Well, look who’s back!

Hello there!

I’ve had a little hiatus from the blog, recently, but I’m back and raring to tell you all my news as well as to introduce the next fine author in my series of ‘Author Introductions’ over the next few days (incidentally, if you know of an author who might like to be featured in the future or are an author yourself, feel free to drop me a line at lj_ross@outlook.com). Let’s catch up…

London Book Fair

My, oh, my, what a busy time it has been. Way back in April, I went along to the London Book Fair (LBF) and spent three days on the Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) stand sharing my very positive experiences using their platform to publish my DCI Ryan series with all the budding writers who took the trouble to come along (and there were so many lovely people!).  It was fantastic to catch up with some of my writer friends, too, and hear all about what they’re up to.

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FYI, when faced with a giant image of yourself on a pillar, it’s a great test of #1 on the list below…

 

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With lovely Mel Sherratt

 

People ask me what I take away from events such as these and it’s hard to know what might be more important for writers just starting out – stock advice about editing, formatting and so forth, or interpersonal observations I’ve formed over the past few years? I’ll opt for the latter and tell you I think there are certain ‘rules’ to live by if one is to succeed in the funny old world of publishing. In my humble opinion, these are:

  1. To make sure your head doesn’t get stuck too far up your own arse

I think this one is fairly self-explanatory but, for the sake of completeness, all I will say is that it is neither attractive nor likeable to fall prey to your own hype. From time to time, I caught a whiff of narcissism as I wandered through the rabbit warren of publishing stands at Kensington Olympia and it served as a sage reminder that, no matter how many bestsellers, never forget your roots or believe you are better than anybody else, cos y’ain’t. It’s a question of good practice: the moment you become complacent is the moment you lose your edge and your books lose what made them fresh in the first place. Besides, do you really want people to walk away thinking, ‘What an arrogant git’?

2. To remain positive

The people I met at LBF this year were warm and optimistic with a shared passion for writing and storytelling, and it was uplifting to be surrounded by so many like-minded folk. However, as a general point I think it is useful to guard against what others have called ‘comparisonitis’ (The Creative Penn has written a great article on this very subject here). It is very human to feel insecure from time-to-time, or to worry that your work isn’t good enough, but just remember that half of everything is smoke and mirrors. Today’s film stars may be yesterday’s news. For some writers, success (whatever that means) comes early and, for others, it comes later. But one thing is probably true: it seldom comes to those who have lost the very reason why they wanted to write in the first place – namely, their passion. This applies to writers ‘great’ and ‘small’, because for some people their success is never enough and they always need more, whereas for others every small success is something rightly to be celebrated. Just try not to covet what others seem to have because it will eat you up inside.

3. To listen

The information available to budding authors is sometimes overwhelming and often conflicting. As with so many things in life, you need to form your own opinion and listen to reasoned voices across the spectrum. It is never helpful to exist within an echo chamber, where you hear the same opinion again and again. I am always happy to share my experiences and what I believe to be good advice but it is worth remembering that my own unique publishing experience cannot be replicated. It is about tailoring advice to suit your own work and circumstances, forging your own way forward.

There is so much more I could say but I’ll leave you with my top three for now. Standard advice surrounding the do’s and don’ts of self-publishing is covered comprehensively elsewhere – check out KDP Author Insights here, for a start.

Storyteller Competition 2018

Some of you may recall that I was invited along to the Storyteller Award ceremony in London last year, where my talented friend David Leadbeater took home the inaugural award. I had the privilege of mentoring Dave afterwards (which was more of an exchange between two writing professionals) and, this year, I’m delighted to have been asked to be one of the judges of the competition. I’m a huge supporter of any award that puts the reader’s voice first and is open to all, regardless of background, and does not rely upon any publisher to provide a nomination. It is much more democratic and I’m so excited to read the final short-list. Details of the competition can be found here and, if anybody has a manuscript that has not yet been published, it is well worth entering and being in with a chance of winning a substantial monetary prize as well as a marketing package from Amazon which is worth its own weight in gold. The deadline is 31st August 2018 – good luck!

DCI Ryan

After moving home to Northumberland just before Christmas, life has been an insane whirlwind of house renovations and writing two books within the space of five months. Two books? I hear you cry. But we’ve only seen one…

That’s right, you sneaky detectives. Seven Bridges: a DCI Ryan Mystery (Book 8) was released in May and I was deeply moved and surprised in equal measure when it became a UK #1 bestseller before it was even properly released! I don’t think I’ll ever quite get over the fear of releasing a new story into the world but I can tell you I am always grateful for the support of my readers. You guys are the very best and I never forget it.

But, back to the sneaky second book I wrote while burning the midnight oil (and my optic muscles). It is not set for release just yet but is put aside for another exciting project which I will be able to tell you about very soon. For now, I’ll do the classic writer thing and mutter a sinister cackle and stroke my imaginary beard. In the meantime, I’m writing the next DCI Ryan book and plotting the outline for three brand new books in a series I’ve been hoping to write for a while…watch this space!

So many exciting things to look forward to…but for now, it’s back to chasing around my soon-to-be-five-year-old son as we while away the hours of his nine week – yes, NINE WEEK – summer holiday. Is it September yet?! 😉

I hope you all have a wonderful week ahead!

LJ x

Hump Day Banter

Morning!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What utter nonsense. 

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

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

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

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

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

Love,

LJ x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lessons from a Past Life

Happy New Year!

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Seize the day

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

2. Reject negativity

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

3. Let go of anger

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

4.  Reach for the stars

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

5. Be proud of who you are

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

6. Be more assertive

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

7. Keep laughing

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

8. Social responsibility

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

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

9. Read more

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

10. Rediscover old hobbies

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

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

Catch you next time,

LJ x

International Literacy Day

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

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

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

Don’t be such a snob.

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

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

LJ x

About time…

Hello!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a great weekend 🙂

LJ x

“The Wobble”

Hello!

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. BLIND FAITH

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

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

2. BLIND FEAR

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

3. KICK-BACK

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

Fuck off! 

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

4. GOLLUM SYNDROME

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

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

5. THE BIRD’S NEST

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

6. RIDE THE WOBBLES

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

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

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

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

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

LJ x

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

 

 

How to maintain your writing mojo

How-do!

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

Here goes:

  1. Keep it real

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

2. Think like Rocky Balboa

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

3. Keep your eye on the prize

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

4. Don’t be precious about your work

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

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

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

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

5. Stop making comparisons

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

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

Bye for now!

LJ x

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy 2016!

Happy New Year, folks!

How the time has flown. This time, last year, I was just clicking the ‘upload’ button on Holy Island. Little did I know what fate had in store for that bit of fiction, because by May 2015 it was number 1 in the Amazon UK bestsellers chart and at the time of writing this blog post, it is back up there at number 6. Absolutely mind-boggling. I have said it many times before, but I will keep on saying it: thank you to all of you who read it and took a chance on LJ Ross.

Back in September, its sequel Sycamore Gap was published as an e-book and that made the top 20 not long afterwards (and currently it’s back in the top 20 – woo hoo!). Now, Holy Island is out as an audiobook and Sycamore Gap will be following very shortly (it’s on pre-order at the moment, for those who are interested).

All of this has made for a really remarkable year and I hardly know what to expect for the year to come. What will 2016 hold? There are few certainties in life, but I know one thing for sure: I love my job and will continue to write until my hands are too arthritic to type. Even then, I’ll learn to dictate before I stop having fun telling stories.

A few years ago, if somebody had asked me whether I enjoyed what I was doing, I would probably have waffled to avoid giving a true answer: of course, I did not really enjoy my job. I tolerated it, I gave it my full attention and expertise because I believe that a fair wage deserves fair work and vice versa, but I could not say that being a lawyer filled my heart with the joys of spring. It was a really disappointing conclusion to draw, after years spent training and working in the field. Had I wasted my time and my twenties? Now, after pondering that very question and regardless of the success of DCI Ryan, I would say that no time is really wasted. I learned much from my years in the City, I have some wonderful friends and, perhaps most of all, there may be something in the old idea that writers should have a few years under their belts before coming to the profession. It gives a certain realism to proceedings, if you can describe characters and settings from past experience (I’m naming no names). The world of self-publishing is really booming and when budding writers have been kind enough to send me an e-mail or a message, many of them ask whether I felt nervous leaving my old life (and old salary) for something new and uncertain. To them, I say:

There is no right answer which fits all.  Life is an endless cycle of ups and downs and you have to assess what is right for you and any dependants at a given time. You have to be honest about yourself and what you would like to achieve; you have to work hard and put everything you have into it. But, most of all, you must be unafraid of change. This seems a simple thing, but it really isn’t. Many people are terrified of change and frankly there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s nice to feel settled and content. It’s a question of what you are prepared to settle for in life and if you are happy enough, then crack on!

All of that said, if you do decide to ‘give it a go’, platforms like Amazon KDP are perfect. There, you can dabble in publishing your own work without necessarily giving up the day job. If you really want to push your work, you might need to devote a lot of free time to marketing and editing, not to mention the writing, but so long as you don’t mind doing both at the same time then it’s a fail-safe option with very little personal risk. Like me, you might be flabbergasted to find that people enjoy your writing and would love to see more of it. Before you know it, you’ve got a website, a blog, various social media accounts and a full-time profession!

Whichever way life takes you, I hope that all of you reading this have a wonderful 2016 and that it brings you everything you hope for.

Catch you later!

LJ x

 

 

 

 

 

 

The First Rule of Writer’s Club…

Good morning!

I hope that you all enjoyed the weekend and had a bit of fun on Hallowe’en, if that’s your thing! I used to enjoy an annual popcorn fest watching the Scream Trilogy/ Hallowe’en movies but instead found myself watching a completely idiotic movie called ‘Angel‘ because it happened to be on Netflix. It lured me in because the description touted a nineteenth century female writer making her way in the world and billed Michael Fassbender, Romola Garai and Sam Neill (three favourites). I also don’t mind a good period drama (Andrew Davies’ 1996 version of Pride and Prejudice, is a good example). But, I’m just going to have to blurt this out quickly: the film I watched was rubbish. I mean, I can see that the production team had attempted to create a comic-book, tongue-in-cheek movie rather than a serious drama, but…just, no. Must have been a lean year, that’s all I can think!

Rant aside, I find myself once again sitting in front of my computer, notebook on the one hand, Heavenfield draft ready and waiting on the other. Thought I’d drop you folks a line, first! Recently owing to the volume of messages from other aspiring writers out there, I’ve tried to tailor these blog postings to include snippets on the world of indie authoring, as I have experienced it. Today, I thought I would focus on the shut-off valve between the brain and the mouth (or the typing fingers, as the case may be).

Specifically, I had an e-mail from a writer the other day who, having released a couple of self-published books, really struggled to cope with negative responses from readers and in a couple of instances from people we would class as ‘trolls’. Now, I’ve been lucky not to have experienced the latter (so far) but I’ve heard the horror stories. I read an article recently about a woman who responded to a troll review then experienced the catastrophic backlash and it sounded awful. I should say that this is vastly removed from ordinary readers and reviewers who are fully entitled to their opinion, whatever that may be. Genuinely-held views add to the fabric of life and just because they don’t feed into your book sales, doesn’t mean they’re wrong. To these writers, I would say that if you find a consistent complaint amongst readers of your book(s), perhaps take note of it because this will guard against complacency and will make your work stronger in future.

However, back to the trolls. There is only one rule here:

First rule of Writer’s Club: DO NOT RESPOND TO NASTY BASTARDS

What can I add to this cardinal piece of advice? Oh, it’s so tempting sometimes, to correct what looks like a misunderstanding, to argue your corner in the face of injustice, or simply to try to convince someone to see the world differently. To be clear, I’m not talking about everyday readers who read your book and it’s just not their cup of tea. No problemo! That’s freedom of thought, baby. No, I’m talking about those people who make it their life’s work to isolate people for digital fighting, ruining reputations and commercial sales with Machiavellian precision. Once again:

First rule of Writer’s Club: DO NOT RESPOND TO NASTY BASTARDS

It’s still true, because once somebody has committed to their point of view and has taken the trouble to write and upload that view for the world to see, they are not going to alter their perspective. It’s Human Nature 101: they would lose face, and this is the real world. I like to think the best of human nature; I like to think that people are capable of adapting themselves, of admitting wrongdoing, of becoming the best they can be. But, simple life experience has taught me that I know only a handful of people who are genuinely capable of doing any of these things. I have known a greater number who doggedly persist in their course of action, whether their perception is distorted or not. I’m an optimist, at heart, so that’s coming from someone who actively seeks to find the best in people!

First rule of Writer’s Club: DO NOT RESPOND TO NASTY BASTARDS

Yes, I am going to keep saying it. Writing an angry retort will not help you in the long run. It will only act as ammunition, providing the troll with the fuel for their fire. Why shoot yourself in the foot? It won’t end well. They won’t back away deferentially, having seen the error of their ways! This leads me to the next point:

Second rule of Writer’s Club: IT’S NOT PERSONAL

Yes, I know it looks, feels and sounds personal, but just suck it up and turn off the computer. Yes, some of the things a troll might say will boil your piss, to coin a classy phrase, but go away and cool off somewhere with a stiff drink (oh God, the trolls will think I’m inciting people to drink…better make that lemonade!). I realise that this is all easy advice to dole out from someone who has never actually been on the receiving end of a troll, but I think it’s common sense, isn’t it? In the real world, you don’t reach your thirties, or forties or whatever you may be, without having come across a nasty bastard in some form or another. You deal with them, tell them to jog on, whatever. Just think of it this way: at least the ones in the real world have the balls to face you – the trolls hide behind a computer screen, so what does that make them?

Now, for any of you reading this and feeling the negative effects of a troll (or indeed the school bully, the office bully, the neighbour from hell), here are a few scenarios and corresponding insults which you can silently savour in future…

  1. “Your book is a steaming pile of horse shit, I hate you, I hate your face, I hate your family, I hate your gene pool all the way back to Adam and Eve…”

Tempting response: “What? How can you even say that? You don’t know me or my family…have you even read my book? Wait- you hate my face? Harsh!”

Thought to savour: This troll probably cannot read and has paid an impecunious neighbour to come and type out his insults on a weekly basis. Therefore, you should pity the troll, not only for his illiteracy but for the simple fact that he has clearly mistaken your family name as belonging to that of a famous murderer, or perhaps a dictator or media mogul. In fact, since the troll is paying his poor neighbour, he is adding to his local economy, so you should thank him, really. Finally, he hates your face because you forgot to take off the face paint from Hallowe’en.

2. “You wouldn’t know good writing if it came and slapped you in the face! The characters are weak, the dialogue pathetic, in fact I only read the whole book for the laughs!!”

Tempting response: “Seems a bit extreme! Maybe it just wasn’t your thing? Perhaps if you tried a genre you enjoy..?”

Thought to savour: No refunds, bell end. Besides, my book obviously hooked you if you read all the way through – result!

3. “You’re a *$!* hateful *@!** *** and a *$@** ***!*!”

Tempting response: “That level of profanity was completely unacceptable. I’m reporting this to Amazon. Your review contained nothing in the way of critique, only a personal attack.”

Thought to savour: They mis-spelled ‘fuck’. Clearly a rookie.

On which note, I shall leave you to return to your scribbling or whatever you have planned for the rest of the day!

Catch you later x

Baaaaaath, not Bath.

Morning…or is it afternoon? Either way, hello!

Last week, the Ross family jumped aboard the proverbial sin wagon and rolled into the beautiful town of Bath – yee haw!

We decided after much deliberation to move even further away from London because, frankly, we were sick of the smog. And the yuppies (we used to be one of them, but now we pity them…that’s human nature in action). And the stench of money. You know what I mean when I say that? It’s the fact that whichever way you look in London, there’s a social climber gunning the engine of their SUV and checking the time on their bulky Omega watch on one side of the road, whilst there’s another person struggling to make ends meet on the other. Too much division. After twelve years, it was getting hard to appreciate that great city anymore and our hope is that, by leaving its outer limits, we can rediscover the beauty of its grey-tinged, war-marked buildings when we return every now and then.

Because, I don’t know about you, but it’s important to find the right head space when you’re trying to write stories for a living. If your mind is too crowded with the kind of anxiety which comes from living at a frenetic pace, then perhaps it’s time to slow your world down. I don’t pretend for a moment that moving to a different area of the country means that life will never be stressful again, or that the ordinary cares of being a being in the world today will not come to bear, but they may interrupt to a much lesser degree. Besides, both my husband and I grew up in the countryside, where the noisiest thing you’re likely to hear is a bird squawking, or cattle moo-ing. The inevitable cycle of life has taken us around in semi-circular fashion, so that we have gone from being country children longing for the bright lights of the city, to adults working and playing in the city, to older adults yearning for the peace and quiet of the country once again. We’ve opted for somewhere in-between!

Transition to North Somerset life has thus far been very easy. The people here are ridiculously friendly – having been used to London life, I naturally assumed they were mentally ill, until I realised that is their general state of being.The only potential problem is being lost in translation. For example:

“Hello! Have you just moved in?”

“Hello! Yes, we thought Bath would be a lovely place to bring up our son.”

“Bath? Oh, you mean Baaaaaattth.” [Said with emphasis on the ‘ahhh’]

“Yes, Bath.” [Said with no emphasis whatsoever]

“Baaaath.”

“Bath.” [Yes, love, I’m Northern. Well done for noticing]

I will do my best not to conform to the smooth drawl of the west country and will endeavour to stay true to my northern heritage by continuing to pronounce certain words with hard inflection, but I may be fighting a losing battle since I’m vastly outnumbered.

Either way, it’s back to work for me today! The boxes are largely unpacked, the internet and television is back up and running (THANK GOD) and there is no further excuse not to get along with writing the third and potentially most exciting mystery DCI Ryan has faced thus far.

Bring.It.On.

Catch you later!

x