Setting the Scene

When I plan a new book, first and foremost in my mind are my characters, and the dramas I’m about to put them through. I might have an idea of surroundings, but I don’t normally firm up the location until I’m literally about to start writing that first chapter. That’s not usually a problem as I tend to base many of my books in Liverpool where I live, so I ought to know it quite well.

I like setting scenes in areas of Liverpool that aren’t so well-known, but are familiar to me – or so I presume until I have to describe something in detail. There have been quite a few times when I’ve had to make an emergency dash so I can describe the colour of a particular set of railings, or the view from a particular entrance.

Sometimes I’ll use a little poetic licence and alter locations if there’s something about the setting that doesn’t quite work, and I also mix things up deliberately to avoid moving my characters into some poor unsuspecting person’s home. In The Missing Husband, you won’t find Beaumont Avenue in Liverpool, and you’d be hard pressed to find the short cut to West Allerton station.

There was one time when I almost came unstuck trying to find the right location for my novel. In Where I Found You, there’s a park that’s central to the plot as it’s where my main characters frequently meet. Before I’d even begun to write the story, I’d formed a very clear picture in my head of what it should look like – only to realise that of all the parks I knew in Liverpool, none were quite right. I extended the search using Google Earth but to no avail, the park didn’t exist anywhere except in my imagination, and that was why I created a whole new town called Sedgefield, which is nestled ‘somewhere,’ in the Cheshire countryside.

The Affair Out NowI returned to Sedgefield in my novella If I Should Go, and more recently in The Affair. When I was planning The Affair, I knew straight away that I didn’t want to use a real location, or more to the point, I didn’t want to use a real school. The story focuses on a pregnant school girl called Scarlett, and it’s her teacher who falls under suspicion. It felt wrong scandalising a school that actually existed. What would the pupils think, or the teachers for that matter? Despite the chaos I unleashed on the town this time around, I enjoyed my return visit to Sedgefield, and there’s always a chance I’ll go back there again some day.

A Special Thank You

When my publisher suggested we have an official book launch for the release of my fourth book The Missing Husband, throwing a party sounded like a great excuse to have some fun. Even as I sipped a glass Prosecco in Liverpool One with the fabulous team at HarperCollins before heading over to Waterstones for the official event, I wasn’t expecting it to be more than a lovely opportunity to gather friends and family together to join in the celebrations. I never imagined I would get so emotional until I was standing in front of all those people who had supported me along the way. And when I say emotional, I mean we were all in tears.

Getting emotional!

Getting emotional!

There are only few occasions when you have a chance to bring together all the people who have been important in your life, but this was certainly one of them. It was a rare opportunity to say thank you to everyone and to let them know how important their support has been to me. The speech I was planning should have been simple enough to deliver because I’ve been doing quite a few author talks lately in the run up to publication day, and I was happy enough chatting about not only my new novel, my writing habits and my story development, but how I came to be a writer in the first place. I’ve visited libraries and explained to readers how I only had three years and ten months with my son but that little boy transformed my life. I’ve gone on to explain how Nathan’s death changed me, but it was his life that inspired me. I’m comfortable talking about my son and my grief, but standing in front of everyone that evening at the book launch, I didn’t need to do any of the usual explaining because they already knew. So many of those familiar faces looking at me with tears in their eyes had been part of that journey, from my amazing family and friends who supported me and my daughter through Nathan’s illness and beyond, to the new friends I’ve made along the way.

Kim Young and Martha Ashby

Kim Young and Martha Ashby

My publisher Kim Young and editor Martha Ashby said some lovely things about me in their introductions, so they have to share some of the blame in making me so emotional! But if there was one thing that got to me most of all, it was looking at my beautiful daughter in the crowd and (when I wasn’t getting all choked up) being able to tell her how proud I am of her and how much she means to me. I have been blessed with two amazing children and that’s why I enjoy writing books that centre around motherhood and family relationships. Being a mother is the most important role I’ve taken on in life and I’m still learning.

In spite of the tears, you’ll be pleased to know I did enjoy the evening although with so many people there it was impossible to spend as much time as I would have liked with everyone. Thank you (again) to everyone who came to the book launch and a special thanks to Kim, Martha and the rest of the team at HarperCollins for making publication day a day to remember.

A Time and Place

When I write a novel, I keep track of the timeline by putting specific dates to particular scenes, even if that information is never shared with the reader. Sometimes it helps because although the day or date isn’t mentioned, there might be some reference to past events and I need to know if that should be last week or months ago! Some of those dates stick in my mind.

This week has been very exciting, not least because I received a proof copy of my next book, The Missing Husband and this was the first time I had held a physical copy of my work – such a proud and terrifying moment. Surprisingly, however, it was the novel due out in January next year that has been occupying my mind in the last few days – or to be more precise, was on my mind on Thursday 23rd April 2015 which just happened to be World Book Night.

My fifth novel has a working title of The Wishing Tree and as I may have mentioned before, it’s based around the Allerton Oak which is a thousand year old tree in Calderstones Park, Liverpool. I’ve recently finished the latest draft, firming up the timeline and I knew that Thursday was the day that my two main characters would first meet. The park is close to home so of course I had to be there at the moment their paths cross. I can’t tell you how strange it was standing beneath the sprawling oak as that crucial scene played out in my mind. I’m almost disappointed that when I took this picture the lens failed to capture my characters too.

23rd April 2015

The Allerton Oak, Calderstones

I know there’s still a bit of a wait until that particular book is published and I wish I could tell you more about what is missing from this picture – suffice to say it should have revealed a broken man with a secret past and a vulnerable child who would become convinced by the tree’s magic powers.

Driven to Distraction

This week I’ve had my first sneaky peak at the cover design for my next novel and given that The Missing Husband won’t be published in the UK until July, the anticipation is driving me to distraction. But while the waiting goes on, I thought it might be a good time to tell you a little something about the book.

The Missing Husband is about a woman called Jo who is in her early thirties. On the face of it she has a successful career, is happily married and expecting her first child. The story begins one morning when her husband goes to work and she pretends to be asleep to avoid giving him a lift to the station. When he doesn’t come home, Jo faces the prospect of never finding out why he could disappear without trace. While the story explores what was behind her husband’s disappearance, the focus is on the impact it has on Jo’s life and in particular the effect on her mental health.

I’ve always tried to view mental health in the same was as physical health in that we have to work at keeping well. Body and mind can be affected by serious conditions and debilitating illness but sometimes we can simply be unfit, and that stores up problems for the future. We live in a society where we all know how to look after our bodies, even if we don’t always put that theory into practice. We know how our lifestyle choices affect our risks of developing cancer, diabetes and heart disease but what should we be doing to maintain our mental wellbeing? Isn’t that just as important?

Of course taking care of our mental health is easier said than done. None of us can control the things that happen to us and we can’t always control how we reaction to them, if at all. In Jo, I created a character who was generally happy and well, who might have had the odd idiosyncrasies but she is no different to you or I – in fact a lot of her existing rituals and obsessions came from things I know I do or other people have mentioned when I told them about the character I was writing.

What I hope readers will relate to is how this average woman could go from relatively good mental health to having severe anxiety to such a degree that it completely debilitates her. I didn’t want her to be the kind of person you immediately imagine would have a mental illness, but I think that’s the point, most people with mental illness aren’t those ‘stereotypes’ that make the headlines. They’re just like me and you, in fact they could be me or you which is a sobering thought.

There have been stress points in my life and times where my mental health has suffered and although I’ve been lucky enough to avoid mental illness, it could have been so much worse. I still don’t know why or how I managed to avoid becoming seriously ill. One factor which undoubtedly helped was my writing, whether through poetry, journals or complete works of fiction that allowed me to create worlds over which I did have full control. Losing weight and exercising helped too even though I wasn’t consciously thinking these were things that would improve my mental wellbeing at the time, only my physical health. I’ve since realised that these were the right things to do and there are plenty of resources out there to help anyone wanting to improve their mental health. A good start is described here on the NHS website.

I can’t wait to share my new novel with you and I hope to be able to share the cover design with you soon. In the meantime, I hope you all stay healthy in mind as well as body.

Is it worth mentioning now that reading is also proven to help improve mental wellbeing?

Reading is Good for You


Old Friends

Each time a new novel hits the bookshelves, there’s a good chance that the author will already be deeply immersed in their next book, it has certainly been the case with me. It’s sad but true that the characters I’m about to introduce to readers when a new book is released will already be getting pushed to the back of my mind while my fickle heart develops new relationships with a new set of characters. Slowly but surely, the intricate details of the lives I have spent months creating will begin to fade and some of the minor characters will be forgotten completely.

It’s only when I think back to those earlier novels that I realise how much I miss those earlier characters as if they were old friends. Another Way to Fall was my second novel and it’s currently on special offer as part of Kindle’s Twelve Days of Christmas and the promotion has got me thinking about how much that story means to me. Since writing about Emma and Ben, I’ve completed two novellas and two more novels (the latest one, The Missing Husband is due for publication in July 2015) so I suppose it’s not surprising that I haven’t thought about them for a while.

I don’t think I could ever completely forget them, and I can still picture some of the scenes I created in my mind as if it were only yesterday. One particular scene that springs easily to mind is Christmas Day in the Traveller’s Rest when Emma and her family shared presents around the table, including the framed photograph that Ben took of Emma in the museum. That photograph never existed but I know it so well that it might as well be amongst the photos hanging on my wall.

Out of curiosity, I’ve checked back on some of my older posts and I can’t believe that it was only two years ago that I was going through the page proofs of Another Way to Fall. As you’ll see if you read the post [click here], I really did love that story and there was one character in particular who will always have a special place in my heart – the Shopkeeper. So if you have read the book or download it as part of the latest Kindle deal, I’d love to know what you thought of it and if any of the characters and scenes made an impression on you.