Please welcome to the spotlight a very talented writer who I first met at the Hay Winter Festival some years ago. We were at an event and she was one of the people who held out her hand for a business card when I said that I worked for a short story publisher, Bridge House Publishing.
Later she submitted to us and we published her first short story in one of our collections. I knew then that she had talent. She also contributed to and was published at CafeLit, an ezine I edit for.
But, somewhat like me and my own writing, while she liked writing the short stories, her real passion lay with the novel and she asked me to critique some very early drafts of her first novel. Which I did. In fact, I saw that novel a few times and got to see how it developed and how her writing skills were honed. When that novel didn’t find a home but had a few near misses, I advised her not to give up. She had talent. I then got to see a new novel that was a departure from the historical thriller she had written. This was dark and wonderful and psychological which I love. The novel was then reworked a few times and the responses to it got more and more positive.
“Don’t give up” I kept telling her. “It will happen.” It did for me and I knew it would for her as she is a great writer but above all one she was prepared to put in the hard work to achieve it.
And it did happen and here she is to tell us all about her journey to publication of her debut novel, that dark and wonderful psychological thriller, now targeted for a nationwide promotion in WHSmith. Not envious or anything 😉
Well deserved and so without further ado please welcome the fabulous Julie-Ann Corrigan to the spotlight to end her Blog tour…
J A Corrigan
- Introduce yourself: Have you always wanted to be a published writer? Tell us something about your path to having your first book/story published.
I wrote stories as a little girl, and wrote diaries as a young teenager. I remember telling lots of people as a young adult that one day I’d write a book. Tentatively, I started writing in 2009, and was lucky enough to have Bridge House Publishing pick up my first short in 2010 – The Half-Read Manuscript – a supernatural tale, but with some humour, and written for Young Adults. Six year later and after much hard work and anxiety, I have just had my first novel published – a psychological thriller – Falling Suns by Accent Press.
- Did that journey involve an agent? If not did you try to get one? Any advice about that?
As all writers know, securing an agent is difficult – almost as difficult as securing a publisher; some would say even harder!
I had several near misses securing an agent, with both the first book I wrote, and the second, Falling Suns.
I signed with an agent, and then Accent Press offered on Falling Suns.
- Do or did you ever belong to a writing group? Crit group? Did you ever have someone professionally critique your work before first submitting? Or do you have friends or anyone else who sees it before you send it off? Has that changed since you became a ‘successful author’?
I have used literary consultants, especially at the beginning of my journey. I also have great writing friends who read my work and that is invaluable.
Although the feedback I received early on from professionals really did set me up. I think it stopped me from getting into bad writing habits early on and ultimately saved me a lot of time.
These days, my agent is my beta reader, although I do still like to send to writer friends. My agent has the patience of a saint!
- Who did you first tell when you heard your first book had been accepted?
My husband. I called him at work!
- What happened next? Can you tell us something about working with an editor? How important is that to you now – is there a lot of discussion and does the editor make a real difference to your work?
My editor at Accent Press is a very talented woman. I was dreading the edits but when I actually sat down and tackled them it wasn’t as bad as I’d thought! She suggested getting rid of the lines the reader would skip over, and did a great job – I do think the final book is very tightly written and that is in no small part is due to the editor. She also picked up on continuity issues.
- Tell us something about your writing day, routine.
Early start – 5 – 6am. I write all day if I can, until 4 or 5 pm. We recently acquired a dog so now I always go for a walk around midday. However, if there’s something I need to finish I have a wonderful dog walker! I often write at the weekends, but only for a few hours in the morning.
- What or who inspires you most? Any particular people, authors, books?
Over the years there have been many authors who have inspired me. I decided early on that it was the hard working authors who were ultimately the most successful. Writing is a job and to be successful you have to see it as work, even if you love doing it. Writing is like having homework every day of your life!
- Why do you write? (Now that’s the question!) What do you want your stories to do?
I write because I am much better at expressing myself in words than in speech. It is my ‘talent,’ if you like!
Ideally I would like my stories to inform the reader, and give the reader something to think about and possibly debate with others.
I also love to entertain. I want readers to enjoy, even love, reading my stories.
- How much marketing have you had to do, even with a big publisher? How comfortable are you with self-promotion?
I think you have to do a fair amount of marketing even if you are with a large publisher, and definitely as a debut novelist.
I’m not at all comfortable with self-promotion but would find it so easy to promote other people’s work!
- Tell us about the latest published book …
Falling Suns is essentially a book about grief and loss, but it also a tale about vengeance and corruption.
- What next? Tell us about work in progress and aspirations. Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?
I am working on my next novel. It is triple narrative (I like multiple point-of-view stories) and I hope to have it finished soon.
I can’t think about 10 years ahead – I just hope I’m still alive, and still writing.
- Any advice for writers who are trying to get their work published?
Persistence, persistence, persistence.
Read a lot, and seek good feedback on your writing.
Write what you want to write and don’t write for a market in which you have no interest.
- Tell us something random about you for the pure hell of it
My favourite meal is beans on toast, washed down with a pint of milk!
- Which of your characters would you most like to be friends with and why?
Jonathan. He’s loyal and fun. And in my mind’s eye, he looks good too.
So can we read some of your work?
Blurb to whet your appetite:
A psychological thriller for fans of Belinda Bauer, Mark Edwards, Clare Mackintosh – a dark and brooding tale about the horrors that can lurk within a family.
Ex-DI Rachel’s small son is missing. Then his body is discovered. Her cousin Michael is found guilty of his murder and incarcerated in a secure psychiatric unit.
Four years later, now divorced and back in the police force, Rachel discovers that Michael is being released to a less secure step-down unit, with his freedom a likely eventuality. Unable to cope with this, she decides upon revenge, assuming a new identity to hunt him down and kill him. However, as she closes in on her target, her friend Jonathan, a journalist, uncovers some unnerving information about her mother and others in her family and begins to suspect that Rachel’s perception of the truth might not be as accurate as she thinks – that she might be about to murder the wrong man…
Five days later
Charlotte had left for California on a two-week holiday, staying at her house in Venice Beach, and catching up with Jacob who was filming in the States. Liam had taken her to the airport the day before; they had both said I should stay home and rest.
Jonathan had called me earlier in the morning asking if he could come and visit. I’d said yes easily. Liam was going on to visit his parents from the airport.
I could not rest.
The house was desolate and empty and I was spending too much time in Joe’s room. Waiting for the toffee popcorn, waiting to glimpse the petrol blue, but seeing and sensing barely anything; only hearing the ticking of the Dr Who clock on the wall, the ruffling of the matching Dr Who curtains, feeling the cold breeze that floated through the open window. No Joe.
I sat in the rocking chair. Liam had bought it for me for breastfeeding, which, to my distress, I’d been unable to achieve. I’d done all the right things: I’d loved my baby, but the milk didn’t flow. As Joe grew, I blamed myself for his propensity for sore throats and bad colds, sure they were due to the lack of mother’s milk.
As I thought of my inability to feed Joe, cool air from the window blew into a mini gale giving me goosebumps, but it was good to feel cold, good to feel anything. I rubbed at my breasts roughly and from nowhere the image of a young Michael Hemmings’ face intruded. I squeezed my eyes shut as if this would erase the impression, and gradually it did fade.
A plate with one lone muffin and a knife sat on the floor. I slipped downwards onto the carpet and cut it into equal halves, as I’d always done.
One half for me, one for Joe.
I ate my half and it tasted of nothing. I placed the plate with the remaining muffin on Joe’s bed, in the middle of the blue Tardis image that filled the duvet cover, thinking back to the last day of the trial. Of Margaret and Dad’s confession. It explained why my son had gone easily with Hemmings.
I lay on top of Joe’s Dr Who rug and stared at the ceiling. I’m sorry, Joe.
Eventually the chime from the door roused me. It was exactly one and I smiled at Jonathan’s familiar punctuality. But it wasn’t Jonathan; it was my dad, his face more gaunt than the last time I’d seen him and any anger I held slipped away.
‘Hi Dad, come in.’ I stepped sideways.
He held a package wrapped in brown paper and offered it to me. ‘Hope I’m doing the right thing.’
I took it from him. ‘What is it?’ ‘The day Joe stayed at our house …’ ‘I don’t want to talk about it. Really, I don’t.’ ‘Joe did some paintings,’ he pointed to the package, ‘I
thought you and Liam would like to have them.’ I placed the package on the hall table. ‘I can’t look. I can’t.’ ‘When you’re ready, love.’ ‘How are you? And Margaret?’ ‘We’re all right. I want to talk to you.’ ‘Come through.’ We sat down. ‘You should have told me.’ I did want to talk about it. ‘I know.’ He leant onto the table, wedged his elbows on
its edge. ‘There’s something I do need to tell you.’ I waited.
‘You wanted to know why Michael came that day, to see Margaret? Because he did go only to see Margaret. There’s something your mum and I have never shared with you. There was no point; it wasn’t relevant. But you should know. Margaret looked after Michael when he was very young. Full-time. Sam and Bridget were building their business, your mum had left her job as a teacher to have her own children … but she didn’t fall. So she looked after Michael.’
‘What?’ Was I that surprised?
‘Then you were born and she stopped. Caused a lot of aggravation between your mum and Bridget. Truth was, Bridget didn’t like having a kid, it suited her to palm Michael off onto Margaret, then Margaret having a baby – you – inconvenienced her.’
‘Margaret looked after Michael?’
‘As I said, often. He stayed over, it worked. I travelled a lot then with my job.’
‘Michael came over to our house when I was growing up. I used to tell you but you chose not to listen.’ I looked up at him. ‘Not often, but he came.’ I turned my eyes away towards the window. ‘Did you know he came, Dad, to visit?’
He shuffled in his chair. ‘Of course I knew he came occasionally. But there’s nothing alarming in that, is there?’
‘Well … as I said, your mother did look after him, so I don’t think it’s that strange.’ He exhaled loudly. ‘Soon after she stopped taking care of him he got meningitis. It changed him, even after he recovered. He became odd. That’s what we all put it down to, the meningitis. Sam did as much as he could but Bridget wasn’t the best mum. Not unkind, just not cut out to be a mother. It was Sam who wanted a child, not Bridget. That was why they only had one.’
‘Margaret hasn’t been the best mum either.’
‘She’s tried. She wanted you, was desperate for a child.’ He placed a clammy hand on top of mine. ‘You two clashed from the minute you were born.’
I knew there was a part of that statement that was true. We clashed from the minute I could question her. ‘Why did she give up teaching?’ I remembered why I’d been so upset the day Joe disappeared, and it wasn’t just about Liam’s suspected affair, it was more about not being able to work. But the two were connected. I’d felt he could do whatever he liked, and I could not. ‘Maybe if she’d carried on with her job … she wouldn’t be the way she is.’
‘Maybe.’ He wriggled in his chair. ‘Michael has always had a sort of love/hate relationship with your mum. I think he missed her.’ He looked up at me. ‘He became aggressive towards her on the one hand but he wanted her, loved her, if you like, on the other. I kept out of it. The day he came, after you’d dropped Joe, I was called on to do something unexpectedly for work. I knew you wanted me around when you left Joe … I knew that, so I didn’t tell you I’d been out all day when you picked him up later that evening.’ Guilt passed over his features as it did mine, I was sure. ‘Michael had taken the coach down from Chester for the day, that’s what he told us.’
‘You should have told me when I picked Joe up. And you should have told Tom about this.’
‘There’s no point telling them anything now, Rachel. It’s over. Michael came to see Margaret, that’s all. Nothing sinister.’ He watched me. ‘As it wasn’t sinister if Michael came over occasionally when he was growing up. No matter what we know now, he was my nephew. Someone who’d spent the first part of his life with us. I’d always felt a bit sorry for him despite his history with the police, but now … the guilt eats at me every day.’
‘Dad, he spent the whole day with Joe.’
He seemed to tuck into himself and then stood, tears forming in his eyes. ‘Your mother was trying to be nice; she knew he had no relationship with Bridget, that Sam found his son difficult.’
‘Margaret trying to be nice?’ I rubbed my finger in a small well of water left on the table. ‘I find that hard to believe.’
Margaret wasn’t nice. That would never be a word I’d use to describe her, although I accepted that she portrayed that image to many people. She was active within the church, did a fair amount of voluntary work. People didn’t love her, but our small community held her in respect.
She was different outside the four walls of her home. I knew it, and my dad knew it too. I touched my scar and a memory floated to the surface.
I think it was the summer after the auspicious Boxing Day when I went on my first school trip. Two nights in the Peak District, camping. The highlight of the trip, apart from frying bacon every morning around a campfire, was visiting the Blue John Caverns. I’d missed my dad but loved being away from home and my mother. The school bus was due back into Birmingham and the car park of our school at 6 p.m. It was a Thursday, I think. The teacher had made a call from the service station to the lead parent (no one had mobiles then) saying we would be on time. We arrived back at 6.10 p.m. Margaret was picking me up. My dad was away with his job. My teacher and I were still waiting at 7.30 p.m. No Margaret, and no answer on our phone at home. We waited. Still no Margaret at 8.30 p.m. Everyone had gone, just the teacher and me left. Eventually, he took me home. Margaret answered the door in her dressing gown, a copy of Madame Bovary in her hand. I don’t remember what she said to my teacher, not a lot I’d guess. My teacher didn’t know what to say. I think he mumbled an apology for disturbing her – she had that
effect on people – and he left as quickly as he could. She didn’t say a word to me, only looked at the heap of my rucksack and the plastic bag that held wet and dirty clothes. I took everything up to my room trying desperately not to cry. I pulled out the Blue John brooch that I’d bought her from the gift shop and put it in my bin. I felt so stupid.
When finally I went back downstairs to the quietness of a house that always felt so empty without my dad around I realised my mother had gone to bed.
So I did so, too. Hungry, sad, and still cold.
Now I watched my dad making his way to the kitchen door and away from me, if he’d ever been with me. Without Joe, whatever we shared had come to a full stop. In that moment loneliness engulfed me completely.
‘This is all too much for me, love,’ he said. ‘We can’t change what happened.’
‘Why do you love her, Dad? How can you love her?’
‘She is who she is. I’ve always stood by her, through everything.’
‘She doesn’t love me; she didn’t love Joe. I don’t understand.’
He didn’t even try to contradict me. ‘Some people, people like your mother, are difficult to understand, but it doesn’t stop me from loving her. And she did love Joe, in her way.’ He stopped, looked defeated. ‘And I love you.’
‘Did she love Michael?’
He peered through the kitchen window. ‘I think she did.’
A sharp pain stabbed at my stomach. ‘I can’t see her again, any time soon.’
‘I understand. Look, I’ll come around again next week, to see you and Liam.’
I nodded, followed him through to the hall and watched him amble down the driveway. As I closed the front door, I noticed the package on the hall table and picked it up.
Walking towards the cupboard under the stairs, I opened the door and placed it at the back unopened.
I made my way to the kitchen and sat at the table. Loneliness was becoming a part of me but perhaps that was a good thing.
© J A Corrigan, Accent Press 2016. Extract published with kind permission of the author and publisher. Permission must be sought if you wish to reproduce or quote from this extract.
You can buy the book from all usual outlets. Here is the link to Amazon…
This is a wonderful book and I urge you all to give it a whirl… expect to hear a lot from this author…
Thanks so much Julie- Ann and I look forward to being at more of your launches!
Also, folks, look out for this book on train stations and airports! It has been spotted!