New book announcement!

A bit of an update for those readers who are asking for all the gossip about my next book…  I’ve recently signed a publishing contract with Ruby Fiction for the third book in the Dean Matheson crime series!

Book 1 – Who Cares if They Die

Book 2 – Where the Snow Bleeds

Book 3 will be published in January 2020. OMG, that’s only 2 months away! 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 3? Well, it’s finally time to see whether Dean can cut it as a detective. In book 1 we follow him as a police officer itching to make detective, and when he’s given a chance to stand in for a colleague, it doesn’t go the way he had hoped. In book 2 he realises he needs more investigative experience so he tries his luck as a private investigator in the snowy mountains of Colorado on a particularly messed-up case. Now, in book 3, he’s got what he always wanted – he’s Detective Dean Matheson. We follow him on his first month in the job and what a month it is! Murder, deception and twists test Dean’s detective skills, but can he follow through to the end or will his greatest adversary derail him once and for all?

Thought you’d seen the last of Beth Smith at the end of book 1? So did Dean! And this time, only one of them can survive…

I’m so excited about book 3 as this is what Dean has been working towards for so long and even I didn’t know whether he’d be any good as a detective when I started writing it. I think readers are in for a few surprises, along with some familiar faces turning up and of course Rocky, Dean’s lovable rottweiler. That’s all I can say without spoilers!

For more teaser updates on book 3 and for the pre-order link, keep an eye on my Twitter and Facebook pages!

Coroner’s assistant to crime writer

It’s not surprising that I became a crime writer. After all, crime has always played a part in my work life. I’ve worked as a university adviser for prisoners who were seeking rehabilitation through education and I’ve worked in a coroner’s office, where we sought justice for those who may have passed away through medical negligence or even murder. So perhaps I feel compelled to write about crime in order to seek justice for those unable to seek it for themselves. Those who have been murdered, or those with no family to care about them.

Who Cares If They Die is the first book in my Dean Matheson crime series and it explores exactly that: what happens when women who are living on the margins of society are killed in suspicious circumstances. Does anyone care if a drug addict overdoses? What about if a prisoner commits suicide? The killer in this book hopes not. But these women are still someone’s mother, daughter, sister, despite what they’ve done.  Don’t they deserve as much justice as anyone else? Officer Dean Matheson thinks so and he makes it his business to find out the truth, because he’s unwilling to accept their deaths were suicides.

In the sequel – Where the Snow Bleeds – Dean is called in to investigate a police department that is happy to write-off two missing teenage girls from a remote ski town in Colorado as runaways, when all the evidence clearly points to the opposite. With the popularity of true crime documentaries rising, we are becoming more aware of corruption in law enforcement and just how big a problem it is, how many wrongful convictions take place each year. This book explores how far people will go to turn a blind eye in order to protect their own interests.

I think we’d all like a Dean Matheson in our lives, someone who will dig a little deeper in order to seek justice for those who can’t seek it for themselves.

But it’s not all doom and gloom! Just as I have cats who keep me company while I write, Dean has his rescue dog, Rocky, helping him in his investigations. Rocky is a gentle rottweiler and wannabe police dog and he’s the character I get the most emails about! I often laugh at how crime fiction lovers (me included) can read about the most horrific crimes to humans but I’ve been told on no uncertain terms that I can never, ever, allow anything bad to happen to Rocky. Quite right too.

This is a short article I wrote for Female First to celebrate the release of the paperback version of Who Cares if They Die on 5th Nov 2019. It is now available in all good book shops (and on their websites) and in UK libraries as well as on all digital platforms as an ebook and audiobook. Book 3 in the series is out in Jan 2020.

Watch the one minute teaser trailer to see if you’re interested!

wcitd_front_rgb_150dpi

Paperback publication day!

Today is a special day as my debut crime thriller is released as a paperback!

This is especially exciting for me because it’s the first time I 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 own work! This is a day all writers dream of when they first start writing stories and sometimes it seems like an impossible dream.

Who Cares if They Die was released as an 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 now available to purchase in all good book shops (and their websites) 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 in if they don’t already have it. I’m a big supporter of libraries and please don’t think that if you’re not buying a copy you’re not supporting the author – our books actually accrue small royalty payments per loan so it’s still supportive.

Here’s a reminder of what Who Cares if They Die is about (and don’t forget the sequel – Where the Snow Bleeds – is out now as ebook and audiobook on all digital platforms. Book 3 is coming early 2020.):

A series of suspicious suicides may be the work of a serial killer in this debut thriller novel featuring Officer Dean Matheson.

When the body of an unidentified woman is found hanging from a tree in the woods of Maple Valley, it looks like a clear case of suicide. But Officer Dean Matheson is unconvinced. Maybe he’s just looking for that big case that will help him make detective. Maybe he’s just trying to avoid his rocky marriage. Or maybe he’s really on to something. Because the closer Matheson looks at the facts of the case, the less they add up.

Then more apparent suicides start cropping up. The victims are all women living on the fringes of society—addicts and criminals nobody would miss. Does anyone really care if they die? Matheson is making it his business to care, and that’s about to make him a target . . .

Watch the short trailer:

wcitd_front_rgb_150dpi

Click here for Who Cares if They Die on Amazon.

Book Review – The Shining

I first read Stephen King’s The Shining 25 years ago as a teenager but I couldn’t really remember it. My memories were blurred by Stanley Kubrick’s amazing adaptation (I don’t know why SK doesn’t like it! It’s so much better than his own TV adaptation.). So I’ve read it again in preparation of re-reading Doctor Sleep – which again I can’t even remember, other than being disappointed – ready for watching the new movie which is released on 31st October 2019. What a perfect movie for Halloween.

I collect Stephen King’s books. I have different versions of many of the books, because I love the different covers. I have three copies of The Shining, here are two of them. The other is the Jack Nicholson mass market paperback cover.

EGVUrbyWoAAq_p0

I loved every page of The Shining, it actually exceeded my expectations and even scared me in places – that elevator coming to life! Those hedge animals! It’s a shame neither of those elements are in the movie. I ignored my own writing deadlines to read this, whilst not wanting it to end. I do prefer the book’s ending to the movie’s version. Jack is a great character and I’ll always see him as Jack Nicholson. The Overlook is an amazing hotel with a grim history that explains why it’s haunted, and Colorado has a special place in my heart because of this book. I actually set Where the Snow Bleeds there and drop in a little mention of ‘that hotel up near Estes Park’ as a nod to my love of this book.

So imagine my delight when a friend told me there was a review of my book stating it reminded someone of The Shining!

This may now be my favourite Stephen King novel, knocking IT off that top spot. The recent movie adaptations of IT really put me off but I’ll always have fond memories of reading it over and over as a teenager and wishing I was in the loser’s club.

So next for me is a re-read of Doctor Sleep. I’m looking forward to seeing what happened next for Danny and his mum.

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!)

New work in progress… (plus a free audio short story for you.)

I’ve been really busy lately with; a) the blog tour for Where the Snow Bleeds (book 2 in the Dean Matheson crime series), b) writing a short story for my publisher to coincide with the book’s recent release, plus c) I’ve just finished writing and editing the third book in the Dean Matheson series and submitted it to my publisher!

The blog tour for Where the Snow Bleeds went unbelievably well, with all bloggers rating it 4 or 5 stars, along with some amazing feedback that I couldn’t have anticipated in my wildest dreams. Whilst writing this book I scrapped the first 30k words twice, as it wasn’t working for me and I wanted it to be the best it possibly could be for readers. It looks like the hard work and difficult decisions paid off as the final version is a book I’m really happy with and the readers have agreed! I feel as if my writing has grown a lot between the first book in the series – Who Cares If They Die – and this one. When I wrote that first book, I didn’t have a publisher and never knew if it would ever see the light of day, but now I’m writing for actual readers, it pushes me to write and refine better than ever!

With that in mind I’ve tried to make book 3 even better. I can’t reveal the title yet and I’m hopeful it will be released in 2020, but I feel like I’ve made it the best it can be until it goes through the official editing process with my lovely publisher (Ruby Fiction). Working with an editor really does make any book better because they spot things we can’t possibly see after so many read-throughs and re-writes. I’m looking forward to making the final changes before publication.

I’ve also written a crime short story called Room 12b that my publisher released as one of their ‘Treats’. They surprised me by also having it narrated into an audio story! You can listen to it (it’s only 7 mins long – perfect for a tea break!) on their website by clicking on ‘Free Audio Story’ at the bottom of the page, under Where the Snow Bleeds here. I hope you enjoy it!

So, am I taking a breather now I’ve finished book 3 in the series?

No! I’ve already started work on some new projects but I can’t give anything away about them yet as they’re so new. Just be assured that I have plenty more books in the pipeline and my enthusiasm for writing hasn’t waned at all – I have stories in my head that are demanding to be written, which is why I haven’t been able to take a break between books. I’m genuinely interested to see what happens with all of them, as well as what happens with Dean Matheson next. Dean is one of my favourite characters and I want to see him do well. And he will… if only he’d stop getting into trouble! Readers of Where the Snow Bleeds have told me Detective Eva Valdez is a great addition to the series and I love writing her story as she’s got a lot to say and isn’t afraid of saying it, especially to Dean! I think she can help him become the great detective he’s always wanted to be.

If you prefer to read paperbacks over eBooks, you might like to know that Who Cares If They Die is currently available to pre-order as a paperback on most book shop websites as well as Amazon. It’s officially released on 5th November 2019 in all good book stores and libraries (if they don’t have it in – just ask them to order it!).

I’m hoping that, by Christmas 2019, I’ll have lots of new writing updates for you and I’ll be able to tell you more about book 3 in the series as well as my other projects…

In the meantime, thanks to everyone who’s ever read and reviewed one of my books. Your feedback really does help to shape the next book and it boosts my confidence when I most need it – during those cold, lonely writing days when I’m questioning whether anyone’s ever going to read what I’m writing.

Thank you!

20190729_110331~2 (2)
The final two cupcakes leftover from publication day!

Where the Snow Bleeds – taster!

Yesterday, my second Dean Matheson crime thriller – Where the Snow Bleeds – was released as an eBook and audiobook. The taster (prologue) is coming up below but first, let’s see how things have changed for Dean since we last saw him in Who Cares If They Die (available now as paperback/eBook/audiobook).

In the first book he was reeling from the shock of his brother’s suicide, which caused him to make some terrible life choices. His ultimate goal has always been to become a homicide detective (he’s currently a police officer) and when he gets a chance to give that a try, he basically screws it up. Literally! 😊

By the end of book 1 we see a broken and disheartened Dean who makes the choice to leave the police force and his home town of Maple Valley. He heads to Las Vegas to become a private investigator, with his loyal wannabe police dog – Rocky – beside him.

So, in Where the Snow Bleeds we see how Dean is coping living and working in Las Vegas. He’s not enjoying it because he finds the job to be far more boring than he expected, as it mainly involves catching dog thieves. So when a woman walks into his office with an interesting case, he can’t resist. The woman’s daughter has gone missing whilst working at the Winter Pines Ski Resort in the creepy, desolate town of Lone Creek, Colorado. Dean agrees to visit the town and find out what happened.

This is where we meet Detective Eva Valdez for the first time. She was a great character to write as she’s strong and independent and the last thing she wants is some failed cop trying to help her. But she and Dean quickly realise they need to work together in order find Hannah and Jodie, the missing girls, before it’s too late.

Hannah already has a tragic backstory, as told from her point of view in my first novel – The Girl Who Died. Here we learn why she moved to the US from the UK, which clearly isn’t working out for her!

Early reviews of Where the Snow Bleeds confirm the story is dark and compelling, which is exactly what I was aiming for.

Book 3 – as yet untitled – is now finished and takes Dean in a direction even I wasn’t expecting…

Here’s the prologue from Where the Snow Bleeds, to whet your appetite! (Available from all digital platforms, including Amazon, now!)

 

Rocky Mountains, Colorado

Trixie, the pure white Pomeranian who would almost certainly vanish into the thick blanket of snow but for her small black nose and fake Chanel collar, is doing something very unladylike. But boy, is she enjoying it. As she licks away, relishing the salty flavour and thick, greasy texture of this red liquid she’s never tasted anywhere before, she can hear her mother shouting for her. This is followed by crunching and panting sounds as her mother treads closer into the dense woods.

‘Trixie? Trixie, baby! Where did you go?’

Trixie yaps in excitement as her mother approaches, happy to share with her this new culinary delight. But she doesn’t turn around just yet because she wants some more for herself. A shadow suddenly blocks out the daylight.

‘Here you are, baby! That was very naughty to run away like that! Mummy’s trying to eat warm cookies after a long day on the slopes.’

Trixie’s mother, a wannabe-socialite from New York State, sounds relieved to have found her. She doesn’t notice or care what’s caught Trixie’s interest, assuming it’s the scent of yet another pine squirrel. Instead, in her relief, she reaches down, scoops her up and rubs her face all over Trixie’s without looking, which is their usual way of greeting.

‘Here’s mummy! Yes, here I am!’ she coos. Suddenly, she stops. She holds Trixie out, to look at her properly for the first time since she ran off.

Trixie blinks at her, then wags her tail. She’s eager to please but even more eager to get back to the good stuff. The scream, as her mother notices the bright red blood that covers Trixie’s soft white face, echoes through the Rocky Mountains and almost pierces poor Trixie’s delicate ears. Trixie suddenly finds herself discarded on the ground, confused.

As her mother dives away in disgust, heading for the safety of a bathroom to wash her face, Trixie trots back to the discarded hiking boot which her mother never even noticed.

‘Trixie!’ her mother yells after her as she retreats. ‘You come away from whatever dead animal you’ve found right now, you naughty girl!’

Trixie looks longingly at the jagged ankle bone that’s sticking out from snow-covered boot before obediently running after her mother.

—————————————————————————————————————————————-

Book trailer:

Lone-Creek-Town-Sign-only-gif-SLOWER

WTSB_FRONT_RGB_150dpi

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

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!