This time last year I was excited for the launch of Dear Tosh at 19.30 UK time. We, Carla Jenkins and I, had rehearsed how we wanted the launch to go and it was worth putting in the effort. Apart from a couple of minor problems (technical) it all went very smoothly. You can catch it here if you didn’t attend or just fancy another look.
To celebrate the one year anniversary of the book I gave away a signed copy to a lovely person who I met only this week in the beautiful village of Cailhau in France where The Man and I are staying for a few days. We go back to Provence on Monday and then back to England on the 10th June.
The book was well received and I’m happy to say that there are copies of Dear Tosh all over the world. The reviews have been amazing and I’m thrilled to think that the book has brought a little something into the lives of so many. If you haven’t yet got a copy you can order it from any independent book shop or from Waterstones HERE or Amazon HERE (audio version and ebook available from Amazon as well as the paperback).
This is a first for this blog and I hope it won’t be the last. I’m delighted to be joined today by Sim Alec Sansford and Chantelle Atkins who are going to answer some questions about their book Fortune’s Well it’s the first book in their series and it’s called Hangman’s Revenge . The interview makes fascinating reading and I’m tempted to try writing something with another author myself. I’ll have to put out the feelers.
Welcome Sim and Chantelle. Thank you so much for joining me on my blog today.
First of all, a little bit of blurb about the book:
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 stretching back generations, 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?
Welcome Sim and Chantelle. Thank you so much for joining me on my blog today. I’m going to throw quite a few questions at you both and here’s the first one:
How many books have you each published so far?
Chantelle: I’ve published 14 altogether.
Sim: I’m still a bit of a novice. Currently, I have one novel and a handful of short stories/novellas.
Chantelle: A mix of adult and young adult. Coming of age, psychological thriller and suspense, family drama and mystery and crime, plus dystopian! Oh, and short stories and poetry.
Sim: I’m a firm believer in writing what you love to read, so I predominantly write Young Adult Paranormal Mystery. Although I am currently writing a Young Adult Mystery which I am enjoying.
What made you decide to write together for your latest publication?
Chantelle: Sim joined me as a director in my company Chasing Driftwood Writing Group and not long after that he asked if I’d ever consider writing with another author. I hadn’t and I’d often wondered how such a thing was possible! But we got on so well, had similar writing styles, and a mutual love of YA and character driven stories, so I thought why not?
Sim: As Chantelle says, we’d worked so well on a few writing-related projects (workshops, competitions, events) before so to me, the next step for us was to create something together. I first had the idea for a story that would take something negative (anxiety, depression) and turn it into something positive and magical. I knew I could never do the story justice alone, it needed a dual narrative, so I asked Chantelle and hoped for the best. Having become a fan of her work, I was blown away when she said, “Yes!”
Have you known each other long?
Chantelle: I first met Sim at Blandford Literary Festival in 2019 so not too long!
Sim: No, not long at all. But strangely it feels like I’ve known Chantelle my entire life. I’m pretty sure the feeling is mutual too. We’ve actually only met in person once, which is crazy for me to even think about. Writing is such a vulnerable thing and I feel like I now know Chantelle better than I know myself.
How did you meet? Or how do you know each other?
Chantelle: We had a mutual friend in Author Paula Harmon who was running Blandford Literary Festival as well. So, I met Sim there after agreeing to run a teen writing workshop.
Sim: It’s really funny actually. I remember the first time I spoke to Chantelle. I’d been running the website and social media for Blandford Literary Festival, so I’d seen her photo and info and thought she was so cool. Her books looked edgy, and dark, and that’s completely my vibe. The first time I spoke to her in person was at an event where I bought one of her books, I was so nervous I think I just said, “This please.” Then ran.
How was the experience of writing together? Did you argue a lot or just get along fine?
Chantelle: We didn’t argue once. We started with a basic idea that Sim had and both thought of a character. It just spiralled from there, with us messaging each other via Facebook to suggest plot lines etc. I wrote the first chapter and Sim responded and so on.
Sim: We just gelled together so well. We’re very similar in a lot of ways and very different in others. We see each other’s strengths and we build each other up. It was scary for me, writing with someone who already has a large catalogue of books. But it was new for Chantelle to tackle the paranormal genre, so we both taught each other things as we went. It really just flowed and took on a life of its own. I’m not sure if we are just the luckiest authors in the world, or if it was pure fluke, but it’s lasted for three books now and hopefully many more to come.
Can you talk us through the process?
Chantelle: It was all on Facebook messenger! Back and forth, suggesting ideas, messaging each other whenever we thought of a twist! It happened fast because each time one of us sent a chapter, the other would read it and get so excited they would instantly respond!
Sim: Like Chantelle says, it was very organic. Whenever we encountered a plot hole or character arc, we talked it through on messenger and found a way around it in no time.
What made you choose YA supernatural?
Chantelle: We both love YA, reading and writing it. Supernatural was a new genre for me personally but I’ve really enjoyed and embraced it now.
Sim: I am a huge fan of the supernatural/paranormal genre. This goes for everything from books to TV shows, movies, and even video games. I was a big fan of R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps series as a child, I loved the bizarre twists and horror elements. As I got older, I fell in love with series like The Twilight Saga (Stephenie Meyer), The Halo Trilogy (Alexandra Adornetto), The Elixir Trilogy (Hilary Duff & Elise Allen), and my current series read, Vampire Academy (Richelle Mead).
Did you write together, sharing each chapter or did you work separately?
Chantelle: We decided early on to write chapters separately from our characters point of view and swap back and forth.
Sim: It was important for us to each have our own protagonist to focus on. It helped us keep the characters believable and we could maintain our own style. Of course, our characters do cross paths, but we had a lot of trust in each other. The characters also seemed so real to us both, that it was easy to write each other’s as if they were a living, breathing person.
How many hours a week did you work together?
Chantelle: Ooh not sure, but we were constantly messaging every day!
Sim: I can’t give you the specifics, but I can tell you it felt like 24/7.
How often did you exchange work?
Chantelle: Sometimes every day, sometimes a few days would pass between chapters.
Sim: Let me tell you something about Chantelle Atkins… She’s not human! Chantelle was an absolute machine when it came to writing these books (bearing in mind she was writing her own four-book series at the time whilst working and being a mum). We were pretty good at doing a chapter each and sending it over within a day or two. However, there were a few delays (mostly from my side) when life would get in the way. For the most part it was quick. We completed all three books within eleven months from the original conversation.
Did you create and develop the characters together?
Chantelle: We came up with our own, but I feel like they developed alongside each other. To start with for instance, we were both conscious of getting the others character right when they were in our POV chapter but once we had gotten to know them better, it came easily.
Sim: I agree, writing each other’s characters seems second nature now. That includes the minor characters. Remember, these are teens, so they have their own friend groups, family, teachers, bullies etc. I think the thing that helped us here is we both really knew who these characters were. Whether they were a parent or a student, we knew the characters inside out.
Who came up with the idea for the book?
Sim: Me. Although Chantelle wrote the first chapter, and she completely captured the world I wanted to create. I couldn’t have done it without her.
Any advice for others who are thinking of writing jointly?
Chantelle: Definitely pick someone with a similar style and genre. Keep messaging and communicating!
Sim: As Chantelle says, communication is key. It will only work if you’re one hundred percent authentic. As we’ve proven here, writing “pedigree” doesn’t matter. Number of books is irrelevant. You need to find someone you trust who shares your visions. Someone who knows your weak points and your strengths and is willing to work with you to create something together. It’s all about teamwork and friendship.
What was the best thing about writing together and the worst thing?
Chantelle: Best thing was how addictive writing it became and how much we fell in love with the characters. I can’t think of a worst thing!
Sim: I agree! It was so exciting because you got to be a reader and a writer. Eagerly awaiting the next chapter and not sure what to expect. I guess for me the only negative was not having more time in the day to write together due to our other commitments.
What’s the next move for both of you?
Chantelle: Our company (ChasingDriftwoodWritingGroup.org) is putting together another anthology so we will be working on that together. For me, I’m working on a four-part YA post-apocalyptic series. It’s pretty much done but the first book is with beta readers, so it’ll be a while until it’s all ready. I also have a few other works in progress on the go!
Sim: Along with plans for future literary festival events (BlandfordLiteraryFestival.com) and working on various projects for our company; I am working on a YA Mystery book right now. I started the story for a university assignment sometime around 2012-15 but lost the original file. So, I started again last year from scratch, and it’s been so fun to write. I am also working on the second book in the Denver Falls Saga, the sequel to my debut novel.
Any plans for writing another book together?
Chantelle: Yes! When Fortune’s Well is fully released and done with, we will start writing another series together. This time it’s an idea I had that I think will work well in the same way. It’s a dystopian, post-apocalyptic story called The Few.
Sim: Of course! I can’t wait to get started on the next one. We have also discussed working on prequels and sequels to our Fortune’s Well series (both novels and short stories), but there’s nothing concrete right now.
A couple of fun question now:
Do you both have animals? If yes, what and what are their names?
Chantelle: Yes, I have two scruffy lurchers called Tinks and Jesse, plus various ducks, and chickens!
Sim: I have two adorable dogs, Bilbo and Buddy, and three cats named Willow, Sam, and Susie.
Have you googled yourselves?
Chantelle: Last time I did it said I had died. But it turned out to be an Eastenders character!
Sim: Yes! Mostly to check there were no embarrassing Facebook photos of me appearing now that I’m an author and publishing under my real name. I’m pleased to say it’s all book related. Sadly, no Eastenders characters. I guess I’m one of a kind!
If you could spend a day with your favourite author, who would you both pick — apart from each other or me!
Chantelle: Stephen King without a doubt.
Sim: I have to say I agree with Chantelle on that one. King is writing royalty!
Thank you for a great insight to yourselves and your writing process. I’ve really enjoyed asking the questions and reading your answers. I plan to do more of these on my blog. So, readers, look out for the next one!
I was going to save some of this news for my actual newsletter but I want to keep everyone in the loop as to what has been going on.
First of all Dear Tosh has been shortlisted in The Selfies Book Award in the Autobiography and Memoir category. I am so thrilled about this and look forward to hearing the results next Tuesday 5th April. Watch this space only don’t hold your breath.
Secondly the lovely Clemmie Telford featured my list on her website ‘Mother of all Lists‘ and I had the most amazing response on Instagram with many people saying how much they could relate to the things I wrote. Especially those who have suffered adult child bereavement or sibling bereavement. I was overwhelmed by their comments and the love that poured out. You can read it here if you haven’t already.
Newsletter will be out next week and it will be coming from France! (If we ever get packed!)
I was writing a dual time line novel set partly during the second world war and partly during the 1950s. For certain reasons, I decided to set the story both in a small fictional town in Yorkshire, and in a small district of North East London. My protagonist hailed from the Yorkshire town. As I am not from the north I felt I should do some research before the second draft and editing of said novel.
It was an eye opener!
I spent only three days in the town of Barnsley, in South Yorkshire. I was shown the local sights by a friend who lives there (thank you Helen) and I spent several hours in the museum, and archives department at the town hall. The visitors service assistants in the archives were absolutely fantastic. They searched out old maps, magazines, newspapers, photographs and took time and care to show me how to find the resources I needed. I wish I could have spent longer studying there. It was a joy, honestly, I loved it. Fascinating reading about other people’s lives and their memories of growing up in this town.
But. . .that’s the nub of it: Other people’s lives.
The result of my research was a massive reality check, and frankly a blow to my hitherto confidence in my ability to write about anything and everything. I realised that I had romanticised my protagonist and underestimated what my small town in Yorkshire might actually be like. The more I found out the more I saw massive plot holes in the story and flaws in my characters. I have rethought the whole thing. Even though I had written 85,000 words and now edited 20,000 of them I thought of what my son Matthew said to me a few years ago: never be afraid to put it in the bin and start again.
I realised that writing about the north/south divide with my protagonist hailing from the north and me, a writer from the south was neither ethical nor indeed possible. How could I have the audacity to try and write from her point of view?
It made me see that I should write about the things I know. There would be nothing wrong with me writing a war story set in Greater London where I was brought up. I would still have plenty of research to do but I could draw on my own family history for much of it.
Onwards I go. . . but now with a different genre, different time and different story!
Please leave a comment if you have the time, it would be appreciated. Thank you. 😊
There are a great deal of posts on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, and podcasts etc., all about loss and grief. It is spoken of more often today than in the past. Especially over the last couple of years it seems. We are encouraged by social media to talk about our losses and share our feelings..
Last Friday, the 14th January, was the eleventh anniversary of the loss of my lovely son Thomas Hartley. Last year I wrote a book about him and for him, for the tenth anniversary. This book is called, Dear Tosh. This year, I didn’t write another book, but The Man and I went to Dartmouth and visited Dittisham where I used to holiday with my children when they were all younger. It was a trip down memory lane. 😊
I try to write in my journal every day. Here I can write what I like and not worry about anyone reading it. . . not until I’m dead anyway. In my journal I can be honest, say what I really think but even then I hold back a little bit, just in case I leave it somewhere and another pair of eyes read it. I don’t like to, pour out my grief on social media, but sometimes I just write a paragraph or two hoping people will understand what it’s like to lose a child, even when that child is 27. Writing about it does help. At least, I think it does. I wrote my book as a tribute to Tosh, I didn’t publish expecting it to become a bestseller.Dear Tosh is slowly finding its way around the world and I’m happy to report that readers have reached out to me, often saying the the book has helped them with their own loss, or they finished it and gave it to someone else they knew who had lost a child.
This year I have found the anniversary of his death harder. Many people would say that’s not right, and that by now I should be okay. I should be ‘moving on’ and forgetting about the past. But I just don’t think that’s possible. My daughter and I exchanged text messages yesterday (the 15th January). She was feeling upset about things and I told her this: I feel low too. . .almost worse than yesterday. . .It’s like I don’t want the anniversary to be over. . .it just means I’m even further away from Tosh. 🙁 She replied: Yes I totally relate to the further away thing. It’s weird isn’t it?
I wonder if other bereaved parents and siblings feel the same way? It’s as though you cannot or don’t want to let go. Clinging on by your finger tips to stop them slipping away.
I miss writing to Tosh, that’s the format of my book, twenty seven letters written to him. I have missed writing him those letters, and I think I’m going to write a few more. I did scribble a note to him while we were away for his anniversary. I used the hotel’s headed note paper and told him what we were doing and how things were for me. I folded it up and put it in my journal and I felt better.
I firmly believe that writing ‘stuff’ down is good for mental health. One can write in a notebook, on a computer or even a scrap of paper. It doesn’t matter if you’re a writer or not. It can be so therapeutic; getting things out of your head and onto the page. But. . . I have an idea for my blog readers. Why not try writing a letter to someone you have lost. A mother, a father, a child. . . anyone whose loss has affected you. Write them a letter or two, or more. Tell them what has happened since they died. Tell them things you wish you had said to them when they were alive. Ask them questions — you may find the answers to those questions just by writing them down — speak to them, tell them your thoughts. I’m sure it will make you feel better.
I’m going to write to my father who died well over fifty years ago. Who will you write to?
In the early hours of this morning, around 1.30am, I was awoken by a loud crashing coming from downstairs. Raising my sleep laden head from the pillow I asked, ‘What’s that?’
‘Don’t know’ replied The Man, mumbling half asleep. I didn’t bother him too much because he’s not well right now.
Immediately, I realised that I would only find out what caused the noise if I went downstairs to have a look. I pushed my feet in to my slippers and gingerly made my way down the cottage staircase. Strangely it never occurred to me that it might be an intruder. The dog never barks at anything so that was no indication. When I opened the door to the sitting room I was confronted by a quivering Jpeg, desperate to escape into the garden.
I switched on the main light — a horrible white glaring bulb — and then I saw. . .
Wait for it . . .
The huge mirror we have above the fireplace was no longer in situ but smashed to pieces on the floor. The odd thing was it was face up so all the pieces were still held in place. It must have just slipped down from the wall, taking most of the ornaments on the mantlepiece with it — only one of those was broken, an Ikea dancing woman. The family carriage clock had also fallen but thankfully it was completely undamaged, in fact, I think it’s keeping better time this morning than for months.
I managed to transfer the broken mirror from the floor to the kitchen table to be dealt with in the morning. I vacuumed up the tiny splinters that had found their way across the carpet. I then had to go into the garden with the dog’s lead in order to drag her back in. She’s very anxious these days. I comforted her for a while and when I thought all was well I went back to bed. As I left the room, I glanced at the wall above the mantelpiece which looked very naked and ‘un-homely’ — if there is such a word — and a little wave of melancholia came over me.
By the time I got back into bed I was wide awake and any chance of sleep seemed shattered, like the mirror. I began to think about the consequences — according to the Great Book of Superstitions — if you break a mirror etc., etc., but it’s all rubbish isn’t it? I managed to convince myself that all would be well as I hadn’t actually broken the mirror myself. But I touched the wooden bedside cabinet with my fingers, just in case, before I eventually went back to sleep.
Are you superstitious? I know my mother used to come up with all sorts of things: don’t pass on the stairs, throw spilt salt over your shoulder, never give anyone a knife for a present without giving a silver coin, no new shoes on the table. The list goes on and even though I say I’m not superstitious I cannot stop myself from adhering to some of those little rules.
We will have to replace the mirror but right now we’ve put a painting there. Hmm. . . maybe it looks better? What do you think?
It is 31 steps from the sofa in the sitting room to the bathroom upstairs in our cottage. It’s 82 steps from my desk, down the stairs and out to the shed and back to my desk — we have a small garden. How do I know this? Because I have treated myself to a band I wear on my wrist which logs every single step I take. I am trying not to be obsessed but…
The fact is that being a writer necessitates sitting at my desk for a good part of everyday. I do get out for a walk with the dog but I’m apt to cut it short when I’m stuck into a WIP which at the moment is a novel I have been working on for several years and which I am determined to finish editing (for the tenth time) by Christmas.
I am in danger of becoming obsessed with the grey band and black face that sits on my wrist. My 10,000 steps a day goal eats away at me. Whereas before I could tell myself I’d done enough walking for the day, I now find myself running up and downstairs in the evening just to get the steps up to the point where the dear little gadget vibrates in order to congratulate me for reaching the desired walking distance for the day. It flashes at me, and I smile. Happy. It is almost — but not quite — the same feeling as writing The End.
I know it’s doing me good and I’m hoping that the novelty doesn’t wear off too soon because I must confess to being one of those people who can be enthusiastic in phases, but this time I’m going to try and keep it up. I want to lose some weight and ‘walk’ through my seventies with ease. The dog of course, is delighted with the new gadget as I am less likely to cut her walks short to get back to my WIP. Walking in the country lanes and across the fields is much more pleasant than running up and down the stairs in the evenings — at least it is for the moment. I might not feel the same when the weather is less clement.
Now, I’d better get on with that editing if I’m to hit the deadline of completing that novel. Scrivener tells me I’m at 11,022 words edited so far, only another 68,978 to go! I do have the 80,000 words written, I’m just bringing them over from another manuscript and massively editing as I do.
You can just read the title of the book in the screenshot…look out for it in 2022…
Is being organised the same as being in a routine? I asked myself this question this morning and I decided they weren’t quite the same but there was an overlap. I like a bit of routine. Wake up- cup of tea or hot lemon in bed, read The Independent on my Ipad (well actually glance through the headlines then do the word scrambler…) Get up, walk the dog, have breakfast of porridge which The Man cooks, and then he always clears away breakfast and washes up everything. He does that for all the other meals too and I cook them. After breakfast, it’s time to write. Sometimes I go shopping first or go to the post office with a copies of DearTosh that have to be sent off. I’ve discovered the joy of postage online so that I can pay for, and print the label at home, then just drop into the box. It saves so much time.
I write for as long as I can, interspersed with taking my turns at online Scrabble and Lexoulus which I play with a few friends and my sister Jean — she wins a lot by the way! We eat a late lunch, 3pm usually, I then take the dog out for her second walk of the day, only a short one this time. Come home to a cup of tea and a piece of cake (and at this time of year it’s in front of the fire). I sometimes do more writing, correspondence, Zoom calls, and maybe read or listen to a book. In the evening we settle down and watch something on Netflix or iPlayer or Amazon. At this point, having wandered about most of the day looking a bit lost, because The Man and I work in separate areas of our cottage, Jpeg, the dog, also manages to settle down. She likes nothing better than when we are all together in the evening The Man and I in ‘our’ chairs and she at last gets into ‘her’ bed, happy.
So this is routine, but am I organised? I don’t really think I am. I love starting a new notebook, who doesn’t? Every time I open the first clean crisp page, I am determined that I will keep it tidy and use the same pen throughout the book, but this only ever lasts for a bout a week. I have a different notebook for each project that I am working on. I then have notebooks for a Creative Writing Workshop that I run, then there’s the general notebook, then there’s the poetry notebook etc., etc. The problem is I often grab the wrong notebook when I think of something I want to jot down for later, but then whatever it is I’ve written is lost. I may come across it some years later when I’m reading through my old notebooks.
Next, I would love to have a tidy desk and tidy bookshelves. The Man bought me a new bookshelf to sit to the left hand side of my desk. It was meant to be just for poetry books but that didn’t actually happen. It now has non-fiction, novels, poetry books, files, empty ink cartridges to be recycled, a mug, magazines, leaflets. . . and so it goes on. Here’s a photograph.
My desk is also a mess this morning and it’s probably like this every morning. I assure you that I did not set this up, it’s exactly as it is while I sit typing this blog. I do tidy it…often…but it only stays clear for about five minutes as I am soon wanting to make notes, check things in some reference book or other, which I then often leave on the desk, whereas if I were organised it would go back into its place immediately. I note my make-up bag and earring box are both sitting there too, right next to the staple machine. 😂
Am I ashamed? Maybe a little, but this is how I work and I put it down to being creative. The thing is, because I’m not very organised, I do waste a lot of time looking for things and always have done. Do you remember when all correspondence was printed and came in the snail mail? Masses of paperwork had to be filed. I can remember being very bad at filing and ALWAYS having several documents left over at the end, because they didn’t fit in any particular file in the cabinet. I’m like that now with the computer. I try to file all photos, documents (pdf and word etc.,) into their little blue folders on my desktop but I always have stuff left over; things that don’t even fit into the Sundries folder!
I can be organised if I want to be. I can be ready and relaxed before receiving guests for supper. I can fit a great deal into one day if I plan ahead. I can juggle jobs and meet deadlines. So it’s not all bad. However I do remember being told by the health visitor, after I gave birth to twins — I already had three children — that I would have to be extra organised to get through my day and to be sure all the children were cared for properly. I was also told that I when I began to give the twins solid food I should have a separate bowl and spoon for each baby…Pah! That went out the window straight away, one bowl, one spoon, two mouths. They survived and so did I. We all muddled through and that’s the word MUDDLED… far better and more fun than being organised. In my humble opinion.
Don’t forget to sign up for my NEWSLETTER if you haven’t already done so. They’ll be one coming out at the end of next week!