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!

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Join us for an evening of books & mince pies!

 

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Like I’d ever let you REALLY have the last mince pie…

 

Do come and join Darren O’Sullivan and I at Waterstones in Peterborough on Thursday 20th December where we’ll be talking about, and signing, our books, along with answering any questions you might have from 5pm.

Peterborough is beautifully Christmassy in the evening with gorgeous lights, and if that doesn’t put you in the festive mood, we’ll also be bringing mince pies!

 

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Rest, relaxation & 3 great reads

Last month I coped with my son leaving home by sending him off to uni with 3 important things (you can read that post here). I spent the first few days of his absence drifting sadly around the house. It was when I lit a candle in his bedroom I knew I had to get out and do something productive so I dashed to Asda to stock up on chocolate. When I arrived I reminded myself how well I was doing on my sugar free diet, how much better I felt and so instead of a bar of dairy milk I headed into the in-store travel agent and bought a holiday to Lanzarote instead (and it was fun explaining that impromptu purchase to my husband).

Days later myself, my youngest son and my husband were on a beach. It was an odd sensation, trying to relax. It was the first time, in a long time, I hadn’t had a looming deadline from my publisher. I deliberately hadn’t packed my laptop, instead I’d taken a stack of books and I intended to read *whispers* for pleasure.

Historically I used to read a couple of novels a week but in the last few years I’ve been so busy writing my own books there’s been little time for reading. On the occasions I’ve managed to snatch precious minutes from my day, I’ve ended up reading one of the huge pile of proofs in my study awaiting quotes which all tend to be psychological thrillers as that’s the genre I write in. On my break, I was determined to read something different, and I did.

The One With Hidden Depths – First on my list was Graham Norton’s cozy crime debut ‘Holding.’ I’ve long been a huge Graham Norton fan. I pre-ordered this the second it was announced but I’ve been putting off reading it because… if I’m honest, because I thought it might not be very good. Sorry Graham. 

I dove into the pages expecting them to be peppered with brash humour, outrageous jokes, which I wasn’t sure how would translate into a novel, but what I found was a gentle story set in rural Ireland, sensitively written by someone who knew his characters inside out. The gradual unfurling is slow but I like that in a story. There’s a depth to the characterisation you rarely find in debuts. So much so I googled whether Graham had a ghost writer, apparently he didn’t. There’s a vulnerability surrounding the small community featured in this story, that doesn’t come from the characters alone. I’ve since bought Graham’s second novel ‘A Keeper’ and I won’t leave it too long before I read it.

The Chilling One – Next up was ‘The Taking of Annie Thorne’ by C.J. Tudor. As a teenager I was a real horror buff and a big fan of Stephen King but as I’ve got older I’ve… I’ve grown into a bit of a wuss  I suppose and so I tend to shy away from the genre. That said when Steven King recommends a writer you sit up and listen and that, along with the fabulous cover, swayed me into putting on my big girl pants and diving in. Goodness. This book is creepy. Right from the start a sense of unease settled over me, despite my brilliant backdrop of blue skies and golden sands. This story is so atmospheric with a refreshingly unique voice. I do love it when I start off loathing a character but the writer gradually draws me in until I’m rooting for them. I’m glad I didn’t read this alone at night, but I’m so very glad I read it. 

The Weepy One – A writer friend of mine recommended ‘Bitter’ by Francesca Jakobi to me and told me I’d love it, and she was right. I find it utterly fascinating when a story is based on some semblance of truth and this one, based on Francesca’s grandmother, drew me in completely. It could have been hard to picture a time when divorce was scandalous and single parent families an oddity but thanks to the evocative writing I was right there with the beautifully crafted characters, living out their obsessions with them. This book is thoughtful, heartbreaking and utterly compelling. I am desperate to know what happened after the final pages. 

Aside from reading, it was a fabulous holiday which kicked off to a thrilling start when we popped into WH Smith’s at the airport and found ‘The Surrogate‘ on the shelves. Once we’d arrived, we hired a car but didn’t explore this gorgeous island nearly enough which is a good reason to return (although we did stumble across a fabulous bookshop who stocked ‘The Sister‘ – hurrah!) What we did do in-between reading was wade into the sea to feed the flurry of fish with cooked vegetables we saved from lunch.

We also went sea trekking for the first time. Walking around the ocean bed while hooked up to air was an odd but amazing experience and a privilege to be up close to so many sea creatures in their natural habitat. 

Evenings found us at a beach bar, sipping cocktails and watching the sun set.

It was while gazing out to sea I had an idea for a romantic novel I felt ridiculously excited about but within 48 hours of being back in the UK I’d (fictionally) killed someone. I feel relaxed, refreshed and ready to put the finishing touches to my fifth psychological thriller, and as for writing romance? Maybe one day…

 

5 reasons why I LOVE book bloggers

 

It upset me greatly recently that there was a flurry of scathing posts on Twitter regarding book bloggers.  Partly because I loathe any kind of negativity (my Twitter bio states ‘In a world where you can be anything, BE KIND’) but mostly because I’ve got to know many book bloggers over the past couple of years and they are honestly amongst the nicest people I’ve met.

Here are five reasons why I LOVE book bloggers.

1) As a reader, I often found myself browsing book shops feeling confused and overwhelmed.  There are SO many books (and I’m incredibly indecisive) it was almost impossible to make a choice. I’m a slow reader, averaging two books a month and with such a low quantity, quality is imperative. I’ve a selection of book bloggers now I always turn to when looking for recommendations. They have similar tastes to me and I trust their judgement completely. If they say a book is brilliant, I buy it. I’ve never been disappointed.

2) Pre book-bloggers I was stuck in a bit of a reading rut. I knew the genre I most enjoyed and was hesitant to step outside of it. My trusted book bloggers have opened my eyes, raving about stories I’d never have found on my own. I now adore young adult fiction, historical and I’ve even read some dystopian books which I’d never have bought without such glowing reviews. I don’t think I even knew what dystopian was…

3) I’m a writer, so I’m going to be honest and say how much bloggers have helped me gain visibility. I signed a book deal for my debut with a small, but fast growing, publisher with a limited budget for marketing.  The publicity manager arranged a blog tour for me and soon, to my utter delight, my cover was prominent on all social media channels. Even if not everyone read the blog posts, although I know many do, seeing the same image over and over is hugely beneficial when a reader is scrolling through Amazon and instantly recognises a cover.  My sales grew through word of mouth. I really don’t think I’d have sold over a million books if it wasn’t for the support of book bloggers and for that I am hugely grateful.

4) Book bloggers have helped me improve my writing. I’ve never had much confidence in myself and I’d never been in a position where I could afford to do a writing course but I was so eager to learn my craft. Looking through some of the Amazon and Goodreads reviews can be soul destroying but I’ve found reviews from book bloggers to be really beneficial. Not everyone who blogs about one of my stories loves them, and that’s okay. What I’ve found is the majority of reviews are fair and constructive. I’ve welcomed that constructive criticism and used it to tighten my writing, develop my characters. To make each book better than the last.

5) Lastly, but by no means least, I love the sense of community and friendship there is within the blogging world. As a blogger myself, although I rarely now review books, I’ve made some life long friends, many of whom I’ve now met in real life (usually at a bar…) Most book bloggers don’t get paid for reviewing books, they give up massive amounts of time because they are passionate about stories. As a child I thought there was something wrong with me. I was the only one in my family who read. I was so utterly absorbed in stories the characters became my friends, their world became mine. To discover there are a multitude of readers who love stories as much as I do has made me feel I fit it. I have found my tribe. That tribe are book bloggers. Leave them alone!

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?

US publication day & over excited characters…

It was well over a year ago now that my fabulous agent called to tell me that Grand Central Publishing in the US were to publish my backlist and my forthcoming books, starting with The Sister.

‘Goodness. Grace and Charlie will be SO excited!’ I said.

There was a short pause before he continued running through the details. He, along with everyone else who knows me, have long since stopped pointing out that the characters in my debut novel aren’t real. Even though I’ve written three books since I penned The Sister, Grace and Charlie are still fully formed and ever present in my mind.

Proofreading the US version was like I’d never been away from the characters and even with the US spellings, and the tweaks to fit the market, it was so familiar to me. It doesn’t seem five minutes since I started writing the story, utilising the thirty minutes I had spare every day while my son had independent reading time.  I started writing to see if I could lift my mental health after acquiring a disability, and subsequently clinical depression in my 30’s. I never once dreamed my new hobby would lead to a career and I feel so blessed.

Today, it’s finally US publication day for the trade paperback of The Sister and admittedly Grace and Charlie aren’t the only ones who are excited! Much of my family live in Texas and they couldn’t be happier that my books will be in stores there.

As well as being available in bookstores, I’m delighted to learn that Barnes & Nobel and Target have some special promotions lined up.  Early trade reviews in Booklist and Publisher’s Weekly have been very kind and I can’t wait for my story, set in a little English village, reach a whole new readership.

What it’s REALLY like living with Face Blindness: Interview with Hannah Read

Last week I blogged about Hannah Read, the (then) 13 year old girl who featured in a BBC programme several years ago documenting her life after she had acquired face blindness. Hannah has the UK’s severest reported case of Prosopagnosia and her story was one which I was unable to forget. Hannah’s condition was the inspiration behind my latest psychological thriller, The Date (you can read that post here) which features Ali, my main character, who also acquires face blindness later in life.

I was so thrilled to be able to track Hannah and her family down after finishing my book to tell them the impact her experience had on me. Today, I’m delighted to share my short YouTube interview Hannah where I ask her directly what it’s really like living with Face Blindness.

The Date will publish on 21st June and you can preorder a copy via your local Amazon here.