Category Archives: Events

A Love Letter to The Garsdale Retreat

When my friend Stephanie encouraged me to attend her writing retreat at the Garsdale Retreat, I decided it was a good time to concentrate on my own writing and that this would give me the ideal opportunity – away from distractions and the pressures of every day life. 

As the time grew nearer, I began to get cold feet. I’ve always suffered from homesickness to varying degrees and I was concerned at being away from home for four nights. It must sound silly but it’s the truth. 

My journey there was particularly dramatic but that’s a story for another time. Once I arrived at the retreat – thanks to the help of the wonderful Rebecca and Hamish from the retreat, a resident of Garsdale called Paul and Mr Middleton, a farmer – I was greeted like an old friend, even by the women I’d never met before. 

One of my concerns about the retreat was the menu. It’s a fully catered place with all of the meals being vegetarian with some fish and I am a fussy eater (although I am way better than I used to be). However, Rebecca’s home cooking was a total delight. We were treated to home-baked biscuits and cakes every morning and afternoon. The meals themselves were amazing – the variation and flavours never ceased to amaze me. We had all sorts from soup to pasta, Indonesian stews to salads. I even brought a couple of recipes home! 

Another concern I had was whether I could actually write. One of the first exercises Stephanie asked me to do was highlight the things I was good at, where I wanted to be and what I needed to do to get there – that was so challenging and I had to ask for advice on what to put as achievements. OnceStephanie reminded me about the awards I’d won, the MA I have and the support I provide others, I was able to see the value in what I do.

Each day was structured perfectly, with two workshops in the morning then in the afternoon independent writing, one-to-one tutorials and the opportunity to drop in for some advice and guidance if required. We came together every evening for a pre-dinner drink and chat in front of the log fire. I tumbled into bed each evening full of delicious food and exhausted from thought-provoking discussions with like-minded people. 

I woke every morning to a beautiful view and enjoyed being able to go for a short walk in the fresh air at least once a day. 

On the day where we had a brief field trip to the train station up the road, Rebecca drove those of us who couldn’t manage the hill – yet another example of what incredible hosts she and Hamish were. When our cars were covered with snow on the morning that we were due to leave, Hamish was out there sweeping the snow away so that we could drive home safely. 

Stephanie was an incredible facilitator and, despite having participants at different stages in their writing, every exercise challenged and encouraged us in equal measure. The amount of resources and stationery were mind-boggling. From the ‘washing line of wisdom’, filled with quotes about writing, to the envelopes we were encouraged to leave messages for one another in, Stephanie had every base covered. 

On our final evening, we were encouraged to create our writing manifestoes. Here’s mine: 

I think it shows how much of an impact the time I spent at the Garsdale Retreat on my writing – and my self-esteem. 

Stephanie encouraged us to take a quote from the washing line of wisdom which resonated with us, then we shared them after dinner on our final evening. She then gave us another one that, to me, seemed hand picked for each of us. As each person read their quotes, I found my eyes filling up. But that was nothing compared with my reaction when I opened my envelope on returning home. I only spent four days with these women but the messages they had left for me filled me with joy and love. 

So, inspired by the retreat – and mainly Rebecca’s baking – I baked a cake while adopting the Agatha Christie method of plotting (allowing the mind to roam while occupying yourself with a completely unrelated task). 

I missed my husband, and wished he was there with me, but I didn’t feel homesick because Garsdale felt like home. 

Garsdale Retreat inspired me in so many ways: it reminded me of the innate kindness of people, the healing power of food and how, even when you don’t believe in yourself, there is always someone who does.

Vic x

Advertisements
Image

One week to go…

28313882_10156152988149042_1381718048_n

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.

Guest Post: Rachel Amphlett on Bouchercon 2017

Having been to a few crime writing festivals this year, there is one I’d really like to attend but haven’t managed yet. 

Bouchercon is an annual world mystery convention where readers, writers, publishers, editors, agents and booksellers gather for four days to talk all things crime fiction and mystery. Bouchercon is a non-profit, volunteer-led festival. 

The venue changes every year – this year, everyone gathered in Toronto. Although I wasn’t able to attend, the wonderful Rachel Amphlett has been kind enough to share her experience with us.

Hopefully I’ll get there one day.

Vic x

Bouchercon 2017 from the frontline.
By Rachel Amphlett

Some five years in the planning process, over 700 authors and an equal amount – if not more – of avid readers, and Bouchercon 2017 was ready to open its doors on 12 October at the Sheraton Central in Toronto.

I was astounded at how many avid crime fiction readers descend on the conference – speaking to Mark and Sharon from Denver, it turns out they travel around North America every year to come to these – it’s a “must do”, and it seems they’re not the only ones!

This year was the 48th iteration of the popular conference, and included the thirty year anniversary for Sisters in Crime. The programme boasted an incredible choice of seminars and conversations – it was impossible to get to everything, but here are some of the highlights for me.

Given the number of psychological thrillers/domestic suspense novels out, the “Urban Noir” panel authors were asked: is the city scarier than the suburbs?

Not so, according to Michael Harvey, who pointed out that the current trend of psychological thrillers/domestic suspense often features characters who live in suburbia and, as Rebecca Drake added, often have more capacity for evil.

Gary Dvorik’s view was that the noir energy of the forties and fifties has been “cleansed” from cities, and that urban noir has moved to the suburbs, where it looks set to stay for some time. Julia McDermott raised a good point in that protagonists in urban noir are people who aren’t typically thought of as heroes – hence the popularity of what some are calling “domestic suspense” (although it was discussed whether the changing genre titles are simply down to publishers’ marketing departments!). 

It seems that Breaking Bad still resonates with a lot of people as an example of suburban crime, and as Rebecca pointed out, “noir is a darkness that lurks in all of us, just waiting to be tapped”.

The panel entitled “Unkind Settings” proved popular, and included a wide range of thriller sub-genres including disaster and dystopia. The panel were asked what they thought the allure of apocalyptic settings was, and Tim Washburn said he likes to drop his characters into that sort of scenario to see how resourceful they can be in order to survive. Adam Sternbergh made a great point that, as a writer, the setting should make you nervous – it’s almost like a character in itself.

The panel discussed the advantages of an unkind setting, and agreed that it plants the reader right in the action from the start, and then there’s always room to turn up the heat on your characters even more!

Joe Hart’s closing remark very much made me sit up and think about story potential, in that “when consequences are taken away, a character’s moral restrictions fade, too” – exactly how far would you be willing to go in order to survive?

There were at least two panels taking a look at the advantages and disadvantages of writing a series versus writing a standalone novel.

The first, “Standalones”, moderated by Craig Sisterson and featuring Kathy Reichs and Linwood Barclay, looked at how authors with established series then strike out and write a standalone. The reasons for this were quite similar – two authors had been asked by their publishers to write something new, and another author whose first series hadn’t taken off at that time was requested by his agent to try something different.

We also found out during the panel that Kathy hates bugs – a rather large cockroach appeared on the table in front of her, but was quickly dispatched by fellow panellist Kate White. Reichs admitted afterwards that she’s “much happier dealing with maggots”!

Back to the standalone/series debate and, in all cases, the authors agreed that they relished the change, and felt refreshed upon returning to their series titles. Of course, through writing a standalone, there was also the opportunity to develop a further series if readers liked the characters.

As with all crime fiction festivals, a lot of the time could be spent on the concourse where authors and readers could mingle and share their love of the genre. The hospitality suite, bars and café on the upper levels were certainly doing a roaring trade over much of the weekend.

For me, Bouchercon 2017 was an opportunity to catch up with friends, make some new ones, chat about my own work on influences, research, and writing habits on a couple of panels (“Government Agencies” and “A World of Thrills”), and meet some of my writing heroes while taking copious notes that I’m sure will inspire me for months (if not years) to come.

And for the organisers? Well, they’re already setting their sights on the next four Bouchercon conferences to be held in North America over the coming years, with special guests already confirmed including Karin Slaughter, Mark Billingham, and Ian Rankin (2018 – St Petersburg, FL), James Patterson and Harry Hunsicker (2019 – Dallas, TX), and Scott Turow and Walter Mosley (2020 – Sacramento, CA).

Death at the Docks

A wonderful write-up of Death at the Docks – thanks to Jennifer C Wilson.

Source: Death at the Docks

Residential Writing Retreat with Stephanie Butland

I know regular readers of this blog will be familiar with the lovely Stephanie Butland, writer of the tremendous Lost for Words. Well, now’s your chance to spend some time with Stephanie on a writing retreat in Yorkshire. 

Spaces are filling up fast, though, so if you fancy attending, book now! 

Vic x

Writing Retreat with Stephanie Butland, February 2018 

Do you need time to focus on your writing? 

Is there something missing from your novel? 

Do you have a folder full of stories and snippets that you aren’t sure how to progress? 

You might be working on your first novel, or writing short stories, or looking for some space to help you decide whether you want to write at all.

You might be trying out a first-person narrator, or writing from multiple viewpoints.

Maybe your dialogue doesn’t feel right.

Whatever your level and experience, this retreat is designed to help you to become a better writer. 

You’ll complete writing exercises, examine techniques, and discuss what you want to achieve with your writing. And of course you will have plenty of time and space to think and write!

Come along for tutored writing sessions, 1:1 feedback, the company of fellow writers, great food, and wonderful surroundings. Write, think, sleep, explore, and return to the world refreshed, inspired and raring to go.

Our venue is the beautiful Garsdale Retreat in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

Details:
Thursday 22 February 2018 (4pm) – Tuesday 27th February 2018 (10am).
Fully catered. Only two spaces left – single rooms with a shared bathroom, £700 per person.

To book, or if you have any questions, please email Stephanie at me@stephaniebutland.com or drop her a line on social media.

Writing Retreat at St Mary’s Island.

Writing Retreat on St Mary’s Island, Whitley Bay.

Have you ever wanted to just write, cut off from the world? Elementary V Watson is giving you that opportunity on Sunday, 20th August.

All too often, the distractions of modern life get in the way of our creativity so I’m inviting you to attend a writing retreat with a difference. Come to the iconic St Mary’s Island in Whitley Bay and experience a stranding where the only thing you’ll have to do is write!

The retreat will run from 12:30pm – 6pm and the causeway will be covered for the majority of that time.

As a participant of the retreat, you will have the opportunity to walk around the island and write wherever you feel comfortable. This retreat is aimed at writers of all genres and experience who want to write independently but there will be prompts to inspire your writing plus the opportunity to get feedback on your work. I’ll be available throughout the session, too, to provide one-to-one support and guidance where required.

You’ll have access to an indoor space with tea and coffee facilities but you will need to bring your own lunch / snacks.

Spaces are limited so book now! The cost for the retreat is £30. In order to secure your place, a 50% non-refundable deposit of £15 is required. Please email me for more information. Spaces are filling up fast!