Archive for December, 2009



Herewith the third of my readings from the Romantic Novel of the Year longlist:  FAIRYTALE OF NEW YORK by Miranda Dickinson.

This is a first novel which Harper Collins UK Avon imprint harvested from their Authonomy website.  This facilitates writers critiquing each other’s work and is supposed to turn into a full service support-group.  This novel, then called Coffee at Kowalski’s, was well received – you can see some of the comments it got still on the site.  The Authonomy community loved Dickinson’s voice and her characters.

We’re close to chick lit country – narrator Rosie Duncan, self professed optimist, is a British florist living in New York, friend of hyper social New York Times columnist Celia and employer of a couple of lovable eccentrics, Ed the serial dater and Marnie the romantic disaster.  They’re all looking for love, with intermittent success, but they want respect in their work too, and they don’t hesitate to involve their friends in their personal schemes.  We’re in the common ground between Friends and Sex in the City, if you will.  

But, for an optimist, Rosie has  a surprising tendency to see the down side risk (even of free publicity for her beloved flower shop).  She is mourning the old man from whom she bought the shop (he boosted her confidence and taught her to take time out when a huge order  stressed her to breaking point).  And she has dreams in which she’s crying and saying, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry’.  As Mr Kowalski, whose gentle shade haunts this book says, ‘Sooner or later the thing you fear most will come to find you.’  

What Rosie fears is not a Bagshawe Assassin or even a Dillon Despairing Dog.  And no, I’m not going to tell you what it is, because the narrator doesn’t tell for ages.  But, believe me, when it comes, it’s wince-making.  

This is another book about a heroine, moving on, standing tall, dealing with her demons.  It is about friendship, and healing, and the delight of small things.  It is also a love letter to New York, its shops, its Sunday brunches, its frenetic, interlocking social scenes, its past.  In Dickinson’s hands, the Big Apple even turns into a kind place.  

A hopeful book.  

DECLARATION OF INTEREST   Miranda Dickinson is another stranger to me – and I’ve only visited the Authonomy site once before, too.



My second book off the Romantic Novel of the Year long list is PASSION by Louise Bagshawe.

Her publishers call it James Bond for girls and, on first finishing it, my question was ‘Why for girls?’   Because the author is a woman?  

This has all the ingredients of a classic action adventure:  devious men with dubious backgrounds;  relentless, professional killers;  power play at the highest levels;  conspicuous consumption; high octane sex; a nerve-wracking chase; mulitple disguises; and a super sexy, highly trained former secret agent hero who is the best of the best.  Doesn’t sound particularly girly, does it?

What it doesn’t have, I suppose, is the Fleming fascination with weaponry and exclusive brands,  nor the snobbery.  The gorgeous hero was a Barnardo’s boy – now a  billionaire banker, he goes to New York Private Views, but not to casinos or gentlemen’s clubs in St James’s.   And the heroine, though plain, ill-dressed and border-line depressed, is a respected academic . . . 

Ah, that’s why this is one for the girls.  The heroine has a brain.

It starts in Oxford with a teenage romance between don’s daughter and boy from the wrong side of the tracks.  It ends badly, scarring both.  But twenty years later, Will has not forgotten Melissa and the memory causes him to make connections between unexplained deaths . . . and to see, long before anyone else does, that his old flame is probably the next target.  He sets out to save her … and the hunt is on.

The action – and by golly there is plenty of it, edge of the seat stuff – moves from Oxford to London, New York to Boston, rural France and Rome , with stops off in Berlin, Caracas and the Gulf to tune into the Opposition.   The hero is rich – but the Opposition is richer.  The hero is shrewd and skilful with good friends still in the spying business who will help him out.  But the Opposition has limitless resources and access to the intelligence of several governments.  No doubt who the underdogs are and, indeed, Will and  Melissa end on their own with nothing to rely on but their courage, intelligence and resourcefulness.  (Their planning, by the way, separately and together, is one of the most rewarding bits of this book.)

A page turner.

DECLARATION OF INTEREST   Nope, don’t know Louise Bagshawe either.



I’m turning the year with a beastly lurgy. (Coughing so hard, my ribs hurt.) So I thought I would give myself afternoons in front of the fire with a comfort read. Fortunately the long list for the UK’s Romantic Novel of the Year is just out.

First off Waterstone’s shelf was LOST DOGS AND LONELY HEARTS by Lucy Dillon.

Lucy Dillon seems to have beaten the Curse of the Second Novel with this gentle, touching story of human rehabilitation by abandoned dogs. Rachel, glamorous PR person and ex-mistress-of-the-boss, is dumped and fired in one go and fetches up in a small Worcestershire town where her aunt has left her a dog sanctuary. Stunned and sad – and believe me, this writer is very good indeed at sadness and what it does to  people and dogs – Rachel pretty much falls into taking over. The first task is to make the kennels pay – which means finding human partners for the canine boat people under her roof, which in turn takes her out into the life of the town, making plans and crossing swords with the cryptic local vet. The second is to unravel the mystery left by her enigmatic aunt.

The characters are skilfully drawn, mostly well intentioned but often mistaken or, quite simply, inarticulate at the wrong time. The silence that grows between an infertile couple is almost too painful to bear at one point. You can see how it happens but equally, you can’t see how they will get out of it. (It takes a Basset-hound-provoked crisis.)

The dogs are as three dimensional as the human characters and just as engaging. The Basset does tend to take over (when don’t they?) but there is an incontinent Labrador pup and a managing sheep dog, which I also treasure. And recognise.

This is a book about reconciliation and kindness and letting go of bad stuff and it has a wonderfully believable and yet romantic ending.

Fab book. Big fat happy sigh

DECLARATION OF INTEREST Since I know several authors on the long list and at least two are seriously good mates, I thought it would be sound practice to state where I’m coming from, after every book I write about. Lucy Dillon is a stranger to me – unless I’ve met her at conferences and things under her real name of Ermyntrude Gutbucket, of course – and I haven’t read her first book. Yet.


I used to think of this end of the year as a steep, narrow crevasse. You hit rock bottom on the shortest day, 23rd December. Then started to climb out of the dark.

I now realise that time, like everything else, is more complicated than you think. Yesterday the evening got dark one minute later. But this morning it still got light later than yesterday.

So for about three weeks, the mornings carry on getting darker while the nights lighten up. Call it the turning circle on the Sea of Time.


… and the Henry Kissinger Memorial Cup goes to Morrissey?


When I was but a young thing, my father used to fulminate about Dr Henry Kissinger. Now, my father was a fully paid up socialist, a man of high principle who practised what he preached and might have been thought to have political differences with HK. That was not, however, the point at issue.

It was hopefully. Grinding his teeth, my father would point out that Hopefully never meant ‘with a bit of luck,’ until Henry Kissinger got hold of it, some time in the seventies. (As in ‘Hopefully discussion on Peace in the Middle East will resume tomorrow.’) It meant with hope in your heart and was a really, really nice word.

So, in memory of my father, I am harrumphing over singer Morrissey making over another excellent word, rodomontade.

I first came across it in Georgette Heyer, years ago. It was up there with enacting a Cheltenham Tragedy and meant, I thought, making a boastful song and dance about not very much, usually with a lot of over-cooked emotion thrown in.

Morrissey, however, interviewed on the BBC’s Desert Island Discs, thinks it is a Good Thing. Indeed, he says it is the reason he has a great Latino following in the States because they like the passion and rodomontade in his songs.

Well, maybe I was wrong. Heck (low be it spoken) maybe Georgette Heyer was wrong.

I did a bit of digging.

It’s a word Horace Walpole used in his gossipy letters and Memoirs of George II. George Washington, describing a battle, was said to have written, ‘I heard the bullets whistle, and, believe me, there is something charming in the sound.’ Reported Horace, ‘This rodomontade, reached the ears of George II. “He would not say so,” observed the king, dryly, “if he had been used to hear many.”’

According to Dr Johnson’s Dictionary (1755): to rodomontade is ‘To brag thrasonically; to boast like Rodomonte ‘

Er –

Thrasonical, thanks to Dr Johnson again, is from Thraso ‘a boaster in old comedy’ Actually Terence’s Eunuchus, according to the notes in Jack Lynch’s wondrous selections from The Great Work. Rodomonte is a boastful Saracen who can’t keep a girlfriend.  He pops up in Orlando Innamorato and Orlando Furioso, besieging Paris. Basically, I think we’re talking a Renaissance David Brent. Well, the quality of bragging has declined over the centuries.

So Heyer went with Walpole, Dr Johnson and the Oxford Dictionary. And then the word fell out of favour except with word addicts like me and fellow author Elizabeth Hawksley and my late father.

And then came Morrissey . . .