Janet Gordon, who lives in Takeley, reviews bestsellers and early fiction for Indie…
It can sometimes be very difficult to get an enjoyable and captivating novel out of your head. The characters and plot stick in your mind long after you’ve turned the last page.
And so it was with Six days by Dani Atkins (Head of Zeus £16.99).
In 2013, my assistant at London Bridge Hospital where I ran the London Liver Center and who lived in Bishop’s Stortford, told me about a good friend of her mother’s (who both worked at Herts and Essex High School) who had just to have her first novel published. As a voracious tube reader, I kind of registered the name but, due to work pressure, never had time to buy it.
Fast forward to 2022 when I was reading Six daysauthored by local lady Dani Atkins – the same lady my PA told me about. Six days is his ninth novel – and what an idiot I am not to have read it already.
To make up for that, I invited Dani for coffee at Pearce’s, the lovely farm shop and cafe on the A10, and, with the blazing hot sun on our faces, we sat outside and talked about books .
I’m sure we all know writers who have a whole bulletin board full of their characters’ weaknesses and exactly how the story is going to evolve, so I asked Dani if she’s a planner or a plotter.
“I’m definitely not a plotter,” she replied. “But I guess I’m what I call a tidy writer, in that I edit my draft the day after I write it so that it’s hopefully the only draft I do.
“My characters live in my head and so, although I vaguely know where I want my story to go, I’m just carried away by how the characters develop, but yes I take notes on highlights. For example, I don’t want to give my heroine blue eyes in one chapter and green in the next, but they actually live in me.”
And I can confirm that the Six days the characters really live with you in this truly romantic weepie. Told as a week in Gemma’s life, and with interspersed flashbacks, it’s the wedding day for Gemma and Finn who are meant to be together. Where are they? Finn doesn’t show up for church and although Gemma is convinced that her beloved Finn wouldn’t do this to her, no one else is really really convinced. But Gemma knows – feeling it deep in her psyche – that something terrible has happened.
When Gemma, rather than leaving for her honeymoon, walks around Finn’s apartment to find it totally empty, even the wardrobe hangers missing, it’s so hard to keep believing and, almost in despair , she talks to the police who, while friendly, aren’t exactly that helpful.
Dani, who wears 63 very lightly, has two adult children and lives with her husband Ralph, a soppy border collie and a very vocal Siamese cat in a small village just outside Stortford.
“I always wrote,” she recalls. “I have at least half a dozen kind of written novels in a drawer at home that are really not suitable for publication.
“But when I’m done Fracture, my first novel, my daughter Kimberley was determined not to put it in a drawer. Since she worked in publishing and was curious to see how self-publishing worked for authors, she volunteered to help me list Fracture with KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) on a snowy weekend in January 2013.
“To my surprise, when we put the book in a five-day free promotion a few months later, it achieved over 10,000 downloads. I must admit I thought that when the promotion ended, the downloads would probably decrease, but at this time word of mouth was winning.
“And when I was contacted by an agent who offered to represent me and send my book to a traditional publisher, I agreed, expecting to hear nothing for a while. But, in One week I was offered a two-book deal with Head of Zeus, who are still my publishers, and it was a dream time come true.
“It was then – after 20 years of working at the school – that I made the decision to go part-time so I could fulfill my two-pound deal.” Now, with several bestselling books under her belt, Dani writes full time.
“Does my husband Ralph read your novels?” I asked. “Well, no,” she admitted. “He’s a Lee Child fan, but I write every day and I don’t even let him in until I ask him if I can read him what I wrote that day. He demands a cup of tea first, and it’s a bit like tea time with jackanory in our house.”
Fracture has now been translated into 18 different languages and has sold over half a million copies since it was first published in 2013. And Dani has been so successful that in 2018 she won the prestigious romantic novel of the year for This loveand just two weeks ago she learned that she had won the award for contemporary romantic novel of the year for A sky full of stars.
Dani also has a date with Waterstones in Stortford on Wednesday April 13 at 7pm and tickets can be booked online now. She will read a passage from Six days and also signing his glitter cover hardback book which is published the following day. I would say this is an event not to be missed.
Especially for independent readers, Head of Zeus has kindly donated three copies of Dani’s Six days to earn. To try your luck, answer this question: When is Six Days released? Is it a) April 14, b) April 24 or c) May 14. See below for registration details.
The closed room by Elly Griffiths (Quercus £20.00)
Another prolific author is Elly Griffiths, and The closed room is the 14th installment in her Dr Ruth Galloway series.
Set at the start of lockdown in its beloved Norfolk, all of its characters and pets are back, this time grappling with the ins and outs of a complicated lockdown storyline.
Ruth is now settled in her secluded cabin in the wilderness, but this time she has a neighbor, an oddly familiar friendly face next door.
So atmospheric, so familiar – I loved it.
lucky three India readers can also win a copy of The closed room thanks to Quercus. All you have to do is answer this question: What county is Norwich in? Is it a) Suffolk, b) Norfolk or c) Essex.
For Six Days and The Locked Room competitions, send applications to Book Competition, Bishop’s Stortford Independent, 12 North Street, Bishop’s Stortford CM23 2LQ or email [email protected] with ‘Book Competition’ in the subject line. Registration closes at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, April 12. Winners will be invited to pick up their book at the Indie office.