Tag Archives: character

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.  

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2018 Review: Annie Doyle

Whether you’re a reader or writer of crime fiction, we have a very strong community in the north-east and that’s how I met the lovely Annie Doyle. Annie is always smiling when I see her and I’m really chuffed to have her on the blog to review her year.

My thanks to Annie for taking the time to answer my questions.

Vic x

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
I’m delighted to have completed my first short story and submitted it to a competition. Throughout my life I’ve written lots of parts of stories and created lots of plot and character ideas, but this is the first time I’ve finished a story and done something productive with it; it feels like a huge achievement!

And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
Being able to enjoy an autumnal walk with my mam. She’s had a long spell of illness and I didn’t think we’d be able to enjoy a walk together again. However, effective treatment has meant she’s regained the use of her legs and we’re walking together again!

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Favourite book in 2018?
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
by Betty Smith. An American friend gave this to me when I visited Cape Cod in September. In-between days out cycling and evenings out eating, I read it from cover to cover in a few days. A coming of age/rite of passage/family saga story, it’s expertly told through the eyes and thoughts of young Francie Nolan. Francie’s reflections on her family and her personal situation are by turns hilarious and heartbreaking. It left me wanting more and needing to know what became of the adult Francie.

Favourite film in 2018?
Doctor Zhivago. A rotten cold relegated me to the sofa with Lemsip and a hot water bottle one rainy weekend in October so I consoled myself with a movie-fest. I’d never seen Doctor Zhivago before! I was immediately captivated by the music, the story, the romance and oh yes, by Omar Sharif. I wouldn’t go as far as saying I want to get cold again for an excuse to watch it but it’s definitely on the to-be-watched-over-and-over-again list!

Favourite song of the year?
Demons by Robert Vincent. I first saw this talented Liverpudlian singer-songwriter perform at the Sage SummerTyne Americana music festival in July. I was completely captivated by his music and his voice. I can’t compare him to anyone else; his voice is unique. I’ve seen him perform again more recently at the Old Cinema Launderette in Durham. Yes, it used to be a cinema, yes it’s now a launderette and yes, it hosts gigs! Fantastic concept for an event venue, you can have a drink, see a gig and do your washing, all in one evening! Robert Vincent is a talent to watch, in my opinion.

Any downsides for you in 2018?
My mam’s illness. A cancer diagnosis is always devastating for any individual and for that person’s extended family. We’ve had an extremely tough year, watching Mam battle invasive treatments and infections. She’s met each challenge head-on and she is my inspiration in life. The upside to this downside is that she’s currently living well with a chronic cancer and at 86, that’s some achievement!

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
To continue to make progress with my first novel. It’s been waiting to be created my whole life so it’s about time I just got on with it!

What are you hoping for from 2019?
Good health and happiness for my family and friends.

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!

A Deadly Lesson - small

2018 Review: Jennifer C Wilson

Another of my friends joins us today to review her 2018, please welcome Jennifer C. Wilson, author of the ‘Kindred Spirits‘ series. 

My thanks to Jen for casting a glance back over the last twelve months. 

Vic x

JenniferCWilson-NEW-January2018

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
It has to be the launch of Kindred Spirits: Westminster Abbey in June. Being the third in the Kindred Spirits series, I felt I was more comfortable with the world and the characters, and seeing it going out into the world was such a great feeling. The launch went more smoothly, I was much less stressed about it, and I enjoyed everything about the day. 

And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
This is difficult, and I have two which really stand out… Firstly, in February, I finally got to visit the grave of Richard III in Leicester Cathedral, and see the beautiful stone they had created for him. It was a lovely day, visiting for the first time since March 2015. I also got three short stories out of it, which will be in an anthology about Richard, out in early December. On a sunnier note, it was getting to see the Roman Forum in September, having eventually got around to going back to Rome. I adore my history, and it’s there in buckets in Rome. 

Favourite book in 2018? 
Being part of book blog tours on a regular basis, I get to read so many great books, but this year, my favourite has been The Road to Newgate by Kate Braithwaite, following the background and trial of Titus Oates, a historical character I knew a bit about, but not the full story, so I enjoyed learning the facts as well as reading the fiction. I also loved her previous novel, Charlatan, set in the time of the ‘affair of the poisons’ in France, and a great antidote for somebody mourning the loss of the TV series Versailles!

Favourite film in 2018?
I’m not really a film-lover, or a fan of the cinema, but this year, I’ve actually really enjoyed a number of films, both at home and out. Top of the list has to be from the first week of the year: The Greatest Showman. On a dull, wet, windy January Wednesday, two colleagues and I headed to the Tyneside Cinema to catch this, in the gorgeous, tiny screen right on the top floor. We came out on such a high, feeling like we could take on anything, even the rest of January! I bought the soundtrack the next morning, and play it whenever I need to feel a bit invincible. 

Favourite song of the year?
Obviously, all of the tracks from The Greatest Showman should be in here! But my standalone favourite song from 2018 is definitely Make Your Own Kind of Music from Paloma Faith. I’d heard it on the car advert a couple of times, and having loved the original, thought it was a great version, and was chuffed to bits when she released it as a proper single. Music is so important to me, and I love a good, empowering, ‘go get them’ sort of song. 

JCW-Kindred-Westminster

Any downsides for you in 2018?
When I was writing Kindred Spirits: York, I completely lost faith in the story, the series, and me as a writer. I even contemplated walking away from the whole thing. No idea why, but I was totally out of love with it, and almost with writing in general. It took a good couple of weeks to pull myself out of it, but luckily I did, mainly thanks to very patient writing friends and family. 

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
I am! In terms of writing, I’m aiming to release The Raided Heart by autumn. It’s something different for me, no ghosts, no timeslipping, just a straight-up historical romance, and one I’ve been working on, on-and-off, for just over twenty years. No pressure on myself there then… 

Outside of writing, I’m promising to take a little more time out in 2019. 

What are you hoping for from 2019?
Fun! Nice and simple, I’m looking forward to getting out and about, trying new things, and seeing what happens. 

Review: ‘The Hermitage’ by LJ Ross

When an old man is found dead inside the ancient hermitage at Warkworth Castle, Northumbria CID are called in to investigate. With no apparent motive, it’s their job to discover why he was murdered – and this time they’re forced to do it without their star detective as DCI Ryan has tracked a killer across Europe and has sworn not to return until he has his man in custody. Nathan Armstrong is a dangerous psychopath but there’s just one problem – he’s also an international celebrity; a world-famous thriller writer with money and connections.

When I began reading ‘The Hermitage‘, I was staying in a hotel very close to the village of Warkworth, where LJ Ross’s latest book is set. I loved being even more immersed in the setting than usual. However, Ross’s descriptions are so evocative that you’ll be able to picture the locations even if you haven’t visited them before. 

The Hermitage‘ is also unusual in the fact that DCI Ryan is actually out of the UK, we follow him and his wife Anna to Florence. Despite the beauty of their surroundings, Ryan and Anna find themselves fighting for their lives against an intelligent adversary. 

I really enjoyed finding out more about Nathan Armstrong’s backstory, LJ Ross demonstrates an insightful streak by understanding the motives behind his heinous acts. Combined with a keen awareness of her main character, Ross uses ‘The Hermitage‘ to inform her readers about Ryan and his family too. 

I think what continues to make the DCI Ryan series so successful is Ross’s ability to combine some awful crimes with strong relationships between the recurring characters. I particularly enjoy the banter between Ryan and Phillips. 

Ross’s stories demonstrate a duality that most of us experience: that things are rarely all good or all bad. 

I honestly did not want ‘The Hermitage‘ to end, it was utterly gripping. However, DCI Ryan fans don’t have long to wait for the next instalment: ‘Longstone‘ is due to be released on 10th December. Before that, though, is a new multicast drama on audiobook. ‘The Infirmary‘ will be available on Audible from 8th November. I, for one, can’t wait! 

Vic x

Getting to Know You: Adam Peacock

Drum roll please! May I introduce you to Adam Peacock, a member of Elementary Writers and author of ‘Open Grave‘.

Because Adam is a debut author, I wanted to introduce him to you as I suspect you will be reading Adam’s novels for many years to come.

My thanks to Adam for taking the time to answer my questions.

Vic x

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Tell us about your book(s).
My novel Open Grave is a crime thriller set in the North East of England. The protagonist, DCI Jack Lambert, is different to most other detectives within the genre in that he is gay. On a personal level, this is something he is struggling with, having only recently made this admission at the beginning of the book.

The main ‘crime’ within the story is that of a serial killer who is murdering people in pairs, burying them and then digging them up so that they can be found. Alongside this, gang warfare is about to break out between rival criminal groups and a well-known local celebrity reports that she is being stalked. I wanted to create a sprawling world within my book with multiple threads, the idea being that nothing ever resolves neatly, with certain storylines and characters crossing over into future novels.

What inspired your novel?
I read a lot of crime and so it felt natural to write something within that genre. The inspiration for Open Grave came about from an image I had in my head of a crime scene in which a member of the public stumbles across two bodies in an open grave (strange, I know). The story unfolded from there.

What do you like most about writing? What do you dislike (if anything)?
I quite enjoy editing, which is a good thing as there’s always plenty to do when you don’t intricately plot your book before beginning! Knowing that I am whipping something up into shape is a great feeling.

The thing I dislike most about writing is just how easy it is to fall out of your routine when it comes to putting words onto the page. Like most things in life, a few days away from the computer can easily stretch into weeks and this can lead to unnecessary procrastination.

Do you find time to read, if so what are you reading at the moment?
I do find the time to read. As I prefer to write in the mornings, I dedicate time to read most evenings. I’m currently reading Martina Cole’s Dangerous Lady.

Which author(s) has/have had the biggest influence on your writing?
As a writer, I would have to say Stephen King and Jo Nesbo. I would also include Lee Child in that list. With regards to Stephen King, I read his book On Writing before I penned so much as a character profile and I use the template he gives in terms of how to go about writing. I also enjoy reading his books!

As for Jo Nesbo, I find the protagonist Harry Hole to be a wonderfully complex character. He has many of the traits that we see in crime fiction from such detectives but I find myself invested in Harry in a way that I rarely find in other books. I also like that Nesbo leaves certain threads open between books, which always leaves me wanting to read more. With Lee Child, it has to be his pacing. I find myself flying through his books and every page carries a tension with it. This is something I am hoping to refine in my own work moving forward.

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Where do you get your ideas from?
Usually they just pop into my head either as an image – like happened with Open Grave –  or as a question. I like the idea of concocting a problem, in the form of a question, which seemingly makes no sense initially. Within my own writing, I basically keep asking a number of questions until an answer presents itself. This helps create misdirection.

Do you have a favourite scene/character/story you’ve written?
I enjoy the opening scene from Open Grave, mainly because it is the opening chapter of my first published novel. In terms of a character, it would have to be gangland boss Dorian McGuinness, my protagonist’s former employer. I feel like his character has a lot of room to grow and that there are all manner of skeletons in his closet which may or may not be revealed in future…

What are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently writing the second novel in the DCI Jack Lambert series and I’m excited to see where it will go. This novel is a little more focused around one event and, with characters having already been established in the first novel, I am keen to see how they react to the hurdles put before them.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given (and who was it from)?
In a non-direct sense, Stephen King’s ‘just get an idea and go with it’ has had the biggest impact on me. Whilst this can lead to a lot of editing, it minimises the scope for procrastination and I find myself able to get on with things. I also try to stick to his mantra of completing 1,000 words a day with varying degrees of success.

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
I’m definitely not a plotter! Get the idea and run with it. Of course, as I work through a novel, ideas spring into my head in terms of where I want things to go, but you won’t find any colour-coded charts or timelines pinned to my wall. I should point out, that’s not a judgement on writers that do spend time plotting, I’m merely saying that it doesn’t work for me.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Yes! Read Stephen King’s On Writing, get yourself along to a writing group and don’t fret about giving it a go. Most writers I meet begin by being somewhat self-conscious about their work, often talking down their ability and/or experience. I’d say just get stuck in and see what happens. If you can get into some kind of writing routine, you’ll soon see huge improvements in your work.

What’s been your proudest writing-related moment?
Until recent times it would have been winning the Writers’ Forum monthly magazine short story competition. However, opening the email from Bloodhound Books to find that they believed in my work and wanted to publish Open Grave has definitely topped all other writing-related moments!

You can order/download Open Grave‘ now. You can also follow Adam on Twitter and on Facebook

Review: ‘In A House of Lies’ by Ian Rankin

A missing private investigator is found, locked in a car hidden deep in the woods. Worse still – for everyone involved – is that his body was in an area that had already been searched.

Detective Inspector Siobhan Clarke is part of a new inquiry, combing through the mistakes of the original case. Every officer involved in the original investigation must be questioned, and it seems everyone on the case has something to hide, and everything to lose. But there is one man who knows where the trail may lead – and that it could be the end of him: John Rebus.

In a House of Lies‘, the twenty-second Rebus novel is a masterclass in how to keep a series fresh. Featuring a strong cast of characters, ‘In a House of Lies‘ is sure to thrill the Rebus faithful. Although he’s still ruffling plenty of feathers with his unconventional methods, the years of heavy smoking and drinking are taking their toll on Rebus and it’s really interesting to see how Rankin demonstrates the fallibility of his main character. Rankin seems to have an excellent insight into how his characters behave – and why. 

I thought the dialogue between characters in this novel was really strong, the banter between friends and foes is really realistic. Rebus’s dry humour really appealed to me. 

The involving plot demonstrates the trust that Rankin places in his readers. He doesn’t over-explain or try to simplify the multiple narrative strands. 

Ian Rankin’s latest novel considers the impact of historic crimes and the impact they have on the people involved. Fans of ‘Unforgotten‘ and ‘Line of Duty‘ will love ‘In a House of Lies‘. 

Vic x