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 #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

 

Author Introductions #3: Mark L. Fowler

Morning!

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

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

Mark L. Fowler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. What was your favourite book as a child?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a great week!

LJ x

 

 

International Literacy Day

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

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

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

Don’t be such a snob.

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

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

LJ x

About time…

Hello!

It’s been busy in the life of LJ Ross (as always) what with completing Angel (Book 4 of the DCI Ryan Mysteries) and preparing for its general release, alongside all the usual travel and life events! Most notably, my son turned three recently and I was struck forcibly by the passage of time – as I am whenever I need to buy him a bigger pair of shoes. How quickly life storms ahead, twisting and changing before our very eyes.

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I wonder how different the world will be by the time he is grown; I remember things like ‘floppy discs’ and ‘cassette players’ whereas these will probably sound like weird and wonderful oddities to his technologically-advanced mind. I have always thought of life as a continuous cycle, never something that stands still. Moments cannot be captured like butterflies or created into a frieze, immortalised so that we can relive them time and again. But they can be remembered and that’s what I try to focus on.

The knowledge that life is so short, combined with a personal philosophy that does not include any religious deity or notion of an afterlife, has led me to adopt what I hope is a very proactive approach rooted in the here and now. My friends and family have remarked that I ‘never sit still’ or that I am ‘always on the go’ and it’s true: I find it hard to relax and do nothing. It feels like such a waste. But that’s where reading has been such a wonderful gift. It is one of the few times when I can feel my mind and body switching off, so thank you to all of the wonderful authors who have provided me with so many hours of enjoyment.

The nagging feeling that life is passing swiftly was what actively propelled me to change career. I enjoyed my life as a lawyer but I was acutely conscious that something was missing, something unfulfilled. Idealistic notions of ‘making a difference’ didn’t prepare me for the simple fact that life isn’t fair; people aren’t equal; democracy doesn’t always work and human nature is sometimes depressingly predictable. Don’t get me wrong – I have infinite faith in the resilience of the human condition, but I wasn’t prepared to waste the rest of my life trying to prove the point.

I firmly believe that people are capable of being many things over the course of a lifetime. There is no Orwellian dictator who hands out professions at birth and expects us to stick to them, so it falls upon us to reach out and grasp the life we want to lead. There may be challenges: personal, professional, financial, health-wise… but success will taste all the sweeter once these have been overcome.

It’s all about taking the first step. Blink and you’ll find that three years have passed!

Have a great weekend 🙂

LJ x

Series or standalone?

Any mother will tell you that if you manage to find the time to blow dry your hair in the morning and get through the day without ten strong coffees, you’re a bloody rock star. Factor in multiple children and work, and things start to get pretty frenetic.

In my case, I can’t complain too loudly. I have a hands-on husband who, despite managing his own busy career, is always an equal parent and a great dad to our little boy. My son is two and enjoys spending time at nursery (terrorising the staff, no doubt) which allows me to ring fence blocks of time during the day when I can work, too. Despite what some people imagine the life of a writer to be, it isn’t all that glamorous! Like any self-employed job, there are long periods of time spent at a desk, with only your fictional characters for company. Then, there is the act of being persistently creative, which can be both a joy and a curse. Finally, there is the crippling self-doubt which comes from putting that creative product ‘out there’ in the real world, where people can heap plaudits or shred it to pieces, depending on their mood.

Why do you do it? I hear you cry. Well, it’s for the simple love of writing stories. I was a lawyer in London before deciding to change career, and almost as soon as I got into the flow of writing I knew that I had made the right decision. The process can be frustrating and there is a lot of hard work involved, but the benefits far outweigh the costs in terms of personal happiness and a flexible working life.

Holy Island

After my first novel, ‘Holy Island’ was published in January 2015, my jaw fell to the floor when it reached the UK #1 spot the following May in the Amazon charts. When I wrote that book, I wasn’t at all sure how it would be received and certainly hadn’t thought far enough ahead to consider that it might form the basis for a series of Northumbrian murder mysteries. Yet, when it was received so kindly by readers around the country and internationally, and people wrote to me to ask if there would be more of DCI Ryan, I began to think about the possibility. I was clear on the fact that I would only write a sequel if I felt there was a genuine story to be told; it needed to come organically, rather than being something formulated only for commercial gain.

Well, I think I’ve been bitten by the writer’s bug, because now I can’t seem to stop imagining new mysteries. For me, the ideas flow from the landscape of Northumberland and its surrounds: the first novel was named after the atmospheric island of Lindisfarne and the second, ‘Sycamore Gap’, after that iconic spot on Hadrian’s Wall made famous in Robin Hood: Prince of ThievesThe third in the series, ‘Heavenfield’ is named after the tiny, remote church of St. Oswald’s, also in Hadrian’s Wall country. The scenery is my muse and so, for as long as the stories keep popping into my mind, I’ll be happy writing them.

Sycamore Gap

But, are there certain rules to abide by, when writing a series? As with any practical advice on the topic of writing, this is a highly individual thing. Each writer is different and their approach to writing stories reflects their own personality. In general, it is probably fair to say that the stories should flow and, depending on the type of series you are writing, you should bear in mind your audience and remain loyal to the characters you have created. When I say that, I mean that you should try to put yourself in the shoes of the characters and ask yourself: ‘what would be likely to happen in their lives, next?’ Thinking along these lines usually helps with the flow of a story, when your planned outline comes to a bit of a shuddering halt with the dreaded writer’s block. Yes, it is a real thing and, no, you cannot always predict when it will strike!

Should each book in a series also be capable of being read as a standalone? As the characters develop through each of the books in the series, it becomes increasingly difficult to create standalone stories unless each book truly encapsulates an entirely new theme. For example, in the first three of my DCI Ryan series, I included a secondary thread relating to a cult circle, which was never designed to continue indefinitely and needed some form of resolution by the third book. This brings a sense of satisfaction to both me and my readers and with the fourth book, I am looking forward to re-introducing my main characters in the context of a new and exciting mystery.

The one potential drawback to writing a series is that, as the stories and characters progress, the fabric of their imaginary lives becomes more complex and will require a strong grasp of each so that you do not unwittingly drop a clanger! For, as with people in the real world, the reader will immediately notice if your detective says or does something that is noticeably out of place, or if he grows ten years older, overnight.

LJ x

 

 

 

CAPTION COMPETITION!

  
To celebrate the imminent release of Holy Island in paperback, I’ll be giving away ten signed copies to those who can come up with the funniest / most inspired ending to the following caption:

“Ryan followed the muffled sounds at the end of the darkened corridor. With slow movements, he edged closer, until only a wooden door separated him from what lay beyond. Fingers splayed against the wood, he pushed the door open and his jaw fell in astonishment, for he saw…[BLANK]”

Post your entries as a comment here or on my Facebook L J Ross Author page here and the winners will be chosen on Friday 17th July.

Good luck! 

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Sycamore Gap

HW387 SYCAMORE GAP  HADRIAN'S WALL

(c) Roger Clegg Photography

Before I begin my usual rant about the ups and downs of moving from being a lawyer to writing novels, let me take a moment to introduce you to the work of Roger Clegg, a fantastic photographer based in the North East who is well known for his stunning work in and around Hadrian’s Wall, as well as the wider scenery of Northumberland.

It is his photograph of Sycamore Gap (above) which graces my Twitter account and will soon form the basis for the cover of my next book, conveniently titled, ‘Sycamore Gap: A DCI Ryan Mystery’, after some tinkering with text and all that jazz which I shall happily leave to a more qualified person!

This award-winning photograph was captured with the last light on Midsummer’s Night and took two years for the conditions to be just right. I am therefore delighted that he is happy for it now to grace the cover of my next novel – many thanks to him.

If you would like to have a look at this or any of the other beautiful pictures of the region, check out his website: www.northern-horizons.co.uk.

Now, onto the writing itself.

What a bloomin’ minefield it is, writing a sequel! Gone are those heady, blissful days of ignorance which I enjoyed before the success of Holy Island. Not that I’m complaining, you understand, but now I have something to live up to. I have to say that DCI Ryan has been drinking a lot more caffeine (mirroring the writer herself) and is somewhat grumpier than usual (again, I am guilty of this) in this second book. Coincidence?

Jokes aside, part of me wondered whether I would enjoy writing a second book as much as I enjoyed writing the first. I am happy to say that, for all the pressure, the re-writes, the second-guessing and creative tantrums (I admit it), this job still gets two thumbs up from me. The relative solitude isn’t suited to everyone, but being a largely antisocial git, it suits me to lose myself in a story for hours at a time and then to enjoy spending the rest of the time with family and friends. It takes inordinately high levels of concentration, to cut everything else out of my mind in order to sit and write for long periods of time, but it’s worth missing Geordie Shore for that. Let’s face it, practically anything would be worth missing Geordie Shore (sorry, reality TV fans!)

With that in mind, better get off and do some work!

Hope you all have a great week.

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All Stars Rule!!

Morning!

Well, blow me down with a feather, but it turns out I’m an ‘Amazon All Star!’

No, I haven’t decided to join a basketball team. I’m 5ft 3” and so, on every level, that would be ridiculous.

The ‘All Star’ tag is a bonus award scheme which Amazon runs on a monthly basis. There are two categories: book titles and authors. Those book titles and authors read most frequently on Amazon are awarded ‘All Star’ status, which is one of the few accolades that an e-book author can achieve.

The award is great and it’s something I never expected starting out, but most importantly, it tells me that there are a lot of you lovely people out there reading  and (hopefully) enjoying it. The title has been more-or-less permanently ranked as #1 in the ‘Cozy Mystery’ category since it was released in January and has been climbing the ‘Romantic Suspense’ category steadily over the weeks until it peaked at #8 this week. It’s still climbing, so watch this space! I’m competing against a fair amount of books which feature naked male torsos on their covers…

I want to say a big ‘thank you’ to everyone who invested their pennies in buying the book and I hope that you have found it to be an entertaining read. I’ve been very lucky in the reviews online, for which I am also grateful. As with anything in life, you can’t please absolutely everyone (there will always be a crazy minority who don’t enjoy my particular brand of Hot Fuzz crime, but we don’t talk about them!) So long as the majority are happy, that’s good enough for me.

I think that writing can breed a certain amount of self-consciousness, which is natural. After all, you’re investing a lot of time and energy in a project which is very subjective in nature. Then, you voluntarily open yourself up to the criticism of internet trolls, disgruntled former friends, the mean kids from back in the day and not forgetting the general population. The world of publishing today is much more ‘digital’ in nature and writers need to be aware of this and ask themselves if they can hack it. It takes confidence, which can be a rare commodity.

As with any new aspiring author, I naturally turned to traditional publishers first, in my quest to get out into the big wide world. When the offer letter and contract finally did come through the mail, I was ecstatic…right until I looked at the terms. You can’t blame them, really. I was an untried, new author. Why did I think they would offer me decent terms?

It was Mr Ross who suggested that I think outside the box and look into publishing an e-book.

What? You mean, do it ourselves? That’s crazy talk, I said.

It’s the future, he said, don’t be stubborn, he said.

Turns out that, as with far too many things for my liking, he might be right. Traditional publishers today will struggle to back new authors when they are competing with the likes of Amazon. Yet, I think that the existence of the Amazon-type platform will make reading much more accessible to so many people that I can’t bring myself to think of it as a negative.

In short, I’m very pleased that I took the plunge and would encourage any aspiring new authors out there to give it a go. The world loves to read and I, for one, am always looking for new voices to enjoy.

Bye for now!

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