Review of 2016: Dan Smith

My good friend Dan Smith joins us on the blog today to look back over his 2016. Thanks for taking the time to join us, Dan, it’s always a pleasure to host you. 

Vic x 

Dan Smith


Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2016?
My fourth novel for younger readers – Boy X – was published in February, and I’ve signed a deal to write two more books for the brilliant Chicken House publishing, so I guess that’s pretty good!

Boy X



And how about a favourite memory from 2016 generally?
My wife and I finally saved up enough to take our children on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Orlando in Florida. Two weeks of sun and awesomeness! It was an exhausting but fun trip and I loved every minute of it.

Favourite book in 2016?
That’s always such a hard question to answer. I find myself remembering the ones I’ve read over the past couple of months, but anything before that tends to be a little hazy. I read the Bodyguard series by Chris Bradford, and they’re great adventures for younger (and older!) readers. Saga continues to be an excellent graphic novel series, and . . . I very much enjoyed reading The Girl With All The Gifts.

Favourite film in 2016?
There have been a few good ones. The Girl With All the Gifts was a lot of fun, and Swiss Army Man was very good too, but I think my favourite film this year was Slow West. I know it didn’t come out in 2016, but I came to it a little late and I’m so glad I watched it. It’s stylish, tense, twisty, quirky and brilliant. Go and see it right now!

Favourite song of the year?
Okay, now I’m tearing my hair out. So hard to choose a favourite! It was great to see Green Day coming back with ‘Bang Bang‘, and then giving us a whole new album! Also, Twenty-One Pilots have just done a fantastic cover of MCR’s ‘Cancer’ to celebrate the 10yr anniversary of The Black Parade . . .    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yw6i1SAHetc

Any downsides for you in 2016?
There are always a few downsides. A recurring back problem means that I’ve spent a good portion of the year in discomfort at best and terrible pain at worst. Physiotherapists, chiropractors, scans, and painkillers . . . Unfortunately I had to cancel a few school events, but y’know, it’s such a bore to dwell on the bad things and I’m determined to come out fighting every day!

Are you making resolutions for 2017?
I don’t really understand the idea of making resolutions at the beginning of the year. If you want to focus on something, don’t wait until January 1st; do it now!

What are you hoping for from 2017?
Fame, fortune, and the secret to eternal youth. Or, maybe just a world where Donald Trump doesn’t get to be President!

Review of 2016: Emma Whitehall

It’s with great pleasure that I host Emma Whitehall on the blog today. Emma has become an integral part of Elementary Writers over the past twelve months and her performance at ‘The Visitation’ at Old Low Light was phenomenal. 

Thanks for taking the time to reflect on your 2016 and sharing your thoughts with us, Emma. 

Vic x

Emma Whitehall

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2016?
This would probably be getting my modern North East-based take on The Little Mermaid story published in Holdfast magazine in February. ‘Where the People Are’ is one of my favourite things that I’ve written this year, and I’m so proud of it. It came about from a weird brainstorming session with some friends, and started off as a joke. But, as I played about with the idea in my head, things just fell into place. Seeing it in print, with its own illustration, was incredible.

Emma and I with Moira Conway at the launch of Blood from the Quill

And how about a favourite moment from 2016 generally?
I’ve loved becoming a part of Elementary Writers. I have lots of friends who write, but they are mostly spoken word performers, or poets. Having a chance to connect with people who write in the same prose-based style as me – even meeting people who work in the same genres I do – has been amazing.

Emma has become an integral part of Elementary Writers

That one is writing related, so here’s a bonus moment. I got to watch my oldest friend get married at a beautiful service in Hexham. She’s an incredible person, and I’m so proud of her and her new husband. I cried through the entire service!

Favourite book in 2016?
I thought about this one really hard! The most powerful book I’ve read this year is Death at Seaworld, by David Kirby. I was deeply moved by the plight of Tilikum, the subject of the documentary Blackfish, and this book talks in depth about the history of orcas in captivity. There’s also a lot of fascinating information about the social lives of wild orcas – which makes the causes of Tilikum’s violence all the more tragic. It’s a deeply sad situation – but one that deserves to be known about.

Favourite film in 2016?
The VVitch was a brilliant piece of gothic cinema. It was beautifully shot, and managed to keep the tension tight without resorting to jump scares. The end sequence looked like it came fully formed out of my imagination – I was shaking my boyfriend’s arm with excitement at the gorgeously dark visuals!

Favourite song of the year?
My Shot
, from Hamilton. I’ve become a devout fan of writer/composer/actor Lin-Manuel Miranda this year. Lin is passionate, intelligent, creative, and driven – everything I aspire to be. His entire portfolio is amazing, but My Shot has a special place in my heart. It’s a song about seizing your chances, about determination and ambition. If I’m ever in a funk, or feeling down, or even just being lazy during my morning writing sessions, I blast this song, and I always get something done.

Any downsides for you in 2016?
The major downside of this year is the fact I was unable to get a mortgage, due to my circumstances at work. I was bitterly disappointed, but I’m using the time to save up, and to advance my writing career prospects.

Are you making resolutions for 2017?
I’m not sure yet. I feel like I have made great strides in my personal and professional life this year, and I just want to keep that up! I would like to get back into my swimming, which tailed off around the summer holidays. I want to keep becoming more disciplined in my day-to-day life, as well – my bullet journal has helped with that, so I will be using that well into the new year.

What are you hoping for from 2017?
I’ve actually just started up a mini-business (Emma Whitehall – Professional Feedback – find me on Facebook!), where I offer bespoke help and feedback to writers on their works in progress. My biggest hope is that this takes off the way that I hope that it will – I love writing, and I want to use the experience I have gathered over the last four years to help my peers. I know so many wonderful, talented writers who are nervous about sending out their work to magazines, and if I can help them achieve their goals, while managing to work as a professional in my field, then I’ll be happy for 2017.

You can find out more about Emma at her website and you can also follow her on Twitter.

Review of 2016: Jackie Baldwin

Well, it’s that time of year again! We have a host of guests coming up this month to talk about their 2016 experiences. First up is someone I met earlier this year who has had a hugely positive impact on my writing life. 

I first met Jackie Baldwin at this year’s Crime and Publishment. Since then, I’ve spent time with her at both Noir at the Bar NE events – where Jackie was our first wild card reader – as well as Harrogate and Killer Women. Jackie gave me some phenomenal advice during the second Noir at the Bar NE and that set me on the path to finishing my novel. Since that conversation with Jackie, I have written more than I have done in the last five years combined. 

Jackie’s had a big impact on my 2016 – let’s hear about hers. 

Vic x

Jackie Baldwin

Jackie, it’s such a pleasure to have you back on the blog. Do you have a favourite moment professionally from 2016?
I think it would have to be the moment I received an e-mail dated 8th March from Killer Reads, Harper Collins, offering to publish my book, ‘Dead Man’s Prayer‘. It was so overwhelming and unexpected I didn’t stop shaking until lunchtime the next day!

Dead Man's Prayer

And how about a favourite moment from 2016 generally?
I was one of 12 Spotlighted authors at The Bloody Scotland Crime Festival in Stirling on 9-11th September. This involved going up on a massive stage before the ‘Into The Dark’ Panel featuring well known authors Craig Robertson, James Oswald and Malcolm Mackay and reading for 3 minutes from my novel. To say I was absolutely terrified is an understatement. My favourite moment was when I finished reading without my voice betraying me and knew that I would never feel that same degree of fear again.

Bloody Scotland

Favourite book in 2016?
Fractured’ by Clar Ni Chonghaile. I found this book incredibly moving. It involved the kidnap of a journalist in war torn Somalia. He is held captive for some time with only fear and remorse to keep him company. His estranged mother, a former journalist herself, comes looking for him. He forms a tenuous friendship with the teenager who guards him and they resolve to escape. It is a novel about survivors and the real cost of civil war to the indigent population. It also helped to educate me a little on a subject I knew next to nothing about. The characters have stayed with me.

Fractured

Favourite Film in 2016?
This one is easy. ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens‘. I am a massive Star Wars fan as you can see from the fact that Darth Vader has pride of place in my living room. I felt so emotionally overwhelmed at the end I burst into tears.

Darth

What was your biggest adventure in 2016?
I went to Russia for a week, so many conflicting impressions to assimilate. Fascinating country and people!

2016-06-26-12-17-42-0100

Any downsides for you in 2016 generally?
I found launching myself on to Social Media from a standing start very challenging. At first I jumped a foot into the air every time my phone beeped but I am becoming more relaxed about it now. Now that I have more followers I hate that I can’t manage to read everything all the time in my Twitter feed because I worry I will miss something that matters, like someone having a wobble and needing support. However, I have started to realise that people retweet their posts at different times of the day so I probably do get to see most of it. And I do love to chat to people about robots and all things sci-fi! My Twitter handle (never thought I would say that!) is @JackieMBaldwin1

Are you making resolutions for 2017?
Definitely! The main one is to get the first draft of my second novel finished by mid- March so I can go to India for 16 days. I have never been and would love to go but can’t book it until I feel I am on track to do that.

What are you hoping for from 2017?
Good health and happiness for those I hold dear.

Getting to Know You: Douglas Skelton

Guest Post: Anne Coates on Writing a Sequel.

Having worked with Urbane Publications, I’m happy to host one of their authors – Anne Coates – on the blog today.

Anne’s here to discuss her process for writing a sequel. Thanks to Anne for taking the time out of her busy schedule to talk to us.

Vic x

Anne Coates

Writing the sequel to ‘Dancers in the Wind’.
By Anne Coates

The manuscript for my second book had to be with Urbane Publications on 1 October – thirteen days before the launch of ‘Dancers in the Wind. So as I was writing guest posts for my book blog tour, I was putting the finishing touches to ‘Death’s Silent Judgement, which continues Hannah Weybridge’s story a few months after the conclusion of book one.

dancers in the wind

Dancers in the Wind was conceived and written some twenty years ago – then left for dead. Last year, I completely rewrote it and found a published who was willing to take it on as part of a trilogy. I had written three chapters of book two all those years ago but it wasn’t really much to go on. I knew who had been murdered and where but not why.

The victim had been mentioned in ‘Dancers but had been working abroad. There were characters I had grown fond of in the first book that I wanted to keep but once in a while I came up with the problem of names. I have two characters named Sam in ‘Death’s Silent Judgement – one had a small but key role in the first book, to be developed in the second. The other was the name of a friend’s son who wanted to be a character in the book. So two very different men named Sam but in life there are often people of the same name in one’s office or social circle.

An added challenge was to ensure that characters were consistent so I had my blue book with descriptions of everyone from book one, which I added to as I wrote the sequel. There is a whole set of new characters in ‘Death’s Silent Judgement plus some from book one have come to the fore while others have taken a back seat. Some are gearing up to play more dominant roles in book three. I love the way characters take over, give me clues and nudge me along the way. One character, in particular, led me to a dramatic revelation which I’d had no idea of at the beginning.

One dominant factor which perforce must undergo changes, is that the Hannah of book one is fairly naive. By book two, almost everything she does is tempered by her earlier experiences, she has had to sharpen up. The events of the first book have left her feeling vulnerable and at risk. What she encounters in ‘Death’s Silent Judgement does nothing to alleviate this.

Dancers in the Wind has some of the action at King’s Cross and quite by chance, ‘Death’s Silent Judgement is centred in Waterloo, another London rail terminus. I’m not sure if railway stations will be a recurring theme in later books!

As I approach book three, the reviews I’ve had for ‘Dancers in the Wind have given me more confidence. Then I think, “What if I can’t pull it off again?” But I know I’ll keep on writing…

Guest Post: Helen Cadbury on Writers who Teach.

Helen Cadbury is one of the nicest writers in the business at the moment in my opinion. I love her wit and can’t wait to host her at Noir at the Bar NE in February. 

Helen is the author of the Sean Denton series of crime novels, To Catch A Rabbit and Bones in the Nest, with a third in the pipeline. To find out more about Helen, check out her website.

Helen is here today to talk to us about writers who teach which is a topic that is of particular interest to me. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Helen.

Vic x

helen-cadbury

Writers who Teach
by Helen Cadbury

It is not a given that just because a person knows how to do a thing, that they can necessarily teach it. There are some extremely talented writers who are also brilliant and inspiring teachers, I have been lucky enough to be taught by at least two: the poet, Carole Bromley, and the novelist, Lesley Glaister. But there are also a set of esteemed authors and poets who are not great teachers, some of them are even terrible teachers, jealous perhaps of those coming after them, or simply lacking the enthusiasm or skills to enable others. There is also another set of writers who teach while at the very beginning of their careers, emerging writers whose enthusiasm is infectious to their students.

Bones in the Nest

So why do writers teach? Many writers I know claim to be introverts, so being in a group setting like a classroom or workshop space might seem like masochism. Is it for the money? Well that certainly helps. With average author earnings well below the Living Wage, and even beneath the annual full-time minimum wage, there are only a tiny minority of authors, and virtually no poets, who solely earn their living from selling their writing. But a word of caution: teaching creative writing is not a get rich quick scheme. It’s hard work and inevitably takes far longer than the hourly rate offered for a session of delivery. I estimate my preparation time to be 1.5 to 2 times the length of a one-off taught session. If it’s a course, then there will also be marking. Quoting the real cost of session to a perspective client can put them off, so sometimes we undersell ourselves, in order to get the work, regretting it later when we are committed to a group of learners, a long journey, and a novel at home waiting to be finished.

To Catch a Rabbit

There are easier ways of creating the income you need to sustain a writing career, but there is something that teaching gives a writer, which working a day job doesn’t, and that is the creative process of writing itself. When setting an exercise on structure, for example, the writer is also reflecting on their own use of structure. When teaching a class on character, new characters emerge for your own work. The character of Barry ‘Burger’ King, a detective in my debut, ‘To Catch a Rabbit‘, was created during an exercise in a class I was teaching at HMP Askham Grange. My learners added some very helpful characteristics to his sketch, as we all fed back on each other’s creations. I don’t always join in with the exercises, but when I do, it’s to show that I’m not asking my learners to do something I wouldn’t do myself. When I don’t, it enables me to pause a little, in that golden silence when they are writing, and be even more alert in listening to the work they read out.

I trained as a secondary school drama teacher, and I’ve also worked for many years as a trainer in the Youth Arts sector, so for me, bringing the skills and techniques of creative education to groups of writers – whether they be young people ambitious to be published, mature writers exploring their life stories, those writing for their own therapeutic release, or any combination of the above –  gives me a sense of completeness in bringing the different parts of my life experience together. It also takes me away from my own work, makes me think, and brings me back to my writing desk refreshed.

Guest Post: Jessica Fairfax on Writer’s Block

I met writer Jessica Fairfax earlier this year and I’ve had the pleasure of hearing some of her brilliant ideas. Jessica is a brilliant person, bursting with enthusiasm for writing and it was really kind of her to come along to the last Noir at the Bar NE.

Thanks to Jessica for coming to talk to us today about an all too common problem faced by writers: writer’s block. 

Vic x

Writer’s Block
By Jessica Fairfax

What exactly is this? Is it where a thousand ideas, or even just one or two, are swirling in your head and you just can’t get them onto paper? Is it where you stare blankly at a notepad, or computer screen, then clean the house from top to bottom, make endless cups of hot something and remain awake until the next day and do this all over again and again… and again? This doesn’t always just go on for hours, days, maybe weeks. No, no, this can go on for years! I know. When researching this topic, and having experienced this myself for two decades on and off, a valued accountant friend gave her opinion on the subject.

If you have writer’s block for ages, like years, are you not just a failed writer and maybe you should go and do something else for a hobby?

Hobby?

It is a condition I tell her.

Her eyebrows raised above her hairline.

It isn’t though, is it? She responded with a tone. She continued (unfortunately). It is a case of someone (someone being me!) having no ideas, or if they have, they just can’t do anything with them. I could say I have writer’s block.  I have ideas but have no idea how to make them into a viable piece of work constituting a novel, or such like, so I go and get a proper job like an accountant for instance and swim. I swim as a hobby. Just carry on with your day job and, I don’t know… come swimming with me, or go to Zumba twice a week, you’d love that, yeah, do that! Leave the writing to someone who doesn’t… get… get this block thing you have.  You know, the proper writer types that have nothing else going on in their lives.

Helpful?

I didn’t go into how even the most acclaimed writers have suffered with this affliction from time to time.

So, writer’s block, failed writer, or an underestimated psychological condition first described in 1947 by the psychologist Edmund Belger? Whatever it is, it is frustrating and debilitating in terms of being a type of creative brain freeze. At first, I tried writing lists, deadline setting, and discussions with fellow writers and even swimming – yes, I did go with her – and meditation to clear my mind to help me start afresh. Physically I felt pretty good but everything I tried to do to eradicate the writer’s block, ultimately resulted in an exceptionally clean house and a belly full of coffee! My creativity was stifled… suppressed by something I could do nothing about. Eventually, without really acknowledging when exactly, the notepad got left in the house in a drawer and the PC wasn’t even turned on. I tried less and less and eventually told people that other life events had taken priority over my aspirations to become a novelist.  I had a busy job anyway and a baby and Zumba.  I could get away with it with friends and family  but the reality was, I felt like a failure. The confidence went. Was I a failed writer? Was I a writer?

Years on, I am starting to write again.  It isn’t a whoosh of creativity, as others describe but more of a slow drip, drip, drip onto the page. Confidence is coming back.  I am enjoying writing and that is what it is all about for me.

How I came to suffer this condition, I don’t know.  How it went away again, I have no idea. I just know that writer’s block does not mean you aren’t a writer.  Perhaps my brain just needed time.