The perfect publication day raising money for Parkinson’s

Every hour someone is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. In the UK alone one in five hundred people are living with this condition which causes progressive physical and neurological symptoms.

Yesterday was the publication day for my fourth psychological thriller, The Date, and rather than have a typical launch, celebrating with family and friends, my sister Karen and I headed to London on a mission to raise money for our local branch of Parkinson’s.

Laura Devine Solicitors hosted the event which they meticulously planned. Thanks to the gorgeous weather we were able to drift out onto the roof terrace while caterers plied guests with champagne and canapés.

Listening to Karen make a candid, heartfelt speech about the affect Parkinson’s has had on our family, her more than anyone, was one of the proudest moments of my life. I had to swallow the lump that had risen in my throat before I could take part in a Q & A with my agent Rory Scarfe who is also a great supporter of Parkinson’s UK.

My publishers, Sphere (Little, Brown) kindly donated paperbacks which were raffled and the total by the time we had to dash for our train was £500.

Everyone’s generosity was hugely appreciated and I can’t thank everyone enough who organised such a fabulous event, attended and donated.

Parkinson’s UK is part of a global community ensuring the millions of people living with Parkinson’s across the world don’t have to face it alone. You can find out more about the fabulous work they do here.

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Face Blindness – why this is the subject of my new novel

Next week on 21stJune, my latest psychological thriller, The Date, will be published. This is a novel that has taken a long time to write and several false starts before it was completed and there is a very special reason for that.

With my previous novels I’ve written about a subject that interests me. The Gift was about cellular memory and the concept that the heart, when transplanted, can retain memories from the donor. In The Surrogate I became fascinated with the laws (or lack of) surrounding surrogacy and what might happen if either party didn’t follow the agreed plan.  Through The Sister I explored the impact of grief and how far we would go for our family and friends and the secrets we keep.

The idea of The Date sprung from the unlikeliest of sources – ‘My Life’, a long running Children’s BBC documentary series featuring children with unique stories. Around six years ago, my family and I watched an episode featuring Hannah Read, a girl who acquired the UKs most severe case of prosopagnosia at the age of eight after an infection caused inflammation of her brain.  Hannah’s story was equally heart-breaking and inspiring. In one scene she was led into a room containing her family and friends but also some strangers. She walked around the room and studied each face intently and you could feel her panic as she was unable to identify anyone she knew. Hannah was also shown a selection of photographs and became extremely upset she couldn’t recognise her own picture. Hannah said ‘she felt cut off from the world around her’ and her anxiety whenever she left her house was palpable. The documentary makers introduced her to other teenagers with the condition and a university who were carrying out a research project who subsequently taught her coping strategies. By the end of the programme Hannah felt less isolated and more positive but her distress and her story stayed with me long after I switched off my TV. Imagine waking up one day in a world where everyone looked like a stranger? How utterly terrifying.

A year after watching Hannah often crept into my thoughts. I knew I had to write a story about Face Blindness. After I finished The Sister I started playing around with an opening but I didn’t know how to progress it, there was almost too much scope and so I put it to one side and wrote The Gift instead. The time came to write my third book and instantly, I thought of Hannah again. I pulled out my notes and this time wrote the first 10,000k words and sent it to my editor. ‘How are you going to progress it?’ she asked. I was at a lost to know how to sensitively approach a story surrounding a subject that had really touched me. Again, I put it to one side and instead, wrote The Surrogate. By the time I’d finished my third book, my main character, Ali, had been brewing in the back of my mind for four years and I was determined to have a third attempt. This time I felt more confident I could write a pacey, unnerving thriller, but also stay true to the emotions and challenges faced by those who have prosopagnosia. I wanted Ali to show the same courage and determination that Hannah did.

Having a person act as the inspiration behind my new novel has been terrifying but as soon as I’d finished the book I knew I wanted to let Hannah know how her programme had not only introduced me to a condition I’d never heard of but had also propelled me to want to raise awareness of it too.

I managed to track down Hannah’s mum and I’ve since spoken on the phone to her and with Hannah. Next week I’ll be interviewing Hannah for my YouTube channel and asking her what it’s really like to live with Face Blindness. Do join us!

You can preorder The Date as ebook, paperback or audio via your local Amazon here.

My new book covers & news!!

 

I’m thrilled to share with you the refreshed cover for The Surrogate. It’s been given a pink make-over by Sphere in preparation for its autumn paperback publication and I think it ties in with The Sister beautifully.

The story of Kat and Lisa is one which explores their past and present and how guilt, shame and the desire for revenge can destroy the strongest of friendships. The characters in this book were so wilful they took me in a completely different direction to the one I had envisaged, even throwing in three twists on the final page I certainly hadn’t seen coming!

I’m so proud of The Surrogate which has given me the best reviews of my career to date, and I can’t wait for it to soon reach a wider audience via supermarkets and bookshops. In the meantime, it can be found on Amazon here.

I also wanted to share the Norwegian cover for The Gift. I’ve currently nineteen foreign publishers and while a lot of those have used the original artwork some have designed versions to suit their market. This cover is definitely my darkest yet!

Very soon I’ll be sharing why I chose to write about Face Blindness (Prosopagnosia) for my forthcoming psychological thriller, The Date,   and I’ll be interviewing Hannah, the young lady who inspired my story, who has the severest case of Face Blindness in the UK. You can subscribe to my YouTube channel here to catch the interview and preorder The Date which will be published on 21st June via Amazon here.

This summer I’ll also be sharing my publishing journey, the books I love and writing tips at various locations (and on-line). Keep an eye on my events page here.

 

 

 

Novel writing – What I’ve learned from an 8 year old’s story.

Last night I was sent a story written by 8-year-old Abigail. Her father was (rightly) proud and wants to encourage her writing. I was captivated by her story of the Midnight Sky which was speckled with such gorgeous descriptions that I was immediately transported to the village where the story is set.

I adore reading stories from children. There’s something very special about the way they don’t worry about structure, plots, arcs. They write the story they want to tell and there’s a huge lesson in this.

I’ve wrote back to Abigail telling her the parts I enjoyed and encouraged her to keep going but I realise now I should have added a thank you, because reading her unfiltered words which had come straight from her imagination and her heart has reminded me of a very important lesson.

First and foremost you should always write for yourself.

When I began writing The Sister the best advice I ever received was ‘write the story you want to read’ and that served me well. I had no expectations of ever finishing a novel, let alone it being published and I wrote unselfconsciously.

Writing The Gift was a different experience. The Sister was No. 1 in the kindle charts and the reviews vast and varied. I desperately wanted to please every single reader moving forward. Based on feedback I upped my pace, and then slowed my pace. Added more description. Less description. My days were spent endlessly rewriting , fighting a losing battle to this time write the perfect book.

There is no perfect book.

Releasing The Gift was even more nerve racking than publishing my debut and the relief when it reached No. 1 was immense and that brought with it a welcome change in circumstances. Writing was to be my full-time job but this came with an added pressure as it was now to be my sole source of income.

After The Gift I read the reviews and realised it’s impossible to try and please everyone and I had a period offline where I shut myself away to write The Surrogate. The reviews for this book have been amazing and I allowed myself to relax a little. But not enough.

Now, awaiting publication of my fourth psychological thriller, The Date, I’ve a new idea brewing at the back of my mind but I haven’t yet started writing and it wasn’t until reading Abigail’s story I realised why. Lately, my mind has been clouded by doubt. Is my new idea commercial enough? Will people read it? Enjoy it? Impossible questions to answer and rather than letting a story naturally evolve I’ve had potential readers at the forefront of my mind which, for me, isn’t conducive to creativity.  Thanks to the timely reminder from Abi, I’m going to write from my heart, the story that I would like to read.

THIS is why I LOVE book clubs (aka book people are the NICEST people)

 

I adore book clubs. I’ve intermittently been a member of one for as long as I can remember. There’s nothing quite like the warm and fuzzy feeling that comes through spending time with like-minded people, sipping wine, and discussing the characters, the plot twists, the theme.

In the back of all my books are reading group questions. I love to think of them sparking a discussion and with local groups, I feel privileged when I’m invited along to be part of that discussion.

A lovely American lady called Cheryl, messaged me after her group discussed The Sister and The Gift telling me how much her group loved my stories and that they were planning something very special for The Surrogate. Both a chance to talk about the book and to help a good cause.

I was very intrigued and this morning I was absolutely thrilled to be sent the glowing feedback for my book and photos of ‘The Surrogate themed baby shower.’

The onsie cake looked amazing (I so wish I was near enough to eat a slice), and the ‘It’s a Book’ bunting made me smile.

The games were all ‘The Surrogate’ themed and it was quite surreal seeing my name, and my characters pop up in a word search.

Best of all was the huge basket of baby items collected that is now being donated to their local church where it will be distributed to mums in need.

The power of words bring people together in so many ways. Book people really are the NICEST people.

Thanks so much ladies.

My new book! Cover Reveal!

I am RIDICULOUSLY excited to reveal the gorgeous cover of my fourth psychological thriller, The Date, which will be published June 21st and is now available to pre-order from Amazon, iBooks, Kobo & Google!! This is my darkest, paciest book so far, and also my most emotional. You’ll need a cushion to hide behind AND a box of tissues. I’ve lots to say about this story and why I chose to write about Prosopagnosia (Face Blindness) but for now, here’s the blurb: –

Something bad has happened to Alison Taylor.

Her Saturday night started normally. Recently separated from her husband, Ali has been persuaded by her friends to go on a date with a new man. She is ready, she is nervous, she is excited. She is about to take a step into her new future.

By Sunday morning, Ali’s life is unrecognisable. She wakes, and she knows that something is wrong. She is home, she is alone, she is hurt and she has no memory of what happened to her.

Worse still, when she looks in the mirror, Ali doesn’t recognise the face staring back at her. She can’t recognise her friends and family. And she can’t recognise the person who is trying to destroy her…

 

You can find The Date via your local Amazon here.

 

This time last week I was in prison – My visit to HMP Thameside’s book club

Eighteen months ago, when my debut novel, The Sister, was No.1 in the charts, I was invited along to HMP Thameside to meet their book club. Immediately, The Fear hit and I quickly declined. Not because of the environment, but because I had a massive phobia of public speaking. Those who read my blog know that after turning down numerous talks, I was asked to speak at the Althorp Literary Festival last year and eager to attend, I had a course of hypnotherapy to help me overcome The Fear (you can read about that here). I’ve since spoken at, and enjoyed, several events so when HMP Thameside’s librarian, Neil Barclay, got back in touch and asked if I’d reconsider, grateful of a second chance, I said yes.

I had never been in a prison before and my expectations were very much centred around what I’d seen on TV, rowdy tattooed men in orange boiler suits, and as I queued up to be booked in I started to wonder, for the first time, what I’d let myself in for. It was a surprise I had to be fingerprinted before I was granted entry, and not by ink and paper but by a scanner. (‘Mum, did you think it would be like an 80’s cop show?’ my son asked when I told him that later. Umm, yes.) My photo was taken, my ID checked and then I was given a visitor’s pass. After storing my possessions in a locker I was directed to the next room. Here, I was met by an officer who asked me to remove my boots so they could be scanned. As she snapped on blue latex gloves I felt a flicker of unease but the search was soon over and another officer arrived to escort me to the library.

One of my first observations was how many doors there were. Each one needing to be unlocked and immediately locked behind us. Listening to the slam, the twisting of the key, I tried to imagine how I would feel if I knew I would be there for months, or even years and anxiety bubbled.

In the library I was greeted by the prisoners who participate in the book club and the creative writing class and it struck me, as my eyes swept around the room, at the different clothes (not an orange boiler suit in sight) the different ages, races, that these were just people and my anxiety dissipated.

We talked about my books, about writing, but more importantly, we chatted about mental health. I relayed my story of how finding myself with a disability in my 30’s lost me my mobility, my job, my home and caused me to develop clinical depression. I shared how I was at rock bottom, thinking my life was over, my best days behind me. My fears that no-one would employ me, love me. But eventually I picked myself up and overcome depression through mindfulness and forged a new life. A new career. Although, they didn’t tell me why they were in prison, and nor did I want to know, they shared how they felt. How they coped.

Time flew by and after signing some books the men were escorted back to their cells. I ate a delicious lunch at the staff bistro, cooked and served by the prisoners. Later, I had a tour of the prison. I experienced what it was like in both a single and double cell and chatted to the men who lived there. It was heart breaking to visit a room full of toys and books where the men could record themselves reading a story to send to their children and that really reiterated that their sentence isn’t theirs to bear alone.

It’s now been a week now since my visit. A week in which the people I met are still very much on my mind. A week in which I am still trying to process how I feel. Despite my expectations, the images I had built up in my mind, ultimately these men were people, like you and I. Some were anxious, bewildered, depressed and frustrated. All were respectful and polite. There were repeat offenders, that was inevitable but I also met men who wanted an education, the chance of a better life. Hope. There are no victimless crimes but could any one of us take a wrong turn? Although I’ve never broken the law I’ve made bad choices, rash decisions. Mistakes.

I’ve offered to go back and run a workshop on mindfulness. As well as helping with depression and anxiety, imagine if learning to live in the moment, pausing to think rather than having a knee jerk reaction, could stop just one person reoffending? Mindfulness is all about choice. I chose to visit the prison, and I was free to leave at the end of the day, but sometimes I think – what if I wasn’t. It’s a sobering thought.

I was presented with a gorgeous bouquet, a ‘Wish You Were Here’ mug, and a thank you card.