Tag Archives: teach

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

audience selfie (2)

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!)

with Dickie Bird (2)

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

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Don’t Quit the Day Job: Linda Huber

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.

Our next writer to be influenced by her day job is Linda Huber. My thanks to Linda for so willingly sharing her experiences with us. It’s so interesting to hear how everyone’s professional lives have prepared them for a life of writing. 

Vic x

LindaHuber

I’ve had two significant day jobs in my life, and both have hugely influenced my writing. As a starry-eyed youngster in Glasgow, I began training to become a physiotherapist, which was the best job ever for many years. I worked in hospitals at first, gaining practical knowledge of wards and intensive care units, as well as departments like X-Ray and Outpatients, and I came across a vast and colourful collection of different healthcare professionals. A few years later, I moved to Switzerland, where I worked in clinics and schools for disabled babies and children. Little did I know back then that I’d become a published writer, and put large chunks of my work experience into firstly my psychological suspense novels, and now my feel-good novellas.

Medical ‘stuff’ so often comes up in crime fiction. A murder? Enter the police doctor. A mysterious illness? Call the GP. An attack? The characters find themselves in hospital. In two of my novels – Ward Zero and Death Wish – medical staff and conditions are directly involved in the plot, and I was able to put my hospital know-how to good use.

A Lake in Switzerland - High Resolution

After over a decade of physiotherapy, I turned my attention to having babies, and took time out from the day job. It was during these years that I began writing seriously, magazine stories first, and then novels. Unfortunately, a back injury meant that physiotherapy was no longer an option when the time came to return to the working life. An English speaker in lovely Switzerland, I retrained as a language teacher – and realised how little I knew about the grammar of my native language. Speaking a language perfectly doesn’t help when you have to teach people about defining and non-defining relative clauses, or conditional structures. But when you do know all the grammar stuff that makes people’s eyes glaze over when you talk about it, it’s enormously helpful to your writing career. My proofreader complained once I didn’t leave her enough to correct. Mind you, I still make mistakes. There was once a stationary shop that should have been a stationery shop. A typo, of course…

Today, I teach one day a week, and the rest of the time is for writing. With my Lakeside Hotel novellas (written under my pen name Melinda Huber), I can use all my various work experiences. The main character Stacy is a reluctant nurse from England who ends up working in a Swiss spa, helping guests with minor illnesses and injuries, as well as coping with life in a foreign country and learning a new language. She faces the same frustration I once did at her lack of ability to communicate swiftly. In all, my books wouldn’t be what they are if I hadn’t had my day jobs. Even some of the drama I went through in my ‘third’ job – being a mother – comes in useful to Stacy, when head lice appear in the hotel!

Melinda Huber is the feel-good pen name of psychological suspense writer Linda Huber – she’s hiding in plain sight! You can find Linda on Facebook, Twitter (as Linda Huber and Melinda Huber) and on her website. Download ‘A Lake in Switzerland’ here.

 

**The Last Day Blog Tour** Guest Post and Review

Last Day Blog Tour

I am absolutely delighted to welcome Claire Dyer to the blog today as part of her blog tour for ‘The Last Day‘. 

Claire is here to chat to us about Beginnings and Endings today which, given the subject of ‘The Last Day‘, is very apt.

Thanks to Claire, and The Dome Press, for allowing me to be a part of this tour.

Vic x 

Claire Dyer

Beginnings and endings
By Claire Dyer

Every ending starts with a beginning …

One of the creative writing classes I teach at Bracknell & Wokingham College is on beginnings and endings. We start by talking about some of the most notable beginnings from the literary canon: ‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.’ (Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier); ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,’ (A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens); ‘Two households, both alike in dignity, In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,’ (Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare) and we analyse what has made them memorable. It’s not an easy exercise because everyone has their own take, their own set of memories and expectations.

What’s also interesting in this section of the class is when I tell my students that most writers will not keep the original first few sentences of their novel; they will go through many iterations and, in some cases, whole opening scenes and chapters will be deleted.

We then look at endings and again, I pick a few favourites: ‘Reader, I married him,’ (Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë); ‘So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.’ (The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald), etc.

And we talk about why these endings work. Is it because they bring the story arc to a satisfactory conclusion? Or, is it because they don’t? Do they leave the reader alone with their own emotions, casting their gaze into the future lives of the books’ characters with their own take on hope, regret, sadness, joy? Or, as in the case of one of my favourite recent reads, Together, by Julie Cohen, the ending is the beginning?

Again, it’s hard to tell. Whatever the case, there is a certain alchemy at work with both beginnings and endings and I’ve learned a lot about this particular type of magic from working on poems. One brilliant piece of advice I’ve been given is to look carefully at the first and last stanzas of a poem and ask whether they are necessary. Do they serve a purpose for the poem or are they just a frame in which the poem sits? This discipline has, I hoped, helped me with the beginnings and endings of my novels.

So, we can study the theory and practise our own but, in the end, our beginnings and endings are at the mercy of our readers, all we can do is make them the best we can.

And so, I try. The first paragraph of The Last Day came very late in the writing process. The ending crept up on me and when I realised I’d got there I had to step away from the keyboard and not risk that last, lone brushstroke which may have ruined everything. Whether my own attempt at alchemy will work will, of course, be up to others, but I have loved every minute of trying.

Review: ‘The Last Day’

by Claire Dyer.

Boyd moves back into the family home with Vita, his estranged wife, to get his finances back on track. Accompanying Boyd is his beautiful, young girlfriend, Honey who is running from her past. The unlikely housemates manage to make their living arrangement work despite all the odds but memories are never far away and the ghosts of the past threaten to derail the new normal in Albert Terrace.

When I first read the premise, my interest was piqued because of the unusual situation of a man living with his estranged wife and new lover.

Claire Dyer manages to make the reader suspend their disbelief and accept this peculiar situation by creating nuanced characters that readers can empathise with. Everyone is afforded a compassion and understanding which is often lacking in fiction and in life. 

The language used in this book is beautiful and adds to the poignancy of the storyline. It’s obvious why Claire Dyer is an award-winning poet thanks to her thoughtful turn of phrase and rich descriptions. 

Long after I’d finished reading ‘The Last Day’, I found myself thinking about Vita, Boyd, Honey and Boyd’s mum. This beautifully written, observant novel will stay with you long after the final page has been turned. 

Vic x

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Paul Gitsham

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.

Following on from Linda MacDonald’s insight into how teaching A Level Psychology contributed to her debut novel, we have another teacher on the blog to talk about how teaching has inspired him to write a series of crime novels.

My thanks to the lovely – and very busy – Paul Gitsham for taking the time to write about his day job. To find out more about the DCI Warren Jones series,  go to Facebook, Twitter or Paul’s website

Paul’s will be the final blog in the Don’t Quit the Day Job series for 2017 because December, as always, will be taken up with daily guests reviewing their year. Don’t Quit the Day Job will start again in January 2018.

Vic x

“You know, if you bury her body under the new school hall, no one will ever find her, Sir.”

This was not a helpful plot idea from one of my students, rather the response of another pupil to his classmate’s question “are trees alive?”, asked precisely three weeks before the class were due to sit their biology GCSE.

Fortunately, the question appeared to be little more than a random synaptic misfiring – probably caused by stress – and the frantically blushing pupil went on to do very well.

If I tell someone at a literary festival that I am a school teacher (often in response to the question, ‘why don’t you write more quickly?’ or ‘can’t you take the afternoon off to arrive at a more reasonable hour?’), they naturally assume that I teach English. That I am a former biologist and now teach science seems to bemuse many people.

Yet I find that although teaching full time eats into my writing time, it also feeds into what I write. For example, DCI Warren Jones is happily married to Susan, a – you guessed it! – secondary school biology teacher. She even supplies the odd crucial insight – thus allowing me to vicariously fulfil my own fantasies…

The first person we meet in my debut novel, The Last Straw, is Tom Spencer – who just happened to be sitting opposite me, marking coursework, as I dreamt up that book. By contrast, the laid-back, portly, pony-tailed Crime Scene Manager Andy Harrison, who appears in all of my books, is the polar opposite of his namesake, another former colleague. A number of workmates have given me explicit permission to either kill them off or name a serial killer after them. If nothing else, the people I work with or teach are a useful source of interesting names and personality quirks.

It was also through school that I met my forensic science contact. Lee ran workshops for our science and engineering club, but his day job is that of a crime scene investigator for Essex police. An endless source of dark and blackly humorous war stories, he’s given me countless ideas and advice.

Like all writers, I am a trivia magpie and nowhere is a better source of random information than a science classroom. For example, did you know that deer stand still in the glare of headlights because they interpret the lights as eyes, but are confused by the lack of legs? Thanks to eleven year old Francis for that fact – look out for it in book 2, No Smoke Without Fire. I’ve also spent ten years teaching about diabetes and blood glucose regulation – a key plot device in Silent as the Grave. An A Level practical investigation into how blood is identified at a crime scene triggered a lovely little sub-plot in an upcoming novel.

Writing this article has really made me consider the impact that teaching and being a teacher has had upon my writing. And so, for the foreseeable future at least, I have no plans to give up the day job entirely.

Guest Post: Helen Cadbury on Writers who Teach.

Helen Cadbury is one of the nicest writers in the business at the moment in my opinion. I love her wit and can’t wait to host her at Noir at the Bar NE in February. 

Helen is the author of the Sean Denton series of crime novels, To Catch A Rabbit and Bones in the Nest, with a third in the pipeline. To find out more about Helen, check out her website.

Helen is here today to talk to us about writers who teach which is a topic that is of particular interest to me. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Helen.

Vic x

helen-cadbury

Writers who Teach
by Helen Cadbury

It is not a given that just because a person knows how to do a thing, that they can necessarily teach it. There are some extremely talented writers who are also brilliant and inspiring teachers, I have been lucky enough to be taught by at least two: the poet, Carole Bromley, and the novelist, Lesley Glaister. But there are also a set of esteemed authors and poets who are not great teachers, some of them are even terrible teachers, jealous perhaps of those coming after them, or simply lacking the enthusiasm or skills to enable others. There is also another set of writers who teach while at the very beginning of their careers, emerging writers whose enthusiasm is infectious to their students.

Bones in the Nest

So why do writers teach? Many writers I know claim to be introverts, so being in a group setting like a classroom or workshop space might seem like masochism. Is it for the money? Well that certainly helps. With average author earnings well below the Living Wage, and even beneath the annual full-time minimum wage, there are only a tiny minority of authors, and virtually no poets, who solely earn their living from selling their writing. But a word of caution: teaching creative writing is not a get rich quick scheme. It’s hard work and inevitably takes far longer than the hourly rate offered for a session of delivery. I estimate my preparation time to be 1.5 to 2 times the length of a one-off taught session. If it’s a course, then there will also be marking. Quoting the real cost of session to a perspective client can put them off, so sometimes we undersell ourselves, in order to get the work, regretting it later when we are committed to a group of learners, a long journey, and a novel at home waiting to be finished.

To Catch a Rabbit

There are easier ways of creating the income you need to sustain a writing career, but there is something that teaching gives a writer, which working a day job doesn’t, and that is the creative process of writing itself. When setting an exercise on structure, for example, the writer is also reflecting on their own use of structure. When teaching a class on character, new characters emerge for your own work. The character of Barry ‘Burger’ King, a detective in my debut, ‘To Catch a Rabbit‘, was created during an exercise in a class I was teaching at HMP Askham Grange. My learners added some very helpful characteristics to his sketch, as we all fed back on each other’s creations. I don’t always join in with the exercises, but when I do, it’s to show that I’m not asking my learners to do something I wouldn’t do myself. When I don’t, it enables me to pause a little, in that golden silence when they are writing, and be even more alert in listening to the work they read out.

I trained as a secondary school drama teacher, and I’ve also worked for many years as a trainer in the Youth Arts sector, so for me, bringing the skills and techniques of creative education to groups of writers – whether they be young people ambitious to be published, mature writers exploring their life stories, those writing for their own therapeutic release, or any combination of the above –  gives me a sense of completeness in bringing the different parts of my life experience together. It also takes me away from my own work, makes me think, and brings me back to my writing desk refreshed.

Elementary Writers’ First Performance Evening.

As many of you know, I set up my own business – Elementary V Watson – earlier this year. EVW is a proofreading, copywriting and critiquing business. I also “teach” Creative Writing to a wonderful group of people. The sessions are Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays in Whitley Bay (Di Meo’s on Mondays & Thursdays 4:30-6:30pm and Whitley Bay Library on a Saturday 3-5pm).

My group of merry writers asked me a few months ago if I would set up a performance night for them to showcase the writing they’d done in the group. Now, in all honesty, I was reluctant as I’m not much of a public speaker and I had my reservations about whether, when it came to the crunch, my writers would want to stand in front of people and read their work. Although I did a reading at Newcastle’s Lit and Phil in April, it’s not my favourite thing to do.

Thanks to the lovely owners of The Avalon in Whitley Bay, I arranged a venue for Thursday 11th July and the writers worked towards having something to read on the night. I remained skeptical. I was worried no-one would turn up and that my group may get cold feet. For some of them, it was the first time they’d done anything like this.

By Monday (8th of July), my anxieties were growing by the second and I really thought I’d be left with an empty venue. I couldn’t even escape my fears by going to sleep – I was literally having nightmares about it.

Thursday, 11th of July 2013, is a day that will remain with me forever. The kindness of people who turned up to help makes me realise that my hope in mankind is not misplaced. Ema Lea, one of the organisers of Whitley Bay Film Festival came to help with the microphone and sound, Mick of The Avalon opened his bar to us and looked after the music during the non-performance parts of the evening, and The Boy Wonder drove straight from working a ten hour shift to support me and my group.

I was still concerned I’d have a bar, a microphone and some writers but no-one to listen. I needn’t have worried. Thank you to everyone who turned up to listen to my writers read their work. Your support was so appreciated. And it was really great to meet people I’ve only previously talked to via the wonders of Twitter and Facebook – you know who you are 😀

At the end of the evening, after I got on stage to thank everyone for coming, one of my group got back up on the stage to thank me for everything I’d done for the group. I was almost in tears. I don’t teach because I want to be thanked – I don’t really think I do much to be thanked for if I’m honest – I do it because I love listening to others’ writing and helping them push themselves to create the best work possible. I’m frequently astounded by the talent of those who come to the sessions – and that has nothing to do with me.

I went home that evening walking on air. I was really thrilled that so many people had come out to support their friends and family. One friend even wrote a blog post about it.

So, rather than writing this off as a one-off experience never to be repeated, I’m already planning the next performance evening. I hope you can make it.

Vic x