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My new novel, How to Keep a Secret, is now available for Kindle and in paperback. Here’s a sneak preview.

Blurb:

Three women. Three Secrets.

When Julia Rochester finds a bag of love letters to her husband she knows her marriage is over. But there’s worse to come and she can’t tell anyone, least of all her best friend, Mimi, who has some secrets of her own.

A beguiling newcomer, Cassandra, insinuates herself into Julia’s household, bringing with her reminders of a past Julia would prefer to forget. As old deceptions and betrayals resurface family secrets are exposed and the foundations of Julia’s life begin to crumble.

Struggling to come to terms with the revelations, Julia turns to an old friend, but even a rekindled love affair comes with baggage…

A second chance at happiness beckons and Julia is looking forward to a gilded future.

But Mimi has other ideas.

Now read on:

Chapter One

Julia

The past came crashing back on a cool, wet summer’s day and Julia Rochester was completely unprepared.  

On her knees in the spare room, the one that had been David’s before he’d gone off to university twelve years ago and had since become the repository of anything and everything that didn’t have a proper home, she pulled the ancient Hoover’s flexible hose from under the bed and extracted the plastic carrier bag that had been sucked into its foot.  

Spring-cleaning was a real chore but very occasionally the effort was rewarded. She pushed her hair out of her eyes with the back of her hand and peered inside the bag, expecting to find remnants of lace from last summer’s experiment with tatting, a half-embroidered table cloth or a segment of knitted sleeve from a forgotten cardigan.

The bag was full of letters. She tipped them out and studied the envelopes. The address was the same on all of them: Martin Rochester, Rochester & Driscoll, Varsity Chambers, Coleridge Terrace, written in an unmistakably feminine hand, in dark blue ink that hadn’t begun to fade. The paper was cream coloured and good quality. She squinted at the postmarks. All identical, though largely indistinct, as if each letter had been consigned to the postal service at the same office and smeared  by the same defective franking machine.

Julia couldn’t imagine why they were hidden in this room, why they were in the house at all. Who even wrote letters, these days? Her husband was a chartered surveyor and he received a lot of mail at his office, but most of it was electronic, not handwritten like this, on fine paper.

She examined the dusty strips of parcel tape that had held the package in place on the back of the chest of drawers. Martin had obviously meant it to stay hidden, but she’d disturbed it with her preparations. David was arriving later today. He and Lauren were breaking up, he’d announced on the phone the previous week, and could he come and stay for a while? She’d agreed with the leaden certainty that her son would never leave again.

She sat back on her heels, wiping grimy hands on her jeans, careful not to leave smudges on the still-pristine envelopes.  What was the best thing to do? Should she bundle them back into the plastic bag, unread, and put them back in their hiding place, forgetting about their existence? Or should she wait until Martin got home and confront him? Maybe she should throw them out, put them on the bonfire. Or, the most tempting of all: should she read them? OK, they weren’t addressed to her, but still; they’d obviously been opened, and there was a chance they were completely innocent.

What would Mimi do? Her best friend was very much of the get it-out-in-the-open persuasion and Julia had little doubt that she’d have read all the letters by now and dispensed her forthright opinion on the writer and the recipient, whether it was asked for or not.

No contest.

Hope you enjoyed this excerpt. Maggie

Are You Ready For Your Close Up?

I’ve just discovered how to embed a Kindle preview in my social media posts.  It’s a very useful addition to the self-publisher’s promotional arsenal, as, like the ‘Look Inside’ facility already offered by Amazon, it gives our readers a chance to sample our work before buying. This has got me thinking about those all-important first chapters and how they’ll stand up to this scrutiny, divorced, as they are, from the rest of the narrative. Is your work polished enough to withstand such a close up, critical examination?

The same rules are in operation as in the usual submission process, but how many of us who are going it alone actually apply them before hitting the ‘publish’ button?

I’ve read some pretty awful previews – bad punctuation, poor grammar, non-existent editing. You might think these things aren’t important any more, but if you’re hoping to attract a wide readership, with positive reviews, you should aim to tick as many of the boxes as possible. The professional services of editors and proofreaders might be beyond the budget of most self-publishers, but there’s still a lot we can do to help ourselves. We want to produce the best manuscript we can, which means paying attention to all the things mentioned above. Your story has the potential to be a best seller, a real page-turner, so you don’t want to turn prospective readers off before they’ve even started.

And that’s another thing – if you’re guilty of admitting, ‘the story doesn’t really get going until chapter six’, you need to take a long, hard look at the structure of your novel and consider starting it in a different place, such as a point of conflict, or where the action begins. A preview two or three chapters full of meandering, irrelevant material will not reveal your master plan or show off your story-telling skills to their best advantage. Tempt your readers in by laying a trail of tasty breadcrumbs that they can’t resist. 

I’m presuming that now you’ve reached the point of publication you’ve already got all your tenses agreeing, points of view sorted, spelling checked, punctuation and grammar perfected. But have one final read of your opening chapters with these questions in mind:

  • Do they entice the reader with a promise of a cracking good read?
  • Is there too much description? Be honest!
  • Does the reader know immediately whose story you are telling?
  • Are the characters too numerous for the reader to distinguish?
  • Are the introductions rushed, or too brief?
  • Are there too many adverbs/adjectives?
  • Is the story already too complicated? Or not interesting enough?
  • Does it start in the right place?
  • Is there too much irrelevant backstory?

It’s notoriously difficult to read your own work objectively, to look at it with new eyes and spot the problems that a dispassionate reader would notice immediately. But I promise you it will be a worthwhile exercise and result in a more engaging opening if you give those initial chapters a little more attention.

Getting Back on the Horse

What assisted publishing did for me – a cautionary tale.

The New Year is supposed to be a time for looking forward and this January is no exception. But before I start in on 2017 I have some unfinished business from last year. Very soon my two published novels will have no presence on Amazon, until I get my head round the intricacies of self-publishing and re-launch them myself.  2016 was a demoralising year. Here’s what happened. Continue reading

Things I’ve Learned Along the Way

christmas-cactus2After a rather bruising journey to the publication of my second novel, my writing mojo has gone temporarily AWOL, so I thought I’d step away from my current project for a while and look back on my writing odyssey instead. This is a rewrite of an old post but the advice is still relevant.

In my experience, writing isn’t a life choice like exercise, or dieting, or what colour your hair should be this week. We don’t decide to become writers any more than we decide to become a man or a woman (well, most of us, anyway). By the time we’re ready to make such a conscious decision, writing has already made the choice for us. It’s a compulsion: innate, instinctive and as inevitable as death and taxes.

Here’s what I’ve learned thus far. Continue reading

Food for the Soul

I’ve just caught up with the twenty first century and bought a Kindle. It’s on the kitchen table looking very smart in its zebra-patterned coat, but I haven’t managed to download anything yet.

Kindle
But I don’t want to get into a debate about electronic v paper. There’s room for both. No one complained that typewriters, then word processors, PCs and laptops would signal the end of hand writing, or that ballpoint pens would mean the end of ink. Though I remember arguments about how the humble biro was ruining the nation’s handwriting, when I was at school.
No, I want talk about the reasons for reading, not the delivery system. Continue reading

Procrastination is the thief of time

A perfect storm. A new PC with an unfamiliar operating system, no internet connection and an awful lot of snow. What could possibly go wrong? Well, the shop had run out of Windows 8 for Dummies for a start. Couldn’t be better.

I’m not a computer expert and I appreciate that I need a modicum of understanding. Why should it be easy? I’ve read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and I know it behoves me to at least show willing, to get to grips with it, but perhaps not today. The lack of connectivity has given me an ideal opportunity to get some uninterrupted writing done and I shouldn’t ignore this gift. At least I’ve managed to upload all my files from the old computer so I’ve got something to work on. I’ve even managed to open a new document. I’m off and running.

Continue reading

Positive Outcomes

I’ve never been one for New Year resolutions that involve any sort of deprivation. So I don’t resolve to lose weight, drink less alcohol or give up eating chocolate. I much prefer positive resolutions – those that require some action or input on my part – so I might decide to take more exercise or adopt a healthier lifestyle, or, more usually, read and write more.

Continue reading

To NaNo or not to NaNo?

With NaNoWriMo fast approaching I find myself on the horns of a dilemma. Shall I participate or not? If I do, I wave goodbye to my partner and most of my free time for the month of November. If I don’t, I miss out on a potential 50,000 new words that will form the basis of a new novel.

Given that procrastination is my natural inclination, indecision isn’t new to me. So what’s holding me back?

Continue reading