Fact & Fiction in Nothing to Lose – Reality Bites (fact#2)

Reality bites – this sounds like a pun in very bad taste. You will see what I mean if you carry on reading. It is time for my second revelation relating to the storyline in Nothing to Lose: anorexia.

In Nothing to Lose Gillian watches her daughter Tara shed pounds like they’re going out of style. Being a detective, she snoops into Tara’s life (and bedroom) to discover a battery of slimming products. This confirms every mother’s worst fears – that her child is spiralling into an eating disorder and starving herself to death. It is a fearful prospect because it is more a disease of the mind than the body. You can’t cure an anorexic – not until they are ready to accept food and keep it in. And that moment may never come. Anorexia is a catch-twenty-two: the more you try to control it, the more it controls you. Any external intervention against your will meets with a wall of resistance. I know. I’ve been there.

Just like Tara, I was about eighteen, in my first year of university. I had just moved from the sleepy, tranquil world of my childhood in the country to a frenzied, crowded city. I didn’t know what hit me. Life overwhelmed me. It had spun out of my control. I was lost. I was surrounded by strangers; no space to hide, no holes to crawl into. The speed of my life was nauseating. I could not keep up with it. I could not control it. The only thing I could control was food. It wasn’t about dieting, not in the beginning. It was all about re-introducing order into my life. Only later did I start to count calories, and after that, when I stopped counting, I simply couldn’t bring myself to eat. The mere smell of cooking made me feel sick. I think that was where I crossed the line – the point of no return.

Just like Gillian, my mother was beside herself with worry. At first, she thought I was on drugs, but she quickly realised it was all about food. She would find sandwiches buried in the drawers of my desk, steaks languishing on the compost heap, attracting vermin. Once I even managed to pour soup out of my bedroom window right onto my father’s head. My father was in the garden, pruning roses. The soup was bean soup. My mum went into a spasm of hysteria. But even that had no effect on me.

Only when I saw a photo of myself in a bikini did I finally realise I was a walking skeleton. With clothes on, my sharp edges and protruding ribs were well camouflaged.

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But without my clothes… look at this at your own risk.

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I was horrified! I started eating: tentatively and with frequent relapses into 6 ½ stone. You’re never quite out of the danger zone. You’re never quite fully recovered. Any emotional trauma, any change of circumstances, any heightened anxiety and you’re back to square one.

In Nothing to Lose, Tara suffers a similar fate after she is rejected by that good for nothing Charlie Outhwaite.

Nothing to Lose is the second book in the DI Marsh crime series, available now on Amazon and from major bookstores. The book is available at a promotional price of £5.59 at WHSmith

Nothing to Lose cover

Fact and fiction in Nothing to Lose – fact 1

Of course Nothing to Lose is a work of fiction and any resemblance to actual people, living or dead (dead is more likely to be the case in crime fiction), or actual events is purely coincidental. And yet something or someone real has to feed the author’s imagination…

In Nothing to Lose my imagination gorges on my fears. Real fears, if fears can be real.

The story starts with a head-on collision resulting in four deaths. That head-on collision, on that particular stretch of that particular country road had happened in my mind many a time before the book was written. Every day, travelling to work in the morning I saw that accident happen over and over again.

It is a treacherous road: after a limited length of dual carriageway where every lunatic frantically overtakes everything that moves (slower than himself), the road narrows abruptly and climbs up a steep hill, facing the morning sun which on a bright day can be blinding. Bear in mind that on the other side of the hill there are equally impatient lunatics keen to get to the top ahead of the pack, hoping that luck is on their side. I could easily be one of them (I don’t suffer Sunday-drivers on a Monday morning gladly), but then I see it happen – the head-on – and I slow down, and stay in line behind the slow coach with a belching exhaust. Call it a premonition.

After Nothing to Lose was written, a head-on collision did indeed occur in that very spot, in the dazzling midday sun. A man, having probably pushed his luck too far, ploughed into the oncoming traffic. He got away with his life. My characters did not. But that is where fiction begins.

Bishops crash

Nothing to Lose is now OUT and can be purchased in all major bookshops, and online on Amazon.

Out now

The importance of being idle

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I am not a natural early riser. My alarm clock and I aren’t the best of friends; more like cats and dogs. Every morning the bloody thing growls at me, digs its teeth into the delicate fabric of my dreams and shakes me awake, my dreams shattered in an instant. I fight back, best as I can. I kick and scratch, I hiss, but I stand no chance. In the end the damned yapping ankle-biter wins. I hate the bastard.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. There are my Fridays: late-rising days. The yapping ankle-biter is where it belongs – in a dog-house. I sleep. Dreams seep into my slowly unfolding reality. Ideas form in my well-rested brain, come and go, sometimes vanishing without a trace, leaving only a hint of themselves, a niggling something that follows me around like a scent of something I once knew, a long time ago, in my childhood. Books and stories write themselves before my closed eyes, and they are out of this world – unique, one-and-only, unimaginable. If only I could remember them…

I love my late-rising days. Idleness breeds creativity. A well-rested brain busies itself with its own occupations, because let’s face, one is never quite perfectly idle. There is always some activity. Only when we go about our daily routines, imposed on us by the circumstances of our everyday obligations, we lose that subtler, more refine side of us, that side that is so ethereal and so elusive that it evaporates on contact with the hard-biting reality (in my case, my hard-biting alarm clock), like camphor. I so love capturing it on those blessed Friday mornings. It feels like stealing, like catching beautiful butterflies in a net. It is bad and frowned up by our labour-intensive reality, but God, it feels amazing!

I can understand now why great writers need to take the risk of abandoning their day-jobs to be able to write. Writing is a take-it-all occupation, which requires late rising and altogether a form of firm detachment from time and place. It is a risky affair, an affair with impropriety, a costly affair at that! But that is the choice one has to made: forsake one’s financial security to capture those elusive snippets of dreams and stitch them into a grand new story. I bet Jane Austin never had to use an alarm clock. I don’t believe Stephen King does, either.

My writing process: the art of premeditation

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I am about to start a brand new notebook. It’s a historic event, not only because the notebook is strikingly pretty and it lay in my drawer in a virginal state for about five years, but also because that means I have to tear myself away from my old notebooks – and that’s just like taking out my own tonsils with a butcher’s knife.

My notebooks are the mirror of my soul. They are the first tangible step in my writing process. They help me capture those rare moments of creative genius and commit them to paper before they elope from my mind with all those dirty thoughts and unrealised desires that never quite stay long enough to come true.

Planning is every writer’s secret weapon. It can only be equated with solid and thorough premeditation in the near-perfect crime to be committed. It requires a clear purpose, means and an opportunity. When you write crime thrillers like I do, you can’t allow your reader the slightest glimpse into your planning. So it must be cunning and subversive. It has to play with the reader’s mind.

Did I mention that it was my husband who introduced me to methodical planning? I captured his professionalism in the planning department in this cartoon, which I named The Art of Strategic Planning:

art of strategic planningBut going back to my planning. And MY beloved notebooks. They come in all shapes and sizes and they kept me company through many drafts and re-writes, serving mP1060007e faithfully as the mental and emotional dumping ground for all that has been littering my poor head while I was trying to focus on writing.

I wonder how other writers record their research and keep track of their planning, but I can be meticulous in taking down every detail and plotting the storyline in endless bullet points. I relish the moment when I can tick them off. Done! Next one, please: number four! Except that, despite all that diligent planning, the storyline has a habit of running away from me and taking strange turns, at which point my old planning gets the sack and my new planning goes to a new page where it is recorded in numbered points with every confidence of this being the final version of events. Only to be hijacked once again by some unruly character. So I have pages and pages of plotting the same storyline. Sometimes those pages become so crowded that I can’t read my own writing, but because we are on the same version, I simply cannot allow myself to move to a brand new page. So some pages become a little bit schizophrenic with many voices arguing for supremacy.

P1060008And sometimes (I hate to admit this) sometimes I lose focus and my planning notebooks turn into a graffiti wall with bizarre creatures turning up from nowhere and claiming some sort of executive-planner status. Take a look at these. Don’t ask me who they are and where they came from. I don’t know, but they are in my notebooks. They came to me when I could think of nothing, when I couldn’t write or plan – I just sat there with my pen in my hand. And they came along… They are my imps and my muses and that makes them an integral part of my planning process.