This time last week I was in prison – My visit to HMP Thameside’s book club

Eighteen months ago, when my debut novel, The Sister, was No.1 in the charts, I was invited along to HMP Thameside to meet their book club. Immediately, The Fear hit and I quickly declined. Not because of the environment, but because I had a massive phobia of public speaking. Those who read my blog know that after turning down numerous talks, I was asked to speak at the Althorp Literary Festival last year and eager to attend, I had a course of hypnotherapy to help me overcome The Fear (you can read about that here). I’ve since spoken at, and enjoyed, several events so when HMP Thameside’s librarian, Neil Barclay, got back in touch and asked if I’d reconsider, grateful of a second chance, I said yes.

I had never been in a prison before and my expectations were very much centred around what I’d seen on TV, rowdy tattooed men in orange boiler suits, and as I queued up to be booked in I started to wonder, for the first time, what I’d let myself in for. It was a surprise I had to be fingerprinted before I was granted entry, and not by ink and paper but by a scanner. (‘Mum, did you think it would be like an 80’s cop show?’ my son asked when I told him that later. Umm, yes.) My photo was taken, my ID checked and then I was given a visitor’s pass. After storing my possessions in a locker I was directed to the next room. Here, I was met by an officer who asked me to remove my boots so they could be scanned. As she snapped on blue latex gloves I felt a flicker of unease but the search was soon over and another officer arrived to escort me to the library.

One of my first observations was how many doors there were. Each one needing to be unlocked and immediately locked behind us. Listening to the slam, the twisting of the key, I tried to imagine how I would feel if I knew I would be there for months, or even years and anxiety bubbled.

In the library I was greeted by the prisoners who participate in the book club and the creative writing class and it struck me, as my eyes swept around the room, at the different clothes (not an orange boiler suit in sight) the different ages, races, that these were just people and my anxiety dissipated.

We talked about my books, about writing, but more importantly, we chatted about mental health. I relayed my story of how finding myself with a disability in my 30’s lost me my mobility, my job, my home and caused me to develop clinical depression. I shared how I was at rock bottom, thinking my life was over, my best days behind me. My fears that no-one would employ me, love me. But eventually I picked myself up and overcome depression through mindfulness and forged a new life. A new career. Although, they didn’t tell me why they were in prison, and nor did I want to know, they shared how they felt. How they coped.

Time flew by and after signing some books the men were escorted back to their cells. I ate a delicious lunch at the staff bistro, cooked and served by the prisoners. Later, I had a tour of the prison. I experienced what it was like in both a single and double cell and chatted to the men who lived there. It was heart breaking to visit a room full of toys and books where the men could record themselves reading a story to send to their children and that really reiterated that their sentence isn’t theirs to bear alone.

It’s now been a week now since my visit. A week in which the people I met are still very much on my mind. A week in which I am still trying to process how I feel. Despite my expectations, the images I had built up in my mind, ultimately these men were people, like you and I. Some were anxious, bewildered, depressed and frustrated. All were respectful and polite. There were repeat offenders, that was inevitable but I also met men who wanted an education, the chance of a better life. Hope. There are no victimless crimes but could any one of us take a wrong turn? Although I’ve never broken the law I’ve made bad choices, rash decisions. Mistakes.

I’ve offered to go back and run a workshop on mindfulness. As well as helping with depression and anxiety, imagine if learning to live in the moment, pausing to think rather than having a knee jerk reaction, could stop just one person reoffending? Mindfulness is all about choice. I chose to visit the prison, and I was free to leave at the end of the day, but sometimes I think – what if I wasn’t. It’s a sobering thought.

I was presented with a gorgeous bouquet, a ‘Wish You Were Here’ mug, and a thank you card.


Flash Fiction – Ferrying Secrets

Image courtesy of Ted Strutz



I ignore the other kids. The wind bites my nose. I button my coat.


The familiar puff of steam. I clutch my camera with numb fingers.


A stone hits me in the back of the neck but I manage to snap a picture of the cab.

The photo won’t take long to develop and when it does I’ll show mum. It might be my dad! He’s been away on top secret missions since I was born. A spy masquerading as a train driver. Ferrying secrets.

She’ll say no. Call me a gullible idiot. She always does. But part of me still hopes. Perhaps it’s him. Perhaps he’ll love me.


Friday Fictioneers is a weekly 100 word story challenge, inspired by a photo prompt. Hop over to host Rochelle’s blog to read the other entires or join in! 

B. A. Paris – Bring Me Back Launch Party


One of the best things about writing is the sense of community amongst authors, and the friends I have made. I first met B.A Paris while her phenomenal debut, Behind Closed Doors, was storming the charts, and I had newly published The Sister. It’s been lovely to share our experiences as new writers, and cheer each other on over the past couple of years. It was a privilege to attend the launch of her third offering, Bring Me Back last Thursday.

Lisa Milton from HQ, me, B.A. Paris

If you haven’t read it yet, you really should! This is a dual narrative story, and B has written from both a male and female perspective. The male voice, Finn, is excellently executed and the story of Finn’s girlfriend’s disappearance, 12 years previously, had me hooked. Had she run away? Had he killed her? You’ll have to read it, to find out.

The launch party took place in a private area of the bar in Waterstones, Piccadilly and the 5th floor location gave us a stunning view across London, by night. We drank wine and ate canapés including salted chicken and mini burgers. Russian Dolls feature as part of Bring Me Back’s plot and although I’m a chocoholic I couldn’t bring myself to unwrap one of these chocolates as they looked so pretty.

B gave a heartfelt speech, there are always so many people to thank. Writing a book can be quite solitary but publishing one takes a village.

You can find Bring Me Back on Amazon here.

A Fallen Kingdom


I am the queen of everything. The queen of nothing. My kingdom is fashioned from hopelessness and regret. I sit in my palace of faded dreams while my subjects smile and nod and lie and cheat.

‘You’ll be fine,’ they say. ‘You are fine.’ But I’m not.

My present is haunted by echoes of the past, whispers from the future. I am cracking and falling apart. My reflection laughs and laughs while I stand and cry. I stretch out my fingers to touch my face but I am so far away from myself I cannot reach.

‘You need a King,’ they say and suddenly, there he is. My shoulders sigh with happiness.

He loves me. He loves me not.

But my King is a shape shifter. He is light and shade; triumph and grief.

He cradles my hopes in his hand but one by one he lets them fall where they lie shattered in the lonely beam of sunlight that pierces the darkness.

I take off my crown, remove my cloak. Step out of my skin.

Walk away.


It has been far too long since I last participated in Streams of Consciousness Saturday and I’d forgotten how good it feels to sit and write a response to the fabulous Linda G Hill’s prompt and post without over thinking or editing. Today’s prompt was to use ‘so far’ in piece or writing that can be fact or fiction. If you fancy having a go, you can join in here

A writing retreat – Is it more than wine & cheese?


A few months ago, I was lunching with a group of writer friends when it was suggested we should hire accommodation and go on an informal writing retreat. Four of us committed to a date and I spent last weekend packing for my big adventure.

My son sat on my bed as I haphazardly threw an array of clothes into a case and then I spent an inordinate amount of time carefully selecting notebooks and pens.

‘Like you’re going to use those,’ my son scoffed.

‘Of course I am!’ I was a little offended.

‘It will be like the “revision” sessions I used to have with friends during A’Levels.’ he said.

‘I thought those were really valuable?’

‘Yeah. In terms of drinking beer and eating pizza. You’ll be the same but with cheese and wine.’

‘I’ll be writing.’ I stressed again, as though he didn’t know me really well.

At this point my other son wandered into my room. ‘Mum, isn’t an untutored writing retreat really just a holiday.’

‘Umm… no?’ Yes.

Monday, led by Word Warrior Tina, we checked into Centre Parcs and immediately headed to the shop and filled a trolley with wine and cheese. After we’d unpacked, I lounged on the sofa, opened my notebook and jotted down the available times for a massage. Damn my children for always being right.

But although this week there has been much talking, eating, laughter and drinking there has also been much, much more. It was such a privilege to watch and feed the wildlife including this adorable deer who slept on our patio.

The gorgeous surroundings, dusted by the unexpected snowfall, created the perfect creative environment.

Although we’ve been out – our first day saw me heading to the spa after a humungous afternoon tea – we’ve also given each other the time and space to work on our individual projects. We’ve bounced around ideas, read aloud and critiqued each others work with love. I feel relaxed, energised and as I look back at what I’ve achieved this past week I’ve also written more than I thought.

It’s been a really valuable experience and one I can’t wait to repeat. You can listen to my 90 second summary here: –


Cast Adrift – #FlashFiction

Image courtesy of J S Brand


There’s a dark, empty space inside me that six months volunteering in a Nepalese orphanage does not fill. I’d hoped the wide, bright, smiles of the too thin children, the fierce hugs and the progress we have made would make me feel whole again. It doesn’t.

The summer is spent in the USA teaching sports to disadvantaged children. There’s no ‘I’ in team we chant, and yet I’ve never felt lonelier.

In Cambodia, I dedicate myself to Wildlife Conservation. The elephants stride, trunk to tail.

‘Beautiful, aren’t they?’

I turn towards the voice.

Clear amber eyes lock onto mine. My pulse flutters. This time, I might just stay.


Hurrah – I’ve finished book 4 and while I’m waiting for the edits from my publisher I can’t resist FF. For 48 hours only my latest psychological thriller, The Surrogate, is part of a flash sale across all digital platforms for £0.99/$1.38 – you can grab it on your local Amazon here.

Pop over to Rochelle’s blog and join in with Friday Fictioneers. Post a 100 word story inspired by a photo prompt. 


Novel writing 1st draft – When the end is also the beginning

Today, I typed two words on my fourth manuscript. The two words that are often the most exciting to write. The End. Although it’s only a first draft, the relief I feel is immense but it’s also mixed with a nervousness, and if I’m honest, a little sadness.

Relief, because despite the success of my first three books the self-doubt has never completely gone away. The little voice whispering I won’t be able to do it again. This book has been such a hard write, and a long time in the making, started and abandoned twice, and there were times when I absolutely believed that voice and almost, almost gave up.

Nerves, because this is when it goes over to my agent and publisher for their feedback. This psychological thriller comes from a different angle and I’m hoping it’s one they will like. It’s also pacier, darker and more emotive than my first other books, although I hope it still retains the same feel.

Sadness, because again, I’ve become ridiculously attached to my main character, Ali and in a way this feels like letting her go. She’s been through such a lot in her life (and in my story!) and after spending 8 hours a day with her for almost a year I am already feeling lost without her.

I remind myself that this is not the end, this is the beginning and it’s the next part of the process I enjoy the most. The editing, the shaping of the story, polishing the language. It will be interesting to see, when the edits come back, how they compare to my previous books. I feel I’ve learned so much working with an editor and I’ve tried to put it all into practice. I shall let you know shortly as well as sharing the tips I have picked up along the way.