Tag Archives: culture

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Neil Fulwood

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

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

Vic x

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Nuff said!

Review of 2017: Chris Ord

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2017?
I’ve had a good year. My debut novel, Becoming has sold well and received widespread acclaim. I’ve visited a number of schools giving talks on writing, and presented at several reading events. I was commissioned by Woodhorn Museum to write some passages for their Wonderfolk interactive family experience. This was a proud moment for me, as I spent my childhood walking up and down the narrow path past the pit where the museum is now. However, my favourite memory has to be completing my second novel, The Storm.

I play solo horn in Newbiggin Brass Band, and a couple of years ago we were involved in a local project ‘Haalin’ the Lines.’ Funded by the BAIT team at Woodhorn Museum, the project was led by the remarkable performer and singer-songwriter, Tim Dalling. Tim was commissioned by BAIT to take historical accounts being gathered by the Newbiggin-by-the-Sea Genealogy Project and put some of the stories to music. The aim was to bring back to life the tales and oral histories of local heroes from the village. One of those heroes was ‘Big’ Philip Jefferson, the first Newbiggin Lifeboat Coxswain who was awarded a clasp to his silver medal for an attempted rescue of the Norwegian brig ‘Embla’ in 1854.

The fascination with ‘Big’ Phil stayed with me after the project and further research revealed what an incredible man he was. The story of the night Phil and a few young men from Newbiggin tried to rescue the ‘Embla’ became the backdrop for the novel. However, the events of that night are only the starting point, as the book weaves this together with a folk tale, and a series of mysterious incidents to create a tense, supernatural thriller.

Setting is so important to my writing and it means a lot to me to write a story set in the village where I grew up. History is filled with tales of kings and queens, leaders and generals. This is the history they teach at school. But the true heroes are all around us. They are the people who built our communities, lived and died for our families, friends, and neighbours. What remains of those heroes is love and memories, and it’s vital we keep those alive. Our folk stories are our heritage and we can still learn from them. Writers and creatives play an important role in raising issues, stimulating debate, and provoking challenging questions. I hope my books are more than stories, but also make people think and reflect on the world.

And how about a favourite moment from 2017 generally?
Music has always been my first love, and my best moment in 2017 is a musical moment. As I said earlier, I play in my village brass band. The past two years have been our most successful and this year we retained our Durham League title, won the North East Regional Championship for the second year running, and qualified for the National Finals in Cheltenham.

We worked hard in preparing for the Finals, but you are playing against the best in the country. Wales, Yorkshire, and the North West all have strong, competitive bands and challenging against them is tough. There were twenty bands in the final and finishing anywhere in the top six placings is considered a success. The draw was not kind to us and as with the year before we had a long wait before we took the stage in nineteenth position. The band performed well, though not quite at our very best, leaving the stage with mixed feelings. Finals are unpredictable and always throw up surprises. Few had us anywhere near the prizes.

The announcements prior to the results were agonising, and full of the usual formal fluff and flannel. Eventually, they got round to revealing the prizes, and we were delighted to be awarded fourth place. This is one of my proudest moments in banding. The band folded many years ago and was only revived in 2010. They’re a great bunch of people and musicians, and to come from nothing and finish fourth at the Nationals is a remarkable achievement. We’ve been promoted and next year brings a whole set of fresh challenges. For the moment, we can enjoy the success.

Favourite book in 2017?
A few years ago I read a book called How to be Free by Tom Hodgkinson. It became a bit of a manifesto for me. I read it every now and then to remind me of some important anchors in my approach your life. I decided to read it again this year.

The book has its flaws and some of the author’s ideas are contradictory and simplistic. However, there’s plenty in there to enjoy and it’s worth reading with an open mind. It’s especially engaging if you’re deliberating a life change. I’ve listed the chapter headings below. They provide an indicator of his anarchic approach to life. I see them as a useful common-sense checklist for embracing a certain kind of freedom. You won’t agree with them all, but they make you think, and a number of them inspired me to focus on new priorities.

  1. Banish anxiety; be carefree
  2. Break the bonds of boredom
  3. The tyranny of bills and the freedom of simplicity
  4. Reject career and all its empty promises
  5. Get out of the city
  6. Cast off your watch
  7. Stop competing
  8. Escape debt
  9. Death to shopping, or fleeing the prison of consumer desire
  10. Smash the fetters of fear
  11. Say no to guilt and free your spirit
  12. No more housework, or the power of the candle
  13. Submit no more to the machine, use your hands
  14. Stop moaning; be merry
  15. Live mortgage free; be a happy wanderer
  16. Disarm pain
  17. Stop worrying about your pension and get a life
  18. Sail away from rudeness and towards a new era of courtesy, civility, and grace
  19. Live free of the supermarkets
  20. The reign of ugly is over; long live beauty, quality, fraternity!
  21. Depose the tyrant wealth
  22. Reject waste; embrace thrift
  23. Stop working, start living!!!

Favourite film in 2017?
I’ve not seen enough films this year. I’ve probably forgotten most of the ones I have. It’s a problem of mine, and my wife is always reminding me that I have seen films I’m convinced I haven’t.

One film that stood out for me was Baby Driver. It’s cool, stylish, full of action and has a great storyline. I enjoy a strong narrative and like to be entertained. There’s a role for challenging and thought provoking character movies, but I tend to fall asleep to a lot of those arthouse flicks. I like escapism, and Baby Driver is a bit of fun. It has an excellent soundtrack too. Thanks to Tarantino it seems to be a necessity these days.

One caveat is Kevin Spacey. Always a terrific presence on screen, his reputation is now in tatters. I suspect the film will be buried now. Some of you won’t want to see it because of him. I respect that. It’s a dilemma facing us all now. Should we separate the art from the artist? I must admit if I erased from my life all the creatives who had deplorable views or behaviour there wouldn’t be much culture left. I tend to leave the judgements to the courts or the gutter press. Perhaps that isn’t good enough.

Favourite album of the year?
My wife, Julie has been listening to the latest album by Hurray for the Riff Raff, The Navigator. I recall loving their last album, and the snippets I was hearing around the house hooked me again. I downloaded The Navigator a few weeks ago and have listened to little else since. Essentially, the band is the creative vehicle for lead singer, Alynda Segarra. Of Puerto Rican descent, the album has a strong Latin flavour. The songs and lyrics are exceptional, but it’s the rhythms and mood that I love most. I’m into drums at the minute and love to hear them used in inventive ways. The standout track is ‘Pa’lante’ which contains the lines, ‘I just wanna prove my worth, on the planet Earth, and be something.’ Those words resonated with me. It’s a sentiment that connects most creatives. I think we all want to leave our mark, and if it doesn’t happen in your lifetime die hoping it will someday. Who knows? Maybe our time is yet to come.

Any downsides for you in 2017?
I’ve had a transitional year, readjusting to moving back into contractual work and finding the time to write. While I wouldn’t describe this as a downside, it has meant that I have had less free time. Writing is about discipline and making the time is a challenge. I’m enjoying my new role. It is rewarding, but my passion is writing. My long-term goal is to reach a point where I am writing most of the time. Many writers speak of how they write because they have to. Once you have caught the bug, the compulsion is overwhelming.

However, sustaining a living as an author is like building a business. It takes a few years to build your experience and reputation. The world of publishing has changed, and whilst this offers many opportunities it also means the financial rewards are not as great. I’m an advocate of the indie route. Why be J.K. Rowling when you can by Joy Division? I also like to be control of my own destiny. The opportunities presented in the mainstream would have come at too high a price for me.

I look at the likes of Louise Ross and Mark Dawson with great admiration. They have been bold and clever enough to build a living doing what they love. My success is far more modest, but the creative rewards are what excite and drive me. Whatever happens artistic integrity and authenticity are my primary goals. If others love what I do that is a bonus. Passion may not be enough to pay the bills, but keep working at what you love and the rewards are great. The important thing is to never give up. A film deal would be welcome though.

Are you making resolutions for 2018?
I’m an obsessive compiler of lists and revel in the opportunity to write my resolutions for the year ahead. I’m still working on my goals for 2018, but my main one is to complete Awakening, the follow up to Becoming. One of my challenges is to strike the right balance between work and writing. It takes discipline to write and finding the time is important. If there is one thing I would love more of it is time. I crave it more than anything. Filling that time with words and music is my idea of heaven. My other goals will revolve around music, travel and running. There are still a few bands I’d still love to see in concert. I go to lots of gigs and there are a few in the diary already. I want to see Sigur Ros, an Icelandic band. I also adore musicals and still haven’t seen ‘Les Miserables’, one of my favourites. I intend to put that right in 2018.

What are you hoping for from 2018?
A top four placing with the band at the Regionals would be great. We’re in a higher section now, so it’s going to be tough. I’m also hoping to visit Berlin this year. I passed through in the early 90s on the way to Poland, and regret not getting off the train for a few days. Croatia is another country I’d love to visit and that’s on my list for the summer. Depending on finances I hope to return to Iceland. It’s a captivating place and I promised myself I would return after a visit in 2016. The costs are eye-watering though and 2018 may be a touch too soon to cram in all this travel. I live in hope though.

Finally, I hope my readers enjoy The Storm. I loved writing it and it would be great if others appreciated the book too. It’s always daunting releasing your work, as you never know what the feedback will be. First and foremost, I see myself as a storyteller. If I can entertain people for a few hours, and make them think that’s all the success I need.

Becoming‘ is available from Amazon in paperback and e-book. ‘The Storm’ will be released in January 2018 and will also be available on Amazon.

To find out more about Chris’s writing you can visit his website or find him on Facebook

Review: ‘The Thing Around Your Neck’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche is a critically acclaimed, award-winning writer. I read her ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ and found that her beautiful prose not only interested me but informed me about Nigeria and the short-lived Biafra.

I chose to read this collection in order to study the short story form through a writer I respect. These twelve stories not only educate about an unknown culture but give a new spin on American life: America through the eyes of immigrants. There are no taboos in this collection: there are tales of same-sex desire and adultery as well as war and sibling rivalry. The stories are searing, emotive and intelligent. Adiche’s understanding of how two cultures clash and how people attempt to reconcile cultural differences.

Vic x

Download your copy here: http://amzn.to/xv9z8O

Or get it in paperback: http://amzn.to/zJhdRD

Review: ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

I bought this book simply due to the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction 2007 ‘Winner’ sticker on the front cover. Initially, I couldn’t understand what all the fuss was over but after completing the book, I realised what a life-changing, inspirational read this book is.

‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ is set in 1960s Nigeria during the Civil War. A village boy, Ugwu, is taken to work as a houseboy for a bourgeois university lecturer. Olanna, the lecturer’s lover, has abandoned a life of privilege to live with ‘her revolutionary’. Olanna’s twin sister embarks upon a relationship with a shy Englishman, Richard, who has come to live in Nigeria to write. When the reality of war finally hits them, their allegiances are tested to the limit. When the independent state of Biafra is declared, the characters are relieved but they have no idea how this independence will negatively affect them.

I found Part 1 quite laborious but after reading more of the book, I realised that Part 1 was important to set the scene and make the reader understand the lives of those involved before war changed them forever. The reader is treated to beautiful, flowing descriptions of the house in which Ugwu works and the people who pass through. Part 1 is full of privileged people talking about theories regarding war and liberty and I found that quite boring at times but what Adichie is doing is demonstrating that the intelligentsia may have theories and ideas but when it comes down to it, war is indiscriminate. It affects everyone.

Some of the scenes in this book are massively difficult to stomach – forced conscription, rape, violence and starvation are some of the themes – but Adichie has based this book on real events that happened. Adichie lost both grandfathers in the Nigeria-Biafra war. This book is not only a story about love and loss but it is also a coming-of-age story and the reader will learn a lot about history too.

Adichie captures the shades of grey perfectly. Her characters demonstrate that there is no such thing as an all-good or all-bad person only good and bad actions. I feel like I learned a lot about Nigerian culture, particularly their belief in spirits and spells which was really interesting.

Olanna and her sister Kainene represent a particularly honest account of sisterhood which I really appreciated.

This story is not an easy read by any stretch of the imagination but I feel it is an important story. There is a great deal of brutality but what you must remember is that these things happened – and continue to happen – in war zones. They may not be easy to read but that’s what adds the power to this novel. Adichie isn’t afraid of shocking the reader and her fearlessness is admirable. Her knack for noticing the little details and making them significant is incredible.

Half of a Yellow Sun is an incredible, honest account of life before, during and after war. It’s so moving and awe-inspiring, I felt so much compassion towards  the characters and all of the people caught up in this terrible conflict.

Vic x

Get your copy of ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ here: http://amzn.to/khtwOA

Review: ‘Breaking Away’ by Anna Gavalda

After reading ‘Breaking Away’ by Anna Gavalda, I realised that it’s easy to miss the beautiful moments in life because you’re too preoccupied with responsibilities.

I found this novel easy-to-follow and a perfect holiday read, nice and light with a realistic portrayal of families. The characters are easy to identify with the growing nostalgia of a family who, nearing middle age, reflect on missed opportunities and disappointments.

I found the story both funny and touching in places and I really empathised with Garance, the main character. Her love for her siblings is touching, and I really understood her growing irritation towards her neat-freak sister-in-law. Leaving duty behind, even just for one day, is something I, and most adults, would love to do. If you feel too bound up by responsibilities, I would recommend you read ‘Breaking Away’.

This book is about getting older and lamenting a lost youth which is definitely something I identify with. However, I would have liked more resolution at the end of the story. All in all, Gavalda’s novel is about realising that life may not have turned out how you expected, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less amazing.

Vic x

Order your copy here: http://amzn.to/llgjKO

Review: ‘Starting Over, One Cake At A Time’ by Gesine Bullock-Prado

This celebrity-sibling cash-in slash family history slash inspirational memoir is not as fluffy as one might expect.

Having trained in law and subsequently worked as a film developer, Gesine Bullock-Prado seemed to have it all in La La Land but something was missing and so, along with her supportive husband, she decided to up sticks to deepest Vermont to set up her own patisserie. With a few friendly pushes from big sis Sandy, Gesine found herself waist-deep in flour, butter and sugar as well as customers and mounting online orders.

Gesine contrasts her seemingly perfect life in fast-paced Hollywood, where she dined in the finest restaurants and lived among the beautiful and the successful, with her 4am starts and demanding workload in sleepy Vermont. However, no matter how tough it seems for her running her own business, she makes it sound as if it’s all worth it – because she’s happy.

If you’re looking for an expose of her sister’s life, a la Christopher Ciccone, you’re in the wrong place. Although Sandy is frequently mentioned, it’s only when relevant to Gesine’s narrative. I would have preferred a bit more information of what Gesine’s role in Hollywood entailed, all she really says is that it was unfulfilling and full of fakes.

Each chapter ends with a recipe for one of the mouth-watering treats Gesine has talked about. So not only is it an entertaining read, it’s an opportunity for trying out some beautiful pastries.

At times, Gesine comes across as childish and spoilt, as well as neurotic but the neuroses can be attributed to her perfectionist nature. I was really surprised that she talked in so much detail, sometimes scathingly, about her patrons and staff. Even if she has given them pseudonyms, with her descriptions, it won’t be hard to figure out who they are if you know them. However, her brutal honesty adds a certain authenticity to her writing. Knowing she is being so honest about her family and customers makes me want to trust more than your average published food-guru.

The book is dedicated to Gesine’s mother, who taught her the joy of eating in moderation. Her German heritage oozes from the pages as she talks about high jinx on both sides of the Atlantic and how her mother and grandmother’s rituals seeped into her own life. It is, quite clearly, a tribute to a woman who remains greatly loved and missed. The highlight of the book for me was the Oreo rampage teenage Gesine went on after her mother had banned junk food.

This book is about following your dreams but also understanding that nothing is perfect, even your dreams require a lot of effort and hard work, they’re still worth chasing after.

Vic x

Order your copy here: http://amzn.to/kq6Icn

Could I interest you in a spot of dinner, perhaps?

It’s Saturday night, I’m wearing pjs with a cow on that looks like it’s defecating. Yes, I live a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. Not. Am I Liz Lemon? Quite possibly but without the cool job, savings or good figure.

Speaking of Lemon, I have been thinking if I could have ten favourite fictional characters from TV or film to a dinner party, who would it be?

  1. Liz Lemon – just to see if we would both be able to be in a room together or if we are indeed the same person.
  2. Karen Brockman (Outnumbered) – she’s smart, she’s sassy, she’s seven.
  3. Brittany S. Pierce (Glee) – she’s a good dancer and is guaranteed to come up with something ridiculously dumb which will then be corrected by Karen.
  4. Donnie Darko – not a great conversationalist but if everything goes wrong, he can find us a wormhole to start over with.
  5. Brian Badonde – so cultured, so sophisticated, so funny.
  6. Carrie Bradshaw – vacuous but nice shoes.
  7. Fox Mulder (The X Files) – attractive, intelligent (allegedly) and will give his gun to anyone.
  8. Bree Van de Kamp (Desperate Housewives) – she’ll cater and clean up afterwards.
  9. Dr. Sheldon Cooper (The Big Bang Theory) – intelligent although may offend others.
  10. Willy Wonka (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) – sweeties!

Ok, so it’s all a bit tongue in cheek. How about you? Who would you invite and why?

Welcome to my world, won’t you come on in?

So, this is my first blog.

Phew, took me hours to set this thing up for starters – not as easy as expected.

What can you expect from my blog? Well, I’m neurotic and may use this blog to vent from time to time. There may be random musings and rants depending on my mood. I Tweet but sometimes 14o characters just isn’t enough!

I love reading so expect plenty of book reviews. I enjoy going to the cinema, when there’s anything worth seeing, is it just me or is there nothing on? I watch a lot of tv so I will be writing about that too. I live in Newcastle but enjoy going out and about to Northumberland regularly so there’s likely to be pictures and stories.

I’m highly curious about the world. I don’t claim to know a lot about it but I may share what I do know here. I’m interested in current affairs and politics too.

I’ve been to New York once before and it truly captured my heart so I am hoping to go back there soon. I’ve visited Oman twice (look it up if you don’t know where it is). I’ve been on the usual packages to Spain, Greece and Bulgaria and I’ve been skiing in France once. I’d like to see more, as well as know more, of the UK and beyond.

I was Evening Chronicle’s Young Reviewer of the Year 2008-2009 where I spent much of my free time reviewing shows, books, concerts, plays, CDs and gigs. A lot of my reviews have been used on people’s websites (yes, I am very complimentary at times). I have a BA in Media, Communication & Cultural Studies from Newcastle Uni and an MA in Creative Writing from Northumbria Uni. I’d love to do a PhD some day. I’m inquisitive and love to learn – I’m a geek and proud of it.

I believe in Ideals not Idols but I do have many role models, some people are worth holding in high esteem. I hate our modern-day celeb culture where people are celebrated for having sordid relations with Z-Listers. What about people who can actually make a difference to the world? What happened to literature being celebrated? Why are people publishing books about the meerkat?! Why not write about someone like Rosa Parks or someone equally interesting? Why are people from Big Brother getting their own TV shows? I feel that currently TV, among other things, pander to the less educated in society. I don’t care who’s had sex with whom – I care about who’s going to make reforms to benefit the common good. I care about who’s going to save innocent civilians being killed or who’s going to stand up for the vulnerable people in societies.

Feel free to comment and get involved, tell me what you want to know or see on this blog, your wish is my command 😉

Vic x

Vic in Hot Springs, Oman