Tag Archives: relationships

Review: ‘The Pimlico Kid’ by Barry Walsh

In the summer of 1963, Billy Driscoll and his best mate, Peter ‘Rooksy’ Rooker, have the run of their street. There’s plenty going on in Pimlico for two young lads who are growing up and filling out – whether they’re perving on someone’s mum or running from the local bully. 

Billy’s also discovering the opposite sex – particularly his pretty neighbour, Sarah. But Sarah’s charms have also caught the eye of Kenneth ‘Kirk’ Douglas and Billy knows he must do something drastic if he’s to be victorious. 

When Rooksy suggests a day out with Sarah and her shy friend, Josie, it seems like the perfect idea to win the girls’ hearts. Little do the group realise that it’ll be a day of declarations and revelations; of secrets and terrifying encounters – and that it will change them all forever. 

Barry Walsh has captured this period and the setting skilfully. The characters are vivid and the sense of community is very strong. I could imagine this story on screen in a sepia haze. 

Billy’s adolescent voice is consistent and authentic and that is a feat achieved by Barry Walsh. The experiences recounted by Billy are the kind that remain in the psyche forever. Walsh manages to build up complex, realistic relationships between characters and demonstrates the long-lasting effects that formative experiences have on individuals.  

The Pimlico Kid‘ is a must-read for fans of ‘Call the Midwife‘. 

Vic x

**Burnout Blog Tour** Author Interview.

Today, my friend Claire MacLeary is on the blog to talk about her new novel, ‘Burnout‘ which is the sequel to Cross Purpose, the McIlvanney Prize-longlisted debut that brought crime to Aberdeen.

My thanks to Claire, Gordon from Grab This Book and Contraband for including me in the blog tour for ‘Burnout‘. 

Vic x

***

“My husband is trying to kill me.” A new client gets straight to the point, and this line of enquiry is a whole new ball game for Maggie Laird, who is desperately trying to rebuild her late husband’s detective agency and clear his name. Her partner, “Big” Wilma, sees the case as a non-starter, but Maggie is drawn in.

With her client’s life on the line, Maggie must get to the ugly truth that lies behind Aberdeen’s closed doors. But who knows what really goes on between husbands and wives? And will the agency’s reputation – and Maggie and Wilma’s friendship – remain intact?

***

Claire MacLeary

Claire, before we chat about ‘Burnout‘ can I ask you to introduce yourself for readers who have missed your previous visits to the blog?
After reading English at university, I had a long and varied career, first in newspaper and television advertising, then in HR. When my children were born, I set up in business, developing a chain of shops and rental properties. It was only after my kids were grown that I returned to writing, attending Creative Writing evening classes and later studying for a MLitt at Dundee.

Can you give us an indication as to what we can look forward to in Burnout?
The novel’s main theme is ‘white collar’ domestic abuse, a subject which, until recently, has attracted little coverage. Newspaper headlines have tended to concentrate on physical assaults, whereas controlling behaviour can take many and subtle forms, as recent legislation has acknowledged.

Burnout follows two women, both subject to abuse – in one instance sexual, in the other psychological – but readers can expect broadly the same cast of characters and the same balance of grit and humour.

With Burnout readers get an insight into how different couples in the story manage difficult relationships. Do you think this a crime novel that will cast light onto the secrets that couples keep?
I think Burnout is less about managing relationships and more a commentary on how attitudes have changed over generations. The ease of accessing contraception, the relaxation of divorce laws, the growth of the internet, have all contributed towards changing people’s attitudes to sex and marriage. In Burnout I’ve tried to highlight the chasm between two women of different generations, both in how they react to abuse and how they achieve very different outcomes.

Has the media focus on coercive control and sexual abuse in the home fed into the writing of Burnout or was the story always waiting to be told?
I started writing Burnout before the launch of Cross Purpose in February last year and delivered it to my publisher, Saraband, in August. The characters had been in my head way before that so, yes, it was a story that needed to be told. That it chimes with the Time’s Up and #Me Too movements against sexual harassment can only be positive in publicising ‘white collar’ abuse and changing attitudes to any form of abuse.

Both Burnout and Cross Purpose have harrowing and hard-hitting themes, however, there is humour running through both books too. Was that a difficult balance to achieve when you were writing?
I don’t think it’s a conscious thing. As I write, my characters take on a life of their own. Sometimes they take me places I didn’t intend to go. Too often I wake in the middle of the night with dialogue running through my head. However, I have had to consciously restrain Wilma’s wilder excesses, since she – like Maggie – will develop through the series and I don’t want her to come across simply as a figure of fun.

Away from the books, how do you spend your downtime?
What downtime? Seriously, if I’m not reading or writing, I love to travel. Over the past few years, in addition to a number of European cities, I’ve visited Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, New Zealand, Cuba, Jordan and Bhutan. My favourite holiday destination is India, where the colour and vibrancy of life never fails to stimulate.

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Gill Hoffs

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.

Regular readers of the blog will recognise today’s writer and worker as Gill Hoffs, Nutella fiend and all-round top woman. Gill’s going to be telling us how her career has influenced her writing. 

Vic x

I’m shit at small talk, and apparently it’s not alright to say to a stranger, “If you have a look at my twitter feed that tends to reflect what I’m about – rude history, strange nature, art, and junk food.  How about yourself?”  So I bear in mind that there are several standard topics to discuss, cultural checkpoints that establish you as ‘alright to be around’ and ‘not a threat’, such as weather, the niceness (or otherwise) of wherever we happen to be, and – at a push – occupation.

Depending on the situation, I lead with one of my two jobs: carer or author, though the latter usually leads to tongue-biting.  I love both and, since I tend to write about people from the past, they’re kinda linked.

I used to work in children’s homes, where I’d spend part of my week living alongside children with emotional and behavioural difficulties.  A key part of the job (as I saw it, anyway) was to find whatever small or large details it took to make a connection with each kid.  Much of this was rooted in the mundane.  Did they prefer Penguins or Rich Teas with their hot drinks?  Movies or soaps?  Cereals or toast?  And to build on our relationship from there.  We built bonds, fragile but precious, from these fragments of personal taste, the human equivalent of “telling details”.

Now I work with older people in a nursing home.  Instead of attempting to set our charges on the path to a happy, healthy, and independent adulthood we’re doing our best to make them comfortable, and bring them joy or, at the very least, a measure of peace and contentment.  Relationships are just as important but can be trickier to navigate, especially when memory issues are involved, but again, we build bonds over tiny details.  Pets or no, custard creams or bourbons, Stones or Beatles, tattoos and hair-dye – there’s always something we can connect through.

This principle, that these tiny yesses and noes, personal preferences, wrinkled noses and dimpled smiles add up to a whole bunch of humanity, lies at the heart of my other work as a writer and researcher.  When I create my shipwreck books, I find that many of the records have been boiled down to numbers and percentages, weights and measures, lists of co-ordinates, cargo and casualties.  My biggest priority is restoring the humanity to the people involved with these tragedies, and for me the easiest way to do so is to flesh out the names attached to these statistics.  What were their nicknames?  What did they love?

As someone who is often led by their belly, one of my favourite examples for this is when Hendrick Jans Kas, a survivor of the William & Mary shipwreck, wrote home to Friesland from America ‘I think I will like living here. Americans eat pork three times a day and beef and that is a bright prospect for me.’  Food as a source of joy?  I suspect we’d get along great.

To find out more about Hendrick and his fellow shipwreck survivors (and the captain and crew who attempted mass murder in the Bahamas), read ‘The Lost Story of the William & Mary: The Cowardice of Captain Stinson (Pen & Sword, 2016).  Gill’s first shipwreck book, ‘The Sinking of RMS Tayleur: The Lost Story of the ‘Victorian Titanic(Pen & Sword, 2014, 2015), is also available from reputable and disreputable outlets.

Review of 2017: L.V. Hay

Following in the footsteps of fellow Orenda author Thomas Enger, the lovely L.V. Hay reviews her 2017 today.

I’d like to thank Lucy and her stablemates at Orenda Books for taking the time to review their 2017 as well as their intrepid publisher Karen Sullivan for coordinating them so adroitly! 

Vic x

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2017?
Got to be not only publishing my crime debut The Other Twin with Orenda Books, but seeing my baby in WH Smith! I’ve always dreamed of seeing my novel on bookshelves, so to see it in a shop I go in all the time was amazing. I loved too that so many of my friends and people I know online took pictures of themselves with my book too. The support and goodwill has been wonderful and humbling.

And how about a favourite moment from 2017 generally?
I am blessed with a wonderful family and life generally, so it is hard to pick. I think this year though it was Halloween — it went on for what seems like ages because half term came early, so we ended up going to half a dozen Halloween events! I love seeing the kids dressed up and running about; this year it was especially clear nights all week too, we ended up in a haunted wood at one point.

Favourite book in 2017?
This is a really tough one, because I’ve read SO many great books this year! I think I can narrow it down to three: The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne (a brilliantly flawed, enigmatic female lead in a compelling scenario – my favourite);  The End of the World Running Club by Adrian Walker (been out a few years, but satisfied my dystopian leanings and an unusual male lead and story of redemption); plus The Mine by Antti Tuomainen – a fellow Orenda author – I’m a sucker for a hitman story, so to see one in an eco thriller too was just fab.

Favourite film in 2017?
I think Blade Runner 2049 was my favourite film this year. I loved the big ideas in it, plus the film noir-style mystery. Plus the way it revealed the seedy underbelly of the future, making commentary about the way things are now, was masterful. It’s a film with many layers, just like all Denis Villeneuve’s movies are. It requires repeat viewings to fully be appreciated. I like that blockbusters aren’t so shallow any more.

Favourite song of the year?
It’s a bit of an old one, but we love Uptown Funk by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars in my house. This one never fails to get us dancing around the kitchen. We also like anything by The Weekend.

Any downsides for you in 2017?
The sexual harassment/abuse allegations coming out of Hollywood and Parliament have been really tough — my day job is working as a script editor for movies, so obviously I know some people who have been directly affected by all this. What’s been toughest for me though is the number of people, including women, lining up to minimise people’s experiences, saying they’re ‘overreacting’ or ‘mistaken’ and a ‘smokescreen’ for those affected by ‘real’ abuse. No wonder it’s taken until 2017 for this to hit the spotlight. That said, I think a sea of change is happening at last.

Are you making resolutions for 2018? 
I rarely make resolutions, but I do look at the year ahead and decide what I would like to achieve and  when by (something so many people forget). I always write at least one book a year, whilst editing up to two others. This year, I’d like to try and write something else in addition to my crime novels. A dystopian YA piece maybe, or perhaps a feel-good piece about relationships in the style of Jojo Moyes, Eva Woods or Rowan Coleman. I have lots of ideas so will have to pin something down in my brain first. We’ll see!

What are you hoping for from 2018?
A bestseller would be cool; or perhaps some translations of my existing books. But really, I’m living my dream – I wanted to be a novelist and I wanted to be a script editor and I’m doing both! I’m so lucky and realise that, so want to try and help other writers achieve their dreams in 2018.

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Linda MacDonald

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’ll talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

Today on Don’t Quit the Day Job, we have the lovely Linda MacDonald to talk about how teaching Psychology to sixth formers inspired her debut novel, ‘Meeting Lydia‘. My thanks to Linda for sharing her interesting journey to publication

Vic x

How a computer, an A level topic, a classroom accident, radio news and a work-related breakdown all contributed to my writing career.

My 2001 resolution was to buy either a home computer or a rabbit. The computer won. The day job of teaching in a sixth form college demanded I learn how to use one. Little did I know that this computer, this alien in the living room as I thought of it for a long time, was to be the vehicle of inspiration for my first novel, Meeting Lydia.

Friends Reunited hit the headlines later that year and on a wave of nostalgia, I found the only boy in the class who was never horrible to me at a time when I was bullied. Many emails followed and supplied me with two themes for a story: the long-term effects of school bullying and the psychology of internet relationships.

Write about what you know is the oft-heard mantra. My main character became a teacher of Psychology, someone able to analyse the pros and cons of electronic communication. It was already a topic on the A Level specification and I asked for volunteers to come to an extra lesson to discuss the issues. I told them I would like to tape them with view to gathering authentic ‘student speak’ for a novel I was writing. Their amazing contributions formed the basis of three chapters and added to the quirkiness of a novel.

I was driven by a fire that consumed me: a book that had to be written. In the evenings, when the supper was eaten and the dishes were washed, I made myself write instead of collapsing to watch some inconsequential rubbish on TV. I wrote random chapters, as yet no clear plan of how they would interlock: the bullying backstory; a collapsing marriage; menopausal madness; the psychology of jealousy.

And every morning on my drive to work, I listened to Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme, hoping for an interesting piece to provided inspiration for the email exchanges that must be anything but mundane.

Five years later I had a novel of over 110,000 words; three years after that, I had drafted a more commercial sequel. But the day job still had cards to play. In 2009, I smashed my wrist tripping over a classroom chair and as I lay in hospital, I mused. I was in my fifties, time was running out and I decided to go the self-publishing route.

Sadly, perhaps ironically, the job that was to fuel my writing career was also partly responsible for my having a stress-related breakdown in 2011. ‘Adrenal fatigue’ is a label I found best summed up my condition and my day job became impossible.  I took early retirement. I didn’t have a choice. Yet looking back, without the breakdown, I would have carried on teaching for another few years and I wouldn’t now have four published novels.

Life is unpredictable and I still don’t have a rabbit.

Linda’s latest novel ‘The Man in the Needlecord Jacket‘ is available now. 

Getting to Know You: Mac Logan

Earlier this year, when reading at Noir at the Bar in Edinburgh, I was introduced to a certain Mr Mac Logan who was also there to read from his novel ‘Angels Cut‘. He’s on the blog today to talk writing with us.

My thanks to Mac for taking the time to chat to us – I look forward to welcoming him at Noir at the Bar Newcastle sometime!

Vic x


Tell us about your books.
In addition to my poetry, I’m writing two fiction series and business non-fiction:

  • The Angels Share series: Angels’ CutDark ArtDevils Due and more to come, see my website for more info on upcoming releases. 

My inspiration comes from personal experience of corruption and greed in both the public and private sectors. Sad to say, this has impacted on my life. However, vengeance in the real world is not acceptable and I wouldn’t wish to harm anyone for real.

In spite of past experience, crime fiction provides a means of pursuing nasty people with satisfying and inventive robustness. My thrillers offer a sense of recourse against the corrupt people and cadres who screw us, steal our money and, what’s more, they provide an insight into what might well be going on.

  •  The Reborn Tree series: I’m currently writing Protector and there are more in the series to come.

My inspiration comes from the time of the five good emperors of Rome. This work is a history-based fantasy.

In the north of Britain the tribes of what is now Scotland (and Irish their cousins) stood against Roman expansionism. The Pictish/Celts faced a massive challenge to their survival as a culture protecting a way of life and their spiritual values and beliefs. Imagine lethal confrontations with the materialistic greed of Rome as well as unexpected friends… and enemies. 

  • Business Non-fiction: I am working on a series of simple explanatory books on topics around the human aspects of work. There are two titles so far on Time and Mentoring (co-written a specialist from St Andrews University). 

Where do you get your ideas from?
Experience, reading and emotional connections. When I watch grown people weep in anguish over cruel circumstances, or hear dishonesty splatter from the mouths of politicians, I am affected. Similarly, when I play with my grandchildren and we laugh, do exciting things and make a noise, I am affected. Such feelings energise me. 

I believe powerful emotions – good and bad – generate ideas. These in turn stimulate my muse and, via the predispositions of my personality, create a tangible output. 

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
The adventure in Dark Art, where Eilidh, is coming to terms with the harsh, deadly world in which she finds herself springs to mind. She starts off dependent yet, like a child, she develops skills and insights essential to her survival. She builds relationships and earns respect on her journey. There is humour and the inevitable mistakes and risks she must navigate to survive. 

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
Write every day. It’s pretty common advice, but practise is key. To that I’d add get it read. My editor is a solid, constructive and fearless critic. She tells me good things and bad with clarity.

What can readers expect from your books?
Pace. Action. Violence. Realism. Humanity. Love. Flaws. Hatred. Greed. People worth caring for. Evil villains that’ll make skin your crawl.


Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Write. Be yourself. Take criticism on the chin and, soon as you can, learn from it. However: remember that not all criticism is correct.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
I can’t think of much I dislike except my own procrastination. I love writing and sharing my work. I enjoy readings.
I’ve done a couple of “shows” where I’ve had an audience there to meet me alone, and talk, read from my books and poetry and generally have fun. It’s nourishing.
A biggie is when my granddaughter climbs on my knee and says “Grandpa, tell me a story with your heart.” Making stories up, on request, for young children is an unique compliment.


Are you writing anything at the moment?
Devils Due (Angels’ Share series) is underway and the pressure is mounting for me to finish it. My editor is booked for Protector (Reborn Tree series). She’s expecting it for the end of this month, OMG.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
A business man I know bought 25 copies of Angels’ Cut as Christmas presents. He loves my writing. When he asked me to sign them it felt fantastic.

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