Tag Archives: Creative Writing

Guest Post: Jennifer C Wilson on the living dead.

cover on devicesHave you ever thought about what the dead get up when you’re not looking? Not in a terrifying, trying to drive you out of your house sort of way, just in a ‘getting on with their own lives’ sort of way? That’s what got me thinking, and what led to me writing Kindred Spirits: Tower of London, my debut novel, published in October 2015 (international Amazon link here, to take you to the country of your choice), and currently just 99p/c in the Crooked Cat Easter Sale.

Come and find out what Richard III, Anne Boleyn, Queen Jane Grey and a host of others talk about whilst we’re not listening, and what they get up to when the staff of the Tower of London are busy elsewhere. With family feuds having had centuries to build up, star-crossed couples trying to find each other, and a certain King of England looking for a certain pair of princes, there’s always plenty going on, and especially in the greatest historical prison England has ever seen!

If you do dip a toe and take a chance of Kindred Spirits: Tower of London this Easter, and you like what you read, then my second novel, Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile is coming in June 2017, and I’d love you to attend the online launch party – click here for more information. We’ll be having virtual food and drink, there’ll be music and, of course, a couple of book-related competitions.

Hope to see you there!

JenniferCWilson-HolyroodPalace

 

About Jennifer

Jennifer is a marine biologist by training, who spent much of her childhood stalking Mary, Queen of Scots (initially accidentally, but then with intention). She completed her BSc and MSc at the University of Hull, and has worked as a marine environmental consulting since graduating. Enrolling on an adult education workshop on her return to the north-east reignited Jennifer’s pastime of creative writing, and she has been filling notebooks ever since. In 2014, Jennifer won the Story Tyne short story competition, and also continues to develop her poetic voice, reading at a number of events, and with several pieces available online. She is also part of The Next Page, running workshops and other literary events in North Tyneside.

Jennifer’s debut novel, Kindred Spirits: Tower of London, was released by Crooked Cat Books in October 2015; she (and it) can be found online at her blog, on Twitter and Facebook, as well as at The Next Page’s blog.

Review of 2016: Matt Wesolowski

Over the past twelve months, my path has crossed with Matt Wesolowski’s on a few occasions. Matt is an author from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and he leads Cuckoo Young Writers creative writing workshops for young people in association with New Writing North. 

Matt’s debut novella ‘The Black Land‘, a horror set on the Northumberland coast, was published in 2013 by Blood Bound Books and he’s had lots of stories published in anthologies and magazines. Wesolowski was a winner of the Pitch Perfect competition at ‘Bloody Scotland’; Crime Writing Festival 2015, his subsequent debut crime novel ‘Six Stories‘ is available through Orenda Books.

Thanks for reviewing your year for us, Matt!

Vic x

Matt

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2016?
It has to be in May when I got the confirmation that my novel ‘Six Stories‘ was to be published by Orenda. Being published on a scale like this has been my dream ever since I can remember and even now, it still doesn’t quite feel real. I remember my legs turning to jelly…they still do if i think about it too much!

Six Stories

My favourite moment generally was seeing my son starting to learn to read. Watching him and helping him recognise words is such a privilege – he’s only five and has got a way to go but I can see the doors to a wonderful world gradually opening before him, a world that has given me such pleasure. I’m reading him Jo Nesbo’s ‘Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder‘ books at the minute. He can try Nesbo’s crime stuff when he’s a bit older!

Favourite book in 2016?
I’m in no way biased toward Orenda but they released a stunning book this year called ‘The Bird Tribunal‘ by Norwegian author Agnes Ravatn – the work is simply stunning; it reminded me of Tarjei Vesaas in its rustic poetry. I also was deeply impressed and influenced by Benjamin Myers’ ‘Turning Blue‘ – a really desolate rural thriller as well as ‘The Girls‘ by Emma Cline which is beautifully written and hold you in a vice grip until the end.

Favourite song of the year?
I listen to so much music when I’m writing, a mixture of ambience and atmospheric black metal so in that sense, individual songs often don’t stick out.

I did get into Chelsea Wolfe a lot this year –  she’s a sort of doom-folk singer. ‘Simple Death‘ off her Abyss album is just wonderfully melancholic and bleak…are you noticing a theme in these answers yet?

Favourite film in 2016?
The Witch‘ was hands down my favourite film this year. It’s set in the 17th century with this banished family of Christians trying to tame the wilds of an unforgiving forest and hindered by their own puritanical fear of the unknown. I adored the way the dialogue was lifted from genuine witch trials and of course the character of Black Philip – a goat – stole the show. It was a difficult and tense watch, genuinely unsettling.

Any downsides for you in 2016?
I feel really strongly about animal rights, especially factory farming; it’s not common knowledge that ‘mega-dairies’ are operating in this country in 2016 – huge industrial complexes which allow the cows zero outdoor grazing. For such beautiful animals to be treated this way is just diabolical.

With so much scientific advancement from our species, it makes me sad that we still think it acceptable to treat other sentient creatures as products. For example, it baffles me when a company like McDonald’s brag about having free range eggs yet the chickens they farm for meat are still kept in inhumane and unspeakable conditions.  When someone gets on the bus with a bucket of KFC, the smell makes me want to vomit.

Under a Conservative government, for whom killing animals for fun is a pastime, it won’t be long until the pox that is fox hunting will return to our lands.

Are you making resolutions for 2017?
I don’t ever make resolutions at new year; I’m my own harshest critic all year round…that part of my brain nags me to be a better father and a more productive writer today!

What are you hoping for from 2017?
I really hope to see more reading in 2017…I’d love to see more people enjoying books rather than social media. There’s this wonderful tradition in Iceland called Jólabókaflóðið which roughly translates as ‘Christmas book flood’ and people give each other books on Christmas eve and spend the evening reading. It’d be wonderful if we could spread that tradition worldwide.

Review of 2016: Catherine Simpson

Friend of the blog, Shelley Day recommended the lovely Catherine Simpson to review her 2016. It’s always fun to find new authors and, from what I’ve been told, Catherine is definitely one to watch! You can find Catherine on Twitter and at her website.

Thanks for being involved in the 2016 review, Catherine – hope to host you again soon! 

Vic x

Catherine Simpson

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2016?
My novel Truestory came out late 2015 with Sandstone Press so the first half of 2016 was largely spent promoting it and there were some great moments, including appearing at Aye Write in Glasgow, having my own event at the National Library of Scotland and sharing an event at Edinburgh Central Library with my daughter, Nina, for Autism Awareness Week (Nina is autistic and it was raising her that inspired my novel).

This year I also mentored two young writers for the Scottish Book Trust’s fantastic ‘What’s Your Story’ project and I was honoured to work with Artlink Edinburgh to write about the experiences of autistic people for the Midlothian autism strategy.

Central Library event

These are all happy professional memories but probably the most surreal memory was in February arriving at Hawthornden Castle in Midlothian for a writing fellowship and standing in my tiny castle bedroom overlooking the old keep, which was glittering with frost, knowing I was to share this amazing place with five strangers for a month.

Aye Write

And how about a favourite moment from 2016 generally?
This year my husband and I pulled off a long-standing plan – to get our younger daughter settled at university and then move back into Edinburgh city centre from out of town. It went like clockwork. Lara moved to Glasgow to begin her degree in Education on the Monday and we moved to a flat right in the heart of the city on the Thursday.

Favourite book in 2016?
I’ve been getting more and more interested in poetry this year and have been rather pre-occupied with the subject of death so I have particularly appreciated Undying, by Michel Faber and The Drift by Hannah Lavery. 

the-drift

Favourite film in 2016?
I tend to watch films years after they come out – I recently watched Capote (2005) about the selfish, obsessive Truman Capote and how he came to write In Cold Blood. I also saw Little Voice (1998, for goodness sake!) about a young girl obsessed with 1950s/60s singers – a character that my daughter pointed out was autistic.

Favourite song of the year?
Not new either but Wanted on Voyage by George Ezra was stuck in my car CD for the first six months of the year.

Any downsides for you in 2016?
The never-ending terrorist attacks have been shocking.

Are you making resolutions for 2017?
I love nothing more than to set a goal or two at this time of year.

During 2016 I completed the first draft of what I hope will be my next book – a memoir about the suicide of my sister. In 2017 I plan to rework it into a final version.

I will also write a series of smaller pieces inspired by Dunbar to perform at Coastword Festival.

What are you hoping for from 2017?
I am looking forward to seeing my novel Truestory translated into Danish and published in Denmark.

I am Creative Writing Fellow for Tyne & Esk Writers until March 2017 – and I look forward to supporting the very talented and dedicated writers in the groups.

I am also delighted to be a Writer in Residence at Coastword Festival – a small but perfectly formed festival of music and word – to be held in Dunbar in May 2017. I hope for a sunny weekend shared with lots of super-talented artists of all kinds.

Guest Post: Helen Cadbury on Writers who Teach.

Helen Cadbury is one of the nicest writers in the business at the moment in my opinion. I love her wit and can’t wait to host her at Noir at the Bar NE in February. 

Helen is the author of the Sean Denton series of crime novels, To Catch A Rabbit and Bones in the Nest, with a third in the pipeline. To find out more about Helen, check out her website.

Helen is here today to talk to us about writers who teach which is a topic that is of particular interest to me. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Helen.

Vic x

helen-cadbury

Writers who Teach
by Helen Cadbury

It is not a given that just because a person knows how to do a thing, that they can necessarily teach it. There are some extremely talented writers who are also brilliant and inspiring teachers, I have been lucky enough to be taught by at least two: the poet, Carole Bromley, and the novelist, Lesley Glaister. But there are also a set of esteemed authors and poets who are not great teachers, some of them are even terrible teachers, jealous perhaps of those coming after them, or simply lacking the enthusiasm or skills to enable others. There is also another set of writers who teach while at the very beginning of their careers, emerging writers whose enthusiasm is infectious to their students.

Bones in the Nest

So why do writers teach? Many writers I know claim to be introverts, so being in a group setting like a classroom or workshop space might seem like masochism. Is it for the money? Well that certainly helps. With average author earnings well below the Living Wage, and even beneath the annual full-time minimum wage, there are only a tiny minority of authors, and virtually no poets, who solely earn their living from selling their writing. But a word of caution: teaching creative writing is not a get rich quick scheme. It’s hard work and inevitably takes far longer than the hourly rate offered for a session of delivery. I estimate my preparation time to be 1.5 to 2 times the length of a one-off taught session. If it’s a course, then there will also be marking. Quoting the real cost of session to a perspective client can put them off, so sometimes we undersell ourselves, in order to get the work, regretting it later when we are committed to a group of learners, a long journey, and a novel at home waiting to be finished.

To Catch a Rabbit

There are easier ways of creating the income you need to sustain a writing career, but there is something that teaching gives a writer, which working a day job doesn’t, and that is the creative process of writing itself. When setting an exercise on structure, for example, the writer is also reflecting on their own use of structure. When teaching a class on character, new characters emerge for your own work. The character of Barry ‘Burger’ King, a detective in my debut, ‘To Catch a Rabbit‘, was created during an exercise in a class I was teaching at HMP Askham Grange. My learners added some very helpful characteristics to his sketch, as we all fed back on each other’s creations. I don’t always join in with the exercises, but when I do, it’s to show that I’m not asking my learners to do something I wouldn’t do myself. When I don’t, it enables me to pause a little, in that golden silence when they are writing, and be even more alert in listening to the work they read out.

I trained as a secondary school drama teacher, and I’ve also worked for many years as a trainer in the Youth Arts sector, so for me, bringing the skills and techniques of creative education to groups of writers – whether they be young people ambitious to be published, mature writers exploring their life stories, those writing for their own therapeutic release, or any combination of the above –  gives me a sense of completeness in bringing the different parts of my life experience together. It also takes me away from my own work, makes me think, and brings me back to my writing desk refreshed.

Never give up…

As I took a trip through Newcastle today, I noticed that it was graduation day. I watched students in their caps and gowns, taking selfies and celebrating the end of an era.

Strolling through the beautiful campus of my alma mater, Newcastle University, I thought back to my own graduation day eight years ago. It was I day I never thought I’d see.

I was twenty-one when I finally went to uni. I’d had three years in ‘the real world’, earning some money and doing another A-Level, and during that time I’d decided I wanted to train to be a teacher.

Despite a hand injury which left me unable to write, I quite enjoyed the first terms. Uni was so different to anything I’d experienced before and I met two wonderful girls who, to this day, remain my best friends.

By March of my first year, though,  I was ready to quit. I’d failed a History assessment and was wracked with self-doubt. I remember vividly those fraught days as I struggled to make a decision on what to do. I was terrified of failure. I felt that staying on at uni could equal complete failure. What if I flunked the first year completely? What if they kicked me out? It didn’t occur to me at the time that all my other marks were really rather good. Another thought that occurred to me, though, was that quitting would be a definite failure in my eyes.

I don’t remember how I came to a decision. I don’t remember how I overcame those wicked gremlins. But I did. Staying might mean failure, quitting definitely would.

With the support of my parents and some of the academic staff, I decided to streamline my degree from Combined Studies to Media, Communication and Cultural Studies. I never looked back.

As my undergraduate days drew to a close, I began to consider what to do next. That summer, I read more books than I had done in years (apart from academic books, of course). Some were inspiring in the traditional sense. Others made me think: ‘I could do that’. Around the same time, I was given a place on the Chronicle’s Young Reviewer of the Year scheme. Not only was this a fantastic outlet – giving me ‘a reason’ to write and deadlines to meet – but it also gave me the confidence I needed to look into Masters degrees in Creative Writing.

As we queued outside the ceremonial hall on graduation day, a course-mate asked what my plans were, I answered: ‘I’m going to be a writer’. That moment is crystallised in my memory and every year, when I see loved ones in all their finery and graduates with their capes blowing in the wind, I’m reminded of that conversation. And when I think back on that conversation, I stand a little taller and remind myself that I made it happen. I am a writer, just as I said I would be.

I graduated in 2010 with a Masters in Creative Writing. And again in 2014 with a Post-Graduate Certificate in Education. I hope to get a doctorate one day. And all this from a girl who almost dropped out six months in because of the voices in her head telling her she wasn’t clever enough.

Don’t ever give up.

Vic x

Creative Writing groups at Old Low Light.

Old low light

On my birthday, I posted about Old Low Light and now I’m thrilled to announce that I will be running a weekly Creative Writing session there every Tuesday, 1-3pm.

Everyone is welcome, whether you’ve never written before or you’ve been writing for years. People who attend my other groups write in a range of forms including poetry, prose and non-fiction. The cost of the session is £10 per person.

I hope you can make it!

Vic x

Review of 2015: Bea Davenport

Bea Davenport is the pen name of former BBC and newspaper journalist Barbara Henderson. Barbara is the author of two brilliant crime novels – ‘In Too Deep‘ and This Little Piggy‘ (Legend Press) and two children’s novels – The Serpent House‘ and My Cousin Faustina‘ (ReadZone Books). She holds a Creative Writing PhD from Newcastle Uni and she teaches writing and journalism.

Barbara was instrumental in me getting my PGCE and I will never forget the kindness she has shown me. 

Vic x

Bea DavenportDo you have a favourite memory professionally?

I think there were three or four big moments.

Work-wise, I got two new jobs: I now teach journalism three days a week at the University of the Creative Arts in Farnham, Surrey and it’s great to be back in direct contact with the journalism industry again. I’m also now programme leader for creative writing for the Open College of the Arts, where I teach students via distance learning.

Running writing workshops and passing on skills is something I love doing and is a nice part of being a published writer. This summer I was invited to run a writing shop for the National Alopecia Areata Foundation conference in Anaheim, California (because the central character of my first children’s book, The Serpent House, has alopecia) and I had a truly wonderful time, meeting some very inspirational people.

Finally, the interactive e-book I wrote late last year for Fiction Express, My Cousin Faustina, came out in paperback in 2015, published by ReadZone Books.

Faustina cover

And how about a favourite moment from 2015 generally?

My son and daughter took part in a brilliant production of Sunshine on Leith at their school and I honestly could have burst with pride as I watched them. My son also got his A-level results and got a place in his university of choice, Manchester.

Favourite book in 2015? 

It has to be We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, which I read out in California. Really moving and unusual.

Favourite film of 2015?

Inside Out.


Favourite song of the year?

I can’t answer this one – sorry! I stopped paying any attention to the singles charts around 25 years ago.

Any downsides for you in 2015?

The recurring one: I never get enough time to write. It’s felt particularly acute this year as work’s been so busy.


Are you making resolutions for 2016?

I always promise myself I will write more and eat less. I see no reason not to keep hoping!

What are you hoping for from 2016?

I’m currently editing a YA novel, with the help of an agent. It would be fantastic if it found a publisher.