Hi Rachel, welcome back to Café Cala,
It’s great to have you visit Café Cala again. I’ve loved all your books and Scared to Death was no exception. It’s brilliant – what a great start to your new series. I couldn’t put it down! I’ve been making a pumpkin roll filled with cream cheese and pecans this morning. Would you like tea or coffee with yours?
Thanks for having me over, Maggie – I’ll take tea please, nice and strong!
1 After your successful series of thrillers with Dan Taylor, plus three single titles– loved them all! – you’ve now started on a series with a female detective. What made you decide to change to crime?
It was as simple as the story idea popping into my head with the female detective already in tow. When I get an idea, it’s like remembering a scene from a film – I can see the whole thing in my head, so once I had that original idea back in March/April of this year, I started to jot down notes and get some very basic outlines down for stories for what turned out to be the start of a new series.
2 Where did you get the idea for Scared to Death?
Scared to Death was a bit of a surprise, because I had a whole other idea jotted down that I thought was going to be the first in series. Scared to Death originated from the family’s point of view – a slightly wayward teenage daughter, a mother with a successful business, and a father who adores his daughter no matter her faults. I’ve pulled out my notebook here to look at my original notes, and everything is character-based at that point. I began by working out what motivated every single one of them – once I had that, the plot developed very quickly.
3 What has given you the biggest thrill as an indie author?
Being asked to be on a panel with other indies at CrimeFest this year was an enormous thrill. It gave me the chance to return to the UK and hang out with a whole swathe of people who are really passionate about the genre, and they couldn’t care less whether I was indie or otherwise. It was a fantastic atmosphere, and gave me the chance to put faces to names of people I’d only known through social media at that point. I’ve also had the opportunity to pass on what I’ve learned to date – I love teaching, and paying it forward is a big part of who I am as a person, so to bring that all together within my writing business is fantastic.
4 You’re a prolific writer. What’s your writing pattern?
Disciplined! Once I get that basic idea, I’ll use the corkboard feature in Scrivener or physical index cards spread out on the floor and start to build the outline of a novel. I use a five act structure, same as screenwriting, and ensure there’s what author Peter James calls a “gosh, wow” moment at the end of each of those acts to drive the story forward and keeps a reader turning pages.
I’ll have a couple of sentences jotted down about what happens in each of the scenes, and then I get stuck in – I rarely edit as I write the first draft. I’ve learned to keep up momentum and punch out these drafts in 9-12 weeks, it’s better if I just pepper them with notes to myself to review during the second draft, e.g. “Plot Note: when X does this, make sure he says X in Chapter 20” or something like that.
5 What would you say has helped you most?
I love to write, first and foremost. The publishing, marketing and networking is a huge part of my writing business, but if I wasn’t seeing the sort of success I’ve had these past 2 years since I got my butt into gear, I’d still be writing. That’s been a great help, because even if I’m feeling low about something that’s not going right with the marketing, I can still retreat within my imagination and daydream about other story ideas.
6 What are you working on at the moment?
I’m nearly at the end of the first draft of the second in the Kay Hunter series, and I’ve started outlining the third book. I’ve got the idea for the fifth in the Dan Taylor series going around in my head, but things need to settle down politically in the UK and USA first before I can commit to that – as you know, I make my books as accurate as possible, and the situation in Europe is simply too fluid at the moment to firm up the plot. He’ll wait – he’s not going anywhere!
7 How many books are you planning in this new series?
If readers keep reading, I’ll keep writing them – I have four of the books in the latter stages of outlining, and there are three more jotted down in a skeleton form already. Plus I want to explore the other characters, so there are ample opportunities for “spin off” series along the way.
8 What advice would you offer to other indie authors?
Join the Alliance of Independent Authors. There is so much bad advice out there, and too many unscrupulous people ready to take money from you. ALLi have a fantastic Facebook group, and a blog, and I’m happy to spruik them because they’re one of the most honest advocates out there for indies.
9 What are you reading right now and what was your favourite book this year?
I’m currently reading K L Slater’s Safe With Me which has had me reading late into the night, and my favourite book this year has been Robert Bryndza’s Night Stalker. It’s rare that a crime thriller will give me a sleepless night, but that one did – I highly recommend it!
SCARED TO DEATH
By Rachel Amphlett
Copyright © 2016 Rachel Amphlett
Yvonne Richards grasped the notepaper in her hands, the page creased within her grip. The writing had been scrawled in haste, slipping over the faint blue lines that intersected the sheet.
‘I’m going as fast as I can,’ he said, through gritted teeth.
The retort brought tears to her eyes as he cleared his throat.
‘What’s the name of the street again?’
She lifted her thumb off the paper, noticing the warmth from her skin had blurred the ink, and squinted at the handwriting.
She lifted the notepaper from where her hand had been resting on her leg, and peered at it once more. Tony’s writing was appalling at the best of times, but now she struggled to read it. The writing had deteriorated because his hands had been shaking so much when he’d heard the caller’s voice.
‘East or West?’
He turned too early, the car hitting a dead end within a few yards.
He hit the brakes, both of them straining against the seatbelts across their chests.
‘No, no. The next one!’
‘You said it was this one.’
‘No – I said West. Innovation Way West.’
He swore under his breath, slammed the car into reverse, and swung it onto the main thoroughfare before turning at the next junction.
‘No, it’s okay. It’s okay. I’m sorry.’
She let her hand drop to her lap, clutching the page for fear she would lose it before they could reach their destination, and stifled a sob.
A hand reached out for hers, and she wound her fingers around his, seeking strength.
She found none.
His hands were as clammy as hers, and he was still shaking.
‘Both hands on the wheel, Tony,’ she murmured, and squeezed his fingers.
She swallowed as her eyes swept across his tanned skin.
Even his hair had lightened in the glare of the Italian sun. Her own hair was frizzy from the humidity, her skin pale by comparison, and she’d envied him that healthy glow as they stepped off the plane three days ago.
Before they’d reached the house.
Before the phone call.
His hand retreated, and the car accelerated towards a mini-roundabout set into the road.
Yvonne tore her eyes away from the address written on the paper, and stared out the passenger window.
The industrial estate had never fully recovered from the recession, with only a few small businesses eking out a living on the outer fringes of the area. The glass and concrete superstructures of the bigger enterprises that had lined the inner sanctum of the centre of the estate lay dormant, while empty windows stared accusingly at the quiet roads that encircled them, and faded letting agency signs flapped forlornly against mesh fencing.
The ornamental landscaping that had been so carefully tended now resembled a hodgepodge of ill-placed tropical plants fighting off common weeds determined to reclaim their territory.
Yvonne shivered, and tore her eyes away, then cried out and wrapped her hand around the armrest.
Tony corrected the wheel as the rear tyre clipped a kerbstone before they exited the roundabout, then exhaled.
She relaxed her grip, and retrieved the notepaper from the foot well, smoothing it over her knee.
He’d never been a great driver, and Yvonne realised he’d probably never driven as fast as this in his entire life. Certainly not in the nearly twenty years they’d been together.
Melanie had already informed them she was taking over the organisation of the anniversary party.
‘It’ll be great,’ she’d said.
Yvonne blinked, and wiped a tear away.
‘It’ll be okay.’
She didn’t reply, and instead focused on the road in front of them.
‘Are you sure?’
‘It could be thirty-six.’
Tony swore under his breath.
‘It’s thirty-five. I’m sure.’
The car slowed to a crawl, and she peered through the window.
‘I can’t see any numbers.’
Yvonne shaded her eyes from the sunlight cresting the buildings, and strained to find a clue to their whereabouts.
Here and there, kids had taken to the walls of the industrial spaces with spray cans, familiar graffiti tags dotted across doorways and signs that warned of CCTV cameras and security guards with dogs, which hadn’t been seen on the estate for over two years.
‘Fifteen,’ Tony called out.
She spun around to face him, but he was peering through his window as he kept the car at a steady pace, his knuckles white as he grasped the steering wheel.
As the derelict buildings passed by, her mouth ran dry while she tried to push away thoughts of Melanie held captive within the confines of one of them.
She’d only been wearing a thin vest top and jeans when Yvonne had last seen her five days ago.
The phone had rung late last Friday night, four hours after they’d returned from the airport. Tony had been sitting on one of the barstools at the kitchen worktop, an open bottle of wine next to him, a glass of red between his fingers while he’d flicked through the free newspaper. She’d dropped her bag on the surface, and accepted the second glass he’d held out to her.
‘Not home yet.’
Yvonne had checked her watch. ‘She’d better hurry up, or she’ll get no dinner.’
Tony had grunted non-committedly, and topped up his own wine. ‘Probably hanging out with that Thomas girl.’
‘I wish she wouldn’t.’
‘Yeah, but you tell her that, and she’ll do it anyway.’
Then the phone had interrupted them, and their lives had changed forever.
Now, Yvonne leaned forward in her seat, resting her hand on the dashboard as the car eased past the next padlocked fence. ‘That’s it. That’s the one.’
Tony swerved the car over to the kerbside and cut the engine.
She heard his breathing, heavy on his lips, and wondered if she sounded the same to him. She couldn’t tell – her heartbeat was hammering so hard, the sound of her blood roared in her ears.
He reached for the door handle.
‘Wait.’ She grabbed his arm. ‘What if he’s still here?’
Tony glanced over his shoulder. ‘We just dropped a bag with twenty thousand pounds in it two miles away,’ he snapped. ‘Do you really think he’s going to hang around here to thank us?’
Yvonne pursed her lips, and shook her head.
He shrugged her hand away, and she watched as he rocked his head from side to side, as if psyching himself up, before he placed his hand against the car door and pushed it open.
She launched herself out of the car after him.
When they approached the fence, Tony grasped the chain that looped through the wire openings.
It fell easily through his fingers.
‘It’s unlocked,’ said Yvonne.
‘He said it would be.’
She could hear it then, the fear crawling through his voice, replacing the brisk no-nonsense tone he’d tried to maintain since they’d left the house.
‘Did he say where—’
‘Yes. Follow me.’
Instinctively, she reached out for his hand, and he took hers between his fingers, gave it a squeeze, and then set off towards the side of the building.
She knew now how scared he really was. She couldn’t recall the last time they’d held hands. Lately all they’d done was bicker and snipe at each other over the smallest inconsequential things.
Melanie had always been a daddy’s girl, and Yvonne fought down the surge of jealousy that threatened.
She just wanted her back.
The building’s windows mirrored their reflection as they passed. A dark-coloured privacy sheen had been applied, preventing her seeing into the rooms beyond. She craned her neck, taking in the three-storey concrete monolith. Any corporate signage had been stripped away when the tenants had vacated the premises, and walls that had been stained an off-white tone when first built now resembled something closer to off-grey. Dirt and grime fought an equal battle with graffiti, and faded signs depicting evacuation zones and fire exits hung to the surface in places, the doors boarded up and unwelcoming.
‘How are we going to get in?’
‘He said one of these would be open.’
Sure enough, towards the rear of the building, they discovered a solid steel door. Although it was closed, a discarded padlock lay on the pockmarked asphalt of the perimeter.
Tony reached out for the handle.
He frowned. ‘What?’
She swallowed. ‘Shouldn’t you cover your hand? In case the police want to check it for fingerprints?’
‘I want my daughter back,’ he said, and twisted the handle.
She paused while he stepped over the threshold, then took a deep breath and followed him. She shared Melanie’s fear of enclosed spaces, and bile rose in her throat as she imagined the terror her daughter would feel at being held here.
She squinted as Tony pulled a torch from his pocket and switched it on, the beam blinding her before he lowered it, the light falling on discarded office furniture. She turned away, and blinked as she tried to adjust her eyes to the gloom beyond the torch beam once more. The pungent smell of rat droppings and damp from a leaking roof filled her senses, and she choked back the urge to vomit.
Tony had already begun to hurry towards the inner door, and she followed him through the derelict office into a narrow corridor that ran lengthways through the building.
Tony turned left, shining the torch ahead.
At the end of the corridor, a set of double doors blocked their path.
She leaned against them, and pushed.
They opened smoothly, and she breathed a sigh of relief before goose bumps prickled her skin as the door hissed shut behind them. She turned, touched the handle and pushed again, terrified that they wouldn’t be able to get out.
It swung open with ease.
‘It’s on an automatic closer,’ said Tony, and pointed to the upper framework. ‘Come on. Hurry.’
Yvonne bit her lower lip, but followed, her arms hugging her chest. ‘What was this place?’
‘A biosciences company was here. Remember the protestors always used to gather at the town hall?’
Confusion filled her, then dread. ‘The animal testing place?’
He didn’t reply, but simply nodded and shone the torch around the walls.
The European-headquartered animal testing company had moved in over a decade ago, despite a several-thousand-signature petition being delivered to the local council within weeks of the original planning application.
Aluminium sinks were bolted to one wall, white tiles grimy through neglect above each. Shelving units dotted another wall, the splintered remains of glass crunching under their feet as they progressed through the room.
Their footsteps echoed; the tiled floor at an angle that Yvonne found difficult to keep her balance in her heels.
‘What’s wrong with the floor?’ Her voice wavered.
‘It’s a soak away,’ said Tony, pointing at the large grille in the middle of the room. ‘All the water will wash towards that.’
He began to pace the room, his hands running over the tiles.
‘Where is she, Tony?’
Yvonne cringed as her voice bounced off the tiles, before the fear wrapped itself around her insides and squeezed.
‘He said she’d be here,’ he said. He continued to run his hands over the tiles. ‘Maybe there’s a hidden door?’
Yvonne sucked in a breath. ‘Did you hear that?’
‘What?’ He spun to face her. ‘What?’
‘Shhh,’ she urged, and held up a finger.
Melanie wasn’t a big girl; in fact, she was skinny for her age, with slender shoulders and hips. Yvonne had always marvelled that her daughter had never broken a bone – she looked so fragile, as if the slightest touch would shatter her.
‘Tony?’ She pointed at the grille in the tiled floor.
His skin paled as he followed her gaze, before he dropped to his knees, his fingers pushing through the grille. ‘I can’t see anything.’
Yvonne crouched, threaded her fingers around the grille, and met his gaze. ‘On three.’
The steelwork groaned under their touch, and then lifted a little, its right-hand edge tantalisingly higher than the left.
Tony worked his fingers closer, and tightened his grip. ‘Now.’
The grille slid away, exposing the dark opening.
‘There’s a ladder,’ said Yvonne, and leaned closer.
When he shone the torch down the gaping maw of the hole, she frowned, unable to comprehend what she was seeing.
Then Tony began to scream, his terror echoing off the walls of the laboratory.
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