The multi-million bestselling author

An interview with the curator and sponsor of North East Heroes, LJ Ross.

LJ Ross is an internationally bestselling local author whose books have sold over ten million copies worldwide. Originally from Ponteland, Louise moved to London where she studied Law and worked for a number of years as a regulatory barrister. Swapping her career in law for a life of crime (writing) she was drawn back to her beloved North East and now lives in the Tyne Valley with her husband and two young children.  As if writing thirty books and co-founding her own publishing imprint hasn’t been enough to keep her busy, Louise has also established a number of philanthropic projects and prizes.

Today Louise tells us more about her latest initiative – North East Heroes.

What can you tell us about the North East Heroes exhibition?

Whenever I’m asked about the North East, I think of the beauty of its natural and industrial landscapes but also of the strength, resilience, genuine warmth and kindness of the people who live there. Not only do I feel fortunate to have been born and brought up here, but, over the years, to have met so many outstanding people who share the same love of local heritage as well as a drive and passion to see it, and the communities within it, continue to thrive. A few years ago, I began a series of short interviews focusing on these ‘North East Heroes’ who, in their own special ways, represent to me the spirit and heart of the region and they were accompanied by some wonderful portraits captured by local photographer Donna-Lisa Healy. Now, I’m delighted to be able to present a selection of some of these images, which represent a tiny snapshot of the many wonderful, hardworking and compassionate people who make up our special corner of the world.

Why did you establish the North East Heroes exhibition?

The initial idea to begin documenting some of the inspirational people of the North East began during the Covid-19 pandemic. At a time when the country and wider world was filled with fear, and positivity was at a premium, I wanted to shine a light on some of the good work being done in big and small ways in our local area, and to promote the Arts as much as I could. Having been the recipient of so much goodwill myself, I wanted to be able to encourage, uplift and spotlight the work of others whose creativity and talent is so worthy of recognition—which is why we set up the Northern Photography Prize, four years ago, in addition to our other prizes for writing. Establishing this exhibition is, in some small way, a thank you to the subjects of the photographs as well as all those not pictured, for all they did and continue to do for the North East.

What do you hope to achieve through the North East Heroes exhibition?

I hope that the individual ‘heroes’ featured in this exhibition feel appreciated for their work and proud of their endeavours; so many of them make a difference within organisations that are committed to improving the lives of others. Those who have garnered public recognition often use their voices to amplify small businesses, charities and tourism, whilst those who work quietly behind the scenes do much the same. I hope that people viewing the portraits will be inspired to learn more about their work, and show their own support if they can.

Why did you commission the photographer Donna-Lisa Healy to capture your heroes?

Back in 2016, when I was a new author with only three books published, I was asked to appear at Newcastle Noir Festival, which was taking place at the Lit & Phil Society. As part of the event, author photographs were taken by the official photographer for the Festival, who was Donna-Lisa Healy. Since then, I’ve been so lucky to have crossed her path numerous times at other literary events, and, each time, I have been blown away by her warmth and good humour. She has a unique capacity to put a person at ease—a difficult but crucial task in portrait photography—and so, when considering who would be the best person to try to capture the essence of my ‘North East Heroes’, hers was the first and only name to come to mind. It’s a pleasure to give her work the audience it deserves!

Who is your own personal hero?

I’ve met a great many people who could lay claim to that title, but there will only ever be one true hero in my life, and that’s my mother, Susan. For me, as I’m sure it will be the case for so many others, she represents not only the role model to whom I aspired to be like, but one of many unsung heroes who work quietly and consistently each day to be decent and kind, without hope or expectation of recognition or return. She, and all others like her, are my personal heroes.

Photography by Donna-Lisa Healy

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