A Psychological Thriller in #Sussex

With publication of LETHAL TIES less than a week away, I’ve been writing about my characters, the psychological issues that affect their lives, but this weeks post is about my book’s all important location: West Sussex.

Bognor Regis

I’ve lived here since 1996 and despite some of the adverse (and in my opinion), unfair publicity, Bognor in fact, boasts more hours of sunshine than anywhere in the UK, has a lovely stretch of beach and a unique coastal landscape to the west. The rocks lining the shore (Bognor Rocks) are haven to many fossils, a mysterious sight at low tide, even more so behind a sea mist or in the fading light of a sunset.

Bognor Beach

Woven into in the storyline, Sussex residents will recognise some familiar haunts: from meetings in the Waverley pub on the seafront, to a meal at Mamma Mia, and there is even a touch of romance when two character dine at Sen Tapas.

Bognor town centre features, as does the Job Centre and Marine Park Gardens. Maisie has a flat in Annadale Avenue (chosen for it’s proximity to the Station, a sneaky escape route through a garden) and Joe gets a job in Sainsbury’s as an online shopper, (a job I was hired for myself in 2016).

I have already mentioned the sea mists in Bognor Regis and in one scene, this creates an eerie atmosphere when characters find themselves at the centre of a police investigation.

sussex and the south downs

The story begins in Bognor. Maisie finds her old friend, Joe, sleeping rough in the beach hut opposite the Waverley and helps him to turn his life around.

That is, before Joe receives vile abuse on twitter. Clues in the tweets suggest they could be in danger but with a build up of suspense, one character is drawn further afield to other areas in West Sussex, fascinated by the countryside and various beauty spots.

Eartham

Nestling on the edge of the South Downs sits the village of Eartham, its idyllic pub, the George, and the Woods beyond. But when Maisie is invited on an impromptu day out, she has no idea what is in store for her.

The George at Eartham
The George is a pub where the characters enjoy Sunday Lunch
Eartham Woods
A lovely place for a walk… but for Maisie, forests cause panic.
Views from Goodwood Trundle
The view from Goodwood Trundle
The Pergola at West Dean Gardens
The Pergola at West Dean Gardens

The day takes many twists and turns. After nearly suffering a panic attack in Eartham Woods, (as a result of her phobia) she suggests heading over Goodwood way and a visit to West Dean Gardens, one of her favourite places. West Dean Gardens is an impressive estate which looks stunning in all seasons, notable for its pergola, mature trees and walled Victorian kitchen gardens.

“… as we strolled across the lawn, I could not wait to show him the pergola; a spectacular three-hundred-foot Edwardian walkway paved in flagstone. 
An air of mystery immersed us as we followed the path to the end; the climbing plants twisting around the pillars, a riot of wild roses fragrant against the feathery purple plumes of wisteria…”

East Lavant

The concluding part of the story takes place in East Lavant, a tiny village just outside Chichester. Maisie is lured to a mysterious but beautiful cottage nestling in the countryside beyond the village. Could this be the house of her dreams?

East Lavant, near Chichester

There is something about the remote woodland location that evokes suspicion in Joe. All he wants to do is protect Maisie yet fears she is becoming isolated. From the first trip to East Lavant however, the story gathers momentum, before the mystery that’s haunted them since childhood is revealed…

Pagham

The story ends in Pagham, with reference to the tranquil harbour, a nesting place for migrating birds and the tiny white herons known as egrets. Where do the characters go from here? You’ll just have to read the book to find out.

Pagham Harbour Nature Reserve, West Sussex

My debut Sussex based psychological thriller LETHAL TIES will be published this coming Sunday (April 18th 2021) and can be pre-ordered on Amazon.

It will soon be available in paperback too, and I am hoping to hold a Bognor book launch in the summer.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my blog in the run up to LETHAL TIES being published. For more information, stay in touch by networking with me on social media.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/author.helenchristmas
Twitter: https://twitter.com/SFDPBeginnings
Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/helenchristmas7/
Website: http://www.samefacedifferentplace.com/

Back from the Beta Readers

Bognor Beach at dusk

Beta readers are essential. Beta readers will reveal aspects of your writing you may not be aware of and I have come to rely on honest feedback to fine tune my works of fiction. You may not like it. On the other hand, you may be thrilled by the response you get, but ironing out these potential flaws is what makes your work stand out above others. So be brave, ask someone impartial, someone who isn’t a friend or family, who might otherwise be afraid of offending you.

Latest Update

Time is marching on and I am delighted to report the news that my debut psychological thriller is close to completion.

The cover has been decided. I appreciated everyone’s feedback, but the 3rd design was a winner and stood out clearest as an Amazon thumbnail.

Lethal Ties by Helen Christmas

This post however, is a heartfelt thanks to those who were kind enough to give ‘Lethal Ties’ a first look. This book underwent numerous edits and re-writes and by the time it was as polished as it could be, I sent it to an editor (who I’d also like to acknowledge). But first allow me to share some of the views that came back from the beta readers.

Pacing and Style

The first of my beta readers thought ‘the pace was a little slow, with perhaps too much descriptive content which tended to slow the plot down.’

I take this onboard, while at the same time thinking about personal preferences – i.e. this is not a high-octane action thriller, but a psychological suspense thriller, which tend to be slower paced. Having read many books in this genre, I realised in my earlier draft that I revealed too much too soon, and it killed the suspense. This slow drip feed of action was done for a reason. Having said that though, the descriptive content needs looking at so I will cut this down to a reasonable level. Descriptions add colour but less is more. There is no point overdoing it and any ‘overly elaborate literary language’ can go. I was also advised on dialogue tags, e.g. trying too hard to avoid the word ‘said.’ Even my editor pointed this out, another area I can improve on. 

Dialogue Tags

Set up and pay off

Reading the response from my second beta reader got me thinking about character motivation and this was a real eye-opener, especially where the evil protagonists are concerned. 

The baddies in this story don’t feature much. They are shadows in the background, their presence so subtle, you won’t know who they are until later. This was also done for a reason and being a suspense novel, I want to keep my readers guessing. Yet I don’t want to ‘stretch people’s credibility’ too far, so this needs looking at too. Investing more time in setting up the bad guys, as well as their motives, will have all the more impact when the final twists are revealed.

A shadowy figure

The final edit

In response to this feedback, I am in the process of a final edit now, taking on board all the comments. I can reveal that ‘Lethal Ties’ is on Amazon and available to pre-order, while at the same time, I’m approaching digital publishers and agents. Having the backing of a professional company will get this out to a much wider audience, if successful; but if I have to stick to the self-publishing route, so be it.

and finally…

With publication getting close, I am so excited to reveal who my editor was. Joel Hames is a best selling author who has written many books in the corporate world of finance and law. His newest book, ‘The Lies I Tell’ is a brilliant psychological thriller about identity fraud and has just been relaunched by ‘Spellbound Books.’

The Lies I Tell by Joel Hames

Joel gave my book an extra polish in his copy edit, but his response to my book was very positive.

‘I really enjoyed this and I think you’ve hit what you were aiming for here. It’s tense and thrilling, and it was impossible to know what was going to happen, even with the benefit of the prologue.’

******

In my next blog, I’ll be exploring another theme and that is child abuse in its various forms, the impact on victims and how the cycle can be broken. This will include a special tribute to Graham Lovell, whose chat was the biggest inspiration behind one of the book’s main characters, Joe.

Book Cover Ideas

Inspiration

On a freezing cold winter’s day in lockdown, too drizzly to even venture out for a Sunday walk, I started thinking about book cover designs. I’ll keep this post relatively short but I ended up with 3 designs and would very much welcome some comments, here, with regards to which one works best. Bearing in mind that when designing a book cover it is more than just a picture; more a shop window for promoting your master piece, so the balance of imagery text and colours is important.

Lethal Ties is a tense psychological thriller set in West Sussex.

Two characters, who met in a children’s home, share traumatic memories. But as they attempt to seek the truth and trace a missing friend, they are plunged into a vortex of online threats and intimidation… until a police investigation is launched.

DESIGN 1

Book Cover idea 1 for Lethal Ties, a spine-chilling psychological Thriller by Helen Christmas coming soon.

The thinking behind this first design is fairly simple. Female lead character, Maisie, has a recurring nightmare, where she finds herself trapped in a forest. Staring up, she sees a circle of trees, the night sky just visible through the bare branches.

It is a chilling image and the lack of any other detail leaves an element of mystery, but is it too understated? Perhaps a little boring?

DESIGN 2

Book Cover idea 2 for Lethal Ties, a spine-chilling psychological Thriller by Helen Christmas with photo by Annie Spratt, Unsplash.

I was wondering if the inclusion of a character would make the cover more appealing. Sam, an angelic but vulnerable 11-year-old boy vanished in 1995, never to be seen again. But 20 years later, Maisie is haunted by a vision of a similar looking boy stood on a dark wooded roadside.

I’ve blended in the same trees image from the first design. My only concern is the boy in this photo and although he seems traumatised, he looks younger than 11.

DESIGN 3

Book Cover idea 3 for Lethal Ties, spine-chilling psychological Thriller by Helen Christmas - photo by Annie Spratt, Unsplash.

This photo was taken by the same photographer (and could be the same boy) but the back-of-the-head image portrays a sense of departure. When Sam disappeared from Joe and Maisie’s lives they never knew what happened to him. The tree in the background is very evocative of Maisie’s nightmare, as if the two are connected.

But is this image attention grabbing enough to make you stop and look? What about the title and wording? Would it tempt you to read the synopsis?

Now the book has now been professionally edited and soon to go out to beta-readers I’d love to get some opinions on the three designs. Please leave a comment in the box below to reveal your favourite cover.

First Book Review for 2021

Forest in Scotland

It is rare I dedicate an entire post to a book review, but this deserves some recognition.

For the benefit of the unconverted, I’ll explain something about the series first. ‘Six Stories’ by Matt Wesolowski is unlike anything I have read. These novels do not follow a conventional story arc. They are unique. The what is going to happen has happened, but what lurks beneath the story? Six Stories is more of an aftermath, a series of podcasts, in which six people pick over the bones of what they think happened… it is up to you, the reader, to work it out.

DEITY (SIX STORIES #5)

Journalist, Scott King, reviews a case, interviews six different people over the death of an enigmatic pop star, Zach Crystal. Think ‘The Beatles,’ ‘The Bay City Rollers’ and it may call to mind thousands of hysterical fans – something akin to religion…

But with super stardom comes a sense of invincibility. Starting out with sister, Naomi, the ‘Crystal Twins’ hit fame in the 90s until eventually, Zach goes solo. Just before his death, darker rumours about the megastar begin to surface; chilling video footage of two girls trapped in a cave, sobbing and terrified. And in a case similar to Jimmy Savile’s, accusations of abuse come crawling out of the shadows.

Who is lying?
Who is telling the truth and at what price?

This fascinating medley of view points inspired me to make some comparisons of my own, thoughts I’d like to share.

DEITY (Six Stories #5) by Matt Wesolowski

Episode 1: Monster Busters

You’ve heard of online grooming, internet predators using fake portraits on social media to attract victims. This phenomenon appeared in Matt’s second series, Hydra: Monster Busters (or pedophile hunters), adults who pose as children to entrap the online groomers – and if they agree to meet – game’s up! Here, we meet Ian Julius who claims to have caught Crystal trying to arrange meetings with underage girls but as the ultimate iconoclast, is turned into a figure of hate. 

I had to ask myself why?

If someone is famous enough, they become almost untouchable, while genuine cases, where youngsters are abused sexually by their ‘heroes’ are not believed. The ‘accusers’ are threatened or compensated. Likewise, Ian the monster buster suffers trial by media, with sparse evidence to prove what he’s uncovered about the star. The upshot is Crystal turns the tide, suing the Monster Buster £millions after his claims go public. 

Think Jimmy Savile, a man who covered up vile abuse against victims for decades and got away with it. Could this be a similar story?

Episode 2: Zach Crystal Stan

The second character Scott interviews disputes such claims, YouTuber and super fan, Sasha Stewart. In the first part of her podcast, Sasha lashes out at Crystal’s accusers. Dismisses their claims as ‘bullshit,’ quick to demonise them for exploiting the megastar to make money. In Sasha’s eyes, Crystal can do no wrong, a benevolent star who invited vulnerable girls in care to stay in his amazing woodland fairyland. He donated masses to charity and she is 100% dedicated to defending him.

Think Michael Jackson, another megastar who built an ultimate fantasy attraction.

This episode put forward a different perspective, one I could easily be swayed by. I never believed the stories about MJ, a child like figure, if not a modern day ‘Peter Pan’ who lived in a surreal bubble. The similarities are unnerving, victims offered huge sums in compensation. It begs the question were these stars easy targets to exploit?

Yet in another way I was reminded of the Rochdale abuse scandal. These too were ‘vulnerable girls,’ groomed and raped by a gang of Muslim men but instead of arresting the perpetrators, police feared the right wing backlash. Worst was the way the victims (some as young as 12) were portrayed, as if they were to blame.

Episode 3: The Secrets of the Whispering Wood

With extracts from a live interview between podcasts, this episode is quite spooky, but I’ve started to notice a common theme. All ‘Six Stories’ books include some folklore or monster in the background; in the first it was the hideous Marsh Hag, Nanna Wrack, ‘Black Eyed Kids’ in ‘Hydra’, the ‘wood-knockers’ in ‘Changeling’ and a vampire in ‘Beast.’ Deity unmasks a terrifying creature, known as a Frithghast, some form of apparition that takes the form of a deer, half rotted, exposing glowing red eyes and antlers. 

Local groundskeeper, Craig, describes the legend; a man employed to manage Crystal’s estate, a vast area of forest in the Scottish Highlands, where the megastar created his famous treehouse lit with fairy lights. Craig has seen the fans Crystal invites here (12-15 year old girls from troubled home backgrounds, or in care). But whilst security is tight, there is something sinister in the atmosphere. Rumours of the Frithghast abound, alluding to the video footage at the start… and it’s a bit gruesome.

Nothing is conclusive, only that it ends when Scott discovers a note left on his windscreen, a lead to the next interview…

Episode 4: The Special Girls

Here we meet Marie Owen, mother of one of the girls who stayed at Crystal Forest. This I found a particularly sad episode, in so much as her daughter vanished to join a vigil of mourning fans. All I discovered in this episode was how obsessed and infatuated the girls became with their idol and it made me wonder if they were looking for an escape, or a crutch, in a similar way to religion.

This story is of a mother’s pain, someone who has tried everything possible to fulfil the her daughter’s dream, yet lost her in the process. Furthermore, she is vilified in the media – so I have to ask:

Why did the megastar choose to rehouse them, from a council estate to some exquisite mansion? Was this an act of kindness or a means of compensation to suppress something more sinister?

Episode 5: You Get to Go Home

Remember Skexxixx, from Hydra, a fictitious superstar in his own right? Describing the religious care home he was brought up in and manipulated into thinking he was evil, he tells of a secret alliance with the megastar, in so much as he was contracted to write his songs after the split from his sister. Conversely, he has also recognised a darkness in him. 

“Something evil lived inside that man. Something cold.”

There is an unusual thread to this story, one that intrigues me, that when Zach Crystal went solo, he and Skexxixx formed an almost symbiotic relationship and he dated his sister, Naomi. Throughout this podcast he reveals that Zach was no angel and no genius so how did he became almost God-like?

This naturally leads into a discussion about the victims – or ‘accusers’ as they are called with a very interesting play on words: “If I punched you in the face right at this moment and you called the cops, you’d be the victim of an assault by Skexxixx; you wouldn’t be ‘Scott King the Skexxixx accuser.’”

This once again highlights the power surrounding the megastar.

Episode 6: Being Nobody

There are many strings to this story; a disgraced star, the unaccountable death of his friend, James Cryer, in the forest, a terrifying legend, accusations of former fans, the enigma surrounding Crystal’s temporary disappearance, a live TV interview in which he announced a sudden come-back and finally his demise. 

Zach Crystal’s woodland mansion and tree house were destroyed in a fire, where it is believed that he too, perished. But the loose ends floating around in the ether are too numerous, to an extent that no one really has a clue what happened.

I am not going to say much about Episode 6 but it blew me away; the man behind the mask revealed, the truth of his death and that of his friend explained in a manner that ties up the entire mystery. After reading all episodes, this book concludes with such a brilliant twist, I cannot tell you how chilled I feel… 

You just have to read it.

Dark misty forest in Scotland used to Portray the book DEITY (Six Stories #5) by Matt Wesolowski

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.

Trust in You by Julia Firlotte launched in Spring 2020

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?

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

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!

Guest Post: Isabella Muir

The good, the bad and the ugly

Isabella Muir author of the Janie Juke series of Sussex crime mysteriesToday it is a pleasure to invite author, Isabella Muir as a guest writer on my blog. Like me, Isabella writes crime fiction and we are both members of the authors networking group, CHINDI. Isabella is the author of the Janie Juke series of Sussex crime mysteries, featuring a young librarian with a passion for Agatha Christie. Celebrating the lead up to Agatha’s birthday, she is joining me today to talk about her research.

So over to you, Isabella.

When I chose to set my Sussex Crime series in the 1960s I knew I would need to do plenty of research to get a sense for what life was like back then.

Life in the 1960s was great, wasn’t it? It was easy and happy and full of brilliant music, fashion and possibilities. Sure enough, that might be our first thought, but then when we look at the decade in more detail it doesn’t take long to uncover some aspects that weren’t all ‘good’. Let’s take a glance at the ‘good’, the ‘bad’ and the downright ugly of that iconic decade.

The good

Every week, almost every day, new pop stars emerged with music that would transform listening for decades to come. In January 1964 BBC TV launched a brand new music show, called Top of the Pops, which remained in its weekly slot for 42 years. Every musical taste was catered for – pop and rock from the likes of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones to blues and folk from talent such as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez and Janis Joplin.

Teenagers were desperate to hear it all and many went to sleep with their transistor radio under their pillow as they listened to the pirate stations – Radio Caroline and Radio Luxembourg, among others. By the middle of the decade between 10 and 15 million people were tuning in.

UK Top Ten Records from the 1960s

It was a time for young people to enjoy – fashion was transformed by designers such as Mary Quant who popularised the mini skirt, and at the age of just sixteen, Twiggy became a fashion icon, with her cropped hairstyle and streamlined figure.
Plenty to celebrate, but some of those celebrations created their own problems…

Twiggy fashion icon of the 1060s

The Bad

Casting off conservative values was all well and good. The ‘flower-power’ hippies embraced the ‘summer of love’ with 100,000 young people arriving in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco to experiment with drugs and sex. Unfortunately the realities of ‘dropping out’ meant that ‘free love’ was used to excuse something else entirely. Many thousands suffered from serious drug addiction and mental problems, or became homeless. San Francisco was overrun with drug dealers and teenage runaways, and the Haight-Ashbury scene deteriorated through overcrowding, homelessness and crime.

Back in the UK it was politics that hit the headlines as a result of the ‘Profumo affair’. After a brief sexual relationship in 1961 between John Profumo, the Secretary of State for War in Harold Macmillan’s Conservative government, and Christine Keeler, a 19-year-old would-be model, Profumo resigned from the government and from Parliament. The repercussions of the affair severely damaged Macmillan’s self-confidence, and he resigned as Prime Minister on health grounds in October 1963, possibly contributing to the defeat of the Conservatives by the Labour Party in the 1964 general election.

Public interest in the affair was heightened by reports that Keeler may have been simultaneously involved with Captain Yevgeny Ivanov, a Soviet naval attaché, thereby creating a possible security risk – just at the time when the Cold War was gathering momentum.

The ugly

Politics continued with its negative impact throughout the sixties, energising people to protest. The decade started with thousands joining the ‘Ban the Bomb’ march, with similar marches taking place over the next ten years. The Vietnam war, which lasted from 1955 for twenty years, was the focus of many protests as people learned about the dreadful death toll – more than a million deaths of civilians and military personnel. Lennon sang out ‘Give Peace a Chance’ and many followed him, chanting the same message.

Then, as people looked forward to a bright future, the world came close to disaster as President Kennedy and Kruschev decided if they were going to obliterate the entire population in a nuclear war. The Cuban missile crisis of 1962 filled people with fear and must have darkened the otherwise bright memories of the sixties for many.

A brighter note

It is that fascinating mix of the good, bad and the downright ugly of that decade that has always held an attraction for me. It is the reason I chose to set my Sussex Crime series in the sixties and why the period features in several chapters of my newest novel, The Forgotten Children.

Alongside my love of the sixties, I am a passionate fan of Agatha Christie. Sussex Crime’s amateur sleuth, Janie Juke, follows in the footsteps of Agatha’s wonderful detective, Hercule Poirot, as she solves the crimes and mysteries that besiege the sleepy seaside town of Tamarisk Bay.

Books by Isabella Muir from the Janie Juke series of Sussex crime mysteries

This blog post is one of a series, which leads up to Agatha Christie’s birthday and national #cozymysteryday on 15th September, as I enjoy the opportunity to be Chindi’s ‘Author of the week’. Chindi is a network of authors, both traditionally and independently published, based largely in West Sussex. Between us we publish a wide range of books, from historical and crime fiction to romance and children’s books, from humour to self-help.

To find out more about the great Queen of Crime and to help celebrate Agatha Christie’s birthday, then look out for the other blog posts in the series:

Agatha Christie and Isabella Muir https://isabellamuir.com/blog/

Agatha Christie – a child of her time https://lexirees.co.uk/mums-book-blast/

Agatha Christie and the sixties https://patriciamosbornewriter.wordpress.com/daily-blog/

What is a cosy mystery? https://www.carol-thomas.co.uk/blog/

Investigating the past https://rosemarynoble.wordpress.com/

Agatha Christie and Janie Juke https://isabellamuir.com/blog/

And as a present to you, on Agatha’s behalf, I am pleased to announce that the first book in my Sussex Crime series – The Tapestry Bag – will be available on Kindle for just £0.99p for one week only – grab it while you can!

Isabella Muir is the author of the Sussex Crime Mystery series:

BOOK 1: THE TAPESTRY BAG
BOOK 2: LOST PROPERTY
BOOK 3: THE INVISIBLE CASE
Her latest novel is: THE FORGOTTEN CHILDREN

She can be contacted via:

Twitter: @SussexMysteries
Facebook: www.facebook.com/IsabellaMuirAuthor/
Website: www.isabellamuir.com
Or on Goodreads

And there’s more!

Receive the FREE Sussex Crime novella, Divided we Fall when you sign up to receive Isabella’s newsletter, with cozy mystery news and views, special offers and so much more. Just click here.

Divided we Fall by Isabella Muir

Thanks, Isabella, for a most interesting article. Isabella’s books are a great choice for those who enjoy an Agatha Christie style mystery, entertaining and light, perfect for a holiday read or curling up on a chilly autumn night; we wish you the best of luck with your books!

** FREE Short Story ** with #NewRelease Rosebrook Chronicles

Publication Day is getting close for noir suspense saga, ‘Rosebrook Chronicles, the Hidden Stories’ with a FREE short story to download.

Rosebrook Chronicles is a series of interlocking stories which fuse into a compelling saga. People inspire me and while my favourite genres are thrillers and suspense, I like stories that delve deep into the human psyche.

ROSEBROOK CHRONICLES The Hidden Stories, a novel by Helen J. Christmas

Abused as teenagers, three young adults strive to repair their broken lives; Robin has ambitions to rise to power, while orphaned siblings, Beatrice and Peter, yearn to find one another.

Deeper stories of these characters drive the plot, intended to keep the reader emotionally hooked. What lies at the heart of Robin’s political power play? Why are Peter and Beatrice kept apart for so long and is there something more sinister behind their segregation?

A dark suspenseful drama from the 70s to the 90s, this is a unique blend of social history and domestic noir. 

New Edits thanks to my Beta Readers

This book has passed under the eagle eye of four beta readers, successful, talented authors in their own right. I would like to convey my thanks to Ray Green, Joel Hames, Rose Edmunds and last but by not least, best selling historic fiction author Beryl Kingston, for taking the time to read my book.

Inspiration

Completing some extensive edits (to address points raised my beta readers), I was pondering over the launch date. I approached a few literary agents, since Rosebrook Chronicles was quite different from my previous work. Writing this book, I found a distinctive voice for each character and endeavoured to explore the deeper issues of child abuse, the impact on victims and the way it shapes people’s lives.

It’s been interesting but I know what it feels like to be suppressed by controlling people, the power of lies and of not being believed.

This leads me to mention the books I enjoy reading, all psychological thrillers.

Recommended Books

The RumourThe Rumour by Lesley Kara
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of the most original stories I have read. This book certainly opened my eyes; a story of gossip with terrible consequences, how one rumour can unleash suspicion and any one of your friends could be a killer. An absorbing book with a heart-stopping twist.

Spare RoomSpare Room by Dreda Say Mitchell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the first book I’ve read by Dreda Say Mitchell but Oh Boy what a good read! The secrets of the past are drip fed through the plot. Why is Lisa so drawn to this house? Who is the mystery man who left the suicide note and could her life too be under threat? Brilliant.

The Secret Child (DI Amy Winter, #2)The Secret Child by Caroline Mitchell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A crime thriller packed with psychological suspense, where you start to question who the victim really is. Amy is forced to confront her past, to get into the head of a sinister kidnapper. What ensues is a gripping game of cat and mouse, a race against time to save the victims.

What She SawWhat She Saw by Wendy Clarke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am currently reading this and utterly hooked. It is not just the beautiful descriptions of the Lake district I am enjoying but the pure unadulterated suspense. I am dying to know what is causing Leona’s panic attacks, a phenomenon I can relate to. A real page turner.

To conclude, there are some bloody good psychological thrillers out there at the moment. But aspiring to their standard is something I dream of!

FREE SHORT STORY

So let others be the judge with a FREE story to download and read at your leisure.

Chapter 14: The Bracelet can be downloaded either as a PDF or mobi file… and if you enjoyed this short story and want to read more about the lives of Bibi and her daughter, my book can be pre-ordered from Amazon.

The Bracelet, a free story by Helen J. Christmas

| CLICK HERE FOR PDF VERSION | CLICK HERE FOR MOBI VERSION |

Please note: the mobi file cannot be delivered wirelessly to your Kindle as with Amazon. You need to email the file to your device (the address can be found in your Amazon account under devices) or use the Kindle app on your computer.

Rosebrook Chronicles, The Hidden Stories
Publication Date: 1st July 2019

Available to pre-order on Amazon, in Kindle or paperback.

With a publication date planned for July 1st 2019 I am also participating in a blog tour with Rachel’s Random Resources from 14th to 20th July.