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 #5: Jan Brigden

Good morning, folks!

I hope you all had a wonderful weekend! I spent part of mine visiting some old haunts in London, where I lived for over a decade in my younger days. This time, I was there to raise a toast to a very good friend of mine who is moving back to his home town of Manchester after living and working in the capital for a long time. Coincidentally, we are also planning a move back to my home county of Northumberland and so it feels a little bit like the start of a new chapter, with many of my friends reaching a stage in life where they have grown tired of City living and want to move somewhere a little less frenetic, while others are expecting babies or getting married. It’s all happening!

For now, Monday has rolled around once again and that can mean only one thing – our next Author Introduction! This week, I’m delighted to introduce you to Jan Brigden, who signed with Choc Lit after winning their ‘Search for a Star’ competition in 2014-15 with her debut, As Weekends Go, an uplifting contemporary fiction novel. She had been writing for pleasure from a very young age; short stories for classmates at school, odes for workmates and fun quizzes for family and friends before progressing to write her novel, the idea for which came from a script she composed as part of a creative writing course assignment set by The Writers Bureau. Following a lot of secret plotting, research and feigning passion for customer accounts she was supposed to be reconciling during the day job, the chance finally came for her to put pen to paper.

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Jan Brigden, who writes contemporary fiction

 

I had the pleasure of meeting Jan briefly at a blogger / author meet-up last year in London and, after a spate of crime and thriller authors, it’s great to hear from somebody who writes a completely different genre. To find out a little more about this impressive lady, I asked Jan a few short questions which she has kindly answered…

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

I live in South East London with my husband Dave and a motley crew of cuddly toys. I’m a home bird really and come from a close family. I enjoy long walks and Pilates (now I’ve mastered the breathing routine!). I’m quite a spiritual person and have a keen interest in Mindfulness and Meditation.  I love reading – anything from JK Rowling to John Grisham. I also love days out/weekends away with my husband, holidays when we’re lucky. In my twenties I worked a season in southern Spain, an area I’m very familiar with and adore, and witnessed enough eye-popping shenanigans to fill another book. I blog about bookish things, news roundups, lifestyle/fun stuff and I’m also one eighth of group blog The Romaniacs . We all met via the Romantic Novelist Association’s New Writers’ scheme and two years ago proudly received the RNA Industry Media Award and even got a mention in The Bookseller.

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

As Weekends Go, my debut novel, follows two couples and their eventful weekend clash of agendas, involving a girls’ only trip to York, a Brighton sales conference and a Spanish stag do. The story mainly follows undervalued wife Rebecca (in York with her best friend Abi) whose embarrassing yet poignant encounter with gorgeous, non-stereotypical footballer, Alex Heath, highlights the respect that’s leached out of her marriage, leaving her facing some harsh home truths. The inspiration for Alex Heath came from having met a few players over the years, a couple of them so far removed from the flash bad boy stereotype we often read about in the press, (often justified, I hasten to add!) that it made me wonder how they cope with being pre-judged. This sparked the challenge to create a footballer who could hopefully buck the preconceived assumptions about him and endear himself to the reader. I enjoy reading multi viewpoint stories so it seemed natural to write one. I loved the idea of dipping in and out of each destination and set of shenanigans as the weekend progressed and then dealing with the fallout. It’s a book about respect, self-worth, denial and the power and unpredictability of our emotions. Dramatic, uplifting escapism with a few laughs along the way.

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

In real life, my husband Dave for his unwavering love, support, encouragement and laughs galore. When I was writing As Weekends Go he embraced a myriad of roles; sounding-board, tantrum-dodger and Chief Cuddler, all without complaint. A top hero in every way. In fiction, George Bailey in It’s A wonderful Life. An honest, generous, caring sweetheart of a man.

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

Hard to choose only three but if pressed I’d say Lisa Jewell – her modern day observations are fantastic.  Maggie O’Farrell for her ability to portray such raw emotion through her characters. Maeve Binchy for the warmth and spirit of her larger than life characters.

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

Primarily with my husband and my family or good friends. Reading, walking, Pilates for my dodgy shoulder.

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

Other than my strong, loving marriage, it would be writing As Weekends Go and seeing it published.

  1. What was your favourite book as a child?

Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree – I read it every night and thought of Silky & Moonface as firm friends.

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

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle which explores how in dwelling on the past or worrying too much about the future, we miss out on the benefits of appreciating the here and now. It really made me think.

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

Probably one of my Bill Bryson Travelogues.  Guaranteed belly-laughs as some of those politicians look as if they could do with cheering up. More seriously though, it would also give a healthy reminder through Bryson’s genius observations of ‘real life’ and all its trials and tribulations from the trivial to the frustrating to the hilarious, the hurdles people face in life that some of our politicians appear to have no appreciation of.

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

Oh, that’s easy – Sandy from Grease. My favourite film. To dance with John Travolta, plus the great setting and era and the songs, a feel good fest throughout. I love the way Sandy transforms and grows in confidence. Not sure I’d suit a pair of leathers like she does, but hey ho! Love it!

…Thanks Jan! Who doesn’t love a bit of Grease? I was always more of a fan of John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever but, either way, his hips don’t lie!

And on that uplifting thought, I’ll wish you all a happy and healthy 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! 🙂

 

 

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.

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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

 

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