Tag Archives: short stories

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Paul Bassett Davies

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 the writer we have with us is Paul Bassett Davies, author of ‘Utter Folly‘ and ‘Dead Writers in Rehab‘. His post is slightly different to the other writers we’ve had on the blog so far but it’s certainly one I can empathise with. I hope that Paul’s post brings comfort and hope to those of you in a similar position. 

Vic x

The job that had the greatest influence on my writing was Hospital Patient. If that seems like an unusual job description, let me explain.

Nearly twenty years ago I was diagnosed with a chronic illness. During the next ten years I underwent a series of surgical operations, and I spent a lot of time in hospital. Eventually it began to seem like a job to me. After all, I was spending about half my life in the role, it was hard work, I didn’t like it, and sometimes I thought it would kill me. So, just like a regular job.

But I flung myself  into my work, determined to be proactive. And, being a writer, I used everything that happened to me as potential material. In the process, I became a novelist.

You get a lot of time to think when you’re a hospital patient, and even more time in the long, slow weeks and months when you’re recuperating, or getting sick again. It’s not exactly free time, because it’s not free from pain, or fatigue or stress. That was why I started to write my first book – to escape all that. I came to writing novels late. I’d done a lot of writing before then, in the way of stage work, short stories, radio plays, movies, corporate films, music videos, short films, and a mountain of comedy for radio and television. But writing a book was something else, and in many ways I’m fortunate that I did it while I was unwell. It made me focus on why I was doing it. Which was, of course, to cheer myself up.

Writing my first novel was like telling myself a long, funny story. During the hours I spent telling it – the hours of writing – I was able to escape the dreary world of my illness, and enter the other world I was creating: a world in which I could, among other things, make other people suffer instead of me, and have a bloody good laugh about it. If that sounds callous or sadistic it probably is, and it’s just one of the many functions of telling stories.

But above all I wrote to give pleasure, firstly to myself and then, hopefully, to readers (although I continue to withhold it from my poor characters). Through all this I began to realise I wasn’t really interested in writing or reading things that didn’t take me out of myself, and change me in some way. I like to think I’m clever, but I’m not concerned with mere cleverness. I’m looking for something else, and the best word for it is delight. I want to delight, and to be delighted.

The work of other people which most often delights me also tends to be completely distinctive. That’s why I’ll always try to see anything the writer and director Robert Lepage does, because it’s not like anything else. The same goes for the music of Patti Smith, Tom Waits or Laurie Anderson. And I’ll always read a book by Magnus Mills or Nell Zink, or watch a Wes Anderson film.

All these people have a unique voice, and I like to think I’m developing mine. My first novel, Utter Folly, was long and sprawling, but my second, Dead Writers in Rehab, published last year, is more contained. And among the good reviews it’s received, those that please me most are the ones that say it’s unclassifiable: that it can’t be categorised, and that it occupies a niche of its own.

My job as a hospital patient allowed me to discover what it is I really want to do with my time, and it changed my ideas about sickness and health. I began to focus less on recovery, and more on discovery. The road to recovery is long and arduous, and its goal is ultimately unattainable: in the end none of us recover from life. But the road to discovery can be enjoyed for itself. It’s all about the journey, and finding delight in every step of the way.

 

Review of 2017: Rob Walton

Our final guest today is the rather brilliant Rob Walton.

Many people on the North-East writing scene will know Rob thanks to his performances at The Stanza as well as his involvement with Free as a Bard. 

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Rob this year for our Christmas ghost stories at Old Low Light. 

As you may notice, Rob has added in a few extra questions – we hope you enjoy them. My thanks to Rob for taking the time to share his year with us. 

Vic x

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2017?
It’s difficult to pinpoint a moment, so I’ll go for a time of year.  Autumn going into winter was great in that I had several acceptances and publications in magazines and anthologies within a short apace of time.  What was particularly gratifying was that (a) people were liking things I’d reworked or sent out again after editing and (b) a range of stuff was accepted – a children’s poem, creative non-fiction, poetry, short stories and flash fictions.  All felt right with my writing world.  Until the next rejection of course.

Also, there were many lovely performance nights with wonderful hosts.  Once again I gate-crashed one of the lovely Vic Watson’s evenings, this time I read a Dickens’ mash-up Christmas ghost story.  I had some quirky firsts too.  I worked with Russ Coleman to cast some words in concrete.

Then there was a concrete poem in a wonderful quirky book and an aperture poem courtesy of Sidekick Books.

And how about a favourite moment from 2017 generally?
This straddles the personal and the professional.  Not a moment, but rather the ongoing friendship and support from various writerly people hereabouts.  I hope they know who they are.

Favourite book in 2017?
I read and really enjoyed some great work by writer friends, but I wouldn’t want to miss any of them out – Paul Summers has got a vicious temper and Harry Gallagher’s got a bow and arrow –  so I’ll go further afield.  Not all of these were released this year, but I read them in 2017.

Jan Carson’s Postcard Stories from the Emma Press was also great.  Every day in 2015 she wrote a story on a postcard and sent it to a friend.  The highlights are collected in the book.

Short stories: I’m going for Danielle McLaughlin’s Dinosaurs On Other Planets.  My partner heard one on Radio 4 and got me to listen to it, and then bought it for my birthday.  It’s bloody brilliant.  Spend your Christmas money on it, whatever Christmas money is.

Ali Smith’s Public Library and other stories also went down a treat.  I think she’s brilliant.

Poetry: I found a copy of Kim Moore’s The Art of Falling in North Shields Library, and was seriously impressed.

Memoir: it has to be Thatcher Stole My Trousers by Alexei Sayle.

Favourite film of the year? 
It’s go to be The Florida Project.  I saw it at the Tyneside with a load of older folk eating sandwiches.  Of course I wouldn’t do that – I had sandwiches and crisps.

Favourite song of the year?
I don’t know about a specific song but there were some real gems in Luke Haines’ set at The Cluny 2 in May and, continuing with the live theme, Sleaford Mods were great in the autumn at the old Poly Union building, whatever it’s called these days.

Favourite sports team of the year?
Yet again it’s Scunthorpe United.

Favourite cake of the year?
That would be the rhubarb crumble one with the sticks Steve and Sam gave us, grown in the City of Culture.

Any downsides for you in 2017?
I discovered that a woman in Lerwick is challenging my claim to being the inventor of cheese.  And my right hamstring’s been tighter than I would like.  Then there was the Untied Kingdom thing. 

Are you making resolutions for 2018?
Going to keep more secrets, and be sick in more handbags (and deny all knowledge).

What are you hoping for from 2018?
Professionally: get a flash fiction collection together.
Personally: hope my daughters’ transitions from primary to secondary, and secondary to sixth form go smoothly.
Pugilistically: take it on the chin.

Review of 2017: Emma Whitehall

Today, we have another member of Elementary Writers on the blog to review her 2017. Emma Whitehall is not just a member of my writing group but a real friend.

If you get the opportunity to read her work, or see her perform it, I recommend you do so! I’ve had the privilege of working with her while she developed her collection ‘Clockwork Magpies’ which I am convinced will be insanely popular when it’s released. 

Vic x

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2017?
It’s a tie. I went to Ireland for a literary festival in July, and I started a 3-month volunteer position at Mslexia in September. One of my stories was shortlisted for the Fish Flash Fiction award this year, and I was invited to read at the launch in Bantry, just outside of Cork. I went alone, and it was such an amazing adventure! Not only did I get to spend some time in a phenomenally beautiful setting, I started every day by hiking up a huge hill to take a short story course with Alissa Nutting, who wrote Tampa. I’ll never forget it!

Working with the Mslexia team has been amazing, too. All the girls on the team are brilliant, and I’ve learned so much about working for a magazine. I’ve even written one or two pieces! 

And how about a favourite moment from 2017 generally?
My gym-nut brother bought me a Fitbit a few months ago, and it has literally changed my life. I try about walk about 5-6 miles a day (including moving about at work), and I’ve lost 10lb in about 2 months! It’s become a stress antidote; there are days when I really can’t wait to put my trainers on, find a good podcast (I’m nearing the end of The Adventure Zone right now), and go for a nice long walk…

Favourite book in 2017?
Oh, this is a tricky one! I’d probably have to say T.E. Grau’s They Don’t Come Home Anymore, which is a brilliant novella about toxic friendships, obsession, and vampires. Through reviewing for Unnerving magazine, I’ve read a lot of really amazing indie horror this year.

Favourite film in 2017?
Stranger Things. I know I’m being contrary with that answer, but it’s structured more like an 8-hour film than a TV show, and the characters have stayed with me much more than any that I’ve seen in the cinema this year. Winona Ryder is incredible, and Millie Bobby Brown should get any role she wants for the rest of her career. 

Favourite song of the year?
My Tyrant”, by Felix Hagan and the Family. On the one hand, it’s a song about a turbulent, possibly unhealthy relationship…but it’s also about being totally, joyfully in love (or lust) with someone. It’s a raucous song that’s a hell of a lot of fun to listen to – much to my partner’s chagrin…

Any downsides for you in 2017?
Sadly, I lost my Leopard Gecko, Ace, just before I went to Ireland. It was old age, and he went as quietly as you can hope, but I was devastated. He was my constant companion – even if we were doing our own thing, on opposite sides of the room, we were always doing it together. I never knew reptiles could be so funny, so sweet, and so full of personality before we got him. I miss him a lot. He won’t be my last pet, but, for now, I’m still getting over the loss.

Are you making resolutions for 2018?
To keep going! I feel like, with a lot of things, I’m on the precipice; I’m about 3lb off my weight goal, I’ve had a few promising interactions with writing jobs (though I am still looking at the moment), I’ve been longlisted and shortlisted for a few awards, and my collection of short stories is very nearly done. I think I just need to keep pushing forward and not lose my nerve!

What are you hoping for from 2018?
I hope that, this time next year, I can hold a published copy of my collection in my hands.

Residential Writing Retreat with Stephanie Butland

I know regular readers of this blog will be familiar with the lovely Stephanie Butland, writer of the tremendous Lost for Words. Well, now’s your chance to spend some time with Stephanie on a writing retreat in Yorkshire. 

Spaces are filling up fast, though, so if you fancy attending, book now! 

Vic x

Writing Retreat with Stephanie Butland, February 2018 

Do you need time to focus on your writing? 

Is there something missing from your novel? 

Do you have a folder full of stories and snippets that you aren’t sure how to progress? 

You might be working on your first novel, or writing short stories, or looking for some space to help you decide whether you want to write at all.

You might be trying out a first-person narrator, or writing from multiple viewpoints.

Maybe your dialogue doesn’t feel right.

Whatever your level and experience, this retreat is designed to help you to become a better writer. 

You’ll complete writing exercises, examine techniques, and discuss what you want to achieve with your writing. And of course you will have plenty of time and space to think and write!

Come along for tutored writing sessions, 1:1 feedback, the company of fellow writers, great food, and wonderful surroundings. Write, think, sleep, explore, and return to the world refreshed, inspired and raring to go.

Our venue is the beautiful Garsdale Retreat in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

Details:
Thursday 22 February 2018 (4pm) – Tuesday 27th February 2018 (10am).
Fully catered. Only two spaces left – single rooms with a shared bathroom, £700 per person.

To book, or if you have any questions, please email Stephanie at me@stephaniebutland.com or drop her a line on social media.

Review of 2016: Paul D. Brazill

Paul D. Brazill has been one of my champions for many years. Paul was responsible for publishing my short story Cry Baby in True Brit Grit – a charity anthology – in among a selection of awesome writers.

Oh, and you might remember that Tess Makovesky picked Paul’s collection of short stories The Last Laugh as one of her top reads of 2016 so it’s with great pleasure I present to you Paul D. Brazill’s review of 2016. 

And as a special Christmas treat, you may find a wee preview of some of Paul’s work in this very post. 

Thanks for everything, Paul!

Vic x

Paul D Brazill

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2016?
Well, I’m guessing that by professionally you mean writing-wise, though I certainly don’t make a living out of writing!
It was great to get 2 books published again this year. The Last Laugh was published by All Due Respect Books and Caffeine Nights Publishing put out Cold London Blues. Here’s a clip from Cold London Blues, if you fancy:

‘On the opposite balcony, a tall man with long black hair took breadcrumbs from a plastic bag and threw them in the air. Black birds darted down from telephone lines where they had been lined up like notes on sheet music. The birds flew towards the tall man, landing on his balcony and sometimes on him. His raucous, joyous laughter brought an unfamiliar smile to Father Tim’s face.

On the street below, he could see a branch of a small general dealer with a bright green logo above the door, as well as an old bicycle factory that had recently been converted into a Wetherspoons pub, and a stretch of hip bars, including Noola’s Saloon, its green neon sign flickering intermittently.

The street bustled with the drunken debris of the previous night’s New Year’s Eve parties. The still-pissed and the newly hungover mingled.  A massive skinhead in a leopard skin coat walked up to Noola’s Saloon and pressed a door bell. The door opened emitting a screech of escaping metallic music as he slipped inside. Iggy and The Stooges’ ‘Search and Destroy.’ A sense of longing enveloped Father Tim. A feeling of time passing like grains of sand through his fingers.

Father Tim felt his rheumatism bite as he inhaled his first cigarette of the day. His chest felt heavy. If ever there was time to get the hell out of London it was probably now. The quack had told him to piss off to Spain, or somewhere as sunny, for a bit, for his health’s sake. It wasn’t a bad idea, either. He could even stay at his sister-in-law’s gaff in Andalucía if he wanted. But he knew he wouldn’t stay away for long. London was in his bones. His blood. His lungs. For better or for worse.’

Cold London Blues

And how about a favourite moment from 2016 generally?
It was great to see my son start Kindergarten and to see that he enjoys it so much.

Favourite book in 2016?
For fiction I’d probably go for Marwick’s Reckoning by Gareth Spark.

Marwick is a broken man. Broken but not shattered. Marwick is a violent London gangster, an enforcer who has moved to Spain for a quieter life and who is eventually embroiled in drug smuggling, murder and more.

Published by Near To The Knuckle, Marwick’s Reckoning by Gareth Spark is fantastic. Like a Brit Grit Graham Greene it’s full of doomed romanticism, longing and shocking violence.

Beautifully, vividly  and powerfully written Marwick’s Reckoning is very highly recommended indeed.

I rarely read non-fiction finding it a tad drab for the most part however I did love Kevin Pearce’s brilliant music memoir A Moment Worth Waiting For.

The book opens with the release of Vic Godard’s What’s The Matter Boy? LP in 1980. Pearce tells the story of how Everything But The Girl’s Ben Watt and Tracey Thorne first bonded over the record, with Ben later lending her his John Martyn records and Tracey lending Ben her Aztec Camera discs. All of which led to them forming EBTG.

This anecdote is only one of the many, many stories in this exhaustive, exhausting and smartly digressive look at two years in Pearce’s life-in-music. Early Eighties post-punk soon spirals off and out to fifties Soho, Music Hall, bossa nova, Greek neo kyma,  MFP records, Tim Buckley, torch songs and much, much more. Indeed, there is so much here that an accompanying soundtrack album would have to be a box set. And what a belter it would be, too!

A Moment Worth Waiting For is the first in a recently completed trilogy and is essential reading for British men of an uncertain age, such as myself, and anyone with an interest in British pop culture.

Favourite film in 2016?
I actually didn’t see too many films this year. I enjoyed Captain America: Civil War, Zoom, High Rise, Inherent Vice, Afterlife, Hell or High Water, Blue Ruin and Green Room.

But I think, like 2105, it was another great year for telly. I watched a lot of good TV this year, most of it American and mostly crime fiction. Second seasons can be problematic, as True Detective showed, but Fargo’s second season was even better than the first – cinematic, sharp dialogue, great music and top turns from Kirstin Dunst et al.

Better Call Saul was also on top form in its second season, bittersweet and painfully funny. Happy Valley had another powerhouse performance from Sarah Lancaster and quality writing.

Marvel’s Luke Cage was probably the coolest show this year and with the best soundtrack. It dithered off a bit toward the end but still had a lot of punch.

Hap and Leonard was all loose-limbed charm, great acting and great music. Capturing the spirit and feel of Joe Lansdale’s great books.

Goliath gave the boring old legal thriller a kick in the eye. Billy Bob Thornton was particular appealing as washed up Billy MacBride but the rest of the cast were no slouches either.

Ray Donovan is probably my favourite telly show. It’s now the fourth season of TV’s most gleefully nihilistic and cruelly funny show. Great acting and top directors like John Dahl and writers like Michal Tolkin.

Favourite song of the year?
Until The Real Thing Comes Along
by Band Of Holy Joy and Husbands by Marker Starling.

Any downsides for you in 2016?
There are still no jaunting belts, as in The Tomorrow People.

Are you making resolutions for 2017?
No. I’m sure to break them.  I know EXACTLY what I’m like … for better or for worse …

What are you hoping for from 2017?
Like everyone else, nice things as much as possible.

Paul D. Brazill’s books include The Last Laugh, Guns Of Brixton, Cold London Blues, and Kill Me Quick! He was born in England and lives in Poland. He is an International Thriller Writers Inc member whose writing has been translated into Italian, German and Slovenia. He has had writing published in various magazines and anthologies, including ‘The Mammoth Books of Best British Crime’. He has even edited a few anthologies, including the best-selling True Brit Grit – with Luca Veste. His blog is here.

Review of 2016: Angela Readman

I’ve been so spoiled this December and the advent treats continue: today award-winning writer Angela Readman is here to review her year.

As always, it’s a pleasure to host Angela. Thanks for being involved, Angela!

Vic x

Angela Readman

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2016?
The beginning of the year was wonderful professionally. I won The Mslexia Short Story Prize, and on the same day I found out my short story collection ‘Don’t Try This at Home (And other Stories)’ had been shortlisted in The Edgehill Prize. I didn’t win, but it was an honour to get so far. It’s a lot more than I imagined. I also won the Fish Short Memoir Competition which was something new for me, I’ve never tried memoir before. I sent it out as an experiment to see if just writing about me was OK.

This was also the year I published poetry again, my collection ‘The Book of Tides’ came out with Nine Arches in November. It has been so long since my last one it meant more to me than I can say.

7e84913ff0-the-book-of-tides-cover-web

And how about a favourite moment from 2016 generally?
I really want to have one, but I’m struggling. 2016 seems like the year the world got meaner I don’t want to think it’s just the way we are as a species, so I suppose my favourite thing has been little articles about kindness that pop us sometimes. Someone walking into a school and paying all the unpaid balances on school meals, pay it forward, communities coming together to support people, groups that yarn bomb places to try and make someone smile- that sort of stuff. It’s small, but it gives me hope for us.

Favourite book in 2016?
I don’t get a lot of books during the year, I have to wait until Christmas, but I loved Shelley Day’s novel ‘The Confession of Stella Moon‘. Alice Oswald’s ‘Falling Awake‘ was a poetry collection that impressed me. Every year I try to read some books I’ve never got around to before. I was blown away by Shirley Jackson and read Carson Mccullers for the the first time this year. ‘The Ballad of the Sad Cafe‘ is something I know I’ll be reading every year or so for the rest of my life.

Favourite film in 2016?
I loved ‘Dark Horse‘. It’s a documentary about a bunch of ordinary people who come together to buy a racehorse. I loved seeing people live out a dream, however unlikely it is. I also loved ‘The Lobster‘, so strange, sad and unsettling. It’s such a powerful story of conformity and its costs.

Favourite song of the year?
I was stunned by Lorde’s cover of ‘Life on Mars‘. She did it her own way,  it was a remarkable, respectful and fitting tribute.

Any downsides for you in 2016?
Politics, hatred, a lack of tolerance and failure to accept other people seems to be wherever I turn. It feels like this is on the increase, it’s been a sad and worrying year. On a career level, I’m in a curious place of working hard, but so much of it seems to be dealing with admin. It’s one of the things no one tells you I think, that once you’re published there can be less chance to write sometimes. It’s just part of the job, it’s part of life these days I suppose. I haven’t found a way to do it without working longer hours.  I dream of retreats and walks by the sea while I work at weekends to catch up with mail.

Are you making resolutions for 2017?
I start each year hoping to keep writing. I also like to form a reading resolution, sometimes it will be read a poem a day, sometimes it’s read a short story a day, or make an effort to read more work by small presses, it depends. I haven’t decided exactly yet, but there’s always a book resolution. Last year’s was to finally read Roald Dahl’s short stories.

What are you hoping for from 2017?
I really hope people are going to like my poetry collection. I hope to keep my publisher happy. I hope we can all be kinder. I hope we can be happier. I hope to be better.

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!

stella-moon

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?

bloody-scotland

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!

Guest Post: G.J. Brown on Crying Over Spilled Words.

I first met the lovely G.J. Brown in June this year when he took the time to appear at our first Noir at the Bar NE. Gordon is a fantastic writer and is one of the forces behind the massively popular Bloody Scotland.

I met Gordon again just a couple of weeks ago at Newcastle’s Lit and Phil while he was part of the Crime Factor panel. The discussion was truly fascinating and proved that Gordon is a font of knowledge when it comes to writing. 

Thanks to Gordon for taking the time to share his wisdom with us. 

Vic x

G.J. Brown

Never Cry Over Spilled Words
by G.J. Brown

The note from my editor, in returning the first draft of my next novel, read:

‘You’ll see I’ve taken a few sections out. Even so, there’s still a bit of flab.’

Three weeks later, after I’ve subjected my manuscript to a literary chainsaw, I send it back and my editor replies:

‘And this year’s winner of Author Who Culled The Largest Number Of Words From Their First Draft goes to…   40k less. Impressive.’

Hand on heart, I knew that my first draft was, at 117,000 + words, a tad too long. It’s the third in my Craig McIntyre series. The length was driven by an attempt to tie up some loose ends from books 1 and 2, while driving a trans America/Atlantic narrative. The novel ranges from mid-west America to Western Canada, it rolls through a road trip to Toronto, crosses the Atlantic to Scotland and then beyond – I was painting large on a large canvass.

Removing 40,000 words may seem a bit excessive, but I was once talking to the late, great William McIlvanney, over a dram, about editing. He was of the view that if you could remove a word from a sentence and the sentence was the better for it, then keep removing until the sentence sings. I just took Willie’s advice and put it on steroids.

I read and re-read the original. I thought about slicing and dicing, cutting and chopping. I played with tweaking and twisting and, after a few false starts, I realised that this was no minor outpatient operation. This was full on, brain surgery with a liver transplant thrown in for good measure, with a side order of a new heart.

The transit scene from the USA to Scotland was cut in its entirety – bang went 30,000 of those precious words. A chase by the local police, through Alberta, was given the shoulder – zap to 5,000 more. The rest was honing.

I’m waiting on the ‘Weight Watchers Winner for Best Book on a Diet’ coming back to me with the editor’s final comments. I’ve already decided I’m drawing a line in the sand and fighting for every one of the remaining 80,000 words. They deserve no less given the way they’ve survived to date.

Throughout the whole process there was one driver – does this make the book better?

Well, did it?

The simple, and somewhat unsurprising, answer, in my editors and my own humble opinion is, ‘hell yes’. Sharper, better written, flab gone – it’s now the Mo Farrah to the Big Daddy of the book world.

And the bonus is I’ve got at least three short stories sitting in the bowels of my Mac. A little work on the culled paragraphs and I can fill my website with a range of Craig McIntyre tales for a few months to come.

So for those authors that cry over spilled words. Don’t. They didn’t all give their lives in vain. Some will live on to grace different pages in the future and, for those that died, well, they did so for a better cause.

***

meltdown

Gordon lives in Scotland but splits his time between the UK, the U.S.A. and Spain. He’s married with two children. Gordon once quit his job in London to fly across the Atlantic to be with his future wife. He has also delivered pizzas in Toronto, sold non-alcoholic beer in the Middle East, launched a creativity training business called Brain Juice and floated a high tech company on the London Stock Exchange.

He almost had a toy launched by a major toy company, has an MBA, loves music, is a DJ on local radio, compered the main stage at a two-day music festival and was once booed by 49,000 people while on the pitch at a major football Cup Final.

Gordon also helped found Bloody Scotland – Scotland’s International Crime Writing Festival.

Gordon has been writing since his teens and has had four books published – his latest, ‘Meltdown‘, is published by Gallus Press and is out now.

Visit www.gordonjbrown.com or follow him on Twitter @GoJaBrown