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.’

 

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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

 

 

Seven days sugar free & this is how I feel…

It’s been seven days now since I decided to overhaul my diet and attempt to eliminate sugar and you can read my post on why here.

During this time almost everyone I’ve mentioned it to, on-line and off, has an opinion on the right approach so let’s get that bit out of the way first. There is no right approach. Instead, there’s the approach that seems achievable for you and your family, whether that’s cutting out sugary snacks, processed food or eliminating the white stuff entirely. I’m not an expert. This isn’t a post with ‘rules’ but rather a sharing of what I’ve found helpful, the challenges I’ve faced and how I overcame them (or not).

By day one I was raring to go. After much research (there’s an awful lot of information out there and a lot of it contradictory) I decided to base my experiment on David Gillespie’s method. His Sweet Poison book explained the science simply and clearly. I bought this book along with The Sweet Poison Quit plan but to be honest you could get away with only reading The Quit Plan because it explains the science (although not quite as in-depth) and also has recipes and pointers.

In his plan carbs are not banned – hurrah – (although white pasta, bread and rice are) and the occasional glass of wine is allowed. The odd potato will not send you straight to hell which was very good news for my husband when it came to our Sunday roast. And fruit is allowed (although no more than 2 pieces and berries are favoured).

Planning is the key to such a dramatic lifestyle change. Often, I’m working on ‘one more chapter’ and I lose track of time only to hare around to M & S to buy something I can shove in the oven. There is literally nothing without sugar you can just shove in the oven so meals were carefully thought out, and the fridge stocked.

Much of my meal plan was based around Sarah Flower’s The Sugar Free Family Cookbook. Many of the sugar free cookbooks I looked at (and I spent an hour in the bookshop) contain huge amounts of honey, or dried fruit, date paste. These are not sugar free and the huge spikes in fructose WILL leave you hungry.

The first day kicked off with porridge with a small amount of blueberries. Lunch was a smoked salmon and avocado salad. I’d already checked the sugar content on my usual low fat salad dressing and was shocked to find out it was 17g per 100ml. This is a LOT of sugar. Instead I drizzled chilli infused garlic oil. I often have salads for lunch and they only generally fill me up for a couple of hours. Without the spike in sugar from salad dressing I wasn’t hungry all afternoon. I’ve found that although sugars are hidden in almost everything dressings and condiments are amongst the worst.

Cooking dinner was, if I’m honest, a little frightening. I made moussaka which is one of my husband’s favourites. For years I’ve followed the Weight Watcher’s recipe. Low fat yoghurt and cheese. The Sarah Flower’s method was alien to me. Frying the aubergine in oil. Using full fat cheese and cream. I reminded myself as I sat down to eat that this isn’t a weight loss mission. It’s not about getting slimmer (although it is a bit…) but more about my health. My family loved the food. I couldn’t finish my portion and for the first time, I think ever, I didn’t have the urge to snack in the evening. I was too full. This was a trend that carried on all week – I’ve not once snacked in the evenings. It’s been hard to let go of the emotional comfort my ‘the kids are in bed let’s eat’ ritual brings, I’ve been doing it for years and that’s been one of the hardest things to change.

On day two I took my son for a pub lunch. The salads on the menu didn’t look too inspiring and it’s what I usually eat at home so I went with a steak and a handful of chips. (If you’re rolling your eyes at chips please refer to above about making changes that are realistic and feasible and hey there’s no added sugar). It was hard resisting the ketchup and vinegar but again I struggled to finish. We always have desserts and even though I thought I’d opt for cheese I just wasn’t hungry. It was 7 o’ clock before I realised I had skipped dinner. I was still full but I thought I’d better eat. I cut some crudités, cheese and spooned a small amount of homous onto a plate. Homous is something I eat regularly, again usually low fat. It was shocking comparing the labels and realising how much sugar is in low fat foods. No wonder dieters always feel ravenous with the fructose spikes making it impossible to know when they’ve eaten enough.

Day three brought with it a weird stabbing pain in my forehead that just wouldn’t go. Again, I ate out with friends but there was nothing suitable on the menu. I asked the kitchen to grill me some chicken and serve with an undressed salad (don’t be afraid to ask for what you want). Uninspired, but my head hurt too much to eat.  For dinner I wanted to try Sarah Flower’s ‘hot head’ pizza but discovered although I’d bought all the ingredients the base sauce took 8 hours to cook. I chucked everything in a slow cooker and left overnight to have tomorrow. Instead we had ratatouille with halloumi but even my favourite squeaky cheese didn’t make me feel any better.

Day four my head still hurt and I barely had the energy to get out of bed. Usually I’d go for a swim but it was exhausting just getting dressed. The sauce for the pizza was ready so I made the bases, almost entirely of cheese. If I’m not the size of a house by the end of this experiment I’ll be amazed. (It’s not about weight. It’s not about weight). I told the kids over and over again that they wouldn’t taste like real pizza’s until they said I was ruining it for them before they’d even tried them. Unanimously we all agreed we liked them better than regular pizza’s and even though I’d made one each they were so filling we could easily have shared.

Day five and the weird stabbing pain was still in my head. I’d been longing to write book 5 but my focus was non-existent. I was so tired I could cry. I had to run some errands and outside of the house I felt increasingly anxious until I had a panic attack. Panic attacks, I’d hoped were part of my dim and distant path and I drove home wondering whether this was all worth it. For dinner I made a curry. Again, I’d been making weight watchers curry recipes for years but this one had oils and creams and my family said it was the best curry they’d ever tasted.

Day six and I woke to find my hands didn’t hurt quite as much as they normally did. The point of this dietary change for me is to try and reduce my inflammation, as well as boost my energy (ha! No change there yet). I tried to write but although I couldn’t concentrate my fingers moved freely.  My 4th psychological thriller, The Date, is newly published & I’ve spent more time than usual on social media, on my phone. This is usually agonising for my poor hands. Hearteningly, already less so. My kids wanted burgers for dinner and so I made them from scratch. They’d never go without ketchup and so I found a recipe here and made some. It only took half an hour and we all agreed was nicer than Heinz. Cheeringly, I think it would make a fabulous base for the pizzas so no more 8 hour prep – hurrah. It’s Saturday and we generally eat desserts at the weekend so I made a raspberry mousse from Sarah Flowers and it was delicious.

Day seven. My headache had gone, my pain less and today I felt more energetic than I had for ages (probably because it was the first time I’d slept properly all week). I nervously weighed myself (I’d eaten so much fat this week) and was surprised and relieved to see I’d remained the same. Somehow I’ve lost an inch from my waist and my stomach is noticeably flatter, my clothes looser.

My husband’s had been missing sweet snacks and so I baked a sugar free lemon drizzle cake, again from Sarah’s recipes. Again, I kept telling my family it wouldn’t taste like cake but surprisingly it did. It was light, moist and disappeared VERY quickly.

It’s been tough, I think the exhaustion has been the worst, but it’s encouraging to see a reduction in my pain already. I’m looking forward to the week ahead. I’ll keep you posted!

Below are my two favourite recipes from this week.

From Sarah Flower’s Sugar Free Family Cookbook – available on Amazon here.

Lemon Drizzle Cake.

100g butter

100g full fat cheese

75g erythritol blend (I bought mine from Amazon. Expensive but you don’t need much at one time)

90g almond flour (I found cheaper to buy supermarket ground almonds)

40g coconut flour (I sourced mine at Asda)

1 tsp baking powder

Zest 2-3 lemons (squeeze juice to drizzle over cake)

5 eggs

Sarah shares a method but I just chucked everything in my Magimix and blitzed for 30/60 seconds. I used a silicone loaf tin and baked on gas mark 3 (170) for 50 minutes. Drizzle over the lemon juice once out the oven (I didn’t quite use all my juice). Let it cool before you turn it out or it will crumble.

Ketchup

This invaluable recipe for ketchup (also a pizza base – hurrah) is from Sugar Free Londoner fabulous blog which you can find here.

400g tin chopped tomatoes

3 tbsp red wine vinegar

1 garlic clove (I used lazy garlic)

¼ tsp Dijon mustard

¼ tsp onion powder (I used dried onion flakes)

I pinch ground allspice

1 pinch cinnamon (cinnamon helps reduce sugar cravings btw)

Salt & pepper

Throw everything in a pan on a low heat for 30 minutes, stirring frequently until it thickens. It keeps in the fridge for about a week.

You can check out how I get on during my second week here.

Life with a Sprockerpoo – the first 12 months

A year and a half ago we lost our beloved cocker spaniel, Molly. Our house and hearts felt colder. Emptier. After much discussion we decided not to get another dog. The children were growing, one already left home, and suddenly the time when it would become just the two of us didn’t seem quite so distant. We’d travel. Have spontaneous weekends away. The tie of another dog would be too much. We were approaching the time we’d be able to focus solely on us. We absolutely didn’t want another dog.

Until one day we did.

It was my husband who tentatively brought it up as he sipped his tea. ‘Life just doesn’t feel the same without a dog,’ he began. ‘I think…’.

I’d googled puppies before he’d finished his sentence and by the time he’d drained his mug I’d arranged for us to see a litter. At 4 o’clock.

We didn’t tell the children as we didn’t want to get their hopes up but I desperately wanted a labradoodle and was already picking out names as we drove to the appointment.

The litter were adorable, as all litters are. I climbed into the pen and waited to see which puppy came to me. They all did. Delighted, I looked up at my husband but as I saw his face my heart sank.

‘What’s wrong?’ I asked.

‘The mother’s the size of an average sheep.’ He said. 

And she was. 

I’ve always loved big breeds but he didn’t. 

‘Some are small and some grow so tall.’ The breeder told us. ‘You can’t predict with a mixed breed but they’re likely to be huge. She doesn’t even fit in my car.’

And so the pattern was set. Endless weekends spent visiting puppies from boxers to cockerpoos and everything in-between. I fell in love with them all. My husband didn’t. And yet I didn’t feel the urge to fight to bring them home. They were all gorgeous, and fluffy and cute but none of them felt like mine.

Last June we had one more appointment booked. We almost didn’t go. We’d decided to wait until after the school holidays but we’d never met a Sprockerpoo before (Springer/Cocker/Poodle) and we were curious. After losing two pure-breds to genetic health conditions we didn’t know entirely what we were searching for, but it wasn’t a pedigree.

Instantly, we fell in love and the feeling was mutual. Granger padded over, scrambled onto my lap, licked my hand and fell asleep and I knew I’d found him. The puppy who was meant to be ours.

‘Let’s think about it overnight.’ My husband said. ‘We don’t want to make s snap decision’ but I knew from the longing looks he was giving Granger he felt the same way I did. It became apparent when 10 minutes into our journey home he pulled into a lay-by. ‘I’d be devastated if someone else came and took him.’

I didn’t reply. I was too busy calling the breeder and saying yes.

A year ago today we brought him home.

The house felt different once more. He wasn’t a replacement for Molly and personality wise they are world’s apart, but each day he makes us laugh. We quickly found out he loves the garden, most days he spends hours chasing leaves, watching grass blow in the wind and it’s really made us appreciate the small things.  How to find joy in the world around us. He loathes being alone, luckily my husband and I both work from home and my elder son works shifts so our house is never empty. He lies under my desk as I write my books, sometimes making me jump if he suddenly moves while I’m writing a scary scene and sometimes inspiring me. Branwell the dog, in my latest psychological thriller, The Date, is based on Granger.

If anyone goes out he seeks solace in their shoes, putting them in his basket until they return, not to chew, although initially there was a LOT of chewing, but for comfort. He’s gentle, placid, affectionate, adores racing around the park with other dogs but equally content curled up on the sofa. He doesn’t molt and doesn’t smell. Oh and he’s patient. So very patient, standing waiting his turn when the cat decides he wants to feast on dog food. 

He’s ours and I can’t remember a time when he wasn’t.

Rich Hall Comedian – Interview – Writing & what you should NEVER do with a good idea

Rich Hall is one of my favourite comedians. Alongside stand-up he’s a firm fixture on TV panels shows, especially QI. In 2000 he won the Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Fringe in the guise of his country singing ex-con uncle Otis Lee Crenshaw.  This week I was lucky enough to see him live where he combined comedy and music in a show that was so funny my stomach muscles still ache from laughing.  During the first half he talked in his trademark drawl, taking an interest in the audience, randomly asking people where they were from, how long they’d been married and what they did for a living.  The second half kicked off with Rich singing a song based around an audience member’s life. I was utterly in awe of how quickly he’d pulled the song together over the interval and my writer mind instantly questioned, how had he done it? As time marched on he sang song after song using new information about different people and I knew these hadn’t been pre-written. How did he, seemingly easily, come up with ideas.

At the end of the show I asked if I could ask Rich directly and blog about his process. Thankfully he said yes.

Rich, I’m in awe of the way you put songs together so effortlessly tonight.

Thanks it’s not always as effortless as it appears.

I thought you’d used the interval to write the first song you sang in the second half but then you carried on singing about audience members. You must make them up on the spot?

Not entirely. The interval helps, trust me. In the interval I’ve got a bit of information to work with. I don’t know what I’m gonna do with it but at least I know. I knew that guy drove a mini metro and I could think about it.  I guess it’s a little like you planning books?

I tend to wing it!

Hehe I wing it too but even then I’m thinking ahead wondering what could come next. Sometimes shows are shorter without an interval and then the pressure’s really on but some writer’s work better under pressure. You one of those?

God no! I don’t like too much pressure but I’m beginning to think I’m better with a deadline of some sort. I don’t have one at the moment.

 Yeah sometimes it stems creativity having to produce something. It sucks the life out of it. But sometimes you need that kick up the arse.

A couple of the songs you sang tonight I’d heard before. How do you approach song writing?

Often I work on the structure first and then I sit and teach the band – here’s what I want you to play – then we’ve got a good feel for it and I fill in the words. It comes easier with experience. Writing is writing whatever it is. Practice definitely helps.

 How long have you been writing?

Thirty five years now. I studied journalism at college and then went to work for the Seattle newspaper writing columns. I hated it. I’d always wanted to be a comedian. One day I just decided to go for it.

It’s not only jokes and songs you write is it?

No there’s plays, books and documentaries. All sorts.

Do you write on the road? Are you structured with your approach?

If inspiration hits I’ll write. I split my time between the UK and my ranch in Montana and I tend to do a lot of writing there.

Do you have any rituals?

I wish I did. I wish it was like a tap that I could do something and it would come. Sometimes I get really stuck, don’t you?

I do but I tend to only work on one project at a time so I have to work through it somehow. What do you do?

 I walk away. Writing’s pretty much the same, jokes, stories, whatever and sometimes you have to walk away from it.

If you could give one piece of advice to new writers, what would it be?

When you get an idea you know in your gut if it’s a good one and if it is don’t beat it into the ground. If it doesn’t flow and you force yourself to keep working on it you lose confidence in the idea and it becomes old. You’re a writer, Louise. You know what I’m talking about?

Absolutely. I’ve had to put the manuscript for my latest novel, The Date, away so many times because it wasn’t coming and I knew it was too good an idea to let go.

Yeah that’s the thing. You give something space and it could be good.  If you’re sick of thinking about it let it go for a while. That’s what I learned. I was very frustrated when I started out because I thought I had to sit and work on something until it was finished.  Sometimes you’ve got to mix it up. What gets you through the hump?

A mixture of pure panic, cheese and too much wine.

Hehe, I might try that!

It’s been lovely talking to you Rich. Thanks so much for your time.

It’s been a pleasure.

Flash Fiction – The Musician

Image courtesy of Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

 

Beautiful women with Hollywood smiles thrust autograph books towards him but it’s me he wants. Mum said I was too fat. Too ugly. That nobody would ever love me but she was wrong.

He does. Tenderly he urged me to board without him, to ‘protect’ me from the throngs of fans.

‘Anything to declare?’ I am asked as I shift his guitar case from one hand to another.

Barking.

Snapping.

Dogs scratching at the case.

‘You’d better come with me, Miss.”

‘It’s not mine.’ I protest but as he walks past me without a second glance I realise, neither is he.

 

It’s been a busy few weeks. My fourth psychological thriller, The Date, was published a few days ago and has already hit the UK top 40 and the US top 20. Thanks to all who supported. Publication day was spent in London where I was fundraising for Parkinson’s Disease, a charity close to my heart.

The Date is centred around Prosopagnosia/Face Blindness & for my YouTube channel I interviewed Hannah Read who has the most severe reported case in the UK to ask her what it’s really like when everyone looks like a stranger. You can watch that here and find The Date on Amazon here

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly 100 word photo challenge inspired by a photo prompt. Hop on over to host Rochelle’s blog to read the other entries or join in!