Noir From the Bar: The Story of the Stories

Video by Simon Bewick of Bewick Consulting.

#BlogTour #TheWaitingRooms @EveCSmith @OrendaBooks

Having had the pleasure of hosting Eve Smith at Virtual Noir at the Bar many weeks ago, I am delighted to be hosting her as part of her blog tour for ‘The Waiting Rooms‘.

Here’s Eve to tell us how she appeared to preempt the COVID-19 crisis we find ourselves facing.

Many thanks to Orenda Books, Anne Cater and Eve for having me on this blog tour.

Vic x

The Waiting Rooms: When Fact comes uncomfortably close to Fiction
By Eve Smith

I first had the idea for the The Waiting Rooms around five years ago, after reading some terrifying facts about antibiotic resistance. We don’t really hear much about this issue, which is why WHO calls it “the silent pandemic”. But the shocking reality is that over 700,000 people die from antibiotic-resistant infections each year, which is almost as many as malaria.

The predictions are that ten million a year could die by 2050 if we don’t start doing something about it. And I thought, what would happen, if these drugs did stop working?

If there was a limited supply of new antibiotics, and only certain people could get them, what would happen if society had to choose?

The trade proofs for my novel arrived near the end of January. Around the same time, the Chinese authorities conceded that there was evidence of human-to-human transmission of a novel coronavirus and WHO convened an Emergency Committee to assess whether the outbreak constituted a public health emergency of international concern. A Cobra meeting called to assess the threat in the UK lasted an hour and Matt Hancock bounced out saying the risk to the UK was “low”. Less than six weeks later, prompted by both “the alarming levels of spread and severity”, and by “the alarming levels of inaction”, WHO characterised COVID-19 as a pandemic. 

Whilst my book is obviously set in a fictional world, in the advent and aftermath of an antibiotic crisis which triggers a pandemic, the increasing links between the two is unsettling. Obsessive handwashing and hygiene; masks worn in public places. Handshaking being a thing of the past. Emergency hospitals and quarantine. Enforced isolation. Segregation of the elderly, as social distancing continues. 

The premise of my novel is that, after the antibiotic crisis, no one over seventy is allowed new antibiotics, in a last ditch attempt to keep resistance at bay. In reality, antibiotic use by age group is a U-shaped graph: the highest number of prescriptions go to the young and to the old. In the UK, the over-75’s account for a quarter of all antibiotic prescriptions. The over-65’s account for a third. Which is why, in my book, the elderly are sacrificed to protect the rest of the population. Denied treatment, they are sent to hospitals nicknamed ‘The Waiting Rooms’: hospitals where no one ever gets well.

Such an abhorrent concept seemed unthinkable, at the time. And yet, as Covid-19 rampages across the globe, we hear of terrible choices imposed on doctors in hospitals and workers in care homes facing inadequate supplies of protective equipment, ventilators and ICU beds. At these times, I take comfort in the fact that, at a global level, society has made a decent, unselfish choice. To slow the spread of this disease, we have isolated ourselves to protect the elderly and the vulnerable. We have made that sacrifice, to protect them.

The uncomfortable fact however remains that antimicrobial resistance will increase both the frequency and the severity of pandemics like this one. Early estimates attribute around half the deaths from Covid-19 to secondary bacterial infections such as pneumonia and sepsis, despite effective antibiotics being administered. The WHO have warned of a surge in antibiotic resistance due to the sheer volume of drugs being used.
How much worse would this pandemic be if none of those drugs worked?

After the powerful recent serialisation of her novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, which Margaret Atwood wrote back in 1984, she was often asked if the misogynistic society she invented was a prediction. She replied: “No, it isn’t a prediction, because predicting the future isn’t really possible: There are too many variables and unforeseen possibilities. Let’s say it’s an antiprediction: If this future can be described in detail, maybe it won’t happen. But such wishful thinking cannot be depended on either.”

My hope is that, after witnessing first-hand the destructive force of disease on a global scale, governments, farmers and industry will stop abusing or taking for granted the miraculous drugs we already have and start treating them with the respect they deserve. Thereby ensuring that The Waiting Rooms remains a speculative work of fiction.

The Waiting Rooms” is available to order as an ebook on Kindle, Kobo, Hive and iBooks, paperback available from 9th July. For more about the book and Eve herself, visit Eve’s blog, or you can follow Eve on Twitter.

#BlogTour #TheCurator #MWCraven

I’m delighted to bring you a sneak peek of the latest in the Washington Poe series, ‘The Curator‘, by M.W. Craven.

As many of you already know, I loved ‘The Puppet Show‘ and ‘Black Summer‘ so I’m really excited to get stuck into ‘The Curator’. I know that, after reading this extract, you will be too.

My thanks to Little Brown for including me in the blog tour for this brilliant author. If you missed M.W. Craven at Virtual Noir at the Bar, check out the archives.

Vic x

‘The player who understands the role of the pawn, who really under- stands it, can master the game of chess,’ the man said. ‘They might be the weakest piece on the board but pawns dictate where and when your opponent can attack. They restrict the mobility of the so-called bigger pieces and they determine where the battle squares will be.’

The woman stared at him in confusion. She’d just woken and was feeling groggy.

And sore.

She twisted her head and searched for the source of her pain. It didn’t take long.

‘What have you done?’ she mumbled.

‘Beautiful, isn’t it? It’s old-fashioned catgut so the sutures are a bit agricultural, but they’re supposed to be. It’s not used any more but I needed the “wick effect”. That’s when infection enters the wound through the suture. It will ensure the scar stays livid and crude. A permanent reminder of what has happened.’

He picked up a pair of heavy-duty rib shears.

‘Although not for you, of course.’
The woman thrashed and writhed but it was no use. She was bound
tight.
The man admired the exacting lines of the surgical instrument.

Turned it so the precision steel caught the light. Saw his face reflected in the larger blade. He looked serious. This wasn’t something he particu- larly enjoyed.

‘Please,’ the woman begged, fully awake now, ‘let me go. I promise you, I won’t say anything.’

The man walked round and held her left hand. He stroked it affectionately.

‘I’ve had to wait for the anaesthetic to wear off so this is going to hurt, I’m afraid. Believe me when I say I wish it didn’t have to.’

He placed her ring finger between the blades of the rib shears and squeezed the handles together. There was a crunch as the razor-sharp edges sliced through bone and tendon as if they weren’t there.

The woman screamed then passed out. The man stepped away from the spreading pool of blood.

‘Where was I?’ he said to himself. ‘Ah, yes, we were talking about pawns. Beginners think they’re worthless, there to be sacrificed – but that’s because they don’t know when to use them.’

He removed a coil of wire from his pocket. It had toggles at each end. He placed them between the index and middle finger of each hand. In a practised movement he wrapped the wire around the woman’s neck.

‘Because knowing when to sacrifice your pawns is how the game is won.’

He pulled the garrotte taut, grunting as the cruel wire bit into her skin, severing her trachea, crushing her jugular vein and carotid artery. She was dead in seconds.

He waited an hour then took the other finger he needed.

He carefully arranged it in a small plastic tub, keeping it separate from the others. He looked at his macabre collection with satisfaction.

It could begin now.

The other pawns were in position. They just didn’t know it yet . . .

Chapter 1

It was the night before Christmas and all wasn’t well.
It had started like it always did. Someone asking, ‘Are we doing Secret Santa this year?’ and someone else replying, ‘I hope not,’ both making a pact to avoid mentioning it to the office manager, both secretly planning to mention it as soon as possible. And before anyone could protest, the decision had been made and the office was doing it again. The fifteenth year in a row. Same rules as last year. Five-quid limit. Anonymous gifts. Nothing rude or offensive. Gifts that no one wanted. A total waste of everyone’s time.

At least that’s what Craig Hodgkiss thought. He hated Secret Santa.

He hated Christmas too. The yearly reminder that his life was shit. That, while the colleagues he outwardly sneered at were going home to spend Christmas with their families and loved ones, he’d be spending it on his own.

But he really hated Secret Santa.

Three years ago it had been the source of his greatest humili- ation. Setting himself the not unreasonable Christmas target of shagging Hazel, a fellow logistics specialist at John Bull Haulage, he’d wangled it so he was the one who’d bought her Secret Santa gift. He reckoned buying her a pair of lace panties would be the perfect way to let her know he was up for some extracurricular activities while her husband long-hauled across mainland Europe.

His plan worked.
Almost.
It had been the perfect way to let her know.

Unfortunately she was happily married, and instead of rushing into his bed she’d rushed to her husband, who was between jobs and was having a brew in the depot. The six-foot-five lorry driver had walked into the admin office and broken Craig’s nose. He’d told him that if he ever so much as looked at his wife again he’d find himself hogtied in the back of a Russia-bound shipping container. Craig had believed him. So much so that, in front of the whole office, he’d lost control of his bladder.

For two years everyone had called him ‘Swampy’. He couldn’t even complain to Human Resources as he was terrified of getting Hazel into trouble.

For two years he hadn’t made a dent in the girls in the office.

But eventually Hazel and her brute of a husband had moved on. He took a job driving for Eddie Stobart and she went with him. Craig told everyone that Hazel’s husband had left the com- pany because he’d caught up with him and given him a hiding, but no one had believed him.

Actually, one person seemed to.

By Craig’s own standards, Barbara Willoughby was a plain girl. Her hair looked like it had been styled in a nursing home, her teeth were blunt and too widely spaced, and she could have done with dropping a couple of pounds. On a scale of one-to-ten Craig reckoned she was a hard six, maybe a seven in the right lighting, and he only ever shagged eights and above.

But there was one thing he did like about her. She hadn’t been there when he’d pissed himself.

So he’d asked her out. And to his surprise he found they got on really well. She was fun to be with and she was popular. He liked how she made him feel and she was adventurous in bed. He also liked how she only wanted to do things at the weekends. During the week she would stay in and study for some stupid exams she was taking.

Which suited Craig just fine.

Because, after a few weeks of dating Barbara, he’d got his swagger back. And with it he began carving notches again.

To his amazement he discovered it was actually easier pulling the type of woman he went for when he told them he was in a long-term relationship. He reckoned it was the combination of his boyish good looks and the thought of doing over someone they didn’t know. Which gave Craig an idea: if those sort of women enjoyed the thrill of being with someone who cheated, they’d go crazy for someone who had affairs . . .

So Craig Hodgkiss, at the age of twenty-nine, decided he would ask Barbara to marry him. She’d jump at the chance. She was in her early thirties, had some biological clock thing going on (but was unaware he’d had a vasectomy two years earlier) and would almost certainly be left on the shelf if she said no. And then he’d reap the rewards. A faithful doormat keeping his bed warm and a succession of women who’d happily shag a man wearing a wedding band.

And because he wanted everyone in the office to know he was about to become illicit fruit, he’d decided to put past experiences behind him and propose during the office Secret Santa.

Arranging it hadn’t been straightforward. He’d got Barbara’s ring size by stealing her dead grandmother’s eternity ring, the one she only wore on special occasions. While Barbara turned her flat upside down looking for it, he’d been asking a jeweller to make the engagement ring the same size and to recycle the diamonds and gold. The whole thing had only cost him two hundred quid.

The next thing was to think of a cool way of proposing.

Something that would get the office girls talking about how romantic Craig was. A rep like that could only help. He decided on a mug. It was the perfect Secret Santa gift as it met the five- quid limit set by the office manager and, although half the gifts under the cheap fibre optic Christmas tree looked like they were mugs, half the gifts under the tree didn’t have ‘Will You Marry Me?’ printed on the side.

When Barbara read the message and then saw what was inside . . . well, he reckoned she’d burst into tears, shout yes and hug him for all she was worth.

The office floor was strewn with cheap wrapping paper. All reindeer and snowmen and brightly wrapped presents tied with ribbons.

Barbara was next. She picked up her parcel and looked at him strangely.

Did she know?

She couldn’t. No one did. Not even the girl he’d persuaded to swap with him so he was the one buying for Barbara.

Tiffany, Barbara’s best friend, began recording it on her mobile phone for some reason. That was OK, though. Better than OK actually. He’d be able to post it on Twitter and Facebook and keep a copy on his phone. Ready to show girls at the drop of a hat. Look at me. Look how nice I am. Look how sensitive I am. You can have some of this . . . but only for one night.

Craig caught Barbara’s eye. He winked. She didn’t return it. Didn’t even smile. Just held his gaze as she lifted the wrapped box from one of his old gift bags.

Something wasn’t right. The wrapping paper was thick and white with black pictures; he thought his had been cheap and brightly coloured.

Barbara ripped it off without looking at it. The mug was in a polystyrene box. He’d taped the two halves together to increase the suspense. Barbara ran a pair of scissors down the join before separating them.

She pulled out the mug and Craig’s confusion intensified. It wasn’t his. He hadn’t seen this one before. Something was printed on the side but it wasn’t proposing marriage. In inch- high black letters it said: #BSC6

Barbara didn’t know she’d opened the wrong parcel, though. Without looking inside the mug, she glared at him and upended the mug’s contents.

‘Cheating fucking bastard,’ she said.

Craig didn’t protest his innocence. He couldn’t. He was unable to tear his eyes away from the things that had fallen on the floor. They were no engagement ring.

He recoiled and gasped in revulsion.

A familiar and unwelcome warmth began spreading from his groin.

And then the screaming started.

Getting to Know You: M.J. Arlidge

Hope you’re all keeping well. If you’re looking for something new to read, M.J. Arlidge’s eighth Helen Grace novel ‘All Fall Down‘ is due out next week (Thurs, 11th June) .

Matt has joined us today to give us a little insight into his work as a writer and some advice for those of you out there who’d like to give it a go yourselves.

I’m hoping to host Matt at a Virtual Noir at the Bar in the coming weeks so make sure you’re first to find out when he’ll be appearing. Sign up to our newsletter now.

Big thanks to Matt and Orion Books for making this happen.

Vic x

M.J Arlidge

What do you like most about writing? What do you dislike (if anything)?

I love the escapism of it. I never get tired of sitting down at my desk and opening up my laptop. There are dozens of different characters and numerous interweaving stories in each of my books, meaning I have a whole host of different people to climb inside and bring to life. I love working out what makes characters tick, what’s important to them, what would drive them to do reckless or desperate things. It’s so enjoyable to escape from my normal life, especially so during lockdown! 

There’s not much I dislike, though there’s no question writing a novel is a hard slog. I’ve just written the first chapters of a new one this morning and the road ahead seems long!!!

What inspires you to write?

Anything and everything. Just life really. I find ideas come to me unbidden and at the strangest times – in the middle of the night, when I’m in the shower, when I’m shopping in the supermarket. And once a really good idea pops into your head, it has you, you have to write it. 

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

Yes, of course! I love reading and always find time, usually at the end of the day. Generally I read novels, but at the moment I’m making use of lockdown to consume the works of Yuval Noah Harari – Sapiens, Homo Deus etc. I find his work absolutely fascinating. 

Which author(s) has/have had the biggest influence on your writing?

So many authors to choose from. Thomas Harris, James Patterson, Harlan Coben…but I think I’ll have to plump for Stieg Larsson. When I was writing Eeny Meeny (my debut novel), Lisbeth Salander was very much in my mind. She was the most unusual, most interesting crime fighter I’d ever come across. There are shades of Lisbeth Salander about Helen Grace – I was desperate to make her as unconventional and intriguing as Larsson’s brilliant protagonist. 

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

Wow. Good question. I would have loved to have been a photographer. Or a chef. I still harbour fantasies about the latter, but I’m probably too old…

What do you think are your strengths and weaknesses?

That’s probably not for me to say! I’d say I work hard and am very committed to my writing and my readers – to the extent that when I’m writing a novel I find it hard to resist creeping back to my office late at night or as the sun is rising.  

What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve literally just started writing Truth or Dare, the ninth novel in the Helen Grace series. Usually the first few chapters are utterly terrifying, but actually I’ve really enjoyed starting this one. 

Where can we find you online?

At my Facebook page or on Twitter.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

To borrow a phrase from Nike, just do it. Don’t spend too long prevaricating – pretending to research stuff, when actually you’re just putting off writing. Just be disciplined and get that first draft done. Only then do you have something you can work with, something you can potentially sell. When I was writing my first novel, I still had a day job, but managed to carve out one hour a day (5pm-6pm) to write. It was slow progress, but I got there in the end, and, boy, was it a good feeling!

What’s been your proudest moment?

The day Eeny Meeny was published by Penguin. To have joined the ranks of authors at such an impressive and important publishing house blew my mind!

What was the best writing advice you received and who was it from? 

When I delivered the first draft of Eeny Meeny to my agent, she declared that it was good, but needed “more emotional cruelty”. It was sage advice and something I bear in mind every time I’m penning a new Helen Grace novel!

ALL FALL DOWN by M.J Arlidge is published by Orion Fiction and out in hardback on 11th June 2020.

**Bones in the River Blog Tour**

I’m thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for Zoë Sharp’s “Bones in the River“. I’ve known Zoë for many years now but here’s a little bit of background to the enigmatic writer.

Zoë Sharp began her crime thriller series featuring former Special Forces trainee turned bodyguard, Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Fox, after receiving death-threats in the course of her work as a photo-journalist. Zoë opted out of mainstream education at the age of twelve and wrote her first novel at fifteen.

Zoë’s work has won or been nominated for awards on both sides of the Atlantic, been used in school textbooks, inspired an original song and music video, and been optioned for TV and film.

When not in lockdown in the wilds of Derbyshire, she can be found improvising self-defence weapons out of ordinary household objects, international pet-sitting, or crewing yachts in the Mediterranean. (It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.) Zoë is always happy to hear from readers, reader groups, libraries or bookstores. You can contact her via email.

My thanks to Zoë for having me on her blog tour.

Vic x

Don’t Quit the Day Job:
Zoe Sharp

I suppose there was half a chance that writing fiction might have been my day job, right from the start. After all, I penned my first novel at the age of fifteen—and I do mean ‘penned’. I wrote the entire thing, long-hand, in a month, and gave myself the most appalling writers’ cramp in the process.

That early effort did the rounds of all the major publishers, where it received what’s known in the trade as ‘rave rejections’—everybody said they loved it but nobody actually wanted to publish it.

Looking back, I’m rather glad about that.

Because, in order to be a writer, you need different experiences under your belt. At the age of fifteen, I’d had few worth mentioning. Apart from living aboard a catamaran from the age of about seven and leaving school at twelve. But that, as they say, is probably another story.

Having failed at my first attempt to be a novelist, I became side-tracked by a variety of jobs in my teenage years, including crewing boats and learning astro-navigation. I was mad keen on horses, rode competitively, and once even took part in a rodeo. I learned to shoot—did a little competing there, too. Long guns, mostly. I considered myself an average shot with a handgun but, as I discovered on my last visit to a US indoor gun range, most people can manage to miss the target entirely at less than ten feet.

As for jobs, I became a freelance motoring writer at the height of the classic car boom of the late 1980s. That quickly transmuted into being a photojournalist, having taught myself both how to write commercial magazine articles and also how to take images good enough for numerous front covers and centre spreads.

It was hardly surprising, then, that eventually I’d have to start writing a character who was a photographer. Enter Grace McColl, first in Dancing on the Grave and now in Bones in the River. Grace started out as a keen amateur photographer, who became involved in providing evidence for the defence in a court case. She was then approached by the Head CSI at Cumbria police, who asked her if she’d ever thought of joining the side of the angels. Always nice to be able to write any parts of the story concerning photography without having to do lots of research.

My time spent writing about cars also played a part in Bones in the River, which begins with a hit-and-run incident. Understanding how the mechanics of a vehicle work makes writing scenes with them in so much easier and, I hope, more accurate.

Plus, all that time spent with horses came in very useful for a book that takes place during the largest Gypsy and Traveller horse fair in Europe. There were still plenty of times when I had up to a dozen different scientific research books laid on the table at the side of my desk as I wrote, though. Fortunately, forensic science and pathology are such fascinating subjects.

They tell you to write what you know. I disagree. I think you should write what you’re desperate to find out instead.

Bones in the River“, the second book in the Lakes crime thriller series, was published worldwide on May 26 2020 by ZACE Ltd. You can grab a sneak peek of the first three chapters, and is available from all the usual retailers.

Reflections on Noir at the Bar – four years on

It’s four years today since I hosted the first Noir at the Bar in Newcastle. If you’d asked me then what my expectations for the event would be, I would have been excited just to do a second one.

Our first Noir at the Bar in Newcastle

So it’s a huge surprise to me where Noir at the Bar has taken me, and many others.

Zoe Sharp has been a wonderful Noir at the Bar supporter

In addition to giving readers and writers a space to socialise, championing writers and bringing people from all over the world together, Noir at the Bar has helped me form some of the most important friendships of my life. Many of you will know that Jacky Collins – AKA Dr Noir – has been my partner-in-crime through this adventure. Three years ago, I read at Edinburgh’s Noir at the Bar for the second time and met Kelly Lacey of Love Books Group. I’ve met so many wonderful people throughout the course of Noir at the Bar and I hope that will continue.

Kelly Lacey and I

Despite being locked down for many weeks, Noir at the Bar is still bringing people together through our virtual events. In addition to that, Simon Bewick has masterminded an anthology called “Noir from the Bar“, a collection of short stories from thirty authors who have – or will – read at Virtual Noir at the Bar. All profits will be donated to NHS charities. This anthology was put together in thirty-five days. Simon, the editors, the writers and the designer, Nicola Young, have achieved an incredible feat.

Noir at the Bar continues to bring people together, inspire and demonstrate the goodness in people.

Vic x

Guest Post: James Henry on Writing a Crime Series

Today on the blog, I have James Henry, author of the DI Nicholas Lowry series. James’s books are popular among readers and writers of crime fiction alike.

Whitethroat‘, the third in the series is due out in July and James is here today to give his thoughts on writing a crime series.

My thanks to James for taking the time to share his experience with us.

Vic x

James Henry

Tips on writing a Crime Series

When I start thinking about writing a new crime series, my first rule is to try and write each book in such a way that it works, as far as is possible, as a standalone novel. That is to say, a reader should not have to have read book one in order to understand and enjoy books two, three or four – each should be satisfying in its own right. The point of this, of course, is that you can still pick up new readers with each new book as your series develops – readers who may then dip back to earlier books. If you achieve that, you continue to build your audience.

To do this successfully, remember a few key points when starting out:

Keep a notebook detailing simple things – like description of characters physical traits, their age, their habits and peccadilloes. You think you will remember the simple things; you think you will remember your character prefers white bread to wholemeal; you won’t – but your reader most certainly will… You will thank yourself for having something to refer back to. 

However, I would caution against going overboard on detail too soon: you have a long road to travel, so be wary of packing too much baggage in the early days. You have to carry it all with you. Allow characters to develop gently. The first book in the series should focus on the story, making the plot as tight, engaging and pacy as possible.  

As your series progresses you can allow your characters to develop. The more books you write the more backstory you will accumulate – a sense of shared history involving character relationships, tragic events, celebrations, any number of things. You will draw on this history in your writing, but do so judiciously – too much repetition risks slowly the pace of the story as a whole. Say that book one sees your detective break up from a long relationship, as well as receive a great promotion at work. A long explanation of the reason for their new job in book two may not warrant the page space it takes to tell; but exploring the reasons why they are miserable and drinking more than usual in spite of having an important new job, very well may. 

Remember that as your series develops you have to write with two readers in mind: your new reader, the one who may be discovering this series for the first time; and the readers who have been with you from the start. From now on, think about how you orientate new readers in the world you have created as well as keep things fresh for those who are familiar with it. For instance, you can re-introduce the setting, the landscape – but perhaps you can add some new detail on the geography or history of the area. There is always a way to make the familiar newly interesting.

With all this to bear in mind, the writing may seem hard work, much beyond a one off novel say, but there is a sense of satisfaction in an adding another layer to the world you have created that can only be had by series fiction.

Thoughts on Virtual Noir at the Bar

OK, so since my last post about Virtual Noir at the Bar, things have gone a bit, well, insane. Virtual Noir at the Bar is being hailed as “the best night in”, “a reason to know what day it is” and “the highlight of the week”. Our afterparties are getting a bit of a reputation too, bringing people together until the wee small hours.

This week sees our eighth virtual outing with yet another stellar squad of writers. Within a couple more weeks, we will have hosted more than a hundred authors – and we still have at least another hundred on our guest list. You can still sign up to our mailing list to be first to find out the full line-up every week.

So, every Wednesday evening, after I put my little boy to bed and begin to get ready to host another virtual gathering, I reflect on how different doing a virtual event is to hosting an event in the flesh. I also think about the similarities, the things I miss about “live” events (i.e. non-virtual) and the things I’m grateful for when broadcasting from home.

We’re trying to keep Noir at the Bar as close to the “live” events as possible. There’s still a hat, albeit a new one after the old ratty tatty hat disintegrated the other week (if that had happened in a bar someone else would’ve tidied the mess up).

I try to keep the informal style going but it is very unnerving making jokes and name-checking people into what is, essentially, a void. I can see the chat happening in Zoom and, from the feedback we’re getting, people seem to be enjoying it but I do miss the immediate response of hearing the audience give me a drum roll when we’re picking names from the hat and the “woos” when they hear something impressive.

On that note, I have felt so self-conscious that my own “woos” of appreciation reduced in length and I started to worry they sounded sarcastic. I said that a couple of weeks ago, that I encouraged everyone else to do it but didn’t feel comfortable doing it myself for fear of offending anyone. That lasted half the evening as I got a lot of encouragement from the audience to reinstate the woos, safe in the knowledge that my appreciation was genuine.

Every Wednesday night, I still put perfume on and curse myself for having had a tidy out of my make-up and never replacing the stuff I chucked. I have very limited supplies and this leaves me discomfited.

I know lots of memes have popped up recently about staring at your own face on Zoom calls but it is very unnerving. At least in the bar, I don’t have to see myself. Similarly, we don’t record our outings when we’re in an actual bar so I don’t have the opportunity to go back and criticise every little mistake and weird facial expression. I am delighted, though, that people are able to use our archive to catch up at their leisure if they’ve missed an “episode”.

I love the fact that we’re no longer bound by geography. We’ve always been lucky that writers are willing to travel to appear at Noir at the Bar but with Virtual Noir at the Bar, we are able to host writers from their homes. So far we’ve hosted writers from LA, New Zealand, Germany and Iceland.

I’m also aware that by being accessible to anyone with a computer means that we can reach people no matter where in the world they are. People are getting up early in NZ to be part of the live event – I can’t get my head around it! Being virtual also means that people who may be housebound or unable to come to a public event can still be part of it. We also have a lot more space for people in the virtual bar so there’s no fear of anyone not being able to join us.

I haven’t enjoyed asking people to support us financially. I know people are enjoying the events but they don’t come cheap. Mentioning our Ko-Fi page feels crass – even though no one makes any money out of VNatB – any donations go towards hosting software and the like. We’ve pledged that any surplus will go to NHS Charities Together.

RIP the ratty tatty hat

I like that I only have to have a presentable top half. I don’t have to squeeze myself into jeans which is just as well because I’m not sure I’d be able to stand them at the moment – lockdown weight gain is a thing, ok? So, yeah, I’m delighted that I can wear my elasticated trousers while hosting VNatB.

I like that, within minutes of the event ending, I can be in my pjs eating a crisp sandwich (now do you understand the lockdown weight gain?).

As is customary with Noir at the Bar, we have hosted established and emerging authors and I’m delighted that we’ve been able to keep the community together during this bizarre time.

I like that I can stay at the afterparty until I’m ready to go to bed. I don’t have to factor in getting home because I’m already there!

I don’t get to hug my friends. We still do a group photo but it’s not the same. I don’t get to mingle with the audience during the breaks.

I’m grateful to every writer who has given up their time to read at Virtual Noir at the Bar. I’m indebted to Simon Bewick who keeps the plates spinning. I’m delighted that Virtual Noir at the Bar has obtained what some are calling “a cult following” (I think they said cult, anyway). But I really wish we could all get together properly.

Until then, see you at the virtual bar every Wednesday.

Vic x

**Newcastle Noir Blog Tour**

The Thursday before Newcastle Noir officially opens, we run Noir at the Bar as part of NN’s fringe. As with everything else this year, Noir at the Bar is going to be a little different but we’re delighted to be running #VNatB – Virtual Noir at the Bar – as part of the online fringe. 

Noir at the Bar has been part of Newcastle Noir’s fringe festival for several years and, thanks to the festival, this free spoken word event has managed to attract writers from Iceland, America and Germany in addition to the wonderful writers who travel the length and breadth of the UK to appear. 

Noir at the Bar, the brainchild of Peter Rosovsky, began in 2008 in Philadelphia. Peter started Noir at the Bar with one author per event where they’d do a reading and answer some questions. Scott Phillips and Jedidiah Ayres then set up Noir at the Bar in St Louis and messed with the concept a little, hosting larger groups of writers but sacrificing the interview element. Eric Beetner then set up in LA when their hub for writers, the Mystery Bookstore, closed. Noir at the Bar NYC started after Glenn Gray and Todd Robinson wanted the east coast to get some of the noiry action and that particular chapter is now hosted by Tommy Pluck. 

The first I heard of Noir at the Bar was when Graham Smith ran one in Carlisle but I believe it first came to the UK with Jay Stringer and Russel D. McLean at the helm in Glasgow. I once read an article where Glenn and Todd said they started NYC N@B because Tommy Pluck bullied them into it. The same happened with me, but it was Jay and Graham who “suggested” I run one in Newcastle. 

I put the feelers out among the crime writers I knew in the area and one author suggested I get in touch with Dr Noir. From that very first meeting, I knew I’d met someone who’d have a big impact on my life. Jacky’s unending passion for crime fiction bubbled over and by the time our meeting was done, we had so many plans. 

A global pandemic, surprisingly, didn’t feature in those plans so we’ve had to get creative to ensure that our audience don’t have to go without their crime fiction fix in these bewildering times.   On Wednesday, 29th April, I’ll be running my weekly Virtual Noir at the Bar and dedicating it to Newcastle Noir. Having hosted US writer Ashley Erwin in 2018 and 2019 as part of the fringe, I wanted to keep the tradition going and I’m delighted Ashley will be bringing her unique brand of pulpy noir to our virtual audience.

#VNatB will be here every Wednesday for fans of crime fiction until restrictions on social gatherings are lifted – and possibly beyond. 

Sign up for our newsletter to be the first to find out the full line-up every week.

See you at the (virtual) bar! 

Vic x

The Newcastle Noir fringe Noir at the Bar crew, 2019.

Getting to Know You: Emily Koch

Today I’m delighted to be joined by Emily Koch, author of ‘Keep Him Close‘ and ‘If I Die Before I Wake‘.

My thanks to Emily for taking the time to chat to me during these very strange times.

Vic x

©Barbara Evripidou2015; m: 07879443963; barbara@firstavenuephotography.com

Tell us about your books.
My debut, If I Die Before I Wake, is a psychological thriller about a man with locked-in syndrome, who discovers that the accident which put him in hospital was no such thing – someone tried to kill him. My second novel, Keep Him Close, just came out and it’s more of a dark domestic drama than a thriller. It’s about the friendship between a woman whose son has died and the mother of the boy accused of his murder.

What inspired them?
If I Die was inspired by a news item I heard on the radio one day about someone in a coma. It made me wonder about the family around that person, and what they were doing with their lives. Keep Him Close was inspired by the prison I live near to in Bristol. Some houses back on to the prison wall – it is surrounded on all sides by residential streets. I started thinking about what you’d do if you lived close to it and there was someone inside who had done something terrible to your family. How would you cope with that proximity?

What do you like most about writing? What do you dislike (if anything)?
When people read something I’ve written and get it. Sometimes that’s my editor, or a friend – but often I get the best feeling of connection from a totally unknown reader. With both books I’ve had reviews online, sometimes only a few lines, that have made me feel – yes, you really got what I was trying to do. I love those moments! I dislike the constant self-doubt, but I try not to listen to that voice in my head too much.

Do you find time to read, if so what are you reading at the moment?
Ha! Yes, I do find some time, but not a lot at the moment with two kids to run around after. I’ve just started Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid.

Which author(s) has/have had the biggest influence on your writing?
In recent years the biggest influence has been Celeste Ng. I love her two literary thrillers, Little Fires Everywhere and Everything I Never Told You.

Where do you get your ideas from?
All sorts of places! Newspapers, radio news items, things I hear people say out and about, and the usual ‘what if…?’ situations that I think most people have running through their heads. Writers just know how to notice these and harness them. I firmly believe we all have great ideas – it’s knowing how to spot them and develop them that writers do more than most others.

Do you have a favourite scene/character/story you’ve written?
The ending of my debut is my favourite section I’ve written. It’s hard to talk about without giving the plot away! There’s also a scene in Keep Him Close where Alice, the mother of the dead boy Lou, is out in her garden looking at the prison wall with her surviving son, Benny. I loved writing that scene, and what they do in it to deal with their grief and anger at Kane, the young man in the prison accused of murdering Lou.

What are you working on at the moment?
Coming up with an idea for my third novel! Or, rather, developing it. I have the basic premise and I’m really excited about it – now it’s just a matter of fleshing it out bit by bit.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given (and who was it from)?
Just keep turning up at your desk – that’s what my lovely agent Peter Straus told me eighteen months ago when I was exhausted and full of the aforementioned self-doubt, trying to work on a second draft of Keep Him Close while running around after a toddler, and in the first trimester of my second pregnancy. He said I just had to keep chipping away at the novel, day after day, and it would come together. It did!

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
Plotter. I love a good spreadsheet to plan out my novels. I find the planning part of the process incredibly fun and creative – and I feel confident when I start writing because I know the plot is solid.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Keep reading, keep writing – it’s basic but so true. Get some friends who are writing, too. 

What’s been your proudest writing-related moment?
When my mum texted me to tell me she’d finished If I Die Before I Wake and said she’d loved it.