This week, I’m delighted to welcome Helena Fairfax with her new romantic suspense novella The Scottish Diamond, released today. I meet with Helena several times a year, and she’s a friendly lady and a fab author – so of course I had plenty of things to ask her about her new release!
But first, the very atmospheric cover and the blurb . . .
What do you do when it seems you can’t trust anyone…even the man you love?
“Fair is foul, and foul is fair…” When Lizzie Smith starts rehearsing Macbeth with her theatre group in Edinburgh, she’s convinced the witches’ spells are the cause of a run of terrible luck. Lizzie’s bodyguard boyfriend, Léon, is mysteriously turned down for every job he applies for, until he’s finally offered the job of guarding “The Scottish Diamond,” a fabulous jewel from the country of Montverrier.
But the diamond’s previous guard has disappeared in mysterious circumstances. The Scottish Diamond has a history of intrigue and bloody murder, and Lizzie is plagued by nightmares in which Macbeth’s witches are warning her of danger.
Then Lizzie discovers she’s being followed through the streets of Edinburgh, and it seems her worst fears are about to be realised…
And an excerpt to whet your appetite . . .
He picked up one of my hands in both of his. ‘Now this is why I didn’t say anything,’ he said, with his down-turned smile. ‘I didn’t want you to be worrying. And you’re right – who on earth would want to follow me? I’m worrying about nothing. I’ve just had too much time on my hands.’
I continued to frown up at him, troubled. He took my face in his hands and kissed me. ‘I know what it is,’ he said, his eyes twinkling. ‘It’s all your talk of witches and ghosts. Your Scottish superstitions are rubbing off on me and I’m seeing things in this gloomy weather that aren’t there at all.’
He swung me into his arms and kissed me again.
After that, Léon dismissed his vigilance as something brought on by the strangeness of his new city. And once he began his new job at the Castle, he didn’t mention being followed again, and in fact, all the tension he’d been showing disappeared, and he became almost his old self. He left the house with a sense of purpose that had been lacking in his previous aimless wanderings around Edinburgh. And the best thing was, he was beginning to understand more and more of our Scottish brogue every day.
I later discovered it wasn’t just our Scottish way of speaking he was mastering. A few days after he started work, I was in the kitchen preparing our evening meal, when I heard the front door close and Léon’s light tread in the hall. Usually he went straight upstairs to change, but this evening he came directly to the kitchen and put his head round the door. His eyes brimmed with amusement.
I stepped closer to give him a kiss, and he pushed the door wide. My mouth fell open. He was dressed in a kilt. The green tartan cloth was thrown over one broad shoulder in Highland fashion, and the pleated skirt revealed an inch or two of tanned, muscular leg above a pair of thick, cream-coloured socks.
‘Wow,’ I stuttered. ‘You look…’ I breathed out in a long whistle. ‘You look amazing.’
He smiled broadly, showing his white, even teeth in one of the first real smiles I’d seen him give since we left Europe.
‘This is my new uniform.’ He spread his arms a little, glancing down at himself. ‘Not a bad effort for a half-Italian, half-Montverrian. What do you think?’
‘Not bad at all.’ My face decided right then and there to turn a decided pink, and to hide the fact that I couldn’t keep my eyes off him, I threw my arms around his neck and planted a kiss below his ear.
His arms encircled me, and he murmured, ‘Ever made love to a man in a kilt?’
And after that, everything between us was perfect again. All my worries about Léon wanting to go home to Italy, and all his former tension vanished, and we were just as we had been during those idyllic two weeks we’d spent at his home on the Amalfi coast that summer.
But of course, perfect times can’t last forever. Everything changed when I realised it wasn’t Léon who was being followed. It was me.
Sounds great, Helena – I think I’m already half in love with Léon! And now onto my questions . . .
Although The Scottish Diamond can be read as a standalone novel, the heroine and hero – Lizzie and Léon – first meet in your novella Palace of Deception. Could you tell us a little about how and why you decided to lead them into new adventures in this book?
Palace of Deception is set in the suite of a royal palace, in the heat of the Mediterranean. Glamorous surroundings indeed! With the added backdrop of danger, it’s no wonder Lizzie and Léon fall in love…
After I’d finished writing the story, I started to wonder what would happen when Lizzie and Léon have to return from the palace to the “normal” world. Léon is forced to try and adapt to life in Edinburgh – a cold northern town after his southern European upbringing – and I wanted to know how they would deal with the change.
(Of course danger follows on their heels, so there is still plenty of suspense!)
I presume you enjoy adding an element of mystery and suspense to your stories?
I absolutely loved writing the mystery and suspense element. It’s been a great deal of fun – and also a LOT harder than I imagined when I first set out. Strangely, I don’t find it too difficult building the suspense – and even in my contemporary romances, people often comment that they are “page-turning reads.” What I did find really hard to do was to leave clues for the reader without spilling the beans about the ending, and to make sure my plot was watertight, with no gaping holes in it. This is something Agatha Christie did in book after book – my admiration for her skill has grown enormously!
It must be quite a challenge, I agree. The Scottish Diamond is set in Edinburgh. Was that inspired by your own visits there?
The contrast between Lizzie’s home city in Scotland and Léon’s upbringing on the Mediterranean coast made me ask the question at the end of Palace of Deception – what will happen to Léon when he travels to Edinburgh with Lizzie? How will they both adapt to their new life together?
And then of course Edinburgh is the perfect setting for mystery and romance. Every time I visit the city, I’m struck by the history (often quite a bloody and dramatic history) which you’re reminded of on every street corner. It’s a beautiful city, but it can be quite gloomy at times, I find. It wasn’t difficult to add suspense in these surroundings.
Which of Lizzie’s and Leon’s characteristics did you have fun developing?
Lizzie is an actress. I enjoyed showing how she got into her role in Palace of Deception. When Lizzie returns to Edinburgh in The Scottish Diamond, she begins rehearsals for Macbeth. A lot of actors I’ve met are quite superstitious, and Macbeth has a tradition of bad luck surrounding it. I enjoyed bringing out Lizzie’s superstitious side, as in general she’s quite level-headed. Her belief that the witches’ spells are a curse adds a great deal to the tension.
Léon was a dream to write. Halfway through writing The Scottish Diamond, I hit a total brick wall. I had no idea how the story was going to end in a gripping and satisfactory way. And then I had a total revelation about Léon’s character – it really was incredible how it happened – and everything about him fell into place. Even his reticence and quietness in Palace of Deception made perfect sense. I can’t reveal any more, without spoiling the end of The Scottish Diamond, but I completely fell in love with this hero by the end of it. (I do hope the readers do, too.)
I’m quite taken with him, just from reading the excerpt! Have you started your next book yet, and if so, can you tell us a little about it?
I’m about to start work on a short story for an anthology put together by an international group of authors called World Romance Writers. This is a new group set up by two American authors – Gemma Juliana and Rose Anderson – and I’m really excited to be a part of it.
Our first anthology will be set in Europe, and it’s due for release at the end of June. Each story will feature a heroine who receives a letter that changes her life. My heroine lives in Paris, and she receives a letter telling her…but sssh – you’ll have to wait and see…!
Ha! More suspense! Where do you do your writing?
I write in my living-room, with my dog next to me. She’s a rescue dog and we’ve formed a great bond. She’s my best critic. She loves every story I tell her!
I think I could do with a dog, then! Thank you so much for visiting today, Helena 🙂
It’s been fun revisiting this story. Thanks very much for having me today, Helen, and for your thoughtful questions!
The Scottish Diamond is available from Amazon at: http://mybook.to/ScottishDiamond
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