The paperbacks I didn’t want to hold…

A couple of days ago my dreams came true when a big box arrived from Harper Collins publishers. I knew it was my debut love story, ‘The Life We Almost Had’ which publishes this July under the pen name ‘Amelia Henley’.

“But that’s not your name”, says Granger.

As this is a completely different genre for me my editor wanted to keep this strand of publishing separate to my thrillers (of which a new one, The Stolen Sisters, is coming soon…)

Usually, I’d unbox my books within seconds but, because of the virus, I cautiously left them by the front door until this morning.

The cover is beautiful and I couldn’t be prouder of this unusual love story featuring Adam and Anna, characters who will always stay with me. This novel is, in part, set on a Spanish Island based on Lanzarote which is one of my favourite places in the world. It’s a story of love, loyalty, hope and courage and asks how far you’d go for a second chance. The risk Anna takes could have potentially devastating consequences…

I’m thrilled that early reviews have been so positive and I can’t wait to get this story into the hands of readers. The ebook and audio will be published next month, with the paperback coming in September. All available to preorder now in the UK from Amazon here, or from your local bookshop.

Here’s the blurb: –

This is not a typical love story, but it’s our love story.

Anna wasn’t looking for love when Adam swept her off her feet but there was no denying their connection, and she believed they would be together forever.

Years later, cracks have appeared in their relationship. Anna is questioning whether their love can really be eternal when a cruel twist of fate delivers a crushing blow, and Anna and Adam are completely lost to one another. Now, Anna needs Adam more than ever, but the way back to him has life-changing consequences.

Is a second chance at first love really worth the sacrifice? Anna needs to decide and time is running out…

Cover reveal, publication day & a THANK YOU


It’s been a day for celebration today. I’ve been so excited to reveal the STUNNING cover for my forthcoming thriller, The Stolen Sisters. I’m incredibly proud of this story of the Sinclair Sisters and, although I’ll be sharing more about it in the forthcoming weeks, you can hear me talk a little about it in the video below. It will be published in the UK this October and is available to preorder now from all bookshops and you can find it on Amazon here. This is the blurb –

Three little girls missing. One family torn apart…

Leah’s perfect marriage isn’t what it seems but the biggest lie of all is that she’s learned to live with what happened all those years ago. Marie drinks a bit too much to help her forget. And Carly has never forgiven herself for not keeping them safe.

Twenty years ago these three sisters were taken. What came after they disappeared was far worse. It should have brought them together, but how can a family ever recover?

Especially when not everyone is telling the truth . . .

Meanwhile, in the US, it’s ebook publication day for The Family (paperback to follow early next year). I’m so excited for US readers to get to know Laura and Tilly and discover why the cult invited them in and why they’ll NEVER let them leave. You can download it from Amazon US here and if you’re a UK reader and haven’t yet got a copy, find it here. Here’s the blurb

Laura is grieving after the sudden death of her husband. Struggling to cope emotionally and financially, Laura is grateful when a local community, Oak Leaf Organics, offer her and her 17-year-old daughter Tilly a home.
 
But as Laura and Tilly settle into life with their new ‘family’, sinister things begin to happen. When one of the community dies in suspicious circumstances Laura wants to leave but Tilly, enthralled by the charismatic leader, Alex, refuses to go.
 
Desperately searching for a way to save her daughter, Laura uncovers a horrifying secret but Alex and his family aren’t the only ones with something to hide. Just as Laura has been digging into their past, they’ve been digging into hers and she discovers the terrifying reason they invited her and Tilly in, and why they’ll never let them leave…

 

It means such a lot to me to be able to write full time and it’s something I’m eternally grateful and never take for granted. My short message here explains why.

Let’s talk about racism #blacklivesmatter

George Floyd and his tragic death have been much on my mind. The last few days I’ve watched the news with deep sadness and horror and I’ve been searching for the right words, unsure if there are any right words, but what I do know is what’s happening is not okay. I can’t pretend to know how it feels to experience racial injustice and inequality but I don’t want to let my discomfort that I might say the wrong thing prevent me from saying anything at all.

I used to think it was enough that I wasn’t racist. I used to think it was enough that I’ve brought my children up not to be racist. That, as a family, we’re tolerant, compassionate and non-judgemental. I used to think that was enough.

It isn’t.

I’ve been at a loss to know how to transition from the side-lines to taking positive action so I’ve spent some time educating myself. Reading and watching videos and trying to process all I am learning and I still have such a lot to learn.  I’m opening up conversations, listening and today I wanted to share some of the resources I’ve found useful.

The book – ‘White Fragility’ Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism’ by Robin Diangelo has come highly recommended. It’s my current read although I haven’t finished it yet.

On Instagram – @theconscious kid

Facebook – NAACP

Twitter – Black Lives Matter

If you didn’t know there is also a ‘Justice for George Floyd’ petition on Change.org.

You can also donate to the George Floyd Memorial Fund to support the Floyd family here and the Minnesota Freedom Fund which is a community based non-profit that pays criminal bail for individuals who have been arrested while protesting police brutality.

Finally, if you’re confused about why people who use #AllLivesMatter are subject to criticism then this article explains it in nine simple ways.

Let’s keep talking.

6 years writing – 10 books written – here’s what I’ve learned

 

Six years ago this month, following a drastic change in health circumstances, which had led to years of chronic pain, and clinical depression I knew for the sake of my mental health I needed to find a hobby. With limited mobility, there wasn’t much I could think of but then I remembered how much I’d loved writing as a child, how I’d had a burning desire to become an author until I was told at secondary school this wouldn’t be a viable career option.

I decided to try writing a short story.  Two characters came to mind, Grace and Charlie, lifelong best friends. The story begins with Grace digging up a memory box that the girls had buried several years before on Grace’s sixteenth birthday. Grace hopes to the box might contain a clue to explain Charlie’s last words before her mysterious disappearance – “I’ve done something terrible, please forgive me.”

My short story soon became 90k words of a (terrible at that stage) novel but I’d fallen in love with the girls, with their story of friendship and loyalty and courage and I rewrote and rewrote until it was ready to submit. I’m eternally grateful a publisher took a chance on my psychological thriller – The Sister – and turned my hobby into a full-time career.

Now, just six years on I am writing my tenth book. (Five have been published, two are due for publication this year and two for next year and I’m working on something new). I’ve sold well over a million copies, been translated into twenty-five languages, and although I can’t, of course, speak for every writer I wanted to share my opinions on some of the things I have learned along the way.

1)        Write the book you’d love to read. It’s so tempting to try and follow market trends and write a book you think has more of a shot of being published. Don’t. Market trends change so quickly you’ll always miss the boat. You spend such a long time with a manuscript I think if you’re writing something you genuinely love and are passionate about it shines through the finished product. Although my thrillers have been hugely successful I’ve also started writing high concept contemporary fiction in a different genre under the pen name ‘Amelia Henley‘ because I had a story in my heart I couldn’t let go. (You can read more about writing the story you want to rather than the story you should in a previous post, here)

2)        Don’t follow the rules. They are endless and who made them up anyway? Use common sense – if you write a 300k word romance it’s unlikely to be published but don’t be afraid to trust your gut. Prologues, for example, are often the source of much debate and I wrote a recent post on my opinion, which you can read here.

3)        Don’t compare yourself to others. This. Is. Soul. Destroying. (Not just in writing but in every aspect of life). There are always going to be people you aspire to and that’s a good thing but constantly comparing yourself to others is stressful and nothing stifles creativity like stress. The writer that’s shouting about a new deal on social media – be happy for them – your time will come and you don’t know what they are dealing with in their personal life. Rarely are things as glittery and shiny as they appear online. The writer that’s written 5k words today and is SO HAPPY – doesn’t affect your progress at all, it only changes the way you feel about it. Most writers I know write far quicker than me but it doesn’t matter. I write, on average 1000 words a day but I edit as I go (see No. 2 – I don’t follow rules) and am generally very satisfied with the quality I produce. Every word builds a sentence, every sentence a scene, every scene a chapter, and then, eventually, you’ll have a book. It isn’t a race.

4)        You won’t run out of ideas. This used to terrify me ALL OF THE TIME. I’d see writers online (and back to number 3 here) and worry that they have notebooks full of ideas and I had one – ONE – that I’d be working on. So far, when I’m coming to the end of a first draft, or shortly after, another idea will start to brew but until then I have no idea what I’ll write next. My brain can’t seem to cope with thinking of more than one thing at once and that’s okay. Ideas will come when you least expect it. (Read my previous post on ‘Where do ideas come from’ here.)

5)        Don’t force the words to come. We hear much in the writing rules (see no. 2) about how writing should be a ‘discipline’ and we ‘must’ write every day. To me this sounds like a punishment and writing above all else should be enjoyable. It is important to try and form a routine and not to wait until inspiration strikes (spoiler – it doesn’t always strike) but sometimes forcing yourself to sit in front of a blank page is demoralising. If I’m stuck on a plot point I step away from my computer. I go for a swim and 99% of the time the words will begin to flow again once I’ve had a break.

6)        Don’t sweat the small stuff. Punctuation and grammar. Here’s my confession (whispers) I don’t know what an abstract noun is or a concrete noun is or why I shouldn’t use them together. This was one of the first things a copy editor pointed out I was doing wrong. I’m still not entirely sure. I try hard with my drafts, I chuck the odd semi-colon in to prove I’ve made an effort but I get things wrong as we all do. It makes me sad when I receive emails from people telling me they want to write but they can’t because they are dyslexic or feel they are too uneducated and can’t get to grips with grammar and punctuation. Of course, polish your manuscript as much as you can but the MOST important thing is you have a good story to tell with strong characters. There are proofreaders, copy editors, beta readers, even friends and family who can help iron out any niggles. Don’t let worry about the final touches to a manuscript put you off writing one.

7)        Don’t become obsessed with the charts. If you’ve published a book it’s so tempting to be constantly hitting the refresh button to see where you chart on Amazon. Don’t.  Become. Obsessed. The Amazon charts are a complicated beast comprising of Kindle Unlimited, Prime Reading, Kindle Firsts etc. which all count towards chart positions so a high chart position doesn’t always necessarily equate to straightforward sales. Remember, stress stifles creativity.

8)        You can’t please every reader. If you’ve got a book out there you’re going to be tempted at some stage to read reviews and it’s human nature that you’ll gloss over the good ones and the bad ones will lodge in your mind. My debut, The Sister very quickly sold over half a million copies and I read every single review and tried to please every single one of those reviewers while I was writing my second book – The Gift. I sped up the pace, slowed down the pace, put in more twists, reduced the number of twists, tied myself in knots. You just… can’t.

9)        Celebrate EVERY LITTLE success. This is SO IMPORTANT. Remember, that writer on social media who is having the Best. Time. Ever. They’ve had knockbacks too. We all have. It’s an industry of unavoidable lows, which makes it even more important to appreciate every single good thing that happens. Those successes will keep you going through the inevitable low times and throughout those low times never lose hope. Things can turn around when you least expect it.

10)      Don’t be embarrassed to call yourself a writer. Don’t be ashamed to want to make a living out of it. This is something I struggled with enormously for a very long time. Looking at my shoes and mumbling vaguely whenever anyone asked what I did for a living. Be proud. Don’t use the term ‘aspiring writer’ if you write, you’re a writer. Also there’s a weird thing (and I’ve been guilty of it myself) where some writers feel they have to say they write for the love of it and not for financial recompense and while you do have to love writing to write there’s nothing wrong with ambition. I have a mortgage to pay and children to feed and this is how I chose to do it. You can read about the moment I finally felt like a ‘real’ writer here.

My latest psychological thriller – The Family – is currently 99p across all UK digital platforms. Download a copy from Amazon here (back to paying my mortgage and feeding my children…)

Thank you!

 

 

Novel Writing – Should you include a prologue? #WritingTips

 

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.

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? ‘The Family’ is my latest thriller and I’ll use it as an example, I’ve included the prologue below.  The Family is a book about brainwashing, about a mother, Laura, and her daughter, Tilly, who inadvertently find themselves joining a cult.  Laura realises there is something very dangerous about the situation they find themselves in but Tilly has already fallen for the charismatic leader, Alex, and doesn’t want to leave. It’s important for this story that we see how Laura and Tilly find themselves in such a terrible situation so this wasn’t going to be a story that flings you into action on the very first page.

I wanted to give the readers an indication that the pace will increase throughout the book.  The prologue begins in the future and then chapter one begins several months before this. We can initially see the horrifying situation Laura and Tilly are in and then we work back to see how they got there. I enjoy this set up as a reader, forming my own conclusions as to what’s going on and why. I wanted this novel to open with a question. For the readers to feel involved, part of ‘The Family’ from the beginning so when Laura and Tilly get sucked into this tight-knit, claustrophobic group they can feel themselves there too.

We can see, when we read the prologue below, that someone has been shot but who has been shot and who has shot them? I love nothing more than a mystery and it’s been such fun hearing reader’s theories at the beginning of the book and then their reactions at the end (nobody has guessed both parts correctly as yet…)

Prologues are a great tool for grabbing attention, giving background, creating a twist (as the mine below does), and for providing a hook. A question. Writing from a different point of view or a different time – past, present, or future, something that sets it apart from chapter one.

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.

Download ‘The Family’ for only £0.99 as part of the Amazon kindle monthly deal here and read the prologue below.

 

 

 

The FamilyPrologue

NOW

LAURA 

It all unfolds with cinematic clarity; the gunshot, the scream. Every detail sharp and clear. Time slows as her eyes plead with me to help her. In my mind I bundle her behind me, shielding her body with mine, but she is too far away and I know I cannot reach her in time.

But still I try.

My legs are weighted with dread as I run towards her; the fist around my heart squeezing.

A second shot.

Her knees buckle. She crumples like a paper doll.

The ground falls away beneath my feet and I crawl to her like the animal I have become. My palms are sticky in the arc of blood that has stained the floor red. Blood is thicker than water they say, but hers is thin and beacon bright. Adrenaline pulses through me leaving numbness in its wake as I press against her wrist, desperately seeking a pulse. With my other hand I link my fingers through hers the way we used to before I brought us to this place that has been our ruin. A lifetime of memories strobe through my mind; cradling her close in the maternity wing; Easter eggs spilling out of the wicker basket looped over her pudgy arm; her first day of school, ribboned pigtails swinging as she ran across the playground.

She can’t be gone.

Can she?

Fingers of panic press hard against my skull. The colour leeches from the room. A black and white hue descending upon me. I tighten my fingers around hers, afraid I’m going to faint. Afraid I’m going to let her go.

But then.

A flicker of eyelids. A murmur from her lips.

I lay next to her, gently rolling her towards me, cradling her in my arms. I can’t, I won’t leave her. Family should stick together. Protect each other. Instead, I chose to come here.

This is all my fault.

The drumming in my head grows louder – the sound of footfall. I don’t have to look up to feel their anger, solid and immovable.

The acrid smell of gunpowder hangs in the air along with my fear.

Looking up, my eyes meet the shooter’s, they are still holding the gun and sensations return, hard and fast. The pain in my stomach is cutting and deep and I am no longer sure if the blood I am covered in has come from her.

Or is coming from me.

Her top is soaked crimson, as is mine.

The pain increases.

Terrified, I tug at her clothes, my clothes, searching for the wound. Praying. Let her be okay. Seventeen is no age. Let it be me.

At last I find the small hole where the bullet has torn through flesh but before I can apply pressure to stem the flow of blood there are hands on my shoulders. My elbows. Pulling. Pulling.

Darkness flickers at the edge of my vision but still I fight against it. I fight against them.

My feet kick out, my teeth sink into flesh, but it’s fruitless. I am growing weaker.

Her fingers twitch. Once. Twice.

Nothing.

‘Tilly!’ My scream rips through me as I am yanked to my feet. ‘Tilly!’ I scramble for traction, every fibre of my being straining to reach my daughter.

I can’t.

I am still wrestling to be free as I am dragged, my feet scraping the ground.

But I know they’ll never let us leave here now.

Not alive anyway.

 

Download ‘The Family’ for only £0.99 as part of the Amazon kindle monthly deal here.

Lockdown – How my reading & writing habits have changed – #AuthorLife

Laura & Tilly are confined to their cult

My latest thriller is called ‘The Family’. It’s the story of Laura and her daughter, Tilly, who are indoctrinated into a cult. It’s set in a remote part of Wales and at the time of writing I had to rely on my imagination to put myself inside the heads of Laura and Tilly. How might they feel to lose their freedom, almost overnight? To be confined to the farmhouse and the surrounding land the cult reside in? To be forced to spend each and every day with exactly the same people? I crafted my story with the sense of feeling trapped, of claustrophobia.

Laura’s and Tilly’s tale, as well as being terrifying is also an emotional one so every now and then I’d step away from my computer and out into the bright sunshine. Meet friends for lunch. Go for a swim. Before returning to Laura and Tilly who were still trapped in the same place, with the same people.

Now of course, in these unsettling and uncertain times we live in it isn’t too much of a stretch to empathise with Laura and Tilly. To feel what they are feeling, and as someone who suffers with acute anxiety these feelings are both uncomfortable and unwelcome.

At the start of lockdown I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t read. I certainly couldn’t write.  At best I felt a constant low-level anxiety: scared for my family and friends; daunted by homeschooling; worried about our income, a shortage of food; the list was endless: at worst I felt a heavy dread which rendered me unable to focus.

Like everyone, I have been through tough times before so I did what I always do, increased my mindfulness practice. Meditating three times a day instead of once. Writing in my gratitude journal each morning and night instead of solely before bed, and gradually my tumultuous emotions began to settle.

I began to read again, choosing, not one of the many proof thrillers I am sent, but carefully selecting something that wouldn’t feel like work. I picked Louise Hare’s ‘This Lovely City,’ and for the first time, in a long time, my reading mojo came back. I lost myself in her story, her characters and for a while, I was able to forget, and that’s what a good book can do – transport you somewhere else entirely. Now I’ve started Tom Ellen’s ‘All About Us,’ which I’m equally enjoying.

My cosy reading corner in my study

I itched to write again, but what? I am waiting for my edits for my thriller which is publishing next year and also for my second contemporary fiction story written under the pen name ‘Amelia Henley.

My desk is (mostly) tidy…

The logical part of me knew I should write another thriller. Until my debut contemporary fiction book ‘The Life We Almost Had’ is released in July I don’t know whether there will be a market for future Amelia Henley books but as always, I had to follow my heart and write the story I’d loved to read. A story, as my Amelia Henley stories are, about love and relationships. I began penning the lives of siblings Charlie, Nina and Duke and their complex and complicated relationship. Whether this book will ever find its way into the hands of readers I don’t know but I’m loving writing it and finding that chink of happiness is so important right now.

Later in the year I’ll begin a new thriller, I’ve had a character in my mind for the past couple of years. I feel so extraordinarily blessed I can create worlds to escape to.

Have your reading habits changed and how are you occupying your time? Do let me know in the comments below.

The Family’ is currently part of the UK Kindle Monthly Deal – download a copy today for just 0.99p.

The Family‘ will be published in the US on June 9th – you can preorder it here. I’m loving the fabulous cover Grand Central Publishing have designed!

My chilling US cover

The Life We Almost Had – COVER REVEAL & NEWS

 

The cover reveal is one of the most exciting parts of publishing a book. Today, I’m revealing my new cover during these strange new times we have found ourselves in, not with my usual excitement, but nevertheless, I’m pleased to show you my beautiful cover for ‘The Life We Almost Had.’ (BIG shout out here not just to my publishers, but to ALL publishers for working so hard to still get books out there during challenging circumstances. Now, more than ever, we need the escapism that stories can bring).

‘The Life We Almost Had’ is being released under my pen name Amelia Henley and is a bit of a mixed genre, but at its heart it’s a love story. HQ are billing it as ‘the most romantic book you’ll read this year.’ This weekend the first three readers have read it (one man and two women) and ALL have cried. ‘Unusual and compelling’ ‘Beautifully heartwrenching’ ‘Such a strong story of courage, loyalty and hope’ is some of the feedback I have received so far.

The story of Anna and Adam which is partly set on a Spanish Island based on Lanzarote asks – How far will you go for a second chance at first love? The book club questions at the back of the novel will lead to some pretty interesting discussions (from a safe distance) around morality I hope.

It’s available to pre-order in the UK now via Amazon, iBooks, Google Books, Kobo or Waterstones and will be published on 23rd July in the UK with details of the US publication date to follow. Please also do support your local indie bookshops. Many are happy to take orders and post them out even if they aren’t physically open at the moment. In these incredibly testing times where many authors are currently unable to write due to homeschooling their children, and publishers are finding themselves with closed offices, printers, suppliers and retailers please do support the publishing industry so we can keep putting stories into the hands of readers.

Here’s the blurb: –

This is not a typical love story, but it’s our love story.

Anna wasn’t looking for love when Adam swept her off her feet but there was no denying their connection, and she believed they would be together forever.

Years later, cracks have appeared in their relationship. Anna is questioning whether their love can really be eternal when a cruel twist of fate delivers a crushing blow, and Anna and Adam are completely lost to one another. Now, Anna needs Adam more than ever, but the way back to him has life-changing consequences.
 
Is a second chance at first love really worth the sacrifice? Anna needs to decide and time is running out…

For book reviewers and bloggers, The Life We Almost Had will be available to request on Netgalley this week. Please do bear in mind that NetGalley requests might take a little more time than usual to be granted right now. Everyone is doing the best they can to keep things running smoothly.

Soon I’ll be sharing a little more about why I wrote this story, what it means to me and the details of the online launch where there will be giveaways. In the meantime, take care.

Amelia/Louise X

 

 

Paris!! The Coronavirus, disability & me – My trip.

It had been 17 years since I last visited Paris. My youngest son had never been, his older brother only had sketchy memories. We were due a holiday and wanted something different – a city break. All being creatives, Paris had to be that city. We spent months researching the arrondissements, the tourist attractions and the places we could visit off the beaten track. We decided on an apartment rather than a hotel, wanting to experience a tiny bit of Parisian life, drinking coffee on our own balcony, overlooking the rooftops. Our train to London was booked, along with the Eurostar. I devoured novel after novel set in the City of Light. I was immensely excited, nothing could spoil our trip.

And then the Coronavirus hit.

We were part of a visit Paris group on-line – everyone remained upbeat – nobody was going to cancel – cases in distant countries weren’t going to deter people from travelling. But then the virus escalated and suddenly the countries affected weren’t too distant and after an outbreak in Italy it was only a mater of time before it spread widely in France. People began cancelling their trips, should we?

Two days before we were due to leave The Louvre was closed with warnings that more attractions would follow. A hotel of tourists in Tenerife was quarantined. We were concerned, not solely because of the virus but because we didn’t want to be stuck overseas. My son had to be back at uni on time for assessments otherwise he might have to repeat his second year.

The day before we were due to travel there was a massive rise in cases in France. I rang my insurance company, would they cover us if we didn’t travel. They wouldn’t. Rather than excitement about our impending trip, all I felt was a sick dread. Was I putting my children in danger? What should we do? On the morning of our departure, we were still debating. In the end we decided to risk it and hope for the best. Hurriedly I packed, clothes for rainy days, layers for the chill and plenty of things to do in case we were quarantined. Our journey was uneventful, no health checks were made or questions were asked when leaving our country or entering France,

On our first day I was anxious, we decided to have a calming wander around the city. I had a loose itinerary but knew from past experience the best way to enjoy Paris is to follow your feet and see what you stumble across, around every corner is a joy to discover.

We stepped out into the glorious Spring sunshine and meandered past the stunning architecture, sharing a smile. We were here! It was okay! Before long we spotted signs for a museum. When we got there it was closed, the sign on the door was in French but we understood the heading in thick, blood letters ‘CORONOVIRUS’ we turned away, just as a group wearing face masks passed us. It was sobering. Again I wondered if we should have stayed at home. The streets were quieter than usual. On the bridge a man coughed and visitors skirted around him, however there weren’t nearly as many people wearing masks as I thought there would be, most people weren’t.

A handful of attractions were closed because of the virus but there is so much to do in Paris it didn’t matter. As the days passed we (I) grew more relaxed. The city wasn’t crowded, it was always possible to get a table in a cafe. There were no queues anywhere, not even at the Eiffel Tower or Musee D’Orsay. It was Paris like I’d never experienced before and likely never will again.

In retrospect I am so glad we didn’t cancel our trip but that’s no judgement on people who do. Face masks and fear are things you shouldn’t have to content with on a vacation. Paris will (should) always be there, hopefully the virus won’t.

We crammed such a lot into our week, far too much to share but these were our highlights: –

Place de Vosges – This is the oldest planned square in Paris. The writer, Victor Hugo lived in one of the gorgeous houses here. It’s so tranquil it’s like stepping back in time. There are some amazing galleries and boutiques lining the square as well as the bookshop in Hotel Sully.

J J Leto is the best busker I have ever seen and definitely one of my favourite things. The second we saw him we settled ourselves on the pavement and listened to his entire set before buying one of his CD’s. It’s the unexpected delights that often make a trip. This was one of them.

 

We wandered along the river and ended up at the Luxembourg Gardens which was a very pretty oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Montmartre is one of my favourite places. I love the street art and the galleries. We visited the Montmartre Museum and I was thrilled to try the swing featured in Renoir’s ‘The Swing’ painting. The Sacre Coeur is stunning and the views across the city are breathtaking.

 

I’m a bit of a stationery obsessive so Melodies Graphiques was a real treat. I came away with bags of handmade paper, a dip pen and ink vowing to write everything the old-fashioned way from now on. Expect my next book to be ready in about 2029…

 

We were lucky that in between the torrential bouts of rain it was warm enough to sit outside at the cafes, soak up the atmosphere and eat a waffle or two.

 

The Eiffel Tower offers such sweeping views it’s great for a photo opportunities. For the best view of the tower head over to the Trocadero and of course, go back at night to see it illuminated and watch the light show that sparkles every hour.

 

I’m such an art lover but I knew we wouldn’t have time to see all the galleries and so I chose carefully. The Musee D’Orsay did not disappoint. I became quite emotional to see paintings I had admired for years via books (including Renoir’s The Swing – I think I’d nailed it.)

The French were so friendly. I greeted everyone with a happy smile and a ‘Bonjour’ and received the same in return. The food was heavenly – we didn’t have a single bad meal although sometimes we had to try several restaurants before we found a vegetarian option.

We would avoid – taxis – we sat in traffic for so long the first day we didn’t bother again. The metro is simple once you’ve done it once and there’s always someone who will help you out.

 

We came away laden with wine, cheese and chocolate; many happy memories and a love for the city. Paris – we shall see you again soon!

Lastly, a few words about disabled access. I have compromised mobility and although I didn’t take my wheelchair I was heavily reliant on crutches. I have walked more this week than I thought was possible (and am paying for it heavily!) The French are super conscious and considerate of anyone disabled. Each time on the Metro I was offered a seat. Had there been queues at attractions I could have skipped them if I’d asked at the front of the queue. There are a lot of stairs in the city. Some avoidable. Some not. The Sacre Coeur has a few hundred but you can avoid most (there are still some) of these by riding up in the Funicular (which is free with a metro pass). The Pantheon had a ramp. Most restaurants and cafes unfortunately have toilets downstairs. There are very few lifts in eating establishments. Most metro stations don’t have them. There are many toilet facilities scattered around the city which I think should fit a wheelchair in. Some of the larger places (The Musee D’Orsay for example) have wheelchairs which you can borrow.

Clouds, Rainbows, Chocolate & Unicorns – My first RNA meeting!!

The second my book deal was announced and I was able to share I’d now also be writing love stories under the pen name Amelia Henley (you can read about that here), I joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association. The very second. Before I tweeted my news or posted on Facebook, I was eagerly signing up for membership.

I had waited a long time to join. I didn’t know exactly what the RNA was but isn’t the name wonderful? Romance conjures such evocative images (raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens).

After I’d joined I was super excited to discover there are ‘chapter’ meetings held in various locations throughout the UK. My local one was Leicester. I was thrilled. My son is at Uni in Leicester so I’d be able to go to a meeting and then see him afterwards. Immediately I sent him this message telling him my news and sharing that I thought the Romantic Novelists’ meetings would surely consist of members lying on clouds, under rainbows being fed chocolate by unicorns.

He asked me what the actual benefits were.

Unicorns, chocolate, rainbows and clouds? I thought about it properly, my expectations were, perhaps, a little bit high. I didn’t know what the benefits were but I couldn’t wait to find out. I pondered what I should wear to give out that romantic vibe.

“Do you think my wedding dress would be overkill?’ I asked my husband.

He thought that it probably would.

I arrived late, flustered. I’d been writing and had lost track of time. Everyone was already there. Everyone already eating. The room crowded, I couldn’t see a seat. Luckily Sue Moorcroft, who I already knew spotted me lingering uncertainly at the door. She kindly invited me to sit with her.

Sue Moorcroft

Lizzie Lamb, who I’d already been messaging gave me a huge smile and told me she was glad I’d made it. Instantly I relaxed.

Lizzie Lamb

The other writers were lovely, LOVELY. I was made to feel hugely welcome and after so many solitary years spent writing it was fabulous to connect with a local group who had experienced the same highs and lows of publishing, and the same hopes and fears.

After food, those that had news to share, shared. There were new book covers, publication days, nominations for awards. Each announcement met with a huge round of applause. The atmosphere was encouraging, nurturing. It felt a safe space to be. Instinctively I knew that this group would not only celebrate each other’s achievements, they would also be a shoulder when things weren’t going quite so well.

Sharing news

Literary agent, Kate Nash, came along to talk about submissions and the industry which, even as a published writer I found enlightening.

There might not have been any rainbows or unicorns at the meeting but I found something even better – friendship and support.

Thanks everybody for making me feel so welcome. I can’t wait until the next meeting.

The most important thing I learned teaching Creative Writing

My husband is worryingly good at spotting potential murder sites…

Last week I taught my first creative writing class which you can read about here. It made such a change to be out of the house, generally I’m at home writing. Every. Single. Day. It’s where I’m happiest though, in my tiny study, in my pyjamas, dreaming up worlds.

During the workshop I was asked where ideas come from.

‘They’re all around us if we keep our eyes open,’ I said. Leaving the house isn’t the only way to find ideas of course but I did mention that for me I found inspiration in getting out, living life. ‘If we never go anywhere or do anything, we might find we’ve nothing to say. Nothing to write about.’

As I said this I was mentally calculating when the last time was I went out and did something different.

I couldn’t remember.

I thought about what I might write next once I’ve finished my current book.

I had no idea.

And I was a little worried.

As my writing schedule has become busier I realise that lately I’ve been viewing life solely through my laptop and missing out on new experiences. The less I’ve been venturing out the more I’ve noticed my anxiety has also increased. It was time to make a change.

At home I relayed this to my husband and on the Saturday morning he told me to pack an overnight bag and after loading the dog in the car, we headed for the coast.

“Are we nearly there yet?” asked Granger for the millionth time.

At first I was a little worried about leaving my current characters Libby and Jack behind. I’d left them in an awful situation, but promising them I’d sort it all out on Monday I put my story out of my mind and anchored myself to the present moment.

Everywhere I went sparked at idea. Walking along the beach in the bright sunshine, a potential love story for my next Amelia Henley book. Taking Granger down to the deserted harbour at dusk, the perfect setting for a crime for one of my next thrillers. High up on the sand dunes, overlooking the beach huts, the glittering sea spread before me was, I thought, so romantic, a great spot for a proposal. (But those beach huts could well be hiding secrets). Walking away from the sand dunes, into the forest there was a small abandoned building.

My husband nudged me, ‘You could bury a body there and nobody would find it for months.’

In the crowded coffee shop, snippets of conversation, mannerisms of customers. A real opportunity to study people (in a non-creepy, non threatening way…)

I’ve come home refreshed and revitalised, not with a new plot, but with a new setting that every now and then I’ll bring to the forefront of my mind and add detail to, and by the time I’m ready to start a new novel it will be fully formed.

Already I am excited for it.

I learned a lot teaching my class but making time to get out is perhaps, for me, the most important lesson of all.

It’s never too cold for a paddle