Does your novel need a prologue? Includes the prologue for ‘All For You’.

In 2014 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? ‘All For You’ (currently 99p in the Amazon Kindle Deal) is my newly published thriller and I’ll use it as an example. In this story I wanted readers to know that teenage boys are disappearing and that Connor, my main character’s son, will be taken next. Then, in chapter one we jump to several days before Connor is taken so readers can watch it unfold and try to figure out who is taking the boys, and why.

All For you – Prologue

Something is wrong.

I’ve a deep, primal instinct screaming that I need to get home to Connor. It isn’t just because of the row we’d had. The horrible, hurtful things he had said, it’s something else. 

A knowing that, despite being 17, I should never have left my son alone.

Hurry.

The flash of neon orange cones blur through the window as I gather speed until the roadworks force me to a stop. The candle-shaped air freshener swings from the rear-view mirror – its strawberry scent cloying. 

My fingertips drum the steering while I will the temporary traffic lights to change to green. The rain hammers against the roof the of the car, windscreen wipers lurch from side to side. It isn’t the crack of lightning that causes my stomach to painfully clench, or the rumble of thunder, even though storms always take me back to the time I’d rather forget, but a mother’s instinct.

I’ve felt it before. That bowling ball of dread hurtling towards me.

Drawing in a juddering breath, I tell myself everything is fine. It’s only natural that worry gnaws at me with sharpened teeth. Every mother in our town is on high alert right now after the disappearance of two teenage boys. I have more reason to be on edge than most.

It’s not as though I’m thinking Connor has been taken, but it’s one thing for him to ignore my calls, he’d never ignore Kieron’s.

Never.

Particularly when he had asked Kieron to call him after his hospital appointment.

Why didn’t he pick up?

In my mind’s eye I see him, bounding down the stairs two at a time, balancing on a chair to reach the snacks he doesn’t realize I know he hides on the top of his wardrobe.

An accident, or something else?

Something worse?

My stomach churns with a sense of foreboding.

Calm down. 

I’ve been under so much pressure lately that I’m bound to be anxious. Edgy. But . . . I jab at my mobile and try Connor once more. My favourite picture of him lights the screen. We took it five years ago during an unseasonably hot Easter. Before Kieron was diagnosed, before everything changed. We’re on the beach, the wind whipping his dark curls around his face. His grin is wide, traces of chocolate ice cream smudged around his mouth.

We were all so happy once. I don’t know how, but I have to believe that we can be again. The alternative is too painful to bear. 

The phone rings and rings. Fear brushes the back of my neck.

I try from Kieron’s phone this time. He still doesn’t answer.

The lights are taking an age to change.

Next to me, Kieron sleeps. His head lolling against the window, breath misting the glass. The dark sweep of his lashes spider across his pale skin. The hospital visit has exhausted him. The red tartan blanket I always keep in the car has slipped from his knees and I reach across and pull it over his legs. The passenger seat is swallowing his thin body. At thirteen he should be growing, but his illness is shrinking him. It’s shrinking me. Sometimes I feel as though my entire family is disappearing. Aidan barely talks to me, never touches me. In bed there’s an ever-increasing space between us. Both of us teetering on our respective edges of the mattress, a strip of cold sheet an invisible barrier between us. My head no longer resting on his chest, his leg never slung over mine, his fingers not stroking my hair any more.

Connor is monosyllabic and moody in the way that 17-year-olds often are but he never was, before . . .

But it isn’t just that, it’s also this sickness that isn’t just Kieron’s. It’s everybody’s.

The lights change to green.

Hurry.

Before I can pull away there’s a streak of yellow. Through the rain a digger trundles towards me, blocking my path.

Kieron sighs in his sleep the way his brother sighs when he’s awake. Sometimes it seems the boys only communicate through a series of noises and shrugs. But that’s unfair. It’s hardly surprising Connor’s mouth is a permanent thin line as though he’s forgotten how to smile. It’s not only his concern about his brother on top of everything he went through before the summer that has turned my sweet-natured son into a mass of guilt and unhappiness, but the sharp truth that out of his friendship group of three, two of them have disappeared.

‘The Taken’, the local paper calls them, printing that out of those who were there that tragic day, Connor is the only one left.

But Connor knows this as he hides in his room, too scared to go to school.

We all know this. 

Tyler and Ryan have vanished without a trace and the police have no idea why. 

It’s up to me to keep Connor safe.

I glance at Kieron. 

I’ll do anything to keep both of my boys safe.

The driver of the digger raises his hand in appreciation as he passes by me. Before I can pull away, the lights change to red once more. Frustrated, I slam my palms against the steering wheel.

Calm down.

Rationally, I know Connor hasn’t been taken. 

He’s at home. 

The door is locked. 

He’s okay. 

But still . . .

He never ignores Kieron.

Never.

Hurry.

Despite the lights being red, I pull away. There’s no approaching traffic. I snap on the radio again. The newsreader relays in cool, clipped tones that the missing boys haven’t been found but police are following several lines of inquiry. Nobody else is missing. The unsaid ‘yet’ lingers in the air, and although I know Connor is safe, my foot squeezes the accelerator. Home is the only place my anxiety abates. When we’re all under one roof and I can almost pretend everything is exactly how it was.

Before.

Visibility is poor. Frustrated, I slow, peering out through the teeming rain. If I have an accident I’m no use to Kieron, to anyone. My heart is racing as there’s another crack of lightning. I count the seconds the way I used to with the boys when they were small.

One.

Two.

Three.

A grumble of thunder. The storm is closing in. Everything is closing in, crashing down. My stomach is a hard ball, my pulse skyrocketing as a sense of danger gallops towards me.

Hurry.

The urgency to be at home overrides the voice of caution urging me to slow down. I race past the old hospital, which has fallen into disrepair, the white and blue NHS sign crawling with ivy, and then the secondary school. I barely register the figure cloaked in black stepping onto the zebra crossing but on some level I must have noticed him as I blast the horn until he jumps back onto the path. He shakes his fist but I keep moving.

Hurry.

My chest is tight as I pull into my street, my driveway. A whimper of fear slithers from my lips as I see the front door swinging open.

Without waking Kieron I half fall, half step out of the car, my shoes slipping on wet tarmac as I rush towards my house.

‘Connor?’ 

The table in the hallway is lying on its side. My favourite green vase lies in shattered pieces over the oak floor.  The lilies that had been left anonymously on the doorstep are strewn down the hallway.

Funeral flowers.

‘Hello?’ My voice is thin and shaky.

The cream wall by the front door is smeared in blood. Connor’s phone is on the floor, lying in a puddle of water from the vase. His screen is smashed. My feet race up the stairs towards his bedroom. A man’s voice drifts towards me. I push open Connor’s door just as shots are fired.

Instinctively, I cover my head before I realize the sound is coming from the war game blaring out of Connor’s TV. His Xbox controller is tangled on the floor along with his headphones.

His bedroom is empty.

The Taken.

It’s impossible.

‘Connor?’ 

He was here. 

He was safe. 

The front door was locked.

Quickly, I check every room in the house until I’m back in the hallway, staring in horror at the blood on the wall, trying to make sense of it.

Connor has gone.

As you can see, prologues are a great tool for grabbing attention, giving background, creating a twist , and for providing a hook. A question. The prologue must be set apart from Chapter One, either with a different point of view or a different time – past, present, or future.

I asked my son once, who is an avid reader whether he read prologues as I was genuinely shocked to hear some readers don’t.

‘Of course,’ he said, ‘but I never bother with the things at the end. The epilogue.’

‘Why not?’ I was horrified.

‘Because I already know how the story ends,’ he said.

Not in my books. There is often, as there is with ‘The Family‘, a twist on the very last line in the epilogue, but how to end a story is another blog post entirely.

‘All For You’ is just 99p across all digital platforms. Download from AmazonAppleKoboGoogle

‘A galloping pulse-pounder’ Heat

‘[A] gripping thriller . . . with perfectly observed emotions and red herrings that will boggle the mind’ Woman & Home

‘A full-blown, brilliantly plotted and written novel, with a clarity and originality that is wonderfully unique’ On magazine

‘You’ll be left open-mouthed by the turn of events’ Woman’s Weekly

‘A compelling page-turner’ Bella

Meet the Walsh Family

Lucy: Loving mother. Devoted wife. And falling to pieces.
Aidan: Dedicated father. Faithful husband. And in too deep.
Connor:Hardworking son. Loyal friend. But can never tell the truth.

Everyone in this family is hiding something, but one secret will turn out to be the deadliest of all . . .

Can this family ever recover when the truth finally comes out?

A second chance at novel writing – What would you wish for?

In my debut love story with a twist, Adam and Anna can’t envisage life without each other but the universe has entirely different plans for them. After a tragedy forces them apart they long to be together once more and fix their damaged relationship. ‘The Life We Almost Had’ is a story of hope, regret, courage and loyalty and explores the immeasurable lengths the couple will go to for a second chance at first love, even when the consequences of finding each other once more are potentially life shattering. This is not a typical love story but sometimes, just sometimes, the seemingly impossible can become possible in the most unexpected way.

Publishing this book is a dream come. As a child I longed to be an author. I was obsessed with mysteries, devouring Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven books, writing my own series called ‘The Fantastic Five’ (**not copied at all**) and illustrating them with stick men drawings. It was when I read Little Women though that my vague hope to be published transmuted into a fierce desire. I wanted to take readers through the spectrum of emotions I had felt when reading Louisa May Alcott’s classic. I wanted readers to root for my characters, to celebrate their highs but more than any of that, I wanted to make them cry. My reviews so far have been stunning. Readers have really fallen for Adam and Anna in a big way, loving them as much as I do, and have thankfully been fascinated by the unusual concept.

It almost didn’t happen.

I remember with clarity, sitting in front of my careers advisor at school, holding out my dreams, hoping she’d help me make them come true.

She didn’t, and worse than that she laughed. People like me didn’t become writers apparently. I had no higher education. No contacts in publishing. It would be impossible for me to break into the world I longed to be part of and even if I did, she told me I would never be able to earn a living from it.

I carried my shattered dreams and my shattered heart outside and although I didn’t initially just give up, I was at a loss to know how to fulfil my ambition. There wasn’t the internet then to research the steps I could take. I asked in libraries, bookshops, colleges. I did everything I could… except actually write a book which seemed fruitless.

It was over twenty years later that my life changed in an instant. A car accident exacerbated a pre-existing health condition, as well as causing new damage, and I could no longer weight bear, reliant on a wheelchair and crutches to move around. Chronic pain was my constant companion and it didn’t take long for clinical depression to set in too. As well as losing my mobility I lost my identity, I wasn’t sure who I was, what I could do. I had spent years building a career which had fallen apart.

It was my spinal consultant who suggested I get a hobby. Try to forge a new life. Initially I couldn’t think of what I could do, my previous pastimes of horse riding and running no longer possible but then I remembered how much I used to love writing and tentatively I put pen to paper.

Writing Adam and Anna has been cathartic. It’s a hugely emotional story and through the characters, I’ve worked through many of my own complicated feelings – letting go of the life I almost had, and embracing the one I have.

My mobility will never be the same as it was, second chances sometimes come at a price, as Adam and Anna discover during the story, but I’m so glad I got one, being a full time author really is a dream come true.

If you could have a second chance at something, what would it be?

The Life We Almost Had‘ is currently 99p across all digital platforms. Download it from Amazon, iBooks, Kobo or Google.

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.

Prologue – The Life We Almost Had

I do love a prologue (and writers you can read my previous post on whether to include one in your book here).

I’m delighted to share the opening of my debut contemporary fiction novel, ‘The Life We Almost Had,’ published under the pen name ‘Amelia Henley.’ I’ve absolutely loved writing Anna and Adam’s love story with a twist. (You can find it on Amazon here for just 99p right now).

 Prologue

Seven years. It’s been seven years since that night on the beach. I had laid on the damp sand with Adam, his thumb stroking mine. Dawn smudged the sky with its pink fingers while the rising sun flung glitter across the sea. We’d faced each other curled onto our sides, our bodies speech marks, unspoken words passing hesitantly between us; an illusory dream. Don’t ever leave me, I had silently asked him. I won’t, his eyes had silently replied.

But he did.

He has.

My memories are both painful and pleasurable to recall. We were blissfully happy until gradually we weren’t. Every cross word, every hard stare, each time we turned our backs on each other in bed gathered like storm clouds hanging over us, ready to burst, drenching us with doubt and uncertainty until we questioned what we once thought was unquestionable.

Can love really be eternal?

I can answer that now because the inequitable truth is that I am hopelessly, irrevocably, lost without him.

But does he feel the same?

I turn the possibility of life without Adam over but each time I think of me without him, no longer an us, my heart breaks all over again.

If only we hadn’t…

My chest tightens.

Breathe.

Breathe, Anna. You’re okay.

It’s a lie I tell myself but gradually the horror of that day begins to dissipate with every slow inhale, with every measured exhale. It takes several minutes to calm myself. My fingers furling and unfurling, my nails biting into the tender skin of my palms until my burning sorrow subsides.

Focus.

I am running out of time. I’ve been trying to write a letter but the words won’t come. My notepaper is still stark white. My pen once again poised, ink waiting to stain the blank page with my tenuous excuses.

My secrets.

But not my lies. There’s been enough of those. Too many.

I am desperate to see him once more and make it right.

All of it.

I wish I knew what he wanted. My eyes flutter closed. I try to conjure his voice. Imagining he might tell me what to do. Past conversations echo in my mind as I search for a clue.

If you love someone, set them free. He had once told me but I brush the thought of this away. I don’t think it can apply to this awful situation we have found ourselves in. Instead I recall the feel of his body spooned around mine, warm breath on the back of my neck, promises drifting into my ear.

Forever.

I cling on to that one word as tightly as I’d once clung on to his hand.

I loved him completely. I still do. Whatever happens now, after, my heart will still belong to him.

Will always belong to him.

I must hurry if I’m going to reach him before it’s too late. There’s a tremble in my fingers as I begin the letter which will both an apology and an explanation, but it seems impossible to put it all into words – the story of us. I really don’t have time to think of the life we had – the life we almost had – but I allow myself the indulgence. Memories gather: we’re on the beach watching the sunrise; I’m introducing him to my mum – his voice shaking with nerves as he said hello; we’re meeting for the first time in that shabby bar. Out of order and back to front and more than anything I wish I could live it all again. Except that day. Never that day.

Again the vice around my lungs tightens. In my mind I see it all unfold and I feel it. I feel it all; fear, panic, despair.

Breathe, Anna.

In and out. In and out. Until I am here again, Pen gripped too tightly in my hand.

Focus.

I made a mistake.

I stare at the words I have written so intently that they jump around on the page. I’m at a loss to know how to carry on when I remember one of the first things Adam had said to me ‘start at the beginning, Anna.’

And so I do.

Speedily, the nib of my pen scratches over the paper. I let it all pour out.

This is not a typical love story, but it’s our love story.

Mine and Adam’s.

And despite that day, despite everything, I’m not yet ready for it to end.

Is he?

The Life We Almost Had‘ is currently 99p across all digital platforms during August. Download it from Amazon, iBooks, Kobo or Google.

You can preorder the paperback from Amazon or Waterstones or support your local bookstore. 

 

A day in the life of…Dr. Carol Cooper

 

 

Today on my blog I welcome Carol Cooper. I’ve got to know Carol via social media and she always seems incredibly busy with so many things, I’m curious as to when she carves out time to write. Let’s find out…

My working life is varied and no two days are the same, but I usually wake up about 7 a.m. unless I’m on breakfast TV. I’m not that sharp in the mornings, so it’s just as well when I can sit in bed for a bit to catch up with social media and sip coffee made by my husband.

I’ve been a hospital doctor, GP partner, and a locum, but nowadays seeing patients is a very small part of my work. I now get more of a buzz from teaching medical students at Imperial College, which means getting to west London by 9 a.m. on some days.

My students are usually fifth or sixth years, so they’re very nearly qualified doctors and already have a vast store of knowledge which they haven’t yet started to forget… I lead small workshops, and it’s my job to help students deal with a range of challenging scenarios. We often use actors as simulated patients. In fact, just such an actor appears in my novel Hampstead Fever, but she’s entirely a product of my imagination. I’d never, ever, put real colleagues, students, or patients in a novel. It’s totally taboo – a bit of a shame, I sometimes think, as I’ve met some wonderful characters.

The teaching session ends around 1 p.m or 1.30 p.m., in time for a bite to eat. In the afternoon, I try to do some writing. I’ve been the doctor for The Sun newspaper for 18 years, which means I can get asked for my say on whatever health story hits the news, be it a radiation spill or a celeb with an injury from stumbling out of a nightclub at 4 a.m. My contribution is usually a short My View, written on the hoof. I well remember an editor asking me for 300 words on the dangers of drinking petrol, adding, “You’ve got bags of time. Take 45 minutes if you need it.” The job keeps me on my toes, and I love it. I never know what’s coming at me next, so it’s just like being a doctor in Accident & Emergency but without getting my hands dirty.

At the moment, I’m working on my third novel. My first two are contemporary fiction with multiple viewpoints, and they’re all about dating and family life in London. The current WIP is a bit of a departure. Although it still focuses mainly on relationships, it has just one viewpoint, covers several periods of time, and is set mostly in Egypt, where I grew up. I often have a non-fiction book to write or co-author at the same time, but this novel needs a tad more research than most of my fiction, so I’m concentrating on just the one book.

I say ‘concentrating’, but my willpower evaporates when it comes to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

On some days, there might be a radio interview or television appearance, such as ITV This Morning. It’s usually on a topical health issue, or on parenting. I’ve written a slew of child health books, including two on raising twins.

My own three sons have grown up and flown the nest, but one or other of my twins might drop in (my eldest son lives in Birmingham so I see him less often). Evening is a lovely time to sit on the terrace with a glass of something with my husband Jeremy, and rearrange the plants or just watch the sun set. If we’re in Cambridge, we’ll go down to the river for a stroll. Jeremy usually cooks supper. I think he’s the better cook.

On some evenings, I give talks to expectant parents of twins and triplets. I’m an honorary consultant to Tamba (Twins and Multiple Births Association), and involved with a couple of other charities as well, including Lucy Air Ambulance for Children, and APEC (Action on Pre-Eclampsia).

Fortunately I don’t have to work as hard as I did when I was a hospital doctor (in the bad old days, it could be 80 hours a week), and I enjoy seeing friends, especially at evenings and weekends. Some of my close friends go back to my childhood or to uni days, but many are fellow authors that I’ve met more recently. Book-writing is a more welcoming world than a lot of people imagine, and I’ve made good friends.

I often read a novel in bed before I drop off, and I always have pencil and paper on hand in case I have a bright idea in the night. Too bad I can’t always decipher my notes in the morning.

WOW. Don’t think I’ll complain about being too busy again. Thanks so much for sharing, Carol. 

Now you can get Hampstead Fever as an ebook for just 99p from October 14 for two weeks.

Carol Cooper is a doctor, journalist, and author, living in London and Cambridge. She contributes to The Sun newspaper and broadcasts on TV and radio. After a dozen non-fiction books, including an award-winning textbook of medicine, she turned to fiction with her debut novel. One Night at the Jacaranda follows the fortunes of a motley group of 30-somethings who, looking for love, find themselves. Her second novel Hampstead Fever focuses on six North Londoners grappling with life and relationships while their emotions boil over in the summer heat. This year, Hampstead Fever was picked for a prestigious promotion in WH Smith travel bookshops around the UK. Carol enjoys gardening on her patio. She’d probably have other hobbies too if she didn’t love writing so much.

You can follow Carol’s blog Pills & Pillow-Talk, or find out more about her writing on her website. She’s also happy to connect on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.

 

The Gift is the 3rd biggest selling ebook of 2017!

A super quick post to say a huge thank you to everyone who has read, recommended and reviewed The Gift.

I’m stunned and delighted my second book has been named in Amazon’s half yearly trends report as the 3rd biggest selling ebook of 2017 so far. As The Gift was released in 2016 I never dreamed it would get a mention at all. It was a lovely surprise. It’s been a phenomenal year and I’m really so grateful.

Thank you x