The one thing I loathe about Christmas has taught me this…

There are rolls of sparkly wrapping paper stacked in the corner of my bedroom, a bag of silver bows, shiny red tags. Today, the first of the gifts I ordered from Amazon arrived and I had a fleeting thought I should wrap up the presents as I buy them, before dismissing it instantly. It’s my least favourite job. There’s never enough room cramped around the table and my back screams with pain if I’m hunched on the floor. No matter how careful I am, I can never, ever, locate the end of the Sellotape and making anything beyond a square shape look enticing is far outside my very limited capabilities.

With a sinking feeling, I totted up the amount of presents I’ve yet to buy, calculating the amount I’ll have to wrap, until a slow and sickening dawning crept over me.

Yet again, there will be less under the tree than last year.

The children are older, two of them adults now, and the enormous pile of plastic, noisy, toys we used to accumulate are long gone. Instead, a sleek gift-wrapped gadget or two will replace all the smaller, cheaper presents, they’d shake and sniff, hazarding wild guesses before excitedly tearing off the paper to see if they were right.

It’s not only my growing family responsible for diminishing the pile of presents under our tree, there’s the inevitable, heart-wrenching loss we’ve experienced. One less person to buy for. One empty space at our dining table. One less cracker to pull. And suddenly having lots to wrap doesn’t feel like the worst thing, having nothing to wrap does.

Tonight I shall pour a glass of red wine before sliding off the plastic coating from my rolls of paper and think how grateful I am to still have people I love to buy gifts for, and the money to buy them, and you never know, my most loathed job, might just become my favourite.

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Can you visualise your way onto the bestsellers list?

 

Recently, I blogged about my passion for positivity and how I use vision boards to help create a life I love (you can read that post here) and keep a gratitude journal which makes me feel all warm and squishy inside every day when I realise just how lucky I am (you can read that post here).

Last week I had lunch with fellow author Darren O’Sullivan, whose Harper Collins debut Our Little Secret was a smash hit this summer, so much so his digital only deal has now been expanded to include paperbacks.

Darren was telling me about his long struggle to finish, and publish his novel and how his career only took off once he changed his mindset. Unfortunately, we ran out of time to discuss this properly so I am delighted to welcome Darren onto my YouTube channel today where we chat further about our belief that our thoughts really can shape our world.

I’d love to hear what you think.

You can find Darren over at Amazon here.

On Twitter here.

And Facebook here.

Love your libraries – authors campaign against closures #amreading

I’ve banded together with other local authors to voice our distress at the planned closure of potentially 21 libraries in our county. The letter (featured below) has featured in this evening’s paper ((you can read the full article here) and the fabulous Sue Bentley spoke out at the recent meeting discussing these cuts. Support Option 4 here – Save our Libraries. Every voice counts. 

 

To Northants County Council

Re: The proposed closures of Northamptonshire libraries

We are all authors who live in Northamptonshire. We decided to get together and write to you with our thoughts about the proposed cuts to the library service in our county.

We all oppose any cuts to the service. We grew up using libraries. The free access to books was pivotal in our formative years and we collectively believe it was instrumental in our careers – the love of the written word, formed in our childhoods, shaped us as people and as the writers we all went on to become. Some of us are from impoverished backgrounds: Louise Walters remembers using the mobile library when it visited her remote Northamptonshire village. Louise rarely bought books, and those she did buy were usually from jumble sales, so the library was essential. Rhian Ivory grew up in a village in Wales, too small for a library, so she and her family relied on the mobile library service, and it was a positive and unique experience. As author Sue Moorcroft points out, we should never take it for granted that people are able to buy books, even second hand. In this era of “austerity” any book purchases are out of the question for many. The library is for some their ONLY way of accessing books.

From a wider perspective, times have changed, and these days libraries are much more than shelves of books. They have become a vital hub in their communities. From the Sure Start centres, to IT training, to rhyme time, to reading groups, to information about all kinds of services – our Northamptonshire communities benefit in so many ways from having in their midst functioning, local authority run libraries. As Jane Isaac points out, libraries bring people together, and that is particularly important in remote areas where bus services have been cut or are non-existent. Mark West asks, what happens to the kid who has to do his homework online (because that’s how the teacher has set it) and yet has no access to the internet at home? What about the person who needs to fill in an online application form in the same circumstance? What about older people, perhaps afraid or unsure of modern
technology, who want to keep up with their families online?

Those of us with children all cite the library as a welcome resource, somewhere to take the children, to meet other parents, and to tap into services such as the Sure Start centres. Louise Jensen says that going to the library with her sons was often the only time she got to interact with other adults and meet other parents. The educational opportunities found in a library are valuable, and adults and children alike use libraries not only for entertainment, but also for research and discovery, and for help with projects and homework. Louise Walters home educates her children and the local library is an essential resource for home educators, who have no access to school libraries.

We as a group cannot support any of the three “options” proffered by the Council. They all involve the closure of at least twenty-one small libraries and the withdrawal of the mobile library. As Sue Bentley says, public libraries are a vital part of our cultural heritage, a rich resource for everyone. They are also, of course, that rare and precious thing – a public space where people can spend time without the expectation of also spending money. The closure of its library would be a severe blow to any community, impoverishing the whole area in so many ways.

We therefore support “Option 4”, which is to keep all of Northamptonshire’s existing libraries fully operational and fully funded, and all to remain the responsibility of the Council.

Yours sincerely,

Sue Bentleyhttp://www.suebentley.co.uk: Sue Bentley is Northampton born and bred. She is the worldwide best-selling author of over 70 books for children, YA and adults.

Jane Isaachttp://www.janeisaac.co.uk: Bestselling author of the DI Will Jackman series.

Rhian Ivoryhttps://twitter.com/Rhian_Ivory: Carnegie nominated author of The Boy who Drew the Future, bestselling YA novel, Hope and regular user of Towcester library and lifelong supporter of libraries.

Louise Jensenhttp://www.louisejensen.co.uk: International No. 1 bestselling author of psychological thrillers The Sister, The Gift and The Surrogate. Lover of libraries.

Sue Moorcrofthttp://www.suemoorcroft.com: Sunday Times and UK Kindle bestselling author; published by HarperCollins and major publishers around the world. Supporter of libraries.

Louise Waltershttp://www.louisewaltersbooks.co.uk: Author of Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase, published in 15 languages. Independent publisher. Regular user of the mobile, Brackley and Middleton Cheney libraries.

Mark West –www.markwest.org.uk: Award-nominated horror and thriller writer. Lifelong supporter of the library.

Author Introductions #19: Louise Jensen

I had great fun over on Louise Ross’s blog sharing which book I’d lend the Prime Minister, my favourite reads and my greatest achievement.

lovesuspense

Happy Monday!

After a weekend spent proofreading and playing endless games of Snakes and Ladders with my son, it’s the start of another week and I have a busy one ahead of me – I’ll be heading up to Northumberland for An Evening with L J Ross at Forum Books in Corbridge, followed by an event at Newcastle City Library as part of the Books on the Tyne Festival which is ongoing at the moment and featuring lots of exciting events and authors! There is also the small matter of picking up the keys for our new house…hurrah!

For now, it’s time for me to make the next Author Introduction and, this week, I’m delighted to be joined by the lovely Louise Jensen. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Louise over the past couple of years through being part of a charity anthology together and as part…

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Paperback publication day & my hopes for this story!

It’s paperback publication day for The Gift, my second psychological thriller which has already been a global e-book No. 1 Bestseller. I’m SO excited for this book to reach a whole new audience.

The Gift is a story based around cellular memory, the concept that the cells of the body can store memories, and if organs are transplanted, these memories could also be transplanted with them. I first stumbled across cellular memory about fifteen years ago and was intrigued with the concept. Although this isn’t scientifically proven, there are an increasing number of doctors and scientists supporting this theory and further research is being carried out.

Endlessly fascinated I’ve spent years researching, reading up on real life cases where recipients have received donor organs, in particular hearts, and inherited some attributes of the donor whether it is a craving for the donor’s favourite food, or, in more extreme cases, speaking a different language after the surgery that the donor could speak, or suddenly being able to play an instrument the donor could play.

Could this really be happening? Is the heart just a pump or is it something more? It wasn’t that long ago the heart was thought to be the centre of all knowledge and wisdom. Is it more than we think?

I desperately wanted to write a novel around cellular memory but I was wary. It is a subject I felt that deserved sensitively handling. Where there is a transplant, there has to be a loss. A grieving family. A recipient who has perhaps been ill for a long period and the impact that has had on their family and friends. I considered all of these points four years ago when I wanted to start writing a novel and I decided I didn’t have the experience to approach a story that included organ donation with the sensitivity it deserved.

Instead I wrote The Sister, a psychological thriller based around a grieving girl and I found that despite the genre of the book I was able to write it with raw emotion and when readers read it and fed back how connected and empathetic they felt towards the characters, I decided to tentatively start to write Jenna’s story in The Gift.

Jenna is a 30-year-old woman who receives a new heart and begins to have disturbing thoughts and dreams. She becomes obsessed with her donor, Callie’s family, and she doesn’t believe Callie’s accident was as innocent as it was purported to be. Jenna is determined to uncover the truth behind Callie’s death, to bring her bewildered parents the closure they deserve, but as she begins to dig and discover the secrets surrounding Callie, she finds there is someone who wants to silence her, at any cost.

The Gift is fiction, and of course as an author I have taken artistic license with the subject of cellular memory and I’m sure readers will understand the need to do this but I hope I have handled the medical aspect and the loss with accuracy and respect.

My family and I have been on the donor transplant list for years. I know it’s not always something families discuss and it has been humbling to receive emails from readers saying after they read Jenna’s story they sat down and discussed their thoughts and wishes with their loved ones. My hope for The Gift is that it can continue to spark conversations about donation and perhaps encourage someone who might not have previously thought about it to sign themselves up to the register. Signing up really could save lives.

The paperback version of The Gift, published by Sphere (Little, Brown) is now available in all good bookshops as well as Asda, Tesco & Sainsburys. The Tesco version includes an additional short story written exclusively for their customers or you can order the paperback, digital or audio version from Amazon here

 

 

My visit to the Bronte Parsonage (aka my husband was right…)

I was overcome with a sense of awe as I stepped into the Bronte Parsonage for the very first time. My husband had sensibly ambled off the nearest coffee shop in search of scones as he thought I’d be hours. ‘It’s not that big, I won’t be long,’ I’d replied. But he was right. I was hours.

There was such a sense of history seeped into the rooms of this house that still feels very much a home with its rich and warm atmosphere. Here lived the writers whose books I had grown up reading, who moved me with their words, who made me fall in love with their characters, whose stories I felt a sense of loss from when I’d finished. The Bronte family came to live at Haworth Parsonage in 1820 when Patrick Bronte was appointed Perpetual Curate of Haworth Church. Tragically Mrs Bronte and the two elder children, Maria and Elizabeth, died within five years.

First off is Mr Bronte’s study. The children had their lessons here and the cabinet piano was played by Emily and Anne. Much of the furniture and possessions in the parsonage did belong to the Brontes and it has been decorated as closely to the original as it can be. In each room are costumes from the BBC ‘To Walk Invisible’ biopic, which, if you haven’t seen I’d highly recommend.

 

In the dining room is the table Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights were written at. Visitors aren’t allowed to touch it (oh how I longed to) but it was stained with ink blots and there’s a small letter ‘e’ carved into its surface. I could almost picture the siblings gathered around the table bouncing around plot ideas.

Mr Nicholas Study – Charlotte converted this room into a study for her husband-to-be in 1854.

 

Kitchen – I believe this is the only room that was structurally altered after the Brontes no longer lived here.

Each evening at 9 Mr Bronte would lock the front door and on his way to bed he’d wind up this Grandfather Clock

Children’s Room – this was a study for the children while they were young and it was here the siblings wrote their early stories and poems.

Father’s Room – It was in this room that Branwell died in 1848.

Branwell’s Room – full of chaos and pieces of writing.

Upstairs, there is an exhibition with displays of manuscripts, first editions and lots of information boards to read. Including letters from Charlotte, firstly submitting her manuscript after 6 rejections “I beg to submit to your consideration the accompanying Manuscript” and later, to her publisher “hoping the public may think pretty well” of Jane Eyre and, later writing “we did not like to declare ourselves women, because we had a vague impression that authoresses were liable to be looked on with prejudice”.

I had such a lovely time and learned such a lot I was loath to leave but on my way out I spotted the children’s craft table and although I didn’t have my kids with me the staff kindly let me join them and I spent a happy half hour making these spoon people who now sit on the shelf above my desk watching (judging) me as I write more books of my own.

I also got the chance to do something really cool while I was at the parsonage, yes even cooler than spoon people, but I’ll share that in another blog very soon.

 

THIS is what inspired my new novel… Guest post by Rebecca Stonehill

 

I’m a huge fan of Rebecca Stonehill’s beautiful writing so when she contacted me to tell me she was releasing a new novel I was super excited. Today I welcome Rebecca onto my blog where she’ll share the inspiration behind her new release, the fabulously titled ‘The Secret Life of Alfred Nightingale’. Over to you, Rebecca!

 

The setting often comes first for me: with my first novel, The Poet’s Wife, I was inspired by my time spent in Granada, southern Spain; The Girl and the Sunbird I knew would be my ‘Nairobi’ novel as this is where I live and I wanted to wind back the clock to find out what it was like in its beginnings as a town.

As for my third novel, The Secret Life of Alfred Nightingale (to be published 11 November 2017), the setting was again integral, but this time, not because I’d ever been there. As a child, one of my favourite pastimes was to heave down one of the heavy albums from my mother’s bookshelf in her bedroom, filled to bursting with photographs. I loved the photos of past family holidays, and my aunts and uncles when they were younger. But, more than any other, there was an album I returned to again and again.

It was from my mother’s travels from around 1967-1968, a period when she hitchhiked from England down to Greece, worked as an au pair in Athens and then travelled on to a tiny village set in a bay in Southern Crete named Matala, a place she found hard to leave. As a child, I was captivated by these sepia-toned photographs. A handful of scantily clad travellers clustered around a series of sandstone caves they slept in. The odd flag flapped outside a cave opening in the breeze and travellers squint into the camera against the fierce Cretan sunlight above a beautiful, deserted beach.

I desperately wanted to go there but, even more importantly, the seed was planted: one day I would set a story there. I had no idea what form this journey would take, but it didn’t matter; this would come in time.

Matala and those photographs from the late 1960’s have never left me. It is only in the past couple of years though that I’ve had the opportunity to develop and mould the story into what it has become. My protagonist is Jim, a handsome, arrogant but troubled eighteen year old from Twickenham who hitchhikes to Matala in 1967 in search of fun, and to escape his repressed parents. What I didn’t want, though, was for this to be simply a 1960’s coming of age story. I knew very little about what happened in Crete during WW2 but, researching it more, a story of how to link the two periods slowly emerged.

I finally made it to Matala during the late summer of 2016, with my mother as well as her sister and friends who also spent time in the caves. It is now a resort and much has changed from those days of long ago. Tourists pay money to visit the caves where the ‘hippies’ once stayed and, going much further back, where people from the Neolithic period buried their dead. But the spirit of Matala remains: a place of freedom, of gently lapping waves and, if you take the time to sit with a coffee and piece of backlava with one of the locals, of numerous stories.

The one I have chosen to tell follows Jim through Europe down to Matala. At first, it’s the paradise he dreamt it would be. But as things start to go wrong and his very notion of self unravels, the last thing Jim expects is for this journey of hundreds of miles to set in motion a passage of healing which will lead him back to the person he hates most in the world: his father.

Taking in the counter-culture of the 1960’s, the clash of relationships between the WW2 generation and their children, the baby boomers, this is a novel about secrets from the past finally surfacing, the healing of trauma and the power of forgiveness.

I’m looking forward to seeing this book out in the world after brewing for more than thirty years!

In Matala, Crete, September 2016 with my mother, cousin, auntie and their friend who they were in Matala with in the Sixties.

 

 

 The caves in Matala in which travellers once slept in, the inspiration for my novel.

 

That sounds wonderful, Rebecca. Thanks so much for sharing the story behind the story. Wishing you the best of luck. 

 

Rebecca can be contacted through her website, on Twitter, or via Facebook. You can sign up to Rebcca’s mailing list here.

You can buy The Secret Life of Alfred Nightingale via Amazon US or Amazon UK. Here’s the blurb: –

A compelling page turner of a buried past resurfacing, set against a backdrop of the 1960’s youth culture and war torn Crete.

1967. Handsome but troubled, Jim is almost 18 and he lives and breathes girls, trad jazz, Eel Pie Island and his best friend, Charles. One night, he hears rumours of a community of young people living in caves in Matala, Crete. Determined to escape his odious, bully of a father and repressed mother, Jim hitchhikes through Europe down to Matala. At first, it’s the paradise he dreamt it would be. But as things start to go wrong and his very notion of self unravels, the last thing Jim expects is for this journey of hundreds of miles to set in motion a passage of healing which will lead him back to the person he hates most in the world: his father.

Taking in the counter-culture of the 1960’s, the clash of relationships between the WW2 generation and their children, the baby boomers, this is a novel about secrets from the past finally surfacing, the healing of trauma and the power of forgiveness.