Tag Archives: fiction

Getting to Know You: Kelly Lacey of Love Books Group Blog

When I went to read at Edinburgh Noir at the Bar at the end of last month, I went for a meal with all the participants prior to the event. I sat beside the lovely Kelly Lacey of Love Books Group blog. I’d never met Kelly before but we chatted for a while and found that we had loads in common. 

Kelly and I have become fast friends and I am pleased to welcome her to the blog today. Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Kelly – I know how busy you are! 

Vic x


Tell us about your blog, Kelly.
My blog is in its sixth month, we review books, festivals and theatre productions. We review mostly works of fiction. I have two guest bloggers who help me and it means our readers get a varied voice on the daily posts. We are also always on social media.

What inspired it?
My blog was born after my mother had been quite ill and I was spending a tremendous amount of time at the doctors or in hospital waiting rooms. To fill my time and escape from the noise and fear around me, I would dive head first into books. I may have been sat in a cold and sterile environment but my mind was off on exciting and addictive adventures. When I finished the books, I wanted to talk to people about them and say how they made me feel.  That’s when I started the tiny few clicks to find out about blogging. I did not know it would be life changing for me.

I started a very basic blog and wrote my reviews and I got excellent feedback, I then took more time to research the various types of blogs that there were. I contacted Joanne from Portobello Book Blog and I really gained a lot of knowledge about WordPress and blogging. Joanne was very positive and supportive. I will always be very grateful for all her help and for keeping me right with names!

Then I realised I really had to follow up my blog with social media. So that took off too and now I am posting from the blog everyday.

There is a Disney song from the movie Aladdin, it’s called ‘A Whole New World’ and it really captures what my blog has done to me life. Shining, shimmering and splendid, is right.

What’s been your favourite blog assignment and why?
I was honoured to be one of CoastWords Chosen Bloggers for 2017. It was an eye-opening experience.  It meant a lot of travelling and time. But it was totally worth it. I really learnt a lot and it was lovely to meet an array of varied people.

How do you choose what to feature on your blog?
I really have an issue saying no to authors and publishers. Hence the need for me to have two guest reviewers.  We are slowly working through our TBR pile and interviews, all of which will get on the blog at some point.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
In relation to my blog, my father always says to make sure I stay true to myself. Not to be influenced by other people and to remember that my light is just as bright as everyone else’s. Most days as he’s leaving for work he shouts upstairs ‘Remember to sparkle’. 

What can readers expect from your blog?
They can expect reviews with a soul.

Have you got any advice for aspiring bloggers?
Do your research on the various blogs and find your perfect fit.

What do you like and dislike about blogging?
I love blogging, I wake up and I am excited about it. The day I don’t, well, I guess that will be the day I dislike it.

What’s your favourite blogging-related moment?
Coming 2nd in the ABBA Awards 2017 for Newcomer, I didn’t even expect to place. It really meant the world to me.

How can people get in touch with you?
If you would like to feature on the blog with an interview, review or #Favfive then please read our review policy and use the contact form on the blog

You can also find us on: Twitter, Instagram,  Facebook.

What’s next?
We have lots of reviews and interviews coming up on the blog. In the near future we have The Edinburgh Book Festival, Berwick Lit Festival and Bloody Scotland.

Thanks so much for having me on the blog today Victoria, I am honoured and delighted.

Sparkles and smiles,

Kelly xoxo

Getting to Know You: Tana Collins

tana-flyer

It’s my pleasure today to welcome Tana Collins on the penultimate stop of her blog tour. I met Tana at the first Edinburgh Noir at the Bar and I’m thrilled that she’s appearing at the Newcastle NatB tonight. 

Tana’s novel ‘Robbing the Dead‘ was released by Bloodhound Books earlier this month and is available to buy now. 

Thanks to Tana for taking the time to answer my questions. If you’re near the Town Wall tonight, pop in – it’s free entry – and promises to be a criminally good night. 

Vic x

Tana

Welcome to the blog, Tana. Tell us about your debut novel.
Robbing the Dead‘ is the first novel in the Inspector Jim Carruthers series set in the picturesque East Neuk of Fife.

robbing-the-dead

What inspired it?
Although it’s a work of fiction the inspiration for the novel comes from a true event that occurred in the early 1970s. I don’t want to say too much and give away any spoilers but it’s a tragic event that impacted on many people’s lives and still to this day continues to do so. I felt that whilst most of us have heard about the event very few know some of the details that make this story so human. I felt there was still a story to be told. 

Where do you get your ideas from?
Like most writers I have an inquisitive nature and am fascinated by people. I observe, listen and ask lots of questions. I decided my main cop, Inspector Jim Carruthers, should live in Anstruther in Fife. Early on into writing ‘Robbing the Dead‘ my partner and I went there for a long weekend so I could do some research. We walked in to the Dreel Tavern which I had reckoned might be Carruthers’ watering hole. I decided I needed to engage with the locals so I went up to the bar on my own with my drink and slapped a notebook and pen down. Within minutes a local had sidled up and asked me in a suspicious voice what I was doing. He had decided I was a tax inspector! That could end up a story in itself! I told him I was a writer and that the Dreel was going to be my main character’s favourite pub. I then asked him rather cheekily what he had to hide thinking I was a tax inspector! Within minutes half a dozen folk had come over telling me their stories of Anstruther, including the story of the resident pub ghost!

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
My main character is a male police inspector, DCI Jim Carruthers. One of my female friends indignantly asked me why my inspector wasn’t a woman. I replied that I wanted Carruthers to be a man. He was always going to be a man and he’s still my favourite character, although DS Andrea Fletcher, as his assistant, is definitely starting to come in to her own. Interestingly, now I’ve written three books, I’ve noticed that more of my personality has gone in to Jim Carruthers but more of my life experiences in to Andrea Fletcher.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?The best piece of advice came from crime writer Peter Robinson. He was talking about writer’s block. He said that often writer’s block occurs because you are in the head of the wrong character in that particular scene. This piece of advice has served me well.

What can readers expect from your books?
Fast paced action and plenty of it! ‘Robbing the Dead‘ has been described as an ‘edge of your seat’ crime thriller. All three books start with a murder, if not in the first scene, definitely very early on and the death count just continues to rise. I like to write interesting stories often based on historical or contemporary events with political overtones. But I also like to have strong and believable characters that my readers will be able to engage with!

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Don’t give up! I can’t tell you how close ‘Robbing the Dead‘ came to ending up in the knicker drawer. And the truth of it is that early on it just wasn’t good enough to be published. It had two massive rewrites and I’m delighted I persevered. Ten years later with three books under my belt I started to approach publishing companies and landed a three book deal with Bloodhound Books. It was officially published on 14th February and I have been thrilled by the reviews! Read everything you can get your hands on in your genre. Hang out with other writers. Critique each other’s work. Go to book festivals. Last bit of advice would be get yourself a good editor before approaching publishers.

How do you feel about appearing at Noir at the Bar?
This will be my second Noir at the Bar event and I’m very excited. Like most writers I love to talk about my book and I love to meet readers and other writers. I feel honoured to be invited to speak and share a excerpt from my debut novel. I’m also looking forward to hearing other writers, new and well established, speak.

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What do you like and dislike about writing?
There is nothing that makes me happier than being given a blank piece of paper at the start of writing a novel. I love crafting a story and developing the characters. I also enjoy the research. I don’t do much drafting as I like to watch the novel evolve organically which can be dangerous. The worst? The crippling bouts of self- doubt during the writing process! 

Are you writing anything at the moment?
I’m just about to start an edit on the second novel, ‘Care to Die’, which is being published on 25th April 2017. The third novel, ‘Mark of the Devil’, is currently with my first reader. I’m contemplating a fourth book in the series so there’s a few ideas swirling around in my head.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
I think it has to be meeting my all time hero, Peter Robinson, on a writing course given by him in Tallinn. It was thrilling receiving tuition from someone who was also writing his latest Inspector Banks story which needed to be set in a European city! When ‘Watching the Dark‘ was finally published we found out that, as his students, we were all named in the acknowledgements! A wonderful moment.

Review of 2016: Gill Hoffs

Blog favourite Gill Hoffs has take time out from her next project to review her year.  Many readers of this blog will know how difficult it is to tear yourself away from your WIP so I’m really grateful to Gill for getting involved. 

Vic x

gill-hoffs-with-tayleur-book-on-lambay-harbour

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2016?
Yes – my second shipwreck book, The Lost Story of the William & Mary: The Cowardice of Captain Stinson was published in September by Pen & Sword AND one of my favourite nonfiction authors gave me a cover quote for it – the amazing Simon Garfield called it “A terrific, rollicking adventure” (and thus fulfilled a dream).  I’ve been reading his books since well before becoming an author myself so to have him take the time to read my work and like it enough to comment on it, well, that’s really made my year.

And how about a favourite moment from 2016 generally?
September was pretty fab considering how dodgy 2016 has been/is being for many of us, and there were two highlights for me in particular, both involving my book.  Waterstones in Warrington have been incredibly supportive of my work and helped make me and everyone attending my events very welcome, and the launch party for my William & Mary book was no different. We had a cake-and-questions session and there were even presents from the audience including steak pies and a hand-made cat jigsaw. It was ACE! Then a week later I was in Glasgow giving talks about ‘my’ Victorian shipwrecks on an actual factual old ship as part of Doors Open Day, and my husband’s family came along. To talk about these long-forgotten wrecks while below deck on a similar vessel was just so satisfying and also kinda surreal.  I was stroking and/or sniffing everything in sight.

the-lost-story-of-the-williammary-gill-hoffs-hi-res-image-1

Favourite book in 2016?
I’ve mainly been reading research – as per usual – and re-reading Dick Francis novels to clear my head at bedtime, but I couldn’t resist “Messages from the Sea”, a beautiful nonfiction book compiled by Paul Brown.  He’s put together a TON of messages found in bottles from over the past hundred years or so, some funny, many sad, and a little bit of information regarding the person/people or ship involved.  It’s perfect for dipping into and I’d recommend it not just to people interested in maritime history and nautical tragedies but also to writers seeking inspiration and unusual character names.  There’s at least one confession to murder in there that left me aching to find out more!

Favourite film in 2016?
As a huge fan of Ransom Riggs’ “Peculiar Children” trilogy I was delighted (and totally unsurprised) to hear there would be a film.  I deliberately didn’t reread any of the books before seeing it as I knew there would be differences – of course there would be, there always is – so I treated it as more of a tribute to the books than a film of them. I loved it!  And as someone who spends her time researching and writing about shipwrecks it really got me in the sweet spot.  Definitely asking for the DVD for Christmas!

Favourite songs of the year?
Dreaming” by Blondie, which is the same age as me (though in my head I’m still 19).  When I’ve felt a bit shit the drums on this song have pepped me up and kept me going, and the line “dreaming is free” has been KEY to retaining a vestige of sanity during a difficult year.  My other big favourite is “Isobel” by Bjork, which was apparently inspired by a moth clinging to her collar for ages.  Both artists are way ballsier than I can ever imagine myself being and I love them for that, too.

Any downsides for you in 2016?
Oof, yes.  I don’t think anyone I know is getting through this year unscathed.  But it’s the awful bits that make the good parts all the sweeter.  Well, that’s what I tell myself before I down another jar of Nutella and retreat into research-mode.  You know that saying, “Same shit, different day”?  Well, I write history books, so for me it’s more like “Same shit, different century” – and it’s scary.  I think if they ever remake “The Martian”, Matt Damon will be out there going “No! No! I don’t want to return to earth! Don’t make me do it!”

Are you making resolutions for 2017?
Same as this year, pretty much.  2016 has been eaten up with talks, events, articles, and proofing “The Lost Story of the William & Mary” so I couldn’t devote the time I wanted to editing novels and sending them out to fiction agents (or writing the new ones I’ve planned out) – though I loved it, and don’t regret making those choices, I need to prioritise things a bit differently in 2017.  But once I’ve finished writing my third shipwreck book, “The Lost Story of the Ocean Monarch: Fire, Family, and Fidelity” that’s IT, I’m editing and submitting for the rest of the year.  Between talks and events.  And shipwreck book edits.  And promotional articles.  And judging competitions.  Well, you know what I mean.  I’LL TRY.

What are you hoping for from 2017?
On a personal front, a fiction agent, a fabulous contract for at least one novel, film adaptations of my shipwreck books, and time to read for fun.  Lots and lots of reading for the sheer hell of it, because I like the cover or the title or the book fits in my pocket for when I’m out and about.  Just general happiness and satisfaction, I think.  Surviving.  Other than that, 2016 has pretty much knocked the hope out of me in terms of large groups of people and the world in general.  I suppose I hope that out of all the pain and fear I see people expressing online and in person that there’ll be an eruption of powerful art, music, books, comics, games, and movies, and a change for the better – something we can all live with.  A new series of “Firefly” would be good too…

Review of 2016: Jennifer C. Wilson

Regular guest, Jennifer C Wilson, has had a rather brilliant 2016. Jen has been a fantastic support to me and her writing is going from strength to strength so it’s a real pleasure to have her here to review her year. 

Thanks for being involved, Jen.

Vic x

jcw

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2016?
The release of Kindred Spirits: Tower of London as a paperback in spring this year was a definite highlight, as well as obviously having Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile accepted, but I think the favourite memory was reading at Pure Fiction in July. It was the first event like that I’ve ever done, with the reading followed by Q&A, and although I was absolutely petrified beforehand, it was such a positive experience for me, and I loved every moment. It was also one of our first public events as part of The Next Page, so that was a big deal too, getting people to come along on a gorgeous summer Saturday, and spend the afternoon in a library!

Tower of London

And how about a favourite moment from 2016 generally?
On a personal level, daft as it sounds, 2016 was the first time I really ventured abroad on my own, heading over to Paris. I know the city well, and to have all that space to wander and explore on my own was fantastic. I got plenty of writing done, and some ideas for a couple of projects I want to try my hand at in the next couple of years.

Favourite book in 2016?
Three Sisters, Three Queens, by Philippa Gregory. If I’m honest, I hadn’t been that impressed with her last two, they felt a bit ‘had to get a book out’ to me, but this last one, I just couldn’t put down. It covers Henry VIII’s sisters, Mary and Margaret Tudor (Queens of France and Scotland, respectively, by their first marriages, but plenty of misadventures after that!), as well as Catherine of Aragon, a lady I’ve always had a lot of sympathy for. It gave a different angle on a lot of Tudor history, as well as featuring plenty of good Scottish backdrops.

Favourite film in 2016?
I’m still really not a film-fan, and definitely not a cinema-goer, but I watched, and really enjoyed, My House in Umbria this year. An odd one, following the fall-out of a bomb on a train in Italy, and the ‘adventures’ of a group of survivors who recover at an elderly writer’s villa. I loved the scenery, totally taking me back to my two writing retreats, and reminding me how much I really, really want to get back there!

Favourite song of the year?
Despite trying not to, the one which has stuck with me the most this year has been Party Like a Russian by Robbie Williams. I’ve never been a fan (quite the opposite, in fact) – maybe it’s the use of the Apprentice theme music in the background, tempting me in!

Any downsides for you in 2016?
I have to say, 2016 has been, overall, a pretty good year. There’s been the usual ups and downs, but nothing that particularly stands out.

Are you making resolutions for 2017?
Yes – quite a few, personal and professional. I started the Slimming World ‘journey’ in May 2015, and haven’t quite made the progress I was aiming for (entirely self-inflicted), so am going to really try on that front.

I’m also going to work hard on a third Kindred Spirits, and the Richard III tale I’ve been working on for a couple of years now. It keeps getting pushed to the back of the queue, so maybe 2017 will be the year it gets to move to the front.

What are you hoping from in 2017?
I’ve got Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile coming out in June, so I just hope it goes down as well as Tower of London seems to have done. That, and managing to carry on with the writing. Always to carry on with the writing!

Getting to Know You: Douglas Skelton

Guest Post: Dawn Tindle on Literary Prizes

I’m not sure how I first came into contact with Dawn Tindle, the brains behind Book & Brew, but this year we’ve bumped into each other at countless book events and I like to think we’ve become bookish friends.  Dawn’s dedication to literature is really inspiring and I love the articles she posts on her site.

Here’s Dawn sharing her thoughts on literary prizes. Thanks to Dawn for being involved today.

Vic x

shadow-judging-the-man-booker-prize

Literary prizes: are they for readers or for authors?
By Dawn Tindle

The literary calendar is full of prizes honouring the great and good of the book world. From specialist awards to international accolades, prizes recognise authors who push the boundaries of literature to create new narratives for their generation. But, who are they really for? The reader or the author?

Books and brews

My book group, Book and Brew, started in January 2015 and we’ve met every last Sunday of the month since in Pink Lane Coffee. We started as five but have grown to seven. We huddle around the distressed (hipster) table with our favourite brews (they range from Americano to white hot chocolate) and (not so) healthy breakfasts (red velvet cake, croissants, bagels, sometimes toast) to discuss our latest read.

We are fairly like-minded when it comes to our taste in books but there is always a lively discussion about the text in hand. Would we read something by the author again? What did we learn from it? Did this book stay with us long after we had read it? Did the author keep us gripped or did we finish just because we had a book club deadline? All valid questions that get their fair share of the typically two-hour debate.

Meeting monthly has helped us all hone our critical skills. Sharing our thoughts on the books is a really valuable experience, both in terms of developing our own confidence in shaping and presenting our ideas, and because we get to consider the book from a different perspective with every comment offered by our members.

We didn’t know it, but the last year of reading and reviewing was training for some pretty import roles to come.

the-book-and-brew-book-club

Becoming official readers

The Reading Agency is a fabulous charity that promotes the joy of a good book. They have a fantastic website called Reading Groups for Everyone that has resources, competitions and reviews to inspire and support book clubs. I registered Book and Brew with the site very early on and still use it to source freebies from publishers keen to get book clubs’ opinions on their latest titles (check out the noticeboard section if you’ve not already – it’s a hidden gem for review copies of books).

So, when I saw a feature on the site asking for book clubs to shadow the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction I signed us up. There’s nothing to lose, right? There’ll be loads of clubs entering so little old us up in Newcastle won’t have a look in, will we?

Well, we bloomin’ did. I got an email in May to say we’d been chosen as one of only 12 groups in the country to shadow the prize, and would receive a box full of The Portable Veblen to review. Sweet!

reviewing-our-baileys-book-at-pink-lane-coffee

Our Baileys gig was so successful that we were picked again in August to shadow none other than the Man Booker Prize 2016, one of (if not the most) prestigious literary prize of the year. This time we were one of six clubs to be selected. Not bad, eh?

We were clearly doing something right. But what was it?

Hashtags, retweets and online stalking

The role of a shadow judging group is to read your given book prior to the prize announcement. Each member of the club reads the book, shares their thoughts on social media and then we all get together to discuss our views on the novel before logging our reviews on the Reading Groups for Everyone website. Using the prize hashtags and Twitter handles means you get attention from all kinds of people who are also following the prize, and you get to join conversations with bookworms you didn’t even know existed.

If you follow me on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram you’ll know I’m obsessed with taking pictures of books next to an assortment of hot beverages, as well as pretty book stuff in general. So is the rest of the book club, and our social media feeds during shadowing duties are packed with pictures, quotes, comments and content about the book.

It’s this passion for books that keeps getting us shadowing roles. We are utterly thrilled if an author likes our tweets – there is something magical (and quite meta) about the author of the book you’re reading knowing you’re reading it. It’s even more exciting when they read our reviews and thank us for commenting on their work. Reviewing someone’s book is not easy – especially when you know how much of an author’s heart and soul goes into their writing – so it’s nerve-wracking to produce a critique you know the author, their publisher, The Reading Agency and anyone else following the prize could see. But, so far, all of our comments have been received gracefully. Phew!

We’re not professional reviewers, and we’re not analysing the books to examine which ideologies they purport or what faction of the literary cannon they are subverting or supporting. We just give honest reviews. We love books – they sustain us, entertain us and enrich us – and we’ll shout very loudly about the ones we admire.

Does it really matter?

With every book prize comes the inevitable media coverage about their worth. Do we still need a women-only prize in the 21st century? Yes, if you look at the divide between the number of titles commissioned by female and male writers.
Is it just a marketing tool to increase the sales of the big publishers? Yes, sometimes but the little guys are increasingly getting their share of  the pie.
Are they just pretentious, back-patting events for the London literati? They can be but that’s changing, too.

I recently attended the announcement of the Gordon Burn Prize on the first night of this year’s Durham Book Festival. The nominees sat patiently on the stage for the Q&A and were asked by the chair whether literary prizes are important. The room went silent. No one answered. A few of them shuffled nervously in their seats, swapped over their crossed legs, recrossed their arms. Seconds felt like minutes as not one of the authors said anything. Then the room burst into laughter. I wasn’t sure if the authors were being very British in their modest reluctance to extol the virtues of being elevated above their peers, or if they were genuinely struggling to answer the question. Obviously, saying prizes don’t matter when you’re at a prize-giving event would not go down well, but the fact that none of them were forthcoming with a positive response really made me think about the prize process.

Some authors will lap up the attention, while others will shy away from it. Sales will rocket until the prize is announced when they’ll slowly trickle back down the charts. The prize winner will have their fifteen minutes (or two-book deal) of fame while the shortlisted nominees go back to their writing desks. It’s all part and parcel of any process in which only a few writers and books are selected for attention above the thousands of others printed in the same year.

Whether an author views prize giving as prestigious or painful, I guess, is up to them and their level of comfort in the spotlight. What I do know, however, is that book prizes are a wonderful thing for readers. And shadow judging them is even more special.

We’ve read more books than ever (we usually try to get through the full shortlist before the prize is announced), we’ve talked to more authors than before, we’ve engaged with more bookworms than we ever thought possible, and we’ve been retweeted by publishers countless times. We’ve become better reviewers, more confident in our critiques, and our debates are more eloquent and considered.

Our experience as shadow judges and the response from the nominees at the Gordon Burn Prize leads me to one conclusion: literary prizes may be enjoyed more by readers than by authors.

Guest Post: Rob Walton on Challenging Yourself.

When I put a call out for performers to volunteer to write original ghost stories for ‘The Visitation‘ , I received a message from Rob Walton. Last year, our performance at The Cumberland Arms – ‘Blood from the Quill’ – featured three guests and they went down a storm so I was very keen to have more ‘guest performers’ (i.e. people who may not necessarily be regular attendees of Elementary Writers).


Rob’s taken time out today to talk to us about the challenge of writing – then reading – an original ghost story. Thanks, Rob! 

Vic x

 

So I’ve taken a year out of teaching commitments to do more writing and creative projects. So I see a tweet about the Old Low Light in North Shields, a great local venue I’ve recently visited.  So there’s a hint of some Hallowe’en writing/reading shenanigans.  So here I am, in the same month as the event and with my story almost finished.  So I need to work on some Sentence Openers  (‘SO’ for short).

I wanted to take part in the event for various reasons.  I’d never written a ghost story and had absolutely no idea if I could.  I really liked the venue and it’s very local (I’ve got a chance of running home if I get too scared).  I like being part of evenings with other writers, sharing work and experiences.  I hadn’t actually completed a short story for a long time, finding myself writing flash fictions as ever, and more and more poetry for both adults and children.

How to start?  Well, when I was teaching very small people I’d often bang on about listening and talking coming before reading coming before writing coming before rejection from your best friend’s poetry magazine.  I had copies of ‘Phantoms at the Phil’, Volumes 1,2 and 3 on the shelf, so I pulled out all the stops and took one down.  Then I read it.  Then I realised I could at least have a go, if only the dead bloke in the corner would give me my pen back.

I’d previously had an idea for something with a specific local setting using a specific song, so I tried it and got somewhere.  This was followed by a certain amount of research – some online and some walking the mean streets of Shields.  For the latter, what I actually did was collect my nine-year-old daughter from school in the car (I was trying to raise the spectre of global warming) and drive along, stopping every so often for her to write down details.  Apologies if you were driving behind us, but we’ve all got to suffer for my art.

As I wrote I discovered that my original idea for using a song wasn’t the right fit so it, along with much of the research, wasn’t used – but it was important in getting me to that stage.  The final choice of song made much more sense and helped me make progress, and the whole thing started to come together.

I’ve really enjoyed writing it, and now only need to fill my pen with the right blood group for the last few edits.