Face Blindness – why this is the subject of my new novel

Next week on 21stJune, my latest psychological thriller, The Date, will be published. This is a novel that has taken a long time to write and several false starts before it was completed and there is a very special reason for that.

With my previous novels I’ve written about a subject that interests me. The Gift was about cellular memory and the concept that the heart, when transplanted, can retain memories from the donor. In The Surrogate I became fascinated with the laws (or lack of) surrounding surrogacy and what might happen if either party didn’t follow the agreed plan.  Through The Sister I explored the impact of grief and how far we would go for our family and friends and the secrets we keep.

The idea of The Date sprung from the unlikeliest of sources – ‘My Life’, a long running Children’s BBC documentary series featuring children with unique stories. Around six years ago, my family and I watched an episode featuring Hannah Read, a girl who acquired the UKs most severe case of prosopagnosia at the age of eight after an infection caused inflammation of her brain.  Hannah’s story was equally heart-breaking and inspiring. In one scene she was led into a room containing her family and friends but also some strangers. She walked around the room and studied each face intently and you could feel her panic as she was unable to identify anyone she knew. Hannah was also shown a selection of photographs and became extremely upset she couldn’t recognise her own picture. Hannah said ‘she felt cut off from the world around her’ and her anxiety whenever she left her house was palpable. The documentary makers introduced her to other teenagers with the condition and a university who were carrying out a research project who subsequently taught her coping strategies. By the end of the programme Hannah felt less isolated and more positive but her distress and her story stayed with me long after I switched off my TV. Imagine waking up one day in a world where everyone looked like a stranger? How utterly terrifying.

A year after watching Hannah often crept into my thoughts. I knew I had to write a story about Face Blindness. After I finished The Sister I started playing around with an opening but I didn’t know how to progress it, there was almost too much scope and so I put it to one side and wrote The Gift instead. The time came to write my third book and instantly, I thought of Hannah again. I pulled out my notes and this time wrote the first 10,000k words and sent it to my editor. ‘How are you going to progress it?’ she asked. I was at a lost to know how to sensitively approach a story surrounding a subject that had really touched me. Again, I put it to one side and instead, wrote The Surrogate. By the time I’d finished my third book, my main character, Ali, had been brewing in the back of my mind for four years and I was determined to have a third attempt. This time I felt more confident I could write a pacey, unnerving thriller, but also stay true to the emotions and challenges faced by those who have prosopagnosia. I wanted Ali to show the same courage and determination that Hannah did.

Having a person act as the inspiration behind my new novel has been terrifying but as soon as I’d finished the book I knew I wanted to let Hannah know how her programme had not only introduced me to a condition I’d never heard of but had also propelled me to want to raise awareness of it too.

I managed to track down Hannah’s mum and I’ve since spoken on the phone to her and with Hannah. Next week I’ll be interviewing Hannah for my YouTube channel and asking her what it’s really like to live with Face Blindness. Do join us!

You can preorder The Date as ebook, paperback or audio via your local Amazon here.

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The one thing I loathe about Christmas has taught me this…

There are rolls of sparkly wrapping paper stacked in the corner of my bedroom, a bag of silver bows, shiny red tags. Today, the first of the gifts I ordered from Amazon arrived and I had a fleeting thought I should wrap up the presents as I buy them, before dismissing it instantly. It’s my least favourite job. There’s never enough room cramped around the table and my back screams with pain if I’m hunched on the floor. No matter how careful I am, I can never, ever, locate the end of the Sellotape and making anything beyond a square shape look enticing is far outside my very limited capabilities.

With a sinking feeling, I totted up the amount of presents I’ve yet to buy, calculating the amount I’ll have to wrap, until a slow and sickening dawning crept over me.

Yet again, there will be less under the tree than last year.

The children are older, two of them adults now, and the enormous pile of plastic, noisy, toys we used to accumulate are long gone. Instead, a sleek gift-wrapped gadget or two will replace all the smaller, cheaper presents, they’d shake and sniff, hazarding wild guesses before excitedly tearing off the paper to see if they were right.

It’s not only my growing family responsible for diminishing the pile of presents under our tree, there’s the inevitable, heart-wrenching loss we’ve experienced. One less person to buy for. One empty space at our dining table. One less cracker to pull. And suddenly having lots to wrap doesn’t feel like the worst thing, having nothing to wrap does.

Tonight I shall pour a glass of red wine before sliding off the plastic coating from my rolls of paper and think how grateful I am to still have people I love to buy gifts for, and the money to buy them, and you never know, my most loathed job, might just become my favourite.

Paperback publication day & my hopes for this story!

It’s paperback publication day for The Gift, my second psychological thriller which has already been a global e-book No. 1 Bestseller. I’m SO excited for this book to reach a whole new audience.

The Gift is a story based around cellular memory, the concept that the cells of the body can store memories, and if organs are transplanted, these memories could also be transplanted with them. I first stumbled across cellular memory about fifteen years ago and was intrigued with the concept. Although this isn’t scientifically proven, there are an increasing number of doctors and scientists supporting this theory and further research is being carried out.

Endlessly fascinated I’ve spent years researching, reading up on real life cases where recipients have received donor organs, in particular hearts, and inherited some attributes of the donor whether it is a craving for the donor’s favourite food, or, in more extreme cases, speaking a different language after the surgery that the donor could speak, or suddenly being able to play an instrument the donor could play.

Could this really be happening? Is the heart just a pump or is it something more? It wasn’t that long ago the heart was thought to be the centre of all knowledge and wisdom. Is it more than we think?

I desperately wanted to write a novel around cellular memory but I was wary. It is a subject I felt that deserved sensitively handling. Where there is a transplant, there has to be a loss. A grieving family. A recipient who has perhaps been ill for a long period and the impact that has had on their family and friends. I considered all of these points four years ago when I wanted to start writing a novel and I decided I didn’t have the experience to approach a story that included organ donation with the sensitivity it deserved.

Instead I wrote The Sister, a psychological thriller based around a grieving girl and I found that despite the genre of the book I was able to write it with raw emotion and when readers read it and fed back how connected and empathetic they felt towards the characters, I decided to tentatively start to write Jenna’s story in The Gift.

Jenna is a 30-year-old woman who receives a new heart and begins to have disturbing thoughts and dreams. She becomes obsessed with her donor, Callie’s family, and she doesn’t believe Callie’s accident was as innocent as it was purported to be. Jenna is determined to uncover the truth behind Callie’s death, to bring her bewildered parents the closure they deserve, but as she begins to dig and discover the secrets surrounding Callie, she finds there is someone who wants to silence her, at any cost.

The Gift is fiction, and of course as an author I have taken artistic license with the subject of cellular memory and I’m sure readers will understand the need to do this but I hope I have handled the medical aspect and the loss with accuracy and respect.

My family and I have been on the donor transplant list for years. I know it’s not always something families discuss and it has been humbling to receive emails from readers saying after they read Jenna’s story they sat down and discussed their thoughts and wishes with their loved ones. My hope for The Gift is that it can continue to spark conversations about donation and perhaps encourage someone who might not have previously thought about it to sign themselves up to the register. Signing up really could save lives.

The paperback version of The Gift, published by Sphere (Little, Brown) is now available in all good bookshops as well as Asda, Tesco & Sainsburys. The Tesco version includes an additional short story written exclusively for their customers or you can order the paperback, digital or audio version from Amazon here

 

 

F**K You Cancer – A tribute to my beautiful friend

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The world has lost a bright light and I have lost my beautiful friend Sara, and already I miss her enormously. Cancer is something that is often spoken about in hushed tones, almost as though if you don’t say the word aloud it can’t touch you but it can. It does. It will. Is there anyone who hasn’t had a friend, a family member brush against this disease? Sometimes it seems not, but knowing that doesn’t make it easier to understand. It doesn’t make it easier to bear.

It’s hard to know what to feel right now. What to do. Who to be. And so I write. Sitting at my desk. A framed quote from Sara hangs on my wall. Something she sent to cheer me up a few months ago. Even with her life drawing to a close she thought of others. She thought of me. It always makes me laugh when I read it. Today it makes me cry and I know that she would hate that.

Next to her quote I have a corkboard packed full of photos of my family and my heart aches as I think of the children she will never now have. The places she will never see. And yet I have never quite known anyone as surrounded by love as she was. Enriching the lives of everybody she met. Always looking on the bright side. Never losing hope. A fighter til the end.

For the past seven years Sara has made me laugh and despite her circumstances that didn’t change. Until very recently we’d still Skype, laughing as we remembered times past, mutual friends and perhaps remembering the most important lesson of all.

“The world’s so beautiful.” Sara said and since then, no matter how busy I am, I make sure I look for the beauty in every day.

It’s been such a privilege to know you.

Goodbye gorgeous girl.

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Flash Fiction – Falling through clouds

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Image courtesy of Lucy Fridkin 

 

I am twisting, turning, falling through clouds. Stretching out my hand for you, but you’re not there. You’re never there.

In my dream I was crying and when I wake my cheeks are wet, my tongue tasting tears and despair.

The floorboards are cold against my feet as I pad into the kitchen. I sit at the table, picking at the breakfast my grieving stomach can’t eat, my eyes drawn to your empty chair.

Outside the window the sky turns from mauve, to amber, to its usual self-conscious blue as the sun burns as hot and bright as the hole you left.

 

A rather more reflective piece this week, as the world excitedly gets ready for Christmas some of us aren’t quite ready to celebrate….

Falling through clouds was written for Friday Fictioneers. A 100 word story inspired by a photo prompt. You can read the other entries on host Rochelle’s blog, here.  

Grief – Two Years On

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Two years ago my heart shattered and the colour was sucked from my soul, leaving only shades of black and grey. The fabric of my being was irrevocably altered and I knew I would never be the same again.

In those endlessly dark early days getting out of bed was difficult, putting one foot in front of the other unfathomable, the thought of the world still turning impossible.

I clung tightly to the platitudes. Time would heal. I would learn to celebrate the life that was, not the loss that was left. Sometimes I wonder if that is true. Has it got easier or if I have become adept at pretending? Have I just mastered the art of not making others uncomfortable? I can stretch my face into a smile now at will, and nod I am fine, yes I’m looking forward to Christmas, but inside I am just as broken, and today, two years on, I feel the rawness of grief just as keenly. What can I do but plaster over the wound with words?

I write. And I think. And I miss you.

Reaching No.1 – Champagne and Grief

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Today has been a day for celebration and contemplation.

The second I heard the news The Sister was Number One on Amazon UK I felt a rush of exhilaration flooding my veins. I automatically reached for my phone to share my news and was hit by a fresh wave of grief as I remembered the person I most want to share with is no longer here. But for those few seconds, everything was right in my world once more, and the crushing reminder that it isn’t and can never be the same again, brought a flood of tears. I was crying for what I have lost. Crying for the support my book has received. Crying with gratitude I have the love of my family and friends.

I am not sure if it will always be this way, the underlying sadness that’s always there, spiking as something good happens, or whether that will gradually lessen. No matter how much time passes I tell myself it’s early days in the grieving process. Perhaps it will always feel like early days.

Tonight I shall go out to celebrate, for I know my chart position is something to celebrate, but today I write, for what else can I do? I will always have the comfort of words to blanket myself with and for that I am truly thankful.

Big thanks to everyone who has bought, read, shared and reviewed The Sister. It means such a lot to me.

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