Category Archives: Writers

Guest Post: Jennifer C Wilson on the living dead.

cover on devicesHave you ever thought about what the dead get up when you’re not looking? Not in a terrifying, trying to drive you out of your house sort of way, just in a ‘getting on with their own lives’ sort of way? That’s what got me thinking, and what led to me writing Kindred Spirits: Tower of London, my debut novel, published in October 2015 (international Amazon link here, to take you to the country of your choice), and currently just 99p/c in the Crooked Cat Easter Sale.

Come and find out what Richard III, Anne Boleyn, Queen Jane Grey and a host of others talk about whilst we’re not listening, and what they get up to when the staff of the Tower of London are busy elsewhere. With family feuds having had centuries to build up, star-crossed couples trying to find each other, and a certain King of England looking for a certain pair of princes, there’s always plenty going on, and especially in the greatest historical prison England has ever seen!

If you do dip a toe and take a chance of Kindred Spirits: Tower of London this Easter, and you like what you read, then my second novel, Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile is coming in June 2017, and I’d love you to attend the online launch party – click here for more information. We’ll be having virtual food and drink, there’ll be music and, of course, a couple of book-related competitions.

Hope to see you there!

JenniferCWilson-HolyroodPalace

 

About Jennifer

Jennifer is a marine biologist by training, who spent much of her childhood stalking Mary, Queen of Scots (initially accidentally, but then with intention). She completed her BSc and MSc at the University of Hull, and has worked as a marine environmental consulting since graduating. Enrolling on an adult education workshop on her return to the north-east reignited Jennifer’s pastime of creative writing, and she has been filling notebooks ever since. In 2014, Jennifer won the Story Tyne short story competition, and also continues to develop her poetic voice, reading at a number of events, and with several pieces available online. She is also part of The Next Page, running workshops and other literary events in North Tyneside.

Jennifer’s debut novel, Kindred Spirits: Tower of London, was released by Crooked Cat Books in October 2015; she (and it) can be found online at her blog, on Twitter and Facebook, as well as at The Next Page’s blog.

Getting to Know You: Tana Collins

tana-flyer

It’s my pleasure today to welcome Tana Collins on the penultimate stop of her blog tour. I met Tana at the first Edinburgh Noir at the Bar and I’m thrilled that she’s appearing at the Newcastle NatB tonight. 

Tana’s novel ‘Robbing the Dead‘ was released by Bloodhound Books earlier this month and is available to buy now. 

Thanks to Tana for taking the time to answer my questions. If you’re near the Town Wall tonight, pop in – it’s free entry – and promises to be a criminally good night. 

Vic x

Tana

Welcome to the blog, Tana. Tell us about your debut novel.
Robbing the Dead‘ is the first novel in the Inspector Jim Carruthers series set in the picturesque East Neuk of Fife.

robbing-the-dead

What inspired it?
Although it’s a work of fiction the inspiration for the novel comes from a true event that occurred in the early 1970s. I don’t want to say too much and give away any spoilers but it’s a tragic event that impacted on many people’s lives and still to this day continues to do so. I felt that whilst most of us have heard about the event very few know some of the details that make this story so human. I felt there was still a story to be told. 

Where do you get your ideas from?
Like most writers I have an inquisitive nature and am fascinated by people. I observe, listen and ask lots of questions. I decided my main cop, Inspector Jim Carruthers, should live in Anstruther in Fife. Early on into writing ‘Robbing the Dead‘ my partner and I went there for a long weekend so I could do some research. We walked in to the Dreel Tavern which I had reckoned might be Carruthers’ watering hole. I decided I needed to engage with the locals so I went up to the bar on my own with my drink and slapped a notebook and pen down. Within minutes a local had sidled up and asked me in a suspicious voice what I was doing. He had decided I was a tax inspector! That could end up a story in itself! I told him I was a writer and that the Dreel was going to be my main character’s favourite pub. I then asked him rather cheekily what he had to hide thinking I was a tax inspector! Within minutes half a dozen folk had come over telling me their stories of Anstruther, including the story of the resident pub ghost!

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
My main character is a male police inspector, DCI Jim Carruthers. One of my female friends indignantly asked me why my inspector wasn’t a woman. I replied that I wanted Carruthers to be a man. He was always going to be a man and he’s still my favourite character, although DS Andrea Fletcher, as his assistant, is definitely starting to come in to her own. Interestingly, now I’ve written three books, I’ve noticed that more of my personality has gone in to Jim Carruthers but more of my life experiences in to Andrea Fletcher.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?The best piece of advice came from crime writer Peter Robinson. He was talking about writer’s block. He said that often writer’s block occurs because you are in the head of the wrong character in that particular scene. This piece of advice has served me well.

What can readers expect from your books?
Fast paced action and plenty of it! ‘Robbing the Dead‘ has been described as an ‘edge of your seat’ crime thriller. All three books start with a murder, if not in the first scene, definitely very early on and the death count just continues to rise. I like to write interesting stories often based on historical or contemporary events with political overtones. But I also like to have strong and believable characters that my readers will be able to engage with!

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Don’t give up! I can’t tell you how close ‘Robbing the Dead‘ came to ending up in the knicker drawer. And the truth of it is that early on it just wasn’t good enough to be published. It had two massive rewrites and I’m delighted I persevered. Ten years later with three books under my belt I started to approach publishing companies and landed a three book deal with Bloodhound Books. It was officially published on 14th February and I have been thrilled by the reviews! Read everything you can get your hands on in your genre. Hang out with other writers. Critique each other’s work. Go to book festivals. Last bit of advice would be get yourself a good editor before approaching publishers.

How do you feel about appearing at Noir at the Bar?
This will be my second Noir at the Bar event and I’m very excited. Like most writers I love to talk about my book and I love to meet readers and other writers. I feel honoured to be invited to speak and share a excerpt from my debut novel. I’m also looking forward to hearing other writers, new and well established, speak.

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What do you like and dislike about writing?
There is nothing that makes me happier than being given a blank piece of paper at the start of writing a novel. I love crafting a story and developing the characters. I also enjoy the research. I don’t do much drafting as I like to watch the novel evolve organically which can be dangerous. The worst? The crippling bouts of self- doubt during the writing process! 

Are you writing anything at the moment?
I’m just about to start an edit on the second novel, ‘Care to Die’, which is being published on 25th April 2017. The third novel, ‘Mark of the Devil’, is currently with my first reader. I’m contemplating a fourth book in the series so there’s a few ideas swirling around in my head.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
I think it has to be meeting my all time hero, Peter Robinson, on a writing course given by him in Tallinn. It was thrilling receiving tuition from someone who was also writing his latest Inspector Banks story which needed to be set in a European city! When ‘Watching the Dark‘ was finally published we found out that, as his students, we were all named in the acknowledgements! A wonderful moment.

Getting to Know You: Douglas Skelton

Guest Post: Anne Coates on Writing a Sequel.

Having worked with Urbane Publications, I’m happy to host one of their authors – Anne Coates – on the blog today.

Anne’s here to discuss her process for writing a sequel. Thanks to Anne for taking the time out of her busy schedule to talk to us.

Vic x

Anne Coates

Writing the sequel to ‘Dancers in the Wind’.
By Anne Coates

The manuscript for my second book had to be with Urbane Publications on 1 October – thirteen days before the launch of ‘Dancers in the Wind. So as I was writing guest posts for my book blog tour, I was putting the finishing touches to ‘Death’s Silent Judgement, which continues Hannah Weybridge’s story a few months after the conclusion of book one.

dancers in the wind

Dancers in the Wind was conceived and written some twenty years ago – then left for dead. Last year, I completely rewrote it and found a published who was willing to take it on as part of a trilogy. I had written three chapters of book two all those years ago but it wasn’t really much to go on. I knew who had been murdered and where but not why.

The victim had been mentioned in ‘Dancers but had been working abroad. There were characters I had grown fond of in the first book that I wanted to keep but once in a while I came up with the problem of names. I have two characters named Sam in ‘Death’s Silent Judgement – one had a small but key role in the first book, to be developed in the second. The other was the name of a friend’s son who wanted to be a character in the book. So two very different men named Sam but in life there are often people of the same name in one’s office or social circle.

An added challenge was to ensure that characters were consistent so I had my blue book with descriptions of everyone from book one, which I added to as I wrote the sequel. There is a whole set of new characters in ‘Death’s Silent Judgement plus some from book one have come to the fore while others have taken a back seat. Some are gearing up to play more dominant roles in book three. I love the way characters take over, give me clues and nudge me along the way. One character, in particular, led me to a dramatic revelation which I’d had no idea of at the beginning.

One dominant factor which perforce must undergo changes, is that the Hannah of book one is fairly naive. By book two, almost everything she does is tempered by her earlier experiences, she has had to sharpen up. The events of the first book have left her feeling vulnerable and at risk. What she encounters in ‘Death’s Silent Judgement does nothing to alleviate this.

Dancers in the Wind has some of the action at King’s Cross and quite by chance, ‘Death’s Silent Judgement is centred in Waterloo, another London rail terminus. I’m not sure if railway stations will be a recurring theme in later books!

As I approach book three, the reviews I’ve had for ‘Dancers in the Wind have given me more confidence. Then I think, “What if I can’t pull it off again?” But I know I’ll keep on writing…

Guest Post: Helen Cadbury on Writers who Teach.

Helen Cadbury is one of the nicest writers in the business at the moment in my opinion. I love her wit and can’t wait to host her at Noir at the Bar NE in February. 

Helen is the author of the Sean Denton series of crime novels, To Catch A Rabbit and Bones in the Nest, with a third in the pipeline. To find out more about Helen, check out her website.

Helen is here today to talk to us about writers who teach which is a topic that is of particular interest to me. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Helen.

Vic x

helen-cadbury

Writers who Teach
by Helen Cadbury

It is not a given that just because a person knows how to do a thing, that they can necessarily teach it. There are some extremely talented writers who are also brilliant and inspiring teachers, I have been lucky enough to be taught by at least two: the poet, Carole Bromley, and the novelist, Lesley Glaister. But there are also a set of esteemed authors and poets who are not great teachers, some of them are even terrible teachers, jealous perhaps of those coming after them, or simply lacking the enthusiasm or skills to enable others. There is also another set of writers who teach while at the very beginning of their careers, emerging writers whose enthusiasm is infectious to their students.

Bones in the Nest

So why do writers teach? Many writers I know claim to be introverts, so being in a group setting like a classroom or workshop space might seem like masochism. Is it for the money? Well that certainly helps. With average author earnings well below the Living Wage, and even beneath the annual full-time minimum wage, there are only a tiny minority of authors, and virtually no poets, who solely earn their living from selling their writing. But a word of caution: teaching creative writing is not a get rich quick scheme. It’s hard work and inevitably takes far longer than the hourly rate offered for a session of delivery. I estimate my preparation time to be 1.5 to 2 times the length of a one-off taught session. If it’s a course, then there will also be marking. Quoting the real cost of session to a perspective client can put them off, so sometimes we undersell ourselves, in order to get the work, regretting it later when we are committed to a group of learners, a long journey, and a novel at home waiting to be finished.

To Catch a Rabbit

There are easier ways of creating the income you need to sustain a writing career, but there is something that teaching gives a writer, which working a day job doesn’t, and that is the creative process of writing itself. When setting an exercise on structure, for example, the writer is also reflecting on their own use of structure. When teaching a class on character, new characters emerge for your own work. The character of Barry ‘Burger’ King, a detective in my debut, ‘To Catch a Rabbit‘, was created during an exercise in a class I was teaching at HMP Askham Grange. My learners added some very helpful characteristics to his sketch, as we all fed back on each other’s creations. I don’t always join in with the exercises, but when I do, it’s to show that I’m not asking my learners to do something I wouldn’t do myself. When I don’t, it enables me to pause a little, in that golden silence when they are writing, and be even more alert in listening to the work they read out.

I trained as a secondary school drama teacher, and I’ve also worked for many years as a trainer in the Youth Arts sector, so for me, bringing the skills and techniques of creative education to groups of writers – whether they be young people ambitious to be published, mature writers exploring their life stories, those writing for their own therapeutic release, or any combination of the above –  gives me a sense of completeness in bringing the different parts of my life experience together. It also takes me away from my own work, makes me think, and brings me back to my writing desk refreshed.

Guest Post: Jessica Fairfax on Writer’s Block

I met writer Jessica Fairfax earlier this year and I’ve had the pleasure of hearing some of her brilliant ideas. Jessica is a brilliant person, bursting with enthusiasm for writing and it was really kind of her to come along to the last Noir at the Bar NE.

Thanks to Jessica for coming to talk to us today about an all too common problem faced by writers: writer’s block. 

Vic x

Writer’s Block
By Jessica Fairfax

What exactly is this? Is it where a thousand ideas, or even just one or two, are swirling in your head and you just can’t get them onto paper? Is it where you stare blankly at a notepad, or computer screen, then clean the house from top to bottom, make endless cups of hot something and remain awake until the next day and do this all over again and again… and again? This doesn’t always just go on for hours, days, maybe weeks. No, no, this can go on for years! I know. When researching this topic, and having experienced this myself for two decades on and off, a valued accountant friend gave her opinion on the subject.

If you have writer’s block for ages, like years, are you not just a failed writer and maybe you should go and do something else for a hobby?

Hobby?

It is a condition I tell her.

Her eyebrows raised above her hairline.

It isn’t though, is it? She responded with a tone. She continued (unfortunately). It is a case of someone (someone being me!) having no ideas, or if they have, they just can’t do anything with them. I could say I have writer’s block.  I have ideas but have no idea how to make them into a viable piece of work constituting a novel, or such like, so I go and get a proper job like an accountant for instance and swim. I swim as a hobby. Just carry on with your day job and, I don’t know… come swimming with me, or go to Zumba twice a week, you’d love that, yeah, do that! Leave the writing to someone who doesn’t… get… get this block thing you have.  You know, the proper writer types that have nothing else going on in their lives.

Helpful?

I didn’t go into how even the most acclaimed writers have suffered with this affliction from time to time.

So, writer’s block, failed writer, or an underestimated psychological condition first described in 1947 by the psychologist Edmund Belger? Whatever it is, it is frustrating and debilitating in terms of being a type of creative brain freeze. At first, I tried writing lists, deadline setting, and discussions with fellow writers and even swimming – yes, I did go with her – and meditation to clear my mind to help me start afresh. Physically I felt pretty good but everything I tried to do to eradicate the writer’s block, ultimately resulted in an exceptionally clean house and a belly full of coffee! My creativity was stifled… suppressed by something I could do nothing about. Eventually, without really acknowledging when exactly, the notepad got left in the house in a drawer and the PC wasn’t even turned on. I tried less and less and eventually told people that other life events had taken priority over my aspirations to become a novelist.  I had a busy job anyway and a baby and Zumba.  I could get away with it with friends and family  but the reality was, I felt like a failure. The confidence went. Was I a failed writer? Was I a writer?

Years on, I am starting to write again.  It isn’t a whoosh of creativity, as others describe but more of a slow drip, drip, drip onto the page. Confidence is coming back.  I am enjoying writing and that is what it is all about for me.

How I came to suffer this condition, I don’t know.  How it went away again, I have no idea. I just know that writer’s block does not mean you aren’t a writer.  Perhaps my brain just needed time.

Guest Post: G.J. Brown on Crying Over Spilled Words.

I first met the lovely G.J. Brown in June this year when he took the time to appear at our first Noir at the Bar NE. Gordon is a fantastic writer and is one of the forces behind the massively popular Bloody Scotland.

I met Gordon again just a couple of weeks ago at Newcastle’s Lit and Phil while he was part of the Crime Factor panel. The discussion was truly fascinating and proved that Gordon is a font of knowledge when it comes to writing. 

Thanks to Gordon for taking the time to share his wisdom with us. 

Vic x

G.J. Brown

Never Cry Over Spilled Words
by G.J. Brown

The note from my editor, in returning the first draft of my next novel, read:

‘You’ll see I’ve taken a few sections out. Even so, there’s still a bit of flab.’

Three weeks later, after I’ve subjected my manuscript to a literary chainsaw, I send it back and my editor replies:

‘And this year’s winner of Author Who Culled The Largest Number Of Words From Their First Draft goes to…   40k less. Impressive.’

Hand on heart, I knew that my first draft was, at 117,000 + words, a tad too long. It’s the third in my Craig McIntyre series. The length was driven by an attempt to tie up some loose ends from books 1 and 2, while driving a trans America/Atlantic narrative. The novel ranges from mid-west America to Western Canada, it rolls through a road trip to Toronto, crosses the Atlantic to Scotland and then beyond – I was painting large on a large canvass.

Removing 40,000 words may seem a bit excessive, but I was once talking to the late, great William McIlvanney, over a dram, about editing. He was of the view that if you could remove a word from a sentence and the sentence was the better for it, then keep removing until the sentence sings. I just took Willie’s advice and put it on steroids.

I read and re-read the original. I thought about slicing and dicing, cutting and chopping. I played with tweaking and twisting and, after a few false starts, I realised that this was no minor outpatient operation. This was full on, brain surgery with a liver transplant thrown in for good measure, with a side order of a new heart.

The transit scene from the USA to Scotland was cut in its entirety – bang went 30,000 of those precious words. A chase by the local police, through Alberta, was given the shoulder – zap to 5,000 more. The rest was honing.

I’m waiting on the ‘Weight Watchers Winner for Best Book on a Diet’ coming back to me with the editor’s final comments. I’ve already decided I’m drawing a line in the sand and fighting for every one of the remaining 80,000 words. They deserve no less given the way they’ve survived to date.

Throughout the whole process there was one driver – does this make the book better?

Well, did it?

The simple, and somewhat unsurprising, answer, in my editors and my own humble opinion is, ‘hell yes’. Sharper, better written, flab gone – it’s now the Mo Farrah to the Big Daddy of the book world.

And the bonus is I’ve got at least three short stories sitting in the bowels of my Mac. A little work on the culled paragraphs and I can fill my website with a range of Craig McIntyre tales for a few months to come.

So for those authors that cry over spilled words. Don’t. They didn’t all give their lives in vain. Some will live on to grace different pages in the future and, for those that died, well, they did so for a better cause.

***

meltdown

Gordon lives in Scotland but splits his time between the UK, the U.S.A. and Spain. He’s married with two children. Gordon once quit his job in London to fly across the Atlantic to be with his future wife. He has also delivered pizzas in Toronto, sold non-alcoholic beer in the Middle East, launched a creativity training business called Brain Juice and floated a high tech company on the London Stock Exchange.

He almost had a toy launched by a major toy company, has an MBA, loves music, is a DJ on local radio, compered the main stage at a two-day music festival and was once booed by 49,000 people while on the pitch at a major football Cup Final.

Gordon also helped found Bloody Scotland – Scotland’s International Crime Writing Festival.

Gordon has been writing since his teens and has had four books published – his latest, ‘Meltdown‘, is published by Gallus Press and is out now.

Visit www.gordonjbrown.com or follow him on Twitter @GoJaBrown