Don’t Quit the Day Job: Jan Fortune

Lots of people don’t realise that although you may see work by a certain author on the bookshelves in your favourite shop, many writers still hold down a day job in addition to penning their next novel. In this series, we talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Jan Fortune to the blog to talk about how she managed to write a trilogy in the last four years while holding down a day job. My thanks to Jan for taking the time to share her insights with us.

Vic x

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Over the last four years I’ve been working on a trilogy of novels. A Remedy For All Things follows Catherine, who is in Hungary in 1993 to research on the poet Attila József, when she begins dreaming the life of another woman from a different time period (imprisoned after the Hungarian Uprising of 1956). Even more disturbing, she’s aware that the other woman, Selene, is dreaming her life. 

It’s a complex book that has taken a great deal of research as well as several edits, but like most contemporary writers, I don’t write full-time. How do we do it? Juggle work, homes to run and still write? And are there any benefits to writing in this way, without the luxury of all the time in the world, or at least all the time that would otherwise go into holding body and soul together?

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Many of my favourite writers combined work of all sorts with writing. William Faulkner is reputed to have written As I Lay Dying in six weeks. He claimed that while working 12 hours days as a manual labourer he wrote this phenomenal novel in his ‘spare time’. Most of us need a lot longer, but it’s certainly the case that many writers don’t only write.

Anthony Burgess taught and composed music; Joseph Conrad was a sea captain; T.S. Eliot worked in a bank and Arthur Conan Doyle was a doctor, as was the poet William Carlos Williams. Wallace Stevens turned down a Harvard professorship rather than give up his 40-year career in insurance.

Women who write may not only do the lion’s share of domestic work while writing, but also hold down demanding jobs. Agatha Christie worked as an apothecary’s assistant, a great place to learn about poisons. Toni Morrison worked as an editor and for many years Octavia Butler had to write in the early hours so that she could work low-paid jobs like telemarketing or cleaning.

If working the day job is a necessity, it can also be one with benefits. Working as an editor and publisher, I get a lot of time to see how form works, how language can constantly be honed and how handing our precious book to someone with skill and objectivity and then listening carefully can make all the difference. One of my authors recently took a PR role that is giving her masses of people-watching time, none of it wasted. Writers are people who walk about the world with all their senses open and work is an endlessly rich environment for observation of the human condition.

Of course, we still need time to find that trance state in which to write and to go into deep flow. If your day job does nothing but hollow you out, it may be time to reconsider. But if your work sustains you and leaves the time and energy to write whilst being a source of experiences and characters, then writing around the day job is an honourable tradition. 

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Guest Post: Sarah Dobbs on the University of Sunderland Short Story Award

Today I welcome Sarah Dobbs to tell us all about this year’s University of Sunderland short story award. As Sarah says, entries are welcome from all over the world so even if you don’t live in the North East, you can still enter. 
Good luck!
Vic x
Many thanks for hosting us! The University of Sunderland in Association with Waterstones Short Story Award is now in its third year. We have four categories: Adult, 11-17 and Regional (adults and 11-17). The winners in each category receive cash prizes of £300. All shortlisted entries are collected in an anthology by our publishers, Bandit Fiction.
For the 2019 competition, we have promoted a distinct regional category as the prize has always hoped to nurture and support talent in our area. Entrants to the regional category may live, work or study within Northumberland, County Durham and Tyne and Wear. You can enter both the Adult and Regional category, or just one. We also enjoy working with promising young writers after the competition in an aim to nurture talent.

There is no theme, but there is a word count of 2500 for the Adults and Regional categories and 1500 for the 11-17. Stories don’t have to reach the maximum word count however and we enjoy surprising, experimental and hybrid work, as well as a ‘traditionally’ well-crafted story.

Entry fees are £5 for each category, except 11-17, which is free and we welcome entries regardless of where you live, in previous years we’ve had a fair amount of international entries.

In the past we’ve been fortunate to have been supported by judges who are literary agents and publishers, last year we welcomed Professor Ailsa Cox, the world’s first professor in short fiction and this year we’re delighted to have Dr Guy Mankowski, author of An Honest Deceit and recipient of an Arts Council Award to research his novel Letters to Yelena. Guy is also a lecturer at Newcastle University and runs the arts and spoken word night, New Art Social, at Ernest. Nicholas Royle is also on this year’s judging panel.
Entries open on the 17th December 2018 and close on the 1st July 2019. Further details and links to the entry form are on banditfiction.co.uk and it’s worth taking advantage of the fact you can download the 2018 anthology for free.
We look forward to reading your stories!
Sara

Review: ‘The Infirmary’ by LJ Ross

A serial killer is picking women off the streets of Newcastle, seemingly at random, then subjecting them to the same unutterably violent end. When the Chief Inspector on the case goes missing, it falls to DCI Ryan to track down the murderer who is not only terrifying the public but also goading the police. 
Not knowing who to trust, Ryan and his team get drawn further and further into the horrifying case, but for Ryan the case will hit closer to home than he could ever have anticipated.  
In this stunning prequel, Audible has assembled a fabulous cast who depict LJ Ross’s excellent new story with aplomb. I could listen to Hermione Norris narrate this gripping story until the end of time. Tom Bateman as DCI Ryan is pure perfection and there’s no better actor to portray Frank Phillips than Kevin Whately. It was also great to hear genuine regional accents used in this drama. However, the stand-out actor in ‘The Infirmary‘ is Bertie Carvel: he narrates the serial killer’s internal monologue in a way that made my skin crawl. Carvel’s depiction is 100% chilling. 
The addition of music and sound effects added extra layers to the story. I’d far rather listen to this than a Radio 4 Afternoon Play.
Whether you’re a die-hard DCI Ryan fan or have never encountered the series before, ‘The Infirmary‘ – much like Ryan’s nemesis – will grab you by the collar and not let go. Even if you’ve read the DCI Ryan series before, the end of this drama will undoubtedly have you reaching for your copy of ‘Holy Island‘ again.  
The Infirmary‘ is an utterly engrossing dramatisation, I really hope this isn’t the last collaboration we’ll see from LJ Ross and Audible. 
The Infirmary‘ is available to download now. 
Vic x

Review: ‘The Hermitage’ by LJ Ross

When an old man is found dead inside the ancient hermitage at Warkworth Castle, Northumbria CID are called in to investigate. With no apparent motive, it’s their job to discover why he was murdered – and this time they’re forced to do it without their star detective as DCI Ryan has tracked a killer across Europe and has sworn not to return until he has his man in custody. Nathan Armstrong is a dangerous psychopath but there’s just one problem – he’s also an international celebrity; a world-famous thriller writer with money and connections.

When I began reading ‘The Hermitage‘, I was staying in a hotel very close to the village of Warkworth, where LJ Ross’s latest book is set. I loved being even more immersed in the setting than usual. However, Ross’s descriptions are so evocative that you’ll be able to picture the locations even if you haven’t visited them before. 

The Hermitage‘ is also unusual in the fact that DCI Ryan is actually out of the UK, we follow him and his wife Anna to Florence. Despite the beauty of their surroundings, Ryan and Anna find themselves fighting for their lives against an intelligent adversary. 

I really enjoyed finding out more about Nathan Armstrong’s backstory, LJ Ross demonstrates an insightful streak by understanding the motives behind his heinous acts. Combined with a keen awareness of her main character, Ross uses ‘The Hermitage‘ to inform her readers about Ryan and his family too. 

I think what continues to make the DCI Ryan series so successful is Ross’s ability to combine some awful crimes with strong relationships between the recurring characters. I particularly enjoy the banter between Ryan and Phillips. 

Ross’s stories demonstrate a duality that most of us experience: that things are rarely all good or all bad. 

I honestly did not want ‘The Hermitage‘ to end, it was utterly gripping. However, DCI Ryan fans don’t have long to wait for the next instalment: ‘Longstone‘ is due to be released on 10th December. Before that, though, is a new multicast drama on audiobook. ‘The Infirmary‘ will be available on Audible from 8th November. I, for one, can’t wait! 

Vic x

Review: ‘My Name is Anna’ by Lizzy Barber

On Anna’s eighteenth birthday she defies her Mamma’s rules to visit Astroland, Florida’s biggest theme park, despite her mother’s ban on the place. When she arrives, though, Astroland seems familiar. On the same day, Anna receives a mysterious letter she receives and she starts to question her whole life.

In London, Rosie has grown up in the shadow of the missing sister she barely remembers.  With the fifteenth anniversary of her sister’s disappearance looming, the media circus starts up again, and Rosie uncovers some information that threatens to tear her family apart. Will Rosie uncover the truth before her family implodes?

I enjoyed ‘My Name is Anna‘ from the outset, my attention was grabbed by the intriguing prologue and beautiful prose. Lizzy Barber manages to balance a compelling narrative with excellent attention to detail and exquisite descriptions.

Told from two points of view, ‘My Name is Anna‘ is an interesting study of self-discovery. By having eighteen year old Anna and Rosie, who is sixteen, Barber evokes a time every reader can understand: adolescence. Combining typical coming-of-age drama with a serious crime is an effective tactic, I thought this was particularly inventive. 

The characters are well-drawn and, thanks to Barber’s descriptions, I could see them in my mind’s eye. Anna’s mamma, in particular, was brilliantly evoked.

My Name is Anna‘ is such an intelligently-written book. It covers all sorts of issues including religion, coercion and the repercussions of past mistakes. It’s fast-paced yet sensitive, with several layers. 

If I had to compare ‘My Name is Anna‘ with other books, I’d say ‘Carrie‘ meets ‘Sharp Objects‘ with a sprinkling of ‘The Couple Next Door‘. 

My Name is Anna‘ is Lizzy Barber’s debut novel and is available to download now. The paperback is released in January 2019. 

Vic x

Getting to Know You: Adam Peacock

Drum roll please! May I introduce you to Adam Peacock, a member of Elementary Writers and author of ‘Open Grave‘.

Because Adam is a debut author, I wanted to introduce him to you as I suspect you will be reading Adam’s novels for many years to come.

My thanks to Adam for taking the time to answer my questions.

Vic x

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Tell us about your book(s).
My novel Open Grave is a crime thriller set in the North East of England. The protagonist, DCI Jack Lambert, is different to most other detectives within the genre in that he is gay. On a personal level, this is something he is struggling with, having only recently made this admission at the beginning of the book.

The main ‘crime’ within the story is that of a serial killer who is murdering people in pairs, burying them and then digging them up so that they can be found. Alongside this, gang warfare is about to break out between rival criminal groups and a well-known local celebrity reports that she is being stalked. I wanted to create a sprawling world within my book with multiple threads, the idea being that nothing ever resolves neatly, with certain storylines and characters crossing over into future novels.

What inspired your novel?
I read a lot of crime and so it felt natural to write something within that genre. The inspiration for Open Grave came about from an image I had in my head of a crime scene in which a member of the public stumbles across two bodies in an open grave (strange, I know). The story unfolded from there.

What do you like most about writing? What do you dislike (if anything)?
I quite enjoy editing, which is a good thing as there’s always plenty to do when you don’t intricately plot your book before beginning! Knowing that I am whipping something up into shape is a great feeling.

The thing I dislike most about writing is just how easy it is to fall out of your routine when it comes to putting words onto the page. Like most things in life, a few days away from the computer can easily stretch into weeks and this can lead to unnecessary procrastination.

Do you find time to read, if so what are you reading at the moment?
I do find the time to read. As I prefer to write in the mornings, I dedicate time to read most evenings. I’m currently reading Martina Cole’s Dangerous Lady.

Which author(s) has/have had the biggest influence on your writing?
As a writer, I would have to say Stephen King and Jo Nesbo. I would also include Lee Child in that list. With regards to Stephen King, I read his book On Writing before I penned so much as a character profile and I use the template he gives in terms of how to go about writing. I also enjoy reading his books!

As for Jo Nesbo, I find the protagonist Harry Hole to be a wonderfully complex character. He has many of the traits that we see in crime fiction from such detectives but I find myself invested in Harry in a way that I rarely find in other books. I also like that Nesbo leaves certain threads open between books, which always leaves me wanting to read more. With Lee Child, it has to be his pacing. I find myself flying through his books and every page carries a tension with it. This is something I am hoping to refine in my own work moving forward.

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Where do you get your ideas from?
Usually they just pop into my head either as an image – like happened with Open Grave –  or as a question. I like the idea of concocting a problem, in the form of a question, which seemingly makes no sense initially. Within my own writing, I basically keep asking a number of questions until an answer presents itself. This helps create misdirection.

Do you have a favourite scene/character/story you’ve written?
I enjoy the opening scene from Open Grave, mainly because it is the opening chapter of my first published novel. In terms of a character, it would have to be gangland boss Dorian McGuinness, my protagonist’s former employer. I feel like his character has a lot of room to grow and that there are all manner of skeletons in his closet which may or may not be revealed in future…

What are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently writing the second novel in the DCI Jack Lambert series and I’m excited to see where it will go. This novel is a little more focused around one event and, with characters having already been established in the first novel, I am keen to see how they react to the hurdles put before them.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given (and who was it from)?
In a non-direct sense, Stephen King’s ‘just get an idea and go with it’ has had the biggest impact on me. Whilst this can lead to a lot of editing, it minimises the scope for procrastination and I find myself able to get on with things. I also try to stick to his mantra of completing 1,000 words a day with varying degrees of success.

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
I’m definitely not a plotter! Get the idea and run with it. Of course, as I work through a novel, ideas spring into my head in terms of where I want things to go, but you won’t find any colour-coded charts or timelines pinned to my wall. I should point out, that’s not a judgement on writers that do spend time plotting, I’m merely saying that it doesn’t work for me.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Yes! Read Stephen King’s On Writing, get yourself along to a writing group and don’t fret about giving it a go. Most writers I meet begin by being somewhat self-conscious about their work, often talking down their ability and/or experience. I’d say just get stuck in and see what happens. If you can get into some kind of writing routine, you’ll soon see huge improvements in your work.

What’s been your proudest writing-related moment?
Until recent times it would have been winning the Writers’ Forum monthly magazine short story competition. However, opening the email from Bloodhound Books to find that they believed in my work and wanted to publish Open Grave has definitely topped all other writing-related moments!

You can order/download Open Grave‘ now. You can also follow Adam on Twitter and on Facebook

Review: ‘An Isolated Incident’ by Emily Maguire

When 25-year-old Bella Michaels is brutally murdered in the small town of Strathdee, the community is stunned and a media storm descends. Unwillingly thrust into the spotlight is Bella’s beloved older sister, Chris, a barmaid at the local pub, whose apparently easygoing nature conceals hard-won wisdom and the kind of street-smarts that only experience can bring.

Although ‘An Isolated Incident‘ is a crime novel, it is so much more than that. The readers may be wondering who has committed this hideous crime but I was more interested in the effect that the crime had on Chris, who is a beautifully-constructed, nuanced character. I was completely engrossed in this novel from the get-go due to Chris’s no-nonsense approach to telling things like they are. 

Emily Maguire conveys the complexity of human life with thought and intelligence. Her depiction of grief coupled with destructive behaviour really challenges societal expectations towards the family of a murder victim. 

Emily Maguire has created an incredible study on grief, sex and society with female characters at the centre of everything. The language Maguire uses is beautiful and evocative, often at odds with the brutality of the action. 

I loved this novel for many reasons but particularly its exploration of society’s morbid fascination with pretty, female murder victims. 

I have no words to describe how affecting ‘An Isolated Incident‘ is. Deeper than your average crime novel, ‘An Isolated Incident‘ is one of the best books I’ve read this year.

Vic x