Author Introductions #8: Simon Maltman

Good Morning!

After the kids went back to school last week (eliciting a collective cheer from parents and children, alongside a collective wail from teachers throughout the land) I can almost feel people gearing up for the run-up to Christmas.

Yes, I used the ‘C’ word, even though it’s only September.

On which point, I should mention that I’m like Will Ferrell on acid when it comes to Christmas. Clearly, this does not derive from any religious feeling (sorry, my Christian friends) but from a sense of general goodwill and cheerfulness towards my fellow man. Despite my best efforts to extend this magnanimous tolerance for longer than a two-week festive period, I tend to run out of steam by mid-January and therefore I must enjoy the good humour while it lasts!

Still, there’s plenty to be cheerful about, even without the promise of a reindeer-toting beardy bloke and shiny lights. For instance, the leaves are starting to turn a beautiful golden brown on the trees, we’re in the middle of buying a new home in Northumberland (with all the stresses and excitement that brings) and I’m writing the next DCI Ryan novel (‘Dark Skies’) and enjoying the process immensely. I won’t go so far as to say it gets easier each time you write a book, but I will say that there’s a comfort in knowing that you have managed to write six books previously and there is tangible proof that you can do it.

Speaking of all things reading and writing, last Friday was ‘International Literacy Day’ and I ran a competition on my Facebook author page (if you don’t follow me there, it’s worth checking out as I often run giveaways and share news about forthcoming releases). Although there are so many dates on the calendar, I do believe ILD is worth celebrating because it affects us all. A strong society needs a strong, capable workforce. But, with over 750 million – yes, million – adults worldwide still lacking basic literacy skills, including those in our own first world country, how can we hope to create a stable environment for our children? Even if the socio-economic argument does not move you, consider it in simple human terms: imagine if you struggled to read a menu or an instruction manual; if you couldn’t teach your children to read because you couldn’t read the books yourself or the letters sent home from school telling you how to help your child, let alone help yourself. It would be isolating, at the very least. As with any challenge, we need to talk about the problem more openly and make educational schemes not only available but accessible.

For now, let’s celebrate some of the writing that is being produced out there with our next Author Introduction! Each week, I am spotlighting authors across various genres, each having experienced different routes to publication. This week, I am delighted to welcome Simon Maltman to the blog.

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Simon Maltman, crime fiction author and musician

Simon is a best-selling crime fiction author and musician from Northern Ireland. A Chaser on the Rocks was his debut novel and was released to critical acclaim. Before that, his crime fiction short stories were featured in magazines and anthologies, as well as some of his poetry. More Faces was released recently and features twelve of his shorts alongside a novella, Bongo Fury, both of which were Amazon bestsellers. One of his short stories was featured in the best-selling charity crime anthology, Dark Minds. He is an established musician with his band ‘The Hung Jury’ and lives in Northern Ireland with his wife and two daughters.

Simon has kindly agreed to answer a few short questions to give us all a flavour of the man behind the writing – here goes…

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

Hi everyone- thanks for having me! I’m a crime fiction writer from Northern Ireland. So far, I’ve had published: one novel, a short story collection and a novella. I worked as a manager in social care for thirteen years but at the moment I’m concentrating on the writing, while being a stay-at-home dad to my two lovely girls. I also do a bit of music on the side.

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

My novella was the last one to be published. It’s called Bongo Fury and I decided to self-publish that one. The sequel is also going to be out in a month or two. It’s a little bit grittier than my other stuff but hopefully people will find it funny as well. It’s about a paramilitary-linked, music shop owning, drug-dealing dad, who also does a bit of private detection! I haven’t got a better, more concise blurb than that!

[Blogger’s Note: the description is awesome!]

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

That’s hard. There are so many inspirations in life and in fiction. In fiction, Philip Marlowe would certainly be a contender. Real life- flip! I have so many music heroes and people like that, but then there are people who have really made a difference socially. Pass! Well… my greatest musical hero was Prince and, luckily, I saw him twice as he’s the best performer/singer/guitarist/writer!

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

I’d probably say: 1. Raymond Chandler- because his language is just so wonderful and clever and his imagery is incredible. 2. Richard Stark- because he manages to create very engaging, fast-paced thrillers in a really sparing way. 3. Iain Banks- because his books are so enthralling and the characters are varied and interesting.

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

Spending quality time with my family, for sure. I also sometimes enjoy getting away from them at times and going out for dinner or to the cinema with my missus- simple tastes! I also love going out to my ‘man cave’ with friends, listening to records and playing some pool.

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

It would have to be my kids- I’m very lucky. Professionally, I’m proud of the things I contributed to people’s lives in social care services. Of course, having my first novel picked up by a publisher and getting launched and all that experience was absolutely brilliant too.

  1. What was your favourite book as a child?

I used to love the ‘Mystery Squad’ books, where you picked where you wanted to go and how you solved the case. Then it told you at the end how good a detective you were, or not. I thought they were class!

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

I’ve recently started reading Jo Nesbo and he’s becoming one of my favourites. I’m reading The Snowman at the moment. I also just read Here and Gone by my fellow countryman Stuart Neville and it’s a fantastic thriller.

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

Haha, if it was Theresa May, I’d maybe give her one of my old philosophy books to give her a nudge! Something by Foucault or maybe Kant. If Jeremy Corbyn got in to office, I’d make him a coffee and try and get him to read one of mine!

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

That’s another hard one. I’ll go for Jo Cotton’s character Holly Martins, in The Third Man. It’s my favourite movie and he’s a hack paperback writer who ends up being the hero.

…Thanks, Simon! Great answers there and some great inspiration for any budding authors reading this article: there are many ways to publish and you can continue to pursue other hobbies and spend time with family without sacrificing your dream to write!

Wishing you all a lovely week ahead,

LJ x

Storytellers and tree-climbing

Hello!

Today, I have finally recovered from a hectic week and I thought I would take the opportunity to drop you a line…

Yesterday, I was a panellist at WOMAD festival in Wiltshire, chatting about the great experience I’ve had self-publishing while my husband kindly supervised our son climbing every visible tree in the arboretum.

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Exploring the woodland at WOMAD festival

On Wednesday night, I attended a party at the new Amazon HQ in London (very swanky it was too) and the night before, I was at the Amazon KDP Storyteller Award Ceremony. Although I didn’t enter the competition, one of my writer friends, Dave Leadbeater, was up for the award against some stiff competition. I’m delighted to say that he won! All the finalists were amazing and it was a pleasure to be invited along to the inaugural ceremony. It was also a great opportunity to catch up with Keith Houghton and his lovely wife, whose pictures I have borrowed as I managed to come away from both events without a single image on my iPhone – thanks Keith!

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With Lynn at the new Amazon HQ 🙂

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With Mr Ross, Keith and Lynn Houghton at the Amazon Storyteller Award Ceremony at The Ned

Congratulations and commiserations aside, these events provide the opportunity for a hard-working writer and mother such as myself to let loose for the evening, casting off the shackles of sobriety with cheerful abandon. At this point, I should clarify that the evening was all very smart and lovely at a brand new upscale hotel in London (The Ned), rather than being a debauched night in Vegas or a sweaty club in San Antonio, neither of which I could tolerate these days. Since my husband and partner-in-crime was also invited, we were practically skipping into the venue like a pair of reprobates on day release.

Even without our irrepressible optimism and willingness to throw ourselves into the spirit of the occasion, I can tell you it was a fabulous night and a credit to all those who organised it. On a broader level, I think it is a wonderful idea to create an award which celebrates the power of the reader: by accounting for the book’s commercial appeal, Amazon are thereby giving significant weight to readers’ interaction with the book. As I have said elsewhere, I believe that readers are the single most important judge of what constitutes ‘good’ and ‘bad’ fiction and this is a very positive step in the right direction.

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The winner, David Leadbeater, alongside Lily Cole who is a literary ambassador and Douglas Gurr, UK Country Manager at Amazon. Photo credit: MinsterFM.com

Speaking of my lovely readers, I’ve had quite a few messages querying whether we will be seeing an audiobook of ‘Cragside’ and I am happy to tell you…yes, you will! By way of explanation: every two or three books, a new contract with Audible must be arranged so that they can commit to producing the next books I have in mind for the series, which is standard practice and takes a little time. Likewise, time is needed to secure the services of the same audio narrator, who has lent his voice artistry to the other books in the series. We are working as quickly as we can to bring the audio version to you and I hope you will enjoy it as much as the e-book and print readers have done!

At the moment, I am excited to tell you that my family is planning a permanent move back up to my native Northumberland, which is something we have hoped to do for a long time. My husband’s career (and my former life as a lawyer) precluded the possibility of moving too far away from London but now the day-to-day elements of his work allow us the freedom to move home. This means our son can see his grandparents more regularly and I can go roaming around the hills and coastlines of the land I love, looking for more inspiration. Yippee!

When I’m not house-hunting, I’ll be making a start on the next DCI Ryan book (‘Dark Skies’) this week, before I sit down to write in earnest, as well as working on the finer details of a new series of mystery books and continuing to write a standalone thriller I’ve been trying to finish for eighteen months…no rest for the wicked, eh?

I hope you all have a wonderful week!

LJ x

P.S. I’ve begun a new feature on my blog which I plan to do every Monday until December, which introduces a new author who you may or may not already be familiar with. I love to hear about the work of other talented writers and I hope you do too! 🙂

 

 

Author introductions #1: David Leadbeater

Morning chaps!

In addition to my bits and bobs about DCI Ryan, reading, writing and the world in general, I thought it might be nice to introduce you to some new authors over the next few weeks. Their work spans many different genres and they are all top people, so there should be something for everyone! There is such a breadth of choice available to readers and, thanks to the various routes now available to publication, there are many ways in which a writer can release their creative stories into the world for the rest of us to enjoy.

Therefore, without further ado, let me introduce you to David Leadbeater. He really needs very little introduction, being the author of twenty-three Kindle international bestsellers – the Matt Drake and Alicia Myles series, the Disavowed series, Chosen and now The Relic Hunters, which has been shortlisted for the prestigious Amazon Storyteller Award 2017 (winners will be announced tomorrow!) He’s sold over three quarters of a million e-books, which is a fantastic achievement.

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David Leadbeater, who writes action-packed archaeological mystery and adventure novels 

To give us a bit of a flavour of the man and his work, I asked David to answer a few questions, which he kindly agreed to do…

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

I live in the lovely city of York, am married to Erica and have two beautiful, young daughters, Keira and Megan. Just over a year ago we bought our dream house and have been busy reworking it to our tastes. Almost there now!

2. Sounds brilliant! How about your latest book – what can readers look forward to when they pick it up?

My latest book, The Relic Hunters, is an exhilarating thriller, featuring archaeological mysteries and a quest across the globe.

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

In real life, my hero is my wife who remains strong when life gets tough and always sees the bright side. She is the diplomatic one in our family, thankfully, because that’s not my strong point! In fiction, my hero is the immortal Bilbo Baggins, for everything he sacrificed on the way to and into Mordor.

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

Whilst my three favourite writers list keeps changing, the ones that come instantly to mind are Tolkien for writing that one masterpiece that will always remain with you; Robert Crais for the Elvis Cole novels that made me laugh out loud and become so deeply invested in the two main characters; and Stephen Donaldson for the Thomas Covenant trilogy, such fine writing and drama that completely sweeps you away.

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

If not family time, I love movies, particularly the Hollywood blockbuster type that are well-written and offer a few hours of pure escapism. I’m also a bit of a petrolhead and enjoy driving a nice road with nice views alongside like-minded friends.

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

No doubt, my children are my greatest achievement. I think it every day without fail.

7. What was your favourite book as a child?

The Famous Five by Enid Blyton introduced me to a family-style novel full of humour, mystery and adventure which, coincidentally or not, are the four main traits that run through all my novels.

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

I find it so hard to switch off and read nowadays, since I quit work and settled down to write for a living. It really can be a twenty-four hour a day job if you allow it to be and comes with all the worries of a self-employed business. The last book I fully enjoyed reading and made extra time for was The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, not my normal kind of read at all, but quite compelling.

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

My first thought would be something ending in ‘. . .for Dummies’, but hey, let’s not get too political here. On the light side, I would recommend something by Nick Spalding to help take the edge off, but of course maybe a rip-roaring, easy-reading, archaeological thriller would do just as well!

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

Haha, more recently it really would have to be Thor. Or Phwoar, as my wife calls him. The actor has given the character such a presence and a quick sense of humour. A little older and I’d go with Danny Ocean, from Ocean’s Eleven for the cool and clever wit.

…Some great answers there, thanks Dave!

As you all know, I love a bit of Indiana Jones (so much so, that my main protagonist has the movie theme tune as his mobile ring tone), so pacy archaeological thrillers could be just the ticket!

Hope you all have a wonderful 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.

Louise Call to Bar

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

 

 

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

 

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