Tag Archives: word

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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Guest Post: Sarah Dobbs on the University of Sunderland Short Story Award

Today I welcome Sarah Dobbs to tell us all about this year’s University of Sunderland short story award. As Sarah says, entries are welcome from all over the world so even if you don’t live in the North East, you can still enter. 
Good luck!
Vic x
Many thanks for hosting us! The University of Sunderland in Association with Waterstones Short Story Award is now in its third year. We have four categories: Adult, 11-17 and Regional (adults and 11-17). The winners in each category receive cash prizes of £300. All shortlisted entries are collected in an anthology by our publishers, Bandit Fiction.
For the 2019 competition, we have promoted a distinct regional category as the prize has always hoped to nurture and support talent in our area. Entrants to the regional category may live, work or study within Northumberland, County Durham and Tyne and Wear. You can enter both the Adult and Regional category, or just one. We also enjoy working with promising young writers after the competition in an aim to nurture talent.

There is no theme, but there is a word count of 2500 for the Adults and Regional categories and 1500 for the 11-17. Stories don’t have to reach the maximum word count however and we enjoy surprising, experimental and hybrid work, as well as a ‘traditionally’ well-crafted story.

Entry fees are £5 for each category, except 11-17, which is free and we welcome entries regardless of where you live, in previous years we’ve had a fair amount of international entries.

In the past we’ve been fortunate to have been supported by judges who are literary agents and publishers, last year we welcomed Professor Ailsa Cox, the world’s first professor in short fiction and this year we’re delighted to have Dr Guy Mankowski, author of An Honest Deceit and recipient of an Arts Council Award to research his novel Letters to Yelena. Guy is also a lecturer at Newcastle University and runs the arts and spoken word night, New Art Social, at Ernest. Nicholas Royle is also on this year’s judging panel.
Entries open on the 17th December 2018 and close on the 1st July 2019. Further details and links to the entry form are on banditfiction.co.uk and it’s worth taking advantage of the fact you can download the 2018 anthology for free.
We look forward to reading your stories!
Sara

**Friends and Traitors Blog Tour** Getting to Know John Lawton.

Today it’s my pleasure to welcome John Lawton to the blog. His latest novel ‘Friends and Traitors‘ is available now. 

Many thanks to John for taking the time to answer my questions today.

Vic x

Nick Shot Close

Tell us about your books, what inspired them?
I really don’t know. I’ve written most of my life. Certainly since 1957 when I first encountered Shakespeare’s history plays. And in the years that followed, since you can’t imitate Shakespeare’s dialogue unless you’re Tom Stoppard (and whoever watched or read him for his plots?), I came under the influence of writers who were writing stunning dialogue. My first sight of a Pinter play about three years later is still vivid.

Peter Cook’s EL Wisty monologues were compulsive and when the Dagenham Dialogues with Dudley Moore came along … well, I think I learnt as much from them as I did from Pinter. The really odd thing is the switch from writing drama to writing novels, which happened about 1983 … cause? … failure. Wasn’t getting anywhere as a playwright. That said, much of what I write, certainly in earlier drafts, strikes me as reading like a two-hander play. That’s how most of my books begin  … two voices talking in my head.

A taste for dialogue, a course in Russian at University, reading Gorky Park, watching Ian McEwan’s The Imitation Game (not the recent film of the same name) all fuelled the plot line that became my first Troy novel.

Where do you get your ideas from?
Dunno where they come from, but I know where they arrive. Usually in trains, and almost as often out walking. I do a lot of walking.

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
I think my favourite scene might be towards the end of A Little White Death, when Tara Ffitch takes about a page to slam the morality that put her in court. I stand by every word of that. And I’m quite partial to the scene in Friends and Traitors when Guy Burgess rattles off the list of things he misses in his Russian exile. My favourite characters would be among the minor figures … Fish Wally in two or three novels, and Swift Eddie in most of them — a part I wrote hoping Warren Clarke would play him one day.

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
Not sure I quite understand the question, but I usually have a plot fully worked out in my head before I write a word. Only book I’ve ever plotted on paper was Black Out.

Can you read when you’re working on a piece of writing?
Yes. But not books by anyone doing what I’m doing.

I spent last autumn on a Mick Herron binge, and I think I’ve just begun a Timothy Hallinan binge. Neither of them write historicals.

I keep picking up and putting down Illusions Perdues. I think I might have to wait for a new, better translation, but if that theory works why do I have six different translations of Ovid?

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
“Write a book a year and take control of your life” – Gore Vidal. Somewhere I still have the letter.

I’ve never been able to do that of course. Come to think of it, I turned down a book-a-year offer from Penguin ages ago. I’m a fan of Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series which appears very regularly and I don’t know how he does it. My ‘mentor’ Ariana Franklin got up to a book a year in her seventies, but I honestly think it was exhausting for her. With hindsight I wish she’d slowed down. So good advice as yet unheeded.

What can readers expect from your books?
Writer vanity prompts me to say that I hope I can shatter expectations with the odd surprise, but a running character creates expectations otherwise she/he would be rather inconsistent. So expect politics, romance, a touch of mayhem. Do not expect a who-dunnit, as my books can bang on for another fifty pages after the who of dunnit is obvious. I cannot change Troy’s character, he will change only as the time-setting of the novels change (and I’ve never liked the idea of fiction existing outside of time …  Troy ages and hence changes) but I quite deliberately move the locations around. Black Out is set entirely in London, with Old Flames I went rural and in Friends & Traitors has a lengthy continental journey before settling back in London.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Yep. Abandon all social media. Leave it to Trump, he’s welcome to it. I am looking forward to his ‘Twitts from Prison’. Shut down your twitt and bookface accounts, resign from your readers & writers group, bin your iphone, stop talking about writing and write.

If anyone asks why they haven’t seen much of you lately tell them you’ve been studying for the civil service entry exam and are hoping for a job with the ministry of [fill in blank as appropriate]. My usual choice is the ‘White Fish Authority.’ Such a wonderful name for a government ministry, alas it shut up shop in 1981. I wonder if there was ever a ‘Chips and Mushy Peas Marketing Board’?

What do you like and dislike about writing?
Like … the doing of it. One of the best narcotics around and it’s free.

Dislike … promoting a book. Best regarded as a necessary evil. I hate being photographed. (Sorry, Ali Karim.)

Are you writing anything at the moment?
Yep. Third book in the Wilderness trilogy. And another game of with Zoë Sharp. All done by email as we live in different countries.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
Dunno. I live by writing, which I consider most fortunate, but to say my moment was the first time I received a fat cheque would be both crass and untrue. I’m not interested in prizes, the gongs and daggers, and winning one didn’t engage with me much. I think it has to be ‘finishing-summat-that-had-me really-foxed’  … which has happened from time to time, but I’m not saying which book or books it was.

Getting to Know You: Roz Watkins

I’m delighted to welcome the lovely Roz Watkins to the blog today. You can follow Roz on Twitter – and I strongly recommend that you do. 

Roz’s debut novel ‘The Devil’s Dice‘ is available now and I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to reading it. I was gutted to miss the launch party in London a couple of weeks ago so I’m hoping to catch up with Roz soon to celebrate her success. 

My thanks to Roz today for sharing her experiences with us. 

Vic x

Roz Watkins

Tell us about your book. What inspired it? 
The initial impetus came from my dog’s foul habits. We were walking in the woods near to my house in the Peak District when I saw him running towards me with something in his mouth. It was swinging side-to-side, and from a distance it looked like a human spine. I thought, Oh Christ, the dog’s found a body! 

When he got closer, I could see it was in fact a hare (they are surprisingly large) but it got me thinking. What would it be like to come upon a body when walking the dog? And that’s what happens in my first book. A greedy Labrador sniffs out a corpse in a cave. 

DogHare.jpg

This is the day the dog found a hare. At least it wasn’t a corpse!

Where do you get your ideas from?
I mercilessly mine my life and the lives of those around me. My partner complains that he can’t now write the book he was going to write (when he gets a spare half hour) because I’ve stolen all his best stories. This is of course not true, but I do use my life experiences. I was previously a patent attorney so I enjoyed killing one in my first book. I trained as a hypnotherapist, so in book 2, a therapist has to deal with a girl who seems to be remembering the death of her heart donor. I’m an animal trainer, so clicker-trained killer pigs may feature in book 3. Or they may not. My mum was a GP so receives calls along the lines of, If you wanted to kill someone using… She loves it. 

Do you have a favourite story/ character/ scene you’ve written?
I do love the scene where I try to kill my main character in an underground labyrinth with water rising all around her. As I edited the book, the level of torture increased with each re-write, and it was fun! 

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
A bit of a mixture. I try to plot, but then it all goes horribly wrong as I start writing. I haven’t really worked out a system and it doesn’t seem to be getting any easier! I write in a tiny room that’s impossible to keep tidy, surrounded by piles of paper and post-it notes and stray animals. But I fantasise about owning a huge loft apartment with acres of space where my mind would magically be clear and organised… 

Can you read when you’re working on a piece of writing?
I always read. At the moment I’m feeling guilty about all the authors who’ve said nice things about my book and whose books I haven’t yet read, because my TBR pile has become so huge! So I’m concentrating on reading proofs at the moment. Sometimes the style of a particular writer seeps into my writing, but not in a way which causes a problem. 

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who was it from?
That’s a toughie. I was struck by someone (it may have been Matt Bird) talking about how at the start of a book, we don’t care much about the characters so we’re not really bothered if they’re in jeopardy. You can dangle them off a cliff or throw them under a train and the reader doesn’t necessarily care very much. But we’re wired to want answers to questions, no matter how banal. On my local radio station, they have this thing where they say something like, 35% of men admit to doing this. And you have to carry on listening to find out what it is. Even though it’s a matter of total irrelevance to your life.  You have to listen. Do they not change their underpants every day? Do they pluck their ear hair? WHAT IS IT? I learnt a lot from that. Pose questions on page 1. 

What can readers expect from your books?
Hopefully a detective they can relate to because she’s a normal woman who worries about normal stuff and is a little bit fat and possibly has cat hair on her clothes. A few possibly supernatural goings-on and a touch of classic whodunit, plus a little bit of sardonic humour (I’m told!) 

THE DEVILS DICE

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Write about what makes you angry or emotional, because it keeps you going when things get tough.  And treat writing a publishable novel as a learnable skill, rather than something you should just be able to do. I started off writing absolute junk, but I devoured books on writing craft and sought feedback all over the place. 

What do you like and dislike about writing?
I find the first draft feels a bit like pulling teeth, although I do love coming up with the ideas. I enjoyed the first draft of my first book (done without a deadline!) but now I get obsessed with word-counts and how behind I am! I like editing. 

Are you writing anything at the moment?
I’m on book 3 (and behind where I should be…) A woman goes missing from an abattoir, and all the evidence points to her having been killed and fed to pigs. 

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
I’ve been so lucky there have been many over the last couple of years, but I’m going to choose standing in a piazza in Venice and receiving a call from my agent about a life-changing offer from a German publisher. 

 

Review of 2017: Neil Broadfoot

Hold onto your (Santa) hats, we have a double bill to celebrate Christmas Eve. Today we have Ne-il [Broadfoot], Ne-il [White] – sorry, I’m a little giddy thanks to the magic of the season (or maybe the Baileys).

Anyway, our first Ne-il (sorry) is Mr Broadfoot – one of my many crime writing buddies. 

I’m raising a glass of Baileys to you, Mr B!

Vic x


Favourite memory professionally:
It’s been a great year professionally, from signing a new three-book deal with Constable to going to Harrogate for the first time (and reading at Noir at the Bar!) seeing the first translation of my first book, Falling Fast. I’m not sure how professional it is, but my standout moment of the year was the Four Blokes In Search of a Plot panel at Bloody Scotland. It was the first time Douglas (Skelton), Mark (Leggatt), Gordon (Brown) and I had tried out the new format for the panel, where the crowd give us a name and a murder weapon and we try to write a story in 100 word chunks while the other three discuss all things crime with the audience. I was cataclysmically hung over after the infamous Bloody Scotland night at the Curly Coo the night before, but somehow the panel, like the rest of Bloody Scotland, worked. We were the last panel of the weekend yet we still got an audience of more than 60 people, they were totally up for it and it was a great laugh. And sitting there, with a tea cosy on my head, I remember thinking how lucky I am to be part of this brilliant community of writers and readers.

Favourite book:
It’s been another incredibly strong year for crime fiction, with some brilliant work being produced. It’s almost impossible to choose a stand-out from the crowd, but there are a couple that stick in the memory. Craig Russell’s The Quiet Death of Thomas Quaid, which was shortlisted for the McIllvanney Prize at Bloody Scotland, was a masterclass in immersive, compelling writing that transports you back to 50s Glasgow and all the dangers and moral ambiguity that lurk there.  Slow on the uptake, but I finally got round to reading Stuart Neville’s The Twelve and was blown away by Fegan and the demons that haunt him. Writing as Haylen Beck, Neville’s Here and Gone was a white-knuckle, read-it-in-one shot of pure adrenaline you can’t miss.

Looking ahead, I’ve been lucky enough to get sneak peeks of two of next year’s biggest books. Luca Veste’s The Bone Keeper is just brilliant – but maybe not one to read late at night. With a real sense of menace bleeding from the pages, this is a serial killer thriller that will linger long after the last page. Meanwhile, his partner in podcast crime, Steve Cavanagh, has produced a masterclass in tight, tense storytelling with Thirteen. With a (serial) killer hook and perfect delivery, his latest adventure with New York defence lawyer Eddie Flynn is the book that will send his career into the stratosphere.

Favourite song:
If I don’t say You’re Welcome from the film Moana, my three-year-old will kill me. She’s obsessed with that song and duets with me when she can. And yes, it is an ear worm and no; I don’t want to talk about it. *Hums what can I say except…*

Downsides:
Life is a series of ups and downs, but you have to keep looking up. One big downside of this year was losing my beagle, Sam. He’d been with me since he was a pup; saw me through marriage, two kids and seeing my lifelong dream of being published come true. Then one day he went off his food, went to the vet and was gone. It’s a cliché, but dogs really are man’s best friend, and I still miss the Old Man – and his snoring from the cushion next to me as I write.

Resolutions:
I need to get rid of my book belly! When I’m writing, I can’t train, my brain can’t cope with running the different mental soundtracks of being physically fit and thinking about plots, characters etc at the same time, so the physical activity and healthy eating gives way to sitting in my chair and endless biscuits when I’m on a book. But now that No-Man’s Land is done (save edits) it’s back to the gym for me!

Hopes for 2018:
The first book in my new Stirling-set series, No-Man’s Land, is due out in September, and I hope everyone enjoys reading about Connor Fraser as much as I enjoyed writing about him. I’m also looking forward to getting back onto the road with the other three blokes for more fun and mayhem, so I hope the crowds enjoy the shows as much as we do.

Away from books, I hope the world comes to its senses a little. There’s a growing feeling that everything is building to a crescendo, from the tweeter-in-chief to the cliff edge of Brexit, and I hope cooler heads can prevail over the megaphone diplomacy and bigotry-as-patriotism crap we’re seeing now.

Review: ‘The Last Plantagenet?’ by Jennifer C Wilson

 

The Last Plantagenet?‘ begins with a reenactment at Nottingham Castle in 2011. Kate is enjoying the jousting when she is mysteriously transported to 1485 just prior to the Battle of Bosworth.

She quickly catches the eye of a certain Richard III so she not only has to traverse the intricacies of romance in the 15th Century but Kate must navigate this unexpected adventure without giving her peers reason to suspect her of witchcraft. 

The Last Plantagenet?‘ is an interesting take on the time-slip genre merged with historical fiction and romance. Combined with Jennifer C Wilson’s intricate historical knowledge and her passion for Richard III, ‘The Last Plantagenet?‘ is a fascinating romp in many senses of the word. 

The descriptions in the novella are thorough and ensure the reader can imagine a very vivid picture of the action. ‘The Last Plantagenet?‘ certainly gives an alternative depiction of Richard III to the one presented in popular culture, making him an unlikely sex symbol. 

Although not a history buff myself, I thoroughly enjoyed this story. Jennifer C Wilson provides enough information to ensure that the story is accessible to those of us without her level of knowledge. ‘The Last Plantagenet?‘ is a fun and informative read.

Vic x

*Fox Hunter Blog Tour* Guest Post: Zoë Sharp on Keeping a Series Fresh.

2017 Book Tour Blog.pdfWhen I first joined Twitter in 2011, one of the first people I interacted with was Zoë Sharp, author of the Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Fox crime thriller series.

Since then, Zoë and I have met at several events – including her reading at a few of the Noir at the Bars I’ve presented. Zoë’s prose is like her love of fast cars and motorbikes – fast-paced – and she always gets a great reaction from the audience when she reads her work. Having been privy to an advance copy of Zoë’s latest novelFox Hunter, I can understand why. 

Zoë is a joy to be around and I’m delighted to have her on the blog today to talk about how to keep a series fresh – and she would know having written twelve novels in the Charlie Fox series.

When she’s not chipping away at the word-face of another book, Zoë can usually be found international pet-sitting or renovating houses so I’m very humbled that she found time to write this brilliant post.

Vic x

Photo by Nick Lockett

KEEPING A SERIES FRESH
By Zoë Sharp

One of the hardest things when you write a long-running series is keeping it fresh. Not only for the reader, but for the author as well. I think that’s one of the reasons I never really gave Charlie Fox a regular job in law enforcement. So, she doesn’t get summoned from her bed to go and inspect the body at the latest crime scene—in fact, she’s more likely to be asked to prevent there being a body in the first place.

This constant search for a new challenge for Charlie is why her career has evolved throughout the series, and is still doing so. When we pick her up in the early books she is a self-defence instructor, someone who’s been a victim of violent attack herself and is now determined to teach others to look after themselves.

I know some people build hugely successful series around such an amateur sleuth, but I knew from the start I was going to take her in the direction of personal protection in a more professional guise, even if she wasn’t sure.

When she agreed to go undercover into a bodyguard training school in the third book, Hard Knocks, she didn’t fully appreciate that she was going to follow that path, first working for her former army mentor, Sean Meyer, in the UK, and then moving with him when he became a partner in Parker Armstrong’s prestigious agency in New York City.

Now, as the latest book, Fox Hunter, closes, the future is looking a lot more uncertain for Charlie, and I have some choices about where she goes next. I’d already laid in some strands for her future in previous stories. If I know something like this is going to come up, I try not to make it unbelievable when it does. Inevitably, she’s met some interesting people along the way—some of whom may want to kill her, and some of whom owe her their lives. It’s not unreasonable that their paths may cross again occasionally. After all, she’s been moving in a small and exclusive world.

Charlie has changed quite a bit as a character as the series has progressed. Keeping her static and unchanging would have been difficult as she faced different challenges with every book, and her personal and emotional life swirled around her.

In particular, exploring her capacity for violence has always been fascinating for me. She’s very familiar with it in all its forms, and can be utterly ruthless when the occasion demands, but she’s not without conscience. If you threaten her—or someone she cares about, or feels responsible for—she’ll kill you without a second thought. But she’ll go a long way to avoid a confrontation if she can.

That much hasn’t changed about Charlie. Right from the first book, Killer Instinct, where she plays the clown to side-step proving her self-defence abilities to an aggressive club doorman (thereby proving them by another means) up to Fox Hunter, her twelfth outing, where she gives someone who tries to forcibly detain her two chances to step aside before she takes him apart.

Perhaps because she is ever-changing, I try hard not to repeat myself, either in storyline or action sequence, or in her interaction with the recurring characters. Madeleine Rimmington, whom Charlie dislikes on first meeting in book two, Riot Act, is slowly becoming a friend.

And as she enters the next phase of her life, Charlie may find she needs all the friends she can get…