Sunday, 15 October 2017

The Secret Mother sneak peek

The Secret Mother comes out November 9th. You can read Chapter One below!

myBook.to/SecretMother
 
Tessa Markham comes home to find a child in her kitchen calling her ‘mummy’. But Tessa doesn’t have any children. 

Not anymore.

She doesn’t know who the little boy is or how he got there.

After contacting the police, Tessa comes under suspicion for snatching the child. She must fight to prove her innocence. But how can she convince everyone she’s not guilty when even those closest to her are questioning the truth? And when Tessa doesn’t even trust herself…
 
Chapter One
 
The street lamps flicker, illuminating the grey pavement mottled with patches of dirty snow and slick black ice. Slushy puddles hug the kerb, cringing away from the hissing, splashing car tyres. It takes all my concentration to keep my balance. My hands would be warmer if I jammed them into my coat pockets, but I need them free to steady myself on walls, fences, tree trunks, lamp posts. I don’t want to fall. And yet would it really be so terrible if I slipped on the ice? Wet jeans, a bruised bum. Not the end of the world. There are worse things. Far worse things.
 
It’s Sunday: the last exhale of the week. That uncomfortable pause before Monday, when it all starts up again – this lonely pretence at life. Sunday has become a black dot on the horizon for me, growing larger each day. I’m relieved now it’s almost over and yet I’m already anticipating the next one. The day when I visit the cemetery and stand above their graves, staring at the grass and stone, talking to them both, wondering if they hear my inane chatter or if I’m simply talking into the empty wind. In burning sunlight, pouring rain, sub-zero temperatures or thick fog I stand there. Every week. I’ve never missed a Sunday yet.
 
Sleet spatters my face. Icy needles that make me blink and gasp. Finally, I turn off the high street into my narrow road, where it’s more sheltered and the wind less violent. A rainbow assortment of overflowing bins lines my route, waiting for collection tomorrow at some ungodly pre-dawn hour. I turn my face away from the windows where Christmas tree lights wink and blink, reminding me of happier Christmases. Before.
 
Almost home.
 
My little north London terraced house sits halfway along the road. Pushing open the rusted gate, I turn my face away from the neglected front garden with its discarded sweet wrappers and crisp packets blown in from the street, now wedged among long tussocks of grass and overgrown bushes. I thrust my frozen fingers into my bag until they finally close around a jagged set of keys. I’m glad to be home, to get out of the cold, and yet my body sags when I open the door and step into the dark silence of the hall, feeling the hollow of their absence.
 
At least it’s warm in here. I shrug off my coat, kick off my boots, dump my bag on the hall table and switch on the light, avoiding my sad reflection in the hall mirror. A glass of wine would be welcome about now. I glance at my watch – only 5.20. No. I’ll be good and make a hot chocolate instead.
 
Strangely, the door to the kitchen is closed. This strikes me as odd, as I always leave it open. Perhaps a gust of wind slammed it shut when I came in. I trudge to the end of the hall and stop. Through a gap in the bottom of the door I see that the light is on. Someone’s in there. I catch my breath, feel the world slow down for a moment before it speeds back up. Could I have a burglar in my house?
 
I cock my ear. A sound filters through. Humming. A child is humming a tune in my kitchen. But I don’t have a child. Not any more.
 
Slowly I pull down the handle and push the door, my body tensing. I hardly dare breathe.
 
Here before me sits a little boy with dark hair, wearing pale blue jeans and a green cable-knit jumper. A little boy aged about five or six, perched on a chair at my kitchen counter, humming a familiar tune. Head down, he is intent on his drawing, colouring pencils spread out around an A4 sheet of paper. A navy raincoat hangs neatly over the back of the chair.
 
He looks up as I enter the room, his chocolate-brown eyes wide. We stare at one another for a moment.
 
‘Are you my mummy?’ the little boy asks.
 
I bite my bottom lip, feel the ground shift. I grasp the counter top to steady myself. ‘Hello,’ I say, my heart suddenly swelling. ‘Hello. And who might you be?’
 
‘You know. I’m Harry,’ he replies. ‘Do you like my picture?’ He holds the sheet out in front of him, showing me his drawing of a little boy and a woman standing next to a train. ‘It’s not finished. I haven’t had time to colour it in properly,’ he explains.
 
‘It’s lovely, Harry. Is that you standing next to the train?’
 
‘Yes.’ He nods. ‘It’s you and me. I drew it for you because you’re my mummy.’
 
Am I hallucinating? Have I finally gone crazy? This beautiful little boy is calling me his mummy. And yet I don’t know him. I’ve never seen him before in my life. I close my eyes tight and then open them again. He’s still there, looking less confident now. His hopeful smile has faltered, slipping into a frown. His eyes are now a little too bright. I know that look – it’s the one that precedes tears.
 
‘Hey, Harry,’ I say with false jollity. ‘So you like trains, huh?’
 
His smile returns. ‘Steam trains are the best. Better than diesels.’ He scrunches up his face in disgust and blinks.
 
‘Did you come here on the train? To my house?’
 
‘No. We came on the bus. I wish we did come on the train, the bus was really slow. And it made me feel a bit sick.’ He lays the sheet of paper back on the counter.
 
‘And who did you come with?’ I ask.
 
‘The angel.’
 
I think I must have misheard him. ‘Who?’
 
‘The angel brought me here. She told me that you’re my mummy.’
 
‘The angel?’
 
He nods.
 
I glance around, suddenly aware that Harry might not be the only stranger in my house. ‘Is she here now?’ I ask in a whisper. ‘Is there someone else here with you?’
 
‘No, she’s gone. She told me to do some drawing and you’d be here soon.’
 
I relax my shoulders, relieved that there’s no one else in my home. But it still doesn’t help me solve the problem of who this little boy is. ‘How did you get into the house?’ I ask, nervously wondering if I might find a smashed window somewhere.
 
‘Through the front door, silly,’ he replies with a smile, rolling his eyes.
 
Through the front door? Did I leave it open somehow? I’m sure I would never have done that. What’s going on here? I should call someone. The authorities. The police. Somebody will be looking for this child. They will be frantic with worry. ‘Would you like a hot chocolate, Harry?’ I ask, keeping my voice as calm as possible. ‘I was going to make one for myself, so
 
‘Do you make it with milk?’ he interrupts. ‘Or with hot water? It’s definitely nicer with milk.’
 
I suppress a smile. ‘I agree, Harry. I always make it with milk.’
 
‘Okay. Yes, please,’ he replies. ‘Hot chocolate would be lovely.’
 
My heart squeezes at his politeness.
 
‘Shall I carry on colouring in my picture,’ he says, ‘or shall I help you? Because I’m really good at stirring in the chocolate.’
 
‘Well, that’s lucky,’ I reply, ‘because I’m terrible at stirring in the chocolate, so it’s a good thing you’re here to help me.’
 
He grins and slides off the stool.
 
What am I doing? I need to call the police right now. This child is missing from somewhere. But, oh God, just give me ten minutes with this sweet little boy who believes I’m his mother. Just a few moments of make-believe and then I’ll do the right thing. I reach out to touch his head and immediately snatch my hand back. What am I thinking? This boy has to go back to his real mother; she must be paralysed with worry.
 
He smiles up at me again and my chest constricts.
 
‘Okay,’ I say, taking a breath and blinking back any threat of tears. ‘We’ll do the chocolate in a minute. I’m just going to make a quick phone call in the hall, okay?’
 
‘Oh, okay.’
 
‘Carry on with your drawing for a little while. I won’t be long.’
 
He climbs back up onto the stool and selects a dark green pencil before resuming his colouring with a look of serious concentration. I turn away and pad out to the hall, where I retrieve my phone from my bag. But instead of dialling the police, I call another number. It rings twice.
 
‘Tess.’ The voice at the other end of the line is clipped, wary.
 
‘Hi, Scott. I need you to come over.’
 
‘What? Now?’
 
‘Yes. Please, it’s important.’
 
‘Tessa, I’m knackered, and it’s hideous out there. I’ve just sat down with a cup of tea. Can’t it wait till tomorrow?’
 
‘No.’ Standing by the hall table, I glimpse Harry through the doorway, the curls of his fringe flopping over one eye. Am I dreaming him?
 
‘What’s the matter?’ Scott says this the way he always says it. What he really means is, What’s the matter now? Because there’s always something the matter. I’m his damaged wife, who’s always having some new drama or make-believe crisis. Only this time he’ll see it’s something real, it’s something not of my making.
 
‘I can’t tell you over the phone, it’s too weird. You have to come over, see for yourself.’
 
His sigh comes long and hard down the phone. ‘Give me twenty minutes, okay?’
 
‘Okay. Thanks, Scott. Get here as soon as you can.’
 
My heart pounds, trying to make sense of what’s happening. That little boy in there says an angel brought him. He says I’m his mummy. But he’s not mine. So where on earth did he come from?
I take a breath and go back into the kitchen. The air is warm, welcoming, cosy. Nothing like the usual sterile atmosphere in here.
 
‘Can we make hot chocolate now?’ Harry looks up with shining eyes.
 
‘Of course. I’ll get the mugs and the chocolate. You open that drawer over there and pass me the smallest pan you can find.’
 
He eagerly does as I ask.
 
‘Harry,’ I say. ‘Where are your parents, your mummy and daddy?’
 
He stares at the pans in the drawer.
 
‘Harry?’ I prompt.
 
‘They’re not here,’ he replies. ‘Is this one small enough?’ He lifts out a stainless-steel milk pan and waves it in my direction.
 
‘Perfect.’ I nod and take it from him. ‘Can you tell me where you live?’
 
No reply.
 
‘Did you run away from home? Are you lost?’
 
‘No.’
 
‘But where’s your house or flat? The place you live? Is it here in Friern Barnet? In London? Close to my house?’
 
He scowls and looks down at the flagstone floor.
 
‘Do you have a last name?’ I ask as gently as I can.
 
He looks up at me, his chin jutting out. ‘No.’
 
I try again, crouching down so I’m on his level. ‘Harry, darling, what’s your mummy’s name?’
 
‘You’re my new mummy. I have to stay here now.’ His bottom lip quivers.
 
‘Okay, sweetie. Don’t worry. Let’s just make our drinks, shall we?’
 
He nods vigorously and sniffs.
 
I give his hand a squeeze and straighten up. I wish I hadn’t had to call Scott. And yet I need him to be here when I ring the police. I can’t deal with them on my own, not after what happened before. I’m dreading their arrival – the questions, the sideways glances, the implication that I might have done something wrong. I haven’t done anything wrong, though. Have I?
 
And Harry… he’ll be taken away. What if his parents have been abusive? What if he has to go into foster care? A thousand thoughts run through my mind, each worse than the one before. But it’s not my place to decide what happens to him. There’s nothing I can do about any of it, because he’s not mine.
 
I don’t have a child. Not any more.
 
 
~
 
The Secret Mother is available From:
 
Amazon    Kobo    iBooks    Google Play
 
 


Thursday, 24 August 2017

Pre-order The Secret Mother

My new psychological thriller THE SECRET MOTHER is now available to pre-order!

 

‘Are you my mummy?’ the little boy asks.

Tessa Markham comes home to find a child in her kitchen.
He thinks she’s his mother. But Tessa doesn’t have any children.

Not anymore.

She doesn’t know who he is or how he got there.

After contacting the police, Tessa comes under suspicion for snatching the boy. She must fight to prove her innocence. But how can she convince everyone she’s not guilty when even those closest to her are questioning the truth? And when Tessa doesn’t even trust herself . . .


~
Pre-order your copy via:  Amazon Kindle   iBooks   Kobo   Google Play

Nook is coming any day now.

Paperback and Audiobook coming soon...

Monday, 26 June 2017

Just signed a three-book deal with Bookouture!

I'm excited to announce that my next three thrillers will be published with Bookouture!



"Natasha Harding, who joined Bookouture from Harper Collins in the role of Associate Publisher, has made her first acquisition for the commercial publisher.  

Natasha has acquired World Rights for three new psychological thrillers by digital sensation Shalini Boland, direct from the author. Shalini has previously self-published three titles and is a top-ten ebook bestseller."

You can read more about the deal on Bookouture's website  here.

Monday, 19 June 2017

How to write a psychological thriller

I’m fairly new to the genre having written three thrillers with a fourth – The Secret Mother – in the making. But a few authors and readers have asked me how I write, so I thought I’d share. Take from my writing experiences what you will.

Plotting
I used to be a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants girl with a general idea of plot, but nothing concrete. On average it would take me eight months to write a novel with much wailing and gnashing of teeth in between. Now, I plot the novel right down to the final twist, and move it one stage further by taking my basic plot and outlining each chapter in detail. Using this method, my last three thrillers each took me 2-3 months to complete, mainly because I knew exactly what I was going to write each day – there were no blank spots leading to writer’s block. I can’t believe I left it so many years to work this way. It’s a revelation.

Chapters
Each chapter must work hard to add to the story. If it doesn’t move the plot along then it doesn’t belong. I always keep in mind my character arc and the overall theme of the story. I try to treat each chapter like a mini-story, with its own build up and climax, ending each chapter with an unsettled feeling or a question to be answered, drawing the reader along so they always get that urge to read ‘just one more chapter’.

Main Character
A strong plot is all very well, but I also want an interesting main character. A character who goes on his or her own personal journey aside from what’s going on around them. So they start off at point A, but finish – changed in some way – at point B. If the reader doesn’t care about the character and their goals, they won’t care about the story.

Suspense
Because I write psychological thrillers, I concentrate hard on the level of suspense in the book, keeping it rising with each chapter, backing the protagonist into terrible scenarios – physical or emotional – where the reader wonders what the hell they would do in that situation. I’ve had readers tell me they’ve yelled at my characters, telling them to do xyz to get out of their situation. Another reader wanted to climb into the pages and ‘beat the crap out of’ one of the bad guys in The Best Friend. As well as plot and dialogue, I like to use symbolism, such as weather, scenery etc. to subtly add to the atmosphere, layering the tension bit by bit until the reader has no fingernails left.

Twists
If I’m adding twists to the plot (which I always do), I try to ensure they don’t come completely out of nowhere. There’s a fine balance between tipping the reader off too early, and not foreshadowing at all so the twist feels too sudden and out of place, leaving the reader feeling annoyed or confused. Unless you’re going for a subtle build towards the revelation, you want the reader to discover the twist, drop their jaw in disbelief, think ‘of course’ and immediately reread the book to find the exact place in the narrative where the twist was originally hinted at. That’s a five-star review, right there ;)

Of course, you can’t please all of the people all of the time. But, as long as most of my readers are happy, then so am I.

I hope these insights into my writing process have helped somewhat. I’m always learning and striving to improve, but these are my discoveries so far. Happy psych-thriller writing! Feel free to comment below with any other tips and advice.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

The Millionaire's Wife - Preview

The Millionaire's Wife comes out April 27th. You can read Chapter One here!

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06ZYSH7JS
 
Can you ever really know the ones you love?
Anna Blackwell lives a charmed life with her husband, in a clifftop mansion overlooking the ocean. But things haven’t always been this way.
After seeing a news report about the death of a woman on the other side of the world, Anna realises that her past has caught up with her. That her greatest fear is about to come true. That it’s her turn next.
Uncover a web of lies and deceit in this chilling, twisty suspense thriller.

 
Chapter One
3rd January 2017, Barbados
The man watched her hasten down the stone steps, slightly ahead of him, her bare, tanned legs lithe and slim – a combination of good genes and regular dance classes, more like a teenager than a woman in her late twenties. For a moment, he felt as though he were watching a memory, a video on his laptop of someone he used to know. He gave himself a shake and followed her.
‘Come on, slow-coach!’ she called, dark ringlets bouncing around her shoulders. She threw him a glance over her shoulder, a teasing grin. He smiled back and put on a spurt of speed, scooped her up in his arms and jogged down the remaining steps with her until they reached the arc of pristine sand which curved around the turquoise bay, its backdrop of trees swaying in the breeze. The sand sifted pleasantly beneath his soles, warm and soft. Later it would become a white-hot furnace, impossible to walk on with bare feet, and he’d have to dig out his flip flops from the beach bag.
Katie wriggled out of his arms and pulled him along by the hand to their favourite spot under the morning shade of a benevolent palm, far enough away from the manchineel trees with their poison fruit and deadly sap.
A cursory glance left and right, showed two other couples already on the beach, stretched out on bright towels, and one older woman on her own, nose buried in a paperback. It was a week day, so no sign of the weekend yachties and speedboat owners who would moor up in the bay often staying until sundown. No. Today, the view was of empty ocean and sky. Perfect.
Dropping her towel and bag on the sand, Katie twirled her hair up into a makeshift bun, fixing it in place with a hairband from her wrist. ‘You coming in?’
‘Later. I think I’m going to relax for a while.’
‘Lightweight,’ she teased. ‘The woman in the villa next to ours said she saw whales in the bay yesterday. I’m going to swim out and see if I can spot them while it’s still early enough.’
‘Don’t go too far,’ he said, knowing she’d most likely ignore him.
He’d never been on holidays like this before he’d met Katie. Yachts, mansions and ski slopes had not been for the likes of him. Katie, however, had been born to it. While he’d been skinning his knees learning to ride a second-hand bike at the local skateboard park, she and her parents had been gliding across virgin snow, flying to far-flung continents on safari, or watching prima ballerinas twirl on famous stages. She had led a charmed life.
Surely, the parents of a girl like this should have been horrified when she brought home a nobody like him – a dirt-poor, classless loser with no career to speak of. But he had been proven wrong. The Spencers were nice people. Warm and welcoming. Non-judgemental. Nothing like his own family. To give himself credit, he did have a decent sense of humour and a beautiful face. He had always been admired. Charm was his gift.
And so, it had been an easy thing to become absorbed into this family. He and Katie. The golden couple. Shining wherever they went. He had shrugged on her privilege with ease, taking it for his own. Long-haul flights to distant lands, skiing, safari-ing, visiting the ballet, the opera. Moving in dizzyingly high circles without once losing his balance. They were a pair. And she loved him without reserve.
Peeling off his t-shirt, he began applying sun lotion to his torso, watching as Katie walked across the beach in her skimpy bikini towards the gently lapping ocean, its water the perfect temperature. Not like the English Channel back home which would steal your breath, needle your skin and finally give your stomach an icy punch. No, Barbados seas were warm yet refreshing. Already up to her waist, Katie struck off away from the shore, her arms powering forward. He watched her for a moment and then lay back, gazing at the palm fronds and blue sky above, trying to let his mind go blank for a while.
It didn’t do to overthink things.
He lay there for some time before he heard the noise. Faint, at first, like a lazy bumble bee or a neighbour’s lawnmower. Then, growing louder. An engine, determined, fast, the random crashes of its hull against the ocean’s surface. He imagined himself sitting up and looking at the sea, searching out the source of the noise, but his body was locked in place, too tense to move. He couldn’t stop staring at the impossibly blue sky. Could barely breathe.
A scream jolted him from his brief stasis and he jerked upright before springing to his feet. As his senses sharpened, he saw the other sunbathers running towards the ocean, their hands raised against the glare of the sun, pointing, shouting. Beyond them, a white speedboat bounded out to sea, its wake contaminating the glassy blue ocean. His eyes scanned the water for Katie. No sign. Maybe she was hidden by the chop from the boat.
He sprinted down to the water’s edge, shielding his eyes from the sun, trying to locate her.
‘Did it hit her?’ a woman with a German accent cried out to him. ‘Did you see?’
‘What?’ he replied, panting.
‘The boat out there. I think it might have hit your friend.’
‘Are you sure?’ he questioned, his voice slow and stupid, his mind frozen. ‘The boat? It hit my wife?’ He dove into the water, powering through the ocean to reach Katie.
He felt the company of another swimmer beside him – a concerned sunbather wanting to help. The boat was already a pale dot in the distance, its motor a receding hum. He didn’t know where to look for her. Stupid. He should have been looking out for her instead of staring at the sky. But the man ahead of him knew where he was going, his long, powerful strokes propelling him towards a fixed point. He would follow that man.
A crimson stain like a beacon spread out before him, already losing its bright hue, turning pink and dissolving into wisps. Soon it would be absorbed into the ocean. But still no sign of Katie. This is where it must have happened. Where the speedboat had collided with his wife. He took a long gulp of air and dove down. He couldn’t let the other man reach her first. The crystal water showed him what he needed to see.
Her body was whole, but had been mangled, torn up, beyond repair. One side of her head was missing, ribbons of red following her descent. He looked away briefly, noticing the blurry shape of the man from the beach next to him. Then, he turned back, swam towards his wife, took hold of her slippery body and kicked up to the surface, gasping for air.
The man rose up with him, clapping him on the shoulder. ‘Jesus,’ the man gasped. ‘Let’s get her to shore. That fucking speedboat, man.’ A South African accent. ‘Shall I help you . . . with . . . her?’
‘No. I’ve got her.’ He knew how to tow an inert body. Remembered it from his lifesaving classes. The South African swam alongside him as he carried his dead wife, the smell of sun and salt and blood in his nostrils, a strong desire to vomit, a blank void in his brain, a trail of blood in their wake.
Back on the beach, one of the women was shaking her head and crying, the other two had mobile phones clamped to their ears, no doubt calling the emergency services. The other man on the shore took Katie’s legs and they carried her between them, up the beach away from the shoreline towards his and Katie’s favourite palm tree. They laid her on her towel, where she’d been standing less than an hour earlier. A numbness overtook his body and he realised he was shaking.
Someone placed a warm towel over his shoulders, but the shivering only increased.
‘He’s in shock.’ A woman’s voice, loud and authoritative.
‘It was his wife,’ the South African said.
‘Do you think they’ll catch them? The people in the speedboat?’
‘I gave the police a description of the boat over the phone. Didn’t see who was driving it, though. Surely they can track it on radar?’
‘No chance. They’ll be long gone.’ An English voice.
‘Irresponsible bastards.’
‘I can’t believe it. Poor woman.’
‘Poor guy.’
The crush of words wove through his consciousness, but he didn’t respond. He closed his eyes and clutched at the towel around his shoulders, desperately trying to stop the shivering and act more coherently. React. Respond. Cry. An arm slid around his shoulder – the South African. ‘The police will be here soon, mate. Don’t worry. They’ll catch them. Those bastards will get what’s coming to them. Don’t you worry about that.’
 
The Millionaire's Wife will be available on April 27th
on Kindle, in paperback and slightly later as an audiobook.