Sponge Cake & Self Doubt – The day before publication…

Today I’m distracted, unable to settle. I’ve opened and closed my wip, started and abandoned a short story. The puppy has trailed me as I’ve paced our overgrown garden, the cat rolling his eyes as I’ve stalked the places he thinks of as his own. I’m edgy, excited, easily distracted. It’s a little like waiting for Christmas, except it isn’t. It’s better.

Tomorrow is the paperback publication day of my debut, The Sister and even with a pile of paperbacks sitting on my desk and less than twelve hours to go I still can’t quite believe it’s happening.

This morning I’ve collected the bookmarks for my Waterstones launch tomorrow night, resisted the urge to dive into my cake and bought enough wine to fill the boot of my car. Each time I’ve been out I’ve darted into Asda and stood staring blankly at the books for so long an assistant came to check if I was ok and I couldn’t bring myself to tell her that tomorrow, nestled amongst the other titles, my story will sit. It doesn’t seem real.

It’s been a long road to publication, and after signing with the digital phenomenon that is Bookouture I never dreamed that a year on I’d also have a contract with Sphere (Little, Brown). After all those no’s finally two yes’s.

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I feel so emotional today. So thankful that even when it seemed utterly impossible anyone would take me on I never gave up writing and submitting. Tomorrow in-between two radio interviews, I’m planning to visit WH Smiths, Waterstones and the supermarkets to reassure myself it’s really there. I can’t imagine how I’ll feel when I see Grace and Charlie’s story on a shelf although there’s still a part of me, a larger part than I’d like, that is half-expecting a last minute ‘sorry we’ve read the book again and changed our minds’ email. I’m not sure when this self-doubt will go, if it ever will, but in the meantime I’m watching the clock and waiting. Endlessly waiting. And for now, still resisting the cake.

 

 

 

 

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.

My fabulous bookish news (Chews & Champagne) 🎉🎉🎉

I am absolutely thrilled to be able to share the announcement that after selling more than half a million copies and being published in 16 territories The Sister will be available in retailers from 24th August, published by Sphere.

Bookouture have done such an amazing job with my debut digitally and it’s a privilege to now also be working alongside the Little, Brown Book Group. It’s hard to stop staring at my gorgeous new paperback copies, fiercely guarded by the little brown bear my husband bought me to celebrate. Granger was overjoyed to have been given a chew while the humans in the family toasted with champagne.

BIG thanks to everyone who has supported me on my journey so far x

 

My new writing help/hindrance

Anyone who has been anywhere near my social media pages the past couple of weeks will have been deluged with images of the newest edition to our household – Granger.

We were broken-hearted earlier this year with the loss of Miss Molly Super Spaniel, for such a small dog she left an enormous hole and the house felt different somehow. Colder. Quieter.

Much of The Sister was written on my lap, carving out a space anywhere I could find, but by the time it was published my eldest son had left home and I bought a desk for his former bedroom. Molly kept me company each day as I wrote The Gift and The Surrogate while the kids were at school and my husband was at work. She’d listen as we ate lunch together and I talked over plot holes and character development with a sense she understood every word.

 

Making the decision to bring another dog into the household wasn’t one we took lightly and we saw 6 litters before we met Granger and fell in love.

Ridiculously it’s been so long since we had a puppy in the house I kind of thought I’d fall back into the old routine I had with Molly with Granger while I write book 4. Ha. Granger doesn’t just lay on my feet as Molly did, he chews them, along with my computer cables, and my chair, and my desk….

It’s a bit like having a baby I think. You blank out the hard bits once it gets easier and then you do it all again. I’d forgotten the crying at night, the getting up to let him in the garden at 3 am, the chewed shoes, the puddles on the floor. 

Despite my exhaustion and inability to write for more than 10 minutes at a time without being distracted, he’s made the house feel like a home once more and I wouldn’t swap him for the world, even if book four might take a little longer than I’d envisaged to write.

 

15 stages you go through with structural edits

  1. My structural edits have arrived. I don’t think I’m strong enough to cope. Pour a glass of wine.
  2. Open the email, skim through the notes. Feel lightheaded and slightly sick. Close email. Drink more wine.
  3. Take a deep breath and read editor’s notes properly. The changes are enormous. Hyperventilate. I can’t do this.
  4. Pull myself together. Remind myself I am LUCKY to be in this position. Open the document. WHY IS THERE SO MUCH RED? There are track changes EVERYWHERE.
  5. Outrage – this will RUIN my book. RUIN it.
  6. Google self-publishing.
  7. Cry.
  8. Go shopping – can’t possibly edit until I have more highlighters/post-its/notebooks/chocolate.
  9. Make a list. Lists are good. Lists make everything manageable.
  10. Pull the book apart and piece it back together.
  11. Read manuscript – realise editor was actually right all along and the changes ARE an improvement.
  12. Relief.
  13. Email manuscript back to editor. Collapse on the sofa. Hurrah. It is DONE!
  14. Remember there’s still the copy edits to go. Despair.
  15. Open more wine…

If you’ve enjoyed this you might want to hop over to ’15 stages you go through writing a first draft.’

LIVE author chat this weekend – do join me!

 

This Sunday 17th July I shall be over at The Fiction Cafe on Facebook at 8pm GMT chatting live about books, writing and getting published. Do come pop along and take part – it should be a lot of fun.

If you’re not around Sunday you can post questions before the event and I’ll make sure they are answered.

You can join the group here.

Look forward to seeing you!

One year published, 750,000 sales – what’s it really been like?

 

Exactly a year ago was a dream-come-true- kind of day. I remember snapping awake, brushing the sleep out of my eyes, instantly my stomach swirling with excitement and nerves. It was publication day for my debut novel The Sister which was already receiving rave reviews and flying up the charts. I had a fabulous publisher and a contract to write two more novels. My lifelong ambition was realised as I smiled for the camera and held my paperback tightly in my hand like the precious gift it was. It stands to reason I lived happily ever after, right?

Yes. But it took a while.

Initially it was the cause of much excitement to type my name into Amazon and see my book spring onto my screen but still I didn’t feel like a writer. I was so thankful to have a deal but part of me thought it must be a mistake, it couldn’t possibly last. I clung on to my old job title when introducing myself to new people, feeling like a fraud somehow. The picture-perfect vision in my head of novelists lounging in a field of sunflowers, shielded from the blistering sun under a parasol, jotting down a few words when inspiration hit, partaking in cream teas when it didn’t, was not how it was at all. Working as an author has proved to be many things; sometimes exhilarating and satisfying, sometimes, if I’m being honest, isolating and lonely, and always, always extremely hard work. It’s far more involved than I first thought. The time invested in promoting my books both here and internationally (my titles have now been sold for translation to fifteen territories), interviews, social media, blogging, events, replying to reader emails (often the highlight of my day), mentoring female writers (which I offer free through The WoMentoring Project), and of course, juggling writing new stories whilst taking the previous book through the editing process

After The Sister I was nominated for the Goodreads Debut Author of 2016 and then came publication of The Gift. With both my first two books reaching No. 1 in the UK and abroad came a shift in my thinking. Although I still felt like an impostor, afraid it would all disappear in an instant, no longer did I mutter when someone asked what I did for a living. I admitted to being a writer albeit before looking at my shoes and hurriedly changing the subject. Yet, I didn’t quite feel like an author but it was progress of sorts.

It’s been a whirlwind year and often chaotic and I’ve learned a big lesson in time management, in finding that all important balance between work/family life.

The Sister was nominated for a CWA Dagger Award and amazingly after 12 months it is still sitting comfortably in the top 100 in psychological fiction, as is The Gift and now it has been joined by The Surrogate, my forthcoming novel, which is currently available to pre order and will be released in September. I’m so excited about this book, my best so far I think, already it’s made the Top 10 in psychological thrillers and the Top 50 in the overall UK chart.

Last week my publishers told me I had achieved 750,000 English language sales (more if you take into account sales in other territories) and the thought of three quarters of a million people reading my books caused another shift in my thinking. At a barbecue last weekend someone asked what I did for a living and for the first time ever I said ‘I’m an author,’ and I didn’t even look at my shoes.

Finally, an author. I’m living my dream and with a head full of stories there is honestly nothing else I’d rather be doing. Every day I think how lucky I am – I’m so grateful for this opportunity.