Any downsides for you in 2018?
What are you hoping for from 2019?
Today’s guest is my lovely friend, Kay Stewart, another member of Elementary Writers. Kay is a writer whose prose has extraordinary economy of language without losing any of its beauty or power. Kay is one of the kindest people I have ever met and it was brilliant to spend some time with her during our trip to Stephanie Butland‘s writing retreat at Garsdale Retreat.
My thanks to Kay for taking the time to review her year.
Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
I was really over the moon to be long-listed for the Writers Block North East development programme.
And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
I loved the writing retreat run by Stephanie Butland at Garsdale. It made a huge difference to my writing and was a perfect few days in a whole range of ways.
Favourite book in 2018?
Educated by Tara Westover.
Favourite film in 2018?
Cohn Brothers, The Ballard of Buster Scruggs.
Favourite song of the year?
The Devil on the Wall by Miles Kennedy.
Any downsides for you in 2018?
Sad circumstances that meant I couldn’t get cracking with my writing like I wanted.
Are you making resolutions for 2019?
More writing … more putting myself out there and being tougher at handling rejections as a result.
What are you hoping for from 2019?
Finish my novel, at last 🙂
Because Adam is a debut author, I wanted to introduce him to you as I suspect you will be reading Adam’s novels for many years to come.
My thanks to Adam for taking the time to answer my questions.
Tell us about your book(s).
My novel Open Grave is a crime thriller set in the North East of England. The protagonist, DCI Jack Lambert, is different to most other detectives within the genre in that he is gay. On a personal level, this is something he is struggling with, having only recently made this admission at the beginning of the book.
The main ‘crime’ within the story is that of a serial killer who is murdering people in pairs, burying them and then digging them up so that they can be found. Alongside this, gang warfare is about to break out between rival criminal groups and a well-known local celebrity reports that she is being stalked. I wanted to create a sprawling world within my book with multiple threads, the idea being that nothing ever resolves neatly, with certain storylines and characters crossing over into future novels.
What inspired your novel?
I read a lot of crime and so it felt natural to write something within that genre. The inspiration for Open Grave came about from an image I had in my head of a crime scene in which a member of the public stumbles across two bodies in an open grave (strange, I know). The story unfolded from there.
What do you like most about writing? What do you dislike (if anything)?
I quite enjoy editing, which is a good thing as there’s always plenty to do when you don’t intricately plot your book before beginning! Knowing that I am whipping something up into shape is a great feeling.
The thing I dislike most about writing is just how easy it is to fall out of your routine when it comes to putting words onto the page. Like most things in life, a few days away from the computer can easily stretch into weeks and this can lead to unnecessary procrastination.
Do you find time to read, if so what are you reading at the moment?
I do find the time to read. As I prefer to write in the mornings, I dedicate time to read most evenings. I’m currently reading Martina Cole’s Dangerous Lady.
Which author(s) has/have had the biggest influence on your writing?
As a writer, I would have to say Stephen King and Jo Nesbo. I would also include Lee Child in that list. With regards to Stephen King, I read his book On Writing before I penned so much as a character profile and I use the template he gives in terms of how to go about writing. I also enjoy reading his books!
As for Jo Nesbo, I find the protagonist Harry Hole to be a wonderfully complex character. He has many of the traits that we see in crime fiction from such detectives but I find myself invested in Harry in a way that I rarely find in other books. I also like that Nesbo leaves certain threads open between books, which always leaves me wanting to read more. With Lee Child, it has to be his pacing. I find myself flying through his books and every page carries a tension with it. This is something I am hoping to refine in my own work moving forward.
Where do you get your ideas from?
Usually they just pop into my head either as an image – like happened with Open Grave – or as a question. I like the idea of concocting a problem, in the form of a question, which seemingly makes no sense initially. Within my own writing, I basically keep asking a number of questions until an answer presents itself. This helps create misdirection.
Do you have a favourite scene/character/story you’ve written?
I enjoy the opening scene from Open Grave, mainly because it is the opening chapter of my first published novel. In terms of a character, it would have to be gangland boss Dorian McGuinness, my protagonist’s former employer. I feel like his character has a lot of room to grow and that there are all manner of skeletons in his closet which may or may not be revealed in future…
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently writing the second novel in the DCI Jack Lambert series and I’m excited to see where it will go. This novel is a little more focused around one event and, with characters having already been established in the first novel, I am keen to see how they react to the hurdles put before them.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given (and who was it from)?
In a non-direct sense, Stephen King’s ‘just get an idea and go with it’ has had the biggest impact on me. Whilst this can lead to a lot of editing, it minimises the scope for procrastination and I find myself able to get on with things. I also try to stick to his mantra of completing 1,000 words a day with varying degrees of success.
Are you a plotter or a pantster?
I’m definitely not a plotter! Get the idea and run with it. Of course, as I work through a novel, ideas spring into my head in terms of where I want things to go, but you won’t find any colour-coded charts or timelines pinned to my wall. I should point out, that’s not a judgement on writers that do spend time plotting, I’m merely saying that it doesn’t work for me.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Yes! Read Stephen King’s On Writing, get yourself along to a writing group and don’t fret about giving it a go. Most writers I meet begin by being somewhat self-conscious about their work, often talking down their ability and/or experience. I’d say just get stuck in and see what happens. If you can get into some kind of writing routine, you’ll soon see huge improvements in your work.
What’s been your proudest writing-related moment?
Until recent times it would have been winning the Writers’ Forum monthly magazine short story competition. However, opening the email from Bloodhound Books to find that they believed in my work and wanted to publish Open Grave has definitely topped all other writing-related moments!
Today I was lucky enough to attend my friend’s book launch. Jennifer C. Wilson first attended Elementary Writers in 2014 and, as Jen put it today, ‘we were great writing acquaintances’. In the last year, or so, though, we’ve become really great friends, realising that we have a great deal in common.
Jen has an incredible work ethic: ‘Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile‘ is the follow-up to ‘Kindred Spirits: Tower of London‘. Jen also manages to work full-time as well as running all manner of events as part of The Next Page with Elaine Cusack and Sandy Chadwin.
Today was a wonderful celebration of Jen’s hard work paying off. The room at the Town Wall was full of people who wanted to toast Jen’s success. It was brilliant to hear Jen read from ‘Kindred Spirits‘ as well as having the opportunity to hear her talk about writing during the Q&A.
Jen is already working on the third in the series and, having heard extracts in the writing group, I am already looking forward to that book coming out (and the inevitable party to celebrate its release!).
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Ghostbusters. I 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.
It’s with great pleasure that I host Emma Whitehall on the blog today. Emma has become an integral part of Elementary Writers over the past twelve months and her performance at ‘The Visitation’ at Old Low Light was phenomenal.
Thanks for taking the time to reflect on your 2016 and sharing your thoughts with us, Emma.
Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2016?
This would probably be getting my modern North East-based take on The Little Mermaid story published in Holdfast magazine in February. ‘Where the People Are’ is one of my favourite things that I’ve written this year, and I’m so proud of it. It came about from a weird brainstorming session with some friends, and started off as a joke. But, as I played about with the idea in my head, things just fell into place. Seeing it in print, with its own illustration, was incredible.
And how about a favourite moment from 2016 generally?
I’ve loved becoming a part of Elementary Writers. I have lots of friends who write, but they are mostly spoken word performers, or poets. Having a chance to connect with people who write in the same prose-based style as me – even meeting people who work in the same genres I do – has been amazing.
That one is writing related, so here’s a bonus moment. I got to watch my oldest friend get married at a beautiful service in Hexham. She’s an incredible person, and I’m so proud of her and her new husband. I cried through the entire service!
Favourite book in 2016?
I thought about this one really hard! The most powerful book I’ve read this year is Death at Seaworld, by David Kirby. I was deeply moved by the plight of Tilikum, the subject of the documentary Blackfish, and this book talks in depth about the history of orcas in captivity. There’s also a lot of fascinating information about the social lives of wild orcas – which makes the causes of Tilikum’s violence all the more tragic. It’s a deeply sad situation – but one that deserves to be known about.
Favourite film in 2016?
The VVitch was a brilliant piece of gothic cinema. It was beautifully shot, and managed to keep the tension tight without resorting to jump scares. The end sequence looked like it came fully formed out of my imagination – I was shaking my boyfriend’s arm with excitement at the gorgeously dark visuals!
Favourite song of the year?
My Shot, from Hamilton. I’ve become a devout fan of writer/composer/actor Lin-Manuel Miranda this year. Lin is passionate, intelligent, creative, and driven – everything I aspire to be. His entire portfolio is amazing, but My Shot has a special place in my heart. It’s a song about seizing your chances, about determination and ambition. If I’m ever in a funk, or feeling down, or even just being lazy during my morning writing sessions, I blast this song, and I always get something done.
Any downsides for you in 2016?
The major downside of this year is the fact I was unable to get a mortgage, due to my circumstances at work. I was bitterly disappointed, but I’m using the time to save up, and to advance my writing career prospects.
Are you making resolutions for 2017?
I’m not sure yet. I feel like I have made great strides in my personal and professional life this year, and I just want to keep that up! I would like to get back into my swimming, which tailed off around the summer holidays. I want to keep becoming more disciplined in my day-to-day life, as well – my bullet journal has helped with that, so I will be using that well into the new year.
What are you hoping for from 2017?
I’ve actually just started up a mini-business (Emma Whitehall – Professional Feedback – find me on Facebook!), where I offer bespoke help and feedback to writers on their works in progress. My biggest hope is that this takes off the way that I hope that it will – I love writing, and I want to use the experience I have gathered over the last four years to help my peers. I know so many wonderful, talented writers who are nervous about sending out their work to magazines, and if I can help them achieve their goals, while managing to work as a professional in my field, then I’ll be happy for 2017.