Drinking – 100 Word Flash Fiction

Photo prompt © Ronda Del Boccio

My heart sinks.

He’s been drinking again.

This I know from the flash of anger in his eyes, the purposeful way he strides towards me. My knees tremble as I stand my ground. Last time he threw my favourite ornament at me and it shattered as it hit my head. It left a scar.

I still love him.

He never drinks at home.

He’s been with her.

She enables him.

She loves him too.

But I wish my mother would stop giving my two-year-old orange squash.

He can’t cope with the additives.

I can’t cope with his personality change.

 

It’s been months since I last took part in Friday Fictioneers. I’ve been so busy launching my 5th psychological thriller ‘The Family‘ but thought I’d join in the fun again today before I get stuck into the structural edit for next year’s release ‘The Stolen Sisters.’

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly 100-word flash fiction challenge inspired by a photo prompt and hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. Read the other entries and/or submit your own story here

An evening with Louise Doughty (this is how she writes) & a return to prison?

 

Last night I was fortunate enough to be invited to a private event hosted by Laura Devine Solicitors (I first met Laura in prison but more of that later) which featured Louise Doughty speaking about her new book, Platform Seven, as well as raising money for The National Literary Trust.

Before I continue I’ll say I was saddened and shocked by the statistics quoted by Fiona Evans who was there representing The National Literary Trust relating to the reading ability of our children. SHOCKED. You can read more about their fabulous work and how you can help here.

Fiona introduced Louise and I settled back with a glass of wine and the most delicious canapés I’ve ever eaten, eager to find out how she approaches novel writing, nine novels in (9!!).

Firstly, Louise publishes a book roughly once every three years but she’s still hard at work in the period between each publication. Currently on a book tour for Platform Seven, she admits that sometimes she wakes up and wonders what city she’s in. The work promoting each book, plus other projects such as her involvement in the TV adaptation of her novel, Apple Tree Yard, has kept her busy but she also spends a lot of time researching each novel before she begins writing. With Platform 7 she spent the night on Peterborough station to see how it felt. Grim, I should imagine.

The thing that interested me most was the way Louise spoke about planning a novel and, being permanently obsessed with how other authors approach the first draft, I did grill her about this afterward, topping her glass up with wine, hoping she’d become so relaxed (drunk) she’d give me the magic formula. But of course, there isn’t one.

Louise says she starts with a rough idea of what the book might be about and makes notes (and like me she can never later read her own handwriting) but for her, the story is all about character. She explained that she feels if she outlined her stories before she began writing them they wouldn’t have that authentic feel. In her (vast) experience she believes that if characters are written to act a certain way to fit a planned plot then the characters may not feel realistic. She cares about the characters she writes, and for her, she lets them lead the way through the story as they naturally evolve. She told me, ‘If I didn’t care about my characters, if they were behaving in a way that didn’t suit the people they had become as the novel progressed, just to suit the story, why would readers care about them?’

Using the character first, plot second approach eventually leads Louise to a point in her book where she has key scenes and chapters and research to use and then she lays it all out before her, and pieces it together like a jigsaw.

This is a method that clearly works for her with her huge success.

Later on that evening, I found myself catching up with Neil Barclay, the librarian of HMP Thameside. I first met him when I eventually visited the prison’s book club after declining his invitation to visit many times due to The Fear, you can read about my visit here.

He’d been following my career since with interest and asked me lots of questions about past and future books. He also asked if I’d go back and teach some creative writing workshops in the prison.

‘You’ve changed.’ He told me pointing out that before I was hesitant in talking about writing, not convinced I was a ‘real’ author. Not sure I had anything valuable to say. I’m still not sure I have anything valuable to say BUT events like last night help me to grow in confidence.

Louise Doughty’s approach to writing the first draft is very different from the approach Sarah Pinborough takes which I learned about last week during an event we did together – you can read about Sarah’s approach here.

Each time I listen to another author, my layers of self-doubt shrink a little. I’m not doing it all wrong. There is no wrong. As writers, it’s trial and error to find the right process for us and that may process may change day-to-day, book-to-book, and that’s okay.

Knowing this, understanding this gives me confidence in the way I work but it doesn’t stop my curiosity into how authors write.  It’s something I will also find fascinating.

Thanks to the always inspirational Laura Devine and her amazing team who are such an incredible support to the literary world and charitable works.

 

 

What I learned from Sarah Pinborough – Novel Writing

 

Yesterday evening I took part in an ‘In Conversation’ event at Waterstones, Milton Keynes with Sarah Pinborough. I love events such as these, not only because it’s a chance to shed my pyjamas, put on some adult clothes and leave the house, but because it’s a chance for me to learn from other authors and last night I did exactly that.

Sarah is a writer I have much admired – if you haven’t yet read her books you really should , ‘Behind Her Eyes’ was one of my favourite reads last year and I was keen to know EVERYTHING about her writing process.

One thing I often struggle with when crafting my novels is my inability to plan. I’ve bought SO many books on the subject, signed up for online courses, but still find the concept quite bewildering. With experience in scriptwriting and twenty novels behind her (20!!) I couldn’t wait to hear how Sarah approaches a first draft.

She plans.

‘I’ve tried to do that with my last three books,’ I told her. ‘It’s failed each time. I don’t think my mind works that way.’

‘How long did you try for?’ She asked.

‘A morning.’

‘It takes me six weeks to plan a novel.’ She said.

SIX weeks!

Instantly, I broke out into a sweat. The thought of six weeks not actually writing the book induced an ‘I’m going to fall too far behind my schedule’ anxiety.

Sarah told me that was where I was going wrong. ‘Thinking about the story, the twists, the reveals is valuable time spent. It matters just as much as hitting that word count.’ She went on to say that once she has spent her six weeks planning, she writes the book in roughly five months.

We differed greatly in our approaches to work. I am structured, at my desk for eight hours a day. Sarah prefers to write in the mornings and then step away from her laptop. This is when she finds the ideas flow best.

I realised, on the journey home, that each time I open social media and read another ‘I’ve written XX words today!!’ post by an author that I was feeling inadequate about my own daily word count (approximately 1500 words) and I haven’t been allowing myself time away from my manuscript to think properly about where it should go.

Since ‘The Family’ was released two weeks ago I’ve had so many lovely reviews about how tightly plotted the story, featuring a Mother & Daughter who find themselves lured into a creepy commune and find themselves unable to leave, is, and how many unexpected twists there are, but the truth was I became completely stuck writing my fifth psychological thriller.

I needed a dead body for the story (this is in the blurb so not a spoiler) and I didn’t know who the body should be. I wrote several chapters with one character but then realised I needed them later on. I deleted those and rewrote with a different character dying but that didn’t feel right. For weeks I rewrote the same chunk of story with virtually every character being the body until I settled on the right person. Reader reaction to the reveal has been how clever it is that the body ties up all of the strands of the subplots but it wasn’t an easy write.

Thanks to Sarah, I feel a certain sense of freedom now in knowing that even if I don’t write for a period of time it will allow me to think creatively and it won’t be wasted time. Each writer approaches the process differently, there really is no right or wrong, but I’m very open to trying something new.

I’m going to be chatting to Sarah more about how she actually plans so watch this space…

The Family’ is currently in a Kindle Monthly deal and you can buy the Ebook for just 99p on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo or Google Books.

You can find Sarah’s novels, which I highly recommend, here.

 

 

 

Why I wrote & what I learned writing The Family – eBook publication day!!

Today is ebook publication day for The Family and I am SO excited that my story about Laura, Tilly and the creepy commune who reside at Oak Leaf Farm is finally in the hands of readers. You can find it on Amazon here, Apple Books here, Kobo here and Google books here. The audio and paperback will be published on October 3rd.

The idea for this story came about after yet another report of terrorism on the news. My youngest son asked me why people do bad things. Together we researched the psychology behind brainwashing and I found it so fascinating it led me to research cults. The people whose real-life accounts I read had all started from a place of vulnerability and loneliness, I began to wonder if you took two women in exactly the same situation, and placed them in the same environment, whether they would both react the same. My writer mind began to toy with the idea of a story where one woman knew there was something very wrong and wanted to leave, and the other woman was completely enthralled with her new life. What if those two women were mother and daughter?

As a mother myself I know I would do absolutely anything to protect my child and I wanted to explore the family bonds, not only between parent and daughter but the wider family, aunts, uncles, cousins. Are those relationships stronger than the friends we choose? There’s a lot of discussion in the story about flesh families vs chosen families.

In the early few chapters of the book, we see certain events experienced from both Tilly and Laura’s point of view. I found this really eye-opening. It was fascinating to see how much mother and daughter assumed about each other and misunderstood. Laura not quite knowing how to comfort Tilly when Tilly asked to be left alone. Tilly thinking that because Laura left her alone she didn’t care. I learned a lot about the assumptions we make and it really made me think about the way I communicate with my children and with my mother.

Tonight, there will be an online launch party on Facebook where I’ll be giving away signed copies and also a bundle of proofs, not yet available anywhere else, by my publishers, HQ – Harper Collins. Do come along at 19.30 GMT. You’ll find the event here. Do come along. I’ll be answering questions and chatting about writing – it’ll be a lot of fun.

Early reviews for The Family have been amazing.

And it’s always a relief when fellow authors like my work.

I do hope you enjoy the story of Laura and Tilly and enjoy uncovering all the secrets at Oak Leaf Farm.

Behind the scenes of an audiobook recording – #WelcomeToTheFamily

 

Saturday was a very special day for me. I travelled to London to ID Studio to both observe the recording of the audiobook for The Family and to record my own acknowledgments, reader letter and book club questions.

I was met by Rebecca from the Harper Collins Audio Team who was super smiley and far too happy for somebody who had generously given up half of her weekend so I could cross something off of my publishing bucket list.

Inside the studio, the first person I saw looked so much like the Laura I had imagined as I wrote her it seemed too perfect to hope that she might be narrating her but she was! Helen Keeley said hello and thankfully I loved the tone of her voice because I am absolutely no good at masking my emotions.

Emma who works directly for the studio and is a whizz at everything led me to the booth and told me I’d be recording my bit first.

I was super conscious that due to the tight turnaround needed everyone was working the weekend and I was oddly calm (for me) as I vowed to do it in one take.

I didn’t.

Through my headphones, I could disconcertingly hear both myself (do I really sound like that?) and Emma in the studio who was giving me instructions.

The words I thought would phase me (why oh why did I put ‘totalitarian’ in my reader letter) didn’t but for some reason, I was rendered unable to pronounce ‘fifth’ and that word took three attempts. Emma had that wonderful Irish calmness and reassured me (lied) that I was doing okay. Voicing my acknowledgments, thanking my friends and family, as well as everyone who has been instrumental in bringing The Family to life, was so emotive. All too soon my part was over and it was time to settle back and watch Helen in action.

I left the booth and went into the main studio where I could both see and hear Helen. Emma told her to pick up where she had previously left off and… instant panic (I thought my lack of anxiety was strange). Sweat prickled as inside my mind looped the same six words.

Please don’t be a sex scene.

Please don’t be a sex scene.

Please don’t be a sex scene.

Fortunately, it wasn’t (I would totally have had to leave!) Instead Helen kicked off with Chapter Eight which is one of my favourite chapters. It’s the point in the book where Laura has reached rock bottom and this chapter is instrumental in her deciding moving to the commune is her only option. The emotion in Helen’s voice as she read was staggering – you can listen to the thirty-second clip I sneakily recorded below) and my eyes welled with tears (see above – I CANNOT mask my emotions).

Before long we’d reached the point in the story where Laura reaches the commune. As the story is set in Wales I had written the signposts outside of Oak Leaf Farm in both Welsh and English. At this point, Helen paused to listen to the correct pronunciations on her phone before she effortlessly parroted them but I felt awful for not considering as I wrote my story the potential difficulties a narrator might face. I WILL bear this in mind in the future!

After the recording stopped it was great to chat with Helen, Emma, and Rebecca about the audiobook process. I learned that it is the studio that sends over samples of narrators they think will be suitable for certain parts to the publisher (The Family has three narrators for each of the viewpoints).  After narrators are selected it’s a case of liaising with their agents and scheduling their availability with studio availability, always bearing in mind the publication date of the book.

It’s quicker than I thought to record a book – roughly speaking a day is allowed per hundred pages.

As the narrator reads the text is checked by at least one person. While I was there both Emma and Rebecca were reading along to make sure Helen wasn’t inadvertently skipping words or sentences (she wasn’t) as well as catching any last-minute errors in the manuscript.

Every now and then, Helen would ask to redo something and Emma, using Protools software would skip back, deleting previous words. She regularly added markers for beginnings of chapters to make it easy for the next stage – the editing.

This is where the book is tidied up. Any background sound, breathing, swallowing, pops on the mike, etc. is cut out and the whole thing is listened to and checked again. Any last minute pick-ups can sometimes mean the narrators have to rerecord certain bits before it is mastered and finally turned into an audiobook which is sent to the publisher who sends it out to retailers.

I am so grateful to my editor, Manpreet,  for arranging this experience – it meant such a lot to me, and for the team for putting up with me on a Saturday. It is genuinely something I shall never forget.

As I left, I asked Helen what was the thing she most enjoyed about narrating audiobooks.

‘I get a chance to play parts I might not otherwise be cast as,’ she said. ‘Although in your story I’m Laura, in her point of view I have to sometimes portray Alex. There’s no way I’d ever usually get to play the part of a male, Welsh, cult leader.’

She has a point.

‘The Family’ will be published as an ebook on 25th September and on paperback and audio on 3rd October. You can preorder in all formats here.

Do join me at my live Facebook launch party where I’ll be giving away both singed copies of my books, as well as a bundle donated by HQ stories. I’ll also be answering your questions on writing and books. You can find the event here.

#WelcomeToTheFamily

WIN signed copies of books inc The Family! Online Launch Invite!

The UK eBook release of The Family on 25th September is just days away (you can preorder here) and to celebrate I’m hosting an online launch over on my Facebook Author Page on Wednesday evening at 7.30pm GMT and YOU are invited. I’ve hosted an online launch before and it was so much fun and it’s a great chance to connect to those of you who aren’t local enough to make the physical launch for the paperback on 3rd October.

On the evening, as well as chatting with you and answering questions, I’ll be giving away some books – as well as the ones I have written my publisher HQ Stories/Harper Collins are offering some exciting proofs which aren’t available anywhere else. You can find the event page here. RSVP you are coming and then leave a comment under the giveaway post. I’ll be drawing winners on the night as well as answering any questions that have been posted about my books and writing as well as any asked on the night via the live comments. I can’t wait to chat with you all about The Family – my darkest story yet. I will also be sharing details of my next thriller.

I was so excited to receive the paperbacks this week I forgot how to speak properly – you can see my reaction here: –

 

As well as the Polish paperbacks which are equally stunning: –

Here’s the blurb: –

ONCE YOU’RE IN, THEY’LL NEVER LET YOU LEAVE.

Laura is grieving after the sudden death of her husband. Struggling to cope emotionally and financially, Laura is grateful when a local community, Oak Leaf Organics, offer her and her 17-year-old daughter Tilly a home.

But as Laura and Tilly settle into life with their new ‘family’, sinister things begin to happen. When one of the community dies in suspicious circumstances Laura wants to leave but Tilly, enthralled by the charismatic leader, Alex, refuses to go.

Desperately searching for a way to save her daughter, Laura uncovers a horrifying secret but Alex and his family aren’t the only ones with something to hide. Just as Laura has been digging into their past, they’ve been digging into hers and she discovers the terrifying reason they invited her and Tilly in, and why they’ll never let them leave…

 

Novel vs Song Writing – In Conversation with Fairhazel

 

I’m a huge music fan, HUGE.

When I write my books often scenes, chapters, characters and, in one instance, an entire forthcoming novel, have been inspired by song lyrics.  My son Kai and I share the same taste and when he messaged me last year ‘I’ve found a new artist you’re going to LOVE ‘ I was curious. Before he sent me the track, Steady Man, he sent me the opening lyrics ‘I don’t remember anything but if I did I think that I would love you’. In an instant, I was hooked, and that was before I’d heard the melodic guitar and soothing vocals of Hugh Macdonald – currently recording under the name Fairhazel. His genre-defying music (although I’d say its core is in folk) crosses generations. In our house you can frequently hear his songs drifting out of Kai or his brothers’ bedrooms, playing in my husband’s car as he heads off to work, streaming through the Sonas in my study as I write.

Not only is Hugh an extensive traveller who studied at the Berklee College of Music, he’s super talented – his creativity spans not only music but graphic design for his quirky videos and Instagram posts – his work ethic is admirable. The payoff, his forthcoming album ‘Home Movies’ has been worth it. It’s a fabulous collection of songs inspired by the people he has met on his travels, each one a mini-story.

Ever curious about others writers’ processes I couldn’t wait to chat with Hugh about the differences and similarities between novel writing and songwriting. We all have a story to tell and Hugh says of his, ‘I want to use stories to promote things I believe in, and things I want to see changed in this world, and sometimes these stories are just used for entertainment, like a four-minute movie.’

So how does he create a song? Let’s find out… (you can read the interview below or scroll down to watch the video).

Hello Hugh, I Googled you online and I read something that said songwriting was really effortless and you knock out a couple of songs a day?

Yes, I set myself a challenge from November of last year until May of this year to write a song a day and after about 2 months it became easy and I could just tap into it and so I’m riding that wave for as long as I can.

WOW! What comes first for you the lyrics or the melodies?

Either, although they usually come together. I pick up something maybe a line or a melody from being out and experiencing something. Then I have to figure it out from there.

Are a lot of your songs based on personal experience?

Sometimes but mainly about other things and other people and less so about me.

When we write novels we write many versions, is it like that for songs?

I think it’s meant to be but once I have something I’m attached to it. If I have to change it then it ruins the whole thing for me, so I usually keep it. If something isn’t sitting right it goes into a bank of songs never to be seen again.

So you have a lot of songs sitting around – what are you planning on doing with them?

I have an album, which hopefully will come out soon.

Which I’ve heard and it’s amazing!

Thanks! I’ve recorded 9 more songs since then but I don’t know what to do with them all.

I’m curious as to whether they’re similar. When I first started writing I wrote completely what I wanted to write and followed my heart but now I have a publishing deal, I’m marketed in a certain genre. I have to think about what people want from that genre. Do you find the songs you write are purely for yourself, for other people a bit of both?

 A bit of both I think. It’s hard to write purely for myself because I think people expect some level of pop, even if it isn’t pop they expect a standard length and some catchiness but more and more when I write, I write a song I would like to listen to. I figure if I’d like to listen to it then somebody else out there would like to listen to it too.

And how does it feel as a songwriter when people are listening to your music? As an author, it’s always a nerve-wracking time when we release new books into the wild.

I love hearing feedback. I think it’s more nerve-wracking playing to an audience of people who may not be steroid typical of my music, who may not like it.

In that situation do you assume they won’t like it or are you quite confident?

Sometimes I’ve played bars where I think it will go badly and sometimes it does!

Haha. Tell me a little about bringing out your new music. Is that with a label?

It’s by myself. I’m embracing being independent.

So you have full creative control?

Yes over everything.

But also all the work. I see your schedule on Instagram and it’s insane! Sometimes I think mine is unmanageable but then I look at yours and think well, actually…

Yes! I’m doing everything myself, graphic design, organisation. There’s only me.

What’s next for you?

I have a lot of gigs coming up.

And more writing! So who are your influences?

 My no. 1 is Harry Nilsson and people from Beatles era.

 Fabulous. And you’ve travelled the world so are you also influenced by different cultures?

Yes. I lived in South Africa when I was younger and I love the way African music makes you feel so I’m trying to incorporate that a little bit more in the new stuff.

I can’t wait to hear it!

After we’d finished recording our interview we chatted about the inspiration for our writing. I shared with Hugh that a couple of years ago I had spent so much time inside writing, but not getting out and experiencing life, that I felt I had nothing left to say. He told me that he often comes up with songs after meeting new people. One of his songs, Shallow Grave, came about after Hugh was in a cab and the driver started to tell him some crime secrets but didn’t finish his story, instead saying ‘But… if I told you too much, you’d be in a shallow grave.’ Sounds like a great thriller plot to me!

I’ve learned there are lots of parallels between songwriting and novel writing. Writing every day helps it become second nature. If you write the story you’d like to read, the song you’d like to hear, you can guarantee that someone else will enjoy it too. We have to write for ourselves but also consider the market.

The only thing left to do now is to convince my editor that I’m too attached to my first draft to change it. Wish me luck!

You can find out more about Hugh on his website here.

Find him on Spotify & iTunes.

Instagram, Twitter, Facebook & YouTube.

Hugh’s new single, ‘In the Morning’, will be released on August 16th. It has such a chilled out vibe. Do give his music a listen. He deserves every success.

You can watch our full chat on YouTube below.