Diary of a Novelist – It’s been car crash, literally.

I began this diary series back in September to record my progress writing a first draft of a new psychological thriller, to keep myself on track (you can read the first part here).

This is my first update since January, so it’s going well then…

Since I began writing in 2014 I’ve written virtually every day. Initially squeezing in time around a full-time job but even when I became a full-time writer I rarely had a day off. Fitting in a session before/after days out. Early mornings during holidays. Even over Christmas. And now, now I feel quite despairing because I have barely written since before Christmas.

I’ve had so many health challenges in 2022. On top of the problems I was already experiencing there has also been a car accident which left me with whiplash and a headache so debilitating I couldn’t look at a screen for weeks, and then a nasty case of Covid which I still haven’t fully recovered from. This all led to a really low mood, at times thinking my writing career was over, that I’d never be able to get back into the swing of things. Unable to focus on anything for any period of time.

Two weeks ago though however, I found myself in Paris, and you can read more about that here. I didn’t think I’d have the strength emotionally or physically to go but with a BIG birthday to celebrate and a research trip needed as next summer’s ‘Amelia Henley‘ book is partly set in Paris we set off telling ourselves that if all we did was sit outside a cafe and drink coffee it would still be time well spent. Thankfully we managed more than that.

I’ve returned, not with renewed vigour, but with a quiet determination to return to the job I love. I have two edits waiting for me. The copy edits for my forthcoming ‘Amelia Henley‘ book. And the first structural edit for my 2023 psychological thriller (and I’m not procrastinating and avoiding reading the editorial letter by writing this blog…)

Wish me luck!

p.s. – If you’re at Crimefest this weekend do come and say hello. I’m on a panel at 16.00 on Saturday the theme is ‘Suspicion and Doubt – who can you trust?’

Monthly round up: –

No new words written!

High – My trip to Paris!

Low – Feeling so ill

What I’m reading – ‘Before the coffee gets cold’ Toshikazu Kawaguchi

What I’m watching – Only Murders in the Building

Special offers – ‘The Stolen Sisters’ is currently 99p – Download from Amazon here. “Twenty years ago The Sinclair Sisters were taken. But what came after their return was far worse. Can a family ever recover, especially when not everyone is telling the truth…?” I adored writing this tense story about Carly, Leah & Marie Sinclair.

Join me, hopefully next month to find out how the edits went and if I’m back on track with writing. Subscribe to my newsletter here today and get two FREE short stories.

Paris revisited

The last time we visited Paris was Spring 2020 – the Coronavirus was gripping the world, lockdown was just around the corner. We experienced a Paris we’ll likely never see again and you can read about that trip here.

Two years on, due to celebrate a BIG birthday, my husband asked if I’d like to return to Paris. As well as loving the city, the book I’m currently writing, due for publication next summer, is partly set in Paris and he thought it would also make a good research trip. Thinking he was joking I laughed. Like many people my anxiety has escalated during these past couple of years. I had barely left the house, hadn’t seen many friends, rarely saw family and I couldn’t imagine even going to the shops without feeling panic. After I’d stopped laughing, I had a little cry, thinking about how small my world was. How I was scared to do anything, particularly after the restrictions ended.

How this year I’ve contended with health challenge after challenge and I’m still here. Still waiting for life to begin again.

And then I said yes.

It was an odd couple of weeks waiting for our trip to roll around. My husband knew me well enough to know that I’d likely change my mind a million times if we talked about it, so we didn’t mention it at all and then, the day arrived, and, masks on, we caught the train.

The train!

I was out in the world and rather than being overcome by fear I was excited. Grateful. My family, like many others, have been through so much since Coronovirus hit, experienced so much loss. As I watched the countryside flash past the window I felt something I haven’t felt for such a long time. Hope for the future.

We stayed at the Hotel Le Walt. Our room had a view of the Eiffel tower and it was a joy to drift off to sleep watching the sparkles and then wake to the sight of this wonderful landmark. The staff were so friendly and helpful, the hotel very clean. We loved the location. There are plenty of places to eat and drink nearby, and a metro stop directly outside the hotel. Each evening we walked back through the Champ De Mars, a large greenspace by the Eiffel tower. There was such a lovely atmosphere here with families picnicking, people drinking wine, waiting for the tower to illuminate.

Our days were busy but our highlights were: –

A photo shoot! This was so out of our comfort zone but, back to the BIG birthday, I really wanted to mark the occasion. Paulo our photographer was wonderful and we were quickly put at ease. The photos are wonderful, we’re still going through them (I think we got around 500!) and it’s a lovely reminder of a perfect trip.

The Musee Rodin was very special. It was quiet. The gardens are small but lovely to wander around and my husband, not a fan before we went, came away with a real appreciation of sculpture. It was lovely to see ‘The Kiss’ and ‘The Thinker’. The museum itself is two story. There is a lift to the second floor. The food in the cafe was fresh and flavoursome. We loved eating in the sunshine.

We also adored the Musee de L’Orangerie. Monet offered 8 enormous water lily paintings to the French government in 1918. In exchange, the government agreed to showcase them in a custom built monument. The water lilies are set in curved panels in two adjoining oval shaped rooms and they are truly breathtaking. Even my husband was lost for words (that never happens). Again, it was quieter here. Afterwards we had an ice cream in the Tuileries Garden. It was a joy to see so many families enjoying the sun.

We took an evening boat cruise on the Seine. We had hoped the city would be beginning to light (it was billed as an illuminations trip) but it wasn’t, but we enjoyed it nevertheless, and the wine.

I’m going to mention the Louvre here, not because it was a highlight, because it was the one thing neither of us enjoyed. We’ve been to Paris several times we’re always asked if we’ve been to the Louvre and seen the Mona Lisa so this time we thought we’d ‘nip’ in. We all like different things so if this is one of your favourite places (as it is my sister’s) then I’m glad you enjoyed it, and if you want to go please don’t let me put you off. This is solely my opinion. But the queues were ridiculous, even with pre booked tickets, it was SO hot inside the glass pyramid. My husband and I were wearing masks but we only saw a couple of other people wearing them and it was very crowded. Rather than the usual tourist, gift shop as you leave experience, there seemed to be a gift shopping centre. What?! It took us almost as long to get out as it did to get in. I’d never go again. In the future it’s my beloved Musee D’ Orsay all the way.

Saint Chappelle is beautiful. It was was intended to house precious Christian relics, including Christ’s crown of thorns, acquired by Saint Louis. The 15 stain glassed windows are 15 metres high and they’re stunning. If you have mobility issues ask the staff and they will take you upstairs via an elevator based in the next building.

The entrance ticket included entry to the conciergerie next door a royal palace that became Marie-Antoinette’s prison. There was virtually nobody here and worth a quick visit.

We returned to the gorgeous Place des Voges as last time we visited Victor Hugo’s house was closed and, being a writer, I’m obsessed with other writers. This author of ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ and ‘Les Miserables’ has led an interesting life and the cake in the cafe is worth the visit alone. If you’re not interested in the house the Place des Voges is still worth a visit. It’s the oldest planned square in Paris and is so pretty. It’s lined with contemporary art galleries which are fun to browse and, of course, cafes.

Les Invalides was a five minute walk from our hotel. A military museum as well as a hospital and home for war veterans. The Dome des Invalides is the tallest church building in Paris (107 metres) and houses the tomb of Napoleon. We loved the dome, and the photography exhibition. We didn’t have time to look around the museum although we did manage to squeeze in some cake in the cafe (there’s a theme here).

I’m going to finish up with the Alexander III bridge because it is so other wordly. The writer in me romanticises it, imagining horses crossing with carriages containing women in beautiful ball gowns by lamplight. Anyway, if you’re close by it’s worth seeing and photos here will have the tower in the background.

My tips are not to plan too much. There’s something magical around every corner in Paris but if there is stuff you want to see do prebook skip the line tickets.

Comfortable shoes are a must. Even using the metro or cabs you’ll walk further than you think (and don’t worry about what to wear. Anything goes).

Paris is possible with mobility problems but perhaps takes a little more careful planning. I did put a note on my previous blog about this.

Regarding the Coronoavirus, there weren’t many people wearing masks and nobody social distancing. However, we wore masks all the time indoors, and often on busy streets too. When we took cabs the drivers were wearing masks, the windows were also down (we took a couple of ubers too and didn’t find this to be the case but of course it’s up to the individual driver). We ate outside most of the time, used hand sanitiser constantly. We’ve been home 10 days now and thankfully both tested negative.

I’d love to hear of your favourite places in Paris, I’m already planning our next trip.

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.

Lockdown – How my reading & writing habits have changed – #AuthorLife

Laura & Tilly are confined to their cult

My latest thriller is called ‘The Family’. It’s the story of Laura and her daughter, Tilly, who are indoctrinated into a cult. It’s set in a remote part of Wales and at the time of writing I had to rely on my imagination to put myself inside the heads of Laura and Tilly. How might they feel to lose their freedom, almost overnight? To be confined to the farmhouse and the surrounding land the cult reside in? To be forced to spend each and every day with exactly the same people? I crafted my story with the sense of feeling trapped, of claustrophobia.

Laura’s and Tilly’s tale, as well as being terrifying is also an emotional one so every now and then I’d step away from my computer and out into the bright sunshine. Meet friends for lunch. Go for a swim. Before returning to Laura and Tilly who were still trapped in the same place, with the same people.

Now of course, in these unsettling and uncertain times we live in it isn’t too much of a stretch to empathise with Laura and Tilly. To feel what they are feeling, and as someone who suffers with acute anxiety these feelings are both uncomfortable and unwelcome.

At the start of lockdown I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t read. I certainly couldn’t write.  At best I felt a constant low-level anxiety: scared for my family and friends; daunted by homeschooling; worried about our income, a shortage of food; the list was endless: at worst I felt a heavy dread which rendered me unable to focus.

Like everyone, I have been through tough times before so I did what I always do, increased my mindfulness practice. Meditating three times a day instead of once. Writing in my gratitude journal each morning and night instead of solely before bed, and gradually my tumultuous emotions began to settle.

I began to read again, choosing, not one of the many proof thrillers I am sent, but carefully selecting something that wouldn’t feel like work. I picked Louise Hare’s ‘This Lovely City,’ and for the first time, in a long time, my reading mojo came back. I lost myself in her story, her characters and for a while, I was able to forget, and that’s what a good book can do – transport you somewhere else entirely. Now I’ve started Tom Ellen’s ‘All About Us,’ which I’m equally enjoying.

My cosy reading corner in my study

I itched to write again, but what? I am waiting for my edits for my thriller which is publishing next year and also for my second contemporary fiction story written under the pen name ‘Amelia Henley.

My desk is (mostly) tidy…

The logical part of me knew I should write another thriller. Until my debut contemporary fiction book ‘The Life We Almost Had’ is released in July I don’t know whether there will be a market for future Amelia Henley books but as always, I had to follow my heart and write the story I’d loved to read. A story, as my Amelia Henley stories are, about love and relationships. I began penning the lives of siblings Charlie, Nina and Duke and their complex and complicated relationship. Whether this book will ever find its way into the hands of readers I don’t know but I’m loving writing it and finding that chink of happiness is so important right now.

Later in the year I’ll begin a new thriller, I’ve had a character in my mind for the past couple of years. I feel so extraordinarily blessed I can create worlds to escape to.

Have your reading habits changed and how are you occupying your time? Do let me know in the comments below.

The Family’ is currently part of the UK Kindle Monthly Deal – download a copy today for just 0.99p.

The Family‘ will be published in the US on June 9th – you can preorder it here. I’m loving the fabulous cover Grand Central Publishing have designed!

My chilling US cover

Paris!! The Coronavirus, disability & me – My trip.

It had been 17 years since I last visited Paris. My youngest son had never been, his older brother only had sketchy memories. We were due a holiday and wanted something different – a city break. All being creatives, Paris had to be that city. We spent months researching the arrondissements, the tourist attractions and the places we could visit off the beaten track. We decided on an apartment rather than a hotel, wanting to experience a tiny bit of Parisian life, drinking coffee on our own balcony, overlooking the rooftops. Our train to London was booked, along with the Eurostar. I devoured novel after novel set in the City of Light. I was immensely excited, nothing could spoil our trip.

And then the Coronavirus hit.

We were part of a visit Paris group on-line – everyone remained upbeat – nobody was going to cancel – cases in distant countries weren’t going to deter people from travelling. But then the virus escalated and suddenly the countries affected weren’t too distant and after an outbreak in Italy it was only a mater of time before it spread widely in France. People began cancelling their trips, should we?

Two days before we were due to leave The Louvre was closed with warnings that more attractions would follow. A hotel of tourists in Tenerife was quarantined. We were concerned, not solely because of the virus but because we didn’t want to be stuck overseas. My son had to be back at uni on time for assessments otherwise he might have to repeat his second year.

The day before we were due to travel there was a massive rise in cases in France. I rang my insurance company, would they cover us if we didn’t travel. They wouldn’t. Rather than excitement about our impending trip, all I felt was a sick dread. Was I putting my children in danger? What should we do? On the morning of our departure, we were still debating. In the end we decided to risk it and hope for the best. Hurriedly I packed, clothes for rainy days, layers for the chill and plenty of things to do in case we were quarantined. Our journey was uneventful, no health checks were made or questions were asked when leaving our country or entering France,

On our first day I was anxious, we decided to have a calming wander around the city. I had a loose itinerary but knew from past experience the best way to enjoy Paris is to follow your feet and see what you stumble across, around every corner is a joy to discover.

We stepped out into the glorious Spring sunshine and meandered past the stunning architecture, sharing a smile. We were here! It was okay! Before long we spotted signs for a museum. When we got there it was closed, the sign on the door was in French but we understood the heading in thick, blood letters ‘CORONOVIRUS’ we turned away, just as a group wearing face masks passed us. It was sobering. Again I wondered if we should have stayed at home. The streets were quieter than usual. On the bridge a man coughed and visitors skirted around him, however there weren’t nearly as many people wearing masks as I thought there would be, most people weren’t.

A handful of attractions were closed because of the virus but there is so much to do in Paris it didn’t matter. As the days passed we (I) grew more relaxed. The city wasn’t crowded, it was always possible to get a table in a cafe. There were no queues anywhere, not even at the Eiffel Tower or Musee D’Orsay. It was Paris like I’d never experienced before and likely never will again.

In retrospect I am so glad we didn’t cancel our trip but that’s no judgement on people who do. Face masks and fear are things you shouldn’t have to content with on a vacation. Paris will (should) always be there, hopefully the virus won’t.

We crammed such a lot into our week, far too much to share but these were our highlights: –

Place de Vosges – This is the oldest planned square in Paris. The writer, Victor Hugo lived in one of the gorgeous houses here. It’s so tranquil it’s like stepping back in time. There are some amazing galleries and boutiques lining the square as well as the bookshop in Hotel Sully.

J J Leto is the best busker I have ever seen and definitely one of my favourite things. The second we saw him we settled ourselves on the pavement and listened to his entire set before buying one of his CD’s. It’s the unexpected delights that often make a trip. This was one of them.

 

We wandered along the river and ended up at the Luxembourg Gardens which was a very pretty oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Montmartre is one of my favourite places. I love the street art and the galleries. We visited the Montmartre Museum and I was thrilled to try the swing featured in Renoir’s ‘The Swing’ painting. The Sacre Coeur is stunning and the views across the city are breathtaking.

 

I’m a bit of a stationery obsessive so Melodies Graphiques was a real treat. I came away with bags of handmade paper, a dip pen and ink vowing to write everything the old-fashioned way from now on. Expect my next book to be ready in about 2029…

 

We were lucky that in between the torrential bouts of rain it was warm enough to sit outside at the cafes, soak up the atmosphere and eat a waffle or two.

 

The Eiffel Tower offers such sweeping views it’s great for a photo opportunities. For the best view of the tower head over to the Trocadero and of course, go back at night to see it illuminated and watch the light show that sparkles every hour.

 

I’m such an art lover but I knew we wouldn’t have time to see all the galleries and so I chose carefully. The Musee D’Orsay did not disappoint. I became quite emotional to see paintings I had admired for years via books (including Renoir’s The Swing – I think I’d nailed it.)

The French were so friendly. I greeted everyone with a happy smile and a ‘Bonjour’ and received the same in return. The food was heavenly – we didn’t have a single bad meal although sometimes we had to try several restaurants before we found a vegetarian option.

We would avoid – taxis – we sat in traffic for so long the first day we didn’t bother again. The metro is simple once you’ve done it once and there’s always someone who will help you out.

 

We came away laden with wine, cheese and chocolate; many happy memories and a love for the city. Paris – we shall see you again soon!

Lastly, a few words about disabled access. I have compromised mobility and although I didn’t take my wheelchair I was heavily reliant on crutches. I have walked more this week than I thought was possible (and am paying for it heavily!) The French are super conscious and considerate of anyone disabled. Each time on the Metro I was offered a seat. Had there been queues at attractions I could have skipped them if I’d asked at the front of the queue. There are a lot of stairs in the city. Some avoidable. Some not. The Sacre Coeur has a few hundred but you can avoid most (there are still some) of these by riding up in the Funicular (which is free with a metro pass). The Pantheon had a ramp. Most restaurants and cafes unfortunately have toilets downstairs. There are very few lifts in eating establishments. Most metro stations don’t have them. There are many toilet facilities scattered around the city which I think should fit a wheelchair in. Some of the larger places (The Musee D’Orsay for example) have wheelchairs which you can borrow.