Tag Archives: crime

#BlogTour #ABowlofCherries by F.E. Birch

It is an absolute delight to be hosting my very good friend F.E. Birch on the blog today. F.E. is part of a very special group of friends that I’m lucky to have in my life.

I was given the honour of hosting F.E.’s virtual book launch for her short story collection ‘A Bowl of Cherries‘ earlier this year and am delighted to have her on the blog today.

Vic x

Thank you Vic, for hosting me today for A Bowl of Cherries, my short story collection. 

When I first started writing short stories in about 2004 I had no idea where I was going with them. I love writing in the short story form and I when I discovered flash fiction, I thought it was brilliant. I was in the process of changing careers and with three small children it was difficult but I just wanted to write, and write, and write – so I pinched time from everywhere I could and I wrote.

I then started entering competitions and calls for submissions to anthologies. I learned what some markets liked and what others didn’t. I prefer writing in the dark form: crime, psychological, character-centred and devious, and definitely not for everyone. 

Since 2004 I have had a hundred and fifty- five stories published in print or online. I won Pitch Perfect at Bloody Scotland in 2012 along with Joseph Knox. He’s gone on to be a very successful and talented writer. I was then published by Harper Collins for a collection of anecdotal stories under a pseudonym, which although quite successful, I couldn’t openly take any credit. Life events then got in the way and I had a hiatus from 2013, writing only sporadically, but still networking at lots of the writing festivals. Oh, how I miss them!

I have to praise Vic Watson and Simon Bewick for their lockdown VNATB. It was the highlight of my week, every Wednesday for twenty-two weeks. They really inspired me to pick up my pen again and I managed to finish my part-written crime novel, which is now in the editing stages. I also went back to my short stories and thought, actually, some were okay. A hard thing to admit for someone who doesn’t believe in themselves! Whilst  ‘cooking the book’ that I hope to be my first novel, I thought I could pull together a collection of my short stories. If they’d been published before, surely, they might have some merit? Hence, A Bowl of Cherries was born. 

Each story has a dark theme, and they cover most aspects of life, death, murder, abuse, violence, cannibalism, alcohol, domestic violence, ghosts, and much more. There are few markets for this type of genre, especially in the short story form, but I know there are people out there like me that like to read them. I also understand that for some, they may be too much, which is why they are labelled as triple XXX. I draw on my life and professional experiences for nuggets of ideas that I turn into stories and having seen the dark and dastardly things that people do to each other first hand, I have a wealth of ideas in the bank. There are many more stories loitering in files on my laptop, more still waiting to be written. 

None are for the faint of heart, though I do have the idea of writing a rom-com – if only I can resist killing off a character! 

I am very fortunate to have a great peer group of friendly writing folk, and a special circle of friends, and it’s such a wonderful writing community to be amongst. Thank you to all the readers who keep the writers going, all the writers who understand the need to keep going, and everyone else who supports us. 

Order A Bowl of Cherries now.

Getting to Know You: M.J. Arlidge

Hope you’re all keeping well. If you’re looking for something new to read, M.J. Arlidge’s eighth Helen Grace novel ‘All Fall Down‘ is due out next week (Thurs, 11th June) .

Matt has joined us today to give us a little insight into his work as a writer and some advice for those of you out there who’d like to give it a go yourselves.

I’m hoping to host Matt at a Virtual Noir at the Bar in the coming weeks so make sure you’re first to find out when he’ll be appearing. Sign up to our newsletter now.

Big thanks to Matt and Orion Books for making this happen.

Vic x

M.J Arlidge

What do you like most about writing? What do you dislike (if anything)?

I love the escapism of it. I never get tired of sitting down at my desk and opening up my laptop. There are dozens of different characters and numerous interweaving stories in each of my books, meaning I have a whole host of different people to climb inside and bring to life. I love working out what makes characters tick, what’s important to them, what would drive them to do reckless or desperate things. It’s so enjoyable to escape from my normal life, especially so during lockdown! 

There’s not much I dislike, though there’s no question writing a novel is a hard slog. I’ve just written the first chapters of a new one this morning and the road ahead seems long!!!

What inspires you to write?

Anything and everything. Just life really. I find ideas come to me unbidden and at the strangest times – in the middle of the night, when I’m in the shower, when I’m shopping in the supermarket. And once a really good idea pops into your head, it has you, you have to write it. 

Do you find time to read, if so what are you reading at the moment?

Yes, of course! I love reading and always find time, usually at the end of the day. Generally I read novels, but at the moment I’m making use of lockdown to consume the works of Yuval Noah Harari – Sapiens, Homo Deus etc. I find his work absolutely fascinating. 

Which author(s) has/have had the biggest influence on your writing?

So many authors to choose from. Thomas Harris, James Patterson, Harlan Coben…but I think I’ll have to plump for Stieg Larsson. When I was writing Eeny Meeny (my debut novel), Lisbeth Salander was very much in my mind. She was the most unusual, most interesting crime fighter I’d ever come across. There are shades of Lisbeth Salander about Helen Grace – I was desperate to make her as unconventional and intriguing as Larsson’s brilliant protagonist. 

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?

Wow. Good question. I would have loved to have been a photographer. Or a chef. I still harbour fantasies about the latter, but I’m probably too old…

What do you think are your strengths and weaknesses?

That’s probably not for me to say! I’d say I work hard and am very committed to my writing and my readers – to the extent that when I’m writing a novel I find it hard to resist creeping back to my office late at night or as the sun is rising.  

What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve literally just started writing Truth or Dare, the ninth novel in the Helen Grace series. Usually the first few chapters are utterly terrifying, but actually I’ve really enjoyed starting this one. 

Where can we find you online?

At my Facebook page or on Twitter.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

To borrow a phrase from Nike, just do it. Don’t spend too long prevaricating – pretending to research stuff, when actually you’re just putting off writing. Just be disciplined and get that first draft done. Only then do you have something you can work with, something you can potentially sell. When I was writing my first novel, I still had a day job, but managed to carve out one hour a day (5pm-6pm) to write. It was slow progress, but I got there in the end, and, boy, was it a good feeling!

What’s been your proudest moment?

The day Eeny Meeny was published by Penguin. To have joined the ranks of authors at such an impressive and important publishing house blew my mind!

What was the best writing advice you received and who was it from? 

When I delivered the first draft of Eeny Meeny to my agent, she declared that it was good, but needed “more emotional cruelty”. It was sage advice and something I bear in mind every time I’m penning a new Helen Grace novel!

ALL FALL DOWN by M.J Arlidge is published by Orion Fiction and out in hardback on 11th June 2020.

**Newcastle Noir Blog Tour**

The Thursday before Newcastle Noir officially opens, we run Noir at the Bar as part of NN’s fringe. As with everything else this year, Noir at the Bar is going to be a little different but we’re delighted to be running #VNatB – Virtual Noir at the Bar – as part of the online fringe. 

Noir at the Bar has been part of Newcastle Noir’s fringe festival for several years and, thanks to the festival, this free spoken word event has managed to attract writers from Iceland, America and Germany in addition to the wonderful writers who travel the length and breadth of the UK to appear. 

Noir at the Bar, the brainchild of Peter Rosovsky, began in 2008 in Philadelphia. Peter started Noir at the Bar with one author per event where they’d do a reading and answer some questions. Scott Phillips and Jedidiah Ayres then set up Noir at the Bar in St Louis and messed with the concept a little, hosting larger groups of writers but sacrificing the interview element. Eric Beetner then set up in LA when their hub for writers, the Mystery Bookstore, closed. Noir at the Bar NYC started after Glenn Gray and Todd Robinson wanted the east coast to get some of the noiry action and that particular chapter is now hosted by Tommy Pluck. 

The first I heard of Noir at the Bar was when Graham Smith ran one in Carlisle but I believe it first came to the UK with Jay Stringer and Russel D. McLean at the helm in Glasgow. I once read an article where Glenn and Todd said they started NYC N@B because Tommy Pluck bullied them into it. The same happened with me, but it was Jay and Graham who “suggested” I run one in Newcastle. 

I put the feelers out among the crime writers I knew in the area and one author suggested I get in touch with Dr Noir. From that very first meeting, I knew I’d met someone who’d have a big impact on my life. Jacky’s unending passion for crime fiction bubbled over and by the time our meeting was done, we had so many plans. 

A global pandemic, surprisingly, didn’t feature in those plans so we’ve had to get creative to ensure that our audience don’t have to go without their crime fiction fix in these bewildering times.   On Wednesday, 29th April, I’ll be running my weekly Virtual Noir at the Bar and dedicating it to Newcastle Noir. Having hosted US writer Ashley Erwin in 2018 and 2019 as part of the fringe, I wanted to keep the tradition going and I’m delighted Ashley will be bringing her unique brand of pulpy noir to our virtual audience.

#VNatB will be here every Wednesday for fans of crime fiction until restrictions on social gatherings are lifted – and possibly beyond. 

Sign up for our newsletter to be the first to find out the full line-up every week.

See you at the (virtual) bar! 

Vic x

The Newcastle Noir fringe Noir at the Bar crew, 2019.

Review: ‘The Silent House’ by Nell Pattison

If someone was in your house, you’d know … Wouldn’t you?

But the Hunter family are deaf, and don’t hear a thing when a shocking crime takes place in the middle of the night. The following morning, they wake up to their worst nightmare: the murder of their daughter, Lexi.

The police call Paige Northwood to the scene to interpret for the witnesses. They’re in shock, but Paige senses the Hunters are hiding something.

One by one, people from Paige’s community start to fall under suspicion. But who would kill a little girl? An intruder? Or someone closer to home?

The Silent House‘ is a great read thanks to its intriguing mystery and the community in which it is set. Having a British Sign Language interpreter as the main character was a really original idea. Using Paige as an intermediary ensures that the reader is privy to information that she may or may not share with the investigating officers. 

Not only is ‘The Silent House‘ a great mystery but it also gives an insight into a community that many people may not be familiar with. The reader is introduced to the deaf club as well as being shown the difficulties faced by members of the deaf community when communicating with people. Pattison demonstrates real skill, weaving the story around the characters and their needs – I felt I learned a lot about the deaf community but this didn’t detract from the story at all. In fact, it made the story richer and more layered.

There are plenty of potential suspects for Lexi’s murder, all with their own motivations and secrets. Pattison ramps up the suspense with her skilled storytelling, interspersing Paige’s perspective as the narrative unfolds with chapters detailing what certain characters were doing hours before the murder. 

In addition to the crime element, there is also the hint of a love triangle, leaving the door open for romantic complications later in the series. 

The Silent House‘ is a unique police procedural featuring a diverse cast of characters and I’m really looking forward to the next novel by Nell Pattison.

Vic x

Review: ‘Out of the Ashes’ by Vicky Newham

When a flash mob is interrupted by a sudden explosion, DI Maya Rahman dashes to the scene. A fire is raging through Brick Lane, one of the city’s most infamous streets, the site of Maya’s childhood home. The discovery of two charred bodies in the burnt-out building transforms an arson attack into a murder case.

With witnesses too caught up in the dancing to have seen anything useful, Maya faces a complicated investigation without any leads. Then, when reports of a second, even more horrifying crime land on Maya’s desk, it’s obvious there’s more at stake than she could ever have imagined. She must solve the case – before all of East London goes up in flames

Having really enjoyed the first novel in the DI Maya Rahman series – ‘Turn a Blind Eye‘ – I had high expectations for ‘Out of the Ashes‘. I was not disappointed!

Vicky Newham reflects the rich diversity of London well, building complex characters within the wider narrative of an explosion on Brick Lane. There are plenty of nuances to these characters, making them well-rounded and believable. I cared about the characters, even the ones that weren’t wholly “good”. In fact, I liked them all the more for their flaws.

Newham builds a rich, compelling picture of the residents affected by the explosion and how far-reaching the consequences of the past can be. I also love the way in which Maya’s own backstory interlinks with the central storyline, too.

Exploring serious themes of racism, immigration and gentrification, ‘Out of the Ashes‘ delivers a depth that many crime novels lack.

I can’t wait to read more from Vicky Newham.

Vic x

Review: ‘Critical Incidents’ by Lucie Whitehouse

DI Robin Lyons has been dismissed for misconduct from the Met’s Homicide Command after refusing to follow orders. Unable to pay her bills (or hold down a relationship), she is left with no choice but to move back in with her parents in the city she thought she’d escaped forever at 18. This time, though, Robin has her teenage daughter Lennie in tow. 

In Birmingham, sharing a bunkbed with Lennie and navigating the stormy relationship with her mother, Robin works as a benefit-fraud investigator – to the delight of those wanting to see her cut down to size.

Only Corinna, Robin’s best friend of 20 years, seems happy to have Robin back. But when Corinna’s family is engulfed by violence and her missing husband becomes a murder suspect, Robin can’t bear to stand idly by as the police investigate. As Robin begins her own investigation, she realises there may be a link to the disappearance of a young woman, and she begins to wonder how well we ever know the people we care about. 

Having read Lucie Whitehouse’s ‘The Bed I Made‘ several years ago, I was intrigued to read ‘Critical Incidents which seemed a rather different premise to the ‘The Bed I Made‘. 

As I have come to expect from Lucie Whitehouse’s writing, ‘Critical Incidents‘ is a superb story, with sensitive characterisation and an emotional pull that you often don’t get from crime fiction. I couldn’t put ‘Critical Incidents‘ down. It’s a wonderful blend of pacey plot and intrigue with a touch of humour in the darkness.

There are plenty of interlinking stories here which some may dismiss as “convenient” but I actually enjoyed the story so much that I was happy to suspend my disbelief. 

Whitehouse has a real skill for presenting fictional crime alongside domesticity and I really like that about her writing. She really captures familial tensions perfectly – the tense relationship between Robin and her mother adds plenty to the story.

The way in which Whitehouse portrays Robin is pitch perfect. Despite obviously being a competent officer, Robin’s unwillingness to play by the rules consistently gets her in bother. I like that Robin has her problems but her intentions are good. I could really identify with Robin and her well-intentioned missteps. 

Critical Incidents‘ is a must-read. 

Vic x

Review: ‘The Secretary’ by Renee Knight

Look around you. Who holds the most power in the room? Is it the one who speaks loudest, who looks the part, who has the most money, who commands the most respect?

Or is it someone like Christine Butcher: a meek, overlooked figure, who silently bears witness as secrets are shared  Someone who quietly, perhaps even unwittingly, gathers together the knowledge of the people she’s there to serve – the ones who don’t notice her, the ones who consider themselves to be important.

There’s a fine line between loyalty and obsession. And when someone like Christine Butcher is pushed to her limit, she might become the most dangerous person in the room . . .

Christine is an average wife and mother, who is the personal assistant to Mina Appleton, the chair of a large supermarket chain. Following accusations of unethical practices within Mina’s business, Christine has to decide how far she wants to go to prove her loyalty to her boss in a surprisingly cutthroat industry. 

As ‘The Secretary‘ progresses, told through Christine’s eyes, it was interesting as a reader to work out what had happened to Christine and where she was telling her story from. When this was revealed where she actually was, I was quite surprised. Renee Knight didn’t go for the most obvious explanation and I appreciated that. 

I thought Renee Knight’s characterisation in this novel was very strong. I enjoyed the transformation in Christine as her job became all-encompassing. I thought the character of Mina seemed really believable, her manipulative behaviour certainly seemed to represent what we have come to expect from heads of corporations. In many ways, ‘The Secretary‘ reminded me of ‘The Devil Wears Prada‘. 

I thought the idea of having the central crime in this novel centre around unethical business practices and perverting the course of justice was really original. Although it may not initially seem as compelling as murder, this story seemed really realistic and the behaviour of the characters made me want to read on. This is a character-driven psychological thriller which keeps the tension tight throughout.

Vic x

Review: The Puppet Show by M.W. Craven

A serial killer is burning people alive in the Lake District’s prehistoric stone circles.

Leaving no clues, the murderer – nicknamed The Immolation Man – is managing to render the police useless. When disgraced detective Washington Poe’s name is discovered carved into the charred remains of the third victim, he’s brought back from suspension despite wanting to be no part of this gruesome investigation. 

Reluctantly partnered with the brilliant, but socially awkward, civilian analyst, Tilly Bradshaw, the mismatched pair uncover a trail that only Poe is meant to see. The elusive killer has a grand plan and for some unknown reason Poe is part of it.

As the body count rises, Poe discovers he has far more invested in the case than he could have possibly imagined. And in a shocking finale that will shatter everything he’s ever believed about himself, Poe will learn that there are things far worse than being burned alive. 

I tore through ‘The Puppet Show‘, unable to pull myself away from this compelling narrative. The characters are well-drawn and Craven appears to have a deep understanding of their back stories and what motivates them. I am, of course, #TeamTilly. Despite this being a dark, violent crime drama, Craven paints Tilly with sensitivity and, in her relationship with Poe, manages to bring some light relief when things get heavy. Craven, a former probation officer, has used his experience to create compelling, realistic characters.

Alongside his obvious understanding of the motivations of his characters, Craven’s experience within the criminal justice system shines through. Craven maintains the fine balance of demonstrating his depth of knowledge while ensuring that the story isn’t bogged down in minutiae. ‘The Puppet Show‘ is a well-plotted, fast-paced read. 

 Setting these grisly murders against the beautiful scenery of the Lake District was a stroke of genius by Craven, too. I really appreciated the experience of reading about somewhere I’m familiar with, turning it from a place of rugged beauty to something far more terrifying.  I honestly cannot recommend this book highly enough. 

The Puppet Show‘ is the first in the Washington Poe series and I can’t wait for the next one. ‘Black Summer‘ is due out later this year. 

Vic x

Review: ‘She Lies in Wait’ by Gytha Lodge

If you follow me on Twitter, Facebook or Goodreads, you may have seen that I’ve been championing ‘She Lies in Wait‘ by Gytha Lodge since I got my hands on an advance copy at Harrogate last July. There was a huge buzz about this book at the festival and I was determined not to leave without a copy.

In July 1983, six school friends go camping in the forest. Aurora Jackson is allowed to tag along with her sister’s group of friends. Thirty years after her disappearance, Aurora’s body is discovered in a secret hideaway that only the six on the camping trip knew about. For three decades, the group have maintained their innocence but DCI Sheens is about to uncover the truth, and it’s been lurking closer to home than anyone realised…

Set across two timelines, ‘She Lies in Wait‘ is a twisty read which explores the impact of how one tragic night echoes throughout the years. Lodge evokes the 1980s perfectly, capturing the era with strong descriptions and cultural references. I found it really easy to get in the mindset of the characters because Lodge captures the preoccupations and concerns of teenagers with aplomb. 

She Lies in Wait‘ isn’t your average crime novel. Gytha Lodge has managed to create a nuanced portrayal of a crime and how it impacts on those left behind. Lodge considers the impact of the murder on not only the family of the victim but the detective who is haunted by the lack of resolution. It’s also a really interesting study on what happens to those who are accused. 

Fans of ‘Unforgotten‘ will love ‘She Lies in Wait‘. 

Vic x

2018 Review: Tess Makovesky

Tess Makovesky is a brilliant writer who I’ve “known” online for many years. I met Tess in person for the first time at Crime and Publishment. Since then, I’ve hosted her at Noir at the Bar Newcastle and am delighted to have her on the blog to review her year. 

Thanks, Tess, I wish you well for 2019.

Vic x

tessmakovesky

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
It’s the release of my first novel Gravy Train by All Due Respect. I wasn’t sure I could write a whole novel and only tried after three writer friends (you know who you are…!) pinned me to the wall and threatened me with extreme consequences if I didn’t. And in the end I had so much fun writing it, and I think that shows. It’s steamed into town on Friday 26th November, just in time for Christmas. So, if you want to read about a bunch of losers chasing a bag of dodgy money around the back streets of Birmingham, then please watch this space!

GT v5.jpg

And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
Probably the Crime and Publishment weekend back in March, which was an absolute blast. It’s always lovely catching up with so many old mates, but this year there were plenty of friendly new faces too, and the guest speakers and sessions were really stimulating. I enjoyed it so much I’ve just booked to go back next year!

Favourite book in 2018?
I’m struggling to answer this one a bit. I haven’t had time to read much crime this year, and some of what I have read has been slightly disappointing. I did enjoy Aidan Thorn’s latest, Rival Sons, which is a powerful family drama of the ‘throwing a stone into a pond and watching the ripples spread’ variety, with a real kick in the teeth ending. And I’m hoping to go back to an old favourite, The Saint Vs Scotland Yard by Leslie Charteris, next.

Favourite film in 2018?
Can I cheat and choose a TV series instead? Top of the list would be the wonderfully twisted Get Shorty, which was brilliant, dark, funny and brilliant – even if I did have to watch half of each episode through my fingers! Also worth a mention were Brotherhood, with great performances by Jason Isaacs and Jason Clarke, and Broadchurch series 3. And Bodyguard, of course, and… oh dear, it sounds like I do nothing but watch crime on television…

Favourite song of the year?
I’m cheating horribly by choosing Pink Floyd’s Have a Cigar, which gave me the title for Gravy Train – not to mention more than a few sly references to the lyrics inside the book!

Any downsides for you in 2018?
It’s been a slightly difficult year health-wise – nothing major thank goodness but lots of little annoying things that added up to much less time than usual to write. It was frustrating while it lasted but I’m hoping for better things next year.

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
Nope! I never make resolutions because I can never keep them beyond about the 9th January…

What are you hoping for from 2019?
I’m about nine tenths of the way through the first draft of Embers of Bridges, another crime caper set around Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter and canals. I’d love to get that finished and offer it to All Due Respect. And a bit less divisiveness in the country might be nice…