The fire that Alice finds herself having to deal with at the start of my new ghost novel, The Girl in the Ivory Dress, was inspired by a real life tragedy, the near-destruction of a heritage gem just a few miles away from where I live – and where I had at one stage been planning to get married.
Clandon Park House is an eighteenth century Palladian mansion near Guildford, run by the National Trust. On April 29th 2015 a fault in a distribution board led to an inferno that shot flames high into the night sky and gutted every room bar one. The house was swiftly evacuated and fortunately no one was hurt. An emergency plan to salvage the precious artefacts of the house was enacted, and 80 firefighters, Trust staff and volunteers did their best, sliding paintings down ladders and passing items out through windows. Much of the collection was lost however, including such iconic items as a football kicked into the enemy trenches to start the charge at the Battle of the Somme.
A couple of years after the fire the public was allowed to visit again, enabling me to take these photos. It was one of the main places that we used to visit as a family, and my wife and I had shortlisted it for our wedding. It was a real loss to the nation. But there is hope, with the Trust restoring the main rooms on the ground floor and planning to open the upper floors for exhibitions and events in the near future…
Big news – my latest novel, The Girl in the Ivory Dress, is out now!
I’m so excited about this book. It’s a ghost story for adults and continues the story of Alice Deaton, who we last saw damaged but not destroyed at the end of The Boy in the Burgundy Hood.
Here’s what it’s about:
After a fire tears through the country house where she works, Alice Deaton accepts a desperate invitation from an old friend whose guest house on the Welsh coast is being haunted by a horrifying apparition.
But Alice, with her mysterious ability to connect with ghosts, senses something even stranger going on at the isolated Peacehaven. Who is the spectral man roaming the house? Why is he terrifying the guests? And why does Alice keep dreaming about the ghosts of her past, the burning man and girl in the ivory dress?
As she digs deeper Alice will uncover an insidious evil that might just overwhelm her…
How the book came about:
When I wrote The Boy in the Burgundy Hood I wasn’t planning on any kind of sequel. However, almost as soon as I published it some savvy readers were querying the ending, and dropping hints about how it leant itself to another book. Within days of publication, I was planning a follow on story. The girl in the ivory dress began to play with my head. A few months later, when The Boy in the Burgundy Hood became a bestseller on Amazon, I was sure I was doing the right thing.
However, whilst I wanted the books to be connected, I didn’t want to write another series that you had to read in order. Hence The Ghosts of Alice was born – stand alone ghost stories, linked by our feisty heroine with her mysterious ability to connect with ghosts.
So if you’re interested in a spooky mystery please get yourself (or a friend / family member / ghost story enthusiast you know) a copy from Amazon. And please please if you enjoy it, leave a rating or a review – it really does help the book get noticed.
“It’s not just that Jocelyn was contrary, she loved a fight, and was a good sparring partner. It’s that she seemed to me the opposite of just about anybody else I ever met.” – John Merivale’s Eulogy for Jocelyn, 23 September 2014
I can’t tell you how stunned I was to receive this piece of treasure in the post the other day:
Jocelyn Merivale, as regular readers of this blog may know, was a painter and friend, whose fabulous work inspired some of my poems in Up in the Air.
I got to know Jocelyn through her husband, John, with whom I worked for several years in Wimbledon and Morden. She died in 2014, tragically young, but carried on working right up until the end.
John set about producing a book to collect all of the paintings, sketches, and sculptures produced by his lifelong partner. He worked with Matthew Hollow, an art photographer, Martin Holman, an art historian, and Brother, a brand design agency. It was a true labour of love, much of it carried out during the enforced solitude of the coronavirus lockdown.
And look at the result:
I had been so looking forward to seeing this book. And the icing on the cake was the use of several of my poems, produced after I visited an Open House exhibition of Jocelyn’s work in Merton.
Scroll down to see my poems and the paintings they relate to, as well as the painting Jocelyn did for my wife and me on our wedding day. (Click on the images of the poems to read them more easily).
And here’s the beautiful painting that Jocelyn produced for our wedding:
To buy a copy of the Jocelyn Merivale book (£45 plus P&P) please contact John Merivale: firstname.lastname@example.org
To purchase a copy of my poetry book Up in the Air, click below:
It’s been a while since I’ve done a poetry video for my blog so, with Easter and spring and a smidgen of hope in the air, here’s a new one – Charlie Comes to the Mountain. I wrote it last year when we went to the Brecon Beacons in South Wales and took a family hike up Hay Bluff. It was a gorgeous day, baking hot, and there was a boy racing up the mountain, leaving his anxious siblings behind. I’d had the last line of the poem in my head for a long time, but it found its home in Charlie. Have a good Easter.
This is a new poem, so not in any collection yet – but click below if you want to find out more about my previous poetry books:
I’m super excited that The Boy in the Burgundy Hood has become my first #1 International Bestseller!
Thank you so much to everyone who supported me by buying and sharing the book during my recent promotion. The result was the top spot in most of Amazon’s Ghost Story categories in the US, UK, Canada and Australia!
I was over the moon on Monday night watching all those little orange ‘Bestseller’ flags crop up. I’ve been publishing novels since 2014 and sales have been good and steady – but this is the first time I’ve ever made #1. It’s what every writer dreams of – and it can be a long time coming!
So thank you again.
I had to do something bookish to celebrate, so I’ve discounted the entire series of The Secret of the Tirthas to 99p / 99c on Kindle until midnight Friday 5th March! Click here to get the offer.
Read on for a chance to grab The Boy in the Burgundy Hood for 99p/99c in my Bookbub sale…
Well, here we (or at least those of us in the UK) are again in our third national lockdown. To be honest, there are aspects of lockdown that suit me as a writer. It means I lose a long commute to my part-time work in London. Instead of getting on a train in the early morning, I get to take a walk in the local woods, which is good. And of course, being a writer, I enjoy spending time indoors writing books.
But that’s as far as it goes. The homeschooling of two young boys is pushing everyone in my house to the brink. Love ’em as I do, it’s been two months since we all had a break from each other. School may have put everything on Teams – meaning I no longer have to try and explain fronted adverbials – but the technical challenges and juggling of digital resources has added a whole new layer of conflict and frustration.
Anyway *deep breath* that’s enough whingeing from me. I know my challenges are nothing compared to what most people are going through. So over to some lighter stuff…
The Boy in the Burgundy Hood – Bookbub sale!
Need a ‘compelling mystery with a dark twist’ (Amazon, 5⭐) to distract you in lockdown? I landed a ‘Bookbub Deal’ (promotional gold 😀) for The Boy in the Burgundy Hood! That means from 21-24 February you can get a copy for 99p / 99c, reduced from £2.99. Described by US author Sherry Ross as an ‘eerie but beautiful ghost story’, it now has 43 reviews on Amazon UK, averaging 4.4 stars. Click here to grab your copy now:
More Writing News – including my Dad’s memoirs
In other writing news, I’m deep into editing my follow-on ghost story, The Girl in the Ivory Dress, which I plan to have out later in the spring. At the same time I’m writing a prequel novella for The Secret of the Tirthas about Hattie Swift, Lizzie’s witchy ancestor who first discovers the magical garden of portals in Herefordshire.
And finally, in other writing news, my Dad has joined the very small ranks of writers in our family by publishing his fascinating memoirs about the hotel industry. Do check it out by clicking the link below!
I’ve been doing a blog post on my year in writing on and off since 2014. I was going to forget about 2020 as a real humdinger, for obvious reasons. Then I thought, no, let’s go for it. I’ve had some ups and downs, but let’s see if I’ve learnt anything from them.
Let’s start with the good:
The Things We Thought Were Beautiful came out!
I published my second poetry book, The Things We Thought Were Beautiful. Not only was it packed with poems old and new, I designed the cover myself and was reasonably pleased with it. And… it got some great reviews like this one from Amazon.com:
“The poem Sorted brought tears as did Before the Divorce. Poems like The Oak in the Snow and Dandelion… use sensitive observations of nature to bring us a shiver of transcendence. Love Wish is one of the most beautiful love poems I have ever read and the poem Unknown is an astounding tribute to fatherhood. These are important poems. I am delighted to have this book in my collection and will return to it many times.” 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
The Boy in the Burgundy Hood is doing well!
I know the writers out there will want to know how come, but the truth is for the first half of the year I don’t know. But I do know why more recently: I’ve finally worked out the esoteric process of creating good Amazon Ads. Believe me, it’s taken a while and I won’t bore you with how it works. Because it really is complicated and it changes all the time and it’s very easy to lose a load of money on it. If you’re an author and want to know comment below and I might write another post on it sometime. And that’s as much as I want to say about it for now. Not that I’m superstitious or anything, but I’m worried my formula is collapsing on me right now!
My next book is in draft.
Alongside that, I now have the draft of a follow-on story to The Boy in the Burgundy Hood. It’s got the working title of The Girl in the Ivory Dress and it sees our feisty but vulnerable heroine heading to a haunted seaside guest house after a major tragedy. I’m aiming for it to be out in the spring – watch this space!
So that’s the good. What’s the bad, you ask? Well, let’s not even talk about Covid. Working from home has not been a problem, but teaching two boys who I’m sure are reincarnated gladiators was a challenge. But at least now I know what a Fronted Adverbial is. And needless to say, there’s been all the sadness of not seeing loved ones for vast swathes of the year.
I got my first bad review.
With regard to my writing, I got my first bad review on Amazon. That was a blow. I’ve read a couple of articles on the inevitability of it happening and I’m trying to see it as a kind of badge of honour. But it still hurts.
The articles I’d read did help. You get one bad review and think you’re a lousy writer, why did you ever think your words were good enough to give the public to read? As with many things in life, it’s easy to dwell on the negative. But then you have to remind yourself that you’re never going to please everybody. And the book at time of writing has 28 reviews, with 19 of them being 5🌟 – an average of 4.4 🌟. Lots of you did – do – like my book. You really do have to focus on the positive. So I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, THANK YOU so much to all of you who have taken the time to write a review of one of my books. They really do make a difference!
I didn’t get to meet any readers.
Another bad. For the first year since I published The City of Light back in 2014, I’ve not done a single author event, bookshop signing, festival or school visit. I know in the scale of Covid disasters it’s a teeny tiny one, but heck, I’ve missed that personal connection with readers. Social media is great up to a point – but it can’t replace that face-to-face chemistry.
And that also meant that I didn’t get out to promote the poetry book in person (the best way to promote all books but especially poetry which is a niche market anyway). So the sales of that were not as good as I’d hoped. Which is a big shame, because I think it’s every bit as good as Up in the Air, which sold well – but so far only a handful of people know that. So if you like poetry, a small plea this Christmas 👇
So that’s it, my year in writing. Some good, some bad. Remember, if you’d like to support an author this Christmas there’s still time (at posting) to order paperbacks as gifts for friends and family.
I really hope you have weathered this difficult year well. And I wish you a Merry Christmas and a much happier, saner new year!
I’ve been writing stories since the age of seven, but I’ve only been studying the craft of writing for the last ten years or so. Here’s a few top tips for writers that I’ve learnt, many of which I wish I’d learnt sooner. They would have saved me a lot of time.
Read A LOT – your imagination needs fuel and it’ll get a lot from your real life, but much much more from reading thousands of stories. Yes, thousands. (Here’s a few goodies to start with.)
Plotting’s not for everyone but for me a short overview helps me not go down too many dead ends. You can always change your plot as the story develops.
When thinking about plotting, remember that most stories, even non-fiction ones, are about suspense. The writer’s job is to create a character so real that the reader invests their emotions into him or her. And then to put that character through a whole load of difficult scenarios where the reader can’t help but keep reading to see what’s going to happen to them.
Keep your writing precise not flowery and avoid as many adverbs as you can.
Find the angle – if you’re struggling to find an angle that makes your scene and characters spring into life, starting with dialogue is always a good idea.
Keep learning (a mantra for being alive, really).
Only do it if you love it – except for a very small number of people, there’s no fame in it and you’ll make a lot more money in your standard day job. (Although we can all dream that one day, in the not-too-distant future, our name will be writ large on the street…).
For the definitive advice check out the 10 points of Elmore Leonard (and while you’re there, sign up for the fantastic newsletter of Brain Pickings).
Do you believe in ghosts? We’re well into spooky season now and I was asked the perennial question again recently.
On balance, I’d have to say no. The world is a very strange place, with the chances of it and us existing being essentially zero. Parallel universes, action at a distance, the big bang – all of these things are astonishing. So I keep an open mind about ghosts and everything else. But I also weigh up the odds based on my experience, so I live my life as if they don’t exist.
But then, there was one time…
I was living in an old Victorian shared house in Scotland, doing a Masters degree at Stirling University. One night I woke up and was convinced there was a woman sitting on the end of my bed, looking at me. I immediately put it down to my imagination and of course when I peered again into the grey dark she wasn’t there.
The next day I told a friend, one of my flat mates, about the incident. He was a bit shaken up. I asked him why, and he told me that the afternoon before he’d been coming up the stairs and seen someone walking across the top of the landing above him, heading towards my bedroom. He was completely nonplussed and just shouted hello to her, thinking it was one of our flatmates. But of course he soon found there was no one there, nor anyone in the whole house for that matter.
So – do you believe in ghosts? If you have any spooky stories to tell I’d love to hear them below.
If that’s whetted your appetite for spooky stories, why not order a copy of my ghost story, The Boy in the Burgundy Hood, in time for Halloween? It’s available now on Amazon. Don’t think I could have hoped for better company on Amazon on the cusp of Halloween…