Being an introverted writer who suffers from social anxiety it took me years to pluck up the courage to go to Harrogate and when I did I wondered why I’d put it off for so long.
Everyone was so welcoming. I had the BEST time (you can read about it here).
This year, the most lovely Lauren North is giving away a weekend package to the festival to a writer (published or unpublished) who hasn’t been before. If you’d love to go but circumstances such as cost haven’t made it possible for you to attend then do check out this most amazing prize.
Touchingly, Lauren is offering this phenomenal prize in memory of her father who was kind and generous. I’m sure he would be immensely proud of her for doing so.
Included in the giveaway is: –
3 nights accommodation Bed and Breakfast at The Cairn Hotel for one person (2 minutes walk from the venue and a short distance into town;
Classic Rover Ticket allowing access to all the panel events (includes lunch on Friday & Saturday)
Access to the site including bars, bookshop and signings;
First opportunity to access tickets to exclusive on site publisher events;
Theakston Old Peculier Crime Festival goody bag
Find out more at Lauren’s website here and do check out Lauren’s amazing books on Amazon here.
Good luck to all the entrants and I hope to see the winner there!
It’s part 4 of my Diary of a Novelist series (catch up from part one here). Working on the first draft of my latest psychological thriller has been a challenge so far but my December was a LOT more productive than I’d hoped.
Panic has set in. Unusually, this year, I’m intending on taking at least a week’s break over Christmas – usually, other than the big day itself I write almost every day of the year but I’m feeling so exhausted it’s take a break or burn out. Stepping away from my manuscript midway through a first draft isn’t ideal. I don’t want to lose the sense of story or connection to the characters. My editor has let me know the edits on my next Amelia Henley love story should be with me by the end of the year, followed by the edits on my 2023 thriller so it’s likely I won’t be returning to this book until the Spring. I NEED to cobble together a coherent story, even if I only bullet point chapters or scenes. I carry on working on the end, weaving in all three points of view until I have an ending that is so dark I will likely change it but it’s an ending – hurrah!
Finishing the end has forced me back to the middle which I have entirely skipped. I have zero ideas what might happen here so I take my dog for a walk and think about my beginning and my end while letting ideas brew. I find getting outside, away from the house, really kickstarts my creativity. When I return I have a few potential scenes and a big twist in mind so I dig out my index cards and jot them down. Once I can see them in black and white other ideas begin to germinate so I write each idea on a separate index card and then spread them out over the living room floor, rearranging the order, discarding the ones that don’t fit until I have some sort of bridge between the middle and the end.
I work in Scrivener so, following my index cards, I open a new section for each idea and transfer my notes. With experience I now know roughly how many words I like per chapter (between 1200-2500) and I can tell that I have enough story to take the script to around 88k words – enough to fill a novel.
I’m frantically expanding my notes as much as I can so it’ll be easier to pick up in a few months when I get back to it. Really, I should have visited some old Tudor houses by now for research but the ones that are open to the public are full of Christmas events and I don’t want to come into contact with anyone and potentially catch Covid so instead of writing any detail I’m inserting ‘XX’ into the places I need to fill once I’ve managed to visit some locations next year.
Still, the story is the main thing and I really happy with the way it’s taking shape. I’m writing between 8.30-5.30 every day (usually I only write new words in the mornings). My eyeballs ache I’m so tired but my word count is shooting up and I feel quietly confident I’ll have some sort of draft by Christmas.
I have a zoom meeting with my editor about my forthcoming release ‘All For You’ which publishes 20thJanuary. With only 3 weeks to go I need to arrange an online launch and prizes and SO MUCH.
The event is set up on Facebook (do come and enter some of the giveaways here) and after a final push on my 9th psychological thriller, I have a shorter than usual, very patchy with lots to fill in draft. Christmas Eve my edits arrive so that’s my January sorted. Time to switch off, spend some quality time with my family with lots of bracing dog walks.
New words written – 32,000 (Total of wip 72500)
Highs – Finishing what I’m loosely calling a first draft
Lows – Not getting any research done
What I’m reading – The Salt Path – Raynor Winn
What I’m watching – The Landscapers – Olivia Coleman is brilliant
Special offers – ‘The Family’ is 99p across all digital platforms. Download from Amazon here and discover why, once you’ve entered Oak Leaf Farm, you’re NEVER allowed to leave…
Event – ‘All For You’ live Facebook launch with prizes, details here
Newsletter sign up – subscribe here and get two free short stories and access to exclusive giveaways.
Welcome to my diary of a novelist where I’m documenting my routine (such as it is) and progress (pitiful) on my new psychological thriller.
The shame I felt sharing last month’s progress should have pushed me to achieve more this month.
Ridiculously, I spend this week in much of a panic because (and I told you it was ridiculous) it’s NaNoWriMo. For those who don’t know that’s National Novel Writing Month where you (clue is in the name) write a novel in a month.
Now, I have no desire to try this (kudos to those who do) so it shouldn’t have any impact on me.
But I find myself lurking on social media, feeling more and more deflated at those taking part posting their daily word count. By the end of week one most have surpassed the wordcount on my new novel which I’ve been working on for two months.
AND I WRITE FULL TIME.
Now, usually, I’m pretty positive (because I’ve taught myself to be) and I know that no good EVER comes of comparing myself to other writers but sometimes, particularly during such a rough time personally when I’m feeling so low anyway, it’s just so bloody hard not to.
Consequently, I end up writing, deleting, rewriting the same chapter over and over and then eating too much cheese.
This week is publication day for ‘Everyday Kindness‘. An anthology in aid of Shelter Charity. Having had my own life transformed by a single act of kindness I was really happy to contribute a story. I take a few quiet moments on publication day to think about how lucky I am. There are people out there who are homeless.
And I’ve been stressing about Nano WHICH I’M NOT TAKING PART IN ANYWAY.
Back to my wip. I carry on writing the past point of view featured in part three, the end (I’ve skipped the middle for now).
Then my husband begins to feel unwell. His throat is raw, he has swollen glands, a raging temperature, muscle aches, fatigue. He takes a lateral flow test which is negative. I make him take another two and then, not quite trusting them after my son’s Covid experience, I take him for a PCR. That’s negative too. Turns out he has tonsillitis.
Knowing that while he’s sick I have less time because all the shopping, cooking, childcare etc will fall on me I use my time more productively. I write the epilogue knowing now where I want to get too but still not quite sure how to get there.
The ending is growing longer and longer. My pet peeve, as a reader, is endings which are rushed so I like writing this way, giving the twists the space they need to breath, knowing the middle will be less meandering because I’ll have fewer words less to fill. I’ve almost, almost, finished the point of view I’m working on.
I take a couple of days break. One of my kids graduates and we head up to his uni for the ceremony. My husband was still feeling exhausted but wouldn’t have missed it for the world. We kept our masks on throughout the ceremony but behind them, we couldn’t stop smiling.
There’s a 16th birthday in the house! I take my son to see Hamilton to celebrate. It’s odd being on a train. Odd being in London. But we loved it. We were in the actual room where it happens!
It takes me days to regain my energy but by the end of the week I’ve finished the point of view I’ve been working on. I have two other points of view to write in the final part and the entire middle to go.
The middle is the point I’m most concerned about, not wanting to make it too supernatural (actually desperate to make it really supernatural but I don’t think my publisher is super keen).
And so we’re beginning December. Three weeks until Christmas and I hope by next month, although I’m incapable of planning, to at least have a good sense of the story I need and be able to bullet point some scenes so I’ll be able to pick it up again in the New Year.
Watch this space…
Monthly round up:-
New words written 25K
US paperback publication day for ‘The Family’
Some lovely review for ‘All For You‘ which is out in Poland – can’t wait until this is published in the UK next month!
High – Some exciting news regarding ‘The Life We Almost Had’ that I can’t quite share yet
Low – My husband being so poorly
What I’m reading – Everyday Kindness
What I’m watching – I’m a celebrity, get me out of here
Social offer! – Two of my books have been selected for Amazon’s ‘Countdown to Christmas’ 99p deal. ‘The Life We Almost Had’ my Amelia Henley debut (which is NOT a typical love story) and ‘The Date’ featuring face blind Ali trying to stop her stalker ruining her life (challenging when she can’t recognise them).
I’ll be running another giveaway very soon so if you haven’t already, subscribe to my Newsletter here to be kept up to date and receive 2 free short stories.
Welcome to part two of my new diary series. Each month I’m documenting the progress on my new first draft, and sharing a little insight into the life of a full-time writer. If you missed part one you can catch up with it here. Now, it has crossed my mind multiple times to skip this month’s entry and hope that nobody notices because my progress has been shameful, but then I wouldn’t be being entirely honest about my writers’ life and the point of this series is to keep myself on track. I knew October was going to be such a busy month but I didn’t realise my word count would be quite so paltry.
The first few days were spent frantically checking my emails. I’d sent both my editor and agent the first three chapters of my new idea and, of course, when they didn’t reply in five seconds telling me they loved it, I assumed they hated it.
While I waited I began playing around with the structure, not yet entirely sure how I was going to approach two timelines and at least three points of view. Whether I’d write one complete point of view before switching to another or whether I’d mix it up. One thing I have learned over the years is every book is different and the process I’d used before may not work for this story. After writing a few super short chapters (no more than 500 words) from all three points of view to get a feel for the characters I realised one thing. The structure I’d sent to my agent and editor wasn’t going to work for me. The third chapter was supposed to be from a podcast and although I loved the idea of this I found writing it jarring. The switch really pulled me out of the story as a writer and trying to read it objectively as a reader I felt the same thing might happen. If readers aren’t fully immersed in the story they may give up on it and I don’t want that so back to the drawing board.
In the meantime, my agent got back to me first with feedback which could have gone either way as he began with ‘OH MY GOD’ but he loved it saying he felt I’d really moved into new territory.
Interestingly, my editor’s feedback echoed similar thoughts: –
“Well… What an opening! That prologue gave me chills – and I mean that in a good way. I do like the direction this is moving in, and although it will move you into a slightly different space that could be a good thing by the time we get to this point in your publishing, as it’s important that your storytelling keeps evolving.”
I spent some time pondering what they mean (if pondering can mean excruciatingly examining every word over and over). I hadn’t made a conscious decision to move into a new direction, rather I thought of a story I’d like to tell. I wondered whether I could ask for feedback on their feedback but instead tell myself to JUST BLOODY WRITE.
Holiday time – hurrah! It seems like forever since we went away and it was such a treat to have all of my children under one roof (I do only have three – I’m not the old woman who lived in the shoe). But with the eldest having left home and another now working full-time it isn’t always easy to coordinate. Pre-pandemic if we’d gone on holiday I’d have taken my notebook and laptop and squeezed in some writing when I could. This time I didn’t. We hired a cottage in the New Forest and spent the week dog walking, eating, drinking, playing games and laughing. I hadn’t realised how mundane life had become until I had a change of routine. It was a JOY.
We had such a good time away, my husband and I decide to sneak a long weekend away in while the weather was still reasonable. But first, a few days to focus on my manuscript. Disappointingly, I found that after a break so close to the beginning it wasn’t easy to dive back in. I took into account something my editor and agent both mentioned about being careful not to stray into the horror genre (I fear I might stray into the horror genre…) and as I’d had a vague idea about the (an) end that seemed a good place to start while I figured out genre, points of view and the dreaded middle. I began at part two, there was a new point of view there so I aimed to write all of her parts first.
I was interviewed for a podcast with author John Marrs who it appears has a really similar process to me, start writing and wing it. I found this very reassuring.
I got about 5k words in before I go away, determined that when I came back I’d really knuckle down.
Life took an unexpected turn, as life has a habit of doing and much of this week was spent with a friend in need. I had a couple of days to write though and I was becoming clearer on the end.
It’s dark. Very dark.
I must not stray into the horror genre. I must not stray into the horror genre. I must not stray into the horror genre.
I don’t know if I am – send help!
In November I really need to get my head into this new idea and to write almost every day because I keep losing the story. Also I need to decide whether I’m confident this is a thriller because as well as the (may or may not be) horror strand, I might also have introduced a supernatural element.
Writing under contract means I can’t entirely write what I’d like because it needs to fit with what I’ve promised the publisher, which is a psychological thriller. I fear, that as I’m writing my 9th thriller and with over a million sales, it’s perhaps a little late, and a little embarrassing, to ask for a definition of exactly what a psychological thriller is…
Monthly round up: – 8000k new words written German publication day for ‘The Stolen Sisters’ US publication day for ‘The Stolen Sisters’ Polish publication day for ‘All For You’ A holiday A weekend away A lovely review in ‘Heat’ magazine for the forthcoming ‘All For You’.
High – ‘The Stolen Sisters’ has spent almost a month in the German Kindle top 100 so far.
Low – More time spent not writing than writing
What I’m reading – Sophie Money-Coutts – ‘Did You Miss Me?’
What I’m watching – Good Girls season 4
Join me next month to find out whether I find out what a psychological thriller is, whether I nail the end, and how I approach the dual timeline in the middle.
Do subscribe to my newsletter here today and get two FREE short stories as well as access to exclusive giveaways.
Welcome to my new diary series. Each month I’m going to document the progress on my new first draft, both to keep myself on track and to share a little insight into the life of a full-time writer. So, here’s how my September went…
At the end of last month I finished editing my second Amelia Henley book ‘The Art of Loving You’ for the German market. As much as I love writing contemporary fiction there had been an idea for a thriller I’d been toying with for the past couple of years that was on my mind more and more. It really excited me and I’d tried to start it three times but I couldn’t figure out the purpose of the book. Usually, once I have a concept, a character who wants something, and an idea of what’s stopping them getting it, I dive right in but I knew this story was different. There had to be a point to the ‘baddie’ being bad and I just couldn’t figure out what it was. Because of the setting, options were limited and I didn’t want to write myself into a corner. For a long time I was fixated on the bad guy being after a key the main character had, and sporadically over dinner I’d fire questions at my bemused family ‘what could the key be for?’ becoming more desperate each time. I was at the stage of shelving it (again) and despairingly said to my younger son ‘I don’t know what to write next’ (fact – ALL writers worry at some stage they’ll never have another idea) when my youngest son said ‘let’s get some post-its and brainstorm ideas.’
Best. Thing. Ever.
Within an hour we’d ditched the key, come up with something better, and, relieved to have a direction, I began writing it immediately.
I’m not a quick writer. No first draft within a few weeks for me, it takes a few months and that’s alright. I never want to put pressure on myself and suck the joy from the writing. For me, consistency in writing, showing up every day and either putting a few words down or researching is more important to me than word count goals. It took me a long time to accept that my process is okay because it works for me. It can be difficult, particularly on social media, not to compare yourself to other authors.
Day one was spent solely on the first line. Once I get the tone of that right I knew the prologue will flow and it did. It terrified me both writing it and reading it back. This will definitely be my darkest book yet.
At the end of week one, the prologue and chapter one were finished (3k words – told you I was slow) and then there was a few days I didn’t think about my story because my son got married! It was such a joyous event and I was immensely proud of all of my boys. The youngest read a poem I had written and his brother was the Best Man and read out a highly emotional speech. Happy tears were shed.
I began the week itching to get back to my new characters but then two things happened. The edits for the US version of my first Amelia Henley book ‘The Art of Loving You’ arrived and my youngest son was diagnosed with COVID. Some days, I sat on the landing, outside of his bedroom, with my laptop, trying to focus but it was difficult, I was consumed with worry. I knew, that whatever I wrote towards my new story wouldn’t be any good so instead I took the time to think about how many points of view I wanted to include and how to structure the story. I decided on three points of view and a dual timeline. Then came one of my favourite parts of being a writer – I ordered a new notebook! Oh the joy in an otherwise bleak week.
My son was, thankfully, over the worst of the symptoms, although he was left with an overwhelming exhaustion. I returned to work in my study downstairs although I was constantly messaging him and checking my phone. I reread and revised what I’d written. I know, I know, according to every writer ever you should never edit as you go (I always edit as I go).
The week began with a new foreign rights deal which I was very grateful for. Like so many other industries the pandemic has hit publishing hard and this has given me a little hope for the future. I also had discussions with my UK editor and my German editor regarding covers for my next releases. I always get so excited when I see a cover, it really makes the book seem real. This spurred me on to knuckle down to finish the first three chapters of my wip (work in progress). My agent and editor have no idea what I’m writing about so I’ve sent it over to both of them. Much like when I was submitting my debut, my palms were clammy and my heart beat faster. Sharing your work is always nerve wracking. If my editor doesn’t think my idea is commercial enough or she doesn’t think there is a hook then my publisher won’t want to publish it and I’m already so invested in this story.
So now I wait for feedback…
Monthly round up: –
7500k new words written
Light edits on 2 books for foreign markets
High – My eldest son’s gorgeous wedding
Low – My youngest son got Covid
What I’m reading – Joan Collins ‘Past Imperfect’
What I’m watching – Money Heist season 5
Join me next month to find out what my agent and editor think of my opening chapters. In October there will also be an exclusive giveaway for subscribers of my newsletter. Subscribe here today and get two FREE short stories.
Any specific questions on writing and publishing do drop them in the comments below.
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).
If you sign up to my mailing list here you will also receive two free short stories as well being able to enter exclusive giveaways.
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.