It’s publication day for Alexa Milne Christmas story, A String of Lights. She dropped by the blog to tell us more.
Tell us about A String of Lights and the inspiration behind it.
The inspiration for this story came from a strange source. We had our bathroom turned into a wetroom a little while ago and one of the blokes who worked on it also worked for another man who went around the country putting up Christmas lights in towns and cities. I’d never thought of it being a specific job before and it gave me the title – A String of Lights. So Devlyn, my first MC, was born working for Sid. But I needed another MC.
Strangely, I often get inspiration from the programme, Countryfile. The idea for my novel My Highland Cowboy also came from a report on Countryfile. This time they had a story about someone restoring a rundown estate. So Henry was born as a secret lottery winner who bought such an estate on Exmoor, set about its restoration, and wanted Christmas lights in his village. Hence, Dev and Henry meet. As in all Christmas stories, something happens to keep them together. Spoiler – it isn’t snow!
Do you have a favourite Christmas book or film that you turn to each year?
My favourite Christmas film is It’s a Wonderful Life. I may have a thing for angels. I love Clarence in the film and also Castiel in Supernatural. I’ve even written a Christmas two-part story with an angel. The books are called Not Every Time and A Bell Rings. If you know It’s a Wonderful Life, you might recognise I’ve changed the last line to give me the titles for the books. Another Christmas favourite is Scrooged. So much fun in that film.
On TV, I watch the Christmas episodes of Gavin and Stacey so often, I know them by heart. This links me to my home as I’m from Barry, where it’s set.
What, to you, makes for the perfect Christmas?
I’m not one for huge gatherings and seeing family is tricky as I live far away from them. We have a quiet Christmas with lots of silly presents, my favourite dinner of the year, too much chocolate, and watching TV.
Where do you write and when?
At the moment, due to mobility problems, I write a lot sat up on my bed. I tend to write in the morning, but I don’t make myself write every day or write a certain amount. I write when I want to and as much as I can. That can be 200 words or 2000 if I’m lucky. I don’t feel guilty if I don’t write. I’m mostly a pantster with a little planning, so sometimes have to wait for the next bit of inspiration to come along, like it did this morning. Then I have to make notes before I forget what I thought about. Somehow the words appear on the page, and eventually, I fashion some sort of story out of them.
Tell us about your journey to publication, and the sort of books your write. Was writing something you’d always wanted to do or did you fall into it by accident?
I first started writing when a character in a TV showed died. That character was Ianto Jones and the programme was Torchwood. I’d always been a Doctor Who fan so naturally watched Torchwood and became more than a little involved with the relationship between Ianto and his handsome Captain Jack Harkness.
After his death, I found fanfiction and I started writing a fix it story. I kept writing. Then I found Supernatural and online fandoms and online friends I have to this day. Some of those friends started writing their own stories, so I thought I’d give it a try and wrote Sporting Chance. They say write what you know. One MC was a history teacher, like me, and the other a rugby player. I’m a big watcher of Wales playing rugby union. To my amazement, the second publisher I sent it to offered me a contract.
After that, I kept writing. I’d retired from teaching so I could write when I wanted. I write books with all sorts of MCs. I write angsty and sweet stories. I write stories with sex, maybe because I come from a fanfiction background, but also because I like writing them. I’ve written short stories, novella and novels.
I’m currently writing the third part of an unpublished trilogy with the same MCs, something new for me. It’ll need a lot of editing as in total it’s over 200,000 words and hasn’t even got a title. Lockdown has made writing a bit hit and miss, but even if I stop for a while, getting words down on a page always pulls me back.
About Alexa Milne
Originally from South Wales, Alexa has lived for over thirty years in the North West of England. Now retired, after a long career in teaching, she devotes her time to her obsessions.
Alexa began writing when her favourite character was killed in her favourite show. After producing a lot of fanfiction she ventured into original writing.
She is currently owned by a mad cat and spends her time writing about the men in her head, watching her favourite television programmes and usually crying over her favourite football team.
A String of Lights
Sometimes loves shines a light.
Devlyn Collins lives with his mum and stepdad in the north of England. He goes out with his mates, drinks a bit too much and works for his Uncle Sid. The trouble is, he’s begun to think he wants more.
Henry Ward is a man with a secret—he’s a multi-millionaire who owns a landed estate on the edge of Exmoor, thanks to a massive win on the lottery. He’s also a man with a mission, determined to restore Secoombe Hall and village and find out how he shares a history with the place. He’s too busy for love.
Christmas brings these two men together when Henry offers Sid and Dev silly money for a last-minute job of putting up Christmas lights. Dev doesn’t expect to meet an attractive man in this small village and Henry expects them to be just strangers, passing for one night only.
But events conspire to bring Dev back to the village…and keep him there for Christmas. Will this be just a holiday romance, or could it develop into something more?
“All right, it’s true. I never thought you’d get to this stage.”
Henry listened to his sister, Bella, while Ollie, the biggest and hairiest of the four estate cats, wove between his legs.
“I’m sorry we’re not there, but Toby had to be in France for a race this weekend, and the girls and I decided Paris would be ideal for shopping for Christmas presents, and it’s not like we haven’t seen the Hall already. You’ve done such a wonderful job.”
Henry heard the unspoken words—and if I have to spend any more time with that pompous twit from the village, I would most likely commit murder.
“It’s fine, Bella. I’ll see you over the holidays.” He motioned to Aggie Giles, the housekeeper, who was laden down with a tray of cakes of various sorts. She smiled and nodded, already knowing to take them to the largest room at the back of the house overlooking the gardens, where the Christmas party was to be held. Stan, her husband, had already carried through the trays of turkey rolls, with and without stuffing. A large steel urn had been brought into the room to provide hot water for tea and coffee for the adults, and there were bottles of soft drinks for the village children.
“I’ve got to go,” he said. “I hope both you and Toby get what you want in Paris.” Toby and Bella had been married for fifteen years, having met as stable hands in their late teens with dreams of owning their own training yard. Two years ago, a stroke of luck had changed Henry and Bella’s lives. They’d bought a ticket for the EuroMillions lottery and won the biggest-ever prize of one hundred and eighty million pounds between them.
“That’s everything, Mr. Henry,” Aggie announced as he put the phone in his pocket.
“Thank you, Aggie. You and Stan have been a great help.”
She handed him a lint remover. “I thought you might need this after Ollie’s attention.” She’d shooed the big cat away. Henry glanced down to find cat fur all over the lower part of his trousers and tutted as he ran the roller over them.
“Somehow he always sneaks in,” he said as he brushed.
“Will the owner be joining us today?” Aggie asked.
Henry shook his head. “No, he’s across the other side of the world on business. He’s a busy man.” Henry hated lying, but he’d invented this person so people wouldn’t be curious about him. As far as the villagers knew, he was the estate manager in charge of renovating the houses, village and land, not the man who, in fact, owned everything.
“Do we know how many of the villagers will be here, Aggie?” He needed to change the subject.
“Being a Saturday, some people are at work, but I reckon around three hundred, give or take. Mel Whedon and her bloke aren’t moving into Coombe Cottage until next week, but she’ll be here. She’s due to give birth any time now. Her parents are so grateful to have her nearby rather than in Taunton. So many people are amazed at what’s been done. This boss of yours must be a philanthropist or doing it for tax purposes.”
Stan returned. “Don’t matter why he’s doing it, only that something’s been done, love. This village was dying and now we’ve new houses, a village hall and a church with a roof, as well as this place mostly restored and providing something to bring in tourists.”
In the last two years, Henry had completed much of what he’d set out to do. The main house had been transformed from a leaky, draughty building a few months away from ruin to something beautiful. He’d had cottages rebuilt in the grounds, revamped the village hall and replaced the church roof, as well as making the gatehouse fit for occupation for himself. He had more plans that he intended to announce that afternoon.
A small group of people walked into the entrance. “Mr. Ward?”
Henry stepped forward. “You must be the musicians I booked.” The woman took his outstretched hand.
“Yes, we’re the Villagers. Could someone show us where to set up?”
“I’ll deal with them, Mr. Henry,” Stan said, leading the two women and three men away. A little while later, the sound of singing accompanied by guitar, fiddle and drum spread through the house. Time to get ready to greet the visitors.
Typically, the vicar arrived first. The recently appointed Reverend Christopher Birch was young, enthusiastic, looked as if he needed a square meal and was gay, something he’d told Henry in what he called a spirit of honesty, with the church sited on land belonging to the Secoombe estate. He clasped Henry’s hand and shook it hard.
“I can’t tell you how grateful we are for the roof, Mr. Ward. Please tell your employer. It means so much being able to preserve the old place, and especially the Doom Painting. So many were whitewashed during the Reformation. You know there’s been a place of worship on the site from as far back as the Domesday Book. Now, we’ll be able to get visitors in and tidy up the graveyard, make the gravestones safe. I wish I could do the same for all my churches.”
Henry guessed that might be a hint for more money. Well, if you don’t ask… “I’ll see what I can do.”
“Oh, would you? That would be kind, and I hear a young family will be moving into Coombe Cottage soon. So good to have more young people in the village.”
“The owner is more than happy to help. As I’ve explained, his family came from this village quite a while back, hence his interest. I believe there are Secoombes buried in the church itself.”