I've always been a person who loved the mountains, having spent many happy times visiting the Lake District and the Grampian range in Scotland while I lived in the UK. After I moved to Cyprus I found a new love, the Troodos mountains, and enjoyed getting to know my new home while out trekking the beautiful trails. While the mountains of Cyprus are less exposed and remote than the mountains of the UK, they measure up at twice the height, and are in a different way just as stunning.
When I used to talk about my hobby of mountain walking and rock climbing with my late father who happened to be terrified of heights, the conversation was peppered by sharp intakes of breath and significant eye rolling designed of course not only to moderate my climbing activities, but perhaps also the conversation. He could barely stand to hear tales of dangling from a rope, or how it felt to wedge gear into a rock fissure and then climb past it while the wind battered you on a ridge in the Peak District. So when I asked him to travel to my new home of Cyprus and visit the mountains in order to meet my in-laws it was not a decision I expected to be taken in any way lightly.
Still, my father was a great man and never one to let me down. That combined with a fierce stubborn streak he'd soon booked a flight. He also cancelled that flight due to a fit of nerves, before quickly booking it again and losing about £200 in the process, but let's just gloss over that part. He was coming. And once he was here in Cyprus he even made it into the mountains, although it must be said not on to the somewhat exposed veranda overlooking the distant valley. But after that first trip to visit me in Cyprus he couldn't wait to come back, and he did so on one more occasion in 2016. And on that visit, against the odds, he too fell a little bit in love with the mountains. We drove through them on our way to visit family on the other side of the island, and besides a few colly-wobbles through the steepest of roads, by the time we were returning home that day he was describing it as one of the best of his life.
It was nothing less than a shock when by the end of last year we were faced with the prospect of saying goodbye to my father following a short and difficult battle with cancer. Cancer is a diagnosis that left me feeling bereft, often not knowing what to do for the best. I've written before about that time, about his care and how we got through it, but even now six months later if the phone rings at 8 p.m. on a Sunday night, I still wonder if it's him wanting to update me on the Formula 1. We were unfortunate that at the same time as receiving the diagnosis we were also told that my father's disease would be terminal, and there was no chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or surgical option that could help us. It meant there wasn't much time to say the things we wanted to say, or arrange the things we wanted to arrange. So we relied on the wonderful doctors and nurses who were caring for him, and the support staff like physiotherapists and managers of palliative care homes who came out to see us. We were lucky that my father received a place in a great facility, and I couldn't imagine a better place for us to spend his last weeks together. The support we had was exceptional, and we would have been lost without it.
But one thing my father conveyed to us before he passed away was that he wanted his ashes to return to Cyprus, to be with me, to be left on a mountain overlooking Limassol at an altitude he would never have reached in life. So after managing to get a green tube filled with ashes through three different European countries on my way back home to Cyprus I did just that. And just a few days later we headed into the mountains to fulfill his last wish. It was a strange day, carrying him on my back in a similar way he would have done for me as a child, and in all honesty I found it pretty hard. So my husband and I decided to make a day of it, go for a hike, take some lunch, walk out into an area we had already explored well that we knew would be suitable to grant his wishes. And high up on a ridge we found a beautiful juniper tree overlooking the whole of the Limassol district, and we left him there, just as he had wished, overlooking Limassol, higher than he'd ever managed to go before. I made a cup of tea, sat with him and drank it, and we said our final goodbyes.
My father never thought he would climb a mountain, and the course of his illness felt like a mountain I never wanted to climb. But experiences like cancer and ultimately death leads us to unexpected places. And now, in my father's memory my brother Martin will tackle his own mountain, another unexpected journey in the name of a good cause. He is taking on the challenge of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, raising money for The Myton Hospices, a place which offers families like ours the vital support they need when faced with the unthinkable and don't know where to turn. Without places like The Myton Hospices difficult moments like the loss of a loved one would be so much harder to take, and the importance of palliative care should never be underestimated. That said, such places often rely on charitable donations in order to keep going. My brother's initial intention was to raise one pound for every metre of the mountain, £5895,00. He has already exceeded that and has several weeks of training left to go. He is now working to raise as much as he can. He is paying all his expenses himself.
I'm incredibly proud of his achievements so far, and if anybody wishes to donate to his charity mountain climb you can read more about him and do so here.
It's a couple of months since the publication of My Sister as an e-book and trade paperback, and it's been an important and busy time. So much seems to have been happening, most of which has been behind the scenes stuff. I've been working to finish book two, whose provisional title I will keep secret just a little bit longer, and get that sent back to my agent. I managed to do that by last Friday, and the following Monday she gave me the go ahead to send it over to my editor. Besides the day your editor tells you the edits are finished, there is no better feeling in the world. It's a very important landmark in the process of the manuscript becoming a book!
Also I am back to working on book three which feels great. I had already written a rough first draft of the intended book three late last year. But then I had a fortunate or unfortunate moment of inspiration depending on the way you look at shelving 80,000 written words. I came up with a completely different story. I looked at it as on opportunity to run with what I thought was a great idea and decided to start afresh. I guess some ideas just come to you and you feel they need to be taken forward. I'm about 80% done on the new project, and it is really starting to come together. Although I haven't quite got the first draft completed, I am going back and forth making changes, developing characters, and really starting to put flesh on bones. It's the best part of the writing process for me, and a lot of fun. Hopefully I will be finished on this draft within the next few weeks.
But My Sister has also been doing me proud. It has been released in France (Sisters) from the publishing house Bragelonne and I recently visited their headquarters in the beautiful city of Paris. It was great to see how positive they are, and also that they are such a supportive team. Meanwhile in the UK it is undergoing a price promotion this month, available for 99p across all platforms. This has resulted in a lot of increased sales. Across Amazon My Sister seems to be ranking consistently well, despite it stubbornly refusing to break into the top 100 suspense category (currently #106), but I did hear that yesterday it made it into the number two spot for the whole of the iBooks chart in the UK which was absolutely wonderful. It was also in great company, nestled between J.P. Delaney's The Girl Before, and Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. Anybody who has read my bio will know just what that means to me. All in all a great first two months.
So a massive thanks to everybody who has picked up a copy so far. But for now I need to get back to book three and try to get it finished before book two lands back on my desk in a few weeks time!
You can pick up your copy of My Sister for your device here.
I used to think that getting an agent was the hard part, and that if only I could do that everything else would fall into place. And of course, I still agree that getting an agent is the hard part. Only what I’ve learned since finding representation is that there are many other hard parts to be found just past the point of getting signed.
Last week was for me the culmination of years of dreaming and hard work; my debut novel, MY SISTER, was published. The day in itself went by in a bit of a blur, mainly spent fire fighting; answering questions, sending tweets, and keeping up to date with release day business. But amidst the celebration there was a lot of work to get done because although My Sister is loose in the world there remains a lot of other work to do behind the scenes. One such job was to get book three to my agent for its first public viewing. And that is almost done. I have one more read through to do before I send it at the end of the week. And it’s just as nerve wracking as it ever was because technically she has no obligation to represent this new piece of work. For the sake of sanity let’s just pretend that’s not true. But there is also book two, the second book of my current contract to complete. I’ve been waiting on the return of the edits for this manuscript for a while now, and last Friday they arrived.
Just before publication I tweeted about the dedication and massive amount of hard work it takes to get your debut novel into the world. In the years since I first picked up a pen I have written plenty of manuscripts, seven I think, which equates to approximately 1,000,000 written words. That’s not counting all the discarded words that are required in order to get to the finished product. A conservative estimate would be that I have discarded close to as many words as I have kept. But there is a huge difference between all these discarded manuscripts and the debut novel from book two; these books were written on my own, behind closed doors. Until I got that call from an agent who wanted to work with me it was all up to me. The manuscripts were my property. My imaginary world, my imaginary people, and I got to do to them as I wished. But once you are under contract, and writing with other people in mind, some of the freedom that comes with book one is lost. In short, book two is a beast not easily tamed.
In all truth book two has been difficult for me, and we are not home and dry yet. While the enthusiasm was there as strong as ever, suddenly I was no longer writing for myself. Now I was writing for myself, my agents, my editor, and with a deadline in mind as set out by a legally binding contract. And book two needed writing at the same time as completing editorial work for book one. This was the first time I had ever had to focus on more than one book at a time, and slipping between the two worlds was not always easy.
So I ended up writing book two twice, in two distinct periods. The first draft was followed by a second, much more convoluted draft when I started to make some massive editorial changes. It was also no small decision last summer to spend a whole month changing the tense from first person present to first person past. Any writer who has ever done that will tell you it is a difficult challenge. Still, I got it finished and submitted that draft to my editor as per the deadline. The only thing was, I wasn’t terribly happy with it. But I also knew by then that the process of reaching a final draft would be a combined effort, and so I wasn’t worried by the fact that I knew it still needed substantial work. And sure enough, that was what my editor thought too.
What we did have in that first draft was a lot of good content, and so with renewed enthusiasm with book one at the printers I sat down, focused on writing a clear synopsis, and presented that in a meeting to my editor. She loved it, so it was back to the drawing board, reworking the content and rewriting sections of the book. It felt easier, smoother, and altogether a much more satisfying process.
The latest edits for this revised draft which came back to me last Friday reflect this, and there are lots of positives to take. Editors are well schooled in delivering critique alongside praise, so the work still to be done doesn’t feel as daunting as perhaps it should. And so I am setting off once again in search of a completed book two. I have the feeling that this time at least we are on a much better road.
And that’s the reality of being a working writer. The hard work doesn’t stop, and actually just seems to increase. There remain uphill challenges the other side of representation. You just have to roll your sleeves up and get the job done, just like you would after a rejection letter arrived. And now I’m in the process of writing book three and editing book two it doesn’t feel as challenging as it did when book one and book two were running simultaneously. I feel like I’m – sort of - on top of things. I can even tell you I’m enjoying it. Even when my editor suggests that it would have been better written in first person present tense. I guess sometimes you just have to put it down to experience and focus on getting the job done.
So publication day arrived. I thought about writing a post about how I felt about that, about how excited I was, and how dreams were coming true. But as this isn't a therapy session and you probably don't need me to bare quite so much of my soul, I thought I'd show you instead a little bit about what publication day was actually like. Because I don't know about you, but I have (had, at least) a certain view of what publication day might be like many years ago when I was still searching for an agent. And I'll be honest, it was kind of glitzy, strikingly similar to Carrie's publication day in SATC, and was nothing like what publication day actually turned out like. So here, from beginning to end, is pretty much everything I did minus toilet breaks on the day when My Sister was launched into the world.
00:42 - Realise that it's publication day. Send excited tweet and find awesome pig gif that just about sums up my mood.
07:00 - Alarm goes off and the first thought, obviously, is that the book should be out now. Quickly check Amazon, see that the preorder button has disappeared. See a few new reviews, decide in the interest of having a good day that it's probably best not to read them, you know, just in case.
07:30 - Answer all tweets. Have a quick burst of excitement, cut some shapes David Brent style around the bedroom, generally making a nuisance of myself with my husband who's trying to get ready for work.
07:45 - With breakfast and shower complete I arrive at my desk. Answer some more tweets. Decide to read the Amazon reviews. We're good so far. Finish the blog post that I was supposed to have finished yesterday, realise writing at 11 pm when I'm shattered is a bad idea. Rewrite most of what I wrote the night before. Send it off to my publicist ready for my blog tour next week.
09:15 - Caffeine top-up. Start publication day blog post. Take a couple of phone calls from patients at our clinic.
10:10 - Start working on book three.
10:45 - Flowers arrive! They are from my agents, the people who made all this all possible. Have a little moment of disbelief. Realise that although I started working on book three, I've barely done a thing.
10:55 - Back to working on book three. Interrupt the working when I receive an email from my publisher with a summary of everything that has happened so far, from the first proof copies of the books, to the earliest sales data for trade paperback preorders.
11:35 - More flowers! So pleased to get a second bunch of flowers from my publishers, totally unexpected. Have another moment, take a hayfever tablet, and try and get back on with work.
12:00 - Realise work is a total write off today, so put some music on (Emile Sande) answer more tweets. Get an email from my publicist with information for the blog tour which is starting next Monday. She has attached a banner which is awesome.
12:45 - Settle back down to do some work, and manage to get a whole chapter done. Just as I'm finishing I get an email from my agent with an updated copy of the French cover. Read over the morning's edits, decide the morning wasn't a total write off after all.
14:00 - Break for lunch (fish finger sandwich as I haven't done any shopping in days) and eat that while checking Amazon. Slightly disappointed to see that the books chart position hasn't changed all morning, then realise I'm looking at the paperback numbers. Switch to the Kindle edition and see that the position is 560,000 positions higher than I thought. Happy with that, and two new reviews which have some good things to say. Settle back down to work on book three, but am interrupted a few minutes later.
14:25 - Ikea delivery! Finally bought a sofa for outside, and cannot resist the lure of the boxes. Put on some more music (Creed) and set about making it. Ponder the idea that there is probably a finite amount of Ikea furniture that any one person can build in a lifetime, and that I have undoubtedly surpassed it. Finish just as husband is getting home from work. Very convenient. Find dirty cat footprints on the white cushion five minutes after finishing. Because, of course the cat was always going to sit on it as soon as he'd been in the mud.
17:30 - Head out for a bit of celebratory dinner. Raise our glasses with diet Coke as hubs is oncall. Battery on my phone dies. Have mild panic about absence from twitter.
19:00 - Back home, phone charging. Update twitter, pleased to see some love for My Sister in the shape of independent blogger competitions. Earmark five of my own copies for a giveaway, post that to twitter. Try to finish blog post at the same time as keeping up with twitter replies.
20:00 - Answer last emails and catch up with various social media outlets like Instagram and FB that I've been ignoring all day. Realise I haven't posted to Facebook about the release, and somehow still fail to do so. Do however manage to check Amazon, and find book in the Guardian Bookshop which makes me ridiculously happy because I read that paper every day.
21:30 - Pour some wine when I reach the conclusion that's it for the day, and put my feet up. Decide my growing Amazon obsession is unhealthy and promise myself no more for the rest of the day.
23:10 - Head to bed, read the first chapter of a new book. Check Amazon despite my promises to myself. Realise I still didn't finish this post but my mind flicks to a problem with the first chapter of book three. I fall alseep thinking about that and have the weirdest dream about Teresa May.
It’s just over a week until My Sister will be set loose into the world, and still I haven’t given it a huge amount of thought. The thing is I have so many other things I am focusing on that My Sister feels a bit like a long lost friend, that person that you intend to call, only you never quite get round to doing so because you know they are doing just fine. And with My Sister on autopilot I’ve spent most of the last month writing and editing a new book and waiting on edits for the second. But every now and again I get a little reminder of the impending release that’s looming in nine days time.
The most obvious and exciting of these reminders was the arrival of a ticket from DHL. Knowing I hadn’t ordered anything I convinced myself it was a box of books, and I wasn’t disappointed. Twelve lovely copies all in a row, minus those snaffled by eager family members. Friends sent me screen shots of their Amazon pre-orders too, and I added pre-order buttons to my website. What started off as a vague idea for a book a few years ago has in the last few days become something tangible. It's ready. There's nothing else to do. Whether I’m ready or not is another matter entirely.
But I suppose I am. I’ve been waiting for this moment for years. From about the age of nine years old to be semi-precise, during a time when I also wanted to be a makeup artist in Hollywood and the first female fighter pilot in the RAF. I suppose at that age anything feels possible. But then I picked up my first adult book (Gerald’s Game, by Stephen King) and all other dreams faded; I wanted to be a writer. That was before I had even opened the cover. Why? Because there was this great picture on the front along with the name of the author in embossed gold lettering. The coolest black and white 80’s style author shot on the back. In short, the guy looked cool. I suggested borrowing it which stirred much furor from my folks, a fact which only served to make me all the more enthusiastic.
The thing was it seemed so different to the books I had read up until then. And of course it was, turning out to be a horror story concerning a sadomasochistic weekend gone wrong, but still you get the point. But equal to the book was the conversation that ensued between the grownups of the room about how King must be crackers to write the kind of things he did, which seemed so bizarre to me. I couldn’t understand it. It was just a story, wasn’t it? Make believe? I realised then that some writers could hold a sort of magic over their readers, created by their words alone. They could make you believe things, even to the point that you might question their own sanity. And I wanted in on that. Incidentally I borrowed the book. Loved it. I boxed up my Winnie the Pooh and Roald Dahl books not long after I’d finished it and started visiting different shelves in the library from then on, still wondering why anybody would handcuff another person to a bed in the first place. There were, for obvious reasons, huge plot points lost on me. Still, the book won me over.
And just like when I held that King book in my hand for the first time, holding my own book felt just as magical. Something I had dreamed of, including the embossed lettering. I tore open the box, stroked the cover, turned the pages, read snippets from various chapters. I shared it on Snapchat and Instagram it. Was it mine? Really? Was this my doing? It all seemed a bit unbelievable. But there they were, twelve copies of a book with my name on them. My family read the acknowledgements and seemed pleased they got a mention. My husband Facebooked a picture when he found his name in the back pages, and told everybody prepared to listen how proud he was of me. Somebody happened to give him a bottle of champagne as a thank you for doing a good job, and so we have put that in the fridge and earmarked it for the release date next Thursday. Next Thursday.....so close I can barely believe it. I was talking to my brother and he joked that it would be great if somebody made My Sister into a film. I suppose maybe it would be. But right now, it’s a book. Finally, it’s a book.
So, Mother’s Day happened this Sunday. Although there’s not much of a fuss about it here in Cyprus, I keep a track on UK based radio and more often than not I manage to organize for flowers to be delivered to my Mum on time. At the very latest they might arrive the following day. This year I managed to apologise for missing Mother’s Day in a panic a week ahead of the event, so I was well organised by the time it actually came around. But the celebration of mothers in this way, especially when I am so far from mine, got me thinking. Specifically it got me thinking about being a Mum, something I cannot yet call myself, and the reason why I started writing My Sister in the first place.
You see, when I set out to write My Sister it was with one main aim; to tell the story of a woman who decided to give her child away. And ultimately that’s what My Sister became. Although we are submerged in Irini’s world years after the event, and dealing with her interaction with her destructive sister, Elle, the story is at its most basic, about their mother. By sharing Irini’s journey of discovery we learn the painful truth of her mother's past.
My Sister opens when Irini receives a telephone call from her sister to tell her that their mother has died. For me it was the only way to open, because so often a mother who has been faced with giving her child for adoption carries with her an untold story, their voice lost somewhere along the way. Often information isn’t passed on, or perhaps withheld because of a misguided belief that the truth could be painful. These mothers often have no opportunity to tell their side of the story, either because of social or personal pressures. That’s why it was so important that the story of Irini and Elle’s mother in My Sister reflected this, while at the same time uncovered the truth of Irini’s departure from the family home.
My desire to tell this story comes from a very personal place; I myself am on a similar journey, as my husband and I have been following a path to adoption for the last few years. While we have had some unfortunate and upsetting bumps in our journey, we are hopeful that we are nearing the time when we are able to increase the size of our family. Although there is still a long way to go, and potentially many miles to travel, including to a country we have never even visited, it feels as if we are one step closer to bringing our child home. But that too means that there is already a mother out there who is trying to decide whether she can or cannot raise her child on her own. Whether she has the means to clothe him, feed him, or provide him with shelter. Whether or not she can keep him safe. She is trying to decide whether I am a better option, a woman whom she has never met, and whose name she might never have the opportunity to know. It also means that I am one step closer to the day when my child might ask me about the woman who had to make that choice, and what significance that has on him and his life.
This woman, the first mother of my child, will remain intrinsically linked to my life, my husband’s life, and that of our child for many years to come. I hope that through our own adoption journey I will find a way to give a voice to the woman who chose to entrust her child to me. I do not want to wipe her out of my child’s past, or pretend that my child’s life starts the day we turn up. I hope that we are able to find a way to raise our child with respect for the woman who gave him life, and who had the courage to hope for something better.
Busy doesn’t quite cut it. Last week I delivered a synopsis to my agent, revised a second synopsis that I had delivered the week before, and wrote the first chapter of a new book. This wasn’t the ethereal book three I was supposed to be planning, but another book which arose from a conversation I had with my agent that started something along the lines of, ‘You know what I’d really like to write?’, and ended up with me committing to write two books simultaneously. I also finished the first 45,000 words of the expected third book, which I started editing this morning. So much is happening in the day to day order of things it is easy to forget the things going on in the background without my direct input. I remember only when a third party asks how long away it is until the book comes out. The Book. That’s when I remember. My Sister, now only a month away from being published.
This day has been a long time coming. The book first sold to Headline almost eighteen months ago, and it was picked up (along with me) by my agent months before that. I started looking for an agent about three months before I got signed, and started writing My Sister (which had a different title back then which I’m too embarrassed to commit to print) about a year before that. So what’s that? Three years in the making? And now the day is actually tangible. It’s no longer in a couple of years. It’s not next year, either. It’s next month. It’s actually right around the corner, and to be honest, I can’t quite believe it.
But it's not been at all like how people say things go fast when you are enjoying yourself. It hasn’t gone fast at all. It feels like a long time ago that I started writing My Sister, to the point that it almost feels strange to think about a time when I wasn’t writing it, spending my day with these two sisters who can’t seem to catch a break. Back then writing was still a hobby and while I hate that word, that’s what it was. It never felt like that to me, but I did it when I could, outside of working hours, and it didn’t pay the bills. But now it has become a job. There are people waiting on my work, for me to finish on time, and get it right. The deadlines are no longer self imposed. I remember the first time an agent asked to see my manuscript and I knew it wasn’t quite ready. I put in three long days of fifteen hours each for one last run through and lost my voice from reading the whole thing aloud. I thought that was pretty insane back then. Crazy stuff. Now days like those feel increasingly like the norm.
But it’s not just when it's coming out that people want to know. People ask me how I feel about publication being so close. And in all honesty I don’t know what to tell them. I’m excited, yes, but anxious too. I hear of other authors enjoying release day and the hitting the bestseller lists the next day, and that makes me way more nervous than the thought of the impending reviews. I used to be self published so I’m used to people having something to say about my work. If I’m lucky some people will love this book, but I'm ready for the inevitable fact that others will hate it. That’s OK by me. It better be because it's not like I get a choice about what they think. But what I really don’t want is to let down the people who have trusted me and my work.
I think back to the me I was as a writer a few years ago and how life has changed. So many awesome things have happened since then; an agent who said yes (they exist!) and an editor who called me up to discuss the book she’d just bought. I was like a rabbit in the headlights, and was sure she would hang up and wonder what the hell she had done. Artwork and proof copies and nights out in London to ‘meet people’. To chat with people who work for magazines I read, who have copies of my book on their desks. Seriously, like what? And perhaps more than all of that to know that next month there will be an article in the Guardian written by me, giving me a chance to raise awareness about a subject so close to my heart.
I have no idea how to put what I feel about all of this into words, but I’m pretty excited to see what the next month will bring. Just one month until my biggest childhood dream comes true. The strange thing is that I’m pretty sure it can’t top what’s already happened. Just enjoy it, people tell me. So that's what I'll do, It sounds like great advice.
I was exited at the prospect of the foreign editions from the moment the first offer landed on the table. There is something even more intriguing perhaps about a book you can't even read, that you also know you wrote.
Publication dates are still pending, but I do have a couple of foreign edition covers to share with you. The first is the US edition, which will be published under the title IF YOU KNEW MY SISTER. Secondly the French edition, which will be known as SISTERS.
I love seeing how the different publishing houses treat the same book!
Sometimes I come up with ideas and turn them into books. This blog is about everything else.
Headline In Pre empt for debut thriller
Pre-emp for If You Knew My Sister
Psychological Thriller stirs up rights market
Books Before the Buzz
My Sister book review on writing.iw