What I learned from Sarah Pinborough – Novel Writing

 

Yesterday evening I took part in an ‘In Conversation’ event at Waterstones, Milton Keynes with Sarah Pinborough. I love events such as these, not only because it’s a chance to shed my pyjamas, put on some adult clothes and leave the house, but because it’s a chance for me to learn from other authors and last night I did exactly that.

Sarah is a writer I have much admired – if you haven’t yet read her books you really should , ‘Behind Her Eyes’ was one of my favourite reads last year and I was keen to know EVERYTHING about her writing process.

One thing I often struggle with when crafting my novels is my inability to plan. I’ve bought SO many books on the subject, signed up for online courses, but still find the concept quite bewildering. With experience in scriptwriting and twenty novels behind her (20!!) I couldn’t wait to hear how Sarah approaches a first draft.

She plans.

‘I’ve tried to do that with my last three books,’ I told her. ‘It’s failed each time. I don’t think my mind works that way.’

‘How long did you try for?’ She asked.

‘A morning.’

‘It takes me six weeks to plan a novel.’ She said.

SIX weeks!

Instantly, I broke out into a sweat. The thought of six weeks not actually writing the book induced an ‘I’m going to fall too far behind my schedule’ anxiety.

Sarah told me that was where I was going wrong. ‘Thinking about the story, the twists, the reveals is valuable time spent. It matters just as much as hitting that word count.’ She went on to say that once she has spent her six weeks planning, she writes the book in roughly five months.

We differed greatly in our approaches to work. I am structured, at my desk for eight hours a day. Sarah prefers to write in the mornings and then step away from her laptop. This is when she finds the ideas flow best.

I realised, on the journey home, that each time I open social media and read another ‘I’ve written XX words today!!’ post by an author that I was feeling inadequate about my own daily word count (approximately 1500 words) and I haven’t been allowing myself time away from my manuscript to think properly about where it should go.

Since ‘The Family’ was released two weeks ago I’ve had so many lovely reviews about how tightly plotted the story, featuring a Mother & Daughter who find themselves lured into a creepy commune and find themselves unable to leave, is, and how many unexpected twists there are, but the truth was I became completely stuck writing my fifth psychological thriller.

I needed a dead body for the story (this is in the blurb so not a spoiler) and I didn’t know who the body should be. I wrote several chapters with one character but then realised I needed them later on. I deleted those and rewrote with a different character dying but that didn’t feel right. For weeks I rewrote the same chunk of story with virtually every character being the body until I settled on the right person. Reader reaction to the reveal has been how clever it is that the body ties up all of the strands of the subplots but it wasn’t an easy write.

Thanks to Sarah, I feel a certain sense of freedom now in knowing that even if I don’t write for a period of time it will allow me to think creatively and it won’t be wasted time. Each writer approaches the process differently, there really is no right or wrong, but I’m very open to trying something new.

I’m going to be chatting to Sarah more about how she actually plans so watch this space…

The Family’ is currently in a Kindle Monthly deal and you can buy the Ebook for just 99p on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo or Google Books.

You can find Sarah’s novels, which I highly recommend, here.

 

 

 

The BEST publication day present EVER & the launch party!

 

Yesterday was paperback and audio book publication day for my 5th psychological thriller ‘The Family’ and you can read the background of where the story came from in my earlier post, here.

I was incredibly excited from the second I woke. It’s been over a year since I was last published and the delicious feeling of gratitude, pride and relief all threaded with nerves, never gets any less intense.

The day kicked off with deliveries of gorgeous flowers from my mum, my husband and my publisher and so many cards the postman wished me happy birthday!

My sister’s homemade publication day gifts are legendary and she really upped her game again with this gem for The Family. The scene is taken from page 56 of the book, where Laura and Tilly first approach the commune, which will become their dream home and then their worst nightmare. Below is the passage

We’d been driving for forty-five minutes when, almost too late, I noticed the opening in-between the trees. I swung a hard left, bumping down a rutted track that tapered until hanging twigs scraped against my paintwork. I thought I must have taken a wrong turn. Slowly, I edged forward, looking for a place to turn around. The track widened again. A weatherworn sign speared the ground, a crow perched atop so still at first I thought he was a statue. ‘Tresmasers yn Ofalus’ in black peeling letters and then almost as an afterthought, the English translation, ‘Trespassers Beware’. A second sign shouted ‘Ffens Trydan’, ‘Electric Fence’, and a third, newer sign, ‘Oak Leaf Organics’. I’d found it. Gorphwysfa. Resting place.

Publication day wouldn’t be publication day without seeing my book on the shelves so my friend and I went to Tesco and it was so overwhelming to realise that my story is actually really out there I shed a little tear in the supermarket. Not embarrassing at all…

The evening was ALL about the launch (and a lot about the cake!) On the way to Waterstones I felt incredibly anxious – I’ve always been open about my mental health battles and despite it being a happy day it was the worst I had felt for a long time. I could barely speak, felt faint and there was such a strong desire to run away I almost, almost considered it. But then the people I love most in the world began to arrive with hugs and good wishes and I realised that everyone had come to support me and then I was so grateful for the people in my life I had to have a minute alone to compose myself.

My editor Manpreet Grewal, and my agent, Rory Scarfe had both travelled up from London and it really meant a lot to me to have them both there.

As well as my family and close friends there were people I hadn’t seen for years but had reconnected with via Facebook: Mark who I went to school with 30 years ago; Paul, one of my teenage best friends; Suzi who I met when I’d had a baby 13 years ago. It was wonderful to catch up with everyone.

One of the best parts about being published is the new friends I have made online, who have turned into real friends offline, some of whom came to celebrate include the inspirational Madeleine Black, Darren O’Sullivan and Jane Isaac.

The Fiction Café Facebook Book Group is run by the lovely Wendy Clarke and she and her members are always so supportive it was fantastic to have some of them at the launch.

Adam Chappell the magician came to entertain us all with close up magic. I’d really recommend him for events, his tricks were amazing (although I was better at making cake disappear…)

And then came the speech (drops head into hands with despair).

At the launch for my debut, The Sister, I was too nervous to say anything coherent. I stood and gushingly thanked a random person who’d wandered in off of the street to see what was going on and completely failed to mention my children. Last night I was determined to nail it. I bullet pointed the things I wanted to say and I felt confident talking about my book and acknowledgements. Afterwards I was super relieved it had gone so well until my friend whispered in my ear “that was great, but you thanked everyone except your husband…”

Next time I’ll get it right!

HUGE thanks to everyone who supported The Family yesterday, both online and at the launch. It’s available now at Tesco, Sainsbury’s & all good bookshops and will be stocked in Asda nearer to Christmas. For a limited time only the digital version is just 99p across all digital platforms. You can find it on Amazon here.

Why I wrote & what I learned writing The Family – eBook publication day!!

Today is ebook publication day for The Family and I am SO excited that my story about Laura, Tilly and the creepy commune who reside at Oak Leaf Farm is finally in the hands of readers. You can find it on Amazon here, Apple Books here, Kobo here and Google books here. The audio and paperback will be published on October 3rd.

The idea for this story came about after yet another report of terrorism on the news. My youngest son asked me why people do bad things. Together we researched the psychology behind brainwashing and I found it so fascinating it led me to research cults. The people whose real-life accounts I read had all started from a place of vulnerability and loneliness, I began to wonder if you took two women in exactly the same situation, and placed them in the same environment, whether they would both react the same. My writer mind began to toy with the idea of a story where one woman knew there was something very wrong and wanted to leave, and the other woman was completely enthralled with her new life. What if those two women were mother and daughter?

As a mother myself I know I would do absolutely anything to protect my child and I wanted to explore the family bonds, not only between parent and daughter but the wider family, aunts, uncles, cousins. Are those relationships stronger than the friends we choose? There’s a lot of discussion in the story about flesh families vs chosen families.

In the early few chapters of the book, we see certain events experienced from both Tilly and Laura’s point of view. I found this really eye-opening. It was fascinating to see how much mother and daughter assumed about each other and misunderstood. Laura not quite knowing how to comfort Tilly when Tilly asked to be left alone. Tilly thinking that because Laura left her alone she didn’t care. I learned a lot about the assumptions we make and it really made me think about the way I communicate with my children and with my mother.

Tonight, there will be an online launch party on Facebook where I’ll be giving away signed copies and also a bundle of proofs, not yet available anywhere else, by my publishers, HQ – Harper Collins. Do come along at 19.30 GMT. You’ll find the event here. Do come along. I’ll be answering questions and chatting about writing – it’ll be a lot of fun.

Early reviews for The Family have been amazing.

And it’s always a relief when fellow authors like my work.

I do hope you enjoy the story of Laura and Tilly and enjoy uncovering all the secrets at Oak Leaf Farm.

WIN signed copies of books inc The Family! Online Launch Invite!

The UK eBook release of The Family on 25th September is just days away (you can preorder here) and to celebrate I’m hosting an online launch over on my Facebook Author Page on Wednesday evening at 7.30pm GMT and YOU are invited. I’ve hosted an online launch before and it was so much fun and it’s a great chance to connect to those of you who aren’t local enough to make the physical launch for the paperback on 3rd October.

On the evening, as well as chatting with you and answering questions, I’ll be giving away some books – as well as the ones I have written my publisher HQ Stories/Harper Collins are offering some exciting proofs which aren’t available anywhere else. You can find the event page here. RSVP you are coming and then leave a comment under the giveaway post. I’ll be drawing winners on the night as well as answering any questions that have been posted about my books and writing as well as any asked on the night via the live comments. I can’t wait to chat with you all about The Family – my darkest story yet. I will also be sharing details of my next thriller.

I was so excited to receive the paperbacks this week I forgot how to speak properly – you can see my reaction here: –

 

As well as the Polish paperbacks which are equally stunning: –

Here’s the blurb: –

ONCE YOU’RE IN, THEY’LL NEVER LET YOU LEAVE.

Laura is grieving after the sudden death of her husband. Struggling to cope emotionally and financially, Laura is grateful when a local community, Oak Leaf Organics, offer her and her 17-year-old daughter Tilly a home.

But as Laura and Tilly settle into life with their new ‘family’, sinister things begin to happen. When one of the community dies in suspicious circumstances Laura wants to leave but Tilly, enthralled by the charismatic leader, Alex, refuses to go.

Desperately searching for a way to save her daughter, Laura uncovers a horrifying secret but Alex and his family aren’t the only ones with something to hide. Just as Laura has been digging into their past, they’ve been digging into hers and she discovers the terrifying reason they invited her and Tilly in, and why they’ll never let them leave…

 

**Cover Reveal** The Family!!

I am SUPER excited to reveal the cover of my forthcoming psychological thriller, ‘The Family,’ which will be published on 3rd October (6 weeks!!) is available to preorder now here.

My fifth book – (fifth!!) – is the dark, emotional story of Laura and her daughter Tilly and has been getting some amazing early feedback.

Creepy & compelling, another great impossible-to-put-down thriller from the fabulous Louise Jensen.’ B A Paris

‘A clever, addictive thriller about family, loss and lies. Packed full of secrets and twists, it will keep you guessing until the final page.’ Alice Feeney

‘Wow! What a book. I loved it, the pace was fantastic & the relationship between Tilly & Laura was gripping & the love really stood out. I thought I had it all sussed, but didn’t see how neatly everyone was connected. This book is going to fly!’ Darren O’Sullivan

‘Cements Louise as THE writer of beautiful, character-led, yet still page-turningly-good thrillers. This will (and should) be huge.’ Louise Beech

I’ll be sharing more about why I wrote this book and what it means to me, but for now, here’s the blurb:

ONCE YOU’RE IN, THEY’LL NEVER LET YOU LEAVE.

Laura is grieving after the sudden death of her husband. Struggling to cope emotionally and financially, Laura is grateful when a local community, Oak Leaf Organics, offer her and her 17-year-old daughter Tilly a home.

But as Laura and Tilly settle into life with their new ‘family’, sinister things begin to happen. When one of the community dies in suspicious circumstances Laura wants to leave but Tilly, enthralled by the charismatic leader, Alex, refuses to go.

Desperately searching for a way to save her daughter, Laura uncovers a horrifying secret but Alex and his family aren’t the only ones with something to hide. Just as Laura has been digging into their past, they’ve been digging into hers and she discovers the terrifying reason they invited her and Tilly in, and why they’ll never let them leave…

Publishing 3rd October – preorder now.

3 years in publishing, 10 lessons I’ve learned

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This week marks three years since my debut, The Sister, was published. There was no gentle easing into the publishing industry because, and I am eternally grateful – my first novel soon rose to No. 1 in various countries, spending almost the entire summer in the top spot in the UK. It quickly sold over half a million copies and was snapped up for translation by twenty-five territories, nominated for the Goodreads best debut award, and became the sixth biggest selling book on Amazon in 2016.  As lovely as all this was – and it was – there was no time to sit back and enjoy it, the pressure was on to finish writing my second book, The Gift.

Fast forward to now, over a million sales later, and publication of my fifth thriller, The Family is imminent and yet I still feel as though I’m finding my feet. Often overwhelmed with the thought of having to write more books and yet heartbroken at the thought that one day I might not be in the fortunate position of writing full time. Creating stories is my passion, my reason for getting up in the mornings but, sometimes (generally during a first draft) the cause of my insomnia. Thoughts of ‘how can I make my next book better than my last’ all-consuming.

I have a sense that I know nothing about writing, about publishing and yet I know infinitely more than I did and these are the ten lessons I try to bear in mind.

  • There are readers who will love my story. No matter how daunting it is releasing a new book into the wild, I write stories I would love to read myself and it stands to reason that if my story is one I would love to read, someone else will love it too.
  • There are readers who will hate my story. Negative reviews are inevitable. It doesn’t mean – as I once thought – I should stop writing books because Sandra from Basingstoke doesn’t like them. Not every book will resonate with every reader.
  • The pressure I have felt has been the pressure I have burdened myself with. My agent, my publisher, my readers want future books but no one is chaining me to my desk and forcing me to write (note – that might make a good plot)
  • The world will not stop turning if I don’t ever write another book. My world would be darker, sadder, but if I couldn’t think of a single plot again it really wouldn’t cause the sun to explode.
  • Some books are easy to write. My third – The Surrogate – literally fell from the sky on to the page and I thought I’d finally found the magic formula.
  • Some books are impossibly difficult. My fourth book – The Date – took several false starts and was shoved into the bottom of my drawer multiple times.
  • Social media sometimes brings me down – if I’ve had an unproductive day I avoid twitter as I know that seeing other writers ‘I’ve written thousands of words since breakfast’ posts leave me feeling inferior.
  • My editor is mainly right. Mainly. Not always. Ultimately it is my name on the cover and if I feel strongly that a suggested change is wrong for my characters I will stand up for them. It’s a suggested change, not the law. That said I’m so lucky to have an editor and I’d be a fool to ignore her expertise. A fool!
  • EVERY writer has highs and lows but it’s often only the highs you hear about. No matter what level of success someone has there are still disappointments. Still times the words won’t flow. Self-doubt is ever-present for most creatives. I don’t think that ever fully disappears and nor do I think it should.
  • A dip in sales does not mean the end of a career. Some books sell more than others, some books gain better reviews. All I can do is set out to write my best book every time and never become complacent. I love what I do and I never forget how fortunate I am.

I’ll be giving away some signed copies of The Sister this week so do follow me on my Facebook page for a chance to win one.

 

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The joy I felt holding my first book is something I shall never forget

 

‘Did you hear the one about the author…’ – Come & talk books with us! Tea, cake & chat.


 

I’m super happy to be appearing at a couple of fabulous literary festivals in the next few weeks, with my good friend, fellow psychological thriller writer, Darren O’Sullivan. I love meeting readers at events and appearing with a friend makes it extra enjoyable. If you’ve been to see Darren and me before you know to expect a LOT (sometimes too much) laughing as well as lots of talk about books and writing. We love the audience to join in our conversation and it’s all very relaxed and informal. Do come if you can.

First up is Deepings Literary Festival in Market Deeping on the 23rd-26th May. There’s a stellar line up including Sophie Hannah who I’m a little bit star-struck to meet! Darren and I are on Friday at 10.30am (fabulous blogger Linda Hill will be keeping us under control) which gives us the rest of the day to eat much cake and catch everybody else’s talk, including Barbara Copperthwaite’s. You can view the programme and book tickets here.

On 9th June we shall be in the beautiful village of Earls Barton, Northamptonshire, at 10.30. We appeared here last year and even if you don’t like books it’s worth the trip for the carrot cake! The festival runs from 7th – 9th June. I can’t wait to catch Sue Moorcroft and Jane Isaac who are always entertaining as well as meeting Cara Hunter who writes such excellent books. You can view the programme and book tickets here.

Pop along and say hello – we’d love to meet you!