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.

 

 

 

 

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Sometimes #FlashFiction

Image courtesy of CEAYR

 

Sometimes I wonder if it would have made a difference if you’d told me somewhere else. Somewhere beautiful. Whether sitting cross legged next to the bubbling stream, sunlight dappling the water would have softened the blow. Do you remember our picnic there? Warm breeze kissing our skin, your lips kissing my neck? It was perfect until we opened the picnic hamper. Wasps buzzing around our sandwiches, ants marching towards the jam jar.

Sorry, I’m drifting. That always did annoy you, didn’t it? But did the ugliness of our surroundings coax those ugly words out of your mouth? I still wonder. Sometimes.

 

It’s been a week for celebrating! The Gift was listed in Amazon’s half yearly trends report as the third biggest selling ebook of 2017 so far and Sphere (Little, Brown Book Group) shared the exciting news they will be republishing The Sister on August 24th and it will be available in retailers for the first time. You can read my post about that here. It’s been an incredible year and I’m so grateful. I wouldn’t have honed my writing without Friday Fictioneers. 

‘Sometimes’ was written For Friday Fictioneers. A weekly 100 word story challenge inspired by a photo prompt. You can join in over at host Rochelle’s blog here.

The Gift is the 3rd biggest selling ebook of 2017!

A super quick post to say a huge thank you to everyone who has read, recommended and reviewed The Gift.

I’m stunned and delighted my second book has been named in Amazon’s half yearly trends report as the 3rd biggest selling ebook of 2017 so far. As The Gift was released in 2016 I never dreamed it would get a mention at all. It was a lovely surprise. It’s been a phenomenal year and I’m really so grateful.

Thank you x

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.

A day in the life of… author & writing school founder Chantelle Atkins

 

Today I welcome Chantelle Atkins to my blog who as well as writing books runs a writing school. It’s heartwarming to share Chantelle’s passion for life – she really is living her dreams. Over to you, Chantelle.

Like many writers, I can’t rely on my writing income to pay the bills, but I am fortunate, because my other jobs are just as much fun as writing. I’m a self-employed dog walker and pet sitter, and I also run my own writing based business; Chasing Driftwood Writing Group, which provides creative writing clubs and workshops to adults and children in my local area of Christchurch, Dorset. If you include writing, I technically run three self-employed businesses, and although I don’t think any of them will ever make me rich, I do feel immensely lucky to be doing so many things I enjoy and am passionate about. My dreams when I was a child were to work with animals and be a writer, so to be as busy as I am right now, feels like a dream come true. However, with four children to juggle aged between 3 and 14, I do struggle at times to get it all right! I’d like to tell you about a typical day in my life, which is today, Monday.

Morning. I’m up at 6.45 which is a bit of a lay in, as it’s the summer holidays so there is no school run. I’m actually up before the children, so enjoy breakfast and a cup of tea in peace! I feed my dogs and let the chickens and ducks out, and then I have to grab my 3-year-old son and get him dressed as we have some pet sitting duties to see to. Leaving the other kids asleep, we leave the house at 7.45 to drive down the lane to feed a neighbours guinea pigs. From there we drive further down the lane to pick up a dog for dog walking. After that, we also feed her and the resident cat and drive back home. My almost 15-year-old is up by now so she looks after my son while I take our own dogs out for a walk. There is just enough time for a coffee before my mum turns up to look after everyone, while me and my eldest child go to my writing club at a local hall. I normally do kids workshops every school holiday, but this time I am trying something new with a weekly, pay as you go writing club. So far, we have covered comic books, and using local maps to inspire stories! The next few weeks will also involve FanFiction and poetry and song! I absolutely love working with young people like this. I used to be a childminder, so starting Chasing Driftwood was an amazing way to combine working with kids with my passion for writing. An hour later, we are back home, but I only have time to let my daughter out of the car, while I drive off to another dog walking job.

Afternoon. After a gorgeous walk down by the river, I’m back home for lunch and a well deserved cup of tea with my mum and the kids, and my sister who has dropped by with her bunch. We haven’t seen each other much lately, so enjoy a really good catch up and gossip! They leave around 4pm, and I drag three of the kids out for a walk with our dogs down to the little river at the end of our lane. Bliss. At the moment, I am preparing for the release of my 6th novel (YA dystopian adventure called The Tree Of Rebels) whilst also putting the final touches to another novel. However, every time I leave my house and explore my local area of Hurn, I have another story in my mind. I have a four book YA post-apocalyptic story planned and I am just bursting with it. I can’t write it yet, but it’s just getting louder and louder, and every time I walk around this area, I come up with scenes and bits of dialogue. I am forever tapping into my phone as I walk!

Evening. I don’t usually get to do any real writing until my youngest is in bed. If I am lucky I might get the chance to look at my emails throughout the day, but that will be it. Once he is asleep though, the evening is mine, and I grab it hungrily. Writing is in my head all day, so much so that I am often extremely distracted and prone to making silly mistakes, like turning up on the wrong day for something. I’ve always been like this. My mum used to say I lived in my own world, and my nick-name was ‘cloth-ears’ because I rarely paid attention to anything anyone said to me. Now, I find it a struggle sometimes, to keep the house running and the animals sorted and the kids happy, find a way to earn money AND fit my writing in. I manage to do it all, just! The evening is lovely because I make a nice cup of tea, sit up in my room and let rip. At the moment, I am editing what will hopefully be the last draft of a novel called Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature. I am doing bits and bobs to prepare for the release of The Tree Of Rebels, and I am always planning my weekly blog posts. As a self-published author, I am doing everything myself, so need to dedicate a certain amount of time to building my author platform and networking with people. I have to say, I love every moment of it all! Currently, I am also going through the process of turning Chasing Driftwood Writing Group into a Community Interest Company, so that I can better access funding for all the writing based ideas I have! There is always planning in process for my workshops, which I run for kids and adults at various times, and my clubs. I am strict about actual writing though. Although it is editing right now, I commit myself to four chapters a night, no matter what. I do two chapters before I even look at emails or social media, then have a bit of a break to do other things, and then do the next two chapters. Being strict like this is the only way I get things done. I can’t wait to get these next two books out! They’ve taken two years of working on them simultaneously to get them right. After that, I will go back to another YA novel I have at third draft stage, and once that one is done, it will be time for the four book series I mentioned.

I love everything I do, and although there are a lot of ups and downs and uncertainties, I can’t see myself ever doing anything else. I have a lot of plans for the future, and just hope I can hold it all together well enough to succeed!

 

I’m exhausted just reading all that! Thanks so much for sharing, Chantelle.

Chantelle’s latest release, The Tree Rebels will be published on 11th August, you can find it here

Chantelle Atkins was born and raised in Dorset, England and still resides there now with her husband, four children and multiple pets. She is addicted to both reading and music, and is on a mission to become as self-sufficient as possible. She writes for both the young adult and adult genres. Her fiction is described as gritty, edgy and compelling. Her debut Young Adult novel The Mess Of Me deals with eating disorders, self-harm, fractured families and first love. Her second novel, The Boy With The Thorn In His Side follows the musical journey of a young boy attempting to escape his brutal home life. She is also the author of This Is Nowhere, This Is The Day and has recently released a collection of short stories related to her novels called Bird People and Other Stories. Chantelle has had mulitiple articles about writing published by Author’s Publish magazine, and is also a reviewer with Underground Book Reviews. Her next novel, a YA dystopian is due for release August 2017.

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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.