Tag Archives: Creative Writing

Review: ‘The Body Lies’ by Jo Baker

When a young writer accepts a job at a university in the remote countryside, it’s meant to be a fresh start, away from the big city and the scene of a violent assault she’s desperate to forget. But despite the distractions of a new life and single motherhood, her nerves continue to jangle. To make matters worse, a vicious debate about violence against women inflames the tensions and mounting rivalries in her creative writing class.

When a troubled student starts sending in chapters from his novel that blur the lines between fiction and reality, the lecturer recognises herself as the main character in his book – and he has written her a horrific fate.

Will she be able to stop life imitating art before it’s too late?

Starting with an assault on our unnamed pregnant protagonist, The Body Lies‘ drops the reader straight into a world where this woman is almost constantly at the behest of the men around her – from her husband who won’t look for a new job in order to facilitate a move to a place she feels safer in to the head of department who continuously expects her to take on more and more work despite her inexperience and the difficulties she has managing her work-life balance to the students who snipe at one another in her class, overruling her at every point. 

By leaving this character nameless, Jo Baker says a lot about her interpretation of the world – and how the character is unable to make herself heard and understood in her male-dominated life. However, don’t think that ‘The Body Lies‘ is a novel that is constantly screaming about inequality – its power lies in the fact that the author has managed to subtly weave the point in to almost every sentence without the reader even being conscious of it. The way the issues are presented is almost ‘normal’, reflecting how insidious sexism and inequality is in our society today. You may not notice it but it is happening.

Jo Baker’s skill for beautiful prose makes ‘The Body Lies‘ a truly stunning literary thriller. The slow-burn tension allows us to empathise with the main character, understanding the pressure she is under and how burdensome it is to be a woman. The imagery Baker creates heightens the tension at key points as well as showing the reader the beauty of the world despite the horrific events that occur in it. 

The Body Lies‘ is a compelling study on what it is to be a woman, how women are subjugated and taken advantage of in many areas of their lives and how unsafe many of us feel on a daily basis. 

I’m genuinely not sure I’ll find a more engaging read this year.

Vic x

**Running in Circles Blog Tour**

 

Today we welcome to the blog Claire Gray to the blog as part of the blog tour to celebrate the release of her new novel ‘Running in Circles‘.


Claire Gray lives in
 the South Lakes with her husband and two small children. She studied Creative Writing at the Cumbria Institute of the Arts. She graduated in 2006 and then went on to complete a journalism course at Darlington College. 


That same year
, Claire won a Northern Promise Award from New Writing North, and her work was featured in their anthology, ‘Ten Years On‘. Claire now works as a freelance copywriter and continues to write short stories, some of which have been published in magazines and online. 


Sapere Books published ‘Running in Circles‘ in 2019 and Claire is really excited to have published her first novel!
My thanks to Claire for sharing her experiences with us.


Vic x

Don’t Quit the Day Job: 
Claire Gray

It’s difficult for novelists to make a living purely through their writing. I’m probably only a Google search away from the official statistics, but I would guess only a tiny percentage of authors are able to sit at their desks every day, working on their latest manuscript, without worrying about paying the heating bill or feeding the kids. 


Many
 novelists supplement their income by working in education, or by editing other people’s work or writing for newspapers and magazines. That’s the tier of professional writing that I aspiring to reach, and it still seems very far away. But I don’t think it’s necessarily bad to be in the position that I, and many other writers, are in. We’re the writers who have day jobs; jobs completely unrelated to the creative work we do. While it can be challenging in terms of time management, and occasionally dispiriting because of how far removed it is from what we really want to be doing, having a day job is valuable. To write you need to have life experience. Working is one of the most natural ways to achieve this. 


I studied Creative Writing at college and then found myself
 working in betting shops across Cumbria and the north-east. What started as a weekend job rapidly became full-time as I realised (and probably should have realised much earlier) that Creative Writing is not a vocational course. But it wasn’t all bad. I met some interesting characters amongst the staff and the customers. There was a period in Newcastle-upon-Tyne where I narrowly missed a number of armed robberies, which was horrible but also great fuel for short stories. One of my co-workers was a published poet, and I still have the signed book he gave me as a leaving present. The writing and gambling industries seem to go well together, somehow. 


Eventually
, I enrolled on a Journalism course at Darlington College. Once all the exams were over I was qualified to work as a junior reporter. For various reasons, this didn’t happen. I’d moved to North Devon with my husband who was in the Royal Marines, and there weren’t many local newspapers or junior reporting jobs around. But I’ve worked as a freelance copywriter and my journalism training was certainly not a waste of time. I discovered the power of an opening sentence, how to firmly grab the reader’s attention, and the importance of editing. The main characters in my novel are journalists, and it is good to have background knowledge about the industry.


Since then I have moved around the country a fair bit, working on my novel, doing the odd piece of copywriting, and working in a succession of NHS administration j
obs. Much like the betting shop period of my life, this is a line of work I fell into accidentally, but somehow it stuck. I like working for the NHS because I feel like I’m doing something worthwhile, and it is inherently unpredictable; things rarely get dull. There are stories everywhere inside hospitals. You hear about, and see, some horrible things and some wonderful things. These polar opposites help to fuel my writing when I find time to switch on my laptop in the evenings. 

 

Running in Circles‘ is available now.

2018 Review: Gytha Lodge

When I went to Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Festival earlier this year, I saw a lot of buzz flying around about a book called ‘She Lies in Wait‘ so I made it my goal that weekend to get my mitts on a copy. I had to Twitter-stalk the author, Gytha Lodge, but I managed it!
I will be reviewing ‘She Lies in Wait‘ in 2019 but I can tell you guys that you will want to read this novel. 
My thanks to Gytha, one of my newest chums, for taking the time to review her 2018.
Vic x
Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
I’ve had such a strange and wonderful year, the pinnacle of which was probably back in January when I was offered a three-book contract with Michael Joseph of Penguin for the first three instalments in a mystery series. It’s been my very focused ambition for the last twenty years, ever since I first wrote an awful novel when I should have been doing work at school. Other great moments have included the US rights selling shortly afterwards, but it was that initial offer that felt like a dream come true.
 
And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
There have been lots, so I think I’m pretty lucky just now. My 8-year-old starting a new school and suddenly loving learning again was pretty epic, I have to say. That first day when he came home and said “Loved it” after a year of being miserable was amazing. 
Favourite book in 2018? 
THIS IS SO DIFFICULT!! I was very lucky to read several that come out next year, and I think two of those may have won out. Those are The Whisper Man by Alex North, a deliciously creepy thriller, and The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea, which is like a 1600s Icelandic Rebecca. Wonderful. 
 
Favourite film in 2018? 
Fantastic Beasts Part 2 for me… I’m such a Potterhead. I’ve also watched a lot more TV than I usually manage, including The Bridge, which was SO good, the awesome Killing Eve, and Little Drummer Girl, which I obsessed over just as much. TV is definitely the new film. 
 
Favourite song of the year? 
It’s not at all new, but I love A Town Called Malice by The Jam as a pick-me-up. It gets me in such a good writing mood, and having been editing a book set in 1983, it was pretty perfect.
Any downsides for you in 2018?
I had flu for the first time, and just recently managed to spend a full six weeks ill. Both of these sucked, particularly as I missed a lot of rowing coaching and fitness training of my own, and now feel like the least fit person on the planet. Always a blow to the self-esteem… I’ve countered this by spending obscene amounts of money on make-up and trying to work out how to contour. Which generally ends with me looking like I have sideburns. Win!
Are you making resolutions for 2019?
I’m never that great on resolutions. I think I might try to manage my work/down-time balance a bit better to avoid the ills again.
What are you hoping for from 2019?
Lots of book sales, please please!! I’m sure I should say something much more humble or less egocentric, but one of my creative writing tutors always said to aim high, as otherwise, how will you find the energy to keep going when it’s tough? So with that in mind, I’m thinking “An Oscar for the screenplay I adapted from my own book.” Ha! You don’t get much bigger than that!
More realistically, I’m hoping that I’ll have a lot of fun and not worry about anyone giving me a one-star review, or any other stuff that doesn’t actually matter in the grand scheme of things. I’m happy just to live the dream and hopefully get plenty of time around that to play RPG games with my 8-year-old. Bliss.

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.

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Alan Parkinson

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.

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of hosting the first ever Noir at the Bar in Sunderland as part of Sunderland’s Creative Writing Festival. One of the writers on the bill that night was the lovely Alan Parkinson

Alan is here today to talk about how his work life has affected his writing. If you haven’t read any of Alan’s work, I strongly recommend that you do. You can also catch Alan on Twitter and Facebook

Vic x

IMG_5043.jpgTwo years ago, I gave up the day job to become a full-time writer and there were many things I took into consideration. Could I afford it? Despite the romanticised image of life as a writer, it is generally a poorly paid profession.

Would I be taken seriously? I’d self-published two novels at that stage. They’d done well but was that enough to sustain a career in writing?

Would my friends ever stop thinking I was unemployed? The answer to that one is no, they still ask if I’ve got a ‘proper job’.

One thing I hadn’t considered, and possibly the most crucial thing of all, was would I lose my most valuable source of material?

Writing is all about observation. Noticing the small detail in things and shaping it into your own little world. I thrive on seeing humour in every situation, even the darkest moments, and thinking about how I can use it in a future story.

Whether they realise it or not, my workmates were a deep well of idiosyncrasies, amusing phrases and peculiar behaviours. As were the hundreds of people I saw on my commute each day and the thousands I encountered on my daily lunchtime wander around Newcastle. I was giving that up to sit at my posh writing desk, on my posh writing chair (I soon moved to the settee) and meet and talk to nobody other than the Amazon delivery driver and my elderly neighbour asking me to fix her laptop again.

This is why you see so many dull novels where the protagonist is a writer struggling to put words on a page; by becoming a writer they have lost their inspiration.

Leg It

That’s not to say I’ve ever taken person wholesale and put them in a book; I’ve yet to meet anybody interesting enough. I steal one characteristic and match it with another, and another from somebody else, and shape a new character.

I do the same with situations. I’ll take real life situations, adapt and exaggerate them with different characters to make my story come alive.

When I worked for one of the world’s largest banks. In a period of months, we had one colleague locked up for murder, one for attempted murder and another for a dodgy internet history. I’ve never considered any of them worthy of writing about because they are all a bit ‘obvious’.  It’s the little things that are funny and give your story life.

It’s over fifteen years since I worked in a call centre but my short time there has inspired two novels, Idle Threats and my current work in progress, Troll Life. Anybody who has ever worked in a call centre or phoned one will recognise the utter despair and understand how it can drive people to extremes. 

Idle Threats

I’ve never been in an armed siege, or dressed as a Mexican, or dealt with an irate customer in their pyjamas but my experience in a call centre helped me make this unlikely scenario realistic.

I don’t regret my decision for a minute but every now and then I long for a workmate who would say “I wish Andrea would move to one side, so I can get a good blast of her fan.”

Life In The Balance.jpg

Don’t Quit the Day Job: K.A. Richardson

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

Today, the woman whose post gave me the idea for my Don’t Quit the Day Job series – K.A. Richardson – is back again to talk about her career and how it inspired her ‘Forensic Files‘ series. Check out Kerry’s original post from March 2016 about ‘The Real CSI‘.

Vic x

KA Richardson

I had always wanted to be a police officer, however after numerous patella dislocations whilst trying to get fit for the physical entrance test, I eventually realised that being a cop wasn’t on the cards. 

This led to me thinking seriously about what I wanted to do – I still wanted to work for the police. I remember seeing a crime scene investigator van outside a house in the town around this time, and also CSI was all over the TV screens in the various shows. I wondered exactly was entailed. Once I’d gathered an overview, I enrolled at Teesside Uni. The next four years of my life consisted of lectures, working on an evening to pay the bills, and doing project work but I eventually passed my degree – 1% off a distinction with a high 2:1. On obtaining the degree in 2008, I quickly acquired my first CSI job working for Durham Police. 

Even uni didn’t prepare me fully for the reality of it all. Standing for hours in the snow whilst snow wax, the very thing designed to enhance footwear marks in snow, froze before I could use it. Losing my footing on loose floors where the boards had been taken up to steal copper piping, handing tissues to old men who cried because their pigeons had been killed, being threatened by a young boy with a knife on one occasion, and so much more. The contract there was temporary and when it finished after almost a year, I started at Northumbria Police as a volume crime scene investigator. 

I’d been a CSI for about 2 years when I went to see a psychic, Anthony, and after reading for a while and looking very confused, he asked me why I wasn’t writing. He reminded me that writing was my passion – I’d done it since being a kid but never believed for a moment that I could actually be a writer. I went home after that reading and immediately enrolled on my MA Creative Writing. 

I loved doing my MA – I loved the modules, and the creative people I was on the course with. The one blip was a lecturer who I won’t name, telling me that I wouldn’t amount to anything and not to give up the day job. This lecturer even said I’d fail the module before I’d submitted my work. It was a definite confidence knock. For days, I worried that I was wasting my time, that maybe the psychic and I were wrong, that writing wasn’t really my passion or talent. Slowly, though, my determination shone through. I passed that lecturer’s module despite his warning, and passed my MA, using the first 15,000 words of what became my first novel, as my dissertation. 

As I got further into writing With Deadly Intent, government cuts meant that my job was eradicated – the VCSI role no longer would exist at Northumbria Police. Anyone in the field will tell you how hard it is to get a job in CSI – and I knew I’d find it hard getting back in. My options were leave the police force, or move to the communications department and take 999 calls. I chose that one, and in 2011 I started the role. Two years later, I moved back to Durham Police to take calls closer to home. 

I’ll be eternally grateful for working as a CSI and the opportunities that presented themselves after finishing – having that base knowledge and passion for forensics has enabled With Deadly Intent to be the first stand-alone novel (published by Caffeine Nights), which was then followed by a series with Bloodhound Books, now being rebranded as The Forensic Files. Forensics is something that fascinates people – whether they work in the field or have seen it on the telly, people love that science can catch criminals. And I love that I have the knowledge to bring this into my books. 

Naturally, my CSI background impacted on my writing and, in fact, has become a massive part of my crime novels. I love exploring the different aspects of CSI work, the methodology and how that can assist in finding killers. Still working for the police has allowed me to make contacts in other departments too, which is a fab asset in writing. I loved heading to South Shields and speaking with the head of the dive team at Northumbria Police and obtaining facts which I then used in Time to Play. And I equally loved dealing with the fire investigator who helped inspire Watch You Burn.  

I keep my CSI knowledge up to date, and will hopefully enjoy using it as a feature in my novels for years to come. 

**Burnout Blog Tour** Author Interview.

Today, my friend Claire MacLeary is on the blog to talk about her new novel, ‘Burnout‘ which is the sequel to Cross Purpose, the McIlvanney Prize-longlisted debut that brought crime to Aberdeen.

My thanks to Claire, Gordon from Grab This Book and Contraband for including me in the blog tour for ‘Burnout‘. 

Vic x

***

“My husband is trying to kill me.” A new client gets straight to the point, and this line of enquiry is a whole new ball game for Maggie Laird, who is desperately trying to rebuild her late husband’s detective agency and clear his name. Her partner, “Big” Wilma, sees the case as a non-starter, but Maggie is drawn in.

With her client’s life on the line, Maggie must get to the ugly truth that lies behind Aberdeen’s closed doors. But who knows what really goes on between husbands and wives? And will the agency’s reputation – and Maggie and Wilma’s friendship – remain intact?

***

Claire MacLeary

Claire, before we chat about ‘Burnout‘ can I ask you to introduce yourself for readers who have missed your previous visits to the blog?
After reading English at university, I had a long and varied career, first in newspaper and television advertising, then in HR. When my children were born, I set up in business, developing a chain of shops and rental properties. It was only after my kids were grown that I returned to writing, attending Creative Writing evening classes and later studying for a MLitt at Dundee.

Can you give us an indication as to what we can look forward to in Burnout?
The novel’s main theme is ‘white collar’ domestic abuse, a subject which, until recently, has attracted little coverage. Newspaper headlines have tended to concentrate on physical assaults, whereas controlling behaviour can take many and subtle forms, as recent legislation has acknowledged.

Burnout follows two women, both subject to abuse – in one instance sexual, in the other psychological – but readers can expect broadly the same cast of characters and the same balance of grit and humour.

With Burnout readers get an insight into how different couples in the story manage difficult relationships. Do you think this a crime novel that will cast light onto the secrets that couples keep?
I think Burnout is less about managing relationships and more a commentary on how attitudes have changed over generations. The ease of accessing contraception, the relaxation of divorce laws, the growth of the internet, have all contributed towards changing people’s attitudes to sex and marriage. In Burnout I’ve tried to highlight the chasm between two women of different generations, both in how they react to abuse and how they achieve very different outcomes.

Has the media focus on coercive control and sexual abuse in the home fed into the writing of Burnout or was the story always waiting to be told?
I started writing Burnout before the launch of Cross Purpose in February last year and delivered it to my publisher, Saraband, in August. The characters had been in my head way before that so, yes, it was a story that needed to be told. That it chimes with the Time’s Up and #Me Too movements against sexual harassment can only be positive in publicising ‘white collar’ abuse and changing attitudes to any form of abuse.

Both Burnout and Cross Purpose have harrowing and hard-hitting themes, however, there is humour running through both books too. Was that a difficult balance to achieve when you were writing?
I don’t think it’s a conscious thing. As I write, my characters take on a life of their own. Sometimes they take me places I didn’t intend to go. Too often I wake in the middle of the night with dialogue running through my head. However, I have had to consciously restrain Wilma’s wilder excesses, since she – like Maggie – will develop through the series and I don’t want her to come across simply as a figure of fun.

Away from the books, how do you spend your downtime?
What downtime? Seriously, if I’m not reading or writing, I love to travel. Over the past few years, in addition to a number of European cities, I’ve visited Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, New Zealand, Cuba, Jordan and Bhutan. My favourite holiday destination is India, where the colour and vibrancy of life never fails to stimulate.