Category Archives: Review of 2018

2018 Review: Vic Watson

So that was 2018, was it? What a year. First of all, I’d like to thank everyone who has taken the time to read this blog and the people who have contributed to it. Wishing you all a very happy 2019. 

2018 has been a very fun year for me, professionally and, although I have found that there have been lots of highlights, the one thing I am most proud of is finally completing the first draft of my novel, ‘Fix Me Up’. I have lots of people to thank for encouraging me to get it done – my friend Kay Stewart very helpfully set me a 500 words a week goal in 2017 and that helped get me into a rhythm and realise that it wasn’t an insurmountable task.

Stephanie Butland’s retreat at the Garsdale Retreat helped push me on too and I’m ever so grateful. When I’ve read extracts of ‘Fix Me Up’ at events like Noir at the Bar and After Dark, they’ve been really well-received. There are so many people who have encouraged me and kept nagging me to finish it – now I just need to get it in shape to submit to agents and publishers. Seriously, though, I began writing ‘Fix Me Up’ in 2010 as part of my Masters and I thought it would just be 20,000 words – I didn’t believe I could write a full-length novel. The moral of this story is: you can!

With that in mind, I was delighted to be accepted onto the Writers’ Block North East mentoring programme to write a novel in a year. I have an idea for my second novel – provisionally titled ‘Death at Dullahan’ – and I’m looking forward to completing it a lot quicker than the last one! 

It’s been a lot of fun to see Noir at the Bar continue in popularity and I was delighted to be involved with getting it off the ground in Sunderland. Harrogate’s Noir at the Bar was insanely well-attended again, with amazing writers like Steve Cavanagh and Martina Cole in the audience. I also got to meet Peter Rosovsky, the guy responsible for this amazing event. 

I’ve really enjoyed doing more interviews and panels this year. Thanks to Newcastle Noir and North Tyneside Libraries, I’ve interviewed new and established writers including L.J Ross, Mel McGrath and Kate Rhodes. I’ve also been lucky enough to interview A.M. Peacock at his book launch. I really enjoy chatting to authors about their processes and aspirations so I feel really privileged. 

In non-work related joys, I went on my honeymoon with my lovely husband at the beginning of the year and it was a truly wonderful experience. We spent time in Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hoi An and Phuket. I’ve never been to the Far East before and it was brilliant. Going to Vietnam wasn’t top of my list, it was actually a compromise on my part, but I absolutely loved it. When we arrived there, I was convinced I’d never be able to cross the road due to the crazy traffic but it’s funny how quick you adapt to your environment. I loved the whole experience and would definitely like to see more of Vietnam. Thailand was a more laid back, luxurious time and that was equally great but I am just so pleased we visited Vietnam.

Most of my top 2018 memories involve spending time with my husband – we’ve been to Yorkshire, Northumberland and London this year and had a ball no matter where we went. Having said that, it was really special to celebrate my parents’ ruby wedding anniversary with them in July. 

Also, I had pink hair for a while.

Top books that I’ve read this year: ‘Thirteen‘ by Steve Cavanagh, ‘East of Hounslow‘ by Khurrum Rahman, ‘The Rumour‘ by Lesley Kara, ‘Calypso‘ by David Sedaris (who was hilarious when Carly and I went to see him), ‘The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox‘ and ‘I Am, I Am, I Am‘ by Maggie O’Farrell. There are lots more that I’ve really enjoyed but these are top of the list for me. I think my favourite, though, has been ‘Educated‘ by Tara Westover.

I’m still listening to Michelle Obama narrate ‘Becoming‘ which is everything I hoped it would be. 

I have been wracking my brains as I’m not entirely sure I’ve been to the cinema since January which was to see ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi‘. I watched ‘Selma‘ recently which was really powerful. I really enjoyed ‘Ladybird‘ and ‘Ocean’s 8‘.

I haven’t watched a lot of films this year, I’ve been going to a lot of gigs instead. I think the best concert I went to was Beyonce and Jay-Z’s OTR2. I went with my friend and we had the best time, I think the car journey to Manchester and back may have been better than the show itself. That said, Katy Perry put on an incredible show too. 

Nobody Knows I’m a Fraud‘ by Grace Petrie. Grace was one of the guests when I went to see ‘The Guilty Feminist’ podcast recording at Northern Stage. I loved her stories, her sense of humour and now I’m totally into her music. 

Downsides? Brexit, Trump, the usual shite. Intolerance, injustice, poverty.

Personally, the slipped disc I suffered over the summer was insanely painful and it made me miss the Britney Spears gig in Blackpool. *sad face*

I don’t tend to make resolutions but I think I would just like to try and remain even-keeled. I read a HuffPost article earlier this week that suggested the resolutions you should make are get more sleep, say no more often, look after yourself etc etc and I think they seem really sensible (but how realistic are they? Time will tell). 

I’d love to forget all about Brexit in 2019 – the EU are fine with us forgetting about it so I am definitely hoping for that shambles to go away. It’s like the shittiest gift that keeps on shitting on you. On a more selfish note, a publishing deal would be very welcome. 

Wishing all of you a very happy, productive and successful 2019. 

Vic x

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2018 Review: Gytha Lodge

When I went to Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Festival earlier this year, I saw a lot of buzz flying around about a book called ‘She Lies in Wait‘ so I made it my goal that weekend to get my mitts on a copy. I had to Twitter-stalk the author, Gytha Lodge, but I managed it!
I will be reviewing ‘She Lies in Wait‘ in 2019 but I can tell you guys that you will want to read this novel. 
My thanks to Gytha, one of my newest chums, for taking the time to review her 2018.
Vic x
Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
I’ve had such a strange and wonderful year, the pinnacle of which was probably back in January when I was offered a three-book contract with Michael Joseph of Penguin for the first three instalments in a mystery series. It’s been my very focused ambition for the last twenty years, ever since I first wrote an awful novel when I should have been doing work at school. Other great moments have included the US rights selling shortly afterwards, but it was that initial offer that felt like a dream come true.
 
And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
There have been lots, so I think I’m pretty lucky just now. My 8-year-old starting a new school and suddenly loving learning again was pretty epic, I have to say. That first day when he came home and said “Loved it” after a year of being miserable was amazing. 
Favourite book in 2018? 
THIS IS SO DIFFICULT!! I was very lucky to read several that come out next year, and I think two of those may have won out. Those are The Whisper Man by Alex North, a deliciously creepy thriller, and The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea, which is like a 1600s Icelandic Rebecca. Wonderful. 
 
Favourite film in 2018? 
Fantastic Beasts Part 2 for me… I’m such a Potterhead. I’ve also watched a lot more TV than I usually manage, including The Bridge, which was SO good, the awesome Killing Eve, and Little Drummer Girl, which I obsessed over just as much. TV is definitely the new film. 
 
Favourite song of the year? 
It’s not at all new, but I love A Town Called Malice by The Jam as a pick-me-up. It gets me in such a good writing mood, and having been editing a book set in 1983, it was pretty perfect.
Any downsides for you in 2018?
I had flu for the first time, and just recently managed to spend a full six weeks ill. Both of these sucked, particularly as I missed a lot of rowing coaching and fitness training of my own, and now feel like the least fit person on the planet. Always a blow to the self-esteem… I’ve countered this by spending obscene amounts of money on make-up and trying to work out how to contour. Which generally ends with me looking like I have sideburns. Win!
Are you making resolutions for 2019?
I’m never that great on resolutions. I think I might try to manage my work/down-time balance a bit better to avoid the ills again.
What are you hoping for from 2019?
Lots of book sales, please please!! I’m sure I should say something much more humble or less egocentric, but one of my creative writing tutors always said to aim high, as otherwise, how will you find the energy to keep going when it’s tough? So with that in mind, I’m thinking “An Oscar for the screenplay I adapted from my own book.” Ha! You don’t get much bigger than that!
More realistically, I’m hoping that I’ll have a lot of fun and not worry about anyone giving me a one-star review, or any other stuff that doesn’t actually matter in the grand scheme of things. I’m happy just to live the dream and hopefully get plenty of time around that to play RPG games with my 8-year-old. Bliss.

2018 Review: LJ Ross

Merry Christmas!

I have a very special Christmas gift for you today: the fabulous LJ Ross is here to review her 2018 just for us! One of my greatest pleasures this year has been spending more time with Louise and finding a true friend in her. She really is one in a million. 

I hope you all have a wonderful day. My thanks to Louise for sharing her year with us.

Vic x

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
I’ve been incredibly lucky this year: all of the books I’ve published in 2018 have been U.K. #1 best-sellers and I recently surpassed the three million sales mark. However, in November, the first ever ‘dramatic’ production of a DCI Ryan was produced by Audible Originals Studios. I wrote the prequel story to the DCI Ryan series, The Infirmary, and it was scripted into an audio-drama featuring an all-star cast including Tom Bateman (Ryan), Kevin Whately (Phillips), Alun Armstrong (Gregson), Hermione Norris (the Narrator), Bertie Carvel (Killer Narrator) and so many more. It was so fantastic to hear the story brought to life in such an exciting way, especially since I’ve admired so many of those actors from afar!

And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
There have been so many lovely moments, but I think it has to be seeing my son (Ethan, who’s now five) really discover the joy of reading completely independently. He’s enjoying C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew at the moment and it’s a joy to listen to him read, or to watch him with his nose between the pages. 

Favourite book in 2018?
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, or The Afterlife of Walter Augustus by H.M. Lynn. They’re both great, uplifting reads.

Favourite film in 2018?
I’m afraid I don’t watch a lot of television these days but, over the past few weeks, I’ve had a bit more time to enjoy some old movies – I rediscovered To Catch a Thief and The 39 Steps, both directed by Hitchcock, and it felt very nostalgic. 

Favourite song of the year?
Probably 1979 by The Smashing Pumpkins. I think my musical taste stalled somewhere back in the early noughties…

Any downsides for you in 2018?
Unless you count the inevitability of growing another year older…not really!

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
My resolutions tend to be the same at the start of every new day, irrespective of the time of year. They are to try to be kind and tolerant of others (especially in rush hour traffic); to work hard and strive to become better at what I do; to be the best mother, daughter, sister, wife and friend I can and never to take more than I give back to the world. It isn’t always possible to do all or any of these things, but I do try. 

What are you hoping for from 2019?
Continued health and happiness for all my friends and family  – in fact, for as many people as possible. There’s a lot of suffering and negativity around the world stage at the moment and I hope 2019 brings with it a more calm, measured and kind approach in politics, communities and nations.

2018 Review: Annie Doyle

Whether you’re a reader or writer of crime fiction, we have a very strong community in the north-east and that’s how I met the lovely Annie Doyle. Annie is always smiling when I see her and I’m really chuffed to have her on the blog to review her year.

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

Vic x

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
I’m delighted to have completed my first short story and submitted it to a competition. Throughout my life I’ve written lots of parts of stories and created lots of plot and character ideas, but this is the first time I’ve finished a story and done something productive with it; it feels like a huge achievement!

And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
Being able to enjoy an autumnal walk with my mam. She’s had a long spell of illness and I didn’t think we’d be able to enjoy a walk together again. However, effective treatment has meant she’s regained the use of her legs and we’re walking together again!

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Favourite book in 2018?
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
by Betty Smith. An American friend gave this to me when I visited Cape Cod in September. In-between days out cycling and evenings out eating, I read it from cover to cover in a few days. A coming of age/rite of passage/family saga story, it’s expertly told through the eyes and thoughts of young Francie Nolan. Francie’s reflections on her family and her personal situation are by turns hilarious and heartbreaking. It left me wanting more and needing to know what became of the adult Francie.

Favourite film in 2018?
Doctor Zhivago. A rotten cold relegated me to the sofa with Lemsip and a hot water bottle one rainy weekend in October so I consoled myself with a movie-fest. I’d never seen Doctor Zhivago before! I was immediately captivated by the music, the story, the romance and oh yes, by Omar Sharif. I wouldn’t go as far as saying I want to get cold again for an excuse to watch it but it’s definitely on the to-be-watched-over-and-over-again list!

Favourite song of the year?
Demons by Robert Vincent. I first saw this talented Liverpudlian singer-songwriter perform at the Sage SummerTyne Americana music festival in July. I was completely captivated by his music and his voice. I can’t compare him to anyone else; his voice is unique. I’ve seen him perform again more recently at the Old Cinema Launderette in Durham. Yes, it used to be a cinema, yes it’s now a launderette and yes, it hosts gigs! Fantastic concept for an event venue, you can have a drink, see a gig and do your washing, all in one evening! Robert Vincent is a talent to watch, in my opinion.

Any downsides for you in 2018?
My mam’s illness. A cancer diagnosis is always devastating for any individual and for that person’s extended family. We’ve had an extremely tough year, watching Mam battle invasive treatments and infections. She’s met each challenge head-on and she is my inspiration in life. The upside to this downside is that she’s currently living well with a chronic cancer and at 86, that’s some achievement!

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
To continue to make progress with my first novel. It’s been waiting to be created my whole life so it’s about time I just got on with it!

What are you hoping for from 2019?
Good health and happiness for my family and friends.

2018 Review: Sarah Jeffery

Sarah Jeffery, member of Elementary Writers, is here today to look back over her year. Thanks to Sarah from taking time out of her busy schedule to chat to me.

Vic x

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
There have been a few: firstly being long-listed for Writers’ Block North East’s 2018-9 development programme. Secondly, reading my work out for the first time at Noir at the Bar in May and receiving such positive feedback actually made me realise that my novel could work. And thirdly having two of my short stories published in two anthologies – Sisterhood and Where There’s Fire. 

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And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
It has to be attending Stephanie Butland’s writing retreat at Garsdale back in February. The whole experience was amazing in so many ways, and my current work in progress stemmed from the whole experience. 

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Favourite book in 2018?
Educated
by Tara Westover – everyone should read this!

Favourite film in 2018?
I haven’t been to the cinema very much this year but really enjoyed A Star is Born and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Favourite gig of the year?
Has to be the Stereophonics – they are still my favourite band after all these years! I love live music but this year has been fairly quiet as I’ve only been to 15 although I have one more to go. In 2016 I managed to go to 70 gigs – I must have never been in!!

Any downsides for you in 2018?
Yes, not making any progress with my current novel due to not being able to find enough time to write.  Work and life just seem to get in the way. 

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
Yes, I’m going to commit to getting up early to write before I go to work otherwise this time next year I will still be no further forward with my novel. 

What are you hoping for from 2019?
I want to complete a first draft of my current novel and enter at least two competitions / awards. 

2018 Review: Nick Quantrill

Nick Quantrill is a regular end of year reviewer and I’ve got to say only good boys and girls get invited back onto this blog! Seriously, though, I’ve known Nick for many years now and he’s an absolute gem. It’s my pleasure to have Nick here to review his year, and what a year it’s been! 

Thanks, Nick, for always being a willing participant. 

Vic x

Nick Quantrill

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
I absolutely do! I started the year working on a novel I wasn’t sure would necessarily have a home, and I was probably struggling with it because of that. Unexpectedly, the rights to my Joe Geraghty trilogy reverted to me in the summer and the ace Fahrenheit Press scooped them up. It’s given me the impetus to revisit Joe and I’m hard at work on the fourth in the trilogy…

Geraghty covers (FP)

And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
It’s been grim times for my football teams, Hull City and North Ferriby United, but I hugely enjoyed the World Cup. My seven-year-old daughter is football mad, too, so we watched a lot of it together. We also had a family holiday to New York, which was pretty memorable.

Favourite book in 2018?
As ever, I’ve read loads of brilliant books this year. If I was picking an absolute favourite, I’d have to go for November Road by Lou Berney. Set against the backdrop of the John F Kennedy assassination, it’s part-noir, part-road trip, part-redemptive tale. I also loved Eva Dolan’s This Is How It Ends and Joseph Knox’s The Smiling Man. Looking to 2019, I was lucky enough to read Blood and Sugar, a fantastic debut due out in January from Laura Shepherd-Robinson.

Favourite film in 2018?
I’m not a huge film watcher (does Alvin and the Chipmunks with my daughter count?), but I do love a good boxset. Dysfunctional families seems to be a theme, as I really enjoyed Succession and Trust.

Favourite song of the year?
Sticking to being a bit old-fashioned, I love my vinyl, so tend to think about albums rather than individual songs. Like books, the list could go on and on, but I’ll go for Merrie Land by The Good, The Bad and The Queen. It’s Damon Albarn’s Brexit album and it’s all a bit unsettling, weird and discomforting. Whatever vehicle he uses, he’s always interesting.

Any downsides for you in 2018?
See above – Brexit. I’m not having it. What a state of affairs…

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
Nope. I’ve never liked them, or believe you need to wait for an arbitrary date to start something. That said, the usual… bit more exercise, bit less caffeine etc …

What are you hoping for from 2019?
I’m well on with Geraghty 4, so all being well, it’ll see the light of day in 2019. Lots of plots floating around in my head, so looking forward to writing more of them. Away from the writing, but complimenting it, I hope we get to put on Hull Noir again next November. Watch this space re our funding bid.

2018 Review: Emma Whitehall

Today’s guest is Emma Whitehall, member of Elementary Writers and editor of ‘Sisterhood‘. Like many of our guests, Emma has had a rather eventful year but I’ll let her tell you all about it.

My thanks to Emma for her honesty and for taking the time to review her 2018.

Vic x

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Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
The first half of this year was dedicated to putting together Sisterhood, which is an anthology of fiction featuring some absolutely phenomenal women writers. I came up with the idea around this time last year – I wanted to celebrate female friendship, and put some good out into the world at the same time, and the idea hit me like a lightning bolt. I have to say, working on Sisterhood is probably one of the best things I’ve ever done. So far, we’ve raised more than £300 for Newcastle Women’s Aid (a charity that helps women and children who are survivors of domestic abuse), and, on a personal note, I got to know nine truly wonderful, talented women, who have inspired me so much this year at times when I really wanted to throw in the towel. I am so, so proud of what we accomplished, and want to say thank you to all the girls – long live Elementary Sisterhood!  

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And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
Anyone who knows me knows that the musical Hamilton has a very special place in my heart. For my birthday back in May, my mam and I travelled down to London to see the West End production, and it was incredible. I was sobbing before the first song was over, and essentially didn’t stop for nearly three hours. It was my first time in London, too! We did a little sightseeing the next day, and saw the city from the top of the London Eye, but being in the second row at a West End show, watching my favourite musical, was simply beyond compare. My mam was a good sport, too – seeing as she commented, about a month before we went down, that she “hates rap music”…

 Favourite book in 2018?
I also started a new job this year, working as a Bookseller at Waterstones, and one of the first books I read “for work” was The House With Chicken Legs, by Sophie Anderson. I hadn’t dipped into children’s fiction since I was a child myself, and this book rekindled my love of the genre. It’s a beautiful book, about a girl who is torn between following in her grandmother’s magical footsteps helping spirits pass on to the next life, and living a normal life on her own. I love it so much, and I was so happy to see it on the Blue Peter Book of the Year shortlist. Now, almost everything I read is “middle grade” fiction! 

Favourite film in 2018?
I’d have to go for The Shape of Water. A lot of the film was beauty for beauty’s sake, I thought – but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth watching. Plus, I love a strange, sad monster story – it’s all I write about!

Favourite song of the year?
This has been a year for fluffy pop on my Spotify playlist, if I’m being honest. My top two plays have been Cut to the Feeling by Carly Rae Jepsen, and Be Alright by Ariana Grande. I’ve had a lot of stress this year, and my usual crashing rock music or melodramatic Broadway numbers haven’t helped a lot – but both of these songs are light, happy, and leave me dancing, even just a little.

Any downsides for you in 2018?
This year has been non-stop, for me. I edited an anthology, changed jobs, nearly moved to London, and now I’m in the process of buying my first flat. I have to admit, this summer I had a very bad time with my anxiety. Luckily, I have some very good friends who set me on the right path when things were at their bleakest. Thanks to them, I went to counselling, made some tough choices, and I’m leaving the year feeling more positive. 

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
To be kind to myself. The main thing I took away from my counselling was that I’m not very good at that. So my main resolution for 2019 is to stop giving myself a hard time, accept compliments when I get them, and try to stick to the new thought patterns my counsellor taught me. 

What are you hoping for from 2019?
I want to do more with Sisterhood. I always said to the girls that I’d love it to become a regular publication, and to open submissions up to everyone who identifies as a woman. But, in the short term, I just want to get settled into my new home, and get it looking how I want it to. I get to have a study, and I can’t wait to have a special place just for writing!