Author Introductions #19: Louise Jensen

Happy Monday!

After a weekend spent proofreading and playing endless games of Snakes and Ladders with my son, it’s the start of another week and I have a busy one ahead of me – I’ll be heading up to Northumberland for An Evening with L J Ross at Forum Books in Corbridge, followed by an event at Newcastle City Library as part of the Books on the Tyne Festival which is ongoing at the moment and featuring lots of exciting events and authors! There is also the small matter of picking up the keys for our new house…hurrah!

For now, it’s time for me to make the next Author Introduction and, this week, I’m delighted to be joined by the lovely Louise Jensen. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Louise over the past couple of years through being part of a charity anthology together and as part of a recent panel at the Althorp Literary Festival and I admire how she manages to juggle being such a loving mother to three children as well as a bestselling author – it’s what we all strive for! Let’s find out a bit more about the woman behind the writer…

Louise Jensen

Louise Jensen, bestselling author of psychological fiction

 

Louise is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in Northamptonshire with her husband, children, madcap dog and a rather naughty cat. Louise’s first two novels, The Sister and The Gift, were both International No.1 Bestsellers and have been sold for translation to sixteen countries. The Sister was nominated for The Goodreads Awards Debut of 2016. Louise’s third psychological thriller, The Surrogate, is out now.

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

Hello, my name’s Louise Jensen and my most important job is as a mum to my three boys but secondly I write psychological thrillers. I always wanted to be a writer when I grew up and when that didn’t happen I got a ‘proper’ job instead. Several years ago, an accident left me with a disability and I began writing again to distract myself from my chronic pain and compromised mobility. But writing turned out to be more than just a good distraction. My first two novels, The Sister and The Gift were both International No.1 Bestsellers and have been sold for translation to sixteen countries. The Sister was nominated for the Goodreads Awards Debut of 2016.

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

The Surrogate is newly published. It’s a story of Kat who can’t conceive but is longing for a family, and Lisa, her best friend who offers to be her surrogate. This book was so much fun to write. I thought I had control but the characters are each strong willed and took me on the ride of my life. Everyone has a secret and even writing it, I wasn’t sure who to trust. The ending has come as a real shock to readers but no-one was more shocked than me! As all my stories are, it’s a blend of mystery and unease, but also an emotional story about friendship and how far we’d go for those we love.

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

In real life, EVERYONE who writes. There’s a fabulous network of writers on social media and daily I read posts from those who are struggling to fit writing times around families, jobs and finances. Those who are celebrating career highs. Those who are experiencing the lows. There’s so many people out there following their dreams and I cheer on each and every one of them.

In fiction, Jo March from Little Women. She’s so feisty and confident. I longed to be like her.

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

Marian Keyes – I read her stories and one minute I’m laughing, the next there’s a lump in my throat, then I’m laughing again. She’s a genius.

Harlan Coben – His Myron Bolitar series has me hooked. Pacey, funny and surprisingly touching in places. An easy read when I’ve had a long day.

Finley – My 11-year-old son is hugely talented. Last week he wrote the opening to a story that is so creepy and mysterious my husband read it and thought it was the opening to my new book. He’s super talented, with an amazing vocabulary, and I’ve no doubt I’ll be reading his books one day.

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

My favourite thing to do in the whole world is to sit around the dining table with my family, sharing good food and a nice bottle of wine (the adults!). Now the kids are growing it’s often hard to get them in the same place, at the same time.

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

Personally – I’ve made three humans!

Professionally – My debut, The Sister, selling half a million copies in its first few weeks of release and reaching No. 1 around the world.

  1. What was your favourite book as a child?

 Little Women – Louisa May Alcott – it’s the first book I’d read that wasn’t a mystery and made me cry! It made me want to become a writer.

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

The Maid’s Room is a debut by Fiona Mitchell based on her experience of living in Singapore. The language is rich, imagery beautiful and already I’m eager for her second book.

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

As a former Mindfulness Coach I’d have to say Mindfulness for Dummies written by my mentor Shamash Alidina. Gratitude, compassion and love for each other. Spread the word!

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

Wonder Woman – those boots!

…Thanks for taking part, Louise! It sounds like there may be another budding writer in the family – Finley is one to watch! 😉

Wishing you all a healthy and happy week!

LJ x

 

 

 

Storytellers and tree-climbing

Hello!

Today, I have finally recovered from a hectic week and I thought I would take the opportunity to drop you a line…

Yesterday, I was a panellist at WOMAD festival in Wiltshire, chatting about the great experience I’ve had self-publishing while my husband kindly supervised our son climbing every visible tree in the arboretum.

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Exploring the woodland at WOMAD festival

On Wednesday night, I attended a party at the new Amazon HQ in London (very swanky it was too) and the night before, I was at the Amazon KDP Storyteller Award Ceremony. Although I didn’t enter the competition, one of my writer friends, Dave Leadbeater, was up for the award against some stiff competition. I’m delighted to say that he won! All the finalists were amazing and it was a pleasure to be invited along to the inaugural ceremony. It was also a great opportunity to catch up with Keith Houghton and his lovely wife, whose pictures I have borrowed as I managed to come away from both events without a single image on my iPhone – thanks Keith!

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With Lynn at the new Amazon HQ 🙂

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With Mr Ross, Keith and Lynn Houghton at the Amazon Storyteller Award Ceremony at The Ned

Congratulations and commiserations aside, these events provide the opportunity for a hard-working writer and mother such as myself to let loose for the evening, casting off the shackles of sobriety with cheerful abandon. At this point, I should clarify that the evening was all very smart and lovely at a brand new upscale hotel in London (The Ned), rather than being a debauched night in Vegas or a sweaty club in San Antonio, neither of which I could tolerate these days. Since my husband and partner-in-crime was also invited, we were practically skipping into the venue like a pair of reprobates on day release.

Even without our irrepressible optimism and willingness to throw ourselves into the spirit of the occasion, I can tell you it was a fabulous night and a credit to all those who organised it. On a broader level, I think it is a wonderful idea to create an award which celebrates the power of the reader: by accounting for the book’s commercial appeal, Amazon are thereby giving significant weight to readers’ interaction with the book. As I have said elsewhere, I believe that readers are the single most important judge of what constitutes ‘good’ and ‘bad’ fiction and this is a very positive step in the right direction.

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The winner, David Leadbeater, alongside Lily Cole who is a literary ambassador and Douglas Gurr, UK Country Manager at Amazon. Photo credit: MinsterFM.com

Speaking of my lovely readers, I’ve had quite a few messages querying whether we will be seeing an audiobook of ‘Cragside’ and I am happy to tell you…yes, you will! By way of explanation: every two or three books, a new contract with Audible must be arranged so that they can commit to producing the next books I have in mind for the series, which is standard practice and takes a little time. Likewise, time is needed to secure the services of the same audio narrator, who has lent his voice artistry to the other books in the series. We are working as quickly as we can to bring the audio version to you and I hope you will enjoy it as much as the e-book and print readers have done!

At the moment, I am excited to tell you that my family is planning a permanent move back up to my native Northumberland, which is something we have hoped to do for a long time. My husband’s career (and my former life as a lawyer) precluded the possibility of moving too far away from London but now the day-to-day elements of his work allow us the freedom to move home. This means our son can see his grandparents more regularly and I can go roaming around the hills and coastlines of the land I love, looking for more inspiration. Yippee!

When I’m not house-hunting, I’ll be making a start on the next DCI Ryan book (‘Dark Skies’) this week, before I sit down to write in earnest, as well as working on the finer details of a new series of mystery books and continuing to write a standalone thriller I’ve been trying to finish for eighteen months…no rest for the wicked, eh?

I hope you all have a wonderful week!

LJ x

P.S. I’ve begun a new feature on my blog which I plan to do every Monday until December, which introduces a new author who you may or may not already be familiar with. I love to hear about the work of other talented writers and I hope you do too! 🙂

 

 

A note of thanks…

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

Let me explain…

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

No pressure, then. 

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

Louise Call to Bar

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

Thanks to all of you!

LJ x

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Festivals, libraries and bookish things!

Hello folks!

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

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

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

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

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At Tea and Tipple, the venue in Corbridge


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

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

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On the Geordie Noir panel

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

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Signing books at Crown Street Library

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

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

Hope you all have a great week,

LJ x

Headspace

Hello there!

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

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

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Right before he face-planted in the sand…

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

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

You are not alone!

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

LJ x

 

 

Lessons from a Past Life

Happy New Year!

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Seize the day

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

2. Reject negativity

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

3. Let go of anger

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

4.  Reach for the stars

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

5. Be proud of who you are

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

6. Be more assertive

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

7. Keep laughing

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

8. Social responsibility

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

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

9. Read more

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

10. Rediscover old hobbies

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

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

Catch you next time,

LJ x

For “Harry the Hawk”

It has been a little while since I have had the thinking space to draft a blog post; partly because my new job keeps me very busy most days, as does the job of parenting my son and carrying on the business of living life. But, after all the hustle and bustle of literary festivals and newspaper interviews, life ground to a shuddering halt this week after a very special person passed away.

My father-in-law was a fine, rare man, who from our first meeting was kind and open-hearted. He was a natural raconteur, brimming with charisma and intelligence, which shone like a beacon through a pair of bright blue eyes his son and grandson have inherited. He approached the world with zest and passion, advocating for the weak and vulnerable, lending his skills to good causes along the way. He lived a full and interesting life which took him across the world and garnered friends wherever he went. Although he suffered from Parkinson’s disease for over twenty years (amongst other ailments), he never allowed it to dim his humour and I cannot ever recall him complaining about what must have been a highly frustrating situation for a man possessed of his qualities. His stoicism is a lesson to us all, one I try to remember when life presents its little challenges.

I recall the first time I met him over ten years ago; how impressed I was with his warmth and inclusivity, which is a rarer commodity than one might think. Although I told him whilst he was alive, it occurs to me to thank him again for helping to shape his son in a similar vein. Every happy day we spend together I am reminded of how fortunate I am to have met such an honourable, highly principled man, who lives his life according to honesty and a fundamental optimism about the goodness of human nature. It is such a pity that our son might not remember his paternal grandfather, given the constraints of his young age, but in both words and deeds we will remind him of the very many admirable qualities he had.

The inevitable cycle of life and death cannot fail to bring home a sense of one’s own mortality, a quickening of the heart which gives pause for thought. I have said elsewhere, and probably indirectly through the characters I create in my books, that I am not a religious person. I do not believe in a higher power but, like my father-in-law, I believe in grabbing life by the balls. If this is all we have, then I must use every day to its fullest. I must look at the world afresh and enjoy all it has to offer. Although I refuse to have negative influences in my life, I must retain a tolerance for others and try to forgive, because as somebody once said: be kind to unkind people, they need it the most.

Thank you for the lovely memories, Harry, and for all the good advice. Sleep peacefully.

LJ

xxx

 

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