Setting the summer scene

ONE THING I REALLY LOVE ABOUT BEING AN AUTHOR  is creating settings for my books. The most fun are settings that spring from my imagination but are heavily influenced by real life places I have visited.

The beautiful south coast New South Wales, Australia, is the setting for The Summer They Never Forgot

The beautiful south coast New South Wales, Australia, is the setting for The Summer They Never Forgot

For my fictional small coastal town of Dolphin Bay, the setting of my February 2014release, The Summer They Never Forgot, I was influenced by the beautiful south coast of New South Wales, Australia, about four hours south of Sydney.

I wish I was there right now in that beautiful, cool water!

I wish I was there right now in that beautiful, cool water!

I have spent many happy vacations there and plundered memories of quaint towns, pristine beaches and unspoiled bushland to create Dolphin Bay. It was here I first saw the enchanting sight of dolphins frolicking in the surf. My Top Pick review at RT Book Reviews  says the setting “is described so beautifully, readers will almost feel the sand between their toes”.

The town of Penguin has penguins everywhere, my fictional Dolphin Bay has dolphins

The town of Penguin has penguins everywhere, my fictional Dolphin Bay has dolphins

The people of my fictional Dolphin Bay celebrate the dolphins that come to frolic in their waters in images and representations of dolphins all over town, from dolphin decals to dolphin trash cans.

I visited Penguin last year when the penguins were dressed for Christmas!

I visited Penguin last year when the penguins were dressed for Christmas!

Here, I was influenced by the delightful small, beachside town of Penguin in the southern Australian island state of Tasmania. There are penguins everywhere in Penguin! I personally love dolphins so did for Dolphin Bay what the good folk of Penguin do for their town.

I loved the dolphin outdoor shower at the Blue Dolphin Inn

I loved the dolphin outdoor shower at the Blue Dolphin Inn

When eighteen months ago I stayed at the wonderful Blue Dolphin Inn in Cambria, California, and saw how cleverly they used dolphins in their décor, I knew I was on the right track.


More beautiful dolphins at the Blue Dolphin Inn

Of course in The Summer They Never Forgot the dolphins aren’t what have stayed in my heroine Sandy Adam’s memories of Dolphin Bay—her thoughts center around handsome surfer Ben Morgan the first love she’d never been able to forget. When Sandy and Ben are reunited after twelve years will they get a second chance at a forever love?


The Summer They Never Forgot, was released inFebruary 2014 in the US, the UK and Australia.

Kandy Shepherd writes fun, feel-good fiction.

Visit Kandy at her website

Thanks to Tania Mayrhofer for the surf photos.

(This blog  was first published in an edited form at Tote Bags ‘n’ Blogs in January 2014)

Soundtrack to summer

THE RELENTLESS CHORUS of cicadas has been the soundtrack to summer in my part of Down Under: so blaringly loud at times we’ve had to shout at each other to be heard over it.

Apparently, breeding conditions were perfect back in 2007 and we’ve been graced with record numbers of cicadas this year. An early, hot summer has also helped.

To me, it’s a happy sound, reminiscent of the long, hot summer days of childhood. One distinct memory of my Sydney suburban childhood is of walking to church for Christmas midnight mass with the cicadas singing as loudly at night as they did during the day. In our fanciful minds, we thought they were rejoicing along with us.

We seem to have had a lot of Black Prince cicadas at our place this summer

We seem to have had a lot of Black Prince cicadas at our place this summer

My brothers used to climb trees to catch cicadas  and keep them in boxes—with strict parental instructions to release them back to the trees at the end of the day (which they did).

The different varieties were prized and even traded: green grocer, cherry nose, floury baker, black prince, yellow Monday, double drummer. The collecting of cicadas seemed more a boy thing than a girl thing, though we were all both fascinated and squeamish when those poor captive creatures proceeded to do what all the frantic singing was about and mated.

According to the wonderfully titled article in The Sydney Morning Herald, Suicide song: cicada sex racket risks death for chance at love: “Cicadas are the suicidal lovers of the insect world, risking death for several weeks of singing and sex.”

Only male cicadas sing and they do so to attract a mate—the louder and more vigorously he sings, the more he advertises himself as a worthy, virile mate for a female. The downside of this blatant self-promotion is he also attracts predators such as birds and wasps that like to snack on cicadas.

Eucalypt trees like this are full of cicadas singing so loudly their song is deafening

Eucalypt trees like this are full of cicadas singing so loudly their song is deafening

This season, apparently, there are so many cicadas around that their predators are sick of them. The birds are weary of cicada on the menu—leaving those males free to sing and attract females and start the cycle all over again. (Seems to me, the birds then head for my fruit trees for dessert.)

After she’s chosen a mate, the female cicada lays her eggs in the bark of a tree. When the nymphs hatch they drop to the ground where they burrow deep and stay there for a number of years.  They emerge and shed their skins, leaving a dry, brown endoskeleton.

There are cicada "shells" like this all over our place, attached to fences, walls and trees

There are cicada “shells” like this all over our place, attached to fences, walls and trees

Another enduring childhood memory is of watching in awe as a cicada emerged from its humble brown skin as a magnificent greengrocer, its gauzy, emerald-veined wings crumpled at first and then drying in the sun before it flew away.

This year I’ve enjoyed the letters pages of our daily newspapers as excited readers report sightings of their various favorites. I suspect they, too, were enjoying the same nostalgic blast from childhoods when the long Aussie summer school holidays were spent roaming suburban streets and bush-land without parental supervision. The soundtrack to this freedom? The relentless sound of cicadas.

There’s one thing that puzzles me about that sound. I’m no entomologist, and wonder at the way these insects communicate. One moment the volume of their song is full blast then, at the seeming snap of some cicalian finger, they’re silent. All at once. Thousands of them.  How does that happen?

I’ll be sad when the season ends and the sound of cicadas fades into the memory of another summer. I just hope enough of them have successfully mated, so I have another bumper cicada summer to look forward to in seven or so years time.

Kandy Shepherd writes fun, feel-good fiction.

18343300The Summer They Never Forgot, her first release from Harlequin Romance is all about celebrating summer, first love and second chances.

Visit Kandy at her website

Two kitties and a guitar case

My teenage daughter foolishly left her soft guitar case open on the floor in our hallway. Before long, her tortoiseshell kitty, Tabitha, came across it. With a few circles and kneading of paws she took possession, purring loudly at the pleasure of such a find.


Tabitha makes the discovery

It wasn’t long before Ancient Albert, our precious nearly twenty-two-year-old boy ambled past on his aged and unsteady legs. Tabby hissed defensively, as thirteen-year-old torties are prone to do, but to no avail. Soon there were two cats in the guitar case. There wasn’t a lot of room for two cats to sleep comfortably.

Not quite enough room for two cats

Not quite enough room for two cats

The inevitable happened—Albert evicted Tabitha and had it all to himself. I’ve noticed my female cats inevitably concede to the males when it comes to possession of comfy sleeping spots and desirable food.

Albert has the guitar case all to himself

Albert has the guitar case all to himself

Eventually Tabby gracefully admitted defeat gracefully and went and found herself a box of paper—printouts of my work-in-progress.

Tabby squeezes into a box

Tabby squeezes into a box

Albert enjoyed sole possession of the guitar case until he wandered off and found himself an even better bed—my daughter’s large velvet-lined guitar case. Much more spacious and comfortable!

Albert finds himself an even better guitar case

Albert finds himself an even better guitar case

When daughter complained about cat fur in her guitar case did I have pity on her? A little. I know I should have removed the kitties, rather than laughing and taking snaps with my iPhone. But since then neither I—nor the cats—have noticed any guitar cases left lying around the house!


Reinventing Rose is on special at Amazon for just $US0.99 from 1 through 5 May, 2013 as part of the Book Lovers Buffet. There are loads of other wonderful books across all romance genres on sale, too.

KandyShepherd_ReinventingRose800Kandy Shepherd writes fun, feel-good fiction. Her new release is the contemporary women’s fiction (aka chicklit!) Reinventing Rose, where there are two kitty characters.

Kandy’s romances include The Castaway Bride, Something About JoeLove is a Four-Legged Word and Home Is Where the Bark Is.

Reinventing Rose—my new story

KandyShepherd_ReinventingRose800I don’t know when “chicklit” became a no-no word. “Contemporary women’s fiction” is now the description of choice for contemporary, sometimes humorous novels about a young (or not-so-young) woman’s journey to that may or may not include romance but usually includes friendship, family and career.

I’m putting my hand up to say I love reading chicklit, however you label it. And I like writing it, too!

My new release Reinventing Rose falls under the chicklit banner. When 28-year-old Californian schoolteacher Rose Butler flies to Sydney, Australia, to meet an internet lover, the reunion doesn’t go quite to plan. Rose finds herself alone in a foreign country, too embarrassed to tell the folks back home what happened. Rose decides to stay and reinvent herself with a total “me makeover.”

Three new female roommates turn out to be the perfect people to aid and abet her—one is a beauty editor on a womens magazine with access to all sorts of image-changing freebies. But Rose discovers real change doesn’t come from new hair and makeup. As she throws herself headlong into her new life, she gets tripped up by a painful family secret and unresolved problems from her past. She’s forced to question her beliefs about love and loyalty, old mistakes and new choices, and the bonds of both family and friendship.


Q. You’re published in romance—why write womens fiction/chicklit?

A. I love writing romance where the focus is on two people falling in love against the odds. But I also like writing about the other aspects of my characters’ lives—family, friends, career challenges—and womens fiction gives me that opportunity. I enjoyed creating the secondary characters of Sasha, Carla and Kelly in Reinventing Rose. Female friendship is so important in my life—and I give Rose three amazing new friends. Of course Rose meets men, the sexy, bad-boy photographer Elliot and the handsome doctor Luke. Which of those gorgeous guys will she end up with?

Q. Doesn’t chicklit concentrate on shoes and shopping?

A. There’s a fun pair of shoes in Reinventing Rose but wearing them leads Rose somewhere she really shouldn’t have gone! Chicklit also deals with deeper issues and as Rose’s story unfurls she experiences them, too—eating disorders, divorce, miscarriage are all touched on. The tone is sassy but the subject matter is sometimes serious.

Q. What inspired you to write Reinventing Rose?

A. When I was working as an editor in womens magazines, I particularly enjoyed working on reader makeovers—coordinating with hairdressers, makeup artists, fashion stylists and photographers to transform everyday women into their look-best selves. I had the idea for a chick-lit type story about a young woman who decides a makeover will solve all her problems. Of course it doesn’t, and Rose has quite a journey before she realizes that. I had such fun taking Rose into the studio for her makeover—a location so familiar to me.

P.S.  There aren’t any dogs in Reinventing Rose—there was a gorgeous Border Collie in an earlier version but the chapter he appeared in was slashed in the editing process. There are two cats, though, a tuxedo kitty named Socks who stays off-stage but very much in the heroine Rose’s thoughts, and a beautiful brown Burmese named Nina who is modeled on one of my own cats (sadly departed.)

Reinventing Rose is available as a e-book (print coming soon) from AmazonBarnes & NobleKoboSmashwords and other on line e-retailers.

Kandy head shot_2Kandy Shepherd writes fun, feel-good fiction. Her new release is the contemporary women’s fiction (aka chicklit!) Reinventing RoseHer romances include The Castaway Bride, Something About JoeLove is a Four-Legged Word and Home Is Where the Bark Is.



Paint the town purple

The jacarandas are in full, glorious bloom in my part of the world. These beautiful trees obviously love conditions Down Under—they originally hail from Brazil. Everywhere you look, the city landscape is punctuated by splashes of exquisite, purple-blue. It gives me such pleasure to admire them. I’m not alone—jacaranda walking tours and view-from-Sydney-harbor boat tours are booked out this time of year.

Jacaranda in bloom–a breathtaking sight

They say the reason there are so many jacarandas in Sydney is because last century, maternity hospitals gave mothers a jacaranda sapling to take home with their newborn babies. It’s probably an urban myth, but what a nice one!

So beautiful!

The other aspect of jacaranda-time is that it coincides with university exams—the blossom is not so welcome by students running out of time to study.

Some people hate the mess the fallen flowers make–I say relax and enjoy the fleeting beauty (but be careful as they’re slippery when wet)

Jacaranda blue just happens to be my very favorite color in a favorites range dominated by the blue-indigo-violet end of the color spectrum. Most of the clothes I wear are in shades of navy, blue, lavender, purple and aqua. I long ago gave up experimenting with the red-orange-yellow end of the spectrum—pinks and oranges are just not me. I appreciate their beauty—they’re just not shades I want to surround myself with.

What a narrow band of colors I choose my clothes from…

Truth is, I just don’t feel comfortable outside my color comfort zone. And I know I’m not alone. Many people seem to express a strong preference for one set of colors over another. One of my friends laughs when she sees the blue-dominant hues of the clothes hanging in my closet—her collection of clothes is basically red, white and black. She wouldn’t be caught dead in my beloved purple.

I admired these hydrangeas in a neighbor’s garden

I’m the same in the garden—I adore agapanthus, hydrangea, wisteria, lilac, pansies and blue and purple irises—though pink is a favorite too. Yes, my garden is dominated by flowers in pinks and purples and all shades in-between, highlighted with splashes of white, orange and yellow. The exception? The deep glory of scarlet and crimson roses, judiciously placed.

Louisiana iris in a pot on my balcony

Why do we have such strong preferences for particular colors? According to Psychology Today: “Color preferences are deeply rooted emotional responses that seem to lack any rational basis, yet the powerful influence of color rules our choices in everything from the food we eat and the clothes we wear to the cars we buy.”

The theory goes that if we experience pleasure linked to a particular color—possibly a happy childhood picnic under a jacaranda tree, who knows?—we’ll gravitate toward a similar color in the future. Perhaps in my case, my preference is because “my” colors suit my hair and eye coloring—and my mother, being a stylish person, dressed me in those colors.

Clematis in a favorite part of my spring garden

Regardless of the colors I like for myself, I’m good at helping others choose the shades that best flatter them—usually nothing like what I wear. (I had lots of practice organizing makeovers in my days as a magazine fashion editor).

Even the horses get dressed in purple at my place

I love dressing the characters in my novels—it’s kind of like the fun I used to have dressing my dolls when I was a kid. Part of choosing my characters’ clothes is making sure the colors suit both their hair, eyes and skin tone but also their personalities. One of my favorite heroines to dress, Serena in Home Is Where the Bark Is, starts the book hiding out in shapeless, colorless clothes and Birkenstocks, she ends it in sassy, sexy black and sky high stilettos with a slash of scarlet lipstick.

I’m giving the last word on color to this recent visitor to my garden—an Australian lorikeet feasting on the nectar of flowers of a flame tree (also in bloom at this time). What a color clash! Yet nature makes it work so beautifully.

Australian rainbow lorikeet feasting on the flowers of an Illawarra flame tree that overhangs my garden


Kandy Shepherd writes fun, feel-good fiction. Her books include The Castaway Bride,  Something About Joe, Love is a Four-Legged Word and Home Is Where the Bark Is—and you can enjoy reading them no matter what colors you like!

Wet, wet, way too wet!

It’s been a long, cold, wet winter in my part of Down Under.

This past weekend it actually snowed. The (supposedly spring) weather in October is notoriously erratic but that’s ridiculous!

Banjo (left) and Star tell me that wet means hungry, too.

It isn’t only me who suffers in the cold weather, my animals don’t seem too happy either.  I have quite the menagerie of pets who are all complaining about the conditions.

Toby looks the picture of wet misery!

Outdoors, the four horses are rugged throughout winter—except for our rescue quarter-horse Star who point blank refuses to wear a rug. He grows himself a thick shaggy coat instead. I think this sounds eminently sensible and wonder why my daughter, the horse fanatic in the family, insists on rugging the others. The reason? Horses competing in shows need to be beautifully groomed with sleek, fine coats—to the point some horses are shaved. No winter-shaggy fur please.

Miss Molly models her new coat

Miss Molly the dog also gets to wear a cold to protect her arthritic old bones. Try getting a coat on a cat? I’ve never had any luck!

Cindy scornfully surveys her wet surroundings

Miss Cindy is more outdoor than indoor cat, and only comes inside in the coldest of weather to enjoy a cozy wood fire. She has a snug little fleece-lined cat kennel to sleep in otherwise.

Ancient Albert and Miss Molly share prime position in front of the fire

And as for my beloved 21-year-old cat Ancient Albert, he gets as close as possible to the heat source without setting his fur on fire. Tabby—also known as Tubby—likes to stay inside too in cold weather, preferably on a nice, warm lap or under the bed covers.

The tail belongs to kitty Tabitha, snuggled right under the bedcovers

Humans do their part, chopping wood for the fire to keep the animals happy.

We burn a lot of wood to keep those indoor pets warm and happy

I realize as I shiver away that I have never written a story set in anything but warm weather. Whether my stories are set in spring, summer or fall, it’s always a pleasant temperature. Cool enough, perhaps, for a heroine to shrug on a hero’s chivalrously offered leather jacket on a spring evening, (Something About Joe) but most of my characters wear nothing warmer than a T-shirt. In The Castaway Bride, my hero and heroine don’t wear clothes much at all. If you were cast away on a blissfully perfect tropical island alone with a hot hunk, would you?

A book set in a wonderful snowy location (trapped in a cozy, snowed-in mountain cabin with a hot hunk maybe) might be in my writing future, who knows? But not right now.

They say to write about what you know, but there’s also writing about what you wish for. The scenarios I’ve chosen up ’til now force me to admit blue skies and a kindly sun feature strongly in my fantasies. Yes, the three stories I’m working on right now are all set in summer!

Roll on spring! (A proper spring, without snow, please.)

Ancient Albert comes of age

Happy 21st Birthday, Albert!

My precious cat Albert turned 21 on & July. We rejoice every day that he is still with us, enriching our lives with his feline presence. It’s been a long journey for Albert. He was born in London, England and transported to Australia (his only crime being we loved him so much we couldn’t bear to be parted from him!)

Ancient Albert on his favorite cushion in front of the heater. Albert is a Burmilla.

Looking after a cat this age can be demanding. His senses aren’t what they were so he has to be fed carefully, helped with grooming and taken regularly to the vet. Most of all he is loved, loved, loved.

Looks uncomfortable, doesn’t it? Not for Albert. He spent ages here snoozing happily on my husband’s legs.

Albert has a big personality and has endeared himself to many people in his twenty-one years (which translates to well over a hundred in human years.) It’s sad to see him getting so frail, but he is clinging tenaciously to life and demanding very vocally that his needs be met.

Albert convinces my daughter he is much more worthy of attention than that pesky keyboard.

We are all his adoring slaves!

Update on Ancient Albert

I sometimes wonder what a nearly 21-year-old cat dreams about.

Ancient Albert dreaming

My darling Albert looked so content and happy when I took this snap of him on the sofa. In a deep sleep, his head was tucked on his paw, ears and paws occasionally twitching. Memories of long ago mouse hunts? Meals? Who knows? His waking time revolves around wailing for food, nibbling at food, turning his nose up at food that he deems unsatisfactory, sometimes needing to be fed by hand (and I mean literally from the palm of our hands) and snuggling with his humans at any opportunity. Always a sociable cat, he totters down the hallway to greet visitors, still wanting to know what’s going on, still wanting them to make a fuss of him. So maybe he’s dreaming about food and parties!

It isn’t just us who looks after him. Our younger cat Tabitha–well, relatively young at age 12!–looks after him too, grooming him and letting him eat first. So sweet to see them together.

Tabitha (behind him) keeps him company

As the weather cools Down Under, Albert needs to keep his frail bones warm and loves nothing better than baking under the wood combustion heater. It gets hot under there and he eventually comes out for fresh air and a drink. He’s done it for years–so do the others–and it doesn’t seem to harm him though the vet is horrified to hear it.

Can you sport a cat under the old wood combustions stove at our farm?

There he is, baking his bones!

And when the fire dies down at night, he finds his favorite spot of all, snuggled under the covers with us. (My husband, who never had a cat in his life until he met me is unfailingly loving and patient with Albert. I never write a hero who doesn’t love animals–no wonder when my own real-life hero is so wonderful with them!)

Love that cat!

PS. People often ask me where I got the feather-embroidered pillow in the top photo. I got it online at Lands End, sadly they don’t have it any more.

Chickie centerfolds

My hens have made their modeling debut!

My little flock of Isa Browns feature in the beautiful new cookbook Belinda Jeffery’s Collected Recipes, published by Penguin Group (Australia) under the Lantern imprint. Here they are across a double page spread. Very photogenic, don’t you agree?

My chickens star on pages 162-163 of Belinda Jeffery's Collected Recipes, photographed by Rodney Weidland

So how did my chickens get their feathers into a cookbook? They were photographed by my friend Rodney Weidland who did all the magnificent photography in this cookbook. You know the term “food porn”? It could have been invented for this recipe photography!

A fabulous cookbook for family meals and entertaining--I love it.

Belinda Jeffery is well known in Australia for her cookbooks, magazine work and TV appearances. Her recipes are sublime—utterly delicious but easy to make. I’m pleased my chickens make an appearance in this wonderful cookbook!

We inherited the original Isa Browns when we bought our farm. Totally ignorant of poultry keeping, we’ve muddled along and learned as we go. Somehow we’ve managed to keep them healthy and happy. They have a nice life in their roomy hen house (known as the Hen Hilton in our valley) and the freedom of a large fenced grassy area. This freedom can come at a cost—one brown girl got taken by a hawk this past weekend. I heard her distressed squawking and ran outside to see her in the clutches of an enormous bird. It flew off with her in its claws but my screaming at it caused it to drop her. Scary stuff. At the time of writing she is okay, though suffering from shock, we hope she will survive.

Some of the girls--photographed by me

Our chickens are more pets than livestock. We keep them just for eggs and when they finally drop off the perch (sometimes literally!) they get buried with ceremonial honors in the garden.

We treasure their beautiful (and delicious) eggs

Lucky my pampered hens don’t know that their photo is used to introduce a section of chicken recipes in the cookbook…

In praise of plums

Our plums on the tree

One of the very special things about an old house is the garden that comes with it.  Our farmhouse is graced with wonderful fruit trees—some of them more than fifty years old, our neighbors tell us. The star is a gnarled old plum tree that each year bears an abundance of superb plums—more than enough for us and for the flocks of birds that also appreciate its fruit. The windfalls are enjoyed by our chickens, horses and little bulls.

Never happier than when picking his birthday plums

A cool, gray wet summer this year meant we didn’t get much bounty from the other fruit trees or the vegetable garden. But the plum tree more than made up for that by giving us hundreds of perfect fruits. My husband has a particular love for the plum tree, it bears fruit around about his birthday in January and he sees the crop as a gift just for him. He’s very possessive of them!

Happy harvest!

Over the last few years, I’ve learned how to save the plums as jams and preserved in jars (though nothing like the perfect preserves I admire made by the experts). I freeze them too, but our electricity supply can be erratic when storms rage through our valley so I don’t like to risk too many in the freezer!

Stewed with vanilla and cinnamon

The family favorite is plums stewed with sugar, a vanilla pod and a cinnamon quill. “Make enough for the whole year, please,” demands my daughter who likes to eat them with muesli and yogurt for breakfast.

Stacked ready to freeze

I did my best to fill her order, with hubby helping to wash and stone and cut (and snack!).  But in spite of our best efforts, work and writing and everything else got in the way and I didn’t quite manage a year’s supply this time. Preserving fruit is hot, hard, time-consuming work! However there is a still a satisfying number of containers stored away in pantry and freezer. And, yes, I confess, I’m guilty of holding open the cupboard doors and gloating over them!

Plum upside down cake - yum!

We have no idea what variety our plums are—we just enjoy them and hope we’ll be enjoying them for years to come…