This weekend I stepped out of my comfort zone and went to CrimeFest for the very first time. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, CrimeFest is a convention for readers and writers of crime fiction. There are over 100 participating authors and in excess of 40 panels, along with a gala award dinner, quizzes and, this year, a Eurovision pizza party.
Firstly, a note about the venue. CrimeFest was hosted this year by the Mercure Grand Hotel in Bristol. I’m aware the venue has changed from its previous location, and may again, but the takeaway is that it’s small. Not in a vast exhibition hall as I’d imagined but with panels taking place in one of three conference rooms, all close together, with a bar downstairs to sit and chat in. There’s plenty of parking in Bristol and rooms to stay in (we didn’t stay at the Mercure but were a very short walk away). It was super easy to get around with lifts when things were on the first floor and a ramp for where there were unavoidable stairs. Bristol is fabulous and really deserves a blog post of its own.
Back to the panel. Our subject for discussion was ‘Doubt and Suspicion – who can you trust’ (in my books, nobody). This was my first event since the pandemic hit and I’d forgotten, despite all my pre talk angst, how much I enjoy sharing my passion for writing, and, how much I learn listening to other writers. Always.
Writing is a solitary experience, more so these past couple of years and I’ve been feeling increasing tired. Isolated. I’ve found it difficult to concentrate on my manuscript lately. I haven’t been well this year and have put it down to that but listening to the other writers share their challenges has made me realise I’m not alone in feeling this way. Helen made me aware that many writers can’t write at home and without access to coffee shops have found it hard to focus. Although I hate to think of anyone having a hard time (except my characters) there’s comfort to be found knowing that other writers haven’t all been effortlessly producing books.
All writers work in different ways and it’s always reassuring to be reminded that there is no right and wrong way. Helen, Mason, David and Robin are mores structured and have more of a plan when they write. I never plot my thrillers because I can’t but that’s okay. We all end up with a finished product. One thing we all had in common though was that when we begin to write, initially everything focuses around character and, in the first draft, plot is almost secondary. A well developed character is at the heart of every good story.
Stepping away from the computer and switching off when I don’t feel the words flow is something I don’t do enough of and it was interesting to hear that the other writers consider this essential (which it is and something I definitely need to work on). From watching comfort TV and films (Selling Sunset & Sister Act) to exercise everyone seemed to have a ‘thing’.
The biggest lesson I learned however, is that even if you aren’t progressing your story it doesn’t mean that you aren’t productive. I’ve always found myself irritable at the end of days I haven’t penned any words. No matter how much work I’ve put in to my career in other ways, unless the word count on my WIP has risen I feel I haven’t achieved anything worthwhile. Listening to Mason, Helen, David and Robin discuss that research, marketing and even thinking is a valuable use of time has really been a game changer for me.
I’m 7 years into my writing career now, my tenth book is publishing this summer, I’ve sold over a million copies and been translated into 25 languages and I still have SUCH a lot to learn but there’s so much joy in honing a craft and I think, over the past few months, I’d forgotten that. I’ve come away from the festival with (books – hurrah!) renewed enthusiasm, reminded of how much I love what I do. It’s been wonderful to catch up with old friends and make some new ones. I didn’t realise how much I’d missed live events and I can’t wait for the next one.
It was wonderful to see copies of my books in the CrimeFest bookshop. The digital version of ‘The Stolen Sisters’ is currently in a 99p offer. Download from Amazon here.
I began this diary series back in September to record my progress writing a first draft of a new psychological thriller, to keep myself on track (you can read the first part here).
This is my first update since January, so it’s going well then…
Since I began writing in 2014 I’ve written virtually every day. Initially squeezing in time around a full-time job but even when I became a full-time writer I rarely had a day off. Fitting in a session before/after days out. Early mornings during holidays. Even over Christmas. And now, now I feel quite despairing because I have barely written since before Christmas.
I’ve had so many health challenges in 2022. On top of the problems I was already experiencing there has also been a car accident which left me with whiplash and a headache so debilitating I couldn’t look at a screen for weeks, and then a nasty case of Covid which I still haven’t fully recovered from. This all led to a really low mood, at times thinking my writing career was over, that I’d never be able to get back into the swing of things. Unable to focus on anything for any period of time.
Two weeks ago though however, I found myself in Paris, and you can read more about that here. I didn’t think I’d have the strength emotionally or physically to go but with a BIG birthday to celebrate and a research trip needed as next summer’s ‘Amelia Henley‘ book is partly set in Paris we set off telling ourselves that if all we did was sit outside a cafe and drink coffee it would still be time well spent. Thankfully we managed more than that.
I’ve returned, not with renewed vigour, but with a quiet determination to return to the job I love. I have two edits waiting for me. The copy edits for my forthcoming ‘Amelia Henley‘ book. And the first structural edit for my 2023 psychological thriller (and I’m not procrastinating and avoiding reading the editorial letter by writing this blog…)
Wish me luck!
p.s. – If you’re at Crimefest this weekend do come and say hello. I’m on a panel at 16.00 on Saturday the theme is ‘Suspicion and Doubt – who can you trust?’
Monthly round up: –
No new words written!
High – My trip to Paris!
Low – Feeling so ill
What I’m reading – ‘Before the coffee gets cold’ Toshikazu Kawaguchi
What I’m watching – Only Murders in the Building
Special offers – ‘The Stolen Sisters’ is currently 99p – Download from Amazon here. “Twenty years ago The Sinclair Sisters were taken. But what came after their return was far worse. Can a family ever recover, especially when not everyone is telling the truth…?” I adored writing this tense story about Carly, Leah & Marie Sinclair.
Join me, hopefully next month to find out how the edits went and if I’m back on track with writing. Subscribe to my newsletter here today and get two FREE short stories.
The last time we visited Paris was Spring 2020 – the Coronavirus was gripping the world, lockdown was just around the corner. We experienced a Paris we’ll likely never see again and you can read about that trip here.
Two years on, due to celebrate a BIG birthday, my husband asked if I’d like to return to Paris. As well as loving the city, the book I’m currently writing, due for publication next summer, is partly set in Paris and he thought it would also make a good research trip. Thinking he was joking I laughed. Like many people my anxiety has escalated during these past couple of years. I had barely left the house, hadn’t seen many friends, rarely saw family and I couldn’t imagine even going to the shops without feeling panic. After I’d stopped laughing, I had a little cry, thinking about how small my world was. How I was scared to do anything, particularly after the restrictions ended.
How this year I’ve contended with health challenge after challenge and I’m still here. Still waiting for life to begin again.
And then I said yes.
It was an odd couple of weeks waiting for our trip to roll around. My husband knew me well enough to know that I’d likely change my mind a million times if we talked about it, so we didn’t mention it at all and then, the day arrived, and, masks on, we caught the train.
I was out in the world and rather than being overcome by fear I was excited. Grateful. My family, like many others, have been through so much since Coronovirus hit, experienced so much loss. As I watched the countryside flash past the window I felt something I haven’t felt for such a long time. Hope for the future.
We stayed at the Hotel Le Walt. Our room had a view of the Eiffel tower and it was a joy to drift off to sleep watching the sparkles and then wake to the sight of this wonderful landmark. The staff were so friendly and helpful, the hotel very clean. We loved the location. There are plenty of places to eat and drink nearby, and a metro stop directly outside the hotel. Each evening we walked back through the Champ De Mars, a large greenspace by the Eiffel tower. There was such a lovely atmosphere here with families picnicking, people drinking wine, waiting for the tower to illuminate.
Our days were busy but our highlights were: –
A photo shoot! This was so out of our comfort zone but, back to the BIG birthday, I really wanted to mark the occasion. Paulo our photographer was wonderful and we were quickly put at ease. The photos are wonderful, we’re still going through them (I think we got around 500!) and it’s a lovely reminder of a perfect trip.
The Musee Rodin was very special. It was quiet. The gardens are small but lovely to wander around and my husband, not a fan before we went, came away with a real appreciation of sculpture. It was lovely to see ‘The Kiss’ and ‘The Thinker’. The museum itself is two story. There is a lift to the second floor. The food in the cafe was fresh and flavoursome. We loved eating in the sunshine.
We also adored the Musee de L’Orangerie. Monet offered 8 enormous water lily paintings to the French government in 1918. In exchange, the government agreed to showcase them in a custom built monument. The water lilies are set in curved panels in two adjoining oval shaped rooms and they are truly breathtaking. Even my husband was lost for words (that never happens). Again, it was quieter here. Afterwards we had an ice cream in the Tuileries Garden. It was a joy to see so many families enjoying the sun.
We took an evening boat cruise on the Seine. We had hoped the city would be beginning to light (it was billed as an illuminations trip) but it wasn’t, but we enjoyed it nevertheless, and the wine.
I’m going to mention the Louvre here, not because it was a highlight, because it was the one thing neither of us enjoyed. We’ve been to Paris several times we’re always asked if we’ve been to the Louvre and seen the Mona Lisa so this time we thought we’d ‘nip’ in. We all like different things so if this is one of your favourite places (as it is my sister’s) then I’m glad you enjoyed it, and if you want to go please don’t let me put you off. This is solely my opinion. But the queues were ridiculous, even with pre booked tickets, it was SO hot inside the glass pyramid. My husband and I were wearing masks but we only saw a couple of other people wearing them and it was very crowded. Rather than the usual tourist, gift shop as you leave experience, there seemed to be a gift shopping centre. What?! It took us almost as long to get out as it did to get in. I’d never go again. In the future it’s my beloved Musee D’ Orsay all the way.
Saint Chappelle is beautiful. It was was intended to house precious Christian relics, including Christ’s crown of thorns, acquired by Saint Louis. The 15 stain glassed windows are 15 metres high and they’re stunning. If you have mobility issues ask the staff and they will take you upstairs via an elevator based in the next building.
The entrance ticket included entry to the conciergerie next door a royal palace that became Marie-Antoinette’s prison. There was virtually nobody here and worth a quick visit.
We returned to the gorgeous Place des Voges as last time we visited Victor Hugo’s house was closed and, being a writer, I’m obsessed with other writers. This author of ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ and ‘Les Miserables’ has led an interesting life and the cake in the cafe is worth the visit alone. If you’re not interested in the house the Place des Voges is still worth a visit. It’s the oldest planned square in Paris and is so pretty. It’s lined with contemporary art galleries which are fun to browse and, of course, cafes.
Les Invalides was a five minute walk from our hotel. A military museum as well as a hospital and home for war veterans. The Dome des Invalides is the tallest church building in Paris (107 metres) and houses the tomb of Napoleon. We loved the dome, and the photography exhibition. We didn’t have time to look around the museum although we did manage to squeeze in some cake in the cafe (there’s a theme here).
I’m going to finish up with the Alexander III bridge because it is so other wordly. The writer in me romanticises it, imagining horses crossing with carriages containing women in beautiful ball gowns by lamplight. Anyway, if you’re close by it’s worth seeing and photos here will have the tower in the background.
My tips are not to plan too much. There’s something magical around every corner in Paris but if there is stuff you want to see do prebook skip the line tickets.
Comfortable shoes are a must. Even using the metro or cabs you’ll walk further than you think (and don’t worry about what to wear. Anything goes).
Paris is possible with mobility problems but perhaps takes a little more careful planning. I did put a note on my previous blog about this.
Regarding the Coronoavirus, there weren’t many people wearing masks and nobody social distancing. However, we wore masks all the time indoors, and often on busy streets too. When we took cabs the drivers were wearing masks, the windows were also down (we took a couple of ubers too and didn’t find this to be the case but of course it’s up to the individual driver). We ate outside most of the time, used hand sanitiser constantly. We’ve been home 10 days now and thankfully both tested negative.
I’d love to hear of your favourite places in Paris, I’m already planning our next trip.
In 2014 I began writing my debut, ‘The Sister‘, for fun. It was meant to be a short story. I hadn’t written any fiction as an adult and I hadn’t any qualifications other than a clutch of GCSE’s. I never believed I could write a book. I had always thought that to be a published novelist you needed a wealth of experience and a degree in creative writing.
When it got to the point that my ‘short story’ had reached 90k words I began to tentatively hope I could edit it to a high enough standard where I’d dare to submit it. Out of my depth, I was so grateful when a writer I met at an event offered to read the opening 3 chapters for me. I didn’t check where she was published, or how she was published. The fact she was in print led me to believe she knew absolutely everything.
Her overriding feedback was that my prologue was a huge mistake, “readers hate them, agents hate them and publishers hate them. If you submit something with a prologue it won’t be read.”
I felt my face burn with embarrassment. I didn’t know the rules and I’d been found out for the imposter that I was.
Immediately I deleted my prologue, but now, several books on and with over a million copies sold I’m familiar with most of the rules and (whispers) here’s the thing. There aren’t any.
That writer, as it turned out, was right that ‘The Sister‘ shouldn’t have a prologue, but not for the reasons she said.Her overriding feedback was that my prologue was a huge mistake, ‘”readers hate them, agents hate them and publishers hate them. If you submit something with a prologue it won’t be read.” That writer, as it turned out, was right that ‘The Sister‘ shouldn’t have a prologue, but not for the reasons she said.
The prologue wasn’t needed. It didn’t serve a purpose and in a novel, every single scene, every single word needs to earn its place, prologue included. After ‘The Sister’ spent two months at No. 1 I found the confidence to include a prologue in my second psychological thriller, ‘The Gift‘, because no matter what that writer said about people hating prologues, I don’t, and first and foremost I’m a reader. I don’t write one for every book because not every story warrants one.
So how do I decide when to use one? ‘All For You’ (currently 99p in the Amazon Kindle Deal) is my newly published thriller and I’ll use it as an example. In this story I wanted readers to know that teenage boys are disappearing and that Connor, my main character’s son, will be taken next. Then, in chapter one we jump to several days before Connor is taken so readers can watch it unfold and try to figure out who is taking the boys, and why.
All For you – Prologue
Something is wrong.
I’ve a deep, primal instinct screaming that I need to get home to Connor. It isn’t just because of the row we’d had. The horrible, hurtful things he had said, it’s something else.
A knowing that, despite being 17, I should never have left my son alone.
The flash of neon orange cones blur through the window as I gather speed until the roadworks force me to a stop. The candle-shaped air freshener swings from the rear-view mirror – its strawberry scent cloying.
My fingertips drum the steering while I will the temporary traffic lights to change to green. The rain hammers against the roof the of the car, windscreen wipers lurch from side to side. It isn’t the crack of lightning that causes my stomach to painfully clench, or the rumble of thunder, even though storms always take me back to the time I’d rather forget, but a mother’s instinct.
I’ve felt it before. That bowling ball of dread hurtling towards me.
Drawing in a juddering breath, I tell myself everything is fine. It’s only natural that worry gnaws at me with sharpened teeth. Every mother in our town is on high alert right now after the disappearance of two teenage boys. I have more reason to be on edge than most.
It’s not as though I’m thinking Connor has been taken, but it’s one thing for him to ignore my calls, he’d never ignore Kieron’s.
Particularly when he had asked Kieron to call him after his hospital appointment.
Why didn’t he pick up?
In my mind’s eye I see him, bounding down the stairs two at a time, balancing on a chair to reach the snacks he doesn’t realize I know he hides on the top of his wardrobe.
An accident, or something else?
My stomach churns with a sense of foreboding.
I’ve been under so much pressure lately that I’m bound to be anxious. Edgy. But . . . I jab at my mobile and try Connor once more. My favourite picture of him lights the screen. We took it five years ago during an unseasonably hot Easter. Before Kieron was diagnosed, before everything changed. We’re on the beach, the wind whipping his dark curls around his face. His grin is wide, traces of chocolate ice cream smudged around his mouth.
We were all so happy once. I don’t know how, but I have to believe that we can be again. The alternative is too painful to bear.
The phone rings and rings. Fear brushes the back of my neck.
I try from Kieron’s phone this time. He still doesn’t answer.
The lights are taking an age to change.
Next to me, Kieron sleeps. His head lolling against the window, breath misting the glass. The dark sweep of his lashes spider across his pale skin. The hospital visit has exhausted him. The red tartan blanket I always keep in the car has slipped from his knees and I reach across and pull it over his legs. The passenger seat is swallowing his thin body. At thirteen he should be growing, but his illness is shrinking him. It’s shrinking me. Sometimes I feel as though my entire family is disappearing. Aidan barely talks to me, never touches me. In bed there’s an ever-increasing space between us. Both of us teetering on our respective edges of the mattress, a strip of cold sheet an invisible barrier between us. My head no longer resting on his chest, his leg never slung over mine, his fingers not stroking my hair any more.
Connor is monosyllabic and moody in the way that 17-year-olds often are but he never was, before . . .
But it isn’t just that, it’s also this sickness that isn’t just Kieron’s. It’s everybody’s.
The lights change to green.
Before I can pull away there’s a streak of yellow. Through the rain a digger trundles towards me, blocking my path.
Kieron sighs in his sleep the way his brother sighs when he’s awake. Sometimes it seems the boys only communicate through a series of noises and shrugs. But that’s unfair. It’s hardly surprising Connor’s mouth is a permanent thin line as though he’s forgotten how to smile. It’s not only his concern about his brother on top of everything he went through before the summer that has turned my sweet-natured son into a mass of guilt and unhappiness, but the sharp truth that out of his friendship group of three, two of them have disappeared.
‘The Taken’, the local paper calls them, printing that out of those who were there that tragic day, Connor is the only one left.
But Connor knows this as he hides in his room, too scared to go to school.
We all know this.
Tyler and Ryan have vanished without a trace and the police have no idea why.
It’s up to me to keep Connor safe.
I glance at Kieron.
I’ll do anything to keep both of my boys safe.
The driver of the digger raises his hand in appreciation as he passes by me. Before I can pull away, the lights change to red once more. Frustrated, I slam my palms against the steering wheel.
Rationally, I know Connor hasn’t been taken.
He’s at home.
The door is locked.
But still . . .
He never ignores Kieron.
Despite the lights being red, I pull away. There’s no approaching traffic. I snap on the radio again. The newsreader relays in cool, clipped tones that the missing boys haven’t been found but police are following several lines of inquiry. Nobody else is missing. The unsaid ‘yet’ lingers in the air, and although I know Connor is safe, my foot squeezes the accelerator. Home is the only place my anxiety abates. When we’re all under one roof and I can almost pretend everything is exactly how it was.
Visibility is poor. Frustrated, I slow, peering out through the teeming rain. If I have an accident I’m no use to Kieron, to anyone. My heart is racing as there’s another crack of lightning. I count the seconds the way I used to with the boys when they were small.
A grumble of thunder. The storm is closing in. Everything is closing in, crashing down. My stomach is a hard ball, my pulse skyrocketing as a sense of danger gallops towards me.
The urgency to be at home overrides the voice of caution urging me to slow down. I race past the old hospital, which has fallen into disrepair, the white and blue NHS sign crawling with ivy, and then the secondary school. I barely register the figure cloaked in black stepping onto the zebra crossing but on some level I must have noticed him as I blast the horn until he jumps back onto the path. He shakes his fist but I keep moving.
My chest is tight as I pull into my street, my driveway. A whimper of fear slithers from my lips as I see the front door swinging open.
Without waking Kieron I half fall, half step out of the car, my shoes slipping on wet tarmac as I rush towards my house.
The table in the hallway is lying on its side. My favourite green vase lies in shattered pieces over the oak floor. The lilies that had been left anonymously on the doorstep are strewn down the hallway.
‘Hello?’ My voice is thin and shaky.
The cream wall by the front door is smeared in blood. Connor’s phone is on the floor, lying in a puddle of water from the vase. His screen is smashed. My feet race up the stairs towards his bedroom. A man’s voice drifts towards me. I push open Connor’s door just as shots are fired.
Instinctively, I cover my head before I realize the sound is coming from the war game blaring out of Connor’s TV. His Xbox controller is tangled on the floor along with his headphones.
His bedroom is empty.
He was here.
He was safe.
The front door was locked.
Quickly, I check every room in the house until I’m back in the hallway, staring in horror at the blood on the wall, trying to make sense of it.
Connor has gone.
As you can see, prologues are a great tool for grabbing attention, giving background, creating a twist , and for providing a hook. A question. The prologue must be set apart from Chapter One, either with a different point of view or a different time – past, present, or future.
I asked my son once, who is an avid reader whether he read prologues as I was genuinely shocked to hear some readers don’t.
‘Of course,’ he said, ‘but I never bother with the things at the end. The epilogue.’
‘Why not?’ I was horrified.
‘Because I already know how the story ends,’ he said.
Not in my books. There is often, as there is with ‘The Family‘, a twist on the very last line in the epilogue, but how to end a story is another blog post entirely.
Welcome to part 4 of my Diary of a Novelist series (catch up from part one here). Wow, the first 12th of the year has flown by! I haven’t worked on my manuscript at all but a writer’s life isn’t all about writing new books. Here’s what I’ve been up to.
It’s time to take a deep breath and look at the first round of structural edits my editor is suggesting for my third Amelia Henley book which publishes this September. Structural edits look at the big picture, the structure of the story, the characters. It’s here that an editor will point out any things they don’t think are working and offer suggestions for improvement. My editor doesn’t mark-up areas of the manuscript for the first edit but provides a broad editorial letter with her thoughts. At this stage, although it’s rare, a publisher can reject a book for various reasons and the writer has to write something new. I don’t quite know how I’d cope with that!
The letter begins.
“This is another deeply emotional novel. Your grasp of human emotion has always been wonderful and this story gives you many opportunities to flex those skills. I can already see readers will feedback how you brought them to tears”.
A sigh of relief that she doesn’t hate it.
Then she covers my three main character points of view and my setting. There isn’t anything major to change. Just various points to revist and deepen the emotion. There is a suggestion to alter one of the characters motivation but I don’t immediately decide whether I want to do this. You don’t have to do everything an editor suggests, but I always listen and try everything before choosing what works and what doesn’t for me. Most of the suggestions made I will end up implementing but possibly not everything.
It’s been ten months since I finished this story and sent it off to her so the rest of the week is spent rereading and familiarising myself with the characters before making a list of what I want to tackle and in what order. I always do the largest things first. I LOVE a list.
I’m at my desk by 8.30 every morning and work through until 5.30 with only a short break. I also work weekends. I don’t put in quite so many hours when writing a first draft but when I’m editing I like my head to stay in the story.
I’d forgotten how much I love these three siblings, Charlie, Duke and Nina. It’s a real joy to be back with them again.
By the end of the week I’ve tackled everything in the editorial letter, it’s already a much better book, but have decided not to take on board one of the suggestions. Now for a few days away from it.
Launch week for my 7th psychological thriller ‘All For You’. (The eBook is just 99p) It’s been super busy. In the run up to publication day I’ve been posting competitions on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. I run a live launch party on Instagram and Facebook which is immense fun. I also do a live Q & A in the Fiction Café Facebook Group.
After a covid related delay it’s been wonderful to see my book on the shelves and learn that Fern Britton chose it for her book club pick for Tesco. Media reviews have been wonderful. It was also fabulous to get out for a celebratory meal with my husband.
‘A galloping pulse-pounder’ Heat
‘[A] gripping thriller . . . with perfectly observed emotions and red herrings that will boggle the mind’ Woman & Home
‘A full-blown, brilliantly plotted and written novel, with a clarity and originality that is wonderfully unique’ On magazine
‘A compelling page-turner’ Bella
‘Emotionally gripping & full of an underlying sense of unease. You’ll be left open mouthed by the turn of events’ Woman’s Weekly
And so has reader feedback. I’m hugely grateful to everyone who has read, recommended and reviewed the story of the Walsh family and their dark, dark secret.
I read through my Amelia manuscript once more before I send it back to my editor and then it’s time for something completely different.
I’ve begun a teacher training course in Shibashi Taichi Qigong, with Shamash Aladini, author of Mindfulness for Dummies, who I completed my mindfulness teacher training with many years ago.
After my first class I was super relaxed and went to the cinema with my son. Just as the film was about to start I had an idea for a new thriller I felt immediate excitement about. I wrote the prologue the second we got home. It’s got a great hook but as yet I don’t know what might happen but it will remain at the back of my mind until it begins to develop of its own accord. We saw Belfast btw. It was brilliant.
The month ended with my US publisher sending me this super romantic cover for my Amelia Henley debut ‘ The Life We Almost Had’ which publishers in the US this summer!
New words written – 1500k for prologue of book I don’t have time to write!
Highs – Publication for my 7th thriller ‘All For You’!
‘All For You; is a Fern Britton pick!
First structural edit on my 3rd Amelia Henley book finished
Seeing my US cover!
Lows – Not working on my current wip
What I’m reading – Beyond Coincidences – Martin Plummer & Brian King
What I’m watching – Yellowjackets – I’m obsessed!
Special offers – ‘All For You’ is just 99p across all digital platforms. Download from Amazon, Apple, Kobo, Google
Newsletter sign up – subscribe here and get two free short stories and access to exclusive giveaways.
Being an introverted writer who suffers from social anxiety it took me years to pluck up the courage to go to Harrogate and when I did I wondered why I’d put it off for so long.
Everyone was so welcoming. I had the BEST time (you can read about it here).
This year, the most lovely Lauren North is giving away a weekend package to the festival to a writer (published or unpublished) who hasn’t been before. If you’d love to go but circumstances such as cost haven’t made it possible for you to attend then do check out this most amazing prize.
Touchingly, Lauren is offering this phenomenal prize in memory of her father who was kind and generous. I’m sure he would be immensely proud of her for doing so.
Included in the giveaway is: –
3 nights accommodation Bed and Breakfast at The Cairn Hotel for one person (2 minutes walk from the venue and a short distance into town;
Classic Rover Ticket allowing access to all the panel events (includes lunch on Friday & Saturday)
Access to the site including bars, bookshop and signings;
First opportunity to access tickets to exclusive on site publisher events;
Theakston Old Peculier Crime Festival goody bag
Find out more at Lauren’s website here and do check out Lauren’s amazing books on Amazon here.
Good luck to all the entrants and I hope to see the winner there!
It’s time to celebrate the publication of my 7th psychological thriller, ‘All For You’, which publishes this Thursday 20th January. This story about the Walsh family is my darkest, twistiest book yet and has had some amazing endorsements already.
A galloping pulse-pounder’ Heat
‘[A] gripping thriller . . . with perfectly observed emotions and red herrings that will boggle the mind’ Woman & Home
‘A full-blown, brilliantly plotted and written novel, with a clarity and originality that is wonderfully unique’ On magazine
Wednesday 19th January is my live launch party and I’d love it if you could join me. I really would appreciate the support.
The launch will take place at 8pm on both my Facebook page and over on Instagram. There have been various competitions running for the past week. You don’t have to be able to attend the launch to enter most of these so do pop over to either Facebook or Instagram and pop your name down if you want to be with a chance to win one of these fabulous titles.
On the night there will be a special prize but this will only be for someone who attends the launch.
There will be plenty of book chat and do feel free to ask me any questions regarding publishing.
It’s part 4 of my Diary of a Novelist series (catch up from part one here). Working on the first draft of my latest psychological thriller has been a challenge so far but my December was a LOT more productive than I’d hoped.
Panic has set in. Unusually, this year, I’m intending on taking at least a week’s break over Christmas – usually, other than the big day itself I write almost every day of the year but I’m feeling so exhausted it’s take a break or burn out. Stepping away from my manuscript midway through a first draft isn’t ideal. I don’t want to lose the sense of story or connection to the characters. My editor has let me know the edits on my next Amelia Henley love story should be with me by the end of the year, followed by the edits on my 2023 thriller so it’s likely I won’t be returning to this book until the Spring. I NEED to cobble together a coherent story, even if I only bullet point chapters or scenes. I carry on working on the end, weaving in all three points of view until I have an ending that is so dark I will likely change it but it’s an ending – hurrah!
Finishing the end has forced me back to the middle which I have entirely skipped. I have zero ideas what might happen here so I take my dog for a walk and think about my beginning and my end while letting ideas brew. I find getting outside, away from the house, really kickstarts my creativity. When I return I have a few potential scenes and a big twist in mind so I dig out my index cards and jot them down. Once I can see them in black and white other ideas begin to germinate so I write each idea on a separate index card and then spread them out over the living room floor, rearranging the order, discarding the ones that don’t fit until I have some sort of bridge between the middle and the end.
I work in Scrivener so, following my index cards, I open a new section for each idea and transfer my notes. With experience I now know roughly how many words I like per chapter (between 1200-2500) and I can tell that I have enough story to take the script to around 88k words – enough to fill a novel.
I’m frantically expanding my notes as much as I can so it’ll be easier to pick up in a few months when I get back to it. Really, I should have visited some old Tudor houses by now for research but the ones that are open to the public are full of Christmas events and I don’t want to come into contact with anyone and potentially catch Covid so instead of writing any detail I’m inserting ‘XX’ into the places I need to fill once I’ve managed to visit some locations next year.
Still, the story is the main thing and I really happy with the way it’s taking shape. I’m writing between 8.30-5.30 every day (usually I only write new words in the mornings). My eyeballs ache I’m so tired but my word count is shooting up and I feel quietly confident I’ll have some sort of draft by Christmas.
I have a zoom meeting with my editor about my forthcoming release ‘All For You’ which publishes 20thJanuary. With only 3 weeks to go I need to arrange an online launch and prizes and SO MUCH.
The event is set up on Facebook (do come and enter some of the giveaways here) and after a final push on my 9th psychological thriller, I have a shorter than usual, very patchy with lots to fill in draft. Christmas Eve my edits arrive so that’s my January sorted. Time to switch off, spend some quality time with my family with lots of bracing dog walks.
New words written – 32,000 (Total of wip 72500)
Highs – Finishing what I’m loosely calling a first draft
Lows – Not getting any research done
What I’m reading – The Salt Path – Raynor Winn
What I’m watching – The Landscapers – Olivia Coleman is brilliant
Special offers – ‘The Family’ is 99p across all digital platforms. Download from Amazon here and discover why, once you’ve entered Oak Leaf Farm, you’re NEVER allowed to leave…
Event – ‘All For You’ live Facebook launch with prizes, details here
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Welcome to my diary of a novelist where I’m documenting my routine (such as it is) and progress (pitiful) on my new psychological thriller.
The shame I felt sharing last month’s progress should have pushed me to achieve more this month.
Ridiculously, I spend this week in much of a panic because (and I told you it was ridiculous) it’s NaNoWriMo. For those who don’t know that’s National Novel Writing Month where you (clue is in the name) write a novel in a month.
Now, I have no desire to try this (kudos to those who do) so it shouldn’t have any impact on me.
But I find myself lurking on social media, feeling more and more deflated at those taking part posting their daily word count. By the end of week one most have surpassed the wordcount on my new novel which I’ve been working on for two months.
AND I WRITE FULL TIME.
Now, usually, I’m pretty positive (because I’ve taught myself to be) and I know that no good EVER comes of comparing myself to other writers but sometimes, particularly during such a rough time personally when I’m feeling so low anyway, it’s just so bloody hard not to.
Consequently, I end up writing, deleting, rewriting the same chapter over and over and then eating too much cheese.
This week is publication day for ‘Everyday Kindness‘. An anthology in aid of Shelter Charity. Having had my own life transformed by a single act of kindness I was really happy to contribute a story. I take a few quiet moments on publication day to think about how lucky I am. There are people out there who are homeless.
And I’ve been stressing about Nano WHICH I’M NOT TAKING PART IN ANYWAY.
Back to my wip. I carry on writing the past point of view featured in part three, the end (I’ve skipped the middle for now).
Then my husband begins to feel unwell. His throat is raw, he has swollen glands, a raging temperature, muscle aches, fatigue. He takes a lateral flow test which is negative. I make him take another two and then, not quite trusting them after my son’s Covid experience, I take him for a PCR. That’s negative too. Turns out he has tonsillitis.
Knowing that while he’s sick I have less time because all the shopping, cooking, childcare etc will fall on me I use my time more productively. I write the epilogue knowing now where I want to get too but still not quite sure how to get there.
The ending is growing longer and longer. My pet peeve, as a reader, is endings which are rushed so I like writing this way, giving the twists the space they need to breath, knowing the middle will be less meandering because I’ll have fewer words less to fill. I’ve almost, almost, finished the point of view I’m working on.
I take a couple of days break. One of my kids graduates and we head up to his uni for the ceremony. My husband was still feeling exhausted but wouldn’t have missed it for the world. We kept our masks on throughout the ceremony but behind them, we couldn’t stop smiling.
There’s a 16th birthday in the house! I take my son to see Hamilton to celebrate. It’s odd being on a train. Odd being in London. But we loved it. We were in the actual room where it happens!
It takes me days to regain my energy but by the end of the week I’ve finished the point of view I’ve been working on. I have two other points of view to write in the final part and the entire middle to go.
The middle is the point I’m most concerned about, not wanting to make it too supernatural (actually desperate to make it really supernatural but I don’t think my publisher is super keen).
And so we’re beginning December. Three weeks until Christmas and I hope by next month, although I’m incapable of planning, to at least have a good sense of the story I need and be able to bullet point some scenes so I’ll be able to pick it up again in the New Year.
Watch this space…
Monthly round up:-
New words written 25K
US paperback publication day for ‘The Family’
Some lovely review for ‘All For You‘ which is out in Poland – can’t wait until this is published in the UK next month!
High – Some exciting news regarding ‘The Life We Almost Had’ that I can’t quite share yet
Low – My husband being so poorly
What I’m reading – Everyday Kindness
What I’m watching – I’m a celebrity, get me out of here
Social offer! – Two of my books have been selected for Amazon’s ‘Countdown to Christmas’ 99p deal. ‘The Life We Almost Had’ my Amelia Henley debut (which is NOT a typical love story) and ‘The Date’ featuring face blind Ali trying to stop her stalker ruining her life (challenging when she can’t recognise them).
I’ll be running another giveaway very soon so if you haven’t already, subscribe to my Newsletter here to be kept up to date and receive 2 free short stories.
Welcome to part two of my new diary series. Each month I’m documenting the progress on my new first draft, and sharing a little insight into the life of a full-time writer. If you missed part one you can catch up with it here. Now, it has crossed my mind multiple times to skip this month’s entry and hope that nobody notices because my progress has been shameful, but then I wouldn’t be being entirely honest about my writers’ life and the point of this series is to keep myself on track. I knew October was going to be such a busy month but I didn’t realise my word count would be quite so paltry.
The first few days were spent frantically checking my emails. I’d sent both my editor and agent the first three chapters of my new idea and, of course, when they didn’t reply in five seconds telling me they loved it, I assumed they hated it.
While I waited I began playing around with the structure, not yet entirely sure how I was going to approach two timelines and at least three points of view. Whether I’d write one complete point of view before switching to another or whether I’d mix it up. One thing I have learned over the years is every book is different and the process I’d used before may not work for this story. After writing a few super short chapters (no more than 500 words) from all three points of view to get a feel for the characters I realised one thing. The structure I’d sent to my agent and editor wasn’t going to work for me. The third chapter was supposed to be from a podcast and although I loved the idea of this I found writing it jarring. The switch really pulled me out of the story as a writer and trying to read it objectively as a reader I felt the same thing might happen. If readers aren’t fully immersed in the story they may give up on it and I don’t want that so back to the drawing board.
In the meantime, my agent got back to me first with feedback which could have gone either way as he began with ‘OH MY GOD’ but he loved it saying he felt I’d really moved into new territory.
Interestingly, my editor’s feedback echoed similar thoughts: –
“Well… What an opening! That prologue gave me chills – and I mean that in a good way. I do like the direction this is moving in, and although it will move you into a slightly different space that could be a good thing by the time we get to this point in your publishing, as it’s important that your storytelling keeps evolving.”
I spent some time pondering what they mean (if pondering can mean excruciatingly examining every word over and over). I hadn’t made a conscious decision to move into a new direction, rather I thought of a story I’d like to tell. I wondered whether I could ask for feedback on their feedback but instead tell myself to JUST BLOODY WRITE.
Holiday time – hurrah! It seems like forever since we went away and it was such a treat to have all of my children under one roof (I do only have three – I’m not the old woman who lived in the shoe). But with the eldest having left home and another now working full-time it isn’t always easy to coordinate. Pre-pandemic if we’d gone on holiday I’d have taken my notebook and laptop and squeezed in some writing when I could. This time I didn’t. We hired a cottage in the New Forest and spent the week dog walking, eating, drinking, playing games and laughing. I hadn’t realised how mundane life had become until I had a change of routine. It was a JOY.
We had such a good time away, my husband and I decide to sneak a long weekend away in while the weather was still reasonable. But first, a few days to focus on my manuscript. Disappointingly, I found that after a break so close to the beginning it wasn’t easy to dive back in. I took into account something my editor and agent both mentioned about being careful not to stray into the horror genre (I fear I might stray into the horror genre…) and as I’d had a vague idea about the (an) end that seemed a good place to start while I figured out genre, points of view and the dreaded middle. I began at part two, there was a new point of view there so I aimed to write all of her parts first.
I was interviewed for a podcast with author John Marrs who it appears has a really similar process to me, start writing and wing it. I found this very reassuring.
I got about 5k words in before I go away, determined that when I came back I’d really knuckle down.
Life took an unexpected turn, as life has a habit of doing and much of this week was spent with a friend in need. I had a couple of days to write though and I was becoming clearer on the end.
It’s dark. Very dark.
I must not stray into the horror genre. I must not stray into the horror genre. I must not stray into the horror genre.
I don’t know if I am – send help!
In November I really need to get my head into this new idea and to write almost every day because I keep losing the story. Also I need to decide whether I’m confident this is a thriller because as well as the (may or may not be) horror strand, I might also have introduced a supernatural element.
Writing under contract means I can’t entirely write what I’d like because it needs to fit with what I’ve promised the publisher, which is a psychological thriller. I fear, that as I’m writing my 9th thriller and with over a million sales, it’s perhaps a little late, and a little embarrassing, to ask for a definition of exactly what a psychological thriller is…
Monthly round up: – 8000k new words written German publication day for ‘The Stolen Sisters’ US publication day for ‘The Stolen Sisters’ Polish publication day for ‘All For You’ A holiday A weekend away A lovely review in ‘Heat’ magazine for the forthcoming ‘All For You’.
High – ‘The Stolen Sisters’ has spent almost a month in the German Kindle top 100 so far.
Low – More time spent not writing than writing
What I’m reading – Sophie Money-Coutts – ‘Did You Miss Me?’
What I’m watching – Good Girls season 4
Join me next month to find out whether I find out what a psychological thriller is, whether I nail the end, and how I approach the dual timeline in the middle.
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