It’s that exciting, anxiety inducing time when I’m beginning a new book. This is ALWAYS where I panic, feel I can NEVER write another novel again and procrastinate wherever I can. So, to keep me on track I’d love it if you would join me on my journey this time via my new series, ‘A Writer’s Life’.
Subscribe to my blog so you don’t miss monthly (ish) updates on my progress as well as insights into a writer’s life, what I’m reading, the challenges I’m facing and any special offers running on my books. (This month, for 99p, UK readers can download ‘my latest release, ‘The Stolen Sisters‘ and ‘The Gift‘ via these Amazon links).
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If there’s any part of the writing/publishing process you’re particularly interested in, do drop a comment below and I’ll make sure I cover it as best I can.
Today I’m delighted to welcome Callie Hill onto my blog. I had the pleasure of mentoring Callie through the Womentoring Project and she’s a super talented writer as well as a lovely person. I’m so proud of everything she has achieved since, degrees are such hard work, and now she’s published her first short story collection. I’ll hand over to Callie to share how and why she writes.
Like many readers, books and stories feel like a magical world I can escape to. No matter what kind of story, I’m always intrigued as to the initial spark that inspired the writer, and how that spark ignited into the words on the page. This is what gave me the idea for how I’ve structured my collection of linked short stories, The Story Collector. Although each story can be read individually, the collection follows a writer, Colin, as he goes about his everyday life, collecting snapshots of inspiration for his stories. The characters are all people that Colin is connected to in some way, and minor characters from one story become the central character in another.
But I didn’t start out with this intention. My collection began as a way to bring together everything I’d written. I’ve recently completed a BA (Hons) in English Literature with the Open University, and as part of my degree I completed two creative writing modules. I’ve also been a student with the Writers’ Bureau, so between the various courses I’d written a fair number of stories. The first draft of the collection also included stories by my husband, Paul, who writes under the pseudonym of James Kirby. He’s a chartered engineer with limited company status, and has been furloughed on minimum wage since March 2020 and as I work for him, so have I. We’re in the group of people that have slipped under the net, with furlough payments being a very small fraction of his ordinary income; but what should have been a tough time for us has turned out to be one of the best times of our lives. We might be living off love and fresh air at the moment, but we’ve also had the time to chillax and write. Our youngest son is a writer too, so it’s quite the little Bloomsbury headquarters in our house at the moment. But Paul’s writing style is quite different to mine and when the original collection came back from the beta readers (who were totally amazing) we decided to publish our stories separately.
As I worked on the revised collection, I started to notice links between characters and places. I guess most writers include an element of what they know, and this is even more true for new writers. For most of my life I’ve either been at home with the kids as a full-time mum (we have four children), or worked in an office, and I think that comes through in my characterisation. Most of the stories are uplifting tales of kindness, friendship, and the maternal bond between a mother and child; but some of the stories have a menacing element. I’ve been a book blogger for about four years now, and devour psychological thrillers like there’s no tomorrow. A couple of years ago I was really lucky to have been mentored by the wonderful psychological thriller writer, Louise Jensen, under the Womentoring Scheme; and more recently my tutor at the Writers’ Bureau was the fantastic crime writer, Sheila Bugler – so this has no doubt influenced the darker side of my stories!
I also wanted to develop the character of Colin from the short story titled ‘Literature, Latte, and Love’. As a creative writing student, I was encouraged to keep a writing journal to jot down any snapshots of inspiration. My own notebook is a purple Moleskine that my youngest son bought me. As well as being an object of extreme beauty (swoons #stationerylove) this notebook is of great sentimental value. As I flicked through, looking for ideas on how to develop the character of Colin, I realised it was the journal itself that was providing the inspiration. I’d already used some of the ideas in the journal for my stories; and in some cases, I’d taken completely separate jottings and combined them to create a single story. However, I realised that every single snapshot of an idea that I’d written down was connected, because they were all ideas that had been filtered through myself – and if that was true for my own writing journal, then it could be for Colin too.
I think social media has made a lot of people realise what a small world we live in. People we know from one area of our lives often have a connection to another person we know. I started to research chains of acquaintance and how we are only an average of six people away from the next person. The Russian dolls on the cover of The Story Collector are metaphorical. The correct name for these dolls is ‘Matryoshka’andcomes from the Latin word, ‘mater’ – which means mother in English. They represent fertility, family, and maternity – which runs as a theme throughout my stories. Their linking structure is also representative of the collection as a whole. The dolls look like one thing from the outside, but when you take them apart there are lots of individual parts inside. The Story Collector is a bit like this in reverse; although each story can be read as a stand-alone, when read in sequence they all come together to give a combined novel-like feel and show how we are all linked through chains of acquaintance.
As well as being an entertaining set of stories, I really hope The Story Collector will inspire other new writers to find ideas as they go about their everyday life. Although my own ideas for each of the stories came from totally different places to Colin’s (the Story Collector café was inspired by the bookshelf in my local pub – no spoilers intended), writing Colin’s story has made me think about creating ideas for future stories. And my writing journal will definitely be accompanying me as I enter the next phase of my writing career, where I will be working on a domestic thriller as part of an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Bristol.
Download a copy of The Story Collector between 1st-7th September for just 99p from Amazon. It can also be ordered from any bookshop (Find here at Waterstones.) It is available in hardback, paperback, and e-book.
You can also read The Story Collector via Kindle Unlimited.
A few days ago I wrote a blog post about how my life didn’t turn out as I’d envisaged and how the best laid plans can’t always come to fruition – you can read that post here. Today, I’m delighted to welcome Kendra Smith to share her inspirational story.
Along the theme of ‘when life gives you lemons’, a head-on car crash is up there with the sourest of experiences. And so did I ‘make lemonade’ afterwards? Well, I certainly made the nurses in the High Dependency Unit laugh when I determinedly pushed them away from helping me to the commode at the foot of my bed because I couldn’t walk. ‘I go to the gym,’ I said, my mouth set in a firm line, trying not to cry and willing my arms not to give out. One nurse, let’s call her Emily, stood with her arms folded and watched me. ‘Fair enough,’ she said as she could see my determination (and probably fear) as I managed a task that would normally involve the help of two nurses.
My journey of recovery wasn’t just about being determined to heal from the physical injuries: broken foot (actually it was bent backwards), six broken ribs and a punctured lung – I also had to get back to being ‘me’ in my headspace. That has probably been the hardest.
Before the crash I had written some of a book that I had hoped to get published. I have always written, from being a journalist to would-be novelist, but the crash rather put paid to finishing this particular book. When I came home from hospital and could not walk, I watched some TV. I was not a big daytime TV-watcher, but I had limited options. Let’s just say organising a cup of coffee genuinely took me about 50 minutes. That’s if my children had remembered to leave the milk, coffee and cup by the kettle. If not, it was hop-along-the-kitchen on my Zimmer frame for a good half a day to reach various items.
One morning, finally with a cup of coffee next to me, I pressed ‘play’ on the remote. On came some Breakfast TV. It had been snowing. The presenter said, ‘We’re going round the UK to show you the photos our viewers have sent in of cats in the snow!’
That was it. I could not sit there on my saggy sofa and watch felines frolic in frozen gardens. My brain had had enough. I clambered unsteadily to a make-shift desk. My manuscript needed editing, it needed polishing, hell, it needed finishing. Which I did. About two hours a day and it exhausted me. Later that year, when I had sent it to various agents and publishers, Aria got in touch and said they wanted it and could I do a few more? That was a lovely moment. And so A Year of Second Chances made it out to the big wide world. The book is about three women who all have very different lives and through the course of a year, as they connect as one life changing event binds them together and allows them to re-evaluate their worlds. They laugh, cry and discover that friendship comes from many different places.
Since then, I have gone on to write a couple more. My latest novel, Everything Has Changed is about a car crash. It’s a pivotal moment, but I don’t dwell on it in the novel. Instead, I use it as a plot point. But I felt able to write about it as enough time had lapsed from real events to turn it into something I could use in fiction. It’s about two sisters who need to re-write their past and move forward. But can they? I had great fun writing this novel, as one of the protagonists, Victoria, loses her memory. After my crash, I remember thinking: what if I had woken up to a new world? What if things were different? Luckily for me, things were the same, but for Vicky – or Victoria as she thinks she is – her whole life has spun on its axis. Her adorable 10-year-old twins are now stroppy teenagers and her darling husband is more distant than the International Space Station. She has lost nearly seven years of her life, and her job is to find out why Everything Has Changed…
A few days ago I wrote a blog post about how my life didn’t turn out as I’d envisaged and how the best laid plans can’t always come to fruition – you can read that post here. Today, I’m delighted to welcome Mary Grand to share her story.
Tegan has been raised by her parents in an isolated religious cult. The novel opens when at the age of twenty-seven, Tegan is cast out of this cult. This means she is then completely alone, rejected by her parents and members of the cult. She is sent out into a world she does not understand and has been taught was evil, a truly life changing moment.
Free to Be Tegan is based on some of my own experiences of being raised in and then leaving a very controlling religious sect. (It is called a sect as it was a breakaway group from a mainstream religion). It did, however, have many characteristics of a cult). In particular I wanted to talk about healing from the long-term damage of some of the teaching I received. The major life change for me took place not only on the day I walked out of the sect and never returned. It was also the day I recognised the damage the teachings had done to my mental wellbeing and sought help and started to heal.
In order to try and talk about these things I decided to write a novel rather than an autobiography. This way I could try and reflect a wider range of experience, and also create a story that I hoped would handle a difficult subject in a more accessible way.
The setting of the opening chapter is London, where Tegan’s cult is based. When she is cast out, Tegan is forced to seek out distant relatives who live in the stunning Cambrian Mountains. The family there have their own secrets which she becomes involved with. However, at its heart, the story about Tegan learning to cope with the dual challenges of trying to live in a world she has little understanding of, while, at the same time, battling the effects of psychological trauma.
The cult in Tegan’s story is fictitious, but within that I included the teachings I felt had been most damaging for me. The main message I received growing up in the sect was ‘If you don’t follow our teachings terrible things will happen to you.’ These punishments were described to us vividly and in great detail. From as young an age as three we listened to graphic descriptions of eternal punishment in hell, or of how our parents might suddenly be taken away and we would be left alone for ever. We were also taught that we were in essence sinful and corrupt, nothing I did in my own strength could ever be pure or good.
When I first left the sect, I struggled with making the connections between the teachings and the mental health problems I was trying to hide, such an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Hypervigilance. It was a few years until I sought help.
In the novel, Tegan is forced to confront her issues far more quickly. Friends and her doctor quickly see she needs help and support to recover from her past. Her recovery is not easy, and there are many setbacks.
However slowly she starts to heal. It was very important to me that Tegan’s story is far more than one of survival. It is a tale of hope, self-discovery, and the joy of living.
A few days ago I wrote a blog post about how my life didn’t turn out as I’d envisaged and how the best laid plans can’t always come to fruition – you can read that post here. Today, I’m delighted to welcome Gill Thompson to share her inspiring story.
Like many writers, I spent much of my childhood creating stories. When characters came into my head I gave them words and took them on adventures influenced by whoever I was reading at the time: Enid Blyton, C.S Lewis, Alan Garner, Jean Plaidy. There was no doubt in my mind that I would one day write a novel.
But although my father, a sometime writer himself, encouraged my creativity, he suggested that teaching was a more reliable career, so I took a degree in English Literature. If I couldn’t write books, then maybe I could read them instead. Most of my working life has been spent lecturing in English at sixth form level. But the hankering to write never went away. For years it was a dream that might only be realised when I had the leisure and financial independence to write. I couldn’t see this happening for a long time. But then my father died. He left me a little money and I started to think I could use it to fuel my writing ambitions.
No sooner had I made plans, than my husband become ill and the plans were put on hold. I was too busy trying to look after him whilst keeping up my teaching commitments and supporting our two teenage children. All ambitions to write were shelved indefinitely. But as my husband slowly recovered and our children progressed to the next stage in their lives, I finally started to claw back some time for myself. One day I was listening to the lunchtime news and heard Gordon Brown apologise to the ex child migrants to Australia who had been lied to by the British government, sold a dream life on the other side of the world on the basis that their parents were dead, then cruelly treated by so called Christian brothers. Some were never to see their parents again, and those parents often spent fruitless years trying to track their children down. I was appalled and started to read more about this tragic story. I eventually spoke to some of the ex child migrants who lamented the fact their experiences were still relatively unknown. With their permission, I started to write a novel based on their lives. But I realised if I was to do their stories justice I needed to be the best writer I could, so I enrolled on a Creative Writing M.A at the University of Chichester.
There my wise tutors and fellow students helped me to shape the novel that is now ‘The Oceans Between Us.’ It took nine years, eighty drafts and bucket loads of blood, sweat and tears, but I finally found an agent and then a publisher. The book is out in the world now, as is its successor ‘The Child on Platform One.’ Both are doing well.
I now look back on that challenging time of life with remembered horror. Yet if I hadn’t experienced grief, anxiety and – often – sheer hopelessness, I might not have managed to draw on those emotions in my writing. Sometimes it’s only when plans change, and we think we have to surrender our dreams, that we develop the patience and determination to see them through.
Gill runs a creative writing website which you can find here.
When my local paper reported that an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ themed coffee shop was opening up locally I was super excited. I was obsessed with Alice when I was a child, and looking around my study with the amount of quotes and memorabilia I have, perhaps I still am… I immediately contacted Kitty on Facebook to arrange to come and meet her and take some photos and then, before they could properly open, the first lockdown hit.
With one thing and another since then I hadn’t got around to visiting but publication day for my second ‘Amelia Henley’ novel ‘The Art of Loving You’ (my eight published book) rolled around and I wanted to do something to celebrate Jack and Libby’s love story being out in the world. Tea and cake sounded perfect.
Kitty’s Cake Emporium is wondrous, from the minute you arrive outside with the quirky signpost, the entrance hall with the playing cards stuck to the ceiling. This place is small but all my favourite ‘Alice’ scenes are here. Everywhere you turn there is something to look at. The two small rooms downstairs are overflowing with references to the book. Upstairs is mad hatter tea party themed with furniture stuck onto the walls and ceiling. I cannot imagine how long it took to pull this place together but I’m very grateful it exists. It’s very special.
The menu is extensive. Lots of cake and desserts which suited me fine. It was a celebration for my publication day so I felt entitled skip the savoury course and order both rhubarb and ginger crumble and a scone while the rest of my family opted for sundaes. We sat in the back garden which was filled with toadstools and plastic flamingos.
Even the toilets are worth a visit!
The food was homemade and wonderful. Just when we thought our experience was over the bill was brought over in this fabulous box with a lolly with an ‘eat me’ label.
If you love ‘Alice in Wonderland’ or even if you don’t but want a decent lunch at a reasonable price with great service, I’d highly recommend Kitty’s and if you fancy reading a book while you eat, ‘The Art of Loving You’ is available to download for just 99p for August only (also available as a paperback and audio book). Find it via Amazon, Waterstones, Kobo, Google Books, Apple.
A few days ago I wrote a blog post about how my life didn’t turn out as I’d envisaged and how the best laid plans can’t always come to fruition – you can read that post here. Today, I’m delighted to welcome Polly Phillips to share her inspiring story.
I was sitting on a bus when my husband called me to tell me he’d been made redundant. I was heading into town to meet him on his lunchbreak to do our Christmas shopping while our two-year-old daughter was in nursery. At first, I thought he was joking. We were living in Copenhagen and there was snow on the ground. I had been picturing skipping in and out of shops, carrying brightly coloured parcels, fat snowflakes falling around us. So far, so Love Actually. Instead, we met in a dark and dingy bar and sat hunched over a pizza to try and figure out what the hell we were going to do.
The industry he worked in was depressed and there was no way my income as a part-time freelance journalist would sustain us. Without jobs, we couldn’t stay in Copenhagen. So, on top of losing our main income, we were going to have to pull our daughter out of the nursery she loved, pack our lives and move country. In truth, that bit didn’t bother me too much. Although Copenhagen is a beautiful city with so much to offer the people who live in it, I’d been dreaming of moving back to Perth, Western Australia, since we had left it two years before. In fact, when he first called, that’s what I thought he was ringing to tell me. He’d been talking about a transfer for a few months and I was already picturing feeling the sun on my skin and teaching my daughter to swim in the sea. Now we were moving back to London with no jobs and no money.
My husband was offered a new job just before we moved. Salvation beckoned. But of course, there was a downside. The new job was in Algeria. And they wanted him to start straightaway. He had just enough time to help move us back to London before he flew to work in an office in the middle of the Algerian desert with scarcely any phone signal and patchy WiFi. With no other job options out there, it didn’t make sense to turn it down.
So, there I was in London, suddenly a single parent, with a challenging two-year-old, who didn’t understand why her whole life had changed. And, to be honest, I could see her point. Friends and family tried to help, but they had their own lives, lives that they weren’t expecting me to suddenly parachute into. Being on my own highlighted all my insecurities. I felt like a terrible parent, shouting too much and not being able to control my daughter. I felt like a rubbish wife, resenting my husband for being away. And I felt like a complete failure as a person, not having a well-paid enough career to pull us out of the mess we were in. Finally, after too many long and lonely evenings spent at the bottom of a bottle, I realised there was nothing I could do to change the situation so I had to try and make the best of it.
It might sound a bit twee and clichéd and it certainly wasn’t an epiphany that came to me in a lightning bolt of clarity – there were still a fair few nights at the bottom of a bottle that came after it – but I’d always wanted to write a book. With evenings yawning emptily with nothing to fill them, here was my chance. I signed up to an online writing course with the Faber Academy and started writing. There were a lot of false starts and the book that I wrote on the course ultimately came to nothing, but I kept going. I signed up to another course and starting something else. After a lot of editing, the next book that I wrote, a thriller called My Best Friend’s Murder, was published this year. By the end of the year my husband had another job, and we did move back to Perth. Whenever I feel overcome by moments of self-doubt or misery, I try to remind myself of that year, when I felt like life was collapsing around me and I was never going to achieve anything. It doesn’t always pull me out of my mood, but it definitely helps.
You can find ‘My Best Friend’s Murder on Amazon here
A few days ago I wrote a blog post about how my life didn’t turn out as I’d envisaged and how the best laid plans can’t always come to fruition – you can read that post here. Today, I’m delighted to welcome the lovely N. J. Simmonds to share her inspiring story.
There are years that fly by where we can hardly remember what filled them, and other years that are forever stained by the challenges life throws at us. For me, late 2016 to late 2017 was twelve turbulent months of extremes.
With every high came a low. The day we emigrated to the Netherlands from Spain my daughter broke her arm. We were stuck in a hospital in the UK for days and missed our flights. When we finally arrived in Holland after not seeing my husband for three months, he had to leave for 6 weeks to the UK after his father was pronounced unexpectedly and terminally ill. We all suffered greatly from that loss. Then days away from my debut, The Path Keeper, being released I learned that my imprint was about to fold. I had been signed for the full trilogy, but this meant now only one book was ever going to exist.
By late 2017 I was close to giving up writing, even though I’d hardly left the starting block. When you suffer a sudden death in the family it puts everything into perspective, yet coupled with our children trying to integrate into a new country, all the political horrors on the news at the time alongside the awful stories of the #MeToo movement, that year had me wanting to get a nine to five job and give up on my writing dreams forever. Everything was too hard, too dark, too futile.
But the problem was I had promised my readers a trilogy. The Path Keeper came out February2017 and it had already received over 100 five star reviews in a matter of months, not to mention I’d channelled so much of that year’s pain into its sequel, Son of Secrets, that it felt criminal to deny my readers the next part of the story. But my imprint was folding, which meant the rest of my trilogy wasn’t going to be printed. I had a choice – leave my story only 33% told…or keep going.
I reasoned I had nothing to lose by trying, so that’s what I did. My book went out of print just six months after its debut launch, but instead of getting upset I got busy. I talked to agents and publishers, made more author friends, got advice from the SoA, and researched writers who had gone through similar situations. Needless to say, most publishers and agents weren’t interested in a series that had already partly launched. But six months after my book went out of print a relatively new publisher in the US, BHC Press, took a gamble and signed me.
Two weeks from the day I write this, the third and final book of that trilogy will be hitting the shelves. Children of Shadows is a book about hope, perseverance, and resilience. And that’s no coincidence. Four years ago, I was about to throw in the towel and give up on this writing game – and now I have not only released an entire trilogy but I’m also writing manga, I cowrite a paranormal romance series as Caedis Knight (Blood Web Chronicles) which has sold also internationally, and I’m working on another exciting collaboration with a fantastic author, which our agent is currently talking to publishers about. Not to mention the illustrations, lecturing, school visits, and coaching I do on the back of my writing.
We’ve all had no shortage of strange years lately. 2020 was, for most of us, the year that never was. But if my own intense and turbulent twelve months taught me anything, it was that it’s not up to life how our days and weeks and months are filled, but down to us. WE get to decide which year will be forever muddied, and which will shine.
So from now on, my years are going to be full of dreams and hope, words and worlds, and remain perpetually polished…no matter how hard life tries to push me off track!
N J Simmonds is the author of fantasy series The Indigo Chronicles – she also writes Manga comics and is one half of paranormal romance author duo Caedis Knight. Her stories are magical, historical and full of complex women, page-turning twists and plenty of romance. When Natali’s not writing, she illustrates books and runs her own marketing consultancy, lectures on storytelling and self-branding. Originally from London, she now lives with her family in the Netherlands.
I certainly didn’t plan for my brand new release ‘The Art of Loving You’ to be so relatable to virtually everyone when I began writing it in 2019.
In my second love story Libby and Jack think they have their life figured out. With the help of their dear friend, eighty-year old Sid, they’ve bought their first home and have big personal and business plans for the next few years. But then suddenly, unexpectedly, tragedy strikes, the future suddenly uncertain, and huge compromises and sacrifices have to be made in order to move forward.
When I began writing I drew on my own experience, exploring the emotions I had felt after my own life veered off course and my carefully laid plans couldn’t come to fruition.
I had spent years training as a naturopathic kinesiologist and building up a complementary therapy practice when a car accident exacerbated a pre-existing health condition, caused some new damage, and whisked away my mobility. In an instant, everything changed. No longer able to stand unaided I couldn’t practice anymore and the future looked very bleak. I’d lost my health, my business, my social life and my sense of identity, but worst of all I had lost my hope. When I’d spent so long planning and imagining the shape of my future how could I even begin to envisage starting again?
And yet somehow, much like the people in my story who became so dear to me (particularly 80-year old Sid who was such a joy to write), I did.
While the world has been gripped by a pandemic most of us have had to make drastic changes to our day-to-day life as well as altering, postponing, or cancelling our plans for the future.
The characters in my book, like the majority of us, couldn’t being to imagine their world ever feeling ’normal’ again but little by little, they carved out a new path, found new hopes and dreams to hold tightly against their hearts.
‘The Art of Loving You’ is a story of resilience, hope and courage, drawing on the power of friendship and family.
It’s the story of never giving up, finding happiness and moving forward after you fear all has been lost.
Anyone who reads either my Louise Jensen psychological thrillers, or my contemporary Amelia Henley fiction knows I love a prologue. Here I’m sharing the opening of my brand new release, ‘The Art of Loving You’ which you can download for just 99p on any digital platform during August. (Amazon link here).
Four phone calls.
It took four phone calls to tip my world off its axis. I remember them all with sharp clarity; the things I wanted to know, the things I wished I’d never been told. The disbelief, the fear, the hope. The impossible, impossible choice I am faced with. I want everything to slow down.
‘I can’t …’ What I can’t do is look my sister, Alice, in the eye. It’s too much. All of it.
‘Say yes, Libby.’ She’s crouching before me, reaching for my hand. I snatch mine away. As vivid as the memories of the calls are, it’s the time in between each one I am struggling to recall. Alice says shock has the power to whisk memories behind a hazy curtain, sometimes replacing them with a better, shinier version – the way we wished things were. The way we wished they could have happened – and she’s probably right. Right about that at least, but the rest? I have to remember if I’m to make the right decision. Again, I try to summon a slide show in my mind but the images are as fuzzy as an out-of-focus photo, nothing quite making sense. ‘I think …’ I tail off, unsure what I think. What I know. Alice has been telling me a new life, a better life is what I need. What I deserve.
That word plucks a hollow laugh deep from my belly. Deserve. Do I deserve … this?
‘You know what you have to do, Libby.’ Her voice is thick with tears. ‘For your sake. For Jack’s.’ She adds softly, ‘For mine.’
Sometimes I hate her.
Should I do what she is asking? If I agree, it’s an admission that my life has been built on a lie and the childish part of me taunts; why should I give her what she wants when I can’t have what I want?
‘Please, Libby, please,’ she pleads. ‘I know it’s a big ask. I know you weren’t expecting this – none of us saw it coming but …’ One whispered word. ‘Please.’
Neither of us speak. The clock ticks. In the distance the thrum of a tractor. Alice’s perfume fills my throat, something light and floral.
‘Don’t speak his name,’ I snap.
She flinches but still she doesn’t leave. She’s waiting for an answer as she tucks her long blonde hair behind her ears. My eyes flicker towards the nicotine-yellow ceiling we never did get round to painting bright white, as though I might find the right response written there.
Yes or no?
Yes or no?
Yes or no?
The words are loud. I raise my hands to my head, fingertips digging hard into my scalp. I can’t decide. I won’t.
I have to.
‘You know if I could change things, I would,’ Alice says softly. She places her palm against my cheek; it’s cool and I lean against it, allowing her to take the weight of my head which is heavy with thought. With doubt. For the first time I look at her properly. Her eyes, the same green as mine, are rimmed red. The whites streaked with tiny blood vessels from where she’s been crying. She is no more together than I am. This is a torturous for her as it is for me. ‘If I could go back …’ She falls silent before she can blame herself again. I can’t bear her guilt. Her shame. I have enough of my own.
I shift my gaze around the room which was once warmed with love but now feels as chilly as my cold, cold heart. If we could go back, I would return to the exact moment everything changed. It was the day Jack and I moved in here. I allow my mind to travel, tumbling down the rabbit hole to that ordinary Thursday when it all began.
The point which had led to this.
The memories bring me pleasure.
I have to make my choice.
Yes or no?
I have to give Alice my answer.
Yes or no?
I have to tell her now.
Before it’s too late for her, for me.
Time is running out.
Yes or no?
In the opening to ‘The Art of Loving You’ my hope is that I’ve intrigued readers enough to want to read on. To wonder what has happened between Libby, Alice and Jack. Not all of my books have prologues but I do enjoy them as a reader and a writer and you can read more about why I find them so valuable and whether your novel needs one on an earlier blog post here.