Jesmond Library Short Story Competition

Thanks to Jennifer for hosting me on her blog today!

Tales from the notepad...

Last year, I took part in the launch day for the Jesmond Library Short Story Competition, and it was a really fun day, hearing stories on the theme of ‘Bedtime Stories’. This year, the competition is running again, so here’s a Q&A with Victoria Watson, who is organising and judging the competition (with a little help… info below!).

Vic-bwWhat are the ‘headlines’ for the competition? What is the theme, deadline, length of entry etc.?

Following the success of the inaugural short story competition last year, Jesmond Library have chosen a theme close to their hearts – Jesmond! So no matter what genre you write in, you can enter your story or poem as long as it features Jesmond.

The word limit for adults (entrants aged 18 and over) is 1,500 words. For the two under eighteen categories, the maximum number of words per entry is 500. And for the poets among…

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Review: North Shields Food Festival, 21/08/16.

North Shields Food Fest

I may be a Slimming World member but that doesn’t stop me from attending fantastic food festivals in the region. So earlier today, The Boy Wonder and I headed out to North Shields Proper Food Festival to sample some culinary delights.

We’ve been attending Proper Food Festivals for several years and I love the range of stalls available. Whether you’re going to fill your fridge (and freezer) with items for the weeks to come or you want to fill your face there and then, there’s something for everyone.

One of my favourite stalls has always been Monsieur Crepe so today I made a beeline for their trailer, Henrietta. I enjoyed a chocolate, strawberry and banana crepe although there is a brilliant range of sweet and savoury crepes. I wish I could sample their delights more often.

The Boy Wonder sampled some Indian cuisine as well as a mesquite pulled pork sandwich from Smokin’ Barbecue Co. I also enjoyed an American burger thanks to Fat Hippo which consisted of a juicy burger accompanied with gherkins, cheese, ketchup and american mustard.

Unfortunately, this was the final Proper Food Festival of the season but I recommend you start losing weight now so that when they roll around again next year, you can stuff yourself silly!

Vic x

Another proud day

For my birthday this year, one of my best friends bought me a scrapbook and told me to fill it with fabulous things that happened. At the time, a house purchase had just fallen through (costing us rather a lot of money) and I’d recently been made redundant. I knew my friend’s gift came from a wonderful, encouraging place but I did wonder at the time what the I’d put in this bloody scrapbook, now I’m worried I’m going to run out of pages!

No doubt you’ll read about all of my happy moments in my review of 2016 (it’ll be here before we know it) but I just had to blog about one thing in particular while it’s fresh in the memory. Last year, I wrote about how proud I was at being nominated for Woman of the Year in my Slimming World group. Well, last night, I won it.

Woman of the year

It’s funny how things turn out.

Vic x

Guest post: Jennifer C. Wilson on Swanwick Writers’ Summer School

Regular readers of the blog will be getting used to seeing Jennifer C Wilson guesting here. 
Rightfully so, Jen has seen a lot of success recently – her novel ‘Kindred Spirits: Tower of London‘ has garnered excellent reviews and she’s been branching out into leading workshops. 
As a member of Elementary Writers, Jennifer has always impressed me with her conscientious attitude to writing and her dedication to improving her craft. Therefore, it’s no surprise that Jen decided to use some of her annual leave from her day job to spend some time on the oldest residential writing course in the world at Swanwick.  
Here’s Jen to tell us all about it. Thanks for sharing your experience with us, Jen!
Vic x
Hi Victoria, and thanks for hosting me today.
For those who don’t know, Swanwick is an annual writers’ school, held in the Hayes Conference Centre, Derbyshire. Each year, there’s a mix of courses and entertainment, with plenty of opportunities to learn, be inspired and have fun.
This year, as a first-timer, I was a “White Badger”, but don’t let that fool you – you’re instantly as much a part of things as those who have been going for years. I’ve made friends with other newbies, as well as seasoned Swanwickers, and there’s a very strong chance of me becoming one of the latter – already hoping (intending) to be back in 2017.
So, what did I get up to? I took a four-part course in creative non-fiction, which I really do think will have a big influence on a lot of my writing. Also, lots of short courses, two-parters and single sessions. These covered everything from tips to stay motivated, to ensuring your point-of-view is right. There was also plenty of evening entertainment, including a range of speakers, some great mini plays (from page to stage in just a couple of days) and a specially-written pantomime, which was fantastic.
Swanwick scenery
Believe me, though, with so many options, choosing which courses to attend is by far the hardest part of the week. Thank goodness they share all notes from across the week online!
It’s hard to write this post without sounding like I’m being paid, but here are my top five reasons I would recommend you to think about becoming a Swanwicker…
1. Meet new people. Writing can be lonely. Even with supportive partners / parents / friends, it can get tricky. Therefore, spending a whole week with like-minded people is a great opportunity. Mingle, natter, and get into a heated debate about your latest work, without a hint of guilt!
2. Learn new things. Because every day is a school day, and none of us can ever know everything.
3. Learn to do what you’re doing, better. See note for Point 2.
4. Be inspired. As well as during the workshops actually aimed to give you ideas, I have plenty of notes to follow up on now I’m home. No fear of the blank page for me, for a while…
5. Have fun. I have laughed and smiled so much this week. See also, Point 1…
My notebook from the week is practically full, my head is buzzing with ideas, and I’m feeling very chuffed with myself for making myself go.
I’ll be back next year, and will hopefully see you there!
Twitter: @inkjunkie1984

Getting to Know You: Mark L Fowler

Today, Mark L Fowler joins us on the blog to talk writing. Thanks to Mark for taking the time to get involved.

Vic x

Mark Fowler

How and when did you start writing?

I started writing towards the end of my school days, mainly poetry and the occasional attempt at a story. I became more public with my writing when I formed a band and wrote songs. Later on I began writing short stories, screenplays, including sitcoms, and eventually I found my home in the novel.

Coffin Maker

What was the first novel that you actually wrote?
The first novel I wrote was Coffin Maker, a gothic horror fantasy, with Death as the main character. One day Death is sent two apprentices. He doesn’t know why, but it may be related to rumours that the devil is entering the world. I began writing it on October 1st, 1994. I sent it out to agents and publishers, gathered the rejection slips, rewrote, send it again, and so on. Then I began my next novel, repeating the process, now with two books to send out, then three, and so on. I built up quite a body of work, while endlessly revising and editing my previous books. I could have decorated my house and next door’s too with all the rejection slips! Then, a couple of years ago, I realised that it was 20 years since I started writing Coffin Maker, and I decided to mark the anniversary by self-publishing it. A year later, I self-published The Man Upstairs, the first of a series of Frank Miller mystery novels featuring a private detective who discovers that he is a character in a series of mystery books. Very meta-fictional and, like Coffin Maker, philosophical too, though hopefully in an entertaining way. There’s certainly a lot of humour in both books, despite the dark themes.

The Man Upstairs

Tell me about your most recently published novel.
A few weeks ago, Bloodhound Books published the first of my psychological thrillers, Silver. Best-selling novelist, Joy Haversham, is killed, leaving behind an unfinished, uncharacteristic and disturbing manuscript: Silver. The book has become the Holy Grail of the publishing world, yet Joy’s family refuse to publish. Her killer is due out of prison on what would have been Joy’s silver wedding anniversary. The main protagonist in Silver is Nick Slater, the journalist who reported on the case. Nick has since published a novel bearing uncanny resemblances to Joy’s unpublished manuscript, which he could not possibly have read. Joy’s daughter, Grace, wants him to read Silver, and to visit her mother’s killer before he is released, believing that Nick can uncover the dark secret that lies behind her mother’s death.


What inspired you to write Silver?
I’ve always loved the idea of books within books, and the creative process for me is often generated by a title and a strong opening. The idea of Silver as an unfinished, mysterious manuscript that bears dark secrets, really grabbed me. And the idea of writers being killed in a fashion that resembles the plots of their own books, felt strong and compelling, offering a lot of room for development. And I went from there.

What can readers expect from Silver?
I hope that readers will be intrigued by the mystery surrounding Joy Haversham’s unfinished manuscript, and by Nick Slater’s attempts to unravel the secrets buried within it. Nick is a complex character, a journalist and writer who has suffered grief in his own life, and who became deeply affected by the Haversham case. He has his own agenda, yet at the same time he develops genuine feelings for the grieving family, and particularly Grace.

Most useful piece of writing advice? Who was it from?
Show don’t tell. I’ve heard this advice from so many writers, and I don’t think that the importance of it can be over-stated. It operates on so many levels.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Write your own book. Write what interests you, and intrigues you. Write from the heart, developing your own unique voice, and keep faith with your writing despite the inevitable rejections and hard knocks along the way.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
I enjoy making up stories, thinking up ‘what if’ scenarios. I particularly like creating characters, placing them in interesting, challenging situations and seeing what they do, and how things develop. I am fascinated by the psychology of human behaviour, the conflicts between people, which can often generate interesting story ideas. It can be fascinating discovering what motivates people to act in certain ways. I find it very difficult to plot a book cold. The fear of the blank page, of trying to come up with a great plot before I begin writing, stifles the creative process. If I try to over-think an idea too early on, it kills it for me. I prefer to find a strong opening situation, something intriguing and that can generate conflict and tension, and let it develop organically.

Are you writing anything at the moment?
I’ve recently completed another psychological thriller, and I’m currently working on a follow up to Silver, again featuring Nick Slater.


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