The history behind ‘Alderslay.’

I started writing this story about seven or eight years ago, and it was intended to be the follow-up to my first book ‘Changes.’ Although Changes was a romance, (since republished as ‘Summer Changes, Winter Tears,’) I wanted to try a darker genre and ‘Murder of Changes,’ as it was originally known, is more of a psychological horror.

Biggin Hill, the setting for the house, was not a random choice but fit the requirements for being relatively close to major towns but remote enough to ensure privacy. I knew the area well from my activities as a Toxophilite, (someone who practices archery) and we regularly competed against other clubs there and in the surrounding countryside.

Probably best known for its airfield and major role in the Battle of Britain, it was an article in the local paper which first provided the idea for a sinister story. The report suggested plans were under consideration to develop the aerodrome at Biggin Hill into an international airport with all that entailed. Public transport at the time was almost non-existent, and with no railway station and a bus only every hour or so and less frequently on Sundays, it was a quiet haven despite its proximity to London. The peace and tranquillity were only disturbed by the motorcycle clubs having burn-ups along its twisting country lanes. It was easy to imagine a rambling estate lost amongst the trees and invisible to the casual passer-by. Development plans never came to fruition, but the outline for the story was born.

At around 140,000 words it was the longest I’d written, and by the time the first draft was finished I needed a break. I took to writing short 2,000-word stories, concentrated on setting up my blog/web site, became involved in writers’ groups and learnt more about the craft of being an author. Meanwhile my second book was published and ‘M of C’ as it was affectionately known, remained on the back burner as I learnt the intricacies of self-publishing.

I became an Indie author, had stories included in several anthologies and joined forces with friend and author Paula Harmon to produce ‘Weird and Peculiar Tales,’ a collection of our short stories with a fantasy twist. Around that time, I dusted off M of C and sent it to an editor asking her to be as honest and brutal as she liked, and not try to spare my feelings even if we didn’t know each other very well. It suited us both to go through the book in stages; I would send her ten or a dozen chapters, she would go through them and return them with her comments, which I worked on while she went through the next tranche. It took a couple of months but worked well to fit in with other commitments.

I entered a competition and was delighted to win first prize – a professional cover design for my book. I responded to the initial contact congratulating me, sent off the requested details and received an acknowledgement from the company who were based in Holland. Meanwhile I sent out my ‘final’ draft to my beta reading team in the hope of being able to release the book within a few months.

It’s amazing how quickly technology changes, and over the course of those few years since the first draft, certain aspects already seemed out of date. Rather than emails being the main mode of communication, the ubiquitous smart phone had become almost another limb, which resulted in some major rewrites. A polite chaser to the cover designers received a ‘working on it, slight delay due to the virus but we’ll be in touch soon,’ response.

The book was now a far cry from the original draft but was definitely improved, and I started marketing with the idea of being ready to publish as soon as the cover was completed. Another ‘How’s it going’ brought no response, but companies were in the midst of setting up new routines due to the virus so I allowed them a little grace. When yet another inquiry met with no response, I began to get worried. Was it a scam? They hadn’t asked for any money. Was I being unreasonable in the midst of a pandemic? It was the lack of contact which was the greatest concern, but after more than a year since the initial announcement, I received an email from the MD of the company. His employee had not kept him informed about what had been happening and it was the first he had heard of my correspondence regarding the cover design. He apologised but nothing had been done!

Was it worth trying to start again with the appropriate delays or write it off to experience? I had hoped to be in a position not to burden my friend who usually helped with the technical aspect of my covers, but as usual, she came galloping to the rescue on her trusty dragon, despite having problems of her own. Within a few days we were back into the realms of ‘yeah, but could you just…?’ She knows who she is but probably has no idea how often she has saved my sanity.

Finally, everything came together, Amazon gremlins had decided to take a holiday and rubber stamped my submissions which meant the book went live within a few hours. I was on a roll and for once it was all going to plan. My first review from a book blogger I admire exceeded all my expectations -what could possibly go wrong? All I had to do was settle into some marketing and order the celebration bubbly.

But life’s not like that. Out of the blue, and after nearly two years of waiting I had a phone call saying an operation for a health problem had been scheduled for less than two weeks’ time, and meanwhile nearly every day needed to be allocated to assessments and tests. My release day celebrations would have to wait.

I hope you enjoyed your Easter break, and see you next week.

© Val Portelli April 2021


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