Seeing The Wood Through The Trees

Featured Image 'Seeing the Wood through the Trees'

Promoting a better understanding of mental health has been the theme of my blog recently and this time I’m writing about Asperger’s. There is a character in LETHAL TIES, (my debut psychological thriller, out soon) who has the condition: AS often affects more males than females, so it seemed more natural for this person to be a boy. Connor is fostered, yet there is something unique about his character.

Handling various themes behind this book, I have concentrated on the human element. I’ve shared important facts about my two main characters, Joe and Maisie, their personalities, their back stories and the struggles that affect them in adulthood. Connor however, is still a teenager.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CONNOR

  • The truth about his parents is kept a secret, as both are considered to be psychopaths with no compassion for others.
  • Connor’s birth mother (when released from prison) did not bond with him and cruelly rejected him.
  • So Connor has been in and out of care homes since infancy.
  • He has been in various foster placements, none of which were successful.
  • He is later diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum.
  • But two people tirelessly campaign to foster him to give him a chance.

Connor is not central to this novel and features very little. He is none-the-less a significant character who plays a vital role in the climax. With much of the emphasis on childcare and fostering, it is the way people bond with Connor, as well as his developing personality (as he gradually lowers his guard) that adds an extra string to this story; how youngsters are perceived and treated, especially those raised in care.

A Real-life Story about Asperger’s

With this in mind, I would like to focus on a real person (as opposed to my fictitious character), someone who is close to me but who I had the pleasure of interviewing a few weeks ago, particularly about growing up with Asperger’s. Being on the spectrum is not exclusive to males. Females too have the condition and although the core characteristics of Asperger’s does not differentiate between the two, it can affect them in other ways. 

Here is Rose’s story

Born in 1999, Rose began her early years a happy little girl at the March School in Lavant where she made lots of friends. Things changed, however, when she went to High School; an experience that sparked a journey of self-discovery. 

I began by asking her what happened there, and it emerged she had endured a spate of bullying.

Starting secondary school

“Girls are generally catty, especially at that age, but quite often things passed over my head. I felt isolated because I didn’t really understand myself. It was a big period of adjustment and I didn’t know who my friends were. I didn’t understand the jokes they made, why they could be a bit cruel, or how to cope in a friendship with anyone. My primary school friends were in separate classes and making new friends, but I found it really difficult. I was constantly self-conscious which can make you feel insecure and the smallest comment will stand out to you.”

I too was bullied in lower school and remember how it felt. But I was curious to know how she dealt with the situation.

“I didn’t feel I fitted in, so I left school. This was my decision and it worked quite well for me because it was in that period I was diagnosed with ‘Asperger’s’, so it was just a year to get my head together a bit. Time to figure out coping strategies, understand myself and other people to get that confidence back. But by the time I returned to school, it wasn’t as scary any more.”

Research

Looking online, I found a list of symptoms on Medical News Today which almost echoes this:

  • Jokes, sarcasm, and irony may cause distress and confusion.
  • The person may have a highly literal interpretation of the world. 
  • Irony and humour may be difficult for them to understand, leading to frustration and anxiety.

Going back to Rose’s diagnosis, I asked her what insights she got from her assessment.

“I wondered if I might have Asperger’s. Then we watched this one short documentary as a family and everyone looked at me and said: “that sounds like you.” This was diagnosed in one sitting, which does not happen with girls. The majority are mis-diagnosed or not diagnosed, but because I was at that critical age (joining High School) it seemed to fit the framework and they thought, yep, you’re definitely Aspergic, high-functioning, but it’s not necessarily going to hinder your life.

I remember at that time I was very, very rigid. Like if anything changed, even for the better, I wouldn’t be able to compute it and it would trigger a weird panic! When I understood that I wasn’t just being a brat, I wanted to work on the side I thought was negative. With a year out, in my own little bubble, no interferences, I sort of got myself into the right headspace to make the most of my situation. To try and not lean on it and think well, I’ve got this diagnosis, which means I can be a twat and get away with it… more the opposite. I can work on myself and I will. Yeah, I was definitely in a better place to go back to high school when I did.”

Reactions to stressful situations

When she was in her own little bubble, with her own routine, without anyone coming along and changing anything, it made her feel safe and in control. But I wondered if she could remember a scenario that triggered a panic response.

“When I was very young, we were going for lunch next day at Gun Wharf and I can’t remember where I wanted to go but had it in my head we were going there. But when lunchtime came, they wanted to go for tapas and I absolutely lost it! Like it was so unjust and so unorganised. I had already planned what I was going to have and it felt almost robbed from me. But I soon learned this was only going to upset me in the long run and those I was with. It was somewhat difficult when you had someone kicking off like I was in that situation a few years ago.”

At home or with family, she was more likely to release bottled up emotions through meltdowns, another symptom mentioned in the article on Medical News Today. But how did she feel once she returned to the school environment?

Friendships

“I’d be grateful for any friendships really. Friends were a good influence in many ways and helped me build my confidence. I am quite trusting. There was a period of time through secondary school and college, when everyone would constantly describe me as being ‘too nice’ and ‘a pushover.’ I didn’t like people saying that. Being called ‘kind’ is a positive thing but everyone took me as a proper ‘people-pleaser’ and constantly singing the praises of me doing anything for anyone to fit in… Yet if I was ever anything but amenable, I’d be made to feel like I was being unreasonable.”

In other words, whenever she felt like being assertive?

“These people were tactical bullies. Bullying is not the sort of thing that gets to me, it goes over my head because you don’t necessarily care about that person or their opinion. It’s people who are close to you who tactically and emotionally abuse you. Its also camouflaged, like it will go on for years before you realise that person is not a good influence. With this one particular friendship, I felt it for a long time but every time she complimented me it was a back handed compliment – even things that sounded caring, there was an underlying threat. Tactile, manipulative stuff – it was clever and it was bitchy – proper narcissistic behaviour. Eventually there was a turning point when I didn’t like her any more. I felt on edge and she demanded so much time. Genuinely nasty people latch on to you, play the whole best friend card but its not what a friendship should be, i.e. someone you can talk to, have a laugh with.”

I was sad to hear this, it seems to reflect the classic social isolation suffered by those with Asperger’s; difficulty in developing social skills, making and keeping friends. Like males, females on the spectrum are likely to experience bullying, which may manifest itself differently based on gender. No matter how subtle or overt, exclusion and bullying can be profoundly traumatising and affect the self-confidence and sense of security of the target individuals. 

I asked her what strategies she had devised to avoid stressful situations.

“One thing with Asperger’s is you’re also likely to suffer from anxiety and depression. I developed a ritual, (which I’ve managed to shift now). When I tried to get help for it, they said, ‘if you didn’t have a diagnosis of Asperger’s you’d now be getting a diagnosis for OCD and this is just another symptom,’ but put so much stress onto one tiny thing. This one tiny ritual, it was ridiculous really. I remember once, I was talking to a professional (I think she was meant to be an OCD therapist) but with these rituals, you attach to something to them; like if I don’t follow this ritual, something bad will happen, like my family is going to die… So I would touch wood. I would touch it in a certain way. If I tried to stop myself from doing it, I’d think well, what if I don’t do it and something bad DOES happen? It’s easier to just do it! Yet this therapist looked at me in the most condescending way and said ‘how long have you been keeping your family safe then?’ I thought fuck off, you should understand, and I know it’s not fashionable, but that pissed me off so much.”

Stopping a ritual would have been a big deal for her, since it is reported: ‘People with AS may have rules and rituals that they methodically maintain to reduce confusion. A surprise change in routine can sometimes cause upset or anxiety.’

Still on the subject of anxiety, I was curious to know what other interests/obsessions she had i.e. what brings her comfort or makes her feel happy.

“Listening to music, walking the dogs. I really like walking the dogs on my own. I put music on (those little earbuds) and because I like writing, I start imagining one of my screenplays and let the music inspire me. I am quite a creative person and use this as my creative time. It gives me ideas.”

I’d like to mention at this point that after sixth form, Rose studied for a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. She graduated in 2020.

“Music is really important in writing. I used to always like writing short stories but screen plays are my favourite format now. In everything I’ve written, characters have been central. I’ve written a comedy, a thriller, and a sort of teen drama/ghost story. So they do also have a lot of plot. This was what I wanted to do for my dissertation but it was also very serious and I wasn’t in a very serious headspace. I didn’t actually want to write anything ‘head wanky’ or dark. So I thought, I’m just going to write a comedy and I don’t know if it was particularly ‘funny,’ but it was in the style of the Royal Family/Gavin and Stacey. Good characters.

My screenplay, set in a Welsh village, was about a local pub burning down. The pub was the hub of their community, a real tragedy for the locals, and became a bit of a witch hunt to find out who was responsible. I chose to do a creative dissertation, as there was no way I was going to write a 10,000 word essay, because quite frankly, I didn’t think I would stick at it… so I thought I’d write a screen play and then, after I’d submitted my idea, my lecturer told me that no one has ever gotten a 1st on a creative dissertation. I thought, okay so I’m not going to get a 1st on my dissertation but I’ll do my best… and I did get a first!”

I told her I would love to read her screen play and asked what her ambitions were? If there was anything in the world you could have, what would it be?

“A detached cottage in the countryside, dogs, a partner… my family close by and screenwriting. It’s completely down to luck and some stuff is so subjective, you don’t know who’s going to be reading it. You send it to a publisher and you don’t know what they’re looking for.”

On UK Lockdown

The coronavirus pandemic hit the nation pretty hard and has exacerbated mental health problems especially among young people. How did she cope with this?

“I loved it, I was absolutely buzzing… No really! Lockdown was fine, we get on well as a family, we have a garden, the sun was shining and there was a lot we could take advantage of. I didn’t like my job at the time. This was at Nando’s and it was a good job – I mean, if you’re going to work for a restaurant I couldn’t imagine working for a nicer company, but I was never going to do well because of the hours and lack of routine. My shifts were changing every week. It could be any day and at any point of the day. Office hours suit me so well, because it’s routine and I know what’s what.”

Her words yet again reflect how important routine is.

“But it was also very scary and I was particularly worried about Mum. What would happen if Mum or Grandma got it? I mean some people get just like, a flu and some people get this long COVID and they’re buggered for life! Potentially even someone my age could end up dead! What I’m finding the most anxiety inducing thing is – like in the summer when I could go to the pub and mix with my friends, I was loving it… but I’ve also been scared I might become a hermit. The thought of going into the supermarket is like, there are other people and other people are dirty and might have the virus. I’m worried that could escalate into not wanting to mix with people!”

Did she miss going out and socialising with other people, though?

“Yes. If you’d asked me a year ago I would probably have said the opposite; because I didn’t like my mates. I think it’s about the friends you have. The friends I had this time, last year, would have been pressurising me to go out and break rules and it’s like – I’m just going to follow lockdown, thank you. I don’t want to go out. Just want to watch telly, do some internet shopping, have a beer…

One thing that has always been a pickle for me socially is the distance from town. I haven’t really got any friends in the village. So, if I’m going out with my friends, I’ve got to drive, which means I can’t drink (not that it’s all about drinking) but if you’re meeting in a pub it can be a bit bloody annoying. If I do drink I have to walk back and I have done this, but it took bloody hours!”

Vulnerability and Threat 

I wanted to say this was dangerous; going into town, drinking and walking back home in the dark. I asked her if she was aware of the perils in life.

“God yes, I mean we were walking up to the Trundle the other day and saying this is hazardous underfoot. And then I remembered that’s where we used to do our long-distance running, when I was at the March School and thought, that’s a health and safety nightmare, running on the Trundle but we used to do it. That was only what, 10 years ago? And things changed so quickly.”

The paths around the Trundle are very uneven with chalky dips and hollows.

“And that was another thing about the Trundle. There were people there bombing down on bikes and I was thinking, oh that’s so scary! But I remember when I was a kid – and Mum and Dad as well – cycling full pelt, then somersaulting in the air because I got caught on a stone, crashing down… and I just got up again and got back on my bike. I didn’t make a fuss, none of this ‘health and safety.’ Whereas now I’m thinking God, they’re so reckless! I used to be tough with injuries and now… I get a paper cut and I start crying.”

Something else she told me that I found alarming was: 

“Women with Asperger’s have an 80% chance of committing suicide and 90% chance of becoming addicted to drugs and I thought ‘fucking hell, those are awful statistics.’ That’s not a great position to be in but they’re just statistics.”

This begs the question, what help is available on the NHS for anxiety?

“In regard to getting help for mental health (Time to Talk), you’re either not mentally ill enough or ‘too far gone’ and if you are somewhere in between the two, you are added to a two year waiting list by which point your problems have gotten out of hand.”

It is reassuring to know mental health problems are better understood but from this statement, it strikes me there is still a lack of provision. I know Rose has Asperger’s but one of the last things she confessed is how much she really wants to rise above it and turn it into something positive. That symptoms like depression, anxiety needn’t be a problem. (NB. names were changed to protect some people’s identity and the stats quoted might not be exact as quoted by Rose on the date of her interview).

Featured Image 'Seeing the Wood through the Trees'

INSIGHTS

A most enlightening conversation, this got me thinking about my own character again, Connor, and whether I could see any clear comparisons. 

Historically, women have been less likely than men to be interested in transportation, computers, or astronomy. Connor is fascinated by science and nature, has a powerful need to understand the world around him, loves to hide and be the silent observer.

Girls are more likely to be passionate about literature, the arts, animals, environmental activism (you only have to think of Greta Thurnberg), and other topics with relational themes. There are no limits to the variety and depth of interests or expertise for both females and males with Asperger profiles.

Signs of AS include obsessive interests, formal speech, rituals, social isolation, clumsiness or awkwardness, a lack of empathy and sensory difficulties. Rose revealed a couple of these signs but not all. Other conditions related with AS are anxiety disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Young children with AS are often unusually active. By young adulthood, they may develop anxiety or depression. 

For more information on Asperger’s visit: https://www.autism.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/what-is-autism/asperger-syndrome

Connor like Rose, has suffered bullying, feels isolated from his peers who consider him ‘weird’ and towards the end of my book, he is even accused of being ‘a psycho’ amongst the less educated.

ANOTHER INTERESTING STORY

Dan Jones, my author friend who I’ve mentioned in previous articles, has written a book on the subject; ‘Look Into My Eyes: Asperger’s, Hypnosis and Me.’

Dan too has a diagnosis of Asperger’s. His book is an absorbing and fascinating autobiography that offers rare insights into the workings of the autistic mind from babyhood to adulthood, the impact it had on his family and how he learned to cope with the condition.

Dan gave me a lot of help in shaping my new book, offered priceless advice about his work in children’s homes, introduced me to the late Graham Lovell, (whose life story provided some powerful insights) and his book comes highly recommended. On Dan’s YouTube channel, he publishes guided meditations to help people relax, manage stress and sleep easier, essential resources for this strange new world we live in.

What’s next? In the run up to publication, I’ve exposed some of the complex psychological issues embedded in my characters, while at the same time trying to raise awareness into mental health issues. Next time I’m taking readers on a tour around the story’s West Sussex setting, some specific places mentioned and their context in the plot of LETHAL TIES.

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.

The Finishing Touches

Bognor Beach

After two years writing my first psychological thriller I have finally reached the end, though looking back, it seems hard to believe it was in 2015 when the idea of this story first came to me. 

Inspiration

Walking the dog along the beach, reflecting on stuff in the news, I would occasionally stop to chat to a group of homeless men in one of the beach shelters – but somewhere in my sub-conscious mind, the threads of a new idea were beginning to unwind.

A professional career woman whose life appears balanced.
A homeless man who has lost his way in society.
Two characters poles apart, yet friends who share memories; a year they met in a children’s home, a sinister place where a third friend went missing.

This weekend, I will be sending the complete draft off to an editor. I won’t reveal who yet, but let’s say, I am both anxious and excited. 

So today I took another walk along the seafront and happy I chose my home town, Bognor, as the setting for this book. This blog is about some of the places I have featured but with many more to add as I go…

The Waverley Pub

The Waverley Pub. Bognor Seafront

The Waverley provides the local watering hole for main characters Maisie, her friend Jess, and later Joe. With outside seating it faces the sea. It was also at the Waverley I interviewed Graham (see previous post) so it has a special meaning now and a place I would most love to hold my launch.

Waverley Pub opposite the sea in Bognor

Mamma Mia Italian

This friendly Italian restaurant (which lies within walking distance from us) is a venue where two characters feel a first spark. It offers a nice selection of pizza and pasta dishes and just around the corner for a Waverley.

Mamma Mia Italian restaurant in Aldwick

Bognor Beach

Like Maisie I am always taking photos of the beach in different seasons which I like to post on Instagram. Her feed would be very much like mine, as mentioned during a conversation in Mamma Mia.

“Beach shots are my favourite. The way the light shines at different angles, it changes the colour of the sea…”
Scrolling through her photos, he understood her passion; the calmness of the sea at dawn so still it shone like glass – a stark contrast to the next image, a thunderous black sky folding shadows into the waves as they went galloping over the breakwaters.

My Instagram feed, showing beach shots

It is one of my favourite places for walking, where no two photos are the same depending on the time of day, the tide and weather.

Seaside Apartments

At least Jess doesn’t have to walk very far and with her own seaside apartment, she resides only a couple of blocks from the Waverley. The seafront is lined with flats, so it could be any one of these.

Bognor Promenade

The white posts at the bottom of the road led to the prom, the blueness of the sea dazzling. Gulls sat like sentinels upon a column of breakwaters and today it was high tide. Glancing out to sea, I heard an explosion of froth as the waves hit the shore, the rattle of pebbles that followed.

A bit like today then… a refreshing breeze perfect for blowing the cobwebs out and I always like to revisit the places I write about.

White posts at the bottom of Victoria Drive leading to Bognor Promenade

What will do with myself when this book goes off for a professional edit I do not know. Thinking about promotion, arranging blog tours for reviews, wondering whether to approach a few publishers or agents… we’ll see.

In the meantime I hope everyone gets to enjoy Christmas and let’s hope 2021 will be a better year.

UPDATE: First Draft of #WIP Complete

This is an update to my recent a post Entering the Final Phase of a #WIP and on September 30th, I finally completed the story.

This standalone psychological thriller set Sussex took me on a long and twisted path but I’m delighted to have crossed the finishing line.

The next day, I had an impulse to revisit a significant location in the book, the village of East Lavant near Chichester.

The story is mainly set in Bognor Regis, a pleasant seaside town on the south coast, but I needed somewhere more remote for the book’s chilling finale.

An Idyllic country village

The reason I chose East Lavant was not just for its idyllic village setting, but the narrow winding road that draws you deep into the countryside. With swathes of thick forests on both sides and soaring oak trees this was a perfect location to create a surreal and spooky atmosphere.

A web of trees

One characteristic of my character, Maisie, is her fear of forests, something that features prominently in her recurring nightmares. So when she is cut off from her friends with a deadly enemy at large, these woods are exactly the type of place her enemy would choose to lie low.

A concealed forest track

I researched the police procedures before writing the closing scene but with a full scale operation in place, involving distance surveillance, I needed to double check there were tracks in the forests to allow vehicle access…

It seemed impossible to believe how an idyllic corner of West Sussex could conceal a crime of such evil.

Fresh Inspiration

I have always advocated to other writers that putting yourself in the setting of your story can be inspiring and the extra photos will prove useful. At least I didn’t have to travel very far this time, no train journeys to London and beyond which was another advantage of choosing my home county for this novel.

In many ways it feels like a great weight has been lifted but I am looking forward to the editing process.

Guest Post with Patricia M Osborne

Choosing a Title/Writing a Blurb

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

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

Choosing a Title

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

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

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

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

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

Writing a Blurb

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

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

Blurb for The Coal Miner’s Son

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

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

Will George ever learn to forgive?

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

*

My books can be found on Amazon at the links below

House of Grace

The Coal Miner’s Son

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

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

Where you can find me

Twitter

Facebook

Patricia’s Pen

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

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!

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

Leading Men in Fiction: Guest Post by Carol Thomas

Today it is an absolute pleasure to welcome Carol Thomas back onto my blog as a guest, with a charming, light-hearted post about leading men in fiction…

Photo of author Carol ThomasCarol writes contemporary romance novels, with relatable heroines whose stories are layered with emotion, sprinkled with laughter and topped with irresistible male leads. So onto Carol’s article:

One of the questions writers frequently get asked is whether their characters are based on people they know. Generally, most writers will say no to this. But some will confess to borrowing features from friends, family, work colleagues, and so forth.

Another question that crops up is, who would you pick as your dream cast to play your characters? It’s a good question and coming up with an answer during the early stages of writing is not a bad exercise to help you pin down the fundamentals of your character type. I know a thriller writer who always has a big screen action hero in mind while writing.

And if you are submitting to Choc Lit, expect to be asked to describe your hero in terms of chocolate!

That was a new one on me. For those who are intrigued to know how I responded, regarding the leading man in The Purrfect Pet Sitter, I said: He is tantalisingly tempting to be around. He is delicious and desirable, able to provide melting moments that are satisfying and sensual, and yet solid and dependable – no matter what the occasion.

While none of my male leads are directly based on men I know, I do borrow features I like. Not wishing to make a lovely male lead sound like Frankenstein, one character I wrote had my dentist’s eyes, physical build and surname, and the happy trail of one of my husband’s friends. I wasn’t peeking on purpose; he stretched up while standing next to me and it was revealed.

It was a bit of a, “Oo hello!” moment, and I wrote it into my debut novel.

As for my dentist, I later confessed and got his picture holding my book (I thought it was funny, though I am not sure if he doesn’t now consider me weird – it’s a good job he changed practice!).

When I am creating a hero, I consider their role in the story, their age, job, mannerisms, name, background – all things that might have a bearing on their final appearance and characteristics. In The Purrfect Pet Sitter one character is a landscape gardener. As a result of this, he is tanned; his hair has highlights from the sun, he is muscular and has arms and hands that reflect physical labour. He is not one of the leading men, but I grew very fond of him. I also try to include different types of men, to appeal to different readers.

So if I was choosing my dream cast, who would I pick to play the leading man in The Purrfect Pet Sitter? My vote for the lovely Nathan Baker would go to Chris Hemsworth – sigh! His blond hair, blue eyes and muscular build fit Nathan perfectly. He has strength while looking like the type of man you could happily spend an evening snuggled up in front of a roaring fire with. Perfect!

Chris Hemsworth

The blurb:
Introducing Lisa Blake, the purrfect pet sitter!

When Lisa Blake’s life in London falls apart, she returns to her hometown rebranding herself as ‘the purrfect pet sitter’ – which may or may not be false advertising!

But being back where she grew up, Lisa can’t escape her past. There’s her estranged best friend Flick who she bumps into in an embarrassing encounter in a local supermarket. And her first love, Nathan Baker, who, considering their history, is sure to be even more surprised by her drunken Facebook friend request than Lisa is.

Book cover of The Purrfect Pet Sitter by Carol Thomas

As she becomes involved in the lives of her old friends Lisa must confront the hurt she has caused, discover the truth about her mysterious leather-clad admirer, and learn how to move forward when the things she wants most are affected by the decisions of her past.

Genre: Romantic Comedy
Publisher: Ruby Fiction, the new imprint of Choc Lit

Buying Links:
Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/TPPS-AmazonUk
Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/the-purrfect-pet-sitter
Ruby Fiction: http://www.rubyfiction.com/dd-product/the-purrfect-pet-sitter/

View the book trailer:

About the author:
Carol Thomas lives on the south coast of England with her husband, four children and lively young Labrador. She has been a playgroup supervisor and taught in primary schools for over fifteen years, before dedicating more of her time to writing. Carol is a regular volunteer at her local Cancer Research UK shop. She has a passion for reading, writing and people watching and can often be found loitering in local cafes working on her next book.

Website and Social Media Links:
http://carol-thomas.co.uk
http://facebook.com/carolthomasauthor
http://twitter.com/carol_thomas2
https://www.pinterest.co.uk/carol_thomas2/
https://www.instagram.com/carol_thomas2/

Blog:
http://carol-thomas.co.uk/blog

Thanks Carol Thomas for this lovely, entertaining post but enough swooning… I wish you the best of luck for your new novel and have pre-ordered my copy, which will be popping up on my Kindle soon!

New Book: My Current Work in Progress

I don’t do enough blogging, the main reason being that unless I have a guest blog, I only publish when I have something worth writing about…

Well it is time to take the plunge; ever since completing ‘Same Face Different Place’ I have started something new at last!

I had an idea lingering on the back burner, ever since we visited Yorkshire in 2016, the notion of writing shorter stories, based on some of the lesser known characters of the series. These are the hidden stories, tales from childhood that were always simmering in the background but never actually made it into the pages of SFDP.

For example, references were made to some darker aspects of child abuse; but they would have detracted from the main plot. Two characters will be familiar to readers of the series. But there is a character I am introducing for the first time, one who hardly featured in the latter books. Bessie Summerville is Peter’s little sister, someone he spent a lifetime searching for, so I thought it was time to tell her story.

Nuns from Ireland
Nuns from Ireland, mentioned in one of the first stories.

New Research

It is also worth mentioning that writing though Peter’s eyes encouraged to dig a little deeper into his story and the era when he worked at Toynbee Hall.

I confess to having only known a little about the organisation. But I would love to speak to anyone who remembers it from the 197os. Luckily a member of staff pointed me in the right direction, an enquiry that brought me to the Metropolitan Archives in North London. Studying the original annual reports from 1972 – 1979 gave me a snapshot of the structure of Toynbee Hall, as well as their good work. I will say that this worthwhile research painted an entire backdrop of one of my new stories. Furthermore, I have a request to deposit a copy of my writing in the library at Toynbee Hall once completed.

Annual Report 1972

To conclude, the book is well underway now with ten stories drafted and possibly another five to reach a conclusion. In my next post, I hope to bring you a synopsis and finally a cover reveal as hinted in the stock images shown…

Back to the Beginning

What Next?

Reaching the end of a long-running series feels strange but at the same time, therapeutic as if an enormous burden had been lifted. All the story lines I had planned from the beginning finally found their way into the story where each character had their own unique ending. The Kindle version went live Amazon in August and by the end of the month, my paperbacks too had arrived just in time for Arundel Festival.

Montage of Book Covers from the Same Face Different Place series

The final books of the series have gone down well and received some favourable reviews, starting with this most enthusiastic review from a Facebook Group!

Wow wow wow what a fantastic read…had me gripped from the start… this 5 set series is an absolute must buy…congratulations helen christmas this is your best yet

Delighted to embrace such praise keeps me motivated; but with time to fill (and not quite ready to start my next writing adventure), there is something I have been planning to do for a while now…

Re-visiting Book 1: Beginnings

Book cover for Same Face Different Place Book 1 Beginnings by Helen J ChristmasThe Same Face Different Place ‘Beginnings’ was written in 2011 and published in 2012. The story underwent further edits in 2015 but since finishing the series, my writing style improved considerably. Much of this was thanks to my friends who pointed out a few flaws in my writing. I was able to fix these issues for the 4th and 5th Books (Retribution) but it left me wondering if I should re-visit the 1st books again.

In many ways, it was really enjoyable looking back and while the story hasn’t changed in any way, another edit gave me a chance to improve the writing style, the descriptions and the characters. At the same time it put me right back in the zone; set in the 1970s, Beginnings is a very dark story, where the inherent fear and danger facing the main two characters reminded me of the most important selling points of this novel.

Link to PinterestRelive 197os London on my Pinterest Board

Arundel Festival

In actual fact the timing couldn’t be better. Feeling very much immersed in the setting of ‘Beginnings’ paid off, especially at Arundel Festival. I had more impetus to promote my book and actually felt quite passionate about it when I was describing it to people. As a result of my renewed enthusiasm, I made more sales than ever before.

With experience came confidence.

Our CHINDI Fundraising Book Stall at Arundel Festival.

I will also say, I thoroughly enjoyed managing the book stall with some of my fellow CHINDI authors. Our goal was to promote ourselves as local authors, sell each others books as well as our own, and make as much money for Cancer Research UK as possible. We were rewarded with beautiful sunny weather during the August Bank Holiday, a lovely Festival atmosphere and best of all we manage to raise nearly £500 for charity.

On to Book Promotion

In addition to my the edit of ‘Beginnings,’ I’ve been looking at ways of raising awareness and focussing on marketing. In early September I finally succeeded in getting 50 reviews for ‘Beginnings.’ This is a significant bench mark with Amazon and I do believe, it will give the book more credibility as a saleable product. Thus, it is even more important to knock the book into shape and turn it into as polished a product as possible.

By the end of September, I hope to have the novel proof-read too and publish a 2nd edition. My next dream will be to obtain 1 or 2 editorial reviews; something I can promote through my social networking feeds…

I thought my work was done but a writers’ work is never really done. You think you’ve reached the end but there is always room for improvement, so it’s onwards and upwards.