Tag Archives: Noir at the Bar

Getting to Know You: Tana Collins

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It’s my pleasure today to welcome Tana Collins on the penultimate stop of her blog tour. I met Tana at the first Edinburgh Noir at the Bar and I’m thrilled that she’s appearing at the Newcastle NatB tonight. 

Tana’s novel ‘Robbing the Dead‘ was released by Bloodhound Books earlier this month and is available to buy now. 

Thanks to Tana for taking the time to answer my questions. If you’re near the Town Wall tonight, pop in – it’s free entry – and promises to be a criminally good night. 

Vic x

Tana

Welcome to the blog, Tana. Tell us about your debut novel.
Robbing the Dead‘ is the first novel in the Inspector Jim Carruthers series set in the picturesque East Neuk of Fife.

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What inspired it?
Although it’s a work of fiction the inspiration for the novel comes from a true event that occurred in the early 1970s. I don’t want to say too much and give away any spoilers but it’s a tragic event that impacted on many people’s lives and still to this day continues to do so. I felt that whilst most of us have heard about the event very few know some of the details that make this story so human. I felt there was still a story to be told. 

Where do you get your ideas from?
Like most writers I have an inquisitive nature and am fascinated by people. I observe, listen and ask lots of questions. I decided my main cop, Inspector Jim Carruthers, should live in Anstruther in Fife. Early on into writing ‘Robbing the Dead‘ my partner and I went there for a long weekend so I could do some research. We walked in to the Dreel Tavern which I had reckoned might be Carruthers’ watering hole. I decided I needed to engage with the locals so I went up to the bar on my own with my drink and slapped a notebook and pen down. Within minutes a local had sidled up and asked me in a suspicious voice what I was doing. He had decided I was a tax inspector! That could end up a story in itself! I told him I was a writer and that the Dreel was going to be my main character’s favourite pub. I then asked him rather cheekily what he had to hide thinking I was a tax inspector! Within minutes half a dozen folk had come over telling me their stories of Anstruther, including the story of the resident pub ghost!

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
My main character is a male police inspector, DCI Jim Carruthers. One of my female friends indignantly asked me why my inspector wasn’t a woman. I replied that I wanted Carruthers to be a man. He was always going to be a man and he’s still my favourite character, although DS Andrea Fletcher, as his assistant, is definitely starting to come in to her own. Interestingly, now I’ve written three books, I’ve noticed that more of my personality has gone in to Jim Carruthers but more of my life experiences in to Andrea Fletcher.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?The best piece of advice came from crime writer Peter Robinson. He was talking about writer’s block. He said that often writer’s block occurs because you are in the head of the wrong character in that particular scene. This piece of advice has served me well.

What can readers expect from your books?
Fast paced action and plenty of it! ‘Robbing the Dead‘ has been described as an ‘edge of your seat’ crime thriller. All three books start with a murder, if not in the first scene, definitely very early on and the death count just continues to rise. I like to write interesting stories often based on historical or contemporary events with political overtones. But I also like to have strong and believable characters that my readers will be able to engage with!

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Don’t give up! I can’t tell you how close ‘Robbing the Dead‘ came to ending up in the knicker drawer. And the truth of it is that early on it just wasn’t good enough to be published. It had two massive rewrites and I’m delighted I persevered. Ten years later with three books under my belt I started to approach publishing companies and landed a three book deal with Bloodhound Books. It was officially published on 14th February and I have been thrilled by the reviews! Read everything you can get your hands on in your genre. Hang out with other writers. Critique each other’s work. Go to book festivals. Last bit of advice would be get yourself a good editor before approaching publishers.

How do you feel about appearing at Noir at the Bar?
This will be my second Noir at the Bar event and I’m very excited. Like most writers I love to talk about my book and I love to meet readers and other writers. I feel honoured to be invited to speak and share a excerpt from my debut novel. I’m also looking forward to hearing other writers, new and well established, speak.

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What do you like and dislike about writing?
There is nothing that makes me happier than being given a blank piece of paper at the start of writing a novel. I love crafting a story and developing the characters. I also enjoy the research. I don’t do much drafting as I like to watch the novel evolve organically which can be dangerous. The worst? The crippling bouts of self- doubt during the writing process! 

Are you writing anything at the moment?
I’m just about to start an edit on the second novel, ‘Care to Die’, which is being published on 25th April 2017. The third novel, ‘Mark of the Devil’, is currently with my first reader. I’m contemplating a fourth book in the series so there’s a few ideas swirling around in my head.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
I think it has to be meeting my all time hero, Peter Robinson, on a writing course given by him in Tallinn. It was thrilling receiving tuition from someone who was also writing his latest Inspector Banks story which needed to be set in a European city! When ‘Watching the Dark‘ was finally published we found out that, as his students, we were all named in the acknowledgements! A wonderful moment.

I review my 2016

I really enjoy running the annual reviews, they get wonderful feedback from readers and it’s always a pleasure to spend time with the participants so thanks to everyone who’s taken part this year. Here’s to a wonderful 2017!

Victoria

In 2016, I have had some really cracking professional successes. Noir at the Bar is a real highlight for me, having run two in Newcastle and participated in ones in Harrogate and Edinburgh. I have Graham Smith and Jay Stringer to thank for encouraging me to set up the Newcastle chapter. Special thanks must also go to Jacky Collins – organiser of Newcastle Noir – for assisting me with the running of NatB NE. The turnout for the events in Newcastle has been fantastic and it’s really gathering great support, it’s a really wonderful thing to be involved in. I’m really looking forward to the next one on Wednesday, 22nd February.

My friend Luca introduces me

Elementary Writers continue to go from strength to strength. This year, we’ve released a book – Blood from the Quill – and a pamphlet – Wish You Were Here. We’ve also done performances for Burns Night, Heritage Open Days and Halloween. It is a pleasure to work with such talented writers.

The writers that I’ve worked with as a copy-editor this year have had some great success. I loved going to Chris Ord’s book launch for his excellent novel Becoming and it’s great to see that Nicole Helfrich’s book Descent to Hell has been released internationally. Similarly, it’s great to see Paul McDonagh and Graham Bain‘s books available to buy now.

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Oh, and I started working on my novel again. I’ve written more in the last three months than I have done in six years. That’s a pretty good feeling. The feedback I’ve had from performing extracts and sharing the work has been awesome and has really spurred me on to actually finish it. It’s not easy but I’m actually really enjoying spending time with the characters and delving deeper into their lives. A couple of weeks ago, Mike Cockburn of Sogno Ltd did a session with Elementary Writers on Myers-Briggs Personality Types and that’s given me a lot of food for thought.

Personally, I’ve also had one of the best years of my life. The Boy Wonder and I moved into our first house together in August and, on 14th November in Oman, he asked me to marry him! I honestly couldn’t be happier.

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It was a true thrill going to see my dad be awarded an MBE for services to welfare reform and charity. It was such a special day, going to Buckingham Palace with my parents and brother to see my dad’s hard work rewarded. I’ve never felt so proud in my life. We enjoyed a lovely afternoon tea at the Grosvenor Hotel in London afterwards.

A very proud day

In other news, I finally hit my Slimming World target as well as being nominated – and winning – Woman of the Year and Miss Slinky at my group. I’ve made some great friends at the group and I will continue to go in order to control my weight.

Favourite film by a country mile was GhostbustersI didn’t want to see it as I was worried it would be a disappointed but I loved it. Kate McKinnon is my hero!

I’ve read so many fantastic books this year in a range of genres. I loved Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories which was a collection of his favourite chilling tales. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert was a real inspiration – any creative person should read this fantastic book. I read my first ever Agatha Christie this year and I’m proud to boast that I guessed who was responsible for The Murder of Roger Ackroyd very early on. The Yellow Wallpaper was an utter revelation. There are loads of other wonderful books that have stayed with me this year – you can check them out on my Goodreads page.

That has got to be Formation by Beyonce although I have been known to sing it as ‘Ok, ladies, now let’s get information’. The Boy Wonder and I went to see Hans Zimmer Live and that concert just took my breath away. Seeing him perform the music from The Dark Knight as well as being introduced to The Electro Suite and other incredible compositions has stayed with me ever since.

At the start of 2016, I’d been made redundant and a house purchase had fallen through. That was not a great start but since then, I’ve never looked back. Looking outward, I’m devastated by the events all over the world. Syria, the US election, the EU referendum in Britain and the fallout have just been terrifying. Every year, I worry that we – as humans – are losing touch with humanity. I can’t believe the way people are behaving towards one another – usually because of difference. That’s just heartbreaking.

My resolutions for 2017 are too try not to over-commit. I get very excited by the opportunities offered to me and find it difficult to say no but sometimes that negatively impacts on me.

I’m hoping 2017 will be a better year for people. I really hope we can find a way to work together to bring about positive change in the world – regardless of difference.

Review of 2016: Jacky Collins

Over 2016, I’ve met lots of fantastic people. Jacky Collins, organiser of Newcastle Noir, is one of those people. Jacky not only assists me with the hosting of Noir at the Bar, she is a wonderful friend who is enthusiastic about crime fiction. Jacky has given support and encouragement to hundreds of writers and I find her energy a great source of inspiration.

I’m so thrilled to have Jacky on the blog to review her 2016. Thanks, Jacky, for being a fabulous friend, here’s to many more happy years! 

Vic x

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When considering a favourite memory to do with the professional, rather than focus on the murky waters of Higher Education, I’d prefer to look back on all the exciting things that have happened through the amazing world of crime fiction. Although the hosting of a very successful Newcastle Noir crime writing festival in April was, without doubt, a major high point in the year, my favourite memory came from another similar event at the end of the year – Iceland Noir. I was thrilled when the organisers of the festival had invited me to moderate 2 panels – Dangerous Nordic Women (Jónína Leosdóttir, Sara Blaedel, Sólveig Pálsdottir and Lena Leetolainen) and Queer Crime (Mari Hannah, Lilja Sigurđardóttir and David Swatling). Of course, without hesitation, I said ‘yes’, especially relishing the opportunity to discuss crime writing with an alternative focus which the 2nd panel provided. Little did I know that I was in for an even bigger surprise with this session – both Val McDermid (Queen of Tartan Noir) and Yrsa Sigurđardóttir both wanted in on the debate. I have to confess that the inclusion of two such world-renowned crime writers made me rather nervous. However, the skillful interaction of the panellists and the warm reception of the audience made this the highlight of my year in all this noir.

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If I’m allowed, I’d have to say there have been a series of special moments with one common denominator – the meeting of like-minded women around creative projects. So I have to say a huge thank you to Vic Watson, Shelley Day, Donna-Lisa Healy and Sue Spencer. Not all our ventures are focused on crime writing, but the opportunity to channel my energies into culturally creative endeavours really helped me get over what had been a difficult time emotionally and professionally.

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This is an even more difficult decision to make what with my own private reading and the books that we read for Newcastle City Library’s European Crime Fiction group. Nevertheless, I think I’d have to say Quentin Bates’ Thin Ice since it reunited me with my all-time favourite crime fiction character Icelandic police officer Sergeant Gunnhildur and also because the novel offers a very interesting portrayal of the mother/daughter dynamic. If you’re not familiar with this author’s work, and you’re into Nordic Noir, I highly recommend his Gunnhildur series to you.

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As part of my job as Senior Lecturer in Film and TV studies at Northumbria University I often include Latin American cinema in my modules. So when the Tyneside Cinema approached me to provide the introductions for a short season of New Argentine Cinema, I leapt at the chance.  Amongst the works screened was an earlier Pablo Trapero film Lion’s Den (Leonera, 2008). Filmed inside a real prison, with real inmates, this hard-hitting film explores motherhood as experienced behind bars and also questions the lack of equality found in Argentina’s justice system. As ever, Trapero uses his work to ask deeply probing questions of society, the unexpected ending providing much cause for contemplation and discussion.

I can identify 2 downsides, these were juggling too many balls and not being able to let go of the past. Why I have mentioned both these aspects is because I reckon they have both prevented me from making all the progress that I could have this year. I’m hoping for 2017 that I can prioritise better and cut the ties to those aspects of my life that no longer serve.

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As well as what I’ve said above, I’ve also determined to focus on something blogger Noelle Holten posted this month on Facebook: ‘If you’re doing what you love, everything in the Universe will gravitate towards you. This is how the world works. Don’t waste time impressing others or doing something that doesn’t feed your soul. Take a leap of faith and jump into your passion’. That passion for me is crime fiction, film & TV drama.

More than anything from 2017, I hope to take steps that bring me closer to changing careers paths and also to be able to spend more time in Iceland, a country that I believe holds the key to that change.

Review of 2016: Nicole Helfrich

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

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

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

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

Review of 2016: David McCaffrey

It was a pleasure meeting David McCaffrey when he travelled all the way from Teeside to North Shields to see Elementary Writers perform at Old Low Light. David will be performing at Noir at the Bar NE on 22nd February, 2017. 

Thanks so much for taking the time to review your 2016, David! 

Vic x

David McCaffrey

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2016?
I think the moment I realised the project I was working on with Stephen Sayers was really coming together was perhaps my favourite professional moment. It was a project very special to him and I wanted to do it right for him, so at the moment when you read something back and think ‘that’s not bad!’ was pretty special. That said, being added to the guest list for Noir at the Bar 2017 in Newcastle was pretty special too!

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And how about a favourite moment from 2016 generally?
Sitting in a cinema watching ‘Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice‘! Waited my whole life to see those two together on the big screen! Although seeing the ‘Wonder Woman’ trailer for the first time was pretty cool too!

Favourite book in 2016?
The Cleaner‘ – Mark Dawson.

Favourite film in 2016?
As above!

Favourite song of the year?
Hmm, possibly Calvin Harris/Rihanna ‘This Is What You Came For’.

Any downsides for you in 2016?
Realising that I had mental health issues which was also an upside as I was able to seek help.

Are you making resolutions for 2017?
Write more, hopefully start a publishing business with Kelly.

What are you hoping for from 2017?
To have success with the project with Stephen and hopefully write a story that really captivates readers. By Britain’s Next Bestseller…yeah, that’ll do!

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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?!

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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.

Cakes!

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.

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

helen-cadbury

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.