Review: ‘Chasing the Sunset’ by Harry Gallagher

Black Light Engine Room Press launched Harry Gallagher’s third collection, Chasing the Sunset, in January this year.

Until I met Harry Gallagher, I often thought that poetry was inaccessible and boring. Having attempted to read Keats, Shakespeare et al, I feared I was too much of a philistine to appreciate this particular craft. Now, that’s not to say that Harry’s poetry isn’t special – it is. What I love about Harry Gallagher’s poetry, though, is that it is for everyone to enjoy. There’s no pretension in his poetry, and he writes about a wide range of subjects including nature, love, politics and his home town of Middlesbrough. However, please don’t misunderstand me and surmise that Harry doesn’t appreciate the form – he does. He writes in a variety of poetic styles and voices and is never afraid to try something new.

Chasing the Sunset is a collection which takes the reader from Summer through the seasons to Spring. The intelligent way in which the poems are organised adds a narrative thread to the collection. We are taken from June in an open top car to autumn and bleakest winter. Finally, spring comes, and the butterfly awakens through love and friendship.

The beauty of much of the poetry in this pamphlet is that it packs a real emotional punch in just a few words. Harry’s economy of language is quite astounding.  The way he plays with language, bending it and shaping it to his will is testament to Harry’s writing ability. His evocative poems, full of vivid imagery, are imaginative yet familiar and I found that comforting.

Stand out poems, for me, were: Old Flame – there’s that economy of language I was talking about; Christmas Haiku – I love a haiku and this one really packs a punch; Butterfly – made me cry; Chasing the Sunset – a happy ending.

This collection is full of heart.

Vic x

An intriguing day out…

This morning, I took myself for a visit of the Old Low Light in North Shields. I’m ashamed to say I’d never been before today but I’m 100% sure today won’t be my last visit.

As I explored this wonderful building, filled with history, I mused on what an exceptional catch it is for a writer. You cannot help but be inspired by the artefacts, maps and artwork in the building. No wonder Old Low Light won VODA’s 2015 Organisation of the Year.

Originally built in the first half of the C16th to guide boats through the treacherous mouth of the Tyne, Old Low Light has been reinvented several times but most recently in 2010 by two retiring teachers, Nina Brown and Jan Taylor, who wanted to educate local schoolchildren about North Shields, in particular the Fish Quay.

What has been created in this building is an incredible feat. Old Low Light now has a visitor’s centre, a lovely cafe and regular events like yoga, basket weaving and talks. Some of the pictures below include artwork by the students at Flow, where they make furniture (and more!) out of driftwood. The volunteers are incredibly knowledgeable and welcoming.

The views from the top of the Old Low Light are incredible and it just so happened that, on this blustery day, it was bright too. I could see as far as the TVLB and the Collingwood Monument. I can imagine that, no matter the weather, that viewing platform would give a writer some excellent inspiration.

I encourage everyone to visit this hidden gem, whether you are a writer, historian, photographer or coffee drinker – the Old Low Light has something for everyone!

Vic x

Birthday realisation

Today, I turn 32. Wow, 32. If you’d have asked me in my teens, 32 was ancient. Teen-me would say 32 year old Vic should have all of her ducks in a row – and then some.

The reality is, I don’t have all my ducks in a row but 32 doesn’t seem so old any more (is this just denial?).

My ducks may not be in a straight line but they are definitely there, I love my writing groups – they’ve developed far beyond I could have imagined and the feedback I get from group members and people who’ve read their work / seen them perform brings me such joy.

I have a tremendously supportive family and friends, I live with a man who knows me better than I know myself (sometimes). I get to write, not as much as I’d like, but I also get to read and travel.

I am trying new things and discovering beauty all around me.

That sounds pretty good to me.

Vic x

A busy fortnight for Elementary Writers!

I’m happy to report that as we race our way through the first month of 2016, Elementary Writers are going from strength to strength.

As many of you will know, 2015 was a brilliant year for my writing groups – as individuals and as a collective. We had the launch of our first anthology, Thrills ‘n’ Chills, at Newcastle’s Lit & Phil in February; July saw members launching Jesmond Library’s first Creative Writing competition in aid of the library; and in October, we put on a brilliant Halloween show, called Blood from the Quill, at The Cumberland Arms.

That’s not to mention the success of Faye Stacey and Harry Gallagher, each having pamphlets produced (and Harry co-hosting the massively popular Stanza); Jennifer C Wilson releasing her first novel – Kindred Spirits: Tower of London – with Crooked Cat Publishing; and Andrew Atkinson winning first place in Jesmond Library’s short story competition.

Well, 2016 is shaping up to be even better! This morning, I led eight members of Elementary Writers across the causeway from Whitley Bay to St Mary’s Island to record a podcast with Rachel Cochrane. The breadth of work, all about Whitley Bay, was impressive and we had a blast spending the day at the lighthouse. One group member, the extraordinarily talented poet Harry Gallagher, even wrote another poem while listening to others read their work! The recordings are scheduled to be released later this year, thanks to funding from Arts Council England and North Tyneside Council.

Next Saturday (23rd January) will be incredibly busy. From 4:45, Jesmond Library are having the winners of their Creative Writing competition read their winning entries for an audience. As organiser, I will be there to introduce the winners along with my friend, Dan Smith, who co-judged the competition. Andrew Atkinson will be there to read his winning story: Fairytale Victims Anonymous.

Following that, I’ll be hot-footing it over to The Cumberland Arms in the Ouseburn to present the return of Elementary Writers! Following the success of Blood from the Quill, the lovely folks at The Cumby invited us back to read original poetry, prose and a couple of songs. Tickets are available to book now but there will be a few available on the door.

On Sunday, 24th January, some members of Elementary Writers will be appearing at Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade to give a preview of their work. At the same event,  Figureheads, a radio play by Noreen Rees, will be performed live. The event is free but please book by emailing Sam Levy stating your name, a contact number and the number of tickets required.

The brilliant Harry Gallagher launches his next collection of poetry – Chasing the Sunset – on Wednesday, 3rd February at Ernest.

Oh, and the wonderful Wild Wolf Publishing have commissioned another collection from us! This time, it’s a book of original Gothic horror, following the success of Blood from the Quill. We’ve got our fabulous designer, Faye Stacey, on board to produce the cover and we’re all tremendously excited.

2016: another great year – and it’s only January!

Vic x

Burn’s Night at the Cumberland Arms

Thanks to Jennifer for featuring details of this event on her blog.

You can now book your tickets for The Cumberland Arms’ Burns Night spoken word evening. http://www.wegottickets.com/event/346680

Tales from the notepad...

Last Halloween, Elementary Writers, a writing group led by Victoria Watson, collaborated with the Cumberland Arms for Blood from the Quill, an evening of gothic literature. As Victoria explains “performers dressed in Victorian dress, and the set, designed by the super-talented Ian J Young, was incredible. I even managed to lay flowers on my own grave! The evening also featured a turnip hunt – because turnips are more popular than pumpkins in these parts.”

Putting flowers on my own grave Victoria placing those flowers on her grave…

The event proved such a success, the Cumberland invited the group back, this time to perform at their Burn’s Night Celebration, next Saturday, the 23rd January.

As a lover of all things Scottish, I cannot wait to take part, even though Victoria’s confessed she cannot guarantee men in kilts. Still, we live in hope…

Thanks to Victoria for organising it all, it should be another…

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Guest Post: Graham Smith on ‘Unexpected Successes: The Story of Crime and Publishment’.

Regular readers of this blog will recognise today’s guest blogger, Graham Smith. Last month, Graham was kind enough to review his 2015 for us. Not only is Graham a successful novelist, his book ‘Snatched from Home’ was mentioned as many people’s top read of 2015 in their reviews last month, but he’s also the brains behind Crime and Publishment.

Graham’s here to tell us all about how Crime & Publishmenta weekend of writing masterclasses for crime writers has become a runaway success. 

Thanks to Graham, as always, for sharing his time with us. 

Vic x

 

Back in 2012 I sat down with a friend and together we laid the foundations of what has become one of my proudest achievements. Our conversation centred on us pooling our resources to put together a weekend of writing masterclasses aimed at crime writers. The key points we both agreed on was that the classes should be informative, professionally delivered and most of all, affordable. Another element we both wanted to include was the chance for attendees to pitch their work to an industry professional after being taught how to do so.

At the time I was a budding author fully aware of the fact I had one hell of a lot still to learn. Inga ran (among other things) Full Paper Jacket which helped authors get their novels reader for publication or submission to publishers.

Graham Smith

As the general manager of a hotel I could provide the venue at a reasonable price and between the two of us we had not only a good network of contacts for the speakers but a reasonably sized following of both online and physical friends with an interest in writing.

The first Crime and Publishment in March 2013 exceeded both our expectations as eighteen attendees banded together to learn from our speakers. Once the weekend was over, Inga and I sat down and looked at the feedback from the group on ways we could improve the experience and who we could get to be our speakers. We wanted to include smaller publishers so we invited Darren Laws of Caffeine Nights to teach attendees how to pitch and then listen to their pitches. Five minutes after I’d cold-called him, he agreed to come along.

Because I was the organiser, I spoke to Darren Laws a few weeks prior to the 2014 weekend about various things and when I told him I would be pitching myself, we got talking about my own writing and I found myself pitching my novel while trying desperately to sound prepared and professional. I must have got away with it because he told me to send him the first fifty pages of my manuscript.

Snatched-From-Home

In early 2014, Inga’s personal and professional life took her away from the area and she had to regretfully step away from Crime and Publishment. When Michael J. Malone offered to replace her I didn’t think twice and practically snapped his hand off.

2014’s weekend surpassed 2013 in both the information passed on from the speakers and the camaraderie among the attendees. The programme was extended to include some smaller sessions which were more career based and the mood was ebullient throughout.

As I’d made my pitch before the event (At this point Darren hadn’t read it so we didn’t discuss it the whole weekend), I was the first to hear back. It was positive news as Darren wanted to publish Snatched from Home. My new friends in the C&P gang were all incredibly supportive of my success but I didn’t realise just how good a thing it was until I got more emails later in the year. Mike Craven had also been offered a publishing deal from Caffeine Nights and Amit Dhand used techniques learned at Crime and Publishment to snare a top agent.

ABC MC

In 2015, a family emergency saw a last minute change of speaker (I owe Neil White many more beers for bailing me out) and the number of attendees rise to record levels. While the dust was settling on the remnants of another great weekend, I learned Lucy Cameron had been offered a publishing contract by Caffeine Nights, that one of our speakers – RC Bridgestock (Bob & Carol) had been signed by that year’s agent, the inimitable David Headley (also of Goldsboro books) who was another who agreed to come to C&P as a speaker when I cold called them. To finish off the year, Tess Makovesky secured a deal for her novella Raise the Blade and Mike Craven signed with David Headley.

NiW

And now I’m looking forward to 2016. First off is Crime and Publishment on the 26th-28th of February which has all the elements needed to be yet another great weekend. The speakers and subjects are:

Matt Hilton – Getting Your Fights Right
Alexandra Sokoloff – Structuring Your Story
Tom Cain / David Thomas – Fact in Fiction
Sarah Hunt of Saraband Publishing – Perfecting Your Pitch and the Pitch session
Michael Malone and myself – Nurturing Your Characters
Little old me – Networking for Authors

That group includes a former Hollywood screenwriter, a top journalist, a former 5th Dan martial artist, a top independent publisher, a critically-acclaimed author and me.

Also of great importance to Crime and Publishment is the actual publication of some books. To date we’ve had the following books published:

The Major Crimes Team Vol 1: Lines of Enquiry by Graham Smith
Snatched from Home by Graham Smith
Assume Nothing, Believe Nobody, Challenge Everything by Mike Craven
Born in a Burial Gown by Mike Craven

Lines-of-Enquiry-Cover

2016 will see the following books published with the possibility of others:

I Know Your Secret by Graham Smith
Night is Watching by Lucy Cameron
Raise the Blade by Tess Makovesky
Amit Dhand’s as yet untitled novel
Plus hopefully Vol 2 of the Major Crimes Team

Never once when I started planning Crime and Publishment back in 2012 did I dare to dream that it would attract such a talented bunch of writers who would band together and support each other through success and failure alike. The gang beta-read for each other, offer advice, a shoulder to cry on or a mate to celebrate with.

To say I’m immensely proud of the success Crime and Publishment has enjoyed would be a huge understatement. Yet I don’t hold myself responsible, the credit should be shared collectively among the gang as without their enthusiasm and support, C&P wouldn’t have achieved half as much.

I’m already planning 2017 and if I can get everyone on my hitlist, Crime and Publishment can continue to grow and blossom.

I review my 2015.

On this, the final day of 2015 (where did the year go?!), I am going to review my year. I’d like to thank all of the participants of this year’s review, it’s been my pleasure hosting you. And massive thanks to everyone who has read, shared and commented on the blog – it is so appreciated. 

Here’s to a wonderful 2016 for you all! 

Sirmione

2015 has been tremendously kind to me as a writer and writing tutor. In February this year, I joined members of Elementary Writers at Newcastle’s Literary and Philosophical Society to launch our anthology, Thrills ‘n’ Chills which was published by Wild Wolf Publishing. It was a brilliant evening that saw members of the group read their work in a fantastic location. 

Thrills n Chills launch

In April, I attended my first wedding as a wedding writer which was a wonderful, moving experience. The couple, Becky and Fraser, invited me to share their special day with the family and friends and, hopefully, my story reflected what a beautiful day it was. 

Wedding story

I’ve been lucky enough to judge two short story competitions this year, Story Tyne with North Tyneside Libraries and Jesmond Library’s inaugural short story competition. I ran three workshops for Creative Writing workshops with North Tyneside Libraries and they were very well attended. In July, members of Elementary Writers joined me and the lovely Dan Smith to launch Jesmond Library’s competition which was a lot of fun. 

Launching Jesmond Library's comp

I finally managed to write an ending for a short story that has been hanging over me for a while as well as writing an entirely new short story which was a pleasant surprise for me as, since setting up my business in 2012, my writing has disappeared somewhat. Recently, I’ve been feeling like I want to go back to my unfinished novel ‘Fix Me Up’ and the feedback I’ve had from beta readers has been very good. 

In general, 2015 has been a good year for me. For a belated birthday present, I went to London with The Boy Wonder to see ‘Ghost Stories’ the weekend before it closed, it was fabulous although pant-wettingly terrifying. I got a new car (finally!) and went on a lovely holiday to Sirmione in Italy with The Boy Wonder which was absolutely perfect. We also had a weekend break in Northumberland in September in a tiny village which was wonderful. 

Enjoying Lake Garda

This may seem vain to many but my journey with Slimming World has made an incredible difference to my life. So far, I’ve lost over two and a half stone and it’s had such a positive impact on my life – I’m much more confident and have met some brilliant, supportive people. 

Now and then

I’ve read some excellent books this year and quite a variety of genres. A fellow writer, Kay Stewart, has made some great recommendations in 2015 including ‘Olive Kitteridge‘ by Elizabeth Strout which is a story told in a series of vignettes. When we were in Italy, I devoured ‘Defending Jacob‘ by William Landay. However, my favourite books this year were by Jenny Lawson, AKA The Bloggess. The very clever Amazon algorithm determined from previous purchases that I’d like Jenny’s first memoir ‘Let’s Pretend This Never Happened‘ – and it was right! So much so that The Boy Wonder bought me her follow-up, ‘Furiously Happy‘, as he knew how much joy it would bring me. I cried laughing and in recognition when reading these books as there is so much more to them than humour. 

I’ve been on a real retro vibe this year in terms of music and films. I downloaded the greatest hits of the Bee Gees, Chuck Berry, Rod Stewart, Nina Simone, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and Fleetwood Mac. I did like ‘Downtownby Macklemore though. 

WBFF blogger

As for films, I really enjoyed ‘Whiplash‘ which was a surprise, I loved the soundtrack too. I saw ‘Blackboard Jungle‘ for the first time thanks to Whitley Bay Film Festival and I thought it was excellent. I was also introduced to ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s‘ during WBFF this year and I thought that was fabulous, too. On Boxing Day, I went to see ‘The Force Awakenswhich I really enjoyed (although Kylo Ren made me chuckle quite a bit at times). And The Boy Wonder and I finally watched Inside Out‘ earlier this week which was as wonderful as I hoped it would be.

I must point out that although I don’t usually ask participants, I have watched some cracking TV shows this year including ‘Master of None’, ‘Bob’s Burgers’, ‘River‘ and the last ‘Parks and Recreation‘.

There are a couple of really obvious downsides to 2015  for me – being admitted to hospital with pneumonia, pleurisy and a cracked rib being one. The other was the death of a much loved friend. 

I’m not planning on making any resolutions really, I just want to try to be a good, kind person who has a positive impact on people. I’d love to hit my target weight but I am trying to be kinder to myself and apply less pressure. I’d also really love to write more regularly. I love doing my writing groups but I know that my writing is being sacrificed which is kinda sad. 

For 2016, I’d genuinely love world peace. I’m pretty sure I say this every year but I will keep hoping until it happens. 

Vic x