Tag Archives: Split Symmetry

On location with Split Symmetry

My second novel, Split Symmetry, was set in a mountain range in Abruzzo, central Italy after I discovered it one year whilst on holiday with friends in the region. A ski resort in the winter, the mountain range is home to one of the highest peaks in Italy, certainly the tallest outside of the Alps. At nearly 3,000 metres, the Corno Grande peak within the range is so tall I nearly suffered altitude sickness the first time I went up it.

Gran Sasso also houses the southernmost glacier in Europe next to the summit of the Corno Grande, sadly expected to have disappeared by 2020 due to climate change.

On my first visit, I drove there on the back of my husband’s motorbike which he keeps at his family home in Rome for occasions such as these! En route we passed through a 10 km tunnel which cuts through the mountain itself. It was cold and we were running out of petrol (a typical scenario) so I started to look around me, in case we ended up having to stop.

I was surprised to notice reinforced metal doors cut into the sides of the tunnels. They looked like something out of James Bond and indeed afterwards I discovered that behind them lay something of great importance: Italy’s National Laboratories. It was in these labs that scientists received the ‘faster-than-light’ neutrinos which had been fired across from CERN in Switzerland in 2011.

The second time I visited the mountain I had to follow four bikers up to Campo Imperatore, a plain about half way up. Stopping every so often to provide them with roadside drinks and snacks, I had plenty of time to observe how the weather changed from hot and sunny to ominous and brooding to darkly torrential in the space of a couple of hours.

I waited at Campo Imperatore for an hour or so at the end of the bike ride, enough time for its strange atmosphere to soak into my skin: this was the last place Mussolini hid before the Germans picked him up during the second world war. And it feels like a small piece of those events still resides somewhere in the ether there. There’s something about the oddness of the tumble down hotel, little changed in several decades, and the gleaming towers of the Rome Observatory, which sits on the edge of the Campo, to lend the surroundings an other-worldly feel. The area seems to transcend time – quite apt for my novel.

On my third visit I climbed up the wrong side of the Corno Grande slope with ropes…with a guide, I hasten to add. It got me thinking about how perilous it could be to do this kind of climb in the middle of the night, and how resourceful you’d need to be to do it safely.

Each time I went, I passed earthquake-torn Aquila on the way, still looking tumble down and broken. I thought, what if an earthquake hit whilst you were up the mountain. Then I thought about all the times I’d been involved in near miss hiking disasters – a few times, as it happens, because hiking is a risky business, far more so than many people realise.

And that led to my ‘what if’ question which led to the novel.

There’s more to it, of course, including a backstory worthy of LOST and an incredible catastrophe, in which my protagonist, Elena, and her friends, are forced to question the nature of reality itself…Will they survive it?


Set in the near future, Split Symmetry is the story of what happens when a hike in the notorious Gran Sasso mountain range in central Italy descends into chaos on the same night that scientists decide to work on a clandestine experiment in a lab beneath the mountain. Dr Elena Lewis must work around the clock to find members of her group who have become lost on the mountain, but just as she is close to finding them, the region is rocked by one of the worst earthquakes central Italy has ever known.

Get your copy on Amazon, today.

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Writing Split Symmetry

Mountain split symmetryThe writing of Split Symmetry was an odd experience. It was a rollercoaster, on both an emotional and spiritual level. It was a process which changed my approach to novel writing, and which changed me. It was my ‘via crucis’, the road which would decide if this novel-writing business was for me.

In many ways, it is my true debut. Borderliners was a tale which exercised my mind and troubled my heart, but an easier story in many ways to categorise and get hold of. A learning curve, it was also a novel which was rewritten many times before it was done (and still, I wonder, is it really done?). It was my John the Baptist, the one who was to pave the way, my lost leader (all too important in the indie publishing trenches), my trial run. Although I may need to revisit at some point, maybe to tweak a bit for a second edition, for now my protagonist needed to move on.

So, there was a fork in the road, a Faber Academy course in the middle and many many game changing experiences along the way. I am not the writer I was when I stood at the start of Split Symmetry, thinking it would be easy, thinking I’d got my technique down. Not so.

Turns out I chose a difficult task to execute.

Blood sweat and tears didn’t cover it. I wrote every day and read as much as I could about the writing process.  I bared all to my fellow writers on the Faber course I followed. They were merciless – actually we were all merciless with each other (don’t worry, we’re all still friends), and to the benefit of everyone. I ended up living my characters like a method actor, in order to understand their motivations, their weaknesses and their character arcs. It wasn’t easy. Considering one of them has a condition which some might consider to be borderline psychosis (although I don’t, not really), this could have been a dangerous exercise.

But I lived to tell the tale, and finish the novel.

What I ended up with was a complex beast, and truly a story with many layers – probably more than this debut writer was really ready to tackle. It has had so many different reactions from readers, many polarised. Some people relate to the story as a pure action adventure, like the Poseiden Adventure. Others are drawn by the relationships between the main characters: two sets of siblings, all of them damaged, all of them with everything and nothing to play for. Others still, turned the pages to find out the conclusion to the story within the story, the dark secret one set of siblings has, which repeats on them forever more. For me, it was the spiritual, philosophical and metaphysical undertones to the story which exercised my mind most of all.

I enjoyed following Dr Elena Lewis into the next chapter of her life. It took me to places I wouldn’t have predicted as both she and her co-protagonist, James Dennison, took on lives of their own during the writing of the book. In some ways this was unnerving, but in others it was heartening: I had found my artistic distance in this book, the point where what I produced became something different, something unexpected.

Now, the tale is ready to be released.

Split Symmetry, available from 27 June 2014 on Amazon

More about Split Symmetry

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Genre marketing

I recently enrolled on a writing course, Exploring Genre’, run by prolific writer, editor and teacher, Tom Bromley, at PWA. Why?

As readers of this blog may have noticed, genre is something which has been taxing my mind for some time. Genre, for me, is a doubled-edged sword. I’m a marketing professional by trade and the logic behind any good marketing campaign is the same, and always has been.

Why genre fiction equates to smart marketing

Marketers talk a lot about market segments and quantifying them. You know, roughly, who your audience is, but in order to engage successfully with them, you need to narrow it down. Normally competitive analysis and positioning helps to sort out which market is not only the best fit for you product but also the one likely to be easier to compete within. So then (as any good marketer knows) you test the theory to end up with a proof of concept. And what any marketing person worth their salt will ascertain from looking at the publishing business is that awareness of genre equates to smart marketing in the world of book sales. Ask any best-selling indie author, and they will tell you that. This blog ‘Write to Done’ hammers this point home very well.

My test-run novel, Borderliners

BorderlinersTake my novel, Borderliners, as a case study. Borderliners was released in February. About a troubled psychotherapist who must uncover what is behind a string of deaths in her village, Borderliners was a story I thought would classify as a thriller – but it isn’t really. The process of self-publishing and getting right up close to my audience showed me that hard-core thriller audiences got fed up with the more reflective elements of the book, whereas readers of YA – surprisingly – quite liked it. Since its publication, I’ve played around with the book a lot, placing it in several categories within Amazon. It got lost very quickly in ‘thriller’ but rose in ‘occult’. I tested it in ‘fiction’ (as in general, not literary), but it got lost there too, so currently it’s in ‘juvenile fiction’.

Borderliners was supposed to be my proof of concept, but I don’t think it is fit for that purpose. I made it as good as I could at the time, but in terms of writing for a specific audience, it hasn’t ticked the boxes. That’s OK though, as the marketer in me finds the Borderliners test a fascinating one. It will soon be followed by my second novel, Split Symmetry, which, as a  mixture of adventure thriller and metaphysical love story, is similarly cross-genre. Effectively, Split Symmetry is also a proof of concept experiment.

Genre as classification

pride-and-prejudiceIn some ways, it’s true that all fiction is, to an extent, cross-genre. As the writer of this Guardian article about genre fiction and classification says, Jane Austen didn’t consider herself to be writing literary fiction. I did snigger a bit at the writer’s re-classification of literary fiction in today’s terms as ‘LitSnob’ – ain’t that the truth. There’s some fantastic story telling and writing within so-called genre fiction, and yet some people feel they are letting the side down if they aren’t constantly reading prose-poetry, not realising that literary fiction is just another marketers’ classification of general fiction.

For me, the answer lies somewhere in between. I’m a big fan of CJ Lyons’ smart approach. She writes thrillers which would be considered cross-genre as they contain romantic elements. So rather than just allow her books to sink and dwindle in the nether regions of Amazon and the like, she used crossroads positioning to find her niche – ‘Thrillers with heart’.

Now, that’s what I call smart marketing. But in order to execute this kind of positioning in your chosen market, you must first know what your market reads, and why. You must know what else your market reads and find your competitive space, and you must be sure your competitive space is wide enough for you to enter – and not too crowded! Early competitive advantage is key.

So that’s me back to the drawing board. Back to school, as it were, to study genres and their audiences and hopefully afterwards, back into the field armed with knowledge which will help me execute my own killer positioning.

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