Review: ‘The Last Lie’ by Alex Lake

Claire and Alfie Daniels are the perfect couple. From the outside, they have it all. Claire has a career she loves, great friends and a dream husband. All Claire needs to complete her dream life is a baby. If they can conceive, her life will be perfect. 

For Alfie, though, things couldn’t be more different. His whole existence is built on lies. And he can’t let his wife find out. The problem is, lies have a habit of getting out – and if Claire gets wind of the secrets Alfie’s been keeping, their perfect life will be shattered. 

From the opening page, I was utterly enthralled with ‘The Last Lie‘. Alex Lake’s story unfurls naturally and with a steady pace. The characters she introduces are well-drawn and realistic. I could absolutely believe that the events taking place in this book could happen to anyone. The extraordinary events in these ordinary surroundings reminded me of ‘Doctor Foster‘ and ‘Gone Girl‘. 

Alex Lake has created a compelling narrative that keeps the reader turning the pages until the very end. Lake leads the reader down several avenues and manages to surprise at every turn. ‘The Last Lie‘ is absolute belter of a book, I literally couldn’t put it down. 

I can’t recommend ‘The Last Lie‘ highly enough. 

Vic x

Advertisements

Review: ‘Help Me!: One Woman’s Quest to Find Out if Self-Help Really Can Change Her Life’ by Marianne Power

I’d heard great things about ‘Help Me!‘ and decided to give it a read on the run-up to the new year – what better time to consider a little self-improvement, right? 

Marianne Power wanted to improve her life. Sick of out-of-control debt, Netflix binges, anxiety and hangovers, she turned to the tomes that have lined her bookshelves for years. Marianne wanted a perfect life where she floated around town, full of energy and happiness, on the arm of her dream man. She made vision boards and sent her dreams out to the universe. She did yoga and drank green things. But did any of it really make her happier? 

I absolutely adored this book. Marianne writes in such an engaging way that I could not put it down. Although it is non-fiction, ‘Help Me!‘ is written in such a way that it reads like the best kind of chick lit novel.

The concept initially seems like it’s going to provide a lot of laughs – and it does – but the real surprise for me was how honest Power was about the process and its impact on her life. She laid everything bare – even the parts that didn’t paint her in the most positive light. Not only did I chuckle through ‘Help Me!‘ but I wept during some of it, too. This book went way beyond my expectations. 

I felt like I had found a new friend in Marianne. I was rooting for Marianne throughout the book despite, sometimes, also being massively frustrated with her. I totally identified with her and a lot of the issues she was experiencing are ones me and my friends have been through too. This book is about the struggle to find happiness and realising that perfection is a myth.  

Fans of Bridget Jones will love ‘Help Me!

Vic x

Getting to Know You: Lucy Nichol

I’m delighted to host Lucy Nichol, author of ‘A Series of Unfortunate Stereotypes‘, to the blog.

My thanks to Lucy for taking the time to chat to us today and for her honesty. 

Vic x

Lucy N - headshot - colour.JPGTell us about your book.
A Series of Unfortunate Stereotypes is a memoir that’s packed with comment about mental health stigma and how it has influenced my thinking over the years. I tried to write it humorously and accessibly, as I’m an expert by lived experience when it comes to mental health – I am not a professional. So the views on the book are simply based on what I have soaked up and how I feel about it all.

It takes us through a range of stereotypes linked to mental health, and compares them to the reality. 

front cover - a series of unfortunate stereotypes

What inspired it?
I started writing and blogging in 2016. I started working as a media volunteer / champion with Time to Change and I also when started writing regularly for a range of media titles. The title of the book came to me when I wrote my first piece for Sarah Millican’s Standard Issue magazine, which was almost a summary of everything that is in the book. It was all about stigma and how we perceive anxiety disorders, specifically, as that was what my personal experience was based on. 

I love the Lemony Snickett stories, but Aunt Josephine sprung to mind when I was trying to think of a fictional well-known character with anxiety. And I thought – Christ, I have anxiety and I’m nothing like Aunt Josephine. I was convinced she was a pretty poor role model for anxiety.

What do you like most about writing? What do you dislike (if anything)?
I find writing heaps of fun. I have a real thing for nostalgia, which is why I write so much about the 80s and 90s – not just my experience but everything that was happening around me – from food and TV shows to government safety campaigns and pop music. It always makes me smile and gives me context as to why and how my opinions on life have changed over the years.

Do you find time to read, if so what are you reading at the moment?
I never stop! I’m currently finishing Lost Connections by Johann Hari which I can genuinely say is quite the life changer and I urge anyone to read it.

When I first started reading I was apprehensive, as I have naturally always yearned for quick fixes in everything. I think that is why I rely solely on taking anti-depressants and going for therapy, rather than adding self care into the mix as well. This book is a real eye-opener and I believe it’s good to challenge our own beliefs.

Which author(s) has/have had the biggest influence on your writing?
I love Caitlin Moran’s no-nonsense humour and focus on music, as well as Aaron Gillie’s (aka Technically Ron) hilarious reflections on living a life with anxiety. But I think overall the biggest influence on me was, and still is, the Standard Issue community. Sarah Millican set that magazine up (which now runs as a podcast) as a no-bullshit magazine for women. And all the contributors – from comedians to every day peeps like me – have a real authentic feel about them. It’s refreshing and it helped me find a voice. It made the in-crowd inclusive, rather than exclusive.

Where do you get your ideas from?
I look around me and I consider how pop culture / society has impacted me. I can’t comment on other people’s relationships with it, but I can share my own, and it seems to have rung true with a good few people so hopefully it is relatable.

Do you have a favourite scene/character/story you’ve written?
I’ve just started experimenting with fiction, and I have created a character I would love to hang out with. She has elements of me in there but overall, aside from her anxiety and taste in music, she’s a very different character. Far more confident, I’d say. I wrote a scene about her trip to her local pub with her best mate, who is made up of lots of people from my past, and it was so much fun to write.

What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on the fiction project mentioned above, as well as a series of short stories I’m working on together with my husband, actor Chris Connel. It’s been interesting so far, we’ve had to be very careful to avoid the bickering, so we have set out clear boundaries – I’m doing the research and overarching concepts, he’s doing the characterisation and creative scriptwriting!

Me!.jpg

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given (and who was it from)?
I arranged a manuscript assessment recently via The Literary Consultancy and author Angela Clarke was my assessor. Her review was honest and helpful, giving me some technical advice, but also getting me to think more about the bigger picture. It helped no end – giving me encouragement but also making me realise how commercial I need to be, and how I need to keep at it until I get it right (remember what I said earlier about always wanting the quick fixes – this was a reminder that I needed to hone my ideas before pitching them out).

I also remember, when I very first started writing a proposal for my book, A Series of Unfortunate Stereotypes, author and blogger, Claire Eastham asked me some tough questions to help me to craft the proposal. She apologised for being so challenging, but it was her most challenging questions, I believe, that have helped me the most.

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
Ha – probably a pantster. I just write and write whatever comes into my head. In experimenting with fiction, I have, however, done a bit of planning with regards to characterisation and an outline structure, which has been immensely helpful. But for blogs and comment and my own memoir, I fire up the laptop and see what happens.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
I still see myself as very much a fledgling writer, so I am learning all the time. But I think the most important things I have picked up are to keep at it. I’ve had rejection after rejection – and I’m still seeking a literary agent to this day. But I am not giving up. I read somewhere you have to enjoy writing and writing for yourself. That way, regardless of what comes of it, it’s time well spent.

What’s been your proudest writing-related moment?
I could go for the big one and say it was when I was invited to Buckingham Palace with the Time to Change and Mind teams for World Mental Health Day in 2016. It was pretty amazing to be part of that and sit on a royal throne (of the lavatorial kind, of course). However, I think the proudest moment for me was seeing the impact that my writing has had. One person, who I won’t name but she knows who she is, has made me feel that every single hour put into writing and trying to get my work out there has been worth it, after messaging me to say she was close to calling an ambulance during a severe panic attack, but she asked her husband to read my blog out to her and it helped to calm her down. There’s nothing that can beat that kind of response to your work. That has to be the proudest moment for me.  

Review: ‘She Lies in Wait’ by Gytha Lodge

If you follow me on Twitter, Facebook or Goodreads, you may have seen that I’ve been championing ‘She Lies in Wait‘ by Gytha Lodge since I got my hands on an advance copy at Harrogate last July. There was a huge buzz about this book at the festival and I was determined not to leave without a copy.

In July 1983, six school friends go camping in the forest. Aurora Jackson is allowed to tag along with her sister’s group of friends. Thirty years after her disappearance, Aurora’s body is discovered in a secret hideaway that only the six on the camping trip knew about. For three decades, the group have maintained their innocence but DCI Sheens is about to uncover the truth, and it’s been lurking closer to home than anyone realised…

Set across two timelines, ‘She Lies in Wait‘ is a twisty read which explores the impact of how one tragic night echoes throughout the years. Lodge evokes the 1980s perfectly, capturing the era with strong descriptions and cultural references. I found it really easy to get in the mindset of the characters because Lodge captures the preoccupations and concerns of teenagers with aplomb. 

She Lies in Wait‘ isn’t your average crime novel. Gytha Lodge has managed to create a nuanced portrayal of a crime and how it impacts on those left behind. Lodge considers the impact of the murder on not only the family of the victim but the detective who is haunted by the lack of resolution. It’s also a really interesting study on what happens to those who are accused. 

Fans of ‘Unforgotten‘ will love ‘She Lies in Wait‘. 

Vic x

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

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.