If you'd step in one moment, dear, you shall behold yourself."
"I thank you, gentle sir," she said, "for what you're pleased to say,
And, bidding you good morning now, I'll call another day."

The spider turned him round about, and went into his den,
For well he knew the silly fly would soon come back again:
So he wove a subtle web in a little corner sly,
And set his table ready to dine upon the fly;
Then came out to his door again and merrily did sing:
"Come hither, hither, pretty fly, with pearl and silver wing;
Your robes are green and purple; there's a crest upon your head;
Your eyes are like diamond bright, but mine are dull as lead!"

Alas, alas! how very soon this silly little fly,
Hearing his wily, flattering words, came slowly flitting by;
With buzzing wings she hung aloft, then near and nearer grew,
Thinking only of her brilliant eyes and green and purple hue,
Thinking only of her crested head. Poor, foolish thing! at last
Up jumped the cunning spider, and fiercely held her fast;
He dragged her up his winding stair, into the dismal den -
Within his little parlor - but she ne'er came out again!

And now, dear little children, who may this story read,
To idle, silly flattering words I pray you ne'er give heed;
Unto an evil counselor close heart and ear and eye,
And take a lesson from this tale of the spider and the fly.

Do you have a favourite childhood poem?

Tuesday 3 November 2009


David Nicholson has the best pub in Winchester. It defines the word idosyncratic and is stuffed full of treasures wherever you look. Here I am with a sweet little dog I found while I was having lunch there the other day.

Of course, it isn't a REAL dog


It occurred to me that stuffing animals or birds is a subject which fascinates or repels the onlooker and I wasn't quite sure what compelled people to do it, or what purpose it served. So I asked an expert for his personal philosophy of taxidermy, and he said:

"Most people judge taxidermy by its worst examples: distressed specimens with bald patches and stitches stretching open in granny's attic or the junk shop. But there is another side to it. Some taxidermists are keen naturalists. They strive to capture and immortalise the beauty of detail in the natural world, and are meticulous about anatomical accuracy as well as correct and natural poses. They aim to express the inexpressible qualities of a creature being alive, and pausing for just an instant before moving on. The struggle to capture and express such ethereal qualities in a solid medium is the essence of pure art".

Thanks for that, Russell - and I wonder if you agree with him?

In the meantime, here's a more traditional aspect of David's pub.

Sunday 1 November 2009


A reader wants to know what's on my desk. A brilliant, bright-red phone. Solid and reassuring, it also makes me feel very nostalgic. Here it is (the three empty coffee mugs are out of shot!).

It's a replica of the phone my school friend Heather had in her house in Ashford, Middlesex. As an only child, I spent many happy hours round at her house (she has three brothers!). Strains of loud rock music would filter through the house while we two experimented with make-up (often with terrifying results) - and ate sickly cakes.
What makes you nostalgic?

Here's a wider view of the desk.
You can see my shiny new Mac. Next to the phone is a fabulous pink jewel - which, like the phone - is also a replica, but this time of the famous pink sapphire of Karedes (which you may have read about in THE PLAYBOY SHEIKH'S VIRGIN STABLE GIRL). Beside that is a wonderful deep blue stone which I bought when I was visiting my son in Siena. My daughter drew the portrait of me when she was eight. The jewel-encrusted alligator was given to me at an amazing party in Santa Barbara and the books in the foreground are Italian dictionaries (my latest hero is called Giancarlo Vellutini). You might just be able to catch a glimpse of the paper-weight, designed by Antony Gormley for his Blind Light exhibition at the Tate Gallery. This was a rather terrifying experience when you walked into a giant cube filled with dry ice, limiting visibility to practically zero and making you feel completely disorientated. Which sounds a bit like shopping just before Christmas.
What's the most precious thing on your desk, I wonder?