Extract | While You Sleep by Stephanie Merritt

Category: Extract

While You Sleep

 

Prologue

 

It begins, they say, with a woman screaming.

You can’t tell at first if it’s pleasure or pain, or that tricky place where the two meet; you’re almost embarrassed to hear it, but if you listen closer it comes to sound more like anguish, a lament torn from the heart: like an animal cry of loss, or defiance, or fury, carried across the cove from cliff to cliff on the salt wind.

If you stand on the beach with your back to the sea, they’ll tell you, looking up at the McBride house, you might catch, behind tall windows on the first floor, the fleetest shift of a shadow. All the rooms dark through glass; not even the flicker of a candle, only the shape that shivers at that same window and vanishes, quick as breath, under the broken reflections of clouds and moon. They’ll say the woman’s keening grows louder as the gale seeks unprotected corners of the house, swirls around the pointed gables, shakes the weathervane on the turret and rattles the attic windows in their frames. But listen again; when the wind drops, there is nothing but the wild sea, and the occasional drawn-out moans of the seals beyond the headland.

Only on certain nights, the islanders will tell incomers; when the moon is high and the air whipped up like the white-peaked waves in the bay. Be patient and you might hear her. Plenty will swear to it.

 

The two boys crouch by a ridge of rocks at the foot of the cliff, watching the house. It is still half a ruin; naked beams poke into the moonlit sky like the ribs of some great flayed beast. They hesitate, each waiting for the other to move. They have come this far to test the old stories, they can’t lose face now. The summer night is mild and clear; too balmy for ghosts. They are girding themselves when the screaming starts. They turn to one another in astonishment; fear makes them giggle.

‘Let’s go,’ whispers the nimble, ginger boy. He has his phone in his hand, ready to capture it on film.

But his companion has frozen to the spot, stricken, his eyes stretched wide and fixed on the house.

‘Come on, we’ll miss it.’

The heavier boy retreats a few paces, shaking his head.

The ginger one hesitates, his lip curling with scorn. ‘Pussy.’

He sets off over the sand and marram grass to the half-open door, his phone held out at arm’s length. Left behind on the beach, his friend watches him disappear into the shadows.

The waves break and retreat, over and over, dragging layers of shingle into the restless water. A new scream echoes across the beach, a child’s cry this time. The last traces of light ebb from the sky and behind the windows of the McBride house there is nothing but solid darkness.

***

 

On a remote Scottish island, the McBride house stands guard over its secrets. A century ago, a young widow and her son died mysteriously there; just last year a local boy, visiting for a dare, disappeared without a trace.

For Zoe Adams, newly arrived from America, the house offers a refuge from her failing marriage. But her peaceful retreat is disrupted by strange and disturbing events: night-time intrusions; unknown voices; a constant sense of being watched.

The locals want her to believe that these incidents are echoes of the McBrides’ dark past. Zoe is convinced the danger is closer at hand, and all too real – but can she uncover the truth before she is silenced?

 

This Halloween read the chilling, unputdownable thriller that will send shivers up your spine! OUT NOW and only £2.99 in eBook.

 

Extract | Forget Me Not by A. M. Taylor

Category: Books

“Maddie,” Ange said over the phone, her voice a breathless straight line.

“Yeah?” I said, suddenly sitting up a little straighter. There was something about the shape of her voice that instantly shook me, old memories rattling around in my ribcage making my heartbeat pick up.

“I … I—”

“Ange, what’s going on? What’s happened? Are you okay?” My voice was snappy and sharp, but I couldn’t help it, I knew where conversations like that went and my fear translated to frustration all too easily.

“I was just driving through town to come get you and all these police cars passed me.”

There was no way I could have possibly known, so of course I thought of Nora, blindly following my memory back, racing those cop cars as fast as they could go to a morning so vivid it could have happened yesterday.

I could feel the same grip of panic and loss that had folded and tightened itself around me ten years before when I said to Ange: “Where were the police cars going?”

“They were headed towards the old highway, so I turned round and followed them because—” Because that was where Nora’s car had been found, and Ange was a reporter and certain habits are hard to break.

“Are you there now? What’s going on? Is it Nora?”

“Mads, it’s not Nora. It’s not Nora, but there’s a body and I think … I think it’s Nora’s sister, Noelle.”

All the air I had in my body was pulled out of me and replaced with lead, or granite, or concrete, or something heavy and immovable that dragged me down, down, down. My vision swam, images of Elle rising to the surface. She’d looked so young at the memorial and yet so weary, the weight of the world crowding her shoulders. How could this be happening again? A little over a week earlier I’d met her at CJ’s, treating her to a hot chocolate which had always been her favorite. She’d been filled with a razor-edge energy, cracking jokes and telling me stories about her girlfriend, Jenna, but then something had shifted in her and she’d started asking me questions about Nora. I’d put it down to the anniversary coming up so soon and had been happy to answer them. Normally when anyone talked about Nora I clenched up, went into lockdown, but it was different with Elle. I didn’t have to guess what her motives were when she brought Nora up, unlike with so many other people who just wanted to indulge in their morbid curiosity, to gossip about a missing girl as though she were a celebrity spiraling out of control.

I closed my eyes and tried to keep that picture of her in my mind: sitting in a booth at CJ’s, skimming the edge of her mug with her forefinger so that a pile of whipped cream and mini marshmallows appeared there before she stuck it in her mouth, while I groaned in faux disapproval and she grinned wickedly at me. I wanted to hold it there forever, but I knew how quickly that memory, that moment, would be eroded, degraded, twisted and turned into something else. I knew how quickly she’d go from Elle—the girl I’d helped teach how to ice skate and roller­blade and who’d hated to lose at Scrabble but still tried her best to win every time—to yet another person I’d be forced to mourn.

I was struggling to keep my head above the water when Ange said: “Mads, are you there?”

“Yeah,” I gasped. “I’m here.”

She talked me through what she was looking at: two cop cars and an ambulance. She recognised most everyone at the scene, including Bright and Leo and Leo’s father, Chief Moody. She knew better than to ask me if I was okay, and I knew better than to ask her. She spoke slowly, taking her time, but each word was weighed, freighted down and heavy. She’d spent a couple of years on the crime desk of a Milwaukee paper when she first graduated, but had since moved to the news desk, where if a grisly or interesting crime came up, it was invariably scooped up by one of her colleagues still working on crime. Every time she’d had to cover the death or murder of a woman or girl she saw Nora was all she had said to me at the time; it was all she needed to say. But she was clearly trying to pick up the pieces of her training there, still a reporter at heart, even as she tried to make sense of something that would never make any sense.

“And you’re sure it’s Elle?” I asked eventually, my voice small and young-sounding in the enveloping warmth of my parents’ kitchen.

“I don’t know for sure obviously, but I overheard the cops talking. They all know her, Mads, they know what she looks like. It must be her.”

I nodded, even though she couldn’t see. There wasn’t a single officer on our police force who wouldn’t know who Noelle Altman was.

“I have to go, Leo’s coming over. I think he’s going to ask me to leave.”

“Okay,” I said.

There was a small beat and then, “Should I still come over?”

“Yes,” I said, even though both of us knew we wouldn’t be leaving Forest View anytime soon.

The gripping psychological debut FORGET ME NOT by A.M Taylor is out now for only 99p.

 

Q&A with Kate Medina

Category: Interview

1. Summarise Scared to Death in once sentence:

Everyone is afraid, but some fears can kill you.

 

2. How long did it take you to write?

Scared to Death took me a year to write.  I begin by spending a lot of time just thinking: developing the idea, the story and the characters that are going to inhabit that story.  I then spend two or three months fleshing out a very detailed plot and won’t start writing until I know how the whole book will play out.  Different novelists write in different ways, but a good crime novel has a very complex plot with multiple set-ups and pay-offs, many false leads and lots of intertwined sub-plots, and I couldn’t imagine writing something so complex without plotting it out first. An intricately carved, twisty-turny story that keeps me guessing until the end is, for me, a critical feature of a great crime novel.

 

3. What’s your favourite thing about the writing process?

I love virtually everything about the writing process.  I love doing a job that gives me the opportunity to be creative, but I also find the plotting process hugely mentally challenging, like trying to fit and enormous, amorphous jigsaw puzzle together.  I also really enjoy getting to know my characters and spending time with them.  It sounds strange, but often, despite my detailed plot, my characters do or say something that I don’t expect and I then have to run with them.  Scared to Death is the second in a crime series featuring twenty-nine year old clinical psychologist Dr Jessie Flynn, and I have grown to love Jessie and her fellow key protagonists, DI Bobby ‘Marilyn’ Simmons and Captain Ben Callan, as have, I hope, my readers.

 

4. …And your least?

My least favourite part of the writing process is editing my novel based on feedback from my Harper Collins Editor.  She is hugely experienced and her wisdom invariably makes the finished novel incomparably better, but I experience a mini-period of mourning each time her feedback arrives.  The plots of my novels are complex and if one bit changes, it has repercussions throughout the novel so a simple change, rarely turns out to be simple.  When I send my novel off to my publisher, I mentally put it to bed and having it come back again for changes is like one of my children climbing out of bed and disturbing me when I’ve signed off for the day and am having a glass of wine and watching a good TV drama!

 

5. What’s the last book you read?

The last book I read was ‘Behind her Eyes’ by Sarah Pinborough and I loved it.  Its social media hastag is a very appropriate #wtfthatending.  Occasionally I read a book that I wish I had written and ‘Behind her Eyes’ is one of those books.

 

6. What are your desert island reads?

I am an avid crime and thriller reader, which is why I chose to write in that genre.  I love well established crime writers such as Jo Nesbo, Steig Larsson, Martina Cole, Peter James and Mo Hayder and newer writers such as Simon Toyne, SK Tremayne and CL Taylor.

I have a degree in Psychology and am very interested in the ‘whys’ of human behaviour, so I also enjoy books that delve into the dark side of people’s psychology, such as the classic ‘Lord of the Flies’, which, although it is set on its own desert island, would definitely have to accompany me to mine.

 

 7. What’s the least likely thing you’d be found doing?

Relaxing! I am a very restless person and never really ‘do nothing’ unless I’m asleep, and even then, my husband tells me that I constantly wriggle.

 

8. Favourite word?

Discombobulated.  It’s a great word and very onomatopoeic, although I am yet to fit it into one of my novels without its inclusion sounding contrived.  One day…

 

9. Do you listen to music when writing?

One of the reasons I became an author was because I’m quite introverted and love silence, so I never listen to music when I’m writing.  I write in an attic room at the top of the house, with the door shut and my two dogs for company.  One of them is getting old now and snores when she’s asleep, so I have to resist poking her to wake her up, as her snoring disturbs my writing.  I only listen to music when I’m driving on my own and I can sing very loudly without anyone telling me that I sound dreadful – which I do.

 

10. Dead or alive, who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

I enjoy a good argument, so I’d invite people who had very different views on life to create as much conflict and as many interesting, challenging discussions as possible.  I’d invite Maggie Thatcher, because, although she was Marmite in terms of politics, she was fantastically clever, driven, opinionated and successful woman.  I’d invite Boris Johnson, because I’d like to know if he is as ludicrous in person as he appears to be on the television.  I’d invite Hillary Mantel, as she is such an incredibly clever writer, J K Rowling because her creativity knows no bounds, Peter James because he is a great writer and an incredibly nice person – so he could keep the peace – and Steig Larsson because his crime writing has always inspired me.

I also love to laugh, so I’d have to include at least one comedian.  David Walliams is a fellow Harper Collins author and I’ve seen him at Harper events, but never actually talked to him in person, so I would definitely invite him.

 

I spent five years in the Territorial Army as a Troop Commander in the Royal Engineers, a role that I loved, and I am fascinated and not a little disturbed by the level of conflict the world seems to be experiencing at the moment, so I’d invite General Sir Nicholas Carter, who is Chief of the General Staff (head of the British Army).

Lastly I’d invite Tom Hanks as he is one of the finest actors of his generation, seems like a lovely man and would, I’m sure, have some great stories to tell.