The BIG editing lesson I learned writing The Surrogate #WritingTips

Today is the UK paperback publication of my third psychological thriller, The Surrogate (US paperback publication will follow later this year).  Although I’ve learned from every book, it was this one in particular where my editor gave me a piece of advice that has always stayed with me.

When I shared with my sister that I’d be writing a book about surrogacy she told me that she though the subject was too limiting. That the story would be predictable. I was determined to prove her wrong.

The Surrogate features Kat and Lisa, childhood friends, and Kat’s husband, Nick. They are all keeping dark and damaging secrets. I never plan when I write. I had a vague idea of who might be bad and who might be good but as I got deeper into the story the characters pulled me in unexpected directions. The plot became more complex than anything I thought I was capable of constructing.

As the ending gathered pace I layered twist upon twist, they tumbled onto the page as they tumbled out of my head, until finally the story reached its dramatic conclusion.

Nervously, I sent it over to my editor.

‘This is a phenomenal story’ her feedback began, ‘but…’ my heart sank ‘you’re not giving your twists time to breathe.’

I wasn’t entirely sure what she meant until I reread my manuscript. There wasn’t time to process each revelation before another one hit. It had been exhausting writing it. It was equally exhausting reading it. Rather than the pacy, hard hitting ending I thought I’d written it was confusing, lurching from one reveal to another.

She suggested taking out several twists which I was reluctant to do, so I set about rewriting the end.

For the twist she’d classed as ‘the big one’ I ensured I had no other reveals in this chapter. For other twists I moved a couple so they were away from the end. For most I lengthened the chapters so they weren’t so crammed together, particularly the epilogue which contains several.

Rereading it, I could see the difference. There was time to rest back, to process the turns of the story before it once more turned on its head.

There’s nothing I like more than pulling the rug from under the readers feet. To lead them to think they’ve got it all figured out when they haven’t. My stories always contain multiple twists. Now I’ll always give them time to breath.

You can read the opening of The Surrogate here and buy it on your local Amazon here. It is also now available in Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s & all good book shops.

Advertisements

Flash Fiction – Forbidden

Photo courtesy of J Hardy Carroll

 

There’s a crack in the curtains just wide enough to watch you standing in the shadow of time at the bus stop; rucksack on shoulder, school tie skewwhiff.  You’re cradling your heart in both hands, waiting for it to start beating.

Usually he doesn’t notice you.

But today there’s the gaze that lingers too long, the smile that’s too bright.

Run.

Take your heart and run away before it gets broken.

Instead you take his hand.

Why him?

Now I’ll have to tell you the story of his dad and I.

The real story of you.

Be the one who destroys you.

Why me?

 

‘Forbidden ‘was written for Friday Fictioneers. A weekly flash fiction challenge inspired by a photo prompt. Please do check out the other entries over on host Rochelle’s blog and join in!

The Gift is optioned!

“What first charmed us in Louise Jensen’s novel is the new angle with which the author approaches the subject of organ donation. If one is often interested in what precedes the transplant (anxious waiting of the patient or pain of the family of the donor), what follows the operation is often passed over in silence. Yet, we discovered with The Gift, the path of healing is often long and difficult for the transplanted person.”

I’m absolutely delighted to share my second psychological thriller, The Gift, has been optioned by Lagardere Studios who have produced some fabulous TV\Film.

“The intimate angle chosen by Louise Jensen is particularly strong as it allows us to understand the inner changes that the young woman is experiencing. The empathy the reader feels is natural and strong. What we want above all to keep while adapting to the screen, it is this intimate tone that attaches us to Jenna, and makes us experience the transplant from the inside, through the prism of the daily life of a young woman just after the surgery.”

The production company have a very clear vision for the project and I’m so pleased the scriptwriter working on the adaptation is remaining sensitive to the characters and the plot and most importantly, she loves my story.

“This breathtaking thriller that puts his heroine in front of an unknown but always more tangible danger, is ideal for a adaptation. We wish to be faithful to the novel, and would like to keep the main articulations and characters.”

More details to follow.

Transitioning to full-time author & creating a space to write

When I began writing The Sister, I would perch on the end of my bed, iPad balanced on knee, for the half an hour each night when my son had independent reading time. Writing was my way to unwind, the way I fought clinical depression after suddenly acquiring a disability and chronic pain. As time marched on and my short story grew and grew I hesitantly invested in a second hand laptop, feeling horribly guilty, in the way most mother’s do, for spending money on myself rather than the kids.

It became clear, when I wrapped up the tale of Grace and Charlie at 90k words that it was a book but it was only after many weeks, and truth be told, many glasses of wine, I felt brave enough to send it out and luckily it got picked up quite quickly.

It was then the whirlwind started.

With The Sister scheduled for publication only six months after I signed my deal, and my editor waiting for book two life became really hectic. Still teaching mindfulness through the business I had spent years building up I wrote The Gift during breaks while simultaneously editing The Sister. I wrote in my car waiting for the kids to come out of school. My ancient laptop was propped open on the breakfast bar while I cooked meals. It came into the utility with me while I squeezed in a few words waiting for the iron to heat (okay I took artistic license with the last one – I NEVER actually iron but you get the picture. I wrote everywhere.) Still, I didn’t have a space in my home to write.

Juggling too many things, my health began to slide and my husband took over the business while I focused on writing The Gift, immediately followed by The Surrogate and then The Date. I wrote on the sofa, at the dining table, in the bedroom, at my son’s desk in his room. Anywhere I could carve out space in our busy house. My ancient laptop took longer and longer to boot up. I found it harder and harder to focus. My notes were scattered all over the house. I had no structure. Rooms were cluttered and so was my mind. Work was everywhere and it was increasingly difficult to switch off. Almost impossible to think of beginning a new book.

Something had to change.

And then an email dropped into my inbox from my publisher ‘Huge congratulations, you’ve surpassed a million English language sales.’ Stunned I shared this with my husband who was thrilled but had a very important question to ask.

‘Is this it now? You’re a full-time writer?’

I hesitated. I’d slipped further and further away from the business but we’d never sat down and talked properly about what I want. What he wants. What it would mean for our family if I could say ‘yes I’m an author’ rather than staring at my shoes and mumbling whenever anyone asks what I do for a living. My career has got off to a flying start with No.1 placements in various charts, in various countries and nineteen translation deals. Time wise I have been writing full-time but I’d still not made that mental shift. I felt a pang of sadness admitting aloud ‘I don’t think I’ll be coming back to the business.’ As much as I hoped one day to find a balance, writing is all consuming and honestly there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.

‘Then we need to find you the space to do that,’ he said.

Last weekend I was away at a literary festival and when I returned home he’d cleared the small study that’s always been his and we spent the week decorating and choosing furniture. For the last few days, I’ve sat at my new desk, in a clutter free room that is mine and mine alone, a blank wall in front of me and I’ve felt more creative than I have in months. Ideas are flowing and I’m genuinely excited at the prospect of writing more books because finally, my name is Louise and I’m a full-time author.

I’m slightly ashamed to say this sideboard is crammed full of notebooks…

LOVE my floating bookshelves & so proud to know many of these authors.

A cosy corner to read the proofs I’m sent.

My desk will NEVER be this tidy again.

My super creative sister has made me a piece of artwork for every book I’ve released (Admittedly I’m TERRIFIED of masks so I sit with my back to this).

A Million Sales & a HUGE Thank You

 

As many of you know writing The Sister was a way for me to cope with losing my mobility, to attempt to take my mind off my chronic pain. To try to claw my way out of clinical depression. Grace and Charlie, along with the other characters in the book transported me to a different world. A joyful world. And little by little I began to feel better.

When Bookouture offered to publish my debut I felt a mixture of excitement and terror. Before I accepted the deal they were proposing I had a long and frank conversation with my prospective editor. I told her I wasn’t really a writer. Shared the reasons I had started writing and admitted that to me the story was real and all I had to do was to type it up. I wasn’t sure I could ever write another novel again. She reassured me that she thought I could but before I would sign I sat and made a list of everyone I thought might buy the book, I really didn’t want them to invest time into me if no-one would ever read it. I told her I was confident of seventeen sales. She told me Bookouture would try to get me a ‘few more than that.’

This week it’s been exactly two years since The Sister was published and thanks to my editor having more faith in me than I had in myself I’ve since written The Gift, The Surrogate and The Date. Today, I’ve learned that I’ve surpassed the million sales mark in English language books (my nineteen translation deals aren’t included in that figure). You can read the official announcement here. Although I should have the words to express how I feel, I just can’t. As much as I try, I can’t envisage a million anything, even chocolate hob nobs. I’m happy, tearful, and incredibly grateful that at a time in my life when I’d really hit rock bottom I decided to tell a story.

This achievement is very much a team effort so a huge thanks all at my digital and audio publishers, Bookouture, my paperback publishers, Sphere and to my agent Rory Scarfe. I’m also very grateful to my family for their continued support.

But most of all, thanks to the readers who have read, reviewed, shared and brighten up my day with emails and messages, not to mention hanging out with me daily on social media. None of it would have been possible without you.

Louise X

Bookouture Publishing Director Jenny Geras said ‘What Louise has achieved in just two years is incredible. What Louise’s readers constantly tell us is that in a crowded genre, her novels stand out as being the most gripping, the hardest to put down, with the best twists and the most standout hooks. We congratulate her on this amazing sales milestone, which couldn’t be more deserved.’

 

Day 14 of my sugar free challenge

It’s been 14 days now since I began my sugar free journey. You can read about why I started it here, and find out how my first week went here. As I stated previously this is not a ‘this is what you should do’ blog but more a ‘this what I’m doing and what works for me’ post. 

Last week I raved about the Sarah Flower’s Sugar Free cookbook which I’m still using. This week I bought her slow cooker book as there’s nothing quite as simple as throwing things in a pot but I was disappointed to find a large proportion of the recipes are in the other book, although admittedly this one is beautifully laid out with photos of the food. 

Speaking of food this experiment has really reignited my passion for cooking. Since landing a book deal meals have been hurriedly thrown together, too often courtesy of M & S. It’s been, while perhaps not a joy to cook from scratch every night, it’s certainly be a joy to eat different meals. The colours are vibrant. The flavours pop. 

Day eight – Yesterday, I thought I was over the withdrawal effects but today I have an incessant, raging thirst that just won’t go. I down bottle after bottle of water. By the evening I’ve drunk so much I’m worried. I turn to Dr. Google (as you do) thoughts of diabetes flashing through my mind and am relieved to find it’s a common side effect from quitting sugar. Phew. I get up about six million times in the night needing a wee. Roll on tomorrow. I have a chuck fridge contents in a pan for lunch (vague recipe below) and roasted chicken, cauliflower and chorizo for dinner. 

 

Day nine – STILL thirsty. Still drinking. Chicken and lentil bake with broccoli rice. Drink more water.

Day ten – This is my lowest day. My what on earth I am doing this when sugar tastes SO good day. I’m tired (barely slept from all the weeing) and I just want someone to cook me dinner. My husband is quite scared to get in the kitchen at the moment, even though he could just bung a chicken in the oven and some veg on. I’m so close to the end and can’t wait until it’s over. I make sausages and cauliflower and butterbean mash. Covered in lashings of onion gravy nobody even realised it wasn’t potato.

 

Day eleven – Today I was feeling marginally more human. I found out my newly published fourth psychological thriller, The Date, had reached No.1 in the charts on both Apple’s iBookstore and Kobo. I decided to celebrate. The wine didn’t quite slip down the way it used and I admit it was a bit of a slog to finish my second glass but I persevered. Once the alcohol haze hit, a LOT quicker than it used to – I wanted to eat. Somehow, and I’m not quite sure how. I managed to refrain from my usual favoured cheese balls and dairy milk and I blitzed some Parmesan in the microwave to make crisps instead. Went to bed feeling very smug.

Day twelve – Woke up feeling like I was going to die! Honestly, it was as though I’d been poisoned. Those two glasses of wine I wouldn’t have given a second thought to drinking two weeks ago have ruined me! I spend the day under a blanket nursing the worst hangover I’ve had since I was a teenager. Not quite so smug now Jensen! I vow NEVER to drink again. I need comforting so whip up a chicken and lentil curry.

Day thirteen – Still, there’s a lingering headache but I feel so much better than yesterday. The Date has now reached the Top 10 on Amazon UK and the Top 20 in the US and although I put a bottle in the fridge I can’t face opening it later. I’m craving something sweet so I adapt a recipe I use for blueberry muffins, using coconut and almond flour and xylitol instead of sugar and I add some lemon zest and juice. We eat them warm with fresh, extra thick cream. 

 

Day fourteen – I’m at the end of my experiment and find that this week I’ve lost 3lbs. This was never about weight, always about health but still…. I do a happy little weight loss dance all the same. I thought I’d be devouring the bar of fruit and nut in the bottom of the fridge for breakfast. Instead I find myself planing a sugar free dinner. My energy levels are higher today than they have been in a long time and I want to sustain, if not improve on that. I think there’s a balance to be found. Eating out has proved tricky, undressed salad and mainly steak. Food should be enjoyed. Life should be enjoyed. Nevertheless I think somewhere along the past two weeks this has morphed from experiment to lifestyle choice. I’m excited to see the continued health benefits. 

Recipes I’ve loved this week

This made a quick and filling lunch and I creatively call it ‘using the festering (ok not quite) veg in the bottom of the fridge.’

I blitzed broccoli in my Magimix until it resembled the size and shape of rice and stir fried it in coconut oil with half a red onion, peppers, diced courgette, and garlic. I topped with tuna and sushi ginger. It took less than 10 minutes and that was with the prep. The same time it would take to make a sandwich but far more nutritious.

Another lunch was feta hash which took the same amount of time as above but I found more filling.

Heat coconut oil and fry half a red onion for a couple of minutes. 

Throw in feta cubes, a tsp of oregano and some cherry tomatoes (Halved).

After a minute or two add three seasoned, beaten eggs and keep stirring until they are at your preferred consistency. Serve on a bed of spinach (which will wilt).

Granted, this doesn’t look hugely (or even marginally) appetising but I promise you it’s good. 

 

 

 

 

 

Flash Fiction – The Longing

Image courtesy of J Hardy Carroll

 

Sleep evades me. The longing for you is fierce and painful. I tell myself you’re no good for me, that I’m better off without you but there’s a void deep inside me that can’t be filled.

Again, I check the time. Not quite midnight. The night stretches before me long and slow. There’s a sinking, dawning realisation that I just can’t live without you.

I slip my feet into slippers, pad downstairs and there you are.

On the table.

Chocolate frosting glistening. Sponge light and soft.

Grabbing a knife and a plate I take you back to bed.

The diet can start next week.

 

The prompt made me smile, something you need, and very apt for me this week for those who have read about my 14 day sugar free challenge which you can read about here.

I’m absolutely delighted that my newly published 4th psychological thriller, The Date, has already hit No.1 on Apple’s iBookstore as well as the Amazon top 20 in both the UK & US. For the next dew days only it’s on special offer across all digital platforms for £0.99/$0.99. You can find it on your local amazon here.

The Longing was written for Friday Fictioneers. A weekly 100 word photo challenge inspired by a prompt. Read the other entries and/or join in over at host Rochelle’s blog here