I didn’t blog much in 2020 –I didn’t feel I had much to say, if I’m honest I still don’t. We all know how terrible the year was. As a family, we’ve faced challenges the same as everybody else; illness, hospital admissions, bereavement, an accident, a decline in health, the list is endless. My creativity was non-existent, my productivity poor.
During the first lockdown I spent weeks wondering how I could write alongside home schooling and my husband working from home. This morphed into what I should write, my mind was too cluttered to think clearly. Pre-pandemic I’d been writing psychological thrillers in the morning and contemporary fiction in the afternoons but I knew I no longer had the mental capacity to do this. I had an idea for an Amelia Henley book but publishing my debut love story during a pandemic had been hugely challenging and I wasn’t certain there was a future for Amelia.
Finally I spent the last few months of the year contemplating whether I should write at all. Had I lost my love for it? 2020 was the longest stretch I hadn’t written anything in years. Perhaps it was time to do something else entirely.
Then came the end of year blogs, the ‘Best Books of 2020’. It’s always so rewarding to see my books featured on these lists and to see multiple entries for ‘The Stolen Sisters’ was hugely gratifying.
But then came something unexpected. I checked my ‘Amelia Henley’ social media channels not expecting any notifications but there was. I was overwhelmed to see ‘The Life We Almost Had’ featured on numerous ‘Top Ten’ book blogs and even voted book of the year.
I cried and then I replied to the posts I’d been tagged in on to say thank you but thank you doesn’t quite convey just how life affirming and life changing these blog posts have been.
Today, I sat at my computer for the first time what feels like forever and wrote two small words I wasn’t sure I’d ever write again, ‘Chapter One’ and I feel nervous, excited and above all hopeful, to begin a fresh Amelia Henley story, to have new characters to get to know.
In this post I wanted to try and express, but fear I am failing the importance of book bloggers. How they have allowed me to regroup, refocus.
Thank you doesn’t quite cut it but I don’t know what else to say.
I began writing my debut, ‘The Sister‘, for fun. It was meant to be a short story. I hadn’t written any fiction as an adult and I hadn’t any qualifications other than a clutch of GCSE’s. I never believed I could write a book. I had always thought that to be a published novelist you needed a wealth of experience and a degree in creative writing.
When it got to the point that my ‘short story’ had reached 90k words I began to tentatively hope I could edit it to a high enough standard where I’d dare to submit it. Out of my depth, I was so grateful when a writer I met at an event offered to read the opening 3 chapters for me. I didn’t check where she was published, or how she was published. The fact she was in print led me to believe she knew absolutely everything.
Her overriding feedback was that my prologue was a huge mistake, ‘”readers hate them, agents hate them and publishers hate them. If you submit something with a prologue it won’t be read.”
I felt my face burn with embarrassment. I didn’t know the rules and I’d been found out for the imposter that I was.
Immediately I deleted my prologue, but now, several books on and with over a million copies sold I’m familiar with most of the rules and (whispers) here’s the thing. There aren’t any.
That writer, as it turned out, was right that ‘The Sister‘ shouldn’t have a prologue, but not for the reasons she said.Her overriding feedback was that my prologue was a huge mistake, ‘”readers hate them, agents hate them and publishers hate them. If you submit something with a prologue it won’t be read.”That writer, as it turned out, was right that ‘The Sister‘ shouldn’t have a prologue, but not for the reasons she said.
The prologue wasn’t needed. It didn’t serve a purpose and in a novel, every single scene, every single word needs to earn its place, prologue included. After The Sister spent two months at No. 1 I found the confidence to include a prologue in my second psychological thriller, ‘The Gift‘, because no matter what that writer said about people hating prologues, I don’t and first and foremost I’m a reader. I don’t write one for every book because not every story warrants one.
So how do I decide when to use one? ‘The Stolen Sisters’ (currently 99p in the Amazon Kindle Deal) is my latest thriller and I’ll use it as an example, I’ve included the prologue below.
When Carly looked back at that day the memory was in shades of grey; the trauma had sucked the blue from the sky, the green from the freshly mown grass. She had sat on the back doorstep, the coolness of the concrete permeating through her school skirt, the late-afternoon sun warming her bare arms. Carly remembers now the blackness of a beetle scurrying down the path before it disappeared into the soil under the rose bush. The stark white of the twins’ socks, bunched below their knees.
Inconsequential details that later the police would jot in their notebooks as though Carly was somehow being a great help but she knew she wasn’t, and worse than that, she knew it was entirely her fault.
It had all been so frustratingly normal. Leah and Marie had shrieked in mock disgust as Bruno, their boxer, bounded towards them, drool spilling from his jowls. But their screams then still carried an undercurrent of happiness, not like later when their cries were full of fear and there was nowhere to run to.
The things that have stayed with Carly are this.
The way her fingers gripped the cumbersome Nokia in her hand as though she was clutching a secret. Her annoyance as she angled her screen to avoid the glare, never dreaming that soon she would be craving daylight.
The pounding in her head increasing as the girls bounced a tennis ball between them across the patio. The way she had snapped at the twins as though it was their fault Dean Malden hadn’t text her. Of all the things that she could, that she should, feel guilty about, she had never forgiven herself that the last words she spoke to her sisters before they were all irrevocably damaged was in anger rather than kindness.
Although in truth, she had never forgiven herself for any of it.
‘Shut up!’ She had roared out her frustration that the first boy she loved had shattered her thirteen-year-old heart. Crazy now to recall that she once thought the absence of a text was the end of the world. There were far worse things. Far worse people than the floppy-haired blond boy who had let her down.
Her younger sisters turned to her, identical green eyes wide. Marie’s sight trained on Carly’s face as she chucked the ball for Bruno. Carly’s irritation grew as she watched it fly over the fence.
‘For God’s sake.’ She stood, brushing the dust from the back of her sensible pleated skirt. ‘It’s time to come in.’
‘But that’s not fair.’ Marie looked stricken as her gaze flickered towards the fence.
‘Life isn’t fair,’ Carly said feeling a bubbling resentment that at eight years old the twins had it easy.
‘Can you fetch our ball, please, Carly?’ Marie pleaded.
‘Fetch it yourself,’ Carly snapped.
‘You know we’re not allowed out of the garden on our own until we’re ten,’ Marie said.
‘Yeah, well I’m in charge today and I’m saying you can. It’s not like we live in a city. Nothing ever happens in this dump.’ Carly was sick of living somewhere so small where everyone knew everyone else’s business. Where everyone would know by tomorrow that Dean Malden had rejected her. ‘Be quick and shut the gate properly.’
She turned and pushed open the back door, stepping into the vast kitchen that never smelled of cakes or bread. It never smelled of anything except freshly roasted coffee. Carly clattered her phone onto the marble island and yanked open the fridge door. The shelves that were once stocked with stilton and steak and that had groaned under the weight of fresh fruit and vegetables, were woefully bare. There was nothing except a shrivelled cucumber and some out-of-date hummus. It was all right for her mum and stepdad out for the evening at yet another corporate function. They spent more time on the business than with their children nowadays, although Mum had assured her it wouldn’t be for much longer. She’d soon be at home more but in the meantime it was left to Carly to sort out tea again. She had loved her half-sisters fiercely since the day they were born but sometimes she wished mum still paid the retired lady down the road to babysit but since Carly had turned thirteen mum felt that she was responsible enough.
She sighed as she crossed to the shelf above the Aga and lifted the lid from the teapot. Inside was a £10 note. Chips for tea. She wondered whether the money would stretch to three sausages or if they should split a battered cod.
Minutes later the twins tumbled into the kitchen.
‘Yuck.’ Leah dropped the tennis ball coated with slobber into the wicker basket where Bruno kept his toys.
‘Wash your hands,’ Carly snapped as she checked her phone again.
What had she done wrong? She had thought Dean liked her.
Marie perched on a stool at the breakfast bar, swinging her legs, the toes of her shoes thudding against the kick board. How was Carly supposed to hear her text alert over that? Marie had her chin in her hands, her mouth downturned; she hated being in trouble. Carly could see the way her lip trembled with upset but she couldn’t help yelling again.
Marie slid off the stool. ‘I . . . I left my fleece in the garden.’
Carly jerked her head towards the door in a go-and-get-it-gesture before she clicked on the radio. The sound of Steps flooded the room. Marie paused and momentarily their sisterly bond tugged at them all. ‘5, 6, 7, 8’ was one of their favourite songs. Usually they’d fall into line and dance in synchronicity.
‘Let’s do this!’ Marie flicked her red hair over her shoulders and placed her hands on her hips.
‘It’s childish,’ Carly snapped although inside her shoes, her toes were tapping.
‘It doesn’t work unless we all do it.’ Marie’s voice cracked. ‘We have to be together.’
Carly pulled the scrunchie she’d been wearing like a bracelet from her wrist and smoothed her long fair hair back into a ponytail. The twins got into position. Waited. Carly reached for her phone and tried to ignore the pang of meanness that flitted through her as the smile slipped from Leah’s face. Marie’s small shoulders rounded as she headed back outside.
Minutes later she raced back in, socked feet skidding across the tiles, tears streaming down her freckled cheeks. ‘Bruno’s got out. The gate was open.’
‘For God’s sake.’ Carly could feel the anger in her chest form a cold, hard ball. It was one of the last times she ever allowed herself to truly feel. ‘Who shut the gate?’
Marie bit her lower lip.
‘I did,’ said Leah, slipping her shoes back on.
‘You’re supposed to bang it until it latches, you idiot. You know it’s broken. Three times. You bang it three times.’
The girls pelted into the garden, calling the dog’s name.
Marie hesitated at the gate. ‘Perhaps we should wait—’ Under her freckles, her skin was pale. She’d been off school yesterday with a stomach-ache and although she’d gone back today, she didn’t look well. Carly knew she should ask if she was feeling okay but instead she shoved her roughly into the street. ‘It’s your fault, Marie. You search that way.’ She pointed down the avenue lined with beech trees.
Marie grabbed Leah’s hand.
‘No,’ Carly snapped. ‘Leah can come with me.’ The twins could be silly where they were together and she had enough to worry about without them getting into trouble.
‘But I want . . .’ Marie began.
‘I don’t care what you want. Move.’ Carly grabbed Leah’s arm and led her in the opposite direction, towards the cut-through at the side of their house which led to the park.
It all happened so quickly that afterwards Carly couldn’t remember which order it all came in. The balaclava-clad face looming towards hers. The forearm around her neck, the gloved hand clamped over her mouth. The sight of Leah struggling against arms that restrained her. The scraping sound of her shoe as she was dragged towards the van at the other end of the alley. The sight of Marie, almost a blur, flying towards the second man also clad in black, who held her twin, pummelling him with her small fists.
‘Stop! You can’t do this! Don’t take her. I don’t want you to take her!’
The soft flesh compacting against hard bone as Carly bit down hard on the fingers that had covered her mouth.
‘Run!’ she had screamed at Marie as the man who held Leah grabbled to find something of Marie’s he could hold onto, clutching at her collar, her ginger pigtails, as she dodged his grasp.
I decided to use a prologue for this story, not only because it’s an instant hook, but because I wanted to begin twenty years before I started the story proper. There was vital information I wanted the reader to know. The girls are snatched in the prologue but Chapter One immediately move on to the girls as adults and we learn they were returned without any abuse. As a mother the only way I could write about missing children was if we know straight away that the girls were safe and the prologue enabled me to do this. We do, as the novel prgoresses, delve back into the past where we see, not how the girls were taken, but why and in the present it’s all about what happens when their abductor reappears on the twenty year anniversary of their abduction.
To read more of the Sinclair sisters’ story download the digital version of the book for just 99p for a limited time only across all digital platforms. You can find The Stolen Sisters on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, Google books & Waterstones.
It’s also a Fern Britton book club pick and a special edition with extra content is available at Tesco. You can also find ‘The Stolen Sisters’ at Asda, shortly at Sainsbury’s and as an audiobook on Audible.
Two of my other books (with prologues!) are also in Amazon’s October sale. Download ‘The Gift‘ or my Amelia Henley debut love story with a twist ‘The Life We Almost Had.‘ (you can read the prologue for this here.)
Locations can be hugely important to a book. My first four psychological thrillers were based in fabricated towns in the midlands because the place wasn’t relevant to the story, my fifth, ‘The Family’ in a cult in Wales because I needed a vast amount of rural space and I was very familiar with this area. ‘The Life We Almost Had’ my debut love story takes place on a Spanish Island based on Lanzarote.
For my 7th and latest book I needed somewhere specific. Somewhere remote and yet not too far out of a town. Somewhere creepy. Somewhere you could feasibly hide three young girls…
I’m obsessed with exploring abandoned buildings and my children are the same. If we want a day out we’d much rather go and look around a ruin, and so the hunt was on for somewhere to base ‘The Stolen Sisters’. In this book the Sinclair sisters are snatched during chapter one. In chapter two we find out they had been returned unharmed with no sexual abuse (it was the only way I could bear to write this). Chapters in the book alternate between past and present and in the past we needed to feel the girls fear, the tension and the way to build on this was to use the setting almost as another character.
I considered, and disregarded multiple locations before I stumbled upon RAF Upwood. It was everything I wanted it to be. Close enough to take the girls there in a relatively short space of time. Vast enough for the girls to get lost when they escape their room. Remote enough so no-one can hear them scream…
I renamed Upwood, RAF Norwood for the story and like Upwood, in my book Norwood was fenced off, waiting to be demolished for a housing estate (Upwood has now partly been knocked down.) Hyde Housing were very accommodating, allowing me to look around and film. I also staged rooms where the girls might be held, with the scant possessions they were given, to try and really get a feel for the horror Leah, Marie and Carly Sinclair might have felt.
It was surreal being at Upwood. Kind of like being on a film set for a movie version of ‘The Stolen Sisters’.
This clown was really the start of everything. I imagined it being on the back of the door, terrifying the young girls, the sense of his eyes watching them every time they try to escape the room. I was never afraid of clowns until I wrote this book, now…
The corridors have so many doorways coming off them, imagine how terrifying it would be to be chased, to choose a doorway, and find yourself trapped in another dark room.
There is a scene in the book where the girls hang from these bars hoping they can pull them free from the window. They can’t.
Carly is running with her two younger sisters, she hears the men coming, does she hide upstairs or try to make it to the door?
I set up a camp in one of the rooms with Leah’s teddy bear, the blanket and the food and drink the girls were given. It was horrible
There is a terrifying scene that takes place in the shower block. Thanks to my visit I was able to describe the environment, but the smell! I could never describe the smell.
The site is absolutely vast. Imagine running around here at night with no lights. Shudder.
Some of the graffiti here is so impressive.
Everywhere I turned I spotted potential danger for the girls.
In a bid to escape, Leah dropped her teddy bear, it was heartbreaking to think of it left the RAF base amongst the rubble.
It’s also a Fern Britton book club pick and a special edition with extra content is available at Tesco. You can also find ‘The Stolen Sisters’ at Asda, shortly at Sainsbury’s and as an audiobook on Audible.
It’s publication day for my 6th psychological thriller, (my 7th published book).
It’s been a whirlwind, launching both this book and my debut love story ‘The Life We Almost Had‘ written under my pen name Amelia Henley. With ebook and paperbacks, this is my third publication day in the last few months. The excitement never ends! Thanks to everyone who came along to my live online launch last night – it was huge fun and congratulations to all the prize winners.
The Stolen Sisters is available as eBook, paperback and audiobook, and the physical version can be found in Tesco, Asda, (Sainsbury’s in a couple of weeks), Waterstones, Foyles, and other bookshops. If your local bookshop isn’t stocking it, do ask – they’d be happy to order in. I can’t wait to see it on a shelf! There was much excitement when I finally got to hold it in my hands.
I’m both grateful and excited that the lovely Fern Britton has chosen The Stolen Sisters for her October bookclub pick. She has an exclusive edition with extra content which can be found in Tesco!
This story of the Sinclair Sisters is very special to me, and I’m thrilled with the early feedback. It’s already received over 100 5* reviews on Netgalley and I’ve been doing a readathon these past few days with the lovely folks at Pigeonhole and the response there has been phenomenal.
I’ll be talking about the inspiration behind it, and the creepy real life location it is based in over the next few weeks but for now I’ll leave you with the blurb.
Sisterhood binds them. Trauma defines them. Will secrets tear them apart?
Leah’s perfect marriage isn’t what it seems but the biggest lie of all is that she’s learned to live with what happened all those years ago. Marie drinks a bit too much to help her forget. And Carly has never forgiven herself for not keeping them safe.
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…?
Next week – next week!! I can’t believe it’s almost publication day for my 6th psychological thriller – The Stolen Sisters. The early reviews have been AMAZING with readers calling it my best book so far. The Sinclair sisters, Leah, Marie and Carly really hold a special place in my heart and I can’t wait to share more about them over the next few weeks, as well as the creepy real life location the story is set in.
For now I’d like to invite you to my Facebook and IG online launch, next Wednesday at 8pm GMT. My wonderful publisher, HQ Stories/Harper Collins, have donated some brilliant prizes which I’ll be giving away during the launch. If you’re a Facebook user pop over to the event here and enter the draws or you can also find them on Insta here. I’ll also be giving away something extra on the night.
Fortnum & Masons have generously donated one of their fabulous hampers which you can be in with a chance to win if you pre-order (or have already pre-ordered) the book. Check out their competition here.
While I’m here I’ll mention that my debut love story with a big twist ‘The Life We Almost Had’ (written under my pen name Amelia Henley) is currently 99p on Amazon and across all digital platforms.
I’m so touched by the love readers have shown Adam & Anna and by the press coverage.
‘A love story with a definite difference . . . intensely emotional’Best
‘Beautifully written & plotted. Get ready for the final chapter – you have been warned’Candis
It was a dream come true to spot in on a shelf in Tesco while I was doing my shopping. Trust me, there was a HUGE smile behind my mask.
If you want to read about the unimaginable lengths Anna has to go to in order to have a second chance at first love with Adam download “The Life We Almost Had’ from Amazon, iBooks, Kobo or Google. It is NOT a typical love story.
My newly published ‘Amelia Henley’ debut ‘The Life We Almost Had’ is all about the unimaginable leap Anna takes to have a second chance at first love with Adam. This isn’t a typical love story but I really wanted to explore how far we’d go, given the chance, to go back and change the past. In my story Anna has the opportunity to do just this but it comes with potential heartbreaking and life changing consequences. I shared what I’d like a second chance at in my last post which you can read here.
So many brilliant books published on the same day as ‘The Life We Almost Had’ and I asked some of the authors I shared a publication day with what they’d like a second chance at. The answers were both moving and relatable.
Natasha Randall – Author of “Love Orange’ –
“I wish I had a second chance at my twenties. I would have been calmer, gone deeper. Those years passed with breathlessness, I think I was whirling, spraying sweat in all directions. I was looking for something and I still don’t know what — a place to belong? I think I moved 15 times in ten years. I should have stopped a little, tried to belong a little to something good but with stillness.”
“I would like a second chance to say goodbye to my father. We didn’t speak for six months before he passed away for several complicated reasons, mainly because I had walked out of an arranged marriage and felt too guilty to face my family. My father suffered from ill health – part of the reason why I agreed to an arranged marriage in the first place – and was hospitalised one April day. I received a call from my sister and I remember looking at the wall clock and trying to decide whether or not to rush to the hospital. It was 8.10pm and visiting hours ended at 8.30. In the end, I decided I would visit tomorrow. In the early hours, my father passed away.
I would like a second chance at saying goodbye to him; at telling him I loved him; at saying I forgave him; and asking for forgiveness too.
I’ve managed to process much of my pain through fiction. I’ve channelled my experiences into Zara Kaleel, the protagonist of Take It Back and now Truth Be Told. Her relationship with her family is based on my own and writing about that has been deeply cathartic.”
“I’d love a second chance to sit down with my mother and talk to her about her early life. She spent her youth in Cornwall during the War, and although we managed to talk about her experiences just before she died in 2017, I wish we’d had more time and been able to get into greater detail on the tea dances in the hotels on the Penzance promenade and her worldlywise cousins and how they got her drunk for the first time in her life, and how she traded her food ration for lipstick and cigarettes; and about all the family secrets that started to bubble to the surface when she knew her time was running out. THE SEA GATE is something of an homage to her and her generation: I wish she’d had a chance to read it.”
You can order ‘The Sea Gate’ via Waterstones here.
Elizabeth Baines, Author of ‘Astral Travel’
“Once I got a chance to go to London and work for an advertising agency. But guess what, I had fallen in love with a man who was based in Scotland. What to do? I’d aways promised myself i would never do what my mother had done – give up the chance of a career for a man – and the thought of London and working in that kind of environment had always seemed so exciting… But all of a sudden the idea didn’t seem so glittery: I knew I’d be miserable there, missing my man. So I chose my man, went to Scotland and trained to be a teacher. Do I regret my decision? No, i found I loved teaching, and how could I regret the two children we had, who have been among the best things in my life? But sometimes I wonder: what turns would my life have taken if I’d chosen differently? Would I have become a different kind of person? As a writer you are always dealing with What Ifs, and sometimes I think I would love to get into a time machine and take that different path, just to find out…”
You can buy ‘Astral Travel’ from Waterstones here or direct from Salt Publishing here.
If you want to read about the unimaginable lengths Anna has to go to in order to have a second chance at first love with Adam my debut love story ‘The Life We Almost Had‘ is currently 99p across all digital platforms. Download it from Amazon, iBooks, Kobo or Google. It is NOT a typical love story.
As well as on Amazon, you can find the paperback in Tesco, or Waterstones or support your local bookstore. Book stores are always happy to order in a title they don’t have in stock.
Is there anything you wish you could have a second chance at? Do let me know!
Today, on my blog, I’m delighted to welcome psychological thriller and ghost writer Emma Rowley and chat to her about her newly published thriller as well finding out a little more about ghost writing.
Tell me about your new novel You Can Trust Me – what’s it about?
It’s a psychological thriller about a ghostwriter, Nicky, whose new client Olivia is an Instagraminfluencer with an apparently picture-perfect life. Her job is to help Olivia to write a book – sharing all her lifestyle tips and tricks – but she soon finds out there are things Olivia just doesn’t want to talk about … and her beautiful family home harbours some dark secrets.
What inspired it?
My own experiences as a professional ghostwriter. I’ve got on with all my clients, but it is definitely a relationship that can be quite intense – you are asking someone to tell you all about themselves, so there is a lot of trust involved. ‘You know everything about me,’ a client told me once. ‘But I don’t know anything about you…’ She just wanted to get to know me a bit better, but I remember thinking even then, that sounds so sinister! I knew that one day I’d write a book about a ghostwriter relationship that goes very wrong.
What exactly does a ghostwriter do?
Basically, it’s a collaborative process where I help someone write their book. A lot of people will need a hand with getting their thoughts down on paper, or structuring them into an actual book, which might be up to 90,000 words. How it works normally is, I will interview someone over a period of weeks, in person or over the phone, then I will go away and use all that information to write a draft that we will work through together, making changes so that they are totally happy with it. The key is to capture their voice as much as possible, so it really feels like their book. Over the years, I have worked with everyday people who have incredible stories to tell, as well as celebrities – but I’m afraid no, I can’t say who!
How did you get into that?
Through working as a journalist for years – there are similar skills involved, in terms of asking the right questions, listening closely to what people say, and organising all the material you collect into something that’s cohesive and readable. Funnily enough, It meant that by the time my debut novel, Where The Missing Go, came out in 2018, I had already written half a dozen books already, albeit under other people’s names (and they were all non-fiction).
What’s it like to switch from ghostwriting to fiction?
Actually, I still work as a ghostwriter – I never stopped! The advantage that gave me, as I set out to write fiction, was that I knew I could finish writing a book, at least, which gave me confidence. And capturing people’s individual voices for their books – making sure I had the right turn of phrase, vocabulary and rhythm – was great practice for making sure my first-person narrators had distinctive voices, particularly as I like to write books with more than one narrator.
What was it like to see your own name on a book you’ve written, rather than someone else’s?
It was wonderful! Writing my own books, rather than helping other people write theirs, was a totally different experience. I actually found it more difficult to write fiction, as you have to conjure up everything yourself – with a ghostwritten book, someone else is sharing their thoughts and experiences, of course. But I love it – my latest book, in particular, is so personal to me.
It sounds fabulous! Thanks for chatting to me today and wishing you lots of luck with ‘You Can Trust Me.’
Emma’s first thriller Where The Missing Go was a 2020 Edgar Award nominee. Her new book You Can Trust Me was published in paperback on September 3 by Orion
Today I’ve received my edits for my second Amelia Henley novel which will be published next July. I admit, that I’ve been a little worried about this story. Since writing it, my debut contemporary fiction book ‘The Life We Almost Had’ has been released on eBook (it’s currently 99p) and the reviews have been STUNNING, they’ve really taken my breath away. Readers have said Adam and Anna’s unusual love story will always stay with them so Jack and Libby have A LOT to live up to next year. Thankfully my editor has called my second commercial fiction book ‘another pretty epic love story’ so that’s a relief.
Receiving feedback can be overwhelming. As authors we send off the best version of our manuscripts and hope that our editors love it and it can be easy to believe they don’t when the notes come back with suggestions of changes. I remember that prior to signing my first book deal I asked my editor, Lydia, who had made the offer what she wanted to change with my debut psychological thriller, ‘The Sister,’ I’d already turned down an agent’s offer because they wanted me to completely restructure it. Lydia assured me she loved it and in my naivety I thought that my work was done. When she returned my manuscript with track changes (which I had never seen before) I was HORRIFIED. We spoke on the phone immediately.
‘I thought you loved my story?’ I wailed.
‘I do,’ she assured me.
‘But you’ve sent it back and it’s covered in… RED.’
She explained that even though there were no major structural changes to be made there was work to be done (and then copy edits and then the proofread, and then the typesetting…) She was immensely kind and patient guiding me through the process which felt enormous.
For those early books I would read my editorial notes, cry, panic (repeat several times) and then write an email questioning everything and then cry and panic a bit more until Lydia calmed me down.
Now I know it’s essential to take time to digest the suggestions before even thinking about tackling them.
Today, I read my notes and then went for a walk to ponder them over. When I got home I opened up my manuscript in Scrivener which is where I prefer to work until the copy edit stage and I opened up my editor’s track changed Word document side by side. I copy and pasted all of her notes into Scrivener in the appropriate sections placing an XX before each one and then I stepped away. I’ll give myself 24 hours thinking space before I tackle any writing. Tomorrow I’ll do a document search for each XX and make the majority of the suggested changes before reading it through again and expanding or cutting anything else I feel needs it. If there’s anything I don’t want to change I will contact my editor and explain why and we can talk it over.
My editor, Manpreet, is fabulous. She took a chance on ‘The Life We Almost Had’ a love story with a very unusual concept and a twist and understood completely what I wanted to do with it so I trust her BUT I don’t want to rush in and chop bits out if I’m not entirely sure it’s the right thing.
Take some time to digest the suggestions.
Your editor does love your book or they wouldn’t be publishing it.
Everybody has a vested interest in making the story the best that it can be.
Writers can become too close to their characters to be objective.
There’s no right or wrong way to tackle edits, you’ll find your own way of working and that might change with every book.
If it all seems too much try writing list – everything seems more manageable with a plan.
Ultimately it’s your name on the cover so if you feel you don’t want to change something tell your editor why – they won’t (shouldn’t) bite.
The end is in sight!
When you can’t bear to read through your story one more time and hate the sight of it you’re probably done!
If you’ve any editing questions I’ll be chatting live on my Facebook page on Thursday 20th August at 3pm GMT about ‘The Life We Almost Had‘ but do come & ask your writing/publishing questions.
An important decision any writer needs to make is where to set your novels. The right location can really highlight the genre and set the mood. There are advantages of using a genuine place; readers who are familiar with it can instantly place themselves in the location, and disadvantages; landscapes can change so quickly and if you get any of the details wrong this can be jarring.
For my early novels where locations didn’t matter to the story so I kept things deliberately vague, never naming a town or stating exactly where it was supposed to be. Name generators on Google were my friend although this almost backfired once after naming a village ‘Therinsborough’. My editor immediately flagged this with a ‘Didn’t you ever watch Neighbours, this sounds very close to Erinsborough, Louise….’
My latest two novels however, are a little different. For my forthcoming psychological thriller, ‘The Stolen Sisters’ I use the location where the Sinclair Sisters, Leah, Marie and Carly, are taken and held captive almost as another character. The description of the abandoned site where they are held adds another chilling layer to their story and really creates a dark atmosphere. To find the perfect location, I spent hours trawling through urban explorer sites and watching YouTube videos until I stumbled across the perfect place. Here I could envisage these three young sisters huddled together, cold and scared, but also telling stories and making up games to support each other through their ordeal. The stark, cold, decay of their rooms contrasting with the warmth of their loving relationship which shines through the pages. I’ll be sharing these real life photos closer to the 1st October publication.The idea for my debut contemporary fiction novel, ‘The Life We Almost Had’ came to me in Lanzarote. I was gazing out to sea and, in my imagination, I saw a shocking scene play out before my eyes, like a movie. Instantly I knew I had to write the unusual story I had imagined.I wanted to base the novel on Lanzarote but as this love story has a futuristic element I needed to build a Scientific Research Centre on the north of the island and so I renamed my island Alircia (although I still secretly call it Lanzarote). I use the blue skies and sparkling seas to paint a warm and loving picture. We’re with the couple as they fall in love and visit the tourist attractions that I also visited – (using a real location has the added bonus of research trips!) – the house of writer Jose Saramago, the lava caves, Jameos del Aguo, the markets and of course, the place where the story circles back to, the beautiful cove at Playa Blanca where couples fasten lovelocks.I was so utterly invested in Anna and Adam’s love story with a twist that I bought them a lovelock even before I had even put pen to paper.When Anna and Adam return to the UK things get drab and bleak, much like the weather. Life throws them on to an unexpected path. Both keeping secrets, they return to their beloved Alircia to try to fix their fractured relationship but a tragedy forces them apart. Will they take the ultimate risk for a second chance at their love.You’ll have to read the book to find out!
One of the things that put me off writing a book for years (other than fear of failing, fear of making a fool of myself, fear of being terrible at writing and shattering my author daydreams) was the research. How did writers know all the things that went into their books? I guessed that high profile authors, perhaps had police contacts on speed dial to check out procedures but what about the rest of us? Those starting out? What happens when Google just doesn’t cut it?
Writing ‘The Sister’, I shied away from including anything I didn’t know much about which left…. very little content. I had to reach out to experts and the thought terrified me.
I remember, with clarity, the way my hands shook, palms sweated, as I made my first call to the fire department to ask for their advice (and no, I didn’t ring 999 claiming a plot emergency) tentatively explaining I was writing a book and wanted to be as accurate with the details as I could. I was told someone would call me back. Despondent I hung up, sure I’d never hear from anyone. Later that afternoon my phone rang, a man introducing himself as Chief Inspector and my heart skipped beat, certain I was about to be arrested for wasting time, but he was lovely and helped enormously. His advice changed the whole scene and he worked on the detail with me until we were both happy.
I realised then that most people are happy to talk about the things they have a passion for and knowledge of. Since ‘The Sister’ I’ve spoken to numerous people about various things – the concept of cellular memory for ‘The Gift’ (a heart retaining memories of its donor so the recipient knows things they shouldn’t…) Prospagnosia (Face Blindness) for ‘The Date’, surrogacy and law for ‘The Surrogate’, brainwashing for ‘The Family‘ and kidnapping for the forthcoming ‘The Stolen Sisters‘.
One of the most interesting things I have researched is neuroscience for my latest publication ‘The Life We Almost Had’ which is my debut contemporary fiction novel published under my pen name ‘Amelia Henley’. I’d become fascinated with consciousness and, for fun, I wanted to write a story set in current times but to expand on scientific elements for part of the plot (and yes I know this sounds vague but I don’t want to give spoilers).
I called up Magdalen College in Oxford and explained what I was doing and they invited me to sit in on some lecturers. I met some of the world’s leading experts in their field and I found it so enjoyable so much so that I’ve been looking into formally studying science in some capacity.
There’s a danger, when authors research, that they want to put everything they’ve learned into the story because they’ve spent so much time learning and because they’ve found everything so interesting and this is something I definitely had to bear in mind with ‘The Life We Almost Had.’ At it’s heart, it’s a sweeping love story and I often found myself cutting out technical explanations that I knew some readers would find boring, and getting back to Adam and Anna’s tangled relationship.
Writing ‘The Life We Almost Had‘ took me to Lanzarote where much of the story is based. Research trips are great fun sometimes so much so I forget to do the actual research…
Here are my top tips for researching: –
Take the time to choose who you think can best help you carefully, for instance there are many different types of lawyers, doctors etc.
Approach people respectfully – I never ask questions in my initial email but rather ask if they’d be willing to answer questions and I let them know roughly how many or how much time I think I’d need for a phone chat.
Don’t fire off the same email to dozens of people asking for help and waste people time if they all reply.
Plan ahead so you can continue writing while you wait for a response. Appreciate people are busy and they might not get back to you straight away.
Also make sure you have your questions ready before you ask for help. For the book I’m currently writing I emailed a charity, assuming that because of the pandemic they might not have the time or staff to get back to me at all and they called me five minutes later and I wasn’t prepared!
Don’t include everything you’ve learned however interesting, ask yourself ‘does the reader need to know this and does it move the plot forward’.
Blogs are a great place to find people who want to talk. I found many transplant patients this way who were happy to share their experiences with me.
Remember that although books are entertainment as a writer you are dealing with experiences that people have lived through. Be kind. Be sensitive.
Don’t assume everyone wants to be in the acknowledgements. After someone had helped me I mentioned in passing I’d thank them at the end of the book and they asked me not to as they didn’t want their boss to know they’d divulged information.
It’s okay to take artistic license to suit the story but I always state in my acknowledgements if I’ve done this (in ‘The life We Almost Had’ I credit a neuroscientist but mention I’ve had to progress science to fit my story.)