Tag Archives: Newcastle

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Nicky Black

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.

I read ‘The Prodigal‘ in 2016 and have since got to know Nicky Black quite well. I’ve hosted her at Noir at the Bar Newcastle a few times as well as spending time with her at Bloody Scotland and Newcastle Noir. I’m really thrilled to have Nicky on the blog to discuss how her work life has influenced her writing. 

Thanks, Nicky, for taking the time to chat to us. 

Vic x

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Since self-publishing The Prodigal in 2015, I’ve met a lot of authors, some of whom write full time, some who don’t and many who dream of it. Now I like my own company, not because I’m the wittiest, most interesting person I know, but because I’m comfortable being on my own, but there’s only so much time I can spend in front of my laptop, in my living room, staring at the ugly plastic vent on my chimney breast wall. My day job serves many purposes – office banter (love it), a sense of achievement, and it pays the bills and it keeps me and my kitties fed.

I’ve had a 30 year career, mostly working either in, or in support of, “poor communities,” – firstly with Save the Children, then in urban regeneration and in the latter five years in welfare to work (I’m not going there…). I’ve seen the best and the worst of these communities, whether Cowgate in Newcastle or Hackney in London. The problems are the same: high crime, poor health, low educational achievement (there’s an actual list), and above all, a labelling of these communities as somehow undeserving and undesirable. There are many undesirables for sure, but where there’s a ying, there’s a yang, and I’ve also met the most passionate, fearsome, committed people who have nothing to their name, but who root for their communities and give them a voice. 

So, whilst The Prodigal and Tommy Collins (out this summer) fall within the crime genre, they aren’t police procedural stories (I leave that to those fabulous authors who can create twisty-turny whodunnits). My interest lies in the impact crime has on individuals, families and whole communities, and how that is dealt with by the authorities and the communities themselves. I’ve heard how the police talk about these estates, and I’ve experienced the disdain residents have for the police – both are valid in their own right. The Prodigal was actually inspired by a conversation with a police officer back in the nineties about informants or “grasses”– who are they? Why do they do it? The answer was that it is generally family members, almost always women, and they do it because they want that person they care about to stop. Pop those facts into a scenario where the grass is a woman, in love with a copper who’s after her criminal husband, and you’ve got drama. 

The housing estate itself where the books are set (the fictional Valley Park) is a key character, and I couldn’t have written it with any authenticity without the experience of working for 20 odd years with local residents, and the professionals who think they know what’s best for them (sometimes they do, I can’t argue with that). Valley Park is a grim place in The Prodigal, and even grimmer in Tommy Collins which is set ten years earlier in 1989 – the height of Thatcherism, unemployment and civil unrest. I’ve actually started to feel quite protective of the place and the pretend people who inhabit it, even the bad ones. It’s like the Mothership – a place you can’t escape. Anyway, I’m looking forward to book three which will bring Valley Park bang up to date, and I can have a pop at Beardy Men and gentrification (is there ever a happy medium?).

I’m out of the poverty game now. I left London in 2016 (I lived there for 14 years), had some time off, and now I’m back working pretty much full time again for a hospice charity (there may well be a future novel in that, who knows?). Now, my writing influences my day job in a way. I write grant applications, and this requires delivering a story with heart, hitting all the right notes that make those funders want to read on and see what they’ll get for their money. They’ve got to believe in what you’re doing and get some satisfaction from investing in you – much like readers, I suppose. I must be doing okay, because in eight months I’ve secured over £200,000, which is about £160,000 more than they’ve had in grants in any one year. I’m quite proud of that! 

It doesn’t leave me much time to write, as I do like to keep my social life active, my house clean and my cupboards stocked. That, coupled with my inability to stick to a plot, means my second book is about a year behind. But I’m getting there. You can be sure it’ll be full of grit, inspired by some of the best and worst people I’ve ever met through my day jobs.

Thank you for having me Vic, and hello to those of you reading this 😊 *waves* x

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Review of 2017: Vic Watson

The turn of the year comes around quick, doesn’t it? It seems like only yesterday I was telling you all how great 2016 had been! But, here we are, another year older with more experiences under our belts. I must thank everyone who has taken the time to review their year on the blog and to everyone who’s read, shared and commented posts from this blog throughout the last year. Here’s to a happy, healthy 2018! 

Professionally speaking, this year has been another cracker. Noir at the Bar has continued to grow, with factions popping up all over the UK. I’m delighted that the one in Newcastle continues to be popular and I cannot tell you how wonderful it was to be in the Blues Bar in Harrogate on Thursday, 20th July. Presenting Noir at the Bar Harrogate to a packed audience was just incredible. Possibly one of the highlights of that day was a gentleman who asked me at the end of the event how often we ran it as he hadn’t known it was going to be on. I said “Sorry, have we hijacked your quiet afternoon pint?” He laughed and said he was thrilled to have stumbled upon the event and would definitely come to them on purpose in future! 


This year’s Newcastle Noir saw me do my first ever panel. I was on a panel with Susan Heads of the Book Trail, Quentin Bates, Sarah Wood and the powerhouse behind Orenda Books – Karen Sullivan. Our panel was moderated by the wonderful Miriam Owen and I enjoyed that hour immensely.


Another hour that was fun was appearing on the award-winning ArtyParti at Spark FM with Mandy Maxwell, Iain Rowan, Kirsten Luckins and Tony Gadd. We talked to Jay Sykes about writing and events, it was a lovely atmosphere and I felt completely relaxed thanks to the excellent host. 


My writing groups are still going strong and I arranged a stranding retreat on St Mary’s Island in August and the participants gave very positive feedback. I hope to run more retreats next year. 


I’ve had a lot of people asking if I’ve finished my novel yet and when they’ll be able to buy it so that’s very encouraging. I’ve also had a few people tell me they’d like to hear it on Audible which is a real compliment. Thanks to my friend Kay setting me an achievable weekly word target, I’ve almost completed my first draft. 

Hmm, favourite personal memory? Tough one, that. Well, I suppose I’d better say that getting married to the love of my life was the highlight of my year. Just kidding – of course it was! 

I walked down the aisle with my dad to ‘You’re So Cool‘ by Hans Zimmer (featured in ‘True Romance‘) in front of our closest friends and family. 


Instead of going for sugar almonds as wedding favours, we gave everyone a book. The Boy Wonder and I are both bookworms and we therefore wanted to give our guests a personalised gift. We didn’t have a lot of guests and we enjoyed thinking which book to choose for each of the guests – we were like a real life algorithm! 


The day we got married, I was emailed by the production team from ‘The Chase’ to say that my episode – recorded in July 2016 – would be aired on 30th March so watching that was a lot of fun too.


OK, I didn’t mention ‘The Chase’ in my 2016 Review but, contractually, I wasn’t allowed! Watching my episode, despite knowing the result, was nerve-wracking. I actually didn’t mind seeing myself on TV – I was nowhere near as critical of myself as I was expecting to be! I watched with my husband (I love saying that), my brother and three friends. I got lots of lovely messages from friends all over the country.  


I’d also like to say what a special day my hen do was. I never wanted a fuss and opted to go for afternoon tea with my friends and my mum. I cannot explain what a lovely occasion that was. Those wonderful women made me feel like a million bucks. 


My film of the year was ‘Get Out‘, second would be ‘Dunkirk‘. 

I have enjoyed many books this year including ‘Darktown‘ by Thomas Mullen, ‘The Prime of Miss Dolly Greene‘ by E.V Harte, ‘Lost for Words‘ by Stephanie Butland and ‘Small, Great Things‘ by Jodi Picoult. I also loved ‘Everyone Brave is Forgiven‘ by Chris Cleave. And a late entry has to be ‘Good Me, Bad Me‘ by Ali Land. However, my top three – in no particular order – are ‘Six Stories‘ by Matt Wesolowski, ‘Yellow Room‘ by Shelan Rodger and ‘The Break‘ by Marian Keyes. 

Song of the year? Hm. Anything that was on our wedding playlist – we chose all the songs ourselves. We tried to have at least one track for each of the wedding guests so either a track that reminded us of them or one we knew they liked.
Other music I’ve listened to this year includes a lot of music from the Nashville OSTs, ‘…Ready For It?‘ and ‘Look What You Made Me Do‘ by Taylor Swift. 

There has been illness and sadness but most of us are still here – and that is wonderful.

However, the death of Helen Cadbury in June was a tremendous loss to many of us in the writing community – and beyond. Helen was a friend to me. She was always kind, supportive and quick with a joke. She pulled out of Noir at the Bar in February because she was poorly but I didn’t know the extent of her illness. In July, we raised our glasses to toast Helen at Noir at the Bar in Newcastle and Harrogate. Helen made such a positive impact on so many that it felt right to dedicate the events to her.

The last time I saw Helen was at Harrogate Festival in July 2016 although I had spoken to her since. She, Lucy Cameron and I joked about having similar hair colours and styles. Helen said we should call ourselves the three northern blondes and take a selfie. For some reason, that photo didn’t get taken and I regret that missed opportunity.

I have yet to read ‘Race to the Kill‘, the final novel in the Sean Denton trilogy, or her collection of poetry, ‘Forever Now‘, because I don’t want to come to the end of Helen’s work. Of course, I won’t put it off forever. 

Resolutions? Just keep on keeping on, I think. I over commit and trying not to do that remains a work in progress. 

I hope that this world will sort itself out. There are so many things going wrong and I hope that things will be put right but in order for that to happen, we all need to engage. 

Review of 2017: Mike Craven

Today our guest is Mike Craven. I honestly can’t remember the first time I met Mike but he is a great laugh and is so supportive of other writers. I’m really pleased to hear of his successes this year – but I’ll let him tell you about them.

My thanks to Mike for taking part in the 2017 Reviews.

Vic x

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2017?
Without a doubt my favourite moment was a signing a two-book contract with the Little, Brown imprint, Constable. Little, Brown currently publish most of my favourite crime writers (including Mark Billingham, Chris Brookmyre, Val McDermid, Michael Connolly and Robert Galbraith) and Constable have a sterling pedigree with crime fiction.

Other highlights were when my second Avison Fluke novel, Body Breakers first print run was sold out before publication date, when I met with a major TV production company and they optioned the Washington Poe series and when my agent secured me some cool foreign rights deals.

But there were other highlights that weren’t necessarily about me. My friend Graham Smith’s first Jake Boulder novel became an international bestseller – that made me happy. My friend and former colleague Noelle Holton finally bit the bullet and left probation for her dream job (she’s also bitten another bullet and finished a first draft of her first novel as well). And last, and definitively least (he keeps having me as drunk in his books) Michael Malone wrote a simply superb book called House of Spines which I was lucky to beta read for him. Another mate, Les Morris, got a publishing deal for a great action-thriller book. Think it’s going to do well.

And how about a favourite moment from 2017 generally?
Seeing the first heatbound pre-publication proof of The Puppet Show. It’s going to look beautiful when it comes out in hardback next June. That was pretty special. Oh, and I also managed to (finally) see Iron Maiden.

Favourite book in 2017? 
Spook Street by Mick Herron.

Favourite film in 2017?
Thor Ragnarok.

Favourite song of the year? 
Powerslave by Iron Maiden. They sung this at the Newcastle gig and it was a pretty special eight minutes.

Any downsides for you in 2017?
In February I fell coming back from a punk gig and shattered my ankle. I was in hospital for a week and now have more metal in my left leg than Robocop. It put me out of action for over three months and it’s still not healed.

Are you making resolutions for 2018?
To stop writing behemoth first drafts. Washington Poe 2 finished at 139K. I trimmed it down to 92K . . .

What are you hoping for from 2018?
That I repay all the money and effort that has gone into the first Poe book and that it’s as successful as my editor hopes it will be.

Review of 2017: Matt Wesolowski

One of my standout books of this year was ‘Six Stories‘ by Matt Wesolowski. Now, having met Matt on several occasions this year, I can also say he’s one of the nicest people I have ever met! 

Matt read at Noir at the Bar Newcastle in February this year and his reading went down a storm. I went home and read ‘Six Stories‘ straight away! And I’m not the only one who loved it – but I’ll let Matt tell you all about that…

Vic x


Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2017?
Seeing reviews of Six Stories in the national press was hugely astounding and humbling. When I got the email from Fox Searchlight about making it into a film, I thought someone was winding me up!

And how about a favourite moment from 2017 generally?
I loved every single one of the literary festivals I was privileged enough to attend. Meeting fellow writers and readers alike was such a pleasure.

Favourite book in 2017?
So many to mention! But some real stand outs were Girls on Fire by Rabin Wasserman, Lie With Me by Sabine Durrant and These Darkening Days by Benjamin Myers.

Favourite film in 2017?
I really enjoyed Hounds of Love, a really gritty and brutal drama based on Australia’s most notorious serial killer couple David and Catherine Birnie. I like a film that can make you walk out of the cinema coated in a sheen of dirt.

Favourite song of the year?
I got really into a band called Batushka who combine Gregorian chanting and Eastern Orthodox imagery with the most amazing black metal.

Any downsides for you in 2017?
My little boy broke his femur in September and is only just back on his feet now. That was so hard for him as he’s such an active kid. When he went under the anaesthetic, that was the only time I cried in 2017.

Are you making resolutions for 2018?
No, resolutions only end up in disappointment when you don’t keep them. I’m disappointing enough without that!

That is absolutely not true! What are you hoping for from 2018?
More books and more time to read them.

Review of 2017: Trevor Wood

Trevor Wood is yet another writer I’ve been lucky to get to know thanks to Noir at the Bar.

If you’d like to hear Trevor read, come along to Noir at the Bar in Newcastle on Wednesday 21st February.

2017 has been a great year for Trevor but I’ll let him tell you all about it.

Vic x

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2017?
No question about this one.  I sent my first novel When A Fire Starts To Burn to Oli Munson at A M Heath at 4.30pm on October 3.  The next morning I got a very encouraging e-mail saying that he’d started reading it on the train home the previous evening and was greatly enjoying it. Watch this space. I stared at my e-mail in-basket for the rest of the day until at 4pm that day I got another message saying that he’d like to talk the following morning and at the end of that call he said that he’d like to sign me up. I know from bitter experience that this JUST DOESN’T HAPPEN. Sometimes I still think I dreamt the whole thing. I know there’s still a long way to go but support and hope is a lovely thing.

And how about a favourite moment from 2017 generally?
So many to choose from: reading from the above novel for the first time at Noir at the Bar (thanks Vic!), the astonishing turn-out at Jeremy Corbyn’s rally in Gateshead which convinced my that the General Election wasn’t going to be as bad as I’d feared, my wife’s 60th birthday party, held jointly with another friend, at the fabulous Alphabetti Theatre – probably the last event there before they moved across town; celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary with a large group of friends in a beautiful villa in Malaga; spending 3 weeks around Vancouver in the summer including a week on the idyllic Mayne Island. Any of those would do in a normal year.

Favourite book in 2017?
I’ve just completed the inaugural two-year, part-time Crime Fiction MA at UEA, which I’d hugely recommend – guest writers have included Lee Child, Ian Rankin, Denise Mina and Mark Billingham and the course has been a real inspiration. Anyway, the upshot of that is that I’ve read a huge number of crime novels in the past two years and the best of them by some distance was Darktown by Thomas Mullen, which I only finished a couple of weeks ago.  Set in post-war Atlanta it examines the problems in establishing the first black police force at a time of huge corruption and overt racism. Beautifully written, evocative, hugely entertaining and enlightening.

Favourite film in 2017?
I love movies and generally go at least twice a month but not sure that this has been a great year. My favourite films have been Wind River – an atmospheric thriller set on an Indian Reservation with a great turn from Jeremy Renner and Get Out, a creepy but darkly comic satire on racism in the US.  However, hands down the best film I’ve seen this year was Nocturnal Animals.  Saw it in the cinema last year and was astonished that it didn’t get a best film Oscar nomination so watched it again this year on DVD and can confirm that the Academy members were wrong and I’m right. It’s a nigh-on perfect film beautifully shot by fashion designer turned director Tom Ford with amazing, visceral performances from Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson – Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal aren’t half bad either. It’s dark as treacle but utterly mesmerising.

Favourite song of the year?
I’m always seeking out new music and discovered several new artists that I’ve taken to my heart this year including young British up-and-comers Loyle Carner and Rex Orange County and the American band The National – I have no idea how I’d previously missed the latter as they’ve been around for years but I’m a bit of an addict now and enjoying catching up on their extensive back catalogue. Check out their terrific new album Sleep Well Beast. However, my favourite song of the year by a country mile is We Are Your Friends by the French band Justice.  I saw them at Glastonbury, last thing on the Sunday night. It’s the fifth year in a row I’ve managed to get tickets and I know that I’m not at my best by the last night so to win me over then is no mean achievement. My wife and daughter went to the Pyramid Stage to see Ed Sheeran but I didn’t fancy it so went to see Justice at the West Holts stage instead on our friends’ recommendation. They blew me away completely. The whole performance was fabulous, great music, amazing light show and I danced my socks off.  This song was the highlight though, an utterly joyous moment, the massive crowd was so exuberant and when they all chanted We Are Your Friends in unison, for a moment I actually believed they were. I understand that some of this exuberance may have been artificially stimulated – not mine though, obviously. This video captures those three minutes perfectly. Just look at those faces.

Any downsides for you in 2017?
One of the reasons I was so thrilled to sign with Oli Munson towards the end of the year was that I had chosen to part company with my previous agent about six months earlier. It was a difficult decision but it just didn’t feel like a good fit and after a year of representing me I still hadn’t been able to get a face-to-face meeting with him. Obviously it paid off in the end but there were many times during that agent-less period when I felt a little isolated and wondered if I’d made the right decision.
I also failed to retain my Fantasy Football Championship title and have to hand the magnificent trophy over to someone else at the end of the year. I don’t like to talk about that though.

Are you making resolutions for 2018?
I’m not big on resolutions but have lots of plans.  I’ve started on a sequel to When A Fire Starts To Burn, so I hope to have that finished next year though some of it will be written on the road as my wife has a sabbatical so we’re heading back to Canada for a couple of months in May.  As it’s a fallow year for Glastonbury, four of us are heading to the Sziget Festival in Budapest in August which should be a proper adventure – it’s set on an island in the middle of the Danube and always attracts a great line-up. And I have a very big birthday next year which coincides with my daughter’s 21st so we’re planning a major party somewhere in Newcastle.

What are you hoping for from 2018?
A publishing deal.
The cancellation of Brexit.
The impeachment of Donald Trump.

Review: ‘Fox Hunter’ by Zoë Sharp

When I was asked to review Zoë Sharp‘s twelfth book in the Charlie Fox series, Fox Hunter, I jumped at the chance. Having heard her read excerpts from this novel at the most recent Noir at the Bars in Newcastle and Harrogate, I couldn’t wait to read the whole thing!

Fox Hunter drops the reader right into the middle of the action in Iraq with the discovery of a body. The body of a man who just so happened to be one of the men that brutally put an end to Ms Fox’s military career. Charlie had promised many years ago that she wouldn’t go looking for them but in Fox Hunter she isn’t given a choice.

Sean Meyer, her boss and former lover, has gone missing and Charlie is worried that Sean may be out for revenge against the men who harmed her. She’s tasked with stopping Sean before he tracks down the other men but must keep her wits about her as she becomes the hunted.

Fox Hunter is a total thrill ride from start to finish. It’s fast-moving and never gives you a second to catch your breath.

Zoë Sharp has deftly weaved a pacey narrative with a compelling cast of characters. I really admire the female characters in this novel, of which there are several: they’re strong both physically and emotionally as well as showing believable vulnerabilities. I loved the juxtaposition between these women and the Muslim countries they visit in their line of work. I thought Sharp also weaved interesting similarities portraying the ways in which women are subjugated in all cultures.

The ongoing love story between Charlie and Sean also twists and turns, keeping the reader guessing whether Meyer is friend or foe.

I’ve heard many people rave about the Charlie Fox books – Lee Child has famously said that if Jack Reacher were a woman, he’d be Charlie Fox. High praise indeed, and now I see why. If you like your books to be a non-stop thrill featuring flawed characters, the Charlie Fox series is the one for you.

Vic x

Review: ‘The Last Cut’ by Danielle Ramsay

If Martina Cole says it’s good, it’s good – right? Well, the Queen of Crime is quoted on Amazon as saying that The Last Cut is ‘a really cracking read’.

Featuring DS Harri Jacobs and set in Newcastle, The Last Cut is the first in a new series by Danielle Ramsay, writer of the DI Jack Brady books.

Harri Jacobs has returned to her hometown of Newcastle following a brutal attack she endured at the hands of an unknown assailant while working for the Met. With her rapist still at large and the first anniversary of the assault looming, Harri is understandably on edge. However, the tension is cranked up when Harri begins to suspect she is being followed. Add to that a murder victim with similarities to Harri and the reader, along with Harri, are plunged into a nightmare of paranoia and fear in a tense game of cat and mouse.

I really liked the fact that much of the action was set in Newcastle. It was interesting to see how places familiar to me could be turned into dark, threatening locations. Danielle really has a knack for using location to add another layer to her stories.

The Last Cut is a claustrophobic read that had me rather terrified. The twisted characters that Harri comes into contact with chilled me to the bone. Hats off to Danielle Ramsay for creating this pervading sense of discomfort and the uncertainty over who to trust.

Turns out that the last cut is the deepest…

Vic x