Guest Post: Stephanie Butland

Last week, I went to a Read Regional event featuring Stephanie Butland and Debbie Taylor; it was brilliant to hear these lovely ladies talk about their writing processes.
Today, the lovely Stephanie answers a question she is asked regularly – ‘Which is more important: character or plot?’ Stephanie’s novel, ‘Letters to My Husband‘, is available now. You can read my review of ‘Letters to My Husband’ here. ‘Letters to my Husband’ was originally published as ‘Surrounded by Water’.
Many thanks to Stephanie for being involved in the blog. Please feel free to leave a comment. 
Vic x
Photo by Topher McGrillis

Photo by Topher McGrillis

Which is most important: character or plot?
This question comes up a lot when I do author events. Here’s the short answer:
CHARACTER.
As with most short answers, though, it’s not quite that simple.
For me, any book where a character doesn’t behave consistently goes straight on the ‘charity shop’ pile, whether I’m thirty pages in or fifteen pages from the end. I don’t care whether it’s literary, thriller or YA – if the author wants me to believe that a heroine who has never shown any interest in languages suddenly applies for, and gets, a job as a translator (‘Ginny dug her Chinese language books out of the loft, and it all came flooding back’) in order to move her to the other side of the world, I’m done with that book, and very probably, that author too. That kind of writing is just plain lazy.
But – a beautifully drawn, authentic character who does nothing isn’t going to keep me reading either. Put bluntly: stuff has to happen. Something must go wrong. And that needs to help the character to change. (No, I am not going to use the word ‘journey’. This is not ‘Strictly’…)
For me, the most compelling writing – the sort that leads to the most obsessive, no-I-don’t-have-time-to-get-dressed-today reading – is writing where character and plot form a spiral, one feeding into another. Witness George Eliot’s Dorothea Brooke in ‘Middlemarch‘. She is smart and philanthropic and stubborn (character). Therefore Casaubon’s proposal is attractive to her (plot). When she discovers the futility of his project and he refuses to let her help the way she thought she would, she becomes dissatisfied (character-driven) which leads to her becoming attracted to Will Ladislaw (plot). And so on. Eliot and Austen did this brilliantly; one of my favourite authors, John Updike, was a master. But witness, also, Sarah Waters’ Sue in ‘Fingersmith‘; Katniss Everdene whose every effort in ‘The Hunger Games‘ is motivated by loyalty and fury at the world; Harold Fry’s Pilgrimage is not at all unlikely, really, because we understand precisely what in his character drives him to do what he does.
So, the short answer to the character/plot question is ‘character’. The longer, less snappy answer is ‘character, driven by plot, which will drive the character to take in-character responses, which will ramp up the plot a bit more’. And when you’ve got more than one character following those patterns… that’s when you’ve got magic.
Letters to my Husband

Letters to my Husband

Getting to Know You: Kerry Richardson

 

 

 

 

Today on the blog, we have Kerry Richardson telling us about herself and her writing. I’ve been lucky enough to meet Kerry at several writing events and she’s a great friend on social media, I can’t wait to read her debut novel. 

Vic x

KerryTell us a little about yourself …

My name is Kerry Richardson, I’m 37 years old (goodness, time flies – I’ll be pushing daisies before you know it). I live in the North East of England, and have done all my life (well, apart from a stint down south where I lasted the grand total of 3 weeks). I am married to my ever-patient hubby Peter, and we have a naughty but exceptionally cute dog called Koda. I’m a qualified and experienced Crime Scene Investigator though I currently pay the bills by working in the police control room. Yes, I love crime scene work; no, it’s nothing like the TV and yes, I’ve seen my share of dead bodies.

Koda

Do you usually write in a particular genre?

After doing my Bsc in Crime Scene Science, I decided to return to uni whilst working full time and complete my masters in Creative Writing – I wanted to do something completely un-work related but that meant something to me. I’ve always written, ever since I was in primary school and used to staple handmade books together to give to the teacher. I currently write under the crime genre umbrella, but dabble in flash fiction and children’s writing too. Because of my job, I have access to the resources I need to complete effective research in relation to crime writing and all that it entails.

Tell us how you got interested in writing?

I became interested in writing as a child – my primary school teacher Mrs Muztachs, and junior school teacher, Mr Black, were extremely encouraging and fed the belief that I could do anything I wanted. It’s a bit clichéd but it’s just one of those things I’ve ‘always done’. I wrote my first novel when I was 17 and it was a complete knock off of the old TV show ‘Airwolf’ – though I used a plane not a helicopter. Back then I didn’t have a clue about copyright and whatnot – it was completely hand written, and reading it back is horrendous. But it still holds a place on the shelves in my office. I also used to write a lot of poetry, and was published in an international anthology way back when.

Are you working on anything at the moment and can you tell us about it?

I’m currently working on my fourth novel, which is provisionally titled ‘Watch You Burn’. It’s a novel about an arsonist who targets a group of people who have bullied her since she was young. The fire investigator and the CSM work together to search the fire scenes in an attempt to discover who is responsible.

Since graduating from my masters in 2011, I’ve been sticking to the one novel a year rule that most writers try to follow.

My first novel, ‘With Deadly Intent’ is due out next year (2016). ‘With Deadly Intent’ is a crime novel which I’ve based in Sunderland. It features a serial killer as the antagonist, and the Crime Scene Manager and Detective Chief Inspector as the protagonists. I’m also busy working on editing and preparing a short story for self-publication later this year.

Kerry

What do you like most about writing?

The thing I like most about writing is the escape, I guess. I can put my mind anywhere I want to, and fill pages with characters and plot. I love getting to know my characters, learning about their history, and being surprised by them as I write. I’m quite organised so I tend to do a character profile for each character before I begin to write. I usually start a novel with an idea and am often as surprised as the reader when it staggers off in directions unknown. I tend to use twists and sub plots, as well as keeping the identity of the antagonist a secret until quite late into the novel. They say write about what you know – I know police procedure and crime scene protocol – but I love researching the subjects I don’t know much about. When writing book 3, I had a fab bloke on speed dial who didn’t mind being asked questions like “If you were going to sink a body in the north east, where would you do it and how?” I love how friendly and willing everyone is when it comes to assisting with research.

What do you like least about writing?

I guess it’s the editing process – I’m terrible for editing as I write – this usually means that by the time I’m finished the novel, I’m often onto about the sixth draft anyway. I print off the novel once complete, put it away, and then pull out my faithful red pen. But I find editing time consuming and would usually much rather be working on the next novel!

Do you find time to read, and if so what are you reading now?

I read as often as I can – usually this is when I’m on nightshift at work or on holiday – I went to Egypt in 2009 and packed 14 novels and hardly any clothes – nowadays I use my kindle app on my tablet so it’s not as bad, but I read loads on holidays. I love reading – there’s something about losing oneself in a good book, reading about characters you can relate to, and feeling the emotions they feel as you progress through the novel. I can speed read so tend to race through a novel once I start. I’m currently reading several books – ‘The Hitchcock Murders’ by Gavin Collinson, ‘No Name Lane’ by Howard Linsky and ‘Poppet’ by Mo Hayder – I’m not normally one for starting a new novel until I’ve finished the last, but I’ve been reading on my phone so have been mashing it up a bit.

Who has been the biggest influence in your writing?

Wow that’s a tough one. I loved reading Enid Blyton, Willard Price and Franklin W. Dixon as a kid, then progressed onto trashy Mills and Boon in my teens. I’ve always loved anything that grabs my attention instantly – so the likes of Arthur Conan Doyle is never far from my grasp. Most recently, I’d say my influences lean towards the likes of Karen Rose and Mo Hayder – I love how Karen interlinks each novel with overlapping characters but that each one can be read as a stand-alone – and I love how she makes her characters and plot pop in each novel. Mo is splendidly dark, delving into the deep crevasses of evil – I particularly love the Jack Caffrey novels as he’s a bit of a loveable rogue. I think attending events such as Harrogate Crime Festival is a massive influence in itself as well, though – there’s something about meeting up with other like-minded people that just oozes inspiration. And I have regular writing days with my good friend and author, Eileen Wharton; it’s fab having someone close by to write with as this often means we can bounce ideas off each other.

When you’re a famous author and write your autobiography, what would the title be?

My autobiography? Wow – I doubt people would be interested in my life – but if I had to think of a title I reckon it’d be something daft like ‘Hands in many pies.’

What’s been your proudest moment as a writer?

My proudest moment to date as a writer – getting my Masters would probably be up there near the top. There was a couple of lecturers who didn’t have a lot of faith in my abilities – no name dropping though – and it knocked my confidence greatly. But there were also lecturers who were ultra-encouraging and believed in my writing – without them I wouldn’t be writing what I do today. Passing gave me the boost I needed to continue. Then of course, top of the list, was signing and returning the contract for my first novel to be published! Special thanks go to Darren Laws of Caffeine Nights Publishing for that one. The next proudest moment will no doubt be my book launch!

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?

If I wasn’t a writer I’d probably still be a CSI somewhere – I loved being out and about helping people by finding evidence at crime scenes. Or maybe I’d have been doing my back up career of working with animals or something! I don’t know – I’m just grateful to be writing.

Where can we find you online?

You can find me online at www.kerryannrichardson.com, on Facebook as KA Richardson and on twitter @kerryann77. I do a monthly blog which is posted on all these monthly, and can also be found on Linked In as Kerry-Ann Richardson.

Getting to Know You: Harry Gallagher & Mandy Maxwell, organisers of The Stanza

 

Today on the blog, I have the brains behind The Stanza – Harry Gallagher and Mandy Maxwell. I visited The Stanza last month, click here to read the review. May’s Stanza will be held on Thursday, 21st May. 

Many thanks to Mandy and Harry for taking the time to chat to me about their exciting venture.

Vic x

The brains behind The StanzaTell us about yourselves…

H: I’m a poet and singer/songwriter, based in North Tyneside, but originally from Middlesbrough.  I mention this because it informs my writing quite heavily – there’s quite a different culture there to the one I now live among only 40 miles North!

M: I’m an SEBD Teacher in a specialist school in Northumberland. I’ve been teaching there for 6 years and I absolutely love it. I teach English and Literature with a large side portion of poetry.  I’m also a poet and I perform around the North East scene. I’ve been living in the North East for 8 years since moving down from Edinburgh and I adore everything about the place, the people and the amazing poetry scene.

The Stanza

Tell us a little bit about The Stanza – where and when does it happen and what can we expect from it? 

H & M: It’s a poetry night on the third Thursday every month in the Chillingham Arms at Heaton.  We have 3 main acts, plus lots of open mic opportunities.  The people who get up on the open mic range from seasoned, published poets to first timers, and everyone gets the same warm Stanza welcome.  We also have free poetry books to take away, provided by our friends at Borderline Books.  On top of that we have a house band – Renata & Trev – who kick off the evening and finish it with a song at either end.

Renata and Trev

How did the idea for The Stanza come about? 

M: The idea for The Stanza came about when the previous poetry night at The Chilli came to an end and we realized there was going to be a gap where a poetry event should be. Also we both love poetry and spoken word events and really wanted to create one of our own that would encourage and support local talent and voices. Also we’re both poets and it seemed like a cool thing to do.

H: There had previously been a monthly poetry night – Hot Words At The Chilli – run by Aidan Clarke and Annie Moir and they had decided to end it.  We had the conversation detailed above, checked with Aidan and Annie that they were ok with us rebranding and re-launching (they were their usual lovely and supportive selves) and we went for it!

How did you get involved in running The Stanza?

M: I met Harry Gallagher, me partner in rhyme, at a poetry event in Middlesbrough celebrating Burns Night in 2012. We bumped in to each other lots of times on the poetry scene from Tyneside to Teesside. We were driving back from a Black Light Engine Room poetry workshop in the Boro when we came up with the idea of running a new spoken word night. We thought of a few names before we hit on The Stanza; thanks to Claudia aka Miss Wired.

H: Mandy and I were talking about how we thought Newcastle was missing a poetry night.  There was already a well established and successful night at Jibba Jabba, run by our good friend Jenni Pascoe, but that was about it in Newcastle.  Mandy said, “You should start one!”  I replied something akin to, “Not on your Nelly!”, took a second and then followed it up with “…But I’d run one with you!”  From that it just seemed to grow arms and legs and we got more and more excited by the idea.  Then Mandy’s partner Claudia came along and she glues it all together on the night with great practicality, while we’re floating around like poets are wont to do!

Can anyone come along? 

M: Yes, absolutely anyone can come along. We try to make the whole night as inclusive as we can and our audience are a huge part of the atmosphere and success of the night.

H: A resounding YES!  My own personal viewpoint is similar to Paxman’s much debated opinion from last year – too often you find yourself reading to other poets.  My own big driver is turning new people onto poetry, so the more new faces we see, the happier I am!

What’s the craic with the open mic section?

H: A moot point! We are currently in danger of becoming victims of our own success!  The open mic is wonderfully busy – we have 3 sections built around the main acts and we have just started limiting it to 20 poets, which I suppose is an indicator of how popular poetry has become, that that many people want to get up every month to read.  But the thing I really love is the warm reception EVERYONE gets.

M: We have 3 separate sections for open mic because we want to really encourage new voices from the North East and give a platform for local talent. Also, the open mic sections are so entertaining because you really never know what you’re going to get and it’s really amazing how much talent the North East has. Also we want to create a supportive and friendly place for people to share their work and to develop their performance skills.

How did you get the idea to put paper and pens on the table? What are they for?

M: The idea for the flip chart paper and marker pens on the tables came from Claudia (if you don’t know, Claudia is the lovely lady who sits at the door, takes your cash, convinces you to put your name down for the open mic section and knits). What we want people to do is write, doodle, comment and play around. We’ve had so many brilliant comments, drawings and poems on the papers so far thanks to the awesome audience. We call them Stanza Shorts.

What’s the best bit about running The Stanza?

M: The best thing about running The Stanza is that we get to invite our very favourite poets on to our stage every month to hear their fantastic work. We’re really treating ourselves but, shhhhhh, don’t tell everyone that! Also we have the brilliant Renata and Trev every month bringing their unique sounds to The Stanza which is always a treat and, of course, our eclectic and always entertaining open mic sections where we are always looking out for our next main act to step up.

H: There are two things for me – we get to see all of our favourite poets for starters!  But also for me, I really love the way Mandy gets lit up every month – both the lead up to it and the night itself.  Every month we have a big hug at the end of the night, as if to say, “Fucking hell we did it again!!!”

What’s your dream line-up for The Stanza?

M: My dream line up for The Stanza: Buddy Wakefield, Sophia Walker, Chris Young, Catherine Ayres, Steve Urwin, Kirsten Luckins, Dominic Berry, Jo Bell, Michael Rosen… oh, stop me!!!!

H: I don’t have one.  Every month has been just great.  For me what makes it is the wonderful generosity of spirit the audience bring along.  Add to that the massive amount of talent that seems to assemble itself in the room every month and who needs dreams.  Though if we are really talking dreams, I wouldn’t mind old Wilf Owen and Stevie Smith dropping by one month.  Martin Newell, a more contemporary genius everyone should be acquainted with, could hold their coats…

Harry and Mandy are a great team.

Harry and Mandy are a great team.

Getting to Know You: Graham Smith

 

Today, the blog welcomes Graham Smith. Graham’s novel ‘Snatched from Home’ is out now. His picture is very moody but he’s an absolute gem.

 

Vic x

Graham Smith

You’ve just published ‘Snatched from Home’, tell us about it please.

‘Snatched from Home’ is about middle-class parents whose children are kidnapped. Penniless, they turn to crime as a way of raising the ransom. After them is DI Harry Evans, a childless and recently bereaved old-school copper who is facing enforced retirement.

And there’s going to be a play, too?

‘Snatched from Home’ is being made into a stage play by RFH Productions and it will be shown as part of the Manchester Fringe Festival at the Salford Arts Theatre from the 8th-10th of July this year. It came from a chance encounter at my first ever visit to a theatre proving the old adage that fortune does indeed favour the bald.

Snatched-From-Home

Tell us how you got interested in writing.

I have been an avid reader for 35 years and a reviewer for Crimesquad.com for the last six. It was inevitable at some point in my life I would try my hand at writing. I started off writing the first third of ‘Snatched from Home’ late at night with a belly full of beer. Realising how much I enjoyed the process of writing, I started drinking less and writing more. Around this time, I stopped with the novel and spent a year or so on short stories which really honed my skills. I then went back to ‘Snatched from Home’ and re-wrote it from the start using my new skills to cut all the rubbish out. By this time I was starting to write as soon in the day as possible and always when sober.

Are you working on anything at the moment? Can you tell us about it?

I’m currently working on the first novel in what I hope will become a new series. ‘The Watcher’ features Jake Boulder who is the doorman of a rock bar in Utah. He gets asked to help his private eye friend to investigate a murder and soon finds himself on the trail of a twisted serial killer. It’s a real departure from the sweary world of Harry Evans but I love challenging myself and my writing skills.

What do you like most about writing?

The trite answer would be everything. From the excitement of meeting new characters and creating plots to the buzz I get from positive feedback, there are so many elements of writing which I love. To pick a favourite, I would have to choose the camaraderie shown among the crime fiction community. Writers at many different stages of their careers have spent time sharing their craft, brainstorming ideas, answering questions and generally being supportive of me. Without this incredible network, self-doubt would cripple far too many talented authors.

What do you like least?

I would have to say editing. I’m currently editing ‘The Watcher’ and it’s a labour of love compared to the exhilaration of throwing down the first draft. However, I do recognise the importance of editing no matter how arduous the process. A close second would be writing a synopsis.

Do you find time to read? If so, what are you reading at the moment?

I always find time to read, even if it’s only a few pages at the end of the day. As I’m editing ‘The Watcher’ just now, I’m reading a non-fiction book: ‘It’s Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime’ by Val McDermid which is fascinating and will surely become a reference tome when researching future stories.

Who has been the biggest influence on your writing?

There are so many and so few. Every book I’ve ever read, good or bad will influence my writing in one way or another as I recognise good and bad elements and know what to do or avoid. Particular influences would be Matt Hilton who has become a kind of mentor and is always one of the first to read my new stuff. Stuart MacBride is a favourite author of mine for his writing style. It’s one I try to emulate rather than mimic.

When you’re a famous author and you write your autobiography, what will be the title?

‘It’s Not Real’. Simply because I’m an author and therefore I make stuff up for the purpose of entertainment.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Read five books in the genre you wish to write in. When you’ve read the books write a critical review of the books which is at least 500 words long. As a reviewer myself, I know that I read books differently to the way I used to. I now examine the structure and tradecraft and have learned so much from being a reviewer.

What’s been your proudest moment as a writer?

There have been so many. Getting an acceptance email from Caffeine Nights Publishing, seeing my book for the first time, seeing ‘Snatched from Home’ on the shelves of my local bookshop. The winner though would have to be doing a launch event with Matt Hilton in my local Waterstones and selling out. I was wonderfully supported by friends and family and thoroughly enjoyed the whole evening.

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?

Other than spending more time with my wife and son, I’d do more reading and reviewing.

Where can we find you online?

www.grahamsmithauthor.com

https://www.facebook.com/grahamnsmithauthor

https://twitter.com/GrahamSmith1972

Upcoming event: Nepal Earthquake Benefit Gig – Friday, 8th May.

Benefit gig

The wonderful folks at Danusha have arranged a benefit gig in support of the Nepal Earthquake Disaster Relief Fund. 

Today, I have Allison Davies, part of the Danusha team, to talk about Nepal and why she and her wonderful colleagues have arranged this event. 

Thanks for taking the time to speak to me today. What’s your link with Nepal? 

Back in 2008, I took a holiday and went to visit my friends Mike and Sue Lavender who were living and working in Nepal. They have a long history with the country beginning when Sue was 12 years old, as her parents worked at a hospital in Pokhara for a year. Sue met Mike and after he finished his medical training, he and Sue went off to work at a Leprosy Hospital. Since then, they’ve spent many years in Nepal, coming home for a time in the mid-90s for their kids’ schooling and with an adopted Nepali daughter.

In 2007, their children were all grown up so off they went again, this time to work with Nepal Leprosy Trust – hence my visit in 2008. I’d seen photos and heard plenty of stories, but nothing quite prepares you for the sheer beauty of the Nepali landscape, not to mention the country’s many stunning historic landmarks. Factor in the people who are warm, friendly and hospitable and I had no chance. I decided to do everything I could to get back to a place that was completely under my skin. It was the beginning of a life-long love affair.

So, tell us about Danusha.

There’s a saying, be careful what you wish for. Fast forward to 2010 and Sue, myself and another friend Katy Barr were in the process of setting up a small fair trade social enterprise – Danusha – working with marginalised women to provide skills training in jewellery making, alongside some simple health and hygiene education and literacy classes. Our goal was simple. To empower these women to make a difference in their communities. At this point our knowledge of the jewellery business could have been written on the head of a fairly small pin. We learned fast, made plenty of mistakes but somehow the project grew. We’ve visited Nepal many times since that time and have been thrilled to see the transformation in the lives of the women who work for us.

At the end of March 2015, Sue and I had just returned from a workshop visit. We were tired, happy, inspired and looking forward to what the next few months would bring.

Some of the Danusha team

April 25th, 2015 was just an ordinary Saturday, or so I thought until I got into the car and turned on the radio. Quake day. Nepal’s ground zero, when the landscape shifted, buildings tumbled and thousands of lives were smashed to pieces. I spent the rest of the day online, desperately reading the reports that began to flood in and hoping for news about our team. I felt sick, cried a lot and couldn’t sleep that night. Sue and Mike were also grief-stricken. On Sunday, there was one question that wouldn’t go away: “What can we do? We can’t just sit here. There must be something.”  Lightbulb moment: a benefit gig. Maybe we could get 15 – 20 people in a room, have a few performers and raise some cash.

It’s a brilliant idea, I bet it’s been getting a great response. 

The response from friends and colleagues was overwhelming. Within a few days we had a venue, free of charge at the Berkeley Suite in Whitley Bay, and a ton of performers queuing up to get a slot on the bill. In the midst of a dreadful situation, these generous people have been a shining band of hope. Words can’t tell you how grateful we are at what our friends are willing to give.

And then the news came that all our team were safe. We were overjoyed, yet still struggling with the scale of what had happened and the aftermath. It grieves us to know that friends are sleeping outside in the rain with no shelter, no clean drinking water and with food supplies running out. Multiply that by the hundreds of thousands who are in the same position and worse, then get out of your seat and do whatever you can to help.

Danusha

What you guys are doing is brilliant. How do you feel now that you’re doing something?

Our gig is a small droplet in a gigantic ocean of need. We hope it will be a success and hope to help bring hope to a people who have lost theirs.

If you asked me to sum up the reason why I’m part of this, the answer is simple. I love Nepal and I’ll do anything to serve the country that stole my heart and inspired my soul.

Thanks Allison. Best of luck with the gig on Friday. 

Allison and her colleagues at Danusha are hoping to pack out the Berkeley Suite in Whitley Bay (9 Marine Avenue, NE26 1LY) this coming Friday, everyone is welcome.  It starts at 7pm and ends when we get kicked out! Please come prepared to have a good time and give generously. 

There’ll be great live music, poetry and stories from some of the north east’s finest; award-winning films from Beacon Hill Arts and a charity auction. The bar will be open and there will be snacks too. 

You can join the Facebook group here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1578209815801018/ 

Donations will go the relief effort via Oxfam GB.

Review: ‘The Stanza’ at Chillingham Pub, 16/04/2015.

On April’s third Thursday, I took a trip to the Chilli Pub in Heaton (on Chillingham Road) to check out one of Newcastle’s newest spoken word nights. The Stanza, arranged by the wonderful duo Harry Gallagher and Mandy Maxwell, began in January 2015 and is already proving to be a massive hit. Despite a spoken word symposium going on at the same time in Newcastle, the venue was packed out.

The Stanza

The Stanza

Every month, The Stanza books three poets to perform and in between sets, members of the audience are encouraged to participate in the open mic sections of the evening. The open mic is so popular that the event rarely finishes on time – but, hey, who’s gonna argue with staying late to listen to some poetry?! The audience are warm and supportive; it’s easy to see why so many people want to read in this inclusive environment. Oh, and in with your admission, you get to pick a free book (provided by the awesome Borderline Books) which contains a unique poem written by Harry or Mandy.

The brains behind The Stanza

The brains behind The Stanza, Harry Gallagher and Mandy Maxwell.

April’s performers were Zack Lewis, Alix Bromwich-Alexandra and Rose Condo, the musical interludes were provided by seventeen year old ‘blues prodigy’ Alex Kirtley. When starting the proceedings, Mandy and Harry were a great double act, bouncing off each other with a natural camaraderie – they were funny and humble.

Harry and Mandy are a great team.

Harry and Mandy are a great team.

The open mic was fast-paced, almost like a relay race between performers, with a large variety of topics and forms. Here’s just a sample of the subjects covered in the open mic in April: spring, mental illness, love, curries, books, alzheimer’s, sausages, Northumberlandia, social and political consciousness and tea.

As for the performers, I felt like I’d picked a brilliant month to attend. Zack Lewis packed all sorts into his set. He was funny and encouraged audience participation but the two poems I appreciated most were ‘Dear Love’ – a beautiful, thoughtful and thought-provoking poem – and ‘Keep a’had’. The latter is a phrase used mainly in Northumberland that means ‘keep going’. Zack’s poem, full of advice and inspiration, brought me to tears.

Zack Lewis

Zack Lewis

Alix Bromwich-Alexandra, a multi-talented poet and musician, rapped her way through her rhythmic poems, my favourite being ‘The Beauty of Books’. Alix’s poetry is introspective and deep but shows a real humour and humanity, too. Alix’s musical talent shines through even when she’s reading poetry, it’s lyrical and pulses with tempo. 

Alix Bromwich-Alexandra

Alix Bromwich-Alexandra

The final act of the evening came from Rose Condo, a Canadian poet who had travelled all the way from Huddersfield to perform at The Stanza – yet another ringing endorsement for this brilliant event. Rose Condo’s poetry was a masterclass in perfection. Her cliché poem was intelligent and beautiful. In fact, everything about her set was intelligent and beautiful.

Rose Condo

Rose Condo

I cannot praise The Stanza enough. Everything about this event is fun but supportive. Get yourself along!

Vic x     

Guest Post: Graham Wynd on Noir in the Desert.

I’m really happy to have Graham Wynd on the blog today to talk about an unusual setting for noir… Please feel free to comment beneath the post. Thanks again to Graham for being involved.

Vic x

Noir in the Desert. 

My story ‘Bonkers in Phoenix’, published in Rogue by Near to the Knuckle, steps outside the usual noir sort of setting. When you think noir, you think darkened city streets, rain falling incessantly and tough men and women skulking in the shadows of doorways as neon signs flash through the murk of the evening. There might even be a little fog hovering around.

Rogue

But the desert isn’t without precedent as a noir setting.

All the way back to the classics like Ida Lupino’s Hitch Hiker, a low budget noir that sweats through the Sonoran desert on the Mexican border, finding all the shadows that the bright sun brings (she was a genius after all) and then there’s Dorothy Hughes’ Ride the Pink Horse, that got the movie treatment, too. It takes place in New Mexico, but it’s got a the weight of the mythic past of the desert, an inexorable weight that spells doom for anyone who tries to face it. Sailor learns that power as he hunts down the Sen.

Who can forget A Touch of Evil, with Welles’ tour-de-force opening tracking shot that seems to go on forever—alas, if only it didn’t have Charlton Heston playing a ‘Mexican’ in a perma-tan, because it’s got Welles himself hamming it up large and the one and only Marlene Dietrich stealing the film.

In more recent times, Robert Rodgriguez has brought the thrill back to the desert with From Dusk ‘til Dawn and of course Once Upon a Time in Mexico, which have stolen the western back from the spaghetti westerns of Italy, putting them into a thoroughly modern context.

Maybe the ultimate desert noir these days is the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men. The relentless Chigurgh stalks the wide open spaces, meting out his own idea of vengeance at the flip of a coin. The baking sun of the desert becomes oppressive, a trap—leaving you exposed and vulnerable.

The desert of “Bonkers” is the strip mall ugliness of suburban sprawl. The two strippers at the start just get fed up with the boredom their go-nowhere life offers. So they go a little bonkers and do the things that make life more exciting if dangerous. I haven’t been to Phoenix in years, but I hear the stripmall-o-rama has got worse. The endless strips of hair-nails-tanning places, endless parking lots baking in the sun, and tacky tourist trade trying to capitalise on the people passing through continue to thrive.

Sounds noir enough for me. Check out Near to the Knuckle for all kinds of hard-hitting, hard-boiled stories, especially ROGUE, their second anthology, which includes my story.

Is it hot in here?

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