Behind the scenes: One Year Later – The Cottage

When we bought a large plot of land and a house that we were planning on renovating in Somerset, I had the idea to set my next psychological thriller, One Year Later, partly in Somerset. 

In the garden of our house we found the ruins of an old cottage…and I started thinking, what if a child were playing amongst the ruins and it collapsed? It became the basis of a terrible scene in my novel… 

 

‘I was lucky, the doctor said later, that I hadn’t been buried alive. I was lucky, he added, that I hadn’t died. 

Since then, but only to myself, I’ve always rephrased his statement: I’m lucky my sister didn’t kill me.’

Nick. One Year Later

 

I told my husband what I was writing and he was so freaked out he got a stone mason to shore up our ruined cottage and make it safer. This is what it looks like now – a lot of the vegetation shrouding it has been cleared away, and one wall has been repointed. 

 

‘We walk through the garden, and the beam clips the outline of the ruined cottage. I pause alongside it, feeling the familiar surge of panic, the sickening sensation I still have in dreams, of falling, of being buried alive. It’s shrouded in ivy; a sycamore has grown through the bread oven, the roots like something out of The Blair Witch Project.‘ 

Nick. One Year Later

 

Behind the Scenes: One Year Later – Somerset

I wrote my psychological thriller, One Year Later, in Bristol, but at the time we were renovating a  house in Somerset. We spent the summer camping in the garden and dreaming about moving in one day. It inspired one of the settings for my forthcoming novel. The Flower family, who are somewhat dysfunctional, grew up in Somerset. 

 

‘The Pines is a rambling farmhouse that our parents, David and Eleanor, converted years ago, and although it no longer has the land it came with, it still has a huge garden. It sits on the lower slopes of the Mendips in Somerset, the woods behind, green fields gently falling away in front of it. On a good day – and 15 August, with its clear blue skies, was one of those days – you can see over the tops of the seaside towns of Clevedon and Weston-super-Mare and all the way across the Severn estuary to Wales. It’s where we grew up, Amy, Bethany and I.’

Nick. One Year Later

 

Out on 1 August!

 

Behind the scenes: One Year Later – The Pond

In the garden of the house in Somerset that we’ve been renovating is a small pond. In my next psychological thriller, One Year Later, a toddler drowns in a large pond in the garden of a rambling farmhouse. One year later, the family meet on a remote island off the coast of Italy for her anniversary in an attempt to reconnect and heal, but will everyone make it home?

‘Ruby-May holds out a bunch of tiny purple flowers in her small fist. Her fingers smell of spearmint. She opens her mouth and green water pours out; skeins of pond weed are tangled in her baby teeth.’
Nick. One Year Later

 

Thankfully our pond is neither big nor deep – and I do love the water lilies and the dragon flies…

One Year Later – out 1 August

I’m so thrilled – my fourth psychological thriller is out on 1 August. Just in time for you to pack in your bag for a beach holiday! It’s partly set in Somerset and Bristol, but mainly on a seemingly idyllic island in Italy. It’s available to pre-order.

 

Some secrets won’t stay buried….

 

 

Since Amy’s daughter, Ruby-May, died in a terrible accident, her family have been beset by grief. One year later the family decide to go on holiday to mend their wounds. An idyllic island in Italy seems the perfect place for them to heal and repair their relationships with one another.

 

But no sooner have they arrived, than they discover nothing on this remote island is quite as it seems. And with the anniversary of the little girl’s death looming, it becomes clear that at least one person in the family is hiding a shocking secret. As things start to go rapidly wrong, Amy begins to question whether everyone will make it home… 

Blueprint for a house…and a story

In May 2017 we bought a house in Somerset. It was originally built in the 1950s and for almost two years we’ve been renovating it. And it’s finished! I hesitate to do a huge cheer in case something else falls apart or starts leaking – but we are absolutely delighted. In fact, our house was shortlisted  for an award (LABC SouthWest Building Excellence)!

While we were working on the house (yup, it’s a stressful as everyone on Grand Designs tells you), it made me think about the similarities between building a house and writing a novel. Both kinds of projects require vision, creativity, tenacity, an eye for the big picture, being dogged about detail, technical skill, imaginative flair and fair amounts of sheer blood, sweat and tears. 

Here’s what I learned about the parallels between designing a house and plotting a novel:

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Vision: We had a clear idea of how we wanted our house to look – we sent a nine page brief to our architect. Julian Mills of Orme Architecture then drew a picture of what our house was going to look like, and I do believe, it’s come out as we’d all hoped it would! With a novel, you might have a vague idea of what’s going to be in it, a general feeling for its shape, a wisp of atmosphere, a hint of the kinds of characters that will people it. You might want to create an ideas board or a mood board, as we did on Pinterest (and I also do for whatever novel I’m working on). You can have a look at my previous mood boards here.

However, at some stage, you’re going to want to firm up this vision so that you can communicate your idea succinctly to publishers and agents to make them excited about your novel, as well as understanding what they’re going to get when it’s finished. There’s nothing so dispiriting as giving your novel to an editor who was expecting something totally different…

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Blueprint: Orme Architecture used the original design and our thoughts to create a blueprint. This enabled us, the client, to see what our house would be like, as well as showing the builders exactly what to do, from which wall to take out, to where the light switch should go in my office.

You wouldn’t start building a house without planning it first…why do the same with your novel?

Some of you may not like planning your novels. You may just want to start writing. And that’s fine, but my advice is, you may spend a long time writing your way into finding out what your novel is actually about, and even longer editing it if you haven’t created a blueprint. This is your outline for yourself, which you may wish to share with your writer’s group, your agent and your editor. It tells you how the plot will unfold and how you’re going to structure your novel. 

Creating a blueprint is the skeleton for the novel, upon which to hang your beautiful words and well-crafted sentences. Effectively, it’s going to tell you where the walls will be built (major twists) as well as where the light switches will be fitted (minor revelations). It’ll help keep your writing focused on  your theme: in our house it was minimalism, white walls and wooden floors, with a Swedish vibe; in a novel, it might be on identity, for instance, which was one of the themes in my thriller, The Stolen Child.

Adaptability: Life never goes according to plan. You can create the most watertight of design briefs and building specs, but there’s no predicting what can happen. One then needs to adapt, whilst still retaining the big picture in mind. For instance, we ordered a beautiful kitchen – the design looked stunning on paper, and the kitchen fitters, the architect and the builders shared the blueprint with each other. However, when the kitchen arrived, no one had told the fitters that we had a steel beam running through the middle of what should have been the dishwasher (the beam was put in to hold our house up when we took out all the walls downstairs).

Sticking rigidly to the outline of your novel will stifle your creativity. New ideas and inspiration will come to you; characters will ‘act’ in ways you hadn’t foreseen. Also, things will go wrong – you’ll realise your research was insufficient, you may be left with a plot hole, or what seemed to work on paper before you began writing, just doesn’t, or it’s too slow, or too obvious. Or your publisher hates it.

 

Compromise: Most of our compromises with our house were to do with money. We had a comparatively small and fixed budget. We compromised on major design features – for instance, we wanted to open up the attic space but discovered we had four species of endangered bat sharing our living space! We didn’t touch the roof, and the bats are still happily (noisily) living in our attic. We compromised in minor ways – the brand new ensuite bathroom has the original shower screen, which is old and doesn’t match. 

How far are you willing to compromise with your novel? If you want to finish your book in two years instead of ten, you might need to give up on going out in order to have the time to write; you might need to accept that you’re not going to be Margaret Atwood or James Patterson and be fine about your writing skills and renumeration; you might have to change the story or the characters to satisfy your publisher. 

What’s important is to hold on to your original vision, but remember that to achieve it, you will have to depart from it to some extent, and be willing to adapt and compromise. 

 

 

Our house is in an AONB – an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty; we have a large garden with stables requiring a little love and attention, and three acres of meadow and woodland. I veer from thinking I’m the luckiest person alive to despair at how we will manage with limited time, resources and skills. My vision is to manage our land for writers and for wildlife… I’d like to tell you our story, from inner city Bristol, to the wilds of Somerset, along the way sharing writing tips and experiences, as well as our attempts to get on top of the brambles and bracken!

 

Let me know what you’d like to know more of – and if you’re a writer, do you create a blueprint before you begin?

 

I’ll be your coach

 

I’ve just returned to working for charity, First Story, this month. First Story’s aim is to change young people’s lives through writing, particularly those who might be disadvantaged socio-economically, and/or suffer from a lack of confidence. I had my first creative writing workshop with the school I’ll be Writer in Residence for last week. Before I met the group of students I’ll be working with, I was wondering what to tell them. I want to inspire them to be writers, as well as to give them the confidence to flourish, but I’m not sure that I personally feel like a teacher, or even know that creative writing can be taught. In spite of having published twelve books, I don’t have any qualifications in teaching and I have none in English past the age of 15.

So what I said was:

I am your space: I am your space in which to think about and practise the craft of writing. 

I am your permission: I give you permission to be writers. 

I’m never going to say to a single one of these young people that they are rubbish, that they cannot do it, that they need to demonstrate proficiency in key aspects of the curriculum, pass an exam or sit a test. I hope that having the time, space and permission to ‘have a go’ will help them blossom, both now and in the future.

Finally, I said:

I am your coach. 

In most subjects taught in schools today, the educational model we follow is that you attend classes, practise, learn, graduate and then make your way on your own. But in sport, the model is that you are never, ever done. Everyone needs a coach. Even the greatest football player or Olympic athlete needs a coach. There isn’t a fool-proof path to become a premier league player, nor to win a gold medal at the Olympics. What players do is that they learn, they practice and they are coached. It is a never-ending process of attempting to improve under the guidance and tutelage of a person who has your back. The way to become a great cyclist, gymnast, football player or even a writer is with help. It is not, as someone tweeted at me recently, about reading a few articles online and doing it by yourself.

As Atul Gwande, surgeon and author of Checklist, says, ‘Coaches are on to something profoundly important…They build on your skills and address your weaknesses.’ Gwande, who is seen as being top of his field in general and endocrine surgery, hired a coach, thinking that