Tag Archives: reading

2018 Review: Shelley Day

Today, my good friend and fellow Bloody Mary Shelley Day is here to review her year. My thanks to Shelley for taking the time to look back over her 2018. 

As an extra festive treat, check back later for my thoughts on Shelley’s latest short story collection ‘what are you like‘. 

Vic x

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
Well, 2018 will certainly stand out for me as the year some projects came to fruition and the year I made some major decisions:

First – I decided to publish my debut collection of short stories, what are you like. I’d been humming and hah-ing for a long while, but finally this year I took the plunge and the stories will soon be out with Red Squirrel Press, a lovely indie press that was based in Northumberland but which has re-located north of the border. As I am half in Scotland anyway, it’s win-win! 

I’m so so so very lucky because AL Kennedy, and Jackie Kay, and Angela Jackson all agreed to say nice things to put on the back cover of my book. If I am looking for a special moment, that that was it. 

I’m very especially happy that my son Nico has designed the cover. If I’m looking for another 2018 moment, that was it – that was a moment like never before when I opened the email and saw Nico’s design … I’m so excited.

The book’s not officially out until next year, but we’re getting a couple of launches in before the current year is out, for very good reason. 

So, the second BIG decision was to go and live in Paris. The intention is to perfect my French, soak up some experience before the Brexit divisions start to bite (they’re already snarling too loud for my little ears), stay there for as long as it takes to finish the novel I’m working on which is set there and which features a character Clara who’s similarly done a bunk from the UK somewhat precipitously, I don’t yet know why. I’ve always wanted to spend extended time in Paris and, between you and me, I’m hoping this sojourn will get that daft idea out of my system and I can come back and get on with whatever here, or wherever. I can’t tell you much more because I’m not a great planner, either in my fiction or in my own life! 

And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
Favourite moment wasn’t a moment but was a few months in the summer spent in a wooden hut halfway up a mountain in Norway. Off-grid, away from everyone and everything except the smell of pine resin and the birch logs we burned in the stove, the whisper of wind in the trees and the gentle lapping of the lake on the shore … you get the picture. And I went to the Lillehammer Literary Festival which was ace. And so it was, in that kind of Paradise, that I finally put my short story collection together. I also wrote some new things, things that have taken on something of a spiritual-sacred theme, and I’m exploring that further as we speak.  

Favourite book in 2018?
This is always such a hard question! I read a lot of contemporary fiction, and have many writer friends who write it, so it is impossible for me to be truthful and choose just one! So, instead I’ll tell you this year I have gone a bit mad with Patrick Modiano. Seriously, I have fallen in love with his work and am reading one by one through his entire oeuvre and savouring every word. I re-read the whole of Muriel Spark too this year. I love revisiting favourites, because they show you something new every time. 

Favourite film in 2018?
Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs. Fun, clever, political, visually amazing, as per!

Favourite song of the year?
I’m a bit mouldy, I’m afraid, and don’t catch up very often with new music. I’ve been impressed by Sigrid I guess, but as I say I don’t keep up. I still love Patti Smith’s Horses from 1975! I have my music on a hard disc and I play it on shuffle, everything all mixed up. In Norway I listened a lot to ancient music, Monteverdi’s Vespers, sacred stuff. 

Any downsides for you in 2018?
I never know what to say about downsides. Yeah, I’ve spent time in the doldrums, never quite sure how you get in there, never mind how to get out, never know how much to ‘reveal’. But yeah, life has had some bad bits in. Plus the whole Brexit fiasco, I have found it supremely supremely depressing, every single thing about it. I detest every bit of it and frankly, am living in dread. I hadn’t realized how fragile our precious democracy is until now I see it so bizzarely and blatantly under threat. As a citizen, I have never felt quite so powerless. 

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
No point in me making resolutions, I never stick to them!

What are you hoping for from 2019?
Primarily hoping my short story collection does ‘well’ (whatever that means!), and that I’ll come back from Paris with a complete first draft of my Clara book (as yet no title), and that I’ll make some progress with the new short story collection provisionally entitled Going Raw Julietta (work that one out!). AND THAT BREXIT WILL DISAPPEAR.

If you want to buy a copy of what are you like it will be available with P&P FREE via the publisher’s website. 

If you want to check out my son Nico’s artwork, best find him on Instagram.

Thank you so much Victoria for letting me ramble on on your page. I enjoyed writing this review, it made me focus. And may I wish you all the very best for 2019!  

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2018 Review: Mhairi Ledgerwood

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

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

Vic x

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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: 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

2018 Review: Jennifer C Wilson

Another of my friends joins us today to review her 2018, please welcome Jennifer C. Wilson, author of the ‘Kindred Spirits‘ series. 

My thanks to Jen for casting a glance back over the last twelve months. 

Vic x

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Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
It has to be the launch of Kindred Spirits: Westminster Abbey in June. Being the third in the Kindred Spirits series, I felt I was more comfortable with the world and the characters, and seeing it going out into the world was such a great feeling. The launch went more smoothly, I was much less stressed about it, and I enjoyed everything about the day. 

And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
This is difficult, and I have two which really stand out… Firstly, in February, I finally got to visit the grave of Richard III in Leicester Cathedral, and see the beautiful stone they had created for him. It was a lovely day, visiting for the first time since March 2015. I also got three short stories out of it, which will be in an anthology about Richard, out in early December. On a sunnier note, it was getting to see the Roman Forum in September, having eventually got around to going back to Rome. I adore my history, and it’s there in buckets in Rome. 

Favourite book in 2018? 
Being part of book blog tours on a regular basis, I get to read so many great books, but this year, my favourite has been The Road to Newgate by Kate Braithwaite, following the background and trial of Titus Oates, a historical character I knew a bit about, but not the full story, so I enjoyed learning the facts as well as reading the fiction. I also loved her previous novel, Charlatan, set in the time of the ‘affair of the poisons’ in France, and a great antidote for somebody mourning the loss of the TV series Versailles!

Favourite film in 2018?
I’m not really a film-lover, or a fan of the cinema, but this year, I’ve actually really enjoyed a number of films, both at home and out. Top of the list has to be from the first week of the year: The Greatest Showman. On a dull, wet, windy January Wednesday, two colleagues and I headed to the Tyneside Cinema to catch this, in the gorgeous, tiny screen right on the top floor. We came out on such a high, feeling like we could take on anything, even the rest of January! I bought the soundtrack the next morning, and play it whenever I need to feel a bit invincible. 

Favourite song of the year?
Obviously, all of the tracks from The Greatest Showman should be in here! But my standalone favourite song from 2018 is definitely Make Your Own Kind of Music from Paloma Faith. I’d heard it on the car advert a couple of times, and having loved the original, thought it was a great version, and was chuffed to bits when she released it as a proper single. Music is so important to me, and I love a good, empowering, ‘go get them’ sort of song. 

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Any downsides for you in 2018?
When I was writing Kindred Spirits: York, I completely lost faith in the story, the series, and me as a writer. I even contemplated walking away from the whole thing. No idea why, but I was totally out of love with it, and almost with writing in general. It took a good couple of weeks to pull myself out of it, but luckily I did, mainly thanks to very patient writing friends and family. 

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
I am! In terms of writing, I’m aiming to release The Raided Heart by autumn. It’s something different for me, no ghosts, no timeslipping, just a straight-up historical romance, and one I’ve been working on, on-and-off, for just over twenty years. No pressure on myself there then… 

Outside of writing, I’m promising to take a little more time out in 2019. 

What are you hoping for from 2019?
Fun! Nice and simple, I’m looking forward to getting out and about, trying new things, and seeing what happens.