On the shelf: June 2021 reads

In May, I read:

  • The Other People by C J Tudor
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
  • Midnight at Malabar House by Vaseem Khan
  • The Dinner Guest by B P Walter
  • Kingdom by Jo Nesbo (DNF)
  • Don’t Close Your Eyes by Holly Seddon
  • Runaway Train by Lee Matthew Goldberg (proof)
  • Her Last Holiday by C L Taylor

I really enjoyed Midnight at Malabar House. I’ve not read any of Vaseem Khan’s books before, but I am definitely keen to read more. This novel, the first in a new series, is set in a newly independent India and features Persis Wadia, the country’s first female detective. She’s a wonderful character and the plot kept me guessing until the end.

Another highlight for me was The Other People. I have enjoyed all of C J Tudor’s books so far, but I think this one was her best. It features a broken man fruitlessly searching for his missing daughter. Everyone tells him she’s dead, but he refuses to stop looking. There are several different plotlines, and it takes a while for them to fuse together, but when they do it’s a fantastic revelation.

I’m usually a big fan of Jo Nesbo, but I couldn’t finish Kingdom. I won’t post any spoilers, but the subject matter was not for me, so I gave up on it.

Runaway Train by Lee Matthew Goldberg was a proof. This coming-of-age story is set in 90s California and I defy you not to sing along to the soundtrack! I loved the feisty heroine and her emotional journey as she takes to the road, comes to terms with the death of her sister and finds her voice. 

In June, I am planning to read:

  • Finders, Keepers by Sabine Durrant
  • Fatal Harmony by Kate Rhodes
  • Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones
  • The Perfect Couple by Jackie Kabler
  • The Broken by Tamar Cohen

Have you read any of these? What did you think?

Book Two is on its way!

I’ve had a busy couple of months since signing with my agent.

I have recently signed a book deal for my second psychological thriller, provisionally called The Wedding Guest. If all goes to plan, book two will be published by One More Chapter in April 2022.

Local journalist Libby is a plus-one at a celebrity wedding at a grand manor house in rural North Yorkshire. She’s the guest of her boyfriend, Matthew, who used to be in a Britpop band in the 90s. It’s the first time the band members have been reunited since the band split up and she quickly discovers that they have something to hide…

I’m really looking forward to launching Libby into the world! This book was a lot of fun to research and write.

At the moment I am doing my structural edits. These are big changes that the editor suggests in order to make sure the story works. They’re a little tricky, as you have to check that when you change something in chapter 20, it doesn’t impact on something in chapter 47. There is a lot of ‘find and replace’ going on! The plan is to complete these edits by the end of May.

I have also been working on a follow-up to this book. It’s early days and I have just done an outline, a bit of preliminary research and written about 3,000 words. This means I have put aside the other novel I was working on for the time being. At some point I am hoping to pick it back up and work on them both simultaneously but I’m not sure if my brain can handle that…

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

ON THE SHELF: MAY 2021 READING

In April, I read:

  • Vox by Christina Dalcher
  • An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
  • The House of Killers by Samantha Lee Howe
  • The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth

The first two books really made me think. Vox is a dystopian book in which women are only allowed to speak 100 words a day. It reminded me of A Handmaid’s Tale which I have just started watching on Amazon Prime.

At the heart of An American Marriage is a cruel injustice which has ramifications for all the characters. It was a very emotional and thought-provoking read. After reading it, I bought another of her books, Silver Sparrow.

The House of Killers is the first in a series about a female assassin and an MI5 investigator. This was fast-paced, fun and I really didn’t see the twist coming. I also enjoyed the simmering tension between family members depicted in The Mother-in-Law.

In May, I hope to read:

  • The Dinner Guest by B P Walter
  • Midnight at Malabar House by Vaseem Khan
  • The Other People by C J Tudor
  • Kingdom by Jo Nesbo

I am about half-way through Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield and I am also hoping to read The Familiars by Stacey Halls. These were both on my reading list for April, but I was a bit over-ambitious!

Have you read any of these? What did you think?

On the shelf: April 2021 reads

In March, I read:

  • The Chain by Adrian McKinty
  • How to Disappear by Gillian McAllister
  • The Hit List by Holly Seddon
  • Someone We Know by Shari Lapena
  • The Last Snow by Stina Jackson
  • The Last Thing to Burn by Will Dean
  • Playing Nice by J P Delaney
  • Mr Nobody by Catherine Steadman

My favourite of these was The Last Snow by Stina Jackson. Set in Sweden, I loved the atmosphere of the creepy forest, the claustrophobic community where everyone knows everyone, and the idiosyncratic characters. I immediately bought a copy for my mum for Mother’s Day.

I also really enjoyed The Hit List by Holly Seddon and How to Disappear by Gillian McAllister. Both books left me thinking about their plots for a long time afterwards, particularly what it might be like to enter witness protection. They’re both ‘what would you do if…’ books and highly recommended.

Incidentally, if you are a writer, check out The Honest Authors podcast which is hosted by Gillian McAllister and Holly Seddon. It lifts the lid on the publishing industry and writing in general and is incredibly helpful and entertaining.  

In April I am going to read

  • Vox by Christina Dalcher
  • An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
  • The Familiars by Stacey Halls
  • Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

In my mission to read the Hercule Poirot books in order, I’ve skipped The Mystery of the Blue Train (I did manage to catch the TV adaptation on ITV Player though) and have moved on to Peril at End House.

Have you read any of these? What did you think? What’s your favourite book of the year so far?

The road to publication: signing with a literary agent

It has taken seven years, five manuscripts and one book deal to get to this point, but I have finally signed with a literary agent. And I couldn’t be happier!

I am now represented by Camilla Shestopal from Shesto Literary.

The first time I spoke to a literary agent was at Jericho Writers’ Festival of Writing in 2014. As part of the weekend package, you could book two one-to-one sessions with literary agents to get some feedback on your work. I was so nervous, but the agents were both lovely and asked to see more of my manuscript.

Over the ensuing years, I have sent probably close to 100 submissions to literary agents and done several one-to-one meetings. Most agents want a submission package of the first three chapters, a covering letter and a synopsis. If you want any advice on writing a synopsis, I recommend Write a Great Synopsis by Nicola Morgan.

There is a lot of waiting involved with submitting to agents. Some don’t get back to you at all; sometimes you will receive a ‘form rejection’, which is a standard response without any specific feedback on your work or, if you are lucky, you might get a personal rejection explaining what they liked or didn’t like about your book.

Rejections are part of the writing life. They’re rarely personal. My way of dealing with them is to put them in a folder and never look at them again! (Unless they contain some helpful feedback of course.)

Or…you might get a full manuscript request. If you get one of those, you should definitely celebrate! Literary agents get thousands of submissions per year, so your work has stood out.

I’ve had a few near misses in the past. Literary agents who were interested in my work, but not enough to take me on.

Camilla Shestopal was the first agent to respond with a ‘revise and resubmit’ which was a full page of editorial notes about how she thought I could improve the book. I agreed with almost all of the changes, so I was happy to implement them and write another draft.

I worked on the book, with Camilla’s suggestions, for several months before she finally asked to meet me. Due to lockdown restrictions, this took place on Zoom.

To prepare for the meeting, I read two books that were very helpful:

Getting Published by Harry Bingham

Getting Published is Just the Beginning by Rhoda S Baxter

This helped me to prepare some questions and know what to expect from the meeting. Although I was nervous, it went very well, and she offered me representation! We chatted about the book, and what would happen next, and a few hours later she sent me a contract to sign.

I couldn’t be happier to have an agent. I got my first book deal without one, but I feel much more confident going into the process with my second book with an agent by my side.

On the shelf: March 2021 reads

In February 2021 I read:

  • Somewhere Close to Happy by Lia Louis
  • If I Can’t Have You by Charlotte Levin
  • The 24-hour Café by Libby Page
  • A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier
  • Girl at Christmas by Rhoda Baxter
  • Money: A User’s Guide by Laura Whateley (non-fiction)
  • The Big Four (Hercule Poirot #5) by Agatha Christie
  • The Choice by Alex Lake
  • All my Lies by Sophie Flynn (proof – to be published in April 2021)
  • The Success Code by Amanda Dewinter (non-fiction)

The stand-out title for me was A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier, one of my favourite writers. Chevalier can make just about any subject fascinating, so although bell ringing and embroidery are by no means my favourite things, I found myself drawn into this world. The novel is set in 1932 and I really enjoyed reading about that period and the expectations of women and their roles in society between the two world wars.

All My Lies was a proof, kindly sent out in advance of the publication date of April 2021. A psychological suspense, set in Oxford and Cornwall, I really enjoyed this debut novel. Great characters, evocative writing, interesting locations and a page-turning plot with plenty of twists and turns.

The Agatha Christie was not for me. I found the premise completely ridiculous to be honest!

The other stand-out title for me was The Success Code by Amanda Dewinter. I found it quite inspiring and a practical approach to defining your goals and working towards them. I particularly liked the emphasis on self-care and looking after yourself so that you don’t burn out.

In March, I am planning to read:

  • The Last Snow by Stina Jackson
  • The Chain by Adrian McKinty
  • How to Disappear by Gillian McAllister
  • The Hit List by Holly Seddon
  • Someone We Know by Shari Lapena

Have you read any of these? What did you think of them?

On the shelf: February 2021 reads

In January, I went on a crime spree and read:

  • The Holiday by T M Logan
  • The Catch by T M Logan
  • One by One by Ruth Ware
  • Sweet Little Lies by Caz Frear
  • Stone Cold Heart by Caz Frear
  • The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (Hercule Poirot #4) by Agatha Christie
  • Shed No Tears by Caz Frear

I really enjoyed The Holiday and loved the setting of the South of France. I have read all of T M Logan’s books now and they are fast-paced and very enjoyable psychological thrillers. I thought the relationships between the friends and their children was very well done and the way the different story strands came together at the end was perfect. I was less keen on The Catch, mostly because I didn’t quite ‘buy’ the premise – an overprotective dad who pretty much stalks his daughter’s boyfriend.

Ruth Ware is one of my favourite writers and the comparisons with Agatha Christie are justified. This was a ‘closed-door mystery’ about a group of colleagues trapped in a luxurious ski chalet by an avalanche. This wasn’t my favourite Ruth Ware but enjoyable none the less.

I had read Sweet Little Lies a few years ago when it first came out but thought I would re-read it in preparation for the next two by Caz Frear. It is the detective in this series – DC Cat Kinsella – that really holds your attention, rather than the individual storylines, but I really enjoyed all three police procedurals, particularly Shed No Tears.

SPOILER ALERT!

I already knew the killer in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd because it is often used as an example of the unreliable narrator and the ‘shock twist’. Even when I was reading it, I was doubting myself though as it is so well done. As always, Christie delivers a masterclass in red herrings and intricate plotting.  

In February, I am moving away from thrillers and planning to read:

  • A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier
  • The 24-hour Café by Libby Page
  • If I Can’t Have You by Charlotte Levin
  • Somewhere Close to Happy by Lia Louis

Sadly, lockdown has cut off my Agatha Christie supplier (AKA my mum) so I may have to wait until I see her before I continue my Hercule Poirot marathon with The Big Four.

What are you reading? Is lockdown making you read more or less than usual?

The Road to Publication: Remember, the first draft is always sh*t

Wouldn’t it be lovely if you could just start writing and everything that came out of your head arrived in beautiful prose? That the ideas just kept flowing, and it all made perfect sense? How do other writers find it so easy?

The answer is they don’t. Most of the work to produce a novel comes after the first draft, in the seemingly endless rounds of edits.

The best piece of advice I ever received about writing was from a tweet by Caitlin Moran describing her first draft as ‘word vomit’. The idea that a first draft is always sh*t is quite reassuring.

The problem is that you are probably comparing your first draft to a published book which will have gone through several drafts and editorial stages. The finished product on the shelves looks very, very different from the first draft on your computer.

So, let your characters change age, name and gender half-way through. Relax when your setting changes from the South of France to Southport, when your plot veers in strange directions and hangs on unlikely coincidences, when you’re convinced that what you’re writing makes no sense whatsoever and never will.

In your first draft you can leave out scenes altogether and skip to the more interesting parts. You can add backstory that you know you will end up cutting. You can type XXX when you need to do some research. You can bring characters back to life if you killed them off too early. You just have to keep going!

I am nearing the end of the first draft of book three. I hope to have it completed by the end of January. And it is very much ‘word vomit’. It’s not something I would ever let anyone read.

But it’s easier to edit 80,000 of word vomit than it is to edit a blank page.

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

On the shelf: January 2021 reads

In December, I read:

  • Expectation by Anna Hope
  • The Confession by Jessie Burton
  • The Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie (Hercule Poirot #2)
  • A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
  • The End of Her by Shari Lapena
  • Daemon Voices by Philip Pullman

I really enjoyed Expectation – a story that follows three women as they grow up from their student days into their 40s. I could really relate to the characters as they were the same age as me and it gave me lots to think about.

A Little Life is certainly not a little book. Nor is it a particularly cheerful one and I did struggle with it for that reason. It was really well-written, and I am glad I finished it, but I’m not sure I would read it again! Warning – some of the themes in this book are very dark.

I would recommend Daemon Voices to any writers out there – it is a very inspiring examination of art, literature, religion and Pullman’s own work. I didn’t always agree with him, but I thought it was a very thought-provoking and enjoyable read.

In January 2021, I am planning to read:

  • The Holiday by T M Logan
  • The Catch by T M Logan
  • One by One by Ruth Ware
  • Shed No Tears by Caz Frear
  • Stone Cold Heart by Caz Frear

What are your reading plans for 2021?