Tag Archives: family

Review: ‘Exquisite’ by Sarah Stovell.

Imagine you are feted author with the world at your feet. You have a startlingly successful career, a loving family and a beautiful home. You go to teach on a week-long residential writing course in Northumberland and meet a talented but troubled young woman. The chemistry between you is instant and you embark on an all-consuming affair like the ones you write about: or do you?

Exquisite is a breathless and claustrophobic read which captivates you until the final page. I literally could not put it down. It’s been a long time since I read a psychological thriller as good as this. I could see the action unfolding in my mind and already have a clear picture of who would play these characters in a TV or film adaptation.

The way in which Sarah Stovell has crafted this book requires a tremendous amount of skill. The narrative completely reflects the obsessive and confusing nature of the relationship between Bo Luxton and Alice Dark. Exquisite is layered  to perfection and ensures that your sympathies never lie with one person for very long. Sadly, it’s terrifyingly believable.

A must-read.

Vic x


Review of 2015: Pete Sortwell

My very good friend, Pete Sortwell, is here to review his 2015 today. 

Thanks for getting involved, Pete!

Vic x

Pete Sortwell


Allison Davies reviews her 2013.

Allison Davies is one of the best friends a gal can have. I met her – like Michelle – when we did our Masters together and I am so happy to see how her writing career has progressed since we graduated. Now it’s over to Alli to review her 2013.

Vic x

Allison Davies

2013 has been a great year for you. Do you have a favourite memory professionally?

2013’s been pretty good so it’s hard to pin down a single favourite, though seeing my debut play Weather to Fly get the full production treatment is definitely up there. OddManOut https://www.facebook.com/oddmanouttheatre?fref=ts and our actors did a brilliant job, we got some lovely reviews and it spurred me on to complete another theatre script which may well get an airing in 2014. There are rustlings in the undergrowth so watch this space. And Weather to Fly is touring again in 2014, in the north east and beyond.

And how about a favourite moment from 2013 generally? 

Can I have 20? No? OK. 19 then. Over the course of the year I met some wonderful people and enjoyed a shedload of special moments, but one in particular stands out. It’s got nothing to do with celebrity twerkers or royal shoe sizes mind.  I travel to Nepal occasionally with Danusha, the ethical jewellery project that I help run along with a couple of friends. Back in April we were in Kathmandu when one of our jewellery makers brought her disabled son to the workshop – 6 year old Hitesh. He was a shy kid with huge brown eyes, and all I really wanted to do was get him to crack a smile. He had a battered old toy car and I started playing with it. It didn’t take long before Hitesh and I were legging it up and down the balcony, doing our best Ferrari engine noises, and giggling like, well, 6 year olds. It was pretty special.

As adults I think we often discount the power of play, of letting go and just being, and of seeing what comes. Hitesh is my 2013 hero for reminding me about the things that really matter – relationship, humanity, connection, finding joy in the moment.

I do need to give a special mention to Meerkat TC too. Kats, you are outstanding! Your creative company has been a source of energy and laughter throughout the year and I can’t wait to see what 2014 brings.


Favourite book in 2013?

It wasn’t published in 2013, but on my birthday a family member took the trouble to send me a copy of When Marnie Was There by Joan G Robinson, which has been on my wish list for years. It was a childhood favourite for reasons I won’t bore you with here. Suffice to say I have very few keepsakes from the first 20 years of my life, so when this arrived in the post I was bowled over, especially as it was the edition my Dad gave me on my 7th birthday.

Favourite film of 2013?

Hmmmm. If you’re talking about films released this year it’s a toss-up between The Invisible Lighthouse http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_vGHqIvoHg  and Silver Linings Playbook. I loved the cinematography in Life of Pi too. But the best film I saw in 2013 was Lee Chang-Dong’s Poetry. A moving, powerful, thoughtful story and 100% superb!

Favourite song of the year?

If you’d asked me a couple of months ago I’d have said Take These Bones http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X8bJu5HEnH0   by Fran Smith. I love belting it out at full bore when I drive the Military Road to Cumbria to visit my Mum. But then November came and Pharrell Williams released this understated groove http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6Sxv-sUYtM which makes me grin every time I hear it. And then there’s Arcade Fire http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7E0fVfectDo and Alt-J and Nick Cave and London Grammar and Daughter and Thundercat and… Well, you get the picture.

Any downsides for you in 2013?

Nothing major. A few health niggles, and a few people behaving like knackas at times. Grrrrr!  (knacka: Geordie term of mild abuse, meaning idiot, dipstick, plonker. Also testicle. Make of that what you will.)

Are you making resolutions for 2014?

In common with many of your reviewers I don’t really do resolutions, though I’ve come up with a few simple rules for living. Eat more cake. Don’t forget to play. Learn something new. Try not to be a knacka. When, inevitably, you behave like a knacka, apologise. Forgive other people when they behave like knackas, even if it costs you to do it, or alternatively, bop ‘em on the nose with a frozen kipper.

What are you hoping for from 2014?

It would be wonderful if people took a bit more responsibility for their consumption of resources, cared for each other and the planet and lobbied for fair working conditions for those who manufacture the stuff we wear, eat etc. (I’m looking in the mirror here.) We could all do with being more open, and less mean spirited, and I get really angry at some of the things I hear people say about their fellow human beings. Oh, don’t get me started or we’ll be hear all day.

Oh yeah, this is meant to be about writing, isn’t it? Well then, I’d like to get better at it as there’s always something new to learn. I’m interested in working collaboratively so am open to opportunities for that. The magic gets turned all the way up to 11 when there’s more than one person in the room. Otherwise it’s just me at my desk, talking to the people in my head. Cue chicken noises.

I often find it hard to concentrate on one thing at a time, so in 2014 I’d like to be a bit more focussed about life in general. I’ve been practicing meditation (mindfulness, breath) for a while now and I find it incredibly helpful.

If Santa was to bring you any one thing you wanted on Xmas morning, what would it be?

I’m spending Christmas and New Year in India which is fab, but I do miss my friends back home, not to mention long walks on bright, cold beaches. So if you’re reading this Mr Santa and if your tuk tuk does late deliveries, please deliver the sound of the North Sea at Druridge Bay when the wind’s blowing easterly and the waves tear up the beach, along with a massive hug from my friends.

I guess what I’m really asking for is a little soul warmth to end the year.

Review: ‘The Accident’ by Linwood Barclay

Builder Glen Barber’s life has seen better times – between the recession hitting and a law suit for a fire, his business is under threat. But that’s just the beginning of his problems: his wife is killed in a drink-driving accident and looks to be the cause of the deaths of two other people. Glen not only has to deal with his loss but his anger towards his wife at leaving their eight-year old daughter without a mother. However, his friends also seem to be having their own problems, involving a gangster and a missing stash of money.

‘The Accident’ is yet another great thriller from Linwood Barclay. As readers have come to expect from Barclay, it’s complicated with an ever-increasing list of suspects. There’s crime after crime in this book and there are plenty of red herrings.

Although I wondered how likely it is for a builder to become a private investigator / all-action hero, one has to wonder what we’d do if our family was in jeopardy. Sometimes ordinary people are capable of extraordinary behaviour.

Barclay’s characters are very well-constructed, with an understanding that no-one is all good or all bad. ‘The Accident’ is another great read from Barclay.

Vic x

Order ‘The Accident’ in hardback here: http://amzn.to/pbo5SY

Order ‘The Accident’ in e-book here: http://amzn.to/p6uJwX


Amanda Knox cleared of murder

I don’t know who killed Meredith Kercher in Perugia, Italy. Neither, apparently do the Italian police. They have a man in prison for her murder but they believe he did not work alone. 

This evening, American student Amanda Knox and her Italian ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito have had their murder convictions quashed by an appeal court.  

I don’t know what happened that night in November 2007 and I don’t think I ever will. Sadly it looks as though Meredith’s murder is going to remain a mystery.

Amanda Knox’s family, speaking after the decision was handed down, appealed for their privacy to be respected. I am sure they want privacy to put their lives together but I don’t expect Amanda will want privacy once she signs a multi-million dollar television and/or book deal.

I do not agree with a free person being imprisoned for a crime they did not commit, I do not think Amanda should be able to make millions of dollars from Meredith’s death. Just as I don’t agree with any person involved in a crime being able to profit from it. I am not suggesting Knox was involved but even if she donated every cent to the Kercher family, it wouldn’t bring Meredith back and the publishing of a book or a TV interview will only rub salt into the wounds of the Kerchers.

Let’s not forget, Amanda Knox falsely accused bar owner Diya “Patrick” Lumumba of Meredith’s murder – she is not entirely innocent. She may have been under pressure while being questioned but why try to frame someone without any evidence to support the accusation? Her conviction for slander was upheld and she has been ordered to pay 22,000 Euros in compensation to Lumumba.

Rudy Guede, a small-time drug dealer, remains imprisoned for Meredith’s murder despite protestations of his innocence. If he’d had the support of the US media, would he now be free, too? 

As Knox returned to jail to clear her cell, a family friend told a Sky News reporter that the Knox family felt some blame for Knox’s conviction laid with the Kercher family as they had fervently supported the prosecution. If your daughter or sister had been brutally murdered, wouldn’t you want to bring the perpetrators to justice?

I think the focus of this appeal has forgotten poor Meredith. My thoughts remain with her family.

Vic x

My baby brother turns 21 tomorrow.

I grew up an only child, until at six and a half, I became the proudest big sister in the world. I was used to having my parents’ full attention and only having stuffed toys to play with. I was a very mature child as I spent all of my time, until starting school, in the company of adults. Likewise, I was very independent, happy to entertain myself by making up dance routines, reading and writing stories.

When my mum told me I was going to have a baby brother or sister, I was over the moon. I remember lying on my mum’s tummy, getting kicked by the baby and laughing. The summer of 1990 was one of the hottest on record. Every morning, I took my mum a glass of water as she struggled in the heat. She never let it stop her though, we went to town on the bus, I played in the paddling pool and she took me to swimming lessons, all without a car.

If the baby had been a girl, I was allowed to pick the name – I chose Louise. Gavin was always going to be the name for a boy.

On the date the baby was due, I ran home after getting off the school bus at lunchtime, bursting through the front door shouting “Is the baby here?!” My mum, who looked about ready to pop, was standing calmly at the hob cooking my lunch. It was three days later that my dad woke me up in what appeared to be the middle of the night (6am) and told me I was going to stay with the next-door neighbours while they went to the hospital. I was super excited.

Later in the day, I was taken to my Nana’s house and then my uncle dropped me off at a friend’s roller disco party. Did I want to roller skate? Did I heck! I wanted to see my new sibling and my mum and dad. I went back to my Nana’s, had dinner and my dad rang to say my mum had been put on a drip. I remember bursting into tears as I thought that meant she was going to die. I was only six, remember. I watched ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ with my Nana and, at nine twenty pm, my dad rang to tell me I had a baby brother. I sat on my Nana’s knee and cried with pride.

The next day, my dad and I bought a little blue teddy bear and I was introduced to my brother. He had a shock of black, spiky hair and he was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. Tactfully, I asked my mum if she “still had another one in there” as we left. I went to school on the Monday morning but was allowed to go home at lunchtime to bring my mum and the baby home from hospital.

From then on, I wanted to hold my brother. I think initially I was disappointed that all he did was eat, sleep and cry but I liked to help feed him, bathe him and so on. On a Saturday morning, I would prop him up against a cushion on the sofa and make him watch the ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ cartoon and yell to my mum “Look Mam, he likes it” despite the fact all he could probably see at that time was the colours.

As my brother got older, he became far more rambunctious than I had ever been. He climbed everywhere. He was irrepressible and remains so to this day. He was obsessed with Fireman Sam, asking my dad every weekend to take him to the local fire station to see the engines. He loved tractors, buses and the Lion King.

Throughout Gavin’s life, his hearing hasn’t been the best and so he has provided us with a lot of laughs. “Optician by Calvin Klein” was one of his gems.

Gavin and I are so different in many ways, he’s gregarious and an all-rounder. At school, lessons came so easily to him – no matter what the subject. He’s so popular and I have never met someone who didn’t like him and rightly so. My brother has grown into a man to be proud of.

Gavin is a guy who loves being with people, he loves partying and is a total hedonist but he is also a thoughtful, caring soul. He still gives us hugs and spends time with the family.

I am so grateful for the relationship I have with him. We still go to concerts together and I enjoy the time I spend in his company.

When he was young, I was the protective Mother Hen but now it works both ways. I know so many siblings who, for many reasons, don’t get along and I am so happy that our relationship has always been good. We do have spats – who doesn’t? – but I know that I could not ask for a better brother.

I am so proud to say he’s my brother.

Vic x

My life choices: vindicated

Two years ago, I had just been named Young Reviewer of the Year for a local newspaper after a year of reviewing CDs, plays, concerts and art shows. It had been the best year of my life. Some weeks I was out up to five times a week, being treated to some of the most famous shows in the world as well as some remarkable grassroots productions.

Although I was not paid, I did get free tickets to the events I was reviewing and enjoyed seeing my work in print. After I won the award, and the very laptop I’m typing on at the moment, I made it my mission to become a full-time hack. In addition to working my ordinary job as a civil servant, I was also undertaking a Masters in Creative Writing and continued to review for the newspaper when asked to do so. I also did a week’s unpaid work experience at the newspaper, working in the features department where I wrote features on the dangers of sunbeds, a local house on the market and an interview with a newly published author.

In late November, I was called by the Entertainment Editor of the paper who informed me there was a funded place on a forthcoming journalism course and, subject to my performance in upcoming aptitude tests and an interview, the newspaper would consider funding me to take the course which would result in me being given a full-time post at the newspaper.

I was over the moon, I felt all of my hard work had finally paid off and I could leave my humdrum job and begin the glamorous life as a Carrie Bradshaw-esque journo I was born to live.

I sailed through the tests, picking up the highest score of all the people who participated. I felt the interview hadn’t gone very well, I recall ringing my mum and crying, thinking I’d messed everything up. When I got a call from the editor a week later, telling me they were pleased to welcome me onto the team, I was absolutely thrilled. I was invited to the Christmas party to meet some of my colleagues. I went, only briefly, as I had an early morning flight to catch the following day but everyone seemed friendly and they seemed to be genuinely excited for me to join the team.

In mid-January I said goodbye to my much-loved colleagues in the civil service and started on a Press Association training programme. I remember the feeling of selling my soul I felt as the head of the course stood at the front of the class and told us proudly how James Murdoch was on the board of directors. Having done Media Studies since the age of 14, I have felt that Rupert Murdoch – and his offspring – are not to be revered or trusted.

The training was intense and you were expected to live and breathe nothing but shorthand, media law and government training. We had frequent tests and even more frequent bollockings. Fair enough, some of the other trainees weren’t my cup of tea but you can’t get on with everyone. As the days progressed, I began to worry, I felt I was falling behind with my shorthand and not performing well in any aspect of the course. I brought this up with my tutors but they said I needed to be more self-confident and have more belief in myself. They said I was one of the strongest candidates and this buoyed me for a little while.

However, when more of the practical side of journalism was discussed, I felt myself quiver at the thought of doing a ‘death knock’. When I thought of having to knock on a criminal’s door and run away after the photographer had got his snap, I was terrified. When we were told to get the story through any means, I started to really worry. I approached one of my tutors about the fact that I was no longer sleeping, she told me to “get through it by whatever means necessary”. She told me if I had to self-medicate or drink a bottle of wine tonight, that’s what I had to do.

However, at the beginning of the fourth week I caught the flu. I was sent home from the course and I lay in bed assessing my life and what had been said to me by the tutor the previous week. I rang my old boss and asked for my job back, it was a no go. But I chose to quit the course – I wanted a clear conscience and a good night’s sleep. There was no way I could go into journalism and remain myself.

I know a lot of people were shocked by my decision to quit, particularly as I had no job lined up to go to.

Since quitting the course, I noted that in March 2010 James Murdoch stepped down from the Press Association Board of Directors – only to be replaced by the one and only Rebekah Brooks. 

In recent weeks, the whole world has come to learn of the underhand techniques used by aptly-named hacks to get stories and I feel my choice to walk away has been vindicated. I could never employ any of the methods, legal or otherwise, for the sake of a story. How would you feel if it was a member of your family, or you, having their phone hacked? The exposure of such techniques makes me realise that I was right in following my heart and leaving the course.

Vic x