Sneak peek of book 3 – Check Mate – out February 11th.

So as promised here’s a slightly longer sneak peek of the soon-to-be-published book 3 of the Posh Hits trilogy than currently available:

new powerpoint cover

Saturday April 25th—10.30am

Dear Journal, it’s been six months since my last confession.

Well, I don’t know what to write. Why my family and my therapist think this will do any good is beyond me. As if. In fact, I’m sick of them all telling me how to feel, what to do, how to cope. I am sooo not one of those women who bleat on about their feelings and how life has treated them and explore all their traumas! And looking back over all the tedious entries in my old journals, it looks like that was all I ever did—whine about my life and my family and my f*****g feelings. Well I’m not going to start doing all that again. I’m not that woman anymore. But, because I don’t want to upset everyone—and because my moronic therapist wants me to do it, I will haul this bloody journal around with me everywhere I go and pretend to write in it. That way, maybe they will all just back off and leave me alone.

I did take a quick peek through the two old journals. Most of the time I seemed to be planning and plotting to kill Monica, my one-time bosom pal, more recently my would-be murderer—but without actually ever achieving it. So here is my entry, folks, if it means so bloody much to you:

Day 1. I will find Monica Pearson-Jones and I will kill her! The End. Das Ende. Finito. Bon soir.

Tuesday May 5th—3.45pm

I think they’ve worked out I’m not really writing in here. And now I’ve got to, because I brought it with me into the garden room, and Matt and Lill keep popping in with drinks and questions and little tastes of the baking, but really what they are doing is checking up on me. When Lill came in the last time with a morsel from the kitchen for me to ‘test’, she looked so relieved to see me writing. I predict one of two things will happen…either Matt will also pop in one some trumped-up pretext in a few moments, or…

Bingo! He just stuck his head around the door to ask if I needed anything. He definitely saw the writing on the page and gave a little smile of relief.

The other thing I was going to say might happen is that I would then be left in peace for a decent interval, allowing sufficient time for me to ‘express’ myself and explore my feelings.

What the hell did I used to do with my time? I’m bored. So bloody bored.

They all have their routines, and their family life, all these people who live in this house with me. Yesterday, when I was feeling really low, and so, so angry, I wished it was just me living here. All alone. How nice it would be, I thought, to have one’s house to oneself. They don’t need me, anyway, they’ve got used to me not being here. And now I am, and all they do is clamour round me with questions about cups of coffee or where I want a particular planter positioned. Like it matters.

Matt has gone back to sleeping in his old room along the hall. Thank God. The last thing I want is any kind of intimacy. I let him kiss me, and I let him put his arm around me, but I have to grit my teeth, it’s so hard not to push him away because I just can’t bear anyone to touch me, especially not him.

God! I’ve just realised. I’m actually doing it, aren’t I? What they wanted. I’m talking about it all, talking about my feelings. Well no more!

Friday May 15th—7.15pm

Drove to Monica’s house. No one there. It looks as though she’s moved out. And possibly someone else is living there; the flower-pots by the front door are different. I’m not sure, but I think the curtains have changed too. I think someone else lives there now. Not sure what to do. How can I find her? If I can’t find her…

Sunday May 17th—4.10pm

Jess rang. She wants to know if we’ll be going up to Scotland for a visit in August. I said no. Then she wanted to chat. I love her to bits, but as usual I didn’t really feel like talking. She wanted to know if there was another time we could go up, would we like to all go up for Christmas? I made the excuse that I had to dash, I had a hospital appointment. No idea what I’m going to tell her. How do you say to someone who loves you, I don’t even feel like going as far as the breakfast table, let alone all the way to effing Scotland????

Every time the phone rings, I jump out of my skin. It’s the same if someone comes to the door. I get a sense of dread in the pit of my stomach. I feel sick and shaky. I can’t bear the thought of talking to anyone. From the moment I get up to the moment I crawl blissfully into bed and solitude, I am terrified someone will want to see me or talk to me or something…

Madison is another case in point. She keeps asking me to go for coffee, for dinner, for any bloody thing. I’m running out of excuses. Ditto Steve. Ditto everyone. Why must they hound me? I just want to be left alone. It’s a major shock to the system just being at home again after all those months.

It’s easier with the children. I can sit them on my lap and read with them, or sit at the table and do colouring or play-dough. We can look at bugs in the garden or watch TV. They don’t seem to feel I’m different. They are so undemanding. Even Tom is easy—which surprises me a bit actually about a baby, but once he’s been fed and bathed and cuddled and changed, that’s about it. He will happily gurgle on his mat on the floor for an hour, or snooze in his buggy if I go for a walk. The children are so undemanding and they don’t keep asking me to analyse my experiences every effing five minutes. They don’t keep trying to prove to me that they are still the same. They don’t keep checking up on me.

Unlike the adults, who are making my life hell. I don’t know what they want from me. Why don’t they understand, no matter how much they tell me otherwise, nothing is the same? Everything, but every single thing has changed forever.

I thought about ringing some of my old friends—I thought that perhaps somehow I could try to find out if any of them have seen or heard anything from Monica, or if they know where she is or what she’s up to.

I’ve tried to find out—and obviously it’s not easy because I’ve been trying to avoid everyone—whether any strange cars or women have been seen in the village recently. Or late at night. But it’s all so frustrating, I’m getting nowhere, and I can’t sleep because I have to keep going from one room to another during the night, checking the doors and windows are locked, checking the children are safe, checking no one is lurking outside in the front or back gardens. If Matt wakes—I just tell him I had to pop to the loo, or go downstairs for a glass of water. And of course when I do finally fall asleep, there are the nightmares. I feel like I’m hanging onto the cliff-face by my fingernails with a roaring drop beneath me, and the waves.

Wednesday May 20th—9.25am

So here I am, forced into this journal-writing lark. Privately I can admit that now I’ve stopped kicking against it and just resigned myself to doing it, I don’t really mind. Not that I want them to know that.

But it’s been so long. I hardly know what to write. It all feels a bit idiotic and pointless. But on the other hand, I’m exhausted from resisting everyone’s enthusiastic encouragement, and also from carrying around all these thoughts inside my head. If I write it all down, who knows, maybe it really will help me feel better, though that seems pretty bloody unlikely at this stage. My therapist said it would be, and I quote, ‘just like setting down heavy luggage after a long journey’. Tosser. Thinks that talking about how I feel and coughing down vitamin B-complex tablets is all it will take to get me back on the road to good mental health.

But now I can’t think of anything to write. All those things that have been swirling round in my head seem to dissipate like summer mist as soon as get my journal and pen out.

I shoved my old journals into the back of one of my wardrobes. I don’t want to read them. I can’t bear it. I don’t know why I’m doing this, it was a stupid, ridiculous idea. It’s time to feed Tom, anyway.

Later same day—7.35pm

Finally screwed up the courage to phone my old friend Cherub Bryston-Harrison. I’m a bit surprised to say that we had a nice chat. It was pleasantly normal for once—she hadn’t heard about my ‘accident’ so it was easy to leave all that out and just act as if I was normal. She congratulated me on the arrival of Tom, so of course I felt an obligation to gush a bit over the joys of motherhood etc and to tell her how simply wonderful everything is, blah blah blah. Finally, I asked her if she had any contact details for Monica. She hadn’t. I felt as though I had hit a brick wall, but then she said,

“But of course, she’ll be at the Mayburys’ Ruby Wedding bash next weekend.”

Of course. V. interesting. Cherub said she and Garrison were going, then she seemed a bit embarrassed about the fact that I hadn’t been invited but I glossed over that by saying I lost touch with so many close friends following my lovely first hubby, Thomas’, death and my subsequent move out into the sticks with new man and instant family.

She gave me a few more useful details, and of course I already have the Mayburys’ address somewhere. I asked her not to mention me, as I didn’t want “Poor dear Daphne to feel embarrassed about not inviting me,” and I also said that Monica was not talking to me since I married Matt—of whom she had been secretly enamoured, so again, Cherub sweetly promised to be the very soul of discretion.

No doubt she will blab, but hopefully not until the actual event, by which time it will be too late.

Saturday May 30th—10.15pm

A marquee in the garden—very nice! Very sensible in view of the mercurial nature of the British weather in Summertime. It would be typical of this green and pleasant land if, just as the hired waiters and waitresses in their smart uniforms began to make their way round the guests with the hors d’oeuvres and champers, the heavens opened and a deluge descended.

My SatNav sent me in completely the wrong direction, so I missed everyone arriving—was absolutely fuming by the time I’d found somewhere to park—miles away from the house. Couldn’t see a damned thing, especially once the predicted downpour began. As a stake-out, it was a total waste of time.

But it was quite cathartic to sit here in my warm, dry oasis. Windows wound up. Doors locked on the inside. Radio murmuring softly but unintelligibly in the background. And the rain, beating, beating down on the roof and the bonnet and the windows, drowning out my thoughts.

I fell asleep. Woke up suddenly with a stiff neck and a numb bum. But I feel a little better. I didn’t dream or if I did, the memory of it floated away as soon as I opened my eyes. And now, somehow sitting here within sight (possibly) of my quarry, I feel safer than at home, trembling behind the curtains. What am I talking about? If recent events have taught me anything it’s that I’m the quarry—she’s the hunter, at least I suppose that’s what she is.

I opened the window a little for some fresh air and turned up the radio, hopefully that will help me to stay awake. My leg and hip are aching. I didn’t bring my stick, so I can’t get out and go for a little walk. I found an old Mars bar in the glove compartment—still reasonably okay! That was my dinner.

It looks as though this party is going to last half the night. It’ll be dark soon, and I still have nothing to show for my trip. Every now and then I hear little cheers and wafts of laughter or snatches of music. Why did I think this was going to work?

Couldn’t see a car matching the description of the one that hit me—but if Monica has any sense at all she probably got rid of it months ago—right after the accident. So I’ve got no way of knowing if: a) she’s even here, and b) what her mode of transport is, or c) what she looks like.

Why did none of this occur to me before I left home?

I feel so stupid and ridiculous, sitting here on my mad stake-out like this—and I can’t make up my mind whether to brazen it out and gate-crash the party or if I should just carry on sitting here like an idiot and hope I somehow catch sight of her or if I should be honest and admit to myself that this is a colossal waste of time and just jack it in and go home.

I’m crying. I’m so tired. Will I ever recover? Will this ever be over? I just want everything to go back to normal.

I don’t want to go home.

If only I could rewind the months and go back to last Hallowe’en all those lifetimes ago…

The only thing I’m holding on to is this: when Thomas died, I didn’t want to go on living. And that’s how it’s been this time too, since I woke up those three months ago in the hospital and found I’d missed the birth of my baby. But gradually, after Thomas, gradually I came back to life and even laughed again and was happy. I’m just hoping that somehow, miraculously, the same thing will happen again, because if it doesn’t—I can’t live like this. I’m so scared, so hurt, I can’t do this anymore. I’m all adrift and nothing feels like it can get through to me or touch me, not even my family. Not even poor Matt or the children. Not even my desperately-wanted baby.

Saturday June 6th—11.05am

I still don’t know what to do now. Nothing useful was gleaned from my daft stake-out at the Mayburys’ last week. This week I’ve been in a daze, unable to determine on a course of action. Now what? I am completely clueless. I don’t have the faintest idea what to do now.

Matt has taken Lill and the children shopping. I find the weekends so hard, with everyone around all the time—God knows what it will be like in a few weeks when the children are on their summer hols, there will be a lot less time for me to hide away or be on my own. I’m dreading it but at the same time, I know it might be a good thing. Lill said something about Sid being engrossed in something in the workshop and not wanting to take time out of his busy schedule to take her shopping, so she nabbed Matt, though I suspect it could be an opportunist collaboration. I shall expect them to return looking as though they have something up their sleeves.

So here I am, with the three cats, a pot of tea and a plate of the crystallised ginger and white chocolate cookies Lill created yesterday. I’m a bit surprised that there are any left—but fortunately the children don’t like ginger, so I suppose that explains that. These cookies are rather addictive. Now I’m actually doing what everyone has been trying to make me do for weeks—relaxing and writing in my journal. But there will be no deep reflections on my life, no introspection. No, I am sitting here in this solitude and I am wondering how to find Monica and kill her.

A bit later same day, 11.55am

Sid just came in and cut my maundering short. And now I realise I was half-right, this whole thing was all a set-up. This whole situation was planned. The others all left specifically so that Sid could have a ‘quiet chat’ with me. I feel a bit annoyed by the conspiracy, but as Sid said, it’s only because they love me and want me to be happy.

Like it’s that simple.

I laughed when he said that—but it wasn’t a merry chuckle.

“I can only be happy when Monica is dead.” I said.

He sat down on the chair opposite me and nabbed one of my cookies. Flaming cheek.

“Yes,” he said, crumbs flying everywhere, “I thought you’d say that.” He put the remaining two-thirds of the cookie in whole, chomped briefly, then selected another. Then he said, “They’re worried about you, Cressida.”

“Yes, I realise…” I began.

“But I’m not,” he said. I stared at him. Surprised. More than surprised. He never fails to surprise me, my father-in-law. He’s an odd chap.

“You’re not worried about me?”

“No,” he said, “I know all you need is action. Seen it before on active service. When you’ve done what you need to do, you’ll feel better and life will be worth living again. S’obvious.”

Hmm. A little light-bulb glowed softly in my mind. It’s always nice when someone else, someone you really respect, confirms your half-formed instincts. He has always got my back, Sid. At the same time, I was thinking active service? Sid?

“So,” he said, reaching for a third cookie, “what are you going to do?”

I sighed then. It would be such a relief to unburden myself.

“I want to kill Monica,” I said, “but it’s so hard to know where to start. I don’t know where she is. I tried sitting outside the house of some friends in the hope she’d turn up to their party. But if she did, I didn’t see her. And I’ve been to her house—but she’s not there; I think she may have moved. So now I’m completely stumped, I just don’t know what to do next. Where do I go from here, Sid? How can I kill her when I don’t know how to find her?”

“I know where she is,” said Sid. He stuffed a fourth cookie whole into his mouth. I stared at him again, then had to look away. I poured myself another cup of tea and offered him the cookie plate.

“No, fanks, I’m cutting down. Gotta watch me figure,” he said, patting his hangover complacently. Surely he was kidding? Then I set myself to calmly addressing the elephant in the room.

“What do you mean, you know where she is?” I asked. “How could you know that?”

 

*****

Hopefully that has whetted your appetites. For those who don’t like journal-style novel, all I can say is, soz!

Catch up from end of book 2…

new powerpoint cover

I am so happy–and maybe ever so slightly relieved–to announce that book 3 of my trilogy will be released on February 11 2016. It is currently available to pre-order. I set out to write a murder mystery, but it’s actually more of a murder not-very-mysterious, as like in Columbo, you see quite a bit from the point of view of the killer (spoiler alert!), Cressida, who writes everything down in her journal. Even the stuff she probably should keep secret.

In a few days I will be posting a ‘sneak peek’ from book 3, but in the meantime, here’s a teeny snippet from the end of book 2 to remind us all where we had got to:

Friday 31 October – 11.10pm

What a f*****g nightmare! I can’t decide if I’m furiously, furiously angry, or if I’m desperately, desperately frightened. Probably I’m both.

Mavis and Henrietta came to collect the little ones for their evening of fun at half past four on the dot.

Paddy was dressed as a cowboy with dinosaur persuasions – green claw hands, and an intermittent growl – and Billy went as a fairy slash ballerina in a cute little baby-pink tutu borrowed from Sara – Millie has outgrown it (unfortunately she’s quite the little dumpling). Lill and I made the wings and the wand this afternoon. Billy was so excited. In fact, we were too.

I asked Sara if she was taking her kids out but it turned out she was taking them to her mother’s, and they were all staying overnight.

Anyway…

So the children looked gorgeous and I took a quick few pics just before they went out.

By six o’clock I was eagerly awaiting their home-coming, excited to hear how it went.

By a quarter past, with no sign, I was a bit edgy, a bit put-out.

Just before half past six, Henrietta, sobbing, along with Stephen and Madison, pounded on the door.

I feel sick just remembering. As soon as I saw them there, I knew something bad had happened. In my mind I saw an accident and their little bodies broken.  It was worse than that.

The old biddies had got talking to a friend they met in the lane.  They didn’t notice that Billy and Paddy weren’t there – that they were gone.

They looked around, checking back down the part of the lane they had already covered, asked a couple of people they saw – no one had noticed anything. The lanes were empty. No sign of two small children in the dark.

At first Henrietta and Mavis were too scared to come and tell us, so they kept trying to find the children, and they enlisted a few friends to help them comb the village, but then Madison and Stephen together had managed to persuade them to come back and let us know what had happened.

While Henrietta was telling us this, and sobbing as she did so, Matt was swearing and pulling on his trainers, Lill was trying not to cry, and Sid was on the phone trying to get through to the police. And I – I was just numb, sitting on the bottom stair, just staring at Henrietta. It couldn’t be true?

She kept saying she was sorry as we made our way back down the lane to where she and Mavis had last seen them. As we reached the spot, a couple of other people were coming just coming out of a garden gate.

“Anything?” Henrietta called out, almost falling into Mavis’s arms but reaching out to the other people.

“Nothing,” they said, shaking their heads.

Mavis tsked and said, “naughty little buggers, wandering off.”

I just managed to stop Matt from losing his temper completely – not that I was far behind – but it wouldn’t help matters if he punched an eighty-year-old. I was fighting back tears to hear someone I thought of as a friend talking about my children like that.

But I just said, “where have you already checked?” She waved her hand about her vaguely and said, “that way and over there, and your end. Pretty much everywhere.”

“If you’d looked everywhere,” I growled, “you would have found them.”

“Well really, there’s no need…”

“There’s every need,” I said, “have there been any cars through the village? Any cars or people you didn’t recognise?”

“There was a white Renault Clio parked down the hill a bit, maybe half an hour ago,” a woman I didn’t know said. At that moment, a few houses away, a firework went off and made me half jump out of my skin; I tasted blood and knew I’d bitten my lip in shock. Of course. It was only a few days from Guy Fawkes’ Night and there were always a few idiots with more money than sense letting off a stray rocket or something.

I shivered. I had to find them. Wewe had to find them. They’d be cold and scared by now. More than that I refused to even think about.

Matt and I headed off down the hill at a run, even though we could see at that distance there were no cars, white or otherwise, parked down there now. Mavis called something after us but I couldn’t hear what it was and I ignored her, still furious. That woman was no longer my friend.

The hill was one of those long, meandering ones. I had a vague recollection of an old, overgrown children’s play area near the bottom of the hill. Hardly anybody goes there any more as the equipment is largely broken and rusted, the site is up for redevelopment. The older kids go there to hang out sometimes and smoke cigarettes without their parents finding out. But I clutched at Matt’s arm,

“The playground.” I panted. Somehow I knew that was the place. Mercifully he didn’t ask me for an explanation, he just gave me a look and raced off ahead, leaving me to lumber along as quickly as I could. All those hot chocolates with all the trimmings were finally taking their toll on my fitness.

I was almost at the gate, he was already inside and running across the grass, I could hear voices, children’s and his. I was gasping “ohmygodohmygodohmygod,” as I was running, and as I pushed through the gate I managed to claw back sufficient air to call out, “have you got them? Are they okay?”

He yelled back a simple, “yes!” and at the same time I heard both the children break into overwrought sobs. The sudden deafening sound was more reassuring than anything I could have expected at that moment. I reasoned, if they could make that much noise, they must be okay. I blundered forward in the dark guided by the noise and bumped into all three of them.

For a few frantic moments we simply hugged the children and each other and reassured ourselves everyone was safe.

Then, “what happened?” Matt was asking.

“That lady brung us here.” Paddy said.

“What lady? Mavis?”

“No not Mavis, a new lady. She told us to stay here until Mummy and Daddy came to get us. She said it was a game and when you winned to give you the prize.”

In the dark he held something out to me, something small and thin and pointy and cold. I couldn’t see it clearly, but I knew what it was.

It was a photo. 

Monica had stolen my children.

 

I waited until the police had gone and the children were home safely and tucked up in bed in their fluffy PJs and with their teddies next to them before I came downstairs and fell apart.

The photo was from one of those old instant cameras, like the other photos I had been sent. It showed Paddy and Billy sitting on the step of the broken down old roundabout, side by side, in their cute little costumes, looking blatantly terrified, and Billy was sucking her forefinger, which she hasn’t done for weeks now.

That was when I threw up.

Lill made me some cocoa but I couldn’t drink it. I couldn’t calm down. Lill looked at me.

“We’ve got to get the bitch that did this.” She said. We all agreed with that.

A little while ago, at half past ten, just as we were all just beginning to calm down, the phone rang. I think I’d assumed it would be Monica finally calling to enjoy the fall-out of her little prank, and I grabbed the receiver, ready to scream a stream of invective down the wire to her crazed brain. But it was Henrietta.

She sounded so broken, so defeated, so frail, I felt awful. She apologised over and over again. I spoke to her for a few minutes but it was clear I needed to speak to her face to face – her and Mavis. I knew I’d been too harsh on them, and they were too old to be left to stew in their own juices with that much guilt.

So I’m just getting dressed again to pop back out. Hopefully I’ll only be half an hour or so as I’m absolutely shattered. Matt is coming with me, I think he wants to see them too, and in any case, he doesn’t want me going out on my own after what happened this evening.

 

 

Wed 12 Nov – 2.25am

Matt here. This is the first time I’ve written in this journal since I gave it to her. She loves it. But now it’s me that needs to get things of my chest. I never imagined I’d be sitting here beside Cressida’s bed. She’s got a private room in the hospital – a bit too bloody private, if you ask me, it’s like a morgue in here.

I brought this journal in so I could leave it on the shelf by her bed. I thought she might suddenly wake up one night and see it there, and she’d be pleased to see it, a familiar thing from home.

But now it’s been twelve days.

The doctors say she is “making satisfactory progress”. That means f**k all to me. All I know is, my wife – the woman I love – is lying in bed in a coma. I want her to be okay, of course I do, but mainly all I want is for her to be at home with us, reading to the kids, talking to her friends, doing what she always does, just – f*****g – being – there.

They keep telling me it’s going to take time, but they can’t tell me how long. They tell me she’s lucky to be alive and that I should be encouraged that she’s held on this long. But I’m scared. What if she never wakes up? What will we all do without her?

I know she’s killed people, I’m not saying she’s perfect. But none of us are, are we?

That night. We just came out of the house, on our way to Henrietta’s. Cressida just felt she had to go down and see them and let them know the children was all right and make sure Mavis and Henrietta weren’t too upset, and I think she wanted to say sorry for being so angry too. And I knew I had to apologise, because if Cressida hadn’t been there I know I could of hit Mavis, I was that bloody furious.

There was a car coming along the lane, slowly. I didn’t think anything of it. There wasn’t anything weird about it. And we was just walking along in the road – you’ve got to, the roads round our way are too narrow for pavements – but we were keeping in, there was room for the car to get by, so I wasn’t worried.

Then suddenly – I didn’t even have time to call out or do anything – suddenly the car just came at us, the engine was roaring and before I had a chance to shout or to grab her, she was flying through the air, there was a massive bang as she bounced off the bumper and onto the car roof then she was there lying in a ditch at the side of the road and the car was gone. People say things like that happen in slow-motion, but that’s not true, they happen so quick your mind can’t figure out what’s going on.

It was too dark to see more than that it was a small white car, and a woman with longish hair driving it. I think it was that Clio that woman said she saw. And last time we saw her, Monica had long hair. I think it was Monica, in fact I’m sure it was. I told the police it was her.

But none of that mattered.  As soon as I realised what had happened, as soon as I kind of came to life again, I ran to Cressida. I had my phone in my pocket and I was scrambling down into the ditch and can remember I was almost crying and I was practically praying, just saying please God, please God, over and over again, and yet I was sure, I was so sure she would be dead when I got there, and none of it seemed like it was really happening and I just couldn’t take it in.

I was too scared to move her in case I might hurt her worse and I was trying to explain to the emergency operator and I was trying to find a pulse. The operator was telling me what to do and I had to keep wiping my eyes because I couldn’t see what I was doing, and she kept saying, ‘they’re on their way, they’ll be there soon, just hang on.’

It seemed to take hours for the ambulance to arrive, and then there were problems with them trying to get her out of the ditch so that took a while.

Then she was taken straight into theatre.

By the time they let me see her it was almost four in the morning and she was in a coma. They knew the damage by then. Smashed kneecap, broken pelvis, broken arm and wrist, grazes, cuts, bruises, broken jaw, fractured skull, brain swelling.

But the baby – I couldn’t believe it – he’s all right. They say he’s fine.  Because she was hit from behind, all the injuries are on the back and right side of the body, or on her knees and hands as she fell, that’s what took all the impact. I thought for sure we’d lost the baby.

I rang my Mum, she was crying, I was crying. It was a good thing Leanne was at the house. First time ever she’s been useful, but it meant Dad could bring Mum to the hospital and leave Leanne to look after the children.

The three of us sat in the room with Cressida the last few hours of that first night, hoping she’d wake up. She didn’t. She still hasn’t. But we just keep hoping.

Please wake up, Cressida, I can’t do this without you.

Love Matt.

 

So I hope that’s served as a reminder for those of you wonderful people who’ve read the first two books, and if you haven’t read them, I do hope you’ll give me a try. Tune in next week for another episode!

Top Tips To Kickstart Your Muse

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If, like me, you sometimes sit and stare at a blank page for an hour or more without writing a thing then give up and go off to do something else, you might want to give some of these tips a try. I’ve tried them all and found them useful at one time or another. Some are fairly conventional ideas for productivity, others are just things I came up with that helped me.

  1. Listen to music

You might listen to your usual favourites, or I sometimes like to try something new that I haven’t listened to before or even play something I’m not too keen on to get the creativity flowing. Or maybe go for something you haven’t listened to for a very long time – songs that were out when you were a kid!

  1. Go for a walk

I know this is a commonly prescribed antidote to lack of creativity, but it does work. Go out in the pouring rain and release your inner savage, or go out and enjoy the wonders of nature, or walk along the city streets and visualise your gumshoe on the trail of a bad guy. Physical activity wakes up the body and gets the blood flowing to the brain. Even if you don’t come back from your walk full of ideas, at least you got away from your desk for a while and got some fresh air.

  1. Eavesdrop on other peoples’ conversations

This is a great way to pick up ideas and hear dialogue in action. It’s also a great way to get punched on the nose if you’re too obvious. Snatches of conversation half-heard and half-remembered can provide great what-if moments.

  1. Visit a gallery or museum

I once attended a workshop at a museum and we were encouraged to write short pieces about some of the exhibits. These included Neolithic artefacts and a Victorian christening gown. It was not only a great idea but a memorable experience. Go to an art gallery or a museum or country house with your trusty notebook. Take a look at what lies behind the glass and imagine the person who touched, created, discovered, used or found a particular item. People those empty halls with characters – what do they say to one another? Make sketches. Write descriptions. Take photos, or if that’s not allowed, buy a post card from the gift shop.

  1. Look through the images on Morguefile or Shutterstock or other image sites

See if anything intrigues you or inspires you to write a short story, a poem, a simple description or analyse your own feelings when you look at a picture. What does it make you think of and why? How do you feel?

  1. Do you collect anything? If not you, does someone close to you have a collection?

Spend some time writing about the first item in the collection and how it was acquired or obtained. What was the last item to join the collection? What would happen if someone stole your collection? How would that make you feel? How would you get it back? What would you do?

  1. Sit somewhere different to your usual writing spot

I usually write at my desk, but sometimes I like to go out to a café or pub and write, or I could write in a library. I could write outside if the weather is fine. In the past I have even sat in my son’s bedroom at his desk and written for hours. A change is as good as a rest we are told, and a new ‘venue’ can help to get things flowing. You could also try using a different notebook or computer, a different pen or write at a different time of day.

  1. Pick a story from your local newspaper

Write it in your own words; be an investigative journalist and try to think of a new outcome or a way of finding out more, or imagine you are interviewing someone featured in the newspaper, whether a sports’ personality or a victim of a crime.

  1. Go to the library

And have a rummage through the reference section or any section that interests you; poke through the periodicals and nosy at the noticeboard.

  1. Visit a graveyard

Wander around and read a few headstones. Look at the style of the gravestones. Try to imagine the people buried there, the lives they lived and how they died, picture their families and their homes and workplaces. Sit in the church or graveyard for a while and try to imagine who might have sat there before you. How did they feel?

  1. Meditate

A little relaxing meditation could release some stress and pent-up anxiety and enable you to refresh yourself mentally. Sit comfortably on the floor, with a notepad and pen in front of you, turned to a fresh page. Close your eyes. Spend a few minutes breathing deeply and slowly until you feel you could almost doze off to sleep. Then without thinking about what you are doing, take up your pen and begin writing – something, anything, just don’t try to analyse or make sense of any thoughts, but let the words pour out of your pen as if there was nothing between your brain and your notebook. Music or candles and incense sometimes help with this process.

Most of us have times when we can’t seem to write the way we want to, or maybe not at all. Don’t worry about it too much and allow yourself the freedom to know when you need to rest and when you need to try to help things along.

 

Image conscious

Study of A Portrait.

If you are planning on self-publishing, you have probably been told a zillion times to ensure your cover is fabulous! And if you want to stand out from the crowd, you’d better do your homework. So here are a few tips to help you out:

Check out the opposition. Take a look at what is selling well in your particular genre or subject – what do the covers look like? Are there ‘unwritten’ rules for the covers of your type of book? For example, cozy mysteries and romance tend towards pastel shades and bright covers, often with cartoon-style illustrations, whereas thrillers and crime tend to have dark images, often quite abstract – a view of a street, or a blurry person. Trees and snow are more favourites. Real life drama and experiences will likely have realistic-looking photographic cover images; classical fiction might go for something arty or a pattern. But if your book is about car engines, then you want something that says, ‘this is where to go for a good engine strip-down, this gal knows her stuff’, so you would probably go for a close-up of an engine, or a particular part. Non-fiction is usually a lot more geared towards the specifics. Fiction is often more about an idea than a ‘thing’. Either way, try to choose an image that will blend in and yet stand out.

How many times have people said ‘great book, but in the story Jeff had blond hair but the cover shows a dark-haired male.’ Sometimes these things are out of our control, but if you have the last say, make sure your cover is relevant and accurate to your story or text. If the action takes place in a block of flats, don’t show a cosy country cottage on the front. Your cover can often explain or hint at the story, so be careful not to include visual spoilers!

Clarity is everything. It’s no good having a fabulous image that doesn’t translate into black and white (for less sophisticated devices), or is indecipherable as a thumbnail. If people have to screw up their faces or borrow Great Aunt Aggie’s lorgnette to figure out what they’re looking at, they probably won’t bother to inquire any further with your book. It’s got to look good in the tiny! Likewise, if creating your own image, make sure it is of sufficient size and quality for the platform you have chosen to publish on – it’s no good having a pic that is an adorable thumbnail but goes wishy-washy and out of shape when ‘stretched’ to full book-size. This can be an issue especially for print-on-demand paperbacks. Also check that the file size is compatible too. You don’t want a cover with too much empty space around the outside, where the image is too small.

Lastly, I know it seems obvious, but I have actually seen published books out there in the world and available to the public, with a typo right there on the cover! So please do check, and if your spelling is terrible, maybe get someone else to check too, especially if you have a tagline or byline in addition to your title and author name. Ditto book blurb and ‘about the author’ sections on the back cover if publishing an actual book. It’s no good trying to establish yourself as the world’s leading authority on anything if you can’t ensure at least your cover is perfect. I once applied for a job saying I had great skills and attention to detial. Don’t do that!

It goes without saying you should never snatch an image and use it if it’s copyrighted unless you have permission. There are plenty of great sites where you can download royalty-free images, often free-to-use, so make sure you only use those kinds of images. Some images are only for single or private use and do not cover large-scale usage.

Now I need to work on some book covers, it’s no easy task to choose the right image, and so easy to get carried away looking at beautiful pictures. Thank you, photographers of the world for your amazing images!

Slang and Colloquial Speech

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So – slang. What is it? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary it is “informal nonstandard vocabulary”. In this post I take it to mean text that is riddled with idiomatic, nonstandard language signifying a specific regional or economic background.

Whilst it can add colour to your writing, it’s all too easy to overuse slang, and my advice is to use it sparingly. Rabbie Burns got away with it (or did he?) in his works, as did D H Lawrence and a host of others known for using nonstandard speech patterns to lend ‘flavour’ to their writing. You can quickly create a sense of an individual’s character by slipping in some slang or ‘specialised’ language.

But for the reader nothing is more exhausting than having to go back and reread a passage over and over again to try to find the sense of nonstandard text. Vernacular can make your writing dense and unclear as the reader struggles through a succession of unfamiliar words and phrases that disrupt the flow of your epic work. Also consider whether you are actually demeaning or weakening a character by introducing slang or colloquial speech into their dialogue. Do you want them to be seen as Cockney Number Two, a stock character, or as a realistic individual?

I fell foul of this myself when creating a character in my book Criss Cross, Mrs Hopkins aka Mrs H, a housekeeper/cook  is a Londoner of working class background. I piled lots of slang and colloquialisms into her speeches which not only was akin to throwing obstacles in the path of my readers, but also made my character appear foolish and a mere caricature, which was not appropriate as she was to become an important member of the ‘cast’ of my trilogy.

I queried it with Mrs H as soon as she presented me with the bill.

‘He found nothing?’

‘Nuffink at all, Mrs Powell, not so much as a sniff of a mouse or rat.  He were ‘ere a good hour hand a ‘arf.  Very furrow, I must say.’

Maybe that wasn’t too bad, a bit tricky though, but later:

‘That’s why I’m always ‘ere.  I don’t know ‘ow I fort we’d get away wiv it, but I just ‘oped …  I mean, you’ve got a lot of room up in the attic, and not much up there.  So when the bank repossessed our ‘ouse a month ago, we jus’ fort, I mean, we know it’s wrong, ‘course we do, but we were desperate.’

But she couldn’t go on talking like this and still be taken seriously as a fairly main character, so I had to ditch a lot of the slang later on. After all we don’t want her to sound like she’s just stepped out of the original film version of Mary Poppins, do we? By the way, no one apart from Dick Van Dyke talks about ‘plates of meat’ or ‘apples and pears’. Please, if you’re not cockney yourself, don’t try to make others that way. Leave it in the hands of the professionals.

In my mind, the slang and colloquial speeches of Mrs H – and later Mr H – reflected the way they themselves were viewed by my main character, and as her respect and affection for them grew, so their speech changed until the nonstandardness of their dialogue disappeared completely. In my mind! Sadly this ‘clever’ idea remained deeply entrenched in my mind. In the minds of my readers, however, it was just pointless, annoying and inconsistent. So I had to revise some of the worst examples whilst leaving a few little snippets in for flavour, without overwhelming the reader or turning every conversation between those characters into a lesson in deciphering some strange code.

And speaking of inconsistencies…next week I’m going to talk a little more about that very thing!

The Year Of Writing Dangerously – or my promise to me

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I think I stole this phrase from someone, it just came to me in a flash the other night as I was drifting off to sleep and I felt it encapsulated everything I’m feeling right now. Usually when that happens it’s my subconscious nabbing something I’ve heard or seen before and bringing it to the fore. (It’s  my character Ben Sherman all over again) So I apologise wholeheartedly if this is your phrase and I’ve nicked it. It just seems the perfect expression of my mood.
2014, as I’ve said a number of times, was a difficult year to love. Yes, there were highs but for me and probably everyone else as well, there were also some lows. As I look ahead to 2015 I feel that sense of excitement at the prospect of a clean, fresh New Year, and so I’ve made a few promises to myself; resolutions, if you will, as most of us do. As usual I’ve promised to lose weight and get fitter. I ended the year lighter/healthier than I began it so I’m starting from a position of strength! There are other things too, important to me but not to others.
Mostly, in the New Year, I plan to write my socks off. I’ve got a nice little collection of memes now. They say encouraging things such as ‘write like no one is watching’ and ‘only you can write your book’. So true.
But this year I want to write something else, I want to write something different. Mainly though, I just want to write. To achieve that, I can’t afford to waste time sitting around waiting for some fickle muse of creativity to smile on me, I’ve got to grab her by her coat front and force that smile from her. This year I’m going to be dangerous. You can too.

Time for a recap – and plan ahead

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It’s that time of year. TV is full of programmes that round up the highlights of their Best Of lists, counting down from 100, or 50 or 30 or 20, to the mythical eminence of the number one spot – ta-da – the winner, the best…

You probably know by now that like a lot of writers, I’m a bit of an introvert, and rather self-absorbed. I constantly reassess myself throughout the year, not just here, at the year’s-end. In fact I’m notorious, at home anyway, for overthinking everything.

This year I’ve benefitted hugely by the amount of information, how-tos and research that is available on the Internet, and it has helped me to do a number of things I couldn’t before, so thank you to everyone who shares and publishes their knowledge ‘out there’ in the ether. I’ve learned how to link social media bits together to avoid having to put the same content out there numerous times, I’ve learned how to develop my contacts and connections and build my platform (ongoing project though!). I’ve learned that when people say ‘Do what ever you want’ they really mean ‘Do whatever I tell you to do’. I’ve improved my cover-designing skills, found new resources, built my freelancing profile, (earned some actual money!) I’ve become more organised. I’ve achieved some goals. I’ve missed some by a mile. And one thing I’ve learned, especially in this last two months is that it’s okay to have fun, to stop striving and enjoy life. I’ve ‘met’ some wonderful people and had some great conversations.

I didn’t finish the first draft of the third book of my Posh Hits trilogy. I’m maybe halfway through – not really, I’m actually only about a third of the way through. It should have been written, revised, revised and revised by now. It should be ready for publication. But no. Am I stressed about it? Not any more. I was, a while back, when the harsh reality of stuffing up my schedule began to dawn on me, then I decided that publication dates are arbitrary and if it’s not ready, it’s just not ready. I never usually miss a deadline, so this one time I have given myself permission to do so, and I think, I fervently hope, it will be worth the wait. So that’s still on my to-do list and will be making an appearance a little later than scheduled, some time next year.

And because of that not being finished, other projects have got pushed back too. But again, I feel it’s all going to be okay. Better to put out a good product late than a shonky product on time, I feel. So Miss Burkett will probably miss her May-promised (but only to myself) deadline. But I know she will arrive at some point.

But I’ve kept my blog going, more or less adding new material at least once a week, which has been a major leap forward for me, and one I hope to continue in the New Year. And on Facebook, my Monday Haiku has been going out weekly pretty well for a couple of months now, again, a new more disciplined approach for me.

Next year, Check Mate will, God willing, finally be out, as will the first of my Miss Burkett cosy mysteries. I also hope to publish a novel, Easy Living, which is something of a paranormal-type-kind-of mystery. There may also be another novel, as yet undecided. 2014 has been a year of drafting and consolidation. I believe 2015 will be a year of fruitfulness and fulfillment. I hope to continue the blog, the Haiku, to go on and on and on about books and cats and chocolate and deadlines.

So as this year closes, I want to remember the good days, and say goodbye to the bad, heaving a sigh of relief at the advent of a New Year, with new hopes, a new plan of action, fresh ideas and projects, and to say a huge Thank You to all those wonderful people who have followed this blog, tolerated my rants and self-absorption, encouraged and fed my desire to write, and shared their wonderful gifts of writing, painting and friendship with me. Thanks, folks. Have a good one. See you on the other side.

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Reflecting, or, The Fog, a 21st century melodrama

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I’m always going on about nature and how it makes me reflect on life in general and my writing in particular. Outside my window is a foggy scene. We’ve had a very mild autumn here in Derby, England, and unusually for us here on our little hill, a lot of rain. Only a few months ago I was exchanging emails with an acquaintance in Jamaica and we were both lamenting the dry weather – cracked ground, plants dying. Of course everything is much more acute there than here, but I was concerned by how little water we had. In fact ever since we came back from Australia I’ve been kind of obsessed with rainfall.

But now we have had so much rain – it has rained almost every day for the last three weeks, or that’s how it seems to me. But the warm earth has been met every night by the cool air, and we have had thick fog from the onset of darkness until dawn, when it magically disperses. But not today. As I write this at midday, it is finally beginning to lift, but still through the houses I can see the silvery pockets that surround bare-limbed trees. The countryside resembles a book cover for a paranormal or horror story!

It’s just like my writing at the moment. I have times when my way is clear and I rush ahead, writing and writing, with a sense of purpose, knowing where I am going, then the mental fog descends and I am lost, baffled and everything seems unfamiliar and cold. I have my sparkly new story board, so I know where the story is supposed to be going, but how do I get there? I used to think writer’s block was when you sit at your desk and weep as the ideas fail to present themselves. But now I know it’s more like sitting at your desk and thinking, this must have been written by someone else, it means nothing to me.

Should stories always have a message?

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Before I really sat down and thought about this question, I would have said, without hesitation, NO! I did not believe stories always had to have a message. In fact, to go a little further, I would have said I detested stories that have a message.

That is a hangover from my childhood, when it wasn’t enough for stories to be fun or interesting, they also had to be ‘improving’ – and how I hated improvement being forced upon me! Even now I shy away from anything that overtly seeks to make me a better person.

But.

Having said all that, I have been thinking about this topic and trying to set aside my own prejudices, and I have come to a startling conclusion. I have decided the answer to this question is actually – YES! A story should always have a message. Wow! I’ve done a complete u-turn on this!

Because you see, I know (I have been told by others and have also read it and believe it to be true) it is easier to write a book based on a premise. It gives you something to aim for, a goal to reach. That also means your plot events, and your characters have to either approve/support/aid your premise, or they have to disapprove/hinder/fight against your premise. So your premise underpins and informs every aspect of the story.

And if that happens – well, it seems to me you’ve got a message.

But for me it will still be a question of subtlety. I don’t want to read – or write – a book that lectures me upon morality – I have my moral standards, thank you very much. So I think a message doesn’t have to be large in scale and scope, it can be simple, humble or small. It doesn’t have to be intellectual or highbrow or literary. It can be as straightforward as ‘the harder we try the worse we make things’. (Maybe suited to a comedy?)

If by ‘having a message’ we can also mean making someone think, or poking a little fun at the basically ludicrous reality of everyday life on this strange planet we call home, then yes, I’m all for a message. In fact I’d go a step further and say I’ve done it myself. When I set out to write my Posh Hits Trilogy, I wanted to create a character who thinks she’s a good person, who everyone else thinks is a good person – but deep down inside she is, of course, a monster.

So I guess what I’m saying is, yes by all means have a message, but the success in getting it across depends on how you do it.

Take Time Out

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Malcolm showing how it's done!

We often feel we have to accomplish as much as possible within the span of each day. Sometimes it is our self-esteem that demands that we are ‘achievers’. However, life is not just about work, not merely concerned with achievements. Life should be enjoyable, should even be – dare I say it – fun! Don’t rush headlong towards a nervous breakdown, stop and sit for a while. I often have to remind myself it’s okay to do nothing now and again. Partly it’s my upbringing that says every moment of the day should be productive and useful, and partly it’s the fact that I work from home for a relatively low income and feel a need to demonstrate that I am working as hard as I can, and partly it’s my own character – I’m not naturally one of those people who can just chillax whenever and wherever. And I know some of you out there are the same, admit it!

But our busy lifestyles mean we so often find ourselves lurching from one task to the next, checking them off on our mental to-do list, and feeling that we must keep accomplishing tasks or we have failed. Not so.

It’s okay to take time out, to veg, to just be. Quite often, even when we think we are relaxing, we are still trying to make ‘good use’ of our time by working on some task – completing sudoku or crosswords, reading a book, or even playing a game on our computer.  So rarely do we actually do nothing. But in fact, time spent day-dreaming, listening to the sounds of nature from outside – or the sounds of traffic if nature is far away – and just letting our thoughts drift, this is all time well-spent. We need to rest, not just our bodies but also our minds. and if we allow ourselves that period of rest, we often find that our minds are sharper, our thoughts clearer, and little niggling things we have been working on suddenly seem easy or we can now see the action we need to take. Our brains have time to catch up with the mental filing from all the information we have been absorbing as we go about the routine of our lives.

So – give yourself permission to bunk off and do absolutely nothing for ten minutes twice a day, and see your stress levels plummet, your self-esteem and positive energy sky-rocket, and your creativity will be fresh and maybe take you off in a whole new and exciting direction. It could turn out that the twenty minutes a day you spend doing nothing become the twenty most productive minutes of your day.