Tag Archives: noir

Getting to Know You: Daniel James

Over the last couple of years, I’ve got to know Daniel James, author of ‘The Unauthorised Biography of Ezra Maas’. I’ve been lucky enough to host him at Noir at the Bar a few times as well as being invited by Daniel to read my own work at his ‘After Dark’ event for Books on Tyne. 

Daniel will be in conversation with Jacky Collins at Waterstones, Newcastle, on Wednesday 30th January. Tickets are £3 and I’m reliably informed that there are a few left – reserve your space now!

My thanks to Daniel for taking the time to chat to us. 

Vic x

daniel james, zurich, october 2017Tell us about your book.
The Unauthorised Biography of Ezra Maas is based on the real life story of Ezra Maas, a British artist who became famous in the late 1960s, but who turned his back on fame and created his greatest artworks from the shadows, before eventually disappearing altogether in mysterious circumstances in the early 2000s. I became interested in telling the true story of Maas’s life and presumed death, but nothing could have prepared me for the truth that the book uncovers.

It quickly occurred to me that in searching for the true story of Maas’s life, travelling around the world to the cities he lived, visiting the galleries where he created his work, and interviewing those who knew and collaborated with him, that my role as biographer was essentially a kind of literary detective. As such, I consciously decided to write these chapters of the book in the style of a detective story, a page-turning mystery thriller through a postmodern, existential lens. However, the book is also very much a biography and there are chapters dedicated to documenting Maas’s life from 1950 onwards in a more journalistic style, accompanied by reproductions of authentic archival material and correspondence, including news clippings, letters, emails, phone transcripts and more. If one half of the book is like a detective story, the other half is a biography written by an investigative journalist. There are a lot of different styles and techniques being employed throughout the text, but they come together to create a new kind of book where readers are challenged to become detectives themselves, following in the footsteps of my investigation, as I attempt to separate fact from fiction and history from myth, page by page, chapter by chapter.

What inspired it?
Ezra Maas’s incredible life story was the inspiration. In 2011, I received an anonymous phone call suggesting the true story of Maas would make an interesting biography and everything led from there. It didn’t take long for my research to reveal a number of contradictions and inconsistencies in the authorised version of Maas’s life, and naturally, the journalist in me began asking questions. The more I asked, the more secrets I uncovered, and I soon found myself being warned off the story. Of course, as soon as that happened, I knew I had found something special and there was no turning back.

Alongside that, I’ve always been interested in the relationship between truth and fiction, the self and reality, as a writer. And in many ways, Maas’s life was the perfect gateway into those subjects and themes. His life, and my interests as a writer, were perfectly aligned and the phone call that set me on the path to writing his biography couldn’t have come at a more ideal moment. I was in the right place at the right time.

I recently read an interview with a writer who described her latest work as ‘existential noir’ because of the way it used the structure of a traditional mystery story to explore unanswerable questions of being and knowing – what can we ever know with any real certainty, about ourselves or the world – and that’s very much the territory I like work in – crafting stories around questions of identity and reality that lead us down the rabbit hole, and force us to confront our deepest subconscious fears.

What do you like most about writing? What do you dislike (if anything)?
I’m happiest when I’m writing regularly because it feels like I’m fulfilling my potential and doing what I’m supposed to be doing with my time. Kafka supposedly said that ‘a writer who isn’t writing, is a monster courting insanity’ and I completely understand what he meant. Whenever I’m not writing, I feel like I should be, and when it’s going well, it’s like electricity flowing through me – it’s a serious high, but more than that, it also provides a deeper sense of purpose and satisfaction.

And on a lighter note, it’s great fun. Who doesn’t want to make up stories and let their imagination run free? I love the freedom that writing gives me. I can create entire worlds, people, and histories. I’ve always been a daydreamer and writing allows me to share my dreams and imaginings with others.

I don’t really dislike anything about writing itself, but like any physical or mental endeavour, there are days when it can really feel like hard work. Over the last few years, I’ve learned to listen to my body and not force myself to write when it isn’t flowing. You can still work on your book without actually writing. You can read for research, visit a location, watch a film, listen to music, take a walk. Professional athletes warm up before an event, they stretch, eat and drink the right things, and get their bodies ready to perform. Writers need to do the same with their minds. Sometimes it’s about clearing your mind to allow space for the ideas to come in, other times it’s about tuning into a certain frequency, atmosphere or mood, and channelling a particular character or scene.

Do you find time to read, if so what are you reading at the moment?
I love reading. It’s one of my great pleasures in life and it’s ultimately the reason I wanted to become a writer myself. I try to get through a novel every couple of weeks if I can. The books I return to the most are detective novels – Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, James M Cain to modern greats like James Lee Burke – and also postmodern works. At university, I specialised in fiction from 1940-1990 and that’s the era I find myself returning to the most when I’m looking for something new to read. I read a lot of comic books and graphic novels too (I practically grew up on Marvel Comics in particular). I’m a fan of Science Fiction and many other genres, and I read quite a bit of non-fiction, mostly literary and cultural theory, but it depends on what I’m working on at the time. I read a lot of books on contemporary art history, biographies and journalism when I was researching Ezra Maas, and I can imagine I’ll do the same with future novels. 

Currently sitting at the top of my to be read list currently are two excellent new novels – Three Dreams in the Key of G by Marc Nash and The Study Circle by Haroun Khan. The last book I bought before those was by the late, great Mark Fisher, a cultural theorist who blogged under the name K-Punk. I highly recommend his work to anyone who has yet to come across it. Mark’s writing introduced me to the concept of Hauntology, which I touch on in my own book.

Earlier this year, I also read the Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer after being intrigued by Alex Garland’s adaptation of the first in the series, Annihilation. I’ve got a huge stack of books waiting to be read though. I love buying books and I love reading, but I do take long breaks when I’m actively writing myself, so this has resulted in an increasingly expanding To Be Read pile that I’ll probably never get through!

Which author(s) has/have had the biggest influence on your writing?
Paul Auster. Raymond Chandler. Samuel Beckett. James Joyce. Thomas Pynchon. Philip Pullman. Philip K Dick. Jorge Luis Borges. Alasdair Grey. Flann O’Brien. David Lynch.

Where do you get your ideas from?
Everywhere. My life. Other people’s lives. History. Dreams. Music. Films. Ideas are all around us, all of the time. You’ve just got to open your eyes, listen and be in the right frame of mind to be inspired.

Do you have a favourite scene/character/story you’ve written?
Well, the novel is the best piece of work I’ve written so far and Ezra Maas is probably the most complex character I’ve brought to life, not just because he is a real person, but because there are so many conflicting stories about him. I’ve tried to reflect this in the book by capturing the multiple, overlapping narratives and descriptions, allowing them to coexist alongside each other so that the emphasis is on the reader of the book to play detective themselves and separate fact from fiction in Ezra’s life.

What are you working on at the moment?
I’m about halfway through a second novel, which I hope to finish within the year. I actually started working on it in 2013, but Ezra Maas took over my life , so I put the other book on hold temporarily. Now that the Unauthorised Biography’ is out, I can focus on new projects, including returning to my work-in-progress second novel. Once that’s completed, I plan to work my way through the other novels I have planned, although I wouldn’t rule out one of those new ideas becoming my second novel – it just depends which idea excites me the most.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given (and who was it from)?
“Write the books you want to read.” 

Philip Pullman said that to me when I met him at the Durham Book Festival in 2015. It was very reassuring advice to receive from such a master storyteller, particularly as that’s exactly what I’ve always tried to do. I’ve been writing stories since the age of four or five and have always written for myself. If the story excites and interests me, if I want to keep turning the page to find out what happens next, if I find myself disappearing into the world of the book and thinking about it every waking second, then I know I’m on the right track.

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
I’m somewhere in between. Generally speaking, I like to follow my intuition and let the story guide me, rather than plotting the entire book out in advance. I have a destination and a road map in my mind, but it has enough wide-open space to allow me to go off on unexpected adventures and detours as and when I need to. I might be the author of the book, but it’s a process of discovery for me too. An author is almost like a pioneer heading off into the wilderness. They discover the trail and share it with the readers who follow them.

Of course, The Unauthorised Biography of Ezra Maas is based on real events, so it required several years of research, travel, interviews, and quite meticulous planning. At the same time, I remember the moment when I decided to write the book very vividly and I could already see the story fully formed in my mind. It all came to me in an instant. It was a Big Bang moment. One second there was nothing and then… everything. I knew where to start, how I wanted to present the story, with letters and emails and phone transcripts, and I knew exactly how it would end. But it also surprised me on multiple occasions. It kept me guessing all the way through with its twists and turns. It genuinely had a life of its own, sometimes in quite scary ways, almost as if the story couldn’t be contained on the page and wanted to bleed out into the world. Perhaps because it’s based on a true story, it has a special kind of power that makes it dangerous. I may have written it, but I don’t think even I know the book’s true potential.

This book, more than any other idea I’ve ever had, felt like it had already been written in a strange way and I was simply receiving it, like a transmitter, from somewhere out in the ether and it was my job to put it on the page; bring it to life.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
If writing books is really what you want to do, if it’s genuinely your dream in life, then don’t ever, ever give up. Keep going, keep believing in yourself, and keep writing, no matter what. You can and will make it happen, but only if you keep believing and keep writing.

What’s been your proudest writing-related moment?
The moment I found out the book was going to be published will always stand out in my mind. I didn’t tell anyone – not a single person – for about a week as I was worried I would jinx it somehow. It was something that I wanted so much and so badly that I didn’t want to do anything to jeopardise it. About two years after that, I walked out onto the stage at the Newcastle Book Festival in front of a crowd of about 80 people, including my family and friends, and I read an extract from the book for the very first time. I was introduced on the night by Professor Brian Ward, we premiered a documentary video about Ezra Maas featuring the award-winning writer and artist Bryan Talbot, and we finished up with a Q&A where I was interviewed by Dr Claire Nally. Everything went as planned and afterwards we celebrated with cocktails created especially for the book at a late night after-party in a speakeasy-style basement bar called The Poison Cabinet in Newcastle. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect night and it was definitely one of my proudest moments.

The long-awaited launch of my novel with a trio of fantastic events in the North East, featuring guest authors and speakers and more than 150 attendees in total. This included a return to Books on Tyne and a special late-night event afterwards entitled Fiction After Dark with cocktails, live music and readings by Elementary Sisterhood. And of course, there was the launch itself at the wonderful Forum Books in Corbridge. It was a really lovely evening and a special moment for me. I can’t recommend Forum Books enough and I think it’s really important to support independent bookstores and local businesses

My next event will be at Waterstones Newcastle – the biggest bookstore in the North East – on Wednesday 30 January at 7pm, so that will be another proud moment. I’ll be reading an extract from the book, answering questions from the brilliant Dr Jacky Collins, and signing copies of my novel at the end. Tickets are £3 and on sale now.

2018 Review: Nick Quantrill

Nick Quantrill is a regular end of year reviewer and I’ve got to say only good boys and girls get invited back onto this blog! Seriously, though, I’ve known Nick for many years now and he’s an absolute gem. It’s my pleasure to have Nick here to review his year, and what a year it’s been! 

Thanks, Nick, for always being a willing participant. 

Vic x

Nick Quantrill

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
I absolutely do! I started the year working on a novel I wasn’t sure would necessarily have a home, and I was probably struggling with it because of that. Unexpectedly, the rights to my Joe Geraghty trilogy reverted to me in the summer and the ace Fahrenheit Press scooped them up. It’s given me the impetus to revisit Joe and I’m hard at work on the fourth in the trilogy…

Geraghty covers (FP)

And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
It’s been grim times for my football teams, Hull City and North Ferriby United, but I hugely enjoyed the World Cup. My seven-year-old daughter is football mad, too, so we watched a lot of it together. We also had a family holiday to New York, which was pretty memorable.

Favourite book in 2018?
As ever, I’ve read loads of brilliant books this year. If I was picking an absolute favourite, I’d have to go for November Road by Lou Berney. Set against the backdrop of the John F Kennedy assassination, it’s part-noir, part-road trip, part-redemptive tale. I also loved Eva Dolan’s This Is How It Ends and Joseph Knox’s The Smiling Man. Looking to 2019, I was lucky enough to read Blood and Sugar, a fantastic debut due out in January from Laura Shepherd-Robinson.

Favourite film in 2018?
I’m not a huge film watcher (does Alvin and the Chipmunks with my daughter count?), but I do love a good boxset. Dysfunctional families seems to be a theme, as I really enjoyed Succession and Trust.

Favourite song of the year?
Sticking to being a bit old-fashioned, I love my vinyl, so tend to think about albums rather than individual songs. Like books, the list could go on and on, but I’ll go for Merrie Land by The Good, The Bad and The Queen. It’s Damon Albarn’s Brexit album and it’s all a bit unsettling, weird and discomforting. Whatever vehicle he uses, he’s always interesting.

Any downsides for you in 2018?
See above – Brexit. I’m not having it. What a state of affairs…

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
Nope. I’ve never liked them, or believe you need to wait for an arbitrary date to start something. That said, the usual… bit more exercise, bit less caffeine etc …

What are you hoping for from 2019?
I’m well on with Geraghty 4, so all being well, it’ll see the light of day in 2019. Lots of plots floating around in my head, so looking forward to writing more of them. Away from the writing, but complimenting it, I hope we get to put on Hull Noir again next November. Watch this space re our funding bid.

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

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.

Review of 2017: Nick Quantrill

Another of our Saint Nicks is Nick Quantrill. Nick has kindly been contributing to the annual reviews on this very blog since they started in 2012. 

Nick has been a friend of mine for many years and he’s an absolute star. Thankfully Nick’s talent and hard work is being recognised but I’ll let him explain more. 

Merry Christmas, Nick, here’s to a brilliant 2018!

Vic x

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2017?
It has to be Hull Noir, a crime writing festival I worked on alongside Nick Triplow and Nikki East as part of the UK City of Culture celebrations. It was something that was on the radar from the moment Hull was shortlisted for the award in 2013, but it took up a huge amount of time and effort as the year progressed. Looking back, to entice the likes of Martina Cole, Mark Billingham, John Connolly and many others to take part was incredible. The turnout and reception the festival received was also incredible, so we’ve got some serious thinking to do about what might come next. 

And how about a favourite moment from 2017 generally?
The whole 2017 UK City of Culture programme in Hull has been amazing. Plenty people either mocked or scratched their heads when my city was announced as the host, and maybe with good cause, but it feels like perceptions are changing. The city has had a real buzz about it this year and I know Hull Noir visitors enjoyed their stay. 

Favourite book in 2017?
I’ve been lucky to have so much great reading pushed my way via chairing and interviewing at various events and festivals. The year started strongly with The Fatal Tree by Jake Arnott, took in brilliant debuts like, Sirens by Joseph Knox and featured some reading for pleasure from the likes of Stav Sherez and Michael Connelly. I’ve also received some proofs of exciting 2018 titles. Keep your eyes peeled for This Is How It Ends by Eva Dolan and Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh. 

Favourite film in 2017?
It’s bad, but I’m not even sure I saw a new film at the cinema this year. Box set wise, The Deuce from David Simon and George Pelecanos tackled a tough subject admirably. Peaky Blinders seems to have rediscovered its mojo and Bosch continues to impress. 

Favourite song of the year?
I’m old-school enough to think in terms of albums and even buy them on vinyl. The Navigator by Hurray For The Riff Raff blew me away. Alynda Segarra is the business. It’s an album that mixes up folk, country, doo wop, post-punk and everything in between, but has a fire and anger to it about the state of the world.

Any downsides for you in 2017?
On a personal level, Hull Noir and various other writing projects saw my own novel writing grind to a bit of a halt. There were a couple of false starts, which were totally my fault, but generally, it hasn’t been a good year in terms of producing new material. On the plus side, I’ve developed new skills and I’m proud of the feature pieces I produced for the 2017 UK City of Culture website, but I know what I need to do in 2018.

Words can’t describe the loss of Helen Cadbury to the writing world, but as readers and writers we’ve lost a friend and colleague. Writers are lucky to live on through their words, and there’s some comfort to be found in Helen’s final novel and poetry collection, but it’s not enough.

Are you making resolutions for 2018?
Nope. I know what I need to do, but I think formalising them as resolutions adds a layer of pressure that isn’t necessarily healthy.

What are you hoping for from 2018?
The priority is to get a new novel finished. I’ve broken ground on it and maybe a sort-of enforced break hasn’t hurt, but I’m ready to be a writer again. I enjoy the chairing opportunities that come my way, so hope to receive a few more invites. I also want to play my part in Hull building on such a positive year.

Review of 2017: L.V. Hay

Following in the footsteps of fellow Orenda author Thomas Enger, the lovely L.V. Hay reviews her 2017 today.

I’d like to thank Lucy and her stablemates at Orenda Books for taking the time to review their 2017 as well as their intrepid publisher Karen Sullivan for coordinating them so adroitly! 

Vic x

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2017?
Got to be not only publishing my crime debut The Other Twin with Orenda Books, but seeing my baby in WH Smith! I’ve always dreamed of seeing my novel on bookshelves, so to see it in a shop I go in all the time was amazing. I loved too that so many of my friends and people I know online took pictures of themselves with my book too. The support and goodwill has been wonderful and humbling.

And how about a favourite moment from 2017 generally?
I am blessed with a wonderful family and life generally, so it is hard to pick. I think this year though it was Halloween — it went on for what seems like ages because half term came early, so we ended up going to half a dozen Halloween events! I love seeing the kids dressed up and running about; this year it was especially clear nights all week too, we ended up in a haunted wood at one point.

Favourite book in 2017?
This is a really tough one, because I’ve read SO many great books this year! I think I can narrow it down to three: The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne (a brilliantly flawed, enigmatic female lead in a compelling scenario – my favourite);  The End of the World Running Club by Adrian Walker (been out a few years, but satisfied my dystopian leanings and an unusual male lead and story of redemption); plus The Mine by Antti Tuomainen – a fellow Orenda author – I’m a sucker for a hitman story, so to see one in an eco thriller too was just fab.

Favourite film in 2017?
I think Blade Runner 2049 was my favourite film this year. I loved the big ideas in it, plus the film noir-style mystery. Plus the way it revealed the seedy underbelly of the future, making commentary about the way things are now, was masterful. It’s a film with many layers, just like all Denis Villeneuve’s movies are. It requires repeat viewings to fully be appreciated. I like that blockbusters aren’t so shallow any more.

Favourite song of the year?
It’s a bit of an old one, but we love Uptown Funk by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars in my house. This one never fails to get us dancing around the kitchen. We also like anything by The Weekend.

Any downsides for you in 2017?
The sexual harassment/abuse allegations coming out of Hollywood and Parliament have been really tough — my day job is working as a script editor for movies, so obviously I know some people who have been directly affected by all this. What’s been toughest for me though is the number of people, including women, lining up to minimise people’s experiences, saying they’re ‘overreacting’ or ‘mistaken’ and a ‘smokescreen’ for those affected by ‘real’ abuse. No wonder it’s taken until 2017 for this to hit the spotlight. That said, I think a sea of change is happening at last.

Are you making resolutions for 2018? 
I rarely make resolutions, but I do look at the year ahead and decide what I would like to achieve and  when by (something so many people forget). I always write at least one book a year, whilst editing up to two others. This year, I’d like to try and write something else in addition to my crime novels. A dystopian YA piece maybe, or perhaps a feel-good piece about relationships in the style of Jojo Moyes, Eva Woods or Rowan Coleman. I have lots of ideas so will have to pin something down in my brain first. We’ll see!

What are you hoping for from 2018?
A bestseller would be cool; or perhaps some translations of my existing books. But really, I’m living my dream – I wanted to be a novelist and I wanted to be a script editor and I’m doing both! I’m so lucky and realise that, so want to try and help other writers achieve their dreams in 2018.

Guest Post: Nic Parker on Hull Noir 2017

The dedicated Nic Parker, author of ‘Descent to Hell‘ travelled all the way from Germany to attend the inaugural Hull Noir. 

I was gutted not to be there myself but I know Nic is the perfect person to tell us all about the weekend. Thanks to Nic for sharing her weekend with us! 

Vic x

Hull Noir 
By Nic Parker

Hull Noir was brought to life as part of Hull being City of Culture 2017. Reykjavik is Hull’s twin city. The Iceland Noir festival takes part in Reykjavik every other year and the following year moves to another city so this was a brilliant move for Hull.

My weekend at Hull Noir kicked off on Friday night with the Getting Carter event at the Kardomah94. Nick Triplow talked to Cathi Unsworth, introducing Ted Lewis to the audience, speaking about the life and work of the Hull-born Lewis with some of Lewis’s old friends present. Triplow said that even after researching Lewis for over ten years, he still learns new facts about him. Ted Lewis created Brit Noir but was way ahead of his time and never got acknowledged for it – until now. Nick Triplow has done Ted Lewis proud in bringing this literary hero of Hull back into the spotlight.

Saturday marked Hull Noir’s official start with the Sleeping with the Fishes – Hull vs. Iceland panel. As Hull and Reykjavik are twin cities both known for their fishing industries, Nick Quantrill chaired David Mark, Lilja Sigurdadottir and Quentin Bates, who discussed the different types of crime in both cities. It was intriguing to hear that while Hull has left its worst behind, crime is on the rise in Reykjavik due to the huge amount of tourists visiting each year. Transgressions in Reykjavik are higher than before and a lot of the crimes are drug-related, an issue Sigurdadottir picked up for her book Snare.

Craphouse to Powerhouse was the title of the second panel where Danielle Ramsay, Jay Stringer, Luca Veste and Paul Finch discussed post-industrial crime fiction in the North, particularly on the northern part of the M62. For me, as a foreigner, it is always fascinating to hear how that North/South way of thinking is still very much present in today’s Britain. Despite talk of gruesome murder, the authors pulled the audience right in and there was also a lot of laughter, thanks to Stringer and Veste.

The panel Into the Darkness delivered what its title promised. Jake Arnott, Emma Flint, Joseph Knox and Cathi Unsworth talked about murder set in different time periods and how protagonists don’t always have to be only good characters. Joseph Knox takes his readers to modern day parties in drug-ridden Manchester locations. Emma Flint talked about how the perception of a person based on her looks can lead us to condemn someone we don’t know and how it was even worse in 1965. Jake Arnott evokes ‘Romeville’, the underworld of 1720s London, rife with crime and even using criminal slang. When Cathi Unsworth mentioned her next book would be about a mysterious murder involving dark magic there was a murmur of anticipation in the audience.

Martina Cole celebrating her twenty-five year silver jubilee as a crime writer on stage with Barry Forshaw was a definite highlight of the festival. Cole is a wonderful person, sharp and funny – she should have her own television show. She talked about how her career started, how she wrote stories to entertain herself and how she got her first agent, with whom she has stayed all this time. Martina mentioned how many of the men and women in prison she met are not villains but often people who made one stupid decision in their life that ended up with them behind bars. She has encountered men who can’t even properly write their own names, stating that a gorgeous face is not enough in life and how very important education is. She also spoke out against the snobbery in the publishing industry that doesn’t seem to have changed much since she started out. She remains not only the bestselling author in the UK, whose books are the most stolen – ‘I might’ve nicked a few myself’, she grinned – but also an inspiration for authors. It was the perfect event to end the first day of Hull Noir.

Sunday saw Getting Away With Murder at ten o’clock and despite the early time the audience was in for a treat. Ayo Onatade did a brilliant job chairing Abir Mukherjee, Rachel Rhys and Matt Wesolowski. Who would have predicted Mukherjee and Wesolowski would be such a great act on stage, bouncing gags off each other within the minute. Rhys and Mukherjee said they needed a lot more research due to the time their stories are set in. Rhys had found and talked to a woman who had actually done the trip from the UK to Australia in 1939 on a cruise ship so she got first hand information. Mukherjee watched old Pathé films on Youtube to get a feel for 1919s Calcutta but, finally, visited India to get a real taste of the country his story was set in. Matt Wesolowski, deemed the baby of the group at thirty-six, used the ultra modern structure of a podcast in his first novel, listing his influences as podcasts like Serial and Someone Knows Something. While they are all glad about new technology, Wesolowski said he didn’t want his young son growing up only valuing himself if he received enough likes on Instagram or Facebook. Rhys is still reluctant to welcome all aspects of modern technology into her life. All three authors mentioned how fond they still are of notebooks, enjoying scribbling down whatever comes to their minds.

William Ryan chaired the Freedom, Opression and Control panel with Eva Dolan, Stav Sherez and Kati Hiekkapelto and the sombre atmosphere of this issue was almost tangible. Oppression of people is not only a thing of the past, like in Ryan’s book set in the UK under the SS-regime, it also concerns people who are regarded differently, like a transgender woman in Dolan’s story. Stav Sherez explored the often ignored danger that lures in the depths of the internet while Hiekkapelto deals with an ongoing issue for which there seems no current solution: the refugee crisis and how badly these people are often treated. Hiekkapelto stunned the audience by asking them what it means to have freedom and if anyone feels like they are really free, a question many might have thought about long after the panel had ended.

Off The Beaten Track saw the wonderful Jacky Collins asking Sarah Ward, David Young, Antti Tuomainen and Daniel Pembrey about the different settings of their books. Pembrey has lived in Amsterdam and Luxembourg and used these places as settings whereas Young set his books in Eastern Germany in 1975. Young toured with his band in the eastern part of Germany a few years ago, eager to learn about what life was like there before the wall came down. Tuomainen, who has a wonderful dry humour, wondered how a reader could buy his yarn about setting up a fictitious mushroom factory yet his mistake of naming a wrong street in an existing town upset said reader.

A Year In The Crime Writing Life of John Connolly and Mark Billingham ended the festival on Sunday with Jake Kerridge as ringmaster, often having trouble keeping the  other two in line. I’ve seen Connolly and Billingham on stage a few times before and it’s always a treat. Their stories and humour had the audience laughing with tears rolling down their faces.

When asked about their highs and lows of the past year Billingham said his lowest was when he got massively hacked. Connolly was moved telling about his highlight of the year, how he had felt honoured to be on stage at the Panopticon in Glasgow where Stan Laurel had made his stage debut. I urge everyone who is a fan of Laurel & Hardy to read he by Connolly. It’s not crime fiction but a very moving and loving tale about Laurel & Hardy, evoking the golden era of old Hollywood. Speaking of comedians, Billingham and Connolly are always a brilliant act, exchanging puns and jokes and spinning many an entertaining yarn. Putting these two great authors on as the last panel was a genius move as the festival ended on a total high.

 

I had an absolute blast at Hull Noir and somehow it ended all too fast. I had time to chat with old friends and met lots of wonderful new people. The small and not overcrowded venue gave you enough time, as well as the opportunity, to chat to the authors after the panels and not spend your entire time between events standing in line to get your book signed/hunting for a coffee/going to the loo.

The festival surpassed all of my expectations. The panels were very clever and it was pure entertainment getting to hear from new talents and seasoned authors alike.

I can’t thank Nick Triplow, Nick Quantrill and Nikki East enough for putting together such a brilliant programme and for creating an awesome event everyone will be talking about for a long time. Hull Noir was a great success and here’s hoping this wonderful event will be repeated.