Today I’m thrilled to welcome Helen Matthews, author of ‘After Leaving the Village’ to the book review café. ‘After Leaving the Village’ has been described as a gritty contemporary suspense thriller and I must say the book description has piqued my interest (details further down this post). The author is the latest guest to write A day in the life post, so without further ado…..
Before I became a writer, I worked full time for a big energy company. In corporate life the assumption persists that early risers, who rock up to the office at dawn, are morally superior. I’m a nightingale – or perhaps an owl – definitely not a lark. For years I would struggle to prop my eyes open and try to look alert for our Monday morning meeting. This was doubly difficult because I was the boss: the one running the meeting and, supposedly, inspiring my team for the challenges of the week ahead!
I’ve always kept late hours. In my corporate role, I rarely left the office before 7.00 p.m. and often travelled within the UK and sometimes abroad. In the evenings, I attempted to spend time with my husband and children, but they became teenagers and pretended they didn’t know who I was. So, at around 10.30 p.m., I would sneak off to my computer and write fiction into the small hours.
Now I’m self-employed and work from home so I mould my days into a work pattern that suits my biorhythms. Alongside writing fiction, I’m a freelance copywriter, drafting content for newsletters and company websites. Self-employment is a joy. As long as you meet deadlines, you can work when and where you please – on Sunday afternoons, at midnight, on holiday or outside in the garden. Unless I have a conference call or meeting, I set my alarm for a very civilised 8.15 a.m. My lovely husband, an early riser, brings me a cup of tea. If he forgets, I may send him a text: ‘Tea, please.’ I once sent the ‘Tea, please’ text, in error, to my daughter’s partner – presumably the last person I’d been in phone contact with the night before. This caused some consternation as they live 45 minutes’ drive away.
Enough confessions. You probably think I’m slothful but, consider this – I no longer need good hair, nor must I face a long commute; I shovel down a bowl of cereal and I’m at my computer by nine.
In the mornings, writers should ignore those pesky emails, avoid becoming tainted with Twitter and plunge straight into the world of their novel-in-progress. Good advice, right? I wish I could follow it, but I have tried, and failed. Since my novel ‘After Leaving the Village’ was released into the world, I’m constantly checking my emails for any new reviews or opportunities to promote my book.
Launching a book means swapping your creative hat for a marketing and PR one. It also involves a shedload of admin, for example, writing blogs and guest posts, answering Qs&As from reviewers; sending out invitations or tweets about upcoming events and liaising with bookshops, libraries and book clubs. If I have a talk or presentation coming up, I treat it like a project and make sure I’m fully prepared. Ferreting out new promotional opportunities takes time and I’m pleased to say I have events booked through until September 2018 but there’s plenty of space on my calendar to fit in more.
Once I’ve cleared the business end of my work, I get back to writing fiction. My next novel is at fifth draft stage. The working title is ‘Lies Behind the Ruin and it’s contemporary suspense about a family in crisis. It’s been workshopped with a writers’ group I belong to in Oxford. One of my friends from that group has read the full manuscript and given me a brilliant, detailed feedback report. Because I’m still immersed in my current novel, I often settle down to work on the new one and find I have – quite literally – lost the plot and have to reread massive chunks.
I break for lunch for around fifteen minutes and carry on writing through the afternoon. I’ve decided not to accept new copywriting commissions for a while, so I can devote attention to my book and give it the best start in life. After all, you wouldn’t send your children out into the world alone – they’d get lost. I’m trying to look after my book in a similar way.
At around 4 p.m. I often look up from my screen and realise I haven’t been outside all day. So, I will invent an errand and walk into the village. Or I may go to the leisure centre for a swim. I find swimming lengths a therapeutic way of sorting out plot tangles.
I belong to three writers’ groups: one meets weekly, one fortnightly and the Oxford one is once a month. Staying in close touch with other writers keeps me sane. Writing is a solitary business and, during the working week, I rarely meet non-writer friends for coffee, though if they suggest a walk or bike ride I might be tempted.
After dinner with my husband, I often go out to my book group, or to rehearsals for the choir I sing in, or sometimes to meet up with friends. My husband prefers to be at home on weekday evenings but after hard graft at the creative coalface, I’m ready to be sociable. If I do stay home, the magnetic pull of the laptop summons me back to research or writing. But I no longer stay up pounding the keyboard until 2.00 a.m. and Monday morning meetings are a private matter between me and my characters, who don’t seem to notice if I’m having a bad hair day.
‘After Leaving the Village’ was published by Hashtag Press in October 2017. It is my debut novel and won first prize in the opening pages category at Winchester Writers’ Festival. My novel is a gritty contemporary suspense thriller so won’t suit all tastes but it’s been hailed by reviewers as ‘very much a novel of our times’ and ‘powerful’…one of the reasons ‘why it has been endorsed by anti-slavery charity, Unseen.’
As a writer, I often ask the question – how can a life change in an instant? Sometimes this leads me to explore some dark places. I’d love to know what you think, so please leave a review.
I’ve won several short story prizes and my story ‘Coal’ was published in Artificium literary magazine. You can read my travel blogs over on www.helenmatthewswriter.com where you’ll also find my contact details and can tell me what you loved – or hated
Two women. Two villages. Different destinies. Odeta’s life has shrunk to a daily round of drudgery, running her father’s grocery store in a remote Albanian village. One day a stranger from Tirana walks into the shop and promises her a new career in London. Odeta’s life is about to change, but not in the way she expected.
Journalist Kate lives on a quiet London street and seems to have a perfect life but she worries about her son Ben, who struggles to make friends. Kate blames the internet and disconnects her family from the online world so they can get to know their neighbours. On a visit to her home village in Wales, Kate is forced to confront a secret from her past. But greater danger lies closer to home. Perhaps Kate’s neighbours are not the friendly community they seem.
Buying link: Amazon UK 🇬🇧
My thanks to author Helen Matthews for this guest post and taking time out of her busy schedule to write it .