Sometimes #FlashFiction

Image courtesy of CEAYR

 

Sometimes I wonder if it would have made a difference if you’d told me somewhere else. Somewhere beautiful. Whether sitting cross legged next to the bubbling stream, sunlight dappling the water would have softened the blow. Do you remember our picnic there? Warm breeze kissing our skin, your lips kissing my neck? It was perfect until we opened the picnic hamper. Wasps buzzing around our sandwiches, ants marching towards the jam jar.

Sorry, I’m drifting. That always did annoy you, didn’t it? But did the ugliness of our surroundings coax those ugly words out of your mouth? I still wonder. Sometimes.

 

It’s been a week for celebrating! The Gift was listed in Amazon’s half yearly trends report as the third biggest selling ebook of 2017 so far and Sphere (Little, Brown Book Group) shared the exciting news they will be republishing The Sister on August 24th and it will be available in retailers for the first time. You can read my post about that here. It’s been an incredible year and I’m so grateful. I wouldn’t have honed my writing without Friday Fictioneers. 

‘Sometimes’ was written For Friday Fictioneers. A weekly 100 word story challenge inspired by a photo prompt. You can join in over at host Rochelle’s blog here.

Reading these books taught me valuable lessons – #BookLoversDay

It’s Book Lovers Day! I’m always reading and there have been many, many books I’ve enjoyed but sometimes I’m lucky enough to take something from them that stays with me. These books have all taught me a valuable lesson and I’m grateful to have read them.

 

The Famous Five by Enid Blyton

At primary school I devoured books at such an alarming rate, I was given permission to take more than the allocated one book per child home each week. Long after I should have been asleep I was reading Enid Blyton books by torchlight under my covers, and The Famous Five was my favourite series. It was these books that ignited my interest in mysteries. Who was the baddie? Why did they do it? Would the gang figure it out in time? Always, one of them would be in peril towards the end and my heart would pound and I couldn’t rest until good triumphed over evil. These books taught me that I wanted to be a writer although at that young age I didn’t just want to be a writer. I wanted to be Enid Blyton.

A Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart

This was my favourite read of 2016. The story of Alex and Jody who have lost the ability to communicate with each other is beautifully written. Alex’s attempts to forge a relationship with his autistic son, Sam are genuinely moving. Alex finds Sam playing Minecraft and realises the structure and format of the game bring a confidence to Sam he hasn’t seen before,  Alex too becomes engrossed in the game and his confidence as a father blossoms. I loved this story so much I felt lost when I’d finished it. As well as educating me that games such as Minecraft have a purpose in todays’ society (I’m a mum of three boys) it also made me question the sort of writer I want to be and the genre I want to write in. I’ve written three psychological thrillers now and although I’ve plans for a few more yet, it’s commercial family dramas I am always drawn to as a reader and this book inspired me to want to experiment with different styles and structures of novels.

 

Charlie Brown by Charles M. Shulz

I adore all things Snoopy but Charlie Brown is a bit of a hero of mine and the Peanuts books are still something I dip into today. Charlie Brown never gave up. Despite the gazillion times Lucy pulled the football away when he went to kick it, he never lost the hope that this time it might be different. This time he might be successful. If I have a down day and am not feeling as positive as usual I flick through a Peanuts book and take heart from Charlie Brown’s determination to never stop trying.

 

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

Absolutely my favourite read of 2015. A gorgeously written book of Maud, who finds a note in her pocket – Elizabeth is missing – and her endeavours to track down her best friend. Sadly dementia has touched my family and the glimpse Elizabeth gives into the mind of a dementia sufferer through Maud, and the impact on her family and carers is insightful and sensitively handled. I found this book more educational than a lot of the nonfiction material I had read. Story wise, love and thought is poured into every beautifully constructed sentence. I was lucky enough to hear the author, Emma talk at Foyles and to learn she spent five years crafting this exceptional debut really brought home to me that there is no standard time it should take to write a novel. It’s hard sometimes not to compare yourself to other writers who seem to effortlessly produce a new book every few months (although rationally I know books are NEVER effortlessly produced). This taught me that some books just can’t be rushed and need to be rewritten many times throughout the editing process and boy was it worth the wait.

 

every dayEvery Day is Wonderful by Fredric Fewings

This beautiful children’s pocketbook was bought for me by my grandparents when I was at primary school, and it is one of my most treasured possessions. I was always a very thoughtful child and this book, stuffed full of inspirational snippets and gorgeously illustrated, invited me to actively seek the good and positive in each and every day.

‘So look for Beauty everywhere,

And practice Goodness, too,

For wonders have their origins,

In the heart of you!’

 

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Still at primary school, still reading Enid Blyton over and over I found a worn copy of Little Women in our garage and although I thought it looked a little boring, I had nothing else to read on that day and decided to give it a go. Jo March became my heroine. I rooted for all the sisters, cried buckets when Beth died and felt emotionally drained when I’d finished it. Books up until that point had been full of excitement and adventure. All boarding schools, mysteries and magic trees.

Little Women made me feel something different. Really feel. And that was the moment I started to work my way through the classics wondering who wrote these stories? How did they become writers? It seemed so far out of reach but the spark was there for me, which smoldered away for the next thirty-five years, and I vowed that if I ever wrote a book it would be an emotionally moving one but still retain the mystery element I’d first fallen in love with. My debut, The Sister, was that book.

 

The Curious Incident of the Dog in The Night-Time by Mark Haddon

I used to read anything and everything I could get my hands on but a few years ago, without knowing, I became stuck in a genre rut. Always heading to the same section of the library and the bookshop.  A friend recommended this story to me and told me it was a young adult novel and I told her I would read it but I secretly didn’t think I would. Frustrated she lent me her copy and said I had to read it straight away and so I sat down, and didn’t move again until I’d finished and I’ve read it many times since. A big lesson for me on book snobbery and I’ll never fall into the genre trap again.

 

I know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

I’d become familiar with Maya Angelou and her background as a civil rights activist and was interested to read more about this woman who had empowered so many. At that point to me there was a clear divide between fiction and non-fiction styles of writing, so although I expected to be educated I didn’t expect to be enthralled by her style of writing. Early on there’s a sentence which reads: ‘If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat.’ I remember stopping and rereading that sentence over and over, thinking about the power of language and that was the first time I ever realised what was meant by ‘voice.’

 

The Stand by Stephen King

As a teenager I was a real horror fan. The scarier the better. I’d read a fair few Stephen King books before stumbling across the massive publication that is The Stand and I curled up in my chair and waited to feel the creeping sense of unease I usually felt with his novels. What I didn’t expected was to be so moved I cried many times during this story and to this day it is still one of my favourites. This book taught me you can’t always pigeon hole a story. When I started writing psychological thrillers I wanted that emotional punch. I wanted to make readers cry. All three of my books feature an emotional thread alongside the tension and fear and I love picking bits out of different genres and blending them together.

 

Laughing on the Outside, Crying on the Inside by Judy Carne

Judy Carne was the star of the 60’s American TV show Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-in and the wife of Burt Reynolds. She was also my mum’s cousin. When Judy returned to our home town in Northamptonshire from Hollywood regaling us with tales of the rich and famous I was enthralled by the glitz and glamour of her life.

Reading her biography however, painted a very different picture. She had a real struggle and a phenomenal journey  to achieve what she achieved through real hardship. I’d always thought my town was ordinary and by default I was never destined to be anything other than the secretary I was when I left school. Judy inspired me to never lose sight of my dreams or give up and made me realise that ordinary people can live extraordinary lives if they only believe they can.

 

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff by Richard Carlson

At one time I had bookshelves full of self-help titles. Newly disabled, and at a real low, I was constantly searching for the one thing that could make a difference. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff was that book. Broken down into ultra short chapters, it’s easy to dip in and out of and to implicate into everyday life. Formerly a teacher of Mindfulness, this book was one I would often recommend to my coaching clients.

 

Mrs. Sinclair’s Suitcase by Louise Walters

When I began writing The Sister I heard about the WoMentoring Project, founded by Kerry Hudson, offering mentors to upcoming female talent. On the list of mentors was Louise Walters and I’d just finished her debut Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase and was captivated by her voice and beautiful story. It took ages, and a fair few glasses of wine before I felt brave enough to apply to the project and I was thrilled when Louise became my mentor.

I wrote the first ten thousand words of my novel and Louise replied, in a very gentle way, that although my style of writing was lovely the story didn’t flow like a novel at all.  I deleted the words but before starting again I wanted to reread a book I’d loved, but with a critical eye. A writer’s eye. To try to learn where I went wrong. Louise’s book was the obvious choice and I reread making careful notes. How did characters develop? How does her story arc work? It was a pleasure to reread her gorgeous story, her writing is exceptional, and I learned such a lot about how to structure a novel.

 

The Maid’s Room by Fiona Mitchell (To be released November 2017)

My list wouldn’t be complete with what has been my favourite read of 2017 so far. This beautifully constructed debut tells the story of two sisters, Filipino maids Dolly and Tala. It’s set in Singapore and is based, in part, on Fiona’s experience of living there. I was horrified at the treatment maids receive often at the hands of British ex-pats and I couldn’t believe this was set in modern day. This story could have been depressing but Fiona has sensitively weaved through humour and some really heartwarming moments. As a teacher of mindfulness for years I would make sure I regularly carried out random acts of kindness. Since I’ve been so busy writing this had lapsed a little. Reading how such small things made an enormous difference to the life of these maids inspired me to restart paying it forward wherever I can. Be kind where possible. It’s always possible.

My fabulous bookish news (Chews & Champagne) 🎉🎉🎉

I am absolutely thrilled to be able to share the announcement that after selling more than half a million copies and being published in 16 territories The Sister will be available in retailers from 24th August, published by Sphere.

Bookouture have done such an amazing job with my debut digitally and it’s a privilege to now also be working alongside the Little, Brown Book Group. It’s hard to stop staring at my gorgeous new paperback copies, fiercely guarded by the little brown bear my husband bought me to celebrate. Granger was overjoyed to have been given a chew while the humans in the family toasted with champagne.

BIG thanks to everyone who has supported me on my journey so far x

 

One year published, 750,000 sales – what’s it really been like?

 

Exactly a year ago was a dream-come-true- kind of day. I remember snapping awake, brushing the sleep out of my eyes, instantly my stomach swirling with excitement and nerves. It was publication day for my debut novel The Sister which was already receiving rave reviews and flying up the charts. I had a fabulous publisher and a contract to write two more novels. My lifelong ambition was realised as I smiled for the camera and held my paperback tightly in my hand like the precious gift it was. It stands to reason I lived happily ever after, right?

Yes. But it took a while.

Initially it was the cause of much excitement to type my name into Amazon and see my book spring onto my screen but still I didn’t feel like a writer. I was so thankful to have a deal but part of me thought it must be a mistake, it couldn’t possibly last. I clung on to my old job title when introducing myself to new people, feeling like a fraud somehow. The picture-perfect vision in my head of novelists lounging in a field of sunflowers, shielded from the blistering sun under a parasol, jotting down a few words when inspiration hit, partaking in cream teas when it didn’t, was not how it was at all. Working as an author has proved to be many things; sometimes exhilarating and satisfying, sometimes, if I’m being honest, isolating and lonely, and always, always extremely hard work. It’s far more involved than I first thought. The time invested in promoting my books both here and internationally (my titles have now been sold for translation to fifteen territories), interviews, social media, blogging, events, replying to reader emails (often the highlight of my day), mentoring female writers (which I offer free through The WoMentoring Project), and of course, juggling writing new stories whilst taking the previous book through the editing process

After The Sister I was nominated for the Goodreads Debut Author of 2016 and then came publication of The Gift. With both my first two books reaching No. 1 in the UK and abroad came a shift in my thinking. Although I still felt like an impostor, afraid it would all disappear in an instant, no longer did I mutter when someone asked what I did for a living. I admitted to being a writer albeit before looking at my shoes and hurriedly changing the subject. Yet, I didn’t quite feel like an author but it was progress of sorts.

It’s been a whirlwind year and often chaotic and I’ve learned a big lesson in time management, in finding that all important balance between work/family life.

The Sister was nominated for a CWA Dagger Award and amazingly after 12 months it is still sitting comfortably in the top 100 in psychological fiction, as is The Gift and now it has been joined by The Surrogate, my forthcoming novel, which is currently available to pre order and will be released in September. I’m so excited about this book, my best so far I think, already it’s made the Top 10 in psychological thrillers and the Top 50 in the overall UK chart.

Last week my publishers told me I had achieved 750,000 English language sales (more if you take into account sales in other territories) and the thought of three quarters of a million people reading my books caused another shift in my thinking. At a barbecue last weekend someone asked what I did for a living and for the first time ever I said ‘I’m an author,’ and I didn’t even look at my shoes.

Finally, an author. I’m living my dream and with a head full of stories there is honestly nothing else I’d rather be doing. Every day I think how lucky I am – I’m so grateful for this opportunity.

 

 

Readers/Writers – How do we all feel about ebook piracy?

Image courtesy of Kirsten McKenzie

 A couple of nights ago my husband and I opened a bottle of wine and sat down for one of those ‘let’s talk about the future’ conversations. You know, one of those discussions where you make a five year plan and then look back on said conversation five years later and laugh hysterically?

We’ve been saving for our own house FOREVER and just as it seems my dreams could become reality we’d been hit by the news the medical treatment I am reliant on to remain mobile had been cut by the NHS without warning (you can read about that here if you want to). We agreed my health must come first and we must use the deposit we’ve saved to cover future medical treatment instead.

As Tim sloshed wine into my glass (hey we can’t cut back on everything) his phone beeped. A Google alert. He has one set for my name. He scanned the message and sipped his drink, not quite meeting my eye.

‘A terrible review?’ I asked.

‘Umm, no.’ He read it aloud. ‘OH MY GOD. This (The Gift) has got to be one of… if not the best book I have ever read. It was written so well and the characters were all amazing.’ 

‘That’s great!’ I said.

And it would have been. If it hadn’t transpired this review, along with others, had been left on an illegal e-book download site, and after the conversation we had just had about our tight finances I don’t mind admitting to feeling winded. Almost as though someone had stolen out of my purse.

There are always going to be those who want things instantly, who want things free, I know. I appreciate that although my books are only £1.99 if you are a quick reader all those £1.99 adds up (although ‘libraries’ spring to mind). Or there’s the argument readers don’t want to invest in a book they might not like (there’s a ‘try a sample’ option on kindle).

I wasn’t going to blog about this, the creative industry is open to piracy, books, films, music but I mentioned it to another writer yesterday and I was surprised by his reaction. He said he wouldn’t mind if his books were on illegal download sites as he felt if this was the case his name would spring up more frequently on search engines.

I don’t know about that but I’m genuinely interested now to hear other writers (and readers) opinions?

Flash Fiction – An excerpt from The Surrogate!

Image courtesy of Claire Sheldon

 

My euphoria regarding the future was tinged with sadness as I emptied my locker. It was the end of an era. The corridor was devoid of students but was jammed full of memories. Me and Lisa shuffling along, heads down, new school shoes squeaking on the lino during our first day at this school that felt a world apart from our small, safe, primary. On my way to find Lisa, I pressed the corner of the West Side Story poster back down that was hanging off the wall.

Lost in my memories it happened in an instant. My back slamming against the lockers, hands around my throat.

 

In celebration of the weekend cover reveal for my third novel, The Surrogate, I thought I’d use an excerpt from the chapter I am currently editing which fits perfectly with this week’s prompt. If you wish to do so you can pre-order The Surrogate in the UK here and the US here prior to its September release.

You can join in with Friday Fictioneers, a 100 word story inspired by a photo prompt, over at host Rochelle’s blog, here

National Reading Group Day 2017! Why I LOVE my Book Club


Reading and writing are my two most favourite things to do. Ever since I can remember I’ve been at my happiest, curled up with a good book, and when the cries of my mum to ‘go outside and get some fresh air’ got too much, I’d take whatever story I was currently reading. Often I could be found sitting in the tree at the bottom of our garden, sunlight dappling the pages of whatever adventure I’d borrowed from the library.

When I was older, with a family of my own, I moved to a new area. Wanting to make some local friends, joining a reading group seemed the obvious choice. That month’s book was a dystopian novel, not a genre I’d ever choose but a few days before the meeting I eventually, reluctantly started to read and was immediately hooked. I enjoy dystopian novels – who knew?

Now I love my monthly reading group, not only for the social aspect and the fascinating and often lively discussion we have, but because it has also introduced me to new genres and authors I’d never have tried. 

I always include book group questions in the back of my books, and also on my website and there’s nothing I love more than being invited along to local groups to sit in on the discussions.

The Sister was a favourite with many book groups. Lots of secrets and moral dilemmas to talk about as well as some heartfelt expeiences on moving forward through grief.

The Gift was hugely popular with reading groups. Dealing with the unusual topic of cellular memory – the belief a transplanted organ can retain the memories of the donor – led to some interesting discussions and also raised the important topic of organ donation.

I’d love to hear what books your reading group have enjoyed.