Read ‘Me’

I love reading and I especially love that sense of anticipation and uncertainty when I start a new book and especially when it’s by a new author. Am I going to like the story? Are the characters going to be people I will love and admire, disagree with or even hate? What kind of world do they live in? How are they going to react as the story unfolds and would I do the same?

The more I’m drawn into a book, the more I become immersed in this other world which isn’t just constructed from the author’s imagination, because I just have to throw in my own embelishments. The way I visualise and interpret the story will be heavily influenced by my own experiences, values and perceptions.

But it was only recently while I was going through the latest rewrite of Leaving Me that I began to appreciate just how intimately an author’s experiences can be woven into the novel too. It can’t all be make-believe!

I have to admit that when I’m writing, I’ll sometimes make a conscious decision to include a little bit of me in my books. In Yesterday’s Sun and Another Way to Fall, there were certainly emotions that I could only have expressed because I identified so closely with them, but there have been more subtle elements added to my novels too. The painting Holly draws in Yesterday’s Sun, for example, was one of mine; the memory about one sister saving her Easter eggs to tease the other in Another Way to Fall was my memory too; and Maggie’s aromatherapy business in Where I Found You was fuelled by a hobby I once enjoyed. And then of course there’s the park bench which has a starring role in Where I Found You, it’s my bench, the one I can clearly remember sitting down on when I was contemplating being a mother for the very first time. If you want to find out more about that, you can read my blog on the Waterstones site [click here].

But it was only when I was rereading the draft manuscript for Leaving Me that I realised how much of me I’d put into it unconsciously.  Certainly some things I’ve used have been exaggerated and redefined but there are others that are a little too close for comfort. What they might be, I don’t think I need reveal just yet, if at all. Leaving Me will be out in Spring 2015 so I think I’ll wait until then to decide.

So now that I’m aware of this additional ingredient that I’ve put in my books, I’m starting to wonder if other author’s do the same and to what degree. And if they are there, could I spot them? I think I’d better pick up another book and see if I can… Any excuse to read!

 

A World of My Own Making (and a cover reveal too!)

Deciding where to locate a story is a big decision for any author and one I tend to give a lot of thought to. After all, I know that for months to come I’ll be spending much of my waking hours there – if not during my sleep too. Should I set my novel somewhere new and face the challenge (or pleasure) of going off on a research trip? Should I stay a little closer to home and base the story in my hometown or favourite haunt? Or could I create a fictional world where only my characters will ever inhabit?

I’ve dabbled with all three options to some extent. Yesterday’s Sun was set in a fictional village, Another Way to Fall in my home town and once in a while I’ve written about places I’ve had to visit before I could include them in a particular scene. But when it came to writing my third novel, Where I Found You, I really had no choice at all. By the time I got around to committing the story to paper, I already had a very clear image of that opening scene in my head. I imagined a traditional Victorian park with a main avenue slicing it in two. It had a bandstand and playing fields, and there was a lake snuggled away from view where my main character, Maggie could sit quietly and let the world go by. I knew every intricate detail of that first scene, right down to the layers of paint on her favourite park bench but that was the problem. The bench, the lake and the layout of the park existed only in my mind and when a lengthy internet search failed to uncover a park that matched my expectations, I had no choice but to create a town called Sedgefield, nestled in the Cheshire countryside with a busy high street and of course the perfect park where my heroine could blossom. By the time I finished writing Where I Found You, I was sorry to say goodbye to the town I had created.

So naturally, I went back there.

I’ve just finished a novella called If I Should Go which will be out as an e-book next month. Not only is it set in Sedgefield, but my central character had already made a cameo appearance in Where I Found You (although if you blink, you’ll miss her!). And because the novella will be released a month before the novel, readers will get the opportunity to have a sneaky glimpse of the town of my imaginings. It was a first for me to write two stories that are ever so slightly interlinked and it was a joy. Like I said, the town was intimately familiar to me and writing the novella felt like coming home.

If I Should Go is about a young woman called Rachel who is a single mum and making ends meet by working in a care home and living at home with her mum. She has a second chance of happiness or at least that’s how she sees it when Martin offers her a new life. Writing it was about exploring what happiness means to different people. It’s not only about the sacrifices that we might contemplate taking but also how little we sometimes appreciate what we already have. The novella is out on 8th May 2014 and I really hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

And don’t forget to look out for Where I Found You which is out on 5th June 2014!

If I Should Go

Novella

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cathartic Writer

The premise behind my second novel Another Way to Fall was for the heroine, Emma to be able to write the life she would have led if her illness hadn’t stolen it from her.  It wasn’t difficult for me to imagine how writing that lost life might have been cathartic for Emma, in fact it’s what I love about writing myself; it was that kind of catharsis that spurred me to write both Another Way to Fall and Yesterday’s Sun.

It’s easy to see how the confines of the page can provide a certain sense of security that enables and emboldens the writer to share their innermost feelings.  And while both of my novels were clearly for public consumption, the characters I’ve created are sometimes speaking my words and thinking my thoughts.  Maybe the readers can see through that false veil or perhaps they are able to take some of those feelings as their own for one reason or another.

But not everything I’ve written has been fiction or with the sole purpose of getting published.  I turned to writing when my son was ill, at a time when I couldn’t articulate my feelings in any other way.  To put it simply I couldn’t physically talk about what was happening but I could write about it.  I didn’t chose writing as a therapy but rather it chose me.  Having never had any aspirations to be a writer, when I started to keep a journal I was less interested in the prose than the message I was trying to convey or the memory I was trying to capture.  And two years later when my son died, I was determined to write his story.  It ought to have been tortuous to relive some of the horrors he endured and I witnessed but I somehow survived the retelling of it.

I can’t say how writing Nathan’s story helped but I don’t doubt that it did. As a bereaved parent it gave me the reassurance that while I had lost my son and knew that time would steal the sound of his voice, the scent of him and the touch of him, I would forever hold onto those intimate details of his life even after they inevitably faded from my mind.

The intimate details of Nathan’s life are there to be relived if ever I need to but in truth, up until recently I chose not to, and even when I did open it the other day it was only a quick glance.  I had been planning to write a blog about a park bench in preparation for my next novel Where I Found You which is being released in June 2014.  It was a bench in Sefton Park that I had in mind which held memories of me sitting there heavily pregnant with my daughter.  Then I just happened to be in Calderstones Park the other week and passed a play area with another bench which evoked another memory.  This one was not so pleasant and it made me finally open up the journal and read the entry about the day I took by two children to the park in a failed attempt to feel like a normal family.

If ever I needed proof that writing can be cathartic then it was that entry in my journal.  All those feelings of anger, futility and sadness are there in the words I had written, there on the page and not eating away at me.  I can’t claim that writing Nathan’s story has purged my soul of all the pain and grief but it has certainly lessened the burden.  I suspect my reluctance to read it over is that fear of all those feelings returning but there are some treasures in there too, the good memories and the reasons why my son is my inspiration.  But then I don’t think I’m ever likely to forget that.

In Times of Trouble

There’s nothing like a storm to make us all realise how vulnerable we are to the forces of nature and appreciate the things and more importantly, the people in our lives.  Not that I have any great tale to tell; Liverpool has got off relatively lightly so far but I did make a trip to London and was caught up in the travel chaos just before Christmas.  And it was that trip that got me thinking.

I arrived at Euston in time to catch the four o’clock train only to hear an announcement that there had been a power failure and all trains had been suspended.  I was tired and I not only wanted to get home, I wanted to be home!  An hour later there was another announcement, the signals were still down but two trains were being allowed to leave.  One was to Manchester which wasn’t where I needed to be but it was close enough.  I joined the stampede and was fortunate enough to get a seat.  Still wondering how on earth I was going to get from Manchester to Runcorn to pick up my car and with no direct connecting train, I had a text from my sister.  She said she would come and pick me up.  I could have cried, not because I was even going to consider letting her making the 100 mile round trip on a stormy night but simply because I knew that she was there for me if I needed her.

I arrived home at ten o’clock after another train and taxi ride, tired but immensely relieved and yet my sister’s text played on my mind.  It had made me realise how lucky I am to have two brothers and a sister in my life.  There’s a saying about not being able to choose your family but they’re the ones we all turn to in a crisis.  Okay, sometimes we drift and lose touch with some relations but the relationships we have with our siblings are probably the ones we will take to the grave.

And there lies the problem.  I couldn’t help wondering who would be there for my daughter.  When my son was born, she was seven years old and I was comforted to know that she would grow up with a brother who was going to be at the front of the queue vetting her boyfriends no matter what the age difference.  Nathan would be eleven now and the impact of his loss must include that gaping hole in her life.  My daughter is an only child again and I don’t know who she would turn to on a stormy night when I’m too old to come to her rescue.  With any luck there will be a partner or spouse (yes, this post could have been quite different if I wasn’t single), and if not then cousins or maybe close friends but in this day and age are any of those relationships as resilient as the connection between siblings?

It made me stop and think about how I develop family structures in my writing.  In my first book, Yesterday’s Sun, Holly was an only child but in Another Way to Fall, I created a sister for Emma.  Obviously as the author I had the freedom to choose the supporting cast for my characters.  Holly needed a strong sense of independence to be able to her take a life and death decision on her own so instinctively I made her an only child.  Emma on the other hand was facing her own mortality and I couldn’t let her do that without a sister by her side.

The point is, the families I created around my heroines complemented the fate I had already chosen for them but real life doesn’t work like that, does it?  For most of us, life isn’t a singular plot but an eclectic mix of trials and tribulations.  There will be times when we will fare better on our own and then other times when we will need someone to turn to for help.  I’m lucky enough to be able to have that choice, my daughter doesn’t, and not only her but a growing proportion of our society.  Families are shrinking and in time there won’t just be fewer brothers and sisters but fewer aunts, uncles and cousins too.  So what will we do to replace that kind of support network?  Will we make more of an effort to stay in touch with distant relatives or perhaps nurture more friendships?  With social media it’s certainly feasible but is that enough?  Will those virtual relationships ever replace hands-on support?  I have no answers, all I can do is be grateful that when I needed support I received an offer of help rather than someone ‘liking’ my status on Facebook or retweeting my sorry tale.

A Richard and Judy moment

As any writer knows, one of the best ways to improve your writing skills is to read and one particular novel I’ve thoroughly enjoyed recently is SeaSea Sisters Sisters by Lucy Clarke.  Not only is it another fabulous pick from the Richard and Judy Book Club but it’s also a book that was originally spotted by my editor Sarah Ritherdon at HarperCollins who also acquired my book Yesterday’s Sun…another Richard and Judy selection.

So while I immersed myself in the lives of the Sea Sisters, at the back of my mind I was also marvelling at my own good fortune.  As I considered what it was about this novel that caught Richard and Judy’s eye, I couldn’t help wondering what it was that caught their attention in my book.  What I do know is it was very exciting time in my life and one I’ll never forget.

Yesterday’s Sun was selected for the Spring 2012 list but it was in October 2011 when I first heard the news.  I had finished work (my day job) early because HarperCollins had arranged for some photos to be taken for my author profile.  The photographer was lovely but it wasn’t a particularly pleasant experience for me trying to look comfortable in front of a camera.  I’d switched off my phone so it was only when I left the studio that I noticed a missed call from Sarah.  I was walking through Cavern Walks in Liverpool laden down with the outfits I’d taken for the photo shoot when I phoned her back.

She was delirious with excitement and at first I wasn’t quite sure what she was telling me.  It took a while for the news to sink in but when it did I sank down onto some nearby stone steps.  You know how you try to talk quietly when you’re on the phone in a public place?  Well not me, not that day.  It didn’t take long before I was just as excited as Sarah, tears were in my eyes but I couldn’t stop grinning even when passersby looked at me with mild curiosity.  Next I phoned my agent Luigi Bonomi, who already knew of course, but the excitement was contagious.  And after that?  Well…nothing.  I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone else!!  It was top secret and there was a veiled threat that if the news leaked out then I could be taken off the Richard and Judy list.

So what did I do?  I went to the supermarket and bought a bottle of champagne and then rushed home to my daughter who was the only other person I was allowed to tell. And what was the response of my sixteen year old daughter?  ‘Who are Richard and Judy?’  Sorry Richard.  Sorry Judy.

I cannot even begin to explain how frustrating it was not being able to tell people.  I suppose the only good thing was that at this point my writing career had barely started and I didn’t have this blog; I wasn’t on twitter; and I didn’t have an author page on Facebook so the only real temptations were with family and friends.  The list was going to be announced on 5th January 2012 and I have to say I was pretty good at keeping the secret although by Christmas I was whispering the news to my family, swearing them to secrecy.  Not that they did.  When I told my brother Jon he grinned sheepishly, my mum had already told him.

The first time I saw my book on sale was in WH Smiths on the Richard and Judy stand.  It was the day before publication so I hadn’t expected to see it.  I was on my own and I stood there transfixed.  My hand trembled as I picked it up, still not quite believing my book had been published and then quietly I put it back on the shelf.  How I stopped myself from grabbing the nearest unsuspecting customer and pointing at it I’ll never know.

But the highlight of the whole experience had to be being interviewed by Richard and Judy for their website.  They were filming a series of interviews with some of the authors on the Spring list and we all gathered in what had been set up as the green room before being ushered in to be interviewed.  Jojo Moyes was there and said not to worry about the interview as she’d heard how experienced interviewers like Richard and Judy didn’t let their interviewees fail, they would look after us and they did.  Not that I can tell you much about the end result. I still haven’t watched the interview…but click here it is if you want to take a peak.

OK, so now I’ve just realised how every other sentence has Richard and Judy in it, including this one!  Needless to say that even now, eighteen months later I’m still absolutely thrilled that my debut novel had such an amazing kick start.  Thank you Richard and Judy…and by the way, have you heard that my next book Another Way to Fall is out soon? [VERY SOON – WATCH THIS SPACE!]

A Step Back in Time

Even though I’m immersed in the rewrite of The Bench at the moment, I’m very aware that the publication of Yesterday’s Sun in America is fast approaching and I’m suddenly distracted by all of those images I conjured up of the gatehouse, the place where Holly comes face to face with her future in Yesterday’s Sun.

The house itself was part of the Hardmonton Hall estate, all figments of my imagination that can be traced back to countless old houses scattered across England that have now become detached from the larger estates they once guarded.  The imagery of the garden however was created from memories a little closer to home and while the rambling and overgrown grounds of the gatehouse where Holly finds the moondial is deep in English countryside and looks out over an orchard, the feel of the place lies deep within my childhood memories of my grandparents’ garden.  Lynn Chris and Mandy Garden

I was brought up in a terraced house in Liverpool so my Nan and Grandad’s garden a few miles away drew us kids like magnets.   And now you’ll have to indulge me because I’ve managed to dig out some family photos.  They don’t do the place justice but if nothing else, they give a good sample of 1970’s fashion.Chris Garden

The garden didn’t have an orchard, only an apple tree grown from a pip my mum had planted when she was a child.  A homemade swing had been hung from one of its branches and we always fought for turns on it.  Unsurprisingly, that’s one memory that appears in Another Way to Fall (which isn’t going to be out in the UK until September 2013 now but I hope you’ll find it worth the wait). Lynn Chris Mandy Neil Garden

You wouldn’t have found a large workshop in the garden either but there was my grandad’s shed.  It had a strong smell of creosote and all kinds of tools crammed inside.  My granddad was a shipwright at Cammell Lairds and was a skilled craftsman.  I never realised until later that he had made some of the wooden toys we loved to find in their house, remnants of my mum’s childhood.

It’s funny but whenever I think of their garden, the sun is always shining and all the memories are good.  But enough of my reminiscing, I must get on with my writing!

PS.  If you must ask, I’m the younger girl but please don’t get confused – not all of the long haired kids are girls.  My brother Chris did have such beautiful curls though!

A Time to Pause

November is a difficult time for me, a time when my mind draws me back to the past.  I’m reminded of all the reasons my life, my perspective and my priorities have changed so much in the last six years but mostly I’m reminded of the little man who went through such awful things and who taught me so much.  My son Nathan.

But even as I stand still and reflect, the world doesn’t stop with me.  Everything moves on and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  I haven’t moved on from the death of my son, I’m not ‘over it,’ but I have accepted that life has continued and that I’ve been swept along with the flow of time.  So as I stood still for a little while this month, life has continued at a pace and with a deep breath I’m back in the present catching up with all my author duties.

That oh-so important contract for books three and four has now been signed although there was a little surprise in there for me.  As well as two new books, HarperCollins would like me to write two short stories.  Gulp!  It’s most definitely a new challenge and after the initial shock I’m starting to quite like the idea of working on something that should take shape much more quickly than the year-long process of finishing a full length manuscript.

So what else is new…the dates for publication have so far been confirmed as 14th March 2013 in the UK for Another Way to Fall and 12th February 2013 in the US for Yesterday’s Sun.  I’m also thrilled that along with Yesterday’s Sun, Another Way to Fall is also going to be published in Germany.

As I write this I’m on my way home after another trip to London where yesterday I met my new editor Kim Young who’s covering maternity leave for Sarah and to top the day I was invited to the Harper Fiction Christmas Party at the Ivy.  I had an absolutely lovely time and it was really good to get to know more of the team at HarperCollins as well as meeting some pretty fab authors too.  Writing can be quite a solitary profession so thank you to Harper for arranging this festive group hug!

And now I take another deep breath…I’m looking forward to another exciting year knowing full well how privileged I am to have good friends and family around me who help me look to the future without ever losing sight of the past.

Why I’m Supporting “Stand Up To Cancer”

autumn

First signs of autumn

It’s a lovely autumn day and as I drive home through Liverpool, the trees are starting to turn and the yellows and golds sparkle in the afternoon sunshine.  This year I’m more aware than ever of the change of season and the reason for that is the book I’ve spent the last twelve months writing and rewriting.Another Way to Fall has been a labour of love and I’ve invested so much in the story emotionally, even more so than with Yesterday’s Sun.  It’s the story of a young woman called Emma who discovers that the cancer she thought she had beaten has returned and the seasons are a very strong theme running through the book.  In many ways Emma sees autumn through my eyes, not as a time to marvel in the glory of nature but to mourn this last flash of colour before winter descends and life is snuffed out.  The inspiration for the story came from a poem I had written about my son Nathan which was called Autumn Child and for a while it was the book’s working title too.

For the last six years I’ve dreaded the approach of autumn because it marks the run up to the anniversary of my son’s death.  This year is no different but I do think that writing Another Way to Fall has allowed me to shift my mindset.  I can now catch a glimpse of the beauty in the turning leaves that shine their brightest just before they fall, leaving a burning impression as well as bare branches.

Nathan’s memory still burns brightly in my mind but I wish he was still here and I hope that other parents can be saved the pain of losing a child…and that is why I’m supporting the Stand Up To Cancer campaign.

An Artist in the Making

my sketchMy love of writing may have had its beginnings in real life when I began to write a journal but as far as my forays into fiction are concerned, I’ve never set out to recreate a character or an event that has been based on real life, not yet at least.  But I can’t deny that there have been small elements of my real life that have managed to creep onto the page.  It’s difficult to describe what’s going on inside a character’s mind without drawing upon some of my own ideas and influences so I suppose I have to accept that there is a little of me in some of my characters.

Take Holly in Yesterday’s Sun for example.  It’s no coincidence that I share her love of art.  I grew up in a household where we all enjoyed drawing and painting, it was a hobby I shared with my brother and sister who continue to create amazing pieces of art while I’ve taken a creative detour into writing.  When I had to decide what kind of career I wanted for my main character, making Holly an artist was a way for me to not only fulfil a lost ambition but to take my limited artistic talents to new, if somewhat imaginary heights.  I had only ever played around with sketching and painting so it was quite liberating to suddenly start creating a huge sculpture if only in my mind’s eye.

But my influences didn’t stop there.  It might have been Holly who had the problem of producing a commission for Mrs Bronson but it was me who had to come up with the ideas on how to express the relationship between a mother and a child.  That was less of a problem than you might imagine because some of those initial ideas she had existed long before I started writing Yesterday’s Sun.  One sketch in particular was based on a drawing that takes pride of place on my living room wall.  It’s a pastel sketch I drew shortly after Nathan was born and was meant to represent me with my two children.  I would have to say that Holly’s sketches are far better than mine but that’s the joy of writing.  I can describe a masterpiece without even picking up a pencil and I can create a magnificent sculpture of swirling figures curling ever upwards without having to take a chainsaw to a block of granite.  And I’m very proud of the sculpture I’ve created, more so than the lump of broken rock I would have produced if I’d tackled it in real life!