I went into January 2020 with high hopes for the future. The Stranger in Our Bed, was being published by HarperCollins imprint, One More Chapter, in February, and I was excited to see how this book, a departure from my usual works, would be received.
I’d spent a great deal of time preparing for several events in 2020: I had a book tour planned as well as appearances at the two top crime festivals in the country, Harrogate and Crimefest. There was also a book launch arranged in London for when the paperback came out in April. A super party, with many celebrity guests attending.
As well as the tour, I was also going to host a launch at the fabulous Sci-Fi Weekender event, due to take place at the end of March. What is that expression about the best laid plans …?
In January I fell ill with a really bad cough and ended up on antibiotics. It lasted for about three weeks and played havoc with my asthma. I fortunately got over this by the end of the month.
In February my husband, David J Howe, and I flew to Los Angeles to take part in the annual Doctor Who convention, Gallifrey One. We were both guests at the event and took part in panels and interviews. I delivered one of my popular writing workshops and we also did a launch to celebrate the digital release of The Stranger in Our Bed as it went live in ebook format on 14th February. The launch was a huge success, and so well attended and supported by lovely friends and readers that it became a huge party. It was certainly a high point of the weekend. The book shot into the best sellers lists and for a couple of days I even held the no 1 slot for ‘most popular author’ with Stephen King and Dean Koontz behind me at #2 and #3. It was extraordinary and it also raised my hopes again that the book would be a success.
While catching up with our amazing friends again we were totally unaware that this was the last ‘normal’ thing we would do this year. While we were in Los Angeles though, we became acutely aware of concerns over the Corona Virus that soon became known as Covid-19. Flying home from this trip was different to usual. I was nervous on the plane as I usually get sick after events – my immune system is pretty poor – and I was worried what we might have caught something over there or indeed on the plane itself.
That night David and I stayed overnight in a hotel at Heathrow to sleep off some of the jetlag, so that we’d be fit to drive the next day. But David started with this awful ha
cking cough and by the time we did make it home he wasn’t feeling well at all. The illness lasted about 10 days and we were wondering if it was covid, but at that point so little was known about the symptoms beyond a cough and a temperature and testing hadn’t begun on anyone with symptoms other than those in hospitals. Fortunately David got better. Then we heard about a friend in LA who’d been with us all through the convention. This friend had been tested and did have Covid. And, although David wasn’t tested, we do think that he may have had it and it’s possible I had in January also before we’d even known what Covid was.
As we know, the UK went into lock down in March and again, I hoped a few weeks of this would mean the virus would burn itself out. Little did we know that wouldn’t be the case. For the first month of lockdown, like most people, I struggled to keep motivated.
Very soon into the pandemic we heard of people we knew catching Covid and some even dying of it. It was horrendous. But I pushed myself to get back to work and finish the book I was writing because I thought I’d go insane otherwise. There was an amazing high point for us during this time though. My book was selling amazingly well in the USA and as a result it became a USA TODAY! bestseller. I was absolutley ecstatic and we used this as an excuse to celebrate – albeit on our own – with a bottle of bubbly.
In April The Stranger in our Bed was released in paperback. We couldn’t get out to promote but we did a live digital launch and drank champagne while talking to facebook friends for half an hour.
Around the same time I finished a new book I was writing and passed it onto my agent, Camilla Shestopal, and she submitted it to my editor at HarperCollins. A few weeks later Camilla and I had a Zoom meeting with my editors, Bethan Morgan and Charlotte Ledger, and we talked about the book and where One More Chapter saw it going. That meeting was very interesting. Both Bethan and Charlotte loved the book but they also wanted two more in the same series and so The House of Killers series was born and book 1 would be called The House of Killers. I came away feeling elated that they wanted to keep working with me. Definitely another high moment of the year!
A short time later I signed a three book deal and had promised to turn in Book 2, Kill Or Die, in October, and Book 3, Kill A Spy, by the end of December. No pressure much …!! The only way to ease that kind of pain is to get on with the work. So, I put my head down and began writing Book 2 which I managed to deliver in August, two months ahead of time.
Later that month – and boy was this year now galloping on for me – I was introduced to actress and producer, Terri Dwyer. Terri was looking for a thriller screenplay for her company, Buffalo Dragon, to put into production and film before the end of the year. Terri read The Stranger in Our Bed and loved it. I told her I could write the screenplay and so the book was optioned and I set to work on the early drafts of the screenplay as soon as possible.
While I was waiting for film contracts to sign I finished book 3, Kill A Spy, to first draft. I had lots of time to deliver this so I put it aside for a while so that I could concentrate on the screenplay. Once I’d finished the screenplay, I went back to the book and re-edited it. This was eventually submitted to One More Chapter in October. By then I was working with the film’s director, Giles Alderson, on the screenplay and we finally reached an agreed version which became the shooting script. This was a process I learned a lot from and it has given me much confidence for doing this again in the future.
With various lockdowns and the ever changing Covid situation I feared that the film wouldn’t get made. However casting went ahead and before long the producers, Terri and Dean Fisher, had locked in a superb cast for the film.
The stars are: Samantha Bond (Downton Abbey), Emily Berrington (Humans) and Ben Lloyd Hughes (Industry) as well as Joseph Marcell (The Fresh Prince of Bel Air), Nina Wadia (Aladdin), Andi Osho (I May Destroy You), Bart Edwards (The Witcher), Terri Dwyer (13 Graves, Break) and Paul Casar (Detectorists).
When filming started, David and I went to the set for a few days. With all the Covid restrictions everyone was tested and we isolated for three weeks to make sure we were okay. It was very exciting going on the set and meeting such talented people among cast and crew. And David and I even got to do a little cameo. No spoilers on this but see if you can spot us! While I was there watching some of the filming I did have a bit of a moment where I turned and looked at David and said, ‘That’s my film!’. How does it feel to be in this situation? I went from feeling surreal, to excitement to sensory overload in the space of the first 4 hours.
When we got back to our hotel after that first day, I was exhausted and overwhelmed. And very emotional (in a good way). I’d loved everything that was happening but I had to also take it in. So much had happened to get the film to this point and it was a bit of a shock to the system that it was being realised. I suppose it isn’t much of a surprise really that I’d feel this way at first. I’m so used to disappointments in my career that I could hardly believe something was going right for a change.
That has been this whole year really. Everything I hoped would happen, actually did. Even so, you can’t assume it always will can you? So you have to just enjoy the times when things are going right.
One thing that struck me so much was how very professional Buffalo Dragon and their whole team were. This film was getting made and they were doing it well. No cut corners. No skimping on getting the best cast they could. When you look at what they have achieved during a major world wide pandemic then its nothing short of miraculous.
After a few days on set David and I went home again, and then returned a few days later to record my interview for the EPK (Electronic Press Kit) which is used to promote the film, and which will probably eventually end up on the extras on a future DVD/Blu-Ray release. This was a great deal of fun too. Afterwards I said my goodbyes to the cast and crew as I knew I wouldn’t be seeing them again. Except perhaps at the premier. It was quite a wrench leaving to be honest.
Home after this felt like a bit of an anti-climax. One of the problems was that I still couldn’t share the news about the film to anyone because it hadn’t been announced. Even so, I watched the progress of the film by following Giles on Twitter, who was posting photos that didn’t give anything away, but I knew what they meant.
Eventually the announcement went into Variety and I was able to share my excitement at last.
As I write this, the last day of filming is taking place and it’s hard to believe that it’s almost all in the can. Wow! Terri Dwyer told me she wanted to make the film this year and she has indeed achieved what others would have found impossible. And that is all down to her drive, and the outstanding efforts of all of the amazing cast and crew too. What a team!
Christmas is almost on us and I’m now signing off with my end of year round up for 2020. I’d normally not post this until 1st January, but I don’t think that much is going to happen between now and then.
2021 will see me celebrating every small success as usual. And maybe there will be some larger ones coming again, I can only hope. But either way, I think I have a lot to look forward to.
Happy Christmas everyone. Wishing you all a better year next year! Here’s to 2021!