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?

http://GrahamWynd.com

http://Twitter.com/GrahamWynd

I (belatedly) review my 2014.

As explained in my previous post, my blog was private for a few months and, therefore, I didn’t get the opportunity to review 2014. All told, it was an amazing year so I’d like to recap it now.

Wishing you all the best for the remainder of 2015 and, remember, it’s never too late to make a positive change. 

Vic x

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2014 was a great year for you. Do you have a favourite memory professionally?

There are a few! Following a performance evening in 2013, where the theme was Thrills ‘n’ Chills, Wild Wolf Publishing offered to produce an anthology of work written by members of my Creative Writing groups. Receiving my copy of that book, which featured poetry and short stories, was exhilarating but the highlight was seeing the reactions of the writers when they received their books.

Some of the writers featured in ‘Thrills ‘n’ Chills’ with Rod Glenn of Wild Wolf Publishing.

In December, I was invited to give a talk about writing at Dar Al Atta’s Let’s Read bookshop in Muscat, Oman. I wasn’t expecting many people to come but there was standing room only and it was incredible being able to discuss writing with people from lots of different cultures. I found it really interesting to have so many people with differing religions and experiences from a range of cultural backgrounds who found that the experience of writing was something that they had in common.

Me following my talk in the Let's Read bookshop, 30/12/14.

Me following my talk in the Let’s Read bookshop, 30/12/14. Photo courtesy of Cio Datan, Times of Oman.

And how about a favourite moment from 2014 generally?

My highlights were the bookshop talk, the performance evening I arranged in July thanks to the lovely folks at the Avalon in Whitley Bay, ‘Thrills ‘n’ Chills’ being released and completing my PGCE. It was great to finally go to the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival and meet up with lots of writing friends.

However, I will remember 2014 mainly due to the amount of travelling I was lucky enough to do. I went on three amazing holidays as well as visiting London a couple of times. The first was to Vegas with my friend to celebrate my 30th birthday. The second was a family trip to Florida and the Caribbean and the third was to Oman to visit The Boy Wonder’s family.

Vegas was everything I’d hoped it would be, and more. I read some awesome books during the flights there and back (come on, you must have known books would feature somewhere in there!). I tried IHOP for the first time, wandered around the incredible malls and hotels, spoke to a man called James Pond and played a touch screen Sex and the City game that I still don’t understand (but I did win $32 on it).

The night before I turned 30, my friend and I were ID’d at the Britney Spears show in Planet Hollywood so ended up drinking pop. Lady Gaga was also in the audience and we just had an absolute blast, even though we were totally sober! I was privileged enough to take a helicopter ride into the Grand Canyon on my actual birthday as well as doing the SkyJump at the Stratosphere and having a steak at the Wynn Hotel.

I loved Florida because I got to ride a lot of incredible rollercoasters, do a lot of shopping and experience another aspect of America. We stayed in a brilliant townhouse that was central to everything we wanted to do. I loved Universal and, even though there were some pretty serious storms while we were in Florida, it gave us a good opportunity to shop without feeling guilty about wasting the sunshine! The Boy Wonder and I went to see The Blue Man Group – it is a show that I would encourage everyone to go and see. It’s family friendly, very clever and lots of fun. On Thanksgiving Day, my parents and I went to a town called Celebration which reminded me of Wisteria Lane!

Following our week in Florida, we jumped aboard Oasis of the Seas for a Caribbean cruise. I really enjoyed visiting three beautiful locations – the Bahamas, St Thomas and St Maarten. Each of the islands were unique with their own attractions, we visited Blackbeard’s Castle in St Thomas for example. I loved St Maarten, it was so laid back.

And as for Oman, it was as beautiful as usual. Going to Oman, for me, is like going home. ‘Nuff said.

Favourite book in 2014?

Although ‘Gone Girl‘ was a big hit last year, and I thought it was a good read, I preferred ‘Dark Places’ by Gillian Flynn. That said, I also really enjoyed ‘The Miniaturist‘ by Jessie Burton and I loved ‘Lies We Tell Ourselves‘ by Robin Talley. Oh, and I can’t miss out ‘Yes Please‘ by Amy Poehler and ‘Girl Walks into a Bar…‘ by Rachel Dratch. 2014 was the year I discovered the joy of audiobooks.

Favourite film of 2014?

I actually really enjoyed ‘Gone Girl‘, I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a more faithful adaptation. ‘Nightcrawler‘ was also really creepy. My guilty pleasure was ‘Jersey Boys‘ on the flight to Florida.

Favourite song of the year?

Uptown Funk‘ by Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars. I  also loved the latest albums by David Gray and Coldplay.

Any downsides for you in 2014?

I was disappointed that my blog was on temporary hiatus but it was for a good reason.

Are you making resolutions for 2015?

Keep on keeping on. Although I do like the idea of a happiness jar.

What are you hoping for from 2015?

World peace.

Guest post: Tess Makovesky.

Today I have the awesome Tess Makovesky talking to us about Reusing characters. Please feel free to comment at the end of the post. Thanks again to Tess for taking the time to share her thoughts.

Vic x

Re-using characters: skilful repackaging or excess baggage?

These days we’re encouraged to be green with almost everything. Reduce, reuse, recycle is the modern mantra, and quite right too in this age of dwindling resources and ever-increasing waste. But can the same thing apply to characters in fiction?

I’ll come clean straight away and admit I hardly ever write sequels. Partly this is because I have so many new ideas buzzing round that I don’t really have time to re-visit old stories. Partly it’s because most of my stories finish with a twist, and writing anything more would be too much like re-wrapping a Christmas present and expecting the recipient to be just as excited second time around. It doesn’t really work.

However, every now and again a character grabs me by the, um, throat. Either I develop a soft spot for them, or they would fit just as well somewhere else. Take Justine, the young car thief in ‘Wheel Man’ (published in Drag Noir from Fox Spirit). She’s feisty, go-getting, and not above taking things into her own hands, and I happen to like her. Added to which, she’d be just perfect in my latest work-in-progress, where a bag of money gets transported round Birmingham, mostly inadvertently, in the hands of a group of disparate criminals all intent on their own nefarious ends. Someone drives off with the money in their van; someone else steals the van. And Justine instantly sprang to mind.

Drag Noir

She comes ready prepared, in a ‘here’s one I made earlier’ kind of way. I don’t have to waste time inventing her backstory or thinking up new and unique physical attributes. And it’s such a neat way of tying a published story in to a new piece of work, with all the marketing benefits that could bring.

However, like most things in life it’s never quite as simple as you think it will be. I sat down and dashed off half a chapter featuring Justine, but the more I wrote the slower I got. Something, somewhere, just didn’t feel right. It took me a couple of days to figure out what, but basically the biggest problem is that not all my readers will know who or what she is. For that reason I felt I had to stuff her entire backstory into the first chapter she appears in, and as I write in short chapters, that created all sorts of issues with the pacing. Suddenly what had been a fast-paced, pared-down piece of work became flabby, with long passages where Justine mused about what had happened to her in ‘Wheel Man’.

Of course, I could just weed all that stuff out, but there are two problems with that. Firstly, anyone who isn’t familiar with ‘Wheel Man’ won’t have a clue who Justine is and therefore her motives may not ring true. Second, there doesn’t seem to be much point re-using the character at all unless I can actually refer to past events. I could just as easily invent someone new, not a car thief necessarily but someone with a need to steal a van.

I suspect that, like most things in fiction writing, there’s no right or wrong answer, and it’s something I’m going to have to muddle through by myself. But I wonder how writers who feature the same characters in lots of different stories and/or novels cope. Is there a modern mantra for re-using characters, as well as for recycling the trash?

***

Liverpool lass Tess is now settled in the far north of England where she roams the fells with a brolly, dreaming up new stories and startling the occasional sheep.

Tess writes a distinctive brand of British comédie noir and her short stories have darkened the pages of various anthologies and magazines, including ‘Exiles: An Outsider Anthology‘ (Blackwitch Press), ‘Drag Noir‘ (Fox Spirit), and ‘Rogue‘ (Near to the Knuckle).

You can follow her ramblings (both literary and literal) at her blog: http://tessmakovesky.wordpress.com/ .

Back to the Blog

If you were a regular reader of this blog, you may have noticed it became private in September 2014. If you tried to visit this blog after that, you will have seen that you were unable to access the blog unless you’d been given special access by me. My Twitter and Instagram pages were also on lock-down. You might have wondered why this change occurred.

Well, I was given a wonderful opportunity to work with young people and, because of safeguarding policies, I had to make my blog and all of my social media private. It’s pretty standard procedure in order to protect not only the students but also the staff.

In those months, I found it pointless to post to this blog as no-one would see what I wrote but lots has happened. I will be updating the blog as much as possible over the next few weeks to try and catch up.

I found December particularly challenging as I missed reading a different review of 2014 every day by a range of interesting people. Lots of people contacted me in November to ask if I’d be running the reviews but sadly there was little point. I was heartened, though, by the number of people who contacted me to say they, too, were missing the reviews. I know it’s late but I am going to post my own review of 2014 because it was such a brilliant year, I’d like to recap it.

You may now be wondering why, all of a sudden, the blog is now back in the public domain. I have moved on to pastures new and I’m now free to blog again. Happily, this coincides with a wonderful new idea I’m trialling through my business, Elementary V Watson. For more info, please click here.

Vic x

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 5,200 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.