In September 2021 I started a new, monthly, blog series ‘Diary of a Novelist’ to document my progress on my latest book.
I haven’t posted an update for months.
Life took an unexpected turn, as life often does, in February 2022 after I developed a health condition that, as yet, I haven’t learned to manage. Although I’m on medication, I’m still waiting for further tests and we know how stretched our poor NHS is (and you can read about my experience calling the emergency services for an ambulance here).
As a result of my condition I’ve felt exhausted, unable to think clearly or focus. Unable to make decisions for myself, let alone my characters, writing fell by the wayside. Last October my 10th book was published and although my publisher still has a couple of thrillers I’d already written to bring out over the next couple of years, I felt that my career was over. Everything I worked so hard for, gone. Although my publishers are lovely and supportive I tied myself up in knots worrying I wouldn’t be able to stick to the editing schedule. That I’d let them down.
I’ve been absolutely devastated.
I’m a very private person and it’s difficult to open up, to be vulnerable, but by the beginning of this year I’d also been diagnosed with depression and health anxiety. My mind full of worry about my diagnosis, what else the tests might reveal. I became somebody I no longer recognised. All traces of the author, gone.
Then, things took a turn for the worst. My specialist increased the dose of my medication and I felt a little better. A little clearer. Something happened that hasn’t happened for a long time.
I wanted to write.
It was terrifying to sit in front of a blank page, to even think about beginning a new book, but little by little, over the past 4 weeks, I’ve begun to build a story. A thriller which I think may be my best book yet. More importantly, I’ve enjoyed it.
Stepping back into my writer shoes is exciting, daunting, exhilarating and anxiety inducing but I’m so grateful that I’m building a world I can transport myself into, to lose myself again in something I love so dearly.
Progress is slow, but every word, every sentence, is a sign that I’m moving forward.
Longing to feel like myself again, and immensely looking forward to April’s publication of my 8thpsychological thriller, ‘The Fall’ I’ve booked a few events to speak at because I’ve missed connecting with readers and writers. I’m mindful of my energy levels, and I’m not taking on too much (I hope!) but I’d love it if you can join me at any of them.
Tonight, at 7pm GMT, I’ll be over on Instagram chatting to the Squad Pod about all things bookish. You can find us here.
On Thursday 2nd March I’ll be at Leicester Writers Club. You don’t have to be a member to come along. Details are here.
On Saturday 4th March I’ll be at Towcester’s very first book week at 2pm. Details are here.
On Thursday 9th March I’ll be at Earls Barton library at 19.30 which has been saved from closure by a wonderful group of community volunteers. Details here.
I feel incredibly nervous about being out there again, wish me luck!
During my last update in May I’d hoped to get back on track documenting the progress of my latest thriller month by month. Sadly, my health has deteriorated further and I feel so ill and exhausted most of the time I’m not making as much progress as I’d like. I did venture out to the Harper Collins Summer Party. I hadn’t been out for months and although it was tiring it was lovely to briefly catch up some author friends at the gorgeous Victoria & Albert Museum. Unfortunately it took so much energy I made the difficult decision not to go to Theakstons Crime festival at Harrogate this year but have loved seeing everyone’s photos online.
Anyway, I’ve been slowly editing my next thriller, publishing Spring 2023.
I realised when I was reading back the first draft that I made a mistake with this book, that I had thought was in pretty good shape. This story covers two timelines and 6 points of view (honestly not as confusing as it sounds). This meant, more than ever, I had to know my characters and my story inside out. This is where I went wrong. With so many characters reacting to circumstances and each other I needed to know exactly how they were acting both on and off the page and I hadn’t thought it through enough. Characters began behaving, well… out of character, because in-between their chapter points of view I wasn’t entirely clear on what they were doing or how they felt.
The timeline is always my nemesis, this time I needed a mammoth one to include what everyone was doing when they weren’t active in the story. It was worth the extra effort because the story now flows better than it did before. If you’re writing a novel, something isn’t quite right and you can’t put your finger on what I’d recommend you have a think about the ‘off the page’ action because this will impact everything the characters do when they renter the story.
This month I’ve also been writing my new monthly fiction series ‘Confessions’ for My Weekly magazine. Each part sees a client confess something to Stella, a hairdresser. I’ve adored creating Hawlington Cove where I’ve set the story, and the community who live there. I’m learning a lot about constructing short stories and a series and I’ll be talking about how I approach both of those things soon.
For now, wishing you a happy remainder of the summer.
I’m SO excited to reveal the cover for my new book ‘From Now On’ which publishes this October (15 weeks, not that I’m counting…)
I’ve adored writing the twists & turns of the Johnson Family in this love story/family drama. Charlie, Nina & Duke, the siblings who each tell their story have completely captured my heart, particularly 11-year-old Duke. I shall miss them enormously.
‘From Now On’ is available to pre-order now from Amazon, Waterstones, Apple, Google & your local indie bookshop will be able to order it. Here’s the blurb –
A heartbreaking tragedy.
Charlie left his hometown behind years ago and hasn’t looked back since. These days, with a successful career and a beautiful soon-to-be fiancée, he couldn’t be happier. But when he receives some unexpected news, his life is forever changed.
A life-changing choice.
Suddenly things are falling apart, and now Charlie has to care for his family. But how is he supposed to look after a heartbroken little brother and a sullen teenager who wants nothing to do with him? He’s completely at a loss and knows he can’t do it alone – not without the help of his oldest friend, Pippa.
The chance to start afresh.
As Charlie steps back into his old life, he soon realises it’s not just his family who needs fixing, but his relationship with Pippa too. But returning home is a painful reminder of all that he lost and tried so hard to forget. And if Charlie’s to fight for what he wants, first he must face up to his own past and decide whether he is ready to let go…
From Amelia Henley, comes a brand-new emotional and uplifting novel about family, love and the hard choices we face to protect the ones we love the most.
There is something very special about this book. Although it’s my 3rd Amelia Henley novel it’s my 10th book overall. TEN! I’ll be revealing more soon, as well as planning my usual live launch party, with prizes which of course you’re invited to.
This weekend I stepped out of my comfort zone and went to CrimeFest for the very first time. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, CrimeFest is a convention for readers and writers of crime fiction. There are over 100 participating authors and in excess of 40 panels, along with a gala award dinner, quizzes and, this year, a Eurovision pizza party.
Firstly, a note about the venue. CrimeFest was hosted this year by the Mercure Grand Hotel in Bristol. I’m aware the venue has changed from its previous location, and may again, but the takeaway is that it’s small. Not in a vast exhibition hall as I’d imagined but with panels taking place in one of three conference rooms, all close together, with a bar downstairs to sit and chat in. There’s plenty of parking in Bristol and rooms to stay in (we didn’t stay at the Mercure but were a very short walk away). It was super easy to get around with lifts when things were on the first floor and a ramp for where there were unavoidable stairs. Bristol is fabulous and really deserves a blog post of its own.
Back to the panel. Our subject for discussion was ‘Doubt and Suspicion – who can you trust’ (in my books, nobody). This was my first event since the pandemic hit and I’d forgotten, despite all my pre talk angst, how much I enjoy sharing my passion for writing, and, how much I learn listening to other writers. Always.
Writing is a solitary experience, more so these past couple of years and I’ve been feeling increasing tired. Isolated. I’ve found it difficult to concentrate on my manuscript lately. I haven’t been well this year and have put it down to that but listening to the other writers share their challenges has made me realise I’m not alone in feeling this way. Helen made me aware that many writers can’t write at home and without access to coffee shops have found it hard to focus. Although I hate to think of anyone having a hard time (except my characters) there’s comfort to be found knowing that other writers haven’t all been effortlessly producing books.
All writers work in different ways and it’s always reassuring to be reminded that there is no right and wrong way. Helen, Mason, David and Robin are mores structured and have more of a plan when they write. I never plot my thrillers because I can’t but that’s okay. We all end up with a finished product. One thing we all had in common though was that when we begin to write, initially everything focuses around character and, in the first draft, plot is almost secondary. A well developed character is at the heart of every good story.
Stepping away from the computer and switching off when I don’t feel the words flow is something I don’t do enough of and it was interesting to hear that the other writers consider this essential (which it is and something I definitely need to work on). From watching comfort TV and films (Selling Sunset & Sister Act) to exercise everyone seemed to have a ‘thing’.
The biggest lesson I learned however, is that even if you aren’t progressing your story it doesn’t mean that you aren’t productive. I’ve always found myself irritable at the end of days I haven’t penned any words. No matter how much work I’ve put in to my career in other ways, unless the word count on my WIP has risen I feel I haven’t achieved anything worthwhile. Listening to Mason, Helen, David and Robin discuss that research, marketing and even thinking is a valuable use of time has really been a game changer for me.
I’m 7 years into my writing career now, my tenth book is publishing this summer, I’ve sold over a million copies and been translated into 25 languages and I still have SUCH a lot to learn but there’s so much joy in honing a craft and I think, over the past few months, I’d forgotten that. I’ve come away from the festival with (books – hurrah!) renewed enthusiasm, reminded of how much I love what I do. It’s been wonderful to catch up with old friends and make some new ones. I didn’t realise how much I’d missed live events and I can’t wait for the next one.
It was wonderful to see copies of my books in the CrimeFest bookshop. The digital version of ‘The Stolen Sisters’ is currently in a 99p offer. Download from Amazon here.
I began this diary series back in September to record my progress writing a first draft of a new psychological thriller, to keep myself on track (you can read the first part here).
This is my first update since January, so it’s going well then…
Since I began writing in 2014 I’ve written virtually every day. Initially squeezing in time around a full-time job but even when I became a full-time writer I rarely had a day off. Fitting in a session before/after days out. Early mornings during holidays. Even over Christmas. And now, now I feel quite despairing because I have barely written since before Christmas.
I’ve had so many health challenges in 2022. On top of the problems I was already experiencing there has also been a car accident which left me with whiplash and a headache so debilitating I couldn’t look at a screen for weeks, and then a nasty case of Covid which I still haven’t fully recovered from. This all led to a really low mood, at times thinking my writing career was over, that I’d never be able to get back into the swing of things. Unable to focus on anything for any period of time.
Two weeks ago though however, I found myself in Paris, and you can read more about that here. I didn’t think I’d have the strength emotionally or physically to go but with a BIG birthday to celebrate and a research trip needed as next summer’s ‘Amelia Henley‘ book is partly set in Paris we set off telling ourselves that if all we did was sit outside a cafe and drink coffee it would still be time well spent. Thankfully we managed more than that.
I’ve returned, not with renewed vigour, but with a quiet determination to return to the job I love. I have two edits waiting for me. The copy edits for my forthcoming ‘Amelia Henley‘ book. And the first structural edit for my 2023 psychological thriller (and I’m not procrastinating and avoiding reading the editorial letter by writing this blog…)
Wish me luck!
p.s. – If you’re at Crimefest this weekend do come and say hello. I’m on a panel at 16.00 on Saturday the theme is ‘Suspicion and Doubt – who can you trust?’
Monthly round up: –
No new words written!
High – My trip to Paris!
Low – Feeling so ill
What I’m reading – ‘Before the coffee gets cold’ Toshikazu Kawaguchi
What I’m watching – Only Murders in the Building
Special offers – ‘The Stolen Sisters’ is currently 99p – Download from Amazon here. “Twenty years ago The Sinclair Sisters were taken. But what came after their return was far worse. Can a family ever recover, especially when not everyone is telling the truth…?” I adored writing this tense story about Carly, Leah & Marie Sinclair.
Join me, hopefully next month to find out how the edits went and if I’m back on track with writing. Subscribe to my newsletter here today and get two FREE short stories.
In 2014 I began writing my debut, ‘The Sister‘, for fun. It was meant to be a short story. I hadn’t written any fiction as an adult and I hadn’t any qualifications other than a clutch of GCSE’s. I never believed I could write a book. I had always thought that to be a published novelist you needed a wealth of experience and a degree in creative writing.
When it got to the point that my ‘short story’ had reached 90k words I began to tentatively hope I could edit it to a high enough standard where I’d dare to submit it. Out of my depth, I was so grateful when a writer I met at an event offered to read the opening 3 chapters for me. I didn’t check where she was published, or how she was published. The fact she was in print led me to believe she knew absolutely everything.
Her overriding feedback was that my prologue was a huge mistake, “readers hate them, agents hate them and publishers hate them. If you submit something with a prologue it won’t be read.”
I felt my face burn with embarrassment. I didn’t know the rules and I’d been found out for the imposter that I was.
Immediately I deleted my prologue, but now, several books on and with over a million copies sold I’m familiar with most of the rules and (whispers) here’s the thing. There aren’t any.
That writer, as it turned out, was right that ‘The Sister‘ shouldn’t have a prologue, but not for the reasons she said.Her overriding feedback was that my prologue was a huge mistake, ‘”readers hate them, agents hate them and publishers hate them. If you submit something with a prologue it won’t be read.” That writer, as it turned out, was right that ‘The Sister‘ shouldn’t have a prologue, but not for the reasons she said.
The prologue wasn’t needed. It didn’t serve a purpose and in a novel, every single scene, every single word needs to earn its place, prologue included. After ‘The Sister’ spent two months at No. 1 I found the confidence to include a prologue in my second psychological thriller, ‘The Gift‘, because no matter what that writer said about people hating prologues, I don’t, and first and foremost I’m a reader. I don’t write one for every book because not every story warrants one.
So how do I decide when to use one? ‘All For You’ (currently 99p in the Amazon Kindle Deal) is my newly published thriller and I’ll use it as an example. In this story I wanted readers to know that teenage boys are disappearing and that Connor, my main character’s son, will be taken next. Then, in chapter one we jump to several days before Connor is taken so readers can watch it unfold and try to figure out who is taking the boys, and why.
All For you – Prologue
Something is wrong.
I’ve a deep, primal instinct screaming that I need to get home to Connor. It isn’t just because of the row we’d had. The horrible, hurtful things he had said, it’s something else.
A knowing that, despite being 17, I should never have left my son alone.
The flash of neon orange cones blur through the window as I gather speed until the roadworks force me to a stop. The candle-shaped air freshener swings from the rear-view mirror – its strawberry scent cloying.
My fingertips drum the steering while I will the temporary traffic lights to change to green. The rain hammers against the roof the of the car, windscreen wipers lurch from side to side. It isn’t the crack of lightning that causes my stomach to painfully clench, or the rumble of thunder, even though storms always take me back to the time I’d rather forget, but a mother’s instinct.
I’ve felt it before. That bowling ball of dread hurtling towards me.
Drawing in a juddering breath, I tell myself everything is fine. It’s only natural that worry gnaws at me with sharpened teeth. Every mother in our town is on high alert right now after the disappearance of two teenage boys. I have more reason to be on edge than most.
It’s not as though I’m thinking Connor has been taken, but it’s one thing for him to ignore my calls, he’d never ignore Kieron’s.
Particularly when he had asked Kieron to call him after his hospital appointment.
Why didn’t he pick up?
In my mind’s eye I see him, bounding down the stairs two at a time, balancing on a chair to reach the snacks he doesn’t realize I know he hides on the top of his wardrobe.
An accident, or something else?
My stomach churns with a sense of foreboding.
I’ve been under so much pressure lately that I’m bound to be anxious. Edgy. But . . . I jab at my mobile and try Connor once more. My favourite picture of him lights the screen. We took it five years ago during an unseasonably hot Easter. Before Kieron was diagnosed, before everything changed. We’re on the beach, the wind whipping his dark curls around his face. His grin is wide, traces of chocolate ice cream smudged around his mouth.
We were all so happy once. I don’t know how, but I have to believe that we can be again. The alternative is too painful to bear.
The phone rings and rings. Fear brushes the back of my neck.
I try from Kieron’s phone this time. He still doesn’t answer.
The lights are taking an age to change.
Next to me, Kieron sleeps. His head lolling against the window, breath misting the glass. The dark sweep of his lashes spider across his pale skin. The hospital visit has exhausted him. The red tartan blanket I always keep in the car has slipped from his knees and I reach across and pull it over his legs. The passenger seat is swallowing his thin body. At thirteen he should be growing, but his illness is shrinking him. It’s shrinking me. Sometimes I feel as though my entire family is disappearing. Aidan barely talks to me, never touches me. In bed there’s an ever-increasing space between us. Both of us teetering on our respective edges of the mattress, a strip of cold sheet an invisible barrier between us. My head no longer resting on his chest, his leg never slung over mine, his fingers not stroking my hair any more.
Connor is monosyllabic and moody in the way that 17-year-olds often are but he never was, before . . .
But it isn’t just that, it’s also this sickness that isn’t just Kieron’s. It’s everybody’s.
The lights change to green.
Before I can pull away there’s a streak of yellow. Through the rain a digger trundles towards me, blocking my path.
Kieron sighs in his sleep the way his brother sighs when he’s awake. Sometimes it seems the boys only communicate through a series of noises and shrugs. But that’s unfair. It’s hardly surprising Connor’s mouth is a permanent thin line as though he’s forgotten how to smile. It’s not only his concern about his brother on top of everything he went through before the summer that has turned my sweet-natured son into a mass of guilt and unhappiness, but the sharp truth that out of his friendship group of three, two of them have disappeared.
‘The Taken’, the local paper calls them, printing that out of those who were there that tragic day, Connor is the only one left.
But Connor knows this as he hides in his room, too scared to go to school.
We all know this.
Tyler and Ryan have vanished without a trace and the police have no idea why.
It’s up to me to keep Connor safe.
I glance at Kieron.
I’ll do anything to keep both of my boys safe.
The driver of the digger raises his hand in appreciation as he passes by me. Before I can pull away, the lights change to red once more. Frustrated, I slam my palms against the steering wheel.
Rationally, I know Connor hasn’t been taken.
He’s at home.
The door is locked.
But still . . .
He never ignores Kieron.
Despite the lights being red, I pull away. There’s no approaching traffic. I snap on the radio again. The newsreader relays in cool, clipped tones that the missing boys haven’t been found but police are following several lines of inquiry. Nobody else is missing. The unsaid ‘yet’ lingers in the air, and although I know Connor is safe, my foot squeezes the accelerator. Home is the only place my anxiety abates. When we’re all under one roof and I can almost pretend everything is exactly how it was.
Visibility is poor. Frustrated, I slow, peering out through the teeming rain. If I have an accident I’m no use to Kieron, to anyone. My heart is racing as there’s another crack of lightning. I count the seconds the way I used to with the boys when they were small.
A grumble of thunder. The storm is closing in. Everything is closing in, crashing down. My stomach is a hard ball, my pulse skyrocketing as a sense of danger gallops towards me.
The urgency to be at home overrides the voice of caution urging me to slow down. I race past the old hospital, which has fallen into disrepair, the white and blue NHS sign crawling with ivy, and then the secondary school. I barely register the figure cloaked in black stepping onto the zebra crossing but on some level I must have noticed him as I blast the horn until he jumps back onto the path. He shakes his fist but I keep moving.
My chest is tight as I pull into my street, my driveway. A whimper of fear slithers from my lips as I see the front door swinging open.
Without waking Kieron I half fall, half step out of the car, my shoes slipping on wet tarmac as I rush towards my house.
The table in the hallway is lying on its side. My favourite green vase lies in shattered pieces over the oak floor. The lilies that had been left anonymously on the doorstep are strewn down the hallway.
‘Hello?’ My voice is thin and shaky.
The cream wall by the front door is smeared in blood. Connor’s phone is on the floor, lying in a puddle of water from the vase. His screen is smashed. My feet race up the stairs towards his bedroom. A man’s voice drifts towards me. I push open Connor’s door just as shots are fired.
Instinctively, I cover my head before I realize the sound is coming from the war game blaring out of Connor’s TV. His Xbox controller is tangled on the floor along with his headphones.
His bedroom is empty.
He was here.
He was safe.
The front door was locked.
Quickly, I check every room in the house until I’m back in the hallway, staring in horror at the blood on the wall, trying to make sense of it.
Connor has gone.
As you can see, prologues are a great tool for grabbing attention, giving background, creating a twist , and for providing a hook. A question. The prologue must be set apart from Chapter One, either with a different point of view or a different time – past, present, or future.
I asked my son once, who is an avid reader whether he read prologues as I was genuinely shocked to hear some readers don’t.
‘Of course,’ he said, ‘but I never bother with the things at the end. The epilogue.’
‘Why not?’ I was horrified.
‘Because I already know how the story ends,’ he said.
Not in my books. There is often, as there is with ‘The Family‘, a twist on the very last line in the epilogue, but how to end a story is another blog post entirely.
Welcome to my diary of a novelist where I’m documenting my routine (such as it is) and progress (pitiful) on my new psychological thriller.
The shame I felt sharing last month’s progress should have pushed me to achieve more this month.
Ridiculously, I spend this week in much of a panic because (and I told you it was ridiculous) it’s NaNoWriMo. For those who don’t know that’s National Novel Writing Month where you (clue is in the name) write a novel in a month.
Now, I have no desire to try this (kudos to those who do) so it shouldn’t have any impact on me.
But I find myself lurking on social media, feeling more and more deflated at those taking part posting their daily word count. By the end of week one most have surpassed the wordcount on my new novel which I’ve been working on for two months.
AND I WRITE FULL TIME.
Now, usually, I’m pretty positive (because I’ve taught myself to be) and I know that no good EVER comes of comparing myself to other writers but sometimes, particularly during such a rough time personally when I’m feeling so low anyway, it’s just so bloody hard not to.
Consequently, I end up writing, deleting, rewriting the same chapter over and over and then eating too much cheese.
This week is publication day for ‘Everyday Kindness‘. An anthology in aid of Shelter Charity. Having had my own life transformed by a single act of kindness I was really happy to contribute a story. I take a few quiet moments on publication day to think about how lucky I am. There are people out there who are homeless.
And I’ve been stressing about Nano WHICH I’M NOT TAKING PART IN ANYWAY.
Back to my wip. I carry on writing the past point of view featured in part three, the end (I’ve skipped the middle for now).
Then my husband begins to feel unwell. His throat is raw, he has swollen glands, a raging temperature, muscle aches, fatigue. He takes a lateral flow test which is negative. I make him take another two and then, not quite trusting them after my son’s Covid experience, I take him for a PCR. That’s negative too. Turns out he has tonsillitis.
Knowing that while he’s sick I have less time because all the shopping, cooking, childcare etc will fall on me I use my time more productively. I write the epilogue knowing now where I want to get too but still not quite sure how to get there.
The ending is growing longer and longer. My pet peeve, as a reader, is endings which are rushed so I like writing this way, giving the twists the space they need to breath, knowing the middle will be less meandering because I’ll have fewer words less to fill. I’ve almost, almost, finished the point of view I’m working on.
I take a couple of days break. One of my kids graduates and we head up to his uni for the ceremony. My husband was still feeling exhausted but wouldn’t have missed it for the world. We kept our masks on throughout the ceremony but behind them, we couldn’t stop smiling.
There’s a 16th birthday in the house! I take my son to see Hamilton to celebrate. It’s odd being on a train. Odd being in London. But we loved it. We were in the actual room where it happens!
It takes me days to regain my energy but by the end of the week I’ve finished the point of view I’ve been working on. I have two other points of view to write in the final part and the entire middle to go.
The middle is the point I’m most concerned about, not wanting to make it too supernatural (actually desperate to make it really supernatural but I don’t think my publisher is super keen).
And so we’re beginning December. Three weeks until Christmas and I hope by next month, although I’m incapable of planning, to at least have a good sense of the story I need and be able to bullet point some scenes so I’ll be able to pick it up again in the New Year.
Watch this space…
Monthly round up:-
New words written 25K
US paperback publication day for ‘The Family’
Some lovely review for ‘All For You‘ which is out in Poland – can’t wait until this is published in the UK next month!
High – Some exciting news regarding ‘The Life We Almost Had’ that I can’t quite share yet
Low – My husband being so poorly
What I’m reading – Everyday Kindness
What I’m watching – I’m a celebrity, get me out of here
Social offer! – Two of my books have been selected for Amazon’s ‘Countdown to Christmas’ 99p deal. ‘The Life We Almost Had’ my Amelia Henley debut (which is NOT a typical love story) and ‘The Date’ featuring face blind Ali trying to stop her stalker ruining her life (challenging when she can’t recognise them).
I’ll be running another giveaway very soon so if you haven’t already, subscribe to my Newsletter here to be kept up to date and receive 2 free short stories.
Welcome to part two of my new diary series. Each month I’m documenting the progress on my new first draft, and sharing a little insight into the life of a full-time writer. If you missed part one you can catch up with it here. Now, it has crossed my mind multiple times to skip this month’s entry and hope that nobody notices because my progress has been shameful, but then I wouldn’t be being entirely honest about my writers’ life and the point of this series is to keep myself on track. I knew October was going to be such a busy month but I didn’t realise my word count would be quite so paltry.
The first few days were spent frantically checking my emails. I’d sent both my editor and agent the first three chapters of my new idea and, of course, when they didn’t reply in five seconds telling me they loved it, I assumed they hated it.
While I waited I began playing around with the structure, not yet entirely sure how I was going to approach two timelines and at least three points of view. Whether I’d write one complete point of view before switching to another or whether I’d mix it up. One thing I have learned over the years is every book is different and the process I’d used before may not work for this story. After writing a few super short chapters (no more than 500 words) from all three points of view to get a feel for the characters I realised one thing. The structure I’d sent to my agent and editor wasn’t going to work for me. The third chapter was supposed to be from a podcast and although I loved the idea of this I found writing it jarring. The switch really pulled me out of the story as a writer and trying to read it objectively as a reader I felt the same thing might happen. If readers aren’t fully immersed in the story they may give up on it and I don’t want that so back to the drawing board.
In the meantime, my agent got back to me first with feedback which could have gone either way as he began with ‘OH MY GOD’ but he loved it saying he felt I’d really moved into new territory.
Interestingly, my editor’s feedback echoed similar thoughts: –
“Well… What an opening! That prologue gave me chills – and I mean that in a good way. I do like the direction this is moving in, and although it will move you into a slightly different space that could be a good thing by the time we get to this point in your publishing, as it’s important that your storytelling keeps evolving.”
I spent some time pondering what they mean (if pondering can mean excruciatingly examining every word over and over). I hadn’t made a conscious decision to move into a new direction, rather I thought of a story I’d like to tell. I wondered whether I could ask for feedback on their feedback but instead tell myself to JUST BLOODY WRITE.
Holiday time – hurrah! It seems like forever since we went away and it was such a treat to have all of my children under one roof (I do only have three – I’m not the old woman who lived in the shoe). But with the eldest having left home and another now working full-time it isn’t always easy to coordinate. Pre-pandemic if we’d gone on holiday I’d have taken my notebook and laptop and squeezed in some writing when I could. This time I didn’t. We hired a cottage in the New Forest and spent the week dog walking, eating, drinking, playing games and laughing. I hadn’t realised how mundane life had become until I had a change of routine. It was a JOY.
We had such a good time away, my husband and I decide to sneak a long weekend away in while the weather was still reasonable. But first, a few days to focus on my manuscript. Disappointingly, I found that after a break so close to the beginning it wasn’t easy to dive back in. I took into account something my editor and agent both mentioned about being careful not to stray into the horror genre (I fear I might stray into the horror genre…) and as I’d had a vague idea about the (an) end that seemed a good place to start while I figured out genre, points of view and the dreaded middle. I began at part two, there was a new point of view there so I aimed to write all of her parts first.
I was interviewed for a podcast with author John Marrs who it appears has a really similar process to me, start writing and wing it. I found this very reassuring.
I got about 5k words in before I go away, determined that when I came back I’d really knuckle down.
Life took an unexpected turn, as life has a habit of doing and much of this week was spent with a friend in need. I had a couple of days to write though and I was becoming clearer on the end.
It’s dark. Very dark.
I must not stray into the horror genre. I must not stray into the horror genre. I must not stray into the horror genre.
I don’t know if I am – send help!
In November I really need to get my head into this new idea and to write almost every day because I keep losing the story. Also I need to decide whether I’m confident this is a thriller because as well as the (may or may not be) horror strand, I might also have introduced a supernatural element.
Writing under contract means I can’t entirely write what I’d like because it needs to fit with what I’ve promised the publisher, which is a psychological thriller. I fear, that as I’m writing my 9th thriller and with over a million sales, it’s perhaps a little late, and a little embarrassing, to ask for a definition of exactly what a psychological thriller is…
Monthly round up: – 8000k new words written German publication day for ‘The Stolen Sisters’ US publication day for ‘The Stolen Sisters’ Polish publication day for ‘All For You’ A holiday A weekend away A lovely review in ‘Heat’ magazine for the forthcoming ‘All For You’.
High – ‘The Stolen Sisters’ has spent almost a month in the German Kindle top 100 so far.
Low – More time spent not writing than writing
What I’m reading – Sophie Money-Coutts – ‘Did You Miss Me?’
What I’m watching – Good Girls season 4
Join me next month to find out whether I find out what a psychological thriller is, whether I nail the end, and how I approach the dual timeline in the middle.
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Welcome to my new diary series. Each month I’m going to document the progress on my new first draft, both to keep myself on track and to share a little insight into the life of a full-time writer. So, here’s how my September went…
At the end of last month I finished editing my second Amelia Henley book ‘The Art of Loving You’ for the German market. As much as I love writing contemporary fiction there had been an idea for a thriller I’d been toying with for the past couple of years that was on my mind more and more. It really excited me and I’d tried to start it three times but I couldn’t figure out the purpose of the book. Usually, once I have a concept, a character who wants something, and an idea of what’s stopping them getting it, I dive right in but I knew this story was different. There had to be a point to the ‘baddie’ being bad and I just couldn’t figure out what it was. Because of the setting, options were limited and I didn’t want to write myself into a corner. For a long time I was fixated on the bad guy being after a key the main character had, and sporadically over dinner I’d fire questions at my bemused family ‘what could the key be for?’ becoming more desperate each time. I was at the stage of shelving it (again) and despairingly said to my younger son ‘I don’t know what to write next’ (fact – ALL writers worry at some stage they’ll never have another idea) when my youngest son said ‘let’s get some post-its and brainstorm ideas.’
Best. Thing. Ever.
Within an hour we’d ditched the key, come up with something better, and, relieved to have a direction, I began writing it immediately.
I’m not a quick writer. No first draft within a few weeks for me, it takes a few months and that’s alright. I never want to put pressure on myself and suck the joy from the writing. For me, consistency in writing, showing up every day and either putting a few words down or researching is more important to me than word count goals. It took me a long time to accept that my process is okay because it works for me. It can be difficult, particularly on social media, not to compare yourself to other authors.
Day one was spent solely on the first line. Once I get the tone of that right I knew the prologue will flow and it did. It terrified me both writing it and reading it back. This will definitely be my darkest book yet.
At the end of week one, the prologue and chapter one were finished (3k words – told you I was slow) and then there was a few days I didn’t think about my story because my son got married! It was such a joyous event and I was immensely proud of all of my boys. The youngest read a poem I had written and his brother was the Best Man and read out a highly emotional speech. Happy tears were shed.
I began the week itching to get back to my new characters but then two things happened. The edits for the US version of my first Amelia Henley book ‘The Art of Loving You’ arrived and my youngest son was diagnosed with COVID. Some days, I sat on the landing, outside of his bedroom, with my laptop, trying to focus but it was difficult, I was consumed with worry. I knew, that whatever I wrote towards my new story wouldn’t be any good so instead I took the time to think about how many points of view I wanted to include and how to structure the story. I decided on three points of view and a dual timeline. Then came one of my favourite parts of being a writer – I ordered a new notebook! Oh the joy in an otherwise bleak week.
My son was, thankfully, over the worst of the symptoms, although he was left with an overwhelming exhaustion. I returned to work in my study downstairs although I was constantly messaging him and checking my phone. I reread and revised what I’d written. I know, I know, according to every writer ever you should never edit as you go (I always edit as I go).
The week began with a new foreign rights deal which I was very grateful for. Like so many other industries the pandemic has hit publishing hard and this has given me a little hope for the future. I also had discussions with my UK editor and my German editor regarding covers for my next releases. I always get so excited when I see a cover, it really makes the book seem real. This spurred me on to knuckle down to finish the first three chapters of my wip (work in progress). My agent and editor have no idea what I’m writing about so I’ve sent it over to both of them. Much like when I was submitting my debut, my palms were clammy and my heart beat faster. Sharing your work is always nerve wracking. If my editor doesn’t think my idea is commercial enough or she doesn’t think there is a hook then my publisher won’t want to publish it and I’m already so invested in this story.
So now I wait for feedback…
Monthly round up: –
7500k new words written
Light edits on 2 books for foreign markets
High – My eldest son’s gorgeous wedding
Low – My youngest son got Covid
What I’m reading – Joan Collins ‘Past Imperfect’
What I’m watching – Money Heist season 5
Join me next month to find out what my agent and editor think of my opening chapters. In October there will also be an exclusive giveaway for subscribers of my newsletter. Subscribe here today and get two FREE short stories.
Any specific questions on writing and publishing do drop them in the comments below.
It’s that exciting, anxiety inducing time when I’m beginning a new book. This is ALWAYS where I panic, feel I can NEVER write another novel again and procrastinate wherever I can. So, to keep me on track I’d love it if you would join me on my journey this time via my new series, ‘A Writer’s Life’.
Subscribe to my blog so you don’t miss monthly (ish) updates on my progress as well as insights into a writer’s life, what I’m reading, the challenges I’m facing and any special offers running on my books. (This month, for 99p, UK readers can download ‘my latest release, ‘The Stolen Sisters‘ and ‘The Gift‘ via these Amazon links).
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If there’s any part of the writing/publishing process you’re particularly interested in, do drop a comment below and I’ll make sure I cover it as best I can.