Friday, 26 February 2016

Social Media

For the first time in history, we are able to sustain friendships, and engage in conversations with groups of people, all over the world. I have friends in countries I've never visited, on every continent. Some of them are people I met and subsequently connected with online when they moved away. Others are people I first met online, who have become good friends. All of this has become possible through the advent of social media. To begin with, these online contacts didn't seem like real people at all. The first time a Facebook friend of mine turned up at one of my book signings, it felt surreal meeting her in the physical world. Since then many of us have met in the real world, as readers often come along to my events, sometimes travelling long distances for a signed book and a chat. It's always a thrill meeting people who read my books.

The only problem with social media is that it's so addictive! I frequently pop over to Facebook to reply to comments on my latest post, or see who else has been posting. Twitter is another site I frequent, putting up a tweet or responding to other people's comments. I've connected with some interesting people there as well.

So we are living in interesting times, in terms of human relations. We have our family and friends in the real world. Next are our virtual friends, real people we connect with via the Internet. Finally, there are the fictitious characters we read and write about. Whether real, virtual or fictitious, any of them can become our friends, and any of them can confound our expectations. The characters I create often surprise me. As an author, you might think I would be able to control my characters well enough to avoid them catching me off guard. They may be unpredictable to a reader, but they should not surprise whoever created them. As other authors will confirm, this is not always the case. My characters sometimes deviate from the paths I map out for them. That can be frustrating, but it is also part of the fun of writing, making the process more organic and creative. Like real people, they can have minds of their own.

Leigh Russell is published in English, and in translation throughout Europe. Her Geraldine Steel and Ian Peterson titles have appeared on many bestseller lists, including #1 on kindle. Leigh's work has been nominated for several major awards, including the CWA New Blood Dagger and CWA Dagger in the Library, and her Geraldine Steel and Ian Peterson series are currently in development for television with Avalon Television Ltd.

Journey to Death is the first title in her Lucy Hall series published by Thomas and Mercer.
Links to all Leigh's books can be found on her website

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Be Careful What You Say!

I've always been fascinated by the power of language. It's a very strange phenomenon, when you stop to think about it. We open our mouths and make peculiar sounds which somehow convey thoughts and feelings from inside our brains into someone else's mind. How does that happen? 

Of course, it doesn't always work.
'We're packing in the travels this year,' I said to my husband. 
He looked at me in surprise, understanding this to mean that I wanted to see an end to our travelling. What I intended to say was that we were cramming in a lot of travelling again. Since embarking on my new Lucy Hall series, our usual annual travels to all around the UK and Europe have increased, taking us away more frequently and further afield as far as the Seychelles and New Orleans. 

Once you start to consider the quirks of our language, instances come easily to mind. What, we might wonder, is a 'civil war'? In battle do the combatants politely ask permission before shooting one another? And wouldn't it be nice if people's appearances were judged in the the same way as chances, given that 'a fat chance' is the same as 'a slim chance'. 

There are many instances of ambiguity in literature. Some are deliberate, as when Shakespeare's witches chant 'Fair is foul'. Others are clearly not deliberate. In Thackeray's Vanity Fair, a character reports that 'he and I were both shot in the same leg.'

One of my favourite illustrations of the ambiguity of language is the child who was asked in a test to 'Take 7 from 93 as many times as you can.' The child answered 'I get 86 every time.' 

And the advertisement that claimed 'Nothing acts faster than Anadin'.

Ambiguity is not only created by words. The surprisingly popular book 'Eats shoots and leaves' gives us many examples of ambiguity created by punctuation.  
A woman: without her, man is nothing.
A woman, without her man, is nothing.

Thinking about ambiguity is entertaining, but it's also a reminder to us all to be careful how we express ourselves. Thoughtless words can not only be unintentionally hurtful or insulting, they can change the meaning of our intended message. 

Saturday, 6 February 2016

What's in a Name

It feels like a long time since I last posted here, although it's only just over a week. Actually, a lot has happened since then, including on the blogging front, but just not here. Let me explain.

My Lucy Hall series launches soon, with the first book, Journey to Death, published on 9th February. That means there has been promotional activity, including writing some guest blog posts. So far in the last ten days I've written five, three for my PR team in the US, and two for the UK. So I've not really had time - or ideas - to write about here. 

Being invited to write posts for other people's blogs is flattering but it's not as relaxing as writing here. I like to do a little research and get a flavour of the other blog, if I don't already know it. Often the topic they invite me to write about takes needs thinking and planning. It all takes time. 

And then there's the next Geraldine Steel which I was hoping to finish before I receive the edits for the second Lucy Hall. The WIP is progressing slowly. More a PIP* than a WIP. All the activity surrounding the launch of my new series is distracting. I am very excited about the launch, but also concerned.  

Where my police procedurals begin with a murder, the drama in my new book builds slowly. It may be too slow for some of my existing fans. Was it a mistake to publish Journey to Death under the same name as I used for my other series? Some reviews are already expressing disappointment that Lucy Hall is not like Geraldine Steel. If I had published my new series under a different name, it would have avoided such comparisons. 

At the time, it never really occurred to me to use a different name just because I was trying something new. It seems a little disingenuous to pretend to be someone else. After all, it is still me writing the Lucy Hall books. Yet other authors write under different names, and I do understand why. As Evelyn Waugh, among others, wrote:  'Comparisons are odious'. 

I like to trust that people will read Journey to Death with an open mind. But perhaps, in being open about my identity, I am inviting comparisons between my protagonists.  

Journey to Death is published on 9th February. Wish Lucy Hall good luck! 

*Procrastination in Progress

Friday, 29 January 2016

Thoughts on writing

Recently I came across an author's response to an Amazon review and I have to admit to feeling saddened by the exchange. I have removed names as this is not a personal attack, but a general comment about the use or abuse of our language. 

Here is the review: 

"This isn't a bad story but, like so many books, it is spoiled by a poor understanding of the English language. He was sat should be he was sitting, he was stood should be he was standing. Towards the end this seems to have been corrected so why let it spoil the first three quarters?
Also, every time the word 'yet' appears it is preceded by 'in' which makes no sense.
Possessive nouns and pronouns have no apostrophes and the awful word 'gotten' is used.
Hyphens keep popping up for no apparent reason!
If you can ignore the mis-use of the English language, the book is worth a read though a little slow."

And the author's response: 

"Authors these days are told not to use too many words ending with 'ing'. Such grammatical language alters through the years, but this is something which is frowned upon by editors and publishers, and has been for at least the past five years, so it is abided by at all times. I'm also a little worried having read your reviews, that you are mentioning the same things in each of them. 'The author wrote sat and used the word gotten' is written in all of your reviews on Amazon. These words are acceptable in UK English."

Who is told "not to use too many words ending with 'ing'."? If a writer overuses the continuous tense in her verbs, or peppers her work with gerunds, clearly that is poor style. Any tedious form of repetition may spoil prose. But if a writer needs to be told this, perhaps she should spend a few years reading others who do know how to write, before rushing to self-publish her own work while she still lacks a rudimentary understanding of language? 

It is true that the rules of grammar are constantly changing, but do editors and publishers frown upon the overuse of "words ending with 'ing' " any more than any other poor use of language? I don't think so - and what does "it is abided by at all times" even mean? I certainly don't abide by these dubious ideas about what is "acceptable in UK English".

The author is entitled to criticise her reviewer for repeated complaints about constructions like "He was sat" but perhaps this is a case of choosing your battles carefully. 

"He was sat" is incorrect, and in my view is not "acceptable" from someone who claims to be a writer. 

At the risk of being brought to task for repeating myself, I do think that if you want to publish or, in this instance, self-publish, your work, you have a duty to at least try to write well. For a fellow author to employ such clumsy and inaccurate constructions as "he was sat" and "he was stood" is shoddy. But to then defend such prose as "acceptable in UK English" is shocking. Acceptable to whom? Not to me, nor to several irritated reviewers of her book.  

Several very poorly edited books have famously become blockbusters. We can all probably name at least two. So should we blame writers for throwing their work out and hoping for the best? Am I an idiot to devote so much of my life to agonising over my choice of words, and my sentence structures? Does it really matter? Am I just an old-fashioned pedant to care about the quality of my published prose?

What do you think? 

Links to all my books can be found on my website 

Monday, 25 January 2016


I wrote somewhere, rather pompously, that if you call yourself a writer you have a duty to at least try to write well. In my books I do my best to express myself clearly in correct English. This takes hard work because, as Robert Louis Stevenson said, 'The difficulty of literature is not to write, but to write what you mean.' 

Many authors, some of them very successful, seem to pay scant attention to the quality of their prose, which I think is a pity. Others, like Ian McEwan or Kazuo Ishiguru, express themselves so lucidly that it is a pleasure to read their books just for the beauty of the language. 

In my own way I'm a bit of a pedant, and quite old-fashioned. For example, I try not to including contractions in my work, although there is no good reason why a writer of commercial crime fiction should avoid them. There may even be an argument in favour of using them, as 'don't' and 'can't' speed up the pace, where 'do not' and 'cannot' maybe slow it down. I suppose decades of teaching teenagers how to write 'properly', in correct, formal English, has left its mark on my writing. 

But writing for a blog is different - especially when it is a post for my own personal blog. Here, I am  free to use excessive punctuation, for example!! (Would I ever use double exclamation marks in a book??? Of course not!!!) What might look inappropriate in a novel to my blinkered eyes, seems perfectly acceptable here. 

Of course blogs are not solely outlets for trivia. Many bloggers analyse, critique and comment on important issues in culture and current affairs. A blog can be whatever the writer chooses to make it, and we are fortunate to live in a period where blogs are so many and so varied.

In his droll and whimsical novel, Tristram Shandy, the eighteenth century writer Laurence Sterne set out to break all the contemporary rules of fiction, in an ingenious parody of the rather self-consciously worthy novels of the time. I think Sterne would have relished the liberty of a blog.

A New Breed of Bookseller

I used to worry that ebooks would lure young people away from reading to online games, which offer a superficial dumbed down kind of story. I wrote a post about my dystopian vision, my answer to Ray Bradbury's 'Fahrenheit 451'. But so far the rise of ebooks does not seem to be leading readers away from books. Quite the opposite, in fact, as ebooks seem to be reaching out to increasing numbers of readers. 

As with higher education, you cannot hope to engage a wider audience without compromising on standards to some extent. But is any strand of culture necessarily superior because it is accessible only to a narrow - some might say narrow-minded - intellectual elite? The highbrow intelligentsia can continue to enjoy reading and writing challenging literary books, in the same way that University Challenge reassures us that there are still students who are exceptionally brilliant and knowledgeable. That has not changed. 

What is happening, I suspect, is that with the advent of cheap accessible ebooks, more and more people are enjoying commercial or popular fiction, just as increasing numbers of youngsters benefit from higher education. And that can only enhance the lives of those individuals, and society as a whole, as people become more educated and better informed, from formal studies and through wider reading.

The way readers discover new books has also opened up. Big publishers invest heavily in their blockbusters, which are promoted with marketing budgets running to hundreds of thousands of pounds. In the face of such competition, how do unknown - sometimes self-published - authors slip past the big names to reach Number 1 on kindle? Their success can only be explained by the potential for communication, and product accessibility, offered by the Internet. 

Word of mouth recommendation has always influenced our buying habits to some extent, but before the explosion in social media it could operate only on a small scale. Now a recommendation online, together with a link, can be a relatively powerful marketing tool. 

We are witnessing the emergence of a new breed of bookseller. They are not professional book reviewers, or book sellers in High Street bookshops. They are not book clubs or shop displays funded by publishers. They are readers who have found their voice on social media websites, blogs and online book clubs. The reading world is becoming a democracy. Let's hope people vote to read more!