October – the season for horror

October is one of my favourite months of the year because I grew up reading horror books and watching horror films and October is perfect for indulging in both. The nights are closing in and the heating is going on, which is perfect for shutting the world out and pretending you’re in your own (safe) horror story. In fact, the first short stories I ever tried writing were horror, although cheap imitations of Stephen King. I still have a couple and although they’re pretty bad, I can see where I was beginning to learn the rules of grammar and dialogue which helped me become published in the future.

The first short story I had published wasn’t quite horror but it was dark. It’s called Blue and it later turned into my first ever novel – The Girl Who Died. It’s about a teenage girl whose best friend dies. It starts with the main character – Hannah – laying next to her best friend’s body. We don’t know at that stage whether Hannah was involved in her death and why she died. Hannah also features in my latest release – Where the Snow Bleeds. Unfortunately, her life doesn’t get much better in that! So yes, my writing definitely has a dark side to it! It’s hard to avoid that when you’ve been the victim of horrific crime from a young age because your life takes on this darkness that it wouldn’t otherwise have.

Perhaps that’s why I’m drawn to darker subjects for my writing and reading choices, and to my favourite season of the year; autumn. It doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy lighter subjects and comedy, but light and fluffy just doesn’t interest me. Unless it’s a cat! That’s another reason to love October – Halloween and cats.

The photo above is of Teddy – my youngest cat – when he was a kitten. I don’t dress him up for Halloween (there’s no way he’d even let me) but his ginger colouring fits the pumpkin season perfectly!

So, October for me will be filled with writing my next novel, reading some favourite horror books and watching new and old horror films. One of which is Paranormal Activity 3. The PA films were great when they first came out, really different from other films in the genre. But they peaked at the third film – that camera on the oscillating fan was genius and creepy as hell! I watch it every year now. I’m not a fan of slasher horror and I can’t watch people being tortured, but I love paranormal and psychological horror. My next release (early 2020) – book 3 in the Dean Matheson crime thriller series – gets pretty dark and features some horror classics but I can’t really say any more than that yet!

After October we’ll all begin the countdown to my next favourite time of year – Christmas! (Sorry!)

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!

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. I’m happy to report that I did finish it and then I edited it for months and now it’s traditionally published and called Who Cares if They Die. It has become a crime series with two more books now finished!

So I’m grateful to NaNoWriMo and this is what I’ve learned since participating:

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. Staring at a PC all day was bad for my eyes. I should’ve had more 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 on Twitter in November!