Gripping new psychological thriller by Journalism lecturer

Lisa Bradley holding copies of her novel, Paper Dolls

Lisa Bradley, Director of Learning and Teaching for Journalism, is celebrating the release of her first published novel, Paper Dolls.

Paper Dolls is an exciting new psychological thriller about two missing school girls, inspired by Lisa’s former career as a regional newspaper journalist.

Set against the backdrop of the gritty northern regional newspaper industry, Paper Dolls tells the story of Leah Wallace, who just achieved her dream of becoming editor at a regional paper. On her first day a 15-year-old girl, Hope Hooper-Smith, is reported missing. The police fear that she has been abducted.

Hours later, another teenage girl goes missing. But this girl, Tilly Bowers, is black, from a troubled background and is a habitual runaway. Leah decides to run the Hope’s abduction on the front page, while Tilly only gets a small mention on page eighteen. The next day, Hope is found unharmed at a train station. But Tilly is never seen or heard from again.

Sixteen years later, a TV documentary questions Leah’s decision not to give Tilly’s case immediate coverage, implying that she could have cost Tilly her life, and Leah starts receiving death threats online.

Then mysterious paper dolls begin appearing, cut from the newspapers Leah used to edit, and she suspects that an intruder has been in the house. Leah becomes convinced that someone wants to punish her for the part she played in Tilly’s disappearance. But just how far will they go to make her pay?

Lisa, who teaches in the Department of Journalism Studies, said: “I was inspired to tackle the Missing White Woman idea after years of working in regional papers. Teaching journalism has given me the insight to reflect and analyse some of the decisions that are made in newsrooms on a daily basis and the far reaching impact they can have on people’s lives.”

We caught up with Lisa to find out how she balances writing alongside her career and family life, her tips for anyone keen to write their own novel, and a sneak preview of her next book.

When did you first realise that you wanted to be a writer?

As soon as I could put a pencil in my hand. It was always my dream but I lacked confidence. After studying for my MA Journalism here at the department of Journalism Studies I went off to be a reporter, so I have always made my living writing, but in the world of fact rather than fiction!

How did you manage writing a novel alongside your role?

It wasn't easy. This is actually my fourth novel, the first three didn't sell although I was lucky enough to get a great agent from book number one who never gave up on me. I've literally just typed The End on the new one too, as I got a two book deal. I just have to be strict, write when I can after putting the kids to bed and over the summers when it's not teaching intensive. Luckily, working in fast paced newsrooms means I can write quickly and to seemingly impossible deadlines.

What advice do you have for anyone wanting to write their own novel?

Don't give up at the first hurdle… or the tenth! Listen to feedback and never write a spec letter saying your Auntie Jan loved it. Being an author really means being able to sell yourself as a brand, so start getting involved in writing groups, social media communities and just keep writing. You can't edit a blank page.

What do you find helps when you're going through a creative slump?

Walks with the dog and switching off and playing with the kids. I don't believe in writer's block. Coal miners don't get coal mining block, do they? You have to crack on. But writing is like any other job or task. Sometimes you just need to step away from it and come back with a fresh mind.

What has the response from your readers been like so far?

Overwhelming. I had a big cry when the first reviews came out as I was so nervous and thought everyone would hate it. I've just done a blog tour and had an incredible write up in Hello! and Heat magazines so that makes me feel like it can't be a total flop. But I wrote this book for me, and to achieve my own goals, so to be honest, that's what matters most.

What do you like to do when you're not writing or teaching?

Drink wine with friends or watch films with my family. I also like eating a lot!

Has lockdown inspired any further novels?

Yep. Book two, The Lesson, is coming out next year. It's set in a university so I'm hoping I don't end up with my P45 on my desk. It's all fictitious...