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.
It’s time to celebrate the publication of my 7th psychological thriller, ‘All For You’, which publishes this Thursday 20th January. This story about the Walsh family is my darkest, twistiest book yet and has had some amazing endorsements already.
A galloping pulse-pounder’ Heat
‘[A] gripping thriller . . . with perfectly observed emotions and red herrings that will boggle the mind’ Woman & Home
‘A full-blown, brilliantly plotted and written novel, with a clarity and originality that is wonderfully unique’ On magazine
Wednesday 19th January is my live launch party and I’d love it if you could join me. I really would appreciate the support.
The launch will take place at 8pm on both my Facebook page and over on Instagram. There have been various competitions running for the past week. You don’t have to be able to attend the launch to enter most of these so do pop over to either Facebook or Instagram and pop your name down if you want to be with a chance to win one of these fabulous titles.
On the night there will be a special prize but this will only be for someone who attends the launch.
There will be plenty of book chat and do feel free to ask me any questions regarding publishing.
It’s part 4 of my Diary of a Novelist series (catch up from part one here). Working on the first draft of my latest psychological thriller has been a challenge so far but my December was a LOT more productive than I’d hoped.
Panic has set in. Unusually, this year, I’m intending on taking at least a week’s break over Christmas – usually, other than the big day itself I write almost every day of the year but I’m feeling so exhausted it’s take a break or burn out. Stepping away from my manuscript midway through a first draft isn’t ideal. I don’t want to lose the sense of story or connection to the characters. My editor has let me know the edits on my next Amelia Henley love story should be with me by the end of the year, followed by the edits on my 2023 thriller so it’s likely I won’t be returning to this book until the Spring. I NEED to cobble together a coherent story, even if I only bullet point chapters or scenes. I carry on working on the end, weaving in all three points of view until I have an ending that is so dark I will likely change it but it’s an ending – hurrah!
Finishing the end has forced me back to the middle which I have entirely skipped. I have zero ideas what might happen here so I take my dog for a walk and think about my beginning and my end while letting ideas brew. I find getting outside, away from the house, really kickstarts my creativity. When I return I have a few potential scenes and a big twist in mind so I dig out my index cards and jot them down. Once I can see them in black and white other ideas begin to germinate so I write each idea on a separate index card and then spread them out over the living room floor, rearranging the order, discarding the ones that don’t fit until I have some sort of bridge between the middle and the end.
I work in Scrivener so, following my index cards, I open a new section for each idea and transfer my notes. With experience I now know roughly how many words I like per chapter (between 1200-2500) and I can tell that I have enough story to take the script to around 88k words – enough to fill a novel.
I’m frantically expanding my notes as much as I can so it’ll be easier to pick up in a few months when I get back to it. Really, I should have visited some old Tudor houses by now for research but the ones that are open to the public are full of Christmas events and I don’t want to come into contact with anyone and potentially catch Covid so instead of writing any detail I’m inserting ‘XX’ into the places I need to fill once I’ve managed to visit some locations next year.
Still, the story is the main thing and I really happy with the way it’s taking shape. I’m writing between 8.30-5.30 every day (usually I only write new words in the mornings). My eyeballs ache I’m so tired but my word count is shooting up and I feel quietly confident I’ll have some sort of draft by Christmas.
I have a zoom meeting with my editor about my forthcoming release ‘All For You’ which publishes 20thJanuary. With only 3 weeks to go I need to arrange an online launch and prizes and SO MUCH.
The event is set up on Facebook (do come and enter some of the giveaways here) and after a final push on my 9th psychological thriller, I have a shorter than usual, very patchy with lots to fill in draft. Christmas Eve my edits arrive so that’s my January sorted. Time to switch off, spend some quality time with my family with lots of bracing dog walks.
New words written – 32,000 (Total of wip 72500)
Highs – Finishing what I’m loosely calling a first draft
Lows – Not getting any research done
What I’m reading – The Salt Path – Raynor Winn
What I’m watching – The Landscapers – Olivia Coleman is brilliant
Special offers – ‘The Family’ is 99p across all digital platforms. Download from Amazon here and discover why, once you’ve entered Oak Leaf Farm, you’re NEVER allowed to leave…
Event – ‘All For You’ live Facebook launch with prizes, details here
Newsletter sign up – subscribe here and get two free short stories and access to exclusive giveaways.
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.
Do subscribe to my newsletter here today and get two FREE short stories as well as access to exclusive giveaways.
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.
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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’.
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A few days ago I wrote a blog post about how my life didn’t turn out as I’d envisaged and how the best laid plans can’t always come to fruition – you can read that post here. Today, I’m delighted to welcome Polly Phillips to share her inspiring story.
I was sitting on a bus when my husband called me to tell me he’d been made redundant. I was heading into town to meet him on his lunchbreak to do our Christmas shopping while our two-year-old daughter was in nursery. At first, I thought he was joking. We were living in Copenhagen and there was snow on the ground. I had been picturing skipping in and out of shops, carrying brightly coloured parcels, fat snowflakes falling around us. So far, so Love Actually. Instead, we met in a dark and dingy bar and sat hunched over a pizza to try and figure out what the hell we were going to do.
The industry he worked in was depressed and there was no way my income as a part-time freelance journalist would sustain us. Without jobs, we couldn’t stay in Copenhagen. So, on top of losing our main income, we were going to have to pull our daughter out of the nursery she loved, pack our lives and move country. In truth, that bit didn’t bother me too much. Although Copenhagen is a beautiful city with so much to offer the people who live in it, I’d been dreaming of moving back to Perth, Western Australia, since we had left it two years before. In fact, when he first called, that’s what I thought he was ringing to tell me. He’d been talking about a transfer for a few months and I was already picturing feeling the sun on my skin and teaching my daughter to swim in the sea. Now we were moving back to London with no jobs and no money.
My husband was offered a new job just before we moved. Salvation beckoned. But of course, there was a downside. The new job was in Algeria. And they wanted him to start straightaway. He had just enough time to help move us back to London before he flew to work in an office in the middle of the Algerian desert with scarcely any phone signal and patchy WiFi. With no other job options out there, it didn’t make sense to turn it down.
So, there I was in London, suddenly a single parent, with a challenging two-year-old, who didn’t understand why her whole life had changed. And, to be honest, I could see her point. Friends and family tried to help, but they had their own lives, lives that they weren’t expecting me to suddenly parachute into. Being on my own highlighted all my insecurities. I felt like a terrible parent, shouting too much and not being able to control my daughter. I felt like a rubbish wife, resenting my husband for being away. And I felt like a complete failure as a person, not having a well-paid enough career to pull us out of the mess we were in. Finally, after too many long and lonely evenings spent at the bottom of a bottle, I realised there was nothing I could do to change the situation so I had to try and make the best of it.
It might sound a bit twee and clichéd and it certainly wasn’t an epiphany that came to me in a lightning bolt of clarity – there were still a fair few nights at the bottom of a bottle that came after it – but I’d always wanted to write a book. With evenings yawning emptily with nothing to fill them, here was my chance. I signed up to an online writing course with the Faber Academy and started writing. There were a lot of false starts and the book that I wrote on the course ultimately came to nothing, but I kept going. I signed up to another course and starting something else. After a lot of editing, the next book that I wrote, a thriller called My Best Friend’s Murder, was published this year. By the end of the year my husband had another job, and we did move back to Perth. Whenever I feel overcome by moments of self-doubt or misery, I try to remind myself of that year, when I felt like life was collapsing around me and I was never going to achieve anything. It doesn’t always pull me out of my mood, but it definitely helps.
You can find ‘My Best Friend’s Murder on Amazon here
Anyone who reads either my Louise Jensen psychological thrillers, or my contemporary Amelia Henley fiction knows I love a prologue. Here I’m sharing the opening of my brand new release, ‘The Art of Loving You’ which you can download for just 99p on any digital platform during August. (Amazon link here).
Four phone calls.
It took four phone calls to tip my world off its axis. I remember them all with sharp clarity; the things I wanted to know, the things I wished I’d never been told. The disbelief, the fear, the hope. The impossible, impossible choice I am faced with. I want everything to slow down.
‘I can’t …’ What I can’t do is look my sister, Alice, in the eye. It’s too much. All of it.
‘Say yes, Libby.’ She’s crouching before me, reaching for my hand. I snatch mine away. As vivid as the memories of the calls are, it’s the time in between each one I am struggling to recall. Alice says shock has the power to whisk memories behind a hazy curtain, sometimes replacing them with a better, shinier version – the way we wished things were. The way we wished they could have happened – and she’s probably right. Right about that at least, but the rest? I have to remember if I’m to make the right decision. Again, I try to summon a slide show in my mind but the images are as fuzzy as an out-of-focus photo, nothing quite making sense. ‘I think …’ I tail off, unsure what I think. What I know. Alice has been telling me a new life, a better life is what I need. What I deserve.
That word plucks a hollow laugh deep from my belly. Deserve. Do I deserve … this?
‘You know what you have to do, Libby.’ Her voice is thick with tears. ‘For your sake. For Jack’s.’ She adds softly, ‘For mine.’
Sometimes I hate her.
Should I do what she is asking? If I agree, it’s an admission that my life has been built on a lie and the childish part of me taunts; why should I give her what she wants when I can’t have what I want?
‘Please, Libby, please,’ she pleads. ‘I know it’s a big ask. I know you weren’t expecting this – none of us saw it coming but …’ One whispered word. ‘Please.’
Neither of us speak. The clock ticks. In the distance the thrum of a tractor. Alice’s perfume fills my throat, something light and floral.
‘Don’t speak his name,’ I snap.
She flinches but still she doesn’t leave. She’s waiting for an answer as she tucks her long blonde hair behind her ears. My eyes flicker towards the nicotine-yellow ceiling we never did get round to painting bright white, as though I might find the right response written there.
Yes or no?
Yes or no?
Yes or no?
The words are loud. I raise my hands to my head, fingertips digging hard into my scalp. I can’t decide. I won’t.
I have to.
‘You know if I could change things, I would,’ Alice says softly. She places her palm against my cheek; it’s cool and I lean against it, allowing her to take the weight of my head which is heavy with thought. With doubt. For the first time I look at her properly. Her eyes, the same green as mine, are rimmed red. The whites streaked with tiny blood vessels from where she’s been crying. She is no more together than I am. This is a torturous for her as it is for me. ‘If I could go back …’ She falls silent before she can blame herself again. I can’t bear her guilt. Her shame. I have enough of my own.
I shift my gaze around the room which was once warmed with love but now feels as chilly as my cold, cold heart. If we could go back, I would return to the exact moment everything changed. It was the day Jack and I moved in here. I allow my mind to travel, tumbling down the rabbit hole to that ordinary Thursday when it all began.
The point which had led to this.
The memories bring me pleasure.
I have to make my choice.
Yes or no?
I have to give Alice my answer.
Yes or no?
I have to tell her now.
Before it’s too late for her, for me.
Time is running out.
Yes or no?
In the opening to ‘The Art of Loving You’ my hope is that I’ve intrigued readers enough to want to read on. To wonder what has happened between Libby, Alice and Jack. Not all of my books have prologues but I do enjoy them as a reader and a writer and you can read more about why I find them so valuable and whether your novel needs one on an earlier blog post here.