Excerpt – The opening of The Surrogate & my thoughts on THAT end!

My third novel, The Surrogate, was published a few days ago and I wanted to share the opening with you. I had such a fabulous time writing this book. The story of Kat and Lisa was definitely one where I thought I knew where it was going, but the characters grew darker, the plot more complex and the twists and turns gather pace until the end hit me like a sledgehammer. I never saw it coming and once it was written, it was great fun to go back and plant the clues for readers, although judging from the over 100 five star reviews it’s already amassed no-one has yet predicted the ending either (BIG thanks to all who have reviewed). It’s the most intricate story I’ve written, everyone in this book has a secret. The e-book has now been selected as part of a special promotion so you can grab it for £0.99/$1.30 across all digital platforms. You can find it on Amazon here.

 

Later

There is a rising sense of panic; horror hanging in the air like smoke.

‘They’re such a lovely couple. Do you think they’re okay?’ says the woman, but the flurry of emergency service vehicles crammed into the quiet cul-de-sac, the blue and white crime scene tape stretched around the perimeter of the property, indicate things are anything but okay. She wraps her arms around herself as though she is cold, despite this being the warmest May on record for years. Cherry blossom twirls around her ankles like confetti, but there will be no happily ever after for the occupants of this house, the sense of tragedy already seeping into its red bricks.

Her voice shakes as she speaks into the microphone. It is difficult to hear her over the thrum of an engine, the slamming of van doors as a rival news crew clatters a camera into its tripod. He thrusts the microphone closer to her mouth. She hooks her red hair behind her ears; raises her head. Her eyes are bright with tears. TV gold.

‘You don’t expect anything bad… Not here. This is a nice area.’

Disdain slides across the reporter’s face before he rearranges his features into the perfect blend of sympathy and shock. He hadn’t spent three years having drama lessons for nothing.

He tugs the knot in his tie to loosen it a little as he waits for the woman to finish noisily blowing her nose. The heat is insufferable; shadows long under the blazing sun. Body odour exudes from his armpits, fighting against the sweet scent of the freshly cut grass. The smell is cloying, sticking in the back of his throat. He can’t wait to get home and have an ice-cold lager. Put on his shorts like the postman sitting on the edge of the kerb, his head between his knees. He wonders if he is the one who found them. There will be plenty of angry people waiting for their post today. ‘Late Letter Shock!’ is the sort of inane local story he usually gets to cover, but this… this could go national. His big break. He couldn’t get here fast enough when his boss called to say what he thought he’d heard on the police scanner.

He shields his eyes against the sun with one hand as he scouts the area. Across the road, a woman rests against her doorframe, toddler in her arms. He can’t quite read her expression and wonders why she doesn’t come closer like the rest of them. At the edge of the garden, as close as the police will allow, a small crowd is huddled together: friends and neighbours, he expects. The sight of their shocked faces is such a contrast to the neat borders nursing orange marigolds and lilac pansies. He thinks this juxtaposition would make a great shot. The joy of spring tempered by tragedy. New life highlighting the rawness of loss of life. God, he’s good; he really should be an anchor.

There is movement behind him, and he signals to the cameraman to turn around. The camera pans down the path towards the open front door. It’s flanked by an officer standing to attention in front of a silver pot containing a miniature tree. On the step are specks of what looks like blood. His heart lifts at the sight of it. Whatever has happened here is big. Career defining.

Coming out of the house are two sombre paramedics pushing empty trolleys, wheels crunching in the gravel.

The woman beside him clutches his arm, her fingertips pressed hard against his suit jacket. Silly cow will wrinkle the fabric. He fights the urge to shake her free; instead, swallowing down his agitation. He might need to interview her again later.

‘Does this mean they’re okay?’ asks the woman, confusion lining her face.

The trolleys are clattered into the back of the waiting ambulance. The doors slam shut, the blue lights stop flashing and slowly it pulls away.

From behind the immaculately trimmed hedge, hidden from view, he hears the crackle of a walkie-talkie. A low voice. Words drift lazily towards him, along with the buzz of bumblebees and the stifled sound of sobbing.

‘Two bodies. It’s a murder enquiry.’

I wrote this opening genuinely thinking I knew who the bodies would be, and why but as the characters developed and took over the story I found it almost out of my hands. The reveal shocked me and just when I thought I’d finished writing the final twists come in the Epilogue. I felt so drained after writing this book. I hope as well as being entertaining, I’ve also sensitively handled the emotional side of a couple longing for a child. I do hope it’s a thriller with a real heart.

Here’s the blurb:

‘You know that feeling? When you want something so badly, you almost feel you’d kill for it?’

Be careful what you wish for…

Kat and her husband Nick have tried everything to become parents. All they want is a child to love but they are beginning to lose hope. Then a chance encounter with Kat’s childhood friend Lisa gives them one last chance.

Kat and Lisa were once as close as sisters. The secrets they share mean their trust is for life… Or is it?

Just when the couple’s dream seems within reach, Kat begins to suspect she’s being watched and Nick is telling her lies.

Are the cracks appearing in Kat’s perfect picture of the future all in her head, or should she be scared for the lives of herself and her family?

How far would you go, to protect everything you love?

From the no. 1 bestselling author of The Sister and The Gift, this is an unputdownable psychological thriller which asks how far we will go to create our perfect family.

Buy it now for £0.99/$1.30 across all digital platforms, including Amazon here.

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Writing Diverse Characters – Book Review

 

Writing Diverse Characters for Fiction, TV or Film is the third ‘How to…’ book by Lucy V Hay. Lucy is an editor and script reader with impressive credentials and I couldn’t wait to read this book.

Before I dived in, I looked up the definition of diversity in my Collin’s English dictionary “the quality of being different or varied.” As a disabled writer I was interested to find out what groups Lucy would cover in this book, after all my ‘normal’ is someone else’s ‘different.’ If I were a character in a book I guess I’d be classed as diverse and that initially made me a little uncomfortable but Lucy begins by saying we need diverse stories to actively change society and break down barriers and I couldn’t agree more.

I don’t believe a writer has to necessarily have experienced what they are writing about but creating a diverse character takes time and research. Lucy points out that the characters ‘difference’ does not have to drive the story and shouldn’t be used in a stereotypical way, i.e. a disabled person, depressed, alone and unable to cope. In other words although the character’s difference should have some relevance to the story and the way they live (everything featured in a book should earn its place and have a purpose) characters still need to be fresh and authentic.

Recently, social media has really shone a spotlight on diversity. Readers and movie watchers feeding back to the creators what they like and don’t like regarding plot and characters. With the current popularity of psychological thrillers, particularly female ‘unreliable narrators’ mental health issues are featuring more and more. This bucks the trend of historically main characters being male, white, straight and able bodied. But it’s important these diverse characters emerging don’t become ‘tick box’ created as it were. So does this book help?

Lucy mainly focuses on race, colour, disability and sexuality and it quickly becomes apparent she has done a LOT of research. There are references throughout to both novels and films which make her thoughts really relatable with specific examples frequently given. Lucy has also included quotes from a selection of those in the industry including agents and novelists. Helpfully Lucy also shares the common themes and characters she comes across day to day in scripts and how to think outside the box, suggesting ways to flip those ideas so they become a little less run of the mill.

There are sections in the book covering protagonist goals, character growth and supporting characters and how to research, and Lucy also shares what agents, publishers, producers and filmmakers are looking for – and why.

Lucy doesn’t give you a magic formula for creating diverse characters – there isn’t one – but what she offers is a well researched, thought provoking and concise book which will give you much to ponder on whether you’re a seasoned script writer or a new novelist. This is a valuable addition to my writing library and I’m sure it’s something I’ll be dipping in and out of for years to come.

Lucy V. Hay is a novelist, script editor and script reader. She is one of the founding organizers of the London Screenwriters’ Festival, associate producer of the 2012 film Deviation, and the author of Writing and Selling Drama Screenplays and Writing and Selling Thriller Screenplays. Lucy has read for a variety of production companies, funding initiatives and screen agencies as well as individual directors and producers with her Bang2write script consultancy.

You can buy Lucy’s books on Amazon UK here and Amazon US here.

Reading these books taught me valuable lessons – #BookLoversDay

It’s Book Lovers Day! I’m always reading and there have been many, many books I’ve enjoyed but sometimes I’m lucky enough to take something from them that stays with me. These books have all taught me a valuable lesson and I’m grateful to have read them.

 

The Famous Five by Enid Blyton

At primary school I devoured books at such an alarming rate, I was given permission to take more than the allocated one book per child home each week. Long after I should have been asleep I was reading Enid Blyton books by torchlight under my covers, and The Famous Five was my favourite series. It was these books that ignited my interest in mysteries. Who was the baddie? Why did they do it? Would the gang figure it out in time? Always, one of them would be in peril towards the end and my heart would pound and I couldn’t rest until good triumphed over evil. These books taught me that I wanted to be a writer although at that young age I didn’t just want to be a writer. I wanted to be Enid Blyton.

A Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart

This was my favourite read of 2016. The story of Alex and Jody who have lost the ability to communicate with each other is beautifully written. Alex’s attempts to forge a relationship with his autistic son, Sam are genuinely moving. Alex finds Sam playing Minecraft and realises the structure and format of the game bring a confidence to Sam he hasn’t seen before,  Alex too becomes engrossed in the game and his confidence as a father blossoms. I loved this story so much I felt lost when I’d finished it. As well as educating me that games such as Minecraft have a purpose in todays’ society (I’m a mum of three boys) it also made me question the sort of writer I want to be and the genre I want to write in. I’ve written three psychological thrillers now and although I’ve plans for a few more yet, it’s commercial family dramas I am always drawn to as a reader and this book inspired me to want to experiment with different styles and structures of novels.

 

Charlie Brown by Charles M. Shulz

I adore all things Snoopy but Charlie Brown is a bit of a hero of mine and the Peanuts books are still something I dip into today. Charlie Brown never gave up. Despite the gazillion times Lucy pulled the football away when he went to kick it, he never lost the hope that this time it might be different. This time he might be successful. If I have a down day and am not feeling as positive as usual I flick through a Peanuts book and take heart from Charlie Brown’s determination to never stop trying.

 

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

Absolutely my favourite read of 2015. A gorgeously written book of Maud, who finds a note in her pocket – Elizabeth is missing – and her endeavours to track down her best friend. Sadly dementia has touched my family and the glimpse Elizabeth gives into the mind of a dementia sufferer through Maud, and the impact on her family and carers is insightful and sensitively handled. I found this book more educational than a lot of the nonfiction material I had read. Story wise, love and thought is poured into every beautifully constructed sentence. I was lucky enough to hear the author, Emma talk at Foyles and to learn she spent five years crafting this exceptional debut really brought home to me that there is no standard time it should take to write a novel. It’s hard sometimes not to compare yourself to other writers who seem to effortlessly produce a new book every few months (although rationally I know books are NEVER effortlessly produced). This taught me that some books just can’t be rushed and need to be rewritten many times throughout the editing process and boy was it worth the wait.

 

every dayEvery Day is Wonderful by Fredric Fewings

This beautiful children’s pocketbook was bought for me by my grandparents when I was at primary school, and it is one of my most treasured possessions. I was always a very thoughtful child and this book, stuffed full of inspirational snippets and gorgeously illustrated, invited me to actively seek the good and positive in each and every day.

‘So look for Beauty everywhere,

And practice Goodness, too,

For wonders have their origins,

In the heart of you!’

 

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Still at primary school, still reading Enid Blyton over and over I found a worn copy of Little Women in our garage and although I thought it looked a little boring, I had nothing else to read on that day and decided to give it a go. Jo March became my heroine. I rooted for all the sisters, cried buckets when Beth died and felt emotionally drained when I’d finished it. Books up until that point had been full of excitement and adventure. All boarding schools, mysteries and magic trees.

Little Women made me feel something different. Really feel. And that was the moment I started to work my way through the classics wondering who wrote these stories? How did they become writers? It seemed so far out of reach but the spark was there for me, which smoldered away for the next thirty-five years, and I vowed that if I ever wrote a book it would be an emotionally moving one but still retain the mystery element I’d first fallen in love with. My debut, The Sister, was that book.

 

The Curious Incident of the Dog in The Night-Time by Mark Haddon

I used to read anything and everything I could get my hands on but a few years ago, without knowing, I became stuck in a genre rut. Always heading to the same section of the library and the bookshop.  A friend recommended this story to me and told me it was a young adult novel and I told her I would read it but I secretly didn’t think I would. Frustrated she lent me her copy and said I had to read it straight away and so I sat down, and didn’t move again until I’d finished and I’ve read it many times since. A big lesson for me on book snobbery and I’ll never fall into the genre trap again.

 

I know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

I’d become familiar with Maya Angelou and her background as a civil rights activist and was interested to read more about this woman who had empowered so many. At that point to me there was a clear divide between fiction and non-fiction styles of writing, so although I expected to be educated I didn’t expect to be enthralled by her style of writing. Early on there’s a sentence which reads: ‘If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat.’ I remember stopping and rereading that sentence over and over, thinking about the power of language and that was the first time I ever realised what was meant by ‘voice.’

 

The Stand by Stephen King

As a teenager I was a real horror fan. The scarier the better. I’d read a fair few Stephen King books before stumbling across the massive publication that is The Stand and I curled up in my chair and waited to feel the creeping sense of unease I usually felt with his novels. What I didn’t expected was to be so moved I cried many times during this story and to this day it is still one of my favourites. This book taught me you can’t always pigeon hole a story. When I started writing psychological thrillers I wanted that emotional punch. I wanted to make readers cry. All three of my books feature an emotional thread alongside the tension and fear and I love picking bits out of different genres and blending them together.

 

Laughing on the Outside, Crying on the Inside by Judy Carne

Judy Carne was the star of the 60’s American TV show Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-in and the wife of Burt Reynolds. She was also my mum’s cousin. When Judy returned to our home town in Northamptonshire from Hollywood regaling us with tales of the rich and famous I was enthralled by the glitz and glamour of her life.

Reading her biography however, painted a very different picture. She had a real struggle and a phenomenal journey  to achieve what she achieved through real hardship. I’d always thought my town was ordinary and by default I was never destined to be anything other than the secretary I was when I left school. Judy inspired me to never lose sight of my dreams or give up and made me realise that ordinary people can live extraordinary lives if they only believe they can.

 

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff by Richard Carlson

At one time I had bookshelves full of self-help titles. Newly disabled, and at a real low, I was constantly searching for the one thing that could make a difference. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff was that book. Broken down into ultra short chapters, it’s easy to dip in and out of and to implicate into everyday life. Formerly a teacher of Mindfulness, this book was one I would often recommend to my coaching clients.

 

Mrs. Sinclair’s Suitcase by Louise Walters

When I began writing The Sister I heard about the WoMentoring Project, founded by Kerry Hudson, offering mentors to upcoming female talent. On the list of mentors was Louise Walters and I’d just finished her debut Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase and was captivated by her voice and beautiful story. It took ages, and a fair few glasses of wine before I felt brave enough to apply to the project and I was thrilled when Louise became my mentor.

I wrote the first ten thousand words of my novel and Louise replied, in a very gentle way, that although my style of writing was lovely the story didn’t flow like a novel at all.  I deleted the words but before starting again I wanted to reread a book I’d loved, but with a critical eye. A writer’s eye. To try to learn where I went wrong. Louise’s book was the obvious choice and I reread making careful notes. How did characters develop? How does her story arc work? It was a pleasure to reread her gorgeous story, her writing is exceptional, and I learned such a lot about how to structure a novel.

 

The Maid’s Room by Fiona Mitchell (To be released November 2017)

My list wouldn’t be complete with what has been my favourite read of 2017 so far. This beautifully constructed debut tells the story of two sisters, Filipino maids Dolly and Tala. It’s set in Singapore and is based, in part, on Fiona’s experience of living there. I was horrified at the treatment maids receive often at the hands of British ex-pats and I couldn’t believe this was set in modern day. This story could have been depressing but Fiona has sensitively weaved through humour and some really heartwarming moments. As a teacher of mindfulness for years I would make sure I regularly carried out random acts of kindness. Since I’ve been so busy writing this had lapsed a little. Reading how such small things made an enormous difference to the life of these maids inspired me to restart paying it forward wherever I can. Be kind where possible. It’s always possible.

The book I never wanted to end! The Maid’s Room

 

I don’t often blog book reviews. However, The Maid’s Room has grabbed my heart and won’t let go and I feel compelled to share it.

This literary/commercial crossover novel is the debut of Fiona Mitchell although you would never think this is Fiona’s first book; each sentence is beautifully constructed, each word carefully chosen. The characters are rich and multi-dimensional. You can feel the love that has been poured into these pages. This is a real heart and soul book, and it shows. I never wanted it to end.

The story is based on Fiona’s real-life experience in Singapore. Shockingly there are 240,000 female domestic workers in Singapore and an estimated 53 million women working as domestic helpers across the globe. A quarter of these are afforded no legal rights at all.

I love books with an element of truth. Admittedly, it was uncomfortable at times, learning how modern day domestic workers are treated in Singapore, particularly as some of the employers are British. But despite the uncomfortable subject there are elements of humour woven through the challenges the maids face almost daily.

I’m not going to spoil the plot – this is a book you have to read for yourself, but I will say the ending was so absolutely perfect it had me sobbing, I feel bereft now I’ve finished this book, I almost can’t imagine life without sisters Tala and Dolly, already I’m imagining what they might get up to in the future.

We are only halfway through 2017 but I feel this will definitely be my book of the year. Huge congratulations Fiona Mitchell, The Maid’s Room is a triumph and I can’t wait to read your second novel (no pressure x).

You can find out more about Fiona Mitchell here and order The Maid’s Room which will be published by Hodder & Stoughton here.

“Set in the blistering heat of Singapore, THE MAID’S ROOM follows the lives of two Filipina maids – sisters Dolly and Tala who are working hard to send money back home, and British ex-pat Jules who has left her job as a midwife to move to Singapore with husband David.

Told with humour, heart-breaking detail about daily life as a maid, and with an exhilarating spirit that is ultimately uplifting, this book will resonate with anyone who has struggled to have their voice heard.”

Book Review – Saving Sophie

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From the second I picked up Sam Carrington’s debut psychological thriller I knew I was in as much trouble as Sophie, the teenage girl who the novel centres around. I was hooked, and my plans to spend a day working on my own manuscript were abandoned as I devoured this story in one sitting.

This story is relayed in third person from three viewpoints, Sophie, Karen her agoraphobic mum, and DI Lindsay Wade, but not once did it ever become unclear whose voice I was reading.

From the moment 17 year old Sophie arrived home drunk, with no recollection of the evening, and we discover another teenage girl has gone missing my stomach rolled with anxiety. As a mother of teenagers myself I was on the edge of my seat as a body was found, and when it becomes apparent that Sophie could be the next target I read through splayed fingers.

Sam has a rare gift for writing. She hits the ground running with this novel and usually with books this pacey I find I don’t emotionally connect with the characters but in this book the development is as good as the writing and I found myself really rooting for Karen and the ending made me gasp.

Does Karen overcome her agoraphobia and make it out of the house in time to save her daughter? You’ll have to read it to find out.

Saving Sophie will be released on 12th August.

Author picture-Sam Carrington

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Giveaway & Sample – Behind Closed Doors

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Behind Closed Doors by Elizabeth Haynes, is one of those stories that had me gripped from the opening line, and by the end of the first chapter, I couldn’t put the book down until I’d finished it. It’s an easy read, but not an easy subject matter. Fifteen year old Scarlett Rainsford vanishes during a family holiday in Greece. Was she abducted or did she run away?

This is the second book featuring DCI Lou Smith and her team, but it stands alone well. Don’t be put off if you haven’t read the first. I hadn’t.

When Scarlett is found in a brothel we want to know what happened and this is explained with interspersed, often harrowing, scenes from the past.

This book left me reeling. It is very well written, darker than I’d usually read, and it stayed with me long after I had finished.

Read on for Chapter One and there’s a free copy up for grabs for the first person who re-tweets this post.

 

SCARLETT – Rhodes, Saturday 23 August 2003, 04:44

To begin with, nothing was certain except her own terror.

Darkness, and stifling heat, so hot that breathing felt like effort, sweat pouring off her so her skin itself became liquid and she thought she would simply melt into a hot puddle of nothing. She tried crying out, screaming, but she could barely hear her own voice above the roar of the engine, the sound of the wheels moving at speed on tarmac. All that did was give her a sore throat. Nobody could hear her.

She tried listening instead, eyes wide with nothing to see. She could hear voices sporadically from somewhere else in the vehicle – two different men – but she didn’t recognise them, nor could she understand what they were saying. She assumed they were speaking in Greek, but the harsh rasp of the words sounded different from the voices she’d heard over the past week at the resort. Lots of ‘th’ sounds, rolled ‘r’s, words ending in ‘a’ and ‘eh’.

Fear came in cycles. The first endless panicky minutes had been very bad: trawling through vague memories of the past few days, trying to identify the mistake she’d made, because this had to be her fault – this can’t be real, I’m dreaming – then the shock realisation that this wasn’t a nightmare, it was really happening. The worst moment of all.

It had been so quick.

She had arrived a bit early at the place where they’d agreed to meet, and she’d been preparing to wait – he’d said he finished work at two – and a van had pulled up beside her. She hadn’t been worried. There were still people around, drunk tourists staggering back up the road towards their hotels. The side door of the van had slid open, and a man got out. He was talking to her, friendly, a smile that showed his teeth. His accent was so strong she couldn’t really tell what he was saying.

‘No, no,’ she’d said. ‘English. I don’t understand.’

But he’d kept yammering on, standing too close to her. She had begun to feel unnerved by it, and something had made her glance to the right, to the gate which led to the Aktira Studios, and in that split second when she’d seen someone she recognised, made eye contact, she had felt something like relief – and then the man had pushed her, a hard shove that sent her sprawling into the back of the van. He’d climbed in after her, slammed the door shut and the van started moving. The man had held her down, put his hand over her mouth, pressing her head into the metal floor so hard that she’d thought her skull was going to burst.

Seconds. The whole thing had taken seconds.

Now, hours since those terrifying first moments, she had reached a plateau brought on by the monotony of driving, the panic overridden by the pain in her arms and legs and the discomfort of being tied hand and foot and having to lie still on the floor of the van. They’d stopped once, very early on, before she’d had time to get over the shock or formulate any plan of escape; by that time the man in the back with her had already tied her up. He got out, leaving her alone, and the van door shut – and they were moving again.

The noise of the engine was unbearably loud; the van would bump and jolt as it went over potholes. Her head ached as a result, sometimes so badly it made her cry. The fear made her cry. Crying made her headache worse, and then it all became pointless, so she would stop for a while and try to sleep in snatches, because sleeping, at least, gave her a brief respite.

And she would dream of him, remember, and wake with tears on her cheeks, thinking, This wasn’t supposed to happen. Then the shock and the fear would kick in, and the whole cycle would begin again.