Tag Archives: authors

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Nicky Black

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.

I read ‘The Prodigal‘ in 2016 and have since got to know Nicky Black quite well. I’ve hosted her at Noir at the Bar Newcastle a few times as well as spending time with her at Bloody Scotland and Newcastle Noir. I’m really thrilled to have Nicky on the blog to discuss how her work life has influenced her writing. 

Thanks, Nicky, for taking the time to chat to us. 

Vic x

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Since self-publishing The Prodigal in 2015, I’ve met a lot of authors, some of whom write full time, some who don’t and many who dream of it. Now I like my own company, not because I’m the wittiest, most interesting person I know, but because I’m comfortable being on my own, but there’s only so much time I can spend in front of my laptop, in my living room, staring at the ugly plastic vent on my chimney breast wall. My day job serves many purposes – office banter (love it), a sense of achievement, and it pays the bills and it keeps me and my kitties fed.

I’ve had a 30 year career, mostly working either in, or in support of, “poor communities,” – firstly with Save the Children, then in urban regeneration and in the latter five years in welfare to work (I’m not going there…). I’ve seen the best and the worst of these communities, whether Cowgate in Newcastle or Hackney in London. The problems are the same: high crime, poor health, low educational achievement (there’s an actual list), and above all, a labelling of these communities as somehow undeserving and undesirable. There are many undesirables for sure, but where there’s a ying, there’s a yang, and I’ve also met the most passionate, fearsome, committed people who have nothing to their name, but who root for their communities and give them a voice. 

So, whilst The Prodigal and Tommy Collins (out this summer) fall within the crime genre, they aren’t police procedural stories (I leave that to those fabulous authors who can create twisty-turny whodunnits). My interest lies in the impact crime has on individuals, families and whole communities, and how that is dealt with by the authorities and the communities themselves. I’ve heard how the police talk about these estates, and I’ve experienced the disdain residents have for the police – both are valid in their own right. The Prodigal was actually inspired by a conversation with a police officer back in the nineties about informants or “grasses”– who are they? Why do they do it? The answer was that it is generally family members, almost always women, and they do it because they want that person they care about to stop. Pop those facts into a scenario where the grass is a woman, in love with a copper who’s after her criminal husband, and you’ve got drama. 

The housing estate itself where the books are set (the fictional Valley Park) is a key character, and I couldn’t have written it with any authenticity without the experience of working for 20 odd years with local residents, and the professionals who think they know what’s best for them (sometimes they do, I can’t argue with that). Valley Park is a grim place in The Prodigal, and even grimmer in Tommy Collins which is set ten years earlier in 1989 – the height of Thatcherism, unemployment and civil unrest. I’ve actually started to feel quite protective of the place and the pretend people who inhabit it, even the bad ones. It’s like the Mothership – a place you can’t escape. Anyway, I’m looking forward to book three which will bring Valley Park bang up to date, and I can have a pop at Beardy Men and gentrification (is there ever a happy medium?).

I’m out of the poverty game now. I left London in 2016 (I lived there for 14 years), had some time off, and now I’m back working pretty much full time again for a hospice charity (there may well be a future novel in that, who knows?). Now, my writing influences my day job in a way. I write grant applications, and this requires delivering a story with heart, hitting all the right notes that make those funders want to read on and see what they’ll get for their money. They’ve got to believe in what you’re doing and get some satisfaction from investing in you – much like readers, I suppose. I must be doing okay, because in eight months I’ve secured over £200,000, which is about £160,000 more than they’ve had in grants in any one year. I’m quite proud of that! 

It doesn’t leave me much time to write, as I do like to keep my social life active, my house clean and my cupboards stocked. That, coupled with my inability to stick to a plot, means my second book is about a year behind. But I’m getting there. You can be sure it’ll be full of grit, inspired by some of the best and worst people I’ve ever met through my day jobs.

Thank you for having me Vic, and hello to those of you reading this 😊 *waves* x

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Getting to Know You: Charlie Laidlaw.

Today it’s my pleasure to host writer Charlie Laidlaw on the blog. My thanks to Charlie for sharing his time and experiences with us. 

Vic x

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Tell us about your books, what inspired them?
My first book, The Herbal Detective (Ringwood Publishing) was inspired by the seventeenth century witch craze. Back then, it was a crime not to believe in witchcraft. What, I thought, would happen now if someone still did believe in witchcraft? That said, to make this improbable tale work, it had to be a bit of a Benny Hill romp. It’s a fun book.

My second, The Things We Learn When We’re Dead (Accent Press), while a gentle comedy, is darker. It’s really a reworking of The Wizard of Oz – young woman gets knocked on the head, remembers her life in flashback, and emerges from the experience as a different person. It’s a book about the power of memory and how, if we remember things in a different way, we can be changed by that experience.

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Where do you get your ideas from?
Good question because I have no idea. The basic inspiration for my second book came on a train from Edinburgh to London, which was apt as Edinburgh is the only city in the world to have named its main railway station after a book. When I got home, I wrote the first and last chapters. The first has changed beyond all recognition, but the last chapter is pretty much the same.

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
Not really, no. I tend to be something of a perfectionist and am constantly editing and rewriting. I hope that, for the reader, it comes across as effortless. From my perspective, everything is hard work – so I tend to like most of the stuff that eventually makes it into the final cut!

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
Not entirely sure what you mean. But I think that good books need good characters, a good plot, and good narrative and dialogue. Those are at least some of the basics. However, as I’ve mentioned the word “plot” I suppose I’m a plotter.

Can you read when you’re working on a piece of writing?
I’m always reading because I take inspiration from other writers, and the world and the characters they create. You can’t write if you don’t read.  Simples.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
I can’t remember who gave me this advice but, like most advice, it’s both blindingly obvious and wise. Simply: you can’t edit a blank page. In other words, it doesn’t matter if you’re writing gibberish. You can go back to it later and turn it into English. The important thing is to keep writing.

What can readers expect from your books?
I hope, to be entertained. But also, maybe, to be taken on a slightly mad thought-provoking journey. I like books that are not too deep, entertain me, and make me smile. I hope that’s what mine do.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Keep writing and don’t give up. I honestly believe that some of the best books ever written will be mouldering at the bottom of landfill because their authors received one too many rejection. If you genuinely think that what you’ve written has merit, stick with it.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
I like the way that one idea can lead onto another and then another. I dislike it when those ideas turn out to be bad ideas, and I’ve wasted days or weeks of my life. I try now to plan well ahead, with an ending in sight.

Are you writing anything at the moment?
It’s complete and provisionally entitled The Space Between Time. While (again) a gentle comedy, it’s also about mental illness and how we can grow up with false impressions of the people closest to us. It was a difficult book to write, because it has to balance lighter elements with tragedy and poignancy.  It will be published late this year or early in 2019.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
I’d like to say, putting in the final full stop. But that just provokes me to go back into the manuscript and edit, edit, edit. So, perhaps the best moment is when your editor and proofreader tell you that no further changes can be made!

**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.

Don’t Quit the Day Job: James A Tucker

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.

Today, James A Tucker – writer of ‘Space Expectations‘ and member of Elementary Writers – is with us today to talk about his rich and varied career and how they have enabled him to imagine worlds far, far away. 

Vic x

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Some authors seem to collect weird jobs.

Well, I haven’t been an unarmed combat intructor or anything.  I volunteered in a homeless shelter but they sensibly never put me on night shift, so I didn’t see much of the trouble.  I delivered telephone directories around the lanes of Somerset, where the houses were numbered in the order they were built.  I think that has helped writing about isolated and odd almost inaccessible places, but it wasn’t much of a money maker.  To buy a bass amp I spent a while getting up at two thirty am to work in a sandwich factory, doing things like putting four slices of tomato on every bread slice passing by on a conveyor belt, standing inside a giant refridgerator.  I sneezed over one sandwich, but it was gone before I could do anything about it.  I don’t learn, because I still eat ready-made sandwiches.

Had a holiday job at an oceanographic lab.  The most writerly things about that were the isolated setting, the abandoned civil service estate in the forest with its empty houses, the sailor’s tales of worse things happening at sea.  But it also gave me a glimpse into the lost world of employment inhabited by my father: where bosses could be bumbling, relaxed and kindly.

The rest of my employment hasn’t been much like that at all.  But I should probably mention the training.  I am a strange person who was always good at science, physics especially.  So I did a physics degree.  Then, being the contrary person with depression that I am, I decided not to do it for a living.

I like to think that my sci-fi scenarios and hardware are distinctly above par.  On the other, realism and plausibility are not necessarily what people look for in their genre fiction!  It might be a lot better not to spot laughably bad science and plot holes.  But I’m a pedant who reckons that without a working world to stand on, you can’t have a serious story.

Then I worked for ten years as an Occupational Therapist.  The first benefit for a writer was figuring out how to explain what an OT is and what we do; and to realise that the answer depends on the context and the audience.

In a kind of shock therapy, I was plunged into a world of intense human drama, life, death, suffering, resilience, hope and despair.  In the first draft I started writing and couldn’t stop until it was way too long for a column.  So what are the most important things to say?  That if many of the things I saw or experienced were written in anything but a black farce, people would say they were too extreme or unbelievable.  Fiction differs from life in that it has to make sense, and villains have to show depth and complexity.  There might be a redeeming reason why a nurse is covering up patient neglect by smearing other people, but in reality, you’re unlikely to ever find out.
One interesting thing was that I went from a 90% male profession to one that was 90% female.  There I experienced both positive and negative discrimination for being a minority.  Gives you perspective… the sexes really aren’t that much different.

In the end, I burned out from stress and management bullying, and am now unemployed.  Is there a fresh career as an author awaiting?  Let’s find out…

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. 

 

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Jane Risdon

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.

Today my longtime online friend, Jane Risdon is here to share her interesting experiences with us. Thanks Jane, I’ve really enjoyed having you on the blog again.  

Vic x

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We don’t know what we know, until we sit and think
By Jane Risdon

Write what you know. That’s what we writers are advised. But, you have to wonder where that leaves crime writers – commit a murder, a robbery, a sting and then you know what you are writing about perhaps? Who is going to admit to having a day job involving murder? Yet our lives and experiences do influence our writing, it has to.

How has my ‘day job’ influenced my writing?

I no longer have a ‘day job’ unless you count writing, but I have had two careers both of which greatly influenced my writing. Firstly I worked for government departments and that gave me some insight into the workings of the world of foreign embassies and how our government operates overseas. It spiked my interest in all things espionage in that I worked for a department whose staff were employed in embassies and were not always what they appeared to be, given their job titles. Great fodder for a fertile imagination.

A great deal of my writing, about crime and organised crime, has been influenced by my time working in that environment. It sparked an interest which I continue to feed by reading all I can about the murky world of the secret security services, organised crime and all it entails. Many of my crime stories have elements of covert operations and possible Mafia connections running through them, including my series – Ms Birdsong Investigates. Although I can’t be specific about anything I knew from back then, I can play with the facts and indulge in a great deal of poetic licence.

My second and longest career has been in the international music business, working mainly in Hollywood, Europe and in S. E. Asia. There is nothing like power and money to bring out the worst in people – as we are discovering now with all the sex scandals detailed in the press. Many of my stories have musical elements and are also mixed with organised crime or espionage as I mentioned. I suggest some research and reading if anyone is interested in how the music business and movie business might possibly have anything to do with organised crime. Mixing with the ‘movers and shakers’ in this business has been an amazing experience and, I must admit, it all came as a bit of a shock to me when first working at that level in Hollywood. Nothing in your face of course, all hinted at; I was directed to ‘gen-up’ on who I was working with and was recommended some well-known books to read. All filed away for future reference and as background for my growing interest in being a crime writer. Which I now delve into when necessary.

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Yet, crime is not all I’ve found myself writing. My latest co-authored novel with Christina Jones, Only One Woman, is anything but crime. It is a love triangle set in the late 1960’s UK music scene, and my experiences married to a musician and being involved in music all my life, has been a fabulous resource for writing this book. My day jobs back then have given me access to experiences and memories so vivid it has been like writing about something that happened yesterday at times. Total recall provides me with so much to be thankful for as a writer.

Writing what you know. It’s great advice. Sometimes we don’t know what we know, until we sit down and think.

You can find Jane on Facebook, GoodreadsTwitter and her blog. ‘Only One Woman‘ also has its own Facebook page and blog. There is also a playlist to listen to while you listen to ‘Only One Woman‘.  

Guest Post: Nicola East on Noir at the Bar London

 
So, you’re the brave soul taking Noir at the Bar to London – what possessed you?! 

I’m wondering the same thing myself!!! However, I had such a great time organising the one at Hull Noir that I was itching to do it again. Since I live in the East End, I thought Whitechapel was an ideal place to start the London NATB tradition. I hope it’s the first of many.

Where and when will it be? 

It’s going to be at LHT Urban Bar, 176 Whitechapel Rd, E1 1BJ on Monday 26th March. Doors open at 6 and the event will run from 7 until 9:30 (ish!).

Whitechapel is a perfect location given its history and links to one of the most infamous unsolved crimes of all time.
The bar is very cool and the management there are really looking forward to hosting such a great literary event. Given our list of authors, location and setting, I believe this will be the start of putting London firmly on the well established NATB map.
Who’s on the bill? 
Leye Adenle
Danielle Ramsay
Vicky Newham
Andy Martin
Mark Hill
William Shaw
Leigh Russell
Vaseem Khan
Steph Broadribb
Johana Gustawsson
What can we expect from the night? 
The evening will be a relaxed affair with readings from some amazing established authors plus some wonderful new blood! There will also be the opportunity to put your name in the hat to volunteer to be the wildcard entry.
To put your name down to read at a future Noir at the Bar in London, Nikki is going to be posting in the Facebook page for NATB London so people could message her via that or email nicola.east1@outlook.com