Paperback publication day & my hopes for this story!

It’s paperback publication day for The Gift, my second psychological thriller which has already been a global e-book No. 1 Bestseller. I’m SO excited for this book to reach a whole new audience.

The Gift is a story based around cellular memory, the concept that the cells of the body can store memories, and if organs are transplanted, these memories could also be transplanted with them. I first stumbled across cellular memory about fifteen years ago and was intrigued with the concept. Although this isn’t scientifically proven, there are an increasing number of doctors and scientists supporting this theory and further research is being carried out.

Endlessly fascinated I’ve spent years researching, reading up on real life cases where recipients have received donor organs, in particular hearts, and inherited some attributes of the donor whether it is a craving for the donor’s favourite food, or, in more extreme cases, speaking a different language after the surgery that the donor could speak, or suddenly being able to play an instrument the donor could play.

Could this really be happening? Is the heart just a pump or is it something more? It wasn’t that long ago the heart was thought to be the centre of all knowledge and wisdom. Is it more than we think?

I desperately wanted to write a novel around cellular memory but I was wary. It is a subject I felt that deserved sensitively handling. Where there is a transplant, there has to be a loss. A grieving family. A recipient who has perhaps been ill for a long period and the impact that has had on their family and friends. I considered all of these points four years ago when I wanted to start writing a novel and I decided I didn’t have the experience to approach a story that included organ donation with the sensitivity it deserved.

Instead I wrote The Sister, a psychological thriller based around a grieving girl and I found that despite the genre of the book I was able to write it with raw emotion and when readers read it and fed back how connected and empathetic they felt towards the characters, I decided to tentatively start to write Jenna’s story in The Gift.

Jenna is a 30-year-old woman who receives a new heart and begins to have disturbing thoughts and dreams. She becomes obsessed with her donor, Callie’s family, and she doesn’t believe Callie’s accident was as innocent as it was purported to be. Jenna is determined to uncover the truth behind Callie’s death, to bring her bewildered parents the closure they deserve, but as she begins to dig and discover the secrets surrounding Callie, she finds there is someone who wants to silence her, at any cost.

The Gift is fiction, and of course as an author I have taken artistic license with the subject of cellular memory and I’m sure readers will understand the need to do this but I hope I have handled the medical aspect and the loss with accuracy and respect.

My family and I have been on the donor transplant list for years. I know it’s not always something families discuss and it has been humbling to receive emails from readers saying after they read Jenna’s story they sat down and discussed their thoughts and wishes with their loved ones. My hope for The Gift is that it can continue to spark conversations about donation and perhaps encourage someone who might not have previously thought about it to sign themselves up to the register. Signing up really could save lives.

The paperback version of The Gift, published by Sphere (Little, Brown) is now available in all good bookshops as well as Asda, Tesco & Sainsburys. The Tesco version includes an additional short story written exclusively for their customers or you can order the paperback, digital or audio version from Amazon here

 

 

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My visit to the Bronte Parsonage (aka my husband was right…)

I was overcome with a sense of awe as I stepped into the Bronte Parsonage for the very first time. My husband had sensibly ambled off the nearest coffee shop in search of scones as he thought I’d be hours. ‘It’s not that big, I won’t be long,’ I’d replied. But he was right. I was hours.

There was such a sense of history seeped into the rooms of this house that still feels very much a home with its rich and warm atmosphere. Here lived the writers whose books I had grown up reading, who moved me with their words, who made me fall in love with their characters, whose stories I felt a sense of loss from when I’d finished. The Bronte family came to live at Haworth Parsonage in 1820 when Patrick Bronte was appointed Perpetual Curate of Haworth Church. Tragically Mrs Bronte and the two elder children, Maria and Elizabeth, died within five years.

First off is Mr Bronte’s study. The children had their lessons here and the cabinet piano was played by Emily and Anne. Much of the furniture and possessions in the parsonage did belong to the Brontes and it has been decorated as closely to the original as it can be. In each room are costumes from the BBC ‘To Walk Invisible’ biopic, which, if you haven’t seen I’d highly recommend.

 

In the dining room is the table Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights were written at. Visitors aren’t allowed to touch it (oh how I longed to) but it was stained with ink blots and there’s a small letter ‘e’ carved into its surface. I could almost picture the siblings gathered around the table bouncing around plot ideas.

Mr Nicholas Study – Charlotte converted this room into a study for her husband-to-be in 1854.

 

Kitchen – I believe this is the only room that was structurally altered after the Brontes no longer lived here.

Each evening at 9 Mr Bronte would lock the front door and on his way to bed he’d wind up this Grandfather Clock

Children’s Room – this was a study for the children while they were young and it was here the siblings wrote their early stories and poems.

Father’s Room – It was in this room that Branwell died in 1848.

Branwell’s Room – full of chaos and pieces of writing.

Upstairs, there is an exhibition with displays of manuscripts, first editions and lots of information boards to read. Including letters from Charlotte, firstly submitting her manuscript after 6 rejections “I beg to submit to your consideration the accompanying Manuscript” and later, to her publisher “hoping the public may think pretty well” of Jane Eyre and, later writing “we did not like to declare ourselves women, because we had a vague impression that authoresses were liable to be looked on with prejudice”.

I had such a lovely time and learned such a lot I was loath to leave but on my way out I spotted the children’s craft table and although I didn’t have my kids with me the staff kindly let me join them and I spent a happy half hour making these spoon people who now sit on the shelf above my desk watching (judging) me as I write more books of my own.

I also got the chance to do something really cool while I was at the parsonage, yes even cooler than spoon people, but I’ll share that in another blog very soon.

 

THIS is what inspired my new novel… Guest post by Rebecca Stonehill

 

I’m a huge fan of Rebecca Stonehill’s beautiful writing so when she contacted me to tell me she was releasing a new novel I was super excited. Today I welcome Rebecca onto my blog where she’ll share the inspiration behind her new release, the fabulously titled ‘The Secret Life of Alfred Nightingale’. Over to you, Rebecca!

 

The setting often comes first for me: with my first novel, The Poet’s Wife, I was inspired by my time spent in Granada, southern Spain; The Girl and the Sunbird I knew would be my ‘Nairobi’ novel as this is where I live and I wanted to wind back the clock to find out what it was like in its beginnings as a town.

As for my third novel, The Secret Life of Alfred Nightingale (to be published 11 November 2017), the setting was again integral, but this time, not because I’d ever been there. As a child, one of my favourite pastimes was to heave down one of the heavy albums from my mother’s bookshelf in her bedroom, filled to bursting with photographs. I loved the photos of past family holidays, and my aunts and uncles when they were younger. But, more than any other, there was an album I returned to again and again.

It was from my mother’s travels from around 1967-1968, a period when she hitchhiked from England down to Greece, worked as an au pair in Athens and then travelled on to a tiny village set in a bay in Southern Crete named Matala, a place she found hard to leave. As a child, I was captivated by these sepia-toned photographs. A handful of scantily clad travellers clustered around a series of sandstone caves they slept in. The odd flag flapped outside a cave opening in the breeze and travellers squint into the camera against the fierce Cretan sunlight above a beautiful, deserted beach.

I desperately wanted to go there but, even more importantly, the seed was planted: one day I would set a story there. I had no idea what form this journey would take, but it didn’t matter; this would come in time.

Matala and those photographs from the late 1960’s have never left me. It is only in the past couple of years though that I’ve had the opportunity to develop and mould the story into what it has become. My protagonist is Jim, a handsome, arrogant but troubled eighteen year old from Twickenham who hitchhikes to Matala in 1967 in search of fun, and to escape his repressed parents. What I didn’t want, though, was for this to be simply a 1960’s coming of age story. I knew very little about what happened in Crete during WW2 but, researching it more, a story of how to link the two periods slowly emerged.

I finally made it to Matala during the late summer of 2016, with my mother as well as her sister and friends who also spent time in the caves. It is now a resort and much has changed from those days of long ago. Tourists pay money to visit the caves where the ‘hippies’ once stayed and, going much further back, where people from the Neolithic period buried their dead. But the spirit of Matala remains: a place of freedom, of gently lapping waves and, if you take the time to sit with a coffee and piece of backlava with one of the locals, of numerous stories.

The one I have chosen to tell follows Jim through Europe down to Matala. At first, it’s the paradise he dreamt it would be. But as things start to go wrong and his very notion of self unravels, the last thing Jim expects is for this journey of hundreds of miles to set in motion a passage of healing which will lead him back to the person he hates most in the world: his father.

Taking in the counter-culture of the 1960’s, the clash of relationships between the WW2 generation and their children, the baby boomers, this is a novel about secrets from the past finally surfacing, the healing of trauma and the power of forgiveness.

I’m looking forward to seeing this book out in the world after brewing for more than thirty years!

In Matala, Crete, September 2016 with my mother, cousin, auntie and their friend who they were in Matala with in the Sixties.

 

 

 The caves in Matala in which travellers once slept in, the inspiration for my novel.

 

That sounds wonderful, Rebecca. Thanks so much for sharing the story behind the story. Wishing you the best of luck. 

 

Rebecca can be contacted through her website, on Twitter, or via Facebook. You can sign up to Rebcca’s mailing list here.

You can buy The Secret Life of Alfred Nightingale via Amazon US or Amazon UK. Here’s the blurb: –

A compelling page turner of a buried past resurfacing, set against a backdrop of the 1960’s youth culture and war torn Crete.

1967. Handsome but troubled, Jim is almost 18 and he lives and breathes girls, trad jazz, Eel Pie Island and his best friend, Charles. One night, he hears rumours of a community of young people living in caves in Matala, Crete. Determined to escape his odious, bully of a father and repressed mother, Jim hitchhikes through Europe down to Matala. At first, it’s the paradise he dreamt it would be. But as things start to go wrong and his very notion of self unravels, the last thing Jim expects is for this journey of hundreds of miles to set in motion a passage of healing which will lead him back to the person he hates most in the world: his father.

Taking in the counter-culture of the 1960’s, the clash of relationships between the WW2 generation and their children, the baby boomers, this is a novel about secrets from the past finally surfacing, the healing of trauma and the power of forgiveness.

 

 

Vision Boards – Achieving goals #LawOfAttraction

 

“The action of Mind plants that nucleus which, if allowed to grow undisturbed, will eventually attract to itself all the conditions necessary for its manifestation in outward visible form.” Thomas Troward

Thinking positively comes naturally for some people, but for others, like me, a natural worrier, it takes time to cultivate a glass-half-full attitude. I’ve always been fascinated by The Law of Attraction. Despite all the exposure it’s had recently, it’s not a new idea. The phrase has been referenced in many books since the early 1900’s and author Napoleon Hill published a book in 1937 which insisted thoughts have the ability to attract other thoughts and learning to control one’s thoughts can result in manifesting what you want into a physical form. Put simply, everything is energy so it follows that focusing on negative thoughts will bring negative results. Thankfully it also follows that by throwing out positive energy you can help to shape your own reality.Think about it. Everything manmade in our world started off as the seeds of creation in someone’s mind and no matter how unachievable they were told their goals were and regardless of the opinions of others, through belief and determination these ideas became a reality.

The Law of Attraction works startlingly well for me. As well as cultivating an attitude of gratitude which I do through journaling each night (and you can read how & why I gratitude journal here) I also create vision boards, spending a few hours every now and then focusing positive energy into achieving my goals.

Having a visual aid of what you want your future to consist of can add clarity to your desires and ensures your chosen images are firmly lodged in the subconscious. I’ve an old corkboard and I stick on pictures, quotes and text specific to my goals which would make little sense to anyone but me. I hang it at the foot of my bed so it’s the first thing I see when I wake, and the last thing I look at before I go to bed.

As well as focusing positive energy into my health – I was determined to be able to stand and get around without a wheelchair – my boards often refer to my publishing ambitions, from getting an agent, to signing with a publisher, achieving a number 1 and seeing my books in Foyles. Everything on my last few boards has found its way into being, except the country house, but I’m working hard on that!

 

Positive thoughts create a positive life – I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

 

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.

Square Graphic - The Surrogate - 10

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

Publishing my 3rd book – here’s what I’ve learned so far…

 

My third novel, The Surrogate, has recently been published. A new author asked me if I still feel nervous bringing out a book, as I’ve done it twice before. Yes! I still remember vividly the way I felt before my previous books The Sister and The Gift were published, and although I knew what to expect this time, on the days leading to publication, those feelings hadn’t changed. Here is what I have learned: –

 

1)        It’s okay to feel vulnerable and scared. The story you’ve put your heart and soul into, your precious words, the book you’ve lovingly crafted, line by line, chapter by chapter, is about to be released into the big wide world and there is no predicting how it will be received.

2)        You should feel proud and excited. The blank document you started with is now a novel and sticking with it through the sticky middle, ironing out plot holes, developing characters, is an incredible achievement and possibly a lifetime dream.

3)        There will be readers who will love it and those glowing five-star reviews will boost your confidence and keep you writing on the days the words don’t flow. These reviews are lovely but they don’t mean there’s no room for improvement. Never grow complacent.

4)        There will be readers who hate everything about your work. Those scathing one star reviews are often written to hurt, and they do. Never let these reviewers make you feel you can’t. Go back to point 3, dust yourself off, and write some new words.

5)        There will be constructively written reviews and you can glean a lot from these. I love to learn what readers like and don’t like and it really helps with future books, but bear in mind you can’t please everyone and your next book must be written much as your first was, as one you would love to read, not one that you think will please every reader out there. It won’t.

6)        It’s normal to have a last-minute panic, to wonder whether your editor was right, to want to reinstate characters, cut entire chapters, and generally write the whole thing again from scratch. Relax. If it wasn’t good enough it wouldn’t be published.

7)        Most writers find themselves obsessively checking the Amazon rankings around release date. My husband is now the one who checks the charts, that way I don’t get distracted, disheartened or too excited to write.

8)        Publication day is often like a wedding. Full of the best intentions to relax and enjoy it, but in reality often much to do with interviews and social media. Find time in the day to celebrate. You deserve it.

9)        It’s normal to want to hold on to your characters, they have become as real to you as your friends. Don’t be reluctant to start something fresh, you have a whole host of new people to get to know.

10)      It’s okay to question whether you can ever write another book, but you can. You will. And then you’ll go through all this again.

 

The Surrogate is currently part of a flash sale and is only £0.99/$1.31 across all digital platforms, you can find it on Amazon here.