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?

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

 

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.

 

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