Kicking off the author interviews for this month is LJ Ross, creator of the international bestselling series of DCI Ryan mystery novels.
A former lawyer, Louise now writes full time and lives with her husband and son in Bath.
I discovered Louise’s writing with the release of the first book in the series, Holy Island, and so with the sixth book, Cragside, released last month, I thought it’d be a great time to sit down with her and chat about her writing journey to date.
LJ Ross, welcome to the blog!
What attracted you to writing in the crime/thriller genre? Was there a particular author that inspired you to do so?
I don’t think there was one author in particular but I have always admired ‘Golden Age’ authors like Agatha Christie, Daphne du Maurier or Patricia Highsmith. I think it’s interesting that accepted attitudes toward Christie’s writing have changed over the years in line with what is deemed fashionable; personally, I don’t follow trends, I just read what I enjoy! I try to take a leaf from her book and write in a clean, accessible style where less is more.
What sort of research did you undertake for your latest novel?
My latest novel, Cragside, takes some of its inspiration from a real-life estate in Northumberland. Ever since childhood, I have loved the spectacular mansion which sits atop a crag surrounded by acres of woodland. Therefore, I felt a particular responsibility to convey its essence as truthfully as I could, but at the same time to make clear that the mystery I have created is purely fictitious.
To do that, I made several trips to Cragside, spoke with some of its staff and read into the history of the house and grounds to supplement my own knowledge. Aside from the setting, it was necessary to research certain elements of police procedure, although given my former career I am already familiar with quite a bit.
Cragside is your sixth book in the DCI Ryan series – what has surprised you in writing this one?
Writing Cragside felt much more personal than I had first imagined.
The storyline encompasses elements of the ship-building industry in the North-East which comprised my great-grandparents’ livelihood in years gone by.
I took a drive back to the streets where they lived and to the site of former bustling shipyards (now a very different landscape) and felt a sense of deep pride about my grandfather’s heritage as well as a keen sense of loss.
Do you outline/plot, or do you prefer to start at the beginning and see where the story takes you? Why do you prefer this method of writing?
I take a very simple approach: once I have come up with a rough concept, I try to sell it to myself by writing the book description. I find that, if I am unable to put together a good synopsis, there is unlikely to be a sufficiently decent storyline worthy of completion. However, if all goes well and the premise looks and sounds good, I set out a series of markers and themes that the story must cover, but otherwise let it flow naturally.
What does your writing space look like? Do you have any pre-writing rituals to get you “in the zone”?
Currently, I have three different writing spaces scattered around my house - a small office upstairs where I can shut the door and focus, a small writing desk in the corner of our lounge and, of course, the kitchen table, where I end up writing most of my books. We will be moving house soon, so I will have to stake my claim on a new writing cave…
We all occasionally hit a brick wall with our creative endeavours – what do you do to overcome any stumbling blocks?
Firstly, I try to remember that I’m human – not a machine! For me, writer’s block stems from a lack of sleep or stress, so I try to work on those things with the hope that I’ll be able to work more productively once they are rectified. Things like exercise, spending time with family, reading or watching a good film can seem indulgent when you are working to a deadline, but I think they’re necessary for the soul.
With so many achievements since Holy Island was published in 2015, what moments really stand out for you in your writing career to date?
Cragside recently went to #1 in the UK Kindle chart while still on pre-order, making it my second UK #1 in two years after Holy Island (the other four books made it to top three in the charts). At the same time, all of my books were back in the top 100 in the UK chart without any price reductions. I have to pinch myself when these things happen!
However, one of the things that really stood out for me was an e-mail I received about a year ago from a reader. This particular lady had lost her husband, whom she’d loved for over fifty years, and had picked up one of my books to read as a distraction while she was planning his funeral. She told me that it had brought her solace and even laughter during a deeply distressing time in her life, which was very humbling.
What else have you got planned for 2017?
The audiobook version of Cragside will be coming out and is being produced by Audible at the moment. The seventh DCI Ryan book, Dark Skies, should be available for release towards the end of the year. Meanwhile, I’m also working on a standalone psychological thriller I’ve been trying to finish for some time (but have never had a spare moment!) as well as finalising some ideas for an entirely new series of mystery books I’m very excited about and which I hope to start writing once Dark Skies has been released.
Can you let readers know what to expect from DCI Ryan’s latest investigation in Cragside?
I hope they can expect an enthralling read! In his latest outing, DCI Ryan is faced with an old-fashioned whodunnit, rather than the high-octane manhunt we saw in the previous book in the series (High Force). It is still very pacey and the emphasis is on the plot and atmospheric setting. In this outing, I have introduced a couple of brand new characters I am looking forward to developing in the next couple of books, too.
Finally, where can we buy your books?
All the e-books, print books and audiobooks are available to purchase on Amazon. The print books are also available in selected independent bookstores in Northumberland.