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Review: ‘what are you like’ by Shelley Day

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In ‘what are you like‘, Shelley Day studies the human condition and the uncertainties of life. Day evokes familiar yet unusual settings, a library where a mother lives on a shelf and a diner where words fall from the menu.

There is something so ordinary but so other-worldly about each of these stories, lending the narratives an ethereal quality. Day’s descriptions drip with delightful dynamism, conjuring worlds that completely envelope the reader. 

What I liked about the range of stories in this collection is that they provoke the reader and encourage us to ask questions. What is not said is almost more important than what is said in this collection. By trusting the reader, Shelley Day gives her audience the chance to explore their own feelings about a range of issues.

what are you like‘ is full of complex, detailed stories that don’t underestimate the reader and I find that this makes it unlike any other book I have read this year. 

This collection covers such a range of deep issues, dropping characters into almost-impossible situations and seeing how they fare. Shelley Day particularly manages to capture the adolescent voice well. 

An intelligent, thought-provoking read which will stay with the reader long after the stories have ended. 

Vic x

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2018 Review: Shelley Day

Today, my good friend and fellow Bloody Mary Shelley Day is here to review her year. My thanks to Shelley for taking the time to look back over her 2018. 

As an extra festive treat, check back later for my thoughts on Shelley’s latest short story collection ‘what are you like‘. 

Vic x

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
Well, 2018 will certainly stand out for me as the year some projects came to fruition and the year I made some major decisions:

First – I decided to publish my debut collection of short stories, what are you like. I’d been humming and hah-ing for a long while, but finally this year I took the plunge and the stories will soon be out with Red Squirrel Press, a lovely indie press that was based in Northumberland but which has re-located north of the border. As I am half in Scotland anyway, it’s win-win! 

I’m so so so very lucky because AL Kennedy, and Jackie Kay, and Angela Jackson all agreed to say nice things to put on the back cover of my book. If I am looking for a special moment, that that was it. 

I’m very especially happy that my son Nico has designed the cover. If I’m looking for another 2018 moment, that was it – that was a moment like never before when I opened the email and saw Nico’s design … I’m so excited.

The book’s not officially out until next year, but we’re getting a couple of launches in before the current year is out, for very good reason. 

So, the second BIG decision was to go and live in Paris. The intention is to perfect my French, soak up some experience before the Brexit divisions start to bite (they’re already snarling too loud for my little ears), stay there for as long as it takes to finish the novel I’m working on which is set there and which features a character Clara who’s similarly done a bunk from the UK somewhat precipitously, I don’t yet know why. I’ve always wanted to spend extended time in Paris and, between you and me, I’m hoping this sojourn will get that daft idea out of my system and I can come back and get on with whatever here, or wherever. I can’t tell you much more because I’m not a great planner, either in my fiction or in my own life! 

And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
Favourite moment wasn’t a moment but was a few months in the summer spent in a wooden hut halfway up a mountain in Norway. Off-grid, away from everyone and everything except the smell of pine resin and the birch logs we burned in the stove, the whisper of wind in the trees and the gentle lapping of the lake on the shore … you get the picture. And I went to the Lillehammer Literary Festival which was ace. And so it was, in that kind of Paradise, that I finally put my short story collection together. I also wrote some new things, things that have taken on something of a spiritual-sacred theme, and I’m exploring that further as we speak.  

Favourite book in 2018?
This is always such a hard question! I read a lot of contemporary fiction, and have many writer friends who write it, so it is impossible for me to be truthful and choose just one! So, instead I’ll tell you this year I have gone a bit mad with Patrick Modiano. Seriously, I have fallen in love with his work and am reading one by one through his entire oeuvre and savouring every word. I re-read the whole of Muriel Spark too this year. I love revisiting favourites, because they show you something new every time. 

Favourite film in 2018?
Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs. Fun, clever, political, visually amazing, as per!

Favourite song of the year?
I’m a bit mouldy, I’m afraid, and don’t catch up very often with new music. I’ve been impressed by Sigrid I guess, but as I say I don’t keep up. I still love Patti Smith’s Horses from 1975! I have my music on a hard disc and I play it on shuffle, everything all mixed up. In Norway I listened a lot to ancient music, Monteverdi’s Vespers, sacred stuff. 

Any downsides for you in 2018?
I never know what to say about downsides. Yeah, I’ve spent time in the doldrums, never quite sure how you get in there, never mind how to get out, never know how much to ‘reveal’. But yeah, life has had some bad bits in. Plus the whole Brexit fiasco, I have found it supremely supremely depressing, every single thing about it. I detest every bit of it and frankly, am living in dread. I hadn’t realized how fragile our precious democracy is until now I see it so bizzarely and blatantly under threat. As a citizen, I have never felt quite so powerless. 

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
No point in me making resolutions, I never stick to them!

What are you hoping for from 2019?
Primarily hoping my short story collection does ‘well’ (whatever that means!), and that I’ll come back from Paris with a complete first draft of my Clara book (as yet no title), and that I’ll make some progress with the new short story collection provisionally entitled Going Raw Julietta (work that one out!). AND THAT BREXIT WILL DISAPPEAR.

If you want to buy a copy of what are you like it will be available with P&P FREE via the publisher’s website. 

If you want to check out my son Nico’s artwork, best find him on Instagram.

Thank you so much Victoria for letting me ramble on on your page. I enjoyed writing this review, it made me focus. And may I wish you all the very best for 2019!  

2018 Review: Iain Rowan

2018 has been a year where I’ve got to spend more time with Iain Rowan, organiser of Sunderland Creative Writing Festival and all-round top bloke. Iain is a smashing writer and one of the kindest people I have ever met. 

It’s a pleasure to host him while he reviews his year. Thanks for being involved, Iain. 

Vic x

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Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
My Arvon retreat, in Shropshire. An amazing, charmed week out of time in the middle of a forest turning red and gold. Have never written so much in my life. Met some lovely people. A bubble in time.

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And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
Oh, picking one is hard. Seeing my son’s band play at the Sage, or hearing their first BBC live session. Finding out that I’d won the Arvon Award in the Northern Writers’ Award. Being a total teenager again in the pit at the Idles gig and transported by music. Every time me and Tracy walked by the sea and it was Big Waves. Pulling off the Creative Writing Festival successfully. Also, once had a bag of salt and vinegar crisps that was so strong it burned. That might be the highlight.

Favourite book in 2018?
This has been a bumper year for reading great books. I’ve loved FIona Mozley’s Elmet, Daisy Johnson’s Fen… brilliant books all. But I think I’ll go for two – Lucy Wood’s haunting, weird collection of short stories Sing of the Shore, and Jenn Ashworth’s marvellous, strange, Fell.

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Favourite film in 2018?
Watch fewer films than I used to, and much more TV so I’m going to go for all bar the last episode of The Haunting of Hill House.

Favourite song of the year?
Most played according to Spotify is This Is The Kit, Hotter/Colder, but I’m going to be a total dad and go for one of my boy’s band’s songs that I can link to…because nothing’s made me happier this year. So this is Roxy Girls, Trials and Tribulations.

Any downsides for you in 2018?
When my agent suddenly decided to quit the literary agency business and so I became agentless again, after such a long time getting there. Fate and the universe clearly deciding that I’d had too much good news and the balance needed restoring.

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
Write, revise, repeat. No pissing around. The fates are aligned. Now is the time.

What are you hoping for from 2019?
The world to quit being so terrible and get back to just being routinely awful.

Progress from this year’s successes and fewer repeats of perennial failures.

More crisps like that one bag.

2018 Review: Penny Blackburn

I am thoroughly delighted to welcome Penny Blackburn to review her 2018 today.

I first met Penny several years ago when she visited one of my writing groups at Di Meo’s to conduct my final teaching observation. Since then, Penny has begun writing herself; she won first place in last year’s Story Tyne competition and was also on the bill at the latest Noir at the Bar in Newcastle. 

My thanks to Penny for taking the time to chat 2018.

Vic x

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Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
2018 has been a huge year for me in terms of confidence with my writing. I’ve submitted poetry for competitions and publications and I’ve been so pleased to have some acceptances throughout the year – including 2 poems published in print anthologies, which feels extra special.

It was a massive boost to see my 100-word story printed in the Reader’s Digest – not to mention getting £250 as runner-up! 

I’ve also been performing live whenever I’ve had the chance, with both poetry and short stories. I get such a buzz from doing that! It was good fun being a guest on Koast Radio and I laughed when my mum told me that her and my dad were huddled in a shop doorway back in Yorkshire listening to the interview!

Best of all though, I was thrilled to write and read a poem for my niece’s wedding service, which was quite an emotional moment.

And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
I’m such a lucky person, I have so many lovely memories of the year. I’ve been away on some fab trips with lovely people, had some great days (and nights!) close to home too. It’s hard to pick just one! Though, meeting the legendary Dickie Bird at the test match at Headingly and finding him to be a true gent was a special moment (celebrated, of course, with a pork pie and a pint!)

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Favourite book in 2018?
I read The Rings of Saturn as part of an online Twitter reading group. I don’t think I understood half the references but there was something spellbinding about it. It has a feel of non-fiction, telling the thoughts of an unnamed narrator travelling around Suffolk and it goes off into all sorts of tangents. I found it very atmospheric and it’s definitely one to go back to.

Another favourite – proper non-fiction this time – was The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst. He set off in the late sixties as part of a round the world solo sailing challenge, but ended up creating a completely false record while he idled about in the Southern Atlantic, nowhere near where he was supposed to be! He either committed suicide or fell off the boat, the authors of the book strongly seem to think the former. A very sad tale, really, and I felt deeply sorry for his wife and children.

Favourite film in 2018?
I’m not really one for watching films, I don’t think I can recall one I’ve seen this year! Oh wait, I watched the film about the ice skater Tonya Harding on the plane to Boston. A good film, not at all what I was expecting.  

Favourite song of the year?
I love all kinds of music and I like it loud! I’m in the Can’t Sing Choir and my favourite one to sing has been Eternal Flame by the Bangles. It’s not a song I was particularly struck on until we sang it and I was surprised by how much I like it!

Any downsides for you in 2018?
I had a bit of a rocky time at work (I teach in FE) in the first half of the year. But luckily everything has been resolved and I feel more stable. I also channelled some of my anxiety into poetry, so there’s always an up side!

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
Last year I read an article which said you should aim for 100 rejections in a year. It was such good advice, because it has made me more likely to submit stuff and it helps me to take the rejections gracefully. I’m not sure if I’m going to make it as I’m only up to about 70, so I think I’ll aim for the 100 again next year!

What are you hoping for from 2019?
I’m hoping to win the Poetry Society National Comp of course! Ha ha.

No, I’m actually hoping that 2019 will be the year I publish a solo pamphlet or small collection. I will then be pestering everybody to buy it …

Final Comment from Penny:
I’d like to say how much I appreciate the writing community that I’m part of. Cullerpoets and North Tyneside Writers’ Circle have both been great in providing support, encouragement and prompts and everyone I’ve come across at workshops or events has been really helpful and positive. There’s a really strong online community as well, and I feel genuinely thankful that I’m writing in an age where we can all connect so easily. Sharing experiences and seeing others having ups and downs puts things in perspective and keeps me motivated. I hope as well that I give some of that encouragement back to others, it’s truly so important xx

2018 Review: Harry Gallagher

I’m pretty sure I say this on the first of December every year but can you believe it’s this time of year again?! 

I’m delighted to host a range of wonderful folks on my 2018 reviews this year. Our first willing victim is poet Harry Gallagher. 

My thanks to Harry for taking the time out of his busy schedule to look back over his year. 

Vic x

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Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
Yes, I’ve been doing an irregular series of ‘An Evening With Harry Gallagher & Friends’ events this year and we’ve just had a ball with them. One particular event in Newbiggin Maritime Centre in Northumberland springs to mind. The venue were quite nervous about putting the gig on beforehand but it just felt like one of those lovely nights from start to end. Myself and the musician/singer friends I had with me spent over 2 hours switching between poems and songs and had such a lovely time with the audience. At the end the venue were really delighted with it, paid us all of the door takings and want it to become a regular thing. Result!

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And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
Ah…a personal one then. I got married in June to the most lovely, supportive and talented woman I could ever hope to meet and we’re sickeningly happy!

Favourite book in 2018?
Notwithstanding by Louis de Bernieres, which was actually written a few years ago, but I’ve just read it. It’s such a beautifully written (if rose tinted) account of genteel village life in an England which probably only existed for a privileged few. It’s so utterly charming I kept expecting Private Godfrey’s sister Dolly to appear, complete with her tray of upside down cakes!

Favourite film in 2018?
As I write this, the films I’ve most eagerly awaited I haven’t yet seen – Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old and the biopic Stan & Ollie starring Steve Coogan. Really looking forward to both. So instead I’ll go for one I saw earlier this year and absolutely loved – The Shape Of Water. It’s by turns fantastical, quirky, amusingly retro, ludicrous, clever and beautiful. See it and fall in love!

Favourite song of the year?
Being an old fart and having no idea whatsoever of current chart music, I’m going with our good friends The Late Bloomers, a folk duo from Scotland. The way their voices weave in and out of each other could bring tears from stone. If I have to pick one song of theirs I’ll with The Brakeman’s Daughter – heaven!  

Any downsides for you in 2018?
Trump and the rise of the right throughout the western world. It seems to me that we are going through a profound change which I don’t think anyone really understands yet. The gap between the haves and the have nots is now obscene and people are turning away from the mainstream political parties for answers to the far reaches – a huge mistake. I fear for the future because I think it will get a lot worse for the poor and dispossessed before it gets any better. I hope I’m wrong.

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
Keep going. Keep writing, keep gigging and keep pressing on. If you stand still, you go backwards.

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What are you hoping for from 2019?
I have a new joint collection out in January with the editor of Black Light Engine Room, p.a.morbid – Running Parallel, so it will be good to get that out there and get out around the UK to promote it. Other than that it would be great to play a few festivals this year. I also write songs and perform them with my better half around the north east folk circuit and we keep promising each other to get in the studio with a few mates and record and put out an album of our songs. It would be good to record them if only for posterity. Who knows? It may just happen this year…

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Neil Fulwood

Lots of people don’t realise that although you may see work by a certain author on the bookshelves in your favourite shop, many writers still hold down a day job in addition to penning their next novel. In this series, we talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

Poet Neil Fulwood is here to share his experience of work and writing with us. My thanks to Neil for taking the time to tell us how work has affected his life as a writer. 

Vic x

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My grandfather was a miner; my dad ran his own haulage business. It’s not a matter of record whether granddad liked his job or not, but he was definitely a grafter. Dad subscribed to a “dignity” of work philosophy that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Nevil Shute novel. In three generations of Fulwoods, I was the odd-one-out.

In my late twenties, I came across a Raymond Carver poem with these lines: “… this much is still true – / I never liked work. My goal was always / to be shiftless”. I’d been putting in the nine-to-five for a decade at that point: I’d worked as an admin assistant, a receptionist and an estimator for a firm that made road signs. Even with the benefit of longevity and a minor tendency to hagiography, I wouldn’t file any of them under “job satisfaction”.

My first job ended in redundancy after four years. I’ve been downsized several times since then. The “job for life” of my father’s generation is a thing of the past. I’ve quit a couple of jobs of my own accord – one with a financial services firm as a matter of conscience, one at a training company after I was threatened with violence and wasn’t convinced that effective safeguarding was in place.

I’ve never really had a career path or any professional goals. Work was simply an act of pragmatism: there was board to pay, then rent, then a mortgage; a car to run; food to put on the table. Debts to pay off or holidays to save for. Beer money. Bookshops. If one job ended, I temped till another came along. To date, I’ve worked in the manufacturing and retail sectors, financial services, training and healthcare. The same culture of mismanagement, office politics and grassroots employees treated as cattle has been prevalent in all of them.

Some folk succeed in dodging what Larkin called “the toad work” and I have friends and colleagues who deplore these people as spongers and scroungers. But if I’m being perfectly honest I quite admire those toad-avoiders. That I’ve never managed to join their ranks says something about me, though I’m not quite sure what.

While I’ve seldom enjoyed work – the one job I had that I genuinely engaged with ended in redundancy after just a couple of years – it’s given me material. For a while I held off writing poems about office life, convinced that paperwork and poetry weren’t a good match. Then it occurred to me that no-one was documenting the white collar whereas the blue collar experience had champions of such stature as Fred Voss and Philip Levine, and the toad-avoiders had Raymond Carver and Charles Bukowski on their side.

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I found my voice as a poet in my mid-thirties – I’d written during my teens and early twenties, but what I produced was shallow and derivative – and by the time I published my first collection, No Avoiding It (Shoestring Press), at the age of 45, poems about work accounted for a third of its content. In a review published in The Morning Star, Andy Croft noted that I was “especially good on the mental slavery of contemporary work”.

‘Nuff said!

Review of 2017: Emma Whitehall

Today, we have another member of Elementary Writers on the blog to review her 2017. Emma Whitehall is not just a member of my writing group but a real friend.

If you get the opportunity to read her work, or see her perform it, I recommend you do so! I’ve had the privilege of working with her while she developed her collection ‘Clockwork Magpies’ which I am convinced will be insanely popular when it’s released. 

Vic x

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2017?
It’s a tie. I went to Ireland for a literary festival in July, and I started a 3-month volunteer position at Mslexia in September. One of my stories was shortlisted for the Fish Flash Fiction award this year, and I was invited to read at the launch in Bantry, just outside of Cork. I went alone, and it was such an amazing adventure! Not only did I get to spend some time in a phenomenally beautiful setting, I started every day by hiking up a huge hill to take a short story course with Alissa Nutting, who wrote Tampa. I’ll never forget it!

Working with the Mslexia team has been amazing, too. All the girls on the team are brilliant, and I’ve learned so much about working for a magazine. I’ve even written one or two pieces! 

And how about a favourite moment from 2017 generally?
My gym-nut brother bought me a Fitbit a few months ago, and it has literally changed my life. I try about walk about 5-6 miles a day (including moving about at work), and I’ve lost 10lb in about 2 months! It’s become a stress antidote; there are days when I really can’t wait to put my trainers on, find a good podcast (I’m nearing the end of The Adventure Zone right now), and go for a nice long walk…

Favourite book in 2017?
Oh, this is a tricky one! I’d probably have to say T.E. Grau’s They Don’t Come Home Anymore, which is a brilliant novella about toxic friendships, obsession, and vampires. Through reviewing for Unnerving magazine, I’ve read a lot of really amazing indie horror this year.

Favourite film in 2017?
Stranger Things. I know I’m being contrary with that answer, but it’s structured more like an 8-hour film than a TV show, and the characters have stayed with me much more than any that I’ve seen in the cinema this year. Winona Ryder is incredible, and Millie Bobby Brown should get any role she wants for the rest of her career. 

Favourite song of the year?
My Tyrant”, by Felix Hagan and the Family. On the one hand, it’s a song about a turbulent, possibly unhealthy relationship…but it’s also about being totally, joyfully in love (or lust) with someone. It’s a raucous song that’s a hell of a lot of fun to listen to – much to my partner’s chagrin…

Any downsides for you in 2017?
Sadly, I lost my Leopard Gecko, Ace, just before I went to Ireland. It was old age, and he went as quietly as you can hope, but I was devastated. He was my constant companion – even if we were doing our own thing, on opposite sides of the room, we were always doing it together. I never knew reptiles could be so funny, so sweet, and so full of personality before we got him. I miss him a lot. He won’t be my last pet, but, for now, I’m still getting over the loss.

Are you making resolutions for 2018?
To keep going! I feel like, with a lot of things, I’m on the precipice; I’m about 3lb off my weight goal, I’ve had a few promising interactions with writing jobs (though I am still looking at the moment), I’ve been longlisted and shortlisted for a few awards, and my collection of short stories is very nearly done. I think I just need to keep pushing forward and not lose my nerve!

What are you hoping for from 2018?
I hope that, this time next year, I can hold a published copy of my collection in my hands.