Category Archives: Success

Thoughts on Virtual Noir at the Bar

OK, so since my last post about Virtual Noir at the Bar, things have gone a bit, well, insane. Virtual Noir at the Bar is being hailed as “the best night in”, “a reason to know what day it is” and “the highlight of the week”. Our afterparties are getting a bit of a reputation too, bringing people together until the wee small hours.

This week sees our eighth virtual outing with yet another stellar squad of writers. Within a couple more weeks, we will have hosted more than a hundred authors – and we still have at least another hundred on our guest list. You can still sign up to our mailing list to be first to find out the full line-up every week.

So, every Wednesday evening, after I put my little boy to bed and begin to get ready to host another virtual gathering, I reflect on how different doing a virtual event is to hosting an event in the flesh. I also think about the similarities, the things I miss about “live” events (i.e. non-virtual) and the things I’m grateful for when broadcasting from home.

We’re trying to keep Noir at the Bar as close to the “live” events as possible. There’s still a hat, albeit a new one after the old ratty tatty hat disintegrated the other week (if that had happened in a bar someone else would’ve tidied the mess up).

I try to keep the informal style going but it is very unnerving making jokes and name-checking people into what is, essentially, a void. I can see the chat happening in Zoom and, from the feedback we’re getting, people seem to be enjoying it but I do miss the immediate response of hearing the audience give me a drum roll when we’re picking names from the hat and the “woos” when they hear something impressive.

On that note, I have felt so self-conscious that my own “woos” of appreciation reduced in length and I started to worry they sounded sarcastic. I said that a couple of weeks ago, that I encouraged everyone else to do it but didn’t feel comfortable doing it myself for fear of offending anyone. That lasted half the evening as I got a lot of encouragement from the audience to reinstate the woos, safe in the knowledge that my appreciation was genuine.

Every Wednesday night, I still put perfume on and curse myself for having had a tidy out of my make-up and never replacing the stuff I chucked. I have very limited supplies and this leaves me discomfited.

I know lots of memes have popped up recently about staring at your own face on Zoom calls but it is very unnerving. At least in the bar, I don’t have to see myself. Similarly, we don’t record our outings when we’re in an actual bar so I don’t have the opportunity to go back and criticise every little mistake and weird facial expression. I am delighted, though, that people are able to use our archive to catch up at their leisure if they’ve missed an “episode”.

I love the fact that we’re no longer bound by geography. We’ve always been lucky that writers are willing to travel to appear at Noir at the Bar but with Virtual Noir at the Bar, we are able to host writers from their homes. So far we’ve hosted writers from LA, New Zealand, Germany and Iceland.

I’m also aware that by being accessible to anyone with a computer means that we can reach people no matter where in the world they are. People are getting up early in NZ to be part of the live event – I can’t get my head around it! Being virtual also means that people who may be housebound or unable to come to a public event can still be part of it. We also have a lot more space for people in the virtual bar so there’s no fear of anyone not being able to join us.

I haven’t enjoyed asking people to support us financially. I know people are enjoying the events but they don’t come cheap. Mentioning our Ko-Fi page feels crass – even though no one makes any money out of VNatB – any donations go towards hosting software and the like. We’ve pledged that any surplus will go to NHS Charities Together.

RIP the ratty tatty hat

I like that I only have to have a presentable top half. I don’t have to squeeze myself into jeans which is just as well because I’m not sure I’d be able to stand them at the moment – lockdown weight gain is a thing, ok? So, yeah, I’m delighted that I can wear my elasticated trousers while hosting VNatB.

I like that, within minutes of the event ending, I can be in my pjs eating a crisp sandwich (now do you understand the lockdown weight gain?).

As is customary with Noir at the Bar, we have hosted established and emerging authors and I’m delighted that we’ve been able to keep the community together during this bizarre time.

I like that I can stay at the afterparty until I’m ready to go to bed. I don’t have to factor in getting home because I’m already there!

I don’t get to hug my friends. We still do a group photo but it’s not the same. I don’t get to mingle with the audience during the breaks.

I’m grateful to every writer who has given up their time to read at Virtual Noir at the Bar. I’m indebted to Simon Bewick who keeps the plates spinning. I’m delighted that Virtual Noir at the Bar has obtained what some are calling “a cult following” (I think they said cult, anyway). But I really wish we could all get together properly.

Until then, see you at the virtual bar every Wednesday.

Vic x

Another proud day

For my birthday this year, one of my best friends bought me a scrapbook and told me to fill it with fabulous things that happened. At the time, a house purchase had just fallen through (costing us rather a lot of money) and I’d recently been made redundant. I knew my friend’s gift came from a wonderful, encouraging place but I did wonder at the time what the I’d put in this bloody scrapbook, now I’m worried I’m going to run out of pages!

No doubt you’ll read about all of my happy moments in my review of 2016 (it’ll be here before we know it) but I just had to blog about one thing in particular while it’s fresh in the memory. Last year, I wrote about how proud I was at being nominated for Woman of the Year in my Slimming World group. Well, last night, I won it.

Woman of the year

It’s funny how things turn out.

Vic x

Never give up…

As I took a trip through Newcastle today, I noticed that it was graduation day. I watched students in their caps and gowns, taking selfies and celebrating the end of an era.

Strolling through the beautiful campus of my alma mater, Newcastle University, I thought back to my own graduation day eight years ago. It was I day I never thought I’d see.

I was twenty-one when I finally went to uni. I’d had three years in ‘the real world’, earning some money and doing another A-Level, and during that time I’d decided I wanted to train to be a teacher.

Despite a hand injury which left me unable to write, I quite enjoyed the first terms. Uni was so different to anything I’d experienced before and I met two wonderful girls who, to this day, remain my best friends.

By March of my first year, though,  I was ready to quit. I’d failed a History assessment and was wracked with self-doubt. I remember vividly those fraught days as I struggled to make a decision on what to do. I was terrified of failure. I felt that staying on at uni could equal complete failure. What if I flunked the first year completely? What if they kicked me out? It didn’t occur to me at the time that all my other marks were really rather good. Another thought that occurred to me, though, was that quitting would be a definite failure in my eyes.

I don’t remember how I came to a decision. I don’t remember how I overcame those wicked gremlins. But I did. Staying might mean failure, quitting definitely would.

With the support of my parents and some of the academic staff, I decided to streamline my degree from Combined Studies to Media, Communication and Cultural Studies. I never looked back.

As my undergraduate days drew to a close, I began to consider what to do next. That summer, I read more books than I had done in years (apart from academic books, of course). Some were inspiring in the traditional sense. Others made me think: ‘I could do that’. Around the same time, I was given a place on the Chronicle’s Young Reviewer of the Year scheme. Not only was this a fantastic outlet – giving me ‘a reason’ to write and deadlines to meet – but it also gave me the confidence I needed to look into Masters degrees in Creative Writing.

As we queued outside the ceremonial hall on graduation day, a course-mate asked what my plans were, I answered: ‘I’m going to be a writer’. That moment is crystallised in my memory and every year, when I see loved ones in all their finery and graduates with their capes blowing in the wind, I’m reminded of that conversation. And when I think back on that conversation, I stand a little taller and remind myself that I made it happen. I am a writer, just as I said I would be.

I graduated in 2010 with a Masters in Creative Writing. And again in 2014 with a Post-Graduate Certificate in Education. I hope to get a doctorate one day. And all this from a girl who almost dropped out six months in because of the voices in her head telling her she wasn’t clever enough.

Don’t ever give up.

Vic x

A busy fortnight for Elementary Writers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vic x

A proud day

In the past, I’ve blogged about the sense of achievement I felt when qualifying as a teacher in July last year. I was to finally be a qualified teacher but I was not happy when I saw my graduation photos. The woman in the photos looked about six months pregnant, sweaty and uncomfortable. The dress she was wearing was tight in all the wrong places. That woman was me, aged 30.

I was utterly disgusted. I had managed to avoid cameras for so long that I’d been able to live in blissful ignorance, unaware to some extent of how bad my weight problem really was. OK, so at medical appointments, doctors expressed their concern at my BMI but seeing the photo below really brought home to me how far I was from the idea I had of myself. Basically, I think I had body dysmorphia in reverse.

July 2014

Another thing I’d avoided was clothes shops. I had taken to ordering things online if I was really desperate but, with a new job on the horizon, I had to go shopping for new work clothes. In August last year, I was in a size 20 in Primark clothes – and they were snug.

I think my mum had also got an unpleasant surprise when looking at the graduation photos and so, because we had a family holiday planned for November, we agreed to give Slimming World a go. We initially went with the intention of joining and going for a few weeks to learn the plan then going it alone.

On attending my first session, I sat at the back of the meeting and cried. I cried because I was intimidated by my consultant – not because of anything he did but because I was so introverted that I couldn’t believe anyone would be so confident and outgoing. I cried because of how fat I’d let myself get. I cried because I thought Slimming World was going to be another fad that wouldn’t work. And I cried because I felt sorry for myself, after all, I’d been really poorly and pumped full of various drugs which hadn’t helped my weight.

When I joined Slimming World on Tuesday, 9th September, 2014, I weighed 16 stone 2lbs. My BMI was 32 and I was clinically obese.

Yesterday, I stood at the front of my Slimming World group as a nominee for their Woman of the Year. I also obtained my 2 and a half stone award yesterday, bringing my BMI to 27 and me only 9lbs away from my target weight. I wore size 14 pants from Primark to yesterday’s meeting.

Now and then

When giving a short speech to the group last night, I admitted that I never realised how out of control my eating was. I could blame my medical condition and the drugs used to combat it but I know that my weight gain was mainly down to my lack of self-control. And that’s why I will continue to go to Slimming World even when I do hit my target. I am able to admit now that I could not maintain a healthy weight without the support of the group members and my wonderful consultant, Adam.

Me and Adam, my wonderful consultant

When Adam called me a fortnight ago to tell me I’d been nominated as Woman of the Year, I laughed down the phone. Who thought I was anywhere near worthy of Woman of the Year? I suspected it was my mother and maybe one of the friend’s I’ve made over the course of the last 49 weeks.

When I first started SW, I sat on the back row with my mum and avoided eye contact with everyone. I was anti-social and negative. I refused to tell anyone other than The Boy Wonder that I was a member. I was ashamed. Now, I will happily tell anyone that I’m a member of Slimming World and how it has changed my life. In my weekly group meetings, I’m one of the most vocal people there – can you believe that?! I can’t. Nor can I believe that I cooked Slimming World yorkshire puddings to take to share at the group – I do more cooking than I ever considered I was capable of.

I’m not going to lie and say that I have found Slimming World easy all of the time. I would struggle to keep up with the plan without the help of my mum – she cooks several meals a week for me and that is a huge help. I have had several unexplained large gains – on two separate weeks I gained 8lbs in one week and still have no idea why – but I have never truly believed that I would quit. What would I achieve from quitting? I’d end up back where I started – or worse. The feeling of gaining a lot of weight without a reason is truly devastating if you’ve been trying hard to stick to the diet but if I did quit, I’d certainly be no better off.

Lovely gifts

Adam treated his nominees like stars last night and I felt so special. Although I didn’t win, last night was one of the proudest nights of my life. I may have let myself get to a very bad point but I am well on the way to putting it right with the help of some amazingly supportive people.

If you need a way to lose weight, I cannot recommend Slimming World enough.

Vic x

A sense of achievement

People who have been reading this blog for the last two years or so will know I started a Post Graduate Certificate in Education in September 2012.

Yesterday, I got an email to confirm that I had passed the course! It has not been easy, the workload was challenging at times and sometimes my health issues didn’t exactly help but the sense of achievement I felt receiving that email yesterday was incredible.

I tend to look on the negative side quite often and can be very hard on myself. However, I feel I must acknowledge how hard I have worked over the past couple of years. I’ve done a part-time job, studied and built my own business – no mean feat. I’m so thrilled to have finally qualified, I feel like this is the start of something really exciting.

There have been, though, so many people who have supported and encouraged me through this time and I won’t forget those who have shown me kindness when I most needed it. You know who you are, thank you!

Vic x

Prize Winning News

Me with Mari Hannah who presented me with the award.

Me with Mari Hannah who presented me with the award.

A few weeks ago, I received a letter from North Tyneside Council advising me that my short story ‘The Piano’ was one of the winners in this year’s ‘Story Tyne’ competition, an annual competition run by the council. The letter explained that, in order to find out which position the story had been ranked, there was an awards evening at Wallsend Library on November 29th.

Myself, The Boy Wonder as well as my parents, my brother and my brother’s girlfriend attended the informal ceremony, where awards were presented to children and then over 16’s. Authors Mari Hannah and Russ Litten presented the awards, with Mari giving a brief synopsis of each story. From what I heard on Thursday evening, there are going to be some major literary stars coming out of North Tyneside in the next couple of decades.

I was convinced, sitting on the back row, that my story would be placed third. And I was happy with that because – out of the hundreds of entries read, mine was in the top three. But the synopsis given by Mari for third place wasn’t my book. And I was astounded to hear that my story’s synopsis was not mentioned for second place. My short story had won this year’s competition!

It was really interesting to hear Mari’s comments regarding the stories, which were anonymously judged by her, and specifically the comments she made about ‘The Piano’. It was so utterly joy-inducing to hear a professional writer praise my work so highly – it made me realise that I must be doing something right!

‘The Piano’ is available in ‘Off The Record 2: At The Movies’. You can download it here: http://amzn.to/UuxJvZ or order the book here: http://amzn.to/RXd1Wy.

Vic x

 

Getting to Know You: Ed BykerBooks

Today on my blog, I welcome one of the big guns in North-east publishing, the unfortunately named Ed BykerBooks. Ed’s here to talk about one of the best publishing houses in the UK today.

Ed, Byker Books have just released Volume 6 of Radgepacket, how do you manage to get so many talented writers on board?

A lot of hard work initially when we were setting up and no-one believed we were serious but since then, as the series has grown in credibility and super-coolness we find we’re having to reject an awful lot of stories. We don’t use blackmail or threats of violence to get stories, that’s just a rumour…

Where did the idea of Radgepacket come from initially?

Reading the sadly defunct ‘Bullet’ magazine and stuff like ‘Acid House’ from Irvine Welsh convinced us that there was a need for proper council estate short fiction. The short story has had something of a renaissance in recent years and we hope that we helped with that.

Tell us a little bit about Byker Books’ journey please.

We started as a little group of writers moaning that no-one would publish us despite the fact we were blatantly better than everyone else in the world (like you do). This progressed to ‘fuck it – we’ll just publish our own stuff, how hard can it be…’ (proper hard as it happens!) and now we’re causing other writers to moan that we won’t publish them despite them being blatantly better than everyone else in the world…

If someone would like to submit to you, what do they need to do?

Read the submissions page on our website and follow it to the letter – it’s not difficult – otherwise they get filed in the bin! We once got a submission that started “I don’t read submission procedures…” I don’t know how it ended as I stopped reading at that point and moved onto the next one.

What’s on the horizon next?

A Kindle novella series from some very good novelists that we’ve hand-picked for their ‘radgeness’ and their pedigree. A full length Kindle novel from Eileen Wharton entitled ‘Shit Happens’ that has been described as ‘making Shameless look like a middle-class romp!’ and more of Darren Sant’s ‘Longcroft Tales’ – he’s like a modern-day Charles Dickens you know…honest.

Where can people find you online?

www.bykerbooks.co.uk – Our website may go down for a day or two at the end of April – don’t worry, we’re on the case and it won’t be for long.

Do you have a favourite story that’s been featured in one of the Radgepackets?

They’re all brilliant otherwise they wouldn’t be in a Radgepacket, however, one that always sticks in my mind is ‘Where’s Your Head At?’ by Gareth Mews in Radge4 – it’s about a bloke whose head falls off! Can’t fault that kind of imagination can you?

So, who’s in the Byker Books team?

That’s more secret than who Prince Harry’s dad really is – all we’ll say is this, you wouldn’t want to meet the rest of them on a dark night and if you did you’d have buy the drinks as they’re all proper tight!

Cheers.

I adore straight-talking Ed. So if you’re a radgie writer and you fancy being part of this no-nonsense establishment, you know what to do!

Vic x

Get your paperback copy of Radgepacket 6 here: http://amzn.to/H7e6bR

A Massive Thank You

On Tuesday morning, I was sitting at my desk at work when I decided to look at my Amazon page. To my suprise, I saw that ‘Letting Go’ was number 24 in the Amazon chart for free downloads.

Since then, my anthology has bounced up and down the Top 30 like a yo-yo. Its highest position has been #12 and I am absolutely thrilled. Someone pointed out that I’m only in the chart because ‘Letting Go’ is literally being given away. The way I look at it is: there are thousands of free ebooks available on Amazon and I’ve still made it into the Top 20.

I’d like to thank everyone who has retweeted the link, as well as everyone who has shared it on Facebook. Thanks also to everyone who has invited me to guest on their blogs. Most of all though, I’d like to thank everyone for downloading ‘Letting Go’.

Vic x

Liebster Blog Award

As you guys can see, I’ve been awarded the Liebster Blog Award from my very good friend – and brilliant author – Dan Smith (http://dansmithsbooks.wordpress.com/). Thank you very much Dan! He has a tremendously diverse blog and I suggest all of you go and have a look at it now.

After looking at Dan’s blog, you can read the rest of this post…

Done? OK, great. So, the Liebster Award. ‘Liebster’ means ‘dearest’ in German and the award is passed on to up-and-coming bloggers with less than 200 subscribers.

If you’re lucky enough to be given one of these awards:

  1. Thank the blogger who was kind enough to bestow this kind honour on you and link back to their blog (which, as you’ll all see, I’ve done).
  2. Choose your five top picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog (trust me, picking just five was a tough task).
  3. Copy and paste the award onto your blog (done and done).
  4. Hope that the bloggers you’ve passed the award onto do the same thing (share the love, folks).

I’d like to thank Dan Smith again (http://dansmithsbooks.wordpress.com/) as he only chose two blogs and I feel very honoured to be one of them, thank you.

So, here goes….

http://cecereadandwrite.blogspot.com/

http://santsrants.blogspot.com/

http://gelatisscoop.blogspot.com/

http://imeanttoreadthat.blogspot.com/

http://www.craigrobertdouglas.com/

This brightened my day today, thanks again to Dan Smith.

Vic x