Tag Archives: library

Review: ‘what are you like’ by Shelley Day

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In ‘what are you like‘, Shelley Day studies the human condition and the uncertainties of life. Day evokes familiar yet unusual settings, a library where a mother lives on a shelf and a diner where words fall from the menu.

There is something so ordinary but so other-worldly about each of these stories, lending the narratives an ethereal quality. Day’s descriptions drip with delightful dynamism, conjuring worlds that completely envelope the reader. 

What I liked about the range of stories in this collection is that they provoke the reader and encourage us to ask questions. What is not said is almost more important than what is said in this collection. By trusting the reader, Shelley Day gives her audience the chance to explore their own feelings about a range of issues.

what are you like‘ is full of complex, detailed stories that don’t underestimate the reader and I find that this makes it unlike any other book I have read this year. 

This collection covers such a range of deep issues, dropping characters into almost-impossible situations and seeing how they fare. Shelley Day particularly manages to capture the adolescent voice well. 

An intelligent, thought-provoking read which will stay with the reader long after the stories have ended. 

Vic x

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2018 Review: Rob Walton

Rob Walton is a true gent. I’ve had the pleasure of working with him when he joined Elementary Writers a couple of years ago to give a reading. He’s a warm, funny chap and a brilliant writer.

I’m delighted to welcome him to the blog today. Here’s to a positive 2019, Rob!

Vic x

Rob Walton photo by Evelyn Walton.jpg

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
There were various acceptances and publications of short fictions and poems, and some lovely dealings with several fantastic/hard-working/unheralded editors.  Hats off to all of them.  

Performance-wise, there was a gig in praise and support of Cullercoats Library at the Salthouse, which was great fun – with bonus swearing.

And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
Much trickier because it really wasn’t the best of years.  Probably pride at our daughters for getting through their GCSEs and SATs, and still being decent human beings in spite of the crap that school and society feeds them.  I was also pleased my creaking body allowed me to do my 50th Parkrun.  Then there was a strange pleasure in shedding a few tears at Durham Miners’ Gala, the day after being honoured to read at the launch of Paul Summers’s Arise!  Luckily, I managed to replace the lost liquid with pale ale.

Favourite book in 2018?
The absolutely wonderful Love by Hanne ørstavik (Archipelago Books), translated from the Norwegian by my very talented mate Martin Aitken. 

Patti Smith’s Just Kids.  This had been waiting on my bedside table for years so I took it to New York in the summer, but didn’t manage to read it there.  Instead, I read it in North Shields on my return.  Probably just as well, otherwise I’d have been dragging my daughters to empty spaces/vacant lots in Greenwich Village, saying “Look!  This is where she had a bowl of soup with Allen Ginsberg!”

Favourite film in 2018?
I didn’t go as often as I would have liked.  I shared some laughs at the Jam Jar in Whitley Bay with my younger daughter, and got moderately freaked with both daughters by The Little Stranger at the Tyneside.  I was probably most impressed by Wildlife and the brilliant but unrelentingly bleak Dark River.  I was also lucky enough to have a sneak preview of the fantastic Pond Life at Leeds Film Festival.  Look out for this next year.  

Favourite gig.
Richard Dawson at the Pitmen’s Parliament, supported by Onsind.  Or maybe Laura Veirs at the Cluny – the best I’ve seen her in years, although she’s always been very good.  I’d also been looking forward to Misty in Roots at Cluny 2, but someone swapped my Dr Marten shoes for some very wobbly boots just before the gig started.

Favourite TV.
Hip-Hop Evolution or Godless or Brooklyn 99 or Killing Eve or, or…

Favourite song of the year?
Ooh, got to be Russ Abbot’s Atmosphere.  I return to it every year and always discover something new. 

Any downsides for you in 2018?
Just bits of my life and the death of the Free World as we know it and all that Great Exhibition of the North nonsense.  

With the far right on the move and the knowledge things are going to get much worse.  I’ve been thinking about the best and most useful way for an inarticulate coward like me to respond.  I’m going to make some cheese scones.  I might put some chives in them.

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
I won’t actually be writing them down but there are lifestyle changes I want to make.

With my move away from North Shields, I need to get to know the dirty bits of Whitley Bay.  I know all about the shiny Spanish City promenade bits, so it’s the underbelly I need to discover: the illicit ice cream dens of Monkseaton and the Briardene stolen conker warehouses.
What are you hoping for from 2019?
Even keel.  Light.  Warmth.  Pale ale with friends.  Possibly fewer submissions to magazines and anthologies and more getting my own stuff together.  The world to come to its cheese scone senses.

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Ian Skewis

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.

One author who is making waves in the world of crime fiction is Ian Skewis. His novel ‘A Murder of Crows’ has been getting lots of love in the crime community and Ian is with us today to talk about how his day job affects his writing – and his life. 

Vic x

I write every day.

I never used to. I have always written. But only in the past couple of years has it become a necessity.

A necessity, because I am now published, and once you’re on that road, there is no going back. A writer’s profession can be precarious and to not do everything you can to maintain that path would be career suicide. So, when I’m not writing I’m promoting online. When I’m not promoting online I’m reading my work to an audience at a festival or library or community centre. In other words, more promoting. And when I’m not doing that I’m attending other people’s book readings and launches. Networking. It’s endless.

My social life has shrunk drastically as a result and the few times I have something close to a night out are when I’m with other writers. Again, this is courtesy of book launches etc. Finding a balance is difficult.

And then there’s the ‘day job.’

I often feel a bit grumpy about going to work at my day job because I’m always thinking that I could be writing or promoting my own work instead. But, as is always the case, the ‘day job’ does serve several functions. The first and most obvious is that it pays the bills. That’s its main function. But there are several other functions that didn’t become apparent to me until this whole author thing really took off. My day job allows me to use a different part of my brain for solving different kinds of problems. Sometimes, if the writing process has been especially strenuous, I actually look forward to going back to the day job. I simply can’t wait to talk to people who are real, as opposed to the ones who are inside my head. And more often than not, any problems I have with my stories, such as a kink in the timeline perhaps, are resolved subconsciously, in the background, whilst my main brain is actively working at the day job.

Other times, after a 12 hour shift, I’m so tired the next day I can barely write a meaningful paragraph. But sometimes, when I’m in that docile state, I have some amazing ideas and the writing just pours out, because the part of my brain that prevents the free flow of imagination, the part of me that perhaps over analyses, has been put on hold.

So there we have it.

The ‘day job’ has its uses.

But the good news is that I can actually begin to take a wee bit more time away from the day job and spend it on my writing, now that my work is being recognised. And I have to say that if I had a choice I would like to write full time and use my entire brain for that, and my nights could be my nights again. Who knows, I might even strike a balance and get a social life again. Time will tell…

Review of 2017: Rob Walton

Our final guest today is the rather brilliant Rob Walton.

Many people on the North-East writing scene will know Rob thanks to his performances at The Stanza as well as his involvement with Free as a Bard. 

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Rob this year for our Christmas ghost stories at Old Low Light. 

As you may notice, Rob has added in a few extra questions – we hope you enjoy them. My thanks to Rob for taking the time to share his year with us. 

Vic x

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2017?
It’s difficult to pinpoint a moment, so I’ll go for a time of year.  Autumn going into winter was great in that I had several acceptances and publications in magazines and anthologies within a short apace of time.  What was particularly gratifying was that (a) people were liking things I’d reworked or sent out again after editing and (b) a range of stuff was accepted – a children’s poem, creative non-fiction, poetry, short stories and flash fictions.  All felt right with my writing world.  Until the next rejection of course.

Also, there were many lovely performance nights with wonderful hosts.  Once again I gate-crashed one of the lovely Vic Watson’s evenings, this time I read a Dickens’ mash-up Christmas ghost story.  I had some quirky firsts too.  I worked with Russ Coleman to cast some words in concrete.

Then there was a concrete poem in a wonderful quirky book and an aperture poem courtesy of Sidekick Books.

And how about a favourite moment from 2017 generally?
This straddles the personal and the professional.  Not a moment, but rather the ongoing friendship and support from various writerly people hereabouts.  I hope they know who they are.

Favourite book in 2017?
I read and really enjoyed some great work by writer friends, but I wouldn’t want to miss any of them out – Paul Summers has got a vicious temper and Harry Gallagher’s got a bow and arrow –  so I’ll go further afield.  Not all of these were released this year, but I read them in 2017.

Jan Carson’s Postcard Stories from the Emma Press was also great.  Every day in 2015 she wrote a story on a postcard and sent it to a friend.  The highlights are collected in the book.

Short stories: I’m going for Danielle McLaughlin’s Dinosaurs On Other Planets.  My partner heard one on Radio 4 and got me to listen to it, and then bought it for my birthday.  It’s bloody brilliant.  Spend your Christmas money on it, whatever Christmas money is.

Ali Smith’s Public Library and other stories also went down a treat.  I think she’s brilliant.

Poetry: I found a copy of Kim Moore’s The Art of Falling in North Shields Library, and was seriously impressed.

Memoir: it has to be Thatcher Stole My Trousers by Alexei Sayle.

Favourite film of the year? 
It’s go to be The Florida Project.  I saw it at the Tyneside with a load of older folk eating sandwiches.  Of course I wouldn’t do that – I had sandwiches and crisps.

Favourite song of the year?
I don’t know about a specific song but there were some real gems in Luke Haines’ set at The Cluny 2 in May and, continuing with the live theme, Sleaford Mods were great in the autumn at the old Poly Union building, whatever it’s called these days.

Favourite sports team of the year?
Yet again it’s Scunthorpe United.

Favourite cake of the year?
That would be the rhubarb crumble one with the sticks Steve and Sam gave us, grown in the City of Culture.

Any downsides for you in 2017?
I discovered that a woman in Lerwick is challenging my claim to being the inventor of cheese.  And my right hamstring’s been tighter than I would like.  Then there was the Untied Kingdom thing. 

Are you making resolutions for 2018?
Going to keep more secrets, and be sick in more handbags (and deny all knowledge).

What are you hoping for from 2018?
Professionally: get a flash fiction collection together.
Personally: hope my daughters’ transitions from primary to secondary, and secondary to sixth form go smoothly.
Pugilistically: take it on the chin.

Review of 2016: Jacky Collins

Over 2016, I’ve met lots of fantastic people. Jacky Collins, organiser of Newcastle Noir, is one of those people. Jacky not only assists me with the hosting of Noir at the Bar, she is a wonderful friend who is enthusiastic about crime fiction. Jacky has given support and encouragement to hundreds of writers and I find her energy a great source of inspiration.

I’m so thrilled to have Jacky on the blog to review her 2016. Thanks, Jacky, for being a fabulous friend, here’s to many more happy years! 

Vic x

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When considering a favourite memory to do with the professional, rather than focus on the murky waters of Higher Education, I’d prefer to look back on all the exciting things that have happened through the amazing world of crime fiction. Although the hosting of a very successful Newcastle Noir crime writing festival in April was, without doubt, a major high point in the year, my favourite memory came from another similar event at the end of the year – Iceland Noir. I was thrilled when the organisers of the festival had invited me to moderate 2 panels – Dangerous Nordic Women (Jónína Leosdóttir, Sara Blaedel, Sólveig Pálsdottir and Lena Leetolainen) and Queer Crime (Mari Hannah, Lilja Sigurđardóttir and David Swatling). Of course, without hesitation, I said ‘yes’, especially relishing the opportunity to discuss crime writing with an alternative focus which the 2nd panel provided. Little did I know that I was in for an even bigger surprise with this session – both Val McDermid (Queen of Tartan Noir) and Yrsa Sigurđardóttir both wanted in on the debate. I have to confess that the inclusion of two such world-renowned crime writers made me rather nervous. However, the skillful interaction of the panellists and the warm reception of the audience made this the highlight of my year in all this noir.

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If I’m allowed, I’d have to say there have been a series of special moments with one common denominator – the meeting of like-minded women around creative projects. So I have to say a huge thank you to Vic Watson, Shelley Day, Donna-Lisa Healy and Sue Spencer. Not all our ventures are focused on crime writing, but the opportunity to channel my energies into culturally creative endeavours really helped me get over what had been a difficult time emotionally and professionally.

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This is an even more difficult decision to make what with my own private reading and the books that we read for Newcastle City Library’s European Crime Fiction group. Nevertheless, I think I’d have to say Quentin Bates’ Thin Ice since it reunited me with my all-time favourite crime fiction character Icelandic police officer Sergeant Gunnhildur and also because the novel offers a very interesting portrayal of the mother/daughter dynamic. If you’re not familiar with this author’s work, and you’re into Nordic Noir, I highly recommend his Gunnhildur series to you.

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As part of my job as Senior Lecturer in Film and TV studies at Northumbria University I often include Latin American cinema in my modules. So when the Tyneside Cinema approached me to provide the introductions for a short season of New Argentine Cinema, I leapt at the chance.  Amongst the works screened was an earlier Pablo Trapero film Lion’s Den (Leonera, 2008). Filmed inside a real prison, with real inmates, this hard-hitting film explores motherhood as experienced behind bars and also questions the lack of equality found in Argentina’s justice system. As ever, Trapero uses his work to ask deeply probing questions of society, the unexpected ending providing much cause for contemplation and discussion.

I can identify 2 downsides, these were juggling too many balls and not being able to let go of the past. Why I have mentioned both these aspects is because I reckon they have both prevented me from making all the progress that I could have this year. I’m hoping for 2017 that I can prioritise better and cut the ties to those aspects of my life that no longer serve.

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As well as what I’ve said above, I’ve also determined to focus on something blogger Noelle Holten posted this month on Facebook: ‘If you’re doing what you love, everything in the Universe will gravitate towards you. This is how the world works. Don’t waste time impressing others or doing something that doesn’t feed your soul. Take a leap of faith and jump into your passion’. That passion for me is crime fiction, film & TV drama.

More than anything from 2017, I hope to take steps that bring me closer to changing careers paths and also to be able to spend more time in Iceland, a country that I believe holds the key to that change.

Review of 2016: Catherine Simpson

Friend of the blog, Shelley Day recommended the lovely Catherine Simpson to review her 2016. It’s always fun to find new authors and, from what I’ve been told, Catherine is definitely one to watch! You can find Catherine on Twitter and at her website.

Thanks for being involved in the 2016 review, Catherine – hope to host you again soon! 

Vic x

Catherine Simpson

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2016?
My novel Truestory came out late 2015 with Sandstone Press so the first half of 2016 was largely spent promoting it and there were some great moments, including appearing at Aye Write in Glasgow, having my own event at the National Library of Scotland and sharing an event at Edinburgh Central Library with my daughter, Nina, for Autism Awareness Week (Nina is autistic and it was raising her that inspired my novel).

This year I also mentored two young writers for the Scottish Book Trust’s fantastic ‘What’s Your Story’ project and I was honoured to work with Artlink Edinburgh to write about the experiences of autistic people for the Midlothian autism strategy.

Central Library event

These are all happy professional memories but probably the most surreal memory was in February arriving at Hawthornden Castle in Midlothian for a writing fellowship and standing in my tiny castle bedroom overlooking the old keep, which was glittering with frost, knowing I was to share this amazing place with five strangers for a month.

Aye Write

And how about a favourite moment from 2016 generally?
This year my husband and I pulled off a long-standing plan – to get our younger daughter settled at university and then move back into Edinburgh city centre from out of town. It went like clockwork. Lara moved to Glasgow to begin her degree in Education on the Monday and we moved to a flat right in the heart of the city on the Thursday.

Favourite book in 2016?
I’ve been getting more and more interested in poetry this year and have been rather pre-occupied with the subject of death so I have particularly appreciated Undying, by Michel Faber and The Drift by Hannah Lavery. 

the-drift

Favourite film in 2016?
I tend to watch films years after they come out – I recently watched Capote (2005) about the selfish, obsessive Truman Capote and how he came to write In Cold Blood. I also saw Little Voice (1998, for goodness sake!) about a young girl obsessed with 1950s/60s singers – a character that my daughter pointed out was autistic.

Favourite song of the year?
Not new either but Wanted on Voyage by George Ezra was stuck in my car CD for the first six months of the year.

Any downsides for you in 2016?
The never-ending terrorist attacks have been shocking.

Are you making resolutions for 2017?
I love nothing more than to set a goal or two at this time of year.

During 2016 I completed the first draft of what I hope will be my next book – a memoir about the suicide of my sister. In 2017 I plan to rework it into a final version.

I will also write a series of smaller pieces inspired by Dunbar to perform at Coastword Festival.

What are you hoping for from 2017?
I am looking forward to seeing my novel Truestory translated into Danish and published in Denmark.

I am Creative Writing Fellow for Tyne & Esk Writers until March 2017 – and I look forward to supporting the very talented and dedicated writers in the groups.

I am also delighted to be a Writer in Residence at Coastword Festival – a small but perfectly formed festival of music and word – to be held in Dunbar in May 2017. I hope for a sunny weekend shared with lots of super-talented artists of all kinds.

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!