Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Happy New Year with L J Ross

 A very happy 2020 to you all. January 1st is always a good day for taking stock. Looking back over some of the past posts here on my blog, I've picked out a favourite one where I interviewed best-selling author, LJ Ross. Since then, she had added more books to her DCI Ryan series and also written several in an exciting new series featuring forensic psychologist, Dr Alexander Gregory. Do join us. 

Louise, welcome. I know that you were born and bred in Northumberland and of course that’s where your spectacularly successful DCI Ryan series is set. Do you have any childhood memories you’re prepared to share with readers?
- I have so many happy memories of my childhood in Northumberland. I remember spending weekends exploring Bamburgh Castle and its enormous beach where I used to play ‘hide and seek’ amongst the sand dunes and look across the sea to Holy Island, which lies thirteen miles or so further north along the coastline. Those early memories of the sand, water and the towering castle on its craggy rock laid the groundwork for the stories I now write. 
Since January 2015, you’ve published six books in the DCI Ryan series to great acclaim. That’s a remarkable 
work rate. How do you manage it?
- I’ve always had a very strong work ethic and I can be very disciplined, when I want to be! However, I never like to sacrifice quality, so each book goes through rigorous editorial processes before release. The beauty of choosing to publish independently is that I don’t have to wait for traditional publishing schedules before releasing a book – I can decide when to release, which is great for readers because it means they don’t have to wait quite so long for the next instalment of DCI Ryan!
As any author knows, being a writer can be challenging and particularly so if you self-publish. To what do you attribute your success in a very competitive market?
- I’m often asked this question and it’s a difficult one to answer because there are so many brilliant writers out there who have yet to be ‘discovered’. I was very fortunate that my first novel went on to become a UK #1 bestseller and I think it comes down to a number of factors aligning at the same time: a storyline that captures the reader’s imagination, editorial quality, cover, sales copy and a little bit of good old-fashioned luck. It’s as simple (and frustrating) as that.
You worked as a regulatory lawyer for many years, do you think the experience you gained contributed to your skill in plotting and attention to detail?
- I was experienced in drafting techniques and had an eye for detail after working as a lawyer. More importantly, I think the broad spectrum of people I met during that time has provided a wealth of inspiration for the characters I write!
Do you have a special place where you like to write and/or a particular routine?
- Often, I’ll take a laptop to a local coffee shop and write a little bit in the morning after I’ve dropped my son off at school. I like to try to do some walking during the day, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to enjoy cake as much as I do! I also have an office at home where I work if I’m on a tight deadline and need to shut myself away.

Where does your inspiration come from?
- My inspiration comes from the world around me and the people I meet, particularly the landscape of Northumberland which I find endlessly inspiring.
Are you a planner or do you prefer to let your plots evolve as you go along?
- A little of both! Some books have a more intricate plotline and therefore it’s important not to go off on a tangent, whereas others allow for more of an organic process.
When you aren’t writing, how would you describe your perfect day?
- Taking a long walk with my family, or spending time hanging out with friends. Simple pleasures!
Which parts of the writing process do you enjoy the least and the most?

-I enjoy writing the first and last few pages of a book. There’s a special feeling when you create something entirely new and an equally special feeling of accomplishment once it’s complete. I don’t enjoy writing the middle of the book, which is usually around the time my confidence and energy starts to wane!
If you had to choose only one, who is your favourite character in your books? Why is that?
- Whilst DCI Ryan is the lynchpin of my stories, I have to confess to holding a candle for DS Phillips. His character is loosely based on my late grandfather, who was witty, intelligent and loyal in much the same way as his fictional counterpart.
Who would you cast to play them if your books were to be made into films?
- I’ll cross that bridge when it comes to it!
Have any particular writers influenced your work? 
- I have always been a voracious reader and so you might say all the writers I’ve enjoyed since childhood have influenced me in some way or another, for different reasons. However, as a crime writer, I don’t think you can beat Arthur Conan-Doyle for sheer longevity, clarity of writing and thought. 
Do you have an all-time favourite book? 
No, I can’t choose a favourite, but the books I have read more than once include M. M. Kaye’s ‘The Far Pavilions’, Daphne du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’ and anything by Jim Thompson.
You say in your biography that you’re a keen traveller. Do you think any of your destinations will inspire a new series, and if so, which ones? 
- I think there’s a grain of truth to the old saying that you should ‘write what you know’. In my case, I’ve spent time living in London, Paris and Florence (amongst other places) and would like to write a new series which has a more European flavour to reflect that experience.
Can you tell us what you’re working on now? 
- With ‘Dark Skies’ coming out in time for Christmas, I’m polishing off some final bits and pieces on that, as well as plotting the next DCI Ryan and tinkering with an entirely separate psychological thriller.

 I’d like to end by asking you for your responses to a few observations made by other writers over the years. 
Fire away! 
‘If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.’ Stephen King 
- I think this is very true. The act of reading over the course of a lifetime prepares you as a writer, in particular, to recognise the styles and genres you prefer to read and might then be well-placed to write. Of course, that will differ for each individual.  
‘One day I will find the right words and they will be simple.’ Jack Kerouac 
- I think it’s true that, as a new writer, there’s a tendency to ‘over write’ and use ten words to describe what could have been conveyed with one or two. As a reader myself, I prefer the clarity of writers like Conan-Doyle and Jim Thompson, whose longevity is probably thanks to their ability to write in an accessible way.  
‘You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.’ – C S Lewis. Would you agree? 
- In my case, it would be coffee, but let’s not quibble! As for a book long enough…I’d say, that rather depends on the book.  
‘You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.’ Saul Bellow 
- I think the content can be inspired, but the technical specification suffers thanks to over-tiredness! 
‘The road to Hell is paved with adverbs.’ Stephen King 
- I think we’re all guilty of the odd cheeky adverb (even Stephen King!) 
‘After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we most need.’ Phillip Pullman  
- I think it’s at least true to say that we all need escapism from time-to-time. Stories are by the far the healthiest outlet!

Thursday, 19 December 2019

Glittering Prizes

Polesden Lacey, a grand house near to where I live, is looked after by the UK's leading organisation for the preservation of historic houses, the National Trust, and this year, the staff there have gone to town with their Christmas decorations.

The last private owner of Polesden was Mrs Ronnie Greville. Thanks to the fortune amassed by her brewer father, William McEwan, she was fabulously rich and often entertained the highest echelons of Edwardian society, including the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII.

This year, inspired by the glittering parties Mrs Greville is on record as giving, the so-called Gold Room that usually houses exquisite French furniture and some of Mrs Greville's priceless collection of porcelain and jade Fabergé animals has been cleared and transformed into a wonderland of giant Christmas baubles.

 In the entrance hall, a huge replica of a cut diamond hangs from the ceiling, revolving to catch the light. Servants corridors have become fairy-tale avenues of snow-covered trees, complete with robins and squirrels. Pianists play Christmas carols and tunes on the grand piano in the library, where, in a touch of slightly spooky drama, jewels cascade from the fireplace.

Last but not least, the dining room is resplendent, ready for Christmas lunch.

Most of us can't compete with such luxury, but we all have our own favourite touches that make our families smile at Christmas. I'd love to hear about yours; if you aren't too busy wrapping presents and stuffing turkey that is!

Happy Christmas to you all and a happy and healthy New Year.


Thursday, 31 October 2019

What is it about Seven?

When I began to write my Inspector de Silva Mysteries series, my goal was to finish seven books. Why? Well, even though I'm not particularly superstitious, I think it's generally acknowledged that  there's something special and mystical about the number. It crops up all over the place - in history, mythology, folklore, and even religion.

The Book of Revelations has numerous references - the Seven Deadly Sins, the Seven Churches, the Seven Trumpets and so on. Salomé danced the Dance of the Seven Veils for King Herod.

There are seven days of the week. We talk about being in seventh heaven. Legend has it that the seventh son of a seventh son will be lucky. Three sevens are a winner on jackpot machines. The ancient world had seven wonders. I could go on as, I expect, could you! The upshot is that I'm delighted to have reached my goal, but now I don't want to stop. On with the next seven!

Sunday, 13 October 2019

The Joys of Binge Reading

Everybody's doing it - especially as the days get shorter. I'm talking about catching up on those book series and box sets you couldn't resist buying and then didn't find the time for when the sun beckoned you outside. But now winter's almost upon us, it's time to snuggle up and enjoy them.
It was one of the reasons why I was so pleased when New Zealand podcaster, Jenny  Wheeler, invited me along to talk to her on her podcast, The Joys of Binge Reading. I hope you'll join us. There's lots to explore.

The Joys of Binge Reading

And if you love vintage mysteries, I'm sure you'll enjoy the podcast series, All About Agatha. You guessed it - Agatha Christie. The hosts, Catherine Brobeck and Kemper Donovan, are working their way through all of Christie's remarkable catalogue of works (it includes 66 novels as well as short stories and plays) discussing, summarizing, and attempting to rank them according to plot, setting and characterisation. It's a massive project, and whether you're a reader or a writer of detective fiction, you'll find plenty of food for thought. To add to the entertainment, the podcast intersperses excerpts from Christie films, music and TV shows.

Tuesday, 8 October 2019


I'm delighted to announced that book 7 of the Inspector de Silva Mysteries is out soon. To find out more, click on the cover image in the sidebar.

Sunday, 18 August 2019

Meet Sara Rosett, a Queen of Cozy Crime

I'm delighted to welcome USA Today and Audible bestselling author, Sara Rosett, to my blog. Sara writes light-hearted mysteries for readers who enjoy puzzling whodunits, atmospheric settings, and quirky characters. She is the author of the Ellie Avery series, the On the Run series, the Murder on Location series, and the High Society Lady Detective series. Sara also teaches an online course, How to Outline a Cozy Mystery. Publishers Weekly called her books "satisfying," "well-executed," and "sparkling." She loves to get new stamps in her passport and considers dark chocolate a daily requirement.

Sarah, welcome, would you like to tell us a bit more about your career?

Sure! I started out with a traditional publisher for my first series, the Ellie Avery series. Those books are about a mom who is a military spouse. She finds murder and mayhem wherever she goes! I branched out into indie publishing for my next two series—the On the Run series (travel, intrigue, and a dash of romance) and the Murder on Location series (cozies about a location scout who travels around the English countryside looking for filming locations for Jane Austen adaptations.) Recently I moved to historical mysteries with the High Society Lady Detective series. It’s set in 1920s England.

Olive Belgrave and Kate Sharp, your detectives, are both feisty, independent ladies. How did you go about creating their characters? Is there anything of yourself in them?

I think there’s always a little of myself in the characters I write about. Kate is much more “take-charge” than I am. She sees a problem and wants to solve it, which is a good characteristic for an amateur sleuth! I’d read an interview with a location scout and thought it sounded like a fascinating profession, so I dug in and researched it. Kate grew out of what I learned about location scouting and the type of personality it takes to succeed in the profession. For Olive, I knew I wanted to write about a young woman who was brought up as a lady, but who wanted to make her own way in the world. I wanted her to be smart and plucky and have a sense of humor. Her background with the growing up connected to high society is both a help and and a hindrance for Olive.

Olive is a name one doesn’t hear very often nowadays, and it has a great period ring to it. I imagine it’s no accident that her surname isn’t a million miles from the swanky London district of Belgravia! How do you choose names for your characters and how highly do you rate the importance of names in fiction?

Names are so important in fiction! I love deciding on character names. For the High Society Lady Detective series I searched historical name lists to find period names. But sometimes it takes a while to work out the right name for a character. When I began writing Murder at Archly Manor, I named the main character Violet, but the name wasn’t a perfect fit. Then I realized that Olive, the name I’d given to a cousin was a better choice. It was a classic name, but had a little extra zing to it that I wanted. I swapped the names and it felt right.

Why do you write mysteries?

I’ve always loved reading mysteries. I enjoy the puzzle aspect of the plot. I grew up on Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden. I moved on to Mary Stewart and Elizabeth Peters. When I sat down to attempt to write a novel, I knew it would be a mystery.

What’s the most difficult part about writing for you? What do you enjoy the most?

Getting the first draft down is the most difficult part for me. Once I have “the bones” done I go back and revise. I like the revision stage much more. Research is my absolute favorite part. If I’m not careful, I can lose hours reading about train schedules in 1923 or what type of food was served at The Savoy. Fun stuff!

How do you go about the historical research for your novels? What drew you to the times you’ve chosen?

I enjoy Golden Age mysteries. Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Patricia Wentworth are some of my favorite authors. I find interesting tidbits about everyday life in fiction from the 1920s and 1930s. I also read quite a bit of nonfiction about that time period, and little details from those books have become important clues and red herrings. Browsing vintage images on Pinterest and watching Downton Abbey are all “research” in my book.

Do you have a special place where you like to write?

I write in my office, which has a window at one side of my desk. I need that window! For some reason I find it easier to write near a window. I suppose it’s the fact that I can gaze outside when I get stuck!

Have any other writers influenced your work?

Mary Stewart’s classic romantic suspense books were some of the first “grown-up” books I read. I loved that the women were always clever and resourceful. The exotic locations were great, too! Stewart had a wonderful way of capturing settings. Reading her books inspired me to find the tiny details that make a reader feel like they’re right there with the protagonist, experiencing the story along with her.

What are you working on now?

I’m finishing a book for my travel mystery series, the On the Run series, and then I’ll focus on promotion for the release of the fourth book in the High Society Lady Detective series, Murder in Black Tie. I have more books planned in that series and will be working on those. I’m having so much fun in the nineteen twenties and readers are enjoying them, so I have to write more!

Steven King once said 'If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time or the tools to write.' Do you agree?

Absolutely! Reading is what I do in my down time. If I don’t have a book to read, I get antsy! I learn so much from the reading I do for pleasure. As a writer, it’s hard to turn my “author brain” off and just enjoy the story, but I do try to do that. However, I’ll often be reading along and I’ll notice things that I like—or things that bother me—about a story. I mull over them and then I can either incorporate those techniques—or avoid them!—in my own writing.

You can find out more about Sara  on social media.

      Instagram: https//
      Twitter: @SaraRosett

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

A Moving Tribute

Runnymede in Berkshire is famous as the place where in 1215, the Magna Carta was sealed by King John at the instigation of his barons. It’s a fascinating place to visit. The American Memorial and the memorial to JFK have been there for many years, but the 800th anniversary added new features.

 One of these is The Jurors, twelve bronze chairs that incorporate images and symbols of humanity’s struggle for freedom, the rule of law and equal rights.

 Themes range from a tribute to Phillis Wheatley, the first African American woman to be published (1773) and Mary Prince, the first woman to present an anti-slavery petition to the British parliament (1828), to the oil tanker Exxon Valdez. It was the huge spillage from this tanker that led to the establishment of many of today’s principles of environmental conduct. There is also a model of the key to Nelson Mandela’s prison cell and of one of the keys to the notorious Bastille prison that was presented to George Washington after the French Revolution.

Other symbols are more abstract, including a representation of the  ancient Egyptian god, Ma’at. The god is shown weighing a human heart against a feather to decide whether the owner is fit to enter paradise. This symbol is remembered in the modern scales of justice.

With so much to look at and reflect on, it’s a place to linger. The National Trust, who care for Runnymede, have a great deal of interesting information on their website  if you'd like to find out more.

I finished my day with a visit to the Air Force Memorial - a humbling reminder of those who gave their lives for freedom.