Tag Archives: creative

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: Jacky Collins

Over 2016, I’ve met lots of fantastic people. Jacky Collins, organiser of Newcastle Noir, is one of those people. Jacky not only assists me with the hosting of Noir at the Bar, she is a wonderful friend who is enthusiastic about crime fiction. Jacky has given support and encouragement to hundreds of writers and I find her energy a great source of inspiration.

I’m so thrilled to have Jacky on the blog to review her 2016. Thanks, Jacky, for being a fabulous friend, here’s to many more happy years! 

Vic x

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When considering a favourite memory to do with the professional, rather than focus on the murky waters of Higher Education, I’d prefer to look back on all the exciting things that have happened through the amazing world of crime fiction. Although the hosting of a very successful Newcastle Noir crime writing festival in April was, without doubt, a major high point in the year, my favourite memory came from another similar event at the end of the year – Iceland Noir. I was thrilled when the organisers of the festival had invited me to moderate 2 panels – Dangerous Nordic Women (Jónína Leosdóttir, Sara Blaedel, Sólveig Pálsdottir and Lena Leetolainen) and Queer Crime (Mari Hannah, Lilja Sigurđardóttir and David Swatling). Of course, without hesitation, I said ‘yes’, especially relishing the opportunity to discuss crime writing with an alternative focus which the 2nd panel provided. Little did I know that I was in for an even bigger surprise with this session – both Val McDermid (Queen of Tartan Noir) and Yrsa Sigurđardóttir both wanted in on the debate. I have to confess that the inclusion of two such world-renowned crime writers made me rather nervous. However, the skillful interaction of the panellists and the warm reception of the audience made this the highlight of my year in all this noir.

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If I’m allowed, I’d have to say there have been a series of special moments with one common denominator – the meeting of like-minded women around creative projects. So I have to say a huge thank you to Vic Watson, Shelley Day, Donna-Lisa Healy and Sue Spencer. Not all our ventures are focused on crime writing, but the opportunity to channel my energies into culturally creative endeavours really helped me get over what had been a difficult time emotionally and professionally.

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This is an even more difficult decision to make what with my own private reading and the books that we read for Newcastle City Library’s European Crime Fiction group. Nevertheless, I think I’d have to say Quentin Bates’ Thin Ice since it reunited me with my all-time favourite crime fiction character Icelandic police officer Sergeant Gunnhildur and also because the novel offers a very interesting portrayal of the mother/daughter dynamic. If you’re not familiar with this author’s work, and you’re into Nordic Noir, I highly recommend his Gunnhildur series to you.

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As part of my job as Senior Lecturer in Film and TV studies at Northumbria University I often include Latin American cinema in my modules. So when the Tyneside Cinema approached me to provide the introductions for a short season of New Argentine Cinema, I leapt at the chance.  Amongst the works screened was an earlier Pablo Trapero film Lion’s Den (Leonera, 2008). Filmed inside a real prison, with real inmates, this hard-hitting film explores motherhood as experienced behind bars and also questions the lack of equality found in Argentina’s justice system. As ever, Trapero uses his work to ask deeply probing questions of society, the unexpected ending providing much cause for contemplation and discussion.

I can identify 2 downsides, these were juggling too many balls and not being able to let go of the past. Why I have mentioned both these aspects is because I reckon they have both prevented me from making all the progress that I could have this year. I’m hoping for 2017 that I can prioritise better and cut the ties to those aspects of my life that no longer serve.

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As well as what I’ve said above, I’ve also determined to focus on something blogger Noelle Holten posted this month on Facebook: ‘If you’re doing what you love, everything in the Universe will gravitate towards you. This is how the world works. Don’t waste time impressing others or doing something that doesn’t feed your soul. Take a leap of faith and jump into your passion’. That passion for me is crime fiction, film & TV drama.

More than anything from 2017, I hope to take steps that bring me closer to changing careers paths and also to be able to spend more time in Iceland, a country that I believe holds the key to that change.

Review of 2016: Sandra Ireland

Today we’re joined on the blog by the lovely Sandra Ireland who’s here to review her year. I know it’s a funny time of year – the week between Christmas and New Year – so thanks to Sandra for taking the time to appear on the blog.

Vic x

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Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2016?
I suppose everyone says ‘The Book Launch’, which is absolutely true! Mine was in St Stephens, Stockbridge, and hosted by a wonderful indie bookshop, Golden Hare Books. My publisher Polygon selected this venue as my novel Beneath the Skin is set right around the corner! But I have so many great memories of 2016, including being invited to take part in Bloody Scotland’s ‘Spotlight on Crime’ event.

 

And how about a favourite moment from 2016 generally?
2016 has been a BIG year. In April, I was a awarded Creative Scotland funding to undertake a year-long creative residency at NTS Barry Mill, Angus, and in May my son Jamie married his lovely girl, Lizzie, at the Mill. The ceremony took place beneath a gorgeous old apple tree. Not a dry eye in the place!

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Favourite book in 2016?
So many to choose from. At the moment I’m reading Donna Tartt’s ‘The Goldfinch‘, after seeing the painting in Edinburgh. Such a beautifully-written novel, and that sense of place bestowed by basing it around an actual artefact: brilliant! I’ve tried to do something similar with by second novel, which is set in a fictional version of Barry Mill. I love the idea of literary tourism.

goldfinch

Favourite film in 2016?
Tricky. I’m not a fan of anything connected with ‘Star Wars‘ or action/ adventure/ superhero stuff, and I don’t like all the hype surrounding cinema releases. I’m a rather-read-the-book type! I did enjoy ‘Sunset Song‘ last year, but I guess that doesn’t count! This year I went to see ‘Room‘, and ‘The Girl on the Train‘ which were both just okay!

Favourite song of the year?
I’m a big Nick Cave fan, so I would have to say that my go-to song for a bit of Gothic writing inspiration is his ‘Red Right Hand’. Since it’s the theme for Peaky Blinders (beautifully-written) I think that qualifies it to be included in my 2016 highlights!

Any downsides for you in 2016?
Mainly family stuff. I suppose bright light casts a long shadow, and alongside the good fortune of having my book published are the things that can’t be helped but must be endured. My father is nearly 93 and doesn’t keep well. However he’s doing okay at the moment. My younger son, Calum, is in Australia and managed to come back for the wedding. Neither of them made it to the book launch, which was sad but unavoidable. I missed them both.That’s the writing life – it’s a strange career choice; you just have to write through the downsides of life.

Are you making resolutions for 2017?
I like to see what the Universe has in store for me – I like to be led by my intuition, so no resolutions for me. Too much like taking control! I do have goals, though.

What are you hoping for from 2017?
I hope to get my second novel published, and to build on the other strand of my writing life which is as a tutor/facilitator. I’m about to start working with Tayside Healthcare Arts Trust on a creative writing project at a local Macmillan Centre. I love the idea of well-being through the arts, so I’d like to do more of that in the New Year. I’m hoping for lots of good health, energy, enthusiasm and tolerance in 2017!

Thank you so much for sharing this space with me! Wishing yourself and all my writing friends every success and help from a friendly Muse in the New Year!

Review of 2016: Joanna Delooze

The lovely Joanna Delooze and I have been Facebook friends for many years. I’m really happy to have her here to review her 2016. Thanks so much for being involved, Joanna!
Vic x
Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2016?
I’m a stay at home mum due to my having Multiple Sclerosis, so my professional life consists of writing and skivvying around after my husband and two creative, messy, chaotic teen boys (and one manic border collie). On the writing front, I had  a very positive experience this autumn with a great writing contest, Pitch Wars. (I recommend it if you haven’t tried it before!) The competition to get chosen for the mentoring experience was high, and I was shortlisted, but ultimately  didn’t get in. BUT, two of the mentors I applied to contacted me privately to discuss my MS. They both are published YA writers and were full of praise for my MS & encouraged me to submit to agents as they thought it was ready to go, which is why I wasn’t chosen to be mentored! After a very difficult year (see below) I was really proud of myself for arriving at that point. The relationships we have built & the support & advice they gave is fabulous. The writing community is full of wonderful, empowering people. The book is out on sub now & I’m chomping at the bit to see some results.

And how about a favourite moment from 2016 ?
I had a very weird year, which began with me having surgery to remove a tumour that was growing behind my right ear and up into my skull. YIKES! On Monday, 11th January I went under the anaesthetic as we were listening Radio 2 announce that David Bowie had passed away in the night. So as I was falling asleep, the anaesthetist, her assistant and I were singing “There’s a Starman…” After that, the doctors took a can opener to my head in a 12 hour op and  several long months of recovery followed. I’ve nicknamed my scar Bowie. Now every time I hear a Bowie song I think about how grateful I am to have come through the operation with all my mental faculties intact and no lasting damage. Each time I managed to accomplish something difficult this year, either mentally (like finishing my book) or physically (building & planting a rockery in my front yard with my son, just keeping my house from falling down around me), it’s been a victory as I went through the recovery process.

Favourite book in 2016?
Because I was in bed for months I read A LOT this year.
3 faves because I can’t choose between them:
‘The Martian’ by Andy Weir.
‘The Night Circus’ by Erin Morgenstern.
‘The Universe vs Alex Woods’ by Gavin Extence.


Favourite film in 2016?
The Martian‘ & ‘Dr Strange‘.

 

Favourite song of the year?  
Titanium‘ by Sia, it was my mantra all year while I returned to normal!
Any downsides for you in 2016?
DONALD FRIGGING TRUMP. I’m an ex-pat New Yorker living in England.
Are you making resolutions for 2017?
eat better
sleep more
write more
get more organised
stop being a control freak about my kids

What are you hoping for from 2017?
That Trump will surprise us all and not be the disaster we all anticipate & that a lovely agent will have an a-ha moment and fall in love with my book.

After a spell away, I’m hoping to revive my blog starting in January, it’d be great to celebrate the new year with you all!

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

Writers’ Poppycock.

Earlier this week, I returned home from a blissful couple of days in the countryside. After having spent a couple of days reading, shopping and eating as well as enjoying countryside air and hospitality, I returned home determined that I would complete my novel ‘Fix Me Up’. I was excited to open up my laptop and start writing after a couple of months of concentrating on academic writing. I remained blissed out until I opened my email account. Sitting there in my inbox was a rejection email. And there ended my buzz.

I had entered a short story competition a couple of months ago, paid the rather stiff entry fee and what did I get in response? A metaphorical kick in the nuts and a generic email identifying what many applicants did wrong – nothing specific to my submission. I understand that these prizes have hundreds, perhaps thousands, of applicants but to charge a not unsubstantial entry fee means even the “losers” expect a little bit of feedback.

What followed over the next couple of days was misery, self-doubt, dramatic pronouncements that my writing career may well be over and a fair bit of self-flagellation (metaphorically, obviously). Below are a few of the internal arguments I’ve had with myself this week:

You’ve got an MA in Creative Writing. Fluff.

People write good reviews of your work on Amazon. They’re just being kind.

You won that Story Tyne award. Dumb luck/not many entries.

People say they love your Creative Writing sessions. They feel sorry for me.

After writing a despairing Facebook post a couple of days ago, I realised that what I was suffering from is an affliction suffered by many of those thoughtful souls who write. When you spend all day chained to your desk, with only Tweets and Facebook messages to connect you to the outside world, it’s easy to feel lonely. That loneliness can lend itself to negative thoughts which can quickly turn into writers block, or worse.  I wonder how many people throw their writing in the bottom of a drawer during one of these episodes, convinced that their writing is bad. How many potentially successful authors, playwrights, poets or screenwriters have dropped out because the demon convinces them their work is no good?

How many of us have suffered from what a friend of mine calls “impostor syndrome”? Have you ever stood in front of an audience, ready to read your work, waiting for someone to shout “(S)He shouldn’t be here, they’re not really a writer!”? Have you ever received so many rejections from agents, publishers, production companies or competitions that you think that must be a sign? It’s not. You just haven’t found the right fit yet.

My friend Andrea Anastasiou wrote an article about using mindfulness techniques to live in the present. You may wonder what that has to do with neurotic writers’ syndrome but some of the techniques she talks about can help you keep the negativity at bay.

I know how it feels to be rejected – it’s likely most of the people you know who inhabit this writing world know that feeling too. It doesn’t mean you should give up.

Vic x