Prologue – The Stolen Sisters & does your novel need one?

I began writing my debut, ‘The Sister‘, for fun. It was meant to be a short story. I hadn’t written any fiction as an adult and I hadn’t any qualifications other than a clutch of GCSE’s. I never believed I could write a book. I had always thought that to be a published novelist you needed a wealth of experience and a degree in creative writing.

When it got to the point that my ‘short story’ had reached 90k words I began to tentatively hope I could edit it to a high enough standard where I’d dare to submit it. Out of my depth, I was so grateful when a writer I met at an event offered to read the opening 3 chapters for me. I didn’t check where she was published, or how she was published. The fact she was in print led me to believe she knew absolutely everything.

Her overriding feedback was that my prologue was a huge mistake, ‘”readers hate them, agents hate them and publishers hate them. If you submit something with a prologue it won’t be read.”

I felt my face burn with embarrassment. I didn’t know the rules and I’d been found out for the imposter that I was.

Immediately I deleted my prologue, but now, several books on and with over a million copies sold I’m familiar with most of the rules and (whispers) here’s the thing. There aren’t any.

That writer, as it turned out, was right that ‘The Sister‘ shouldn’t have a prologue, but not for the reasons she said.Her overriding feedback was that my prologue was a huge mistake, ‘”readers hate them, agents hate them and publishers hate them. If you submit something with a prologue it won’t be read.”That writer, as it turned out, was right that ‘The Sister‘ shouldn’t have a prologue, but not for the reasons she said.

The prologue wasn’t needed. It didn’t serve a purpose and in a novel, every single scene, every single word needs to earn its place, prologue included. After The Sister spent two months at No. 1 I found the confidence to include a prologue in my second psychological thriller, ‘The Gift‘, because no matter what that writer said about people hating prologues, I don’t and first and foremost I’m a reader. I don’t write one for every book because not every story warrants one.

So how do I decide when to use one? ‘The Stolen Sisters’ (currently 99p in the Amazon Kindle Deal) is my latest thriller and I’ll use it as an example, I’ve included the prologue below.

Prologue

When Carly looked back at that day the memory was in shades of grey; the trauma had sucked the blue from the sky, the green from the freshly mown grass. She had sat on the back doorstep, the coolness of the concrete permeating through her school skirt, the late-afternoon sun warming her bare arms. Carly remembers now the blackness of a beetle scurrying down the path before it disappeared into the soil under the rose bush. The stark white of the twins’ socks, bunched below their knees.

Inconsequential details that later the police would jot in their notebooks as though Carly was somehow being a great help but she knew she wasn’t, and worse than that, she knew it was entirely her fault.

It had all been so frustratingly normal. Leah and Marie had shrieked in mock disgust as Bruno, their boxer, bounded towards them, drool spilling from his jowls. But their screams then still carried an undercurrent of happiness, not like later when their cries were full of fear and there was nowhere to run to.

The things that have stayed with Carly are this. 

The way her fingers gripped the cumbersome Nokia in her hand as though she was clutching a secret. Her annoyance as she angled her screen to avoid the glare, never dreaming that soon she would be craving daylight. 

Fresh air. 

Space. 

The pounding in her head increasing as the girls bounced a tennis ball between them across the patio. The way she had snapped at the twins as though it was their fault Dean Malden hadn’t text her. Of all the things that she could, that she should, feel guilty about, she had never forgiven herself that the last words she spoke to her sisters before they were all irrevocably damaged was in anger rather than kindness.

Although in truth, she had never forgiven herself for any of it.

‘Shut up!’ She had roared out her frustration that the first boy she loved had shattered her thirteen-year-old heart. Crazy now to recall that she once thought the absence of a text was the end of the world. There were far worse things. Far worse people than the floppy-haired blond boy who had let her down. 

Her younger sisters turned to her, identical green eyes wide. Marie’s sight trained on Carly’s face as she chucked the ball for Bruno. Carly’s irritation grew as she watched it fly over the fence.

‘For God’s sake.’ She stood, brushing the dust from the back of her sensible pleated skirt. ‘It’s time to come in.’

‘But that’s not fair.’ Marie looked stricken as her gaze flickered towards the fence.

‘Life isn’t fair,’ Carly said feeling a bubbling resentment that at eight years old the twins had it easy.

‘Can you fetch our ball, please, Carly?’ Marie pleaded.

‘Fetch it yourself,’ Carly snapped.

‘You know we’re not allowed out of the garden on our own until we’re ten,’ Marie said. 

‘Yeah, well I’m in charge today and I’m saying you can. It’s not like we live in a city. Nothing ever happens in this dump.’ Carly was sick of living somewhere so small where everyone knew everyone else’s business. Where everyone would know by tomorrow that Dean Malden had rejected her. ‘Be quick and shut the gate properly.’ 

She turned and pushed open the back door, stepping into the vast kitchen that never smelled of cakes or bread. It never smelled of anything except freshly roasted coffee. Carly clattered her phone onto the marble island and yanked open the fridge door. The shelves that were once stocked with stilton and steak and that had groaned under the weight of fresh fruit and vegetables, were woefully bare. There was nothing except a shrivelled cucumber and some out-of-date hummus. It was all right for her mum and stepdad out for the evening at yet another corporate function. They spent more time on the business than with their children nowadays, although Mum had assured her it wouldn’t be for much longer. She’d soon be at home more but in the meantime it was left to Carly to sort out tea again. She had loved her half-sisters fiercely since the day they were born but sometimes she wished mum still paid the retired lady down the road to babysit but since Carly had turned thirteen mum felt that she was responsible enough. 

She sighed as she crossed to the shelf above the Aga and lifted the lid from the teapot. Inside was a £10 note. Chips for tea. She wondered whether the money would stretch to three sausages or if they should split a battered cod.

Minutes later the twins tumbled into the kitchen.

‘Yuck.’ Leah dropped the tennis ball coated with slobber into the wicker basket where Bruno kept his toys.

‘Wash your hands,’ Carly snapped as she checked her phone again.

Nothing.

What had she done wrong? She had thought Dean liked her.

Marie perched on a stool at the breakfast bar, swinging her legs, the toes of her shoes thudding against the kick board. How was Carly supposed to hear her text alert over that? Marie had her chin in her hands, her mouth downturned; she hated being in trouble. Carly could see the way her lip trembled with upset but she couldn’t help yelling again.

‘Shut. Up.’

Marie slid off the stool. ‘I . . . I left my fleece in the garden.’

Carly jerked her head towards the door in a go-and-get-it-gesture before she clicked on the radio. The sound of Steps flooded the room. Marie paused and momentarily their sisterly bond tugged at them all. ‘5, 6, 7, 8’ was one of their favourite songs. Usually they’d fall into line and dance in synchronicity.

‘Let’s do this!’ Marie flicked her red hair over her shoulders and placed her hands on her hips.

‘It’s childish,’ Carly snapped although inside her shoes, her toes were tapping.

‘It doesn’t work unless we all do it.’ Marie’s voice cracked. ‘We have to be together.’ 

Carly pulled the scrunchie she’d been wearing like a bracelet from her wrist and smoothed her long fair hair back into a ponytail. The twins got into position. Waited. Carly reached for her phone and tried to ignore the pang of meanness that flitted through her as the smile slipped from Leah’s face. Marie’s small shoulders rounded as she headed back outside.

Minutes later she raced back in, socked feet skidding across the tiles, tears streaming down her freckled cheeks. ‘Bruno’s got out. The gate was open.’

‘For God’s sake.’ Carly could feel the anger in her chest form a cold, hard ball. It was one of the last times she ever allowed herself to truly feel. ‘Who shut the gate?’

Marie bit her lower lip. 

‘I did,’ said Leah, slipping her shoes back on. 

‘You’re supposed to bang it until it latches, you idiot. You know it’s broken. Three times. You bang it three times.’

The girls pelted into the garden, calling the dog’s name. 

Marie hesitated at the gate. ‘Perhaps we should wait—’ Under her freckles, her skin was pale. She’d been off school yesterday with a stomach-ache and although she’d gone back today, she didn’t look well. Carly knew she should ask if she was feeling okay but instead she shoved her roughly into the street. ‘It’s your fault, Marie. You search that way.’ She pointed down the avenue lined with beech trees. 

Marie grabbed Leah’s hand.

‘No,’ Carly snapped. ‘Leah can come with me.’ The twins could be silly where they were together and she had enough to worry about without them getting into trouble.

‘But I want . . .’ Marie began.

‘I don’t care what you want. Move.’ Carly grabbed Leah’s arm and led her in the opposite direction, towards the cut-through at the side of their house which led to the park.

It all happened so quickly that afterwards Carly couldn’t remember which order it all came in. The balaclava-clad face looming towards hers. The forearm around her neck, the gloved hand clamped over her mouth. The sight of Leah struggling against arms that restrained her. The scraping sound of her shoe as she was dragged towards the van at the other end of the alley. The sight of Marie, almost a blur, flying towards the second man also clad in black, who held her twin, pummelling him with her small fists. 

‘Stop! You can’t do this! Don’t take her. I don’t want you to take her!’

The soft flesh compacting against hard bone as Carly bit down hard on the fingers that had covered her mouth.

‘Run!’ she had screamed at Marie as the man who held Leah grabbled to find something of Marie’s he could hold onto, clutching at her collar, her ginger pigtails, as she dodged his grasp.

‘Run!’

I decided to use a prologue for this story, not only because it’s an instant hook, but because I wanted to begin twenty years before I started the story proper. There was vital information I wanted the reader to know. The girls are snatched in the prologue but Chapter One immediately move on to the girls as adults and we learn they were returned without any abuse. As a mother the only way I could write about missing children was if we know straight away that the girls were safe and the prologue enabled me to do this. We do, as the novel prgoresses, delve back into the past where we see, not how the girls were taken, but why and in the present it’s all about what happens when their abductor reappears on the twenty year anniversary of their abduction.

To read more of the Sinclair sisters’ story download the digital version of the book for just 99p for a limited time only across all digital platforms. You can find The Stolen Sisters on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, Google books & Waterstones.

It’s also a Fern Britton book club pick and a special edition with extra content is available at Tesco. You can also find ‘The Stolen Sisters’ at Asda, shortly at Sainsbury’s and as an audiobook on Audible.

Two of my other books (with prologues!) are also in Amazon’s October sale. Download ‘The Gift‘ or my Amelia Henley debut love story with a twist ‘The Life We Almost Had.‘ (you can read the prologue for this here.)

Giveaways! Live Launch – The Stolen Sisters! Free Books!

Next week – next week!! I can’t believe it’s almost publication day for my 6th psychological thriller – The Stolen Sisters.  The early reviews have been AMAZING with readers calling it my best book so far. The Sinclair sisters, Leah, Marie and Carly really hold a special place in my heart and I can’t wait to share more about them over the next few weeks, as well as the creepy real life location the story is set in.

For now I’d like to invite you to my Facebook and IG online launch, next Wednesday at 8pm GMT. My wonderful publisher, HQ Stories/Harper Collins, have donated some brilliant prizes which I’ll be giving away during the launch. If you’re a Facebook user pop over to the event here and enter the draws or you can also find them on Insta here. I’ll also be giving away something extra on the night.

Fortnum & Masons have generously donated one of their fabulous hampers which you can be in with a chance to win if you pre-order (or have already pre-ordered) the book. Check out their competition here.

While I’m here I’ll mention that my debut love story with a big twist ‘The Life We Almost Had’ (written under my pen name Amelia Henley) is currently 99p on Amazon and across all digital platforms.

I’m so touched by the love readers have shown Adam & Anna and by the press coverage.

‘Intriguing, unusual & intensely romantic’ Sunday Mirror

‘A love story with a definite difference . . . intensely emotional’ Best

‘Beautifully written & plotted. Get ready for the final chapter – you have been warned’ Candis

It was a dream come true to spot in on a shelf in Tesco while I was doing my shopping. Trust me, there was a HUGE smile behind my mask.

If you want to read about the unimaginable lengths Anna has to go to in order to have a second chance at first love with Adam  download “The Life We Almost Had’ from Amazon, iBooks, Kobo or Google. It is NOT a typical love story.

A second chance at novel writing – What would you wish for?

In my debut love story with a twist, Adam and Anna can’t envisage life without each other but the universe has entirely different plans for them. After a tragedy forces them apart they long to be together once more and fix their damaged relationship. ‘The Life We Almost Had’ is a story of hope, regret, courage and loyalty and explores the immeasurable lengths the couple will go to for a second chance at first love, even when the consequences of finding each other once more are potentially life shattering. This is not a typical love story but sometimes, just sometimes, the seemingly impossible can become possible in the most unexpected way.

Publishing this book is a dream come. As a child I longed to be an author. I was obsessed with mysteries, devouring Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven books, writing my own series called ‘The Fantastic Five’ (**not copied at all**) and illustrating them with stick men drawings. It was when I read Little Women though that my vague hope to be published transmuted into a fierce desire. I wanted to take readers through the spectrum of emotions I had felt when reading Louisa May Alcott’s classic. I wanted readers to root for my characters, to celebrate their highs but more than any of that, I wanted to make them cry. My reviews so far have been stunning. Readers have really fallen for Adam and Anna in a big way, loving them as much as I do, and have thankfully been fascinated by the unusual concept.

It almost didn’t happen.

I remember with clarity, sitting in front of my careers advisor at school, holding out my dreams, hoping she’d help me make them come true.

She didn’t, and worse than that she laughed. People like me didn’t become writers apparently. I had no higher education. No contacts in publishing. It would be impossible for me to break into the world I longed to be part of and even if I did, she told me I would never be able to earn a living from it.

I carried my shattered dreams and my shattered heart outside and although I didn’t initially just give up, I was at a loss to know how to fulfil my ambition. There wasn’t the internet then to research the steps I could take. I asked in libraries, bookshops, colleges. I did everything I could… except actually write a book which seemed fruitless.

It was over twenty years later that my life changed in an instant. A car accident exacerbated a pre-existing health condition, as well as causing new damage, and I could no longer weight bear, reliant on a wheelchair and crutches to move around. Chronic pain was my constant companion and it didn’t take long for clinical depression to set in too. As well as losing my mobility I lost my identity, I wasn’t sure who I was, what I could do. I had spent years building a career which had fallen apart.

It was my spinal consultant who suggested I get a hobby. Try to forge a new life. Initially I couldn’t think of what I could do, my previous pastimes of horse riding and running no longer possible but then I remembered how much I used to love writing and tentatively I put pen to paper.

Writing Adam and Anna has been cathartic. It’s a hugely emotional story and through the characters, I’ve worked through many of my own complicated feelings – letting go of the life I almost had, and embracing the one I have.

My mobility will never be the same as it was, second chances sometimes come at a price, as Adam and Anna discover during the story, but I’m so glad I got one, being a full time author really is a dream come true.

If you could have a second chance at something, what would it be?

The Life We Almost Had‘ is currently 99p across all digital platforms. Download it from Amazon, iBooks, Kobo or Google.

As well as on Amazon, you can find the paperback in Tesco, or Waterstones or support your local bookstore. Book stores are always happy to order in a title they don’t have in stock.

Book Clubs – The good, the bad & the boring… #reading

I love discussing books. All of my novels have book club questions at the back and writing questions that I know will spark interesting discussions is such a joy.

I’ve always been an avid reader. As a child I was the only one in my family who read, my friends didn’t seem to share the same intense love of books that I did and subsequently I always felt a little… odd.

After having children, some of the other mums at the school gate suggested forming a book club and I was overjoyed. Every fortnight, for three hours I’d be able to talk about plot, characters, twists. I couldn’t wait.

What actually happened was we met in a bar. Whoever chose the book would say ‘it was ok,’ most people hadn’t read it and then we’d drink and talk about our kids. We had some good nights but…

When I moved to a new area I googled ‘book clubs’ and much to my joy I found one. I emailed the organiser who, after asking me a lot of questions, invited me along to the next session. I immediately bought their current read and when it came curled up in an armchair determined to finish it before the meeting.

It. Was. A. Slog.

I’m all for broadening my horizons and reading outside my usual genres but on the first page alone I had to look up multiple words in the dictionary and that carried throughout the novel (I don’t use the word story here because I wasn’t convinced there was one).

I went along to the group, clutching my paperback, looking forward to meeting new people and hearing what they thought. They had A LOT of thoughts. I needed my dictionary again. I sat miserably nursing my cooling coffee (“we may meet in a pub but we don’t drink alcohol while we’re discussing literature, Louise”) and I felt out of my depth, stupid. Lonely. I never went back.

It’s taken years but finally I have found a book club full of members who are friendly, welcoming and love reading as much as I do. Surprisingly it’s online which I always thought would feel detached but, over time, I’ve got to know a lot of the members who I now class as friends. This Facebook group, The Fiction Café, is run by Wendy Clarke who is one of the nicest people I have met (and this group do physically get together for events when they can). I’m in awe of her and the admins who put in hours tirelessly running author live events and buddy read alongs. My only fault with this group is that every time I drop by I end up buying recommendations and my TBR pile is out of control!! If you’re a book lover of any genre do check them out here.

Also, a shout out to Book Connectors run by super blogger Anne Cater. This group is a mixture of bloggers, authors and readers and I love reading the bloggers book posts about forthcoming releases they have already had the chance to read. There’s also some interesting discussions about publishing in this group. Anne doesn’t stand for any nonsense and it feels like a very safe space to speak. You can find Book Connectors here.

My publisher HQ, Harper Collins, is currently hosting an online book club every Thursday afternoon. This Thursday I’m the featured author and will be talking about my newly published debut contemporary fiction book ‘The Life We Almost Had’ written under my penname Amelia Henley. With my research taking me from Lanzarote to Magdalen College in Oxford where I studied neuroscience there’s LOTS to talk about with this very unusual love story.

If you haven’t read the book yet you can buy it this week for 99p across all digital platforms – links below. If you buy the Kindle version (or have already bought it) you can add the audiobook for just £3.47.

Do give it a read and join my Thursday at 3pm GMT on my Facebook author page and I’ll be answering all your questions. Here’s a link to the prologue if you want a taster.

The Life We Almost Had‘ is currently 99p across all digital platforms during August. Download it from Amazon, iBooks, Kobo or Google.

You can preorder the paperback from Amazon or Waterstones prior to its 3rd September release or support your local bookstore. 

Prologue – The Life We Almost Had

I do love a prologue (and writers you can read my previous post on whether to include one in your book here).

I’m delighted to share the opening of my debut contemporary fiction novel, ‘The Life We Almost Had,’ published under the pen name ‘Amelia Henley.’ I’ve absolutely loved writing Anna and Adam’s love story with a twist. (You can find it on Amazon here for just 99p right now).

 Prologue

Seven years. It’s been seven years since that night on the beach. I had laid on the damp sand with Adam, his thumb stroking mine. Dawn smudged the sky with its pink fingers while the rising sun flung glitter across the sea. We’d faced each other curled onto our sides, our bodies speech marks, unspoken words passing hesitantly between us; an illusory dream. Don’t ever leave me, I had silently asked him. I won’t, his eyes had silently replied.

But he did.

He has.

My memories are both painful and pleasurable to recall. We were blissfully happy until gradually we weren’t. Every cross word, every hard stare, each time we turned our backs on each other in bed gathered like storm clouds hanging over us, ready to burst, drenching us with doubt and uncertainty until we questioned what we once thought was unquestionable.

Can love really be eternal?

I can answer that now because the inequitable truth is that I am hopelessly, irrevocably, lost without him.

But does he feel the same?

I turn the possibility of life without Adam over but each time I think of me without him, no longer an us, my heart breaks all over again.

If only we hadn’t…

My chest tightens.

Breathe.

Breathe, Anna. You’re okay.

It’s a lie I tell myself but gradually the horror of that day begins to dissipate with every slow inhale, with every measured exhale. It takes several minutes to calm myself. My fingers furling and unfurling, my nails biting into the tender skin of my palms until my burning sorrow subsides.

Focus.

I am running out of time. I’ve been trying to write a letter but the words won’t come. My notepaper is still stark white. My pen once again poised, ink waiting to stain the blank page with my tenuous excuses.

My secrets.

But not my lies. There’s been enough of those. Too many.

I am desperate to see him once more and make it right.

All of it.

I wish I knew what he wanted. My eyes flutter closed. I try to conjure his voice. Imagining he might tell me what to do. Past conversations echo in my mind as I search for a clue.

If you love someone, set them free. He had once told me but I brush the thought of this away. I don’t think it can apply to this awful situation we have found ourselves in. Instead I recall the feel of his body spooned around mine, warm breath on the back of my neck, promises drifting into my ear.

Forever.

I cling on to that one word as tightly as I’d once clung on to his hand.

I loved him completely. I still do. Whatever happens now, after, my heart will still belong to him.

Will always belong to him.

I must hurry if I’m going to reach him before it’s too late. There’s a tremble in my fingers as I begin the letter which will both an apology and an explanation, but it seems impossible to put it all into words – the story of us. I really don’t have time to think of the life we had – the life we almost had – but I allow myself the indulgence. Memories gather: we’re on the beach watching the sunrise; I’m introducing him to my mum – his voice shaking with nerves as he said hello; we’re meeting for the first time in that shabby bar. Out of order and back to front and more than anything I wish I could live it all again. Except that day. Never that day.

Again the vice around my lungs tightens. In my mind I see it all unfold and I feel it. I feel it all; fear, panic, despair.

Breathe, Anna.

In and out. In and out. Until I am here again, Pen gripped too tightly in my hand.

Focus.

I made a mistake.

I stare at the words I have written so intently that they jump around on the page. I’m at a loss to know how to carry on when I remember one of the first things Adam had said to me ‘start at the beginning, Anna.’

And so I do.

Speedily, the nib of my pen scratches over the paper. I let it all pour out.

This is not a typical love story, but it’s our love story.

Mine and Adam’s.

And despite that day, despite everything, I’m not yet ready for it to end.

Is he?

The Life We Almost Had‘ is currently 99p across all digital platforms during August. Download it from Amazon, iBooks, Kobo or Google.

You can preorder the paperback from Amazon or Waterstones or support your local bookstore. 

 

Choosing the right location for a novel – writing

An important decision any writer needs to make is where to set your novels. The right location can really highlight the genre and set the mood. There are advantages of using a genuine place; readers who are familiar with it can instantly place themselves in the location, and disadvantages; landscapes can change so quickly and if you get any of the details wrong this can be jarring.

For my early novels where locations didn’t matter to the story so I kept things deliberately vague, never naming a town or stating exactly where it was supposed to be. Name generators on Google were my friend although this almost backfired once after naming a village ‘Therinsborough’. My editor immediately flagged this with a ‘Didn’t you ever watch Neighbours, this sounds very close to Erinsborough, Louise….’

My latest two novels however, are a little different. For my forthcoming psychological thriller, ‘The Stolen Sisters’ I use the location where the Sinclair Sisters, Leah, Marie and Carly, are taken and held captive almost as another character. The description of the abandoned site where they are held adds another chilling layer to their story and really creates a dark atmosphere. To find the perfect location, I spent hours trawling through urban explorer sites and watching YouTube videos until I stumbled across the perfect place. Here I could envisage these three young sisters huddled together, cold and scared, but also telling stories and making up games to support each other through their ordeal. The stark, cold, decay of their rooms contrasting with the warmth of their loving relationship which shines through the pages. I’ll be sharing these real life photos closer to the 1st October publication.The idea for my debut contemporary fiction novel, ‘The Life We Almost Had’ came to me in Lanzarote. I was gazing out to sea and, in my imagination, I saw a shocking scene play out before my eyes, like a movie. Instantly I knew I had to write the unusual story I had imagined.I wanted to base the novel on Lanzarote but as this love story has a futuristic element I needed to build a Scientific Research Centre on the north of the island and so I renamed my island Alircia (although I still secretly call it Lanzarote). I use the blue skies and sparkling seas to paint a warm and loving picture. We’re with the couple as they fall in love and visit the tourist attractions that I also visited – (using a real location has the added bonus of research trips!) – the house of writer Jose Saramago, the lava caves, Jameos del Aguo, the markets and of course, the place where the story circles back to, the beautiful cove at Playa Blanca where couples fasten lovelocks.I was so utterly invested in Anna and Adam’s love story with a twist that I bought them a lovelock even before I had even put pen to paper.When Anna and Adam return to the UK things get drab and bleak, much like the weather. Life throws them on to an unexpected path. Both keeping secrets, they return to their beloved Alircia to try to fix their fractured relationship but a tragedy forces them apart. Will they take the ultimate risk for a second chance at their love.You’ll have to read the book to find out!

The Life We Almost Had‘ is currently 99p across all digital platforms during August. Download it from Amazon, iBooks, Kobo or Google.

You can preorder the paperback from Amazon or Waterstones or support your local bookstore. 

Pre-order ‘The Stolen Sisters’ here.

Both books are available as ebooks, audiobooks and paperbacks.

 

 

How do writers research? My top 10 tips!

 

One of the things that put me off writing a book for years (other than fear of failing, fear of making a fool of myself, fear of being terrible at writing and shattering my author daydreams) was the research. How did writers know all the things that went into their books? I guessed that high profile authors, perhaps had police contacts on speed dial to check out procedures but what about the rest of us? Those starting out? What happens when Google just doesn’t cut it?

Writing ‘The Sister’, I shied away from including anything I didn’t know much about which left…. very little content. I had to reach out to experts and the thought terrified me.

I remember, with clarity, the way my hands shook, palms sweated, as I made my first call to the fire department to ask for their advice (and no, I didn’t ring 999 claiming a plot emergency) tentatively explaining I was writing a book and wanted to be as accurate with the details as I could. I was told someone would call me back. Despondent I hung up, sure I’d never hear from anyone. Later that afternoon my phone rang, a man introducing himself as Chief Inspector and my heart skipped beat, certain I was about to be arrested for wasting time, but he was lovely and helped enormously. His advice changed the whole scene and he worked on the detail with me until we were both happy.

I realised then that most people are happy to talk about the things they have a passion for and knowledge of. Since ‘The Sister’ I’ve spoken to numerous people about various things – the concept of cellular memory for ‘The Gift’ (a heart retaining memories of its donor so the recipient knows things they shouldn’t…) Prospagnosia (Face Blindness) for ‘The Date’, surrogacy and law for ‘The Surrogate’, brainwashing for ‘The Family‘ and kidnapping for the forthcoming ‘The Stolen Sisters‘.

One of the most interesting things I have researched is neuroscience for my latest publication ‘The Life We Almost Had’ which is my debut contemporary fiction novel published under my pen name ‘Amelia Henley’. I’d become fascinated with consciousness and, for fun, I wanted to write a story set in current times but to expand on scientific elements for part of the plot (and yes I know this sounds vague but I don’t want to give spoilers).

I called up Magdalen College in Oxford and explained what I was doing and they invited me to sit in on some lecturers. I met some of the world’s leading experts in their field and I found it so enjoyable so much so that I’ve been looking into formally studying science in some capacity.

There’s a danger, when authors research, that they want to put everything they’ve learned into the story because they’ve spent so much time learning and because they’ve found everything so interesting and this is something I definitely had to bear in mind with ‘The Life We Almost Had.’ At it’s heart, it’s a sweeping love story and I often found myself cutting out technical explanations that I knew some readers would find boring, and getting back to Adam and Anna’s tangled relationship.

Writing ‘The Life We Almost Had‘ took me to Lanzarote where much of the story is based. Research trips are great fun sometimes so much so I forget to do the actual research…

Here are my top tips for researching: –

  • Take the time to choose who you think can best help you carefully, for instance there are many different types of lawyers, doctors etc.
  • Approach people respectfully – I never ask questions in my initial email but rather ask if they’d be willing to answer questions and I let them know roughly how many or how much time I think I’d need for a phone chat.
  • Don’t fire off the same email to dozens of people asking for help and waste people time if they all reply.
  • Plan ahead so you can continue writing while you wait for a response. Appreciate people are busy and they might not get back to you straight away.
  • Also make sure you have your questions ready before you ask for help. For the book I’m currently writing I emailed a charity, assuming that because of the pandemic they might not have the time or staff to get back to me at all and they called me five minutes later and I wasn’t prepared!
  • Don’t include everything you’ve learned however interesting, ask yourself ‘does the reader need to know this and does it move the plot forward’.
  • Blogs are a great place to find people who want to talk. I found many transplant patients this way who were happy to share their experiences with me.
  • Remember that although books are entertainment as a writer you are dealing with experiences that people have lived through. Be kind. Be sensitive.
  • Don’t assume everyone wants to be in the acknowledgements. After someone had helped me I mentioned in passing I’d thank them at the end of the book and they asked me not to as they didn’t want their boss to know they’d divulged information.
  • It’s okay to take artistic license to suit the story but I always state in my acknowledgements if I’ve done this (in ‘The life We Almost Had’ I credit a neuroscientist but mention I’ve had to progress science to fit my story.)

The Life We Almost Had‘ is currently 99p across all digital platforms during August. Download it from Amazon, iBooks, Kobo or Google.

You can preorder the paperback from Amazon or Waterstones or support your local bookstore. 

Find my psychological thrillers on Amazon here.

All books are available as ebooks, audiobooks and paperbacks.

Publication day & it isn’t quite what I’d thought…

 

Ever since I read Little Women as a child I’ve dreamed of publishing an emotive story that will make readers cry…. that day has come! My debut contemporary fiction novel, ‘The Life We Almost Had‘ (written under my pen name Amelia Henley) is landing on people’s kindles RIGHT NOW across the UK (other countries to follow). Although the early Netgalley and blogger reviews have been amazing it’s still a nerve wracking time for a writer. It sounds mean but each time a reader has emailed me to say the story made them cry I’ve been secretly pleased.

Launching a debut during a pandemic has meant there have been no promotional events, no physical book launch, and many stores right now are only taking stock from established writers but these are small issues comparatively speaking and I feel so grateful to everyone who has worked so hard behind the scenes to keep producing books during these unsettled times. I take great comfort in fiction, as I know others do too.

I’d had the idea of Adam and Anna’s emotional love story while I was on holiday in Lanzarote but as I was already contracted to writing thrillers I tried to put it out of my mind.

I couldn’t.

Their story was so unusual it was impossible not to think about it and so I decided to write it in my spare time. (Full time job – writing. Hobby – writing. I really am quite boring…). There was such a sense of freedom exploring their relationship which has so many twists and turns, without a contract I didn’t have to think about the confines of genre or how commercial it was.

My research took me from Lanzarote to Magdalen College in Oxford where I studied consciousness and neuroscience (did I mention this isn’t a typical love story) and if I’d a publisher waiting for it I might have been hesitant about incorporating technology into my story but I followed my heart and wrote the book I’d love to read and I am immensely proud of it.

I feel so blessed that when it was finished my editor loved it and offered to publish it even though I wasn’t entirely sure what genre to describe it was – ‘At it’s heart, it’s an epic, heart wrenching love story,’ she said and it is. One filled with hope, loyalty, courage and friendship that asks how far you’d go for a second chance at first love.

It will be hard letting go of Adam and Anna and this story which was inspired by, and dedicated to, my wonderful brother-in-law Glyn who we sadly lost during lockdown, 2 days before my paperbacks arrived I wish he were here to see his name on the dedication page and know how much he meant to me. I shall be raising a glass to him tonight on this bittersweet day.

These are such strange times we are living in. Stay safe and keep reading.

Louise x

The Life We Almost Had‘ is on Amazon here as an ebook, paperback and audiobook or support your local bookstore who can order a copy in. (Paperback Publication 4th September).

 

The paperbacks I didn’t want to hold…

A couple of days ago my dreams came true when a big box arrived from Harper Collins publishers. I knew it was my debut love story, ‘The Life We Almost Had’ which publishes this July under the pen name ‘Amelia Henley’.

“But that’s not your name”, says Granger.

As this is a completely different genre for me my editor wanted to keep this strand of publishing separate to my thrillers (of which a new one, The Stolen Sisters, is coming soon…)

Usually, I’d unbox my books within seconds but, because of the virus, I cautiously left them by the front door until this morning.

The cover is beautiful and I couldn’t be prouder of this unusual love story featuring Adam and Anna, characters who will always stay with me. This novel is, in part, set on a Spanish Island based on Lanzarote which is one of my favourite places in the world. It’s a story of love, loyalty, hope and courage and asks how far you’d go for a second chance. The risk Anna takes could have potentially devastating consequences…

I’m thrilled that early reviews have been so positive and I can’t wait to get this story into the hands of readers. The ebook and audio will be published next month, with the paperback coming in September. All available to preorder now in the UK from Amazon here, or from your local bookshop.

Here’s the blurb: –

This is not a typical love story, but it’s our love story.

Anna wasn’t looking for love when Adam swept her off her feet but there was no denying their connection, and she believed they would be together forever.

Years later, cracks have appeared in their relationship. Anna is questioning whether their love can really be eternal when a cruel twist of fate delivers a crushing blow, and Anna and Adam are completely lost to one another. Now, Anna needs Adam more than ever, but the way back to him has life-changing consequences.

Is a second chance at first love really worth the sacrifice? Anna needs to decide and time is running out…

6 years writing – 10 books written – here’s what I’ve learned

 

Six years ago this month, following a drastic change in health circumstances, which had led to years of chronic pain, and clinical depression I knew for the sake of my mental health I needed to find a hobby. With limited mobility, there wasn’t much I could think of but then I remembered how much I’d loved writing as a child, how I’d had a burning desire to become an author until I was told at secondary school this wouldn’t be a viable career option.

I decided to try writing a short story.  Two characters came to mind, Grace and Charlie, lifelong best friends. The story begins with Grace digging up a memory box that the girls had buried several years before on Grace’s sixteenth birthday. Grace hopes to the box might contain a clue to explain Charlie’s last words before her mysterious disappearance – “I’ve done something terrible, please forgive me.”

My short story soon became 90k words of a (terrible at that stage) novel but I’d fallen in love with the girls, with their story of friendship and loyalty and courage and I rewrote and rewrote until it was ready to submit. I’m eternally grateful a publisher took a chance on my psychological thriller – The Sister – and turned my hobby into a full-time career.

Now, just six years on I am writing my tenth book. (Five have been published, two are due for publication this year and two for next year and I’m working on something new). I’ve sold well over a million copies, been translated into twenty-five languages, and although I can’t, of course, speak for every writer I wanted to share my opinions on some of the things I have learned along the way.

1)        Write the book you’d love to read. It’s so tempting to try and follow market trends and write a book you think has more of a shot of being published. Don’t. Market trends change so quickly you’ll always miss the boat. You spend such a long time with a manuscript I think if you’re writing something you genuinely love and are passionate about it shines through the finished product. Although my thrillers have been hugely successful I’ve also started writing high concept contemporary fiction in a different genre under the pen name ‘Amelia Henley‘ because I had a story in my heart I couldn’t let go. (You can read more about writing the story you want to rather than the story you should in a previous post, here)

2)        Don’t follow the rules. They are endless and who made them up anyway? Use common sense – if you write a 300k word romance it’s unlikely to be published but don’t be afraid to trust your gut. Prologues, for example, are often the source of much debate and I wrote a recent post on my opinion, which you can read here.

3)        Don’t compare yourself to others. This. Is. Soul. Destroying. (Not just in writing but in every aspect of life). There are always going to be people you aspire to and that’s a good thing but constantly comparing yourself to others is stressful and nothing stifles creativity like stress. The writer that’s shouting about a new deal on social media – be happy for them – your time will come and you don’t know what they are dealing with in their personal life. Rarely are things as glittery and shiny as they appear online. The writer that’s written 5k words today and is SO HAPPY – doesn’t affect your progress at all, it only changes the way you feel about it. Most writers I know write far quicker than me but it doesn’t matter. I write, on average 1000 words a day but I edit as I go (see No. 2 – I don’t follow rules) and am generally very satisfied with the quality I produce. Every word builds a sentence, every sentence a scene, every scene a chapter, and then, eventually, you’ll have a book. It isn’t a race.

4)        You won’t run out of ideas. This used to terrify me ALL OF THE TIME. I’d see writers online (and back to number 3 here) and worry that they have notebooks full of ideas and I had one – ONE – that I’d be working on. So far, when I’m coming to the end of a first draft, or shortly after, another idea will start to brew but until then I have no idea what I’ll write next. My brain can’t seem to cope with thinking of more than one thing at once and that’s okay. Ideas will come when you least expect it. (Read my previous post on ‘Where do ideas come from’ here.)

5)        Don’t force the words to come. We hear much in the writing rules (see no. 2) about how writing should be a ‘discipline’ and we ‘must’ write every day. To me this sounds like a punishment and writing above all else should be enjoyable. It is important to try and form a routine and not to wait until inspiration strikes (spoiler – it doesn’t always strike) but sometimes forcing yourself to sit in front of a blank page is demoralising. If I’m stuck on a plot point I step away from my computer. I go for a swim and 99% of the time the words will begin to flow again once I’ve had a break.

6)        Don’t sweat the small stuff. Punctuation and grammar. Here’s my confession (whispers) I don’t know what an abstract noun is or a concrete noun is or why I shouldn’t use them together. This was one of the first things a copy editor pointed out I was doing wrong. I’m still not entirely sure. I try hard with my drafts, I chuck the odd semi-colon in to prove I’ve made an effort but I get things wrong as we all do. It makes me sad when I receive emails from people telling me they want to write but they can’t because they are dyslexic or feel they are too uneducated and can’t get to grips with grammar and punctuation. Of course, polish your manuscript as much as you can but the MOST important thing is you have a good story to tell with strong characters. There are proofreaders, copy editors, beta readers, even friends and family who can help iron out any niggles. Don’t let worry about the final touches to a manuscript put you off writing one.

7)        Don’t become obsessed with the charts. If you’ve published a book it’s so tempting to be constantly hitting the refresh button to see where you chart on Amazon. Don’t.  Become. Obsessed. The Amazon charts are a complicated beast comprising of Kindle Unlimited, Prime Reading, Kindle Firsts etc. which all count towards chart positions so a high chart position doesn’t always necessarily equate to straightforward sales. Remember, stress stifles creativity.

8)        You can’t please every reader. If you’ve got a book out there you’re going to be tempted at some stage to read reviews and it’s human nature that you’ll gloss over the good ones and the bad ones will lodge in your mind. My debut, The Sister very quickly sold over half a million copies and I read every single review and tried to please every single one of those reviewers while I was writing my second book – The Gift. I sped up the pace, slowed down the pace, put in more twists, reduced the number of twists, tied myself in knots. You just… can’t.

9)        Celebrate EVERY LITTLE success. This is SO IMPORTANT. Remember, that writer on social media who is having the Best. Time. Ever. They’ve had knockbacks too. We all have. It’s an industry of unavoidable lows, which makes it even more important to appreciate every single good thing that happens. Those successes will keep you going through the inevitable low times and throughout those low times never lose hope. Things can turn around when you least expect it.

10)      Don’t be embarrassed to call yourself a writer. Don’t be ashamed to want to make a living out of it. This is something I struggled with enormously for a very long time. Looking at my shoes and mumbling vaguely whenever anyone asked what I did for a living. Be proud. Don’t use the term ‘aspiring writer’ if you write, you’re a writer. Also there’s a weird thing (and I’ve been guilty of it myself) where some writers feel they have to say they write for the love of it and not for financial recompense and while you do have to love writing to write there’s nothing wrong with ambition. I have a mortgage to pay and children to feed and this is how I chose to do it. You can read about the moment I finally felt like a ‘real’ writer here.

My latest psychological thriller – The Family – is currently 99p across all UK digital platforms. Download a copy from Amazon here (back to paying my mortgage and feeding my children…)

Thank you!