The BIG editing lesson I learned writing The Surrogate #WritingTips

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

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

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

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

Nervously, I sent it over to my editor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Transitioning to full-time author & creating a space to write

When I began writing The Sister, I would perch on the end of my bed, iPad balanced on knee, for the half an hour each night when my son had independent reading time. Writing was my way to unwind, the way I fought clinical depression after suddenly acquiring a disability and chronic pain. As time marched on and my short story grew and grew I hesitantly invested in a second hand laptop, feeling horribly guilty, in the way most mother’s do, for spending money on myself rather than the kids.

It became clear, when I wrapped up the tale of Grace and Charlie at 90k words that it was a book but it was only after many weeks, and truth be told, many glasses of wine, I felt brave enough to send it out and luckily it got picked up quite quickly.

It was then the whirlwind started.

With The Sister scheduled for publication only six months after I signed my deal, and my editor waiting for book two life became really hectic. Still teaching mindfulness through the business I had spent years building up I wrote The Gift during breaks while simultaneously editing The Sister. I wrote in my car waiting for the kids to come out of school. My ancient laptop was propped open on the breakfast bar while I cooked meals. It came into the utility with me while I squeezed in a few words waiting for the iron to heat (okay I took artistic license with the last one – I NEVER actually iron but you get the picture. I wrote everywhere.) Still, I didn’t have a space in my home to write.

Juggling too many things, my health began to slide and my husband took over the business while I focused on writing The Gift, immediately followed by The Surrogate and then The Date. I wrote on the sofa, at the dining table, in the bedroom, at my son’s desk in his room. Anywhere I could carve out space in our busy house. My ancient laptop took longer and longer to boot up. I found it harder and harder to focus. My notes were scattered all over the house. I had no structure. Rooms were cluttered and so was my mind. Work was everywhere and it was increasingly difficult to switch off. Almost impossible to think of beginning a new book.

Something had to change.

And then an email dropped into my inbox from my publisher ‘Huge congratulations, you’ve surpassed a million English language sales.’ Stunned I shared this with my husband who was thrilled but had a very important question to ask.

‘Is this it now? You’re a full-time writer?’

I hesitated. I’d slipped further and further away from the business but we’d never sat down and talked properly about what I want. What he wants. What it would mean for our family if I could say ‘yes I’m an author’ rather than staring at my shoes and mumbling whenever anyone asks what I do for a living. My career has got off to a flying start with No.1 placements in various charts, in various countries and nineteen translation deals. Time wise I have been writing full-time but I’d still not made that mental shift. I felt a pang of sadness admitting aloud ‘I don’t think I’ll be coming back to the business.’ As much as I hoped one day to find a balance, writing is all consuming and honestly there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.

‘Then we need to find you the space to do that,’ he said.

Last weekend I was away at a literary festival and when I returned home he’d cleared the small study that’s always been his and we spent the week decorating and choosing furniture. For the last few days, I’ve sat at my new desk, in a clutter free room that is mine and mine alone, a blank wall in front of me and I’ve felt more creative than I have in months. Ideas are flowing and I’m genuinely excited at the prospect of writing more books because finally, my name is Louise and I’m a full-time author.

I’m slightly ashamed to say this sideboard is crammed full of notebooks…

LOVE my floating bookshelves & so proud to know many of these authors.

A cosy corner to read the proofs I’m sent.

My desk will NEVER be this tidy again.

My super creative sister has made me a piece of artwork for every book I’ve released (Admittedly I’m TERRIFIED of masks so I sit with my back to this).

Flash Fiction – The Musician

Image courtesy of Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

 

Beautiful women with Hollywood smiles thrust autograph books towards him but it’s me he wants. Mum said I was too fat. Too ugly. That nobody would ever love me but she was wrong.

He does. Tenderly he urged me to board without him, to ‘protect’ me from the throngs of fans.

‘Anything to declare?’ I am asked as I shift his guitar case from one hand to another.

Barking.

Snapping.

Dogs scratching at the case.

‘You’d better come with me, Miss.”

‘It’s not mine.’ I protest but as he walks past me without a second glance I realise, neither is he.

 

It’s been a busy few weeks. My fourth psychological thriller, The Date, was published a few days ago and has already hit the UK top 40 and the US top 20. Thanks to all who supported. Publication day was spent in London where I was fundraising for Parkinson’s Disease, a charity close to my heart.

The Date is centred around Prosopagnosia/Face Blindness & for my YouTube channel I interviewed Hannah Read who has the most severe reported case in the UK to ask her what it’s really like when everyone looks like a stranger. You can watch that here and find The Date on Amazon here

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly 100 word photo challenge inspired by a photo prompt. Hop on over to host Rochelle’s blog to read the other entries or join in!

The perfect publication day raising money for Parkinson’s

Every hour someone is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. In the UK alone one in five hundred people are living with this condition which causes progressive physical and neurological symptoms.

Yesterday was the publication day for my fourth psychological thriller, The Date, and rather than have a typical launch, celebrating with family and friends, my sister Karen and I headed to London on a mission to raise money for our local branch of Parkinson’s.

Laura Devine Solicitors hosted the event which they meticulously planned. Thanks to the gorgeous weather we were able to drift out onto the roof terrace while caterers plied guests with champagne and canapés.

Listening to Karen make a candid, heartfelt speech about the affect Parkinson’s has had on our family, her more than anyone, was one of the proudest moments of my life. I had to swallow the lump that had risen in my throat before I could take part in a Q & A with my agent Rory Scarfe who is also a great supporter of Parkinson’s UK.

My publishers, Sphere (Little, Brown) kindly donated paperbacks which were raffled and the total by the time we had to dash for our train was £500.

Everyone’s generosity was hugely appreciated and I can’t thank everyone enough who organised such a fabulous event, attended and donated.

Parkinson’s UK is part of a global community ensuring the millions of people living with Parkinson’s across the world don’t have to face it alone. You can find out more about the fabulous work they do here.

Publication day & why I feel so vulnerable

 

Today is publication day for my fourth psychological thriller, The Date and although early reviewers are unanimously calling it my best book yet, my emotions are mixed; excitement and nerves. Fear and hope. This is the story I never thought I’d finished after several false starts. My main character, Ali, suffers from Face Blindness and it took me a long time to really get to grips with the emotions she feels after acquiring this condition in her 30’s.  I first heard of Prospagnosia through a BBC documentary featuring Hannah Read who suffers from the most extreme case in the UK. (You can read about that in a previous blog here). I often approach difficult subjects when I write and it’s so important to me to remain sensitive and empathetic. A book may predominately be entertainment but real people are living very real lives within the subjects I write about and I want to remain respectful of that at all times. This is the time I feel most vulnerable. Of course it’s inevitable that not everyone will love a book, but I never want anyone to think I’ve taken the emotional side of my story lightly.

Three years of trying to get Ali right, and much research later the book is today in the hands of readers who I hope will enjoy the story and perhaps learn a little about a condition that is far more common than you’d think.

Order The Date from Amazon, iBooks, Kobo and Google.

If you want to hear directly from Hannah about what it’s like to live with Face Blindness and the challenges she faces, check out our short YouTube interview here.

In the meantime, here’s the blurb: –

One night can change everything. 

‘I know it as soon as I wake up and open my eyes… Something is wrong.’

Her Saturday night started normally. Recently separated from her husband, Ali has been persuaded by her friends to go on a date with a new man. She is ready, she is nervous, she is excited. She is about to take a step into her new future. By Sunday morning, Ali’s life is unrecognisable. She wakes, and she knows that something is wrong. She is home, she is alone, she is hurt and she has no memory of what happened to her.  

Worse still, when she looks in the mirror, Ali doesn’t recognise the face staring back at her…

 

What it’s REALLY like living with Face Blindness: Interview with Hannah Read

Last week I blogged about Hannah Read, the (then) 13 year old girl who featured in a BBC programme several years ago documenting her life after she had acquired face blindness. Hannah has the UK’s severest reported case of Prosopagnosia and her story was one which I was unable to forget. Hannah’s condition was the inspiration behind my latest psychological thriller, The Date (you can read that post here) which features Ali, my main character, who also acquires face blindness later in life.

I was so thrilled to be able to track Hannah and her family down after finishing my book to tell them the impact her experience had on me. Today, I’m delighted to share my short YouTube interview Hannah where I ask her directly what it’s really like living with Face Blindness.

The Date will publish on 21st June and you can preorder a copy via your local Amazon here.

Face Blindness – why this is the subject of my new novel

Next week on 21stJune, my latest psychological thriller, The Date, will be published. This is a novel that has taken a long time to write and several false starts before it was completed and there is a very special reason for that.

With my previous novels I’ve written about a subject that interests me. The Gift was about cellular memory and the concept that the heart, when transplanted, can retain memories from the donor. In The Surrogate I became fascinated with the laws (or lack of) surrounding surrogacy and what might happen if either party didn’t follow the agreed plan.  Through The Sister I explored the impact of grief and how far we would go for our family and friends and the secrets we keep.

The idea of The Date sprung from the unlikeliest of sources – ‘My Life’, a long running Children’s BBC documentary series featuring children with unique stories. Around six years ago, my family and I watched an episode featuring Hannah Read, a girl who acquired the UKs most severe case of prosopagnosia at the age of eight after an infection caused inflammation of her brain.  Hannah’s story was equally heart-breaking and inspiring. In one scene she was led into a room containing her family and friends but also some strangers. She walked around the room and studied each face intently and you could feel her panic as she was unable to identify anyone she knew. Hannah was also shown a selection of photographs and became extremely upset she couldn’t recognise her own picture. Hannah said ‘she felt cut off from the world around her’ and her anxiety whenever she left her house was palpable. The documentary makers introduced her to other teenagers with the condition and a university who were carrying out a research project who subsequently taught her coping strategies. By the end of the programme Hannah felt less isolated and more positive but her distress and her story stayed with me long after I switched off my TV. Imagine waking up one day in a world where everyone looked like a stranger? How utterly terrifying.

A year after watching Hannah often crept into my thoughts. I knew I had to write a story about Face Blindness. After I finished The Sister I started playing around with an opening but I didn’t know how to progress it, there was almost too much scope and so I put it to one side and wrote The Gift instead. The time came to write my third book and instantly, I thought of Hannah again. I pulled out my notes and this time wrote the first 10,000k words and sent it to my editor. ‘How are you going to progress it?’ she asked. I was at a lost to know how to sensitively approach a story surrounding a subject that had really touched me. Again, I put it to one side and instead, wrote The Surrogate. By the time I’d finished my third book, my main character, Ali, had been brewing in the back of my mind for four years and I was determined to have a third attempt. This time I felt more confident I could write a pacey, unnerving thriller, but also stay true to the emotions and challenges faced by those who have prosopagnosia. I wanted Ali to show the same courage and determination that Hannah did.

Having a person act as the inspiration behind my new novel has been terrifying but as soon as I’d finished the book I knew I wanted to let Hannah know how her programme had not only introduced me to a condition I’d never heard of but had also propelled me to want to raise awareness of it too.

I managed to track down Hannah’s mum and I’ve since spoken on the phone to her and with Hannah. Next week I’ll be interviewing Hannah for my YouTube channel and asking her what it’s really like to live with Face Blindness. Do join us!

You can preorder The Date as ebook, paperback or audio via your local Amazon here.