June, 2011


24
Jun 11

Something from Tiffany’s, by Melissa Hill

Melissa Hill’s No. 1 bestseller  is, quite simply, a wonderful book. From the beautiful, ‘Tiffany-blue’ cover with the embossed silver heart and gorgeous white bow (which I just had to keep running my fingers over) to the very last twist on the very last page, this is a real treat. Melissa has crafted a stylish, pacy, engaging story which you will struggle to put down until you know how everything turns out. From the unexpected twist in the opening chapter, you know you’re in for something a bit special.

The story starts in Tiffany’s 5th Avenue store in New York on Christmas Eve (I know, you’re already hooked!). Ethan and his daughter Daisy are shopping for a very expensive and beautiful engagement ring for Vanessa, Ethan’s girlfriend. Meanwhile, Gary is last-minute shopping for his girlfriend Rachel and settles on a relatively inexpensive charm bracelet. When Gary is knocked down by a taxi outside the store, Ethan and Daisy rush to help – resulting in the trademark ‘little blue bags’ being mixed up.

On Christmas morning, when Vanessa opens the box containing the charm bracelet she is a little disappointed and Ethan is – well – totally confused. Gary, meanwhile, recovers from his accident and when he and Rachel eventually exchange christmas gifts,  and she opens the box containing the engagement ring, he thinks all his  christmasses have come at once – quite literally! She is, unsurprisingly over the moon, if a little surprised as she wasn’t expecting a proposal at all.

From there on in the dilemma is clear: how will Ethan get the ring back, will Gary ever confess to how the ring came to be in his possession and will Rachel ever put two and two together and realise what has happened?

The story moves easily between New York, London and Dublin – where the majority of the action takes place in ‘Stromboli’ – the bistro Rachel owns with her business partner and best friend Terri. The dialogue rips along  while the bread slowly rises and things come to boiling point when Ethan, Vanessa, Rachel, Gary – and the ring –  all end up in the bistro together. At times I wanted to shout at one or another of the characters as, just when it looked like the truth would come out, it didn’t! As I said, this is an engaging book!

As with Melissa’s other novels,there are plenty of unexpected twists and turns along the way to keep you hooked until the very end; whoever you are rooting for.

If this book was a movie it would be the style of ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’, mixed with a sprinkling of ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ magic and a dash of homemade goodness from ‘Julie & Julia’ – all carefully kneaded and rolled into one, delicious, un-put-downable treat.

One final note – Ethan’s daughter, Daisy, believes in a bit of Tiffany’s magic – and by the end of this novel, I dare you not to believe in it either!

*

Melissa is the best-selling author of no less than ten novels (phew). I spoke to her about her life as a writer and to find out how on earth she manages it all.

When did you start writing and when was your first publishing deal?
I first took the writing plunge in 2002 after reading a disappointing novel on a long flight. I naively muttered to hubby that I thought I could do better myself, and he challenged me to give it a go. I soon found out that writing a novel was much harder than I’d thought, but difficult or not, I enjoyed the writing process so much that I didn’t want to stop and I still haven’t!

I was extremely lucky to find an agent within a month of finishing my first book, SOMETHING YOU SHOULD KNOW and a publisher a couple of months after that. Looking back it all sounds very straightforward, but I remember it as being the most nail-biting time of my life. When I got the call, my agent mentioned something about an advance and I stupidly thought that this was what I had to pay the publishers to get my book published (and was fully prepared to do so)!

LOL! A nice surprise then when you realised it was actually the other way around! So, how long does it take you to write a novel?
Usually it takes me about six months to write the first draft and then another month or two for tweaking and edits, so about eight months in all. But SOMETHING FROM TIFFANY’S was a bit different because my baby daughter arrived right in the middle of it, which slowed the whole process down just a little while I tried to get used to the sleepless nights, so it took the best part of a year to complete. Her appearance means that I’ve had to become much more dilligent and efficient with my time, as does the fact that I’m involved in writing two books a year now – one of my own and another co-written with my hubby.

I’m impressed that you manage to write anything at all !
It can be challenging, as it is for every working parent. But right from the beginning, hubby and I worked out a relay system, so that when one of us is writing, the other keeps tabs on baby while dealing with other publishing-related admin. It doesn’t always work out so well; especially as she’s becoming much more active, and only recently she crawled the whole way into the dishwasher while I was editing. I blame the dog who saw it all and didn’t raise the alarm. Lassie he isn’t.

I think I’ll have to come round to your house – it sounds hysterical! So, how did you get the idea for ‘Something From Tiffany’s’?
I’ve been in love with the idea of the little blue box and its related allure since my very lovely publishers Hodder gave me a gorgeous Tiffany’s charm bracelet (much like the one Gary buys in the novel) when BEFORE I FORGET went to No 1. After that, every time I went to New York I visited the Fifth Avenue store for a charm to add to the bracelet, and one time I had a good scoot around the diamond floor, where I saw all these loved-up couples choosing their engagement rings and walking away happily swinging bags containing that little blue box. Each Tiffany’s shopping bag looks the same, irrespective of what’s inside, and there and then the thought struck me – imagine the mayhem if a couple of identical bags with very different contents got mixed up?

Who is your favourite character in the novel?
I’m sure many readers will disagree but I have to say Gary. He was so much fun to write, because despite being such a dunderhead and so frustrating at times, he is without doubt the most complex character in the novel. He finds it difficult to be straight up about his failings, preferring to hide behind a macho persona, which I think can often be the case with many Irish men.

No comment! And, what is your favourite ‘author’ moment to date (apart from aforementioned Tiffany’s gift!)?
I think for most authors, reaching No 1 for the first time has to be special. For me, I honestly didn’t expect it, as the book in question, NEVER SAY NEVER had been sitting at No 2 behind a really popular Richard & Judy pick for about three weeks, and not for one second did I anticipate passing it . But somehow on the fourth week I managed it (I’m still convinced my mother went out and bought a stack of them), and I remember the pure elation I felt when I heard the news.

So, what are you working on next – any details or juicy insights to the next novel?!
I’m busy at work on a new book about an Irish couple who are determined to get married abroad, despite howls of protest from friends and families who for various reasons try to convince them to do the traditional big church wedding at home.

Oooo, sounds excellent (and horribly familiar!). So, finally, do you have Terri’s (from the novel) famous sourdough recipe for us to pass onto our significant others, you know, just in case they have anything special they’d like to hide in a loaf of bread?!
In small saucepan, heat milk and pre-prepared yeast shortener. Set aside and allow to cool until lukewarm. In large bowl, add sugar and salt. Pour in warm milk and melted shortener. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Add flour, half a cup at a time, until dough is too thick to be mixed with wooden spoon. Turn dough out on floured board and begin to knead for 10 minutes, adding flour when dough gets sticky. Leave dough to rise for 90 mins, then cover and let rise for further 30 mins. Then shape dough into a round loaf, place on greased baking sheet, cover and let rise for another 60 minutes or until double in size. Preheat oven 180 C. Bake for 40 minutes or until bread sounds hollow.

Amazing – I’m off to bake a batch!

Melissa  lives in Dublin with her husband and baby daughter. To get in touch visit Melissa’s website or Facebook page or follow her on Twitter @hillmelissa

‘Something from Tiffany’s’ is out now in the UK and Ireland and is also available at Amazon.co.uk and to download for Kindle. With many thanks to Sheila Crowley at Curtis Brown and Joanna at Hachette Ireland for organising my review copy.


8
Jun 11

Rival Passions by Zoe Miller


If you like your summer reads to come with a side order of glamour and sizzle, then Rival Passions is one for you.  Set amid a stunning backdrop of five star hotels and swanky champagne-fuelled parties, this is definitely a book to pack for your summer holidays.

Serena Taylor and Jack Devlin are twins who have taken over the running of the family hotel, Tamarisk Manor, from their mother Charlotte.  While Jack has been getting over his wife’s death, Serena has thrown herself headfirst into the business of ensuring Tamarisk remains the haven of choice for well-heeled celebrities, but she is struggling to balance her roles of businesswoman, wife and mother; just one of the ‘rival passions’ which is addressed in the book and a familiar conflict which many readers will identify with.

While taking time out in France at Tamarisk’s sister hotel ‘La Mimosa’, Jack meets Jenni, a young waitress, and starts to put his life back together. Meanwhile, despite the financial pressures of the recession and the fact that her husband Paul has discovered she is deceiving him, Serena continues to chase the elusive accolade of ‘Haven of the Year’.

In addition to the pivotal story of Serena’s failing marriage and her fraught relationship with her distracted brother, there are interesting sub-plots offered through family friend Kim, who is fed up of the single thirty-something party scene and also has a very soft spot for Jack, and also in the flashback’s to Charlotte’s life.

With scenes set among the beautiful people of Dublin society, this book rips along with designer shoes, stunning dresses and passionate liaisons at every turn. But bubbling underneath the glamorous façade of the main character’s lives are secrets and anxieties  which provide several interesting twists and turns.

If I had to describe Rival Passions as a meal, it would be an aperitif of Kir Royale, a starter of oysters, and a main course of succulent fillet steak. There would be no dessert; just more of the finest champagne money can buy!

For sheer escapism, this has to be a book that ticks all the boxes and would be best enjoyed while on a sun lounger in your bikini – preferably with a cocktail to hand, just to keep you cool!

Rival Passions is published by Hachette Ireland and is available now priced €13.99.  Zoe’s previous titles are Guilty Secrets and Sinful Deceptions.

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I spoke to Zoe, who is married with three children and lives in south county Dublin, about Rival Passions and her writing life.

How did you start writing – and why – and when was your first novel published?
I’ve been writing since I was young – I still recall standing in a library at age seven, filled with wonder at the shelves of books, knowing that I had found my life’s passion. I was first published as a freelance writer, with articles and short stories. Eventually I realised that if I wanted to write a novel I was going to have to carve out the time somehow. There were lots of hiccups along the way but Guilty Secrets was published in 2009, Sinful Deceptions in 2010 and Rival Passions in 2011.

And having established yourself as a successful author, what’s the most exciting moment so far?
Signing my book deals and getting onto that bestseller list! A writer’s life is 95% working at the laptop in solitary confinement, but I’ve had a few glamorous moments at various book launches, the Hachette Summer party, and champagne occasions with Sheila Crowley, my agent. Recently I had a glitzy moment at my launch for Rival Passions when Ireland’s newly crowned, most stylish couple, Nicky Byrne of Westlife and his lovely wife
Georgina popped in to say hello.

Oh, I don’t think I would enjoy that at all (ahem). Rival Passions is set in several stunning locations. Do you always write about locations you’ve spent time in?
Yes, in all my novels I like to include a foreign location I’ve already visited; Italy, Paris, the French Riviera… I think you need to have been there to write with authenticity. A great excuse, I tell myself, to plan a trip to the Maldives! Or the Seychelles… (wishful sigh)

Is Tamarisk Manor based on a real hotel?
Tamarisk is based on the best that Irish hotels have to offer. I had planned to base most of Rival Passions in France, then I realised it was a golden opportunity to showcase Ireland’s beautiful scenery and great hospitality. It was fun checking out 5 star hotels and enjoying the spa and facilities. I’d love to say I go to lots of glamorous parties, but have to admit that I research some of this online.

How do you develop your characters and are any of the characters in Rival Passions based on real celebrities (oh go on, tell us)?!
I watched a girl stroll out of a café in Old Town, Nice, and Jenni from Rival Passions walked right into my heart and sparked a whole book. Generally my characters are an amalgam of lots of different impressions. I develop them by making some initial background notes and focussing on the human relationships between them. By the time I’m finished a novel, I’m emotionally attached to my characters as though they are my family, and I hate saying goodbye. I’d never consciously base a character on a real person or celebrity – I think they need to come from your heart.

Which three words would best describe your writing style?
I like to think my trademark style is a heartfelt and passionate story, under the facade of glamour. I like to unravel the hopes and fears behind the glossy persona my characters present to the world, the life experiences that shape them and compel them to behave as they do. Then, no matter how many mistakes they have made, there is still hope for the future.

If you could be a character from any book, either one of yours or someone else’s, who would it be and why?
Hmm… tough question, Hazel! It would have to be a mixture of the best of some of my characters, please! I’d like to have the success of Lia Lacey, novelist in Guilty Secrets, with a string of bestselling novels, who enjoys worldwide, whirlwind book tours, but without her skeletons in the cupboard. Mix this with the fun of Jenni in Rival Passions, then add a touch of Serena with the sexy Paul …

Wow. I think we’d all like to be that person! So, which celebrities would you love to play the main characters in Rival Passions?
Cameron Diaz for Serena and Jude Law for Jack, when they take it to the big screen. (another wishful sigh)

Have you ever spotted anyone famous reading one of your novels?
Georgina Ahern Byrne bought a copy of Rival Passions at my launch. I think she is keeping it for her hols and I hope she is spotted lounging by the pool, thoroughly engrossed in it!

Are you working on your next novel (and can I come and help with the location research)?!
The draft of my next novel – Bold and Beautiful – has just been sent off to my agent and my editor in Hachette, and right now I’m suffering major withdrawal symptoms! Locations include New York, Hong Kong and London. It’s about three glamorous sisters and what happens when the consequences of a family scandal holds the mirror up to their lives and reveals who is the most beautiful of them all…. and who is the boldest…

Oooo, I can’t wait for that one!

Thanks so much to Zoe for these brilliant insights. Visit Zoe at facebook.com/zoemillerauthor or find her on Twitter @zoemillerauthor

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