Tag Archives: Noir at the Bar NE

Review of 2016: Tess Makovesky

Tess Makovesky and I have been social media friends for many years and 2016 was the year I finally got to meet her. I was lucky enough to spend some time with Tess during Crime and Publishment. Tess also appeared at Noir at the Bar NE #2 to great acclaim. 

I’m thrilled to host Tess on the blog today for her to review her tremendous 2016 with us.

Vic x

tess makovesky

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2016?
Without a shadow of a doubt, the publication of my book ‘Raise the Blade’ by Caffeine Nights.  It was a real ‘dream come true’ moment – a book that I’m genuinely proud of, published by my dream publisher.  What’s not to like?!


And how about a favourite moment from 2016 generally?
It’s going to sound silly, but probably seeing the cupcakes for my book launch for the first time.  The cakes, made specially for me by Shirley of J’aime Cakes in Kendal, had either a tiny ‘Raise the Blade’ book cover, or a picture of a knife with fake ‘blood’, on top of them, and looked absolutely stunning.  You can see a picture, taken by my friend Barry Henderson, here.


Favourite book in 2016?
I’m not allowed to say my own, am I? Heh.  Failing that, it’s probably a toss-up between Michael J Malone’s ‘Bad Samaritan’, a dark psychological detective novel with a real sting in the tail, and Paul D Brazill’s collection of short comedie noir short stories ‘The Last Laugh’, which really did give me a laugh.

Favourite film in 2016?
Again, two stand out.  The first is ‘Bridge of Spies‘, a thoughtful re-telling of the Gary Powers story with a knockout performance by Mark Rylance as the old Russian spy eventually swapped for Powers.  The second, dare I say it, is ‘Hotel Transylvania 2‘, which is just sheer silly knockabout fun!

Favourite song of the year?
I’m going to be annoying here and say ‘Brain Damage’ by Pink Floyd, simply because it helped to inspire ‘Raise the Blade’.  I’ve always loved the lyrics (the brilliant Roger Waters at work), and there are all sorts of references to them hidden away inside the book.  Hats off to anyone who can spot them.

Any downsides for you in 2016?
It’s been a strange year in many ways, with too many heroes no longer here and far too much intolerance in the world.  And being two cars back from a fatal accident a few months ago was pretty sobering.  But overall, I think the good outweighs the bad – and if not, we have to make sure it does.

Are you making resolutions for 2017?
Only to keep writing, but then I always make that resolution – and usually manage to stick to it!

What are you hoping for from 2017?
I’d love to have another book published.  I have one currently in submission but will have to wait and see if the publisher likes it enough to go ahead.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Review of 2016: Jackie Baldwin

Well, it’s that time of year again! We have a host of guests coming up this month to talk about their 2016 experiences. First up is someone I met earlier this year who has had a hugely positive impact on my writing life. 

I first met Jackie Baldwin at this year’s Crime and Publishment. Since then, I’ve spent time with her at both Noir at the Bar NE events – where Jackie was our first wild card reader – as well as Harrogate and Killer Women. Jackie gave me some phenomenal advice during the second Noir at the Bar NE and that set me on the path to finishing my novel. Since that conversation with Jackie, I have written more than I have done in the last five years combined. 

Jackie’s had a big impact on my 2016 – let’s hear about hers. 

Vic x

Jackie Baldwin

Jackie, it’s such a pleasure to have you back on the blog. Do you have a favourite moment professionally from 2016?
I think it would have to be the moment I received an e-mail dated 8th March from Killer Reads, Harper Collins, offering to publish my book, ‘Dead Man’s Prayer‘. It was so overwhelming and unexpected I didn’t stop shaking until lunchtime the next day!

Dead Man's Prayer

And how about a favourite moment from 2016 generally?
I was one of 12 Spotlighted authors at The Bloody Scotland Crime Festival in Stirling on 9-11th September. This involved going up on a massive stage before the ‘Into The Dark’ Panel featuring well known authors Craig Robertson, James Oswald and Malcolm Mackay and reading for 3 minutes from my novel. To say I was absolutely terrified is an understatement. My favourite moment was when I finished reading without my voice betraying me and knew that I would never feel that same degree of fear again.

Bloody Scotland

Favourite book in 2016?
Fractured’ by Clar Ni Chonghaile. I found this book incredibly moving. It involved the kidnap of a journalist in war torn Somalia. He is held captive for some time with only fear and remorse to keep him company. His estranged mother, a former journalist herself, comes looking for him. He forms a tenuous friendship with the teenager who guards him and they resolve to escape. It is a novel about survivors and the real cost of civil war to the indigent population. It also helped to educate me a little on a subject I knew next to nothing about. The characters have stayed with me.


Favourite Film in 2016?
This one is easy. ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens‘. I am a massive Star Wars fan as you can see from the fact that Darth Vader has pride of place in my living room. I felt so emotionally overwhelmed at the end I burst into tears.


What was your biggest adventure in 2016?
I went to Russia for a week, so many conflicting impressions to assimilate. Fascinating country and people!


Any downsides for you in 2016 generally?
I found launching myself on to Social Media from a standing start very challenging. At first I jumped a foot into the air every time my phone beeped but I am becoming more relaxed about it now. Now that I have more followers I hate that I can’t manage to read everything all the time in my Twitter feed because I worry I will miss something that matters, like someone having a wobble and needing support. However, I have started to realise that people retweet their posts at different times of the day so I probably do get to see most of it. And I do love to chat to people about robots and all things sci-fi! My Twitter handle (never thought I would say that!) is @JackieMBaldwin1

Are you making resolutions for 2017?
Definitely! The main one is to get the first draft of my second novel finished by mid- March so I can go to India for 16 days. I have never been and would love to go but can’t book it until I feel I am on track to do that.

What are you hoping for from 2017?
Good health and happiness for those I hold dear.

Guest Post: Helen Cadbury on Writers who Teach.

Helen Cadbury is one of the nicest writers in the business at the moment in my opinion. I love her wit and can’t wait to host her at Noir at the Bar NE in February. 

Helen is the author of the Sean Denton series of crime novels, To Catch A Rabbit and Bones in the Nest, with a third in the pipeline. To find out more about Helen, check out her website.

Helen is here today to talk to us about writers who teach which is a topic that is of particular interest to me. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Helen.

Vic x


Writers who Teach
by Helen Cadbury

It is not a given that just because a person knows how to do a thing, that they can necessarily teach it. There are some extremely talented writers who are also brilliant and inspiring teachers, I have been lucky enough to be taught by at least two: the poet, Carole Bromley, and the novelist, Lesley Glaister. But there are also a set of esteemed authors and poets who are not great teachers, some of them are even terrible teachers, jealous perhaps of those coming after them, or simply lacking the enthusiasm or skills to enable others. There is also another set of writers who teach while at the very beginning of their careers, emerging writers whose enthusiasm is infectious to their students.

Bones in the Nest

So why do writers teach? Many writers I know claim to be introverts, so being in a group setting like a classroom or workshop space might seem like masochism. Is it for the money? Well that certainly helps. With average author earnings well below the Living Wage, and even beneath the annual full-time minimum wage, there are only a tiny minority of authors, and virtually no poets, who solely earn their living from selling their writing. But a word of caution: teaching creative writing is not a get rich quick scheme. It’s hard work and inevitably takes far longer than the hourly rate offered for a session of delivery. I estimate my preparation time to be 1.5 to 2 times the length of a one-off taught session. If it’s a course, then there will also be marking. Quoting the real cost of session to a perspective client can put them off, so sometimes we undersell ourselves, in order to get the work, regretting it later when we are committed to a group of learners, a long journey, and a novel at home waiting to be finished.

To Catch a Rabbit

There are easier ways of creating the income you need to sustain a writing career, but there is something that teaching gives a writer, which working a day job doesn’t, and that is the creative process of writing itself. When setting an exercise on structure, for example, the writer is also reflecting on their own use of structure. When teaching a class on character, new characters emerge for your own work. The character of Barry ‘Burger’ King, a detective in my debut, ‘To Catch a Rabbit‘, was created during an exercise in a class I was teaching at HMP Askham Grange. My learners added some very helpful characteristics to his sketch, as we all fed back on each other’s creations. I don’t always join in with the exercises, but when I do, it’s to show that I’m not asking my learners to do something I wouldn’t do myself. When I don’t, it enables me to pause a little, in that golden silence when they are writing, and be even more alert in listening to the work they read out.

I trained as a secondary school drama teacher, and I’ve also worked for many years as a trainer in the Youth Arts sector, so for me, bringing the skills and techniques of creative education to groups of writers – whether they be young people ambitious to be published, mature writers exploring their life stories, those writing for their own therapeutic release, or any combination of the above –  gives me a sense of completeness in bringing the different parts of my life experience together. It also takes me away from my own work, makes me think, and brings me back to my writing desk refreshed.

Guest Post: David McCaffrey on Beat Sheets

I’ve already started arranging the next Noir at the Bar NE. It may not be until February but we have more than half of the performers booked. One of those readers is David McCaffrey who has been very complimentary about Noir at the Bar.

David has very kindly taken time out of his busy schedule to chat to us about beat sheets. My thanks go to David for sharing his wisdom – see you in February. 

Vic x

Guest Post: David McCaffrey on Beat Sheets

Christopher Vogler wrote a book called ‘The Writers Journey‘, a writing textbook that focuses on the theory that most stories can be boiled down to a series of narrative structures and character archetypes. Basically he says that every story told has been told before and that every fictional story consists of the same components.

I explored this once in my blog where I discussed the writing process, but the gist of it is this –

1.) The hero is introduced in his/her ORDINARY WORLD
3.) The hero is reluctant at first. (REFUSAL OF THE CALL.)
4.) The hero is encouraged by the Wise Old Man or Woman. (MEETING WITH THE MENTOR.)
5.) The hero passes the first threshold.  (CROSSING THE THRESHOLD.)
6.) The hero encounters tests and helpers. (TESTS, ALLIES, ENEMIES.)
7.)  The hero reaches the innermost cave.  (APPROACH TO THE INMOST CAVE.)
8.) The hero endures the supreme ORDEAL.
9.) The hero seizes the sword. (SEIZING THE SWORD, REWARD)

Every story can be structured around the above, not always in the same order, not always every element, but they are there in one form or another.

In line with these components, it is important that you plug variables into your story before you start writing for one simple reason: so you don’t back yourself into a corner.

It’s really easy to begin writing a story off the top of your head or with the most basic of narratives and think that you can just string all the various plot points together.  And some authors can do this (the talented John Nicholson being one of them), but many need a structure, an outline of the aforementioned variables in order to understand where their story starts, begins and ends. This outline can prevent you ending up somewhere inescapable.

For me, writers block is not having the research in which to frame and support your story. I learnt right at the beginning that research is key, especially for the kinds of novels I write as they are mostly psychological thrillers that require an element of philosophy and detail to make them believable.

In line with this, you need something that is high concept, meaning it can be described in one or two words.

“Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.” This tells you exactly what ‘Jaws 2 is about in one sentence.

“His crimes – unspeakable. His death – inevitable. His suffering – just beginning.”

My debut novel ‘Hellbound had the above tagline and in only a few words gives you an idea of what the book is about.

Once you have your idea and concept, it needs to be backed up by that most important of elements – research. You need to be steeped in your subject matter in order to sell your concept realistically. If your story outline is a skeleton, your research adds flesh to its bones. It fleshes out the whole idea so you begin to see what it will truly look like once complete.

Then we get to what I was taught is the most important element of writing, at least for me – having a beat sheet.

Once I have the above in place, I write a beat sheet that consists of bullet points with key elements of each chapter in a very simplified form acting as my map. Bestselling author Steve Alten once said that a beat sheet was like lining up dominoes, so that if you push over the first one it will travel right to the end meaning that if the beat sheet is tight then your story will have every element in place before you start putting one word on paper.

It’s better to get your beat sheet right before you start then begin writing and realise that you have a character who disappeared inexplicably halfway through the story or a massive plot hole you hadn’t considered.

Not having those dominoes lined up can result in you becoming frustrated and potentially lost in your own writing process.

Granted, a beat sheet can also be classed as an outline and many authors hate writing outlines because it requires all the underlying planning to have been done to answer all the difficult questions about your story. But with your research you would have the answers to those questions and the rest is a piece of cake.

Your beat sheet doesn’t have to be detailed. It can be one or two words – sex, Joseph dies, Maggie drives to work… as long as you know what it means, that’s enough.

The beat sheet stops you having to confront the most horrific of questions – what shall I write next?

Your research and a tight beat sheet can prevent this most awful of writing circumstances. With it, you will always know where you are in your story, what happens next, what will further the dramatic tension etc.

And because they are just bullet points, if something is moving too slow or there is too much action in a particular scene, you can simply move the bullet points around until you are happy and the beat sheet is tight again.

The beat sheet not only tells you what the scene is, it tells you why it’s there in the first place. And for me, the best thing of all is with a beat sheet you are simply going into those bullet points and just fleshing them out, adding narrative around them because the framework is already there.

You might veer off as you go as different story beats come to mind or naturally develop with the story. This is the beauty of using a beat sheet: they leave you free to explore and flesh out the narrative that drives the story forward. As long as you end you where you intended at the very beginning, it isn’t as important how you get there – the story will take care of itself.

Make the beat sheet clear and simple. Remember, this is your document. You’re not trying to sell the story to anyone else, you’re just trying to get your head around the story as a whole.

Besides, it’s always nice after you’ve written a three hundred page novel to look back and see that it just started out as a forty bullet point piece of A4. You would probably struggle in reverse if asked to summarise your story in forty bullet points, but it goes to show that as Christopher Vogler believed, every story can be boiled down to key elements.

And we thought we all had original ideas!!!

Guest post: Jackie Baldwin on Noir at the Bar’s wild card reading.

It’s one week until our second Noir at the Bar North East and today we have Jackie Baldwin, author of the forthcoming ‘Dead Man’s Prayer‘ which is out later this week, to talk to us about the wild card round.

Jackie’s name was picked out of the hat at the first Noir at the Bar and she gave a brilliant reading from her novel. I hope Jackie’s insight encourages you to put your name forward next week! 

Thanks for being involved, Jackie. Can’t wait to have you back at Noir at the Bar! 

Vic x

Jackie Baldwin


The Wild Card Round
By Jackie Baldwin.

Calling all crime writers! Have you been slogging away on a novel or are you about to be published? Are you brave enough to throw your name in the hat for The Wild Card Round? In my head, at least, also known as Russian roulette.

On 1st June, I travelled across to Newcastle from Dumfries for Noir in the Bar NE. I had stuck the prologue for my debut novel in my bag but had no real intention of entering the wild card round, being of a disposition that makes shrinking violets look bold and brazen. My friend and my husband accused me of being a wimp. It stung but I had to admit they were right. Craftily, I glanced into the hat. There were loads of names in there. Maybe I could redeem myself by putting my name in the hat and not have it pulled out? I was gambling heavily but decided to roll the dice and play the odds.

I met loads of lovely new people and was just starting to relax as the evening drew to a conclusion, having enjoyed listening to all those lovely, poised authors. Then the unthinkable happened. My name was pulled out. The bullet had slid into the chamber. Bang!

Dead Man's Prayer

I jerked to my feet like someone was pulling my strings, walked to the mike and started reading. My knees were knocking and my heart was pounding so hard I thought it was going to burst out my chest and flop about the floor. I was aware of the irony that the heart of the character I was reading about was doing a very similar thing. I finished and apparently ran rather than walked back to my seat. It was over. My first public reading.

Everyone was very kind and encouraging. I did not, as I had feared, have to change my name and go into my own version of witness protection to escape the horror that had unfolded. In fact, since then I have read again and each time it gets easier. I am one of the speakers at the upcoming event on 7th September and this time, I am almost (steady on!) looking forward to it.

So, what I have to say to any writers out there contemplating throwing their name into the hat is: DO IT!! If someone like me can do it and come back for more then YOU have absolutely nothing to worry about! That first time is as much a rite of passage for a writer as the first rejection slip. The audience will be right behind you, cheering you on. And guess who will be clapping for you loudest of all? ME!

Noir at the Bar NE 2

Noir at the Bar NE

Where do I start?

My first task is to thank everyone. Whether you came to read, or to listen – thank you. I know people came from far and wide to attend the first Noir at the Bar NE last night and it was wonderful that they made the effort. But whether you live around the corner or a million miles away, your presence truly was appreciated.

I guess you’d like to know what happened in Newcastle last night as Noir at the Bar made its first appearance in the North East of England.

Well, the fantastic Queen of Newcastle Noir, Jacky Collins, introduced the evening. I then waffled on a bit and introduced our first reader of the night, Janet O’Kane. Janet read the very compelling opening to her début novel No Stranger to Death, the first book in her Borders Mysteries series. I first met Janet at Mari Hannah’s book launch in 2011 and we have been firm friends ever since. I don’t think either of us would have believed if, on that night in 2011, you’d have told us that we’d be taking part in such a fantastic event together. It was an honour to have Janet open the show.

Eileen Wharton read from her novel Blanket of Blood and drew an audible gasp from the audience. I have to say that Eileen does a mean cockney accent, too. Again, I met Eileen many years ago at a Byker Books event and it’s been a pleasure seeing her develop as a writer.

Danielle Ramsay has been on my radar for many years but, before yesterday, we hadn’t been properly introduced. Danielle is not only a fantastic writer but a lovely lady – and I look forward to meeting her again soon. Danielle’s reading from The Puppet Maker made me shiver, no wonder she is so popular! I’m looking forward to reading more DI Jack Brady books!

Northumberland-based writer Martyn Taylor read from his novel Whitechapel. I was really intrigued by the excerpt that Martyn read out and I’m dying to know what happens next. Another book to be added to the to-be-read pile!

G.J. Brown read a chilling short story – entitled ebgdea – that will be included in the Bouchercon anthology, Blood on the Bayou, later this year. I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Gordon until yesterday but he’s a true gent. He’d launched Bloody Scotland earlier in the day yesterday then driven all the way from Stirling to appear at Noir at the Bar NE. And, boy, were we pleased he did!

Graham Smith, who has been a champion of mine over the years, read a short story called All A Broad. Graham was instrumental in me setting up the north east chapter of Noir at the Bar and, as the organiser of the Carlisle branch, Graham came to pass on the torch.

The fantastic Noelle Holten of Crime Book Junkie picked out Patrick Welsh’s story Her Voice in the Rain as one of the top reads in Blood from the Quill. Last night, Patrick’s visceral excerpt about an exam, a ‘haunted’ painting and the lengths some students will go to had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand. One audience member told me: “if that was a book that was available now, I’d be rushing out to buy it.”

Sheila Quigley is a great champion of North-East writers and it would have been remiss of us not to have her at Noir at the Bar. Sheila’s excellent at bringing people together and championing the work of others. Sheila read from her latest novel, The Sound of Silence

My good friend Zoe Sharp – author of the incredibly popular Charlie Fox series – had not been billed for N@tB NE but she did tweet yesterday morning saying she was hoping to get picked for the wildcard. However, when our mutual friend Tess Makovesky got in touch to say that she had been involved in an accident, I knew exactly who’d step into the breach.

Zoe was at pains throughout the day to tell folks she had not been involved in Tess’s “accident” and she took my frequent jokes about it in good humour. However, after listening to Zoe’s chilling short story, Risk Assessment, I wouldn’t put anything past her! Zoe is a brilliant writer and I am thrilled that she agreed to read for us.

I would like to say, though, that Tess Makovesky was missed and we hope she gets well soon! Tess, you are welcome at Noir at the Bar NE anytime!

We had lots of entries for the wildcard round including Shelley Day, author of the forthcoming The Confession of Stella Moon, and Nicky Black, the duo behind the insanely popular novel, The Prodigal.

It was Jackie Baldwin, though, whose name was drawn from the hat. Jackie, who had travelled all the way from Dumfries for the event, later confessed that she wasn’t even going to enter the wildcard round until her friend, writer L.P. Mennock encouraged her to! Jackie read from her novel, Dead Man’s Prayer, which is due to be published later this year. It was a fantastic ending to what was – for me, at least – a brilliant night.

Again, I’d like to thank everyone who came to the Town Wall last night. Thank you for your attention, your time and your kindness.

Now, when’s the next one?

Vic x