Having downloaded all of Lizzie Lamb’s books, I opened Boot Camp Bride. Remembering Lizzie Lamb’s Scottish romance books, I expected to be travelling with a man in a kilt. Instead, I was off to London with Charlee, a fledgling journalist. Charlee is forced to attend a boot camp to get a scoop for the magazine she works for. I adored the situation set up for this story – such fun! The author is very clever at painting her characters and adding poignant brushstrokes of humour and vulnerability. Oh my, Charlee’s anecdotes will chase away the winter blues!
Charlee guided me through her adventure, and I could not stop laughing. How does Lizzie Lamb manage to combine humour, adventure and romance? Charlee was feisty, fun, intelligent and clumsy – perfect. Undeterred by the alpha male, she managed to fight him with wit and stubbornness. Lizzie Lamb’s characters and style of writing sparkle in Boot Camp Bride. This romantic comedy is classic gold: it is the equivalent of comfort food and a good night out with friends.
The soundtrack track to Spectre boomed, as I read the opening chapters of Boot Camp Bride, and Charlee was assigned her first undercover operation as a ‘faux’ bride. And her ‘self- assurance and sassiness’ made this an absolute hoot. Charlee’s ‘off the cuff remarks’ constantly entertain. I adored this refreshingly bubbly style of writing. The wit and tension fizzed and bubbled like a good Champagne. At this point, Charlee would observe:
‘If she was beginning to think in clichés, it was time for her to put down the empty glass.’
However, I didn’t have a glass of anything. It was a joy to immerse myself in Charlee’s world. She spoke before she put her brain into gear and is charming, funny and endearing. Lizzie Lamb used her characteristic turn of phrase to describe that moment when one says the wrong thing:
‘As the seconds drew out, Charlee imagined she could hear the tick of the grandfather clock marking time: feel the chill wind of disapproval whistling round her ankles…’
This captured the moment perfectly! I think there is an element of Charlee in all of us. She is a very real, honest and intelligent young woman. Then there is the experienced Bear Grylls meets James Bond type hero, Rafa Fonseca Ffinch, but thankfully he doesn’t take himself too seriously. I adored the sparks flying between Charlee and Rafa combined with the calamities. Furthermore, the dialogue is superb, and the scenes were filmic in quality. Lizzie Lamb is very skilled at challenging stereotypes for comic effect.
The narrative hurtles at great speed while the humour awaits the reader around every corner. Even the weather manages to mock Charlee as ‘hailstones hurled themselves at the window aided and abetted by a cutting wind off the marshes.’ Clever writing makes this novel feel like a trusty companion – I loved it! It is the sort of book one can return to chase away the blues!
After teaching my 1000th pupil and working as a deputy head teacher in a large primary school, I decided to pursue my first love: writing. I joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writers’ Scheme, wrote Tall, Dark and Kilted (2012), followed a year later by Boot Camp Bride. Although much of my time is taken up publicising Tall, Dark and Kilted and Boot Camp Bride, I published a third novel Scotch on The Rocks in July 2015. It achieved Best Seller status within two weeks of appearing on Amazon. I am a founding member of an indie publishing group – New Romantics Press and have held an Author Event at Waterstones High Street, Kensington, London. The icing on the cake, as far we are concerned, and a fitting way to celebrate our achievements. March 2016 saw Scotch on the Rocks shortlisted for the prestigious Exeter Novel Prize and in November 2016 I held an author talk in London, at Aspinalls. In Spring 2017 I published – Girl In The Castle, which reached #3 in the charts. I am currently working on a novel set in Wisconsin – Take Me I’m Yours, and have more Scottish-themed romances planned.
The beautiful cobbled streets of Beverley, East Yorkshire, proved a little difficult on the icy winter’s day. It was such a nostalgic trip for me as we had visited some dear friends there over a decade ago. Amazingly, Cut-Price Bookshop was still there, and I hope Rhoda would direct me there later, as I had a great big pink bag ready. Although bracing, the cool air had brought a beautiful covering of snow to the ancient town. It was very tempting to stop and browse in the independent shops, but I was meeting Rhoda Baxter, romantic novelist, in ten minutes.
Wrapped in a long, dark coat, large colourful scarf and wearing my Ugg boots, I quickened my pace the tiny Bistro. Rhoda smiled, greeted me and organised a lovely array of tea and cakes. My favourite sweet treats were the double chocolate brownies. I removed my coat and sat on one of the bistro chairs. Rhoda was bundled up against the cold and had to remove several layers before she got down to hear practical jeans and sweater. She retrieved her book entitled Girl in Trouble from her multicoloured handbag. It was such a delight for me to be back in Yorkshire speaking with a fellow Yorkshire lass.
Jessie: It is wonderful to be back in Yorkshire. What do you like most about Yorkshire?
Rhoda: The people! Everyone is so friendly here and there so much less tension in the day to day interactions. I lived down south for a while and whenever we go back to visit friends, we feel the difference immediately. My youngest, who can’t remember living anywhere but here, is always surprised at how when she says hello to people in London, they ignore her!
Also, I’m a big fan of cake. Beverley and York have some amazing cake shops.
I retrieved a copy of Rhoda’s book, ‘Girl in Trouble’, from my handbag. It was easy to spot the familiar bright cover of a glamorous character on the jacket. As we waited for more tea to arrive we settled to discuss Rhoda’s work.
Jessie:Your romantic novels look great. Your characters look feisty and fun and Sue Moorcroft described them as ‘the real deal’. Tell me about your characters. Can you capture the essence of ‘Girl in Trouble’ in a few sentences?
Rhoda: My characters often just turn up in my head and start talking. I don’t know their stories, but I know their voices. I’ve had several readers say that my characters feel real to them. That’s the highest praise, as far as I’m concerned. My characters are real to me. They live in my head for the duration while I’m writing their book and I miss them when I finish the story.
One of the reasons I started writing was because in the early 2000s, I got into reading romances and I felt that only a certain type of person was represented in popular romance. All the women were likable and unobjectionable, and all the men were super confident, well-muscled and over bearing. Where were the nice guys? Or the women who were smart and career minded? Or even ones who were slightly hard edged?
Girl in Trouble is about two people who are a little different to what society expects. Olivia is a ladette and there isn’t much that will faze her. Walter is a nice guy and is scared of spiders. One of their first interactions is when Olivia has to rescue him from a spider. Olivia is adamant she doesn’t need a man in her life, even when things go horribly wrong. How can Walter persuade the most independent woman he’s ever met to accept his help, let alone his heart?
Jessie: I know you have been nominated for writing awards. What have the reviewers said about ‘Girl in Trouble’?
Rhoda gave a wry smile then scrolled through the reviews of her novel on Amazon.
Most people said it made them laugh and cry in equal measure. I love that!
” there was a real punch of emotional depth – one minute I’d be grinning at what the characters were saying or doing and the next I was fighting tears.” (Amazon review)
“This book with make you laugh out loud at times but will also frustrate you and make you cry. Everything you need for a great romance. ” (Amazon review)
“Baxter’s narrative sets up the sentimental situation only to send it spinning in entirely unexpected directions.” (Romance Novels for Feminists)
Jessie: ‘Girl in Trouble’ sounds like a romance with a strong character – perfect! Can you read a brief extract to tempt the reader?
Rhoda: He leaned back, flustered. Much as he found her attractive, the idea of being pounced on by her was a tiny bit scary. But, only a tiny bit. Which wasn’t all that scary, come to think of it.
Jessie:Wow! Your book sounds like fun! I can sense you enjoyed interacting with your characters. How did you feel when you had finished writing your book, and did you miss any of the characters?
Rhoda: I missed the characters so much that I wrote a follow up novella! Olivia first appeared as a minor character in ‘Girl Having A Ball’ (which was nominated for a RoNA Romantic Novel of the Year award). She’s confident and independent and doesn’t take crap from anyone. I loved her so much that I had to write this book to see what happened to her. I wish I was more like Olivia really. Walter, the hero, is a nice guy. I like beta heroes because they usually have wit and charm (as well being attractive) and I know I’d like to spend time with a man like that!
Jessie:I love the way you present the characters you want to spend time with. It must be great to create the characters you are fond of. Who would you like to read your book and why? This could be another author, someone famous, a friend or a member of your family.
Rhoda: I’ve love for Emma Watson to read my book. ‘Girl In Trouble’ has a major theme of fathers and daughters, but underneath there’s quite a lot about gender stereotyping and the double standards that we apply to men and women. Boys don’t cry. Girls don’t climb trees (or whatever). I think it would chime with a lot of things Emma Watson raised in her He For She speech.
Jessie: Why should I keep your book in my handbag?
Because it will make you laugh and cry and, by the end, you’ll have met some people who feel like they are real friends.
Jessie: Tell me about your favourite handbag.
Rhoda:The bag is from a shop in Sri Lanka called Barefoot. They make wonderful things out of handloom fabrics. This bag has loads of little pockets inside, so that I can find what I’m looking for (I have two youngish kids – being able to find the packet of tissues at just the right moment is very important!). It’s a colourful, but sensible bag because I can fill it with useful things, sling it across me and run.
Jessie:What is the last sentence written in your writer’s notebook?
Rhoda: ‘beachwear and cocktail umbrellas?’ It’s a note to myself to figure out some details about my characters who are stranded on a tropical island with only a few bags they took on holiday. I liked the idea of them having a box of something that is completely useless – like cocktail umbrellas. They’re red, these cocktail umbrellas. They must be useful for something, right?
Jessie:What is the biggest challenge for an author?
Rhoda: Keeping going. I write because I love it and I don’t know what else I’d do with these people who keep popping up in my head. Writing books is hard, but marketing is harder. Nowadays, authors are expected to do a lot of marketing themselves and really, most of us are very shy. I can’t think of anything worse that going up to a stranger and saying ‘hey, I’ve written a book, wanna buy a copy’… but that is exactly what I need to learn to do.
Jessie: Where is your favourite writing place?
Rhoda: My favourite writing place is really my bed – but you don’t want a picture of me in my scratty pyjamas. So here’s a picture of my shed instead. I often sit in there at the weekend and do my editing work. There’s a battered old sofa and a collection of blankets in there, so it’s lovely and cosy even when it’s not the sunniest of days.
Jessie:What is the best advice that you have received as a writer?
Rhoda: Write. Edit. Submit. Repeat. Improve each time you go round the cycle.
Rhoda is very serious about girls being allowed to do whatever they feel a passion for. Rhoda is also serious about cake. she’d choose tea and cake over alcohol any day.
Rhoda likes to see the humour in a situation, she says it’s her way of dealing with the dark side of life.
It was wonderful to meet a fun, Yorkshire lass in Beverley. Rhoda adds feisty, independent women in her books and that is appealing. Rhoda’s lively, positive nature suggests her books will be a joy to read. Best of luck to Rhoda with ‘Girl in Trouble’.
Open Adrienne Vaughan’s That Summer at the Seahorse Hotel to enter the world of Hollywood glamour. Allow the camera to reveal a bird’s eye view of the enchanting Irish coast. Observe the long shot of the ‘regal and resplendent’ Georgian mansion. Pan across to the sea lapping, like a temptress, on the shore. Dissolve to the medium closeup of a red-haired beauty sitting at the water’s edge like a mermaid. Cut to the hero and fade… Don’t worry if you can’t imagine these scenes, just let Adrienne Vaughan’s words roll into your imagination and paint the picture for you. Let this author enchant you with the setting and enigmatic characters as she adds colour.
Enjoy the sight of ‘the sun dripping over the horizon as the night’s velvet promise smeared the purple sky.’ As you visualise the scene, you will be intrigued by the hidden secrets. For instance, who is Mia’s father, and how does this relate to the lyrical prologue at the beginning of the narrative? Mysteries linked to the characters’ lives and the history of the place are cleverly interwoven into the fabric of the narrative.
Like a skilled seamstress, Adrienne Vaughan has sewn the narrative together. But, everything is held together by the wonderfully flamboyant Archie, a Hollywood screen legend. Before dying, Archie, the fairy godfather, weaves his magic and leaves threads of happiness for the characters in the story. Oh, how I adore Archie’s philosophy of life! He is ‘teasingly playful and lethal at the same time’ – he even knows how manipulate destiny. He has enjoyed a decadent lifestyle at Galty Manor, but he has shared it with the people he loves – and made them all his forever family. And his home is a haven for lost souls. He knows how to make everyone feel better, including the actress, Fenella, who has ‘beauty and brains’. For Archie, ‘Champagne makes everything better.’ Fenella and Trixie concur that ‘a girl needs champagne, vitamin C and good mates’ when Mia is heartbroken.
Is Archie Mia’s father? This question bubbles throughout the novel. Such is the charm of Archie that one wills him to be the father. Mia is tormented by the same question. Archie sets up meetings designed to make Mia evaluate on her own life. Archie compares ten year old Pearl to the younger Mia and says the child is ‘amazing’. Mia reflects ‘when do you grow out of being amazing’. It would seem Archie orchestrates encounters and experiences to help his precious loved ones to remember who they are. Indeed, he writes his own plays and seems to be determined to influence the events in his loved one’s lives. I loved this hint of magic and the essence of fairy-tale running cleverly through the novel. The novel examines the concept of family and the way others can play a significant role in a person’s life. There is a heart-warming message threaded throughout the characters’ turmoil.
Just like on the silver screen, this novel celebrates the ‘power of dreams’. Take several leading ladies, a mermaid Cinderella and a fairy godfather. Let the dreams take you to the magical coast of Ireland where the ocean displays ‘a myriad of colours sparkling and inviting’. But, be prepared for tales of ‘a dark stormy night’ and some dark events. This story will beguile you, as it pulls you into the drama and mystery where ‘black clouds of angry clouds split across the orange sky’. You may not want to leave ‘the busy, happy house’ unless you wander down to the summerhouse or take a trip on Archie’s yacht. You are sure to find ‘a perfect day for memory making’ when you visit the glorious house and setting. Sadly, Archie will exit centre stage, at some stage; happily, he will have a plan for the loved ones waiting in the wings. But who will inherit his fortune and will his sister live happily ever after? What does Sister Agnes know about the past? Long after you have finished this novel, and the credits roll, you will be thinking about the magic of this story and its layers of meaning, behind the scenes.
More about Adrienne Vaughan
Adrienne Vaughan has been making up stories since she could speak; primarily to entertain her sister Reta, who from a very early age never allowed a plot or character to be repeated – tough gig!
As soon as she could pick up a pen, she started writing them down. No surprise she wanted to be a journalist; ideally the editor of a glossy music and fashion magazine, so she could meet and marry a rock star – some of that came true! And in common with so many, she still holds the burning ambition to be a ‘Bond Girl’.