Novel writing – creating that hook – Author Live Chat

 

On Sunday at 8pm GMT I’ll be over on Facebook doing an Author’s Live Chat for The Fiction Cafe. I’ll be discussing the importance of beginnings and creating that hook when you write. In preparation, I’m sharing the opening of my latest psychological thriller, The Surrogate, today.

Whether you are a writer, or a reader, do come over and join us. It will be lots of fun and I’ll also be giving away signed books.

Later

There is a rising sense of panic; horror hanging in the air like smoke.

‘They’re such a lovely couple. Do you think they’re okay?’ says the woman, but the flurry of emergency service vehicles crammed into the quiet cul-de-sac, the blue and white crime scene tape stretched around the perimeter of the property, indicate things are anything but okay. She wraps her arms around herself as though she is cold, despite this being the warmest May on record for years. Cherry blossom twirls around her ankles like confetti, but there will be no happily ever after for the occupants of this house, the sense of tragedy already seeping into its red bricks.

Her voice shakes as she speaks into the microphone. It is difficult to hear her over the thrum of an engine, the slamming of van doors as a rival news crew clatters a camera into its tripod. He thrusts the microphone closer to her mouth. She hooks her red hair behind her ears; raises her head. Her eyes are bright with tears. TV gold.

‘You don’t expect anything bad… Not here. This is a nice area.’

Disdain slides across the reporter’s face before he rearranges his features into the perfect blend of sympathy and shock. He hadn’t spent three years having drama lessons for nothing.

He tugs the knot in his tie to loosen it a little as he waits for the woman to finish noisily blowing her nose. The heat is insufferable; shadows long under the blazing sun. Body odour exudes from his armpits, fighting against the sweet scent of the freshly cut grass. The smell is cloying, sticking in the back of his throat. He can’t wait to get home and have an ice-cold lager. Put on his shorts like the postman sitting on the edge of the kerb, his head between his knees. He wonders if he is the one who found them. There will be plenty of angry people waiting for their post today. ‘Late Letter Shock!’ is the sort of inane local story he usually gets to cover, but this… this could go national. His big break. He couldn’t get here fast enough when his boss called to say what he thought he’d heard on the police scanner.

He shields his eyes against the sun with one hand as he scouts the area. Across the road, a woman rests against her doorframe, toddler in her arms. He can’t quite read her expression and wonders why she doesn’t come closer like the rest of them. At the edge of the garden, as close as the police will allow, a small crowd is huddled together: friends and neighbours, he expects. The sight of their shocked faces is such a contrast to the neat borders nursing orange marigolds and lilac pansies. He thinks this juxtaposition would make a great shot. The joy of spring tempered by tragedy. New life highlighting the rawness of loss of life. God, he’s good; he really should be an anchor.

There is movement behind him, and he signals to the cameraman to turn around. The camera pans down the path towards the open front door. It’s flanked by an officer standing to attention in front of a silver pot containing a miniature tree. On the step are specks of what looks like blood. His heart lifts at the sight of it. Whatever has happened here is big. Career defining.

Coming out of the house are two sombre paramedics pushing empty trolleys, wheels crunching in the gravel.

The woman beside him clutches his arm, her fingertips pressed hard against his suit jacket. Silly cow will wrinkle the fabric. He fights the urge to shake her free; instead, swallowing down his agitation. He might need to interview her again later.

‘Does this mean they’re okay?’ asks the woman, confusion lining her face.

The trolleys are clattered into the back of the waiting ambulance. The doors slam shut, the blue lights stop flashing and slowly it pulls away.

From behind the immaculately trimmed hedge, hidden from view, he hears the crackle of a walkie-talkie. A low voice. Words drift lazily towards him, along with the buzz of bumblebees and the stifled sound of sobbing.

‘Two bodies. It’s a murder enquiry.’

 

You can find The Surrogate on Amazon here and The Fiction Cafe on Facebook here. See you on Sunday!

 

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A day in the life of… writer Misha Herwin

Always interest in writer’s habits this post by Misha sharing her writing habits really resonated with me. Oh how I’m used to those 3 am sessions! Misha, what does the rest of your day hold?

I love the way my day can start and end at any time. I can wake at three in the morning, my brain teeming with ideas and sneak out of bed, snug in a fleecy dressing gown, into my cold office, switch on my computer and begin. On mornings like this the story flows, my fingers can scarcely keep up and by the time my husband has woken up and brought me a cup of tea I have the greatest feeling of satisfaction.

The tea is pretty good too. Hot and fresh, it’s the kick start to getting showered and dressed.

On other days, I’m the one sneaking downstairs to make tea, so that I can get my five hundred words written while husband sleeps. Sitting at the keyboard, writing, is exhilarating.

I don’t stop to edit or think, just let the story carry me along and I always finish half way through a sentence, so that it is easy to pick up the thread again next day.

This writing exercise may, or may not, have anything to do with my work in progress, but over the years, I’ve found it is essential to keeping my creativity flowing. What’s good too, is that since no one is going to see what I’ve written, anything goes.

That’s another thing I love about writing. Those first drafts, can and will be rubbish, but unlike any other job, no one need ever see them. In fact, there are probably very few mistakes a writer ever needs to own. Most horrors can be buried deep on the hard drive, or deleted so that they vanish without trace.

Once I’ve flexed my writing muscles, I look at my emails. Mostly good stuff, sometimes even an acceptance for an anthology that will send me whooping with delight to tell Mike and anyone else who might be remotely interested the news. The rejections I keep to myself, to be mulled over in private.

Next FB and Twitter. I haven’t really mastered (or should that be mistressed?) Twitter, but I love FB. I’ve re-connected with family members and old friends and could spend most of the day reading and commenting on posts.

If I’m scheduled to write a blog, this is when I will do it. Then it is time to concentrate on my current novel. Whether I’m writing or editing, there will be a great deal of getting up and moving around as I wrestle with a scene that doesn’t work, or a phrase that clunks, or a word that doesn’t seem quite right. If I’m really stuck then I’ll go for a walk and when the problem is resolved you can see me, standing in the middle of the street, or leaning on a wall, scribbling away in my notebook.

Before I’ve ventured out into the world, I’ll have put on my make-up. Even if I’m sitting at my desk, I hate to look like some creature that’s crawled out from beneath the earth. Once I’ve got my mascara, eyeliner and foundation on, then it is back to the writing.

Or, a cup of coffee and the crossword.

More writing might follow, or it might not. There are friends to see, reading and drama group to attend or family to visit.

Woven into the fabric of my day, is the mundane stuff of life, like ironing, hoovering and worst of all dusting. Boring jobs and yet if you write Women’s fiction, like I do, these are the background to the lives and loves and hopes of my characters.

At the end of the day, there is supper and a glass of wine. I try to switch off from work, but if a story is going round in my head, I might have to grab a pen and write it down. The evening, if not spent with friends, will be watching TV, a film, or reading.

I can’t go to bed without a book and there is always a pile on my chest of drawers, plus, of course, my night note book, in case I wake at three in the morning and can’t quite make it to the computer.

Thanks Misha. My chest of drawers looks a bit like that too! You can buy Misha’s latest book here and find her blog here

 

The Bronte Parsonage – My (very) Small Part in Wuthering Heights

I had the most fabulous time at the Bronte Parsonage recently in beautiful Keighley which you can read about and see the photos here.

During my visit I got the chance to take part in something very special. Artist Clare Twomey is inviting visitors to participate in recreating the manuscript of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, as the original manuscript has never been located. At certain times of the day visitors are invited to copy one line from the novel, using a Wuthering Heights pencil (they get to keep) whilst sitting in Emily’s former home.

There was a great sense of occasion in Mr Nicholls’ Study (Charlotte Bronte’s husband) as we waited patiently for our turn. A sense of camaraderie as we discussed, as we queued, what the Bronte novels had meant to us. It was a real coming together of strangers, bonding over a love of literature.

The completed book will be exhibited at the Bronte Parsonage during 2018 to celebrate the bicentenary of Emily Bronte’s birth. The recreation is to honour Emily’s achievement and celebrates her contribution to English Literature through the act of writing.

The whole visit was such an emotional experience – I can’t wait to visit again.

Paperback publication day & my hopes for this story!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

My visit to the Bronte Parsonage (aka my husband was right…)

I was overcome with a sense of awe as I stepped into the Bronte Parsonage for the very first time. My husband had sensibly ambled off the nearest coffee shop in search of scones as he thought I’d be hours. ‘It’s not that big, I won’t be long,’ I’d replied. But he was right. I was hours.

There was such a sense of history seeped into the rooms of this house that still feels very much a home with its rich and warm atmosphere. Here lived the writers whose books I had grown up reading, who moved me with their words, who made me fall in love with their characters, whose stories I felt a sense of loss from when I’d finished. The Bronte family came to live at Haworth Parsonage in 1820 when Patrick Bronte was appointed Perpetual Curate of Haworth Church. Tragically Mrs Bronte and the two elder children, Maria and Elizabeth, died within five years.

First off is Mr Bronte’s study. The children had their lessons here and the cabinet piano was played by Emily and Anne. Much of the furniture and possessions in the parsonage did belong to the Brontes and it has been decorated as closely to the original as it can be. In each room are costumes from the BBC ‘To Walk Invisible’ biopic, which, if you haven’t seen I’d highly recommend.

 

In the dining room is the table Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights were written at. Visitors aren’t allowed to touch it (oh how I longed to) but it was stained with ink blots and there’s a small letter ‘e’ carved into its surface. I could almost picture the siblings gathered around the table bouncing around plot ideas.

Mr Nicholas Study – Charlotte converted this room into a study for her husband-to-be in 1854.

 

Kitchen – I believe this is the only room that was structurally altered after the Brontes no longer lived here.

Each evening at 9 Mr Bronte would lock the front door and on his way to bed he’d wind up this Grandfather Clock

Children’s Room – this was a study for the children while they were young and it was here the siblings wrote their early stories and poems.

Father’s Room – It was in this room that Branwell died in 1848.

Branwell’s Room – full of chaos and pieces of writing.

Upstairs, there is an exhibition with displays of manuscripts, first editions and lots of information boards to read. Including letters from Charlotte, firstly submitting her manuscript after 6 rejections “I beg to submit to your consideration the accompanying Manuscript” and later, to her publisher “hoping the public may think pretty well” of Jane Eyre and, later writing “we did not like to declare ourselves women, because we had a vague impression that authoresses were liable to be looked on with prejudice”.

I had such a lovely time and learned such a lot I was loath to leave but on my way out I spotted the children’s craft table and although I didn’t have my kids with me the staff kindly let me join them and I spent a happy half hour making these spoon people who now sit on the shelf above my desk watching (judging) me as I write more books of my own.

I also got the chance to do something really cool while I was at the parsonage, yes even cooler than spoon people, but I’ll share that in another blog very soon.

 

THIS is what inspired my new novel… Guest post by Rebecca Stonehill

 

I’m a huge fan of Rebecca Stonehill’s beautiful writing so when she contacted me to tell me she was releasing a new novel I was super excited. Today I welcome Rebecca onto my blog where she’ll share the inspiration behind her new release, the fabulously titled ‘The Secret Life of Alfred Nightingale’. Over to you, Rebecca!

 

The setting often comes first for me: with my first novel, The Poet’s Wife, I was inspired by my time spent in Granada, southern Spain; The Girl and the Sunbird I knew would be my ‘Nairobi’ novel as this is where I live and I wanted to wind back the clock to find out what it was like in its beginnings as a town.

As for my third novel, The Secret Life of Alfred Nightingale (to be published 11 November 2017), the setting was again integral, but this time, not because I’d ever been there. As a child, one of my favourite pastimes was to heave down one of the heavy albums from my mother’s bookshelf in her bedroom, filled to bursting with photographs. I loved the photos of past family holidays, and my aunts and uncles when they were younger. But, more than any other, there was an album I returned to again and again.

It was from my mother’s travels from around 1967-1968, a period when she hitchhiked from England down to Greece, worked as an au pair in Athens and then travelled on to a tiny village set in a bay in Southern Crete named Matala, a place she found hard to leave. As a child, I was captivated by these sepia-toned photographs. A handful of scantily clad travellers clustered around a series of sandstone caves they slept in. The odd flag flapped outside a cave opening in the breeze and travellers squint into the camera against the fierce Cretan sunlight above a beautiful, deserted beach.

I desperately wanted to go there but, even more importantly, the seed was planted: one day I would set a story there. I had no idea what form this journey would take, but it didn’t matter; this would come in time.

Matala and those photographs from the late 1960’s have never left me. It is only in the past couple of years though that I’ve had the opportunity to develop and mould the story into what it has become. My protagonist is Jim, a handsome, arrogant but troubled eighteen year old from Twickenham who hitchhikes to Matala in 1967 in search of fun, and to escape his repressed parents. What I didn’t want, though, was for this to be simply a 1960’s coming of age story. I knew very little about what happened in Crete during WW2 but, researching it more, a story of how to link the two periods slowly emerged.

I finally made it to Matala during the late summer of 2016, with my mother as well as her sister and friends who also spent time in the caves. It is now a resort and much has changed from those days of long ago. Tourists pay money to visit the caves where the ‘hippies’ once stayed and, going much further back, where people from the Neolithic period buried their dead. But the spirit of Matala remains: a place of freedom, of gently lapping waves and, if you take the time to sit with a coffee and piece of backlava with one of the locals, of numerous stories.

The one I have chosen to tell follows Jim through Europe down to Matala. At first, it’s the paradise he dreamt it would be. But as things start to go wrong and his very notion of self unravels, the last thing Jim expects is for this journey of hundreds of miles to set in motion a passage of healing which will lead him back to the person he hates most in the world: his father.

Taking in the counter-culture of the 1960’s, the clash of relationships between the WW2 generation and their children, the baby boomers, this is a novel about secrets from the past finally surfacing, the healing of trauma and the power of forgiveness.

I’m looking forward to seeing this book out in the world after brewing for more than thirty years!

In Matala, Crete, September 2016 with my mother, cousin, auntie and their friend who they were in Matala with in the Sixties.

 

 

 The caves in Matala in which travellers once slept in, the inspiration for my novel.

 

That sounds wonderful, Rebecca. Thanks so much for sharing the story behind the story. Wishing you the best of luck. 

 

Rebecca can be contacted through her website, on Twitter, or via Facebook. You can sign up to Rebcca’s mailing list here.

You can buy The Secret Life of Alfred Nightingale via Amazon US or Amazon UK. Here’s the blurb: –

A compelling page turner of a buried past resurfacing, set against a backdrop of the 1960’s youth culture and war torn Crete.

1967. Handsome but troubled, Jim is almost 18 and he lives and breathes girls, trad jazz, Eel Pie Island and his best friend, Charles. One night, he hears rumours of a community of young people living in caves in Matala, Crete. Determined to escape his odious, bully of a father and repressed mother, Jim hitchhikes through Europe down to Matala. At first, it’s the paradise he dreamt it would be. But as things start to go wrong and his very notion of self unravels, the last thing Jim expects is for this journey of hundreds of miles to set in motion a passage of healing which will lead him back to the person he hates most in the world: his father.

Taking in the counter-culture of the 1960’s, the clash of relationships between the WW2 generation and their children, the baby boomers, this is a novel about secrets from the past finally surfacing, the healing of trauma and the power of forgiveness.

 

 

Vision Boards – Achieving goals #LawOfAttraction

 

“The action of Mind plants that nucleus which, if allowed to grow undisturbed, will eventually attract to itself all the conditions necessary for its manifestation in outward visible form.” Thomas Troward

Thinking positively comes naturally for some people, but for others, like me, a natural worrier, it takes time to cultivate a glass-half-full attitude. I’ve always been fascinated by The Law of Attraction. Despite all the exposure it’s had recently, it’s not a new idea. The phrase has been referenced in many books since the early 1900’s and author Napoleon Hill published a book in 1937 which insisted thoughts have the ability to attract other thoughts and learning to control one’s thoughts can result in manifesting what you want into a physical form. Put simply, everything is energy so it follows that focusing on negative thoughts will bring negative results. Thankfully it also follows that by throwing out positive energy you can help to shape your own reality.Think about it. Everything manmade in our world started off as the seeds of creation in someone’s mind and no matter how unachievable they were told their goals were and regardless of the opinions of others, through belief and determination these ideas became a reality.

The Law of Attraction works startlingly well for me. As well as cultivating an attitude of gratitude which I do through journaling each night (and you can read how & why I gratitude journal here) I also create vision boards, spending a few hours every now and then focusing positive energy into achieving my goals.

Having a visual aid of what you want your future to consist of can add clarity to your desires and ensures your chosen images are firmly lodged in the subconscious. I’ve an old corkboard and I stick on pictures, quotes and text specific to my goals which would make little sense to anyone but me. I hang it at the foot of my bed so it’s the first thing I see when I wake, and the last thing I look at before I go to bed.

As well as focusing positive energy into my health – I was determined to be able to stand and get around without a wheelchair – my boards often refer to my publishing ambitions, from getting an agent, to signing with a publisher, achieving a number 1 and seeing my books in Foyles. Everything on my last few boards has found its way into being, except the country house, but I’m working hard on that!

 

Positive thoughts create a positive life – I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.