Tag Archives: character

Getting to Know You: Jackie McLean

My very good friend, Jackie McLean, author of ‘Toxic’ and ‘Shadows’, is here to chew the fat today. Jackie has appeared on this blog a few times but she’s always such fun and has plenty of advice to give aspiring writers. 

My thanks to Jackie – for sharing her time and wisdom with us in addition to being a wonderful, thoughtful friend.

Vic x

Tell us about your novels.
At the moment, I have two crime fiction books that are published by ThunderPoint Publishing Ltd:

Toxic – An anonymous tip-off sparks a desperate race against the clock to track down the illegal storage of the deadly toxin that was responsible for the Bhopal disaster, the world’s worst industrial accident. However the two senior investigating officers are as volatile as the toxin they’re trying to find, and tensions run high. For the lead character, DI Donna Davenport, the investigation becomes personal. She’s recently broken up with her partner Libby, but Libby’s brother is being set up as a suspect, and Donna struggles with the conflict.

Shadows – When DI Donna Davenport is called out to investigate a body washed up on Arbroath beach, it looks like a routine murder inquiry. However, it doesn’t take long before it begins to take on a more sinister shape. There are similarities with a previous murder, and now a woman who is connected with them goes missing. Meanwhile, Donna can’t shake off the feeling that she’s being watched, and she is convinced that Jonas Evanton has returned to seek his revenge on her for his downfall. Fearing they may be looking for a serial killer, the trail leads Donna and her new team in an unexpected direction. Because it’s not a serial killer – it’s worse.

What inspired them?
I originally wrote Toxic because I wanted to write something set in my home town, Arbroath. It’s by the sea, and has caves in the cliffs, so a smuggling story seemed obvious. In that first version, it was genetic modification (of food) experiments that were being smuggled in and out of the country, but I couldn’t really do anything exciting with that.  I needed a dangerous substance that behaved in particular ways, and my nephew – a forensic toxicologist – suggested I look at the Bhopal disaster. As soon as I learned about the substance responsible, I knew it was the one for my storyline. But the research left me deeply disturbed about what happened to the people of Bhopal, who to this day have never received justice for the blatant failures of the company responsible, and so I hope to be able to raise some awareness of that.

The storyline for Shadows came out of a discussion with a friend of mine who’s a midwife, and who told me about some of the murkier sides of her work.  She was keen to find a way to highlight what’s going on, and wanted me to write about it.

Where do you get your ideas from?
A lot of the stuff I’ve written is actually based on dreams that I’ve had. However, in recent years I’ve suffered insomnia, so have resorted to spying on people instead. I work full time, and there are always good snippets of information at meetings and in office gossip that can be built into a plot…

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
My favourite form of writing is actually screenwriting, and I’ve written some comedy pieces with my partner Allison. When we write comedy scripts together, sparks fly and the writing is just great fun. So, while I enjoy whatever it is I happen to be writing at any one time, the screenwriting with Allison is my favourite.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
The best writing advice I’ve seen came from Dr Jacky Collins, whose advice to aspiring crime writers is to get along to their nearest Noir at the Bar and get involved.  There is lots of advice out there on how to write – from style, to good writing habits – but I’ve found the best motivation and confidence-builder to me for writing has come from being around other writers, and from the tremendous support we give each other.

What can readers expect from your books?
I hope first and foremost that they’ll enjoy a gripping good read.  Characters that they can get to know and understand, and short chapters for a quick read after a hard day at work.

Beyond that, I’m interested in the relativity of crime: by that, I mean there’s always a wider context behind the actual crime that we see, and none of us really can wash our hands of that. For example, the company responsible for the Bhopal disaster clearly cut corners and ignored safety procedures that would have prevented the catastrophe. But companies cut corners all the time, largely because all of us want to buy our goods as cheaply as possible. We’re not very accepting of price tags that reflect the full costs of production – costs that relate to environmental and human pressures. If we buy cheap, it means somebody else – with less power than us – pays the full price. While I don’t want to be preachy, I do think we need to be more aware of our own contribution to the crime we see around us, and I hope my books will give a glimpse into that, too.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
You need to love and enjoy what you’re writing. If you want to take it further, and want to see it published, I’d say study the market and treat your finished work like a business. There are rules, and you need to know what these are in your particular genre. When I completed Toxic, I hadn’t thought of it in terms of genre at all, until I researched the publishing world and realised it had to “fit” somewhere, so I re-drafted it to be more compatible with the crime fiction market.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
There are a number of aspects to writing, for example the actual act of writing, researching your topic, and the writing life.

On writing itself, this is going to sound ancient, but I went to school in the days before computers were invented. There, I’ve said it! All of our work was handwritten, including all of our creative writing. When I was a kid, I wrote all the time, and find today that I can still only write creatively if it’s by hand. If I try to write directly onto the screen, it comes out like a work report. Oddly, I both like and dislike that I need to hand write first.  I enjoy the feeling of writing by hand, but it does make for double the work.

Researching your topic is really important, and should be enjoyable. If you find the research dull, you’re maybe not writing from the heart. However, you do have to be careful, especially when you’re researching for crime fiction. I inadvertently ended up on a terrorist recruitment website recently while researching smoke grenades (and I was only trying to find out if they make a noise…).

As to the writing life, meeting up with other writers and folk involved in the book world (readers, bloggers, booksellers, publishers, etc) is great. I don’t know about other genres, but in crime writing there’s a real sense of belonging and support, and I say that as someone who’s fairly shy and doesn’t find it terribly easy to do the networking stuff.

Are you writing anything at the moment?
I’m writing the third Donna Davenport book (Run), which completes a particular storyline that started in Toxic. I’ve also begun to outline two more books, and can’t quite decide which one to go for first. One is another Donna Davenport book. Here’s a sneak preview of the other one:

Death Do Us Part – Diane knows she’s the piece in her husband Rick’s deadly game. Claiming the glory when he kills her lovers – who line up to take him on, like rutting stags – keeps Rick as the undisputed crime lord, and their life of riches intact. Dutifully she plays the game. They line up. He conquers. She lives.

Then one day the rules of the game change forever. Diane falls in love with Claire. They both know Rick won’t challenge a woman – there’s no status in that. If he finds out, Diane’s life will be over.

There’s nowhere to turn for help. Claire is the crime gang’s chief mechanic, and as well as knowing where all the bodies are buried, she’s in it up to her neck.

The pair can’t risk being found together.

The only option open to them is to go on the run, but Rick has a reputation to defend, and they’ll have to outplay him at his own game if they’re ever to be truly free.

I also can’t decide if it’s crime or romance – what do you think?

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
I’ve recently begun to run creative writing sessions, along with a former colleague, for men who are in prison or who have recently been released. Each time we meet, there’s a new favourite moment, and I’ve been blown away by the power of creative writing to mend broken lives. For example, one of the guys, who protested that writing wasn’t his thing and that he couldn’t do it, eventually wrote a poem. He declared that the experience had given him a bigger high than any drugs. That’s priceless, and it’s what I love about writing. Now I’m welling up.

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*Hydra Blog Tour* Guest Post and Review.

Author Matt Wesolowski joins us today as part of his ‘Hydra‘ blog tour. I’m really happy to be part of this tour as I am a huge fan of Matt’s writing, he combines crime with something much darker.

Today Matt is here to chat about fear which seems appropriate seeing as his novels have given me some sleepless nights…

Vic x 

The Difficult Second Book
By Matt Wesolowski

I thought I knew fear. I deal in fear. Creating fear is my only talent (or not – depending on your opinion). I’ve been plenty scared in my life, like the other day when there was a spider in the bath that was so big that even when I brought in the expert to deal with it (my cat) – she ran away.

Like I say, I know fear.

The fear of writing a second installment of Six Stories didn’t really hit until I was about half way through. Suddenly, the words of every one star review (I’ll tell you I don’t read them but I do!) gathered together above my head in a storm cloud of mocking dissent. The nasty part of my brain began to prod me with its savagely pointed fingernail and tell me that I couldn’t do this again, that writing another one was impossible. I was a flash-in-the-pan.

I felt there was expectation where there had been none before. What if Hydra was terrible?

A deep, gut-churning fear assailed me as if from nowhere as I ploughed on through the manuscript. Writing has never been a place of fear, at least not the actual writing process. Writing has always been catharsis or solace.

Writing a prequel to Six Stories was, in theory, easier than writing Six Stories itself. The structure was there, the idea was blinking its corpse-light from somewhere in the folds of my brain, but the fear of expectation hung in the air like some ghastly fog.

The way through this fear was tough, like hacking through a jungle of self-doubt. Yet after a while, a path began to emerge.

First off, I knew it would be difficult to set anything after Six Stories – the implications at the end would be too complex. I also like loose series. Take the magnificent author Thomas Enger for example; his novels all stand alone yet have a loose threat running through them so can be enjoyed as a series or indeed not. To be able to do that is true talent. I had to at least give it a shot.

So instead of thinking about writing, I started thinking about podcasts again instead.

I love discovering a podcast which I can listen to its latest episode and then trawl back through its archives – same presenter, same style, different cases. This appeals to a creature of habit like me.

So why not apply the same sentiment to Hydra? After all, Six Stories was only supposed to be one book, a prequel was never on the cards until an idea appeared in my brain when I least expected it, just like that terrible bath-spider, but with fewer legs.

I allude a few times in the first book to there being previous series of Six Stories – old graves that Scott King likes to rake up.

Using that sense of trawling back through the archives to an unknown time before Scarclaw Fell appealed to me. I didn’t want to write another whodunnit about the woods, I wanted to use that old anonymous adage:

The writer’s job is to get the main character up a tree, and then once they are up there, throw rocks at them.

I wondered how Six Stories would feel in an urban setting, where place didn’t play so much of a role. I also indulged my own fascination with true crime – why rather than who. I also wondered about the ramifications for raking up these graves – would it impact the podcaster at all? Why does Scott King wear a mask? I thought that this might be something fun to explore.

All these questions and notions became my machete, hacking the murky undergrowth of fear and doubt. I began to construct something that wasn’t like Six Stories save for its structure. The horror element showed itself in the early ideas of Hydra but something a million miles from the rustic folktale of Nanna Wrack, something less cosy (Nanna Wrack has her cosy side, you just don’t know her well enough!). I felt like having a more modern story needed a more modern horror…enter the BEKs…

Sometimes I wonder if I’m actually a crime writer at all, that maybe this expectation comes from some perception I have of myself. I think I’ve decided I’m not a crime writer in the traditional sense (too much horror), nor am I a horror writer (too little horror, too much crime).

But I’m ok with that.

What it does mean is that giving birth to horrors like Hydra is always going to be difficult.

Review: ‘Hydra’
by Matt Wesolowski.

Well, where do I start? It’s no secret that ‘Six Stories‘ was one of my favourite reads of 2017 so I was delighted to be getting another in the series so soon. It is worthwhile saying that, although I’m a fan of the series, you can read the books as standalones or out of the order they were published in – they are self-contained stories.

A family massacre
A deluded murderess
Five witnesses
Six Stories
Which one is true?

In November 2014, 21-year-old Arla Macleod bludgeoned her mother, stepfather and younger sister to death with a hammer, in an unprovoked attack known as the Macleod Massacre. Now incarcerated at a mental-health institution, Arla refuses to speak to anyone but Scott King, whose Six Stories podcasts have become an online phenomenon.

As he digs deeper into the case, Scott begins to wonder whether Arla’s capacity for murder was played down by her legal team. Interviewing Arla and five witnesses, Scott finds himself down the rabbit hole of deadly online games, trolls and strange black-eyed kids. Will he survive to tell the tale? 

Matt Wesolowski manages to blend horror and crime effortlessly – he has a real talent for combining potentially supernatural horror with terror that is all too real. Delving into the deepest recesses of human capability, ‘Hydra‘ is a story about the ills people can inflict on one another. 

Capitalising on the success of new media, Wesolowski presents his narrative in a unique way – that of a serialised podcast. Not only is this a form I haven’t seen used before, it’s clear Wesolowski is very familiar with the conventions of podcasts and how ambiguity prevails through many online investigations.

In addition to this, Wesolowski writes about so-called ‘outsiders’ particularly well. Where other authors may be afraid to shine a spotlight, Wesolowski excels. Whether it be an overweight teen who is bullied, or someone who is scoffed due to their home life or taste in music, Wesolowski really nails the ‘outcast’. However, he also manages to capture the psyche of the “cool” and popular kids. To me, this is a true skill – he creates balanced, empathetic characters.

Will ‘Hydra‘ become one of my top reads of 2018? Only time will tell but it is certainly a front runner. 

Vic x

*Deep Blue Trouble Blog Tour* Guest Post and Review.

Steph Broadribb, AKA Crime Thriller Girl, is not only a blogger extraordinaire, she is also a Slice Girl as well as the author of the Lori Anderson series – ‘Deep Down Dead‘ and ‘Deep Blue Trouble‘ – and ‘My Little Eye‘ (writing as Stephanie Marland). Identity crisis much, Steph?!

In all seriousness, though, Steph is an absolute star in the making and I wish her every success with her various endeavours. I’m delighted to host her today as part of the ‘Deep Blue Trouble‘ blog tour.  

Steph’s here today to talk about how music inspires her writing. My thanks to Steph for taking the time to share her process with us. 

USING SONGS TO CREATE CHARACTER:
MUSIC TO WRITE LORI BY
By Steph Broadribb

I can’t actually write while listening to music, but I do like to listen to songs to get into the mood of the character before I write. I tend to start writing first thing in the morning, so while I’m drinking my first coffee of the day and eating breakfast I head over to YouTube and listen and watch the songs that get me in the mood.

I find that most of the songs for each book or short story are different (even when it’s the same character) although there might be one or two songs that I use for a specific character.

For Lori Anderson, my single mom Florida bounty hunter, the song I use to get in character for writing her is Fighter by Christina Aguilera. For me, the song is about using the things that try to break you to make you stronger – and that’s something that Lori has had to do her whole life, no matter what obstacles she faces, she doesn’t give up, she learns from her mistakes and fights harder.

In Deep Blue Trouble, to set the mood for writing Lori’s scenes with JT (her ex-mentor and lover) I listened to Elastic Heart by Sia. There’s a lot of tension between Lori and JT. Neither are really able to express their feelings for each other, and they have a complicated and emotion-charged past that often gets in the way of the present. Yet even though they might not say it, they care deeply for each other and are drawn back together time and again. You can listen to the song and watch Julianne and Derek Hough do an incredible dance to it on Dancing With The Stars here.

When Lori is thinking about her nine-year-old daughter Dakota – who she’s apart from for much of the book – I always imagine Angel From Montgomery by Bonnie Raitt playing in the background. I love that song.

And when things aren’t going Lori’s way, when she can’t catch a break tracking the fugitive she needs to find, and she’s feeling low, I listen to Dream On by Aerosmith to get me into her head space.

For the ass kicking action scenes I listen to Pink. While writing Deep Blue Trouble because Lori is constantly coming up against one barrier after another, even from those who should be helping her, I listened to Try. I love Pink’s music – even when her lyrics are vulnerable the way she sings them shows her strength.

Review: ‘Deep Blue Trouble’ by Steph Broadribb.

Deep Blue Trouble‘ is the sequel to Steph Broadribb’s acclaimed ‘Deep Down Dead‘, picking up a few days after the end of the last book. 

Lori Anderson is a single mother. She is also a bounty hunter. Although her daughter Dakota is safe and healthy, for now, Lori needs Dakota’s father JT  – who also happens to be Lori’s former mentor – alive. Her problem, though, is that JT is in prison and on his way to death row. 

In order to save JT, Lori makes a deal with dubious FBI agent Alex Monroe: bring back a criminal who’s on the run and keep it off the radar – achieve that and JT walks free. Can Lori manage it or will her whole world implode? 

I’m not the first person to say it, nor will I be the last, but Steph Broadribb has created a unique, intriguing central character in Lori Anderson. In a profession that remains male-dominated, Lori has to fight tooth and nail to prove herself even though it appears she’s more than capable of holding her own.

What I really love about Lori is that she is both fearless and vulnerable, which is a really tough balance to strike but Steph Broadribb has managed it. 

Deep Blue Trouble‘ sets off at a pace and doesn’t let up until the final page – it’s like a Tarantino movie. Broadribb’s descriptions of both the characters and the settings ensure that the reader can clearly visualise the high-octane action.

Like Lori, ‘Deep Blue Trouble‘ really packs a punch!

Vic x

Review of 2017: Geraldine Ward

Geraldine Ward is another writer I have “known” online for many years. I haven’t yet had the opportunity of meeting her in the flesh yet but I really appreciate her taking the time to review her year. 

Please check back later today for our penultimate 2017 review. 

Vic x

My favourite memory from a professional perspective this year has to be appearing on BBC Radio Four’s Front Row on a podcast broadcast discussing NANOWRIMO. This was especially sweet because I was only one of three people picked in the whole country, in this instance for my region, Kent, out of the NANOWRIMO entrants and apparently there had been a lot of people applying to go for a slot on the show. Enough of the boasting, moving on!

A general favourite moment of 2017 is still writing related. This was reading one of my stories, The Fish With No Lips, from my book, Mark’s Magic Farmyard and Other Stories at the infants’ assembly at my son’s school. I have never read my work out to so many people so was quite nervous even though they were children. I have to say it was a great pleasure doing this and was very impressed how well the children listened and paid attention. I am also extremely grateful to the Deputy Head who gave me the opportunity to basically run the assembly!

My favourite book that I have read this year is not a contemporary one, written by Zora Neale Hurston called Their Eyes were Watching God. I loved the originality of Hurston’s voice and the heroine in it is an incredible character. Well worth reading.

I have watched very few films this year, so I am a bit light on that front I am afraid although I really enjoyed going to the cinema with my son, Sam to watch The BFG. An unexpected treat!

There have been some good songs this year. My guilty pleasure is Little Mix. However, I really enjoyed listening to Rag’n’Bone Man, Human. Love that one.

Downsides this year have to be breaking my foot twice. First time it was my right foot, then my left foot, this time my ankle. I am hoping there won’t be another injury on the cards, being a bit superstitious about things “going in threes”.

I am not making any New Year’s resolutions. There is no point as I don’t ever keep them. My only hope would be not to have another injury and survive the next year intact and in one piece.

You can find Geraldine on Twitter and Facebook

 

Review of 2017: Nikki East

Our final St Nick of today is Nikki East. It was a pleasure getting to know Nikki better during Newcastle Noir then seeing her again at Harrogate and Bloody Scotland. 

Nikki, along with Nick Quantrill and Nick Triplow, were responsible for Hull Noir which included a special Noir at the Bar. Anyway, let’s hear all about it from Nikki herself. 

I hope you enjoy the rest of your day – check back for another end of year review tomorrow. 

Vic x

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2017?
Without doubt, Hull Noir. Nick Triplow, Nick Quantrill and I took over Iceland Noir this year and hosted it in Hull as part of the City of Culture celebrations. Our feedback has been amazing and we’ve been asked to do it again already. It took a lot of organising however the results speak for themselves. We had the most tremendous guest authors and moderators who made the whole event worthwhile for everyone attending but was very special for us as it was our very first one.

And how about a favourite moment from 2017 generally?
As part of Hull Noir, I was able to introduce and host Hull’s very first Noir at the Bar. I was nervous as the whole NATB concept is so special to so many however, again, it went very well and we had some wonderful readings. I feel very honoured and privileged to be part of it and hopefully will be part of more in the future.

Best book of 2017?
Abir Mukherjee’s second novel A Necessary Evil published by Harvill Secker. It continues with the adventures of Captain Wyndham and Sergeant Banerjee in 1920 Calcutta. This and the award winning debut, A Rising Man, are wonderfully written with brilliant characters that thoroughly transport you back to another time and a whole other world. Simply magnificent and a must read.
Favourite film this year?
Guardians of the Galaxy 2! I just love these movies!! I get very little time to spend with my son now he’s an adult and we’re both very busy with conflicting schedules but we managed to find time to go and see this together. What a laugh, great music plus I had good company.
Favourite song of the year?
Bruno Mars 24k Magic album. Although the album came out last year, I only downloaded it this year. I love it. My favourite track is Perm. It makes me dance about like no one is watching whether I’m in my home, on the tube or walking down Whitechapel High Street!!  I do get looks but that song is just soooo good!!! 😉
Any downsides this year?< /em>My downsides are very limited to be honest. Consequently all I’d say is I don’t have enough time to get to all of the amazingly book related events now I live here in London.
Are you making resolutions for 2018? Resolutions!??! Hmmmm, maybe start planning for another festival, host more NATBs and who knows, maybe land a full time position somewhere in this awesome industry. Fingers crossed people! 🤞
What are you hoping for from 2018?Mostly just to build on the foundations I’ve laid in 2017. Onwards and upwards is always my mantra. I’ve had THE BEST 2017 and all I can hope is that 2018 brings even more amazing opportunities for me and mine.

Review of 2017: Miriam Owen

Since then, our paths have crossed a couple of times and it’s always a pleasure. 

My thanks to Miriam for taking the time to chat to us today.

Vic x


Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2017?
I chaired panels at Newcastle Noir and Bloody Scotland. Both of these were great memories.  At Newcastle Noir I had the late night slot on the Saturday entitled ‘Presenting The Case.’ I was so pleased the room was full and we had lots of interesting chat and laughs with the panel and audience.  After being involved in this festival for 3 years I finally got to see some of the city, try a stottie and found a wee jazz bar.  There were lots of special moments with friends at Bloody Scotland and I enjoyed trying something different on The Dark Lands panel.  We asked Norwegian author Thomas Enger to play some music he had composed for a character in one of his books which was beautiful. The panel was made even more memorable by Thomas and Icelandic author Ragnar Jonasson marching on to the stage with the Bloody Scotland Football Trophy held high. They both played for the Scottish team this year and we won!  

Photo by @Timea

And how about a favourite moment from 2017 generally?
Finally making it up to the northern Outer Hebrides in the summer of 2017 was great.  I have always wanted to see Luskentyre Beach and it was truly stunning.  We arrived in a storm, struggled to find our accommodation off a single track road then woke up the next day to sunshine and to find Luskentyre was literally over a sand dune from our front door. We also got to spend some quality time on a croft in Uist with friends as well which was long overdue. I went to Dublin for one night to meet friends from Nova Scotia who were over visiting Ireland, that trip was a blast.

Favourite book in 2017?
My favourite book of 2017 was The Man Who Died by Antti Tuomainen.  The story is dark and funny and totally appeared to my sense of humour.  Antti has a twinkle in his eye at the best of times and I can easily imagine him chuckling away to himself as he wrote it. 

Photo by Orenda 

Favourite film in 2017?
Alien Covenant was decent and Series 3 of Fargo was brilliant.  The TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaids Tale was utterly terrifying.  

Favourite song of the year?
Hearing New Focus play their album On Song live at the Tolbooth in Stirling was amazing.  I also heard Phil Bancroft play Sonny Rollins Freedom Suite in Edinburgh which was quite astounding.

Any downsides for you in 2017?
Brexit plus a conservative MP being elected in my constituency is pretty depressing. Anything involving the words Boris or Trump is utterly unbelievable. The lack of compassion, empathy or responsibility by those in powerful positions frustrates the hell out of me.

Are you making resolutions for 2018?
I don’t make resolutions. Every day brings new challenges. I always try to do my best, remain positive and think about the bigger picture.

What are you hoping for from 2018?
To be happy, healthy, learning and exploring and to have love in my life.
I am also starting a major piece of research around Nordic branding and do-it yourself culture (eg Noir at the Bar) in live literary events in the Marketing Department of Strathclyde Business School in Glasgow. I hope 2018 brings lots of discussion, events to go to and peace and quiet to study. If you want to talk to me about this piece of work please email me.

Review of 2017: Chris Ord

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2017?
I’ve had a good year. My debut novel, Becoming has sold well and received widespread acclaim. I’ve visited a number of schools giving talks on writing, and presented at several reading events. I was commissioned by Woodhorn Museum to write some passages for their Wonderfolk interactive family experience. This was a proud moment for me, as I spent my childhood walking up and down the narrow path past the pit where the museum is now. However, my favourite memory has to be completing my second novel, The Storm.

I play solo horn in Newbiggin Brass Band, and a couple of years ago we were involved in a local project ‘Haalin’ the Lines.’ Funded by the BAIT team at Woodhorn Museum, the project was led by the remarkable performer and singer-songwriter, Tim Dalling. Tim was commissioned by BAIT to take historical accounts being gathered by the Newbiggin-by-the-Sea Genealogy Project and put some of the stories to music. The aim was to bring back to life the tales and oral histories of local heroes from the village. One of those heroes was ‘Big’ Philip Jefferson, the first Newbiggin Lifeboat Coxswain who was awarded a clasp to his silver medal for an attempted rescue of the Norwegian brig ‘Embla’ in 1854.

The fascination with ‘Big’ Phil stayed with me after the project and further research revealed what an incredible man he was. The story of the night Phil and a few young men from Newbiggin tried to rescue the ‘Embla’ became the backdrop for the novel. However, the events of that night are only the starting point, as the book weaves this together with a folk tale, and a series of mysterious incidents to create a tense, supernatural thriller.

Setting is so important to my writing and it means a lot to me to write a story set in the village where I grew up. History is filled with tales of kings and queens, leaders and generals. This is the history they teach at school. But the true heroes are all around us. They are the people who built our communities, lived and died for our families, friends, and neighbours. What remains of those heroes is love and memories, and it’s vital we keep those alive. Our folk stories are our heritage and we can still learn from them. Writers and creatives play an important role in raising issues, stimulating debate, and provoking challenging questions. I hope my books are more than stories, but also make people think and reflect on the world.

And how about a favourite moment from 2017 generally?
Music has always been my first love, and my best moment in 2017 is a musical moment. As I said earlier, I play in my village brass band. The past two years have been our most successful and this year we retained our Durham League title, won the North East Regional Championship for the second year running, and qualified for the National Finals in Cheltenham.

We worked hard in preparing for the Finals, but you are playing against the best in the country. Wales, Yorkshire, and the North West all have strong, competitive bands and challenging against them is tough. There were twenty bands in the final and finishing anywhere in the top six placings is considered a success. The draw was not kind to us and as with the year before we had a long wait before we took the stage in nineteenth position. The band performed well, though not quite at our very best, leaving the stage with mixed feelings. Finals are unpredictable and always throw up surprises. Few had us anywhere near the prizes.

The announcements prior to the results were agonising, and full of the usual formal fluff and flannel. Eventually, they got round to revealing the prizes, and we were delighted to be awarded fourth place. This is one of my proudest moments in banding. The band folded many years ago and was only revived in 2010. They’re a great bunch of people and musicians, and to come from nothing and finish fourth at the Nationals is a remarkable achievement. We’ve been promoted and next year brings a whole set of fresh challenges. For the moment, we can enjoy the success.

Favourite book in 2017?
A few years ago I read a book called How to be Free by Tom Hodgkinson. It became a bit of a manifesto for me. I read it every now and then to remind me of some important anchors in my approach your life. I decided to read it again this year.

The book has its flaws and some of the author’s ideas are contradictory and simplistic. However, there’s plenty in there to enjoy and it’s worth reading with an open mind. It’s especially engaging if you’re deliberating a life change. I’ve listed the chapter headings below. They provide an indicator of his anarchic approach to life. I see them as a useful common-sense checklist for embracing a certain kind of freedom. You won’t agree with them all, but they make you think, and a number of them inspired me to focus on new priorities.

  1. Banish anxiety; be carefree
  2. Break the bonds of boredom
  3. The tyranny of bills and the freedom of simplicity
  4. Reject career and all its empty promises
  5. Get out of the city
  6. Cast off your watch
  7. Stop competing
  8. Escape debt
  9. Death to shopping, or fleeing the prison of consumer desire
  10. Smash the fetters of fear
  11. Say no to guilt and free your spirit
  12. No more housework, or the power of the candle
  13. Submit no more to the machine, use your hands
  14. Stop moaning; be merry
  15. Live mortgage free; be a happy wanderer
  16. Disarm pain
  17. Stop worrying about your pension and get a life
  18. Sail away from rudeness and towards a new era of courtesy, civility, and grace
  19. Live free of the supermarkets
  20. The reign of ugly is over; long live beauty, quality, fraternity!
  21. Depose the tyrant wealth
  22. Reject waste; embrace thrift
  23. Stop working, start living!!!

Favourite film in 2017?
I’ve not seen enough films this year. I’ve probably forgotten most of the ones I have. It’s a problem of mine, and my wife is always reminding me that I have seen films I’m convinced I haven’t.

One film that stood out for me was Baby Driver. It’s cool, stylish, full of action and has a great storyline. I enjoy a strong narrative and like to be entertained. There’s a role for challenging and thought provoking character movies, but I tend to fall asleep to a lot of those arthouse flicks. I like escapism, and Baby Driver is a bit of fun. It has an excellent soundtrack too. Thanks to Tarantino it seems to be a necessity these days.

One caveat is Kevin Spacey. Always a terrific presence on screen, his reputation is now in tatters. I suspect the film will be buried now. Some of you won’t want to see it because of him. I respect that. It’s a dilemma facing us all now. Should we separate the art from the artist? I must admit if I erased from my life all the creatives who had deplorable views or behaviour there wouldn’t be much culture left. I tend to leave the judgements to the courts or the gutter press. Perhaps that isn’t good enough.

Favourite album of the year?
My wife, Julie has been listening to the latest album by Hurray for the Riff Raff, The Navigator. I recall loving their last album, and the snippets I was hearing around the house hooked me again. I downloaded The Navigator a few weeks ago and have listened to little else since. Essentially, the band is the creative vehicle for lead singer, Alynda Segarra. Of Puerto Rican descent, the album has a strong Latin flavour. The songs and lyrics are exceptional, but it’s the rhythms and mood that I love most. I’m into drums at the minute and love to hear them used in inventive ways. The standout track is ‘Pa’lante’ which contains the lines, ‘I just wanna prove my worth, on the planet Earth, and be something.’ Those words resonated with me. It’s a sentiment that connects most creatives. I think we all want to leave our mark, and if it doesn’t happen in your lifetime die hoping it will someday. Who knows? Maybe our time is yet to come.

Any downsides for you in 2017?
I’ve had a transitional year, readjusting to moving back into contractual work and finding the time to write. While I wouldn’t describe this as a downside, it has meant that I have had less free time. Writing is about discipline and making the time is a challenge. I’m enjoying my new role. It is rewarding, but my passion is writing. My long-term goal is to reach a point where I am writing most of the time. Many writers speak of how they write because they have to. Once you have caught the bug, the compulsion is overwhelming.

However, sustaining a living as an author is like building a business. It takes a few years to build your experience and reputation. The world of publishing has changed, and whilst this offers many opportunities it also means the financial rewards are not as great. I’m an advocate of the indie route. Why be J.K. Rowling when you can by Joy Division? I also like to be control of my own destiny. The opportunities presented in the mainstream would have come at too high a price for me.

I look at the likes of Louise Ross and Mark Dawson with great admiration. They have been bold and clever enough to build a living doing what they love. My success is far more modest, but the creative rewards are what excite and drive me. Whatever happens artistic integrity and authenticity are my primary goals. If others love what I do that is a bonus. Passion may not be enough to pay the bills, but keep working at what you love and the rewards are great. The important thing is to never give up. A film deal would be welcome though.

Are you making resolutions for 2018?
I’m an obsessive compiler of lists and revel in the opportunity to write my resolutions for the year ahead. I’m still working on my goals for 2018, but my main one is to complete Awakening, the follow up to Becoming. One of my challenges is to strike the right balance between work and writing. It takes discipline to write and finding the time is important. If there is one thing I would love more of it is time. I crave it more than anything. Filling that time with words and music is my idea of heaven. My other goals will revolve around music, travel and running. There are still a few bands I’d still love to see in concert. I go to lots of gigs and there are a few in the diary already. I want to see Sigur Ros, an Icelandic band. I also adore musicals and still haven’t seen ‘Les Miserables’, one of my favourites. I intend to put that right in 2018.

What are you hoping for from 2018?
A top four placing with the band at the Regionals would be great. We’re in a higher section now, so it’s going to be tough. I’m also hoping to visit Berlin this year. I passed through in the early 90s on the way to Poland, and regret not getting off the train for a few days. Croatia is another country I’d love to visit and that’s on my list for the summer. Depending on finances I hope to return to Iceland. It’s a captivating place and I promised myself I would return after a visit in 2016. The costs are eye-watering though and 2018 may be a touch too soon to cram in all this travel. I live in hope though.

Finally, I hope my readers enjoy The Storm. I loved writing it and it would be great if others appreciated the book too. It’s always daunting releasing your work, as you never know what the feedback will be. First and foremost, I see myself as a storyteller. If I can entertain people for a few hours, and make them think that’s all the success I need.

Becoming‘ is available from Amazon in paperback and e-book. ‘The Storm’ will be released in January 2018 and will also be available on Amazon.

To find out more about Chris’s writing you can visit his website or find him on Facebook