Face Blindness – why this is the subject of my new novel

Next week on 21stJune, my latest psychological thriller, The Date, will be published. This is a novel that has taken a long time to write and several false starts before it was completed and there is a very special reason for that.

With my previous novels I’ve written about a subject that interests me. The Gift was about cellular memory and the concept that the heart, when transplanted, can retain memories from the donor. In The Surrogate I became fascinated with the laws (or lack of) surrounding surrogacy and what might happen if either party didn’t follow the agreed plan.  Through The Sister I explored the impact of grief and how far we would go for our family and friends and the secrets we keep.

The idea of The Date sprung from the unlikeliest of sources – ‘My Life’, a long running Children’s BBC documentary series featuring children with unique stories. Around six years ago, my family and I watched an episode featuring Hannah Read, a girl who acquired the UKs most severe case of prosopagnosia at the age of eight after an infection caused inflammation of her brain.  Hannah’s story was equally heart-breaking and inspiring. In one scene she was led into a room containing her family and friends but also some strangers. She walked around the room and studied each face intently and you could feel her panic as she was unable to identify anyone she knew. Hannah was also shown a selection of photographs and became extremely upset she couldn’t recognise her own picture. Hannah said ‘she felt cut off from the world around her’ and her anxiety whenever she left her house was palpable. The documentary makers introduced her to other teenagers with the condition and a university who were carrying out a research project who subsequently taught her coping strategies. By the end of the programme Hannah felt less isolated and more positive but her distress and her story stayed with me long after I switched off my TV. Imagine waking up one day in a world where everyone looked like a stranger? How utterly terrifying.

A year after watching Hannah often crept into my thoughts. I knew I had to write a story about Face Blindness. After I finished The Sister I started playing around with an opening but I didn’t know how to progress it, there was almost too much scope and so I put it to one side and wrote The Gift instead. The time came to write my third book and instantly, I thought of Hannah again. I pulled out my notes and this time wrote the first 10,000k words and sent it to my editor. ‘How are you going to progress it?’ she asked. I was at a lost to know how to sensitively approach a story surrounding a subject that had really touched me. Again, I put it to one side and instead, wrote The Surrogate. By the time I’d finished my third book, my main character, Ali, had been brewing in the back of my mind for four years and I was determined to have a third attempt. This time I felt more confident I could write a pacey, unnerving thriller, but also stay true to the emotions and challenges faced by those who have prosopagnosia. I wanted Ali to show the same courage and determination that Hannah did.

Having a person act as the inspiration behind my new novel has been terrifying but as soon as I’d finished the book I knew I wanted to let Hannah know how her programme had not only introduced me to a condition I’d never heard of but had also propelled me to want to raise awareness of it too.

I managed to track down Hannah’s mum and I’ve since spoken on the phone to her and with Hannah. Next week I’ll be interviewing Hannah for my YouTube channel and asking her what it’s really like to live with Face Blindness. Do join us!

You can preorder The Date as ebook, paperback or audio via your local Amazon here.

Advertisements

Writing – Using the senses to make your scene sing

There was much excitement when my lovely friend Emma sent me a huge box of retro sweets for my birthday. 10am Saturday morning found my husband and I in bed, dipping liquorice into sherbet, reminiscing about our childhood. Instantly I was transported to the time my childhood best friend Clare and I would rush to the shop at the end of my street clutching shiny ten pence pieces. We’d deliberate long and hard. Should we buy chocolate mice at two for a penny or black jacks which tasted delicious and kept us amused for hours as they stained our tongues and teeth.

At the sight of the love hearts lipstick, the taste of Parma violets, the smell of sherbet lemons I was seven again. The long summer holidays stretching endlessly before me as we rode our bikes under a clear blue sky and shimmering sun. 

Bringing senses into a story is guaranteed to make your scene sing. Whether it’s creating nostalgia or a creepy atmosphere, you want to set your reader firmly in the story. While the first draft is often focused on getting words down, the edit is the perfect time to pause. Put yourself in your characters shoes. What can they hear, see, taste, touch, smell?

Often when I’m out I’m observing my environment. What shade is the sky? How does the wind feel on my skin? What sound does the rain make? Small things I can use in my stories, and often the small details can make the biggest difference. The longer I spend being in the moment. Watching. Listening. The less time I spend staring at a screen. My mobile remains in my pocket and I feel infinitely more creative.

What colour is your sky today?

Novel writing – What I’ve learned from an 8 year old’s story.

Last night I was sent a story written by 8-year-old Abigail. Her father was (rightly) proud and wants to encourage her writing. I was captivated by her story of the Midnight Sky which was speckled with such gorgeous descriptions that I was immediately transported to the village where the story is set.

I adore reading stories from children. There’s something very special about the way they don’t worry about structure, plots, arcs. They write the story they want to tell and there’s a huge lesson in this.

I’ve wrote back to Abigail telling her the parts I enjoyed and encouraged her to keep going but I realise now I should have added a thank you, because reading her unfiltered words which had come straight from her imagination and her heart has reminded me of a very important lesson.

First and foremost you should always write for yourself.

When I began writing The Sister the best advice I ever received was ‘write the story you want to read’ and that served me well. I had no expectations of ever finishing a novel, let alone it being published and I wrote unselfconsciously.

Writing The Gift was a different experience. The Sister was No. 1 in the kindle charts and the reviews vast and varied. I desperately wanted to please every single reader moving forward. Based on feedback I upped my pace, and then slowed my pace. Added more description. Less description. My days were spent endlessly rewriting , fighting a losing battle to this time write the perfect book.

There is no perfect book.

Releasing The Gift was even more nerve racking than publishing my debut and the relief when it reached No. 1 was immense and that brought with it a welcome change in circumstances. Writing was to be my full-time job but this came with an added pressure as it was now to be my sole source of income.

After The Gift I read the reviews and realised it’s impossible to try and please everyone and I had a period offline where I shut myself away to write The Surrogate. The reviews for this book have been amazing and I allowed myself to relax a little. But not enough.

Now, awaiting publication of my fourth psychological thriller, The Date, I’ve a new idea brewing at the back of my mind but I haven’t yet started writing and it wasn’t until reading Abigail’s story I realised why. Lately, my mind has been clouded by doubt. Is my new idea commercial enough? Will people read it? Enjoy it? Impossible questions to answer and rather than letting a story naturally evolve I’ve had potential readers at the forefront of my mind which, for me, isn’t conducive to creativity.  Thanks to the timely reminder from Abi, I’m going to write from my heart, the story that I would like to read.

The Claw #FlashFiction

Image courtesy of Yarnspinner

 

The claw lowered, closed its metal fingers. Slow jerky movements until the bear tumbled out of the machine, into my arms.

‘Hey gorgeous.’ He winked. I’d been called fat, ugly, stupid. Never gorgeous!

‘Can I buy you some chips?’

‘I should tell my parents.’ My eyes darted around the arcade.

‘You’re a big girl now.’

It was my lucky day.

Outside in the alley, drizzle hit my face moments before his fist. The bear wrenched from my arms. His stomach knifed open. A plastic bag removed. I curled into a ball on the hard stone floor.

I didn’t feel so lucky anymore.

 

This week I’m reading through the final typeset files for The Date – I can’t believe it will be published in a few weeks! If you missed the gorgeous cover you can check it out here

The Claw’ was written for Friday Fictioneers. A weekly 100 word story challenge inspired by a photo prompt and led by the marvellous Rochelle.

Flash Fiction – Ferrying Secrets

Image courtesy of Ted Strutz

 

Freak.

I ignore the other kids. The wind bites my nose. I button my coat.

Weirdo.

The familiar puff of steam. I clutch my camera with numb fingers.

Loser.

A stone hits me in the back of the neck but I manage to snap a picture of the cab.

The photo won’t take long to develop and when it does I’ll show mum. It might be my dad! He’s been away on top secret missions since I was born. A spy masquerading as a train driver. Ferrying secrets.

She’ll say no. Call me a gullible idiot. She always does. But part of me still hopes. Perhaps it’s him. Perhaps he’ll love me.

 

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly 100 word story challenge, inspired by a photo prompt. Hop over to host Rochelle’s blog to read the other entires or join in! 

A Fallen Kingdom

 

I am the queen of everything. The queen of nothing. My kingdom is fashioned from hopelessness and regret. I sit in my palace of faded dreams while my subjects smile and nod and lie and cheat.

‘You’ll be fine,’ they say. ‘You are fine.’ But I’m not.

My present is haunted by echoes of the past, whispers from the future. I am cracking and falling apart. My reflection laughs and laughs while I stand and cry. I stretch out my fingers to touch my face but I am so far away from myself I cannot reach.

‘You need a King,’ they say and suddenly, there he is. My shoulders sigh with happiness.

He loves me. He loves me not.

But my King is a shape shifter. He is light and shade; triumph and grief.

He cradles my hopes in his hand but one by one he lets them fall where they lie shattered in the lonely beam of sunlight that pierces the darkness.

I take off my crown, remove my cloak. Step out of my skin.

Walk away.

 

It has been far too long since I last participated in Streams of Consciousness Saturday and I’d forgotten how good it feels to sit and write a response to the fabulous Linda G Hill’s prompt and post without over thinking or editing. Today’s prompt was to use ‘so far’ in piece or writing that can be fact or fiction. If you fancy having a go, you can join in here

A writing retreat – Is it more than wine & cheese?

 

A few months ago, I was lunching with a group of writer friends when it was suggested we should hire accommodation and go on an informal writing retreat. Four of us committed to a date and I spent last weekend packing for my big adventure.

My son sat on my bed as I haphazardly threw an array of clothes into a case and then I spent an inordinate amount of time carefully selecting notebooks and pens.

‘Like you’re going to use those,’ my son scoffed.

‘Of course I am!’ I was a little offended.

‘It will be like the “revision” sessions I used to have with friends during A’Levels.’ he said.

‘I thought those were really valuable?’

‘Yeah. In terms of drinking beer and eating pizza. You’ll be the same but with cheese and wine.’

‘I’ll be writing.’ I stressed again, as though he didn’t know me really well.

At this point my other son wandered into my room. ‘Mum, isn’t an untutored writing retreat really just a holiday.’

‘Umm… no?’ Yes.

Monday, led by Word Warrior Tina, we checked into Centre Parcs and immediately headed to the shop and filled a trolley with wine and cheese. After we’d unpacked, I lounged on the sofa, opened my notebook and jotted down the available times for a massage. Damn my children for always being right.

But although this week there has been much talking, eating, laughter and drinking there has also been much, much more. It was such a privilege to watch and feed the wildlife including this adorable deer who slept on our patio.

The gorgeous surroundings, dusted by the unexpected snowfall, created the perfect creative environment.

Although we’ve been out – our first day saw me heading to the spa after a humungous afternoon tea – we’ve also given each other the time and space to work on our individual projects. We’ve bounced around ideas, read aloud and critiqued each others work with love. I feel relaxed, energised and as I look back at what I’ve achieved this past week I’ve also written more than I thought.

It’s been a really valuable experience and one I can’t wait to repeat. You can listen to my 90 second summary here: –