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Review: ‘The Rumour’ by Lesley Kara

When Joanna, a single mum, hears a rumour at the school gates, she doesn’t intend to share it with anyone. But, when she mentions it in passing at her book club, word starts to spread. Apparently, there’s an infamous child killer living in their midst under an assumed identity and now the residents of Flintstead-on-Sea want to know who Sally McGowan, who killed young Robbie Harris almost fifty years ago, is now. 

Lesley Kara has come up with a truly original premise. The idea of how dangerous one throw-away comment can be is a really interesting one in this time of social media. Not only is ‘The Rumour‘ a study of society but it is, at heart, an intriguing mystery. 

This novel is a compelling story which features an important message regarding the impact that the past can have on the present. 

The characters in ‘The Rumour‘ are well-drawn and Kara manages to make the reader question everyone’s motives. Kara’s characters are really believable and, despite everyone potentially being a suspect, they are still empathetic. I could absolutely sympathise with Joanna’s suspicion of everyone and her inability to trust anyone. 

Kara’s debut novel has plenty of twists and turns. It’s fast-paced which mirrors the panic felt by Joanna. 

The Rumour‘ is one of the best books I have had the privilege of reading this year. I couldn’t put it down. It’s available for download now. 

Vic x

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2018 Review: Chris Ord

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

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

Vic x

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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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: Tess Makovesky

Tess Makovesky is a brilliant writer who I’ve “known” online for many years. I met Tess in person for the first time at Crime and Publishment. Since then, I’ve hosted her at Noir at the Bar Newcastle and am delighted to have her on the blog to review her year. 

Thanks, Tess, I wish you well for 2019.

Vic x

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Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
It’s the release of my first novel Gravy Train by All Due Respect. I wasn’t sure I could write a whole novel and only tried after three writer friends (you know who you are…!) pinned me to the wall and threatened me with extreme consequences if I didn’t. And in the end I had so much fun writing it, and I think that shows. It’s steamed into town on Friday 26th November, just in time for Christmas. So, if you want to read about a bunch of losers chasing a bag of dodgy money around the back streets of Birmingham, then please watch this space!

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And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
Probably the Crime and Publishment weekend back in March, which was an absolute blast. It’s always lovely catching up with so many old mates, but this year there were plenty of friendly new faces too, and the guest speakers and sessions were really stimulating. I enjoyed it so much I’ve just booked to go back next year!

Favourite book in 2018?
I’m struggling to answer this one a bit. I haven’t had time to read much crime this year, and some of what I have read has been slightly disappointing. I did enjoy Aidan Thorn’s latest, Rival Sons, which is a powerful family drama of the ‘throwing a stone into a pond and watching the ripples spread’ variety, with a real kick in the teeth ending. And I’m hoping to go back to an old favourite, The Saint Vs Scotland Yard by Leslie Charteris, next.

Favourite film in 2018?
Can I cheat and choose a TV series instead? Top of the list would be the wonderfully twisted Get Shorty, which was brilliant, dark, funny and brilliant – even if I did have to watch half of each episode through my fingers! Also worth a mention were Brotherhood, with great performances by Jason Isaacs and Jason Clarke, and Broadchurch series 3. And Bodyguard, of course, and… oh dear, it sounds like I do nothing but watch crime on television…

Favourite song of the year?
I’m cheating horribly by choosing Pink Floyd’s Have a Cigar, which gave me the title for Gravy Train – not to mention more than a few sly references to the lyrics inside the book!

Any downsides for you in 2018?
It’s been a slightly difficult year health-wise – nothing major thank goodness but lots of little annoying things that added up to much less time than usual to write. It was frustrating while it lasted but I’m hoping for better things next year.

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
Nope! I never make resolutions because I can never keep them beyond about the 9th January…

What are you hoping for from 2019?
I’m about nine tenths of the way through the first draft of Embers of Bridges, another crime caper set around Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter and canals. I’d love to get that finished and offer it to All Due Respect. And a bit less divisiveness in the country might be nice…

2018 Review: Sarah Davy

I’ve known Sarah Davy on Twitter for quite some time but I recently met her in person for the first time at a New Writing North event. She is as bubbly and engaging as her online persona suggests. 
My thanks to the lovely Sarah for reviewing her 2018 so honestly. Here’s to a cracking 2019, Sarah!
Vic x
Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
I started a writing group at Forum Books in Corbridge this autumn. The first session had an incredible turnout of 15 writers, but the second session was even better. Everyone came back. This for me is a huge achievement and I’m completely overwhelmed by how well it’s going!
And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
This year I entered my first ever writing competition with a piece of flash fiction and won first prize. The piece was for a collaborative project between Northumberland National Parks & Hexham Book Festival. It’s been a turning point for me as I’d never tried this form before and now love it, with more pieces being published over the next few months. I got to read my piece out in front of the judge, Natalie Haynes, and found the whole experience inspiring! Read my flash fiction here.
Favourite book in 2018? 
There There by Tommy Orange.
Favourite film in 2018? 
We watch a LOT of films but The Shape of Water and Wind River stand out.
Favourite song of the year?
Tomorrow by Jorja Smith.
Any downsides for you in 2018?
It’s been a tough year financially and emotionally, with lots of compromise and sleepless nights. And it still is tough. Making a living as an emerging writer is almost impossible and juggling it with bills, debt & mental health isn’t easy.
Are you making resolutions for 2019?
I don’t make resolutions, but I do visit my bullet journal about once a month to catch up on what I’ve achieved and what still needs to happen.
What are you hoping for from 2019?
To keep moving forward with writing and to secure our financial situation. I’ve lots of projects lined up for 2019 but none of them pay….yet! A lottery win would do the trick I think!

2018 Review: Dave Sivers

Today’s writer is Dave Sivers. I had the pleasure of spending more time with Dave this year at Harrogate. Dave has been very kind to me and I’m delighted he’s here to share his 2018 with us. 
Vic x
Noir at the bar reading
Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018? 
So many, but I’d have to choose reading at Noir in the Bar, Harrogate. To play a little part in the festival scene, having been going for so many years, and in such fabulous company, gave me the greatest buzz!
And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
We’ve been lucky enough too do some great traveling this year, and it’s not easy to choose one – but I fell in love with Shanghai, and seeing it by night on a river cruise was just amazing.
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Favourite book in 2018? 
I’d have to go for White Chrysanthemum by Mary Lynn Bracht. It’s about the ‘comfort women’ forced into brothels by the Japanese in WW2, and isn’t an easy read. But it’s a brilliant, very important novel on a shocking subject that’s been swept under the carpet of history.
Mary Lynn Bracht White Chrysanthemum
Favourite film in 2018? 
Not a new one, but I saw Brooklyn, starring  Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Jim Broadbent, and Julie Walters on TV this year. An Irish girl gets a chance to start a new life in America, but then gets torn between two countries and two loves. It’s a small story beautifully told.
 
Favourite song of the year?
I’m choosing Irene by Courtney Marie Andrews. Not new, but since I discovered her on the music selection on a plane, she’s become a firm favourite, and I finally managed to see her live this year.
Any downsides for you in 2018?
I’m disappointed that for a whole lot of reasons (some more my fault than others) my next book hasn’t emerged this year.
Are you making resolutions for 2019?
To be more disciplned and focused with my writing and try to be a bit more plotter than pantser. And to get my guitars out at least once a week and play them!
What are you hoping for from 2019?
Good health and happiness for me and the ones I love. It’s what really counts.

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!)

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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