Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Exclusive Preview Interview on her forthcoming NEW Novel - with Claire Kendal, author of The Book of You


I first came across Claire Kendal's writing in 2015 when I read The Book of You and thought it was brilliant. Not surprisingly, it was a Sunday Times top ten bestseller and Richard & Judy pick. You can read my book review, HERE - personally it is one of the creepiest psychological thrillers I have ever read. The review tells you why.

As an avid admirer of Claire's writing talent (to the point of profound envy!), I was over the moon when she very kindly agreed to let me fire my own personal questions at her about her writing process and her forthcoming new novel! 


And for those of you who are new to Claire's books, her second novel, The Second Sister happens to be in a Kindle SALE right now, for the price of only 99p/99c.  Grab it now HERE, while you can!

Without further ado, I'm very excited to present our interview:

1. First of all, just give us a glimpse into your eagerly anticipated new novel:

I have just given my editors the first full draft of my next novel, which is called I Spy and is publishing in 2019. It’s about a woman who wants to be a spy, fails to be a spy, but then gets recruited to be a spy. The catch is they want her to spy on her boyfriend, who has a missing first wife. And who, though extremely charismatic, has a very dark side. When my heroine, Holly, is asked to do this, her handler doesn’t realise that Holly is in the early stages of a pregnancy with this man. It isn’t a spoiler for me to say that the reader learns early on that something has gone spectacularly wrong with all this, and Holly has had to run away and start a new life under a new identity.

2. One of the aspects of your writing I admire is the way you avoid genre formulas and especially avoid ‘melodramatic’ writing. Nevertheless, you seem to reach a depth of foreboding and terror for your characters (and therefore the reader!) that is rare in other thriller authors. I imagine it takes considerable courage for a private and sensitive person to dig so deeply into murky psychological territory – can you explain a little about how you do this?

You have been very thoughtful and generous about my writing. Thank you, Alison – your questions are lovely and I really appreciate how specific they are. I will do my best to answer this one.

I tend to start with a feeling or experience that is familiar to me and therefore I hope will be one that others will care about too. The next thing I do is to imagine that situation at extremity, to envisage it at its very worst. In I Spy, I was thinking about the boundaries between intimacy and intrusion, and the ways in which our surveillance culture has made these borders more permeable and dangerous. At the same time, I was just so powerfully interested in thinking about what it is like to be a spy, what the personal costs are to relationships and to identity, and what it means to be forced to walk away from your life as you know it.

There’s an element of fantasy in this, but of deep fear, too. I was thinking especially about the stories in the news concerning undercover police officers who ended up having children with the women they were spying on. These officers – at least in the stories I’ve read – have all been men. In a few cases, these officers suddenly disappeared out of the lives of the new families they’d made in the course of spying, leaving their partners (who were also their targets) and children in uncertainty and despair. I started to wonder what the story would look like if a woman became a spy like this.

In terms of your point about murky psychological territory, something happened with I Spy that hasn’t happened to me before. With my previous two novels, I dealt with very troubling subject matter but didn’t actually get upset until after I finished – that was when I had a few weeks of a kind of emotional exhaustion. With I Spy, this happened throughout the writing. Though I was addicted to getting the story out, drawn to it the instant I woke up and not wanting to stop for sleep, I did weep while writing some of the scenes. I had to do a great deal of research, because the material is so sensitive that I was really nervous about doing it justice. The whole time I was writing, I felt extreme levels of responsibility – probably more than I ever felt before – to deal with the subject matter truthfully and realistically, as far as I was able.

Touching on what you say about genre, one really important thing to me is that while my novels have been described as psychological thrillers or domestic noir, and I think these terms are accurate to what my books do, I also see my books as realist novels. In the case of I Spy there is a bit of spy thriller thrown into the mix, too, though I have made this element much more intimate than is typical. This point leads really well to your next question…

3. You stated in interview that you don’t set out to write ‘suspense’, yet you create scenes full of immediacy, realism and urgency. Where have you gleaned the technical skills for putting together a ‘psychological thriller’?

This is a very kind thing to say. I tend to look to novels I love and admire, novels that have obsessed me, to try to teach myself these skills. I always think that other novels are the best guides for writers. The plot of I Spy owes something to Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, which has two time frames and utilises the diary form to tell the story. Bronte’s novel is filled with the elements of the spy story and psychological thriller that are integral to my own, but it’s also a realist novel about domestic abuse. One way of summarising the plot of I Spy – and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – is this. A woman is forced to conceal her identity in a world where she is closely watched and monitored, and in turn needs to watch and monitor others, all the while trying to protect her child.

Some of my favourite novels utilise forms that have an inherent immediacy and urgency, such as letters or journals. These can have such force when describing events that are dramatic and dangerous. It may also be worth mentioning that when I first started trying (secretly!) to write novels, I was an English academic and literary critic, so I spent many years as a would-be maker of books who was trained to a fairly high degree in close reading. I was tearing apart novels not just to write scholarly articles, which was what I supposed to do in my job, but also because I wanted to learn how to tell my own stories, which was a private motive of my own.

4. Are the titles of the books your own? Did they have other titles when you were working on them?

My three novels had very different paths to their respective titles.

In The Book of You, Clarissa, my heroine, has this to say. ‘Every story has a true name. I wish this story’s name could be different, but nothing can change it. This story is The Book of You.’ My agent’s assistant, Pippa, found this sentence, and said, ‘Here is the title. It was there all along.’ The Book of You was originally called The Drying Room, but I think The Book of You is the perfect and only title for that novel, and Pippa is a genius. The title was there from the start, but wasn’t discovered until the end. I wrote the words ‘The Book of You’ but it took someone else to see them.

The Second Sister didn’t have a title until after it was finished and in production. My first idea was to call it Eyes Like Yours, but there were concerns that perhaps this didn’t tell the reader clearly enough what the novel was about. We considered The Good Sister, which my agent also loved, but then we learned that my Canadian publisher was bringing out another novel with that title around the same time. There isn’t a copyright on titles, but it didn’t seem right to use it. So I started to think of another alternative. The weird thing is, I said to my husband, ‘What about The Second Sister?’ A few minutes later, my editor sent me an email – and she had written The Second Sister in a list of about five possibilities.

I Spy is the first novel that had its title before I even started writing. My agent and I were talking about my early ideas for the story. During that conversation, he said, ‘How about I Spy?’ I instantly, deeply loved it, and knew it was right. With every word, it has grown more so. It is definitely that novel’s true name, to steal Clarissa’s phrase, and I am very excited about it.

5. The world of publishing has changed enormously in the last ten years with publishing houses no longer ‘keeping’ authors for life. How do you feel about the expectation for authors to promote their own books and present an online ‘platform’ for their readers?

I never had any expectation of a publisher keeping me for life – I was amazed to publish a novel at all, given that I had already written several which hadn’t got anywhere. So I hope it makes sense that for me, each published novel seems like a miraculous bonus, a real gift.

For the other part of your question, I’m not sure how good I am at self-promotion. It doesn’t come naturally to me – I’m actually quite shy and private. But I am also extremely grateful for everything the publishers do to support my writing, and I try my serious best to contribute to that. I see it as a professional responsibility and one that I am privileged to have.

The best thing about social media is the contact with readers that it brings – I love it when readers get in touch with me that way, and I have had some very moving messages. The individual conversations I get to have are what makes sense of social media for me. I wish I were better at initiating posts, though. Maybe in time…

6. Can you share a little of your writing process – such as how you structure your day when you’re in the thick of a first draft?
I started I Spy in Cornwall, because the novel is partly set there and I wanted to immerse myself in the location. I went away for seventeen days, and just walked and walked and wrote and wrote. It was a kind of do-it-yourself writer’s retreat and research trip. It gave me a huge boost to get I Spy going, and was one of the only periods of my life where I had the luxury of doing nothing but writing from the minute I woke until I went to sleep. It was one of the most special things I’ve done, and in a part of the world that I deeply love. But of course I couldn’t stay in Cornwall forever.

So here is a much more typical writing day for when I’m in the thick of a first draft. I get up early to go to the gym, and watch a film or box set while I’m on the cross-trainer (this distracts me from the fact that I am exercising!) – if I don’t do this I end up feeling stiff and cross. I swoop home to pick up the children and take them to school. I spend a few hours or the whole day on a selection of the following things, and sometimes on all of them – reading student work, answering university emails, going to meetings, having tutorials with my students, dealing with admin. I eat with my family (my husband and I alternate shopping and cooking weeks) and help with homework and the other things the children need. Then I write write write until late at night and I am too tired to write any more. What isn’t on this list is cleaning – I live in a very messy house.

Bite-sized questions:

Can you share two ‘golden keepsakes’ – two special mementoes in your home that you’ve kept for a particular reason?

1) Two companion drawings that my grandmother made of my sister and me when we were very little girls, and another she did of my brother. (This is technically three keepsakes, but I think of them as a single set!)

2) The baby and toddler clothes I sewed for my daughters.

What are your three favourite items of clothing?

All three are associated with special times in my life.

1) An old maternity dress – now washed so many times it has holes in it – made of cream-coloured cotton and printed with pale gold wildflowers. I wore it more than anything else during my first pregnancy.

2) A dress of midnight blue silk that I wore to the launch for The Book of You.

3) My wedding dress, a floaty tent worn when I was seven-and-a-half months pregnant with twins and chosen that morning because it was the only pretty thing in my wardrobe that fit me.

Thank you to Claire for a truly insightful and inspirational interview.

You can follow Claire Kendal on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.



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AJ Waines is a No 1 International Bestelling Author

All books can be read in any order 
(including Inside the Whispers (Bk 1) and Lost in the Lake (Bk 2) which are also in a series)
  •  Over 450,000 books sold worldwide
  • Girl on a Train  #1 Bestseller on Kindle in UK and Australia (2015 & 2016) 
  • No Longer Safe  #1 in 'Crime Noir' [30,000 sold in the first month]
Awarded Kindle KDP Top 10 'most-read Author' in UK 2016 & 2017

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Book Review: The Moment by Douglas Kennedy

The MomentThe Moment by Douglas Kennedy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Whilst not a psychological thriller as such, this book contains many 'psychological' themes! Kennedy's books have been described as 'page-turners that make you think' - a fitting tagline in my view.

Swept along by the author's beautiful and fluid language, I was very quickly wrapped up in and mesmerised by the characters and storyline of 'The Moment'. An author, Thomas, receives a surprising package that takes him back to another period in his life. A time when he was on location in Berlin close to ‘the wall’ (mid 1980s), poised to write a non-fiction book about divided Germany. The reader goes back in time with him and follows his daily life as he 'crosses over' - stepping into and back out of the grim existence at that time. On the Western side, we observe him adapting to a quirky bohemian lifestyle, rubbing shoulders with artists and free-thinkers. Then he meets a woman who carries a traumatic and complex history with her.

The book becomes their story and not all is as it seems - an engrossing tale about love, choices, loss and most importantly, the handling of betrayal.

Yes, it probably is a bit too long as noted by other readers. The part where we see a section of the story through the eyes of another narrator, does not add enough in my view, especially as we already know the outcome of events from the first narrator.

Nevertheless, there are twists and unexpected turns in the story and a solid ending. Moments of self-awareness and psychological/philosophical insights sit like little gems within the pages. I have read Douglas Kennedy before and I will be reading more of him.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~  

AJ Waines is a No 1 International Bestelling Author

All books can be read in any order 
(including Inside the Whispers (Bk 1) and Lost in the Lake (Bk 2) which are also in a series)
  •  Over 450,000 books sold worldwide
  • Girl on a Train  #1 Bestseller on Kindle in UK and Australia (2015 & 2016) 
  • No Longer Safe  #1 in 'Crime Noir' [30,000 sold in the first month]
Awarded Kindle KDP Top 10 'most-read Author' in UK 2016 & 2017

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Anyone else have a problem with Holidays?!

View from the boat on Lake Garda
I got back from a break away at Lake Garda in Italy just over a week ago and faced the usual questions on my return. Did you have a nice time? Did you get a good rest? Let's face it - there were stunning views of the lake and mountains, wall to wall Mediterranean sunshine, fabulous fresh local food and wine. All very romantic with my lovely hubbie. I mean - what's not to like?! 

The weird thing is - I've always found holidays 'difficult'. I call it ‘existential displacement’, but other psychologists have labelled it ‘adjustment disorder'. As you know, I like unravelling mysteries, so for anyone else with a similar experience, I'll try to explain what this 'mysterious thing' is about. 

It's not the usual holiday 'stress' 

View of the Alps from the plane
It's not the work involved in organising a holiday - all the planning (where to go, what to do), booking flights, hotels, hire cars etc. It's not about a fear of flying. It's not even about coming up against a different language and culture, new currency, reading maps, not knowing where things are/how things work, timetables etc – those are simply extra hurdles.

No, it's kind of Existential.

The feelings I get when I’m away from home for more than a couple of nights are summed up as follows: ungrounded, lost, alienated, trapped, agitated, unable to relax, displaced, cut off and feeling like an outsider. The apartment we stayed in was lovely: bright, airy, clean and had everything we wanted. But it was alien to me. I felt like I had no personal space there and I was stuck with someone else’s things around me. In those circumstances,  I feel I lose my SELF – there is nothing of ME there and no familiar structure. Something akin to my 'thing' with mirrors (see my earlier post).

I feel as though my very identity is compromised. As well as not feeling relaxed in the apartment, I find being out and about for long periods tricky. I like exploring places, love expanses of water, but I find being 'in the world' all day for a full week terribly exhausting - psychologically. As soon as we arrived, I found myself counting down the days to my return. It sounds terribly sad ( and wasteful, even), but it's just the way it is. I try very hard to make the most of everything. I try to find ways to go with the flow (I even took my own pillow), but  the sense of discomfort persisted. My long suffering husband is amazing, by the way. He knows I find being away from home hard and does everything he can to soften the issue! 

Malcesine
What about leaving home to go to University? 

What is strange is that I had no issues leaving home, aged eighteen. I never found that ‘difficult’ – quite the opposite in fact. This condition isn't about being ‘homesick’ in the traditional way. It's not a yearning to be with certain people or 'family'. As it happens, I've moved loads of time - different colleges, different cities.

Each time, I was creating a new world around me – new routines and structures. A new home. And I loved it! I never had any hankerings for going back (quite the opposite, at Uni I used to have stomach upsets at vacation time and even stalled returns for as long as possible). It wasn't my parents' fault at all (poor loves), but it was as though the family 'home' had turned into the alien space, because my new identity at uni was the one I’d created and belonged in.

The Answer

My husband and I used to have a cat and tended to take 3-4 day city-breaks to places like Bruges, Amsterdam, Lille, Paris. These holidays worked better for me and he likes the idea of returning to this short-break structure, too. Phew!

The Value of Photographs

Grotte di Catullo

Limone

As a result of this 'condition', I tend to enjoy holidays more afterwards and that is why photos are so important! I take lots of them. After the event, back home in my own space again I’m relaxed, looking back from a position of total calm! I often think of Wordsworth's lovely quote about poetry: 'emotion recollected in tranquility'. Coming home is like a return to myself.

I'd be interested to hear from any other folk out there who can relate to this! Meanwhile, I'm back editing my next book (set on the water, as it happens), PERFECT BONES. And I couldn't be happier!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~  
 

AJ Waines is a No 1 International Bestelling Author

All books can be read in any order 
(including Inside the Whispers (Bk 1) and Lost in the Lake (Bk 2) which are also in a series)
  •  Over 450,000 books sold worldwide
  • Girl on a Train  #1 Bestseller on Kindle in UK and Australia (2015 & 2016) 
  • No Longer Safe  #1 in 'Crime Noir' [30,000 sold in the first month]
Awarded Kindle KDP Top 10 'most-read Author' in UK 2016 & 2017

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Book Review: One Day by David Nicholls - Does it live up to the Hype?

One DayOne Day by David Nicholls
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s 1988 and Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley have only just met on the night of their graduation. Tomorrow they must go their separate ways. But after only one day together, they cannot stop thinking about one another.
Over twenty years, snapshots of that relationship are revealed on the same day—July 15th—of each year. Dex and Em face squabbles and fights, hopes and missed opportunities, laughter and tears. And as the true meaning of this one crucial day is revealed, they must come to grips with the nature of love and life itself.

Twenty years, two people, one day.


My Review

It's a great premise: snapshots covering twenty years from the anniversary date of Dex and Em’s one-night stand. I also like the double meaning of the title, 'One Day', which not only refers to zooming in on the same day each year, but the whimsical wish we often make, as in ‘maybe one day…’ which is the underlying romantic drive of the story.

I love the writing style of this book - poignant, laugh-out-loud and downright cringy - it’s a portrayal of the poor and clumsy choices we all make in love and in our careers. The two main characters are beautifully and sharply defined as they start out in their early twenties and each take their separate forks in the metaphorical road of life. Two lost souls without a map. Dexter starts out arrogant and ambitious, Emma, under-confident and uncertain and we track their journeys annually to discover the ways in which their characters change, develop and overlap. There are some hilarious scenes, such as the 'Are you there, Moriarty?' game! Had to read this bit several times!

This was a refreshing change from psychological thrillers for me (both reading and writing them!). In my view, yes, it does live up to the hype. My only gripe (and I don’t want to reveal any plot details here), is the ending. Not what happens in the story as such, but the rounding off in the last few chapters. It petered out with revisited memories of earlier dates and almost got a star knocked off... I kept thinking I must have missed something. Please tell me if I have!

View all my Goodreads reviews
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~  

AJ Waines is a No 1 International Bestelling Author

All books can be read in any order 
(including Inside the Whispers (Bk 1) and Lost in the Lake (Bk 2) which are also in a series)
  •  Over 450,000 books sold worldwide
  • Girl on a Train  #1 Bestseller on Kindle in UK and Australia (2015 & 2016) 
  • No Longer Safe  #1 in 'Crime Noir' [30,000 sold in the first month]
Awarded Kindle KDP Top 10 'most-read Author' in UK 2016 & 2017

Monday, 21 May 2018

Why Escapism is good for Authors

Have you ever been caught daydreaming? Missed your stop on the bus because your mind was miles away? Been hauled up for staring out of the classroom window as a child? If so, you probably learnt that escapism was best avoided. But the ability to switch off, to transport yourself, to imagine possibilities and ‘think outside the box’ is essential to creativity and it’s the bedrock of a writer’s existence.

We all indulge in escapism: watching TV or films, listening to music, reading, playing games, sports and daydreaming. It’s completely normal. Escapism is useful for managing stress. It’s the mechanism by which we can step away from our problems. When we’ve spent all day fretting about work, for instance, an evening at a comedy club helps us to relax and let go. A game of tennis, a walk around a lake or an hour in a bird-hide, clears away our tangled, murky thoughts, so that when we come back to issues, we have a fresh view of the situation.
 
My first forays into escapism take me back to when I was around nine years old. The girl next door lent me a box brimming with small Bunty magazines, from a range called ‘picture story library for girls’. These little books transported me. There were around fifty of them and I devoured each and every one. I became the ballet dancer in one story, the gymnast in another. Spurred on by such stories, I learned to do the splits and have been able to, ever since! The Mallory Towers series by Enid Blyton had the same effect on me. I was totally immersed in those adventures. I still get a tingling excitement when I type the title. They were my first recognisable ventures into escapism.
My finest gymnastic achievement!
Escapism allows us to drift away from our own life – the routine, the humdrum – for a while. To leave our known reality behind and enter an existence somewhere else. Avid readers find this when they open a new book. Within moments, they have entered a new world with all their senses. For me, as an author, each time I write a new book, it’s like stepping through the back of the wardrobe in Narnia (CS Lewis) or opening the gate to The Secret Garden (Frances Hodges Burnett). A new place, new people and a new mystery. I become a new self, identifying with the characters in the book, joining them as they unravel the threads of a murder, facing their dilemmas, responding to their emotions from the safety of my writing desk.

I have one of those minds that naturally seems to take off somewhere. Very easily. I tend to do a lot of ‘what if’ thinking with regard to my own life. I think a crime writer needs that much maligned part of us that tends to slip into ‘catastrophe thinking’. I’m often dreaming up nightmare scenarios, asking myself ‘what’s the worst that could happen here?’ and running with it in my mind. I visualise. A lot. I have a second life going on inside my head all the time – a constant film running that jumps around from planning, rehearsing, daydreaming, reflecting and making stuff up. It’s busy in there!

This kind of ‘wild mind’ is useful when looking for ideas for writing a new novel. Brenda Ueland, (If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit) calls it ‘moodling’ – daydreaming with a pencil in your hand. It’s the process of brainstorming and letting your imagination wander, then catching whatever comes out, like netting butterflies.

Someone once asked me why I don’t do more travelling and I told them that I do all the travelling I need inside my head. This is true of many introverts – instead of spending time ‘out there in the real world’, we go inwards into our thoughts, reflections, memories and imagination. The books I read feed this rich inner world and the books I write emanate from it. I forage around in these other lives in order to gain insights to bring back to this one.

In my writing, escapism means I take myself into the scenes I’m creating and explore them as though I’m physically present. I look around the room, the boat, the cellar and feel the cold, see the shadows, smell the mould, taste the dust, hear the footsteps, sense the foreboding. Then I describe the experience. 

Of course, there were many times during the writing of my latest thriller, Don’t you Dare, when I didn’t know what something looked or felt like. What does the cellar of a pub smell like? How warm is it? How fast can you go in a speedboat? So I looked these details up, but most of the time I’m inside the story. And that’s where the fun starts, because I can design who does what in a novel. I’m in control. I can make people become who I want them to be. Make things happen in the way I decide. Like an adult playing with a train-set or model village! (It makes the process of writing sound like a doddle, which it really isn’t –  but it is all-consuming.)

There are no two ways about it, I’m hooked on escapism and admit to being a self-confessed daydreamer! I wouldn’t give it up for the world.

My latest book, Don’t you Dare, is published by Bloodhound Books and is available from all Amazon outlets:




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This feature was first published in The Crime Readers' Association Newsletter.

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CLICK to join AJ Waines' Newsletter for book giveaways and updates on her new releases!

AJ Waines is a No 1 International Bestelling Author
All books can be read in any order 
(including Inside the Whispers (Bk 1) and Lost in the Lake (Bk 2) which are also in a series)
  •  Over 450,000 books sold worldwide
  • Girl on a Train  #1 Bestseller on Kindle in UK and Australia (2015 & 2016) 
  • No Longer Safe  #1 in 'Crime Noir' [30,000 sold in the first month]
Awarded Kindle KDP Top 10 'most-read Author' in UK 2016 & 2017

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

How to Write a Psychological Thriller

Latest thriller - published Today! (May 8)
When people eagerly greet me with the words 'I've got a great idea for a novel', the first response that flashes into my mind is: 'Okay, so now you need about fifty more and you might be on to something.'

It's true! One sparky idea might give you a great hook for the opening of a novel, but in a psych thriller, you need a lot more. In my humble opinion what follows is my pared-down recipe to writing one.

What makes a Psychological Thriller?
In a nut-shell, most thrillers need some kind of dramatic incident at the start that sets off a chain of events, so that the reader is immediately gripped and intrigued. After this shock, the story needs to unfold with a search for something or someone, a chase or race against time, plus inner and outer turmoil for the main characters. It needs 'themes' to give the story continuity and meaning, 'threads' to link disparate parts of the plot together and 'layers' to show how the past relates to the present. The plot needs conflict and dilemmas, twists and turns, with set-backs and unexpected consequences following the characters' actions. And, of course, at the end it needs a super mind-blowing twist!

The hook to grab the reader at the outset
In Don't you Dare, there's a murder right at the outset and we know who did it and we think we know why. It's even on the jacket sleeve. What's the drama in that, you might ask? A-ha...it's what happens next that is key. Rachel has just attacked a stranger because she thought her daughter was in danger - and now he's dead. Beth wants to call the police. That's what anyone would do, surely? It was an accident. A misunderstanding. But Rachel absolutely refuses to involve the law. She puts her foot down and won't hear of it. She insists they keep what's happened a secret. Why is she so adamant?
My desk on a tidy day...
Structure and Characters
I usually use a three-act structure for my story arc and make sure I have distinct character arcs, too. Protagonists must make their own emotional journeys through the book and be different at the end from how they were at the beginning. Whilst the characters don't always need to be 'likeable', they do need to be fascinating or compelling in some way, so that the reader has a vested interest in what happens to them. They need to have colourful backstories to give them motives for having taken certain steps in the past, or for reacting how they do in the present. Psych thrillers usually contain a great deal of interior dialogue to show the inner worlds of the protagonists, so they need to have distinct personalities. Each one needs a well-defined 'voice'. Drawing on my experience as a psychotherapist, my characters often have psychological issues we can all relate to; hidden fears, grief, loneliness, addictions, jealousy or certain disorders, such as trauma-induced memory loss (see Lost in the Lake).

Before I start a new story, I like to have an overall concept for the book, to generate the 'feel' of the narrative. In the case of Don't you Dare, it was the question: 'What happens when your daughter becomes your enemy?' This allowed me to explore this complex and precarious dynamic. I also ask myself the following three questions:

1.Whose Story is it? 
Who is the narrator? Who is best placed to give the most dramatic account of what happens? Sometimes, it creates more drama to have two or more narrators, telling aspects of the story from their separate viewpoints in individual chapters. In Don't you Dare, we see the unfolding of events from both Rachel's (mother) and Beth's (daughter) points of view. This allows the reader to know details that the other character hasn't seen, to have 'insider' he's behind you-type knowledge! Furthermore, some secrets are also withheld from the reader. Neither Beth, nor the reader knows, for instance, why Rachel is so obsessed with covering up the crime at the beginning of the story. This allows me, as the author, to revel in lies, secrets and hidden motives! I love that sense of dissonance in a story - a sinister undercurrent where everything is not as it seems.

2.What big questions will the book explore?
In Don't you Dare, I was gripped by another question: What's it like to try to get away with a terrible crime? How will mother and daughter manage their dreadful secret? Will one of them break under pressure?  What happens to their relationship when they start blaming each other? Will they go ahead with the planned wedding in a matter of weeks? (it's good to have a 'race against time' element). Conflict, tension, mystery, manslaughter, lies and cover ups are all present in the opening chapters of this novel and the story spirals on from there. 

3.What other Themes are in the book?
At the outset, I identified the other areas I wanted to explore:
  • The problem with secrets when more than one person is involved
  • Rivalry between mother and daughter who are close in age - the dark side of female bonding
  • How grief and rage can lead people to go completely off the rails and commit rash acts
  • What people are capable of under duress
Rachel and Beth's home in Don't you Dare
Then there are settings, atmosphere and weather to consider. In my novel No Longer Safe, the snow plays a big part in the story. In The Evil Beneath, the River Thames is at the heart of the plot. In Don't you Dare, the 'rundown' terraced house in Winchester where Rachel and Beth live is a real place my husband and I viewed when we were house-hunting. I've made it more ramshackle in the story than it really was, but the layout of the first floor is the same as in this diagram, which shows the 'Jack and Jill' bathroom (one that's accessible from both bedrooms). This particular layout plays a part in the story...

Tattered back patio that features in Don't you Dare


Although I originally plotted the end of the book, when I came to write it, it completely changed. This seems to be common for writers. As the story progresses and the characters show who they really are, new possibilities come out of the woodwork.

After considering the structure, the story arc, the hook, the themes, the characters - after all that, you write the book. Simple...! 😉

DON'T YOU DARE is published by Bloodhound Books and available from Amazon
(for Amazon US click HERE)

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AJ Waines is a No 1 International Bestelling Author
All books can be read in any order 
(including Inside the Whispers (Bk 1) and Lost in the Lake (Bk 2) which are also in a series)
  •  Over 450,000 books sold worldwide
  • Girl on a Train  #1 Bestseller on Kindle in UK and Australia (2015 & 2016) 
  • No Longer Safe  #1 in 'Crime Noir' [30,000 sold in the first month]
Awarded Kindle KDP Top 10 'most-read Author' in UK 2016 & 2017

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Don't you Dare: Author Interview and early Reviews

Don't You Dare by AJ Waines

Available to PRE-ORDER:
Amazon UK & Amazon US

Published May 8

Interview by US thriller-lover, Hope Carridan, with the Author:

What is Don’t you Dare about?

It’s starts with a drastic misunderstanding – Rachel bursts in on her daughter, Beth, when she thinks she’s being attacked. She steps in as any good mother would and a terrible crime is committed. A man is dead, but it’s what happens next that is crucial. Beth says they must report the crime to the police. Her mother says no…no way…

Can you sum up the book in a few words?

Mother and daughter. One dead body.
Who’ll be the first to crack?

Where does the tension in the book come from?

The tension in the book comes from the different ways in which mother and daughter handle what they’ve done. Neither of them planned on committing a crime, but now they’re trapped in a terrible dilemma that will affect their lives forever. Who is going to keep their nerve? Who’ll be the first to crack? It’s a nail-biting ride and perfect (I hope) for fans of Ruth Ware, C.L Taylor and Clare Mackintosh!

What inspired you to write this book?

As a former psychotherapist I’ve always been interested in people’s motives for doing things. In this story, I wanted a dreadful crime to be committed by the lead character, Rachel, and for her to be desperate to cover it up. She has a very good reason, but keeps that reason hidden from Beth, her daughter (and the reader). A battle of wills unfolds as Beth, the queen of oversharing on social media, becomes a liability.

What was the first scene you envisaged?

It’s the scene where Beth gets drunk at her hen party and announces to everyone that she has something important to reveal. Her mother flies into a complete panic. Will Beth give them both away because it’s the ‘right’ thing to do? How can Rachel stop her? It’s the point when the story hangs on a thread and can swing either way.

What genre do your books fall under?

They are psychological thrillers, but nearly all involve a murder mystery too. In Don’t you Dare, we see the story unfold from Rachel and Beth’s points of view in alternating chapters. We see the inner motives and emotions they are not sharing with each other, the secrets being kept right from the start, even though they are devoted to each other. They both want to protect the other person and, ironically, a lot of the problems arise from this place of love.

Can you give us a flavour of the book?

This is near the beginning of the book, from Rachel’s point of view:

‘We’ve done something despicable,’ Beth whispers.
‘I know. But I hope you know why.’
Only – of course, she doesn’t know the real reason. And she must never find out.

I always love stories involving secrets and lies and this novel has plenty of them, with a big twist at the end!

Goodreads reviews for Don't you Dare

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AJ Waines is a No 1 International Bestelling Author
All books can be read in any order 
(including Inside the Whispers (Bk 1) and Lost in the Lake (Bk 2) which are also in a series)
  •  Over 450,000 books sold worldwide
  • Girl on a Train  #1 Bestseller on Kindle in UK and Australia (2015 & 2016) 
  • No Longer Safe  #1 in 'Crime Noir' [30,000 sold in the first month]
Awarded Kindle KDP Top 10 'most-read Author' in UK 2016 & 2017