One terrified writer, one HUGE literary festival, one big mistake?

 

Over the past year I’ve been asked to speak at several events, some big, some small, but all have one thing in common – I’ve said no. I think I can pinpoint exactly when and why my phobia of public speaking started, but knowing that, understanding that, hasn’t made it any easier to cope with. On the occasions I’ve tried, I’ve ended up in such a state I’ve not been able to sleep or eat in the weeks preceding and have been physically sick and unable to talk on the day. Shaking, dry mouth, fainting, you name it, I’ve suffered with it.

Althorp Literary Festival is in its 14th year and when an email dropped into my inbox I assumed it was asking me to buy tickets as I’ve attended most years as a guest. Instead, it was an invitation to take part in a panel event. I felt equally honoured and disappointed. There’s no way I could possibly take part, or could I?

Unusually, I didn’t rattle off a polite ‘thanks, but no thanks’ straight away. Althorp is a very dear place to me. I grew up 10 minutes down the road and have many happy childhood memories of our Sunday afternoon drives through the beautiful grounds after a roast lunch, my parents in the front of the car, me playing eye-spy in the back with my sister, ending with tea and cake and the more I let the memory cover me like a blanket, the more it grew – the urge to say yes. My fingers hovered over the keyboard before I quickly punched out an acceptance. And then I cried. And then I set about finding a solution, painfully aware I wouldn’t just be representing myself but also the festival, both my publishers and my agent. No pressure then. My google research resulted in me booking a course of hypnotherapy. I genuinely enjoyed every second of my talk and I’ve since signed up for various events and I honestly can’t wait. Next week I’ll be interviewing my hypnotherapist, Carmen, and she’ll share her thoughts on why public speaking is such a common phobia and give her tips on giving a great performance and I’ll be talking about the things that worked for me.

Today though I want to share my memories of what was an amazing weekend.

On arrival I was escorted to the Green Room, the library. The sight of all those books was instantly calming, admittedly so was the sight of the gin…

It felt so surreal at first and I had to remind myself to focus and pay attention to the other panellists as initially I was sitting there thinking ‘I’m on a stage at Althorp! How did this possibly happen to me?’

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There were books everywhere and at my first official signing I had a touch of anxiety I’d scratch the beautiful desk. I didn’t, and chatting to readers was one of the highlights of my weekend.

Umm there’s always one, lowering the tone, photographing the food. That would be me…

The grounds are absolutely stunning.

And no festival would be complete without a champagne bus. thankfully the sun shone and it became open top. 

I met some amazing people, caught up with old friends and made some new, and whether I’m invited back as a speaker or not, I can’t wait for next year’s event.

Huge thanks to everyone involved in putting together such an amazing festival and leaving me with memories I shall always treasure.

 

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Why I couldn’t shrug off being trolled.

 

Last Wednesday my third novel The Surrogate was published. The early reviews have been phenomenal, it’s racing up the charts, has been chosen for a special promotion, and after a busy few days I was so very looking forward to spending publication weekend celebrating.

Friday evening, I opened a bottle of wine, settled down to catch up with social media while waiting for a curry to arrive. There was a FB notification for my personal page, a name I didn’t recognise. The post was nasty, vindictive, written to hurt, and it did. Although, to a degree I know it’s inevitable negative reviews will appear on Goodreads and Amazon, this felt as though someone had stepped into my lounge almost and insulted me. My personal space.

Trying to shrug it off I deleted the post, blocked the poster and vowed to tighten my privacy settings hoping that would be the end of it. It wasn’t.

This ‘lady’ in question was a member of numerous reading groups and set out with a vengeance to insult me and my book at every opportunity and online there are LOTS of opportunities.

After a restless sleep I woke Saturday, hoping that by now she’d be bored. She wasn’t. For the whole day post after post appeared. I choose not to comment on any of them which was incredibly difficult as she was now insulting my friends, my publishers, reviewers. Hackles were rising. Responses were made and although I was grateful people were defending me, she now had an audience and boy did she make the most of it.

By Saturday afternoon I was in pieces. Those of you who know me or follow my blog know I started writing as a way to boost my mental health after becoming disabled in my 30’s resulted in clinical depression, and have noticed a gradual increase in my confidence this past year. Finally, settling into my new career, admitting I’m a writer when meeting new people was a huge step. A complete stranger sharing her opinion – however widely – I have zero talent, will never make it as an author, shouldn’t have shattered my already fragile self-esteem but it did. And I felt hugely saddened when she accused me of paying book bloggers for reviews – the bloggers I know all review with honesty and integrity and even if they don’t like a book they are always constructive and kind. I felt terrible for everyone involved, anguishing over what I’d done to upset this woman, convinced that somehow it must be all my fault.

Message after message appeared in my inbox. Readers, writers, bloggers, complete strangers, watching it all unfold, offering their support and those messages combined to make a huge roaring cheer which should have drowned out that one, negative voice, and yet it didn’t.

Remembering my mindfulness practice I spent long periods meditating, accepting my reaction was natural. Scientific studies have shown we all have a negativity bias. Automatically the brain has a greater sensitivity towards the negative, a trait which used to be super helpful in our caveman days. Spotting and responding to the unpleasant, the dangerous, running from those dinosaurs, keeping ourselves out of harms way. Today, the bias is not needed quite so much but evolution has seen it remain, to varying degrees, and as a result things more negative in nature have a greater effect on a person’s psychological state and cognition than positive things.

Sunday I felt calmer but I still felt a rush of relief when I was told she’d been banned from various groups but it was hard not to spend the day anxiously waiting and when a blogger on my tour shared her post in one of the lovely reading groups I belong to I actually felt my stomach twist, waiting for her to pop up again.

My son told me I’ve been trolled. That word to me conjures fond memories. Small children curled on my lap. Goats trip-trapping over a bridge, the comical creature who lived underneath. This felt anything but comical.

Today I’ve woken feeling hugely grateful. I’ve reread the messages of support, my positive reviews and that roaring cheer is now the thing I can hear the loudest.

I’m sat at my desk determined to write some words. After all I am a writer and despite my trepidation at publishing this post, I’m not going to let anyone tell me I’m not.

The Surrogate is currently part of a limited time ebook promotion and is available for £0.99/$1.31 on Amazon, iBooks  Kobo, Google and all digital platforms. You can find it on Amazon here

 

 

 

 

Blogger & author shenanigans- it’s more than just drinking


Yesterday, I bid my husband goodbye & jumped on a train to Birmingham for a day of drinking hanging out with bookish peeps. Writing is absolutely my dream job. I wouldn’t change it for the world but sometimes even dreams can have cracks in them and I admit that going from a hustle-bustle-busy working environment, to spending long days talking to creating characters, can feel a tad isolating at times. 


It was fabulous to catch up with old friends and have the chance to make some new ones. The book bloggers I haven’t met before, but feel I already know, were just as warm in person as they are online. I’m now even more excited about The Surrogate Blog Tour next week (and receiving my toad in the hole recipe from Joanne Robertson!


For me, the chance to grill other writers about their approach to novel writing is invaluable and after a long conversation with the lovely Barbara Copperthwaite, I came away feeling much better about something that had been troubling me about my own approach to writing a first draft, which had felt quite slap-dash. Slowly, and largely due to events like these, I’m realising we all have our own way of doing things. There is no right and wrong.

It was wonderful to hear the news that several I’d met last year had finished their novels, some  were submitting and there were 2 book deals to celebrate. Each and every writerly success I hear of gives me a warm fuzzy feeling that had nothing to do with the wine. There can never be too many books.

On the journey home, I was exhausted but happy. Feeling incredibly grateful to be a part of such a friendly and supportive community. 


Huge thanks to Kim Nash & Holly Martin for organising the event.

Slipping back – An excerpt from The Surrogate – #flashfiction

Image courtesy of Sarah Potter

The moon is hiding behind the rain clouds, and everywhere I look is black. Crushing. The horn blares again blasting cobwebs from my dusty memories and I think of the other time I was in a car with the dark and the rain. Suddenly I am terrified.

I’m arced over the wheel now, hyperventilating. Panic tearing my chest in two. I haven’t felt like this for years. It’s all starting again. Just like I always knew it would.

Lisa is back in my life and I am slipping into the past.

The good. The bad.

All of it.

 

I was delighted when I saw this week’s cobwebby prompt as if fits perfectly with an excerpt from my forthcoming book The Surrogate which will be published next week! I’m ridiculously excited. Early reviews have been fabulous. If you want to, you can find it over on Amazon here

Friday Fictioneer’s is a weekly photo prompt posted by Rochelle. Can you write a 100 words flash fiction story? Join in here – it’s great fun. 

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

Readers/Writers – How do we all feel about ebook piracy?

Image courtesy of Kirsten McKenzie

 A couple of nights ago my husband and I opened a bottle of wine and sat down for one of those ‘let’s talk about the future’ conversations. You know, one of those discussions where you make a five year plan and then look back on said conversation five years later and laugh hysterically?

We’ve been saving for our own house FOREVER and just as it seems my dreams could become reality we’d been hit by the news the medical treatment I am reliant on to remain mobile had been cut by the NHS without warning (you can read about that here if you want to). We agreed my health must come first and we must use the deposit we’ve saved to cover future medical treatment instead.

As Tim sloshed wine into my glass (hey we can’t cut back on everything) his phone beeped. A Google alert. He has one set for my name. He scanned the message and sipped his drink, not quite meeting my eye.

‘A terrible review?’ I asked.

‘Umm, no.’ He read it aloud. ‘OH MY GOD. This (The Gift) has got to be one of… if not the best book I have ever read. It was written so well and the characters were all amazing.’ 

‘That’s great!’ I said.

And it would have been. If it hadn’t transpired this review, along with others, had been left on an illegal e-book download site, and after the conversation we had just had about our tight finances I don’t mind admitting to feeling winded. Almost as though someone had stolen out of my purse.

There are always going to be those who want things instantly, who want things free, I know. I appreciate that although my books are only £1.99 if you are a quick reader all those £1.99 adds up (although ‘libraries’ spring to mind). Or there’s the argument readers don’t want to invest in a book they might not like (there’s a ‘try a sample’ option on kindle).

I wasn’t going to blog about this, the creative industry is open to piracy, books, films, music but I mentioned it to another writer yesterday and I was surprised by his reaction. He said he wouldn’t mind if his books were on illegal download sites as he felt if this was the case his name would spring up more frequently on search engines.

I don’t know about that but I’m genuinely interested now to hear other writers (and readers) opinions?