Tag Archives: Media

Review: ‘My Name is Anna’ by Lizzy Barber

On Anna’s eighteenth birthday she defies her Mamma’s rules to visit Astroland, Florida’s biggest theme park, despite her mother’s ban on the place. When she arrives, though, Astroland seems familiar. On the same day, Anna receives a mysterious letter she receives and she starts to question her whole life.

In London, Rosie has grown up in the shadow of the missing sister she barely remembers.  With the fifteenth anniversary of her sister’s disappearance looming, the media circus starts up again, and Rosie uncovers some information that threatens to tear her family apart. Will Rosie uncover the truth before her family implodes?

I enjoyed ‘My Name is Anna‘ from the outset, my attention was grabbed by the intriguing prologue and beautiful prose. Lizzy Barber manages to balance a compelling narrative with excellent attention to detail and exquisite descriptions.

Told from two points of view, ‘My Name is Anna‘ is an interesting study of self-discovery. By having eighteen year old Anna and Rosie, who is sixteen, Barber evokes a time every reader can understand: adolescence. Combining typical coming-of-age drama with a serious crime is an effective tactic, I thought this was particularly inventive. 

The characters are well-drawn and, thanks to Barber’s descriptions, I could see them in my mind’s eye. Anna’s mamma, in particular, was brilliantly evoked.

My Name is Anna‘ is such an intelligently-written book. It covers all sorts of issues including religion, coercion and the repercussions of past mistakes. It’s fast-paced yet sensitive, with several layers. 

If I had to compare ‘My Name is Anna‘ with other books, I’d say ‘Carrie‘ meets ‘Sharp Objects‘ with a sprinkling of ‘The Couple Next Door‘. 

My Name is Anna‘ is Lizzy Barber’s debut novel and is available to download now. The paperback is released in January 2019. 

Vic x

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Review: ‘No Man’s Land’ by Neil Broadfoot


A mutilated body is found dumped at Cowane’s Hospital in the heart of Stirling.

The brutality of the murder is like nothing DCI Malcolm Ford has ever seen before, and he pledges to catch the murderer before he strikes again. For reporter Donna Blake it’s a shot at the big time, a chance to get her career back on track while proving her doubters wrong. And for close protection specialist Connor Fraser it’s just a grisly distraction from his day job.

But then another corpse is found in the shadow of the Wallace Monument – and with it, a message. One Connor has received before, during his time as a police officer in Belfast.

With Ford facing mounting pressure to make an arrest and quell fears the murders are somehow connected to heightened post-Brexit tensions, Connor is drawn into a race against time to stop another murder. But to do so, he must question old loyalties, confront his past and unravel a mystery that some would sacrifice anything – and anyone – to protect.

No Man’s Land‘, the first in the Connor Fraser series, is a compelling read that keeps readers guessing until the very end. Drawing upon his experience as a journalist, Broadfoot gives the readers a rare insight into how media, police and politics intersect during times of crisis. 

The grisly murders may pull the reader into this crime novel but it’s Broadfoot’s skilled analysis of political policies that gives this the story real depth. ‘No Man’s Land‘ is a confident study in how ordinary people are affected by the decisions made by an elite few. 

Broadfoot has written a novel that grabs the reader by the throat and doesn’t let go. 

Today is the publication day for ‘No Man’s Land‘, I recommend you get your copy now. 

Vic x

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Matt Potter

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 I’m chuffed to bits to have Matt Potter on the blog to talk about how his work experience gave him plenty of material for his writing. My thanks to Matt for sharing his time and his stories with us today.

Vic x

2 pic for book

Sometimes, it takes someone else reflecting back to you, about your writing – a blurb or review of your work – for you to realise what you write about.

It took me years to pinpoint just what it is I write about. As for genre, I would think domestic or intimate comedy (whatever that really is, I kind of just made that up).

But what I really write about, the constant theme, is compromise. What are the deals we do with ourselves to get through life. What are we willing to put up with to get what we want? When does not enough become really not enough? When do we decide to walk away, and when do we decide to return or start anew?

Many of the day jobs I have held have been in community services, because I am a qualified social worker. Disclaimer: I have never been a very good one, certainly not in the traditional mould.

Many of these jobs involved advocacy – supporting others by being their mouthpiece, or assisting them to do so; or planning (future health or care issues); or training and information provision (hundreds of public sessions); or in communication roles: web content, newsletters (when newsletters were really a thing), media releases, leaflet and brochure text, poster and flyer design.

Many of these jobs also involved talking to people about their lives – really talking with them and listening – and of all the things I did in my social work career, chatting to people about their lives has always been the best, most fun, most interesting thing for me.

Setting the scene or environment so people can talk about themselves – despite me also being a great talker – has always been really easy for me. Getting to know people intimately, and quickly, so they unburden themselves, give me what they need to, sometimes when they don’t really want to or initially feel uncomfortable doing so. It’s about being open and receptive and the other person recognising this instantly.

I also taught English as a Second Language for a number of years, and ultimately, found that more rewarding than social work, but that’s another story.

Have I ever directly written about the stories people told about their lives? Only once – a man in his late 20s told me he had finally dealt with his father issues, which meant he wasn’t gay anymore! – and another story has played around in my head for 11 years or more … again about personal deal-making.

1 - On the Bitch cover for back pages

A reviewer of my new novella On the Bitch wrote that I have “the ability to put the reader into whatever scene is playing out at the moment” and I think that is true. So it’s about instantly being there, in the situation, and not somewhere else. YOU ARE THERE! And that’s what listening to the hundreds of people who spoke about their lives and their troubles and their issues and their plans taught me. BE IN THE MOMENT. You can read it, see it and experience that on the page through my writing.

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Fiona Veitch Smith

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.

Later this month, I am hosting Noir at the Bar Newcastle at the Town Wall. One of the authors appearing there is Fiona Veitch Smith, author of the ‘Poppy Denby Investigates‘ series. Fiona is here today to talk about how her day job has inspired her writing.

Vic x 

Since working on the school newspaper when I was nine years old, I always wanted to be a journalist.  I eventually went on to study journalism, media and history at Rhodes University in South Africa and then worked as a journalist in Cape Town in the 1990s. When I returned to the UK in 2002 I worked full time as a magazine journalist, then, while juggling pregnancies, a baby, an MA and the start of a creative writing career, I went freelance. For the last eight years I have lectured, part-time, on journalism modules at Newcastle University. And although now I would say I am a novelist before I am a journalist, journalism is still very much in my blood.

So it’s not surprising that my most successful books to date have been about a young, female journalist set in the 1920s. Despite the bad press the media has had over the last years with the Leveson Inquiry, the phone hacking scandal and the feud with Donald Trump over ‘fake news’, I still believe journalism at its best is one of the foundations of a healthy society. When journalists are doing their job properly, injustice is exposed, truth is upheld and people in power are held to account. And that’s the side of journalism that is hailed in the Poppy Denby books. However, I do not shy away from the seedier side of the profession and show instances of journalists bending the rules, breaking the law and taking bribes. My heroine, Poppy, tries to walk the narrow road, but doesn’t always succeed, and is surrounded by jaded hacks who are shamed by her idealism.

My life working on newspapers and magazines, as a reporter, feature writer and sub-editor, has helped me create an authentic world for my characters.  In the three books so far (and the fourth I’m busy writing) I have used my knowledge of life in a newsroom and my broader understanding of the media’s interplay with the police, politicians and advertisers to my advantage.

I have even drawn on some ‘real life’ stories from my days on the newspaper in Cape Town. In the first book, The Jazz Files, Poppy’s relationship with the DCI Richard Easling is based on a misogynistic police chief in Cape Town who tried to influence and bully me into changing a number of stories to put the police in a better light. I refused to do it. On a lighter note, her first job going to interview a theatre director at the Old Vic was based on my own experience covering the art scene in Cape Town – as well as my own foray onto the boards. The drunken Bottom from A Midsummer Night’s Dream actually happened when I played Cobweb in a university production. In the latest book, set on the New York Times, I am vicariously living out my own ambition of working for a paper of that stature.

So, although I did, in the end, give up the day job to become a novelist, I’ve never given up on it in my heart.

Fiona Veitch Smith is the author of the Poppy Denby Investigates series. Book 1, The Jazz Files, was shortlisted for the CWA Endeavour Historical Dagger 2016. Book 2, The Kill Fee, was a finalist in the Foreword Book Review Mystery of the Year,  and book 3, The Death Beat is out now. www.poppydenby.com

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

shadow-judging-the-man-booker-prize

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.

the-book-and-brew-book-club

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!

reviewing-our-baileys-book-at-pink-lane-coffee

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.