Tag Archives: Newcastle

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Alan Parkinson

Lots of people don’t realise that although you may see work by a certain author on the bookshelves in your favourite shop, many writers still hold down a day job in addition to penning their next novel. In this series, we talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

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

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

Vic x

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leg It

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

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

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

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

Idle Threats

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

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

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Review: ‘Seven Bridges: A DCI Ryan Mystery’ by LJ Ross

When the Tyne Bridge explodes, DCI Ryan’s team face someone calling themselves The Alchemist who won’t stop until every bridge is burned. The time constraints set by The Alchemist make much of this book a literal race against time to stop the bridges being blown up – along with the people on them.

Ryan’s plans to leave Newcastle to track down a killer are put on hold in the wake of the threats. Add a colleague who is in very serious trouble, and there’s no way Ryan can leave Tyneside.

With every DCI Ryan book, LJ Ross manages to surprise. I feel like she is working her way through every sub-genre of crime – and I like it! ‘Seven Bridges‘ combines domestic noir with a very timely terrorist element.

What I really enjoyed about ‘Seven Bridges‘ was the backstory pertaining to DCI Ryan’s former relationship with Detective Chief Superintendent Jen Lucas. This was a great subversion of the typical coercive control representations in fiction and I applaud LJ Ross for shining a spotlight on the damage that can be done.

As always, the plot is tight and filled with tense twists. LJ Ross manages to wilfully misdirect the reader’s attention and keep you guessing until the very end. Packed with exciting action sections and peppered with humour, ‘Seven Bridges‘ will not disappoint DCI Ryan’s legion of fans.

Vic x

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Richard Rippon

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.

Richard Rippon appeared at Noir at the Bar Newcastle in May this year and read from his novel ‘Lord of the Dead‘. The excerpt Rich read was really intriguing and it made me want to read the whole novel. 

My thanks to Richard for sharing his experiences with us.

Vic x

 

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When I started writing in 2007, I was working as a lab technician in a factory. My eldest daughter had just been born, and that seemed to kick-start something in me, probably a realisation I was getting older and if I didn’t do something about my writing ambitions soon, I possibly never would.

I’d always enjoyed writing at school, but never imagined I could make a living from it. Such an idea felt fanciful, so I put it to one side and pursued a safer, more ‘sensible’ route. I was pretty good at Biology, so I studied science at A-level and a degree in Microbiology. I went on to work in a range of labs, usually for massive multi-national companies. It took me a long time to realise it wasn’t for me.

I starting writing short stories and articles, which I hoped to get placed in magazines and on websites. I won an article writing competition for a local newspaper and when I came across the Northern Writers Awards, I entered that too, with the first three chapters of a comedic detective story set in Newcastle. When I won a prize, it started a chain of events that has changed the course of my career entirely.

Things in the lab had reached a bit of a tipping point. Whilst the boredom was useful – I had plenty of time to think of story ideas – I’d had it with the place. Some jobs came up for Social Media Community Managers, a relatively new job title in 2011. Reading between the lines, it appeared to be an invitation to write creatively and fanny about on Facebook for a living. I applied and hassled the hiring manager, until she took me on. I was tasked with writing conversation calendars for brands and regularly headed to London for meetings with advertising agencies. It was fantastic. The sense of release I felt compared to my life in the lab was exhilarating.

Meanwhile, the Northern Writers prize I won led to me signing with an agent, but she struggled to find a publisher for The Kebab King. I started to think about a more serious crime novel, which eventually became Lord of the Dead, which was published last November.

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Things began to change at work. They stopped relying on us to write our own copy, and all the creative bits I loved were farmed out to agencies. I thought it might be a good idea to look elsewhere, and I was lucky enough to land a job at the best advertising agency in Newcastle. I have to say this, because I’m still there, but also because it is. 

The job has evolved from being a social media man, to ‘Creative Copywriter’. Basically, I think of ideas to help people sell things and come up with the words to go with those ideas.

It feels great to finally have the word ‘writer’ in my job title and also have had my first novel published. It’s just taken a bit longer than you might expect.

 

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.