Seeing The Wood Through The Trees

Featured Image 'Seeing the Wood through the Trees'

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

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

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CONNOR

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

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

A Real-life Story about Asperger’s

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

Here is Rose’s story

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

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

Starting secondary school

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

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

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

Research

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

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

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

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

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

Reactions to stressful situations

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

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

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

Friendships

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

In other words, whenever she felt like being assertive?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On UK Lockdown

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

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

Her words yet again reflect how important routine is.

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

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

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

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

Vulnerability and Threat 

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

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

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

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

Something else she told me that I found alarming was: 

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

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

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

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

Featured Image 'Seeing the Wood through the Trees'

INSIGHTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

ANOTHER INTERESTING STORY

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

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

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

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

Book Cover Ideas

Inspiration

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

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

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

DESIGN 1

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

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

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

DESIGN 2

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

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

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

DESIGN 3

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

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

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

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

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.

Delighted to Launch First #Audiobook with a #Giveaway

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

Rosebrook Chronicles The Hidden Stories is now an audiobook

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

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

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

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

Creating my first Audiobook

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

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

Auditions

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

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

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

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

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

Rosebrook Chronicles on the smart phone android audible app

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

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

Bounty Referral Program.

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

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

A Debate on Prologues: Guest Post by Lexi Rees

Today I am delighted to welcome, children’s author, Lexi Rees to my blog.

Children's author, Lexi ReesLexi is the creator of a wonderful children’s adventure series (The Relic Hunters) and more recently published a book that introduces children to the pleasures of creative writing.

When I first spoke to Lexi, she couldn’t decide on what type of article to write that wasn’t purely ‘kids related.’

So she instead opted for something a little different; something that would open up an interesting debate for all authors and that topic is whether or not to include a prologue in your book.

So without further preamble, it is over to you Lexi.

Prologues are controversial for authors, dividing people as firmly as a Marmite/ Vegemite debate. Personally, I find them helpful to get me into a story quickly, if they are only a page or two. After all, if you were there, in the author’s world, you would have a vague idea of the context/ background/ scene before the story itself unfolds. But I do agree, a prologue that is really a chapter in itself, is probably not doing its job.

Anyway, conscious of the polarised views, my early drafts of Eternal Seas did not have a prologue in them.

The problem was, I then found myself writing in a lot of back story. Beta reader feedback on the back story was as brutal as only an eight-year-old can be, so I ripped it all out and wrote a short prologue. I can’t describe how hugely relieved I felt after I did that. All the clunky back story bits had gone and a weight was lifted from me, and also from the plot.

The whole story just ran so much more smoothly, and helped the pace throughout the book. So here it is …

Prologue

Defeated by the Earth Lords during the Last War, the other clans were forced deep into hiding, locking away their powers in mysterious relics.

As the centuries passed, people forgot these powers ever existed. They faded into myths and legends, bedtime stories for children about magical people who could control the waves and walk amongst the clouds.

Today we go about our daily lives, unaware of how ordinary we have become.

But not everyone forgot.

The guardians, who protect the relics, did not forget.

The clan elders, who wait patiently, did not forget.

And Sir Waldred, the ruthless leader of the Earth Lords, will never forget. He will not stop until the relics are found … and destroyed. Only then will his reign be unchallenged. Forever.

We didn’t know it that morning, but our lives were about to become much less ordinary, and a lot more dangerous.

What do you think? Are you a prologue fan or not

Book cover Eternal Seas by Lexi Rees

Thanks, Lexi. I personally think that is a fabulous prologue, as it gives a flavour of some mystery about to be unravelled. The best prologues for me contain gripping scenes like this, that reel you in. It could be scene from the past or something that is yet to transpire, but fills me with a hankering to know more. How do others feel?

Giveaway

To celebrate the publication of Wild Sky on 28th November, Lexi is running a competition to win The Relic Hunters series.
You can enter here https://kingsumo.com/g/dpaovz/the-relic-hunters-giveaway

Buying links

http://viewbook.at/CreativeWritingSkills

http://viewbook.at/EternalSeas

http://viewbook.at/WildSky

Book cover Wild Skies by Lexi Rees

About Lexi

Lexi Rees was born in Scotland but now lives down south. She writes action-packed adventures and workbooks for children.

The Relic Hunters #1, Eternal Seas, was awarded a “loved by” badge from LoveReading4Kids and is currently long-listed for a Chanticleer award. The sequel, Wild Sky, is out on the 28th November.

She’s passionate about developing a love of reading and writing in children and, as well as her Creative Writing Skills workbook, she has an active programme of school visits and other events, is a Book PenPal for three primary schools, and runs a free online #kidsclub and newsletter which includes book recommendations and creative writing activities.

Creative Writing Skills: over 70 fun activities for kids by Lexi Rees

In her spare time, she’s a keen crafter and spends a considerable amount of time trying not to fall off horses or boats.

You can follow Lexi via her social media links:

Website https://lexirees.co.uk/

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

Twitter https://twitter.com/lexi_rees

Instagram https://www.instagram.com/lexi.rees/

Thanks, Lexi, for opening up a most interesting discussion. This series sounds like it could be right up my street (even at my age!) but a great choice for kids who like a bit of adventure. Best of luck with the new book!

Knuckling Down to Writing Again

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

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

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

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

Abstract view based on Maisie’s fear of forests.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Back to the Beginning

What Next?

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

Montage of Book Covers from the Same Face Different Place series

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

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

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

Re-visiting Book 1: Beginnings

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

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

Link to PinterestRelive 197os London on my Pinterest Board

Arundel Festival

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

With experience came confidence.

Our CHINDI Fundraising Book Stall at Arundel Festival.

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

On to Book Promotion

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

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

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

Reaching the End of an Epic Thriller Series

Where have the last six years gone?

Yes, this just about sums up the enormous chunk in my life I dedicated to writing a decade spanning romantic British thriller series, titled ‘Same Face Different Place’ BUT I have to say, it’s been worth it! Since writing my last ‘book related’ post “Retribution to the End” in May 2017 I am pleased to announce, I’ve finally reached the end of this entire series – a thriller mystery which rolls over four iconic decades from 1972 – 2012. The 4th book ended up far larger than I planned but with so many characters and sub-plots, it turned out to be little like ‘Game of Thrones’ where every one of those characters had a storyline.

Retribution – Phase 1

The first part of Book 4 (Retribution – Phase 1) ran from 1991 to 1994 with a massive cast of characters. You can get an update of who is who from 2 of my previous posts, Who are the Good Characters and Who are the Bad Characters, published before the novel went live on Amazon. Reception to the book has been 100% positive with some glowing reviews such as this one:

“Wow again Helen! The ongoing story of Eleanor and her family gradually coming to a brilliant climax…..The writing and the different characters are superb. Just cannot wait for the last book in the series. Highly Recommended.”

Retribution – End Game

The final part of Book 4 (Retribution – End Game) was a work in progress but underwent a bit of evolution when I decided to change the cover. Going back to the previous post “Retribution to the End” I designed a cover and published an un-edited version on Amazon (for pre-order), just before my weekend in London on May Bank Holiday. Looking back, I was beginning to doubt whether it was the best image…

Looking at the thumbnail view on Amazon, I liked it less and less. The woman looked grey and insipid. There was something very negative about it which I was afraid would put people off so I sought the opinion of others. After finding an alternative ‘female’ image on Thinkstock, I posted this on several Facebook groups (alongside the original) and asked people if they thought it worked better. People were strikingly honest, which prompted me to change it for this more colourful, striking image and one which depicts a gutsy, ‘kick-ass’ female. You can judge for yourself from the resulting NEW cover below.

Front Cover design for Same Face Different Place RETRIBUTION End Game.
Before and After Cover Design Images

Creating the Paperback

I am pleased to say, the final edited version of Retribution End Game was published on Amazon on July 31st and the title can be downloaded via this link. I have also been working on the paperback. I always use CreateSpace as I find their interior and cover templates very easy to use. Once downloaded, I tend to copy and paste my book content from an original master file (the same one I use for Kindle), select a nice typeface such as Garamond, add the contents page and VOILA!

Once saved, it is simply a matter saving the book as a PDF and uploading it to CreateSpace then create a print-ready version of the cover. This needs to be high resolution (at least 300 dpi) and as soon as you know the page count of the book, there are templates to download to create a cover. Once submitted and approved, I recommend ordering a proof copy. You never know what your final published book looks and feels like until you hold it in your hands and leaf through it manually, just to check that everything’s perfect.

Arundel Festival

Following on from this stage, I am hoping to have copies of my brand new paperback in time for Arundel Festival. Hooking up with local authors is a great way to market self-published books which is the reason I joined CHINDI (Celebrating and Helping Indie Authors). Together, we are running a book stall in association with the Cancer Research UK Charity Shop in Arundel to raise funds for this worthy cause.

CHINDI authors Facebook header

About the Series

So why should you read my series? Well, if you like crime and psychological thrillers with a bit of romantic suspense thrown in, then this series is for you! Set in the dark criminal underworld of London, the series kicks off in 1972, with ‘Beginnings.’ It is a murder mystery which slowly unravels over time. The next story ‘Visions’ has a more rural setting and based in the 80s. After that, Book 3 ‘Pleasures’ creeps into the 90s, a decade characterised by designer drugs and rave culture. Organised crime continues to be a common theme throughout the series and by the time I started writing ‘Retribution’ the bad characters (including London gangsters) definitely took centre stage.

New Facebook header for Same Face Different Place

Filled with the nostalgia of the 70s, 80s and 90s, I have created a Pinterest Board which provides a visual and cultural background for each book. For more information you might like to visit my boards, all of which can be viewed from my Pinterest Page.

Before I go…

Finishing my series has been a great achievement but an emotional journey too. I created a varied cast of characters, many of whom became very real to me. I decided to close the series with an Epilogue based in 2012 for two reasons. 2012 was an iconic year in Britain because we celebrated the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and it was also the year of the London Olympics. Who could forget that? One of the children of the series is even a torch bearer in the Olympic relay. I have loved all my characters and it’s been very sad to say goodbye to them; but unfortunately, all good things must come to an end.

So what do others think about writing a series?

Given that this is likely to swallow up several years of your life, is it a good idea to embark on a series? Once started, you will be committed to finishing it so I’d be interested to hear what others think. Thanks for reading!

Who are the Bad Characters?

Following on from my last post, it’s the turn of the evil characters to take centre stage. So here’s the low down on the nastiest baddies to be found in this series.

Since writing ‘Beginnings’ in 2011, the list of evil characters has grown considerably from the main protagonists who appeared in the first book. But like the good characters, the cast has branched out as the saga proceeds through the decades.

The London Criminal Underworld

Set in the 1970s with a background of organised crime, the first nasty guy to be introduced into the story was a violent gang leader, by the name of Dominic Theakston, so it seems apt to start with him. From the turf war that started in 1972, Dominic was determined to move in on ‘Sammie Maxwell’s Patch’ and make his mark in the East End. He carefully selected a bunch of the most violent thugs in the Capital to build up his army. It was his deadly threats that drove Eleanor’s father underground, his next mission to hunt her down but it wasn’t his only agenda…

Hired by people in power, Dominic was a contract killer; destined to end the life of the Dutch musician, Jake Jansen, who witnessed a suspicious scene at the site of a car bomb explosion. But not everything is how it seems. At the end of the book, Dominic revealed a softer side and before the end of the 2nd instalment, ‘Visions’, he had abandoned a life of crime to settle down with a family and start his own health club. But his ultimate dream was to run a night club, a goal that inevitably drew him to Rosebrook, home town of Eleanor and her family. For a short time, everyone’s fears were resurrected and none so much as Eleanor’s. Her greatest terror was the possibility that he might still be on the payroll of her deadliest enemies, about to do their bidding yet again.

So where is Dominic now?

Before the end of Book 3 Pleasures, no one really knew who’s side Dominic was on. He is still a terrifying character, under the scrutiny of the law and it’s not impossible, he might yet stand trial and face a conviction for the murder that took place in ‘Beginnings.’ For that very reason, he had levied further threats towards Eleanor. Having already threatened to harm her son in the 70s, his latest threat was levelled towards her husband, Charlie, if he was ever to suffer the consequences of her original testimony. Dominic is ambitious, powerful and intimidating, he takes no prisoners refuses to side with anyone, good or bad.

Robin Whaley

“How could anyone forget Robin Whaley? A man who materialised out of no-where – smooth, silver-tongued, disturbingly convincing. A man who had pretended to be an ally, before he spun a web of deceit.” This is how I described Robin Whaley in ‘Visions,’ the sinister ward councillor, turned planning officer at Rosebrook Council. Despite his respectable image, there is no doubt, Robin Whaley is evil and duplicitous. He has always allied himself with the enemies of the series and is unlikely to change. His hatred of Eleanor and her community holds no bounds. He is as determined to destroy her as ever and will stop at nothing to save his own skin and boost his power.

Ben Hampton

Without a doubt, Ben Hampton is the most sadistic and evil character in the series. He first appeared in ‘Visions’ at the age of 21 as a coke snorting yuppie and an obsessive stalker. The fear he engendered in his victims was always a huge turn on, not to mention his appetite for cruelty and pain. From book 3 ‘Pleasures’ we even learned a little about his past. He was responsible for the death of a pupil at the tender age of 8 but no one thought to have him medically assessed, a mistake that inevitably allowed him to develop into the loathsome psychopath he is now. Ben will stop at nothing to exact retribution on his enemies; the theme of the final book, which prevails right to the end of the saga.

Alan Levy

The nature of organised crime changed throughout the decades. From the hedonistic London of the 70s, where gangsters ruled by fear but had some control over the nature of crime – to the unscrupulous 90s where profit became the main incentive. Gang leader, Alan Levy, was always considered a bit of nut-case, a womaniser and a drug taker, with incredible power. Small in stature, he exudes menace. His favourite weapon is a scalpel and he enjoys disfiguring his victims before killing them. In the final book ‘Retribution’ Alan takes his viciousness to new heights with the fated ‘Levy Mark,’ a scar that marks people as ‘suspects’ should he ever fall foul of the law. He is not a man to mess with.

Mai-Lin

The only female ‘player’ in Alan Levy’s gang is the cunning and streetwise Mai-Lin. She is a new character in ‘Retribution.’ Alan ‘fostered’ her when she was just 13, a victim of abuse who grew up in  his home, to evolve into his most successful crack/cocaine dealer. Even though she comes across as somewhat ‘child-like’ she has a devious mind, quick to use her feminine wiles to deceive people. The teenager has few scruples and will even assist Alan in killing people, if he requires it. Later in the story, readers will see exactly how Mai-Lin casts her net whilst remaining virtually immune to the power of the law.

The publication of, dark thriller, ‘Retribution’ is happening very soon, and will shortly be available on Amazon kindle and in paperback. 100% edited with just the final proof-reading to be done, the wait is nearly over…

Who are the Good Characters?

As I come close to completing the final edits of book 4 ‘Retribution’ it’s got me thinking about the main characters of this series in a little more depth.

It was actually suggested to me by one of my beta readers, to include a family tree, just to remind readers who’s who. I think this is an excellent idea – not so much a family tree but a list of every character who appears in the story, past and present… and there are quite a few of them. So before I reveal too much more about the cast, I will start with the ‘good’ characters of the story, first the Bailey family.

The Bailey Family Tree (characters from Same Face Different Place)

Let’s start from the Beginning with Elijah

Elijah was born in book 1 Beginnings (1973). His mother, Eleanor, was the daughter of an East End gangster known as Oliver Chapman. Ollie married a beautiful half caste night club singer, named Martina, but she was tragically killed in a car accident when Eleanor was just 8. At 16 Eleanor, knew nothing about the sleazy criminal underworld of the 1970s her father was immersed in until he was forced to go on the run.

In 1972, Eleanor’s life took an unexpected twist when she met a mysterious young rock musician from Holland; Jake Jansen (son of Rutger and Elspeth). The couple hooked up after escaping from a dangerous gang leader. Yet Eleanor was left vulnerable and alone, hiding a remote village, where the protection of Jake’s son, Elijah, became the most important role in her life. Elijah grew up in the idyllic village of Aldwyck, (Kent), in a caravan with this mother, a timid child who was bullied at school and branded a ‘gypsy.’ In book 2 Visions, he started to question his mother’s past but at the same time, developed an incredible artistic talent. The story was set in the era of the 80s, when unemployment was high; a time when Eleanor met a man named Charlie Bailey, along with his children, Andrew and Margaret. Charlie’s wife tragically died from a lung infection in 1984, leaving him a widow but at the end of the book, the families were finally united.

So where is Elijah now?

I am not going to reveal any more of the plot that unravels in the 3rd book, Pleasures, but let’s just say Elijah has changed. He is artistic, passionate and brave. He has suffered more terror than most boys of his age and with a hankering to study interior design at University, he is determined to make the most of his life. He may be a little shy especially where girls are concerned. Yet he is loyal to his family and loves them dearly. He will do anything for them. He follows the grunge fashion of the 90s and loves rock music, especially bands like the Levellers, which remind him of his father’s band, Free Spirit.

Eleanor

Eleanor survived some of the worst horrors imaginable. She never did discover what happened to her father but remained resolute in her quest to fight her enemies as a pledge to her beloved Jake. As resident of Aldwyck, she defended the corner of her neighbours, the Barton-Wells family, as well as the Baileys, who she identified as yet another set of victims in a heartless society. Trained as a nurse, Eleanor married Charlie in 1987 just after they moved the nearby town of Rosebrook. Added to her strong family values, she took on a role as a volunteer at Rosebrook Community Centre and cares deeply for her fellow citizens. Eleanor is a feisty, courageous young woman, who refuses to back down against powerful enemies.

Moving onto Charlie and his family…

Charlie is everyone’s favourite character; noble and strong with a passionate nature. He can be a bit of a hot head, especially in politics, fighting the corner for the ordinary working man. He was devastated by the death of his wife, Anna, but there is no question he loves Eleanor and her son. Trained as a builder, Charlie went on to study an Open University degree in architecture where his visionary talent earned him a reputation as one of the most revered master builders in Rosebrook. Charlie takes no nonsense especially when it comes to fighting the local council in various planning committees; determined to protect his family.

Andrew Bailey

Charlie’s son is a complex character. He’s never quite got over the death of his mother, Anna, and after suffering a spell of teenage angst, turned to drugs to mask his pain. Throughout the series, he is a deeply troubled youth, easily led but possessive of his friends and anyone who shows an interest in him. Working alongside his father as a labourer, he has never inherited Charlie’s visionary talent, unlike Elijah. It is a situation which evokes jealousy and rivalry between the two brothers. Suspicious of Eleanor, he fears she will destroy any last lingering bonds in his family, which is perhaps the reason he is desperate to secure the loyalty of his little sister, Margaret.

Margaret Bailey

Margaret is the most vulnerable member of the Bailey family. She was 9 when her mother died but bounced back. Unlike Andrew, she bonded easily with Eleanor, loves having her as a stepmother and adores Elijah. Margaret is a pretty girl but she was sadly lacking in confidence as a teenager; first she battled with anorexia before turning to binge drinking. Yet she is easy going, gentle and has a big heart like her dad. During her brief stay at Westbourne House, she developed a passion for cooking and trains as a chef. It is regrettable that the enemies of the series see her as an easy target and know how easily they can exploit her.

With less than 30% of the 4th book to edit, ‘Retribution’ will be published very soon. Over the next few weeks I plan to publish many more blogs about the characters and will shortly be introducing a few of the baddies.