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Review: ‘Help Me!: One Woman’s Quest to Find Out if Self-Help Really Can Change Her Life’ by Marianne Power

I’d heard great things about ‘Help Me!‘ and decided to give it a read on the run-up to the new year – what better time to consider a little self-improvement, right? 

Marianne Power wanted to improve her life. Sick of out-of-control debt, Netflix binges, anxiety and hangovers, she turned to the tomes that have lined her bookshelves for years. Marianne wanted a perfect life where she floated around town, full of energy and happiness, on the arm of her dream man. She made vision boards and sent her dreams out to the universe. She did yoga and drank green things. But did any of it really make her happier? 

I absolutely adored this book. Marianne writes in such an engaging way that I could not put it down. Although it is non-fiction, ‘Help Me!‘ is written in such a way that it reads like the best kind of chick lit novel.

The concept initially seems like it’s going to provide a lot of laughs – and it does – but the real surprise for me was how honest Power was about the process and its impact on her life. She laid everything bare – even the parts that didn’t paint her in the most positive light. Not only did I chuckle through ‘Help Me!‘ but I wept during some of it, too. This book went way beyond my expectations. 

I felt like I had found a new friend in Marianne. I was rooting for Marianne throughout the book despite, sometimes, also being massively frustrated with her. I totally identified with her and a lot of the issues she was experiencing are ones me and my friends have been through too. This book is about the struggle to find happiness and realising that perfection is a myth.  

Fans of Bridget Jones will love ‘Help Me!

Vic x

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

2018 Review: Annie Doyle

Whether you’re a reader or writer of crime fiction, we have a very strong community in the north-east and that’s how I met the lovely Annie Doyle. Annie is always smiling when I see her and I’m really chuffed to have her on the blog to review her year.

My thanks to Annie for taking the time to answer my questions.

Vic x

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
I’m delighted to have completed my first short story and submitted it to a competition. Throughout my life I’ve written lots of parts of stories and created lots of plot and character ideas, but this is the first time I’ve finished a story and done something productive with it; it feels like a huge achievement!

And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
Being able to enjoy an autumnal walk with my mam. She’s had a long spell of illness and I didn’t think we’d be able to enjoy a walk together again. However, effective treatment has meant she’s regained the use of her legs and we’re walking together again!

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Favourite book in 2018?
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
by Betty Smith. An American friend gave this to me when I visited Cape Cod in September. In-between days out cycling and evenings out eating, I read it from cover to cover in a few days. A coming of age/rite of passage/family saga story, it’s expertly told through the eyes and thoughts of young Francie Nolan. Francie’s reflections on her family and her personal situation are by turns hilarious and heartbreaking. It left me wanting more and needing to know what became of the adult Francie.

Favourite film in 2018?
Doctor Zhivago. A rotten cold relegated me to the sofa with Lemsip and a hot water bottle one rainy weekend in October so I consoled myself with a movie-fest. I’d never seen Doctor Zhivago before! I was immediately captivated by the music, the story, the romance and oh yes, by Omar Sharif. I wouldn’t go as far as saying I want to get cold again for an excuse to watch it but it’s definitely on the to-be-watched-over-and-over-again list!

Favourite song of the year?
Demons by Robert Vincent. I first saw this talented Liverpudlian singer-songwriter perform at the Sage SummerTyne Americana music festival in July. I was completely captivated by his music and his voice. I can’t compare him to anyone else; his voice is unique. I’ve seen him perform again more recently at the Old Cinema Launderette in Durham. Yes, it used to be a cinema, yes it’s now a launderette and yes, it hosts gigs! Fantastic concept for an event venue, you can have a drink, see a gig and do your washing, all in one evening! Robert Vincent is a talent to watch, in my opinion.

Any downsides for you in 2018?
My mam’s illness. A cancer diagnosis is always devastating for any individual and for that person’s extended family. We’ve had an extremely tough year, watching Mam battle invasive treatments and infections. She’s met each challenge head-on and she is my inspiration in life. The upside to this downside is that she’s currently living well with a chronic cancer and at 86, that’s some achievement!

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
To continue to make progress with my first novel. It’s been waiting to be created my whole life so it’s about time I just got on with it!

What are you hoping for from 2019?
Good health and happiness for my family and friends.

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Miranda Kate

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.

Recently, I gave a call out on social media for people who wanted to share how their day job(s) have influenced their writing. Miranda Kate was one of the people to respond. Here she is to tell us about how work and writing have fed one another. My thanks to Miranda for being part of this feature. And remember: it’s open to everyone. If you’d like to get involved, drop me an email

Vic x

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I didn’t really think that writing would be something I would take seriously. I started out life wanting to be a film director, I even studied drama at college, but I did write snippets of stories (which would now be called flash fiction) – and one day a friend said they wanted more – a whole novel more, so I thought, how do I make this more?

By this time, after leaving my first job of working back stage in a West End theatre, I had moved into clerical work and it was at my first permanent job working in the office of a shoe factory, processing sales orders that I started to debate how I could turn one particular piece into a bigger story. And then one day the Office Manager, who sat opposite me, laughed at something someone had said. It came out as an effeminate cackle, and with his aged, balding, liver spotted head thrown back the antagonist for my novel was born!

I started that novel in 1991 and it has gone through many incarnations and rewrites, but it is now finally about to be released as a novella in my new science-fiction collection: Slipping Through.

I have gone on to write other novels, some only beginnings and others in half completed stages, but one that made it to completion and I hope to release early next year, began in that same job. I wrote the opening, which is now the prologue, for a competition to win a copy of James Herbert’s book Portent (yes, that many years ago), and it still exists pretty much intact, just tightened up and made to flow better. I still remember one of the company directors proofreading it for me. They seemed to have no issue with the fact that I had written it during working hours.

In fact some of my best writing has been done while at work. Moving up from clerical work to Secretary and eventually a Personal Assistant, I always filled the quiet times with my own writing disguised as actual work. I always made sure my work was done on time and efficiently, but I also made sure not to ask for more so I could keep writing.

And now as a stay at home mum for the last twelve years, it is probably why I do most of my writing during the day and not in the evenings. But even though I had no issue with the noise of an office around me when I was working, I struggle to write with children round me. And I need silence to write in, no music, nothing.

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Don’t Quit the Day Job: Lucy Cameron

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, my friend Lucy Cameron is sharing her thoughts with us. Her experiences may not be what you might expect…

Vic x

When I shouted ‘Pick me, Pick me’ to be included in this blog series I hadn’t really thought it through. I am a crime/horror writer, but my day job in no way connects to what I write, or ever has.

I am not a solicitor or barrister, I have only ever been in a police station to ask if they rent out uniforms to film makers (they don’t) and I have never been in a court house, if that’s even what they are called outside of films. As for ever committing a crime…? Okay, I once had a parking ticket. In short, I have never worked within, or outside of, the law.

What about medicine? Were I ever to see heavy blood flow I have little doubt I would faint, my uncle works in the local funeral parlour, but I’m not sure that counts.

Other avenues into the field of crime writing? I have never been a journalist, or an editor, or even written for a student magazine. I have never taught creative writing, nor have any qualifications in the above.

For a long time I believed you had to have done one of the aforementioned to even consider writing a crime novel. I was wrong.

What did I do to while away the hours before becoming a writer, and by this I mean pay the bills and mortgage, was work as a Convenience Store Manager for a food retailer. For anyone that’s ever worked in a public-facing job, if that doesn’t put you in situations where you want to kill people, or indeed meet people on a daily basis that could easily commit a crime, I don’t know what will.

I loved every minute. Okay I loved half of the minutes I worked in food retail, it was fast, it was busy, it was a minimum of sixty hours a week. The teams I worked with over the years were like family and we shared plenty of laughs and tears, and it’s this people experience I draw on when writing.

Writing I can do now that I have left my glittering career in food retail far behind me. Days were full of little interactions with customers, throwaway comments overheard. Once you have the characters in a story, once you have the idea, you can go and find out about the procedures and any and every job allows you to do this.

Now I am a writer, what do I do to while away the hours that I should be writing, and by this still I mean pay the bills and mortgage? I work as a Business Administrator for a local theatre, this time a job I do love every minute of, and that allows me the time to write. If you want to be a writer, you can be, whatever your background and this sounds like great news to me, and a future full of varied and interesting books.

Write because you love it, not for the money, and don’t worry if your job doesn’t seem to fit with ‘write what you know’, fiction is after all, exactly that.

You can catch up with Lucy on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

Review of 2017: Tana Collins

Today on the blog, my friend Tana Collins is sharing her year with us. 

One of the highlights of my year has been meeting new people associated with writing and Tana is one of the kindest people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Spending time with this wonderful lady is always a joy so I hope you enjoy Tana’s review as much as I have enjoyed her company this year.

Vic x

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2017?
This is so hard to answer, Vic. This year has been truly phenomenal for me. I’ve had two books published following the thrill of getting a 3 book publishing deal with Bloodhound Books in October 2016.

Publication day of 14th February 2017 of my debut novel, Robbing the Dead was one of the best days of my life topped only by it reaching No 1 in Amazon kindle sales for Scottish Crime Fiction. I also appeared on my first ever panel in 2017 at Newcastle Noir with the lovely Shelley Day and Michael Wood. Honestly, there have been so many it’s hard to choose one. In September I was fortunate enough to be picked as one of the Spotlighters opening for Lynda La Plante no less. Now you’ll think I’m bragging so I’m going to move on to answering the next question. 

And how about a favourite moment from 2017 generally?
On a personal front there are a couple of favourite moments. My best friend, Bettina, turned 50 and I flew out to Germany to be with her. And if that’s not enough excitement my friend, Terry, got married. I had known Terry for nearly 30 years but we’d lost touch so being back in contact and seeing him get married to a lovely girl called Jacqui was very emotional.  And I’ve also loved meeting and spending time with bloggers and authors such as Ian Skewis, Jackie McLean and Kelly Lacey at writing events and festivals.

Favourite book in 2017?
I’ve read a few wonderful books in 2017 but the two that stand out are Ian Skewis’s A Murder of Crows and Jackie McLean’s Toxic. 

Favourite film in 2017?
Do you know I don’t think I saw a single film in 2017. Isn’t that terrible?! Too busy focusing on the books! However I have enjoyed Detectorists and Poldark on TV. 

Favourite song of the year? 
I was lucky to see several bands in 2017 including Chuck Prophet and Nick Cave. I think my favourite song would have to be Nick Cave’s Girl in Amber. It’s raw and hugely emotional. I cried my eyes out at the gig when I heard it for the first time.

Any downsides for you in 2017?
Politically it’s been another tumultuous year. The world has gone to a very dark place but, do you know, I refuse to be a pessimist. We’ll turn a corner and things will get brighter but we all have to work together to do it and to stand up for what we feel’s right in our hearts. On a personal note we lost my partner’s dad which was incredibly sad and still very raw.

Are you making resolutions for 2018?
2017 was such a busy year I think if I’ve got a New Year’s resolution for 2018 it would be to try to claw some time back for me. I would like to get involved in some environmental projects. I would love to be able to find the time to become a recorder for Butterfly Conservation but I say that every year. I will do it. I’ve just needed to put it on the back-burner. Perhaps 2018 will be the year! Oh, and I need to get fit! 

What are you hoping for from 2018?
My third Jim Carruthers novel, Mark of the Devil, is being released on 24th April 2018. My big hope for 2018 is that it is received as well as the first two books. I had great fun in the writing of it. As it’s part set in Estonia I had to travel to Tallinn for it and I’ve done a lot of research on international art crime which was fascinating. To be honest I’m already excited about 2018 from a writing point of view. I’m just not sure it can live up to 2017!

Can I just say a personal thank you for letting me be part of your blog and wish you all the best for 2018, Vic.

Getting to Know You: Michael J. Malone

Today, we have the inimitable Michael J. Malone on the blog to delve into his writing life, with special regard given to his Glasgow DI Ray McBain. 

In addition to writing a successful series, Michael is responsible for assisting Graham Smith with Crime and Publishment and it was a pleasure to get an insight into Michael’s expertise at Gretna. Graham Smith sang Michael’s praises, saying: ‘Michael’s input is greatly valued and he is an integral part of the event’s burgeoning success’. 

I hope you enjoy getting to know Michael as much as I have!

Vic x

Bad Samaritan

McBain seems very popular. Did you always intend him to be a recurring character?
I had no plan whatsoever when I started writing from his perspective. The opening for my debut crime novel, ‘Blood Tears‘ came to me in a vivid dream and it involved a man in front of a mirror, holding a white mask and a scalpel – you need to read the book to find out what happened next – and it occurred to me when I woke up that this could be a serial killer celebrating his “kill”. And if I was writing a serial killer, I needed a cop. McBain was born. And the moment he appeared on the page, he was there, fully-formed as if I’d known him all my life.

How do you find writing a series?
Being with a smaller publisher I have the luxury of being “allowed” to mix it up a little so I have been able to switch from writing about one central character to another, which I find has helped me keep things fresh. Good things about writing a series? The world you are writing about is there in your mind, you just need to jump back in and run with it – no need to set things up. And when you’ve had a break from them it feels good to encounter them again. It’s like running into a friend. Dislike? The worry that there will come a time when you have said everything that this character has to say. What do you do then?

What was your inspiration for ‘Bad Samaritan‘?
I knew that events in ‘Blood Tears‘ had to be resolved – being careful of spoilers here – and the serial killer I mentioned earlier with the mask, would need to sort things out between him and McBain once and for all.

Any advice for aspiring writers?
Learn your craft. Learn how to accept feedback. Grow a hard shell. Make resilience your middle name.

Most useful piece of writing advice? Who was it from?
You can never go wrong with the wisdom of Stephen King as evidenced in his writing memoir, ‘On Writing‘. And then there’s a very dear friend of mine – seasoned novelist with over 40 novels under her belt – Margaret Thomson Davis. After I finished my very first novel she was the first person I phoned to tell. (Most of my friends at that point were non-writers and wouldn’t have had a clue what this meant.)

The conversation went like this:

Me – “Margaret, I’ve just typed those two little words.”
Her – “WayHAY!! The End. Well done, Michael, well done.”
Then without a moment’s pause she asked: “What are you writing next?”

She was such a professional and had such a work ethic that there was little time for congratulations. There was a moment to savour the achievement – and then without allowing procrastination/ self-doubt/ a writers’ fears back in – it was straight on to the next book. I don’t always manage this, but it has resulted in a reasonable output over the years.

What’s next for you?
I have a new release in September that I am really excited about. It will be published with that force of nature, Karen Sullivan over at Orenda Books. It is an issue led domestic noir/ psych thriller called ‘A Suitable Lie‘.

Sounds great, I’m looking forward to reading it already! Thanks for being involved, Michael – it’s been great having you on Elementary V Watson.