Tag Archives: literary

Review of 2016: Dawn Tindle

Today the lovely Dawn Tindle joins us to review her year. Dawn is a familiar face on the literary scene not only in the North East but beyond. Her blog – Book and Brew – has been nominated for a UK Blog Award. This is no mean feat considering Dawn only set her blog up in April this year.

I’ve had the pleasure of spending time with Dawn on several occasions this year and I’m really happy to host her as part of the 2016 reviews.

Vic x


Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2016?
I set up my blog, Book and Brew, in April this year and have spent the rest of 2016 developing it. The memory of firsts – blog post, comment, retweet – are pretty vivid and it still gives me a real buzz to see my words published online or shared by other readers.

My book club was also selected by The Reading Agency as an official shadow judge for both the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and Man Booker Prize. It was a huge coup for us and a very exciting experience for all members. It’s the defining moment that turned me from an enthusiastic reader to a book blogger.

And how about a favourite moment from 2016 generally?
Seeing my boyfriend, Stephen, graduate in July was really special. He took five years out to retrain as a social worker and I was very proud, and slightly teary, to see him collect his degree. Getting his results via phone as we sat in a beach bar in Croatia the month before is also a memory I’ll treasure.

Favourite book in 2016?
Oh, this is always such a difficult question to answer. It wasn’t published this year but we read Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life at book club in March and I loved it. Atkinson’s writing completely absorbs me and this story is a particularly poignant and gripping tale.

Favourite film in 2016?
There are two films that I watched recently that really impressed me. I, Daniel Blake is a stunning film, providing a stark look at the reality of austerity in the UK. It’s hard to watch, harrowing and heartbreaking but the humanity of the characters shines through. I highly recommend it.

The other was Allied. It’s a World War II drama about spies who meet on the job, marry and then one of them is suspected of working undercover for the Nazis. It’s full of twists and keeps you guessing throughout. And, the costumes are utterly fabulous – there’s nothing quite like 40s glamour to make you hate everything in your contemporary wardrobe!

Favourite song of the year?
Given the number of great musicians who’ve passed away this year, I’ve been listening to a lot of vintage tracks rather than new music in 2016.

However, I did discover Michael Kiwanuka and his album Love and Hate. It’s a beautiful collection of bluesy guitar and soulful vocals that I can listen to again and again.

Any downsides for you in 2016?
Probably being too busy. I have a tendency to take on too much and that was certainly the case in the first few months of setting up my blog. I assumed I needed to read every book and be at every event in order to write relevant, topical content. I soon burned out and had to find a way to juggle my ‘proper’ job (a full-time, busy office gig), friends, family and blogging. I think I’ve finally cracked it and developed a schedule that works for me.

Are you making resolutions for 2017?
I usually say “to read more” but I don’t think I need that one anymore! I want to try my hand at creative writing so 2017 will be the year I give it a go.

What are you hoping for from 2017?
More of the same, I think. I had no idea where my blog would go in 2016 and I’m really pleased with how much I’ve achieved and how far it’s developed since my first few posts. If I can maintain the same attitude – of always seeking out new opportunities and trying new things – I hope I can grow Book and Brew even further in 2017. Where that growth will take me is anyone’s guess – that’s what makes a new year so exciting!

Review of 2016: Nicole Helfrich

Another writer I’ve had the pleasure of working with this year is Nicole Helfrich. I copy-edited her novel ‘Descent to Hell‘ then had the pleasure of her company at Noir at the Bar Harrogate. Nicole is a wonderful woman with a wicked sense of humour and I’m really happy to host her review of 2016.
Thanks for being involved, Nic! 
Vic x
Nicole Helfrich
Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2016?
Well, my literary baby ‘Descent to Hell‘ found a publisher and was born November 28th, so that was a landmark I had not expected to happen this year and it was all the more awesome for me that the book is available worldwide.

And how about a favourite moment from 2016 generally?
After being a fan of John Carpenter for three decades I went to see him live in concert at a very small venue in Switzerland during the NIFFF festival with two very good friends and that was a magical event I will never forget.

Favourite film in 2016?
Doctor Strange‘ which will probably soon be exchanged for ‘Rogue One’.

Favourite song of the year?
24K Magic by Bruno Mars.
Any downsides for you in 2016?
Spending one week in hospital and having another reconstructive surgery on my nose but worse than the pain was the ghastly food – they tried to break me with that slop.
Are you making resolutions for 2017?
I gave up making resolutions decades ago…
What are you hoping for from 2017?
I’d be disappointed with anything less than world domination 😉

Guest Post: G.J. Brown on Crying Over Spilled Words.

I first met the lovely G.J. Brown in June this year when he took the time to appear at our first Noir at the Bar NE. Gordon is a fantastic writer and is one of the forces behind the massively popular Bloody Scotland.

I met Gordon again just a couple of weeks ago at Newcastle’s Lit and Phil while he was part of the Crime Factor panel. The discussion was truly fascinating and proved that Gordon is a font of knowledge when it comes to writing. 

Thanks to Gordon for taking the time to share his wisdom with us. 

Vic x

G.J. Brown

Never Cry Over Spilled Words
by G.J. Brown

The note from my editor, in returning the first draft of my next novel, read:

‘You’ll see I’ve taken a few sections out. Even so, there’s still a bit of flab.’

Three weeks later, after I’ve subjected my manuscript to a literary chainsaw, I send it back and my editor replies:

‘And this year’s winner of Author Who Culled The Largest Number Of Words From Their First Draft goes to…   40k less. Impressive.’

Hand on heart, I knew that my first draft was, at 117,000 + words, a tad too long. It’s the third in my Craig McIntyre series. The length was driven by an attempt to tie up some loose ends from books 1 and 2, while driving a trans America/Atlantic narrative. The novel ranges from mid-west America to Western Canada, it rolls through a road trip to Toronto, crosses the Atlantic to Scotland and then beyond – I was painting large on a large canvass.

Removing 40,000 words may seem a bit excessive, but I was once talking to the late, great William McIlvanney, over a dram, about editing. He was of the view that if you could remove a word from a sentence and the sentence was the better for it, then keep removing until the sentence sings. I just took Willie’s advice and put it on steroids.

I read and re-read the original. I thought about slicing and dicing, cutting and chopping. I played with tweaking and twisting and, after a few false starts, I realised that this was no minor outpatient operation. This was full on, brain surgery with a liver transplant thrown in for good measure, with a side order of a new heart.

The transit scene from the USA to Scotland was cut in its entirety – bang went 30,000 of those precious words. A chase by the local police, through Alberta, was given the shoulder – zap to 5,000 more. The rest was honing.

I’m waiting on the ‘Weight Watchers Winner for Best Book on a Diet’ coming back to me with the editor’s final comments. I’ve already decided I’m drawing a line in the sand and fighting for every one of the remaining 80,000 words. They deserve no less given the way they’ve survived to date.

Throughout the whole process there was one driver – does this make the book better?

Well, did it?

The simple, and somewhat unsurprising, answer, in my editors and my own humble opinion is, ‘hell yes’. Sharper, better written, flab gone – it’s now the Mo Farrah to the Big Daddy of the book world.

And the bonus is I’ve got at least three short stories sitting in the bowels of my Mac. A little work on the culled paragraphs and I can fill my website with a range of Craig McIntyre tales for a few months to come.

So for those authors that cry over spilled words. Don’t. They didn’t all give their lives in vain. Some will live on to grace different pages in the future and, for those that died, well, they did so for a better cause.



Gordon lives in Scotland but splits his time between the UK, the U.S.A. and Spain. He’s married with two children. Gordon once quit his job in London to fly across the Atlantic to be with his future wife. He has also delivered pizzas in Toronto, sold non-alcoholic beer in the Middle East, launched a creativity training business called Brain Juice and floated a high tech company on the London Stock Exchange.

He almost had a toy launched by a major toy company, has an MBA, loves music, is a DJ on local radio, compered the main stage at a two-day music festival and was once booed by 49,000 people while on the pitch at a major football Cup Final.

Gordon also helped found Bloody Scotland – Scotland’s International Crime Writing Festival.

Gordon has been writing since his teens and has had four books published – his latest, ‘Meltdown‘, is published by Gallus Press and is out now.

Visit www.gordonjbrown.com or follow him on Twitter @GoJaBrown

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


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.


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!


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: Howard Linskey on the joy of publication.

Howard Linskey’s writing career is going from strength to strength, his David Blake trilogy earned him a shed-load of fans and today sees the release of his fifth book ‘Behind Dead Eyes‘. Howard has taken time out of his manic schedule to talk to us about a very special day in any writer’s life – publication day. 

Thanks for being involved, Howard, I can’t wait to read the book! 

Vic x

‘Publication Day’
By Howard Linskey

It’s that special day when a year’s worth of writing, groaning, editing, moaning, more editing, wailing and gnashing of teeth, followed by yet more editing, finally culminates in an actual tangible thing appearing that previously existed only in my head. Yep, it’s publication day and the book is finally here!

Behind Dead Eyes

Behind Dead Eyes’ is published by Penguin on 19th May. It doesn’t matter how many books you have written before, and I have written a few, publication day still feels damn special. That lovely feeling of seeing your book in an actual shop doesn’t get old I can tell you, and if I ever get blasé about it that might be the time to stop writing… or someone could just shoot me instead, with my permission. If you can’t get excited by seeing that novel of yours on a bookshelf, or in my case on a table right by the door in my local Waterstones, accompanied by a poster in the window, then you are most probably tired of life.

This is my second book for Penguin and my fifth book published under my own name, or my sixth if you include the children’s non-fiction book I wrote a while back… or my eighth, if you include the two published under a pseudonym… or my tenth if you add in the two early efforts that remain, as yet, unpublished. Ten books, nearly 900,000 words in total and there are days when I still feel like a bit of an imposter. It was several years before I was able to tell people I am an author or that I have a literary agent and a publisher because it always sounded a bit implausible, even to me. It was as if an inner voice was saying to me ‘yes but you’re not a real author not like those other folk who write books that get published and… oh… well, maybe you are then.’ I guess it always felt a bit too good to be true after years of rejections and for so long being what is now termed an ‘aspiring author’, before I finally reached the point where people actually wanted to publish my work.

Behind Dead Eyes’ tells the story of a convicted murderer who swears he is innocent, along with the mystery of an unidentifiable corpse and a teenager who has vanished without trace. Reporters Tom Carney and Helen Norton are reunited with Detective Sergeant Ian Bradshaw, as they attempt to discover the truth

We are having a bit of fun with this launch too. George Foster, Penguin’s marketing genius, came up with a cracking idea to celebrate the launch of ‘Behind Dead Eyes’. He produced these wonderful coffee cups that will be available in coffee shops in Durham and Newcastle. If you buy a cup from the venues below, just take a pic and tweet a photo with the hashtag #BehindDeadEyes and tag the coffee shop. You could win a signed copy of my book, plus a year’s worth of Penguin Crime novels. Not bad for the price of a cappuccino.

Newcastle: Olive & Bean, Cake Stories & Sutra Tea Company

Durham: Flat White & Treats Tea Room

Elope to Gretna for a weekend of crime writing.

Crime and Publishment


How do you fancy spending a weekend in the beautiful Mill Forge  in Gretna Green? What about, while you’re there, developing your writing skills; talking to bestselling authors and having the opportunity to pitch your idea to a literary agent face-to-face? Those kind of opportunities don’t happen every day which is why you should attend Crime and Publishment on 8th-10th March.

You’ll get the opportunity to meet best-selling author and all-round nice guy Matt Hilton as well as attending a session from north-east author Sheila Quigley. The multi-talented Allan Guthrie will be wearing two hats at the event, appearing first in his capacity as a best-selling author and, later in the weekend, as a literary agent. Inga McVicar of Full Paper Jacket Literary Consultants will also be on hand to give a masterclass in how to make sure your manuscript gets noticed.

The Mill Forge have several flexible options for attendees so check out their website for more information. Alternatively, you can give them a call on 01461 800344.

This is a mini break and a writing retreat all in one – don’t miss out!

Vic x

Getting to Know You: Tim Sunderland – Why a literary critique group is so important.

What to Look for When Considering a Critique Group

by Tim Sunderland

I can scarcely concentrate long enough to vacuum the front room, let alone create a literary work that may take more than a year. After more than three years, though, I now have a finished draft—120,000 words, 448 pages—and it’s readable and possibly even good.

I never would have made it without the help of a literary critique group.

We meet weekly for two hours in a local church: a small group of people taking turns reading novels and short stories, trying to be heard over the Boy Scouts down the hall. Afterwards we would sit bravely while the rest of the group made comments, from punctuation to lapses in logic to a shake of the head followed by, “I’m not sure that would happen in real life.”

Our members range from unpublished writers with promise to a retired educator with more than 300 published poems and a dozen short stories in print. Because of this group, I’m a better writer.

Here is a list of my observations about what makes a good critique group, and how you can make the best of them:
Frequency—The group should meet weekly. Especially for writers working on novels and lengthier works, you should meet often enough that members recall the story line.
Strong Management—The group needs a leader. This person doesn’t need to be a published writer, few of us are. But they need to be a leader. They make sure people get a chance to read, that one person does not dominate, and that the criticism is constructive. There is a difference between a leader and a Nazi. Stay away from the latter.
The Leader Needs to Make Some Tough Decisions—Sometimes a member crosses a line—inappropriate material or harsh criticism. The leader has to control these things. Our leader has even had to suggest that some people leave the group.
The Group Should be Nurturing—Some writers have good ideas and themes, but they haven’t found their voice (I reread some of my early chapters and I shudder—what drabble!). A good critique group will nurture. They instinctively know not to rip you apart and destroy your fragile ego, even though the writing is a little raw. They will carry you along and wait for you to get better.
Recognize the Weaknesses of this Format—Few members have perfect attendance. One of your chapters may be relying heavily on action in an earlier chapter. If some of the members were absent for that reading, there will be a disconnect. One of the final chapters in my novel draws heavily from a chapter near the beginning. I emailed everyone the earlier chapter so they could fully appreciate the relevance. Critique groups are good for the immediate stuff, but as a judge of the work in its entirety, few of the members will hear your complete book, and if they do, it will be over a longer period of time.
Listen to the Group—In a scene midway through my novel a homeless man—a second-tier character—loses his shopping cart. The event furthered the action in the book and helped develop another character. Afterwards a member confided to me that she was concerned about the character losing his cart. I thought about it and realized he needed to get a new one. In fact, it figures strongly in the resolution of the plot. Had she not made that comment, I’m not sure that ending would have occurred to me.
You Don’t Have to Take Every Piece of Advice—There are some absolutes. Typos, misspellings, grammar and punctuation (unless you’re Cormac McCarthy) are hard and fast rules. But if someone makes a comment on the story line or your style, it’s your choice to heed it.

Realize You’re Not the Only One—I determined I need to re-order some of the scenes in my novel. It’s agonizing, because I loved the way it was the first time. Members of my critique group told me that it’s a common problem. I’m not alone. I can battle my way through it.

You Have Comrades—It’s lonely being a writer, but once a week we get together, share our stories and victories and disappointments. We keep each other going.

I can write much more about critique groups, but these are the highlights. If you are looking for a group, shop around. Don’t settle for the first one. Also, make sure you reserve a page in your book for acknowledgements, and spell everyone’s name correctly.

Tim Sunderland recently finished his first novel, ‘Rules for Giving’. He is working on two other concepts. Visit his blog at www.WhatIfYouCouldNotFail.com.  His email address is timsunderland0531@gmail.com

My thanks to Tim for sharing his experiences on the blog today.

Vic x