Tag Archives: characters

Review: ‘High Force’ by LJ Ross

high-force

I was provided with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

I’ve encountered lots of people who are obsessed with LJ Ross’s DCI Ryan series – and the man himself. Having read ‘High Force’, I can understand why.

‘High Force’ may be the fifth DCI Ryan novel but don’t worry if you haven’t read the other books in the series, this novel can be read as a standalone.

Set in Newcastle, Northumberland and County Durham, ‘High Force’ follows DCI Ryan and his team as they track ‘The Hacker’, Ryan’s nemesis who has escaped from prison and appears intent on settling some old scores. Not content with having previously killed Ryan’s sister, ‘The Hacker’ has taken one of Ryan’s team hostage and continues to taunt him with a number of grisly murders.

I really enjoyed this compelling narrative which combined police procedural with criminal psychology. LJ Ross evokes place very well and the dynamics between the characters make this a really believable novel that I didn’t want to put down.

I will definitely be reading more LJ Ross.

Vic x

I review my 2016

I really enjoy running the annual reviews, they get wonderful feedback from readers and it’s always a pleasure to spend time with the participants so thanks to everyone who’s taken part this year. Here’s to a wonderful 2017!

Victoria

In 2016, I have had some really cracking professional successes. Noir at the Bar is a real highlight for me, having run two in Newcastle and participated in ones in Harrogate and Edinburgh. I have Graham Smith and Jay Stringer to thank for encouraging me to set up the Newcastle chapter. Special thanks must also go to Jacky Collins – organiser of Newcastle Noir – for assisting me with the running of NatB NE. The turnout for the events in Newcastle has been fantastic and it’s really gathering great support, it’s a really wonderful thing to be involved in. I’m really looking forward to the next one on Wednesday, 22nd February.

My friend Luca introduces me

Elementary Writers continue to go from strength to strength. This year, we’ve released a book – Blood from the Quill – and a pamphlet – Wish You Were Here. We’ve also done performances for Burns Night, Heritage Open Days and Halloween. It is a pleasure to work with such talented writers.

The writers that I’ve worked with as a copy-editor this year have had some great success. I loved going to Chris Ord’s book launch for his excellent novel Becoming and it’s great to see that Nicole Helfrich’s book Descent to Hell has been released internationally. Similarly, it’s great to see Paul McDonagh and Graham Bain‘s books available to buy now.

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Oh, and I started working on my novel again. I’ve written more in the last three months than I have done in six years. That’s a pretty good feeling. The feedback I’ve had from performing extracts and sharing the work has been awesome and has really spurred me on to actually finish it. It’s not easy but I’m actually really enjoying spending time with the characters and delving deeper into their lives. A couple of weeks ago, Mike Cockburn of Sogno Ltd did a session with Elementary Writers on Myers-Briggs Personality Types and that’s given me a lot of food for thought.

Personally, I’ve also had one of the best years of my life. The Boy Wonder and I moved into our first house together in August and, on 14th November in Oman, he asked me to marry him! I honestly couldn’t be happier.

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It was a true thrill going to see my dad be awarded an MBE for services to welfare reform and charity. It was such a special day, going to Buckingham Palace with my parents and brother to see my dad’s hard work rewarded. I’ve never felt so proud in my life. We enjoyed a lovely afternoon tea at the Grosvenor Hotel in London afterwards.

A very proud day

In other news, I finally hit my Slimming World target as well as being nominated – and winning – Woman of the Year and Miss Slinky at my group. I’ve made some great friends at the group and I will continue to go in order to control my weight.

Favourite film by a country mile was GhostbustersI didn’t want to see it as I was worried it would be a disappointed but I loved it. Kate McKinnon is my hero!

I’ve read so many fantastic books this year in a range of genres. I loved Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories which was a collection of his favourite chilling tales. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert was a real inspiration – any creative person should read this fantastic book. I read my first ever Agatha Christie this year and I’m proud to boast that I guessed who was responsible for The Murder of Roger Ackroyd very early on. The Yellow Wallpaper was an utter revelation. There are loads of other wonderful books that have stayed with me this year – you can check them out on my Goodreads page.

That has got to be Formation by Beyonce although I have been known to sing it as ‘Ok, ladies, now let’s get information’. The Boy Wonder and I went to see Hans Zimmer Live and that concert just took my breath away. Seeing him perform the music from The Dark Knight as well as being introduced to The Electro Suite and other incredible compositions has stayed with me ever since.

At the start of 2016, I’d been made redundant and a house purchase had fallen through. That was not a great start but since then, I’ve never looked back. Looking outward, I’m devastated by the events all over the world. Syria, the US election, the EU referendum in Britain and the fallout have just been terrifying. Every year, I worry that we – as humans – are losing touch with humanity. I can’t believe the way people are behaving towards one another – usually because of difference. That’s just heartbreaking.

My resolutions for 2017 are too try not to over-commit. I get very excited by the opportunities offered to me and find it difficult to say no but sometimes that negatively impacts on me.

I’m hoping 2017 will be a better year for people. I really hope we can find a way to work together to bring about positive change in the world – regardless of difference.

Review of 2016: Rob Walton

Elementary Writers have been in demand this year and as part of our Halloween performance at Old Low Light, guest Rob Walton performed an original ghost story set in North ShieldsIt was a pleasure working with Rob and I hope I get to do so again in the future. 

Thanks for being involved in the 2016 review, Rob.

Vic x

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Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2016?
There were a few things connected to my children’s poem, Letters, appearing in the lovely Emma Press anthology ‘Watcher of the Skies‘.
I was obviously really pleased to have it accepted and published in the first place.  Then I had a couple of lovely days in London in the autumn.  I did a workshop with a great group of Year 3 children at my friend Claire’s school, and got them to decorate a shirt, which I wore at the following day’s launch (see above) where I finally met the wonderful editors, Emma and Rachel, and a big bunch of great poets.  The icing on the cake was when the poem was chosen to be on the National Poetry Day’s website.  I thought that sort of stuff happened to other people.

And how about a favourite moment from 2016 generally?
Not exactly a favourite moment, because of what preceded it, but I was moved and inspired by the dignity, resolve and compassion shown by Jo Cox’s husband, family and friends.  The message to concentrate on what unites us is one to carry forward from this difficult year.

Favourite book in 2016?
My friend Matt bought me Patrick deWitt’s ‘The Sisters Brothers‘ a while ago, and it’s been on one of the shelves in one of the piles – I’m so pleased I eventually picked it up.  It was instantly one of my all-time favourites.  Superb dialogue, great pace, fantastic characters, really funny and unlike other novels I’ve read.  I also loved the brilliant invention of Angela Readman’s short story collection ‘Don’t Try This At Home‘, and I’m really looking forward to reading her new book of poetry, ‘The Book of Tides‘, which has just arrived in the post from Nine Arches Press.  In non-fiction I finally got round to Harry Pearson’s ‘Slipless in Seattle‘, which was a joy from cover to cover.

Favourite film in 2016?
I went to the Tyneside Cinema to see Woody Allen’s ‘Café Society‘, but it had sold out, so I was directed towards ‘Hell or High Water‘, which was an unexpected treat.  I hadn’t realised how much I like Jeff Bridges.  He’s been great in so many top-quality films over such a long period.  My favourite, though, was probably Brady Corbet’s ‘The Childhood of a Leader‘, telling the chilling and gripping tale of a ten-year-old boy destined to be a fascist leader. I saw it because I’d read that he was influenced by Michael Haneke, who I’ve loved since seeing ‘White Ribbon‘, another chilling masterpiece.  It’s great when one good thing leads to another (and it’s not being dictated by Amazon or some scary algorithm.)

Favourite song of the year?
When I sit at the laptop in my study (ooh fancy!) I often do a search for something vaguely chilled to play as I write.  Using this method, I recently came across Yo-Yo Ma and Kathryn Stott playing Saint-Saëns’ ‘The Swan‘.  Sublime – but it worked against me because I found I had to watch them playing, which pretty much defeated the object.
Also, although from 2015, Sufjan’s Stevens ‘Carrie and Lowell‘ was totally brilliant.

Favourite sports team of 2016?
Has to be the mighty Iron, Scunthorpe United.  Little money and tiny crowds, yet sitting proudly at the top of League One as I write.

Favourite cake of the year?
Linda and Rich gave me some cooking apples, which lead to Mary Berry’s delicious apple and almond cake.

Any downsides for you in 2016?
I found I had a serious case of anaemia, which stopped some of my plans – but the upside was that (a) I found there was a reason my park-runs were so slow and tiring and (b) I volunteered at a few park-runs, which I’d always intended but never quite managed.  Everything seems to be heading in the right direction now.

Are you making resolutions for 2017?
Not as such.  There’s more of an ongoing thing about focus and application. I’ve given myself a year out of teaching to concentrate on writing and other creative projects.  I’ve been working hard and doing lots of writing in all sorts of forms and genres, but maybe I need to narrow it down just a little bit!  On the other hand, I’ve got to pursue the picture book ideas following the fantastic Arvon course I attended, and the adult poetry collection and the flash fictions and the children’s and YA novels…Bugger!

What are you hoping for from 2017?
To continue supporting and performing at the fantastic nights we have in the North East like The Stanza, Newcastle Literary Salon and the events Vic Watson organises!

I’m also looking forward to the Fountain17 work I’m making with artist friend Russ Coleman.

There’s also an iron or two in the fire with another friend, Steve Drayton.  All will be revealed – well, maybe not everything – we’re a couple of middle-aged blokes.

I’m intrigued, Rob, I can’t wait to see what 2017 brings for you! Thanks for your support this year. 

Vic x

Review of 2016: Helen Anderson

In 2015, I had the honour of copy-editing Helen Anderson’s memoir, Piece by Piece. That book has gone on to receive fantastic reviews as well as providing support to many other people who are going through difficult times. 

It is a real joy to have Helen reviewing her 2016. Many thanks for being involved, Helen.

Vic x

Helen Anderson

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2016?
Much of the year been taken up with letting people know about my memoir about losing my beautiful daughter Georgina to cancer, three years ago. Piece by Piece: Remembering Georgina: A Mother’s Memoir is still available as a paperback or e-book and has over 60 amazing 5 Star Amazon reviews.

When the book was published at the end of 2015, I had no idea if it would sell 10 or 100 copies, but I am thrilled to have been able to donate £1,000 of profits, so far, from the sale of the book to Make-A-Wish UK. I have had wonderful feedback from readers, and I have enjoyed reading at events and talking on radio shows about Georgina and my memoir. Emotionally, I have been sustained by all the support I have received with this venture, and I hope that my writing is also helping others experiencing child loss or bereavement, generally. 

make-a-wish

And how about a favourite moment from 2016 generally?
I have been invited to some amazing fundraising events in Georgina’s memory, and these are always a bittersweet mixture of happiness that she is still so loved, and sadness that’s she’s not here with us.

My writer’s notebook has been well-travelled. We have been lucky enough to enjoy some soul-nourishing holidays to Tenerife, Languedoc and Lindisfarne, as well as managing to get our beloved VW camper Daisy Blue back onto the road, for a few local forays.

At the beginning of 2016, I put out feelers to see if any local writers would be interested in meeting up. The response was very positive, so Saltburn Writers Group has been meeting once a month since March. It is such a friendly, vibrant group – I hope that it will continue to go from strength to strength.

Favourite book in 2016?
I have been reading quite voraciously, recently. I have just finished reading Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh, which is so dark that I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. My (as yet unpublished) novel Gloriosa Superba also has a deeply disturbed central protagonist, so it was a relief to see I’m not the only one who creates twisted characters.

I also love Shelley Day’s The Confession of Stella Moon, Kit de Waal’s My Name Is Leon and Louise Beech’s How To Be Brave. All these books are thought-provoking, populated by well-observed characters, and beautifully written.

Favourite film in 2016?
I don’t think I’ve been to the cinema at all this year. I’m thinking “That can’t be right!!” but it seems it is. Perhaps that should be my resolution for 2017 – to get out more. I’ve enjoyed some cracking TV dramas, such as The Missing, The Fall, Paranoid and Dark Angel (as well as my guilty secrets like Home and Away) so I’m obviously more of a sit-on-my-own-sofa-and-gawp-at-my-own-screen kinda gal.

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Favourite song of the year?
I like to listen to golden oldies – 80s, 90s, Noughties –  when I write, and I love to listen to my daughter Georgina’s own song Two Thirds of a Piece.

Any downsides for you in 2016?
In October 2016, it would have been Georgina’s 18th birthday. That was a very hard day to get through, as was the third anniversary of her death in November 2016. However, we have survived so far, thanks to the love of friends – old and new – and family.

Are you making resolutions for 2017?
I should resolve to be more disciplined with my writing, but I don’t really ‘do’ resolutions, because they just make me feel rebellious! I’ll aim to keep on keeping on, I suppose (not a very specific goal, I know).

What are you hoping for from 2017?
Writing-wise, my first chapbook of poetry Way Out is due to be published by The Black Light Engine Room Press early in 2017, so I am excited by that.

I would also love to secure representation for Gloriosa Superba – I have had a few near-misses, and I need to steel myself to send it out again. I plan to finish the final draft of my new novel, All Hushed, and to start the process of finding an agent who loves the story and characters as much as I do.

Personally, I just want my family to stay as healthy and happy as possible. Georgina wanted us to be happy and make the most of our lives, even in her absence, and I am going to try to seize opportunities and enjoy the little things (and some medium-sized and big things, if I’m lucky!)

Guest Post: Anne Coates on Writing a Sequel.

Having worked with Urbane Publications, I’m happy to host one of their authors – Anne Coates – on the blog today.

Anne’s here to discuss her process for writing a sequel. Thanks to Anne for taking the time out of her busy schedule to talk to us.

Vic x

Anne Coates

Writing the sequel to ‘Dancers in the Wind’.
By Anne Coates

The manuscript for my second book had to be with Urbane Publications on 1 October – thirteen days before the launch of ‘Dancers in the Wind. So as I was writing guest posts for my book blog tour, I was putting the finishing touches to ‘Death’s Silent Judgement, which continues Hannah Weybridge’s story a few months after the conclusion of book one.

dancers in the wind

Dancers in the Wind was conceived and written some twenty years ago – then left for dead. Last year, I completely rewrote it and found a published who was willing to take it on as part of a trilogy. I had written three chapters of book two all those years ago but it wasn’t really much to go on. I knew who had been murdered and where but not why.

The victim had been mentioned in ‘Dancers but had been working abroad. There were characters I had grown fond of in the first book that I wanted to keep but once in a while I came up with the problem of names. I have two characters named Sam in ‘Death’s Silent Judgement – one had a small but key role in the first book, to be developed in the second. The other was the name of a friend’s son who wanted to be a character in the book. So two very different men named Sam but in life there are often people of the same name in one’s office or social circle.

An added challenge was to ensure that characters were consistent so I had my blue book with descriptions of everyone from book one, which I added to as I wrote the sequel. There is a whole set of new characters in ‘Death’s Silent Judgement plus some from book one have come to the fore while others have taken a back seat. Some are gearing up to play more dominant roles in book three. I love the way characters take over, give me clues and nudge me along the way. One character, in particular, led me to a dramatic revelation which I’d had no idea of at the beginning.

One dominant factor which perforce must undergo changes, is that the Hannah of book one is fairly naive. By book two, almost everything she does is tempered by her earlier experiences, she has had to sharpen up. The events of the first book have left her feeling vulnerable and at risk. What she encounters in ‘Death’s Silent Judgement does nothing to alleviate this.

Dancers in the Wind has some of the action at King’s Cross and quite by chance, ‘Death’s Silent Judgement is centred in Waterloo, another London rail terminus. I’m not sure if railway stations will be a recurring theme in later books!

As I approach book three, the reviews I’ve had for ‘Dancers in the Wind have given me more confidence. Then I think, “What if I can’t pull it off again?” But I know I’ll keep on writing…

Review: ‘Becoming’ by Chris Ord

Becoming

‘Becoming’ is a thoughtful, unique book regarding identity, morals and the idea of “community”.

The setting of Holy Island, and Northumberland in general, made this book more enjoyable for me because, thanks to Ord’s descriptions, I could imagine the action taking place in the wild coastal and countryside settings.

The characters in this novel are well-drawn and Gaia, the main protagonist, is a brilliant representation of a teenage girl. Comparisons may be drawn between Gaia and Katniss Everdeen but for all the right reasons. Chris Ord manages to capture the juxtaposition between being a vulnerable teenager and headstrong, principled young woman well.

If you like your books fast-paced and full of moral dilemmas alongside some excellent character development and beautiful imagery, ‘Becoming’ is the book for you!

Vic x

Guest Post: Chris Ord on ‘The First Novel?’

In my job as a copy editor, many manuscripts are sent to me for critical evaluation. Few have left me as impressed as ‘Becoming‘ by Chris Ord. Chris approached me earlier this year and I had the pleasure of reading his debut novel prior to its release. 

Becoming‘ is now available to download or buy in physical form and, although it’s a YA novel, it really is one that I’d happily recommend for adults too. Chris is here to talk to us about his experience as a first time novelist and share some of the lessons he’s learned. Thanks for taking the time to appear on the blog, Chris – I can’t wait to read your next novel.

Vic x

Becoming

The first novel?
By Chris Ord

 

On September 23rd 2016 I published my first novel ‘Becoming’. It feels strange, almost surreal typing that, as only a year ago my words were filled with nothing more than intent. Now they fizz with the excitement of achievement, the realisation of something I have wanted to do all my life. There are mixed emotions though. There is pride and satisfaction, but apprehension too. Now the book is out I appreciate I’m revealing my creation to others – friends, relatives, and strangers. I’m exposing a bit of my soul. Now is the time for judgement and thick skin. I loved writing ‘Becoming’ and if others love it too that is a bonus. I wanted to write a story that I would enjoy reading, one that engages and entertains, but also challenges and provokes. If I achieve any combination of these I’ll be happy.

Except I have a confession, ‘Becoming’ isn’t my first novel. It’s the first I have published. I have another buried in my hard drive, seen only by the handful that ever will. I took a long time to write that novel, about twenty five years. Twenty four and a half of those I was gathering thoughts and intention. I called it research and planning. In truth, I was dithering. I had lots of ideas, some I wrote down, most I didn’t and forgot. There was one that kept coming back, and I decided there must be a reason so it had to be the story.

Chris Ord

I reached the age of forty five and two family bereavements forced reflection and an existential crisis. Loss and grief made me realise I had to take chances before it was too late. So I gave up my full-time job in August 2015 to write. The years of planning were over. The moment was now. I was going to write that book. It was a risk, but I knew it was time to do what I love.

Most of the advice I read was to write what you know. This reassured me, as I needed all the structure and safety I could get. I was stepping into the unknown, trying to find an approach that would work, a method that would hold my hand. Writing from personal experience made perfect sense.

I developed my characters and my hero, someone whose story I had wanted to tell. I had a scenario. It was loose at first, but I was fine with that as I wanted the story to unfold and develop. I was looking to keep the process exciting and fresh, and I figured the more I made a storyboard before I began, the more barriers I was putting in my way. I know some writers like to plot their stories from the start, and I suspect with some types of novels it is essential. I don’t. Each to their own, as you have to find what works for you. I wanted to get the words down and see where they would take me.

I gave myself a minimum daily target of 1,000 words which I stuck to and often exceeded. The first draft flowed and the writing was fun. It was like a series of puzzles, and I love problem-solving. I had tough days, and scrapped a lot of words, but I kept going, spurred on by the growing sense of achievement. It was exciting and motivating to see the words mount and the story develop. I was disciplined, and above all else I would say that is the key quality you need to finish a novel. I suspect there are many great unfinished novels that would be completed with more structure and discipline. Page after page created my new world. Every day I would escape there and build, moulding and reshaping, bringing new characters to life, and getting rid of others. It was an exhilarating journey, and finally, the day came, I completed the first draft and was overcome with joy and relief. I had done it. I had written a novel, or at least a rough, unfinished first draft of a novel.

I asked myself – what do I do now? We all have someone who reads our work first. It has to be someone you trust, but who won’t sugarcoat the feedback. The early drafts are the beginning, but far from the end, and you need a first editor to tell you what does and doesn’t work and why. Eventually you will need a good copy-editor to look at a draft you’re happy with. External, professional input is vital, as no matter how good you think your work is it can be better and there are things you will miss. Before my draft ever got that far I wanted to give it to someone else for the first judgement.

I read somewhere you should never give your work to anyone you share Christmas dinner with. In my case we share a bed. Some would urge caution at giving your unfinished work to your wife. They may tell you what you want to hear, not what you need to. Thankfully, Julie doesn’t sweeten her feedback. She’s an English graduate, well-read, a teacher and, more importantly I trust and value her opinion. She’s honest, usually more than I would like. I used the term brutal to describe her comments, but she prefers honest and constructive.

I gave my wife a polished draft of my debut convinced she would love it. She was impressed, enjoyed it, and there were many things she admired about the novel. I was relieved. The quality of the writing was much higher than she’d expected, and I recall the phrase ‘it does read like a proper book’. My excitement was short-lived though. It was good, and there was a lot to build on, but it wasn’t there yet. It didn’t work. The characters and writing were strong, but the story was flimsy, too weak. This stung me, so I read it again, determined to convince myself she was wrong. She was right, as always. Her candour and constructive criticisms helped me realise where the faults lay in the book. I had followed the advice and written what I knew, but it was too personal, and though the characters were strong I had been so desperate to capture them that I had wrapped their relationship around a dull plot. It read more like a screenplay than a novel, and there was too much dialogue and not enough action. I had tried to use the characters as a vehicle for my ideas and it felt contrived. In sum, it was a valiant first attempt, but it wasn’t good enough, at least not yet. I could do better.

This realisation was a blow. I had put months of my life into this, and the excitement of completion had convinced me that this was the one. Yet time and reflection away from the draft, along with some objective feedback left me with a big decision. Did I persevere with the draft and make it better? Could I rewrite it, make it more literary and less cinematic? How could I improve the story-line and make it more dramatic and compelling? Failing all of that, should I put it to one side, learn from the experience, move on and write something else? I guess these are the questions writers ask all the time, or at least should.

This was a learning process and though I hadn’t succeeded with this novel, at least I knew where I had gone wrong. I had followed the advice and written what I knew, but for me this reassuring structure had been a constraint. For the ‘known’ I had drawn on the autobiographical too much, taken personal experiences and woven a shaky plot around them. Sometimes this works. In my case it didn’t. My desire was to bring particular characters to life, but in doing so I had overlooked a critical element of all good writing, the story. Of course, characters are important, but readers love a good narrative. More importantly, I hadn’t written a book I would want to read, I had written one I thought I should write. I had played safe and sometimes safe is dull.

I made a bold decision, set the manuscript to one side, buried it in a cyber vault. I decided to start again, write another, something different, based around a wild and imaginary scenario and setting. I focused on the story and let my imagination run free. This novel would not be about what I knew, but would be one that I would love to read. I kept my structure of determination and daily discipline, and allowed things to develop and unfold. This was the journey that led to ‘Becoming’, my second novel, but the first I am happy with, and have published. The failed first attempt was very important though. Without the failure and the lessons taken from it, ‘Becoming’ might never have been written.

What have I learned from my experience of writing my first novel? Discipline and humility are two of the most important qualities you need to be a writer. Being honest, even brutal, with yourself may be the next. Criticism of your writing will hurt, but being critical from draft one will save you more pain in the long term. Trust the opinion of someone who will be frank with you about your work. Don’t let ego or excitement overcome common sense and critical judgement. Give yourself plenty of time between edits, as it is good to look at something again with fresh eyes. At times it is important to admit to yourself that something doesn’t work. The first novel you complete may not be the first you should let the world see. Readers are often strangers who owe you nothing. If your first attempt makes the grade I applaud you, but there’s no shame in burying it. Keep it though, as it may come in useful in the future, and some of it will be good enough to steal. We learn from every writing experience, especially the ones that don’t turn out as we had hoped. We need the courage to move on and be better, but also to never give up.