Why the HQ New Voices literary showcase event made me furious

Last night was the HQ Stories New Voices Showcase. An evening where over 70 journalists and bloggers would gather in the impressive function room at the Harper Collins Offices, with the sweeping panoramic views of London, to listen to authors pitch their forthcoming novels.

We were given sixty seconds each to talk about our plot or the inspiration behind our stories. When I read the brief I thought sixty seconds wasn’t long enough to talk about my forthcoming Amelia Henley love story, ‘The Life We Almost Had.

I was wrong.

Some of you know I once had a phobia of public speaking – not a touch of anxiety – but actual fainting or vomiting or sometimes both. Some of you know I had a course of hypnotherapy to overcome this phobia when I was asked to talk at Althorp Literary Festival about my thriller (you can read about that here.) I’ve spoken at many events since my hypnotherapy – I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the panels and the Q & A’s I’ve taken part in.

I was aware that this pitch would be the first time ever I’d be on stage alone but it was just sixty seconds. It would just pass in a flash, I’d thought.

I was wrong about that too.

Patiently I waited at the side of the stage for my turn listening to the other authors pitch their books, some with humour, some with true stories behind them, all with a confidence I did not feel. As I listened to them I knew I wanted to read each and every one of their books.

It was my turn to talk about ‘The Life We Almost Had’. The walk to the podium felt extraordinarily long. Eyes weighing heavily on me as I began my polished pitch only suddenly it wasn’t so polished. I was talking about something personal, my family, and voicing aloud for the first time the sad inspiration behind my story brought with it an onslaught of emotions that I fought to keep in check. Sixty seconds felt like the longest time but when I’d finished I realised I’d missed out a vital sentence in the middle of my pitch and thought without it, it might not have made sense to anyone.

On the train, I was furious with myself all the way home. Sixty seconds. How could I have messed up sixty seconds when my story means so much to me. When my characters Adam and Anna mean so much to me.

At home I opened Twitter. I’d received a lovely message from a book blogger. “When you said at the end of you speech ‘At the beginning of the book Adam and Anna question whether love can be eternal, by the end of their story they have their answer’ has made me desperate to read it.”

Tearfully I replied, that was the reaction I had hoped for. That’s when I realised. It was because I cared so much I was angry and that was something that all of the authors in that room had in common last night.

We cared.

Our stories might be in different genres but we were all passionate about the worlds we had created. We all wanted to share those worlds and it was that passion that made me desperate to read every single book I’d heard talked about, it wasn’t necessarily what the author said (or didn’t say in my case). We all spoke from the heart and are all immensely proud of the books we have written and ultimately that was what shone through and made the evening such a special one.

Big thanks to HQ for arranging the event and to everyone who came along and supported it. I loved meeting so many new people and am really grateful my editor invited me along. And a huge shout out to the incredible authors last night who stepped out of their comfort zones (and in my case my pyjamas) to share their stories. I had a fabulous time.

Book bloggers Linda Hill, Jacob Collins, Sarah Swan

Harrogate 2019 – What’s Theakston Crime Festival REALLY like?

Harrogate is a festival I’ve always avoided, along with all the other festivals, partly because I’m such an introvert that the thought of walking into a throng of people & joining in random conversations is SO daunting, and partly because I have a chronic health condition and while I’m more mobile than I have been in years, standing is more painful than moving & not knowing if there are chairs available is always a worry.

Everything in my head is always a worry.

This year my new publisher HQ Stories, Harper Collins, invited me along to sign proof copies of my forthcoming psychological thriller, The Family.  Before the automatic ‘no’ sprung from my lips I hesitated. Each year I see everyone’s happy Harrogate posts and photos online and wish I’d have gone. Always promising myself that the next year I would, knowing that when it came around again I’d once more be at home regretting not taking the plunge.

My husband offered to drive me, knowing that I tire easily, particularly if I have to stand. Super blogger Emma Mitchell promised to look after me.

I said yes.

Emma met me at the entrance (once she’d peeled herself off the floor).

I met Emma after she’d read my debut, The Sister, and contacted me and she’s become one of my closest friends and definitely one of the best things to come out of being published. We speak most days, meet when we can despite the distance between us and the second I saw her I relaxed, knowing I’d have a good time.

And I did.

The first thing to know about Harrogate, particularly if you have limited mobility is that it is SMALL. Crowded, yes, but SMALL. Everything is based in, and around the grounds of, The Old Swan Hotel (the place where Agatha Christie disappeared in 1926). Inside there’s a bar area with sofas and chairs. A tuck shop with table and chairs, hot and cold drinks and food (sandwiches, salads, jacket potatoes – all reasonably priced). Outside is a larger bar, picnic tables and chairs, all undercover and various deckchairs and outdoor seating. There are also multiple tents with (surprise!) bookish things happening and giveaways.

The second thing to know, particularly if you have social anxiety, is that it’s friendly, and if you’re on social media you probably know more people than you think. It was great being with Emma, but plenty of people go alone and EVERYBODY is happy to chat. There’s a really chilled out, relaxed vibe.

The third thing to know is don’t rock up without tickets to the bigger events expecting to buy them there. You won’t. And with speakers like James Patterson, Harlan Coben, and Ian Rankin it’s no surprise everything sells out beforehand. That said, there are plenty of people who purely go to hang out and chat and don’t want to attend any talks or workshops and that’s perfectly okay. You don’t need a ticket to go.

Much to Granger’s delight dogs are very welcome in the grounds.

It was great to catch up with Kim Nash – the Head of Publicity – for Bookouture who did such a fabulous job with my first 4 titles. She was with Miranda Dickinson. I first met Miranda when I went to a blogger/author event before I was published. She came and sat next to me with a pile of her books that someone had asked her to sign. I had sat there, heart racing, palms sweaty – just say hello and tell her you’re a fan – playing over and over again in my head. I was too nervous to speak but now, as we share an editor,  I managed to squeak out an ‘I love your books!’ and after Miranda gave me a pep talk on confidence and being your own biggest cheerleader I now love her too.

It was lovely to finally meet Louise Beech who I’ve long been a fan of and she was just as lovely in person as she is online. It was great to say a ‘thank you’ in person to super bestseller Linda Green. I messaged Linda on Twitter a couple of years ago asking her advice relating to the industry and she immediately sent me her phone number and spent a long time chatting through my options and (many) concerns. (Refer to earlier – the writing community is SO friendly).

Meeting the book bloggers I haven’t met before was a definite highlight. I was a blogger long before I was an author so I think we rock… Emma Welton, along with Emma Mitchell, has been a great support since the beginning of my career, always kicking off my blog tours and it was a surprise to chat and find out it was the first time we had actually met – I felt like I knew her so well.

And of course meeting readers. Chris came all the way from Belgium with the Dutch editions of my books for me to sign.

The proof party was crazy. We ran out of copies within eight minutes. I was grateful to all the people who turned up and sorry that not everyone got to go home with a book.

I’m so pleased I went to Harrogate for the first time – it won’t be the last time. If you, like me, have ever sat at home, scrolling through photos, but finding the thought of going too daunting, give it a go. I think you’ll be pleased you did. Granger and I will be there in 2020 – see you next year!

The Harper Collins Summer Party 2019!

The gorgeous V & A museum gardens

Last night was the annual HarperCollins summer party, the first one I have been to as one of their authors. It was held in the gorgeous garden of the V & A museum. Before I went I had vowed to take lots of photos but as it turned out I was having such a good time my camera stayed mainly in my bag.

It seemed the sensible thing to line our stomachs before the evening so first stop was lunch at the oh so glamorous Pizza Express. Writing can be so isolating – it’s always a pleasure to meet with other authors and talk about the highs and the lows, the challenges we are facing with our current WIP and of course what we are reading.

Mel Goulding, Louise Jensen, Roz Watkins, Phaedra Patrick, Vicky Newham, Louise Mangos, Mandy Rothbotham

After a long lunch there was little time to get ready but I was so excited to see that my hotel room had a whirlpool bath I couldn’t resist donning the complimentary shower cap and diving in.

I can’t resist free toiletries…

Pre-drink drinks came next. Our fearless HQ leader Lisa Milton, made an inspiring speech.

Lisa Milton, Abigail Fenton

The champagne flowed, and then we were ushered over to the museum for the party,

Phoebe Morgan, Lisa Hall, Louise Jensen, Darren O’Sullivan

It felt surreal being handed a name badge with author printed on it. Three years on and it still feels like a – albeit a really good – dream. Darren O’Sullivan clearly felt the same!

There was a mixture of people at the party from employees of HarperCollins, to the authors, to literary agents. It was great to catch up with old friends and meet some new.

Darren O’Sullivan, Louise Jensen, Roz Watkins

It was an amazing night. The sold-out Dior exhibition which I longed to see was opened especially for us and that was a real highlight of my evening, along with meeting Sam Carrington. Sam & I met on Twitter before we had published & we’ve messaged each other, often multiple times a day, for three & a half years, and had never actually met in person until last night.

Sam Carrington & Louise Jensen

We drank champagne, the buffet included King prawn stirfry, duck salad, tuna and avocado although I still ended up having a veggie burger from room service when I got back!

I can’t wait to do it all again next year.

What REALLY happens at an author Christmas party… #HQmasParty

Authors are often solitary creatures, introverted. Much of our days spent alone with only a laptop (and in my case a cat) for company.

B A Paris & Louise Jensen

Every so often there’s a chance to get out, a literary festival, a bookish event, a party. Today, was my publisher’s author Christmas bash and it felt odd to be discarding my pyjamas in favour of real, actual, normal clothes (if you can call tinsel, Rudolph earrings and a present fascinator normal clothes.)

Darren O’Sullivan

Alice Feeney, Louise Jensen

An author party isn’t just an excuse for drinking (okay it is a bit). It’s a chance to catch up with old friends and make some new. To connect. To realise that however alone we can sometimes feel, we all have the same fears, not matter what stage of writing we are at; that we’ll run out of ideas; that our current book won’t be as well received as out last. We all have the same love/hate relationship with our current WIP.

Louise Mangos & Roz Watkins

After a civilised start to the evening, with a gorgeous meal in the London Bridge Hotel, we headed over to the News Building, which houses Harper Collins. On the 17th floor we were met by caterers with glasses of prosecco and canapés and gazing out across the stunning river views I felt a million miles from home.

Lisa Hall, Louise Jensen, Darren O’Sullivan

The writing community is super supportive and one I’m very grateful to be part of. Tomorrow even though I’ll be back in my editing cave, back in my pyjamas, I’ll know I’m not alone.

Louise Jensen & Darren O’Sullivan

Vicky Newham & B A Paris

Louise Jensen & Roz Watkins

Darren O’Sullivan, Lisa Hall, Louise Jensen, Alice Feeney, Mel McGrath, Louise Mangos

Phaedra Patrick & Lisa Hall

B A Paris, Phaedra Patrick, Louise Jensen, Diane Jeffrey, Sally Gardner

How many authors can you fit in a lift..?

My new book deal, book 5 blurb & an evening of crime!

I was over the moon yesterday to share the news that I’ve signed a three-book deal with the Harper Collins imprint, HQ. You can read the official announcement here. I’m very much looking forward to working with their dynamic, creative team.

HQ will be publishing my fifth psychological thriller, The Family, next year. The Family has characters I’ve become extraordinarily attached to whilst writing it. It’s the story of Laura who is grieving after the loss of her husband following his sudden death. She’s struggled to hold it together for her daughter, Tilly, and realises she needs help. When all seems lost, she turns to a group of apparently well-meaning strangers. But, as they settle into their new community, sinister things begin to happen and Tilly becomes enthralled by the ‘head’ of their new family, Alex. It soon becomes clear to Laura that she needs to get her daughter away from Alex, but is Tilly too far gone to be saved?

Tilly and her mum, Laura took me through the whole range of emotions whilst writing from fear for their safety to utter heartbreak. I can’t wait to share where the inspiration came from and to get it into the hands of readers when it’s published on 17th October 2019.

 

My first day with HQ kicked off to a brilliant start with their crime writer’s showcase event held in their swanky offices, with stunning views overlooking the Thames. It was a chance for authors, book bloggers and book sellers to connect over canapés and inevitably, plenty of booze.

It was lovely to put faces to twitter handles and meet those bloggers I hadn’t met before as well as authors and this is where I get ridiculously self-conscious, still unable to believe after a lifetime of loving stories that I’m mixing with actual writers – me!

I’m feeling incredibly grateful right now. A BIG thank you to all who have supported me. I’m so excited to see what the future holds.

Louise x

When book events are about SO much more than books

A few months ago I was asked by Ian Loveland if I’d like to participate in an event to both raise money for, and awareness of my local library. It’s been heartbreaking to hear of the planned closure of so many libraries in our county and I was thrilled to be able to do something, however small, to help. Three other authors Sue Moorcroft, Darren O’Sullivan and Mark West also agreed to give up their time.

Tentatively we hoped if we all spent lots of time promoting the event we could sell enough tickets to bring in a decent crowd of people, more than the library could comfortably seat. The Core Theatre, who shares a building with the library, offered us a room. Corby Radio said they would market the event for free and helped us record an advert they played regularly leading up to the evening.

Last night, us authors arrived with boxes of books and mountains of hope that we’d have more of an audience than just my mum who was the first to arrive. We needn’t have worried. The event was sold out. The atmosphere electric.

Joe Flavin, Director of The Core chaired our panel and asked his first question about writing. As I scanned the room I was overwhelmed with gratitude. With emotion. A lump rose in my throat and I felt tears prick the back of my eyes. I knew this evening wasn’t solely about our stories or how we construct them. It was about people. Our community.

The seed of an idea from the library had sprouted thanks to the support of the theatre, both organisations supporting local writing. In turn, writers supporting the theatre and the library. Corby Radio supporting us all. Many of the theatre staff had volunteered their time. The people of our county buying tickets, nurturing both local talent and the wonderful resources our town has to offer.

As a community we share more than a geographical location. As human beings we all crave contact, a sense of belonging. Forming connections is essential to mental health and well being. It is through our communities we can seek comfort through difficult times. Find a light in the midst of the dark places.

The theatre, the library, hearing that familiar voice come through your radio saves us from alienation and isolation. Helps us to find each other.

Last night there was a real sense of coming together in a world that is pulling apart.

It wasn’t just about books.

It was about love and friendship.

It was about home.

The valuable lesson I learned on my writing retreat

In 2015 I nervously went on a ‘How to create a submission package’ retreat at Wentworth Castle. I’d finished my first novel and although I didn’t feel quite brave enough to send it out into the world, I wanted to explore my options if I one day I drank enough wine to actually sum up the courage to share it.

Ali Harper and Anna Chilvers were the tutors and after reading the opening for The Sister, felt it would glean much interest and after running through the pros and cons of agents, publishers and self-publishing, encouraged me to craft a query letter and gave me tips on writing the dreaded synopsis. I went home believing, not that I could, but that I might, and I held tightly onto that kernel of hope until the day came when I did drink enough wine to press send on the submission emails that had been languishing in my draft Hotmail folder.

Fast forward three years, four books published, nineteen translation deals and a million sales later I was delighted to be invited back to Wentworth Castle to talk to Anna and Ali’s new students on their ‘Writing Fearlessly’ retreat about my bumpy journey to publication. I spoke about the group I was part of in 2015. How the 15 other students and I were passionate about writing but never believed it would happen for us. How being an author always seemed too far out of reach.  I shared my experience  – how extraordinary things can happen to ordinary people if you can pick yourself up after the inevitable knock backs, always be willing to listen to constructive criticism and never, ever stop writing.

It was in the bar afterwards (where else would you find a bunch of writers) a lovely lady shared with me that she never wanted to be published and had no intention of ever trying to be. ‘I write for myself’ she said ‘for the love of it, because it brings me so much happiness.’

I paused. Lowered my glass and remembered how it felt to write The Sister, with no hopes or expectations, just the pure joy of spending time with my characters. How writing lifted me out of clinical depression and gave me a purpose. I still love writing, of course I do or I’d choose another career but sometimes caught up with the deadlines, the marketing, the accounts, everything else that comes with the job sometimes, just sometimes, it’s possible to lose sight of what drove me to write to start with. The passion, the drive, the possibilities.

The desire to tell a story.

I do hope the retreat participants got something out of my visit, I know I took something valuable away too.

In 2015 I was unable to stand unaided so it was super special that this time I was up to having a little mooch around the grounds, checking out Stainborough Castle and the beautiful countryside. As gorgeous as it was, alone at the castle I was seeing crime everywhere, plots spinning around my mind, picking out potential hiding places for someone to spring out, bodies to be buried. Can we ever entirely switch off the writer side of us?