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Getting to Know You: Lucy Nichol

I’m delighted to host Lucy Nichol, author of ‘A Series of Unfortunate Stereotypes‘, to the blog.

My thanks to Lucy for taking the time to chat to us today and for her honesty. 

Vic x

Lucy N - headshot - colour.JPGTell us about your book.
A Series of Unfortunate Stereotypes is a memoir that’s packed with comment about mental health stigma and how it has influenced my thinking over the years. I tried to write it humorously and accessibly, as I’m an expert by lived experience when it comes to mental health – I am not a professional. So the views on the book are simply based on what I have soaked up and how I feel about it all.

It takes us through a range of stereotypes linked to mental health, and compares them to the reality. 

front cover - a series of unfortunate stereotypes

What inspired it?
I started writing and blogging in 2016. I started working as a media volunteer / champion with Time to Change and I also when started writing regularly for a range of media titles. The title of the book came to me when I wrote my first piece for Sarah Millican’s Standard Issue magazine, which was almost a summary of everything that is in the book. It was all about stigma and how we perceive anxiety disorders, specifically, as that was what my personal experience was based on. 

I love the Lemony Snickett stories, but Aunt Josephine sprung to mind when I was trying to think of a fictional well-known character with anxiety. And I thought – Christ, I have anxiety and I’m nothing like Aunt Josephine. I was convinced she was a pretty poor role model for anxiety.

What do you like most about writing? What do you dislike (if anything)?
I find writing heaps of fun. I have a real thing for nostalgia, which is why I write so much about the 80s and 90s – not just my experience but everything that was happening around me – from food and TV shows to government safety campaigns and pop music. It always makes me smile and gives me context as to why and how my opinions on life have changed over the years.

Do you find time to read, if so what are you reading at the moment?
I never stop! I’m currently finishing Lost Connections by Johann Hari which I can genuinely say is quite the life changer and I urge anyone to read it.

When I first started reading I was apprehensive, as I have naturally always yearned for quick fixes in everything. I think that is why I rely solely on taking anti-depressants and going for therapy, rather than adding self care into the mix as well. This book is a real eye-opener and I believe it’s good to challenge our own beliefs.

Which author(s) has/have had the biggest influence on your writing?
I love Caitlin Moran’s no-nonsense humour and focus on music, as well as Aaron Gillie’s (aka Technically Ron) hilarious reflections on living a life with anxiety. But I think overall the biggest influence on me was, and still is, the Standard Issue community. Sarah Millican set that magazine up (which now runs as a podcast) as a no-bullshit magazine for women. And all the contributors – from comedians to every day peeps like me – have a real authentic feel about them. It’s refreshing and it helped me find a voice. It made the in-crowd inclusive, rather than exclusive.

Where do you get your ideas from?
I look around me and I consider how pop culture / society has impacted me. I can’t comment on other people’s relationships with it, but I can share my own, and it seems to have rung true with a good few people so hopefully it is relatable.

Do you have a favourite scene/character/story you’ve written?
I’ve just started experimenting with fiction, and I have created a character I would love to hang out with. She has elements of me in there but overall, aside from her anxiety and taste in music, she’s a very different character. Far more confident, I’d say. I wrote a scene about her trip to her local pub with her best mate, who is made up of lots of people from my past, and it was so much fun to write.

What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on the fiction project mentioned above, as well as a series of short stories I’m working on together with my husband, actor Chris Connel. It’s been interesting so far, we’ve had to be very careful to avoid the bickering, so we have set out clear boundaries – I’m doing the research and overarching concepts, he’s doing the characterisation and creative scriptwriting!

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What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given (and who was it from)?
I arranged a manuscript assessment recently via The Literary Consultancy and author Angela Clarke was my assessor. Her review was honest and helpful, giving me some technical advice, but also getting me to think more about the bigger picture. It helped no end – giving me encouragement but also making me realise how commercial I need to be, and how I need to keep at it until I get it right (remember what I said earlier about always wanting the quick fixes – this was a reminder that I needed to hone my ideas before pitching them out).

I also remember, when I very first started writing a proposal for my book, A Series of Unfortunate Stereotypes, author and blogger, Claire Eastham asked me some tough questions to help me to craft the proposal. She apologised for being so challenging, but it was her most challenging questions, I believe, that have helped me the most.

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
Ha – probably a pantster. I just write and write whatever comes into my head. In experimenting with fiction, I have, however, done a bit of planning with regards to characterisation and an outline structure, which has been immensely helpful. But for blogs and comment and my own memoir, I fire up the laptop and see what happens.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
I still see myself as very much a fledgling writer, so I am learning all the time. But I think the most important things I have picked up are to keep at it. I’ve had rejection after rejection – and I’m still seeking a literary agent to this day. But I am not giving up. I read somewhere you have to enjoy writing and writing for yourself. That way, regardless of what comes of it, it’s time well spent.

What’s been your proudest writing-related moment?
I could go for the big one and say it was when I was invited to Buckingham Palace with the Time to Change and Mind teams for World Mental Health Day in 2016. It was pretty amazing to be part of that and sit on a royal throne (of the lavatorial kind, of course). However, I think the proudest moment for me was seeing the impact that my writing has had. One person, who I won’t name but she knows who she is, has made me feel that every single hour put into writing and trying to get my work out there has been worth it, after messaging me to say she was close to calling an ambulance during a severe panic attack, but she asked her husband to read my blog out to her and it helped to calm her down. There’s nothing that can beat that kind of response to your work. That has to be the proudest moment for me.  

2018 Review: Shelley Day

Today, my good friend and fellow Bloody Mary Shelley Day is here to review her year. My thanks to Shelley for taking the time to look back over her 2018. 

As an extra festive treat, check back later for my thoughts on Shelley’s latest short story collection ‘what are you like‘. 

Vic x

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
Well, 2018 will certainly stand out for me as the year some projects came to fruition and the year I made some major decisions:

First – I decided to publish my debut collection of short stories, what are you like. I’d been humming and hah-ing for a long while, but finally this year I took the plunge and the stories will soon be out with Red Squirrel Press, a lovely indie press that was based in Northumberland but which has re-located north of the border. As I am half in Scotland anyway, it’s win-win! 

I’m so so so very lucky because AL Kennedy, and Jackie Kay, and Angela Jackson all agreed to say nice things to put on the back cover of my book. If I am looking for a special moment, that that was it. 

I’m very especially happy that my son Nico has designed the cover. If I’m looking for another 2018 moment, that was it – that was a moment like never before when I opened the email and saw Nico’s design … I’m so excited.

The book’s not officially out until next year, but we’re getting a couple of launches in before the current year is out, for very good reason. 

So, the second BIG decision was to go and live in Paris. The intention is to perfect my French, soak up some experience before the Brexit divisions start to bite (they’re already snarling too loud for my little ears), stay there for as long as it takes to finish the novel I’m working on which is set there and which features a character Clara who’s similarly done a bunk from the UK somewhat precipitously, I don’t yet know why. I’ve always wanted to spend extended time in Paris and, between you and me, I’m hoping this sojourn will get that daft idea out of my system and I can come back and get on with whatever here, or wherever. I can’t tell you much more because I’m not a great planner, either in my fiction or in my own life! 

And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
Favourite moment wasn’t a moment but was a few months in the summer spent in a wooden hut halfway up a mountain in Norway. Off-grid, away from everyone and everything except the smell of pine resin and the birch logs we burned in the stove, the whisper of wind in the trees and the gentle lapping of the lake on the shore … you get the picture. And I went to the Lillehammer Literary Festival which was ace. And so it was, in that kind of Paradise, that I finally put my short story collection together. I also wrote some new things, things that have taken on something of a spiritual-sacred theme, and I’m exploring that further as we speak.  

Favourite book in 2018?
This is always such a hard question! I read a lot of contemporary fiction, and have many writer friends who write it, so it is impossible for me to be truthful and choose just one! So, instead I’ll tell you this year I have gone a bit mad with Patrick Modiano. Seriously, I have fallen in love with his work and am reading one by one through his entire oeuvre and savouring every word. I re-read the whole of Muriel Spark too this year. I love revisiting favourites, because they show you something new every time. 

Favourite film in 2018?
Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs. Fun, clever, political, visually amazing, as per!

Favourite song of the year?
I’m a bit mouldy, I’m afraid, and don’t catch up very often with new music. I’ve been impressed by Sigrid I guess, but as I say I don’t keep up. I still love Patti Smith’s Horses from 1975! I have my music on a hard disc and I play it on shuffle, everything all mixed up. In Norway I listened a lot to ancient music, Monteverdi’s Vespers, sacred stuff. 

Any downsides for you in 2018?
I never know what to say about downsides. Yeah, I’ve spent time in the doldrums, never quite sure how you get in there, never mind how to get out, never know how much to ‘reveal’. But yeah, life has had some bad bits in. Plus the whole Brexit fiasco, I have found it supremely supremely depressing, every single thing about it. I detest every bit of it and frankly, am living in dread. I hadn’t realized how fragile our precious democracy is until now I see it so bizzarely and blatantly under threat. As a citizen, I have never felt quite so powerless. 

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
No point in me making resolutions, I never stick to them!

What are you hoping for from 2019?
Primarily hoping my short story collection does ‘well’ (whatever that means!), and that I’ll come back from Paris with a complete first draft of my Clara book (as yet no title), and that I’ll make some progress with the new short story collection provisionally entitled Going Raw Julietta (work that one out!). AND THAT BREXIT WILL DISAPPEAR.

If you want to buy a copy of what are you like it will be available with P&P FREE via the publisher’s website. 

If you want to check out my son Nico’s artwork, best find him on Instagram.

Thank you so much Victoria for letting me ramble on on your page. I enjoyed writing this review, it made me focus. And may I wish you all the very best for 2019!  

2018 Review: Theresa Talbot

Yesterday’s 2018 reviewer was Harry Gallagher. Today, we welcome Theresa Talbot. Like Harry, Theresa has had a very eventful year.

My thanks to her for sharing her experiences with us. 

Vic x

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Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
For me 2018 has been the best year ever – in so many ways. Professionally, I signed with a new publisher Aria, and new agent Nicola Barr which was super. Aria re-released my debut crime novel in April of this year, and gave it a total revamp including new title & new cover. It’s now The Lost Children – it was re-edited too which for me gave it a whole new dimension and helped established the characters for the follow-up novel. Which allows me to seamlessly mention Keep Her Silent, which was released in August. I also do a lot of chairing work for other writers and been lucky enough to chair Marian Keyes,  MC Beaton (the writer of Agatha Raisin), Ashley Jenson (the star of Agatha Raisin) and (drum roll…) Graham Norton who was an absolute dream, they all were. So it’s been a pretty whirlwind year.

And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
Oh crikey, where do I start? Bloke-With-Beard (aka my partner) proposed in May, which came completely out of the blue. We’d been friends twenty-five years ago but lost touch. We reconnected through Facebook and had our first date in Italy of all places. Long story short he lived in Liverpool, I was in Glasgow and it seemed like the best place to meet up – the other choice was the services at Tebay as it was equidistant. Anyhoo, less than a year later he popped the question. I suppose at our age it doesn’t do to hang about! We went back to Italy to get married in September. As I say, no point it dawdling over these things. Anyway, I had a very short window given the dress I’d chosen – another year and I was in danger of looking like Bette Davis in Whatever Happened To Baby Jane. I think that day we got married truly was the most special moment, not just of the year but of my life. It was magical.

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Favourite book in 2018?
I have to say Douglas Skelton’s The Janus Run. I know Douglas, he’s a pal – a rather grumpy pal – but very lovely none the less. This is a bit of a breakaway for him and deserves to put him in the running as one of Scotland’s best crime writers.

Favourite film in 2018?
I don’t think I’ve actually seen a movie that was released this year. It’s been a bit mental and busy and, now that you’ve mentioned it, I actually don’t think I’ve been to the movies once. I LOVE films, one of my favourites that I watched this year was Kind Hearts & Coronets – a 1949 black comedy starring Dennis Price & Alec Guiness. It’s hilarious. I stuck on the DVD – Bloke-With-Beard had never seen it & I was really excited that he was going to experience this brilliance for the first time. Anyway, I was helpless with laughter and he fell asleep! He wasn’t that impressed as it turned out. This was before the wedding – but the dress was bought and the flights booked so…

 Favourite song of the year?
There are so many I could choose – but I’m going to go with La Vie en Rose – The Louis Armstong version. I walked down the aisle to this (it wasn’t quite an aisle – we got married on a vineyard) and the words are so beautiful: ‘and when you speak angels sing from above, every day words seem to turn into love songs ...give your heart & soul to me, and life will always be, la vie en rose…’  My favourite version is by Edith Piaf whom I actually adore – but it didn’t lend itself as well to the occasion, and Bloke-With-Beard can’t stand Piaf’s voice! But the flights had been booked etc… see above! But TBH Satchmo’s trumpet nailed it for me.

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Any downsides for you in 2018?
It’s been a really whirlwind year with so many happy memories. Politically, I’m heartbroken at what’s happening in our world. The racism, misogyny, poverty…

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
I make resolutions every week, every month and every new year. I think this year I’ll endeavour to write every single day – and go back to my Italian classes. I’ve been trying to learn Italian for the best part of three years and all I can say is ‘Per favore, posso avere un prosecco?’ Which means, ‘Please may I have a prosecco.’ I can, of course, expand my repertoire to two, three or four proseccos. I never bothered learning the word for five as after that the waiter usually knows what I’m looking for.

What are you hoping for from 2019?
I’m busy writing the third in the Oonagh O’Neil Trilogy which should be out in April 2019. I’d also like to write a completely different strand – but who knows.

Thanks so much for letting me be part of this Vic, it’s been a pleasure reliving so many lovely memories. I hope you share your favourite moments of 2018 also – and all the love and luck for 2019. 

T.T.

Review: ‘Dead Writers in Rehab’ by Paul Bassett Davies

I’ve been tweeting about this book while I read it and people are tremendously entertained by the title. Well, I’ve got to say that the story lives up to its giggle-inducing moniker.

Foster James – a literary reprobate – wakes up in a strange country house, he presumes he’s been on yet another bender which has resulted in admission to rehab, a cycle he’s become awfully familiar with. However, when Ernest Hemingway punches him in the face, Foster soon realises that this is not your typical institution.

Holed up with a host of famous writers, Foster has to work out what’s actually led him to this unusual place but, of course, his investigation don’t run smoothly thanks to the other writers, especially Dorothy Parker who certainly catches Foster’s attention.

Dead Writers in Rehab is like a light-hearted One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest if the patients were authors. It’s a brilliant concept with plenty of laugh out loud moments. It’s totally unique while managing to be intelligent and funny at the same time – there aren’t many books on the shelf that can boast that.

Easy to read and full of laughs, I highly recommend this novel.

Vic x