Welcome To Fortune’s Well: Book One Hangman’s Revenge is coming soon!

Fast on the heels of my recent release The Old Friend – A Collection of Tales and Poems, this Wednesday sees the release of the first book in the YA trilogy I’ve co-written with Sim Sansford. We are both incredibly excited that the moment is finally here after a whirlwind year of writing three books via Facebook messenger! It seems incredible that we are now about to welcome you into the strange town of Fortune’s Well and introduce you to our characters, JJ and Darcie.

I still can’t quite believe that we wrote three books together in such a short space of time – with very little planning, I might add! The majority of it was discussed and thrashed out within Facebook messenger. Sim had the original idea about lonely, misunderstood teens who discover they have special abilities and we decided to each create a character and then write alternate chapters from their points of view.

I went first and wrote the introductory chapter and my character JJ made his somewhat solemn entrance. At this point, we were not entirely sure where the story would lead us but we didn’t have to worry because the characters knew! Once they were fully alive, they just seemed to lead the way. What happened next was really a crazy whirlwind of messages and chapters flying back and forth between us.

Normally, I like to plan a book a bit before I start and then have a planning notebook running alongside the story as it unfolds, but our approach was a lot more haphazard than that. Yet it worked! I’ve never co-written anything before so this was a really interesting process and experience for me. I’ve always believed that talking about writing makes you want to write. It gets you excited, gets the ideas sparking and the passion running high. I often see this happening in the writing groups I run – people are unsure or hesitant or suffering from a block or a loss of confidence, and then all the talk and discussion and floating of ideas suddenly gets it all going again.

I think this is what happened with us and these books and it really felt quite magical. I mean, writing is magical anyway, it really is – ideas become stronger, characters become real people, plots develop and twist and turn and it all ignites together to create a story. A world.

With these books we had an idea, a concept about teens with powers hidden within them and that led us to the creation of Fortune’s Well and a far darker, twistier, grippping story than we had ever imagined. The town itself (based loosely on Sim’s home town of Dorchester) became a bigger part of the story than we first anticipated, opening up the possibility of prequels and sequels based there.

Whatever happens next, Sim and I have had the best time ever creating these stories. It was never supposed to be a trilogy, but it just kept going and I know we haven’t seen the last of these characters.

The book comes out on Wednesday 25th May and you can preorder via the link below if you are interested in finding out about what lies within Fortune’s Well and inside our our two teen protagonists.https://books2read.com/HangmansRevenge

Here is the blurb!

In the town of Fortune’s Well a dangerous storm is brewing, and two unsuspecting teenagers are standing right at the heart of it.

For JJ Carson, life has not been easy. His father is dead, his mother arrested for the murder, and he has been forced to live on the farm with his alcoholic uncle, Henry. Just when things could not get any worse, JJ discovers his living situation is not the only thing that makes him different from the other kids. A dark, swirling mist has made itself at home inside him and it is slowly changing him from the inside out.

Enter Darcie Duffield. Beautiful, popular, and incredibly misunderstood. Darcie is sick of the status quo and wants to make a difference. After a chance meeting with a strange boy at the river she becomes tangled in a web of lies and deceit as she tries to help save him from the darkness lurking within.

Why is this happening?
Where has it come from?

And why is Darcie the only one who can see it?

Disconnected (everything is a bit shit…)

I would apologise for the sweary title but I’m afraid I’m not going to. If you’ve read any of my books you probably don’t have a problem with swearing, and if swearing offends you, you obviously won’t read this post. It makes me laugh when people say swear words show a lack of vocabulary. That is missing the point entirely. Swear words exist for impact. An ‘oh dear’ is just not going to cut it sometimes. A ‘damn’ or a ‘for goodness sake’ is just not going to help. Have you seen the world lately? I rest my case. It’s not just bad, unfortunate, problematic or sad… it’s shit. Very, shit. With that out of the way this is a post about our recent long break from power and WiFi…

On the day Storm Eunice was due to hit I made all the necessary preparations. I made sure everything was secure in the garden, moved anything that might get knocked over and tied things down. Inside the house I charged up our phones, laptops and our battery pack. I made sure we had wood for the log-burner and dug out our supply of candles. We knew, living here, that we would get a power cut. And we did. Before it even got really windy, our power went out on Friday morning.

Image by khaase from Pixabay

We expected maybe a 24 hour cut, maybe something a little longer as the storm continue to batter the country, quickly followed by two more, but we ended up without power for 5 full days. Most of the village was affected and by day 4 the Salvation Army had set up a tent in the area to provide people with hot food and drink.

We were more fortunate than others as we have a gas oven so could boil pans of water for hot drinks and were still able to cook our food. Plus we had the log burner to keep warm. It was half-term though so the kids were home from school and were definitely struggling by day 5 without the technology they have got so used to.

The hardest part for me was the lack of light. Workwise I didn’t have any clubs that week anyway. I couldn’t market my books, blog or do anything much on social media unless I paid for more phone data. I kept myself busy by starting to write a new book. I have a few ongoing WIPS but they are all on the laptop so I had to start something new and it really kept me sane. I picked up a notebook where I had ideas, character bios and a map for a future story and just started writing it. It soon became an addiction and I’ve almost written half a book now! I felt I was better able to cope than the kids as I am old enough to remember the world without social media, phones and Netflix. I read and I wrote a lot but that got hard after dark. It doesn’t matter how many battery operated fairy lights you string up or how many candles you light, you still can’t see well. I ended up writing with fairy lights around my shoulders to light up my page!

We got by by playing a lot of The Walking Dead monopoly, and by listening to the radio. They were both life-savers, as was the power pack that charged our phones up a few more times before it died. The frustrating thing was the lack of action getting us connected. We could see that a tree had split on the bridge near our house and all the cables for internet and power were dangling in the river, but days went by before anyone arrived to assess it. We had no communication from the power companies either so we had no way of knowing when it would be fixed. By day 5 I really had had enough and when it came back on, we all jumped for joy. Then we realised that fixing the internet was another whole problem…

We ended up having 2 weeks without the internet. Lots of neighbours were back on but three of us were affected by the cables in the river and nothing seemed to get done about it. It was tough because all the kids have homework set online these days and my daughter is in the final stint of her A-Levels so was getting stressed about lack of access. They had to go to other people’s houses to work and I even spent one morning at a neighbours house catching up on emails, banking and so on. I also had to cancel my Zoom clubs for that week. A lot of us in the area were appalled by the lack of communication and action from the companies involved. It’s very complicated to even work out what company owns what lines or what bit of pavement. One company kept telling us there was a not a fault, even though we had no power, and this was apparently because another company had not told them there was a fault. They blamed each other and we couldn’t seem to get anywhere! See? Shit! And just try getting through to a human on the phone… It doesn’t matter what or who you are phoning these days, you’ve got to be on hold for at least 20 minutes and then talk to automated voices. The whole thing was incredibly frustrating and cost us a lot of money.

During that time I felt so disconnected from the rest of the world. We have become so used to having the world and any information we require at our fingertips, the answer to any question within our phone, any movie or TV show or song right there whenever we want one. The radio really was a blessing – being able to listen to the news, as horrible and heartbreaking as it was, made us feel a bit more connected. It also made us feel fortunate. We might have had some time without power and WiFi but we were safe in our homes, with food, with jobs and cars, with each other, and without the fear of being invaded or bombed.

All I can say right now, is what a world! It just seems to go from bad to worse… Everything feels so fragile. The cost of living crisis, the spiralling costs of fuel and gas and food. We are grateful for so much but we are also reminded that nothing is easy anymore. In fact, everything feels a bit shit. Just as we were figuring out how to cut back more, stretch things over to meet the rising costs of petrol and heating, our landlords decided to put our rent up by almost £300 a month. We are currently trying to negotiate this and come up with a way to cover it. It just seems like pure greed. At a time like this, you would hope people would be kind but it seems many just want to be sure their own incomes are not affected. We are looking at options to move but that is not easy as the kids are all settled in schools/college etc and there is nothing else we can afford locally. I just keep thinking, there has to be an answer somewhere. There has to be some hope…

When I was offline I didn’t miss my phone that much. I felt like I was getting a break from the onslaught of bad news and negativity. To some extent, it was nice not knowing what was going on out there. I also realised just how much time I waste scrolling through my phone. Okay, I do use my phone for work related stuff, for making graphics for my books and for emailing parents for my clubs and so on, but I am also guilty of mindlessly scrolling down my news feed on Facebook or Google. It’s a sort of addiction, I suppose. Once you start rolling its hard to stop, hard to know how to break free.

Without WiFi, I realised how much I ‘check’ my phone. I kept picking it up and looking at it, only to remember there was nothing to look at. I honestly did this so often! And with that out of the equation I got so much more writing done.

The book I started writing (Black Hare Valley – more on that another day!) became my Netflix replacement. I wrote in it whenever I could during the day but the fun part was taking it up to bed with me and writing it when I would normally be watching Netflix. Now that I have Netflix back, I’m not sure I want it. They too have just announced another price hike. Maybe that is the next thing to cut back on. As we pay our TV licence, we can watch via apps on our phones, such as BBC iplayer, My5 and All4. We are also both trying to get more work to cover the rent increase, which makes me feel quite resentful. We won’t see the benefit of the extra work and stress – it will just go in the landlord’s pocket.

Everything is a bit shit. There is just no escaping it. Maybe we are heading to some kind of tipping point. Sometimes I think that things have to get much worse before they can get better. Eventually, something has to give. So many people are suffering at the moment while the rich just get richer. I think we need a big fundamental change. We need a fairer society, that’s for sure. At the moment, its the people with the least money who are taking the hardest hits, and that cannot be fair.

Feeling disconnected was a good thing and a bad. I got a break from the troubles of this world and I got to escape to a world of my own creation. I wish I could do that for good.

The Chaotic Joy Of Co-Writing A Series

About a year ago my business partner and fellow indie author, Sim Alec Sansford, messaged me asking if I had ever considered writing a book with someone else. The answer was no. It had never occurred to me and I have always wondered how on earth writers manage collaborative writing projects. It just seemed far too complicated and not at all something I would ever want to try. Sim had an idea for a book and wondered if I would consider writing it with him. I think if anyone else had asked me I would have given an instant no. But Sim and I get on really well as business partners at Chasing Driftwood Writing Group and feel the same passion for writing and for our characters. I’d read some of his work and he’d read some of mine, and I had to admit, it felt like we could possibly pull it off.

So, I agreed. I figured, at the very least it would be an interesting experience and one I could learn from! Little was I to know how Sim’s tentative request and fledgling book idea would snowball!

Roughly a year later, we have completed two books in a paranormal YA series and we are currently racing towards the finish line of the final book in the trilogy. We never set out to write a series, but we soon realised that’s exactly what it was becoming.

I’ll probably blog again when the books are finished and I’ll spend more time telling you about them, but for now I just wanted to write about how the whole process has worked. Because it’s worked in a really strange and unexpected, dare I say, chaotic way!

So, as you probably already know, I have a certain process when I write a book. It goes a bit like this:

I get a character in my head who grows and grows until they get so real and so noisy, I have to start writing it down.

I start a notebook and start adding the ideas for a story, and it’s the character suggesting the ideas, not me.

When I’m able to start the book, I plan out a certain amount of chapters, write all my character bios, and get going.

I do any research along the way, as and when I need to. The first draft normally takes me about three months then I will spend probably about a year doing further drafts, edits and rewrites. By about draft 5 or 6 I will send it to beta readers and then do another rewrite/draft depending on what they said. Eventually it will go to my wonderful editor and proof-reader, then back to me for another round and then finally I will start to organise the publishing process.

Everything goes in the notebook, so I can have it there handy as I write and can jot down future ideas for chapters and scenes, character info and more. In my head at least, it’s kind of an organised process. It might look messy to anyone else, but it works well for me.

Writing books with another author has been so different!

We started off with good intentions and I even started a little notebook of ideas and character bios so we could keep track of who was who and so on. I also started writing chapter outlines to send back and forth so we could keep an eye on what we had written and ideas we had coming up.

All of this fell by the wayside though as the story took control!

Somehow, and I am really not sure how, we have managed to write almost three books in a year purely by swapping messages with each other on Facebook!

Initially Sim had a vague idea and we started creating a character each. He wanted to write the female character, Darcie and I wanted to write the male, JJ. I’m not sure when we decided that they would have super powers, but we did! I wrote the first chapter purely by instinct and luckily it seemed to be what Sim was thinking too. He quickly responded and off we went. Mostly it has been a really fast process, with us swapping chapters most days or every couple of days. We both work and write our own books too, so I am surprised we got so much done. We did keep each chapter fairly short and snappy and ended most on cliff hangers to set up the next chapter, so I guess we helped each other out a bit there! We really didn’t get too stuck too often.

Every time we read the other’s chapter, we would send a message asking what ideas would work in ours so we didn’t mess up the flow of scenes. We would both suggest stuff that could happen and with every chapter we wrote, more and more of the story unfolded before us. We got really excited and our messages reflect this! Once we got going, there was really no stopping us. We whizzed through the first two books and inevitably our original ideas grew more complex, we introduced more characters and storylines and sub-plots.

I think it’s fair to say that we are both totally in love with these characters we have created and the world they live in. We have created a strange little town called Fortune’s Well, which is loosely based on Sim’s childhood home of Dorchester. I recently visited Dorchester and was so excited to see in person some of the locations we have used in the books!

To start with we were both a bit nervous when writing the other person’s character into our chapter. But as the story grew and the characters evolved, we both felt we knew JJ and Darcie equally. Now I think it just feels natural to write both characters and we don’t feel we have to check with each other that we got their mannerisms or speech right.

So, the usual way I write books kind of fell aside and our original plans for writing these books also got left behind. Somehow we just muddled our way through using messages. I’m surprised it worked but there you are, we are nearly at the end of the trilogy and both of us are so excited to share it with everyone when it’s ready.

It’s been a really refreshing and fun addition to my writing life. Most evenings I work on my current WIP, but if I get sent a chapter from Sim, I will read it, digest it and then respond as soon as I have an idea. This way we have both managed to carry on with our own work as well as our co-writing project. Our series is so different to anything I have written before (paranormal, kids with super powers!!) and that’s been really exciting as well. We both love YA but I normally stick to gritty realism, so to dip into supernatural/paranormal/super powers territory has been the best fun ever. I really love this series and these characters and it’s inspired me to try these genres more in the future.

It’s been crazy, unexpected, exciting, challenging, messy, and above all else chaotic, but I have loved every moment of it. So much so, that we have already decided to work on another series together when this one is finished. This time its based on an idea I had that came from a short story I wrote. I think that if writing together worked once, there is every chance it will work again!

I will post about these books another time but for now, here is the blurb Sim came up with!

In the town of Fortune’s Well a dangerous storm is brewing, and two unsuspecting teenagers are standing right at the heart of it.

For JJ Carson, life has not been easy. His father is dead, his mother arrested for the murder, and he has been forced to live on the farm with his alcoholic uncle, Henry. Just when things could not get any worse, JJ discovers his living situation is not the only thing that makes him different from the other kids. A dark, swirling mist has made itself at home inside him and it is slowly changing him from the inside out.

Enter Darcie Duffield. Beautiful, popular, and incredibly misunderstood. Darcie is sick of the status quo and wants to make a difference. After a chance meeting with a strange boy at the river she becomes tangled in a web of lies and deceit as she tries to help save him from the darkness lurking within.

Why is this happening?

Where has it come from?

And why is Darcie the only one who can see it?

Post-Apocalyptic Fascination

Ever since I watched Maximum Overdrive when I was a kid, I have been fascinated by post-apocalyptic fiction and drama. Developed from a short story by Stephen King, Maximum Overdrive explores how a group of survivors come together after machines start turning on the humans who made them. Not your usual post-apocalyptic concept, but it still explored how a small group are left when everyone around them has perished. I remember pretending it was real when I walked my dogs around the fields where we lived. I’d pretend I was the only soul left alive in the area and I’d pretend to be grossed out by dead bodies and gruesome finds, while I plotted in my head how I would continue to survive in this new world.

Image by George Tudor from Pixabay

As a huge Stephen King fan I inevitably went on to devour The Stand – a thumping great book about an apocalypse caused by a virus. I found it so fascinating I read it twice! Everything about it intrigued me. From the outbreak of the virus and the horrific details of how quickly it spread and decimated the population, to the individual stories of the people who survived and how they came together, to the rise of good people and bad people and the ultimate battle between them.

Currently, I am watching The Walking Dead for the first time and I am almost at the end of season 10. I’m utterly addicted! A zombie apocalypse is an even more gory and frightening one, but again, it is the human stories that fascinate me – from survival of the early outbreak, to the hopes and fears of groups trying to find safe places and barricade the walkers out, to the inevitable bad humans who are arguably more revolting and dangerous than the walkers, to the fascinating survival skills the humans pick up or develop along the way. I genuinely feel like should a real end-of-the-world situation arise, I would be better prepared thanks to watching this TV show!

I am also currently writing my own post-apocalyptic series and it’s been great fun but also incredibly challenging. I have delved into dystopia before, with The Tree Of Rebels set far in the future after wars have nearly obliterated the human race, but this is the first time I have attempted post-apocalyptic fiction that starts as the tragedy unravels. It’s challenging because it’s been in my head for so long and I have read and watched so many post-apocalyptic books and films, that I feel a bit intimidated. I so want to get it right that sometimes I struggle to write it at all!

I have however written the first two books and I am half way through book three. Because there is a good chance I will want to go back and alter things I am not releasing any of them until all four books are ready. But writing it, and watching The Walking Dead got me thinking – what is it about this particular genre that fascinates us so much? It’s hugely popular – you only have to look at the various Walking Dead spin-offs in action or in the pipeline, to see that the end of the world as we know it is a big business. Here are a few reasons I think the genre is so popular:

  1. Dissatisfaction with this world – I don’t think anyone would swap this world for one over-run by walkers, deadly viruses, or rampaging robots, but even so, I do think a dissatisfaction and anxiety about the society we live in fuels our interest in post-apocalyptic fiction. Characters in post-apocalyptic dramas tend to find a new way of doing things. Once they have survived long enough to start rebuilding, they tend to rebuild in a different way as if they have learned from the mistakes of the past, and I think we are curious about this. If everything was razed to the ground and we had to start again, what kind of society would we work to build? I think most of us would opt for a kinder, fairer more environmentally friendly one and that’s interesting to think about.
  2. Curiosity about how we would react – they say you never truly know how you would react to extreme danger, pain, fear, or the threat of death. We simply have no idea whether we would die easily or become a true survivor. Would we hide away crying, or would we come out fighting? In post-apocalyptic fiction and drama, the weak don’t tend to last long. Characters make stupid mistakes and fall victim to all kinds of terrible deaths. We like to think we would do better. We would be smarter, faster, stronger and more adaptable, but would we? Wondering about this fuels our need to watch and read the genre.
  3. Fascination with survival skills – in a post-apocalyptic world, characters are forced to go back to basics. Walking instead of driving, using horses instead of cars, building shelters, hunting animals for food, fishing, setting traps, filtering water so it’s safe to drink and so on. In our modern lives we don’t need to do any of these things and we tend not to worry about food or oil running out, but maybe we should. We used to be better connected to nature and we used to do all those things to survive. Things are far too easy for us now and we are softer because of it. Watching post-apocalyptic shows and reading the genre makes us more aware of the need for such survival skills. Anyone with these skills is going to have a better chance of survival and I think we enjoy picking up a few tips, just in case!
  4. Boredom – I think to a certain extent us humans grow bored of the society we live in. Once you are in the never ending circle of work, pay bills, work, buy food, work, work, work, you wonder if a different kind of life is possible. In post-apocalyptic situations, the characters are freed from the drudgery of the work/money hamster wheel and they can do whatever they like. Life might be dangerous, but it’s certainly never boring.
  5. Disillusion with the human race – now, I would obviously never advocate population control or the mass death of humans! But like a lot of people, I am endlessly disappointed with the human race. I am frustrated and saddened that they continue to vote for selfish, rich people who continue to wreck the planet. I hate to see our wildlife being decimated, our continuous consumption pushing the planet to the brink. If we are not careful, we’ll have a post-apocalyptic situation on our hands sooner than we think. Human beings can be wonderful, but they are also frustratingly stupid and selfish. I see this more and more around me and I weep for what we are doing to Mother Nature. I can’t help thinking she would be better off without us here. I think we enjoy the genre for this reason too. In books and films where the majority of the population have perished, we get to see what the world would be like without most of here, without us wrecking and polluting, using and abusing it.
  6. The need to go back to basics – I’ve blogged before about my strange desire for a far more basic life. If I could, I would withdraw from society almost completely. If I could live in a little house or cabin far away from humanity, with woods and fields and a stream around me, I would go in a shot. I would go off-grid and get back to nature. I enjoy watching and reading this aspect in post-apocalyptic shows and books. People living basic lives, at one with nature, far away from anyone else.
  7. Preparation for the future – sadly I think this might be one of the main reasons the post-apocalyptic genre is so popular. We are faced with climate change disaster and ecological disaster, not to mention soil disaster, and the possibility of more pandemics. Wow – sometimes I wonder how any of us get up and get through the day with all that hanging over our heads! It plays on my mind constantly. I have no idea what will happen but I have very little hope that the powerful people in charge will do the right thing. I think millions of us will suffer and die as things get worse in the coming years and for young people, the situation is even more dire and depressing. Maybe we are fascinated with the genre because we are trying to prepare ourselves for what may be coming our way.

What about you? Are you a fan of post-apocalyptic fiction and drama or is it something you avoid? Do you have a favourite post-apocalyptic TV show, film or book? Let me know in the comments!