Choosing the right location for a novel – writing

An important decision any writer needs to make is where to set your novels. The right location can really highlight the genre and set the mood. There are advantages of using a genuine place; readers who are familiar with it can instantly place themselves in the location, and disadvantages; landscapes can change so quickly and if you get any of the details wrong this can be jarring.

For my early novels where locations didn’t matter to the story so I kept things deliberately vague, never naming a town or stating exactly where it was supposed to be. Name generators on Google were my friend although this almost backfired once after naming a village ‘Therinsborough’. My editor immediately flagged this with a ‘Didn’t you ever watch Neighbours, this sounds very close to Erinsborough, Louise….’

My latest two novels however, are a little different. For my forthcoming psychological thriller, ‘The Stolen Sisters’ I use the location where the Sinclair Sisters, Leah, Marie and Carly, are taken and held captive almost as another character. The description of the abandoned site where they are held adds another chilling layer to their story and really creates a dark atmosphere. To find the perfect location, I spent hours trawling through urban explorer sites and watching YouTube videos until I stumbled across the perfect place. Here I could envisage these three young sisters huddled together, cold and scared, but also telling stories and making up games to support each other through their ordeal. The stark, cold, decay of their rooms contrasting with the warmth of their loving relationship which shines through the pages. I’ll be sharing these real life photos closer to the 1st October publication.The idea for my debut contemporary fiction novel, ‘The Life We Almost Had’ came to me in Lanzarote. I was gazing out to sea and, in my imagination, I saw a shocking scene play out before my eyes, like a movie. Instantly I knew I had to write the unusual story I had imagined.I wanted to base the novel on Lanzarote but as this love story has a futuristic element I needed to build a Scientific Research Centre on the north of the island and so I renamed my island Alircia (although I still secretly call it Lanzarote). I use the blue skies and sparkling seas to paint a warm and loving picture. We’re with the couple as they fall in love and visit the tourist attractions that I also visited – (using a real location has the added bonus of research trips!) – the house of writer Jose Saramago, the lava caves, Jameos del Aguo, the markets and of course, the place where the story circles back to, the beautiful cove at Playa Blanca where couples fasten lovelocks.I was so utterly invested in Anna and Adam’s love story with a twist that I bought them a lovelock even before I had even put pen to paper.When Anna and Adam return to the UK things get drab and bleak, much like the weather. Life throws them on to an unexpected path. Both keeping secrets, they return to their beloved Alircia to try to fix their fractured relationship but a tragedy forces them apart. Will they take the ultimate risk for a second chance at their love.You’ll have to read the book to find out!

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. 

Pre-order ‘The Stolen Sisters’ here.

Both books are available as ebooks, audiobooks and paperbacks.

 

 

6 years writing – 10 books written – here’s what I’ve learned

 

Six years ago this month, following a drastic change in health circumstances, which had led to years of chronic pain, and clinical depression I knew for the sake of my mental health I needed to find a hobby. With limited mobility, there wasn’t much I could think of but then I remembered how much I’d loved writing as a child, how I’d had a burning desire to become an author until I was told at secondary school this wouldn’t be a viable career option.

I decided to try writing a short story.  Two characters came to mind, Grace and Charlie, lifelong best friends. The story begins with Grace digging up a memory box that the girls had buried several years before on Grace’s sixteenth birthday. Grace hopes to the box might contain a clue to explain Charlie’s last words before her mysterious disappearance – “I’ve done something terrible, please forgive me.”

My short story soon became 90k words of a (terrible at that stage) novel but I’d fallen in love with the girls, with their story of friendship and loyalty and courage and I rewrote and rewrote until it was ready to submit. I’m eternally grateful a publisher took a chance on my psychological thriller – The Sister – and turned my hobby into a full-time career.

Now, just six years on I am writing my tenth book. (Five have been published, two are due for publication this year and two for next year and I’m working on something new). I’ve sold well over a million copies, been translated into twenty-five languages, and although I can’t, of course, speak for every writer I wanted to share my opinions on some of the things I have learned along the way.

1)        Write the book you’d love to read. It’s so tempting to try and follow market trends and write a book you think has more of a shot of being published. Don’t. Market trends change so quickly you’ll always miss the boat. You spend such a long time with a manuscript I think if you’re writing something you genuinely love and are passionate about it shines through the finished product. Although my thrillers have been hugely successful I’ve also started writing high concept contemporary fiction in a different genre under the pen name ‘Amelia Henley‘ because I had a story in my heart I couldn’t let go. (You can read more about writing the story you want to rather than the story you should in a previous post, here)

2)        Don’t follow the rules. They are endless and who made them up anyway? Use common sense – if you write a 300k word romance it’s unlikely to be published but don’t be afraid to trust your gut. Prologues, for example, are often the source of much debate and I wrote a recent post on my opinion, which you can read here.

3)        Don’t compare yourself to others. This. Is. Soul. Destroying. (Not just in writing but in every aspect of life). There are always going to be people you aspire to and that’s a good thing but constantly comparing yourself to others is stressful and nothing stifles creativity like stress. The writer that’s shouting about a new deal on social media – be happy for them – your time will come and you don’t know what they are dealing with in their personal life. Rarely are things as glittery and shiny as they appear online. The writer that’s written 5k words today and is SO HAPPY – doesn’t affect your progress at all, it only changes the way you feel about it. Most writers I know write far quicker than me but it doesn’t matter. I write, on average 1000 words a day but I edit as I go (see No. 2 – I don’t follow rules) and am generally very satisfied with the quality I produce. Every word builds a sentence, every sentence a scene, every scene a chapter, and then, eventually, you’ll have a book. It isn’t a race.

4)        You won’t run out of ideas. This used to terrify me ALL OF THE TIME. I’d see writers online (and back to number 3 here) and worry that they have notebooks full of ideas and I had one – ONE – that I’d be working on. So far, when I’m coming to the end of a first draft, or shortly after, another idea will start to brew but until then I have no idea what I’ll write next. My brain can’t seem to cope with thinking of more than one thing at once and that’s okay. Ideas will come when you least expect it. (Read my previous post on ‘Where do ideas come from’ here.)

5)        Don’t force the words to come. We hear much in the writing rules (see no. 2) about how writing should be a ‘discipline’ and we ‘must’ write every day. To me this sounds like a punishment and writing above all else should be enjoyable. It is important to try and form a routine and not to wait until inspiration strikes (spoiler – it doesn’t always strike) but sometimes forcing yourself to sit in front of a blank page is demoralising. If I’m stuck on a plot point I step away from my computer. I go for a swim and 99% of the time the words will begin to flow again once I’ve had a break.

6)        Don’t sweat the small stuff. Punctuation and grammar. Here’s my confession (whispers) I don’t know what an abstract noun is or a concrete noun is or why I shouldn’t use them together. This was one of the first things a copy editor pointed out I was doing wrong. I’m still not entirely sure. I try hard with my drafts, I chuck the odd semi-colon in to prove I’ve made an effort but I get things wrong as we all do. It makes me sad when I receive emails from people telling me they want to write but they can’t because they are dyslexic or feel they are too uneducated and can’t get to grips with grammar and punctuation. Of course, polish your manuscript as much as you can but the MOST important thing is you have a good story to tell with strong characters. There are proofreaders, copy editors, beta readers, even friends and family who can help iron out any niggles. Don’t let worry about the final touches to a manuscript put you off writing one.

7)        Don’t become obsessed with the charts. If you’ve published a book it’s so tempting to be constantly hitting the refresh button to see where you chart on Amazon. Don’t.  Become. Obsessed. The Amazon charts are a complicated beast comprising of Kindle Unlimited, Prime Reading, Kindle Firsts etc. which all count towards chart positions so a high chart position doesn’t always necessarily equate to straightforward sales. Remember, stress stifles creativity.

8)        You can’t please every reader. If you’ve got a book out there you’re going to be tempted at some stage to read reviews and it’s human nature that you’ll gloss over the good ones and the bad ones will lodge in your mind. My debut, The Sister very quickly sold over half a million copies and I read every single review and tried to please every single one of those reviewers while I was writing my second book – The Gift. I sped up the pace, slowed down the pace, put in more twists, reduced the number of twists, tied myself in knots. You just… can’t.

9)        Celebrate EVERY LITTLE success. This is SO IMPORTANT. Remember, that writer on social media who is having the Best. Time. Ever. They’ve had knockbacks too. We all have. It’s an industry of unavoidable lows, which makes it even more important to appreciate every single good thing that happens. Those successes will keep you going through the inevitable low times and throughout those low times never lose hope. Things can turn around when you least expect it.

10)      Don’t be embarrassed to call yourself a writer. Don’t be ashamed to want to make a living out of it. This is something I struggled with enormously for a very long time. Looking at my shoes and mumbling vaguely whenever anyone asked what I did for a living. Be proud. Don’t use the term ‘aspiring writer’ if you write, you’re a writer. Also there’s a weird thing (and I’ve been guilty of it myself) where some writers feel they have to say they write for the love of it and not for financial recompense and while you do have to love writing to write there’s nothing wrong with ambition. I have a mortgage to pay and children to feed and this is how I chose to do it. You can read about the moment I finally felt like a ‘real’ writer here.

My latest psychological thriller – The Family – is currently 99p across all UK digital platforms. Download a copy from Amazon here (back to paying my mortgage and feeding my children…)

Thank you!

 

 

Lockdown – How my reading & writing habits have changed – #AuthorLife

Laura & Tilly are confined to their cult

My latest thriller is called ‘The Family’. It’s the story of Laura and her daughter, Tilly, who are indoctrinated into a cult. It’s set in a remote part of Wales and at the time of writing I had to rely on my imagination to put myself inside the heads of Laura and Tilly. How might they feel to lose their freedom, almost overnight? To be confined to the farmhouse and the surrounding land the cult reside in? To be forced to spend each and every day with exactly the same people? I crafted my story with the sense of feeling trapped, of claustrophobia.

Laura’s and Tilly’s tale, as well as being terrifying is also an emotional one so every now and then I’d step away from my computer and out into the bright sunshine. Meet friends for lunch. Go for a swim. Before returning to Laura and Tilly who were still trapped in the same place, with the same people.

Now of course, in these unsettling and uncertain times we live in it isn’t too much of a stretch to empathise with Laura and Tilly. To feel what they are feeling, and as someone who suffers with acute anxiety these feelings are both uncomfortable and unwelcome.

At the start of lockdown I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t read. I certainly couldn’t write.  At best I felt a constant low-level anxiety: scared for my family and friends; daunted by homeschooling; worried about our income, a shortage of food; the list was endless: at worst I felt a heavy dread which rendered me unable to focus.

Like everyone, I have been through tough times before so I did what I always do, increased my mindfulness practice. Meditating three times a day instead of once. Writing in my gratitude journal each morning and night instead of solely before bed, and gradually my tumultuous emotions began to settle.

I began to read again, choosing, not one of the many proof thrillers I am sent, but carefully selecting something that wouldn’t feel like work. I picked Louise Hare’s ‘This Lovely City,’ and for the first time, in a long time, my reading mojo came back. I lost myself in her story, her characters and for a while, I was able to forget, and that’s what a good book can do – transport you somewhere else entirely. Now I’ve started Tom Ellen’s ‘All About Us,’ which I’m equally enjoying.

My cosy reading corner in my study

I itched to write again, but what? I am waiting for my edits for my thriller which is publishing next year and also for my second contemporary fiction story written under the pen name ‘Amelia Henley.

My desk is (mostly) tidy…

The logical part of me knew I should write another thriller. Until my debut contemporary fiction book ‘The Life We Almost Had’ is released in July I don’t know whether there will be a market for future Amelia Henley books but as always, I had to follow my heart and write the story I’d loved to read. A story, as my Amelia Henley stories are, about love and relationships. I began penning the lives of siblings Charlie, Nina and Duke and their complex and complicated relationship. Whether this book will ever find its way into the hands of readers I don’t know but I’m loving writing it and finding that chink of happiness is so important right now.

Later in the year I’ll begin a new thriller, I’ve had a character in my mind for the past couple of years. I feel so extraordinarily blessed I can create worlds to escape to.

Have your reading habits changed and how are you occupying your time? Do let me know in the comments below.

The Family’ is currently part of the UK Kindle Monthly Deal – download a copy today for just 0.99p.

The Family‘ will be published in the US on June 9th – you can preorder it here. I’m loving the fabulous cover Grand Central Publishing have designed!

My chilling US cover

An evening with Louise Doughty (this is how she writes) & a return to prison?

 

Last night I was fortunate enough to be invited to a private event hosted by Laura Devine Solicitors (I first met Laura in prison but more of that later) which featured Louise Doughty speaking about her new book, Platform Seven, as well as raising money for The National Literary Trust.

Before I continue I’ll say I was saddened and shocked by the statistics quoted by Fiona Evans who was there representing The National Literary Trust relating to the reading ability of our children. SHOCKED. You can read more about their fabulous work and how you can help here.

Fiona introduced Louise and I settled back with a glass of wine and the most delicious canapés I’ve ever eaten, eager to find out how she approaches novel writing, nine novels in (9!!).

Firstly, Louise publishes a book roughly once every three years but she’s still hard at work in the period between each publication. Currently on a book tour for Platform Seven, she admits that sometimes she wakes up and wonders what city she’s in. The work promoting each book, plus other projects such as her involvement in the TV adaptation of her novel, Apple Tree Yard, has kept her busy but she also spends a lot of time researching each novel before she begins writing. With Platform 7 she spent the night on Peterborough station to see how it felt. Grim, I should imagine.

The thing that interested me most was the way Louise spoke about planning a novel and, being permanently obsessed with how other authors approach the first draft, I did grill her about this afterward, topping her glass up with wine, hoping she’d become so relaxed (drunk) she’d give me the magic formula. But of course, there isn’t one.

Louise says she starts with a rough idea of what the book might be about and makes notes (and like me she can never later read her own handwriting) but for her, the story is all about character. She explained that she feels if she outlined her stories before she began writing them they wouldn’t have that authentic feel. In her (vast) experience she believes that if characters are written to act a certain way to fit a planned plot then the characters may not feel realistic. She cares about the characters she writes, and for her, she lets them lead the way through the story as they naturally evolve. She told me, ‘If I didn’t care about my characters, if they were behaving in a way that didn’t suit the people they had become as the novel progressed, just to suit the story, why would readers care about them?’

Using the character first, plot second approach eventually leads Louise to a point in her book where she has key scenes and chapters and research to use and then she lays it all out before her, and pieces it together like a jigsaw.

This is a method that clearly works for her with her huge success.

Later on that evening, I found myself catching up with Neil Barclay, the librarian of HMP Thameside. I first met him when I eventually visited the prison’s book club after declining his invitation to visit many times due to The Fear, you can read about my visit here.

He’d been following my career since with interest and asked me lots of questions about past and future books. He also asked if I’d go back and teach some creative writing workshops in the prison.

‘You’ve changed.’ He told me pointing out that before I was hesitant in talking about writing, not convinced I was a ‘real’ author. Not sure I had anything valuable to say. I’m still not sure I have anything valuable to say BUT events like last night help me to grow in confidence.

Louise Doughty’s approach to writing the first draft is very different from the approach Sarah Pinborough takes which I learned about last week during an event we did together – you can read about Sarah’s approach here.

Each time I listen to another author, my layers of self-doubt shrink a little. I’m not doing it all wrong. There is no wrong. As writers, it’s trial and error to find the right process for us and that may process may change day-to-day, book-to-book, and that’s okay.

Knowing this, understanding this gives me confidence in the way I work but it doesn’t stop my curiosity into how authors write.  It’s something I will also find fascinating.

Thanks to the always inspirational Laura Devine and her amazing team who are such an incredible support to the literary world and charitable works.

 

 

A FABULOUS giveaway & FREE event for readers & writers

 

Hello

It’s been such a busy time with last week’s publication of The Family (you can read about the launch here & the behind the scenes at the audio book recording here) but I wanted to touch base and let you know of a FABULOUS competition and some events.

Firstly, thank you to everyone who has bought, reviewed, recommended and shared news of The Family. It really is very appreciated. It’s wonderful to see it out in the world and it’s already hit the UK top 40 on Amazon, No. 2 on Kobo and the Top Ten on iBooks.

I am thrilled that Fern Britton has chosen The Family for her October Book Club pick in conjunction with Tesco and even more excited when Fern tweeted to say how much she loved my book! You can currently find an exclusive edition of The Family in every branch of Tesco which includes an interview between Fern & I, along with some additional book club questions that aren’t in the main edition. All this for a bargain price of £3. You can also currently find the paperback in Sainsburys and all good bookshops (if they don’t stock it they can order it in) and it will be in Asda from mid-December.

The Family has been getting some great endorsements from the press: The Guardian have chosen it for their best crime picks selection calling it “A good study of vulnerability.” Woman’s Weekly have said it’s “Twisted & Suspenseful.” And Heat billed it as “A gripping psychological thriller.”

Are they right? You can find out for yourself for just 99p for the eBook for a limited time via Amazon, iBooks, Kobo and Google Books. If you’ve already read and enjoyed The Family and have time to pop a quick review on one of the platforms it really would be HUGELY appreciated.

Now, if you’re an avid reader or writer you can catch me at a few events this month.

On 23rd October I’ll be at the gorgeous Oundle Bookshop, Nr Peterborough with fellow psychological crime writer Darren O’Sullivan. We’ll there between 17.00-19.30 speaking about how we write and publish and answering your questions. Drinks and nibbles are provided. This is a free event. Darren and I are such good friends we always have such a good time at our talks and laugh A LOT. Do come and join us.

On 24th October at 6pm I’ll be at Waterstones in Silbury Arcade, Milton Keynes, in conversation with Sunday Times Bestseller Sarah Pinborough about the art of writing twists and tension. Entry is £3 on the night but you get that back if you buy one of mine or Sarah’s books on the night.

If you can’t get along to an event I’ll be doing a Facebook Live chat via the super friendly The Fiction Cafe Book Club group on Facebook on Sunday 20th October at 8pm. As well as talking about writing and answering your questions there’ll be a giveaway. Pop along beforehand and join the group here if you’re not already a member and post any questions you have or you can ask me live on the night.

Lastly, to celebrate the publication of The Family, Good Housekeeping Magazine are giving away a free spa day for two worth £230, along with ten copies of my paperback. You can enter the competition here.

Good luck with your entry!

Louise x

The Family – Amazon, iBooks, Kobo and Google Books.