The North East became the setting for her success – and now she’s determined to give something back to the region that inspired her.
Bestselling novelist LJ (Louise) Ross found fame with her DCI Ryan Mysteries, a series of crime novels woven into the unique landscapes of the North East.
Now, with the impact of Covid-19 hitting local businesses and creatives hard, the author has unveiled a project designed to boost the recovery of the region that has shaped her work.
Louise grew up in Ponteland, before moving to London to study law.
But she returned home on the page before she could return to live, and her evocation of Northumberland instantly captured readers’ imaginations, with her first novel, Holy Island, becoming an international bestseller on release in 2015.
Her literary success blossomed: with 17 DCI Ryan novels and several other books now in print, more than 5.5 million copies sold, and her own publishing company, she was able to follow her famous protagonist home, moving to the Tyne Valley with husband James and son Ethan.
Her new initiative, Read, Write, Walk North East – with LJ Ross, is designed to celebrate, promote and support the region, in response to the challenges created by the pandemic.
Speaking to NorthumberlandLive as she launched the scheme, Louise said: “I’ve been so fortunate during my career to have garnered a loyal and generous fan base, many of whom come from the North East, where my DCI Ryan series is set and where I was born, grew up and now live with my husband and son.
“At a time when community spirit and kindness are all important, I wanted to do my part in giving back wherever I am able, and that’s where this initiative comes in. It covers a host of different prizes, grants and wellbeing projects launching over the coming months designed to support creative arts, literacy and local enterprise – as well as spotlighting some of the incredible people, landscapes, talent and hard work in the region that I love.”
She’s offering writing prizes for adults and children; photography competitions to support the visual arts; reading challenges to improve literacy; literary trails to boost tourism; and grants of up to £10,000 to help local businesses affected by Covid-19.
Her literary walking trails will enable fans to follow in the footsteps of DCI Ryan, using phone GPS systems to guide them around the region’s beauty spots. It’s a landscape that has offered Louise invaluable inspiration – and she hopes it might do the same for those competing for her various creative prizes. But just what is it about the region that makes it such a rich source of invention and imagination?
Louise said: “I think people have been inspired by the landscape of the North East through the generations because of its incredible variety and texture; to the east, there’s an incredible coastline, with sandy and shingle beaches, imposing castles perched on cliffsides, and, to the west, there’s a beautiful patchwork of hills and vales, lakes and waterfalls.
“On top of all that, the area has such a lot of history, both ancient and modern, with a legacy of innovation and resilience that makes for a diverse, resourceful community with plenty of spirit and heart. As a writer, it’s hard not to be inspired by that kind of backdrop.”
For her own favourite route there are “so many [she] could choose” – but it’s hard to beat the route from Seahouses to Bamburgh along the Northumberland coast.
“It reminds me of my childhood,” she said. “Pick up some fish and chips on the way, or stop off at The Potted Lobster to refuel.”
Of course, while the stunning landscapes remain constant, like the rest of the world, the North East has undergone huge change over the last nine months, as Covid-19 closed businesses and changed lives. Although she says she’s enjoyed a comparatively pleasant lockdown herself, Louise said, as she watched the impact of the pandemic she knew she had to do what she could to help others.
“Lockdown has affected people in different ways and, of course, it’s been difficult to adapt,” she said.
“However, I’m lucky to have had a very supportive family and a well-behaved little boy who has taken things in his stride; that’s allowed me to continue working and spend more time with him, as well.
“So, taking a positive from a negative situation, it’s been great to be able to be with my family a lot more than would otherwise have been the case. Likewise, my local community in the Tyne Valley has been incredible, as have many other communities in the region, who have pulled together to protect the most vulnerable, and I’m glad to have been able to help with that effort.”
But whilst coronavirus has had an effect on her philanthropic work, readers shouldn’t expect to see it in her writing, she said.
“Personally, I’ve taken the decision not to feature Covid-19 in any of my stories. The reasons are twofold: firstly, I believe the fictional stories I write should provide some enjoyable escapism for readers, not a reminder of the ‘real’ world which can be easily found by reading the news.
“Secondly, my books have to stand the test of time; readers in twenty years should be able to pick up the stories and fall into them, which would be harder to do with a time-capsule reminder of Covid-19 on the pages.”
Alongside setting up the new scheme, writing was, of course, a key part of lockdown for the prolific novelist, who already has 20 published novels to her name (since 2015, she’s usually brought out around three books a year, though in 2019, she released an incredible total of seven books, including the first two books of her new ‘Dr Alex Gregory’ series.)
Her latest DCI Ryan novel, ‘Cuthbert’s Way’, was written during lockdown and released in November. She’s already hard at work on new projects – and shared a tantalising hint of what fans can expect next.
Louise said: “The next in [the DCI Ryan] series will likely feature the coast, but won’t be out until the new year—however, next year, I’ve got a big new series coming out (also based in the North East) featuring different characters in a slightly different genre.
“I’m writing some of that at the moment and can’t wait to see what readers think!”
For more information about the Read, Write, Walk North East initiative, including literary and photographic competitions and financial grants, visit ljrossauthor.com.
-- to www.chroniclelive.co.uk