Tag Archives: poem

**The Last Day Blog Tour** Guest Post and Review

Last Day Blog Tour

I am absolutely delighted to welcome Claire Dyer to the blog today as part of her blog tour for ‘The Last Day‘. 

Claire is here to chat to us about Beginnings and Endings today which, given the subject of ‘The Last Day‘, is very apt.

Thanks to Claire, and The Dome Press, for allowing me to be a part of this tour.

Vic x 

Claire Dyer

Beginnings and endings
By Claire Dyer

Every ending starts with a beginning …

One of the creative writing classes I teach at Bracknell & Wokingham College is on beginnings and endings. We start by talking about some of the most notable beginnings from the literary canon: ‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.’ (Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier); ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,’ (A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens); ‘Two households, both alike in dignity, In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,’ (Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare) and we analyse what has made them memorable. It’s not an easy exercise because everyone has their own take, their own set of memories and expectations.

What’s also interesting in this section of the class is when I tell my students that most writers will not keep the original first few sentences of their novel; they will go through many iterations and, in some cases, whole opening scenes and chapters will be deleted.

We then look at endings and again, I pick a few favourites: ‘Reader, I married him,’ (Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë); ‘So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.’ (The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald), etc.

And we talk about why these endings work. Is it because they bring the story arc to a satisfactory conclusion? Or, is it because they don’t? Do they leave the reader alone with their own emotions, casting their gaze into the future lives of the books’ characters with their own take on hope, regret, sadness, joy? Or, as in the case of one of my favourite recent reads, Together, by Julie Cohen, the ending is the beginning?

Again, it’s hard to tell. Whatever the case, there is a certain alchemy at work with both beginnings and endings and I’ve learned a lot about this particular type of magic from working on poems. One brilliant piece of advice I’ve been given is to look carefully at the first and last stanzas of a poem and ask whether they are necessary. Do they serve a purpose for the poem or are they just a frame in which the poem sits? This discipline has, I hoped, helped me with the beginnings and endings of my novels.

So, we can study the theory and practise our own but, in the end, our beginnings and endings are at the mercy of our readers, all we can do is make them the best we can.

And so, I try. The first paragraph of The Last Day came very late in the writing process. The ending crept up on me and when I realised I’d got there I had to step away from the keyboard and not risk that last, lone brushstroke which may have ruined everything. Whether my own attempt at alchemy will work will, of course, be up to others, but I have loved every minute of trying.

Review: ‘The Last Day’

by Claire Dyer.

Boyd moves back into the family home with Vita, his estranged wife, to get his finances back on track. Accompanying Boyd is his beautiful, young girlfriend, Honey who is running from her past. The unlikely housemates manage to make their living arrangement work despite all the odds but memories are never far away and the ghosts of the past threaten to derail the new normal in Albert Terrace.

When I first read the premise, my interest was piqued because of the unusual situation of a man living with his estranged wife and new lover.

Claire Dyer manages to make the reader suspend their disbelief and accept this peculiar situation by creating nuanced characters that readers can empathise with. Everyone is afforded a compassion and understanding which is often lacking in fiction and in life. 

The language used in this book is beautiful and adds to the poignancy of the storyline. It’s obvious why Claire Dyer is an award-winning poet thanks to her thoughtful turn of phrase and rich descriptions. 

Long after I’d finished reading ‘The Last Day’, I found myself thinking about Vita, Boyd, Honey and Boyd’s mum. This beautifully written, observant novel will stay with you long after the final page has been turned. 

Vic x


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: Rob Walton

Our final guest today is the rather brilliant Rob Walton.

Many people on the North-East writing scene will know Rob thanks to his performances at The Stanza as well as his involvement with Free as a Bard. 

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Rob this year for our Christmas ghost stories at Old Low Light. 

As you may notice, Rob has added in a few extra questions – we hope you enjoy them. My thanks to Rob for taking the time to share his year with us. 

Vic x

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2017?
It’s difficult to pinpoint a moment, so I’ll go for a time of year.  Autumn going into winter was great in that I had several acceptances and publications in magazines and anthologies within a short apace of time.  What was particularly gratifying was that (a) people were liking things I’d reworked or sent out again after editing and (b) a range of stuff was accepted – a children’s poem, creative non-fiction, poetry, short stories and flash fictions.  All felt right with my writing world.  Until the next rejection of course.

Also, there were many lovely performance nights with wonderful hosts.  Once again I gate-crashed one of the lovely Vic Watson’s evenings, this time I read a Dickens’ mash-up Christmas ghost story.  I had some quirky firsts too.  I worked with Russ Coleman to cast some words in concrete.

Then there was a concrete poem in a wonderful quirky book and an aperture poem courtesy of Sidekick Books.

And how about a favourite moment from 2017 generally?
This straddles the personal and the professional.  Not a moment, but rather the ongoing friendship and support from various writerly people hereabouts.  I hope they know who they are.

Favourite book in 2017?
I read and really enjoyed some great work by writer friends, but I wouldn’t want to miss any of them out – Paul Summers has got a vicious temper and Harry Gallagher’s got a bow and arrow –  so I’ll go further afield.  Not all of these were released this year, but I read them in 2017.

Jan Carson’s Postcard Stories from the Emma Press was also great.  Every day in 2015 she wrote a story on a postcard and sent it to a friend.  The highlights are collected in the book.

Short stories: I’m going for Danielle McLaughlin’s Dinosaurs On Other Planets.  My partner heard one on Radio 4 and got me to listen to it, and then bought it for my birthday.  It’s bloody brilliant.  Spend your Christmas money on it, whatever Christmas money is.

Ali Smith’s Public Library and other stories also went down a treat.  I think she’s brilliant.

Poetry: I found a copy of Kim Moore’s The Art of Falling in North Shields Library, and was seriously impressed.

Memoir: it has to be Thatcher Stole My Trousers by Alexei Sayle.

Favourite film of the year? 
It’s go to be The Florida Project.  I saw it at the Tyneside with a load of older folk eating sandwiches.  Of course I wouldn’t do that – I had sandwiches and crisps.

Favourite song of the year?
I don’t know about a specific song but there were some real gems in Luke Haines’ set at The Cluny 2 in May and, continuing with the live theme, Sleaford Mods were great in the autumn at the old Poly Union building, whatever it’s called these days.

Favourite sports team of the year?
Yet again it’s Scunthorpe United.

Favourite cake of the year?
That would be the rhubarb crumble one with the sticks Steve and Sam gave us, grown in the City of Culture.

Any downsides for you in 2017?
I discovered that a woman in Lerwick is challenging my claim to being the inventor of cheese.  And my right hamstring’s been tighter than I would like.  Then there was the Untied Kingdom thing. 

Are you making resolutions for 2018?
Going to keep more secrets, and be sick in more handbags (and deny all knowledge).

What are you hoping for from 2018?
Professionally: get a flash fiction collection together.
Personally: hope my daughters’ transitions from primary to secondary, and secondary to sixth form go smoothly.
Pugilistically: take it on the chin.

Review of 2017: Jackie McLean

Three weeks ago, my husband invited me out for the afternoon. We have a running joke that no matter where I go, I see someone I know but I was pretty shocked to see Jackie McLean, her partner Allison and Kelly Lacey walking towards me.

However, it soon became apparent that it was all a set-up. Jackie and Allison had travelled all the way from Glasgow, picking Kelly up on the way just to spend the afternoon with little old me. They brought gifts and kind wishes from other crime writing buddies and I don’t think I’ve stopped smiling since – what an incredibly thoughtful thing to do, eh? 

Anyway, here’s the wonderful Jackie to review her 2017.

Vic x

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2017?
2017 has been The Year when it all started to happen with my writing, when it went from a wee hobby in my back room to being a major focus of my life. A favourite moment has to be from the writing group myself and a colleague ran during 2017 with men who’d recently been in prison. One of the guys wrote a poem, which he submitted to a writing competition, and said it gave him more of a high than any drugs.

And how about a favourite moment from 2017 generally?
Without a doubt, the moment my sister-in-law told us she had the all clear from cancer. This came at the end of a full 12 months of gruelling treatment and constant warnings that the outcome wasn’t likely to be good.

Favourite book in 2017?
The Health of Strangers
by Lesley Kelly. I’m actually still reading it, but it’s great. It’s got that something.

Favourite film in 2017?
The only film I watched in 2017 (really) was A Dog’s Purpose with my grandkids. I was devastated! And I was also slightly disturbed by how enthusiastic my older granddaughter was at telling me (many times), “That’s the body. The body!” when the dog, erm, retrieved the buried cat.

Favourite song of the year?
Lost Boy
by Ruth B. Because I can fly, just like Peter Pan…

Any downsides for you in 2017?
Honestly, it’s been one of the better years I can remember.

Are you making resolutions for 2018?
I am going to get in shape. Yes, I am.

What are you hoping for from 2018?
2018 is a BIG birthday year for me, so I’m sure I’ll be doing a lot of reflecting (and whinging). I’m hoping for a year of love and laughter for everyone.

Review of 2016: Harry Gallagher

My mate Harry Gallagher is here to review his 2016. I’ve known Harry for several years and it’s wonderful seeing him go from strength to strength. 
Thanks for taking the time to review your year, Harry! Hope to see you soon. 
Vic x
Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2016?
It seems like a long time ago now, but back in January, my pamphlet ‘Chasing The Sunset’ was published.  We had a Newcastle launch and people were queuing for autographs!  Don’t think I’ll ever get used to that particular phenomenon, but it is very nice to think people like your stuff. The same thing happened at a recent gig at my local library, they packed the place out and were just lovely.
As well as that, The Stanza moved to our new venue – Beldon’s Bar at The Exchange, North Shields – and we have been made so welcome that we’ve decided to stay! And news just in…we are now the North East Stanza of The Poetry Society!
And how about a favourite moment from 2016 generally?
None that stick out, though my partner and my daughters make me proud every day.
Favourite book in 2016?
The Dead Queen Of Bohemia, New & Collected Poems‘ by Jenni Fagan (Polygon Books).  Beautiful and ugly, funny and tragic, tender and cutting; and often all in the same poem  And it’s all accessible, I think an ordinary person unfamiliar with poetry would enjoy it as much as I did – and still am.
Favourite film in 2016?
I, Daniel Blake‘ should be on the national curriculum.  In all honesty, I’ve seen better crafted Ken Loach films, but none as important or as timely as this.  The poverty and mean spiritedness that abounds in our country brings shame on us all.  The cinema was awash but in truth I didn’t cry, I just felt angry, like “Well OBVIOUSLY this is what we’ve come to, haven’t you people been paying attention!”
Favourite song of the year?
David Bowie’s ‘Blackstar‘.  Epic farewell from a truly great artist. When he died, I felt like I’d lost a part of myself.  He was such a big influence on me.  He spoke to my youth in a way that most of us who function in the arts can only dream of.
Any downsides for you in 2016?
How long have you got?  Farage, Johnson, Gove, Duncan-Schmidt and the pig over the pond. All symptoms of the lurch to the right by a populace who want a simple answer to complex problems.  Up steps an odious man with a spoonful of charisma, a salesman’s smile and hey presto, we’re all in 1933.
Are you making resolutions for 2017?
As ever, keep on keeping on! I have thoughts of a one man Edinburgh show, which I’m still flapping over, but if I don’t do it, I do want to make strides towards doing more on a nationwide basis.
I would totally go to see that show, Harry! What are you hoping for from 2017?
All being well, I have a publisher for my first full collection, along with hundreds of as yet unused poems waiting to see the light of day.  Apart from that, I’ll go for continued love and health, that’ll do me!

Review of 2016: Rob Walton

Elementary Writers have been in demand this year and as part of our Halloween performance at Old Low Light, guest Rob Walton performed an original ghost story set in North ShieldsIt was a pleasure working with Rob and I hope I get to do so again in the future. 

Thanks for being involved in the 2016 review, Rob.

Vic x


Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2016?
There were a few things connected to my children’s poem, Letters, appearing in the lovely Emma Press anthology ‘Watcher of the Skies‘.
I was obviously really pleased to have it accepted and published in the first place.  Then I had a couple of lovely days in London in the autumn.  I did a workshop with a great group of Year 3 children at my friend Claire’s school, and got them to decorate a shirt, which I wore at the following day’s launch (see above) where I finally met the wonderful editors, Emma and Rachel, and a big bunch of great poets.  The icing on the cake was when the poem was chosen to be on the National Poetry Day’s website.  I thought that sort of stuff happened to other people.

And how about a favourite moment from 2016 generally?
Not exactly a favourite moment, because of what preceded it, but I was moved and inspired by the dignity, resolve and compassion shown by Jo Cox’s husband, family and friends.  The message to concentrate on what unites us is one to carry forward from this difficult year.

Favourite book in 2016?
My friend Matt bought me Patrick deWitt’s ‘The Sisters Brothers‘ a while ago, and it’s been on one of the shelves in one of the piles – I’m so pleased I eventually picked it up.  It was instantly one of my all-time favourites.  Superb dialogue, great pace, fantastic characters, really funny and unlike other novels I’ve read.  I also loved the brilliant invention of Angela Readman’s short story collection ‘Don’t Try This At Home‘, and I’m really looking forward to reading her new book of poetry, ‘The Book of Tides‘, which has just arrived in the post from Nine Arches Press.  In non-fiction I finally got round to Harry Pearson’s ‘Slipless in Seattle‘, which was a joy from cover to cover.

Favourite film in 2016?
I went to the Tyneside Cinema to see Woody Allen’s ‘Café Society‘, but it had sold out, so I was directed towards ‘Hell or High Water‘, which was an unexpected treat.  I hadn’t realised how much I like Jeff Bridges.  He’s been great in so many top-quality films over such a long period.  My favourite, though, was probably Brady Corbet’s ‘The Childhood of a Leader‘, telling the chilling and gripping tale of a ten-year-old boy destined to be a fascist leader. I saw it because I’d read that he was influenced by Michael Haneke, who I’ve loved since seeing ‘White Ribbon‘, another chilling masterpiece.  It’s great when one good thing leads to another (and it’s not being dictated by Amazon or some scary algorithm.)

Favourite song of the year?
When I sit at the laptop in my study (ooh fancy!) I often do a search for something vaguely chilled to play as I write.  Using this method, I recently came across Yo-Yo Ma and Kathryn Stott playing Saint-Saëns’ ‘The Swan‘.  Sublime – but it worked against me because I found I had to watch them playing, which pretty much defeated the object.
Also, although from 2015, Sufjan’s Stevens ‘Carrie and Lowell‘ was totally brilliant.

Favourite sports team of 2016?
Has to be the mighty Iron, Scunthorpe United.  Little money and tiny crowds, yet sitting proudly at the top of League One as I write.

Favourite cake of the year?
Linda and Rich gave me some cooking apples, which lead to Mary Berry’s delicious apple and almond cake.

Any downsides for you in 2016?
I found I had a serious case of anaemia, which stopped some of my plans – but the upside was that (a) I found there was a reason my park-runs were so slow and tiring and (b) I volunteered at a few park-runs, which I’d always intended but never quite managed.  Everything seems to be heading in the right direction now.

Are you making resolutions for 2017?
Not as such.  There’s more of an ongoing thing about focus and application. I’ve given myself a year out of teaching to concentrate on writing and other creative projects.  I’ve been working hard and doing lots of writing in all sorts of forms and genres, but maybe I need to narrow it down just a little bit!  On the other hand, I’ve got to pursue the picture book ideas following the fantastic Arvon course I attended, and the adult poetry collection and the flash fictions and the children’s and YA novels…Bugger!

What are you hoping for from 2017?
To continue supporting and performing at the fantastic nights we have in the North East like The Stanza, Newcastle Literary Salon and the events Vic Watson organises!

I’m also looking forward to the Fountain17 work I’m making with artist friend Russ Coleman.

There’s also an iron or two in the fire with another friend, Steve Drayton.  All will be revealed – well, maybe not everything – we’re a couple of middle-aged blokes.

I’m intrigued, Rob, I can’t wait to see what 2017 brings for you! Thanks for your support this year. 

Vic x

Guest post: Emma Whitehall on Performing Your Work.

Today, I have the very gifted Emma Whitehall on the blog to give some advice on performing your work. I’ve seen Emma read on numerous occasions and I can attest to how brilliantly she performs. 

I think most of us could do with taking some tips from Emma. Thanks for sharing your expertise, Emma!

Vic x

Performing Your Work.

Emma Whitehall

            I was sitting in a pub in York when it hit me. I was surrounded by writers I didn’t know, all of us reading our work aloud for an audience. I was excited to be around new voices so that I could listen to the work without my reaction being clouded by the speaker being a good friend.

I was listening to a gentleman reading, when I noticed how little confidence he had in reading his own work. He would finish the last word of the last line, and almost before the word were out of his mouth, they were swallowed up by “andthenextpoemisabout…” No change in his speech pattern, no pause to let his words be absorbed by his audience – and, worst of all, no time for us as an audience to show our appreciation of his work. I was genuinely enjoying his work, but the edges of his poetry blurred into his unscripted introductions, making his reading a bit of a mess.

It got me thinking about all the times I’ve seen this from writers. People who have great words, but little to no experience speaking in front of a crowd, who are frightened or ignorant of the audience, and who squander their opportunity to get their voice – and their work – heard. They mumble, they stare at the floor or their piece of paper, and make a dash from the stage as soon as they finish reading.

I came into writing from five years studying performing arts. I’d always written for my own amusement, but my love at the time was the stage. Even now, ten years on, I get a thrill from being on-stage that is unmatchable. Because I’ve always had a knack for learning lines (as well as my crippling social anxiety making it difficult to make friends), I spent a lot of those years performing monologues. I learned of spoken word from Jessica Johnson, co-founder of one of the best, most boisterous, raucous, and talent-filled nights I’ve ever been to – Pink Lane Poetry and Performance. I cut my teeth there, before moving on to open mics like Jibba Jabba, Hot Words at the Chilli (now The Stanza), and Poetry Jam, where I moved from writing my own monologues into creating short stories, and eventually into poetry. A lot of writers I know got into performance poetry the other way around – finding platforms to read their work at after spending months, if not years, writing.

Here’s the hard truth; if you want to read your work aloud, you have to be able to perform. Anyone who has listened to teenagers read Shakespeare can tell you; even the most wonderful words, filled with the most beautiful meaning, can be made to sound terrible coming from unconfident or uninterested speakers. You wrote these words because something in you felt a spark of inspiration – when reading aloud, your voice is what passes that spark along, just as much as the words on the page. Reading your work at events can be a great way to establish a new following, and hopefully help you sell your work, so it is worth learning how to do it well.

I decided to write this article to try and pass on what I’ve learned in the four years (how has it been that long?!) that I’ve been performing my own work. However scary the stage can look, don’t worry – it is conquerable, and can even be exhilarating and deeply rewarding.

Be Prepared – Learning poems off by heart is difficult for some people, but you will be far less nervous when you get on-stage if you have a grasp of the poem and how you want to perform it. Plus, if you are constantly looking down at a page, your voice will hit the paper, making it more difficult for you to be heard. My favourite tip is to learn a few lines at a time, building and building upon it as you go, until you can recite the whole thing. Run it to yourself while you do the housework, just before bed, or – if you feel brave – when you have a quiet moment at work.

Nerves are normal – Everyone gets nervous before getting on-stage to perform. You are baring a part of yourself when you show people your own work. But I promise you – it’s never as daunting as it seems once you are up there. Take a deep breath, smile, and go for it!

Projecting – Projecting is about making your voice as loud and clear as you can. This can take a while to get the hang of, but the best way is to imagine your voice moving in a straight line, hitting the back of the room. A good warm up is to hum with a closed mouth. Play around until you feel the sound vibrations tingling your lips. This is the correct place for your voice to be “coming from” to be heard well when you speak.

Eye contact – Everyone has different levels of comfort with this, but part of performing is connecting with your audience. It could help to have a friendly face in the crowd to “perform to” – although I purposely avoid my boyfriend’s gaze when he comes to see me perform. However you feel, a good trick is to aim your eyes at the top of someone’s head, or sweep a general portion of the crowd – with the bright lights, there’s a good chance you can’t make out any individuals anyway!

NO APOLOGISING – Sometimes, things will go wrong. I personally had a nightmarish open mic slot a few months ago, where I panicked as soon as I got on-stage, and wobbled and stumbled my way through a poem that I’d known off by heart only a few minutes earlier. But, when I tearfully talked to my friends about it, my performance hadn’t been nearly as terrible as I thought – they’d noticed me pause a few times, but the performance on the whole was ok. The thing to remember is this: if you read your own work, no one else knows the piece. They don’t know if you mixed up two adjectives, or if a long pause is a deliberate dramatic choice or a lost line. And, if you don’t panic and apologise, you have the chance to take a good, deep breath, calm yourself, and begin the line again. Which brings me to my next point…

Pauses are your friend – Silences on stage can be terrifying – sometimes, even more so than actually speaking. But a well placed silence can help your words really land with impact. Chose them carefully, and with purpose. If you are scared of the “Oh, are they finished?” reaction at the end of a piece, give the audience a small nod and say “thank you.” I often find myself crossing my feet and bowing a little at the waist, but that’s the actor in me. Also – and I can’t stress this enough – let the audience applaud you. Don’t try and talk over them if you can, and certainly don’t rush off-stage, no matter how tempting. They liked your work and they want to show you that – enjoy it!

Utilise your time – I’ve been guilty in the past of performing tiny poems; only four or five lines long. And while I love these poems, sometimes you are done and off-stage before the audience can really get a feel for who you are and what you do. Be mindful of time. If you are lucky enough to be asked to do a set of pieces, pick them carefully, and run the whole set before you perform it, timing yourself. You want to make the most of your time on-stage, and showcase your work properly. However, be very wary of seeming self-indulgent. One of my biggest bugbears at an open mic is a performer hogging the microphone, outstaying their welcome or even going back a second or third time! Everyone deserves a chance to perform, and one amazing piece is better than three lukewarm ones. Learn to use your time on-stage wisely.

Find your people – Performance poets are, in my experience, some of the warmest, funniest, most accepting and supporting people I’ve met. Talk to people – compliment their work, find them on social media, ask them questions. As a whole, we love to chat! There are always workshops, writing groups, and open mic nights to attend that will help you improve. In the North East, we have Scratch Tyne; a monthly workshop, where writers are invited to work on their pieces in an accepting, constructive environment. Sometimes there is a theme, sometimes we just play around and see what happens. New voices in the community only brings more interesting, diverse work, so make yourself known!

I am not a “performance poet” – at least, not in the way a lot of people I know are. I don’t want to perform for a living, or create a one-woman show for the Fringe Festival. But performing my work has led to some of the best things in my life. I’ve made friends, had amazing experiences, and grown as a writer in ways I never could have if I stuck strictly to the page. I hope my advice has made the stage a little less daunting, and maybe you can find a new angle which can help your writing grow and reach new audiences you maybe never imagined before. Break a leg!

Review: ‘Chasing the Sunset’ by Harry Gallagher

Black Light Engine Room Press launched Harry Gallagher’s third collection, Chasing the Sunset, in January this year.

Until I met Harry Gallagher, I often thought that poetry was inaccessible and boring. Having attempted to read Keats, Shakespeare et al, I feared I was too much of a philistine to appreciate this particular craft. Now, that’s not to say that Harry’s poetry isn’t special – it is. What I love about Harry Gallagher’s poetry, though, is that it is for everyone to enjoy. There’s no pretension in his poetry, and he writes about a wide range of subjects including nature, love, politics and his home town of Middlesbrough. However, please don’t misunderstand me and surmise that Harry doesn’t appreciate the form – he does. He writes in a variety of poetic styles and voices and is never afraid to try something new.

Chasing the Sunset is a collection which takes the reader from Summer through the seasons to Spring. The intelligent way in which the poems are organised adds a narrative thread to the collection. We are taken from June in an open top car to autumn and bleakest winter. Finally, spring comes, and the butterfly awakens through love and friendship.

The beauty of much of the poetry in this pamphlet is that it packs a real emotional punch in just a few words. Harry’s economy of language is quite astounding.  The way he plays with language, bending it and shaping it to his will is testament to Harry’s writing ability. His evocative poems, full of vivid imagery, are imaginative yet familiar and I found that comforting.

Stand out poems, for me, were: Old Flame – there’s that economy of language I was talking about; Christmas Haiku – I love a haiku and this one really packs a punch; Butterfly – made me cry; Chasing the Sunset – a happy ending.

This collection is full of heart.

Vic x

Review of 2015: Nicola Cameron

Today we have the brilliant playwright Nicola Cameron to review 2015. Thanks for taking the time to do this, Nicola!

Vic x

Nicola Cameron

2015 was a great year for you. Do you have a favourite memory professionally?
2015 was the year I wrote my first proper, hour-long play, ‘Wasters’. It took six months of writing, redrafting and workshopping to get it to a point where it was ready to be performed; and I worked with some absolutely fantastic actors and directors, all under the mentorship of the talented Fin Kennedy. Sitting in the audience watching Wasters, seeing something I had imagined come to life, has got to be my top memory this year.


And how about a favourite moment from 2015 generally?
Performing ‘451’ by Periplum at SIRF 15. SIRF is Stockton’s International Riverside Festival – one of Europe’s largest outdoor theatre festivals and is definitely worth getting along to in the summer. I volunteered to help out with a show, thinking I’d be tearing tickets, but when I arrived I was given a black coat, a balaclava and a whistle! The show is a large-scale retelling of Ray Bradbury’s ‘Fahrenheit 451’, complete with flame-throwers, acrobatics and a gang of balaclava-clad firemen (me!) scaring the crowd into burning their books. It is a truly incredible show and a brilliant thing to be a part of, and has encouraged me to look into outdoor theatre as a career.

Favourite book in 2015?
This was the year I discovered Jose Saramago. ‘Blindness’ – where an entire town goes blind out of the blue, was the book that I could not put down. Saramago has an interesting way of writing, in that his sentences are often pages long, with the dialogue incorporated in them. It gives his work the feeling of being told the story rather than reading it, as the writers’ voice and personality are a part of the text. I’d also recommend ‘The Gospel According to Jesus Christ’ and ‘Death at Intervals’.

Favourite film of 2015?
The Lobster’. A thousand times! Amazing film. It’s set in a dystopian sort of world where everyone must be part of a couple to live in the city and lead a normal life. If you are single you are sent to a hotel, where you have so many days to pair up with one of the other singles, otherwise you’ll be turned into an animal. If you run away, you have to live in a forest as a Loner and be hunted by the hotel guests every night. I won’t say any more, just that I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much at a film. So see it!

Favourite song of the year?
Prince Johnny’ by St Vincent. I don’t even know why but I can’t get it out of my head. Also St Vincent is amazing – beautiful voice and great lyrics!

Any downsides for you in 2015?
It’s been a tough year financially but I think that’s true for most people at the moment. Here’s to a better 2016!

Are you making resolutions for 2016?
I think it’s time I tackled the big one: procrastination. It needs to be stopped. And it needs to stop stopping me. Also I’d like to try and move around a bit more. And actually update my blog regularly like I’m supposed to!

What are you hoping for from 2016?
I’d like to get another play written just to prove ‘Wasters’ wasn’t a fluke. And I guess by saying that it’s clear that I need to be more confident in myself as a writer. I think that’d be a good thing to aim for.

You can check out Nicola’s blog  or her filmpoem


Guest post: The Newcastle Literary Salon by Ben Aaron MacLeod

Today on the blog, we have Ben Aaron MacLeod talking about the Newcastle Literary Salon. Ben is one of the co-hosts of the Salon, along with the lovely Juli Watson. I’ve been fortunate enough to read at the Salon before and it’s a really unique atmosphere. 

Thanks to Ben for appearing on the blog.

Vic x

The Newcastle Literary Salon.

By Ben Aaron MacLeod.

What single word is the most frightening to modern aspiring authors? Rejection? Editing? Typos? None of those, I’d argue. If you’ve ever been to a workshop on getting published, one hosted not by authors or small-time presses, but the big international print houses, you’ll know that there is only one word on everyone’s lips. One confusing, cringe-worthy word, without which, they tell you point blank, you’ll never even get an agent, never mind published on a global scale. That word is platform.

This was the grim discovery I made when I attended the Hay House Writer’s workshop in London two years ago, where they’d jetted in their CEO, Reid Tracy, all the way from LA or somewhere, just to put us all out of our misery and open our eyes to the true sausage-making of books. But what is platform? I remember asking myself, and as Reid explained I liked the sound of it less and less. An author’s platform is their presence, nowadays chiefly online, it’s about the influence they have, who they know and most importantly, how much of the public they can reach. It’s what I call the neo-nepotism of the literary world and it all boils down to this: How many people are listening when you speak? Basically, you already have to be famous before you can become a famous author. This is the enigma offered to many starting on the Road to JK Rowling, a perpetual chicken and the egg argument that sinks so many dreams in a tide of rejection letters. This is the cold, number-crunching reality of the traditional publishing world, that nobody will do your marketing for you, that big publishers won’t accept submissions except from an agent and if you haven’t got a big enough platform, a ready-made audience, then agents won’t even read your work.

Most writers are typically of the shy and retiring disposition, content to spend their days cloistered by computers, barricaded behind walls of words. It seemed like this cruel world was asking a lot of its introverts. It was with this clarion message and resounding dichotomy still ringing in my ears over a year later, that I decided to moot the possibility of founding Newcastle’s first permanent Literary Salon with poet and artist Juli Watson. As shy and introverted as Juli and I are in private, in public we are the reverse. Together we decided to use this hard-won superpower for good, not evil, to help encourage and promote the literary and poetic arts of Newcastle and support our fellow writers in the development of their elusive fame.

So, back in January, our new spoken-word night emerged onto the literary scene. The reasoning behind the Salon was thus, that we would be there for the North East’s book-hungry, poem-drunk masses to quench their fill of the region’s latest offerings and to provide a marketplace, where local word-farmers might come and tout their wares, while gaining tips from worthy peers. From the outset, we chose the word Salon, eager to bring a flush of grand civility, the smell of the Lit and Phil to a spoken-word scene dominated by pubs. We were keen to return to the old ways, the heritage of the Salon ideals, because this modern world of self-publishing, platform and publishers-beyond-reach have unwittingly returned us to the patronage of old, only now our patrons are the public at large and not merely a select few.

We established a theme for each evening, something to give our writers camaraderie and the audience something to get their teeth into. In November, we’re set to tackle Revolution and Revolt and after a Christmas break, in January we will examine Childhood and Family. With no topic anathema, we hope to carry the spirit of Salons of old, to stir discussion and dissent in equal measure. In line with tradition, we dispensed with open-mic, but made the invitations open to all. Anyone can write to us and request to perform; our email address is below. Without open-mic we feel the evenings are structured and organised, as comfortable as theatre and not like truck-spotting on a windy bridge, waiting for something good to come around the bend; always waiting, never sure. But if the future will of the people bends to open-mic, then who would we be to refuse? We are, after all, an instrument of the great unread. From the audience side, we hope it is a fun night out, where cup of tea and slice of pizza or glass of wine and piece of cake can accompany fresh forays into the literary arts; a feast of discovery, expanding both waistlines and minds.

Having spent our youth in the cosy environs of the Scrumpy Willow, we are now venturing to pastures new, with our inaugural appearance at Bar Loco on Friday, 27th of November. We’ve had some great guests performing for us along the way, including Valerie Laws, Scott Tyrell and Josephine Scott, as well as many local favourites like Jenni Pascoe, Harry Gallagher, Patrick Shannon and Steve Urwin. I’ve been particularly pleased to witness the emergence of a new generation of talent, people I never would have read or heard of otherwise; the astounding poetry of Anna Chen and Catherine Selkirk Ayres, the performance talent of Leila Hussein and Alix Alixandra or the gripping prose of MJ Wesolowski, Andrew Atkinson, James Tucker and countless more that spring to mind. Because the Salon is ultimately there for you. If you write, it’s your chance to read and grow. If you like books, then it’s your opportunity to shake the hands that wrote them, to guide and shape the artists’ development with your opinions and insight, to get the inside track on what’s really going on.

As far as I know, we are still the only regular spoken-word night in the North East where admission is free. This isn’t because our performers are sh*t, or what we have isn’t worth paying for, it’s because Juli and I strongly believe that access to the arts should be free to all. If poetry moves you to remove twenty quid from your pocket and thrust it through streaming eyes at our performers, or even us for that matter, then that’s greatly appreciated, but just because you haven’t got five pounds to rub together doesn’t mean you should be denied that experience in the first place. But freedom often comes at a cost and without your presence and support, we simply can’t continue. So rather than sell tickets, we receive donations at the end of the night, so everyone can pay what they feel the evening was worth to them and we can put the money back into the Salon, towards marketing and bringing it to a wider audience.

We want to spread the word, not only about good writing, but about good writers and poets. We always set aside time for the performers to tell the audience a bit about themselves and their work; what inspires them, why they became writers and what the work is really about.

I knew from the outset that I didn’t want bare, stark readings, plain writing standing alone. If that was all we had to offer, you might as well sit at home with an audiobook. I want a connection between artist and audience, something more than you get from paper and ink, to be able to see behind the scenes and put the backroom front and centre. Really, it is only through connecting with an audience, through standing up and reading aloud that a writer or poet can truly get a measure of themselves, of the power and influence of their work. In this way, the Salon isn’t a means to an end, it’s not about sales and platform, it’s about self-improvement, development and a meeting of minds. I can’t speak for Juli, but this is my vision, as grand and romantic as it probably is. We have a long way to go, admittedly, but if there’s one thing that writing novels has taught me (or trying to write them, at least!), it’s the essential art of patience.

Ben Aaron MacLeod


To read more about The Newcastle Literary Salon and for details of their latest event, simply follow: http://www.facebook.com/NewcastleLiterarySalon

The Newcastle Literary Salon – Bar Loco, Leazes Park Road, Newcastle

Contact newcastlesalon@gmail.com for a list of upcoming themes and to enquire about appearing.