Lessons from a Past Life

Happy New Year!

I hope you’ve all had a wonderful festive season, however you chose to celebrate! Christmas was a busy period for me while I was preparing for the release of my fifth DCI Ryan novel, High Force, which has already been a top five UK bestseller on pre-orders alone. Heartfelt thanks go out to all the readers who have bought the new book, or indeed any of the books – your support has meant so much to me over the past two years. It can be a daunting, solitary prospect starting a new book, so it is wonderful to hear from so many of you via Facebook, Twitter or e-mail!

As we step into a new year, it’s natural to reflect on the year that has just passed. For me, 2016 was filled with contrast. Professionally, it was the second amazing year of a new career. Five bestselling books in a row and nearly three quarters of a million sales is far more than I could ever have dreamed of. I’m so grateful to every reader who has enjoyed Ryan’s adventures and for all the opportunities I’ve been given: I’ve spoken at Amazon and other literary events, been on the radio, television and inside magazines and newspapers (which, for a natural introvert, is bloody terrifying I can tell you) and developed new friendships with other writers, bloggers and general book enthusiasts. I now write for the Huffington Post, too.

On the personal front, I am thankful to have a wonderful husband who has been my partner in life for twelve years and we have a healthy three-year-old bundle of fun to keep us busy. I have a beautiful sister and we laugh like idiots whenever we’re together, and loving parents who never fail to be an inspiration. We were devastated to lose my father-in-law recently, but I know we will cherish his memory.

I was nearly twelve when my sister was born, so I have a vivid recollection of the day I first met her at the hospital. Comparing it with the lovely woman I see today (who has the temerity to be three inches taller than her elder sister) makes me painfully aware of the passage of time. Likewise, the frightening rate at which my son grows older and more independent is a constant reminder that life is fleeting and precious.

With that in mind, I have made some resolutions for the coming year that I hope will make for an even happier 2017. I’m pretty sure many of you reading this might find a little something in each of them that you can relate to…

  1. Seize the day

Why put off something until tomorrow, when you could do it today? Don’t sit on a book for ten years – get on with it!

2. Reject negativity

I’ll tell you something that I’m sick of hearing, and that’s passive aggression. It’s a human trait to sometimes feel dissatisfied with your own lot in life, but nobody can change that but you. As a woman in her early-thirties, I no longer choose to surround myself with people who only wish to tear me down, or bring negativity to the table. Life is just too short. Sort your life out, nutters!

3. Let go of anger

By the time you reach a certain age, it’s rare to have arrived there without picking up some scars along the way. People are only human and you can’t go through life feeling angry at all the things they do, no matter how downright nasty or frustrating. It will only chew you up, inside. Happiness is the best revenge!

4.  Reach for the stars

Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do something. You can, and you will. It’s not for anybody else to dictate the limits of your potential, only you can do that. I say, aim high!

5. Be proud of who you are

I have a flash memory of being about five years old and not being invited to a birthday party (that all the other children were going to) because, as it later transpired, the small-minded parents of that 1980’s party thought that my mum was *shock horror* a single parent. Ridiculous, I know. That callous memory has never left me and, even now, I sometimes catch myself feeling like an outsider. It probably contributed to feeling like an imposter when my first book went to UK #1, and is the reason I feel a sickly sensation in my stomach whenever I go into a new social situation. But I’m getting better at shrugging that off and I want to be even better at keeping my chin up in 2017.

6. Be more assertive

Linked to some of the aforementioned is the strange ability I have to advocate for other people, but rarely for myself. In the new year, I don’t plan to sit and listen while people spout utter drivel. Tell ’em to jog on!

7. Keep laughing

I laugh a lot. With my husband, with friends, with family and definitely with my son. Towards the end of last year, I noticed my laughter drying up a little bit, and that’s something I’m going to rectify in 2017. It’s the best medicine!

8. Social responsibility

I feel a very real sense of responsibility to be more aware of the lives of others and not just my own little bubble. I try to contribute wherever I can, whether it be in a charity anthology (Dark Minds), financially, or in a hands-on way. I believe in one human race and in a global world, but I think recent times have proven that many liberal-minded thinkers became too complacent about the world we live in today. The ‘liberal ideal’ has not been so ideal for many people and there is a widening gap. I want my son to grow up in a society he can be proud of and the only way to ensure that is to work towards building one. As a single individual, I ask myself: what can I do to help? This isn’t a question of party political affiliation, it’s a question of values. I think the answer has to be:

  • Continue to treat others as I would wish to be treated
  • Listen more
  • Pitch in wherever I can (financially, or in other ways)
  • Promote charitable causes that are inclusive and well organised
  • Give back, because life is a cycle of give and take
  • Teach positive values to my son by example
  • Be unafraid to challenge opposing views, because the only way to learn from each other is to talk.

9. Read more

Reading is my passion – it is what led me to writing and without it I would be a vastly different person. Somewhere along the way, life has become very busy and I have less and less time to read the wonderful work produced by other people. I want to rectify this as soon as possible, partly for my own pleasure and partly because if I don’t take the occasional break from writing I will burn out!

10. Rediscover old hobbies

I used to paint in oils, I used to be able to speak a few languages to a good level, I used to be able to play the piano, I used to… There’s a lot of past tense in all of that, and I could go on. As life changes and becomes busier it is necessary to prioritise the things that are most important or pressing but the danger is that old pleasures are left by the wayside. Well, today I dusted off my old sketchpad and started to doodle. I booked some refresher French conversation lessons and I’m looking forward to finding my feet again when I visit Paris in February. It’s a start!

These are just some of the many and varied things occupying my head space at the start of a new year. I hope that you are feeling as energised as I am, but if you’re not, just listen to the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack. It has magical healing powers.

Catch you next time,

LJ x

How to publish independently with Amazon…and have a Guinness afterwards.

Hello!

After a fairly emotional few weeks following a bereavement in our family, I was very happy to get away from it all with Mr Ross for a few days. I managed to combine business with pleasure by accepting Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing’s very kind offer to come along and be a panellist at one of their events: ‘How to Publish Independently with Amazon KDP’, which was organised in association with Writing.ie. and held in Dublin last weekend.

I have to say that this event was a pleasure to be part of: it lasted all day Saturday and was live streamed throughout libraries in Ireland, as well as via the Amazon KDP YouTube channel. The panels covered wide-ranging topics of interest, particularly to new writers, such as ‘How to Write a Bestseller’, ‘Marketing’, ‘It’s all in the Cover’, ‘How to Make a Book’ etc. Now that I’m onto my fifth book in less than two years, it’s easy for me to forget just how daunting some of these processes can be to people just starting out. But it isn’t too much of a stretch for me to simply cast my mind back to Christmas 2014, when I was on the verge of first uploading Holy Island. That book went on to be an international bestseller but, at the time, I had no way of knowing that. It’s so important for me to participate in these events, not only to share the knowledge I have acquired, but to remind myself of that initial excitement about the industry. And there is a lot to be excited about! Yes, it can be competitive and, yes, you need to work hard, but tell me one industry where that isn’t the case? At least you can be creative and write books which is such a rewarding end in itself.

If you’d like to watch the panels again, you can do so here.

The atmosphere was so lively and positive but at the same time there was a laid back feel which allowed people to relax into the panel discussions. I was joined by some lovely authors and industry professionals, including Mark Dawson, Hazel Gaynor and Catherine Ryan Howard. Rick O’Shea kindly compered alongside some of the team from Amazon and Victoria Fox O’Loughlin from Writing.ie, all of whom have valuable insights and experiences to share. That really struck a chord for me – we may have shared ideas about certain elements of the business, but we are each very individual in our approach and style, which is encouraging for anyone thinking about taking the leap; you don’t have to be pre-packaged in order to succeed.

Dublin itself was warm and friendly, as always. We caught up with some old friends, treated ourselves to a well deserved beverage of the alcoholic variety and thoroughly enjoyed spending time with like minded people.

Now, it’s back to work…

LJ x

For “Harry the Hawk”

It has been a little while since I have had the thinking space to draft a blog post; partly because my new job keeps me very busy most days, as does the job of parenting my son and carrying on the business of living life. But, after all the hustle and bustle of literary festivals and newspaper interviews, life ground to a shuddering halt this week after a very special person passed away.

My father-in-law was a fine, rare man, who from our first meeting was kind and open-hearted. He was a natural raconteur, brimming with charisma and intelligence, which shone like a beacon through a pair of bright blue eyes his son and grandson have inherited. He approached the world with zest and passion, advocating for the weak and vulnerable, lending his skills to good causes along the way. He lived a full and interesting life which took him across the world and garnered friends wherever he went. Although he suffered from Parkinson’s disease for over twenty years (amongst other ailments), he never allowed it to dim his humour and I cannot ever recall him complaining about what must have been a highly frustrating situation for a man possessed of his qualities. His stoicism is a lesson to us all, one I try to remember when life presents its little challenges.

I recall the first time I met him over ten years ago; how impressed I was with his warmth and inclusivity, which is a rarer commodity than one might think. Although I told him whilst he was alive, it occurs to me to thank him again for helping to shape his son in a similar vein. Every happy day we spend together I am reminded of how fortunate I am to have met such an honourable, highly principled man, who lives his life according to honesty and a fundamental optimism about the goodness of human nature. It is such a pity that our son might not remember his paternal grandfather, given the constraints of his young age, but in both words and deeds we will remind him of the very many admirable qualities he had.

The inevitable cycle of life and death cannot fail to bring home a sense of one’s own mortality, a quickening of the heart which gives pause for thought. I have said elsewhere, and probably indirectly through the characters I create in my books, that I am not a religious person. I do not believe in a higher power but, like my father-in-law, I believe in grabbing life by the balls. If this is all we have, then I must use every day to its fullest. I must look at the world afresh and enjoy all it has to offer. Although I refuse to have negative influences in my life, I must retain a tolerance for others and try to forgive, because as somebody once said: be kind to unkind people, they need it the most.

Thank you for the lovely memories, Harry, and for all the good advice. Sleep peacefully.

LJ

xxx

 

On equality…

The topic of today’s blog posting is pretty expansive, so before you read any further let me assure you that I do not intend to write a treatise on the subject. However, after some recent experiences the matter of ‘equality’ has forced itself to the forefront of my mind and consequently I’m inflicting my rant upon the rest of you.

You lucky, lucky readers…

Alrighty then (*wriggles bum in seat*).

First and by way of disclaimer, I do not believe that we can ever truly have equality amongst people. Babies are born into vastly different circumstances around the world; physically, mentally, socio-economically, geographically, to name a few. Although I like to think that each of us strives to build a better society and a better world, there are vast chasms of difference which need to be bridged. Issues of race, of ethnicity, of mental health, of gender and sexuality remain open to abuse and attitudes are so endemic within individuals and communities that it will take generations to effect real change. But we are trying to bring them out into the light for open and honest discussion.

Second, I think it is important to acknowledge that I am a very, very lucky person. I was born into a rich, westernised country; I identify as heterosexual and my ethnicity would best be described as ‘White British’, although I hate those tick-box options we’ve all seen on the questionnaires. As such, I do not pretend to have any deep understanding of the kind of challenges other people might face, because I have no personal experience. I have only an anecdotal understanding, gleaned second –hand from close friends who have talked to me about the impact that prejudice and ignorance has upon their emotional wellbeing and overall opportunities in life. I feel a keen sense of injustice, of sympathy and shame on behalf of a wider society which – given recent polls – has displayed an upsurge in hate crimes. I resolve to be mindful of my own actions, to instil liberal and tolerant values in my son and to support policies which protect the vulnerable first and foremost. I vote accordingly, not for a political party which would better my own interests, but for one which seeks to lessen the widening gap between people. I believe that, for every person born without disability or disadvantage, there is a moral obligation to give something back to the society that has been good to you. There is a duty of care towards our fellow man to ensure that inequality gaps which are able to be bridged, are bridged.

One thing I have seen, in very small measure, is gender inequality. I emphasise the ‘small’ in that last sentence, because there are women who have suffered extreme inequality and abuse thanks to the simple matter of having been born female and I do not fall into that category. Likewise, people who identify as transgender or gender fluid. Notwithstanding this caveat, I have been on the receiving end of the kind of everyday sexism that still prevails here in the U.K. There has been substantial improvement over the past fifty years in many ways, but there is a thread of overt and implied sexism in ordinary conversation, in the way people are paid, in domestic and professional scenarios that serve to undermine. By way of example, only the other day I was giving an interview and one of the first questions the interviewer asked me was whether I would be having any more children.

Several thoughts spring to mind:

  1. How is that relevant to crime fiction writing?
  2. That is a highly personal and potentially hurtful question.
  3. That is none of your business, let alone the many listeners tuning in to the interview.
  4. Why is the question relevant, in a professional scenario?
  5. Would you have asked a male author the same question? I think not.
  6. Is motherhood an automatic association by virtue of being female?
  7. I doubt that the question was intended to offend, but do you realise that it was nonetheless offensive?
  8. Is motherhood the bottom line, for women?
  9. It is little wonder that some women feel undermined if they can’t / choose not to have children and yet are constantly expected to defend the lack of children in their lives.

I do not think that any of these issues entered the interviewer’s mind; in fact, I think it was automatic, indoctrinated small-talk and the kind of thing that some people reel out as a ‘warm-up’ question. However, I think it is a good example of how issues of sex and gender can weave their way into ordinary conversations and have a lasting impact upon the subject. On the news today, there was a discussion about whether men, in particular, should be mindful of using words like ‘babe’, ‘chick’ or ‘doll’. I think that much of this depends upon the individual dynamic but it is probably true to say that endearments that are harmless in a personal context could be undermining in a professional one. Certainly, being a little more thoughtful about their use isn’t such a bad thing, is it? It doesn’t mean that people are ‘uptight’ or ‘over-sensitive’. They’re just asking for a bit of equality.

Catch you later!

Lx

International Literacy Day

According to the National Literacy Trust, around 5.2 million (16%) of adults in the U.K. are ‘functionally illiterate’. This means that their literacy level is at, or below that expected of an eleven-year-old. In practical terms, this means that people falling within that demographic find many areas of employment are not open to them. Similarly, they might struggle to help their children with homework and reading stories, or even everyday tasks. Of that 5.2 million, over a million have a literacy level well below that expected of an eleven-year-old.

Low literacy doesn’t just undermine personal confidence, it undermines the ability to progress in the workplace. When this is extrapolated into the millions, it is easy to see how low literacy levels can undermine U.K. competitiveness as a whole and throws up a major obstacle to the creation of a fairer society.

Against this backdrop, I find myself very irritated by some of the comments I hear and read online about the utility of certain ‘types’ of book. Literary works – which are, by the way, still a matter of opinion – are heralded by some as the only valuable contribution to the body of literature in society today. To them, I say…

Don’t be such a snob.

All reading is good reading. If it takes Fifty Shades to ignite a passion for the written word, then so be it. What’s wrong with a bit of saucy fun, anyway? Climb down from that windy ivory tower and take a look around. We have enough class division in our society without using books as another form of ammunition by which to draw a line in the sand. Those who already love a good book and, more importantly, have been fortunate enough to learn how to read in the first place, do not need anybody to tell them what they should or shouldn’t like. Those who have not been so fortunate as to develop literacy skills, for a number of reasons, do not need anybody to make the world of reading even more alien than it already is.

As a personal anecdote, my grandfather (who sadly died in 2003) was born into a poor family in the North-East, one of eight children, amidst the destruction of WW2. His school was bombed and he was only given a patchy formal education until the age of eleven, when he went out to work. It was a similar story to many of his friends. Despite this disadvantage, he went on to become a successful self-made man, a great reader and avid fan of philosophy and politics. To this day, I have never met anybody as well or widely read as he was. I remember his determined, lifelong approach to self-education as an example of the extraordinary tenacity of the human spirit. I wonder what he would think about the fact his granddaughter has written four novels! There are no barriers except the ones we create, for ourselves and for others.

LJ x

About time…

Hello!

It’s been busy in the life of LJ Ross (as always) what with completing Angel (Book 4 of the DCI Ryan Mysteries) and preparing for its general release, alongside all the usual travel and life events! Most notably, my son turned three recently and I was struck forcibly by the passage of time – as I am whenever I need to buy him a bigger pair of shoes. How quickly life storms ahead, twisting and changing before our very eyes.

Ethan's 3rd birthday.jpg

I wonder how different the world will be by the time he is grown; I remember things like ‘floppy discs’ and ‘cassette players’ whereas these will probably sound like weird and wonderful oddities to his technologically-advanced mind. I have always thought of life as a continuous cycle, never something that stands still. Moments cannot be captured like butterflies or created into a frieze, immortalised so that we can relive them time and again. But they can be remembered and that’s what I try to focus on.

The knowledge that life is so short, combined with a personal philosophy that does not include any religious deity or notion of an afterlife, has led me to adopt what I hope is a very proactive approach rooted in the here and now. My friends and family have remarked that I ‘never sit still’ or that I am ‘always on the go’ and it’s true: I find it hard to relax and do nothing. It feels like such a waste. But that’s where reading has been such a wonderful gift. It is one of the few times when I can feel my mind and body switching off, so thank you to all of the wonderful authors who have provided me with so many hours of enjoyment.

The nagging feeling that life is passing swiftly was what actively propelled me to change career. I enjoyed my life as a lawyer but I was acutely conscious that something was missing, something unfulfilled. Idealistic notions of ‘making a difference’ didn’t prepare me for the simple fact that life isn’t fair; people aren’t equal; democracy doesn’t always work and human nature is sometimes depressingly predictable. Don’t get me wrong – I have infinite faith in the resilience of the human condition, but I wasn’t prepared to waste the rest of my life trying to prove the point.

I firmly believe that people are capable of being many things over the course of a lifetime. There is no Orwellian dictator who hands out professions at birth and expects us to stick to them, so it falls upon us to reach out and grasp the life we want to lead. There may be challenges: personal, professional, financial, health-wise… but success will taste all the sweeter once these have been overcome.

It’s all about taking the first step. Blink and you’ll find that three years have passed!

Have a great weekend 🙂

LJ x

“The Wobble”

Hello!

Firstly, let me say that I’m not talking about the uncomfortable wobble many of us experience when completing the long ‘walk of shame’ from a sun lounger to the edge of the pool.

There is plenty of wobble there, comrades. The struggle is real.

But actually, I was thinking of the various, multifaceted wobbly bits involved during the process of writing and releasing a novel. “The Wobble” is also a very real struggle and one that tends to crop up repeatedly.

Oh, marvellous, I’m trying to finish my first novel and all she has to say is that the crippling self-doubt never gets any better? I might as well pack it all in now and reach for a tub of Ben and Jerry’s…

Now, now, don’t panic just yet. All I mean is that there is a consistent, fairly predictable cycle of thought processes which crop up during the various stages of writing, editing and releasing your novel. Perversely, their predictability is a source of comfort and I’m here to tell you that you’re not alone.

This isn’t an exact science so don’t quote me on this, but here’s a rough guide to the various stages of “The Wobble”…

  1. BLIND FAITH

Once you have taken the decision to change your career/life/start a new challenge like writing a book, your mind will usually cushion the decision with the pleasant accompaniment of an enormous well of blind faith. This may/may not include various enrolments in creative writing courses/online marketing courses/money-sucking ‘how to be a writer’ days out in the country. (Total waste of time, in my opinion, but each to their own).

Notwithstanding the above, this ‘blind faith’ stage can be enormously productive, resulting in reams and reams of absolute tosh. Don’t be disheartened by that, either! It’s all part of a bigger plan, leading to…

2. BLIND FEAR

Your loving family and friends may not recognise you during this (hopefully brief) phase of The Wobble. Tantrums, tears and stained jogging pants will replace all thoughts of unicorns and Booker Prizes – now a distant memory as the crushing realisation of what you have done weighs heavily upon your shoulders. You’ve decided to follow a dream – how crazy is that?! It’s not practical…it’s batshit nuts, is what it is. It’s a competitive world and your mind will try to tell you that you have no place in it. Stay strong…

3. KICK-BACK

Natural pride/ego/stubbornness will drive you to complete the novel. This can take time with some regression back to Blind Fear but usually results in powering through the pain. It’s a law of Nature, I’m sure of it. If somebody tells you that you can’t do something (even if it’s your worst self) then a small part of your brain whispers…

Fuck off! 

Yes, I can write this damn book. There will be an audience who loves reading about dancing unicorns and, even if there isn’t, at least I can say that I tried.

4. GOLLUM SYNDROME

Once you’ve actually completed the bloody thing, your brain will then tell you (illogically) that nobody should ever see it. Ever. It is your special secret, like Frodo’s Ring. It is your preciooooouuusssssss…

At this point, family/friends/mental health workers will step in to snatch the manuscript from your vice-like grip and advise you to send it off to a decent editor. Take their advice and hand it over. When it comes back covered in red pen, make sure that you are alone before having a meltdown (it will not be your finest moment). Reemerge into the world and thank the editor graciously before reading their comments with an objective eye. That is the key, here. You must be able to look at your own work with objectivity, otherwise you’re stuffed.

5. THE BIRD’S NEST

Much like a baby bird teetering on the edge of its mother’s nest, the prospect of sending your novel to a professional/uploading it for the world to see via Amazon KDP (as I did) is both terrifying and exciting in equal measure. You’ll want to back away – don’t. Take the leap and hold your head high.

6. RIDE THE WOBBLES

You’ve done it and you’ve survived. Don’t ruin the victory lap and start demanding that friends and family read it within twenty-four hours, or start huffing if people have a few minor complaints. People are only human and you can’t please everybody. If you manage to please the majority you’re doing well!

There’ll be fantastic reviews and bad reviews from time to time – accept both with good grace. Don’t start engaging in slanging matches with people; you’ll only enflame matters and end up looking like a moron. Think of that walk from the sun lounger to the pool: take it slow, but not too slow; take it easy, but not lazily; and, most importantly, walk tall.

I’m on the cusp of releasing my fourth book in the DCI Ryan series (‘Angel’) for pre-order from 15th July and, after three bestsellers, you’d think I’d know how to avoid The Wobble. Well, I’m still working on that. But I can tell you that optimism, hard work and perseverance does pay off. In two days alone, nearly four hundred people contacted me to say they were incredibly excited to hear about the forthcoming book. One reader in particular brightened my day with the following:

“OH MY GOD! I think I almost wet myself when I heard your next book was coming out!! AAAARRRGGHHH! OK I need to clear my diary! Thanks!”

Take precautions if bladder control is an issue but otherwise massive thanks to every single one of you who has supported my books over the last eighteen months. It’s definitely helped me to ride the wobbles.

LJ x

P.S. On the subject of poolside walks of shame, it goes without saying that speedos seldom help matters. You know who you are. 🙂

 

 

There’s an elephant in the room…

Morning!

So, the first thing on this morning’s agenda has to be Brexit. Yes, that gigantic elephant sitting in the corner of the room, that one right there.

Oh no, I hear you cry. LJ is about to get political!

Well, don’t edge for the door just yet. This blog isn’t the place for me to mouth off about my political views (although the observant amongst you will probably be able to make an educated guess about my voting tendencies and I have indeed ranted at length in the comfort of my own home). This blog was created to discuss reading and writing, predominantly, alongside a bit of positive motivation. But I don’t think there is any point in pretending that everything is all tickety-boo; I think it is important to at least acknowledge that – regardless of how people voted in the recent advisory referendum – the UK is a very divided country at the moment and its mood is turbulent. There are so many questions yet to be answered and there is a sense of uncertainty about where we as a country go from here and how we galvanise ourselves. With that in mind, I ask myself: how does reading and writing impact the present situation?

Writing is my pleasure and solace. I find that when the world gets a bit ‘much’, I can fall into the story I am creating and hours can slip by unnoticed. Likewise, reading is pure escapism and reader choice has never been greater. It is incredible to think that the advent of the Internet and the e-reader now allows us access to more literature than was held in the great library of Alexandria, or indeed any library.

In a broader sense, it has been fascinating to see the shift from old-fashioned print reporting to a more immediate version of real-time reporting through social media outlets. Everybody is a ‘reporter’, now, and we are able to view the news as it happens with less filters than ever before. It is a wonderful resource which allows people to be their own judge rather than relying upon the opinions and bias of a chosen few. However, with greater power comes greater responsibility (said Spiderman’s grandpa, or uncle…or somebody). We need to remain our own watchdogs and not allow ourselves to be blinded by all the traffic which passes by on a daily basis. There’s so much colour and sound, so many people worrying about how they will be perceived in a picture, or in a sound bite, that we might just start forgetting about the stuff that actually matters.

Case in point: before I started out in this new career, I hadn’t ever given an interview, or had my photograph taken for my own media purposes. I had always eschewed a visible online presence, even as a lawyer, because I valued my privacy too much. But I recognise that there is value in sharing some of yourself. Particularly if you write stories for a living, because it allows people to develop a greater insight into your character and by proxy the characters you have created. Plus, I like to hear from people – good or bad – so that I can hone my craft and get to know my readers. Thanks to all of you who take the time to get in touch! But on a serious note, now that my name comes up on Google and there are pictures and articles out there, it is more important than before that I keep perspective. It doesn’t really matter if I fumble my words or take a bad photograph, although it doesn’t help my self-confidence if I already feel exhausted or just a bit meh. However, there are people out there with vastly more important jobs than mine, whose work and decision-making impacts each and every one of us. It’s important that they keep perspective too: worry less about how you appear and worry more about how you actually behave because usually if you behave well, the rest will follow, no?

On a lighter note, those who are clamouring for the next instalment of DCI Ryan will be pleased to know that a cover reveal is IMMINENT! Tune in at the end of this week for further news!

LJ x

 

 

 

 

 

The cardinal importance of Latin music

Well hello again and greetings from LJ Ross HQ!

Continuing the trend of recent blog postings, I’m going to chat a little bit more about the ways in which you can try to capture your writing buzz and (more importantly) hold onto it!

Here are the most common complaints I hear (both from aspiring writers, established writers and myself, when I’m having a rant), alongside some suggested responses:

  1. My work isn’t good enough; nobody will read my novel, let alone like it, so why should I bother?

Briiiiiing briiiiing! Hey you, sitting over there feeling sorry for yourself, Hemingway called to tell you to stop being such a big baby. Also, he says to remind you that he’s already taken the liberty of penning several great works of fiction, so, sorry, you won’t be able to write exactly the same thing. The point to take home is simply this: if you spend your time trying to emulate your heroes, or even those who are currently enjoying success, then you set yourself up for a miserable time of it. Human nature being what it is, your state of mind will probably create a vicious and self-fulfilling prophecy in which you end up writing a heap of old crap. Why? Because you will have no identity of your own, no ‘voice’ (that sounds pretentious but you know what I mean) so your plot lines and general style will likely suffer. Readers are very attuned to what they like and don’t like and they can spot a phony a mile off, so be warned.

2. I feel torn in so many directions. I’m trying to change career and pursue my dream to become a writer but I have a family and commitments – what should I do?

You have family and commitments that you care about more than pursuing your own selfish desires? Well hooray, that means you’re not a raging sociopath! (Phew).

Look, jokes aside, there’s no two ways about it: the moment you become a parent, your own needs are instantly and irrevocably subordinated to the needs of the precious little life/lives you have created. The same logic can apply if you have no kids whatsoever – perhaps you have responsibilities as a carer, or simply feel responsible to the other important people in your life. What I would say is that you must find the balance that is right for you. In some cases, this will mean carving out snatches of time to pursue your own hopes and dreams – if you want to be a writer, perhaps it will mean only a couple of hours a week to sit and have the luxury of mapping a story on the bus into work. Whilst I agree that you can’t suspend real life and commitments, I don’t believe that you should abandon the things that make your soul sing. We are each in different circumstances; emotionally, financially and in a multitude of individual ways, so the journey towards our goals will naturally be different. Don’t give yourself a hard time if it takes you a few years to get there; one of the best bits about a career in writing is that the more experience you have of life, the more you have to draw upon as inspiration.

In my case, I have always been a fiercely independent person and I like to think that even without the benefit of being married or having a loving family and friend network, I would still have had the gumption to make a play for my dreams. However, it’s a moot point because without all of the aforementioned people, it’s likely I would have turned out to be a vacuous person, devoid of any insight into human behaviour or relationships and therefore would have been an utterly abysmal writer of fiction. Funny how the world works, isn’t it? Anyway, the existence of this network gave me the confidence to try. I cannot overstate how important that was, and still is, throughout the process of writing each new book. If you are thinking of making the leap, confide in those special people and you might be surprised at how supportive they will be.

3. I can’t seem to get into a good ‘flow’ with my writing. Is this what they call ‘Writer’s Block’?

It sounds like it, but here’s a checklist you can take home:

  • If you can’t get into writing your own story, it might be worth seriously considering making changes to the concept because if your subliminal mind doesn’t want to write it, ain’t nobody going to want to read it. Just saying.
  • Have you been getting enough sleep? Seriously, your brain needs to be able to function properly in order to write a book. Go and take a power nap!
  • Do as I say (and not as I do) and lay off the caffeine. It’s fine as a boost, but it’ll make you jittery and nervous!
  • Get some exercise. Take a brisk walk and you’d be surprised at how the ideas start to floor. I recommend taking a notepad to jot them down!
  • If all else fails, close the door and search Spotify for a compilation album of Latin choons that you can shake your hips to, such as my current favourite The Rhythm is Gonna Get You. I’m not kidding. Skip ahead to La Bamba, make a beeline for Bamboleo and round it off with a quality bit of Livin’ La Vida Loca. It’s infectious fun – exactly what you need when you’ve been sitting over a desk mourning your lack of talent/skills/life/literary awards and frankly you need to get a grip and shake it loose!

That’s about all I can think of for now, folks!

Until next time…

LJ x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to maintain your writing mojo

How-do!

In the spirit of prevention being better than cure, I thought I would share some of my favourite remedies to help you to avoid the dreaded Writer’s Block (the struggle is real, therefore it needs capital letters) and maintain a good momentum with your writing.

Here goes:

  1. Keep it real

Writing stories is wonderfully all-consuming and often very cathartic, but it can also lead to insular, antisocial behaviour such as muttering to yourself and avoiding direct sunlight. To guard against these maladies, remember to socialise with family and friends (sitting on the sofa with an open laptop does NOT count) and get out for some fresh air once in a while. Seems obvious, but there’s a reason why so many writers have pasty, vitamin-deprived skin!

2. Think like Rocky Balboa

There is no polite way of saying this, but you need to toughen up a bit and stop being such a ninny. It’s a jungle out there and you’ve chosen a competitive career (so many of them are, these days), so don’t be surprised if it ain’t a smooth ride. From the very inception of your novel right through to its release and long afterwards as the reviews pour in, you will feel mood swings ranging from crippling self-doubt to sheer elation, depending upon the moment. Console yourself with the knowledge that you are not alone and make a beeline for the Rocky IV soundtrack. I defy anybody to listen to the training medley and fail to be motivated at the end of it!

3. Keep your eye on the prize

Stay focussed on what you wish to achieve. This is a tricky question in itself and it isn’t as simple as saying “I want to complete my novel”. What kind of novel? Do you write with an audience in mind, or do you write for yourself in hopes that others will agree with your preference? Are you aiming for critical praise or commercial success? They are not the same thing  (with the exception of a rare breed of novel) and you need to be clear on this from the outset, otherwise you will find yourself drowning under the weight of your own insurmountable expectations.

4. Don’t be precious about your work

You know what I’m talking about, because we’re all guilty of it. For example:

“I’d really love to hear your feedback about my novel.” Read: “If you don’t tell me you love my novel, I’ll never write another word again!”

“I’ve written a novel but I’m not ready to show it to anybody yet.” Read: “I’m shit scared to show it to anybody and I’m not sure I’ll ever be brave enough to take it out of moth balls, but I like telling people I’ve written it all the same.”

The important thing to note here is that there is a difference between ‘critique’ and ‘criticism’. You need to develop your skill in distinguishing between the two, because the first is absolutely essential in the long-term success of your book.

5. Stop making comparisons

Books can be like marmite. What one person absolutely loves, another will positively hate. Therefore, whilst it can be useful to read books within your chosen genre (for pleasure and to gain a better understanding of the current public ‘mood’), remember not to lose sight of  your own style and your own goals. I’ve been tremendously fortunate in having three #1 bestsellers but, trust me, I never take that for granted. I put the same hard work and effort into each new story and try my utmost not to lose sight of my own ‘voice’.  It would be easy to look around the marketplace and wonder whether you should write differently, or to a different audience. I would advise that you remain true to yourself, but with the proviso that you also remain open to improvement and fine-tuning to make your writing the best it can be.

…In addition to all of the usual writing necessities, such as copious amounts of caffeine, chocolate/otherwise calorific food groups.

Bye for now!

LJ x