Secret Scribbles

Christina here. I hope you’ll forgive me revisiting a topic Anne blogged about back in 2012 (here) because this is an exciting time of year for me – IT’S NEW DIARY TIME!!! That means I get to choose a brand new diary for next year and let me tell you, this is serious business.

Diary 1I’ve kept a diary on and off since I was eight years old. When I was given my first one, the appeal lay in having somewhere secret to write down my thoughts because of course it had a lock and tiny key. (I didn’t know that anyone with a decent hairpin could probably have picked it). I relished the opportunity to keep my opinions away from prying eyes, especially those of my little brother once he learned to read. And anything secret seemed exciting then – my friends and I formed several secret clubs but that’s another story.

These days I don’t have many secrets to write about and there’s no lock on my diaries, but I still love to jot down what I’ve done each day and where I’ve been. Whenever possible I add things like ticket stubs and other tiny mementos, and there’s the occasional picture too. It’s not the end of the world if I miss a day occasionally, but on the whole, I’m pretty good about keeping up with it.

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Setting Sail with Christina Courtenay!

Christina Courtenay Hello, Nicola here, and today it is my very great pleasure to welcome Christina Courtenay to the Word Wenches. Christina is a historical author who writes for Choc Lit (tagline: where heroes are like chocolate – irresistible!) and her debut novel Trade Winds is out this month. Christina is a winner of the prestigious Elizabeth Goudge Trophy for her short story "Cavalier Treatment" which was published in Solander, the magazine of the Historical Novel Society, in 2002, and is also a past winner of the Katie Fforde Bursary for authors. She has also written a number of novellas.

Trade Winds is a historical romance set in Sweden and China. It's loosely based on the Swedish East India Company's first journey to the Far East in 1732 and is a story full of passion and adventure. I loved the unusual background and true to Choc Lit's promise, the Scottish hero, Killian, is indeed irresistible! Here Christina talks about her inspiration for the book:

"A lot of authors find inspiration for their stories in old houses or specific places. With me, however, ShipFront the trigger for my debut novel Trade Winds was a ship. The sailing ship Gotheborg, to be precise. An exact replica of a vessel that had once sailed to the Far East on behalf of the Swedish East India Company (the SOIC) it happened to dock at Canary Wharf in London for a couple of weeks during the spring of 2007.  Being half-Swedish and also curious, I decided to go and have a look. What I found fascinated me so much that I immediately began to think: "What if…"

Who would sail halfway around the world in such a relatively small ship? How did they put up with living in cramped conditions for months on end and facing the terrors of the unknown? What were the odds of surviving and how long did it take? As I began to read up on the subject, I couldn't help admiring these courageous men and wondering how on earth they coped. And I had the perfect basis for a historical romance. The story began to take shape in my head as I stood on the deck of the Gotheborg, the ugly modern buildings around me fading away as I imagined myself nearly three hundred years back in time and out on the vast ocean. (Just as well it wasn't for real, though, as I'm probably the worst sailor ever!)

I did some research on the SOIC and it turns out that to start with, a lot of their employees were either Scotsmen or Englishmen, not Swedes as I had thought. When the SOIC was formed in 1731 the Swedes didn't have much knowledge of trading with the Far East but of course the Scots and English did. One of the Company's first directors was a man called Colin Campbell and he also decided to act as their first Supercargo (the person in charge of the business part of the trading expedition) in order to make sure the company had a good start. He succeeded and thanks to him the SOIC's first venture was a huge success.

I decided that my hero, Scotsman Killian Kinross, who had come to Gothenburg to make his fortune, had to go on that first journey with Colin. It seemed like an opportunity he simply couldn't miss. Add to that a Swedish heroine, also in need of money but for different reasons, and I had a great excuse for throwing them together. With profits from Far East ventures as high as tenfold on any investment, it made perfect sense for them both to get involved with the SOIC. From there it was only a short step to the conclusion that they would do even better if they joined forces…

In order to make Killian's experience as authentic as possible, I studied the journal Colin Campbell kept during the voyage (which had been published in book form). I also went to Gothenburg to have a look around. At the City Museum there the archivists keep a large collection of artefacts and journals donated by former SOIC employees. They helped me find the most relevant research material and were extremely welcoming.

Old Gothenborg Walking around the town helped as well. Although it has obviously changed a lot since the 18th century, the basic layout is the same and with the help of an old street map, I was able to get my bearings. I hope I have managed to portray it accurately in my novel.

All in all, writing Trade Winds taught me so much that I didn't know and was a journey in itself, which I really enjoyed. I'm now working on the sequel, which is set in Scotland, but that's another story altogether…"

Here is a blurb for the book and an excerpt:

It's 1732 in Gothenburg, Sweden, and strong-willed merchant's daughter Jess van Sandt knows only too well that it's a man's world. She believes she is being swindled out of her inheritance by her stepfather, and she's determined to stop it. When help arrives in the unlikely form of Scotsman Killian Kinross, Jess finds herself both intrigued and infuriated by him…

"Jess walked out of her stepfather's study with her head held high. As always she closed the door behind her as quietly as she could, instead of slamming it hard the way she'd like to do. Gritting her teeth, she ran towards the stairs, only to barrel straight into someone who was just coming in from the hall.

"Ooof! I beg your pardon!"

Disconcerted, she took a step back and was about to apologise again, but as she looked up the words died on her lips. In front of her stood the handsomest man she had ever seen and she couldn't do anything except stare at him for a moment. He had shining dark auburn hair, pulled back into an untidy queue, cornflower-blue eyes surrounded by sweeping black lashes, and impossibly perfect features.  She blinked and wondered if he was real. Perhaps he was one of the Archangels spoken of in the Bible? She shook herself mentally. What a ridiculous thought.

‘No, it is I who should apologise. Miss Fergusson, is it?’ He bowed. ‘Killian Kinross at your service. I’ve come to see your father and was told to wait over there.’ He indicated a chair obviously placed for this purpose against the wall outside Robert’s study. ‘I should have looked before entering this hallway. My mistake.’


‘He is not my father,’ she hissed, reminded again of the recent encounter and ignoring the rest of the man’s sentence. ‘He is the devil reincarnated.’ This was perhaps a gross exaggeration, but saying the words out loud gave vent to her pent-up frustration and made her feel a whole lot better.


Mr Kinross raised his brows a fraction and a slow smile spread over his features. Jess almost gasped as the effect of it was like a physical blow to her solar plexus. ‘Riled you, has he?’ he enquired with amusement in his voice. ‘Ah, but of course, he’s related to my grandfather. Stands to reason.’


Jess didn’t follow the logic of this statement. In fact, she had trouble thinking coherently at all with that devastating smile dazzling her, but she closed her eyes and gathered what few wits she had left. ‘I don’t wish to discuss it. Good day to you, Mr Kinross.’


And with that parting shot, she stepped around him and ran up the stairs, lifting her skirts to take the steps an unladylike two at a time. Glancing down from the first floor landing, she saw him staring after her with a thoughtful look on his face. When he noticed her pause, he smiled again and bowed in a lazy, almost insolent salute.


Jess ignored him and continued upstairs. She’d had more than enough of men to last her a lifetime and TradeWinds Front Cover[1] she wanted nothing to do with any of them, handsome or not.”


The first two chapters are available on the Choc Lit website and on Christina’s website where you can also read much more information about her fascinating research.


Christina is giving away a copy of Trade Winds to one lucky commenter. Now over to you:

Christina’s inspiration for writing Trade Winds came from a ship. Have you ever been inspired to do something – decorate a house, write a book, or anything else – by something really strange or different?