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2018 Review: Vic Watson

So that was 2018, was it? What a year. First of all, I’d like to thank everyone who has taken the time to read this blog and the people who have contributed to it. Wishing you all a very happy 2019. 

2018 has been a very fun year for me, professionally and, although I have found that there have been lots of highlights, the one thing I am most proud of is finally completing the first draft of my novel, ‘Fix Me Up’. I have lots of people to thank for encouraging me to get it done – my friend Kay Stewart very helpfully set me a 500 words a week goal in 2017 and that helped get me into a rhythm and realise that it wasn’t an insurmountable task.

Stephanie Butland’s retreat at the Garsdale Retreat helped push me on too and I’m ever so grateful. When I’ve read extracts of ‘Fix Me Up’ at events like Noir at the Bar and After Dark, they’ve been really well-received. There are so many people who have encouraged me and kept nagging me to finish it – now I just need to get it in shape to submit to agents and publishers. Seriously, though, I began writing ‘Fix Me Up’ in 2010 as part of my Masters and I thought it would just be 20,000 words – I didn’t believe I could write a full-length novel. The moral of this story is: you can!

With that in mind, I was delighted to be accepted onto the Writers’ Block North East mentoring programme to write a novel in a year. I have an idea for my second novel – provisionally titled ‘Death at Dullahan’ – and I’m looking forward to completing it a lot quicker than the last one! 

It’s been a lot of fun to see Noir at the Bar continue in popularity and I was delighted to be involved with getting it off the ground in Sunderland. Harrogate’s Noir at the Bar was insanely well-attended again, with amazing writers like Steve Cavanagh and Martina Cole in the audience. I also got to meet Peter Rosovsky, the guy responsible for this amazing event. 

I’ve really enjoyed doing more interviews and panels this year. Thanks to Newcastle Noir and North Tyneside Libraries, I’ve interviewed new and established writers including L.J Ross, Mel McGrath and Kate Rhodes. I’ve also been lucky enough to interview A.M. Peacock at his book launch. I really enjoy chatting to authors about their processes and aspirations so I feel really privileged. 

In non-work related joys, I went on my honeymoon with my lovely husband at the beginning of the year and it was a truly wonderful experience. We spent time in Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hoi An and Phuket. I’ve never been to the Far East before and it was brilliant. Going to Vietnam wasn’t top of my list, it was actually a compromise on my part, but I absolutely loved it. When we arrived there, I was convinced I’d never be able to cross the road due to the crazy traffic but it’s funny how quick you adapt to your environment. I loved the whole experience and would definitely like to see more of Vietnam. Thailand was a more laid back, luxurious time and that was equally great but I am just so pleased we visited Vietnam.

Most of my top 2018 memories involve spending time with my husband – we’ve been to Yorkshire, Northumberland and London this year and had a ball no matter where we went. Having said that, it was really special to celebrate my parents’ ruby wedding anniversary with them in July. 

Also, I had pink hair for a while.

Top books that I’ve read this year: ‘Thirteen‘ by Steve Cavanagh, ‘East of Hounslow‘ by Khurrum Rahman, ‘The Rumour‘ by Lesley Kara, ‘Calypso‘ by David Sedaris (who was hilarious when Carly and I went to see him), ‘The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox‘ and ‘I Am, I Am, I Am‘ by Maggie O’Farrell. There are lots more that I’ve really enjoyed but these are top of the list for me. I think my favourite, though, has been ‘Educated‘ by Tara Westover.

I’m still listening to Michelle Obama narrate ‘Becoming‘ which is everything I hoped it would be. 

I have been wracking my brains as I’m not entirely sure I’ve been to the cinema since January which was to see ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi‘. I watched ‘Selma‘ recently which was really powerful. I really enjoyed ‘Ladybird‘ and ‘Ocean’s 8‘.

I haven’t watched a lot of films this year, I’ve been going to a lot of gigs instead. I think the best concert I went to was Beyonce and Jay-Z’s OTR2. I went with my friend and we had the best time, I think the car journey to Manchester and back may have been better than the show itself. That said, Katy Perry put on an incredible show too. 

Nobody Knows I’m a Fraud‘ by Grace Petrie. Grace was one of the guests when I went to see ‘The Guilty Feminist’ podcast recording at Northern Stage. I loved her stories, her sense of humour and now I’m totally into her music. 

Downsides? Brexit, Trump, the usual shite. Intolerance, injustice, poverty.

Personally, the slipped disc I suffered over the summer was insanely painful and it made me miss the Britney Spears gig in Blackpool. *sad face*

I don’t tend to make resolutions but I think I would just like to try and remain even-keeled. I read a HuffPost article earlier this week that suggested the resolutions you should make are get more sleep, say no more often, look after yourself etc etc and I think they seem really sensible (but how realistic are they? Time will tell). 

I’d love to forget all about Brexit in 2019 – the EU are fine with us forgetting about it so I am definitely hoping for that shambles to go away. It’s like the shittiest gift that keeps on shitting on you. On a more selfish note, a publishing deal would be very welcome. 

Wishing all of you a very happy, productive and successful 2019. 

Vic x

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2018 Review: Iain Rowan

2018 has been a year where I’ve got to spend more time with Iain Rowan, organiser of Sunderland Creative Writing Festival and all-round top bloke. Iain is a smashing writer and one of the kindest people I have ever met. 

It’s a pleasure to host him while he reviews his year. Thanks for being involved, Iain. 

Vic x

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Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
My Arvon retreat, in Shropshire. An amazing, charmed week out of time in the middle of a forest turning red and gold. Have never written so much in my life. Met some lovely people. A bubble in time.

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And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
Oh, picking one is hard. Seeing my son’s band play at the Sage, or hearing their first BBC live session. Finding out that I’d won the Arvon Award in the Northern Writers’ Award. Being a total teenager again in the pit at the Idles gig and transported by music. Every time me and Tracy walked by the sea and it was Big Waves. Pulling off the Creative Writing Festival successfully. Also, once had a bag of salt and vinegar crisps that was so strong it burned. That might be the highlight.

Favourite book in 2018?
This has been a bumper year for reading great books. I’ve loved FIona Mozley’s Elmet, Daisy Johnson’s Fen… brilliant books all. But I think I’ll go for two – Lucy Wood’s haunting, weird collection of short stories Sing of the Shore, and Jenn Ashworth’s marvellous, strange, Fell.

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Favourite film in 2018?
Watch fewer films than I used to, and much more TV so I’m going to go for all bar the last episode of The Haunting of Hill House.

Favourite song of the year?
Most played according to Spotify is This Is The Kit, Hotter/Colder, but I’m going to be a total dad and go for one of my boy’s band’s songs that I can link to…because nothing’s made me happier this year. So this is Roxy Girls, Trials and Tribulations.

Any downsides for you in 2018?
When my agent suddenly decided to quit the literary agency business and so I became agentless again, after such a long time getting there. Fate and the universe clearly deciding that I’d had too much good news and the balance needed restoring.

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
Write, revise, repeat. No pissing around. The fates are aligned. Now is the time.

What are you hoping for from 2019?
The world to quit being so terrible and get back to just being routinely awful.

Progress from this year’s successes and fewer repeats of perennial failures.

More crisps like that one bag.

2018 Review: Harry Gallagher

I’m pretty sure I say this on the first of December every year but can you believe it’s this time of year again?! 

I’m delighted to host a range of wonderful folks on my 2018 reviews this year. Our first willing victim is poet Harry Gallagher. 

My thanks to Harry for taking the time out of his busy schedule to look back over his year. 

Vic x

Harry book

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
Yes, I’ve been doing an irregular series of ‘An Evening With Harry Gallagher & Friends’ events this year and we’ve just had a ball with them. One particular event in Newbiggin Maritime Centre in Northumberland springs to mind. The venue were quite nervous about putting the gig on beforehand but it just felt like one of those lovely nights from start to end. Myself and the musician/singer friends I had with me spent over 2 hours switching between poems and songs and had such a lovely time with the audience. At the end the venue were really delighted with it, paid us all of the door takings and want it to become a regular thing. Result!

Newbiggin Maritime Centre 8th June.jpg

And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
Ah…a personal one then. I got married in June to the most lovely, supportive and talented woman I could ever hope to meet and we’re sickeningly happy!

Favourite book in 2018?
Notwithstanding by Louis de Bernieres, which was actually written a few years ago, but I’ve just read it. It’s such a beautifully written (if rose tinted) account of genteel village life in an England which probably only existed for a privileged few. It’s so utterly charming I kept expecting Private Godfrey’s sister Dolly to appear, complete with her tray of upside down cakes!

Favourite film in 2018?
As I write this, the films I’ve most eagerly awaited I haven’t yet seen – Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old and the biopic Stan & Ollie starring Steve Coogan. Really looking forward to both. So instead I’ll go for one I saw earlier this year and absolutely loved – The Shape Of Water. It’s by turns fantastical, quirky, amusingly retro, ludicrous, clever and beautiful. See it and fall in love!

Favourite song of the year?
Being an old fart and having no idea whatsoever of current chart music, I’m going with our good friends The Late Bloomers, a folk duo from Scotland. The way their voices weave in and out of each other could bring tears from stone. If I have to pick one song of theirs I’ll with The Brakeman’s Daughter – heaven!  

Any downsides for you in 2018?
Trump and the rise of the right throughout the western world. It seems to me that we are going through a profound change which I don’t think anyone really understands yet. The gap between the haves and the have nots is now obscene and people are turning away from the mainstream political parties for answers to the far reaches – a huge mistake. I fear for the future because I think it will get a lot worse for the poor and dispossessed before it gets any better. I hope I’m wrong.

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
Keep going. Keep writing, keep gigging and keep pressing on. If you stand still, you go backwards.

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What are you hoping for from 2019?
I have a new joint collection out in January with the editor of Black Light Engine Room, p.a.morbid – Running Parallel, so it will be good to get that out there and get out around the UK to promote it. Other than that it would be great to play a few festivals this year. I also write songs and perform them with my better half around the north east folk circuit and we keep promising each other to get in the studio with a few mates and record and put out an album of our songs. It would be good to record them if only for posterity. Who knows? It may just happen this year…

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Paul Bassett Davies

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.

Today the writer we have with us is Paul Bassett Davies, author of ‘Utter Folly‘ and ‘Dead Writers in Rehab‘. His post is slightly different to the other writers we’ve had on the blog so far but it’s certainly one I can empathise with. I hope that Paul’s post brings comfort and hope to those of you in a similar position. 

Vic x

The job that had the greatest influence on my writing was Hospital Patient. If that seems like an unusual job description, let me explain.

Nearly twenty years ago I was diagnosed with a chronic illness. During the next ten years I underwent a series of surgical operations, and I spent a lot of time in hospital. Eventually it began to seem like a job to me. After all, I was spending about half my life in the role, it was hard work, I didn’t like it, and sometimes I thought it would kill me. So, just like a regular job.

But I flung myself  into my work, determined to be proactive. And, being a writer, I used everything that happened to me as potential material. In the process, I became a novelist.

You get a lot of time to think when you’re a hospital patient, and even more time in the long, slow weeks and months when you’re recuperating, or getting sick again. It’s not exactly free time, because it’s not free from pain, or fatigue or stress. That was why I started to write my first book – to escape all that. I came to writing novels late. I’d done a lot of writing before then, in the way of stage work, short stories, radio plays, movies, corporate films, music videos, short films, and a mountain of comedy for radio and television. But writing a book was something else, and in many ways I’m fortunate that I did it while I was unwell. It made me focus on why I was doing it. Which was, of course, to cheer myself up.

Writing my first novel was like telling myself a long, funny story. During the hours I spent telling it – the hours of writing – I was able to escape the dreary world of my illness, and enter the other world I was creating: a world in which I could, among other things, make other people suffer instead of me, and have a bloody good laugh about it. If that sounds callous or sadistic it probably is, and it’s just one of the many functions of telling stories.

But above all I wrote to give pleasure, firstly to myself and then, hopefully, to readers (although I continue to withhold it from my poor characters). Through all this I began to realise I wasn’t really interested in writing or reading things that didn’t take me out of myself, and change me in some way. I like to think I’m clever, but I’m not concerned with mere cleverness. I’m looking for something else, and the best word for it is delight. I want to delight, and to be delighted.

The work of other people which most often delights me also tends to be completely distinctive. That’s why I’ll always try to see anything the writer and director Robert Lepage does, because it’s not like anything else. The same goes for the music of Patti Smith, Tom Waits or Laurie Anderson. And I’ll always read a book by Magnus Mills or Nell Zink, or watch a Wes Anderson film.

All these people have a unique voice, and I like to think I’m developing mine. My first novel, Utter Folly, was long and sprawling, but my second, Dead Writers in Rehab, published last year, is more contained. And among the good reviews it’s received, those that please me most are the ones that say it’s unclassifiable: that it can’t be categorised, and that it occupies a niche of its own.

My job as a hospital patient allowed me to discover what it is I really want to do with my time, and it changed my ideas about sickness and health. I began to focus less on recovery, and more on discovery. The road to recovery is long and arduous, and its goal is ultimately unattainable: in the end none of us recover from life. But the road to discovery can be enjoyed for itself. It’s all about the journey, and finding delight in every step of the way.

 

Review of 2017: Geraldine Ward

Geraldine Ward is another writer I have “known” online for many years. I haven’t yet had the opportunity of meeting her in the flesh yet but I really appreciate her taking the time to review her year. 

Please check back later today for our penultimate 2017 review. 

Vic x

My favourite memory from a professional perspective this year has to be appearing on BBC Radio Four’s Front Row on a podcast broadcast discussing NANOWRIMO. This was especially sweet because I was only one of three people picked in the whole country, in this instance for my region, Kent, out of the NANOWRIMO entrants and apparently there had been a lot of people applying to go for a slot on the show. Enough of the boasting, moving on!

A general favourite moment of 2017 is still writing related. This was reading one of my stories, The Fish With No Lips, from my book, Mark’s Magic Farmyard and Other Stories at the infants’ assembly at my son’s school. I have never read my work out to so many people so was quite nervous even though they were children. I have to say it was a great pleasure doing this and was very impressed how well the children listened and paid attention. I am also extremely grateful to the Deputy Head who gave me the opportunity to basically run the assembly!

My favourite book that I have read this year is not a contemporary one, written by Zora Neale Hurston called Their Eyes were Watching God. I loved the originality of Hurston’s voice and the heroine in it is an incredible character. Well worth reading.

I have watched very few films this year, so I am a bit light on that front I am afraid although I really enjoyed going to the cinema with my son, Sam to watch The BFG. An unexpected treat!

There have been some good songs this year. My guilty pleasure is Little Mix. However, I really enjoyed listening to Rag’n’Bone Man, Human. Love that one.

Downsides this year have to be breaking my foot twice. First time it was my right foot, then my left foot, this time my ankle. I am hoping there won’t be another injury on the cards, being a bit superstitious about things “going in threes”.

I am not making any New Year’s resolutions. There is no point as I don’t ever keep them. My only hope would be not to have another injury and survive the next year intact and in one piece.

You can find Geraldine on Twitter and Facebook

 

Review of 2017: LJ Ross

Two years ago, I was invited a fabulous party to celebrate the release of a wonderful woman’s second book. That book was ‘Sycamore Gap‘ by LJ Ross.  

Today, the seventh book in the DCI Ryan series – ‘Dark Skies‘ – is released and I cannot wait to read it!  Louise is a prolific writer and she deserves every success, it is a pleasure to know her. 

For those of you who are based in the North East, I will be interviewing LJ Ross at Wallsend Library on Thursday, 22nd February. Tickets can be obtained from North Tyneside libraries. 

Vic x

 

Picture by Gareth Iwan Jones

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2017?
This has been an incredible year for DCI Ryan and I’m so grateful to all my readers. It’s hard to pick any one memory in particular, but it was an incredible feeling to have two of my books (Cragside and Dark Skies) reach UK #1 whilst still on pre-order and all seven books to be in the top 100 at the same time.

And how about a favourite moment from 2017 generally?
We just got the keys for our new house in Northumberland, which is a special moment. It’s the first time in years I’ve been able to make a permanent move back to my home county, which I love, and it means I can be close to my family and my son can be near his grandparents.

Favourite book in 2017?
It isn’t a newly-released book, but I read The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson and thought it was excellent. The prose is crisp and manages to convey meaning without being unnecessarily wordy. It was also an excellent, claustrophobic study of how to write a book from the perspective of the killer.

Favourite film in 2017?
I’ve hardly found time to watch any films this year (which sounds very depressing!). However, I watched some goofy movies like Snatched with Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn. It wasn’t a great movie, but I’m a huge fan of Goldie so she can do no wrong in my eyes… I tend to watch old black and white movies like The 39 Steps, which I love.

Favourite song of the year?
I think my musical frame of reference stopped somewhere back in 2005 but, if we’re going by the song I’ve listened to most frequently this year, it would have to be anything from the Rocky IV soundtrack!

Any downsides for you in 2017?
I’m not sure if it is a true ‘downside’ but I’ve been incredibly busy and haven’t read as many books as I’d like – which I intend to rectify in the near future!

Are you making resolutions for 2018?
I always resolve to be the best person I can be, whether as a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister or a friend. That’s always a good goal.

What are you hoping for from 2018?
I’m hoping I won’t wake up and find it was all a wonderful dream! I want to write more stories and travel.

Review of 2015: Jennifer C. Wilson

Today sees the beginning of a hat trick of 2015 Reviews by members of my writing groupsThe lovely Jennifer C Wilson starts us off and I’m thrilled that she’s on the blog today to review her rather special 2015.

Vic x

Jennifer C Wilson2015 was quite a year for you. Do you have a favourite memory professionally?

It has to be the 6th June. In August this year, I ran my first writing workshop, and had been over to Arbeia, the planned location, to scope things out, so I was already in a very ‘writerly’ place. On the Metro home, I got the email from Crooked Cat Publishing, saying that they had enjoyed the manuscript I’d sent them, and would like to sign me up for my debut novel, ‘Kindred Spirits: Tower of London. I think I’d go so far as to say that it is the best thing that has happened to me as a writer in any year so far, let alone just 2015! I’ve wanted to have a novel published since I was a child, so I was just delirious when it happened. I went straight out and bought Prosecco and pizza to celebrate…

Kindred Spirits: Tower of London

And how about a favourite moment from 2015 generally?

I think it has to be linked to the novel really – my whole year has been based around ‘Kindred Spirits’ since I submitted it, to be honest.

Crooked Cat held a day for their authors back in July, and as a brand new member of the team, I was invited along. It was such a fantastic day, spending the whole day in the company of my new publishing colleagues, hearing about the editing process in detail, and being given an insight into how best to use social media as a writer. It really made me feel a part of the writing world, and made me realise just how much I love that world.

Favourite book in 2015?

I really enjoyed reading ‘Macbeth: A True Story‘, but Fiona Watson, published in 2010. I bought it ages ago, but finally got around to reading it, and am so glad I did. Obviously, I’ve always known that Shakespeare’s version of ‘Macbeth bore very little similarly to the real man, but to read his biography (granted, still a bit hazy, due to the mists of time), and put him in the context of the developing notion of ‘Scotland’ was really interesting.

Favourite film of 2015?

I’m not really a film person, and am definitely not a cinema person (last film I went to see in an actual cinema was ‘Johnny English Reborn in 2011). So I’ll have to go for the same logic as above, and pick a film I’ve seen, rather than one which came out. Last Christmas, I sat down to watch ‘Skyfall, and really enjoyed it, so I think I’ll go for that one (only a couple of years late to the party!). I have to be honest and say I’ve not seen any of Daniel Craig’s other Bond films, as they seem to have taken a darker turn, and I prefer my Timothy Dalton era, but I thought it was fast-paced, not too gory, and had a great plot to it. Nice to see the Scottish highlands featuring too, albeit as the location for a very sad event.

Favourite song of the year?

Love is a Drug, by Markus Feehily. I’m a massive boyband fan, with Boyzone and Westlife being top of that list, so when Markus released his first single earlier this year, I was really chuffed to have more of his music to listen to.

Any downsides for you in 2015?

A few genuinely sad events did happen in 2015, but those who know me, know what they’ve been, so I’ll focus on a stupid sad event, from July. My friend Karen and I went up to Edinburgh for a Boyzone concert at the Castle, which was fantastic (obviously). Afterwards, we hovered around, as we always do, and suddenly, there’s Ronan Keating, literally 10 metres away from us. And we let him walk past. After 22 years of being fans, we just stood there. Happily, Shane Lynch was a few steps behind, and he was very lovely, but still. Ridiculous.

Are you making resolutions for 2016?

I am! I am going to try and finish NaPoWriMo again this year, and in general, just keep trying new things and be a bit adventurous. From a non-writing perspective, I need to cook more, as I’ve drifted into ‘heating things up’ instead, and I miss using my kitchen properly.

What are you hoping for from 2016?

An extension of 2015… I’ve had some great experiences this year, and am already planning for next year. I’m hoping to go to Swanwick Writers’ School next summer, and spend some time on my own abroad, so I’m hoping there’ll be a lot of writing taking place.

You can read more about Jennifer on her blog.