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

PAPERBACK NOW AVAILABLE!

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The paperback version of Holy Island: A DCI Ryan Mystery is now available to purchase through Amazon, for those of you who prefer to hold a real book in your hands!

Get your copy here!

Alternatively, don’t forget to enter the Caption Competition to be in with a chance of winning a free copy!

Happy reading, folks 🙂

Sycamore Gap

HW387 SYCAMORE GAP  HADRIAN'S WALL

(c) Roger Clegg Photography

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

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

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

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

Now, onto the writing itself.

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

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

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

Hope you all have a great week.

x

Life and all that…

I don’t know about anybody else reading this, but I never dreamed of being a writer when I was growing up. In my early teens, I was desperate to be an archaeologist, or more specifically an Egyptologist, of the swashbuckling, Indiana-Jones mould. After that phase, I toyed with the idea of being an astronaut, a fashion designer and an artist. The turning point for me in deciding to pursue a legal career was witnessing, first-hand, the everyday impact of injustice which seemed to flow from the lack of knowledge or inability of an ordinary layperson to traverse the legal system. For it is large, opaque and intimidating to the majority of people who never have to enter into its fold; people sometimes find that the thought of having to give evidence in court, or more generally to seek justice for wrongdoing, is so off-putting that it is more trouble than it is worth. For these reasons and more, I developed a genuine desire to learn how to represent others, or, to put it another way, to speak on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves. Given the recent changes to public legal funding in the UK, I feel there is even more need for people to be heard and for them to have adequate representation.

For one reason or another, the legal world was not all that I hoped it might be and I found myself becoming increasingly disillusioned. For, an idealist lives inside me, who should be more of a realist. That way, seeing the powerful corporations become more powerful at the expense of others would be less of an ongoing affront.

As it is, life events intercepted, allowing me to take stock and consider the direction I was taking. I resented this, at first – the stubborn mule inside me rebelling against the enforced break which motherhood demands, as an example – but once I settled into it, I realised that my son had given me more than the gift of his presence in our lives. His advent had given me the space to think. In those peaceful quiet times (few and far between, as any mother will tell you) I was able to really be introspective.

My conclusions were interesting. For years, I had proclaimed myself ‘free as a bird’, never one to follow the pack. What a load of tosh. I had followed the pack, meek as a lamb, all the way through my secondary and higher education. I had followed through with years of legal training and handed over more years of my life to various employers. Yet, I found that I did not regret those years, for they taught me much in the way of diplomacy, strategy and tolerance. Essentially, though, I had restricted myself to using only the logical part of my brain, allocating no time for any creative spirit. I found that there were stories swirling around there, in the depths of my mind, which might need to be told.

Oh, go on, then, I thought. Life is for living.

As I have discussed elsewhere, change doesn’t always happen overnight, but it can be a wonderful thing when it does. Today, I woke up to the news that my first book, ‘Holy Island’ is top of the Amazon Bestsellers UK chart, managing to oust several books which have had the benefit of expansive advertising campaigns across the country. It can’t last, nothing does, but…

Yay, for self-publishing and self-belief!

Anyone else reading this who would like to make changes but are fearful of rejection or failure, I refer you to that most excellent 90’s film, Strictly Ballroom: a life lived in fear is no life at all!

I need to watch this film again soon

I need to watch this film again soon

If something is hard-fought, or hard-won, then it will be all the sweeter in the end. If there is negativity along the way then it is to be expected, chalk it up to human nature (in my case, I was exceedingly surprised to find that this can come from fellow writers: did your mother never tell you that you never get ahead by bringing others down?). But remember, for every negative person, you will find another five who are warm-hearted and positive, wishing you well. That is the very best of humanity.

See you next time.

x

The Gong Show

 

Morning, all!

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

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

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

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

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

giphy

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

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

Have a great day. x

All Stars Rule!!

Morning!

Well, blow me down with a feather, but it turns out I’m an ‘Amazon All Star!’

No, I haven’t decided to join a basketball team. I’m 5ft 3” and so, on every level, that would be ridiculous.

The ‘All Star’ tag is a bonus award scheme which Amazon runs on a monthly basis. There are two categories: book titles and authors. Those book titles and authors read most frequently on Amazon are awarded ‘All Star’ status, which is one of the few accolades that an e-book author can achieve.

The award is great and it’s something I never expected starting out, but most importantly, it tells me that there are a lot of you lovely people out there reading  and (hopefully) enjoying it. The title has been more-or-less permanently ranked as #1 in the ‘Cozy Mystery’ category since it was released in January and has been climbing the ‘Romantic Suspense’ category steadily over the weeks until it peaked at #8 this week. It’s still climbing, so watch this space! I’m competing against a fair amount of books which feature naked male torsos on their covers…

I want to say a big ‘thank you’ to everyone who invested their pennies in buying the book and I hope that you have found it to be an entertaining read. I’ve been very lucky in the reviews online, for which I am also grateful. As with anything in life, you can’t please absolutely everyone (there will always be a crazy minority who don’t enjoy my particular brand of Hot Fuzz crime, but we don’t talk about them!) So long as the majority are happy, that’s good enough for me.

I think that writing can breed a certain amount of self-consciousness, which is natural. After all, you’re investing a lot of time and energy in a project which is very subjective in nature. Then, you voluntarily open yourself up to the criticism of internet trolls, disgruntled former friends, the mean kids from back in the day and not forgetting the general population. The world of publishing today is much more ‘digital’ in nature and writers need to be aware of this and ask themselves if they can hack it. It takes confidence, which can be a rare commodity.

As with any new aspiring author, I naturally turned to traditional publishers first, in my quest to get out into the big wide world. When the offer letter and contract finally did come through the mail, I was ecstatic…right until I looked at the terms. You can’t blame them, really. I was an untried, new author. Why did I think they would offer me decent terms?

It was Mr Ross who suggested that I think outside the box and look into publishing an e-book.

What? You mean, do it ourselves? That’s crazy talk, I said.

It’s the future, he said, don’t be stubborn, he said.

Turns out that, as with far too many things for my liking, he might be right. Traditional publishers today will struggle to back new authors when they are competing with the likes of Amazon. Yet, I think that the existence of the Amazon-type platform will make reading much more accessible to so many people that I can’t bring myself to think of it as a negative.

In short, I’m very pleased that I took the plunge and would encourage any aspiring new authors out there to give it a go. The world loves to read and I, for one, am always looking for new voices to enjoy.

Bye for now!

x