Keeping track of the family #familysagas

I created a family. It began with a name, one that I discovered using census data. The website provides details of the popular surnames of English counties. I picked two – one for each of the families that feature in my book, The Women of Heachley Hall.

Dates became crucial to plotting the story. Who lived in the house and for how long?

Since the story spans over a hundred years, I needed a tool to help me.

Using My Heritage website I constructed a family tree for both families and ensured the relevant characters lived to suitable ages – nothing more embarrassing in having somebody give birth at the age of five or marry in their nineties. My Heritage think it’s a real family. They kept emailing me to ask if I wanted to trace more of my ancestors. Part of me wishes it was real because in writing this book my characters felt very real to me. It must be an author’s affliction to want to turn fantasy into reality.

Now there is only one way to find out who is who and that is to read the book. My Heritage have deleted my tree!

 

I touched each gravestone in turn and tried to make some connection to my family. Hubert had been buried in India, so I’d no grave to visit for him. John Marsters, my grandfather, rested in a London cemetery. Felicity, cremated in Norwich, my mother likewise in Colchester, and my father’s ashes had been scattered on a Greek island with his lover. Only one other Marsters – Mary, my mentally fractured grandmother – had been buried and she lay next to John, squeezed into his grave. Her only dying wish was to be with her husband. My attempt at sensing a connection, some kind of energy conduit between me and my deceased ancestors didn’t happen. I smirked. What did I expect? I’d known nothing about them, nor cared to until Felicity’s will brought me here.

Only women can discover Heachley’s secret.

5* “The story is beautifully constructed and precious, and it is very satisfying.” – Goodreads reviewer

5* “This beautifully written mystery weaves a spell around the house and the people connected to it.” – Goodreads reviewer

The life of a freelance illustrator will never rake in the millions so when twenty-eight year old Miriam discovers she’s the sole surviving heir to her great-aunt’s fortune, she can’t believe her luck. She dreams of selling her poky city flat and buying a studio.

But great fortune comes with an unbreakable contract. To earn her inheritance, Miriam must live a year and a day in the decaying Heachley Hall.

The fond memories of visiting the once grand Victorian mansion are all she has left of her parents and the million pound inheritance is enough of a temptation to encourage her to live there alone.

After all, a year’s not that long. So with the help of a local handyman, she begins to transform the house.

But the mystery remains. Why would loving Aunt Felicity do this to her?

Alone in the hall with her old life miles away, Miriam is desperate to discover the truth behind Felicity’s terms. Miriam believes the answer is hiding in her aunt’s last possession: a lost box. But delving into Felicity and Heachley’s long past is going to turn Miriam’s view of the world upside down.

Does she dare keep searching, and if she does, what if she finds something she wasn’t seeking?

Has something tragic happened at Heachley Hall?

Miriam has one year to uncover an unimaginable past.

Available for on Amazon – Print, Kindle and Kindle Unlimited

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Heachley Hall is open for business! #newrelease

Today my magical mystery book goes live on Amazon, which means the doors of Heachley Hall are fully open for you to come in and explore, alongside Miriam, who has to decide whether she can really live in a decaying house for year and a day.

I don’t possess the skills needed to renovate a Victorian hall, so I sympathise with her initial decision – sell and run away from the problem. But, I’m also drawn to old houses and the stories they have to tell. If you are intrigued by mysteries and gothic houses, then stay with Miriam for a while and see what happens as she uncovers the secret behind her great-aunt’s legacy, a mystery that only women can solve.

Chapter one – exploring Heachley Hall

The life of a freelance illustrator will never rake in the millions so when twenty-eight year old Miriam discovers she’s the sole surviving heir to her great-aunt’s fortune, she can’t believe her luck. She dreams of selling her poky city flat and buying a studio.

But great fortune comes with an unbreakable contract. To earn her inheritance, Miriam must live a year and a day in the decaying Heachley Hall.

The fond memories of visiting the once grand Victorian mansion are all she has left of her parents and the million pound inheritance is enough of a temptation to encourage her to live there alone.

After all, a year’s not that long. So with the help of a local handyman, she begins to transform the house.

But the mystery remains. Why would loving Aunt Felicity do this to her?

Alone in the hall with her old life miles away, Miriam is desperate to discover the truth behind Felicity’s terms. Miriam believes the answer is hiding in her aunt’s last possession: a lost box. But delving into Felicity and Heachley’s long past is going to turn Miriam’s view of the world upside down.

Does she dare keep searching, and if she does, what if she finds something she wasn’t seeking?

Has something tragic happened at Heachley Hall?

Miriam has one year to uncover an unimaginable past.

“The story is beautifully constructed and precious, and it is very satisfying.” – Rosie Amber Reviewers

“This beautifully written mystery weaves a spell around the house and the people connected to it.” – Goodreads reviewer

Available on Kindle, Kindle Unlimited and Print

Amazon

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Merging fact and fiction #amwriting

I wanted to set a book near Hunstanton. I have memories of Hunstanton that have stuck around and it seemed a good a place as any to write book. The choice of location reminds me of a debate I once saw on Facebook amongst authors – do you use real locations in your books?

Hunstanton is on the western side of Norfolk and is remarkable because as the town faces west, it can witness the sun setting over the sea. Most of Eastern England doesn’t have this view. I wanted to draw this feature into my story. But how far should you go with using real places?  I mention the lighthouse and library, which I admit, I’ve never visited. I only remember the long stretch of beach and the sea from my childhood visits. I actually based the library on another one I visit regularly in East Anglia.

I needed a house for Miriam, a Victorian mansion with flintstone walls, which are a feature of old houses in the area. I made up a name for it and the local village; Little Knottisham does sound similar to other villages in the area. If you were to give me a map, I’d know precisely where my imaginary house existed, but it isn’t there.

The world around Heachley Hall is real. I mention Docking, a small village east of Hunstanton that once had a workhouse and I used real newspaper articles about it to help with a sub-plot. In 1881, it had 86 residents, quite remarkable and depressing for a village. The workhouse still stands and has been converted in individual houses.

Miriam visits Kings Lynn and Norwich, but only briefly, so I didn’t need to bother with the details and as for her home city of Chelmsford, a fleeting excursion in one chapter hardly required any research.

So what was the general advice given to authors about locations? Don’t use your own street, which seems pretty obvious. Don’t pick somewhere real if you’re not prepared to do a little research. Readers will spot serious mistakes. Try to stay genuine about the look and feel of a place. How are houses built? Is the scenery pasture or arable? Does the city have skyscrapers? Are there forests and hills? What kind of weather is common?

There is snow in my wintery scenes. It can snow in East Anglia, but rarely heavily. This year Norfolk received a blanket of whiteness thanks to the Beast from the East. Now at least my little piece of fiction can be justified as fact.

 


When Miriam discovers she’s the sole heir to her great-aunt’s fortune, she can’t believe her luck. However, to earn her inheritance, she must live one year in a decaying mansion.

Miriam is desperate to discover the truth behind Felicity’s peculiar terms.

Has something tragic happened at Heachley Hall?

Opening Chapter –  Exploring Heachley Hall

Pre-order The Women of Heachley Hall – release date 4 May – special, limited time offer 99p.

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Goodreads:

The story is beautifully constructed and precious, and it is very satisfying. If you are one of those readers who hate cliff-hangers and always feel that there is some explanation missing and you’d like to know a bit more, you’ll be over the moon when you read this novel.

This beautifully written mystery weaves a spell around the house and the people connected to it. It is easy to empathise with Miriam but there is a surprising conclusion which you are unlikely to predict. Reminding me of the books of Kate Morton, this is a story for lovers of ghost stories, history and romance.

I utterly loved this book from start to finish. A haunting romance full of intrigue. I was enthralled and had to keep reading, I needed to know what happens next, the end of every chapter left me wanting more.

 

My desk is a little cluttered #amwriting

A cluttered desk – is it a sign of a disorganised mind or a busy one?

I’ve a jotter pad with things scribbled on it, which at the time of writing meant something, but a few days later has lost all hope of being something.

Stacked next to me are printouts of chapters with annotations; tiny writing scrawled in margins and highlighted passages I want to change.

A piece of paper with a family tree, important dates, the names of my characters!

Waiting for me to start work are two pairs of glasses – one for reading and one for when I use the computer. My eyesight is complicated and frustrating at times.

When I feel the urge, I write with a fountain pen and leave ink stains on my fingers like a badge of honour or tattoo. My handwriting is appalling, but sometimes the words flow quicker on paper and I’m forced to keep writing, rather than go back and make corrections.

Every morning, I switch on my laptop and wait for it to connect to the internet and monitor. Every morning Windows refuses to recognise my monitor and requires a manual kick up the bum to make it work. It takes ten minutes for the software to kickstart. Just long enough to make a cup of tea.

The most important tool is my keyboard – a split ergonomic one. My husband can’t cope with it. I love it, primarily because my little finger dislocates from time to time and the ergonomic design relieves the strain on my fingers. It seems perfectly natural to have my elbows sticking out, my wrists angled and my fingers splayed – I play the piano.

I learnt to touch type as a student using a mainframe dumb terminal and integrated keyboard – mechanical and noisy. Both the keyboard and software were unforgiving in their feedback, ‘speaking’ in the strident tone of a drill sergeant as if one was standing over my shoulder instead of a curt message on the green screen.

‘If you don’t get this right, I’ll send a thousand volts through your fingers’

‘You have eight fingers and two thumbs – use them!’

‘Are you wearing gloves today?’

I guess whoever wrote the typing course had a sense of humour. Years later, it is the one thing I learnt a university that I use every day of my life. Even when I studied to be a biologist, I was inadvertently preparing myself for a writer’s life.

Can’t wait? Me neither.

Are you a little impatient? Or restless? That’s me sometimes. I’m either very impulsive in my reasoning or alternatively hesitant, holding back just in case I’ve missed something important.  Waiting for proofs to arrive and reviewers to review is clearly testing my patience, but I know this is all part of the wonderful world of publishing. I just need to keep focused on writing the next book – that’s my job.

As a writer, I naturally want my book to be read. I’m also a reader. I do most of my reading in bed in the evening and go to sleep with words folding themselves into my dreams.

If you’re waiting to read my book then I can offer you a sneak preview by way of the first chapter. So if you want to read it, then please sign up for my newsletter. Now and again I’ll be sharing short stories, books I’ve read and recommend, and snippets of news about my works in progress.

Interested? It’s very easy – just click on the link below.  (Do remember to check your spam folder in case the verification email ends up in there).

Sign up here for Rachel’s Readers and the first chapter of The Women of Heachley Hall

The evolution of a book…

… or how it didn’t turn out quite how I expected it to.

When writing the first draft of The Women of Heachley Hall (codenamed: a year and a day), I had a good idea where I wanted to end up. The writing unfolded naturally to that conclusion and my congratulatory pat on the back. But, oh, the beginning of the book! It never offered the same sense of satisfaction. The feedback I had from beta readers, agents and editors sent me spiralling in circles of frustrating re-writes. Without spoiling the plot, this is how it went:

1. Opening chapters started in the house (great). However to explain the presence of the house, I needed the back story.  Consequently, the poor reader was sent zig-zagging back and forth in time. Where was the grab?

2. Try something completely different – a prologue. Introduce the historical aspect of the story by flinging the reader back in time. It certainly had a hook to it. But… the voice was written from a character who never appeared again the story. Uhm. Scrap that idea.

3. Re-write the opening to follow the chronology of events and introduce the key characters. For a while, I thought that was the draft to work on. Except, I’d created heaps of dialogue and no house. The feedback became more consistent – start in the house.

4. Oh dear. I’m back to square one, but I knew that first version didn’t work. I read, and read, I consulted the wisdom of other authors, attended writing workshops and finally, it slapped me in the face. Take option 1 and 3 and throw half of it out the window and re-write it to be the best of both worlds. I reminded myself I’m in control, I didn’t have to tie myself to one set of chronological events when the most important element of the book is the house, the protagonist’s reaction to the news she’s inherited it and what she does next.

After four years, and not the year and a day I envisaged, the opening settled down and stopped shouting at me to do something.

Have I learnt any lessons? Certainly: planning the intricate details of a book is one thing, writing it is another.

Now my labour of love is live on Amazon and available from pre-order.

Only women can discover Heachley’s secret.

The life of a freelance illustrator will never rake in the millions so when twenty-eight year old Miriam discovers she’s the sole surviving heir to her great-aunt’s fortune, she can’t believe her luck. She dreams of selling her poky city flat and buying a studio.

But great fortune comes with an unbreakable contract. To earn her inheritance, Miriam must live a year and a day in the decaying Heachley Hall.

The fond memories of visiting the once grand Victorian mansion are all she has left of her parents and the million pound inheritance is enough of a temptation to encourage her to live there alone.

After all, a year’s not that long. So with the help of a local handyman, she begins to transform the house.

But the mystery remains. Why would loving Aunt Felicity do this to her?

Alone in the hall with her old life miles away, Miriam is desperate to discover the truth behind Felicity’s terms. Miriam believes the answer is hiding in her aunt’s last possession: a lost box. But delving into Felicity and Heachley’s long past is going to turn Miriam’s view of the world upside down.

Does she dare keep searching, and if she does, what if she finds something she wasn’t seeking?

Has something tragic happened at Heachley Hall?

Miriam has one year to uncover an unimaginable past.

Available for Pre-Order on Amazon

Want to know when? Then sign up for my newsletter – Rachel’s Readers!

Advance reader copy for reviewers is available upon request.

Sh – don’t tell anyone!

The biggest challenge I face in publishing The Women of Heachley Hall is keeping quiet. When you want to sell your book, have it read by countless millions (or realistically a few thousand!), then they want to know what they’re getting, don’t they?

When I sought feedback on the draft manuscripts, my friendly readers fell into two camps: those whom I gave some indication of the story, others, including my editor, to whom I gave next to nothing away. The outcome was quite clear. The less said the better!

So, shush, don’t tell anyone Heachley’s secret. Let everyone else find out for themselves.

hush