Tag Archives: Books

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Desmond P. Ryan

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 it’s the turn of Desmond P. Ryan to tell us about how his work has influenced his writing. My thanks to Des for sharing his experience with us.

Vic x

For almost thirty years, every day of my working life began with either a victim waiting in a hospital emergency room to report a violent crime, or a call from a bystander, witness, or sometimes even the perpetrator to a street corner or a ransacked, often blood-soaked room where someone had been left for dead. Murder, assaults on a level that defied humanity, sexual violations intended to demean, shame, and haunt the individuals who were no more than objects to the offenders: all in a day’s work. 

It was exhilarating, exhausting, and often heartbreaking.

    As a Detective with the Toronto Police Service, I wrote thousands of reports detailing the people, places, and events that led up to the moment I came along. I investigated the crimes and wrote synopses for guilty pleas detailing the circumstances that brought the accused individuals before the Courts. I also wrote a number of files to have individuals deemed either Not Criminally Responsible due to mental incapacity, or Dangerous Offenders to be held in custody indefinitely.       

    Now, as a retired investigator with three decades of research opportunities under my belt, I write crime fiction. And, when Vic asked me to contribute to her blog, you can imagine that I jumped at the opportunity to share my story of how my job has influenced (just a tad!) my writing. You could say that I have an unusual skill set that makes me particularly prone to writing crime fiction.

In fact, I started writing my Mike O’Shea Crime series while I was still working as a police detective. As you can imagine, in real life, things don’t always turn out the way youmight like, and the people I dealt with didn’t always find the justice they deserved. Writing was my way of giving voice to those whom the justice system had silenced. 

When I retired, I was a bit afraid that I’d become that guy in the corner at the pub who tells old cop stories to no one in particular. The obvious alternative was to continue on with my writing and get the series off the ground. After several months of writing, I found the police procedural format of the Mike O’Shea Crime series feeling too much like work (a good thing for my readers!), so I began a cozy mystery series featuring Mike O’Shea’s mother, Mary Margaret, as the sleuth. Now THAT was a lot of fun to write. 

Check out my website at RealDesmondRyan.com and be sure to order your copy of 10-33 Assist PC, the first in my six-book series.

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2018 Review: Nick Quantrill

Nick Quantrill is a regular end of year reviewer and I’ve got to say only good boys and girls get invited back onto this blog! Seriously, though, I’ve known Nick for many years now and he’s an absolute gem. It’s my pleasure to have Nick here to review his year, and what a year it’s been! 

Thanks, Nick, for always being a willing participant. 

Vic x

Nick Quantrill

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
I absolutely do! I started the year working on a novel I wasn’t sure would necessarily have a home, and I was probably struggling with it because of that. Unexpectedly, the rights to my Joe Geraghty trilogy reverted to me in the summer and the ace Fahrenheit Press scooped them up. It’s given me the impetus to revisit Joe and I’m hard at work on the fourth in the trilogy…

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And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
It’s been grim times for my football teams, Hull City and North Ferriby United, but I hugely enjoyed the World Cup. My seven-year-old daughter is football mad, too, so we watched a lot of it together. We also had a family holiday to New York, which was pretty memorable.

Favourite book in 2018?
As ever, I’ve read loads of brilliant books this year. If I was picking an absolute favourite, I’d have to go for November Road by Lou Berney. Set against the backdrop of the John F Kennedy assassination, it’s part-noir, part-road trip, part-redemptive tale. I also loved Eva Dolan’s This Is How It Ends and Joseph Knox’s The Smiling Man. Looking to 2019, I was lucky enough to read Blood and Sugar, a fantastic debut due out in January from Laura Shepherd-Robinson.

Favourite film in 2018?
I’m not a huge film watcher (does Alvin and the Chipmunks with my daughter count?), but I do love a good boxset. Dysfunctional families seems to be a theme, as I really enjoyed Succession and Trust.

Favourite song of the year?
Sticking to being a bit old-fashioned, I love my vinyl, so tend to think about albums rather than individual songs. Like books, the list could go on and on, but I’ll go for Merrie Land by The Good, The Bad and The Queen. It’s Damon Albarn’s Brexit album and it’s all a bit unsettling, weird and discomforting. Whatever vehicle he uses, he’s always interesting.

Any downsides for you in 2018?
See above – Brexit. I’m not having it. What a state of affairs…

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
Nope. I’ve never liked them, or believe you need to wait for an arbitrary date to start something. That said, the usual… bit more exercise, bit less caffeine etc …

What are you hoping for from 2019?
I’m well on with Geraghty 4, so all being well, it’ll see the light of day in 2019. Lots of plots floating around in my head, so looking forward to writing more of them. Away from the writing, but complimenting it, I hope we get to put on Hull Noir again next November. Watch this space re our funding bid.

2018 Review: Paul Gitsham

Paul Gitsham is today’s end of year reviewer. It’s always nice to see Paul and it’s fab to have him on the blog today.

Thanks, Paul, for your review of 2018. Here’s to a top 2019!

Vic x

Cropped headshot.pngDo you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
2018 saw the release of the next two books in the DCI Warren Jones series. The first, a novella called A Case Gone Cold, released in May, was partly inspired by the real-life burglary of my parents’ home some years ago. It was pleasing that something positive could come out of a pretty unpleasant experience. 

The fourth full-length novel in the series, The Common Enemy, was released in September. Despite tackling difficult and challenging subject matter (Far-right extremism and the rising Islamophobia our country is experiencing), reviews have been positive.

Excitingly, the first 4 full-length novels in the series are now available as audiobooks, narrated by the wonderful Malk Williams.

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And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
I can’t fail to mention my wonderful girlfriend, Cheryl, agreeing to marry me! Have a look at the acknowledgements in The Common Enemy if you want to see how I popped the question…

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Favourite book in 2018?
So many to choose from! Steve Cavanagh’s Thirteen cements his reputation as one of the best writers around today. Eddie Flynn is a wonderfully complex and likeable character, that gets better with every book. And how could I resist the tagline: The serial killer isn’t on trial. He’s on the jury? 

Favourite film in 2018?
Marvel Studios continue to delight and excite in equal measure, but a film that I really enjoyed was Bohemian Rhapsody. It had its flaws and some question its accuracy in parts, but the recreation of Live Aid was spine-tingling!

Favourite song of the year?
I tend to listen to Radio 4, rather than music when I’m driving, but Cheryl and I both love the 80s. The recent acoustic version of A-Ha’s Take on Me (as featured in Deadpool 2, bizarrely) is a real pleasure.

Any downsides for you in 2018?
We moved to a new house at the end of last year and it would seem that the former owners of our house had a real talent for covering up their DIY disasters…

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
I don’t really make resolutions, but a better work/life balance is a definite aim.

What are you hoping for from 2019?
The next two books in the DCI Warren Jones series will be released, starting with the next novella, A Deadly Lesson, in January and the next full-length in the summer.

I hope to get more writing time, in part to pursue some stand-alone projects alongside new DCI Warren Jones adventures.

We’d also like a lottery win sufficient for us to move into a 5-star hotel for a few weeks whilst somebody comes and sorts out our house!

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2018 Review: Emma Whitehall

Today’s guest is Emma Whitehall, member of Elementary Writers and editor of ‘Sisterhood‘. Like many of our guests, Emma has had a rather eventful year but I’ll let her tell you all about it.

My thanks to Emma for her honesty and for taking the time to review her 2018.

Vic x

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Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
The first half of this year was dedicated to putting together Sisterhood, which is an anthology of fiction featuring some absolutely phenomenal women writers. I came up with the idea around this time last year – I wanted to celebrate female friendship, and put some good out into the world at the same time, and the idea hit me like a lightning bolt. I have to say, working on Sisterhood is probably one of the best things I’ve ever done. So far, we’ve raised more than £300 for Newcastle Women’s Aid (a charity that helps women and children who are survivors of domestic abuse), and, on a personal note, I got to know nine truly wonderful, talented women, who have inspired me so much this year at times when I really wanted to throw in the towel. I am so, so proud of what we accomplished, and want to say thank you to all the girls – long live Elementary Sisterhood!  

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And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
Anyone who knows me knows that the musical Hamilton has a very special place in my heart. For my birthday back in May, my mam and I travelled down to London to see the West End production, and it was incredible. I was sobbing before the first song was over, and essentially didn’t stop for nearly three hours. It was my first time in London, too! We did a little sightseeing the next day, and saw the city from the top of the London Eye, but being in the second row at a West End show, watching my favourite musical, was simply beyond compare. My mam was a good sport, too – seeing as she commented, about a month before we went down, that she “hates rap music”…

 Favourite book in 2018?
I also started a new job this year, working as a Bookseller at Waterstones, and one of the first books I read “for work” was The House With Chicken Legs, by Sophie Anderson. I hadn’t dipped into children’s fiction since I was a child myself, and this book rekindled my love of the genre. It’s a beautiful book, about a girl who is torn between following in her grandmother’s magical footsteps helping spirits pass on to the next life, and living a normal life on her own. I love it so much, and I was so happy to see it on the Blue Peter Book of the Year shortlist. Now, almost everything I read is “middle grade” fiction! 

Favourite film in 2018?
I’d have to go for The Shape of Water. A lot of the film was beauty for beauty’s sake, I thought – but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth watching. Plus, I love a strange, sad monster story – it’s all I write about!

Favourite song of the year?
This has been a year for fluffy pop on my Spotify playlist, if I’m being honest. My top two plays have been Cut to the Feeling by Carly Rae Jepsen, and Be Alright by Ariana Grande. I’ve had a lot of stress this year, and my usual crashing rock music or melodramatic Broadway numbers haven’t helped a lot – but both of these songs are light, happy, and leave me dancing, even just a little.

Any downsides for you in 2018?
This year has been non-stop, for me. I edited an anthology, changed jobs, nearly moved to London, and now I’m in the process of buying my first flat. I have to admit, this summer I had a very bad time with my anxiety. Luckily, I have some very good friends who set me on the right path when things were at their bleakest. Thanks to them, I went to counselling, made some tough choices, and I’m leaving the year feeling more positive. 

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
To be kind to myself. The main thing I took away from my counselling was that I’m not very good at that. So my main resolution for 2019 is to stop giving myself a hard time, accept compliments when I get them, and try to stick to the new thought patterns my counsellor taught me. 

What are you hoping for from 2019?
I want to do more with Sisterhood. I always said to the girls that I’d love it to become a regular publication, and to open submissions up to everyone who identifies as a woman. But, in the short term, I just want to get settled into my new home, and get it looking how I want it to. I get to have a study, and I can’t wait to have a special place just for writing!

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.

Review: ‘The Rumour’ by Lesley Kara

When Joanna, a single mum, hears a rumour at the school gates, she doesn’t intend to share it with anyone. But, when she mentions it in passing at her book club, word starts to spread. Apparently, there’s an infamous child killer living in their midst under an assumed identity and now the residents of Flintstead-on-Sea want to know who Sally McGowan, who killed young Robbie Harris almost fifty years ago, is now. 

Lesley Kara has come up with a truly original premise. The idea of how dangerous one throw-away comment can be is a really interesting one in this time of social media. Not only is ‘The Rumour‘ a study of society but it is, at heart, an intriguing mystery. 

This novel is a compelling story which features an important message regarding the impact that the past can have on the present. 

The characters in ‘The Rumour‘ are well-drawn and Kara manages to make the reader question everyone’s motives. Kara’s characters are really believable and, despite everyone potentially being a suspect, they are still empathetic. I could absolutely sympathise with Joanna’s suspicion of everyone and her inability to trust anyone. 

Kara’s debut novel has plenty of twists and turns. It’s fast-paced which mirrors the panic felt by Joanna. 

The Rumour‘ is one of the best books I have had the privilege of reading this year. I couldn’t put it down. It’s available for download now. 

Vic x

2018 Review: Rob Walton

Rob Walton is a true gent. I’ve had the pleasure of working with him when he joined Elementary Writers a couple of years ago to give a reading. He’s a warm, funny chap and a brilliant writer.

I’m delighted to welcome him to the blog today. Here’s to a positive 2019, Rob!

Vic x

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Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
There were various acceptances and publications of short fictions and poems, and some lovely dealings with several fantastic/hard-working/unheralded editors.  Hats off to all of them.  

Performance-wise, there was a gig in praise and support of Cullercoats Library at the Salthouse, which was great fun – with bonus swearing.

And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
Much trickier because it really wasn’t the best of years.  Probably pride at our daughters for getting through their GCSEs and SATs, and still being decent human beings in spite of the crap that school and society feeds them.  I was also pleased my creaking body allowed me to do my 50th Parkrun.  Then there was a strange pleasure in shedding a few tears at Durham Miners’ Gala, the day after being honoured to read at the launch of Paul Summers’s Arise!  Luckily, I managed to replace the lost liquid with pale ale.

Favourite book in 2018?
The absolutely wonderful Love by Hanne ørstavik (Archipelago Books), translated from the Norwegian by my very talented mate Martin Aitken. 

Patti Smith’s Just Kids.  This had been waiting on my bedside table for years so I took it to New York in the summer, but didn’t manage to read it there.  Instead, I read it in North Shields on my return.  Probably just as well, otherwise I’d have been dragging my daughters to empty spaces/vacant lots in Greenwich Village, saying “Look!  This is where she had a bowl of soup with Allen Ginsberg!”

Favourite film in 2018?
I didn’t go as often as I would have liked.  I shared some laughs at the Jam Jar in Whitley Bay with my younger daughter, and got moderately freaked with both daughters by The Little Stranger at the Tyneside.  I was probably most impressed by Wildlife and the brilliant but unrelentingly bleak Dark River.  I was also lucky enough to have a sneak preview of the fantastic Pond Life at Leeds Film Festival.  Look out for this next year.  

Favourite gig.
Richard Dawson at the Pitmen’s Parliament, supported by Onsind.  Or maybe Laura Veirs at the Cluny – the best I’ve seen her in years, although she’s always been very good.  I’d also been looking forward to Misty in Roots at Cluny 2, but someone swapped my Dr Marten shoes for some very wobbly boots just before the gig started.

Favourite TV.
Hip-Hop Evolution or Godless or Brooklyn 99 or Killing Eve or, or…

Favourite song of the year?
Ooh, got to be Russ Abbot’s Atmosphere.  I return to it every year and always discover something new. 

Any downsides for you in 2018?
Just bits of my life and the death of the Free World as we know it and all that Great Exhibition of the North nonsense.  

With the far right on the move and the knowledge things are going to get much worse.  I’ve been thinking about the best and most useful way for an inarticulate coward like me to respond.  I’m going to make some cheese scones.  I might put some chives in them.

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
I won’t actually be writing them down but there are lifestyle changes I want to make.

With my move away from North Shields, I need to get to know the dirty bits of Whitley Bay.  I know all about the shiny Spanish City promenade bits, so it’s the underbelly I need to discover: the illicit ice cream dens of Monkseaton and the Briardene stolen conker warehouses.
What are you hoping for from 2019?
Even keel.  Light.  Warmth.  Pale ale with friends.  Possibly fewer submissions to magazines and anthologies and more getting my own stuff together.  The world to come to its cheese scone senses.