When life gives you lemons – Polly Phillips

A few days ago I wrote a blog post about how my life didn’t turn out as I’d envisaged and how the best laid plans can’t always come to fruition – you can read that post here. Today, I’m delighted to welcome Polly Phillips to share her inspiring story.

I was sitting on a bus when my husband called me to tell me he’d been made redundant. I was heading into town to meet him on his lunchbreak to do our Christmas shopping while our two-year-old daughter was in nursery. At first, I thought he was joking. We were living in Copenhagen and there was snow on the ground. I had been picturing skipping in and out of shops, carrying brightly coloured parcels, fat snowflakes falling around us. So far, so Love Actually. Instead, we met in a dark and dingy bar and sat hunched over a pizza to try and figure out what the hell we were going to do.

The industry he worked in was depressed and there was no way my income as a part-time freelance journalist would sustain us. Without jobs, we couldn’t stay in Copenhagen. So, on top of losing our main income, we were going to have to pull our daughter out of the nursery she loved, pack our lives and move country. In truth, that bit didn’t bother me too much. Although Copenhagen is a beautiful city with so much to offer the people who live in it, I’d been dreaming of moving back to Perth, Western Australia, since we had left it two years before. In fact, when he first called, that’s what I thought he was ringing to tell me. He’d been talking about a transfer for a few months and I was already picturing feeling the sun on my skin and teaching my daughter to swim in the sea. Now we were moving back to London with no jobs and no money.

My husband was offered a new job just before we moved. Salvation beckoned. But of course, there was a downside. The new job was in Algeria. And they wanted him to start straightaway. He had just enough time to help move us back to London before he flew to work in an office in the middle of the Algerian desert with scarcely any phone signal and patchy WiFi. With no other job options out there, it didn’t make sense to turn it down.

So, there I was in London, suddenly a single parent, with a challenging two-year-old, who didn’t understand why her whole life had changed. And, to be honest, I could see her point. Friends and family tried to help, but they had their own lives, lives that they weren’t expecting me to suddenly parachute into. Being on my own highlighted all my insecurities. I felt like a terrible parent, shouting too much and not being able to control my daughter. I felt like a rubbish wife, resenting my husband for being away. And I felt like a complete failure as a person, not having a well-paid enough career to pull us out of the mess we were in. Finally, after too many long and lonely evenings spent at the bottom of a bottle, I realised there was nothing I could do to change the situation so I had to try and make the best of it.

It might sound a bit twee and clichéd and it certainly wasn’t an epiphany that came to me in a lightning bolt of clarity – there were still a fair few nights at the bottom of a bottle that came after it – but I’d always wanted to write a book. With evenings yawning emptily with nothing to fill them, here was my chance. I signed up to an online writing course with the Faber Academy and started writing. There were a lot of false starts and the book that I wrote on the course ultimately came to nothing, but I kept going. I signed up to another course and starting something else. After a lot of editing, the next book that I wrote, a thriller called My Best Friend’s Murder, was published this year. By the end of the year my husband had another job, and we did move back to Perth. Whenever I feel overcome by moments of self-doubt or misery, I try to remind myself of that year, when I felt like life was collapsing around me and I was never going to achieve anything. It doesn’t always pull me out of my mood, but it definitely helps.

You can find ‘My Best Friend’s Murder on Amazon here

Writing my novel didn’t go as I’d planned…

I certainly didn’t plan for my brand new release ‘The Art of Loving You’ to be so relatable to virtually everyone when I began writing it in 2019.

In my second love story Libby and Jack think they have their life figured out. With the help of their dear friend, eighty-year old Sid, they’ve bought their first home and have big personal and business plans for the next few years. But then suddenly, unexpectedly,  tragedy strikes, the future suddenly uncertain, and huge compromises and sacrifices have to be made in order to move forward.

When I began writing I drew on my own experience, exploring the emotions I had felt after my own life veered off course and my carefully laid plans couldn’t come to fruition.

I had spent years training as a naturopathic kinesiologist and building up a complementary therapy practice when a car accident exacerbated a pre-existing health condition, caused some new damage, and whisked away my mobility. In an instant, everything changed. No longer able to stand unaided I couldn’t practice anymore and the future looked very bleak. I’d lost my health, my business, my social life and my sense of identity, but worst of all I had lost my hope. When I’d spent so long planning and imagining the shape of my future how could I even begin to envisage starting again?

And yet somehow, much like the people in my story who became so dear to me (particularly 80-year old Sid who was such a joy to write), I did.  

While the world has been gripped by a pandemic most of us have had to make drastic changes to our day-to-day life as well as altering, postponing, or cancelling our plans for the future. 

The characters in my book, like the majority of us, couldn’t being to imagine their world ever feeling ’normal’ again but little by little, they carved out a new path, found new hopes and dreams to hold tightly against their hearts. 

‘The Art of Loving You’ is a story of resilience, hope and courage, drawing on the power of friendship and family. 

It’s the story of never giving up, finding happiness and moving forward after you fear all has been lost.

But, most of all, it’s a story about love.

Download ‘The Art of Loving You’ for just 99p for a limited time only or order the paperback or audio book via Amazon, Waterstones, Kobo, Google Books, Apple.

Publication day & a competition!!

It’s publication day today for my second Amelia Henley love story (my eighth published book!) ‘The Art of Loving You’ and I’ve been blown away by the pre-publication reviews. Over 100 early reviews with an average of 5 stars have already been shared with my publisher. It’s wonderful to see ‘The Art of Loving You’ out there next to ‘The Life We Almost Had’. I think they look gorgeous together.

I owe a huge thank you to the superstar bloggers on this week’s blog tour who are really helping spread the word. ‘Amelia Henley’ is a new name in fiction and reviews are SO important to gain visibility. If you’ve read, or do read, and enjoy ‘The Art of Loving You’ I’d be so grateful if you could please pop a review either on Amazon or elsewhere. Also thanks to everyone who came along to my live Facebook/Instagram launch last night. If you couldn’t make it, there are more giveaways to come so do follow me on social media to keep up to date.

Writing Libby and Jack’s love story became more personal to me than I could ever envisage and I’ll be sharing why over the next couple of weeks.

For now, I’ll share the blurb and an exciting competition.

They were so in love . . .
And then life changed forever . . .
Will they find happiness again?
 
Libby and Jack are the happiest they’ve ever been. Thanks to their dear friend, eighty-year-old Sid, they’ve just bought their first house together, and it’s the beginning of the life they’ve always dreamed of.

But the universe has other plans for Libby and Jack and a devastating twist of fate shatters their world.
 
All of a sudden life is looking very different, and unlikely though it seems, might Sid be the one person who can help Libby and Jack move forward when what they loved the most has been lost?
 
The Art of Loving You is a beautiful love story for our times. Romantic and uplifting, it will break your heart and then put it back together again. 

You can order a copy via Amazon, Waterstones, Kobo, Google Books, Apple.

If you love to craft, check out this competition where you can win £100 of Hobbycraft vouchers.

WIN books & live launch invite!

Prizes galore on offer next week during my live launch for my second Amelia Henley love story, ‘The Art of Loving You’.

Competitions will be added daily to the event beginning tomorrow (you don’t have to be able to attend the event to win most of the prizes).

Sign up as ‘going’ on FB here to be notified each day when a competition goes live or follow me on Instagram here.

I’ll be going live on Facebook and Instagram at 8pm on Wednesday 21st June and really hope to see you there. I’d be SO grateful for the support.

Louise x (Amelia!)

They were so in love . . .
And then life changed forever . . .
Will they find happiness again?
 
Libby and Jack are the happiest they’ve ever been. Thanks to their dear friend, eighty-year-old Sid, they’ve just bought their first house together, and it’s the beginning of the life they’ve always dreamed of.

But the universe has other plans for Libby and Jack and a devastating twist of fate shatters their world.
 
All of a sudden life is looking very different, and unlikely though it seems, might Sid be the one person who can help Libby and Jack move forward when what they loved the most has been lost?

‘The Art of Loving You’ will be released on 22nd July and is available to preorder now via Amazon, Waterstones, Kobo, Google Books, Apple.

New paperbacks & giveaways!

I am THRILLED that the paperbacks for my forthcoming release ‘The Art of Loving You‘ have arrived and they look GORGEOUS. Huge thanks to my editor, Manpreet, and my publisher, HQ Stories for pulling them together.

I can’t quite believe that in just one month my second love story publishes under my pen name ‘Amelia Henley‘. My first, ‘The Life We Almost Had‘ was so well received I’m hoping that Libby and Jack’s story lives up to expectations.

They were so in love . . .
And then life changed forever . . .
Will they find happiness again?
 
Libby and Jack are the happiest they’ve ever been. Thanks to their dear friend, eighty-year-old Sid, they’ve just bought their first house together, and it’s the beginning of the life they’ve always dreamed of.

But the universe has other plans for Libby and Jack and a devastating twist of fate shatters their world.
 
All of a sudden life is looking very different, and unlikely though it seems, might Sid be the one person who can help Libby and Jack move forward when what they loved the most has been lost?

I am so grateful to these authors who have provided such lovely quotes: –

‘An ode to finding the meaning in grief, in our life’s purpose, and in deciding to live and love fully, The Art of Loving You broke my heart and then rebuilt it again. Just gorgeous’ Laura Jane Williams, bestselling author of Our Stop

‘A heart achingly beautiful story of love, grief and hope that reflects on the power of love, family and friendship’ Jules Wake, bestselling author of The Spark

‘Wistfully uplifting, with a sprinkling of the extraordinary – Libby and Jack’s story is a testament to the power of love and the comfort of hope. I loved it!’ Holly Hepburn, author of Coming Home to Brightwater Bay

If you’d like to read this before its publication I’m currently running giveaways to win four signed proof copies. Check out either Instagram or Facebook to enter and for the Ts&Cs.

The Art of Loving You will be released on 22nd July and is available to preorder now via Amazon, Waterstones, Kobo, Google Books, Apple.

Look! My new book!!

I am INCREDIBLY excited to reveal the details of my seventh psychological thriller – seventh! When I began writing in 2014 I had no idea of the journey it would take me on and today, looking at my book covers hanging on my wall I feel immense gratitude, and, if I’m honest, relief that so far I seem to be pulling off masquerading as an author…

I’m loving the cover of ‘All For You’ and very thankful for my editor and the wonderful team at HQ Stories/Harper Collins who have created a package that fits this very twisty story perfectly. It’ll be published on 30th September in the UK on paperback, ebook and audio, and is available to pre-order now via Amazon, Waterstones, or your local bookstore can order you a copy. 

So, are you ready to meet the Walsh Family?

Lucy: Mother. Wife. Falling to pieces . . .
Aidan: Father. Husband. In too deep . . .
Connor: Son. Friend. Can never tell the truth . . .

Everyone in this family has something to hide, but what are they trying to protect, and at what cost?

IT WAS ALL FOR YOU.

I’ll be sad to let the Walsh family go, they’ve shocked me continuously throughout the writing of this book. There were times I thought I had the plot all figured out but Lucy, Aidan and Connor are strong characters who wouldn’t do entirely what I wanted them to do. I’m very fond of them though because, despite their secrets and lies, they’re an ordinary family with a lot of love for each other.

The proofs are being printed right now and I’ll be giving away a signed copy soon, as well as a signed proof of ‘The Art of Loving You’, my second contemporary fiction novel which publishes under my pen name, Amelia Henley this July so do sign up to my blog or newsletter to keep up to date and follow me on social media over at Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

For now I’ll leave you with pre-order links and I’ll be back soon blogging about how I structure my books and why I’m still evolving as a writer.

Find ‘All For You’ at Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, Waterstones, Google Play or ask your local bookstore to order a copy in.

Pen Names – Pros & Cons & WHY?

After publishing 6 psychological thrillers under Louise Jensen which is my real name, last year I published my first contemporary fiction book under the pen name Amelia Henley. Since then I’ve been asked so many questions about why I used a different name I thought I’d write a blog post about it.

My publisher told me to.

Shortest post ever? 

Let me expand it then, there are many reasons to use a pen name and multiple pros and cons.

When I first signed a deal for my debut, ‘The Sister‘, it didn’t even cross my mind to use a pseudonym. I was super excited to finally see my name on the cover of a book. It was such a special moment for me, and my family. My son took his friends into Waterstones and showed them and I felt a glow of pride I’d never felt before.  Of course, then, I didn’t realise it would quickly sell over half a million copies and be translated into twenty-five languages and that a LOT of people would read it. This was really only an issue for me during a smear test when the nurse asked me if I’d written ‘The Sister’ and then proceeded to tell me how much she loved Grace and Charlie which was very nice but probably not the time or the place.  Having a disability and subsequently a lot of medical appointments there are times when I’ve wondered whether I’d have been more comfortable using a pseudonym. Not that I assume people have read my books or know my name but, as the smear test palaver demonstrated, you really never know.

If you want to retain anonymity or have some separation between your writing life and another career a pen name can be really useful.  Particularly if you have a name too similar to an established author. Being called Stephen King may not create any confusion in day-to-day life but in publishing…

There are many other reasons authors use pen names. Reinvention is one of them. An author who hasn’t had the best sales and wants to begin again, or, as in my case, an author who wants to try a different genre.

My publisher (HQ/Harper Collins) loved my debut love story but wanted a separation from my thriller brand (I’m very uncomfortable with the word brand btw). This was liberating in that I could bring something out with no reader expectations and no fear of judgement because although ‘The Life We Almost Had’ is ultimately a tear-jerking love story there is a sci-fi element to it and I wasn’t sure how it would be received. The downside being I had to set up social media accounts in a new name and running two of everything is quite time consuming. In the end my publisher suggested we use ‘Amelia’ as an open pseudonym which was a relief, some publishers have it written into contracts you can’t tell anyone for a stipulated period of time and I am rubbish at keep secrets.

So, who choses the pen name?

My editor wanted me to come up with suggestions I was happy with but then these needed to be run past the marketing department for their approval.

Amelia Henley is the only name I put forward and I’m thankful they approved it because it is very personal. I have three children and for ‘Amelia’ I took two letters from each of their names. ‘Henley’ is an extremely special name to our family.

It’s worked out really well for me having two names (which is just as well as I have a second Amelia book – ‘The Art of Loving You‘ – publishing this July and a new thriller coming in October). One of my career highs and a completely ‘mind blown’ moment was last autumn when both ‘The Life We Almost Had‘ and ‘The Stolen Sisters‘ were published in paperback and I walked into Tesco and saw them both on a shelf together.

If you’re a writer and thinking of using or have a pen name I’d love to hear of your experience and how you chose yours.

The Life We Almost Had’ is currently in its 3rd week at No.1 in Germany and UK readers can currently download the kindle book for just 99p for a limited time from Amazon here.

If thrillers are more your thing both ‘The Surrogate‘ and ‘The Date‘ are also 99p for a short time.

Cover Reveal! My brand new book!

I am absolutely THRILLED to share the gorgeous cover from my forthcoming ‘Amelia Henley’ novel – ‘The Art of Loving You‘.

The response to my debut contemporary fiction novel ‘The Life We Almost Had’ was so positive I feel excited rather than nervous to be publishing my second standalone love story this summer, although I expect that to change on the lead up to the big day…

For those of you who fell in love with Adam and Anna, prepare to meet Libby and Jack. My editor says this story broke her heart and then put it back together again.

I can’t wait to share more details over the next few months, particularly when it comes to Sid, the eighty year old man who was meant to feature briefly in the story but had such a huge personality he kind of took over (although he was such a joy to write I didn’t mind).

The Art of Loving You will be available as a paperback, ebook and audiobook and you can pre order right now. Find it on Amazon here, Waterstones here, or any other digital or indie bookshop.  

For now, I’ll leave you with the blurb: – 

They were so in love . . .
And then life changed forever . . .
Will they find happiness again?
 
Libby and Jack are the happiest they’ve ever been. Thanks to their dear friend, eighty-year-old Sid, they’ve just bought their first house together, and it’s the beginning of the life they’ve always dreamed of.

But the universe has other plans for Libby and Jack and a devastating twist of fate shatters their world.
 
All of a sudden life is looking very different, and unlikely though it seems, might Sid be the one person who can help Libby and Jack move forward when what they loved the most has been lost?
 
The Art of Loving You is a beautiful love story for our times. Romantic and uplifting, it will break your heart and then put it back together again.

* * * *

Praise for Amelia Henley:

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

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

‘Intriguing, unusual and intensely romantic’
Sunday Mirror

An inadequate thank you to book bloggers

I didn’t blog much in 2020 –I didn’t feel I had much to say, if I’m honest I still don’t.  We all know how terrible the year was. As a family, we’ve faced challenges the same as everybody else; illness, hospital admissions, bereavement, an accident, a decline in health, the list is endless. My creativity was non-existent, my productivity poor.

During the first lockdown I spent weeks wondering how I could write alongside home schooling and my husband working from home. This morphed into what I should write, my mind was too cluttered to think clearly. Pre-pandemic I’d been writing psychological thrillers in the morning and contemporary fiction in the afternoons but I knew I no longer had the mental capacity to do this. I had an idea for an Amelia Henley book but publishing my debut love story during a pandemic had been hugely challenging and I wasn’t certain there was a future for Amelia.

Finally I spent the last few months of the year contemplating whether I should write at all. Had I lost my love for it? 2020 was the longest stretch I hadn’t written anything in years. Perhaps it was time to do something else entirely. 

Then came the end of year blogs, the ‘Best Books of 2020’. It’s always so rewarding to see my books featured on these lists and to see multiple entries for ‘The Stolen Sisters’ was hugely gratifying.

But then came something unexpected. I checked my ‘Amelia Henley’ social media channels not expecting any notifications but there was. I was overwhelmed to see ‘The Life We Almost Had’ featured on numerous ‘Top Ten’ book blogs and even voted book of the year.

I cried and then I replied to the posts I’d been tagged in on to say thank you but thank you doesn’t quite convey just how life affirming and life changing these blog posts have been. 

Today, I sat at my computer for the first time what feels like forever and wrote two small words I wasn’t sure I’d ever write again, ‘Chapter One’ and I feel nervous, excited and above all hopeful, to begin a fresh Amelia Henley story, to have new characters to get to know.

In this post I wanted to try and express, but fear I am failing the importance of book bloggers. How they have allowed me to regroup, refocus.

To try.

Thank you doesn’t quite cut it but I don’t know what else to say.

You really do make a difference. 

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.)