Tag Archives: words

Guest Post: Sue Miller on trying to make the world a better place.

As most of you know, I am responsible for the Newcastle leg of Noir at the Bar – and I love it. One of the best things about hosting NATB is how many new writers I get to meet. Thanks to my friend Chris Ord, I was introduced to Sue Miller, another local writer. 

Sue read for us at Noir at the Bar earlier this year and I’m delighted to host her on the blog. Sue likes to use her writing to affect social change so she’s here today to talk to us about trying to make the world a better place. 

Thanks to Sue for sharing her insights with us.

Vic x


Sue Miller on trying to make the world a better place.

The title: 20/20 Vision: They didn’t see it coming isn’t just a play on words. I fully expected 2020 would be the year of the next election.

I dedicated the book to my newborn grandson. I hoped that the world he will grow up in will be a safe and loving place. But I wasn’t optimistic. I wanted to do something.

I thought about writing articles. I worked hard to make things better in my community. I cared as best I could for my family and friends. In the end I thought I’d try to bring my concerns together into a story. Maybe that would be a way to be heard because:

  • we always have choices.
  • if we don’t address issues of what’s fair and what’s right now, what are we bequeathing to our children?
  • there are enough resources to go round, if we manage them responsibly
  • I sensed a growing narrative with winners and losers, where ‘rights’ were becoming ‘entitlements’, borders and barriers were going up between ourselves and those we labelled as not ‘like us.’

I was in a very dark place, struggling to find optimism for the future, despairing of the choices of cuts, the short sightedness of activity around me. Not that I was perfect.

This was before Brexit and before Trump. Before the calling of an election designed to ‘strengthen our hand’ in negotiations with people that were once partners and friends. I didn’t see any of those coming.

The worlds of traditional and social media are currently full of the noise of pre-election promises. I’m weary of it already.  What I’m hearing are promises, when history teaches us words are cheap, it’s actions that cost.

People who know me well were shocked by just how dark 20/20 Vision is in places. The story reflects where I continue to be every time I turn on the news, tune into social media; Facebook-there’s a mixed blessing. One of my book reviews says we live at a time when people think they’ve done their bit simply by clicking on ‘like’. In a country where free education is available for all I’m aghast at the low level of some of the commentary there. Words are easy, the real challenge is to think, listen and act.

History tells us it is hard to hope, we will always snatch those resources to which we believe we are entitled. We can choose to take from those we think of as ‘different’ to preserve those we perceive as ‘our own’. What of fairness? What of love?

My next book has a working title: Border Control. That’s all I see coming now.

Sue Miller

Review of 2016: Dawn Tindle

Today the lovely Dawn Tindle joins us to review her year. Dawn is a familiar face on the literary scene not only in the North East but beyond. Her blog – Book and Brew – has been nominated for a UK Blog Award. This is no mean feat considering Dawn only set her blog up in April this year.

I’ve had the pleasure of spending time with Dawn on several occasions this year and I’m really happy to host her as part of the 2016 reviews.

Vic x


Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2016?
I set up my blog, Book and Brew, in April this year and have spent the rest of 2016 developing it. The memory of firsts – blog post, comment, retweet – are pretty vivid and it still gives me a real buzz to see my words published online or shared by other readers.

My book club was also selected by The Reading Agency as an official shadow judge for both the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and Man Booker Prize. It was a huge coup for us and a very exciting experience for all members. It’s the defining moment that turned me from an enthusiastic reader to a book blogger.

And how about a favourite moment from 2016 generally?
Seeing my boyfriend, Stephen, graduate in July was really special. He took five years out to retrain as a social worker and I was very proud, and slightly teary, to see him collect his degree. Getting his results via phone as we sat in a beach bar in Croatia the month before is also a memory I’ll treasure.

Favourite book in 2016?
Oh, this is always such a difficult question to answer. It wasn’t published this year but we read Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life at book club in March and I loved it. Atkinson’s writing completely absorbs me and this story is a particularly poignant and gripping tale.

Favourite film in 2016?
There are two films that I watched recently that really impressed me. I, Daniel Blake is a stunning film, providing a stark look at the reality of austerity in the UK. It’s hard to watch, harrowing and heartbreaking but the humanity of the characters shines through. I highly recommend it.

The other was Allied. It’s a World War II drama about spies who meet on the job, marry and then one of them is suspected of working undercover for the Nazis. It’s full of twists and keeps you guessing throughout. And, the costumes are utterly fabulous – there’s nothing quite like 40s glamour to make you hate everything in your contemporary wardrobe!

Favourite song of the year?
Given the number of great musicians who’ve passed away this year, I’ve been listening to a lot of vintage tracks rather than new music in 2016.

However, I did discover Michael Kiwanuka and his album Love and Hate. It’s a beautiful collection of bluesy guitar and soulful vocals that I can listen to again and again.

Any downsides for you in 2016?
Probably being too busy. I have a tendency to take on too much and that was certainly the case in the first few months of setting up my blog. I assumed I needed to read every book and be at every event in order to write relevant, topical content. I soon burned out and had to find a way to juggle my ‘proper’ job (a full-time, busy office gig), friends, family and blogging. I think I’ve finally cracked it and developed a schedule that works for me.

Are you making resolutions for 2017?
I usually say “to read more” but I don’t think I need that one anymore! I want to try my hand at creative writing so 2017 will be the year I give it a go.

What are you hoping for from 2017?
More of the same, I think. I had no idea where my blog would go in 2016 and I’m really pleased with how much I’ve achieved and how far it’s developed since my first few posts. If I can maintain the same attitude – of always seeking out new opportunities and trying new things – I hope I can grow Book and Brew even further in 2017. Where that growth will take me is anyone’s guess – that’s what makes a new year so exciting!

Guest Post: Jessica Fairfax on Writer’s Block

I met writer Jessica Fairfax earlier this year and I’ve had the pleasure of hearing some of her brilliant ideas. Jessica is a brilliant person, bursting with enthusiasm for writing and it was really kind of her to come along to the last Noir at the Bar NE.

Thanks to Jessica for coming to talk to us today about an all too common problem faced by writers: writer’s block. 

Vic x

Writer’s Block
By Jessica Fairfax

What exactly is this? Is it where a thousand ideas, or even just one or two, are swirling in your head and you just can’t get them onto paper? Is it where you stare blankly at a notepad, or computer screen, then clean the house from top to bottom, make endless cups of hot something and remain awake until the next day and do this all over again and again… and again? This doesn’t always just go on for hours, days, maybe weeks. No, no, this can go on for years! I know. When researching this topic, and having experienced this myself for two decades on and off, a valued accountant friend gave her opinion on the subject.

If you have writer’s block for ages, like years, are you not just a failed writer and maybe you should go and do something else for a hobby?


It is a condition I tell her.

Her eyebrows raised above her hairline.

It isn’t though, is it? She responded with a tone. She continued (unfortunately). It is a case of someone (someone being me!) having no ideas, or if they have, they just can’t do anything with them. I could say I have writer’s block.  I have ideas but have no idea how to make them into a viable piece of work constituting a novel, or such like, so I go and get a proper job like an accountant for instance and swim. I swim as a hobby. Just carry on with your day job and, I don’t know… come swimming with me, or go to Zumba twice a week, you’d love that, yeah, do that! Leave the writing to someone who doesn’t… get… get this block thing you have.  You know, the proper writer types that have nothing else going on in their lives.


I didn’t go into how even the most acclaimed writers have suffered with this affliction from time to time.

So, writer’s block, failed writer, or an underestimated psychological condition first described in 1947 by the psychologist Edmund Belger? Whatever it is, it is frustrating and debilitating in terms of being a type of creative brain freeze. At first, I tried writing lists, deadline setting, and discussions with fellow writers and even swimming – yes, I did go with her – and meditation to clear my mind to help me start afresh. Physically I felt pretty good but everything I tried to do to eradicate the writer’s block, ultimately resulted in an exceptionally clean house and a belly full of coffee! My creativity was stifled… suppressed by something I could do nothing about. Eventually, without really acknowledging when exactly, the notepad got left in the house in a drawer and the PC wasn’t even turned on. I tried less and less and eventually told people that other life events had taken priority over my aspirations to become a novelist.  I had a busy job anyway and a baby and Zumba.  I could get away with it with friends and family  but the reality was, I felt like a failure. The confidence went. Was I a failed writer? Was I a writer?

Years on, I am starting to write again.  It isn’t a whoosh of creativity, as others describe but more of a slow drip, drip, drip onto the page. Confidence is coming back.  I am enjoying writing and that is what it is all about for me.

How I came to suffer this condition, I don’t know.  How it went away again, I have no idea. I just know that writer’s block does not mean you aren’t a writer.  Perhaps my brain just needed time.

Guest Post: G.J. Brown on Crying Over Spilled Words.

I first met the lovely G.J. Brown in June this year when he took the time to appear at our first Noir at the Bar NE. Gordon is a fantastic writer and is one of the forces behind the massively popular Bloody Scotland.

I met Gordon again just a couple of weeks ago at Newcastle’s Lit and Phil while he was part of the Crime Factor panel. The discussion was truly fascinating and proved that Gordon is a font of knowledge when it comes to writing. 

Thanks to Gordon for taking the time to share his wisdom with us. 

Vic x

G.J. Brown

Never Cry Over Spilled Words
by G.J. Brown

The note from my editor, in returning the first draft of my next novel, read:

‘You’ll see I’ve taken a few sections out. Even so, there’s still a bit of flab.’

Three weeks later, after I’ve subjected my manuscript to a literary chainsaw, I send it back and my editor replies:

‘And this year’s winner of Author Who Culled The Largest Number Of Words From Their First Draft goes to…   40k less. Impressive.’

Hand on heart, I knew that my first draft was, at 117,000 + words, a tad too long. It’s the third in my Craig McIntyre series. The length was driven by an attempt to tie up some loose ends from books 1 and 2, while driving a trans America/Atlantic narrative. The novel ranges from mid-west America to Western Canada, it rolls through a road trip to Toronto, crosses the Atlantic to Scotland and then beyond – I was painting large on a large canvass.

Removing 40,000 words may seem a bit excessive, but I was once talking to the late, great William McIlvanney, over a dram, about editing. He was of the view that if you could remove a word from a sentence and the sentence was the better for it, then keep removing until the sentence sings. I just took Willie’s advice and put it on steroids.

I read and re-read the original. I thought about slicing and dicing, cutting and chopping. I played with tweaking and twisting and, after a few false starts, I realised that this was no minor outpatient operation. This was full on, brain surgery with a liver transplant thrown in for good measure, with a side order of a new heart.

The transit scene from the USA to Scotland was cut in its entirety – bang went 30,000 of those precious words. A chase by the local police, through Alberta, was given the shoulder – zap to 5,000 more. The rest was honing.

I’m waiting on the ‘Weight Watchers Winner for Best Book on a Diet’ coming back to me with the editor’s final comments. I’ve already decided I’m drawing a line in the sand and fighting for every one of the remaining 80,000 words. They deserve no less given the way they’ve survived to date.

Throughout the whole process there was one driver – does this make the book better?

Well, did it?

The simple, and somewhat unsurprising, answer, in my editors and my own humble opinion is, ‘hell yes’. Sharper, better written, flab gone – it’s now the Mo Farrah to the Big Daddy of the book world.

And the bonus is I’ve got at least three short stories sitting in the bowels of my Mac. A little work on the culled paragraphs and I can fill my website with a range of Craig McIntyre tales for a few months to come.

So for those authors that cry over spilled words. Don’t. They didn’t all give their lives in vain. Some will live on to grace different pages in the future and, for those that died, well, they did so for a better cause.



Gordon lives in Scotland but splits his time between the UK, the U.S.A. and Spain. He’s married with two children. Gordon once quit his job in London to fly across the Atlantic to be with his future wife. He has also delivered pizzas in Toronto, sold non-alcoholic beer in the Middle East, launched a creativity training business called Brain Juice and floated a high tech company on the London Stock Exchange.

He almost had a toy launched by a major toy company, has an MBA, loves music, is a DJ on local radio, compered the main stage at a two-day music festival and was once booed by 49,000 people while on the pitch at a major football Cup Final.

Gordon also helped found Bloody Scotland – Scotland’s International Crime Writing Festival.

Gordon has been writing since his teens and has had four books published – his latest, ‘Meltdown‘, is published by Gallus Press and is out now.

Visit www.gordonjbrown.com or follow him on Twitter @GoJaBrown

Guest Post: Jennifer C. Wilson on ‘Finding the Words’.

I have the pleasure of hosting Jennifer C. Wilson on the blog today. Jen, a member of Elementary  Writers, is not only a fantastic poet but her debut novel ‘Kindred Spirits: Tower of Londonwas published by Crooked Cat Publishing last year and is available as an e-book and in paperback form. 

Jen and Elaine’s workshop this coming Saturday promises to be full of fun and inspiration. 

Vic x

Thanks for hosting me today, Victoria!

JCW in Leicester Cathedral.jpg

You know I love my creative writing workshops, and this Saturday, 16th July, at Whitley Bay Library, I’m delighted to be running my first in partnership with fellow Whitley Writer, Elaine Cusack. We’ll be helping people “Find the Words”, with two workshops – a Scavenger Hunt in the morning (10:00-13:00), rummaging for ideas around Whitley Bay, and the library itself, and then in the afternoon (13:30-16:30), a session on Found Poetry.


Elaine Cusack will be co-hosting the workshop with Jen.

Whether people attend one or both sessions, there’ll be plenty of exercises to inspire, and a chance to share and draft work for group or one-to-one feedback.

Having dipped a toe in workshops last summer, with a history-inspired event at Arbeia Roman Fort, I cannot wait to run a whole-day session, and help people come up with some new ideas.

Sessions are £20 each, or £30 for the whole day (10:00-16:30), and tickets are available online now. You can get more information about this event on Facebook

Elaine and I cannot wait!


Guest post: Howard Linskey on the joy of publication.

Howard Linskey’s writing career is going from strength to strength, his David Blake trilogy earned him a shed-load of fans and today sees the release of his fifth book ‘Behind Dead Eyes‘. Howard has taken time out of his manic schedule to talk to us about a very special day in any writer’s life – publication day. 

Thanks for being involved, Howard, I can’t wait to read the book! 

Vic x

‘Publication Day’
By Howard Linskey

It’s that special day when a year’s worth of writing, groaning, editing, moaning, more editing, wailing and gnashing of teeth, followed by yet more editing, finally culminates in an actual tangible thing appearing that previously existed only in my head. Yep, it’s publication day and the book is finally here!

Behind Dead Eyes

Behind Dead Eyes’ is published by Penguin on 19th May. It doesn’t matter how many books you have written before, and I have written a few, publication day still feels damn special. That lovely feeling of seeing your book in an actual shop doesn’t get old I can tell you, and if I ever get blasé about it that might be the time to stop writing… or someone could just shoot me instead, with my permission. If you can’t get excited by seeing that novel of yours on a bookshelf, or in my case on a table right by the door in my local Waterstones, accompanied by a poster in the window, then you are most probably tired of life.

This is my second book for Penguin and my fifth book published under my own name, or my sixth if you include the children’s non-fiction book I wrote a while back… or my eighth, if you include the two published under a pseudonym… or my tenth if you add in the two early efforts that remain, as yet, unpublished. Ten books, nearly 900,000 words in total and there are days when I still feel like a bit of an imposter. It was several years before I was able to tell people I am an author or that I have a literary agent and a publisher because it always sounded a bit implausible, even to me. It was as if an inner voice was saying to me ‘yes but you’re not a real author not like those other folk who write books that get published and… oh… well, maybe you are then.’ I guess it always felt a bit too good to be true after years of rejections and for so long being what is now termed an ‘aspiring author’, before I finally reached the point where people actually wanted to publish my work.

Behind Dead Eyes’ tells the story of a convicted murderer who swears he is innocent, along with the mystery of an unidentifiable corpse and a teenager who has vanished without trace. Reporters Tom Carney and Helen Norton are reunited with Detective Sergeant Ian Bradshaw, as they attempt to discover the truth

We are having a bit of fun with this launch too. George Foster, Penguin’s marketing genius, came up with a cracking idea to celebrate the launch of ‘Behind Dead Eyes’. He produced these wonderful coffee cups that will be available in coffee shops in Durham and Newcastle. If you buy a cup from the venues below, just take a pic and tweet a photo with the hashtag #BehindDeadEyes and tag the coffee shop. You could win a signed copy of my book, plus a year’s worth of Penguin Crime novels. Not bad for the price of a cappuccino.

Newcastle: Olive & Bean, Cake Stories & Sutra Tea Company

Durham: Flat White & Treats Tea Room

Guest post: Emma Whitehall on Performing Your Work.

Today, I have the very gifted Emma Whitehall on the blog to give some advice on performing your work. I’ve seen Emma read on numerous occasions and I can attest to how brilliantly she performs. 

I think most of us could do with taking some tips from Emma. Thanks for sharing your expertise, Emma!

Vic x

Performing Your Work.

Emma Whitehall

            I was sitting in a pub in York when it hit me. I was surrounded by writers I didn’t know, all of us reading our work aloud for an audience. I was excited to be around new voices so that I could listen to the work without my reaction being clouded by the speaker being a good friend.

I was listening to a gentleman reading, when I noticed how little confidence he had in reading his own work. He would finish the last word of the last line, and almost before the word were out of his mouth, they were swallowed up by “andthenextpoemisabout…” No change in his speech pattern, no pause to let his words be absorbed by his audience – and, worst of all, no time for us as an audience to show our appreciation of his work. I was genuinely enjoying his work, but the edges of his poetry blurred into his unscripted introductions, making his reading a bit of a mess.

It got me thinking about all the times I’ve seen this from writers. People who have great words, but little to no experience speaking in front of a crowd, who are frightened or ignorant of the audience, and who squander their opportunity to get their voice – and their work – heard. They mumble, they stare at the floor or their piece of paper, and make a dash from the stage as soon as they finish reading.

I came into writing from five years studying performing arts. I’d always written for my own amusement, but my love at the time was the stage. Even now, ten years on, I get a thrill from being on-stage that is unmatchable. Because I’ve always had a knack for learning lines (as well as my crippling social anxiety making it difficult to make friends), I spent a lot of those years performing monologues. I learned of spoken word from Jessica Johnson, co-founder of one of the best, most boisterous, raucous, and talent-filled nights I’ve ever been to – Pink Lane Poetry and Performance. I cut my teeth there, before moving on to open mics like Jibba Jabba, Hot Words at the Chilli (now The Stanza), and Poetry Jam, where I moved from writing my own monologues into creating short stories, and eventually into poetry. A lot of writers I know got into performance poetry the other way around – finding platforms to read their work at after spending months, if not years, writing.

Here’s the hard truth; if you want to read your work aloud, you have to be able to perform. Anyone who has listened to teenagers read Shakespeare can tell you; even the most wonderful words, filled with the most beautiful meaning, can be made to sound terrible coming from unconfident or uninterested speakers. You wrote these words because something in you felt a spark of inspiration – when reading aloud, your voice is what passes that spark along, just as much as the words on the page. Reading your work at events can be a great way to establish a new following, and hopefully help you sell your work, so it is worth learning how to do it well.

I decided to write this article to try and pass on what I’ve learned in the four years (how has it been that long?!) that I’ve been performing my own work. However scary the stage can look, don’t worry – it is conquerable, and can even be exhilarating and deeply rewarding.

Be Prepared – Learning poems off by heart is difficult for some people, but you will be far less nervous when you get on-stage if you have a grasp of the poem and how you want to perform it. Plus, if you are constantly looking down at a page, your voice will hit the paper, making it more difficult for you to be heard. My favourite tip is to learn a few lines at a time, building and building upon it as you go, until you can recite the whole thing. Run it to yourself while you do the housework, just before bed, or – if you feel brave – when you have a quiet moment at work.

Nerves are normal – Everyone gets nervous before getting on-stage to perform. You are baring a part of yourself when you show people your own work. But I promise you – it’s never as daunting as it seems once you are up there. Take a deep breath, smile, and go for it!

Projecting – Projecting is about making your voice as loud and clear as you can. This can take a while to get the hang of, but the best way is to imagine your voice moving in a straight line, hitting the back of the room. A good warm up is to hum with a closed mouth. Play around until you feel the sound vibrations tingling your lips. This is the correct place for your voice to be “coming from” to be heard well when you speak.

Eye contact – Everyone has different levels of comfort with this, but part of performing is connecting with your audience. It could help to have a friendly face in the crowd to “perform to” – although I purposely avoid my boyfriend’s gaze when he comes to see me perform. However you feel, a good trick is to aim your eyes at the top of someone’s head, or sweep a general portion of the crowd – with the bright lights, there’s a good chance you can’t make out any individuals anyway!

NO APOLOGISING – Sometimes, things will go wrong. I personally had a nightmarish open mic slot a few months ago, where I panicked as soon as I got on-stage, and wobbled and stumbled my way through a poem that I’d known off by heart only a few minutes earlier. But, when I tearfully talked to my friends about it, my performance hadn’t been nearly as terrible as I thought – they’d noticed me pause a few times, but the performance on the whole was ok. The thing to remember is this: if you read your own work, no one else knows the piece. They don’t know if you mixed up two adjectives, or if a long pause is a deliberate dramatic choice or a lost line. And, if you don’t panic and apologise, you have the chance to take a good, deep breath, calm yourself, and begin the line again. Which brings me to my next point…

Pauses are your friend – Silences on stage can be terrifying – sometimes, even more so than actually speaking. But a well placed silence can help your words really land with impact. Chose them carefully, and with purpose. If you are scared of the “Oh, are they finished?” reaction at the end of a piece, give the audience a small nod and say “thank you.” I often find myself crossing my feet and bowing a little at the waist, but that’s the actor in me. Also – and I can’t stress this enough – let the audience applaud you. Don’t try and talk over them if you can, and certainly don’t rush off-stage, no matter how tempting. They liked your work and they want to show you that – enjoy it!

Utilise your time – I’ve been guilty in the past of performing tiny poems; only four or five lines long. And while I love these poems, sometimes you are done and off-stage before the audience can really get a feel for who you are and what you do. Be mindful of time. If you are lucky enough to be asked to do a set of pieces, pick them carefully, and run the whole set before you perform it, timing yourself. You want to make the most of your time on-stage, and showcase your work properly. However, be very wary of seeming self-indulgent. One of my biggest bugbears at an open mic is a performer hogging the microphone, outstaying their welcome or even going back a second or third time! Everyone deserves a chance to perform, and one amazing piece is better than three lukewarm ones. Learn to use your time on-stage wisely.

Find your people – Performance poets are, in my experience, some of the warmest, funniest, most accepting and supporting people I’ve met. Talk to people – compliment their work, find them on social media, ask them questions. As a whole, we love to chat! There are always workshops, writing groups, and open mic nights to attend that will help you improve. In the North East, we have Scratch Tyne; a monthly workshop, where writers are invited to work on their pieces in an accepting, constructive environment. Sometimes there is a theme, sometimes we just play around and see what happens. New voices in the community only brings more interesting, diverse work, so make yourself known!

I am not a “performance poet” – at least, not in the way a lot of people I know are. I don’t want to perform for a living, or create a one-woman show for the Fringe Festival. But performing my work has led to some of the best things in my life. I’ve made friends, had amazing experiences, and grown as a writer in ways I never could have if I stuck strictly to the page. I hope my advice has made the stage a little less daunting, and maybe you can find a new angle which can help your writing grow and reach new audiences you maybe never imagined before. Break a leg!