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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An Interview with Christina Courtenay

Christina Courtenay Nicola here! It's my very great pleasure today to welcome back Honorary Word Wench Christina Courtenay! Not only has Christina's first historical novel, Trade Winds, recently been shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists' Association Historical Novel Prize, her second book, The Scarlet Kimono, is set for publication at the beginning of March. Today Christina is here to talk about The Scarlet Kimono and the fascinating setting of 17th century Japan. Christina writes:

"Thank you very much for inviting me, it’s great to be back on your lovely blog again!

 I thought I would tell you a little bit about the research for my second historical TheScarletKimono_front romance, The Scarlet Kimono, which is coming out soon.  The story is largely set in 17th century Japan, a time when hardly any Europeans had ventured that far east and those who did were either missionaries or merchants.  The Japanese were very reluctant to receive foreigners and although Portuguese and Spanish priests were allowed at first and some of the locals converted to Christianity, they were soon being persecuted.  The traders were confined to the port of Hirado near Nagasaki (and later on a small island called Dejima) and usually weren’t allowed to venture any further.

 There was one exception to this, however, the Englishman Will Adams, whom many of you might know about from James Clavell’s novel The Shogun, (whose hero I believe was loosely based on Adams).  He seems to have become a protégé of the shogun (ruler) Tokugawa Ieyasu, and stayed in Japan until his death.  I decided that it would be interesting to explore this theme, but with a female foreigner rather than a male, and so my heroine was born.

 As a teenager, I lived in Japan for a few years, and naturally this helped me with a lot of the basic research such as the language, food and customs.  However, being young, there were a lot of things I didn’t notice so a couple of years ago my family and I went back for a visit and this time I concentrated on taking note of everything I needed to know for my story.  One of the things I’d never done while living there was to go and see a Japanese castle and since one features in my novel, this was a must.

 Himeji3 In Tokyo there is only the Imperial Palace, which doesn’t allow visitors except in the gardens, so we had to venture further afield.  As we wanted to go to Kyoto anyway (a lovely city with a much more “laid-back” feel than busy Tokyo), we decided to take the bullet train, the Shinkansen, and make an extra stop along the way in the town of Himeji.  I’d read that there was a wonderful castle there, not far from the station, and this proved to be the case.

 Himeji is one of the finest (if not the finest) surviving examples of 17th century Japanese castle architecture, and I believe it’s also the largest and most frequently visited.  It was one of the first recognised UNESCO World Heritage sites in Japan and is a national treasure.  The word ‘impressive’ doesn’t even begin to cover it, as we soon discovered!

 Coming out of the station, we wandered along a high street that sloped up towards this magnificent castle built in the traditional Japanese style.  Situated at the top of a hill, with a large central multi-storied keep, it has high roofs with the corners turned up and some sort of mythical tiger-headed fish (!) as decorations.  Surrounded by lots of smaller buildings and high walls, all white-washed above solid foundations of perfectly fitted stonework, it is a formidable place and definitely the kind of castle I had in mind for my hero, who is a samurai warlord.  We were doubly lucky in that we happened to visit during cherry blossom season and the entire castle compound was surrounded by trees covered in sakura, the delicate white petals so beloved of Japanese poets.  It seemed like a magical place to live – how could my heroine not fall in love with both it and its owner?  I certainly loved it.

 Inside, we were allowed to climb to the highest floor of the central tower building, the tenshu.  The HimejiBlossom floors and staircases (some quite steep!) are all of gleaming wood, polished smooth by thousands of feet no doubt, and I immediately got that lovely feeling of stepping back in time.  At the top, the view over the surrounding countryside is breath-taking – that sounds clichéd, but there really is no other word for it.  As the castle is so high up, the views are far-reaching and I doubt any enemy army could ever have surprised the inhabitants.  All in all, it is quite simply perfect.

 I have to admit to being a great fan of castles of any kind – I’m sure my fascination with fairy tales as a child had something to do with it – and although the Japanese variety are built in such a different style to ours, I think the feeling of awe induced in any visitor is the same.  The grandeur, the sweeping views and the sheer scale of the buildings are always a thrill, at least to me." 

Christina, thank you very much for sharing some of your research with us today. I loved Trade Winds and I am looking forward very much to getting my hands on The Scarlet Kimono and reading about such a fascinating historical background. Here is a little bit more information about the book to whet the appetite!

The Scarlet Kimono is published by Choc Lit on 1st March, ISBN 978-1-906931-29-2 and is available on or (post free worldwide).  For more details see

TheScarletKimono_front Blurb:

 Abducted by a Samurai warlord in 17th-century Japan – what happens when fear turns to love?

England, 1611, and young Hannah Marston envies her brother’s adventurous life. But when she stows away on his merchant ship, her powers of endurance are stretched to their limit. Then they reach Japan and all her suffering seems worthwhile – until she is abducted by Taro Kumashiro’s warriors.

 In the far north of the country, warlord Kumashiro is waiting to see the girl who he has been warned about by a seer. When at last they meet, it’s a clash of cultures and wills, but they’re also fighting an instant attraction to each other. 

 With her brother desperate to find her and the jealous Lady Reiko equally desperate to kill her, Hannah faces the greatest adventure of her life. And Kumashiro has to choose between love and honour …

 My website and blog are at

Christina is offering a signed copy of The Scarlet Kimono to one lucky commenter and I know her question is one that will get the discussion going! "I’d love to know which castles have inspired other authors or, as readers, which are your favourites?  Also, which ones you’d love to visit if you had the opportunity – next on my wish list are the German ones along the river Donau.  You can’t get more “fairy tale” than that! If you’d like to win a signed copy, please leave a comment below about your favourite castle (or castles?) and why you love that one in particular." Over to you! 

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?