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?

The book I never wanted to end! The Maid’s Room

 

I don’t often blog book reviews. However, The Maid’s Room has grabbed my heart and won’t let go and I feel compelled to share it.

This literary/commercial crossover novel is the debut of Fiona Mitchell although you would never think this is Fiona’s first book; each sentence is beautifully constructed, each word carefully chosen. The characters are rich and multi-dimensional. You can feel the love that has been poured into these pages. This is a real heart and soul book, and it shows. I never wanted it to end.

The story is based on Fiona’s real-life experience in Singapore. Shockingly there are 240,000 female domestic workers in Singapore and an estimated 53 million women working as domestic helpers across the globe. A quarter of these are afforded no legal rights at all.

I love books with an element of truth. Admittedly, it was uncomfortable at times, learning how modern day domestic workers are treated in Singapore, particularly as some of the employers are British. But despite the uncomfortable subject there are elements of humour woven through the challenges the maids face almost daily.

I’m not going to spoil the plot – this is a book you have to read for yourself, but I will say the ending was so absolutely perfect it had me sobbing, I feel bereft now I’ve finished this book, I almost can’t imagine life without sisters Tala and Dolly, already I’m imagining what they might get up to in the future.

We are only halfway through 2017 but I feel this will definitely be my book of the year. Huge congratulations Fiona Mitchell, The Maid’s Room is a triumph and I can’t wait to read your second novel (no pressure x).

You can find out more about Fiona Mitchell here and order The Maid’s Room which will be published by Hodder & Stoughton here.

“Set in the blistering heat of Singapore, THE MAID’S ROOM follows the lives of two Filipina maids – sisters Dolly and Tala who are working hard to send money back home, and British ex-pat Jules who has left her job as a midwife to move to Singapore with husband David.

Told with humour, heart-breaking detail about daily life as a maid, and with an exhilarating spirit that is ultimately uplifting, this book will resonate with anyone who has struggled to have their voice heard.”

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.

Authors for Grenfell – Signed & dedicated copies of The Sister & The Gift

 

I don’t have to describe my distress as I watched the horror unfold at Grenfell Tower. I don’t have to describe the desperate feeling of wanting to help and not quite knowing how to. You probably felt the same.

If you haven’t already heard about Authors for Grenfell Tower it’s an online auction raising money for the British Red Cross London Fire Relief Fund, for residents affected by the Grenfell Tower fire.

Around 1:00 a.m. on 14 June 2017, a fire in this residential tower block in west London spread to engulf the entire building. Despite the heroic efforts of the fire service, all 120 flats in the building have been destroyed. The death toll stands at 58 and is expected to rise. Survivors have lost their homes, lost everything, and gone through unimaginable trauma.

There’s lots of incredible donations on this site already. I’ve bid on numerous books as well as donating copies of The Sister and The Gift which I will dedicate and sign to the winning bidder (you can bid for those here). Along with books there are numerous agents and editors offering manuscript and submission package critiques and offers of Skype mentoring sessions. You can check out the full list of items for auction here.

Winning auction bids will be paid directly to the British Red Cross’s relief fund for Grenfell Tower residents and neighbours:

“The charity has been asked by Kensington and Chelsea council to help co-ordinate fundraising in an appeal to support the residents and neighbours of the Grenfell Tower.

Money will be given to people affected by the fire, including those who have lost everything, to buy the things they need to give themselves and their families as much normality as they can get at this extraordinarily difficult time. 

By donating to the London Fire Relief Fund people will be able to help those who have been injured, bereaved, left destitute or traumatised by this tragedy.”

My New Year Writing Resolution

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This morning I was delighted to receive my issue of Newbooks Magazine featuring Writing Resolutions from a group of authors, including myself. Our very own Claire Fuller features on the cover of the winter issue, who has been an enormous inspiration to me since I joined the blogging community.

When I was asked to take part in this feature I didn’t have to think for too long before coming up with my list. The first thing I wanted to do was to STOP  setting myself targets. Over the past couple of years I have learned that working around a family and a chronic health condition means that there will be days I get lots of words down, and days that I don’t get any words down and that’s okay.  In the past I have been quite hard on myself, aiming for a daily word count, and this isn’t always achievable or realistic. There was a point when I was writing, I spent so much time checking my word count I ended up turning it off and only then could I relax and tell the story I wanted to tell without worrying it was too long or too short. That’s easily sorted out in the editing stage.


The second point I made was vowing to read in as many different genres as I can. I had fallen into reading within my own genre, with a critical eye, and I couldn’t remember the last book I read for pleasure. There is nothing quite like curling up with a book, and I decided to make a conscious divide by reading on the Kindle for work, and buying paperbacks from my local bookshop to read for fun. I have already made a head start on this one by reading ‘The Return of Norah Wells‘ by Virginia MacGregor and ‘The boy made of blocks‘ by Keith Stuart (both authors are also featured in NewBooks Magazine this month). I can’t tell you how much I ADORED both of these stories.

I also want to donate some time to mentoring fledgling writers this year. At the early stages of writing The Sister I was mentored by Louise Walters via The WoMentoring Project for a few weeks and it really did make an enormous difference to me. I am a great believer in paying it forward and I’ve already volunteered my services.

Are you making any writing resolutions this year? I’d love to know what they are.

Book Club Questions – The Sister

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I love those stories, the ones you can’t stop thinking about afterwards. Characters you wonder what happens to. Twists you analyse. I often seek out book club questions for novels I’ve really enjoyed so I thought I’d put some together for The Sister as I know some book clubs are reading it (and if you are thinking of reading it the paperback is half price this weekend only).

  1. Grace is a very complex character. How did you feel about her? Did you feel any compassion for her?
  1. Do you think the traumatic event Grace suffered in childhood contributed to her paranoia? Are some people more susceptible to carry guilt than others? Is Grace’s guilt understandable?
  1. Dan has a secret he is hiding from Grace. Is it ever justifiable in a relationship to keep something from someone you love ‘for their own good’? Do you think he should have been more honest?
  1. In part this is a story about friendship and the shifting dynamics between a group of girls as they grow up. Charlie found herself in an impossible situation. How might she have handled things differently while remaining loyal?
  1. This novel alternates between the past and the present. Did you find this structure worked and helped build up the tension?
  1. What did you assume about Anna throughout the book? How did this change by the end?
  1. Do you think Grace and Dan make a good couple or have they outgrown each other?
  1. The Sister is very much about lies. The lies we tell ourselves. The lies we tell other people. Do all people lie to some degree? Can you understand the characters reasons for doing so?
  1. Were you satisfied with the ending of the book? Did you guess?
  1. What do you think happens to the characters after the epilogue?