Looking Back on 2017

I'm ending this year as a published author in the UK, Italy and US. It's been quite a year, but mainly I've been sitting at my computer writing, just as I like it... 

Last night I was interviewed for US radio about CLOSE TO ME. The hardback US version has just published and Quercus have arranged lots of great promotion, despite the fact I'm thousands of miles away and in a different time zone! The interviewer - wonderful Pam Stack of Authors on the Air (who reads 400 books a year!!!) - asked me what's on my Bucket List, and it was really the only question I struggled to answer.

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The thing is...all I want is to carry on doing what I love. To perpetuate this constant ever-present desire to elucidate, resonate and create. Everything else, the signings, book events, travel, interviews, literary festivals...they're great fun, and I LOVE doing them, but they're not the main part of being a writer, which is turning up every day to write.

Before I go any further, I should temper my Pollyanna tendencies when I talk about writing with a few thoughts, because in life nothing is ever perfect, not in my experience, and it's important to add a note of realism. My life as a published writer is the fulfilment of a long-held dream, but of course there are good days and bad. When it's lonely, difficult, not happening. Writing is tough - not nursing or coal-mining tough - but it's intense, and esoteric and endlessly challenging. No one does it for you, not even your brilliant agent or editor. They suggest, critique, tease-out better ideas, but it's your book, and you are the one who will write it. 

So why is writing so special? Why keep going when you face rejection, get a bad review, or would prefer to scrub out the sink than write another word?

For me it's easy...utter escapism.

When I write I lose myself to a different world, one where my troubles have no place, where I build homes, backdrops, villages, towns, cities, and populate them with people I've never met, who become friends, or enemies, who embody emotions I've felt or observed in others, who say things I would never dare to say, who right wrongs, make mistakes, and live extraordinary lives.

What better job could there ever be? 

HAPPY 2018 EVERYONE! 

CHECK BACK SOON FOR EXCITING NEWS OF BOOK TWO INCLUDING A COVER REVEAL AND DETAILS OF REVIEW COPIES

CLOSE TO ME is available to buy here

CLOSE TO ME is available to buy here

Three Pics To Pub #3 - Fiona Mitchell The Maid's Room

My third guest for #3PICS2PUB is Fiona Mitchell, author of The Maid's Room, published last month by Hodder & Stoughton.

Fiona has kindly sent me a copy of her book, and I think it's one of the prettiest covers I've seen. I cannot wait to read it. I hope you enjoy Fiona's inspirational journey to publication. 

The First Draft I wrote the first chapter of The Maid’s Room when I was on holiday in Sri Lanka in December 2010. I’d travelled there from Singapore where I was living at the time. Back then, women working long hours as live-in domestic helpers in Singapore had no legal right to a day off. Some of them were made to sleep in tiny windowless rooms, while others were forced to sleep outside. I couldn’t fathom how anyone could treat another human being so abominably, so I started to write as a way of trying to find some answers and venting my anger. Writing, researching then rewriting, meant that it took me seven years to complete that first draft.

The First Draft

I wrote the first chapter of The Maid’s Room when I was on holiday in Sri Lanka in December 2010. I’d travelled there from Singapore where I was living at the time. Back then, women working long hours as live-in domestic helpers in Singapore had no legal right to a day off. Some of them were made to sleep in tiny windowless rooms, while others were forced to sleep outside. I couldn’t fathom how anyone could treat another human being so abominably, so I started to write as a way of trying to find some answers and venting my anger. Writing, researching then rewriting, meant that it took me seven years to complete that first draft.

The Rejection Letters It was only when I’d ‘finished’ writing my novel that I discovered I’d need a literary agent to get traditionally published. And so the submission process began – an experience otherwise known as HELL. The rejection letters flowed in, and my initial optimism crumbled away. After receiving thirty or so rejection letters (I gave up counting after 20), I decided to work on something new. My second novel was a literary love story set on a remote Scottish island. Not much happened in it, apart from lots of sex. I sent this book out to agents too, and all of them gave it the thumbs-down. (This is a picture of some its shredded pages.) A writer friend of mine persuaded me to return to my first book, so I took its core idea and wrote a new story around it, one punctuated with hope and humour.

The Rejection Letters

It was only when I’d ‘finished’ writing my novel that I discovered I’d need a literary agent to get traditionally published. And so the submission process began – an experience otherwise known as HELL. The rejection letters flowed in, and my initial optimism crumbled away. After receiving thirty or so rejection letters (I gave up counting after 20), I decided to work on something new. My second novel was a literary love story set on a remote Scottish island. Not much happened in it, apart from lots of sex. I sent this book out to agents too, and all of them gave it the thumbs-down. (This is a picture of some its shredded pages.) A writer friend of mine persuaded me to return to my first book, so I took its core idea and wrote a new story around it, one punctuated with hope and humour.

The Actual Book I sent this new book out, and several agents asked to read the full manuscript. They all said no, but somehow I managed to scrape my shrivelled ego off the floor and kept going. I found an editor who helped me untangle my mess of a plot, then literary agent Rowan Lawton agreed to represent me (which still feels like a small miracle). Rowan and her team took my manuscript to Frankfurt book fair and got me my very first publishing deal in Denmark. I was sitting in a supermarket carpark when I read that email and whooped very loudly indeed. Later that evening, a publishing house in Norway offered on my book too. And the following week, I signed further contracts with Penguin in Spain and Mondadori in Italy. My book went to auction in the UK, and I signed with Hodder & Stoughton who published The Maid’s Room in hardback in November this year. At my launch party, I was elated to be holding my book in my hands. It felt like holding seven years of toil, grit and a refusal to give up, even when carrying on seemed like a fool’s errand. It just goes to show that no matter how many knock-backs you have, getting published is all about perseverance.

The Actual Book

I sent this new book out, and several agents asked to read the full manuscript. They all said no, but somehow I managed to scrape my shrivelled ego off the floor and kept going. I found an editor who helped me untangle my mess of a plot, then literary agent Rowan Lawton agreed to represent me (which still feels like a small miracle). Rowan and her team took my manuscript to Frankfurt book fair and got me my very first publishing deal in Denmark. I was sitting in a supermarket carpark when I read that email and whooped very loudly indeed. Later that evening, a publishing house in Norway offered on my book too. And the following week, I signed further contracts with Penguin in Spain and Mondadori in Italy. My book went to auction in the UK, and I signed with Hodder & Stoughton who published The Maid’s Room in hardback in November this year. At my launch party, I was elated to be holding my book in my hands. It felt like holding seven years of toil, grit and a refusal to give up, even when carrying on seemed like a fool’s errand. It just goes to show that no matter how many knock-backs you have, getting published is all about perseverance.

THE MAID’S ROOM IS PUBLISHED IN HARDBACK BY HODDER & STOUGHTON

A Worthy Winner!

After 140 Likes, 107 Retweets, 25 pitches, 4 short-listed entries, and 1 very tough decision, I have a winner!

I am very pleased to announce that I will be mentoring Nikki Smith, author of Falling Apart.

I loved Nikki's pitch, and when I read the synopsis and her first chapter I was blown away. 

Nikki writes domestic noir in First Person POV, so I think we're a great fit. I can't wait to start working with her. Her concept is unique, and I love her writing style. Watch this space!

Thanks again to all of you who took part: pitching, 'liking', or retweeting to spread the word.

Many congratulations also to those short-listed, the quality of submissions was very high, and I hope you are all encouraged by your short-list selection.

And thanks also to my wonderful agent, Sarah Williams at Sophie Hicks Agency who has agreed to place the winning entry at the top of her 'to-read' pile once it's ready for submission. A wonderful gesture, and an excellent opportunity.

If any other authors are considering mentoring an unpublished writer, I would urge you do so. It's been amazing to receive all the lovely emails thanking me for this opportunity, but it has also made me realise how many writers out there are waiting for a bit of guidance and encouragement to spur them on.

So let's pay it forward!

 

Mentoring - Short List

Some of the best things I've done have happened because I took a chance. So, last week, feeling a bit down-in-the-dumps, I thought I'd cheer myself up by hopefully cheering up someone else. 

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The response blew me away, not only the amount of people who responded, but also the quality of the pitches. The burden of choosing fell heavily on me as I had no idea I would receive so many fantastic submissions. BUT...I can only choose one person to mentor; time and commitment involved on both sides. 

I have now read all the submissions, and here is my short list of four from which I shall choose just ONE. Well done to everyone who took part, and please don't be disheartened if you're not on the short list, purely my subjective opinion based on my taste, and whether I think I'm the best fit to be your mentor. I'll announce my final choice from the shortlist in the coming days.

 

In no particular order...my shortlist

Somewhere In The Universe - Lia Louis

The Waves Crashed Down Upon Them - Lori Inglis Hall

Falling Apart - Nikki Smith

The Spaces Between Lies - Valerie Whelan

 

Well done to my final four, I am so impressed!

I'll be reading the above submissions in more detail in the coming days to decide on a winner. The prize will be an in-depth critique/ongoing mentoring partnership to help produce a submission package to send out to agents/publishers. 

 

Three Pics To Pub #2 - Lara Dearman The Devil's Claw

In the second in my occasional series, #3pics2pub, Lara Dearman, debut author of The Devil's Claw, shares  three pictures from her journey to publication.

Lara, like Will Dean (the first #3pics2pub author), currently lives outside the UK, in New York!  

It's fascinating to see how she found her agent and publisher whilst living overseas.

1. The Capitol, DC I finished my MA in Creative Writing at St Mary’s University in the spring of 2015. It was an amazing experience, but a tough one. I had three small kids (one not yet at school), we were renovating our house and then, halfway through the course, my husband came home, nonchalantly wondering if we might all like to move to the USA? I can’t quite remember how that conversation went, only that I didn’t get to do much writing for a while and a few months later, we found ourselves living in a leafy suburb of Westchester, New York. I was three quarters of the way through The Devil’s Claw at this point, and while I was proud of it, I had little hope of finding an agent, let alone a publisher - it would have been difficult enough in the UK, but in a new country, where I had not the first idea about the industry, it was surely impossible. I kept working on the book though - one of the great things about the MA was that it had pushed me past the point where, with less support, I might have given up - and a few months later I had a life-changing call from my tutor. An agent had read the first three chapters. She loved it and had asked if I could send the rest. By the summer of 2016, a little less than a year after we moved to the States, I had a UK publishing deal. This is me, in front of the Capitol in Washington DC soon after I found out that The Devil’s Claw had sold in the US too! 

1. The Capitol, DC

I finished my MA in Creative Writing at St Mary’s University in the spring of 2015. It was an amazing experience, but a tough one. I had three small kids (one not yet at school), we were renovating our house and then, halfway through the course, my husband came home, nonchalantly wondering if we might all like to move to the USA? I can’t quite remember how that conversation went, only that I didn’t get to do much writing for a while and a few months later, we found ourselves living in a leafy suburb of Westchester, New York. I was three quarters of the way through The Devil’s Claw at this point, and while I was proud of it, I had little hope of finding an agent, let alone a publisher - it would have been difficult enough in the UK, but in a new country, where I had not the first idea about the industry, it was surely impossible. I kept working on the book though - one of the great things about the MA was that it had pushed me past the point where, with less support, I might have given up - and a few months later I had a life-changing call from my tutor. An agent had read the first three chapters. She loved it and had asked if I could send the rest. By the summer of 2016, a little less than a year after we moved to the States, I had a UK publishing deal. This is me, in front of the Capitol in Washington DC soon after I found out that The Devil’s Claw had sold in the US too! 

2. First Time in Print After several years spent as a stay at home mum, to suddenly find myself thrown into the world of publishing was quite surreal. There were contract negotiations, talk about industry announcements and 'popping back' to the UK for this event or that, foreign rights conversations (foreign rights! How did I find myself deciding which German publisher was the best ‘home’ for The Devil’s Claw?) I think I received more emails in one month than I had in the previous five years. Possibly the best part was when my editor, Sam Eades at Trapeze, was contributing to a piece in the Guardian about female crime writers and asked me for a quote. I could not believe that only a few weeks after selling the book, I was going to be quoted in a national newspaper. As it happens, I wasn’t. My quote was cut (a good lesson in not getting too big for your boots!) But my name made it in - the first time ever in print, and right next to a picture of the lovely Ruth Ware. A proud moment indeed! 

2. First Time in Print

After several years spent as a stay at home mum, to suddenly find myself thrown into the world of publishing was quite surreal. There were contract negotiations, talk about industry announcements and 'popping back' to the UK for this event or that, foreign rights conversations (foreign rights! How did I find myself deciding which German publisher was the best ‘home’ for The Devil’s Claw?) I think I received more emails in one month than I had in the previous five years. Possibly the best part was when my editor, Sam Eades at Trapeze, was contributing to a piece in the Guardian about female crime writers and asked me for a quote. I could not believe that only a few weeks after selling the book, I was going to be quoted in a national newspaper. As it happens, I wasn’t. My quote was cut (a good lesson in not getting too big for your boots!) But my name made it in - the first time ever in print, and right next to a picture of the lovely Ruth Ware. A proud moment indeed! 

3. The Devil’s Claw Comes Home The Devil’s Claw is set on Guernsey, the island where I was born and raised. I left in 2000 to go to University on ’the mainland' never expecting that over the following seventeen years I would live in London, Paris, Singapore and New York. I love to travel, and to experience new places, but will always be a Guernsey girl at heart. When I started to write, I had no set idea as to genre, or plot, but the location was always going to be Guernsey. And it is the perfect setting for a crime thriller - breathtaking scenery, a unique culture, an abundance of legends and folktales and a complicated history, including five years spent under Nazi Occupation during the Second World War - all of which I have tried to capture in The Devil’s Claw. I went back this summer (as I have every year since I left) armed with proof copies of the book and really felt like it was bringing it home. Here it is, in the shadows on my favourite beach, Petit Bot.

3. The Devil’s Claw Comes Home

The Devil’s Claw is set on Guernsey, the island where I was born and raised. I left in 2000 to go to University on ’the mainland' never expecting that over the following seventeen years I would live in London, Paris, Singapore and New York. I love to travel, and to experience new places, but will always be a Guernsey girl at heart. When I started to write, I had no set idea as to genre, or plot, but the location was always going to be Guernsey. And it is the perfect setting for a crime thriller - breathtaking scenery, a unique culture, an abundance of legends and folktales and a complicated history, including five years spent under Nazi Occupation during the Second World War - all of which I have tried to capture in The Devil’s Claw. I went back this summer (as I have every year since I left) armed with proof copies of the book and really felt like it was bringing it home. Here it is, in the shadows on my favourite beach, Petit Bot.

Many thanks to Lara for sharing her three pics to publication. 

The Devil's Claw is published by Trapeze in the UK

'An atmospheric crime series set in the Channel Islands, that will appeal to fans of Ann Cleeves, Peter May and Elly Griffiths.'

 

First Drafts

'The First draft of anything is shit', as Hemingway told us many moons ago.
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In the month when many of you will be writing 1,666 words a day for NaNoWriMo I thought it would be good to consider that most troublesome of beasts, the first draft.

I'm not a great planner, although I've tried - chapter plans, story and character arcs, even an unwieldy grid which involved multiple spreadsheets and lots of sellotape - but I've now accepted that I do have a process, and it works for me... 

 

A Strict Word Count

A thousand words a day for three months.

That means every day, weekends too, regardless of where I am or what's happening. For the last two books that has been a concentrated effort in the early months of the year, which fits well with my editing deadlines. I tend to get up very early, and I've learnt to be less precious about where and how I work: on trains, in snatches of time, even when the house is full.

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Editing-as-I-Go

I write every day, not only to build my word count, but also to keep everything in my head. Psychological suspense relies on a careful balance of reveal/conceal and I need to be aware of what goes where, even on a first draft, although all can be changed. So I begin by reading over the previous day's words, editing lightly or making notes, before I continue.

 

Notes

Although I don't have a definite plan, I will have a notebook beside me, and probably a rough synopsis, as well as lots of stuff held in my head from months of thinking-time. I also do lots of research before I start writing, so that's in my notes too. Any ideas, thoughts, dates, chronology issues, get jotted down as I write, so I can revisit them later. 

 

Tips (or how not to get in the kind of mess I do!)

Give every character a name and date of birth, saves so much time checking later.

Print out a calendar and keep a record of what happens when - including the weather.

Keep it simple - the simpler the better- actions not feelings.

 

The Finish is Only the Start

At the end of three months, roughly, I will have my 80-90K first draft.

But...all is not well. Far from it. What began as a shiny possibility, is now becoming a reality, and there will inevitably be a dissonance between initial expectation and results, and that's where doubts begin to creep in.

Three months ago, my ideas were unsullied by exposition. In my imagination, they were full of possibility, to be anything I wanted. To be...perfect. That's a hard act to follow. But first attempts are never about perfection.

As Terry Pratchett said, 'First drafts are about you telling yourself the story'.

What I do have at the end of those first three months is the bones of my story, with characters, and events; something I can work with. How else, for example, would I have discovered what happens on page three hundred, or even on page two? How would I have seen the opportunities to seed later events in earlier passages, and how would I have known that my characters would act as they did unless I placed them in those situations?

My next job is to sort the good from the bad, to polish what works, to eliminate sections that don't, and now I have a whole story, to decide on structure and points of view. Everything is still up for debate, even the ending. 

I suppose, now I come to think of it, my first draft is an elaboarate plan, so maybe...I do plan after all! If you're participating in NaNoWriMo, good luck! 

CLOSE TO ME my debut psychological suspense is out now in UK and available to pre-order in US for December. Please review if you enjoy - many thanks!

Cheltenham Literature Festival

In the twenty-five years I've lived in Cheltenham, October and the literature festival have become synonymous for me. I always attend as many events as I can, the town transformed for the ten day festival, huge tents taking over the formal gardens, lights strung overhead, autumn colours in the trees, and rustling under foot. There's a buzz about the town, celebs spotted in coffee shops, Prosecco sipped between events, the focus...books, books, and more books.  It's all very lovely, very Cheltenham.

Can you imagine my excitement therefore, when I was invited to take part?  

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The audience were great, asking questions and listening intently to my readings from CLOSE TO ME, and despite my concerns that half an hour was a very long time on my own on stage, it flew by. I then signed books in the Waterstones' book tent, until they sold out of all copies! 

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It was an amazing experience, and I'd like to thank the festival organisers, particularly Becca Di Francesco, Literature Festival Programme Co-ordinator, for inviting me to take part in 'Cheltenham Writes!' an initiative championing local writers. 

Travels with Close To Me - New York

Last month, I was in New York with my son and husband for a week-long holiday, as well as a bit of work...if you can call swanning into Manhattan skyscrapers work?!

What can I say about NYC that you don't already know? The skyline, the people, the food, the yellow cabs...everything about it is iconic and I love it. It was warm whilst we were there, 27 degrees most days, and we had a fantastic time.

A glimpse of the Empire State building on a sunny day in New York.

A glimpse of the Empire State building on a sunny day in New York.

Five years ago, on my first ever visit to the Big Apple, I stared up at the impossibly tall office buildings wondering who might be inside, reading manuscripts, but I never imagined, even in my wildest dreams, that the next time I returned to the city I would be meeting not one, but two publishing houses to discuss the forthcoming release of my book in the US. 

First, I met with the team at Quercus US who are publishing CLOSE TO ME on December the 5th in hardcover. I was taken for a fantastic New York lunch with a deep fried Oreo for dessert, which Nathaniel, publisher, assured me were delicious, and he was right! It was a good chance to also meet with my US editor, Amelia, the Marketer, Elyse, and Publicist, Amanda. We've been introduced via email, and worked together a lot on the book, but only remotely, so it was great to meet them all face-to-face. 

Next I was off to Penguin Random House Audio, for a meeting with the team there. I learned lots about the massive expansion in the audio market and I was invited to write a blog piece for the PRH website. I'm really excited about the audio release on December 5th. It was surreal going into marble foyers filled with books and lifts and people, but I was made so welcome and immediately put at my ease.

Once my meetings were over, we stuffed our days with more fun, as well as bookish pursuits for me, with more than one visit to Barnes & Noble in Union Square, as well as a pilgrimage to the New York public library to wander through the hushed reading room and wish I had time to stay and write.  Hopefully, we will be back soon.

Outside the New York Public Library - where I would write my next book if I lived in NYC.

Outside the New York Public Library - where I would write my next book if I lived in NYC.

Travels with Close To Me - Milan

Can't believe it's already October. September flew by in a whirl of flights, interviews, meetings and of course, writing! Book Two edits continued, and I was also travelling - a lot. 

Back in 2016, when my agent rang me with news of the first foreign rights sale, I decided I would make the most of every opportunity that came my way via Close To me. So last month I went to Milan to meet my wonderful Italian publisher, Corbaccio. They published under the title L'anno Che e Passato (The Year Gone By) on 31st of August.

It was a very brief visit, but in the one full day I had with them, Valentina the press officer, had organised back-to-back interviews with national newspapers, glossy magazines, review websites and a blogger event. It was all new to me, especially as I have no Italian, but my wonderful interpreter, Rafaella, made sure my words and meaning were translated seamlessly. It was hard work, but also great fun.

I love the way the Italian readers have responded to the book, particularly the themes of empty-nest syndrome, and starting-over to reassess life after a trauma. 

Here I am outside Hoepli in Milan, where Cecilia, my wonderful host at Corbaccio, surprised me with this amazing window display. I signed about forty books inside, and had a tour of the five floors - what a beautiful bookstore.

Here I am outside Hoepli in Milan, where Cecilia, my wonderful host at Corbaccio, surprised me with this amazing window display. I signed about forty books inside, and had a tour of the five floors - what a beautiful bookstore.

Milan is a stunning city - the Duomo looked glorious in the Italian sunshine.

Milan is a stunning city - the Duomo looked glorious in the Italian sunshine.