Virtual Noir at the Bar

Noir (noun): a genre of crime film or fiction characterised by cynicism, fatalism, and moral ambiguity. 

Bar (noun): an establishment where alcohol and sometimes other refreshments are served.

In these interesting times, where many of us are confined to home due to COVID-19 restrictions, I’m hoping to keep readers and writers of crime fiction entertained by hosting a weekly Virtual Noir at the Bar. OK, so you’ll need to bring your own booze but it beats another night of flicking through the TV looking for something half decent to watch. 

Although we are hoping that the restrictions may be relaxed in the coming weeks, I anticipate that public gatherings will be prohibited for quite some time and therefore, I’ve committed to running a Virtual Noir at the Bar every week until we can meet in the flesh again! 

Noir at the Bar began in Philadelphia in 2008 thanks to the legend that is Peter Rosovsky. Since then, it’s become an international phenomenon with events taking place all over the US and UK. I began running Noir at the Bar in Newcastle (UK) in 2016 and have since hosted a range of compelling writers in Newcastle and Harrogate. 

One of the many great things about Noir at the Bar is that it’s inclusive: we showcase writers who are just starting out all the way up to those who are published, award-winning and bestselling. In the past eighteen months at the Newcastle event, we’ve hosted two writers who are in this year’s Richard and Judy Book Club. That said, we’ve also been a springboard for many new writers who are just getting started. 

February’s Noir at the Bar crew in Newcastle.
L-R: Christie Newport, Rob Parker, Vic Watson, Gytha Lodge, Trevor Wood, Sarah Jeffery, AM Peacock, Jackie Badwin and Robert Scragg.

In February this year, I returned to hosting Noir at the Bar in Newcastle after nine months maternity leave. As I drove to the venue, I worried that no one would turn up to the event, that we might have lost our audience by taking such a long break but I shouldn’t have worried. The pub was packed out as usual and the thirst to hear writers reading their work had only gotten stronger. 

I had planned to host another Noir at the Bar in Newcastle at the end of April as part of Newcastle Noir but we’ve had to postpone all events due to the pandemic. Like many readers and writers, I was disappointed but knew it was the right thing to do.

I know lots of people will be missing Noir at the Bar, book launches and literary festivals so I’ve teamed up with Simon Bewick of Bewick Consulting to bring Noir at the Bar straight to your home.

Thanks to the wonders of technology, you won’t have to download anything to view Virtual Noir at the Bar, you simply sign up for the newsletter. The newsletter will contain a link for you to click. Once you click the link, you’ll be taken to the event. We are trying to keep things as much like the usual Noir at the Bar events as possible so audience members will be able to “chat” and there’ll be the potential to win free books.

We’ve already got lots of amazing authors scheduled so you won’t want to miss these super events! Sign up to our newsletter to be kept up-to-date.

In addition to our weekly Virtual Noir at the Bar events, Honey and Stag Literary Events will be broadcasting Noir at the Bar Edinburgh’s online virtual events on Facebook from 7pm on Thursday 2nd and 30th April. Chaired by the inimitable Jacky Collins, AKA Dr Noir, there is no sign up required for these events, just tune into their Facebook page at 7pm on the 2nd and 30th April.

So if you’re a fan of crime fiction, being at home might not be quite so bad after all. Remember to sign up to our newsletter for information on the weekly Virtual Noir at the Bar events.

Vic x

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Philippa East

OK, so COVID-19 is a thing and the UK is enforcing social distancing – thank goodness. With that in mind, lots of bloggers are trying to help people get through the partial ‘lockdown’ with book recommendations as well as introducing you to some new authors.

As part of that, I’ve decided to resurrect my ‘Don’t Quit the Day Job’ series.

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 it’s the turn of Philippa East to tell us about how her work as a clinical psychologist helped her writer ‘Little White Lies‘. My thanks to Philippa for sharing her experience with us.

Stay safe, everyone.

Vic x

Philippa East headshot

I first got the idea for Little White Lies when I caught a snippet of a news story on TV – a teenage girl in Spain had disappeared then re-appeared a few weeks later, all under mysterious circumstances. There were many question marks over the case: had she been abducted, or was something else going on? The TV showed the family in a courtroom and I found myself thinking – what on earth are these people feeling now? Do they trust each other at all?

I knew I wanted to write a book about a missing child, I also knew there was a solid precedent of popular books on the shelves exploring this topic. But as a psychologist and therapist, I have always cared most about the pieces of the story that never usually get told. Tragically, children go missing all the time; I was fascinated by what might happen once a missing child came home. 

But what did I really know about this topic? Heartbreakingly, cases of children being found alive months or years after their disappearance are incredibly rare. My story started where most other ‘missing person’ books ended. So how on earth was I going to write about that?

The question really quite stumped me until I realised that, while I had never been involved in a real-life case like Abigail’s in Little White Lies, maybe I did have expertise that could help me, via my work with adult survivors of childhood trauma. In Little White Lies, against all odds, Abigail has escaped and survived her abduction. In the same way, the clients who I was seeing in my work had (physically) survived their childhood experiences. For both Abigail and my clients, a whole new journey would now begin. 

Little White Lies is about a family trying to heal after the very worst of traumas. The book focuses on the relationship between Abigail and her family – her mother Anne especially – both before and after her abduction. The more I wrote, the more I found myself delving into issues of responsibility and guilt, the instinctive desire to avoid what is most painful, and the healing power of acknowledging what went wrong – all themes I had encountered many times in my therapy work. Little White Lies went through many, many drafts as I wrote it, but it was when these themes came together as the heart of the novel that I was able to shape the story into the book you’ll read today.

These days, I am struck time and again by how much being a writer and being a psychologist have in common. Both therapy and writing are all about words and narratives; these truly are the “tools of our trade”. In both fiction writing and in the process of therapy, we share and absorb stories in order to make sense of the world, and try to understand our own complicated human natures. And both characters in stories and the clients in my practice go on profound journeys of change. 

Looking back now, I wonder whether I would ever have had the confidence to write Little White Lies without my background in psychology. To be honest, I am not sure that I would! 

LITTLE WHITE LIES JPEG copy

Review: ‘The Silent House’ by Nell Pattison

If someone was in your house, you’d know … Wouldn’t you?

But the Hunter family are deaf, and don’t hear a thing when a shocking crime takes place in the middle of the night. The following morning, they wake up to their worst nightmare: the murder of their daughter, Lexi.

The police call Paige Northwood to the scene to interpret for the witnesses. They’re in shock, but Paige senses the Hunters are hiding something.

One by one, people from Paige’s community start to fall under suspicion. But who would kill a little girl? An intruder? Or someone closer to home?

The Silent House‘ is a great read thanks to its intriguing mystery and the community in which it is set. Having a British Sign Language interpreter as the main character was a really original idea. Using Paige as an intermediary ensures that the reader is privy to information that she may or may not share with the investigating officers. 

Not only is ‘The Silent House‘ a great mystery but it also gives an insight into a community that many people may not be familiar with. The reader is introduced to the deaf club as well as being shown the difficulties faced by members of the deaf community when communicating with people. Pattison demonstrates real skill, weaving the story around the characters and their needs – I felt I learned a lot about the deaf community but this didn’t detract from the story at all. In fact, it made the story richer and more layered.

There are plenty of potential suspects for Lexi’s murder, all with their own motivations and secrets. Pattison ramps up the suspense with her skilled storytelling, interspersing Paige’s perspective as the narrative unfolds with chapters detailing what certain characters were doing hours before the murder. 

In addition to the crime element, there is also the hint of a love triangle, leaving the door open for romantic complications later in the series. 

The Silent House‘ is a unique police procedural featuring a diverse cast of characters and I’m really looking forward to the next novel by Nell Pattison.

Vic x

**Little Friends Blog Tour**

Jane Shemilt blog tour graphic

It’s a real pleasure to be taking part in the blog tour for ‘Little Friends‘ by Jane Shemilt.

Having trained in education, Eve finds herself tutoring other dyslexic children in addition to her own daughter. As the children grow closer, Eve builds bonds with their parents and the three families begin to spend time together despite their vastly different backgrounds. 

Written from the point of view of the three mothers, I found this story utterly compelling.

As their secrets are revealed, a quiet horror dawned on me. When reading ‘Little Friends’, I was filled with dread. I knew bad things were going to happen – and were already happening ‘behind the scenes’ – but I could never have imagined some of the horror that would unfold. 

I felt the way in which Shemilt approached some very difficult subjects was perfectly balanced: there was plenty of drama without it feeling unnecessary or exploitative. 

The characters are richly detailed and the descriptions transported me to the locations with the characters. Some of the beauty explored in the locations was in direct opposition with the heinous acts that occurred. 

The foreshadowing helped me work out what was happening but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of this slow burn novel. 

Fans of Liane Moriarty will love ‘Little Friends‘. 

My thanks to Jane and her publishers, Penguin Random House, for including me in the tour. Remember to check out tomorrow’s post on Stacy is Reading

Vic x

Review: ‘Who Killed Ruby’ by Camilla Way

Over thirty years ago, Vivienne was in the house when her older sister Ruby was murdered. 

Jack Delaney – Ruby’s boyfriend – served thirty years in prison for Ruby’s murder following Vivienne’s evidence but on the anniversary of Ruby’s death, Vivienne receives a delivery of irises – her sister’s favourite flowers. Sinister messages continue and end up pushing Vivienne into trying to discover if she was wrong. 

Who Killed Ruby?‘ is a slow burn psychological thriller with plenty of twists and turns. Way peppers the narrative with clues and although I worked a few little things out, I certainly didn’t see the reveal coming!

Who Killed Ruby?‘ has a steady pace but the tension – and the pace – ratchets up in the final third of the book.

With an interesting cast of characters and plenty of red herrings, ‘Who Killed Ruby?‘ is a compelling read. 

Vic x

Review: ‘The Murder of Harriet Monckton’ by Elizabeth Haynes

On 7th November 1843, 23 year old Harriet Monckton, a woman of respectable parentage and religious habits, was found murdered in the privy behind the chapel she regularly attended in Bromley, Kent.

Harriet’s death – as a result of swallowing prussic acid – disgusts the community. They are further shocked when they discover that Harriet was pregnant. 

Using witness testimonies and reports from the coroner, Elizabeth Haynes creates an interesting story through the eyes of the last people to see her alive and those closest to her.  Whether her companion, her would-be fiancé, her former lover or her seducer – they all have a reason to want Harriet dead. 

After stumbling upon records of Harriet’s untimely demise while researching another book, Elizabeth Haynes has melded fact and fiction beautifully to create an intriguing account of a young woman’s final days. The characters are perfectly embodied and Haynes gives enough information to encourage the reader to empathise with some more than others. 

With consistent language and distinctive voices, Haynes conveys society and the time well as well as how families functioned in the 1800s. The complex investigation is used to create tension and pull the reader into this ultimately sad story. 

Poignant and thought-provoking, ‘The Murder of Harriet Monckton‘ will stay with readers long after the final page is turned. 

Vic x

Review: ‘Hysteria’ by L.J. Ross

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Following his last case in Ireland, criminal profiler Alexander Gregory is called upon by the French police to investigate a spate of murders during Paris Fashion Week. One victim has survived but she’s too traumatised to talk. Without her help, the police are powerless to stop the killer before he strikes again – can Gregory unlock the secrets of her mind, before it’s too late?

L.J. Ross takes readers to Paris in this, the second in the Dr Alexander Gregory series. The descriptions of The City of Light reflect the storyline where the world’s most beautiful people have gathered for fashion week but juxtaposes the brutality of the murders Gregory is investigating. Ross’s descriptions evoked such strong imagery that I could see the action unfolding in my mind’s eye. 

It’s difficult not to draw parallels with this novel and what’s going on in the entertainment industry at the moment regarding abuses of power and the #metoo movement. Featuring illegal dealings and murky underworlds, ‘Hysteria‘ pulls the reader in and uncovers the horror that lurks behind the glamour. 

The characterisation of Gregory is further explored through his relationship with a mystery woman. He’s a complex character and I’m really looking forward to seeing how he develops as the series continues. The way in which Ross uses Gregory to explain psychological conditions and theories is really well done. 

As always, Ross weaves a compelling narrative full of characters with substance. I particularly enjoyed that Ross uses a smattering of French in the book and doesn’t underestimate her readers by then providing translations.

Hysteria‘ is a well-written novel with a surprising conclusion. Whether or not you’ve read novels by L.J. Ross before, you won’t want to miss ‘Hysteria‘. 

Vic x