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 #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 #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.

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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

 

 

A note of thanks…

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

Let me explain…

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

No pressure, then. 

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

Louise Call to Bar

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

Thanks to all of you!

LJ x

 

Festivals, libraries and bookish things!

Hello folks!

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

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

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

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

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At Tea and Tipple, the venue in Corbridge


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

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

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On the Geordie Noir panel

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

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Signing books at Crown Street Library

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

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

Hope you all have a great week,

LJ x

Headspace

Hello there!

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

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

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Right before he face-planted in the sand…

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

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

You are not alone!

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

LJ x

 

 

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

On equality…

The topic of today’s blog posting is pretty expansive, so before you read any further let me assure you that I do not intend to write a treatise on the subject. However, after some recent experiences the matter of ‘equality’ has forced itself to the forefront of my mind and consequently I’m inflicting my rant upon the rest of you.

You lucky, lucky readers…

Alrighty then (*wriggles bum in seat*).

First and by way of disclaimer, I do not believe that we can ever truly have equality amongst people. Babies are born into vastly different circumstances around the world; physically, mentally, socio-economically, geographically, to name a few. Although I like to think that each of us strives to build a better society and a better world, there are vast chasms of difference which need to be bridged. Issues of race, of ethnicity, of mental health, of gender and sexuality remain open to abuse and attitudes are so endemic within individuals and communities that it will take generations to effect real change. But we are trying to bring them out into the light for open and honest discussion.

Second, I think it is important to acknowledge that I am a very, very lucky person. I was born into a rich, westernised country; I identify as heterosexual and my ethnicity would best be described as ‘White British’, although I hate those tick-box options we’ve all seen on the questionnaires. As such, I do not pretend to have any deep understanding of the kind of challenges other people might face, because I have no personal experience. I have only an anecdotal understanding, gleaned second –hand from close friends who have talked to me about the impact that prejudice and ignorance has upon their emotional wellbeing and overall opportunities in life. I feel a keen sense of injustice, of sympathy and shame on behalf of a wider society which – given recent polls – has displayed an upsurge in hate crimes. I resolve to be mindful of my own actions, to instil liberal and tolerant values in my son and to support policies which protect the vulnerable first and foremost. I vote accordingly, not for a political party which would better my own interests, but for one which seeks to lessen the widening gap between people. I believe that, for every person born without disability or disadvantage, there is a moral obligation to give something back to the society that has been good to you. There is a duty of care towards our fellow man to ensure that inequality gaps which are able to be bridged, are bridged.

One thing I have seen, in very small measure, is gender inequality. I emphasise the ‘small’ in that last sentence, because there are women who have suffered extreme inequality and abuse thanks to the simple matter of having been born female and I do not fall into that category. Likewise, people who identify as transgender or gender fluid. Notwithstanding this caveat, I have been on the receiving end of the kind of everyday sexism that still prevails here in the U.K. There has been substantial improvement over the past fifty years in many ways, but there is a thread of overt and implied sexism in ordinary conversation, in the way people are paid, in domestic and professional scenarios that serve to undermine. By way of example, only the other day I was giving an interview and one of the first questions the interviewer asked me was whether I would be having any more children.

Several thoughts spring to mind:

  1. How is that relevant to crime fiction writing?
  2. That is a highly personal and potentially hurtful question.
  3. That is none of your business, let alone the many listeners tuning in to the interview.
  4. Why is the question relevant, in a professional scenario?
  5. Would you have asked a male author the same question? I think not.
  6. Is motherhood an automatic association by virtue of being female?
  7. I doubt that the question was intended to offend, but do you realise that it was nonetheless offensive?
  8. Is motherhood the bottom line, for women?
  9. It is little wonder that some women feel undermined if they can’t / choose not to have children and yet are constantly expected to defend the lack of children in their lives.

I do not think that any of these issues entered the interviewer’s mind; in fact, I think it was automatic, indoctrinated small-talk and the kind of thing that some people reel out as a ‘warm-up’ question. However, I think it is a good example of how issues of sex and gender can weave their way into ordinary conversations and have a lasting impact upon the subject. On the news today, there was a discussion about whether men, in particular, should be mindful of using words like ‘babe’, ‘chick’ or ‘doll’. I think that much of this depends upon the individual dynamic but it is probably true to say that endearments that are harmless in a personal context could be undermining in a professional one. Certainly, being a little more thoughtful about their use isn’t such a bad thing, is it? It doesn’t mean that people are ‘uptight’ or ‘over-sensitive’. They’re just asking for a bit of equality.

Catch you later!

Lx

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