Tag Archives: novels

**Poetic Justice Blog Tour**

Poetic Justice Blog Tour Poster

Today it’s my pleasure to host husband and wife team R.C. Bridgestock as part of their blog tour for ‘Poetic Justice’, the prequel to the DI Jack Dylan series. 

With almost fifty years of police work between them, Bob and Carol received a number of professional accolades and have translated their experiences into a series of novels as well as consulting on several high profile crime dramas. 

With their DI Jack Dylan series due to be reissued by Dome Press this year, Bob and Carol have graciously given their time to us today to talk about the identification process. My thanks to them both and to Dome Press for allowing me to be involved. 

Vic x

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IDENTIFICATION

The identification of an offender is a key aspect of any criminal conviction. The identification may be done by the victim of the crime, and/or witnesses – if there are any available. The concept of an identification parade, or “ID parade” as it is best known, is to test a witnesses ability to identify someone they have seen previously – typically at the time of an incident. 

If someone can be identified as the offender, this will be one of the first pieces of evidence used in a criminal trial, with both the victim and any witnesses required to repeat the identification in front of the court.

For an investigator, finding a witness or witnesses is very important; especially one who can recall events and recognise suspects.

However, from experience we are aware that witnesses can be highly convincing, but sometimes wrong. Oddly enough others can forget what is obviously visible such as a facial tattoo on an offender, but yet still identify them, and only remember at a later date about the tattoo that might be significant to their identification. Our brains, it appears, will only register so much in a short time frame.

The police identification procedure changed dramatically during our time at West Yorkshire Police, the fourth largest police force in the country. The traditional method of identifying an offender was to use a police identity parade. This involved the suspect being requested to line up alongside others of similar height and appearance, with either the victim or witness able to view the line-up from behind a screen. Often the potential suspects would be required to repeat a sentence that the victim or the witness will have heard. This would enable the victim or the witness to identify the offender both by sight and voice. 

During an identity parade, it would usually be the case that the police were aware of whom the suspect was, due to their investigations, and the ID parade would be used simply as confirmation that the suspect was in fact the offender. A line-up must consist of five people, plus the suspect. If circumstance permit it is ideal to have six, seven or eight others. The more that are present tests the witness further. 

But, did you know that the suspect can refuse, at any time, to take part?  

No longer these days does a police officer go out onto the streets and ask people to take part in a ‘line up’ – often those willing to partake in an ID parade would typically be hard-up students and those out of work who would get a small amount of money for their time. 

Often we (the police) were unable to round-up enough lookalikes. For example, he might have a moustache, or a beard so the volunteers may be asked to wear fake facial hair. Wouldn’t this impede the recognition of the offender by the witness you may ask? One thing someone is unlikely to not recognise is a fake moustache or a beard? The police officers of the time had to work with what they had, and sometimes that was very little. The whole procedure was very time consuming and could be costly. How much do you think half a dozen false beards might cost?  

No longer does the victim or a witness have to ‘walk the line’ and touch on the shoulder, the person they think they’d seen at the time of the incident. This was highly likely to cause emotional issues for victims and witnesses. There was potential for police interference and concerns for the safety of those taking part in the line-up.

No longer can the offender change places on the line, or change clothing after each witness walked by.

No longer can the suspect reject a person chosen on the parade because they aren’t a ‘lookalike’ in their eyes. 

In 2003, a digital system called VIPER was introduced for the visual identification of suspects. The bespoke computerised system – ‘Video Identification Parade Electronic Recording’ – was originally established by West Yorkshire Police, the force in which Bob and I collectively spent 47 years. This became the National database. Approximately 20,000 identifications are carried out each year using this highly successful system.

How does this work? 

Images of lookalikes to the suspect are viewed on a computer screen – no longer do victims or witnesses have to suffer intimidation by the suspect being present. If the offender is convicted then his or her photograph will be on the database.

In our experience, potential witnesses from the yesteryear would typically say after taking part in an ID parade. ‘I think it was No.6, but I couldn’t be one hundred per cent sure.’ More often than not annoying for me, the police officer, the witness was right but the identification for the sake of the enquiry had failed.

An Inspector would control the parades, and the defence solicitor for the prisoner would be present to ensure no foul play.

How good is our own personal recollection and sight? Do you think you could identify someone that you had stood next to you in a shop today? 

Quality CCTV has proved time and time again how it can assist in the detection of crime.

However, did you know people don’t always admit it’s them on CCTV. I can’t recall how many times I’ve heard. ‘Not me!’ And even when the footage has been shown to a parent and the offender is told that they have confirmed the image is of their son/daughter, they will still deny it’s them and often with a, ‘Prove it!’… So of course we do.

Sometimes this can be done by distinctive clothing, facial scars, tattoos and hairstyles but also by a technique called facial mapping where experts using measurements match the person to the video. 

Facial recognition is still in its early stages but is being trialled by the Metropolitan Police. This is a very clever and important tool that will revolutionise our ability to get extremely quick intelligence about someone in a crowd who is wanted by the police, so the police can take whatever action they need to. 

So if you witness something and are asked by the police for your help, please don’t hesitate to become involved. It may be a test of your recollection ability, and make you more aware of what is going around you in the future, but it’s so much more than that. You are helping to stop someone getting away with a crime. Don’t worry, your evidence isn’t the only evidence that will render the suspect guilty but, along with other substantial evidence, it might be the piece of the jigsaw that is missing to use as the ‘belt and braces’ of the case. 

Voice recognition and handwriting can also be used to link people to a crime.

Of course, the well-known resource used today is the formidable technique of DNA – ALL resources available in the detectives toolbox are used to gather ensure a conviction.

However, it’s the SIO who is the person in charge who makes these decisions – people like Bob. 

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Review: ‘Poetic Justice’
by R.C. Bridgestock

When Detective Jack Dylan heads home after a residential course, he has no idea that an extraordinary succession of events is about to turn his life upside down. A vicious, unprovoked attack is just the start. Soon his wife is dead and his step-daughter – dangerously depressed – is being expelled from university for drug use. And at work, two teenagers have gone missing.

An ordinary man might break under the strain, but Dylan is no ordinary man. He knows that his survival depends on him carrying on regardless, burying himself in his work.

He is determined to pursue the criminal elements behind the events – both personal and professional – whether his superiors like it or not. And, as his family disintegrates around him, a newcomer to the admin department, Jennifer Jones, seems to offer some sort of salvation.

Life may have changed, but nothing will stand in the way of Dylan’s quest for justice.

Although Jack Dylan has an established fan base, this was my first foray into the series and it definitely won’t be my last. It’s obvious to see why R.C. Bridgestock are story consultants on ‘Happy Valley‘ and ‘Scott and Bailey‘. 

I whipped through ‘Poetic Justice‘, unable to leave the compelling characters alone. By weaving Dylan’s personal narrative alongside an ongoing criminal investigation, there’s plenty for the reader to be invested in. Bridgestock’s experience in West Yorkshire Police shines through – you can tell that Dylan’s difficulties in juggling police work and home life is based on experience. 

This is a realistic portrayal of police life within a domestic setting. ‘Poetic Justice‘ has truly hooked me on Jack Dylan.

Vic x 

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Don’t Quit the Day Job: Desmond P. Ryan

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.

Today it’s the turn of Desmond P. Ryan to tell us about how his work has influenced his writing. My thanks to Des for sharing his experience with us.

Vic x

For almost thirty years, every day of my working life began with either a victim waiting in a hospital emergency room to report a violent crime, or a call from a bystander, witness, or sometimes even the perpetrator to a street corner or a ransacked, often blood-soaked room where someone had been left for dead. Murder, assaults on a level that defied humanity, sexual violations intended to demean, shame, and haunt the individuals who were no more than objects to the offenders: all in a day’s work. 

It was exhilarating, exhausting, and often heartbreaking.

    As a Detective with the Toronto Police Service, I wrote thousands of reports detailing the people, places, and events that led up to the moment I came along. I investigated the crimes and wrote synopses for guilty pleas detailing the circumstances that brought the accused individuals before the Courts. I also wrote a number of files to have individuals deemed either Not Criminally Responsible due to mental incapacity, or Dangerous Offenders to be held in custody indefinitely.       

    Now, as a retired investigator with three decades of research opportunities under my belt, I write crime fiction. And, when Vic asked me to contribute to her blog, you can imagine that I jumped at the opportunity to share my story of how my job has influenced (just a tad!) my writing. You could say that I have an unusual skill set that makes me particularly prone to writing crime fiction.

In fact, I started writing my Mike O’Shea Crime series while I was still working as a police detective. As you can imagine, in real life, things don’t always turn out the way youmight like, and the people I dealt with didn’t always find the justice they deserved. Writing was my way of giving voice to those whom the justice system had silenced. 

When I retired, I was a bit afraid that I’d become that guy in the corner at the pub who tells old cop stories to no one in particular. The obvious alternative was to continue on with my writing and get the series off the ground. After several months of writing, I found the police procedural format of the Mike O’Shea Crime series feeling too much like work (a good thing for my readers!), so I began a cozy mystery series featuring Mike O’Shea’s mother, Mary Margaret, as the sleuth. Now THAT was a lot of fun to write. 

Check out my website at RealDesmondRyan.com and be sure to order your copy of 10-33 Assist PC, the first in my six-book series.

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: Paul Gitsham

Paul Gitsham is today’s end of year reviewer. It’s always nice to see Paul and it’s fab to have him on the blog today.

Thanks, Paul, for your review of 2018. Here’s to a top 2019!

Vic x

Cropped headshot.pngDo you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
2018 saw the release of the next two books in the DCI Warren Jones series. The first, a novella called A Case Gone Cold, released in May, was partly inspired by the real-life burglary of my parents’ home some years ago. It was pleasing that something positive could come out of a pretty unpleasant experience. 

The fourth full-length novel in the series, The Common Enemy, was released in September. Despite tackling difficult and challenging subject matter (Far-right extremism and the rising Islamophobia our country is experiencing), reviews have been positive.

Excitingly, the first 4 full-length novels in the series are now available as audiobooks, narrated by the wonderful Malk Williams.

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And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
I can’t fail to mention my wonderful girlfriend, Cheryl, agreeing to marry me! Have a look at the acknowledgements in The Common Enemy if you want to see how I popped the question…

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Favourite book in 2018?
So many to choose from! Steve Cavanagh’s Thirteen cements his reputation as one of the best writers around today. Eddie Flynn is a wonderfully complex and likeable character, that gets better with every book. And how could I resist the tagline: The serial killer isn’t on trial. He’s on the jury? 

Favourite film in 2018?
Marvel Studios continue to delight and excite in equal measure, but a film that I really enjoyed was Bohemian Rhapsody. It had its flaws and some question its accuracy in parts, but the recreation of Live Aid was spine-tingling!

Favourite song of the year?
I tend to listen to Radio 4, rather than music when I’m driving, but Cheryl and I both love the 80s. The recent acoustic version of A-Ha’s Take on Me (as featured in Deadpool 2, bizarrely) is a real pleasure.

Any downsides for you in 2018?
We moved to a new house at the end of last year and it would seem that the former owners of our house had a real talent for covering up their DIY disasters…

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
I don’t really make resolutions, but a better work/life balance is a definite aim.

What are you hoping for from 2019?
The next two books in the DCI Warren Jones series will be released, starting with the next novella, A Deadly Lesson, in January and the next full-length in the summer.

I hope to get more writing time, in part to pursue some stand-alone projects alongside new DCI Warren Jones adventures.

We’d also like a lottery win sufficient for us to move into a 5-star hotel for a few weeks whilst somebody comes and sorts out our house!

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2018 Review: Mhairi Ledgerwood

Today, we welcome one of the newest members of Elementary Sisterhood, Mhairi Ledgerwood. Mhairi has been a big fan of the end of year reviews for a long time and it’s a real pleasure to welcome here to review her 2018.

My thanks to Mhairi for taking the time to reflect on her year.

Vic x

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Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
Having a play of mine performed at The Royal Court and Northern Stage. Last year I was one of 9 writers selected to be part of The Royal Court Writers Group (north), which was a project with The Royal Court, New Writing North, and Northern Stage. Being part of this group lead to me to writing a play called Paper Tiger. It was performed as a rehearsed reading in London in May and in Newcastle in September. To have a play I’ve written performed in two such prestigious venues was really really special. 

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And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
It’s been an amazing year. As well as the play, I moved house and went to Hong Kong and Vietnam! We have family in Hong Kong so it was an amazing opportunity. We have so many memories from that holiday, but having a tea ceremony at the foot of the big Buddha was a definite highlight. 

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Favourite book in 2018? 
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. As a playwright I’m used to reading plays so had got out the habit of reading novels. But I picked this up and sped through it. Now I’m back in love with reading novels again. I also loved it because it’s set in Glasgow where I’m from so I could picture the book’s setting really vividly. Apparently Reece Witherspoon’s company has the film rights so I’d love to see it get made! 

Favourite film in 2018? 
Argh so many to choose from! I’m a HUGE film fan and have a Cineworld card as well as following the Oscar race obsessively. There’s been so many good films this year! – The Greatest Showman, Crazy Rich Asians, A Star is Born, BlackkKlansman, WidowsAvengers: Infinity War, Ready Player One, The Post, Isle of Dogs, Ladybird, Mamma Mia: Here We Go AgainA Quiet Place… Do I have to pick just one? Really? How about we go with a film that I’ve not seen yet – Mary Poppins Returns. I’m counting down the days until that’s out. 

Favourite song of the year? 
This is Me from The Greatest Showman I’ve played that song obsessively.

Any downsides for you in 2018?
The process of moving house. You know it’s going to be stressful but we did have some bad luck. Two buyers who pulled out. Three different agents (all terrible) and the mortgage broker we were dealing with left the company with 24 hours notice. Many, many phone calls made trying to chase up the things. The end result of moving into our amazing new house made it worth it – but never again!

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
 To sign up to ballet classes at Dance City in Newcastle. Have wanted to go a regular ballet class for years. Moving closer to Newcastle and the amazing Dance City has made this possible.  

What are you hoping for from 2019?
To push myself further with my writing. Being accepted for the Royal Court Writers Group gave me a huge boost in confidence. It would be great to be shortlisted for a major playwriting opportunity – and hopefully be accepted as well! 

2018 Review: Chris Ord

Today’s special guest is Chris Ord, writer of ‘Becoming’ and ‘The Storm’. Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of chairing a panel featuring Chris, Danielle Ramsay and William Prince. 

You can find Chris on Facebook. My thanks to Chris for taking the time to review his year, it’s always a pleasure hosting you, Chris.

Vic x

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Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
I released my second novel, The Storm in January. It is based on a true story and was inspired by a musical project I was involved in. It is about ‘Big’ Philip Jefferson, the first Newbiggin Lifeboat Coxswain who was awarded a clasp to his silver medal for an attempted rescue of the Norwegian brig ‘Embla’ in 1854. The rescue is the backdrop for the novel, however, the events of that night are only the starting point, as the book weaves this together with a folk tale, and a series of mysterious incidents to create a tense, supernatural thriller.

It’s gone really well. After the customary book launch I’ve appeared at several reading events and featured in regional and national magazines. They ran an article in Living North about it and gave it a glowing review. I was proud of that one. These things make all the difference for a writer. You plough away in self-doubt and isolation writing the story you love, and your hope is that others will love it too. When the feedback tells you the risk and sacrifice, the blood and tears were all worthwhile. It’s priceless.     

And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
I saw ELO recently. It was at the arena which is not a good music venue in my opinion. Initially it put me off, but I bought a top whack ticket at the last minute. I was bang in the centre, in the fourth row, a cracking seat. They were incredible, one of the best live musical experiences I’ve witnessed. I go to a lot of gigs and have seen some of the very best artists over the years, and they were up there without question. Jeff Lynne still has the voice and, of course the wall to wall hit tunes. He has surrounded himself with musicians of the highest quality and capped it off with a superb light show. 

My dad loved ELO, and introduced me to them in the first place, many years ago. It was a moving concert for me for that, and lots of other reasons. Perfect. Music always provides my annual highlights. I can’t think of anything better than music. 

Favourite book in 2018?
Don’t Skip Out On Me by Willy Vlautin. Willy is the singer and main songwriter of the bands Richmond Fontaine and The Delines. I love his music and writing. There was a film released this year based on one of his novels, Lean on Pete. But for me Don’t Skip Out On Me is his best yet. It’s about a young Mexican Ranch hand who dreams of becoming a boxer. He leaves a loving elderly farming couple, who have taken him in as their own, to pursue his dream with tragic outcomes. It’s a terrific novel with well-drawn characters that creep under your skin. 

So much of modern literature is style over substance, but this is traditional storytelling of the highest order. It reminded me a lot of John Steinbeck, who I love. I’m always far more interested in story than style. Literary work has its place, but I read to escape, be thrilled and entertained. A lot of literature seems to be pumped up by the marketing machines, and prize winning circuits and gains momentum via the in-crowd. Just give me a good yarn that takes me to another world for a few hours, makes me laugh, cry, scares or excites me. I aspire to be an accomplished storyteller as much as a writer. 

Favourite film in 2018?
I loved You Were Never Really There with Joaquin Phoenix. It’s a dark and brutal film about a hitman with a hammer who gets himself into a tricky situation when he takes on a job which spirals out of his control. Phoenix makes the movie with another captivating performance. I can’t think of a better screen actor at this moment. He’s one of those I will watch the film simply because of him. Some may find the film too brutal, but I’ve never been put off by gore or brutality. Readers of my work will know this.

Favourite album of the year?
God’s Favourite Customer by Father John Misty. What can I say other than I adore everything Josh Tillman does. He’s adopted the persona of Father John Misty in order to liberate himself creatively. I find this intriguing and it reminds me of my favourites artists like Bowie, Gabriel, and Bush all of whom have played theatrical roles in their work.

People have often asked me if I would write under a pseudonym. Who knows, maybe I have! It’s an interesting proposition and not something I’m averse to. It has risks commercially as you have built up your fanbase and people will engage with your work because of who you are, and what you have written before. However, it could offer the opportunity to take a few more risks and try different things. 

Integrity is everything for me. It’s what attracts me about the indie route above all else. All creatives are searching for the truth, their own truth. You hope that others will relate to that truth and there is a degree of universality to the human experience you have captured. Adopting a persona would allow you to explore a different perspective and present the story from an alternative world view. It may compromise on authenticity, which is part of the risk. I’m more and more attracted by the thought when I encounter artists like Tillman. 

Seeing the world in new ways is an important part of our development as people. I believe one of the main problems today is that so many struggle to see the world from other perspectives, or at least recognise the validity of different views. There are too many that think theirs is the one and only accepted truth and should be everyones. Tolerance and respect are being undermined by populists and illiberal liberals alike. Maybe we all need to try a different persona now and again, or show a bit more empathy and compassion at least. I saw a powerful quote this year which stayed with me, ‘Stay kind. It makes you beautiful.’ I’m going to try and remember that one.  

Any downsides for you in 2018?
I haven’t written as much as I would have liked this year. Like many writers I’m only able to sustain myself financially in bursts. It’s feast then fallow. I wish at times it was different, but few write to be rich, it’s more important to seek the integrity I spoke of earlier. Integrity doesn’t pay yet bills though. As such, I have to take on contract work to meet all my family commitments, and I have a large family of four boys!

It’s difficult to find the time to write when you’re working, but I’m also a musician and play in a band. I love playing and it’s important to me. By the time I get in from work, do all the family things, and practice my horn, there isn’t much time remaining to write. However, I have hit a bit of momentum again of late. This has been driven by the passion and excitement I have for my latest work in progress. These are the moments you look for and have to make the best of. So things are looking positive again, and sometimes you need the lows as a reminder and a springboard to greater things.

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
Yes, I’m an obsessive planner do the New Year offers ample opportunity for me to indulge in ‘things to do’ lists. I will be finding more time to write, and play my music. I run regularly and hope to get a couple of half marathons done this year. I also want to go to a few more gigs. I go to watch music a lot, but this year has been a bit quiet. There have been some highlights, but I think I may need to look further afield this year. So family, music, writing, running. In that order. Same as it ever was.

What are you hoping for from 2019?
I have two books on the go at the moment. One is the follow up to my debut novel, Becoming, the other is something new. If I get my act together both may see the light of day in 2019. One is at the editing stage, but needs a bit more polish. I need to keep up the momentum I have found and find a regular pattern for writing, make the time, little and often. Hard work and discipline are talents in themselves. You need both to be a writer or the words never get anywhere. I need to keep reminding myself of that in 2019. I will. It’s going to be a good year. I promise.

 

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Jan Fortune

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.

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Jan Fortune to the blog to talk about how she managed to write a trilogy in the last four years while holding down a day job. My thanks to Jan for taking the time to share her insights with us.

Vic x

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Over the last four years I’ve been working on a trilogy of novels. A Remedy For All Things follows Catherine, who is in Hungary in 1993 to research on the poet Attila József, when she begins dreaming the life of another woman from a different time period (imprisoned after the Hungarian Uprising of 1956). Even more disturbing, she’s aware that the other woman, Selene, is dreaming her life. 

It’s a complex book that has taken a great deal of research as well as several edits, but like most contemporary writers, I don’t write full-time. How do we do it? Juggle work, homes to run and still write? And are there any benefits to writing in this way, without the luxury of all the time in the world, or at least all the time that would otherwise go into holding body and soul together?

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Many of my favourite writers combined work of all sorts with writing. William Faulkner is reputed to have written As I Lay Dying in six weeks. He claimed that while working 12 hours days as a manual labourer he wrote this phenomenal novel in his ‘spare time’. Most of us need a lot longer, but it’s certainly the case that many writers don’t only write.

Anthony Burgess taught and composed music; Joseph Conrad was a sea captain; T.S. Eliot worked in a bank and Arthur Conan Doyle was a doctor, as was the poet William Carlos Williams. Wallace Stevens turned down a Harvard professorship rather than give up his 40-year career in insurance.

Women who write may not only do the lion’s share of domestic work while writing, but also hold down demanding jobs. Agatha Christie worked as an apothecary’s assistant, a great place to learn about poisons. Toni Morrison worked as an editor and for many years Octavia Butler had to write in the early hours so that she could work low-paid jobs like telemarketing or cleaning.

If working the day job is a necessity, it can also be one with benefits. Working as an editor and publisher, I get a lot of time to see how form works, how language can constantly be honed and how handing our precious book to someone with skill and objectivity and then listening carefully can make all the difference. One of my authors recently took a PR role that is giving her masses of people-watching time, none of it wasted. Writers are people who walk about the world with all their senses open and work is an endlessly rich environment for observation of the human condition.

Of course, we still need time to find that trance state in which to write and to go into deep flow. If your day job does nothing but hollow you out, it may be time to reconsider. But if your work sustains you and leaves the time and energy to write whilst being a source of experiences and characters, then writing around the day job is an honourable tradition.