Well, look who’s back!

Hello there!

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

London Book Fair

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

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

 

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With lovely Mel Sherratt

 

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

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

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

2. To remain positive

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

3. To listen

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

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

Storyteller Competition 2018

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

DCI Ryan

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

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

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

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

I hope you all have a wonderful week ahead!

LJ x

Author Introductions 27: Robert Crouch

Good morning!

We’ve been enjoying a few days of decent weather up here in Northumberland – hope you have, too! April was a very busy month in terms of writing and events and May is shaping up to be very similar. I was a panellist at Newcastle Noir Festival at the weekend and was in my element chatting about how our landscape inspires the stories we tell. I was joined by fellow authors Mari Hannah and Matt Wesolowski and there were over sixty authors over the course of the festival – a great time was had by all! I’ll be doing a talk as part of the South Shields Write! Festival at ‘The Word’ on 19th May, looking forward to seeing some of you there.

I scarcely know where Monday and Tuesday went, so here we are on Wednesday with our next Author Introduction! This week, I’m joined by the lovely Robert Crouch.

Robert

Ever since he read Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series as a child, Robert has loved mysteries and wanted to write them. Miss Marple and Inspector Morse, with their complex stories and plots, only increased that desire. But it was Sue Grafton’s wonderful series about private investigator, Kinsey Millhone, which inspired him to try a fresh approach to the traditional murder mystery – no one had written about an environmental health officer solving murders.

It took a few years for the idea and character to develop and a few more to write a credible crime novel that would entertain and intrigue the whole family. But when No Accident was first published, the response from readers showed there was room in the market for something different. The environmental health background seems popular with readers because it provides glimpses into a relatively unknown world, adding an extra dimension to the mysteries.

Like Robert, his character Kent Fisher is also a passionate environmentalist and animal lover with a keen sense of fair play and justice. Since hanging up his white coat and probe thermometer, Robert has become a full-time writer, keen to put more time and effort into his novels. When he’s not writing, you’ll find him running or taking photographs on the South Downs, where his stories are set. It’s so beautiful and peaceful there, perfect for roaming with his wife and West Highland White Terrier, Harvey.

Sounds idyllic! Let’s find out more…

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

I’m an environmental health officer turned writer, drawing on my experiences to offer a fresh approach to the traditional murder mystery. With hindsight, it’s easy to understand how my love of puzzles, a strong sense of justice and fair play, and a love of offbeat characters, epitomised by the likes of Miss Marple, Inspector Morse and Kinsey Millhone, led me to write crime.

I now write full time from my home on the Sussex Coast adjoining the South Downs, where the stories are based. While my first novel was originally published by a small independent publisher in the US, I bought back my rights so I could become an independent author and take control of my future.

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

Hopefully my best novel yet, according to early feedback. No Remorse is the third book in the Kent Fisher mystery series. Readers tell me they like the complex plots with all their twists, the vivid characters and the wit and humour in the writing, so I’ve tried to give them plenty more.

In No Remorse, an 87-year-old man in a retirement home dies, leaving Kent Fisher a set of numbers. They could be the answer to a dark secret or items on a takeaway menu. But as Kent investigates and other people die, it becomes clear that he’s not the only one who wants to get to the truth. His life depends on it.

Like the previous books, it’s a traditional murder mystery/whodunit at its heart. The themes and subject matter are a little darker than the previous books and the reader gets to learn a lot more about Kent Fisher, who up till now has remained something of a mystery himself. There’s also room for a little romance to spice things up.

Who is your hero in real life and in fiction?

I have only one hero – the late, great Victoria Wood, who inspired me with her observational humour, her brilliant writing and the quality of her work. Always modest, she seemed almost perplexed by her success and the respect in which she was held. She made everyone laugh – surely the greatest gift you can have. I was lucky enough to see her on her final stand up tour and she was amazing. I don’t mind admitting I shed more than a few tears when she died.

My fictional hero has to be the private detective that inspired me to create my own – Kinsey Millhone, the feisty, fiercely independent and irreverent detective from Sue Grafton’s Alphabet Murder Series. The books, the way they’re written, and the characters brought something new and different to the Private Eye novel. And when Sue Grafton died earlier this year, I felt like I’d lost a friend and mentor.

Who are your three favourite writers – and why?

That’s almost impossible to answer as I enjoy discovering new authors. My answer in a few years could be different from now.  I thought about how to answer your question, looking at my bookshelves to see if anyone dominated. I found Tom Sharpe, who’s humorous novels were peerless, and Simon Kernick, surely one of the best thriller writers today.

But I haven’t read either for years and feel no urge to with all the new talent out there.

The one author who fills the most shelf space is Sue Grafton, who completed 25 novels about Kinsey Millhone before her death. I’ve read every one since I first discovered her work in the mid-1980s, including the last a few weeks ago. I love the characters, the quality of the writing and the original plots, underpinned by a wonderful backstory that weaves a warm thread through the series, set in a coastal resort in California.

Peter James could become my current favourite author with his Roy Grace series. Apart from being a local author, setting his stories just up the road from where I live, he’s a terrific story teller and plotter, setting a high benchmark with his realism and accurate portrayal of modern policing and crime detection. His novels are a masterclass in crime writing and police procedure as far as I’m concerned, and an inspiration.

My third choice has to be Dick Francis, who made me want to write crime. He inspired me with his slick writing, clever use of hooks and first person narrative. You felt part of the action from the first paragraph and that closeness is something I’ve tried to emulate in my own writing.

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

This is going to sound sad and not very rock and roll, but I enjoy meeting and talking to other writers about writing. While I love meeting readers and discussing books with them, only another writer understands what it’s like to be a writer. It’s great to share your love of words with like-minded people.

Social media helps too, but you can’t beat meeting in a lovely café with a pot of tea and cakes to talk about books and writing.

I also love running, which keeps body and mind healthy, walking with my wife and Harvey, our West Highland white terrier, and reading.

What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?

Giving up smoking in 2006. It changed my life and led to so many other achievements. The self-confidence and belief I gained spurred me to become fit, to run half marathons, to believe in myself. At the time, I had to quit writing because it was so intrinsically linked to smoking. When I started writing again after 18 months, it was with renewed vigour and belief, which allowed me to discover my writing voice and have No Accident, the first Kent Fisher novel, accepted for publication.

What was your favourite book as a child?

While I loved Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series, the first book to truly capture my imagination and emotions was The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis. Narnia was a magical place that came alive in my mind, helping me understand good and evil and how you can defeat a superior enemy with strength, conviction and togetherness. I can still recall how I cried over Aslan.

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

 Not Dead Enough by Peter James has one of the most original and clever plots I’ve come across. As a writer, I just had the feeling that Peter James loved writing the story because there was something electric about the writing, the characters and their relationships and the sublime twists he piled on, one after another.

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

 How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. There is so much wonderful advice and wisdom in this book, originally published in the 1930s, I believe. It might show the Prime Minister, and politicians generally, how to treat and respect other people and how working together can make us stronger and less divisive.

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

It would have to be someone who battles against the odds for what they believe to be right. Someone who’s not afraid to different or to stand on their own for what they believe.

It can only be Atticus Finch, the gentle, dignified but passionate lawyer who showed the world how to fight ignorance and prejudice in To Kill a Mocking Bird.

 

…Thank you, Robert! I love your choice of Atticus Finch; there are very few films that can move me but Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Harper Lee’s classic character is always one of them. Thank you for sharing some insights into what brought you to writing and what inspires the character of Kent Fisher – wishing you every success with the new release.

LJ x

Author Introductions #22: Rob Enright

Good evening!

I’m writing to you from my new office in Northumberland, where I’ve basically been living for the past week. If I were a man, I’d have an impressive beard by now (no smart comments, here, you lot!) Jokes aside, the snow has been a perfect accompaniment to my feverish thriller writing, being all atmospheric and what-not, so I can’t complain. However, I came out of hibernation long enough to realise (a) it had stopped snowing and (b) Monday has rolled around once again!

That means, it’s time for our next lovely Author Introduction. This week, I am delighted to present… *drum roll*…Rob Enright!

Robert was born and raised in North London and lives in Chesham, Buckinghamshire. Working as a HR System Manager by day, he spends his evenings and weekends writing sci-fi and dark thrillers (or binge watching TV with his fiancée). Robert self-published One by One in March 2016 and later saw it published by Britain’s Next Bestseller in October 2017.

His book, Doorways, has just been released as an ebook, paperback and audiobook under his own management. Its sequel, The Absent Man, is out THIS FRIDAY with the third in the series, Worlds Apart and a prequel, Bermuda, set for a late 2018 launch.

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Rob Enright, author of dark thrillers and sci-fi

 

Now, to find out a little more about the man behind the writer…

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

I am 31 years old, born in North London. I have three brothers and a sister and I live in Buckinghamshire with my wonderful fiancée, Sophie. By day, I work as a HR Systems Manager for a private hospital in London so I get a lot of reading time on the train which is pretty sweet! I have been writing since my teens, be it comic book ideas or online roleplays (because I am that cool!). Then I wrote a few screenplays – my first book, One by One was originally a 97 page film script. Then I finally got onto books and feel like I have found my calling.

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

The Absent Man is a sequel to Doorways, so if anyone read that, they can expect to find out more about The Otherside. Bermuda Jones and Argyle are sent to Glasgow to hunt ‘The Absent Man’, a person who is murdering women and removing their hearts. This book will see Bermuda start to understand his role between both worlds as well as expanding on his friendship with Argyle. Also, if you are a fan of Argyle, get ready for some heartbreaking backstory and hard-hitting action! It’s out this Friday!

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

I have actually met one of my heroes. Garth Ennis is my favourite comic book writer and is best known for writing Preacher (a TV show now on Amazon). He wrote the best Punisher series in the early 00’s and I met him at a Comic-Con and got him to sign my favourite comic! Alan Shearer and Eminem are also heroes, but I feel like meeting them is not within reach!

In fiction, I absolutely love Brad Wolgast from ‘The Passage Trilogy’. Possibly my favourite character in any book. Closely followed by Roland Deschain from ‘The Dark Tower’!

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

Well, Garth Ennis is number one. His writing is so vicious and haunting in places. Justin Cronin’s ‘The Passage Trilogy’ is beyond anything I have ever read; the scope of the story he tells and his writing is so easy to read.

Lastly, it would probably be a Michael Connelly, as I love the ‘Mickey Haller’ series (and loved the Bosch TV Show).

Also love me a bit of Stephen King and Scott Snyder.

[Blogger’s Note: Love me a bit of Stephen King, too!]

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

I used to play a lot of video games so when I get the chance now, I do like to pick up the control pad. I’ve started playing through the Final Fantasy series, which is some exceptional story telling. I am also a big reader, both of books and comics so devour as much as I can.

I’m also partial to a trip to the cinema!

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

Finishing the first book. I spent about a decade starting a project but giving up on it after a few weeks and never finding the dedication to finish it. So when I finally wrote “The End” for One By One, after nearly 130,000 words, I couldn’t believe I had done it. And that feeling of writing “The End” has been just as spine tingling on all the other books too.

  1. What was your favourite book as a child?

I’m pretty sure I had all the ‘Goosebump’ books when I was a kid, but sadly, I don’t think I remember many of them. I remember ‘Say Cheese and Die’ and also the puppet called ‘Slappy’. RL Stine also wrote some Point Horror and I remember reading one called ‘The Snowman’, which was pretty awful but I loved it.

My favourite book though would probably be a toss up between ‘The BFG’ and ‘The Twits’. Roald Dahl’s books are still so wonderful.

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

I know I have mentioned it already, but ‘The Passage Trilogy’ by Justin Cronin. Its sheer scope, intertwining timelines and amazing character development is worth your time. Plus, it is absolutely horrifying; never has the end of the world been portrayed so devastatingly.

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

‘British Politics for Dummies’ by Julian Knight.

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

Oh now this is too hard!! There are so many classic characters. Maximus from ‘Gladiator.’ Deckard from ‘Blade Runner.’ But probably, I would have to go with John Creasy from ‘Man on Fire.’ It’s my favourite film and who wouldn’t want to be a badass Denzel Washington, picking off corrupt kidnappers with lines such as ‘It’s off to the afterlife for you. I guarantee you won’t be lonely.’

ARGH! I have to go watch it now!!

…Thanks, Rob! Love your choices there and, I agree, who wouldn’t want to be a bad-ass Denzel Washington out on a rampage for justice? Love it.

Sadly, the only rampaging I’m about to do is the one involving me, a plate and my fridge so I don’t waste away while I’m writing like a crazy-woman!

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

LJ x

 

 

Hump Day Banter

Morning!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What utter nonsense. 

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

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

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

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

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

Love,

LJ x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lessons from a Past Life

Happy New Year!

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Seize the day

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

2. Reject negativity

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

3. Let go of anger

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

4.  Reach for the stars

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

5. Be proud of who you are

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

6. Be more assertive

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

7. Keep laughing

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

8. Social responsibility

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

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

9. Read more

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

10. Rediscover old hobbies

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

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

Catch you next time,

LJ x

International Literacy Day

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

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

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

Don’t be such a snob.

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

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

LJ x

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

Miliband vs. Poldark

Afternoon, all.

Today, in a move reminiscent of my former self – when I had time to loll about watching Sunday morning television- I watched Andrew Marr discussing politics with the current Chancellor (George Osborne) and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Harriet Harman) earlier today.

My first observation was that, during my brief hiatus from the world of current affairs, I clearly haven’t missed much.

The second, highly disturbing observation, came when somebody in the production team decided that it would be a good idea to superimpose Ed Miliband’s face onto the body of Aidan Turner (the actor currently portraying Ross Poldark in the new TV drama of the same name). Sadly, I don’t have a copy of it here…

I’m sure I don’t need to insult your intelligence by making any obvious comparisons between the two men and, after all, it was an attempt to poke light-hearted fun at the Labour Leader in what can be taken as a flattering comparator overall. Apparently, after his recent visit t’up north to our friends over the border in Scotland, Mr Miliband is being hailed as a comeback king. Before, he was less ‘Rob Roy’ and more ‘Rab C. Nesbitt’. Now, he’s somewhere in between.

But, enough of that.

The serious discussion revolved around the Conservative’s plan to end inheritance tax being applied to family homes worth up to £1 million, from 2017. Naturally, Harriet Harman made it clear that this sort of policy is another way of benefiting the few rather than the many. On this point, I am inclined to agree with her.

I believe that the mark of any decent society is the way in which it treats the most vulnerable in that society.

A few examples:

Incapacity benefit? You don’t cut corners on providing help to those most in need unless you’re a miserly git. Therefore, look elsewhere to make your economic austerity cuts and stop pretending that everyone who makes a claim is a rotten apple or “putting it on.” What kind of idiot would think that anyone would prefer to struggle through life, incapacitated?

Benefit cheats? Bog off with your arguments about young girls having babies when they shouldn’t. Sure, I agree that if you have the luxury of choice, planning, a stable relationship and secure finances, planning is usually a great idea before dropping a little loveable bomb into your household. I also agree that, in ordinary circumstances, people should be responsible for their actions wherever possible. But that’s not always the case and comfortable, middle-class people like me shouldn’t go around wagging their fingers. You know why? Because you’re looking at it from the wrong direction. It’s not about spending money on the girl who had the baby. It’s about spending money on the child who was born.

Why should any child suffer poverty because society decided it didn’t like their parents?

Immigration? Yeah, you’ve guessed it, I’m liberal here too. Isn’t it so nice and comfortable to have been born in the United Kingdom? How mind-boggling it must be, for some people to imagine having been born in a war-torn society, or a very poor one, where the things that we take for granted are called ‘luxuries’. Were the shoe on the other foot, might we not wish to take advantage of the opportunities and lifestyle available in the UK, to help our families, or simply to survive? I think it’s obvious that we would. So, I think we need less xenophobic, knee-jerk reactions to the statistics on immigration. We’ve still got enough space, after all, but it would be helpful to focus on the many existing projects which try to help people to integrate – from both sides of the fence. You hear some people saying that there aren’t enough jobs to go around. Maybe true in certain areas of the country, but I won’t proclaim the truth or falsity of this given (a) I’m not a statistician and (b) many statistics are open to manipulation, depending on your point of view. What I will say is this: however hard you think you’ve got it in the UK, it’s a lot harder growing up without any safety net at all. No benefits, no healthcare, nothing. Oh, and bombs might rain down at any time, depending on your country of origin.

Think about it.

I should perhaps mention, at this point, that I am a white British woman, born and bred in the UK for as far back as the genealogy charts stretch. My family has experienced ups and downs, but mostly ups in the grand scheme of things. I am open about the fact that I have been afforded an excellent education and all of the perks which follow that. But this is precisely why I feel that we should be more open-armed. Without these advantages, my life might have been very different. If the very least I can do is hand over a chunk of tax to benefit those who have not been so fortunate, or who are striving to better themselves or their families, then I will gladly do it. Sharing is caring, people.

In summary, even if the result of any given policy (from any of the major parties) would benefit me and my family on an individual basis, I believe it is a better thing to consider what this would mean for the growing so-called ‘underclass’ in British society today. I might have a few extra quid to go for an expensive meal, but knowing the possible costs to other people in this country, the food might choke me.

Just saying.

Now, to end on a considerably lighter note, Poldark is showing tonight at 9pm on BBC1. I have at least two thousand words of Sycamore Gap to write, before I can lounge in front of the TV again, guilt free.

Catch you later!