Tag Archives: Noir at the Bar

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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**Perfect Dead Blog Tour** Extract #LoveBooksGroup #Blog Tour

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I’m truly delighted to host Jackie Baldwin as part of her blog tour for her second DI Frank Farrell novel, ‘Perfect Dead‘. Thanks to #LoveBooksGroup for arranging this tour. 

I’ve known Jackie for two and a half years, having first met her at Crime and Publishment. Since then, we’ve hung out at events like Harrogate, Bloody Scotland and Killer Women as well as Noir at the Bar. Jackie is one of the kindest people you will ever meet – don’t be fooled by her dark crime writing! 

Today, we have the pleasure of an extract from ‘Perfect Dead‘ to whet your appetites. 

Vic x

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Perfect Dead: Extract

Standing at the bottom of the drive, her eyes misted with tears, she looked back up at the brooding Victorian house with no sign of the maggots crawling within. She texted her elder sister, Maureen.

I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I’m on my way home. Ailish. x

Walking towards the bus stop, she heard her name being called. Surprised, she glanced behind her. When she saw who it was, she smiled and walked towards him. The bus wasn’t due for another hour. She had time.

Soon she was ensconced in a comfy armchair, knees drawn up under her, a warm mug of hot chocolate clasped in her hands. As she poured out her woes he leaned forward attentively. The drink was comforting, strong and sweet.

She paused. She didn’t feel so good. Her eyes couldn’t focus. She struggled to stand up, but her legs wouldn’t support her and she collapsed back onto the chair. Alarmed now, her heart flopped in an irregular rhythm as she tried to make sense of what was happening to her.

‘Help me,’ she whispered, looking up at him. This couldn’t be happening. She didn’t understand.

He remained where he was, a creeping malevolence revealing itself to her. She was on the verge of losing consciousness when he picked up her unresisting body and carried her into another room. He laid her on a thick plastic sheet.

A last tear tipped from her eyes.

She would never see her home again.

**

About ‘Perfect Dead’.

Each murder brings him one step closer to the perfect death.

Ex-priest, DI Farrell is called on to investigate a gruesome death in rural Scotland. All evidence points to suicide, except for one loose end: every light in the cottage was switched off. Why would he kill himself in the dark?

The question sparks a murder investigation that leads to the mysterious Ivy House, home of ‘The Collective,’ a sinister commune of artists who will do anything to keep their twisted secrets hidden.

And when the remains of a young girl are uncovered on a barren stretch of coastline, Farrell realises that there is something rotten in this tight-knit community. Now he must track down a ruthless killer before another person dies, this time much closer to home…

***

About Jackie Baldwin, 
Author of ‘Perfect Dead‘.

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Jackie Baldwin is a Scottish crime writer. Her debut crime novel, Dead Man’s Prayer, was published by Killer Reads, Harper Collins, on 2nd September 2016. The second in the series, Perfect Dead was published on 15th June 2018.

For most of her working life, Jackie has been a solicitor specialising in Family and Criminal Law. However, she now practices as a hypnotherapist in Dumfries which is where her novels are set. Married, with two grown-up children, she has filled her empty nest with Golden Retrievers. She can often be found in a forest walking the dogs, covered in mud and with twigs in her hair. 

Guest Post: Nicola East on Noir at the Bar London

 
So, you’re the brave soul taking Noir at the Bar to London – what possessed you?! 

I’m wondering the same thing myself!!! However, I had such a great time organising the one at Hull Noir that I was itching to do it again. Since I live in the East End, I thought Whitechapel was an ideal place to start the London NATB tradition. I hope it’s the first of many.

Where and when will it be? 

It’s going to be at LHT Urban Bar, 176 Whitechapel Rd, E1 1BJ on Monday 26th March. Doors open at 6 and the event will run from 7 until 9:30 (ish!).

Whitechapel is a perfect location given its history and links to one of the most infamous unsolved crimes of all time.
The bar is very cool and the management there are really looking forward to hosting such a great literary event. Given our list of authors, location and setting, I believe this will be the start of putting London firmly on the well established NATB map.
Who’s on the bill? 
Leye Adenle
Danielle Ramsay
Vicky Newham
Andy Martin
Mark Hill
William Shaw
Leigh Russell
Vaseem Khan
Steph Broadribb
Johana Gustawsson
What can we expect from the night? 
The evening will be a relaxed affair with readings from some amazing established authors plus some wonderful new blood! There will also be the opportunity to put your name in the hat to volunteer to be the wildcard entry.
To put your name down to read at a future Noir at the Bar in London, Nikki is going to be posting in the Facebook page for NATB London so people could message her via that or email nicola.east1@outlook.com

Getting to Know You: Jackie McLean

My very good friend, Jackie McLean, author of ‘Toxic’ and ‘Shadows’, is here to chew the fat today. Jackie has appeared on this blog a few times but she’s always such fun and has plenty of advice to give aspiring writers. 

My thanks to Jackie – for sharing her time and wisdom with us in addition to being a wonderful, thoughtful friend.

Vic x

Tell us about your novels.
At the moment, I have two crime fiction books that are published by ThunderPoint Publishing Ltd:

Toxic – An anonymous tip-off sparks a desperate race against the clock to track down the illegal storage of the deadly toxin that was responsible for the Bhopal disaster, the world’s worst industrial accident. However the two senior investigating officers are as volatile as the toxin they’re trying to find, and tensions run high. For the lead character, DI Donna Davenport, the investigation becomes personal. She’s recently broken up with her partner Libby, but Libby’s brother is being set up as a suspect, and Donna struggles with the conflict.

Shadows – When DI Donna Davenport is called out to investigate a body washed up on Arbroath beach, it looks like a routine murder inquiry. However, it doesn’t take long before it begins to take on a more sinister shape. There are similarities with a previous murder, and now a woman who is connected with them goes missing. Meanwhile, Donna can’t shake off the feeling that she’s being watched, and she is convinced that Jonas Evanton has returned to seek his revenge on her for his downfall. Fearing they may be looking for a serial killer, the trail leads Donna and her new team in an unexpected direction. Because it’s not a serial killer – it’s worse.

What inspired them?
I originally wrote Toxic because I wanted to write something set in my home town, Arbroath. It’s by the sea, and has caves in the cliffs, so a smuggling story seemed obvious. In that first version, it was genetic modification (of food) experiments that were being smuggled in and out of the country, but I couldn’t really do anything exciting with that.  I needed a dangerous substance that behaved in particular ways, and my nephew – a forensic toxicologist – suggested I look at the Bhopal disaster. As soon as I learned about the substance responsible, I knew it was the one for my storyline. But the research left me deeply disturbed about what happened to the people of Bhopal, who to this day have never received justice for the blatant failures of the company responsible, and so I hope to be able to raise some awareness of that.

The storyline for Shadows came out of a discussion with a friend of mine who’s a midwife, and who told me about some of the murkier sides of her work.  She was keen to find a way to highlight what’s going on, and wanted me to write about it.

Where do you get your ideas from?
A lot of the stuff I’ve written is actually based on dreams that I’ve had. However, in recent years I’ve suffered insomnia, so have resorted to spying on people instead. I work full time, and there are always good snippets of information at meetings and in office gossip that can be built into a plot…

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
My favourite form of writing is actually screenwriting, and I’ve written some comedy pieces with my partner Allison. When we write comedy scripts together, sparks fly and the writing is just great fun. So, while I enjoy whatever it is I happen to be writing at any one time, the screenwriting with Allison is my favourite.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
The best writing advice I’ve seen came from Dr Jacky Collins, whose advice to aspiring crime writers is to get along to their nearest Noir at the Bar and get involved.  There is lots of advice out there on how to write – from style, to good writing habits – but I’ve found the best motivation and confidence-builder to me for writing has come from being around other writers, and from the tremendous support we give each other.

What can readers expect from your books?
I hope first and foremost that they’ll enjoy a gripping good read.  Characters that they can get to know and understand, and short chapters for a quick read after a hard day at work.

Beyond that, I’m interested in the relativity of crime: by that, I mean there’s always a wider context behind the actual crime that we see, and none of us really can wash our hands of that. For example, the company responsible for the Bhopal disaster clearly cut corners and ignored safety procedures that would have prevented the catastrophe. But companies cut corners all the time, largely because all of us want to buy our goods as cheaply as possible. We’re not very accepting of price tags that reflect the full costs of production – costs that relate to environmental and human pressures. If we buy cheap, it means somebody else – with less power than us – pays the full price. While I don’t want to be preachy, I do think we need to be more aware of our own contribution to the crime we see around us, and I hope my books will give a glimpse into that, too.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
You need to love and enjoy what you’re writing. If you want to take it further, and want to see it published, I’d say study the market and treat your finished work like a business. There are rules, and you need to know what these are in your particular genre. When I completed Toxic, I hadn’t thought of it in terms of genre at all, until I researched the publishing world and realised it had to “fit” somewhere, so I re-drafted it to be more compatible with the crime fiction market.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
There are a number of aspects to writing, for example the actual act of writing, researching your topic, and the writing life.

On writing itself, this is going to sound ancient, but I went to school in the days before computers were invented. There, I’ve said it! All of our work was handwritten, including all of our creative writing. When I was a kid, I wrote all the time, and find today that I can still only write creatively if it’s by hand. If I try to write directly onto the screen, it comes out like a work report. Oddly, I both like and dislike that I need to hand write first.  I enjoy the feeling of writing by hand, but it does make for double the work.

Researching your topic is really important, and should be enjoyable. If you find the research dull, you’re maybe not writing from the heart. However, you do have to be careful, especially when you’re researching for crime fiction. I inadvertently ended up on a terrorist recruitment website recently while researching smoke grenades (and I was only trying to find out if they make a noise…).

As to the writing life, meeting up with other writers and folk involved in the book world (readers, bloggers, booksellers, publishers, etc) is great. I don’t know about other genres, but in crime writing there’s a real sense of belonging and support, and I say that as someone who’s fairly shy and doesn’t find it terribly easy to do the networking stuff.

Are you writing anything at the moment?
I’m writing the third Donna Davenport book (Run), which completes a particular storyline that started in Toxic. I’ve also begun to outline two more books, and can’t quite decide which one to go for first. One is another Donna Davenport book. Here’s a sneak preview of the other one:

Death Do Us Part – Diane knows she’s the piece in her husband Rick’s deadly game. Claiming the glory when he kills her lovers – who line up to take him on, like rutting stags – keeps Rick as the undisputed crime lord, and their life of riches intact. Dutifully she plays the game. They line up. He conquers. She lives.

Then one day the rules of the game change forever. Diane falls in love with Claire. They both know Rick won’t challenge a woman – there’s no status in that. If he finds out, Diane’s life will be over.

There’s nowhere to turn for help. Claire is the crime gang’s chief mechanic, and as well as knowing where all the bodies are buried, she’s in it up to her neck.

The pair can’t risk being found together.

The only option open to them is to go on the run, but Rick has a reputation to defend, and they’ll have to outplay him at his own game if they’re ever to be truly free.

I also can’t decide if it’s crime or romance – what do you think?

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
I’ve recently begun to run creative writing sessions, along with a former colleague, for men who are in prison or who have recently been released. Each time we meet, there’s a new favourite moment, and I’ve been blown away by the power of creative writing to mend broken lives. For example, one of the guys, who protested that writing wasn’t his thing and that he couldn’t do it, eventually wrote a poem. He declared that the experience had given him a bigger high than any drugs. That’s priceless, and it’s what I love about writing. Now I’m welling up.

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: June Lorraine Roberts

Our penultimate 2017 reviewer is the lovely June Lorraine Roberts. 

Tomorrow is my annual review so I’d just like to thank all of the participants who’ve given their precious time and shared their experiences with us. 

Vic xDo you have a favourite memory professionally from 2017?
I was a Bouchercon Toronto panelist: So Many Books, So Little Time and was very proud. Akashic Books published my flash fiction – The Hong Kong Deal, and I joined Sisters in Crime. All great things.

And how about a favourite moment from 2017 generally?
It was an incredible year for making new friends. From our US winter home to Bouchercon, and Noir at the Bar Toronto, it’s been terrific.

Favourite book in 2017? 
It’s a toss-up: The Second Girl by David Swinson plus spending hours with David at Noir at the Bar and Blood on the Tracks by Barbara Nickless – I hope to meet her one day.

Favourite film in 2017?
Another toss-up: Atomic Blonde (tough & zany) or Baby Driver (all-round fabulous).

Favourite song of the year? 
Ed Shereen – Shape of You: great hook and rhythm.

Any downsides for you in 2017?
My brother died December 1st, he was funny, profane and loved beer. I feel hollow with him gone.

Are you making resolutions for 2018?
Nope.

What are you hoping for from 2018?
Further flash fiction published, and my first short story. More writing, less thinking about writing. Also new friends from Bouchercon in St. Pete’s and my community at large. Reading and dealing.

Review of 2017: Nikki East

Our final St Nick of today is Nikki East. It was a pleasure getting to know Nikki better during Newcastle Noir then seeing her again at Harrogate and Bloody Scotland. 

Nikki, along with Nick Quantrill and Nick Triplow, were responsible for Hull Noir which included a special Noir at the Bar. Anyway, let’s hear all about it from Nikki herself. 

I hope you enjoy the rest of your day – check back for another end of year review tomorrow. 

Vic x

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2017?
Without doubt, Hull Noir. Nick Triplow, Nick Quantrill and I took over Iceland Noir this year and hosted it in Hull as part of the City of Culture celebrations. Our feedback has been amazing and we’ve been asked to do it again already. It took a lot of organising however the results speak for themselves. We had the most tremendous guest authors and moderators who made the whole event worthwhile for everyone attending but was very special for us as it was our very first one.

And how about a favourite moment from 2017 generally?
As part of Hull Noir, I was able to introduce and host Hull’s very first Noir at the Bar. I was nervous as the whole NATB concept is so special to so many however, again, it went very well and we had some wonderful readings. I feel very honoured and privileged to be part of it and hopefully will be part of more in the future.

Best book of 2017?
Abir Mukherjee’s second novel A Necessary Evil published by Harvill Secker. It continues with the adventures of Captain Wyndham and Sergeant Banerjee in 1920 Calcutta. This and the award winning debut, A Rising Man, are wonderfully written with brilliant characters that thoroughly transport you back to another time and a whole other world. Simply magnificent and a must read.
Favourite film this year?
Guardians of the Galaxy 2! I just love these movies!! I get very little time to spend with my son now he’s an adult and we’re both very busy with conflicting schedules but we managed to find time to go and see this together. What a laugh, great music plus I had good company.
Favourite song of the year?
Bruno Mars 24k Magic album. Although the album came out last year, I only downloaded it this year. I love it. My favourite track is Perm. It makes me dance about like no one is watching whether I’m in my home, on the tube or walking down Whitechapel High Street!!  I do get looks but that song is just soooo good!!! 😉
Any downsides this year?< /em>My downsides are very limited to be honest. Consequently all I’d say is I don’t have enough time to get to all of the amazingly book related events now I live here in London.
Are you making resolutions for 2018? Resolutions!??! Hmmmm, maybe start planning for another festival, host more NATBs and who knows, maybe land a full time position somewhere in this awesome industry. Fingers crossed people! 🤞
What are you hoping for from 2018?Mostly just to build on the foundations I’ve laid in 2017. Onwards and upwards is always my mantra. I’ve had THE BEST 2017 and all I can hope is that 2018 brings even more amazing opportunities for me and mine.