Paws for thought

Oh heck, it’s autumn! In the last couple of days I’ve found myself digging out jumpers, zipping on boots and even contemplating putting the heating on.img_2565

But while I’m fighting the urge to hibernate, my dog is loving the change of seasons. Admittedly Humph loves all times of the year, but I think he’s particularly fond of autumn, judging by the way he dives into piles of leaves and drags me into the mud as he investigates all manner of interesting smells. He is the definition of exuberance, and his joy is contagious.

I can’t imagine life without a dog. After all, I was only 9 months old when my family got our first dog. So, it was only natural that dogs had to feature in my first book, ‘Who Does He Think He Is?‘ The heroine Aurelia has two dogs (lucky her!) called Morecambe and Wise who get into all kinds of scrapes. Like their namesakes, they take their role as entertainers very seriously. Aurelia may despair at their ability to drag her into embarrassing situations, but like me, she wouldn’t be without her doggy companions.
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And speaking of doggy companions, mine is looking at me with pleading brown eyes. I think it may be time for a W-A-L-K….

 

 

 

 

Writing, webinars and my 43 minute rule

I don’t know about you but sometimes it feels like there are simply not enough hours in the day to get everything done that I need to do. I fit my fiction writing around my day job as a journalist. Actually, to be honest calling it a day job is rather misleading. As a colleague once said to me, journalism is more of a lifestyle choice than just a job. When news is breaking, things like lunch breaks tend to go out of the window! I love the excitement and variety of my job, but it can be difficult to fit stuff around it sometimes.

I was therefore curious to find out how other people manage to juggle writing and other work. This week I attended an online seminar run by my publisher Crooked Cat where a group of authors discussed our writing methods. It was interesting to hear what works for different people. Some people swear by the daily word target, but I’ve found that works for me is a little technique I’ve called the ’43 minute rule’ which I thought I’d share with you too.img_2552
I’m a big fan of Netflix (bear with me here, you’ll understand the relevance in a second!) Specifically I enjoy watching TV shows of the American cop variety. You know the sort – White Collar, How to Get Away With Murder etc etc. I find it’s all too easy to sit down on an evening and indulge in an episode or two. I realised that if I could sit and watch an episode of something on Netflix which normally lasts around 43 minutes, then I clearly did have a little bit of spare time.
I decided to ditch the 43 minutes of Netflix watching, and spend that time writing instead. I find if I turn my wifi off, put my phone on silent and really concentrate for 43 minutes, I can get a fair bit of writing done. And more often than not, I’ll get really into my story and carry on scribbling away even when the 43 minutes are up. So there you go, that’s my little ’43 minute rule’.
And before you ask, I haven’t ditched the Netflix altogether…img_1570

Good intentions and good news

After being rather lax of late with this blog, I have given myself a good talking to and am making a new year’s resolution to do more with it. And yes, I know it isn’t actually new year, but it’s September and lots of people are starting new academic years, so that counts, right? Anyway, my intention is to post something every week, so do keep checking in, it’s lovely to have you along.

It seems appropriate to start this resolution with Very Exciting News. Drum roll please…my first novel ‘Who Does He Think He Is?’ is being published by Crooked Cat and will be available to buy this very December. As you can imagine, I am absolutely thrilled. In fact, when I got the email offering me a publishing contract I did a little dance at work, much to the amusement of my colleagues!

‘Who Does He Think He Is?’ is a romantic comedy and tells the story of twenty-something Lady Aurelia Osbourne-Lloyd, who has long wished her bank balance was as big as her name. She’s struggling to stop her ancestral home Leydale Park falling down around her. The arrival of a film crew to use the estate as a location brings a whole new level of chaos into her life, especially as it seems leading actor Xander Lord has an ulterior motive for wanting to film there…

Intrigued? Well, keep an eye out and I’ll let you know as soon as it’s available to pre-order.

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A week of crime writing

Just over a week ago, I went on an Arvon Crime Fiction writing course. Although I’ve been focusing on my rom coms in the last couple of years, I have always enjoyed scribbling and reading mystery and crime stories, so I was very excited to spend a week writing on the dark side. The course took place at The Hurst in Shropshire, the former home of the playwright John Osborne.

The Hurst

The Hurst – a perfect location for crime writing

The house was beautiful, groaning with books and surrounded by acres of beautiful gardens, definitely an environment to get the creative juices flowing. And even better, there was no phone signal, and no internet. It was rather a treat to spend a week off grid, although thinking about it, the combination of an isolated country house, a group of strangers (at first at least) and no contact with the outside world sounds exactly like the setting of a crime story in itself!
A warm welcome at the HurstWhen I arrived, I was told there would be a meeting with my fellow writers and the tutors in the drawing room at 6pm…definitely something which had me expecting Poirot to turn up twirling his moustache. My nerves at meeting the rest of the group were soon proven to be unfounded as they were a lovely bunch of people, all with lots of stories to tell. We soon bonded over the cooking and washing up rota (at Arvon courses, everyone takes it in turn to cook one evening meal and to wash up after two other meals during the week.) Although I was rather apprehensive about the responsibility of cooking for a group of 11, my fellow chef and I managed not to poison anyone with our meal (phew) and I would go so far to say that it tasted rather yummy, even though I do say so myself.IMG_2091
The main point of the week was to learn about techniques for writing crime novels and I did indeed learn a lot, not just about mystery fiction but about novel writing in general. The marvellous tutors were Dreda Say Mitchell and Tobias Jones, and they were joined one evening by guest tutor Sophie Hannah. It was inspiring to hear about how they started their literary careers and I felt very privileged to learn from them. We had writing workshops every morning looking at areas such as plotting, characterisation and how to write an engaging first line. We also discussed what actually makes a crime novel. Every session we were given lots of writing exercises which we then read out to the rest of the group for feedback and advice. It was rather daunting at first but everyone was really supportive and I found it very helpful. We also had a couple of one to one tutorials with Dreda and Toby to discuss our work in progress in greater detail. The afternoons were free for writing and exploring the Shropshire countryside. I certainly came up with lots of ideas while meandering around the woodland, as well as filling up my phone with dozens of pictures of stunning views.

Just the place to ponder and plot!

Just the place to ponder and plot!

It was quite a shock to return to the real world after my time in the creative bubble of The Hurst, but I left feeling re-invigorated and eager to continue with my writing.  I also gained a new group of writing buddies and I can’t wait to read the work we all produce.

Love Stories Awards 2015

 

Rewind the clock a few weeks, and on a busy day in the newsroom,  I was delighted to receive an email informing me that I had been shortlisted for the Love Stories New Talent Award 2015 for my current work in progress, ‘Bouzouki Nights.’ Cue mad dash around to book leave, find a place to stay in London for the night and of course to purchase a new dress to wear for the ceremony (any excuse!)

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Despite the best efforts of the British weather depositing the wrong kind of leaves on the train lines, I managed to make it to the Jewel Piccadilly in London, the location for the awards ceremony. My fellow nominees and I were welcomed with a wonderful combination of prosecco and cupcakes (what more could a bunch of authors need?!)

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It was great to meet the other writers and to celebrate everyone’s successes. There can’t be many better ways of spending an afternoon than talking books with a bunch of fellow enthusiasts.

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A selfie with Lisa Dickenson and my book camp buddy Holly Martin.

 

Although I didn’t win this time round, I was delighted to discover that I’d come runner up in the previous year’s New Talent Award at the Festival of Romance. I knew I’d been shortlisted, but as I was away on holiday at the time, I was unable to attend the ceremony and so never heard about my success!

After the glamour of the Love Stories Awards, it was on to the Romantic Novelists’ Association Winter Party in the glamorous setting of the Royal Overseas League. It was lovely to catch up with the friends I had made at the RNA conference in the summer. Once again there was fizz (are you spotting a trend here?) and lots of fun.

I returned to my hotel with aching feet and a hoarse voice, a price I was well prepared to pay for what was a great day out!

 

 

Your call is important to us

As a journalist, I spend a significant proportion of my working life on the telephone. I’d like to say that this time is productively spent confirming facts, drawing out interviewees and generally uncovering stories worthy of a Pulitzer Prize. Unfortunately, reality is somewhat different.

Picture the scene. It’s one minute to five on a Friday afternoon and I have to ring the council to speak to someone about an item of breaking news. I flick through my contacts to find the relevant number and press dial. I’m already slightly anxious. This is not a good time to be ringing a press office. With the weekend just around the corner, they probably switched the phone to answer machine at least half an hour ago.

Sadly I don’t even get the joy of being invited to leave a message. I’m greeted instead with the dull disconnected tone. This council press officer is so desperate not to be contacted by the media, he’s changed his number.

Now I have to move onto the more dangerous territory of the switchboard.

Like most self respecting public bodies, the council really doesn’t want to have to deal with actual members of the public, so even tracking down a phone number is a mission in itself. By the time I’ve found a likely looking one, the minute hand on the clock has gone to the wrong side of 5pm.

I take a deep breath and dial.Telephone

A robot answers.

“Welcome to your local council. Your call may be recorded for training purposes. For pest control, press one. For queries about council tax, press two. To speak to an operator, please hold.”

I hold, for an unfeasibly long period of time.

The robot occasionally thanks me and assures me my call is extremely important to it.

In between this, I am serenaded with some synthetic Vivaldi. As a bit of a connoisseur of hold music, I have to admit I’m a little disappointed.

I’ve just started singing along with a particularly vigorous section of the Four Seasons when the music cuts out.

I try a tentative hello, happy to be caught warbling away if it means I get to speak to an actual human being.

No such luck. I get a different robot, impressively grumpy sounding for a computer programme.

This one doesn’t bother reassuring me about the importance of my call. Instead it demands I say the name of the department I wish to speak to.

“Press Office” I try to enunciate as clearly as possible.

“Was that pest control?” It asks.

Arguably not the most inaccurate interpretation of my request, at least from the council’s point of view.

“No,” I reply, looking anxiously at the clock. It’s now approaching the even more dangerous time of half past five. I suspect these two phone robots have been left in charge for the weekend.

“Name the department you wish to speak to.”

“Media Enquiries.”

This time the robot tries to point me to Mortuary Services.

I try the more sophisticated sounding “Corporate Communications” in case the council has been re-branding their departments.

“Sorry I don’t understand. Connecting you to the switchboard,” threatens the robot.

“Just put me through to the bastard press office,” I shout, all patience gone as my deadline looms ever closer.

“Connecting you to Press Office,” the robot parrots as I inadvertently hit on the correct combination of words for the request to be fulfilled.

I’m treated to cover versions of  Michael Bublé tracks this time.

By song number three, I’m ready to do a van Gough and chop my own ear off.

Eventually the call clicks through.

“Hello, it’s Keith.”

“Hi Keith my name is Emily and I’m calling from…” I start to say, but I’m interrupted and realise I’ve been caught out by yet another answer phone.

“…it’s Keith O’Connor. The office is closed until 9am on Monday. Please leave a message. If your call is urgent, please contact the switchboard.”

I hang up in defeat.

Two minutes later, I get a text.

“Thank you for contacting your local council. Please rate your experience on a scale of 1 to 10.”

I type in zero.

A weekend of writing in Devon

A couple of weeks ago, an email arrived in my inbox informing me that I was a lucky winner of the Wine, Women and Song competition run by Choc Lit. My prize was a weekend of writing workshops in beautiful Devon with authors Jane Lovering and Mel Hudson.

A perfect place for writing.

A perfect place for writing.

I was of course super excited at the amazing opportunity to meet two authors whose work I very much enjoy and to be able to spend the whole weekend with them talking about writing. And my enthusiasm remained undimmed despite my 6 hour train journey ending up being closer to 8 hours…

We were hosted for the weekend in Mel’s picture-perfect thatched cottage near Bideford.

Even though my fellow winner Lynn Forth and I were both tired after our epic journeys, we still managed to find the energy for a first night party celebrating the publication of Jane Lovering’s new book, I Don’t Want To Talk About It.

Toasting Jane's new book

Toasting Jane’s new book

And once we’d partaken in the wine element of the competition prize, we moved onto the song part. Thankfully Mel’s house is in the middle of the countryside so the wider world was spared our perhaps less-than-tuneful renditions of popular classics.

On Saturday, we got down to work. Jane led a really useful session on characters, looking at how names influence our expectations. We picked names out of an envelope and worked out the personalities behind the names, giving them likes, dislikes, secrets etc. I decided my ‘Jasper’ had a fondness for red trousers, a rabid dislike of cheap alcohol, and that he’d lied on his CV to get his job. A bit of a rogue! Mel also talked about her route to publication and we chatted about the editing process.

Heading down to the garden room for the writing workshop.

Heading down to the garden room for the writing workshop.

I think the most useful (and most terrifying) part of the weekend was when we had one to one sessions with Mel and Jane. They read our first chapters and gave us their honest opinion on our work. Their advice was invaluable and I was so chuffed with their enthusiasm for my writing.

We polished off the weekend with a picnic in the sunshine at Hartland Quay and of course a traditional Devon cream tea.

All in all, it was a great experience with some lovely people. Thank you so much to Choc Lit, and to Jane and Mel for their generosity with both their hospitality and advice.

 

Romantic Novelists’ Association Conference 2015

Last weekend I attended my first ever Romantic Novelists’ Association Conference. I’d been looking forward to it for ages, but I have to admit that as it drew closer I also started to feel a little nervous about the whole thing. After all, the great and good of the romance writing world would be there… and then there would be me!

New girl's conference badge

New girl’s conference badge

However, I needn’t have worried. My conference badge had a sparkly little flower to indicate that I was a newbie and people went out of their way to make me feel welcome.

The weekend consisted of lots of talks and workshops, and of course, the gala dinner on Saturday night which gave everyone an excuse to put on their glad rags.

Gala dinner shoes

Gala dinner shoes

And between scheduled events, there were plenty of kitchen parties and drinking by the canal, which was more sophisticated than it sounds, honest!

So among the many things I learnt at over the weekend, these are a few highlights:

  • The villain is never a villain in her own story
  • Post its are the way forward when it comes to doing edits
  • You should always take a big suitcase to conference (I managed to acquire 14 new books, oops!)

Julie Cohen's fabulous talk on the art of rewriting had us all rushing out to buy Post It notes

Julie Cohen’s fabulous talk on the art of rewriting had us all rushing out to buy Post it notes

It was a truly fabulous weekend. I made lots of new friends and had an amazing time talking books with fellow bibliophiles.

I’d like to say a big thank you to the wonderful organisers. I’m already looking forward to my next RNA event!

Conference book shop - most of which I bought!

Books for sale at the conference – most of which I bought!

Book Camp 2015

I can’t believe it’s almost the middle of April. It only seems like two minutes since I was singing Auld Lang Syne to welcome in 2015. The weeks and months have passed by in a whirl of Greek classes, volunteering and lots and lots of work. As Easter came and went, I was most definitely in need of a holiday.

Cue Book Camp, a week to get away from it all and enjoy some quality writing and relaxation time.

Hurstone in Somerset, our home for the week

Hurstone in Somerset, our home for the week

And write and relax, I most certainly did. In the beautiful surroundings of the Somerset countryside, I forgot about the outside world and focused on enjoying my writing. I’d been finding it difficult to come home after a twelve-hour day at work to turn on my computer and stare at another screen, so it was really good to ‘recapture the rapture’ and remind myself how much I love writing.

A drink on the terrace after a busy day of writing

A drink on the terrace after a busy day of writing

In just four days, I somehow managed to write 23,500 words of a new project and get more editing done on ‘Who Does He Think He Is?’

Work in progress

Work in progress

But what really made it such a wonderful week was the group of truly lovely fellow book campers. We all brainstormed ideas, cheered each other on, and laughed our heads off, even in the middle of a power cut, which sent our writers’ imaginations into overdrive.

So, thank you to the Book Camp gang, and here’s to next time!

The Book Camp gang

The Book Camp gang

Gelato Staccato

Sorrento may be beautiful and all that, but boy does it have a lot of steps. I reckon in the fortnight we’ve been on tour out here, I’ve sweated off several spare pounds. Of course, I’ve more than compensated for this in the amount of ice cream I’ve consumed, but ice cream doesn’t count, right? There aren’t many pennies left over at the end of the month when you’re an impoverished violinist, but I can always find the cash for a gelato or three.Ice cream

I’m enjoying a particularly scrummy one at the moment.  It’s a delicious tangy lemon and it’s about the only thing keeping me cool as I struggle up yet another flight of stairs, rucksack on my back and violin case in the non-ice cream toting hand. I’m rewarding myself with a lick every three steps. Yummy.

The ice cream may be helping to cool my body temperature, but unfortunately it’s doing absolutely nothing to cool my temper which will reach boiling point soon if I’m not careful. You see, half an hour ago, the brakes of our coach failed on one of those super-scary hairpin bend roads which wiggle their way along the coastline here. Fortunately said coach was crawling along at a snail’s pace at the time. Francesco must be the first Italian driver I’ve ever met who approaches corners at less than 70 miles per hour. Thanks to his caution, we survived drifting into the crash barrier with nothing more than a few fragile musical temperaments shaken. However, as our tour manager couldn’t commandeer transport out of thin air, we had to set off on foot to catch the ferry which is to take us to our next performing location. It’s a higgledy-piggledy and exhausting journey, heaving ourselves up one flight of stairs, winding along narrow shady streets, before taking our lives into our hands as we teeter down another set of steps which seem to be defying gravity hanging off the cliffs.

We look like a bunch of children in straggling crocodile formation on a school trip. And despite my best efforts, Adrian the percussionist and chief orchestra sex pest has inveigled his way into the line behind me. As we climb yet another staircase he’s taking great delight in prodding my backside with his drumstick. And no, that’s not an innuendo. He thinks it’s hilarious. I most decidedly do not.

“Look Adrian, just cut it out,” I foolishly try to reason with him.

“Cut what out?” He attempts innocence which makes him look like he’s got trapped wind.

“Poke me one more time and I’ll take that drumstick and shove it where the sun don’t shine,” I threaten.

“Calm down, love. No need to get your knickers in a twist,” he smirks.

I’m so annoyed, I actually snarl. Mentally composing my letter of complaint to HR gives me the strength to get up another three flights of stairs. I’m reaching the point where I have to buy more paper for the printer because my imaginary letter has so many supporting statements from fellow victims when I feel it again. A persistent irritating jab taps out a rhythm on the back of my thigh.

“Hey baby, I’ll play an air on your G-string any day,” perves Adrian, clearly delighted at the levels of sleazy musical innuendo he’s stooping to.

“Right, that’s it. Paws off you pig,” I bellow, swinging round and bashing his drumstick out of his hand. In slow motion it ricochets off my violin case and clatters over the cliff edge to the resounding cheers of my fellow musicians.

Sadly that’s not the only clattering noise. Gingerly I move my violin case and hear it rattle. This is not good.

It’s only when we’re finally on the ferry buzzing across choppy turquoise waters to Ischia that I dare open the case to inspect the damage.

“Please be ok, please be ok,” I mutter under my breath. It’s difficult to see properly with the sun reflecting off the water and sending a shimmering glare along the ferry deck. I blink a few times and run my fingers along the smooth wood of my precious violin. The bridge has fallen out of place, so the strings are lying slack. I breathe a sigh of relief. The bridge is fixable. Carefully I undo the Velcro that holds the violin in place and tenderly lift it out of the case.

A collective gasp of horror goes up from my fellow string section members.

“Oh Rosie, what are you going to do?” Amelia is the first to speak.

The neck of my lovely violin, my pride and joy, not to mention my sole source of income, is cracked at the point where it joins the body of the instrument. With trembling fingers I trace the fracture and feel it give instantly. I am so screwed.

Violin“Welcome, everyone, welcome to the Giardini La Mortella. My name is Juliana and I can’t tell you how delighted I am to welcome you, our orchestra in residence here for the summer season. As you know, this was the garden of the English composer Sir William Walton…”

I let our host’s introductory speech wash over me. I’m sitting on the steps of an open air Greek style amphitheatre. The tinkling sounds of fountains fill the breezes and the soft scents of hundreds of flowers are whispering around us. I should be soaking up the atmosphere and revelling in the stunning surroundings. Instead, a steel band is tightening round my forehead and I’m genuinely concerned I might throw up from sheer stress.

“Can I help you? I understand you’ve had an accident with your violin?” Juliana has finished her speech and made a beeline in my direction, watched by the rest of the orchestra. News travels fast in these parts.

She frowns when she sees the instrument.

“Indeed the damage is extensive. “ She fumbles in her handbag for a piece of paper and writes down an address. “Go and see this man. Gustavo Russo. He is the best luthier I know. If he cannot fix your violin, then it is unfixable.”

“Go,” Amelia shoves me in the direction of the garden’s exit. “Don’t worry. We’ll make your excuses to the conductor. You need to get that violin sorted before anything else.”

“Here, borrow my bicycle,” Juliana offers. I politely decline and set off on foot. My violin would end up in smithereens if I attempted cycling on these rocky roads. The word “unfixable” echoes round my head throughout the hot journey down to the little coastal town of Forio.

Thankfully I find Gustavo Russo’s establishment relatively easily. A peach painted building nestled between honey coloured neighbours, it looks like it’s been here for centuries. Praying he speaks more English than I do Italian, I enter the shop. It takes my eyes a few minutes to adjust to the gloom after the brightness outside, but when they do I am sure I am hallucinating. Standing behind the counter is what my grandma would call a fine figure of a man. A very fine figure of a man. Tall, with chocolate brown hair and warm brown eyes, he looks like he’s stepped off the set of an advert for smooth blend coffee. I feel my cheeks going pink and pray he doesn’t notice.

“Can I help you?” he asks in perfect English peppered with a delicious Italian lilt.

I curse myself for getting so easily distracted, and gently place the case on the counter.

“I had a slight, um, accident with my violin. I was told Gustavo Russo could help me?”

He raises his eyebrows at the damage. “A very nasty accident by the looks of things.”

He stretches out his hand to shake mine. “I am Guido Russo by the way. My father Gustavo is the violin repairer.”

“I’m Rosie,” I squeak.

He takes out a pair of glasses and looks more closely at the fractured instrument. “It is not a clean break,” he points out, gesturing for me to follow his fingertips running along the splinters. It is an oddly intimate moment which I would definitely have enjoyed more if I hadn’t been so worried. “I will pass the violin on to my father, but I fear it will not be a simple job.”

“Oh God.” The sick feeling increases exponentially.

“Do not worry. Leave it here. We will go and have a gelato while he examines it.”

He disappears into the back room with my violin, then re-emerges, takes my arm and leads me out of the shop.

“You are one of the musicians staying at the Giardini La Mortella aren’t you? I cannot think of more beautiful surroundings to perform in.”

Somehow I manage to reply, even though I am completely distracted by the way he is cupping my elbow with his hand and guiding me through the bustling streets.

“It’s a huge honour. We’re not a particularly well established orchestra so it was pretty amazing for us to be chosen for the summer residence,” I say.

“The garden has always encouraged young, up-and-coming musicians. You will have a wonderful time there.”

And for the next couple of hours, I do have a wonderful time. Guido buys us a giant ice cream cornet each, and we wander around the jewel of a town admiring boats in the harbour and playing an impromptu game of guess the nationality of the many tourists scurrying around. He actually manages to make me forget my violin is on the operating table, its fate in the balance. He is an easy person to spend time with, and his gentle charm is a breath of fresh air after the sleazy attentions of Adrian the sex pest.

Dusk is beginning to fall when we return to the violin shop.

Guido’s father, an ebullient character with rosy cheeks, meets us at the doorway.

“Rosie, has my son been looking after you?”

I give a shaky nod, all my happiness vanishing away as I brace myself for Gustavo’s verdict.

“It’s ok, I can fix her.”

He names a price so high I nearly drop to the floor. I’m so relieved my violin isn’t dead I nod and give the go-ahead, praying my insurance will cover the bill.

“You can borrow Guido’s violin in the meantime,” continues Gustavo.

Guido shrugs his shoulders in assent. I am astonished at this gesture of kindness. Musicians tend to be rather possessive when it comes to their instruments.

“No more accidents, though, eh?” says Guido.

I nod heartily. Next time I’ll shove an ice cream in Adrian’s face rather than lashing out with my violin.

Gelato StaccatoThe next few days pass in a whirlwind of rehearsals. Guido’s violin is a joy to play, and in no time at all my fingers are flying through fugues and cadenzas. The only problem is my mind keeps on drifting off half way through pieces. I find I’m wondering what Guido is doing instead of counting notes and paying attention to what I should be playing. I’m acting like a schoolgirl with a crush which is plain ridiculous. The thing is, the man in question keeps on appearing in the garden at odd times, smiling that dreamy smile, making my heart beat staccato and filling me with warm fuzzy feelings. I’m hoping his frequent visits are because he wants to see me, but knowing my luck, he’s probably just checking I haven’t broken his violin yet.

“He’s definitely interested,” says Amelia as we sit in the shade of an embellished stone relief of Apollo, taking a break from the baking heat.

She sings the bars of music which are carved in the sunbeams surrounding the god. It’s a theme from the opera Troilus and Cressida, “How can I sleep when love is waking.”

“Very funny,” I say, feigning concentration as I sort through piles of sheet music.

“Well, it isn’t me he keeps bringing ice cream for.”

I smile. Guido has told me all about the gelato business he’s in the process of setting up. I’d be more than happy to be his official tester.

“I never say no to free ice cream. Besides, it’s two weeks until pay day and at the rate things are going, ice cream is going to be my only form of nourishment.”

“Have you heard back from your insurance company yet?”

The steel band tightens around my forehead again.

“No. They said they’d have an answer for me within 48 hours, but it’s been longer than that and I’m too scared to call them.”

Amelia looks anxious. “Rosie, I’m not sure how to tell you this.” She shuffles the music round and coughs nervously.

“What’s the matter?”

“What exactly did you tell your insurance company?” she asks.

“That I had an accident with my violin and it needs repairing of course.”

She shakes her head. “Rosie, you need to check the small print of your policy. Adrian’s been saying he’ll tell your insurance company you assaulted him with your violin. They’ll probably count that as deliberate damage, in which case…” Her voice trails off. The implications are all too obvious.

“Surely they’ll understand if I explain the full circumstances to them?” I try.

Amelia’s pessimistic expression says it all.

I bury my head in my hands. “I’ll never be able to pay for it.  What am I going to do?”

“Hi Rosie, what’s the matter?”

Guido has appeared, bearing ice creams again. I accept a white chocolate cone, but my heart isn’t in it.

I open my mouth, preparing to pour out my financial woes, when Amelia answers for me.

“Oh we’re just a little worried about a duet we’re doing next week. Rosie’s concerned she won’t have memorised it in time.”

I’m wondering what Amelia is playing at when Guido puts his arm round me and squeezes my shoulders.

“Nil desperandum – don’t panic. That’s what the ancient Romans used to say. You have plenty of time to learn it. Anyway, I have good news for you. My father told me your violin should be ready by the end of the week.”

I force a smile. “That’s great.”

It may be fixed, but as I’m unable to pay for the repairs, Gustavo would be perfectly within his rights to sell my violin to make up for his losses. I can’t be a professional musician without my instrument. I’m living in a nightmare.

“How about a meal out to celebrate?” invites Guido.

“Um,” I hesitate. I don’t think I can cope with dinner when the spectre of losing everything I’ve ever worked for is hanging over my head.

“She’d love to,” Amelia gets in first once again.

“I’ll meet you at Forio harbour this evening at eight?” says Guido and I find myself nodding numbly. This time yesterday a dinner invitation from Guido would have made my year, but now I’m too miserable to find the joy in anything.

Guido wanders off, whistling happily.

“There, you don’t need to worry anymore,” says Amelia with great satisfaction.

“What do you mean?”

She laughs. “It’s obvious, silly! Be nice to Guido and get him to persuade his papa to drop the bill.”

“That’s an outrageous suggestion,” I react with horror. “Besides, it would never work.”

“You don’t know until you try.” She sashays off, leaving me alone with my thoughts.

Such is my fear for my violin’s future that for about five minutes I actually contemplate following her advice. However, my conscience soon jumpstarts itself. I like Guido far too much to use him. The only thing I can do is confess to Gustavo and throw myself on his mercy.

The walk into town seems even longer than usual and my mood is at rock bottom. I’ve worked myself up into quite a state by the time I reach the shop. I hover outside on the dusty path for at least ten minutes trying to summon up the courage to enter.

“Rosie, are you going to come and say hello, or are you waiting out there forever?” Gustavo appears in the doorway looking so pleased to see me I have to fight the urge to run away and hide. He’s going to hate me once he finds out I’ve got him repairing my fiddle under false pretences.

“Oh Gustavo, I’m so sorry.” Before I know it, the whole sorry tale is pouring out.

Bless him, he pats my hand, produces a large handkerchief when I get a bit teary and somehow manages to say all the right things. It can’t be much fun for him to have me turning up on his doorstep, confessing my crimes and blubbing all over the place.

“Rosie, listen to me carefully. I understand you left the violin with me in good faith. You did not know your insurance company would not pay for it to be repaired. It sounds like that Adrian deserved what he got, though I would recommend another weapon for the future.”

He hands me a glass of water and as I calm down, he grows more business-like.

“Now, you are here in Ischia for how long?” he asks.

“The next three weeks. We’ve a full programme of performances coming up.”

Performances which I won’t be able to do. I resign myself to the prospect of returning to gloomy England in disgrace and signing on at the local dole office. I’ll never get another job in an orchestra. They won’t employ an unreliable musician who doesn’t even have her own violin.

“Ok, this is what we will do. For the rest of your stay, you will come and assist me in the shop.  I will let you have your violin back when it is fixed. You will work for me for free, then at the end of the three weeks, we will tally up and see how much more you owe me, and we will arrange some way of you paying the rest of the money.”

“But Gustavo, you barely know me. How do you know I’ll be good for the money?” I am astonished at such a generous offer.

“I am an excellent judge of character. And I have mafia connections who will hunt you down if you don’t pay.” He laughs merrily. “I am joking of course. It will be good for me to have someone to help out in the shop. Guido is busy with his own business and I don’t like to keep him away from that. I’m not as young as I was and he worries about me.”

“I can never repay you enough for letting me do this.” I hug Gustavo. “I’ll work here every spare second I have. You won’t regret it, I promise.”

“I ask just one thing,” he says. “Could you not tell Guido about our arrangement? It will be useful having you assist me but when you leave, he will be insisting on helping me once again. I don’t want him to miss his own chances because he thinks I can’t cope without him.”

I’m not entirely sure how we’ll get through the next three weeks without Guido finding out the truth, but I’m prepared to agree to anything at the moment. Hopefully everything will work out alright in the end.

Gelato flowerNow things are sorted out with my violin, I can relax and enjoy my evening with Guido. He meets me at the harbour as agreed at eight on the dot.

“I hope you don’t get sea sick,” he says as he helps me into the water taxi. “I thought we’d take a trip to Maronti beach. It’s time you saw more of my island.”

Dusk is falling as we approach the beach. Tiny tea lights are twinkling on the tables of cafes lining the waterfront. I can smell garlic and other delicious scents wafting out to the boat. It feels like this place is touched with magic.

“I can’t imagine why anyone would want to live anywhere else but here,” I say. “There can’t be a better way to travel to dinner than by boat.”

“I hope you have a good appetite tonight. My friend Luigi has prepared a feast for us. He will be most offended if we don’t manage it all.”

“Oh I can definitely handle a feast,” I chuckle.

It turns out Luigi is quite the master chef. He personally greets us from the boat and escorts us to his restaurant at the far end of the beach. We are seated at a table on the sand, the gentle waves rolling only metres away from us.

“You know I’ve been in Italy for weeks now, and I haven’t been for a swim in the sea. Heck, I haven’t even been for a paddle,” I say.

“You musicians work too hard. There is always time for a paddle in the sea.”

Guido catches my eye, takes hold of my hand and together we kick off our shoes and run down the beach.

The water is a perfect temperature and we splash around in the shallows laughing. It’s so nice to relax and enjoy the moment.

“Ooh, I think a fish just tried to eat me,” I squeal.

“Are you sure it was a fish?” teases Guido. “In ancient times, the emperor Tiberius moved to Capri which is down the coast from here. He trained his slaves to pretend to be fish and nibble at his guests when they went swimming. Perhaps their ghosts are keeping up the tradition.”

“Wow, bet that was a grim job,” I say. “I can see why he would have wanted to live in this area though.”

“I don’t think Tiberius was particularly well loved by his staff. But if I had been an emperor, I think I would have wanted to live on an island rather than in busy old Rome. Tiberius hosted parties and feasts and basically pleased himself.”

“Speaking of feasts, I am absolutely starving.” My stomach growls with perfect timing. “I’m looking forward to seeing what Luigi has cooked for us.”

As we wander back to our table, I stumble slightly and Guido catches hold of me, bringing me close to his chest. He leans forward and my heart starts pounding heavily when…

“Alright Rosie,” Amelia staggers into view. From the slurring in her voice I can tell she’s had more than a few drinks. “See the old plan is working well. Nice one. I said you didn’t have to worry about the insurance money. Make sure you get a violin’s worth, eh Guido. I’ll leave you lovebirds to it.” She giggles and drags her escort, who looks suspiciously like Adrian, away into the shadows.

Guido lets go of me instantly.

“What does she mean, Rosie? What’s this about insurance?” he asks, suspicion growing in his features.

I open my mouth to explain, but remember my promise of silence to Gustavo. I wish a wave would come and wash me away. There is no way I can explain this to Guido. I’ve hesitated too long and I can tell he is already forming his own conclusions.

“Your insurance company won’t pay up,” he says starkly.

I shake my head.

“And you decided this would be the best way to sort it out? Hoping I would cancel the debt for services rendered?” It would almost be better if he was shouting at me. His calm, controlled tone is far more upsetting.

“Guido, that’s not how it is at all,” I protest, but I know I’ve lost him. “Please, trust me.”

“I don’t know you well enough to trust you. I don’t know you at all,” is all he will say.

We choke down Luigi’s feast in stony silence and return to Forio without speaking a word to each other. We bump into a couple of cellists from the orchestra and Guido leaves me to walk back to La Mortella with them. I know I won’t be seeing him again.

I feel I have lost something very precious. I’ve only known Guido for a matter of days, but I so wanted the opportunity to see where things could go with us. I focus on work, and notice an increased poignancy in the music I am playing. After an easy start, we are now caught up in a relentless schedule of performances at the gardens. Hundreds of tourists and locals pour in to hear us play, but the one person I would like to be there never makes an appearance.

When I am not on orchestra duty, I hurry down to Forio to put in some hours at Gustavo’s violin shop. For a tiny establishment on a small island, it is surprisingly busy. There must be something about the water in this place to encourage so many musicians. I welcome the distraction. I want these weeks to be over so I can return to England. I never thought I would be saying that! Everywhere I go on this island I expect to see Guido, and am disappointed when he isn’t there. It’s not exactly a recipe for happiness.

It’s Saturday morning and instead of having a lie in after a late performance last night, I am up early and waiting outside the shop for Gustavo to let me in for another day’s work paying off my debt. I check my watch. It’s gone nine o’clock now. Gustavo is normally pretty prompt about opening up at eight thirty. I knock on the door but there are no footsteps shuffling along, no cheery welcome. I check my phone in the unlikely event he has learnt how to text and sent me a message. Nothing at all.

I peer through the dusty windows to see if there is any sign of him. I am about to give up and return to La Mortella for a bit more shut eye when I spot a shadow by the counter. I blink a couple of times and check again. There seems to be something on the floor. It’s difficult to tell what it is, but I have a bad feeling about this. I rush to the door and try the handle. It’s locked. I shove at it ineffectually. I’m going to have to break in. Remembering something I saw on television, I use my sandal to smash the glass, then rip my t-shirt off to protect my hand from the sharp edges while I reach in to open the latch.

“What is going on here?” Guido bounds up like an angry puppy. “You’re not content with ripping my father off, now you have to break into his shop?”

The man has the worst timing ever.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Guido,” I snap. “I’m worried about your dad. I think he’s had an accident.”

He turns pale. Together we rush inside.

Gustavo is a crumpled shape on the floor, an overturned chair beside him.

“No, don’t touch him,” I warn, as Guido reaches out to pull him up. “He looks like he’s got a head injury. We need to keep him still and get help.”

Gustavo groans. I take his hand and keep talking reassuring nonsense while Guido calls an ambulance. I pray he’ll be alright. There’s no way of telling how long he has been unconscious on the floor.

After what seems like a lifetime, the ambulance squeals to a halt outside, its siren trilling like an opera singer on an off day. Gustavo, who seems to be reviving a bit now, is tenderly strapped to a stretcher and they sweep him off to hospital, Guido by his side. I watch as they vanish into the distance.

Someone wolf-whistles at me from the opposite pavement. I realise I’ve been rushing around without my t-shirt on for the past half hour. The day gets better and better. I hastily cover up, then set about clearing away the mess and arranging for the broken window to be boarded over.

I decide to stay and keep the shop open. It’s a particularly busy day, mostly because I’m fielding dozens of queries about Gustavo’s health. I wish I could give an answer.

I’m clearing up an explosion of rosin dust when the shop bell tinkles yet again.

“I’ll be with you in a moment. Un momento,” I call out, using about the only Italian I know.

Guido is standing there with a violin case in one hand and an ice cream in the other.

I try to read his expression. “Is Gustavo ok?”

“He’s going to be fine. They think his blood pressure fell while he was trying to reach something down and he fainted then hit his head.”

“I’m glad he’s ok.” I avoid catching his gaze. “I’d best be off then.”

“Rosie,” Guido stops me from leaving. “I’ve been talking with my father. He’s told me about your agreement and how much you’ve helped him in the past few days. I’ve been really stupid. I shouldn’t have believed the word of some drunk girl over you. I’m truly sorry. Can we start over?”

He looks genuinely nervous.

I pretend to consider, though I know exactly what my answer will be.

“What’s with the violin and the ice cream?” I ask.

“I thought I’d cover both eventualities. The gelato is if you say yes.” He’s starting to smile now. He can read my answer in my expression.

“And if I say no?” I ask.

“Well, I thought I’d better provide a violin for you to hit me with. It’s Amelia’s by the way, so feel free to really lay into me with it.”

I laugh and slip my arm around his waist.

“I’ll go for the gelato, I think.”