It’s Been Awhile

I was surprised to see, on logging in to WordPress, that it has been over a year since I posted anything. How incredibly slack of me!

It has been a busy year which has involved lots of writing, plotting, planning and beginning the third book. But that’s no excuse. I must try harder.

And so (one of) my New Years resolutions for 2016 will be to try a bit harder with regard to social media.

Happy New Year everybody. May 2016 bless you with happiness, love and joy xx

 

Publication Day

I cannot help but feel that it is apt that a book with ‘shadows’ in the title is published on Halloween. Originally intended for publication in January 2015, my second book – To the Edge of Shadows – is released today at a time when the veil between worlds is purportedly thinner and the souls of our ancestors may happen to cross over for a visit. A little bit of synchronicity there perhaps.

To the Edge of Shadows was originally titled Union of the Senses, in reference to the main character Sarah having a form of synaesthesia as a result of the car crash that kills her family. However, it was felt that this sub-plot was a distraction from the main storyline and so it was painstakingly removed. An action which resulted in a change of title ( I won’t say how long it took for me to stop thinking of the book as ‘Union’ but needless to say it was quite a while). The end result is more streamlined and the title, I believe, more enticing than the previous version.

It is a somewhat nervous time for me. Having had such lovely responses to Lacey’s House there is no small amount of trepidation surrounding the release of Shadows. While there are similarities between the two novels – both are dual narrative with strong female main characters – the genre itself is different with elements of mystery and suspense and I have a suspicion that To the Edge of Shadows is much more likely to divide opinion. I would even go so far as to say it may prove to be a bit of a ‘Marmite’ book in that people may either love it or hate it. I guess that time will tell whether that will prove to be true. My main hope is simply that people enjoy the read.

Now on to book number three, provisionally titled, ‘Words From the Water’ – though that could change at any time!

My 100th Amazon Review

I was absolutely thrilled today to receive my 100th Amazon review for Lacey’s House (and not only because 100 reviews makes it easier to work out the percentages!).

So far, Lacey’s House has 68 5 Star reviews, 30 4 Star reviews, 1 3 Star review and 1 1 Star review. I am immensely grateful to everyone who has taken the time to share their thoughts with other readers. Reviews are invaluable for writers, not only because they help other readers to see if the book is for them, but also because positive feedback and constructive criticism can really help to shape future books. I am also enormously reassured and pleased that of all of my reviews, 98% of them are 4 or 5 Star.

My 100th review, from L.H.Healy, is one of my favourites. I felt really moved to read it and am enormously grateful to the reviewer for taking the time to write such a long and lovely review of my book.

It is a 5 Star review and this is what was written.

“Sometimes one way I can see how much I loved a book is by how many sentences or paragraphs I tab with little sticky notes to come back to and think about again once I’ve finished. There were a lot of places I marked in this book. There were parts of the prose that resonated with me, that moved me, and parts where the use of language particularly appealed to me. In summary, I thought this was a very special book.

Rachel Moore has suffered a sad loss and moves from Birmingham to the countryside, to get away and start afresh. She is a solitary soul, having grown up in care, though having a brief period with some loving foster parents. She meets Lacey Carmichael, the older lady living next door. Lacey is another isolated soul, teased by the local children, labeled as the mad woman down the road, she is misunderstood and lonely. Then she is accused of a terrible crime.

A connection forms between them, and they begin to trust each other, and to share painful things with each other that they have never told anyone else. They’ve both experienced such sadness and from sharing their secrets a friendship blossoms despite the difference in their ages. The development of this friendship between Rachel and Lacey over the course of the book is wonderful and fascinating to observe. As time passes, Rachel thinks about how she feels about Lacey: ‘I found that I cared for her very deeply, that her vulnerability had somehow pulled me closer and I carried her words, her story, like a heavy cloak about my shoulders.’ Rachel attempts to express the pain and sorrow in Lacey’s past through her artwork.

‘Her memories came home with me. Walking straight into my studio, I mixed them with acrylics; different shades of blue and deep, swirling turquoise that I threw at the huge canvas as I painted her sorrow, a raging, tumultuous thing that, when I was finished, left me breathless and empty.’

The chapters alternate between the two of them, Rachel’s in the first person and Lacey’s in the third, and the story progressed and worked really well written in this way.

Rachel likes and trusts Lacey, but doesn’t yet know the whole truth; she, and the reader, are kept in suspense. Rachel fears that in the future she too might experience the depths of isolation that Lacey has;

‘In fifty years time would it be me standing where Lacey was, with the past eating into me from the inside? I recoiled from the idea of experiencing for myself the stark loneliness that had been so apparent in Lacey’s eyes.’

Joanne Graham writes with immense insight, empathy, warmth and poignancy about these women’s lives and pasts, and writes sensitively and honestly about themes of mental health, loneliness and loss of a child, about damaging things that happen in people’s lives which they are scarred by and understandably spend much time and energy grappling with. I felt emotional as I read, I was angry at the cruelty in Lacey’s past, at what people could get away with. So much of a person’s past can be hidden away, unknown, unvoiced. I empathised with and liked both Rachel and Lacey, and they both felt very real to me as I was reading. As Lacey thinks to herself, ‘How sad for them both that they had to grow up without loving families.’ As well as creating engaging, rounded characters, the author tells a powerful story.

For me, Lacey’s House is a wonderful, incredibly moving and very special story of female friendship across generations. It has stayed in my mind since reading it and it made me think. Beautifully, sensitively written, perceptive and touching, I think it was a very worthy recipient of the Luke Bitmead Bursary, a superb debut novel and I’d say it’s one of my reading highlights of the year so far.”

Thank you L.H.Healy…you’re fab.

And so it begins…

Last week my publishers, the wonderful Legend Press, announced the acquisition of my second book, To the Edge of Shadows. Due to be published on October 31st 2014, To the Edge of Shadows is a story of grief, obsession and secrets, as two young women pick their way through the debris of their shattered lives. A cross genre novel that follows the life of Sarah Phillips, as she recovers from a horrific car crash that kills her family, and that of Ellie Wilson, as she tries to move on from childhood neglect and abuse.

This is an exciting time for me as I wait to approve blurbs and cover designs and I once more begin the lengthy process of a 300 (ish) page line edit. But it is also a time that is more than a little nerve wracking. I remember being at the same stage with Lacey’s House. It was my debut and therefore everything was unknown. I didn’t know how the book was going to be received, had no concept of what it was to sign my name on the inside cover, or give a talk about my inspirations. I was a complete newbie in every way imaginable and no doubt that showed.

This time around it is true that I have more of an idea of the processes involved. I am not looking forward to the necessary cut and slash of the editing process, I am less nervous about the book launch itself, I cannot wait to hold the published book in my hands and see it in reality for the first time.

And yet in spite of my knowledge and awareness of what the next few months will involve, I am no less nervous than I was in May last year as the launch for Lacey’s House approached. I feel a little like a mother sending her youngest child off to school on the bus alone for the first time – what if no one likes them, what if the people aren’t as nice, what if they end up floundering alone in a corner?

Of course, Lauren Parsons, commissioning editor at Legend Press, would never have signed To the Edge of Shadows if she thought any of the above were a possibility and that thought helps me to appease my little moments of angst. Hopefully the new book will be as well received as Lacey’s House, hopefully the story will capture my readers imaginations and hearts just as it did for me when I wrote it and, even more hopefully, perhaps a year from now I will be in the same position with my third book and wondering to myself, “Does this EVER get any easier!”

Born To Write?

I recently read an article on the BBC website entitled, “PD James’s 10 tips for writing novels” and number one on the list was “you must be born to write.” I thought about this on and off for a few days. Surely this is a little fatalistic for those struggling to write the masterpiece they carry in their heads, perhaps this one point could be so off-putting for many writers – either would-be or actual – that they would feel, on reading it, that they were finished before they’d even begun…

And then I realised, that was the exact point. I was reminded of something Sir Ken Robinson once said (if you’ve not heard of him, look up his talks on the TED website, or his book ‘The Element’ on Amazon), which I will paraphrase here. He was talking to a pianist after a performance and Sir Ken said to him, “I would give anything to play like you.” To which the pianist replied, “If that were the case, then you already would be playing like me.” And therein lies the crux of the matter.

It is not just about talent, or learning how to effectively use words in order to paint a picture or convey emotion with them. Being a writer is not simply about having a good idea for a story and getting it down on paper. It is about the motivation to do the work, the drive to get that story out. It is what keeps me at my computer for a fourteen hour stretch despite my body screaming at me to sleep. And this is not only true of writing. It is true of any career that we are driven to do, that we feel in our hearts is what we are born to do.

The pianist speaking to Sir Ken was not being off-hand, he was simply stating a fact. If any one of us would genuinely give anything to achieve one thing, then we would already be on that path, because when we do the work that we feel born to do, the motivation is there to achieve, or to begin to achieve it.

When I was a little girl, I was always writing stories and terrible poetry on little scraps of paper, I had notebooks of childlike scrawl that made perfect sense to me. I was given a typewriter for my eleventh birthday, which I used to begin writing my first book. Throughout my life, writing in one form or another has been present – a constant thread that came along with me as I grew up. And even when there were other things going on in my life such as studying, work and children, somewhere I would squeeze in writing time.

While writing Lacey’s House, I frequently put in twenty hour days, finishing my day job before coming home to write until I was too tired to continue. When we are doing our hearts work, it is easy (though often exhausting) to find that motivation. Six hours in my day job seems far longer than fourteen hours at my computer. And this, I believe, is what PD James meant when she said “you must be born to write.”

We all have something that makes our heart sing, something we love to do, are driven to do above all other things. When we find what that thing is, we owe it to ourselves to give it our best shot. I was born to write, what were you born to do?

The Tao of Joey Essex

TAOISM: a philosophical system evolved by Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu, especially its advocacy of a simple and natural life and of non-interference with the course of natural events in order to have a happy existence in harmony with the Tao

TAO: the dynamic principle of life by which all things happen or exist.

I spent some of last night, when I should have been editing my second book (the title of which is currently a work in progress), watching I’m a celebrity Get Me Out of Here. It is a somewhat guilty pleasure for me as I rarely watch TV but my excuse is that I found myself sucked into it when my children began watching the new series and what can I say…I am firmly Team Joey!

Now I have never watched The Only Way is Essex, I don’t read tabloid newspapers and I’m not one for celebrity gossip so my knowledge of Joey Essex came from two sources – his appearances on Celebrity Juice (one of the other rare occasions I watch TV) and my daughter’s occasional stating of the fact that “he’s so pretty!” – it is fair to say that I knew very little about him.

After watching Joey in the jungle for the last few evenings I realised that he reminds me, in a weird way, of Winnie the Pooh. Years ago, Benjamin Hoff wrote a lovely little book called The Tao of Pooh. He had observed that the principles of Taoism were very close to the principles of a certain little bear who lived in the Hundred Acre Woods.

“While Eeyore frets… and Piglet hesitates…and Rabbit calculates…and Owl pontificates…

…Pooh just is”

And this is true, too, of Joey Essex…he simply is. He states the obvious, he has no guile, he is unashamed of the things he doesn’t know, he smiles a lot and looks a little baffled at life and in a rather lovely way he appears to have absolutely no malice in him. Rather a lot like Winnie the Pooh and really, how many other people could claim to not know how to blow their nose as they never learned to do it professionally…with a straight face?

It is because of all of these things that I am cheering on Team Joey to take the jungle crown…he’s a little ray of sunshine…and now on with the more high brow business of editing!