Tag Archives: agent

Getting to Know You: M.J. Arlidge

Hope you’re all keeping well. If you’re looking for something new to read, M.J. Arlidge’s eighth Helen Grace novel ‘All Fall Down‘ is due out next week (Thurs, 11th June) .

Matt has joined us today to give us a little insight into his work as a writer and some advice for those of you out there who’d like to give it a go yourselves.

I’m hoping to host Matt at a Virtual Noir at the Bar in the coming weeks so make sure you’re first to find out when he’ll be appearing. Sign up to our newsletter now.

Big thanks to Matt and Orion Books for making this happen.

Vic x

M.J Arlidge

What do you like most about writing? What do you dislike (if anything)?

I love the escapism of it. I never get tired of sitting down at my desk and opening up my laptop. There are dozens of different characters and numerous interweaving stories in each of my books, meaning I have a whole host of different people to climb inside and bring to life. I love working out what makes characters tick, what’s important to them, what would drive them to do reckless or desperate things. It’s so enjoyable to escape from my normal life, especially so during lockdown! 

There’s not much I dislike, though there’s no question writing a novel is a hard slog. I’ve just written the first chapters of a new one this morning and the road ahead seems long!!!

What inspires you to write?

Anything and everything. Just life really. I find ideas come to me unbidden and at the strangest times – in the middle of the night, when I’m in the shower, when I’m shopping in the supermarket. And once a really good idea pops into your head, it has you, you have to write it. 

Do you find time to read, if so what are you reading at the moment?

Yes, of course! I love reading and always find time, usually at the end of the day. Generally I read novels, but at the moment I’m making use of lockdown to consume the works of Yuval Noah Harari – Sapiens, Homo Deus etc. I find his work absolutely fascinating. 

Which author(s) has/have had the biggest influence on your writing?

So many authors to choose from. Thomas Harris, James Patterson, Harlan Coben…but I think I’ll have to plump for Stieg Larsson. When I was writing Eeny Meeny (my debut novel), Lisbeth Salander was very much in my mind. She was the most unusual, most interesting crime fighter I’d ever come across. There are shades of Lisbeth Salander about Helen Grace – I was desperate to make her as unconventional and intriguing as Larsson’s brilliant protagonist. 

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?

Wow. Good question. I would have loved to have been a photographer. Or a chef. I still harbour fantasies about the latter, but I’m probably too old…

What do you think are your strengths and weaknesses?

That’s probably not for me to say! I’d say I work hard and am very committed to my writing and my readers – to the extent that when I’m writing a novel I find it hard to resist creeping back to my office late at night or as the sun is rising.  

What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve literally just started writing Truth or Dare, the ninth novel in the Helen Grace series. Usually the first few chapters are utterly terrifying, but actually I’ve really enjoyed starting this one. 

Where can we find you online?

At my Facebook page or on Twitter.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

To borrow a phrase from Nike, just do it. Don’t spend too long prevaricating – pretending to research stuff, when actually you’re just putting off writing. Just be disciplined and get that first draft done. Only then do you have something you can work with, something you can potentially sell. When I was writing my first novel, I still had a day job, but managed to carve out one hour a day (5pm-6pm) to write. It was slow progress, but I got there in the end, and, boy, was it a good feeling!

What’s been your proudest moment?

The day Eeny Meeny was published by Penguin. To have joined the ranks of authors at such an impressive and important publishing house blew my mind!

What was the best writing advice you received and who was it from? 

When I delivered the first draft of Eeny Meeny to my agent, she declared that it was good, but needed “more emotional cruelty”. It was sage advice and something I bear in mind every time I’m penning a new Helen Grace novel!

ALL FALL DOWN by M.J Arlidge is published by Orion Fiction and out in hardback on 11th June 2020.

2018 Review: Iain Rowan

2018 has been a year where I’ve got to spend more time with Iain Rowan, organiser of Sunderland Creative Writing Festival and all-round top bloke. Iain is a smashing writer and one of the kindest people I have ever met. 

It’s a pleasure to host him while he reviews his year. Thanks for being involved, Iain. 

Vic x

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Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
My Arvon retreat, in Shropshire. An amazing, charmed week out of time in the middle of a forest turning red and gold. Have never written so much in my life. Met some lovely people. A bubble in time.

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And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
Oh, picking one is hard. Seeing my son’s band play at the Sage, or hearing their first BBC live session. Finding out that I’d won the Arvon Award in the Northern Writers’ Award. Being a total teenager again in the pit at the Idles gig and transported by music. Every time me and Tracy walked by the sea and it was Big Waves. Pulling off the Creative Writing Festival successfully. Also, once had a bag of salt and vinegar crisps that was so strong it burned. That might be the highlight.

Favourite book in 2018?
This has been a bumper year for reading great books. I’ve loved FIona Mozley’s Elmet, Daisy Johnson’s Fen… brilliant books all. But I think I’ll go for two – Lucy Wood’s haunting, weird collection of short stories Sing of the Shore, and Jenn Ashworth’s marvellous, strange, Fell.

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Favourite film in 2018?
Watch fewer films than I used to, and much more TV so I’m going to go for all bar the last episode of The Haunting of Hill House.

Favourite song of the year?
Most played according to Spotify is This Is The Kit, Hotter/Colder, but I’m going to be a total dad and go for one of my boy’s band’s songs that I can link to…because nothing’s made me happier this year. So this is Roxy Girls, Trials and Tribulations.

Any downsides for you in 2018?
When my agent suddenly decided to quit the literary agency business and so I became agentless again, after such a long time getting there. Fate and the universe clearly deciding that I’d had too much good news and the balance needed restoring.

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
Write, revise, repeat. No pissing around. The fates are aligned. Now is the time.

What are you hoping for from 2019?
The world to quit being so terrible and get back to just being routinely awful.

Progress from this year’s successes and fewer repeats of perennial failures.

More crisps like that one bag.

2018 Review: Theresa Talbot

Yesterday’s 2018 reviewer was Harry Gallagher. Today, we welcome Theresa Talbot. Like Harry, Theresa has had a very eventful year.

My thanks to her for sharing her experiences with us. 

Vic x

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Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
For me 2018 has been the best year ever – in so many ways. Professionally, I signed with a new publisher Aria, and new agent Nicola Barr which was super. Aria re-released my debut crime novel in April of this year, and gave it a total revamp including new title & new cover. It’s now The Lost Children – it was re-edited too which for me gave it a whole new dimension and helped established the characters for the follow-up novel. Which allows me to seamlessly mention Keep Her Silent, which was released in August. I also do a lot of chairing work for other writers and been lucky enough to chair Marian Keyes,  MC Beaton (the writer of Agatha Raisin), Ashley Jenson (the star of Agatha Raisin) and (drum roll…) Graham Norton who was an absolute dream, they all were. So it’s been a pretty whirlwind year.

And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
Oh crikey, where do I start? Bloke-With-Beard (aka my partner) proposed in May, which came completely out of the blue. We’d been friends twenty-five years ago but lost touch. We reconnected through Facebook and had our first date in Italy of all places. Long story short he lived in Liverpool, I was in Glasgow and it seemed like the best place to meet up – the other choice was the services at Tebay as it was equidistant. Anyhoo, less than a year later he popped the question. I suppose at our age it doesn’t do to hang about! We went back to Italy to get married in September. As I say, no point it dawdling over these things. Anyway, I had a very short window given the dress I’d chosen – another year and I was in danger of looking like Bette Davis in Whatever Happened To Baby Jane. I think that day we got married truly was the most special moment, not just of the year but of my life. It was magical.

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Favourite book in 2018?
I have to say Douglas Skelton’s The Janus Run. I know Douglas, he’s a pal – a rather grumpy pal – but very lovely none the less. This is a bit of a breakaway for him and deserves to put him in the running as one of Scotland’s best crime writers.

Favourite film in 2018?
I don’t think I’ve actually seen a movie that was released this year. It’s been a bit mental and busy and, now that you’ve mentioned it, I actually don’t think I’ve been to the movies once. I LOVE films, one of my favourites that I watched this year was Kind Hearts & Coronets – a 1949 black comedy starring Dennis Price & Alec Guiness. It’s hilarious. I stuck on the DVD – Bloke-With-Beard had never seen it & I was really excited that he was going to experience this brilliance for the first time. Anyway, I was helpless with laughter and he fell asleep! He wasn’t that impressed as it turned out. This was before the wedding – but the dress was bought and the flights booked so…

 Favourite song of the year?
There are so many I could choose – but I’m going to go with La Vie en Rose – The Louis Armstong version. I walked down the aisle to this (it wasn’t quite an aisle – we got married on a vineyard) and the words are so beautiful: ‘and when you speak angels sing from above, every day words seem to turn into love songs ...give your heart & soul to me, and life will always be, la vie en rose…’  My favourite version is by Edith Piaf whom I actually adore – but it didn’t lend itself as well to the occasion, and Bloke-With-Beard can’t stand Piaf’s voice! But the flights had been booked etc… see above! But TBH Satchmo’s trumpet nailed it for me.

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Any downsides for you in 2018?
It’s been a really whirlwind year with so many happy memories. Politically, I’m heartbroken at what’s happening in our world. The racism, misogyny, poverty…

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
I make resolutions every week, every month and every new year. I think this year I’ll endeavour to write every single day – and go back to my Italian classes. I’ve been trying to learn Italian for the best part of three years and all I can say is ‘Per favore, posso avere un prosecco?’ Which means, ‘Please may I have a prosecco.’ I can, of course, expand my repertoire to two, three or four proseccos. I never bothered learning the word for five as after that the waiter usually knows what I’m looking for.

What are you hoping for from 2019?
I’m busy writing the third in the Oonagh O’Neil Trilogy which should be out in April 2019. I’d also like to write a completely different strand – but who knows.

Thanks so much for letting me be part of this Vic, it’s been a pleasure reliving so many lovely memories. I hope you share your favourite moments of 2018 also – and all the love and luck for 2019. 

T.T.

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Richard Rippon

Lots of people don’t realise that although you may see work by a certain author on the bookshelves in your favourite shop, many writers still hold down a day job in addition to penning their next novel. In this series, we talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

Richard Rippon appeared at Noir at the Bar Newcastle in May this year and read from his novel ‘Lord of the Dead‘. The excerpt Rich read was really intriguing and it made me want to read the whole novel. 

My thanks to Richard for sharing his experiences with us.

Vic x

 

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When I started writing in 2007, I was working as a lab technician in a factory. My eldest daughter had just been born, and that seemed to kick-start something in me, probably a realisation I was getting older and if I didn’t do something about my writing ambitions soon, I possibly never would.

I’d always enjoyed writing at school, but never imagined I could make a living from it. Such an idea felt fanciful, so I put it to one side and pursued a safer, more ‘sensible’ route. I was pretty good at Biology, so I studied science at A-level and a degree in Microbiology. I went on to work in a range of labs, usually for massive multi-national companies. It took me a long time to realise it wasn’t for me.

I starting writing short stories and articles, which I hoped to get placed in magazines and on websites. I won an article writing competition for a local newspaper and when I came across the Northern Writers Awards, I entered that too, with the first three chapters of a comedic detective story set in Newcastle. When I won a prize, it started a chain of events that has changed the course of my career entirely.

Things in the lab had reached a bit of a tipping point. Whilst the boredom was useful – I had plenty of time to think of story ideas – I’d had it with the place. Some jobs came up for Social Media Community Managers, a relatively new job title in 2011. Reading between the lines, it appeared to be an invitation to write creatively and fanny about on Facebook for a living. I applied and hassled the hiring manager, until she took me on. I was tasked with writing conversation calendars for brands and regularly headed to London for meetings with advertising agencies. It was fantastic. The sense of release I felt compared to my life in the lab was exhilarating.

Meanwhile, the Northern Writers prize I won led to me signing with an agent, but she struggled to find a publisher for The Kebab King. I started to think about a more serious crime novel, which eventually became Lord of the Dead, which was published last November.

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Things began to change at work. They stopped relying on us to write our own copy, and all the creative bits I loved were farmed out to agencies. I thought it might be a good idea to look elsewhere, and I was lucky enough to land a job at the best advertising agency in Newcastle. I have to say this, because I’m still there, but also because it is. 

The job has evolved from being a social media man, to ‘Creative Copywriter’. Basically, I think of ideas to help people sell things and come up with the words to go with those ideas.

It feels great to finally have the word ‘writer’ in my job title and also have had my first novel published. It’s just taken a bit longer than you might expect.

 

**Black Water Blog Tour** Author Interview

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Our guest today is Cormac O’Keeffe, author of ‘Black Water‘. I’m delighted to have been included on the blog tour of a book that has been described as ‘…’The Wire‘, set in Dublin’ (Brian McGilloway) so my thanks to the publisher and to Cormac for sparing the time to appear on my blog.

Vic x

Cormac O'Keeffe

Tell us about your books, what inspired them?
My debut novel Black Water is about a boy groomed into a criminal gang and the fight to save him and bring the gang to justice.

A number of factors influenced the novel. The first was living in communities affected by gangs and the drugs trade, amid economic neglect and a struggling policing response. I wanted to tell a story about that, through the experiences of a vulnerable boy. In the areas I lived, there was no shortage of boys running fairly wild on the street, without much structure and afraid of no one. All those things and a lot more fed into my character of Jig, who is being reeled into a gang. Poured into that mix were other events and experiences from my work as a journalist.

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Where do you get your ideas from?
Many of my ideas came from living in communities and my work as a journalist specialising in crime, drugs and policing. I have met many people over that time, from community workers to detectives. But really the ideas come from deep within.

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
It’s hard to single out a particular character as a favourite. I have so many of them. I have three main characters that I am very close to. There are a host of secondary characters that I really like, including gang members, such as local crime boss Ghost.

It’s very difficult to choose a favourite scene. There are a number of scenes with Jig that are quite moving, but I do like the shooting scene about a third of the way in and the bomb attack at the end.

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
A ‘pantster’ sounds more like it. I was definitely not a plotter with this novel. Anything but. I wrote about the three main characters separately, which weren’t woven in together, to about the halfway point. I had to commit an enormous amount of work (and considerable pain) to tease out and establish plots – and go over those again and again.

Can you read when you’re working on a piece of writing?
Absolutely. Often I might even read a novel, perhaps some literary fiction, to get into the use and flow of words, to free up my mind and then get to work.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
It’s impossible to single out any particular advice as the best, let alone try and remember who said it. ‘Dive in’ was one of the first bits of advice I remember, which was true. You have to dive and dive deep for a long time. Only then can you worry about all the other stuff. You need the raw material down first (or have started that process), before dealing with, and getting entangled in, structure and plot and pace.

Rewriting, though, is absolutely fundamental. Repeated cycles of rewriting, with spaces in between if you can. Do not rush sending it out, particularly to agents. That is a real biggie. It is very tempting, but resist (counsel others who know) and go over it again and again.

What can readers expect from your books?
Ah, that is hard for me to say. I would like to think a story that is powerful, gritty but with humanity, original, authentic and thrilling. I would hope that readers of Black Water will feel like they have been dropped into a living, breathing community where people are fighting to survive.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Yes, but I would be slow to be too loud or firm about it. I would say, just start writing. Try not to waste too much time online or on social media. Look for a writing group, a good one if you can. Be gentle on yourself. Yes you will suffer from self-doubt and from procrastination, but don’t give up. Keep on going. Seek help from authors. Don’t rush sending it out. Hold back. Chisel. Fine tune. Polish. Repeat. Don’t crumble from the rejection. Lean on someone for support. Keep on going.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
I like when it flows. I like when you pierce through and carve out a piece of a character or a plot. I like when the dialogue rings true, when action sings, when you leave a reader wanting more. I like it when you come up with an idea for a plot, or how to plug a gaping plot hole.

I dislike the persistence of mistakes and errors, no matter how many hundreds of times you read something. I don’t like it when you can’t ‘see’ your writing anymore, because you have gone over it so much. I don’t like that feeling that the novel is never going to be finished.

Are you writing anything at the moment?
Only inside my head.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
When, eventually, I realised that there was nothing more I could do and it was the best it could be.

Getting to Know You: Roz Watkins

I’m delighted to welcome the lovely Roz Watkins to the blog today. You can follow Roz on Twitter – and I strongly recommend that you do. 

Roz’s debut novel ‘The Devil’s Dice‘ is available now and I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to reading it. I was gutted to miss the launch party in London a couple of weeks ago so I’m hoping to catch up with Roz soon to celebrate her success. 

My thanks to Roz today for sharing her experiences with us. 

Vic x

Roz Watkins

Tell us about your book. What inspired it? 
The initial impetus came from my dog’s foul habits. We were walking in the woods near to my house in the Peak District when I saw him running towards me with something in his mouth. It was swinging side-to-side, and from a distance it looked like a human spine. I thought, Oh Christ, the dog’s found a body! 

When he got closer, I could see it was in fact a hare (they are surprisingly large) but it got me thinking. What would it be like to come upon a body when walking the dog? And that’s what happens in my first book. A greedy Labrador sniffs out a corpse in a cave. 

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This is the day the dog found a hare. At least it wasn’t a corpse!

Where do you get your ideas from?
I mercilessly mine my life and the lives of those around me. My partner complains that he can’t now write the book he was going to write (when he gets a spare half hour) because I’ve stolen all his best stories. This is of course not true, but I do use my life experiences. I was previously a patent attorney so I enjoyed killing one in my first book. I trained as a hypnotherapist, so in book 2, a therapist has to deal with a girl who seems to be remembering the death of her heart donor. I’m an animal trainer, so clicker-trained killer pigs may feature in book 3. Or they may not. My mum was a GP so receives calls along the lines of, If you wanted to kill someone using… She loves it. 

Do you have a favourite story/ character/ scene you’ve written?
I do love the scene where I try to kill my main character in an underground labyrinth with water rising all around her. As I edited the book, the level of torture increased with each re-write, and it was fun! 

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
A bit of a mixture. I try to plot, but then it all goes horribly wrong as I start writing. I haven’t really worked out a system and it doesn’t seem to be getting any easier! I write in a tiny room that’s impossible to keep tidy, surrounded by piles of paper and post-it notes and stray animals. But I fantasise about owning a huge loft apartment with acres of space where my mind would magically be clear and organised… 

Can you read when you’re working on a piece of writing?
I always read. At the moment I’m feeling guilty about all the authors who’ve said nice things about my book and whose books I haven’t yet read, because my TBR pile has become so huge! So I’m concentrating on reading proofs at the moment. Sometimes the style of a particular writer seeps into my writing, but not in a way which causes a problem. 

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who was it from?
That’s a toughie. I was struck by someone (it may have been Matt Bird) talking about how at the start of a book, we don’t care much about the characters so we’re not really bothered if they’re in jeopardy. You can dangle them off a cliff or throw them under a train and the reader doesn’t necessarily care very much. But we’re wired to want answers to questions, no matter how banal. On my local radio station, they have this thing where they say something like, 35% of men admit to doing this. And you have to carry on listening to find out what it is. Even though it’s a matter of total irrelevance to your life.  You have to listen. Do they not change their underpants every day? Do they pluck their ear hair? WHAT IS IT? I learnt a lot from that. Pose questions on page 1. 

What can readers expect from your books?
Hopefully a detective they can relate to because she’s a normal woman who worries about normal stuff and is a little bit fat and possibly has cat hair on her clothes. A few possibly supernatural goings-on and a touch of classic whodunit, plus a little bit of sardonic humour (I’m told!) 

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Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Write about what makes you angry or emotional, because it keeps you going when things get tough.  And treat writing a publishable novel as a learnable skill, rather than something you should just be able to do. I started off writing absolute junk, but I devoured books on writing craft and sought feedback all over the place. 

What do you like and dislike about writing?
I find the first draft feels a bit like pulling teeth, although I do love coming up with the ideas. I enjoyed the first draft of my first book (done without a deadline!) but now I get obsessed with word-counts and how behind I am! I like editing. 

Are you writing anything at the moment?
I’m on book 3 (and behind where I should be…) A woman goes missing from an abattoir, and all the evidence points to her having been killed and fed to pigs. 

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
I’ve been so lucky there have been many over the last couple of years, but I’m going to choose standing in a piazza in Venice and receiving a call from my agent about a life-changing offer from a German publisher. 

 

Review of 2017: Mike Craven

Today our guest is Mike Craven. I honestly can’t remember the first time I met Mike but he is a great laugh and is so supportive of other writers. I’m really pleased to hear of his successes this year – but I’ll let him tell you about them.

My thanks to Mike for taking part in the 2017 Reviews.

Vic x

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2017?
Without a doubt my favourite moment was a signing a two-book contract with the Little, Brown imprint, Constable. Little, Brown currently publish most of my favourite crime writers (including Mark Billingham, Chris Brookmyre, Val McDermid, Michael Connolly and Robert Galbraith) and Constable have a sterling pedigree with crime fiction.

Other highlights were when my second Avison Fluke novel, Body Breakers first print run was sold out before publication date, when I met with a major TV production company and they optioned the Washington Poe series and when my agent secured me some cool foreign rights deals.

But there were other highlights that weren’t necessarily about me. My friend Graham Smith’s first Jake Boulder novel became an international bestseller – that made me happy. My friend and former colleague Noelle Holton finally bit the bullet and left probation for her dream job (she’s also bitten another bullet and finished a first draft of her first novel as well). And last, and definitively least (he keeps having me as drunk in his books) Michael Malone wrote a simply superb book called House of Spines which I was lucky to beta read for him. Another mate, Les Morris, got a publishing deal for a great action-thriller book. Think it’s going to do well.

And how about a favourite moment from 2017 generally?
Seeing the first heatbound pre-publication proof of The Puppet Show. It’s going to look beautiful when it comes out in hardback next June. That was pretty special. Oh, and I also managed to (finally) see Iron Maiden.

Favourite book in 2017? 
Spook Street by Mick Herron.

Favourite film in 2017?
Thor Ragnarok.

Favourite song of the year? 
Powerslave by Iron Maiden. They sung this at the Newcastle gig and it was a pretty special eight minutes.

Any downsides for you in 2017?
In February I fell coming back from a punk gig and shattered my ankle. I was in hospital for a week and now have more metal in my left leg than Robocop. It put me out of action for over three months and it’s still not healed.

Are you making resolutions for 2018?
To stop writing behemoth first drafts. Washington Poe 2 finished at 139K. I trimmed it down to 92K . . .

What are you hoping for from 2018?
That I repay all the money and effort that has gone into the first Poe book and that it’s as successful as my editor hopes it will be.

Review of 2017: Trevor Wood

Trevor Wood is yet another writer I’ve been lucky to get to know thanks to Noir at the Bar.

If you’d like to hear Trevor read, come along to Noir at the Bar in Newcastle on Wednesday 21st February.

2017 has been a great year for Trevor but I’ll let him tell you all about it.

Vic x

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2017?
No question about this one.  I sent my first novel When A Fire Starts To Burn to Oli Munson at A M Heath at 4.30pm on October 3.  The next morning I got a very encouraging e-mail saying that he’d started reading it on the train home the previous evening and was greatly enjoying it. Watch this space. I stared at my e-mail in-basket for the rest of the day until at 4pm that day I got another message saying that he’d like to talk the following morning and at the end of that call he said that he’d like to sign me up. I know from bitter experience that this JUST DOESN’T HAPPEN. Sometimes I still think I dreamt the whole thing. I know there’s still a long way to go but support and hope is a lovely thing.

And how about a favourite moment from 2017 generally?
So many to choose from: reading from the above novel for the first time at Noir at the Bar (thanks Vic!), the astonishing turn-out at Jeremy Corbyn’s rally in Gateshead which convinced my that the General Election wasn’t going to be as bad as I’d feared, my wife’s 60th birthday party, held jointly with another friend, at the fabulous Alphabetti Theatre – probably the last event there before they moved across town; celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary with a large group of friends in a beautiful villa in Malaga; spending 3 weeks around Vancouver in the summer including a week on the idyllic Mayne Island. Any of those would do in a normal year.

Favourite book in 2017?
I’ve just completed the inaugural two-year, part-time Crime Fiction MA at UEA, which I’d hugely recommend – guest writers have included Lee Child, Ian Rankin, Denise Mina and Mark Billingham and the course has been a real inspiration. Anyway, the upshot of that is that I’ve read a huge number of crime novels in the past two years and the best of them by some distance was Darktown by Thomas Mullen, which I only finished a couple of weeks ago.  Set in post-war Atlanta it examines the problems in establishing the first black police force at a time of huge corruption and overt racism. Beautifully written, evocative, hugely entertaining and enlightening.

Favourite film in 2017?
I love movies and generally go at least twice a month but not sure that this has been a great year. My favourite films have been Wind River – an atmospheric thriller set on an Indian Reservation with a great turn from Jeremy Renner and Get Out, a creepy but darkly comic satire on racism in the US.  However, hands down the best film I’ve seen this year was Nocturnal Animals.  Saw it in the cinema last year and was astonished that it didn’t get a best film Oscar nomination so watched it again this year on DVD and can confirm that the Academy members were wrong and I’m right. It’s a nigh-on perfect film beautifully shot by fashion designer turned director Tom Ford with amazing, visceral performances from Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson – Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal aren’t half bad either. It’s dark as treacle but utterly mesmerising.

Favourite song of the year?
I’m always seeking out new music and discovered several new artists that I’ve taken to my heart this year including young British up-and-comers Loyle Carner and Rex Orange County and the American band The National – I have no idea how I’d previously missed the latter as they’ve been around for years but I’m a bit of an addict now and enjoying catching up on their extensive back catalogue. Check out their terrific new album Sleep Well Beast. However, my favourite song of the year by a country mile is We Are Your Friends by the French band Justice.  I saw them at Glastonbury, last thing on the Sunday night. It’s the fifth year in a row I’ve managed to get tickets and I know that I’m not at my best by the last night so to win me over then is no mean achievement. My wife and daughter went to the Pyramid Stage to see Ed Sheeran but I didn’t fancy it so went to see Justice at the West Holts stage instead on our friends’ recommendation. They blew me away completely. The whole performance was fabulous, great music, amazing light show and I danced my socks off.  This song was the highlight though, an utterly joyous moment, the massive crowd was so exuberant and when they all chanted We Are Your Friends in unison, for a moment I actually believed they were. I understand that some of this exuberance may have been artificially stimulated – not mine though, obviously. This video captures those three minutes perfectly. Just look at those faces.

Any downsides for you in 2017?
One of the reasons I was so thrilled to sign with Oli Munson towards the end of the year was that I had chosen to part company with my previous agent about six months earlier. It was a difficult decision but it just didn’t feel like a good fit and after a year of representing me I still hadn’t been able to get a face-to-face meeting with him. Obviously it paid off in the end but there were many times during that agent-less period when I felt a little isolated and wondered if I’d made the right decision.
I also failed to retain my Fantasy Football Championship title and have to hand the magnificent trophy over to someone else at the end of the year. I don’t like to talk about that though.

Are you making resolutions for 2018?
I’m not big on resolutions but have lots of plans.  I’ve started on a sequel to When A Fire Starts To Burn, so I hope to have that finished next year though some of it will be written on the road as my wife has a sabbatical so we’re heading back to Canada for a couple of months in May.  As it’s a fallow year for Glastonbury, four of us are heading to the Sziget Festival in Budapest in August which should be a proper adventure – it’s set on an island in the middle of the Danube and always attracts a great line-up. And I have a very big birthday next year which coincides with my daughter’s 21st so we’re planning a major party somewhere in Newcastle.

What are you hoping for from 2018?
A publishing deal.
The cancellation of Brexit.
The impeachment of Donald Trump.

Review of 2017: Rob Scragg

It’s 1st of December again! Where does the time go? 

If you’ve been reading this blog for a year or more, you’ll know that we have a little tradition of asking creative types to review their year. Every day in December, there’ll be a different guest talking about their 2017.

Kicking us off this year is the lovely Rob Scragg who I’ve had the pleasure of hosting at Noir at the Bar twice this year. Rob’s debut novel is due out next year. Anyway, I’ll let him tell you more…

Vic x

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2017?
That would have to be when I found out I had offers from two publishers for my debut. My wife and I had been away for a week, and we touched down at Heathrow around 6 a.m. When I turned my phone back on, the first e-mail I had through was from my agent. I did my best to do a little victory dance in my seat without looking like too much of a lunatic. I’ve now got a two book deal with Allison & Busby, first one due out in April 2018, called “What Falls Between the Cracks“.

If I can be cheeky and sandwich two in here, I also loved taking part in Noir at the Bar. I was lucky enough to do two in 2017 – Newcastle and Harrogate. The Newcastle one, courtesy of Vic Watson and Jacky Collins, was the first time I’d read any of my work out in public, so a bit nerve-wracking, but loved every minute of it. Since gone on to read in front of much bigger crowds, like the Crime In The Spotlight debut slot at Bloody Scotland, but NaTB will always be a special one for me.

And how about a favourite moment from 2017 generally?
I’m going to go all soppy here and say the moment my wife told me she was pregnant. She’d been away to California for a week on a conference, and once she’d unpacked, came downstairs to say she had a little pressie for me. Turned out it wasn’t anything from California – it was the positive pregnancy test. That came just a few weeks after I found out about my publishing deal, so May 2017 was one of the best months of my life so far.

Favourite book in 2017? 
It’s been hard enough to pick a top five this year, let alone a single book. There a few I have to give an honourable mention to – I, Witness by Niki MackayWant You Gone by Chris Brookmyre and Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney.
Top of the pile though, has to be Mississippi Blood by Greg Iles. It’s the third in a trilogy, that blew me away and gave me severe author envy; the kind of book you can’t wait to finish, but never want to end.

Favourite film in 2017?
Mine is Split, starring one of my favourite actors, James McAvoy. He plays a man with 23 different personalities, and to see how he switches on the screen between some of them, is amazing to watch.

Favourite song of the year?
Don’t judge me too harshly for having an old one, but I’m going to go with Do They Know it’s Christmas – the original 80’s version. My wife and I have a hardcore group of friends, other couples we hang out with, and every time we finish up in a karaoke bar (remember what I asked about the judging), the guys and I always end up singing it. I don’t even remember exactly where the tradition started, only that I now associate that song with some of the best nights out I’ve had, with some of the best people.

Any downsides for you in 2017?
Honestly, no, at least not so far. It’s been an exciting year all round, what with finding out we have a little boy on the way, the book deal. Ask me again on 31st December just to be sure though 🙂

Are you making resolutions for 2018?
I don’t do resolutions at the turn of the year as a rule. I’m more of a “If I want to do it, let’s not wait till 1st January” kind of guy. That having been said, I want to carve out time to try writing a children’s book next year, in whatever gaps I have with the writing/editing/publishing hamster wheel I’ve now jumped on. It’s an idea I had around a year ago, and I’d love to have that one done and published in time to read it with my son when he’s old enough to appreciate it.

What are you hoping for from 2018?
Apart from Donald Trump getting impeached, there are two other biggies. First is for everything to go smoothly in January, when my son is due to be born. Can’t wait to meet him. Secondly, my debut novel is out on 19th April. I’m enough of a realist to know I can’t pack in the day job just yet, if ever, so I just hope that it does well enough to find a place amongst what, let’s face it, is some pretty stiff competition out there. As an aside, I’m hoping to get to a lot more of the writing festivals on offer in 2018, both as a fan and as an author, so if you see me propping up the bar at any of them, come and say hi.

*Yellow Room Blog Tour* Getting to Know Shelan Rodger.

I’m delighted to be the final stop in Shelan Rodger’s book tour for her wonderful book Yellow Room‘.

Today, we get the opportunity to get to know the author of this extraordinary novel. I’d like to thank her for taking the time to share her thoughts with us – and for writing this thought-provoking story. 

Tell us about ‘Yellow Room‘, Shelan. What inspired the novel?
The notion of personal identity intrigues me – the extent to which our sense of who we are is bound up with the culture and place we grow up in, the way we use a job or a cause or a relationship to create meaning and definition, the extent to which a single event can shape the person we turn into.

In Yellow Room, Chala’s sense of self is moulded by something that happened when she was only four – and the drama takes place when the goalposts of her reality begin to change. Although we think of twists so readily as the realm of fiction, we all face twists at times in our lives. We meet someone out of the blue and fall in love, we lose a loved one suddenly, we have a life-changing accident or illness, a buried secret breaks out into the open… These ‘twists’ can be exciting or they can be appalling, but they always cause some kind of evolution in our being – and this is the kind of thing I wanted to explore in the novel.

And secrets! Sometimes I think of life as a bank of sedimentary rock: layer upon layer of new experience compressed into a formation that looks solid from the outside yet crumbles quite easily; and secrets are like layers of sand within this rock, covering and compressing what lies below. I believe we all live with secrets of one kind or another, even if these are about truths we have repressed from ourselves… and perhaps that is why secrets hold such a peculiar fascination. In Yellow Room, the secret sands of different lives interact in ways that not even the characters involved can always see.

Where do you get your ideas from?
I don’t know how the light-bulb ever actually comes on – for me it tends to manifest in the form of an idea, which then turns into a character – but I am certainly aware of the earth it has grown in: the rather nomadic, multi-cultural mish-mash of my own life!

I was born in Nigeria, grew up in aboriginal Australia, then England, and have spent most of my adult life between Argentina, Kenya and Spain. I’m sure this has created a kind of questioning within my make-up that explains the fascination I talked about just now with personal identity and what this really means.

I think there is also a strong sense of place in my novels and that is certainly grounded in personal experience. Twin Truths, my first novel, is set in Argentina in the nineties, where I lived for nine years. Yellow Room is set in Kenya, where I was living on a flower farm in Naivasha, one of the hot spots that was hit by the post-election violence ten years ago which killed over a thousand people and turned half a million overnight into refugees within their own country. Chala’s personal drama takes place against the backdrop of these real events, and Kenya plays an active role in the story of who she becomes.

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
Mmm… a difficult question to answer. Writing a novel is a bit like having a relationship; you get to know and live with the main characters inside your head.

My relationship with Chala was conflicting at times; sometimes I just wanted to shake her, but mostly I love her honesty with herself. The twin sisters of my first novel, Twin Truths, are still close to my heart. As for scenes, I love writing scenes that I know are pivotal – those intensely emotional and significant moments that can make or break a novel.

I also love endings – both as a reader and a writer. I think endings are hugely challenging for a writer: how to create a sense of emotional closure that is satisfying but not trite, how to keep the door open for the novel and the future of its characters to linger in the mind of the reader, in a way that is somehow thought-provoking without being manipulative. Yellow Room has two endings in a way: the last page for Chala, and the epilogue, which is told from the viewpoint of another character, and I really felt the last lines when I was writing these.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
My father’s words: ‘Just get it out and suspend judgement until later.’ My father was a poet and a non-fiction writer and these were his words of advice when I was writing my first novel. I’ve never forgotten them. Let it out, get it out. And then, only then, let the jury in and edit and rewrite as much as you need to, but first just pour it all onto the page.

What can readers expect from ‘Yellow Room’?
If I have achieved what I aspired to, the book is compelling and thought-provoking. A drama that explores the power of secrets, the shifting sands of our sense of personal identity, the grey areas that flow between the boundaries of relationships. A poignant insight into the reality of poverty in Kenya and the events that took over a thousand lives ten years ago. Kenya has its own secrets, which are still unfolding today.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
I think I would simply share my father’s words again. They had a profoundly liberating effect on me and I believe creativity is an act of liberation. The attempt to connect with the reader is at its heart, I believe, something deeply intuitive not learnt. Trust your intuition first, question it later.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
It doesn’t happen all the time of course, but what I love most are those special moments when you lose track of time and it becomes almost a form of meditation, with words seeming to flow through you rather than from you. There is something earthy and connected and grounding in that feeling. To be honest there is nothing I really dislike about writing because the different phases, for example editing, are all part of the process of creation. The thing I am most wary of, as you can see from some of my answers, is the monkey that sits in judgement on your shoulder if you let it, sneering and undermining your confidence!

Are you writing anything at the moment?
Yes, I am working on my third novel, which is another psychological twisty tale, also set in Kenya (but this time on a flying safari). It’s inspired by something that happened two weeks before my father died: he found a novel he’d forgotten he’d written, read it, changed the last line and gave it to me. I never saw him again. In the book, a box of writing by the father she never knew falls into the hands of a drama therapist called Elisa and takes her to Kenya, where a twist presents the one person from her past she never wanted to meet again.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
I was driving along a pot-holed road in Kenya to my parents’ house for lunch. The lake filled my view to the horizon as it always did; pelicans and flamingos dipped below me to the water’s edge. But that day the lake looked different. The news I’d just received made everything feel different. Someone – a person who was to become very important and dear to me – wanted to be my agent. Suddenly, the possibility of being what I wanted to be was real, stretching like the lake below me to the horizon. That is the moment I think I would single out, a moment full of hope and beauty, a moment – ironically – intimately connected with my own personal sense of identity.

Review: ‘Yellow Room’
by Shelan Rodger.

What I’m about to say may come as a surprise. ‘Yellow Room‘ is currently a hot contender for my book of 2017. 

Having lived the majority of her life in the shadow of a tragic childhood accident, Chala is shaken by the death of her stepfather who steadfastly supported her throughout. In the midst of this emotional turmoil, Chala decides to volunteer at an orphanage in Kenya. Despite providing Chala with the opportunity to re-evaluate her life, the country remains on the brink of violence and horror. 

Shelan Rodger has deftly created a truly compelling novel featuring complex yet empathetic characters. The author really understands the nuances and complexities of human behaviour and her insights are weaved skillfully into her characters, bringing them to life. 

Yellow Room’ contains everything I could possibly want from a novel: evocative descriptions, well-written characters and an exploration of how power shifts in both personal and political relationships.

Despite being a story that delves deeper than most, ‘Yellow Room‘ is incredibly readable. I honestly did not want to put this book down. Part of me wanted to stay with the characters in this book forever. 

From the opening page, I was hooked by ‘Yellow Room‘ and I suspect that the story will stay with me for a very long time. 

Vic x