Tag Archives: travel

**Burnout Blog Tour** Author Interview.

Today, my friend Claire MacLeary is on the blog to talk about her new novel, ‘Burnout‘ which is the sequel to Cross Purpose, the McIlvanney Prize-longlisted debut that brought crime to Aberdeen.

My thanks to Claire, Gordon from Grab This Book and Contraband for including me in the blog tour for ‘Burnout‘. 

Vic x

***

“My husband is trying to kill me.” A new client gets straight to the point, and this line of enquiry is a whole new ball game for Maggie Laird, who is desperately trying to rebuild her late husband’s detective agency and clear his name. Her partner, “Big” Wilma, sees the case as a non-starter, but Maggie is drawn in.

With her client’s life on the line, Maggie must get to the ugly truth that lies behind Aberdeen’s closed doors. But who knows what really goes on between husbands and wives? And will the agency’s reputation – and Maggie and Wilma’s friendship – remain intact?

***

Claire MacLeary

Claire, before we chat about ‘Burnout‘ can I ask you to introduce yourself for readers who have missed your previous visits to the blog?
After reading English at university, I had a long and varied career, first in newspaper and television advertising, then in HR. When my children were born, I set up in business, developing a chain of shops and rental properties. It was only after my kids were grown that I returned to writing, attending Creative Writing evening classes and later studying for a MLitt at Dundee.

Can you give us an indication as to what we can look forward to in Burnout?
The novel’s main theme is ‘white collar’ domestic abuse, a subject which, until recently, has attracted little coverage. Newspaper headlines have tended to concentrate on physical assaults, whereas controlling behaviour can take many and subtle forms, as recent legislation has acknowledged.

Burnout follows two women, both subject to abuse – in one instance sexual, in the other psychological – but readers can expect broadly the same cast of characters and the same balance of grit and humour.

With Burnout readers get an insight into how different couples in the story manage difficult relationships. Do you think this a crime novel that will cast light onto the secrets that couples keep?
I think Burnout is less about managing relationships and more a commentary on how attitudes have changed over generations. The ease of accessing contraception, the relaxation of divorce laws, the growth of the internet, have all contributed towards changing people’s attitudes to sex and marriage. In Burnout I’ve tried to highlight the chasm between two women of different generations, both in how they react to abuse and how they achieve very different outcomes.

Has the media focus on coercive control and sexual abuse in the home fed into the writing of Burnout or was the story always waiting to be told?
I started writing Burnout before the launch of Cross Purpose in February last year and delivered it to my publisher, Saraband, in August. The characters had been in my head way before that so, yes, it was a story that needed to be told. That it chimes with the Time’s Up and #Me Too movements against sexual harassment can only be positive in publicising ‘white collar’ abuse and changing attitudes to any form of abuse.

Both Burnout and Cross Purpose have harrowing and hard-hitting themes, however, there is humour running through both books too. Was that a difficult balance to achieve when you were writing?
I don’t think it’s a conscious thing. As I write, my characters take on a life of their own. Sometimes they take me places I didn’t intend to go. Too often I wake in the middle of the night with dialogue running through my head. However, I have had to consciously restrain Wilma’s wilder excesses, since she – like Maggie – will develop through the series and I don’t want her to come across simply as a figure of fun.

Away from the books, how do you spend your downtime?
What downtime? Seriously, if I’m not reading or writing, I love to travel. Over the past few years, in addition to a number of European cities, I’ve visited Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, New Zealand, Cuba, Jordan and Bhutan. My favourite holiday destination is India, where the colour and vibrancy of life never fails to stimulate.

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Robert Parker

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, we have Robert Parker discussing how his occupation helped inspire his crime writing. I first met Robert on the Crime & Publishment course in 2016 and he’s a top chap. Robert has, however, chosen to retain his anonymity – I’m sure you’ll understand why soon… 

Thanks to him for sharing his experience with us. 

Vic x

You are now twenty times more likely to be a victim of cyber crime than you are to be mugged in the street. It makes a lot of sense, from a criminal perspective. Why would you bother to actually mug someone these days? Why take all the risks; the chance of someone calling your bluff, the chance of someone mugging you right back, the chance of going to jail, if, like me, you harbour a suspicion that you might just be a bit too pretty for that? Why take the gamble when you can sit on a couch in the comfort of your underwear, with a laptop, eating food that probably came in a bucket, scrolling, clicking and punching in the odd stolen card number.

That’s where we come in. Online fraud is big business these days and as time goes on it’s only getting bigger, more complicated and harder to spot.

I wound up in my job almost by accident. Almost. It isn’t something you can fall into. There’s a bit of commitment required. Competition for jobs can get fierce. It isn’t an option you just settle for. But I didn’t know it was something you could do until about a year before I shoehorned my way in.

It was 2010 and I was working two jobs at once, waiting on tables in the family-owned coffee shop and fitting cattle mattresses (yes, really) for my step-dad’s agricultural engineering business. I was living away from my fiancée during the week and driving the hundred and thirty dark winter miles to and from Edinburgh either side of the weekend. I needed to spend more time where I supposedly lived. I knew I would have to find something a bit different. They don’t do farming in the big smoke. I’d never worked in an office. I thought I could give that a go. It had to be warmer than a byre in January. How hard could it be?

I failed the data entry test (yes, really). That sounds like it would be hard to do. In my defence, I didn’t know my way round a keyboard, much less a clunky, chunky, nineties relic, mothballed in the damp basement of a recruitment agency. They were prepared to take a chance on me. They were counting on me. I couldn’t let them down, I was told, by an overly earnest man who had to be ten years my junior.

I was sent to the offices a of a tech firm who needed me to enter data for two weeks. It meant I could spend some time with Caroline, if nothing else. I remember thinking then that there must be something more interesting than data entry going on inside the offices of a travel website. I just had no concept of what that might actually be.

I didn’t get to do any data entry. I managed a tour of the city centre office, a coffee and slack-jawed stare at what must have been an expensive view of the castle, before someone in the contact centre got fired for looking at Facebook.

That’s how I wound up in a contact centre. A couple of weeks later I overheard a conversation between two of my new workmates in the pub, one asking the other “How are you finding the fraud department?” That was the light bulb moment. That was when I knew I’d found the something more interesting. It took me another twenty months to get in, but I’ve been here ever since.

So how has it contributed to my writing? In a lot of ways that I might have seen coming and a few more I didn’t.

First of all, there’s the day-to-day. I’m a fraud analyst, part case-by-case investigator and part long-term strategist. We deal with the fraud as and when it arises, working individual cases, catching people in the act and hopefully stopping them, but we also follow patterns, predict trends and take steps to counteract them. Where we can, we help the police, build cases and compile evidence, with a view to putting people safely away.

The first thing you learn is that it isn’t quite as glamorous as the expectations of your friends and family. My mum seems to think my day job is something like cyber CSI, and it is, but like a real life CSI. It’s methodical. It involves hard work and you don’t actually get to chase, or even see the bad guys, not in real life, though ironically for the girl whose job I originally stole, I do spend far more time on Facebook than can ever really be healthy.

It isn’t something you could write a book about, not a thriller anyway. Man-gets-mildly-excited-and-spills-cappuccino-after-left-clicking-and-discovering-some-fraudulent-transactions or man-deals-with-brief-existential-crisis-after-opening-an-intimidating-Excel-file doesn’t make for a particularly compelling elevator pitch. Or maybe it’s just a bit too literary for me.

It’s all relative though. You can get lost in the data for hours and you do get a buzz when you uncover a web or a pattern. But it’s the stuff I’ve learned as a consequence of my job that inspires and informs plots, research and characters.

So much of our lives today happen online. Like it or not, you leave traces of yourself wherever you go. Even a Google search records multiple pieces of information, all of which affect what you’re shown next time around. Police investigations naturally have a higher emphasis on our online, connected lives as time goes on.

It isn’t just fraud that has moved online either. The dark web is a one-stop shop for anything you want. Feel like ordering up a kilo of heroin? An Uzi? A human being? It’s all out there, lurking below the surface. You just have to know where to start digging. And the customer service is better than you’ll find anywhere else.

You learn about these things when you come into contact with the right – or wrong – people, when you’re trained by the right people. It’s the stories you hear that stick in the mind. The public consciousness seems to have fraud down as a victimless crime, but a conversation with the police would quickly convince you otherwise. Fraudsters are pretty often the same people committing the more serious crimes, with the proceeds going to fund the drugs, guns and human traffic.

Different gang cultures have different hierarchies. With the world getting smaller there are clashes. That thought led me to the plot of my first novel, Snow Storm. Throw in a conspiracy theory, a few bodies, add a twist or three and hopefully you’re halfway to a decent story.

Sometimes though, inspiration can be as simple as dumb luck and geography, like my wife dropping me off at work, bleary eyed and achy after the office Christmas party, next to a lamppost someone had hung an oddly shaped bag from.

“Do you think there’s a head in there?” I heard myself say, through a boozy haze.

And the opening of Snow Storm landed, fully formed, between my ears.

Review of 2017: Ragnar Jónasson

Earlier this year, I took part in the blog tour for Ragnar Jónasson‘s latest book ‘Whiteout‘. I really enjoyed reading the book and I’m delighted to have Ragnar on the blog today to review his 2017. 

Vic x

 

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2017?
2017 was a very eventful year for me, travelling all around the world for my books: Hawaii, Toronto, New York, London, Scotland, Bristol and Paris, Lyon and Caen in France. My books were published in Iceland, UK, USA, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Armenia, Japan, Korea, Australia and Portugal. It was great to host a group of journalists from France who came to Iceland to interview me this spring. Hitting sales of 150,000 books in France this year was also truly remarkable, as well as getting my first reviews in major US newspapers such as The New York Times and The Washington Post. And just recently when The Times picked by book as one of the crime books of the year. Also, it was a really great moment when I was sitting by the pool at a hotel in Boston this summer, and noticed that the stranger sitting next to me was actually reading a book I had written, in French. Such an amazing coincidence.

And how about a favourite moment from 2017 generally?
Visiting Hawaii was really amazing, as well as going to Boston, one of my favorite cities, for my birthday. Also seeing some great musicians perform live, such as The Killers and Phil Collins in London, and my friend Vikingur Olafsson, Iceland’s greatest pianist, at the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, one of the most acoustically advanced concert halls in the world. And some great memories from Iceland, such as the day this winter when we had the greatest snowfall in years, and then sitting on a cliff outside Siglufjordur in the summer watching the midnight sun go down at 3am.

Favourite book in 2017?
There are a few. One of them is only available in Icelandic and French, Handbók um minni og gleymsku by Ragnar Helgi Olafsson (French title: La Réunion du Conseil national de l’audiovisuel). Block 46 by Johana Gustawsson is a great crime novel. And I’d also like to mention Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends, and Johan Norberg’s Progress.

Favourite film in 2017?
For the first time in too many years I was able to see a new Agatha Christie movie at the cinema. The latest movie adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express starring Kenneth Branagh was a special treat for an Agatha Christie enthusiast like me. The film was really well done, and with great actors in every role, this was a true delight. Another favourite film from 2017 was Baby Driver, really great.

Favourite song of the year?
So many songs. Some of the artists that I really like at the moment, in addition to excellent Icelandic musicians, are Mura Masa and Kendrick Lamar. Also, I love classical music, and recommend Vikingur Olafsson’s recordings of Philip Glass for Deutsche Grammophon, released in 2017.

Any downsides for you in 2017?
My memory serves me well and erases everything that does not live up to my expectations.

Are you making resolutions for 2018?
I never make formal resolutions but I hope to read more than last year, travel and enjoy life.

What are you hoping for from 2018?
Apart from the health and happiness, I hope the Icelandic football team win World Cup in Russia. In any case, my flights are already booked to see them play in Moscow, Volgograd and Rostov-on-Don.

Review of 2017: Chris Ord

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2017?
I’ve had a good year. My debut novel, Becoming has sold well and received widespread acclaim. I’ve visited a number of schools giving talks on writing, and presented at several reading events. I was commissioned by Woodhorn Museum to write some passages for their Wonderfolk interactive family experience. This was a proud moment for me, as I spent my childhood walking up and down the narrow path past the pit where the museum is now. However, my favourite memory has to be completing my second novel, The Storm.

I play solo horn in Newbiggin Brass Band, and a couple of years ago we were involved in a local project ‘Haalin’ the Lines.’ Funded by the BAIT team at Woodhorn Museum, the project was led by the remarkable performer and singer-songwriter, Tim Dalling. Tim was commissioned by BAIT to take historical accounts being gathered by the Newbiggin-by-the-Sea Genealogy Project and put some of the stories to music. The aim was to bring back to life the tales and oral histories of local heroes from the village. One of those heroes was ‘Big’ Philip Jefferson, the first Newbiggin Lifeboat Coxswain who was awarded a clasp to his silver medal for an attempted rescue of the Norwegian brig ‘Embla’ in 1854.

The fascination with ‘Big’ Phil stayed with me after the project and further research revealed what an incredible man he was. The story of the night Phil and a few young men from Newbiggin tried to rescue the ‘Embla’ became the backdrop for the novel. However, the events of that night are only the starting point, as the book weaves this together with a folk tale, and a series of mysterious incidents to create a tense, supernatural thriller.

Setting is so important to my writing and it means a lot to me to write a story set in the village where I grew up. History is filled with tales of kings and queens, leaders and generals. This is the history they teach at school. But the true heroes are all around us. They are the people who built our communities, lived and died for our families, friends, and neighbours. What remains of those heroes is love and memories, and it’s vital we keep those alive. Our folk stories are our heritage and we can still learn from them. Writers and creatives play an important role in raising issues, stimulating debate, and provoking challenging questions. I hope my books are more than stories, but also make people think and reflect on the world.

And how about a favourite moment from 2017 generally?
Music has always been my first love, and my best moment in 2017 is a musical moment. As I said earlier, I play in my village brass band. The past two years have been our most successful and this year we retained our Durham League title, won the North East Regional Championship for the second year running, and qualified for the National Finals in Cheltenham.

We worked hard in preparing for the Finals, but you are playing against the best in the country. Wales, Yorkshire, and the North West all have strong, competitive bands and challenging against them is tough. There were twenty bands in the final and finishing anywhere in the top six placings is considered a success. The draw was not kind to us and as with the year before we had a long wait before we took the stage in nineteenth position. The band performed well, though not quite at our very best, leaving the stage with mixed feelings. Finals are unpredictable and always throw up surprises. Few had us anywhere near the prizes.

The announcements prior to the results were agonising, and full of the usual formal fluff and flannel. Eventually, they got round to revealing the prizes, and we were delighted to be awarded fourth place. This is one of my proudest moments in banding. The band folded many years ago and was only revived in 2010. They’re a great bunch of people and musicians, and to come from nothing and finish fourth at the Nationals is a remarkable achievement. We’ve been promoted and next year brings a whole set of fresh challenges. For the moment, we can enjoy the success.

Favourite book in 2017?
A few years ago I read a book called How to be Free by Tom Hodgkinson. It became a bit of a manifesto for me. I read it every now and then to remind me of some important anchors in my approach your life. I decided to read it again this year.

The book has its flaws and some of the author’s ideas are contradictory and simplistic. However, there’s plenty in there to enjoy and it’s worth reading with an open mind. It’s especially engaging if you’re deliberating a life change. I’ve listed the chapter headings below. They provide an indicator of his anarchic approach to life. I see them as a useful common-sense checklist for embracing a certain kind of freedom. You won’t agree with them all, but they make you think, and a number of them inspired me to focus on new priorities.

  1. Banish anxiety; be carefree
  2. Break the bonds of boredom
  3. The tyranny of bills and the freedom of simplicity
  4. Reject career and all its empty promises
  5. Get out of the city
  6. Cast off your watch
  7. Stop competing
  8. Escape debt
  9. Death to shopping, or fleeing the prison of consumer desire
  10. Smash the fetters of fear
  11. Say no to guilt and free your spirit
  12. No more housework, or the power of the candle
  13. Submit no more to the machine, use your hands
  14. Stop moaning; be merry
  15. Live mortgage free; be a happy wanderer
  16. Disarm pain
  17. Stop worrying about your pension and get a life
  18. Sail away from rudeness and towards a new era of courtesy, civility, and grace
  19. Live free of the supermarkets
  20. The reign of ugly is over; long live beauty, quality, fraternity!
  21. Depose the tyrant wealth
  22. Reject waste; embrace thrift
  23. Stop working, start living!!!

Favourite film in 2017?
I’ve not seen enough films this year. I’ve probably forgotten most of the ones I have. It’s a problem of mine, and my wife is always reminding me that I have seen films I’m convinced I haven’t.

One film that stood out for me was Baby Driver. It’s cool, stylish, full of action and has a great storyline. I enjoy a strong narrative and like to be entertained. There’s a role for challenging and thought provoking character movies, but I tend to fall asleep to a lot of those arthouse flicks. I like escapism, and Baby Driver is a bit of fun. It has an excellent soundtrack too. Thanks to Tarantino it seems to be a necessity these days.

One caveat is Kevin Spacey. Always a terrific presence on screen, his reputation is now in tatters. I suspect the film will be buried now. Some of you won’t want to see it because of him. I respect that. It’s a dilemma facing us all now. Should we separate the art from the artist? I must admit if I erased from my life all the creatives who had deplorable views or behaviour there wouldn’t be much culture left. I tend to leave the judgements to the courts or the gutter press. Perhaps that isn’t good enough.

Favourite album of the year?
My wife, Julie has been listening to the latest album by Hurray for the Riff Raff, The Navigator. I recall loving their last album, and the snippets I was hearing around the house hooked me again. I downloaded The Navigator a few weeks ago and have listened to little else since. Essentially, the band is the creative vehicle for lead singer, Alynda Segarra. Of Puerto Rican descent, the album has a strong Latin flavour. The songs and lyrics are exceptional, but it’s the rhythms and mood that I love most. I’m into drums at the minute and love to hear them used in inventive ways. The standout track is ‘Pa’lante’ which contains the lines, ‘I just wanna prove my worth, on the planet Earth, and be something.’ Those words resonated with me. It’s a sentiment that connects most creatives. I think we all want to leave our mark, and if it doesn’t happen in your lifetime die hoping it will someday. Who knows? Maybe our time is yet to come.

Any downsides for you in 2017?
I’ve had a transitional year, readjusting to moving back into contractual work and finding the time to write. While I wouldn’t describe this as a downside, it has meant that I have had less free time. Writing is about discipline and making the time is a challenge. I’m enjoying my new role. It is rewarding, but my passion is writing. My long-term goal is to reach a point where I am writing most of the time. Many writers speak of how they write because they have to. Once you have caught the bug, the compulsion is overwhelming.

However, sustaining a living as an author is like building a business. It takes a few years to build your experience and reputation. The world of publishing has changed, and whilst this offers many opportunities it also means the financial rewards are not as great. I’m an advocate of the indie route. Why be J.K. Rowling when you can by Joy Division? I also like to be control of my own destiny. The opportunities presented in the mainstream would have come at too high a price for me.

I look at the likes of Louise Ross and Mark Dawson with great admiration. They have been bold and clever enough to build a living doing what they love. My success is far more modest, but the creative rewards are what excite and drive me. Whatever happens artistic integrity and authenticity are my primary goals. If others love what I do that is a bonus. Passion may not be enough to pay the bills, but keep working at what you love and the rewards are great. The important thing is to never give up. A film deal would be welcome though.

Are you making resolutions for 2018?
I’m an obsessive compiler of lists and revel in the opportunity to write my resolutions for the year ahead. I’m still working on my goals for 2018, but my main one is to complete Awakening, the follow up to Becoming. One of my challenges is to strike the right balance between work and writing. It takes discipline to write and finding the time is important. If there is one thing I would love more of it is time. I crave it more than anything. Filling that time with words and music is my idea of heaven. My other goals will revolve around music, travel and running. There are still a few bands I’d still love to see in concert. I go to lots of gigs and there are a few in the diary already. I want to see Sigur Ros, an Icelandic band. I also adore musicals and still haven’t seen ‘Les Miserables’, one of my favourites. I intend to put that right in 2018.

What are you hoping for from 2018?
A top four placing with the band at the Regionals would be great. We’re in a higher section now, so it’s going to be tough. I’m also hoping to visit Berlin this year. I passed through in the early 90s on the way to Poland, and regret not getting off the train for a few days. Croatia is another country I’d love to visit and that’s on my list for the summer. Depending on finances I hope to return to Iceland. It’s a captivating place and I promised myself I would return after a visit in 2016. The costs are eye-watering though and 2018 may be a touch too soon to cram in all this travel. I live in hope though.

Finally, I hope my readers enjoy The Storm. I loved writing it and it would be great if others appreciated the book too. It’s always daunting releasing your work, as you never know what the feedback will be. First and foremost, I see myself as a storyteller. If I can entertain people for a few hours, and make them think that’s all the success I need.

Becoming‘ is available from Amazon in paperback and e-book. ‘The Storm’ will be released in January 2018 and will also be available on Amazon.

To find out more about Chris’s writing you can visit his website or find him on Facebook

Review of 2017: LJ Ross

Two years ago, I was invited a fabulous party to celebrate the release of a wonderful woman’s second book. That book was ‘Sycamore Gap‘ by LJ Ross.  

Today, the seventh book in the DCI Ryan series – ‘Dark Skies‘ – is released and I cannot wait to read it!  Louise is a prolific writer and she deserves every success, it is a pleasure to know her. 

For those of you who are based in the North East, I will be interviewing LJ Ross at Wallsend Library on Thursday, 22nd February. Tickets can be obtained from North Tyneside libraries. 

Vic x

 

Picture by Gareth Iwan Jones

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2017?
This has been an incredible year for DCI Ryan and I’m so grateful to all my readers. It’s hard to pick any one memory in particular, but it was an incredible feeling to have two of my books (Cragside and Dark Skies) reach UK #1 whilst still on pre-order and all seven books to be in the top 100 at the same time.

And how about a favourite moment from 2017 generally?
We just got the keys for our new house in Northumberland, which is a special moment. It’s the first time in years I’ve been able to make a permanent move back to my home county, which I love, and it means I can be close to my family and my son can be near his grandparents.

Favourite book in 2017?
It isn’t a newly-released book, but I read The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson and thought it was excellent. The prose is crisp and manages to convey meaning without being unnecessarily wordy. It was also an excellent, claustrophobic study of how to write a book from the perspective of the killer.

Favourite film in 2017?
I’ve hardly found time to watch any films this year (which sounds very depressing!). However, I watched some goofy movies like Snatched with Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn. It wasn’t a great movie, but I’m a huge fan of Goldie so she can do no wrong in my eyes… I tend to watch old black and white movies like The 39 Steps, which I love.

Favourite song of the year?
I think my musical frame of reference stopped somewhere back in 2005 but, if we’re going by the song I’ve listened to most frequently this year, it would have to be anything from the Rocky IV soundtrack!

Any downsides for you in 2017?
I’m not sure if it is a true ‘downside’ but I’ve been incredibly busy and haven’t read as many books as I’d like – which I intend to rectify in the near future!

Are you making resolutions for 2018?
I always resolve to be the best person I can be, whether as a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister or a friend. That’s always a good goal.

What are you hoping for from 2018?
I’m hoping I won’t wake up and find it was all a wonderful dream! I want to write more stories and travel.

Review of 2017: Rachel Amphlett

Welcome to the second End of Year review on Elementary V Watson!

Following Rob Scragg’s glowing review of 2017 yesterday, we have the lovely Rachel Amphlett visiting us today. Regular readers of the blog will remember that Rachel was our roving reporter at this year’s Bouchercon. She’s here to fill us in on the rest of her year.

Vic x

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2017?
Selling the German foreign rights for the four books to date in my Dan Taylor espionage series on 12 January was a fantastic way to kick off 2017!

And how about a favourite moment from 2017 generally?
I really enjoyed the trip to Canada I had in October – it was mostly work, but I stole a few days here and there to explore Vancouver Island in between writing and teaching engagements, and seeing black bears in the wild was a real highlight, and something I won’t forget.

Favourite book in 2017? 
Stillhouse Lake by Rachel Caine – can’t wait to read the follow-up!

Favourite film in 2017? 
Passengers.

Favourite song of the year? 
That Message by Aussie band Holy Holy.

Any downsides for you in 2017?
Having to cancel my planned trip to the UK for the Theakston’s Crime Fiction Festival at Harrogate due to ill health was a blow, but I’m planning to attend in 2018, so I’ve got that to look forward to now!

Are you making resolutions for 2018?
No, I’ve never made resolutions for any year. I’m of the view that if I really want something badly enough, then I should get off my backside and work at it.

What are you hoping for from 2018?
Professionally, it’d be great to sell some foreign rights for the Detective Kay Hunter series so I can share those stories with readers in other countries. Personally, I hope we have a happy, healthy year ahead with lots of travel and laughter.

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Dave Sivers

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.

Today as part of ‘Don’t Quit the Day Job’, we have Dave Sivers here to talk to us about how being a civil servant helped inspire him to write the Archer and Baines novels. Yes, really! 

My thanks to Dave for taking the time to share his experiences with us. You can find Dave on Twitter and Facebook

Vic x

I’ve pretty much always been a writer, ever since I was six years old. But for 40 years, before I took the plunge into indie authorship, and before the Archer and Baines novels, I was a career civil servant.

Every morning, I’d put on a suit and either catch the train to London or drive off to a meeting somewhere. You’re probably already imagining a grey office, full of grey people, some of them covered in cobwebs, drinking copious cups of tea and churning out dry-as-dust papers on even drier subjects.

It’s a caricature with a grain of accuracy in it, but I mostly enjoyed that career and was usually happy enough to get out of bed in the morning. I worked on a wide range of policy issues, and no two days were the same. I got some great travel opportunities and got to do some interesting things. I also met all kinds of characters, including quite a few military people, and some serious game players who knew exactly how to get their way.

Every writer’s everyday life is grist to the creative mill. What I didn’t know at the time, though, was how much the day job was preparing me a new career, after early retirement, when I’d be writing police procedurals.

Writing those papers was in itself an invaluable writing discipline: adopting the right voice for the right circumstances, drafting and redrafting, writing to a length and deadline. But it’s only recently that I’ve come to realise just how much more I owe to those Whitehall days.

As a storyteller, I’m far more pantster than plotter. When I start a book, I invariably have a body. I (usually) know who did it. But I will have either a hazy idea, or no idea at all, of how the killer will get caught. That comes out in the writing. Effectively, I sit on my cops’ shoulders and watch their investigation unfold. And it’s my civil service instincts that are telling me what they need to do.

For a start, I worked in teams as do the police, in a hierarchy that more or less mirrored the police ranking system. And we might not have unmasking murderers, but there was a lot of problem solving involved – which meant gathering information, and knowing what questions to ask, and whom to ask them of.

Of course, I still need to make calls and do internet searches to check whether what they get up to is plausible, or even legal, as well as checking out some of the smaller details I sprinkle around. But it turns out that all those years in a suit were invaluable training for imagining myself into the briefing room at Aylesbury nick and deciding what Archer and Baines need to do next to catch their killer.

My old day job included drafting answers to Parliamentary Questions, and some unkind souls have suggested – unfairly, obviously – that I was always a fiction writer! I’m saying nothing.

The latest book in the Archer & Baines series – ‘The Blood that Binds’ – is available now. 

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!