I didn’t blog much in 2020 –I didn’t feel I had much to say, if I’m honest I still don’t. We all know how terrible the year was. As a family, we’ve faced challenges the same as everybody else; illness, hospital admissions, bereavement, an accident, a decline in health, the list is endless. My creativity was non-existent, my productivity poor.
During the first lockdown I spent weeks wondering how I could write alongside home schooling and my husband working from home. This morphed into what I should write, my mind was too cluttered to think clearly. Pre-pandemic I’d been writing psychological thrillers in the morning and contemporary fiction in the afternoons but I knew I no longer had the mental capacity to do this. I had an idea for an Amelia Henley book but publishing my debut love story during a pandemic had been hugely challenging and I wasn’t certain there was a future for Amelia.
Finally I spent the last few months of the year contemplating whether I should write at all. Had I lost my love for it? 2020 was the longest stretch I hadn’t written anything in years. Perhaps it was time to do something else entirely.
Then came the end of year blogs, the ‘Best Books of 2020’. It’s always so rewarding to see my books featured on these lists and to see multiple entries for ‘The Stolen Sisters’ was hugely gratifying.
But then came something unexpected. I checked my ‘Amelia Henley’ social media channels not expecting any notifications but there was. I was overwhelmed to see ‘The Life We Almost Had’ featured on numerous ‘Top Ten’ book blogs and even voted book of the year.
I cried and then I replied to the posts I’d been tagged in on to say thank you but thank you doesn’t quite convey just how life affirming and life changing these blog posts have been.
Today, I sat at my computer for the first time what feels like forever and wrote two small words I wasn’t sure I’d ever write again, ‘Chapter One’ and I feel nervous, excited and above all hopeful, to begin a fresh Amelia Henley story, to have new characters to get to know.
In this post I wanted to try and express, but fear I am failing the importance of book bloggers. How they have allowed me to regroup, refocus.
Thank you doesn’t quite cut it but I don’t know what else to say.
I began writing my debut, ‘The Sister‘, for fun. It was meant to be a short story. I hadn’t written any fiction as an adult and I hadn’t any qualifications other than a clutch of GCSE’s. I never believed I could write a book. I had always thought that to be a published novelist you needed a wealth of experience and a degree in creative writing.
When it got to the point that my ‘short story’ had reached 90k words I began to tentatively hope I could edit it to a high enough standard where I’d dare to submit it. Out of my depth, I was so grateful when a writer I met at an event offered to read the opening 3 chapters for me. I didn’t check where she was published, or how she was published. The fact she was in print led me to believe she knew absolutely everything.
Her overriding feedback was that my prologue was a huge mistake, ‘”readers hate them, agents hate them and publishers hate them. If you submit something with a prologue it won’t be read.”
I felt my face burn with embarrassment. I didn’t know the rules and I’d been found out for the imposter that I was.
Immediately I deleted my prologue, but now, several books on and with over a million copies sold I’m familiar with most of the rules and (whispers) here’s the thing. There aren’t any.
That writer, as it turned out, was right that ‘The Sister‘ shouldn’t have a prologue, but not for the reasons she said.Her overriding feedback was that my prologue was a huge mistake, ‘”readers hate them, agents hate them and publishers hate them. If you submit something with a prologue it won’t be read.”That writer, as it turned out, was right that ‘The Sister‘ shouldn’t have a prologue, but not for the reasons she said.
The prologue wasn’t needed. It didn’t serve a purpose and in a novel, every single scene, every single word needs to earn its place, prologue included. After The Sister spent two months at No. 1 I found the confidence to include a prologue in my second psychological thriller, ‘The Gift‘, because no matter what that writer said about people hating prologues, I don’t and first and foremost I’m a reader. I don’t write one for every book because not every story warrants one.
So how do I decide when to use one? ‘The Stolen Sisters’ (currently 99p in the Amazon Kindle Deal) is my latest thriller and I’ll use it as an example, I’ve included the prologue below.
When Carly looked back at that day the memory was in shades of grey; the trauma had sucked the blue from the sky, the green from the freshly mown grass. She had sat on the back doorstep, the coolness of the concrete permeating through her school skirt, the late-afternoon sun warming her bare arms. Carly remembers now the blackness of a beetle scurrying down the path before it disappeared into the soil under the rose bush. The stark white of the twins’ socks, bunched below their knees.
Inconsequential details that later the police would jot in their notebooks as though Carly was somehow being a great help but she knew she wasn’t, and worse than that, she knew it was entirely her fault.
It had all been so frustratingly normal. Leah and Marie had shrieked in mock disgust as Bruno, their boxer, bounded towards them, drool spilling from his jowls. But their screams then still carried an undercurrent of happiness, not like later when their cries were full of fear and there was nowhere to run to.
The things that have stayed with Carly are this.
The way her fingers gripped the cumbersome Nokia in her hand as though she was clutching a secret. Her annoyance as she angled her screen to avoid the glare, never dreaming that soon she would be craving daylight.
The pounding in her head increasing as the girls bounced a tennis ball between them across the patio. The way she had snapped at the twins as though it was their fault Dean Malden hadn’t text her. Of all the things that she could, that she should, feel guilty about, she had never forgiven herself that the last words she spoke to her sisters before they were all irrevocably damaged was in anger rather than kindness.
Although in truth, she had never forgiven herself for any of it.
‘Shut up!’ She had roared out her frustration that the first boy she loved had shattered her thirteen-year-old heart. Crazy now to recall that she once thought the absence of a text was the end of the world. There were far worse things. Far worse people than the floppy-haired blond boy who had let her down.
Her younger sisters turned to her, identical green eyes wide. Marie’s sight trained on Carly’s face as she chucked the ball for Bruno. Carly’s irritation grew as she watched it fly over the fence.
‘For God’s sake.’ She stood, brushing the dust from the back of her sensible pleated skirt. ‘It’s time to come in.’
‘But that’s not fair.’ Marie looked stricken as her gaze flickered towards the fence.
‘Life isn’t fair,’ Carly said feeling a bubbling resentment that at eight years old the twins had it easy.
‘Can you fetch our ball, please, Carly?’ Marie pleaded.
‘Fetch it yourself,’ Carly snapped.
‘You know we’re not allowed out of the garden on our own until we’re ten,’ Marie said.
‘Yeah, well I’m in charge today and I’m saying you can. It’s not like we live in a city. Nothing ever happens in this dump.’ Carly was sick of living somewhere so small where everyone knew everyone else’s business. Where everyone would know by tomorrow that Dean Malden had rejected her. ‘Be quick and shut the gate properly.’
She turned and pushed open the back door, stepping into the vast kitchen that never smelled of cakes or bread. It never smelled of anything except freshly roasted coffee. Carly clattered her phone onto the marble island and yanked open the fridge door. The shelves that were once stocked with stilton and steak and that had groaned under the weight of fresh fruit and vegetables, were woefully bare. There was nothing except a shrivelled cucumber and some out-of-date hummus. It was all right for her mum and stepdad out for the evening at yet another corporate function. They spent more time on the business than with their children nowadays, although Mum had assured her it wouldn’t be for much longer. She’d soon be at home more but in the meantime it was left to Carly to sort out tea again. She had loved her half-sisters fiercely since the day they were born but sometimes she wished mum still paid the retired lady down the road to babysit but since Carly had turned thirteen mum felt that she was responsible enough.
She sighed as she crossed to the shelf above the Aga and lifted the lid from the teapot. Inside was a £10 note. Chips for tea. She wondered whether the money would stretch to three sausages or if they should split a battered cod.
Minutes later the twins tumbled into the kitchen.
‘Yuck.’ Leah dropped the tennis ball coated with slobber into the wicker basket where Bruno kept his toys.
‘Wash your hands,’ Carly snapped as she checked her phone again.
What had she done wrong? She had thought Dean liked her.
Marie perched on a stool at the breakfast bar, swinging her legs, the toes of her shoes thudding against the kick board. How was Carly supposed to hear her text alert over that? Marie had her chin in her hands, her mouth downturned; she hated being in trouble. Carly could see the way her lip trembled with upset but she couldn’t help yelling again.
Marie slid off the stool. ‘I . . . I left my fleece in the garden.’
Carly jerked her head towards the door in a go-and-get-it-gesture before she clicked on the radio. The sound of Steps flooded the room. Marie paused and momentarily their sisterly bond tugged at them all. ‘5, 6, 7, 8’ was one of their favourite songs. Usually they’d fall into line and dance in synchronicity.
‘Let’s do this!’ Marie flicked her red hair over her shoulders and placed her hands on her hips.
‘It’s childish,’ Carly snapped although inside her shoes, her toes were tapping.
‘It doesn’t work unless we all do it.’ Marie’s voice cracked. ‘We have to be together.’
Carly pulled the scrunchie she’d been wearing like a bracelet from her wrist and smoothed her long fair hair back into a ponytail. The twins got into position. Waited. Carly reached for her phone and tried to ignore the pang of meanness that flitted through her as the smile slipped from Leah’s face. Marie’s small shoulders rounded as she headed back outside.
Minutes later she raced back in, socked feet skidding across the tiles, tears streaming down her freckled cheeks. ‘Bruno’s got out. The gate was open.’
‘For God’s sake.’ Carly could feel the anger in her chest form a cold, hard ball. It was one of the last times she ever allowed herself to truly feel. ‘Who shut the gate?’
Marie bit her lower lip.
‘I did,’ said Leah, slipping her shoes back on.
‘You’re supposed to bang it until it latches, you idiot. You know it’s broken. Three times. You bang it three times.’
The girls pelted into the garden, calling the dog’s name.
Marie hesitated at the gate. ‘Perhaps we should wait—’ Under her freckles, her skin was pale. She’d been off school yesterday with a stomach-ache and although she’d gone back today, she didn’t look well. Carly knew she should ask if she was feeling okay but instead she shoved her roughly into the street. ‘It’s your fault, Marie. You search that way.’ She pointed down the avenue lined with beech trees.
Marie grabbed Leah’s hand.
‘No,’ Carly snapped. ‘Leah can come with me.’ The twins could be silly where they were together and she had enough to worry about without them getting into trouble.
‘But I want . . .’ Marie began.
‘I don’t care what you want. Move.’ Carly grabbed Leah’s arm and led her in the opposite direction, towards the cut-through at the side of their house which led to the park.
It all happened so quickly that afterwards Carly couldn’t remember which order it all came in. The balaclava-clad face looming towards hers. The forearm around her neck, the gloved hand clamped over her mouth. The sight of Leah struggling against arms that restrained her. The scraping sound of her shoe as she was dragged towards the van at the other end of the alley. The sight of Marie, almost a blur, flying towards the second man also clad in black, who held her twin, pummelling him with her small fists.
‘Stop! You can’t do this! Don’t take her. I don’t want you to take her!’
The soft flesh compacting against hard bone as Carly bit down hard on the fingers that had covered her mouth.
‘Run!’ she had screamed at Marie as the man who held Leah grabbled to find something of Marie’s he could hold onto, clutching at her collar, her ginger pigtails, as she dodged his grasp.
I decided to use a prologue for this story, not only because it’s an instant hook, but because I wanted to begin twenty years before I started the story proper. There was vital information I wanted the reader to know. The girls are snatched in the prologue but Chapter One immediately move on to the girls as adults and we learn they were returned without any abuse. As a mother the only way I could write about missing children was if we know straight away that the girls were safe and the prologue enabled me to do this. We do, as the novel prgoresses, delve back into the past where we see, not how the girls were taken, but why and in the present it’s all about what happens when their abductor reappears on the twenty year anniversary of their abduction.
To read more of the Sinclair sisters’ story download the digital version of the book for just 99p for a limited time only across all digital platforms. You can find The Stolen Sisters on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, Google books & Waterstones.
It’s also a Fern Britton book club pick and a special edition with extra content is available at Tesco. You can also find ‘The Stolen Sisters’ at Asda, shortly at Sainsbury’s and as an audiobook on Audible.
Two of my other books (with prologues!) are also in Amazon’s October sale. Download ‘The Gift‘ or my Amelia Henley debut love story with a twist ‘The Life We Almost Had.‘ (you can read the prologue for this here.)
Locations can be hugely important to a book. My first four psychological thrillers were based in fabricated towns in the midlands because the place wasn’t relevant to the story, my fifth, ‘The Family’ in a cult in Wales because I needed a vast amount of rural space and I was very familiar with this area. ‘The Life We Almost Had’ my debut love story takes place on a Spanish Island based on Lanzarote.
For my 7th and latest book I needed somewhere specific. Somewhere remote and yet not too far out of a town. Somewhere creepy. Somewhere you could feasibly hide three young girls…
I’m obsessed with exploring abandoned buildings and my children are the same. If we want a day out we’d much rather go and look around a ruin, and so the hunt was on for somewhere to base ‘The Stolen Sisters’. In this book the Sinclair sisters are snatched during chapter one. In chapter two we find out they had been returned unharmed with no sexual abuse (it was the only way I could bear to write this). Chapters in the book alternate between past and present and in the past we needed to feel the girls fear, the tension and the way to build on this was to use the setting almost as another character.
I considered, and disregarded multiple locations before I stumbled upon RAF Upwood. It was everything I wanted it to be. Close enough to take the girls there in a relatively short space of time. Vast enough for the girls to get lost when they escape their room. Remote enough so no-one can hear them scream…
I renamed Upwood, RAF Norwood for the story and like Upwood, in my book Norwood was fenced off, waiting to be demolished for a housing estate (Upwood has now partly been knocked down.) Hyde Housing were very accommodating, allowing me to look around and film. I also staged rooms where the girls might be held, with the scant possessions they were given, to try and really get a feel for the horror Leah, Marie and Carly Sinclair might have felt.
It was surreal being at Upwood. Kind of like being on a film set for a movie version of ‘The Stolen Sisters’.
This clown was really the start of everything. I imagined it being on the back of the door, terrifying the young girls, the sense of his eyes watching them every time they try to escape the room. I was never afraid of clowns until I wrote this book, now…
The corridors have so many doorways coming off them, imagine how terrifying it would be to be chased, to choose a doorway, and find yourself trapped in another dark room.
There is a scene in the book where the girls hang from these bars hoping they can pull them free from the window. They can’t.
Carly is running with her two younger sisters, she hears the men coming, does she hide upstairs or try to make it to the door?
I set up a camp in one of the rooms with Leah’s teddy bear, the blanket and the food and drink the girls were given. It was horrible
There is a terrifying scene that takes place in the shower block. Thanks to my visit I was able to describe the environment, but the smell! I could never describe the smell.
The site is absolutely vast. Imagine running around here at night with no lights. Shudder.
Some of the graffiti here is so impressive.
Everywhere I turned I spotted potential danger for the girls.
In a bid to escape, Leah dropped her teddy bear, it was heartbreaking to think of it left the RAF base amongst the rubble.
It’s also a Fern Britton book club pick and a special edition with extra content is available at Tesco. You can also find ‘The Stolen Sisters’ at Asda, shortly at Sainsbury’s and as an audiobook on Audible.
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?
Today, on my blog, I’m delighted to welcome psychological thriller and ghost writer Emma Rowley and chat to her about her newly published thriller as well finding out a little more about ghost writing.
Tell me about your new novel You Can Trust Me – what’s it about?
It’s a psychological thriller about a ghostwriter, Nicky, whose new client Olivia is an Instagraminfluencer with an apparently picture-perfect life. Her job is to help Olivia to write a book – sharing all her lifestyle tips and tricks – but she soon finds out there are things Olivia just doesn’t want to talk about … and her beautiful family home harbours some dark secrets.
What inspired it?
My own experiences as a professional ghostwriter. I’ve got on with all my clients, but it is definitely a relationship that can be quite intense – you are asking someone to tell you all about themselves, so there is a lot of trust involved. ‘You know everything about me,’ a client told me once. ‘But I don’t know anything about you…’ She just wanted to get to know me a bit better, but I remember thinking even then, that sounds so sinister! I knew that one day I’d write a book about a ghostwriter relationship that goes very wrong.
What exactly does a ghostwriter do?
Basically, it’s a collaborative process where I help someone write their book. A lot of people will need a hand with getting their thoughts down on paper, or structuring them into an actual book, which might be up to 90,000 words. How it works normally is, I will interview someone over a period of weeks, in person or over the phone, then I will go away and use all that information to write a draft that we will work through together, making changes so that they are totally happy with it. The key is to capture their voice as much as possible, so it really feels like their book. Over the years, I have worked with everyday people who have incredible stories to tell, as well as celebrities – but I’m afraid no, I can’t say who!
How did you get into that?
Through working as a journalist for years – there are similar skills involved, in terms of asking the right questions, listening closely to what people say, and organising all the material you collect into something that’s cohesive and readable. Funnily enough, It meant that by the time my debut novel, Where The Missing Go, came out in 2018, I had already written half a dozen books already, albeit under other people’s names (and they were all non-fiction).
What’s it like to switch from ghostwriting to fiction?
Actually, I still work as a ghostwriter – I never stopped! The advantage that gave me, as I set out to write fiction, was that I knew I could finish writing a book, at least, which gave me confidence. And capturing people’s individual voices for their books – making sure I had the right turn of phrase, vocabulary and rhythm – was great practice for making sure my first-person narrators had distinctive voices, particularly as I like to write books with more than one narrator.
What was it like to see your own name on a book you’ve written, rather than someone else’s?
It was wonderful! Writing my own books, rather than helping other people write theirs, was a totally different experience. I actually found it more difficult to write fiction, as you have to conjure up everything yourself – with a ghostwritten book, someone else is sharing their thoughts and experiences, of course. But I love it – my latest book, in particular, is so personal to me.
It sounds fabulous! Thanks for chatting to me today and wishing you lots of luck with ‘You Can Trust Me.’
Emma’s first thriller Where The Missing Go was a 2020 Edgar Award nominee. Her new book You Can Trust Me was published in paperback on September 3 by Orion
It seems an age since I stood on the beach in Lanzarote, shielding my eyes as I gazed into the sea, my mind playing out an intensely emotional scene, a scene which changes everything my characters Adam and Anna thought they knew about life and love. As I researched this stunning location before returning to the UK to meet with a leading Neuroscientist to discuss whether my unusual concept could credibly work, the day I might potentially see my story on a bookshelf seemed so far out of reach.
Launching a debut in a pandemic is challenging. All events were cancelled for this year. Today is the busiest day in the publishing calendar and with the bookshops and supermarkets trying to catch up with all the big books which had their publication date pushed back there is very little space for the smaller books and debuts. I’m so very grateful to my editor and the team at HQ Stories who have remained so passionate about launching Anna and Adam into the world. My publisher will be giving away paperbacks of ‘The Life We Almost Had’ all day today via their Twitter page so do pop over and check it out.
Last month, for my digital publication day I had a live FB/insta launch which was great fun. Tonight should have been my book launch at Waterstones, a chance to thank my family and friends for their support, and to eat cake of course.
One thing I am vocal about is marking ever single success in publishing, however small, because in this industry there are many unavoidable lows. Finishing that first draft, ironing out a synopsis, or in the case of today, publishing a book, and despite the current circumstances I’m going to do just that.
I’m having a lunchtime celebration via zoom with my editor, agent and the wonderful team at HQ who worked so hard on this book (and publishing a novel really does take a village). Afterward, I’m heading straight to Tesco, seeing my story on a shelf will be such a special moment. Between 2-4 there is a very special publication day party over on Radio Chiltern where I, and several other authors who are publishing today will be chatting to host Antonia Honeywell about our books and choosing a song relevant to our characters (you can listen here). Tonight, my husband is taking me out to dinner. We’ve booked an outdoor table at a lovely pub with far reaching countryside views, this means we can take Granger who has never once covered his ears with his paws while I’ve unloaded any potential plot problems on him. Fingers (and paws) crossed it doesn’t rain!
BIG thanks to everyone who as supported my Amelia Henley journey and if you’re one of the readers who have left one of the moving reviews on Amazon I really am HUGELY grateful. Some of the reviews have been so emotional they’ve moved me to tears, but I’ll leave you with this one which made me smile.
‘Adam & Anna fall in love on holiday, as you do. That’s as normal as this novel gets…’
I love discussing books. All of my novels have book club questions at the back and writing questions that I know will spark interesting discussions is such a joy.
I’ve always been an avid reader. As a child I was the only one in my family who read, my friends didn’t seem to share the same intense love of books that I did and subsequently I always felt a little… odd.
After having children, some of the other mums at the school gate suggested forming a book club and I was overjoyed. Every fortnight, for three hours I’d be able to talk about plot, characters, twists. I couldn’t wait.
What actually happened was we met in a bar. Whoever chose the book would say ‘it was ok,’ most people hadn’t read it and then we’d drink and talk about our kids. We had some good nights but…
When I moved to a new area I googled ‘book clubs’ and much to my joy I found one. I emailed the organiser who, after asking me a lot of questions, invited me along to the next session. I immediately bought their current read and when it came curled up in an armchair determined to finish it before the meeting.
It. Was. A. Slog.
I’m all for broadening my horizons and reading outside my usual genres but on the first page alone I had to look up multiple words in the dictionary and that carried throughout the novel (I don’t use the word story here because I wasn’t convinced there was one).
I went along to the group, clutching my paperback, looking forward to meeting new people and hearing what they thought. They had A LOT of thoughts. I needed my dictionary again. I sat miserably nursing my cooling coffee (“we may meet in a pub but we don’t drink alcohol while we’re discussing literature, Louise”) and I felt out of my depth, stupid. Lonely. I never went back.
It’s taken years but finally I have found a book club full of members who are friendly, welcoming and love reading as much as I do. Surprisingly it’s online which I always thought would feel detached but, over time, I’ve got to know a lot of the members who I now class as friends. This Facebook group, The Fiction Café, is run by Wendy Clarke who is one of the nicest people I have met (and this group do physically get together for events when they can). I’m in awe of her and the admins who put in hours tirelessly running author live events and buddy read alongs. My only fault with this group is that every time I drop by I end up buying recommendations and my TBR pile is out of control!! If you’re a book lover of any genre do check them out here.
Also, a shout out to Book Connectors run by super blogger Anne Cater. This group is a mixture of bloggers, authors and readers and I love reading the bloggers book posts about forthcoming releases they have already had the chance to read. There’s also some interesting discussions about publishing in this group. Anne doesn’t stand for any nonsense and it feels like a very safe space to speak. You can find Book Connectors here.
My publisher HQ, Harper Collins, is currently hosting an online book club every Thursday afternoon. This Thursday I’m the featured author and will be talking about my newly published debut contemporary fiction book ‘The Life We Almost Had’ written under my penname Amelia Henley. With my research taking me from Lanzarote to Magdalen College in Oxford where I studied neuroscience there’s LOTS to talk about with this very unusual love story.
If you haven’t read the book yet you can buy it this week for 99p across all digital platforms – links below. If you buy the Kindle version (or have already bought it) you can add the audiobook for just £3.47.
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).
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
In and out. In and out. Until I am here again, Pen gripped too tightly in my hand.
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.
An important decision any writer needs to make is where to set your novels. The right location can really highlight the genre and set the mood. There are advantages of using a genuine place; readers who are familiar with it can instantly place themselves in the location, and disadvantages; landscapes can change so quickly and if you get any of the details wrong this can be jarring.
For my early novels where locations didn’t matter to the story so I kept things deliberately vague, never naming a town or stating exactly where it was supposed to be. Name generators on Google were my friend although this almost backfired once after naming a village ‘Therinsborough’. My editor immediately flagged this with a ‘Didn’t you ever watch Neighbours, this sounds very close to Erinsborough, Louise….’
My latest two novels however, are a little different. For my forthcoming psychological thriller, ‘The Stolen Sisters’ I use the location where the Sinclair Sisters, Leah, Marie and Carly, are taken and held captive almost as another character. The description of the abandoned site where they are held adds another chilling layer to their story and really creates a dark atmosphere. To find the perfect location, I spent hours trawling through urban explorer sites and watching YouTube videos until I stumbled across the perfect place. Here I could envisage these three young sisters huddled together, cold and scared, but also telling stories and making up games to support each other through their ordeal. The stark, cold, decay of their rooms contrasting with the warmth of their loving relationship which shines through the pages. I’ll be sharing these real life photos closer to the 1st October publication.The idea for my debut contemporary fiction novel, ‘The Life We Almost Had’ came to me in Lanzarote. I was gazing out to sea and, in my imagination, I saw a shocking scene play out before my eyes, like a movie. Instantly I knew I had to write the unusual story I had imagined.I wanted to base the novel on Lanzarote but as this love story has a futuristic element I needed to build a Scientific Research Centre on the north of the island and so I renamed my island Alircia (although I still secretly call it Lanzarote). I use the blue skies and sparkling seas to paint a warm and loving picture. We’re with the couple as they fall in love and visit the tourist attractions that I also visited – (using a real location has the added bonus of research trips!) – the house of writer Jose Saramago, the lava caves, Jameos del Aguo, the markets and of course, the place where the story circles back to, the beautiful cove at Playa Blanca where couples fasten lovelocks.I was so utterly invested in Anna and Adam’s love story with a twist that I bought them a lovelock even before I had even put pen to paper.When Anna and Adam return to the UK things get drab and bleak, much like the weather. Life throws them on to an unexpected path. Both keeping secrets, they return to their beloved Alircia to try to fix their fractured relationship but a tragedy forces them apart. Will they take the ultimate risk for a second chance at their love.You’ll have to read the book to find out!
One of the things that put me off writing a book for years (other than fear of failing, fear of making a fool of myself, fear of being terrible at writing and shattering my author daydreams) was the research. How did writers know all the things that went into their books? I guessed that high profile authors, perhaps had police contacts on speed dial to check out procedures but what about the rest of us? Those starting out? What happens when Google just doesn’t cut it?
Writing ‘The Sister’, I shied away from including anything I didn’t know much about which left…. very little content. I had to reach out to experts and the thought terrified me.
I remember, with clarity, the way my hands shook, palms sweated, as I made my first call to the fire department to ask for their advice (and no, I didn’t ring 999 claiming a plot emergency) tentatively explaining I was writing a book and wanted to be as accurate with the details as I could. I was told someone would call me back. Despondent I hung up, sure I’d never hear from anyone. Later that afternoon my phone rang, a man introducing himself as Chief Inspector and my heart skipped beat, certain I was about to be arrested for wasting time, but he was lovely and helped enormously. His advice changed the whole scene and he worked on the detail with me until we were both happy.
I realised then that most people are happy to talk about the things they have a passion for and knowledge of. Since ‘The Sister’ I’ve spoken to numerous people about various things – the concept of cellular memory for ‘The Gift’ (a heart retaining memories of its donor so the recipient knows things they shouldn’t…) Prospagnosia (Face Blindness) for ‘The Date’, surrogacy and law for ‘The Surrogate’, brainwashing for ‘The Family‘ and kidnapping for the forthcoming ‘The Stolen Sisters‘.
One of the most interesting things I have researched is neuroscience for my latest publication ‘The Life We Almost Had’ which is my debut contemporary fiction novel published under my pen name ‘Amelia Henley’. I’d become fascinated with consciousness and, for fun, I wanted to write a story set in current times but to expand on scientific elements for part of the plot (and yes I know this sounds vague but I don’t want to give spoilers).
I called up Magdalen College in Oxford and explained what I was doing and they invited me to sit in on some lecturers. I met some of the world’s leading experts in their field and I found it so enjoyable so much so that I’ve been looking into formally studying science in some capacity.
There’s a danger, when authors research, that they want to put everything they’ve learned into the story because they’ve spent so much time learning and because they’ve found everything so interesting and this is something I definitely had to bear in mind with ‘The Life We Almost Had.’ At it’s heart, it’s a sweeping love story and I often found myself cutting out technical explanations that I knew some readers would find boring, and getting back to Adam and Anna’s tangled relationship.
Writing ‘The Life We Almost Had‘ took me to Lanzarote where much of the story is based. Research trips are great fun sometimes so much so I forget to do the actual research…
Here are my top tips for researching: –
Take the time to choose who you think can best help you carefully, for instance there are many different types of lawyers, doctors etc.
Approach people respectfully – I never ask questions in my initial email but rather ask if they’d be willing to answer questions and I let them know roughly how many or how much time I think I’d need for a phone chat.
Don’t fire off the same email to dozens of people asking for help and waste people time if they all reply.
Plan ahead so you can continue writing while you wait for a response. Appreciate people are busy and they might not get back to you straight away.
Also make sure you have your questions ready before you ask for help. For the book I’m currently writing I emailed a charity, assuming that because of the pandemic they might not have the time or staff to get back to me at all and they called me five minutes later and I wasn’t prepared!
Don’t include everything you’ve learned however interesting, ask yourself ‘does the reader need to know this and does it move the plot forward’.
Blogs are a great place to find people who want to talk. I found many transplant patients this way who were happy to share their experiences with me.
Remember that although books are entertainment as a writer you are dealing with experiences that people have lived through. Be kind. Be sensitive.
Don’t assume everyone wants to be in the acknowledgements. After someone had helped me I mentioned in passing I’d thank them at the end of the book and they asked me not to as they didn’t want their boss to know they’d divulged information.
It’s okay to take artistic license to suit the story but I always state in my acknowledgements if I’ve done this (in ‘The life We Almost Had’ I credit a neuroscientist but mention I’ve had to progress science to fit my story.)