3 years in publishing, 10 lessons I’ve learned

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This week marks three years since my debut, The Sister, was published. There was no gentle easing into the publishing industry because, and I am eternally grateful – my first novel soon rose to No. 1 in various countries, spending almost the entire summer in the top spot in the UK. It quickly sold over half a million copies and was snapped up for translation by twenty-five territories, nominated for the Goodreads best debut award, and became the sixth biggest selling book on Amazon in 2016.  As lovely as all this was – and it was – there was no time to sit back and enjoy it, the pressure was on to finish writing my second book, The Gift.

Fast forward to now, over a million sales later, and publication of my fifth thriller, The Family is imminent and yet I still feel as though I’m finding my feet. Often overwhelmed with the thought of having to write more books and yet heartbroken at the thought that one day I might not be in the fortunate position of writing full time. Creating stories is my passion, my reason for getting up in the mornings but, sometimes (generally during a first draft) the cause of my insomnia. Thoughts of ‘how can I make my next book better than my last’ all-consuming.

I have a sense that I know nothing about writing, about publishing and yet I know infinitely more than I did and these are the ten lessons I try to bear in mind.

  • There are readers who will love my story. No matter how daunting it is releasing a new book into the wild, I write stories I would love to read myself and it stands to reason that if my story is one I would love to read, someone else will love it too.
  • There are readers who will hate my story. Negative reviews are inevitable. It doesn’t mean – as I once thought – I should stop writing books because Sandra from Basingstoke doesn’t like them. Not every book will resonate with every reader.
  • The pressure I have felt has been the pressure I have burdened myself with. My agent, my publisher, my readers want future books but no one is chaining me to my desk and forcing me to write (note – that might make a good plot)
  • The world will not stop turning if I don’t ever write another book. My world would be darker, sadder, but if I couldn’t think of a single plot again it really wouldn’t cause the sun to explode.
  • Some books are easy to write. My third – The Surrogate – literally fell from the sky on to the page and I thought I’d finally found the magic formula.
  • Some books are impossibly difficult. My fourth book – The Date – took several false starts and was shoved into the bottom of my drawer multiple times.
  • Social media sometimes brings me down – if I’ve had an unproductive day I avoid twitter as I know that seeing other writers ‘I’ve written thousands of words since breakfast’ posts leave me feeling inferior.
  • My editor is mainly right. Mainly. Not always. Ultimately it is my name on the cover and if I feel strongly that a suggested change is wrong for my characters I will stand up for them. It’s a suggested change, not the law. That said I’m so lucky to have an editor and I’d be a fool to ignore her expertise. A fool!
  • EVERY writer has highs and lows but it’s often only the highs you hear about. No matter what level of success someone has there are still disappointments. Still times the words won’t flow. Self-doubt is ever-present for most creatives. I don’t think that ever fully disappears and nor do I think it should.
  • A dip in sales does not mean the end of a career. Some books sell more than others, some books gain better reviews. All I can do is set out to write my best book every time and never become complacent. I love what I do and I never forget how fortunate I am.

I’ll be giving away some signed copies of The Sister this week so do follow me on my Facebook page for a chance to win one.

 

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The joy I felt holding my first book is something I shall never forget

 

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The Harper Collins Summer Party 2019!

The gorgeous V & A museum gardens

Last night was the annual HarperCollins summer party, the first one I have been to as one of their authors. It was held in the gorgeous garden of the V & A museum. Before I went I had vowed to take lots of photos but as it turned out I was having such a good time my camera stayed mainly in my bag.

It seemed the sensible thing to line our stomachs before the evening so first stop was lunch at the oh so glamorous Pizza Express. Writing can be so isolating – it’s always a pleasure to meet with other authors and talk about the highs and the lows, the challenges we are facing with our current WIP and of course what we are reading.

Mel Goulding, Louise Jensen, Roz Watkins, Phaedra Patrick, Vicky Newham, Louise Mangos, Mandy Rothbotham

After a long lunch there was little time to get ready but I was so excited to see that my hotel room had a whirlpool bath I couldn’t resist donning the complimentary shower cap and diving in.

I can’t resist free toiletries…

Pre-drink drinks came next. Our fearless HQ leader Lisa Milton, made an inspiring speech.

Lisa Milton, Abigail Fenton

The champagne flowed, and then we were ushered over to the museum for the party,

Phoebe Morgan, Lisa Hall, Louise Jensen, Darren O’Sullivan

It felt surreal being handed a name badge with author printed on it. Three years on and it still feels like a – albeit a really good – dream. Darren O’Sullivan clearly felt the same!

There was a mixture of people at the party from employees of HarperCollins, to the authors, to literary agents. It was great to catch up with old friends and meet some new.

Darren O’Sullivan, Louise Jensen, Roz Watkins

It was an amazing night. The sold-out Dior exhibition which I longed to see was opened especially for us and that was a real highlight of my evening, along with meeting Sam Carrington. Sam & I met on Twitter before we had published & we’ve messaged each other, often multiple times a day, for three & a half years, and had never actually met in person until last night.

Sam Carrington & Louise Jensen

We drank champagne, the buffet included King prawn stirfry, duck salad, tuna and avocado although I still ended up having a veggie burger from room service when I got back!

I can’t wait to do it all again next year.

6 monthly news roundup & an invitation!

It’s been six months since my last news roundup. I can’t believe how quickly the year is flying by. I hope you’ve been enjoying the sunshine as much as me.

Yesterday, I had a lovely surprise when a box arrived from my publishers, HQ – Harper Collins – full to the brim of proof copies of my forthcoming thriller, The Family. I was overwhelmed and you can see my reaction over on YouTube here.

I’ve never had a proof copy with a specially designed cover before. This gorgeous double cover will be very different from the retail version of the book and is especially for book reviewers and members of the media.

The thought that my story is now winging its way out into the world prior to its publication on October 17th is both nerve-wracking and exciting.

Although the cover hasn’t yet been finalised The Family is now on Amazon (here). I had my first attempted at writing a blurb – what do you think?

COULD ONE MOTHER’S MISTAKE COST HER DAUGHTER EVERYTHING?

Laura is grieving after the sudden death of her husband. Struggling to cope emotionally and financially, Laura is grateful when a local community, Oak Leaf Organics, offer her and her 17-year-old daughter Tilly a home.

But as Laura and Tilly settle into life with their new ‘family’, sinister things begin to happen. When one of the community dies in suspicious circumstances Laura wants to leave but Tilly, enthralled by the charismatic leader, Alex, refuses to go.

Desperately searching for a way to save her daughter, Laura uncovers a horrifying secret but Alex and his family aren’t the only ones with something to hide. Just as Laura has been digging into their past, they’ve been digging into hers and she discovers the terrifying reason they invited her and Tilly in, and why they’ll never let them leave…

I was honoured when Titan books invited me to write a short story for their ‘Exit Wounds’ anthology. To be regarded by the editors as one of the nineteen best crime writers around was a bit… well bonkers really but I’m so happy to have my story – The Recipe – share a book with Mark Billingham, Lee Child and Val McDermid among others. I was reading the other stories on holiday and they are brilliant. You can find it on Amazon here.

On Sunday I’ll be again sharing a stage with the fabulous crime writer Darren O’Sullivan at Earls Barton Literary Festival in Northamptonshire. We’re pictured above at last month’s Deepings Literary Festival. Darren and I are such good friends which makes for our talks being a lot of fun. Rather than a structured script we prefer to chat with the audience making sure everyone goes away knowing everything they wanted to about books, writing, and publishing. Do join us if you can. Tickets are available here.

Aside from books I’ve shared how it feels as a parent when your child suffers from depression in a candid post, you can read here. I’m so proud of my son for being so open about his mental health problems and we both wanted to share a harrowing experience we recently had. Please do share if you think it might help anyone.

I’ve recently come back from a holiday in Lanzarote, where I made friends with this gorgeous stray cat who fell asleep on my dress.
I’m refreshed and ready to start work on my next book. My agent loves the opening I sent him and for the first time ever when I begin writing something new, I already know the twist. Trust me, no-one will see this coming!
Lastly, I wanted to share the stunning German cover for The Date, retitled ‘Her Last Date.’ I’m so pleased with it and it will be published in October.

Aside from my regular blog posts, I’ll be back in a few weeks for another news update to reveal the cover for The Family and some super exciting and unexpected news I can’t quite share yet.

In the meantime enjoy the sunshine,

Louise x

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uc6734gTiaU

Inside the home of Literary Nobel Peace Prize recipient – Jose Saramago

 

Lanzarote is one of my most favourite places on earth, coming second only to my dining table when all my family are seated around it. Partly because it’s home to one of my hero’s – Cesar Manrique – but more about him in a forthcoming blog; today’s post is all about literary Nobel Peace Prize recipient Jose Saramago (1922-2010) whose house I visited last week.

There’s something very special about standing in the places other authors once stood. Jose’s home is beautiful. A world away from the cramped space where I write my thrillers.


If you’re not familiar with him, Jose Saramago was a Portuguese writer, once described by Harold Bloom as ‘the most gifted novelist in the world’. Over two million copies of his novels have been sold and he’s been translated into twenty-five languages. When the Portugues government ordered the removal of his novel ‘The Gospel According to Jesus Christ’ from the Aristeion Prize shortlist – claiming the work was religiously offensive – Jose moved to Lanzarote where he resided until his death.

Inspiringly, although Jose supported himself through journalism, his career as an author didn’t take off until the publication of his fourth book when he was sixty. I wasn’t published until I was in my 40’s and I thought I’d changed career quite late in life. There’s hope for all aspiring writers out there!

This is his study inside of the house, although it isn’t where he wrote his books.

And not surprising with this fabulous view to distract him…

But there was a fine collection of pens.

And of course, a Nobel Peace Prize displayed on the wall.

A super tidy desk, the legs of which were covered in teeth marks where his dogs had chewed them.

The whole house had a cosy, lived in feel. The lounge was just as he’d left it. His current reads on the coffee table. The walls covered with paintings based on his books which made me long for a painting based on one of my books!

My heart melted when I learned all the clocks in the house were stopped at four o’clock because that was the time he met his wife.

Jose’s library was jaw-droppingly impressive. There are 15,000 books in his collection. He insisted that people were extremely careful with books stating there were pieces of the author on each and every page. His wife insisted that female authors had their own section as she very strongly felt women deserved better than for their novels to stand side by side with male authors many of whom didn’t respect women or their work.

This is where Jose wrote.

Apparently, every morning he would rearrange his desk and reread what he’d written the day before. Then he’d begin to write, never stopping to edit.

After lunch every day he’d swim in his indoor pool.

Before spending each afternoon sitting in his favourite garden chair, gazing out to sea, meditating and thinking of his wip. Jose formed the words in his head he would write the following day and rarely had to redraft the way that most writers **me** seem to. There was a big lesson here that to spend a few hours writing without distraction is far more productive than a day spent at a desk hopping on and off social media as I do.

After the tour we were given a cup of Portuguese coffee to take into the garden, although Jose’s cat had claimed the best chair.

You can find out more about Jose Saramago and how to visit his home here.

THIS is absolutely the highlight of my career

A few days ago, on holiday, my youngest son excitedly told me Lego are making a ‘Stranger Things’ set.

‘You know you’ve made it when you’re immortalised in Lego,’ I said.

We travelled home this morning, and after I’d showered I opened the door to my study to find this Lego model of my office – complete with inspirational quote board – on my desk.

Next to it was this note: –

So many amazing things have happened over the past three years with my books, and I hope there are many more causes for celebration to come but genuinely no amount of books sales, chart domination or award nominations have come close to the feeling of pride I got when I read this note. Whatever you do in life, to be a success in the eyes of your child…. there is no greater success.

‘Did you hear the one about the author…’ – Come & talk books with us! Tea, cake & chat.


 

I’m super happy to be appearing at a couple of fabulous literary festivals in the next few weeks, with my good friend, fellow psychological thriller writer, Darren O’Sullivan. I love meeting readers at events and appearing with a friend makes it extra enjoyable. If you’ve been to see Darren and me before you know to expect a LOT (sometimes too much) laughing as well as lots of talk about books and writing. We love the audience to join in our conversation and it’s all very relaxed and informal. Do come if you can.

First up is Deepings Literary Festival in Market Deeping on the 23rd-26th May. There’s a stellar line up including Sophie Hannah who I’m a little bit star-struck to meet! Darren and I are on Friday at 10.30am (fabulous blogger Linda Hill will be keeping us under control) which gives us the rest of the day to eat much cake and catch everybody else’s talk, including Barbara Copperthwaite’s. You can view the programme and book tickets here.

On 9th June we shall be in the beautiful village of Earls Barton, Northamptonshire, at 10.30. We appeared here last year and even if you don’t like books it’s worth the trip for the carrot cake! The festival runs from 7th – 9th June. I can’t wait to catch Sue Moorcroft and Jane Isaac who are always entertaining as well as meeting Cara Hunter who writes such excellent books. You can view the programme and book tickets here.

Pop along and say hello – we’d love to meet you!

Parenting a child who has depression – Mental Health Matters

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Last September my son left home to begin a new phase of his life at university. Like many mums, I felt a mixture of sorrow, pride, happiness, loneliness, and excitement. I also felt something else.

Fear.

My son has depression, something he’s very open about and shares on his blog. He’d deferred his uni place the previous year, not feeling in the right headspace to go but now…

Now he wasn’t entirely sure but after some medication and therapy, he felt it was now or never.

A few years previously, when his brother had plans to go to uni, I found myself googling student recipes to print out for him, articles on budgeting. This time around I googled suicide statistics for male students.

The results were horrifying.

Men are three times as likely to take their own life than women.  My son hasn’t been brought up with a ‘boys don’t cry’ mentality. As a family, we’ve always talked and he’s openly shared his feelings with me, his mood, his ‘I’ll-never-get-out-of-bed-again days.

But I had a constant gnawing worry – what would happen when I wasn’t there to talk to?

Mostly he manages his condition well. He knows his triggers and has coping strategies in place. His new friends are understanding when he can’t face going out or leaves a gig halfway through.

Mostly he manages.

But there are times he doesn’t.  Times when I check his Instagram story and know from the music he’s listening to that his mood has plummeted.  Sometimes he’ll come and spend a few days at home, but sometimes he’ll retreat into himself and these are the most terrifying of times for me. The dark voice whispers in my head that it’s all my fault – something I did or didn’t do – while I anxiously trawl through his social media accounts all hours of the day and night. Not because I want to know where he is, but because if he’s posted, I know he’s alive. I study photos he’s been tagged in. How does he look? But how he looks is no indication of how he feels. As he said on his blogyou can’t see mental health, you can’t look in a mirror and see the damage being caused.”

And living with that fear. The fear that one day it might all get too much for him creates such a feeling of utter helplessness, of hopelessness it’s a constant battle to balance giving him space to grow, with checking he’s okay. I try not to plague him with endless calls and messages (often I plague him with endless calls and messages).

A few nights ago he sent me an email completely out of the blue, completely out of character. It was a long and lovely message about his brothers and me, and if it had come from one of my other children I would have burst with happiness. As it was, a cold dread wrapped itself around my heart. Immediately I rang him thinking something that no parent should ever have to consider.

‘Is this a suicide note?’

‘Umm, no. I can see why you’d think that, but no. I can promise I will never do that,’ he said with sincerity, and he meant it. But I’ve worked in mental health. I know those long, dark hours where sufferers of depression convince themselves it would be a good thing if they weren’t around anymore. That everyone would be better off. Happier.

That is never the case.

My son raises awareness of mental health where he can, particularly amongst males.  I’m immensely proud of him for being so open and honest. Despite the despair he often feels, he has a desire to help others.

He said of his own journey “I went through a phase where I would drink more in the hope it would fix the problem. I can’t begin to explain how badly this impacted my mental health, constantly throwing yourself into a situation you don’t want to be in is crazy, essentially what I was doing was running as fast as I could into a wall, but every week running slightly faster and hoping that the harder I hit it, the better it would be.”

I hope that one day he stops running.

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This was a raw and emotional write I’ve shared with the permission of my son. If you or your family are affected by mental health issues you can access UK mental health services (including emergency support) here and in the US here, or speak to your doctor.