Life imitating my books

I do like researching. I’m a natural researcher when it comes to digging up information and for many years that was my main career: finding and managing information. These days, the closest I get to researching is watching programmes like Who do you think you are?  It’s not the celebrity that fascinates me, but the effort involved in discovering their family background, all of which is done before the programme is even filmed by unsung genealogists and archivists, combing through archives and online records for an elusive entry. It takes time. Patience.

While watching a foray into the family history of Paul Merton the comedian, the programme touched on prison life during mid-Victorian era. Now as it happens I’m writing a book that dips into this period in history, although the main story is contemporary. Merton’s ancestor was sent to Wandsorth Prison, the comparable location in my book is Lincoln prison in the grounds of the castle. An old gaol that once practised segregation and isolation, just as Paul Merton’s ancestor experienced during her prison sentence.

Prisoners wore masks so that they couldn’t see each other’s faces, this included the wardens, who were forbidden to interact with the inmates. The condemned were referred to by numbers and not by name, their crimes unknown. There was strict silence, nobody was allowed to speak to each other. Prisoners where kept physically separated at all times in solitary cells and when exercising they couldn’t come into close proximity. The idea behind this draconian practice was to force the prisoner to address their crimes and find salvation. But really, let’s face it, it’s a form of mental torture and unlikely to result in rehabilitation, just good old fashioned punishment. The Separate System didn’t last long and the concept was abandoned, but not on humanitarian grounds – it was costly and hard to maintain.

The TV programme showed an illustration of the chapel with its individual cells where prisoners stood unable to see each other, only the preacher on his high pulpit would be visible.

prison chapel

Surrey House of Correction, Wandsworth

Lincoln Prison’s segregated chapel still exists and is a popular part of the museum’s tour. It also features in my current work in progress – a ghost story where nothing is seen, just heard. My protagonist, Laura, finds herself seemingly alone in one of those cells. But is she really?

The final part of the visit was the chapel, a well-known exhibit, and she believed in savouring the best last. Facing the eagle’s nest pulpit was a honeycomb of tiered wooden cubicles in the form of four crescent rows of individual pews, each with their own divider and no view other than the pulpit before them. Plain and simple, the chapel was a tidy construction that ensured a prisoner never saw another; they were loaded into the row at one end and kept in a perpetual state of isolation until the service ended.

Laura entered one such lidless crate and shut the door. There was only space to stand or sit upon a hard bench. She tucked her elbows in and perched on the edge of the seat. Opposite her was the high balcony. What kind of sermon would the prisoners have heard? Hell fire and damnation or redemption through salvation? Either way, the congregation in their tiny upright coffins had no choice but to listen. The layout reminded her a little amphitheatre. Was there about to be a real-life performance – she glanced up at the overhanging pulpit. Empty, the towering box seemed to loom over the pews, casting a long shadow. Had the prisoners quaked in their boots or dozed off in boredom?

She stood, swayed slightly, aware of a cooling brush of air against her face. Then a noise close by: a cough? A sneeze?

She turned, cocked her ear and focused on the sounds slipping by her. Shuffling, or scuffling shoes? The direction was clear: somebody was in the cubicle next to her, and probably seated as the crown of his or hers head wasn’t visible above the partition. The unnerving discovery meant her neighbour had been there since she’d arrived in the chapel – how else could a person be barricaded into a miniature cell when she blocked their exit? Holding her breath, she leaned toward the wooden partition. Should she say a little ‘hello’ or clear her throat?

 

How do I write? #amwriting

A common question writers debate amongst themselves is do you write linear or not. Is it better for a writer to start at the beginning and move through the story to the end, or go to the part of the book that appeals most and start from there?

Ebook coverNow, I would say I’m a linear writer. I have an outline, I know the roots of my story and the outcome at the end. It’s easy, just begin at chapter one and … Except, I don’t really know my characters. What if I can’t find their voices or one character refuses to settle down? I know, it’s crazy, but authors have these voices in our heads and they can be quite independent. For The Last Thing She Said, I had to evoke the life of three sisters, including twins, meaning three personalities – what a challenge after my last book where I primarily focused on one voice.

To overcome this possibility, I wrote a passage in each character’s voice from somewhere in the book, just to make sure I knew them and had their voices in my head. It snowballed, and I ended up writing each of their parts as separate narratives, then rearranged them according to the plot. It wasn’t quite what I had planned!

The other concern I had was in critical scenes where the plot evolves dramatically or changes direction. What if those just didn’t go as I planned? I abandoned chapter two and wrote something much further along in the story. This scene had to work or else that character would not live on the pages of my book. Again, I broke with the linear writing definition and jumped into the book three-quarters of the way in. Then I danced back to the middle and wrote another crucial scene, before finally settling back at the beginning. Then I jiggled everything around so the middle became the beginning and… okay, it’s not linear at all.

If asked again by a writers’ group – do I write linear style or not – frankly, I don’t know. It depends on the book, and the great thing about writing … no two books are the same. I’m writing my third at the moment, and that too is going its own particular way.

A magical real world

There’s nothing more exciting and satisfying than seeing you book appear on Amazon. As it sells, which thankfully is happening for my books, I’m wondering who is buying my book and why. Books on Amazon are categorised and appear on lists which are linked to people’s reading habits. So where a book is categorised can have a significant impact on its future sales.

Both of my books are Women’s Fiction; they feature the lives of women and the category is generally marketed to female readers. I also consider my books to fall under the umbrella of Magical Realism, a small genre that is invisible on Amazon’s UK listings, although it is there behind the scenes. (Amazon US has a different approach to categories.)

I’ve always been a reader in this genre, long before I knew what it is was called. The stories told are anchored in the real world, whether historical or contemporary, and into it, the writer overlays something extraordinary. The author, Isabel Allende, is my strongest influence with her House of Spirits, which I read as a teenager, and The City of Beasts. The magical part of the story isn’t fantasy, like Tolkien or Pratchett, and it should be described in such a way that it integrates with the familiar real world a reader would know. Unlike Fantasy novels, writing Magical Realism isn’t world building or elaborate in its set-up. I simply injected something supernatural and made it part of the real world. In The Last Thing She Said, the sisters have gifts, and one of them would consider hers to be far from normal. How will she cope with it? And what impact will it have on her life?

The challenge of writing in this genre is not to get carried away with the magical aspects, just allow them to blend into the story, and focus on the reality, the things readers will recognise—the relationship between the sisters, their ambitions and need for love in their lives. In hindsight, the magical elements were the least of my worries; making the realism part work was far more important to the story.

 

Book club questions – what happened at Heachley Hall? #bookclubs

I’m more than delighted, and a little scared, when I find out my book, The Women of Heachley Hall, is featuring at a book club. What do people talk about? Readers are always reviewers, even if they never  post anything on a public forum, and as a writer, it is there at the back of my mind, all the time – what is that makes a book a good read?

If you are in a book club, then please consider my book, and if you do, I’d love to hear back from you.

I crafted a few questions I’d like to ask, if I was there. Just food for thought, things that intrigue me about the themes and characters.

Warning to those who haven’t read it – some spoilers!!!

 

  • Would you live in Heachley Hall on your own? What makes somebody tenacious?
  • Would you have left the house at any time, and if so, when?
  • Miriam sacrifices her love to free Charles from his curse. What convinces her to do this?
  • Do people punish themselves too harshly for guilty feelings – is Charles’s guilt justified?
  • Did you guess the ending?  Is Charles a ‘ghost’ or ‘time-traveller’?
  • How much do the other characters contribute to the book?
  • Did I make the right decision to tell Charles’s story in a journal or should I have done it differently – ie. In dialogue or interspersed between Miriam’s story?

Considering a pre-emptive strike – do I put readers questions in my next book?

It’s coming soon…

My next book is in its final stages of editing, and here is the cover!

Ebook cover

Three Sisters. Three Gifts. One Prophecy.

Do you like to read about free chapters and short stories, or find out more about your favourite author including their work in progress?

Interested? Then sign up for my reader’s club newsletter: Rachel’s Readers and you’ll receive a complementary short story.

Hidden stories that need unlocking.

There are plenty of things I could tell you, things about my book and what I want to write in the future. However, my novels have secrets that only they can tell. What I can share are short stories that I’ve written. If you would like to read one, and have the opportunity to take part in giveaways and prizes, then sign up for my newsletter. Recipients will receive a ‘key’ to unlock hidden stories on my website.

Newsletter signup –  Rachel’s Readers

The first hidden story on offer – Seeing is believing.

 

Maggie claimed there were the ghosts of squirrels in Harlton Woods. As we walked amongst the bluebells, I’d point at the squirrels on the branches and she’d tell me which were ghosts and which were alive. According to Maggie even the fox I spied in the hollow of an oak was a ghost. The woods weren’t exactly spooky. Just old trees with knotted branches and moss covered bark. I played along with her; it’s what friends do when they’re innocent and young.

 

To find out more, join Rachel’s Readers.

 

A trip down memory lane in Norfolk

For our holiday, my family and I crossed the expanse of the Midlands to visit the Norfolk coast. We drove through The Fens, where parents lived out their childhood, and saw the house where my mother was born, the market town where my father’s family had a store and by the side of a road, the cemetry where my grandparents are buried. It has been probably twenty years since I last visited these memory spots. Locating them wasn’t difficult, my memories are locked in, but they weren’t the same. A door had moved and why did I recall an upright gravestone, when in fact it is flat in the ground? The little alterations that I had made in my mind had stuck and I corrected them, chiding myself for not recalling the finer details.

Then on to the coast and the chance to see more places I visited as a small child and from which I took the inspiration for my book, The Women of Heachley Hall. Heachley doesn’t exist, but the woods around Heacham do. There is no Little Knottisham, my fictional hamlet, but Snettisham, Dersingham and Ringstead are real. The latter being the village where my grandfather was born. We drove through it, passed the flintstone cottages. I tried to capture those round stones in the walls of Heachley Hall because I knew they were significant for the region.

We came across a major fire – a haystack fully alight on the top of a hill. On the other side of the field, a small piece of hot black plastic had blown over and caught the dry grasses of a hedgerow. The smouldering fire quickly spread and we called the fire service, alarmed at the proximity of a row of houses. A few hours later, the field was black charcoal (according to the news reports) and the gardens of one house had suffered. How quickly devastation arrives, sweeping its way across the tinderbox of drought ridden fields. I never thought when I wrote my book and described how a house fire spread to a neighbouring wood that it would be played out miles from where I imagined my story to be set. Thankfully, the fire service saved the houses and the fire was contained.

Above Old Hunstanton cliffs, we ate ice-cream in the sweltering heat and down on the beach, paddled in the tidal pools. The cliff face in places had collapsed just below the prominent, inoperative lighthouse. I snapped photos, wanting to frame the images just as I described them in my book. The late afternoon sun loitered in the sky above the sea – an unusual feature of the east coast where the sun typically rises over the sea and sets over land. The curvature of the coastline allows the sun to track the beaches from East to West.

There, done. I felt satisfied. Mission accomplished. I might not live in Norfolk, but the connection to the county remains strong. I’m so glad I chose to set a book about memories where my memories live on.

As for my next work – I remain in East Anglia. Can’t seem to let go of the region.

The Women of Heachley Hall is now available on iBooks, Kobo, Nook and Indigo

The story is intriguing and at times had me on the edge of my seat. The book is beautifully written and the story tempts the reader with snippets of clues throughout the book. The house itself is almost a breathing entity with its own personality and I loved this about it. A cleverly written plot that drew me in and had me wandering the rooms of Heachley Hall along with Miriam. A story about love, regret and the secrets families keep. Highly recommended.  ~ Brook Cottage Books

 

Heachley Hall is on tour with #bookbloggers

I’m delighted to announce that The Women of Heachley Hall has gone on tour!  You can read an extract, reviews, author interviews and participate in a draw to win a free copy of the book. All you need to his visit one or more of these blogs over the next few days!

Date: 11th June
Date: 12th June
Date: 13th June
Date: 14th June
Date: 15th June

 

Miriam has one year to uncover an unimaginable past and a secret that only women can discover.
BUY LINKS
AMAZON UK: https://goo.gl/Q4cSGC
AMAZON US: https://goo.gl/gU3FAF

 

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

Would you like a free short ghost story to read – Seeing is Believing?

Then sign up for my newsletter – Rachel’s Readers!

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

Sign up for my newsletter – Rachel’s Readers for a free ghost story – Seeing is Believing