You have recently introduced some new initiatives to promote the north-east to your readers. Can you tell us more about this work?
The settings have always played a major part in my stories, and have garnered a strong local readership as well as an international following. The north-east of England is where I was born, grew up and where I still call home, so it’s always a pleasure to think of ways to try to spotlight some of its beauty, on and off the pages, as well as local businesses and attractions where appropriate.
In addition to interactive GPS- enabled DCI Ryan Book Trails readers can follow (at the end of which they can claim a prize), and the usual ad-hoc giveaways I run regularly through my social media, in response to the Covid-19 crisis I launched Read, Write, Walk North East, a programme of prizes, events and opportunities covering literacy, photography, enterprise and the arts. Specifically, I launched the Northern Photography Prize for amateur photographers celebrating the spirit and heart of the north-east of England.
There is also the Lindisfarne Prize for Crime Fiction, now in its fourth year, which celebrates outstanding crime fiction or thriller writing from authors who are from, reside in, or whose work celebrates the north-east of England. The prize carries an award of £2,500, plus memberships of the Alliance of Independent Authors and the Society of Authors, as well as a free editorial package and mentorship. The Lindisfarne Reading Challenge is an ongoing pilot scheme working with children for whom literacy has been a challenge, partnering with Walker Riverside Academy, whereby we fund books and various prizes for children who complete a reading challenge that is tailored to them, rather than being “one size fits all”, thereby incentivising reading for children who have fallen into a socioeconomic “disadvantage gap”. It’s working very well, so far!
We also have the Dark Skies Publishing Community Fund, the Lindisfarne Children’s Prize (coming soon) and, most recently, an enormous Willy Wonka-style Golden Ticket giveaway, whereby we have funded five adventure tickets worth more than £2,000, valid at a number of premier venues, restaurants, hotels, independent bookshops etc. across the north-east.
Finally, I run a series of interviews featuring north-east heroes, with a new interview released every week featuring everyday heroes who have gone above and beyond to help others. Interviewees have included booksellers, local volunteers, managers of cancer centres, and many more.
Why did you decide to launch these projects?
The reason is simple: at a time when I have been fortunate enough to continue to do the job that I love, I felt it was only right to try to use my platform in such a way as to keep my readers interested and engaged, while also affording the opportunity to spotlight local businesses and people, and “pay things forward” as much as possible. By launching new arts prizes and maintaining old ones, I wanted to keep supporting the arts through writing and photography and encourage entrants to continue to see the beauty of people and places around the north-east.
What has the response from readers been so far?
I am very lucky to have a hugely engaged readership, many of whom send kind and encouraging messages. The response to the other initiatives I’ve launched has been similarly positive, with so many readers taking part or sharing with friends; in terms of giveaways, I often run these with an emphasis on kindness or thinking of others (“nominating a hero”), and it has been heartwarming to read some of the reasons why people have entered their friends, family or personal heroes to win a prize.
Do you think publishers and authors are doing enough to connect with audiences in the north of England?
I think the people of the north-east are known for being warm, friendly and down-to-earth. Therefore, generic corporate PR or marketing campaigns don’t tend to resonate as well with readers from that region, whereas a more personal approach to connect with and maintain a relationship with readers would always be my preferred approach, and what I would recommend to others.
The vast majority of readers don’t attend signings, online launches, or follow book blogs—sorry, but it’s true! Therefore, I think people would be better advised to vary their approach and look to find readers outside the ordinary channels.