Finding My Voice…

If a psychic had predicted five years ago that I would one day stand up – on my own – at a very elegant literary lunch and speak for almost an hour in front of seventy-five actual, human people, I’d have said polish your crystal ball a bit more vigorously, love. Never. Going. To. Happen.

And yet it is the very and exact thing I did yesterday. Without alcohol. Without my notes, which were abandoned after a few minutes. Without any visual aids. Without passing out from my heart feeling like it had been squashed between two bricks.

I can’t lie and say it was easy. I can’t lie and say I want to rush out and do it again any time soon. But I can say that when I got home afterwards I was rather proud.

People do often say to me, ‘But you’re such a chatterbox. How can you be shy? How can you be afraid of speaking in public?’

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When I went for an interview with Audible I had no idea they would also film it and then share an extract. I may have been sick afterwards.

Afraid is an understatement. Until recently I would have rather gone into a cage of hungry lions while coated in antelope blood and with a sign around my neck saying EAT ME. And even now the lions sound like the slightly better option…

We often assume that the smiley, chatty people are the confident ones. That they couldn’t possibly be shy. Or insecure. Or introverted sometimes. But I think they are the very people who need to be so friendly to put everyone at ease, to mask their nerves, and to try and make the world a more pleasant place so they can cope with that shyness. I don’t want anyone to feel as anxious as I do sometimes, so I go in full smile.

It’s easy talking in the company of those you know. Speaking in front of an audience is an entirely different thing. I knew I’d have to do it at some point when I got my book deal three years ago. The thought of it woke me at night in a cold, dread-filled sweat.

I thought that even if I could manage to do it – fuelled by alcohol or drugs of some sort – the audience would just think I was an idiot. Boring. Incompetent. Stupid. Gormless. Tiresome. You pick the word, I’ve thought it.

No one with half a brain would want to listen to me yacking on.

I grew up in a house that didn’t listen. My parents were both absent for varying lengths of time/reasons, and when they were around things were chaotic. When I started writing stories aged nine I now know it was a way to speak, ever so quietly and privately, so I could cope with having come home from school to a social worker who took my siblings and I away to live with my grandma, for a full year, no explanation. I found out when I was fifteen that my mother had attempted suicide and been in a mental hospital for that time.

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A very shy kid. Still am. Really. I just talk a hell of a lot more now.

Everyone shushed me as a kid. My mother. My father. My mother’s boyfriend.

Me (aged fourteen): I think I might be depressed. It’s worse than being just sad.

My mother: Don’t ever come and say the word depressed to me again. Ever. You have no idea what the word even means. No idea at all.

SILENCE.

When I was shushed up, I wrote instead. The page listened to me.

I found my voice a bit when I was in my final years of school. I spent half of my time sitting outside the classroom on the stairs for talking too much. I got expelled from sixth form for messing around.

A year later I started three A levels at college: English Language, English Literature, and Theatre Studies. In the first Theatre Studies lesson we had to stand up and talk for two minutes. I couldn’t do it. I sat down, mortified, blushing, and totally embarrassed. Stupidly, I’d thought the course would just involve studying plays, not actually having to perform in any way. I dropped that A level the very next day.

I got pregnant at college so thank God I didn’t have to attempt to stammer my way through any sort of university experience.

Then I didn’t have to think about any sort of public speaking for a long, long time.

Thirty-three years after I first started writing, the dream came true. My first novel was published in 2015. And this meant book launches and festival panels and interviews. Book launches are sort of okay because you’re usually chatting with someone, not alone on some stage, and there’s always alcohol. Panels are also sort of okay because you’re with other, possibly equally nervous, writers.

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I don’t mind panels – especially the Orenda Roadshow – when I’m with other writers. That feels quite… safe.

Being a part of Women of Words in Hull – a monthly open mic event – has helped me find my speaking voice in ways I’ll never forget. At a workshop we had to stand alone on a stage and look at the line on the paper and then look up and say it. Not read it. Say it. Looking directly at the audience. Slowly. We were told not to be afraid of pauses. That a connected audience will wait for that duration.

I suppose it was the pauses I was afraid of. That silence. That moment when the eyes in front of me cloud over with boredom. When someone gets up to leave. Laughs at me. Frowns.

When I think to myself – shhhhhh.

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The absolute most terrifying place to be. Don’t let the smile fool you.

I did a short talk at Hull University last year for International Women’s Day, about a woman who had inspired me: Marilyn Monroe. I tried to use what I had learned at the workshop. It helped that it was a small room. That this was a topic I thought might interest people. A person I myself felt passionate about.

Still, I dreaded someone saying shhhhhh.

Then a few months ago I was asked to go and talk at a literary lunch in my area. I was so anxious I literally typed the email saying no. I came very very close to sending it. But my lovely husband told me off. He said they must be interested or they wouldn’t have asked me. Plus there was a free lunch. He always knows the right thing to say.

When I left the house last Friday I hadn’t slept a wink. I dreamt that Deirdre Barlow and I were sharing the stage at some pub, and she kept force-feeding me sausages so I would choke.

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Lots of kind people on social media had told me to be myself, to which I’d joked that that would mean going in my dressing gown, with huge hair, and saying ‘for fuck’s sake’ every other minute. But I had seriously thought that being myself was the very thing that would put them off. Yet who the frig else could I be? Deirdre Barlow? It wasn’t an entirely bad idea…

When I arrived at the venue, there was a large, beautiful room off the bar, all set up for a wedding. I commented on it, and the barman said it was for the lunch that was happening. I thought I would pass out. I had anticipated one large table with maybe fifteen people sitting around it. This was set up for about eighty. Maybe they wouldn’t all come…

Oh, they did. Seventy-five of them.

When I got up and stood all on my absolute own in front of them, seventy-five pairs of eyes looked expectantly my way. I don’t have words to describe how terrifying it was. The advice is to picture them naked. Didn’t help. The advice is use positive visualisation. All I could see was Deirdre Barlow. The advice is to be yourself.

So I started out by saying exactly that. That people had suggested I be myself, but that if I’d done that I’d have been standing here in my red dressing gown with hair like Billy Idol. They laughed. Everything in the room changed. They seemed to relax. So I did. I had written some bullet points but I didn’t even look at them. I simply talked about the writing journey, from being nine and my mum disappearing for a year, to being a young single mum, to my book deal. At times it was emotional. Because it came from a real place.

So I did it.

I did it.

And no one said shhhhhh.

 

 

An Interview With Sid Spencer – Without Consent Blog Tour

Without Consent by Sid Spencer is a short memoir about Sid’s childhood in the 1970s and 1980s. It tells of his time with his birth family, three foster families, and then at a boarding school. It’s an honest and brutal account of the systematic abuse that he endured for four years. The book describes Sid reporting this to the police thirty-five years later, and the two trials and then successful conviction of his abuser.

25% of all sales will be donated to Survivors UK 

https://www.survivorsuk.org/

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I wanted to chat to Sid, and find out more about what led to him writing the book, and his journey to recovery.

Sid, I think you were incredibly brave to write Without Consent, and I found it very moving. I wonder, was there an exact moment when you realised you had to write it?

Thank you. After the successful conviction I felt so different, so at peace and so strong that I wanted a way to try and tell others, to tell other survivors that you can secure a successful conviction. There are so many cases that sadly don’t get that or indeed even make it to court. I wanted to share my story to show that, although it is a very traumatic thing to go through, that it is also very empowering.

Did writing it help you cope with what had happened to you? As a writer myself, I find that writing things down helps me make sense of them. Deal with them. Did that happen to you?

My writing and my art is my therapy really. It helps me to unload, to dissect and make sense of my feelings. I truly now feel that I am the person I should have been before I was raped and that is as much to do with writing the book as it is the trial and outcome. It also reminded me of how dreadful and unacceptable it was. I think because it happened for such a long period and no one did anything about it that I might have forgotten just how bad it was. As I wrote it and I saw it through the eyes of the adult I am now, the father that I am now, and that reminded me of how severe it was.

I totally understand how being a parent makes you realise how terrible some of the things that happened to us really are. With all the #TimesUp and #MeToo things going on, it does feel like more people are feeling empowered to come forward. Do you think books like yours might help with that? Is that what you hoped the book might achieve?

I very much hope my book will help others to come forward. In the feedbacks that I have received, many of them have disclosed abuse that they endured as a child and they have mentioned how it has helped them to read someone else’s story. Us survivors need to shine our light now, shine it so brightly that these monsters can no longer hide in the dark and prey on our kids.

I agree – one voice often leads to many. You mentioned in your book forgiveness being the only key to moving on. I really agree with you on this. Did it take you a long time to get there?

The forgiveness thing was very difficult for me. It took me a while to get there. At first there was quite a bit of well-intentioned pressure or urging from those that love me to forgive so that I could heal but for a long period after the trial my emotions were too raw, the memories all too fresh again.

But about a year ago, while writing a part of the book, it dawned on me that I had moved on and I was able to give a degree of forgiveness towards my abuser. It wasn’t so much a conscious decision, more of a realisation.

Being a dad now, and having a partner, must make you so proud. Do you think one day your children will read the book? Do you want them to?

Both our kids come from abusive backgrounds, they have both experienced traumatic childhoods before they came to us. They are aware of the book and they know they can’t read it.

I have explained that it is about a difficult part of my childhood and they know I grew up in the care system too. I think that when they are adults, if they want to read it, then that can only be a positive thing.

I imagine one day they will read it. What advice would you give to anyone else who has been abused?

Firstly, I would tell them that it wasn’t their fault – it’s a powerful thing to hear someone tell you that when you have carried it around for a long time. I would also say what so many of us need to hear and that is that I am sorry that you experienced that.

I would encourage them to come out and tell their story, but I would also make sure they were aware of what a difficult journey it is.

One of the things that I became aware of very quickly was the need for emotional support. The police were great at catching him, interviewing him and all throughout the trial, but not so good with supporting me emotionally. At the end of the trial they just walked away on to the next case and I was left with all these emotions. I was feeling euphoric but also vulnerable because I had relived it all in such detail. So, get emotional support from a specialised organisation because it is a really fast rollercoaster ride that you are about to step on to.

What are your hopes for the future?

To continue to raise awareness of CSA, to work with other survivors.

I am also currently turning the book into a screen play, so who knows? It may be on a small screen near you soon.

Oh, and to write more books. Fiction next time.

Fiction is exciting, trust me! What kinds of books do you like to read?

I’m nosy – I like to know what makes people tick so autobiographies are my favourite, but I do also enjoy a good thriller. It isn’t rare for me to have two books on the go at the same time. I’m currently reading I See You by Clare Mackintosh and Unaccompanied Minor by Alexander Newly, so fiction and an autobiography, depending on my mood.

Is there anything else you would to share about your journey?

I would like to say thank you to everyone that has and will read my little story, I hope you enjoy it and see that it is a positive story. I hope it continues to help others to come forward so that we can all make this world safer for our kids.

My life now is exciting, new opportunities come my way almost weekly and I am meeting some fantastic people, survivors, counsellors and those that run the great support agencies that are out there. But more importantly than that is that I am learning about the little boy that I was, what he likes, what his talents and strengths are, and I have to say, I am incredibly proud of him.

You can order the book here – Without Consent

 

 

Candles, Egg Whisks, and Imagination – a chat with John Marrs

Welcome to my website, John, and to your official publication day of The Good Samaritan, which I loved, as my review here describes.

And here’s the blurb…

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She’s a friendly voice on the phone. But can you trust her?
The people who call End of the Line need hope. They need reassurance that life is worth living. But some are unlucky enough to get through to Laura. Laura doesn’t want them to hope. She wants them to die.
Laura hasn’t had it easy: she’s survived sickness and a difficult marriage only to find herself heading for forty, unsettled and angry. She doesn’t love talking to people worse off than she is. She craves it.
But now someone’s on to her—Ryan, whose world falls apart when his pregnant wife ends her life, hand in hand with a stranger. Who was this man, and why did they choose to die together?
The sinister truth is within Ryan’s grasp, but he has no idea of the desperate lengths Laura will go to…
Because the best thing about being a Good Samaritan is that you can get away with murder.

The-Good-Samaritan-1200-x-1200-2So, a book blurb tells a reader loosely what to expect, and word of mouth and reviews add to that, but for you what is The Good Samaritan about? What was the story in your head when you started writing it, and did you end up with the story you intended when you were done?

Well, Samaritan first came to me after meeting a friend’s new partner. He worked part-time manning the phones for the Samaritans a few nights a month. He explained to us what this role entailed and how he had heard people commit suicide while they were on the phone to him. I was shocked by this, I knew the Samaritans were there to listen, not to judge or interfere, but I wondered how I would cope listening to something like that and not be able to do a thing to prevent it or to try and talk them out of it. I thought it might make an interesting subject for a novel, so I got to writing about a (non-Samaritans) helpline woman called Laura who falls in love with a suicidal man who calls her regularly. One night, he kills himself while talking to her, and she’s horrified. However, later, she wants to find out more about him and starts looking into the life he had. And to be honest Louise, this is where I became bored with the story. Suddenly it came to me, how much more interesting would it be if Laura was actually encouraging certain vulnerable people to whom she spoke to end their lives? It was at this point, the entire plot flipped on its head and I started the novel from scratch. The more I wrote, the darker it became. At one point through the book, Laura is trying to encourage a new ‘candidate’ Ryan to end his life, but that becomes her undoing. Because Ryan knows who she is and what she does as she helped his pregnant wife end her life. Thus begins a cat and mouse game between them. For me the book is about loss and how different people can deal with it in different ways. Suicide is never going to be an easy subject to base a book on and has proved quite divisive. But I try and deal with it by showing both sides of the argument – what it’s like for someone who feels like they have no choice but to end their life and how the people they leave behind try and pick up the pieces. My heart goes out to everyone who has been affected by it.

This is the most interesting aspect of writing to me – how a story changes and evolves and mostly becomes the thing it never even started as. I hear you on the Samaritans and suicide fascination. I was a volunteer and it was the most harrowing thing I’ve ever done. My mother attempted suicide when I was a nine – a very serious attempt where she went to a deserted place with all her pills and vodka. She’s only alive today because a homeless guy found her. So I think this has shaped my interest in life/death/survival. Which brings me nicely back to your Laura. My daughter Katy loves the line about her obsession with final breaths. You’re never afraid to go really dark, so to speak. Does it excite you to take risks with your work? I guess this could be classed as a risky book with the subject matter, but you handle it really well. And like The One, I think it’ll get a lot of discussion going. Do you like that?

Thanks, and I’m sorry to hear about the pain your mum must have gone through, and as a knock-on effect, your family too. Naively, I didn’t think The Good Samaritan would create the fuss it did. Reviews have either adored it or hated it because of the subject matter alone. But I didn’t set out to write a divisive story; I just wanted to write a book on a subject that interested me. And while it excites me to take risks, I don’t think writing Samaritan excited me at all. It just drained me. It was the first-time characters I’d created seeped into my non-writing world. I was mentally exhausted after finishing it and I decided I didn’t want to inhabit characters like that again for a while. I wrote that book from a first-person viewpoint, and for my next I switched to third person because I needed to disassociate myself from the bleakness for a while. And please thank Katy for me! As for provoking discussion, if it does, I’m won’t be reading it. I have long given up reading reviews and comments about my novels.

My office
John’s super-tidy desk… and of course candle…

I know you love candles when you write, so what’s your favourite candle scent?

Either pomegranate or sandalwood. Or if I’m having a particularly dark writing day, patchouli. 

Which is your favourite Imagination song from the 1980s?

Funny you ask. I was a reporter at the Chronicle & Echo in Northampton back in 1994 when I had to interview Ashley Ingram, the band’s bassist as he too was from Northampton. I returned to the office when I was asked by my colleague how it went. ‘I didn’t like him,’ I said. ‘I thought that he was up his own backside because of the success of Des’ree’s You Gotta Be song, which he co-wrote.’ ‘Have you met his little sister?’ my colleague replied. Sitting next to him was a stonyfaced school girl on work experience who it turned out was, indeed, Ashley’s sister. What were the chances of that? Oh, and I choose Just An Illusion.  

Laughing evilly here at the Ashley Ingram thing. I ALWAYS end up expressing my (ill-advised) opinion at the most inappropriate time…

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Such an adorable face. (The dog.)

I think all our books can be mentally exhausting, can’t they? I really do live mine. Like when people say, ‘oh, I could write a book,’ like it’s something you do in an easy flash. Yeah, right. Interesting about the first-person aspect. I too love this POV but it can drain you. Does the voice come to you as soon as the story does? In that, I mean do you know immediately who will tell the story in your novels, and how? The POV can make or break a novel, I think. How different Laura would have been in third person! I guess you don’t miss her? What do you reckon she’s doing right now? 

I’ve read two of your books and will start my third soon but it’s obvious that you put your heart and soul into them and leave a chunk of yourself in there. So yes, I completely believe you when you say that you live your characters.

Thank you for your kind words – I think the only concern when we ‘lose a chunk of ourselves’ each time is what about when there’s nothing left?

I also hear ‘oh I could write a book, I just don’t have the time or the patience’ as that is all it takes. I know writing a novel isn’t like brain surgery or working down a coalmine – I mean, I’m sitting here in my office, listening to Post Malone on Apple Music with the heating turned up switching between writing a chapter and writing to you – but it takes a lot of bloody effort to tell a story and to then promote it and make people aware of it. But I digress. In answer to your question, sometimes the voice comes to me immediately, on other occasions, the voice will begin one way and end up completely different by the time I’m done. It’s often the supporting characters whose voices I know from the start. The main players take me a little longer. Do I miss Laura? Not at all. People keep asking me if I will bring her back for a sequel. There are no plans to, but who knows? If I get a good enough idea, I might revisit her. I think right now, she is planning to get revenge on…. Actually, I can’t tell you that otherwise I’d give away the ending.

Scorpios are meant to be dark, evil bastards. Do you agree or is it all just witchcraft and sorcery?

Star signs and horoscopes are rubbish, in my humble opinion. I worked for a magazine once where they repeated a whole year’s worth of horoscopes the following year because they couldn’t afford to renew the astrologer’s contract. Not one reader noticed or complained.

I agree about newspaper horoscopes. They are porn to the erotica of a carefully-calculated birth chart.

Can I turn the tables and ask you a question? You can bring back to life David Bowie (in his 1970s period); Michael Jackson (1980s period); George Michael (1990s period) or Amy Winehouse (2000s period) – which one do you choose and why?

Good question. I had to think about this one. For me, it’s a toss-up between Michael Jackson and George Michael. I saw Michael Jackson in 1988, my first big concert, and was quite literally speechless. But then George Michael during the 90s… it felt like he sang the anthems to my experiences at times. And such a sweet, troubled, and gifted soul. So I have to say him, if only so he can write the theme song for my next novel, The Lion Tamer Who Lost. How about you?

If you went to see Jacko in 1988 in Leeds, then I was there too! £25 for a coach ticket and gate entrance. Kim Wilde was supporting. My mate Sean and I waved to her and we swear to this day that she waved back. It was the second gig I ever went to, the first was Madonna’s Who’s That Girl tour the year before. And I’d bring George back to life too. He was the first artist I followed the career of right from the start when I bought Wham’s Fantastic album and right up until his death. I was genuinely gutted when he died.

I was indeed at the Leeds Jackson concert – oh my God, yes, £25 a ticket including coach! You couldn’t even see Steve Brookstein for that now.

Doesn’t Steve Brookstein spend his days playing at Pizza Express now and trying to wind up the world on Twitter? 

I don’t know, but he’s here now cleaning my outside toilet, so I’ll ask him.

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‘I can proofread anywhere…’

Back to The Good Samaritan. You mostly write books that explore dark topics. But what scares you? For me it’s deep water (I have a recurring nightmare about going into water in a car), heights (I had panic attacks about my kids riding bikes across the Humber Bridge for ages), and it used to be public speaking, but I’ve had to get over that. 

Public speaking scares the bejesus out of me. I won’t do it. I’ve tried it, hated it and vowed not to do it again. I have participated in a book panel, book launch or even a public book singing despite my publisher trying to talk me into it. I did a live Radio Two interview with Simon Mayo when The One was picked by his Book Club and I’d have been mad to have said no to that. But it was only him and me in the studio and I couldn’t see the five million listeners at home. It was a once in a lifetime experience. I also hate heights, yet the one time I tried it, I loved zip-lining. Death also scares me. I’ve yet to accept that one day I’ll die. 

You’ll never die. Because you’ve written books. We’re ensuring our immortality remember. 

Since it’s International Women’s Day, who’s your favourite female protagonist in any film or novel? 

I’m going to choose two recent-ish characters in novels – Amy Dunne in Gone Girl and Lily from The Kind Worth Killing. I love it when you never know where you stand with a character, and even if you hate them, you are still fascinated by them. I like to use strong women in all of my books in one way or another.

I liked turning the tables and asking you questions – name three actresses you would choose to play Catherine in Maria in the Moon?

You’re such a bloody journalist! As an excuse to bring her back from the dead and meet my idol, I’d say a likely very miscast Marilyn Monroe. Failing that, I’d say Sheridan Smith or Julie Walters circa Educating Rita. 

A proud moment
One of John’s proudest moments…

As we’ve mentioned a lot, you write books with pretty dark themes. Is there anything you would never write about? Why? Or is nothing off-limits? 

Hmmm… interesting question … I don’t think I’d touch religion with a barge pole and while I’m not afraid to write about violence, I haven’t ventured into gore for the sake of it. In two books’ time I have a storyline about child abuse (it’s one of many different storylines), but I’ve tried to tread carefully with that. Often you can say enough without saying too much on a subject. I’d like to be one of those writers who isn’t afraid to tackle controversial matters – I just don’t want to write about them for the sake of it or to try and cause a stir. 

How will you celebrate your publication day today? My celebrations usually involve peanut butter, an egg whisk, two clean towels and the local rugby team. (I’m lying – I don’t like peanut butter.)

Your celebrations of publication day are the same as mine! However, I use just the one clean towel, and why make do with a team when you can have a league? Think big, Beechy.

Oh, always.

In all likelihood, I’ll completely forget I have a book out for the first couple of hours of the morning, then remember, then tell myself not to look at the sales rankings on Amazon, give in to that minutes later and spend the rest of the day refreshing the website hoping some bugger has downloaded it. Although I won’t read the reviews. Do you read them? And if so, why?

I too want to be a brave writer who tackles issues. But, like you, not for the sake of controversy but because I can’t do light and fluffy. It just doesn’t interest me. I may act silly and love to have fun, but I’m actually pretty serious. 

I do read my reviews, yes. Even the bad ones. I read the good ones because I’m eternally looking for the validation I never got as a kid. I read the bad ones because they fire me up to work harder, because I want to keep myself in check, and because some of them are actually hilarious. 

I used to read both, but then some of the bad ones were really quite nasty and I began to doubt myself as a writer, even though the good ones totally outweighed them in volume. So I decided not to read the bad ones, and as a result, I don’t look at the good ones either. Reviews are from one reader for another, they’re not there for me. It’s not my business.

My office 2
And another one of John’s desk because it’s so tidy and this makes me very happy.

Can you tell us what you’re working on now? Or at least a little about the next book, as I know that’s already written?

I am currently working on two books. I’m putting the final touches to my fifth novel, Her Last Move, a detective thriller in which two detectives hunt a serial murderer in London. One of the detectives is from a little known (but true) department called Super Recognisers – they have photographic memories for faces. That book won’t be out until around August time. The next book has the working title The Passengers and is more Black Mirror- style, in the way The One was. It has a hint of science fiction, but is set in the present. 

And I can’t talk about you or your success (because yours is an incredible success story, it really is) without mentioning the indomitable, extraordinary and utterly diseased, sorry delectable, Tracy Fenton. Tell me who she is, why she is so important to you, and why the hell her bloody name keeps popping up in your books? 

Ah, Tracy. My first book, The Wronged Sons, was self-published and had shifted a few thousand copies but its shelf life was coming to an end. Tracy was a member of an online book club, found the book, read it, and loved it. She got in touch to say she’d be recommending it to other members and within a day, sales had rocketed and continued to do so for months afterwards. Its success and positive reviews led to it being picked up by a mainstream publisher and republished as When You Disappeared. It’s partly thanks to her that the first book was a success, it found me a new audience and enabled me to continue writing. Ever since, she has made a cameo in each of my novels, from a masculine looking lawyer to a talent show judge. She’s not just a supporter, she’s a friend.

What you like to do to switch off from writing (that won’t make people’s eyes fall out)?

I slip into old man mode and I love pottering around the garden, decorating, going to the gym, and walking my dog with my husband, confusingly also called John. We also like to travel, and we are going on a road trip around California for a few weeks later in the year. John’s my biggest supporter and sounding board for stories. And considering he reads about two books a year, he comes up with some great twists of his own that I’m happy to steal and claim as my own…

I am so jealous of the California trip. I’ve been to LA, but I really want to do it for longer one day. Enjoy every bit.

Thank you for being so willing to be probed, and I wish you every bit of luck with The Good Samaritan as it deserves to fly. And I think it will.

Order it here now – TheGoodSamaritan

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I was rejected because…

I was rejected because I’m not Jodi Picoult.

I was rejected because I sound special but I’m not quite right for the list.

I was rejected because it wasn’t me, it was them, and I wasn’t for them.

I was rejected because I’m not commercial enough.

I was rejected because I’m not literary enough.

I was rejected because I’m not quite enough.

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I was rejected because I’m not Markus Zusak.

I was rejected because I can’t use language.

I was rejected because I shouldn’t have written a book.

I was rejected because I’m interesting and they are sure I will be snapped up, just not by them.

I was rejected because they were glad to see it but didn’t want it.

I was rejected because they don’t quite know where I belong.

I was rejected because it was Tuesday.

I was rejected because SpongeBob is the antichrist and shouldn’t be mentioned in any story.

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I was rejected because they were not looking for my kind of fiction at present.

I was rejected because I’m not Emma Chapman.

I was rejected because I don’t fit into a genre.

I was rejected because I don’t fit into one thing or another.

I was rejected because I don’t fit into a size twelve. (This might be a lie. I don’t, but no one said it.)

I was rejected because I’m not Marian Keyes.

I was rejected because someone whose name I can’t recall was imprisoned for buggery.

I was rejected because I have too many narrators.

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I was rejected because I have too many voices.

I was rejected because I have too many similes. (I agree. I’m working on it.)

I was rejected because no one is interested in the war anymore.

I was rejected because no one is interested in time-slip women’s fiction anymore.

I was rejected because no one is interested anymore.

I was accepted because an amazing woman called Karen Sullivan loved my books regardless of all these flaws. (Even the similes.)

Blog Tour for Unbroken by Madeleine Black

I am honoured to be kicking off the blog tour for Madeleine Black’s memoir Unbroken.

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Sometimes you don’t just connect with a book, but with the writer too. You read a story – a true story – that touches you on a deep level, one that you almost feel the author was writing just for you. That’s how it was when I first read Unbroken by Madeleine Black.

We had connected over social media and bookish groups when Madeleine contacted me to say she had read my first book. Her memoir had been on my radar before that, and now I finally picked it up and began. It is a book that changed me. This might sound cliché or overly profound, but it’s completely true. I took it wherever I went, on the bus, to work, shopping. But I had to take my sunglasses too; because I was crying on the Number 66 to Hull.

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Unbroken is about more than just what happened to Madeleine. And what happened is terrible. Terrible isn’t a terrible enough word. Her experience, aged just thirteen, was the truest definition of horror. No, this is about how she eventually faced, dealt with, and overcame her brutal gang rape. This is no misery memoir. This is a soaring, uplifting, difficult, beautiful diary of the spiritual journey Madeleine took, and how she eventually came to forgive her attackers. I was most fascinated by the monk, who she tells me is often still at her side.

I had someone ask me once how I could read such a bleak book. I asked if they read crime or psychological thrillers, to which they said, yes, they devoured them. And this struck me hard. That readers might eat up fictional murders so brutal they cause nightmares, but would not consider learning of the effects of real-life crime of real-life people. We should all read this book. Knowing about rape is power. Talking about rape is power. Madeleine happens also to be a great speaker. She isn’t afraid to talk, and she’s very eloquent when she does. Try and see her at an event.

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Madeleine and I realised the themes of Unbroken and my current novel, Maria in the Moon, were every similar. They both involve women finding the light again after the darkest of experiences. So we did an event together at Leeds Waterstones, called Not Broken – Exploring Survival Through Writing. When I met Madeleine for the first time at Leeds Station it was as though we have known one another for a lifetime. For me, it was quite emotional. She is so petite that when I hugged her, I thought, who could hurt such a girl? But Madeleine is strong. She is an inspiration. And she is now a dear friend.

So I’m honoured to be kicking off the blog tour for her haunting memoir, a book that should be a must read for all of us. If Madeleine can find the courage to share her experience then we can at least find the courage to read about it. If she can talk, then we all should be.

Order her book here Unbroken.

Madeleine and I will be doing another Not Broken event at Glasgow Waterstones on 18th January, with Michael J Malone, author of House of Spines, so do join us there.

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Wolds Way Wedding Walk

Sister Grace – or Bob Fracklehurst as she’s known on social media – and I like walking. We like wedding dresses. We like making people laugh. And we like helping others. So, we thought, why not walk while wearing a wedding dress and laughing lots, and raise money for our charities.

So for five days, from 29th April to 4th May 2018, we will walk the Wolds Way, which is 79 miles from Hessle to Filey, Yorkshire, while wearing wedding dresses.

We are raising money for the NSPCC because, after a very tough childhood of our own, we want to support the leading children’s charity that fights to end child abuse in the UK. We are also raising money for JDRF (Juevenile Diabetes Research Foundation) because my daughter Katy has had Type 1 Diabetes for ten years since, since she was seven, and they are a charity devoted to researching this incurable, life-threatening condition, so we can hopefully one day eradicate it for good.

Below are our Just Giving pages. Please give generously.

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/louise-beech-grace-wilkinson

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Tales of the Unexpected – or Writing the Fifth Novel…

I’m currently writing my fifth novel, and I’m at that well-past-halfway, exciting, totally-in-love stage, where I sort-of-know where it’s going, but things could still surprise me. My fourth – The Lion Tamer Who Lost, which I’ve already written, and began in fact six years ago – isn’t out until next year, and I’m still tweaking and editing it. But even as I do that, this fifth one is itching to get out. And it’s a whole different experience to how it was writing my first four.

This time I’m writing where there’s a good chance it will be read – and by people who have read my first four books and possibly even liked them. And that is both exhilerating and utterly terrifying. It’s like sitting backstage at a theatre and writing behind the curtain, with an expectant audience already in the auditorium. I can hear the chairs squeaking as they sit, hear the rustling of coats being removed, the low murmer of voices as they wonder aloud whether this story will be any good. I can hear them arguing back and forth that it should be the best novel yet because she’s had plenty of practice now, but then writers can get lazy after a time too.

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When I wrote my first few novels, there was no book deal on the table. There wasn’t even one on the chair, or anywhere in the room. I wrote for myself. This is who you should write for first of all. If you don’t, you won’t enjoy it. I can always tell when I read a book if the writer wrote with absolute love for the story. If it was something they simply couldn’t not write. This is how mine were born. They would not stay inside me. It took four of them to finally get my deal with Orenda Books, which means I’m lucky enough to have had the time to let number five percolate over the last two years.

And it has. I had three ideas for a fifth book. One of them nagged at me with a louder voice than the others. Write me, it cried. I’m better than those other two losers! I’ve got a killer plot, a protagonist you’re a little afraid of, and all the dark, quirky themes and subplots you so love to get your teeth into! What could I do? I started.

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It’s been the hardest book to find time for, and yet the one it feels I most want to devote hours to. When writing without a book deal, there’s none of the other stuff that goes along with that, stuff I adore, but stuff that all the same eats into your writing time. The promoting, doing tours and events, networking, writing pieces, blogging, and editing other work. Like many writers, I also still have my day job, and of course a family, and the need to occasionally sleep. But all of this means there’s a sort of frenzy when I write now. Recently, someone cancelled something I was supposed to be doing and it gave me five whole, unexpected hours to write. I think I danced around the room for the first ten minutes of that.

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When I do write novel five, I still do it firstly for myself. But this time, I also glance out of the window occasionally, aware that there are people who may actually read it too. People who might compare it to my others. Who might hope it is one thing or another. And this is the terrfifying part. Is it what readers will expect? Do I even want that? To be the expected?

Here’s what I can promise. I have loved writing it. I have given everything I can to it. I have woken in the night and scribbled down ideas and phrases. I have laughed and cried. I have shrieked with excitement as I tell my lovely and patient daughter Katy about the latest plot reveal. I have lived and breathed it for the past few months.

The rest… well, that’s up to the world.

 

 

Learning to Breathe

Winner of the Aesthetica magazine Creative Works competition 2009

 

I’m home, he called, his belt buckle as polished as ocean stones, his tone an undercurrent more dangerous than the words…

Bubbles carry Kate’s hurt to the surface. Some spiral, fast, swirling like tiny kites caught in a playful wind. Others zigzag through freezing water, lazy, burdened with the heaviest of pain. She hears them popping at the meniscus, sees her worries dissolve in a soapy haze and fly out through the cracks in the tiles. It is all there is. She is. The water is. The bubble is. 

Dad pulled the cloth from the dinner table and the plates and cups scattered, sending spaghetti to the floor, and he yelled, you shoulda put a bigger brick in front of the garage door you bitch, you shoulda known that little one wouldn’t hold it, I had to get out of the car, open it, in that rain and wind; and he paused for breath, and on his way to the door he turned to Kate and said, your mother’s a clown, are you listening to me, you never listen, just like your mother…

Under the water there are no words. There are no tears. The salt does not run down her face, onto her tongue, bitter and sarcastic. There is cold and echo and the syrupy feel of water caressing her throat. She opens her eyes again. Hair floats in front of her face, fanning out like a mermaid’s tail. Swim little fish, swim to the bottom of the bath, where the words don’t penetrate. She waves her hand in front of her eyes, mesmerised by the graceful slow motion of her fingers, by the tiny, fairy bubbles that fly away from the movement, by the changing light, the changing life.

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Mum picked at the spaghetti on the floor but it slipped through her finger like eels and she hid her face and said, Eat your tea off the floor sweetheart, for me, and then go do your homework and get your bath before he comes back, but don’t lock the door, I hate it when you lock the door, and it just annoys him, don’t annoy him, for me, for me…

Kate should breathe. It hurts a little now, but not like the words. She should float back up, inhale again, but she is waiting to hear the sound. She’s held her breath before, for longer, much longer, until her lungs throbbed and her head ached, before she gave in and burst back into the other world. The other world is far away now. She can see the plastic fish on the side of the bath, a green one with emerald fins and tail that spits out water if you squeeze its tummy, and she considers that they have swapped places. The fish has been drowning on the bath side for years and so is she, in her home, in the classroom, in her heart. She waits for the sound.

The click, click, click sound first captured Kate in bed, half asleep, half dreaming, protecting her ears from the bastard, bitch, whore words downstairs, good at the not hearing thing, at zoning out the external sounds, tuning in to the internal, to her heartbeat, her pounding eardrums, her blood, the oxygen, her self…

She wants to hear the clicking; it is worth the pressure building in her lungs and throat and head. So she concentrates on the cracked wall tiles, on the undulating lines in the lime mosaic, clouded by the water and the ache. Her heart slows. Her blood flow slows. It is not enough; she has to breathe, she has to breathe, she has to breathe…

Click, click, click was a frequency new, fast, high, intoxicating, following Kate into the bathroom where she ran water until it was cold and then dunked her head in the sink, following her into sleep where she swam with creatures that glowed silver and responded to their eerie burst-pulsed sounds in a voice all her own, there when she woke, like the breeze teasing the wind chimes outside the back door, there and then not there, in her mind, merging with the foghorn on the water, there and then not there, there and then not there, there and then not there…

The clicking begins. It was always there.

 …there and then not there, there and then not there, soon she would not be there…

There are no more bubbles. There is no more breath. There is no more pain.

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Homework done, Kate went back to the dining room where Dad stood over Mum, belt in hand, buckle flashing in fluorescent light, yelling, words that took an age to reach the air, words about defiance and slovenliness and antidepressants, and he raised his grey-sleeved arm again, in unison with her yellow fluffy one, his crashing down, hers pushing back, meeting in a mess of splattering red, and grey and yellow, and red, and words, and red…

The clicking is closer. They are here. They have come. She knew they would. She never doubted it, even when she doubted it. The mosaic tiles have fallen apart and drift away into the sky. The emerald-tailed fish is smiling on the bath side. I hope you locked the door, he says. She did. They will be cross. None of it matters. The bath sides dissolve; there are rocks and weed and red sea urchins.

Kate ran from the circling sharks, slammed the bedroom door, turned the TV as loud as it would go, so that the presenter’s words drowned out the thrashing below, and learned about the individuals that communicate using a variety of clicks, whistles and other vocalizations, who use ultrasonic sounds for echolocation, whose membership in pods is not rigid, so interchange is common, who  establish such strong bonds between  one other that they stay with the injured or ill; and she screamed when they thrashed in the nets, pushing against the mesh that tightened like a belt, clicking, thrashing, clicking, until the water filled with blood…

There is movement. Kate reaches out. There are two, then three, and then more. They are the grey ones. They surround her, from each side, in front and behind. Noses nudge gently, an invitation, so she reaches over and touches the one on the right and then the one on the left. They are as smooth as the leather lounge sofa in that other place, wet and warm, and it feels familiar. Do you remember? She hears the question in the whirl of clicking and whistling and splashing. The water cascades deep blue, and she cannot see, but she might remember.

Grabbing the belt from him, Mum shouted that the teacher was wrong; Kate should not be suspended from school for waving her hand, clicking, whistling, waving, shouting no, no, they communicate through the blowhole on top of the head, not the mouth, and they can see inside other animals, sensing a shark’s empty stomach and letting others know of the danger, sensing a beating heart, and pain, they sense the pain; Dad said that the other children laughed at their idiot child and the teacher told her to leave the classroom, and she did, clicking, as the children laughed; Kate smiled because only the red haired boy, who kissed her once and made her pores tingle, didn’t laugh, he shoved his desk mate, shouted at the others to stop, stop laughing, stop, laughing, stop… 

The grey ones are exchanging sounds, taking turns at pushing, pulling, guiding. They ask her to come and play with them. Follow us, you are perfectly safe. You need not fear; we are here to teach you about breath, and to remember. She does remember. She remembers the diving reflex, the water when she was a baby, her home. It is hard to keep up with her silver friends so they slow and allow her to catch them, and to change.

She ran to the bathroom, switched on the cold tap and jumped into the tub with water that spat, frothing and filling, splashing and calling, remembering when Dad pulled her out by the arm, bruising her wrist, and she begged him to let her go, to leave the water be, but he yanked out the plug and the sea swirled down the drain, taking her tears, her hopes, leaving only ache, until he’d gone, belt undone; she only wanted to be safe…

Now she is safe. She is changing, changing and remembering, and instead of arms and legs she has a dorsal fin and pectoral flippers, enabling her to swim faster, to keep up with the pod. Her body is sleek and grey, adorned with silvery dots. Though her sight has diminished she can hear the waves, the wind, the silent words. She has become one with the dolphins. She is a dolphin. She is home.

Mum yells outside the bathroom door that they are killing her, that she and he are destroying her, that she no longer talks, only sits in her room, whistling, and reading about the dolphins, but Dad covers Mum’s mouth, takes the words, warns her that he will take them forever if she doesn’t stop, and slaps her and pushes her and closes the bedroom door and locks it, so that Kate won’t hear the screaming; and she doesn’t, she doesn’t, just the clicking, faster, faster, faster…

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She swims faster and faster. She breaks through surf, leaps in the air, flipping, turning, and dives back into the water where hundreds of fish scatter like sparks of rainbow. When the air within is gone she moves upward and blows with force, expelling the breath that has stagnated inside for ten years.

Dad kicks in the door and they are in the bathroom; Mum screams, Kate, for God’s sake, come back, come back, breathe, breathe…

She is breathing. She is not breathing. She remembers how. And then, with a great inhale of new air, she dives down again.

Mum calls, Kate, come to me, come back to me, click, click, click; Dad drops the belt and it falls, like a stone through water, onto the tiled floor…

Kate swims and looks back and swims and looks back. I was never there, I was never there, click, click, click. Kate’s voice is gone. The words are gone. There is only the music of the ocean, wordless, melodic, soothing, and the dolphin song, and the nets sinking, empty, to the bottom of the sea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maria in the Moon Book and CD Giveaway

With the Hull launch of Maria in the Moon only next week, and the excitement of having Hull singer/songwriter Carrie Martin perform her beautiful song that accompanies the novel at the event, we decided to do a little giveaway.

First, enjoy the stunning video for the song, Maria in the Moon, from Carrie’s forthcoming album Seductive Sky. And it really is magical. I’ve been listening while I write. You can visit her website here Carrie Martin

So, here’s the giveaway. A signed copy of the Maria in the Moon novel, a signed copy of Carrie’s brand new, not-even-released-yet, album, Seductive Sky, which includes the song to accompany the book and is going to be huge, and a signed event poster.

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Just watch the video – like it if you enjoy it – and comment below to be included in the giveaway draw. Feel free to come to Hull Book Launch on 20th October too.

We will choose a winner from the names below a week today, on 16th October.

 

For the Bloggers, Reviewers, and Readers…

I had to write something – anything really – to acknowledge every reviewer and blogger and reader who has shared their thoughts at any time on anything I’ve ever written.

Thank you. I don’t know what else to say. So, I’ll say it again. Thank you.

Writers work in a bit of a black hole. And we’re completely alone in there. We have no idea whether what we’re creating is any good. We have to rely on our instinct (this first and foremost for me) and our skills (I want to be hip and write skillz, but this is supposed to be a serious tribute) and our wordplay. We have to hope that what we’re trying to do actually happens. Because we usually have exactly in mind what we want to conjure up. But have we?

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Scribbling away ten years ago, while only dreaming of being publsihed.

Maria in the Moon (much like How to be Brave) came from a very dark place. And then she took ten years to get here. TEN YEARS. Multiple rejections. A few tears too. But when I wrote it – to a backdrop of hammering and drilling as flood houses around me were rebuilt – I was trying to stay sane. The book was therapy. It was my safe place because my real-life safe place, my home, had been destroyed.

So I’ve been indescribably moved by the responses to it. I try so hard to reply to every tweet and post and share, but it can be difficult in this modern age of a million notifications on social media. I’m the type who will lie awake worrying that I haven’t thanked someone individually. That they don’t know much what they wrote meant to me. Because it does. It has.

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The blog tour – a whole month long – has blown my mind, and we’re barely halfway. Thank you everyone who has taken part. Some of the reviews so far have made me cry. It’s extraordinary that something I crafted out of nothing – it really felt that way, typing furiously at a rickety hand-made desk in a bare, rented room – has touched people. Real people. Human people. You people.

That’s what writing is for me. Connecting. Sharing. Healing.

So thank you. I don’t know what else to say. So, I’ll say it again. Thank you.