WHY ARE WE SO GRIPPED BY SISTER STORIES?

When Bookouture asked me for some more novel ideas, a story about a pair of half-sisters popped into my head. I have no idea why – I don’t have a sister and have no experience of how that relationship works. Apart from Louise Jensen’s enthralling The Sister, which I’d already devoured, I decided not to read any other sister books until I’d finished mine – The Good Sister (out August 16). Since then, I’ve read several and have been fascinated by the variety of approaches taken by their authors. It started me thinking, what is it about the sister relationship that is so interesting to writers and readers?

Clearly, sister books are ‘on trend’. As book blogger @tk2everywhere noted in a recent review of The Good Sister: “Good sisters, bad sisters, little sisters, big sisters, there are sisters all over the place; it’s clearly a subject which strikes a chord with people.” Sister, Sister (Sue Fortin), My Sister and Other Liars (Ruth Dugdall), Two Sisters (Kerry Wilkinson) and The Roanoke Girls (Amy Engel) are among the books I’ve recently read. In The Good Sister, I explore the theme of ‘nature versus nurture’, taking two half-sisters who have grown up believing they were the only child of their beloved father, now dead. At first, their shared parentage unites them, but jealousies and rivalries soon bubble to the surface with disastrous consequences.

A short while ago, readers were captivated by stories of dark, corrupted marriages – Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn), I Let you Go (Clare Mackintosh) and The Girl on the Train (Paula Hawkins) being some of the most obvious examples. Maybe we’ve simply moved on to other relationships in the Domestic Noir arena. And because so many writers and readers in this genre are women, it make sense that sisters take centre stage, rather than brothers. As crime blogger @northernlass73 says: ‘It’s a complex relationship. It can easily be one of love or hate. You go through so much with siblings and have different perceptions.’

In the crime genre, the sister relationship offers endless opportunities to present strong, active female characters fighting on an even battlefield. Perhaps this sits more easily with writers who, like me, are uncomfortable with stories in which men are almost always the villains and women the helpless victims. Last year’s ‘Killer Women’ festival debated the issue of whether crime literature is misogynistic and I wonder if perhaps the new wave of ‘sister crime’ is a subtle response to this.

Nancy Berone mines this rich vein in her latest mystery thriller, Lullaby for my Sister (Happy Publication Day, Nancy!). She says: “Sister relationships can be so varied, so dynamic! One day you’d give a kidney, and the next you’re not talking to each other for some dumb reason. The swing of possibilities in a sister-sister relationship is so wide, anything can – and will- happen. Lullaby for my Sister is like that – even the littlest things can overthrow a relationship both ways, when people have been hurt and there’s a lot of forgiving to do.”

This sister preoccupation extends well beyond the crime/thriller genre into women’s fiction – Renita d’Silva’s novel, A Sister’s Promise being an excellent example. Set against the dramatic backdrop of India, A Sister’s Promise is a powerful, emotional tale of family secrets, love and the ties that bind sisters together. As Renita explains: “I am entranced by the bond of intense love warring with competition and irritation between siblings, how families bring out the best and worst in a person. I think when we are with the people we grew up with, we automatically revert back to the children we once were, bypassing all the growing up we have done in between, and that makes for some very fraught relationships as old feuds and resentments flare.”

In other words, sisters automatically give the writer everything needed to create the conflict, drama and emotional intensity that is at the heart of every great story. Of course, this is not a new discovery. Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women being probably the best example of a wonderful book about sisterhood. Then there’s the nation’s favourite novel – Pride and Prejudice, which follows Elizabeth Bennet and her four sisters, all with very different personalities, who are searching to find their place in the world. Even the fairy tale classic Cinderella explores a difficult relationship between step-sisters. So, while the sister publishing trend may soon be replaced with another, this sibling relationship will no doubt continue to intrigue us for centuries to come.

Do you have any favourite books about sisters? If so, please share them below, via Twitter – @jessryderauthor or my Facebook Page – JessRyderAuthor.  If you would like to read The Good Sister it’s available for pre-order now, publication date 16 August 2017.

HOW NOT TO GIVE UP

Last week was a bit mad. The most important and exciting thing that happened was that our daughter safely gave birth to her first child and our second grandson (welcome to the world, Saul!). The second most important and exciting thing was the announcement and cover reveal for my new psychological thriller, ‘Lie to Me’ published by Bookouture.

I have been writing professionally for many years, but ‘Lie to Me’ is my first thriller. It was conceived nearly three years ago and the gestation period was longer than any mammal’s on earth. Looking at the fabulous book cover and reading the listing on Amazon now, it’s easy to forget all the pain and effort I went through to reach this happy moment – a bit like childbirth!  So I want to take a moment to reflect on the ups and downs of the ‘pregnancy’.  And maybe it will encourage any writers out there feeling stuck, not to give up.

Writing’s a funny old business. When the words are flowing, when the characters feel like they’re in the room with you and you’re in ‘the zone’, it’s a joyous experience. Re-reading the chapters a week later however, can be rather sobering.  As ‘Lie to Me’ developed and the word count grew, I confess that sometimes I thought what I was writing was brilliant and at other times totally crap. Objectivity is impossible, but I was so close to the text that I couldn’t make any kind of useful judgement. Friends and family read the first draft and made helpful comments, which I tried to address.  But their default position was supportive and I needed an outside eye.

When I completed the first draft (or rather a draft I was happy with) in late 2015, I went looking for a literary agent. Although I’m represented by a media agent for film and TV the agency doesn’t represent authors. Feeling optimistic, I sent the first three chapters to a small number of agents and received several requests to read the whole thing. A few agents were tempted but felt the book need more work. Rowan Lawton of Furniss Lawton – was particularly enthusiastic about the novel’s potential, but also felt it needed an overhaul. Close but no cigar.

I began 2016 feeling encouraged by Rowan, but also wondering how the hell I was going to fix the problems in the novel.  To begin with, I wasn’t even sure what the problems were. I’d had a few months away from the text, during which I took up mosaics. I sat on the sofa smashing up crockery, which was a health hazard for the rest of the family who could no longer walk around the flat in bare feet, but it did me a world of good.

By the time I returned to the book, I felt less attached and more self-critical. I’ve done a fair amount of script editing in the past, and tried to apply my editorial skills, pretending that I wasn’t the author. Not easy, and quite scary. I ended up cutting an entire narrative voice, transforming the way I was telling the past story, adding a new narrative strand and simplifying the rather complex plot. I dumped fifty thousand words – that’s more than half the novel – and started again. The rewrite took me about three months – I sent the revised draft to Rowan and luckily, she loved it and took me on straightaway. 

Of course, that wasn’t the end of it, editorially. Rowan and her colleagues at Furniss Lawton gave me some excellent notes and I did some rewrites.  When Bookouture made their offer (hooray!) their editor Jessie Botterill gave me more insightful notes and the novel changed again. Then there was the copy-editing and proofreading stages to go through. More notes. More rewrites. I have to say everyone’s input improved the book and I’m incredibly grateful to Rowan and the Bookouture editorial team. Now my baby is about to be born – on April 19th to be precise – and I’m very excited to see how she gets on in the world.

Knowing when to persevere and when to give up, is very hard. Like most writers, I have a couple of horses that I flogged to death lying in my filing cabinet. So it might be helpful to think about this in a different way. Some years ago, I accidentally attended a motivational talk for business people, in which the speaker taught us this mantra – ‘Do what you always do and you’ll get what you always get.’  I’ve tried to apply this to my writing: if it’s not working, do something different and maybe you’ll get a different result.  I know for certain that without that major rewrite last year, ‘Lie to Me’ would never have found an agent or a publisher, so it really can be worth making that final, huge, painful push.

PS – I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject of How Not To Give Up – please leave a comment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘LIE TO ME’ – COVER REVEAL AND AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDERS

 

Today’s the big day. After months of writing and rewriting, editing, copy-editing and proof-reading, the publication of my novel, ‘Lie To Me’ has been announced by Bookouture and the cover revealed.  The novel is available on Amazon for Kindle pre-orders and will also be available as a physical book after the official publication date, 19 April 2017.  I really love the cover and feel it sums up the central theme of the novel and its atmosphere perfectly.  I hope it makes you want to step inside.

‘Lie to Me’ is my first thriller and I’m very excited about this new phase in my writing career.  As an avid thriller reader myself, I was already a huge fan of Bookouture, so I couldn’t be more pleased to be joining their fantastic list of authors.  I won’t lie to you (sorry, let’s get the puns over and done with at the start) but Jess Ryder is not my real name.  The name I usually use for my work is Jan Page but all my previous books are written for young children and teenagers. Somehow it didn’t feel right to add dark, twisting psychological thrillers to the list of children’s books by Jan Page available on Amazon.  How could the writer of ‘Dog on a Broomstick’ be the same person? Besides, this is a new departure for me and I’m rather enjoying having a new persona. 

Over the next weeks and months I’m going to be blogging about ‘Lie to Me’ and thriller writing in general. I’ll also be blogging about thrillers I’ve read recently and why I love this genre.  In between all that, I’m going to be working hard to finish my next thriller which is due to be published by Bookouture later this year. More about that later.

I hope you’ll want to pre-order ‘Lie to Me’ and that when it pops onto your screen on April 19, you’ll find it a gripping read. I’m always very keen to hear from readers, so please let me know if you’ve enjoyed it. I’m always happy to answer questions so get in touch here or go to my Facebook page @JessRyderAuthor or follow me on Twitter @jessryderauthor.  

ends.