Tag Archives: self-doubt

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Nicola Ford

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.

Today’s guest is Nicola Ford. Nic’s here to talk to us about her double life and how that influenced her to write her debut novel ‘The Hidden Bones‘. My thanks to Nic for sharing her knowledge and experience with us. 

Vic x

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I love writing. I’ve always loved writing. And I’ve always loved reading crime fiction. So when I decided to turn my hand to writing fiction there was only ever going to be one genre for me. And I’m among the most fortunate of people because after much time spent applying my backside to my office chair and, as seems compulsory for all writers more than a smattering of self-doubt, my debut crime novel The Hidden Bones was published in June this year. 

So I have a job I love – crime writer. But that’s not the end of the story, or maybe I should say it’s not really even the beginning; because like many writers I lead a double life. By night I’m crime fiction writer Nicola Ford but by day I’m Dr Nick Snashall, National Trust Archaeologist for the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site. 

So I live a life steeped in the distant past. Wiltshire, the place that I’ve called home for a decade and a half is thronging with ancient burial mounds and prehistoric stone circles. And much of my time is spent digging up their secrets and delving into the mysteries that lie buried deep within museum archives.

Some writers may dream of giving up the day job, but for me I’m an archaeologist to my core. It’s one half of who I am and provides not only the backdrop, but also the inspiration for my crime writing. The Hidden Bones is set amid the chalk uplands of the Marlborough Downs an area I know intimately as I’ve spent the last fifteen years of my life working there. 

Often rural is equated with ‘cosy’, but for those of us who live and work here we know that life in the countryside is anything but. If you’re born without money or means, or elderly and alone, rural life can be tough. And the shock waves left behind by violent crime can have a deep resonance that persists down through the generations in small, sometimes isolated communities.

The Hidden Bones delves into the secrets of one such community.  Clare Hills returns to Wiltshire in search of new direction in her life after the death of her husband in a car crash. She’s only too glad to take up old college friend, Dr David Barbrook’s offer of helping sift through the effects of recently deceased archaeologist Gerald Hart. When they discover the finds and journals from Gerald’s most glittering excavation, they think they’ve found every archaeologist’s dream. But the dream quickly becomes a nightmare as the pair unearth a disturbing discovery, putting them at the centre of a murder inquiry and in the path of a dangerous killer determined to bury the truth forever.

In both halves of my working life I spend my time dealing with the dead. And in trying to figure out how they came to die, I’ve found that the most important clues are often found in understanding how they lived. I’m fascinated by the imprint that choices made by people in the – sometimes far distant – past leave on our lives, in ways we may never understand. And many of the scientific techniques I draw upon in my day job form the fundamental building blocks of modern police investigations. So Nicola Ford crime writer is inextricably interlinked with Dr Nick Snashall archaeologist. Two halves, one whole – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  

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*Hydra Blog Tour* Guest Post and Review.

Author Matt Wesolowski joins us today as part of his ‘Hydra‘ blog tour. I’m really happy to be part of this tour as I am a huge fan of Matt’s writing, he combines crime with something much darker.

Today Matt is here to chat about fear which seems appropriate seeing as his novels have given me some sleepless nights…

Vic x 

The Difficult Second Book
By Matt Wesolowski

I thought I knew fear. I deal in fear. Creating fear is my only talent (or not – depending on your opinion). I’ve been plenty scared in my life, like the other day when there was a spider in the bath that was so big that even when I brought in the expert to deal with it (my cat) – she ran away.

Like I say, I know fear.

The fear of writing a second installment of Six Stories didn’t really hit until I was about half way through. Suddenly, the words of every one star review (I’ll tell you I don’t read them but I do!) gathered together above my head in a storm cloud of mocking dissent. The nasty part of my brain began to prod me with its savagely pointed fingernail and tell me that I couldn’t do this again, that writing another one was impossible. I was a flash-in-the-pan.

I felt there was expectation where there had been none before. What if Hydra was terrible?

A deep, gut-churning fear assailed me as if from nowhere as I ploughed on through the manuscript. Writing has never been a place of fear, at least not the actual writing process. Writing has always been catharsis or solace.

Writing a prequel to Six Stories was, in theory, easier than writing Six Stories itself. The structure was there, the idea was blinking its corpse-light from somewhere in the folds of my brain, but the fear of expectation hung in the air like some ghastly fog.

The way through this fear was tough, like hacking through a jungle of self-doubt. Yet after a while, a path began to emerge.

First off, I knew it would be difficult to set anything after Six Stories – the implications at the end would be too complex. I also like loose series. Take the magnificent author Thomas Enger for example; his novels all stand alone yet have a loose threat running through them so can be enjoyed as a series or indeed not. To be able to do that is true talent. I had to at least give it a shot.

So instead of thinking about writing, I started thinking about podcasts again instead.

I love discovering a podcast which I can listen to its latest episode and then trawl back through its archives – same presenter, same style, different cases. This appeals to a creature of habit like me.

So why not apply the same sentiment to Hydra? After all, Six Stories was only supposed to be one book, a prequel was never on the cards until an idea appeared in my brain when I least expected it, just like that terrible bath-spider, but with fewer legs.

I allude a few times in the first book to there being previous series of Six Stories – old graves that Scott King likes to rake up.

Using that sense of trawling back through the archives to an unknown time before Scarclaw Fell appealed to me. I didn’t want to write another whodunnit about the woods, I wanted to use that old anonymous adage:

The writer’s job is to get the main character up a tree, and then once they are up there, throw rocks at them.

I wondered how Six Stories would feel in an urban setting, where place didn’t play so much of a role. I also indulged my own fascination with true crime – why rather than who. I also wondered about the ramifications for raking up these graves – would it impact the podcaster at all? Why does Scott King wear a mask? I thought that this might be something fun to explore.

All these questions and notions became my machete, hacking the murky undergrowth of fear and doubt. I began to construct something that wasn’t like Six Stories save for its structure. The horror element showed itself in the early ideas of Hydra but something a million miles from the rustic folktale of Nanna Wrack, something less cosy (Nanna Wrack has her cosy side, you just don’t know her well enough!). I felt like having a more modern story needed a more modern horror…enter the BEKs…

Sometimes I wonder if I’m actually a crime writer at all, that maybe this expectation comes from some perception I have of myself. I think I’ve decided I’m not a crime writer in the traditional sense (too much horror), nor am I a horror writer (too little horror, too much crime).

But I’m ok with that.

What it does mean is that giving birth to horrors like Hydra is always going to be difficult.

Review: ‘Hydra’
by Matt Wesolowski.

Well, where do I start? It’s no secret that ‘Six Stories‘ was one of my favourite reads of 2017 so I was delighted to be getting another in the series so soon. It is worthwhile saying that, although I’m a fan of the series, you can read the books as standalones or out of the order they were published in – they are self-contained stories.

A family massacre
A deluded murderess
Five witnesses
Six Stories
Which one is true?

In November 2014, 21-year-old Arla Macleod bludgeoned her mother, stepfather and younger sister to death with a hammer, in an unprovoked attack known as the Macleod Massacre. Now incarcerated at a mental-health institution, Arla refuses to speak to anyone but Scott King, whose Six Stories podcasts have become an online phenomenon.

As he digs deeper into the case, Scott begins to wonder whether Arla’s capacity for murder was played down by her legal team. Interviewing Arla and five witnesses, Scott finds himself down the rabbit hole of deadly online games, trolls and strange black-eyed kids. Will he survive to tell the tale? 

Matt Wesolowski manages to blend horror and crime effortlessly – he has a real talent for combining potentially supernatural horror with terror that is all too real. Delving into the deepest recesses of human capability, ‘Hydra‘ is a story about the ills people can inflict on one another. 

Capitalising on the success of new media, Wesolowski presents his narrative in a unique way – that of a serialised podcast. Not only is this a form I haven’t seen used before, it’s clear Wesolowski is very familiar with the conventions of podcasts and how ambiguity prevails through many online investigations.

In addition to this, Wesolowski writes about so-called ‘outsiders’ particularly well. Where other authors may be afraid to shine a spotlight, Wesolowski excels. Whether it be an overweight teen who is bullied, or someone who is scoffed due to their home life or taste in music, Wesolowski really nails the ‘outcast’. However, he also manages to capture the psyche of the “cool” and popular kids. To me, this is a true skill – he creates balanced, empathetic characters.

Will ‘Hydra‘ become one of my top reads of 2018? Only time will tell but it is certainly a front runner. 

Vic x