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?

 

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.

 

Blog Tour Day 1. Come meet the book bloggers

I’m excited to be setting out today on a book tour featuring The Last Thing She Said.  It’s a seven day amble, taking in book bloggers and reviewers, and I’m delighted they have offered to host me on their websites. A big thank you to everyone helping me promote my new book.

Today I’m visiting …

Trail of Tales  – review

The Magic of Wor(l)ds – Featuring a guest post on Magical Realism

Herding Cat – Review

I hope you find the time to stop by and join us.

AMAZON

The Last Thing She Said – who will believe her?

Birthdays are family time. The giving and receiving of presents, a cake maybe, and perhaps a party.

For Rose, a birthday is a day to spend in the company of her granddaughters. She likes cake, especially chocolate cake, and always has one candle on top of it to blow out. What she also does is say something, a few words. The trouble is, they don’t make much sense to her granddaughters. They listen, and forget, or so it might appear. What do you do if your grandmother claims to know the future, hears things that will come true? Each of the three sisters has to decide what to do. What if Rose really does have a gift?

Rose puckered her lips and slowly expelled a stream of air. The diminutive flame flickered for a second then died. Through the threads of smoke that lingered above the birthday cake, Rose’s pale eyes fixed on Naomi. When she spoke, her warbling voice was stretched, but the revelatory words were enunciated clearly.

‘Beware of a man named Frederick and his offer of marriage.’ Rose blinked and gave a small satisfactory nod. ‘Cut a slice for me, love.’

Naomi glanced to her side. Rebecca was poised, holding the fake ivory handle of the cake knife with a white-knuckled grasp.

‘I don’t know anyone called Frederick,’ Naomi whispered into Rebecca’s ear. She’d no plans to marry gaming geek Kyle, or any other man for that matter, at least not until she could see the benefit outshine the exuberant cost and extensive planning needed.

Rebecca pressed the knife through the layer of marble icing. ‘She’s done it. That’s all that matters,’ she said quietly.

‘What’s that?’ Rose cocked an ear towards her granddaughters. Even if Naomi bothered to ask questions, Rose, with a humorous twinkle in her eye, would likely shrug dismissively. Sometimes she claimed it was a spirit that dropped the thought into her head, other times she implied the eruption of a whispering voice was due to the revitalising energy of her birthday. The lack of consistency significantly weakened Rose’s sage advice.

On the other side of the stained kitchen table, Leia removed the plate from Rose’s hand.

‘Here, Gran, let me help you.’ She thrust the plate at Rebecca. ‘Just slice the cake. She’s had her moment.’

Her moment, as Leia put it, was something of a tradition on Rose’s birthday. The sugary-topped sponge, which Rebecca had baked that morning, the solitary pink candle and the customary extinguishing of the flame, were a necessary precursor to the miniature party. Without fail, every year, Rose, with her salt and pepper hair swept back from her face into a bun, leaned toward the candle, and spoke her words of prophecy. The only difference this time was she had said them directly to Naomi instead of to a spot on the far wall.

 

If you’re intrigued, then head over to Amazon. The Last Thing She Said is now live, available on Kindle and in print. Don’t miss out on finding out a family secret.

Three Sisters. Three Gifts. One Prophecy

“Beware of a man named Frederick and his offer of marriage.”

Rose’s granddaughters, Rebecca, Leia and Naomi, have never taken her prophecies seriously. But now that Rose is dead, and Naomi has a new man in her life, should they take heed of this mysterious warning?

Naomi needs to master the art of performing. Rebecca rarely ventures out of her house. She’s afraid of what she might see. As for Rebecca’s twin, everyone admires Leia’s giant brain, but now the genius is on the verge of a breakdown.

Rebecca suspects Naomi’s new boyfriend is hiding something. She begs Leia, now living in the US, to investigate.

Leia’s search takes her to a remote farm in Ohio on the trail of the truth behind a tragic death.

Just who is Ethan? And what isn’t he telling Naomi?

In a story full of drama and mystery, the sisters discover there is more that connects them than they realise, and that only together can they discover exactly what’s behind Rose’s prophecy.

The Last Thing She Said

Who will believe her?

Amazon

(Print and Kindle)

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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.

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

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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