Confronting The Demons Within

A homeless man

In the run up to the publication of Sussex thriller, LETHAL TIES, I’ll be discussing some underlying themes behind the story. If anything good is to come out of this though, it is to raise awareness of some of the complex emotional issues modern-day people face.

The abuse of young people is nothing new. People will have read about cases such as the Rotherham children’s homes (2015). Even footballers have spoken out recently of being sexually abused by their coaches, as revealed in a long-awaited report, ‘Football’s Darkest Secret‘ broadcast on BBC1.

But when I started writing Lethal Ties, I wanted to focus more on the long term psychological effects, rather than the abuse itself. 

  • The sense of powerlessness.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Anxiety and depression.
  • Addiction to alcohol and/or drugs.
  • Serious mental health disorders leading to suicidal feelings.

This story was always intended to be character driven, an emotionally charged psychological drama that delves deep into the minds of the characters.

Abuse can take many forms, be it physical, emotional, sexual or neglect, but leaves a scar of damage on the victims. Thinking of my characters, the long-term effects are very different. Maisie seems content. Raised by kind, caring foster parents, she has a successful career, a flat, the stuff most young adults dream of. Yet deep down, she is troubled; suffers anxiety and panic attacks, finds it difficult to form relationships. Joe on the other hand has made a complete mess of his life and with no career prospects, spends his life drifting from place to place, sleeping rough. 

Joe, however, is the one I want to focus on, starting with his experiences.

What you need to know about Joe

  • Joe has suffered a troubled childhood, including physical abuse at the hands of his violent criminal father.
  • Incarcerated in a children’s home, he is abused in ways he does not even understand yet, a truth that comes to light gradually.
  • Being suspicious, Joe has stood up to the boss, Mr Mortimer, but with terrible consequences. So when an 11-year-old boy vanishes, he fears the worst.
  • It is a slow drip feed of fear and threat that forces him to escape the home, but a campaign of intimidation that follows him into his adult life. 

The Consequences

Like many abused kids in care, Joe, the runaway, falls into a downward spiral of crime, prison, drug addiction and ultimately ends up homeless. This is not uncommon. Abused boys tend to gravitate towards trouble in the same way as girls turn to prostitution. For kids made to feel worthless, this often becomes their path in life. Nobody wants them, people have treated them badly, so therefore they must be bad. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Joe Winterton, a character from LETHAL TIES

Research into Joe’s Character

Writing the first draft, I had never really met a man like Joe, but all that was about to change when in September 2019 I was introduced to Graham Levell, by my author friend, Dan Jones. Dan, who worked in a number of children’s homes in the 90s, (the era of Joe’s back story) shared his own experiences, which went a long way in helping me depict the hostile environment inside the children’s home. Introducing me to Graham however, turned out to be the biggest inspiration behind Joe’s character.

The best part of Graham’s story is how he turned his life around. I have included a tribute in the book, but feel a powerful need to get it out there. For those who download my book, the tribute appears at the end, but publishing it on my blog is important  – not just to spread the message, but to make his life more meaningful.

Tribute to Graham LEvell

Graham’s story began when he worked at Butlins but at the age of fourteen, decided to leave home and spend the next fortnight sleeping under Bognor Pier. At no time did I get the impression this was traumatic, more an adventure, as he colourfully alluded to the homeless culture in Bognor. 

“That was before they put down anti-homeless alarms. Sit on a bench for too long, it makes a horrible noise so you can’t sleep.” 

Graham had dreams of going to college, to avoid the predetermination he would follow the path of many local youngsters and work at LEC. The more he talked, the more I got the impression he was unhappy with his life. Working at Butlins however, the next turning point was Dan’s girlfriend discovering he was sleeping rough; as a result, they invited him to come and stay with them. This was 1997, at a time when he had been gravitating towards other troubled youths, getting into drugs and alcohol. He described himself as quite a suspicious, cynical person.

“I mean I don’t have any lasting relationships and Dan was just about the only person I had a long friendship with.”

Dan Jones and Graham Lovell 1999
Dan Jones with Graham Levell 1999

Shortly after this, the police got involved. His mum had reported him missing and Social Services intervened; said he couldn’t stay with Dan (19) and his girlfriend, and that as a fourteen-year-old runaway, they felt uncomfortable about it.

In the next part of Graham’s life, being in care, some really enlightening stories began to emerge. I asked him about the process of being fostered, which he described as being “really scary… where they used to force us into these gatherings. It was all well-intended, but all a bit weird and false. Social workers present, theatre groups… others were just ‘happy clappy’ Christians.” 

During these gatherings, he would meet all sorts of people – girls who had been sexually abused – but with the lads, he remembers a sense of brotherhood, the usual teenage dominance (chest beating), and then laughing and joking about the different foster carers they’d had. 

“There were some right bastards out there caring for people… One couple used to have the kids living in a caravan at the end of their garden and then drag them indoors for bridge games every Wednesday night, and the kids would be made to work this huge great big garden and were generally slaves and dogsbodies around the house. These days, they wouldn’t pass the fostering board.”

An interesting transition from being in care arose when Graham ended up working in care himself. But before this could happen, he needed an education. He missed a lot of schooling, messed up his GSCEs (was even threatened with suspension) but turned things around in the sixth form and finally achieved his dream of going to college. It was amazing how fast he adapted, joyfully describing how this was the making of him; first studying a National Diploma in performing arts and a Diploma in vocational education in business. 

“They worked me ragged for four years but I had some wicked tutors and started mixing with people who were fairly decent.”

Graham Lovell (17) receiving an award for Educational Achievement

Best of all, Graham achieved a National Diploma, went on to do a Professional Development Certificate, then a Professional Development Diploma (which is a level 5 certificate) and was hailed as 1 in 10,000 kids to come out of care with a degree level qualification (in Health and Social Care).

I feel blessed to have had this one-to-one with Graham, who gave up his time entertaining me with his stories and accomplishments. To an author this was gold dust, and as the conversation gathered momentum, he became more animated, describing his work in care homes with troubled youngsters, one of which was for young offenders and substance misusers. 

“They would get wrecked and come back late after staff had locked the doors… and I was a bit of a soft touch, because one of the rules was ‘three warnings and you’re out’ – and I wanted to keep the kids with me until my dying breath. There was no way I was going to let anyone else look after my kids, because I knew what it was like to have no one you could depend on around the corner. I mean, they used to throw me through doors and everything… I got the shit kicked out of me loads of times BUT no one else was going to look after them. Not as good as me and my team.”

So when did Graham turn his life around? He was quite frank. 

“When I got my ex-wife pregnant. With a little baby on the way – the first of my three daughters – I got a job selling mobile phones to retail. Business supplied the learning and I found myself taking on a lot of what they taught me in terms of sales and communication. Knowing Dan, too, was a massive help.”

Graham won various awards in quality of business (still has the glass statue), and even Dan said he felt like a proud father to see him achieve success. This was the start of his professional development.

A darker side of Graham’s musings emerged in some of the stories he came across about kids in care; from a high functioning autistic boy left to fend for himself in a studio flat who became almost feral – to a three-year-old child raped by his adoptive father. He ended up in a foster placement and it completely went undetected, but he used to sleep in the same bed as his foster father and nothing was ever said. 

“He was schizophrenic when he came to me, because this had been a repeat pattern with every placement, but looking after him around 2007, he became the abuser. If it happens from an extremely young age it becomes a sense of normality…”

This was one of the last things Graham spoke of, the referral files he used to read, which would make him cry; cases of abuse that emotionally floored him: 

‘Awful. Absolutely awful. This is why I would never let my kids go, because I’d seen what they’d been through… I could never be a social worker because I would KILL people.’

I will never regret meeting Graham, not only to hear his amazing story, he became the biggest inspiration behind Joe’s character. I’ve even included some of his quotes, one being that kids in care have a huge chip on their shoulder. 

“You’re either a victim or a fighter.”

Anyone who knew Graham might recognise a little piece of him in Joe, from his flickers of insight to his sunny personality, his compassion and sense of humour. For all the while we were talking, I sensed neither bitterness nor regret. Graham was a genuinely lovely guy – had the gift of the gab, portrayed life in a colourful, humorous way and had a wicked laugh. 

What I did not know at the time, though, was that he had mental health problems and battled with bi-polar disorder. Sadly in 2020, with his existing problems exacerbated by the impact UK lockdown had on single people during the coronavirus pandemic, Graham died from an overdose of his medication. It broke my heart to discover the loss of this inspirational man, but he often spoke of suicide among males and took his life before I had a chance to properly acknowledge his help. My time with Graham is a memory I will forever hold dear. So I hope I have, in some way, kept his spirit alive in sharing this emotional tribute.

******

Conclusion

There are better safeguards in place for children now, especially in residential care and foster care, as Graham refers to in one of the sound clips I kept.

There is also more awareness of emotional problems, a better understanding of conditions like Asperger’s, bi-polar disorder, anxiety and depression. Social media too, plays a vital role.

There is no doubt that abuse has a terrible impact on people lives and on society as a whole. But what else can be done to break the cycle? 

The underlying premise of my book is that victims MUST come forward and report their abuse, a mantra one of the senior police officers I spoke to insisted on.

If abuse carries on undetected, nothing can be done, the cycle continues and some victims may themselves turn into abusers. Victims should always be listened to and while it is known there are fantasists, some who invent stories for personal notoriety or compensation, genuine victims have nothing to fear or to be ashamed of. 

Raising self-esteem is another form of help, which goes a long way in helping some people turn their lives around, but this does not just apply to abuse victims. This applies to anyone with underlying mental health issues, which stem from a variety of causes: Job loss and redundancy; the stigma of unemployment; excessive weight gain; a relationship crisis such divorce or bereavement; alcoholism, drug addition, debt, homelessness… the list seems endless but what I am trying to say is that if you can find it in your heart to be kind, to listen to people instead of maligning them, it could make a huge difference to the way they feel about themselves.

To conclude, here is another sound clip from Graham.

Graham Lovell 2020
Graham Levell 2020

In my next post, I’ll be introducing another character; Maisie, the deep underlying traumas that affect her every day life, not to mention the invisible enemy who is watching her. LETHAL TIES will be launched on April 18th 2021.

Second #Lockdown in the UK

London during Lockdown source CNBC

Oh well, here we go again. We’ve turned the full circle and with COVID-19 gaining the upper hand, we’ve been forced into lockdown for a second time.

My gut feeling is the government didn’t want to do this but in a worst case scenario, do we really want to see our NHS stretched to breaking point with a deluge of COVID patients before Christmas?

The way things are going, numbers have soared this autumn yet the 3-tiered system is not working. Scientists have warned the virus will spread, working its way gradually down south, so why make towns in the north suffer alone? We are all in the same boat, so it makes sense – and if the whole of the UK can buckle down for one month, let’s pray we can get the infection rate down again.

It is sad but unavoidable so what can we do?

For me personally I have to look at this as an opportunity. Our work has dried up but there is still plenty to do around the house and garden. For example, I never did get around to painting the kitchen but it really needs doing and it would be great to get another DIY project ticked off the list. I also want to look at gardening websites and YouTube videos, to adopt some new practises for my own garden. Growing Dahlias for example. Inspired by a trip to West Dean Gardens and their fabulous display of dahlias, it would be a dream to establish such healthy plants but all this requires a little work and planning.

Dahlias at West Dean Gardens

Christmas will be different this year but I like a challenge. I am already considering what home made gifts I can come up with and getting creative in the home can be very therapeutic.

Yes, it will be harder for others but my advice is it’s essential to keep yourself busy during lockdown. Long periods spent dwelling, wishing you could do things that you can’t are not good for your health. You are allowed to exercise so get out and about even if it’s just for a walk. I’ve seen many people take photos, write blogs and channel anxiety into something good. So here are some photos I took at Leonardslee Gardens yesterday afternoon, a last minute treat before the countdown started and I shall cherish the memories.

But this brings me onto the more negative side of lockdown.

Mental Health

The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown has triggered a sense of fear and anxiety around the globe especially among young people. Much of this is down to loneliness during lockdown and in particular, a lack of physical contact with friends and family, boredom and the frustration associated with not being able to engage in activities that have been a part of their lives.

I try to put on a brave face and stay positive but some mornings I wake up with this paralysing fear – not only of the virus but the thought of losing loved ones. It has been touch and go with some family members; one elderly relative admitted to hospital with heart problems and another with Crohn’s disease (an auto-immune condition which has a tendency to flare-up in times of stress). Both are okay, but vulnerable and have to shield, since the effects of contracting COVID could be devastating. 

The true cost of COVID-19 on mental health however, has not yet been realised and something happened last week that hit me very hard.

I heard on the grapevine a friend of a friend had died. I met Graham last year and only as a result of some research I was engaged in for my current novel. I have my friend, Dan Jones, to thank for introducing us, an author who I met via Chindi (local network of independent authors in Sussex). Dan worked in a number of children’s homes in the 90s. Yet he was happy to share his experiences with me.

As the book is centred around a group of fictitious children’s homes, I was intrigued by what he could tell me, until ultimately his best friend came into the discussion. Graham was in the care system through the late 1990’s and Dan met him when he was homeless. Regardless of his problems, he turned his life around and after completing a degree in social work, ended working in care himself, looking after troubled youngsters in homes. He also won an award for being someone in care who had achieved something.

As Dan said (and I quote) “He would have stories to tell you, spent time homeless, missed education, mixed with all sorts of people, yet turned things around. So he knows what the scene was like here in Bognor during the 1990’s for teenagers in a difficult home environment and in the care system.”

I feel blessed he agreed to meet me and within the space of an hour, gave some fascinating insights into the feelings of kids being brought up in care or fostered (thank God I kept the recordings). His answers provided the last pieces of the puzzle and not only that. He shared some amazing stories and in manner that was humorous and colourful. I would even go as far as to say he was the inspiration behind Joe, one of the main characters, a great guy who turned his life around and left a lasting impression.

But I wish I had got in touch. If only I had told him how much his little anecdotes helped me and out of respect, I am definitely going to include a tribute.

News of his death weighs down heavily but brings it home to me how temporary and fragile life is, especially in the era we are living in now.

Do you know anyone who might be affected? Make contact to check they’re okay and stay in touch. It might make all the difference.

To end on a positive note, I am still in the process of editing my novel and 50% through so it is all coming together very well indeed. I would also like to say a few more words about Dan, who’s heartache is unimaginable.

So for those who are feeling anxious, suffering from stress and have trouble sleeping, Dan creates therapeutic relaxing sleep stories for adults and you can check these out by subscribing to his YouTube channel

I have a few favourites of my own, one being Lake Of Inner Discovery 😴 SLEEP STORY FOR GROWNUPS 💤

Stay safe and stay sane in the second UK lockdown.

HM Government poster to protect the NHS during the Coronavirus pandemic

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.

Entering the Final Phase of a #WIP

Atmospheric image of oak trees

It’s been a while since I mentioned writing, especially my current work in progress (WIP).

This standalone novel is a psychological thriller set in 2015 located in my home county of Sussex.

Sadly my writing took a nose dive in 2019 when I lost all confidence. I started the book in March 2019 but then things went a bit wobbly. It was like learning to ride a bike again. As soon as I made some progress, I would read it back and shake my head. Stop. Edit. Have another stab at it and still it didn’t engage! Grrrr! I was tearing my hair out with frustration, I even shed tears, thinking the creative power in my brain had been switched off. Even when we took a holiday in the most beautiful part of France, I read some good psychological thrillers to see if I could figure out where it was going wrong. I was inspired enough to embark on another complete re-write. But then the dreaded Coronavirus struck, leaving me so anxious, I was unable to move forward again.

Outline Synopsis

Joe, Maisie, Sam.
We were three kids in a care home, too young to protect ourselves.
Three friends who were inseparable until the night Sam went missing.

The story is centred around a group of fictitious children’s homes that existed in London in the 90s. Maisie, a professional woman at 32, has psychotherapy, unable to understand what lies at the root of her recurring nightmares and panic attacks.

Joe meanwhile, has led a troubled life from serving time in prison to being homeless. When the two characters cross paths in 2015, they recall memories of the strange parties they were taken to by the home’s sinister owner, Mr Mortimer… but what happened to Sam? 20 years ago he vanished, never to be seen again.

Yet as Joe tries to turn his life around, he is subject to a campaign of online abuse that makes them wonder if their enemies are still around – until a police investigation is launched.

A homeless man

Back in the writer’s chair

By mid April it struck me I needed to take a different approach; look at the nature of the police investigation at the heart of the story. Going through the chapters, I identified which parts needed research and further delighted to get some help. Speaking to a senior police officer who worked on similar cases to the one I am writing about, I have found a new direction. So I finally thrashed out the nuts and bolts of the investigation

With a brand new focus, the next hurdle was getting inside the heads of my characters. They took a while to come out, especially Maisie. So by the time I was immersed in a second re-write, I drafted her scenes in first person, something that enabled me to think like her, imagine her life and feel her anxiety (something which comes naturally.)

Joe’s character has been easier. Writing his part in 3rd person, he is a likeable rogue with fire in his belly; an angry rebellious young man at the pinnacle of his life. Now all he wants is justice.

Last of all, I wanted to be able to picture my characters which is where Pinterest came in useful. You only have to key something as obscure as ‘auburn hair’ in your search and dozens of faces appear. I found the right faces for both Maisie and Joe (depicted as Jack Falahee), as well as their childhood friend Sam.

Characters from a psychological thriller I am writing

Joe, Maisie, Sam.
We were three kids in a care home, too young to protect ourselves.
Three friends who were inseparable until the night Sam went missing.

The remainder of the story

I have now drafted out a huge part of the story and about to tackle the final phase. But with a full synopsis worked out, I think I have an adequate foundation to complete a first draft. Wish me luck because if I succeed I’ll be looking for beta readers and an editor.

I’ve seen lots of fellow authors rediscover their writing passion during these strange times and hope this will be the start of something promising. That aside, I’ve really enjoyed getting back into it.

Tales from UK Lockdown: Week 10

Bognor Rocks at sunset

Adjusting to a Different World

26.5.2020 So we’ve been in lockdown for over 2 months but now the government have eased restrictions a little, I wonder if life can ever truly go back to how it was.

Despite the negative press, many of us are lucky to spend quality time with our loved ones and still manage financially, thanks to the Government furlough scheme. Though I am aware that for some, this is living a nightmare. My heart goes out to our care workers, many of whom work unbelievably long shifts, surrounded by death and heartache on a daily basis. For them, the Corona pandemic cannot pass quickly enough.

The other major problem is the work place. Understandably companies cannot wait to get the economy moving which is fair enough. Though some people just want everything to go back to how it was which will ultimately mean filling the sky with aeroplanes again. But my gut feeling tells me COVID-19 isn’t done with us yet. Lifting restrictions too fast could easily trigger a second deadly wave… that being the case we’re doomed!

We're Doomed!

Alternatively, just cherish these days while you have them (if you can)

Over these past weeks I have enjoyed seeing the breath-taking photos people share from their daily walks; of flowers bursting into bloom, tranquil coastal scenes and the most vibrant of sunsets. Others continue to inspire me with their achievements.

Extra time

With more spare hours on our hands, we finally re-decorated our office. The plaster and paintwork was in a terrible state, a daunting task we put off for too long. Now it’s done (and having cleared out loads of unwanted crap in the process) we feel more productive than ever in our cleaner tidier environment surrounded by fresh white walls.

Office repainted (Cottagewebs)

Country walks and keeping fit

Another month on and we’re finally allowed to drive into the countryside for walks. We missed the bluebells but enjoyed a picnic on the banks of East Ashling Pond, blessed to see a family of swans and signets gliding across the water. Halnaker Windmill yesterday was equally awe inspiring, the only sound the ring of birdsong, the air perfumed with the first lacy blooms of elderflowers. And talking of keeping fit, I’ve been doing kitchen aerobics with a set of hand-made weights (two water bottles filled with sand from the beach) and occasionally enjoy a zoom pilates class with Sussex Physiotherapy.

Swans and signets on East Ashling Pond, Sussex

Making the most of fresh seasonal produce

If ever there’s a time to support local farmers it’s now and my favourite place is Runcton Farm Shop. This is a great opportunity to look up new recipes depending on what’s available for example local asparagus (delicious either as a side vegetable or in recipes such as Risotto Primavera). I also heard there was a surplus of products, due to restaurants being closed. Imagine my surprise when my husband brought home a kg of fresh mussels home, which cost £1.60. For the first time ever I made Moules Marinière such a simple recipe but absolutely mouthwatering, served with home made bread.

Moules Mariniere

Best of all, I am back to writing with a renewed passion

I never imagined writing a standalone psychological thriller would be so hard but there were times last year I almost gave up.

It’s thanks to the people who helped me, I wanted to keep going; inspirational people such as Dan Jones who shared his experiences of working in children’s homes in the 90s and his friend, Graham, who was brought up in care. But with a police investigation at the heart of the story, more research needed to be done.

Research: talking to various senior police officers allowed me concentrate on the plot, a time I felt indebted to my good friend, Marion Kille, whose husband, Andy (formerly an ops controller with Sussex police for 30 years) was happy to answer a list of questions I had prepared. I also spoke to Peter’s cousin, Denise, whose husband worked in the CID but kindly pointed me in the direction of a recently retired Detective Inspector who for the last 10 years was senior investigator for similar cases to the one I am writing about. With a new focus, everything is finally beginning to slot into place.

Inspiration: Furthermore, I changed to writing in ‘first person’ for one of the characters. Last year I practised this as a writing tip – to write a scene in first person, depict their thoughts and feelings more powerfully – then change back to 3rd person. Sharing this on Twitter, #WhatWorksForMe I had a reply from Terry Tyler, one of my favourite authors, saying “Ever thought of just writing in the 1st person anyway?” It’s working very well and allowing me to get right inside this character’s head.

Re-writing this book is like untangling a ball of wool but finally I am unravelling the plot and teasing the story out of my characters. But more about that in a later post…

From Autumnal Beauty to Life Changing Fears

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

A Stressful Year

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

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

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

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

We will have to await the outcome…

Am I Still Writing?

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

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

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

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

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

Dipping into #Historic #Fiction with Rosemary Noble

Historic fiction is one of the many genres I enjoy and this month, I am enthralled to invite author Rosemary Noble to be a guest on my Blog.

Photo of historic fiction author Rosemary NobleRosemary is one of many writers in West Sussex I have met and networked with over the years as a result of CHINDI (Celebrating and Helping Indy Authors). Last year she completed her ‘Currency Girls’ Trilogy, so it is my pleasure to introduce her and find out what lies at the heart of her writing.

Hello, Rosemary and may I start by asking when you first started writing?

I wrote my first book in my teens and then nothing until I retired. It wasn’t even in my retirement plan. I’m still amazed that I have four books written in five years.

The problem is that it’s rather taken over. I need to give myself and my husband a break. He’s getting fed up that I’m so busy.

What made you choose historical fiction as your genre?

I’ve always love history. If my A levels had been good enough in the 60s, I would have studied history at university. But now I have the opportunity to indulge my love with something creative too – the best of all worlds.

That sounds wonderful. Can you describe your novels in 10 words?

Gritty family sagas, real people leading extraordinary and interesting lives.

Just the sort of stuff I like to read, which leads me to my next question. When and where you prefer to do your writing?

I like an early start. Sometimes the ideas come to me when I’m trying to sleep (always annoying) but it means I’m itching to get going not long after dawn. I write in a comfortable chair, with the laptop on my knees.

Same here, I’m an early riser and instead of lying in bed thinking, we might as well be writing it down instead. Where did you get your ideas from?

Family history – simple as that. I like to research the social conditions of the time and that provides me with the settings and framework for the stories.

That is so inspiring – so are your characters based on real people or people you know?

Search for the Light by Rosemary NobleSo far, they have been based on real people with other supportive made-up characters.

The made-up ones are totally imaginative and that means you can make them whatever you want them to be. I had fun in my latest book making a couple of characters quite dark. Sometimes they write themselves, like Sarah, in Search for the Light.

Everyone else in the book is in the third person, but she wanted to tell her story in the first person. I was happy to let her.

Writing in first person is quite different isn’t it? The character has more voice. With this in mind, who is your favourite author?

That is the most difficult question. I have several favourites. I always look for any new books by Sebastian Barry; Rose Tremain; Tracey Chevalier and Margaret Atwood.

I have heard of Rose Tremain, as she is quite famous isn’t she? Following on from that, what is your all time favourite book and why?

Probably Poisonwood Bible by Barabara Kingsolver. It was the first time I had come across a book with some many different and distinct voices. It’s the story of an American Missionary with his family in Africa. It’s narrated by each daughter as the family descends into the chaos caused by the father’s hubris and their government’s duplicity.

That sounds like an intriguing story. But going back to your own books, How much research do you need to do?

Lots. I have written three books set in the nineteenth century, so I read contemporary accounts often freely available on Google Books. I use a lot of newspapers too, occasionally historical journals and the internet, of course, but that I take with a pinch of salt Sometimes I need to visit libraries and museums, specific to the setting. Some local newspapers are still not on-line in the UK.

I guess it is essential to get it right when writing historic fiction. Just imagine if one or more of your stories were made into films. Who would you like to see playing the lead character in your book and why?

In my new book I would choose Sarah Wiseman who played Carolyn Bligh in A Place to Call Home. My husband and I loved the series. He found it by serendipity and then we couldn’t stop watching it. It’s a fascinating representation of the land-owning class in 1950’s Australia, as well as being a great story.

Sounds good. With this in mind, do you work out a strict plot or just start writing?

I have a framework. I know I have to get from A-B via C. However, I also like to see where the writing takes me. For me, that’s a lot more interesting and exciting.

What’s the best advice about writing you were ever given?

Keep in your character’s point of view

And lastly, what are your future plans for writing and what are you working on now?

My eight-year-old granddaughter is desperate for me to write a children’s book. I have one lined up ready to write. She gave me the time-frame and the names of the characters. We brain-stormed a few ideas and then one night the plot came to me around midnight and by three, it was all planned out.

Ranter's Wharf by Rosemary NobleSomething quite different then. I can imagine that will be a lovely new challenge for you and look forward to seeing the end result. Best of luck, Rosemary, this has been a really interesting chat.

To conclude, I have read one of Rosemary’s books, Ranter’s Wharf and was completely engrossed in the story as well as learning about a piece of history I didn’t know.

For further information about Rosemary, you can read her biography below, connect with her via her social networks and check out her author’s page on Amazon, which also lists her books.

Rosemary’s Biography

Rosemary Noble lives in West Sussex and worked as an education librarian.

Books have been her life, ever since she walked into a library at five-years-old and found a treasure trove. Her other love is social history. She got hooked on family history before retirement and discovered so many stories that deserved to be told.

Her first book, Search for the Light, tells the story of three young girls transported to Australia in 1824. Friendship sustains them through the horrors of the journey and their enforced service in Tasmania. The Digger’s Daughter tells of the next generation of gold-diggers and a pioneering woman who lives almost through the first hundred years in Victoria. The third in the trilogy, Sadie’s Wars takes the reader to the fourth generation and into the twentieth century. The trilogy is based on the author’s family. It tells of secrecy and lies, of determination and grit and how all can be done or undone by luck.

Rosemary is a member of CHINDI independent authors and is involved in literary events in and around Chichester. She also loves to travel, especially to Australia and Europe and not least, she loves spending time with her grandchildren, one of whom is a budding author herself.

Check out Rosemary’s Books via her Amazon Author page 

Author Links and Social Networks

Blog: https://rosemarynoble.wordpress.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/chirosie

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

Looking at New ways to Promote a Series

Where has this year gone? It seems a long time since I’ve added a post to my blog so the best way to remedy this is to offer some promotion tips.

Following on from my blog tours in January and April, I did some promotion with our authors networking group, CHINDI (which stands for Celebrating and Helping Indie Authors). This year, CHINDI brought out a new ‘Author of the Week’ initiative and so I decided to take my turn in May.

I haven’t got a new book out yet to promote
so I instead tried to focus on some different areas of book promotion.

  • Tips on Research
  • An Author Interview (guest blog)
  • Photos on Instagram
  • My Video Trailers
  • Pinterest Boards

Here is a summary of the posts I wrote which were generously published on the blogs of other authors in the group

May 14th Read my article on research as featured on our CHINDI website.

This light-hearted blog describes some of the early research I did for my decade spanning thriller series and the joy that was yet to be discovered for this whole series.

Short link: http://wp.me/p5GaN3-Ox

Screenshot of Google Earth on the website of CHINDI authors

May 15th Crime mystery author Isabella Muir featured my 2nd post on research.

This article goes deeper into the different techniques of research I used for later books in the series from YouTube to visiting places and interviewing real people.

https://isabellamuir.com/2018/05/15/undertaking-research-for-a-crime-thriller-some-useful-tips/

The Old Bailey image on the website of Isabella Muir

May 16th A virtual but warm-hearted interview with Angela Petch in Tuscany

My author Q&A with Angela was a real joy to put together with lots of stuff about writing, books, inspiration, our writing aspirations and photo sharing on Instagram.

https://angelapetchsblogsite.wordpress.com/2018/05/16/a-chat-by-the-river/

Tuscan mill image on the blog of Angela Petch

May 17th A guest blog on the website of Carol Thomas discussing book trailers

Earlier this year Carol Thomas very kindly taught me how to create a video trailer and in this very helpful article we explain the process for my Beginnings book trailer.

http://www.carol-thomas.co.uk/guest-post-creating-book-trailers

May 18th Talking about Pinterest with historic romance author Patricia Osborne

This article explains how authors can use Pinterest to depict characters, plot structures and create a setting for a novel, as I did for the decades in my own book series.

https://patriciamosbornewriter.wordpress.com/2018/05/18/helen-christmas-guest-article/

Pinterest images for Retribution Book on the blog of Patricia Osborne

I really enjoyed my time as CHINDI Author of the week and a big thanks to everyone who took part and promoted my articles

So what next?

Pleasures gets another revamp

PInterest board for PleasuresI am just about to finish another edit on Book 3 Pleasures before I finally draw a line under this series and start something new. Completing the series was a challenge but one I thoroughly enjoyed. By the time I had written Retribution (in two parts) however, I realised how much my writing style had evolved over the years. So my next goal was to bring the first two books up to the same standard, thus I relaunched a new edit of Beginnings in January and a new edit of Visions in April 2018.

Pleasures was probably the book I enjoyed writing most of all but that too needed some work! It’s been three years since I touched it, so it was time to take another look. The style of writing wasn’t bad but there was room for improvement given comments from reviewers and Beta readers from overwritten descriptive phrases to a ‘show and not tell’ approach.

Pleasures is due for a relaunch in August. Reviewers/book bloggers are welcome to a free copy. No obligation to review but if you’ve been following the series just enjoy the book!

And finally…

After much deliberation, I will be taking all my titles out of Kindle Unlimited so that they can be distributed to a wider audience. This means that the entire ‘Same Face Different Place’ series will soon be available for readers who prefer Nook, Kobo and Apple i-Books.

I hope to publish the links in my next blog but until then, enjoy the lovely sunny summer we are having in England. Bye for now.

Visit to the Surrey Hills (Teaser) – 3rd January 2017

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE and this is my first blog for 2017. So I’ll kick of with the latest progress on Book 4 Retribution.

wotton

It was at the end of the summer I finished my first draft… but unable to leave any stone unturned, there was one more significant place I needed to complete my research. In the final scenes of this saga, Eleanor is lured to a remote farm. It’s a place I remember from years ago; Leith Hill in Surrey. Having already written the scene beforehand, I am now approaching the end of my second draft and have edited it as follows: so here is a short extract and it includes a little teaser.

Eleanor gripped the seat edge as they surged around the next bend. Nestling in the heart of the Surrey Hills, the village of Wotton was more remote than she thought; flanked by fields on corn on the approach road, the next turn plunged them down a thickly wooded lane. It seemed even more perilous than the road to Aldwyck; steep banks carved into the hillside, dense with an overhead canopy of forest. A suffocating darkness enclosed them with just a brief scattering of lights escaping from another branch in the lane – one that led to a remote country hotel…

“So this is Wotton,” she said numbly. “Ironic isn’t it? It seems hard to imagine, Jake being here all those years ago – Perry loitering in some remote spot by the roadside…”

“Forget the past,” Dominic snapped. “It’s now we’ve gotta worry about.”

Her hand crept to her neck, fumbling with some sort of pendant. Dominic sighed. Even in the gloom, he didn’t miss the terror on her face. This was the last roll of the dice, his grip on the wheel tightening as they crept down the lane, the signpost to Leith Hill looming. Eleanor’s eyes whipped from left to right as he rolled into the car park.

*****

Same Face Different Place is a series of novels that begins in the 70s and stretches over 3 decades. The fourth and final book will be released in 2 parts starting with Retribution Phase 1, which will be published in Spring 2o17.

A remote pocket of countryside or a deadly trap? (Book 4 Retribution)
A remote pocket of countryside or a deadly trap? Book 4 Retribution.

End of the year review

With Christmas coming and another year nearly over, I was wondering what I might write for what will probably be my final post in 2016.

Apart from being another year older and considerably greyer, I dedicated the last two months of the year to losing a stone with Weightwatchers. Apart from that, the 4th and final book in my “Same Face Different Place” has been advancing nicely with a first draft written and a substantial edit under my belt (almost). But best of all, this is the first year where I have actually achieved some success in my writing!

ceremony11The year kicked off to a great start when I was selected as winner of the ‘Write Across Sussex’ short story competition. This was an absolute honour considering the panel of judges included such bestselling authors as Kate Mosse and Peter Lovesey. In some ways, I felt the same as I did when I came first in my infants school Sports Day ‘Space Hopper’ Race. I can still remember the face of the lady who pressed 3 toffees into my hand, as well as the warm glow of winning. It’s a feeling that stayed with me, especially considering I don’t often win much, something that should never be taken for granted.

kent-woodedroadIn February, I ventured back to Kent for another research trip in Book 4, Retribution a lot of scenes take place in winter.) It was one of those days when I felt that luck was on my side; a beautiful sunny day, photogenic landscapes and everything perfectly timed to deliver me right where I wanted to be; from the remote landscapes of rural Kent to the glittering streets of London and Chelsea.

It was in the same year, I tried various marketing campaigns including Facebook advertising to promote an Amazon Countdown deal. It certainly resulted in some sales and pushed me up the ranks, so 2016 was a good year for raising awareness.

As the summer months progressed, I found myself getting close to finishing the 1st draft of Retribution and after taking a relaxing break in West Yorkshire, I sped to the end.

London DocklandsThe final part of the story was completed by August. But before I embarked on a major edit, I found myself back in London for the entire August Bank holiday: excellent timing to achieve those all important, final bits of research I needed to do to improve the location details; Chelsea, Shoreditch and Wapping, along with various institutions and pubs – research that has definitely paid off…

So onto the 1st and 2nd edits; this is the part of the writing process where every chapter gets a bit of a makeover and re-shaped to create a better story for the readers. It inevitably involves cutting bits out, expanding others and shifting the order of scenes in places to build tension and create atmosphere. It is the most important part of all the edits because by the time I have written a complete draft, I know which parts are the most important. It is also during this part of the editing process, I’m more ‘in tune’ with my characters and can improve on the dialogue. They might be the same characters as in the previous three books, but like real people, they have evolved.

xmas-books

I still belong to a network of local authors, known as CHINDI and in November, we hosted our ‘Love to Read’ author’s party in Chichester. As well as taking on the style of a book fair, we decided to raise a bit for charity and chose ‘Dyslexia Action’ as our benefactor. The evening included book stands, alongside a local wine merchant and chocolatier, as well as nibbles, a raffle and live music.

November 2017 was my best ever month on Amazon. In the aftermath of a free promotion plus announcing it on a fantastic new Facebook group (NotRights), I achieved a great number of downloads, as well as a mammoth Kindle Unlimited page count. I’ve even had a few new reviews. With the series close to completion, it is nice to see the sales trickling in and hope this is a sign of things to come. Fingers crossed!

review-cat

It was also around the same time, I sent the 1st part of my new book ‘Retribution’ to Beta readers and look forward to some feedback. This could be a bit darker than the previous books. Filled with powerful human emotions, it is a tale that delves into how a community reacts to a terrible disaster – the revenge of one character – and the mystery that binds the characters together.

retribution-visual

I am still editing the second part of the book and gearing up for the final polish in time for a Spring 2017 launch. I hope everyone has a great Christmas and I’ll be back in the New Year.