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Review: ‘Impostor’ by L.J. Ross

Forensic psychologist Doctor Alexander Gregory is renowned for being able to uncover whatever secrets lie hidden in the darkest of minds and, very quickly, he finds himself drawn into a murder investigation.

A killer is on the loose in County Mayo, Ireland and panic has taken hold on the rural community. The Garda are running out of time. Despite swearing to follow a quiet life, Gregory finds it impossible to turn down their desperate request for assistance.

Regular readers of this blog will know I’m a big fan of L.J. Ross’s DCI Ryan series so it was with some excitement that I picked up ‘Impostor‘, the first book in the Alexander Gregory series. 

Despite having insane success with the DCI Ryan series, L.J. Ross has shown she isn’t afraid to take risks by embarking on a new series set in a new location. Ross has clearly done her research into psychological profilers – her portrayal of Gregory demonstrates her depth of knowledge. However, the story doesn’t lose its pace or get bogged down in unnecessary detail. It’s a real skill that Ross has honed – balancing backstory with pace. 

The characters in ‘Impostor‘ are well-drawn with hidden depths. Gregory’s backstory is intriguing and I like how Ross manages to create three-dimensional characters who contribute to the narrative throughout.

Setting ‘Impostor‘ in Ireland gives Ross plenty of beautiful scenery to draw on and she does so with aplomb. L.J. Ross uses the countryside to create an atmosphere that contributes to the tense narrative. 

As usual, L.J. Ross ensures that the reader is kept guessing until the very end. I was convinced I knew who the perpetrator was, only to be blind-sided by the big reveal. 

I’m looking forward to reading ‘Hysteria‘, the next in the series. 

Vic x

Guest Post: Jennifer C. Wilson on The Joy of Supportive Writing Buddies

My friend Jennifer C. Wilson is here today to celebrate the release of her story ‘The Raided Heart‘.

Jen’s going to talk to us about the importance of having a strong network of peers who understand what you’re going through as a writer and will help you when you need it most. 

My thanks to Jen for sharing her experiences and thoughts with us. 

Vic x

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Hi Victoria, and thanks for hosting me on your blog today. To say I’m excited about the release of The Raided Heart is an understatement, and I know that you know just how long I’ve been working on it, and what a big deal it is for me to finally be releasing it through Ocelot Press. You’ve also heard a lot of the story before the book’s released, as it’s been my work-in-progress at writing group for the last year or so. 

TheRaidedHeart-Cover-HiResAnd I’ve got to be honest, if it wasn’t for writing group members, The Raided Heart might still be in the proverbial desk drawer.

Back in the summer, I was having a total nightmare with the final draft. I was struggling to hit my word count targets, and angry at myself for that fact, given that I wasn’t even writing a new story; I was rewriting one, and for the third time at that. You’d think I would know what was going to happen next, to who, how, and when? Nope. Despite having a beautifully bullet-pointed synopsis, outlining in detail the entire plot, I just couldn’t find the words to bring any of it to the page. I was writing pieces here and there, at writing group, or on a Sunday afternoon, when I practically chained myself to my desk, but it was like wading through treacle, and I wasn’t enjoying it. Given that it had been with me for so long, this was anxiety-inducing, to say the least. 

Bringing Richard III into things had helped with the plotting, and the words had flowed for a while, but now they had dried up again. Hence one miserable night at a local crime-reading event, where I ended up pouring my heart out to fellow writers Sarah and Penny. In hindsight, declaring that I was quitting writing for good may have been a tad melodramatic, but it’s honestly how I felt in that moment. 

This is where being part of a circle of writers is so important. If I hadn’t been out that night, there’s a real chance I’d have been sat at my desk, hating the blank page, and deleting things rather than creating them. Instead, I was with good friends, who talked through everything which was bothering me, and came up with a genuinely helpful plan of action. Writing can be a solitary, if not downright lonely, activity, and having a solid group of people around you who know what you’re going through is so critical in my opinion.

And it’s not just to pull you through when you’re threatening to throw in the pen – it’s wonderful to have people who understand just what it means to you when you get shortlisted in a competition, have something accepted for publication, or (drum roll), you get yourself that magical Book Deal, and become a Published Author. Family and non-writing friends will be happy for you, yes, but only another writer can sometimes really ‘get’ just what you’ve been through to get to that point, and know what it means to have that success. 

That’s the reason I love hosting North Tyneside Writers’ Circle, and attending Elementary Writers, as well as getting a week-long fix of it at Swanwick Writers’ School every summer. And it’s why I cannot wait to celebrate seeing ‘The Raided Heart‘ into the world with people who really understand that after twenty-odd years in the writing, it’s a magical feeling to hold that paperback, and see it going live on Amazon. 

Happy writing!

About the book:
Meg Mathers, the headstrong youngest sibling of a reiving family on the English-Scottish border, is determined to remain at her childhood home, caring for the land and village she’s grown up with. When an accident brings her a broken ankle and six weeks in the resentful company of ambitious and angry young reiver Will Hetherington, attraction starts to build. Both begin to realise they might have met their match, and the love of their lives, but 15th century border living is not that simple, as Meg soon finds herself betrothed to the weakling son of a tyrannical neighbour, Alexander Gray. When tragedy strikes, can Meg and Will find their way back to each other, and can Will finally take his own personal revenge on Gray? ‘The Raided Heart‘ is the first of “The Historic Hearts”, a collection of historical romantic adventures set in Scotland and the North of England.

About Jennifer:
Jennifer C. Wilson has been stalking dead monarchs since childhood. At least now it usually results in a story, it isn’t considered (quite) as strange. Jennifer won North Tyneside Libraries’ Story Tyne short story competition in 2014 and, as well as working on her own writing, she is a founder and co-host of the award-winning North Tyneside Writers’ Circle and has been running writing workshops since 2015. Her debut novel, ‘Kindred Spirits: Tower of London‘ was published by Crooked Cat Books in 2015, with the fourth in the series, ‘Kindred Spirits: York‘, released in early 2019. Her timeslip romance ‘The Last Plantagenet?‘ is published through Ocelot Press, an authors’ collective formed in 2018. 

You can find Jennifer on Twitter and Instagram

**Out of the Ashes Blog Tour**

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I have known Vicky Newham – author of ‘Turn a Blind Eye‘ and ‘Out of the Ashes‘ – for several years. As regular readers of this blog will know, ‘Turn a Blind Eye‘ was one of my top reads in 2018 and I’m now delighted to be part of the blog tour for the next book in the DI Maya Rahman series: ‘Out of the Ashes‘. 

A flash mob in Brick Lane is interrupted by an explosion. With fire raging through one of the city’s most infamous streets, DI Maya Rahman is called to the scene. With witnesses too caught up in the crowd to have seen anything, Maya must lead an investigation with no leads. And when Maya is faced with a second, more horrifying crime, she knows she is in a race against time to solve the crimes before East London burns. 

Feast on the first chapter of ‘Out of the Ashes‘ here and then order / download the rest of it. I guarantee you will not be able to put this fantastic book down.

Vic x

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Rosa, 2 p.m.

Rosa Feldman stood at the door of her Brick Lane newsagent’s, staring out at the street she’d known since she was four. She couldn’tshake the feeling that something was wrong. It was the shop opposite,run by the young Lithuanian couple. Since first thing this morning, the lights had been off and the shutters down. Initially, she was relieved that for once, the ugly neon sign, with its air of Margate or Blackpool, wasn’t flashing outside her bedroom window, but as the morning progressed, she felt increasingly uneasy.

It wasn’t like them at all. She couldn’t recall ever seeing the shop closed in the daytime.A tap on the glass snapped Rosa back into the afternoon. It was Mr Walker from the off-licence a few doors down. He shouted a cheery greeting and waved as he passed the window. Regular as clockwork, off to get chips for tea. Rosa raised her hand to return the gesture, but the pain in her wrists and knuckles bit again. Damned arthritis.

Mr Walker’s knock was usually her reminder to think about their meal. Today was Friday after all. But without Józef, the Sabbath meal wasn’t the same and she didn’t bother with the rituals any more. In the last year, she’d lost weight and clothes hung off her spare frame. What was the point of lighting candles when there was only one of you? She’d steam a plate of yesterday’s chicken and potatoes. That would do her. Fortunately, she didn’t have to go far to get home, just upstairs to the flat, even if it was still freezing at this time of year.

Over the dusty window display, two men were putting a new shop sign up where Rosenberg’s jewellers used to be. Work had been going on for weeks, and it looked like the place was nearly ready to open. Alchemia, it said. A swanky new Polish bar by the looks of it, slap bang next-door to Mr Hamid’s curry house. He wasn’t going to be happy. So much had changed in Brick Lane since she and her family had arrived, and life moved so fast on the other side of the window, it made Rosa dizzy. The pace was relentless and the change uncompromising. Inside the shop, though, she felt safe. Change there was slow and predictable. Above her head, by the door, the fan heater droned noisily and made little impact on the chilly air, but she didn’t mind. It had always done that. And she barely noticed the crumbling plaster of the ground floor walls, or the mildew which clung to ceiling corners like a nasty rash.

Her thoughts slid back to the shop over the road. The place was usually open all hours of the day and night, selling its fancy five-quid soups to whoever could afford them. She had no objection to people earning a living, but her parents would be turning in their graves. They’d survived the Ghetto on two hundred calories a day. When they left Warsaw, and arrived in London, it was the handouts from the Jewish soup kitchen in Brune Street that kept them alive. It was extraordinary to think that what had been humble subsistence for many families was now a fad-food. She’d been over for a spy at the menu, of course, when they were shut. Apart from some matzo ball soup, she couldn’t find much she fancied and didn’t know what most of it was, let alone how to pronounce it. Keen-war, or something, a youth with a bicycle and a dog had told Rosa.

She sighed. She missed her old neighbours. Those were Sabbath meals to look forward to. They were exactly how her mother described Warsaw before the war. Mrs Blum from the bagel shop would make the challah. Rich, eggy and sweet. It had been ages since Rosa had felt one of those in her hands, soft and warm, in its pretty braid shape. The Altmans would bring the wine. The Posners, candles. And the Rosenbergs, the jewellers, always came with freshly made kugel.

But now her parents were dead, and all her Jewish neighbours were either dead too or had moved away. Except Rosa.

And there was that feeling again, a gnawing emptiness, a sense that life had moved on without her. It was so unsettling. Every fibre of her being was exhausted by the continual need to think about whether to follow her compatriots out of the East End and into the London suburbs.

The sound of voices jolted her back into the present. Yelling. Music. Outside in the street, a thumping bass beat started up. Tremors vibrated through the shop, and a booming noise invaded the silence of her thoughts. Yobbos, probably, spitting everywhere and pumping out music from one of those dreadful sound-systems. They’d pass in a minute.

But they didn’t.

The music got louder and louder, and – oh, typical – the group had stopped outside Rosa’s shop. All guffaws, swearing, floppy hair and hoodies. More voices, bellowing and cheering, and one by one, people were joining them. What on earth was going on? On a Friday afternoon, from lunchtime onwards, she was used to the steady trickle of people down Brick Lane, getting ready for a night on the tiles and a curry, but it was unusual to see so many people together. She edged over to the corner of the shop window to get a

better view. The music had changed, and one by one people pulled black bandanas into masks, over their mouths and noses, and were dancing, if jabbing a finger in the air and screaming counted as dancing these days. Teenagers, by the look of them. Some younger. She wasn’t very good at judging age, and they all wore such similar clothes, but she’d put money on some of them not being a day over ten.

Rosa pressed her nose against the pane of glass. Outside, the street hummed with joy. There was an innocence to their dancing, even if the masks were a bit scary. And they weren’t doing any harm, were they? She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. She used to know all the kids round here; knew their families by name, but none of this lot were familiar. There were at least ten of them, dancing in the street, throwing themselves about like acrobats, bending, leaping, twirling each other around. For a moment, Rosa was reminded of the tea room dances she and Józef used to go to before Agnieszka and Tomasz were born. They’d save for weeks, get dolled up in their best clothes. Oh, how much fun they’d been.

There were more than twenty of them now, maybe thirty. Someone was lighting sparklers and passing them round for the kids. She adored sparklers. And before she knew it, her fingers pulled the door handle and she was outside, the bell dinging shut behind her. The sulphurous smell set light to her dulled senses and she felt the day’s irritation shake itself from her shoulders. She was a kid again, at crisp November bonfires and balmy mid-summer street parties, with people passing sparklers round.

Rosa cleared her throat. Coughed. Her lungs weren’t good these days, weakened by years of a poorly heated flat, the damp shop walls, and Józef’s cigarette smoke.

 

She joined the throng of passers-by who were huddled, mesmer- ised by the dancing. Was it a student gathering? She was puzzled. Who was in charge? She couldn’t see any organisers or anyone giving instructions, and had no idea where the music was coming from. People were merging with the group of their own accord and encouraging others to do the same. They all looked so carefree.

 

The music brought a smile to Rosa’s cold lips. Her heel began to tap and she was lost to nostalgia. It was such a relief to forget the pain and drudgery of the last year. To forget her arthritis and money worries. Was that Lulu and ‘Shout’? Her heart leaped. Many a time she and Józef had danced to that tune. Her mind was flooded with memories of all the occasions when they’d danced together, his warm hand in the small of her back, guiding her forwards, the other clasping hers, keeping her safe. She felt a lump in her throat. They were glorious memories, even if they were now tainted by the agony of loss. It had only been a year and she still missed him so much.

A waltz kicked in, floaty and dramatic. Initially, it had been youngsters dancing but now it was people of all ages, lured over by the infectious atmosphere of Brick Lane on a chilly April afternoon. Hearing the waltz start, a Sikh man checked his turban and, with a huge grin, he clasped the hands of a woman in a navy-blue trench coat. She was giggling like a schoolgirl, a small flat bag diagonally across her body, her head tilted back, carefree and stunned, as though she hadn’t had so much fun in ages. Rosa guessed the woman was about her age. Perhaps she was a widow too?

Rosa’s hips started to sway, and she was tempted to go over and join in. What was she thinking? She was being silly. She couldn’t. Who would mind the shop while she was cavorting in the street?

Another crowd of youths piled in, hee-hawing and smoking, in their thin cotton clothing and baseball shoes. Some with their bottoms hanging out of their trousers, others in drainpipe jeans. Didn’t they feel the cold? Several more children were in tow. Why weren’t they all at school? Before Rosa knew it, one of them had taken her hand and led her towards the group. Elvis’ crooning tones wafted down the street and once again Rosa’s spirits soared. The teenagers looked so funny, impersonating the rock ’n’ roll moves of ‘All Shook Up’. It was the most fun she’d had on a Friday afternoon since . . .

Józef would have enjoyed this.

‘Come on, Rosa,’ he would have said in his calm, decisive voice, and he’d have locked the shop, led her out into the street and begun whirling her around with that boyish grin of his.

A quick head count told her there were about fifty people dancing now and a good twenty more hanging around. The street whiffed of whacky-backy. Rosa had forgotten her nagging joints and aching legs; the grimy shelves with mounting dust; the delivery boxes she couldn’t carry. For a few sweet moments, she’d stopped feeling sick to death of the damn shop, of book-keeping and fretting over decisions. She didn’t care about any of it anymore. All she wanted was—

A loud splitting sound tore through the air, followed by a series of cracks and bangs. Rosa gasped as orange flames burst out of the top floor windows of the shop opposite, and billowed upwards. Swirling streams of black smoke inked the pale sky. Fire raged behind the first-floor windows, and the ground floor shop was filled with smoke and flames. She cried out in pain as acrid fumes hit her lungs, forcing her to clamp her hand over her mouth. Everyone was shouting and running for cover as burning timber peeled away from windows. Screams pierced the air as lengths of wood and red-hot embers rained down on the crowd below. Rosa’s legs were like jelly and she felt dizzy. She stumbled over something on the ground in front of her and lurched forwards. She made out a woman, clutching her arm.

 

‘Help,’ came the agonised cry at Rosa’s feet. ‘Please help me.’

Panic engulfed Rosa, and she was transported back to the sensory onslaught of the Warsaw Ghetto, to primitive memories of endless screaming, to the cacophony of bombs and blasts and gunshots. From behind, someone shoved her out of the way and she stumbled forwards. All around her, people were coughing, retching and staggering, scarves and hands clasped over their mouths, desperate to escape the blaze. The air was cloying. Putrid. She was plunged into blind terror, realising she could die. This wasn’t Poland, and it wasn’t the end of the war, but she had to get away from the fire and ring 999 before someone died.

As the blaze ripped through the roof, smoke continued to spiral upwards into the sky. Rosa staggered blindly towards the blue door of her shop, to the step and doorway, arms groping ahead for something to grab. The fumes bit at her lungs and she was gasping for air so much she was retching. Finally, her hands grabbed the handle. She used all her weight to heave the door open and stumbled inside, pushing it shut behind her as quickly as she could.

She sucked in some air. It was like breathing through needles. She had to get to the phone in the back room. Stands and magazine racks flashed past her as she lurched towards the till, gasping for breath and snatching for a hold. She hauled her way round the counter, head spinning, and grabbed the phone receiver from the wall. Her eyes were streaming.

Keep blinking, she told herself. Breathe. She tried to calm herself; to rub away the tears that the fumes had produced; to steady her shaking hands and press the buttons. What should she say? Was it terrorists? Had there been an explosion?

Just say FIRE.

Rosa felt her head starting to spin. Lights flashed, dots appeared and she went floppy. Her mind slipped sideways and everything stopped.

**Poetic Justice Blog Tour**

Poetic Justice Blog Tour Poster

Today it’s my pleasure to host husband and wife team R.C. Bridgestock as part of their blog tour for ‘Poetic Justice’, the prequel to the DI Jack Dylan series. 

With almost fifty years of police work between them, Bob and Carol received a number of professional accolades and have translated their experiences into a series of novels as well as consulting on several high profile crime dramas. 

With their DI Jack Dylan series due to be reissued by Dome Press this year, Bob and Carol have graciously given their time to us today to talk about the identification process. My thanks to them both and to Dome Press for allowing me to be involved. 

Vic x

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IDENTIFICATION

The identification of an offender is a key aspect of any criminal conviction. The identification may be done by the victim of the crime, and/or witnesses – if there are any available. The concept of an identification parade, or “ID parade” as it is best known, is to test a witnesses ability to identify someone they have seen previously – typically at the time of an incident. 

If someone can be identified as the offender, this will be one of the first pieces of evidence used in a criminal trial, with both the victim and any witnesses required to repeat the identification in front of the court.

For an investigator, finding a witness or witnesses is very important; especially one who can recall events and recognise suspects.

However, from experience we are aware that witnesses can be highly convincing, but sometimes wrong. Oddly enough others can forget what is obviously visible such as a facial tattoo on an offender, but yet still identify them, and only remember at a later date about the tattoo that might be significant to their identification. Our brains, it appears, will only register so much in a short time frame.

The police identification procedure changed dramatically during our time at West Yorkshire Police, the fourth largest police force in the country. The traditional method of identifying an offender was to use a police identity parade. This involved the suspect being requested to line up alongside others of similar height and appearance, with either the victim or witness able to view the line-up from behind a screen. Often the potential suspects would be required to repeat a sentence that the victim or the witness will have heard. This would enable the victim or the witness to identify the offender both by sight and voice. 

During an identity parade, it would usually be the case that the police were aware of whom the suspect was, due to their investigations, and the ID parade would be used simply as confirmation that the suspect was in fact the offender. A line-up must consist of five people, plus the suspect. If circumstance permit it is ideal to have six, seven or eight others. The more that are present tests the witness further. 

But, did you know that the suspect can refuse, at any time, to take part?  

No longer these days does a police officer go out onto the streets and ask people to take part in a ‘line up’ – often those willing to partake in an ID parade would typically be hard-up students and those out of work who would get a small amount of money for their time. 

Often we (the police) were unable to round-up enough lookalikes. For example, he might have a moustache, or a beard so the volunteers may be asked to wear fake facial hair. Wouldn’t this impede the recognition of the offender by the witness you may ask? One thing someone is unlikely to not recognise is a fake moustache or a beard? The police officers of the time had to work with what they had, and sometimes that was very little. The whole procedure was very time consuming and could be costly. How much do you think half a dozen false beards might cost?  

No longer does the victim or a witness have to ‘walk the line’ and touch on the shoulder, the person they think they’d seen at the time of the incident. This was highly likely to cause emotional issues for victims and witnesses. There was potential for police interference and concerns for the safety of those taking part in the line-up.

No longer can the offender change places on the line, or change clothing after each witness walked by.

No longer can the suspect reject a person chosen on the parade because they aren’t a ‘lookalike’ in their eyes. 

In 2003, a digital system called VIPER was introduced for the visual identification of suspects. The bespoke computerised system – ‘Video Identification Parade Electronic Recording’ – was originally established by West Yorkshire Police, the force in which Bob and I collectively spent 47 years. This became the National database. Approximately 20,000 identifications are carried out each year using this highly successful system.

How does this work? 

Images of lookalikes to the suspect are viewed on a computer screen – no longer do victims or witnesses have to suffer intimidation by the suspect being present. If the offender is convicted then his or her photograph will be on the database.

In our experience, potential witnesses from the yesteryear would typically say after taking part in an ID parade. ‘I think it was No.6, but I couldn’t be one hundred per cent sure.’ More often than not annoying for me, the police officer, the witness was right but the identification for the sake of the enquiry had failed.

An Inspector would control the parades, and the defence solicitor for the prisoner would be present to ensure no foul play.

How good is our own personal recollection and sight? Do you think you could identify someone that you had stood next to you in a shop today? 

Quality CCTV has proved time and time again how it can assist in the detection of crime.

However, did you know people don’t always admit it’s them on CCTV. I can’t recall how many times I’ve heard. ‘Not me!’ And even when the footage has been shown to a parent and the offender is told that they have confirmed the image is of their son/daughter, they will still deny it’s them and often with a, ‘Prove it!’… So of course we do.

Sometimes this can be done by distinctive clothing, facial scars, tattoos and hairstyles but also by a technique called facial mapping where experts using measurements match the person to the video. 

Facial recognition is still in its early stages but is being trialled by the Metropolitan Police. This is a very clever and important tool that will revolutionise our ability to get extremely quick intelligence about someone in a crowd who is wanted by the police, so the police can take whatever action they need to. 

So if you witness something and are asked by the police for your help, please don’t hesitate to become involved. It may be a test of your recollection ability, and make you more aware of what is going around you in the future, but it’s so much more than that. You are helping to stop someone getting away with a crime. Don’t worry, your evidence isn’t the only evidence that will render the suspect guilty but, along with other substantial evidence, it might be the piece of the jigsaw that is missing to use as the ‘belt and braces’ of the case. 

Voice recognition and handwriting can also be used to link people to a crime.

Of course, the well-known resource used today is the formidable technique of DNA – ALL resources available in the detectives toolbox are used to gather ensure a conviction.

However, it’s the SIO who is the person in charge who makes these decisions – people like Bob. 

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Review: ‘Poetic Justice’
by R.C. Bridgestock

When Detective Jack Dylan heads home after a residential course, he has no idea that an extraordinary succession of events is about to turn his life upside down. A vicious, unprovoked attack is just the start. Soon his wife is dead and his step-daughter – dangerously depressed – is being expelled from university for drug use. And at work, two teenagers have gone missing.

An ordinary man might break under the strain, but Dylan is no ordinary man. He knows that his survival depends on him carrying on regardless, burying himself in his work.

He is determined to pursue the criminal elements behind the events – both personal and professional – whether his superiors like it or not. And, as his family disintegrates around him, a newcomer to the admin department, Jennifer Jones, seems to offer some sort of salvation.

Life may have changed, but nothing will stand in the way of Dylan’s quest for justice.

Although Jack Dylan has an established fan base, this was my first foray into the series and it definitely won’t be my last. It’s obvious to see why R.C. Bridgestock are story consultants on ‘Happy Valley‘ and ‘Scott and Bailey‘. 

I whipped through ‘Poetic Justice‘, unable to leave the compelling characters alone. By weaving Dylan’s personal narrative alongside an ongoing criminal investigation, there’s plenty for the reader to be invested in. Bridgestock’s experience in West Yorkshire Police shines through – you can tell that Dylan’s difficulties in juggling police work and home life is based on experience. 

This is a realistic portrayal of police life within a domestic setting. ‘Poetic Justice‘ has truly hooked me on Jack Dylan.

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!

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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.  

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: Carly Flood

I have a very special guest on the blog today: Carly Marilyn Flood, one of the most important people in my life. Since I met her at uni, Flood has become my most trusted advisor. 

She’s absolutely hilarious and one of my ambitions in life is to get her to do stand-up one day. Hopefully, Flood and I will be starting our very own podcast in 2019. 

Thanks to Carly for getting involved in the 2018 reviews – and for all the mega LOLs.

Vic x

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
So full disclosure I just asked over and over if I could do a review of 2018 despite not being a writer.

I write exams for a living. Like professional writing, it also involves a moment about two-thirds of the way through where you hate yourself and wonder why you do this. And a lot of editing.

I do get a peculiar sense of satisfaction when it all comes together.

And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
I saw Taylor Swift live.  I have been ruined for all other shows. There were 4 different sets of fireworks. 4.

Favourite book in 2018?
Normal People by Sally Rooney.

Rooney is 28 and in a 15-word sentence can fill you with joy and smash your soul and back. She is some sort of savant. I savoured every drop and physically yearned for the characters.

I also had a lot of time for Help Me! by Marianne Power. It was funny and honest and a good antidote to gorming on Instagram and forgetting most people are trying not to eat cake all of the time.

Favourite song of the year?
Apples by Lily Allen. It is a love letter, a poem, a lament, a eulogy, a confession, a story and not saccharine or self-pitying. It is sonically interesting with only her voice doing the melodic heavy lifting.

Any downsides for you in 2018?
I had my heart broken and I regret not wearing an electric blue suit to a gay wedding in Stockholm. That would have been perfect. I wore a black dress. Deep regrets.

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
To write some things. To establish a sleep routine. To not be known for saying, “Fuck, I am so tired” 17 times a day.

What are you hoping for from 2019?
A lottery win to fund a hedonistic lifestyle of an early 2000s socialite and Brexit to go away.

It would be nice to continue having ash blonde hair, I am hoping it will stay in my head.