Lockdown – How my reading & writing habits have changed – #AuthorLife

Laura & Tilly are confined to their cult

My latest thriller is called ‘The Family’. It’s the story of Laura and her daughter, Tilly, who are indoctrinated into a cult. It’s set in a remote part of Wales and at the time of writing I had to rely on my imagination to put myself inside the heads of Laura and Tilly. How might they feel to lose their freedom, almost overnight? To be confined to the farmhouse and the surrounding land the cult reside in? To be forced to spend each and every day with exactly the same people? I crafted my story with the sense of feeling trapped, of claustrophobia.

Laura’s and Tilly’s tale, as well as being terrifying is also an emotional one so every now and then I’d step away from my computer and out into the bright sunshine. Meet friends for lunch. Go for a swim. Before returning to Laura and Tilly who were still trapped in the same place, with the same people.

Now of course, in these unsettling and uncertain times we live in it isn’t too much of a stretch to empathise with Laura and Tilly. To feel what they are feeling, and as someone who suffers with acute anxiety these feelings are both uncomfortable and unwelcome.

At the start of lockdown I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t read. I certainly couldn’t write.  At best I felt a constant low-level anxiety: scared for my family and friends; daunted by homeschooling; worried about our income, a shortage of food; the list was endless: at worst I felt a heavy dread which rendered me unable to focus.

Like everyone, I have been through tough times before so I did what I always do, increased my mindfulness practice. Meditating three times a day instead of once. Writing in my gratitude journal each morning and night instead of solely before bed, and gradually my tumultuous emotions began to settle.

I began to read again, choosing, not one of the many proof thrillers I am sent, but carefully selecting something that wouldn’t feel like work. I picked Louise Hare’s ‘This Lovely City,’ and for the first time, in a long time, my reading mojo came back. I lost myself in her story, her characters and for a while, I was able to forget, and that’s what a good book can do – transport you somewhere else entirely. Now I’ve started Tom Ellen’s ‘All About Us,’ which I’m equally enjoying.

My cosy reading corner in my study

I itched to write again, but what? I am waiting for my edits for my thriller which is publishing next year and also for my second contemporary fiction story written under the pen name ‘Amelia Henley.

My desk is (mostly) tidy…

The logical part of me knew I should write another thriller. Until my debut contemporary fiction book ‘The Life We Almost Had’ is released in July I don’t know whether there will be a market for future Amelia Henley books but as always, I had to follow my heart and write the story I’d loved to read. A story, as my Amelia Henley stories are, about love and relationships. I began penning the lives of siblings Charlie, Nina and Duke and their complex and complicated relationship. Whether this book will ever find its way into the hands of readers I don’t know but I’m loving writing it and finding that chink of happiness is so important right now.

Later in the year I’ll begin a new thriller, I’ve had a character in my mind for the past couple of years. I feel so extraordinarily blessed I can create worlds to escape to.

Have your reading habits changed and how are you occupying your time? Do let me know in the comments below.

The Family’ is currently part of the UK Kindle Monthly Deal – download a copy today for just 0.99p.

The Family‘ will be published in the US on June 9th – you can preorder it here. I’m loving the fabulous cover Grand Central Publishing have designed!

My chilling US cover

The Life We Almost Had – COVER REVEAL & NEWS

 

The cover reveal is one of the most exciting parts of publishing a book. Today, I’m revealing my new cover during these strange new times we have found ourselves in, not with my usual excitement, but nevertheless, I’m pleased to show you my beautiful cover for ‘The Life We Almost Had.’ (BIG shout out here not just to my publishers, but to ALL publishers for working so hard to still get books out there during challenging circumstances. Now, more than ever, we need the escapism that stories can bring).

‘The Life We Almost Had’ is being released under my pen name Amelia Henley and is a bit of a mixed genre, but at its heart it’s a love story. HQ are billing it as ‘the most romantic book you’ll read this year.’ This weekend the first three readers have read it (one man and two women) and ALL have cried. ‘Unusual and compelling’ ‘Beautifully heartwrenching’ ‘Such a strong story of courage, loyalty and hope’ is some of the feedback I have received so far.

The story of Anna and Adam which is partly set on a Spanish Island based on Lanzarote asks – How far will you go for a second chance at first love? The book club questions at the back of the novel will lead to some pretty interesting discussions (from a safe distance) around morality I hope.

It’s available to pre-order in the UK now via Amazon, iBooks, Google Books, Kobo or Waterstones and will be published on 23rd July in the UK with details of the US publication date to follow. Please also do support your local indie bookshops. Many are happy to take orders and post them out even if they aren’t physically open at the moment. In these incredibly testing times where many authors are currently unable to write due to homeschooling their children, and publishers are finding themselves with closed offices, printers, suppliers and retailers please do support the publishing industry so we can keep putting stories into the hands of readers.

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…

For book reviewers and bloggers, The Life We Almost Had will be available to request on Netgalley this week. Please do bear in mind that NetGalley requests might take a little more time than usual to be granted right now. Everyone is doing the best they can to keep things running smoothly.

Soon I’ll be sharing a little more about why I wrote this story, what it means to me and the details of the online launch where there will be giveaways. In the meantime, take care.

Amelia/Louise X

 

 

THIS is why I LOVE book clubs (aka book people are the NICEST people)

 

I adore book clubs. I’ve intermittently been a member of one for as long as I can remember. There’s nothing quite like the warm and fuzzy feeling that comes through spending time with like-minded people, sipping wine, and discussing the characters, the plot twists, the theme.

In the back of all my books are reading group questions. I love to think of them sparking a discussion and with local groups, I feel privileged when I’m invited along to be part of that discussion.

A lovely American lady called Cheryl, messaged me after her group discussed The Sister and The Gift telling me how much her group loved my stories and that they were planning something very special for The Surrogate. Both a chance to talk about the book and to help a good cause.

I was very intrigued and this morning I was absolutely thrilled to be sent the glowing feedback for my book and photos of ‘The Surrogate themed baby shower.’

The onsie cake looked amazing (I so wish I was near enough to eat a slice), and the ‘It’s a Book’ bunting made me smile.

The games were all ‘The Surrogate’ themed and it was quite surreal seeing my name, and my characters pop up in a word search.

Best of all was the huge basket of baby items collected that is now being donated to their local church where it will be distributed to mums in need.

The power of words bring people together in so many ways. Book people really are the NICEST people.

Thanks so much ladies.

This time last week I was in prison – My visit to HMP Thameside’s book club

Eighteen months ago, when my debut novel, The Sister, was No.1 in the charts, I was invited along to HMP Thameside to meet their book club. Immediately, The Fear hit and I quickly declined. Not because of the environment, but because I had a massive phobia of public speaking. Those who read my blog know that after turning down numerous talks, I was asked to speak at the Althorp Literary Festival last year and eager to attend, I had a course of hypnotherapy to help me overcome The Fear (you can read about that here). I’ve since spoken at, and enjoyed, several events so when HMP Thameside’s librarian, Neil Barclay, got back in touch and asked if I’d reconsider, grateful of a second chance, I said yes.

I had never been in a prison before and my expectations were very much centred around what I’d seen on TV, rowdy tattooed men in orange boiler suits, and as I queued up to be booked in I started to wonder, for the first time, what I’d let myself in for. It was a surprise I had to be fingerprinted before I was granted entry, and not by ink and paper but by a scanner. (‘Mum, did you think it would be like an 80’s cop show?’ my son asked when I told him that later. Umm, yes.) My photo was taken, my ID checked and then I was given a visitor’s pass. After storing my possessions in a locker I was directed to the next room. Here, I was met by an officer who asked me to remove my boots so they could be scanned. As she snapped on blue latex gloves I felt a flicker of unease but the search was soon over and another officer arrived to escort me to the library.

One of my first observations was how many doors there were. Each one needing to be unlocked and immediately locked behind us. Listening to the slam, the twisting of the key, I tried to imagine how I would feel if I knew I would be there for months, or even years and anxiety bubbled.

In the library I was greeted by the prisoners who participate in the book club and the creative writing class and it struck me, as my eyes swept around the room, at the different clothes (not an orange boiler suit in sight) the different ages, races, that these were just people and my anxiety dissipated.

We talked about my books, about writing, but more importantly, we chatted about mental health. I relayed my story of how finding myself with a disability in my 30’s lost me my mobility, my job, my home and caused me to develop clinical depression. I shared how I was at rock bottom, thinking my life was over, my best days behind me. My fears that no-one would employ me, love me. But eventually I picked myself up and overcome depression through mindfulness and forged a new life. A new career. Although, they didn’t tell me why they were in prison, and nor did I want to know, they shared how they felt. How they coped.

Time flew by and after signing some books the men were escorted back to their cells. I ate a delicious lunch at the staff bistro, cooked and served by the prisoners. Later, I had a tour of the prison. I experienced what it was like in both a single and double cell and chatted to the men who lived there. It was heart breaking to visit a room full of toys and books where the men could record themselves reading a story to send to their children and that really reiterated that their sentence isn’t theirs to bear alone.

It’s now been a week now since my visit. A week in which the people I met are still very much on my mind. A week in which I am still trying to process how I feel. Despite my expectations, the images I had built up in my mind, ultimately these men were people, like you and I. Some were anxious, bewildered, depressed and frustrated. All were respectful and polite. There were repeat offenders, that was inevitable but I also met men who wanted an education, the chance of a better life. Hope. There are no victimless crimes but could any one of us take a wrong turn? Although I’ve never broken the law I’ve made bad choices, rash decisions. Mistakes.

I’ve offered to go back and run a workshop on mindfulness. As well as helping with depression and anxiety, imagine if learning to live in the moment, pausing to think rather than having a knee jerk reaction, could stop just one person reoffending? Mindfulness is all about choice. I chose to visit the prison, and I was free to leave at the end of the day, but sometimes I think – what if I wasn’t. It’s a sobering thought.

I was presented with a gorgeous bouquet, a ‘Wish You Were Here’ mug, and a thank you card.

FREE books up for grabs (each comes with an adventure)…

“A book is not only a friend, it makes friends for you. When you have possessed a book with mind and spirit, you are enriched. But when you pass it on you are enriched threefold.”
Henry Miller – The Books In My Life (1969)

Books and adventure are two things in life I adore so I’m super excited to have combined the two by opening a BookCrossing account.

BookCrossing is the act of giving a book a unique identity so, as the book is passed from reader to reader, it can be tracked. There are currently a staggering 1,834,453 BookCrossers and 12,253,261 books travelling throughout 132 countries. The BookCrossing community has been active since 2001 and is free to join and take part.

BookCrossing’s online archival and tracking system allows members to connect with other readers and follow their books through tagging and tracking their individual books by marking them with BCIDs (BookCrossing Identity Numbers). Each BCID is unique to each book – once it’s registered on the site, the book can then be followed and journaled forever. BookCrossing is free to join and free to play. So don’t be ‘shelf’ish with your books – read and release!

I’ll be using BookCrossing to give away signed copies of The Sister, The Gift and The Surrogate, as well as passing on books I’ve bought and read.  You can follow my account here to see what I’m up to.

The first book I’ll be giving away this week is a signed copy of The Gift and a limited edition bookmark and next year I’ll be popping a book in my bag regularly when I go out so I can distribute books both inside and outside my home county.

As well as giving, I’m also hoping to track a few down and read outside my usual genres.

Do join in!

Book Club Questions – The Sister

sister

I love those stories, the ones you can’t stop thinking about afterwards. Characters you wonder what happens to. Twists you analyse. I often seek out book club questions for novels I’ve really enjoyed so I thought I’d put some together for The Sister as I know some book clubs are reading it (and if you are thinking of reading it the paperback is half price this weekend only).

  1. Grace is a very complex character. How did you feel about her? Did you feel any compassion for her?
  1. Do you think the traumatic event Grace suffered in childhood contributed to her paranoia? Are some people more susceptible to carry guilt than others? Is Grace’s guilt understandable?
  1. Dan has a secret he is hiding from Grace. Is it ever justifiable in a relationship to keep something from someone you love ‘for their own good’? Do you think he should have been more honest?
  1. In part this is a story about friendship and the shifting dynamics between a group of girls as they grow up. Charlie found herself in an impossible situation. How might she have handled things differently while remaining loyal?
  1. This novel alternates between the past and the present. Did you find this structure worked and helped build up the tension?
  1. What did you assume about Anna throughout the book? How did this change by the end?
  1. Do you think Grace and Dan make a good couple or have they outgrown each other?
  1. The Sister is very much about lies. The lies we tell ourselves. The lies we tell other people. Do all people lie to some degree? Can you understand the characters reasons for doing so?
  1. Were you satisfied with the ending of the book? Did you guess?
  1. What do you think happens to the characters after the epilogue?