Harrogate 2016.

I’m so overwhelmed by this weekend’s activities that I can’t even think of a witty title for this post.

Up until three or four weeks ago, I wasn’t planning on going to Theakston’s Crime Writing Festival this year. And then the stars aligned. My partners in crime (ahem) Jay Stringer and Graham Smith – organisers of Noir at the Bar Glasgow and Carlisle respectively – decided to throw a wee bash at Harrogate. How could I say no? For several days before the big event, I wished I had said no to the invitation to read from my novel Fix Me Up at Hales Bar alongside some impressive writers. However, I am so glad I did it. I got to be on the bill with Helen FitzGerald and Brooke Magnanti as well as my very good friend, Lucy Cameron.

Noir at the Bar Harrogate

My old pal Luca Veste hosted and thought up some brilliant intros. It was fantastic to be introduced by a man who gave me opportunities when I was just starting out. The readings at Noir at the Bar weren’t just dark, there was plenty of humour too. I loved Russel D. McLean’s reading and I thought Helen FitzGerald was bloody brilliant, her book Viral is the most thought-provoking book I’ve read this year, managing to combine a really serious issue with plenty of biting wit.

It really was something to see Hales bar packed out at the beginning of the festival – thank you to everyone who came.

My friend Luca introduces me

Over the course of my time in Harrogate this year, I got a lot of great feedback following my reading at Noir at the Bar from people I really respect and admire . It made my weekend to have Steve Mosby and Helen FitzGerald (among others) tell me that they liked my reading. Several people compared my work to the great Irvine Welsh – I’m still speechless.

Noir at the Bar crew

Meanwhile, back at the Swan…

Congratulations to Clare Mackintosh on her win for I Let You Go which won Crime Novel of the Year at the opening ceremony on Thursday evening. Her follow-up, I See Youwas available at the festival on an exclusive pre-release and I’m really looking forward to reading it.

On Friday morning, I was up with the larks to see the man who inspired me to write crime fiction: Linwood Barclay. He was interviewed by Mark Bilingham – who later sang The Kinks’ Victoria to me in the signing tent – and, despite the early hour, the audience was thoroughly entertained. Although, I have to admit, I was too shy to ask Linwood for a picture which is something I shall always regret! The rest of the panels I saw were intriguing and left me brimming with ideas.

Due to work commitments, I left Harrogate on Saturday morning after a whirlwind of panels, familiar faces and new friends. On my drive home, I felt incredibly guilty for missing lots of people or not getting to chat as much as I would have liked but I know there’s always next year…

Vic x

Never give up…

As I took a trip through Newcastle today, I noticed that it was graduation day. I watched students in their caps and gowns, taking selfies and celebrating the end of an era.

Strolling through the beautiful campus of my alma mater, Newcastle University, I thought back to my own graduation day eight years ago. It was I day I never thought I’d see.

I was twenty-one when I finally went to uni. I’d had three years in ‘the real world’, earning some money and doing another A-Level, and during that time I’d decided I wanted to train to be a teacher.

Despite a hand injury which left me unable to write, I quite enjoyed the first terms. Uni was so different to anything I’d experienced before and I met two wonderful girls who, to this day, remain my best friends.

By March of my first year, though,  I was ready to quit. I’d failed a History assessment and was wracked with self-doubt. I remember vividly those fraught days as I struggled to make a decision on what to do. I was terrified of failure. I felt that staying on at uni could equal complete failure. What if I flunked the first year completely? What if they kicked me out? It didn’t occur to me at the time that all my other marks were really rather good. Another thought that occurred to me, though, was that quitting would be a definite failure in my eyes.

I don’t remember how I came to a decision. I don’t remember how I overcame those wicked gremlins. But I did. Staying might mean failure, quitting definitely would.

With the support of my parents and some of the academic staff, I decided to streamline my degree from Combined Studies to Media, Communication and Cultural Studies. I never looked back.

As my undergraduate days drew to a close, I began to consider what to do next. That summer, I read more books than I had done in years (apart from academic books, of course). Some were inspiring in the traditional sense. Others made me think: ‘I could do that’. Around the same time, I was given a place on the Chronicle’s Young Reviewer of the Year scheme. Not only was this a fantastic outlet – giving me ‘a reason’ to write and deadlines to meet – but it also gave me the confidence I needed to look into Masters degrees in Creative Writing.

As we queued outside the ceremonial hall on graduation day, a course-mate asked what my plans were, I answered: ‘I’m going to be a writer’. That moment is crystallised in my memory and every year, when I see loved ones in all their finery and graduates with their capes blowing in the wind, I’m reminded of that conversation. And when I think back on that conversation, I stand a little taller and remind myself that I made it happen. I am a writer, just as I said I would be.

I graduated in 2010 with a Masters in Creative Writing. And again in 2014 with a Post-Graduate Certificate in Education. I hope to get a doctorate one day. And all this from a girl who almost dropped out six months in because of the voices in her head telling her she wasn’t clever enough.

Don’t ever give up.

Vic x

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What have I got myself into?

Noir at the Bar Harrogate Continue reading

Guest Post: Jennifer C. Wilson on ‘Finding the Words’.

I have the pleasure of hosting Jennifer C. Wilson on the blog today. Jen, a member of Elementary  Writers, is not only a fantastic poet but her debut novel ‘Kindred Spirits: Tower of Londonwas published by Crooked Cat Publishing last year and is available as an e-book and in paperback form. 

Jen and Elaine’s workshop this coming Saturday promises to be full of fun and inspiration. 

Vic x

Thanks for hosting me today, Victoria!

JCW in Leicester Cathedral.jpg

You know I love my creative writing workshops, and this Saturday, 16th July, at Whitley Bay Library, I’m delighted to be running my first in partnership with fellow Whitley Writer, Elaine Cusack. We’ll be helping people “Find the Words”, with two workshops – a Scavenger Hunt in the morning (10:00-13:00), rummaging for ideas around Whitley Bay, and the library itself, and then in the afternoon (13:30-16:30), a session on Found Poetry.

killingworth

Elaine Cusack will be co-hosting the workshop with Jen.

Whether people attend one or both sessions, there’ll be plenty of exercises to inspire, and a chance to share and draft work for group or one-to-one feedback.

Having dipped a toe in workshops last summer, with a history-inspired event at Arbeia Roman Fort, I cannot wait to run a whole-day session, and help people come up with some new ideas.

Sessions are £20 each, or £30 for the whole day (10:00-16:30), and tickets are available online now. You can get more information about this event on Facebook

Elaine and I cannot wait!

Jennifer.

Guest Post: Graham Smith looks ahead to Crime and Publishment 2017.

I was fortunate enough to attend this year’s Crime & Publishment where I met some fantastic people and picked up lots of handy hints. It was a brilliant experience, one I’d recommend to anyone who fancies writing crime fiction. To be honest, much of the experience would be beneficial to writers of any genre. Graham Smith, organiser of this excellent event, is here to tell us what he’s got planned for 2017. I suggest you book now…

Vic xC&P

I’m not one for getting overly excited but the line-up I’ve managed to pull together for Crime and Publishment in 2017 has got me feeling not just excited but also quietly confident C&P will reach new heights.

Not only have I got a former chair of the Crime Writers’ Association and one of the co-founders of the Bloody Scotland crime festival as speakers, I’ve also been fortunate enough to secure the services of the UK’s Queen of Crime, Martina Cole, and one of the country’s top agents in Simon Trewin of William Morris Endeavor.

The weekend starts, as ever, on the Friday morning and the attendees will be split into two groups where they will be taught how to “Keep Readers Reading” by Tom Harper and “Using Forensics in Crime Writing” by Lin Anderson. After lunch and a brief session on “Setting Realistic Writing Goals” by Michael Malone, the two groups will swap tutors for the afternoon session.

Saturday sees crime doyenne, Martina Cole teaching attendees how to “Create Likeable Villains and Anti-heroes” while Simon Trewin lectures on “Perfecting Your Pitch” to the second group. After lunch, the groups will again swap tutors before the final session of 1-2-1 surgeries where attendees can pick the brains of the speakers on all writing-related issues and problems they’re encountering.

Sunday is when all attendees will be offered a chance to pitch their novels to Simon Trewin and hopefully add to the growing number of Crime and Publishment members who’ve managed to secure a publishing contract.

With an optional extra of “Editing made Easy” by renowned editor Morgen Bailey taking place on the Friday evening, I believe the weekend has more than enough potential to surpass the previous years’ successes.

At the time of writing, six members of the Crime and Publishing gang have signed publishing and TV contracts as well as one of our past speakers – R.C. Bridgestock – engaging an agent due to their attendance at C&P.

While I may be the host, organiser and go-to person for Crime and Publishment, I’m firmly aware that it is the friendly nature, mutual support and varied experience of attendees which has created a marvellous sense of camaraderie. I quite honestly couldn’t be any prouder of the C&P gang and take as much pleasure from their individual and collective triumphs as I do my own.

Getting to Know You: Shelley Day

I’ve been lucky enough to meet Shelley Day many times over the years at book events. I’m really chufffed to have her on the blog today to talk about her debut novel, ‘The Confession of Stella Moon‘. I’m also tremendously excited to be attending her book launch in Newcastle next week. Your time has come, Shelley! 

Vic x

 

Shelley Day
I’m so excited to read another crime book set in Newcastle. Tell me about your debut novel. What inspired it?
Thanks for inviting me onto the blog Vic!

My debut novel ‘The Confession of Stella Moon‘ is Domestic Noir and is indeed set in Newcastle! Well, it’s partly set in the city – in a semi-derelict boarding house in Heaton – and partly up on the Northumberland coast, in a run-down beach hut on the dunes between Beadnell and Embleton. I grew up in the North East, and although I’ve lived in a lot of different places, and I currently spend a lot of time in Scotland and Norway, the North East is my Home with a capital H. I belong here and it always pulls me back! I guess it’s these long-standing connections to this place that kind of inspired the book.

The Confession of Stella Moon‘ is being published as a crime novel, but it’s not a police procedural, or a whodunit. It’s more of a whydunnit, an exploration into the psychology behind the crime.

My publisher came up with this amazingly macabre-sounding strap-line which does actually capture the theme of the book: “Because dark secrets don’t decompose.”

It’s a novel essentially about a family secret. A black, brooding tale of matricide set in 1960s and 70s Newcastle in a family so dysfunctional it’s sinister. After serving a prison sentence for killing her mother, young Stella Moon is discharged to restart her life. But her plans are soon ruined when she falls prey to a dark family secret that pulls her back into the past. Strange rituals, shame and paranoia haunt her, like the persisting smell of her mother’s taxidermy in the abandoned boarding house. Stella is caught in a tangled web of guilt and manipulation.

I have a background in both law and psychology, so I’ve drawn on what I know about those things to write this novel.

Stella Moon

Tell us about Stella, your main character.
The entire novel was built around the Stella character. She came to me first and essentially the novel is her story.

Stella was born at Moniack Mhor, a remote Writing Centre up beyond Inverness. I’d gone there on a week-long Arvon residential writing course after I took redundancy from work. The tutor was Patrick Gale. It was in one of the writing exercises that Stella appeared, fully formed. As soon as she was there, I felt I knew her, and I just knew she and I were going to spend a lot of time together. It was Patrick who said I should put Stella into a novel. I thought about it, but I couldn’t do it straight away ‘cause after my redundancy, money ran out, I was flat out freelancing. So it wasn’t until years later that I sat down and wrote Stella’s story.

I wrote the very scrappy first draft during NaNoWriMo 2010. Stella has been described as a ‘disturbed and disturbing’ character. People say she gets under your skin. One agent – who I didn’t go with in the end – found Stella ‘haunting, difficult to put out of her mind…’ But Stella is also haunted, by the past, by the house, by the family secret she discovers. I hope readers will be rooting for her from the start because, as a character, she’s the kind of person who deserves support. I hope people will want to find out whether she makes it! Although she’s served a prison sentence for killing her mother, there’s a whole story behind her terrible crime, and basically the whole book is trying to ferret out what’s actually going on and asking questions about where criminal responsibility lies.

What can readers expect from your book?
My novel, on the face of it, is a story about a matricide, about a young women who’s released from jail only to find herself further imprisoned, but this time by the past, by conspiracies of silence, by a grim family secret she knew nothing about.

But it also tackles bigger themes –  mothers and daughters, for example. And I’ve already mentioned criminal responsibility. Readers can also expect a strong psychological dimension – about memory, and about the effects trauma can have on what you remember and how you see things. It’s about the longer-term effects of ‘abuse’, about how family secrets can blight a life.  At another level, it’s a story about how difficult it is to put together a coherent life story … I can’t really tell you any more without introducing spoilers, so I will shut up now!

When is it out?
The novel will be officially available on 7th July. On that day it will be launched at Waterstone’s in Edinburgh, and then on the 13th at Waterstone’s in Newcastle.

Most useful piece of writing advice? Who was it from? Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
I’ve gathered lots of useful pieces of writing advice along the way! I’ll see if I can remember some!

AL Kennedy once told a writing group I was in: Fear is the main thing that stands in your way. It’s only fear you have to be afraid of. Now I think that’s a very basic lesson all new writers need to learn as soon as they can. If you can learn to put that fear to one side and let yourself get on with your writing, regardless, you are more than half way there. It’s easier said than done though! But it is possible to do it, and to do it again, and again … Really, starting to write is all about giving yourself permission; permission to take time out of your life to sit down and write, permission to write something far less than perfect for the first draft, permission to soldier on despite the fear of the page, of the pen, of everything. You just have to give yourself permission, and off you go. And keep going. And just keep going.

You have to develop a thick skin, coping with rejections is not the easiest thing, but you have to get used to them, and to try and learn from them. Another friend said: the successful people are the ones who haven’t given up. I keep remembering that.

Finally, a warning. Writing is difficult. It’s difficult because it can mean you are drawing on deep-down bits of yourself that, frankly, would prefer to be left undisturbed. So writing can churn you up. There’s no way this can be avoided in creative work. But if you know in advance that you’re setting off on a bumpy road with potholes and cliff edges and the prospect of stormy weather, you can at least pack a decent raincoat.

I love that analogy! What do you like and dislike about writing?
I don’t like writing. I can’t say I like sitting down and writing. There are a million things I would rather do and I will try all ways and means to avoid it. But equally, writing is a compulsion; I can’t not do it. If ever there is a time when, for whatever reason, I really am not writing, I don’t feel good at all.

What I like is having written. It’s a very good feeling when you have written something that’s not half bad and you know you’re going to be able to turn it into something worthwhile. That is what’s enjoyable. I’m compelled to write, I think, because writing is the only thing that makes me feel good about myself. That’s what keeps me doing it again and again.

Are you writing anything at the moment?
I am working on a short story collection. ‘A Policy of Constant Improvement‘ will be out in 2017. In 2015 I won a Northern Writer’s Award for it and am extremely fortunate to have been mentored by Carys Davies! And I’m working on a second novel. The protagonist is called Clara. As with Stella, I’m deeply attached to Clara even though she is leading me something of a merry dance at the moment. The working title is ‘Clara Says’ but I have a much more interesting one up my sleeve! I can’t tell you any more because I’m scared of putting a jinx on it!

Thanks sooo much for having me on your blog. And I really hope you enjoy ‘The Confession of Stella Moon!

Getting to know you: Amanda Jennings

Today on the blog, we get to know more about Amanda Jennings. I met Amanda briefly at Newcastle Noir earlier this year and I’m really pleased to have her on the blog.

Her book ‘In Her Wake‘ has been selected for WHSmith’s Fresh Talent Summer 2016 list. How cool is that?!

I hope you enjoy Amanda’s interview as much as I did.

Vic x

Amanda Jennings

Congratulations on being included in the WHSmith Fresh Talent Summer 2016 list. How do you feel?
I’m over the moon. It’s a little surreal – seeing my picture on a stand in WHSmiths! – but it’s a good surreal. ‘In Her Wake‘ has been selected alongside some truly brilliant books from around the world, and I’m chuffed to bits to have that kind of nod of approval. What’s been really lovely is the number of friends and readers, both in real life and on social media, who have been openly happy for me and have sent pictures of the book taken in airports and stations around the country, as well as gorgeous messages. It has been very moving to feel the love and support.

I enjoyed your panel at Newcastle Noir, did you enjoy taking part?
I did! It was a great panel, and lovely to be part of an all-woman line-up, with the lovely, and very knowledgeable, Barry Forshaw moderating. I love talking at events. It makes a great change from sitting alone at home, staring at my computer screen (or more often than not out of the window!). I adore the social side of festivals. Readers and writers are almost without exception a warm and welcoming crowd with a mutual love of reading and books. I find it a very affirming and positive experience.

In Her Wake

What can readers expect from your books?
I am fascinated by the relationships that exist within a family unit. My books always tend to centre around a crime of some sort that has happened some time in the past which has been reignited in the present causing shock-waves. My books concentrate on the lasting effects of these past traumas, and tend to follow the protagonists as they work their way through to some sort of resolution. My writing focuses on the emotions of those involved, of cause and effect of the crime and their subsequent acting and reaction, of the concept that nothing we do can ever be separated from events that have occurred in our pasts. Every human being is a complex tapestry of their past experiences. I love analysing why people do ‘bad’ things and how those ‘bad’ things are justified, not only their minds, but also in the mind of the reader. I enjoy making the reader confront the grey areas surrounding what is right and wrong. If I can get a reader to feel sympathy or understanding for a person who has committed a crime – even if they (and I) still condemn that crime – I am very happy!

Most useful piece of writing advice and who was it from?
I am a big fan of Stephen King’s ‘On Writing‘ and in it he talks about writing for your Ideal Reader, the one person who you want to make laugh or cry. If you tried to write for a wide readership, or for an unknown editor or agent, I think you’d lose your way. If a writer wants to have a unique and memorable ‘voice’ then they need to be totally true to themselves, to show their inner self. The easiest way to be true to yourself is to talk to someone who knows you so well they would question something that didn’t ring true. King writes for his wife Tabitha. I write for my husband, who not only encourages me but also challenges me. He’s my biggest fan and my harshest critic and I will always listen to his advice.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Finish your first draft! It’s only when you have a complete first draft that you can step back and look at the whole. When you have your story down you can then focus on what themes you want to concentrate on, which characters need more page-time, which need knocking into the background. I will edit a book a good number of times, sometimes as much as eleven or twelve full rewrites. Your first draft is your lump of clay and, though it needs shaping and reworking, it has all the ingredients needed for you to complete a book you are proud of. So don’t edit too much as you go along. Write notes in the margin or in capitals within the text when you have ideas as you write, and plough on. And don’t be tempted to submit the book too early. Yes you have that completed draft, but more likely than not there’ll be work to do. Most seasoned writers will tell you their first drafts are always dreadful!

I really needed that advice – thank you! What do you like and dislike about writing?
I love those days when the words flow out of you almost beyond my control. I sometimes find myself in a special place where time seems to move without me being aware and I am totally immersed in the story and the words. But there are also those days – sadly more numerous than the good ones – where each word comes like blood from a stone. On these days I am plagued by self-doubt and The Fear, and genuinely believe I can’t do it and wonder why I am idiotic enough to even try. These days just need to be endured.

Are you writing anything at the moment?
I have just started book four. It’s not coming very easily (I am in the enduring phase!) but I’m getting there. The story has been hidden in the mist a little, but it’s emerging slowly. I need to listen to my own advice and get the first draft down!

What’s been your happiest writing moment?
I think the moment my agent told me we had an offer of a publishing contract for my first book. My writing career, like those of so many writers, had been full of rejection up until that point. I had almost given up hope of every finding an editor. The phone call I took from my agent that began: ‘Are you sitting down?’ was without doubt one of the high points of my writing.

Thank you so much for your lovely questions. I thoroughly enjoyed answering them!