Entering the Final Phase of a #WIP

Atmospheric image of oak treesIt’s been a while since I mentioned writing, especially my current work in progress (WIP).

This standalone novel is a psychological thriller set in 2015 located in my home county of Sussex.

Sadly my writing took a nose dive in 2019 when I lost all confidence. I started the book in March 2019 but then things went a bit wobbly. It was like learning to ride a bike again. As soon as I made some progress, I would read it back and shake my head. Stop. Edit. Have another stab at it and still it didn’t engage! Grrrr! I was tearing my hair out with frustration, I even shed tears, thinking the creative power in my brain had been switched off. Even when we took a holiday in the most beautiful part of France, I read some good psychological thrillers to see if I could figure out where it was going wrong. I was inspired enough to embark on another complete re-write. But then the dreaded Coronavirus struck, leaving me so anxious, I was unable to move forward again.

Outline Synopsis

Joe, Maisie, Sam.
We were three kids in a care home, too young to protect ourselves.
Three friends who were inseparable until the night Sam went missing.

The story is centred around a group of fictitious children’s homes that existed in London in the 90s. Maisie, a professional woman at 32, has psychotherapy, unable to understand what lies at the root of her recurring nightmares and panic attacks.

Joe meanwhile, has led a troubled life from serving time in prison to being homeless. When the two characters cross paths in 2015, they recall memories of strange parties they were taken to by the home’s sinister owner, Mr Mortimer and what happened to Sam? 20 years ago he vanished, never to be seen again. Yet as Joe tries to turn his life around, he is subject to a campaign of online abuse that makes them wonder if their enemies are still around before a police investigation is launched.

A homeless man

Back in the writer’s chair

By mid April it struck me I needed to take a different approach; look at the nature of the police investigation at the heart of the story. Going through the chapters, I soon identified which parts needed research and was further delighted to get some help. Speaking to a senior police officer who worked on similar cases to the one I am writing about, I have at last found a new direction. So I finally thrashed out the nuts and bolts of the investigation

With a brand new focus, the next hurdle was getting inside the minds of my characters. They took a while to come out, especially Maisie. So by the time I was immersed in a second re-write, I wrote her scenes in first person, something that enabled me to think like her, picture her life and feel her anxiety (something which comes naturally to me.)

Joe’s character has been easier. Writing his part in 3rd person, he is a likeable rogue with fire in his belly; an angry rebellious young man at the pinnacle of his life. Now all he wants is justice.

Last of all, I wanted to be able to picture my characters which is where Pinterest comes in useful. You only have to key something as obscure as ‘auburn hair’ in the search and dozens of faces appear. I found the right faces for both Maisie and Joe (depicted as Jack Falahee), as well as their childhood friend Sam.

Characters from a psychological thriller I am writingJoe, Maisie, Sam.
We were three kids in a care home, too young to protect ourselves.
Three friends who were inseparable until the night Sam went missing.

The remainder of the story

From May to July I drafted out a huge part of the story (about two thirds) and about to tackle the final phase. The weird thing is I get my best ideas when doing something mundane like housework. For example while I was cleaning the bathroom yesterday, I mentally tied up all the loose ends and worked out the remaining synopsis. This was all hastily scribbled out in note form but has possibly given me enough of a foundation to get a first draft complete before long.

Wish me luck because if I succeed I’ll be looking for beta readers and an editor.

I’ve seen lots of fellow authors rediscover their writing passion during these strange times and hope this will be the start of something promising. But that aside, I’ve really enjoyed getting back into it.

Posted in Blogging, Fictional Characters, Novel, Research, Story, Thrillers, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Coming Out of #UKLockdown

Tributes to the NHS during the coronavirus pandemic

What’s been happening with UK Lockdown?

24.6.2020 Well, it’s been 3 months but some of us were getting quite used to this new way of life. Piece by Piece however, the Government started lifting some of the restrictions and by the middle of May we were finally allowed out into the countryside.

Fortunately, this has been the hottest, sunniest May I remember for years, the flowers and tree blossom prolific: foxgloves in various shades, vivid red peonies and the plumes of mauve and white wisteria flowers on our cottage a feast for the eyes.

Crowds and Queues

Brighton Beach during Coronavirus outbreak

Source: Sky News 23.5.2020

With weather this glorious though and a first phase of getting our freedom back, it was inevitable people would be out in droves. Nothing suffered the deluge quite like the beaches. West Wittering had to restrict numbers of visitors to their car park (you had to book a week in advance) while pictures on the news showed other beaches packed to the gunnels with social distancing measures well and truly ignored.

Queuing to enter shops has become something of the norm now (but I am getting through many audio books in the process); at least there are no shortages any more. With a reasonable supply of flour now, my husband has been making lovely bread , while I continue to experiment with new recipes.

The Good Life

The weather has been so gorgeous, we have enjoyed our garden more than ever as have the rest of the family. At the beginning of May I got my hanging baskets planted, seeds in the greenhouse, resulting in a very bountiful vegetable patch. The rain has been scarce but in June, we finally got some rain. Now everything is growing like crazy, we have a very overcrowded vegetable patch, not to mention an abundance of strawberries and even a few cherries, while my Mum’s is like the Garden of Eden.

In fact every facet of nature seems amplified; clear skies with barely a cloud, the sea bluer, the flowers beautiful, the bird song clearer and the air sweeter. These were my observations for the rest of Lockdown and before the month ended, we had two more walks: Halnaker Windmill and Pagham Harbour, all within easy reach.

Halnaker Windmill in Sussex

Acceptance or Denial

As time marches on however, it seems the coronavirus is here to stay and the world might never go back to what it was. But there are two types of people; those anxious about COVID-19 (which is most of us) who accept the situation for what it is and do what we can to prevent the spread. We must protect the care workers and the vulnerable.

But some think the coronavirus is no worse than flu, social distancing laws are completely over the top and “how dare they take away our freedom!” I have even heard conspiracy theorists preaching this is some sinister plot; that governments engineered this entire scenario on purpose to enslave us indoors and control our lives.

I like to keep an open mind but I personally think it’s crap. How incredibly disrespectful to all the grieving families who’ve lost loved ones, not to mention the relentless, untiring efforts NHS workers but enough said… All most people want to do is survive.

Oriental Poppy in the garden

Moving On

So finally the shops have started opening again for non essential items such as clothes. I admit I do feel very sorry for workers who are suffering financial hardship, companies on the brink of going bust and the grim possibility jobs may be lost. No one wants that and yes, the economy has to start moving again. It was good to see NEXT in Bognor getting ready for opening. For the past 12 weeks it had a forlorn look, clothes on the rails but no customers, the store swamped in darkness and windows covered with bird poo. Getting read for the grand re-opening on June 15th, most stores now have footprint stickers on the floor (2m social distancing still in place) and hand sanitising stations.

And Finally

On June 23rd, Boris Johnson announced the next phase of relaxing the measures. To be honest I am a little surprised the pubs, restaurants and hotels are opening. Good news for youngsters who want to get out socialising again, relatives such as my husband’s brother and his family who run 2 wonderful restaurants, (The Boulevard and The Riviera in Sussex). But for gyms and beauty salons, the news is not so good and they are to remain closed, people like my sister (Cariad Beauty) who did the COVID-19 training, invested in all the PPE gear in readiness to return to work and is now told she can’t!

In other words you can go out boozing but you won’t be able to get back to a regular health and beauty regime? Does this Government have its priorities right?

It’s good to see the country shrug itself back to life and let’s hope the worst of this era has passed (fingers crossed). This will be my last post on the Coronavirus Pandemic for a while unless there is anything newsworthy. Now back to writing my new book, which is going quite well.

Posted in Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tales from UK Lockdown: Week 10

Bognor Rocks at sunset

Adjusting to a Different World

26.5.2020 So we’ve been in lockdown for over 2 months but now the government have eased restrictions a little, I wonder if life can ever truly go back to how it was.

Despite the negative press, many of us are lucky to spend quality time with our loved ones and still manage financially, thanks to the Government furlough scheme. Though I am aware that for some, this is living a nightmare. My heart goes out to our care workers, many of whom work unbelievably long shifts, surrounded by death and heartache on a daily basis. For them, the Corona pandemic cannot pass quickly enough.

The other major problem is the work place. Understandably companies cannot wait to get the economy moving which is fair enough. Though some people just want everything to go back to how it was which will ultimately mean filling the sky with aeroplanes again. But my gut feeling tells me COVID-19 isn’t done with us yet. Lifting restrictions too fast could easily trigger a second deadly wave… that being the case we’re doomed!

We're Doomed!

Alternatively, just cherish these days while you have them (if you can)

Over these past weeks I have enjoyed seeing the breath-taking photos people share from their daily walks; of flowers bursting into bloom, tranquil coastal scenes and the most vibrant of sunsets. Others continue to inspire me with their achievements.

Extra time

With more spare hours on our hands, we finally re-decorated our office. The plaster and paintwork was in a terrible state, a daunting task we put off for too long. Now it’s done (and having cleared out loads of unwanted crap in the process) we feel more productive than ever in our cleaner tidier environment surrounded by fresh white walls.

Office repainted (Cottagewebs)

Country walks and keeping fit

Another month on and we’re finally allowed to drive into the countryside for walks. We missed the bluebells but enjoyed a picnic on the banks of East Ashling Pond, blessed to see a family of swans and signets gliding across the water. Halnaker Windmill yesterday was equally awe inspiring, the only sound the ring of birdsong, the air perfumed with the first lacy blooms of elderflowers. And talking of keeping fit, I’ve been doing kitchen aerobics with a set of hand-made weights (two water bottles filled with sand from the beach) and occasionally enjoy a zoom pilates class with Sussex Physiotherapy.

Swans and signets on East Ashling Pond, Sussex

Making the most of fresh seasonal produce

If ever there’s a time to support local farmers it’s now and my favourite place is Runcton Farm Shop. This is a great opportunity to look up new recipes depending on what’s available for example local asparagus (delicious either as a side vegetable or in recipes such as Risotto Primavera). I also heard there was a surplus of products, due to restaurants being closed. Imagine my surprise when my husband brought home a kg of fresh mussels home, which cost £1.60. For the first time ever I made Moules Marinière such a simple recipe but absolutely mouthwatering, served with home made bread.

Moules Mariniere

Best of all, I am back to writing with a renewed passion

I never imagined writing a standalone psychological thriller would be so hard but there were times last year I almost gave up.

It’s thanks to the people who helped me, I wanted to keep going; inspirational people such as Dan Jones who shared his experiences of working in children’s homes in the 90s and his friend, Graham, who was brought up in care. But with a police investigation at the heart of the story, more research needed to be done.

Research: talking to various senior police officers allowed me concentrate on the plot, a time I felt indebted to my good friend, Marion Kille, whose husband, Andy (formerly an ops controller with Sussex police for 30 years) was happy to answer a list of questions I had prepared. I also spoke to Peter’s cousin, Denise, whose husband worked in the CID but kindly pointed me in the direction of a recently retired Detective Inspector who for the last 10 years was senior investigator for similar cases to the one I am writing about. With a new focus, everything is finally beginning to slot into place.

Inspiration: Furthermore, I changed to writing in ‘first person’ for one of the characters. Last year I practised this as a writing tip – to write a scene in first person, depict their thoughts and feelings more powerfully – then change back to 3rd person. Sharing this on Twitter, #WhatWorksForMe I had a reply from Terry Tyler, one of my favourite authors, saying “Ever thought of just writing in the 1st person anyway?” It’s working very well and allowing me to get right inside this character’s head.

Re-writing this book is like untangling a ball of wool but finally I am unravelling the plot and teasing the story out of my characters. But more about that in a later post…

Posted in Blogging, England, Environment, lockdown, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

First Month of Lockdown

Trying to Stay Positive

21.4.2020 As Coronavirus spins its deadly web around the globe, I am sat here wondering how some people are handling the different world we live in.

Confined to our homes for a month now, I have tried to look on the bright side, but there are days when the situation feels eerie. Watching the news is heartbreaking when you consider the tragedy of losing loved ones. But for those of us who are surviving (fingers crossed), maybe we should think about how we can turn this situation to our advantage. I’ve seen lots of good vibes across the media, so I decided to use this post to share my own experiences.

Aubretia growing on a flint wall in Sussex

Seeing the world through new eyes

We’ve had a spate of sunny days, almost fated to draw us out, when we know we should stay indoors. But even on a solitary walk, there is time to observe your natural surroundings. On occasions I see something I never taken much notice of before. It could be the trees coming into leaf, the incredible diverse range of colours found in the beach pebbles, cloud formations or the movement of birds in the sky. I’ve been wowed by some of the photos I’ve seen on Facebook and Twitter too, which just shows we have the same basal instincts when it comes to appreciating what is under our noses. Maybe this is a good sign. That we have taken our planet for granted for too long.

Sun shining through the trees in west park

Adjusting shopping habits

The panic buying and stockpiling I described in my last post will be forever embossed on my brain. What a nightmare, queuing at 7am to get loo rolls. But with social distancing laws resolutely in place now, I try to restrict this to once a week which is not a bad thing (I used to shop too often). Nowadays I am inspired to plan ahead, check cupboards for ingredients, keep the freezer well stocked and only go out when I need stuff. At least the shelves are better stocked. Given the potential of the virus spreading though, the thought of being in a supermarket fills me with dread. I don’t mind queuing 2m apart and one tip I’d like to share is to have an audiobook on your phone. Shuffling slowly forwards, it not only kills time but I’m getting through more good books than ever before.

Protecting yourself

Fingers crossed I have thus far avoided anything nasty, by sanitising my hands as soon as I leave the store before touching keys or door handles. Same when I’m home, then rubbing all plastic and glass containers with anti-bacterial wipes before putting them away (my sister’s tip but I think lots of people do this now). COVID-19 can survive on hard surfaces for up to 72 hours! I have also taken to wearing a mask now. My next door neighbour started her own embroidery business but with an excess of fabrics, makes very nice masks for just £6 each. Check her designs out on Instagram.

Cooking

I am loving seeing people’s culinary masterpieces on social media. Isn’t it great to go back to baking your own bread, while others get creative with lush cakes and cookies? I don’t think we’ve had a single ready meal since lockdown and I am enjoying looking up new recipes (see my Pinterest board) and spending more time in the kitchen. I never had the time before and it feels like a luxury. In fact my freezer is getting so chock-a-block full of home-cooked meals I might end up  shopping even less soon!

Time for Communication and Contemplation

We have time. So much time. Time to connect with people we haven’t contacted for months, write letters, phone each other up, Facetime, cherish the joy of communication like never before. Peter and I miss our walking group terribly but use our weekends to sort the garden out, plant seeds and we even started painting our office, something we procrastinated about for too long. But while it’s nice to keep busy, I find time to relax. Last week I enjoyed a zoom Yoga class, thanks to my friend Angela. But in moments of anxiety try creative visualisation. Another good friend, Penny Burns, has expansive knowledge in this field and I have been helping her with her blog, as well as promoting her videos on YouTube. These combine deep breathing with meditation techniques, designed to reduce stress and improve well-being.

Sun on the sea used in a creative visualisation video

Reliving good memories

Getting things organised has been high on my list of priorities and looking at my i-pad, I was staggered by how many photos were on it. No wonder the storage is almost full! So I have been looking through them and deleting some, leaving only the best. It’s actually turned into another therapeutic exercise. My tablet was a joint 50th birthday present from Peter and family, and since 2014, I have taken hundreds of pics, some almost identical, others not worth saving. It’s been fun revisiting those years, from family celebrations to trips out and holidays. A living memoir of life’s highlights, reminding me how much I have to be thankful for. I recommend this as a good antidote on days when you’re feeling blue.

So what are others up to during lockdown?

I get lots of inspiration from hearing what others have been up to – from taking up a new hobby to posting lovely photos and videos, bringing some cheer to our troubled lives. Dan Jones has inspired me by posting his wellbeing walks on YouTube for others to enjoy. I even attempted a movie of my own, a recording on the beach where the sound of the waves lapping on the shore was quite soothing.

https://www.facebook.com/helen.christmas.7/videos/2940573542646414/

At the same time, I’ve been blown away by stories in the media.

Praise to 90-year-old Margaret Payne, climbing a mountain on her stairs to help raise money for the NHS during the coronavirus pandemic. She aims to scale the equivalent of a Scottish Highland mountain with 282 trips up the stairs in her home.

And who could miss the accomplishments of Captain Tom Moore? Tom’s 100th Birthday Walk is a lion-hearted gesture to raise funds for the NHS, a man who served as an officer in World War II and whose selfless acts of bravery make him a hero.

So that’s my list done. Don’t know how long we’ll be in Lockdown but it could be months yet so keep the ideas flowing… I’ll be posting again soon.

Posted in Blogging, England, Social History, The Decades | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Guest Post with Julia Firlotte My author journey

Julia Firlotte romance author guest blog

Julia Firlotte

With the launch of her debut novel, ‘Trust In You,’ I am really excited to invite Julia Firlotte to my blog, to talk about her author’s journey.

Julia is a local writer who I met last summer, at the Gribble Inn, Oving, West Sussex. As budding authors, we had a good chat about books and writing before she told me about her up-and-coming first novel, a summer romance set in the US.

So a very warm welcome to you, Julia and I’m intrigued to discover more about your writing process…

“Novels take their readers on a journey, with characters leading the adventure and charging ahead (or limping slowly forward in some cases). I’ve been surprised though of the journey the writing process itself has allowed me to make as a new author, it’s not just been my characters on a path of enlightenment.”

So did you plot out your story or was it character driven?

“I’m very much an inspirational writer rather than a planner. I come up easily with scenes and can fabricate a whole dialogue between characters and write it down without ever knowing where my stories are headed. Developing characters that fit with what the modern reader wants and structuring it into a cohesive storyline, that’s more of a challenge for me (and why I have several unfinished books).

As with learning any new skill, new writers need to learn their craft, but as I’m discovering, this also means learning their target audience’s preferences too. I spoke recently to a highly experienced novelist and she told me that she never puts pen to paper without knowing exactly who her characters are and what is going to happen. This approach avoids wasting months rewriting and is clearly of commercial benefit, but for me I admit I struggle with this technique.

Hmm, that is good advice. You really need to know your characters before the novel can take shape. What other elements are important to you?

“My debut novel ‘Trust In You’ is a romantic suspense and like crime and thriller writers, I like my romance to have angst and passion, not be all light-hearted dinners and roses. Trust In You started as a bully romance over a land dispute, but after listening to my characters and beta readers, by the end of the writing process the original plot wasn’t even in the book anymore. It’s a love story through and through and I think a stronger piece of writing because of it, now with a strong crime and intrigue element.”

Trust in You by Julia Firlotte launched in Spring 2020

Ooh, crime and romance… I am really intrigued now, tell us more.

“Developing characters that are believable is widely recognised as being the most important aspect of writing any piece of fiction. Whether a protagonists or antagonist is a person or a theme, likeable or someone the reader will just love to hate, they have to be real. Some useful tools I’ve discovered in my writing journey to help develop my characters are mood thesauruses and personality typing such as Myers and Briggs.

Also key is the ability to step back from the novel after leaving it to rest between drafts and asking ‘would my character really behave like this’ and more importantly ‘will my readers want to read this?’ Having a clear audience in mind during the whole process seems obvious, but is easy to overlook. I recently spent nine months on a first draft, only to have feedback that the writing is great (descriptive, insightful and well-paced etc), but what I’d actually written, meaning the entire plot and the fundamental character traits was unappealing and distasteful. Oh dear, I’d clearly missed the mark by a mile of what I had been hoping to achieve.”

Quite a tough learning curve then but you do need to develop a thick skin as a writer.

“Although disheartening, I’m really grateful for these honest criticisms as without them truly appealing stories might never be written. My author journey is teaching me more about society and my readership than I’d ever expected to learn and making me a stronger and more informed person in the process.”

Trust in You romantic suspense novel by Julia Firlotte

Thanks for sharing this, Julia, it’s been a most enlightening article. Now for those of you who are dying to get your hands on her book, here are the essential links: 

For more information on Julia’s novels, please visit her website www.juliafirlotteauthor.com and subscribe to her mailing list where you will also receive the first three chapters free.

‘Trust In You’ is currently receiving five star ratings on www.goodreads.com and is available to buy in paperback and ebook via Amazon.

Trust In You

A first love summer romance full of intrigue, lust and lies.

From the moment she met him, Ella Peterson had questions. As always, though, she’s too shy to ask.

Older and sexy as hell, mysterious Adam Brook soon sweeps sheltered Ella off her feet; but is he as perfect as he appears to be, or is there more to him than he’s telling her?

Ella’s world has already turned upside down after moving from England to rural Kansas. She and her sisters were hoping for a more secure future, but instead find that life can be tough when jobs are scarce and the stakes often higher than anticipated.

When events spiral out of Ella’s control, she learns the person she needs to rely on most is herself and her instincts on who to trust in the future.

It’s just that her instincts are screaming at her to trust Adam; it’s what he tells her that makes that a problem.

This is the first book in the Falling for You series.

Happy Easter everyone and what better way to survive lockdown than to relax with a good book?

Posted in Guest Posts, Novel, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

From Life Changing Fears to Simple Pleasures

Hyacynths at West Dean Gardens

28.03.2020: Today feels strange. Was it a week ago Mum and I were enjoying a walk around West Dean Gardens? With fear of the coronavirus spreading, they shut the shop and café but kept the gardens open for visitors to enjoy free. Thinking it was the last chance we might get out for a while, we made the most of it. I wasn’t wrong. A week later the UK went into lockdown. 

14.03.2020: Two weeks ago, the face of Britain was changing rapidly. Panic spread fast, people went out in droves to stock up on essentials but it led to an explosion in panic buying. Mum loves shopping and at 85 years of age, it is one of the highlights of her week. So picture us in M&S Food hall, my sister and I pinging texts back and forth, to check what’s available. We were able to get her a chicken and some hand wash but despite trying 5 different food stores, she could not get her hands on pasta or paracetamol and not a single toilet roll to be found anywhere!

Panic Buying and Stockpiling Week

16.03.2020: No one needs to be told how bad it was but my God! Anyone on Facebook must have seen the images of empty shelves; videos of grabbing arms like some big greedy octopus had descended; photos of smirking hoarders, multi-packs of loo rolls piled high in their trolleys. I was ashamed to be a member of the human race, imagining the poor souls who ended up with nothing. These would have included old age pensions, working families and NHS employees. Did these hoarders have no shame? Apparently not.

18.03.2020: Thus as word spread, people drove to Sainsbury’s earlier to beat the rush (and yes, even I was driven to desperation). But you should have seen the queues. They stretched all the way around the car park. Like many in the same boat, I was banking on getting just one or two essential items, having never imagined that by the time I inched my way into the store, there still wouldn’t be any sodding loo paper! But within 15 minutes of the store being open, the shelves fully stocked, they had already been stripped bare.

Toilet Roll Jokes

19.03.2020: You’d think it was a joke right? And yes, we had to laugh. Even my 91-year-old mother in law donated their local newspaper with the parting words, “I thought Peter might like to read it unless you need it for toilet paper.” Looking back though, I never imagined that fraught weekend prior to all this, would be the last time I would be taking Mum out food shopping for the unforeseeable future. It was beginning to feel surreal like something out of War of the Worlds.

Next Came Lockdown

23.03.2020: Day by day we were adapting to more change, measures that would ultimately be essential if we were to prevent the spread of the invisible enemy COVID-19. Only now  do I appreciate how lucky we were to enjoy our West Dean Gardens trip. It was Mother’s Day that weekend too. My brother in law and his family run two restaurants, Mothering Sunday one of their busiest days. But both had to close, as did all diners and pubs. We couldn’t take our mothers out either as vulnerable people were advised to stay indoors. I visited my mum very briefly to give her a box of chocolates and a magazine but we weren’t allowed to hug. I cannot describe the emotional wrench I felt at the time.

The open parkland at West Dean Gardens

The open parkland at West Dean Gardens

25.03.2020: Since the Prime Minister’s speech everyone must be feeling the pinch now. With the whole country suspended, work has ceased, the knock-on effect on businesses is yet to be realised and this is only week 1. My sister, a beauty therapist, has seen a dramatic drop off in bookings but like many in this business, is temporarily closed now. As web designers, maybe we have a slim chance of surviving but even our work is dwindling.

I didn’t want this post to be depressing just something I can look back on, if and when the world recovers. In some strange way though, I cannot help but wonder if this virus is Mother Nature’s way of fighting back. It has after all, confined people indoors, stopped us flying, reduced traffic, reduced CO2 emissions and forced us to appreciate the more simple pleasures in life. Our deepest fear is the threat of losing loved ones, but maybe a time to express how much we love them and will do anything to keep them safe.

Image of the Mulberry on Aldwick beach

An evening walk along our local beach.

In my next post, I’ll think of something cheerful to write, maybe a long list of what we’ve being doing with all this extra time on our hands…

 

Posted in Blogging, England, Social History, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

#Giveaway #Audible #Promotion for St Patrick’s Day

As coronavirus sweeps the globe, the Irish government has called on pubs and bars to close from Sunday to help tackle the spread.

The closures, (which came into effect at midnight on Sunday), were announced ahead of St Patrick’s Day, one of the busiest days in the year for these establishments, especially in locations such as Dublin. Sadly, 40 new cases of coronavirus were confirmed by the government, bringing the total in the Republic of Ireland to 169. This must come as a huge disappointment to those who enjoy celebrating St Patrick’s Day, myself included. But don’t be dispirited. Get some Guinness in the fridge and have a virtual celebration instead.

It so happens I chose St Patrick’s Day to run a book promotion, as my newest title has a strong Irish theme running all the way through with a colourful cast of characters.

Rosebrook Chronicles the Hidden Stories

This collection of gripping stories follows the lives of three abused teenagers. With snippets of social history from the 70s to the 90s, these are the personal journeys of ordinary citizens who never had a voice but I wanted to give them one. Focusing on the Irish connection, orphans, Bessie and Peter are separated by the Catholic Church, their lives about to twist down very different paths.

Bessie (later known as Beatrice)

Six-year-old Bessie overhears a conversation between novice, Sister Maria and the Mother Superior. Taken in by the nuns, she is far from happy in the Convent but at the mere hint of being torn from her homeland to be adopted, she panics.

Photo used for book cover 'Rosebrook Chronicles, the Hidden Stories"

This picture from 123RF.com of a frightened little girl seemed just right to depict little Bessie on the book cover.

What of her parents?
They say they went to live with the angels.
And where is her dear brother, Peter?
They tell her he was chosen by God but where is St. Benedict Orphanage?
It’s not impossible he is in Ireland somewhere. If only she could see him…

Leaving Ireland, Bessie’s tragic life starts to unfold where fate will throw many obstacles in her path, from family estrangement to poverty. How will she survive?

Irish actress Dorothy Duffy

With beautiful Irish features, actress Dorothy Duffy is how I imagine Beatrice would look as an adult.

Peter

Peter is an intelligent boy but with good looks and a quiet, pensive nature, he catches the eye of Father O’Brien. He is the most senior priest at St Benedict Orphanage.

Actor Billy Boyd

Billy Boyd (who played Pippin in Lord of the Rings) has just the Irish features I imagine Peter to have.

Peter is destined to study for the priesthood but all is not what it seems. Within a few years his life is turned into a living hell. Desperate to go searching for his sister, he embarks on a daring escape only to land in England with the law on his tale. But he clings the hope he will find Bessie, his letter to her a talisman to guide and inspire him.

Dear Bess, dearest little sister. Where did you go? I been wanting to write a letter to you for ages and pray I am not too late.
It feels like thunder and lightning struck at once. An almighty storm blew down from the Heavens when one minute we was together fore the angels swooped in and parted us.
Lord knows what happened to the others so bout you, Bess?
You was my only hope, the only one left in Ireland.

Actor Billy Boyd

If Rosebrook Chronicles was dramatised, it would be amazing if Billy Boyd was cast as Peter.

There is a third character, Robin, who weaves in and out of the plot. No one can possibly know the influence he will wield over these two naive youngsters as the story rolls through the decades. It is not light read but a book that will make you think. Not everything in society is rosy but it is how people deal with their emotional traumas that mould them into the people they become.

This novel can be read as a standalone, a mix of domestic noir and suspense, rich in social history from the 1960s to the 1990s. A book that will immerse you in the stories of these three troubled characters as they strive to find love, success and happiness.

Promotion

Rosebrook Chronicles is on a Kindle countdown promotion for 99p/99c
(March 17th – 21st).

Rosebrook Chronicles The Hidden Stories by Helen J Christmas

Or if you are a fan of audio books, you can hear the musical Irish accents of my characters come to life in an audio version, narrated by Paul Metcalfe.

I have 10 codes up for grabs. Download the Audible app from Amazon, enter your promotional code and enjoy the experience for FREE.

Two ways to get your free audible code

Audiobook Rosebrook Chronicles the Hidden Stories

Leave a comment on this post and will contact you with details on how to claim your free audiobook (open to readers in the UK and the US)
Or
Use the ‘FREE audiobook’ form to send me an email.
No personal data will be harvested from this promotion and once I have sent your code I will discard your details.

Reviews

K T Robson
This was such a powerful read – Helen Christmas has managed to navigate the complicated worlds of abuse, politics and religion expertly, weaving the stories of her three main characters seamlessly together.

Terror Tree
This story was well researched, with the historical facts running through the book, you really feel as you are following these characters throughout their lives

Jessica Belmont
Gripping, dark, and emotional, Rosebrook Chronicles is an incredible novel. The sensitive material is handled well, and the stories merge beautifully together. I highly recommend reading this.

HAPPY ST. PATRICK’S DAY!

A pint of Guinness

Posted in Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Guest Post with Patricia M Osborne

Choosing a Title/Writing a Blurb

Patricia Osborne author of The House of Grace family sagaToday it is my pleasure to have author Patricia Osborne as a guest on my blog. As part of our author’s networking group, she is our ‘Chindi Author of the Week’ which happens to coincide with publication of her second novel, The Coal Miner’s Son.

So over to Patricia who tackles a tricky subject for us writers: choosing an eye catching book title and if that isn’t difficult, writing an engaging book blurb. Read on…

Choosing a Title

If a title grabs a reader then they’ll normally pick up the book but what readers may not consider, is how much work has gone into producing those few words. Sometimes as writers we are lucky and just know what the title will be, but other times it can cause quite a headache. I’m normally quite good at coming up with titles, for other writers that is, not so much when it’s my own.

House of Grace my debut novel wasn’t too bad. It began as Grace but soon evolved to House of Grace inspired by the seventies television series House of Elliott. House of Grace gets its name as it’s a fashion house where Grace Granville, later Grace Gilmore, starts up her own fashion business.

House of Grace and The Coal Miner's Son novels by Patricia Osborne

My next novel and number two in the trilogy of House of Grace is The Coal Miner’s Son. The Coal Miner’s Son was a tad more troublesome. It began as part of my MA and was titled ‘The Heir of Granville’ but my tutor said this title made her think the story was more historical than it was. After several days of brainstorming with other writers, The Coal Miner’s Son was born. However, when I first spoke to my followers about the book cover, some felt it should have images of a coal miner which got me thinking. My story wasn’t about a coal miner, but would the title make the reader think it was? I therefore came up with numerous other titles and settled on ‘Return to Granville Hall,’ although this never felt right. After serious consideration and chats with my editor I conducted a Facebook Poll before finalising the title for the cover. ‘The Coal Miner’s Son’ won outright. So there it was. The Coal Miner’s Son had its publishing title but I knew that I’d need to make it quite clear in the book blurb what the story was about.

Book 3, my work in progress and the final in the House of Grace trilogy, is titled ‘The Granville Legacy’ and I’m hoping it will keep this name. When I started writing it I used ‘Return to Granville Hall’ as it wasn’t used for Book 2 but again, it didn’t feel right. I spent a day on Facebook Messenger with author Colin Ward and we literally brainstormed to produce the right title. We went through all sorts and then it would be just an odd word that was wrong. I wanted something with a similar ring to House of Grace and The Coal Miner’s Son and I believe ‘The Granville Legacy’ has that.

Writing a Blurb

If choosing a title isn’t hard enough then writing a blurb is even worse. Readers, I imagine would think that coming up with those few words at the back of the book is easy in comparison to writing approximately 90,000 words for the novel. The reader would be wrong. It causes so many headaches that books have been written on it and courses available. I followed Mark Dawson’s Self-Publishing 101 Course but Adam Croft has written a great book on it too, Writing Killer Blurbs and Hooks. Most importantly when writing this mini synopsis is not to give out any spoilers but at the same time draw the reader in so they’ll want to pick up the book and read it. It needs to be kept short, something that a reader can scan in seconds, and needs a tag line. I hope the blurb for The Coal Miner’s Son entices you in and makes you want to read the novel.

Full book jacket for the Coal Miner's Son by Patricia Osborne

Blurb for The Coal Miner’s Son

After tragedy hits the small coal mining village of Wintermore, nine-year-old miner’s son, George, is sent to Granville Hall to live with his titled grandparents.

Caught up in a web of treachery and deceit, George grows up believing his mother sold him. He’s determined to make her pay, but at what cost? Is he strong enough to rebel?

Will George ever learn to forgive?

Step back into the 60s and follow George as he struggles with bereavement, rejection and a kidnapping that changes his life forever. Resistance is George’s only hope.

*

My books can be found on Amazon at the links below

House of Grace

The Coal Miner’s Son

Books may also be ordered at any reputable bookstore or from your local library by quoting ISBN numbers

ISBN 9780995710702 – House of Grace
ISBN 9780995710719 – The Coal Miner’s Son

Where you can find me

Twitter

Facebook

Patricia’s Pen

Thank you Patricia for a most interesting article and I wish you the best of luck with your second novel, The Coal Miner’s Son.

Posted in Guest Posts, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Passing on the Sunshine

With a Sunshine Blogger Award Nomination

Sunshine Blogger Award Nominee badge

With gale force winds, persistent rain and floods in parts of the country, which show no signs of abating, the need for dry weather and sunshine must be high of everyone’s list of priorities in Blighty. So, come on, Spring!

Fortunately, I have rediscovered a little sunshine in own life, delighted my new novel is picking up pace after a disastrous start.

Writing a psychological thriller based in Bognor was never going to easy. I had a strong plot but could never seem to to move forwards with it – setting up scenes, developing the characters and converting my ideas into a gripping narrative.

But I think I have sussed where it’s going at last and hope to get a first draft finished soon. One thing about psychological thrillers I’ve observed, is they open with something dramatic; a story that draws readers down an avenue of suspense until they finally grasp what has happened to reach this finale. Throw in a secret enemy, a red herring, a creepy setting and viola! The sea mists in Bognor feature, as do the dark forests around Singleton and Eartham. All I can say is watch this space but don’t hold your breath. There is much work to be done yet…

Bognor Beach all seasons

The many moods of Bognor Beach in all seasons.

Then last week I was pleasantly surprised when Angela Petch nominated me for a Sunshine Blogger Award. So thanks, Angela!

I have known Angela since 2016 through CHINDI an author’s network based in Sussex. Angela writes historic fiction, perhaps inspired by a beautiful converted watermill in the Tuscan Hills where she and her husband spend their summer months. Tuscany is one of my dream places, somewhere I long to visit as I love Italian culture. The glorious foods and wines, rich landscapes, wild flowers and mountains positively shine through in Angela’s novels. Her first book, The Tuscan Secret (originally Tuscan Roots) follows the soul searching journey of a woman. Inspired by her mother’s papers this turns into gripping wartime adventure with a love story woven into its heart.

The Mill (taken from Angela's Blog)

The Mill (taken from Angela’s Blog)

Angela sent 11 questions for me to answer so here goes…

1. When you were little, what did you dream about becoming when you grew up?
I dreamt of being a ballerina when I was a little girl, inspired by a ladybird book showing pictures of all the beautiful tutus.

2. What is something you like to do the old fashioned way?
Going into my bank and paying in cash at the counter. I hate automated cash machines and the way we are forced to do everything online.

3. What is one of your favourite smells?
The aroma dispensed from a jar of coffee when you rip the foil off the top.

4. If you could call anyone in the world and have a one-hour conversation, who would you call?
That’s a tough one but in this current climate I’d say Boris Johnson, so I could pour out my woes about everything that is wrong with this country and insist his government to do more to make us a happier nation overall.

5. What job would you be terrible at?
Quite a few but the one that springs to mind is a politician because I am no good at sprouting bullshit.

6. If you had a million pounds/dollars, what would you do with them to help the most people?
Start a free cookery school in every town. It would bring people together to learn how to cook, share food, educate their children to eat better, reduce obesity and cut down on related illnesses, helping thousands of people to become happier and healthier.

7. For one day, you can do whatever you want. What would you do?
Scuba diving or snorkelling would be my first choice (preferably somewhere tropical) but I love walking, so to spend a day exploring some beauty spot with family and friends would be a pleasurable enough distraction.

8. Give me three words to describe yourself.
Introvert. Optimist. Daydreamer

9. What is your favourite food treat?

Wood fired pizza with lots of cheese, mushrooms and garlic.

10. What is your favourite outfit?
What apart from my favourite baggy ribbed jumper from Fat Face, with leggings and ankle boots? I don’t really like dressing up.

11. You have one last wish… go for it!
My life is pretty good as it is to be honest, but if I could be granted one wish it would be to sleep better and cure my husband’s snoring. If that came true we could travel more.

Finally I have to nominate 11 more bloggers to keep the positivity blazing.

The Sunshine Blogger Award empowers bloggers to celebrate other bloggers who are creative and bring positivity to the blogging community. I’d like to nominate the following people (but no obligation). It’s just a bit of fun and I appreciate that you are all very busy people.

Jane Cable: http://janecable.com/
Sandra Danby https://www.sandradanby.com/
Terry Tyler https://terrytyler59.blogspot.com/
Julia Proofreader https://juliaproofreader.wordpress.com/
Patricia Feinberg Stoner http://www.paw-prints-in-the-butter.com/
Sue Wickstead https://www.suewickstead.co.uk/blog
Michael Parker https://www.michaelparkerbooks.com/blog
Rose Edmunds https://roseedmunds.co.uk/news-press/
Laura Pauley http://www.laurapauley.com/home-page
Julia Firlotte https://www.juliafirlotteauthor.com/blog
Isabella Muir https://isabellamuir.com/

RULES:
Thank the blogger(s) who nominated you with a link back to their blog.
Answer the 11 questions I have set below.
List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award on your own blog post.
Nominate 11 new bloggers and their blogs and ask your nominees 11 NEW QUESTIONS.

MY QUESTIONS:

  1. What is your favourite place, somewhere you can totally relax and feel happy?
  2. If you had a bad day and felt like a treat, what would it be?
  3. If a wicked witch turned you into another living creature what animal would you choose to be and why?
  4. Who would be your dream dinner party guests? Choose up to three.
  5. You’re suffering from flu and laid up in bed. If you could choose any book guaranteed to take your mind off feeling rubbish, what would it be?
  6. Who is your favourite fictitious TV character and why?
  7. Everyone falls in love with a baddie once in a while so who is your ultimate evil character? (fact or fiction whichever takes your fancy.)
  8. What really tickles your sense of humour and makes you laugh?
  9. Holiday time. What is the one must-have item you pack in your luggage that you cannot survive without?
  10. What would be your dream date on Valentines day and with who?
  11. Last of all (and thinking of the summer months) what special flower/vegetable or tree would you love to grow in your garden every year?

So that’s it! Thanks again to Angela, it’s been great fun taking part and don’t forget to tag me in your own posts.

Posted in Blogging, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

When does a #book resonate with you?

I am a writer but a reader too. Reading brings me so much pleasure it got me thinking about what I look for in a novel.

Book and coffee cup in a sepia photoThere are many great writers out there but reading is subjective (a little like music, TV and food) where our tastes vary. For example the type of literature that wins the Booker Prize is rarely likely to end up on my reading list. Many years ago, I belonged to a book club and whilst I enjoyed some titles, others I found too heavy, written in a style I didn’t like, had horrible characters or were grindingly boring, to the point where I gave up. Reading should be a pleasure, so why waste precious reading stuff you hate?

With no desire to be ‘intellectually challenged’ I have identified the one vital ingredient that keeps me turning the pages. A book has to be engaging. I want loveable characters who I will gun for and a writing style that is moving, thrilling and stirs my emotions. A good book is one that stays in my mind for a long time after I have finished it.

I’m not going to reveal my TBR list – nor am I going to compile a list of my favourite books from last year – I will save all that for another post.

But I would like to set a challenge…

Re-written below are three passages from three different novels but which one do people find the most engaging?

Extract 1

It was a baking hot day and Sammy wondered what the lads were getting up to in Romford. Some of the clothes they chored they kept for themselves. Anything else, they sold to Bob the Fleece who drank in the Beacon.
Usually, Sammy and his pals would spend their ill gotten gains on records, booze and cigarettes. But these past few weeks they’d be saving every penny. Next weekend was the Dagenham Town Show, the biggest local event of the year. The fairground was awesome and it had been Sammy’s idea they club all their money together so they could go on as many rides as possible. The fair stayed for a couple of weeks after the actual Town Show and it was a cool place to hang out. Sammy loved the atmosphere of the playground. An air of excitement surrounded it and he couldn’t wait until next weekend.

Extract 2

The effects were sweet while they lasted. Her mind filled with clouds and she became oblivious to everything, her limbs like liquid as they took her upstairs and locked her up again. She sensed she was in her room, lying on the bed, covered in a blanket. The lamp was still on, casting a pretty pink haze around the walls; the noises around her distant, fading in and out subliminally as she hovered on the edge of sleep. She seemed to be floating.
Engulfed in softness, she felt as if a layer of cotton wool had been wrapped around her. Her mind started swimming – gentle memories. She could picture her mother with her soft brown eyes and warm smile, the chime of her voice as she sang along to songs on the radio. There were times she had kissed her and tucked her in at bedtime with her teddy bear.
The next memories conveyed the protective presence of her father; days when he took her to the park to swirl her around on the roundabout or push her on the swings – a trip to Southend-on-Sea with rides at the fairground and ice creams. Like episodes in a TV drama she let the memories run on. She felt as if she was re-living her childhood with the knowledge that she could never have those days again…

Extract 3

So when we talk about these horrible things she did to me when we were kids, it automatically begs a question, doesn’t it? Did I have anything to do with her death?
– I haven’t asked that question.
You don’t need to. It’s there, between us. It’s hanging over everything; it has since she died. The messed-up little brother. I’ve never told anyone about the things she did – for that reason; that question would rear its head. It’s like when someone dies and the first suspect is the partner. That’s fucked up, but they’re also the most likely killer. That’s what we are as a species, as a society. We’re these strange mutant apes that got too big for our boots and spend our time killing each other. Did I kill my sister? No. I didn’t know her well enough to kill her, if you get what I mean. We were like strangers. I rarely visited Inverness, and she never came down to London to see me. It was like we were colleagues who’d worked together and gone our separate ways.

Some names have been changed to disguise the books they are but I’d love to know your thoughts. So please feel free to comment.

Door way surrounded by old books

Posted in Blogging, Fictional Characters, narration, Novel, Story, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments