Author Introductions #9: Mel Sherratt

Good morning!

I hope you had a wonderful weekend! In the Ross household, our time was spent pottering around the park, where my son enjoyed scaling every dangerous-looking slope he could find and challenging the squirrels to a game of “Who Can Climb Higher?” (the squirrel conceded defeat).

It seems the days are flying by at the moment – only last week, I was visiting Ashington Library (North Tyneside Libraries) to have an informal chat about my books. The event was sold out after a couple of days, so my apologies to those of you who have written to me to express disappointment that you couldn’t come; there will be other events coming up soon! Over the next couple of months I will be attending the following:-

– Althorp Literary Festival (5th-8th October), at Althorp House and Grounds.

– Forum Books, Corbridge (Wednesday 29th November).

– Books on the Tyne Festival (1st December), at Newcastle Library.

More details will follow on my Facebook author page, so don’t forget to check in for details over the coming weeks.

For now, I am excited to offer you my next weekly Author Introduction in the form of Mel Sherratt. I’m lucky enough to know Mel personally and can attest to the fact that, aside from being a real superstar when it comes to writing and publishing (having sold over a million books and racking up a string of best sellers), she’s also a lovely person. So, without further ado, let’s find out a little more…

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Mel Sherratt, best-selling author of crime fiction and psychological suspense

Mel has told me that, ever since she could remember, she’s been a meddler of words and now she writes police procedurals, psychological suspense and crime dramas – fiction with a ‘punch’. Mel was shortlisted for the prestigious Crime Writer’s Association Dagger in the Library Award 2014 and her inspiration is drawn from authors such as Martina Cole, Lynda la Plante, Mandasue Heller and Elizabeth Haynes.

She lives in Stoke-on-Trent with her husband and terrier (called Dexter, named after the TV serial killer) and she makes liberal use of her home town as a backdrop for some of her books.

To give us an insight into what makes her tick, I sent Mel some questions which she has kindly agreed to answer. Here goes:

  1. Tell us a little about yourself – don’t be shy!

I’m a Northerner, still living in my hometown of Stoke-on-Trent. It might not be very glamorous but it is a city with a heart and it’s where I get my gritty realism. My writing takes you to the heart of the crime, whether that is in one of my psychological thrillers, a police procedural or a crime drama.

I had twelve years of rejection before publishing my first novel, Taunting the Dead, on Kindle. Since then, I’ve written and published fourteen – eleven crime novels and three women’s fiction novels using the pen name of Marcie Steele.

Although I was always writing every evening, I used to be a housing officer for the local authority. My favourite program at the time was Shameless, so I wrote a book set on a similar estate with a housing officer as one of the main characters. Now, there are four novels in that series and a spin-off police procedural series with a detective sergeant working in a Community Intelligence Team (a bit like Happy Valley.)

I just love writing about underdogs – people who, with a little help, can get back on their feet; or, downright nasty villains who would never accept assistance. My books cover a range of social issues, as well as the odd murder and serial killer. I also like to add lots of emotion and to dive into the psyche, so some of my books could be classed as ‘whydunnits.’

  1. How about your latest book – what can readers look forward to when they pick it up?

My latest, She Did It, will be published tomorrow (September 19th). It revolves around two women – one is a murderer and the other one knows. I’ve read a lot of books lately with unreliable narrators so I wanted to write a character that was nice to everyone with one persona but out for revenge with another side to her that she tries to keep hidden away. The reader knows exactly what she is up to – but not the reason why.

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  1. Who is your hero in real life and in fiction?

In real life, it would have to be my fella. Living with a writer isn’t fun at times. I can be elated one minute when I have good news and low the next when I have a terrible review or something isn’t working right. I work long hours and it’s hard for him when I’m busy and he is on his own. But he is a massive support to me. He often twists my plots just that little bit further too. I don’t know what I’d do without him.

My hero in fiction would have to be Bridget Jones. Bridget’s heart is in the right place, she’s a trier – sometimes trying too hard – but she has friends and a great support network to give her the longed for happy ever after.

  1. Who are your three favourite writers – and why?

Martina Cole – I love her dark, gritty voice and she is someone I looked up to for years when I was trying to get published. I’ve since met her and she is an amazing support for aspiring writers and authors. She is such an inspiration.

C L Taylor – I’ve known Cally for over ten years, we share the same agent now and she has changed genre from women’s fiction to psychological suspense. I love her darker stuff.  Her book, The Lie, will stay with me forever. She literally transported me into the world of the cult she had created.

Luca Veste – He has a series set in his native Liverpool, with two lead characters DI Murphy and DS Rossi that I absolutely adore. His writing is deliciously dark too. However, he has a standalone novel coming out next year. I have an early review copy on my kindle which I will be reading soon. It’s called The Bone Keeper.

  1. When you’re not writing, what is your favourite way to spend your time?

I just love to chill and go for long walks. Sometimes on social media, there is a sense of being on call 24/7, only because I don’t like to keep anyone waiting if they contact me. So, I take myself off for some peace and quiet. It calms my mind. It’s also great for solving plot problems. I binge watch box sets when I have time too.

  1. What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?

It was pressing the publish button on Kindle way back at the end of 2012. I am astounded to say that I have sold over one million books since. It’s a dream come true.

  1. What was your favourite book as a child?

The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton. Can you imagine climbing a tree and entering another world?

  1. Have you read any books recently that have really captured your imagination?

I honestly haven’t had time to read for enjoyment over the past few months as I have been working on two books back to back. I find I can’t read when I am writing or editing. Having both of them finished for now, I can get back to my huge ‘to-be-read’ pile.

One book I did manage to read while I was on holiday was Lies, by TM Hogan. It was a very cleverly written book, quite fresh and from a male point of view. Nothing wrong with that – I just tend to find I read a lot of books with female leads. But I loved it for the story, its realness, its likeable characters and, for me, a twist that I didn’t see coming. Everything I like in a book.

  1. If the Prime Minister knocked at your front door and asked to borrow a book, which one would you recommend they read?

As she shares my love of shoes, I would have to say The Second Chance Shoe Shop by my alter ego, Marcie Steele.

  1. Finally, if you could be any character from a movie, which would it be?

It would have to be Bridget Jones. I saw so much of myself in her and I think that’s her charm. So many readers empathised with her, and it came across so well on screen. And big pants. What’s not to love!

…Thanks Mel! For all the aspiring writers who may be reading this, it is inspiring to know that a little determination can go a long way if you really want to achieve your dreams. Another thing I have always admired about Mel’s approach is her warmth towards other authors; she goes out of her way to welcome new writers and to offer help and advice wherever she can. In a creative industry like ours, it’s a rare gift!

For now, I’m heading back to work on my next offering – ‘Dark Skies’ – which I hope to have ready for you in time for Christmas.

Wishing you all a lovely week ahead!

LJ x

Author Introductions #5: Jan Brigden

Good morning, folks!

I hope you all had a wonderful weekend! I spent part of mine visiting some old haunts in London, where I lived for over a decade in my younger days. This time, I was there to raise a toast to a very good friend of mine who is moving back to his home town of Manchester after living and working in the capital for a long time. Coincidentally, we are also planning a move back to my home county of Northumberland and so it feels a little bit like the start of a new chapter, with many of my friends reaching a stage in life where they have grown tired of City living and want to move somewhere a little less frenetic, while others are expecting babies or getting married. It’s all happening!

For now, Monday has rolled around once again and that can mean only one thing – our next Author Introduction! This week, I’m delighted to introduce you to Jan Brigden, who signed with Choc Lit after winning their ‘Search for a Star’ competition in 2014-15 with her debut, As Weekends Go, an uplifting contemporary fiction novel. She had been writing for pleasure from a very young age; short stories for classmates at school, odes for workmates and fun quizzes for family and friends before progressing to write her novel, the idea for which came from a script she composed as part of a creative writing course assignment set by The Writers Bureau. Following a lot of secret plotting, research and feigning passion for customer accounts she was supposed to be reconciling during the day job, the chance finally came for her to put pen to paper.

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Jan Brigden, who writes contemporary fiction

 

I had the pleasure of meeting Jan briefly at a blogger / author meet-up last year in London and, after a spate of crime and thriller authors, it’s great to hear from somebody who writes a completely different genre. To find out a little more about this impressive lady, I asked Jan a few short questions which she has kindly answered…

  1. Tell us a little about yourself – don’t be shy!

I live in South East London with my husband Dave and a motley crew of cuddly toys. I’m a home bird really and come from a close family. I enjoy long walks and Pilates (now I’ve mastered the breathing routine!). I’m quite a spiritual person and have a keen interest in Mindfulness and Meditation.  I love reading – anything from JK Rowling to John Grisham. I also love days out/weekends away with my husband, holidays when we’re lucky. In my twenties I worked a season in southern Spain, an area I’m very familiar with and adore, and witnessed enough eye-popping shenanigans to fill another book. I blog about bookish things, news roundups, lifestyle/fun stuff and I’m also one eighth of group blog The Romaniacs . We all met via the Romantic Novelist Association’s New Writers’ scheme and two years ago proudly received the RNA Industry Media Award and even got a mention in The Bookseller.

  1. How about your latest book – what can readers look forward to when they pick it up?

As Weekends Go, my debut novel, follows two couples and their eventful weekend clash of agendas, involving a girls’ only trip to York, a Brighton sales conference and a Spanish stag do. The story mainly follows undervalued wife Rebecca (in York with her best friend Abi) whose embarrassing yet poignant encounter with gorgeous, non-stereotypical footballer, Alex Heath, highlights the respect that’s leached out of her marriage, leaving her facing some harsh home truths. The inspiration for Alex Heath came from having met a few players over the years, a couple of them so far removed from the flash bad boy stereotype we often read about in the press, (often justified, I hasten to add!) that it made me wonder how they cope with being pre-judged. This sparked the challenge to create a footballer who could hopefully buck the preconceived assumptions about him and endear himself to the reader. I enjoy reading multi viewpoint stories so it seemed natural to write one. I loved the idea of dipping in and out of each destination and set of shenanigans as the weekend progressed and then dealing with the fallout. It’s a book about respect, self-worth, denial and the power and unpredictability of our emotions. Dramatic, uplifting escapism with a few laughs along the way.

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  1. Who is your hero in real life and in fiction?

In real life, my husband Dave for his unwavering love, support, encouragement and laughs galore. When I was writing As Weekends Go he embraced a myriad of roles; sounding-board, tantrum-dodger and Chief Cuddler, all without complaint. A top hero in every way. In fiction, George Bailey in It’s A wonderful Life. An honest, generous, caring sweetheart of a man.

  1. Who are your three favourite writers – and why?

Hard to choose only three but if pressed I’d say Lisa Jewell – her modern day observations are fantastic.  Maggie O’Farrell for her ability to portray such raw emotion through her characters. Maeve Binchy for the warmth and spirit of her larger than life characters.

  1. When you’re not writing, what is your favourite way to spend your time?

Primarily with my husband and my family or good friends. Reading, walking, Pilates for my dodgy shoulder.

  1. What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?

Other than my strong, loving marriage, it would be writing As Weekends Go and seeing it published.

  1. What was your favourite book as a child?

Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree – I read it every night and thought of Silky & Moonface as firm friends.

  1. Have you read any books recently that have really captured your imagination?

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle which explores how in dwelling on the past or worrying too much about the future, we miss out on the benefits of appreciating the here and now. It really made me think.

  1. If the Prime Minister knocked at your front door and asked to borrow a book, which one would you recommend they read?

Probably one of my Bill Bryson Travelogues.  Guaranteed belly-laughs as some of those politicians look as if they could do with cheering up. More seriously though, it would also give a healthy reminder through Bryson’s genius observations of ‘real life’ and all its trials and tribulations from the trivial to the frustrating to the hilarious, the hurdles people face in life that some of our politicians appear to have no appreciation of.

  1. Finally, if you could be any character from a movie, which would it be?

Oh, that’s easy – Sandy from Grease. My favourite film. To dance with John Travolta, plus the great setting and era and the songs, a feel good fest throughout. I love the way Sandy transforms and grows in confidence. Not sure I’d suit a pair of leathers like she does, but hey ho! Love it!

…Thanks Jan! Who doesn’t love a bit of Grease? I was always more of a fan of John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever but, either way, his hips don’t lie!

And on that uplifting thought, I’ll wish you all a happy and healthy week!

LJ x

 

A note of thanks…

They say, ‘lightning never strikes twice’ but sometimes, in the world of books, it does.

Let me explain…

As some of you will be aware, back in May 2015, my debut novel Holy Island nearly gave me a cardiac arrest when it managed to top the UK Kindle chart at #1 (knocking The Girl on the Train off the top spot, although I don’t imagine that gave Paula too many sleepless nights considering the rollicking and well-deserved success of her own book!) Nonetheless, when that happened, I was in a state of mild shock for quite some time afterward and probably, on some subliminal level, I still am. You see, I had no expectations. I hadn’t read every tome on ‘How to be a Writer’ and hadn’t taken endless courses on creative writing, although I was well trained in drafting as a lawyer. I didn’t have an established author platform or a degree in marketing, nor an agent, for that matter. Added to which, I had recently turned down an offer of traditional publication in favour of independent publishing through Amazon KDP and some people probably thought I’d taken leave of my senses. I didn’t have a big publishing house to support me, to pay for advertising space on tables in chain book stores or in magazines, to plaster it across bill boards or distribute my book on supermarket shelves, to guarantee membership rights to all the ‘right’ associations and don’t even get me started on things like television and foreign rights. (N.B. It is a fallacy to think that a traditional deal will equate to investment of this kind – the publisher is a business and they must prioritise resources like any other commercial venture, which usually means investing in established, ‘big hitting’ authors rather than unknowns).

No pressure, then. 

What I did have was complete freedom to produce a body of work on my own terms, without anybody telling me ‘you can’t do that’, or ‘you should write like this.’ I had access to professional editing and proofreading, which I sourced myself, to ensure quality standards. I started out making my own covers but could easily hire a professional cover designer, as many of them work freelance nowadays. I was responsible for making the book visible, as far as I could. Let’s not forget that none of this would have been possible without the revolutionary publishing platform Amazon created, which allows thousands of people to realise their dreams rather than relying on the decision of a minority few. Not every indie book will become a bestseller but at least the readers are the ultimate arbiters and every writer is given the chance to try.

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The day I was called to the bar, quite a few years ago!

 

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This little bumble bee gifted me the time and impetus to change career

The fact is, I just wanted to write my story and retain creative control. I had resigned a well-paid job as a regulatory lawyer and decided to take a short career break to figure out what I’d prefer to do with my life. As an avid reader, writing seemed to beckon. However, the process was – let’s say interrupted by the arrival of our son, Ethan. Having spent a lifetime being told that I might never be able to have children, this news came as a huge, momentous, wonderful surprise and seemed like a kind of miracle. I felt extremely protective of the little bundle I carried and felt less inclined to scurry around the streets of London looking for another stressful job. It was therefore thanks to Ethan that I decided to open my laptop and start writing the story I’d first imagined on a train journey between Newcastle and Edinburgh, looking out across the North Sea to Holy Island.

The success of its sequels (Sycamore Gap, Heavenfield, Angel and High Force) has been very much like a series of aftershocks. With each new release, I am consumed with nerves and very anxious to know how it will be received. There is never any sense of complacency or an assumption that readers will enjoy a book because they have enjoyed the others. The same effort, sweat and tears goes into every manuscript. I certainly never thought another book of mine would reach the same top spot as Holy Island because…well, lightning doesn’t strike twice. I’m not a greedy person and I remember very clearly saying to my husband, “That’s it, for me. If I never sell another book, I’ll always be able to cherish this moment.” Turns out, I have an even kinder readership than I thought, because on 1st June my forthcoming book Cragside managed to claw its way to the #1 UK Kindle spot – and it hasn’t been released yet!

 

I don’t think a simple ‘thank you’ can really convey the deep gratitude I feel for all those people who have supported my writing and enjoyed the DCI Ryan series. It’s great to be able to say a book was a bestseller but, more importantly, to be able to say it came into being because a million people have read my books and deemed them worthy. The readers are the true gatekeepers and it is their opinion that matters to me the most.

Thanks to all of you!

LJ x

 

Hump Day Banter

Morning!

Here in Bath, the weather is wet and windy, serving to remind me that Spring in the United Kingdom is a moody bitch and should never be relied upon. Thus, I donned my ‘Inspector Gadget’ trench coat and set out of the house – laptop case and umbrella precariously balanced in one hand, small child clutched in the other – and dodged puddles and splash back on the way to his school (which is, mercifully, only a five-minute walk away. Even I’m not lazy enough to use the car for that kind of commute). I want to tell you it was heart-warming to see us frolicking in the rain but, in reality, I had badly miscalculated the trench coat and was sweating like a P-I-G as I hop-scotched my way across the playground. Mini-Ross was incensed by the fact his beloved stash of sparkles (fake jewelled things he found in the sand pit and has now claimed as his pirate booty) were not at hand to bring in for ‘show and tell’ and bemoaned the fact throughout our fraught journey.

Having deposited Mini-Ross amongst his comrades/pirate crew, I settled myself with a *strong* coffee and, just before I get back to the main business of writing books, I thought I’d share a few musings on life. This is, after all, ‘Hump Day’ and we need all the help we can get.

Before I go on, let me confess that I had no idea what the hell ‘Hump Day’ was until recently. Logic told me it was a reference to the middle of the week, but I need to be clear about the fact that I am neither cool enough, nor informed enough about current trends in social parlance, to know for sure. Eventually, curiosity led me to google it…obvs. There are many other examples I could name, but let’s suffice to say that my bants is pure 1990s. I still say things like ‘dude’ (non-gender-specific) and reference lines from Wayne’s World, which tells you all you need to know.

Now we’ve cleared that up, I was reflecting on what a funny old world we live in today. I mean, it’s always been funny; human nature seems to lead us in cycles of behaviour, both small and large-scale. Within our own busy little lives, it’s hard to step outside and see the bigger picture, especially when that ‘bigger picture’ will always be so opaque due to the natural constraints of time, access to information and the world being in constant flux. It’s like books: when I was younger, I used to feel an odd sort of depression about the fact I would never be able to read every book ever written. It would take many lifetimes to do that, especially given the fantastic scope of literature available out there, so it was always an unrealistic goal. Age and maturity have taught me a lesson that was obvious from the start: ignorance is unavoidable, for we are all ignorant if your bench mark is knowing ‘everything there is to know’. The important thing is striving to learn, to understand new things and, perhaps most importantly, to understand your fellow man.

Easier said than done, isn’t it? Almost every day, I read something in a certain broadsheet, or online, or speak to someone with wildly opposing views and silently face-palm. But I remind myself a person is the sum total of their life experience and views are conjured as a direct product of that experience.

Politics, religion, money, sex…it can divide opinion. But, is this such a bad thing? I see people from time-to-time on social media up in arms about political discourse. Hush, they say, stop talking about it. I’m feeling uncomfortable. Why? The day you tell people they cannot speak freely is a sad day for humankind. Freedom of expression should not come with limitations, even when the content is unpalatable to you. An opposing view can bring you to a closer understanding and re-affirmation of your own principles, or it can lead you to re-evaluate. On that point, it amazes me how many people are affronted by the prospect of changing their standpoint: I presume they think it would be a sign of weakness or something of that kind. But it isn’t weakness to think or to question – is it?

When I was growing up, I remember an elderly member of the family would tell me “little girls should be seen and not heard.”

What utter nonsense. 

Setting aside gender issues for a moment, ‘expression’ and ‘manners’ are two vastly different things. Surely, it is possible to express your views politely? The problem comes when people like my relative conflate the two. Shutting someone up is not a question of manners, it is an effort to undermine their contribution to a discourse. That’s a dangerous road because, by doing that, you raise a generation of bleating sheep, quick to follow the herd. It makes me smile, sometimes, when my son pipes up in a restaurant to order his own food (aged 3), or disagrees with a parental edict, or seeks to negotiate how many minutes longer before it’s time for a bath. I believe it’s important for him to respect his parents, who know best what will protect him at his vulnerable age, but I will never seek to quieten his enquiring mind. I hope he never loses the confidence to speak out and I certainly won’t be the one to shut him up.

This gets me to thinking about how often we are, frankly, wrong about people. It’s a sad statement on society that we so often assume the worst, rather than assuming the best. It is, of course, a product of our own individual paradigm. If I’m feeling sad or dejected, it’s harder to view the world with optimism on that given day. Conversely, if I’m feeling elated, it’s harder to view a situation with the objectivity it deserves. Over the last couple of years, it’s been eye-opening to hear some of those instant assumptions people have made about me, like, “I thought you’d be a Tory-voter” (well, there’s no need to insult me). But hey, I’m guilty of my own fair share of value judgments. I was dining recently at a restaurant where there was a man in his fifties (perm-tanned, face-lifted and wearing very tight clothing) having dinner with a woman young enough to be his youngest daughter who *quite clearly* wasn’t his daughter. Oh yeah, I was Judgy McJudgerson, you betcha.

So, what can we take from all this on Hump Day? Let me summarise in my native Geordie:

  1. Divn’t stop the bairns chattin’ aboot life and the universe.
  2. Divn’t be scared about asking questions. Gan’ canny, though, you divn’t want to insult people.
  3. Just ’cause a bloke is romancing a younger lass, doesn’t mean he’s an old perv’. It might be true love.

 On that note, I’m off to write about DS Phillips’ enduring love for DI MacKenzie, who has been having a tough time after her ordeal with ‘The Hacker’… tune in soon for updates!

Love,

LJ x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Festivals, libraries and bookish things!

Hello folks!

I don’t know about the rest of you, but the last couple of weeks have passed by in the blink of an eye. After a (very) late flight up to Newcastle, there was time for a brief catch-up with my parents before heading down to Noir at the Bar, organised by the lovely Victoria. Essentially, it’s an opportunity to hear fellow writers reading from their own work, in a positive environment! I wasn’t reading this time but was there in full support of all those who did 🙂

The next day, I was off to Durham for an interview with the Northern Echo and the article can be found here. It was a great opportunity to take a stroll around the city and re-acquaint myself with its nooks and crannies.

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This is the view from Prebend’s Bridge. To the right you can see the top of the cathedral and to the left, you can just about see the boathouse which is the site of Anna’s fictional cottage in my books.

After that, I headed back to Northumberland in time for a lovely event hosted by Forum Books in Corbridge. ‘An Evening with LJ Ross and Special Guest Nicky Black’ was attended by around sixty people and completely sold out, so my thanks go out to Helen and everyone who helped to arrange that and, of course, to Nicky Black for sharing her time with us all.  It was wonderful to meet all of you!

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At Tea and Tipple, the venue in Corbridge


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The beautiful display of my books – thank you Helen and team!

The next day involved more writing and work, but I had time to have a quick look around Newcastle Castle before popping along to the Lit & Phil to take part in Newcastle Noir Festival 2017 on the ‘Geordie Noir’ panel. It was great to meet fellow authors Shelley Day, Howard LinskeyMatt Wesolowski and Jacky Collins (a.k.a. Dr Noir) did a fantastic job of organising a weekend of brilliant crime panels with a little help from an outstanding team of volunteers.

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On the Geordie Noir panel

The final stop on my whirlwind roadshow was Darlington’s Crown Street Library. The library, like so many, is facing the threat of closure which made the visit even more poignant for me. The library is one of Darlington’s old, beautiful buildings and the people who run it are dedicated staff whose main objective appears to be furthering literacy, learning and opportunity for local people. It’s heartbreaking to see closures all around the country, which is why I was very happy to speak to another sixty people and donate some more books. It was an absolute pleasure to be there, and thank you to Vicky and all her staff for the kind invitation.

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Signing books at Crown Street Library

It’s back to business as usual now, and I’m working hard to finish the next DCI Ryan book whilst also managing a lot of other creative projects. Believe me, if I could write any faster, I would! Sadly, like everybody, I am often interrupted by any/ all of the following: children, housework, errands, admin crap, writer’s block, spending time with family or loved ones, not becoming a social recluse… in addition, I’m happy to admit I’m only human. I am plagued by self-doubt as much as the next person and it prevents me from writing like a machine. I want to be sure that what I’ve written won’t disappoint readers and that I will be happy to publish the end product. I don’t want to rush a book because, inevitably, the product won’t be good.

Having said all that, today was very productive! Now, to tick off the other 587513985934 items on my ‘To Do’ list… 😉

Hope you all have a great week,

LJ x

Headspace

Hello there!

I’m writing to you from sunny Cornwall, where I have been staying with my husband and son during his Easter holidays. The weather is wonderful but this is a working holiday for me, so I’ve been rationing my time on the beach while I try to tick off the numerous items on my ‘To Do’ list!

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How am I supposed to focus on work against that backdrop?!

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Right before he face-planted in the sand…

As always, I’ve been busy writing articles here and there (for example, this one for What’s New in Publishing), planning forthcoming events in the North-East (a bit of a mini-tour, as it happens) and, of course, writing. The business of being an independent author does tend to divide my time and it can be frustrating to be taken away from the creative side of my work, when I could happily spend all day writing new fiction. But, I am a realist. Managing my existing books, responding to all the kind messages from readers and budding writers and being a halfway decent mother to my three-year-old son can be a difficult juggling act but no more so than many other people face, that’s for sure. Besides, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I take pride in my son growing up in an environment where both parents work and share his childcare equally, supporting one another to succeed in their own dreams but always with the same ultimate goal: to provide a happy, secure and balanced childhood for him.

As any mother will tell you, there are times when you feel stretched too thinly; when you feel that life is becoming overwhelming and there simply aren’t enough hours in the day. Confidence ebbs and you end up feeling like you aren’t doing anything to the best of your ability – you’re just keeping a lot of plates spinning in a slightly hap-hazardous way.

You are not alone!

A good example of this comes from a lady I met at the London Book Fair, who told me I seemed to “have it all” and she wondered if she would ever succeed. Self-doubt is the plague of anyone who is trying to break into a new industry, myself included, but let me say this: I believe we are all in this life together. I don’t live a charmed existence – nobody does. We all face our own struggles and our own daily battles. Don’t be fooled by the Instagram-filtered gloss permeating the world of social media, because it only represents the high point of somebody’s day and not the average, hardworking, unglamorous moments which make up our collective lives.

LJ x

 

 

Breaking new ground…

Hello!

First of all, let me say that I can’t believe it’s nearly March. Where the heck have the past two months gone? I suppose there has been quite a lot going on, starting with the release of my fifth book, High Force. It was available to pre-order for about six weeks prior to its general release on 31st January 2017 and reached #2 in the UK charts more than once, settling around the top five for quite a few weeks. I’m so grateful to everyone who gave it a go!

When that sort of wonderful thing happens, one or two people ask me whether the release of a new book has become second nature, or something that leaves me unmoved. To which I respond…

Hell, no!

I feel nervous and excited every time I write and release a new book. My stomach churns at the prospect of readers not enjoying the new offering, even though the logical part of my brain tells me it would be impossible to please everyone and I should concentrate on writing for myself. I certainly become engrossed by the story when I am in the thick of it but, once that process ends, I’m left wondering whether it’s really any good after all. I agonise about almost every part of the story. It is picked apart and polished through the editing process but even then self-doubt gnaws away at my innards.

It is always a fabulous, flabbergasting surprise to find so many readers enjoying the books and to say I’m grateful would be an understatement. Their enjoyment in the novels I’ve written gives me the courage to continue to write and to weave together the stories swirling around my head. I’ve been very fortunate over the past two years but, believe me, I never take that for granted. The act of creating something brand new and putting it out into the world takes courage and it is something all of us share, in one way or another!

On the topic of unleashing myself on the wider world, I had an unexpected birthday treat this year. On 10th February, The Times decided to put my old mug on the front cover of their ‘Arts’ supplement, as well as a miniature version on the front cover of the main newspaper to accompany a two-page spread about bestselling authors who decided to publish independently (through Amazon). In case you didn’t catch it, the article is here.

lj-ross-the-times

I nearly had a minor heart attack when I saw this

Being quite a private person, the world of public relations and press is like an alien planet to me. However, I try to visit every so often in the interests of promoting the value of indie authors who are not only good storytellers, but who work hard and produce books to such a quality standard they are indistinguishable from those put out by mainstream publishers.

Speaking of storytellers, Amazon is running a Storyteller Competition at the moment with a great cash prize and, more importantly, the prospect of helpful marketing and the launch of a new writing career if there are any budding authors tuning in. The details are here and it’s well worth considering!

Bye for now!

LJ x

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

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