Saturday, September 10, 2011

Seven Ways to Inject Suspense into your Novel

Certain genres are renowned for being more suspenseful than others: horror, crime fiction and romantic suspense, but each and every book, no matter whether it's an Historical Romance or a Paranormal Fantasy, HAS to have a level of suspense interwoven between the pages!

All stories need to have this element, otherwise the reader isn't going to want to turn the page, it's as simple as that. So if you're interested in what makes a suspenseful page turner, then please read on...

Creating conflict in your novel is a given, otherwise there would be no story. If all went smoothly it would be as dull-as-dishwater, wouldn't it? They all lived happily throughout the story and ever after, yawn...

I've listed seven ways you can inject suspense into your novel:

1. Introduce your characters to their worst nightmare!

Find out about your characters beforehand. If possible, write up their likes and dislikes etc, and most importantly of all, find out what it is they fear most? What is it that causes their hearts to thump loudly, beads of perspiration to form on their upper lips, and the hairs on the back of their necks to stand on end? Find out what that thing or things are, and then give it to them, both barrels. For example, if your heroine is petrified of flying because her parents died in a plane crash, create a story where she HAS to take a journey on an airplane. If your hero fears water because he almost drowned as a young child, put him in a position where he HAS to get back in the water to rescue someone.

Introduce them to their worst nightmare and watch how they react!

2. Lull them into a false sense of security

When your character is really frightened of something, throw in a red herring. For example, if your heroine thinks she hears a noise outside, allow the plot to let her fears grow and grow. Let it be something quite innocuous, like the dustbin blowing over in the wind. Then, when she has reassured herself, breathing a sigh of relief, petrify her to death by placing a prowler outside her back door!

3. Throw the spotlight on at least two people

This might sound a little obvious, but for goodness sake, don't make the villain of the piece stand out a mile. Instead, have suspicion fall on at least two, possibly three characters. This will have the effect of your reader not really being sure until the end, when the other shoe falls! But, by all means, leave some clues and some red herrings along the way!

4. Pacing

Pacing is important to create suspense. In general, short, snappy sentences will enable the reader to race ahead so they feel their heart is beating in time with the frightened protagonist. Longer sentences tend to slow things down. You might want to speed things up for a car chase or slow it down for a love making scene. Imagine your novel as if you were watching it on the big screen. How would it be filmed? What would that particular scene look like to the audience?

5. The calm before the storm

Make use of the weather to good effect. Thunderclouds brewing overhead, often give the reader the feeling that something is about to happen [prophetic fallacy]. A bolt of lightening hitting the night sky, power lines down, a stranger at the door, etc. Think of the last time you watched a horror film; didn't the weather come into somewhere?

6. When all goes well, throw in a dead body!

When you hit a sagging middle of a novel, and you find there's no where to go, try throwing in a dead body. This doesn't necessarily mean that a character has to be killed off, although you might want to do just that, it can mean that something unexpected happens, such as the birth of a baby, etc. Something that injects a little more oomph into the plot!

7. Setting

Setting is very important as a tool to create suspense. What about that dark stone staircase covered in cobwebs? Or the elevator that suddenly stops in between floors? Choosing the right sort of setting can make or break a novel. And sometimes, placing the object or person the protagonist fears in an innocuous setting can make the story all the more horrifying.

Be cruel to your characters and watch them run for their lives!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Roll of the Dice

Decided to shake up my life at 50, deciding various options by the roll of a dice. When the sands of time are slipping through your fingertips, you got to do something different from your usual routine...Started yesterday afternoon and ended up in the pub instead of shopping. I always go shopping on Saturday afternoon, but this was far more fun!
Today, Dice woman rolls number 6:" Finish the novel 'The Clock Strikes Twelve'!" I almost finished writing this book a couple of years ago but put it to one side when life events took over. So, shall get back into the world of a serial killer this week. Should prove interesting...

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Writing Group

Some of you may be wondering what happened to my writing group featured on Secret Millionaire just over two years ago? Well, the good news is that it's still going strong! Even though I'm not working at the cancer centre any more, I've kept the group together by arranging monthly meetings for the past fifteen months. We meet upstairs in Wetherspoon and we ALWAYS have a great time!

We meet again tomorrow and it'll be party time for two of the ladies! We make a point of celebrating one another's birthdays. The group has been through so much together. There's a bond and everyone is as supportive as ever, it's taken on a life of its own. We've even got a couple of new members!

We wine, dine, chill-out and chat, and then when we've cleared our plates, we get down to some writing exercises. We've laughed, we've cried, we've cared and shared.

Whenever someone feels down, there's a gentle touch of a hand, a hug, or someone to pass a tissue.

It's more than a writing group, it's a writing family.

Long may our group continue!!

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Inspirational Women: Bea Sheftel

A woman who had a huge impact on me and my writing life was, Bea Sheftel. Bea was an American writer who belonged to the same online group as myself, Momwriters. A Yahoo group of over a thousand writers, some unpublished, some published and some who even made the best seller list!

Bea Sheftel became a published writer at just sixteen years old. Her major writing influence was her father who wrote essays and poetry for the Knights of Columbus and the local newspaper.

Growing up in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, NY, Bea dreamed of being a writer. After decades of writing in between other jobs, she became a full time freelance writer and writing teacher.

Bea was published in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. She was also the former editor of The Coventry Journal. She had an Associates Degree from Manchester Community College, and a Bachelor's in writing from the University of Connecticut.

She taught Writing Confessions, Memoir Writing, Scrapbook Creating and other classes through

Her work appeared in several anthologies including Guideposts Books, Chicken Soup for the Nurses Soul, Cup of Comfort for a Woman's Journey and many others.

The thing that inspired me about Bea was that she wrote from the heart. Her writing was real, it had life and soul.

Bea died in March of 2005 and I wept for someone I had never met because her words touched me so.

Here's Bea's Memorial page at the Momwriter's website. You'll see what a huge impact she made on people!

You can still read some of Bea's online writing at the following websites:


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Those hazy days of summer

Well, summer is here apparently for all of about twenty four hours. So enjoy it while you can. What's your favourite memory of summer? Is there a summer you'll never forget? Was it when you first fell in love or went on a special holiday?

I don't have one specific memory that's a lot better than others, but rather a collection of childhood/teenage images like a slide show of memories: playing by the river with my dog; making dens up the mountain, swinging on a tyre swing attached to a huge tree; paddling in the sea; going to the swimming pool and coming out with wet hair, towel rolled under my arm and queuing in the sweet shop around the corner; playing in the local park; going on Sunday school outings; lying in the garden for hours trying to swot up for my O'levels slathered in lashings of Ambre Solaire oil; getting ready for a night out at the local disco being proud of my new tan!

I'm sure you can think of a slide show of summer memories too. So what are they?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

John Sullivan: A Legend

There's an interesting interview with John Sullivan, the creator of Only Fools and Horses, in July's edition of Writing Magazine. He had no formal training yet, he was able to tell a great yarn. Upon hearing of the scriptwriter's death in April, David Jason said:

"We’ve lost our ­country’s greatest comedy writer, but he leaves a great legacy – the gift of laughter."

What I loved about him was that he mixed comedy with tragedy. He had the ability to make you laugh one moment and almost cry the next. Like the episode where Rodney gets married and Del is left alone at the reception as the song, 'Holding Back the Years' plays. Gives me a lump in my throat every time I watch that.

He came from humble beginnings, leaving school at 15 and after a series of jobs, worked as a scene shifter. It was from there he became inspired to write for TV. He did his training on the job as it were. He purchased an ancient typewriter for £2.00 and spent the next two months with his friend working on a sitcom.

They received a rejection from the BBC, which put his friend off but Sullivan carried on writing and submitting and the rest is history.

Makes me wonder how many writers have been put off by rejection when if they'd had the motivation and passion John Sullivan had, the drive to push forward, they could have been writing legends!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Happiness is a Swedish Sunset

** I wrote this at my writing group this afternoon and thought I'd share it with you.**

I’ll never forget the summer I went to Sweden at the age of seventeen. I had been penfriends with Anna for about four years and she had already stayed at my home the previous summer. She’d thought the rows of terraced houses in the Welsh Valleys were tiny and was amused with how my family ate chips most days of the week.

Looking back on it, I can’t believe I was brave enough at that tender age to take a flight for the very first time to a strange country and from Heathrow Airport of all places!

Upon my return, my father told me that he couldn’t get over how I just walked off to the terminal gate without even turning around to say ‘Goodbye’ to any of my family. My mind must have been set on going off on an adventure.

I ended up taking a window seat inside the Boeing 707 seated next to two business men. I even remember asking them if I had to pay when the stewardess turned up with the tea and coffee trolley.

At one point during the journey, I thought the wing was about to fall off as the flap rose.

The main thing that hit me as we circled to land in Gothenburg Airport was the amount of trees and lakes. I’d never seen anything like it in my life.

Unfortunately, by then I had severe earache and felt nauseous. What didn’t help matters was, as I waited at the luggage carousel, eventually the crowd drifted away having retrieved their cases, and there was only one remaining. It looked like mine, but it wasn’t.

I was met by Anna and her family as I struggled to fight back the tears, explaining that I felt sick and my suitcase had gone off on its own journey some place else. Thankfully, Anna’s German Step-father, Harald, took control of the situation. He discovered my suitcase was in Tel Aviv and I’d have to wait another 24 hours for its return.

Anna’s home was fantastic. The family lived upstairs and slept downstairs. It was much bigger than our terraced home. Also, back in those days it seemed unusual for families to have two cars which a lot in that area seemed to have. Not only two cars, but also two houses. Their main house and their smaller summer house in the woods.

I witnessed my first Swedish sunset from the balcony that evening, reminding me of a quote by the author, Mark Twain: “Happiness is a Swedish sunset; it is there for all, but most of us look the other way and lose it” A Swedish sunset is thought to be the most beautiful sunset in the world. I can well believe it.

I spent a fortnight at Anna’s home and met her friends. We partied and picnicked and had such fun.

I saw wild elk in the woods, went to a crayfish and vodka party, visited the fair at Gothenburg, the Match Factory in Jonkoping, the second largest lake in Sweden, Lake Vettern, which is sixty five miles long and has an island with a giant in the middle of it. One of Anna’s friends, Annelei presented me with a miniature giant her father had carved for me. I had a ball that summer.

I was sad when it was time to leave a beautiful country where the sunset was pure poetry.

Friday, June 03, 2011

If You Could See What I Can See When I'm Cleaning Windows

Sometimes life knocks us off course. We are coasting along nicely, the horizon clear, only to be confronted with something that happens 'seemingly' out of the blue, creating a huge tidal wave. However, often it's not what happens to us at the time that causes the problem, but how we deal with it.

Making waves can be good. They shake us up by forcing us off our feet, pushing us into a period of transition. Change can be a positive thing, and although we might not think so at the time, if we look back on some of the big things that happened to us in life, those changes, even if they were enforced on us, were often for our own good.

During my own life, this has happened to me several times. At that moment the 'tidal wave' was upsetting, devastating, even. Yet, retrospectively, I can honestly say, I'm glad those things happened. The events shook me right out of my comfort zone but forced me to face up to reality.

We're all capable of becoming deluded.

We have blind spots to certain people and particular situations that aren't good for us. It wasn't until I studied 'The Johari Window' that I even knew those blind spots existed. I believe, it's because we don't always recognise the blind spots that cause the problems in the first place.

How often have we trusted someone only to think they were 'behaving out of character' when they did something that hurt us? The truth of the matter though, is the person concerned is more likely to have been behaving very much 'in character', and we simply haven't recognised it because we have a blind spot in that area.

And don't we feel foolish when we realise how shielded we've been behind 'rose-tinted spectacles'? Especially, when someone informs us, "Didn't you already know that?"

The truth was we didn't, or rather didn't want to recognise what was right before our eyes.

Sometimes we are our own worse enemies. We need to keep our metaphorical windows clean: the open, the closed and the hidden, because if we don't, we are going to get knocked off our feet one way or another!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Let's Go Round Again?

I’ve only ever attended two reunions and had a great time at both. The first was in 1999 -- The May ’79 Set Nurses’ Reunion. The other was on Saturday night -- High School leavers 1977/79.

On both occasions, it was wonderful to see people I hadn’t seen for years and reconnect with my past. It was surprising in the school reunion that although some of us had been out of touch with one another for up to some thirty plus years, most people hadn't changed that much with regard to personality or even appearance. It was a feel-good evening wrapped up with genuine warmth and affection.

Some people don’t like reunions and I wonder why? Is it because they don’t have any particular feeling for those people they spent a good chunk of their lives with? Or could it be it conjures up bad memories for them? Or even dare I say it...are they afraid of being judged on how they look and what they've achieved?

Although I thought long and hard beforehand what I'd wear, whether it was possible to lose a few pounds, etc; all of that superficial stuff flew out the window when I got there. Somehow appearances didn't seem to matter any more as the years melted away.

The 1999 nurses’ reunion was so inspiring. The women were a highly motivated bunch and I went away feeling good about life. So much so, I wrote a short story entitled, “The Reunion” based on the evening. It seemed to trigger something off inside me and there was no holding me back. I penned more stories, poems and non-fictional articles.

I went on to join a writing group in a local library and an online group of over 1000 writers called ‘Momwriters’, which still exists today. Momwriters is what it says on the tin, a group of mothers that write. Some of them are published. Some have even made the Best Seller list. A minority are men. One male ‘Momwriter’ was the former comedy editor of Playboy magazine, who co-wrote the movie, ‘The Blue Streak’.

Belonging to the group was highly motivating which led me to submit my work to magazines and websites. I got published. The icing on the cake was getting paid.

All because I went to my first reunion night and became inspired.

I wonder if Saturday’s reunion will lead on to anything as good?

Watch this space...

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Secret Place

Everyone needs a secret place. A sanctuary where they can feel safe and reflective. I visited mine today. It's a hidden pond in amongst the trees. The walk around there is amazing. Today I took the dogs and really absorbed its aura. The sweet bird song, the sun filtering between the bowing branches of the trees, the swoop of a heron over the water, a carpet of bluebells covering the ground, nature at its finest.

It's a place that when I visit, is so peaceful. Sometimes it's as if it beckons me, asking me to come and stay for a while. It's best in summer, comforting in autumn, inspiring in spring and a frosty fairy tale in winter.

Alone with myself, my inner voice speaks to me, clarifying any questions I have. Sometimes the questions are every day ones, but other times they are big ones like: "What am I going to do next with my life?"

Nature is a great healer and better than any drug.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Summers of Yore

Why is it that summers seemed to last for ages when I was a child?

Maybe I'm donning rose-tinted specs, but as well as days stretching endlessly off into the horizon, the weather seemed so much better. Days of sunshine and playful laughter, nights of camping in the back garden and midnight feasts. Holidays taken in caravans, day trips to the seaside to ride the Big Dipper and get splashed from head to toe by the Water Chute. This was before places like Oakwood Park or Alton Towers.

Innocent times when a Mr. Whippy ice-cream embedded with a Cadbury's chocolate flake was a special treat. Times when sitting watching the tide come in whilst eating fish and chips was somehow so much nicer than sitting in a cafe.

Golden tans on equally golden sands. Deeply ingrained freckled faces in the days when we didn't worry about skin cancers and fried ourselves with lashings of Ambre Solaire sun oil, or if you weren't so lucky to acquire a tan, you applied the fake version, which at that time was very orange and streaky.

When we weren't on our holidays or on day trips often run by the Sunday school, we played outside on tyre swings, climbed trees or created dens to play house in. Often we spent all day outside, only going back home for lunch or supper, or when our mothers called us in as dusk descended.

We read The Bunty Summer Special or if you were a boy the Dandy or Beano versions.

School seemed a long way off and we thought we were living it up in a caravan in Porthcawl for factory fortnight.

Perhaps we were happy enough building sandcastles, paddling in the sea and asking our parents for handfuls of old pennies to spend in the arcade. Of course, there were no mobile phones back then [many of us didn't even own a landline], so if your mother wanted you back, she either called loud and hard or she came to look for you!

All too soon though, there'd be an announcement that you'd be going back to school next week and it was time to buy new shoes as your feet had grown!

I hope today's children still enjoy their summer holidays. Of course, these days they are more likely to head off to Florida or somewhere in the Med, somehow, I wonder if they have the freedom we did.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Last Night's Apprentice

Starting out as the Del Boy of his day in 1967, by selling aerials out of the back of his van with just £100 to his name, Lord Alan Sugar has gone on to amass a fortune of 730 million pounds. His story could be described as a rags-to-riches-council-estate-boy-made-good-fairy-tale; yet, appearance-wise he wouldn’t look out of place in a remake of Carry on Camping, playing the part of a raucous Sid James!

Last night, the first episode of the seventh season of The Apprentice aired on BBC 1:

“Sixteen potential business partners. Twelve tough weeks. One life-changing opportunity.”

At the beginning of the programme, Lord Sugar told the candidates that he wasn’t looking for ‘bloody sales people’. He was looking for someone with a brain who was going to start a business with him.

The Lord gave the teams £250 to purchase fruit and vegetables, expecting a reasonable profit from their efforts. Then he announced he was sick of what he calls the “moaning culture” of people saying you can’t do this and you can’t do that, because in the Lord’s world, you can! And he’s got the t-shirt and written the book to prove it!

He started off by telling the candidates they needed an idea, a concept. Okay, TV aerials might not go down so well these days, but they needed to come up with a product, they also needed determination and to put in hard work.

The candidates were divided into two teams, boys versus girls. The boys’ team was headed by former accountant, Edward Hunter who seemed to want to shrug off the ‘accountant label’. After rejecting the team name ‘ Ability’, suggested by self-confessed perfectionist and ladies’ man, Vincent Disneur, they chose the name ‘Logic’.

The girls’ team, headed by project manager, Melody Hossaini, came up with the name ‘Venture’.

Team Venture decided their game plan was to use as little of Lord Sugar's £250 as possible and to come up with a breakfast and a lunch product to feed London’s hungry workforce.

The girls hit on fruit salad pots for breakfast and vegetable pasta for lunch.

Edward suggested things that Team Logic could make efficiently, quickly and well. He went on to say that soup would be the best option ‘because you can’t get it wrong!”

At that point, Glenn kept trying to ask a question, but everyone seemed to be doing their best to ignore him.

Eventually, he queried, “Does anyone actually know how to make soup?”

After a moment of silence and shaking of heads, it became apparent that no one did and it was probably much quicker and more efficient to open a tin of Campbells’ Cream of Tomato!

The second product chosen was orange juice.

On the way to the New Convent Garden at 3.20 am, Edward made the confession that he had no intention of showing off he could work out margins, even though he was an accountant. He seemed more intent on spending Lord Alan’s money and selling to the public. Yet, what had the Boss of the Boardroom already warned candidates, “I’m not looking for bloody sales people!”

Team Venture seemed more focused and had the idea they needed to keep moving to catch the breakfast market.

The boys, after being unable to squeeze the price down on oranges, ended up with 140 boxes of them and a few boxes of tomatoes.

The girls, content with purchasing pineapples and grapes for breakfast salad pots, purchased peppers and courgettes, even managing to knock the prices down. Edna seemed unhappy that others were making the deals while she should have been taking control of the group’s finances.

Northern Irish, Jim, declared, “We are going to make soup like we’ve never made soup before!” Which was quite funny as none of them had.

After much chopping and slicing of fruit and veg, and the seemingly never-ending task of squeezing oranges, both teams were ready to meet their target – the hungry work force. Nick seemed dubious that the girls had bought enough of their product. Karen was convinced the boys wouldn’t just miss the breakfast trade but also the lunch trade if they didn’t pull their fingers out and get out there to sell.

Breakfast trade for the girls was brisk as they sold all their fruit pots, but the pasta was left a bit late. Melody got stroppy with Edna as she wanted the pasta at Canary Wharf by 1 pm for the lunch trade. The vegetable pasta arrived too late for the girls, so they had to push the pasta for people to take home for their evening meals.

Glenn was irritated about missing the breakfast trade and tried to take over by getting the boys out, Jim stepped in to diffuse the situation and eventually the boys were out selling.

The boys chose Liverpool Street as their permanent pitch to sell their soup and orange juice. Sales manager, Vincent did well selling around the offices by charming the ladies with the chat, reminding me of a younger, less posh, Nigel Havers.

At 4 pm trading ceased and it was off to the boardroom.

The boys questioned the randomness of Edward’s leadership as PM, whilst Edward continued to fudge the issues presented by Lord Sugar. It became apparent that Ed had no real business plan and tried to make out that he’d handpicked Jim to be the ‘soup man’.

Lord Sugar had no time for accountant Edward's ramblings in the boardroom. He wanted simple ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers, but Edward, who insisted in ‘rolling with the punches’ came out with the most awful verbal diahorrea, causing the baron of the boardroom to question whether he was speaking in semaphore.

“Cut the crap!” Lord Alan commanded.

The girls seemed happier with their team leader, Melody. Although they were pulled up by Lord Alan for not spending all of the £250.

The boys team took £432.00 which was surprising, and maybe at that point may have thought they were home and dry. Unfortunately for them, Team Venture took £592.00.

The girls were sent for a champagne reception back at the house, whereas the boys went back to the greasy spoon cafe to drown their sorrows with a cappaccino.

Edward chose to take juice presser Leon, and Gavin, who had challenged Edward about being PM, back in the boardroom for a showdown with Lord Sugar. When questioned why he had brought Gavin into the boardroom, Edward insisted it was because he wasn’t a ‘doer’. Yet, as Karen pointed out, Gavin had sold the second highest number of units that day.

Edward seemed to think it was a disadvantage to be the youngest and shortest in the team! Insisting he had got profit for Lord Sugar, the baron countered, “But you lost the task!”

Although Lord Sugar pushed the theory that a lot of people who became bosses of large companies started out as accountants, in Edward's case, was not impressed that he failed to use his accountancy skill during the task.

For Edward Hunter, his continual comments about ‘rolling with the punches’ became a self-fulfilling prophecy as eventually he was knocked out of the competiton all together as Lord Alan pointed the finger and declared: “You’re fired!”

“Fifteen potential business partners. Eleven tough weeks to go. One life-changing opportunity.”