What do you do full time?
14 years ago I left a well-paid and secure job as Head of Disability Services for Bedfordshire County Council to start my own company; a care agency supporting children and families with disabilities. It was a scary leap into the unknown and meant investing my own money and a lot of time. For a while I worked full-time as a management consultant during the day and ran the business evenings and weekends, often totalling 70+ hours a week. I expected to have a team of eight carers but now have around ninety staff, including the management team. As I’ve built the business from scratch and have created all the necessary policies and procedures, the service is unique and personal. I have a highly motivated and positive team and together we provide highly valued care to families in need. It’s rewarding and satisfying though can be demanding at times.
What’s it like writing with a full time job under a deadline?
I try to take Wednesdays off now and dedicate the day to my writing but it’s disappointing how meetings always seem to crop up on that day. As my company office is set in a large annexe attached to the house I’m always on hand to answer queries or make decisions. It’s convenient being nearby but I never get a proper break so I tend to do most of my writing at the weekends.
Why do you write?
Writing is no longer a hobby, it’s become an addiction. I’ve spent my career as a social worker and director writing reports, policies, training materials and content for websites. It was only when I was seriously ill in 2016 that I decided I wanted to tick one more thing off my bucket list which was to write a book and get it published. I joined a writing course and from day one I was hooked. I can lose myself for hours when I’m creating a story and am at my happiest when it pulls together. I just wish I’d discovered writing fiction a lot sooner as the market has become saturated with books and is really tough now.
“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit” – Richard Back – What does this quote mean to you?
As I was born in May I’m a Taurus and one of the characteristics is stubbornness. Once I have decided to do something I won’t stop trying until I’ve achieved it. I still feel like an amateur when I read fantastic authors like Robert McCammon or Michael Robotham but I dedicate time to learning as much about the craft of writing as I can. I study books on character arcs, forensics, and story structures. I research everything thoroughly and have learned how bodies decompose, what patterns blood spatters make and ten ways to bury a body. My husband is alarmed by my searches on the iPad and said I must never write about making bombs or we’ll have the terrorist squad knocking our door down.
I’ve always enjoyed learning and it doesn’t matter how good I am at something I believe there is always room for improvement so will study everything I can on the subject. It feels weird to think of myself as a professional writer but I suppose I am as I’ve earned a little money at it. I’m a long way from earning enough to live on though, so won’t be giving up the day job!
What are you currently working on?
I’ve just finished the final proof-read of my third novel, a psychological thriller Scared to Breathe, which is being released on the 3rd June. My second novel, a social crime story called Who’s There? was declined by my current publisher as it didn’t quite fit their lists but is being considered by agents. I’m currently writing my fourth novel, Not My Sister, which was inspired by a news article about a woman who took a DNA test and discovered she wasn’t related to her family. It’s another psychological thriller with twists and turns and I’m about a third of the way through the first draft. I have a contract with my publisher for it and hope to release it by the end of the year.
When Tasha witnesses a stabbing at the train station in Luton, she is compelled to give evidence in court that leads to Dean Rigby being convicted. But when Lewis, Dean’s brother, vows revenge, Tasha is afraid and no longer feels safe in her own home.
Tasha’s partner, Reuben, hopes to marry her and start a family soon. But Reuben is concerned about Tasha’s state of mind and urges her to see a doctor.
When Tasha is left a derelict country house by her birth father, she sees an opportunity to escape Luton and start a new life. After visiting Black Hollow Hall she sees it as the perfect opportunity to live a life without fear.
At first Tasha feels liberated from her troubles. The gardener, William, who is partially paralysed but employed to maintain the grounds of Black Hollow Hall, is welcoming.
But soon Tasha realises the Hall is not quite the idyll she imagined.
When she discovers that a woman jumped to her death there years ago following the murder of her husband, strange events begin to take place and Tasha fears for her safety.
Have the Rigby family found her?
Is someone trying to scare her into selling the house?
Or is she suffering from paranoia as Reuben suggests?
As Tasha’s sanity is put under pressure she begins to wonder if Black Hollow Hall going to be her salvation or her undoing…
Extract of Scared to Breathe
The sooner I get the door or window fastened the sooner I can get back into the safety of my bed. Huh. Who am I kidding? Only children believe blankets offer security. I cross the hall and enter the small sitting room then through to the library. Nearly there. A draught of cold air wraps itself around my feet and I shiver, goosebumps rising on my arms and legs. It’s so dark, as though all the colours of the daytime have been layered one over the other like printing ink until the only colour left is black. The lantern barely lights a foot in front of me. Maybe Reuben was right. I should have gone back to Luton, at least until the overhead lighting is sorted.
The tall French window smashes into the wall again and this time glass shatters. Damn. I hasten across the room to secure the door to prevent any more panes breaking but before I get there I spring away to my right as something moves to the left of me. Still backing away, I bring the lantern round to see what it was. Or who…
The light from two tiny candles is pitiful. It barely penetrates the darkness but I’m too afraid to step forward again.
‘Who’s there?’ I can’t help asking.
No one answers. Of course they don’t. The storm continues to rage outside and gusts of air surge through the open door making the candles flicker. Making the shadows flicker too. Was that what I’d seen? Am I literally afraid of my own shadow now? I step to the door and with glass crunching underfoot I reach for the handle. It’s cold and wet in my sweaty palm. I’m exposed here and the rain soaks into my wrap while the strong wind flaps it around my legs. I scrape the soles of my slippers on the door sill to dislodge any fragments of glass then drag the door shut. I click the latch then test it to see if it holds. It seems fine but I puzzle over why I couldn’t open it earlier. The wind continues to throw rain through the broken pane but I’ll have to sort it out in the morning.
As I turn back to face the room a sudden flash lights up the wall of the library and I see a man-shaped shadow. My shock turns into a scream then I run, the poker bashing painfully on my shin and my wet slippers skidding on the wooden flooring as I bolt through the sitting room doorway. I catch my shoulder on the frame and pain erupts down my arm. A door creaks behind me but I don’t stop. I weave in and out of the furniture in the drawing room and rush into the dining room. The candle flames gutter and die as they drown in liquid wax. I slam the door behind me and throw the poker and lamp on the floor then grab a dining chair and tilt it, ramming it under the door handle.
It isn’t enough. One push from the other side of the door would send it flying across the room. The chest of drawers. They’ll be better. My breath’s coming in short gasps now and sweat trickles down my sides. My left arm feels numb. I run to the chest of drawers and lean all my weight into it, pushing it across the floor. The feet scratch the polished wood but I don’t care. It crashes into the dining chair sending it skittering away. With the furniture positioned across the doorway I turn and look wildly around. I need something else to go across the other doorway that leads to the kitchen but no. It won’t work. This one opens outwards.
Under the bed.
No. Too obvious.
I grab my thin duvet and rush to the huge sideboard. I open one of the doors and crawl inside, grateful I’ve emptied it of old rubbish, and tuck the cover under and around my sodden robe. I find a screw head on the inside of the cupboard door and use it to pull the door shut. I wrap my arms around my knees and hunch into as tiny a ball as possible. I rock slowly back and forth, blood pounding through my veins. I’m trembling all over.
I put my head on my knees, silent tears soaking into the thin duvet and then lift my head in horror.
I can hear the unmistakable sound of laughter. Deep and male. There’s no doubt about it now. I’m not going crazy or suffering from paranoia. There’s someone in the house.
‘Dying to See You’ is Kerena’s first novel, Her second book ‘Scared to Breathe is being released on 3rd June 2019. Drawing on her extensive knowledge and experience in the problematic world of social work, Kerena adds a unique angle to the domestic noir genre.