Monday 30 December 2019

Meet The Woman Downstairs - Guest Post Elisabeth Carpenter

How Exciting! Today I have another author lovely on my blog as part of my 'Psychological Thriller Author' series. Please welcome Elisabeth Carpenter whose novel 'The Woman Downstairs' was published in November. 

Have you always written in the psychological thriller genre?

The first manuscript I wrote was about a man who died and went to an afterlife. I classed it as ‘women’s fiction’ with supernatural elements. It was great fun to write and I worked on it for years before finally giving up the ghost (I know, groan!). I then wrote another three: literary, dystopian, historical, before I developed an idea for a psychological thriller.

Like many writers of this genre, I’d read the genius that was Gone Girl. The gripping internal struggles combined with the page-turning mystery really inspired me. I’m now writing my fifth psychological thriller and I love writing them!

I’m sure my readers would love to hear about your road to publication. Was it long and winding or did you take a short cut?

As per the above, it was long and winding! I subbed my first manuscript to about fifty agents and didn’t get more than a standard rejection. When I sent out my literary novel, I received seven requests for the full manuscript. It also won a Northern Writers Award, and I took this as a sign I was getting better. I didn’t get any offers of representation for this book, but I kept going and worked on my psychological thriller. I realised that it’s not just the quality of writing that captures the attention of an agent, it has to have a great hook.

I subbed 99 Red Balloons almost a year later and received four offers of representation. I signed with Caroline Hardman from Hardman & Swainson, and a few months later, signed a book deal for two books with Avon HarperCollins. It was a dream come true.

We all write differently. Could you describe your typical writing day?

My writing day depends how close to deadline I am! It would begin after dropping my son off at school. If I have a few months to deadline, I aim for 800-1500 words a day. Sometimes I find it hard to get into the flow, and I tend to be easily distracted with Netflix! I have to force myself to sit in front of the laptop. I love to write longhand with a nice fountain pen, but this can be time consuming.

Nearer the dreaded deadline, I will write for several hours a day and give myself small rewards for hitting self-appointed targets (an episode of the latest drama for example or read a chapter of a book).

School holidays are different, of course. I might get the odd half an hour to write, but usually I have to wait until bedtime to get those words down.

Where did you get the inspiration for your last novel?

The Woman Downstairs was inspired by the true-life story of Joyce Vincent. Joyce’s remains were found in her flat more than two years after she died. The documentary Dreams of a Life by Carole Morley featured Joyce’s friends who couldn’t believe that she died alone and went undiscovered for such a long time. They described Joyce as vivacious and loved life and assumed she was travelling, still living a glamourous life.

The location of The Woman Downstairs is a northern town – I set most of my novels in Lancashire. It follows the story of two women brought together by the discovery of a body in their block of flats.

Could you describe it in one sentence?

When human remains are found in a ground floor flat, the residents of Nelson heights are shocked to learn that there was a dead body in their building for nearly three years.

Are you a plotter or a pantster and how long does it take you to write your thrillers?

I used to be a pantster and would take a year to write my first drafts then months and months editing the hell out of it. Then I was lucky enough to get published and with that comes contracts. Writing to a deadline is often challenging – I must like torturing myself because in the past I wrote so close to sending it to my editor that sometimes I was in tears with the stress of it all.

This time, I wrote a detailed plan, chapter by chapter and I’m aiming to finish the first draft by the end of January so I can have at least a month editing it. Editing is my favourite part. I say that because I’m in the middle of the first draft. When I’m editing, writing the first draft will be my favourite part. The first draft takes about six months to write.

What does your family think of your writing?

They are so proud! My eldest son said he would read my book if I was ever published, but he hasn’t yet. I think he might think it a bit cringey! My youngest son thinks I’m famous because I’m ‘on Google’ – which is really sweet.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I go to an art class every Tuesday, which is so relaxing, and we have a lot of laughs. I love seeing friends and family, and of course watching Netflix. I love reading but now I read differently to how I did before I was published as I tend to scrutinise everything!

How important do you think social media is to a writer?

I entered the Richard and Judy Search for a Bestseller a few years ago. The organisers were a few days late announcing the results (I now know that most competitions contact those shortlisted a few days before) and there were several other writers on the competition’s Facebook page. We used to check-in several times a day and when the results were published, we consoled each other and decided to create a Facebook group. After a few months we met up and got along so well. We meet up once or twice a year and it has been such a support, and I’ve met some wonderful friends.

As an author, I don’t use Twitter as much as I should, nor do I update my Facebook page as often as I’d like, but it’s a great place to share news and I love hearing from readers who’ve enjoyed my books. Every time I get a message from a reader saying they’ve enjoyed my books gives me the push to keep going – because sometimes, as a writer, you wonder why you’re doing it, that I should be doing something more useful with my time!

What next for Elisabeth Carpenter?

I’m in the midst of writing the first draft of The Vacancy (working title – the only title I’ve ever been ‘allowed’ to keep was 99 Red Balloons). It’s about a woman who goes to work for a writer as her live-in assistant. But of course, being a psych thriller, nothing is quite what it seems!

Elisabeth Carpenter lives in Preston with her family. She loves living in the north of England and sets most of her stories there – including the one she is writing at the moment. Her fourth novel, The Woman Downstairs, is out now.

You can buy The woman Downstairs here

Where you can find Elisabeth:

Facebook          Website

Friday 27 December 2019

Did I Achieve my 2019 Writing Goals?

It will soon be time to say goodbye to the old writing year and hello to the new.

Every year in the first week of January, best buddy Tracy Fells and I get together to set our yearly writing goals. At the end of the year, I look back and see if I've achieved any or all of them.

The one thing I've learned over the years is it's important to have goals that will stretch and encourage but which are manageable too (rather than stressful). The other thing it's important to remember is that luck and life circumstances play a big part in what happens as well and that I should not to be too hard on myself if I don't achieve all my targets. The important thing is that I try.

These are the goals I set for myself:

Goal: To enjoy every minute of being a published author.

Achieved? Mostly! As most of you will know, my debut psychological thriller, What She Saw, was published by Bookouture in May this year (you can read my blog post about it here). It was fabulous... exciting... amazing. The same can be said when my second thriller, We Were Sisters, came out in August. But did I enjoy every minute? Not when I was struggling with structural edits or when I was stressing about whether or not my novels were good enough for people to buy or when I received my first bad review. But all these things come with the territory. It's what happens when you're published. In fact it's proof that you've been published! 

The biggest test is whether I would do it all again... and the resounding answer is YES!

Goal: To secure another publishing deal.

Achieved? Yes! I was delighted when in May my wonderful publisher, Bookouture, offered me another two-book contract. Yay!

Goal: To think about and start novel three.

Achieved? Yes! Not only have I thought about and started novel three, I've finished it and it's with my editor (though the hard part will soon start when I get the first lot of edits back in a few days). I have also started novel four.

... and that's it for another year. Next week, Tracy and I will be meeting to set out 2020 goals and I'll be posting you very soon. In the meantime, I wish you all a very Happy New Year.

Wednesday 18 December 2019

A Perfect Life Unravelled - interview with Emma Curtis

I am delighted to welcome Emma Curtis to my blog this week as part of my psychological thriller author series. I've so enjoyed discovering more about my fellow thriller writers and, however well I know the author, I always find out something new. I had the pleasure of meeting Emma for the first time this year and I'm delighted that she agreed to be interviewed as part of the series.

You’ve written several psychological thrillers. Have you always written in this genre?

When I started out, I wanted to write romance, because I loved romantic novels; in fact I rarely read anything that didn't have an element at least of romance in it. I tried very hard; submitted several efforts to agents but got nowhere. The book that secured me representation, was a quirky story about a woman's childhood imaginary friend coming back to haunt her after she was involved in an accident. Unfortunately, it proved very difficult to follow that up!

Like many authors, getting published after the massive success of Gone Girl changed the landscape, and I was steered towards psychological suspense by my then editor. I had never heard the term before and was ambivalent at first. However, since my first love, romance, had never worked for me as a writer, I was relieved to find that I had a talent for this particular genre.

Do you remember where you were and what you were doing when the idea for your latest novel came to you?

I wish I did, but I had several germs of ideas milling round my brain and I kept switching between them, trying to work out not which I liked best, but which had the legs for a novel. 

What sparked the idea was an incident at St Thomas's hospital about three weeks before I gave birth to my son there in 1989. A child was stolen. She was found quite by chance about three weeks later, but what struck me was that back then the woman who took her might just as easily have got away with it. Then I thought, what would life be like for the kidnapper, the parents and that child sixteen years later.

Are you a plotter or a pantster and how long does it take you to write your thrillers?

I was never a planner; I don't think many writers are naturally. However, I've had several false starts and two novels written and rewritten that have been rejected by my editor, so now, both for my sanity and my publishers, I write a detailed proposal and get that agreed before I begin. I wish I didn't have to, because it means coming up with a fully realised plot rather than letting it develop organically, but psychological suspense has to be so tautly written, so twisty and pacey, that the chances of getting it right without planning are slim to none.

Could you describe your typical writing day?

My best writing day includes an empty house and uninviting weather! I like to start at 6.30am and work through till lunch, go for a long walk to mull over what I've done, then make any fixes. I have to finish a chapter a day, whether it's to my satisfaction or not, so my first draft is far from perfect. What I get from that is the momentum and pace uninterrupted writing brings to the story. 

I’m sure my readers would love to hear about your road to publication. Was it long and winding or did you take a short cut?

I’ve had loads of rejections! There are several unpublished and unpublishable novels knocking around. I was banging my head against a brick wall until I discovered short story competitions. I wrote and entered as many as I could – I had a spreadsheet! My hit rate of first, second, shortlisted and longlisted placements was about twenty-five percent, and this gave me something to mention in my cover letter to literary agents. The first time I won a competition I was so euphoric I emailed my entire workplace! Nowadays aspiring authors are up against graduates of MA courses, journalists and people connected in some way to publishing – you only have to look at authors’ bios to see how many arrive via these routes. Short story competitions gave me those credentials.

With my previous novels I would send out to, at the most, six agents and after getting six rejections I’d be too demoralised to send out more. With my debut I avoided that scenario by submitting to around thirty within a space of three weeks so that all my submissions would be out before the rejections started tumbling into my inbox. It paid off.

Do you ever struggle to find inspiration?

Inspiration strikes too often. I have so many premises for books that excite me. It's when you get to the nitty gritty of working out whether there's a book length story in them that things get tricky.  Sometimes it's the best premises that let you down, sometimes they're just too far-fetched to be usable – those are better for short stories.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I walk, read, do housework, cook. Anything to keep me away from the computer for a while.  Repetitive Strain Injury is a real problem, so I have to make sure I give myself a physical break from writing as well as a mental one.

What does your family think of your writing?

My family has been amazing. Right through the years when I was trying to get myself an agent and suffering rejection after rejection, they never once suggested I give up or that I was wasting my time.

When my first book came out in 2015, my son was twenty-six, my daughter twenty-four, which made it easier because they were long past the age when they could be embarrassed by their parents.The lovely thing having about having adult children when you're a writer, is that their friends support you too.

My husband has been brilliant. I gave up my job as a school secretary in 2012, telling him that I just needed one year to give my writing a big push and then I would go back. Just one little year! Six months after I left my job I was taken on by Victoria Hobbs at AM Heath and two months after that Transworld agreed to publish me; so I never did go back. He has supported me and backed me ever since and I owe him such a lot. I honestly wouldn't be where I am now without him.

What suggestions do you have to help a writer write better?

There are so many things that you need to know, even if you write well. Less is more. Cut to the chase. Remember to love your bad guys as much as your good guys. They have souls too.

If you feel strongly about something, whether it's environmental, political or personal, your characters may well feel the same way, they may even have a bit of a rant about the subject from time to time. For God's sake, don't let them! A reader can spot an author's pet issues a mile off and it's not a good look.

Make sure everything your characters do has an iron-clad motivation. It's all too easy to make them do something exciting for the sake of it, but an editor will pick up on that immediately, as will a reader. Lack of sound motivation weakens a book.

Think about when you are at a drinks party and you get talking to someone. There are two types of big talkers at parties; those that talk at you, telling you the story of their marvellous achievements in a way that makes you feel bombarded, trapped and bored, and there are those who tell you about themselves in a way that makes you feel included, important to them and interested, so that you hang on their every word. They may not be telling the greatest tale, they may not have had the most exciting life experiences, but they are talking to you in a way that engages you. Whose book would you rather read? Always consider your reader when you're writing. Your first job is to entertain them.

What next for Emma Curtis?

Well, I've recently submitted the second draft of my book for 2020 and I'm busy playing with various premises for the next book. I don't write notes, I work things out on paper and if I do write something down it's an illegible scribble, so I rely on my memory to sift for potential. I spend a lot of time thinking about the stories and the characters and seeing what rises to the surface.

Once you're into the rhythm of writing and have several books under your belt there is so much to juggle. The Night You Left needs attention in terms of publicity, next year's book needs bringing up to the next level, and I'm waiting for the light bulb moment for Book 5. I have to admit, I sometimes get confused!

You can buy The Night You Left here

Emma Curtis was born in Brighton and brought up in London. Her fascination with the darker side of domestic life inspired her to write One Little Mistake, her first psychological suspense. She has since written two more thrillers for Transworld, When I Find You and The Night You Left. Her fourth, Keep Her Quiet, will be published in 2020.  An empty-nester living in Richmond with her husband, Emma is a workaholic and a believer in the benefits of chocolate and a good night's sleep.
twitter: @emmacurtisbooks 

instagram: emmacurtisauthor

Wednesday 11 December 2019

Someone is Lying - interview with Jenny Blackhurst

How exciting! Another week and another author in my psychological thriller author series. Today, it's the turn of, Jenny Blackhurst whose debut, How I Lost You, became an Amazon No 1 bestseller. I love interviews as you never know what the answers will be and they're always very different and fascinating. This one is no exception!

You’ve written several psychological thrillers. Have you always written in this genre?

I have, but I didn’t imagine I would. I’ve always enjoyed reading crime and thought one day I would write a detective novel. I wrote my first psych thriller a bit by accident and my publishers wanted more, then that became my genre.

Do you remember where you were and what you were doing when the idea for your latest novel came to you?

It doesn’t really work like that for me – there’s rarely one single moment of inspiration, more like a slow dripping of small ideas that form together. It’s usually at the most inconvenient of times too, like in the shower or when I’m driving.

Are you a plotter or a pantster and how long does it take you to write your thrillers?

I’m a plotter now – although my first book was pantsed, I’ve plotted all the others. I really enjoy the plotting phase. First drafts take me around four months then there’s a couple of months of edits. I really should write faster now I’m full time but I don’t seem to get any more done than when I had a day job.

Could you describe your typical writing day?

I don’t have one! I considered answering these questions as the writer I should be, rather than the writer I actually am – I have a lovely office and I should be in there around 9am, surrounded by books and inspirational quotes, writing until the sun goes down and my pencils are stubs. In reality I do a lot of writing in front of the fire in my front room, or in bed! My kids come home at 3.30, which wouldn’t be an issue if I was in the office but as I’m not they are far too shouty for me to concentrate so I usually give up and pretend to do housework.

I’m sure my readers would love to hear about your road to publication. Was it long and winding or did you take a short cut?

I was very lucky in my publication journey. I started writing my first novel after being made redundant when my son was 4 weeks old – it was published before he was three. Psychological thrillers were on the rise and my book was just very well timed. I didn’t have any contacts at all – in fact my editor asked me who I knew in the world of publishing and my answer was a very tentative, ‘you?’

Do you see anything of yourself in any of your characters?

When I wrote How I Lost You I poured a lot of myself into Susan – not the way she acts or speaks but a lot of her feelings about motherhood and how terrifying it is and her loss of identity. Some of my sense of humour went into Cassie, her best friend, who is still one of my favourite characters to date (maybe because I think she’s hilarious!). I think writers sprinkle a little of themselves into all of their characters – except the psychopathic villains of course.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Everything! Obviously reading, fiction and non-fiction, watching TV – especially true crime. I could lose a few days doing a Wasjig (it’s a jigsaw where you don’t get given the picture) and I like to learn things – I learned how to do a Rubix cube in under three and a half minutes, learned how to crochet, magic tricks – then once I’ve conquered the skill I promptly give up.

What does your family think of your writing?

They are incredibly proud of me. My kids tell everyone their mum is an author and if they spot one of my books in a shop they can be very embarrassing. Same goes for my mum, actually. My mother in law is called Jenny Blackhurst and has pretended to be me twice.

What suggestions do you have to help a writer write better?

‘Write better’ is very subjective – one person’s bad writing is another person’s favourite book! My advice to new writers would be to read a lot – it’s the absolute best way to learn how to tell a good story. Films are also brilliant for learning about structure (especially Disney), even video games. Inhale any form of storytelling and you can’t help but improve. Plus I just gave you an excuse to read and watch Disney. You’re welcome.

What next for Jenny Blackhurst?

Unfortunately that’s top secret classified information. So classified I’m not entirely sure myself! I have a couple of things going on and am quite excited to see where they go but until I know more my lips are sealed.

Jenny Blackhurst grew up in Shropshire where she still lives with her husband, two children, hamster, twelve chickens and dog. Her first book How I Lost You was published in 2014 and became an Amazon No 1 bestseller. In the years that have followed Jenny has written four more books, been published all over the world and sold over half a million copies in the UK alone, winning the Silver Nielsen Award in 2017.

You can buy Someone is Lying HERE

Wednesday 4 December 2019

Lies, Lies Lies - interview with Rona Halsall

Week four of my psychological thriller series and this week I'm delighted to welcome fellow Bookouture author Rona Halsall to my blog. Rona has written four thrillers, with her fifth coming out next May. 

I hope you enjoy the interview.

Do you remember the moment you decided you wanted to be a writer?

Hmmm. Tricky one. I’m not sure there was a precise moment. I think it was an idea for many, many years that I’d like to have a go at writing a novel and that was the goal – just to get a story written. I think once I started though, I loved the process and then my ambitions grew. I felt like I’d found something I wanted to pursue to a higher level. So my first challenge was getting it finished. Then I pitched to an agent at a literary festival and she liked my writing. Once I realised my first story wasn’t going anywhere, I wrote another and worked on that, my ambition being to get an agent. Once I had an agent, my ambition was to get a publisher. And once I had a publisher, then I had a two book deal, so had to come up with another story. So it’s been an incremental process rather than one definitive decision!

What were you like at school? Would your English teacher be surprised to see that you have become a published author?

I was the kid who did other people’s coursework essays for them because I just loved making things up. It was my favourite subject and one of the few lessons where I actively joined in, so I don’t think my English teacher would be that surprised.

How long did it take you to write Her Mother’s Lies?

Crikey that’s another tricky one, because where does the writing start? Is it with that nugget of an idea that slowly blossoms into a story line over weeks, maybe months as you daydream your way through the washing up? Or is it actively putting words on paper? 

The story for Her Mother’s Lies didn’t come fully formed – it developed over time, starting with a what if question that gradually grew into an outline over a period of months. Once I had my outline, the first draft was written from start to finish in just over a month. Then I had another month for the first round of edits, by which time, most of the wrinkles had been ironed out. After that, the second round of edits was a matter of tweaking little bits of the plot and finessing the ending. Then there’s copy edits and proofreading before the book can be considered finished. The whole process takes about 6 months from writing the first word to having a printed book in my hand.

I love the cover. How important do you think the cover is to a potential reader?

I think the cover is key to a reader because if that doesn’t attract their attention, they won’t even bother reading the blurb. But it’s so hard to illustrate the concept of a book with one image – I have the greatest respect for cover designers! And I would have to admit to being a bit of a cover nerd. Yes, I have bought books just because I like the cover!

Are you a pantster or do you plot?

My very first book, I was a pantser, but as I’m with a digital publisher and the pace is quick, I’ve come to understand the value of plotting! And I think psychological thrillers need a bit of careful plotting if the twists are going to work. We love an unexpected twist, don’t we?

Can you tell my readers something about the main character that will make us want to find out more about them?

The main character in Her Mother’s Lies is Martha, a 24 year old animal nurse who still lives at home in rural Cornwall with her diabetic mother, who is also an alcoholic. They have a tricky relationship and Martha feels trapped. After Martha loses her job, they have an argument, her mother drinks herself into a diabetic coma and Martha finds a shocking message on her mother’s phone. That’s the first lie. But there’s more and in her search for the truth, the web of lies that has shaped Martha’s life starts to unravel.

What have you found to be the most difficult thing about writing a novel?

I think structural edits are the hardest stage. That’s when you get feedback from your editor and you sometimes have to turn the whole story upside down and inside out. Or chop big chunks out and put new chunks in. It’s definitely the part that makes my brain ache as I try to keep hold of all the different story threads while I make the changes!

Do you have a special time for writing? How is your day structured?

I like to get up early and write first thing in the morning when everything is peaceful and quiet and before the jobs of the day have to be tackled. But I tend to split my day into chunks – before breakfast, mid morning and then afternoon. That’s the theory anyway, although life often has different plans!

How much research did you have to do for Her Mother’s Lies?

The story is set in Cornwall, so I had to find the right location and get a feel of what would work best for the story, find out where hospitals were etc. Then I had a fair bit of medical research as well, but I really love that stage as you don’t know where it will lead you!

We share the same lovely publisher, Bookouture. In what ways have they helped you with your writing journey?

Bookouture have been amazing!  I love the working relationship I have with my editor and feel the more books we do together, the more we understand each other and the better we work together. My books are so much better with her input and ideas. The editing process is very thorough at Bookouture as well, so there are lots of opportunities to make improvements and fine tune your story to make it the best it can be. They also do great covers, have an excellent marketing and PR team and the audio version they’ve done for Her Mother’s Lies is fabulous.  The other great thing is the author’s lounge, a Facebook group where we can go and have a chat to fellow authors, ask questions, have a moan, procrastinate. It makes you feel connected because writing is a very solitary occupation.

What next for Rona Halsall?
More psychological thrillers! I have two more books out next year. The first, which I’ve written and am editing now, is out at the beginning of May and the second is out at the end of September.

I am also going to make sure I get to the Crime Writing Festival at Harrogate next year as I haven’t been able to get there yet and it looks so much fun – meeting readers and other authors, lots of chatting – maybe see you there?

Rona is the author of Best Selling psychological thrillers HER MOTHER'S LIES, THE HONEYMOON, LOVE YOU and KEEP YOU SAFE.

She lives on the Isle of Man with her husband, two dogs and three guinea pigs. She is an outdoorsy person and loves stomping up a mountain, walking the coastal paths and exploring the wonderful glens and beaches on the island while she's plotting how to kill off her next victim. She has three children and two step-children who are now grown up and leading varied and interesting lives, which provides plenty of ideas for new stories!

To find out more about Rona's novels, go to or follow @RonaHalsall on Twitter or Instagram @ronahalsall.

Amazon author page: hhtps://