Thursday, 24 September 2009

Writing under the influence...

No, not what you're thinking, although over the years I admit, I have written some pages while under the influence of one or three glasses of wine. And then promptly rewritten it all again the next morning. It's true that loosening up the brain cells can lead to thoughts and words that may not otherwise have hit the screen, and that's fine as long as in the cold light of day those words are whipped into shape. Wine is not a great writing buddy.

So what is? Cigarettes, I admit most shamefully, used to be a source of comfort and inspiration. There's nothing quite like sucking on a Marlboro and pondering the next chapter. I really believe that smoking helped me concentrate (it's proven, isn't it?), which in turn must have made me a better writer. Than what, I now ask? A writer who doesn't have lung cancer? I gave up that disgusting habit a long time ago now and have yet to find a healthy alternative.

Food, sadly, is next in line and nibbling on 'stuff' all day long might help concentration in a weird way, but doesn't do much for my waistline. So I'm strict. Only black coffee, herbal tea, a bit of salad and fruit passes my lips while I'm writing. It all sounds a bit grim, doesn't it?

To offset the effects of such a sedentary job, I occasionally drag myself to the gym. Or I go out on my bike. And I listen to music on my ipod. And I get inspired. And knackered. I dream up all kinds of plots and twists and characters, plus it helps pass the dreadful time that is exercising. And now I've started listening to music when I write, something I don't generally do. Just really quiet in the background. And when I'm stuck I whack up the volume. At the moment I'm playing Amy MacDonald to death. This song in particular. I've been writing the relationship between two troubled teenagers. It's heartbreaking and uplifting, tragic and real. I also have some music on my ipod from my own teenage years, to get me in the mood. I was a huge Pretenders fan. This is 1981. See all those well-behaved kids? I was fifteen at the time and so are the characters whose lives I am currently tearing apart. It's a funny job.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

J is for Jealousy

I realise the title of this post could lead to all kinds of misconceptions about its content, so let me say from the off that in no way do I mean jealousy in a mean-spirited way. What I'm referring to is the awestruck 'I wanna be like that' way - except that didn't begin with J and neither does envy (nothing much does in publishing, actually, hence the absolute age it's taken me to post about J). Secondly, it's about what I'm awstruck about, rather than the other way around. I doubt very much that anyone wants to be exactly like me right now as I sit in track pants and T shirt, with rather bad hair, my fingers sore from typing manically all day, wondering what I can rustle for dinner after already having rustled last night.

It was a little while ago now, when I was at the wonderful Heffers Bookshop in Cambridge taking part in their annual 'Bodies in the Bookshop' event that I was chatting to a couple of other authors about what 'J' could be in my series. Jealousy was mentioned, amid rather loud laughter and, as I'd already considered it, I thought I'd write a few words on it.

My jealousy began a long time ago, when I first wanted to be a writer. It started about age ten and went on for nearly three decades. It's still going strong. I suppose that jealousy could also be described as the burning desire to write, to not be left out of the amazing party that is publication. I admit, I was envious beyond belief when a thirteen year old girl was interviewed on Nationwide by Frank Bough. She'd written a novel and it was going to be published. At thirteen! I can't tell you how much I wanted that to happen to me. I can't tell you how green with envy I was. So much so that I bought a new notepad from the corner shop and started scribbling immediately. I was a girl obsessed and even wrote to Penguin to ask what I had to do to get my book published.

A rumour spread around my school that the 'new kid' had written a novel. My ears pricked up and my hackles raised. I was the one who was going to be a writer. My stories were the ones that got read out in class. I eyed this girl very suspiciously for a long time, not enjoying the competition. She was far more popular than me, far more likely to get published, I believed. The jealousy simmered. I never did find out what she'd written, but I know now that her career couldn't be further away from being a writer.

As an adult, but before I was published, I got to know a few people in the business, went to a few literary events, joined clubs and groups, met some authors, some editors from independent presses, other aspriring writers...and, of course, I was 'jealous' - in the awestruck way. They were all doing what I wanted to do - making books one way or another. I believe that my awe/jealousy took me closer to my goal. I truly believe that mixing with the right people, by surrounding myself with like-minded people, listening to their experiences and learning from their mistakes I was able to move, step by step, closer to being published.

Now, writing my seventh novel, with my third book for Headline soon to be released, I'm still awestruck by other authors. Just how many books can James Patterson write in a year? Can Anita Shreve's prose become any more beautiful or Ian McEwan's future words top those of 'On Chesil Beach'? When it comes to all books and authors that I'm 'jealous' of, well the list would be far too long. But it's certainly true that I, and I'm sure many authors will think it if not admit it, suffer from a little of the green-eyed desire monster when it comes to other people's writing. It might just be an occasional sentence. It might be an entire novel. It might be the author themselves - their glam lifestyle, their looks, their fame - but I believe that without jeal...desire, we wouldn't improve as writers at all. It's a bit of healthy competition.

So the upshot of this little musing is that I think I'm quite an ambitious person. Having become a published author, I'm now 'jealous' of those who have sold rights in thirty languages, have conquered the States, have sold film or television rights. There's plenty of jealousy left in me to achieve all this, I hope...plenty of awe to sit back, whistle through my teeth that one day I might sell this many books.

A little bit of jealousy never hurt anyone. Did it?

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

TELL TALE update

I have several friends who are married to builders. They sometimes grumble that DIY jobs don't get done around their homes. Is it like this with writers and blogs, I'm wondering now, hands up in guilt as mine has languished somewhat untouched for the summer months? I spend so much of my time writing words - made up words - that when it comes to writing about real life it suddenly seems very daunting. But this made me think. Real life. That IS what I write about - hence the newly updated title of this blog. A little slogan. Very soon, my website will be transformed (again) and Real Life Fiction incorporated. Actually, it reminds me very much - and I hope she won't mind - of the title of my niece's beautiful album Real Life Computer Game. I am very honoured to have this very talented lady and her musician boyfriend staying with us at present so the house is full of even more music than usual.

During the last few months, I have finished writing TELL TALE. The blurb on the back reads:

The chilling new international bestseller from Sam Hayes is a story of three women bound together by a shocking secret...


A woman stands on a bridge, the water rushing below. In a few seconds she will jump, plunging more than two hundred feet to her death. Who is she? And why is she desperate to take her own life?


Nina Kennedy, a wife and mother, is afraid. A man is following her, threatening her family, toying with her sanity. What does he want? And how long will it be before he strikes?


Eight-year-old Ava sits waiting for her daddy. But, like the others in the children’s home, she knows her father will never come. The home is a place of whispers and shadows. But no one dare tell the truth. Until now...

I loved writing this novel. The idea came to me from several corners. I was deeply moved by the alleged abuse that went on at the Haut de la Garenne children's home in Jersey, yet I was also fascinated by the building itself and the secrets it contained. Having been a school, a youth hostel and a children's home it would have absorbed decades of human emotion. Hopefully, amongst all the alleged tragedy and abuse that went on, the building saw happier times and was, for some, a respite from their troubled lives.

In TELL TALE, Roecliffe Hall is a Victorian Gothic mansion built initially as a family home in Yorkshire. It's a magnificent piece of architecture, typical of its period with huge ornate fireplaces, stone mullion windows, follies and towers and, of course, many Pugin-esque arches. In modern times, Roecliffe is taken over by the local council and turned in to a children's home. Its most endearing features are stripped out or covered with linoleum and paint. The huge rooms are suddenly filled with metal beds rather than oak four-posters and the many twisting, ever-changing corridors are hiding place for the scared children that inhabit the building during the nineteen-eighties.

The second source of inspiration for TELL TALE was the internet and all the associated friend-making that goes on among young people. It's no secret that modern-day paedophiles have a much easier time of stalking and harvesting their prey. Social networking sites are not infallible and are just as much a hunting ground nowadays as were the corridors of Roecliffe Hall two and a half decades ago. I wanted to bring the two scenarios together, take a look at the differences and, more shockingly, the similarities.

I won't give too much away but do hope you decide to buy or pre-order a copy because I'm very proud of this book. It's a frightening look at a modern day family, how seemingly perfect lives can so very easily become nightmares and - a favourite of mine - how secrets from the past always catch up with the present. The hardback is out in the UK in November, and the trade paperback edition will be released in Australia at the same time.

I also love the cover for this novel (see above). My publishers worked very hard on getting it just right and I think they've done a cracking job. The little waif on the front reminds me so much of one of the characters, it brought a tear to my eye. Anyway, I'll give more updates and info nearer release date.

Meantime, I've been working away on my next book. It's as yet without a title but I'm a good half way through writing this one and I'm loving the characters! It's always hard in the long stretch of summer holidays to devote quite as much time to writing each day as I'd like, but then nothing beats spending time with the kids. I say kids in the loosest possible way as my eldest turned eighteen last week with the others not too far behind. Scary indeed, but (even if I say so myself!) our son is a credit to us and, as a token of my huge respect and love for him, TELL TALE is dedicated to him.

Finally, (and as ever) I'm going to try to be a little bit better on the net. So many authors are committed to updating their blogs and Facebook thingies that I really think I should be one of them. So if you want to add me on Myspace or Facebook, I'd love to be your friend. I have been known to add writerly (or not!) thoughts to these pages as well as rather random musings when the book words won't flow.

I hope to hear from lots of readers...see you on the dark side.

Sam xx