Tag Archives: poems

**I Will Miss You Tomorrow Blog Tour**

blog tour visual

I’m really pleased to be taking part in the blog tour for Heine Bakkeid’s ‘I Will Miss You Tomorrow‘, the first in a new Norwegian crime series.

Fresh out of prison and a stint in a psychiatric hospital, disgraced ex-Chief Inspector Thorkild Aske only wants to lose himself in drugged dreams of Frei, the woman he loved but has lost forever. 

Yet when Frei’s young cousin goes missing off the Norwegian coast and Thorkild is called in by the family to help find him, dead or alive, Thorkild cannot refuse. He owes them this.

Tormented by his past, Thorkild soon finds himself deep in treacherous waters. He’s lost his reputation – will he now lose his life?

My thanks to Raven Books for inviting me to be a part of the tour and to Heine for taking the time to answer my questions. 

Vic x

Tell us a little about yourself…
I grew up in the North of Norway, in a place called Belnes. Just five houses, with the polar night looming above, the mountains behind us and the sea in front. It’s the kind of place where, as a kid, you can run around all day, play, and not see another human being. I used to read a lot, and developed a sturdy imagination, something that resulted in me getting lost I my own thoughts whenever and wherever I was. I still get lost in my own thoughts, usually thinking about characters I have created/want to get to know better, scenes I want to write, plots, and forget that I’m with other people, people that expect me to answer back when they talk to me. (My wife especially, finds this hilarious😊) Growing up in such a small place, you kind of get to be comfortable in your own skin and being on your own. Becoming a writer was therefore the perfect match for me, also because writers are often easily forgiven for being kind of weird sometimes, so …

And what can you tell us about ‘I Will Miss You Tomorrow’? 
One of the things that has always fascinated me is how men, the kind of men I grew up around, handled their problems. It’s kind of expected that you sort yourself out and get on with your day. The main characters in crime fiction always seem to have certain traits; when you first meet them, they are broken in some way or form, and I always wondered why. How did they get there, to this point? So, when I first started writing about Thorkild Aske, I knew that this was something that I wanted to explore in the series. But also, what happens with a lone investigator-type, who doesn’t even want to fix himself, who can’t put himself together and just get on with it, but who actively sabotages his own well-being. So, when we first meet Thorkild in ‘I Will Miss You Tomorrow‘ he’s just been released from prison, has lost his job as an Interrogation Officer with the Internal Affairs and is heavily abusing the pain medication his psychiatrist has given him. He is then forced to travel to the far north to investigate the disappearance of a young man who was renovating an old light house. What he then finds, is a young woman without a face in the breaking sea.

How long have you been writing? 
I started writing in my late twenties in 2003. I was studying programming in Stavanger and was well on my way to become a System Developer. Being a writer isn’t really something people from where I come from see as an option. Programming is as close to the inner circles of hell as you can get; it’s so structured, narrow, and has no freedom to go beyond the boundaries of the programming language, and I hated it.
One night, I had been hung up on this scene with this character (which later became Thorkild Aske) for a whole week and couldn’t sleep, so I just got up and started writing, hoping the scene would go away so that I could get some sleep. I wrote about fifty pages the following days, but quickly realized that I was way too young to write about such a character and decided that I was going to wait with the Thorkild Aske books until I got older.
But I still loved writing, this new-found way to escape the pains of programming, so I just kept writing and finished my first novel for young adults the same month as I completed my bachelor’s degree. I told myself that if the manuscript got published, I would become a writer, and if not, I would go on to my Master’s degree and slowly die, one day at a time, in some stupid office.

What was your journey to publication like?
I still know by heart the first line in the official letter from the publishing house that took on my manuscript. They had sent the manuscript to a well-known Norwegian YA-author who was consulting for them. “Finally, something that is pure gold, in an otherwise regular work day where everything is just so-so.” (I’m really butchering the English language on this one😊) So, with those words in mind I felt that I had moved a couple of inches away from that office space in hell, and decided to tell my wife that I was starting over again, from scratch with only my student debt in my backpack. I was going to become a writer. The book got published in 2005, and three years and three books later, in March 2008, I quit my day job and became a writer full-time.

Are you working on anything at the moment? Can you tell us about it?
Right now, I’m working on the fourth installment of the Thorkild Aske series. The story takes place in Stavanger, where the police have just dug up the body of one of their own, a dirty cop who went missing in 2011, a man that Thorkild Aske shares a personal past with. This one is going to get pretty intense.

What do you like most about writing?
As I said in the beginning, for as long as I can remember, I have been reading and making up my own stories and creating scenes in my head. Becoming a writer was the perfect outlet for this affliction. Telling stories is also the one thing that makes me truly happy.

What do you like least?
Editing. If I find a better way to tell a story, I will go and rewrite. This makes the editing process longer and more painful.

What are you reading at the moment?
The Secret History‘ by Donna Tartt. Very promising😊

Who has been the biggest influence on your writing?
The Norwegian writer and poet André Bjerke. He wrote children’s books, poems and psychological mystery novels in the 1940’s.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
I did these writing courses for school kids in Norway after I got published and saw all the raw talents that were out there, young girls and boys that reminded me of myself at that age. I used to tell them to forget the “good student” type of writing and find their own expression, their own way to tell a story, to portray characters, their emotions and so on. Because that is what readers (and publishers) are looking for: something unique, different. That, and to edit, edit, edit and edit.

What’s been your proudest moment as a writer?
This one, most definitely😊 Being published in the UK, the land of Agatha Christie, Colin Dexter and C. J. Sansom, among so many others. Though, I must admit that my new favourite author is actually Irish: Adrian McKinty. The Sean Duffy series: wow, just … wow!

2018 Review: Rob Walton

Rob Walton is a true gent. I’ve had the pleasure of working with him when he joined Elementary Writers a couple of years ago to give a reading. He’s a warm, funny chap and a brilliant writer.

I’m delighted to welcome him to the blog today. Here’s to a positive 2019, Rob!

Vic x

Rob Walton photo by Evelyn Walton.jpg

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
There were various acceptances and publications of short fictions and poems, and some lovely dealings with several fantastic/hard-working/unheralded editors.  Hats off to all of them.  

Performance-wise, there was a gig in praise and support of Cullercoats Library at the Salthouse, which was great fun – with bonus swearing.

And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
Much trickier because it really wasn’t the best of years.  Probably pride at our daughters for getting through their GCSEs and SATs, and still being decent human beings in spite of the crap that school and society feeds them.  I was also pleased my creaking body allowed me to do my 50th Parkrun.  Then there was a strange pleasure in shedding a few tears at Durham Miners’ Gala, the day after being honoured to read at the launch of Paul Summers’s Arise!  Luckily, I managed to replace the lost liquid with pale ale.

Favourite book in 2018?
The absolutely wonderful Love by Hanne ørstavik (Archipelago Books), translated from the Norwegian by my very talented mate Martin Aitken. 

Patti Smith’s Just Kids.  This had been waiting on my bedside table for years so I took it to New York in the summer, but didn’t manage to read it there.  Instead, I read it in North Shields on my return.  Probably just as well, otherwise I’d have been dragging my daughters to empty spaces/vacant lots in Greenwich Village, saying “Look!  This is where she had a bowl of soup with Allen Ginsberg!”

Favourite film in 2018?
I didn’t go as often as I would have liked.  I shared some laughs at the Jam Jar in Whitley Bay with my younger daughter, and got moderately freaked with both daughters by The Little Stranger at the Tyneside.  I was probably most impressed by Wildlife and the brilliant but unrelentingly bleak Dark River.  I was also lucky enough to have a sneak preview of the fantastic Pond Life at Leeds Film Festival.  Look out for this next year.  

Favourite gig.
Richard Dawson at the Pitmen’s Parliament, supported by Onsind.  Or maybe Laura Veirs at the Cluny – the best I’ve seen her in years, although she’s always been very good.  I’d also been looking forward to Misty in Roots at Cluny 2, but someone swapped my Dr Marten shoes for some very wobbly boots just before the gig started.

Favourite TV.
Hip-Hop Evolution or Godless or Brooklyn 99 or Killing Eve or, or…

Favourite song of the year?
Ooh, got to be Russ Abbot’s Atmosphere.  I return to it every year and always discover something new. 

Any downsides for you in 2018?
Just bits of my life and the death of the Free World as we know it and all that Great Exhibition of the North nonsense.  

With the far right on the move and the knowledge things are going to get much worse.  I’ve been thinking about the best and most useful way for an inarticulate coward like me to respond.  I’m going to make some cheese scones.  I might put some chives in them.

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
I won’t actually be writing them down but there are lifestyle changes I want to make.

With my move away from North Shields, I need to get to know the dirty bits of Whitley Bay.  I know all about the shiny Spanish City promenade bits, so it’s the underbelly I need to discover: the illicit ice cream dens of Monkseaton and the Briardene stolen conker warehouses.
What are you hoping for from 2019?
Even keel.  Light.  Warmth.  Pale ale with friends.  Possibly fewer submissions to magazines and anthologies and more getting my own stuff together.  The world to come to its cheese scone senses.

2018 Review: Penny Blackburn

I am thoroughly delighted to welcome Penny Blackburn to review her 2018 today.

I first met Penny several years ago when she visited one of my writing groups at Di Meo’s to conduct my final teaching observation. Since then, Penny has begun writing herself; she won first place in last year’s Story Tyne competition and was also on the bill at the latest Noir at the Bar in Newcastle. 

My thanks to Penny for taking the time to chat 2018.

Vic x

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Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
2018 has been a huge year for me in terms of confidence with my writing. I’ve submitted poetry for competitions and publications and I’ve been so pleased to have some acceptances throughout the year – including 2 poems published in print anthologies, which feels extra special.

It was a massive boost to see my 100-word story printed in the Reader’s Digest – not to mention getting £250 as runner-up! 

I’ve also been performing live whenever I’ve had the chance, with both poetry and short stories. I get such a buzz from doing that! It was good fun being a guest on Koast Radio and I laughed when my mum told me that her and my dad were huddled in a shop doorway back in Yorkshire listening to the interview!

Best of all though, I was thrilled to write and read a poem for my niece’s wedding service, which was quite an emotional moment.

And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
I’m such a lucky person, I have so many lovely memories of the year. I’ve been away on some fab trips with lovely people, had some great days (and nights!) close to home too. It’s hard to pick just one! Though, meeting the legendary Dickie Bird at the test match at Headingly and finding him to be a true gent was a special moment (celebrated, of course, with a pork pie and a pint!)

with Dickie Bird (2)

Favourite book in 2018?
I read The Rings of Saturn as part of an online Twitter reading group. I don’t think I understood half the references but there was something spellbinding about it. It has a feel of non-fiction, telling the thoughts of an unnamed narrator travelling around Suffolk and it goes off into all sorts of tangents. I found it very atmospheric and it’s definitely one to go back to.

Another favourite – proper non-fiction this time – was The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst. He set off in the late sixties as part of a round the world solo sailing challenge, but ended up creating a completely false record while he idled about in the Southern Atlantic, nowhere near where he was supposed to be! He either committed suicide or fell off the boat, the authors of the book strongly seem to think the former. A very sad tale, really, and I felt deeply sorry for his wife and children.

Favourite film in 2018?
I’m not really one for watching films, I don’t think I can recall one I’ve seen this year! Oh wait, I watched the film about the ice skater Tonya Harding on the plane to Boston. A good film, not at all what I was expecting.  

Favourite song of the year?
I love all kinds of music and I like it loud! I’m in the Can’t Sing Choir and my favourite one to sing has been Eternal Flame by the Bangles. It’s not a song I was particularly struck on until we sang it and I was surprised by how much I like it!

Any downsides for you in 2018?
I had a bit of a rocky time at work (I teach in FE) in the first half of the year. But luckily everything has been resolved and I feel more stable. I also channelled some of my anxiety into poetry, so there’s always an up side!

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
Last year I read an article which said you should aim for 100 rejections in a year. It was such good advice, because it has made me more likely to submit stuff and it helps me to take the rejections gracefully. I’m not sure if I’m going to make it as I’m only up to about 70, so I think I’ll aim for the 100 again next year!

What are you hoping for from 2019?
I’m hoping to win the Poetry Society National Comp of course! Ha ha.

No, I’m actually hoping that 2019 will be the year I publish a solo pamphlet or small collection. I will then be pestering everybody to buy it …

Final Comment from Penny:
I’d like to say how much I appreciate the writing community that I’m part of. Cullerpoets and North Tyneside Writers’ Circle have both been great in providing support, encouragement and prompts and everyone I’ve come across at workshops or events has been really helpful and positive. There’s a really strong online community as well, and I feel genuinely thankful that I’m writing in an age where we can all connect so easily. Sharing experiences and seeing others having ups and downs puts things in perspective and keeps me motivated. I hope as well that I give some of that encouragement back to others, it’s truly so important xx

2018 Review: Harry Gallagher

I’m pretty sure I say this on the first of December every year but can you believe it’s this time of year again?! 

I’m delighted to host a range of wonderful folks on my 2018 reviews this year. Our first willing victim is poet Harry Gallagher. 

My thanks to Harry for taking the time out of his busy schedule to look back over his year. 

Vic x

Harry book

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
Yes, I’ve been doing an irregular series of ‘An Evening With Harry Gallagher & Friends’ events this year and we’ve just had a ball with them. One particular event in Newbiggin Maritime Centre in Northumberland springs to mind. The venue were quite nervous about putting the gig on beforehand but it just felt like one of those lovely nights from start to end. Myself and the musician/singer friends I had with me spent over 2 hours switching between poems and songs and had such a lovely time with the audience. At the end the venue were really delighted with it, paid us all of the door takings and want it to become a regular thing. Result!

Newbiggin Maritime Centre 8th June.jpg

And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
Ah…a personal one then. I got married in June to the most lovely, supportive and talented woman I could ever hope to meet and we’re sickeningly happy!

Favourite book in 2018?
Notwithstanding by Louis de Bernieres, which was actually written a few years ago, but I’ve just read it. It’s such a beautifully written (if rose tinted) account of genteel village life in an England which probably only existed for a privileged few. It’s so utterly charming I kept expecting Private Godfrey’s sister Dolly to appear, complete with her tray of upside down cakes!

Favourite film in 2018?
As I write this, the films I’ve most eagerly awaited I haven’t yet seen – Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old and the biopic Stan & Ollie starring Steve Coogan. Really looking forward to both. So instead I’ll go for one I saw earlier this year and absolutely loved – The Shape Of Water. It’s by turns fantastical, quirky, amusingly retro, ludicrous, clever and beautiful. See it and fall in love!

Favourite song of the year?
Being an old fart and having no idea whatsoever of current chart music, I’m going with our good friends The Late Bloomers, a folk duo from Scotland. The way their voices weave in and out of each other could bring tears from stone. If I have to pick one song of theirs I’ll with The Brakeman’s Daughter – heaven!  

Any downsides for you in 2018?
Trump and the rise of the right throughout the western world. It seems to me that we are going through a profound change which I don’t think anyone really understands yet. The gap between the haves and the have nots is now obscene and people are turning away from the mainstream political parties for answers to the far reaches – a huge mistake. I fear for the future because I think it will get a lot worse for the poor and dispossessed before it gets any better. I hope I’m wrong.

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
Keep going. Keep writing, keep gigging and keep pressing on. If you stand still, you go backwards.

Tan cover

What are you hoping for from 2019?
I have a new joint collection out in January with the editor of Black Light Engine Room, p.a.morbid – Running Parallel, so it will be good to get that out there and get out around the UK to promote it. Other than that it would be great to play a few festivals this year. I also write songs and perform them with my better half around the north east folk circuit and we keep promising each other to get in the studio with a few mates and record and put out an album of our songs. It would be good to record them if only for posterity. Who knows? It may just happen this year…

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Neil Fulwood

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.

Poet Neil Fulwood is here to share his experience of work and writing with us. My thanks to Neil for taking the time to tell us how work has affected his life as a writer. 

Vic x

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My grandfather was a miner; my dad ran his own haulage business. It’s not a matter of record whether granddad liked his job or not, but he was definitely a grafter. Dad subscribed to a “dignity” of work philosophy that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Nevil Shute novel. In three generations of Fulwoods, I was the odd-one-out.

In my late twenties, I came across a Raymond Carver poem with these lines: “… this much is still true – / I never liked work. My goal was always / to be shiftless”. I’d been putting in the nine-to-five for a decade at that point: I’d worked as an admin assistant, a receptionist and an estimator for a firm that made road signs. Even with the benefit of longevity and a minor tendency to hagiography, I wouldn’t file any of them under “job satisfaction”.

My first job ended in redundancy after four years. I’ve been downsized several times since then. The “job for life” of my father’s generation is a thing of the past. I’ve quit a couple of jobs of my own accord – one with a financial services firm as a matter of conscience, one at a training company after I was threatened with violence and wasn’t convinced that effective safeguarding was in place.

I’ve never really had a career path or any professional goals. Work was simply an act of pragmatism: there was board to pay, then rent, then a mortgage; a car to run; food to put on the table. Debts to pay off or holidays to save for. Beer money. Bookshops. If one job ended, I temped till another came along. To date, I’ve worked in the manufacturing and retail sectors, financial services, training and healthcare. The same culture of mismanagement, office politics and grassroots employees treated as cattle has been prevalent in all of them.

Some folk succeed in dodging what Larkin called “the toad work” and I have friends and colleagues who deplore these people as spongers and scroungers. But if I’m being perfectly honest I quite admire those toad-avoiders. That I’ve never managed to join their ranks says something about me, though I’m not quite sure what.

While I’ve seldom enjoyed work – the one job I had that I genuinely engaged with ended in redundancy after just a couple of years – it’s given me material. For a while I held off writing poems about office life, convinced that paperwork and poetry weren’t a good match. Then it occurred to me that no-one was documenting the white collar whereas the blue collar experience had champions of such stature as Fred Voss and Philip Levine, and the toad-avoiders had Raymond Carver and Charles Bukowski on their side.

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I found my voice as a poet in my mid-thirties – I’d written during my teens and early twenties, but what I produced was shallow and derivative – and by the time I published my first collection, No Avoiding It (Shoestring Press), at the age of 45, poems about work accounted for a third of its content. In a review published in The Morning Star, Andy Croft noted that I was “especially good on the mental slavery of contemporary work”.

‘Nuff said!

**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

Review: ‘Lost For Words’ by Stephanie Butland

Stephanie Butland’s third novel, Lost for Words, is being touted as a book lover’s dream book and I’m rather inclined to agree. Loveday Cardew works in a second-hand bookstore and prefers books to people. She has her favourite first lines tattooed on her body and an acerbic wit to keep people at bay.

Loveday is prickly to say the least but I, like several of the characters in this book, love her. The relationships between the characters are really intelligently written and are therefore totally believable. The attention to detail in this novel really adds to the story. I loved the scenes in which Loveday would discover notes in the margins of books or past treasures hidden in between the pages.

Stephanie Butland has created a compelling yarn, combining romance with deeper, darker questions and a well-drawn cast of characters that I was fully invested in. The flashbacks are skillfully woven into the present-day narrative to give the reader just enough information to keep them guessing.

I absolutely loved this book, for a bibliophile, it really has it all – performance poetry complete with original poems, relevant literary references everywhere you look in addition to characters to care about. It, like the bookshop, is utterly charming.

And as a Spotify fan, I’m thrilled to say there’s a playlist to listen to as you read. 

In the words of Shelley Harris: ‘I cried like a motherf***er.’

Vic x

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
harry
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!

Guest Post: Harry Gallagher on his home town.

Harry Gallagher first attended one of my writing groups in January 2013 and since then, I’ve seen his success grow exponentially. That, however, has little to do with me: the range of Harry’s poetry is astounding and he can write on pretty much any subject. Whether you’re looking for political rants or romantic poems, Harry’s your man. That said, the poems I have enjoyed the most have been inspired by Harry’s home town and the people he knew there.

Harry’s spending time with us on the blog today to chat about his home town.

Vic x

Harry performs his work

My Home Town
By Harry Gallagher

There’s no easy way of putting this. I’m from Middlesbrough. There, I said it. Home of steel making since Victorian times, when Prime Minister Gladstone labelled the town “the infant Hercules”. When this writer left school in 1979 (the year of the first election of St Margaret Of Hades) there were, from memory, some 45,000 people directly employed by British Steel on Teesside. This is not to mention all the supporting industries, chemical giants ICI (remember them?) and the shipyards. Like it or not, this stuff is in our bones and in our lungs – check my asthma, baby!

Fast forward to 2016 and we now no longer make steel, the blast furnace having been sacrificed just last year in a disgraceful sop to the Chinese government, in return for their help building a nuclear power plant elsewhere. And all under the baleful gaze of the Minister for the laughable Northern Poorhouse project, unbelievably a local MP. The Middlesbrough FC chairman, Steve Gibson – a local council estate lad made good and a left leaning champion of the town to boot – furiously labelled him “an absolute clown” and who am I to argue? But first let me take you back, back, back…

Our heavy industrial roots – which is now referred to, apparently without irony, as ‘heritage’ – and unique cultural mix are what made our people who they are. Everyone’s ancestors in Middlesbrough came from somewhere else, having followed work to a smoke blackened, nigh on lawless Wild West. Both sides of my family came from Ireland.

I grew up in the 1970s and consider myself fortunate to have spent the 80s working alongside pretty much the last generation of men in this country who, in their own words, spent their lives “fighting iron”. These people lifted and bent heavy steel to their will, or had once dug ironstone from the earth, or processed massive amounts of deadly chemicals, or built and then sent ships to all corners of the world. Their lives were hard and so they had to be hard too, in order to survive. The men I knew smoked pin-thin woodbines, held between thumb and forefinger, lit end pointing into their palms. Their humour was often coarse – by God, they were funny – and cruel, but they were bound by a common purpose and by communities as close as the back to backs they often lived in. They were as tough as… well, ironstone, but they were also often surprisingly warm and kind.

These people inhabited a world now almost gone – and in many ways maybe we should be glad it is. Their wives seemed to mostly stay at home, raising the family; sometimes working part-time to supplement the income of the 7 days a week man. Their children could expect to follow a similar path. The sons of the Tyne and Wear rivers had shipyards, coal mines and heavy engineering. On the Tees, coal mining was exchanged for iron and steel or chemical works. They knew the river would provide, as it had done for the previous hundred years or more. They would marry a local girl and expect to bring up a family in a similar vein, perhaps hoping to provide their own family with a little better than they themselves had known.

So where did they all go, the children and grandchildren of these people? Well, the lucky or more adaptable ones followed the example of their forefathers and became migrants themselves. I challenge you to step onto an oil or gas platform anywhere in the North Sea or Middle East and just listen. Within minutes your ears will be assaulted by that gruff twang – a “Now then chor!” or perhaps “Yer jokin’ arn yer!” It’s how we roll – all around the globe. I have encountered my townsfolk in most countries in Europe, in Kazakhstan, in Qatar, in fact everywhere I have worked.

But what of the others, those without a recognised trade? Or those unable to work? Or the helpless or hopeless? You know – the people who helped build the country. To spell it out, the unemployed. Well, they found themselves at the top of our lovely government’s priority list, just above asylum seekers and rabid dogs; and thus became the chief target of Ian Duncan Smith’s austerity drive.

These people are the Have Nots. Many of their children are either on low paid, zero hour contracts or if they are lucky, work in call centres. Others are themselves on Benefit Street. They will never be able to afford what many of their parents’ generation aspired to – getting a step on the property ladder – instead paying rent to the Haves.

And then along came Nigel, with his tabloid-owning friends and his hatred and his simple answer to a complicated question. To cut a long and depressing story short, we took the bait. Not everyone did – I have friends and family in Teesside as horrified as I am – but enough people blamed the other people doing exactly what our own ancestors had done. And so here we are, on our way out of the EU. The one and only institution propping up an area which our own government has abandoned and we have just marched proudly away from it, right arms in the air. But, hey we got our country back.

At the time of writing, our future looks as bleak as the clouds that once hung over our town. But we must have hope. Teesside people are unique. Though rooted in history, we have always been a largely forward-looking bunch and we are nothing if not pragmatic. We have adapted to enormous change and are still evolving. Thatcher’s filthy brood continue to throw sharp objects at us, but resilience came hard-earned and we are a tough bunch. Here’s to the future, wherever it may lead…

Guest Post: Jennifer C. Wilson on ‘Finding the Words’.

I have the pleasure of hosting Jennifer C. Wilson on the blog today. Jen, a member of Elementary  Writers, is not only a fantastic poet but her debut novel ‘Kindred Spirits: Tower of Londonwas published by Crooked Cat Publishing last year and is available as an e-book and in paperback form. 

Jen and Elaine’s workshop this coming Saturday promises to be full of fun and inspiration. 

Vic x

Thanks for hosting me today, Victoria!

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You know I love my creative writing workshops, and this Saturday, 16th July, at Whitley Bay Library, I’m delighted to be running my first in partnership with fellow Whitley Writer, Elaine Cusack. We’ll be helping people “Find the Words”, with two workshops – a Scavenger Hunt in the morning (10:00-13:00), rummaging for ideas around Whitley Bay, and the library itself, and then in the afternoon (13:30-16:30), a session on Found Poetry.

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Elaine Cusack will be co-hosting the workshop with Jen.

Whether people attend one or both sessions, there’ll be plenty of exercises to inspire, and a chance to share and draft work for group or one-to-one feedback.

Having dipped a toe in workshops last summer, with a history-inspired event at Arbeia Roman Fort, I cannot wait to run a whole-day session, and help people come up with some new ideas.

Sessions are £20 each, or £30 for the whole day (10:00-16:30), and tickets are available online now. You can get more information about this event on Facebook

Elaine and I cannot wait!

Jennifer.