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?

Wine & Writing – My life in the W.I.

 

When the WI contacted me and asked if I wanted to be featured in the June WI Life Magazine I was thrilled for about five seconds until they uttered the words ‘photo shoot.’ Gulp.

I needn’t have worried. I wasn’t going to be alone. The theme for the issue was ‘friendship’ and they were interested in the support I received from other WI members during the process of writing The Gift and The Sister.

Writing can be lonely, isolating. It’s vital for a writer to have a strong support network, otherwise it’s easy to slip into a pyjama-wearing, biscuit eating, end up talking to only the cat, lifestyle. Occasionally, it’s nice to prise myself away from my keyboard and talk to people I haven’t created in my head, over a glass of wine.

“My WI sisters became my champions, commiserating when my early chapters were rejected, and delighted for me when I finally got a book deal.”

You can read the full article from WI Life here.

National Reading Group Day 2017! Why I LOVE my Book Club


Reading and writing are my two most favourite things to do. Ever since I can remember I’ve been at my happiest, curled up with a good book, and when the cries of my mum to ‘go outside and get some fresh air’ got too much, I’d take whatever story I was currently reading. Often I could be found sitting in the tree at the bottom of our garden, sunlight dappling the pages of whatever adventure I’d borrowed from the library.

When I was older, with a family of my own, I moved to a new area. Wanting to make some local friends, joining a reading group seemed the obvious choice. That month’s book was a dystopian novel, not a genre I’d ever choose but a few days before the meeting I eventually, reluctantly started to read and was immediately hooked. I enjoy dystopian novels – who knew?

Now I love my monthly reading group, not only for the social aspect and the fascinating and often lively discussion we have, but because it has also introduced me to new genres and authors I’d never have tried. 

I always include book group questions in the back of my books, and also on my website and there’s nothing I love more than being invited along to local groups to sit in on the discussions.

The Sister was a favourite with many book groups. Lots of secrets and moral dilemmas to talk about as well as some heartfelt expeiences on moving forward through grief.

The Gift was hugely popular with reading groups. Dealing with the unusual topic of cellular memory – the belief a transplanted organ can retain the memories of the donor – led to some interesting discussions and also raised the important topic of organ donation.

I’d love to hear what books your reading group have enjoyed.

Standing where other writers stood

 

Yesterday was my birthday and my husband wrenched me kicking and screaming away from my manuscript to visit Stoneywell, a quaint National Trust property in Leicestershire.

 

The grounds were stunning and the five bedroomed cottage was quirky and cosy. Each misshaped room had a window seat and was crammed with books. I fell in love with it the second I stepped over the threshold, even more so when I learned of the history.

Edward Phillips Oppenheim, a writer born in 1866 was a friend of the family, and wrote several of his 100 published (yes 100!!) novels at Stoneywell. I was in awe to think I was standing where he stood. Perhaps touching the very typewriter he used. (I Googled when I got home and typewriters were patented in 1829 & developed properly in 1867, so you never know).

There’s something utterly captivating about the thought of a writer, of times past, focused on their manuscript. None of the distractions of social media and marketing. It’s easy to romanticize, imagine perhaps they wrote for a morning and then went for a stroll through the gorgeous countryside before returning for tea and cake.

 

The reality was probably starkly different. This cottage was freezing and that was with the addition of central heating. Oppenheim’s fingers were probably numb, and progress perhaps slow, but that didn’t stop me begging my husband to fetch my old typewriter from the loft as soon as we got home.

 

‘I’m going to write book 4 on it.’ I declared.

‘Perhaps wait and see how you feel in the morning?’ He wisely suggested, reluctant to disappear into our roof space crammed with all the things ‘I-absolutely-might-need-one-day-but-never-have-yet.’

Today I am revelling in the luxury of my PC where I can cut and paste and listen to music at the same time, glad I don’t have to tell my publishers my next book could take years to write as I am shying away from technology. But still, I think of that cottage and it tugs at my heart strings. I shall visit again soon. The scones were too good not to!

Supporting my local library (aka crying in public)…

There’s nothing I love more than getting out and meeting readers so it was a real privilege to be invited to Corby Library for the launch of their Reading Ahead Challenge.

This is the first year Corby has taken part in this challenge although lots of other libraries in the country already take part. The scheme is designed to encourage more people to read. When you sign up you get a card where you keep track of your next six reads (or listen if you prefer audio books). There is a get together each month where you can talk books with like-minded people in your local community and at the end you get a certificate. Although today was the official launch you have between now and October to join in. I met some lovely people including some writers and their passion for books has inspired me to come home and do some work to my own manuscript.

Libraries have always been a huge part of my life. From my primary school who let me borrow far more than the one allocated book per week, to my village librarian who joked when I told her I had exhausted all of their stock that I should write my own book (I went home and started The Sister). I’ve many fond memories of visiting the big town library with my own mum, touching the books, taking ages to choose the ones I wanted, and then taking my own children to pick their bedtime stories.

I was overcome with emotion when today I saw The Sister on a library shelf for the very first time and was told how popular it is, along with The Gift. This has definitely been one of my highlights of being published and I found the thought of library users choosing my book to take home incredibly overwhelming. Luckily before I could shed too many tears at the enormity of it all the cake was brought out and I had to compose myself. After all it would have been rude not to have a slice (or three) wouldn’t it?

You can find out more about the Reading Ahead Challenge here.