Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Need Inspiration (or just like 'feel-good' stories?)

I love this story. It’s not about writing, but in a sense it could be. It’s about Transformation, turning your life around, trying something completely different and giving it a go.

Here’s the Inspiring tale:

Steve Way, 40, from Bournemouth, describes himself as an 'ultra runner'. Self-coached, he finished 15th in the 2014 London marathon, the third British man over the line behind Mo Farah and Chris Thompson. He ran in the Commonwealth Games, on Sunday, coming in 10th, breaking the British Marathon record for 40s and over.

Steve with Bradley Wiggins (Image: Steve Way)

But Steve hasn’t always been an athlete. ‘At school I was the guy who hid in the bushes with my fat mate during the first lap of the cross country and then rejoined the field when they came round again,’ he said. In 2007 he was 16 stone, a heavy smoker and a lover of junk food. ‘Towards the end of 2007 I could hardly sleep at night. I was coughing and waking up because of the smoking and it was impacting on my wife too.’

One morning he said he looked in the mirror and didn’t like what he saw. ‘Everyone has scope for improvement,’ he said talking to Gary Lineker on BBC TV. If only more people had this kind of wake-up call – not only about fitness, but about any area of their lives. There would be fewer unfulfilled dreams, wasted groundhog days, destructive lifestyles.

My own story

When I qualified as a Psychotherapist in 1995 and started building a private practice, I loved it, but I also knew something was missing. I relished the work and found it challenging and fascinating, but I was always looking for ‘something else’. Emotionally, I couldn’t work with clients every day, so I created a space for this ‘other thing’ that never materialised. I wrote two self-help books and that process was engaging and stimulating, but it wasn’t ‘it’. Only when I began writing fiction in 2008, did everything come together; my love of words and imagery (used all the time in therapy), my interest in psychology, my desire for escapism. I was able to sink into my imaginary world with the perfect excuse to revel as an Introvert, instead of fighting against it. I could spend hours in a room on my own transported into fantasy-land, making stuff up – what could be better than that! Finding fiction writing was like ‘coming home’.

Steve now runs around 130-140 miles a week while he holds down a job in a bank. He led the race at the Commonwealth Games for most of the first six miles, before finishing in a personal best time. Inspiration indeed.
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AJ Waines is the author of Psychological Thrillers:  The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train.
Both books went to Number One in 'Murder' and 'Psychological Thrillers' in the UK Kindle charts.

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Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Recommended Psychological Thrillers (3 Reviews)

Here are Three TOP Psychological Thrillers I'd recommend this summer. They all feature 'blocks to communication' in some form or another. You can also read how I got to meet one of these authors at the Theakstons Crime Writing Festival at Harrogate this year!

Before I Go to Sleep - SJ Watson
My rating 4/5 stars

On one level this book is a Tour de Force. It’s an incredible task for a debut novelist in particular to portray a woman’s daily battle with memory loss – the potential for repetition is huge! With so few characters (we meet only the protagonist’s husband, doctor and best friend for almost the entire book) and the main narrator, Christine, barely leaving the house, it is amazing how SJ Watson keeps this book burning – but he manages it! With new angles on the human dilemma of being without memory, issues of truth, reality, identity, love, the impact of the past and truth versus lies, the author has covered every base it would seem, in creating a tense and intense psychological thriller.

With a diary that she reads every day to remind her of the facts of her past, Christine has to try to figure out what is real, what is information others want her to hear (husband, doctor, best friend) and therefore who she can trust. Christine can’t trust herself, because she has no reliable body of experience to draw on to know who she is. There does come a point in the book for me, however, when I wanted to shake out of this inevitable cycle; trusting, then not trusting – remembering, then forgetting. The daily re-establishing of memories, then doubting because the narrator realises they come from another person’s version of her past does become a little relentless!

In this way, I really did want to get to the end – and the outcome was along the lines I’d anticipated from around two-thirds into the book. Nevertheless, there are some shocks on the way and it does tie things up, leaving me with an unsettling residue. A difficult book to forget (see what I did there?)!

Apple Tree Yard - Louise Doughty
4/5 stars

Here the protagonist is unable to communicate the truth due to her position. Part-psychological thriller, part-personal morality tale and part-courtroom drama - Louise Doughty’s seventh novel Apple Tree Yard is about a woman who makes one rash choice that ends up putting her on trial at the Old Bailey for the most serious of crimes. Not a traditional thriller, in that the pace is steady rather than fast, but I loved the poetic language and the original imagery in terms of inner dialogue and reflections about the world. It’s not just a suspense novel – it is a book with real meaning about choices, consequences and how our actions are viewed by other people. An uncomfortable read in many ways, but gripping!

I terms of language, I’d say 5/5 stars. In terms of the storyline itself, 4/5.

Rubbernecker - Belinda Bauer
5/5 stars

Eighteen year-old, Patrick Fort, suffers from Asperger's Syndrome and after losing his father in childhood, he’s obsessed with finding out exactly how he died and where he has ‘gone’. He joins an anatomy course at Cardiff University to dissect a corpse over a number of weeks to establish the cause of death, hoping this will bring him insights about his father.

In the meantime Sam is in a coma trapped in his own body somewhere between death and recovery. Bauer uses the first person voice to show us the struggles he goes through trying to break through to the surface and be heard. Then Sam witnesses something, but is unable to convey what he has seen…

There are many threads to this story that interweave in a complex, refreshing and fascinating way, taking psychological thrillers to a new level. I love Belinda’s quirky writing style and the way she is able to mix the macabre with laugh-out-loud moments of dark humour (some very funny moments). She also manages to address issues such as communication, isolation, the assumptions we make about coma victims and empathy in a chilling page-turner. Absolute must-read!

Image: BBC News
I was lucky enough to speak to Belinda Bauer at Harrogate this year, finding her on her own in the beer tent! She graciously didn't tell me she'd already won the Crime Novel of the Year when I said I'd voted for her and was hoping she'd win!
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AJ Waines is the author of Psychological Thrillers:  The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train.
Both books went to Number One in 'Murder' and 'Psychological Thrillers' in the UK Kindle charts.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Are you a Pre-crastinator?!

Isn’t it nice when you recognise an aspect of yourself in another person’s personality analysis – especially when it’s new to you and has an impressive name?! We’ve all heard of Procrastination. Now Oliver Burkeman (The Guardian Magazine) has discovered a new term: Precrastination’. It means doing things sooner than they really need to be done. Aha, yes – this is ME!

I think I need to join Burkeman. He’s worried that his epitaph will read: ‘He crossed a lot of items off his to-do list’… I have a sneaking feeling my sister is the same as me – we’re both planners and finishers and tend to ‘just get on with it.’ Neither of us are fans of ‘faffing about’ or lying on sunny beaches (what’s the point in that?!). I’ve been extremely lucky too, that in the six years that I’ve devoted my time to writing fiction, I’ve not suffered writers’ block. Precrastinators don’t seem to get it - that’s because we hate having tasks ‘hanging over us’.

I know where I’ve got this particular trait from; my Mum was always telling us to ‘get the jobs done first and then you can play.’ She hated settling down after supper to watch a gripping TV drama and then having to get up to do the washing up. Just like me. I like to get everything ‘out of the way’ first (Burkeman calls it ‘clearing the decks’) and only then can I properly relax.

Being a Precrastinator has helped me enormously. I’m invariably early for appointments, meetings and deadlines. I used to write for Slimming World and every time they gave me a submission cut-off date (for around 20 features in all), I was pressing ‘send’ several days early. Revision for exams, essays at University – always done in advance. I had a friend who used to leave essays until the last minute and stay up all night to get them done. My worst nightmare! I could never dare to do that. When I get a deadline, my reaction is immediate – ‘If I don’t get on with it NOW,’ I panic, ‘I might be ill, lose the thread of the assignment, not be able to get the right books out of the library, my Internet might be down, I might break my wrist, something might crop up as an emergency…’ Result: ‘Better get on with it straight away.’

Please don’t assume from this that what I do comes out anywhere near ‘perfect’. The downside of Precrastination for me is that I do sometimes rush things. Tut-tut – not good – must do better in that regard…

Recently we’ve had builders in – just when I’ve got major revisions to do. It’s been a case of ‘Builders’ Block’ - banging, crashing, (ceilings coming down), radio blaring, cat upset, getting up to make drinks, getting up to check back gate is shut (cat, again), not being able to use the loo etc. 

 But I’ve stayed with the writing through it all.

Writing, effortlessly, comes first. I don’t mean the writing itself is effortless, but rather the choice about whether to do it or not – that’s a GIVEN for me, now.

Isn’t it good to know you’re not alone/mad..?
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AJ Waines is the author of Psychological Thrillers:  The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train. Both books hit the Number One spot in 'Murder' and 'Psychological Thrillers' in the UK Kindle charts.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

7 Ways Tennis can help Writers

Image courtesy of ponsuwan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
As Andy Murray sailed into week two at Wimbledon (mustn’t count our chickens), I thought about what tennis can teach writers. Most arts and sports can teach us something, so here is my run down:

1. Team work:
You see one player on court, but each one has a crew behind them in the wings who train them, psyche them up and pull them into shape mentally and physically for those grand slam matches.  

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Who do you need in your team? Some writers need someone to push them; I often see writers on Twitter ask for a ‘writing buddy’ for the day – like a tennis partner – someone to go the rounds with them to reach 500 or 1,000 words and check in with them later. It keeps them at their desk when there are temptations to wander, knowing someone else is ‘over the other side of the (Inter)net’. Other writers need a person who will shout ‘Vamos!’ from the stands so we’ll hear it - a strong supporter who picks us up when we get bad news, rejections or poor reviews. Most writers need impartial readers (literary physios), who check everything is functioning properly - who can check our work for plot holes, inconsistencies, drops in tension, flaky characters etc.

A 'tennis-player must' seems to be a sports psychologist. As experts are always telling us, the sport is essentially a ‘mind-game’. Talented writer Elizabeth Haynes (Into the Darkest Corner – Amazon UK best book of 2011) recently admitted she had therapy to cope with a severe dose of author envy. You can read her frank and revealing article here.

Andy has a team of at least six behind him; his coach, two fitness trainers, a hitting partner, a physio, and a PR agent. Each one has an equivalent for a writer.

2. Practice:
You wouldn’t expect to pick up a racket and stride straight out onto the centre court, so why expect to pick up a pen and walk into the UK Kindle Charts? There’s a lot of competition out there and we need to work at it. I’ve learn that being a good writer isn’t enough. There are masses of excellent writers out there – to create a psychological thriller that will turn heads, you ALSO have to get an original, commercial premise, a power-packed storyline, dynamic characters who jump off the page, page-turning jeopardy, the right pace and a great twist at the end. It takes a lot of skill to get that right and there are going to be a lot of attempts that fall into the net…

3. Resilience and Tenacity:
Raphael Nadal has been losing his first sets in matches at Wimbledon this year, but does he give up? No way! During a press conference in 2006, Roger Federer explained the one major thing which turned his career around after those early years when he regularly lost to the top players such as Lleyton Hewitt. His secret sounds so simple yet it made all the difference to his career. Federer said he learnt not to panic on the court when he was down or under pressure - and that rather than giving up, he now "hangs in there and hopes for the best whenever things are down". Federer attributes his success to this one simple decision, and said it has been the best choice that he has ever made in tennis. He resolves to "keep playing and see what happens", just in case his opponent gets nervous or something dramatic should happen that could change the match.

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
4. Hawk-Eye 1:
Hawk-eye was brought in because humans are fallible and they sometimes call ‘out’ when the ball is really ‘in’. Writing is subjective, which means one agent/publisher may say ‘Out’ while the next says ‘In’. People get it wrong. People have different opinions – just take a look at the variety of reviews for the same book on Amazon. A friend of mine (who happens to be a film director in Hollywood - long story!) used to work in a London theatre, selecting plays from the slush pile. She told me there were times when she'd be feeling slightly off-colour or tired and the next manuscript in the pile would get short shrift as a result.

5. Hawk-Eye 2:
This also applies to checking work – agents don’t seem to mind the odd spello here and there, but a manuscript riddled with faulty spelling, grammar, punctuation, wonky formatting isn’t going to endear them to us.

6. Don’t dwell:
Move on after bad news. Commentators are always criticising players for reliving a dreadful line-call or a point where they messed up. Writers need to stay in the moment and make what we’re working on right now the best we can do.

7. Take risks:
Think outside the box. It’s nearly always that daring volley from Federer or that lunging drop-shot from Djokovic that wins the point. It’s a risk – it’s always safer to stay at the base-line and keep swinging the ball back and forth, but we need to stick your neck out if we’re going to stun our opponent (audience/agent/publisher).

Now - anyone for Pimm's?
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AJ Waines is the author of Psychological Thrillers:  The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train. Both books hit the Number One spot in 'Murder' and 'Psychological Thrillers' in the UK Kindle charts.