Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Debut Spotlight: Michelle Davies

Today it's my pleasure to be shining the debut spotlight on crime writer Michelle Davies on the latest leg of her blog tour for Gone Astray which was published in paperback last week.  I'd followed Michelle's writing journey on social media since the news of her book deal was first announced and I finally got to meet her in person a couple of weeks ago at the Killer Women Crime Writing Festival although I didn't get to hear Michelle speak at her Fresh Blood session as it clashed with another event that was on.  

Michelle Davies has been writing for magazines for twenty years, including on the production desk at Elle, and as Features Editor of Heat. Her last staff position before going freelance was Editor-at- Large at Grazia magazine and she currently writes for a number of women's magazines and newspaper supplements. Michelle has previously reviewed crime fiction for the Sunday Express's Books section.

Michelle lives in London with her partner and daughter and juggles writing crime fiction with her freelance journalism and motherhood. Gone Astray is her first novel.

When a Lesley Kinnock buys a lottery ticket on a whim, it changes her life more than she could have imagined... 

Lesley and her husband Mack are the sudden winners of a £15 million EuroMillions jackpot. They move with their 15-year-old daughter Rosie to an exclusive gated estate in Buckinghamshire, leaving behind their ordinary lives - and friends - as they are catapulted into wealth beyond their wildest dreams. 

But it soon turns into their darkest nightmare when, one beautiful spring afternoon, Lesley returns to their house to find it empty: their daughter Rosie is gone. 

DC Maggie Neville is assigned to be Family Liaison Officer to Lesley and Mack, supporting them while quietly trying to investigate the family. And she has a crisis threatening her own life - a secret from the past that could shatter everything she's worked so hard to build. 

As Lesley and Maggie desperately try to find Rosie, their fates hurtle together on a collision course that threatens to end in tragedy . . . 

Money can't buy you happiness.
The truth could hurt more than a lie.
One moment really can change your life forever.

As part of this spotlight feature I'm able to share with you the opening chapter of Gone Astray below:
Lesley Kinnock dumped the six shopping bags just inside the front door and lunged at the alarm keypad on the wall to her left, finger poised to punch in the code that would silence its shrill cry. Halfway through inputting the number she realized with a start the alarm was already switched off. She tapped the digital display as it blinked intermittently at her, baffled as to why it wasn’t set as it should be. The system was supposed to be infallible, able to outsmart power failures and the most adept of intruders, which was why they’d paid so much to have it installed in the first place. In a house as big and as rambling as theirs was, there were too many corners a person could hide around, too many nooks to steal themselves within. Without the invisible protection of motion sensors and CCTV, she’d never relax.
Punching the code in again made no difference and her anxiety was raised a notch. What if someone had managed to bypass it? Her husband Mack insisted any burglar worthy of his profession would find it easier to break into a prison than they would their fortressed home, but what if he was wrong? What if someone was prowling around at that very moment?
Lesley peered cautiously into the entrance hall. Brightly lit by the daylight flooding through the opaque glass panels either side of the front door, she could see, to her relief, the space was empty. But while her body unclenched, her imagination had other ideas, drawing her attention to the five doors leading off the hall and whispering to her that behind one of them was someone just waiting to be disturbed.
Hardly daring to breathe, she fumbled in her bag for her mobile phone. As she pulled it out, the screen lit up to reveal a picture of her daughter, Rosie. It took less than a second for her brain to make the connection and, as it did, a wave of relief crashed over her. Of course! That was why the alarm was switched off – Rosie was at home today too. In her panic she had completely forgotten.
‘Rosie?’ she shouted shakily, her anxiety abating far slower than it had taken hold. ‘Are you upstairs?’
There was no answer from the floor above. Wincing, Lesley picked up the bags weighed down with groceries and heaved them across the entrance hall, her flip-flops slapping noisily against the parquet floor. The thin plastic handles of the bags cut into her palms like cheese wire, but she kept her grip until she reached the kitchen and could set them down on the floor next to the fridge, a huge, double-door, American-style appliance that could hold more than a month’s worth of food.
‘Rosie?’ she called out again.
As she flexed her sore and trembling hands, she realized the house was far too quiet for Rosie to be anywhere indoors and she must still be in the garden. At fifteen, her and Mack’s only child viewed peace and quiet with the same disdain people reserved for traffic wardens and footballers with inflated salaries, and Lesley had grown so accustomed to music thumping through the ceiling and the TV blaring out from the lounge that the lack of noise jarred as much as the usual cacophony.
She kicked off her flip-flops, sending them skidding across the kitchen floor, knowing Mack wouldn’t be impressed if he saw them sullying the natural slate tiles. He nagged her to chuck them away, complaining they looked cheap and she could afford better, but what was the point of her dressing up when he was away and she had no job to go to, no friends to see? The rest of her outfit also reflected the apathy that was her default setting of late: a knee-length denim skirt more than five years old that gaped at the waist because it was too big for her now, paired with a navy T-shirt faded from being washed too often. Her face was devoid of what little make-up she usually wore and her fine blonde hair was scraped off her face into a messy ponytail because she hadn’t bothered to wash it since Saturday, the day Mack had left for his latest golfing trip.
The tiles felt chilly beneath the sweat-slicked soles of her feet but she welcomed the sensation. It was a hot day and the shopping had taken longer than she planned, but at least it was done now. In one of the carrier bags was a bottle of South African Chenin Blanc she planned to open that evening while catching up on the soaps. With Mack away she could watch them in peace without his sarcastic commentary running in the background. So what if Albert Square was nothing like real life? As she often retaliated, this new life of theirs wasn’t that far removed from fiction either.
She wouldn’t tell him about her reaction to finding the alarm switched off, she decided, in case he thought she was just being silly again. He accepted her neuroses regarding how secure the house was, but only up to a point; today’s incident would most likely provoke more eye-rolls and sighs than sympathy.
A glance at the clock on the range cooker told her it was 1.13 p.m. If Rosie hadn’t eaten yet – and the tidy state of the kitchen suggested she hadn’t – they could have lunch together on the terrace. It was one of those rare, cloudless days in late May when it was so balmy it felt more like high summer. Having a break might take Rosie’s mind off her next exam for an hour or so and draw her out of the shell she’d retreated into as her GCSE revision consumed her.
Glancing over, Lesley saw the back door was shut but she reckoned her daughter was probably still out in the garden. When she’d left to go shopping just before 10 a.m., Rosie was already sprawled on a blanket on the lawn, reading through a textbook. Her next GCSE exam was two days away on Thursday, and it was science, the subject she struggled most with and had done least preparation for. The school she went to permitted pupils to revise at home on certain days around their exams, but Lesley had doubts about the effectiveness of the policy as Rosie could be easily distracted. But it was the kind of ‘progressive education’ the private, all-girls school had built its reputation on and why it ranked as one of the best in the south of England.
The school, like their house, was in the village of Haxton in Buckinghamshire, a county to the west of London known for being home to the Prime Minister’s country residence, Chequers, Pinewood Film Studios, a moribund furniture industry and a belt of homes owned by once-famous television stars of the seventies and eighties. With a population of 8,318, Haxton was one of the smaller villages in the area, but what it lacked in size it made up for in affluence. Homes there rarely sold for less than a million and every year it featured in the Telegraph’s top-ten most desirable places to live in Britain. It was worlds away from Mansell, the town five miles down the road where the Kinnocks had lived before their £15-million win on the EuroMillions lottery had upgraded their existence to include gated communities and schools that cost £4,000 a term.
Lesley headed over to the back door but gave the solid oak island counter in the middle of the room a wide berth as she went past, as though it had more right to be there than she did. It was too big, too imposing, and in the fourteen months they’d lived at Angel’s Reach – the name given to their house long before they bought it and which she would change in a heartbeat if only Mack would let her – had come to represent everything she loathed about their new wealth. It was all about show.
The presence of the island counter also embarrassed her, reminding her as it did of the first time they viewed the house and she’d asked the estate agent to explain what it was for, because she’d never set foot in a kitchen that had one before. The young woman, all glossy hair and glossed lips, had looked at Lesley more with pity than surprise.
‘You want to know what the point of it is?’
More than a year on, Lesley’s cheeks still grew hot at the memory.
‘There are all these worktops already,’ she had eventually replied, stumbling over her words. ‘I just don’t see why we’d need this great big thing in the middle of the room as well.’
Then, just to complete her mortification, Mack had burst out laughing, grabbed her by the hands and swung her in a circle, boyish excitement melting a decade off his forty-six-year-old face.
‘Oh love, does it matter what it’s for?’ he crowed. ‘With what we’ve got in the bank we can buy a thousand of the bloody things and keep them in a field if we want!’
The estate agent had echoed his laughter – no doubt cheered by the belief she was about to make a sale. But Lesley couldn’t bring herself to join in and squirmed self-consciously as Mack danced her around the kitchen, her movements as jerky as a marionette’s. In the end she was so desperate to leave she’d let him make an offer of the full asking price on the spot, even though it was the first house they’d looked at and she wasn’t convinced it was worth the money. Still wasn’t.
The flagstone terrace running along the back of the house was bathed in sunshine and Lesley raised her hand to shield her eyes against the brightness. White spots fluttered across her vision like tiny butterflies and she blinked hard to vanquish them.
‘Rosie, I’m back. Are you hungry?’
When there was no answer she walked to the edge of the terrace and scanned the lawn, an immaculate carpet of jewel-green turf that stretched forward for 200 feet and was half as wide across. A red and green tartan picnic blanket was laid out on the grass, but her daughter wasn’t on it. All Lesley could see was a textbook and Rosie’s headphones coiled beside it like a thin white snake.
Her insides balled instantly into a knot, a familiar, corporeal reaction to not seeing her child when she expected to. Frowning against the sun, Lesley scanned the lawn again. Where the hell was she? Then common sense gave her a nudge: if the back door was shut, then Rosie had to be inside. She’ll be upstairs and didn’t hear you the first time you called out.
As the knot in her stomach loosened, Lesley went back through the kitchen, into the entrance hall and took the stairs two at a time. The door to Rosie’s bedroom was ajar. She hesitated for a moment, knowing how Rosie felt about her poking around her room, but something caught her eye that propelled her inside. There was a bright yellow Selfridges box open on the bed, empty apart from some scrunched-up yellow-and-white-patterned tissue paper. Next to the box was a delivery note with the previous day’s date and a receipt. Lesley snatched the receipt up. It was for a pair of ballet pump-style shoes in gunmetal grey with silver, crescent-shaped toecaps.
‘You are bloody well kidding me,’ she snorted.
Lesley couldn’t see the shoes anywhere in the room but recognized them from the receipt’s description. A fortnight previously, Rosie had begged her to order them online but Lesley refused, saying the £320 price tag was far too extravagant for herself, let alone a fifteen-year-old. Despite Rosie whining that all her friends had a pair, Lesley stuck to her guns and assumed that was the end of it. Clutching the receipt, anger displaced her anxiety for a moment. Rosie must’ve persuaded Mack to buy the shoes instead and either thought Lesley wouldn’t notice or didn’t care if she did.
Annoyed at being undermined again, she barged into Rosie’s en suite bathroom without knocking. It was empty, but the shower had recently been used judging by the droplets of water still clinging determinedly to the glass door. She could also detect the rich, sweet, coconut scent of Rosie’s shampoo. The aroma, along with the sight of her daughter’s hairbrush left on top of the sink unit, long dark hairs trapped in its metal bristles, prompted a fresh wave of anxiety and the knot in her stomach squeezed tighter.
Anger forgotten, she ran to the top of the stairs.
‘ROSIE!’ she screamed as loudly as her voice would allow. Then she waited, ears straining for the slightest sound. Nothing. The house remained cloaked in silence.
Her heart beat wildly as fear overwhelmed her. Rosie knew better than to go out without letting her know first. She bolted back downstairs, pulse racing. In the kitchen she checked the marble-topped units but there was no note from Rosie saying where she’d gone on any of them. On the island counter she found a small pile of letters that must have been delivered while she was out. Lesley tore through the envelopes in case a message from Rosie had got muddled up with them. Usually she steered clear of any post they received, scared of what she might find. While bills held no fear for her these days, it was a new kind of demand that gave her sleepless nights: begging letters from strangers wanting a slice of their fortune. Mack usually dealt with them so she didn’t have to read the threats and the pleas from people she didn’t know and didn’t want to.
There was no note from Rosie in the pile, so she dropped the letters back onto the counter and checked the corkboard on the wall next to the fridge, in case Rosie had pinned a note over the photos, cards and slips of paper listing the phone numbers of her school, their GP, dentist, the golf club. The corkboard stuck out like a sore thumb against all the marble, but it was the one concession she’d wrestled out of Mack when she argued the kitchen would be too sterile if they stuck to his plan of keeping every utensil and container out of sight, and every wall bare, so as not to spoil the sleek lines of its design. It was the same corkboard from their old kitchen in Mansell and gave Lesley a sense of home in a house she otherwise hated.
There was no message awaiting her attention. Her eyes strayed to the centre of the board, to a photograph of Rosie hugging Mickey Mouse, taken when she was nine and they’d scraped together enough money to go to Disney World in Florida. Rosie’s hair was shorter then, cut into a neat bob that fell just below her ears, and had yet to darken to the brunette it was now. It was one of Lesley’s favourite pictures, which was why it had pride of place in the centre, with everything else orbiting it like planets around the sun. As nine-year-old Rosie beamed out at her, she began to shake. She had to be somewhere. She wouldn’t just go off...
Then it hit her. Kathryn. Rosie’s best friend, who lived next door and was in the same year at her school. What was the betting she had the day off too? Rosie had probably gone round to see her and lost track of the time.
Buoyed by the certainty that’s where Rosie was, Lesley fetched her phone from her bag, which was on the floor next to the shopping. She’d call Rosie first and if she didn’t pick up, she’d try Kathryn next. She pressed her thumb down on the ‘R’ key, which was programmed to speed-dial her daughter’s number.
Walking back out onto the terrace, she lifted her face to greet the sun as she waited for Rosie to pick up, luxuriating in the warmth on her skin. It took a few moments before she became aware of the faint echo of a phone ringing. Puzzled, she followed the noise down the terrace steps and onto the lawn. Reaching the picnic blanket, she saw Rosie’s iPhone lying on top of it, the word ‘Mum’ and a picture of Lesley illuminated as it rang. She hung up, trembling.
Rosie never went anywhere without her phone, the thing was practically glued to her hand. She’d never leave it behind unless forced to. Lesley looked wildly up and down the garden.
There was a rustle in the line of fir trees that stood sentry along the bottom of the garden.
‘Rosie, is that you?’
As she took off towards the trees, the grass suddenly felt sticky beneath her bare feet. She stopped, surprised, and looked down. There was a dark, damp patch on the grass, like something had been spilled. She reached down and grazed the blades of grass with her fingers and, as she drew her hand back, she let out a strangled cry. The tips of her fingers were stained red and when she lifted them to her nose and inhaled, she could detect a strong metallic scent, like the smell of pennies.
Or blood.
Has this teaser left you wanting more?  Well you're in luck as Michelle very generously donated two signed copies of Gone Astray which I'll be giving away later this afternoon.    

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