Firstly, tell us a bit about yourself and your book.
We’re Eleanor Harkstead and Catherine Curzon. Our Christmas m/m romcom The Captain’s Snowbound Christmas is released on 22nd December!
Will Reuben be unwrapping a captain this Christmas?
Reuben’s a makeup artist who’s much in demand in the business, from making the beautiful even more gorgeous to creating an alluring love-scene glow. All of his Christmas wishes come true at once when he’s hired to work on the set of his favourite TV show. And not only that but on the swoony Christopher Manners.
Bunny is lusted after by millions as the brooding hero of television’s Captain Firth adventures. His manly swash and handsome buckle have earned him a legion of fans, and when he strides onto the screen and commands, “Draw your sword, sir,” it’s time to get down to business.
When Reuben and Bunny’s first date turns into a disaster, it looks as though the show’s over before it’s begun, but a blizzard, a mysterious bearded man in a red coat and a hot winter night combine to give them a second chance.
1. Are you a pantster or a plotter?
EH: We both get together to write a plot before we start. Writing together means that pantsing just wouldn’t work! That said, we sometimes don’t know how a character will get out of a particular situation until we get there. We listen to the characters and they tell us what they’re going to do. Or they just do it and it comes as a pleasant surprise!
2. Where do you get your inspiration?
EH: The inspiration for the story came partly from Catherine and I talking about what make-up artists do on set, and how they use a mixture of water and baby oil to give actors a post-coital gleam! And that conversation set us off, and The Captain’s Snowbound Christmas is the result.
3. Is there lots to do before you dive in and start writing?
EH: Before we start writing, we’ll bat ideas back and forth, which usually starts with a character and a scenario or environment. Then we start to get into a position where we can write down a plot. In this process, we’ll share photos of people who might resemble the characters, their clothes and accessories, the houses they live in, the buildings they work in, the cars they drive, that sort of thing.
It helps us individually to do that sort of research (I know lots of solo-writing authors who do, even using a model from a catalogue as a heroine!), but of course as we’re writing together, it’s important to share these things so we can “see” what each other is seeing.
4. What is the significance of the title?
EH: The Captain’s Snowbound Christmas is linked to our Captivating Captains series. Our first jointly-written novel was The Captain and the Cavalry Trooper, and when we thought about it, we realised there was potential to have all sorts of captains! Army captains, cricket captains, ship’s captains, pilots...
5. What were the key challenges you faced when writing this book?
EH: The biggest challenge with writing a Christmas story is that they’re generally not written at Christmastime. We wrote The Captain’s Snowbound Christmas in early September 2019! I know people who’ve written Christmas stories who’ve played Christmas music in the background to help them get into the zone.
But I found that once we were into the story, and describing the December chill, and the decorations, and people asking each other what they were doing for Christmas, it was actually really easy to forget it was September. In fact, I was surprised when I looked out of the window and saw bright sunshine and realised there was no frost on the ground! And certainly no snow.
6. What are you reading now?
CC: The Commissar Vanishes, by David King. It’s an absolutely fascinating examination about the censorship of official photographs in Stalin’s Russia, to remove those who had been deemed “undesirable”. I have a lifelong fascination with the politics of the World Wars and the Cold War, and this book is a richly-illustrated look into one of the most audacious and extreme examples of propaganda.
EH: I’m currently reading - and enjoying - Kate Johnson’s cosy mystery Death Comes to Cornwall. The action partly happens on the set of a TV programme, so it dovetails quite nicely with The Captain’s Snowbound Christmas!
7. What was your favourite book when you were little?
CC: The Faraway Tree stories by Enid Blyton. Today they evoke memories of the happiest parts of my childhood, and the joy of losing myself in a fantastical story.
EH: Jill Murphy’s The Worst Witch stories. I started to read them just as I moved to a new school, so I could really identify with the hapless Mildred Hubble. And I had a tabby cat as well!
8. What do you do to relax?
CC: I’m an aviation nut, and can often be found sitting beside runways with a megazoom camera and an airband radio, snapping photos and listening in to the flight deck. My dad built planes for Lockheed many, many years ago, and we spent a lot of time at airshows and runways when I was a little girl. Today, I keep up the family tradition!
EH: Every so often I get really into knitting. Back in the spring, I was knitting ear-savers for NHS and care workers, then when I found out I was going to be an auntie again, I switched gears and knitted lots of little bears as well. And I really enjoy family history and transcribing old documents. I love the extraordinary stories that can pop up in them - ordinary people don’t always lead ordinary lives!
9. If you could live anywhere where would it be?
CC: By the sea, and I’m determined to one day do so!
10. And lastly, what superpower would you have given the chance?
CC: Invisibility, because I’m super nosy!
They are the authors of numerous short stories and two novel series, the de Chastelaine Chronicles, and the Captivating Captains, published by Totally Bound and Pride. Their novel The Ghost Garden was shortlisted for the 2020 Romantic Novel Awards.
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Reuben couldn’t believe his luck. Makeup on the filming of one of his favourite shows. As he found a spot in the studio car park, he felt as if he’d stormed the barricades and at any moment someone would arrive and try to throw him out. And Reuben would say, “Go and have a word with Amy, she’s hired me for the day.”
Reuben had loved Captain Firth since the first series had been shown on television. What wasn’t to love about the flamboyant show full of men in tight breeches and flowing shirts? And the saturnine and sexy-as-hell captain?
Maybe I’ll get to meet him. Maybe I’ll get to say “Draw your sword, sir!” to the man himself.
As a makeup artist, Reuben had met a huge number of actors and celebrities. It was both a perk and a downside of the job—some of the people he’d met couldn’t have been nicer, and some couldn’t have been more nightmarish if they’d tried. Reuben had never been particularly starstruck, but he feared he might be if he actually met Christopher Manners, the man who played the captain.
Once he’d found a spot for his Renault, Reuben tightened his scarf round his neck and headed off into the studio. He’d probably spend the day applying mascara to a chimney sweep’s face or brushing rouge onto a kitchen maid’s cheeks, but when he saw the wall behind the reception desk covered by a huge Captain Firth poster, his heart leapt with excitement.
Christopher Manners, you smouldering bastard.
“Reuben!” Amy appeared from a closed door before he had a chance to approach the receptionist. “You’re a lifesaver! Carrie’s gone into labour and we’ve got literally one day left before we wrap. Reshoots, you know… I’ll tell you on the way. We’ll go straight down. It’s a closed set.”
Reuben nodded. “Hope Carrie’s okay! Closed set, eh? This should be interesting!”
He was probably going to be stood in a room with the coachman boffing the brigadier’s wife, but it paid a wage, so Reuben didn’t care. Besides, he’d been told before on closed sets that he was a joy to work with during intimate scenes, so he would be in his element.
“I’m going to let you look after Bunny,” Amy said as they strode along a grey corridor. It was funny to think that somewhere in this labyrinth, the Napoleonic Wars were being fought by the swoonsome Captain Firth.
“Okay,” Reuben said, trying to mask his disappointment. Definitely one of the less-well-known cast members, then. No naked, lustful Christopher Manners for him.
“Bunny’s a complete peach.” She pushed open another door, dodging past two fully equipped astronauts as she strode on. “But everything that could go wrong this morning has. It’s all a tad tense for our Regency spies today!”
“I’ve got my kit, don’t worry!” Reuben assured her. “And I’m an old hand at love scenes, you know that.”
“Brilliant.” Amy grinned. “Because once we get today wrapped, I can start my proper Chrimble!”
They paused outside another door that Reuben knew would take him into makeup. He was no stranger to the setup at the studio, after all. Amy opened the door a little and peered in, then told Reuben, “Come on in, everyone’s mostly decent!”
Reuben strolled in, nonchalant as he swung his toolbox of makeup. Until he clocked who was standing by the mirrors wearing only his breeches.
His very tight breeches.
Oh fucking hell, no way! Christopher Manners!
“Erm…nice to meet you,” Reuben said. Nice being the understatement of the century.
Christopher turned and raised his teacup to Reuben in greeting. “Hello!” he said as a man knelt before him, face to face with the breeches. For a moment Reuben wondered what was going on, then the man began tussling with the buckle of Christopher’s sword belt.
‘Draw your sword sir!’
Reuben was so tempted to say it. The words were burning his tongue. But he didn’t dare. Here he was, in the flesh. Captain Firth. His toned chest was even more impressive in reality. And those shoulders…that flop of dark-blond hair and…and…his blue eyes. Reuben tried to bring himself to his senses and said, “Just looking for Bunny?”
“You’ve found him!” Christopher Manners extended his arm over the armourer’s head towards Reuben. “Sorry, I’m trapped in my sword belt!”
Reuben wasn’t sure where to look. He glanced down at the armourer and all he could see was Christopher’s groin in the pale-coloured breeches. Then, when he glanced up, his gaze latched on to the man’s chest before moving up the column of his kissable neck and finally settling on his eyes. And even that seemed wrong, somehow.
“I’m Reuben. And you’re…you’re Bunny? You’re on the closed set?”
Merry Christmas, Reuben!
“I hope so, or my agent’s not doing her job!”
He seized Reuben’s hand and shook it as Amy said, “Bunny, I’m going to leave you in Reuben’s capable hands today. Linda’s a bit shy and I think she’d prefer a gal, so…you boys’ll be okay together, won’t you? We need Bunny to look nicely battle-worn and beddable, smouldering basically. Dust down on torso and shoulders, all that.”
Reuben blinked. Battle-worn and beddable? But wasn’t that one of the main reasons people watched Captain Firth? Well, one of the main reasons Reuben watched it, at least.
And Reuben would help to bring the magic alive.
“Okay, could you take a seat and I’ll…” Reuben turned to Amy. “So just torso, arms, shoulders, we’re keeping the breeches on?”
She nodded. “They’re due to come off round about lunchtime, but for now just torso.”
“Arse out before lunchtime,” Bunny lamented as the sword belt finally came free. “Thank God for that! Can’t do a love scene strapped into a sword belt.”
Reuben put his toolbox down on the worktop. He caught sight of his own reflection and saw his cheeks were pinker than usual.
I’m going to see Christopher Manners’ bum. I’m going to sponge it and brush it. Dear God, this is a beautiful day.
“Okay, we’ll deal with the bum when we come to it,” Reuben said. He selected some of his creams and powders and laid them out on the work surface. “Could you take a seat, Christo— Do I call you Bunny? Or Christopher?”
“If you’re powdering me from head to toe, we may as well go straight to Bunny,” he replied with a smile. “Skip the formalities?”
Straight to Bunny?
“Dare I ask why you’re called Bunny?” Reuben asked.
“Because I earned my Equity stripes playing the Easter bunny in a rather anarchic pantomime.” Bunny gave him a dazzling smile. “And now I brood manfully on Cornish cliffs for a living.”
Amy patted Reuben on his shoulder as though to say thanks for being a sport, then headed towards the door with the armourer in tow. As she reached the threshold she paused and turned.
“Reuben, I forgot to tell you to bring your baby oil. You’ll need it after lunch!” She shrugged. “I’ve got some in my kit, shout if you need it.”
Baby oil. On Captain Firth’s chest? I’ve been waiting for this moment forever.
Reuben had a quick rummage in his toolbox and held up the bottle. “Never fear, I come prepared!” He gave Bunny a wink. “Post-coital gleams are a speciality of mine.”
“I hope so.” Bunny settled into the chair, returning Reuben’s wink with one of his own. “Captain F’s known for his post-coital gleam!”
Reuben remembered one scene in particular where Captain Firth had lain naked on a bed, only a very small, convenient piece of sheet sparing his blushes. Reuben had always envied the makeup artist who’d worked that scene.
Reuben dabbed some foundation in different shades on the back of his hand, then took a sponge and tried them out on Bunny’s shoulder. Bloody hell, he’s toned. “Just finding your shade… So…I wasn’t expecting to be doing your make up today. Carrie’s having her baby, Amy was saying?”
“Isn’t it great news?” Bunny beamed. “Thanks for coming in at such late notice. You’ve really saved the day.”
“It’s no bother,” Reuben said. “I had a magazine shoot booked in for today with some politician bod, but it got pulled because of some Whitehall drama. I’d much rather be doing this!”
Reuben decided on the shade for Bunny’s chest, poured out the foundation on a palette and got to work with a large sponge. “Tell me if it’s too cold,” Reuben said, aware that Bunny’s nipples had pebbled. Nipples that he’d be stippling with rouge later.
It’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it.
“It’s fine.” Bunny took a sip of tea. He was cold, though, Reuben was sure, just too polite to say. “You haven’t worked on our show before, have you? I’d have remembered.”
Reuben smiled. He was glad that Bunny wasn’t one of those actors, the kind who saw everyone backstage, including any actor who had lower billing than them, as anonymous, entirely forgettable minions.
“No, I haven’t. But I love the show. It’s so exciting to be here. And it’s so exciting doing your makeup.” Reuben took a breath and the words of Captain Firth’s catchphrase rang loudly through his head, as intrusive as an insistent earworm. ‘Draw your sword, sir!’ He bit it off just before it erupted from his mouth. “Yeah, good ol’ Captain Firth…”
Bunny’s face was on a bus that went past Reuben’s shared south London flat every day, the features brooding and chiselled alongside the words, Draw Your Sword This Christmas. And like the rest of the country, Reuben would be glued to the screen at his family’s festive gathering.