New paperback release!

I can now share the exciting news that my debut crime thriller with Ruby Fiction is being released as a paperback on 5th November 2019.

This is especially exciting for me because it’s the first time I’ll have a paperback version of one of my books! I’ve had short stories published in paperback edition anthologies but this is different; this release is all my work!

It was released as ebook and audiobook last year but this is the goal most writers work towards – being able to hold their book in their hands and smell the pages… (yes, we’re a bit weird).

It’s already available to pre-order from Wordery (with FREE shipping worldwide) and will soon be available to pre-order from Amazon.

It will be available to purchase in high street book shops from November but if your favourite shop doesn’t appear to stock it, just ask them to order it in for you! The same goes for your library – if you’d like to be able to borrow a copy, just ask your local library to order a copy.

Here’s a reminder of what Who Cares If They Die is about (and don’t forget the sequel – Where the Snow Bleeds – is released as ebook and audiobook on 30th July):

Did she jump or was she pushed?

It starts with the hanging woman in the Maple Valley woods; the woman with no shoes, no car and no name. On paper it’s an obvious case of suicide – but to Officer Dean Matheson, something doesn’t add up.

Then there are the other deaths, deaths that also look like suicides – but are they? The victims are all women living on the fringes of society, addicts and criminals. Who will miss them? Does anyone really care if they die?

Dean Matheson is making it his business to care, even if it means he becomes a target …

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Life Playlists is back and today my guest author Wendy Dranfield is choosing her five all time favourites…

JO LAMBERT - A WRITER'S JOURNEY

I’m Wendy Dranfield, British writer of crime fiction, avid reader, Twitter addict and owner of 3 rescue cats. When Jo asked me to join Life Tracks I thought it would be easy to come up with 5 songs. How wrong I was! It actually made me realise how many songs have been the soundtrack to my life and it’s hard to leave out so many and choose just 5. I enjoy a wide range of music but I’ve realised through doing this that the best music of my life was definitely from the nineties/early noughties. I guess that’s because I was young! Well, and because we had the best music in the nineties…
I think these 5 are my stand-out tracks:

Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit (1991)
It would be tempting to pick all Nirvana songs for this exercise, and this one is an obvious choice, but I’ve chosen…

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Where the Snow Bleeds – update!

The second book in the Dean Matheson crime series is now available for worldwide pre-order!

Where the Snow Bleeds is the sequel to Who Cares If They Die (it can also be read standalone).

Dean is no longer working as a police officer after his stressful and somewhat unsuccessful attempt at playing detective in book 1. He’s now working as a private investigator with Rocky, his wannabe police dog, still by his side.

When a woman walks into his Las Vegas office and asks for his help in finding her missing teenage daughter, and her daughter’s friend, up in Lone Creek, Colorado he can’t resist. But he soon finds out that Lone Creek is no Aspen. The ski resort the girls were working in is desolate, with some sinister secrets to hide. It doesn’t help that Dean gets caught in one of the worst snow storms Colorado has ever seen, hampering his efforts to find the missing girls. Luckily, he has local Detective, Eva Valdez, to work with. But she’s not falling for Dean’s charms. She does things her way and she’s determined not to let any man screw things up for her.

Will Dean find the missing girls before it’s too late? Or will his past failures get in his way? You’ll have to read Where the Snow Bleeds to find out…

Available to pre-order on Amazon now!

Here’s the official blurb and cover reveal:

“You want to know what I’ve learnt after living in Lone Creek all my life? I know the snow bleeds here, Mr Matheson …”

Former police officer Dean Matheson has been playing it safe since the case that cost him almost everything. But working as a PI doesn’t quite cut it, that is until a British woman walks into his office with a job that Dean can’t resist.

The woman’s daughter, Hannah Walker, and her friend Jodie have gone missing whilst working at a ski resort in Colorado. It’s clear there’s something sinister about the girls’ disappearance, but then why are the local police department being so unhelpful?

So begins Dean’s journey to Lone Creek on the trail of the missing girls – and he’ll soon find out that in Lone Creek, everyone has something to hide …

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Book Extract: Who Cares If They Die

Book 1 in the Dean Matheson series. Book 2 is published 30th July 2019.

Chapter 1

Officer Dean Matheson stands shivering against the cold night, trying not to look at the gruesome scene before him.

‘Matheson? Get over here. If I have to look at this, you have to look,’ says Detective Miller.

Dean moves closer to the tree the woman’s body is swinging from. The strong wind has her dancing around like she’s doing the jitterbug. The weather is threatening more snow and, although it’s almost dawn, it’s still pitch black out here in the woods. His colleagues, Officer Marty Swan and Sergeant Steve Dalkin, helpfully light up the woman’s lifeless body with their flashlights. Dean wishes they wouldn’t. He’s going to have trouble forgetting the sight of her bulging tongue and puzzled expression next time he eats. It won’t be the first meal he’s been unable to eat, thanks to this job.

He makes himself look at her for a moment longer. He knows she won’t be immediately recognisable to any of her family like this. If this was his wife Linda, he wouldn’t want to have to remember her this way. But then Linda isn’t speaking to him at the moment. He doesn’t expect she’ll stick around much longer now she knows about his affair, so there’s little risk of him ever having to identify her if she’s involved in an accident. Not that this was any accident. Discarded on its side under the woman’s bare feet, he notices the stepladder she must have used to reach the branch she’s hanging from.

As Miller takes notes nearby, Dean wonders where she got the ladder from and whether she carried it here herself or was given a lift by someone. Maybe she hitchhiked. There are no cars parked nearby apart from their police vehicles and an ambulance, so she certainly didn’t drive herself out here. And where are her shoes? This feels odd to him.

‘Are you building up the courage to ask her out on a date or do you actually intend on helping us cut her down sometime soon?’

Miller’s a condescending jerk. He refers to Dean and Marty as his ‘minions’ but he would never talk to Steve that way because Steve’s their sergeant. Dean decided a long time ago that once he’s worked his way up to homicide detective he intends to treat the cops on the ground with respect. He doesn’t believe in shit rolling downhill.

‘You hold the flashlights then,’ he says.

All three of them throw their flashlights towards Miller and use the discarded stepladder to reach the hanging woman. Dean almost slips on the ladder’s steps, as they seem greasy. He reluctantly removes his thick winter gloves and stuffs them in his pockets, feeling the cold immediately. Steve uses his pocketknife to start cutting through the rope above her head while Marty reluctantly grips under her armpits. Dean holds her lifeless legs. She’s wearing a skirt, exposing her bare skin. She still feels slightly warm despite the bad weather, so she can’t have been here too long. There’s no purse in sight and she doesn’t have any pockets to carry anything that would identify her. With what he hopes is the natural instinct of a detective, Dean starts trying to piece together what happened and when.

Maple Valley isn’t the smallest town in New Hampshire, but it’s small enough that most residents either know each other, are related to each other, or have dated each other. But Dean doesn’t recognise this woman, which isn’t completely unusual, but at least one of the cops showing up at a crime scene is usually quick to identify the victims in this town.

‘Anybody know her?’ he asks.

‘Not me,’ says Steve.

‘Nope, me neither. She’s too good looking to be one of my exes.’ jokes Marty.

Dean smiles. Sometimes you need someone like Marty to lighten the mood. Especially when you’re holding a dead body.

‘Okay, almost there. You all got her?’ asks Steve.

Before they can answer, her dead weight falls into their arms and they almost drop her. Dean wobbles on the stepladder and struggles not to fall back. He thinks how, for a slim woman, she sure weighs a lot now she’s dead. Carefully, they carry her down to the blanket they had already placed over the wet grass, under the tree. Dean notices the medical examiner is patiently waiting nearby, jumping on the spot to try to keep warm in the cold wind.

‘Hey, Doctor Sheila. Hope we’re not interrupting date night for you?’ jokes Marty.

‘Oh yeah. I’ve got a dozen men lined up at my door,’ she answers. ‘Unfortunately, that’s the morgue door and they’re all dead.’

Dean tries not to look at her as she leans over the body. He starts making his own notes in the small pad he carries with him.

‘So, who found her?’ asks Sheila.

He waits to see if anyone else will answer first but she’s looking at him. ‘We got a call from Eric Petty who said he was driving home from vacation with his kid when some lightning flashed in the woods. It lit her up. He pulled over to check what they thought they saw and then ran back to his car and immediately phoned us,’ he tries to avoid her eyes. She has great eyes. ‘We’ve already taken his statement but that’s pretty much all he said. He’s pretty shaken up. I’ve asked him not to talk about it with anyone until we release a statement.’

Sheila looks back down at the body as she puts on some latex gloves. She crouches down on the crunchy grass and examines the woman’s neck for a few minutes. She turns the woman’s head to the left, then to the right. She beams a light in her eyes one at a time. Everyone remains silent as she makes her notes. Then, after taking almost twenty photographs of the unidentified woman, she’s done. For now, anyway.

‘Is there a suicide note?’ she asks as she removes the gloves.

‘Not on her,’ answers Steve. ‘Maybe it’s at her house.’

‘Okay, I’ll get them to bag her up and drive her over to the morgue.’ She turns to Miller. ‘I’ll let you know when my report’s ready.’

Sheila gets in her car, an old Civic, and flashes Dean a smile that makes him want to follow her instead of going home. He tries to remind himself he’s supposed to have ended their affair, but the temptation is still there. A new text message quickly brings him back to reality. Linda wants to know what time he’s getting off work. He decides to ring her instead of texting and moves away from the others so they don’t overhear. Marty and Steve laugh at his need for privacy and start to examine the area around the tree, for any belongings or evidence.

‘Hey, it’s me. We’ve just got finished with a suicide so I’m going to have to go to the station and help write it up before I can finish. I shouldn’t be much longer.’

‘So, if I call the station in about fifteen minutes you’ll be there to speak to me?’ she replies, clearly unhappy.

‘Linda, come on! That’s what I said, honey. I’m not lying.’

‘How do I know that without checking on you? I can’t believe anything you say to me from now on. How do you expect me to ever trust you again?’ She sounds on the verge of tears, which makes him feel like shit.

‘I don’t know, Linda,’ he whispers. ‘I’m sorry, you know I am.’

Miller walks past him and laughs. ‘Come on, lover boy. Sort your wife out later. You’ve got work to do.’

Dean gives him the finger, but not to his face.

‘I’ve got to go. Ring me at the station to check on me, by all means. I’ll see you in about an hour and I’ll treat you to breakfast at the diner.’ He hesitates and then adds, ‘I love you.’

Linda doesn’t say anything before she ends the call. As he puts his phone away and retrieves his gloves he feels like a jerk. He hates how unhappy she is and he’s genuinely worried about her. But he still wants to pay Sheila a visit. He doesn’t know whether this means he shouldn’t be married. To distract himself he gets in the police cruiser with Steve and they drive through the howling wind, heading back to the police station.

 

Dean became a police officer after spending five years working as a corrections officer at the local Women’s Correctional Facility. His ultimate goal has always been promotion to detective as soon as possible. Piecing together serious crimes is the part of the job he enjoys, but he doesn’t get much opportunity to do that in his current role. Instead, he’s too busy responding to domestics, shoplifters, burglaries, and acting more like a social worker. Knowing this is the best way to make detective, he puts up with it.

Now, sat at his cramped desk with paperwork spilling onto the floor, he puts in extra hours to try to help piece together the story of Jane Doe, because he wants to prove himself. It was easier when Detective Jones was here. He’d throw things Dean’s way so he could build up some experience in complicated and violent crimes. Plus, he was allowed to do it in work time so he got paid for it. However, since Jones retired a year ago, Miller got promoted to detective and Miller doesn’t like him.

Dean watches him now, searching his desk drawers for food and can’t help shaking his head. The whole station knows Miller only got promoted because his wife’s brother knows someone high up. That and the fact that he was getting too fat to be a real cop. It was getting to the point where he was letting too many suspects get away on account of not being able to run after them any more. No one wanted to be partnered with him for anything because he was a liability. Now, Miller has what he considers to be a desk job when really he should still be out in the field and not leaving the actual detective work to the officers. In the twelve months since he was promoted, Dean thinks Miller has put on at least fifty pounds. The man wheezes every time he walks around the station and the whole department agrees he makes cops look bad.

Dean shakes his head again and sighs as he thinks of the injustice of the situation. He’d give anything to have Miller’s job. He retrieves some paper out of his desk drawer and writes down everything they know so far about what happened tonight: dead woman, maybe mid-twenties, shoeless, out in the wrong clothes for a storm, probably not local but with no ID, and no other obvious wounds, other than ligature wounds to the neck. That’s it. Not much to go on. Like a writer with a character but no plot, he draws lines sprouting from each piece of information he has, hoping it will lead to questions and answers.

Detective Jones taught him to always start with the biggest question and work your way back from there. What Dean needs to ask first is; why did a woman hang herself from a tree in Maple Valley on a cold, stormy November night? He’d feel better if there was a suicide note. That might give them some answers, but for that he needs her home address. He thinks of his brother’s suicide note. He’d left his bank card and passwords with it, being tragically thoughtful in his last moments but it didn’t answer any of their questions. Trying to avoid flashbacks to that awful time, Dean stares at his notes and decides on where to start; the woman’s identity.

The other person who needs to identify the body quickly as part of their job is Sheila. At the thought of her his gut tells him it’s time to go home and leave well alone, but instead he heads down to the morgue, which is in the doctor’s surgery, next door.

 

Sheila has her back to him when he opens the door to the morgue. He can’t help but check her out and wonder if she’s been waiting for him. He almost leaves before she sees him but she turns and smiles. A smile that would be hard for any man to resist.

‘Hi. I wondered how long it would take for you to pay her a visit, and I knew you’d beat Miller.’

‘Are you down here alone?’ he asks.

‘Yes. Everyone else has a life. Well, except everyone in here. Come and take a look.’

Jane is resting on the slab in front of Sheila, naked apart from a thin, white sheet pulled up to just below her neck. Her tongue swelling has gone down now the rope has been removed. She’s turning a pale grey colour with patches of haematoma under the skin. Even with her injuries Dean can see she was beautiful when she was alive.

‘I’m sure Miller will tell you to carry out the usual DNA swabs for ID purposes, in case her family get in touch, but in the meantime, does she have anything we can use to try to identify her? A tattoo or a birthmark, maybe? Something we can release to the press?’ he asks.

Sheila pulls the sheet back and points to Jane’s shoulder. ‘She has a cute and unusual pattern of freckles here. She has them on both shoulders, almost identical patterns and almost like a birthmark. Freckles that cute are something a lover would remember.’

Dean tries to ignore the word ‘lover’. ‘So, I guess we put a statement out asking if anyone’s missing a young blonde woman and see what we get from that.’

‘Aren’t all men looking for a young blonde woman?’ she asks with a laugh.

Sheila’s a redhead.

‘You’d be surprised.’

His radio suddenly comes to life. It’s Jenny, one of the dispatchers. ‘I’ve got your wife on the phone asking whether you’re at work. What do I tell her?’

Jenny’s no rookie; she knows how the game works. She knows to always check with the officer before answering questions from partners. All the cops and support staff look out for each other, because no one else knows what it’s like to be in their line of work. Dean inwardly cringes and heads for the door.

‘I’ll speak to her,’ he radios back. He looks over his shoulder at Sheila on his way out but she’s already turned her back on him.

 

When Dean pulls up outside his house less than an hour later, all the lights are switched off, including the one on their porch. It’s six o’clock and the sun is slow to rise at this time of year, so the house is in semi-darkness with just the glow from the street light providing some relief from the shadows. Linda had hung up before he’d had a chance to prove he was at work, so he left the station soon after. He knows he’s screwed up his marriage, but he was going through a hard time after his brother’s death. He wasn’t himself. He wants to make it up to Linda, but she needs to cut him some slack. It’s not like she’s perfect either.

Standing outside their modest, three-bedroom home, he feels as if something isn’t right. If Linda’s home the interior lights should be on. At the thought of her not being there, he suddenly wants nothing more than to make everything right with her and start afresh. He closes the car door and heads up the steps. His house is never in darkness; even overnight they leave the porch light on. He reaches for the front door slowly, instinct telling him something’s off. It’s too still around here, even the wind has temporarily died down. He has one hand on his holster, just in case. He puts his key in the lock as quietly as possible and turns it. When the door opens, he realises he’s been holding his breath.

‘This is stupid. That damn suicide has me on edge,’ he says under his breath.

He steps inside and reaches for the hallway light, which also lights up the lounge. ‘Linda?’

There’s no answer from her but Bella comes running towards him like she hasn’t seen him in weeks, collar bell jingling.

‘Hey, girl. Where’s your mum?’

Bella purrs up at him and wraps herself around his legs. He picks her up and holds her to his chest as he walks into the kitchen and flips the lights on. He notices the note on the dining table straight away.

I’m staying with Chrissie for a couple of days. I realise this means you have free rein to invite your woman around here but I don’t think I care any more. I have to figure out some stuff. I’ll ring you at some point.

Dean puts Bella on the dining table, drops onto a kitchen chair and lowers his head into his hands. What a night. Not knowing what to do, he sits there for a while, re-reading the note. He doubts this will end happily, which makes him feel sick. He only lost his brother three months ago and now he might lose his wife. Reaching for the fridge, he gets out Bella’s dinner pouch, beef flavoured, empties it into her pink plastic bowl and watches her eat and purr at the same time. He doesn’t see anything he wants in the fridge so, when Bella’s finished eating, he lets her out to roam. He decides to head to the diner to see if he can find his appetite. He doesn’t want to be alone right now and Frankie’s Diner offers great food and even better advice.

 

Chapter 2

‘Deano! Where have you been all my life?’ bellows the diner’s exuberant Italian owner and chef as Dean walks in and takes a seat at the bright white counter.

‘Right here, Frankie. Waiting for you to notice me.’

Frankie laughs and starts working on Dean’s usual breakfast; pancakes with a splash of maple syrup and lots of blueberries on top, served with a glass of iced water. Dean’s no longer a coffee drinker since he weaned himself off caffeine when he turned thirty, four years ago. That was something Linda made him do. She insists they do a full detox together once a year too. That’s something he won’t miss if she leaves him.

Rachel appears from the kitchen, smiling as usual and with her pencil tucked into her ponytail. She’s the only full-time waitress at Frankie’s. The others are students who work whatever hours they want to. She puts her hand on his back as she greets him. ‘Hey, how are you?’

She’s only slightly older than Dean but she likes to mother him when he comes in. She dated his brother, John, for a year. Long before he died. She misses him too. She and Frankie have been great listeners when Dean has been angry and confused about what happened. He’s been able to talk to them when he hasn’t been able to talk to Linda or his friends. Linda never really liked John. He’s never been able to figure out what her problem was. His friends have been there for him in the sense that they’re always offering to take him to a bar and help him drown his sorrows. He never takes them up on it but he knows they have his back.

‘Well, Linda’s gone to stay with her sister, so I guess I’ll be having a house party tonight.’

Rachel rolls her eyes. ‘You’re not still cheating on her, are you? That’s not going to help you get over John’s death, you know. It’s just going to make things worse.’

‘It’s already made things worse,’ he says with a sigh. ‘I’ve told her about Sheila.’

Rachel gasps and sits down next to him. ‘How did she take it?’

‘She’s been either screaming at me or ignoring me ever since I told her.’

‘What do you expect? I would be doing much worse than that! But maybe she’ll come around when she realises it was your way of dealing with John’s death and that you still love her. Give her a few weeks breathing space. You might still be able to salvage things.’

Dean’s not so sure. ‘Maybe. I guess I thought having an affair would be healthier than turning to booze or drugs. I don’t want to be one of those people I arrest on a daily basis, the ones with holes in their faces from the meth, or yellow skin from the alcohol. Being with Sheila made me forget everything, just for an hour every now and then.’ He sighs. ‘But, yeah, it was stupid to think sleeping with another woman was helping me. Hindsight’s both a wonderful and a terrible thing.’

Frankie was listening through the opening between the kitchen and the diner. ‘Women are never the solution, my friend. They are always the problem.’

Dean smiles but Rachel gives Frankie a scowl. ‘If you had a woman, Frankie, you wouldn’t be as fat and mouthy as you are now.’

‘Hey, I like being fat and mouthy!’

Frankie brings Dean’s breakfast over and Rachel goes to serve an influx of customers. It’s just turned seven o’clock and the breakfast rush is starting. One of the new customers sits down next to Dean at the counter, even though there are still plenty of empty tables.

‘Hi. What can I get you?’ asks Rachel.

‘I’ll have a cappuccino and a bagel please, with strawberry jam.’

‘Sure.’

As Rachel goes to sort the orders, Dean looks over at the woman who sat beside him. Her British accent caught his attention. She smiles at him. The only thing Dean can think is how hot she is. And that accent! She sounds like Kate Winslet. He wants to get her talking just to hear more of it.

‘Hi. I’m Officer Matheson, or Dean.’ He puts out his hand and she gives it a firm squeeze.

‘I’m Beth. Very nice to meet you.’

Dean can’t think of anything else to say so he carries on eating his pancakes, self-consciously.

‘That would be quite a healthy breakfast if you stopped adding maple syrup,’ she jokes.

He laughs. ‘You sound like my wife.’

Rachel places Beth’s order in front of her and heads back to the kitchen. Beth slathers her bagel in the strawberry jelly and begins eating.

‘What brings a British girl to our neck of the woods?’ asks Dean.

She finishes her mouthful before she speaks, but there’s a bit of jelly on her top lip that she’s missed. Dean tries to stop himself imagining licking it off. That kind of thinking isn’t going to win Linda back.

‘I’ve just started working at the prison.’

‘The Women’s Correctional?’

‘That’s right. I’m a psychiatrist and counsellor, but don’t let that faze you!’ When she laughs, she throws her head back slightly, which makes her chestnut brown hair glimmer in the slow rising sunshine that’s beaming through the diner’s front window.

Suddenly he’s even more self-conscious. ‘Well, I could give you several hours work just on the topic of me alone!’

‘No, I’m sure you police officers are all perfectly normal and well-balanced individuals.’

She says this with a cheeky smile that tells him she’s being sarcastic.

‘What are you doing at the prison; helping the criminals or the victims?’

‘Well, I believe some of the criminals are victims too, so I’m there to try to help stop their pattern of reoffending. I’ll try to make them better New Hampshire citizens so that when they’re released, they’re no threat to anyone else. In fact, you could say I’m there to make your job easier.’

Dean laughs. ‘Well I guess I owe you one then.’

‘Not yet, let me prove myself first. I have the daunting task of trying to reduce the suicide rate of the inmates.’

The mention of suicide makes Dean think of the woman they cut down earlier. His mind starts working overtime, wondering if she could have been a prisoner who got out somehow.

‘I don’t suppose you’re missing any women, are you?’ He lowers his voice. ‘We found a woman a few hours ago in the woods. Looks like a suicide.’

Beth shakes her head. ‘Not that I know of, but then I wouldn’t be privy to that kind of information, not yet anyway. I only started this week. I haven’t even given any counselling sessions yet.’

As she talks he focuses on her eyes. They match her hair colour perfectly. He thinks she must be about thirty, maybe twenty-nine.

She hands him a card with all her details on. ‘Here you go. Just in case you come across any victims who might need counselling. That might balance out my karma from working with the inmates. I’ve scribbled my mobile number on there, for out of hours.’

He loves how Brits say mobile instead of cell phone. He looks at her card and wonders if she pointed out her number for his sake, thinking how ironic it is to have a hot British woman flirting with him on the day he vows to win his wife back. But the thought of Linda makes him serious again. He finishes his breakfast and passes Rachel some money.

‘Keep the change.’

He notices Frankie and Rachel are both staring at Beth.

‘I’ve been on the night shift so I’m heading home for some shut-eye. See you around.’

‘You can’t miss me.’

He looks at her, trying to figure out if that was a come on, until Frankie explains.

‘She moved in upstairs last week, so she’s here every day for breakfast and dinner. She’s my new best customer. Sorry, Deano, she’s taken your place.’

Dean laughs and heads for the door. He notices the other males in the diner are all staring at Beth. He thinks she’s going to make quite an impression in this town. As he walks to his car, he tries to ignore his excitement at having someone so hot around for the foreseeable future.

‘I’m going to get Linda back,’ he vows to himself, like a mantra, whilst pulling out of the diner’s parking lot.

 

Want to read on and find out what happens next? Who Cares If They Die is available on all digital platforms as an ebook (Click here for Amazon) and audiobook (click here for Audible). Read it before book 2 comes out this summer! 

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Author Q&A

Here is an author Q&A I did a couple of years ago for the lovely Abby from Anne Bonny Book Reviews after my YA crime novel (The Girl Who Died) was released:

Q) For the readers, can you talk us through your background and the synopsis of your new novel?

I have been an avid reader ever since I was small, always preferring books over dolls for presents, and that love of reading resulted in an inevitable love of writing.  I started writing stories from about ten years old and I still have some I wrote as a teenager (they’re not good but they make me smile!).  I eventually completed some Creative Writing modules as part of my degree and found they really helped me focus on writing every day.

The Girl Who Died was the first novel I wrote.  It centres around fifteen-year-old Hannah, who thinks she’s killed her best friend, Katie, and then has to deal with the aftermath.  From dealing with the police investigation to starting a friendship with Katie’s devastated older brother, Josh, Hannah is put in some awful situations that she isn’t mature enough to deal with.  It’s not an easy read when we learn what Katie was going through before she died, but I believe it’s important to be honest when writing Young Adult fiction.  When I was a teenager I would have liked to have read something like this, to show I wasn’t alone in what I was going through.

Q) Can you talk us through the journey from idea to writing to publication?

This novel started as a nightmare I had when I was fifteen years old.  I must have been arguing with my best friend that day because I dreamt I killed her, cut her up into tiny chunks and then buried her in various places in our local field!  I woke up drenched in sweat and feeling the worst guilt I’d ever experienced.  Not because I thought I’d killed my best friend (we had a love-hate relationship!) but because I thought I’d get caught!  It took me a while to realise it was a dream.  But that dream stuck with me for years and I finally turned it into a short story in my early thirties.  That story got published in the ‘Fish Anthology’ and I had such a good response to it that everyone wanted to know what happened next to Hannah, the main character.  I decided to find out by continuing the story and that turned into the YA novel ‘The Girl Who Died’.  Although I wrote it in my late thirties, I’ve received great feedback about how realistic the fifteen-year-old characters are, which is great.

Q) What are your favourite authors and recommended reads?

Stephen King’s earlier books such as Pet Sematary and IT had a huge influence on me growing up and I still read everything he writes.  I’m also a huge fan of George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones series, which was unexpected for me because I hadn’t read any fantasy before that.  I am currently working my way through everything ever written by Joyce Carol Oates as something about her writing draws me in.  I also love Daphne Du Maurier and Shirley Jackson.

Q) What were your childhood/teenage favourite reads?

I grew up on Stephen King.  I would search the local car boot sales for any of his books I could find and ended up collecting them.  I prefer his earlier work such as Pet Sematary and IT because I’m a horror fan at heart, but I still read everything he writes.  I’ve learnt a lot from him.  At college I had to read Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and that became a favourite, which meant I went on to read his other work.  It’s so important to read widely and not just stick to one genre.

Q) What has been your favourite moment of being a published author?

When I got a story traditionally published for the first time I was so proud of myself.  I had entered a short story competition but I wasn’t bothered about winning the cash prizes, I just wanted to make sure I was at least one of the runners up as they would be published in the anthology.  Once I found out I was a runner up I couldn’t have been happier than if I’d have won the money.  Receiving five complementary copies of the anthology and seeing my work in a ‘real’ book for the first time was a huge moment for me.  It made me realise for the first time that I can start saying out loud than I’m a writer.  I didn’t feel like I was pretending anymore.

Q) Who has been your source of support/encouragement, throughout the writing process?

I never had anyone to encourage me while I was growing up and I never told school/college/work friends that I was writing in my spare time, as I felt embarrassed about it.  It was only when I met my husband at 25 that I revealed my writing hobby, and it took me a couple of years before I could show him any of my work.  I had such low self-esteem due to my upbringing that I didn’t feel confident enough to submit to competitions or publishers until I was in my thirties.  My husband has supported my writing ever since we met and now he’s a beta reader for my Dean Matheson crime series!

Book Extract: The Girl Who Died

Chapter 1

Her eyes are staring at me, but there’s no life in them anymore. Her skin is already starting to change colour. All that blood escaping from the side of her head is ruining her hair. She looks like she’s trying to out-stare me.

‘First one to blink loses.’

The sound of my voice surprises me. I don’t know how long I’ve been sat here.  The quarry we’re in is empty, apart from a black and white horse in the overgrown field nearby. I look up at how far the drop was. Then back at my best friend, who I’ve killed. She’s still looking at me. Her expression doesn’t change but her eyes seem to be looking right through me now, like I’m not here. They’re not as blue as they were earlier today. I’m not sure how to pass the time until I wake up. Surely this is where the dream will end? I must be too hot in bed; that always gives me nightmares. Maybe I fell asleep with my dressing gown on. Katie will freak out when I tell her about this one!

I look back at her familiar round face; my partner in crime. The blood has spread to the front of her head now so that her cheek is pressed into it. She looks like she put on way too much blusher this morning. Her lips are going blue. I can’t stop myself from reaching out to touch her blood. Surely this is what will wake me up? It’s warm. Katie’s blood is warm. I shouldn’t be able to feel that in a dream.

‘Katie, wake up! I’m so sorry! Please Katie, wake up!’

My screams wake the birds who were sleeping in the trees above us. I barely feel my bladder letting go. Even though the July sun is hot, I’m freezing cold. My bones are shivering and my breathing comes in small gulps, like hiccups. I can’t handle this. It’s not real. It can’t be. My arms and legs go numb and I collapse next to Katie. Hopefully we’ll wake up together.

 

Mum’s not back from work yet. Thank God. It feels weird being home. Was that really the same me who left home this morning, completely oblivious to how bad life can get? I stumble up the stairs towards the bathroom. I need to get out of these disgusting, damp jeans. I fill the bath and sink in. The hot water tries to trick me into believing I’m not evil. No bubble bath today; not for a murderer.

The tears start again. Katie’s in that abandoned quarry, completely alone, while I’m in this safe, hot bath. The heat of the water feels like it’s burning someone else’s skin, not mine. I can’t tell her family what I’ve done, they will literally kill me. I wonder if mum would help me out if I told her. But she’ll be so disgusted with me. Shame works its way up my face, heating my cheeks. If she tells the police, they’ll arrest me. Oh God, what do I do? My whole body is trembling again.

 

Time disappears. When I next move, I notice the bath water’s gone cold. Not as cold as Katie will feel if she stays in that ditch all night. Every time I think of it I get a stabbing pain in my chest. This is so bad. I wonder what time Katie’s parents will start worrying about her and realise she’s not coming home. She told me they agreed she can stay out until eleven tonight because it’s the start of the school summer holidays.

My eyes are squeezed shut so tightly that I can see a million tiny lights in the blackness. I can hear my heart beating through my brain. I’ve got to sort my face out; it feels like crumpled sandpaper. I pull myself out of the bath and rub steam off the mirror. My reflection shows how sorry I am. My eyes and nose are bright red. The mascara Katie put on me earlier is smeared all down my cheeks. It’s supposed to be waterproof. I attempt to clean my face.  Seeing my reflection makes it all real. I look tired and sad. Mum will know something’s up the minute she looks at me. Then again, maybe looking this awful could work for me? Maybe I could close my curtains, get into bed and leave a note for mum telling her I’m not feeling very well? Then she won’t see I’ve been crying. And then, when they realise Katie’s not coming home, I could say that I wasn’t with her so I don’t know where she is. My mind goes into overdrive. Surely anything that gets me off the hook is worth a try?

This tiny speck of hope moves my body into action. I pull my pyjamas on, push the wet jeans under my bed and run downstairs to put a note on the fridge: Got another migraine so came home early. Gone to bed.  No dinner thanks.

I have to fight the urge to write how Katie is dead in a ditch, how desperately I need my mum to protect me, and how I’m going to need counselling to block out Katie’s dead face from my mind. I fight back yet more tears as I use a ‘We love Cornwall’ magnet to pin the note on the fridge. I hear mum’s car pulling up in the driveway. As quick as I can I use my last bit of energy to climb the mountainous stairs. I close my curtains and jump into bed, pulling the blanket up over my head.

 

Katie’s about to fall head first onto glass, so I grab her arm and pull her towards me as hard as I can, away from danger. She falls on me so hard that I’m winded. Her long, hi-lighted hair and numerous necklaces cover my face.

‘I always knew you fancied me!’ She laughs as she struggles to get off me. ‘Any excuse to get me on top of you!’

The relief of hearing my best friend’s voice again makes me cry. I grab hold of her hand, ‘Katie, let’s get out of here.’

She looks at me to ask why but then we both hear a phone ring. It’s not one of our ringtones. Suddenly, I feel like I’m going to puke. I sit up in bed, trying to figure out what was real and what was a dream. My hands are clammy and my pyjamas are drenched with sweat. My brain won’t work quickly enough. Slowly, the awful truth hits me and my stomach lurches with dread. As I reach for the bedside light and check under my bed for the damp jeans, I realise that I didn’t manage to save her after all. I killed her. The phone we heard was the landline. Mum’s running up the stairs. I look at my clock; almost midnight. Her parents must really be starting to worry. Oh God, I’m about to be found out!

Mum gently knocks at my door.

‘Hannah? Are you awake?’

I’m not fast enough to get under the covers and pretend to be asleep. She flicks the big light on and approaches me, looking worried.

‘How are you feeling, love?’

‘A bit weird.’ Even my voice is shaking. ‘The phone woke me.’

‘That was Katie’s mum.’

Shit! How do I not scream?

‘Katie isn’t home yet. Do you know where she is? Have you had any texts from her?’

I slowly reach for my mobile to pretend to check it. If I do have a text from Katie it will be one telling me to burn in hell for leaving her there. My pink phone case seems so childish now.

‘No. I was only with her for an hour before I had to come home.’

‘Okay, I’ll tell Elaine. She’s probably just late. You kids are nothing but trouble!’

I pretend to smile but my hands are clenched under the blanket and my forehead is covered in sweat.

‘You look awful. Has your migraine gone yet?’

‘I think so.’

‘Okay. Well, I’m going to bed in a minute. There’s a quiche in the fridge you can warm up if you’re hungry.’

‘No thanks.’

‘Alright. Goodnight.’

Thank God she’s leaving, I can stop pretending now. I hate lying to her. I’m sure she can tell. When she’s gone, something makes me want to ring Katie’s mobile. It’ll be in her jeans pocket. Maybe she’s woken up and needs help but can’t move enough to walk. If I ring her she might be able to answer and tell me she’s alive. As I ring her number my heart’s beating so loud that I can hear every vein in my head pumping blood. My phone rings out. As I wait, I feel like I’m close to her. Her phone will be in her jeans pocket and I’m making it light up and ring. It’s like I’m touching her.

Warm tears accumulate at my chin and drip onto my blanket. I wish I’d stayed with her. I can’t believe I left her alone out there.

‘Katie speaking.’

OH MY GOD! My stomach jumps into my lungs.

‘Katie?!’

‘Hah! Fooled you! Only leave a message if you’re good looking! Bye!’

I switch my mobile off and collapse back onto my pillows. She scared the shit out of me. I close my eyes and try to slow my breathing down. She really is gone. I can’t believe this is happening to me. The pillow’s softness on my face is deceiving.

 

My severely dry mouth wakes me up. I’ve managed to sleep until nine o’clock. I force myself out of bed, put on my dressing gown and slowly walk down to the kitchen where mum is stood at the sink. I skipped dinner last night so my stomach is begging for breakfast, even though I have no appetite, and my mouth is begging for water. The mirror above the kitchen table reflects a ghost. I look old. Mum turns to look at me with a really awful expression on her face.

‘Come here love.’

I walk over to her. She’s sat on one of the dining room chairs with an untouched cup of tea in front of her. I don’t know how to look innocent or what to do with my hands.         ‘Katie didn’t go home last night,’ she pauses and looks down at her tea. ‘And, well, a girl’s body has been found this morning at that abandoned quarry, by someone walking their dog.’ Her voice cracks, ‘It might be her.’

I burst into tears and only just make it onto the dining room chair before I collapse. Mum mistakes my tears for grief. I suppose they are a bit, but they’re definitely more guilt and fear of what will happen to me if anyone finds out I left her there.

‘Try not to worry love. Her mum and dad are on their way to, well, you know. I just hope it’s not her.’

Mum starts to cry. She knows how close me and Katie are. Or do I have to say ‘were’ now? I hate myself so much. But please don’t let me get caught.

 

It’s been two long, empty hours. We’re waiting for that call confirming the body is Katie. I can’t bear to be sat with mum while she waits. I need to think. She’s reluctant to leave me alone but I manage to leave her downstairs while I stare at Google in my room. My fingers take over and type ‘leaving the scene of a crime’. There are thousands of links on the subject. Hopefully that means I’m not alone. It’s mostly forum comments though, and they’re all nasty and judgemental or quoting the bible. Reading all this is making me shake again. I want to be checking all my social media, not searching for laws on murder. I can’t think about this now. I lie back on my bed and stare through the ceiling until I don’t see it anymore.

‘Why didn’t you help me?’

‘What?!’

Shit! That was Katie’s voice right next to my ear! She’s here in my room! If I see her I’ll die!

‘No!’

I cover my face with my hands while every hair on my body stands up. This is my worst nightmare! My breathing won’t slow down. Oh God, now I’m panicking and I can’t breathe at all.

‘Mum!’ It comes out croaky. I can’t even shout loud enough, ‘MUM!’ I hear her running up the stairs.

‘What’s wrong?’

My tears and gulping must give it away because she flings her arms around me and sits next to me on the bed.

‘Slow your breathing down. Take deeper breaths.’

It’s too late. Everything is disappearing.

 

The room is spinning. I feel like I’m going to fall over. This lasts a few seconds while I try to work out what I’m doing. Maybe I’ve already fallen, because I’m on my back. Eventually, mum comes into view.

‘It’s okay. You passed out for a minute there but you’ll be fine.’

I stare at her but I can’t form any words because I feel so dizzy and weird. Then I remember Katie’s voice and try to sit up too fast.

‘No, stay flat to get some blood back into your head. How do you feel now?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘You might’ve had a panic attack. Just try to relax your breathing.’

I think I just hallucinated Katie. The landline starts ringing. We both hesitate before mum slowly helps me sit up. She runs to her bedroom to pick up the phone. My body feels slow and heavy as it takes me forever to reach her doorway. I don’t hear what she says but then she puts the phone down. She won’t look at me at first. When she does turn around she looks devastated. Her whole face is turned strangely downwards.

‘I’m so sorry, love. It’s her.’

She breaks down, as if it was me they’d identified. It’s weird but, although I’m still shaking and I feel really light headed, I’m so relieved that Katie’s been found and her parents know where she is now, without me having to tell them.

‘How did she die?’

‘She has a head injury.’

‘How did Katie’s mum sound?’

‘That wasn’t her I spoke to, it was Katie’s uncle who’s at the hospital with them. But I could hear Elaine howling in the background.’

Mum’s tears get worse. She hugs me really tight.

‘I shouldn’t say this, but I’m so glad you came home early.’

Hearing this makes me feel even more guilty and then the tears start again. It’s such a relief to cry with mum, instead of on my own. I just hope she stands by me if I get found out. Then she drops a bombshell.

‘Her uncle said the police are on their way now to speak to you.’

My heart almost explodes right out of my chest. I hear a loud clang in my head.

‘They’ll want to see if you know anything about why she was there I expect.’

My mind starts racing for things I might’ve missed. Did anyone see us together yesterday? Was there anyone watching us climb over the gates to get into the quarry? Shit, did anyone come and feed that horse while we were there? My shaking gets worse as I realise I might have to admit what I did. But I’ve left it so late now that it’ll look so much worse. I can’t believe I’m going to prison! Then I remember; my hair! I was wearing it in a ponytail while I was out, but it was already down when I got in the bath. My hair bobble must’ve fallen out somewhere! Can’t they trace DNA by just one strand of hair? I’m sure that was on CSI last week. Shit! I did lie down next to her. It could’ve come out then!

The doorbell rings. We move dreamlike to the front door, almost like we’re being pushed. As mum opens it, my eyes meet the unfriendly gaze of two policewomen. My knees cave in as I lower myself onto the stairs.

‘Mrs Walker?’

‘Ms, I’m divorced.’

‘I’m Inspector Foster and this is PC Williams. We’re here to have a chat with your daughter, Hannah.’

‘Come in. That’s Hannah.’

Why can’t I faint now so that they have to leave me alone? What’s that in her hand? Oh God, what if it’s my hair bobble? What if she asks me if it’s mine, what do I say? If they show mum she’ll know everything. They walk passed me towards the living room and ask me to follow. All this stress really can’t be good for me. I can barely walk on my legs. I sit down next to mum. Only the Inspector talks to me.

‘I’m so sorry about your friend and for having to question you. But the fresher things are in your memory, the better for everyone.’ She pauses, then she leans forward. Hannah, your friend died of a puncture wound to her head. She either fell, or she was pushed-,’

Shit!

‘-off a high rock face into a ditch which was filled with discarded builder’s waste. Unfortunately, her head landed on a lot of broken glass.’

My eyes are streaming with warm, salty tears but I’m not making any sound.

‘The attending Doctor thinks it would’ve taken quite a while for Katie to bleed to death. That means there was a window of opportunity for whoever was there with her, assuming there was someone there, to get help.’

‘What?’

My chest caves in as I expel every last bit of oxygen in my lungs. She was dead. She was dead straightaway, I was sure of it. Or was that why her eyes were staring at me? Was she trying to tell me something? My heartbeat is so loud in my head, surely that means it’s going to explode soon. Then I realise what she’s saying. I killed my friend twice; first by pushing her off the cliff and then by not phoning for help.

‘Don’t you think that’s too much detail for her?’

My poor mum. She has no idea I sat and watched the blood leaking from Katie’s head and then continued to watch as her body went from pink to blue. She wraps her arms around me for support, but I have to push her away. I shouldn’t be comforted; it’s not right. The Inspector then makes me look directly at her.

‘Hannah? Do you know who Katie was out with yesterday?’

I can’t maintain her gaze. I look away. As my mouth opens, I honestly don’t know what’s going to come out.

 

Want to read on? The Girl Who Died is available worldwide on Amazon for just 99p or free on Kindle Unlimited!

the girl who died ebook complete

New book announcement!

Just a bit of an update for those readers who are asking for information about my next book… The first book in the Dean Matheson series (Who Cares If They Die) was published in September 2018. Yesterday, I signed a publishing contract with Ruby Fiction for the second in the series! Woohoo!

Book 2 will be published on 30th July 2019. What’s it called? You’ll have to wait a little longer to find out! Once the book cover and title have been revealed on social media (follow me on Twitter for the latest updates), I’ll post an update here with both.

So, what can I tell you about book 2? It’s really hard to talk about it without posting spoilers, which I know nobody likes, so I’ll just give you a few buzzwords for now: Colorado, snow, blood, Dean Matheson, Rocky the rottweiler, Detective Eva Valdez, murder, lies, abduction, grief…and Beth Smith. Thought you’d seen the last of her at the end of book 1? So did Dean!

I’m so excited about book 2 and I can’t wait for you all to read it! I’ve also just finished writing book 3 in the series! Is there anything I can tell you about book 3? Hmm… not yet. But it’ll be worth the wait, I promise. Even I’ve been surprised by what happens in book 3. The characters really have taken over and I’m just along for the ride.

For more teaser updates on book 2 and for the pre-order link, keep an eye on my Twitter and Facebook pages!

Book 2 contract

NaNoWriMo – Can you really write a novel in a month?

When I first heard of NaNoWriMo (national novel writing month) about 5 years ago, I laughed, shook my head and thought, ‘Yeah, right. As if you can write a novel in a month.’ I thought if someone finished a whole novel in one month then it would be utter rubbish and unedited. So, I avoided the idea completely…until I joined Twitter.

On Twitter, people take #NaNoWriMo seriously. That made me look into it in more detail and I discovered the point isn’t actually to write a whole novel in a month. It’s to write 50,000 words of a novel during November (the quietest time of the year, apparently, and therefore there should be less distractions). That works out at just 1,667 words per day. Just! So you’re not actually expected to start, finish and edit your novel in one month.

Once I signed up to the website (there are no fees involved), it felt like a challenge I wanted to try. So, on 31st October 2015, I sat down with a notepad and thought about what kind of book I wanted to write. All I had was a character and a location in mind. I didn’t plot or plan any more than that because I’m naturally what Nano-ers call a ‘pantser’, meaning I fly by the seat of my pants! But many people prefer to spend October plotting out their novels in advance.

On 1st November, I sat at my computer, opened a blank Word document and started to write. It was easier than I had expected. What followed was 30 frenzied days of trying to fit in 1,667 words a day, around life and a day job. I learned that if you don’t write enough words one day, you can catch up another day. Or, if you’re really organised, you can write in excess of 1,667 words on the glorious days when the words are flowing and plentiful. There’s a great word count tracker on the NaNo website (www.nanowrimo.org) so you can log your progress, plus there’s a whole community of people willing to spur you along.

By 1st December I was a nervous wreck! I’d just managed 50k words and I had the shell of a first draft novel. But it wasn’t finished. I needed around another 40k words and many edits before I could consider it finished, but that’s another story…

What I learned from that first NaNo was:

The good:

  • It gets you into the habit of sitting down to write every single day. Something I’d never done before and I loved it.
  • It kick starts a new novel and leaves no time for doubt.
  • You’re less likely to edit as you go because there’s no time to! I love editing as I go but it slows me down completely. I once spent 6 months on the first 30k words of a book, editing it over and over. In the end I had to scrap it all and start again (during NaNo!).
  • The writing community on Twitter is amazing and the NaNo hashtag is really encouraging during November. You really feel as though you’re writing with people for a change. It feels like we’re all in it together.

The not-so-good:

  • Writing every day gives me migraines. I stare at a PC for my day job so doing it all evening and at weekends too, was bad for my eyes. I should’ve had regular breaks from my screen.
  • I exercised much less. My shoulders were aching and my hands turned into claws! Better time management on my part could’ve solved this.
  • You need an understanding partner/family/roommate, because they will probably have to take over most of the housework during November! (Which is a bonus for us!)
  • You’ll want to put your novel to one side in December and not return to it for months! But that’s good, because when you pick it up again you’ll have a fresh perspective, which is invaluable for the editing phase.

So, what I’ve really learned is that while it is possible to write 50k in one month, it’s not really possible to write and edit a whole novel in one month (although I know some writers have mastered this). Also, writing every single day isn’t good for your body, but having a set routine of writing most days, whilst taking the weekend off, is best. NaNo can really get you motivated to start that new novel in a way that’s hard to beat.

If you’ve never tried it and always wondered about it, I highly recommend you give it a go! Good luck and see you in November!

NaNo-2018-Winner-Badge

Happy New Year!

For me, 2018 was the best year yet in my lifelong journey as an author.

I had a short story accepted for publication in the US, my debut crime novel was published by Ruby Fiction in September, plus I finished book #2 in the series, just in time to enjoy Christmas!

In 2019 I hope to: have my short story released in the US, have book #2 published by Ruby Fiction and have book #3 well underway. But of course, life usually has other plans, so it will be interesting to see where I am by Christmas 2019.

I have decided to start this website as many readers are asking me various questions such as when will book #2 be out and what is it about. So I aim to keep everyone updated here.

And to answer those questions… Book #2 is currently with my publisher for consideration so, once I hear their feedback, I’ll write an update on what you can expect next! For now, all I can tell you is that book #2 is the sequel to Who Cares If They Die and it follows Dean Matheson (and his wannabe police dog Rocky, of course) on his next investigation. Hopefully, he’s learned some lessons from book #1 and avoided deadly romantic entanglements…