This week I’m joined by fellow Choc Lit author, Berni Stevens, as she reveals five things you probably wouldn’t guess about her. Berni’s latest book, Izzy’s Christmas Star is published on 2 December 2019 and available for pre-order now.
As always, I love this feature. Over to Berni for her five things …
1. I presented Rod Stewart with a portrait I’d drawn of him.
Please bear in mind I was very young at the time, so this was way before I went to art college. Actually, looking back at the portrait, I’m surprised they let me in to art college at all!
It was back in the days of the Faces, when Ronnie Wood (an acclaimed artist himself) was in the band. He joked that I should have made Rod’s nose much larger (talk about pot, kettle and black). He also patted me on the head, and said, ‘Isn’t she sweet?’ And there was me thinking I looked cool and trendy in my Stewart tartan – don’t laugh – it was a thing.
I think it was possibly the quietest I’ve ever been. Starstruck doesn’t quite cover it. Rod was charming and friendly. He admired the fact that a “lot of work” had gone into the portrait, and then asked if he could keep it. Of course I said yes, but what I’d really wanted was for him to sign it for me.
The photo shows me looking like the proverbial rabbit in headlights, Rod looking lovely, his PR guy looking like … a PR guy, and a Magnum PI lookalike (not the ice cream, the detective).
I was invited to the after show party too, and actually managed to chat to Ronnie Lane for a few minutes, and Dee Harrington, a model, who was Rod’s girlfriend at the time. The first in a long line of leggy blondes!
This photo is one of my most treasured possessions, and I still think Rod is a genuinely nice guy. The evening also gave me an idea for a scene in my new book . . . but that really is another story.
2. I’m on the committee and book panel of the Dracula Society.
My favourite book ever is Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Most people who know me, know this. I first read it when I was around thirteen or fourteen, and it was so very different from anything else I’d ever read. It fired up my imagination, and I read it over and over again. I’d never read anything told from so many different POVs. Well to be fair, I didn’t know what POVs were then. But the way the book is written, is I think to this day, so fresh and captivating. The different journals, papers and newspapers in chronological order – how brilliant an idea was that? And even more unusual, was an intelligent woman who features as one of the heroes. Resourceful, brave and clever – there weren’t too many female characters like that written in the late 1800s.
I always thought I knew a lot about the book, and the subsequent films and plays – then I discovered The Dracula Society. Formed in the early 1970s by two actors, who initially saw it as a way of getting visas to visit Romania – which they did, many times. I joined the Society in 1996, and was totally blown away by the knowledge the more senior members have on the subject. So – I don’t know much at all by comparison!
The Society is a literary society for people who love Gothic literature, films and theatre, and we have quite a few famous members. (Mark Gatiss, Reece Shearsmith and Sir Christopher Frayling, to name drop a few.) One of our Honorary Life Members is Dacre Stoker – Bram’s Great Grand Nephew no less. He lectures all over the world on the book, Dracula, and on his famous relative, and he’ll be Guest of Honour at our Bram Stoker Dinner on the 9thNovember.
I’ve been an officer on the Committee for eleven years now, and I design the quarterly newsletter. It was my turn to think of somewhere for the summer outing this year, and I chose Manningtree and Mistley in Essex which was the home of the Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins.
3. I’m a qualified Zumba Instructor.
I’ve always danced – from around the age of seven – I went the traditional ballet, tap and modern route that a lot of people do. When I left art college and moved to London, I joined the Pineapple Dance Studios in Covent Garden. I was a member there for more than thirty years, although my only claim to fame is treading on Arlene Phillips’ foot and meeting Duncan from Blue. When Zumba erupted onto the scene about fifteen years ago, I thought I’d give that a go too, and loved it.
One thing I noticed about the local Zumba instructors is that they didn’t seem to be very reliable. Last Christmas for example there were many times we were all sitting around without an instructor because nobody had turned up. One of the ladies said, ‘Why don’t you do the training?’ And I thought, ‘Why not?’ So I did, in March this year. It was only one day – an exceptionally long day – but I loved it. The atmosphere was amazing. Now I have my own class, and I get to cover other classes sometimes too. Come along some time! We’re doing a Children in Need Zumbathon in a couple of weeks . . .
4. I have an addiction to the American South-West desert.
My husband and I hike canyons in Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, visiting ancient Indian ruins and rock art. We’ve been doing it for twenty-three years.
We met our closest friends out there, and their son is the same age as ours. Both boys were seven when we all first met, and their daughter was five.
We’ve had a lot of adventures too, not least getting trapped by a flash flood at the bottom of a canyon overnight. We managed to get the jeeps to higher ground, built a campfire and … had no food with us at all, apart from a very large water melon, which was duly divided up and eaten. The stars were incredible that night, I’ve never seen anything like it. When we were trying to get to sleep later, first one coyote howled, then another and another, and I remember thinking, ‘I’ve seen that movie and it didn’t end well.’ The next morning, the raging torrent had thankfully died down, but the desert sand was almost like quicksand and there was no traction for tyres. So we did a bit of road building, and collected brush to put under the tyres. You may not know this, but Utah sand is red. Very red. When it’s wet, it’s even redder! We were covered, and by this time really very hungry. It took us quite a few hours to get back to the main road. First stop was the nearest diner, where we left lovely red footprints on the carpet. We looked a sight. But we got lots of food and hot coffee, and it all tasted so good. We have a lot of the evening and the morning afterwards on video too. You can hear the loud cheers as both cars made it out of that canyon!
We still go back out to Utah every year, and each time we see or experience something else unbelievable. I don’t think I will ever tire of the scenery – the vast blue skies and the majestic red rock. (And don’t forget the red dirt!)
5. I’m addicted to rock concerts
You might have guessed this last one because of the Rod Stewart post. But there is something about a live gig that I love. The apprehension before the concert, the atmosphere, the lighting, and of course the music itself. And don’t forget the musicians either. I think the term ‘rock god’ was made up for my two favourite musicians – David Bowie and Robert Plant. I don’t think there were any real rock gods before them. I saw Bowie at least seven times and was never disappointed. He could hold an audience in the palm of his hand. Charismatic and mesmerizing, and so sadly missed. But as someone wrote after he died, ‘How lucky we were, to be on the planet at the same time as him.’
Freddie Mercury was another charismatic front man, his performance at Live Aid was breathtaking. And the legendary Mr Plant is still wowing audiences along with his Sensational Space Shifters, and more recently with Saving Grace. I think his voice is even better now than his Led Zep days, but I know a lot of American fans wouldn’t agree. They are always going on about a Led Zeppelin reunion – give it up guys, it’s never going to happen. Without Bonzo there is no Led Zeppelin, not for Robert anyway. I like what he’s doing now, and long may he continue to tour.
Wow, Berni, those are fascinating! Mx
About Izzy’s Christmas Star
You don’t only find stars on top of the Christmas tree …
Student and Zumba instructor Izzy Grant leads a pretty normal life, but in the run-up to Christmas an unusual encounter with a friendly Santa paves the way for the most wonderful and star-studded Christmas she’s ever experienced.
Because at almost exactly the same time, Izzy also meets Seth Roberts – as in the Seth Roberts, bona fide rock star and lead singer of Scarlet Gryphon. As their connection grows, Izzy’s Christmas countdown becomes a glittering whirlwind of after-show parties and classy restaurants – and does she have her mystery Santa to thank?
About Berni Stevens
Berni Stevens lives in a four-hundred-year-old cottage in Hertfordshire, England, with her husband, son and black cat. She trained in graphic design and has worked as a book cover designer for more than twenty years.
Books and art remain her passion, and her love of the paranormal began when she first read Bram Stoker’s Dracula, aged fourteen. She is now on both the committee and the book panel of the Dracula Society, a society for fans of gothic literature and film.
To keep in touch with Berni, you can use the following links:-
Choc Lit Author Page – where you can also see details of Berni‘s other novels.
Thank you for joining me, Berni and for writing such an amazing post.