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Monday, 30 July 2012

Monday Fun Run - Part 4

Wendy Beeler: photo Antarctic Photo Library
I'd now reached the stage in my running apprenticeship of running for one minute, then walking for two minutes and doing an increasing number of repetitions. I was now managing nearly half an hour of vigorous exercise per day, four times a week. This doesn't sound like much, but only a few years ago I couldn't walk any further than the kitchen door. A severe allergic reaction had left me with cellulitis and reactive arthritis. I've never been one for dashing about, preferring cake and couch and writing is a pretty sedentary occupation. I was really pleased with what 'd achieved so far, so when my sister told me she'd started Jillian Michaels' 30 Day Shred system, I thought I'd give it a try. The DVD was on special offer at Amazon, so that was this week's prize when I kept with the Running Made Easy plan from Zest magazine. It was great, though as a born couch potato I kept the remote control to hand so I could stop it for a rest when things got too frantic!Within a few days of working through the basic exercises I could keep up with the DVD, but found I didn't have enough energy left for running. Deciding to concentrate on one thing at a time I stopped the exercises, but I'll start them again when the days get shorter. Running in the cold and dark really doesn't appeal to me!

Friday, 27 July 2012

Why I Made My Latest Heroine A Swot...

When I was a child, anything I turned up in the garden or on holiday beaches had to be washed and inspected - from blue and white china to hagstones. The best bits were stowed in a box of "treasure" under my bed, with tons of  other out-of-context junk. My favourite TV programmes were In Search of the Dark Ages*, Chronicle and the pre-dumbed down Horizon (Paul Vaughan, thou should'st be narrating at this hour). Spending all my time out of doors meant I was never pasty, but I was a swot and suffered for it at my sport-obsessed school. 
Years passed, I met my perfect man and settled down to my ideal job as a writer. We started a family when Time Team was still Time Signs, so you can tell how long ago that was. Years of exposure to Phil Harding and co. had a subliminal effect on our daughter. She is studying archaeology at university, with time off for good behaviour spent in the excavation at Silchester. Writers aren't the only people whose job is also their hobby!
It's always seemed a shame to me that armies of diggers and academics work so hard in unglamorous situations for so little reward. For every Staffordshire Hoard, there must be a million middens to be excavated. That's why Josie the trowel jockey in The Count's Prize turns Cinderella, and I hope you all enjoy reading her story as much as I enjoyed writing it.

*And IMHO, Michael Wood is still orders of magnitude better looking than Sir Mortimer Wheeler.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

The Count's Prize

I've had such lovely messages about my latest release for Harlequin, The Count's Prize, I thought it was about time I included it in my blog.  It's set in my favourite part of Italy, where the landscape inspires romance that tempts Josie to break her rule about never mixing business with pleasure...

He was standing so close to her, Josie could feel his presence as well as catch the delicious drift of his aftershave. It gave her a tremulous feeling deep within her body.

What's happening to me? I've come here to work, she thought in alarm, glancing up at him.
Dario was gazing out across the view, lost in thought. At that moment, as though feeling her gaze fall on him, he turned his head and their eyes met. Another sensuous ripple thrilled straight through her. 
And, as if knowing what was going through her mind, Dario granted her a slow, sweet, irresistible smile.
Copyright, Harlequin Mills and Boon Ltd. 2012

I'm delighted that so many of you have been in touch to say how you enjoyed Josie and Dario's story. In making my heroine a successful archaeologist I was going out on a bit of a limb but the reaction of readers was so positive, it gave me an idea for my current work in progress. The discovery of a dazzling treasure leads to danger...
Watch this space for further developments!

Monday, 23 July 2012

Monday Fun Run - Part 3

My first running sessions had been done in private, on a treadmill, well out of sight of anyone. As a reward for being brave enough to go out running on the roads, I bought myself a cheap sports watch so I would know when to alternate my minutes of running and walking. It was either that, or keep on carrying the kitchen timer! The thought of being seen running at all was embarrassing enough. For someone to spot me with the timer would have ended my running career before it started.
It was my birthday during the week, which luckily fell on a rest day. A bad reaction to an insect bite on my foot meant I could barely walk anyway, so I spent the day in the garden being waited on by my lovely family.  I made this my weekly treat - a whole day doing nothing but reading, writing and generally pottering about.
Going out for a run the next day was a bit difficult, but it was amazing how much better I felt once I made the effort and got out into the fresh air - and drizzle, which was fast becoming a fixture in my running life! 

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Two By Two...

English people are supposed to be obsessed by the weather. This is often true, but then as the saying goes, other countries have a climate. Here in the UK, we have weather. I think we can all be forgiven for obsessing about it a bit during 2012. For the first few months of the year, a drought was declared after several very dry winters. According to the Met Office men, being snowbound for days on end doesn't count. That's the "wrong sort of moisture", apparently. Some parts of our relatively small country were under hosepipe bans, although here in our part of Gloucestershire it never got that bad. Then it began to rain, and any number of events were waterlogged, including Queen Elizabeth's Jubilee. After that things went from bad to worse. Festival sites were jammed with vehicles axle deep in mud. Tottering Towers could have been twinned with Camelot - each summer morning dawned with glorious blue skies, but the fantasy was soon blotted out by black clouds in time for the deluge to really get under way after dark. Tottering Towers stands near the top of a hill, but even so everywhere is saturated. The grass gets squelchier the closer you get to the bottom greenhouse, but once inside it's a warm, dry haven. Unfortunately I'm not the only one who enjoys its protection: it's become a Noah's Ark for just about every vole, shrew and mouse for miles around. I've caught dozens for release a couple of miles away in the woods, but I'm not convinced they don't find their way straight back! They've excavated tunnels under all the borders, so most of the  plants look pretty sick. Luckily, we'd enjoyed all the strawberries from the greenhouse while the weather was still dry,  but the little pests have started shinning up the cherry tomato plants to get at the fruit! 

Monday, 16 July 2012

Monday Fun Run - Part 3


Puffing along on a treadmill at the start of Running Made Easy's Sixty-Second-Secret Plan was really difficult for me. At first it was taxing physically, but soon boredom took over. Staring at the primrose coloured kitchen wall was pretty boring. Reading on the run proved tricky, although listening to the radio helped the time pass more quickly. The plan encourages you to treat yourself each time you complete a full week of exercise. My first treat was a new incubator, for hatching chicken eggs. That was a great incentive to carry me through week two, but I had to move the treadmill out into the conservatory. The kitchen wall had become just too boring, and as my sessions of running gradually got longer, I was getting too hot to exercise indoors. Finally, I got to the stage where making a fool of myself in public was preferable to running another yard on that blasted treadmill. On the Monday of my third week on the plan, I got up at 4:30am and set off to run in the woods. At that stage my only proper running gear was a sports bra, some compression leggings and a decent pair of trainers. I borrowed one of my OH's t-shirts which was big and baggy enough to cover the lumps and bumps thrown into relief by my leggings, and carried the electronic kitchen timer to time my alternate bursts of running and brisk walking.  Luckily, I had finished my session and was back home before anyone was about to hear the peeping of my novelty alarm, but it convinced me my reward that week should be a proper sports watch!  

I'm blogging over at www.authorsoundrelations.blogspot.com on Tuesday 17th July. It's about My Perfect Man, and  a signed copy of my latest release The Count's Prize will be awarded to a comment picked at random from the comments made on my authorsoundrelations blog that day.  I'd love you to drop by!

Christina Hollis writes Modern Romance for Harlequin Mills and Boon Ltd, when she isn't  working in the garden, with her bees or daydreaming about resuming her abandoned Classical Studies. You can catch up with her at http://www.christinahollis.com,on Facebook and on Twitter, where she tweets as @christinabooks.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Favourite Tips For Busy Writers.



The school holidays are here, and my best tip is to keep the alarm set for the usual time. Without lunches to pack and the school run to organise, I can squeeze some extra writing time out of each day, especially if the children have a lie in! 
It doesn’t matter whether you’re writing solely for you own pleasure or with the aim of getting published, you want to produce the best piece of work you possibly can. Here are a few more tips I’ve found useful in my  own writing life...
  1. Read as widely as you can, and write all the time. Take classes, whether ‘real’ or online. Visit your local library to find out about local groups for readers and writers, and check out online sites such as http://romanceuniversity.org. Join groups such as The Romantic Novelists’ Association (http://www.rna-uk.org/) in the UK or Romance Writers of America (http://www.rwa.org/) who provide lots of useful information and contacts. If you intend trying to sell your work, research the market and target your writing carefully before you start.
  1. Set aside some time for yourself every single day. This should preferably be dedicated writing time, but thinking time can be equally productive as long as you remember to write all your brilliant thoughts down the second you get the chance! 
  1. Read your work aloud. It’s amazing what a different perspective this gives you. It’s best to do this when you’re on your own somewhere, whether in the house or outside in an isolated spot. That way, you can really inject some feeling into your precious words.
  1. Writing what pleases you should always be top of your agenda, but if you intend writing for an audience, constructive criticism is invaluable. Once you are completely happy with your work, hand it over to someone you can trust to tell the truth, whether good or bad.  What they didn’t like, and why is as important as what they did like.
  1. Check everything, and always keep your spellchecker switched on. Keep a pad and pencil close at hand at all times to make notes when you think of them. It’s so easy to forget to do it later. Like ‘tomorrow’, ‘later’ never comes. Follow up that lead - you never know when you might strike lucky. Polish your manuscript until it shines, and when you send out a query letter make sure you go the extra mile and find out the name of the person best placed to help you. A personally addressed letter or email shows you’ve taken special care. And finally...
 NEVER GIVE UP 
If you’ve got a good story to tell and you take the time and trouble to hone your craft, you’ll always find an outlet for your talent.
What are your favourite tips for authors? A copy of my latest release for Harlequin Mills and Boon, The Count’s Prize, will be awarded at random for one of the comments.

Christina Hollis writes Modern Romance for Harlequin Mills and Boon Ltd, when she isn't  working in the garden, busy with her bees or daydreaming about resuming her abandoned Classical Studies. You can catch up with her at http://www.christinahollis.comhttp://www.christinahollis.blogspot.com on Facebook and on Twitter, where she tweets as @christinabooks.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

It Was This Big - Honest...



European Otter, photo taken by Bernard Landgraf, 
It was the last school run of the year this week. I drove Son Number One the two miles to the coach stop, parked  in the pub car park then crossed the quiet country road to the coach stop as usual. It's something we've done for the last forty weeks without incident, but on this final occasion there was a surprise waiting. There was something visible on the path, which runs along the River Wye.  A dead rabbit, we thought at first, or maybe a squirrel. As we got closer, we could see it was a carp - dead, but very fresh.  I know the width of my clenched fist with thumb extended is exactly six inches, so I measured the fish.  It was exactly two feet long from nose to tail, and more than eight inches across at its widest part. Something - either a mink or an otter, had pulled it out of the Wye and dragged it up the bank to the path. The predator had eaten the fish's head and all the innards, but must have been disturbed before it could start on the flesh. The carp was so fresh, it could only have been out of the water for a matter of minutes.  It was such a beautiful specimen it seemed a shame to leave nature to deal with it. I was once invited dinner with an Eastern European family on Christmas Eve. They cooked an enormous carp, and served it with pike dumplings. That was an incredible feast, but not being a fisherman I wasn't sure of the rights and wrongs of picking up such a good fish so easily - and I didn't want to deprive whatever had originally caught the fish of its breakfast!  

Monday, 9 July 2012

Monday Fun Run - Part 2

Last Monday I told how this couch potato was tipped onto her two feet by a bad health report. Fired by a vague notion of running up one of Gloucestershire's long and unforgiving hills, I tried the NHS get fit plan and dropped out on the first day. Then my daughter found the book Running Made Easy at our local library. She borrowed it - I read it.  As a confirmed five-toed sloth I never imagined I'd read a book on moving about at speed, but I read to from cover to cover, then went out and bought my own copy. I loved the approach, and couldn't wait to get started. I'd heartily recommend this book to anyone who, like me, didn't even know there were books on running. I'd assumed you ran flat out from the start - that was why I flaked out a few minutes into the Couch to 5k regime.   The Running Made Easy book is much more laid back and really appealed to my need for boxes to fill in and charts to complete. If you want to go the whole way, the book is an offshoot of Zest magazine. I hadn't heard of that either, so in case you've never seen it here's a link to their latest issue: http://www.zest.co.uk/general/inside-our-july-issue/3379.html although quite honestly if I'd caught sight of that before I read the book, I wouldn't have needed their Sixty Second Secret Plan. I would have run a mile, no incentive needed!
Running Made Easy consists of a detailed plan to get you from a state of total indolence to adrenalin junkie within the space of ten weeks. includes a mission statement which you can tailor to your own needs and desires. You read this every day, and each time you complete a day of the plan, you allow yourself one little treat. At the end of each full week you get a bigger treat and after completing the whole plan you get your heart's desire - or at least, the bog indulgence you promised yourself when you first filled in your mission statement. My daily treats included "ten minutes watching the bees" "half an hour working on the garden" or "thirty minutes reading". My weekly treats included "buy a book", "go to the hairdressers" or  "eat a bear claw".  For someone who loves cake and hates exercise as much as I do, that was a real incentive!

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Monday Fun Run

Writing is such a sedentary occupation. My daily commute between desk and fridge could hardly be called exercise and although I wear a pedometer everywhere and try to do 12k steps per day, all that chocolate cake was heading south and staying there. You know what they say - "A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips"! I belonged (reluctantly) to a gym for years, until I was seven months pregnant with my last baby. When I fell asleep on one of the static bikes, I decided it was time to give in gracefully. Actually it was a relief - I had no interest in the competitive aspect of who had the latest kit, and the fees were rising every year.
Spool on a dozen years. We were on our way to The Organic Food Shop, which involves driving up Crickley Hill.  This is notorious locally as the graveyard of juggernauts, especially in icy weather. Here's the view from the top:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/gloucestershire/360/crickley_hill.shtml
 As we ground our way slowly up the endless incline, I heard myself saying : "I wonder if I could run up here?". I have no idea where that idea came from. I hadn't done any sort of exercise for a dozen years, beyond walking to and from school on the daily delivery. At school, I'd been the kid who was always last to be picked for teams. My love of food and driving a desk all day had a terrible effect on me. To cap it all, a bout of reactive arthritis had left me nervous of stressing my joints - well, that was my excuse, anyway. That one idle thought would have gone the way of all the rest, but a few weeks later our local clinic offered free health checks. As walking wasn't shifting my excess baggage and I'm congenitally unable to diet (I was born without willpower), I decided to go along in the hope they'd say "You're fine. Keep taking the chocolate cake."
Unfortunately, they didn't. I had to get active, and they recommended the NHS's "Couch to 5k Plan". I tried it, and it almost killed me. Too unfit to risk ridicule by running on the roads, I started on a treadmill. Week One was supposed to be a brisk five minute walk, the running for 60 seconds followed by walking for 90 seconds, repeated for twenty minutes. I did one repetition, had to walk for two minutes the second time, then gave up. It felt like the NHS was trying to drum up business rather than get me fit. There had to be another way, but I was too exhausted to look for it. Luckily, a few weeks later DD came home from the library with a book called "Running Made Easy". It was funny, it was non-threatening, and best of all, it made me want to try again...
I'll be updating my progress regularly, so call back to see whether I ever get to run up Crickley Hill.
Have you got a huge ambition?