Prologue – The Stolen Sisters & does your novel need one?

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? ‘The Stolen Sisters’ (currently 99p in the Amazon Kindle Deal) is my latest thriller and I’ll use it as an example, I’ve included the prologue below.

Prologue

When Carly looked back at that day the memory was in shades of grey; the trauma had sucked the blue from the sky, the green from the freshly mown grass. She had sat on the back doorstep, the coolness of the concrete permeating through her school skirt, the late-afternoon sun warming her bare arms. Carly remembers now the blackness of a beetle scurrying down the path before it disappeared into the soil under the rose bush. The stark white of the twins’ socks, bunched below their knees.

Inconsequential details that later the police would jot in their notebooks as though Carly was somehow being a great help but she knew she wasn’t, and worse than that, she knew it was entirely her fault.

It had all been so frustratingly normal. Leah and Marie had shrieked in mock disgust as Bruno, their boxer, bounded towards them, drool spilling from his jowls. But their screams then still carried an undercurrent of happiness, not like later when their cries were full of fear and there was nowhere to run to.

The things that have stayed with Carly are this. 

The way her fingers gripped the cumbersome Nokia in her hand as though she was clutching a secret. Her annoyance as she angled her screen to avoid the glare, never dreaming that soon she would be craving daylight. 

Fresh air. 

Space. 

The pounding in her head increasing as the girls bounced a tennis ball between them across the patio. The way she had snapped at the twins as though it was their fault Dean Malden hadn’t text her. Of all the things that she could, that she should, feel guilty about, she had never forgiven herself that the last words she spoke to her sisters before they were all irrevocably damaged was in anger rather than kindness.

Although in truth, she had never forgiven herself for any of it.

‘Shut up!’ She had roared out her frustration that the first boy she loved had shattered her thirteen-year-old heart. Crazy now to recall that she once thought the absence of a text was the end of the world. There were far worse things. Far worse people than the floppy-haired blond boy who had let her down. 

Her younger sisters turned to her, identical green eyes wide. Marie’s sight trained on Carly’s face as she chucked the ball for Bruno. Carly’s irritation grew as she watched it fly over the fence.

‘For God’s sake.’ She stood, brushing the dust from the back of her sensible pleated skirt. ‘It’s time to come in.’

‘But that’s not fair.’ Marie looked stricken as her gaze flickered towards the fence.

‘Life isn’t fair,’ Carly said feeling a bubbling resentment that at eight years old the twins had it easy.

‘Can you fetch our ball, please, Carly?’ Marie pleaded.

‘Fetch it yourself,’ Carly snapped.

‘You know we’re not allowed out of the garden on our own until we’re ten,’ Marie said. 

‘Yeah, well I’m in charge today and I’m saying you can. It’s not like we live in a city. Nothing ever happens in this dump.’ Carly was sick of living somewhere so small where everyone knew everyone else’s business. Where everyone would know by tomorrow that Dean Malden had rejected her. ‘Be quick and shut the gate properly.’ 

She turned and pushed open the back door, stepping into the vast kitchen that never smelled of cakes or bread. It never smelled of anything except freshly roasted coffee. Carly clattered her phone onto the marble island and yanked open the fridge door. The shelves that were once stocked with stilton and steak and that had groaned under the weight of fresh fruit and vegetables, were woefully bare. There was nothing except a shrivelled cucumber and some out-of-date hummus. It was all right for her mum and stepdad out for the evening at yet another corporate function. They spent more time on the business than with their children nowadays, although Mum had assured her it wouldn’t be for much longer. She’d soon be at home more but in the meantime it was left to Carly to sort out tea again. She had loved her half-sisters fiercely since the day they were born but sometimes she wished mum still paid the retired lady down the road to babysit but since Carly had turned thirteen mum felt that she was responsible enough. 

She sighed as she crossed to the shelf above the Aga and lifted the lid from the teapot. Inside was a £10 note. Chips for tea. She wondered whether the money would stretch to three sausages or if they should split a battered cod.

Minutes later the twins tumbled into the kitchen.

‘Yuck.’ Leah dropped the tennis ball coated with slobber into the wicker basket where Bruno kept his toys.

‘Wash your hands,’ Carly snapped as she checked her phone again.

Nothing.

What had she done wrong? She had thought Dean liked her.

Marie perched on a stool at the breakfast bar, swinging her legs, the toes of her shoes thudding against the kick board. How was Carly supposed to hear her text alert over that? Marie had her chin in her hands, her mouth downturned; she hated being in trouble. Carly could see the way her lip trembled with upset but she couldn’t help yelling again.

‘Shut. Up.’

Marie slid off the stool. ‘I . . . I left my fleece in the garden.’

Carly jerked her head towards the door in a go-and-get-it-gesture before she clicked on the radio. The sound of Steps flooded the room. Marie paused and momentarily their sisterly bond tugged at them all. ‘5, 6, 7, 8’ was one of their favourite songs. Usually they’d fall into line and dance in synchronicity.

‘Let’s do this!’ Marie flicked her red hair over her shoulders and placed her hands on her hips.

‘It’s childish,’ Carly snapped although inside her shoes, her toes were tapping.

‘It doesn’t work unless we all do it.’ Marie’s voice cracked. ‘We have to be together.’ 

Carly pulled the scrunchie she’d been wearing like a bracelet from her wrist and smoothed her long fair hair back into a ponytail. The twins got into position. Waited. Carly reached for her phone and tried to ignore the pang of meanness that flitted through her as the smile slipped from Leah’s face. Marie’s small shoulders rounded as she headed back outside.

Minutes later she raced back in, socked feet skidding across the tiles, tears streaming down her freckled cheeks. ‘Bruno’s got out. The gate was open.’

‘For God’s sake.’ Carly could feel the anger in her chest form a cold, hard ball. It was one of the last times she ever allowed herself to truly feel. ‘Who shut the gate?’

Marie bit her lower lip. 

‘I did,’ said Leah, slipping her shoes back on. 

‘You’re supposed to bang it until it latches, you idiot. You know it’s broken. Three times. You bang it three times.’

The girls pelted into the garden, calling the dog’s name. 

Marie hesitated at the gate. ‘Perhaps we should wait—’ Under her freckles, her skin was pale. She’d been off school yesterday with a stomach-ache and although she’d gone back today, she didn’t look well. Carly knew she should ask if she was feeling okay but instead she shoved her roughly into the street. ‘It’s your fault, Marie. You search that way.’ She pointed down the avenue lined with beech trees. 

Marie grabbed Leah’s hand.

‘No,’ Carly snapped. ‘Leah can come with me.’ The twins could be silly where they were together and she had enough to worry about without them getting into trouble.

‘But I want . . .’ Marie began.

‘I don’t care what you want. Move.’ Carly grabbed Leah’s arm and led her in the opposite direction, towards the cut-through at the side of their house which led to the park.

It all happened so quickly that afterwards Carly couldn’t remember which order it all came in. The balaclava-clad face looming towards hers. The forearm around her neck, the gloved hand clamped over her mouth. The sight of Leah struggling against arms that restrained her. The scraping sound of her shoe as she was dragged towards the van at the other end of the alley. The sight of Marie, almost a blur, flying towards the second man also clad in black, who held her twin, pummelling him with her small fists. 

‘Stop! You can’t do this! Don’t take her. I don’t want you to take her!’

The soft flesh compacting against hard bone as Carly bit down hard on the fingers that had covered her mouth.

‘Run!’ she had screamed at Marie as the man who held Leah grabbled to find something of Marie’s he could hold onto, clutching at her collar, her ginger pigtails, as she dodged his grasp.

‘Run!’

I decided to use a prologue for this story, not only because it’s an instant hook, but because I wanted to begin twenty years before I started the story proper. There was vital information I wanted the reader to know. The girls are snatched in the prologue but Chapter One immediately move on to the girls as adults and we learn they were returned without any abuse. As a mother the only way I could write about missing children was if we know straight away that the girls were safe and the prologue enabled me to do this. We do, as the novel prgoresses, delve back into the past where we see, not how the girls were taken, but why and in the present it’s all about what happens when their abductor reappears on the twenty year anniversary of their abduction.

To read more of the Sinclair sisters’ story download the digital version of the book for just 99p for a limited time only across all digital platforms. You can find The Stolen Sisters on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, Google books & Waterstones.

It’s also a Fern Britton book club pick and a special edition with extra content is available at Tesco. You can also find ‘The Stolen Sisters’ at Asda, shortly at Sainsbury’s and as an audiobook on Audible.

Two of my other books (with prologues!) are also in Amazon’s October sale. Download ‘The Gift‘ or my Amelia Henley debut love story with a twist ‘The Life We Almost Had.‘ (you can read the prologue for this here.)

Giveaways! Live Launch – The Stolen Sisters! Free Books!

Next week – next week!! I can’t believe it’s almost publication day for my 6th psychological thriller – The Stolen Sisters.  The early reviews have been AMAZING with readers calling it my best book so far. The Sinclair sisters, Leah, Marie and Carly really hold a special place in my heart and I can’t wait to share more about them over the next few weeks, as well as the creepy real life location the story is set in.

For now I’d like to invite you to my Facebook and IG online launch, next Wednesday at 8pm GMT. My wonderful publisher, HQ Stories/Harper Collins, have donated some brilliant prizes which I’ll be giving away during the launch. If you’re a Facebook user pop over to the event here and enter the draws or you can also find them on Insta here. I’ll also be giving away something extra on the night.

Fortnum & Masons have generously donated one of their fabulous hampers which you can be in with a chance to win if you pre-order (or have already pre-ordered) the book. Check out their competition here.

While I’m here I’ll mention that my debut love story with a big twist ‘The Life We Almost Had’ (written under my pen name Amelia Henley) is currently 99p on Amazon and across all digital platforms.

I’m so touched by the love readers have shown Adam & Anna and by the press coverage.

‘Intriguing, unusual & intensely romantic’ Sunday Mirror

‘A love story with a definite difference . . . intensely emotional’ Best

‘Beautifully written & plotted. Get ready for the final chapter – you have been warned’ Candis

It was a dream come true to spot in on a shelf in Tesco while I was doing my shopping. Trust me, there was a HUGE smile behind my mask.

If you want to read about the unimaginable lengths Anna has to go to in order to have a second chance at first love with Adam  download “The Life We Almost Had’ from Amazon, iBooks, Kobo or Google. It is NOT a typical love story.

What these authors would LOVE a second chance at…

My newly published ‘Amelia Henley’ debut ‘The Life We Almost Had’ is all about the unimaginable leap Anna takes to have a second chance at first love with Adam. This isn’t a typical love story but I really wanted to explore how far we’d go, given the chance, to go back and change the past. In my story Anna has the opportunity to do just this but it comes with potential heartbreaking and life changing consequences. I shared what I’d like a second chance at in my last post which you can read here.

So many brilliant books published on the same day as ‘The Life We Almost Had’ and I asked some of the authors I shared a publication day with what they’d like a second chance at. The answers were both moving and relatable.

Natasha Randall – Author of “Love Orange’ – 

“I wish I had a second chance at my twenties. I would have been calmer, gone deeper. Those years passed with breathlessness, I think I was whirling, spraying sweat in all directions. I was looking for something and I still don’t know what — a place to belong? I think I moved 15 times in ten years. I should have stopped a little, tried to belong a little to something good but with stillness.”

You can find ‘Love Orange’ at Waterstones here.

Kia Abdullah – Author of ‘Truth Be Told’

“I would like a second chance to say goodbye to my father. We didn’t speak for six months before he passed away for several complicated reasons, mainly because I had walked out of an arranged marriage and felt too guilty to face my family. My father suffered from ill health – part of the reason why I agreed to an arranged marriage in the first place – and was hospitalised one April day. I received a call from my sister and I remember looking at the wall clock and trying to decide whether or not to rush to the hospital. It was 8.10pm and visiting hours ended at 8.30. In the end, I decided I would visit tomorrow. In the early hours, my father passed away. 

I would like a second chance at saying goodbye to him; at telling him I loved him; at saying I forgave him; and asking for forgiveness too. 

I’ve managed to process much of my pain through fiction. I’ve channelled my experiences into Zara Kaleel, the protagonist of Take It Back and now Truth Be Told. Her relationship with her family is based on my own and writing about that has been deeply cathartic.”

You can order ‘Truth Be Told’ via Amazon here

Jane Johnson – Author of ‘The Sea Gate’

“I’d love a second chance to sit down with my mother and talk to her about her early life. She spent her youth in Cornwall during the War, and although we managed to talk about her experiences just before she died in 2017, I wish we’d had more time and been able to get into greater detail on the tea dances in the hotels on the Penzance promenade and her worldlywise cousins and how they got her drunk for the first time in her life, and how she traded her food ration for lipstick and cigarettes; and about all the family secrets that started to bubble to the surface when she knew her time was running out. THE SEA GATE is something of an homage to her and her generation: I wish she’d had a chance to read it.”

You can order ‘The Sea Gate’ via Waterstones here.

Elizabeth Baines, Author of ‘Astral Travel’

“Once I got a chance to go to London and work for an advertising agency. But guess what, I had fallen in love with a man who was based in Scotland. What to do? I’d aways promised myself i would never do what my mother had done – give up the chance of a career for a man – and the thought of London and working in that kind of environment had always seemed so exciting…  But all of a sudden the idea didn’t seem so glittery: I knew I’d be miserable there, missing my man. So I chose my man, went to Scotland and trained to be a teacher. Do I regret my decision? No, i found I loved teaching, and how could I regret the two children we had, who have been among the best things in my life? But sometimes I wonder: what turns would my life have taken if I’d chosen differently? Would I have become a different kind of person? As a writer you are always dealing with What Ifs, and sometimes I think I would love to get into a time machine and take that different path, just to find out…”

You can buy ‘Astral Travel’ from Waterstones here or direct from Salt Publishing here.

If you want to read about the unimaginable lengths Anna has to go to in order to have a second chance at first love with Adam my debut love story ‘The Life We Almost Had‘ is currently 99p across all digital platforms. Download it from Amazon, iBooks, Kobo or Google. It is NOT a typical love story.

As well as on Amazon, you can find the paperback in Tesco, or Waterstones or support your local bookstore. Book stores are always happy to order in a title they don’t have in stock.

Is there anything you wish you could have a second chance at? Do let me know!

A very different Paperback Publication Day!

It seems an age since I stood on the beach in Lanzarote, shielding my eyes as I gazed into the sea, my mind playing out an intensely emotional scene, a scene which changes everything my characters Adam and Anna thought they knew about life and love. As I researched this stunning location before returning to the UK to meet with a leading Neuroscientist to discuss whether my unusual concept could credibly work, the day I might potentially see my story on a bookshelf seemed so far out of reach.

But now, that day is here! It’s paperback publication day for ‘The Life We Almost Had’!!

The eBook has already been a No. 1 bestseller and my reviews have been stunning.

‘A love story with a definite difference . . . intensely emotional’ Best Magazine

‘Beautifully written and plotted. Get ready for the final chapter – you have been warned’ Candis Magazine

‘Intriguing, unusual and intensely romantic’ Sunday Mirror

Gripping, heartbreaking & completely original. ‘The Life We Almost Had’ is like nothing I’ve ever read.’ Clare Empson – Author

You can watch me reading the opening here.

Launching a debut in a pandemic is challenging. All events were cancelled for this year. Today is the busiest day in the publishing calendar and with the bookshops and supermarkets trying to catch up with all the big books which had their publication date pushed back there is very little space for the smaller books and debuts. I’m so very grateful to my editor and the team at HQ Stories who have remained so passionate about launching Anna and Adam into the world. My publisher will be giving away paperbacks of ‘The Life We Almost Had’ all day today via their Twitter page so do pop over and check it out.

Last month, for my digital publication day I had a live FB/insta launch which was great fun. Tonight should have been my book launch at Waterstones, a chance to thank my family and friends for their support, and to eat cake of course.

One thing I am vocal about is marking ever single success in publishing, however small, because in this industry there are many unavoidable lows. Finishing that first draft, ironing out a synopsis, or in the case of today, publishing a book, and despite the current circumstances I’m going to do just that.

I’m having a lunchtime celebration via zoom with my editor, agent and the wonderful team at HQ who worked so hard on this book (and publishing a novel really does take a village). Afterward, I’m heading straight to Tesco, seeing my story on a shelf will be such a special moment. Between 2-4 there is a very special publication day party over on Radio Chiltern where I, and several other authors who are publishing today will be chatting to host Antonia Honeywell about our books and choosing a song relevant to our characters (you can listen here).  Tonight, my husband is taking me out to dinner. We’ve booked an outdoor table at a lovely pub with far reaching countryside views, this means we can take Granger who has never once covered his ears with his paws while I’ve unloaded any potential plot problems on him. Fingers (and paws) crossed it doesn’t rain!

BIG thanks to everyone who as supported my Amelia Henley journey and if you’re one of the readers who have left one of the moving reviews on Amazon I really am HUGELY grateful. Some of the reviews have been so emotional they’ve moved me to tears, but I’ll leave you with this one which made me smile.

‘Adam & Anna fall in love on holiday, as you do. That’s as normal as this novel gets…’

The Life We Almost Had‘ is available all digital platforms. Download it from Amazon, iBooks, Kobo or Google. It is also an audiobook.

As well as on Amazon, you can find the paperback in Tesco, or Waterstones or support your local bookstore. Book stores are always happy to order in a title they don’t have in stock.

How I tackle edits – Novel Writing – 10 editing tips

Today I’ve received my edits for my second Amelia Henley novel which will be published next July. I admit, that I’ve been a little worried about this story. Since writing it, my debut contemporary fiction book ‘The Life We Almost Had’ has been released on eBook (it’s currently 99p) and the reviews have been STUNNING, they’ve really taken my breath away. Readers have said Adam and Anna’s unusual love story will always stay with them so Jack and Libby have A LOT to live up to next year. Thankfully my editor has called my second commercial fiction book ‘another pretty epic love story’ so that’s a relief.

Receiving feedback can be overwhelming. As authors we send off the best version of our manuscripts and hope that our editors love it and it can be easy to believe they don’t when the notes come back with suggestions of changes. I remember that prior to signing my first book deal I asked my editor, Lydia, who had made the offer what she wanted to change with my debut psychological thriller, ‘The Sister,’ I’d already turned down an agent’s offer because they wanted me to completely restructure it. Lydia assured me she loved it and in my naivety I thought that my work was done. When she returned my manuscript with track changes (which I had never seen before) I was HORRIFIED. We spoke on the phone immediately.

‘I thought you loved my story?’ I wailed.

‘I do,’ she assured me.

‘But you’ve sent it back and it’s covered in… RED.’

She explained that even though there were no major structural changes to be made there was work to be done (and then copy edits and then the proofread, and then the typesetting…) She was immensely kind and patient guiding me through the process which felt enormous.

For those early books I would read my editorial notes, cry, panic (repeat several times) and then write an email questioning everything and then cry and panic a bit more until Lydia calmed me down.

Now I know it’s essential to take time to digest the suggestions before even thinking about tackling them.

Today, I read my notes and then went for a walk to ponder them over. When I got home I opened up my manuscript in Scrivener which is where I prefer to work until the copy edit stage and I opened up my editor’s track changed Word document side by side. I copy and pasted all of her notes into Scrivener in the appropriate sections placing an XX before each one and then I stepped away. I’ll give myself 24 hours thinking space before I tackle any writing. Tomorrow I’ll do a document search for each XX and make the majority of the suggested changes before reading it through again and expanding or cutting anything else I feel needs it. If there’s anything I don’t want to change I will contact my editor and explain why and we can talk it over.

My editor, Manpreet, is fabulous. She took a chance on ‘The Life We Almost Had’ a love story with a very unusual concept and a twist and understood completely what I wanted to do with it so I trust her BUT I don’t want to rush in and chop bits out if I’m not entirely sure it’s the right thing.

Remember: –

  • Don’t panic.
  • Take some time to digest the suggestions.
  • Your editor does love your book or they wouldn’t be publishing it.
  • Everybody has a vested interest in making the story the best that it can be.
  • Writers can become too close to their characters to be objective.
  • There’s no right or wrong way to tackle edits, you’ll find your own way of working and that might change with every book.
  • If it all seems too much try writing list – everything seems more manageable with a plan.
  • Ultimately it’s your name on the cover so if you feel you don’t want to change something tell your editor why – they won’t (shouldn’t) bite.
  • The end is in sight!
  • When you can’t bear to read through your story one more time and hate the sight of it you’re probably done!

If you’ve any editing questions I’ll be chatting live on my Facebook page on Thursday 20th August at 3pm GMT about ‘The Life We Almost Had‘ but do come & ask your writing/publishing questions.

The Life We Almost Had‘ is currently 99p across all digital platforms during August. Download it from Amazon, iBooks, Kobo or Google.

You can preorder the paperback from Amazon or Waterstones or support your local bookstore. 

 

Prologue – The Life We Almost Had

I do love a prologue (and writers you can read my previous post on whether to include one in your book here).

I’m delighted to share the opening of my debut contemporary fiction novel, ‘The Life We Almost Had,’ published under the pen name ‘Amelia Henley.’ I’ve absolutely loved writing Anna and Adam’s love story with a twist. (You can find it on Amazon here for just 99p right now).

 Prologue

Seven years. It’s been seven years since that night on the beach. I had laid on the damp sand with Adam, his thumb stroking mine. Dawn smudged the sky with its pink fingers while the rising sun flung glitter across the sea. We’d faced each other curled onto our sides, our bodies speech marks, unspoken words passing hesitantly between us; an illusory dream. Don’t ever leave me, I had silently asked him. I won’t, his eyes had silently replied.

But he did.

He has.

My memories are both painful and pleasurable to recall. We were blissfully happy until gradually we weren’t. Every cross word, every hard stare, each time we turned our backs on each other in bed gathered like storm clouds hanging over us, ready to burst, drenching us with doubt and uncertainty until we questioned what we once thought was unquestionable.

Can love really be eternal?

I can answer that now because the inequitable truth is that I am hopelessly, irrevocably, lost without him.

But does he feel the same?

I turn the possibility of life without Adam over but each time I think of me without him, no longer an us, my heart breaks all over again.

If only we hadn’t…

My chest tightens.

Breathe.

Breathe, Anna. You’re okay.

It’s a lie I tell myself but gradually the horror of that day begins to dissipate with every slow inhale, with every measured exhale. It takes several minutes to calm myself. My fingers furling and unfurling, my nails biting into the tender skin of my palms until my burning sorrow subsides.

Focus.

I am running out of time. I’ve been trying to write a letter but the words won’t come. My notepaper is still stark white. My pen once again poised, ink waiting to stain the blank page with my tenuous excuses.

My secrets.

But not my lies. There’s been enough of those. Too many.

I am desperate to see him once more and make it right.

All of it.

I wish I knew what he wanted. My eyes flutter closed. I try to conjure his voice. Imagining he might tell me what to do. Past conversations echo in my mind as I search for a clue.

If you love someone, set them free. He had once told me but I brush the thought of this away. I don’t think it can apply to this awful situation we have found ourselves in. Instead I recall the feel of his body spooned around mine, warm breath on the back of my neck, promises drifting into my ear.

Forever.

I cling on to that one word as tightly as I’d once clung on to his hand.

I loved him completely. I still do. Whatever happens now, after, my heart will still belong to him.

Will always belong to him.

I must hurry if I’m going to reach him before it’s too late. There’s a tremble in my fingers as I begin the letter which will both an apology and an explanation, but it seems impossible to put it all into words – the story of us. I really don’t have time to think of the life we had – the life we almost had – but I allow myself the indulgence. Memories gather: we’re on the beach watching the sunrise; I’m introducing him to my mum – his voice shaking with nerves as he said hello; we’re meeting for the first time in that shabby bar. Out of order and back to front and more than anything I wish I could live it all again. Except that day. Never that day.

Again the vice around my lungs tightens. In my mind I see it all unfold and I feel it. I feel it all; fear, panic, despair.

Breathe, Anna.

In and out. In and out. Until I am here again, Pen gripped too tightly in my hand.

Focus.

I made a mistake.

I stare at the words I have written so intently that they jump around on the page. I’m at a loss to know how to carry on when I remember one of the first things Adam had said to me ‘start at the beginning, Anna.’

And so I do.

Speedily, the nib of my pen scratches over the paper. I let it all pour out.

This is not a typical love story, but it’s our love story.

Mine and Adam’s.

And despite that day, despite everything, I’m not yet ready for it to end.

Is he?

The Life We Almost Had‘ is currently 99p across all digital platforms during August. Download it from Amazon, iBooks, Kobo or Google.

You can preorder the paperback from Amazon or Waterstones or support your local bookstore. 

 

How do writers research? My top 10 tips!

 

One of the things that put me off writing a book for years (other than fear of failing, fear of making a fool of myself, fear of being terrible at writing and shattering my author daydreams) was the research. How did writers know all the things that went into their books? I guessed that high profile authors, perhaps had police contacts on speed dial to check out procedures but what about the rest of us? Those starting out? What happens when Google just doesn’t cut it?

Writing ‘The Sister’, I shied away from including anything I didn’t know much about which left…. very little content. I had to reach out to experts and the thought terrified me.

I remember, with clarity, the way my hands shook, palms sweated, as I made my first call to the fire department to ask for their advice (and no, I didn’t ring 999 claiming a plot emergency) tentatively explaining I was writing a book and wanted to be as accurate with the details as I could. I was told someone would call me back. Despondent I hung up, sure I’d never hear from anyone. Later that afternoon my phone rang, a man introducing himself as Chief Inspector and my heart skipped beat, certain I was about to be arrested for wasting time, but he was lovely and helped enormously. His advice changed the whole scene and he worked on the detail with me until we were both happy.

I realised then that most people are happy to talk about the things they have a passion for and knowledge of. Since ‘The Sister’ I’ve spoken to numerous people about various things – the concept of cellular memory for ‘The Gift’ (a heart retaining memories of its donor so the recipient knows things they shouldn’t…) Prospagnosia (Face Blindness) for ‘The Date’, surrogacy and law for ‘The Surrogate’, brainwashing for ‘The Family‘ and kidnapping for the forthcoming ‘The Stolen Sisters‘.

One of the most interesting things I have researched is neuroscience for my latest publication ‘The Life We Almost Had’ which is my debut contemporary fiction novel published under my pen name ‘Amelia Henley’. I’d become fascinated with consciousness and, for fun, I wanted to write a story set in current times but to expand on scientific elements for part of the plot (and yes I know this sounds vague but I don’t want to give spoilers).

I called up Magdalen College in Oxford and explained what I was doing and they invited me to sit in on some lecturers. I met some of the world’s leading experts in their field and I found it so enjoyable so much so that I’ve been looking into formally studying science in some capacity.

There’s a danger, when authors research, that they want to put everything they’ve learned into the story because they’ve spent so much time learning and because they’ve found everything so interesting and this is something I definitely had to bear in mind with ‘The Life We Almost Had.’ At it’s heart, it’s a sweeping love story and I often found myself cutting out technical explanations that I knew some readers would find boring, and getting back to Adam and Anna’s tangled relationship.

Writing ‘The Life We Almost Had‘ took me to Lanzarote where much of the story is based. Research trips are great fun sometimes so much so I forget to do the actual research…

Here are my top tips for researching: –

  • Take the time to choose who you think can best help you carefully, for instance there are many different types of lawyers, doctors etc.
  • Approach people respectfully – I never ask questions in my initial email but rather ask if they’d be willing to answer questions and I let them know roughly how many or how much time I think I’d need for a phone chat.
  • Don’t fire off the same email to dozens of people asking for help and waste people time if they all reply.
  • Plan ahead so you can continue writing while you wait for a response. Appreciate people are busy and they might not get back to you straight away.
  • Also make sure you have your questions ready before you ask for help. For the book I’m currently writing I emailed a charity, assuming that because of the pandemic they might not have the time or staff to get back to me at all and they called me five minutes later and I wasn’t prepared!
  • Don’t include everything you’ve learned however interesting, ask yourself ‘does the reader need to know this and does it move the plot forward’.
  • Blogs are a great place to find people who want to talk. I found many transplant patients this way who were happy to share their experiences with me.
  • Remember that although books are entertainment as a writer you are dealing with experiences that people have lived through. Be kind. Be sensitive.
  • Don’t assume everyone wants to be in the acknowledgements. After someone had helped me I mentioned in passing I’d thank them at the end of the book and they asked me not to as they didn’t want their boss to know they’d divulged information.
  • It’s okay to take artistic license to suit the story but I always state in my acknowledgements if I’ve done this (in ‘The life We Almost Had’ I credit a neuroscientist but mention I’ve had to progress science to fit my story.)

The Life We Almost Had‘ is currently 99p across all digital platforms during August. Download it from Amazon, iBooks, Kobo or Google.

You can preorder the paperback from Amazon or Waterstones or support your local bookstore. 

Find my psychological thrillers on Amazon here.

All books are available as ebooks, audiobooks and paperbacks.

The Life We Almost Had – COVER REVEAL & NEWS

 

The cover reveal is one of the most exciting parts of publishing a book. Today, I’m revealing my new cover during these strange new times we have found ourselves in, not with my usual excitement, but nevertheless, I’m pleased to show you my beautiful cover for ‘The Life We Almost Had.’ (BIG shout out here not just to my publishers, but to ALL publishers for working so hard to still get books out there during challenging circumstances. Now, more than ever, we need the escapism that stories can bring).

‘The Life We Almost Had’ is being released under my pen name Amelia Henley and is a bit of a mixed genre, but at its heart it’s a love story. HQ are billing it as ‘the most romantic book you’ll read this year.’ This weekend the first three readers have read it (one man and two women) and ALL have cried. ‘Unusual and compelling’ ‘Beautifully heartwrenching’ ‘Such a strong story of courage, loyalty and hope’ is some of the feedback I have received so far.

The story of Anna and Adam which is partly set on a Spanish Island based on Lanzarote asks – How far will you go for a second chance at first love? The book club questions at the back of the novel will lead to some pretty interesting discussions (from a safe distance) around morality I hope.

It’s available to pre-order in the UK now via Amazon, iBooks, Google Books, Kobo or Waterstones and will be published on 23rd July in the UK with details of the US publication date to follow. Please also do support your local indie bookshops. Many are happy to take orders and post them out even if they aren’t physically open at the moment. In these incredibly testing times where many authors are currently unable to write due to homeschooling their children, and publishers are finding themselves with closed offices, printers, suppliers and retailers please do support the publishing industry so we can keep putting stories into the hands of readers.

Here’s the blurb: –

This is not a typical love story, but it’s our love story.

Anna wasn’t looking for love when Adam swept her off her feet but there was no denying their connection, and she believed they would be together forever.

Years later, cracks have appeared in their relationship. Anna is questioning whether their love can really be eternal when a cruel twist of fate delivers a crushing blow, and Anna and Adam are completely lost to one another. Now, Anna needs Adam more than ever, but the way back to him has life-changing consequences.
 
Is a second chance at first love really worth the sacrifice? Anna needs to decide and time is running out…

For book reviewers and bloggers, The Life We Almost Had will be available to request on Netgalley this week. Please do bear in mind that NetGalley requests might take a little more time than usual to be granted right now. Everyone is doing the best they can to keep things running smoothly.

Soon I’ll be sharing a little more about why I wrote this story, what it means to me and the details of the online launch where there will be giveaways. In the meantime, take care.

Amelia/Louise X

 

 

Love your libraries – authors campaign against closures #amreading

I’ve banded together with other local authors to voice our distress at the planned closure of potentially 21 libraries in our county. The letter (featured below) has featured in this evening’s paper ((you can read the full article here) and the fabulous Sue Bentley spoke out at the recent meeting discussing these cuts. Support Option 4 here – Save our Libraries. Every voice counts. 

 

To Northants County Council

Re: The proposed closures of Northamptonshire libraries

We are all authors who live in Northamptonshire. We decided to get together and write to you with our thoughts about the proposed cuts to the library service in our county.

We all oppose any cuts to the service. We grew up using libraries. The free access to books was pivotal in our formative years and we collectively believe it was instrumental in our careers – the love of the written word, formed in our childhoods, shaped us as people and as the writers we all went on to become. Some of us are from impoverished backgrounds: Louise Walters remembers using the mobile library when it visited her remote Northamptonshire village. Louise rarely bought books, and those she did buy were usually from jumble sales, so the library was essential. Rhian Ivory grew up in a village in Wales, too small for a library, so she and her family relied on the mobile library service, and it was a positive and unique experience. As author Sue Moorcroft points out, we should never take it for granted that people are able to buy books, even second hand. In this era of “austerity” any book purchases are out of the question for many. The library is for some their ONLY way of accessing books.

From a wider perspective, times have changed, and these days libraries are much more than shelves of books. They have become a vital hub in their communities. From the Sure Start centres, to IT training, to rhyme time, to reading groups, to information about all kinds of services – our Northamptonshire communities benefit in so many ways from having in their midst functioning, local authority run libraries. As Jane Isaac points out, libraries bring people together, and that is particularly important in remote areas where bus services have been cut or are non-existent. Mark West asks, what happens to the kid who has to do his homework online (because that’s how the teacher has set it) and yet has no access to the internet at home? What about the person who needs to fill in an online application form in the same circumstance? What about older people, perhaps afraid or unsure of modern
technology, who want to keep up with their families online?

Those of us with children all cite the library as a welcome resource, somewhere to take the children, to meet other parents, and to tap into services such as the Sure Start centres. Louise Jensen says that going to the library with her sons was often the only time she got to interact with other adults and meet other parents. The educational opportunities found in a library are valuable, and adults and children alike use libraries not only for entertainment, but also for research and discovery, and for help with projects and homework. Louise Walters home educates her children and the local library is an essential resource for home educators, who have no access to school libraries.

We as a group cannot support any of the three “options” proffered by the Council. They all involve the closure of at least twenty-one small libraries and the withdrawal of the mobile library. As Sue Bentley says, public libraries are a vital part of our cultural heritage, a rich resource for everyone. They are also, of course, that rare and precious thing – a public space where people can spend time without the expectation of also spending money. The closure of its library would be a severe blow to any community, impoverishing the whole area in so many ways.

We therefore support “Option 4”, which is to keep all of Northamptonshire’s existing libraries fully operational and fully funded, and all to remain the responsibility of the Council.

Yours sincerely,

Sue Bentleyhttp://www.suebentley.co.uk: Sue Bentley is Northampton born and bred. She is the worldwide best-selling author of over 70 books for children, YA and adults.

Jane Isaachttp://www.janeisaac.co.uk: Bestselling author of the DI Will Jackman series.

Rhian Ivoryhttps://twitter.com/Rhian_Ivory: Carnegie nominated author of The Boy who Drew the Future, bestselling YA novel, Hope and regular user of Towcester library and lifelong supporter of libraries.

Louise Jensenhttp://www.louisejensen.co.uk: International No. 1 bestselling author of psychological thrillers The Sister, The Gift and The Surrogate. Lover of libraries.

Sue Moorcrofthttp://www.suemoorcroft.com: Sunday Times and UK Kindle bestselling author; published by HarperCollins and major publishers around the world. Supporter of libraries.

Louise Waltershttp://www.louisewaltersbooks.co.uk: Author of Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase, published in 15 languages. Independent publisher. Regular user of the mobile, Brackley and Middleton Cheney libraries.

Mark West –www.markwest.org.uk: Award-nominated horror and thriller writer. Lifelong supporter of the library.