Author Introductions #18: Nicky Black

Morning!

Today, I’m writing to you from my office in Bath which will soon be replaced with an office in Northumberland, now that we’re making the Big Move North. I’m so excited about returning to the countryside where I grew up and looking forward to introducing my son to all the best beaches (there are so many to choose from) in time for Christmas. But, if there’s one person I don’t have to convince when it comes to the beauty of the North-East, it’s lovely fellow author and friend Nicky Doherty, one half of the bestselling writing duo that comprises Nicky Black.

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Nicky Doherty, one half of bestselling writing duo Nicky Black.

Nicky Black is a collaboration between two friends, Nicky and Julie, who have known each other for around twenty years. They both had careers in urban regeneration back in the 90s, working at the heart of disadvantaged communities in the North East of England. During that time, they experienced the real grit and struggle of peoples’ everyday lives, as well as their humour and determination to lead a happy existence, whatever that meant to them.

Julie has had a career as a script writer, and Nicky has transformed two of Julie’s early scripts into novels. The first is called ‘The Prodigal,’ and the second is a work in progress called ‘Tommy Collins,’ which will be released in the Spring of 2018. To find out a little more about this dynamic duo, I asked Nicky to answer a few short questions which she kindly agreed to do. Here goes…

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

I’ve been enjoying reading these interviews with some fabulous authors, so delighted to be here.

I was born and brought up in Alnwick, Northumberland, a very beautiful place that I didn’t appreciate at the time. When I’d finished my degree, I moved back to Newcastle and worked in urban regeneration for twelve years. Then I thought I’d give London a go for six months when my contract was up and ended up staying fourteen years. The last couple of years there weren’t very happy ones for me, so I ditched it all last summer and moved back up north. I also turn fifty this year which I can hardly believe. I’m officially middle-aged and the healthiest and happiest I’ve been in years!

[Blogger’s Note: I don’t think any of us can believe that you turn fifty this year, Nicky. What’s your secret?!]

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

Well, my latest book is a couple of years old now – I’ve been working on the second one since August last year. In the first book, The Prodigal, readers can expect quite a moving story, although it’s set amidst a fairly gritty backdrop of urban decay. Whilst it’s a crime novel, at its heart is a love story between a detective, Lee Jamieson, and Nicola Kelly, who is questioning her loyalty to her violent, drug-dealing husband now she has small children. Needless to say, it’s not an easy ride for either of them. I’ll leave it there as I don’t want to give away the plot…

book covers

The next one, Tommy Collins, is set on the same fictional council estate ten years earlier in 1989, and is about a young man who organises raves. It’s his escape, and he gets the chance to organise a massive party, make some serious cash and leave his life of poverty behind. Only, he borrows money from the wrong man. The Detective Chief Inspector, Peach, is a dream to write.

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

Annie Lennox. I’ve always been fascinated by her: her voice, song-writing, her effortless androgyny, her dedication to making the world a better place. She’s fierce yet gentle. I can’t explain it, but that voice stops me in my tracks every time I hear it even after all these years. It may sound weirdo stalkerish, but I can’t imagine my life without her music. She also delivers the best “huh!” in pop, in my opinion.

Fiction – I had to look at my bookshelves to answer this one, but it didn’t take long. I’m going to say Heathcliff. He’s just so tortured. I know he’s a cruel character and doesn’t behave in any way heroically, but man, he breaks my heart. And he comes good in the end like all the best heroes.

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

Roddy Doyle. Funny, moving, gritty – three of my favourite things in any drama. He has this ability to capture mood, emotion and place without describing it in any great detail. It’s all in the dialogue. The Woman Who Walked into Doors is my favourite book of all time, A Star called Henry a close second. I met him recently and he signed my dog-eared copy of The Woman Who Walked into Doors. I’m well chuffed.

Donna Tartt – in contrast to Roddy Doyle, she describes places and people in such detail and with such elegance, I’m in awe. Perfect dialogue, too, and the stories are gripping as hell. The Goldfinch blew me away.

Hmmm. This is hard. I think I’ll say Pat Barker, though I haven’t read anything by her for a while (must rectify that). The Regeneration trilogy is so evocative and sad, but there’s always a message of hope in her books. And she’s a Geordie which is always a winner J. Oh, Catherine Cookson – what a storyteller. (There’s too many, I’ll stop now…).

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

I’d like to say something cultural or healthy, but I binge watch TV I’m afraid. Once I’m into a programme, I’m addicted and have to get through it as quickly as possible. At the moment, it’s Suits for entertainment value, and Mindhunter for pure drama and a banging 70s sound track. When I’m not working, writing or binge watching, I love a good night out on the town.

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

Deciding to change my life and following through (that bit’s important), despite how difficult it all was. I left my job, a relationship that made me unhappy and my life in London to start afresh and give myself space to write. Happiness and a life not bogged down in stress and mistrust can’t be bought. I’m lucky that I have a great family, no mortgage, no kids, so it was achievable. I haven’t achieved what I ultimately want yet, but I’m working on it. I have a plan, and I like that.

  1. What was your favourite book as a child?

Easy. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I love a rebel, especially one who goes on such a journey of self-discovery. I can’t remember how many times I finished it and went right back to the beginning again.

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

The Summer of Impossible Things by Rowan Coleman. It’s not easy to pull of time-travel and make it plausible. That takes some imagination; I loved it.

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

Anything by Michael Morpurgo or Joyce Stranger, since she seems to think animals can’t feel pain or emotion. Even if they didn’t, we feel pain and emotion for them, and that should be enough.

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

Louise, from Thelma and Louise! Not that I want to shoot anyone or drive off a cliff, but I admire her loyalty, her badass independence and her bravery. And I love Susan Sarandon.  She can do no wrong in my eyes.

Thank you for having me, Louise, and best of luck with Dark Skies – looking forward to another fix of Ryan!

…Thanks, Nicky! Love your answers and, as a big fan of The Prodigal, I am already looking forward to reading your next book when it comes out. I admire your decision to change the things that weren’t working in your life and strive for a better happiness – that’s a decision I also took a few years ago. You only get the one life, so we might as well use it wisely! For now, I’m off to listen to some Annie Lennox and plot the next DCI Ryan book…

Wishing you all a wonderful week ahead!

LJ x

Author Introductions #10: Victoria Connelly

Good morning!

Monday passed by in what can only be described as a whirlwind of colour and sound, so I am writing to you today, instead! How was your weekend? Mine was spent on the Helford Estuary in Cornwall with my husband and son, exploring the South West Coastal Path, clambering over rocks searching for crabs (we found one, eventually, much to my son’s delight) and generally communing with Nature. For the bibliophiles amongst us, Helford is an area made famous by Daphne du Maurier and I was quite excited to ramble around Frenchman’s Creek to see what had inspired the book of the same name. The entire area is beautiful, peaceful and atmospheric when the mist rolls in from the sea, so it wasn’t hard to find inspiration there.

For now, it’s time to make my next Author Introduction, and I’m delighted to welcome Victoria Connelly to the blog. She is the bestselling author of over thirty titles – her first novel, Flights of Angels, was made into a film and another book of hers, The Runaway Actress, was nominated for best romantic comedy of the year. She lives in rural Suffolk with her artist husband, a springer spaniel and a flock of ex-battery hens.

Victoria Connelly author photo 2016

Bestselling romantic novelist Victoria Connelly

I was fortunate to meet Victoria and her husband at the London Book Fair last year and found that we share a love of setting and an appreciation of the English countryside! Let’s find out a little more about this lovely lady…

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

I’ve been writing novels since I was 14. I used to pass my first attempt under the desk during maths lessons for my friends to read! I typed it on a manual typewriter with a bottle of Tipex at the ready. But it took me many years to become a published author. I’d say about 70% of my time revolves around stories: writing them, reading them and watching them. I am a little bit obsessed!

I also adore animals and have a garden full of ex-battery hens who I name after characters from literature. We recently rehomed a flock named after Shakespearean heroines: Beatrice, Rosalind, Hermia and Viola. They are a daily joy and often sneak into the house in search of treats.

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

Natural Born Readers is out today! It’s the third in my Book Lovers series about the Nightingale family who run three bookshops in the small market town of Castle Clare in Suffolk. It’s a warm-hearted story about childhood sweethearts, Ben and Bryony, and what happened when Ben unexpectedly left town six years ago and the ensuing turmoil caused by his return.

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

My real life hero is my husband, of course! He’s been there since my earliest days of submitting novels. He’s propped me up through the long years of rejection and walks the dog when I’m in the midst of a first draft. He also formats all my indie published books and does a lot of the techie stuff and marketing. What a hero! In fiction, I’d have to say Mr Darcy because Jane Austen’s wonderful hero inspired my Austen Addict series of six books.

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

H E Bates, Miss Read and Rosamunde Pilcher. I return to their books time and time again. They are gentle, warm-hearted reads with vivid settings, beautiful emotive writing and characters you wished were real.

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

I love pottering around our garden. We have about a third of an acre with a greenhouse, lots of raised beds full of fruit and veg and a long meadow, so there’s always something to do. I also love a day out with my husband and dog – tootling around the beautiful Suffolk countryside, going for a walk and enjoying a bag of chips by the sea.

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

Getting published and staying published! Honestly, I had years of rejections and I’ve been through a lot of agents. My first book was turned down by over a hundred publishers worldwide, but was then bought in a bidding war between five German publishers and made into a film. I think my greatest achievement is my ability to keep writing. I now have over thirty titles out there – a wonderful mix of traditionally published and indie published – novels, novellas, short stories, non-fiction and children’s books. I just can’t stop writing!

  1. What was your favourite book as a child?

Five go to Smuggler’s Top by Enid Blyton – I did love the Famous Five! I used to make up my own adventures for them, but this one was my favourite – it’s full of fun and intrigue and has a really great twist.

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

I loved Leah Mercer’s Who We Were Before – a deeply moving story about a couple who have drifted apart after a terrible accident. Lisa Jewell’s I Saw You kept me hooked too. I also adored Debbie Macomber’s Sweet Tomorrows – the final part of her five-book Rose Harbour series. It was so thoroughly heartwarming and the emotion and satisfaction of that journey for the characters will live with me for a long time.

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

It would have to be my favourite book The Darling Buds of May by H E Bates for its sheer joy. I think the PM could do with a little dose of joy and it’s a lovely gentle reminder of how we are all responsible for each other and that a little compassion can go a long way.

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

I think it would be Lucy Honeychurch from A Room with a View. She is beautiful, talented and compassionate, and she goes through such a fascinating journey of self-discovery. And who wouldn’t want to be kissed in the hills above Florence to that ravishing Puccini soundtrack?

…I think we can all agree on that! (Ahh, Florence…)

Many thanks to Victoria for sharing her life and experiences with us – for the budding writers out there, it’s encouraging to hear that a little perseverance can go a long way and that there is more than one road to success!

On that topic, if anyone would like to find out more about writing, self-publishing or about the DCI Ryan books, I’ll be attending the Althorp Literary Festival from 5th to 8th October. There will be an Amazon Academy panel each day of the festival, where I’ll be a panellist alongside some wonderful authors who have chosen to self-publish some or all of their books (including Mel Sherratt, Dave Leadbeater and Mark Dawson). Each of us have different stories to share with you about our roads to becoming an author but we’re friendly folk and it’s a great opportunity to come along and ask the burning questions! I’ll also be taking part in a separate ‘Women in Crime’ panel with the lovely Louise Jensen (bestselling author of The Secret, The Gift and The Surrogate), where we’ll be having a good old natter about crime writing in general.

Hope to see some of you there!

Have a lovely week,

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

 

“The Wobble”

Hello!

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. BLIND FAITH

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

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

2. BLIND FEAR

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

3. KICK-BACK

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

Fuck off! 

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

4. GOLLUM SYNDROME

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

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

5. THE BIRD’S NEST

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

6. RIDE THE WOBBLES

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

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

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

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

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

LJ x

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

 

 

The cardinal importance of Latin music

Well hello again and greetings from LJ Ross HQ!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time…

LJ x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Series or standalone?

Any mother will tell you that if you manage to find the time to blow dry your hair in the morning and get through the day without ten strong coffees, you’re a bloody rock star. Factor in multiple children and work, and things start to get pretty frenetic.

In my case, I can’t complain too loudly. I have a hands-on husband who, despite managing his own busy career, is always an equal parent and a great dad to our little boy. My son is two and enjoys spending time at nursery (terrorising the staff, no doubt) which allows me to ring fence blocks of time during the day when I can work, too. Despite what some people imagine the life of a writer to be, it isn’t all that glamorous! Like any self-employed job, there are long periods of time spent at a desk, with only your fictional characters for company. Then, there is the act of being persistently creative, which can be both a joy and a curse. Finally, there is the crippling self-doubt which comes from putting that creative product ‘out there’ in the real world, where people can heap plaudits or shred it to pieces, depending on their mood.

Why do you do it? I hear you cry. Well, it’s for the simple love of writing stories. I was a lawyer in London before deciding to change career, and almost as soon as I got into the flow of writing I knew that I had made the right decision. The process can be frustrating and there is a lot of hard work involved, but the benefits far outweigh the costs in terms of personal happiness and a flexible working life.

Holy Island

After my first novel, ‘Holy Island’ was published in January 2015, my jaw fell to the floor when it reached the UK #1 spot the following May in the Amazon charts. When I wrote that book, I wasn’t at all sure how it would be received and certainly hadn’t thought far enough ahead to consider that it might form the basis for a series of Northumbrian murder mysteries. Yet, when it was received so kindly by readers around the country and internationally, and people wrote to me to ask if there would be more of DCI Ryan, I began to think about the possibility. I was clear on the fact that I would only write a sequel if I felt there was a genuine story to be told; it needed to come organically, rather than being something formulated only for commercial gain.

Well, I think I’ve been bitten by the writer’s bug, because now I can’t seem to stop imagining new mysteries. For me, the ideas flow from the landscape of Northumberland and its surrounds: the first novel was named after the atmospheric island of Lindisfarne and the second, ‘Sycamore Gap’, after that iconic spot on Hadrian’s Wall made famous in Robin Hood: Prince of ThievesThe third in the series, ‘Heavenfield’ is named after the tiny, remote church of St. Oswald’s, also in Hadrian’s Wall country. The scenery is my muse and so, for as long as the stories keep popping into my mind, I’ll be happy writing them.

Sycamore Gap

But, are there certain rules to abide by, when writing a series? As with any practical advice on the topic of writing, this is a highly individual thing. Each writer is different and their approach to writing stories reflects their own personality. In general, it is probably fair to say that the stories should flow and, depending on the type of series you are writing, you should bear in mind your audience and remain loyal to the characters you have created. When I say that, I mean that you should try to put yourself in the shoes of the characters and ask yourself: ‘what would be likely to happen in their lives, next?’ Thinking along these lines usually helps with the flow of a story, when your planned outline comes to a bit of a shuddering halt with the dreaded writer’s block. Yes, it is a real thing and, no, you cannot always predict when it will strike!

Should each book in a series also be capable of being read as a standalone? As the characters develop through each of the books in the series, it becomes increasingly difficult to create standalone stories unless each book truly encapsulates an entirely new theme. For example, in the first three of my DCI Ryan series, I included a secondary thread relating to a cult circle, which was never designed to continue indefinitely and needed some form of resolution by the third book. This brings a sense of satisfaction to both me and my readers and with the fourth book, I am looking forward to re-introducing my main characters in the context of a new and exciting mystery.

The one potential drawback to writing a series is that, as the stories and characters progress, the fabric of their imaginary lives becomes more complex and will require a strong grasp of each so that you do not unwittingly drop a clanger! For, as with people in the real world, the reader will immediately notice if your detective says or does something that is noticeably out of place, or if he grows ten years older, overnight.

LJ x

 

 

 

CAPTION COMPETITION!

  
To celebrate the imminent release of Holy Island in paperback, I’ll be giving away ten signed copies to those who can come up with the funniest / most inspired ending to the following caption:

“Ryan followed the muffled sounds at the end of the darkened corridor. With slow movements, he edged closer, until only a wooden door separated him from what lay beyond. Fingers splayed against the wood, he pushed the door open and his jaw fell in astonishment, for he saw…[BLANK]”

Post your entries as a comment here or on my Facebook L J Ross Author page here and the winners will be chosen on Friday 17th July.

Good luck! 

X

Sycamore Gap

HW387 SYCAMORE GAP  HADRIAN'S WALL

(c) Roger Clegg Photography

Before I begin my usual rant about the ups and downs of moving from being a lawyer to writing novels, let me take a moment to introduce you to the work of Roger Clegg, a fantastic photographer based in the North East who is well known for his stunning work in and around Hadrian’s Wall, as well as the wider scenery of Northumberland.

It is his photograph of Sycamore Gap (above) which graces my Twitter account and will soon form the basis for the cover of my next book, conveniently titled, ‘Sycamore Gap: A DCI Ryan Mystery’, after some tinkering with text and all that jazz which I shall happily leave to a more qualified person!

This award-winning photograph was captured with the last light on Midsummer’s Night and took two years for the conditions to be just right. I am therefore delighted that he is happy for it now to grace the cover of my next novel – many thanks to him.

If you would like to have a look at this or any of the other beautiful pictures of the region, check out his website: www.northern-horizons.co.uk.

Now, onto the writing itself.

What a bloomin’ minefield it is, writing a sequel! Gone are those heady, blissful days of ignorance which I enjoyed before the success of Holy Island. Not that I’m complaining, you understand, but now I have something to live up to. I have to say that DCI Ryan has been drinking a lot more caffeine (mirroring the writer herself) and is somewhat grumpier than usual (again, I am guilty of this) in this second book. Coincidence?

Jokes aside, part of me wondered whether I would enjoy writing a second book as much as I enjoyed writing the first. I am happy to say that, for all the pressure, the re-writes, the second-guessing and creative tantrums (I admit it), this job still gets two thumbs up from me. The relative solitude isn’t suited to everyone, but being a largely antisocial git, it suits me to lose myself in a story for hours at a time and then to enjoy spending the rest of the time with family and friends. It takes inordinately high levels of concentration, to cut everything else out of my mind in order to sit and write for long periods of time, but it’s worth missing Geordie Shore for that. Let’s face it, practically anything would be worth missing Geordie Shore (sorry, reality TV fans!)

With that in mind, better get off and do some work!

Hope you all have a great week.

x

The Gong Show

 

Morning, all!

What a weekend! I have a lovely Canadian friend who uses the phrase ‘gong show’ to describe chaotic situations – not necessarily bad ones – but frenetic all the same. It seems an apt description of my weekend, that’s for sure.

Firstly, we headed over the border into Scotland to visit my father-in-law on his 80th birthday. He’s a lovely man, who in his formative years was one of the sharpest, most generous people I’ve ever met. From the first, he welcomed me into his home with a healthy dollop of charm and an open heart, which I will never forget. I hope that, when my son brings someone special home to visit, I will do the same. Unfortunately, due to a long illness, my father-in-law is now suffering from dementia and is living in a care home. The carers do a fabulous job and we are extremely grateful to them for the kindness they show him. We broke our journey at my family’s home in Northumberland and then took a train along the east coast, past Lindisfarne, up to Edinburgh and beyond. It’s a scenic journey but a bit of a long one, which prevents us making the trip every week, as we would like to be able to do. It’s always bittersweet, but we had a wonderful time while we were there.

Secondly, an interesting phenomenon happened on Thursday night. I happened to look online and noticed that ‘Holy Island’ had been reduced in price and selected for inclusion on Amazon’s ‘Kindle Fever’ book promotion, which ran over the Bank Holiday weekend and continues until 10th or 11th May.

Well, I thought, that’s nice. Then, I carried on with my day.

Flash forward a few hours and I looked very much like the Doc in ‘Back to the Future’. Great Scott!

giphy

I never expected that my little book would make it to #1 on the Amazon UK Bestseller list. It was great to make it to the top of individual categories, which is all I could have dreamed of. As for anything else, I never imagined it would be possible. I have now developed a severe case of Imposter Syndrome. At any moment, I expect to receive an e-mail from Amazon saying, “Sorry, we made a mistake.”

For anyone reading this who decided to buy my book, I’d like to say a big ‘thank you’ for giving it a try. It has been said many times elsewhere and by authors across the world that you can’t hope to please everyone, but if reading ‘Holy Island’ has given you a few hours of decent entertainment then I have achieved my original goal.

Have a great day. x