Author Introductions #12: Tana Collins

Good morning!

It’s a rainy start to the week here in Bath, which means it’s definitely ‘Big Coat’ time! I have to say I love Autumn, with its falling leaves and nippy weather – just cool enough to start a fire, or dig out your woolly jumpers. I’m feeling oddly energised to crack on with the rest of my current Work-in-Progress but, before I do, I thought I’d take a moment to make my next Author Introduction in the form of the lovely Tana Collins.

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Tana Collins, crime fiction novelist

Tana is an Edinburgh-based crime writer and author of the Jim Carruthers detective series, set in Fife. The first book in her series, Robbing the Dead, became a top ten Amazon Scottish Crime Fiction bestseller as did its sequel, Care to Die. Published on 1st June 2017, Care to Die has been described by Peter Robinson as, “…a finely plotted mystery” which “racks up the suspense”, with her cop DI Jim Carruthers being “one to watch”.

Well, that all sounds good to me! Why don’t we find out a little more about Tana…

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

I was born in Yorkshire but grew up in rural East Sussex. It was rather quiet there as I recall. I entertained myself as a teenager by listening to police messages I managed to intercept on my radio. (Ssssh. Don’t tell anyone!) I always loved to try to solve a crime and imagined solving them before the police! It was all going so well, until they caught me. Roll on thirty-five years and I now live in Edinburgh where I’m writing my third Inspector Carruthers novel with a book deal behind me.

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

I try to create a strong sense of place with interesting characters in my novels and I’ve been told that I don’t shirk from writing about difficult subjects, which is true. I like that feeling of unsettlement you can get when reading a piece of crime fiction but I also like to base my novels on real life stories.  The Inspector Carruthers series is set in the picturesque East Neuk of Fife, although the latest case takes our Inspector to Iceland! You can expect a gritty read in Care to Die but with a hugely emotional side to the plot. I have been really fortunate in that both Robbing the Dead and Care to Die have been Top 10 Amazon bestsellers in Scottish crime fiction and I’ve had some great reviews.

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

Ooh, what a good question. I guess, as cheesy as it sounds, all the unsung heroes in the world. I’ve spent a fair amount of time recently in hospital because my father-in-law has been so ill. The caring and wonderful NHS staff almost reduced me to tears! In fiction, I think it would have to be Peter Robinson’s DCI Banks! He’s so dependable, isn’t he?

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

It’s no secret that my favourite writer is Peter Robinson. I love his characters and setting. I was privileged to fly to Estonia a few years ago to study crime writing with him when he was giving a summer school course at Tallinn University and Tallinn becomes the setting for my third novel, Mark of the Devil, to be published in 2018.  Without giving too much away I had to do an awful lot of research on international art crime for that one! I also love Robert Goddard as his novels are so complex and I just love the historical element he weaves in to his writing. And Ann Cleeves, both for her Shetland and Vera series. I nearly wept when I heard recently she wasn’t going to write any more of the Shetland series!

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

Again, don’t tell anyone, but I love my afternoon naps. Nothing like curling up in bed with my cat, Smudge. My partner, Ian, thinks I’m being lazy but I keep telling him that’s where all my ideas germinate for the next Inspector Carruthers book. When I’m not napping or writing I’m out with a pair of binoculars and a butterfly ID book. I’m currently taking part in Butterfly Conservation’s the Big Butterfly Count.  It’s great fun!

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

It’s pretty hard to beat getting a three book publishing deal when you have spent ten arduous years writing and there’s no better feeling than seeing your book in print. That said, I’m also pretty proud of the fact I’ve got an MA in Philosophy from the University of Western Ontario. The university had its own police force that cycled around the campus in tight shorts. Some things you just don’t forget.

  1. What was your favourite book as a child?

It has to be Enid Blyton’s the Famous Five series. It was an early introduction to reading a series! I think I always knew I wanted to create a series using the same characters. Readers seem to love the way the characters of Jim Carruthers and Andrea Fletcher are developing which has given me immense pleasure.

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

Well, I read Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s Silence of the Sea recently and found it so creepy I didn’t sleep for a week!  Am I allowed to say I love all the DCI Ryan books? Any book that has a terrific sense of place and great characters captures my imagination.

[Blogger’s Note: You’re definitely allowed to say… 😉 ]

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

That’s a fiendish question to answer! I’m not answering that on the grounds that it might incriminate me! That said, I’d love to see what your other authors have written.

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

Well, being a huge Arsenal fan, like my female detective, Andrea Fletcher, I think I would have to be Colin Firth in the film Fever Pitch!  I love football. Or I would have been Dee Hepburn’s character in Gregory’s Girl. I was so jealous!! Or I would love to have been any character in Local Hero. I loved that film. There you go. I’ve given you three.

Can I just say at the close of the interview, Louise, what a great pleasure it’s been answering your questions. Thank you for featuring me!

…It’s been great having you on the blog, Tana! I love to hear about fresh talent and I’m sure the readers do, too. I’m looking forward to reading your new book about international art crime – sounds fantastic.

For now, though, it’s back to Microsoft Word I go, as I iron out some tricky scenes in DCI Ryan’s seventh outing, Dark Skies. Wishing you all a happy and healthy week!

LJ x

Author Introductions #11: Barbara Copperthwaite

Good morning!

How was your weekend? A disproportionately large part of mine was spent trawling through bathroom brochures in anticipation of our forthcoming house move and it led me to realise two very important things:

  1. There are a lot of bathroom styles to choose from, in every shape, style, finish and price your heart could desire.
  2. I don’t care half as much about bathrooms as I thought I did…

Following this revelation, I was able to focus again on the world of DCI Ryan – phew! But now, a brand new working week stretches ahead of us and it is time to introduce our next author, the lovely Barbara Copperthwaite.

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Barbara Copperthwaite

Barbara is the author of best-selling psychological thrillers Invisible, Flowers for the Dead, and The Darkest Lies. Her new book, Her Last Secret, will be published on Friday 13th October, but you can pre-order it right now!

Much of her success is thanks to her twenty-plus years’ experience as a national newspaper and magazine journalist. She’s interviewed the real victims of crime – and also those who have carried those crimes out. Thanks to people sharing their stories with her, she knows the emotional impact of violence and wrong-doing. That’s why her novels are dark, realistic and tackle not just the crime but its repercussions.

Now, to find out a little bit more about this talented lady, I asked her a few short questions which she has kindly agreed to answer…

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

I always find this question the hardest to answer because I never know what to say! But here goes… I’m a cake-obsessed, nature-loving, bestselling author of psychological thrillers.

I love trying to get under the skin of unlikeable characters, or working out how someone can be pushed to the edge (and often over) in my books.

In my spare time, when not being press-ganged into throwing tennis balls by my dog, Scamp, I can generally be found hiding behind a camera taking wildlife pictures. I love sketching, too.

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

Her Last Secret is the taut tale of the Thomas family, who appear to have it all, until one day Benjamin Thomas’s mistress confronts his wife. It’s told from the perspective of each family member, and is set in the run-up to Christmas. Spiralling secrets and festering vulnerabilities are revealed as the family unit unravels to an explosive showdown.

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

As a journalist, I interviewed countless people who suffered all kinds of terrible traumas. Their resilience, strength, and humour in the face of adversity was incredible. Each and every one of them is a real-life hero, and they inspire me to write my fiction.

My favourite fictional hero? I wouldn’t mind being rescued by Luther, from the TV series, or Jamie Fraser, from the Outlander series. Take a look at them and you’ll understand why!

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

Too tough a question, so I’ve narrowed it down to crime only – and even then, it’s impossible, as I keep changing my mind every minute. But I’ve gone for:

Peter Swanson – I have a writer crush on Peter Swanson for creating The Kind Worth Killing. It’s a book I never tire of recommending to people.

Patricia Highsmith – a trailblazer in the crime genre, Patricia Highsmith was ahead of her time. In Tom Ripley, she created a killer who readers actually root for despite themselves. That takes some doing.

Stuart MacBride – He balances grit and gore with laugh-out-loud humour. It shouldn’t work,  but it absolutely does.

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

As soon as I finish writing for the day, I grab my camera and take Scamp for a long walk. Photographing nature forces me to live in the moment, rather than worry about the past or the future, or how I’m going to get away with fictional murder. I can lose hours taking pictures of butterflies, dragonflies, birds… Conservation is a real passion of mine, and I used to have a wildlife blog. I have dreams of one day resurrecting it. No matter what the weather, the great outdoors always calls, and I think this reflects in a lot of my writing.

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

My greatest achievement is still to come, hopefully.

  1. What was your favourite book as a child?

Ooh, another tough one! As a child, I re-read all of my books countless times, as I was such a voracious reader. I’m torn between two books. The Children of Cherry Tree Farm, by Enid Blyton, kick-started my reading habit. Before then I wasn’t bothered, but something clicked as the tale unfolded of children relocating to the countryside and learning about nature. As well as giving me a love of reading, I think it also ignited my passion for wildlife, so I owe it an awful lot.

The other possibility is The Little White Horse, by Elizabeth Goodge. I so wanted to be the heroine, Maria. The dog in my novel The Darkest Lies is named Wiggins, after Maria’s pet.

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

For sheer breath-taking twist, it has to be Behind Her Eyes, by Sarah Pinborough. It’s a Marmite book, but I loved the way it started out appearing to be one thing and turned everything on its head. Another great recent read was Sweetpea, by CJ Skuse. It made me laugh, gasp, wince, and feel horrified, all in equal measure.

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

I don’t lend books to people unless I know them very well! And even then, they have to promise not to turn the corners of pages down, crack the spine, spill tea or coffee on it…the list is endless! So, I’m afraid the Prime Minister would leave empty-handed, lol.

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

I’d be Hildy Johnson in His Girl Friday, the 1940 Howard Hawks screwball comedy. She’s a hard-bitten New York newspaper journalist trying to save a man from death row. She’s funny, clever, determined, successful, and knocks out wise-crack after wise-crack. And she (re)marries Cary Grant at the end of it. What more could I ask for?

…Thanks, Barbara! Some great answers there, and definitely a shared love of old Cary Grant movies, too. Many thanks for taking part and sharing your experiences!

For now, it’s time to get back to work, I’m afraid (*collective boo*). I need to squeeze in a week’s worth of work into two or three days, as I’m going to be away from home  towards the end of this week to attend the Althorp Literary Festival from 5th-8th October. I’ll be a panellist alongside some fantastic authors (Mel Sherratt, Dave Leadbeater, Mark Dawson and Louise Jensen, to name a few) and we’ll be chatting about our experiences, our characters and what makes our writing tick. Hope to see some of you there!

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.

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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 #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 #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

Author Introductions #7: Andrew Barrett

Good morning!

It’s back to school for the kids this week and, in my case, that brings a small emotional tug followed swiftly by a gleeful rub of hands as I think of the sheer possibilities that having six hours of freedom will bring. Off the top of my head:

  • Being able to use the bathroom in peace (without my son shouting, “Mummy! MUMMY, WHERE ARE YOU?” as soon as my arse hits the toilet seat).
  • Being able to drink a cup of coffee while it is still hot.
  • Being able to make some real headway with the next DCI Ryan book, amongst other manuscripts, without the soundtrack of Umizoomi running through my head.
  • Not being terrified at the prospect of a rainy day, simply because it would have meant a ‘No Park Day’ during the interminably long summer holidays…

Obviously, you all know I’m just kidding around. It’s been lovely spending some quality time with my family, particularly because one of the negative side-effects of being a writer is the isolationism it can bring, if you let it. It’s easy to lose track of the time or be distracted by thoughts of new plot lines, but my little boy will only be little for a short space of time and I don’t want to miss any of it. Thus, the laptop had a much more restricted usage over the summer while we built sandcastles instead. Now, though, it’s time for him to head back to school and learn new things while he plays with his friends and I can focus some attention on the next exciting story that has been percolating.

In the meantime, just slightly later than scheduled, it’s time for our next Author Introduction! For those who are new to my blog, every week until Christmas I’ll be introducing a different author for your delectation and delight. I know from personal experience that I am guilty of sticking to the same tried and tested authors but I have often been surprised to discover new talent right under my nose, so I thought it would be nice to present an array of storytellers who write across several genres and have published their work in various ways, to broaden our collective horizons!

This week, I have the pleasure of welcoming Andrew Barrett to the blog, a successful author of authentic crime thrillers with a forensic flavour thanks to his alter-ego as a Senior CSI in Yorkshire.

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Andrew has enjoyed variety in his professional life, from engine-builder to farmer, from Oilfield Service Technician in Kuwait, to his current role of Senior CSI. He’s been a CSI since 1996, and has worked on all scene types from terrorism to murder, suicide to rape, drugs manufacture to bomb scenes. One way or another, Andrew’s life revolves around crime.

In 1997 he finished his first crime thriller, A Long Time Dead, and it’s still a reader favourite some 200,000 copies later, having topped the Amazon charts several times. Two more books featuring Scenes of Crime Officer (SOCO) Roger Conniston completed the trilogy.

He’s best known for his lead character, CSI Eddie Collins, and the acerbic way in which he roots out criminals and administers justice. Eddie’s series is four books and two short stories and there’s still more to come.

Andrew is a proud Yorkshireman and sets all his novels there, using his home city of Leeds as another major and complementary character in each of the stories.

I asked Andy to answer a few short questions and he kindly agreed. Here goes…

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

My name is Andy Barrett (Andrew is reserved for the book covers, for Sundays, and for when I’m being told off – which is often), and I live and work in Leeds.

My previous employment includes working as an oilfield services technician in Kuwait, and building engines for Caterpillar. Right now, I’m in my 21st year as a Senior CSI. I still love it, but I also hate it; I work seven days and get three off, and I swear it eats away at my life quicker than a quick thing on quick pills.

But I’m lucky too. I have a great resource at my fingertips. I’m a CSI and a crime thriller writer – really, how much luckier could I be?

Well, it gets better. I have two wonderful teenagers from a previous marriage and I have Ellie, my delightful almost-three-year-old girl. She’ll be three and a half when her mum, Sarah, and I tie the knot next May.

So, my life is pretty full, it’s fast-paced, full-on, and I work on my dream as often as I can, sometimes until I drop.

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

My most recent release was The Notea gritty, fast-paced CSI Eddie Collins short story which really gives you a flavour of the series.

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In July, I signed a contract with publisher, Bloodhound Books. And for them I wrote a stand-alone story provisionally entitled, Dancing at the Devil’s Door. It was a step away from writing CSI Eddie Collins – in fact, it was a huge leap when you consider I’ve been writing Eddie books since 2012.

Dancing at the Devil’s Door is my first attempt at a psychological thriller. I wrote it in first person, from Becky Rose’s perspective. Although I’ve written short stories in first person before, I’ve never attempted a novel; nor have I written from a female position.

I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed writing it. I have no idea when it’ll be published, but as soon as I know, I’ll pass it on.

What can readers look forward to? Well, the story begins when Becky returns home from work to find her husband dead. He’s been stabbed in the chest. She has no time to mourn, though, because a gang of men are ripping her house apart, looking for something. The ‘adventure’ begins when they turn their attention to her.

Dancing at the Devil’s Door contains a few harrowing scenes, some of them quite violent, so perhaps it’s not a read for those who enjoy cozy mysteries and the like.

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

Whenever I’m asked this question, my first thought is always the same: my dad. He died eleven years ago but, even now, he’s my hero. I think of him often and miss him dearly.

However, if you’re looking for a hero who’s still with us, then I’d have to pick Professor Stephen Hawking. I’ve always been interested in physics, but that interest intensified after I read his A Brief History of Time. Not only is the man a genius, but his physicians said in the 60s that he had two years left to live. That man overcame tremendous odds and never gave in; he carried on with his own dream while fighting such a debilitating illness. I am in awe of him.

Fictional hero? That’s a tough one – I have many. They range from Aragorn to Jason Bourne; from King Arthur to John Snow; from Derfel (see Bernard Cornwell’s The Winter King trilogy) to Stu Redman (see Stephen King’s The Stand).

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

Ouch! That’s such a nasty question, Louise!

[Blogger’s Note: *evil cackle*]

But here goes: Stephen King (his earlier stuff), Michael Kerr, and James Carol. Why? That’s the easy part: they all write like I think. I mean, they write fluidly, never pulling me away from the story with convoluted words, always taking care of me as my knowledge of the story and the characters grow and then punching me in the gut near the end.

But the main reason I love all three of these authors is character. Character is the absolute king of the castle and they’re all very good at painting their characters in full 3D Technicolor, never allowing them to be something they’re not, always keeping them true. Yes, character wins every time.

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

I used to own a 1984 2.8i Ford Capri until about six years ago. It was mint. I built engine after engine for that thing, always aiming for more power, more shiny bits, more thunder. But these days, mid-life crisis over and done with, I content myself with the odd movie at the flicks, or the odd sip (or several) of a good whisky. Having said that, I get an awful lot of pleasure from the frequent family days out at Whitby, or Skipton, or York, or just messing about in the park. I love making memories.

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

As Eddie always says, “I’m just an average arsehole.” That’s me, never rescued anyone from a burning building, never sailed around the world. I think my only achievement is writing half a dozen books. I’m not saying they’re any good; but I am saying that finishing a novel is one helluva challenge and I’ve risen to it every time.

I don’t have any part-written books tucked away in a cardboard box – I’ve always finished them. Whatever I set my mind to, I always give it everything; so, in that respect, I’d have to say that my greatest achievement is always trying my best (a bit dull, isn’t it?).

  1. It’s not dull, at all! What was your favourite book as a child?

I am still a child, Louise!

But, I see what you mean. I guess my favourite book was The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. When you look at it, it’s easy to see how that book was the inspiration for the rest of my life. I fell into that book and have tried to find an alternative world ever since…

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

Can I twist that question slightly, and tell you about my all-time favourite book that captured my imagination? Oh good! Well, it was The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub. I was so absorbed by that story, and again, by its lead character, Jack Sawyer. I have rarely felt myself disappear into the pages of a book to wander its pages like I did that book, and the following title, The Black House. If I could hit that level of reader immersion in my own novels, I’d be beyond delighted.

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

Leading a Country for Dummies.

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

Aw, Louise Ross!

If I could know in advance that I would survive, then I’d quite fancy being Watney from The Martian, simply for the beauty out there and the chance to explore my greatest achievement of never giving up. Oh wait, I would also like to be De Niro in Heat. He is so damned cool – though I’d like to change the ending, if you don’t mind.

Having said all that, I’d like to be Jason Bourne. He’s self-sufficient, he’s one hell of a fighter, and he’s not at all scared of heights!

…some great answers, thanks Andy! It’s great to find a writer with a genuine background in forensics, which must provide such a wealth of inspiration for new storylines and a real sense of authenticity to those tricky police scenes!

Wishing you all a lovely week and catch you next time,

LJ x

Author Introductions #6: M J Lee

Hello! 

Monday has rolled around and this week I am writing to you from an overcast but cheerful Edinburgh. Although work doesn’t often bring me to this fair city, I’m very pleased to be spending a few days here in support of my sister as her theatre group complete a month spent at the Edinburgh Festival. Their company have been winning awards for their production of Peer Gynt (complete with enormous puppets and whatnot) so it’s great to come up and cheer them on. Aside from that, Edinburgh holds a special place in my heart as it happens to be the location of my very first ‘date’ with Mr Ross fourteen years ago and we are celebrating our wedding anniversary today!

Now, enough of all that mushy stuff…

Every Monday for the next few weeks I’ll be introducing a new author, from varying genres and roads to publication, and this week I’m delighted to welcome Martin Lee to the blog, who writes historical crime fiction and historical novels under the pen name M J Lee.

M J Lee, bestselling author of historical crime fiction

After spending twenty-five years working in advertising as an award-winning copywriter and creative director (everything from Cannes to the United Nations!) Martin now writes fantastic works of fiction. When he’s not writing, he splits his time between the UK and Asia.

To find out a little more about the man behind all those richly textured novels, I sent Martin a few short questions which he has kindly answered…

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

Hi there, thanks for having me, Louise. My name is Martin Lee, but I write under M J Lee. I spent most of my life working in advertising as a Creative Director. No day was ever the same and I grew to love the buzz of being paid to sit and stare out of the window. For me coming up with ideas is never a problem, but finding the time to implement them is. Nowadays, my time is planned up to two years in advance as I know the books I have to write and the research I have to do. I do miss the speed and unpredictability of advertising but I don’t miss the clients. In my past life I was also an encyclopaedia salesman, a refugee worker, and English teacher and I dubbed pornographic movies. But don’t ask about the last one.

2. Ooh, er, missus! How about your latest book – what can readers look forward to when they pick it up?

The latest book is called The American Candidate. Funnily enough, I finished it six months ago but it has now become immensely topical. Jayne Sinclair, my genealogical investigator, is asked to investigate the family background of a potential candidate for President of the United States. Almost immediately she begins to unearth some unsettling facts about his family’s past. And when the man who briefed her is murdered in cold blood, she finds herself in a race against time to discover the truth…


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

In real life, it has to be Nelson Mandela. How a man could be so magnanimous to the people who kept him prisoner for over twenty years was amazing. I don’t know if I would be so forgiving. In fiction, it would have to be Stephen Maturin from the novels by Patrick O’Brien. An amazing combination of knowledge, science and an understanding of humanity in an all-too-human character.
4. Who are your three favourite writers – and why?

John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, William Boyd for their understanding of the human condition and the writing skills to portray it in an interesting and dramatic way. Although, I think Boyd has gone off the boil in his last couple of novels.

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

Walking. I’m a professional flaneur. It allows my feet to wander and my mind to roam free.

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

That’s easy. My daughter. She’s now nearly five. I was a very late dad, I never felt old enough to have children before I became a father. It’s wonderful to see the world through her eyes.

7. What was your favourite book as a child?

I don’t know the title but it was a book of the history of English kings and queens. I remember vividly reading it in bed when I was about six years old. I think it gave me a love of history that I have retained to this day.

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

I’ve just discover the Martin Beck novels of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. They were both writing in the late sixties and early seventies and were the founders (I think) of Scandi Noir. Despite being nearly fifty years old, the books have a modernity that is breathtaking, as if they were written yesterday.

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

If Theresa May came knocking at my door I would give her The Joy of Sex. It might finally bring some joy into a joyless person.

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

Yoda. I think I look like him anyway. I certainly write like he speaks (or so my editor tells me…)

…Thanks Martin! Great answers (especially #9) and I am looking forward to getting stuck into some of your books. Every novel requires a degree of research but I’ve always admired writers of historical fiction for all the meticulous preparation you do, even before putting pen to paper. I’ve been hearing great things about The American Candidate, so that will be first on my list!

For now, it’s back to the grindstone for me (DCI Ryan is being difficult, as usual) and I’ll catch you all later!

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

 

Author Introductions #4: Joseph Alexander

Happy Monday!

Once again, the start of another working week beckons, with reams of research to be done on the local history surrounding Kielder Forest in Northumberland, which will form the setting for my next book: Dark Skies. Mind you, to offset the computer glare I’m going to be celebrating my sister’s birthday in Florence, so life ain’t all bad!

Another reason to be cheerful comes in the form of our next weekly Author Introduction. As you know, every Monday I am featuring a different author (all kinds of genres and backgrounds) and, after a string of fiction writers, I thought it would be interesting to mix it up and hear from a mega-successful non-fiction writer and entrepreneur.

Without further ado, let me introduce you to Joseph Alexander, who has been a guitarist and expert music tutor for over twenty years. He is a prolific author of over thirty guitar guides which have been published in four languages and have sold more than 200,000 copies to critical acclaim.

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Joseph Alexander, who is both an author and publisher

 

As well as being an author, Joseph is also a publisher of up-and-coming music writers through his label, Fundamental Changes. I had the pleasure of sharing a panel with Joseph at this year’s London Books Fair alongside fellow authors Mark Dawson, Rachel Abbott and Keith Houghton and it was really interesting to hear about his experiences publishing non-fiction.

Now, to give us a bit more insight into what motivates Joseph to write, I set him a list of ten short questions which he kindly agreed to answer…

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

Hi! I’m Joseph and I play the guitar… well I used to. I don’t seem to have much time to devote to it these days. I was always more gifted as a teacher than a performer, which is lucky because I love teaching and passing on music to a new generation of players.

I get bored easily, especially as musicians tend to work evenings! In past incarnations, I’ve built (with my own bare hands-ish) a successful bar which I then sold immediately to fund my wanderlust. That led me to becoming a SCUBA instructor in Thailand and then I worked on Cruise ships sailing from New York to The Caribbean.

When I got home, I started teaching guitar again and started writing down the stuff that I was showing my students, pretty much to save me writing things out for every new pupil. That became my first book and, well… I went down the rabbit hole.

When I had written 30 books on playing the guitar, sold a few hundred thousand copies, I realised there was some music that I wasn’t very good at playing. I put an ad out for people who could play guitar and write about it, and the wonderful Simon Pratt applied. We put his first book together and suddenly I was a publishing company.

Musicians tend to get a hard deal in terms of royalties and so do authors. I don’t want to be a part of that so I offered Simon a 50/50 share of all profits on his book. He’d supply the content and audio, I’d do the editing, graphics, production, publishing, promotion… everything else.

Now Simon has written 7 titles and is selling a lot of books. We split everything 50/50 and I have used this model to work with some incredible musicians, including jaw dropping Levi Clay and one of the most famous jazz guitarists on the planet, Martin Taylor. That book will be coming out this year. It’s surreal to sit at one of your childhood hero’s dinner tables and put a book together!

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

I’ve just put together a new book on Jazz Chords for beginners. It’s a minefield and there is a lot of terrible information out there. I wanted to create an easy way for guitarists to gain access to all those lovely musical colours.

I’m also working on a “100 Blues licks in the style of…” book. – I’ve taken the 20 most influential blues guitarists and written in-the-style-of licks and phrases for each of them. I’ll show the reader how to combine them into solos and actually use them as a launch pad for their own creativity.

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

Frank Zappa. He died before I really got into his music (I think I was about 13 at the time). He was just so articulate and satirical and fought Tipper Gore against those Caution, Explicit Lyrics stickers they used to censor music.

In fiction… Granny Weatherwax, maybe Nigel Tufnell!

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

Well, I won’t name anyone we both know because we always bump into each other at those Amazon thingies and it just gets awkward…

Iain (M) Banks. What a mind. Both as a novelist and a science fiction writer… I’ve never read anything that good. Period. I don’t think I could put into words how much his works mean to me. They were always there to escape to during darker times.

Terry Pratchett. Again, such a creative force. I read every Discworld book I could growing up and just fell in love with his whimsical genius.

Haruki Murakami. Even after translation his writing is chillingly perfect. “There’s no such thing as perfect writing, just like there’s no such thing as perfect despair.”

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

I’m always writing, or publishing. It sure feels like it. But I’m getting a lot of joy from having the freedom to travel and work overseas now. Me and my girlfriend decided to stick the dogs in the car and drive down to The South of France for a month. I’m writing this interview by the pool (with a beer) after having spent the day in St Tropez. (I’m just saying this to bug L.J., as she keeps informing me of how jealous she is!).

[Blogger’s Note: I can confirm I was very jealous to see pictures of the pair of them sunning themselves on the Cote d’Azur while we were stuck in rainy Somerset listening to back-to-back episodes of Blaze and the Monster Machines, which is my son’s new favourite thing].

I love freediving… It’s like Scuba without the air tanks. When I was training regularly I could do a 4:15 breath-hold and dive to nearly 30m on a single breath. I’m at my happiest when I’m in (or more accurately under) water.

I’m learning to box too. This means spending an hour in the gym every day getting punched in the face by a 6’6” ex British Army infantry trainer. It’s a lot more fun than it sounds.

Dogs! Yes… my dogs. Walking my dogs in Cheshire countryside. That too!

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

I don’t really know how to answer this. People who know what I do/have done with publishing tell me it’s amazing, but to me it’s just a job that I enjoy. Apparently, I have totally disrupted the music tuition book industry, but I promise, it was by accident!

I think the fact that I’ve been able to pass on music to 250,000+ people. That means a lot.

I’m very proud that I offer a great deal to musicians and writers. Publishing and music are generally pretty shitty industries for artists. If I’m helping to change that then that’d be a lovely legacy.

  1. What was your favourite book as a child?

I think it was either The BFG or The Witches. Roald Dahl featured heavily, but after my mum read me The Witches, I always made sure she had closed to window before I fell asleep.

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

I’m actually reading something about a murder that happened somewhere called Holy Island right now, that’s pretty good so far! 😉 but I think The Quarry, by Iain Banks was quite chilling. It was his last book and seemed extremely cathartic in a way that I don’t think we’ll ever find out why.

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

Something that could actually get it through their thick head that there is massive disparity in society. Due to the fact that MPs (and PMs) never see that part of society, they can never truly understand it or give empathy and understanding to the people that they believe they’re helping (with tax cuts for the rich, massive underfunding in schools, and destroying the NHS from the inside out).

Either that or the year 2000 autobiography “Britney Spears’ Heart To Heart”: A weighty and thought-provoking tome charting the dramatic rise to fame and influence of the plucky eponymous heroine… although I wouldn’t trust the PM to give it back. She’d probably sell it to a private healthcare company. You know, because it isn’t hers to sell?

[Blogger’s Note: *drops mic*]

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

Iron Man. Obviously.

…Thanks, Joseph! Great answers and I am beginning to wonder whether I could set my next series of mystery novels in a more far-flung, exotic setting which would obviously require extensive family research trips… one can dream! 🙂

I hope you all have a wonderful week!

LJ x

Author Introductions #3: Mark L. Fowler

Morning!

I hope you’ve all had a great weekend – mine was spent celebrating our son’s fourth birthday with a pirate-themed / magic party. Where the heck did all that time go? We had a wonderful day and, thanks to the efforts of our magician (‘Magic Marie’), the children’s party stress levels were kept to a minimum! All hail Magic Marie!

Now that Monday has come around once again, that means it’s time for our next Author Introduction. This week, I’m pleased to introduce Mark Fowler. Mark writes crime/mystery fiction as well as psychological thrillers and gothic/horror. He is the author of four novels (Coffin Maker, The Man Upstairs, Silver, and Red is the Colour) and more than a hundred short stories.

Mark L. Fowler

Mark L. Fowler, who writes crime/mystery fiction, psychological thrillers and gothic/horror fiction.

Let’s find out a little more about this talented author…

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

I was born and raised in the Domesday village of Penkhull, in the heart of The Potteries, otherwise known as Stoke-on-Trent. This area forms the setting for my latest book, Red is the Colour. After graduating in Philosophy at Leicester University, I met my wife, Fiona, and we have a son who recently graduated – Philosophy again, it must run in the family, though unlike me he managed a First!

I have been writing for most of my life, including poetry, songs, sitcoms and over a hundred short stories. These days I am primarily a novelist. Coffin Maker, my first published novel, is a book that may be tricky to classify. It has been described as just about everything from gothic fantasy to postmodern fable. I don’t know of anything else quite like it. I am still very proud of that book. I followed it with The Man Upstairs, my take on the ’40s/’50s hardboiled detective story, with a twist. My third book, Silver, blends a dark psychological thriller with a hint of the supernatural. It is also a satire on the publishing industry and centres on a family’s reluctance to allow publication of the unfinished and uncharacteristically dark novel that bestselling author Joy Haversham was completing when she was mysteriously killed. Her unfinished manuscript, Silver, has become the Holy Grail of the publishing industry.

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

My latest book, Red is the Colour, was published July 25th, 2017. Though I have incorporated strong crime fiction themes in a lot of my writing, my new book is the first that remains entirely within the crime fiction genre. I wanted to create a series of crime mystery novels set in the city, and indeed the village, where I live. With this opening book in the series I decided to use the discovery of the corpse of a school boy, missing since 1972, to explore the theme of bullying. It is a subject that I feel very strongly about.

RED is the Colour FINAL

The book features DCI Jim Tyler, haunted and enigmatic, a man with demons in his past, who leaves his post in London under a cloud, relocating to Stoke on Trent. He teams up with DS Danny Mills, a local detective who is almost the antithesis of Jim Tyler. It is fair to say that the two detectives don’t exactly hit it off, at least to begin with. Yet they have more in common than they realise and have their own personal reasons for wanting to face The Bully, and to find justice for the victims.

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

My real life hero was my father. Leslie (Les) Fowler was a quiet, unassuming man, who had a somewhat difficult life. His own father died as a result of inhaling mustard gas in the First World War, dying when my dad was only five years old. As a young man my dad was whisked off to fight in Burma in the Second World War, contracting endless doses of malaria. He appeared content with what he had in life, which wasn’t always that much in material terms, and he loved his family. He worked, in his final years, as a watch maker. He loved taking things apart to see how they worked, before putting them back together so that they worked even better. He could be a moody soul at times, same as me, but his generosity and compassion were second to none.

My hero in fiction might just be Philip Marlowe, so, having tipped my hat in the direction of Raymond Chandler, I must now choose others for the next question.

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

That is a difficult one. I tend to think more in terms of favourite books. But my shelves do contain a number of Stephen King, Ray Bradbury and Jim Thompson books, which must mean something. All three are wonderful storytellers and I generally feel in good hands when I pick up one of their books. They create memorable characters and breathe life into them, and don’t deal in mechanical plots. Humour is an important ingredient for me in any genre, and with King, Bradbury and Thompson it is there in spades. It is often very dark, too – real graveyard humour. I believe that there is a real art to this, pushing the boundaries sometimes but walking that fine line of taste. These three rarely fail in that respect, employing gallows humour to great effect, providing a necessary balance as none of these writers flinches from entering the darkest places and casting a light for the rest of us. These wonderful writers appear to follow their own stars. They have a clear style that is all their own, and don’t follow the crowd. Good advice for all of us, perhaps.

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

When I’m not writing I spend as much time as I can with family and friends. I love reading, of course, and watch a fair bit of film and TV, with crime and comedy (and a bit of horror) tending to top the bill. I play piano and guitar, though not in any bands these days, sadly. I also love taking an idea for a story out for a long walk – whatever the weather!

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

My greatest writing achievement? I am proud of all four of my published novels. Naturally, I’m particularly excited about my latest book, which fulfils a long-held wish to write about the place where I live and the city and village that is in my blood. It is probably my most honest book so far.

  1. What was your favourite book as a child?

A favourite book of mine as a child was The Treasure Hunters, by Enid Blyton. It was set on a farm, and a lot of my best childhood holidays were spent on a farm owned by an aunt and uncle. In some ways it is a crime novel, the heroes of the story finding a map indicating lost family treasure that could help save the farm, and then uncovering sinister goings-on as other, less scrupulous individuals, also have designs on finding the treasure. Though not with the intention of using it to save the farm! For the two child heroes of the story, what begins as holiday fun turns into a matter of life and death. Finding the treasure could save the farm, and I wished as a child that I could have done the same.

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

Many books recently have captured my imagination, but to single one out I would go for A Judgement in Stone, by Ruth Rendell, which I recently came across, though it was originally published in 1977. It is such a clever book by a master of crime writing.

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

If the Prime Minister knocked at my door, I think I would hand over a collection of short stories by Ray Bradbury. I would prescribe at least one to be taken nightly, just before sleeping, to encourage the imagination, compassion, humanity and the right kind of nostalgia. Those stories break down barriers, facades, puncture pride and ego and enable us to laugh at ourselves and at the same time recognise how precious we all are. And how fragile.

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

If I could be a character from a movie I would be Gandalf. Wisdom, warmth, empathy, compassion – what a hero!

…thanks, Mark! Some really interesting and thoughtful answers there. I love the concepts behind your novels and, as I’m also a big Raymond Chandler fan, it looks like I’ve just found some more reading material! But first, back to the work-in-progress…

Have a great week!

LJ x