Author Introductions #3: Mark L. Fowler

Morning!

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

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

Mark L. Fowler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RED is the Colour FINAL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. What was your favourite book as a child?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a great week!

LJ x

 

 

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!

 

19417279_10101190478603736_6012614770913958929_o

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.

Unknown

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!

Unknown-2

At Tea and Tipple, the venue in Corbridge


Unknown-1

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.

Unknown-4

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.

Unknown-3

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!

17834936_10101129349002946_1501242353257070165_o

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

17814259_10101128670223226_1058686587933036875_o

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

About time…

Hello!

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

Ethan's 3rd birthday.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

Have a great weekend 🙂

LJ x

“The Wobble”

Hello!

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. BLIND FAITH

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

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

2. BLIND FEAR

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

3. KICK-BACK

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

Fuck off! 

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

4. GOLLUM SYNDROME

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

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

5. THE BIRD’S NEST

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

6. RIDE THE WOBBLES

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

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

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

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

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

LJ x

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

 

 

The cardinal importance of Latin music

Well hello again and greetings from LJ Ross HQ!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time…

LJ x