Excerpt – The opening of The Surrogate & my thoughts on THAT end!

My third novel, The Surrogate, was published a few days ago and I wanted to share the opening with you. I had such a fabulous time writing this book. The story of Kat and Lisa was definitely one where I thought I knew where it was going, but the characters grew darker, the plot more complex and the twists and turns gather pace until the end hit me like a sledgehammer. I never saw it coming and once it was written, it was great fun to go back and plant the clues for readers, although judging from the over 100 five star reviews it’s already amassed no-one has yet predicted the ending either (BIG thanks to all who have reviewed). It’s the most intricate story I’ve written, everyone in this book has a secret. The e-book has now been selected as part of a special promotion so you can grab it for £0.99/$1.30 across all digital platforms. You can find it on Amazon here.

 

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.’

I wrote this opening genuinely thinking I knew who the bodies would be, and why but as the characters developed and took over the story I found it almost out of my hands. The reveal shocked me and just when I thought I’d finished writing the final twists come in the Epilogue. I felt so drained after writing this book. I hope as well as being entertaining, I’ve also sensitively handled the emotional side of a couple longing for a child. I do hope it’s a thriller with a real heart.

Here’s the blurb:

‘You know that feeling? When you want something so badly, you almost feel you’d kill for it?’

Be careful what you wish for…

Kat and her husband Nick have tried everything to become parents. All they want is a child to love but they are beginning to lose hope. Then a chance encounter with Kat’s childhood friend Lisa gives them one last chance.

Kat and Lisa were once as close as sisters. The secrets they share mean their trust is for life… Or is it?

Just when the couple’s dream seems within reach, Kat begins to suspect she’s being watched and Nick is telling her lies.

Are the cracks appearing in Kat’s perfect picture of the future all in her head, or should she be scared for the lives of herself and her family?

How far would you go, to protect everything you love?

From the no. 1 bestselling author of The Sister and The Gift, this is an unputdownable psychological thriller which asks how far we will go to create our perfect family.

Buy it now for £0.99/$1.30 across all digital platforms, including Amazon here.

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Writing Diverse Characters – Book Review

 

Writing Diverse Characters for Fiction, TV or Film is the third ‘How to…’ book by Lucy V Hay. Lucy is an editor and script reader with impressive credentials and I couldn’t wait to read this book.

Before I dived in, I looked up the definition of diversity in my Collin’s English dictionary “the quality of being different or varied.” As a disabled writer I was interested to find out what groups Lucy would cover in this book, after all my ‘normal’ is someone else’s ‘different.’ If I were a character in a book I guess I’d be classed as diverse and that initially made me a little uncomfortable but Lucy begins by saying we need diverse stories to actively change society and break down barriers and I couldn’t agree more.

I don’t believe a writer has to necessarily have experienced what they are writing about but creating a diverse character takes time and research. Lucy points out that the characters ‘difference’ does not have to drive the story and shouldn’t be used in a stereotypical way, i.e. a disabled person, depressed, alone and unable to cope. In other words although the character’s difference should have some relevance to the story and the way they live (everything featured in a book should earn its place and have a purpose) characters still need to be fresh and authentic.

Recently, social media has really shone a spotlight on diversity. Readers and movie watchers feeding back to the creators what they like and don’t like regarding plot and characters. With the current popularity of psychological thrillers, particularly female ‘unreliable narrators’ mental health issues are featuring more and more. This bucks the trend of historically main characters being male, white, straight and able bodied. But it’s important these diverse characters emerging don’t become ‘tick box’ created as it were. So does this book help?

Lucy mainly focuses on race, colour, disability and sexuality and it quickly becomes apparent she has done a LOT of research. There are references throughout to both novels and films which make her thoughts really relatable with specific examples frequently given. Lucy has also included quotes from a selection of those in the industry including agents and novelists. Helpfully Lucy also shares the common themes and characters she comes across day to day in scripts and how to think outside the box, suggesting ways to flip those ideas so they become a little less run of the mill.

There are sections in the book covering protagonist goals, character growth and supporting characters and how to research, and Lucy also shares what agents, publishers, producers and filmmakers are looking for – and why.

Lucy doesn’t give you a magic formula for creating diverse characters – there isn’t one – but what she offers is a well researched, thought provoking and concise book which will give you much to ponder on whether you’re a seasoned script writer or a new novelist. This is a valuable addition to my writing library and I’m sure it’s something I’ll be dipping in and out of for years to come.

Lucy V. Hay is a novelist, script editor and script reader. She is one of the founding organizers of the London Screenwriters’ Festival, associate producer of the 2012 film Deviation, and the author of Writing and Selling Drama Screenplays and Writing and Selling Thriller Screenplays. Lucy has read for a variety of production companies, funding initiatives and screen agencies as well as individual directors and producers with her Bang2write script consultancy.

You can buy Lucy’s books on Amazon UK here and Amazon US here.

The book I never wanted to end! The Maid’s Room

 

I don’t often blog book reviews. However, The Maid’s Room has grabbed my heart and won’t let go and I feel compelled to share it.

This literary/commercial crossover novel is the debut of Fiona Mitchell although you would never think this is Fiona’s first book; each sentence is beautifully constructed, each word carefully chosen. The characters are rich and multi-dimensional. You can feel the love that has been poured into these pages. This is a real heart and soul book, and it shows. I never wanted it to end.

The story is based on Fiona’s real-life experience in Singapore. Shockingly there are 240,000 female domestic workers in Singapore and an estimated 53 million women working as domestic helpers across the globe. A quarter of these are afforded no legal rights at all.

I love books with an element of truth. Admittedly, it was uncomfortable at times, learning how modern day domestic workers are treated in Singapore, particularly as some of the employers are British. But despite the uncomfortable subject there are elements of humour woven through the challenges the maids face almost daily.

I’m not going to spoil the plot – this is a book you have to read for yourself, but I will say the ending was so absolutely perfect it had me sobbing, I feel bereft now I’ve finished this book, I almost can’t imagine life without sisters Tala and Dolly, already I’m imagining what they might get up to in the future.

We are only halfway through 2017 but I feel this will definitely be my book of the year. Huge congratulations Fiona Mitchell, The Maid’s Room is a triumph and I can’t wait to read your second novel (no pressure x).

You can find out more about Fiona Mitchell here and order The Maid’s Room which will be published by Hodder & Stoughton here.

“Set in the blistering heat of Singapore, THE MAID’S ROOM follows the lives of two Filipina maids – sisters Dolly and Tala who are working hard to send money back home, and British ex-pat Jules who has left her job as a midwife to move to Singapore with husband David.

Told with humour, heart-breaking detail about daily life as a maid, and with an exhilarating spirit that is ultimately uplifting, this book will resonate with anyone who has struggled to have their voice heard.”

Book Review – Saving Sophie

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From the second I picked up Sam Carrington’s debut psychological thriller I knew I was in as much trouble as Sophie, the teenage girl who the novel centres around. I was hooked, and my plans to spend a day working on my own manuscript were abandoned as I devoured this story in one sitting.

This story is relayed in third person from three viewpoints, Sophie, Karen her agoraphobic mum, and DI Lindsay Wade, but not once did it ever become unclear whose voice I was reading.

From the moment 17 year old Sophie arrived home drunk, with no recollection of the evening, and we discover another teenage girl has gone missing my stomach rolled with anxiety. As a mother of teenagers myself I was on the edge of my seat as a body was found, and when it becomes apparent that Sophie could be the next target I read through splayed fingers.

Sam has a rare gift for writing. She hits the ground running with this novel and usually with books this pacey I find I don’t emotionally connect with the characters but in this book the development is as good as the writing and I found myself really rooting for Karen and the ending made me gasp.

Does Karen overcome her agoraphobia and make it out of the house in time to save her daughter? You’ll have to read it to find out.

Saving Sophie will be released on 12th August.

Author picture-Sam Carrington

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Giveaway & Sample – Behind Closed Doors

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Behind Closed Doors by Elizabeth Haynes, is one of those stories that had me gripped from the opening line, and by the end of the first chapter, I couldn’t put the book down until I’d finished it. It’s an easy read, but not an easy subject matter. Fifteen year old Scarlett Rainsford vanishes during a family holiday in Greece. Was she abducted or did she run away?

This is the second book featuring DCI Lou Smith and her team, but it stands alone well. Don’t be put off if you haven’t read the first. I hadn’t.

When Scarlett is found in a brothel we want to know what happened and this is explained with interspersed, often harrowing, scenes from the past.

This book left me reeling. It is very well written, darker than I’d usually read, and it stayed with me long after I had finished.

Read on for Chapter One and there’s a free copy up for grabs for the first person who re-tweets this post.

 

SCARLETT – Rhodes, Saturday 23 August 2003, 04:44

To begin with, nothing was certain except her own terror.

Darkness, and stifling heat, so hot that breathing felt like effort, sweat pouring off her so her skin itself became liquid and she thought she would simply melt into a hot puddle of nothing. She tried crying out, screaming, but she could barely hear her own voice above the roar of the engine, the sound of the wheels moving at speed on tarmac. All that did was give her a sore throat. Nobody could hear her.

She tried listening instead, eyes wide with nothing to see. She could hear voices sporadically from somewhere else in the vehicle – two different men – but she didn’t recognise them, nor could she understand what they were saying. She assumed they were speaking in Greek, but the harsh rasp of the words sounded different from the voices she’d heard over the past week at the resort. Lots of ‘th’ sounds, rolled ‘r’s, words ending in ‘a’ and ‘eh’.

Fear came in cycles. The first endless panicky minutes had been very bad: trawling through vague memories of the past few days, trying to identify the mistake she’d made, because this had to be her fault – this can’t be real, I’m dreaming – then the shock realisation that this wasn’t a nightmare, it was really happening. The worst moment of all.

It had been so quick.

She had arrived a bit early at the place where they’d agreed to meet, and she’d been preparing to wait – he’d said he finished work at two – and a van had pulled up beside her. She hadn’t been worried. There were still people around, drunk tourists staggering back up the road towards their hotels. The side door of the van had slid open, and a man got out. He was talking to her, friendly, a smile that showed his teeth. His accent was so strong she couldn’t really tell what he was saying.

‘No, no,’ she’d said. ‘English. I don’t understand.’

But he’d kept yammering on, standing too close to her. She had begun to feel unnerved by it, and something had made her glance to the right, to the gate which led to the Aktira Studios, and in that split second when she’d seen someone she recognised, made eye contact, she had felt something like relief – and then the man had pushed her, a hard shove that sent her sprawling into the back of the van. He’d climbed in after her, slammed the door shut and the van started moving. The man had held her down, put his hand over her mouth, pressing her head into the metal floor so hard that she’d thought her skull was going to burst.

Seconds. The whole thing had taken seconds.

Now, hours since those terrifying first moments, she had reached a plateau brought on by the monotony of driving, the panic overridden by the pain in her arms and legs and the discomfort of being tied hand and foot and having to lie still on the floor of the van. They’d stopped once, very early on, before she’d had time to get over the shock or formulate any plan of escape; by that time the man in the back with her had already tied her up. He got out, leaving her alone, and the van door shut – and they were moving again.

The noise of the engine was unbearably loud; the van would bump and jolt as it went over potholes. Her head ached as a result, sometimes so badly it made her cry. The fear made her cry. Crying made her headache worse, and then it all became pointless, so she would stop for a while and try to sleep in snatches, because sleeping, at least, gave her a brief respite.

And she would dream of him, remember, and wake with tears on her cheeks, thinking, This wasn’t supposed to happen. Then the shock and the fear would kick in, and the whole cycle would begin again.