Tag Archives: story

Review: ‘The Last Cut’ by Danielle Ramsay

If Martina Cole says it’s good, it’s good – right? Well, the Queen of Crime is quoted on Amazon as saying that The Last Cut is ‘a really cracking read’.

Featuring DS Harri Jacobs and set in Newcastle, The Last Cut is the first in a new series by Danielle Ramsay, writer of the DI Jack Brady books.

Harri Jacobs has returned to her hometown of Newcastle following a brutal attack she endured at the hands of an unknown assailant while working for the Met. With her rapist still at large and the first anniversary of the assault looming, Harri is understandably on edge. However, the tension is cranked up when Harri begins to suspect she is being followed. Add to that a murder victim with similarities to Harri and the reader, along with Harri, are plunged into a nightmare of paranoia and fear in a tense game of cat and mouse.

I really liked the fact that much of the action was set in Newcastle. It was interesting to see how places familiar to me could be turned into dark, threatening locations. Danielle really has a knack for using location to add another layer to her stories.

The Last Cut is a claustrophobic read that had me rather terrified. The twisted characters that Harri comes into contact with chilled me to the bone. Hats off to Danielle Ramsay for creating this pervading sense of discomfort and the uncertainty over who to trust.

Turns out that the last cut is the deepest…

Vic x

Review: ‘Block 46’ by Johana Gustawsson

The mutilated corpse of a jewellery designer is discovered in a harbour in a Swedish marina while a young boy’s body is found in London with similar wounds around the same time. Emily Roy, a Canadian profiler on loan to Scotland Yard, begins to investigate the case alongside French true crime writer Alexis Castells. As the story continues, Roy and Castells uncover evidence to suggest that there may be a link between these murders and the Buchenwald Concentration Camp.

Written by Johana Gustawsson, and translated into English by Maxim Jakubowski, Block 46 is a tense thriller which unravels slowly but masterfully. The chapters are choppy and keep the plot moving along nicely. The language used throughout the book is beautiful which juxtaposes the violence of the murders well.

The plot is utterly intriguing and I can see how the partnership of Roy and Castells could be turned into a successful series – there are plenty of narrative strands that could be explored further.

When I saw Johana Gustawsson talk about Block 46 at Newcastle Noir, I saw that the subject had deeply affected her and I couldn’t wait to read this book. The fact that Gustawsson has weaved present-day narratives with an historical element makes this a really unique novel. A must-read.

Vic x

Guest Post: Sue Miller on trying to make the world a better place.

As most of you know, I am responsible for the Newcastle leg of Noir at the Bar – and I love it. One of the best things about hosting NATB is how many new writers I get to meet. Thanks to my friend Chris Ord, I was introduced to Sue Miller, another local writer. 

Sue read for us at Noir at the Bar earlier this year and I’m delighted to host her on the blog. Sue likes to use her writing to affect social change so she’s here today to talk to us about trying to make the world a better place. 

Thanks to Sue for sharing her insights with us.

Vic x

 

Sue Miller on trying to make the world a better place.

The title: 20/20 Vision: They didn’t see it coming isn’t just a play on words. I fully expected 2020 would be the year of the next election.


I dedicated the book to my newborn grandson. I hoped that the world he will grow up in will be a safe and loving place. But I wasn’t optimistic. I wanted to do something.

I thought about writing articles. I worked hard to make things better in my community. I cared as best I could for my family and friends. In the end I thought I’d try to bring my concerns together into a story. Maybe that would be a way to be heard because:

  • we always have choices.
  • if we don’t address issues of what’s fair and what’s right now, what are we bequeathing to our children?
  • there are enough resources to go round, if we manage them responsibly
  • I sensed a growing narrative with winners and losers, where ‘rights’ were becoming ‘entitlements’, borders and barriers were going up between ourselves and those we labelled as not ‘like us.’

I was in a very dark place, struggling to find optimism for the future, despairing of the choices of cuts, the short sightedness of activity around me. Not that I was perfect.

This was before Brexit and before Trump. Before the calling of an election designed to ‘strengthen our hand’ in negotiations with people that were once partners and friends. I didn’t see any of those coming.

The worlds of traditional and social media are currently full of the noise of pre-election promises. I’m weary of it already.  What I’m hearing are promises, when history teaches us words are cheap, it’s actions that cost.

People who know me well were shocked by just how dark 20/20 Vision is in places. The story reflects where I continue to be every time I turn on the news, tune into social media; Facebook-there’s a mixed blessing. One of my book reviews says we live at a time when people think they’ve done their bit simply by clicking on ‘like’. In a country where free education is available for all I’m aghast at the low level of some of the commentary there. Words are easy, the real challenge is to think, listen and act.

History tells us it is hard to hope, we will always snatch those resources to which we believe we are entitled. We can choose to take from those we think of as ‘different’ to preserve those we perceive as ‘our own’. What of fairness? What of love?

My next book has a working title: Border Control. That’s all I see coming now.

Sue Miller

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

Guest Post: Jennifer C Wilson on the living dead.

cover on devicesHave you ever thought about what the dead get up when you’re not looking? Not in a terrifying, trying to drive you out of your house sort of way, just in a ‘getting on with their own lives’ sort of way? That’s what got me thinking, and what led to me writing Kindred Spirits: Tower of London, my debut novel, published in October 2015 (international Amazon link here, to take you to the country of your choice), and currently just 99p/c in the Crooked Cat Easter Sale.

Come and find out what Richard III, Anne Boleyn, Queen Jane Grey and a host of others talk about whilst we’re not listening, and what they get up to when the staff of the Tower of London are busy elsewhere. With family feuds having had centuries to build up, star-crossed couples trying to find each other, and a certain King of England looking for a certain pair of princes, there’s always plenty going on, and especially in the greatest historical prison England has ever seen!

If you do dip a toe and take a chance of Kindred Spirits: Tower of London this Easter, and you like what you read, then my second novel, Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile is coming in June 2017, and I’d love you to attend the online launch party – click here for more information. We’ll be having virtual food and drink, there’ll be music and, of course, a couple of book-related competitions.

Hope to see you there!

JenniferCWilson-HolyroodPalace

 

About Jennifer

Jennifer is a marine biologist by training, who spent much of her childhood stalking Mary, Queen of Scots (initially accidentally, but then with intention). She completed her BSc and MSc at the University of Hull, and has worked as a marine environmental consulting since graduating. Enrolling on an adult education workshop on her return to the north-east reignited Jennifer’s pastime of creative writing, and she has been filling notebooks ever since. In 2014, Jennifer won the Story Tyne short story competition, and also continues to develop her poetic voice, reading at a number of events, and with several pieces available online. She is also part of The Next Page, running workshops and other literary events in North Tyneside.

Jennifer’s debut novel, Kindred Spirits: Tower of London, was released by Crooked Cat Books in October 2015; she (and it) can be found online at her blog, on Twitter and Facebook, as well as at The Next Page’s blog.

Getting to Know You: Tana Collins

tana-flyer

It’s my pleasure today to welcome Tana Collins on the penultimate stop of her blog tour. I met Tana at the first Edinburgh Noir at the Bar and I’m thrilled that she’s appearing at the Newcastle NatB tonight. 

Tana’s novel ‘Robbing the Dead‘ was released by Bloodhound Books earlier this month and is available to buy now. 

Thanks to Tana for taking the time to answer my questions. If you’re near the Town Wall tonight, pop in – it’s free entry – and promises to be a criminally good night. 

Vic x

Tana

Welcome to the blog, Tana. Tell us about your debut novel.
Robbing the Dead‘ is the first novel in the Inspector Jim Carruthers series set in the picturesque East Neuk of Fife.

robbing-the-dead

What inspired it?
Although it’s a work of fiction the inspiration for the novel comes from a true event that occurred in the early 1970s. I don’t want to say too much and give away any spoilers but it’s a tragic event that impacted on many people’s lives and still to this day continues to do so. I felt that whilst most of us have heard about the event very few know some of the details that make this story so human. I felt there was still a story to be told. 

Where do you get your ideas from?
Like most writers I have an inquisitive nature and am fascinated by people. I observe, listen and ask lots of questions. I decided my main cop, Inspector Jim Carruthers, should live in Anstruther in Fife. Early on into writing ‘Robbing the Dead‘ my partner and I went there for a long weekend so I could do some research. We walked in to the Dreel Tavern which I had reckoned might be Carruthers’ watering hole. I decided I needed to engage with the locals so I went up to the bar on my own with my drink and slapped a notebook and pen down. Within minutes a local had sidled up and asked me in a suspicious voice what I was doing. He had decided I was a tax inspector! That could end up a story in itself! I told him I was a writer and that the Dreel was going to be my main character’s favourite pub. I then asked him rather cheekily what he had to hide thinking I was a tax inspector! Within minutes half a dozen folk had come over telling me their stories of Anstruther, including the story of the resident pub ghost!

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
My main character is a male police inspector, DCI Jim Carruthers. One of my female friends indignantly asked me why my inspector wasn’t a woman. I replied that I wanted Carruthers to be a man. He was always going to be a man and he’s still my favourite character, although DS Andrea Fletcher, as his assistant, is definitely starting to come in to her own. Interestingly, now I’ve written three books, I’ve noticed that more of my personality has gone in to Jim Carruthers but more of my life experiences in to Andrea Fletcher.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?The best piece of advice came from crime writer Peter Robinson. He was talking about writer’s block. He said that often writer’s block occurs because you are in the head of the wrong character in that particular scene. This piece of advice has served me well.

What can readers expect from your books?
Fast paced action and plenty of it! ‘Robbing the Dead‘ has been described as an ‘edge of your seat’ crime thriller. All three books start with a murder, if not in the first scene, definitely very early on and the death count just continues to rise. I like to write interesting stories often based on historical or contemporary events with political overtones. But I also like to have strong and believable characters that my readers will be able to engage with!

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Don’t give up! I can’t tell you how close ‘Robbing the Dead‘ came to ending up in the knicker drawer. And the truth of it is that early on it just wasn’t good enough to be published. It had two massive rewrites and I’m delighted I persevered. Ten years later with three books under my belt I started to approach publishing companies and landed a three book deal with Bloodhound Books. It was officially published on 14th February and I have been thrilled by the reviews! Read everything you can get your hands on in your genre. Hang out with other writers. Critique each other’s work. Go to book festivals. Last bit of advice would be get yourself a good editor before approaching publishers.

How do you feel about appearing at Noir at the Bar?
This will be my second Noir at the Bar event and I’m very excited. Like most writers I love to talk about my book and I love to meet readers and other writers. I feel honoured to be invited to speak and share a excerpt from my debut novel. I’m also looking forward to hearing other writers, new and well established, speak.

 img_1837

What do you like and dislike about writing?
There is nothing that makes me happier than being given a blank piece of paper at the start of writing a novel. I love crafting a story and developing the characters. I also enjoy the research. I don’t do much drafting as I like to watch the novel evolve organically which can be dangerous. The worst? The crippling bouts of self- doubt during the writing process! 

Are you writing anything at the moment?
I’m just about to start an edit on the second novel, ‘Care to Die’, which is being published on 25th April 2017. The third novel, ‘Mark of the Devil’, is currently with my first reader. I’m contemplating a fourth book in the series so there’s a few ideas swirling around in my head.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
I think it has to be meeting my all time hero, Peter Robinson, on a writing course given by him in Tallinn. It was thrilling receiving tuition from someone who was also writing his latest Inspector Banks story which needed to be set in a European city! When ‘Watching the Dark‘ was finally published we found out that, as his students, we were all named in the acknowledgements! A wonderful moment.

Review of 2016: Ever Dundas

That very well-connected Shelley Day not only introduced us to Catherine Simpson t’other day, but she’s also encouraged the fab Ever Dundas to be a part of our 2016 review.

Thanks for being a part of it, Ever! 

Vic x

ever-and-jenny-signing-freight-contract

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2016?
It has to be my agent calling me to say Freight Books had put in an offer for my novel ‘Goblin‘. Weirdly, the first person I told about it was Terry Gilliam. I’d received the call just as I was rushing out to see him unveil the Don Quixote quote for Edinburgh City of Literature’s Words on the Street. By the time I got there it was all over, but I knew he was heading back to London so I impulsively jumped on his train and possibly maybe babbled at the poor man. It just felt like a strange kind of serendipity, as his film ‘Tideland‘ was an influence on ‘Goblin‘ and it felt amazing to be able to tell him that. ‘Time Bandits‘ also played a part in my love of storytelling when I was a kid.

I was also thrilled when it was confirmed that my husband would be designing the cover for ‘Goblin‘ (which will be revealed in the new year).

terry-ever

And how about a favourite moment from 2016 generally?
A holiday to Oxford and London with my husband. In Oxford we visited locations where the film ‘Accident‘ was filmed. I’m a big Dirk Bogarde fan, so walking in his footsteps felt amazing and a little melancholy.

Another highlight was visiting Kensal Green Cemetery in London. Part of my novel is set in WWII London when my protagonist, Goblin, is a kid. She spends a lot of time in Kensal Green Cemetery and I’d researched it online – reading about it, looking at photographs and maps. I was worried it would disappoint, but it was perfect. I actually got goosebumps – I could clearly see Goblin and her dog Devil running round the cemetery.

Making it down to Oxford and London felt like a real achievement too. I have fibromyalgia (chronic pain and exhaustion) and my world had shrunk because of it. I was quite anxious about travelling, but I implemented some coping strategies (pacing, using a wheelchair off and on) I learned on a Pain Course and it worked. It was a struggle, but it was manageable. It’s still not easy for me to get around, but my world has opened up again.

ever-in-kensal-green-cemetery

Favourite book in 2016?
I re-read ‘Annihilation‘ by Jeff VanderMeer for book group and loved it all over again – it’s unnerving, disturbing and beautiful. Definitely one I’ll keep returning to.

If ‘Annihilation‘ is one of the best novels I’ve read, ‘The Lonely City‘ by Olivia Laing is one of the best non-fiction books I’ve had the pleasure to immerse myself in; a brilliant incisive book that faces the taboo of loneliness head-on.

I was going to mention Naomi Alderman’s novel ‘The Power‘, but I’ve written about that elsewhere, so instead I’ll highlight my favourite short story of 2016 – Ted Chiang’s ‘Story of Your Life‘ (the Denis Villenueve film ‘Arrival‘ was based on it). I stumbled across this truly stunning, well-crafted story in a sci-fi omnibus. It’s a fascinating slow-burner that’s both a cerebral and an emotional journey and it blew me away.

Favourite film in 2016?
Without a doubt, it has to be ‘High Rise‘. I’m a JG Ballard fan and this felt like the perfect adaptation of his novel. Amy Jump and Ben Wheatley really brought the novel to life, injecting it with wry humour. The acting was all superb (if I was to cast my fantasy movie version of ‘Goblin‘ it would include most of the cast from ‘High Rise‘) and the design was delicious. It’s a very relevant film, and Portishead’s melancholy SOS sums up how many people feel about 2016.

I also adore Karyn Kusama’s ‘The Invitation‘, which seriously creeped me out. The less you know about it the better – just get your hands on it.

Favourite song of the year?
I’ve had Sia’s ‘Elastic Heart‘ on repeat. The video with Maddie Ziegler and Shia LaBeouf is very powerful.

Any downsides for you in 2016?
The world is on fire.

Are you making resolutions for 2017?
Use social media differently. I find it sucks up too much of my headspace – I need more time to think.

What are you hoping for from 2017?
My first novel, ‘Goblin‘, comes out in 2017 and I’m hoping it will do well enough for me to continue in my career as a writer.

I hope I can help put out the 2016 fire in any small way I can. I will raise awareness of disability and chronic illness and how broken and needlessly punitive the benefits system is. I will work to eradicate speciesism and I will be a voice that celebrates difference, multiplicity and complexity. As Joanna Bourke said, here’s to “being more than human.”