Monthly Archives: November 2017

Guest Post: Nic Parker on Hull Noir 2017

The dedicated Nic Parker, author of ‘Descent to Hell‘ travelled all the way from Germany to attend the inaugural Hull Noir. 

I was gutted not to be there myself but I know Nic is the perfect person to tell us all about the weekend. Thanks to Nic for sharing her weekend with us! 

Vic x

Hull Noir 
By Nic Parker

Hull Noir was brought to life as part of Hull being City of Culture 2017. Reykjavik is Hull’s twin city. The Iceland Noir festival takes part in Reykjavik every other year and the following year moves to another city so this was a brilliant move for Hull.

My weekend at Hull Noir kicked off on Friday night with the Getting Carter event at the Kardomah94. Nick Triplow talked to Cathi Unsworth, introducing Ted Lewis to the audience, speaking about the life and work of the Hull-born Lewis with some of Lewis’s old friends present. Triplow said that even after researching Lewis for over ten years, he still learns new facts about him. Ted Lewis created Brit Noir but was way ahead of his time and never got acknowledged for it – until now. Nick Triplow has done Ted Lewis proud in bringing this literary hero of Hull back into the spotlight.

Saturday marked Hull Noir’s official start with the Sleeping with the Fishes – Hull vs. Iceland panel. As Hull and Reykjavik are twin cities both known for their fishing industries, Nick Quantrill chaired David Mark, Lilja Sigurdadottir and Quentin Bates, who discussed the different types of crime in both cities. It was intriguing to hear that while Hull has left its worst behind, crime is on the rise in Reykjavik due to the huge amount of tourists visiting each year. Transgressions in Reykjavik are higher than before and a lot of the crimes are drug-related, an issue Sigurdadottir picked up for her book Snare.

Craphouse to Powerhouse was the title of the second panel where Danielle Ramsay, Jay Stringer, Luca Veste and Paul Finch discussed post-industrial crime fiction in the North, particularly on the northern part of the M62. For me, as a foreigner, it is always fascinating to hear how that North/South way of thinking is still very much present in today’s Britain. Despite talk of gruesome murder, the authors pulled the audience right in and there was also a lot of laughter, thanks to Stringer and Veste.

The panel Into the Darkness delivered what its title promised. Jake Arnott, Emma Flint, Joseph Knox and Cathi Unsworth talked about murder set in different time periods and how protagonists don’t always have to be only good characters. Joseph Knox takes his readers to modern day parties in drug-ridden Manchester locations. Emma Flint talked about how the perception of a person based on her looks can lead us to condemn someone we don’t know and how it was even worse in 1965. Jake Arnott evokes ‘Romeville’, the underworld of 1720s London, rife with crime and even using criminal slang. When Cathi Unsworth mentioned her next book would be about a mysterious murder involving dark magic there was a murmur of anticipation in the audience.

Martina Cole celebrating her twenty-five year silver jubilee as a crime writer on stage with Barry Forshaw was a definite highlight of the festival. Cole is a wonderful person, sharp and funny – she should have her own television show. She talked about how her career started, how she wrote stories to entertain herself and how she got her first agent, with whom she has stayed all this time. Martina mentioned how many of the men and women in prison she met are not villains but often people who made one stupid decision in their life that ended up with them behind bars. She has encountered men who can’t even properly write their own names, stating that a gorgeous face is not enough in life and how very important education is. She also spoke out against the snobbery in the publishing industry that doesn’t seem to have changed much since she started out. She remains not only the bestselling author in the UK, whose books are the most stolen – ‘I might’ve nicked a few myself’, she grinned – but also an inspiration for authors. It was the perfect event to end the first day of Hull Noir.

Sunday saw Getting Away With Murder at ten o’clock and despite the early time the audience was in for a treat. Ayo Onatade did a brilliant job chairing Abir Mukherjee, Rachel Rhys and Matt Wesolowski. Who would have predicted Mukherjee and Wesolowski would be such a great act on stage, bouncing gags off each other within the minute. Rhys and Mukherjee said they needed a lot more research due to the time their stories are set in. Rhys had found and talked to a woman who had actually done the trip from the UK to Australia in 1939 on a cruise ship so she got first hand information. Mukherjee watched old Pathé films on Youtube to get a feel for 1919s Calcutta but, finally, visited India to get a real taste of the country his story was set in. Matt Wesolowski, deemed the baby of the group at thirty-six, used the ultra modern structure of a podcast in his first novel, listing his influences as podcasts like Serial and Someone Knows Something. While they are all glad about new technology, Wesolowski said he didn’t want his young son growing up only valuing himself if he received enough likes on Instagram or Facebook. Rhys is still reluctant to welcome all aspects of modern technology into her life. All three authors mentioned how fond they still are of notebooks, enjoying scribbling down whatever comes to their minds.

William Ryan chaired the Freedom, Opression and Control panel with Eva Dolan, Stav Sherez and Kati Hiekkapelto and the sombre atmosphere of this issue was almost tangible. Oppression of people is not only a thing of the past, like in Ryan’s book set in the UK under the SS-regime, it also concerns people who are regarded differently, like a transgender woman in Dolan’s story. Stav Sherez explored the often ignored danger that lures in the depths of the internet while Hiekkapelto deals with an ongoing issue for which there seems no current solution: the refugee crisis and how badly these people are often treated. Hiekkapelto stunned the audience by asking them what it means to have freedom and if anyone feels like they are really free, a question many might have thought about long after the panel had ended.

Off The Beaten Track saw the wonderful Jacky Collins asking Sarah Ward, David Young, Antti Tuomainen and Daniel Pembrey about the different settings of their books. Pembrey has lived in Amsterdam and Luxembourg and used these places as settings whereas Young set his books in Eastern Germany in 1975. Young toured with his band in the eastern part of Germany a few years ago, eager to learn about what life was like there before the wall came down. Tuomainen, who has a wonderful dry humour, wondered how a reader could buy his yarn about setting up a fictitious mushroom factory yet his mistake of naming a wrong street in an existing town upset said reader.

A Year In The Crime Writing Life of John Connolly and Mark Billingham ended the festival on Sunday with Jake Kerridge as ringmaster, often having trouble keeping the  other two in line. I’ve seen Connolly and Billingham on stage a few times before and it’s always a treat. Their stories and humour had the audience laughing with tears rolling down their faces.

When asked about their highs and lows of the past year Billingham said his lowest was when he got massively hacked. Connolly was moved telling about his highlight of the year, how he had felt honoured to be on stage at the Panopticon in Glasgow where Stan Laurel had made his stage debut. I urge everyone who is a fan of Laurel & Hardy to read he by Connolly. It’s not crime fiction but a very moving and loving tale about Laurel & Hardy, evoking the golden era of old Hollywood. Speaking of comedians, Billingham and Connolly are always a brilliant act, exchanging puns and jokes and spinning many an entertaining yarn. Putting these two great authors on as the last panel was a genius move as the festival ended on a total high.

 

I had an absolute blast at Hull Noir and somehow it ended all too fast. I had time to chat with old friends and met lots of wonderful new people. The small and not overcrowded venue gave you enough time, as well as the opportunity, to chat to the authors after the panels and not spend your entire time between events standing in line to get your book signed/hunting for a coffee/going to the loo.

The festival surpassed all of my expectations. The panels were very clever and it was pure entertainment getting to hear from new talents and seasoned authors alike.

I can’t thank Nick Triplow, Nick Quantrill and Nikki East enough for putting together such a brilliant programme and for creating an awesome event everyone will be talking about for a long time. Hull Noir was a great success and here’s hoping this wonderful event will be repeated.

Review: ‘Cambridge Black’ by Alison Bruce

Amy grew up in the shadow of her father’s murder conviction but, twenty-two years later, she discovers that her dad may have been innocent all along and sets out to clear his name. 

DC Gary Goodhew is also haunted by the past. His grandfather was murdered and Gary is still hunting for the person responsible. 

But, right now, someone is about to die. Someone who has secrets, who kept quiet but is now living on borrowed time. This person is going to die because someone has disturbed the past and awoken a killer. 

Cambridge Black‘ is the seventh book in the DI Goodhew series but if you haven’t read any of the others, fret not! Alison Bruce skillfully weaves her overarching narrative into the story without confusing the reader. There are plenty of strands to keep you interested as you wind your way to the denouement. 

Just like its front cover, ‘Cambridge Black‘ is an atmospheric, sultry read with an intriguing cast of characters. Alison Bruce deftly weaves evocative descriptions of Cambridge into the story, bringing the city to life, while the action unfolds.

Themes of deception, family and betrayal are all front and centre in this sophisticated novel. The relationships are complex, as are the people themselves but it was refreshing to read a book where the author didn’t patronise the reader by explaining every last detail. Bruce obviously trusts that her readers will understand what she is driving at. 

From what I’ve read elsewhere about the series, this story appears to bring many of the previous novels to a close. However, I still feel there is scope for some of the main characters to reappear which should come as a relief to fans of Goodhew. 

As Morse was to Oxford, Goodhew is to Cambridge. 

Vic x

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Paul Gitsham

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’ll talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

Following on from Linda MacDonald’s insight into how teaching A Level Psychology contributed to her debut novel, we have another teacher on the blog to talk about how teaching has inspired him to write a series of crime novels.

My thanks to the lovely – and very busy – Paul Gitsham for taking the time to write about his day job. To find out more about the DCI Warren Jones series,  go to Facebook, Twitter or Paul’s website

Paul’s will be the final blog in the Don’t Quit the Day Job series for 2017 because December, as always, will be taken up with daily guests reviewing their year. Don’t Quit the Day Job will start again in January 2018.

Vic x

“You know, if you bury her body under the new school hall, no one will ever find her, Sir.”

This was not a helpful plot idea from one of my students, rather the response of another pupil to his classmate’s question “are trees alive?”, asked precisely three weeks before the class were due to sit their biology GCSE.

Fortunately, the question appeared to be little more than a random synaptic misfiring – probably caused by stress – and the frantically blushing pupil went on to do very well.

If I tell someone at a literary festival that I am a school teacher (often in response to the question, ‘why don’t you write more quickly?’ or ‘can’t you take the afternoon off to arrive at a more reasonable hour?’), they naturally assume that I teach English. That I am a former biologist and now teach science seems to bemuse many people.

Yet I find that although teaching full time eats into my writing time, it also feeds into what I write. For example, DCI Warren Jones is happily married to Susan, a – you guessed it! – secondary school biology teacher. She even supplies the odd crucial insight – thus allowing me to vicariously fulfil my own fantasies…

The first person we meet in my debut novel, The Last Straw, is Tom Spencer – who just happened to be sitting opposite me, marking coursework, as I dreamt up that book. By contrast, the laid-back, portly, pony-tailed Crime Scene Manager Andy Harrison, who appears in all of my books, is the polar opposite of his namesake, another former colleague. A number of workmates have given me explicit permission to either kill them off or name a serial killer after them. If nothing else, the people I work with or teach are a useful source of interesting names and personality quirks.

It was also through school that I met my forensic science contact. Lee ran workshops for our science and engineering club, but his day job is that of a crime scene investigator for Essex police. An endless source of dark and blackly humorous war stories, he’s given me countless ideas and advice.

Like all writers, I am a trivia magpie and nowhere is a better source of random information than a science classroom. For example, did you know that deer stand still in the glare of headlights because they interpret the lights as eyes, but are confused by the lack of legs? Thanks to eleven year old Francis for that fact – look out for it in book 2, No Smoke Without Fire. I’ve also spent ten years teaching about diabetes and blood glucose regulation – a key plot device in Silent as the Grave. An A Level practical investigation into how blood is identified at a crime scene triggered a lovely little sub-plot in an upcoming novel.

Writing this article has really made me consider the impact that teaching and being a teacher has had upon my writing. And so, for the foreseeable future at least, I have no plans to give up the day job entirely.

*Chasing the Traveller Blog Tour* Review.

Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to take part in the cover reveal for ‘Chasing the Traveller’ by Alex Kane.

Today I’m honoured to take part in the blog tour for ‘Chasing the Traveller‘. 

As a traveller, Kat has always felt out of place, especially since the death of her parents in a fire. Having fallen in love with tearaway Jimmy Denton, Kat ends up married to a controlling and violent thug. After sixteen years of violence, she decides enough is enough and begins plotting her escape.

On finding an unlikely ally in her sister-in-law Ellie, Kat discovers that she isn’t alone. Kat’s quest to find out who she really is continues once she and Ellie have found their feet away from the camp but a discovery leads her back to the place she’d been desperate to escape.

Will she find the answers she is looking for, or will she fall prey to the violent Jimmy Denton once more?

I found the depiction of Jimmy Denton terrifyingly believable. The manipulation, threats and his insidious degradation of Kat’s confidence seem totally realistic in the most horrible way. I had a very strong sense of who Jimmy Denton was as well as the way in which his actions impacted on those around him. 

I read this novella in one sitting because I found that I couldn’t bear to wait to see what happened. I found myself holding my breath through a lot of this story due to the tension. I feel like this was because I cared about Kat and particularly Ellie. I would have actually liked to spend more time with Ellie and hearing her story and experiences. 

Chasing the Traveller‘ is an engaging portrayal of  a woman’s desperation to free herself from domestic abuse and find her own way in the world. It’s by no means an easy read in terms of the content but it is certainly worth the heartache. 

Vic x

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Linda MacDonald

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’ll talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

Today on Don’t Quit the Day Job, we have the lovely Linda MacDonald to talk about how teaching Psychology to sixth formers inspired her debut novel, ‘Meeting Lydia‘. My thanks to Linda for sharing her interesting journey to publication

Vic x

How a computer, an A level topic, a classroom accident, radio news and a work-related breakdown all contributed to my writing career.

My 2001 resolution was to buy either a home computer or a rabbit. The computer won. The day job of teaching in a sixth form college demanded I learn how to use one. Little did I know that this computer, this alien in the living room as I thought of it for a long time, was to be the vehicle of inspiration for my first novel, Meeting Lydia.

Friends Reunited hit the headlines later that year and on a wave of nostalgia, I found the only boy in the class who was never horrible to me at a time when I was bullied. Many emails followed and supplied me with two themes for a story: the long-term effects of school bullying and the psychology of internet relationships.

Write about what you know is the oft-heard mantra. My main character became a teacher of Psychology, someone able to analyse the pros and cons of electronic communication. It was already a topic on the A Level specification and I asked for volunteers to come to an extra lesson to discuss the issues. I told them I would like to tape them with view to gathering authentic ‘student speak’ for a novel I was writing. Their amazing contributions formed the basis of three chapters and added to the quirkiness of a novel.

I was driven by a fire that consumed me: a book that had to be written. In the evenings, when the supper was eaten and the dishes were washed, I made myself write instead of collapsing to watch some inconsequential rubbish on TV. I wrote random chapters, as yet no clear plan of how they would interlock: the bullying backstory; a collapsing marriage; menopausal madness; the psychology of jealousy.

And every morning on my drive to work, I listened to Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme, hoping for an interesting piece to provided inspiration for the email exchanges that must be anything but mundane.

Five years later I had a novel of over 110,000 words; three years after that, I had drafted a more commercial sequel. But the day job still had cards to play. In 2009, I smashed my wrist tripping over a classroom chair and as I lay in hospital, I mused. I was in my fifties, time was running out and I decided to go the self-publishing route.

Sadly, perhaps ironically, the job that was to fuel my writing career was also partly responsible for my having a stress-related breakdown in 2011. ‘Adrenal fatigue’ is a label I found best summed up my condition and my day job became impossible.  I took early retirement. I didn’t have a choice. Yet looking back, without the breakdown, I would have carried on teaching for another few years and I wouldn’t now have four published novels.

Life is unpredictable and I still don’t have a rabbit.

Linda’s latest novel ‘The Man in the Needlecord Jacket‘ is available now. 

Review: ‘The Deaths of December’ by Susi Holliday

When an advent calendar is sent to a police station, no one takes any notice until a young DC opens it and discovers a murder behind each day. Instead of munching mince pies and winding down for the Christmas season, DC Greene and DS Carmine and their team find themselves looking for a murderer, who appears to be killing at random. With four more doors left on the calendar, there are four people who could be saved – if the police find the killer in time. 

I am a self-confessed Scrooge and therefore a murder mystery set during “the most wonderful time of the year” made a great deal of sense to me. I almost empathised with the criminal! Actually, I did empathise with the killer but not because of their loathing of Christmas but because of  their motive. I think Susi Holliday has managed to create a complex character in her murderer which is really refreshing. I often find the ‘bad guy’ a little two dimension in novels so it was great to read about a murderer with some depth.

I felt like Carmine and Greene (she what she did there?) were characters I knew even though this was their first outing. Holliday creates characters that confound the usual stereotypes. 

The premise of ‘The Deaths of December’ is really original and I found the way it unfolded an interesting technique. 

This is a well written festive tale with plenty of punch and a killer last line. 

Vic x

Review: ‘The Break’ by Marian Keyes

It’s been many years since I last read a Marian Keyes book and now I can’t stop asking myself why I left it so long. I bought ‘The Break‘ after going to see Marian Keyes in Newcastle. I found her funny and engaging and her explanation of the premise of ‘The Break‘ had me intrigued.

Amy’s husband Hugh wants to take a break. Not the romantic, coupley kind but a break from their marriage. Hugh wants six months away from Amy, their family and their commitment to one another in order to ‘find himself’ and promises that, after those six months are up, he’ll come back and they’ll be together again. OK, so he’s not saying he wants to break up but his departure leaves Amy reeling. Will Hugh come back? And if he does, will he still be the man she married? And will she still be the woman he left behind?

Marian Keyes writes prose the way she talks – she intertwines serious subjects with humour and humanity. ‘The Break‘ doesn’t just dissect a marriage; it also questions what it’s like to parent in the 21st Century, what it means to be a modern working woman, how to navigate the minefield of female friendships as well as exploring a larger social issue of abortion laws in Ireland.

Marian Keyes manages to do what the second series of TV show ‘Doctor Foster’ failed to do: make the characters sympathetic. Even when they’re doing things that you might disagree with, you cannot help but be on their side. In several interviews I’ve heard, Marian Keyes has said she hopes to show that these characters – and the situations they find themselves in (whether through choice or by chance) – are nuanced and I think she does that admirably.

The cast of characters is large and varied and I can’t help but think that many of the family scenes are influenced in part by Keyes’s own extended family. I loved Locmof (read the book and you’ll understand) and Amy was fantastically real to me. I also adored the delicate Sofie and the sage Kiara.

Although there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments in ‘The Break‘, they are tempered with sadness and anger. It may be a bit of a cliche but I genuinely laughed and cried while reading this novel and I think the reason for that is not just Keyes’s accessible writing style but because she creates characters that are as real as the people we share lives with.

The Break‘ is an absolute triumph of a book and I can’t help but hope we see these lovely, warm, realistic characters again.

Vic x

Just going to leave this here…