Entering the Final Phase of a #WIP

Atmospheric image of oak trees

It’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 the strange parties they were taken to by the home’s sinister owner, Mr Mortimer… but 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 – until 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 identified which parts needed research and 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 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 heads 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 drafted her scenes in first person, something that enabled me to think like her, imagine her life and feel her anxiety (something which comes naturally.)

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 came in useful. You only have to key something as obscure as ‘auburn hair’ in your 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 writing

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 remainder of the story

I have now drafted out a huge part of the story and about to tackle the final phase. But with a full synopsis worked out, I think I have an adequate foundation to complete a first draft. 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. That aside, I’ve really enjoyed getting back into it.

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…

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.

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…

 

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.

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

Do You Believe in New Years Resolutions?

New Years Resolutions Good or Bad?

It’s that time of year again when the radio and TV is bombarded with adverts telling you to give things up, join a gym, pledge to do something miraculous etc etc… So I’m debating whether this is a good idea. I personally am not going to make a new years resolution this year because I know it’s a waste of time.

For a start, why January?

Let me begin by saying that I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and enjoyed seeing the New Year 2020 in.

I certainly did and needed it after the turbulent year our family have endured. So with 2 weeks off work, we made the most of sitting around enjoying quality time with family and friends, playing games, watching telly, reading new books and stuffing our faces with delicious things, not to mention all the crisps, nuts and chocolates. I wouldn’t normally indulge like this at any other time of the year but it’s what humans have been doing since the dawn of time, right back to the Winter Solstice celebrated in Pagan times.

Homemade Pies for Christmas
Homemade Pies for Christmas

And now Christmas is over, it’s back to work to earn a crust. But added to the anti-climax, the weather is cold and damp and everyone is broke. In fact there is little left to celebrate until the first flowers appear before Easter and we have summer to look forward to. I may have over indulged but if I am going to start a diet, I will do it in Spring when the days are getting longer and there is more sunshine. Winter is surely the worst time of year to try losing weight, a time when we crave comfort food to keep ourselves warm.

Likewise, I am not doing ‘Dry January’ this year. I admire all who do but I did this in 2018 and whilst I felt jolly proud of myself it was the longest 31 days ever! Furthermore, I still have my Christmas horde – not just the extra Gin and Salted Caramel Baileys Santa brought me but an array of homemade liquors, including my plum and damson gin, Mum’s raspberry gin (legendary on the raspberry Richter scale) and my sister’s redcurrant and blackcurrant gin (the alcoholic version of Ribena).

Christmas Booze
My Christmas Booze Stash

Small Pledges Yield Better Results

There is no reason we can’t cut down and do things in moderation but denying ourselves everything we enjoy seems a pretty harsh way to start the year in my opinion. We were lucky enough to get a lovely walk New Years Day in Kingley Vale, thanks to our Sussex Walking Group and next week I’ll start going to the gym again, a pledge I will definitely stick to. In fact, I’d love to get back to walking at least once a day and this will be an incentive to get another rescue dog soon…

Kingley Vale, West Stoke, Chichester
Kingley Vale, West Stoke, Chichester

But filling our home up with furry things we have discovered is a sure way to bring some positive energy into our lives. Last year we adopted a gorgeous 7-year old cat (Tiggy) and she seems to be settling in very well, (though she does prefer a cardboard box to the luxury fleece lined igloo I originally bought for her).

Tiggy our Cat in a Box
Tiggy, our Cat in a Box

In 2020 I also aim to work on my anxiety and stress, endeavour to care for others who are less fortunate and spread as much kindness as possible. And whatever pledges I do make, I aim to continue them throughout the entire year and not just a few days in January.

Hence the only New Years Resolution I make is to procrastinate less and stay positive.

Let’s make the NEW YEAR 2020 a happy one… 

 

A Debate on Prologues: Guest Post by Lexi Rees

Today I am delighted to welcome, children’s author, Lexi Rees to my blog.

Children's author, Lexi ReesLexi is the creator of a wonderful children’s adventure series (The Relic Hunters) and more recently published a book that introduces children to the pleasures of creative writing.

When I first spoke to Lexi, she couldn’t decide on what type of article to write that wasn’t purely ‘kids related.’

So she instead opted for something a little different; something that would open up an interesting debate for all authors and that topic is whether or not to include a prologue in your book.

So without further preamble, it is over to you Lexi.

Prologues are controversial for authors, dividing people as firmly as a Marmite/ Vegemite debate. Personally, I find them helpful to get me into a story quickly, if they are only a page or two. After all, if you were there, in the author’s world, you would have a vague idea of the context/ background/ scene before the story itself unfolds. But I do agree, a prologue that is really a chapter in itself, is probably not doing its job.

Anyway, conscious of the polarised views, my early drafts of Eternal Seas did not have a prologue in them.

The problem was, I then found myself writing in a lot of back story. Beta reader feedback on the back story was as brutal as only an eight-year-old can be, so I ripped it all out and wrote a short prologue. I can’t describe how hugely relieved I felt after I did that. All the clunky back story bits had gone and a weight was lifted from me, and also from the plot.

The whole story just ran so much more smoothly, and helped the pace throughout the book. So here it is …

Prologue

Defeated by the Earth Lords during the Last War, the other clans were forced deep into hiding, locking away their powers in mysterious relics.

As the centuries passed, people forgot these powers ever existed. They faded into myths and legends, bedtime stories for children about magical people who could control the waves and walk amongst the clouds.

Today we go about our daily lives, unaware of how ordinary we have become.

But not everyone forgot.

The guardians, who protect the relics, did not forget.

The clan elders, who wait patiently, did not forget.

And Sir Waldred, the ruthless leader of the Earth Lords, will never forget. He will not stop until the relics are found … and destroyed. Only then will his reign be unchallenged. Forever.

We didn’t know it that morning, but our lives were about to become much less ordinary, and a lot more dangerous.

What do you think? Are you a prologue fan or not

Book cover Eternal Seas by Lexi Rees

Thanks, Lexi. I personally think that is a fabulous prologue, as it gives a flavour of some mystery about to be unravelled. The best prologues for me contain gripping scenes like this, that reel you in. It could be scene from the past or something that is yet to transpire, but fills me with a hankering to know more. How do others feel?

Giveaway

To celebrate the publication of Wild Sky on 28th November, Lexi is running a competition to win The Relic Hunters series.
You can enter here https://kingsumo.com/g/dpaovz/the-relic-hunters-giveaway

Buying links

http://viewbook.at/CreativeWritingSkills

http://viewbook.at/EternalSeas

http://viewbook.at/WildSky

Book cover Wild Skies by Lexi Rees

About Lexi

Lexi Rees was born in Scotland but now lives down south. She writes action-packed adventures and workbooks for children.

The Relic Hunters #1, Eternal Seas, was awarded a “loved by” badge from LoveReading4Kids and is currently long-listed for a Chanticleer award. The sequel, Wild Sky, is out on the 28th November.

She’s passionate about developing a love of reading and writing in children and, as well as her Creative Writing Skills workbook, she has an active programme of school visits and other events, is a Book PenPal for three primary schools, and runs a free online #kidsclub and newsletter which includes book recommendations and creative writing activities.

Creative Writing Skills: over 70 fun activities for kids by Lexi Rees

In her spare time, she’s a keen crafter and spends a considerable amount of time trying not to fall off horses or boats.

You can follow Lexi via her social media links:

Website https://lexirees.co.uk/

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/LexiAuthor/

Twitter https://twitter.com/lexi_rees

Instagram https://www.instagram.com/lexi.rees/

Thanks, Lexi, for opening up a most interesting discussion. This series sounds like it could be right up my street (even at my age!) but a great choice for kids who like a bit of adventure. Best of luck with the new book!

My 2019 Holiday #BookBlog

Holiday reading by the poolWith a weeks holiday ahead of us, a chance to unwind , I was very much looking forward to catching up on some essential reading time. So with three books on at the top of my TBR list, which one to read first? A twisty psychological thriller – a romantic comedy – or a dark dystopian tale. Sod it, I thought, I’ll start all three and see which takes my fancy.

About the Books

We landed at Nice Airport. With my husband stuck in a car hire queue for an hour and a half, I was sweltering in my leggings, socks and boots. (I don’t recommend Gold Cars!) So what better diversion from such stress than a gentle romance. By the time we finally left I was smiling, having ploughed through two chapters of ‘Maybe Baby’ by Carol Thomas. Settling down in the evening with a glass of wine, I knew I’d be doing some writing of my own soon, so to get into the zone I opened ‘We Were Sisters’ by Wendy Clarke (psychological thrillers are my genre at the moment.) Come morning, I was thinking about my current WIP (which has been off the boil of late) and before the crack of dawn, I was re-shuffling the whole script in my head. A good start. But it was only a little later by the pool side , I couldn’t resist dipping into the dystopian novel.

All three books were very different but seemed to balance each other perfectly, affording a much pleasurable reading experience. ‘We Were Sisters’ was indeed gripping and packed with psychological suspense; ‘Maybe Baby’ had great characters, a lovely tale of friendship; and ‘Hope’ had a bit of both, a suspenseful storyline that had me hooked as well as characters I could fall in love with.

My Reviews

A full length review of each book can be viewed on Goodreads. But I would like to share an extract (and hope the authors don’t mind me pinching their Twitter graphics.)

Maybe Baby by Carol Thomas

Maybe Baby by Carol Thomas

Maybe Baby (Lisa Blake #2)Maybe Baby by Carol Thomas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After reading the Purrfect Petsitter on holiday last year, I was looking forward to the sequel. With engaging characters, light romance, enduring friendships and lots of humorous animal shenanigans (loved the one about the kitten stuck up a tree – been there!), I got straight back into the world of Lisa Blake. And I couldn’t wait to catch up with the next instalment of her life.

Newly re-discovered love, Nathan, is so adorable and every woman’s hero. But when Lisa discovers a half naked woman (who has not long taken a shower in his flat) you wonder what secrets lurk in his past, especially the way she winds her up about it. This is a story about coming clean and facing up to life’s ups and downs, past present and future. It has after all, been many years since their school days and even with the flush of a new romance on the horizon, how much do they really know about each other? | Read More |

We Were Sisters by Wendy Clarke

We Were Sisters by Wendy Clarke

We Were SistersWe Were Sisters by Wendy Clarke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I do like psychological thrillers. Kelly comes across as a much troubled woman, struggling with a new baby, getting her twin girls to school on their first day (one confident, one shy) but from the moment Noah’s pram is moved and she finds a locket engraved with the word ‘sister’ you just know from her very reaction she is scared stiff. Such fear, such anxiety, coupled with an obvious OCD (the constant counting). I sense something is haunting her and then the truth of her childhood begins to unravel…

Kelly has suffered a lack of love from her parents, the only excitement in her life the arrival of a new sibling. With so many foster kids coming and going, you start to wonder why her mum and dad can’t find a little more room in their hearts for her… that is until a mysterious girl called Freya arrives. Pale skinned and mute, she is an enigma, a girl you desperately want to know more about. | Read More |

Hope by Terry Tyler

Hope by Terry Tyler

HopeHope by Terry Tyler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I rarely read dystopian books because I find them a bit scary. Yet from the blurb (and reviews I caught on Twitter), I became evermore intrigued and wow! What a story! I struggled through the first chapters with a frown on my face, thinking ‘Hell, this depicts just about everything in Britain I fear; automated machines replacing humans, giant corporations swallowing up the smaller companies, more and more people put out of work, food banks, spiralling rents, cuts in social provision, less affordable housing and an ultimate increase in homelessness. By the fourth chapter, I found myself nodding in places, reciting parts to my husband… this is happening now! ‘Hope’ is a wake up call, a chilling depiction of where this country could be heading if we allow it.

I loved the main characters. Dystopian or not, it is the people at the heart of this book that captivated me; from the cheerful camaraderie to a fight for survival. |Read More |

Thanks go out to these talented authors for giving me so much entertainment. This was binge reading at its best! Now back to the challenge of creating something brilliant myself… (one can dream!)

From Autumnal Beauty to Life Changing Fears

Today feels strange. This time last week, we were enjoying a beautiful autumnal walk in West Sussex, picking blackberries, chatting to friends and I was telling my friend, Maureen, (who has worked in the NHS as a nurse and an allergy consultant) how worried I was about my in-laws. Now one week later their lives have been turned upside down.

A Stressful Year

To summarise, Peter’s dad, Tony, had to give up driving in May. He was unwell. No-one knew this but after having his diuretic medicine withdrawn without explanation, he was suffering from excess fluid retention, then had two car crashes in a single afternoon and wrote off his car and one other. Thank God no-one was hurt. But he has a permanent catheter now and with social services and nurses stretched to breaking point, it is Peter’s mum, Joyce who has taken on 100% of his care. Sorting his catheter bags out, day and night, would be stressful for anyone but at 91 years of age, she has found it hard to cope since no assistance is available. We do everything we can to help, from trips out to taking them shopping and to the doctors but I asked Maureen if there was anything else we could do to alleviate Joyce’s burden. Last week she developed a rash, only to be told she had shingles (hardly a wonder considering the stress in her life).

She gave us the number of One Call, based at Bognor Hospital, where all the community nursing team are based. Suggested we spoke to one of the Bersted Green District Nurses. Despite our explanation and pleas though, they could not help. This was despite Maureen’s concerns: “It needs sorting before mum ends up in hospital too.”

Sadly things have taken a turn for the worse. Joyce was given a strong codeine based pain killer which made her dizzy and sick. Later that afternoon, she tripped over and hit her head, resulting in a swollen egg sized bruise. As if this wasn’t bad enough, she suffered another fall two days later and was admitted to hospital with a fractured hip. The bruising on her face is horrific but one cannot imagine the impact the surgery has had. In the meantime, Tony is at home, a 91 year old man with dementia, complex health issues and there is still no help available, despite all One Call’s reassurances, (given their extenuating circumstances). Needless to say this has been a traumatic week for the whole family.

All the while Joyce is in hospital, she is being looked after but the thought of her coming home terrifies me. Peter and I are lucky to live a few doors away. But they are two vulnerable elderly people, who have no help, left very much to the mercy of fate in the hours we cannot be there. With the current state of affairs, it is unlikely she will even get a nurse popping by to check up on her in the aftermath of her surgery.

We will have to await the outcome…

Am I Still Writing?

Yes and no. Rosebrook Chronicles is currently being produced as an audio book which I am really excited about. The recordings have been done and I am listening to the stories. The voices, the conflict and the way my own fiction is coming to life is quite surreal.

My newer work of fiction, however, is definitely on the back burner. Earlier this month we lost our faithful dog, Barney, our gorgeous white cat, Theo, in June and with this latest crisis concerning Peter’s parents, my mind is too clogged with sadness to find any inspiration. There simply isn’t room for creativity at the moment.

I did however, manage to get some more research done, thanks to an author friend, Dan Jones. Dan worked in a number of children’s homes in the 90s (the same era my book is set) and was happy to share lots of anecdotes relating to his experiences. Furthermore, I had a chat with his friend, a man who lived in and out of care before suffering problems such as alcohol, drugs and homelessness. How strange this mirrors my character, Joe Winterton, who endures much the same fate (with the addition of getting into crime and serving time in prison before ending up on the streets.) My other main character, Maisie, is a young woman who bumps into him 20 years later and helps him back on his feet. Yet in the back of their minds lurks the mystery of their friend, Sam. In 1995 Sam disappeared and nobody knows what happened to him, an answer they pledge to solve.

Trees at night time taken on a journey through Climping, part of the research for my new book.

I am looking forward to integrating these new insights into the story but only when the time is right. I was hoping to have a first draft in place by the end of the year, but can’t make any promises. We just need to get our lives back on track first.