Y’all, I’m beyond thrilled to welcome Hannah today as she answers a few questions for us. Her newest Aspen Valley book, Chasing the Wind, is getting fantastic reviews, which is not a surprise since the rest of the series is well loved as well.
Check out the below and then go find her on Amazon. Surely one of these great books will strike your fancy!
*What do you like best about writing romances?
There are lots of reasons why I enjoy writing romance novels, but I think what tops it all is being allowed to fall in love with each new hero (and some old ones too!) and feeling that tightening in my stomach when he looks that way at the heroine or touches her for the first time.
*What is your favorite romantic story (movie/book, fact/fiction)?
Hmm, can I choose more than one? I have been a die hard Dirty Dancing fan since I first saw it aged 6. How can anybody not love Jonny Castle? It also taught me a lot about the art of writing romances too. Its popularity comes not only because of Patrick Swayze doing his sexy thang but also from Baby, who was the girl everyone could relate to and who wasn’t just another Hollywood babe. I try to keep that lesson in mind when building my own heroines.
In the book world, it would have to be The Thorn Birds. A great tome of a book, it is VERY tragic, but the love between the main characters is so strong that I totally swooned the first time I read it. There was just one love scene in the whole book, and it barely covered a quarter of the page, so it wasn’t very graphic either, but boy was it worth it! And it got me thinking – why was this ‘bonding’ so intense and so earth-moving? I learnt another big lesson about romance writing from that. It’s that forbidden love is always the most delicious, hence why so many of my novels have that theme.
*If you could be any romantic character, who would it be and why?
To be honest, if I could be any romantic character it would be my own heroine Pippa Taylor from Keeping the Peace – not only is she the gutsiest, most resourceful and kind-hearted person I’ve ever come across but she also gets together with Jack Carmichael, who, of all my heroes, remains by far at the top of the heap. If I can’t choose from one of my own novels then I’d probably have to go with Holly Colshannon from Playing James, and mostly because she gets to ride off into the sunset with Detective James Sabine who is dee-lish.
*Which of your characters/books was the most fun to write?
I always loved writing Pippa and Jack. They started out in Keeping the Peace in what was meant to be a single book, but they just had so much chemistry and so much depth to offer that I had to make an entire five book series involving them (the Aspen Valley series). Another favourite character is Finn O’Donaghue. He was always a delight to write. I’m not sure how it is possible for a character to have a better sense of humour than the author but Finn manages it just fine. And he’s not always the holiest of characters either, but his naturally charisma has made him a favourite with readers. He features mainly in the first Aspen Valley book Keeping the Peace and the last one Chasing the Wind.
*If you weren’t a writer and could be anything you want, what would it be?
Gosh, I really have to think about that one. Probably a creative writing tutor, which I already am. I spent 15 years doing a variety of jobs I was totally unsuited to before finally settling down to be a Serious Writer, and I can honestly say I’ve never been happier. It’s not hard when I get to surround myself with such fantastic characters.
Aspen Valley series
by Hannah Hooton
Champions are made by the adversities they overcome.
When tragedy strikes Aspen Valley Stables, racehorse trainer Jack Carmichael is in danger of losing everything – his wife, his reputation, his sanity… then in walks Lucy Kendrick, a young reporter, all set to shadow him.
Every journalist has an agenda and Lucy is no different. Can she uphold her cover when charismatic jockey Finn O’Donaghue makes her want to be no one but herself?
The Grand National beckons once more, but when the yard’s runners start to foul fall of the authorities, the future of Aspen Valley Stables is threatened. Is the wreckage that is his personal life compromising Jack’s ability to train or is there something more sinister going on?
Get it on Amazon
JACK’S OFFICE DOOR clicked open as he disconnected his phone call. Pippa butted it wide with the pushchair while twenty-two-month-old Gabrielle waddled in behind her. Pippa looked desperate.
‘Can you look after Gabby this morning?’
‘Please, Jack? Only until eleven or so. The council have called a last minute meeting and I can’t tackle them with her with me.’
Jack looked unenthusiastically at his daughter leaving dirty fingerprints on the glass cabinet that showcased Aspen Valley Stables’ victories then back at his wife. ‘Do you have to go?’
Pippa looked appalled. ‘Of course I must. Art Attack is my responsibility. What would that say about my dedication to the cause if I don’t show up? The community centre will be torn down for sure and –’
‘Okay, okay.’ Jack held up his hands in defeat. ‘No later than eleven, though, right? I need to leave for Stratford before noon.’
The lines on Pippa’s face vanished. Standing on tiptoe and balancing herself against his hips, she kissed him. ‘Wonderful man.’
Pippa tasted like strawberries. Seeing the effort she’d made with her appearance sparked a flare of arousal in him. His wife’s thumbs rotating over his hips did nothing to lessen it. ‘The council don’t know what they’re getting themselves into. ’Tis a brave man to take you on.’
‘You took me on.’
‘My point exactly,’ Jack replied with mock modesty.
Pippa kissed him again. ‘None so beautiful as the brave. I’ll see you later.’ His mobile rang again and she released him. ‘I’ll let you get on,’ she mouthed.
‘Knock ’em dead,’ he called after her, then turned to answer his phone. ‘Yeah, Quint?’ He returned Pippa’s departing wave with a distracted hand. He gave a frustrated sigh when the jockey’s agent told him Mick Farrelly wouldn’t be available to ride for him.
‘How long is Rhys out of commission?’ Quint asked.
‘He’s bust up his knee pretty bloody bad – Gabby, hey!’ Jack darted forward and took the Galway Plate they’d won over the summer away from Gabrielle’s inquisitive jaws. ‘You’ll give yourself metal poisoning or something. Sorry, Quint. What were we saying?’
‘Rhys Bradford’s injury?’
‘Oh, yeah.’ Jack shook his head. The season had barely begun and Aspen Valley’s star jockey had already been ruled out after an ugly fall at Warwick. ‘He’ll be out for the whole season, doctors reckon.’
Quint sucked his teeth in sympathy. ‘Thought it looked serious. But you never know. The docs underestimate these guys.’
Jack looked grimly at Gabrielle slobbering over a photo frame on his desk. ‘I think this time they might be right.’
‘Well, hey. You know Mick is always happy to ride for you when he can. But he’s only just got this retainer with Jonny Levine. He’s got to stay ultra-loyal right now.’
Gabrielle climbed onto a chair then onto Jack’s desk and wavered. Jack darted an instinctive arm out to steady her.
‘Yeah, I know. Okay, Quint. Tell Mick good luck.’
‘Sure. See ya.’
Jack dropped his phone in his pocket and tried to manoeuvre Gabrielle off his desk. The toddler kicked the desk phone out of its cradle and sat down with a bump, flattening a Racing Post calendar.
Jack stifled a sigh. Gabrielle looked up at him and gurgled in amusement.
‘It’s not funny, young lady.’
Jack’s annoyance quickly dissipated at that magic word. He passed her a couple of highlighter pens and flipped open his Entries and Declarations notepad to a blank page.
‘Here. Why don’t you draw?’ He clicked off the lid of the pink pen. Gabrielle put it in her mouth. ‘No, no, no. Don’t do that. Just draw. Here. Okay?’ Jack took her hand in his and moved it over the paper. ‘See?’
Satisfied that she was sufficiently occupied, Jack picked up the swinging telephone and pressed the Intercom button that linked his office with Reception next door. ‘Dale? You there?’
After the dismissal of his last secretary the previous season, Jack hadn’t wanted to risk another debacle and had hired a male secretary. However, what he hadn’t realised at first was Dale Campbell, his very own British-Caribbean extravaganza, was as gay as John Peel’s coat. But he’d shown no inclination to disrupt Jack’s marriage and he was ten times more efficient than Saskia had ever been, so Jack was satisfied he had a keeper at last.
‘Reading you loud and clear, Space Commander,’ replied Dale.
Jack frowned at the phone. ‘We need a jockey for the 2.10, 2.40 and 4.10 at Stratford today. Can you ring around, see who’s available?’
‘No problem – oh, Jack? Emmie’s said Peace Offering is still off his feed.’
Jack bit his lip. The yard’s Grand National hero had been retired at the end of last season after a string of disappointing runs, but ever since the rest of the horses had gone back into work, Peace Offering had gone into decline.
‘All right, I’ll have a word with her, see what we can do.’
‘And that reporter, Lucy Kendrick, is still waiting for an answer on if she can shadow you.’
Jack tutted. ‘For how long?’
‘A month? Christ, what sort of article is she writing?’
‘Maybe it’s more of a novel than an –’
A smash from behind him tore Jack’s attention away. ‘Gabby! What are you doing?’
‘Do you want me to tell her no?’ Dale asked.
‘No, it’s fine. But no more than two weeks.’ Jack tried to wrestle the Galway Plate away from Gabrielle. ‘And make it soon before the season gets busy.’
No sooner had he replaced the office phone than his mobile rang. Jack growled under his breath. Gabrielle jumped up and down on his desk, not caring that the picture of her, Pippa and Peace Offering was fracturing beneath her red Wellington boots. In one fluid movement, Jack swooped her off the desk with one arm and answered his phone with the other.
‘Jack Carmichael,’ he barked, unnecessarily forceful.
‘Jaysus, your telephone manner is shite,’ said the caller.
Gabrielle squirmed in his arms and he let her slide down his leg.
‘Who is this?’
‘Declan O’Keefe. I’ve to be givin’ you some ’flu jabs this week?’
Jack pursed his lips. Isn’t this why he’d hired a secretary? ‘Yeah, thanks, Declan. Is that something you can arrange with Dale?’
Gabrielle waddled over to the office window and stood on tiptoe to look out. She let out a loud squeal that made Jack’s eardrums quake and Declan exclaim, ‘What the feck was that?’
Gabrielle bounced in her red boots and slapped the window. ‘Shanda! Shanda! Shanda!’
Jack could feel a tension headache developing in his left temple. He looked outside to where the large steaming frame of Shenandoah, a flashy liver chestnut with a broad white face and four stockings, was being led across the yard after his workout. He sighed. He’d only himself to blame. Pippa had told him that buying Gabrielle a racehorse when she was so young was stupid but he’d gone ahead and done it anyway. Now Gabrielle saw it as her right to visit ‘Shanda’ at all hours of the day or night.
Jack plugged one ear and raised his voice above Gabrielle’s squeals. ‘Speak to Dale about the ’flu shots. There’ll be some alterations because of non-runners –’ He threw Gabrielle an impatient look. ‘Gabby, keep it down, will you? I’m trying to talk – wait, don’t do that, you’ll fall.’ Jack grabbed her arm and pulled her down from the window sill. Gabby howled. ‘And I need to talk to you about Dexter. He’s not right. I want x-rays done of his back –’
‘You talkin’ to me or Gabby now?’
‘Oh, for Christ’s sake, hold on.’ Jack grabbed her hand and marched her to the door. In Reception, he found Dale talking to a stocky young man with a broad Eastern European face.
‘Jack, this is Stefan. He was meant to have his induction this morning?’
Jack bit back a curse. With all the drama around Rhys’s injury, he’d forgotten he had a new member of staff starting. He tossed his mobile to Dale who caught it in surprise. ‘Organise the ’flu shots with Declan,’ he said. ‘Sorry to keep you waiting.’
‘No problem. I can see you have your hands full.’ Stefan smiled, his eyes crinkling and grasped Jack’s hand in a firm grip.
‘Just a bit.’ He looked down at Gabrielle, who was momentarily mesmerised by Stefan’s presence. ‘How much experience do you have in a racing yard?’
‘About five years in flat racing in Germany. And the past two years at Jonny Levine’s down in Cornwall.’
Jack nodded. Jonny Levine was one of Jack’s biggest rivals for the trainers’ championship. He didn’t employ jackasses. ‘What’s your riding weight?’
‘I can’t offer you anything more than seasonal work.’
Stefan’s smile broadened. ‘Not a problem. I’ll take what I’m offered.’
‘Good –’ At the end of his arm, Gabrielle was getting fractious again.
‘Wanna see Shanda!’ she cried, her lower lip sticking out like a pink slug.
Jack sighed. He couldn’t conduct an interview with her screaming her head off. ‘Hang on a sec, Stefan.’
He walked across Reception with Gabrielle trotting beside him and opened the office door. ‘Emmie!’ he called. ‘Wait up a minute. Gabby wants to say hello to Shenandoah.’
With Gabrielle out of his hair, he turned back to Stefan. ‘You’ll probably only have a couple of horses to look after, at least until the sales. I know The Weekend is without a full-time groom –’
His office telephone rang shrilly and Jack swore beneath his breath. With a quick apology to Stefan, he hurried back into his office and snatched up the desk phone, finding it sticky from Gabrielle’s curious grasp. ‘Hello –’
Jack didn’t even register the caller’s reply as a scream from outside pierced the window. He rushed around his desk and looked out. Billy was fumbling with two fretful horses while Emmie dropped to her knees. Jack’s chest tightened at the sight of the rumpled red parka and red Wellington boots askew on the ground. Fear, so intense he felt his blood pressure plunge to his feet, flooded his body.
‘Gabby!’ Jack tore out of the office. ‘Gabby!’
Shenandoah reared at his thunderous approach, pulling Billy skyward. Jack skidded to his knees beside his daughter. Emmie looked at him with tears staining her face.
‘I’m sorry, Jack. I don’t know – I didn’t think – It happened so fast. I couldn’t stop him.’
Jack’s heart leapt into his throat. Like the pounding of a bass drum, his blood pulsed in his ears. Gabrielle lay on her back on the damp red cobbles, one arm outstretched, her plump fingers curled, grubby from the ground.
‘Gabby, can you hear me? Wake up, sweetheart,’ Jack said, his voice breathless and urgent.
‘I couldn’t stop him, Jack. I didn’t know he’d do that,’ Emmie continued. ‘She just ran towards us.’
Jack barely heard her. Gabrielle was unconscious, her face resting to one side. ‘Did she hit her head? What happened?’ He smoothed the little girl’s red gold hair away from her cheek and resisted the urge to hug her to his chest, safe from harm. With trembling hands, he cupped her face and turned her head to straighten her spine. The hidden side of her face came into view. Muddied, grazed and bloodied.
Emmie cried harder at the sight. ‘I’m sorry, Jack. He just struck out at her.’
A shiver ran through to his bones as Gabrielle’s scalp moved beneath his hand. Amidst the tangles of her hair around his fingers, he felt a warm stickiness. He lifted his palm to reveal the blood on it. His breath shuddered out of him.
This was just a dream. A sick dream. One he would be ashamed to have conjured up when he awoke, but a dream nonetheless.
A blustery wind blew through the yard, funnelled by the stable walls and brought with it a smattering of raindrops, a faint howl like a siren wailing, a child crying. Jack looked up at the fox weathervane atop the red-tiled roof, dark against the gunmetal sky, juddering as the wind blew it north-west. Whinnies from horses, the clip-clop of their hooves echoed, so far away, so distant.
‘Is she – is she – is she okay?’ Emmie’s hiccupping voice brought him back.
Gabrielle lay beside him, her eyes closed, a speck of mud on her parted lips. No, not mud. Blood. Bile bubbled into his throat and he regained his sense of awareness. This was no dream.
He dipped his ear to the girl’s mouth, listening for her breath. He couldn’t tell, the wind was too disruptive. He grappled in his pockets and muttered an oath. Where was his phone? Cradling Gabrielle’s face with one hand, he looked around. ‘Call 999!’ he yelled. Blank faces stared back at him. Horses pitched their ears forward at the unusual panic in their master’s voice. ‘Call an ambulance, goddammit! Call an ambulance!’
Hannah Hooton is a multiple award-winning author and screenwriter based in UK.
After splitting with her literary agent to venture into indie-publishing, Hannah burst onto the contemporary romance scene in January 2012 with the release of her debut novel, At Long Odds. This was followed by the Amazon bestselling Aspen Valley series, which charts the lives, loves and dramas of a jump racing yard.
The inspiration for her novels came while combining her wanderlust with her love of horseracing when travelling around Australia and working from one racing stable to the next as a strapper (not to be confused with stripper) and the exuberant imagination of a girl with an empty purse and a passion for a very expensive sport.
Giving Chase was the winner of Best International Romance at the Some Kind of Wonderful Awards in 2012, one place better than Keeping the Peace finished the year before.
Share and Share Alike won the ARU Katy Price Prize 2014 and finished runner-up in the RWA Marlene Contest 2014.
Recently graduating from Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge with First Class Honours, Hannah was also awarded the McCleod Prize for finishing top of her year.
Hannah balanced her time at university writing her novels and improving her craft, but also learning the art of screenwriting. To date, Hannah has completed three screenplays (one of which sparked her abrupt change in career to return to university as a mature student just so she could learn how to write it properly), all of which received critical praise and first class marks. The feature-length script, Incarnate, is a science fiction WW2 drama with romantic elements, a world – quite literally – away from Hannah’s comfort zone of horse racing romances.