Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Three Reviews from my Psychological Thriller shelf!

Time to see which novels hit the spot and which didn't...

Remember Me This Way  - Sabine Durrant
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

'Everyone keeps telling me I have to move on. And so here I am, walking down the road where he died, trying to remember him the right way.' A year after her husband Zach's death, Lizzie goes to lay flowers where his fatal accident took place. As she makes her way along the motorway, she thinks about their life together. She wonders whether she has changed since Zach died. She wonders if she will ever feel whole again. At last she reaches the spot. And there, tied to a tree, is a bunch of lilies. The flowers are addressed to her husband. Someone has been there before her.

Lizzie loved Zach. She really did. But she's starting to realise she didn't really know him. Or what he was capable of . . .

This book really hit the spot! From the start, the story is riddled with deception, lies, undercurrents of emotional abuse, obsession and manipulation. Nothing is as it seems. Who left the flowers at the road-side? Who is following Lizzie? Did Zach read Lizzie's letter that told him it was all over between them? As Lizzie goes back to fill in the gaps in the persona Zach presented to her, she finds more questions than answers. Seen through Lizzie's eyes in the present with Zach's chilling account in the past, we witness the dissonance in their relationship, driven by passive/aggressive behaviour and co-dependency. Is Zach alive? Is he waiting to pounce? A tense suspense novel that won't let you put it down. Highly recommended.

Finders Keepers - Belinda Bauer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

At the height of summer a dark shadow falls across Exmoor. Children are being stolen from cars. Each disappearance is marked only by a terse note - a brutal accusation. There are no explanations, no ransom demands... and no hope.

Policeman Jonas Holly faces a precarious journey into the warped mind of the kidnapper if he's to stand any chance of catching him. But - still reeling from a personal tragedy - is Jonas really up to the task?

Because there's at least one person on Exmoor who thinks that, when it comes to being the first line of defence, Jonas Holly may be the last man to trust...

I love Belinda Bauer’s books – Rubbernecker was my favourite novel of 2014, but sadly this one didn’t grab me. I’ve read the books in order, but I still found it disconcerting that this book was giving away vital information that would spoil a reader’s enjoyment of the earlier book, Darkside. The twist in that book is excellent and this book somehow took something away for me.

The style is beautiful as ever; quirky, funny, poignant, dark and verging on gruesome – how does she do it?! But the storyline itself didn’t sweep me away. It felt too familiar after the earlier ones. Just a little bit too samey with 'chaos in a village when disaster strikes'. There were a number of references to the previous two stories (and characters, of course) and I wanted something fresh. Those other stories were great, but I preferred them to be self-contained and closed. I saw no benefit from making them linked. I suppose that’s the risk you run with a series – but I felt it particularly diminished my enjoyment here, in a way that other series books haven’t. The story wasn’t enough to lift me out of that, I’m afraid.

Roll on the next – The Facts of Life and Death, which sounds like a standalone and which I will certainly read as I won it in a competition!

The Cement Garden - Ian McEwan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In the relentless summer heat, four abruptly orphaned children retreat into a shadowy, isolated world, and find their own strange and unsettling ways of fending for themselves...

This is one of those books where you know right from the start it isn't going to end well. The only downside about it is that it is fairly short and it's a book you'll want to go on and on reading. The writing style is extremely accomplished - the narrator being a fourteen year old boy, Jack, with all his awkwardness and self-doubt. Jack doesn't come across as warm - he's not outgoing or kind - he's troubled and fighting to hold his place in a world where his older sister has taken over the reins in the family. What unfolds is a beautiful portrait of the inner turmoil of an increasingly dysfunctional family.

Words like macabre, dark, morbid, shocking and repellent describe this novel and make it compelling in the way it brings up those goose pimples! It's never explicit or melodramatic. I've read this book several times and I'm always struck by the way the shocking events are delivered with a 'dead-pan' style that makes them even more disturbing. Highly recommended.
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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.

SIGN UP HERE for AJ's Newsletter with Competitions and Giveaways in 2015! Plus up- to-the-minute info on her new novels, sneak peeks and exclusive insider content.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Exclusive Chat with Mel Sherratt!

Mel Sherratt is one busy, successful lady and I'm delighted she's joined me as a Guest on my Blog! Her new gritty thriller Follow the Leader came out last week and has already shot up the Kindle charts.

 About the Author:

Mel Sherratt’s previous profession as housing officer for the local authority has inspired many of her experiences. She has been writing novels for twelve years, including popular women’s fiction under a pen name.  Mel mainly writes crime, psychological thrillers and suspense – or grit-lit, as she likes to call it.

Her d├ębut crime thriller, Taunting the Dead, shot to the top 10 on the Amazon Kindle chart. It has been No.1 in police procedurals, No.1 in mysteries and No.1 in thrillers, staying in the top 10 for four weeks. Mel is now published by Amazon Publishing’s crime and thriller imprint Thomas & Mercer both in the UK and United States.

Shortlisted for the prestigious CWA (Crime Writer’s Association) Dagger in Library Award 2014, her inspiration comes from authors such as Martina Cole, Lynda la Plante, Mandasue Heller and Elizabeth Haynes.

Here's the Story:
A man’s body is found on a canal towpath. In his pocket, a magnetic letter in the shape of an E. Days later, a second victim is found, this time with the letter V tucked into her clothing.

As the body count rises, the eerie, childlike clues point to a pattern that sends DS Allie Shenton and her colleagues into full alert. The race is on. Allie and the team must work quickly to determine where the killer will strike next. The rules are simple but deadly—to catch the killer, they must follow the leader.

From the acclaimed author of Taunting the Dead comes a flesh-creeping tale of a child's game with a terrifying, grown-up twist. This is the second book in the DS Allie Shenton series but can be enjoyed as a stand-alone story.

Now over to Mel:

1.           Who is your favourite character in Follow the Leader and why?
As part of a series, I suppose I should say the main character - DS Allie Shenton. She’s emotional, kick ass and determined. But really I want to say that I had fun with a guy called Patrick. It was a weird feeling to get under the skin of a serial killer, even if a fictional one. I wanted to ensure that as well as being shocked by what he does readers felt a bit of empathy for him. By layering in his backstory, you get to know exactly why he acts like he does. A few early readers have said they felt sorry for him, even though what he was doing was so wrong.

2.                  What alternative title did you consider?
I’ve had alternative titles for every other book but for this one, as it’s very much based around bullying, I wanted a child’s game if possible. The killer leaves clues in the form of magnetic letters, one step ahead of the police. So I Googled a list and Follow the Leader was perfect.

3.                  What's the nicest thing anyone has said about the book?
It’s only been on general release for a week now, so it’s early days, but I’ve had some great feedback. One of the nicest things so far is ‘I have mixed feelings about knowing whodunit right from the start, but in this case the author has dealt with the “I know something you don’t know” method so skillfully that the tension racked up relentlessly throughout the book.’

4.                  What do you enjoy most about the writing process?
I love the first draft stage – where anything is possible as I get to know the characters I’ve created more as each day passes. I start with a beginning, middle and end for most sub-plots and off I go. After 30,000 words I stop to assess what I’ve done, regroup and from then it’s straight through until The End. For me, that’s when the hard work begins. 

5.                  Which novel do you wish you’d written?

Into the Darkest Corner – Elizabeth Haynes. I just loved everything about it (me, too! blog host's comment!)

6.                  Can you list 3 of your favourite reads, this year?

I Let You Go – Clare Mackintosh 
The Life You Left Behind – Colette McBeth
Disclaimer – Renee Knight

7.                  In the reviews and feedback you’ve had for the book – what has surprised you most?
How much people have been talking about their school days, playground games and bullying – and how it’s possible that things happening early in our lives may affect us for years to come.

8.                  What are you working on now?
I’m 30,000 words into the next DS Allie Shenton book, which is book 4, and I’m at that looking back and planning stage before I start again. Book 3, Only the Brave, is out in May this year too.

9.                  Which authors would you invite over for dinner to get to know better?
That’s a really tricky one. Being a crime writer for a few years now, I know so many authors that I think I’d have to have a big party instead. Every time I go to a festival or meet-up, there’s never enough time to spend with each one, so maybe a long weekend… Plus, imagine the murderous looks if I missed someone out!

10.              Which one question would you want to make sure you asked them?
I let myself in for that one by having a party instead of a dinner, but I do have the perfect answer … do you need your glass topping up?

A big thanks to Mel for sharing her writing secrets with us!
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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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Friday, 13 February 2015

Re-Launch of Girl on a Train!

I'm delighted to announce that following the recent success in sales of Girl on a Train, the novel is being re-launched today with a fabulous new cover! Yes - Anna Rothman, the intrepid journalist is back on that train again!

I think the cover is perfect for conveying the chilling nature of the story and the vulnerability and anguish of Anna as she watches Elly, the passenger next to her, rush off the train in distress.

Is this a woman fleeing to commit suicide? 
Or is she running away from something or someone?

Elly leaves something behind for Anna to find and she's compelled to get to the truth. But she discovers more than she bargained for and her own life is turned upside down...the story's got a real twist at the end!

Full Blurb: 

Everything points to suicide - but I saw her face... 

Headstrong Journalist, Anna Rothman, knows what suicide looks like - her own husband killed himself five years earlier. When Elly Swift, an agitated passenger beside her on a train, leaves a locket in Anna’s bag before jumping onto the tracks, Anna starts asking awkward questions. But everything points to suicide and the police close the case.

Anna, however, believes Elly’s fears for Toby, her young nephew, missing since being snatched from St Stephen’s church six months ago, fail to explain the true reason behind Elly’s distress. Through a series of hidden messages Elly left behind, Anna embarks on a dangerous crusade to track down Toby and find Elly’s killer.

        But nothing is as it seems and Anna opens a can of worms that throws into question even her
        own husband’s suicide - before the threads of the mystery converge in an astonishing

OUT NOW... Paperback to follow shortly


Wednesday, 11 February 2015

How Writing is like Tennis

I was watching Andy Murray play in the final of Australian Open last weekend and part way through, I found myself thinking about something else. Writing, in fact. I was thinking how transferable some of the skills are! Not physically, of course – but mentally.

Image: Daily Mail
As writers, we can’t afford to let our minds wander off into the bigger picture - the 'outside world' - too often. If you're waiting for an agent to give first-views on a new manuscript or you have a book out on submission, it’s easy to feel panicky; checking emails, worrying, wondering, hoping. If you focus on the waiting, the ‘not knowing’ and ‘what ifs’ – then your day can be ruined, given over to anxiety. Just as in a game of tennis, if a player starts to think, ‘Oh, no - what if I lose this match – how is it going to affect me and my career?’ or the opposite, ‘Wow - what if I win it – how amazing would that be?!’ In doing so, his eye is tugged away from the job in hand and the ball goes into the net.

At the start of a match, like at the start of a book, we can never be sure if we're going to be a winner or a loser. Will this book hit the spot and get an agent/a book deal/race up the sales rankings? Will this be the one time, since 2004, when Sharapova beats Serena Williams? As a writer, the best thing we can do is focus on the here and now. ‘What am I working on today? - like the player handling each individual ball that comes over the net is unconsciously processing, ‘how will I hit this one?’ The rule – eye on the ball and just win this point – don’t worry about the next one, or fret about the one you’ve just sent wide. Just as the player focuses on a backhand, a rally, a game, we need to focus on the small detail growing outwards: words, sentences, scenes. The player can’t afford to leap ahead or think too far afield and nor can the writer.

As it happens, Andy lost that final – he has to pick himself up from rejection, work on his game and move on to the next match. A writer must do the same, as Harper Lee said:

Right now, I'm handing the towel back to the ball-girl and bouncing the ball on the baseline - ready for that Ace!

Any thoughts?
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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.

To get regular Blog posts SIGN UP in the side bar --->

SIGN UP HERE for AJ's Newsletter with Competitions and Giveaways in 2015! Plus up- to-the-minute info on her new novels, sneak peeks and exclusive insider content.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

'Beat Sheets' for Novel Plots - Er...What?!

I've just discovered 'beat sheets'. OK - I must be a slow off the mark, because I'd never heard of them. They are used in planning a novel, showing the important events in the plot (including choices, dilemmas, and questions) and where these should fall for maximum impact. I've been calling these 'Plot Points', so far, in my own novels.

I'm intrigued by anything that can help me structure my novels better, so here's a little bit about what I've discovered about beat sheets. Thanks to Jami Gold for writing extensively on the subject.

What I didn't know, is that apparently there are lots of different 'story structure systems' out there and most agree on the major beats - those that really have an impact. These are:

Opening - (Inciting Incident) an event that pulls the main character into the situation
Around 1/2 way - (Midpoint) an event that changes the main characters goals/decisions or ups the stakes
Around 3/4 - (Crisis) an event that dashes the main character's hopes for a solution
Towards the end - (Climax) an event that puts the main character in direct conflict with the bad guy

Jami Gold's Beat Sheet 101
Like Jami, I use a three-act basic structure and according to this system, if you put in the word count, it will calculate whereabouts in a novel the four main plot events should take place (see above). Minor beats fall within the major ones, including at least two events which 'up the stakes' (Pinch Points) and an event to show how the characters have been changed by the situation (Resolution).

Some writers use this system right at the start to see where their main plot events should fall according to approximate page number. In the final stages of a novel, a writer can check that plot beats have turned up at about the right place. These don’t need to fall on exact page numbers, but more than 2-5% either side could indicate a pacing issue and too many pages between beats could indicate an unnecessary scene.

I've gone back to the novel I've just finished and...it more or less pans out as above, but with two stories running concurrently within the same book, it's not straightforward.

Question - has anyone analysed the 'great' novels to see how well they fit within this system? And is it genre specific?

Conclusion? I like using a three-act format and loosely structuring the high points using a 'gut response' within that. Number crunching feels a bit formulaic and sterile for me, but perhaps if one of my plots goes badly off the rails in terms of pace - I'll revisit it!

By the way - GIRL ON A TRAIN is selling quite nicely in UK and US right now - largely thanks to another book with a similar title!
If you enjoyed this post, PLEASE SHARE it using the buttons. Thank you!

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.

To get regular Blog posts SIGN UP in the side bar --->

SIGN UP HERE for AJ's Newsletter with Competitions and Giveaways in 2015! Plus up- to-the-minute info on her new novels, sneak peeks and exclusive insider content.