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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
21.4.2020 As Coronavirus spins its deadly web around the globe, I am sat here wondering how some people are handling the different world we live in.
Confined to our homes for a month now, I have tried to look on the bright side, but there are days when the situation feels eerie. Watching the news is heartbreaking when you consider the tragedy of losing loved ones. But for those of us who are surviving (fingers crossed), maybe we should think about how we can turn this situation to our advantage. I’ve seen lots of good vibes across the media, so I decided to use this post to share my own experiences.
Seeing the world through new eyes
We’ve had a spate of sunny days, almost fated to draw us out, when we know we should stay indoors. But even on a solitary walk, there is time to observe your natural surroundings. On occasions I see something I never taken much notice of before. It could be the trees coming into leaf, the incredible diverse range of colours found in the beach pebbles, cloud formations or the movement of birds in the sky. I’ve been wowed by some of the photos I’ve seen on Facebook and Twitter too, which just shows we have the same basal instincts when it comes to appreciating what is under our noses. Maybe this is a good sign. That we have taken our planet for granted for too long.
Adjusting shopping habits
The panic buying and stockpiling I described in my last post will be forever embossed on my brain. What a nightmare, queuing at 7am to get loo rolls. But with social distancing laws resolutely in place now, I try to restrict this to once a week which is not a bad thing (I used to shop too often). Nowadays I am inspired to plan ahead, check cupboards for ingredients, keep the freezer well stocked and only go out when I need stuff. At least the shelves are better stocked. Given the potential of the virus spreading though, the thought of being in a supermarket fills me with dread. I don’t mind queuing 2m apart and one tip I’d like to share is to have an audiobook on your phone. Shuffling slowly forwards, it not only kills time but I’m getting through more good books than ever before.
Fingers crossed I have thus far avoided anything nasty, by sanitising my hands as soon as I leave the store before touching keys or door handles. Same when I’m home, then rubbing all plastic and glass containers with anti-bacterial wipes before putting them away (my sister’s tip but I think lots of people do this now). COVID-19 can survive on hard surfaces for up to 72 hours! I have also taken to wearing a mask now. My next door neighbour started her own embroidery business but with an excess of fabrics, makes very nice masks for just £6 each. Check her designs out on Instagram.
I am loving seeing people’s culinary masterpieces on social media. Isn’t it great to go back to baking your own bread, while others get creative with lush cakes and cookies? I don’t think we’ve had a single ready meal since lockdown and I am enjoying looking up new recipes (see my Pinterest board) and spending more time in the kitchen. I never had the time before and it feels like a luxury. In fact my freezer is getting so chock-a-block full of home-cooked meals I might end up shopping even less soon!
Time for Communication and Contemplation
We have time. So much time. Time to connect with people we haven’t contacted for months, write letters, phone each other up, Facetime, cherish the joy of communication like never before. Peter and I miss our walking group terribly but use our weekends to sort the garden out, plant seeds and we even started painting our office, something we procrastinated about for too long. But while it’s nice to keep busy, I find time to relax. Last week I enjoyed a zoom Yoga class, thanks to my friend Angela. But in moments of anxiety try creative visualisation. Another good friend, Penny Burns, has expansive knowledge in this field and I have been helping her with her blog, as well as promoting her videos on YouTube. These combine deep breathing with meditation techniques, designed to reduce stress and improve well-being.
Reliving good memories
Getting things organised has been high on my list of priorities and looking at my i-pad, I was staggered by how many photos were on it. No wonder the storage is almost full! So I have been looking through them and deleting some, leaving only the best. It’s actually turned into another therapeutic exercise. My tablet was a joint 50th birthday present from Peter and family, and since 2014, I have taken hundreds of pics, some almost identical, others not worth saving. It’s been fun revisiting those years, from family celebrations to trips out and holidays. A living memoir of life’s highlights, reminding me how much I have to be thankful for. I recommend this as a good antidote on days when you’re feeling blue.
So what are others up to during lockdown?
I get lots of inspiration from hearing what others have been up to – from taking up a new hobby to posting lovely photos and videos, bringing some cheer to our troubled lives. Dan Jones has inspired me by posting his wellbeing walks on YouTube for others to enjoy. I even attempted a movie of my own, a recording on the beach where the sound of the waves lapping on the shore was quite soothing.
At the same time, I’ve been blown away by stories in the media.
Praise to 90-year-old Margaret Payne, climbing a mountain on her stairs to help raise money for the NHS during the coronavirus pandemic. She aims to scale the equivalent of a Scottish Highland mountain with 282 trips up the stairs in her home.
And who could miss the accomplishments of Captain Tom Moore? Tom’s 100th Birthday Walk is a lion-hearted gesture to raise funds for the NHS, a man who served as an officer in World War II and whose selfless acts of bravery make him a hero.
So that’s my list done. Don’t know how long we’ll be in Lockdown but it could be months yet so keep the ideas flowing… I’ll be posting again soon.
With the launch of her debut novel, ‘Trust In You,’ I am really excited to invite Julia Firlotte to my blog, to talk about her author’s journey.
Julia is a local writer who I met last summer, at the Gribble Inn, Oving, West Sussex. As budding authors, we had a good chat about books and writing before she told me about her up-and-coming first novel, a summer romance set in the US.
So a very warm welcome to you, Julia and I’m intrigued to discover more about your writing process…
“Novels take their readers on a journey, with characters leading the adventure and charging ahead (or limping slowly forward in some cases). I’ve been surprised though of the journey the writing process itself has allowed me to make as a new author, it’s not just been my characters on a path of enlightenment.”
So did you plot out your story or was it character driven?
“I’m very much an inspirational writer rather than a planner. I come up easily with scenes and can fabricate a whole dialogue between characters and write it down without ever knowing where my stories are headed. Developing characters that fit with what the modern reader wants and structuring it into a cohesive storyline, that’s more of a challenge for me (and why I have several unfinished books).
As with learning any new skill, new writers need to learn their craft, but as I’m discovering, this also means learning their target audience’s preferences too. I spoke recently to a highly experienced novelist and she told me that she never puts pen to paper without knowing exactly who her characters are and what is going to happen. This approach avoids wasting months rewriting and is clearly of commercial benefit, but for me I admit I struggle with this technique.
Hmm, that is good advice. You really need to know your characters before the novel can take shape. What other elements are important to you?
“My debut novel ‘Trust In You’ is a romantic suspense and like crime and thriller writers, I like my romance to have angst and passion, not be all light-hearted dinners and roses. Trust In You started as a bully romance over a land dispute, but after listening to my characters and beta readers, by the end of the writing process the original plot wasn’t even in the book anymore. It’s a love story through and through and I think a stronger piece of writing because of it, now with a strong crime and intrigue element.”
Ooh, crime and romance… I am really intrigued now, tell us more.
“Developing characters that are believable is widely recognised as being the most important aspect of writing any piece of fiction. Whether a protagonists or antagonist is a person or a theme, likeable or someone the reader will just love to hate, they have to be real. Some useful tools I’ve discovered in my writing journey to help develop my characters are mood thesauruses and personality typing such as Myers and Briggs.
Also key is the ability to step back from the novel after leaving it to rest between drafts and asking ‘would my character really behave like this’ and more importantly ‘will my readers want to read this?’ Having a clear audience in mind during the whole process seems obvious, but is easy to overlook. I recently spent nine months on a first draft, only to have feedback that the writing is great (descriptive, insightful and well-paced etc), but what I’d actually written, meaning the entire plot and the fundamental character traits was unappealing and distasteful. Oh dear, I’d clearly missed the mark by a mile of what I had been hoping to achieve.”
Quite a tough learning curve then but you do need to develop a thick skin as a writer.
“Although disheartening, I’m really grateful for these honest criticisms as without them truly appealing stories might never be written. My author journey is teaching me more about society and my readership than I’d ever expected to learn and making me a stronger and more informed person in the process.”
Thanks for sharing this, Julia, it’s been a most enlightening article. Now for those of you who are dying to get your hands on her book, here are the essential links:
For more information on Julia’s novels, please visit her website www.juliafirlotteauthor.com and subscribe to her mailing list where you will also receive the first three chapters free.
A first love summer romance full of intrigue, lust and lies.
From the moment she met him, Ella Peterson had questions. As always, though, she’s too shy to ask.
Older and sexy as hell, mysterious Adam Brook soon sweeps sheltered Ella off her feet; but is he as perfect as he appears to be, or is there more to him than he’s telling her?
Ella’s world has already turned upside down after moving from England to rural Kansas. She and her sisters were hoping for a more secure future, but instead find that life can be tough when jobs are scarce and the stakes often higher than anticipated.
When events spiral out of Ella’s control, she learns the person she needs to rely on most is herself and her instincts on who to trust in the future.
It’s just that her instincts are screaming at her to trust Adam; it’s what he tells her that makes that a problem.
This is the first book in the Falling for You series.
Happy Easter everyone and what better way to survive lockdown than to relax with a good book?
February has been an unexpected month full of highs and lows
Let’s start with the lows. I’ve been shocked to hear sad news from a few friends concerning unforeseen health problems, some life threatening. It makes you realise how temporary and fragile life can be, never knowing what is around the corner. I must confess the thought of that ‘split second life changing event’ terrifies me more than anything. Makes me thankful of each day I wake up healthy, especially in the aftermath of an intense bout of flu that put me out of action for the best part of a week, but hey, at least I am still here. The saddest news of all was the unexpected death of one of our walking group this week, a vibrant, lovely man who was fighting fit the last time we saw him. He and his wife were on the verge of emigrating to Australia to start a new life with their children. What a cruel blow fate can play!
It’s hard to feel positive in the light of such a tragedy but life must go on. On a more positive note, we’ve enjoyed some gorgeous walks of late with plenty of Spring sunshine. Work is good and on the writing front I have lots of fresh ideas.
This year I completed my latest work of fiction, Rosebrook Chronicles.
This book is a series of interlocking stories which fuse into a suspenseful saga, a contemporary blend of social history and domestic Noir. It follows the lives of three children, abused as teenagers, who strive to repair their broken lives. Each has their own story from battling past traumas to pursuing their dreams, to find love and re-establish broken family ties. But it is the inner stories of these characters that drive the plot, intended to keep the reader emotionally engaged and rooting for them to the end.
The book won’t be available for a while as it is currently being beta read, but a big thank you goes out to those who have offered to do this.
And while all this is going on, I am already plotting my next novel, a psychological thriller about three kids brought up in care, who share a secret. Twenty years later two characters, Maisie and Joe, meet again. Now in their thirties, they have never forgotten the bonds of friendship, nor the chilling disappearance of their friend, Sam. Consequentially, they are desperate to know what happened to him. I even have an idea for a cover, as shown in this creepy photo of trees.
Then believe it or not, I was driving home from Emsworth after a successful client meeting, when out of the blue popped up another idea for a book. Sophie’s Legacy is very much a concept at the moment but a project I cannot wait to start plotting (and only after I have written ‘Lethal Ties’ of course.)
What I am trying to say is cherish what you have and follow your dreams while they are fresh because you never know what tomorrow might bring.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
I really feel it is time I published something about progress on my latest book. I don’t want to keep anyone in the dark but it is coming together very nicely.
There were times when I experienced moments of panic – I glanced at the synopsis and wondered how on earth I was going to create this amount of story matter! Writing this whole series has been a huge undertaking but had I bitten off more than I could chew?
Several months down the line, it has occurred to me that given all the complex twists and character plots, I’ve somehow managed to develop ALL those story lines. Book 4 Retribution, is still a work in progress but I’ve reached a point where it is time to stop and recapture everything that has happened in the novel so far.
With 35 chapters written and the final quarter of the synopsis still ahead of me, I have a clearer vision of how this series will end but it is a finale needs that requires careful planning and execution. Everything that happened, has happened for a reason – so with various loose ends to tie up and a extremely complex mystery to resolve, I have my work cut out.
In Book 3 Pleasures, there was a similar point in the writing process where I hit a brick wall. I had reached the end of a very gripping scene with only the finale to complete – but I was unsure how I was going to get there without the story losing its momentum.
So I am going through a similar process and this could be advice for other writers.
There are times when it is an idea to take a breather; recapture the essence of the book before soldiering on to the end. It doesn’t mean you’ve lost your way. But I know I will create a much better ending if I can digest the story so far.
And while I’m blogging about my thoughts, I have been thinking about the cover. With credits to use up on one of my stock photography accounts, I was forced to make a decision last week. The cover reveal below is an idea I have had for a while now and is probably the one I will run with.
The cover can be clicked to see an enlargement
Note: the top photo is from i-stock.com – fire image from 123RF.com
2016 kicked off with the first highlight of my writing career. I was picked as a winner fora local short story competition “Write Across Sussex.”
It was a wonderful moment and something I never expected. I’ve never entered a short story competition before, in fact short stories are not really my forté. My writing has been centred around producing full-sized novels which is one of the reasons I was so thunderstruck! A short story needs to be very focussed. You have to capture the essence of the story, the atmosphere and characters in very few words. Dreaming up an idea for a story is the first hurdle, be it a childhood memory or a dream, an item on the news or maybe a funny story you heard down the pub. I thought about some of the things my mum told me about her childhood, where one story stood out in particular. As a consequence, my story is based on a real event that happened in World War II:
By Helen Christmas
East Sussex 1940
“You should think about it seriously, Connie. She isn’t safe here!”
Six-year-old Dottie stopped colouring, pencil suspended in mid-air, the moment her ears pricked up to the sound of a raised voice drifting beyond the kitchen.
“Shh!” her mother reprimanded. It was only their neighbour Clara, and by the time the conversation was resumed, the voices had dropped back down to a flurry of whispers.
Dottie wasn’t sure what it was about the sentence that unnerved her. She allowed her gaze to wander around the living room, drinking in the atmosphere: her dad’s high-backed chair smothered in dark green upholstery, the subtle fragrance of his Woodbines. She knew his health was frail. He seemed to spend a lot of time in bed when he wasn’t pottering around in the garden, tending to the vegetables and chickens only to stagger back indoors almost breathless.
She could still see the newspaper resting on the arm of his chair. She sighed, confused as to what was really happening. BRITAIN & FRANCE MOBILISE screamed the headline; it was something to do with the war.
Once again, she pictured the tidy rows of vegetables in their garden and the fruit bushes. Everyone grew their own food. They had a glasshouse too, where Daddy grew strawberries the size of apples; there was always a slightly musty aroma in the kitchen from whatever fruit happened to be fermenting in an old bucket to be turned into wine. Her face buckled into a frown as she listened to the low murmurs emanating from the kitchen. Just the tone of voice suggested something ominous. It reminded her of those radio broadcasts – dark and sepulchral, the ever-rising threat of danger, which always seemed to drain the smile from her mother’s face. Most of all Dottie dreaded hearing the siren – a prolonged and undulating wail, rising and falling, scattering the residents, the sound echoing in her head long after it had ended.
Connie pursed her lips, concentrating on her knitting. The rhythmic click of needles was soothing compared to Clara’s constant harping. Yes, of course she had thought about having Dottie evacuated. On the one hand, Clara was right; the child might be a lot safer. Coastal towns were frequently being bombed as the Germans dropped their load prior to returning home across the Channel. Even the cumbersome lump of steel in their bedroom that served as an air-raid shelter bore testimony to the ever-present threat of war looming over their heads.
“I think the Children’s Overseas Reception Board is a wonderful idea,” Clara gushed.
“I see,” Connie sighed, “and you say they’ll be sailing out on a steamship?”
“It’s one less thing for you to worry about, dear,” Clara added with a faint smile. “To a lot of these kids, it feels a little bit like a holiday. I saw some evacuees going off on a train yesterday – you only had to look at their faces.”
“But Canada…” Connie whispered to herself.
How could she bear it? Especially when William was so unwell? Doctors had said it was a ‘miracle’ he had even survived the onslaught of tuberculosis. He might not live long and Dottie was an only child.
By the time the sun sank behind the apple trees, she was still thinking about that conversation, watching as the light began to fade and the long shadows came stalking across the vegetable patch. The air had turned a little icy, the soft clucking of chickens indicating that they too were snuggling down for the night. It was nothing compared to the chill that fluttered over Connie’s shoulders – she stared up into the sky and shivered.
Dottie found herself being shepherded into school, where the usual lines of children snaked across the yard before separating and trailing into their respective classrooms.
Whatever Mummy and her neighbour had been talking about, she hadn’t said much. Her face had been a little pinched when she stepped into the lounge from the garden, wiping her hands on her apron. The light from a table lamp emitted a golden glow where it cloaked the walls. It threw soft shadows over Daddy’s face as he sat dozing in his chair, and for the rest of the evening, there had been an unsettling silence. She could still hear the click click of her knitting needles, all conversation suspended – she pictured the lemon yellow wool she had spotted, hoping it would be for a new cardigan.
Yet all thoughts of her gentle home life were shooed from her mind the moment the headmaster materialised. He strutted into the corridor, head high, eyes glittering as they feasted on the encroaching line of children as if they were some sort of insects. Dottie shivered, forcing her head down between her shoulders, trying to make herself as invisible as possible. Was it only last week he had clipped her round the ear for no good reason? She had been fidgeting in her chair, that was all. The flash of a hand came from nowhere and she saw stars. She felt the well of tears behind her eyes before she could stop them, her lip trembling.
“Dottie, do get a move on. You’re dithering, dear.” The voice of her classroom teacher oozed from behind her.
She flinched for a second time, squeezing out a smile. “Sorry, Miss Porter.”
The classroom fizzed with activity as her classmates clutched the wooden boxes they were issued with. Fingers poked at the clasps and straps – gas masks, they were told. Before she even knew what was happening, the teacher was speaking again, urging them to try them on – this is a drill, if the bombs come down and the Germans invade… Dottie stared at the little boy in front of her. The mask had a long tube jutting out at the front that made him look like an elephant! Some of them even looked like Mickey Mouse! Titters and giggles escaped from every corner but did nothing to lighten her mood. It wasn’t funny, it was scary.
The next thing she knew, she could hear that haunting sound – the air-raid warning. The teacher told them it was a recording, but it made no difference. Dottie felt the shroud of goose pimples crawling all over her arms and down her back, never able to forget the effect it had on people. Her hands shook. She clutched the edge of her single wooden desk.
“Now get under your desks, all of you!” Miss Porter’s voice fired across the classroom. “Try to imagine this as a real air-raid warning!”
Dottie did as she was told and scuttled under her desk, her arms wrapped around her head as if to fend off some invisible attacker. But what if it ever was real? Would her little wooden desk be enough to protect her?
“It could save your life one day,” Miss Porter added. Her voice had a hollow ring to it that, even to a child of six, didn’t sound that sure.
“Mummy, are the Germans really coming here to attack us?” Dottie lisped.
Her mother’s face froze into an expression of shock. She lowered her knitting needles very slowly, then rose to her feet and clutched the top of Dottie’s arms. She moved her head a little closer so they were level and gazed deep into her eyes.
“My poor child, I have something to tell you,” she mumbled. “You must know how much Dad and I love you, so we’ve been thinking – did you know some kids have been sent away to live in the countryside?”
Dottie’s eyes grew wider. She nodded her head.
“It’s not safe living by the sea any more,” Connie added, her voice cracking slightly. “It’s the coastal areas that are being bombed, and yes – England is under attack. Some people are saying it would be safer if our children went abroad.”
“Abroad?” Dottie gasped. “You mean to another country?”
“Yes,” her mother sighed. “Another country – a big country called Canada. I’ve heard it’s very beautiful. It will be fun, Dottie, and far enough away to afford you a safe home.”
“Will it be forever?”
“Not forever,” Connie shot back at her, “only until the war’s over…”
“Is this what you and Mrs Hawthorne were talking about yesterday?” Dottie whispered.
Her mother’s eyes seemed to darken. They held her stare, two widely spaced pools of uncertainty and fear. A slight sheen of tears made them appear glassy, and for that moment, Dottie thought she was going to start crying.
“It was her idea. She too worries about your safety, Dottie, as do we all…”
Dottie found it hard to sleep, even though the exhaustion of the day dragged down heavily on her limbs, her mind and, most of all, her heart. Deep down, she knew what Mummy said was probably very sensible. She had barely stopped thinking about the drills at school, the air-raid sirens and the gas masks. They loomed in her mind like dreams, as if to remind her of the constant fear being bounced around the classroom.
She didn’t want to die.
At the same time, she didn’t want to be parted from her home.
Dottie clutched the bedclothes in terror and peered over the top of the counterpane. All she could think about was their lovely garden – of sitting under the blackcurrant bushes when the sun was hot – of Daddy scratching around with his hoe, humming to himself, occasionally interrupted by his chesty cough. She thought about the chickens, how much fun it was when she and Mummy had crept into their pen to collect the eggs. She clung to the memories of walks in the South Downs. Sometimes her uncle gave her a piggyback. There were cow pats as big as dustbin lids. She would grip his shoulders even tighter for fear he might drop her. Cowslips flourished in the grassy banks, the same pale yellow as her mother’s wool – Daddy picked great bunches of them to make wine.
The thought of sailing away on a great steamship known as the SS City of Benares surged darkly in her mind; about to tear her away from everything she loved. And it was in the silent darkness of her room, she eventually cried herself to sleep.
Connie admired her daughter next morning. She was dressed in a pleated skirt, socks pulled right up to her knees. She helped her button up her blouse and brushed her hair – it was blonde and very fine, cropped in a neat bob just above her jaw. Connie swept it back from her forehead and fastened it with ribbon, looping the ends into a big bow, where it fell to one side.
Her eyes were an unusual grey-blue. Yet it took one glance to see she had been crying.
“What’s the matter, dear?” she murmured.
“Please don’t send me away,” the little girl begged.
Connie swallowed, pained to look at her. “This is a wonderful opportunity for you, Dottie. Dad and I discussed this. The truth is, there is a war on, and neither of us want you to die.”
“So what about you?” Dottie whined. “Don’t make me go away, please! I want to be here with you, even if they do drop the bombs! I couldn’t stand it if you were killed… I’ll be all on my own.”
She started sobbing. Connie backed away, but it was as if she couldn’t let go – her small hands stretching out in front of her, clawing at her coat.
“It won’t be forever,” Connie said again. “We only want what’s best for you, sweetheart.”
“No!” Dottie squealed at her. “I don’t want to go! I won’t, I won’t, I won’t…”
Connie closed her eyes. Her palm fell upon her daughter’s silky head as her sobs became almost hysterical. The child was right – they were such a small family, and if she was true to her heart, she couldn’t bear to be parted from her either.
It was in that splinter of a second, she made her decision.
It was some three months later, they were alerted to the radio broadcast.
The date was September 17th, a day when the SS City of Benares had been torpedoed and sunk, carrying ninety child evacuees bound for Canada. Seventy-seven of them had perished.
It was the voyage her daughter had been destined for.
Connie wept, but not out of relief. She wept for the other mothers – those who had made the wrong decision, unable to imagine their agony, their children lost forever.
On January 23rd 2016, I attended a special award ceremony in Chichester along with the other winners and each of us was presented with an anthology of the winning short stories. It was a truly magical moment – and as if it wasn’t enough to have the privilege of meeting best selling authors, Kate Mosse and Peter Lovesey, (who judged the competition), I was awarded the compliment that my story was a firm favourite and beautifully written. I felt an unmistakable glow of pride – even better, the book is on Amazon.
It was definitely worth entering this competition. I feel truly blessed and hope this may inspire other budding writer to have a go.
I decided to write this post for the benefit of new authors who are thinking of writing a book for the first time with the hope that I can inspire them. I have often been asked this question: I want to write a book but how do I go about it? Well, it’s a difficult one to answer! The easiest way to ponder the dilemma is to relate my own experience.
Know your Plot
Books don’t just happen. First of all, you need to have an idea of what you want to write about. Is it your take on an old fashioned tale? Has something in the media made you so angry, you feel a need to express yourself? Did you have a dream last night that sparked a fantasy? Or did your dog look at you in such a way, you couldn’t help but wonder what was going on in his mind? The fact is, every writer gets a flash of inspiration and when that happens, you have two choices: either go with the flow or move on.
I was intrigued by stories which involved power – the power of the church, the power of politics, how power affects us lesser mortals in the ever turning wheel of life and that is how my series ‘Same Face Different Place’ started to develop.
Plan your Synopsis
Given the likelihood you have decided to develop your story, the next stage in my opinion, is to formulate some sort of plan. I think this is best done in rough note form. You really need to just sit down and work out the content. What is the book going to be about? What is going to happen (the detail can come later), who is it about (characters) and where (location of the story or place whether it is real or imagined). It is when you sit down and work out the first threads of a synopsis, your ideas begin to grow branches.
I spent about six months thinking about all this, before I wrote a word. For me, it was the characters who materialised first. Once I had a fairly good cast and a rough idea of what the story would be about, only then did I start scribbling out a few scenes.
Find your Motivation
If you have an idea, as well as a plan, the next thing you need is motivation. The chances are, if you are burning to get started, you’ll move heaven and earth to find the time. Writing a book does involve a degree of self-discipline. You can’t keep procrastinating. My advice is to put aside a couple of hours to get the ball rolling. It could be a free Sunday afternoon or an evening when there is nothing on the telly. I would even go so far as to advise switching off your phone and your computer to avoid interruptions.
My moment came, on a weekend when my husband was away. I had an entire Sunday afternoon and made the choice that this was the day I was going to start my book. I spent six months wondering how I would ever find the time. I’m glad I did.
Just do it!
It sounds simple but every writer needs to start somewhere. It doesn’t matter if you spew out several pages of rubbish – just write something, anything to get the ball rolling. If you are genuinely inspired, you will find the process gets easier as time goes by. Once you get started, the ideas keep coming and coming. The first few pages might be a little shaky but it doesn’t matter. You can always go back and edit them and once you become a writer you will discover that it is the editing that takes time. Writing is the fun part.
It took a while to get the first chapter written but once I had engaged with my story and its characters, it took off. I found myself waking up at 6:00 in the morning, unable get back to sleep. It was like a calling and this has now become my best time for writing.
Other advise to budding writers:
Carry a notebook so if you get a flash of inspiration you can jot it down as soon as possible.
Or carry a recording device – most smart phones have a microphone.
Do research – visit the places in your stories, use the internet which provides answers to just about anything.
Make reading part of your own life – you can get lots of inspiration from others.
Enjoy yourself – if I didn’t love writing I wouldn’t do it.
I started my debut novel, Beginnings in 2011 and it took just 6 months to complete the first draft (in between socialising and work). After doing a complete re-write and further edits, I asked a couple of friends to read it. The feedback was so positive, I published the book on Amazon Kindle in 2012. I have never looked back and have since written two more books in the same series. All my books are self-published.
Same process – I’m walking the dog along the beach, staring at the sea, seeing the first golden hues of autumn in the clouds, as the sun sets and breathing in the salty air… and my mind starts to wander. Before I know it, I start visualising the story lines in my head for up and coming book 3, Pleasures. The feeling is familiar. This is exactly how it happened before (2010), in the months before I started writing the first and second books of the series – and it’s happening all over again.
I’m throwing Barney’s ball across the sand and he goes bounding after it. There is a spreading circle of seagulls flying above and with the gentle sounds of the waves lapping in the distance, I’m already writing the opening scenes in my head.
I have two books now and a very well established cast of characters. Where the first book was an explosive start to this series, the second did involve a lot more character building. I’m already considering a similar process for book 3 only this time, I’m going to be working on the evil characters – delving into their lives in order to reinforce their ‘not so nice personalities’, as they plot and scheme, hold their secret meetings and decide how they might oppose the growing army of followers that, the story’s main character, Eleanor, has been gathering over the last couple of years.
I am already working on a new synopsis now. But when I feel as inspired as this, the first thing I do when I return home, is jump straight on to my computer and bash out all my new ideas, while they are fresh in my head. The synopsis is growing daily and it is a wonderful feeling. Books 1 and 2 took shape exactly as I hoped they might – I’m delighted with what I have created. Yet, the older synopsis I had for the 3rd book has now changed – I’m gunning for more powerful story lines, than ever before; and different to those I had originally thought of. Once I have a water-tight synopsis in place, I hope to deliver a sequel, which might even see a few bad characters in this story, finally getting their just deserts.
What is Pleasures about?
The story will start where the last book left off – there will be a concentrated fight for a piece of land, in Rosebrook – desirable land which will either allow villainous property developer, Perry to profit from yet another lucrative housing scheme – or allow, fearsome ex-gang leader, Dominic, to establish the night club he has always dreamed of – at the same time, instilling fear in the community, especially for arch rival, Eleanor and her family. Eleanor and her allies want nothing more, than the land to be passed over to the visionary community leader, Peter, to set up his own affordable housing trust for local residents. Yet, lurking in the shadows, corrupt council planning officer, Robin, will do whatever he can to manipulate matters – determined to see Peter’s plan fail, whilst Eleanor’s enemies tighten their net around her.
Book 3 will also see a return to organised crime in London. At the same time Eleanor will be gathering her evidence, to seek justice for her beloved Jake – but, where Perry’s spies will be watching her every move; and these are just the opening chapters.
At the same time as I’m planning the synopsis, I can reveal that an outline synopsis for book 4, the finale, has already been written. My rationale being, if I continue with a really well thought-out plan, as to where the next two books are heading, the rest will come easily.
I cannot wait to start writing book 3. The situation at the moment is, I am still carefully picking my way through the paperback edition of newly published ‘Visions’ but as soon as it is word perfect, it will be back to the grindstone and writing again.
So thanks Barney – our walks are as inspiring for me as they are fun for you! May there be many more on the way, throughout this lovely autumn we are having.