Christmas in Spain

One of the joys of living in Spain is that there isn’t the same commercial fuss made. Feliz Navidad will be up in twinkling lights, and pontsettias are everywhere, and yes, a few shops will be playing Jingle Bells and have a tree, but not to the same extent. Christmas itself is fairly low key.

The Nativity scene ‘Nacimiento’ can be seen in plazas in most small towns as well as many Spanish homes and shop windows, often rather splendid. Sometimes, on Christmas Eve there will be a live Nativity scene, with actors and actresses playing the parts of Mary and Joseph. Baby Jesus does not appear until the right time, and nor do the wise men.

December 24, Christmas Eve
Nochebuena is when the main Christmas meal is taken, often roast lamb or suckling pig, a feast that takes place quite late, as in all Spanish fiestas, starting around 10 p.m. and going on until the small hours. Some families will sing carols around the nativity scene which remains without the baby until the stroke of midnight. Others go to midnight Mass ‘La misa del Gallo’, or ‘Rooster Mass’, so named after the bird who reputedly announced the birth of Christ. Many people, of course, like the rest of us, just watch the Christmas programme’s on TV while enjoying the traditional Turrón (nougat), marzipan, or mantecas (a range of butter-based biscuits) with Cava.

January 6th, Three Kings Day
Traditionally Spanish children do not get their presents on Christmas Day from Santa Claus, or Papa Noel, as he is called. They have to wait until the Fiesta de Los Reyes. What we would call Epiphany. By now we’re packing our Christmas decorations away, but the Spanish are still partying. The excitement starts in the late afternoon or early evening of January 5 when there is often a parade through the streets with camels, yes, real ones, carrying the three kings, Melchor, Gazpar and Baltasar, who throw sweets into the watching crowds. A custom that no doubt started in Moorish times. A whole procession of dancers and musicians, trailers and floats, will follow. It is truly a sight to see. The little girls dress up in their flamenco dresses, little boys as kings or drummer boys.They run alongside with their little bags catching gifts and sweets.

In the run up to the 6th of January children can meet the wise men at some department stores and tell them what they would like for Christmas, just as our children tell Santa Claus. On the 5th, the shops remain open until after midnight. Before going to bed the children leave their shoes on the door step so that the Kings will know who to leave presents for. Some Spanish families are starting to put presents under a Christmas tree, perhaps because there are too many to put in a shoe. And just as British children leave a mince pie and a drink for Santa and his reindeer, Spanish children also put out something to eat and drink for Melchor, Gaspar, and Baltazar, and water and grass for their camels. Well, they do have a lot of work to do that night.

The children wake in great excitement the next morning to find their presents. For breakfast or after lunch, the family will eat the typical dessert of the day, the ‘Roscón de los Reyes’. This is a large ring shaped cake or sweet bread that is decorated with candied fruits, symbolic of the emeralds and rubies that adorned the robes of the three kings, sometimes a gold paper crown is often provided to decorate the cake. Hidden inside it are surprises ‘sorpresas’. The one who finds the lucky prize is King or Queen for the day while he who ends up with the unlucky bean is expected to pay for next years Kings’ Cake – and they are not cheap!

And so another day of feasting commences. January 7 is a very quiet day in Spain. No businesses open, everyone at home in recovery.


ebooks and the Kindle

It's 3 months now since I put some of my back list up on Kindle and I must say I'm delighted with the results so far. Each month has improved on the one before, and I'm hoping for a real boost after Christmas when Santa has delivered many more Kindles. These ebooks are also available on most other devices including Sony ereader, the Nook and ipad, either bought through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, etc., thanks to the one stop shop of Smashwords. You'll find the links to these places on my website.

The latest book to go up is Hostage Queen at £6.99 plus VAT, which you do get unfortunately on ebooks. You’ll find it in Amazon Kindle Store. For those of you who prefer the paperback version, this will be in your shops, and on Amazon, before Christmas.

Another recent publication is  Wine and Roses  (also published as Madeiran Legacy, originally by Mills and Boon and later Severn House) now available on Regency Reads.

If you're a writer considering publishing your own ebooks, start here. Reading the Smashwords style guide is also a good idea. The best thing to do first is to save a copy of your document as an rtf file then put back the formatting of indents, 1.5 line spacing and so on by using the format/style button and rule on the toolbar. Don't us the tab key, and click the P thingy on the tool bar so that you can see what you're doing. A clean, code-free document is essential. Then check it out on MobiCreator before publishing. Yes, there's a bit more to it than this. Yes, it's takes time. And yes it's hard to get right the first time, and a bit scary, but once done, that's it. And it'll be a whole lot quicker the second time you try. Of course publishing your ebook is only half the story, making sure it doesn't disappear into obscurity is another blog altogether.

I've put up 14 so far and they're doing really well and finding new readers. Luckpenny Land is available at £1.99 as a taster, and people are now coming back to read the rest of the series, which is encouraging.

There are many others. All bestsellers in their day, and now being granted a new lease of life.

As for my own Kindle, I love it. I'm reading more and more and find it really easy to use, even in bright sunlight. I'm buying books that range in price from 99 pence or dollars upwards. Some are free or cheap offers for debut authors or a new series, which is good. I've also downloaded lots of free classics, some old favourites and some I’ve never got around to reading. I’m still buying print books but I’m stopping to think now if I will want to keep this book in a physical form, or just have the pleasure of reading it. And for those of you who like to lend their books to friends and family, Amazon are bringing in a new facility where you can lend an ebook a set number of times for a given period, say two weeks, during which time you cannot access it yourself. Sounds good, as this means my daughter and I can still swap books. My favourite recently was The Last Queen by C W Gortner. An excellent read. For a review of this book go to my reviews page on Goodreads and check it out.

Happy reading, and publishing.


The Olive Harvest - November 2010

I live in Almeria, Spain and we're fortunate enough to have a small olive grove of 28 trees. We've just started the harvest for this year and the first day's pick resulted in 208 kilos which produced 33 kilos of extra virgin olive oil. There are plenty more olives still to be picked, so we're expecting a bumper year.

Friends came round to help and the weather was perfect: bright and sunny, temperatures around 22 degrees with not a scrap of wind. We'd experienced quite a bit of wind in the days preceding and were worried the olives would all be on the ground, but no, it has proved to be an excellent crop. We spread nets beneath the tree to catch any that drop-off, collected our bucket and set to work. We might have to knock with sticks to shake down the olives from the high branches, but mainly we pick by hand, raking them off with our fingers.

The fun part is that we get to climb some of the old trees, as we used to do when we were children, although a ladder is generally safer.

Then after a morning’s hard work we all sat down to a good lunch of chilli and rice, followed by apple and rubarb crumble and several bottles of wine to wash it down.

After a rest we went back for another few hours of picking.

By late afternoon David, with two of the men, loaded the crop of olives into the trailer, then went off to the press that same day in order to get extra virgin olive oil.

David unloaded the olives at the press

The cooperativa press at Lubrin.

It was a fun day and resulted in five litres of olive oil for everyone who helped us pick, plus plenty left over for us to sell later.

Table olives
There are various types of olive:mazanillas; picuales; de agua; andacebuches, which is the wild olive. Its fruit is smaller and is used as a root stock for grafting the more delicate modern olives on to. It grows slowly but will give you a tree that will survive the worst excesses of heat and drought and cold. We have several of these trees in our grove as well as the more modern variety. Apparently the wild olive also makes good walking sticks.

Some people think that there are just two types of olives: green and black. Not so. Green olives for eating are picked first, in October, but you can’t eat them direct from the tree. You steep them in spring water with no chlorine, changing it every day, stirring the fruit a little, for 3 or 4 weeks. They will still taste bitter but not so bad. Next you make up a seven per cent brine solution – 70 grams of salt to a litre of water and place the olives in the solution. You can store them this way for as long as you like, but to finish them off for eating, you rinse the salt away in a dozen or so changes of water and then pack the rinsed olives into jars. You can add garlic or herbs such as thyme, fennel or oregano, if you wish. Top up with olive oil and leave for a week – then start eating.


Christmas Prize Draw

There are two prizes to be given away this Christmas.

A signed paperback copy of Hostage Queen
A signed hardback copy of the sequel Reluctant Queen

You are agreeing to receive my regular e-newsletter with news of future books, events I'm attending, chat about life in Spain, writing and gossip about all things to do with books, as well as competitions, giveaways and prize draws.

For competition rules and to see previous winners please visit my website.


Angels at War

My latest title, out this month in hardback, is the sequel to House of Angels, although the story will stand alone. Again this book is set in the Lake District, partly in the beautiful Kentmere Valley around the time of World War I, although it is such a quiet corner of England I doubt it has changed much since. The nearest village is Staveley, situated between Kendal and Windermere and the hills can offer some of the best walking the Lakes. Here is picture to tempt you to visit.

Two years have passed since Livia and her sisters suffered at the hands of their brutal father and Livia is set to marry the handsome and caring Jack Flint while her sisters are contentedly living at Todd Farm. Yet she dreams of bringing back to life the neglected drapery business which was left to her when her father died. But is she prepared to jeopardise the love she shares with Jack to achieve her wish?

Racked with guilt over the tragic death of her sister Maggie, she promises never to let anyone down again and to do something worthwhile with her life. But standing in her way is the wealthy and determined Matthew Grayson, who has been appointed to oversee the restoration of the business. His infuriating stubbornness clashes with Livia’s tenacity and the pair get off to a bad start. But as her problems with Jack worsen, Livia finds it increasingly difficult to resist his charms. Despite all the emotional turmoil, she is also resolute in her support for the Suffragette Movement which puts further strain on her relationship with Jack. With the extra pressures of her sisters’ problems, is it possible for Livia to regain control of her life?


The Kindle

Christmas has come early as Santa’s little helper has brought us a Kindle, and I love it. The black letters against a white background are easy to read, even in bright sunlight. It’s light to carry and fits easily into my handbag. Smartly clad in its crimson leather cover it feels like a book and I soon got used to clicking to turn the page. The next page comes up instantly, or you can easily flick back if you missed something. You can place bookmarks so that it automatically finds where you’re up to next time you open it, add notes if you wish, or highlight and save quotes. Useful if you are using a book for research purposes. And you can do searches of certain words or topics, or look up the meaning of a word in a dictionary as you read.

I’ve no intention of giving up reading ordinary print books, but love the Kindle as an addition to my bookaholic lifestyle. I can see me reading even more books, not less.


Loved this book. Sensitively and charmingly written it moves seamlessly from the present to the past as Mel Pentreath researches the lives of past artists for the book she is writing. The love story in the present keeps us guessing right to the end as to which of her suitors Mel will choose. Pearl’s story in the past is much more poignant, but equally delightful. The descriptions of Cornwall were both accurate and emotive, and once having lived there, I easily found myself transported back. The garden of the title, bearing a striking resemblance to Heligan, became a character in its own right. A delicious, relaxing romance with a happy ending.


Gabrielle d'Estrées

History tells us that when Gabrielle de Estrées was sixteen years old she was so pretty and already in possession of a good figure, that at her mother’s instigation she was sold as mistress, to Henri III. The deal was negotiated through a third party, Montigny, and a sum of six thousand crowns was agreed as payment to compensate her mother, Madame d’Estrees, a most dreadful and unfeeling mother if ever there was one, for the loss of her daughter. Montigny, however, only remitted her two-thirds of that amount, retaining the balance for himself, and when this came to the king’s ears he lost all favour.

Gabrielle, however, got the worst deal as she was passed on from lover to lover, including the Cardinal de Guise. He was her lover for more than a year, until May 1588 when he left for Paris to support his nephew, the Duke de Guise, in what became known as the Day of the Barricades. Guise, Queen Margot's long-term lover, is making a play for the throne, which leads him into the midst of danger and intrigue.

For a time Gabrielle felt free, was passionately in love with the Duke de Bellegarde, Grand Equerry of France, Master of the King's Wardrobe and First Gentleman of his Chamber. Henri III, with whom Bellegarde was in high favour, is said to have supported his suit. Unfortunately, Gabrielle was a sprightly, spoiled little miss at this time and as also in love with the Duke de Longueville. Playing one off against the other she couldn’t quite make up which would make the better husband.

She was considered to be a beauty, perfectly enchanting, and the courtiers waxed lyrical on the subject.

‘Blue eyes so brilliant as to dazzle one; a complexion of the composition of the Graces but in which the lilies surpassed the roses unless it were animated by some deep feeling… a mouth on which gaiety and love reposed, and which was perfectly furnished.’

‘she had fair hair like fine gold, caught up in a mass, or slightly crisped above the forehead…’

‘the nose straight and regular, the mouth small, smiling and purplish, the cast of physiognomy engaging and tender. A charm was spread over every outline. Her eyes were blue, quick, soft and clear. She was wholly feminine in her tastes, her ambitions, and even her defects.’

Bellegarde was so besotted he foolishly boasted about her to his master, Henry of Navarre, who later was crowned Henry IV of France.

And the rest, as they say, was history…

Her life certainly makes a good story, and I couldn’t resist telling it. Henry means to have her, but Gabrielle desperately longs to choose her own lover for once, to marry and be respectable, wishing she hadn’t foolishly prevaricated over which one to take.

Meanwhile Henry's Queen, Marguerite de Valois, is determined not to agree to a divorce until she has a just financial settlement. But then there are other ways of getting rid of an inconvenient wife…

Here is a short extract from The Reluctant Queen at the moment Henry meets Gabrielle.

Gabrielle d’Estrées cried out with pleasure when she heard the clatter of hooves in the courtyard and saw that it was her lover. She sprang up from the window seat where she and her sister Diane had been engaged in needlework, delighted to have a reason to abandon it as she loathed sewing.

‘Oh, it is Bellegarde. He sent no message that he was coming today, and he has brought company with him.

Quick, Diane, go and offer the gentlemen refreshments while I change. I wish to look my best. He is constantly begging me to marry him, and this may well be the day that I accept.’ She giggled. ‘Or it may not, who knows?’

Diane smiled, giving her sister a quick hug. ‘Don’t tease him too much, precious. You would hate to lose him. Wear the blue, it matches your eyes. I’ll take the gentlemen out into the garden, then later I’ll keep his companion occupied while you and Bellegarde slip away for a private little tête a tête.’

Left alone, Gabrielle yanked on the bell pull to summon her maid, deeply regretting the lack of notice. She would like to have bathed and scented herself properly. As it was, she must simply do the best she could in the time available.

‘Fetch the blue gown,’ she cried, the moment the hapless girl appeared. ‘Quick, we must hurry.’ Papa might accuse her of being light-minded, but she was much sharper than people gave her credit for. Diane was right. She couldn’t keep Bellegarde, or Longueville of whom she was also fond, dallying indefinitely. It was vitally important that she capture a rich, elegant and handsome husband. But it was such fun choosing she was really in no hurry.

Ten minutes later, with her golden hair brushed till it shone and left to hang loose, falling in rippling waves to her waist, Gabrielle walked gracefully down the stairs and out into the garden where her father and sisters were already in conversation with their guests. Her mother was not at home, so Diane was acting as hostess. Inside her cool exterior Gabrielle was excited and happy that her lover had come to see her unannounced, seeming to indicate that he could hardly bear to be apart from her. As she approached the little party she caught her sister Juliette’s eye, realized she was trying to tell her something but couldn’t think what it might be.

Gabrielle dropped a flirtatious curtsey to Bellegarde, casting a sideways glance up at him through her lashes. ‘What a delightful surprise, my lord. I bid you welcome.’

‘You must first welcome the King. We were out riding and His Majesty was in need of refreshment.’
Gabrielle started. They had all been aware that the King was in the vicinity engaged in sporadic fighting, but never for a moment had Gabrielle expected him to call upon them. ‘I beg pardon, Your Majesty. Pray forgive my rudeness.’

She sank into a deep curtsey, kissed the hand that was held out to her, realizing as she did so what Juliette had been trying to impart to her by that warning glance. So this was the new king? Gabrielle was not particularly impressed. He seemed old, his late thirties she believed, and did not possess one iota of Bellegarde’s elegance and style. His linen was soiled, and, as he stepped forward to raise her from the deep curtsey, she had great difficulty in not screwing up her nose against the stink of horse sweat that emanated from his person. Clearly the King did not believe in bathing or scenting himself, as did her handsome lover. Her pretty shoulders shuddered at the lot of any woman obliged to sleep with this king.

Two maids hurried forward at that moment with trays of refreshment: wine and wafers, coffee and cakes. Gabrielle welcomed the interruption, which gave her a moment to collect herself and distance herself from the King. ‘Which would you prefer, Sire, coffee or wine?’ she asked, giving him one of her enchanting smiles.

Henry was entranced, struck speechless like a gawky schoolboy. Bellegarde had been absolutely correct. Never had he seen such a vision of loveliness. Her luxuriant fair hair, those dazzling blue eyes, and a complexion of lilies and roses. Her nose was divine, her lips moist and full, and when they parted slightly to smile at him, revealed perfect white teeth. He was surely in heaven and this was an angel.

The Reluctant Queen published by Severn House 30 September.
ISBN 978-0727869500


A competition for my new book

This month I'm doing a giveaway operated by Goodreads of three copies of my new historical novel The Reluctant Queen coming out on September 30, published by Severn House. This is the sequel to Hostage Queen which came out in May and has done really well. The paperback for that book is due 1 December.

Click the link below and enter your name for a chance to win a signed hardback copy of Reluctant Queen.


Offer ends 30 September.

Sixteenth-century France. Gabrielle d’Esrées’ one wish is to marry for love, but her mother sells her as a mistress to three different men before she catches the eye – and the heart – of Henry of Navarre, King of France. Henry promises to marry her, but Gabrielle’s difficulties have just begun . . . for Henry’s wife will only divorce him if he promises not to marry Gabrielle. Is the love of a king enough to secure her both the happiness and respectability she craves and a crown for their son as the next dauphin of France?


The Favourite Child

The idea for this book first came about when I was working on my novel Manchester Pride in which one of my characters needed guidance on contraception to stop yet another baby coming. I was telling a writer friend how I’d discovered in my research that there had been a Mothers’ Clinic over a pie shop in Salford in the twenties.

‘I know,’ she said. ‘My mother opened it.’

So began my mission to write this gift of a story. Ursula’s mother was Charis Frankenburg, and unlike my heroine, Isabella Ashton, was a qualified nurse who had served in France during WWI. But on her move to Salford after her marriage, she was horrified to discover the lack of medical help for working women on how to stop the annual pregnancy. They suffered all manner of ills as a result, or committed horrific practices in order to rid themselves of what had often become a life-threatening event. Charis Frankenburg immediately got in touch with Marie Stopes, and with the help of local politician Mary Stocks, set about the task of providing just such a clinic.

The two women were subject to considerable vilification as contraception was seen as a way for women to ‘prostitute their marriage vows’. They endured bricks thrown through their windows, defamatory reports in the press, and stern lectures from the pulpit issuing severe threats to any woman who dared attend this den of iniquity. Of course, the very opposite of the Church’s intentions was the result. The more the vicar or priest insisted women not attend, the longer the queues outside the pie shop.

‘How did you hear about us?’ Charis would ask.
‘Oh, we heard about it in church,’ came the answer.
The resulting furore was even worse than that experienced 40 years later with the introduction of the pill.

The clinic depicted in The Favourite Child, though it bears strong similarities in its work and aims to the original is, of course, entirely fictitious, as are the characters. Salford is as real as I can make it.

But for anyone interested in learning more about this amazing lady, I would highly recommend they read her autobiography, Not Old, Madam, Vintage. You can order it at your library. It sheds as much light on a remarkable woman as on the noble and worthwhile enterprise she helped found.

This book was a bestseller when it first came out, and I've now made it available as an ebook.

You can download a copy from Smashwords

Or Amazon

Don't forget you can get get a free download to read ebooks on your lap top or PC if you don't have a Kindle, Nook, or Sony ereader.

Happy reading,



The following Latin verse is attributed to Barclaius, author of “Argenis” on MARGUERITE DE VALOIS, QUEEN OF NAVARRE.

Dear native land, and you, proud castles, say
Where grandsire, father, and three brothers lay,
Who each, in turn, the crown imperial wore,
Me will you own, your daughter whom you bore?
Me, once your greatest boast and chiefest pride,
By Bourbon and Lorraine, when sought a bride;
Now widowed wife, a queen without a throne,
Midst rocks and mountains wander I alone.
Nor yet hath Fortune vented all her spite,
But sets one up, who now enjoys my right,
Points to the boy, who henceforth claims the throne
And crown, a son of mine should call his own.
But ah, alas! for me ‘tis now too late
To strive ‘gainst Fortune and contend with Fate;
Of those I slighted, can I beg relief
No, let me die the victim of my grief.
And can I then be justly said to live?
Dead in estate, do I then yet survive?
Last of the name, I carry to the grave
All the remains the House of Valois have.


Self publishing ebooks on Kindle

Ebooks, they say, are the coming thing, and according to a recent survey it is women who are using them most. We already know that women read more than men (no comment on that one) so it shouldn’t really be surprising, even though one might expect the take up to be greater among techie young men. The young, of course, will adopt it anyway, as a normal progression from the mobile phone, iplayers, ipods, and the rest.

These are exciting times for writers, for however you package it, people still like a good story. For readers too, as it will increase choice, instead of restraining the consumer to the bestseller lists and 3 for 2 tables. And there are lots of bargains out there, freebies too.

Finding that the rights of some of my early titles had reverted to me I decided to investigate turning them into ebooks. So began an interesting and challenging journey, a steep learning curve in fact. I began by scanning the books on to the computer as the first two were written on an old steam typewriter - a Lettera 22. The rest on an Amstrad 9512, a dedicated word processor with a daisy wheel printer which I thought was the bee’s knees back in the 80s and early 90s. It had a spell check. Amazing! Though it took 20 minutes to complete a long document, time enough for me to drink my coffee while it completed the task.

Next came the editing and revising and I discovered, much to my relief, that I’m a better writer today than I was in those early days. Coming to the stories fresh, as I’d largely forgotten the details, I was able to see where they were overwritten and tighten them, eradicate clumsy sentences and even check the copy-editor’s changes. Not always perfect! The story wasn’t changed in any way but I was able to improve the telling here and there. It proved to be a fascinating experience and I learned a great deal about myself as a writer from it.

I spent hours wrestling with Photoshop, designing and producing a new cover. Another challenge. Copyright remains with the artist so it seemed safer to make my own. I mainly used my own photographs but for some of the sagas I paid for some pictures, quite reasonably priced, from http://www.istockphoto.com/index.php

Then came the hard part - publishing them as ebooks. This involved a great deal of reading. First I studied the style guide on Smashwords, a company who supply Sony, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, mobi-pocket and others, which took some time. It was worth the effort though as it carefully explained how to produce a clean document for upload, essential if the formatting is to stay in place. I won’t bore you with the technicalities but it’s all to do with the hidden codes that Word inserts on a page, and ebook software doesn’t care for stray codes, tabs, or too many returns. I cleaned up my documents, made a copyright page, added a teaser for the next book at the end, and I was ready to go with the first five. These were historical romances originally published by Mills & Boon. Uploading them proved to be much easier than I expected, and Smashwords guide you on what to do next in order to assign a free ISBN and submit them to their premium catalogue.

Believing ISBNs to be essential I bought a batch of 10, which is how Neilson sell them, to assign to the sagas I intended to do next. http://www.isbn.nielsenbook.co.uk  I’m still not entirely sure whether I needed to do this, as there seems to be conflicting advice on the issue. So far as I am aware every book: hardback, paperback, large print, etc., has to have its own ISBN. Yet Kindle also assign an ID of their own, so the jury is still out on that one.

But if I thought it was all easy, that was before I tried Kindle. Fast forward some weeks, during which time half a dozen of my out of print titles have been duly scanned and edited, cleaned to a pristine condition and are ready to go. Or so I thought. A writer friend offered a few tips, and with courage in hand, I went for it. Oh dear, the first one, despite her warnings, was a disaster, coming out for some reason all in italic. I’d previewed it carefully before publishing, as she’d advised, but in order to change it you are asked to download html, of which my knowledge is zilch. Instead, in my ignorance, I tried to overwrite it and, yes, you’ve guessed it, got that wrong too and ended up with two copies, both in italic. Back to the reading of guidelines, hours spent on the forums, asking questions and finally, amazingly, getting the right answers. You can check how it should be done yourself at

Once I had downloaded the Mobipocket Creator and the Mobipocket Reader, both free from Amazon, it was indeed easy as pie. Although I cannot stress strongly enough how important it is to start off with a clean document. Easy as Pie tells you how. I was now able to thoroughly preview the entire book before even attempting to upload it, and correct my early mistakes. My stray bit of code for italic had been picked up and spoilt the entire document. I was now able to overwrite it properly and republish.

I now have 5 historical romances and 6 sagas (more will follow) published on Amazon and on Smashwords, soon to be available on most ereader devices. Or you can do as I’ve done and download the free Kindle for PCs on to your lap top or netbook. You can take a look at them here:


And on Amazon

Happy reading

View a book trailer of Hostage Queen


My mind hasn’t stopped buzzing since coming home from the RNA Conference this weekend. All the books I’m going to write, the publishers I shall court, the romantic novels I mean to read. The months ahead are going to be busy, busy, busy… Conference is always a lively affair, but this year we excelled ourselves.

The Romantic Novelist Association is celebrating 50 years this year, quite an achievement, and chose as their venue the Old Royal Naval College at Greenwich. The historic setting was fab, even the weather was perfect.

Friday was the industry day which I found particularly interesting, if a tad depressing in the current economic market. I wonder if publishers ever consider that reducing the size of a paperback might increase sales. With mobile phones and computers getting smaller, how is it paperbacks are now the size of bricks? Too big for my shelves, let alone my luggage or handbag. There was much talk of the effect of ebooks, and I was tempted to question the speaker on the fairness of giving such low royalties to hard working authors. Since these would last the length of copyright, until 70 years after death, it seems even more unfair in an emerging market where no one yet knows how important ebooks may become.  More worryingly it seems we have to disguise romance as something else. E.g: a thriller with a romantic thread. Excuse me? Why, exactly? What’s wrong with a good old fashioned love story? On the plus side we were told of the growth in aspirational travel tales, romantic suspense, the paranormal, and historical fiction. So perhaps there’s still hope, and writers are born optimists.

I attended many fascinating sessions over the weekend, including Dee Williams talking about how she got started with her sagas; what the US market is looking for; Samhain and ebooks; Sue Moorcroft on selling short stories; and Susanna Kearsley on research. I bought her book Sophie’s Secret, which has already got me in its grip. Writers are always generous with their help, and as at any conference you can pick up as many tips from chatting over coffee.

The climax came with our main speaker Joanna Trollope on Sunday. Her talk was not only interesting but equally thought-provoking, decrying the publishers current passion for producing cartoon jackets as if the women who read romantic fiction aren’t intelligent. In the discussion afterwards the general feeling was that perhaps editors were dumbing down the contents too, in order to play safe. Is it because of the economic situation that no one is being particularly adventurous just now? If so, then doesn’t that stifle creativity?

Writers also know how to party - it’s all that sitting alone talking to the computer - and the Gala Dinner at the Trafalga Inn was superb. This is me on the left with my friend's Karen Abbot and Sylvia Broady who both write for Robert Hale and D C. Thompson. It was a lovely warm summer’s evening with the soft lap of the Thames and swish of passing boats as we quaffed champagne on the balcony. What could be more romantic than that? And it did keep on flowing. On the Saturday evening we enjoyed a relaxing and cool BBQ in a wonderful historic court. A perfect setting to gossip about books with writer friends.

Sunday morning found my friends and I playing hookie to view the Painted Hall. Words cannot do it justice. It is quite astonishing. We took a few moments to sit in the chapel and soak in the magic as the choir sang. Beautiful.

Altogether a most successful event, and for any first timers I should think they will be aching to come again.

Happy Anniversary RNA.


Charles IX

Writing about the Valois was fascinating as they were such a troubled family. All Catherine’s sons seemed to be blighted, probably as a result of inherent syphilis, and all suffered from consumption. Yet they were highly intelligent, well educated, and with the exception of poor Alençon, good looking. Their tutor was the Humanist Jacques Amyot. He wrote poetry and a work on hunting, and his happiest moments were when he would sit up late into the night talking to writers and musicians. On these occasions he would be entirely calm and content.

Charles IX was the most sensitive of the brothers, often emotional and easily moved to tears by a poem or a sermon. He loved hunting and all field-sports but was weak and unstable. If his wishes were thwarted by the smallest degree, his golden brown eyes would grow fierce, his manner turn brusque and uncivil, which could quickly deteriorate into a temper tantrum, often caused by jealousy of his brother Anjou.

Catherine controlled his every waking hour. The time he must rise, insisting that once in his chemise, the lords and nobles, gentlemen of the bedchamber and his man-servants should be allowed in for the King’s lever, as was the custom in his father’s day. After this came council business and dispatches until ten, when he was expected to attend Mass. A walk before dinner, which was taken at eleven, to be followed twice a week by an audience. Time was allowed each afternoon for him to ride, joust, or perform some other sport, and he was also expected to visit the Queen Mother, and the Queen his wife, according to tradition, before preparing for supper which he took with his family.

In addition, she set out careful written instructions on how he must address his councillors, what questions to ask local governors, how to organise appointments and honours and not simply give to those who begged for favours.

He was remarkably obedient and dutiful to his mother’s wishes, which was her intention, but if Catherine pressed him too far he would fall into a rage. Even Margot, who was fond of him, could not deny that he was an odd boy.

He would often sink into worrying moods of deep melancholy, stay in bed all day, or be gripped by a mad frenzy when he would don a mask, waken some of his wilder friends, and, taking lighted torches, would go on a rampage around the darkened streets of Paris. They’d call on some poor unfortunate, drag him from his bed and beat him senseless, purely for the pleasure of it. Or he might turn on his dogs or horses and thrash them instead. When the lust for violence came upon Charles, there was nothing anyone could do to stop it. The mere sight of blood seemed to both terrify and excite him. I believe this flaw in him was the reason Catherine was able to terrify into giving his support to the massacre.

Catherine accepted these flaws as she did not expect the boy to live long, and in this she was proved to be correct. When Charles ultimately succumbed to the disease that had claimed his late brother, Francis II, Anjou, Catherine’s favourite, whom she loved with an almost incestuous passion, took his place on the throne.

Charles IX only mistress was Marie Touchet (1549 - 1638) He loved and remained loyal to her for all his adult life. Besides his sister Margot, she was the only person able to control his mood swings, calming him and making him warm cinneman milk as if she were his nurse.

A pretty, gentle girl from a humble backward, she was in her late teens when she first became his mistress. She was well liked by Catherine, and when Charles married Elisabeth of Austria, fortunately his new bride had the wit to accept her as Marie created no problems. In time the two young women even became good friends. Marie bore him a son, which his wife sadly failed to do, Charles de Valois, who later became the Duke of Angoulême.

After Charles’s death, Marie married the marquis d'Entragues, Charles Balzac d'Entragues, and it was her daughter, Henriette, born in 1579, who became one of Henry IV’s most notorious mistresses. I shall be writing about her in The Queen and the Courtesan.

Deleted scene from Hostage Queen - in which Charles IX attempts to stand up to his mother, Catherine de Medici.

When the time came for the royal party to depart, Jeanne begged the King to allow her son to stay on an extended visit, and because Charles was soft-hearted and felt sorry for a mother being separated from her son, he readily agreed. Catherine entered the chamber just as Jeanne was thanking His Majesty for the favour.

‘What is this?’ she curtly demanded of her son, eyes cold. ‘Are you now making decisions on your own account, so soon after reaching your majority?’

Panic clouded his sensitive features, and Margot, feeling pity for the over-sensitive Charles, hurried to offer him her support. ‘I’m sure it would be but a short stay,’ she said, thinking what a relief it would be to be rid of Henry of Navarre for a while.

Charles agreed and hastily added, ‘Think how distressed I should be were we to be parted, Mother? Is it not unnatural for a family to be kept apart?

Such matters had never concerned Catherine, having rarely seen her own children as they were growing up, although she had frequently asked for portraits to be painted of them so that she could check on their progress. ‘I am sure the Queen of Navarre will think so.’

The two queens faced each other, the one furious, the other defiant. They might go through the motions of good manners and diplomacy, but they remained sworn enemies. The Queen Mother feared the lesser kingdom, with it’s strong Huguenot character, might raise an army against her with young Henry at its head. Jeanne was afraid her precious son might be turned into a papist by the influence of the French Court and its Queen.

‘Pray leave us and permit me to discuss this delicate matter with the King.'

Jeanne curtseyed, paying the homage that was due to the other, more powerful, queen. ‘As you wish, Your Majesty, but the King has promised, and I trust him to keep his word.’

Alone with her son Catherine allowed her anger to show. ‘You had no right to make a political decision without consultation. Many factors need to be taken into account, and you do not possess the experience to make such a decision.’

Seeing how her brother’s eyes rolled back in his head, always a bad sign, Margot dared to interrupt. ‘Madame, the King is not well.’

‘Silence, girl!’

Charles clung fast to his sister, hating to be scolded. ‘I can think for myself. I am not stupid. I am the King!’

Seeing that her brother was growing agitated, Margot began to stroke his hair, trying to calm him, crooning soft words in his ear.

Catherine ground her teeth in fury. ‘Of course, and are you not the cleverest of my sons?’ It was a lie, meant to pacify him. Her beloved Henri was more brilliant in every way. ‘Yet you need good counsel in order to make wise decisions. I would not have you taken advantage of by these Protestants.’

'I have many friends who are of the new faith, and Jeanne is my aunt. I have ever had a fondness for her.'

There was a fever now in his gaze and a foaming at the mouth as he began to chew on his fingernails. ‘I am King! I can do as I like, and I have given my word.’

‘There are times when even a king must break a promise.’

‘No, I will not, I will not!’ Then he fell to the ground and began drumming his heels in temper. Terrified he might harm himself Margot dropped to her knees beside him, desperately trying to prevent the convulsions which would surely follow. Catherine strode from the room calling for his nurse, knowing she must relent. The King had promised that the young Prince of Navarre could stay for a short holiday with his mother, and a king’s word must be kept, even though she held the power and always would.



Just returned from the Napoleonic wars Raul Beringer discovers that as well as contending with the enmity of his younger brother, Maynard, the legacy of his late father's wine business in Madeira must be shared with a penniless orphan, Coriander May. Whoever makes the most profit from their inheritance in a year will win overall control of the company. But is there more than money at stake?

You can find this and four more of my tender historical romances on Smashwords
Read them on your computer, Sony, Kindle, or similar e-reader.


Review of The Perfect Royal Mistress by Diane Haeger

Born into poverty and raised in a brothel, Nell Gwynne sells oranges in the pit at London’s King’s Theatre, newly reopened after the plague and the Great Fire devastated the city. Soon, her quick sense of humour and natural charm get her noticed by those who have the means to make her life easier. But the street-smart Nell knows a woman doesn’t get ahead by selling her body. Through talent, charm, intelligence, and sheer determination - as well as a keen understanding of how the world operates - Nell works her way out of the pit and onto the stage to become the leading comedic actress of the day. Her skills and beauty quickly win the attention of all of London - eventually even catching the eye of King Charles II. Their attraction is as real as it is unlikely, and the scrappy orange girl with the pretty face and the quick wit soon finds herself plunged into the confusing and dangerous world of the court, where she learns there are few she can trust - and many whom she cannot turn her back on.

Haeger captures the charm and character of Nell perfectly, even to the witty dialogue. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, which moved along at a cracking pace. Charles is sympathetically portrayed although he is no more faithful to his adored Nell than to the gentle Queen Catherine. His weakness over women is all too evident, but also his undying loyalty to a barren wife.

Nell is not overly ambition, her only object initially being to survive, to feed herself and her sister Rose and escape the poverty of the East End. But she has the misfortune to fall in love with her royal protector. Haegar illustrates this tender love story superbly, showing how Nell copes with the dangers of tangling with royalty, the malice of the court ladies with whom she deals most shrewdly. She generously forgives Charles his peccadillos, his frequent neglect and betrayals. And despite the disappointments she meets along the way, you can see why the people of London loved her. The reader does too.


Historical Fiction

I’ve always had a passion for historical fiction. I read all of Jean Plaidy’s novels as a girl, also Norah Lofts, Anya Seton, Mary Stewart, and others. I’m still addicted. Now I enjoy Susan Holloway Scott, Elizabeth Chadwick, Alison Weir and Philippa Gregory, among others. I’ve recently finished reading Royal Affairs, by Leslie Carroll. Described as ‘A Lusty Romp Through the Extramarital Adventures that Rocked the British Monarchy.’ It’s non-fiction but great fun. Each section is quite short and dishes the dirt on such as Jane Shore, Katherine Swynford, and the ladies who entertained the various Kings through history from Henry II, including Henry VIII, Charles II, and the various Georges, to Wallis Simpson, and others from modern times. Carroll is American and has a lively, robust style with a wry sense of humour. I like the fact I can dip into it as I please.

A recent novel I’ve enjoyed is Wife to Charles II, Hilda Lewis. This was originally written in 1965 but still reads well. Lewis has a good narrative style and you really feel for Catherine of Braganza. She was sweet and naïve, excited at the prospect of marriage, but soon becomes hurt and bitter. Her misfortune was to fall in love with Charles, but not be able to produce the required heir, while his many mistresses produced a bevy of beautiful healthy babies.

Royal Harlot by Susan Holloway Scott is the story of Lady Castlemaine, mistress to Charles II. She was what my mother would have described as a trollop – no better than she should be – I love that phrase. Scott gets over her adventurous, greedy character very well, yet despite the fact she is completely amoral you nonetheless feel you’re on her side. Most entertaining and compulsively written in the first person.

I can heartily recommend all three.


Visit to Nérac

While undertaking the research for Hostage Queen, I couldn’t resist paying a visit to Nérac, a beautiful little town in South West France. We saw the long gallery, all that is left of this once fine palace. Inside it was all stone walls and achingly cold, but then it was early in the year.

There’s a model of the palace as it was in Margot’s day, and portraits of Henry on the walls. Portraits of his various mistresses too, including la Belle Corisande, Gabrielle, and others. Something of a rake, he was nevertheless loved by the French people when he took the crown as Henry IV, and proved to be a good king.

The town itself is delightful, small and pretty. The houses with their honey stone walls and red roofs are delightful, and from the point of view of the modern tourist there is an excellent selection of small hotels and excellent restaurants. There are also several delicious chocolate shops. Breakfast at the patisserie was a particular treat as we could watch the baker making his baguettes with their pointed ends while sipping our café and nibbling our croissants.

We enjoyed exploring the streets, viewing his statue, and walking in the Queen’s garden, where Margot herself must have strolled. Perhaps she bathed in the river that runs beside it. There’s a small bath house, probably built after her day.

We explored the surrounding countryside which seems to comprise mile upon mile of forest, punctuated by delicious little villages. Henry loved hunting, and it was easy to imagine him riding out across country, perhaps with Margot racing along beside him. A delightful part of south-west France I can highly recommend for a visit.


Marguerite de Valois, known as Queen Margot (1553-1615)

Margot was the youngest of the three daughters of King Henry II and Queen Catherine de Medici. (See pictured left)

Catherine was a widow by the time our story begins, her eldest son Francis II also dead. In addition, none of her three surviving sons enjoyed good health, so while in theory the crown was safe, there was no certainty they would all survive into old age, and these were risky times. France had been involved in civil war between the Catholics and the Huguenots for some years.

As with all royal princesses, Margot was expected to bring political benefit with her marriage, and various suitors were considered and rejected. In the end the Queen Mother, who’d never showed much affection for this daughter, decided Margot should marry Henry of Navarre, a Huguenot, in order to bring peace to the realm. Since the Valois were a Catholic House, this was something of a risky undertaking. Margot wasn’t at all too thrilled by the prospect. Henry was a third cousin whom she’d known from an early age, and she considered him something of a country bumpkin with garlic-tainted breath, and grubby feet from climbing mountains barefoot. There was some resistance from his mother, Jeanne d'Albret, but after she died, in somewhat suspicious circumstances, the wedding went ahead.

Days later the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre took place where thousands of Huguenots were killed. Margot’s new husband was in danger of losing his head, and, as a Catholic married to a protestant and therefore accepted by neither, Margot too was far from safe.

But Margot was no average woman, rather one born before her time. She had long enjoyed a passionate love affair with Henri de Guise, and fully intended to maintain her right to continue with it, should her husband prove unfaithful, which naturally he did. Intrigue and scandal surrounded her at every turn, even when she was innocent. Margot soon took the view that she might as well live life to the full, and match her husband, affair for affair.

Her brothers, first the half mad Charles IX, and then the bi-sexual Henri Trois with his mignons, and pet dogs and monkeys, made furious attempts to control her. Admittedly with very little success, but which caused her considerable grief. Henri frequently accused his sister of licentious behaviour, despite being far more guilty of that charge himself. He behaved like a rejected lover, jealous of the least attention she paid to any other man. He was even jealous of her love for their younger brother, Alençon, accusing the pair of plotting against him. It was almost as if he worked on the principle that if he could not have her, then no one else

Henri and Catherine kept Margot a virtual prisoner in the Louvre for four years, and throughout that time Margot lived in fear of her life while recklessly flouting convention as far as she dare. Somehow she had to save her husband's life, help him to escape, and then follow him to safety. A task fraught with danger.


Review of Hostage Queen from Booklist

When one is of royal blood, marriage is a matter of politics, not romance. At least that is what Marguerite de Valois discovers when she is forced to give up her one true love, Henri de Guise, and marry Henry deNavarre. Desperately trying to maintain her son King Charles IX’s control over a France increasingly torn between Catholic and Huguenot factions, Catherine de Medici believes marrying Margot off to the prince of the Huguenots is the best way to keep the peace. But whatever advantage Catherine might have gained with Margot’s marriage to Henry is lost forever on August 23, 1573, with the Massacre of St. Bartholomew. Now Margot finds herself engaged in a deadly game of politics as she tries to keep both herself and her new husband safe from a most dangerous political adversary: her own mother. Lightfoot’s latest intriguing historical novel combines a fascinating, richly detailed setting with a dramatic plot brimming with enough scandal, passion, and danger for a Jackie Collins’ novel.



I have used many sources in the writing of this book. For readers who wish to explore the subject further I can recommend the list below as being the most useful to me. I would like to acknowledge the Project Gutenburg Collection for many of the out of print books.

Memoirs of Marguerite, Queen of Navarre.
Henry III, King of France and Poland by Martha Walker Freer. 1888
The Later Years of Catherine De Medici – Edith Helen Sichel. 1908
Illustrious Dames of the Court of the Valois Kings: Marguerite, Queen of Navarre by Pierre de Bourdeille and C. A Sainte-Beuve. Translated by Katharine Prescott Wormeley. 1912
Queen of Hearts – Charlotte Haldane. 1968
History of the Reign of Henry IV by Martha Walker Freer. 1860
The Favourites of Henry of Navarre by Le Petit Homme Rouge. 1910
The History of Protestantism by J. A. Wylie. 1878
Nostradamus, the Man Who Saw Through Time by Lee McCann. 1941
The French Renaissance Court by Robert J. Knecht. 2008
Catherine de Medici – Leonie Frieda. 2003
Renaissance Woman by Gaia Servadio. 2005
Delightes for Ladies by Hugh Plat. 1609


Extract from Hostage Queen

A drawing of Margot by Clouet.
And here is one of the Duke of Guise. Isn't he gorgeous?

Margot was walking along the passage from her husband’s apartments to her own chamber when an arm suddenly hooked about her waist, and with a small squeal of alarm she found herself pulled behind an arras into an ante-room.

Before she could draw breath to protest, a mouth had closed over hers in a long, demanding kiss. Quite unable to move, being trapped between the unforgiving door and the powerful breadth of a man’s chest, she succumbed completely to the pleasure of it. But then it was a truly wonderful kiss.When she was finally released, she gave the perpetrator of this outrage a sharp slap across his handsome face, even though she’d known instantly that it was Henri of Guise. How could she not, having savoured the delicious taste of his lips more times than were quite proper in a young girl?

Entirely unconcerned by her reaction, he put back his fine head with its cut of close cropped curls, and laughed. ‘I thought you’d avoided me long enough, my pretty, and that it was time we got re-acquainted.’

Margot straightened her gown, flustered by the warm flush of excitement on her cheeks. ‘And you thought that was the way to go about it, did you?’

He smiled at her, a molten power in his liquid, dark-eyed gaze. ‘I needed to gain your attention.’

‘You have most certainly achieved that,’ and she laughed suddenly, tremulous, nervous, and as delighted as he by the encounter. But then, instantly ashamed of herself for this apparent betrayal, Margot scowled crossly at him. ‘I should not, by rights, even be speaking to you. I will admit that I do not believe all the rumours I hear about the Princes of Lorraine, nevertheless we are enemies now, you and I.’


Hostage Queen

My new novel, coming 1 April, is Hostage Queen.
After writing 25 family sagas I felt the need for a change. Do let me know what you think of it.

It is published by Severn House and you can find it on Amazon.

Marguerite de Valois is the most beautiful woman in the French Court, and the subject of great scandal and intrigue. Her own brothers: the mad Charles IX and the bisexual Henri III, will stop at nothing to control her. Margot loves Henri of Guise but is married off to the Huguenot Henry of Navarre. By this means her mother Catherine de Medici hopes to bring peace to the realm.

But within days of the wedding the streets of Paris are awash with blood in the Massacre of Saint Bartholomew. Not only is her new husband’s life in danger, but her own too as her mother and brother hold them hostage in the Louvre. Can they ever hope to escape and keep their heads? In a court rife with murder, political intrigue, debauchery, jealousy and the hunger for power, it will not be an easy task.

Author’s Note

Very little has needed to be invented in this story as Margot led a life full of incident, romance, intrigue and danger. I have nonetheless used my imagination to interpret her reaction to events, her love affairs, and to fill in any gaps. While historians agree that the seed for the Massacre of Saint Bartholemew was sown in the talks at Bayonne, there is some dispute on how much was pre-planned. I have made my own decision on this which I feel is logical. Where these are known, I have used a person’s actual words, modifying them slightly to suit the modern ear.