Crime authors spill their guts about writing...
This week: L.J. Ross
Tell us about yourself.
Hello! I’m Louise, but I write fast-paced murder mysteries under the pen name ‘L J Ross’. I was born in Northumberland, which is where my DCI Ryan series is set, but I lived for over ten years in London where I trained as a barrister and worked in the City before deciding to make the leap and become an author. Nowadays, I live in Bath with my husband and three-year-old son. I’m a fan of anything creative: reading, writing, painting, dancing, music…all of it!
How do you go about plotting your book?
Once an idea or a concept strikes me, I tend to create the bones of a storyline in my head. I make a few loose notes to remind myself of the direction I plan to take, but for the most part I let the writing flow. I’ve found that if I listen to my ‘inner voice’ (which is angry, sweary and Geordie), it tells me when a draft is becoming stagnant. It’s a useful guideline and lets me know when more action or pace is required to hold a reader’s interest (and my interest, while I’m writing it). I do keep more detailed notes on character biographies within my series, to ensure consistency from one book to the next.
How long does your first draft take you?
If I were left to my own devices, I could write a first draft in less than a month! Unfortunately (or, fortunately, depending on your point of view) real life often intrudes, particularly in the form of a precotious toddler. However, I think it’s important to have periods of intensity offset by periods of normality, so that you can come back to a manuscript with fresh, rested eyes.
Where do you most like to do your writing?
Having spent so many years tied to a desk, I have experienced a mini-rebellion and I can’t seem to sit at a desk for more than two hours at a time! However, if there are no meetings or other conferences scheduled, I try to work solidly in my office during the morning, then I pick up my laptop and walk into town via the park to do another couple of hours in a quiet coffee shop. I try to focus on other business in the afternoon before collecting my son from nursery and after then I devote my time to him.
How easy/hard was it to get your first break?
When I finished my first novel, I knew nothing about the publishing industry and so I did the ‘done thing’ and sent it to a total of twelve agents and publishers who accepted direct submissions. I received some great positive feedback as well as an offer of publication, but I decided to take a different approach by publishing independently through Amazon KDP in order to keep control of my creative rights, amongst other reasons. My debut, ‘Holy Island: a DCI Ryan Mystery’, was published on 1st January 2015 and went to #1 in the overall UK Kindle chart in May of that year. I was totally blown away because I never, ever thought it would do so well and because of it so many people were able to find my work right from the outset. I have a wonderful readership who have followed DCI Ryan’s adventures over the past five books. To say I’m grateful would be a huge understatement.
How has your writing style developed over time? And the way that you approach writing?
When I wrote my first book, I had no real expectations. In many ways, I was writing purely for myself, about things I would enjoy reading. I deliberately threw away my old rulebook as a lawyer and focussed on a more fun and accessible style of writing that readers could fall into. In the back of my mind, I imagined myself on a commuter train home – tired and a bit dispirited after a long day – needing some escapism. On those journeys, I’d always bypassed Proust and Tolstoy (though I do like both) in favour of a good thriller, vintage crime, or romantic suspense, and I knew that a lifetime of reading had given me plenty of inspiration for the kind of style I’d like to develop. It was just a question of finding the right balance and over the course of the last five books I feel like I’ve settled into a comfortable groove!
What book do you wish you had written?
There are so many wonderful books out there in the body of literature, it’s difficult to choose only one that I wish I had written. However, I’d have to say Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. Strangely, it isn’t because I feel the writing is sublime – I love it because the concept of the story speaks straight to the heart of human nature. I find Dumas’ observations on psychology, as well as on socio-economic conditions, breathtaking. I first read the book as a young teenager and it stayed with me for years, so much so that when I re-read it again as an adult I was afraid the bubble would burst. Instead, I found myself discovering so many new elements to the fabric of the story that I simply hadn’t seen before.
If you could be a character in any book, including one of your own, who would you be?
I think I’d have to be Miss Marple. I love Agatha Christie’s concept of a character who is underestimated from the start, and its such an astute observation about the way many older people are treated! It’s fantastic to have a sleuthing old lady who quietly and cunningly draws out the truth behind a mystery.
What scene in your latest book did you most enjoy writing? And why?
In my latest book, ‘High Force’, I wrote a scene between the main protagonist (DCI Ryan) and a brand new character who is a criminal profiler. I’ve always enjoyed learning elements of forensic and abnormal psychology as it relates to criminal behaviour, so it was fun to inject some of that into the body of the story. I enjoyed it so much that I am going to write a brand new series based around his own adventures.
Which book or character are you most proud of creating, and why?
I am most proud of the character ‘DS Frank Phillips’ in my DCI Ryan series. He is a secondary character to the main protagonist of my stories but, for me, his mannerisms, humour and even his stocky physique are all based on my grandfather who passed away many years ago, whom I loved very much. I remember his everyday wisdom and nuggets of sound advice, which often flash into my mind when I’m writing dialogue.
What’s the secret of your success?
Booze and chocolate (only joking…). I think the secret is not to take yourself too seriously. Don’t be influenced too much by what others are writing or doing and focus on your own writing instead. There will be plenty of positive and negative people in every profession and the publishing world is no different. You have to surround yourself with people who lift you up rather than tear you down, and remember to do the same for others.
About the author...
L.J. Ross is the author of the international #1 bestselling series of DCI Ryan mystery novels. Her debut, Holy Island, was released in January 2015 and reached number one in the Amazon Kindle UK bestsellers chart. Its sequels have all been top five bestsellers.
Louise was born in Northumberland, England. She studied undergraduate and postgraduate Law at King's College, University of London and studied abroad in Paris and Florence. She spent much of her working life in London, where she was a regulatory lawyer for a number of years until taking the decision to change career and pursue her dream to write.
Now, she writes full time and lives with her husband and son in Bath. She enjoys reading all manner of books, travelling and spending time with family and friends.