Tag Archives: read

I review my 2016

I really enjoy running the annual reviews, they get wonderful feedback from readers and it’s always a pleasure to spend time with the participants so thanks to everyone who’s taken part this year. Here’s to a wonderful 2017!

Victoria

In 2016, I have had some really cracking professional successes. Noir at the Bar is a real highlight for me, having run two in Newcastle and participated in ones in Harrogate and Edinburgh. I have Graham Smith and Jay Stringer to thank for encouraging me to set up the Newcastle chapter. Special thanks must also go to Jacky Collins – organiser of Newcastle Noir – for assisting me with the running of NatB NE. The turnout for the events in Newcastle has been fantastic and it’s really gathering great support, it’s a really wonderful thing to be involved in. I’m really looking forward to the next one on Wednesday, 22nd February.

My friend Luca introduces me

Elementary Writers continue to go from strength to strength. This year, we’ve released a book – Blood from the Quill – and a pamphlet – Wish You Were Here. We’ve also done performances for Burns Night, Heritage Open Days and Halloween. It is a pleasure to work with such talented writers.

The writers that I’ve worked with as a copy-editor this year have had some great success. I loved going to Chris Ord’s book launch for his excellent novel Becoming and it’s great to see that Nicole Helfrich’s book Descent to Hell has been released internationally. Similarly, it’s great to see Paul McDonagh and Graham Bain‘s books available to buy now.

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Oh, and I started working on my novel again. I’ve written more in the last three months than I have done in six years. That’s a pretty good feeling. The feedback I’ve had from performing extracts and sharing the work has been awesome and has really spurred me on to actually finish it. It’s not easy but I’m actually really enjoying spending time with the characters and delving deeper into their lives. A couple of weeks ago, Mike Cockburn of Sogno Ltd did a session with Elementary Writers on Myers-Briggs Personality Types and that’s given me a lot of food for thought.

Personally, I’ve also had one of the best years of my life. The Boy Wonder and I moved into our first house together in August and, on 14th November in Oman, he asked me to marry him! I honestly couldn’t be happier.

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It was a true thrill going to see my dad be awarded an MBE for services to welfare reform and charity. It was such a special day, going to Buckingham Palace with my parents and brother to see my dad’s hard work rewarded. I’ve never felt so proud in my life. We enjoyed a lovely afternoon tea at the Grosvenor Hotel in London afterwards.

A very proud day

In other news, I finally hit my Slimming World target as well as being nominated – and winning – Woman of the Year and Miss Slinky at my group. I’ve made some great friends at the group and I will continue to go in order to control my weight.

Favourite film by a country mile was GhostbustersI didn’t want to see it as I was worried it would be a disappointed but I loved it. Kate McKinnon is my hero!

I’ve read so many fantastic books this year in a range of genres. I loved Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories which was a collection of his favourite chilling tales. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert was a real inspiration – any creative person should read this fantastic book. I read my first ever Agatha Christie this year and I’m proud to boast that I guessed who was responsible for The Murder of Roger Ackroyd very early on. The Yellow Wallpaper was an utter revelation. There are loads of other wonderful books that have stayed with me this year – you can check them out on my Goodreads page.

That has got to be Formation by Beyonce although I have been known to sing it as ‘Ok, ladies, now let’s get information’. The Boy Wonder and I went to see Hans Zimmer Live and that concert just took my breath away. Seeing him perform the music from The Dark Knight as well as being introduced to The Electro Suite and other incredible compositions has stayed with me ever since.

At the start of 2016, I’d been made redundant and a house purchase had fallen through. That was not a great start but since then, I’ve never looked back. Looking outward, I’m devastated by the events all over the world. Syria, the US election, the EU referendum in Britain and the fallout have just been terrifying. Every year, I worry that we – as humans – are losing touch with humanity. I can’t believe the way people are behaving towards one another – usually because of difference. That’s just heartbreaking.

My resolutions for 2017 are too try not to over-commit. I get very excited by the opportunities offered to me and find it difficult to say no but sometimes that negatively impacts on me.

I’m hoping 2017 will be a better year for people. I really hope we can find a way to work together to bring about positive change in the world – regardless of difference.

Review of 2016: Bernie Steadman

Today we have Bernie Steadman on the blog to review her year. By all accounts, it’s been a corker but you don’t need to hear that from me – allow Bernie to sum up her 2016 for you!

Vic x

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Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2016?
My first novel, Death and Deception came out right at the end of 2015, so it was in January 2016 that I first read reviews from people I didn’t know, about a book I had created. It was a special moment and the fulfilment of a dream. The second in the series, Death and The Good Son, came out on the 9th December this year, and my favourite part of that process was having a launch with so many friends, a glass or two of prosecco, some signings, some sales… it was a great afternoon!

death

And how about a favourite moment from 2016 generally?
I’m an Iyengar Yoga devotee, and in May I went to Crete for a week long retreat with a brilliant teacher. The venue: 30 yards from the beach. The yoga: challenging, and in every way, stretching! The food: delicious home-made Cretan delights; yogurt, fruit and vegetables from the garden. The weather: warming nicely by the end of the week to 30 degrees. The sea: warm enough to swim. Reader, I wept like a baby when I had to come home…

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Favourite book in 2016?
So tough. I’ve read so many. I loved ‘The Rosie Project‘ by Graeme Simsion, and the first in the ‘Brilliance‘ sci-fi series by Marcus Sakey. Debut authors; I have to recommend Angela Corner’s ‘The Hidden Island‘. Heleyne Hammersley’s ‘Fracture‘ was good, and I mustn’t forget the magical, wonderful, ‘Ghostbird‘ by Carol Lovekin.

Favourite film in 2016?
Dr Strange‘, with the delectable Benedict Cumberbatch. Love a bit of Sci-fi, and will see ‘Rogue 1‘ before the end of the year, no doubt.

Favourite song of the year?
Emilie Sande, ‘Hurts‘. She’s a fabulous singer; you can hear her soul in her voice.

Any downsides for you in 2016?
Personally it’s been a fantastic year, but so many of our icons have died this year that I think it is tinged with a little sadness for everybody.

Are you making resolutions for 2017?
Well, I have a new novel to write, starting January 1st

What are you hoping for from 2017?
A safe world, in which difference doesn’t spark xenophobia. I’m going for spontaneous acts of kindness, and smiling at strangers!

Review of 2016: Sandra Ireland

Today we’re joined on the blog by the lovely Sandra Ireland who’s here to review her year. I know it’s a funny time of year – the week between Christmas and New Year – so thanks to Sandra for taking the time to appear on the blog.

Vic x

book-signing

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2016?
I suppose everyone says ‘The Book Launch’, which is absolutely true! Mine was in St Stephens, Stockbridge, and hosted by a wonderful indie bookshop, Golden Hare Books. My publisher Polygon selected this venue as my novel Beneath the Skin is set right around the corner! But I have so many great memories of 2016, including being invited to take part in Bloody Scotland’s ‘Spotlight on Crime’ event.

 

And how about a favourite moment from 2016 generally?
2016 has been a BIG year. In April, I was a awarded Creative Scotland funding to undertake a year-long creative residency at NTS Barry Mill, Angus, and in May my son Jamie married his lovely girl, Lizzie, at the Mill. The ceremony took place beneath a gorgeous old apple tree. Not a dry eye in the place!

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Favourite book in 2016?
So many to choose from. At the moment I’m reading Donna Tartt’s ‘The Goldfinch‘, after seeing the painting in Edinburgh. Such a beautifully-written novel, and that sense of place bestowed by basing it around an actual artefact: brilliant! I’ve tried to do something similar with by second novel, which is set in a fictional version of Barry Mill. I love the idea of literary tourism.

goldfinch

Favourite film in 2016?
Tricky. I’m not a fan of anything connected with ‘Star Wars‘ or action/ adventure/ superhero stuff, and I don’t like all the hype surrounding cinema releases. I’m a rather-read-the-book type! I did enjoy ‘Sunset Song‘ last year, but I guess that doesn’t count! This year I went to see ‘Room‘, and ‘The Girl on the Train‘ which were both just okay!

Favourite song of the year?
I’m a big Nick Cave fan, so I would have to say that my go-to song for a bit of Gothic writing inspiration is his ‘Red Right Hand’. Since it’s the theme for Peaky Blinders (beautifully-written) I think that qualifies it to be included in my 2016 highlights!

Any downsides for you in 2016?
Mainly family stuff. I suppose bright light casts a long shadow, and alongside the good fortune of having my book published are the things that can’t be helped but must be endured. My father is nearly 93 and doesn’t keep well. However he’s doing okay at the moment. My younger son, Calum, is in Australia and managed to come back for the wedding. Neither of them made it to the book launch, which was sad but unavoidable. I missed them both.That’s the writing life – it’s a strange career choice; you just have to write through the downsides of life.

Are you making resolutions for 2017?
I like to see what the Universe has in store for me – I like to be led by my intuition, so no resolutions for me. Too much like taking control! I do have goals, though.

What are you hoping for from 2017?
I hope to get my second novel published, and to build on the other strand of my writing life which is as a tutor/facilitator. I’m about to start working with Tayside Healthcare Arts Trust on a creative writing project at a local Macmillan Centre. I love the idea of well-being through the arts, so I’d like to do more of that in the New Year. I’m hoping for lots of good health, energy, enthusiasm and tolerance in 2017!

Thank you so much for sharing this space with me! Wishing yourself and all my writing friends every success and help from a friendly Muse in the New Year!

Review of 2016: Matt Wesolowski

Over the past twelve months, my path has crossed with Matt Wesolowski’s on a few occasions. Matt is an author from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and he leads Cuckoo Young Writers creative writing workshops for young people in association with New Writing North. 

Matt’s debut novella ‘The Black Land‘, a horror set on the Northumberland coast, was published in 2013 by Blood Bound Books and he’s had lots of stories published in anthologies and magazines. Wesolowski was a winner of the Pitch Perfect competition at ‘Bloody Scotland’; Crime Writing Festival 2015, his subsequent debut crime novel ‘Six Stories‘ is available through Orenda Books.

Thanks for reviewing your year for us, Matt!

Vic x

Matt

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2016?
It has to be in May when I got the confirmation that my novel ‘Six Stories‘ was to be published by Orenda. Being published on a scale like this has been my dream ever since I can remember and even now, it still doesn’t quite feel real. I remember my legs turning to jelly…they still do if i think about it too much!

Six Stories

My favourite moment generally was seeing my son starting to learn to read. Watching him and helping him recognise words is such a privilege – he’s only five and has got a way to go but I can see the doors to a wonderful world gradually opening before him, a world that has given me such pleasure. I’m reading him Jo Nesbo’s ‘Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder‘ books at the minute. He can try Nesbo’s crime stuff when he’s a bit older!

Favourite book in 2016?
I’m in no way biased toward Orenda but they released a stunning book this year called ‘The Bird Tribunal‘ by Norwegian author Agnes Ravatn – the work is simply stunning; it reminded me of Tarjei Vesaas in its rustic poetry. I also was deeply impressed and influenced by Benjamin Myers’ ‘Turning Blue‘ – a really desolate rural thriller as well as ‘The Girls‘ by Emma Cline which is beautifully written and hold you in a vice grip until the end.

Favourite song of the year?
I listen to so much music when I’m writing, a mixture of ambience and atmospheric black metal so in that sense, individual songs often don’t stick out.

I did get into Chelsea Wolfe a lot this year –  she’s a sort of doom-folk singer. ‘Simple Death‘ off her Abyss album is just wonderfully melancholic and bleak…are you noticing a theme in these answers yet?

Favourite film in 2016?
The Witch‘ was hands down my favourite film this year. It’s set in the 17th century with this banished family of Christians trying to tame the wilds of an unforgiving forest and hindered by their own puritanical fear of the unknown. I adored the way the dialogue was lifted from genuine witch trials and of course the character of Black Philip – a goat – stole the show. It was a difficult and tense watch, genuinely unsettling.

Any downsides for you in 2016?
I feel really strongly about animal rights, especially factory farming; it’s not common knowledge that ‘mega-dairies’ are operating in this country in 2016 – huge industrial complexes which allow the cows zero outdoor grazing. For such beautiful animals to be treated this way is just diabolical.

With so much scientific advancement from our species, it makes me sad that we still think it acceptable to treat other sentient creatures as products. For example, it baffles me when a company like McDonald’s brag about having free range eggs yet the chickens they farm for meat are still kept in inhumane and unspeakable conditions.  When someone gets on the bus with a bucket of KFC, the smell makes me want to vomit.

Under a Conservative government, for whom killing animals for fun is a pastime, it won’t be long until the pox that is fox hunting will return to our lands.

Are you making resolutions for 2017?
I don’t ever make resolutions at new year; I’m my own harshest critic all year round…that part of my brain nags me to be a better father and a more productive writer today!

What are you hoping for from 2017?
I really hope to see more reading in 2017…I’d love to see more people enjoying books rather than social media. There’s this wonderful tradition in Iceland called Jólabókaflóðið which roughly translates as ‘Christmas book flood’ and people give each other books on Christmas eve and spend the evening reading. It’d be wonderful if we could spread that tradition worldwide.

Review of 2016: Katheryn Womack

Today on the blog is Katheryn Womack, she’s here to review her year. Thanks for being involved, Katheryn. 

Vic x

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2016?
The only thing I can think of professionally is that I wrote a short science fiction story.  I have never written science fiction in my life, but I really loved this story.

Unless you count the fact that I have worked here for three and a half years and never taken a vacation, so this May, I took a month off to go to my hometown.  I hadn’t seen anyone for so long, and they hadn’t seen my girls since they were preschoolers.  It was the most wonderful month, maybe of my life.  Every day was packed with visits, parties, get-togethers, events museums, picnics, shopping, you name it.  It was a month of warm, fuzzy, love.

And how about a favourite moment from 2016 generally? 
My favourite moment was when I took my girls to Shanghai Disneyland.  I became a single mother when my youngest was one and half, and my oldest had just turned three.  It was a horrible struggle financially and physically.  I had promised them I would take them to Disneyland when they were out of diapers and didn’t need naps.  It took me a long time to recover from cancer and an even longer time to recover financially, but I finally took them two weeks ago.  It was my proudest mommy moment.   

Favourite book in 2016?
I have read a few good ones, “Everything I Never Told You” By Celeste Ng.  Seems to be sticking out though.

Favourite film in 2016?
I’m about to go see “Dr. Strange” in a week and I’m hoping it will be the one.

Favourite song of the year?
I rarely listen to new music.  I will say, I saw the kids from “Stranger Things” do “Uptown Funk” and I could listen to that over and over.  

Any downsides for you in 2016?
I have two best friends going through horribly distressful times that they are having a very hard time handling, and I can’t be there physically for them.  I hate that I don’t know what to do or how to help them.

Are you making resolutions for 2017?
I will submit more manuscripts to more places.  I need to get more proactive with that part of writing.  Maybe apply for a few jobs in the states.

What are you hoping for from 2017?
I’m hoping to finally get new glasses.  I hope my mom comes out of cancer treatment with flying colours.  I hope I’m able to save money.

Review of 2016: Casey Kelleher

I briefly met Casey Kelleher at Harrogate in July this year. She’s a lovely lass and I’m really happy to have her on the blog to review her year. Thanks for being involved, Casey!
Vic x
Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2016?
In April this year I signed a three book deal with Bookouture, which I am over the moon about. My editor Keshini Naidoo is just fantastic, and she really gets my style of writing and characters. So far we have released ‘The Taken‘ in October ’16, and ‘The Promise‘ is due for publication in February ’17, with the final book looking likely for publication in May.

 

And how about a favourite moment from 2016 generally?
We bought a new house! We’re actually moving a week before Christmas so everything is very hectic in our house right now, but I cannot wait. I will finally have my very own office, and room for a gigantic bookshelf, I’m ridiculously excited about that! 

 

Favourite book in 2016?
It’s not out until 2017 but I received an advanced copy of Sarah Pinborough’s ‘Behind Her Eyes‘, and wow! It’s a really great read. Very different, with a mind blowing twist. 

 

 
Favourite film in 2016?
Bridget Jones Baby‘, as I’m a massive fan of Bridget. Helen Fielding is such a fantastic writer, and it’s as if Renée Zellweger was made for the role.

 

Favourite song of the year?
Ohh, far too many to choose from. Anything by Sia. The woman is a genius. I’m loving ‘Human‘ by Rag’n’Bone Man too at the moment.

Are you making resolutions for 2017?
I’m a bridesmaid next year for my sister-in-law’s wedding, and we’re also going to Tuscany for another of my good friends weddings so I’d like to get a bit more in shape.

What are you hoping for from 2017?
I’m hoping that myself and my family have a fantastic year. Lots of quality time together with our friends and family. That we enjoy our new home, and village life, and that my books continue to do as well as they have been.

Review of 2016: Shelley Day

My very good friend Shelley Day has had a rather special 2016 and she’s taken the time to share her memories with us. Thanks Shelley – here’s to many more wonderful years!

Vic x 

book-launch

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2016?
Well that’s easy peasy; my debut novel ‘The Confession of Stella Moon‘ was published in July, launched on 7th at Waterstones in Edinburgh and then on 14th in Newcastle. I was dead nervous no-one would come, really worried. I’d made the mistake of googling stuff about book launches and came  across an alarming number (mostly in USA) when hardly anyone – in some cases, no-one! – had shown up. In the event, though, tons of people came, including mates from far away I hadn’t seen in donkey’s years, and loads of books were sold and signed and we went on after to the pub round the corner and the celebrations continued …so yeah, that’s my favourite 2016 professional memory! For someone who’s always had a hankering to write a novel, it was a dream come true!

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And how about a favourite moment from 2016 generally?
I’ve had so many good moments – ALL Stella-related this year. I haven’t done much other than Stella! So, many good things, it’s hard to pick … I was lucky enough to get a Spotlight slot at Bloody Scotland. In itself, bloody brilliant. But with Val McDermid? Yep. That Val McDermid. And didn’t I nearly fall off the stage when she interrupted to say she’d read my book, and was recommending it, ‘it’s full of dark suspense…’ … AND as if that wasn’t enough to set up a whole life-time of WOOPING … Didn’t Ali Smith – yes, that Ali Smith – didn’t she come up to me at her event in Topping’s, St Andrews in November and say, ‘I loved your book.’ Yep. That happened. I said ‘OMG, have you read it?’ and she said, ‘Absolutely. And I loved it.’  So who needs dreams when these things happen in real life? Eh?

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Favourite book in 2016?
Favourite book this year has to be Ali Smith’s ‘Autumn.’ It’s very hard to pick ‘cause I’ve got mates who’ve done some really brilliant books this year – Graeme Macrae Burnet’s ‘His Bloody Project‘, for example, that was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Martin MacInnes’s unusual and compelling ‘Infinite Ground‘, a remarkable debut. I’ve loved those. And Mary Paulson-Ellis’s ‘The Other Mrs Walker‘. To name but three. But I’ve plumped for Ali Smith. She read from the MS at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August – she had only that week submitted it to the publisher – and the whole place, hundreds of people: enthralled. I love all Ali Smith’s work and this one is as stunning as the rest. It’s also very poignant. Timely. Contempraneous she calls it.

I don’t know, autumn, the whole idea of it seems especially significant this year, maybe because I’m 63 now, well into my own Autumn; maybe because of Brexit and the disastrous election in America; maybe because we’ve lost so many good people in 2016 – Victoria Wood, Caroline Aherne, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen. Ali Smith talks about the seasons and the cycles of everything, and the new sap rising, and the old making way for the new … I love her optimism and the joyousness of her words and her celebrations of the inclusiveness and diversity of the Scottish traditions. But, I dunno, I feel fear at the moment, I feel us on the cusp of even more difficult times. I do hope the new that comes out of the present turmoils of the world will be something good … There are so many divisions, so many exclusions, so many gross inequalities, so many vested interests; so much healing to be done.

Favourite film in 2016?
I, Daniel Blake.’ Has to be. As Ken Loach says, “if you’re not angry, what kind of person are you?” And Newcastle’s in my bones.

 Favourite song of the year?
I have an old favourite that I need to fish out from time to time and I’ve fished it out a lot this year because, although as you have seen I have had some very good moments this year, it hasn’t all been plain sailing. Having a novel published is a strange thing, and I’ve had to do quite a bit to keep on top of it all, and to remind myself that it’s ok, and I’m ok … So, my song of the year is Ben Harper’s ‘Fight Outta You,’ given to me by my son years ago when I was going through a hard time. It’s a good song. It’s encouraging. Play it if you get discouraged about anything.

Any downsides for you in 2016?
Oh yes. There are always obstacles, aren’t there? As I said, getting my debut novel published is a dream, but it brings what are now commonly referred to as challenges – getting your book out there, trying to get it noticed, worrying in case it just sinks without trace … Oh yes. All that goes through a new author’s head. I don’t think I’m alone. Even authors with the mega-machines of big publishing houses behind them are secretly worrying what if ..
You feel so alone, blundering in the dark, not knowing what or why or when … That’s something every debut author goes through, it’s very difficult, and it’s fingers crossed you come through it and out the other end relatively unscathed. There’s a continual struggle against invisibility … and self-promotion is often so alien to a solitary writer’s nature, it can feel really terrible!
The irony, of course, is that while you’re worrying your socks off, your book’s out there getting lots of praise and great reviews and you’re getting invited to do gigs and be on panels … Then the major challenge is to marry all that up with the terrible alone-ness that you feel inside. If you’re a new author reading this, you’ll know what I mean. Don’t dwell on it. You’ll survive. You’ll live to tell the tale.

But yes, getting support from wherever and whoever you can is absolutely essential. One way to gather support is to get yourself out there. I’ve been lucky. I was already an experienced public speaker, so didn’t have the anxiety of that like some people do. And the likes of Waterstones, Edinburgh and Wordery (online) and Edinburgh City of Literature, and Scottish Book Trust, and New Writing North, they’ve been right behind me and having that kind of support makes a massive difference. And yes, slots at book festivals are very difficult to get, you apply and mostly you don’t even get an answer. But hey, some of them do reply, and some do offer you a slot, and a few of them welcome you with open arms and are really glad to have you. It’s hard not to be daunted – cowed even – by silences and rejections. But you learn to ride those waves and keep looking ahead.

You hesitate to talk about these difficult things in public, in case people think you ungrateful, and you’re s’posed to talk things up and talk yourself up … But, seriously, I’d be misrepresenting my experience as a debut author if I told you it was fab fab fab all the way.

Are you making resolutions for 2017?
I always make resolutions and I never keep them, any of them, they’ve always all bitten the dust by the 2nd January. But yeah, I’ll make them again, like I always do, I’ll have a shot at being virtuous. Then I’ll revert to my usual cranky self.

What are you hoping for from 2017?
I want to get on with my writing. I’ve given Stella the best I can for 6 months, and now I’m moving on. I’m writing a sequel, aiming to finish the first draft by the end of March, before I start on the Read Regional Events with New Writing North in April. I’m hugely looking forward to those because I love libraries and I love meeting readers! I’ve just done some for Book Week Scotland, and they’re great, people who love your book and who are so interested to find out more about it and about you. I’m looking forward to my favourite book festivals … Newcastle Noir in April, that’s always brilliant. And Bloody Scotland, and Wigtown and Berwick and Portobello. I had slots at all those this year and, well, just WOW – a whole new world opened out for me and I loved every minute. I’ve a collection of short sories coming out – A Policy of Constant Improvement – in 2017, so I’ll be doing some promotional work for that. And I’m hoping to land some funding for a travel residency in Norway for the long light summer …

Can I just take this opportunity to thank everyone who’s supported me and Stella in so many ways throughout the year; you are too many to name individually, but if you see this post, know that you made a real difference!

And thank you Victoria for inviting me onto your blog! I always love working with you!