Interview with author April Wood

I’ve “known” April Wood for several years in that internet 5photos6way where you get to feel like you know people you haven’t actually met in real life. I came across her awesome reader’s blog, A Well Read Woman, while I was promoting my first book.

Well, I noticed a change in her Facebook posts recently and was surprised to discover she had a book out! Then, two books! Needless to say, I was intrigued and wanted to add her to the interview ranks.

Ok, so I’ve always known you as a book blogger and I’m curious about the transition. Have you always written? When did you start calling yourself a writer?

Yes, I’ve been writing since I could form complete sentences on paper. I had all these “books” that I penned with crayon and sealed with contact paper — haha! But I didn’t consider myself a writer per se until I was published. I didn’t feel like I “earned” the title before this.

What has been the hardest thing about publishing? What has been the most fun?

I honestly can’t stand the publishing process but to have a bound book in my hand, that I wrote, has been unbelievably rewarding. It makes all the stress of publishing worth it.

When did you decide you wanted to be published?

As a blogger, I read all these great stories from authors, like yourself, who later became friends of mine. I wanted a piece of that — to share my stories with the world too. I’ve always written, but blogging and becoming part of the book community brought out a passion to fully immerse myself and become a published author myself.

What inspires you? What do you do if you get stuck?

Fantasy novels are fun to write because I can find inspiration from nature, painting a pretty picture with my words and developing settings that I could only dream of.

Writer’s block just plain sucks, but I find if I force myself to just sit down and start typing anyway, that something, even if it’s just a paragraph or an idea to come back to later, will mesh.

Talk a bit about your books. Who do you write for?

I write the kind of books that I would like to read. I write for people who enjoy witchcraft in fiction as much as I do. My stories are about young teen witches who have magical abilities related to their elements (earth, air, fire, water), fall under the spell of romance, and solve mysteries that hit close to home.

Check out April’s author site here.

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My RE-launch

Blood and Water CoverLast month, I wrote an extensive post about my big plans for the launch of my new book, Blood & Water. Well, a month and a half into the two month pre-order phase, the online distributor I’d chosen announced it would be shutting down in January.

This left me two choices: I could yank my books now, losing the rank and all my sales I’d been building since October 1st or I could go through with the launch continuing to build my rank only to lose it in January.

I chose to cut my losses and go with the first option, but I understand why authors in a similar situation have done the opposite. It’s kind of a lose-lose proposition. I’ve spent the last week redoing most of what I’d spent over a month doing: reformatting the book for multiple platforms and contacting all the promo sites I’d set up with the new link. They’ve been really nice about it.

I’ve been grateful for the super nerdy, long to-do list I was keeping that has become the re-do list. I’m back on track for a November 21st release (tomorrow!), but you can pick it up now during the 99 cent pre-launch sale. Next month, I’ll return with some stats on whether my marketing strategy worked.

My book launch

Blood and Water CoverI’m a hybrid author with a traditionally published book, one I re-released on my own after  it was traditionally published, and a Kindle Scout winner. I’ve seen publishing from a few different angles and I’m planning to take what I’ve learned and apply it to the indie launch of my fourth novel, Blood & Water.

Planning a book launch on your own is a lot of work. The other day, I started writing it all down so it wouldn’t feel so jumbled in my head. When I was done, I looked at the list and said: “Oh, this is what a publisher is for.”

It’s daunting, but also exciting. I have complete control and I get to experiment as I like. I’ve read other how to guides, some with conflicting information, and I’m mapping my own course. Feel free to borrow.

It took about two years to write Blood & Water and I don’t believe a writer can edit themselves. That said, I also don’t believe in spending thousands of dollars on an editor. By the time Blood & Water comes out, it will have had over a dozen beta reads, mostly from other writers with varied editing specialties. I created the cover with help from Debbie at thecovercollection.com. She also did my covers for Finding Charlie and A Long Thaw, which I love.

My last book was in Kindle Unlimited, but this time I’ve decided to “go wide”, which means it’ll be available on Kobo, GooglePlay, Nook, Appleibook, and Amazon. I used pronoun.com to create an ebook and mobi from a Microsoft Word file. It’ll start out at 99 cents. I’m running a two-month pre-order phase.

These days, there are a lot of sites that support indie authors. It’s great, but can make it tricky when deciding which ones to spend time (and money) on. I signed up on booklife.com and applied for a free review and paid promotion via Publisher’s Weekly. I  made a page at booklaunch.com. I used my free bookcave.com account to send review copies and collect subscribers to my newsletter on  mailchimp.com.  I  use twitter and facebook. I have a writer friend who wrote me an amazing blurb to use on the book page and in promos. I plan to run ads with bargainbooksy.com, bookrebel.com, thebookbots and a Facebook boost.

As you can see, there’s a mix of free and paid promotions available for indie authors. I’m planning to spend just under $500 to launch this book. I’ll do Goodreads giveaway and keep my blog updated. On October 28th, I’ll be the author representing Authoberfest over at Bookies. There’s a different author every day this month.

I’ll write another post after the launch to let you know if any of this worked.

How to get the right to use lyrics in books

lyrics blogI imagine every writer has considered the use of song lyrics in their fiction. Music is so much a part of our lives. It can capture the mood, set the time period, connect the reader to a kind of collective memory.

I’ve always been told it couldn’t be done. Every author blog (like this one) and writer’s group I’ve ever known says it’s a headache best avoided. And maybe they’re right when it comes to most musicians, but I got permission from Ani Difranco. Here’s how:

  1. I found the email address of her management on her website.
  2. I ignored internet advice and skipped the legalese, writing a fan gushy request I didn’t honestly expect to hear back from.
  3. I got a reply from her management asking for more specifics.
  4. I replied with the legalese I should have included in my first email, along with more about my publishing history and the book itself.
  5. I got a yes.

So, here’s the info you should probably include up front:

Book title:
Author(s):
Publisher:
Expected release date:
Expected print quantity:
Print formats:
Territory of release:
Term of rights request:

Most of the answers are self-explanatory. For those that aren’t, I used google. I am not a lawyer and I can only tell you that I asked for “nonexclusive rights with no time limit unless or until the copyright owner revokes the permission.” For the expected print quantity, I found differing advice. Some said a low estimate was more likely to succeed while one site said to go with a number beyond your wildest dreams. I went with 10,000. If I sell more than that, I’d be thrilled to renegotiate terms. As it is, they requested a complimentary copy and I’m beside myself thinking Ani might read my book!

I’m planning to release the book, Blood & Water, in November. You can read more about that here.

Has anyone else gone through this process? Please share stories in the comments.

Interview with author Carla Burgess

Carla Burgess is a women’s fiction writer I met in a critique group I’ve participated in for several years. (I highly recommend joining a group like this, for many reasons.) It wasn’t until another member mentioned it that I discovered she’d been published and that made me curious about all the usual things. She’s indulged me and answered my questions below.

What do you find most useful about belonging to a critique group?

Being a writer can be a lonely, isolating business, so having a support network of online friends is a wonderful thing. I found the Women’s Fiction Critique Group great for support and advice, and it was invaluable for gaining feedback on my manuscript. This was especially important in the early days when I was a ‘secret author’ and too scared to let friends and family read my work. Critiquing other writers’ work was also an interesting experience, and I found you could learn a lot from the whole process, especially when you read other people’s feedback and see how people’s opinions and reactions differ from your own. I enjoyed being part of the group and hope to become more active again one day, but unfortunately, recent deadlines have meant that I haven’t had the time to join in.

What kind of writer are you? Do you insist on daily word counts? Did you study writing in school? Do you edit as you go or force out a whole first draft first? Do you write in silence or with music? In the morning or at night?

I’m lucky enough to spend my days writing while my children are at school, but often I find it easier to write at night when everybody is in bed. It’s not so much the quiet that I need as I often listen to music while I write, but it’s more the fact that there’s no laundry to sort or cleaning to do. No one is going to phone me or ring the doorbell. I try to do 1000 words a day but if that’s not possible I don’t worry too much. If I’m on deadline, I tend to average about 4000 words a day. At the moment, I’m going over a first draft and am spending most of my time reading and making notes and thinking up alternative scenes, so I’m not making my word count but that’s okay. I’ve been on quite tight deadlines recently, so I’ve just been banging out a whole first draft first and resisting the urge to go back and edit what I’d already written. It was quite hard this time because I knew the beginning wasn’t right and wanted to tinker with it, but I also knew I needed to get the ending down so I forced myself to carry on. It was a big relief when I wrote the end and finally got to change my beginning.

What do you do when you get stuck in the writing process?

A change of scenery often works wonders. Sometimes it’s just a matter of walking the dog and an idea will pop into my head, but occasionally I’ll write a note in the text to come back to that bit and write a different scene to help move the story along.

Can you describe your path to publication? Did you query agents? How long did it take?

My path to publication was a bit of a shock really. I was on Twitter and saw a tweet from HQ Digital, which is a digital imprint of Harper Collins, asking for submissions of stories that start with a proposal. I wrote a synopsis and first chapter and sent it in, and then they called me to ask me to write it and offered me a two-book deal. I had the offer in February 2016, and Marry Me Tomorrow was published in October of the same year, so it was quite fast really. My second book, Stuck With You, was published in April 2017.

Talk a bit about your most recent book. How long did it take to write? Who is your audience?

I’ve since been offered another two-book contract from HQ Digital and my third book, Meet Me Under the Mistletoe is being published in October 2017. It’s a contemporary romance set at Christmas time, and follows Rachel, one of the characters from Stuck With You. She works in her family’s florist shop and is clashing with the grumpy but handsome new tenant in the flat above. It’s taken me just under four months to write the first draft, which is about 86k words. It will then go off to my editor who will make suggestions for structural edits, and then be proofed by a copy editor. I’ve just seen my new cover so it feels like it’s really happening now and I’m getting excited.

For book updates and author info, connect with Carla on Facebook!

Interview with Cass McMain: On Crafting Twists

Cass McMain’s third book, Gringo, is a little different than her first two. There’s still the realistic dialogue and relatable characters she’s known for, but this time she pushes the boundaries and includes a mysterious, perhaps supernatural, element. She’s created something of a headscratcher for her readers, but figuring it out is so rewarding that I convinced her to help walk us through it, with as few spoilers as possible. I also think it’s interesting to consider one writer’s process and compare it to your own.

This book is a bit of a puzzle by the end. The reader has do some work to figure it out. What is the reader response you’re getting so far? Do people get it? I had figured out that Daniel is an unreliable narrator and was relying on neighbor Greg to point me in the right direction. But you have to read those sections very closely.

I sent this to a number of beta readers, asking especially for them to look at it with an eye toward understanding. I was told by all of them that it was clear as a bell. Then, of course, half of these readers immediately proved with their next words that they had not understood it at all. I think almost nobody gets this book right away. It takes some thought. But everything is there; you just have to pay attention. You have to be very aware of the world you are in, aware enough to look back at the road you’ve been on. A lot of people don’t read that way. Greg is, as you noted right away, crucial to the understanding of this novel — but he also has been very carefully presented; you are meant to be sure you have seen what you have not seen at all.

For people who don’t get it immediately, what would be a helpful hint that doesn’t give it away completely?

How to give a clue without giving away the work, that’s one for the ages. I have no idea. I think the concept is familiar enough, from previous efforts in film and print, that when you give the only clue that helps, it immediately ruins the effect. All I can say, as you have: it makes sense. “Trust me.” Haha. It’s hard to get by with that.

When you started writing this book, had you already figured out what the twist would be? Was writing this book different than your first two and, if so, how?

When I started this book, I had no idea. I, myself, had to go back through, looking for proof I was wrong. I wasn’t wrong. My God, I said. It’s true. I have fooled even myself. It was halfway through writing the book when I found out what had happened, when I saw the twist. The other twist, the more obvious one, yes, I knew that one early. It was built into the reason I wrote the thing.

What inspired the events of this book?

Lack of sleep inspired the book, in a big way. The people across the street, an unfriendly crew whom I never actually laid eyes on, had tied a dog to the tree out front. He barked every night from 11pm until 4 am. (I never did find out what was behind these strict hours he held to.) He kept me awake for weeks. I was out of my mind with lack of sleep, crazy angry. I had just finished Watch, and was looking for new things to write about, and I could not concentrate at all. Everything became barking, everything was a dog.

I hated that dog. I wanted him dead. I called the City over and over again, to no avail. Eventually, I was standing in the street, barefoot at 2 am, in my bathrobe, throwing rocks and sticks at the dog and at the windows of the house, screaming nonsense. If I’d had a gun, I’d have shot that dog. Shortly after that, a writer friend asked what I was working on, and I told him: nothing. I explained about the dog. I explained about the barking. My friend said I should write about that. And when I said no, the story would be too short, how could I write about a barking dog and make it into an actual story, he said… maybe the dog is barking for a reason. And it came to me, the dog’s reason, then. I started writing the book the next day. I never once saw the people who lived in that house, but they moved away a few weeks after I started writing. Maybe they were never there at all.

gringoWhat is the message you hope readers take away when they finish Gringo?

I’m not sure. If the message in Sunflower was that you don’t have to be anyone but yourself, and the message in Watch was a more-disturbing maybe you can’t be anyone but yourself, perhaps the message in Gringo is: maybe you can’t be who you think you are. Maybe nobody can.

As a reader, I think figuring it out is half the fun, which is why I hesitate to give it away here. For those who’ve already read through the book once, here’s a SPOILER/HINT:

You sent me an article that helped me think about it.

The article I sent you was helpful, and maybe the clue is there, though I think once you posit the term “parallel” you have given it all away. Perhaps the secret, then, is in what way these people have come to be so broken, broken enough to find other worlds under their very noses. Broken enough to leave parts of themselves, ghostlike, behind. Does that give away too much? Yes, of course it does. My goal, early on, was to make people want to read it again, just to prove me wrong. To prove they did see what they assumed they saw.

I’d love to continue this conversation in the comments section with readers of Gringo or writers who’ve struggled with similar issues in their work. How do you make your intentions clear without hitting readers over the head?

Interview with author Lincoln Cole

Since publishing with Kindle Scout, I’ve gotten to know some of the other authors in the program and they’ve all been so kind. In my experience, writers tend to be very generous with their knowledge and willing to help new writers rather than being competitive and guarded with what they’ve learned along the way. Lincoln Cole has been one of those writers willing to share his process, so I wanted to talk to him in depth.

When did you begin writing and when did you decide you wanted to be published? Can you talk about how you came to the Kindle Scout program? 

I’ve always loved to write, so making up stories and jotting down ideas was never something I really decided to do. When I settled on the idea of publishing (and gave up sending stories to agents or magazines) I read up on how to do it and put my stories together. Those first ones were terrible and I have since re-edited them and put a lot of work into making them better, but at the time my only shining star was I happened to meet a graphic designer who has become my cover designer. I convinced her to make covers, and it has worked out really well for both of us.
 
Finding Kindle Scout was sort of random, and I didn’t know what to expect. I was so excited the first time I put a book through the program, and I managed to get about three hundred page views and no contract. Since then, I’ve put two other books into the program and have a new one up now as well! When I started the Kindle Scout program there were a few blog posts about it, but very little other information for authors to use when running a campaign. I wrote a guidebook about the campaigning process to explain everything I’ve learned, and I keep adding information on my blog as I find out new things, both in and outside of the program.

You write in a variety of different genres. Do you consider genre before you start writing? Does your audience change?

I write things I enjoy and tell the stories I want to tell. I’ve never really stopped to consider my ‘audience’ because in my mind I don’t have one. I just enjoy writing and I hope that some people might read them. Writing in different genres, especially when I cross boundaries like horror and literary fiction, is more just to tell the story I want to tell. I am definitely not popular enough for any readers to actually tell me to stick to one genre, and since I only do it for the fun of it I’m not too worried about it. If I had to write to make money and support my family, things would be very different.

Interacting with social media seems to come naturally to you. Has that always been the case or was there a learning curve?
Haha, I’m terrible with social media. I post too much or not enough, and I have a hard time of balancing content and useful information with things that aren’t as useful. The thing is, I work full time, and then write as much as I can, and then social media is just sort of an afterthought for me to tell people what I’m up to. My saving grace is my blog, because I can write blog posts and then just click a button to have them share to social media, so my social accounts are getting constantly updated, but the actual content is centralized and frees me up to schedule things in advance and just do things when I feel like it.
There has definitely been, and still is, a learning curve to all of this. I like to think I’m getting better at it, but I still regularly mess up.
What do you find is the hardest thing about being published? What is your favorite thing?
The hardest thing is getting your book out there and just being patient. Sometimes I’ll do a lot of work and promote like crazy and sell nothing, and then other times I’ll do nothing at all and it will sell like crazy. There isn’t really a rhyme or reason to it, though if you spend long enough without promoting and releasing new content you are guaranteed to stop selling.
My favorite thing is when readers reach out to me to tell me they enjoyed my work. When you spend months and a lot of energy/ambition working on a project, it’s nice to see that at least some people found it enjoyable and relatable.
What are you working on now?
I have my newest Kindle Scout entry up for another couple of weeks and I’ve been doing a lot of blogging and website refreshing. I also spend a lot of time on projects like the Kindle Press anthologies (of which the third is just now releasing!). I’m also working on the sequel to The Everett Exorcism to hopefully build momentum with that series and then I’ll probably try to write the third book as well before moving to something new.
I have some major plans for this world and have at least another ten books planned out around my first Kindle Press book that began with Raven’s Peak. I love the characters and the world and it is always fun to see what happens next!
Apart from that, I want to finish my next book in the Graveyard of Empires series, I have a book about self-publishing (to complement my Kindle Scout Guide) coming out soon, and I have a few more series I want to begin in completely different worlds. I’ve had some ideas rolling around in my brain for a long while and I really want to get them out on paper.

Interview with author Michelle Hughes

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Michelle Hughes is not an easy writer to pin down. She’s mostly a romance writer, but  there are different sub-genres within romance. She writes vampire romance and cowboy romance and coming of age romance.

I see you have an extensive publishing history. What was your first book and how did you decide to self-publish? How has that been different from Kindle Scout?

The first book I published was ‘A Night at Tears of Crimson.’  I pulled that book down in 2015 and rewrote it completely.  I had no idea what I was doing in 2009 and while the story was based on reoccurring dreams, it was dreadfully formatted and lacked the experience I have now.   I think Kindle Scout gives you the confidence in knowing your book was good enough to be chosen over hundreds of others.  They also promote your book to an audience you’d be hard-pressed to find on your own.

 You write in different genres. Is genre something you consider before you start writing or is it a decision you make at the end?

I’ve always been a writer that flies by the seat of my pants.  An idea hits me, then I start writing and I usually look at the finished product wondering where this came from.  If I don’t ‘feel’ a book, it’s impossible for me to write.

 How long does it typically take you to write a book?

It depends.  Some books I’ve taken a year to write, others in 30 days.  I do find that trying to make myself write is harder for me.  I enjoy spontaneity in writing, and when I put myself on a schedule, it ruins my creativity.

What are the biggest challenges you face with your writing and how do you overcome them?

Being a mother of five children is probably my biggest challenge to writing.  I have three grown children but two of those still live at home.  It’s gotten much easier as they’ve gotten older. I wouldn’t trade them for anything, though.  My greatest accomplishment in life is my children.

 Tell us about what you’re working on now.

I’ve just released the second book in the Tears of Crimson series, and I’m working on the third. I have several other ideas that have yet to be started.  Like I said earlier, I write when the motivation hits, so who knows what will come next.

To find out more about Michelle Hughes, visit her website.

Interview with Author Gleah Powers

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I recently read the novel Edna & Luna, about an unconventional connection formed by two very different women in the face of a culture that is often isolating. Gleah Powers creates believable, unique characters and I was so interested in learning about her writing process.

When did you start writing, when did you start calling yourself a writer and when did you decide that being published was a goal?

At 14, I began writing poetry and making art. I spent many years studying and pursuing an art career. In my 30s, as the content of my paintings became more and more narrative I turned to writing. At first, I wrote plays: monologues and one-acts which I staged with actors and directors or performed myself in a series of dramatic readings. This was a natural step after having spent some time in New York studying acting, singing and dance. As I received support and admiration for my writing, I began calling myself a writer and my desire to be published started to grow. For the past two decades, I’ve devoted myself to writing fiction, literary nonfiction and poetry.

What sort of formal training, if any, did you receive as a writer?

I took writing classes at UCLA extension, online with One Story, studied privately with Kate Braverman and Judith Taylor, attended writing conferences, and finally received an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles a few years ago.

What inspires you? What do you do if you get stuck?

Reading poetry inspires me and helps me to get unstuck. I also find it helpful to attend readings, be around other writers and hear their work. I’ve been part of a writing group for the past 15 years. If I feel discouraged or stuck, the fact that I have to read their work and give them notes, even if I don’t want to, helps me to push through my own stuckness.

Why do you write?

My initial impetus to write was born out of and developed from a burning desire at a young age to search for the most effective ways to address emotional pain and broaden consciousness.

My search led me to the arts; painting, theatre, dance and to the exploration of many alternative therapies.

In writing, I’m able to use the elements of all these disciplines: creating sentences that have a particular rhythm or movement, compelling characters, dialogue that zings, and always, the surprising realizations and thoughts that well up from the juxtaposition of all these qualities.

Writing a story is like making a collage.

Talk about Edna & Luna. Who should read this book?

I have led a life by turns grounded and nomadic—a perfect preparation for discovering in myself the voices of Edna and Luna. In my early teens, I lived with my grandmother in Phoenix. For many years, I was an explorer and teacher of alternative therapies.

In writing the book, I wanted to find out what would transpire if a relationship somehow developed between two women with very different backgrounds: a crabby widow, a bit of a drinker, who runs over people’s toes with her grocery cart and a new age healer who chooses food by its vibration. The exploration of each woman’s curious background and their developing bond tells the story of how family can be found in the most unlikely people. Most of us have had the experience of coming to know and even love someone we initially mistrusted or were suspicious of.

The book addresses themes of women supporting each other, challenging one’s assumptions & prejudices, compassion & empathy, important messages that are so crucial right now.

It is a for book for women and for men who are curious about the nuances and deep intimacy of female friendship.

Find out more about this author here: www.gleahpowers.com

Interview with Author Margaret K Johnson

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Social networking technology has made it much less isolating to be a writer. I met Margaret through an online critique group and I immediately recognized a kindred spirit of sorts. When she explained she was self-publishing a book that was originally traditionally published, I was intrigued. I knew right then I wanted to do an interview.

I read your bio and was interested to see you went to Art College and painted before you started writing. Can you compare what these two forms of artistic expression mean to you?

I don’t paint nowadays, as I haven’t time to do everything at the moment. (I also teach creative writing, and I’m writing a new novel). When I do get the chance to do something artistic, I usually make collages these days. I’ve always loved cutting up pieces of paper, even as a small child! A few years ago, I made a collage called Urban Jungle, and went out in Norwich, my home city, taking photographs – of bins, graffiti, traffic, ambulances, play parks etc, etc, specifically to cut up. I get completely involved when I’m making a piece, but it’s different to writing. Writing takes over my life – mostly in a good way. I can hear my characters speaking inside my head, often when I’m doing something else. Painting or making collages absorbs me at the time, but doesn’t dominate my life. I suppose this makes it more relaxing than writing, but writing is my passion. I do want to make time for painting and collage in the future though.

parrotsWhen did you start calling yourself a writer and when did you decide you wanted to be published? How did you find a publisher for your first book?

I started writing after I left Art College many years ago with the misguided plan of writing a best-selling novel for Mills and Boon to support my art career. I quickly got hooked though, and even though I wasn’t published by Mills and Boon, I discovered I loved writing. My first book was published by Women’s Weekly. My brother’s girlfriend at the time shared a flat with an editor at Women’s Weekly, and she agreed to read my manuscript and liked it. It was such a thrill to see it in my local newsagents!

forhannahwithlovecoverYou have several other books traditionally published. Can you explain how you got the rights back for this title? Is this your first time self-publishing? How has it been different from your previous books?

I have had a lot of books published the traditional way – original fiction readers for people learning to speak English mostly, and a historical romance – A Nightingale in Winter – published by Omnific Publishing. I have also self-published two women’s fiction books – The Goddess Workshop and The Dare Club. I enjoy the freedom of self-publishing – you can make any changes you want, and you can add details of your other books, or special offers if you want to. You can do what publicity you want to, the way you want to as well. I got the rights back to this book (which was formerly called Taming Tom Jones) when my publisher relocated abroad. We were issued with new contracts to reflect this change, but – mainly because I wanted to change the title of the book to For Hannah, With Love – I decided not to sign the new contract. I didn’t feel the original title reflected either the story or the message of the book. However, I have nobody but myself to blame for that, since I chose it!

Find out more about this author on her website or follow her on twitter @margaretkaj. Here’s and excerpt from the opening of For Hannah, With Love

I’m in the ladies toilets at my local superstore. Inside the one functioning cubicle, sitting fully clothed on the toilet seat, surrounded by overflowing carrier bags, a peed-on plastic tester stick clenched in my hand. Waiting for my fate to unfold.

Two minutes. The time it takes for Michael to go to sleep after we’ve made love if I don’t do anything to stop him. The pee on the plastic stick is asking a question, and the chemicals inside it are working out their answer. And in two minutes I’ll know whether their answer agrees with my instinct.

“I’m crazy about you, Jen,” Michael said three months after we first got together. “I want us to be together. But I’ve got to be totally honest with you, if you want kids, you’d better find someone else, because I’ve already done all that. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a father to Kyle, but it’s enough for me.”

 

Michael. We met at a fancy dress party nearly four years ago – my mate Rick’s thirtieth birthday party. The theme was Pop Icons of the Twentieth Century, and the room was stuffed full of Elton Johns, Donny Osmonds and Mick Jaggers. I was Madonna, complete with pointy bra, and Marcia, my best mate, was Diana Ross.

“You look fantastic with all that long hair,” I told her as we propped up the bar, preening ourselves and pointing out funny sights to each other.

“Thanks. I could get used to this glamour.” She ran a hand over the sea-green sparkles of her dress. Perhaps we should start a band.”

“Yeah, right.” I hadn’t forgotten our last spectacularly bad attempt at karaoke on holiday in Spain, even if she had.

Marcia never has liked to be reminded of her failings, even at school. “Your bazoomers aren’t level,” she told me stonily, jabbing an accusing finger in the direction of my breasts. “You need to go up a bit on the right.”

I yanked dutifully at my right cone, wondering if Madonna had experienced the same trouble.

“Anyway,” Marcia said, “who are you going to get off with tonight?”

“I’m not going to get off with anybody. It’s only been three months since I split up with Luke.”

“That’s what I’m saying,” she said. “Three months of freedom and so far you’ve done zilch to celebrate.”

“I don’t feel like celebrating.” I was hurt by now, but Marcia never has been a girl to let my hurt feelings stand in her way when she’s telling me something for my own good.

“Well, you should. Luke was a prize tosser. You are far, far better off without him, Jen.”

“I loved him.”

“You thought you loved him. That’s about as different as Ibiza and the Isle of Man.”

Marcia stood on diamanté sandal tip-toes, peering into the crowd, the dark river of fake hair flowing all the way down her bare back. “Him,” she said, pointing. “That’s who you’ll get off with if you get off with anybody.”

“Who?”

Marcia pointed again. “Him,” she said. “Tom Jones.”

 

“Mummy, I need to do a poo-poo!” In the supermarket toilets, a child’s urgent voice interrupts my reminiscences.

“Excuse me, will you be long?” her mother asks.

There are two blues lines showing in the clear plastic window of the tester stick.

“Only the other cubicle’s out of order, and I think this is an emergency,” the mother continues.

I’m pregnant.

“Sorry. I…I’ll be right out.” I get up in a daze, flush the toilet, and begin to fumble with carrier bags, testing stick and door.

I’m pregnant. Pregnant.

“Too late, Mummy. Too late…”

One of the carrier bag handles snaps, and as I scrabble for control, a box of tea bags and the testing stick skitter onto the floor.

“Mummy, I pooed my pants.”

The woman with the small child looks first at the stick, and then at me. “Good luck!” she says as her child begins to cry.

“Thank you.” I pick up the stick, and make my way from the toilets and out to my car. Load the bags into the boot of my car. Unlock the driver’s door. Get in. Just as if it’s any ordinary day.

But then I just sit there, gripping the wheel, staring straight ahead at nothing. My mouth’s numb and I’ve got pins and needles starting in my fingers. I want to cry because I’ve never felt so afraid and alone. And I want to laugh because I’ve never felt so excited and happy. It isn’t possible to feel all of those things at once, and yet I do.

I do.