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!

Advertisements

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?

Transitioning to full-time author & creating a space to write

When I began writing The Sister, I would perch on the end of my bed, iPad balanced on knee, for the half an hour each night when my son had independent reading time. Writing was my way to unwind, the way I fought clinical depression after suddenly acquiring a disability and chronic pain. As time marched on and my short story grew and grew I hesitantly invested in a second hand laptop, feeling horribly guilty, in the way most mother’s do, for spending money on myself rather than the kids.

It became clear, when I wrapped up the tale of Grace and Charlie at 90k words that it was a book but it was only after many weeks, and truth be told, many glasses of wine, I felt brave enough to send it out and luckily it got picked up quite quickly.

It was then the whirlwind started.

With The Sister scheduled for publication only six months after I signed my deal, and my editor waiting for book two life became really hectic. Still teaching mindfulness through the business I had spent years building up I wrote The Gift during breaks while simultaneously editing The Sister. I wrote in my car waiting for the kids to come out of school. My ancient laptop was propped open on the breakfast bar while I cooked meals. It came into the utility with me while I squeezed in a few words waiting for the iron to heat (okay I took artistic license with the last one – I NEVER actually iron but you get the picture. I wrote everywhere.) Still, I didn’t have a space in my home to write.

Juggling too many things, my health began to slide and my husband took over the business while I focused on writing The Gift, immediately followed by The Surrogate and then The Date. I wrote on the sofa, at the dining table, in the bedroom, at my son’s desk in his room. Anywhere I could carve out space in our busy house. My ancient laptop took longer and longer to boot up. I found it harder and harder to focus. My notes were scattered all over the house. I had no structure. Rooms were cluttered and so was my mind. Work was everywhere and it was increasingly difficult to switch off. Almost impossible to think of beginning a new book.

Something had to change.

And then an email dropped into my inbox from my publisher ‘Huge congratulations, you’ve surpassed a million English language sales.’ Stunned I shared this with my husband who was thrilled but had a very important question to ask.

‘Is this it now? You’re a full-time writer?’

I hesitated. I’d slipped further and further away from the business but we’d never sat down and talked properly about what I want. What he wants. What it would mean for our family if I could say ‘yes I’m an author’ rather than staring at my shoes and mumbling whenever anyone asks what I do for a living. My career has got off to a flying start with No.1 placements in various charts, in various countries and nineteen translation deals. Time wise I have been writing full-time but I’d still not made that mental shift. I felt a pang of sadness admitting aloud ‘I don’t think I’ll be coming back to the business.’ As much as I hoped one day to find a balance, writing is all consuming and honestly there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.

‘Then we need to find you the space to do that,’ he said.

Last weekend I was away at a literary festival and when I returned home he’d cleared the small study that’s always been his and we spent the week decorating and choosing furniture. For the last few days, I’ve sat at my new desk, in a clutter free room that is mine and mine alone, a blank wall in front of me and I’ve felt more creative than I have in months. Ideas are flowing and I’m genuinely excited at the prospect of writing more books because finally, my name is Louise and I’m a full-time author.

I’m slightly ashamed to say this sideboard is crammed full of notebooks…

LOVE my floating bookshelves & so proud to know many of these authors.

A cosy corner to read the proofs I’m sent.

My desk will NEVER be this tidy again.

My super creative sister has made me a piece of artwork for every book I’ve released (Admittedly I’m TERRIFIED of masks so I sit with my back to this).