How I write

The Royal Literary Fund has recorded a mini -podcast with me on how I write – with a black coffee, and some dark chocolate and then I begin!

‘Writing a novel feels like being an ultra-marathon runner, it’s going to be a gruelling slog to reach 90,000 words and I will be unable to pause, to breathe properly, to take in the view until then.’

You can listen here:

Sanjida O’Connell

 

What do you think? Let me know how you write.

 

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 this fellow surgeon, would have little to teach him. After the first session, the coach had made pages of notes on how Gwande could become a better surgeon. Two years later, Gwande’s techniques had indeed radically improved.

For me personally, I’ve benefitted greatly for the coaching I’ve received from my agent, Robert Dinsdale, my many editors over the years, and my writing buddies. In my role as a Royal Literary Fellow, I frequently receive training and coaching from other fellows. I still believe that I could benefit from more help and dedicated coaching for my thriller writing. (Any volunteers?!) As Gwande says, ‘It’s not how good you are, it’s how good you’re going to be that really matters.’

 

Diversity in Fiction

I’ve written as a Jesuit priest in Outer Mongolia, a nine-year-old in inner city Bristol, a child abductor, an angry teenager, a man in his twenties, a Victorian lady trapped on an island in the Southern states of America at the turn of the Civil War. I’ve written about slaves, Buddhist lamas, racketeers and drug addicts, accountants and artists, actors and academics. As a writer, I want to tell any story I’m moved to, from the perspective of any character I wish, regardless of their race, religion and culture – or perhaps because of it.

My own background is that I’m half Bangladeshi, half Irish and grew up in Africa, Ireland, England and Wales in a Protestant-Catholic household, only distantly knowing the Muslim-American side of my family. Yet I rarely, if ever, read about anyone from a culturally diverse background in British fiction. 

Many years ago, when Zadie Smith burst on the literary scene with White Teeth, and Salman Rushdie was still in vogue, I thought the situation was about to change. Cut to the present day. The long lists for most literary awards are still filled with white authors. The multi-culturalism this country is famous for is rarely represented in literature. You can buy a Dansak, raw sauerkraut, Thai green paste and a Za’tar rub in your local supermarket, but have you found a novel where the majority of characters represent the Nigerian-Welsh, the British Somali, the Ukrainian-Bristolian and the Russian-Irish kids in my (Asian-Irish-Scottish) daughter’s class?

In my own genre, crime, BAME (Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority) writers only make up 4% of all authors. Mixed race characters and authors are still few and far between. Worse, according to a report, Writing the Future, commissioned by Spread the Word and edited by Danuta Kean, which was published in 2015, BAME writers are often pressurised to produce characters and settings that conform to white middle-class stereotypes of racial minorities, and the places (‘exotic’, ‘gritty’) they believe them to live. Publishers tell me that my market, like that of the majority of writers in this country, is largely 35-55 year-old white women. Yet in a scant thirty years, it’s predicted that one in five people in this country will be from an ethnic minority.

For me the situation is a broader issue.  As Kean says, ‘The big elephant in the room is class and socio-economic background.’ Those in the publishing industry, including agents, editors and people running literary festivals, are overwhelmingly white, middle or upper class. They, unlike many BAME candidates, are often educated privately and attended Russell Group universities (at a time when only 7% of the UK population has been privately educated and only 1% attended an Oxbridge University). Furthermore, BAME would-be publishers are frequently from families who can’t afford to subsidise them for a year or so as an unpaid intern in London. Kean comments, ‘Change is cosmetic and has not been structural or institutional.’

In other words, it’s not simply that British and American literature is not ethnically diverse, but that the very people deciding what is to be published and how it should be edited are largely not from diverse backgrounds, either in terms of their culture or their class. In this country, the children that borrow most of the books from libraries are British Asian…and yet, and yet, as adults, Asians are not buying or reading books. I’ve rarely attended an event where I was not in the minority solely down to my skin colour. And I’m still not reading books or seeing screen plays where the main characters are British Asian, so maybe this sector of the population are giving up because they are so overwhelmingly underrepresented in British fiction.

I think it’s fantastic that there are now initiatives to encourage more BAME writers into fiction, but until the publishing industry itself becomes more representative of the population as a whole (and pays interns and junior staff  better), I fear these small shoots will not produce the multiplicity of multi-coloured blooms we crave.

 

Cover reveal for My Mother’s Secret in paperback!

I love the new cover for the paperback of My Mother’s Secret. It’s not radically different – apart from Sam Carrington says, ‘Brilliant!’ on the front cover – but the colours are really eye-catching.

It’s out 4 October. The audio version is here already, if you feel like giving that a spin!

And in other news, The Stolen Child, will be published in Poland in autumn, with a gorgeously atmospheric cover.

 

 

 

Wuthering Heights – the novel that has influenced me the most

When I was a teenager, I steadfastly refused to believe that so-called ‘classical literature’ could be better than the assortment I chose from the local library. What did these authors have to tell me? By this time in my life I had lived in several countries, attended eight out of what would be ten schools and knew no one else who was mixed-race. I feared so-called classics would be dull, staid and part of ‘the establishment’ that I was so busy rebelling against.

And then I read Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. Brontë’s tale, set on Haworth’s bleak and beautiful moorland resonated with me, partly because I spent my teens living on either side of Ilkley Moor.

 

 

As a sixteen-year-old, I understood Cathy’s passion:

‘He’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.’

I was shocked by the power and the savageness of some scenes: the one in which Lockwood grabs a child’s wrists and saws them across broken glass still haunts me. But most of all, what struck me was how easy to read this story was: it is a gripping, page-turner; the writing is beautiful and profound; there is something about this multi-generational tale of love and loss that moved me then, and moves me still. As a teenager, I thought it spoke directly to me: do you choose the person who rocks your world but is ultimately unstable, or the one who is boring but steadfast and will give you security? 

Now, or course, I see more layers and nuances in Brontë’s novel. My fiction has always been gothic with an almost super natural element running through it. I’ve read, and re-read Wuthering Heights, and in my second psychological thriller, The Stolen Child, I turned back to the Yorkshire moors as the setting for a kind of demonic love story. It was a great excuse to re-read Wuthering Heights.

 

For more on Wuthering Heights, I’ve recorded two podcasts for the Royal Literary Fund. Here’s the first one:

 

My Favourite Book, part 2

 

My Writing Toolkit

Book blogger and health journalist, Victoria Goldman,  asked me to tell her what my essential writing toolkit is for her blog, Off-the-Shelf Books. Here goes:

Office

Our exciting news is that we’re renovating a house in rural Somerset. In the meantime, we’ve downsized so I no longer have an office, but a desk in the corner of an open-plan room. I look out over a small, but beautiful green garden that backs onto an urban nature reserve. Jays and blue tits peep through the window. I can’t think if there’s any clutter, and I like to have a flower or two next to me. I work on an Apple Mac and a laptop. This has revolutionised my life: because everything is in the cloud, I can pick up my laptop and go, without having to check it’s saved, and I no longer have that awful realisation that I’ve spent hours working on the wrong document. 

Notebooks

I love having different notebooks with lovely covers. I have one for ideas, one for quotes and overheard snippets of conversations and a working one, with what I need to do next. It helps me keep track of where I am – for instance, My Mother’s Secret is just about to be published out, but I’m still talking to readers about my previous thrillers, Bone by Bone and The Stolen Child, whilst editing the fourth one, The Anniversary. I find writing long-hand is a good way of generating ideas too, although I actually type my novels straight onto the computer.

Exercise

Writing is incredibly sedentary, so I need to move! I get up before anyone else and do an hour to an hour and a half of the Tracy Anderson Method. Tracy is a trainer in the states; I stream her classes, which are a combination of light weights and dance cardio. At the weekends I run or go mountain biking. I love walking. One of the characters in My Mother’s Secret lives in the Lake District, so it was a great excuse to head up there for ‘research’. I find walking helps with creativity and general resetting of one’s mental equilibrium.

Coffee and chocolate

I start my writing day with black coffee and 80% dark chocolate. I’m lucky enough to have a fantastic coffee roaster, Extract, at the bottom of our road and I buy their organic espresso, which tastes of hazelnuts and cocoa. Apparently.

Candles

I light a candle when I start working. I like scents that are quite sharp when I’m concentrating: my favourite is St Eval’s Rosemary and Bay; and then soothing, like Sandalwood, when I want to unwind. I love being surrounded by greenery so I fill the house with lots of plants.

Protein shake

I get through that mid-afternoon slump with a protein shake, usually made of fruit and vegetables, non-dairy milk and protein powder. I normally add spinach; this one also has raspberries and coconut milk.

Headphones

Since we’re all in one room, there’s quite a lot of ‘negotiation’ about who gets to watch downhill mountain bike racing, How to Train your Dragon, or have some peace and quiet to write their novel. I spend quite a lot of time wearing headphones and pretending I can’t hear anyone speaking to me. I listen to audiobooks and podcasts when I’m doing chores; I’m a big fan of The Story Grid podcast and book, which is by editor Shawn Coyne and is aimed at helping writers and editors improve.

Cake

My daughter and I love baking: this is a cake that I made for one of my sister’s for her birthday. It’s a great way to relax and a slice of cake feels like a nice treat after a week of writing several thousand words and drinking spinach smoothies!

 

What’s your essential toolkit?

The octopus and the pirates

I’m giving a talk on plot at Novel Nights on Wednesday 23 Many. This is a wonderful monthly event, organised by writer, Grace Palmer, in Bristol. A writer talks about an aspect of their work, and local authors and aspiring writers read short extracts from their work-in-progress, all over a glass or two of wine.

If you happen to be in Bristol, do come along – the details are here. The full story, about how to plot, will be on the blog on Sunday 27 May.

In the meantime, here’s a sneak preview, inspired by a story my daughter wrote for me when she was four. Like most kids, she fascinated by dinosaurs and pirates. Now, if I could come up with a movie concept – Jurassic Park meets Pirates of the Caribbean – I’d be minted.

 

 

What other writers are saying about My Mother’s Secret

Six weeks to go until My Mother’s Secret comes out! For an author waiting to see how her book will be received, this is a tense phase to be in!

 


For anyone interested in how the process works, once the book is finished, edited, copy edited, proof read and type-set with a draft cover design, an ‘uncorrected bound proof’ is created. It’s nearly the final version, but the cover might be tweaked slightly, and there could still be errors that we’ve all missed. The proofs are then sent out to magazine journalists and authors kind enough to say they’ll do their level best to read it before it goes off to the printers.

So far, I’ve had some amazingly kind comments from my fellow writers. Thank you!!

 

The next step is that early copies will be sent out to bloggers, who are really the most important people. They are readers who, in their own free time and without being paid, will read and post reviews of books on their websites. Waiting to hear back from them is even more nerve-wracking!

In the meantime, here’s what some of my favourite authors are saying about My Mother’s Secret:

This gripping story about families and secrets takes the meaning of ‘deception’ to a new level.

         Jane Corry, author of My Husband’s Wife and Blood Sisters

 

 

 

A well written story that is so compelling you have no choice but to race through it to uncover the secrets. Twisty, tense and chilling until the very last page. Brilliant!

 

         Sam Carrington, author of Saving Sophie, Bad Sister and One Little Lie coming in July

 

Sanjida has nailed it again. A claustrophobic, unpredictable thriller that I couldn’t get enough of. You’ll be holding your breath until the last page

        Jack Jordan, author of My Girl and Anything for Her. A Woman Scorned and Before Her Eyes coming soon

 

 

And more from LV Hay, Luana Lewis and Peter Swanson…

 

 

I hope that’s whetted your appetite! If so, the kindest thing you can do for an author (apart from give them wine and chocolate), is to buy their book and post a short review on Amazon, Audible and Goodreads. It’ll keep them in coffee and Hobnobs. Thank you!

 

 

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Mothers & Daughters II

Happy Mother’s Day! This blog is dedicated to those very special women in our lives, without whom, we would not exist.

My first thriller, Bone by Bone, is about that unbreakable bond between mothers and daughters. It features Laura, her mother, Vanessa, and Laura’s daughter, Autumn. Now that my third psychological thriller is coming soon, I’ve realised that all three of my thrillers feature mothers and daughters.

 

 

I wrote a blog about mothers and daughters when Bone by Bone came out, and included this passage in it:

The bond between mothers and their children, particularly their daughters, is usually the strongest one that exists in human beings. Mothers shape their daughters, but daughters often rebel against being moulded. I was interested in exploring this tight and intimate bond; how some women raise their daughters to be like them, and their daughters then reject their values, but in doing so, may make mistakes of their own with their daughters – a tale familiar to some of us!

As Oscar Wilde so glibly said,

All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does, and that is his.

 

 

What I was interested in exploring in my latest thriller, My Mother’s Secret, is how that bond keeps loosening and tightening as the child grows older. Emma Taylor’s oldest daughter, Stella, is now fourteen. Like most teenagers, she needs to be loved and cared for, but she pushes back against her parents, particularly her mother, in her desire to become independent. Stella and her little sister, Ava, are in a more extreme situation than many young people, as their parents are paranoid about their safety. For example,  when Jack, their father, works in his office at the bottom of the garden, he sets the burglar alarm on the house so the children can’t leave without setting it off. I’ll let you judge whether the Taylors are fruitcakes or pretty sensible and how wise or damaging their behaviour is to their children!

Those chilling words seared in my heart: if you give evidence against me, 

I will kill you . . . I will hunt down your family and I will kill them . . . I am nothing if not a man of my word. 

        Emma Taylor

 

 

Obviously, in a thriller, what could happen to an child provides some of the tension the story requires, and this is what I’ve been playing with: how do you protect a child who is at risk, when you can’t tell her what the threat is, and she’s perfectly capable of operating independently and making decisions that are not in her best interests?

My voice bounces around the old stone walls, and the echoes make me even more scared. I’m crying properly now. How could he just go and leave me? The pain drowns out my shame. I take out my phone, but there’s no signal here. I’m starting to feel really frightened. I’m on my own in the dark, and no one knows where I am.

         Stella Taylor

 

In real life, how much do we really know about what children and young people are thinking and doing? And by not knowing every last detail, are we neglecting our duty of care, or are we giving them the freedom to grow, make their own mistakes and become responsible adults?

So here’s to mother’s, who have the toughest job on the planet!

 

 

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How to create the perfect villain!

Today is World Book Day! To celebrate I’m going to talk to the children in Year 3 at Sefton Park School, in Bristol, about villains! Seems like a suitable topic for seven year olds! Actually, though, it’s a pretty critical topic for any writer.

So why do you need a villain? Well, without a baddie, basically, your story lacks drama. There will be no uncertainty, excitement or tension. An antagonist can provide conflict, which will help create this drama. The antagonist will also elevate your protagonist, the central character in your story, by stretching him or her because they’ll need to grow, change, and summon deep inner resources to defeat the villain – as long as your baddie is a worthy opponent.

However, an antagonist need not be a person: if you’re writing a supernatural or  horror story then your villain could be a creature or a ghost or a wizard. But in other genres, your villain could be a force, a concept, a trait or a psychological state. For instance, in 1984 the antagonist is ‘the Party’, the human (or inhuman) face of ‘Big Brother’. In spy thrillers, there is often a conspiracy or a government cover up; in LA Confidential, the hero is battling his own alcoholism; in Sense of an Ending, the opponent, seems to be Vanessa, but it’s actually the anti-hero, Tony’s, own character flaws; in Solar it’s global warming.

My two tips on creating a decent villain are first, have empathy. Get inside your baddie’s head. Almost no one thinks they’re doing the wrong thing or that they’re immoral – everyone can justify their actions.

And secondly, the villain isn’t always who you think it is. Check out my thrillers – in all three, Bone by Bone, The Stolen Child and My Mother’s Secret – the bad guy isn’t who you think it is.

For more on villains and for some writing exercises, please sign up to the Arvon Foundation’s newsletter and look for my writing tips on Antagonistic Antagonists.

 

How do I write?

 

Well, I start the day with a large black coffee and some dark chocolate!

Writing a novel feels like being an ultra marathon runner. It’s going to be a gruelling slog to reach 80 – 100,000 words and I will be unable to pause, to breathe properly, to take in the view until then; I know I’ll have to keep going, unsure if I’m going to make it, or make it in time. And then, when I cross the finish line, I’ll be doubled over, sucking in air, celebrating how far I’ve come, before, – quick breath – I’ll start the first full read through, and the edits.

So I begin my writing day by reading through what I wrote the day before, and I end my day by making notes on what I’m going to write, so I don’t waste time trying to get in the zone.

I write a book a year – for the thriller that’s just about to come out, My Mother’s Secret, that meant 2,500 words a day, for three days a week during school hours. If I didn’t hit my word count, the walk to school to pick up my daughter would be filled with figures – I’d calculate that tomorrow, I’d need to write 3,500 words, and if I didn’t hit that word count, the day after would be… tricky!

Before I begin a novel, I spend a couple of months plotting my novel, scene by scene, until I have an outline of between 6 and 10,000 words. Even if some scenes are pretty sketchy – Scene 52: Stella and Adam getting closer.

And I’m going to come back to this and talk more about plot in the future…

The full answer to this question has been recorded by the Royal Literary Fund and will be available shortly. In the meantime, I’ve recorded other podcasts for the RLF, and there are many, many wonderful writers you might like to listen to via iTunes or their website.

 

What’s your writing process like?

 

Why do I write?

 

 

The short answer, is because I have to! I’d write if I was shut in an attic at the top of a dark castle –  but I also want to be read. I don’t just write for myself. I want someone out there to read what I’ve written, to see what I’ve seen in my mind, to experience what I felt, to be immersed in another world and other lives…

F Scott Fitzgerald wrote,

‘You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.’

I believe I have something to say. And I want to share it.

Stephen King said,

‘Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends.’

But actually I do want all those things! More than anything else though, I agree with him when he wrote,

‘[Writing is] about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting happy.’

And in the end, that’s true. I write to make myself happy.

 

The full answer to this question has been recorded by the Royal Literary Fund and will be available shortly. In the meantime, I’ve recorded other podcasts for the RLF, and there are many, many wonderful writers you might like to listen to via iTunes or their website.

 

Why do you write? Or if you don’t, why not?!

How adoption can be a force for good

‘Shall I tell you the story of you?’ I say, hugging my knees to my chest and wishing my daughter would let me cuddle her.

She nods, barely perceptibly.

‘A long time ago, before you were even a twinkle in anybody’s eye, your daddy and I really, really wanted a baby girl. We tried and tried to have a baby but we just couldn’t.’

The more I tell this tale, like a fairy story instead of an offering from the Brothers Grimm, the easier it gets.

‘Then we met a kind young woman who was pregnant with a baby girl and she said we could have her baby because we didn’t have one of our own. And so we waited and waited, and you grew bigger and bigger inside her and, one day, we got a phone call to say that you were ready to come out. So we rushed to the hospital—’

This is Zoe, the mother in my thriller, THE STOLEN CHILD, telling her adopted daughter, Evie, where she came from.

Adoption throws up so many difficult and complex issues: the child may experience a sense of loss, and a confusion about who they are and how they fit into their new family. The may feel a dislocation between their own identity and the adopted family’s culture, class and race. But adoption can be  positive – about giving hope and love to a child.

‘Evie is our beautiful, dark-haired, green-eyed child,’ I say. I can hear the tremor in my voice. ‘Like many seven-year-old girls, she’s obsessed with princesses. We think she looks more like a fairy. She loves Lego and painting…Please find her. Please bring her back to us. We miss her beyond measure. She is the love of our life.’

These Ted talks on adoption have been collated by the charity Adopt Together.

But what really inspired and moved me was this Ted talk by Christopher Ategeka, who was originally from Uganda. His parents died when he was young and he grew up in excruciating poverty, before he was put in an orphanage and eventually adopted by an American family. He says,

‘These strangers showed me true love. These strangers showed me that I mattered, that my dreams mattered.’

He went on to get two degrees in engineering. As he says, ‘Talent is universal, but opportunity isn’t.’

He ends his talk with words that I hope will resonate with all of us:

‘We may not be able to solve the bigotry and the racism of this world today, but certainly we can raise children to create a positive, inclusive, connected world full of empathy, love and compassion.’

 

Adoption Stories

 

I think about the story I always tell her – of the kind lady who gave her to us. I suppose that must be how she imagines her father – as a kind man who gave her away too, as if she were a gift. Only now he wants her back.

Evie, the little girl in my thriller, The Stolen Child, was adopted at birth. At seven years old, she suddenly realises that she looks different from the rest of her family and starts questioning what it means to be adopted. In the UK, around 3,000 children are adopted each year, but the number adopted at birth is low (around 60) and the number in care is much higher.

The Stolen Child is about whether nurture or nature is more important, and what adoption means for a child’s sense of self, their identity, their place in the world and how much they believe they are loved.

The Adoption, a Radio 4 podcast, charts the real life story of two children taken into care. There are no dramatic twists and turns, just everyday heartbreak in what is, sadly, not a unique tale.

 

Do let me know if you have a story you’d like to share about adoption.

 

 

Children in Crime Fiction

I’m heading up to Granite noir, a crime fiction festival in Aberdeen in one month. I’m going to be talking about children caught up in crime fiction with two incredible psychological thriller writers, Mel McGrath, author of Give Me the Child, and Colette McBeth, who’ll be talking about An Act of Silence.

All of our books feature a mother as the central character and their child, who is in peril. There is nothing our characters would not do to protect their child – although in Mel and Colette’s stories, the situation is more complex. Linda, the protagonist in An Act of Silence, has an adult son whom she has never truly trusted: will she believe him now, when he’s been accused of murder?

As for me, my character, Zoe, in The Stolen Child, would go to the ends of the earth for her daughter, Evie – if she knew where to find her. Arguably, Zoe inadvertently put her daughter in danger by falling for another man, an artist called Haris, who is darkly fascinating. This goes to the heart of what it takes to be a good mother: you obviously need to love and care for your child or children, but to do so well, you need to be happy too.

Where do we draw the line between our needs and those of our family?

 

 

Christmas Book Recommendations

 

My ideal winter holiday involves long walks when the sky is a crisp blue, returning to a roaring fire, for a glass or two of prosecco and a good book. Here are my suggestions for what might make a good holiday read, and what I’m planning to read over Christmas.

 

Do Less, Get More by Sháá Wasmund

You can do anything…but you can’t do everything. At least, not at the same time.

My sister, Sheila, put me onto this book. She runs a company with her husband, and looks after three girls, so she knows a thing or two about time management. This is an excellent book, with down-to-earth tips that really work, helping you figure out how to prune, prioritise, focus, let go of perfection and do more of what you’re passionate about.

 

How Not to be a Boy by Robert Webb

RULES FOR BEING A MAN

Don’t Cry; Love Sport; Play Rough; Drink Beer; Don’t Talk About Feelings 

I’ve recommended this before, but it’s so good and would make a fantastic present for any men in your life. Both a memoir and an analysis of masculinity, the essential argument at its core is that boys are taught not to express emotions apart from socially-acceptable ones for men, such as anger. After years of learning to suppress emotions, many men are unable to detect or even label what emotion it is that they’re feeling. This book made me cry and laugh, sometimes at the same time.

Odd Child Out by Gilly Macmillan

Sometimes it’s hard not to let other people’s misery seep into your own bones.

Like me, Gilly lives in and loves Bristol, where we have set some of our novels. This is a welcome return for DI Jim Clemo and has a grittier, broader feel than her previous thrillers. The story hinges on a friendship between two boys: privileged but terminally-ill Noah Sadler, and Abdi Mahad, a second-generation Somali who has won a scholarship to one of Bristol’s prestigious private schools. After an incident in which one child fell into the canal behind Temple Meads station, one boy cannot speak and the other one won’t. Will DI Clemo find out what really happened that night, before the differences in the teenagers’ class and race threaten to upset the already fragile equilibrium in the city?

Give Me the Child by Mel McGrath

For all the advances we’ve made in understanding the human brain, there’s still no scan for the human soul.

Dr Cat Lupo, child psychologist, is woken when police bring a girl to the house she shares with her daughter, Freya, and husband Tom. Ruby Winters, who is the same age as Freya, turns out to be Tom’s illegitimate daughter, and Ruby’s mother, Lily, has just died. Cat’s work with children showing psychopathic tendencies, and her own pre-pregnancy psychotic episode, make for uncomfortable connections to her new-found situation. Set against the backdrop of a heatwave in London and race riots in Brixton, this is a tense, claustrophobic novel; for fans of Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty.

 

Over the Christmas holidays, I’m hoping to read thrillers, The Dry by Jane Harper, An Act of
Silence by Colette McBeth and I’ve pre-ordered The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn. I’d like to re-read Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and on my Christmas wish list is Ballerina Body by Misty Copeland (like I said, on my wish list!).

 

What are you hoping to read over the holidays?

 

 

Win an audio version of The Stolen Child for Christmas!

I love audiobooks. I get them from Audible and I normally listen to them while I’m washing up, doing exercises with weights, or on long car journeys.
 
Audible have created an audio version of The Stolen Child. To celebrate, I’m going to give five copies away.
 
Please like and comment on the relevant post on my Facebook page. The give-away will end on 17 December, just in time for Christmas!
 
What do you like listening to best?

Win a free copy of The Stolen Child for Christmas!

 

Only three weeks to go until Christmas! To celebrate, I’m giving away four signed copies of The Stolen Child – one on my Instagram account, and three from my Facebook page. All you need to do is like and comment on the relevant post. Then, in a week’s time, I’ll pick the winners at random. (If you live outside the UK, I’ll send you an ebook instead).

Good luck!

 

 

 

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Sanjida Kay talks to Holly Seddon about The Stolen Child

I’m delighted to welcome fellow Corvus Books author,  Holly Seddon, to my website for a Q&A with me. She’s the author of Try not to Breathe and Don’t Close Your Eyes, and has asked me some wonderful questions. Over to Holly:

 

HS: Firstly, I have to say upfront that I loved this book. I had been a little nervous

going into it. I used to work for an adoption charity and I’m always very sensitive to how adoption is portrayed. It was a huge relief that I could see straight away how sensitively you had handled the subject, and also how rigorous your research must havebeen.

I also loved your depiction of the constant small battles that make up a day with small children, it was pitch perfect. The drip-drip-drip felt so real I nearly cried!

 

HS: The Stolen Child takes place largely in Ilkey, Yorkshire. The wild moors were the perfect backdrop – and witness – to the drama that unfolds. I know you’re a fan of Emily Bronte but do you have other links with Yorkshire as well? 

SK: Thank you for your kind words, Holly! I loved your second thriller, Don’t Close Your Eyes, (which is out now,  people!). I love the Brontës, especially Wuthering Heights. From the age of eight I lived on either side of Ilkley Moor, where The Stolen Child is set. I spent my childhood rambling across the moor, often by myself, so I grew to know it pretty well. Now every time I go back to Ilkley, I have to run across the moor, and then I really feel like I’m back home!

 

 

HS: You’d obviously researched the realties of modern adoption very thoroughly, how much did your findings surprise you?

SK: As well as reading about adoption, I spoke to one of my friends who’s just adopted a little girl, and I also interviewed an adoption lawyer, who very kindly did some considerable fact-finding on my behalf. What I was most surprised about is that thankfully fewer children are given up for adoption now than in the past, because because there’s less of a stigma against having a baby without being married. Unfortunately, it means that many of the children who are adopted in this country could have been damaged in some way because of addiction or abuse in their biological family.

HS:. Zoe’s challenge to switch between artist and mum, to cram creativity into boxes of time really resonated. Did that come from personal experience? 

SK: I think most parents can empathise with trying to balance life, work and being responsible for little people! It’s like – they’re at school/nursery/with Granny/the childminder – GO!!! But I interviewed an artist, Elaine Jones, who has two small children, to find out how she manages to be a mum and a successful painter. I still don’t understand how she does it!

HS:. Do you paint? The references to products and equipment can be researched of course but the understanding of the process of drawing and painting, the sense for the colours and movement, was so authentic I decided you must be a master painter! 

SK:That’s so kind of you to say so. I used to paint when I was young, but I don’t have time now (see the life/work/parent problem!). I take photographs, as it’s quicker and you can do it on the go, and I go to art galleries when I can. I interviewed Elaine Jones, an artist who’s work I love (and I’m fortunate enough to own two of her fantastic pictures) to try and get a tiny insight into what it’s like to be a painter.

HS: Without giving anything away, the ending pulled the rug from under me! Did you know the ‘twist’ before you started writing? 

SK: That’s good! I hope it surprises other readers too. I did always know what the twist was going to be, but right at the start, when my idea could have fitted on a postcard, I had a brilliant brainstorming session with Sarah Hilary, author of the Detective Marnie Rome series. She gave me the confidence to think of some other twists along the way too.

HS: Bone by Bone and The Stolen Child are set in Bristol and Ilkley, very different places but you show the wildness of both. Is wildlife and especially the countryside important to you? 

SK: I’m obsessed with wildlife and nature! I studied zoology at university and I’m fascinated by animal behaviour and evolution. I try and go hiking as often as I can in proper wild places (well, wild but with a pub at the end of the walk!). In fact, my next novel, My Mother’s Secret, is partly set in the Lake District near Scafell Pike. It’s being printed as we speak!

HS: Is there anywhere in the world that you’d love to set a novel? 

SK: I’d love to set a novel in New Orleans. It seems like such a vibrant mixture of Gothic voodoo, African history, blues music, urban grittiness and swampy bayou, old school charm and grim brutality. I love films like Angel Heart and the first True Detective series, and, of course, New Orleans has an eclectic literary heritage, from James Lee Burke, Anne Rice, Tennessee Williams, Kate Chopin to Poppy Zee Brite. Okay, maybe I’d better call the US tourist board?!

Thank you, Holly, lovely talking to you!

 

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