Novel writing – creating that hook – Author Live Chat

 

On Sunday at 8pm GMT I’ll be over on Facebook doing an Author’s Live Chat for The Fiction Cafe. I’ll be discussing the importance of beginnings and creating that hook when you write. In preparation, I’m sharing the opening of my latest psychological thriller, The Surrogate, today.

Whether you are a writer, or a reader, do come over and join us. It will be lots of fun and I’ll also be giving away signed books.

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.’

 

You can find The Surrogate on Amazon here and The Fiction Cafe on Facebook here. See you on Sunday!

 

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A day in the life of… writer Misha Herwin

Always interest in writer’s habits this post by Misha sharing her writing habits really resonated with me. Oh how I’m used to those 3 am sessions! Misha, what does the rest of your day hold?

I love the way my day can start and end at any time. I can wake at three in the morning, my brain teeming with ideas and sneak out of bed, snug in a fleecy dressing gown, into my cold office, switch on my computer and begin. On mornings like this the story flows, my fingers can scarcely keep up and by the time my husband has woken up and brought me a cup of tea I have the greatest feeling of satisfaction.

The tea is pretty good too. Hot and fresh, it’s the kick start to getting showered and dressed.

On other days, I’m the one sneaking downstairs to make tea, so that I can get my five hundred words written while husband sleeps. Sitting at the keyboard, writing, is exhilarating.

I don’t stop to edit or think, just let the story carry me along and I always finish half way through a sentence, so that it is easy to pick up the thread again next day.

This writing exercise may, or may not, have anything to do with my work in progress, but over the years, I’ve found it is essential to keeping my creativity flowing. What’s good too, is that since no one is going to see what I’ve written, anything goes.

That’s another thing I love about writing. Those first drafts, can and will be rubbish, but unlike any other job, no one need ever see them. In fact, there are probably very few mistakes a writer ever needs to own. Most horrors can be buried deep on the hard drive, or deleted so that they vanish without trace.

Once I’ve flexed my writing muscles, I look at my emails. Mostly good stuff, sometimes even an acceptance for an anthology that will send me whooping with delight to tell Mike and anyone else who might be remotely interested the news. The rejections I keep to myself, to be mulled over in private.

Next FB and Twitter. I haven’t really mastered (or should that be mistressed?) Twitter, but I love FB. I’ve re-connected with family members and old friends and could spend most of the day reading and commenting on posts.

If I’m scheduled to write a blog, this is when I will do it. Then it is time to concentrate on my current novel. Whether I’m writing or editing, there will be a great deal of getting up and moving around as I wrestle with a scene that doesn’t work, or a phrase that clunks, or a word that doesn’t seem quite right. If I’m really stuck then I’ll go for a walk and when the problem is resolved you can see me, standing in the middle of the street, or leaning on a wall, scribbling away in my notebook.

Before I’ve ventured out into the world, I’ll have put on my make-up. Even if I’m sitting at my desk, I hate to look like some creature that’s crawled out from beneath the earth. Once I’ve got my mascara, eyeliner and foundation on, then it is back to the writing.

Or, a cup of coffee and the crossword.

More writing might follow, or it might not. There are friends to see, reading and drama group to attend or family to visit.

Woven into the fabric of my day, is the mundane stuff of life, like ironing, hoovering and worst of all dusting. Boring jobs and yet if you write Women’s fiction, like I do, these are the background to the lives and loves and hopes of my characters.

At the end of the day, there is supper and a glass of wine. I try to switch off from work, but if a story is going round in my head, I might have to grab a pen and write it down. The evening, if not spent with friends, will be watching TV, a film, or reading.

I can’t go to bed without a book and there is always a pile on my chest of drawers, plus, of course, my night note book, in case I wake at three in the morning and can’t quite make it to the computer.

Thanks Misha. My chest of drawers looks a bit like that too! You can buy Misha’s latest book here and find her blog here

 

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.

 

 

Hook an Agent Part V – Bestselling authors share how they found their agent

In Part I of my ‘Hook an Agent’ series I shared my submission letter for The Sister which you can read here. In Part II, here, Literary Agent Rory Scarfe told us ‘Never let your ideas be ordinary.’ Part III was Rowan Lawton sharing her top 3 tips for writing that synopsis & I shared part of my synopsis for The Sister. You can read that post here. Part IV, you can read here, featured agent Eugenie Furniss advising us to tighten those first 3 chapters, I also shared the opening of The Sister.

Today, the final part of the series, is all about how to find an agent. It’s tricky to find the right agent for you and as with any industry there are those who are fabulous and those who aren’t. It’s imperative to find someone you can trust because not only will they be guiding your career, they will also be taking a percentage of your earnings. There are horror stories of course, authors who have had their fingers burned, and while I feel it’s better to have no agent, than the wrong agent, the good news is there are so many credible ones to choose from.

We all have different approaches from reading the Writers & Artists’ Yearbook to Googling Literary Agents. I was very careful and almost reluctant to submit my manuscript. It took ages for me to draw up a list of who I wanted to submit to. For my search I read as many books as I could in my genre and when I fell in love with one I emailed the author to ask who their agent was and whether they were happy with them. If the answer was positive (and they weren’t all positive) I’d find out who else was on that agent’s list, how successful the books they placed were. Then I’d stalk them on social media, trying to get a sense of whether I thought I could work with them. I ended up with a small list but it’s important to not initially send your submission package out to as many agents as you can, as sometimes that ‘no’ will come with personalised feedback on your story and then you’ve the option to tweak your MS if you agree, before you send out again. I’ll hand over now to this fabulous bunch of bestselling authors who will share their journey.

I bought a copy of The Writers & Artists’ Yearbook and circled all the agents who represented the bestselling authors in my genre. I then drew up a list of thirty and sent a personalised cover letter, synopsis and the first three chapters to my top six. It didn’t take long for the rejections to start rolling in but Darley Anderson (who represents Lee Child and Martina Cole) asked to see the full manuscript. Six agonising weeks later he rang me back. The book had potential, he said, but it wasn’t of publishable standard – yet. He told me what I needed to work on and told me to resubmit when I’d written a new draft. Several weeks after I resubmitted it I had a phone call. It was Madeleine Milburn who was (then) Darley’s head of foreign rights. She loved my book so much she said, that she’d asked Darley if she could represent me. Maddy’s enthusiasm for my book was infectious and I signed with her. Several years later, when she left to start her own agency, I went with her. We’re now approaching our ten year agent/author anniversary! C. L. Taylor

I finished writing The Teacher and then sent my first three chapters off to fifteen agents. After four immediate rejections within a week, I was contacted by Diane Banks who asked to read the rest of the book. She then travelled to Ramsgate from London and we met for lunch. It all happened so fast! I got on really well with Diane and so I signed with her agency. Katerina Diamond

I’d given up hope of finding an agent, and I’d signed a two book deal with HQ Digital (Carina at the time) when i got an email from Lisa Moylett, my now agent asking to read the full. I was in France with no wifi, so had to tell her that I’d send it when I got home…I sent it the morning after I got home and she emailed that night to say could she call to talk to me about representation…only problem was, I’d been for dinner with a friend and had sunk loads of wine so had to email back and say I couldn’t speak to her til the morning! Luckily, even though I did give her a bit of hassle, she still wanted to represent me – I was invited for lunch with her and Jamie MacClean, her business partner, and was instantly made to feel like part of the CMM family. There was no way I couldn’t sign with her! Lisa Hall

I first came across Rowan Lawton on the Novelicious website where I read that among other things she likes issue-led debuts. My first novel was issue-led, so I thought Rowan might like it. Instead of submitting directly to her, I entered that novel into a competition on which she was a judge. I was shortlisted, and Rowan liked my book and worked with me for some months on changes. In the end, she turned me down. Of course, I was gutted, but I remained determined. I entered the Bristol Short Story Prize twice when she was a judge and to my astonishment was shortlisted both times. I met up with Rowan at one of the prize ceremonies – and as we chatted, I realised that we loved the same kind of books. She was so friendly and engaging, and unlike any other agent I had approached, she was eager to read everything I sent her. Finally in June 2016 when I sent her my third book, The Maid’s Room, she agreed to represent me. I was ecstatic because I knew this was a game-changer. I hugged her very hard indeed. Sure enough, four months later, I signed with Hodder & Stoughton as well as several foreign publishers, and my debut novel The Maid’s Room is out on 16th November. Fiona Mitchell

I was a bit fed up about royalties one day and decided to approach (the late, great) Carole Blake. We were friendly on social media and when we met at conferences and I sent her an email that began, ‘I know you’re not taking anybody on, but I’m going to ask you anyway.’ She felt that lovely Juliet Pickering, another agent in the Blake Friedmann Literary Agency, was a better fit for me, let Juliet read my work and made the introduction so we could see how we got on. We got on very well and Juliet has played a leading role in steering my career to greater things. I am a very happy (agented) author! Sue Moorcroft

I’d researched agents who I knew wanted psychological/crime fiction and those who I would love to be represented by, then made a ‘hit-list ‘of favourites. The list was fairly long! I got the usual rejections, then some wonderfully exciting emails asking for me to send my full manuscript. The agent I signed with happened to be the first agent who asked for the full. Her response ended up being a rejection, but with a snippet of hope tagged on the end – the magical words: ‘I think you are talented and would be very happy to talk more about you and your writing, or to see anything else you might write in this area.’ By the time I received this email, I’d begun my second novel – Saving Sophie – the opening chapters of which had been longlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger, so I immediately let her know of this! A meeting was arranged for the following month and I accepted her offer of representation about a week after. Sam Carrington

I had known my agents for some years prior to signing with her and our paths had crossed several times at various writing events. When the time came for me to look for an agent, I wanted someone I felt comfortable talking to, someone who I could speak to freely and someone who I felt loved my work. My agent ticked all these boxes, so it was an easy choice for me. Sue Fortin

 

Thanks so much to all who have taken part in my ‘Hook an Agent’ series. I do hope it’s been useful to writers approaching the submission stage. Good luck to all submitting!

Hook an Agent Part IV – Tightening those first 3 chapters

In Part I of my ‘Hook an Agent’ series I shared my submission letter for The Sister which you can read here. In Part II, here, Literary Agent Rory Scarfe told us ‘Never let your ideas be ordinary.’ Part III was Rowan Lawton sharing her top 3 tips for writing that synopsis & I shared part of my synopsis for The Sister. You can read that post here.

Today I’m joined by Eugenie Furniss, from Furniss Lawton Literary Agency and this instalment is her tips for tightening those important first three chapters.

  • There’s a temptation to overwrite that I note frequently – particularly in the first few pages of any novel.  Be sure that the density of your prose at the opening of your novel chimes with the rest of the book, unless, of course, you are making a conscious decision to do something different with it – you open with a diary entry, for instance.
  • I would argue that in our time of short attention spans, it’s critical to engage the reader from the first page or two.  It’s tough, in your opening chapters, to get the balance right between action and scene setting.  If in doubt, I’d always recommend focusing on action, and keeping exposition to a minimum.  Character’s backstories can be drip fed into the narrative later, for instance; you don’t need all the information you wish to impart about someone up front.  It’s particularly important in your opening chapters that you’re showing not telling.
  • Keep it simple.  While I love a surprising prologue or alternative point of view, before forging forward with the central narrative, you don’t want to make the reader have to work too hard.  I’d avoid setting up more than two (max three) story lines in your narrative in the first few chapters.
  • If there’s a prologue you can send that in addition to your first three chapters.

Thanks so much Eugenie. That was really helpful. Next time we’ll be looking at how to find the right agent for you and some bestselling authors will be sharing their ‘how they hooked an agent’ stories.

Below is my opening chapter for The Sister. Good luck to everyone submitting!

Stepping out of my car with heartbreak-heavy legs, I zip my jacket and pull on leather gloves before hefting my spade and bag from the boot: it is time. My wellingtons slip-slide across the squelching mud to the gap in the hedge. It’s been there for as long as I can remember. I shiver as I enter the forest; it’s darker than I’d thought and I take deep breaths of the pine-scented air to steady myself. I fight the urge to go home and come back in the morning, remind myself why I’m here and drive myself forwards.

My smartphone lights the way as I look out for rabbit holes I might fall down. I take giant steps over fallen limbs of trees I’d once have hurdled. At twenty-five I’m not too old to run, but my load is cumbersome; besides, I’m in no rush to get there, I was never supposed to do this alone.

I stop and rest the spade handle against my hip, splay my fingers and shake out my pins and needles. There’s a rustling in the bushes and I have a sense of being watched. My heart stutters as two rabbits dart out, bounding away when they see my light. ‘I’m OK,’ I reassure myself, but my voice seems loud and echoey, reminding me how alone I am.

My rucksack feels tight across my shoulders and I readjust the straps before marching on, snapping twigs underfoot. I’m beginning to think I’ve taken the wrong fork when I reach the clearing with the lightning-struck tree. I wasn’t sure it would still be here, but as I look around it seems nothing has changed – but of course, everything has. Memories of the last time I was here hit me so hard I feel winded. I sink to the ground. The dampness of the leaves and earth seep through my trousers, as the past seeps through to my present.

***

‘Hurry up, birthday girl, you’ll be sixteen at this rate. I’m freezing,’ Charlie had called. She’d been perched on the weathered gate at the edge of the cornfield, plastic bags strewn around her feet, blonde hair gleaming in the weak coral sun. Never patient, Charlie kicked her heels as I trudged towards her, cradling the box that contained our hopes and dreams.

‘Come on, Grace.’ She jumped down, scooped up her wares and dashed into the trees. I shifted the box under my arm and tried to keep up, following flashes of her purple coat and wafts of the Impulse body spray she always stole from her mum’s bedroom.

Branches and brambles grasped at our denim-clad legs, snagged our hair, but we kept going until we burst into the clearing.

‘Your red face matches your hair,’ Charlie laughed as I dropped the box and hunched over, resting my hands on my knees as I tried to catch my breath. Despite the cool early evening temperature, sweat beaded on my temples. Charlie upended the carrier bags: snacks, drinks, matches, a trowel and a small present, wrapped in sparkly purple paper with a ‘Fifteen Today’ sticker on it, all scattered over the crumbling earth. Smiling, she handed the gift to me. I sat cross-legged, carefully opening the ends without tearing the paper, and inched the box out. Nestled inside was half a gold heart on a chain engraved with ‘BFF’. Tears pricked my eyes as I looked at Charlie. She tugged the neck of her fleece down, revealing the other half of the heart. I fastened the chain around my throat as Charlie began to dig a hole. Always the Girl Guide, I lit a small fire. It would be even colder when the sun went down, and the evenings were drawing in quickly now. By the time the hole was deep enough, Charlie was breathless, her fingernails caked in dirt.

I carried the memory box over to the hole and placed it in the ground. We’d spent a whole Saturday choosing the contents and decorating the outside of the plastic tub, sticking on pictures from magazines of supermodels and pop stars we wanted to emulate. ‘You can never be too rich or too thin,’ Charlie said. She scooped an armful of dirt and began to cover it.

‘Wait!’ I cried. ‘I want to put this in.’ I waved the birthday wrapping paper in the air.

‘You can’t now, we’ve already sealed it.’

‘I’ll be careful.’ I slowly peeled back the Sellotape and popped off the lid. To my surprise, sitting on top of a stack of photos was a pink envelope that definitely hadn’t been there when we’d filled the box earlier. I glanced at Charlie, who was looking secretive.

‘What’s that, Charlie?’ I reached towards the envelope.

Charlie grabbed my arm. ‘Don’t.’

I pulled free, rubbing my wrist. ‘What is it?’

Charlie wouldn’t meet my eye. ‘It’s for us to read when we come back for the box.’

‘What does it say?’

Charlie snatched the wrapping paper from between my fingers and scrunched it inside the box, banging the lid on top. When Charlie didn’t want to talk about something there was little point trying to pursue it. I decided to let it go; I wouldn’t let her furtiveness spoil my birthday.

‘Drink?’ I grabbed a cider; it fizzed as I pulled back the ring, and froth spilled over the side of the can. I wiped my hand on my jeans and took a gulp; it warmed my stomach, washing away my unease.

Charlie packed the earth into the hole and pounded the surface with her trowel until it was flat, before coming to sit by my side.

The campfire crackled as we leaned against the horizontal tree trunk toasting pink marshmallows on sticks, and it wasn’t until the embers burned out that I realised how late it was.

‘We should go. I’m supposed to be home by ten.’

‘OK. A pinkie promise we’ll come back and open the box together?’ Charlie proffered her little finger and I curled mine around it before we clinked cans and drank to a promise that we didn’t know would be impossible to keep.

***

There is only me now. ‘Charlie,’ I whisper. ‘I wish you were here.’ Charlie’s half-heart, forever on a chain around my neck, spins around as I lean forward, as if it’s searching for its partner, desperate to be whole again. I gently lay down the wreath. The overwhelming panic that has plagued me since Charlie’s death four months ago bubbles to the surface, and I tug my scarf away from my throat so I can breathe a little easier. Am I really to blame? Am I always to blame?

Despite the January chill I feel hot, and as I pull off my gloves I think I hear Charlie’s last words echoing through the trees: I did something terrible, Grace. I hope you can forgive me.

What did she do? It can’t be any worse than what I did, but I am determined to find out what it was. I know I won’t be able to move forwards until I do. I hadn’t been sure where to begin until this morning, when I received a letter in the post in a pink envelope, which triggered a memory of the letter hidden in the memory box that Charlie hadn’t wanted me to read. Perhaps the letter will hold some kind of clue? It will be a start, anyway. Asking people who knew her hasn’t been getting me anywhere, and besides, I’m the one who knew her best, aren’t I? I was her best friend.

But can you ever really know someone? Properly know someone?

I sit back on my heels, remaining motionless for an indeterminable time as the air cools around me. Branches swish and sway as if the trees are whispering their secrets to me, encouraging me to unearth Charlie’s.

I shake my head, scattering my thoughts, and pull my sleeve down over the heel of my hand before wiping my wet cheeks. Picking up the spade with arms that feel too heavy to be mine, I grip the handle so tightly, rockets of pain shoot through my wrists. I take a deep breath and begin to dig.

 

 

Soaring High #FlashFiction

Image courtesy of Douglas M. MacIlroy

 

I’m free and yet I’m not. Not in a cage but still trapped by bars of my own making, but they bring me comfort, these bars. They keep me safe. They stop me flying because if I were to flutter my wings where would I go? Who would I be? What’s to stop me falling? The world is so huge and I feel so small. So insignificant.

I screw my eyes up tight, blocking the voices telling me I can, my own telling me I can’t. I try. There’s a shift. A movement and then it happens. I’m rising, soaring, flying. Free.

 

How joyous I was when I saw this perfect prompt. This weekend I conquered a lifelong phobia of public speaking and appeared at the Althorp Literary Festival. You can read how I got on here and see the photos.

 Yesterday I had a great time on the radio chatting about Friday Fictioneers, the way it’s helped me tighten my writing and my love for the WordPress writing community. You can listen to that here.

 Soaring High was written for Friday Fictoneers. A weekly 100 word story challenge inspired by a photo prompt. Read the other entries and join in over at host Rochelle’s blog here.

 

 

 

One terrified writer, one HUGE literary festival, one big mistake?

 

Over the past year I’ve been asked to speak at several events, some big, some small, but all have one thing in common – I’ve said no. I think I can pinpoint exactly when and why my phobia of public speaking started, but knowing that, understanding that, hasn’t made it any easier to cope with. On the occasions I’ve tried, I’ve ended up in such a state I’ve not been able to sleep or eat in the weeks preceding and have been physically sick and unable to talk on the day. Shaking, dry mouth, fainting, you name it, I’ve suffered with it.

Althorp Literary Festival is in its 14th year and when an email dropped into my inbox I assumed it was asking me to buy tickets as I’ve attended most years as a guest. Instead, it was an invitation to take part in a panel event. I felt equally honoured and disappointed. There’s no way I could possibly take part, or could I?

Unusually, I didn’t rattle off a polite ‘thanks, but no thanks’ straight away. Althorp is a very dear place to me. I grew up 10 minutes down the road and have many happy childhood memories of our Sunday afternoon drives through the beautiful grounds after a roast lunch, my parents in the front of the car, me playing eye-spy in the back with my sister, ending with tea and cake and the more I let the memory cover me like a blanket, the more it grew – the urge to say yes. My fingers hovered over the keyboard before I quickly punched out an acceptance. And then I cried. And then I set about finding a solution, painfully aware I wouldn’t just be representing myself but also the festival, both my publishers and my agent. No pressure then. My google research resulted in me booking a course of hypnotherapy. I genuinely enjoyed every second of my talk and I’ve since signed up for various events and I honestly can’t wait. Next week I’ll be interviewing my hypnotherapist, Carmen, and she’ll share her thoughts on why public speaking is such a common phobia and give her tips on giving a great performance and I’ll be talking about the things that worked for me.

Today though I want to share my memories of what was an amazing weekend.

On arrival I was escorted to the Green Room, the library. The sight of all those books was instantly calming, admittedly so was the sight of the gin…

It felt so surreal at first and I had to remind myself to focus and pay attention to the other panellists as initially I was sitting there thinking ‘I’m on a stage at Althorp! How did this possibly happen to me?’

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There were books everywhere and at my first official signing I had a touch of anxiety I’d scratch the beautiful desk. I didn’t, and chatting to readers was one of the highlights of my weekend.

Umm there’s always one, lowering the tone, photographing the food. That would be me…

The grounds are absolutely stunning.

And no festival would be complete without a champagne bus. thankfully the sun shone and it became open top. 

I met some amazing people, caught up with old friends and made some new, and whether I’m invited back as a speaker or not, I can’t wait for next year’s event.

Huge thanks to everyone involved in putting together such an amazing festival and leaving me with memories I shall always treasure.