Author Introductions #9: Mel Sherratt

Good morning!

I hope you had a wonderful weekend! In the Ross household, our time was spent pottering around the park, where my son enjoyed scaling every dangerous-looking slope he could find and challenging the squirrels to a game of “Who Can Climb Higher?” (the squirrel conceded defeat).

It seems the days are flying by at the moment – only last week, I was visiting Ashington Library (North Tyneside Libraries) to have an informal chat about my books. The event was sold out after a couple of days, so my apologies to those of you who have written to me to express disappointment that you couldn’t come; there will be other events coming up soon! Over the next couple of months I will be attending the following:-

– Althorp Literary Festival (5th-8th October), at Althorp House and Grounds.

– Forum Books, Corbridge (Wednesday 29th November).

– Books on the Tyne Festival (1st December), at Newcastle Library.

More details will follow on my Facebook author page, so don’t forget to check in for details over the coming weeks.

For now, I am excited to offer you my next weekly Author Introduction in the form of Mel Sherratt. I’m lucky enough to know Mel personally and can attest to the fact that, aside from being a real superstar when it comes to writing and publishing (having sold over a million books and racking up a string of best sellers), she’s also a lovely person. So, without further ado, let’s find out a little more…

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Mel Sherratt, best-selling author of crime fiction and psychological suspense

Mel has told me that, ever since she could remember, she’s been a meddler of words and now she writes police procedurals, psychological suspense and crime dramas – fiction with a ‘punch’. Mel was shortlisted for the prestigious Crime Writer’s Association Dagger in the Library Award 2014 and her inspiration is drawn from authors such as Martina Cole, Lynda la Plante, Mandasue Heller and Elizabeth Haynes.

She lives in Stoke-on-Trent with her husband and terrier (called Dexter, named after the TV serial killer) and she makes liberal use of her home town as a backdrop for some of her books.

To give us an insight into what makes her tick, I sent Mel some questions which she has kindly agreed to answer. Here goes:

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

I’m a Northerner, still living in my hometown of Stoke-on-Trent. It might not be very glamorous but it is a city with a heart and it’s where I get my gritty realism. My writing takes you to the heart of the crime, whether that is in one of my psychological thrillers, a police procedural or a crime drama.

I had twelve years of rejection before publishing my first novel, Taunting the Dead, on Kindle. Since then, I’ve written and published fourteen – eleven crime novels and three women’s fiction novels using the pen name of Marcie Steele.

Although I was always writing every evening, I used to be a housing officer for the local authority. My favourite program at the time was Shameless, so I wrote a book set on a similar estate with a housing officer as one of the main characters. Now, there are four novels in that series and a spin-off police procedural series with a detective sergeant working in a Community Intelligence Team (a bit like Happy Valley.)

I just love writing about underdogs – people who, with a little help, can get back on their feet; or, downright nasty villains who would never accept assistance. My books cover a range of social issues, as well as the odd murder and serial killer. I also like to add lots of emotion and to dive into the psyche, so some of my books could be classed as ‘whydunnits.’

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

My latest, She Did It, will be published tomorrow (September 19th). It revolves around two women – one is a murderer and the other one knows. I’ve read a lot of books lately with unreliable narrators so I wanted to write a character that was nice to everyone with one persona but out for revenge with another side to her that she tries to keep hidden away. The reader knows exactly what she is up to – but not the reason why.

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

In real life, it would have to be my fella. Living with a writer isn’t fun at times. I can be elated one minute when I have good news and low the next when I have a terrible review or something isn’t working right. I work long hours and it’s hard for him when I’m busy and he is on his own. But he is a massive support to me. He often twists my plots just that little bit further too. I don’t know what I’d do without him.

My hero in fiction would have to be Bridget Jones. Bridget’s heart is in the right place, she’s a trier – sometimes trying too hard – but she has friends and a great support network to give her the longed for happy ever after.

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

Martina Cole – I love her dark, gritty voice and she is someone I looked up to for years when I was trying to get published. I’ve since met her and she is an amazing support for aspiring writers and authors. She is such an inspiration.

C L Taylor – I’ve known Cally for over ten years, we share the same agent now and she has changed genre from women’s fiction to psychological suspense. I love her darker stuff.  Her book, The Lie, will stay with me forever. She literally transported me into the world of the cult she had created.

Luca Veste – He has a series set in his native Liverpool, with two lead characters DI Murphy and DS Rossi that I absolutely adore. His writing is deliciously dark too. However, he has a standalone novel coming out next year. I have an early review copy on my kindle which I will be reading soon. It’s called The Bone Keeper.

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

I just love to chill and go for long walks. Sometimes on social media, there is a sense of being on call 24/7, only because I don’t like to keep anyone waiting if they contact me. So, I take myself off for some peace and quiet. It calms my mind. It’s also great for solving plot problems. I binge watch box sets when I have time too.

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

It was pressing the publish button on Kindle way back at the end of 2012. I am astounded to say that I have sold over one million books since. It’s a dream come true.

  1. What was your favourite book as a child?

The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton. Can you imagine climbing a tree and entering another world?

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

I honestly haven’t had time to read for enjoyment over the past few months as I have been working on two books back to back. I find I can’t read when I am writing or editing. Having both of them finished for now, I can get back to my huge ‘to-be-read’ pile.

One book I did manage to read while I was on holiday was Lies, by TM Hogan. It was a very cleverly written book, quite fresh and from a male point of view. Nothing wrong with that – I just tend to find I read a lot of books with female leads. But I loved it for the story, its realness, its likeable characters and, for me, a twist that I didn’t see coming. Everything I like in a book.

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

As she shares my love of shoes, I would have to say The Second Chance Shoe Shop by my alter ego, Marcie Steele.

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

It would have to be Bridget Jones. I saw so much of myself in her and I think that’s her charm. So many readers empathised with her, and it came across so well on screen. And big pants. What’s not to love!

…Thanks Mel! For all the aspiring writers who may be reading this, it is inspiring to know that a little determination can go a long way if you really want to achieve your dreams. Another thing I have always admired about Mel’s approach is her warmth towards other authors; she goes out of her way to welcome new writers and to offer help and advice wherever she can. In a creative industry like ours, it’s a rare gift!

For now, I’m heading back to work on my next offering – ‘Dark Skies’ – which I hope to have ready for you in time for Christmas.

Wishing you all a lovely week ahead!

LJ x

Author Introductions #8: Simon Maltman

Good Morning!

After the kids went back to school last week (eliciting a collective cheer from parents and children, alongside a collective wail from teachers throughout the land) I can almost feel people gearing up for the run-up to Christmas.

Yes, I used the ‘C’ word, even though it’s only September.

On which point, I should mention that I’m like Will Ferrell on acid when it comes to Christmas. Clearly, this does not derive from any religious feeling (sorry, my Christian friends) but from a sense of general goodwill and cheerfulness towards my fellow man. Despite my best efforts to extend this magnanimous tolerance for longer than a two-week festive period, I tend to run out of steam by mid-January and therefore I must enjoy the good humour while it lasts!

Still, there’s plenty to be cheerful about, even without the promise of a reindeer-toting beardy bloke and shiny lights. For instance, the leaves are starting to turn a beautiful golden brown on the trees, we’re in the middle of buying a new home in Northumberland (with all the stresses and excitement that brings) and I’m writing the next DCI Ryan novel (‘Dark Skies’) and enjoying the process immensely. I won’t go so far as to say it gets easier each time you write a book, but I will say that there’s a comfort in knowing that you have managed to write six books previously and there is tangible proof that you can do it.

Speaking of all things reading and writing, last Friday was ‘International Literacy Day’ and I ran a competition on my Facebook author page (if you don’t follow me there, it’s worth checking out as I often run giveaways and share news about forthcoming releases). Although there are so many dates on the calendar, I do believe ILD is worth celebrating because it affects us all. A strong society needs a strong, capable workforce. But, with over 750 million – yes, million – adults worldwide still lacking basic literacy skills, including those in our own first world country, how can we hope to create a stable environment for our children? Even if the socio-economic argument does not move you, consider it in simple human terms: imagine if you struggled to read a menu or an instruction manual; if you couldn’t teach your children to read because you couldn’t read the books yourself or the letters sent home from school telling you how to help your child, let alone help yourself. It would be isolating, at the very least. As with any challenge, we need to talk about the problem more openly and make educational schemes not only available but accessible.

For now, let’s celebrate some of the writing that is being produced out there with our next Author Introduction! Each week, I am spotlighting authors across various genres, each having experienced different routes to publication. This week, I am delighted to welcome Simon Maltman to the blog.

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Simon Maltman, crime fiction author and musician

Simon is a best-selling crime fiction author and musician from Northern Ireland. A Chaser on the Rocks was his debut novel and was released to critical acclaim. Before that, his crime fiction short stories were featured in magazines and anthologies, as well as some of his poetry. More Faces was released recently and features twelve of his shorts alongside a novella, Bongo Fury, both of which were Amazon bestsellers. One of his short stories was featured in the best-selling charity crime anthology, Dark Minds. He is an established musician with his band ‘The Hung Jury’ and lives in Northern Ireland with his wife and two daughters.

Simon has kindly agreed to answer a few short questions to give us all a flavour of the man behind the writing – here goes…

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

Hi everyone- thanks for having me! I’m a crime fiction writer from Northern Ireland. So far, I’ve had published: one novel, a short story collection and a novella. I worked as a manager in social care for thirteen years but at the moment I’m concentrating on the writing, while being a stay-at-home dad to my two lovely girls. I also do a bit of music on the side.

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

My novella was the last one to be published. It’s called Bongo Fury and I decided to self-publish that one. The sequel is also going to be out in a month or two. It’s a little bit grittier than my other stuff but hopefully people will find it funny as well. It’s about a paramilitary-linked, music shop owning, drug-dealing dad, who also does a bit of private detection! I haven’t got a better, more concise blurb than that!

[Blogger’s Note: the description is awesome!]

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

That’s hard. There are so many inspirations in life and in fiction. In fiction, Philip Marlowe would certainly be a contender. Real life- flip! I have so many music heroes and people like that, but then there are people who have really made a difference socially. Pass! Well… my greatest musical hero was Prince and, luckily, I saw him twice as he’s the best performer/singer/guitarist/writer!

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

I’d probably say: 1. Raymond Chandler- because his language is just so wonderful and clever and his imagery is incredible. 2. Richard Stark- because he manages to create very engaging, fast-paced thrillers in a really sparing way. 3. Iain Banks- because his books are so enthralling and the characters are varied and interesting.

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

Spending quality time with my family, for sure. I also sometimes enjoy getting away from them at times and going out for dinner or to the cinema with my missus- simple tastes! I also love going out to my ‘man cave’ with friends, listening to records and playing some pool.

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

It would have to be my kids- I’m very lucky. Professionally, I’m proud of the things I contributed to people’s lives in social care services. Of course, having my first novel picked up by a publisher and getting launched and all that experience was absolutely brilliant too.

  1. What was your favourite book as a child?

I used to love the ‘Mystery Squad’ books, where you picked where you wanted to go and how you solved the case. Then it told you at the end how good a detective you were, or not. I thought they were class!

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

I’ve recently started reading Jo Nesbo and he’s becoming one of my favourites. I’m reading The Snowman at the moment. I also just read Here and Gone by my fellow countryman Stuart Neville and it’s a fantastic thriller.

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

Haha, if it was Theresa May, I’d maybe give her one of my old philosophy books to give her a nudge! Something by Foucault or maybe Kant. If Jeremy Corbyn got in to office, I’d make him a coffee and try and get him to read one of mine!

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

That’s another hard one. I’ll go for Jo Cotton’s character Holly Martins, in The Third Man. It’s my favourite movie and he’s a hack paperback writer who ends up being the hero.

…Thanks, Simon! Great answers there and some great inspiration for any budding authors reading this article: there are many ways to publish and you can continue to pursue other hobbies and spend time with family without sacrificing your dream to write!

Wishing you all a lovely week ahead,

LJ x

Author Introductions #7: Andrew Barrett

Good morning!

It’s back to school for the kids this week and, in my case, that brings a small emotional tug followed swiftly by a gleeful rub of hands as I think of the sheer possibilities that having six hours of freedom will bring. Off the top of my head:

  • Being able to use the bathroom in peace (without my son shouting, “Mummy! MUMMY, WHERE ARE YOU?” as soon as my arse hits the toilet seat).
  • Being able to drink a cup of coffee while it is still hot.
  • Being able to make some real headway with the next DCI Ryan book, amongst other manuscripts, without the soundtrack of Umizoomi running through my head.
  • Not being terrified at the prospect of a rainy day, simply because it would have meant a ‘No Park Day’ during the interminably long summer holidays…

Obviously, you all know I’m just kidding around. It’s been lovely spending some quality time with my family, particularly because one of the negative side-effects of being a writer is the isolationism it can bring, if you let it. It’s easy to lose track of the time or be distracted by thoughts of new plot lines, but my little boy will only be little for a short space of time and I don’t want to miss any of it. Thus, the laptop had a much more restricted usage over the summer while we built sandcastles instead. Now, though, it’s time for him to head back to school and learn new things while he plays with his friends and I can focus some attention on the next exciting story that has been percolating.

In the meantime, just slightly later than scheduled, it’s time for our next Author Introduction! For those who are new to my blog, every week until Christmas I’ll be introducing a different author for your delectation and delight. I know from personal experience that I am guilty of sticking to the same tried and tested authors but I have often been surprised to discover new talent right under my nose, so I thought it would be nice to present an array of storytellers who write across several genres and have published their work in various ways, to broaden our collective horizons!

This week, I have the pleasure of welcoming Andrew Barrett to the blog, a successful author of authentic crime thrillers with a forensic flavour thanks to his alter-ego as a Senior CSI in Yorkshire.

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Andrew has enjoyed variety in his professional life, from engine-builder to farmer, from Oilfield Service Technician in Kuwait, to his current role of Senior CSI. He’s been a CSI since 1996, and has worked on all scene types from terrorism to murder, suicide to rape, drugs manufacture to bomb scenes. One way or another, Andrew’s life revolves around crime.

In 1997 he finished his first crime thriller, A Long Time Dead, and it’s still a reader favourite some 200,000 copies later, having topped the Amazon charts several times. Two more books featuring Scenes of Crime Officer (SOCO) Roger Conniston completed the trilogy.

He’s best known for his lead character, CSI Eddie Collins, and the acerbic way in which he roots out criminals and administers justice. Eddie’s series is four books and two short stories and there’s still more to come.

Andrew is a proud Yorkshireman and sets all his novels there, using his home city of Leeds as another major and complementary character in each of the stories.

I asked Andy to answer a few short questions and he kindly agreed. Here goes…

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

My name is Andy Barrett (Andrew is reserved for the book covers, for Sundays, and for when I’m being told off – which is often), and I live and work in Leeds.

My previous employment includes working as an oilfield services technician in Kuwait, and building engines for Caterpillar. Right now, I’m in my 21st year as a Senior CSI. I still love it, but I also hate it; I work seven days and get three off, and I swear it eats away at my life quicker than a quick thing on quick pills.

But I’m lucky too. I have a great resource at my fingertips. I’m a CSI and a crime thriller writer – really, how much luckier could I be?

Well, it gets better. I have two wonderful teenagers from a previous marriage and I have Ellie, my delightful almost-three-year-old girl. She’ll be three and a half when her mum, Sarah, and I tie the knot next May.

So, my life is pretty full, it’s fast-paced, full-on, and I work on my dream as often as I can, sometimes until I drop.

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

My most recent release was The Notea gritty, fast-paced CSI Eddie Collins short story which really gives you a flavour of the series.

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In July, I signed a contract with publisher, Bloodhound Books. And for them I wrote a stand-alone story provisionally entitled, Dancing at the Devil’s Door. It was a step away from writing CSI Eddie Collins – in fact, it was a huge leap when you consider I’ve been writing Eddie books since 2012.

Dancing at the Devil’s Door is my first attempt at a psychological thriller. I wrote it in first person, from Becky Rose’s perspective. Although I’ve written short stories in first person before, I’ve never attempted a novel; nor have I written from a female position.

I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed writing it. I have no idea when it’ll be published, but as soon as I know, I’ll pass it on.

What can readers look forward to? Well, the story begins when Becky returns home from work to find her husband dead. He’s been stabbed in the chest. She has no time to mourn, though, because a gang of men are ripping her house apart, looking for something. The ‘adventure’ begins when they turn their attention to her.

Dancing at the Devil’s Door contains a few harrowing scenes, some of them quite violent, so perhaps it’s not a read for those who enjoy cozy mysteries and the like.

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

Whenever I’m asked this question, my first thought is always the same: my dad. He died eleven years ago but, even now, he’s my hero. I think of him often and miss him dearly.

However, if you’re looking for a hero who’s still with us, then I’d have to pick Professor Stephen Hawking. I’ve always been interested in physics, but that interest intensified after I read his A Brief History of Time. Not only is the man a genius, but his physicians said in the 60s that he had two years left to live. That man overcame tremendous odds and never gave in; he carried on with his own dream while fighting such a debilitating illness. I am in awe of him.

Fictional hero? That’s a tough one – I have many. They range from Aragorn to Jason Bourne; from King Arthur to John Snow; from Derfel (see Bernard Cornwell’s The Winter King trilogy) to Stu Redman (see Stephen King’s The Stand).

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

Ouch! That’s such a nasty question, Louise!

[Blogger’s Note: *evil cackle*]

But here goes: Stephen King (his earlier stuff), Michael Kerr, and James Carol. Why? That’s the easy part: they all write like I think. I mean, they write fluidly, never pulling me away from the story with convoluted words, always taking care of me as my knowledge of the story and the characters grow and then punching me in the gut near the end.

But the main reason I love all three of these authors is character. Character is the absolute king of the castle and they’re all very good at painting their characters in full 3D Technicolor, never allowing them to be something they’re not, always keeping them true. Yes, character wins every time.

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

I used to own a 1984 2.8i Ford Capri until about six years ago. It was mint. I built engine after engine for that thing, always aiming for more power, more shiny bits, more thunder. But these days, mid-life crisis over and done with, I content myself with the odd movie at the flicks, or the odd sip (or several) of a good whisky. Having said that, I get an awful lot of pleasure from the frequent family days out at Whitby, or Skipton, or York, or just messing about in the park. I love making memories.

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

As Eddie always says, “I’m just an average arsehole.” That’s me, never rescued anyone from a burning building, never sailed around the world. I think my only achievement is writing half a dozen books. I’m not saying they’re any good; but I am saying that finishing a novel is one helluva challenge and I’ve risen to it every time.

I don’t have any part-written books tucked away in a cardboard box – I’ve always finished them. Whatever I set my mind to, I always give it everything; so, in that respect, I’d have to say that my greatest achievement is always trying my best (a bit dull, isn’t it?).

  1. It’s not dull, at all! What was your favourite book as a child?

I am still a child, Louise!

But, I see what you mean. I guess my favourite book was The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. When you look at it, it’s easy to see how that book was the inspiration for the rest of my life. I fell into that book and have tried to find an alternative world ever since…

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

Can I twist that question slightly, and tell you about my all-time favourite book that captured my imagination? Oh good! Well, it was The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub. I was so absorbed by that story, and again, by its lead character, Jack Sawyer. I have rarely felt myself disappear into the pages of a book to wander its pages like I did that book, and the following title, The Black House. If I could hit that level of reader immersion in my own novels, I’d be beyond delighted.

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

Leading a Country for Dummies.

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

Aw, Louise Ross!

If I could know in advance that I would survive, then I’d quite fancy being Watney from The Martian, simply for the beauty out there and the chance to explore my greatest achievement of never giving up. Oh wait, I would also like to be De Niro in Heat. He is so damned cool – though I’d like to change the ending, if you don’t mind.

Having said all that, I’d like to be Jason Bourne. He’s self-sufficient, he’s one hell of a fighter, and he’s not at all scared of heights!

…some great answers, thanks Andy! It’s great to find a writer with a genuine background in forensics, which must provide such a wealth of inspiration for new storylines and a real sense of authenticity to those tricky police scenes!

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

LJ x

Author Introductions #6: M J Lee

Hello! 

Monday has rolled around and this week I am writing to you from an overcast but cheerful Edinburgh. Although work doesn’t often bring me to this fair city, I’m very pleased to be spending a few days here in support of my sister as her theatre group complete a month spent at the Edinburgh Festival. Their company have been winning awards for their production of Peer Gynt (complete with enormous puppets and whatnot) so it’s great to come up and cheer them on. Aside from that, Edinburgh holds a special place in my heart as it happens to be the location of my very first ‘date’ with Mr Ross fourteen years ago and we are celebrating our wedding anniversary today!

Now, enough of all that mushy stuff…

Every Monday for the next few weeks I’ll be introducing a new author, from varying genres and roads to publication, and this week I’m delighted to welcome Martin Lee to the blog, who writes historical crime fiction and historical novels under the pen name M J Lee.

M J Lee, bestselling author of historical crime fiction

After spending twenty-five years working in advertising as an award-winning copywriter and creative director (everything from Cannes to the United Nations!) Martin now writes fantastic works of fiction. When he’s not writing, he splits his time between the UK and Asia.

To find out a little more about the man behind all those richly textured novels, I sent Martin a few short questions which he has kindly answered…

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

Hi there, thanks for having me, Louise. My name is Martin Lee, but I write under M J Lee. I spent most of my life working in advertising as a Creative Director. No day was ever the same and I grew to love the buzz of being paid to sit and stare out of the window. For me coming up with ideas is never a problem, but finding the time to implement them is. Nowadays, my time is planned up to two years in advance as I know the books I have to write and the research I have to do. I do miss the speed and unpredictability of advertising but I don’t miss the clients. In my past life I was also an encyclopaedia salesman, a refugee worker, and English teacher and I dubbed pornographic movies. But don’t ask about the last one.

2. Ooh, er, missus! How about your latest book – what can readers look forward to when they pick it up?

The latest book is called The American Candidate. Funnily enough, I finished it six months ago but it has now become immensely topical. Jayne Sinclair, my genealogical investigator, is asked to investigate the family background of a potential candidate for President of the United States. Almost immediately she begins to unearth some unsettling facts about his family’s past. And when the man who briefed her is murdered in cold blood, she finds herself in a race against time to discover the truth…


3. Sounds intriguing! Who is your hero in real life and in fiction? 

In real life, it has to be Nelson Mandela. How a man could be so magnanimous to the people who kept him prisoner for over twenty years was amazing. I don’t know if I would be so forgiving. In fiction, it would have to be Stephen Maturin from the novels by Patrick O’Brien. An amazing combination of knowledge, science and an understanding of humanity in an all-too-human character.
4. Who are your three favourite writers – and why?

John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, William Boyd for their understanding of the human condition and the writing skills to portray it in an interesting and dramatic way. Although, I think Boyd has gone off the boil in his last couple of novels.

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

Walking. I’m a professional flaneur. It allows my feet to wander and my mind to roam free.

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

That’s easy. My daughter. She’s now nearly five. I was a very late dad, I never felt old enough to have children before I became a father. It’s wonderful to see the world through her eyes.

7. What was your favourite book as a child?

I don’t know the title but it was a book of the history of English kings and queens. I remember vividly reading it in bed when I was about six years old. I think it gave me a love of history that I have retained to this day.

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

I’ve just discover the Martin Beck novels of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. They were both writing in the late sixties and early seventies and were the founders (I think) of Scandi Noir. Despite being nearly fifty years old, the books have a modernity that is breathtaking, as if they were written yesterday.

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

If Theresa May came knocking at my door I would give her The Joy of Sex. It might finally bring some joy into a joyless person.

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

Yoda. I think I look like him anyway. I certainly write like he speaks (or so my editor tells me…)

…Thanks Martin! Great answers (especially #9) and I am looking forward to getting stuck into some of your books. Every novel requires a degree of research but I’ve always admired writers of historical fiction for all the meticulous preparation you do, even before putting pen to paper. I’ve been hearing great things about The American Candidate, so that will be first on my list!

For now, it’s back to the grindstone for me (DCI Ryan is being difficult, as usual) and I’ll catch you all later!

LJ x

 

Author Introductions #4: Joseph Alexander

Happy Monday!

Once again, the start of another working week beckons, with reams of research to be done on the local history surrounding Kielder Forest in Northumberland, which will form the setting for my next book: Dark Skies. Mind you, to offset the computer glare I’m going to be celebrating my sister’s birthday in Florence, so life ain’t all bad!

Another reason to be cheerful comes in the form of our next weekly Author Introduction. As you know, every Monday I am featuring a different author (all kinds of genres and backgrounds) and, after a string of fiction writers, I thought it would be interesting to mix it up and hear from a mega-successful non-fiction writer and entrepreneur.

Without further ado, let me introduce you to Joseph Alexander, who has been a guitarist and expert music tutor for over twenty years. He is a prolific author of over thirty guitar guides which have been published in four languages and have sold more than 200,000 copies to critical acclaim.

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Joseph Alexander, who is both an author and publisher

 

As well as being an author, Joseph is also a publisher of up-and-coming music writers through his label, Fundamental Changes. I had the pleasure of sharing a panel with Joseph at this year’s London Books Fair alongside fellow authors Mark Dawson, Rachel Abbott and Keith Houghton and it was really interesting to hear about his experiences publishing non-fiction.

Now, to give us a bit more insight into what motivates Joseph to write, I set him a list of ten short questions which he kindly agreed to answer…

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

Hi! I’m Joseph and I play the guitar… well I used to. I don’t seem to have much time to devote to it these days. I was always more gifted as a teacher than a performer, which is lucky because I love teaching and passing on music to a new generation of players.

I get bored easily, especially as musicians tend to work evenings! In past incarnations, I’ve built (with my own bare hands-ish) a successful bar which I then sold immediately to fund my wanderlust. That led me to becoming a SCUBA instructor in Thailand and then I worked on Cruise ships sailing from New York to The Caribbean.

When I got home, I started teaching guitar again and started writing down the stuff that I was showing my students, pretty much to save me writing things out for every new pupil. That became my first book and, well… I went down the rabbit hole.

When I had written 30 books on playing the guitar, sold a few hundred thousand copies, I realised there was some music that I wasn’t very good at playing. I put an ad out for people who could play guitar and write about it, and the wonderful Simon Pratt applied. We put his first book together and suddenly I was a publishing company.

Musicians tend to get a hard deal in terms of royalties and so do authors. I don’t want to be a part of that so I offered Simon a 50/50 share of all profits on his book. He’d supply the content and audio, I’d do the editing, graphics, production, publishing, promotion… everything else.

Now Simon has written 7 titles and is selling a lot of books. We split everything 50/50 and I have used this model to work with some incredible musicians, including jaw dropping Levi Clay and one of the most famous jazz guitarists on the planet, Martin Taylor. That book will be coming out this year. It’s surreal to sit at one of your childhood hero’s dinner tables and put a book together!

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

I’ve just put together a new book on Jazz Chords for beginners. It’s a minefield and there is a lot of terrible information out there. I wanted to create an easy way for guitarists to gain access to all those lovely musical colours.

I’m also working on a “100 Blues licks in the style of…” book. – I’ve taken the 20 most influential blues guitarists and written in-the-style-of licks and phrases for each of them. I’ll show the reader how to combine them into solos and actually use them as a launch pad for their own creativity.

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

Frank Zappa. He died before I really got into his music (I think I was about 13 at the time). He was just so articulate and satirical and fought Tipper Gore against those Caution, Explicit Lyrics stickers they used to censor music.

In fiction… Granny Weatherwax, maybe Nigel Tufnell!

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

Well, I won’t name anyone we both know because we always bump into each other at those Amazon thingies and it just gets awkward…

Iain (M) Banks. What a mind. Both as a novelist and a science fiction writer… I’ve never read anything that good. Period. I don’t think I could put into words how much his works mean to me. They were always there to escape to during darker times.

Terry Pratchett. Again, such a creative force. I read every Discworld book I could growing up and just fell in love with his whimsical genius.

Haruki Murakami. Even after translation his writing is chillingly perfect. “There’s no such thing as perfect writing, just like there’s no such thing as perfect despair.”

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

I’m always writing, or publishing. It sure feels like it. But I’m getting a lot of joy from having the freedom to travel and work overseas now. Me and my girlfriend decided to stick the dogs in the car and drive down to The South of France for a month. I’m writing this interview by the pool (with a beer) after having spent the day in St Tropez. (I’m just saying this to bug L.J., as she keeps informing me of how jealous she is!).

[Blogger’s Note: I can confirm I was very jealous to see pictures of the pair of them sunning themselves on the Cote d’Azur while we were stuck in rainy Somerset listening to back-to-back episodes of Blaze and the Monster Machines, which is my son’s new favourite thing].

I love freediving… It’s like Scuba without the air tanks. When I was training regularly I could do a 4:15 breath-hold and dive to nearly 30m on a single breath. I’m at my happiest when I’m in (or more accurately under) water.

I’m learning to box too. This means spending an hour in the gym every day getting punched in the face by a 6’6” ex British Army infantry trainer. It’s a lot more fun than it sounds.

Dogs! Yes… my dogs. Walking my dogs in Cheshire countryside. That too!

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

I don’t really know how to answer this. People who know what I do/have done with publishing tell me it’s amazing, but to me it’s just a job that I enjoy. Apparently, I have totally disrupted the music tuition book industry, but I promise, it was by accident!

I think the fact that I’ve been able to pass on music to 250,000+ people. That means a lot.

I’m very proud that I offer a great deal to musicians and writers. Publishing and music are generally pretty shitty industries for artists. If I’m helping to change that then that’d be a lovely legacy.

  1. What was your favourite book as a child?

I think it was either The BFG or The Witches. Roald Dahl featured heavily, but after my mum read me The Witches, I always made sure she had closed to window before I fell asleep.

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

I’m actually reading something about a murder that happened somewhere called Holy Island right now, that’s pretty good so far! 😉 but I think The Quarry, by Iain Banks was quite chilling. It was his last book and seemed extremely cathartic in a way that I don’t think we’ll ever find out why.

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

Something that could actually get it through their thick head that there is massive disparity in society. Due to the fact that MPs (and PMs) never see that part of society, they can never truly understand it or give empathy and understanding to the people that they believe they’re helping (with tax cuts for the rich, massive underfunding in schools, and destroying the NHS from the inside out).

Either that or the year 2000 autobiography “Britney Spears’ Heart To Heart”: A weighty and thought-provoking tome charting the dramatic rise to fame and influence of the plucky eponymous heroine… although I wouldn’t trust the PM to give it back. She’d probably sell it to a private healthcare company. You know, because it isn’t hers to sell?

[Blogger’s Note: *drops mic*]

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

Iron Man. Obviously.

…Thanks, Joseph! Great answers and I am beginning to wonder whether I could set my next series of mystery novels in a more far-flung, exotic setting which would obviously require extensive family research trips… one can dream! 🙂

I hope you all have a wonderful week!

LJ x

Author Introductions #3: Mark L. Fowler

Morning!

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

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

Mark L. Fowler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RED is the Colour FINAL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. What was your favourite book as a child?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a great week!

LJ x

 

 

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.

WOMAD

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!

Amazon HQ Party

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! 🙂

 

 

Author introductions #1: David Leadbeater

Morning chaps!

In addition to my bits and bobs about DCI Ryan, reading, writing and the world in general, I thought it might be nice to introduce you to some new authors over the next few weeks. Their work spans many different genres and they are all top people, so there should be something for everyone! There is such a breadth of choice available to readers and, thanks to the various routes now available to publication, there are many ways in which a writer can release their creative stories into the world for the rest of us to enjoy.

Therefore, without further ado, let me introduce you to David Leadbeater. He really needs very little introduction, being the author of twenty-three Kindle international bestsellers – the Matt Drake and Alicia Myles series, the Disavowed series, Chosen and now The Relic Hunters, which has been shortlisted for the prestigious Amazon Storyteller Award 2017 (winners will be announced tomorrow!) He’s sold over three quarters of a million e-books, which is a fantastic achievement.

Dave Leadbeater

David Leadbeater, who writes action-packed archaeological mystery and adventure novels 

To give us a bit of a flavour of the man and his work, I asked David to answer a few questions, which he kindly agreed to do…

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

I live in the lovely city of York, am married to Erica and have two beautiful, young daughters, Keira and Megan. Just over a year ago we bought our dream house and have been busy reworking it to our tastes. Almost there now!

2. Sounds brilliant! How about your latest book – what can readers look forward to when they pick it up?

My latest book, The Relic Hunters, is an exhilarating thriller, featuring archaeological mysteries and a quest across the globe.

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

In real life, my hero is my wife who remains strong when life gets tough and always sees the bright side. She is the diplomatic one in our family, thankfully, because that’s not my strong point! In fiction, my hero is the immortal Bilbo Baggins, for everything he sacrificed on the way to and into Mordor.

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

Whilst my three favourite writers list keeps changing, the ones that come instantly to mind are Tolkien for writing that one masterpiece that will always remain with you; Robert Crais for the Elvis Cole novels that made me laugh out loud and become so deeply invested in the two main characters; and Stephen Donaldson for the Thomas Covenant trilogy, such fine writing and drama that completely sweeps you away.

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

If not family time, I love movies, particularly the Hollywood blockbuster type that are well-written and offer a few hours of pure escapism. I’m also a bit of a petrolhead and enjoy driving a nice road with nice views alongside like-minded friends.

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

No doubt, my children are my greatest achievement. I think it every day without fail.

7. What was your favourite book as a child?

The Famous Five by Enid Blyton introduced me to a family-style novel full of humour, mystery and adventure which, coincidentally or not, are the four main traits that run through all my novels.

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

I find it so hard to switch off and read nowadays, since I quit work and settled down to write for a living. It really can be a twenty-four hour a day job if you allow it to be and comes with all the worries of a self-employed business. The last book I fully enjoyed reading and made extra time for was The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, not my normal kind of read at all, but quite compelling.

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

My first thought would be something ending in ‘. . .for Dummies’, but hey, let’s not get too political here. On the light side, I would recommend something by Nick Spalding to help take the edge off, but of course maybe a rip-roaring, easy-reading, archaeological thriller would do just as well!

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

Haha, more recently it really would have to be Thor. Or Phwoar, as my wife calls him. The actor has given the character such a presence and a quick sense of humour. A little older and I’d go with Danny Ocean, from Ocean’s Eleven for the cool and clever wit.

…Some great answers there, thanks Dave!

As you all know, I love a bit of Indiana Jones (so much so, that my main protagonist has the movie theme tune as his mobile ring tone), so pacy archaeological thrillers could be just the ticket!

Hope you all have a wonderful week!

LJ x

 

A note of thanks…

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

Let me explain…

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

No pressure, then. 

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

Louise Call to Bar

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

Thanks to all of you!

LJ x

 

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