Clouds, Rainbows, Chocolate & Unicorns – My first RNA meeting!!

The second my book deal was announced and I was able to share I’d now also be writing love stories under the pen name Amelia Henley (you can read about that here), I joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association. The very second. Before I tweeted my news or posted on Facebook, I was eagerly signing up for membership.

I had waited a long time to join. I didn’t know exactly what the RNA was but isn’t the name wonderful? Romance conjures such evocative images (raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens).

After I’d joined I was super excited to discover there are ‘chapter’ meetings held in various locations throughout the UK. My local one was Leicester. I was thrilled. My son is at Uni in Leicester so I’d be able to go to a meeting and then see him afterwards. Immediately I sent him this message telling him my news and sharing that I thought the Romantic Novelists’ meetings would surely consist of members lying on clouds, under rainbows being fed chocolate by unicorns.

He asked me what the actual benefits were.

Unicorns, chocolate, rainbows and clouds? I thought about it properly, my expectations were, perhaps, a little bit high. I didn’t know what the benefits were but I couldn’t wait to find out. I pondered what I should wear to give out that romantic vibe.

“Do you think my wedding dress would be overkill?’ I asked my husband.

He thought that it probably would.

I arrived late, flustered. I’d been writing and had lost track of time. Everyone was already there. Everyone already eating. The room crowded, I couldn’t see a seat. Luckily Sue Moorcroft, who I already knew spotted me lingering uncertainly at the door. She kindly invited me to sit with her.

Sue Moorcroft

Lizzie Lamb, who I’d already been messaging gave me a huge smile and told me she was glad I’d made it. Instantly I relaxed.

Lizzie Lamb

The other writers were lovely, LOVELY. I was made to feel hugely welcome and after so many solitary years spent writing it was fabulous to connect with a local group who had experienced the same highs and lows of publishing, and the same hopes and fears.

After food, those that had news to share, shared. There were new book covers, publication days, nominations for awards. Each announcement met with a huge round of applause. The atmosphere was encouraging, nurturing. It felt a safe space to be. Instinctively I knew that this group would not only celebrate each other’s achievements, they would also be a shoulder when things weren’t going quite so well.

Sharing news

Literary agent, Kate Nash, came along to talk about submissions and the industry which, even as a published writer I found enlightening.

There might not have been any rainbows or unicorns at the meeting but I found something even better – friendship and support.

Thanks everybody for making me feel so welcome. I can’t wait until the next meeting.

The most important thing I learned teaching Creative Writing

My husband is worryingly good at spotting potential murder sites…

Last week I taught my first creative writing class which you can read about here. It made such a change to be out of the house, generally I’m at home writing. Every. Single. Day. It’s where I’m happiest though, in my tiny study, in my pyjamas, dreaming up worlds.

During the workshop I was asked where ideas come from.

‘They’re all around us if we keep our eyes open,’ I said. Leaving the house isn’t the only way to find ideas of course but I did mention that for me I found inspiration in getting out, living life. ‘If we never go anywhere or do anything, we might find we’ve nothing to say. Nothing to write about.’

As I said this I was mentally calculating when the last time was I went out and did something different.

I couldn’t remember.

I thought about what I might write next once I’ve finished my current book.

I had no idea.

And I was a little worried.

As my writing schedule has become busier I realise that lately I’ve been viewing life solely through my laptop and missing out on new experiences. The less I’ve been venturing out the more I’ve noticed my anxiety has also increased. It was time to make a change.

At home I relayed this to my husband and on the Saturday morning he told me to pack an overnight bag and after loading the dog in the car, we headed for the coast.

“Are we nearly there yet?” asked Granger for the millionth time.

At first I was a little worried about leaving my current characters Libby and Jack behind. I’d left them in an awful situation, but promising them I’d sort it all out on Monday I put my story out of my mind and anchored myself to the present moment.

Everywhere I went sparked at idea. Walking along the beach in the bright sunshine, a potential love story for my next Amelia Henley book. Taking Granger down to the deserted harbour at dusk, the perfect setting for a crime for one of my next thrillers. High up on the sand dunes, overlooking the beach huts, the glittering sea spread before me was, I thought, so romantic, a great spot for a proposal. (But those beach huts could well be hiding secrets). Walking away from the sand dunes, into the forest there was a small abandoned building.

My husband nudged me, ‘You could bury a body there and nobody would find it for months.’

In the crowded coffee shop, snippets of conversation, mannerisms of customers. A real opportunity to study people (in a non-creepy, non threatening way…)

I’ve come home refreshed and revitalised, not with a new plot, but with a new setting that every now and then I’ll bring to the forefront of my mind and add detail to, and by the time I’m ready to start a new novel it will be fully formed.

Already I am excited for it.

I learned a lot teaching my class but making time to get out is perhaps, for me, the most important lesson of all.

It’s never too cold for a paddle

Creative Writing Workshop – the BIG mistake I made

The room looked HUGE

Almost a year ago I was asked by a friend if I could pull together a private creative writing workshop.

Initially, I said no, I’ve written a few books, sold a few books, but still felt I was winging it as far as being an author was concerned. I certainly didn’t feel qualified to teach anybody anything.

She asked again a few weeks later. This time I was going through a (stupid)  ‘pushing myself out of my comfort zone stage.’ Figuring I had months to prepare I shoved aside my fear of public speaking and agreed and then promptly buried my head in the sand. If I didn’t give it too much thought, it couldn’t be happening.

Only it was.

At the beginning of this year I realised that I only had a few weeks to prepare. I never go into things half-heartedly so panicking I ordered literally every ‘how to write a novel’ book I could find (and there are a LOT out there). I had many sleepless nights. I had no idea what I was doing. I knew NOTHING. I  had previously been told by a copy editor that I mixed my concrete and my abstract nouns (apparently this is bad), got my clauses in the wrong order (apparently this is worse). I was an imposter with no formal qualifications.

I spent hours – HOURS – online, looking at what other courses offered, realising that to give a basic grounding in the fundamentals of writing I needed 6-8 weeks. I had an afternoon. And yet, as a former course junkie I knew that many workshops contained a lot of waffle, ice-breakers, time-filling exercises that didn’t always mean a lot. I wanted to write a programme which covered ideas, plot, point of view, show don’t tell – a lot to cover in a relatively short period. I spent a ridiculous amount of time pulling together content, my fourteen-year-old son testing everything I’d produced. 

‘I love the exercise with the news headlines,’ he said.

‘It took me half a day of trawling the internet to choose them,’ I told him.

‘Mum! You’re a writer. You could have just made them up.’ 

He had a point. I’m an idiot.  

I carefully wrote and rewrote my itinerary, growing quietly confident I could do it. Until several days before when the thought of sitting in front of a room full of strangers brought me out into a cold sweat. I roped in fellow author, Darren O’Sullivan.

Not only is Darren a former teacher, he’s a good friend and a fabulous writer (check out his books here). We often talk at literary festivals and events together and as our approaches to novel writing are completely different  I knew we’d both bring something unique to the course. Aside from that, we always have a blast. 

And we did.

Who can be nervous with Batman at their side?

The course participants were lovely. Really lovely. Thankfully, not one of them came in waving a grammar quiz at me, or demanding to see my (non-existent) degree.

During the afternoon, I was asked a question about whether it was bad to write out of order. ‘The thing I love about writing,’ I said, ‘Is that there’s no right or wrong way to do it.’ As I spoke I wanted to smack my palm against my forehead. In the lead-up to the course I had got it horribly wrong by trying to over complicate something that is fundamentally simple. It’s not easy to write a book, I wouldn’t claim otherwise, but there are things you need to know and things you don’t. I STILL don’t quite understand concrete and abstract nouns and why they shouldn’t go together. If I’m honest, I don’t really care. What I do know is how to construct a story that keeps readers turning the page, the elements every novel needs. My hours of angst had been unnecessary. Ultimately ‘write the story you’d like to read’ still remains the best advice I can give.

Darren and I thoroughly enjoyed the workshop and hopefully so did everyone that came. They all left with the start of a piece of writing that they can develop, a smile and a copy of my latest thriller, The Family and me and Darren got to take home the leftover cake. 

I learned a lot during the workshop, both about myself, (I can do things if I push myself) and things I’d forgotten about novel writing that will help me going forward, including the one basic thing I’d let slide recently. I’ll be sharing that in my next post.

Why the HQ New Voices literary showcase event made me furious

Last night was the HQ Stories New Voices Showcase. An evening where over 70 journalists and bloggers would gather in the impressive function room at the Harper Collins Offices, with the sweeping panoramic views of London, to listen to authors pitch their forthcoming novels.

We were given sixty seconds each to talk about our plot or the inspiration behind our stories. When I read the brief I thought sixty seconds wasn’t long enough to talk about my forthcoming Amelia Henley love story, ‘The Life We Almost Had.

I was wrong.

Some of you know I once had a phobia of public speaking – not a touch of anxiety – but actual fainting or vomiting or sometimes both. Some of you know I had a course of hypnotherapy to overcome this phobia when I was asked to talk at Althorp Literary Festival about my thriller (you can read about that here.) I’ve spoken at many events since my hypnotherapy – I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the panels and the Q & A’s I’ve taken part in.

I was aware that this pitch would be the first time ever I’d be on stage alone but it was just sixty seconds. It would just pass in a flash, I’d thought.

I was wrong about that too.

Patiently I waited at the side of the stage for my turn listening to the other authors pitch their books, some with humour, some with true stories behind them, all with a confidence I did not feel. As I listened to them I knew I wanted to read each and every one of their books.

It was my turn to talk about ‘The Life We Almost Had’. The walk to the podium felt extraordinarily long. Eyes weighing heavily on me as I began my polished pitch only suddenly it wasn’t so polished. I was talking about something personal, my family, and voicing aloud for the first time the sad inspiration behind my story brought with it an onslaught of emotions that I fought to keep in check. Sixty seconds felt like the longest time but when I’d finished I realised I’d missed out a vital sentence in the middle of my pitch and thought without it, it might not have made sense to anyone.

On the train, I was furious with myself all the way home. Sixty seconds. How could I have messed up sixty seconds when my story means so much to me. When my characters Adam and Anna mean so much to me.

At home I opened Twitter. I’d received a lovely message from a book blogger. “When you said at the end of you speech ‘At the beginning of the book Adam and Anna question whether love can be eternal, by the end of their story they have their answer’ has made me desperate to read it.”

Tearfully I replied, that was the reaction I had hoped for. That’s when I realised. It was because I cared so much I was angry and that was something that all of the authors in that room had in common last night.

We cared.

Our stories might be in different genres but we were all passionate about the worlds we had created. We all wanted to share those worlds and it was that passion that made me desperate to read every single book I’d heard talked about, it wasn’t necessarily what the author said (or didn’t say in my case). We all spoke from the heart and are all immensely proud of the books we have written and ultimately that was what shone through and made the evening such a special one.

Big thanks to HQ for arranging the event and to everyone who came along and supported it. I loved meeting so many new people and am really grateful my editor invited me along. And a huge shout out to the incredible authors last night who stepped out of their comfort zones (and in my case my pyjamas) to share their stories. I had a fabulous time.

Book bloggers Linda Hill, Jacob Collins, Sarah Swan

New book deal. New genre. New beginnings. My HAPPY news!

Writing thrillers is something I am super passionate about. It fulfils the Enid Blyton’s Famous Five obsessive inside of me, the Scooby Doo and the gang need to solve the mystery addict. But I’ve always had another dream. A dream I clutched tightly to my chest promising it one day, eventually, and when I’ve got more time but I never seemed to have more time and eventually never came.  It felt like a secret. A secret I couldn’t quite share. You see, I’d had my heart broken at the age of eight after reading Little Women and that was when I knew with certainty I wanted to one day write a story which would make readers fall in love with the characters, cry for them, hope, question ‘what would I do in that situation.’

It was while I was on holiday in Lanzarote, gazing out to sea that I saw a scene in my mind play out like a movie. Although the scene was imagined it was very real to me, along with the characters, Adam and Anna. Unusually, the idea came fully formed, as though it was their story and I just had to transcibe it.

I sat in a beach bar with my son who is already such a talented writer and I told him I had had an idea. ‘It’s a bit crazy though’ I warned him. ‘All the best ideas are,’ he wisely said. ‘You must write it,’ and so there and then I began to draft notes.  Their journey begins in Lanzarote (although I’ve renamed the island) with a love lock. I was already so invested in Adam and Anna as a couple I purchased them a love lock and fastened it to the chain fence at the beautiful cover where we were staying (which also features in the book). I wrote for the entire plane journey home.

Back at my desk, I picked up where I’d left off with my latest thriller and when I tweeted that I had been so excited about my new idea I felt so sad I had put it to one side. I knew I owed it to Adam and Anna to put down my current work in progress and finish their story. I owed it to myself to write something for pure joy.

 

At Christmas I was in a cab heading to a London event with my agent. ‘How’s the new thriller going?’ He asked. I fiddled nervously with my seatbelt. ‘I’ve stopped working on it. I’m writing something new. It’s not a thriller.’

‘What is it?’ He asked.

‘I don’t think it fits into a genre.’ I explained the concept to him. ‘It’s just for me. I don’t expect anyone else to love it but I need to do this. To write for the love of it rather than for publication.’

‘Then you must do that,’ he said. ‘And if when you’ve finished it you’d let me read it, I’d be delighted to.’

The book came together quicker than anything I’ve ever written before. I wrote constantly, long hours, every single day, not because of a deadline, not because I had to, but because I wanted to.

A few months later I had a novel I was immensely proud of. Tentatively I sent it my agent, he read it, loved it. ‘I’d like to show your editor this other side to your writing, do you mind?’ He asked.  Although I was worried my publishers might be annoyed I’d spent months working on something outside of my contract, I agreed.

Fittingly I was in Lanzarote again, on the same beach, watching the sun set, when the call came to say that my editor had read it and adored it. She’d shared it with the rest of the team at HQ, Harper Collins who thankfully felt just as enthusiastic. They wanted to make an offer.

I cried. A lot. I’d followed my heart and it had paid off. To celebrate, we drank cocktails on sitting on the sand.

Today, I’m so thrilled to be able share with you that my debut Women’s Fiction novel ‘The Life We Almost Had’ will be published this July by HQ under the pseudonym Amelia Henley (you can read The Bookseller announcement here.)

I shall still be writing thrillers under Louise Jensen, I’ve The Stolen Sisters publishing this October. Next summer there will be another Amelia Henley book – this time the heart-breaking story of Libby and Jack, and a further thriller in the autumn.

I feel incredibly blessed to be able to write in different genres and am hugely grateful to my agent, my editor and the whole team at HQ for supporting me in my new publishing strand. I can’t wait to see ‘The Life We Almost Had’ in the hands of readers. You can pre-order it here.

Follow Amelia Henley on social media to keep up to date with the news on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

 

Drinking – 100 Word Flash Fiction

Photo prompt © Ronda Del Boccio

My heart sinks.

He’s been drinking again.

This I know from the flash of anger in his eyes, the purposeful way he strides towards me. My knees tremble as I stand my ground. Last time he threw my favourite ornament at me and it shattered as it hit my head. It left a scar.

I still love him.

He never drinks at home.

He’s been with her.

She enables him.

She loves him too.

But I wish my mother would stop giving my two-year-old orange squash.

He can’t cope with the additives.

I can’t cope with his personality change.

 

It’s been months since I last took part in Friday Fictioneers. I’ve been so busy launching my 5th psychological thriller ‘The Family‘ but thought I’d join in the fun again today before I get stuck into the structural edit for next year’s release ‘The Stolen Sisters.’

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly 100-word flash fiction challenge inspired by a photo prompt and hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. Read the other entries and/or submit your own story here

An evening with Louise Doughty (this is how she writes) & a return to prison?

 

Last night I was fortunate enough to be invited to a private event hosted by Laura Devine Solicitors (I first met Laura in prison but more of that later) which featured Louise Doughty speaking about her new book, Platform Seven, as well as raising money for The National Literary Trust.

Before I continue I’ll say I was saddened and shocked by the statistics quoted by Fiona Evans who was there representing The National Literary Trust relating to the reading ability of our children. SHOCKED. You can read more about their fabulous work and how you can help here.

Fiona introduced Louise and I settled back with a glass of wine and the most delicious canapés I’ve ever eaten, eager to find out how she approaches novel writing, nine novels in (9!!).

Firstly, Louise publishes a book roughly once every three years but she’s still hard at work in the period between each publication. Currently on a book tour for Platform Seven, she admits that sometimes she wakes up and wonders what city she’s in. The work promoting each book, plus other projects such as her involvement in the TV adaptation of her novel, Apple Tree Yard, has kept her busy but she also spends a lot of time researching each novel before she begins writing. With Platform 7 she spent the night on Peterborough station to see how it felt. Grim, I should imagine.

The thing that interested me most was the way Louise spoke about planning a novel and, being permanently obsessed with how other authors approach the first draft, I did grill her about this afterward, topping her glass up with wine, hoping she’d become so relaxed (drunk) she’d give me the magic formula. But of course, there isn’t one.

Louise says she starts with a rough idea of what the book might be about and makes notes (and like me she can never later read her own handwriting) but for her, the story is all about character. She explained that she feels if she outlined her stories before she began writing them they wouldn’t have that authentic feel. In her (vast) experience she believes that if characters are written to act a certain way to fit a planned plot then the characters may not feel realistic. She cares about the characters she writes, and for her, she lets them lead the way through the story as they naturally evolve. She told me, ‘If I didn’t care about my characters, if they were behaving in a way that didn’t suit the people they had become as the novel progressed, just to suit the story, why would readers care about them?’

Using the character first, plot second approach eventually leads Louise to a point in her book where she has key scenes and chapters and research to use and then she lays it all out before her, and pieces it together like a jigsaw.

This is a method that clearly works for her with her huge success.

Later on that evening, I found myself catching up with Neil Barclay, the librarian of HMP Thameside. I first met him when I eventually visited the prison’s book club after declining his invitation to visit many times due to The Fear, you can read about my visit here.

He’d been following my career since with interest and asked me lots of questions about past and future books. He also asked if I’d go back and teach some creative writing workshops in the prison.

‘You’ve changed.’ He told me pointing out that before I was hesitant in talking about writing, not convinced I was a ‘real’ author. Not sure I had anything valuable to say. I’m still not sure I have anything valuable to say BUT events like last night help me to grow in confidence.

Louise Doughty’s approach to writing the first draft is very different from the approach Sarah Pinborough takes which I learned about last week during an event we did together – you can read about Sarah’s approach here.

Each time I listen to another author, my layers of self-doubt shrink a little. I’m not doing it all wrong. There is no wrong. As writers, it’s trial and error to find the right process for us and that may process may change day-to-day, book-to-book, and that’s okay.

Knowing this, understanding this gives me confidence in the way I work but it doesn’t stop my curiosity into how authors write.  It’s something I will also find fascinating.

Thanks to the always inspirational Laura Devine and her amazing team who are such an incredible support to the literary world and charitable works.