Today I welcome the lovely Berni Stevens onto my blog to talk about her new book. A Christmas Novel – Laughing All the Way on the Jingle Bells Express. Perfect for the cold dark evenings.
Berni lives in a 400-year-old cottage in Hertfordshire, with her husband, black cat, an ever-growing family of goldfish who think they’re piranha, and occasionally her son when he needs feeding up!
She trained in graphic design and has worked as a book cover designer for over twenty-five years for both publishers and many self-published authors. Any ‘spare’ time is taken up with jazz dance and Zumba (she’s a licensed Zumba instructor), going to as many rock concerts as she can, and hiking canyons every summer in the stunning Utah desert…
Dance Until Dawn, Berni’s UK debut was a paranormal romance, and followed by the sequel, Revenge is Sweet. Laughing all the Way on the Jingle Bells Express is Berni’s third festive RomCom, following One Magical Christmas and Izzy’s Christmas Star. All books published by award-winning publisher Choc Lit.
Laughing all the Way on the Jingle Bells Express:
If you received a mysterious invitation for a fun-filled festive train ride the week before Christmas, would you go?
When teacher Dee Nicholls receives her invitation, she isn’t sure what to make of it. Surely it’s some kind of joke to get her out of bed early on a weekend? Perhaps a clever festive marketing ploy?
But as the Christmas countdown begins, it becomes clear that Dee isn’t the only “Jingle Bells Express” invitee. There are other people out there who have received the same invitation: Tom the intern, Rachel the aspiring writer, Dylan the musician and his dog Muttley – and they’re not the only ones!
Could the unusual festive journey they eventually take together show them all the true meaning of Christmas, and also that happiness is sometimes right in front of you – if you just take the time to look?
Thank you for agreeing to appear on my blog Berni to talk about your new book. Described as a fun, magical Christmas romance to warm your heart, I have to say I agree, all of that and more, I loved it. It was a lovely easy read with such a fun group of characters. I couldn’t put it down and it made me smile right through to the end. I missed your seasonal story last year, so it’s great that you’re back with another this year.
Thank you for inviting me Anne, and I’m really flattered you missed me last year, but sorry the circumstances made everything so difficult for everyone. I hope Laughing All the Way will make up for my absence in 2020. Originally, I’d planned on an Izzy sequel, but that’s turned into a non-festive book, and will be published instead early in 2022. Two books in three months!
I think the game of rock star hangman probably needs an explanation; do you want to?
Oh dear, that will teach me to make up silly games Whenever I’m in meetings and taking notes, I always have a compulsion to doodle. I can’t help it. (Usually I doodle all over my notes and then can’t read them later)! I thought about playing hangman and how much more interesting it would be to try and make the ‘hung’ person look like a cartoon musician. I think perhaps Badly Drawn Boy started my thought process – so apologies to him! The stick figures sometimes used on Richard Osman’s House of Games might have sparked an idea or two as well.
I know music is important in your life as it is in many of your characters. So, “Desert Island Disc” question here. What would be the one record, Dylan would want to be stranded on a desert island with?
Only one? As a musician, I think Dylan would hold David Bowie in great esteem (as everyone knows I do). But picking just one Bowie track is really difficult. His last album Black Star was totally different from anything he’d done before, and the track, Lazarus was truly heartbreaking – especially as he knew he was running out of time (and we didn’t). Having said that, I feel Dylan would probably choose something from one of his most famous albums, Ziggy Stardust, so let’s say Moonage Daydream.
I think you’ve done really brilliantly to have such a large cast and make them all so different. Where did you get your inspiration from?
Thank you … I hope it works … I had to change some of the names to stop readers (and me!) getting confused. I’ve always loved Four Weddings and a Funeral and of course, Love Actually, both of which have a large cast of characters. It was quite hard at first to choose which characters would be centre stage and which would be on the periphery, but in the end the story evolved (I hope) in a good way. Also I do like ‘people watching’ – I’m nosey – and I like meeting new people. It was watching the commuters all lined up on various tube platforms completely glued to their phones, that contributed to the book.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I’m a seriously bad plotter. I might write down the initial bones of an idea, but then I go straight to the characters. When I have characters I like, I just start writing. I usually have a vague idea where I’d like the story to go, but quite often I’ll be writing and something happens I hadn’t planned for. In the Izzy sequel, the bass player quits in the middle of a world tour and I really hadn’t planned for that. Not sure how it happened … it just did. My husband assured me he would never have been allowed back in the band, but it’s my book …!
When you finish a book, do you ever think, I’d really like to know what happened to the characters six months down the line? If you could call one and say, ‘How are things?’ Which one would it be and at the risk of a spoiler alert, what would they be doing?
It happens all the time. I’d love to know whether Dylan ever got that elusive record deal … he’s very talented so he should have, shouldn’t he? I feel a sequel coming on … perhaps Seth can give him a job … now that would be confusing! Will Tom the Intern eventually graduate and go into publishing – and how about the cute blonde in Drama he had his eye on? Will there be any weddings? I think we might need a catch up with them all sometime ...
Your novel felt so contemporary, I loved the way you referred to the “difficult” year we’ve just had, but that it was well and truly behind them.
It did start out with more references to the pandemic, but my editor felt people had probably had enough of it, so I rewrote the beginning with a lot more hope for the future, and I think it’s better for it.
What would you do if an invitation like theirs turned up on your doorstep?
I’d definitely go, but I’d copy Rachel’s idea, and put an ad in the Standard to see who answered.
How will you be spending Christmas this year?
We’ll be at home. I hope our son will be able to come (unlike last year), and that we’ll be able to invite the neighbours round on Christmas Eve as usual. Last year, we drank mulled wine in our front gardens and toasted everyone from a distance. It was freezing outside too!
Are you a Brussel sprouts friend or foe?
A definite foe. I blame my mother for this, as she used to overcook them and I hated their squishiness (and the smell). They actually taste better raw.
Brandy butter or custard with Christmas pudding?
Brandy butter. (My husband hates custard!)
What are you working on next?
The edits for It’s Only Rock and Roll which is the Izzy sequel, and I’ve started a third book in the Scarlet Gryphon series because I think the characters have more tales to tell.
And who knows? Maybe Dylan and co will pop up again sometime towards next Christmas too. There just might be the odd wedding … you heard it here first.
Thank you Anne – fabulous questions!
And thank you Berni, for coming on to my blog today and I hope you have a lovely Christmas.