Monday, 14 June 2021

Where do romance writers get their ideas?

 By Sharon Bryant

Where do you get your writing ideas? I recently posed this question to some writer friends. Their responses were enthusiastic, creative and varied.

One friend with strong visualisation skills envisages characters and situations. Another finds inspiration in dreams, even nightmares.

The most common response was that writers get their ideas from everyday life. Sometimes a writer may have no idea how a particular thought entered his or her consciousness. The best ideas may pop into a writer's head during the process of writing.

Where do you start?

So where does an aspiring author begin? Overheard conversations, newspapers, magazines, the internet, books, movies, people you've met, and situations you've encountered may all play a part in the writing ideas you generate.

The role of writing exercises

Some beginning writers find writing exercises designed to promote creativity most helpful. These can include letting your stream of consciousness run free, the use of creative writing prompts, or writing a story then rewriting it in a different character's viewpoint. Another useful approach is flash fiction where you start with basic knowledge of your plot, characters and conflict. Next you sit down, and immediately write your story in 500 words or less.

Where do you get your writing ideas?
Have you ever used creative writing exercises like the ones I've described? 
Were they helpful?

I love to laugh at life's eccentricities.
I love to learn more about the culture and history of the places I visit.
I love to love precious time with my family and friends.

Monday, 12 April 2021

Two steps behind...

Contemporary romance heroes who have no problem walking behind their heroines

Following the passing of Prince Philip a few days ago, one of the photos that keeps popping up is one of him dressed in full Grenadier Guard regalia as the Queen passes him by, and the Queen is giggling like a schoolgirl. You know the one. You can see a copy of it (and get the story behind it) here.

The photo had me thinking about the relationship between he and the Queen for the some seventy odd years they were together. For all of Prince Philip’s failings, and I’m sure there were a few, he seems to have happily taken on the role of always being a few steps behind his Queen (unlike the another Prince Consort who "threw his toys out of the cot" and absconded to France for a bit). There was never any suggestion that he strayed and, despite some expressed concerns about not giving his name to his children and his predilection to "put his foot in his mouth", he seems to have been a wonderful partner.

It got me thinking about romance heroes who would have absolutely no problem with walking a step or two behind their partners. This is what I came up with:

Officer Reuben Price from Amy Andrews’ All’s Fair in Love and Chocolate

Reuben is a police officer in Marietta, a small town in Montana and Viv Dawson is a successful businesswoman who brings her chocolates to town.

Reuben is a Good Bloke™ who is confident in his own skin. He makes pasta for his woman while she soaks away a hard day in the tub, knows how to show a lady a good time (both in and out of bed) and is prepared to make the tough declarations of love first when required… even if it takes his woman a little while to come around.

Reuben would have NO issue walking a few steps behind Viv and would absolutely enjoy the view.

Oscar Mendoza from Alice Clayton’s Cream of the Crop

Oscar is a small town, boutique dairy farmer who looks a lot like Jason Momoa and Natalie Greyson, a curvy, big-city advertising exec is assigned to a project designed to put his small town back on the tourism map.

Oscar has a particular love for – his words – Natalie’s great big ass… in fact, at an early meeting he tells her that the first best part of his Saturday is watching her walk away from his city farmers’ market stall where she buys her cheese. He’s also absolutely ready to compromise with her make their relationship work… and to give her the time she needs to wrap her head around what the word compromise looks like.

Oscar is absolutely comfortable sitting back and watching Natalie be the life of the party… and, like Reuben, he’s definitely enjoying the view.

And this was not meant to be a hymn to all the men who love booty but, it kinda turned out that way! 

Jafar from Katee Roberts’ Desperate Measures

And then, there’s Jafar.

If you’ve not read Katee’s Wicked Villains series… it’s a ride. She’s created a world in which characters based more or less on Disney villains have a LOT of sex while running various crime syndicates in one city. It’s the best kind of madness and, in her first book, we meet Jasmine and Jafar…just after Jafar has ordered Jasmine’s father be killed so he can take over the syndicate.

It’s not giving too much away to say that…Jafar has no issue with Jasmine ending up as the head of the crime syndicate, and being known as her second-in-charge, provided that she submits to him in the bedroom. It’s hot. And quite the contrast given that some sex play (albeit in future books) happens at a neutral club called the Underworld where everyone knows that she’s running the show but Jafar is her Dominant.

And, just a warning, this one is spicy, and contains some consensual non-consent.

Which of your favourite romance heores (or heroines) are happily walking a step behind their loves?

Monday, 15 February 2021

Valentine's Day Customs Around the World

 by Enisa Haines

Image courtesy of:

Valentine's Day was yesterday, as witnessed by the overflow of red roses, heart-shaped chocolates, cute teddy bears, balloons and jewelry in shops all around the globe. 

Author's photo

Too consumerised? Many a loved-up couple splurged anyway - it's about love and romance, after all - some also enjoying customs unique to their country. Here I take a look at some of those customs.


Invented for commercial reasons and now a yearly tradition, Valentine's Day is celebrated in a 'week of sweetness' from 13-20 July with lovers giving chocolates and other sweets. 


To avoid clashing with Carnival held in February or March, Dia dos Namorados festival, also known as 'Lovers Day', is celebrated on June 12. As well as the usual exchange of chocolates, cards and flowers, there are music festivals and dance performances. 'Lovers Day' is not only for couples but is enjoyed by family and friends too. The following day, Saint Anthony's Day - honouring the patron saint of marriage - single women hoping Saint Anthony will bring them a husband do particular rituals or simpatias.


On February 14, Bulgarians celebrate San Trifon Zartan, the 'day of winemakers'. Couples young and old celebrate their love with a glass of local wine.


Valentine's Day in China is Qixi, the Seventh Night Festival, celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month each year. Chinese lore reveals that Zhinu, a heavenly king's daughter, fell in love with Niulang, a poor cowherd. They married and had twins but when the news reached Zhinu's father, their union was not to be. Zhinu's mother came to bring Zhinu back to the stars. However, when Niulang's cries and the cries of the children rang through the heavens, the king said Zhinu and Niulang could meet once a year on Qixi.  During the festival, women hoping to find good husbands offer melons and other fruits to Zhinu while couples pray for happiness and wealth. At night, everyone watches the sky, looking on as the stars Vega and Altair (Zhinu and Niulang) come close in their annual reunion.

Czech Republic

On Valentine's Day, May 1, young couples go on a pilgrimage to the statue of the poet Karol Kynek Macha and for good luck kiss under the cherry trees.


Celebrated in Denmark since the early 1990s, the day of love and romance is celebrated with a twist. Instead of gifting roses and chocolates, friends and lovers exchange handmade cards with pressed white flowers ('snowdrops'). There is also the exchange 'lover's cards'. When first used these cards were transparent, showing a picture of the card giver giving a gift to his love. Today a 'lover's card' is any card given on Valentine's Day. Another custom is the gifting of gaekkebrev, a 'joking letter' with a funny poem written on elaborately-cut paper and anonymously signed with dots. If the women receiving the 'joking letter' correctly identifies the sender, she receives a chocolate egg at Easter.


On Valentine's Day some women used to place bay leaves on their pillows, one at each corner and one in the centre, so they would dream of their future husbands. Other women placed bay leaves wet with rose water across the pillows. In Norfolk, Jack Valentine acts as a Santa for Valentine's Day. Children  wait for Old Father Valentine who, out of their sight, places lollies and small gifts on their porches.


February 14 is Sobrapaev or 'friendship day' with everyone - couples, singles, family members, friends - celebrating love with the exchange of gifts.


Like Estonia's Sobrapaev, Finland's Ystaan Paiva celebrates friendship with gifts and the greeting, "Happy Friendship Day." 


In 1415 Charles, the Duke of Orleans, sent love letters to his wife from his prison cell in the Tower of London. Many believe those love letters were the first ever Valentine's Day cards, a custom still popular today, especially in the French village Valentin, called the epicentre of romance for its beautiful yards, trees and homes decorated with love cards, rose and marriage proposal flakes.  Another custom was the une loterie d'amour, 'drawing of love'. Men and women in houses facing each other called out to one another, pairing off. Men not happy with their match would leave the woman for another while the women left unmatched gathered around a bonfire where they burned pictures of the men who rejected them, all the while hurling insults. Over time the bonfires became disorderly and violent that the French Government banned them. 


Using the fact that Ghana is one of the world's biggest cocoa producers to increase tourism, the Ghana government named February 14 as National Chocolate Day with chocolate being the main item on restaurant menus and the theme in musical events and performing arts.


In ancient times Valentine's Day was celebrated as the Spring Festival. Young people looking for love got together, enjoying music and poetry readings before strolling with their love interest. As well young single women would wake up before dawn expecting the first man they spotted to be their future husband. Today's celebrations include romantic dining and the exchanges of gifts, the most popular being Baci Perugina, small, chocolate-covered hazelnuts wrapped with a romantic quote.


On February 14 it's the women buying chocolates for their male companions or lovers, with high-quality chocolates for husbands and boyfriends, cheaper chocolates for colleagues or acquaintances. On March 14, 'white day', those who were given high-quality chocolates then give their loved ones more expensive gifts such as jewelry.


On Valentine's Day in an en masse gala event sponsored by the government, Philippino couples marry or renew their vows.


Celebrated on February 24, Valentine's Day is the day young people get engaged. Spring season is also celebrated with young men and women picking forest flowers and other couples as a sign of good luck washing their faces with snow. 


February 14, the first day of the New Year of working in the fields, and the day plants begin to regenerate. For this reason the people of Slovenia revere St Valentine is a patron saint of spring. The people also believe that on this day birds 'propose' to each other and to see this they have to walk barefoot through frozen fields. The day of celebrating love is March 12, Saint Gregory's Day.

South Africa

In ancient times, during the pre-Roman pastoral festival of Lupercalia, women pinned the names of their love interests on their sleeves. So, too, do South African ladies and the men learn of their secret admirers. 

South Korea

The romantic couples in South Korea celebrate the day of love in a variety of ways on the 14th of every month. In February women court their men with chocolates, lollies and flowers. In March, on the 'White Day', men add gifts to the chocolates and flowers they give their women. For those who are single, April has  'the black day' where singles mourn being alone by eating bowls of jajangmyeon, black bean-paste noodles. In May it's back to celebrating romance with the 'day of roses', in June 'the day of kisses', in December 'the day of hugs'. 

South West China

On 15 March, the people of Miao in southwest China celebrate the Sisters' Meal festival. Women wearing beautiful dresses accessorised with silver offer a variety of dishes featuring coloured rice placed on silk fabric to young men walking the roads. If two chopsticks are found in the chosen rice, the destiny of the lovers is love. If a clove of garlic is found, love is not to be.


On 9 October, the Feast of Saint Dionysus, as parades fill the streets of Spanish villages, men  make macadora, a marzipan figurine, as their gift to their female lovers. 


The Welsh don't celebrate Valentine's Day. Instead, on January 25, they celebrate San Dwynwen, Saint Dwynwen, the Welsh patron saint of lovers, with the gifting of love spoons, a custom begun in the 17th century where Welsh men carved intricate patterns onto wooden spoons as a symbol of their love for a woman. Today love spoons are also gifted at weddings, births and anniversaries.

Whether single or in a loving relationship, we all have many traditions to enjoy on Valentine's Day. What's your tradition?

Love to love: love spoons in Wales - swooning!

Love to laugh: Not funny really but can't help a giggle at the garlic for the unlucky in South-West China or cheap chocolates in Japan. 

Love to learn: about all the fascinating Valentine's Day traditions