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?

Diary of a novelist – October 2021

Hello!

Welcome to part two of my new diary series. Each month I’m documenting the progress on my new first draft, and sharing a little insight into the life of a full-time writer. If you missed part one you can catch up with it here. Now, it has crossed my mind multiple times to skip this month’s entry and hope that nobody notices because my progress has been shameful, but then I wouldn’t be being entirely honest about my writers’ life and the point of this series is to keep myself on track. I knew October was going to be such a busy month but I didn’t realise my word count would be quite so paltry.


Week One

The first few days were spent frantically checking my emails. I’d sent both my editor and agent the first three chapters of my new idea and, of course, when they didn’t reply in five seconds telling me they loved it, I assumed they hated it.

While I waited I began playing around with the structure, not yet entirely sure how I was going to approach two timelines and at least three points of view. Whether I’d write one complete point of view before switching to another or whether I’d mix it up. One thing I have learned over the years is every book is different and the process I’d used before may not work for this story. After writing a few super short chapters (no more than 500 words) from all three points of view to get a feel for the characters I realised one thing. The structure I’d sent to my agent and editor wasn’t going to work for me. The third chapter was supposed to be from a podcast and although I loved the idea of this I found writing it jarring. The switch really pulled me out of the story as a writer and trying to read it objectively as a reader I felt the same thing might happen. If readers aren’t fully immersed in the story they may give up on it and I don’t want that so back to the drawing board. 

In the meantime, my agent got back to me first with feedback which could have gone  either way as he began with ‘OH MY GOD’ but he loved it saying he felt I’d really moved into new territory.

Interestingly, my editor’s feedback echoed similar thoughts: – 

“Well… What an opening! That prologue gave me chills – and I mean that in a good way. I do like the direction this is moving in, and although it will move you into a slightly different space that could be a good thing by the time we get to this point in your publishing, as it’s important that your storytelling keeps evolving.”

I spent some time pondering what they mean (if pondering can mean excruciatingly examining every word over and over). I hadn’t made a conscious decision to move into a new direction, rather I thought of a story I’d like to tell. I wondered whether I could ask for feedback on their feedback but instead tell myself to JUST BLOODY WRITE.

Week Two

Holiday time – hurrah! It seems like forever since we went away and it was such a treat to have all of my children under one roof (I do only have three – I’m not the old woman who lived in the shoe). But with the eldest having left home and another now working full-time it isn’t always easy to coordinate. Pre-pandemic if we’d gone on holiday I’d have taken my notebook and laptop and squeezed in some writing when I could. This time I didn’t.  We  hired a cottage in the New Forest and spent the week dog walking, eating, drinking, playing games and laughing. I hadn’t realised how mundane life had become until I had a change of routine. It was a JOY.

Week Three

We had such a good time away, my husband and I decide to sneak a long weekend away in while the weather was still reasonable. But first, a few days to focus on my manuscript. Disappointingly, I found that after a break so close to the beginning it wasn’t easy to dive back in. I took into account something my editor and agent both mentioned about being careful not to stray into the horror genre (I fear I might stray into the horror genre…) and as I’d had a vague idea about the (an) end that seemed a good place to start while I figured out genre, points of view and the dreaded middle. I began at part two, there was a new point of view there so I aimed to write all of her parts first.

I was interviewed for a podcast with author John Marrs who it appears has a really similar process to me, start writing and wing it. I found this very reassuring.

I got about 5k words in before I go away, determined that when I came back I’d really knuckle down.

Week Four

Life took an unexpected turn, as life has a habit of doing and much of this week was spent with a friend in need. I had a couple of days to write though and I was becoming clearer on the end. 

It’s dark. Very dark. 

I must not stray into the horror genre.
I must not stray into the horror genre.
I must not stray into the horror genre.

I don’t know if I am – send help!

In November I really need to get my head into this new idea and to write almost every day because I keep losing the story. Also I need to decide whether I’m confident this is a thriller because as well as the (may or may not be) horror strand, I might also have introduced a supernatural element.

Writing under contract means I can’t entirely write what I’d like because it needs to fit with what I’ve promised the publisher, which is a psychological thriller. I fear, that as I’m writing my 9th thriller and with over a million sales, it’s perhaps a little late, and a little embarrassing, to ask for a definition of exactly what a psychological thriller is…


Monthly round up: –
8000k new words written
German publication day for ‘The Stolen Sisters’
US publication day for ‘The Stolen Sisters’
Polish publication day for ‘All For You’
A holiday
A weekend away
A lovely review in ‘Heat’ magazine for the forthcoming ‘All For You’.

High – ‘The Stolen Sisters’ has spent almost a month in the German Kindle top 100 so far.

Low – More time spent not writing than writing

What I’m reading – Sophie Money-Coutts – ‘Did You Miss Me?’

What I’m watching – Good Girls season 4

Join me next month to find out whether I find out what a psychological thriller is, whether I nail the end, and how I approach the dual timeline in the middle. 

Do subscribe to my newsletter here today and get two FREE short stories as well as access to exclusive giveaways.

How I write short stories – Callie Hill

Today I’m delighted to welcome Callie Hill onto my blog. I had the pleasure of mentoring Callie through the Womentoring Project and she’s a super talented writer as well as a lovely person. I’m so proud of everything she has achieved since, degrees are such hard work, and now she’s published her first short story collection. I’ll hand over to Callie to share how and why she writes.

Like many readers, books and stories feel like a magical world I can escape to. No matter what kind of story, I’m always intrigued as to the initial spark that inspired the writer, and how that spark ignited into the words on the page. This is what gave me the idea for how I’ve structured my collection of linked short stories, The Story Collector. Although each story can be read individually, the collection follows a writer, Colin, as he goes about his everyday life, collecting snapshots of inspiration for his stories. The characters are all people that Colin is connected to in some way, and minor characters from one story become the central character in another. 

But I didn’t start out with this intention. My collection began as a way to bring together everything I’d written. I’ve recently completed a BA (Hons) in English Literature with the Open University, and as part of my degree I completed two creative writing modules. I’ve also been a student with the Writers’ Bureau, so between the various courses I’d written a fair number of stories. The first draft of the collection also included stories by my husband, Paul, who writes under the pseudonym of James Kirby. He’s a chartered engineer with limited company status, and has been furloughed on minimum wage since March 2020 and as I work for him, so have I. We’re in the group of people that have slipped under the net, with furlough payments being a very small fraction of his ordinary income; but what should have been a tough time for us has turned out to be one of the best times of our lives. We might be living off love and fresh air at the moment, but we’ve also had the time to chillax and write. Our youngest son is a writer too, so it’s quite the little Bloomsbury headquarters in our house at the moment. But Paul’s writing style is quite different to mine and when the original collection came back from the beta readers (who were totally amazing) we decided to publish our stories separately. 

As I worked on the revised collection, I started to notice links between characters and places. I guess most writers include an element of what they know, and this is even more true for new writers. For most of my life I’ve either been at home with the kids as a full-time mum (we have four children), or worked in an office, and I think that comes through in my characterisation. Most of the stories are uplifting tales of kindness, friendship, and the maternal bond between a mother and child; but some of the stories have a menacing element. I’ve been a book blogger for about four years now, and devour psychological thrillers like there’s no tomorrow. A couple of years ago I was really lucky to have been mentored by the wonderful psychological thriller writer, Louise Jensen, under the Womentoring Scheme; and more recently my tutor at the Writers’ Bureau was the fantastic crime writer, Sheila Bugler – so this has no doubt influenced the darker side of my stories! 

I also wanted to develop the character of Colin from the short story titled ‘Literature, Latte, and Love’. As a creative writing student, I was encouraged to keep a writing journal to jot down any snapshots of inspiration. My own notebook is a purple Moleskine that my youngest son bought me. As well as being an object of extreme beauty (swoons #stationerylove) this notebook is of great sentimental value. As I flicked through, looking for ideas on how to develop the character of Colin, I realised it was the journal itself that was providing the inspiration. I’d already used some of the ideas in the journal for my stories; and in some cases, I’d taken completely separate jottings and combined them to create a single story. However, I realised that every single snapshot of an idea that I’d written down was connected, because they were all ideas that had been filtered through myself – and if that was true for my own writing journal, then it could be for Colin too. 

I think social media has made a lot of people realise what a small world we live in. People we know from one area of our lives often have a connection to another person we know. I started to research chains of acquaintance and how we are only an average of six people away from the next person. The Russian dolls on the cover of The Story Collector are metaphorical. The correct name for these dolls is ‘Matryoshka’ and comes from the Latin word, ‘mater’ – which means mother in English.  They represent fertility, family, and maternity – which runs as a theme throughout my stories. Their linking structure is also representative of the collection as a whole. The dolls look like one thing from the outside, but when you take them apart there are lots of individual parts inside. The Story Collector is a bit like this in reverse; although each story can be read as a stand-alone, when read in sequence they all come together to give a combined novel-like feel and show how we are all linked through chains of acquaintance.

As well as being an entertaining set of stories, I really hope The Story Collector will inspire other new writers to find ideas as they go about their everyday life. Although my own ideas for each of the stories came from totally different places to Colin’s (the Story Collector café was inspired by the bookshelf in my local pub – no spoilers intended), writing Colin’s story has made me think about creating ideas for future stories. And my writing journal will definitely be accompanying me as I enter the next phase of my writing career, where I will be working on a domestic thriller as part of an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Bristol. 

Download a copy of The Story Collector between 1st-7th September for just 99p from Amazon. It can also be ordered from any bookshop (Find here at Waterstones.) It is available in hardback, paperback, and e-book.

You can also read The Story Collector via Kindle Unlimited.

When life gives you lemons – Polly Phillips

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 Polly Phillips to share her inspiring story.

I was sitting on a bus when my husband called me to tell me he’d been made redundant. I was heading into town to meet him on his lunchbreak to do our Christmas shopping while our two-year-old daughter was in nursery. At first, I thought he was joking. We were living in Copenhagen and there was snow on the ground. I had been picturing skipping in and out of shops, carrying brightly coloured parcels, fat snowflakes falling around us. So far, so Love Actually. Instead, we met in a dark and dingy bar and sat hunched over a pizza to try and figure out what the hell we were going to do.

The industry he worked in was depressed and there was no way my income as a part-time freelance journalist would sustain us. Without jobs, we couldn’t stay in Copenhagen. So, on top of losing our main income, we were going to have to pull our daughter out of the nursery she loved, pack our lives and move country. In truth, that bit didn’t bother me too much. Although Copenhagen is a beautiful city with so much to offer the people who live in it, I’d been dreaming of moving back to Perth, Western Australia, since we had left it two years before. In fact, when he first called, that’s what I thought he was ringing to tell me. He’d been talking about a transfer for a few months and I was already picturing feeling the sun on my skin and teaching my daughter to swim in the sea. Now we were moving back to London with no jobs and no money.

My husband was offered a new job just before we moved. Salvation beckoned. But of course, there was a downside. The new job was in Algeria. And they wanted him to start straightaway. He had just enough time to help move us back to London before he flew to work in an office in the middle of the Algerian desert with scarcely any phone signal and patchy WiFi. With no other job options out there, it didn’t make sense to turn it down.

So, there I was in London, suddenly a single parent, with a challenging two-year-old, who didn’t understand why her whole life had changed. And, to be honest, I could see her point. Friends and family tried to help, but they had their own lives, lives that they weren’t expecting me to suddenly parachute into. Being on my own highlighted all my insecurities. I felt like a terrible parent, shouting too much and not being able to control my daughter. I felt like a rubbish wife, resenting my husband for being away. And I felt like a complete failure as a person, not having a well-paid enough career to pull us out of the mess we were in. Finally, after too many long and lonely evenings spent at the bottom of a bottle, I realised there was nothing I could do to change the situation so I had to try and make the best of it.

It might sound a bit twee and clichéd and it certainly wasn’t an epiphany that came to me in a lightning bolt of clarity – there were still a fair few nights at the bottom of a bottle that came after it – but I’d always wanted to write a book. With evenings yawning emptily with nothing to fill them, here was my chance. I signed up to an online writing course with the Faber Academy and started writing. There were a lot of false starts and the book that I wrote on the course ultimately came to nothing, but I kept going. I signed up to another course and starting something else. After a lot of editing, the next book that I wrote, a thriller called My Best Friend’s Murder, was published this year. By the end of the year my husband had another job, and we did move back to Perth. Whenever I feel overcome by moments of self-doubt or misery, I try to remind myself of that year, when I felt like life was collapsing around me and I was never going to achieve anything. It doesn’t always pull me out of my mood, but it definitely helps.

You can find ‘My Best Friend’s Murder on Amazon here

A tough 12 months made me the writer I am today – N.J. Simmonds

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 the lovely N. J. Simmonds to share her inspiring story.

There are years that fly by where we can hardly remember what filled them, and other years that are forever stained by the challenges life throws at us. For me, late 2016 to late 2017 was twelve turbulent months of extremes.

With every high came a low. The day we emigrated to the Netherlands from Spain my daughter broke her arm. We were stuck in a hospital in the UK for days and missed our flights. When we finally arrived in Holland after not seeing my husband for three months, he had to leave for 6 weeks to the UK after his father was pronounced unexpectedly and terminally ill. We all suffered greatly from that loss. Then days away from my debut, The Path Keeper, being released I learned that my imprint was about to fold. I had been signed for the full trilogy, but this meant now only one book was ever going to exist.

By late 2017 I was close to giving up writing, even though I’d hardly left the starting block. When you suffer a sudden death in the family it puts everything into perspective, yet coupled with our children trying to integrate into a new country, all the political horrors on the news at the time alongside the awful stories of the #MeToo movement, that year had me wanting to get a nine to five job and give up on my writing dreams forever. Everything was too hard, too dark, too futile.

But the problem was I had promised my readers a trilogy. The Path Keeper came out February2017 and it had already received over 100 five star reviews in a matter of months, not to mention I’d channelled so much of that year’s pain into its sequel, Son of Secrets, that it felt criminal to deny my readers the next part of the story. But my imprint was folding, which meant the rest of my trilogy wasn’t going to be printed. I had a choice – leave my story only 33% told…or keep going.

I reasoned I had nothing to lose by trying, so that’s what I did. My book went out of print just six months after its debut launch, but instead of getting upset I got busy. I talked to agents and publishers, made more author friends, got advice from the SoA, and researched writers who had gone through similar situations. Needless to say, most publishers and agents weren’t interested in a series that had already partly launched. But six months after my book went out of print a relatively new publisher in the US, BHC Press, took a gamble and signed me.

Two weeks from the day I write this, the third and final book of that trilogy will be hitting the shelves. Children of Shadows is a book about hope, perseverance, and resilience. And that’s no coincidence. Four years ago, I was about to throw in the towel and give up on this writing game – and now I have not only released an entire trilogy but I’m also writing manga, I cowrite a paranormal romance series as Caedis Knight (Blood Web Chronicles) which has sold also internationally, and I’m working on another exciting collaboration with a fantastic author, which our agent is currently talking to publishers about. Not to mention the illustrations, lecturing, school visits, and coaching I do on the back of my writing.

We’ve all had no shortage of strange years lately. 2020 was, for most of us, the year that never was. But if my own intense and turbulent twelve months taught me anything, it was that it’s not up to life how our days and weeks and months are filled, but down to us. WE get to decide which year will be forever muddied, and which will shine.

So from now on, my years are going to be full of dreams and hope, words and worlds, and remain perpetually polished…no matter how hard life tries to push me off track!

CHILDREN OF SHADOWS is out now:  mybook.to/ChildrenOfShadows

N J Simmonds is the author of fantasy series The Indigo Chronicles – she also writes Manga comics and is one half of paranormal romance author duo Caedis Knight. Her stories are magical, historical and full of complex women, page-turning twists and plenty of romance. When Natali’s not writing, she illustrates books and runs her own marketing consultancy, lectures on storytelling and self-branding. Originally from London, she now lives with her family in the Netherlands.

Website: njsimmonds.com

Writing my novel didn’t go as I’d planned…

I certainly didn’t plan for my brand new release ‘The Art of Loving You’ to be so relatable to virtually everyone when I began writing it in 2019.

In my second love story Libby and Jack think they have their life figured out. With the help of their dear friend, eighty-year old Sid, they’ve bought their first home and have big personal and business plans for the next few years. But then suddenly, unexpectedly,  tragedy strikes, the future suddenly uncertain, and huge compromises and sacrifices have to be made in order to move forward.

When I began writing I drew on my own experience, exploring the emotions I had felt after my own life veered off course and my carefully laid plans couldn’t come to fruition.

I had spent years training as a naturopathic kinesiologist and building up a complementary therapy practice when a car accident exacerbated a pre-existing health condition, caused some new damage, and whisked away my mobility. In an instant, everything changed. No longer able to stand unaided I couldn’t practice anymore and the future looked very bleak. I’d lost my health, my business, my social life and my sense of identity, but worst of all I had lost my hope. When I’d spent so long planning and imagining the shape of my future how could I even begin to envisage starting again?

And yet somehow, much like the people in my story who became so dear to me (particularly 80-year old Sid who was such a joy to write), I did.  

While the world has been gripped by a pandemic most of us have had to make drastic changes to our day-to-day life as well as altering, postponing, or cancelling our plans for the future. 

The characters in my book, like the majority of us, couldn’t being to imagine their world ever feeling ’normal’ again but little by little, they carved out a new path, found new hopes and dreams to hold tightly against their hearts. 

‘The Art of Loving You’ is a story of resilience, hope and courage, drawing on the power of friendship and family. 

It’s the story of never giving up, finding happiness and moving forward after you fear all has been lost.

But, most of all, it’s a story about love.

Download ‘The Art of Loving You’ for just 99p for a limited time only or order the paperback or audio book via Amazon, Waterstones, Kobo, Google Books, Apple.

The Art of Loving You prologue & why I love prologue – novel writing

Anyone who reads either my Louise Jensen psychological thrillers, or my contemporary Amelia Henley fiction knows I love a prologue. Here I’m sharing the opening of my brand new release, ‘The Art of Loving You’ which you can download for just 99p on any digital platform during August. (Amazon link here).

PROLOGUE

Four phone calls. 

It took four phone calls to tip my world off its axis. I remember them all with sharp clarity; the things I wanted to know, the things I wished I’d never been told. The disbelief, the fear, the hope. The impossible, impossible choice I am faced with. I want everything to slow down. 

Stop.

‘I can’t …’ What I can’t do is look my sister, Alice, in the eye. It’s too much. All of it. 

‘Say yes, Libby.’ She’s crouching before me, reaching for my hand. I snatch mine away. As vivid as the memories of the calls are, it’s the time in between each one I am struggling to recall. Alice says shock has the power to whisk memories behind a hazy curtain, sometimes replacing them with a better, shinier version – the way we wished things were. The way we wished they could have happened – and she’s probably right. Right about that at least, but the rest? I have to remember if I’m to make the right decision. Again, I try to summon a slide show in my mind but the images are as fuzzy as an out-of-focus photo, nothing quite making sense. ‘I think …’ I tail off, unsure what I think. What I know. Alice has been telling me a new life, a better life is what I need. What I deserve. 

That word plucks a hollow laugh deep from my belly. Deserve. Do I deserve … this? 

‘You know what you have to do, Libby.’ Her voice is thick with tears. ‘For your sake. For Jack’s.’ She adds softly, ‘For mine.’ 

Sometimes I hate her. 

Should I do what she is asking? If I agree, it’s an admission that my life has been built on a lie and the childish part of me taunts; why should I give her what she wants when I can’t have what I want? 

‘Please, Libby, please,’ she pleads. ‘I know it’s a big ask. I know you weren’t expecting this – none of us saw it coming but …’ One whispered word. ‘Please.’

Neither of us speak. The clock ticks. In the distance the thrum of a tractor. Alice’s perfume fills my throat, something light and floral.

‘Jack—’

‘Don’t speak his name,’ I snap. 

She flinches but still she doesn’t leave. She’s waiting for an answer as she tucks her long blonde hair behind her ears. My eyes flicker towards the nicotine-yellow ceiling we never did get round to painting bright white, as though I might find the right response written there. 

Yes or no? 

Yes or no? 

Yes or no?

The words are loud. I raise my hands to my head, fingertips digging hard into my scalp. I can’t decide. I won’t.

Jack.

I have to.

Think.

‘You know if I could change things, I would,’ Alice says softly. She places her palm against my cheek; it’s cool and I lean against it, allowing her to take the weight of my head which is heavy with thought. With doubt. For the first time I look at her properly. Her eyes, the same green as mine, are rimmed red. The whites streaked with tiny blood vessels from where she’s been crying. She is no more together than I am. This is a torturous for her as it is for me. ‘If I could go back …’ She falls silent before she can blame herself again. I can’t bear her guilt. Her shame. I have enough of my own.

I shift my gaze around the room which was once warmed with love but now feels as chilly as my cold, cold heart. If we could go back, I would return to the exact moment everything changed. It was the day Jack and I moved in here. I allow my mind to travel, tumbling down the rabbit hole to that ordinary Thursday when it all began. 

The point which had led to this. 

The memories bring me pleasure. 

Pain.

Think.

I have to make my choice.

Yes or no?

I have to give Alice my answer.

Yes or no?

I have to tell her now.

Before it’s too late for her, for me.

For Jack. 

Think.

Choose.

Time is running out. 

Yes or no?

In the opening to ‘The Art of Loving You’ my hope is that I’ve intrigued readers enough to want to read on. To wonder what has happened between Libby, Alice and Jack. Not all of my books have prologues but I do enjoy them as a reader and a writer and you can read more about why I find them so valuable and whether your novel needs one on an earlier blog post here.

If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read you can download ‘The Art of Loving You’ for 99p or order the paperback or audio book via Amazon, Waterstones, Kobo, Google Books, Apple.

Publication day & a competition!!

It’s publication day today for my second Amelia Henley love story (my eighth published book!) ‘The Art of Loving You’ and I’ve been blown away by the pre-publication reviews. Over 100 early reviews with an average of 5 stars have already been shared with my publisher. It’s wonderful to see ‘The Art of Loving You’ out there next to ‘The Life We Almost Had’. I think they look gorgeous together.

I owe a huge thank you to the superstar bloggers on this week’s blog tour who are really helping spread the word. ‘Amelia Henley’ is a new name in fiction and reviews are SO important to gain visibility. If you’ve read, or do read, and enjoy ‘The Art of Loving You’ I’d be so grateful if you could please pop a review either on Amazon or elsewhere. Also thanks to everyone who came along to my live Facebook/Instagram launch last night. If you couldn’t make it, there are more giveaways to come so do follow me on social media to keep up to date.

Writing Libby and Jack’s love story became more personal to me than I could ever envisage and I’ll be sharing why over the next couple of weeks.

For now, I’ll share the blurb and an exciting competition.

They were so in love . . .
And then life changed forever . . .
Will they find happiness again?
 
Libby and Jack are the happiest they’ve ever been. Thanks to their dear friend, eighty-year-old Sid, they’ve just bought their first house together, and it’s the beginning of the life they’ve always dreamed of.

But the universe has other plans for Libby and Jack and a devastating twist of fate shatters their world.
 
All of a sudden life is looking very different, and unlikely though it seems, might Sid be the one person who can help Libby and Jack move forward when what they loved the most has been lost?
 
The Art of Loving You is a beautiful love story for our times. Romantic and uplifting, it will break your heart and then put it back together again. 

You can order a copy via Amazon, Waterstones, Kobo, Google Books, Apple.

If you love to craft, check out this competition where you can win £100 of Hobbycraft vouchers.

New paperbacks & giveaways!

I am THRILLED that the paperbacks for my forthcoming release ‘The Art of Loving You‘ have arrived and they look GORGEOUS. Huge thanks to my editor, Manpreet, and my publisher, HQ Stories for pulling them together.

I can’t quite believe that in just one month my second love story publishes under my pen name ‘Amelia Henley‘. My first, ‘The Life We Almost Had‘ was so well received I’m hoping that Libby and Jack’s story lives up to expectations.

They were so in love . . .
And then life changed forever . . .
Will they find happiness again?
 
Libby and Jack are the happiest they’ve ever been. Thanks to their dear friend, eighty-year-old Sid, they’ve just bought their first house together, and it’s the beginning of the life they’ve always dreamed of.

But the universe has other plans for Libby and Jack and a devastating twist of fate shatters their world.
 
All of a sudden life is looking very different, and unlikely though it seems, might Sid be the one person who can help Libby and Jack move forward when what they loved the most has been lost?

I am so grateful to these authors who have provided such lovely quotes: –

‘An ode to finding the meaning in grief, in our life’s purpose, and in deciding to live and love fully, The Art of Loving You broke my heart and then rebuilt it again. Just gorgeous’ Laura Jane Williams, bestselling author of Our Stop

‘A heart achingly beautiful story of love, grief and hope that reflects on the power of love, family and friendship’ Jules Wake, bestselling author of The Spark

‘Wistfully uplifting, with a sprinkling of the extraordinary – Libby and Jack’s story is a testament to the power of love and the comfort of hope. I loved it!’ Holly Hepburn, author of Coming Home to Brightwater Bay

If you’d like to read this before its publication I’m currently running giveaways to win four signed proof copies. Check out either Instagram or Facebook to enter and for the Ts&Cs.

The Art of Loving You will be released on 22nd July and is available to preorder now via Amazon, Waterstones, Kobo, Google Books, Apple.

Pen Names – Pros & Cons & WHY?

After publishing 6 psychological thrillers under Louise Jensen which is my real name, last year I published my first contemporary fiction book under the pen name Amelia Henley. Since then I’ve been asked so many questions about why I used a different name I thought I’d write a blog post about it.

My publisher told me to.

Shortest post ever? 

Let me expand it then, there are many reasons to use a pen name and multiple pros and cons.

When I first signed a deal for my debut, ‘The Sister‘, it didn’t even cross my mind to use a pseudonym. I was super excited to finally see my name on the cover of a book. It was such a special moment for me, and my family. My son took his friends into Waterstones and showed them and I felt a glow of pride I’d never felt before.  Of course, then, I didn’t realise it would quickly sell over half a million copies and be translated into twenty-five languages and that a LOT of people would read it. This was really only an issue for me during a smear test when the nurse asked me if I’d written ‘The Sister’ and then proceeded to tell me how much she loved Grace and Charlie which was very nice but probably not the time or the place.  Having a disability and subsequently a lot of medical appointments there are times when I’ve wondered whether I’d have been more comfortable using a pseudonym. Not that I assume people have read my books or know my name but, as the smear test palaver demonstrated, you really never know.

If you want to retain anonymity or have some separation between your writing life and another career a pen name can be really useful.  Particularly if you have a name too similar to an established author. Being called Stephen King may not create any confusion in day-to-day life but in publishing…

There are many other reasons authors use pen names. Reinvention is one of them. An author who hasn’t had the best sales and wants to begin again, or, as in my case, an author who wants to try a different genre.

My publisher (HQ/Harper Collins) loved my debut love story but wanted a separation from my thriller brand (I’m very uncomfortable with the word brand btw). This was liberating in that I could bring something out with no reader expectations and no fear of judgement because although ‘The Life We Almost Had’ is ultimately a tear-jerking love story there is a sci-fi element to it and I wasn’t sure how it would be received. The downside being I had to set up social media accounts in a new name and running two of everything is quite time consuming. In the end my publisher suggested we use ‘Amelia’ as an open pseudonym which was a relief, some publishers have it written into contracts you can’t tell anyone for a stipulated period of time and I am rubbish at keep secrets.

So, who choses the pen name?

My editor wanted me to come up with suggestions I was happy with but then these needed to be run past the marketing department for their approval.

Amelia Henley is the only name I put forward and I’m thankful they approved it because it is very personal. I have three children and for ‘Amelia’ I took two letters from each of their names. ‘Henley’ is an extremely special name to our family.

It’s worked out really well for me having two names (which is just as well as I have a second Amelia book – ‘The Art of Loving You‘ – publishing this July and a new thriller coming in October). One of my career highs and a completely ‘mind blown’ moment was last autumn when both ‘The Life We Almost Had‘ and ‘The Stolen Sisters‘ were published in paperback and I walked into Tesco and saw them both on a shelf together.

If you’re a writer and thinking of using or have a pen name I’d love to hear of your experience and how you chose yours.

The Life We Almost Had’ is currently in its 3rd week at No.1 in Germany and UK readers can currently download the kindle book for just 99p for a limited time from Amazon here.

If thrillers are more your thing both ‘The Surrogate‘ and ‘The Date‘ are also 99p for a short time.