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!

 

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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.

Soaring High #FlashFiction

Image courtesy of Douglas M. MacIlroy

 

I’m free and yet I’m not. Not in a cage but still trapped by bars of my own making, but they bring me comfort, these bars. They keep me safe. They stop me flying because if I were to flutter my wings where would I go? Who would I be? What’s to stop me falling? The world is so huge and I feel so small. So insignificant.

I screw my eyes up tight, blocking the voices telling me I can, my own telling me I can’t. I try. There’s a shift. A movement and then it happens. I’m rising, soaring, flying. Free.

 

How joyous I was when I saw this perfect prompt. This weekend I conquered a lifelong phobia of public speaking and appeared at the Althorp Literary Festival. You can read how I got on here and see the photos.

 Yesterday I had a great time on the radio chatting about Friday Fictioneers, the way it’s helped me tighten my writing and my love for the WordPress writing community. You can listen to that here.

 Soaring High was written for Friday Fictoneers. A weekly 100 word story challenge inspired by a photo prompt. Read the other entries and join in over at host Rochelle’s blog here.

 

 

 

Why I couldn’t shrug off being trolled.

 

Last Wednesday my third novel The Surrogate was published. The early reviews have been phenomenal, it’s racing up the charts, has been chosen for a special promotion, and after a busy few days I was so very looking forward to spending publication weekend celebrating.

Friday evening, I opened a bottle of wine, settled down to catch up with social media while waiting for a curry to arrive. There was a FB notification for my personal page, a name I didn’t recognise. The post was nasty, vindictive, written to hurt, and it did. Although, to a degree I know it’s inevitable negative reviews will appear on Goodreads and Amazon, this felt as though someone had stepped into my lounge almost and insulted me. My personal space.

Trying to shrug it off I deleted the post, blocked the poster and vowed to tighten my privacy settings hoping that would be the end of it. It wasn’t.

This ‘lady’ in question was a member of numerous reading groups and set out with a vengeance to insult me and my book at every opportunity and online there are LOTS of opportunities.

After a restless sleep I woke Saturday, hoping that by now she’d be bored. She wasn’t. For the whole day post after post appeared. I choose not to comment on any of them which was incredibly difficult as she was now insulting my friends, my publishers, reviewers. Hackles were rising. Responses were made and although I was grateful people were defending me, she now had an audience and boy did she make the most of it.

By Saturday afternoon I was in pieces. Those of you who know me or follow my blog know I started writing as a way to boost my mental health after becoming disabled in my 30’s resulted in clinical depression, and have noticed a gradual increase in my confidence this past year. Finally, settling into my new career, admitting I’m a writer when meeting new people was a huge step. A complete stranger sharing her opinion – however widely – I have zero talent, will never make it as an author, shouldn’t have shattered my already fragile self-esteem but it did. And I felt hugely saddened when she accused me of paying book bloggers for reviews – the bloggers I know all review with honesty and integrity and even if they don’t like a book they are always constructive and kind. I felt terrible for everyone involved, anguishing over what I’d done to upset this woman, convinced that somehow it must be all my fault.

Message after message appeared in my inbox. Readers, writers, bloggers, complete strangers, watching it all unfold, offering their support and those messages combined to make a huge roaring cheer which should have drowned out that one, negative voice, and yet it didn’t.

Remembering my mindfulness practice I spent long periods meditating, accepting my reaction was natural. Scientific studies have shown we all have a negativity bias. Automatically the brain has a greater sensitivity towards the negative, a trait which used to be super helpful in our caveman days. Spotting and responding to the unpleasant, the dangerous, running from those dinosaurs, keeping ourselves out of harms way. Today, the bias is not needed quite so much but evolution has seen it remain, to varying degrees, and as a result things more negative in nature have a greater effect on a person’s psychological state and cognition than positive things.

Sunday I felt calmer but I still felt a rush of relief when I was told she’d been banned from various groups but it was hard not to spend the day anxiously waiting and when a blogger on my tour shared her post in one of the lovely reading groups I belong to I actually felt my stomach twist, waiting for her to pop up again.

My son told me I’ve been trolled. That word to me conjures fond memories. Small children curled on my lap. Goats trip-trapping over a bridge, the comical creature who lived underneath. This felt anything but comical.

Today I’ve woken feeling hugely grateful. I’ve reread the messages of support, my positive reviews and that roaring cheer is now the thing I can hear the loudest.

I’m sat at my desk determined to write some words. After all I am a writer and despite my trepidation at publishing this post, I’m not going to let anyone tell me I’m not.

The Surrogate is currently part of a limited time ebook promotion and is available for £0.99/$1.31 on Amazon, iBooks  Kobo, Google and all digital platforms. You can find it on Amazon here

 

 

 

 

Hooking an agent part I – Sharing my submission letter for The Sister

Writing a book was initially a distraction from the chronic pain I was in, a hobby once I suddenly found myself with severely restricted mobility. Even now, I still remember the utter disbelief and excitement when I realised I had an actual finished novel and it was only then I started to think about putting together a submission package and sending my debut, Buried Memories (later retitled The Sister by my publishers) out into the world.

I devoured books, blogs, Googled endlessly for tips on how to write the perfect submission letter, and word by painful word, crafted my offering, almost editing it more than my manuscript. My palms were clammy as I sent off my first submissions, only to two agents at that time, and sat back to wait the alleged 6-8 weeks I’d read about. To my surprise both agents replied within a few hours, they’d loved my letter, been hooked by my elevator pitch, thought the premise was brilliant and and would start reading straight way. Do keep them informed of any offers. What happened to an 8-week wait? Cue total panic (never sub before your manuscript is ready – but that’s another story).

I’m no expert, and neither do I claim to be, but I’ve a few friends at the moment who have reached submission stage and so for them, and everyone else putting together a package, I wanted to share my letter. I do hope it’s helpful.

Next week, for Part II, I’ll be joined by fabulous literary agent, Rory Scarfe, of Furniss Lawton with his guidelines to giving your submission letter a head start.

Good luck to all those subbing!

 

Dear

I enclose the first three chapters and synopsis of my domestic noir novel, ‘BURIED MEMORIES’ a book about a grieving girl who thought there was nothing as frightening as being alone – she was wrong. The novel is complete at 80,000 words.

‘I’ve done something terrible, Grace. I hope you can forgive me.’ Grace Matthews, an anxious young woman is devastated when her best friend, Charlie, dies and feels that until she discovers the meaning behind Charlie’s last words, she cannot move forward. As Grace becomes sucked into the mystery surrounding Charlie’s family, her association with them, especially with Charlie’s sister Anna, threatens to destroy Grace’s career, relationship and ultimately, end her life. Grace’s hunt for the truth forces her to confront the childhood she desperately wanted to forget and she realises she can’t trust anyone, especially those she loves.

I am submitting to you because

This, my debut novel, began life as a flash fiction piece in a writing group challenge last year. I was given three words and ten minutes and the bare bones of Chapter One was born. I couldn’t sleep that night for thinking about Grace and Charlie and felt compelled to write their story. I’ve written non-fiction for various publications and websites for several years. I’ve had a column in Holistic Therapist Magazine (LJ’s Journal) since April 2012 and was a contributor to Tiny Buddha’s 365 Love Challenges (HarperOne/Harper Collins.) I attend writing workshops, evening classes and retreats whenever I can – I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning; show me a literary festival and I’m there! I’m currently working on my second novel, ‘Second-hand secrets.’

Kind regards,

 

Louise Jensen

A day in the life of…debut author Nicola Cassidy & COVER REVEAL

This is such an exciting time for Nicola Cassidy. I remember the huge excitement blended with nerves as I prepared to release my debut. One of the things I was hugely looking forward to was seeing my first cover and I know Nicola felt the same – look how gorgeous her cover is! She’s understandably thrilled.

 

So, Nicola. It’s such a busy time for you. Please tell us about a typical day.

I’m not sure when my day begins. Is it at 7.30am when the eldest appears, hovering at the bedside, pawing at my head or arm, requesting ‘juice’ at intermittent pitch levels until I waken and acknowledge her and tell her to shush or she’ll waken the baby? Or is it at the 3am feed? For the six-month-old? She comes into the bed, snuffling and mooching, ready for milk, animalistic and hungry – my favourite form of her – her at her most basic, needing me the most.

The 3am feed, could be 4am or another one at 5.30am. There are no long stretches of sleep. I’m not even programmed to take them, should they, in a night of miracles, appear. I’ve never been a good sleeper. Everything wakes me. Mostly worries – stresses that loom in the dark, rendering me wide eyed and tired, tossing and turning, willing sleep to cover the gaping problem that stretches across my mind. Always worse, in the dark, in the pre-dawn.

Writing, is probably, a form of therapy. I could always write. It was just there. It was picked up quickly, by my teachers, by my parents – who encouraged it. I had pen pals, I had letters and stories printed, I was a mini journalist before I even knew a journalist was.

It took a time to craft it in such a way that it fit into my life. Properly. Space made. Time given. Using those lofty words about myself – writer. And now, author.

My days are dictated by the structure of our small village, creative lives. My husband is a musician and producer and works late hours. I need to let him sleep, in the mornings, which means getting up with the children, no matter how many times I’ve been up in the night. Currently I’m on maternity leave, so I feel obliged to be with the children, all of my time.

Soon, I’ll return to work, three days a week at an electrical engineering consultancy, and I fear the tiredness that can be covered with cups of tea among the squalor at home, will descend into exhaustion at work. But I’m energised by people. I like the routine. I like having to be presentable, engaging, and my work as a marketing manager, teaches me many skills that I put to use in my promotional work as an author and in my hobby, as a lifestyle and parenting blogger at http://www.LadyNicci.com

I hope returning to work will put a routine on the chaos that is being a stay at home Mum. I might find it easier to write. I work better when my time is limited and structured. I am strict – if I have an hour to write, I will take it, regardless of what else needs to be done.

I have learned to write anywhere. It used to be only at my desk, which I installed in our spare room and set up in an Ikea inspired brochure quality weekend. Now I prefer my bed, beside the sleeping baby, cosy and settled, tapping away on my purple laptop, a gift from my husband who has always believed in my writing. In me. In my success.

On the days at home, there are thousands of jobs to be done. I don’t make a good housewife. I would love to live in a showhouse, but I seem to be missing the part that can make that happen. I envy homes I go into where everything is in place, organised, candlelit. I’m learning though. I’ve started using a launderette and soon, we’re hoping to hire a cleaner. I need to give the time to writing – to understand that my time will be better spent, producing words and editing than scrubbing the floors or the bathroom again.

On my days with the children, we might visit a playground, or family, or meet with friends, or go to town, shopping. Carting two small children around is no easy feat. Some days it takes two hours to load us all into the car, fed, washed and dressed. But I always feel better getting out. They get bored at home.

In the evenings I cook a family meal. I thank Slimming World for teaching my how to cook. I’m trying to be strict, to rediscover the figure I once had. But two babies in three years and a penchant for wine, crisps and all things chocolate usually lay waste to my skinny plans.

I’m thinking about the book launch. About the photos. About how I want to look my best. I plan on having a big party – an event to mark my dreams coming true. We had a huge white wedding, but I was overwhelmed – I couldn’t enjoy the day. This is my second chance. At celebrating. At marking what is a significant time in my life. I’ve wanted to publish a book since I was a child.

Late evening, if we manage to get the baby settled, we will watch a programme we are currently following. We like gripping TV dramas, House of Cards, Mr Robot, Game of Thrones – anything with a good script. I will watch fantasy, but I don’t read it. I like literary fiction, particularly if it’s set in the past. It inspires me – I hope to one day achieve such a level in my writing.

On the nights when my husband is working, I will take my laptop out again. I’ve had to stop writing at night, because of exhaustion; I don’t have the energy to be coherent. But I might blog or do some marketing, or email friends or do some online shopping. I rarely watch TV on my own. I see it as a waste of time. Time is precious. Free time, time that is yours to do what you wish, is so rare.

When my book was picked up and I knew that I would be working with a professional editor, I thought that I would be facing into a type of deconstruction – my words pulled apart, everything examined, changes imposed. But it hasn’t been like that at all. The whole thing has been an enhancement, facts checked, issues resolved, a massage of the manuscript, to be turned out, sharper; something I can stand over, proud.

Every night, since I signed with my agent in 2016, I visualised myself signing a book contract, just before I went to sleep. It was my version of counting sheep. I knew it would happen. I just wasn’t sure when, or how.

Now, I am unsure what to visualise. Sometimes it is the launch. Other times it’s a ranking on Amazon. But rankings don’t have quite the same visual effect as being offered a book deal. Nothing really can compare to that.

And then the baby is awake again. It’s 3am and the cycle of my day begins again. Children, home, work and writing. It is my life. A very lucky, lucky, life.

I’m in awe of anyone who even manages to get dressed with a new baby in the house, let alone write books! Thanks so much for sharing, Nicola and best of luck with your debut. 

Nicola Cassidy is a writer and blogger from Co. Louth, Ireland. Her debut historical fiction novel December Girl releases on Thursday 26 October 2017, published by Bombshell Books. She is married to Ronan and is Mum to August (3) and Bonnies (mere months). Find her on her website or follow her on Twitter or on her blog