A novel based on my life after being raised in a cult by Mary Grand

A few days ago I wrote a blog post about how my life didn’t turn out as I’d envisaged and how the best laid plans can’t always come to fruition – you can read that post here. Today, I’m delighted to welcome Mary Grand to share her story.

Tegan has been raised by her parents in an isolated religious cult. The novel opens when at the age of twenty-seven, Tegan is cast out of this cult. This means she is then completely alone, rejected by her parents and members of the cult. She is sent out into a world she does not understand and has been taught was evil, a truly life changing moment.

Free to Be Tegan is based on some of my own experiences of being raised in and then leaving a very controlling religious sect. (It is called a sect as it was a breakaway group from a mainstream religion). It did, however, have many characteristics of a cult). In particular I wanted to talk about healing from the long-term damage of some of the teaching I received. The major life change for me took place not only on the day I walked out of the sect and never returned. It was also the day I recognised the damage the teachings had done to my mental wellbeing and sought help and started to heal.

In order to try and talk about these things I decided to write a novel rather than an autobiography. This way I could try and reflect a wider range of experience, and also create a story that I hoped would handle a difficult subject in a more accessible way.

The setting of the opening chapter is London, where Tegan’s cult is based. When she is cast out, Tegan is forced to seek out distant relatives who live in the stunning Cambrian Mountains. The family there have their own secrets which she becomes involved with. However, at its heart, the story about Tegan learning to cope with the dual challenges of trying to live in a world she has little understanding of, while, at the same time, battling the effects of psychological trauma.

The cult in Tegan’s story is fictitious, but within that I included the teachings I felt had been most damaging for me. The main message I received growing up in the sect was ‘If you don’t follow our teachings terrible things will happen to you.’ These punishments were described to us vividly and in great detail. From as young an age as three we listened to graphic descriptions of eternal punishment in hell, or of how our parents might suddenly be taken away and we would be left alone for ever. We were also taught that we were in essence sinful and corrupt, nothing I did in my own strength could ever be pure or good.

When I first left the sect, I struggled with making the connections between the teachings and the mental health problems I was trying to hide, such an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Hypervigilance. It was a few years until I sought help.

In the novel, Tegan is forced to confront her issues far more quickly. Friends and her doctor quickly see she needs help and support to recover from her past. Her recovery is not easy, and there are many setbacks.

However slowly she starts to heal. It was very important to me that Tegan’s story is far more than one of survival. It is a tale of hope, self-discovery, and the joy of living.

You can find ‘Free to be Tegan’ on Amazon here,

And Mary on social media here –

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Cover reveal, publication day & a THANK YOU


It’s been a day for celebration today. I’ve been so excited to reveal the STUNNING cover for my forthcoming thriller, The Stolen Sisters. I’m incredibly proud of this story of the Sinclair Sisters and, although I’ll be sharing more about it in the forthcoming weeks, you can hear me talk a little about it in the video below. It will be published in the UK this October and is available to preorder now from all bookshops and you can find it on Amazon here. This is the blurb –

Three little girls missing. One family torn 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 these three sisters were taken. What came after they disappeared was far worse. It should have brought them together, but how can a family ever recover?

Especially when not everyone is telling the truth . . .

Meanwhile, in the US, it’s ebook publication day for The Family (paperback to follow early next year). I’m so excited for US readers to get to know Laura and Tilly and discover why the cult invited them in and why they’ll NEVER let them leave. You can download it from Amazon US here and if you’re a UK reader and haven’t yet got a copy, find it here. Here’s the blurb

Laura is grieving after the sudden death of her husband. Struggling to cope emotionally and financially, Laura is grateful when a local community, Oak Leaf Organics, offer her and her 17-year-old daughter Tilly a home.
 
But as Laura and Tilly settle into life with their new ‘family’, sinister things begin to happen. When one of the community dies in suspicious circumstances Laura wants to leave but Tilly, enthralled by the charismatic leader, Alex, refuses to go.
 
Desperately searching for a way to save her daughter, Laura uncovers a horrifying secret but Alex and his family aren’t the only ones with something to hide. Just as Laura has been digging into their past, they’ve been digging into hers and she discovers the terrifying reason they invited her and Tilly in, and why they’ll never let them leave…

 

It means such a lot to me to be able to write full time and it’s something I’m eternally grateful and never take for granted. My short message here explains why.

Let’s talk about racism #blacklivesmatter

George Floyd and his tragic death have been much on my mind. The last few days I’ve watched the news with deep sadness and horror and I’ve been searching for the right words, unsure if there are any right words, but what I do know is what’s happening is not okay. I can’t pretend to know how it feels to experience racial injustice and inequality but I don’t want to let my discomfort that I might say the wrong thing prevent me from saying anything at all.

I used to think it was enough that I wasn’t racist. I used to think it was enough that I’ve brought my children up not to be racist. That, as a family, we’re tolerant, compassionate and non-judgemental. I used to think that was enough.

It isn’t.

I’ve been at a loss to know how to transition from the side-lines to taking positive action so I’ve spent some time educating myself. Reading and watching videos and trying to process all I am learning and I still have such a lot to learn.  I’m opening up conversations, listening and today I wanted to share some of the resources I’ve found useful.

The book – ‘White Fragility’ Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism’ by Robin Diangelo has come highly recommended. It’s my current read although I haven’t finished it yet.

On Instagram – @theconscious kid

Facebook – NAACP

Twitter – Black Lives Matter

If you didn’t know there is also a ‘Justice for George Floyd’ petition on Change.org.

You can also donate to the George Floyd Memorial Fund to support the Floyd family here and the Minnesota Freedom Fund which is a community based non-profit that pays criminal bail for individuals who have been arrested while protesting police brutality.

Finally, if you’re confused about why people who use #AllLivesMatter are subject to criticism then this article explains it in nine simple ways.

Let’s keep talking.

Lockdown – How my reading & writing habits have changed – #AuthorLife

Laura & Tilly are confined to their cult

My latest thriller is called ‘The Family’. It’s the story of Laura and her daughter, Tilly, who are indoctrinated into a cult. It’s set in a remote part of Wales and at the time of writing I had to rely on my imagination to put myself inside the heads of Laura and Tilly. How might they feel to lose their freedom, almost overnight? To be confined to the farmhouse and the surrounding land the cult reside in? To be forced to spend each and every day with exactly the same people? I crafted my story with the sense of feeling trapped, of claustrophobia.

Laura’s and Tilly’s tale, as well as being terrifying is also an emotional one so every now and then I’d step away from my computer and out into the bright sunshine. Meet friends for lunch. Go for a swim. Before returning to Laura and Tilly who were still trapped in the same place, with the same people.

Now of course, in these unsettling and uncertain times we live in it isn’t too much of a stretch to empathise with Laura and Tilly. To feel what they are feeling, and as someone who suffers with acute anxiety these feelings are both uncomfortable and unwelcome.

At the start of lockdown I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t read. I certainly couldn’t write.  At best I felt a constant low-level anxiety: scared for my family and friends; daunted by homeschooling; worried about our income, a shortage of food; the list was endless: at worst I felt a heavy dread which rendered me unable to focus.

Like everyone, I have been through tough times before so I did what I always do, increased my mindfulness practice. Meditating three times a day instead of once. Writing in my gratitude journal each morning and night instead of solely before bed, and gradually my tumultuous emotions began to settle.

I began to read again, choosing, not one of the many proof thrillers I am sent, but carefully selecting something that wouldn’t feel like work. I picked Louise Hare’s ‘This Lovely City,’ and for the first time, in a long time, my reading mojo came back. I lost myself in her story, her characters and for a while, I was able to forget, and that’s what a good book can do – transport you somewhere else entirely. Now I’ve started Tom Ellen’s ‘All About Us,’ which I’m equally enjoying.

My cosy reading corner in my study

I itched to write again, but what? I am waiting for my edits for my thriller which is publishing next year and also for my second contemporary fiction story written under the pen name ‘Amelia Henley.

My desk is (mostly) tidy…

The logical part of me knew I should write another thriller. Until my debut contemporary fiction book ‘The Life We Almost Had’ is released in July I don’t know whether there will be a market for future Amelia Henley books but as always, I had to follow my heart and write the story I’d loved to read. A story, as my Amelia Henley stories are, about love and relationships. I began penning the lives of siblings Charlie, Nina and Duke and their complex and complicated relationship. Whether this book will ever find its way into the hands of readers I don’t know but I’m loving writing it and finding that chink of happiness is so important right now.

Later in the year I’ll begin a new thriller, I’ve had a character in my mind for the past couple of years. I feel so extraordinarily blessed I can create worlds to escape to.

Have your reading habits changed and how are you occupying your time? Do let me know in the comments below.

The Family’ is currently part of the UK Kindle Monthly Deal – download a copy today for just 0.99p.

The Family‘ will be published in the US on June 9th – you can preorder it here. I’m loving the fabulous cover Grand Central Publishing have designed!

My chilling US cover

Paris!! The Coronavirus, disability & me – My trip.

It had been 17 years since I last visited Paris. My youngest son had never been, his older brother only had sketchy memories. We were due a holiday and wanted something different – a city break. All being creatives, Paris had to be that city. We spent months researching the arrondissements, the tourist attractions and the places we could visit off the beaten track. We decided on an apartment rather than a hotel, wanting to experience a tiny bit of Parisian life, drinking coffee on our own balcony, overlooking the rooftops. Our train to London was booked, along with the Eurostar. I devoured novel after novel set in the City of Light. I was immensely excited, nothing could spoil our trip.

And then the Coronavirus hit.

We were part of a visit Paris group on-line – everyone remained upbeat – nobody was going to cancel – cases in distant countries weren’t going to deter people from travelling. But then the virus escalated and suddenly the countries affected weren’t too distant and after an outbreak in Italy it was only a mater of time before it spread widely in France. People began cancelling their trips, should we?

Two days before we were due to leave The Louvre was closed with warnings that more attractions would follow. A hotel of tourists in Tenerife was quarantined. We were concerned, not solely because of the virus but because we didn’t want to be stuck overseas. My son had to be back at uni on time for assessments otherwise he might have to repeat his second year.

The day before we were due to travel there was a massive rise in cases in France. I rang my insurance company, would they cover us if we didn’t travel. They wouldn’t. Rather than excitement about our impending trip, all I felt was a sick dread. Was I putting my children in danger? What should we do? On the morning of our departure, we were still debating. In the end we decided to risk it and hope for the best. Hurriedly I packed, clothes for rainy days, layers for the chill and plenty of things to do in case we were quarantined. Our journey was uneventful, no health checks were made or questions were asked when leaving our country or entering France,

On our first day I was anxious, we decided to have a calming wander around the city. I had a loose itinerary but knew from past experience the best way to enjoy Paris is to follow your feet and see what you stumble across, around every corner is a joy to discover.

We stepped out into the glorious Spring sunshine and meandered past the stunning architecture, sharing a smile. We were here! It was okay! Before long we spotted signs for a museum. When we got there it was closed, the sign on the door was in French but we understood the heading in thick, blood letters ‘CORONOVIRUS’ we turned away, just as a group wearing face masks passed us. It was sobering. Again I wondered if we should have stayed at home. The streets were quieter than usual. On the bridge a man coughed and visitors skirted around him, however there weren’t nearly as many people wearing masks as I thought there would be, most people weren’t.

A handful of attractions were closed because of the virus but there is so much to do in Paris it didn’t matter. As the days passed we (I) grew more relaxed. The city wasn’t crowded, it was always possible to get a table in a cafe. There were no queues anywhere, not even at the Eiffel Tower or Musee D’Orsay. It was Paris like I’d never experienced before and likely never will again.

In retrospect I am so glad we didn’t cancel our trip but that’s no judgement on people who do. Face masks and fear are things you shouldn’t have to content with on a vacation. Paris will (should) always be there, hopefully the virus won’t.

We crammed such a lot into our week, far too much to share but these were our highlights: –

Place de Vosges – This is the oldest planned square in Paris. The writer, Victor Hugo lived in one of the gorgeous houses here. It’s so tranquil it’s like stepping back in time. There are some amazing galleries and boutiques lining the square as well as the bookshop in Hotel Sully.

J J Leto is the best busker I have ever seen and definitely one of my favourite things. The second we saw him we settled ourselves on the pavement and listened to his entire set before buying one of his CD’s. It’s the unexpected delights that often make a trip. This was one of them.

 

We wandered along the river and ended up at the Luxembourg Gardens which was a very pretty oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Montmartre is one of my favourite places. I love the street art and the galleries. We visited the Montmartre Museum and I was thrilled to try the swing featured in Renoir’s ‘The Swing’ painting. The Sacre Coeur is stunning and the views across the city are breathtaking.

 

I’m a bit of a stationery obsessive so Melodies Graphiques was a real treat. I came away with bags of handmade paper, a dip pen and ink vowing to write everything the old-fashioned way from now on. Expect my next book to be ready in about 2029…

 

We were lucky that in between the torrential bouts of rain it was warm enough to sit outside at the cafes, soak up the atmosphere and eat a waffle or two.

 

The Eiffel Tower offers such sweeping views it’s great for a photo opportunities. For the best view of the tower head over to the Trocadero and of course, go back at night to see it illuminated and watch the light show that sparkles every hour.

 

I’m such an art lover but I knew we wouldn’t have time to see all the galleries and so I chose carefully. The Musee D’Orsay did not disappoint. I became quite emotional to see paintings I had admired for years via books (including Renoir’s The Swing – I think I’d nailed it.)

The French were so friendly. I greeted everyone with a happy smile and a ‘Bonjour’ and received the same in return. The food was heavenly – we didn’t have a single bad meal although sometimes we had to try several restaurants before we found a vegetarian option.

We would avoid – taxis – we sat in traffic for so long the first day we didn’t bother again. The metro is simple once you’ve done it once and there’s always someone who will help you out.

 

We came away laden with wine, cheese and chocolate; many happy memories and a love for the city. Paris – we shall see you again soon!

Lastly, a few words about disabled access. I have compromised mobility and although I didn’t take my wheelchair I was heavily reliant on crutches. I have walked more this week than I thought was possible (and am paying for it heavily!) The French are super conscious and considerate of anyone disabled. Each time on the Metro I was offered a seat. Had there been queues at attractions I could have skipped them if I’d asked at the front of the queue. There are a lot of stairs in the city. Some avoidable. Some not. The Sacre Coeur has a few hundred but you can avoid most (there are still some) of these by riding up in the Funicular (which is free with a metro pass). The Pantheon had a ramp. Most restaurants and cafes unfortunately have toilets downstairs. There are very few lifts in eating establishments. Most metro stations don’t have them. There are many toilet facilities scattered around the city which I think should fit a wheelchair in. Some of the larger places (The Musee D’Orsay for example) have wheelchairs which you can borrow.

A Social Media Christmas – 100 Word Flash Fiction

Image courtesy of Dale Rogerson

 

It’s picture-perfect. Instagram ready.

The table set for twelve. Silver napkins. Crackers glittering gold.  Fairy lights twinkle from the tree in the corner.

I bubble Processco into glasses before straightening the place cards, each name written in cursive script.

With my phone I snap a selfie, chin tilted, eyes wide, mouth pouting. Santa hat balanced cutely upon my glossy hair.

Can’t wait for you guys to arrive!!! #YouKnowWhoYouAre

Immediately the ‘likes’ start rolling in but today I don’t care.

There’s nobody coming.

Again.

I weep as I pack everything away.

850k followers and I’m alone.

Always alone.

Merry Christmas.

 

This time of year can bring immense joy but it can also be the cause of unimaginable sadness. Let’s all look out for each other. Check on your friends, your neighbours, your family. Pick up the phone instead of commenting on a post. Social media can be distorted. Misleading. Above everything, Christmas should be a time for caring. Kindness is contagious, be a carrier.

 

‘A Social Media Christmas’ was written for Friday Fictioneers. A weekly challenge to write a 100-word piece of flash fiction, inspired by a photo prompt. Hosted by the fabulous Rochell Wisoff-Fields, you can read the other entries and/or join in yourself here.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Early reviews for The Family have been amazing.

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

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

**Cover Reveal** The Family!!

I am SUPER excited to reveal the cover of my forthcoming psychological thriller, ‘The Family,’ which will be published on 3rd October (6 weeks!!) is available to preorder now here.

My fifth book – (fifth!!) – is the dark, emotional story of Laura and her daughter Tilly and has been getting some amazing early feedback.

Creepy & compelling, another great impossible-to-put-down thriller from the fabulous Louise Jensen.’ B A Paris

‘A clever, addictive thriller about family, loss and lies. Packed full of secrets and twists, it will keep you guessing until the final page.’ Alice Feeney

‘Wow! What a book. I loved it, the pace was fantastic & the relationship between Tilly & Laura was gripping & the love really stood out. I thought I had it all sussed, but didn’t see how neatly everyone was connected. This book is going to fly!’ Darren O’Sullivan

‘Cements Louise as THE writer of beautiful, character-led, yet still page-turningly-good thrillers. This will (and should) be huge.’ Louise Beech

I’ll be sharing more about why I wrote this book and what it means to me, but for now, here’s the blurb:

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

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

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

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

Publishing 3rd October – preorder now.

THIS is absolutely the highlight of my career

A few days ago, on holiday, my youngest son excitedly told me Lego are making a ‘Stranger Things’ set.

‘You know you’ve made it when you’re immortalised in Lego,’ I said.

We travelled home this morning, and after I’d showered I opened the door to my study to find this Lego model of my office – complete with inspirational quote board – on my desk.

Next to it was this note: –

So many amazing things have happened over the past three years with my books, and I hope there are many more causes for celebration to come but genuinely no amount of books sales, chart domination or award nominations have come close to the feeling of pride I got when I read this note. Whatever you do in life, to be a success in the eyes of your child…. there is no greater success.

Coping with chronic pain – that lonely 3am

Image courtesy of @jontyson

There’s nothing quite as lonely as 3am. The house is quiet; my family asleep. At times like these it’s easy to feel alone. My pelvis is fire, my back screaming in agony each time I shift my position. But I have my blog, words. I can let my pain travel through my fingertips and onto the page. Whether I post this or not, it will be therapeutic to write.

I thought I’d got a handle on my health the past couple years. Along with treatments from a fabulous hospital, I’ve overhauled my diet, take light exercise where I can, meditate daily. My pain had decreased, mobility improved. Lately though there’s been a sense of slipping backwards while trying desperately to cling on to the good days, not let the bad days take over.

Tonight is the worst I have been for a long time. It hurts to move. It hurts to stay still. It’s been an odd day, much to celebrate. My super agent has sold my book rights to Korea, a brand new territory for me – my twenty-fourth. The Date is in Apple’s top 10 biggest selling books for 2018. I put both things on Facebook and instantly received a direct message. ‘You’re having such a good day! You’re living my dream.’

From the outside looking in, my life does seem perfect, except it isn’t. No-ones is.

My evening has been spent upstairs because we don’t have a downstairs toilet and I can’t face going up and down the stairs.

Worries fill my mind – How can I do my Christmas shopping if I can’t get out? Am I going to have to change my weekend plans as it will be uncomfortable to travel? Will I miss my first author Christmas party with my new publisher on Monday? Gradually these thoughts, as thoughts do, become darker. Sharper. Swelling, along with the panic inside me. Am I going to end up in a wheelchair again?

My mind is in overdrive; anxiety over the future overshadowing my present where, relatively speaking I am okay. I am safe.

I am loved.

I reach for my gratitude journal and this is what eventually calms me. Replacing the negatives with positives and really, I have so much to be grateful for, from the strangers who support me online to the dog who snoozes on my bedroom floor who is always overjoyed to see me when he wakes, regardless of my mood.

My list grows and my pain doesn’t feel quite so all consuming anymore. I know soon I shall be able to sleep.

I have a roof over my head, a warm bed. A family who love me. I know I’m one of the lucky ones.

And tomorrow? Tomorrow things will be different because they alway are. The only thing you can rely on is change and I find this comforting because I am certain that just as things can get worse, eventually they will also get better.

This too, shall pass.