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Helen Cullen

Helen CullenHelen Cullen’s debut novel, ‘The Lost Letters of William Woolf’ was published in 2018. Before writing, Helen started her career with Ireland’s national broadcaster, RTE (Ireland’s national broadcaster) where she worked in radio broadcasting before moving to London in 2010. She subsequently worked for companies such as the BBC and The Times before her most recent role in Google where she worked before signing her publishing contract. Helen was also shortlisted as Best Newcomer at this year’s Irish Books Awards.

  1. To readers of the blog who may not be familiar with you or your writing, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into writing.
    I am Irish but live in London. I had always wanted to write ever since I was a little girl but didn’t really have the confidence to try to write a book until I was in my thirties. Eventually the fear of never writing a book overcame the fear of not being able to and I joined a six month writing workshop that ‘The Guardian’ ran with the University of East Anglia with the amazing Michele Roberts as mentor. I feel so fortunate now that I had that amazing experience because the very first thing that I ever wrote became the first chapter of ‘The Lost Letters of William Woolf’!
  2. Can you tell us a bit about your new book, ‘The Lost Letters of William Woolf’
    The book is set inside the Dead Letters Depot in East London, where William Woolf is one of thirty letter detectives who spend their days solving mysteries: Missing postcodes, illegible handwriting, rain-smudged ink, lost address labels, torn packages, forgotten street names – they are all the culprits of missed birthdays, broken hearts, unheard confessions, pointless accusations, unpaid bills and unanswered prayers.

    When William discovers letters addressed simply to ‘My Great Love’, however, his work takes on new meaning. Written by a woman to the soulmate she hasn’t met yet, the missives capture William’s heart in ways he didn’t know possible, and soon he begins to wonder: Are these letters truly lost? Or might he be the intended recipient-could he be her great love?

    Torn between his love and commitment to his wife and his romantic idealism, William must of follow the clues in Winter’s letters to solve his most important mystery yet: the human heart.

    This novel meditates on the lost art, and power, of letter-writing. It is concerned with the juxtaposition that often exists between the portrayal of romantic love in the media and the arts and the pragmatic reality of sustaining a committed relationship over a long period of time. In the Dead Letters Depot, these notions of magic and realism collide on a daily basis and William’s story unfolds.

  3. If you were to start your own book club, what authors would you ask to join?
    In my dream book club, presuming I am choosing from just writers that are still with us, I would love to spend time discussing books with Donna Tartt, Elizabeth Strout, Michael Chabon, Anne Enright, Ian McEwan, Sarah Winman, Edna O’Brien, Colm Toibin, Michael Cunningham, Andrew Sean Greer, Michele Roberts, Audrey Niffenegger, Alice Munro…that may be too many already but I could keep dreaming about this one all day!
  4. The Lost Letters of William Woolf

  5. What’s your favourite opening line from a book?
    “Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself” – from Mrs. Dalloway by Viriginia Woolf.
  6. What’s your favourite book of all time?
    Oh it’s impossible to say – different books have meant so much to me at different times in my life!
  7. Who’s your literary hero/heroine?
    Without a doubt, Edna O’Brien. There is no doubt in mind that the reason I can walk through doors today with a published book that I have written in my hand is because Edna broke down so many doors first. I can’t recommend her work enough and am always buying ‘The Country Girls’ trilogy as presents for people.
  8. What’s your favourite part of the writing process?
    I love when the structure and story are set in stone and I can spend time polishing the text on a word by word, line by line basis without wrestling with the big picture at the same time.
  9. If you were stranded on a desert island, which three books would you bring with you to pass the time?
    ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen
    ‘Anna Karenina’ by Tolstoy
    ‘The Hours’ by Michael Cunningham
  10. What area do you suggest a budding writer should concentrate on to further their abilities?
    I think the most helpful thing a writer can do to progress is to persevere on finishing a complete draft to the end – afterwards then you can work on polishing, designing and editing – but persevering to the end is often the biggest challenge so developing that stamina is so valuable.
  11. When sitting down to write, what is the one item you need beside you?
    I type on a laptop but also like to have a notebook and pen beside me to write down ideas that occur to me for later or reminders to myself to go back and fix something later!

  12. And finally, do you have any projects or releases on the horizon which you would like to share with the readers of the website.
    I am just finishing my second book, ‘Leave A Light On’, and if readers are curious about what I’ve been working on, they can read the first chapter in the paperback edition of ‘The Lost Letters of William Woolf’. I am so excited that it will be released in spring 2020 and am looking forward to hearing what folks think!

    Follow Helen Cullen on Twitter and follow her website

You can buy ‘The Lost Letters of William Woolf’ from Amazon and is available to buy from good bookshops.

 

She Lies In Wait Book Tour – Extract

She Lies In WaitToday on the book tour for Gytha Lodge’s new book called ‘She Lies In Wait’, sit back and enjoy an extract from the chilling tale.

Prologue

She made her skittering, sliding way down the riverbank. Her trainers hit the flat ground at the lip of the water, and she wobbled but recovered.

‘Jessie!’

She heard her name, and felt an answering buzz of adrenalin. She paused, then kicked her way on again. Just her brother, not Dad. Away up the slope. Her brother wasn’t going to yell at her for wandering off.

It was quiet. Much quieter than up by the camping stove where Dad’s commands were unrelenting. Her ears were full of leaves rustling, and rushes of birdsong.

She left the shadow of the trees, the sun making fierce patterns on skin already hot from scrambling. She put a hand up over her eyes to block the glare from the water. She should have brought sunglasses, and thought about going back for them. But she didn’t want to risk being seen. Not when being seen meant being inspected for dirt and told to clean herself, lay the table, and put things away.

She moved into the shadows under the bank, her eyes dazzled. There were blue patterns everywhere she looked. A spreading beech tree was above her, and roots arced out of the soil like flattened croquet hoops. Her foot caught on one. She stumbled, her heart jolting as she thought she might fall into the water. The river was dirty in the shadows under the tree, ominous.

But she wasn’t really close enough to fall in, and she regained her balance.

In front of her was a scooped-out section of earth the shape of a hammock that made her want to nestle in it.

‘Jessie!’

Great. It was her dad this time, and closer by. He was using the kind of voice that wanted an answer. But in front of her was the cool earth, and a hiding place.

She stretched one foot down into the hollow, and then the other. She felt immediately cooler, and took a seat on the slightly crumbly earth. She imagined herself as an early vil- lager, sheltering in the woods while Vikings raided her home.

But it wasn’t as soft as she’d expected. Ridges of root pressed against her pelvis and back. She squirmed left and right, trying to find a comfortable spot.

Her shorts snagged, and she felt a jab in her leg.

She pushed a hand down to disentangle the cloth, and then felt the root crumble in her hand. She lifted it and saw not old wood, but flakes of brown, and the bleach-white shapes of freshly exposed bone.

She didn’t need her GP father to tell her she was holding a human finger.

Jonah was halfway up Blissford Hill when he felt the buzz of his phone in the zip pocket on the back of his Lycra. He was standing up on the pedals and slogging upwards. He considered ignoring it, and then had a vivid image of his mum in hospital. And following that, he had a slightly stomach-turning thought that it might be Michelle. Which was just as irrational as every other time he’d believed it in the last eight months, but he thought it anyway.

He braked with gritted teeth and stopped his grinding climb. He caught his shin on one of the pedals as he jumped down, and was savage by the time he’d rooted his phone out and seen DS Lightman’s extension flashing on the screen.

‘Ben?’ he said, and then moved the phone away from his mouth to mask his heavy breathing.

‘Sorry, chief.’ Lightman didn’t sound it. Never really sounded anything. Michelle had liked to call him Barbie. Exquisitely pretty and emotionless. A lot smarter than Barbie, though, Jonah knew. ‘Call from DCS Wilkinson. He wants you to post-pone your days off to investigate a possible homicide.’

Jonah let the DS wait in silence. He looked up at the tree- shadowed top of the hill. It was a slog away, but he wanted the slog. His legs were crying out for it. He squeezed the drop handles of his bike with his free hand and felt the sweat on his palm. He hadn’t spent enough time doing this recently.

‘Sir?’

‘Where?’ he asked, not bothering to hide his irritation.

‘Brinken Wood.’

There was another silence, but this one wasn’t deliberate. He felt knocked off balance.

‘Recent remains?’ he asked in the end, though he thought he knew the answer.

‘No. DCS says not,’ said the sergeant, who was too young to understand.

His day of cycling was over, but Jonah suddenly felt too old for it anyway. He couldn’t remember ever feeling old before.

‘Send a car to pick me up in Godshill. Bring the kitbag from behind my desk. And find someone to lend me a deodorant.’

‘Yes, sir,’ Lightman answered, his voice as level as ever.

Jonah slotted his phone back into the pocket of the tech- nical top. There was sweat already cooling on him and leaving him chilled. He ought to get cycling again. It was a few more miles to Godshill.

He stayed there, unmoving, for a full minute, then swung his leg off the Cannondale and started to walk it slowly up the hill.

Hanson was in such a hurry to climb out of the car that she caught the sleeve of her expensive new suit on a protruding piece in the door and pulled a thread. It gave her a slightly sick feeling. She hadn’t really been able to afford it in the first place. She’d bought three others in her first two weeks as a DC, having previously owned only jeans, tank tops and sweaters, and a few dresses for going out. Suits were bloody expensive, and she resented the money she could have been spending on her unreliable car. Or maybe on an actual social life, which she seemed to have forgotten about somewhere along the way.

She tried to smooth the plucked sleeve down while she made her way inside. She wondered if she could get her mum to take a look at it, if she managed to make it to her mum’s any time soon. A potential homicide might mean working through the weekend. Late nights and living off caffeine while they caught the killer. The thought made her smile.

She let herself into CID and saw Lightman’s head bent over his screen. She wondered how long he’d been here, and whether he did anything else with his life. Whether there was a Lightman wife and kids that he hadn’t yet mentioned. He somehow had the look of an unfaithful husband about him. Too pretty, and too closed off. Unless that was more her own recent experience warping her expectations.

Lightman caught sight of her and gave a small smile. ‘I got hold of the chief. He’s going to need picking up and taking to the crime scene.’

‘On it,’ Hanson answered immediately. ‘Where is he?’ ‘Godshill,’ he said. ‘He’s on his bike.’

Hanson nodded. She pretended she knew the place well,and that she wasn’t about to punch it into her satnav. Two weeks into the job and she basically knew the route from home to the station and the supermarket, and from there to the dockside, where they’d been looking at some potential fraud. She missed the certainty of zooming around Birmingham, where she’d grown up, and then worked as a constable for two years. Though she had to admit that the New Forest was a lot prettier.

‘You’ll need this,’ Lightman said, and lifted a dark-grey kitbag from the floor. ‘And despite the time constraints, I’d take him a coffee. He’s not going to be that happy at having his day off interrupted.’

‘OK. Just . . . a filter coffee? Not a latte or something?’

Lightman laughed. ‘God no. Have you not had one of his rants on coffee menus yet?’

‘No, but I’m sure it’ll be great.’ She put the kitbag on to her shoulder. ‘OK. Anything else? Do you know what it’s about yet?’

Lightman shook his head. ‘Local sergeant will hand over to the chief at the scene. You’ll both get a run-down, though if it’s not recent, there won’t be much so far.’

Hanson nodded, and tried not to smile. You shouldn’t smile at news of a murder, even if it had been ages ago. But the truth was, she was delighted.

Hanson was wound up like it was exam results day. She gabbled at Jonah about the kitbag and coffee, and then without pausing for breath asked about the remains. Jonah found it somewhere between sweet and irritating.

‘Ben said they might not be recent,’ she said.

‘I’d wait until forensics give an opinion,’ he replied, taking a long gulp of coffee. ‘Most people – including me – don’t have a scooby what age bones are.’

Having sweated and chilled, he was cold even in the suit he had tugged on in the public toilets at Godshill. Cold, and drifting around his own thoughts of thirty years ago. He had to interrupt her to ask her to turn the heater on. The Fiat veered while she turned the dial, and then steadied.

‘Sorry,’ she said.

‘I’m just grateful you’re driving,’ he said, with a slight smile. ‘The coffee was a good call, by the way. You’ve given me at least a couple of hours of not being in a really bad mood.’

‘Hmm. A couple of hours. So I’ve either got to find you a Starbucks before then, or get out of the way?’

‘Pretty much,’ Jonah agreed.

Brinken Wood was suddenly on them. There was a cluster of squad cars and uniforms in the shingle car park. He found it impossible not to remember this place as it had been back then. The car park had all been bark and mud, but it had been just as overrun by police. The haircuts different; the faces somehow the same.

Jonah levered himself out of the car once they’d pulled up, taking the coffee cup with him. He felt like he’d gone back in time. So many months had been spent here, searching endlessly.

He approached the sergeant. ‘DCI Sheens. This is DC Hanson.’

Hanson had been the same rank as the sergeant two weeks ago. But to train as a detective, you had to take what amounted to a demotion, and become a detective constable. Jonah remembered not being sure who was more important when it had happened to him, and wondered if Hanson felt the same.

There was sweat along the sergeant’s hairline. His eyes were over-wide and his smile brief and agitated. His police constable, a stocky twenty-something, seemed calmer.

Jonah addressed his question somewhere between the two of them: ‘Who found the remains?’

The sergeant answered. ‘A GP out camping with his family. Well, his daughter, but he called it in.’

‘How old’s the daughter?’

‘Nine,’ the constable said. ‘Seems fine, though. It’s the father who’s taking it hard.’

‘They’re still here?’

‘We’ve kept them at their campsite. It’s not within view of the remains.’

Jonah nodded, and let the sergeant lead the way, though he knew where he was going. It was where seven kids had bedded down thirty years ago, but only six of them had got up in the morning.

Dr Martin Miller was sitting apart from his family. The doc- tor’s wife was watching the boy play on an iPad. The girl was kicking up dust around the edge of the camp.

It was the mother Jonah approached.

‘DCI Sheens.’ He smiled at her. He’d had to learn how to smile when his mind was full of complicated, dark thoughts like crazed glass between him and the world. ‘Would you mind if I talk to your daughter for a few minutes?’

‘Jessie!’ It was a call from the father. His voice was high- pitched and irritable. ‘Stop kicking like that. You’re making a mess.’

The girl was halfway upset and halfway rebellious. She scuffed over to her mother and Jonah, sat down quickly, and looked up at him, her knees up near her chin.

The mother slid an arm round her in a brief hug. ‘You don’t mind talking to the police, do you, Jessie?’ she asked her daughter.

Jessie shook her head.

‘We don’t need to ask much,’ Jonah said, steadily. ‘Just a few details about what you found.’

‘Sure.’

‘She doesn’t know anything,’ her slightly older brother interrupted scathingly. The disdain of older siblings had always seemed uniquely intense to Jonah.

He glanced over at the boy, who was now watching them both a little sullenly. He thought about asking him to move away, but decided to let him be.

He crouched close to Jessie. ‘So, a few questions for you.’

The girl gave him another wary look, and then her gaze wandered away and she picked up a pebble, threw it off to the side, repeated it with another.

‘Jessie, for goodness’ sake!’ The father again. Much closer.

‘Stop throwing things, and look at the policeman when he’s talking to you. This is important.’

Jonah tried to smile up at the doctor. ‘It’s OK, don’t worry.’

‘Jessie!’

Jonah might as well not have spoken.

The girl gave her father a truculent look, and then did her best to look up at Jonah through her straight brown fringe. Jonah tried not to become irritated at the father’s interruptions, which had nothing to do with helping the police, he thought, and everything to do with control.

‘Are you an inspector?’ Jessie asked quietly.

Jonah grinned. ‘I am. Detective chief inspector, in fact.’ Jessie’s eyes were still a little wary. ‘So you’re in charge?’

‘Yes.’ She seemed happy enough with that, so he went on.

‘Could you tell me what you were doing when you found the bones?’

Jessie glanced at her father, and then said quietly, ‘Hiding.’ Jonah saw the mother grimace, but she didn’t try to deny it.

‘Hiding can be fun,’ he said. ‘That hollow under the tree.

That was already there? You didn’t have to dig it?’

Jessie shook her head. ‘I just got in and sat down. There was something poking me, so I pulled it out.’

Jonah nodded. ‘Naturally. And it came out easily?’

‘Yes. I thought – I thought it was a root, and then maybe a plant because I grabbed a handful. But then I realized it was a finger.’

‘Well done,’ he said, nodding. ‘Not everybody would have realized.’

Jessie nodded, gave a small smile, and stood up. Her mother pulled her into a brief hug.

‘I’d like them not to talk to their school friends about this for a few days,’ Jonah said to Mrs Miller, once she’d let go of her daughter.

‘It’s OK, they’re not seeing any for a few weeks. We thought we’d carry on the holiday, but somewhere else.’

Privately educated kids, he realized. They were already on holiday, a good month before the state schools broke up.

‘Good. It would be better if this wasn’t talked about just yet.’
‘Of course.’

He heard Dr Miller’s footsteps.

‘Are we done? It’s a beautiful day and I don’t think we have much to add.’

‘Yes, we’re all done. Thanks for your patience.’

As Jonah stood, the doctor was already giving his children orders to get packed up.

He hurried them over to the tent, and Jonah found himself watching until Mrs Miller rose and began to pick up a few half-eaten packs of raisins and a cup.

‘I’m sorry your holiday got interrupted,’ he said.

‘It’s fine,’ she said, with a brief wave of her hand, and glanced at her husband. ‘Martin’s just . . . It’s not great for him.’ This in a low voice. ‘This was supposed to be a holiday where he could forget . . . He’s been very unwell. They only gave him a fifty per cent chance of living past Christmas.’

Jonah nodded, wondering whether she was used to apolo- gizing for her husband. But he understood that she meant cancer; that those bones had been a little handful of mortality. He felt a trace of sympathy.

An hour and a half of excavation. Dozens of photographs. A tent set up and eight bags of carefully labelled bone fragments.

Everyone was getting hot and irritable. Jonah’s mouth was beginning to taste like bitter, hours-old coffee. His feet were fractious, impossible to keep still. And he had the kind of energy-sapping hunger that made it hard to focus.

‘Anything yet?’ Hanson asked, after wandering up to the car park and back a few times.

Excitement had turned into boredom, the one reliable constant in the emotional range of every detective.

‘I think it’ll be a while,’ Jonah said. ‘It’s an old corpse . . . time-consuming job.’

‘Is there anything we can be . . .?’

‘We can be here when they want to talk to us,’ he said with a half-smile.

Some twenty minutes later, Linda McCullough, the scene of crime officer, stepped carefully up out of the dip and approached him. He was glad it was McCullough. You needed someone obsessively careful on a site that would have only the barest traces of data left.

‘How goes it, Linda?’

‘We’re going to be bagging this up for some time.’ She lifted her mask and let it sit on the top of her white hood. Her weathered face was wet with sweat, as anyone’s would have been if they’d been wearing overalls in that weather. But McCullough seemed not to notice it. ‘But as initial feedback, it’s a pubescent female, in an advanced state of decay.’

‘How advanced?’

‘Rough estimate only, but more than ten years. Fewer than fifty.’

Thirty years, he thought. Thirty.

He found it hard, momentarily, to believe that so much time had passed. A feeling that he must be Rip van Winkle, and have slept through much of his life, ran through him.

Rip van Winkle must have felt this strange mixture of anger and guilt, too.

‘Linda!’

McCullough turned, shielding her eyes from the sun. Another white bio-suit was leaning out of the tent to call to her. ‘I’m uncovering other materials. Can I get your opinion?’

‘Sure.’

She replaced her mask and climbed carefully back to the site, disappearing into the tent.

‘So if it’s murder, it’s an old one,’ Hanson said, and Jonah was half blinded by the white of the paper as she flipped her notebook to write in it. She sounded disappointed. Unaware of the huge implications behind those numbers. ‘And a teenage girl.’

‘It’s thirty years old,’ he said. ‘And it’s Aurora Jackson.’

You can buy ‘She Lies In Wait’ from Amazon and is available to buy from good bookshops.

Nine Perfect Strangers By Liane Moriarty

Nine Perfect Strangers‘Nine Perfect Strangers’ is the latest book by Liane Moriarty.

The retreat at health-and-wellness resort Tranquillum House promises total transformation. Nine stressed city dwellers are keen to drop their literal and mental baggage, and absorb the meditative ambience while enjoying their hot stone massages. Miles from anywhere, without cars or phones, they have no way to reach the outside world. Just time to think about themselves, and get to know each other. Watching over them is the resort’s director, a woman on a mission. But quite a different one from any the guests might have imagined. For behind the retreat’s glamorous facade lies a dark agenda.These nine perfect strangers have no idea what’s about to hit them.

I read this book a while ago and it’s taken until now to finally write down my thoughts.

Liane Moriarty has become one of my favourite authors, after reading ‘The Husband’s Secret’, I had to read every book by her and her latest book was just as addictive, so much so that Nicole Kidman has brought the rights to the book to bring it to screens.

As per Liane’s style of writing, the book starts just at the moment that something major has happened and the story then flashes back to the key moments leading up to the event.

The narrative is seen through the narrative of nine guests who have come to Tranquillum House, hoping to have a relaxing time and an escape from the problems that have been affecting them. Masha, the owner of the resort, using alternative medicine, treatments and her unique personality will help the people face their demons, but in true Liane’s style twisted way of writing, nothing is ever straightforward for the unfortunate characters.

There’s a great mix of personalities in this story, from the eccentric Masha, Francis the struggling author who has fallen in love with the wrong man, whilst Napoleon and his wife and daughter are grieving the sudden death of their son. All the people who have signed up to this retreat, are hoping the programme will change their lives for the better.

A claustrophobic tale riddled with uncertainty and suspense, ‘Nine Perfect Strangers’ is a tense page turning thriller that gets even more dramatic with every line!

You can buy ‘Nine Perfect Strangers’ from Amazon and is available to buy from good bookshops.

Isabelle Broom Writers Tip

Isabelle BroomIsabelle Broom was born in Cambridge nine days before the 1980s began and studied Media Arts in London before joining the ranks at ‘Heat’ magazine, where she was the Book Reviews Editor. Always happiest when she off on an adventure, Isabelle now travels all over the world seeking out settings for her novels, as well as making the annual pilgrimage to her true home – the Greek island of Zakynthos. Currently based in Suffolk, where she shares a cottage with her dog Max and Julius.

Today Isabelle shares her writing tips for aspiring authors.

Decide which genre you want to write within, then set yourself a challenge to read the Top 10 bestsellers in that category, be it crime fiction, sci-fi dystopia or romance. As you read, note down observations. Ask yourself what these authors have done differently, or better, and how they have developed their characters, then map yourself a list of dos and don’ts. If you haven’t already, then pick up a few “how to write” books and learn as much as you can about structure and plot. Trust me, getting lost in the middle of your novel will only knock your confidence and set you back. The planning may seem dull compared to the fun writing part, but it will help you to stay on track and make sure that your character arcs don’t vanish into thin air. Try to write every day, even if it’s just a few lines, and on the days the creative juices aren’t flowing, go back and edit what you’ve already done. You need to live and breathe a book for it to really flourish.

Read more about Isabelle and her writing journey here.

The Sapphire Widow Book

Dinah JefferiesToday on the book tour for Dinah Jefferies new book called ‘The Sapphire Widow’, Dinah tells us the story behind the book.

Most novels are not written; they are written and then rewritten, and that sometimes results in a lengthy process of editing before a book reaches the shops. You don’t often hear about the changes a novel goes through, so I’m going to let you into the secrets that lie behind the final edition of ‘The Sapphire Widow’.

It all began months ago when I completed the first rough draft and heaved a massive sigh of relief. For me this early draft is about feverishly getting the basic story and the characters down on paper. Every day that I’m faced with a blank page can become torturous, so the sooner it’s over the better.

My agent is the first person to set eyes on it, and it’s a scary stage: will she like it, or will she hate it? It’s crucial that she believes in me as she is the one who negotiates with the publisher on my behalf. As this book was already under contract, it wasn’t necessary for her to submit the manuscript to the publisher, but it was still vital to receive her feedback as she’d be the first to see it from a reader’s point of view.

As I suspected, she felt Louisa hadn’t fully come to life and it was too obvious that Elliot was shady. I really love the editing process and, to address these issues, I worked on making Louisa stronger and more independent and by removing any hints that Elliot was not as upright as Louisa thought he was.

The next stage was to liaise with my editor at Penguin. The way it works is that she suggests where the book needs further thought, and I then dream up ways to achieve that. She felt Elliot was now too squeaky clean, so to infer his less than perfect character, I gave him a history of gambling and being rather too fond of the drink. And added that, in Louisa’s words, he could be a bit ‘peevish’.

The Sapphire Widow

When my editor recommended that Louisa could still do with being more fully developed, I focussed on ensuring the character had energy and grit and was someone who, despite suffering, has a huge capacity for life, love and recovery. I laughed when my editor also added that Leo could afford to be less taciturn and more attractive, as she always says that about my men but, nevertheless, I relished making him taller and leaner and altogether much kinder.

We both felt that the first half of the novel dedicated too much time to Louisa and Elliot and that the plot needed to move more quickly from his death. To achieve this, I included new scenes with Leo. One was where I explore the hurt he experienced when he talks about his past and tells Louisa that the woman he had hoped to marry jilted him for his best friend. The manuscript also needed more moments of joy and relief to balance the grief and betrayal, so I re-wrote the unfolding of the relationship between Louisa and Leo, and now we see more of them together as the novel progresses. I added the light-hearted boat trip with Conor, and the romantic dawn walk, and enjoyed having Leo turn up at Louisa’s house late in the evening. And for my readers to feel even more sympathetic towards Leo, I stressed how much he cared about Conor.

Louisa’s father, Jonathan, needed a stronger presence, and we decided that more could also be made of Margo and Gwen. A new scene came to mind in which Gwen visits Louisa and helps out with Conor, not only cementing her friendship with Louisa, but also giving her a chance to show how much she has matured since she took the title role in The Tea Planter’s Wife in 2015.

You may think it’s upsetting to be asked to make changes, but it really isn’t. When I write a first draft my focus is entirely on the writing and I know it is far from set in stone, but my editor is, like my agent, looking at it from a reader’s viewpoint and her feedback is phenomenally helpful in shaping the story. My agent and editor have a wealth of publishing experience and I trust them both implicitly. I’m never forced to do anything and, if I don’t agree with something, we talk it through and reach an agreement.

The editing process is different with every book; sometimes it’s the plot or the structure that needs more work, sometimes it’s the setting or the dialogue and, as in this case, sometimes it’s the characters. The fun part of editing is that it’s a creative challenge. I love shifting the story around and enriching my readers’ enjoyment by bringing the characters to life and making the book the best it can be. It can be tough if you delete a scene, or even a character you are fond of, but nothing is lost and there may be a way to use the material in another book.

It’s been a privilege to work with a wonderful team at Penguin. I’ve learnt that each book is a result of a collaboration and there are a million different ways to tell every story. To tell you everything that changed as I went along would take too long, but I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing a little about the story behind ‘The Sapphire Widow’.

You can pre-order The Sapphire Widow from Amazon and will be available to buy from good bookshops from 5th April 2018.