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

 

 

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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.

A day in the life of…Book blogger Joanne Robertson

 

Getting to know book bloggers have been one of the highlights of being published. To meet like-minded people with a passion for stories is a dream come true. Today I’m SO excited to welcome Joanne Robertson whose own blog, My Chestnut Reading Tree is one of my favourites. How do you fit in all the reading you do, Joanne?

I’m an early riser but not by choice! The Grumpy Scotsman always kisses me goodbye when he leaves for work at 0530 bringing me a cup of tea in bed (weak, black and no sugar!) so then I’m awake and straight away I’m on social media sites! I check Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and then I’m straight into WordPress sharing any posts that my fellow bloggers have posted since the previous evening. Then by 7 I’m up to get showered and ready for the day ahead. By 7.30 I’m waiting for the grandchildren to arrive. It depends which day of the week it is as to how many I’m looking after but I look after all 4 of them while their mummies (my 3 gorgeous daughters!) go to work. They range from 6 years to 10 months and I absolutely adore every single one of them! So after cuddles I then give them breakfast before depositing them at school/nursery then back home for 9.

Most mornings I’m free to do some work on my blog (Baby tv and naps for the 10 month old if I have her for a couple of hours!) I blog most days and my posts go live around 8 each morning. So once home I will then share that post in a multitude of FB groups, catch up on Twitter and do another WordPress sharing session. Then I check my emails and this can take a while as I respond to review and blog tour requests that have come in since the day before. I check publication dates and pop reviews on Amazon etc and share reviews again of any books out that day.I am obsessed with my blog and love raving about the many brilliant books I get sent to read and review. I’ve always loved reading so I’m so ecstatic to have finally found my niche in life. Since starting to blog 18 months ago I’ve achieved over 6,000 followers across my sites plus I’m an Amazon top 500 reviewer and Goodreads top 100 reviewer so I work hard to maintain those!

At 12 I’m childfree so I go off to work. Although I’m not really childfree, as I work at my local primary school as a “midday assistant” which I absolutely love! By half 1 I’m home again and have a quick lunch. If I’m childfree I will do either work on my eBay business selling preloved children’s clothing, do some housework or I will read for an hour or so. If I have my grandson then he needs a nap so it’s into the pushchair for him, dog on lead, audio book on my iPhone and we go for a lovely long walk. I live in a gorgeous little village in Cheshire where everyone knows everyone so we often stop to chat to people! My postman arrives after lunch as well so if I have book post I take some pics for Instagram and make sure their publication dates are logged in my diary.

Then it’s school finishing time so everyone is back to Nana’s house for homework, playtime and tea until all the mummies come to collect them and I reach for a large G&T and some Twiglets!! Until recently we had one daughter and one grandchild living with us but now it’s back to just me and the Grumpy Scotsman again which is weird! He loves it but I miss the hustle and bustle of busy family life. After I cook us a meal, he’s off to walk the dog while I sit to write reviews and do another catch up on the social media side. The other wonderful thing about blogging is the friendships I have made and it’s in the evening that I like to catch up with those friends too. I’m not a huge tv watcher but I do like a good crime drama so I will watch if there’s one on with a cuppa (I’ve given up coffee this year due to palpitations!) and a Twirl! But by 10pm I’m ready for bed! Unfortunately my brain isn’t and I don’t sleep very well so normally this is when I do most of my reading. I read on my kindle at night so as not to disturb the Grumpy Scotsman who is snoring within 2 minutes of his head hitting the pillow. I have always been a fast reader and I can read a book a night, usually dropping off around 12 although I’m often awake till 2 in which case there’s a very cold cup of tea waiting for me the next morning when I

Family & books. I’m feeling all warm and fuzzy after reading this. Thanks so much, Joanne. You can find Joanne’s fabulous blog here and follow her on Twitter here

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 Sister Paperback Launch – Magic & Mayhem

Last week was the Sphere (Little, Brown Book Group) paperback publication day for my debut novel, The Sister. After a busy day including a radio interview (you can listen to that here) it was time to head over to Waterstone’s in Market Harborough for my launch party. We arrived half an hour early with a boot full of booze (there were a lot of writers coming) and as I burst through the doors, carrying far too many snacks (writer’s arse really is a ‘thing’) I skidded to a halt. There in front of me was a table full of books. My books. And inexplicably the excitement I had been feeling turned to blind panic as a hot flush crept through me. This was really happening. My story was in the shops and soon, my friends and family would arrive, including both my publishers and I’d have to stand up and do a speech. Only then did I remember I have a fear of public speaking. No pressure.

Instantly my legs felt like jelly and I had to sit down while my husband and sons set up the refreshments. So much for revelling in my big moment. The manager of the store, Tash, took one look at me and held my hand as she kindly (lied) told me that often writers get overwhelmed when they see their books for the first time and reassured me it would all be ok and my speech would be fabulous. Those few kind words (lies) made a huge difference and I was so grateful for her reassuring presence throughout the evening.

First to arrive was The Great Adamos. I ADORE magic and I wanted to indulge myself with my favourite things (cake, wine, books, magic and the people I love). Adam was a great icebreaker and enthralled my guests as they trickled in while I mingled/tried not to fall apart.

It was when Cath Burke from Sphere (my paperback publisher) and Kim Nash from Bookouture (my digital/audio publisher) arrived with hugs and congratulations I began to relax. They believed in me and my writing, it was time I started to believe in me too. Cath stood on the stairs and did a wonderful introduction on why Sphere picked up The Sister and then Kim Nash led a fabulous Q & A and despite my initial nerves I had a great time answering her questions (and yes I enjoyed it so much I’ve since agreed to take part in some author panel events.) It was really emotional chatting to Kim about how I felt when Lydia, my lovely Bookouture editor offered me my first book deal and how kind she was on the phone when I tried to explain I wasn’t a ‘real’ writer and didn’t know if I’d be able to write another book (can’t believe I’m now writing book 4!)

It was only when we’d finished our chat and I rejoined my guests with a rush of relief, I realised I hadn’t thanked my family for their support and this was my only regret of the night – I LOVE YOU GUYS.

The evening flew past quickly after that, chatting to old and new friends, signing books and eating cake.

So many friends and family turned up to support me, some coming from a great distance, and throughout the evening I felt proud, excited, grateful, but most of all I felt love.

And later, as we headed for the local pub after we left Waterstones, I felt slightly drunk, but that’s another story…

Thanks so much everyone. It really was an amazing evening X

 

The rest of the photos can be viewed over on Facebook

Photographer – Antony Woolmer

Magician – The Great Adamos

 

 

The Gift is the 3rd biggest selling ebook of 2017!

A super quick post to say a huge thank you to everyone who has read, recommended and reviewed The Gift.

I’m stunned and delighted my second book has been named in Amazon’s half yearly trends report as the 3rd biggest selling ebook of 2017 so far. As The Gift was released in 2016 I never dreamed it would get a mention at all. It was a lovely surprise. It’s been a phenomenal year and I’m really so grateful.

Thank you x