Losing the Plot

don't keep calmI’m about a third of the way through writing DISTANCE, which is the sequal to DAMAGE, and I’ve had to stop and go back and revise my timeline.  The plot’s working out well but, just like the first draft of DAMAGE, there’s something missing.

DAMAGE is essentially a story about two people who meet in the right place but at completely the wrong time in their lives.  During version one Aiden and Cerys gradually find out about each other’s past by searching for the truth underneath the web of of misunderstandings, secrets and lies that they have each carefully constructed to avoid facing up to the past.  But it lacked some major physical drama.

muskateer fight




..and what’s a story without drama?

boring people





…Just people standing around talking!

So that’s when I added the idea that Cerys’s past (in other words Paulo), comes back to hunt her down.  Looking back now I genuinely can’t believe that whole major plot strand was an aftethought!

So now I’m having the same issues with DISTANCE.  I’m much clearer where I’m going with this one and there is a lot of drama throughout, but I can’t help feeling it would be better if there was a second whole plot strand woven into it.  So this week’s homework is to work out what that could be.  I think it needs to be some kind of guy on guy action.  Drew lets Aiden down badly in this story and I think something needs to happen where Drew has to pull out all the stops to help him in a crisis,  maybe even putting his own life on the line for him somehow.

luke pasqualini





This week I also came up with a good way to check whether the plot has any boring bits where a reader might just zone out and go and do something more interesting.  It’s a traffic light system where you colour each chapter in your plot-plan like this.

traffic lightGreen: The story is moving along but with no major new action.

Amber: The story develops a new element of threat, suspence or danger

Red: Full on dramerama – car chases, explosions, meltdowns, kidnaps etc

It’s a quick way of checking where your story lacks that page-turning quality.  Any section that has more than three ‘green’ chapters in a row clearly needs to be looked at.  Currently that happens twice in DISTANCE, which is why I’m thinking that another plot strand woven into those areas might be a good idea.

Anyway, this whole blog post has basically just been a shameless attempt on my part to post as many pictures of the BBC Muskateers as possible, hasn’t it? Of course it has!

Damn, those guys are an inspiration!!





How to take over the world!


Hey Brain, What do you want to do tonight?

Same thing we do every night Pinkey..try to take over the world!

Sorry,  I think I may be a bit sleep deprived.  I was up till 1am last night trying to get my head around the difference between a @ and # on Twitter.  And why was I doing this?  Because it’s a beautiful thing that lets you get you in touch with lots of helpful, wonderful people – and I’m particularly  interested in meeting all the helpful, wonderful people who might like to read Damage.  So here’s a big shout out to Oban High School, The Script Family, Sarah Alderson, Amanda Preston and Jennifer di Giovanni!  I’m loving your enthusiasm xx  Also to the SwoonReads team for retweeting my tweets to 980 other people!

So, why the sudden passion for social media? Well if you write a book you need to promote it.  That’s another thing I love about Swoon Reads.  This whole crowd-sourcing idea prepares you for the sharp-end of actual book selling.  Getting votes is a bit like getting sales I guess.  I’m not saying I love promoting myself.  I’d rather stick needles in my eyes! But I could never in a million years tweet complete strangers and ask them to read my book unless I really, truly believed it was worth their precious time.

Meanwhile my job-share partner and secret weapon Vanessa is on the case. (Hi, V I know you’re reading this!)  She has this awesome talent for managing big-scale author events so we’re good to go any time Swoon reads would like to publish Damage.  She can fill the 400 seat theatre with kids from all the local secondary schools.  She can arrange book sales on an industrial scale.  We can do all that stuff.  We do it for living.  We’ve watched enough author event to know what goes down well.  But first I have to master the ancient art of the Tweet.  Wish me luck xx









This blog post is all about feedback.  We all want it and need it, whether it’s easy to hear or not.

Dog Feedback

Damage has been up on the SwoonReads website for about a month now and so far 18 people have taken the immense time and trouble to read it and rate it for me.  It’s got an overall 4/5 average Swoon Rating at the moment, which is really great.

Happy Horse

The comments are even more useful and I’m starting to see a pattern emerging.  Most people have said lovely things about writing style, location and characters.  But several people have also said that it really only takes off once you know Cerys’s secret and that it should happen sooner.  They don’t feel fully invested in the characters until that point.

Sceptical ponyIf that’s true then I can only congratulate them on their perseverance, as Cerys’s bombshell doesn’t come until half way through the book!

But here’s the problem: I’m writing about two people who are having real hang-ups about being honest with each other because they can’t talk openly about the things that have happened in their recent past. So it wouldn’t be right if they started flirting with each other right at the start of the story.  Cerys certainly has to go through a whole set of baby steps before she’s confident enough to get that far, and Aiden isn’t budging at all until Drew has it out with him and makes him realise Cerys will be walking out of his life forever in a few days time unless he makes a move!


So how do you make a book compelling when the romance doesn’t get going until the climax of the novel?  In my head the answer was to give the reader three questions that needed answering, creating intrigue and emotional investment.

1) What happened to Cerys to make her behave the way she does, with her fear of the dark, nightmares and skittish nerves?

2) What happened to Aiden to make him so upset in the pub, so angry at the beach party and so withdrawn in the days after that?

3) Will the two of them ever find out the truth about each other and finally get together?

Judging by the comments on SwoonReads this may not be working quite according to plan though.  So what can I do to make it better? Looking at it again I’m thinking that Aiden isn’t a 100% fully coloured-in character yet.  He doesn’t really have  a lot of dialogue and although Cerys backs away from any physical contact to begin with, I could put in a few more awkward moments and build-up in the first half.

shadow guySo all I have to do is turn this guy…

vinnie long hair…….into THIS GUY!!

How hard can that be??

Distance – the arguement

Hi there,

Today I wanted to post another chapter from Distance up here.   A while ago I said I was looking forward to writing chapter three where the tensions in Drew and Suzie’s relationship come to a head.  Music really helps me to tap into the right kind of emotions for each scene and this one was Cold November Rain by Guns N Roses.  Now forget the massive intro, the spandex, the sprayed hair and the ending that goes on for E-VER….  The sentiment is the thing.  So play the song, read along and let me know if you think it works!


Chapter 3

Cold November Rain  –  Guns N Roses

 It was only a short bike ride but by the time we turned into her driveway I could feel the first spots of rain coming down.  They’d been forecasting a storm for this weekend, but I hadn’t expected the weather to turn so quickly.

Suzie opened the front door and I followed her inside.  We ignored the living room and went straight through to the big kitchen at the back.  It was cosier in here, plus I could open the back door and smoke in the garden.   Suzie pulled a bottle of wine from the fridge and I cracked open one of the beers I’d bought from the pub.  I lingered by the fridge as she closed the door but she stepped straight past me and sat down at the dining table.

So this was how it was going to be.  Maybe we should have stayed in the pub.  I sighed and rubbed a hand over my tired eyes in frustration.  I really desperately wanted this evening to work out, but it was beginning to feel as if I was the only one who was making the effort.

“Are you tired?” she asked, looking over at me.

“No” I forced a smile and sat down opposite her.  “Well yeah, a bit.  Not so much tired as just a bit down I guess.  But I’m better now that you’re here.”

“How’s Bam?”she suddenly asked, switching topic so fast that it took me a moment to catch up.  “Lily said he was finishing his apprenticeship, but I haven’t heard from her since. Did the Forestry Commission keep him on?”

“Yeah.  Bam’s fine” I answered distractedly, taking a swig of beer and making a supreme effort not to crush the can between my fingers. “He’s got a full-time job with them now.  I’ll tell him you asked after him, shall I?”

I put the can back down carefully while it was still in one piece and reached inside my jacket for my tobacco and Rizzla’s.  I suddenly needed a cigarette badly.  “If you’re down here for a few days we could arrange to meet up with him.”

“Oh, I’d love to, but there’s been a change of plan.  I’m only here till tomorrow night, now. Sorry” she sighed apologetically.

“What? I thought you were staying till the weekend.” I said tightly, pushing back my chair and walking over to open the back door. 

“I was.” Suzie turned to face me as I leaned on the open door frame, rolling up a cigarette.  “But I’ve been working on this group presentation and we didn’t manage to get it finished before I came away. So we all agreed to get together again on Thursday to finish off.”

“And it couldn’t have waited until the weekend, I suppose?”  It was pitch black outside now as I lit the roll-up, and the rain was starting to come down harder.  I took a drag on the cigarette and turned to face her.  If she was going to lie to me she was going to have to do it to my face.  I wasn’t about to make this easy for her.

“No, it couldn’t,” her voice had gone up a notch.  I’d hit a nerve. “I work at the weekends.  You know that.  That’s why I haven’t been home till now.”

“Yes, I’m aware of that” I turned on her “that’s why I’ve offered several times to come down and see you instead.  But there was never a good time was there!  You’ve just been so busy” and here I flicked my fingers at her in a speech mark gesture.  It was spiteful, but it was true.

She looked momentarily shocked, and then the veneer dropped away and suddenly the gloves were off and we were telling it like it was.

“Yeah, Ok.  I have been busy.  So what?  It’s not a crime.  I’m working and studying and it’s bloody hard, OK!  You’ve got no idea how hard it is.  You didn’t even pass the first year.”

“And there we are,” I rounded on her.  I was aware that my voice was getting louder but I didn’t care.  I’d been bottling this up for too long. “It really bothers you, doesn’t it, that your boyfriend is such a failure!  You might as well just call me a loser to my face.” I slapped an L shape on my forehead with my free hand.  “You know it would have been nice to have some support from you, or for you to at least have a little faith in me.  But it’s like I’m some kind of embarrassment to you now, or something.”

I dragged hard on the roll-up, melting it down in one go and throwing the stub out into the rain.  I slammed the door shut and stalked back past her to grab my beer can from the table.

“I can understand you failing, OK. “ Suzie turned on me and I have to admit that my anger didn’t seem to scare her one bit.  It was one of the things I’d loved about her.  She could give as good as she got in most situations.  But in all the time we’d been together we’d never turned on each other.  Not like this. “But what I can’t understand” she went on fiercely, “is why you’ve just let yourself wallow in it and not gone back and done that year again.    They would have let you.  Or you could have enrolled somewhere else.  But it’s been three months and you’re just doing nothing with your life as far as I can see.”

“How would you know what I’ve be doing!”  I slammed the can back down and faced her across the table.  “You haven’t even been here!  You don’t know anything!”

There was a horrible pause.  A yawning gap opening up between the two of us like the Grand Canyon.  A point of no return.  There are some things you should never say, even in anger.  Topics of conversation that are off limits, because once they’re out there they can never be unsaid.  And then she said it.

“I know one thing.  Nothing’s been the same since this summer, and we both know why, don’t we.”

I stared at her incredulously.  She couldn’t know, could she? She had to be talking about something else.

“Go on” I prompted icily, barely breathing.  “Enlighten me, please.”

“Cerys,” she breathed, looking for my reaction.

One word.  One tiny word, but I couldn’t deflect it.  I flinched and lost eye contact for a half-second, and in that moment she’d knew she’d won. I have no idea how she guessed, but she had, and now she knew it was true.

“What about Cerys” I sighed.

“Oh, don’t give me that,” she shouted in frustration and for the second time that night I could see tears glistening in her eyes. “From the minute she arrived at the summer school you were over there every evening.  God knows what Aiden’s mum must have thought.  You were hanging out there practically all the time.  I saw the way you looked at Cerys. You spent more time with her than you did with me!”

“How?  How exactly was I looking at her?” I shot back.  It’s true that I’d noticed Cerys.  Of course I had.  Who wouldn’t?  She was beautiful.  But I wasn’t blind to Aiden’s feelings about her either. I’d sussed them out even before he had.

And that’s what got me about all this.  Even though I’d fancied Cerys, I’d squashed down those feelings because I was with Suzie.  She was my long-term girlfriend and I loved her. I also loved Aiden like a brother and when Cerys came along, finally here was someone who might actually be the one to get him over the tragedy of losing Louise.  So I’d helped him hook up with her.  Despite my own feelings for her I set myself on a mission to get the two of them together before she went back to London. And what thanks had I got from anyone?  None from Aiden. Not really.  I honestly don’t think he even realised what I done for him and certainly not how I felt about Cerys myself.  And now here was Suzie somehow accusing me of being unfaithful, when I hadn’t so much as laid a hand on Cerys.  I’d done nothing wrong.  Unless you count me having my own private fantasies about her, but since when was that ever a crime?  If it was, most of the male population would be guilty as hell! And probably the girls too.

“Oh, you know what I mean!” she yelled, pushing the table away and standing up fast.  “I’m not blind!”

“Oh really?  Well what exactly is it that you think I did?  Touched her up?  Slept with her? Or are you throwing your toys out of the pram because I just looked at her the wrong way?”

“When you go out with someone, you shouldn’t go looking at anyone else.  You were supposed to be with me.”

“When was I ever not with you?  When? “I shot back.  “Let me tell you something.” I dropped my voice to a menacing growl and caught her eye so that she couldn’t look away.  “I’ve never been unfaithful to you.  Never!  But that doesn’t mean that I’m blind.  There are hot girls around all over the place, just like there were before I met you.  I’m a guy, OK.  Of course I notice.  But there’s a difference between noticing and actually doing something about it.  I’ve done nothing, and I would have hoped that after this long together you would have been able to have a little faith in me and trust me on that one.  But obviously you can’t.”

That finally silenced her.  We were both standing now.  Face to face across the table.  Even then there might have been a second when I could still have pulled us back from the brink.  Maybe if I’d reached out and touched her and told her that I loved her it would still have been OK.  But suddenly I’d just had enough of being the one to do all the running in this relationship.  I’d been the one offering to go and stay with her at college, I’d been the one trying to make things right this evening after so long apart, and I’d been the one who’d ignored my own feelings for Cerys because of Suzie and Aiden.  I didn’t deserve this.  I didn’t deserve any of it and if she wasn’t going to meet me half way then, frankly, what was the point in carrying on the pretence any longer? 

I stared at her with all those words unspoken.  She stared back and before she had time to form a reply I knew that I didn’t even want to hear it.

“I’m leaving.” I turned on my heel and made for the front door.

“What? That’s it!  Just like that?”  She was crying now but she was still furious.  She followed me down the hallway.

I turned to look at her, with the door open, chocking back the stupid lump in my throat and blinking back tears.  “What should I stay for?” I asked her. It was an honest-to-God genuine question.  I wanted her to give me a reason to stay.  I needed to know that she still loved me.  That was her chance to tell me.  But it had come out all wrong.  Like a statement of fact and not a question.  I saw her visibly flinch before she burst into tears and slammed the door in my face.


I furiously kick-started the bike and revved out of her driveway into the rain.  It was really coming down hard now with the wind behind it.  I shot onto the loch road and gunned the accelerator.  It was pitch dark but I could just make out the lights of the town and the bridge in the distance.  I was furious and upset.  How had this evening gone so wrong?  I’d waited six long weeks to see her.  The longest six weeks of my life and I’d thought about her every day.  And suddenly after two years of having her in my life it was inexplicably over, just like that, with a door slammed in my face after everything I’d done to try and keep us together.  A wave of angry tears hit me unexpectedly, temporarily blinding me as I took the corner too fast. 


The bike hit the sheet of standing water in the middle of the road before I had time to react and kicked out from under me, twisting violently out of my grip.  I remember gritting my teeth and letting go and trying to fall free of the spinning metal as if it was all happening in slow motion.  I hit the grass verge just as the full weight of the bike slammed down onto my legs and brought me to a violent, shuddering stop.


I came round, twisted under the heap of steaming metal, with my face buried in the sodden earth of the roadside and the taste of soil and blood in my mouth. The rain was pounding against my back and thunder crashed somewhere overhead. My face was barely inches away from the first line of trees by the road.  If I’d hit one of those I’d probably have died.  The survival part of my brain kicked in and boosted my adrenaline enough to come round properly. I was still half lying in the road and I had to move or risk getting run over if anything came round the bend. I forced myself up onto my elbows and hauled the twisted bike off my legs with a super-human effort and then dragged myself forward until I was safely onto the grass and away from the tarmac.  Then, breathing heavily and blocking out the pain in my legs, I fumbled shakily for the phone in my jacket pocket and hit the only number I could think of.

“Hi Drew.  What’s up.  You OK?

“Bam.  I need help.” I sucked in a breath and blinked back the spots that swam in front of my eyes.  I hoped I was coherent enough to be making sense when I told him where I was, and then I passed out again as the rain lashed down.

The Book Cover

Now book covers can be a tricky thing to get right and sometimes you need help.  To put Damage up on SwoonReads it needed a catchy cover.  But what image should I go for?  I bought a few from Shutterstock to play around with.  Here they are.


I wanted the water on the bottom half of the cover with the title in the middle and a character image above it.

Sexy Guitar Player

Leather Jacket, guitar, good so far. Just add the face of your dream guy!

Cerys in fight-back mode

Cerys in fight-back mode

He's behind you!

He’s behind you!

I took all those images to my fabulous book group at Holy Cross school and they gave me some great feedback (thanks girls!).  First of all they didn’t like the water image because it wasn’t clear whether it was lake, a swimming pool or the sea.  They wanted the water in context.  Good point.

They also definitely and unanimously did not want the hot guy on the cover (who knew?!) They also thought the first image of Cerys looked too old, but loved the second one because it looked scary and moody and because her face was half-hidden so she could look a bit like they each imagined her to look.

So I gave all that info to my hugely talented son Lester and this is what he came up with. I think they’re both brilliant.

DAMAGE BOOK COVERDamage alternative cover

They were both so great it was hard to choose.  But in the end we went with the first one because the second one looked a bit like a ghost story.

So if you log-on to SwoonReads look for the cover on the left.

Swoon Reads – now you can read the whole book completely free!


The really good news this week is that you can now  read the whole of Damage online and completely free of charge, if you’d like to. That’s because of a great new website for Teen Romance fans called Swoon Reads.

The idea is that you read books and rate them, and the ones with the best ratings might, just might, be considered for publication by MacMillan (fanfare, ticker-tape etc..)  So you could really help me out a lot here by giving it a ‘Swoon Rating’.  It’s all anonymous, unless you choose to leave a comment, so you can give it an honest rating and then I can finally see if Damage is a Swoonworthy story or not, because, after all, it’s your opinion that counts.

So please read it and please, please vote for it!

Check out the website here www.swoonreads.com

SwoonReads Logo

Damage – The Settings

Damage is loosely-based on a real place called Ballachulish bay on the west coast of Scotland.  This is because parts of Damage are based on a true story, and this is where it happened.  However, I didn’t want to make it exactly the same, so there are lots of differences in the book too.

The really weird thing was that I wanted part of the story to take place in the mountains above the loch, but there needed to be a cliff or a quarry.  I imagined how it would look in my head, with no reference to any real places.  Then after I’d written the book I looked on-line and eventually found a picture  that looked a bit like the cliff edge I’d imagined.  It turned out to be a place called Ballachulish quarry.  I genuinely had no idea it existed.  It was just really spooky co-incidence!


Ballachulish loch with the bridge and the bay in the distance

B. bridge

The bridge


This is the bay where Cerys nearly drowns in chapter one

cliff edge 1

The cliff edge?

cliff top 2

This is a picture of Alderley Edge in Cheshire, but it looks quite like the cliff top in the book

forest road 1

This is where Cerys stumbles down the slope in the twilight looking for Paulo and Aiden.

forest road 2

Biking road through the forest

house 1

In the story, the house looks a bit like this, but it needs to have a driveway in front and stairs up to the front door.


The real Ballchulish Quarry.  Who knew??