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Saving Anna and Visiting Lilly

I’m proud to announce that Visiting Lilly now has a sequel, Saving Anna.

When I first wrote Visiting Lilly I knew that my main characters, Detective Inspector Jake Talbot and Frankie Hayward, had many mores stories to tell, but I didn’t have a publishing contract, so the ideas sat on the back-burner. As soon as I was published by Booktrope they asked if I had any other novels I’d already written, to which I replied, ‘yes,’ and then quietly slipped in that I’d already scratched out a first chapter of Saving Anna, a new mystery with the same lead characters.

I was advised to prioritise finishing Saving Anna, and to build a series. Finish it? I’d hardly started writing it at that stage. Yipes! But hey, if the publisher wants more, then the publisher shall have more. Who was I as a fledgling novelist to refuse such an offer? As time went by I quickly learnt that this is how it works in the world of being a ‘real’ writer. While we were editing Visiting Lilly I was busy plotting and writing Saving Anna.

Having agreed to write a series, I had to come up with a name for it, so that readers can easily see that the books are associated with each other, and that they’ll find a story about the characters they’ve already become familiar with. After much deliberation I decided on Jake Talbot Investigates which gives a fair idea of what a reader will find between the covers. I then realised that the series title is a little long to hashtag on Twitter, so look out for #JTI as I’ll be using this abbreviation in tweets.

Saving Anna book coverVisiting Lilly is based in Farnham, Surrey, but I spend some of my time down in Dorset, and am very passionate about the local wildlife, history and scenery. For Saving Anna I decided to shift location and have Talbot and Frankie travel to Bridport, Dorset, to carry out an investigation. In truth Talbot starts off being requested to only observe a cult, the Temple of Purple Light, and report back to the Ministry of Defence, but he’s determined to find out what they’re up to as their beliefs pose a threat to his catatonic sister, Anna. Furthermore the MOD also need Frankie’s exceptional computer skills, skills he’s prohibited from using except on the Ministry’s behalf.

Neither man knows what they’re meant to be looking for, but observation turns into investigation when they discover a woman’s body draped over the gravestone of one of Talbot’s ancestors. Soon after, a dangerous piece of evidence slips into Talbot’s hands, the plotters’ desperation to get it back becoming the catalyst for murder.

As they uncover a conspiracy that links psychic manipulation, drugs, and death, the two friends grow from master and apprentice to partners in detection, protecting each other from increasing hazards. The trail leads them into deeper shadows, where Talbot’s old enemy waits to wreak a revenge that is as shocking as it is painful.

How far will Jake go to save his sister?

Each book in my Jake Talbot Investigates mystery series is a stand-alone novel, a complete story in itself. I’m now busy writing Book 3, Finding Louisa, which brings the action back to Farnham. A little girl has gone missing from the ponds and wooded acres of Puttenham Common. As they work on finding Louisa, Jake Talbot and Frankie unearth shocking evidence that links back to an old case.

We’ll be running promotions to celebrate the launch of Saving Anna, so come along and join me on Twitter @Listansus and watch out for the #JTI hashtag.

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Virginia Woolf famously said, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” So, what do we do if we don’t have both of these much desired essentials? Do we throw ourselves down on the floor screaming, “I’ll never be a writer!”? Not at all. Writers are made of far stronger stuff.

Camping in Dorset

Yes, I have space at home to write, as many authors do, but that doesn’t mean that I necessarily have the freedom to write without constant interruptions.

For several weeks of the year I create that much needed ‘room of her own’ in which to write. I pack my little car to the hilt with camping gear and head off to Dorset. On a fabulous campsite with views across Chesil Beach we pitch our tent. It isn’t a fun-park, theme-park type of campsite, especially not out of season when I choose to go. It’s tranquil. Bordering a nature reserve, the noisiest things we hear at night are the owls hooting in the trees overhead, and the waves crashing against far off pebbles. Unless it’s harvest time and the farmers have to work all night to get their crops in before it rains! On those nights we hear combine harvesters rumbling across distant fields, and rush out to see them lit up like spaceships manoeuvring in the dark. It’s all part of the fun.

Now, I expect you’re envisaging a little two man tent and a camp fire flickering under the stars. Nothing quite so romantic, I’m afraid; but I expect you’ve already sneaked a peek at the photo, haven’t you? My tent is a veritable mansion! The label says it sleeps six adults, and yes, there are only two of us. Furthermore, we cheat. We pay a bit extra so that we can have an electric hook-up to power my laptop, run a light and boil a kettle. When it’s really cold we also plug in a heater. This enormous space is no longer a tent: it’s the author’s hub.

My partner and I use the main living area for sitting and chatting, and eating together. We cook in the little front canopy. The sleeping area we fill with king-size inflatable mattresses, sleeping bags and extremely warm duvets. It can get very cold in Dorset in September. Of an evening, this sleeping compartment becomes my ‘room of her own.’ After supper I say the now famous words, “I’m going in.” My partner nods sagely and switches the kettle on. Once inside my room, with the partitioning flap zipped up, I sit cross legged on my mattress, set up my laptop, and pull the duvet around my shoulders. After a while my partner calls, “Tea’s ready,” and I unzip the dividing flap just enough to reach out and be handed my mug of tea.

From then on I write, mostly straight through until morning. Zipped in my secret room, with the light filtering through from the living area, I’m in a world all of my own. It’s magic. Every so often I pass my empty mug out through the flap, and miraculously it gets filled up again with hot tea. It’s very much like having a room of my own with service!

Please don’t think that I totally ignore my partner. During the day we go for long walks, and I take photographs of the wildlife: or we go into Bridport, West Bay or Weymouth and meet some of the locals. Every Saturday in Bridport there’s a flea-market, and we love to go along and have a good rummage, pick up something vintage or a few crystals from one of our favourite stall-holders. Speaking of crystals, in West Bay you can find pieces of calcite along the cliff faces, and fossils as well if you’re lucky.

Rainbow over the Fleet - DorsetSometimes we just walk and talk. On one such occasion we were walking along the Fleet from the campsite to Old Fleet Church, having great fun discussing and enacting a fight scene I was in the process of writing in Saving Anna. Passers-by must have thought we were completely mad, as we kept pretending to strike one-another with a knife, which to them would have been quite invisible. At times a piece of driftwood stood in for the weapon, and then we had to explain that I was an author, and that we weren’t really having a punch-up and trying to hurt each other. By the time we got back to the tent, some three hours later at dusk, we’d finalised the fight scene; every move choreographed to perfection, every word spoken flowing smoothly. We were excited. It was so well planned.

“I’ll make supper,” my partner said. “While you go in and get it written down.”
So, in I went, the action we’d outlined fresh in my mind. I read through the couple of paragraphs I’d already written leading up to the fight scene, drank tea: then began typing.
Within fifteen minutes I called out, “Sorry!”
My partner rushed to the partitioning flap and whispered, “What’s happened?”
“As soon as I started writing, Talbot went and did something completely different,” I explained. “I couldn’t help it. He just didn’t want the fight to end up like that.”
My partner sighed, heavily. “That man Talbot’s a rogue. You can never trust him to follow orders.”
We laughed, but you see, this is what happens, when a woman has a room of her own in which to write fiction. In the peace and solitude of one’s own space, the story takes on a life all of its own.

Saving Anna is the second book in the Jake Talbot Investigates series: due for release this autumn. Book 1 Visiting Lilly is available on Amazon and free on Kindle Unlimited.

Visiting Lilly free on Kindle Unlimited

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I’ve been writing fiction for many, many years, and during this time I’ve met numerous aspiring authors. It doesn’t matter whether we write detective mysteries or period romance, we all tend to have one thing in common – self-doubt. We constantly wonder whether an agent will like our work, whether a publisher will accept our work, and most of all, whether the readers will relate to our work and take our characters to their hearts.

So, how do we overcome this demon?

For my own part I remind myself of the high praise I received from one of the world’s top crime writers, P.D. James.

Embed from Getty Images

At the time I was living on the Isle of Wight and an active member of two exceptionally good writing groups. One group focused on critique and perfecting craft, while the other had built a strong list of famous authors who were willing to attend as speakers. When this latter group decided to run a nationwide competition, they invited P.D. James to judge the finalists, and select the winner. Graciously, she accepted. The theme was: The First Chapter of a Novel.

As a group we were all encouraged to enter something to support the competition, but as it was we needn’t have concerned ourselves about lack of entries, because we ended up with well over a thousand submissions. The piece I submitted was from a work in progress, a rather complex novel I was busy plotting, that had three time-lines I was trying to thread together. I’d written about 15,000 words. For the competition I decided to polish my first chapter, which started, “I know I am in a dream,” written from a man’s first person viewpoint. I was happy enough with my submission, but with so many entries flooding in, didn’t concern myself over winning or losing.

When the big day came for the winner to be announced, and the prize to be handed over, the only person who knew the outcome was P.D. James herself. Not even the writing group’s chairman was privy to the result. The meeting hall we’d booked for the occasion was packed, and the event started with P.D. James giving a talk on her writing methods, and explaining how she drew inspiration from newspaper headlines. A story would pique her interest, usually a topic that had social impact, such as adopted children being permitted to trace their birth parents; then she’d set to researching facts and building characters.

Once we’d all taken a break and afternoon tea had been served, we sat down to hear the results of our competition. Third prize: not me. Second prize: not me. P.D. James started to say how very much she’d enjoyed the winning entry and how extremely well written it was. Then she named the winner. First Prize goes to… Oh my goodness me! That was my name! I couldn’t believe it. I was stunned.

P.D. James asked if the winner was in the room and would they like to step up to the table. I stood.

“I don’t believe it!” she exclaimed. “I thought this piece was written by a man.” She stood, her face alight with excitement. “You’re a woman writing in a man’s viewpoint. I was completely convinced it was a man’s voice. This makes it an even stronger winner. I read your name and assumed you were a man!” She applauded me. This great crime writer stood and gave me a standing ovation. Then she shook my hand and handed me the best prize ever, her praise.

This took place back in the late ‘80s. Shortly after this amazing occasion, life events hit me hard and I suddenly found myself thrust into having to cope with exceptional circumstances. My writer friends told me not to worry if I couldn’t find the time or concentration to write, and assured me that I was building a storehouse of experiences which one day I would draw upon and use in my novels. They were absolutely correct.

I never did finish the complex novel P.D. James so loved, but she gave me the confidence to never stop writing. Since then I have written many other novels, and never given up on my dream of becoming a published author. In 2014 when Booktrope accepted Visiting Lilly, my dream came true.

Book 2 in the Jake Talbot Investigates series, Saving Anna, is due for release this autumn.

If you’re an aspiring author, what keeps you going, and pushing beyond self-doubt? I’d love to hear your story.

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A few weeks ago I was delighted to receive an invitation to write for Luna Luna Magazine, a digital diary for creative thinkers, individuals, dreamers & darklings. I shall be writing for them once a month. My first article is a preliminary look at Sex & Tarot, in which I outline some of the basics.

Sex & Tarot by Toni Allen

Even if you’ve already read my book Sex & Tarot do pop along and have a read, because I’m always coming up with new insights and adding additional information which isn’t in my book.

If there are any tarot topics you’d like me to write about in future articles, either here or at Luna Luna, please leave a comment.

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The summer is here and it’s time to laze around in the sunshine reading a good book. For those of you who enjoy reading thrillers and mysteries we’ve created a fantastic bumper giveaway: 16 thrilling books on offer, and a $50 Amazon Gift Card.

Thank you to everyone who entered. The Giveaway is now closed and we have a winner.

 

Thrilling Summer Giveaway FB Post(1)What’s in the goodies bag?

I’m thrilled to be first on the list, because Saving Anna, Book 2 in my series Jake Talbot Investigates is due for release this autumn.

If you can’t wait to read Visiting Lilly you can download it for free with Amazon Prime.

Visiting Lilly by Toni Allen Visiting Lilly by Toni Allen

Jake Talbot Investigates (Book 1)

Why should a man at a Surrey police station go ballistic because someone tries to visit Lilly, his elderly grandmother? Jake Talbot investigates a romance that crosses the boundaries of time.

“This a fantastic, unusual story, brilliantly written and thoroughly enjoyable.” Stu – Amazon review

Shadow Dancer by Addison KlineShadow Dancer by Addison Kline

Some secrets should just stay buried. On the day Tristan Morrow is born her mother goes missing, prompting an investigation that produces no solid leads.

“Lots of twists and turns and suspense.” D.Y. Danis – Amazon review

 

Rachels Folly by Monica BrunoRachel’s Folly by Monica Bruno

Rachel’s best friend is about to be married, but her fiancé is a mysterious man with seemingly no friends or family. After a night of drinking goes awry, Rachel is forced to face a dark part of herself she didn’t know existed.

“This well written page turner shows how one person can mess up so many lives.” Sharon H – Amazon review

The Anonymous Source by A.C.FullerThe Anonymous Source by A.C. Fuller

One year after the 9/11 attacks, Alex Vane–a brilliant, carb-obsessed reporter for The New York Standard–wants nothing more than to break into the flashy world of TV news. But when he uncovers the scoop of a lifetime, his editor buries his story, a source turns up dead, and Alex finds himself at the center of a violent media conspiracy.

This Grisham style read kept me guessing.” Nisi4man – Amazon review

Sandcastles and Other Stories by Justin BogSandcastle and Other Stories by Justin Bog

The Complete Edition of Justin Bog’s First Collection of Dark Psychological Suspense Tales.

“This enchanting short story collection deftly examines the psychology of life.” Mrs J Lobb – Amazon review

 

What Echoes Render by Tamsen SchultzWhat Echoes Render by Tamsen Schultz

Betrayal was something Jesse Baker thought she already knew too much about. But when her dead husband’s past comes back to haunt her, both the life she’s built for herself and her sons, and the story she’s told herself to make it through, threaten to crumble into ashes.

“If you’re a romance suspense reader you will love this book.” L R Smith – Amazon review

Macyn's Letter by S.L. StackerMacyn’s Letter by S.L. Stacker

A near-death experience at the hands of her husband would cause any woman to cling to her crippling trust issues and dating phobia, and Macyn McIntyre is no exception.

“Pleasantly surprised for a great read from a new author!” Tonia Molino – Amazon review

 

Awake by Melanie SuraniAwake by Melanie Surani

Opera singer Joshua Gray wakes in an eerie art museum exhibit. He comes to believe he’s been kidnapped and abandoned. And he isn’t the only one…

“The ride didn’t end until the very last page – and what a ride!” funky_town – Amazon review

 

All the pretty bones by Camela ThompsonAll the Pretty Bones by Camela Thompson

After ten years of living in the shadow of her stalker, a diagnosis of terminal cancer pushes Olivia Kardos to take matters into her own hands.

“There are many interesting twists and turns throughout the book with moments of horror and others hopefulness.” Linda Ragland – Amazon review

Blood, Spirit and Bone by Camela ThompsonBlood, Spirit & Bone by Camela Thompson

Olivia lives, but Lucian’s part in saving her may cost him his life.

“I’m always surprised when an author can keep me guessing and keep my nose buried in a book.” Kristina M Covington – Amazo review

 

Veronica Layne gets the Scoop by Julia Park TraceyVeronika Layne Gets the Scoop by Julia Park Tracey

Veronika Layne. Sassy, tattooed, twenty-something newspaper reporter. Never saw herself working for the “man.” When her small weekly is swallowed up by Singh Media Group, that’s exactly where she ends up.

“This book is a sexy adventure, a breezy story with mystery and romance that was a joy to read.”

Inhuman Interest by Eric TurowskiInhuman Interest by Eric Turowski

Thirteen words in a want-ad turn Tess Cooper’s world upside down after she signs on as a paranormal research assistant to the mysterious Davin Egypt.

“There is no sleep when reading this book! Seat gripping!” Peggy Salkill (UNDERCOVER BOOK REVIEWS) – Amazon review

 

Roses are Red Violet is Dead by Monica-Marie VincentRoses are Red Violet is Dead by Monica-Marie Vincent

Violet Sumner has a stalker. Between her largely dysfunctional family of two and the friends she doesn’t feel particularly close to, Violet thinks he’s the least of her problems.

“Novel is intense, and suspense filled with fully developed characters that feel like your own family members and close friends.” Nonie Peterson – Amazon review

OP DEC Operation Deceit K. WilliamsOP-DEC: Operation Deceit by K. Willaims

Claire’s father sends her mother away, declaring she is hysterical with fatigue. Displaced by this disastrous outcome, Claire is brought to New York by her spirited aunt, to be raised beyond the reach of the damaging turn of events.

“The story is intense! I often found myself on the edge of my seat.” Victor A. Rodriguez – Amazon review

Women in Red by Jordan Rosenfeld

Diamond Run by Michael Croucher http://www.michaelcroucherbooks.com/

 

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I have a contract to publish my novel Visiting Lilly!

I am so thrilled to share the exciting news that Booktrope have offered me a contract to publish my novel Visiting Lilly.

Booktrope is an online publisher that has formulated a collaborative process to bring their books to market. Once I have signed my contract I will be invited to build a team, which will include, amongst others, an editor, a cover artist and a marketing manager. Each individual is paid a percentage of sales revenue after costs.

Visiting Lilly Cover ImageThis is a mock up cover I generated for Visiting Lilly. With my Booktrope team I will get a cover designer, so I doubt this is the image we’ll run with. If you love this cover and think it has to stay, let me know.

I first pitched Visiting Lilly to Booktrope about 18 months ago. Yes, these things take a long time! As I recall I saw an article about them in a writing newsletter and followed through to their website. At the time they were actively seeking submissions, but all they wanted was a brief synopsis. I posted my 386 word synopsis in the appropriate box on their website…and… the site timed out, so I rewrote the synopsis…not having drafted it to start with, of course…and then pressed send. The irony of this is that I usually stress about writing a synopsis, but the space they gave me to write into was so limited I was forced to cut the story down to its bare bones. The fact that after an hour their website got fed up with me loitering, and the fact that I hadn’t saved what I’d typed, made me cut it down even more. There’s a lesson to be learnt here.

I often wondered what happened to my synopsis and whether anyone had read it, but shortly before Christmas 2013 Booktrope emailed and asked if I’d still be interested in submitting Visiting Lilly to their review panel for consideration. Having pitched Visiting Lilly to several agents and received rejections I said yes to their offer. I never expected them to give any feedback, but what did go through my mind is, ‘Here is someone, or more than one person, who will read my entire manuscript, not just the first three chapters. They will judge the story as a whole.’ On that basis it had to be worth a go.

Booktrope’s review panel were impressed enough to offer me a contract to publish with them, so now the process of preparing my novel for publication begins.

Visiting Lilly is a mystery thriller and love story…with a twist.

Twenty Seven year old Frankie wants to visit an old woman, Lilly, who lives in an old people’s home. No crime in that, now is there? Only Lilly’s relatives are more than a little against the idea, so D.I. Jake Talbot decides to poke his nose in and investigate what their problem is. A nice easy case leading up to Christmas…which ends up threatening his job, his integrity and his sanity.

A couple of years ago I entered the first chapter of Visiting Lilly into the Winchester Writers’ Conference competition for the beginning of murder mystery novel. I received Highly Commended and this is what the judge had to say. (In case you’re wondering all entrants  had to use a pseudonym)

Lilly WinchesterNow everyone will be able to read the entire story of Visiting Lilly; but meanwhile follow a different story as I keep you posted on how the process goes from acceptance to publication.

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Writing Conversation and Speech in Novels

This is another one of the ‘lessons’ I prepared for my Writers’ Group. One of our members was struggling to write natural, flowing conversation in her novel, so was doing the unwise thing, and avoiding it altogether. Ooops.

Conversation is important in any novel or short story, because in real life we speak; but in a story we have to write speech as if spoken naturally. That is the craft of novel writing, the illusion of reality.

He said she said

When we hold a normal conversation with our friends and family we say whatever we like, we interrupt, and generally talk a load of old rubbish. Sometimes we have important things to communicate to friends and family, but unless we have some kind of crisis that’s probably as rare as hen’s teeth. “I’ll be there in five minutes.” “What time shall we meet?” “Is supper ready?”

When we speak to people we’re purchasing something from we ask questions. With people we’re in contention with we tend to repeat our point of argument over and over again. With other people we pass the day and recount stories of this and that, how good the supper was last night and what a fab film we saw.

Yes, this is conversation. Yawn.

When writing fiction the conversation has to be part of the story, its job is to move the story forwards and direct the reader to the next scene or point of interest. Speech in writing offers information. That is it’s only purpose.

When writing a story we don’t care that the film was fab unless the film is part of the storyline. We have to cut our conversations to the bone, but also make our characters speak naturally and clearly.

Conversations in your story also help portray what the character is like.

How do they speak? “I say, lovely day.” “Hello mate, bit of a roaster today.” Both of these characters are saying exactly the same thing, but in a different way. The key to good character portrayal is to find each character’s unique voice, without going down the line of, “Eeez very varm today.”

Alongside what your characters say is the actions we describe around their speech.

“I say, lovely day,” said Fred, waving.

“Hello mate, bit of a roaster today,” said Jim, climbing into the cab of Bert’s lorry.

We can, of course, add adverbs to flesh out emphasis of how the sentence is being spoken, but nine times of out ten we don’t need these, and they should be used sparingly. Do these adverbs add anything?

“I say, lovely day,” said Fred jovially, waving.

“Hello mate, bit of a roaster today,” said Jim wearily, climbing into the cab of Bert’s lorry.

We don’t need the jovially for Fred, because his sentence is pretty upbeat and he’s waving, however, with Jim we discover that he’s weary, and this, as it’s part of the plot line, should add additional information to the reader. Hey ho, Jim’s tired, what was he up to last night?

There are, of course, many other words that can replace said. Some I personally loath, while others can be of use. Anyone who’s interested can pop along and read a list of 218 alternatives here. http://www.spwickstrom.com/said/

The main points to remember is that dialogue must share information, move the story forwards and make something happen.

*******

Below are some two line conversations that I offered to my writers’ group as prompts. Have a go yourself. Simply fill in the ‘he said, ‘she said,’ part of the story and see what a difference how you describe the way they said it makes each sentence sound.

“Hello.”

“What are you doing here?”

 *****

“I don’t think that goes there.”

“Yes it does.”

 *****

“I really can’t take much more of this.”

“I know.”

 *****

“Isn’t it gorgeous.”

“That’s not how I’d describe it.”

 *****

“Well, I told you it would end up like this.”

“When?”

*****

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