Thursday, 28 January 2016

Me, me, me - answering random questions about myself

Do you put any of your own likes/dislikes into your characters? i.e.: Food, photography, voyeurism?

I love using my characters as an excuse to harp on about my own interests such as photography, food and travel. Serena is an enhanced version of what I was l like at that age, or how I would have liked to have been, and my other characters are usually much better photographers, cooks and travellers than I am! My more colourful, adventurous characters are also useful vehicles for experiencing some of the more outrageous practices that I may or may not have tried, or may or may not be good at! But I try to be accurate in my description of an activity or interest, because beady eyed readers can always spot inaccuraries. As for dislikes, those tend to be more character traits such as jealousy, manipulation, deception, and those are all heaped on the shoulders of the 'bad guys' in the stories.

You were asked by Harper Collins to write the Silver Train trilogy. Did you already have Gustav and Serena in your mind?

Only in shadowy outline. In fact Gustav started off as a vampire and Serena was going to be his earthly, red-blooded morsel. All similarities to Twilight characters were going to end there! So while that initial idea wasn't suitable it sowed the seed at least of the physical characteristics. Gustav's sinister dark looks were the basis for his complicated past. As for Serena, as I say, she's a kind of enhanced version of me, so she was always semi-formed in my head. Starting the story on Halloween night gave me all sorts of opportunity to paint a picture of the characters and play with the idea of masks, costumes and illusions. After all, we all hold something back when we first meet someone, especially if we think they could overpower us if we don't keep our mystique!

Did you travel to New York when you wrote The Golden Locket?

My dream is one day to be rich/famous enough to travel for research purposes, but actually I based their journey and experiences in New York on two great holidays I've had in the last four years, once alone with my husband at Valentine's, and once for New Year's with our kids, and I absolutely loved it. I am longing to go back in spring or summer, because it was DASHED cold when I was there!

Will you do any of their story in Gustav’s POV? I would love to know what he is thinking and feeling. 

I have wrestled with this idea for the third book because I can see why readers would welcome the occasional shift of viewpoint, but on balance I feel that having got this far without his innermost thoughts, it would be difficult structurally and I think jar with the flow of the narrative suddenly to interpose his thoughts. If you think about it, we are all to a certain extent inside ourselves, looking out. I am incredibly close to my husband, and all the world can see how much we love each other, but I will never look out through his eyes... and that's how it is with Serena. She's me, she's the reader, seeing, hearing, smelling, touching our lovers who are nevertheless separate beings. What I have done, and really hope it communicates to the reader, is try to make Gustav come alive physically and emotionally through Serena's eyes, especially as their relationship is tested to the limit in both Books 2 and 3, and ultimately reaches the heights of intensity and romance. I have also tried to show how he gives more and more of himself, becomes more relaxed and open, as the books progress.

Where did the original idea for the Unbreakable trilogy (now the Silver Chain series) come from?

The original idea started with Serena, who, like the Berocca adverts, is me, but on a really good day. Then I closed my eyes and envisaged, in glorious detail, my ideal man firstly in pure looks and then in character and background. Gustav actually started out as a vampire and I have retained the dark, mysterious, wolfish air he has about him. While her past is not remotely like mine, Gustav's bad marriage is based on real life stories I have been told and have wanted to portray in fictional terms, because there really are evil women like Margot out there... The rest followed quite naturally, once they had come to life. The challenge lay in bringing those two characters together in glorious locations, givin them fascinating occupations and plenty of adventure, while keeping it real, ie exploring how two such different people could meet, ignite, overcome threats and sabotage, and (hopefully) live happily ever after.

How much of a challenge is it writing a series? Is there an obligation to make each book better than the last?

A really interesting question.  I was pretty daunted at the idea of maintaining this story through three volumes, as I think some authors find they are spreading it pretty thin if they're not careful. At first I felt I'd given my all in The Silver Chain and just hoped that I could find enough to put into a second and third volume, let alone make them as good as the first. Also, at the time of writing The Golden Locket, I hadn't yet had the reaction of readers to The Silver Chain, so it was a bit like writing in the dark, or with ear muffs on – no idea how it would be received! But as the story progressed, and more characters and plot lines emerged, I found that, as with real life, there is always more to say. Obviously a writer's job is to condense that into a fictionalised world, so it will be stylised and manipulated to fit the parameters of your plan, but as an avid fan of mystery/thriller TV drama and film, I love the idea of cliffhangers, twists, and unexpected developments. If you leave each chapter/book on some kind of breathless moment, the next chapter/book becomes easier to start. If I'm honest I think that's why I enjoyed writing The Golden Locket and the third book more than writing The Silver Chain, because 'd already set up the main characters and situations, and now all I had to do was send them on their logical way. So, whisper it, but yes, I think The Golden Locket may be better! So what I'm hoping is that, while people really loved The Silver Chain, they will go wild about the sequels!

When writing your novels do you outline the plot first, or do you let the story go wherever it takes you?

A little bit of both. I do write a synopsis, broken down into chapters. I think a lot about it, and it helps me get over the dread of starting a new book, because I have given myself a framework to follow. Obviously then characters and plots will crop up which will deviate from the path, but at least I have some kind plan to keep me on the straight and narrow.

Location is obviously important to your story, how do you decide where in the world to take your characters?

After my first taste of travelling aged 18 (camping in Biarritz), I have loved it ever since. In fiction these locations add to the exoticism and luxury of the story, and is also relevant to the plot, but ultimately I weave that around places I have lived in myself, and/or travelled to. I have lived in London, Venice and Egypt (which I haven't written about this time, owing to current situation, but have shifted some of the action in Book 3 to Morocco instead), and I've visited all the other places such as New York, Paris etc more than once. It's a great excuse to revisit favourite areas, hotels, restaurants etc, pore over guidebooks, maps, etc, and go on the internet to check that I'm still up to date.

If The Silver Chain series was optioned for a TV drama/ movie, who would you like to play Serena, Gustav and Pierre?

We can but dream! My ultimate fantasy would be sitting in a cinema with a vast box of Maltesers watching those opening credits! My instinct if a film were made would be to swerve the Hollywood hype, be groundbreaking and original, and go for gorgeous unknowns. But to give an idea, I've always had Olivier Martinez, the French actor, in my mind for Gustav, Josh Holloway from 'Lost', or Dominic Zamprogna (from 'General Hospital'). They must have silky dark hair, haunted, Slavic cheek bones, black eyes, and the constant hint of unshavenness. Amanda Seyfried would make a great a red-haired Serena. Pierre would have to be a thicker set, younger version of Gustav, the Puerto Recan actor Sharlim Ortiz perhaps if he put on a little muscle. Polly could be the Swedish actress MyAnna Burring who was in 'Twilight' and also 'Downton Abbey'. Salma Hayek, Diane Lane, Rachel Weicz or Demi Moore could be Margot, the evil but charismatic ex-wife. Tilda Swinton could be Crystal, the enigmatic housekeeper, but she might steal the show! 

Do you read reviews of your novels? Do you take them seriously?

I read the first few reviews of The Silver Chain which just so happened to be a bit lukewarm. Although I took one or two comments to heart for the future, I found the sarcastic ones incredibly demoralising, almost physically a punch in the gut. I had to ask why people who came out and said they didn't like erotica were reviewing, well, erotica, and also why they also bother to post dodgy reviews on Twitter for all to see. Also I couldn't help noticing that the worse the review, the worse the grammar/spelling etc of the reviewer. Just saying. But yes, it's amazing how quickly you can lose confidence in what you thought was good work. After that I only read the good reviews which are sent to me by my editors and those I did take seriously because often they showed real knowledge of the story and characters and made valid points, and it warmed the cockles of me heart when they seemed to fall in love with them, too!

How long does it take to write a novel?

I've spent the best part of 2013 writing this trilogy. I'd say the first draft takes an average of two months to get down on paper/screen, and then you have to wait for the editor to come back with edits and re-writes which all in all can take another month or so. So roughly three months. I took the summer off because I wanted to clear my head between The Golden Locket and Book 3, and I had a writing conference to prepare for. I am very lucky because at the moment I only go out to work part time, so I do have whole days during school hours to write, and when deadlines are desperate my husband takes the boys out of the way so I can shut myself away at weekends, too. 
Do you have any writing rituals?
I write best when everyone is out of the house. I have a particular spot on a sofa where I write, and although I have to move around at weekends to find a peaceful place during the week that is my writing spot. I have loads of breaks, though, getting up to make coffee, watching Holly and Phil on TV, checking Twitter..
What was your favourite childhood book?
Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie, Little Women. Yep, I was that predictable!
Name one book that made you laugh?
Bizarrely I couldn't think of any fiction that made me laugh, but what makes me laugh out loud every time I pick it up, especially around Christmas time, is 'The Hamster That Loved Puccini' by Simon Hoggart, which is a collection of both nauseating and hilarious 'round robin' letters from smug families..
Name one book that made you cry?
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safron Foer. Written through the eccentric viewpoint of a little boy who has lost his dad in the 9/11 attacks.
Which book would you give to your best friend as a present?
What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn. Odd, strange, funny, sad. Unlikely setting behind the scenes in a shopping centre.
Are you inspired by any particular author or book?
I think I wanted to become a real writer whilst reading The Magus by John Fowles, lying on a beach on the island of Spetse where the book was set. It's mystical, scary, oblique, poetic – all the things I wanted to be when I was 19!
What is your guilty pleasure read?
Hello Magazine.
Who are your favourite authors?
Rose Tremain, Kate Atkinson, Julie Myerson, Penelope Lively, Ruth Rendell...
What book have you re-read?
Love Life by Ray Klum. An unfaithful husband's love for his dying wife. It's as close to fiction as a real life story can be, and hard hitting. The kind of non erotic fiction I would like to write one day.
What book have you given up on?
Whisper it. 50 Shades of Gray.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

We can but dream! My ultimate fantasy would be sitting in a cinema with a vast box of Maltesers watching those opening credits! My instinct if a film were made would be to swerve the Hollywood hype, be groundbreaking and original, and go for gorgeous unknowns. But to give an idea, I've always had Olivier Martinez, the French actor, in my mind for Gustav, Josh Holloway from 'Lost', or Dominic Zamprogna (from 'General Hospital'). They must have silky dark hair, haunted, Slavic cheek bones, black eyes, and the constant hint of unshavenness. Amanda Seyfried would make a great a red-haired Serena. Pierre would have to be a thicker set, younger version of Gustav, the Puerto Recan actor Sharlim Ortiz perhaps if he put on a little muscle. Polly could be the Swedish actress MyAnna Burring who was in 'Twilight' and also 'Downton Abbey'. Salma Hayek, Diane Lane, Rachel Weicz or Demi Moore could be Margot, the evil but charismatic ex-wife. Tilda Swinton could be Crystal, the enigmatic housekeeper, but she might steal the show!

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

About two months to get down on paper before being minutely examined and radically changed by my editor!

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I would compare these to Sylvia Day's and Nikki Gemmell's erotic series.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

These books are set not only in London and New York but Paris, Venice and Morocco, too. Oh, and Devon, and while it is pretty intense stuff, there are moment of levity, too.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Ask me another - a personal probe into Primula

Where do you hail from?

I'm the third of four daughters brought up in a very conventional Catholic household in the middle of nowhere with teacher parents who had high expectations. My sisters all dropped out and rebelled in various ways, but I ploughed the goody goody path, being head girl of my convent school before my own rebellion when I became pregnant 'out of wedlock' (as my mother put it). Unfortunately my now elderly parents do not approve of my erotic writing, let alone making money from it, so I never mention it to them. I'm secretly trying to write something 'mainstream' that they could actually read.

What do you love most about your hometown?

I was born in Winchester (UK) and although through the years I have lived in Oxford, Venice, London, Cairo, London again, I have settled here because it's near my husband's business and I was ready to leave the hustle and bustle of London when we got married. I never wanted to live in the countryside, either, so Winchester is the perfect compromise: small, historic, friendly, a safe place to bring up kids, bursting with great pubs and restaurants, countryside all around if you're a keen walker or cycler, yet within an hour both of London and the coast.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? 

I always wanted to be a writer. I was always day-dreaming and wrote a romantic novel in an exercise book when I was eight, complete with illustrations, but had the mickey taken mercilessly when my family read it out loud round the supper table one night. I guess I've got my own back on them now. I also wanted to be a jazz singer, but although I sang soprano solos in the choir at school and once sang 'Summertime' in a Venetian bar, I didn't have the nerve to go further and pursue it as a career. Having said that, if X Factor, Britain's Got Talent etc had existed when I was young free and single then I think I might have entered.

Apart from writing what are your hobbies?

Eating out, cinema and travelling. All of these feature in my novels, especially food, funnily enough. Before I married I lived on taramasalata and Chardonnay, but now I love cooking and would like to write a Primula Bond cook book one day, involving the food that Gustav makes for Serena and what they all eat in restaurants. Travelling is a passion, ever since I went to live in Egypt aged 23 and was blown away by the experience not only of a new language, culture and climate, but the idea that I was totally anonymous and could be whoever I want to be.

Anything you would want to improve/educate about yourself?

I would like to improve my French and Italian language skills.

Tell us about the Silver Chain trilogy.

I was on the point of hanging up my furry handcuffs after 20 years of writing erotica when in 2012 my editor who had worked with me at Black Lace and Mischief asked me to write an erotic romance in the wake, BUT NOT A COPY CAT, of Fifty Shades. Because I was free to write it in a more literary style than previous erotic novels I have indulged myself in the language, story line and characters. It started as a trilogy but owing to the fourth book about to be published (28th January!) it is really a series now. The Silver Chain actually started off as a vampire story but I was dissuaded from that format (maybe in another series?). It's about a young photographer, Serena, who arrives in London ready to start her career and meets an attractive older man, Gustav Levi, who offers to help launch her exhibition of voyeuristic portraits in return for her company. Their relationship flourishes in an atmosphere of sexual experimentation and takes place in locations as various as London, Manhattan, Venice, Paris and Morocco - indulging my love of travel - but is threatened by Gustav's scheming ex wife and his manipulative, dangerous younger brother, Pierre, who is the hero of book 4.

Do you have anything new in the works and can you tell us a bit about it?

I have just finished a thriller under my real name which I have just sent to my agent, so fingers crossed she likes it. I am now embarking on book 5 of my series, which will once again feature naughty Pierre Levi and the new heroine in his life.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging about writing?

Starting a new novel is a really scary prospect, especially when you have a deadline, but even worse is then having to go back and revise it with your editor's stern requirements ringing in your ears! And obviously the dreaded writer's block, which some people say doesn't exist, but believe me it does. (see below). Also, organising your life so that you can find decent chunks of time to get stuck in.

What advice would you give to writers just starting out?

Read, read, and read some more. See how published authors, especially of the genre in which you want to write, do it. Make sure your work is grammatically correct and neatly and the text and dialogue professionally presented (study house style such as spacing and font), otherwise a busy editor won't even pick it up off the slush pile. Be clear about what you're writing, and by all means keep hold of your ambition and vision, but don't rush off a 200,000 door stopper without getting some kind of opinion on the first three chapters (the first few lines are what will hook a commissioning editor). Try some exercises to hone your craft, even if it's just writing a pretend letter to or from one of your intended characters, or using a sample chapter as a short story. Save your work every few minutes, in case, like mine, your laptop crashes!

I used to be dubious about creative writing classes/talks but having been to a few, and given an erotica and short story writing workshop at the York Festival, they are invaluable in pointing up aspects of dialogue, character creation, conflict ,voice and pace which you might not have thought about. Also it is hugely rewarding from a writer's point of view, spending a day or a weekend with a community who's eyes don't glaze over when you tell them what you are trying to achieve and readers who seem really pleased to meet you. Finally, rather than showing it to friends or family who will be inhibited in their opinions, think about a critique service such as the one I contribute to, Writers Workshop. We will pull you up on any issues, advise how to polish, and suggest possible markets.

Do you ever suffer from writer's block? If so, what do you do about it?

For writers' block read PANIC! As I said, it usually strikes me right at the beginning of a novel, or halfway through when you can't think how to get your characters from one situation to the next. Step away from the laptop, and forbid yourself to touch it for say 24 hours. Allow your mind to hover and drift over your work, and the thoughts and words will start to trickle in. Keep a notebook by the bed or in your pocket to jot down those 'brainwaves' before you forget them. When you feel a little more confident, come back to the laptop and see if you can get down some kind of synopsis, so at least you have a series of steps, a framework, to follow chapter by chapter. Also, it helps to end a chapter with some kind of cliffhanger, because that will give you a leg-up to the next.

Who is your favourite author and why? 

Helen Dunmore, Rose Tremain and Rosie Thomas create absorbing characters and worlds. Kate Atkinson writes lively, compelling thrillers.

What books have most influenced your life?

The Magus by John Fowles, for its creepy, dreamy, Greek settig; Garden of Eden by Ernest Hemingway,a masterclass in pared down writing; Bridget Jones, who opened the way to all kinds of hilarious women's fiction. And not wanting to sound pretentious, Shakespeare's Tragedies and the Bible!

How did you deal with rejection letters?

Most rejection letters are in standard format so offer no constructive suggestions or reasons. In the early days they would really depress me make me give up the manuscript, not forever, but for a month or two. Then I would either rewrite the short story or book (and this is in the days before laptops and certainly emails so this was very laborious) or consign it to 'the bottom drawer' and start a new one. The exception to that, and one which kick-started my erotica career, was a rejection from Mills and Boon because my sex scenes were too explicit, which drove me to turn that explicitness into my first published short story!

What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?

A decent laptop that doesn't crash before you've saved a morning's work, a dictionary, The Writers and Artists' Yearbook, a place to write where inspiration most often strikes, a coffee pot that never stops boiling, an understanding family.

Where do you as an author draw the line on gory descriptions and/or erotic content?

Under age, non consensual or injury-causing sex is a no-no. In one or two of my earlier novels I tried to write about fairly transgressive sexual practices involving groups and bondage and toys and humiliation, but never felt entirely comfortable with some of the more hardcore content, which is why some reviewers have described my work as a tamer version of Fifty Shades. I will use a whip or a sex aid occasionally, but prefer to focus on natural, if energetic, sex between loving couples.
What's the weirdest thing you've ever done in the name of research?

I honestly haven't partaken in anything out of the ordinary myself, but a few years ago I had to go online to find out what a golden shower was.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Interview With the Vampire - We revisit Gustav Levi

Gustav Levi is the hero of my Unbreakable Trilogy, about to be re-named The Silver Chain series as his brother Pierre's story is released. In the first book, The Silver Chain, Gustav meets his heroine, the photographer Serena Folkes, and offers to finance and launch her debut exhibition in return for her company and sexual favours. As they get to know each other and overcome the damage wreaked on them by her wretched childhood and his abusive marriage, the arrangement swiftly moves past the professional, and they become passionate lovers. From being reserved and mistrustful, Gustav has been won over by Serena's naïve yet single minded passion and has asked her to live with him.
But just as they are celebrating the success of her sell-out exhibition and are making plans to travel to New York together, Gustav's estranged, manipulative younger brother, Pierre, appears out of the blue. With Serena’s encouragement Gustav longs to restore their old closeness, but in The Golden Locket Pierre's presence in their lives re-opens old wounds and threatens their hard-won security.

I won't reveal how their story ends for those who haven't yet read the series, but to whet your appetites we're going back in time to meet Gustav halfway through their tumultuous story.

He's torn himself away from Serena's side in their stunning new penthouse apartment on the Upper West Side, to have a chat with us tonight.

1. The dark night when Serena first met you she had you down as a Halloween vampire. What is your family background?

Did she? Cheeky minx. Well, she would make a very juicy Dracula’s victim, I must say. That beautiful pale skin of hers. I can just imagine piercing her long, swan-like throat with my teeth… but going back to your question, she wasn’t far off the mark. My family did originate in the mountains and forests of Transylvania but both sets of grandparents travelled and settled in Paris, which is where I was born and raised.

2. How did losing your parents at an early age and raising your little brother shape the way you are today?

I was 15 and Pierre was 3 when they died in a fire at our Paris apartment. I was a normal, rebellious teenager when it happened but I had to turn myself around to take care of Pierre. We became incredibly close as a result, which I guess is one of the few good things that came out of the tragedy. I wanted to prove to them and to him that I could do a good job, and that meant making a new life for us in London, working hard to make a home for us. But I became obsessive, I think. I wasn't with him as much as I should have been. Without the guidance of my parents I made some terrible choices when it came to women, too, which ultimately caused the rupture between Pierre and me.

  1. Which brings us to the awkward question of your first marriage. Can you tell us a bit about that?

As the song goes, where do I begin? With all the diasastrous couplings since the world began.Adam and Eve. Samson and Delilah. Antony and Cleopatra. I was lonely. I was a rich young man, living like a single father, and Margot was a heat seeking missile. But there are no excuses. I was like any other man in the end at that point. I was led by what's in my pants. I was blinded with lust, but I told myself a female around the house would be good for Pierre, too. But not long after we were married she became, there's no other way of putting it. Toxic. A couple should enhance each other, but we just consumed each other. She was a very strong personality, quite a bit older than me – oh God, this is turning into a bit of a therapy session, isn't it? Maybe I thought she would lead me? But I should have recognised before it was too late where we were going. I worked hard all day, and at night I'd come home and it had become her world. She wasn't just a hyper-sexual woman. She was a professional dominatrix. Punishment, obsession, addiction were her bread and butter – and strangers in my house were queuing up to be part of it. What on earth kind of menage was that?
My poor brother was left on the sidelines. I kept it from him as much as I could, and he never, until he was a grown man, actually witnessed anything, but of course he sensed things were deteriorating. I sent him off to boarding school and then university to get away from the situation, but the rot had set in by then. It was no longer our home, or his haven. It took me five years to recognise what was happening to us and when I found the strength to tell Margot the marriage was over her revenge was to carry out her threat, which started off as a joke in the early days but became deadly serious, of corrupting Pierre and taking him away from me, so I was left with – sorry, this chokes me still to remember it. I was left with nothing.

  1. Is that personal history the reason you refused to let Serena anywhere near you without a professional agreement?

I warned Serena from the beginning, or tried to, that my life experiences had killed my trust in people. Either I wasn't articulate enough, or she just wasn't paying any attention. Thank God. But I honesly thought I was no good for anyone. I was better alone. I had been battered emotionally, and physically, by the wrong woman, and then I'd lost the one person I loved most in the world, Pierre. Oh, I knew deep down that not all women would be like Margot – no-one could be as evil as her – but I couldn’t let my guard down until Serena wandered into my life. I am a red blooded male. I needed sex from time to time. But as soon as they started trying to get closer, burrowing into my life, my house, although I accept that it was natural for them, it was anathema to me. I couldn't risk letting any woman under my skin again.

  1. What about the silver chain you made Serena wear when you were together? Jewellery, or restraint? Symbol of permanence, or sign of insecurity?

All the above. I can't deny it. I wanted to give her something, but not reveal anything of myself. I wanted it to symbolise our agreement, and to make sure she wouldn't get away. She had never had any jewellery, so the bracelet I gave her to hook the silver chain on to was the first precious thing she'd ever owned. She was furious when I once left her chained in the house in Lugano, but the little wildcat chopped it off with an axe or something and got the chauffeur Dixon to disobey orders and drive her to the airport! Secretly I saluted her for that show of defiance, even though it was my fault for leaving her there. Anyway, it became part of our life. And a very kinky part of our lovemaking. It still is. But I'm planning to give her another special piece of jewellery for Christmas..

  1. Serena comes from a very different background from yours. What, apart from the obvious physical attraction, is it that draws you to her?

Maybe that’s exactly it. Her total individuality and.. difference. She’s unlike anyone I’ve ever met. And as for her background, that's an unknown. She was adopted by a pair of monsters. She was a little newborn foundling. I would love to know what her biological background is. No-one has ever come forward. I suspect she comes from someone beautiful, artistic and big hearted, because how else has she come through all that neglect still determined to find someone to love? I guess that’s your answer. She doesn’t even know it, but she has this fire, this determination, to see the beauty in life, not just through her camera lens. I’ve never thought of it before, but you could say she’s the polar opposite of my ex-wife, and that's why I'm so lucky to have found her. Serena turns her strength of spirit into something positive, and she’s pulled me into her orbit as well

7. You and Serena had a business arrangement which became personal. What was the moment when you fell for her?

Everything in my life has to be written down, a contract. Since my parents died. It’s my clumsy way of feeling safe, I suppose, and my arrangement with Serena, though it looks ridiculous now, had to be on the same terms. She doesn't know this but she was the missing piece of my jigsaw, and that lightbulb moment was when she was standing in my gallery after we'd signed that contract. We were just leaving, and she stopped beside my favourite photograph, entitled 'Rapunzel', which was part of an exhibition of sepia images of French prostitutes awaiting their turn in a bordello. I collect pre-Raphaelite studies and sketches, and she looked so like the beautiful, pre-Raphaelite girl in the photograph, that face that's so mournful when in repose, those rivers of golden treacle-coloured hair – it took my breath away. I reckoned she was the face I'd been searching for. My pet name for her, when we're alone, is Rapunzel'.

8. She's younger than you. What has she taught you?

She's brought a kind of fresh air into my life, light, sunshine, an incisive viewpoint. She surprises me every day with how beautiful she is and how much she loves me, even though she had to work so hard to win me round. She's actually like a magic camera. You see life differently when you're with her.

9. You have made your fortune now. Are you ready to retire?

I could retire tomorrow. Financially that's true. But I'm only just 40, so there's no way I'm going to sit around doing nothing, especially with such a young girlfriend to keep on my toes. And she would tell me I was an old git if I did, to use her charming turn of phrase! If the businesses are in good hands and Serena's photography is launched, I would like to extend my pre-Raphaelite collection and also to launch a trust fund related to the arts which could benefit abandoned children.

10. When you're not acquiring businesses and properties, what are your hobbies?

Travelling and cooking for pleasure, rather than necessity. My current project, when we have time, is teaching Serena to cook. She can just about boil an egg. And I love drawing and sketching.

  1. What's next now you're both ensconced in New York?

Well, most of that is under wraps for now. We have some tentative meetings with Pierre to negotiate, now that he's come back into my life. He's been living and working in New York all these years, and the most extraordinary coincidence is that he's been dating Serena's cousin Polly. So I'm determined to find a way to forgive each other for what's happened in the past. Serena's my othe priority, of course. She already has several prestigious commissions here from people who have seen her work in London, and I aim to stand back and let her make her own way.

  1. Tell us an unusual thing about you?

I play jazz trumpet. Pierre plays piano, and we used to jam in little clubs around London before I met Margot. Not even Serena knows that, and please don't tell her. I'll surprise her one day, but I haven't played since I met my first wife. She thought it sounded stupid.  

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Meet Rosa, the new heroine in 'Pierre'. Here she has a pep-skype with her sister

‘Flirt with him. Bustle about. Bend over a lot. Are you sure he’s not getting a hard-on every time you swish by in your tight little uniform?’
I think of the unmistakable reaction when I washed him that first morning. The soft shape warming up, firming up in my hand like a delicious pastry.
Any man with red blood in his veins would get hard, being handled like that. It was nothing special. I unzip my dress. As soon as the expensive, silky embrace falls away from me I stop being the poised, confident woman I was when I was wearing it.
‘I think he quite likes me, but it’s just a job, Fran. I’m just his carer, a servant really, just like I am to all the other spoiled, rich malades in that clinic.’
‘Don’t be so tough on yourself, cara. You’re coming down after your glittering performance tonight, that’s all. Anyway, if this Levi bloke won’t look at you twice, someone else will. You’re a catch for anyone.’
‘Maybe. It won’t be that long before he’s discharged or I’m sacked or I quit. I won’t see him again and then I can go properly hunting.’ I hang up the dress, aware that if the connection is working my sister can see me in my bra and knickers. ‘Look, Fran, I can’t chatter on. The signal’s hopeless tonight. You might all be chilling out over there in New York, but I’ve got to get some sleep. I’m absolutely done in.’
‘How did the gig go tonight? You look great, by the way. Although satin and silk isn’t normally your style?’
‘I was going to pick up something from the Kate Moss range at Top Shop but my employers insist on high-end cocktail dresses so they sent me to Bond Street. They give me a credit card and a personal shopper. The dress code at the club is very strict for everyone on the premises, staff and members alike. They’re all men.’
‘Who, staff or members?’
‘All the members are men. And most of the staff. They have to wear black tie. Or white tie, if they have military medals, no matter what time of day it is, because the idea is that the minute you walk through those doors you are in another zone. Day and night become meaningless.’
‘Classy! Or pretentious. Sounds like the Starship Enterprise!’ Francesca chortles. ‘All a bit antiquated, though, isn’t it? Black tie? What’s wrong with kilts, or some sharp tailoring? They sound like a bunch of pompous gits. So where is it again?’
I reach into the thin fitted wardrobe for my kimono. If I don’t cover up it won’t just be my sister who sees me semi-naked. If I don’t close the shutters on these portholes anyone motoring down the river or walking along the embankment at this time of night can see me, too.

‘I’m not supposed to say, but you know what? I don’t give a shit. It’s the London branch of the Club Crème.’

And here's a random pic of a cool Italian...

Monday, 18 January 2016

Wow! magazine interviews Pierre Levi as he recovers from his near-fatal accident

This is the first interview Pierre Levi has given since being badly injured in a hit and run in central London. We visited him at the exclusive Aura Clinic where he was transferred out of intensive care.         Thank you for seeing us, Pierre. Can you tell us how bad your injuries were and how you're doing now?
     Let me count the ways. Cracked pelvis. Two broken legs. One femur, one ankle. Nothing else broken. She saved the face,apart from the black eye.
     You mean the driver? We understand that Margot Levi was driving the car.
     Yes. My ex sister in law. My ex lover. She ran me down deliberately.
     And the police are looking for her in connection with the accident. Why do you think she did that?
     I think because she wanted my brother back and if she couldn't have Gustav she'd make sure no-one did. But then I came galloping to the rescue so hey, why not kill both birds with the one stone? Thank God it wasn't Gustav.
    But the injuries are healing now?
    Bones heal, don't they? But the real scars are inside. In my head.
    That's pretty intense. What do you mean?
    Nightmares. I make quite a spectacle of myself, apparently. I keep these poor nurses on their toes But it's not Margot causing the nightmares. It's me. What I've been like in the past. I made life hell for the people I should have been looking out for. Get this. I broke my brother's heart not once but twice.
    How did you do that? And why?
    I ran off with Margot, his first wife. Yep. The same woman who tried to run me over. How mad is that? Gustav and I were estranged for five years. Then I tried to break up him and his new girlfriend by seducing her.
    Margot Levi persuaded me. Both times. And I was bitter and twisted enough to go along with it.
    She sounds like a very powerful influence.
    I was very young the first time. Totally bewitched. But the second time? It was her idea, sure, but I took it and ran with it, no question. I knew exactly what I was doing. What started off as a sick joke became a genuine addiction. I was mad about her.
    Who? Margot Levi?
    No. Serena Folkes. Gustav's fiance.
    But you didn't succeed? I mean, they're still together?
    They're unbreakable. You'll never witness love like it. I think that's why I wanted to destroy it. I was jealous. Still am. But I'm paying for all that now.
    That sounds harsh. Maybe even a little self-pitying?
    I don't pity myself. I pity everyone who comes into contact with me. I deserve everything she's thrown at me.
   Who? Serena?
   Ha ha. No. Margot. By rights I should be dead. At the very least maimed for life. It's my punishment for everything I put them through. I'm rotten. People should stay away from me.
   Ah, looks like matron is cutting short our interview. Two more questions. You've had to pull out of the reality show pilot you were making in LA before this happened. What do you think the future holds? I mean, professionally?
    Haven't you heard? The waters close over your head if you're out of circulation creatively. What's your second question?
   You famously revelled in your playboy image. Are you looking for love again?
   You mean, a love I can call my own rather than trashing other people's?
   Simple, really. The love of a good woman. You won't be short of offers once you're on your feet again.
   Are you flirting with me?
   Oh, that came out wrong, I - well, maybe?
   Cute, but listen up, sweet pea. I'm not safe to be around. I should have a health warning slapped on. Women can steer well clear. I don't know what's in my future, but I'm not up for any involvement. Apart from the fact that my body is fucked. No. Celibacy is definitely the way forward.
You heard it hear first. Pierre Levi plans to join monastery.
    Funny. I'd laugh if it didn't hurt so much. Can I take your number?


  1. Read. As a book doctor and writer of critiques, I am astonished by aspiring writers who claim to be too busy to read. Any good writer will be a passionate reader and will learn from the writers they admire, from how they physically set their narrative out on the page to plotting, characterisation and dialogue. On the same token, don't sneer at TV and film. Watch good dramas, movies and soaps. They are a masterclass in plot structure and realistic, character-driven dialogue.
  2. Watch and listen. What's happening outside your window, on the station platform, in the park? Eavesdrop on conversations, remember anecdotes. Keep a notebook with you, especially in the bath or by the bed, because flashes of inspiration will be forgotten if you don't write them down immediately.
  3. You are transporting your readers to a highlighted version of real life, so create interesting characters, exotic settings, glamorous clothes and delicious food. Use smell, touch, scenery, your own travels. Or discover the erotic potential in the most mundane of relationships (husbands and wives, teachers and pupils, neighbours), settings (a suburban street, an office, a shop) or encounters (an awkward family gathering, new wife meeting her stepson for the first time, a comely landlady inflaming her lodger with her full English, or a convent girl falling for one of the nuns).
  4. If it helps you, see the action unfolding as if it's on screen, and you are the director.

  • You are writing about sex. It must turn you on to be convincing but even more importantly be aware of your audience and what will turn them on. Sex with aliens or men in galoshes might not be everyone's taste, and keep it consenting and legal.
  • Discard self-consiousness. To hell with what others think. The reader is your confidante. Be honest (emotionally, if not factually) till readers writhe with recognition.
  • Separate fact from fiction, or rather fact from fantasy. So a RAPE fantasy doesn't mean you want that, but desire to be overwhelmed, relieved of decision making, violently desirable, but NOT harmed or injured.
  • Having established your characters, make us care about them well before they have sex. They may come from different worlds, or have a difference in age or power between them, but they are still magnets. Their attraction is what drives your story, and once we know how this dynamic works, we will know how and why they fancy each other, and your readers will fancy them, too.
  • Sexy environment. Depending on their age, athleticism the back of a clapped out Ford Cortina or the bins behind the Plaza cinema might be just the place for a quick, rough first time, and that will do it for some readers. Any good erotic writer, like the old Martini adverts, can create a sex scene any time, any place, anywhere! But others are after escapism from mean streets of real life. So hie your characters off to a place you'd like to be. A moonlit beach, sumptuous hotel room, or a rug in front of a roaring fire.
  • FIVE SENSES. Make sure there is low lighting and great music. Garish lighting and deadly silence are not always the sexist ambience, at least for the first time.
  • Have fun as novel progresses, having them so hot for each other that after the first seduction they'll do it anywhere. A lift, a restaurant. A riding stable. An art gallery.
  • PLAY WITH DYNAMIC too. Meek heroine takes the lead, for once. See how the hero responds to that.
  • SUGGESTIVE conversation either blatant and in your face, or playful, teasing. don't stand woodenly about like actors in a bad am-dram.
  • Eating, drinking, dancing, singing, involve us
  • Clothes, how they fit, are they too formal or tight, how good does it feel as they come off? Unbuttoning cut-off jeans can be just as sexy as unzipping a ball gown.
  • Tense, breathless, but take it slow.
  • Keep it reasonably real. The first time you have sex is often urgently desired but ends up fast and disastrous. There will be hesitation, shyness and teasing (unless fuelled by alcohol, I suppose), mixed with the intoxicating desire to get their hands on each other. Make that clear, but prepare the way for a more leisurely, climactic second time
  • Talking of climaxes, here is how to build it up. There's the first sensation of skin on skin starts the action. Think of a movie scene. Imagine yourself as involved, generous, hands-on director, make sure the bed is soft, the studio is warm, and soon they'll take off on their own.
  • Make it dramatic, but human. Not impossibly athletic, but not mundane either. The characters will already be attractive or arresting .
  • The men will be strong, well hung and experienced unless they are being educated by a cougar.. in which case keep in the well hung bit!
  • The women are curvacious, soft and wonderfully proportioned, and if not experienced, then primed and ready to learn – or teach!
  • If this is a romantic setting, lots of kissing and stroking, exploration. If this is more down the BDSM route, then the participants will get their kicks from spanking, binding, roughness and pain. But there is always room for sensuousness and tenderness.
  • The rhythm of your narrative should be similar to the rhythm of sex. First time fast and furious. After that think Strictly Come Dancing – Argentine Tango. Slow, slow, quick slow.
  • EROTICA LOVERS tend to come together but there's room to be more realistic. Let one come before the other and show who is the generous one, who the thoughtful, who the selfish? Or are they both equally considerate, and if not, will they become so as the novel progresses. This is the basis for their relationship out of bed, as well as in.
  • LANGUAGE. Keep it simple, punchy, evocative, but not obscene or anatomical. Your challenge is to find evocative language to describe something we've all done, we all know about, we've all talked about, but readers look to you to find something sensation to say about that rush of ecstasy, as if it's something new. But don't use euphemism or flowery words or ugly symbolism.