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.

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?'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)

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, 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


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