Tag Archives: virtual noir at the bar

#BlogTour #TheCurator #MWCraven

I’m delighted to bring you a sneak peek of the latest in the Washington Poe series, ‘The Curator‘, by M.W. Craven.

As many of you already know, I loved ‘The Puppet Show‘ and ‘Black Summer‘ so I’m really excited to get stuck into ‘The Curator’. I know that, after reading this extract, you will be too.

My thanks to Little Brown for including me in the blog tour for this brilliant author. If you missed M.W. Craven at Virtual Noir at the Bar, check out the archives.

Vic x

‘The player who understands the role of the pawn, who really under- stands it, can master the game of chess,’ the man said. ‘They might be the weakest piece on the board but pawns dictate where and when your opponent can attack. They restrict the mobility of the so-called bigger pieces and they determine where the battle squares will be.’

The woman stared at him in confusion. She’d just woken and was feeling groggy.

And sore.

She twisted her head and searched for the source of her pain. It didn’t take long.

‘What have you done?’ she mumbled.

‘Beautiful, isn’t it? It’s old-fashioned catgut so the sutures are a bit agricultural, but they’re supposed to be. It’s not used any more but I needed the “wick effect”. That’s when infection enters the wound through the suture. It will ensure the scar stays livid and crude. A permanent reminder of what has happened.’

He picked up a pair of heavy-duty rib shears.

‘Although not for you, of course.’
The woman thrashed and writhed but it was no use. She was bound
tight.
The man admired the exacting lines of the surgical instrument.

Turned it so the precision steel caught the light. Saw his face reflected in the larger blade. He looked serious. This wasn’t something he particu- larly enjoyed.

‘Please,’ the woman begged, fully awake now, ‘let me go. I promise you, I won’t say anything.’

The man walked round and held her left hand. He stroked it affectionately.

‘I’ve had to wait for the anaesthetic to wear off so this is going to hurt, I’m afraid. Believe me when I say I wish it didn’t have to.’

He placed her ring finger between the blades of the rib shears and squeezed the handles together. There was a crunch as the razor-sharp edges sliced through bone and tendon as if they weren’t there.

The woman screamed then passed out. The man stepped away from the spreading pool of blood.

‘Where was I?’ he said to himself. ‘Ah, yes, we were talking about pawns. Beginners think they’re worthless, there to be sacrificed – but that’s because they don’t know when to use them.’

He removed a coil of wire from his pocket. It had toggles at each end. He placed them between the index and middle finger of each hand. In a practised movement he wrapped the wire around the woman’s neck.

‘Because knowing when to sacrifice your pawns is how the game is won.’

He pulled the garrotte taut, grunting as the cruel wire bit into her skin, severing her trachea, crushing her jugular vein and carotid artery. She was dead in seconds.

He waited an hour then took the other finger he needed.

He carefully arranged it in a small plastic tub, keeping it separate from the others. He looked at his macabre collection with satisfaction.

It could begin now.

The other pawns were in position. They just didn’t know it yet . . .

Chapter 1

It was the night before Christmas and all wasn’t well.
It had started like it always did. Someone asking, ‘Are we doing Secret Santa this year?’ and someone else replying, ‘I hope not,’ both making a pact to avoid mentioning it to the office manager, both secretly planning to mention it as soon as possible. And before anyone could protest, the decision had been made and the office was doing it again. The fifteenth year in a row. Same rules as last year. Five-quid limit. Anonymous gifts. Nothing rude or offensive. Gifts that no one wanted. A total waste of everyone’s time.

At least that’s what Craig Hodgkiss thought. He hated Secret Santa.

He hated Christmas too. The yearly reminder that his life was shit. That, while the colleagues he outwardly sneered at were going home to spend Christmas with their families and loved ones, he’d be spending it on his own.

But he really hated Secret Santa.

Three years ago it had been the source of his greatest humili- ation. Setting himself the not unreasonable Christmas target of shagging Hazel, a fellow logistics specialist at John Bull Haulage, he’d wangled it so he was the one who’d bought her Secret Santa gift. He reckoned buying her a pair of lace panties would be the perfect way to let her know he was up for some extracurricular activities while her husband long-hauled across mainland Europe.

His plan worked.
Almost.
It had been the perfect way to let her know.

Unfortunately she was happily married, and instead of rushing into his bed she’d rushed to her husband, who was between jobs and was having a brew in the depot. The six-foot-five lorry driver had walked into the admin office and broken Craig’s nose. He’d told him that if he ever so much as looked at his wife again he’d find himself hogtied in the back of a Russia-bound shipping container. Craig had believed him. So much so that, in front of the whole office, he’d lost control of his bladder.

For two years everyone had called him ‘Swampy’. He couldn’t even complain to Human Resources as he was terrified of getting Hazel into trouble.

For two years he hadn’t made a dent in the girls in the office.

But eventually Hazel and her brute of a husband had moved on. He took a job driving for Eddie Stobart and she went with him. Craig told everyone that Hazel’s husband had left the com- pany because he’d caught up with him and given him a hiding, but no one had believed him.

Actually, one person seemed to.

By Craig’s own standards, Barbara Willoughby was a plain girl. Her hair looked like it had been styled in a nursing home, her teeth were blunt and too widely spaced, and she could have done with dropping a couple of pounds. On a scale of one-to-ten Craig reckoned she was a hard six, maybe a seven in the right lighting, and he only ever shagged eights and above.

But there was one thing he did like about her. She hadn’t been there when he’d pissed himself.

So he’d asked her out. And to his surprise he found they got on really well. She was fun to be with and she was popular. He liked how she made him feel and she was adventurous in bed. He also liked how she only wanted to do things at the weekends. During the week she would stay in and study for some stupid exams she was taking.

Which suited Craig just fine.

Because, after a few weeks of dating Barbara, he’d got his swagger back. And with it he began carving notches again.

To his amazement he discovered it was actually easier pulling the type of woman he went for when he told them he was in a long-term relationship. He reckoned it was the combination of his boyish good looks and the thought of doing over someone they didn’t know. Which gave Craig an idea: if those sort of women enjoyed the thrill of being with someone who cheated, they’d go crazy for someone who had affairs . . .

So Craig Hodgkiss, at the age of twenty-nine, decided he would ask Barbara to marry him. She’d jump at the chance. She was in her early thirties, had some biological clock thing going on (but was unaware he’d had a vasectomy two years earlier) and would almost certainly be left on the shelf if she said no. And then he’d reap the rewards. A faithful doormat keeping his bed warm and a succession of women who’d happily shag a man wearing a wedding band.

And because he wanted everyone in the office to know he was about to become illicit fruit, he’d decided to put past experiences behind him and propose during the office Secret Santa.

Arranging it hadn’t been straightforward. He’d got Barbara’s ring size by stealing her dead grandmother’s eternity ring, the one she only wore on special occasions. While Barbara turned her flat upside down looking for it, he’d been asking a jeweller to make the engagement ring the same size and to recycle the diamonds and gold. The whole thing had only cost him two hundred quid.

The next thing was to think of a cool way of proposing.

Something that would get the office girls talking about how romantic Craig was. A rep like that could only help. He decided on a mug. It was the perfect Secret Santa gift as it met the five- quid limit set by the office manager and, although half the gifts under the cheap fibre optic Christmas tree looked like they were mugs, half the gifts under the tree didn’t have ‘Will You Marry Me?’ printed on the side.

When Barbara read the message and then saw what was inside . . . well, he reckoned she’d burst into tears, shout yes and hug him for all she was worth.

The office floor was strewn with cheap wrapping paper. All reindeer and snowmen and brightly wrapped presents tied with ribbons.

Barbara was next. She picked up her parcel and looked at him strangely.

Did she know?

She couldn’t. No one did. Not even the girl he’d persuaded to swap with him so he was the one buying for Barbara.

Tiffany, Barbara’s best friend, began recording it on her mobile phone for some reason. That was OK, though. Better than OK actually. He’d be able to post it on Twitter and Facebook and keep a copy on his phone. Ready to show girls at the drop of a hat. Look at me. Look how nice I am. Look how sensitive I am. You can have some of this . . . but only for one night.

Craig caught Barbara’s eye. He winked. She didn’t return it. Didn’t even smile. Just held his gaze as she lifted the wrapped box from one of his old gift bags.

Something wasn’t right. The wrapping paper was thick and white with black pictures; he thought his had been cheap and brightly coloured.

Barbara ripped it off without looking at it. The mug was in a polystyrene box. He’d taped the two halves together to increase the suspense. Barbara ran a pair of scissors down the join before separating them.

She pulled out the mug and Craig’s confusion intensified. It wasn’t his. He hadn’t seen this one before. Something was printed on the side but it wasn’t proposing marriage. In inch- high black letters it said: #BSC6

Barbara didn’t know she’d opened the wrong parcel, though. Without looking inside the mug, she glared at him and upended the mug’s contents.

‘Cheating fucking bastard,’ she said.

Craig didn’t protest his innocence. He couldn’t. He was unable to tear his eyes away from the things that had fallen on the floor. They were no engagement ring.

He recoiled and gasped in revulsion.

A familiar and unwelcome warmth began spreading from his groin.

And then the screaming started.

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Reflections on Noir at the Bar – four years on

It’s four years today since I hosted the first Noir at the Bar in Newcastle. If you’d asked me then what my expectations for the event would be, I would have been excited just to do a second one.

Our first Noir at the Bar in Newcastle

So it’s a huge surprise to me where Noir at the Bar has taken me, and many others.

Zoe Sharp has been a wonderful Noir at the Bar supporter

In addition to giving readers and writers a space to socialise, championing writers and bringing people from all over the world together, Noir at the Bar has helped me form some of the most important friendships of my life. Many of you will know that Jacky Collins – AKA Dr Noir – has been my partner-in-crime through this adventure. Three years ago, I read at Edinburgh’s Noir at the Bar for the second time and met Kelly Lacey of Love Books Group. I’ve met so many wonderful people throughout the course of Noir at the Bar and I hope that will continue.

Kelly Lacey and I

Despite being locked down for many weeks, Noir at the Bar is still bringing people together through our virtual events. In addition to that, Simon Bewick has masterminded an anthology called “Noir from the Bar“, a collection of short stories from thirty authors who have – or will – read at Virtual Noir at the Bar. All profits will be donated to NHS charities. This anthology was put together in thirty-five days. Simon, the editors, the writers and the designer, Nicola Young, have achieved an incredible feat.

Noir at the Bar continues to bring people together, inspire and demonstrate the goodness in people.

Vic x

Thoughts on Virtual Noir at the Bar

OK, so since my last post about Virtual Noir at the Bar, things have gone a bit, well, insane. Virtual Noir at the Bar is being hailed as “the best night in”, “a reason to know what day it is” and “the highlight of the week”. Our afterparties are getting a bit of a reputation too, bringing people together until the wee small hours.

This week sees our eighth virtual outing with yet another stellar squad of writers. Within a couple more weeks, we will have hosted more than a hundred authors – and we still have at least another hundred on our guest list. You can still sign up to our mailing list to be first to find out the full line-up every week.

So, every Wednesday evening, after I put my little boy to bed and begin to get ready to host another virtual gathering, I reflect on how different doing a virtual event is to hosting an event in the flesh. I also think about the similarities, the things I miss about “live” events (i.e. non-virtual) and the things I’m grateful for when broadcasting from home.

We’re trying to keep Noir at the Bar as close to the “live” events as possible. There’s still a hat, albeit a new one after the old ratty tatty hat disintegrated the other week (if that had happened in a bar someone else would’ve tidied the mess up).

I try to keep the informal style going but it is very unnerving making jokes and name-checking people into what is, essentially, a void. I can see the chat happening in Zoom and, from the feedback we’re getting, people seem to be enjoying it but I do miss the immediate response of hearing the audience give me a drum roll when we’re picking names from the hat and the “woos” when they hear something impressive.

On that note, I have felt so self-conscious that my own “woos” of appreciation reduced in length and I started to worry they sounded sarcastic. I said that a couple of weeks ago, that I encouraged everyone else to do it but didn’t feel comfortable doing it myself for fear of offending anyone. That lasted half the evening as I got a lot of encouragement from the audience to reinstate the woos, safe in the knowledge that my appreciation was genuine.

Every Wednesday night, I still put perfume on and curse myself for having had a tidy out of my make-up and never replacing the stuff I chucked. I have very limited supplies and this leaves me discomfited.

I know lots of memes have popped up recently about staring at your own face on Zoom calls but it is very unnerving. At least in the bar, I don’t have to see myself. Similarly, we don’t record our outings when we’re in an actual bar so I don’t have the opportunity to go back and criticise every little mistake and weird facial expression. I am delighted, though, that people are able to use our archive to catch up at their leisure if they’ve missed an “episode”.

I love the fact that we’re no longer bound by geography. We’ve always been lucky that writers are willing to travel to appear at Noir at the Bar but with Virtual Noir at the Bar, we are able to host writers from their homes. So far we’ve hosted writers from LA, New Zealand, Germany and Iceland.

I’m also aware that by being accessible to anyone with a computer means that we can reach people no matter where in the world they are. People are getting up early in NZ to be part of the live event – I can’t get my head around it! Being virtual also means that people who may be housebound or unable to come to a public event can still be part of it. We also have a lot more space for people in the virtual bar so there’s no fear of anyone not being able to join us.

I haven’t enjoyed asking people to support us financially. I know people are enjoying the events but they don’t come cheap. Mentioning our Ko-Fi page feels crass – even though no one makes any money out of VNatB – any donations go towards hosting software and the like. We’ve pledged that any surplus will go to NHS Charities Together.

RIP the ratty tatty hat

I like that I only have to have a presentable top half. I don’t have to squeeze myself into jeans which is just as well because I’m not sure I’d be able to stand them at the moment – lockdown weight gain is a thing, ok? So, yeah, I’m delighted that I can wear my elasticated trousers while hosting VNatB.

I like that, within minutes of the event ending, I can be in my pjs eating a crisp sandwich (now do you understand the lockdown weight gain?).

As is customary with Noir at the Bar, we have hosted established and emerging authors and I’m delighted that we’ve been able to keep the community together during this bizarre time.

I like that I can stay at the afterparty until I’m ready to go to bed. I don’t have to factor in getting home because I’m already there!

I don’t get to hug my friends. We still do a group photo but it’s not the same. I don’t get to mingle with the audience during the breaks.

I’m grateful to every writer who has given up their time to read at Virtual Noir at the Bar. I’m indebted to Simon Bewick who keeps the plates spinning. I’m delighted that Virtual Noir at the Bar has obtained what some are calling “a cult following” (I think they said cult, anyway). But I really wish we could all get together properly.

Until then, see you at the virtual bar every Wednesday.

Vic x

**Newcastle Noir Blog Tour**

The Thursday before Newcastle Noir officially opens, we run Noir at the Bar as part of NN’s fringe. As with everything else this year, Noir at the Bar is going to be a little different but we’re delighted to be running #VNatB – Virtual Noir at the Bar – as part of the online fringe. 

Noir at the Bar has been part of Newcastle Noir’s fringe festival for several years and, thanks to the festival, this free spoken word event has managed to attract writers from Iceland, America and Germany in addition to the wonderful writers who travel the length and breadth of the UK to appear. 

Noir at the Bar, the brainchild of Peter Rosovsky, began in 2008 in Philadelphia. Peter started Noir at the Bar with one author per event where they’d do a reading and answer some questions. Scott Phillips and Jedidiah Ayres then set up Noir at the Bar in St Louis and messed with the concept a little, hosting larger groups of writers but sacrificing the interview element. Eric Beetner then set up in LA when their hub for writers, the Mystery Bookstore, closed. Noir at the Bar NYC started after Glenn Gray and Todd Robinson wanted the east coast to get some of the noiry action and that particular chapter is now hosted by Tommy Pluck. 

The first I heard of Noir at the Bar was when Graham Smith ran one in Carlisle but I believe it first came to the UK with Jay Stringer and Russel D. McLean at the helm in Glasgow. I once read an article where Glenn and Todd said they started NYC N@B because Tommy Pluck bullied them into it. The same happened with me, but it was Jay and Graham who “suggested” I run one in Newcastle. 

I put the feelers out among the crime writers I knew in the area and one author suggested I get in touch with Dr Noir. From that very first meeting, I knew I’d met someone who’d have a big impact on my life. Jacky’s unending passion for crime fiction bubbled over and by the time our meeting was done, we had so many plans. 

A global pandemic, surprisingly, didn’t feature in those plans so we’ve had to get creative to ensure that our audience don’t have to go without their crime fiction fix in these bewildering times.   On Wednesday, 29th April, I’ll be running my weekly Virtual Noir at the Bar and dedicating it to Newcastle Noir. Having hosted US writer Ashley Erwin in 2018 and 2019 as part of the fringe, I wanted to keep the tradition going and I’m delighted Ashley will be bringing her unique brand of pulpy noir to our virtual audience.

#VNatB will be here every Wednesday for fans of crime fiction until restrictions on social gatherings are lifted – and possibly beyond. 

Sign up for our newsletter to be the first to find out the full line-up every week.

See you at the (virtual) bar! 

Vic x

The Newcastle Noir fringe Noir at the Bar crew, 2019.