Monthly Archives: June 2018

Review: ‘Seven Bridges: A DCI Ryan Mystery’ by LJ Ross

When the Tyne Bridge explodes, DCI Ryan’s team face someone calling themselves The Alchemist who won’t stop until every bridge is burned. The time constraints set by The Alchemist make much of this book a literal race against time to stop the bridges being blown up – along with the people on them.

Ryan’s plans to leave Newcastle to track down a killer are put on hold in the wake of the threats. Add a colleague who is in very serious trouble, and there’s no way Ryan can leave Tyneside.

With every DCI Ryan book, LJ Ross manages to surprise. I feel like she is working her way through every sub-genre of crime – and I like it! ‘Seven Bridges‘ combines domestic noir with a very timely terrorist element.

What I really enjoyed about ‘Seven Bridges‘ was the backstory pertaining to DCI Ryan’s former relationship with Detective Chief Superintendent Jen Lucas. This was a great subversion of the typical coercive control representations in fiction and I applaud LJ Ross for shining a spotlight on the damage that can be done.

As always, the plot is tight and filled with tense twists. LJ Ross manages to wilfully misdirect the reader’s attention and keep you guessing until the very end. Packed with exciting action sections and peppered with humour, ‘Seven Bridges‘ will not disappoint DCI Ryan’s legion of fans.

Vic x

Coming soon…

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Richard Rippon

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.

Richard Rippon appeared at Noir at the Bar Newcastle in May this year and read from his novel ‘Lord of the Dead‘. The excerpt Rich read was really intriguing and it made me want to read the whole novel. 

My thanks to Richard for sharing his experiences with us.

Vic x

 

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When I started writing in 2007, I was working as a lab technician in a factory. My eldest daughter had just been born, and that seemed to kick-start something in me, probably a realisation I was getting older and if I didn’t do something about my writing ambitions soon, I possibly never would.

I’d always enjoyed writing at school, but never imagined I could make a living from it. Such an idea felt fanciful, so I put it to one side and pursued a safer, more ‘sensible’ route. I was pretty good at Biology, so I studied science at A-level and a degree in Microbiology. I went on to work in a range of labs, usually for massive multi-national companies. It took me a long time to realise it wasn’t for me.

I starting writing short stories and articles, which I hoped to get placed in magazines and on websites. I won an article writing competition for a local newspaper and when I came across the Northern Writers Awards, I entered that too, with the first three chapters of a comedic detective story set in Newcastle. When I won a prize, it started a chain of events that has changed the course of my career entirely.

Things in the lab had reached a bit of a tipping point. Whilst the boredom was useful – I had plenty of time to think of story ideas – I’d had it with the place. Some jobs came up for Social Media Community Managers, a relatively new job title in 2011. Reading between the lines, it appeared to be an invitation to write creatively and fanny about on Facebook for a living. I applied and hassled the hiring manager, until she took me on. I was tasked with writing conversation calendars for brands and regularly headed to London for meetings with advertising agencies. It was fantastic. The sense of release I felt compared to my life in the lab was exhilarating.

Meanwhile, the Northern Writers prize I won led to me signing with an agent, but she struggled to find a publisher for The Kebab King. I started to think about a more serious crime novel, which eventually became Lord of the Dead, which was published last November.

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Things began to change at work. They stopped relying on us to write our own copy, and all the creative bits I loved were farmed out to agencies. I thought it might be a good idea to look elsewhere, and I was lucky enough to land a job at the best advertising agency in Newcastle. I have to say this, because I’m still there, but also because it is. 

The job has evolved from being a social media man, to ‘Creative Copywriter’. Basically, I think of ideas to help people sell things and come up with the words to go with those ideas.

It feels great to finally have the word ‘writer’ in my job title and also have had my first novel published. It’s just taken a bit longer than you might expect.

 

**Perfect Dead Blog Tour** Extract #LoveBooksGroup #Blog Tour

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I’m truly delighted to host Jackie Baldwin as part of her blog tour for her second DI Frank Farrell novel, ‘Perfect Dead‘. Thanks to #LoveBooksGroup for arranging this tour. 

I’ve known Jackie for two and a half years, having first met her at Crime and Publishment. Since then, we’ve hung out at events like Harrogate, Bloody Scotland and Killer Women as well as Noir at the Bar. Jackie is one of the kindest people you will ever meet – don’t be fooled by her dark crime writing! 

Today, we have the pleasure of an extract from ‘Perfect Dead‘ to whet your appetites. 

Vic x

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Perfect Dead: Extract

Standing at the bottom of the drive, her eyes misted with tears, she looked back up at the brooding Victorian house with no sign of the maggots crawling within. She texted her elder sister, Maureen.

I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I’m on my way home. Ailish. x

Walking towards the bus stop, she heard her name being called. Surprised, she glanced behind her. When she saw who it was, she smiled and walked towards him. The bus wasn’t due for another hour. She had time.

Soon she was ensconced in a comfy armchair, knees drawn up under her, a warm mug of hot chocolate clasped in her hands. As she poured out her woes he leaned forward attentively. The drink was comforting, strong and sweet.

She paused. She didn’t feel so good. Her eyes couldn’t focus. She struggled to stand up, but her legs wouldn’t support her and she collapsed back onto the chair. Alarmed now, her heart flopped in an irregular rhythm as she tried to make sense of what was happening to her.

‘Help me,’ she whispered, looking up at him. This couldn’t be happening. She didn’t understand.

He remained where he was, a creeping malevolence revealing itself to her. She was on the verge of losing consciousness when he picked up her unresisting body and carried her into another room. He laid her on a thick plastic sheet.

A last tear tipped from her eyes.

She would never see her home again.

**

About ‘Perfect Dead’.

Each murder brings him one step closer to the perfect death.

Ex-priest, DI Farrell is called on to investigate a gruesome death in rural Scotland. All evidence points to suicide, except for one loose end: every light in the cottage was switched off. Why would he kill himself in the dark?

The question sparks a murder investigation that leads to the mysterious Ivy House, home of ‘The Collective,’ a sinister commune of artists who will do anything to keep their twisted secrets hidden.

And when the remains of a young girl are uncovered on a barren stretch of coastline, Farrell realises that there is something rotten in this tight-knit community. Now he must track down a ruthless killer before another person dies, this time much closer to home…

***

About Jackie Baldwin, 
Author of ‘Perfect Dead‘.

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Jackie Baldwin is a Scottish crime writer. Her debut crime novel, Dead Man’s Prayer, was published by Killer Reads, Harper Collins, on 2nd September 2016. The second in the series, Perfect Dead was published on 15th June 2018.

For most of her working life, Jackie has been a solicitor specialising in Family and Criminal Law. However, she now practices as a hypnotherapist in Dumfries which is where her novels are set. Married, with two grown-up children, she has filled her empty nest with Golden Retrievers. She can often be found in a forest walking the dogs, covered in mud and with twigs in her hair. 

**The Gilded Shroud Blog Tour** Author Interview

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It’s my pleasure today to have Elizabeth Bailey, author of ‘The Gilded Shroud‘ on the blog.

Elizabeth Bailey says she feels lucky to have found several paths that have given her immense satisfaction – acting, directing, teaching and, by no means least, writing. 

She has been privileged to work with some wonderful artistic people, and been fortunate enough to find publishers who believed in her and set her on the road.

Elizabeth has kindly taken the time to answer my questions so we can get to know her, and her writing process, better. My thanks to Elizabeth for taking the time to answer my questions. If you fancy getting in touch with her, you can tweet Elizabeth

Vic x

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Tell us about your book(s).
The Gilded Shroud
 is the genesis of Ottilia, Lady Fan, who turns by chance into sleuth extraordinaire and, incidentally, meets the love of her life in the process. It’s a murder mystery set in the late 18th Century, with a dollop of upstairs downstairs and a touch of romance too.

What inspired them?
My original idea was Ottilia as a potential heroine for the first in a series of sweeping romantic historicals which never materialised. My brother one day suggested it might make a detective story, and that set me off thinking. When I finally took the plunge, I intended at first that Ottilia, a wispy retiring sort of female as I thought, would be the brains in the background behind the apparent showy male sleuth, but the moment she set foot on the page she took centre stage and refused to be dislodged. So that was that.

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What do you like most about writing? What do you dislike (if anything)?
I love the way it surprises me with turns and twists I never expected, and I like finding creative ways to express things rather than turning to clichés. I like the process of watching it unrolling as I write what I see, like a film reel projecting onto a screen somewhere in the air around me. 

I hate what we writers call treacle books, when the words won’t flow and you just have to drag them out one by one, sticking with it as you really feel as if you are wading through a sticky sea. You learn to keep at it, and quite often find you do good work in spite of the stop/start nature of the writing. Fortunately, readers can’t usually tell if a book was treacle to write. There’s always the editing process to fix it.

Do you find time to read, if so what are you reading at the moment?
I can’t not read. I started as a reader and reading feeds my imagination. My reading time is an hour or so before I go to sleep – assuming I’m not so hooked I can’t put the book down. I’m just finishing Tarquin Olivier’s book about his famous father, and I’ll be starting on Jodi Taylor’s latest St Mary’s Chronicles, to which I am addicted. My TBR pile is pretty eclectic as I read all sorts of genres, as well as biographies and books that add to my knowledge of my period and other history.

Which author(s) has/have had the biggest influence on your writing?
Primarily Georgette Heyer – of course. Also Daphne du Maurier, who does dark with panache and beauty; Rumer Godden, who is both lyrical and cryptic, as she doesn’t tell you everything. And Dean Koontz, who is so good at surprising twists. Finally, PG Wodehouse for humour. He has the one-liner gag down to a fine art. But I can learn from almost any writer – a turn of phrase, a twist, a different voice. It all goes into the maelstrom and comes out somewhere without my realising it.

Where do you get your ideas from?
They tend to leap out from nowhere. I might catch a rhythm, a fleeting glimpse of some image, song or dream, a snippet in a news item or programme, a phrase or word in a social media post even. The spark might not even reveal itself because the idea wafts in and before I know it the what-if game is on. I do jot ideas in notebooks. If I’m stuck for a plot, I can sift through to see if anything catches my imagination. I think most writers have more ideas than they know what to do with, or will ever write up as stories. The ones that gel will hopefully roll into fodder for readers, if the process goes well.

Do you have a favourite scene/character/story you’ve written?
My current completed book is usually my favourite. Not the one I’m writing because that’s in too much upheaval to be loved. Though I am usually falling in love with my characters in the work in progress. But the one that’s done and dusted, that’s the one I can afford to love until it gets superseded by the next. I do have a few that are perennial favourites and I am rather in love with Lord Francis Fanshawe. As for scenes, when I have occasion to re-read a book, sometimes I find one that really pleases me, and I will wonder how I managed to make it that good.

What are you working on at the moment?
I am writing another Lady Fan mystery, in between my traditional Regency romances. Mysteries take more thought, more time and energy as one must tie everything in together and half the time I don’t know what’s about to happen.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given (and who was it from)?
Funnily enough, it was my mother, who is a poet rather than a novelist and my beta reader in my early days, who gave me the best piece of advice. She said one day that she thought I was ending my chapters in the wrong place by running a scene to a conclusion rather than keeping it back. She woke me up to cliffhangers.

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
When I began writing I plotted extensively, but was forever having to adjust the plot as new ideas sprang up. Now I’m a total pantster. Apart from the opening springboard, I have no idea where the story is going and must trust to my inner writer. That is not to say that ideas don’t float about in my head, but when I sit down to write I never know what words are going to come out through my fingers. Still less do I know who committed the murder!

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Keep at it. We all say that. Get the words down any way you can. You can’t edit a blank page. Being a writer is all about persistence. Not just keeping going against the rejections. But keeping going when life throws brickbats at you; when you think you’ll never get to the end; when the deadline is looming and panic strikes; and when you’d honestly do anything – take out the rubbish, clean the car, walk the cat – rather than sit down and write. Successful writers work through every pit stop and drive through to the end. Every time.

What’s been your proudest writing-related moment?
Apart from my very first acceptance which sent me to the ceiling where I remained for days, I think it’s the review of The Gilded Shroud that said: “Georgette Heyer lives – and is writing mysteries as Elizabeth Bailey”. That accolade said it all for me. I grew up on Heyer and still consider her the greatest writer in the Regency genre she spawned. We all wish we could write at her level, so this was to me the best compliment ever.

 

 

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Nicky Black

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.

I read ‘The Prodigal‘ in 2016 and have since got to know Nicky Black quite well. I’ve hosted her at Noir at the Bar Newcastle a few times as well as spending time with her at Bloody Scotland and Newcastle Noir. I’m really thrilled to have Nicky on the blog to discuss how her work life has influenced her writing. 

Thanks, Nicky, for taking the time to chat to us. 

Vic x

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Since self-publishing The Prodigal in 2015, I’ve met a lot of authors, some of whom write full time, some who don’t and many who dream of it. Now I like my own company, not because I’m the wittiest, most interesting person I know, but because I’m comfortable being on my own, but there’s only so much time I can spend in front of my laptop, in my living room, staring at the ugly plastic vent on my chimney breast wall. My day job serves many purposes – office banter (love it), a sense of achievement, and it pays the bills and it keeps me and my kitties fed.

I’ve had a 30 year career, mostly working either in, or in support of, “poor communities,” – firstly with Save the Children, then in urban regeneration and in the latter five years in welfare to work (I’m not going there…). I’ve seen the best and the worst of these communities, whether Cowgate in Newcastle or Hackney in London. The problems are the same: high crime, poor health, low educational achievement (there’s an actual list), and above all, a labelling of these communities as somehow undeserving and undesirable. There are many undesirables for sure, but where there’s a ying, there’s a yang, and I’ve also met the most passionate, fearsome, committed people who have nothing to their name, but who root for their communities and give them a voice. 

So, whilst The Prodigal and Tommy Collins (out this summer) fall within the crime genre, they aren’t police procedural stories (I leave that to those fabulous authors who can create twisty-turny whodunnits). My interest lies in the impact crime has on individuals, families and whole communities, and how that is dealt with by the authorities and the communities themselves. I’ve heard how the police talk about these estates, and I’ve experienced the disdain residents have for the police – both are valid in their own right. The Prodigal was actually inspired by a conversation with a police officer back in the nineties about informants or “grasses”– who are they? Why do they do it? The answer was that it is generally family members, almost always women, and they do it because they want that person they care about to stop. Pop those facts into a scenario where the grass is a woman, in love with a copper who’s after her criminal husband, and you’ve got drama. 

The housing estate itself where the books are set (the fictional Valley Park) is a key character, and I couldn’t have written it with any authenticity without the experience of working for 20 odd years with local residents, and the professionals who think they know what’s best for them (sometimes they do, I can’t argue with that). Valley Park is a grim place in The Prodigal, and even grimmer in Tommy Collins which is set ten years earlier in 1989 – the height of Thatcherism, unemployment and civil unrest. I’ve actually started to feel quite protective of the place and the pretend people who inhabit it, even the bad ones. It’s like the Mothership – a place you can’t escape. Anyway, I’m looking forward to book three which will bring Valley Park bang up to date, and I can have a pop at Beardy Men and gentrification (is there ever a happy medium?).

I’m out of the poverty game now. I left London in 2016 (I lived there for 14 years), had some time off, and now I’m back working pretty much full time again for a hospice charity (there may well be a future novel in that, who knows?). Now, my writing influences my day job in a way. I write grant applications, and this requires delivering a story with heart, hitting all the right notes that make those funders want to read on and see what they’ll get for their money. They’ve got to believe in what you’re doing and get some satisfaction from investing in you – much like readers, I suppose. I must be doing okay, because in eight months I’ve secured over £200,000, which is about £160,000 more than they’ve had in grants in any one year. I’m quite proud of that! 

It doesn’t leave me much time to write, as I do like to keep my social life active, my house clean and my cupboards stocked. That, coupled with my inability to stick to a plot, means my second book is about a year behind. But I’m getting there. You can be sure it’ll be full of grit, inspired by some of the best and worst people I’ve ever met through my day jobs.

Thank you for having me Vic, and hello to those of you reading this 😊 *waves* x

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Review: ‘Educated’ by Tara Westover

What is it to be educated? Is it to have spent every day of your life from the age of four until the age of twenty-one in a classroom? Is it the ability to read and write? How about being able to reflect deeply on your own personal experiences? 

Tara Westover was not educated in the way one might expect. She did not have school records. In fact, she didn’t have medical records. Tara Westover didn’t even have a birth certificate – officially, she didn’t exist. Tara grew up in Idaho with a father who didn’t trust in intervention.

From the moment she was born, Tara was to be taught to prepare for the End of Days. Her mother ‘home-schooled’ Tara and some of her siblings while their father proselytised about the dangers posed by doctors, teachers, government and law enforcement.

At the age of sixteen, Tara decided to educate herself. That decision took her to Harvard and then to Cambridge.

Having recently heard Tara talk at Forum Books about her experiences growing up a Mormon with an increasingly radical father and erratic brother, I was moved by the erudite way in which she spoke about her unusual childhood and her decision to make a change in her life.

Educated‘ is a beautifully written memoir. Westover’s prose is almost lyrical, featuring evocative descriptions of the rolling hills. Her gorgeous writing is juxtaposed with the terror I felt when reading about some of the things she had lived through. At times, the events were so out of my sphere of understanding, I had to check online that this was a memoir and not fiction! 

Throughout ‘Educated‘, there is a sense of not quite knowing what will happen next. At times, the tension was almost too much to bear. Westover masterfully allows the reader to tread the fine line she walked on a daily basis. There is also a feeling of sadness and grief that pervades this memoir. Ultimately, though, ‘Educated‘ is a hopeful book about the power of taking control and never giving up. 

Tara Westover is my hero.

Vic x