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.

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

Delighted to Launch First #Audiobook with a #Giveaway

Rosebrook Chronicles has been produced as an audiobook with FREE codes available for listeners

Rosebrook Chronicles The Hidden Stories is now an audiobook

It is always exciting to announce a new venture. Writing has been slow this year but with the publication of Rosebrook Chronicles The Hidden Stories in July, followed by a successful blog tour, I wasn’t sure which direction to take next.

Talking to fellow author Rosemary Noble (who launched her own audio book this year, Search for the Light), I wondered whether to dare dip my toes into unknown territory.

I love audio books and enjoy listening to them as an alternative to music. Favourite titles include Six Stories by Matt Wesolovki and more recently, Silent Victim by Caroline Mitchell. I also enjoyed Rosemary’s audiobook which was entertaining and moving.

Rosebrook Chronicles the Hidden Stories audio book on an ipad
Audible on my i-pad, perfect for holidays.

Creating my first Audiobook

I’ve discovered this is quite easy to do yourself using ACX, a company affiliated to Amazon. So with nothing to lose I decided to look into it, following the steps online to begin my first project. To get started, you search for your title Amazon title and link it to the project. Once you have found it, claim your book and this gets the ball rolling.

Step 2, decide how you want to produce your audiobook. I chose the option where someone would narrate it for me, as opposed to producing it myself. Next I was able to specify from a list of options; genre, preferred voice, accents, age and tone. You are also prompted to provide an audition script. After that, it becomes a waiting game…

Auditions

I never expected to hear anything but within two days I received messages of two auditions. How exciting! The first was a professional trained actress whose auditions include the highly acclaimed ‘Handmaiden’s Tale’ but professional does not come cheap.

The second narrator, Paul Metcalfe, had a pleasing voice, which was perfect for this project and a mixture of accents that suited all characters. Furthermore, I thought it would be more appropriate to have a male narrator, given the characters are mostly men.

Furthermore ACX offers a royalty share program which costs nothing. Paul was quite happy to go along with this offer and over the next few months did a great job narrating the stories. In fact the amount of work and commitment he gave to this audiobook was overwhelming at times. The short story format worked well and I was able to suggest edits along the way.

It was an absolutely joy to hear my characters come to life, where parts of the story and the dialogue seemed incredibly real. I listened to snippets at various times of day, on my i-pod while driving, on my laptop and on holiday and as the book developed it got better and better. The end result is I have an audiobook to be proud of.

A huge thanks is owed to Paul for the time investment and enthusiasm he put into this.

Rosebrook Chronicles on the smart phone android audible app

To Launch Rosebrook Chronicles, I have FREE audible codes to give away

The next stage of this project is to get some honest reviews on Audible. If you would like a free listen, please leave a comment on this post or complete the form below with your email address and I will send a code to you direct.

Bounty Referral Program.

If you are considering joining Audible as a member for $7.99 month and want to download my audiobook as your first purchase, follow this link and I will credit you with a £10 Amazon voucher as a thank you.

If you love audiobooks, you will enjoy being a member; one credit per month to fill your device up with new stories.

Eulogy to a Special Friend

In loving memory of Barney

Scotland with our beloved border collie, Barney

You were one of two brothers in need of a loving home. When we met you at the rescue Centre in Liss, the moment you trotted through the door, your chocolate brown eyes met mine and I felt an instant bond. What a wonderful day that was when they told us said we could adopt you.

Eleven years later, it feels hard to imagine where that time has gone but these are just a sample of the memories we hold in our hearts for you.

You loved your walks, especially on the beach. Winter took on a special meaning, the days getting shorter, as you bathed in the sunset.

Gorgeous winter sunsets on Bognor Beach.

Then came the snow, a thick white carpet in West Park where you played football with other dogs. I’ll never forget how much you loved that baggy old football!

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In the summer you became a big part of our holidays. Our first was in Dulverton with my family, days when you loved kids throwing stones in the river and we watched with pleasure as you dived in to retrieve them. I never met a dog who so much enjoyed swimming either, seeing your little head bobbing along in the river when we stayed at Sandy Balls in the New Forest.

Barney after his swim. We sourced a doggy bathrobe (though I was reminded of the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood dressed as Grandma.)

Our favourite holidays were in the UK as you were a very special part of them. Ever since you became a part of our life we explored new places; Scotland, Cumbria, Yorkshire, Derbyshire, the Cotswolds, Cornwall and Wales.

Barney got to ride on a steam train in Yorkshire.

Securely nestled in a holiday cottage.

In a dog friendly cafe in Hebdon Bridge.

Fun and games in Camarthen, Wales.

The best ideas for my novels arose when we were walking along the beach. I still write. Yet this morning I was aware the huge empty space on the floor where you should have been lying. I’ll forever cherish the companionship you gave me in the morning.

It seems strange not to hear your incessant barking when people knock on the door. You always yearned to protect us, a devotion that manifested itself in the way your eyes used to follow us.

The silence in our house feels very deep right now but your presence resonates in our thoughts.

We miss you dearly old friend. You gave us eleven wonderful years and we will treasure every single one of them.

Taking a well earned rest in Ferryside.

** 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.

 

Knuckling Down to Writing Again

Since my last post I’ve followed my own advice, pursuing my dreams

To be more specific WIP, Lethal Ties, is no longer an outline synopsis with a list of characters. I have bashed out the first six chapters and near to completing a 7th. This is a brand new work with a whole new cast but I admit, it took a little while to get into it.

I imagine this must be the same for many authors, where the biggest hurdle getting to know your own characters. Yet the more they develop, the more I find myself mentally engaging with them and more importantly, developing the rest of the plot. Characters are so important though, they form the nucleus of the story and through their actions and emotions, the story can often write itself.

Lethal Ties is a psychological thriller mystery, based on kids in care, while tackling issues such as homelessness, historic child abuse, conspiracy and police cover ups.

Abstract view based on Maisie’s fear of forests.

Talking of characters however, I haven’t lost sight of the Rosebrook Chronicles, a work of fiction I finished earlier this year.

The book is not yet published and this may not happen until August. The reason is, I have to give my beta readers plenty of time to to read it and from the feedback I have received so far, there is still some work to be done but this is not a bad thing. The feedback has been amazing and with really constructive comments on how I can improve it.

“Loved the characters and the common themes that linked them. Great plot, great writing with some really wonderful touches…”

“The way you portrayed the separate journeys of the principle characters was really engaging and the denouement was very satisfying as you pulled all the strands together.”

It’s lovely to know I am on the right track and written something  worth reading.

Rosebrook Chronicles is a deeply moving tale based on the lives of three characters growing up in the 60s and 7os. A blend of social history and domestic noir.

So it feels like an exciting time. I haven’t published anything new since concluding my ‘Same Face Different Place’ series with ‘Retribution End Game’ in 2017. But who knows I may have two new books coming out soon and with a third idea in gestation.

 

 

Rosebrook Chronicles (The Hidden Stories)

As 2018 is drawing to a close, it is time I revealed a little more about a new book I’ve been writing this year.

The concept of this book of stories arose in Yorkshire, over 2 years ago, whilst visiting the Parsonage Museum in Haworth. Gazing across the writing table where Charlotte Brontë created her world famous masterpiece, Wuthering Heights, I felt a calling, an eerie feeling this was to be my next project. The feeling was so overwhelming I decided there and then that I would do it (once I had finished the ‘Same Face Different Place’ series.)

It gives me great pleasure to announce that the book is now written.
So allow me to introduce the thinking behind
‘ROSEBROOK CHRONICLES (The Hidden Stories)’

A bright moon is a prominent influence in one of the character back stories.

Rosebrook is the fictitious town I created for my series. It is based south east of London in a rural area of Kent, between Bromley and Swanley.

Before I had finished the series, I figured there were some powerful back stories hidden behind the scenes and one or two characters who never quite made it into the story.

This book is not a thriller, more a collection of character driven short stories following the lives of various people, from childhood to adulthood.

The one thing they have in common is they were all abused as children and it was interesting to explore the psychology behind each one of them.

To drop a hint, Peter was a prominent character in my series but his younger sister made a brief appearance in the last book. Due to the complexity of the series, her story was very much glossed over, as I didn’t want to wander off on a tangent. Only later did I realise I could develop an intriguing back story behind her character.

I would describe Rosebrook Chronicles as a combination of social history and domestic noir.

So to date I have a complete draft, a synopsis and an idea for a cover. There are 24 stories featuring some lesser characters at different stages of life, from university and work to forming relationships. But the paths of the characters begin to interweave. I am in editing mode at the moment and working hard to get my draft as polished as possible. Whether to self-publish or not is the next question but given the interest I have picked up, I think the next stage would be to get it out to a few beta readers. After that who knows.

In the meantime, I am battling a stinking cold and getting ready for Xmas but I hope to get a more ‘Christmassy’ post written during the festive week, so Seasons Greetings for now!

A Shaggy Dog Story

For something a bit different, I wrote this piece for Good Dog Magazine, an online blog promoted via Twitter. Sadly, they seemed to have disappeared, so I hope they won’t mind if I immortalise our best 4-legged friend on my own blog.

Barney

Are Collies a Writer’s Best Friend?

Anyone who understands dogs will know how clever border collies are as a breed and as a writer, I can vouch for them. They give so much. After hearing a sad piece of news concerning more than 20 collies abandoned in a house, only to end up in a local dog sanctuary, it seemed more than a coincidence that we were considering getting a dog of our own. It stimulated an idea… So we did our homework. Hopeful we were making the best choice I looked up as much information as I could find about border collies. Described as intelligent, interactive and in need of regular stimulation, exercise and playtime, we knew what to expect. Keen to discover more, we made enquiries. Sure enough, we received a call regarding a pair of border collies in need of a home.

Although the brothers were destined to be separated, from the moment they trotted through the door, I caught Barney’s eye and knew he was the one. We had the pleasure of walking them and Barney was without a doubt the more submissive. His brother was stronger and more boisterous. Yet my husband too, developed a fondness for the gentler, more timid of the duo and on the same afternoon, he travelled home with us.

The Friendship of Collies

The one thing we discovered in Barney more than anything, was he improved our quality of life. As the research suggested, he did need loads of exercise and playtime. As a relatively young 2 year old, we took him out three times a day for at least half an hour. We’re blessed to have a large park close to home and live a short distance from the sea, where dogs are allowed on the beach. Having a dog got us out more than before, where for the first time in our lives, we actually made the most of our outdoor living space.

Barney

Then something else changed. In 2010 I was wandering along the beach with our dog when I began to develop the idea for a story. I say, I’m a writer but I had never written a full length novel before and discovered my true calling. This is something I include in my author’s biography because it marked a pivotal point. The threads of my story evolved while I was walking Barney along the water’s edge and as time progressed, that book developed into a series.

A Writer’s Best Friend

This is how I started life as an author. I often wondered if it hadn’t been for that special time, meandering along the beach with Barney, throwing his ball, those ideas might never have come to me. I began my debut novel in 2011 after I had figured out the entire synopsis. But Barney’s intervention didn’t end there…

Border Collie, Barney

I’ve always been an early morning person which is the time, I do most of my writing. Once the novel was underway, I found myself waking up earlier and switched on my laptop at around 6am. Barney always followed me into the office. The one thing I’ve noticed about border collies is they form an attachment. They are not solitary dogs, they like company and somehow, Barney became an essential part of my writing ritual. If he wasn’t curled up on the floor next to me, I couldn’t concentrate; he became my muse. The time I really noticed his absence however, was in 2012 when he needed an operation.

Knee Surgery

Sadly, Barney ruptured a cruciate ligament, which is not uncommon. Being such lively dogs, running, spinning, jumping for the ball and doing a little pirouettes are a frequent cause of this injury – it is common among footballers too! Barney had to be put to sleep for his operation which involved fitting an implant to repair the ligament. It meant an overnight stay, which was a morning I really missed him. Fortunately he made a full recovery. It is regrettable that we had to cut his walks down from three a day to two. Yet it was always the same. Whether we were playing in the park or enjoying the tranquillity of the seafront, the ideas for my series kept flowing during these special times…

Fellow Writing Companions

Barney (now 11) had both knees operated on in the end. He is also showing signs of arthritis. Sadly, he’s a shadow of the dog he was; not nearly as energetic but still a great companion. Since my writing journey began, I met some fellow authors, such as Carol Thomas, who has written a children’s book, ‘Finding a Friend.’ Her family adopted a puppy last year, which was perhaps the inspiration for her story; when I asked her what she thought about me writing an article for ‘Good Dog Magazine,’ she replied as follows:

“As a sixteenth month old Labrador Hubble is great at making sure I don’t have lots of odd bits of paper around me, my notes have to be organised and kept in a book or he would eat them! When it comes to writing on my computer he settles down next to me and keeps me company. I love dogs and have featured Labradors in all of my stories to date.”

I suspect all dogs can be great writing companions…

My five-book series, titled ‘Same Face Different Place’ can be downloaded as an ebook or at local book fairs in the Chichester area. Since completing it, I’ve started writing a book of short stories and one begins through the mind of a dog.

Barney in the autumn woods

An Update

We don’t know how much longer we will have Barney for but his health has started to deteriorate. With various things wrong, it is regrettable we’ve had to cancel our  insurance with Virgin Money Pet Insurance (who used every excuse not to help us with his healthcare) but we’d be better paying that money into a separate fund now.

Yesterday evening, I was delighted to take him for another walk along the beach in the sunshine. I seem to have lost my inspiration lately but it came back just when I needed it, and in time to finish a first draft of my new book. So I will end with a little extract…

Buttons lurches forwards, his nose twitching. Damp clothes, cold skin and a subtle trace of sweat almost mask the impression of a person lying there. The whimper in his throat rises to a wail.
“What is it boy,” his owner gasps, “what have you found?”
Closer and closer he shuffles to the source, the scent getting stronger. Something salty arises out of the mist, something almost pitiful; it is the smell of blood. Another tug on his lead makes him start, the darkness heavy as the face of a child peeps out from a circle of bushes.
“Oh, dear God…” he hears his owner groan.

Rosebrook Chronicles is a Work in Progress and coming soon.

Researching Art by Sandra Danby

I am very pleased to welcome author, Sandra Danby, to feature on my Blog as a guest. In celebration of her new book, ‘Connectedness,’ Sandra talks about her research into the wonderful world of art.

‘Connectedness’ is the 2nd book in her ‘Identity Detective’ series, a story that revolves around the art world, adoption and romance, from London to the cliffs of East Yorkshire and the orange blossom streets of Málaga in Spain.

So how did you, go about your research for this book, Sandra, and will you tell us about the story and the characters?

Author, Sandra Danby
Author, Sandra Danby

“Novelists are always asked ‘how much of the book is about you?’ With my first novel I could honestly say not much, apart from sharing an occupation with my heroine. We are both journalists. My new novel Connectedness is slightly different. It is second in the ‘Identity Detective’ series and so again features journalist Rose Haldane, but the main focus is on a birth mother seeking to find the daughter she gave up for adoption twenty-seven years earlier. In creating Justine Tree, I used two locations close to me – Yorkshire and Spain – and I gave her a profession I have not experienced. She is an internationally-successful artist.

This was a clever plan that gave me the opportunity to go to loads of art museums and exhibitions and say I was ‘researching’. I’m lucky enough to live near London and have become a regular visitor to Tate Modern, Tate Britain, the Royal Academy of Arts and the Victoria & Albert Museum. All feature in Connectedness. I quickly realised that not only did I need to understand more about art, artists and how they create their work; I also needed settings. I immersed myself in exhibitions, books and television programmes, absorbing information and sifting the bits I might be able to use.

Art museums, the Tate Modern and Royal academy of arts

A quick scan of my Art Research folder shows that I read [or at least flicked through] a wide variety of sources from Essential Crochet by Erika Wright to Modern Art: A Very Short Introduction by David Cottington. I quickly focussed on Tracey Emin as an example of an artist who puts all her emotions and experiences into her art, something I wanted for Justine; though in Justine’s case, what you see is not always what you get. Most useful were two Emin books, My Life in a Column is a collection of her articles for The Independent newspaper; Strangeland is her memoir from her childhood in Margate to her rise to fame as a YBA [Young British Artist] in 1992.

Art as portrayed by Tracey Emin
Tracey Emin, an example of an artist who puts all her emotions and experiences into her art.

So from Emin I drew her emotions and the fluidity of technique from drawing and painting to embroidery and installation. I embraced the outwardly chaotic appearance of Emin’s art and hopefully showed Justine’s process of making it; sometimes chaotic, but also considered. To that I added the Spanish link. Pablo Picasso was born in Málaga – near to where I spend part of the year – and I decided to use this link [more art museums to visit!] to add an unpredictable twist to Justine’s student story in 1983. Picasso brought artistic gravitas to my research and to Justine he brought collage, the technique that introduces the teenager to her artistic path.

Ceramic jug decorated with fauns, by Pablo Picasso 1951 [photo: Musee National Picasso-Paris]
As a teenager, Justine experiences a torment of betrayal, jealousy and anger and begins to paint outdoors. Here’s a short excerpt that in my head is set on a clifftop footpath on Bempton Cliffs in Yorkshire, where I grew up:

Knowing she might throw up, Justine ran until she had no breath left, sinking to the ground with a puff of summer dust. She cried for a long time, for lost love and lost friendship and then, recognising betrayal, she got angry. She opened her satchel and took out a sheet of drawing paper, orange furry pencil case and tube of paper glue. She weighed down the paper with lumps of chalk culled from beside the path and then, careless of the dust and grass seed flowing freely in the soft breeze, she created her first collage. A tangle of gull feathers, grass, dock leaves and smears of mud made of the dusty earth mixed with tears. She carried the half-finished jumble to her father’s shed where she carefully dismantled it, sorted and re-assembled it, fixing it together permanently with some plaster-like stuff from his workbench. She rescued a Frosties cereal packet from the dustbin and then, imagining it was the boy’s A-grade physics essay of which he’d been so proud, she tore it into strips. She sat holding a felt tip pen feeling empty of words until they spilled forth from a subconscious thesaurus: Traitor. Betrayal. Envy. Hurt. Jealousy. Theft. Unfair. Friend. Pain. Lies.”

About ‘Connectedness’

TO THE OUTSIDE WORLD, ARTIST JUSTINE TREE HAS IT ALL… BUT SHE ALWAYS HAS A SECRET THAT THREATENS TO DESTROY EVERYTHING

Book cover of Correctness by Sandra Danby

Justine’s art sells around the world, but does anyone truly know her? When her mother dies, she returns to her childhood home in Yorkshire where she decides to confront her past. She asks journalist Rose Haldane to find the baby she gave away when she was an art student, but only when Rose starts to ask difficult questions does Justine truly understand what she must face.

Is Justine strong enough to admit the secrets and lies of her past? To speak aloud the deeds she has hidden for 27 years, the real inspiration for her work that sells for millions of pounds. Could the truth trash her artistic reputation? Does Justine care more about her daughter, or her art? And what will she do if her daughter hates her?

This tale of art, adoption, romance and loss moves between now and the Eighties, from London’s art world to the bleak isolated cliffs of East Yorkshire and the hot orange blossom streets of Málaga, Spain.

A family mystery for fans of Maggie O’Farrell, Lucinda Riley, Tracy Rees and Rachel Hore.

An extract from ‘Connectedness’

Prologue

London, September 2009

The retired headmistress knew before she opened the front door that a posy of carnations would be lying on the doorstep beside the morning’s milk bottle. It happened on this day, every year. September 12. And every year she did the same thing: she untied the narrow ribbon, eased the stems loose and arranged the frilled red flowers in her unglazed biscuit-ware jug. Then she placed the jug on the front windowsill where they would be visible from the street. Her bones ached more now as she bent to pick them up off the step than the first year the flowers arrived. She had an idea why the carnations appeared and now regretted never asking about them. Next year, someone else would find the flowers on the doorstep. In a week’s time she would be living in a one-bedroom annexe at her son’s house in a Hampshire village. She walked slowly back to her armchair beside the electric fire intending to tackle The Times crossword but hesitated, wondering if the person who sent the flowers would ever be at peace.

1
Yorkshire, May 2010

The clouds hurried from left to right, moved by a distant wind that did not touch her cheek. It felt unusually still for May. As if the weather was waiting for the day to begin, just as she was. She had given up trying to sleep at three o’clock, pulled on some clothes and let herself out of the front door. Despite the dark, she knew exactly the location of the footpath, the edge of the cliffs; could walk it with her eyes closed. Justine lay on the ground and looked up, feeling like a piece of grit in the immensity of the world. Time seemed both still and marching on. The dark grey of night was fading as the damp began to seep through her jeans to her skin. A pale line of light appeared on the eastern horizon, across the flat of the sea. She shivered and sat up. It was time to go. She felt close to both her parents here, but today belonged to her mother.

Three hours later, she stood at the graveside and watched as the coffin was lowered into the dark damp hole. Her parents together again in the plot they had bought. It was a big plot, there was space remaining.

Will I be buried here?

It was a reassuring thought, child reunited with parents.

The vicar’s voice intoned in the background, his words whipped away by the wind. True to form, May was proving changeable. It was now a day requiring clothing intended for mid-winter, when windows were closed tight and the central heating turned on again. Or was it that funerals simply made you feel cold?

‘Amen.’

She repeated the vicar’s word, a whisper borne out of many childhood Sunday School classes squeezed into narrow hard pews. She was not paying attention to the service but, drawn by the deep baritone of the vicar who was now reciting the Lord’s Prayer, was remembering her first day at art college. The first class. Another baritone. Her tutor, speaking words she had never forgotten. Great art was always true, he warned, and lies would always be found out.

In her handbag was a letter, collected from the hall table ten days ago as she left the house for Heathrow and Tokyo. She had expected to return home to London but, answering the call from her mother’s doctor, had come straight to Yorkshire in the hope of seeing her mother one last time. The envelope, which was heavy vellum, and bore smidgens of gold and scarlet and the Royal Academy of Arts’ crest, was still sealed. She knew what the letter said, having been forewarned in a telephone call from the artist who nominated her. It was the official invitation. If she accepted, she was to be Justine Tree, RA.

About the ‘Identity Detective’ series

Rose Haldane reunites the people lost through adoption. The stories you don’t see on television shows. The difficult cases. The people who cannot be found, who are thought lost forever. Each book in the ‘Identity Detective’ series considers the viewpoint of one person trapped in this horrible dilemma. In the first book of the series, Ignoring Gravity, it is Rose’s experience we follow as an adult discovering she was adopted as a baby. Connectedness is the story of a birth mother and her longing to see her baby again. Sweet Joy, the third novel, will tell the story of a baby abandoned during The Blitz.

Author Bio

Sandra Danby is a proud Yorkshire woman, tennis nut and tea drinker. She believes a walk on the beach will cure most ills. Unlike Rose Haldane, the identity detective in her two novels, Ignoring Gravity and Connectedness, Sandra is not adopted.

Author Links

‘Connectedness’ at Amazon: https://amzn.to/2q6qy5Z
‘Ignoring Gravity’ at Amazon http://amzn.to/1oCrxHd
Author website: http://www.sandradanby.com/
Twitter: @SandraDanby
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/sandradanbyauthor
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6563021.Sandra_Danby
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/sandradan1/

Photos [all © Sandra Danby unless specified] show the author, Sandra Danby, Royal Academy of Art – banners on Piccadilly, Tate Britain – front steps, Tracey Emin, quilt, I do not expect 2002 [photo: Tracey Emin] – Ceramic jug decorated with fauns, by Pablo Picasso 1951 [photo: Musee National Picasso-Paris] and the book cover of Correctness.

Thanks for sharing this, Sandra, and it’s been great to learn more about the research you undertake for your series. I have read your first book,  ‘Ignoring Gravity,’ and found it a deeply moving tale. After reading this, I am really looking forward to getting stuck into your second novel. Enjoying research is something we both have in common and like you say, it’s a good excuse to lose yourself in interesting places.

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s a suggested tweet:

How CONNECTEDNESS author @SandraDanby researched art & turned reality into fiction #amwriting via @SFDPBeginnings https://wp.me/p2b3Yf-oO