You might be familiar with L J Ross’s bestselling DCI Ryan mysteries; she shot to success after independently publishing her first novel, Holy Island, in January 2015, and since then it’s been a whirlwind for the former lawyer. She’s just released her ninth book, The Hermitage, her 10th book is due for release in December, and the Audible Original, The Infirmary, is out on 8th of November. Audible is the world’s largest producer and distributor of digital audiobooks with over 300,000 titles, and are revamping audio entertainment.
‘For anyone who isn’t familiar with my work, I write the DCI Ryan mystery series based in the North East, with every book based in a different area,’ Ross explains. ‘People have been asking for quite a while to hear the prequel to the first story, which was Holy Island, where the main character went to the island for a bit of sanctuary after some trauma. Readers were wanting to know what happened to make him the way that he is, so that’s the story that The Infirmary tells.’
This prequel is being released as an exclusive Audible drama, which means it’s branching out from the usual one-man or one-woman narration with an entire cast of characters and sound effects. ‘I think the tagline for audio-dramas is “Movies for the ears”, so it’s like a full experience,’ says Ross. ‘You get a really well-known actor and full sound effects, so when you listen to it you actually get tingles.’
The Infirmary really does have an all-star cast: Tom Bateman, Hermione Norris, and Kevin Whately top the bill, which Ross admits was a humbling experience for her, and considers the experience to be one of the proudest moments of her career. ‘It was such a special experience, quite emotional in a way. I’m a fan of all these people – it’s a wonderful cast and they did a great job finding the right people for the parts. I kind of have to pinch myself because I’ve seen these people on the TV and now they’re reading my words. It’s crazy!’
As well as all-star actors, The Infirmary also features some local talent: Northern actor Daniel Matthew Lemon also had a place in the cast, which is fitting as the series champions the North.
There’s no denying that audiobooks and ebooks are on the rise in terms of popularity. More and more people have been turning to audio to fit reading into their lives – whether it’s because their eyes are too tired after work to concentrate on a page, or because they want to squeeze some reading in during their commute. ‘For me, it’s about providing my fans with a choice,’ says Ross. ‘I like to have my work available in as many formats as possible, so that anyone who wants to access the story can. Audio is an area people are really turning to as an alternative to storytelling.’
As Ross is independently published, she has the creative freedom to explore different formats. ‘I feel very privileged,’ she admits. ‘The good thing about being independently published is you’re not tied to external publishing deadlines. As long as the book has gone through all the quality procedures that it should have, then it’s up to you when you want to release it, so it’s quite liberating in that sense.’
It was Ross’s husband who suggested she turn to independent publishing when she started writing. ‘I was a lawyer before I started writing, so I didn’t know very much about publishing when I first came to the career. I did what most people think you should do and got myself an agent, then sent off my first book to around 12 publishing houses. I actually got a really nice response from a mid-sized publishing house, but because I was an untried author, I didn’t know how much visibility my book would get. My husband suggested independent publishing, so I looked into it and it seemed like a no-brainer – I’d have full economic and creative control.’
Thanks to this creative freedom, Ross can write whenever the inspiration strikes her (which is every day, it seems). She loves going out for walks in the Northumbrian countryside, as she likes to feel as connected as possible to the landscape in order to translate it truthfully into her books.
‘I find the landscape really inspirational. I live near Hadrian’s Wall, so I just go walking and try to get a flavour of the landscape and try to weave that in. I think a lot of my readers really connect with that, whether it’s their landscape or not.’
In terms of local areas, Ross has already explored Holy Island, Northumberland, Newcastle, and County Durham, and has no intention of stopping their. ‘I’d love to venture as far as the Lake District in my books, and definitely County Durham a bit more, and I’m always looking to the coastline, so maybe Dunstanburgh. All my readers are lovely – they all write to me suggesting areas, it’s great!’
Although Ross is known for her crime fiction, she doesn’t discount dabbling in other genres in the future. ‘When I started writing I thought I’d write women’s fiction or comedy, but then I started killing people off – I went dark. I think mysteries and thrillers are on a sort of spectrum, I could easily go softer or darker. I’m interested in writing a psychological thriller, and maybe explore stand-alone books as opposed to series, perhaps with a female protagonist this time.’
When brainstorming her future books, Ross draws inspiration from the queen of crime herself, Agatha Christie, as well as Arthur Conan Doyle, Jim Thompson and M. M. Kaye – striving to keep her readers as gripped as she was during Kaye’s 1,000-page epic The Far Pavilions, while keeping her style as clear as that of Thompson and Conan Doyle.
Don’t miss The Infirmary when it comes out on 8th November – it is sure to be an experience to remember.