The BIG editing lesson I learned writing The Surrogate #WritingTips

Today is the UK paperback publication of my third psychological thriller, The Surrogate (US paperback publication will follow later this year).  Although I’ve learned from every book, it was this one in particular where my editor gave me a piece of advice that has always stayed with me.

When I shared with my sister that I’d be writing a book about surrogacy she told me that she though the subject was too limiting. That the story would be predictable. I was determined to prove her wrong.

The Surrogate features Kat and Lisa, childhood friends, and Kat’s husband, Nick. They are all keeping dark and damaging secrets. I never plan when I write. I had a vague idea of who might be bad and who might be good but as I got deeper into the story the characters pulled me in unexpected directions. The plot became more complex than anything I thought I was capable of constructing.

As the ending gathered pace I layered twist upon twist, they tumbled onto the page as they tumbled out of my head, until finally the story reached its dramatic conclusion.

Nervously, I sent it over to my editor.

‘This is a phenomenal story’ her feedback began, ‘but…’ my heart sank ‘you’re not giving your twists time to breathe.’

I wasn’t entirely sure what she meant until I reread my manuscript. There wasn’t time to process each revelation before another one hit. It had been exhausting writing it. It was equally exhausting reading it. Rather than the pacy, hard hitting ending I thought I’d written it was confusing, lurching from one reveal to another.

She suggested taking out several twists which I was reluctant to do, so I set about rewriting the end.

For the twist she’d classed as ‘the big one’ I ensured I had no other reveals in this chapter. For other twists I moved a couple so they were away from the end. For most I lengthened the chapters so they weren’t so crammed together, particularly the epilogue which contains several.

Rereading it, I could see the difference. There was time to rest back, to process the turns of the story before it once more turned on its head.

There’s nothing I like more than pulling the rug from under the readers feet. To lead them to think they’ve got it all figured out when they haven’t. My stories always contain multiple twists. Now I’ll always give them time to breath.

You can read the opening of The Surrogate here and buy it on your local Amazon here. It is also now available in Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s & all good book shops.

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My new book covers & news!!

 

I’m thrilled to share with you the refreshed cover for The Surrogate. It’s been given a pink make-over by Sphere in preparation for its autumn paperback publication and I think it ties in with The Sister beautifully.

The story of Kat and Lisa is one which explores their past and present and how guilt, shame and the desire for revenge can destroy the strongest of friendships. The characters in this book were so wilful they took me in a completely different direction to the one I had envisaged, even throwing in three twists on the final page I certainly hadn’t seen coming!

I’m so proud of The Surrogate which has given me the best reviews of my career to date, and I can’t wait for it to soon reach a wider audience via supermarkets and bookshops. In the meantime, it can be found on Amazon here.

I also wanted to share the Norwegian cover for The Gift. I’ve currently nineteen foreign publishers and while a lot of those have used the original artwork some have designed versions to suit their market. This cover is definitely my darkest yet!

Very soon I’ll be sharing why I chose to write about Face Blindness (Prosopagnosia) for my forthcoming psychological thriller, The Date,   and I’ll be interviewing Hannah, the young lady who inspired my story, who has the severest case of Face Blindness in the UK. You can subscribe to my YouTube channel here to catch the interview and preorder The Date which will be published on 21st June via Amazon here.

This summer I’ll also be sharing my publishing journey, the books I love and writing tips at various locations (and on-line). Keep an eye on my events page here.

 

 

 

“Introverts can’t succeed.” (Says who?)

Last night, we had the first parent’s evening at my son’s new secondary school. My son is hardworking, conscientious and worries needlessly about getting into trouble. As with his primary, I was expecting glowing reports praising good grades and excellent behaviour.

I was right. To an extent.

The first teacher we saw reaffirmed how bright he was. How he’s working at a higher level. How well mannered and good natured he is. Kind to his fellow classmates and always considerate of others.

So far so good.

‘But.’ His teacher frowned, and sadly shook his head. ‘There is a big problem.’

My son’s eyes met mine and I saw panic slide across his face.

‘What’s the problem?’ I asked.

A lengthy sigh. ‘He’s quiet.’

‘And?’

‘That’s an issue.’

‘That’s his nature.’

‘We have some big personalities and frankly some disruptive students. He needs to speak up and make himself heard.’

‘Why?’

‘Because you never get anywhere in life being an introvert, do you? If you want to succeed you have to learn to shout loudly.’

Umm. I’m an introvert and seem to have done quite well thank you, as has his father.

This set the pattern for the rest of the evening. Out of 11 teachers, 5 told him he had to be louder. More confident. Be something that he isn’t, because of course when you’re shy and insular someone telling you to be loud and confident is exactly what you (don’t) need.

Outside, in the car, I told my rather forlorn twelve year old that I was immensely proud of him. He has been predicted A’ grades in almost every subject and his behaviour is exemplary. But more important than all of that, I told him that I loved him completely exactly the way he is and that he should never, ever feel that being quiet and introverted is a character flaw. Indeed if he follows his dream career path of becoming an author being insular will serve him well. After all, who’s ever heard of an extroverted writer?

A day in the life of author…Tracey Scott-Townsend

Hmm writing in a ‘shed’ with no wi-fi distractions may be the key to being more productive. Tracey, do share more about your day.

 

For a good deal of my writing life (which began full-time in 2010) my office has been a shed in the garden. As it happens I’m currently packing up my shed in preparation for a house move so I’m having to work in the house. I find this distracting, due to my two captivating rescue dogs wanting my attention so much of the time. I also have other intrusive business going on at the moment, mostly stemming from the house sale.

At our new home in Hull I’ve created a cosy ‘shed’ by dividing an alcove off from the main part of the spare room. I hope I feel secure and isolated (in a good way) in there in the same way as I do going out to a dedicated space in the garden.

But let’s imagine for now that I`m still working in my shed – it’d be a shame not to show you around. My mini-palace is no ordinary garden shed. I have electricity and a wood stove and rugs hanging in there. I have photos of my kids on the bookshelves and one or two of my old paintings on the walls, too. Research notes and reference photos are also pinned up under the window, along with a calendar on which I mark the daily progress of my writing. In winter I have the stove burning merrily with the copper kettle coming to the boil on its flat top.

My day begins with a catch up on social media before I exit my bed. The first task downstairs will be to provide `strokey time` for the dogs, who act like they haven’t seen me for a year. Then I need to give Luna her Turmeric paste, followed by her YuMove tablets and her anti-inflammatory medicine. She’s less than 2 years old but she has severe hip dysplasia. I`ll probably need to wipe down the kitchen after my 18-year-old daughter has blasted through it. She’s my youngest of four and about to leave home as her brothers have already done, so I’m much more indulgent with her than I was with the others! I try to leave any other housework tasks until outside of work hours but sometimes it’s difficult to ignore them.

I always describe the feeling of closing the shed door behind me and sitting at my desk as like childhood visits to church. Okay, I’m not saying my shed is holy or anything but the atmosphere inside is to me kind of spiritual…

If I’m working on a new novel – which I am at the moment, only my progress has been interrupted by all this house moving business – I set myself a word-count target of 2,000 – 3,000 per day. I divide the target into more-or-less equal portions so that I know what I need to achieve in each session and I must reach the targets before I allow myself to take a break. (Even if I’m writing absolute drivel. Absolute drivel can be improved later.) I can also work out roughly how long it’ll take me to complete the first draft of a novel by sticking to the daily target. My novels are usually around 80,000 words long. Not that I won’t end up getting rid of at least one-third of it during the second draft but at least it’s a reason to keep going at the outset. Spending two years working as a secondary school teacher really helped me with targeting and time-management.

During my breaks I return to the house, check on the dogs and generally move around a bit. Quite possibly I’ll be forced to pick up a snowstorm of stuffing from the latest cushion or soft toy disembowelment! I have a cup of tea and/or my lunch. On a sunny day I leave the back door open so the dogs can come and go in and out the house all day. I might have my shed door open while I’m working as well. I often prepare the evening meal early in the day, during one of my breaks. Back in the shed for another thousand-word session I feel refreshed, as though I’m beginning a new working day. If it’s going to get dark early I might take the dogs for their walk during my afternoon break, but at the moment while it’s light until nine I tend to take them out after work. A daily walk (two in the winter when it’s no fun for my husband to take them out in the pitch-dark early morning) is essential to me both physically and mentally. I’m lucky in that I live near a riverbank, a large, wooded park and a hilly common so I have plenty of opportunity to commune with nature. I’ll need to walk further to commune once I’ve moved permanently into our house in Hull. My walk talks a minimum of half an hour.

An advantage of working in the shed is the lack of Broadband because if I’m really good and leave my phone in the house I get a lot more writing done.

My husband comes home about six and that’s also my official work-finishing time. If I’m tantalisingly close to my target but not quite there I take a little extra time in my shed. He’ll most likely offer to take the dogs out for me if I haven’t done it yet – but that’s not really as good a thing as it sounds as I won’t then get the exercise I so badly need… but sometimes you can’t fit in everything! I much prefer working in my shed to being in the house because once I’ve typed the daily word-count I close the laptop and zip it into its bag. Then I lock the shed door after me and return to other business. Having the shed makes writing so much more like actually going out to work. I’m never distracted by housework in my shed.

I tend to spend the whole time that I’m preparing, cooking and serving the evening meal talking about my characters and their fictional world while Phil listens patiently. Or possibly he’s not listening at all. When I was writing my first novel, The Last Time We Saw Marion, I used to read a chapter to him every night in bed. I soon realised he was falling asleep a few pages in. Pity I didn’t try that on my children when they were little!

After dinner I like to make sure I’m up to date with email correspondence and then have another catch-up on social media. I like to watch a drama programme in the evening so if there’s nothing on TV I select something from catch-up or Netflix. I’ve recently watched complete series’ of Raised by Wolves, based on the childhood of Caitlin Moran, Peaky Blinders, which I was introduced to by my son and I’m now working my way through Orange is the New Black.

 

 

Thanks so much Tracey for sharing your day. We have the same taste in TV! You can find Tracey’s blog here and buy her books on Amazon here. 

Novel writing – creating that hook – Author Live Chat

 

On Sunday at 8pm GMT I’ll be over on Facebook doing an Author’s Live Chat for The Fiction Cafe. I’ll be discussing the importance of beginnings and creating that hook when you write. In preparation, I’m sharing the opening of my latest psychological thriller, The Surrogate, today.

Whether you are a writer, or a reader, do come over and join us. It will be lots of fun and I’ll also be giving away signed books.

Later

There is a rising sense of panic; horror hanging in the air like smoke.

‘They’re such a lovely couple. Do you think they’re okay?’ says the woman, but the flurry of emergency service vehicles crammed into the quiet cul-de-sac, the blue and white crime scene tape stretched around the perimeter of the property, indicate things are anything but okay. She wraps her arms around herself as though she is cold, despite this being the warmest May on record for years. Cherry blossom twirls around her ankles like confetti, but there will be no happily ever after for the occupants of this house, the sense of tragedy already seeping into its red bricks.

Her voice shakes as she speaks into the microphone. It is difficult to hear her over the thrum of an engine, the slamming of van doors as a rival news crew clatters a camera into its tripod. He thrusts the microphone closer to her mouth. She hooks her red hair behind her ears; raises her head. Her eyes are bright with tears. TV gold.

‘You don’t expect anything bad… Not here. This is a nice area.’

Disdain slides across the reporter’s face before he rearranges his features into the perfect blend of sympathy and shock. He hadn’t spent three years having drama lessons for nothing.

He tugs the knot in his tie to loosen it a little as he waits for the woman to finish noisily blowing her nose. The heat is insufferable; shadows long under the blazing sun. Body odour exudes from his armpits, fighting against the sweet scent of the freshly cut grass. The smell is cloying, sticking in the back of his throat. He can’t wait to get home and have an ice-cold lager. Put on his shorts like the postman sitting on the edge of the kerb, his head between his knees. He wonders if he is the one who found them. There will be plenty of angry people waiting for their post today. ‘Late Letter Shock!’ is the sort of inane local story he usually gets to cover, but this… this could go national. His big break. He couldn’t get here fast enough when his boss called to say what he thought he’d heard on the police scanner.

He shields his eyes against the sun with one hand as he scouts the area. Across the road, a woman rests against her doorframe, toddler in her arms. He can’t quite read her expression and wonders why she doesn’t come closer like the rest of them. At the edge of the garden, as close as the police will allow, a small crowd is huddled together: friends and neighbours, he expects. The sight of their shocked faces is such a contrast to the neat borders nursing orange marigolds and lilac pansies. He thinks this juxtaposition would make a great shot. The joy of spring tempered by tragedy. New life highlighting the rawness of loss of life. God, he’s good; he really should be an anchor.

There is movement behind him, and he signals to the cameraman to turn around. The camera pans down the path towards the open front door. It’s flanked by an officer standing to attention in front of a silver pot containing a miniature tree. On the step are specks of what looks like blood. His heart lifts at the sight of it. Whatever has happened here is big. Career defining.

Coming out of the house are two sombre paramedics pushing empty trolleys, wheels crunching in the gravel.

The woman beside him clutches his arm, her fingertips pressed hard against his suit jacket. Silly cow will wrinkle the fabric. He fights the urge to shake her free; instead, swallowing down his agitation. He might need to interview her again later.

‘Does this mean they’re okay?’ asks the woman, confusion lining her face.

The trolleys are clattered into the back of the waiting ambulance. The doors slam shut, the blue lights stop flashing and slowly it pulls away.

From behind the immaculately trimmed hedge, hidden from view, he hears the crackle of a walkie-talkie. A low voice. Words drift lazily towards him, along with the buzz of bumblebees and the stifled sound of sobbing.

‘Two bodies. It’s a murder enquiry.’

 

You can find The Surrogate on Amazon here and The Fiction Cafe on Facebook here. See you on Sunday!

 

A day in the life of… writer Misha Herwin

Always interest in writer’s habits this post by Misha sharing her writing habits really resonated with me. Oh how I’m used to those 3 am sessions! Misha, what does the rest of your day hold?

I love the way my day can start and end at any time. I can wake at three in the morning, my brain teeming with ideas and sneak out of bed, snug in a fleecy dressing gown, into my cold office, switch on my computer and begin. On mornings like this the story flows, my fingers can scarcely keep up and by the time my husband has woken up and brought me a cup of tea I have the greatest feeling of satisfaction.

The tea is pretty good too. Hot and fresh, it’s the kick start to getting showered and dressed.

On other days, I’m the one sneaking downstairs to make tea, so that I can get my five hundred words written while husband sleeps. Sitting at the keyboard, writing, is exhilarating.

I don’t stop to edit or think, just let the story carry me along and I always finish half way through a sentence, so that it is easy to pick up the thread again next day.

This writing exercise may, or may not, have anything to do with my work in progress, but over the years, I’ve found it is essential to keeping my creativity flowing. What’s good too, is that since no one is going to see what I’ve written, anything goes.

That’s another thing I love about writing. Those first drafts, can and will be rubbish, but unlike any other job, no one need ever see them. In fact, there are probably very few mistakes a writer ever needs to own. Most horrors can be buried deep on the hard drive, or deleted so that they vanish without trace.

Once I’ve flexed my writing muscles, I look at my emails. Mostly good stuff, sometimes even an acceptance for an anthology that will send me whooping with delight to tell Mike and anyone else who might be remotely interested the news. The rejections I keep to myself, to be mulled over in private.

Next FB and Twitter. I haven’t really mastered (or should that be mistressed?) Twitter, but I love FB. I’ve re-connected with family members and old friends and could spend most of the day reading and commenting on posts.

If I’m scheduled to write a blog, this is when I will do it. Then it is time to concentrate on my current novel. Whether I’m writing or editing, there will be a great deal of getting up and moving around as I wrestle with a scene that doesn’t work, or a phrase that clunks, or a word that doesn’t seem quite right. If I’m really stuck then I’ll go for a walk and when the problem is resolved you can see me, standing in the middle of the street, or leaning on a wall, scribbling away in my notebook.

Before I’ve ventured out into the world, I’ll have put on my make-up. Even if I’m sitting at my desk, I hate to look like some creature that’s crawled out from beneath the earth. Once I’ve got my mascara, eyeliner and foundation on, then it is back to the writing.

Or, a cup of coffee and the crossword.

More writing might follow, or it might not. There are friends to see, reading and drama group to attend or family to visit.

Woven into the fabric of my day, is the mundane stuff of life, like ironing, hoovering and worst of all dusting. Boring jobs and yet if you write Women’s fiction, like I do, these are the background to the lives and loves and hopes of my characters.

At the end of the day, there is supper and a glass of wine. I try to switch off from work, but if a story is going round in my head, I might have to grab a pen and write it down. The evening, if not spent with friends, will be watching TV, a film, or reading.

I can’t go to bed without a book and there is always a pile on my chest of drawers, plus, of course, my night note book, in case I wake at three in the morning and can’t quite make it to the computer.

Thanks Misha. My chest of drawers looks a bit like that too! You can buy Misha’s latest book here and find her blog here

 

The Bronte Parsonage – My (very) Small Part in Wuthering Heights

I had the most fabulous time at the Bronte Parsonage recently in beautiful Keighley which you can read about and see the photos here.

During my visit I got the chance to take part in something very special. Artist Clare Twomey is inviting visitors to participate in recreating the manuscript of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, as the original manuscript has never been located. At certain times of the day visitors are invited to copy one line from the novel, using a Wuthering Heights pencil (they get to keep) whilst sitting in Emily’s former home.

There was a great sense of occasion in Mr Nicholls’ Study (Charlotte Bronte’s husband) as we waited patiently for our turn. A sense of camaraderie as we discussed, as we queued, what the Bronte novels had meant to us. It was a real coming together of strangers, bonding over a love of literature.

The completed book will be exhibited at the Bronte Parsonage during 2018 to celebrate the bicentenary of Emily Bronte’s birth. The recreation is to honour Emily’s achievement and celebrates her contribution to English Literature through the act of writing.

The whole visit was such an emotional experience – I can’t wait to visit again.