For over a thousand years the island of Lindisfarne has inspired visitors to its remote location off the coast of Northumberland. It certainly proved inspirational for Louise Ross, who grew up nearby: “I know the area well. I found it such an atmospheric place and always enjoyed visiting or looking over to it as I travelled past on the train. In the back of my mind I was waiting for the novel that would do justice to such a great setting.” Little did she know that, one day, she would write a number one bestseller set on the island.
I was looking out the window at Lindisfarne once more and thinking that someone should use it as the backdrop for a crime thriller. Then I asked myself: why couldn’t that person be me?
A chance to change
Louise had never harboured any ambitions of becoming a writer. “It hadn’t even occurred to me. I had all the usual dreams of becoming an astronaut, fashion designer or artist,” she laughs, “but eventually decided to become a lawyer.” Moving to London to study, Louise met her husband, James, and both settled into successful legal careers.
By 2013 Louise was expecting her first child. “Getting married and starting a family are life changing events. I noticed that, with them, my priorities were shifting,” she remembers. “I knew I wanted to go back to work after maternity leave, but I realised that if I wanted to balance a working life with the needs of my family, I needed to look at my options carefully.”
A new chapter
It was whilst visiting family back in the North of England that Louise found herself passing a familiar sight. “I was looking out the window at Lindisfarne once more and thinking that someone should use it as the backdrop for a crime thriller,” she says. “Then I asked myself: why couldn’t that person be me?”
With James’s encouragement, 2014 saw Louise decide to write the story that she had wanted to read for so long and not return to life as a lawyer. With her son Ethan starting nursery, she had some time to dedicate to writing. “It wasn’t easy and I had a few false starts. Working in law had helped my technical writing skills, but a novel is a very different thing. I’ve always loved a good story, so I had an idea of what I was aiming for, but it took me a while to get there.”
As summer moved into autumn, the book, Holy Island, took shape. “The thought that I was writing a novel as a career choice still seemed strange, but during this time I really focussed on making it work”. When Louise got to the point where she felt confident enough to show the book to family and friends, she was amazed at their enthusiastic reaction. This encouraged her to submit her novel to agents and publishers and, again, feedback was very positive: she was even offered a publishing deal.
“The offer was good and I could have accepted it, but James had been doing some research and had discovered Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). KDP provided much greater flexibility and control over the process as well as a more interesting deal. It looked quick and easy and yet it would help me reach readers all over the world. For me this was the way to go. “
All the way up to the top
Louise uploaded Holy Island to KDP on New Year’s Day 2015. In the following weeks, through word of mouth and positive reviews, it quickly began to climb up the UK Crime and Thriller chart. “Reaching number one in the ‘Cosy Mystery’ chart was more than I’d ever hoped for, but the momentum continued and in May I made it to the top of the overall Kindle bestseller chart on Amazon.co.uk. My jaw hit the floor!” she exclaims. “I realised then, I really had a viable career here.” Riding on the wave of hundreds of reviews, Louise now concentrated on a sequel featuring lead character DCI Ryan. “I was a bit daunted by having to live up to readers’ reaction to Holy Island, but found that I loved writing Sycamore Gap.”
With two bestsellers published in 2015 and also available in print and audio through CreateSpace and Audible, Louise completed her third DCI Ryan novel, Heavenfield, in early 2016. “I’ve been so lucky to be able to balance family with a new writing career,” she says. “It isn’t always easy, but having complete control over the whole process means that I can fit it around caring for Ethan. Writing can be a solitary experience, but having my family close really helps.”
Looking back, Louise has no regrets: “At the time it was a daunting step to switch careers, but I’m glad I did it. We’ve been able to make some great changes to our lives, like recently moving to Somerset, which simply wouldn’t have been possible before. It’s been an amazing year and I can’t wait to see what the next one brings.”