Hello, I’m back, and I couldn’t be any happier – but what I could be is a little bit less nervous! It’s probably just under four years ago that I typed ‘The End’ on Disobey, the last book I wrote for Avon – I just don’t know where the years have gone – but at the time, although I had really enjoyed writing the books and I was lucky enough to have a wonderful group of loyal readers, I decided I wanted to try something new.
So I bid goodbye to everyone and set out on an unknown journey. One of the first things I did was tackle a Master’s degree in Counter Terrorism and Islamic Studies, then I managed to secure a two-book deal writing geo-political thrillers.
Now, whilst I enjoyed the challenge of it all, I was really surprised at how much I missed my old characters; after all, they’d been with me for six books. It was like I’d lost touch with a friend, a pen pal. I also missed my readers as well as my lovely publishers, and even though I’d moved on, I continued to receive lovely feedback from readers who’d invested both their time and their money in buying my books.
Then slowly over time, the idea of reuniting with my characters began to grow until the idea became such an explosion of noise in my head I just couldn’t ignore it – I simply had to do something about it.
When I ran past what I was thinking with my family, friends and agent, I was greeted by a resounding ‘go for it!’, which was so lovely and gave me the confidence I needed to begin to start playing around with ideas and storylines. My agent believed – as I did – that the perfect publishing home would be back with Avon, as above all else, they’d been the ones who’d nurtured my career from the very beginning and I’d also been very happy there.
Of course, at this stage, I didn’t know if they’d actually want me back, simply because I’d been away a while and things change quickly in the publishing world – as they say in Hollywood: ‘You’re only as good as your last success and memories are short lived.’ However, I didn’t have anything to worry about as, to my absolute amazeball delight, Avon not only wanted to offer me a book deal, they also welcomed me back with such enthusiasm and warmth, I was humbled.
Actually, it’s not the end at all, because once I’d signed the contract and the champagne glasses had stopped clinking, it was at this stage that reality hit me: not only did I need to deliver and meet Avon’s and my readers’ expectations, I needed to deliver bigger and better whilst at the same time being true to my characters. I mean, it was no good me coming back with a drip rather than a bang.
So, what was it I needed to do? I needed to create a freshness to the books and I needed there to be a reason why I was bringing my characters back (this was essential because one of my pet peeves is going to the cinema all excited to see the sequel of your favourite movie only to come out thinking, what was the point of that?) I also felt that I needed to show the things my characters had experienced in the interim period had affected them in such a way it’d changed the course of their life, generating more reasons for their return. Then finally, of course, I had to create a gripping story. And oh boy, oh boy, knowing I had to do all this, well that’s when the panic set in! I was scared because I so wanted to do justice to not only my agent’s belief in me but also my publishers and – maybe most important of all – my readers.
First off, I had to read my own books, or rather I listened to them – I just love an audio book! I never make notes so I didn’t have anything to refer to, so listening to my books helped me remember the really basic things like what colour my characters’ hair or eyes were; what quirks they had, if any; what their individual voices sounded like, and what their core motivation was.
One of the things that struck me was how fond I still was of the characters – Alfie Jennings and Franny Doyle, as well as supporting characters like Lola Harding – and it was at this point that I decided that I wanted to consciously create a series because, although my previous books had the same handful of characters in them, they defiantly veered onto the standalone side. What I mean is, whilst Alfie et al. are in all but one of the books, there isn’t the ongoing storyline thread/cliff-hanger that you’d find in other series.
Once I had made up my mind about creating a series with my old characters, I was so excited, which I must say helped a lot with the nerves! I felt there was so much more I could do with my characters and so much more emotional depth I could give them within a series. It wouldn’t now be a case of trying to to get everything wrapped up in 100,000 words – a plot could be a slow burner with cliff hangers and surprises, and turns in emotional fortunes could be explored; it was great, and the choices were endless.
So instead of feeling worried I actually began to feel incredibly lucky that I’d have another chance to write about characters I loved and I’d be able to do things with them I hadn’t been able to do before, and it was from this point of view I wrote Toxic. Whilst I’m still nervous of the response it’ll get, I simply couldn’t be happier to be back.