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.)

A second chance at novel writing – What would you wish for?

In my debut love story with a twist, Adam and Anna can’t envisage life without each other but the universe has entirely different plans for them. After a tragedy forces them apart they long to be together once more and fix their damaged relationship. ‘The Life We Almost Had’ is a story of hope, regret, courage and loyalty and explores the immeasurable lengths the couple will go to for a second chance at first love, even when the consequences of finding each other once more are potentially life shattering. This is not a typical love story but sometimes, just sometimes, the seemingly impossible can become possible in the most unexpected way.

Publishing this book is a dream come. As a child I longed to be an author. I was obsessed with mysteries, devouring Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven books, writing my own series called ‘The Fantastic Five’ (**not copied at all**) and illustrating them with stick men drawings. It was when I read Little Women though that my vague hope to be published transmuted into a fierce desire. I wanted to take readers through the spectrum of emotions I had felt when reading Louisa May Alcott’s classic. I wanted readers to root for my characters, to celebrate their highs but more than any of that, I wanted to make them cry. My reviews so far have been stunning. Readers have really fallen for Adam and Anna in a big way, loving them as much as I do, and have thankfully been fascinated by the unusual concept.

It almost didn’t happen.

I remember with clarity, sitting in front of my careers advisor at school, holding out my dreams, hoping she’d help me make them come true.

She didn’t, and worse than that she laughed. People like me didn’t become writers apparently. I had no higher education. No contacts in publishing. It would be impossible for me to break into the world I longed to be part of and even if I did, she told me I would never be able to earn a living from it.

I carried my shattered dreams and my shattered heart outside and although I didn’t initially just give up, I was at a loss to know how to fulfil my ambition. There wasn’t the internet then to research the steps I could take. I asked in libraries, bookshops, colleges. I did everything I could… except actually write a book which seemed fruitless.

It was over twenty years later that my life changed in an instant. A car accident exacerbated a pre-existing health condition, as well as causing new damage, and I could no longer weight bear, reliant on a wheelchair and crutches to move around. Chronic pain was my constant companion and it didn’t take long for clinical depression to set in too. As well as losing my mobility I lost my identity, I wasn’t sure who I was, what I could do. I had spent years building a career which had fallen apart.

It was my spinal consultant who suggested I get a hobby. Try to forge a new life. Initially I couldn’t think of what I could do, my previous pastimes of horse riding and running no longer possible but then I remembered how much I used to love writing and tentatively I put pen to paper.

Writing Adam and Anna has been cathartic. It’s a hugely emotional story and through the characters, I’ve worked through many of my own complicated feelings – letting go of the life I almost had, and embracing the one I have.

My mobility will never be the same as it was, second chances sometimes come at a price, as Adam and Anna discover during the story, but I’m so glad I got one, being a full time author really is a dream come true.

If you could have a second chance at something, what would it be?

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

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.

Drinking – 100 Word Flash Fiction

Photo prompt © Ronda Del Boccio

My heart sinks.

He’s been drinking again.

This I know from the flash of anger in his eyes, the purposeful way he strides towards me. My knees tremble as I stand my ground. Last time he threw my favourite ornament at me and it shattered as it hit my head. It left a scar.

I still love him.

He never drinks at home.

He’s been with her.

She enables him.

She loves him too.

But I wish my mother would stop giving my two-year-old orange squash.

He can’t cope with the additives.

I can’t cope with his personality change.

 

It’s been months since I last took part in Friday Fictioneers. I’ve been so busy launching my 5th psychological thriller ‘The Family‘ but thought I’d join in the fun again today before I get stuck into the structural edit for next year’s release ‘The Stolen Sisters.’

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly 100-word flash fiction challenge inspired by a photo prompt and hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. Read the other entries and/or submit your own story here

The Claw #FlashFiction

Image courtesy of Yarnspinner

 

The claw lowered, closed its metal fingers. Slow jerky movements until the bear tumbled out of the machine, into my arms.

‘Hey gorgeous.’ He winked. I’d been called fat, ugly, stupid. Never gorgeous!

‘Can I buy you some chips?’

‘I should tell my parents.’ My eyes darted around the arcade.

‘You’re a big girl now.’

It was my lucky day.

Outside in the alley, drizzle hit my face moments before his fist. The bear wrenched from my arms. His stomach knifed open. A plastic bag removed. I curled into a ball on the hard stone floor.

I didn’t feel so lucky anymore.

 

This week I’m reading through the final typeset files for The Date – I can’t believe it will be published in a few weeks! If you missed the gorgeous cover you can check it out here

The Claw’ was written for Friday Fictioneers. A weekly 100 word story challenge inspired by a photo prompt and led by the marvellous Rochelle.

It’s the thought…#FlashFiction

Image courtesy of Sandra Crook

 

‘What is it?’ Disappointment drips through every word and my heart cracks a little more. I’ve got it wrong. Again.

She reaches for her phone to plaster my failure over Facebook no doubt.

‘It’s a symbol of love.’ I take her hand in mine. ‘The circle represents something that has no end. The gold emblem because you’re precious and the point is…’ My eyes sweep the room, settling on the book of Everest in the bookcase. ‘A promise there’s no mountain we can’t overcome,’ I kiss her palm. ‘Together.’

‘Oh I LOVE it.’ Her fingertips slip into the waistband of my jeans while I desperately hope she never finds the packaging for the revolutionary new cleaning appliance designed to make her life easier.

It’s the thought that counts.

 

For those of you who missed it on my blog last week I was chatting to Harper Collins author Darren O’Sullivan about positivity, gratitude and whether you really can visualise your way onto the bestsellers list. I believe so. You can catch up with that here

I make no apologies for going a tad over the word count this week because it’s Christmas! ‘It’s the thought’ was written for Friday Fictioneers. A weekly 100 word story challenge inspired by a photo prompt hosted by the fabulous Rochelle. Wishing everyone a very happy festive season and huge thanks to Rochelle for all her hard work this year keeping us going!

15 minutes – #flashfiction

Image courtesy of J Hardy Carroll

 

 

The camera flashes are as dazzling as my smile. Angling my body, I suck in my stomach. All I ever wanted was to be famous.

‘Silly cow.’ You slammed your fist into my face. ‘Ain’t nobody never gonna wanna look at you.’

But you were wrong, weren’t you?

‘How are you going to plead?’ I am asked again. Already the papers are calling me Sleeping Beauty. I’d stabbed you while sleepwalking – allegedly anyhow. Now everyone knows my name. My solicitor says he’ll line up talk shows once I’m acquitted.

I push out my chest as I’m led into the court. It’s my time to shine.

 

I am ridiculously excited that tomorrow is paperback publication day for The Gift in the UK! I can’t wait to visit the bookshops & supermarkets & see my second psychological thriller on a shelf. Tesco have an exclusive edition with a short story in I’ve written especially for their customers. Don’t think I’ll be getting much sleep tonight!

’15 minutes’ was written for Friday Fictioneers. A weekly 100 word story challenge inspired by a photo prompt. Hop over to host Rochelle’s blog to join in. 

Daylight Fading – #FlashFiction

Image courtesy of J Hardy Carroll

Shadows loom from all corners of my room as daylight fades like hope. Insects scratch-scratch-scratch, scuttling under my creaky metal bed frame. I’m trapped in a spider web of shattered memories.

Fluttering. A moth. Gossamer wings translucent in the moonlight. Fragile. We’re all so fragile. Easily broken. I should know.

Footsteps thud outside my door.

‘This place is so cool.’ The excitement in the boy’s voice is palpable. ‘Are you sure it’s deserted?’

‘No-one’s lived here for years.’

‘I’m here,’ I scream. But they don’t hear me. No-one ever does.

Oh that scratching. The endless scratching.

Help me. Please.

 

I had SUCH a great publication day yesterday for my third novel, The Surrogate which you can find over on Amazon here. Yesterday evening I took part in a live Facebook chat with Kim Nash, the publicist of Bookouture, which you can now view here if you missed it. We chatted about the writing process, how I approach novel writing, editing and getting published. Of course I gave Friday Fictioneers a plug as it’s often the highlight of my week. 

‘Daylight Fading’ was written for Friday Fictioneers. A weekly 100 word flash fiction challenge inspired by a photo prompt. Do join in over at Rochelle’s blog here

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.

Flash Fiction – We stand together

Image © J Hardy Carroll

 

My feet crunch on broken glass, tears rising quickly.

‘Why…’ I begin, but the choke in my throat holds back the rest of my words.

Afternoon sunshine streams through the window, the upended tables and chairs brushed bronze, shards of glass glint gold.

The air is heavy with dust. With loss. But underneath there is something else. Love. We fall silently into our roles, a human chain, stronger together, clearing out the rubble. At first I think nothing is salvageable but then I realise there is. Amongst the splinters of wood, the twisted metal, it is there. A tiny kernel of hope.

We stand together.

 

‘We stand together’ was written for Friday Fictioneers. A weekly 100 word story challenge inspired by a photo prompt. This week’s prompt is topical as we all try to make sense of the senseless. My heartfelt condolences for everyone affected by the atrocities in Manchester.

Join in with the challenge over at host Rochelle’s blog here.

Flash Fiction – Hope

crook3

Image courtesy of Sandra Crook

 

Dampness seeps through a hole in my shoe as I trudge one exhausted foot in front of the other. There’s no-one to rush home for.

I’m so tired.

On the bridge I pause, staring down into the crashing water below. Would anyone miss me?

I’m so lonely.

A soft mewling breaks my thoughts. A wriggling sack next to the railings. I tug it open and lift out a shivering kitten, bones protruding. He licks my hand. My heart swells. It’s been a long time since I felt needed.

“I’ll call you hope.” I whisper as I tuck him inside my coat.

 

I thought nothing could top 2016 professionally but appearing on TV last night, albeit briefly, to talk about writing, being published & mindfulness was such a great experience and an amazing start to the year. You can watch the 3 minute clip here. Or read my blog piece about it here

Hope was written for Friday Fictioneers. A weekly 100 word story challenge inspired by a photo prompt. You can join in and read the other entries over at Rochelle’s blog here