Tag Archives: humour

Review: ‘Black Summer’ by M.W. Craven

Jared Keaton, chef to the stars, is charming, charismatic and a psychopath. He’s currently serving a life sentence for the brutal murder of his daughter, Elizabeth. Her body was never found but Keaton was convicted largely on the testimony of Detective Sergeant Washington Poe.

So when a young woman staggers into a remote police station with irrefutable evidence that she is Elizabeth Keaton, Poe finds himself on the wrong end of an investigation, one that could cost him much more than his career.

Helped by the only person he trusts, the brilliant but socially awkward Tilly Bradshaw, Poe races to answer the only question that matters: how can someone be both dead and alive at the same time?

And then Elizabeth goes missing again – and all paths of investigation lead back to Poe.

Regular readers of the blog will know that I loved The Puppet Show‘ by M.W. Craven (you can check out my review here) and was dying to read ‘Black Summer‘. Thanks to the generosity of M.W. Craven, who I have been fortunate enough to interview twice this year, I got an advance copy of ‘Black Summer‘. 

I loved ‘The Puppet Show‘ so much that I thought Craven had given himself a tough job in trying to top it but I shouldn’t have worried: ‘Black Summer‘ is an absolute triumph. As with the first Washington Poe novel, Craven evokes locations perfectly, using the beauty of the Lake District in contrast to the brutality of the crimes Poe is investigating.

The relationship between Poe and Tilly Bradshaw, his brilliant but socially awkward colleague, has progressed since the first book in the series as the pair continue to be an investigative dream team. Craven’s ability to balance drama with humour is testament to his skill as a writer. Bradshaw and Poe’s friendship often provides some light relief when things get really dark. 

One of the most impressive elements of ‘Black Summer‘ is the character of Jared Keaton who is one of the most repugnant villains I think I have ever encountered. The back and forth between Poe and Keaton is well-written with their conflict leading to Poe finding himself in a jam that may prove too difficult even for him to get out of . 

M.W. Craven’s Washington Poe series continues to get stronger. 

Vic x

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Alan Parkinson

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.

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of hosting the first ever Noir at the Bar in Sunderland as part of Sunderland’s Creative Writing Festival. One of the writers on the bill that night was the lovely Alan Parkinson

Alan is here today to talk about how his work life has affected his writing. If you haven’t read any of Alan’s work, I strongly recommend that you do. You can also catch Alan on Twitter and Facebook

Vic x

IMG_5043.jpgTwo years ago, I gave up the day job to become a full-time writer and there were many things I took into consideration. Could I afford it? Despite the romanticised image of life as a writer, it is generally a poorly paid profession.

Would I be taken seriously? I’d self-published two novels at that stage. They’d done well but was that enough to sustain a career in writing?

Would my friends ever stop thinking I was unemployed? The answer to that one is no, they still ask if I’ve got a ‘proper job’.

One thing I hadn’t considered, and possibly the most crucial thing of all, was would I lose my most valuable source of material?

Writing is all about observation. Noticing the small detail in things and shaping it into your own little world. I thrive on seeing humour in every situation, even the darkest moments, and thinking about how I can use it in a future story.

Whether they realise it or not, my workmates were a deep well of idiosyncrasies, amusing phrases and peculiar behaviours. As were the hundreds of people I saw on my commute each day and the thousands I encountered on my daily lunchtime wander around Newcastle. I was giving that up to sit at my posh writing desk, on my posh writing chair (I soon moved to the settee) and meet and talk to nobody other than the Amazon delivery driver and my elderly neighbour asking me to fix her laptop again.

This is why you see so many dull novels where the protagonist is a writer struggling to put words on a page; by becoming a writer they have lost their inspiration.

Leg It

That’s not to say I’ve ever taken person wholesale and put them in a book; I’ve yet to meet anybody interesting enough. I steal one characteristic and match it with another, and another from somebody else, and shape a new character.

I do the same with situations. I’ll take real life situations, adapt and exaggerate them with different characters to make my story come alive.

When I worked for one of the world’s largest banks. In a period of months, we had one colleague locked up for murder, one for attempted murder and another for a dodgy internet history. I’ve never considered any of them worthy of writing about because they are all a bit ‘obvious’.  It’s the little things that are funny and give your story life.

It’s over fifteen years since I worked in a call centre but my short time there has inspired two novels, Idle Threats and my current work in progress, Troll Life. Anybody who has ever worked in a call centre or phoned one will recognise the utter despair and understand how it can drive people to extremes. 

Idle Threats

I’ve never been in an armed siege, or dressed as a Mexican, or dealt with an irate customer in their pyjamas but my experience in a call centre helped me make this unlikely scenario realistic.

I don’t regret my decision for a minute but every now and then I long for a workmate who would say “I wish Andrea would move to one side, so I can get a good blast of her fan.”

Life In The Balance.jpg

Review of 2017: Miriam Owen

Since then, our paths have crossed a couple of times and it’s always a pleasure. 

My thanks to Miriam for taking the time to chat to us today.

Vic x


Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2017?
I chaired panels at Newcastle Noir and Bloody Scotland. Both of these were great memories.  At Newcastle Noir I had the late night slot on the Saturday entitled ‘Presenting The Case.’ I was so pleased the room was full and we had lots of interesting chat and laughs with the panel and audience.  After being involved in this festival for 3 years I finally got to see some of the city, try a stottie and found a wee jazz bar.  There were lots of special moments with friends at Bloody Scotland and I enjoyed trying something different on The Dark Lands panel.  We asked Norwegian author Thomas Enger to play some music he had composed for a character in one of his books which was beautiful. The panel was made even more memorable by Thomas and Icelandic author Ragnar Jonasson marching on to the stage with the Bloody Scotland Football Trophy held high. They both played for the Scottish team this year and we won!  

Photo by @Timea

And how about a favourite moment from 2017 generally?
Finally making it up to the northern Outer Hebrides in the summer of 2017 was great.  I have always wanted to see Luskentyre Beach and it was truly stunning.  We arrived in a storm, struggled to find our accommodation off a single track road then woke up the next day to sunshine and to find Luskentyre was literally over a sand dune from our front door. We also got to spend some quality time on a croft in Uist with friends as well which was long overdue. I went to Dublin for one night to meet friends from Nova Scotia who were over visiting Ireland, that trip was a blast.

Favourite book in 2017?
My favourite book of 2017 was The Man Who Died by Antti Tuomainen.  The story is dark and funny and totally appeared to my sense of humour.  Antti has a twinkle in his eye at the best of times and I can easily imagine him chuckling away to himself as he wrote it. 

Photo by Orenda 

Favourite film in 2017?
Alien Covenant was decent and Series 3 of Fargo was brilliant.  The TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaids Tale was utterly terrifying.  

Favourite song of the year?
Hearing New Focus play their album On Song live at the Tolbooth in Stirling was amazing.  I also heard Phil Bancroft play Sonny Rollins Freedom Suite in Edinburgh which was quite astounding.

Any downsides for you in 2017?
Brexit plus a conservative MP being elected in my constituency is pretty depressing. Anything involving the words Boris or Trump is utterly unbelievable. The lack of compassion, empathy or responsibility by those in powerful positions frustrates the hell out of me.

Are you making resolutions for 2018?
I don’t make resolutions. Every day brings new challenges. I always try to do my best, remain positive and think about the bigger picture.

What are you hoping for from 2018?
To be happy, healthy, learning and exploring and to have love in my life.
I am also starting a major piece of research around Nordic branding and do-it yourself culture (eg Noir at the Bar) in live literary events in the Marketing Department of Strathclyde Business School in Glasgow. I hope 2018 brings lots of discussion, events to go to and peace and quiet to study. If you want to talk to me about this piece of work please email me.