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 #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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating women without castigating men

Today is International Women’s Day, a time when we remember the struggle for equal rights and the ongoing battle to change indoctrinated societal norms towards the so-called ‘weaker’ sex. But, let me start by saying I don’t believe this is an issue of ‘them’ and ‘us’, or even of ‘men’ and ‘women’. It is a recognition that every single person, irrespective of gender identity, is of equal worth. It just so happens that March 8th is a designated moment to celebrate the women who have done their bit towards breaching the gap.

I’ve known a lot of very strong women during my lifetime and it seems I meet new ones every day. First and always, there is my mother. Born in the early ‘60’s and encumbered with an attractive face and figure, not to mention being a natural blonde, she has faced her fair share of inequality and value judgment, particularly working in male-dominated environments. People tend to see the exterior, you see, and not so much of the razor-sharp brain beneath. However, this never stopped her from racking up an impressive array of academic and career achievements, whilst being a single parent divorcee at one time and a damn good mother, daughter and friend to many people. Now, though, she can look back and feel proud that she beat society’s system, the same system that wanted to hold her back and keep her tied to jobs far beneath her intellect – so that men “with more pressing demands on their pocket” could take them instead.

So much for a meritocracy, eh?

There was never any bitterness, though, only a consistently proactive attitude towards changing things for the better, which is something I’ve found very inspiring over the years. When presented with injustice, it is tempting to be submissive, to be accepting and not to speak “out of turn” – whatever the hell that means – but where would we be if everyone took such an apathetic approach to things that are clearly wrong?

For my own part, I sometimes reflect on occasions when I’ve been undermined in the workplace, or when a group of Cityboys have made me feel uncomfortable on a commuter train. I’ve laughed off my own share of casually sexist comments, but then, I’m sure I’ve made some myself without even realising it. I’m only human, like the rest of us. That’s the problem with endemic, entrenched norms; sometimes, you don’t realise when you’re contributing to a system you don’t like.

But, you know what was most enlightening – and saddening – to me, when I reflected on these things today? It was the striking realisation that it has not been men who have actively sought to undermine. It has been other women. Why has that been the case? Memories from childhood, from adolescence, from my early twenties all the way up until this very morning swam through my mind in a way I seldom allow them to. I don’t like to dwell on negative experiences and, taking a leaf from my mum’s book, I prefer to look to the future and try to behave like a decent human being. I distract myself from past disappointments by focusing on all the many wonderful people I have known through the years and remind myself to keep thinking the very best of people. In a more important sense, I believe that if we think ‘big’ and not ‘small’ as a society and as individuals, we can go on to achieve great things and not at the expense of our fellow humans.

On another note, what are we all reading this week? I’ve been sent a couple of books – one is ‘Blood Sisters’ by Jane Corry (to be released in May) and I’m excited to read this after enjoying her first book ‘My Husband’s Wife’. Another one is ‘The Girl Before’ by J.P. Delaney, who is a new author for me so I’m looking forward to trying it!

Next week, I’ll be at the London Book Fair at Kensington Olympia for the full three days (14-16th March) based from the Amazon KDP stand, where you can pop over and say ‘hello’ to speak to me, Rachel Abbott and Mark Dawson, alongside other writers and Amazon staff who will be happy to talk to you about their experiences publishing independently, or try to answer any questions you might have. It’s mostly an event for writers and industry professionals, but anyone is welcome to come along and discover what it’s all about. I’ll be doing a panel alongside the other authors every morning talking about various aspects of the profession, so I’ll hopefully see some of you there!

In between times, I’m working on two writing projects: DCI Ryan Book #6 and an entirely separate, standalone psychological thriller which is very different (but great fun to write!). If only I could type faster…

Have a great week!

LJ x

 

Lessons from a Past Life

Happy New Year!

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Seize the day

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

2. Reject negativity

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

3. Let go of anger

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

4.  Reach for the stars

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

5. Be proud of who you are

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

6. Be more assertive

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

7. Keep laughing

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

8. Social responsibility

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

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

9. Read more

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

10. Rediscover old hobbies

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

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

Catch you next time,

LJ x

On equality…

The topic of today’s blog posting is pretty expansive, so before you read any further let me assure you that I do not intend to write a treatise on the subject. However, after some recent experiences the matter of ‘equality’ has forced itself to the forefront of my mind and consequently I’m inflicting my rant upon the rest of you.

You lucky, lucky readers…

Alrighty then (*wriggles bum in seat*).

First and by way of disclaimer, I do not believe that we can ever truly have equality amongst people. Babies are born into vastly different circumstances around the world; physically, mentally, socio-economically, geographically, to name a few. Although I like to think that each of us strives to build a better society and a better world, there are vast chasms of difference which need to be bridged. Issues of race, of ethnicity, of mental health, of gender and sexuality remain open to abuse and attitudes are so endemic within individuals and communities that it will take generations to effect real change. But we are trying to bring them out into the light for open and honest discussion.

Second, I think it is important to acknowledge that I am a very, very lucky person. I was born into a rich, westernised country; I identify as heterosexual and my ethnicity would best be described as ‘White British’, although I hate those tick-box options we’ve all seen on the questionnaires. As such, I do not pretend to have any deep understanding of the kind of challenges other people might face, because I have no personal experience. I have only an anecdotal understanding, gleaned second –hand from close friends who have talked to me about the impact that prejudice and ignorance has upon their emotional wellbeing and overall opportunities in life. I feel a keen sense of injustice, of sympathy and shame on behalf of a wider society which – given recent polls – has displayed an upsurge in hate crimes. I resolve to be mindful of my own actions, to instil liberal and tolerant values in my son and to support policies which protect the vulnerable first and foremost. I vote accordingly, not for a political party which would better my own interests, but for one which seeks to lessen the widening gap between people. I believe that, for every person born without disability or disadvantage, there is a moral obligation to give something back to the society that has been good to you. There is a duty of care towards our fellow man to ensure that inequality gaps which are able to be bridged, are bridged.

One thing I have seen, in very small measure, is gender inequality. I emphasise the ‘small’ in that last sentence, because there are women who have suffered extreme inequality and abuse thanks to the simple matter of having been born female and I do not fall into that category. Likewise, people who identify as transgender or gender fluid. Notwithstanding this caveat, I have been on the receiving end of the kind of everyday sexism that still prevails here in the U.K. There has been substantial improvement over the past fifty years in many ways, but there is a thread of overt and implied sexism in ordinary conversation, in the way people are paid, in domestic and professional scenarios that serve to undermine. By way of example, only the other day I was giving an interview and one of the first questions the interviewer asked me was whether I would be having any more children.

Several thoughts spring to mind:

  1. How is that relevant to crime fiction writing?
  2. That is a highly personal and potentially hurtful question.
  3. That is none of your business, let alone the many listeners tuning in to the interview.
  4. Why is the question relevant, in a professional scenario?
  5. Would you have asked a male author the same question? I think not.
  6. Is motherhood an automatic association by virtue of being female?
  7. I doubt that the question was intended to offend, but do you realise that it was nonetheless offensive?
  8. Is motherhood the bottom line, for women?
  9. It is little wonder that some women feel undermined if they can’t / choose not to have children and yet are constantly expected to defend the lack of children in their lives.

I do not think that any of these issues entered the interviewer’s mind; in fact, I think it was automatic, indoctrinated small-talk and the kind of thing that some people reel out as a ‘warm-up’ question. However, I think it is a good example of how issues of sex and gender can weave their way into ordinary conversations and have a lasting impact upon the subject. On the news today, there was a discussion about whether men, in particular, should be mindful of using words like ‘babe’, ‘chick’ or ‘doll’. I think that much of this depends upon the individual dynamic but it is probably true to say that endearments that are harmless in a personal context could be undermining in a professional one. Certainly, being a little more thoughtful about their use isn’t such a bad thing, is it? It doesn’t mean that people are ‘uptight’ or ‘over-sensitive’. They’re just asking for a bit of equality.

Catch you later!

Lx

Miliband vs. Poldark

Afternoon, all.

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

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

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

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

But, enough of that.

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

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

A few examples:

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

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

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

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

Think about it.

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

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

Just saying.

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

Catch you later!